Album cover for Corey Ledet Zydeco’s self-titled album. It’s a black and white photo of him sitting on a wooden porch with an accordion on his lap. He’s dark-skinned and looking straight at the camera, and his foot is resting on one of the stairs. There are some drums and cymbals leaning up against the wooden panels of the building behind him. At the top reads “Corey Ledet Zydeco” is a retro font.

Zydeco music would not move the same way without Corey Ledet and his musical lineage. Certainly, the “double-clutching” drum pattern his great-grandfather invented wouldn’t exist, nor would the rich preservation Corey Ledet has harvested throughout his decades of rectifying the accordion. In his recent self-titled release, Ledet incorporates Kouri-Vini, a regional dialect spoken by his family, who hails from Parks, Louisiana. In “Arèt tô Trin” and “Pèl Mò,for example, he sings with pride in his native tongue, leading an ensemble of washboard, glittering Hammond B3, and backbeat. Ledet’s renditions of “M’ap Marshé,” a cover of Fats Domino‘s “I’m Walking,” and Big Joe Turner‘s “Flip Flop and Fly” are well-adorned, but it’s in the celebratory soulful originals like “It’s Gonna Be Alright” that Corey Ledet solidifies himself amongst his cultural roots. At the beginning of the accordion instrumental “Nina’s Hot Step,” Ledet narrates what was the beginning of COVID and social distancing measures, chuckling, “so I’m going to finish this album by myself… mon tu soeur.” Following in his family’s footsteps, Corey Ledet Zydeco’s latest release enriches what we treasure about Zydeco music while minding his own walk. —Danielle Dietze

Album cover for The Shallow End of Denial by Jonathan Caplan. It’s a black and white portrait of Jonathan Kaplan. He’s light-skinned and has a goatee. He’s wearing a patterned button-up shirt, a sun hat, and glasses.

Jonathan Caplan’s debut EP, The Shallow End of Denial, is an esoteric baroque pop record glazed with Harry Nilsson-esque idiosyncrasies and a critical dose of vibraslap. In catchy opener “The Question Is The Answer,” Caplan demises, “No one could’ve told me / Where I’d be when I’m 30.” Bored and disheveled, he reflects on human nature in “Not Sisyphus,” a noir-rock reward. “Valse a Gabrielle,” an instrumental number, features Tristan Harrell on violin. Other than that, the EP is all performed, produced, and composed by Caplan. When you recognize all the moving parts in each track and the broad genre range, the self-determination of the record is notable. Overall, The Shallow End of Denial is a knowledgeable and intriguing beginning for a fresh local sound. Danielle Dietze

Album cover for Kelly Duplex’s self-titled album. It’s a grayscale, geometric illustration. The figure in the center resembles a lighter, with one square as the base and one square connected by a hinge, titling up. There’s another tiny square in the open space where the other two squares separate. There are solid lines and dotted lines highlighting the angles made by these shapes. At the bottom reads “Kelly Duplex” with gray letters that are very spaced out. The background is black. Album art by Shane Avrard.

On their self-titled debut, Kelly Duplex explore a myriad of topics: loss, millennial adulthood and its struggles, and the all-consuming heat of summer in southeastern Louisiana. Their cited influences include Sunny Day Real Estate, Weezer, and The Sundays, but while they are steeped in the music of ‘90s musicians, they are not mere copycats. They have also developed their own warm and inviting sound. Shane Avrard (vocals/guitar/keys), Dreaux Lebourgeois (drums), and Kenny Murphy (bass) play well off of each other, crafting music that is tight with a well-defined sense of self. One notable track is “Shreveport,” an exploration of “a year of loss—chosen and circumstantial”: “Lost everything in fire / Stay on the right side of desire / Ignoring all the signs you swore you required.” Another standout is album opener “Hoverround.” This song speaks to the sense of dread and tragedy which can accompany summers in New Orleans, with a guitar solo reminiscent of Dinosaur Jr. (“Hoverround / Shotgun house and AC out / Kids gunned down / Sirens on without a sound”). This collection of songs is a promising and emotionally intelligent debut, a welcome addition to this current wave of local indie rock. —Mary Beth Campbell

Album cover for Song of Sage: Post Panic! by Navy Blue. It’s a grayscale illustration of a dark-skinned person looking down. We can only see their head and upper torso, but their arms appear to be outstretched. Their hair is worn in braids that curve, and they have a goatee. The illustration looks like it’s done in charcoal, so their features on their torso and behind them are smeared. Artwork by John Singletary.

Brooklyn rapper and professional skateboarder Navy Blue’s sophomore album flows like a daydream through countless lifetimes and consciousnesses. He weaves together formative wounds with those of centuries past—almost as though they happened in his own past lives. The track “1491” focuses on the year before America was forever scarred by genocide. He raps, “I used to kiss my Saint Christopher / Fuck Christopher Columbus 1491 / It’s one and done.” Later, on “Back to Basics,” Navy Blue speaks of his ancestors: “Back to back with parallel universe and spaces / The land of native Indian / We share the faces / Made it with those who made it off the slave ship.” The album feels like a case study on the haunting effects of postcolonialism, with Blue discussing modern manifestations such as police brutality and systemic racism. Spirituality, magic, and clairvoyance are recurring themes as well. This 18-track retrospective features vintage lounge-style instrumentals that drift intentionally into each other and remain as interconnected as Blue’s lyrics and themes. Hip-hop legend Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def) even makes a noteworthy guest appearance on the track “Breathe.” On Song of Sage: Post Panic! Navy Blue taps into the collective wisdom of his ancestors to find his own voice and it’s a breathtaking awakening. —Shirani Jayasuriya

Album cover for New Confusion by R. Scully. It’s a black and white photo of a close-up of R. Scully’s face. He’s light-skinned and is wearing a light beanie and glasses. The left half of his face is covered by shadow.

Eventually we’ll have a distinguished category for the music that carried us throughout COVID-19. Until then, R. Scully’s title New Confusion is aptly fitting. Holed up in his Bywater attic, Scully spent quarantine writing and recording his debut solo album—a coarse, multi-personality collage of songs ranging from tender inflections to punk-leaning ferocity and experimental ‘90s influences. “Manhole” kicks off the full-length, with Scully reflecting, “I wanna volunteer on the weekends / And keep in touch with my mom.” Humor and humanity go hand-in-hand in New Confusion as it twists through a communal psyche of frustration and mortality in our modern times. In “My Little Phony,” Scully’s oblique and humourous lyrics gleam perfectly over a funk-infused bassline and disparate noise: “Nobody even eats bologna anymore / You want that smoked turkey.” Then there’s “Melania’s Blues,” a facetious riff on a punk anthem, and “N.O.L.A,” a grungy garage ballad. The broad genre range throughout is made more impressive when you consider that it was all recorded and produced by Scully himself. New Confusion traverses a multitude of emotions and sounds and it’s comfortingly relatable. —Danielle Dietze


Album cover for Volume One by Speed Stick. It’s a grayscale illustration of the silhouette of two wolves mirroring and facing away from each other. The wolf on the left is light gray, and the wolf on the right is black and white with vertical stripes. At the top reads “Speed Stick / Volume One” in letters meant to look 3-dimensional. Artwork by Charles Chace.

Though Speed Stick has only existed for about a year, its members have been active in the Carrboro (North Carolina) scene since the 1990s. Touted as an indie rock supergroup, the core band consists of Ash Bowie (Polvo), Charles Chace (The Paul Swest), Laura King (Bat Fangs and Flesh Wounds), and Thomas Simpson (The Love Language). The songs on Volume One, their debut album, were created in collaboration with artists such as Mac McCaughan (Superchunk), Kelley Deal (The Breeders and R. Ring), Mike Montgomery (R. Ring), and Stuart McLamb (The Love Language). According to their official press release, “The musicians’ task was simple: draw inspiration from the [drum] beats in order to create music that spreads laterally and horizontally like a rhizome.” The end result is a collection of songs which transcend genre, creating a kaleidoscope of sound. The album opens with “Protect Your Magic,” a surreal track that plays drum beats, discordant guitars, and synths off each other, alternating between intense peaks and eerily calm plateaus. “Knots,” on the other hand, is classic psych-rock. Volume One is an intriguing collection of songs, meant not to be put on merely as background noise but rather to be taken in as an immersive experience. —Mary Beth Campbell

Album cover for Brute Err/ata by Terminal Bliss. It’s a black and white image that’s grimy and distorted and doesn’t depict anything clearly. We can make out a dark skull, but everything else is abstract design. It reads “Terminal Bliss” at the top, but the letters are smeared and distorted. The bottom reads “Brute Err/ata” in white.

Brute Err/ata captures extremely noisy, chaotic full throttle punk at its best. Terminal Bliss packs an overwhelming amount of energy into these short, concise bursts of destruction. After almost a year without live shows, this one-sided 12” makes me want to run around my room and jump off my furniture. Recorded mere weeks before going into initial COVID-19 lockdowns, Brute Err/ata critiques a dystopian America that has only grown more grotesque in the subsequent year. Tracks like “Clean Bill of Wealth” (which tackles our woefully inefficient health care system) and “Small One Time Fee” (an ode to the glazed-eye exhausted masses) address problems that feel as American as apple pie. This is the band’s debut, but Terminal Bliss sports an impressive cast of characters from some vital screamo groups of the 1990s and 2000s. Vocalist Chris Taylor and his brother and guitarist Mike are essential members of Pg. 99 and Pygmy Lush while bassist/noisemaker Adam Juresko and drummer Ryan Parrish make up half of City of Caterpillar. They are veterans of the underground world, but this short debut feels more urgent than a lot of stuff that bands half their age are putting out. —William Archambeault

Album cover for Works on Progress Vol. 1 by various artists. It’s a grayscale illustration of 5 different scenes in a mosaic style in different quadrants of the frame. The top left quadrant has 2 dark-skinned people looking at the frame, one leaning on the other. The top right quadrant has a dark-skinned person on a white horse, with the sun behind them. The bottom left quadrant has a snake hissing. The bottom right quadrant has a dark-skinned person wearing a turtleneck looking to the left of the screen. There’s a rectangle separating the top quadrants from the bottom quadrants, and in that spaces there’s a cop car driving in front of a row of houses, with jagged lines surrounding it that symbolize sirens. At the top reads “Works on Progress” and in the bottom left corner reads ‘Vol. 1” Cover Art by Langston Allston.

Works On Progress moves between genres seamlessly, giving each artist equal and ample stage. The album is a BIPOC compilation of 12 artists, most of whom are from New Orleans. Dominic Minix is the lead curator, and his song “Try Again” is also featured on the album. Frewhun’s4:35” is an R&B track that repeats “Please be gentle now,” with instrumentals lulling us to comply. “Endless Bummer” by Sexy Dex and the Fresh follows, with upbeat synths that reanimate you into dancing. Xavier Molina’s “Yeah” brings the grunge. Solomon Wexley’s “Light As A Feather” is a slower trap song with deep, warped vocals. This compilation covers the bases with each artist bringing their piece of the puzzle, and each contribution rounding out the others. All good work and good progress requires this. The album ends with Sly Watts’ “The Future, She’s Beautiful,” where he raps “The revolution is coming” throughout. The song has a quick flow and quick instrumentals, with an excitement that gets in your bones—an excitement for the future, for revolution. —Marisa Clogher


Album cover for The Democracy! Suite by Wynton Marsalis. In the center reads “The Democracy! Suite” in blocky letters. Above this is a backwards American flag, but instead of stars there are bubbles like on a multiple choice test, with one of the bubbles scratched in. Below the letters are arrows going up and down on the left and stars on the right. At the bottom reads “Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Septet with Wynton Marsalis.

Wynton Marsalis’ The Democracy! Suite challenges listeners to grapple with the complicated relationship between democracy and jazz music. And if you’re unclear about what exactly Marsalis means when he says that “Jazz music is the perfect metaphor for democracy,” look no further than the album’s liner notes. For each of the eight songs, Marsalis has written poetic explanations of how his complicated arrangements and innovative employment of swing resemble the concept of democracy—and all of the problems, inequalities, and injustices that have challenged this concept throughout our nation’s history. Of course, the timing for this January 15 release could not have been more poignant. As I write this, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are being inaugurated into what will no doubt be an intense chapter for democracy. My favorite track off this album has to be “Ballot Box Bounce,” if not for the name alone. Its tempo is almost dizzying, echoing the fast-paced chase the Trump administration participated in to swiftly dismantle our government’s mail-in ballot system. While the music of this album is certainly nowhere near the realm of New Orleans jazz (neither modern nor traditional), what it’s saying about the importance of jazz music—both past and present—to the formulation of democracy, nonetheless resonates. It’s an album all jazz aficionados should be paying attention to.  —Julia Engel

Album cover for Split by XBRACKISHX and Shitload. It’s a black and white map of New Orleans, with the Westbank and Chalmette being the areas most in frame. The areas on the map that are labeled are Marrero, Gretna, Arabi, Chalmette, Meraux, and Violet. At the top reads “XBRACKISHX” and at the bottom reads “Shitload.”

The St. Bernard X Westbank Unity Split” brings together XBRACKISHX and Shitload, two extremely noisy one-man projects from the Greater New Orleans area. These proudly lo-fi acts sprung up during the pandemic and channel the angst and uncertainty of the last year into abrasive yet comical music. XBRACKISHX’s side features deep guttural screams over a mixture of grindcore and powerviolence recorded at iOS Studios. Taylor Sullivan, the man behind this side, samples zydeco, moans, and even a newscaster describing an explosion at an oil refinery in Chalmette. He also includes “Pay That Toll,” an acoustic song about ferry tolls. Shitload’s side kicks off with Westbank pride track “I’m From The Westbank,” which features members of Eyehategod, Flesh Parade, and Exhorder proudly declaring where they’re from. The rest of Shitload’s tracks are just Bobby Bergeron alone with his screams and bass driven by rapid machine-gun-pace drum programming. His side sports song titles like “Acid Bath’s Songs At The Jungle Were Better Than Their Shows At Zeppelin’s” and “Drowning In The Harvey Tunnel.” This split is one of XBRACKISH’s four releases since forming in November, while Shitload has amassed an astonishing 27 releases since debuting last April. Like them or not, these projects don’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon, just like the virus that birthed them. —William Archambeault

The poster art for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. It’s a black and white picture of Viola Davis as Ma Rainey singing into a carbon microphone. She’s in the middle of singing, and we can see from her neck up. Above the microphone reads “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

Based on the play by the late August Wilson, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a powerful, harsh look into the world of 1920s jazz. The setting is Chicago, the year 1927. While attempting to record her latest album, Ma Rainey (played by Viola Davis) gets lost in an uphill battle with both her bandmates and the record producers. Unfortunately, the main themes of racial injustice, prejudice, and corruption in the music industry that this masterpiece of a film puts on centerstage still ring all too true today. In particular, Ma Rainey radiates the same tones of frustration and tragedy as Tom Dent’s one-act play Ritual Murder, which ran for years with the Free Southern Theater here in New Orleans, as part of a larger body of 1980s play-work that this movie draws from. And Ma Rainey’s relationship to New Orleans runs deep: when writing the score music for the movie’s soundtrack, Branford Marsalis performed an extensive amount of research on 1920s jazz, seeking to make the music as authentic as possible. Marsalis told Town and Country, “The resulting album is a testament to the hard-as-nails dance music that held sway long before jazz players got lost in ‘solos and structures, way far away from the melody.’” Behind the actors, Ma Rainey features a panorama of local greats, including Wendell Brunious, whose trumpeting mastery can be heard each time Chadwick Boseman’s character Levee picks up his horn. Freddie Lonzo, Ronnell Johnson, and David L. Harris, among many other New Orleans musicians, make up the sounds of Ma Rainey’s “band.” —Julia Engel

Book cover for Asylum for Sale: Profit and Protest in the Migration Industry. It’s a black and white illustration of a dark-skinned hand balled into a fist, grabbing a barbed wire fence. There’s a quote at the top that reads “An unparalleled resource—Naomi Klein.” Beneath this reads “Asylum for Sale / Profit and Protest in the Migration Industry.” Beneath this reads “Edited by Siobhán McGuirk and Adrienne Pine. In the bottom right corner reads “Foreword by Seth M. Holmes.”

Mainstream discourse tends to reduce the concept and practice of asylum to narrowly-defined moral and legal questions. Western countries are morally ranked by the size of their quotas and the performative enthusiasm of their humanitarian rhetoric. Asylum seekers themselves are discussed as either cynical opportunists gaming the system, or noble victims of a distant, peripheral barbarism. The granting of asylum, no matter how limited, is rendered as an act of national altruism. Asylum for Sale sweeps these facile narratives aside. By marshaling a diverse chorus of voices—including academics, journalists, activists, artists, and people directly impacted by asylum regimes—the book illuminates a vast, transnational industry of exploitation and profit-seeking that permeates and structures every facet of the asylum process. This is a circuitous world in which people driven from their homes by the latest drone bombing or CIA-engineered coup become commodities of for-profit detention camps run by the same corporations that fund legal aid NGOs. Asylum for Sale is an essential volume to carry forward into the political landscape of the post-Trump world. A nonpartisan consensus among most political elites for the asylum regime—and not incidentally, for U.S. imperialism and neoliberal capitalism writ large—is poised to endure, as new forms of organized resistance rise to challenge the status quo. —Morgan Dowdy

Book cover for Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next) by Dean Spade. In the center is a light gray rectangle, and inside reads “Dean Spade” in small black letters at the top, then underneath it reads “Mutual Aid” in large black letters, then underneath that it reads “Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next)” in small black letters. The light rectangle is bordered by a darker color, with the book’s title repeating in different places throughout.

“The contemporary political moment is defined by emergency.” So begins the introduction of Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next), a breakdown of what mutual aid is and how to build it. The book was published in October of 2020, so it speaks to our most relevant crises and gives us some tools for how to proceed. Spade spends the first part of the book defining mutual aid and how it differs from charity, explaining how “nonprofitization was designed to demobilize us.” These distinctions are important to solidify in our minds for anyone doing movement work. In part two, Spade explores both the pitfalls of movement work, and how to address them collaboratively and transparently to create revolutionary and lasting results. There are charts included that ask us to think deeper about our methods and intentions, such as mutual aid vs. charity, tendencies that harm groups, qualities of group cultures, basic steps to consensus decision-making, as well as questions littered throughout of things we should be constantly asking ourselves regarding the “why” of our actions. Spade writes, “our ability to build mutual aid will determine whether we win the world we long for or dive further into crisis.” It’s time to build. —Marisa Clogher


Book cover for Working Class History: Everyday Acts of Resistance & Rebellion. “Working Class History” appears in big, black text, with “Everyday Acts of Resistance & Rebellion” in smaller white text in between. At the bottom reads “Edited by Working Class History” and “Forward by Noam Chomsky.” The background has dots covering it.

Working Class History doesn’t function as a narrative so much as reference material. The book is organized by month, moving chronologically. Each day of the year lists two events in history that occurred on that day that have contributed to the working class struggle (for example: on January 8, 1896 “the world’s first explicitly anarchist-feminist newpaper, La Voz de la Mujer, was published in Buenos Aires, Argentina”; On March 6, 1922 “a wave of rent strikes in Veracruz, Mexico was triggered when sex workers barricaded a street with their rented mattresses, chairs, and other furniture”). The intro states: “Our education system does not even come close to adequately reflecting the impact of these movements of ordinary people on our history” and Working Class History attempts to right some of these omissions. It doesn’t dive deep, and it doesn’t claim to be exhaustive. Each selection is brief but provides a good entry point to further learning, and solid contextualization at a time when the present feels crushing and the future feels impossible. These are lessons from the past that we can and must build from. These histories are the way forward. —Marisa Clogher

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