Collapsed In Sunbeams is the much-anticipated debut album from London-based poet and singer-songwriter Arlo Parks (real name Anaïs Oluwatoyin Estelle Marinho). Releasing her first EP Super Sad Generation in 2019, Arlo Parks generated buzz for her self-reflective and nuanced songs about youthful experiences and emotions. Collapsed In Sunbeams is equally self-reflective, a confident debut that builds upon Parks’ previous themes of mental health, love (both unrequited and realized), and identity. “Black Dog” centers around supporting a loved one through a mental health crisis (“I would do anything to get you out of your room / It’s so cruel what your mind can do for no reason”). “Eugene” is a bittersweet song about unrequited love (“Hey, I know I’ve been a little bit off and that’s my mistake / I kind of fell half in love and you’re to blame”). Though she cites artists such as Thom Yorke, Nujabes, and Jai Paul as major artistic influences, the song lyrics themselves are very different from any of these artists, leaning more toward the earnest and sweet. Collapsed In Sunbeams is a promising debut, a gentle little world of songs that takes its listeners to a comforting and affirming space. —Mary Beth Campbell
Cleveland indie-punk veterans Cloud Nothings returned to Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio studio (the site of their 2012 breakthrough, Attack On Memory) to record their sixth full-length, The Shadow I Remember. Like all of their output since changing from a lo-fi solo project of frontman/guitarist Dylan Baldi to full-fledged band, Shadow is another entry in the ongoing struggle between the collective’s gnarled ferocity and Baldi’s immaculate pop instincts. This time around, Baldi has grafted some of his catchiest melodies yet onto short but ever-shifting arrangements that allow the band, especially ace drummer Jayson Gerycz, to stretch out. The brevity is noteworthy, as the band’s trademark 10-minute slow burn centerpiece is absent here, showing an effort to distill all of their ideas into easily digestible noise-pop nuggets. After numerous, relatively subdued home recordings released during the pandemic, it is good to once again hear Baldi’s unshackled screams about getting old (“Oslo“), self-worth (“Am I Something“), and other oppressions of life over grimy, Wipers-esque guitars and punishing rhythms. After 11 years of touring and recording, Cloud Nothings have proven themselves to be remarkably consistent while still being able to expand their potent attack. —Will Hibert
Goat Girl emerged from South London’s post-punk scene in 2015, drawing attention with their edgy lyrics and scuzz-rock sound. On All Fours retains this edge while veering in a more melodic, experimental direction. “Jazz (In the Supermarket)” is perhaps the most dramatic departure from their first album, with its dreamy synths, orchestral instrumentation, Congolese-inspired drum beats, and wordless harmonies. Other notable tracks include the trip hop-inspired “Bang” and the dream pop-tinged “Where Do We Go From Here?” Their lyrics are still political, perhaps even more anti-authoritarian than their previous work, confronting issues ranging from the personal to the global. The dreamy tones of “Where Do We Go From Here?” belie a scathing takedown of Boris Johnson (“I’m sure it stinks under his skin / Where pores secrete all the hate from within”). “They Bite On You,” one of the rare songs about scabies, also serves as a metaphor for the pain and anxiety fueled by capitalism (“All the shouts, all the grinding you down / Make you feel the worth’s not allowed”). The album ends with the introspective “A-Men” which, if not exactly raucous or upbeat, allows for the possibility of hope in whatever form it might take. —Mary Beth Campbell
Made Kuti’s first solo album, For(e)ward, is an incredible testament to his family’s musical legacy. Made is the son of Femi Kuti and the grandson of Fela Kuti, both highly regarded Nigerian Afro-jazz instrumentalists and political activists. On For(e)ward, this lineage makes itself wonderfully apparent—the album is an experimental proclamation of freedom that provides poignant critique on police brutality and a variety of other social issues. From the opening track, “Free Your Mind,” to the ultimate one, “We Are Strong,” the album makes several lyrical pushes toward themes of community empowerment and liberation through collectivization. Even more, these commanding lyrics are underscored by urgent and somewhat frantic multi-instrumental stylings composed exclusively by Made. That’s right—Made plays every single instrument on his album, and this unique type of compositional control gives the album its spiraling and unexpected nature. For(e)ward is unrestricted and untamed in how it combines the highly rhythmic and improvised genres of funk, jazz, and Afrobeat. The album is an inspiration and an optimistic call for action in the future, helping drive listeners forward, one spontaneous note at a time. —Maeve Holler
Warm, worn-in love songs find a fresh start in All The Same, the heartfelt follow-up of sturdy songwriting from feel-good folk rock purveyors Max and the Martians. Sundazed melodies and understated harmonies glaze over the collection of songs, sauntering between weathered Western, ‘60s Greenwich Village folk, and early R&B-nodding pop. Love, lust, and loss are mitigated through the album in jangly dance numbers and dreamy tempos. Disassociating in “Milky Way,” Max sings, “Gonna lose my mind / Before it runs away”—an escapist mantra. The album’s catchy and merry attitude contrasts with stories of change, heartache, and regret. It’s a reconciliation of the good and the bad, a slow dance with the impermanent. In “Lay Your Body,” the album’s bookend, Max croons, “All that’s learned is remembered / The same damn stone,” before erupting into a violin crescendo. Beyond Max’s unmistakable drawl and the band’s characteristic genre breaching, All The Same is a record that brings treasured classics like “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” or “Coney Island Baby” to mind. Modest but masterful songcrafting solidifies this sophomore full-length out on March 12th. A limited run of vinyl and cassettes are up for grabs. —Danielle Dietze
Put down your phone and stop doom scrolling. No seriously. Put this record on your turntable, close your eyes, and take some deep breaths. The past year has undoubtedly been one of the most stressful years in most people’s lives. Thankfully, Jake Orrall and Kunal Prakash have teamed up to make some excellent music to relax to. Prakash rocks out in local group Silver Synthetic and joined Orrall’s long-standing band JEFF The Brotherhood a few years ago. They’re both well-known for fuzzed-out guitar ripping, but don’t expect any of that on this three-song 12”. Instead, the duo sculpt their own world by combining slow synth arpeggios and soft whispers with sparse percussion and flowing water sounds. “ASMR1,” “ASMR2,” and “SLEEP HYPNOSIS” are all apt titles for these long, repetitive works aimed at calming nerves. The respective pieces build and expand over time but never grow unwieldy or overwhelming. As a result, it’s really easy to get lost in these songs. The duo originally released this material digitally last May, but its vinyl debut offers a great opportunity to revisit this music and maybe—just maybe—chill out for a little bit. —William Archambeault
Sick Thoughts is back at it again with pure sleezeball rock’n’roll! This 7” features two excellent odes to debauchery. On “Poor Boys,” Drew Owen pays tribute to the grimey dive of the same name. “No, you didn’t see me throw up last night,” he snarls in feigned ignorance over bashed guitar chords. The corresponding video features him crawling on Poor Boys’ floor, shouting from the top of a parked truck, and drunkenly air-guitaring his own solos on bottles of booze. The title of the b-side speaks for itself. Even though I don’t partake in any substances, I find it impossible to resist chanting “Drug rock!” at the top of my lungs along with Owen. Ripping guitar leads and a fierce delivery make it easy to forget that Owen played all of these instruments on his own at home. Years of one-man home recordings—most of which have been released under the moniker Sick Thoughts—have given him ample opportunities to hone his craft. Even when navigating multiple instruments, he manages to conjure up more energy than most full bands. Put bluntly, this 7” just rocks. —William Archambeault
Gary Washington, a.k.a. The Urban Cellist, is married to the love of his life—his cello (there was recently a ceremony). If you live in New Orleans, you’ve likely heard this classically-trained cellist perfecting his craft in Audubon Park or playing alongside some of the biggest names in the jazz scene. If you’re really lucky, you’ve caught one of his #cornwater sets where he beatboxes, freestyles, and lightheartedly blends elements of hip-hop with jazz, soul, percussion, and more. He currently resides in Manchester, UK where he’s just released his newest project, the Black Transcendental Suite. This seven-movement suite for string quartet features Natalia Senior-Brown (viola), Raye Harvey (2nd violin), Nadia Vasileva (1st violin), and Gary Washington (cello). The project was written by Washington in response to the brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police last summer. This revelatory suite explores the idea of Black transcendence against the backdrop of the Black American experience. According to Washington, the first and second movements are “comparing Soviet Russia with the romanticised antebellum sound of the south…” Later movements utilize an MC and a vocalist and showcase his ability to pay homage to the many sounds and styles of Black music. The movements are wrought with emotion—some heavy, driven by fear and rage, while others find moments of quiet catharsis and a sense of community. “Black transcendence means different things to different people,” Washington acknowledges. “Strength, humbleness, power, intelligence, to be young, gifted and Black,” he states, borrowing from Lorraine Hansberry and later Nina Simone. The Black Transcendental Suite is a magnificent statement about facing great adversity and the power to overcome. —Shirani Jayasuriya
Virginia Wing’s fourth full-length studio album private LIFE is an exercise in the cyclical nature of loneliness. Normally a duo, the Manchester-based group expands to a trio on the record by enlisting new member Christopher Duffin. The album, which thematically explores the hidden nature of our current lives, is driven by somewhat discordant overlapping pop, synth, and auto-tuned sounds that may disorient listeners at times. Nevertheless, even with its overdeveloped new-age finish, private LIFE lyrically strives toward vulnerability and exploring restorative mechanisms of introspection in the face of uncertainty. This is undoubtedly an effort we can all relate to nearly a year into an isolating pandemic. On one of the record’s strongest tracks, “Soft Fruit,” front woman Alice Merida Richards projects visions of hope and despair, singing “Like an infant trying to find comfort in a deafening cry / There’s chaos in my heart / I’m being ruined by desire.” This contrast crafts a helpful altar for listeners to foster futurism and spirituality. The inharmony of private LIFE makes itself known over and over, reminding listeners of how the intersection of darkness and discomfort has become a home to many of us. —Maeve Holler
The UK is currently experiencing a post-punk/no wave renaissance of sorts. Leeds-based Yard Act is a standout amongst this very deep pool of talent. Yard Act has released a handful of wryly funny songs over the past year, skewering the heaviness of the world and the ideologies that shape it. These songs comprise Dark Days, the band’s debut EP. Lead singer James Smith’s vocals lean more toward spoken word, with less of a focus on melody and more emphasis on storytelling and atmosphere. Smith’s vocals are accompanied by a solid rhythm section, devastating riffs, and danceable grooves. “Fixer Upper” satirizes conservative culture, and the darkly funny “Peanuts” is also a treatise on empathy and compromise (“But we’ll all understand / It takes real guts to fake being nuts / And it takes real nuts, to break fake guts”). Yard Act is currently at work on their full-length debut; if this EP is any indication, this is the beginning of big things for them. Even if we are all dancing toward the apocalypse, perhaps all’s not lost (“Dark Days”: “And if you wanna climb the ladder of success on Judgment Day / Take my advice and reinvent the reel completely, believe me”). —Mary Beth Campbell
Cash for Uhuru is exactly what it sounds like: an effort to raise funds for underground icon Uhuruverse, a local Black trans musician in need of an electric wheelchair and a car equipped for his specific needs. To this end, DJ faeriegothmother (a.k.a. Kuill, of Retch and The Foe) gathered 22 of the best artists our city’s substratum has to offer—19 if you don’t count Kuill’s and Uhuru’s multiple projects separately. The result is a tremendously long, at times brilliant record. The project clocks in at over 100 minutes, and a decent chunk of that was added mere days before the February 20 release date. Of course, it’s uneven and raw, and includes tracks that probably wouldn’t make the cut on some of these artists’ respective records. Such is the nature of a compilation pushed out on a tight deadline, but clearly, that couldn’t be helped in this case. Three of the songs—Special Interest’s “Disco III,” Little Death’s “(Another) Saturday Night,” and Stash Marina’s “muerte del amor”—were previously released and are unaltered on the comp. But a little patience with the record yields some gems. Highlights include a sleek, catchy intro from Kelly Duplex that brings to mind Julian Casablancas before he started sucking, an equally glossy disco/hyperglam track from Delores Galore & Pearce, a headbanging ode to chaos from Thou, the longest Primpce track ever recorded, and a surprisingly solid “Smells Like Teen Spirit” cover from leafdrinker. Uhuru’s final bonus track ends the record on a high note. He’s mostly known for his punk prowess and has a track record of playing in bands with mean names—Fuck U Pay Us, Y.G.S.L.R.H. S.T.F.U.T. (YOU GUYS SUCK LIKE REAL HARD. SHUT THE FUCK UP. THANKS.). Here, though, he raps over a slippery beat by Andy Moon, showing off his versatility and reminding us how vital he is to the scene. That the album exists at all is a miracle, and if you only buy one thing on Bandcamp this Friday (when the site relinquishes its profit share to its artists), it should be this comp. Do it for Uhuru, for the scene, and for the most varied sampler of non-traditional New Orleans music I’ve ever encountered. —Raphael Helfand
Prior to the pandemic, Mike Dillon was one of the hardest touring forces tied to New Orleans. The multi-disciplined vibraphone and percussion master has dedicated most of the past three decades to long, brutal treks across the country to perform seemingly anywhere and everywhere. Needless to say, it was more than a little jarring when the van wheels suddenly came to a screeching halt last March. Faced with this unprecedented change, Dillon turned to what he knows best. He hit the studio hard and transformed the surrounding chaos into one of the most prolific periods of his career. In late 2020, he released three albums digitally, uploading each to Bandcamp mere days after receiving the final masters. On March 12, his longtime label Royal Potato Family is finally bringing each individual release to vinyl and streaming services.
The trilogy’s first release Shoot the Moon sounds like if the Butthole Surfers hosted a late night Jazz Fest jam session. Dillon credits this album’s many collaborators as Punkadelic, an apt way of describing this eccentric genre-melting material. “Qool Aid Man” and the absolutely demented closer “Open Up”—two of the album’s most out-there cuts—both attack far right extremism in America. Esteemed bassist James Singleton, local guitar hero Shane Theriot, and funky saxman Brad Walker are among the many locals who traded tracks with Dillon for this album. Shoot the Moon also includes contributions from longtime collaborator and acclaimed sessionman Matt Chamberlain, as well as members of Cage The Elephant and Clutch. Head bobbing instrumental track “What Tony Say” features Nicholas Payton’s trumpet on top of thick synths, distorted percussion, and jangly drum machine beats for a truly futuristic sound. This album is for those who thrive on late night chaos.
Suitcase Man, the second album in the trilogy, stands out as one of the greatest albums in Dillon’s already lengthy discography. This album features little of the cutting up that Dillon has earned a reputation for over decades of sitting in with other groups. Its sparse vibraphone arrangements starkly contrast Shoot the Moon’s overabundance. Dillon opens up with honest, self-reflective lyrics that detail the turbulent road his life has taken him down. The title track finds him processing life outside of the van for the first time in over three decades. Considering that the few collaborators on this record only offer up a handful of backing vocals, his decision to credit this disc to Mike Dillon & The Bad Decisions appears to primarily be commentary on himself and this release’s deeply personal content. Suitcase Man is Dillon at his most Tom Waits-esque (without coming off as a poor imitation). I suspect his pre-pandemic tours as a member of Rickie Lee Jones’ band also rubbed off on him, inspiring greater risk-taking as a singer and lyricist. On closing track “Matthew,” Dillon contemplates his brother’s suicide with a heart-tugging vulnerablitiy in his voice.
This trilogy’s final album, 1918, is decidedly the most COVID-era of all these releases. Dillon directly addresses pandemic angst in every single song that has lyrics. On “A Word To The Virus,” an enraged Dillon screams “Don’t you dare hug my mom!” and “Stay away from my mommy!” on top of a peculiar mixture of thrashing punk, outer space synths, and percussive Zappa-style jazz. “Quarantine Booty Call,” his humorous collaboration with JJ Jungle, addresses the very real risks associated with hookups nowadays. This mostly instrumental release also addresses current woes with song titles like “Super Spreader” and “March Of The Covidiots.” Musically, this material has a heavier electronic edge to it, with Moog and polysynth gravitating towards the front of the mix. The beeps and boops give this album a more futuristic feel, but the title is a harrowing reference to how little we’ve learned in the years since the Spanish flu rampaged through the country. —William Archambeault
Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America is the timely follow-up to Ijeoma Oluo’s best-selling book So You Want to Talk About Race. Mediocre hones in on the white male supremacy upon which this country was founded and which will be our ultimate downfall—unless we actively work to undo it. Drawing upon history, current events, and personal experience, Oluo provides context for how we got to our current reality and how we all (in particular white people) play a role in maintaining our oppressive status quo. Oluo makes it clear in her work and in interviews that (rightfully) the primary reason for dismantling white male supremacist systems should be to benefit people of color. However, dismantling these systems, Oluo argues, will benefit everyone. And, as challenging and uncomfortable as it might be, it is not impossible. Offering nuanced recommendations, Oluo ultimately believes that we have the ability to create a better world. “We have to find where we have been bonded to these systems… and we have to sever these bonds,” Oluo writes. “I believe we can… After centuries of being told that the cost of standing up to white male supremacy is too high, we still stand.” —Mary Beth Campbell
Author Robb Johnson has broken the mold of traditionalism as both a teacher and a writer theorizing on ethical teaching. Or has he? In The People’s Republic of Neverland: The Child Versus the State, Johnson queries the many-layered issues surrounding state-controlled education systems: the role neoliberalism has played in this over the last 40 years, the senselessness of standardized testing, and the narrowly constructed European idea of “school” imperialistically imposed on much of the world, to name a few. Though Johnson is British and has built his campaign for localized education from across the pond, the central themes he presents to readers speak to the more ubiquitous problem of mass education. Johnson’s arguments of misguided “reform” at the hands of the ruling class run parallel to our own brand of American corruption, in particular as the ramifications of the Common Core era have come to the forefront. Neverland uses anecdotes, poems, and personal accounts to illustrate a historical record of how the ruling elite have usurped our ideas of “reform” and education. And this isn’t an issue contained in our schools alone: It permeates our supplemental education systems, like those provided through grant-funded NGOs with strict guidelines and protocol to deliver “measurable outcomes.” Johnson’s book weaves in a bounty of snarky quips alongside well-researched arguments on the corruption that has plagued Great Britain’s schools. He quickly warns that “‘Reform’ always freighted political intent, and this book does too, so if you lack the capacity to be angered that over four million children in the fifth or sixth richest nation state on the planet officially live in poverty and are unable to accept that this is clearly the consequence of government of the privileged, by the privileged, for the privileged—then this book isn’t for you.” The type of system Johnson describes is like one big input-output equation: a raw material (or student) is put into the funnel machine (the education system), a certain value is added to that raw material (the “knowledge” a teacher imparts), and then boom—the raw material pops out the other end a finished, educated, ready-for-society product. One of the most notable successes of Neverland is Johnson’s ability to remind us that this is not how education should work. Instead, he urges us to encourage a child’s innate ability to learn, imagine, and play, providing them with tools to grow and prosper. Children, Johnson explains, are the world’s “Essential Anarchists”—and the attempt to control this anarchy by the state is a fascist and dystopian one. I have to side with Johnson in that it is essential to celebrate this anarchy if we expect our children to develop as free-thinking, curious-minded individuals—which is ultimately what will create a more advanced society. —Julia Engel