REVIEWS

THE AVALANCHES 
WE WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU
(MODULAR RECORDINGS)

Every radio signal ever transmitted is still traveling throughout the Universe. Whether or not these messages will ever reach another living species is unknown, but our voices will live on in the vastness of space, long after we are gone. We Will Always Love You, the third album from The Avalanches in 20 years, is centered around these concepts of death, loss, and the cosmos. The album’s influences run deep and the songs weave together a myriad of samples (including the Voyager Golden Record) and collaborators. What results is a joyous, kaleidoscopic album that captures the duality of life and death with wonder instead of despair. It is true that the album could have done with a bit more editing; there are several moments where it lags, in particular toward the second half. This is minor, though, when the album is taken as a whole. Each track shines in its own way, but notable standouts include the titular “We Will Always Love You,” “Reflecting Light,” and “We Go On.” Fittingly, We Will Always Love You ends with the Arecibo Message and the reminder “[m]y voice is still gonna be here.” —Mary Beth Campbell

B L A C K I E
FACE THE DARKNESS
(SELF-RELEASE)

Noise rap pioneer B L A C K I E is back! On Halloween he dropped Face the Darkness, his first album in three years, and is supposed to drop another album this month. Face the Darkness is classic B L A C K I E, defined by raspy shouting over a jarring mixture of intense beats, forceful saxophone, and melancholic piano. Throughout the album, Michael LaCour pushes his body to its very limits, straining his voice on repetitive chants for songs like “Look Around” and the title track. Face the Darkness aptly describes LaCour’s raw lyrics, which combine with his unyielding approach to make this album one of the most cathartic releases of 2020. B L A C K I E has yet to amass the widespread recognition that Death Grips and a whole subsequent generation of internet rappers have enjoyed in recent years. However, it should be acknowledged that LaCour roughed it out in the trenches so those artists could later fly high. Face the Darkness is a testament to an unconventional, rugged sound that paved the way for others. I am eagerly anticipating how he will follow this effort on his mysterious January 8 release. —William Archambeault

CASH ADVANCE
DISPATCHED STATIC
(BILLY’S BALLROOM RECORDS)

Dispatched Static is the debut album from Cash Advance, a collaboration between members of New Orleans stalwarts Pope and Wasteman. Cash Advance’s sound leans more toward that of Pope’s, a warm and poppy combination of ‘90s indie rock and Americana—think Pavement with a twang. Fuzzed out guitars and sharp drums punctuate a sonic environment that feels as comfortable now as it did three decades ago. That is not to say that the band is a mere copycat. Though their sound is familiar, they have also very much made it their own, and the songs on Dispatched Static have the distinction of feeling timeless. These tracks capture perfectly a sense of American melancholy that, though it seems more palpable now, has always been lurking beneath the surface (“Renaissance Man”: “But he’s been busy sleeping his life away / There’s no peace like the present / When you’re stuck out in the past”). Other notable tracks include “Heat of the Night,” “Lost Boys,” and the psychedelic “Eleanor’s Boots.” —Mary Beth Campbell

MILEY CYRUS
PLASTIC HEARTS
(RCA)

On this seventh studio album, Miley Cyrus finally understands her source material. Cyrus has been sticking herself to different genres for years: trying, appropriating, dismissing, moving on. Plastic Hearts’ glam rock/pop tendencies are perfectly suited to Cyrus’ rasp and melodrama, and her features lend legitimacy to the album’s vision. “Gimme What I Want” and “Prisoners (featuring Dua Lipa)” are pretty standard pop songs, and they’re good fun. “Edge of Midnight” is a “Midnight Sky” remix featuring Stevie Nicks, and the album’s rock/pop intersection is in its clearest distillation here. Two covers, “Heart of Glass” and “Zombie,” close the album, and Cyrus’ voice is precisely suited to them. On this album, it doesn’t feel like she’s signaling influences that she can’t fully affect herself, as it has felt in previous attempts. Lyrically, she oscillates between self-power, self-pity, and self-reckoning. On “Angels Like You” she sings “I know that you’re wrong for me / Gonna wish we never met on the day I leave / I brought you down to your knees / ‘Cause they say that misery loves company,” casting blame in many directions. Plastic Hearts is a success story in trying, trying, trying again. —Marisa Clogher

LYRIC JONES
CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR
(EMPIRE)

Lyric Jones’ new album is reminiscent of the more refined era of classic hip-hop. Rapper/singer/drummer Jones showcases her lyrical prowess and prioritizes technique on this nine-track triumph of an album. Her seamless flows and conscious vibes are amplified by beats overflowing with elements of jazz and late ‘90s/early aughts neo-soul. On the track “Face To Face” Jones raps about police violence: “No more being silent / They violent but say we squander / Some make believe perfect dealt hand /  Truth is we stronger /  But painfully we still seeing strange fruit over yonder.” On this emotional track, Jones harnesses a sense of communal rage and fear while simultaneously holding space for those who have lost their lives to systemic racism. The album (executive produced by Phonte of the acclaimed hip-hop duo Little Brother) is an exercise in the art of MCing. The track “Want To Say” initially sounds like a standard braggadocio rap, but when examined more closely, Jones cleverly pays homage to a generation of rappers who influenced her. The track includes subtle nods to A Tribe Called Quest, Slick Rick, and Slum Village, to name a few. Closer Than They Appear creates a bridge between the old and new schools of hip-hop and Lyric Jones travels between the two with ease. —Shirani Jayasuriya

BAD OPERATION
S/T
(COMMUNITY / BAD TIME)

Bad Operation’s storied cast of characters have come together to produce an animated mix of what they call New Orleans ska-punk tunes, or “new tone”—and it’s obvious they’re really excited about it. Dominic Minix and ANTIGRAVITY’s own Robert Landry, among other local greats Daniel “D-Ray” Ray, Brian Pretus, and Greg Rodrigue make up the Bad Operation crew. They bring their self-titled album to life with a smart and funky use of the Hammond B3 organ coupled with strong trombones and upbeat drum tempos, which act as the main soundbites throughout the project. But that’s not to say the music is formulaic. If you listen closely, you’ll find each musician’s personal signature woven into the songs, like the humorous ramblings folded in with the melodies on “Brain”: “Agh, he texted me earlier saying we couldn’t even record. I had to take off of work, but… I don’t know, we’ll finish the album sometime. I don’t even think this album’s very good. Fucking pandemic. I guess we’ll play that show with People Museum in 2021?” The songs ebb and flow between slower jams and fast-paced bangers, keeping the listener on their toes. My favorite track has to be “Kinda Together,” where you can hear Minix doing some hypnotic spoken word over enthusiastic neo-Caribbean beats. Put simply, Bad Operation is just downright fun. It’s the type of music we all need to put the past bullshit year behind us and start 2021 on a slightly higher note. —Julia Engel

BARTEES STRANGE
LIVE FOREVER
(MEMORY MUSIC)

Earlier this year Bartees Strange released his debut EP Say Goodbye to Pretty Boy, which was made up solely of covers by big room indie rock stalwarts The National. That EP showcased his unique take on the indie rock genre while also serving as an examination of how genres tend to work as a form of musical segregation, with the idea for the EP coming from him noticing the lack of other POC at one of their shows. On the track “Mossblerd” from his debut album Live Forever, Strange supports this idea with the lyrics “Genres keep us in our boxes / Keep us from our commas / Keep us niggas hopeless / Keep us from our options” laid over an industrial beat that wouldn’t be out of place on a RZA tape. The rest of Live Forever fits his genre-hopping exploits while mainly staying rooted in indie rock. The first four tracks alone jump from Moses Sumney-esque self-reflection on “Jealousy,” blistering guitar assaults on “Mustang,” Detroit-style blues-rock on “Boomer,” and then slick-back R&B on “Kelly Rowland.” This is all carried out with the energy and tangled word play of indie rock heavyweights like Archers of Loaf. “It’s nice to think that folks are near, waking up was hard this year / But if I didn’t move the way I did then tell me how else could I be” is the lyric he closes with on “Mustang,” a relatable self-affirmation that turns into a mantra as he roars “Could I be?” —Brandon Lattimore

TANK AND THE BANGAS
FRIEND GOALS
(VERVE)

Friend Goals is a neatly wrapped gift from Tank and the Bangas: shiny paper, fluffy bow, dancey beats, leaping flutes, playful lyrics. It’s a trophy for making it through 2020 and a reminder (see: “Self Care”) that we’re not done yet, so we should really keep enjoying all that time we’ve still got to ourselves. When you’re as popular as Tank and the Bangas, you’ve got your pick of the litter and they chose well—Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, CHIKA, HaSizzle, Duckwrth, and Pell make some satisfying appearances. “Fluff” is a loopable, hypnotizing track. Fat bass and wood block hold down the beat for “TSA,” a funny, sexy, accurate musical representation of modern air travel. Who knew how badly we needed to hear PJ Morton croon, “Oh no! They just took my cologne / I just bought this new bottle and now it’s all gone / What do you think I’m gonna do with it anyway? / Spray, spray you to death?” “To Be Real” is high energy ‘90s-esque hip-hop bounce with major Missy Elliot vibes. Tank and the Bangas have always been musically ambitious and they pack a lot of contrast into this six track EP. Let’s see if they’ve got a full-length album as strong as this to follow it up in 2021. —Sabrina Stone

DUFF THOMPSON
HAYWIRE
(MASHED POTATO RECORDS)

Local country linchpin Duff Thompson recently released Haywire, a captivating debut album from this co-founder of beloved label Mashed Potato Records. Throughout the album, his craftsmanship shines in his ability to manipulate wayward vintage instruments, setting a forlorn yet nostalgic tone. Each track has its own set of legs leading the listener through worn love songs, wandering ballads, and garage-leaning tone. Using tape delay and reverb, Thompson devises a dreamy landscape while punching through lines such as “Spend all your time chasing things that never move”—it messes you up in the way any great song tends to do. A mix of folk, garage, and country nostalgia, Haywire is a stunning debut from a refined musical renaissance man. As any Mashed Potato release should be, Haywire features good company, including Steph Green (Carver Baronda), Sam Doores, and Max Bien-Kahn (Max & the Martians). —Danielle Dietze

SYDNEY SIBILIA
L'INCREDIBILE STORIA DELL’ISOLA DELLE ROSE (ROSE ISLAND)
(GROENLANDIA / NETFLIX)

If you’re like me and you tore through HBO’s newest psycho-thriller installment The Undoing at warp speed, you probably took note of the stunning actress playing Elena Alves. Matilda De Angelis is actually an Italian actress who hails from the small northern city of Bologna (a fact that makes me love her even more, since I spent nearly eight months living there in 2015); The Undoing was her first appearance on the American screen. Back in Italy, De Angelis has another noteworthy project under her belt as the lead female protagonist in Netflix’s new movie, L’incredibile storia dell’Isola delle Rose (Rose Island). The film is based on the true story of Giorgio Rosa, an engineer who, disenfranchised with the harsh realities of modern European life, was determined to build his own island in international waters off the coast of Rimini in 1968. Here, we see a different side of the actress as she plays the reserved and practical professoressa Gabriella. She stars alongside Elio Germano, who plays Rosa. The fact that this film is based in any sort of reality is frankly jaw-dropping. It illustrates a wave of ‘60s European rebellion that birthed such phenomena as pirate radio stations, but on an even more grandiose scale. L’incredibile storia capitalizes on quintessential Italian humor, casting Rosa in a light that reminds me of Mr. Bean, if Mr. Bean was an eccentric Italian guy content living on a one-house island in the middle of the Adriatic Sea. De Angelis and Germano are absolutely charming in this film, leaving you with the sense that it is in fact possible to find peace in this world—all you have to do is build it. —Julia Engel

 

NIKKI MAYEUX
ORDINARY TIME
(TILTED HOUSE)

In Ordinary Time, Nikki Mayeux converts the ordinary world into a type of mythology. This collection weaves religion, sexuality, parenthood, and grief; and within it, time isn’t fixed. There are characters mingling across centuries, with one poem titled “The Widow Judith As Tallulah Bankhead Defends Her Decision Never To Remarry After Beheading Holofernes.” The collection is timely in its exploration of sickness and extraction. In “Rembrandt Tulips,” she writes of tulips in Holland intentionally infected with viral infections for an aesthetic beauty achieved in doing so, tulips which later became “genetically modified to emulate the symptoms / without the sickness.” Ordinary Time is a collection of dialectics. Mayeux not only holds these warring truths at once, but tills them to make them bloom. In “Remedy” she writes “it’s funny how / you learn to hate / the thing that won’t die / instead of / the killing tool.” —Marisa Clogher

BRIAN WALSBY
SELF EMPUNISHMENT
(PELEKINESIS)

Anyone contemplating independent work in the arts or even just general freelance work should consider this essential reading. Self Empunishment compiles an impressive number of interviews that artist/writer Brian Walsby conducted with self-motivated individuals in the arts, primarily music and visual. Walsby pries open the brains of notable figures from groups like Descendents, Melvins, and Dinosaur Jr. for their perspectives on making a livelihood in art for the long run. Thankfully, this book has no space for shallow rock star facades. Many of the interviewees are welcomingly honest about the trials and tribulations of self-employment. For instance, Alice In Chains singer William DuVall explains why he is so busy that he sometimes only gets one hour of sleep despite being in an objectively successful band that regularly plays amphitheaters. There’s a lot of reminiscing about the punk world circa the 1980s in the interviews, which can be quite interesting if the reader is into that. The insider asides and occasional nerd-outs might be a bit too numerous for the uninitiated, but they are all part of giving readers an idea how interviewees got down their current paths. Self Empunishment isn’t a how-to book for success (some of the subjects aren’t even terribly successful), but it does offer valuable insights from some hard-working folks who jumped off the deep end a long time ago. —William Archambeault

 

ADRIENNE BATTISTELLA
NO MAN
(SUIS GENERIS)

There may be no substitute for the thrill of live music, but ANTIGRAVITY photo editor Adrienne Battistella’s solo show at Suis Generis (showing through January 5) comes pretty damn close. NO MAN is a first rate series of portraits of some of the raddest and baddest female and nonbinary musicians who have come through New Orleans in the last decade. Technically the compositions are flawless; one image shows an otherworldly Alynda Segarra playing in an old and opulent church. A candelabra gleams above her head and almost unbelievably, rays of light emanate from her banjo like a benediction. The series features some real legends; in one, Erykah Badu, her face laced with shadow, salutes an Essence Festival crowd. In another, Dolly Parton sashays across the stage cradling a bedazzled acoustic guitar. But the show really comes to life in the grit and grime of the New Orleans underground. Shots like the one of Monet Maloof, crouched onstage shrieking into the mic, take all the kinetic energy of a live show and compress it into a single frame. Gland’s Kallie Tiffau kneels down and bends backwards into a sweaty Saturn Bar crowd; Valerie June beams above her guitar in the unmistakable Circle Bar alcove. These photos feel warmly familiar, but when you realize you are looking at pictures of a bygone era, they hit you like a gut punch. For most of us, it’s nearly impossible to recognize a golden age until it’s already over. But the best photographers can catch these moments midair and strip them down to their essence. In NO MAN, Battistella does exactly that, leaving us with a vision of our glory days to last until the next ones come along. —Holly Devon

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