You know how some people just have the kind of smile that’s infectious? Jon Batiste has that. And if it’s possible for such a smile to take the shape of a group of songs, this is it. WE ARE is full of hope—though its brand of optimism is far from blind. The lyrics found throughout do their due diligence speaking to many of the important issues facing us right now. Batiste makes a point of calling back to his roots with a long list of New Orleans features: his alma mater’s marching band, Hot 8 Brass Band, Trombone Shorty, and fellow St. Aug grad and 2021 Grammy nominee PJ Morton, to start. And then, wait, what? Novelist Zadie Smith? Holy shit. This release appears to be Batiste’s declaration that he’s moving to the next chapter of his musical career. The content of these tracks is so relentlessly diverse: the opening song “WE ARE” is a New Orleans anthem. “MOVEMENT 11’” is all piano key magic. “CRY” is soul. “BOY HOOD” and “WHATCHUTALKINBOUT” showcase Batiste’s experimentation with rap and hip-hop. “ADULTHOOD” alludes to both Jackson 5-style R&B and funk. I can’t help but wonder if what Batiste is serving us here is a musical bildungsroman: starting with the legacy he was born into, the influences of his origin city, and moving into his adult years in New York. Though it’s a far cry from “Saint James Infirmary Blues” (Hollywood Africans, 2018), Batiste assures us that he’ll “never have the message of pop.” Instead, “MAVIS,” the segue track preceding “FREEDOM,” hints at the central theme of this album: what, exactly, is the definition of freedom? If you asked him, Batiste would probably tell you that freedom is defined primarily by its constraints. And with WE ARE, Batiste is certainly trying to break free. —Julia Engel
Brijean is the collaboration between Brijean Murphy (percussionist for U.S. Girls, Toro y Moi, Poolside) and producer/multi-instrumentalist Doug Stuart (Bells Atlas, Meernaa, Luke Temple). Both have a background in jazz, as is evident in the duo’s loose, improvisational style, though their sound is also derived from disco, pop, Latin, and soul. The songs on Feelings, their debut full-length, are dreamy and rich, full of groovy bass lines and upbeat bongos and keys. Murphy’s bright, ethereal vocals provide an additional layer of enchantment. This is music to both chill and dance to, providing much needed feel-good vibes. The songs blend into each other, crafting a comforting musical world that calls the listener to explore new perspectives. On “Softened Thoughts,” Murphy sings “Screens hidden from my view / My mind feels renewed / Colors shading shaped take on new hues / And then I danced a little too / And then we start to feel it too.” “Feelings” is a sensual, thoughtful disco track (“I’m floating in motion / Breathing in it’s crisp so nice / If you keep doing what you’re doing / Maybe time will slow tonight”). At 32 minutes, Feelings is a nice little escape, providing some optimism for what may come. —Mary Beth Campbell
Cha Wa’s second album Spyboy scored the local group a Grammy nomination. This time around, they sound determined to go for the win. On My People, Cha Wa continues fusing Mardi Gras Indian chants and brass band blowouts with just about everything else this city has to offer. They get down to some mean-as-hell funk grooves à la Meters on “Wildman.” Joseph Boudreaux Jr. is a formidable frontman in his colorful Mardi Gras Indian suits, but he also knows when to step back and let others take the spotlight. For instance, the title track is actually sung by trumpeter Aurélien Barnes. This album benefits greatly from a wide array of collaborators who lift the group’s sounds to new heights. The tender “Love in Your Heart” showcases beautiful vocals from Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph (of Tank and the Bangas fame). The group also joins forces with Alvin Youngblood Hart for a psychedelic, Afrocentric reinterpretation of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War.” While Cha Wa spends most of the album exploring the city’s diverse sounds, they close it out by bringing it all back to Boudreaux’s Mardi Gras Indians roots with a live vocal-and-percussion rendition of the traditional “Shallow Water” at famed Indian hangout Handa Wanda’s. —William Archambeault
If you’re a fan of obscure thrash metal demos from ‘80s bands that never went anywhere, this release is for you! Sick Thoughts and Trampoline Team hellraiser Drew Owen recorded these demos alone on a 4-track during a pretty miserable winter in Finland between 2017 and 2018. These tunes reek of worship for Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All and Venom’s Welcome to Hell. On “Last Rites,” Owen pledges his very soul to rock‘n’roll. “Kill Lucifer! Kill Christ! Rock‘n’roll to my last rites!” shouts Owen before ripping into a brief guitar solo. These raw demos probably aren’t too palatable for the average listener, but the grime adds an extra bite to the already rough tracks. Owen’s plans to re-record these songs with local band Bloody Master ultimately fell through, leaving us with only this document. Those who like this style of thrash but want a little more polish should check out Owens’ much sharper demo with local “New Wave of Shitty Heavy Metal” leaders Total Hell. While the 24-year-old’s already vast discography leans heavier on garage punk, DD Deth and Total Hell show that this metal maniac has a lot of potential if he wants to follow that path. —William Archambeault
Laura Fisher’s new solo album is all elegant melancholy, a mood Fisher extends from the first song to the last. One of the last albums to be recorded at the Music Shed before its closure due to the pandemic, the production is intentionally sparse. Most of the album is instrumental, and the languid piano, clearly reminiscent of Erik Satie, is as gentle as a rainy day. On the rare occasions that Fisher’s voice comes through, like “Frankincense” or the gloomy “Sun Gray,” it converses delicately with the piano without interrupting the mood. Only one track, “A Roseate Spoonbill o’er the Grand Bayou,” ventures into divergent territory with the addition of some cheerful synth. The word apophenia is defined as the tendency to perceive meaningful connections between seemingly unrelated things, and you get the sense throughout the album that Fisher is searching for the essential vision behind her own music. The meaning between the connections doesn’t always come through to the listener, but what does is Fisher’s determination to find her own world and stay there. The album invites you to join her in this wistful dreamland, and it is the perfect accompaniment for those moments when you just want to float downstream. —Holly Devon
Memphis singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Valerie June’s new album, The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions For Dreamers, is a deep dive into the pain of love lost and, ultimately, a reflective journey towards inner peace. June’s distinct vocals are a commanding blend of the best parts of Appalachian folk music and Memphis soul. Her vintage sound pays homage to the roots and traditions of both styles while simultaneously allowing space for more modern influences. The instrumentals on “Within You,” for instance, sound like they were pulled from a hip-hop track, and the background vocals on “Stay” are reminiscent of those on TLC’s R&B hit “Creep.” Nature sounds and meditation-style melodies fill the empty spaces between songs. However, the album finds its crest with the track “Call Me A Fool” featuring Carla Thomas, who is often referred to as the Queen of Memphis Soul. The ballad is highlighted by powerhouse vocals and June’s unapologetic lyrics. “Darling, they call me a fool / For your love, baby / And I’ll be a fool any time,” she belts in a soulful twang, as if to declare that love is sweeter than the sorrow and scrutiny that often accompanies it. With The Moon and Stars Valerie June owns her heartache and continues to define her unique sound. —Shirani Jayasuriya
As the Love Continues is the eighth studio album from Scottish post-punk band Mogwai, as well as the band’s first U.K. number one album in their 25-year history. Like their earlier music, the songs on As the Love Continues are sweeping and elegiac. They manage to invoke great melancholy without being overly personal or precious about it. Instead, there is an empty space present in every song, as though created for the listener to project their own thoughts and feelings. Having said that, the songs do have an elevated energy and sense of urgency about them, perhaps in part because they were written and recorded at the height of the pandemic. With the exception of “Ritchie Sacramento,” everything is instrumental. Synths, strings, drums, and the silent spaces in between are used to convey the spectrum of sadness without getting completely lost in a sense of hopelessness. The album does lag in the middle, though the energy is revived by the Smashing Pumpkins-adjacent “Ceiling Granny.” Other notable tracks include the surprisingly danceable “Supposedly, We Were Nightmares” and “Midnight Flit,” whose uneven beat contrasts sharply with the steady central chord, amplifying the unease that sits at the album’s core. —Mary Beth Campbell
Classic rock is alive and thriving on Tash Neal’s solo debut Charge it to the Game. A one-man embodiment of the Rolling Stone Top 500, Tash wears his influences proudly and loudly. His guitar wails through the decades, heavily pulling from the funk, disco, and freedom of the ‘60s and ‘70s, while also incorporating a few modern tricks, some Tash-classics, and licks that go back to the origins of blues guitar. Creating this album was survival for him. A horrific accident, a family death, a shift in the consciousness of our nation: the first track, “Something Ain’t Right” touches on all of it. “Something ain’t right / Another dead in the night / Though my father isn’t here / I can hear his words so clear / We’ve been doing this for years and years.” A classic Beatles-inspired love song, “Like a Glove” follows to give us a romantic respite before we jump back in, full force, with “Boomerang” and “All I See is Blood.” There is a lot of rage and hope underlying these gorgeous melody lines. This album feels explosive. Tash’s guitar screams for change along with his lyrics. He demands to be heard. —Sabrina Stone
This new solo album from local bass legend George Porter Jr. is much welcomed. His only solo output in the last decade was comprised of a solid but brief four-song EP in 2015 and an album featuring re-recordings of lesser known Meters nuggets in 2011. Crying For Hope is evenly split between charming vocal tracks and tasty instrumentals. Hard grooving opener “Crying For Hope,” the album’s first single, stands out as the strongest piece. Porter, inspired by last year’s monumental Black Lives Matter movement, sings, “I’m dreaming of the day when I can walk and say ‘I’m feeling so comfortable living in the USA.’” Indeed, the world is still a little bit under the weather five decades after the Meters sang about it. Instrumentals like “Porter 13A” and “Cloud Funk” exemplify the type of fiery interplay between musicians that made Porter’s long-standing Monday night slot at the Maple Leaf a local favorite prior to the pandemic. On vocal cuts like “I’m Barely” and “Just Start Groovin’,” Porter sings with a voice rich with wisdom and experience. Crying For Hope firmly reminds listeners that Porter still has a lot of funking left in him and that you would be wise to listen up. —William Archambeault
Silver Synthetic might not have a giant billboard by the Superdome like Eyehategod, but they do have a modest mural across the street from Euclid Records. The local group’s first full-length is 33 minutes of solid slacker rock. Fans of loud, eccentric rock music might recognize half of this band from local garage rippers Bottomfeeders and guitarist Kunal Prakash from his recent years with JEFF the Brotherhood, but don’t expect a grandiose fuzz fest. Instead of stirring up chaos, Silver Synthetic turns things down a notch and offers listeners a chance to lay back and relax. They wisely keep their arrangements minimal, creating a space that allows the songs to breathe. Much of the album sounds like an homage to various rockers of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Since teaming up with Third Man Records, the group has made a couple of music videos, presumably with Jack White and Co. footing the bill. The video for “Unchain Your Heart” transforms the band’s performance at One Eyed Jacks into a faux German-rock TV special, complete with a cameo from Quintron as German-speaking host Jonny Wünder. The video for “In the Beginning” follows singer and guitarist Chris Lyons from lounging around his absolute pigsty of a motel room to drinking at a dive bar that fuses the outside of Gretna’s own Naughty Knight Lounge with the interior of Bywater joint Bud Rip’s. —William Archambeault
Seventeen minutes of explosive hardcore fury! Slant has rightfully earned a reputation as one of the most powerful punk bands in all of South Korea. Their 2018 demo and 2019 EP made quite a buzz across the globe, but 1집 (Korean for “first album”) knocks them both out of the water. Yeji’s pissed off vocals sound absolutely vicious on top of turbocharged hardcore on tracks like opener “Enemy.” On “Modern Addictions,” she uses her pipes to articulate the helpless feeling of being trapped in our never-ending addiction to online content. This severely antagonistic album is unrelenting in its execution. The band doesn’t let up for even a second, creating a tidal wave that crushes everything in its path. This album is an excellent reminder that hardcore doesn’t have to be about reinventing the wheel. Sometimes, it is better to grab that wheel and spin it as hard and fast as possible. Slant closes the album with the fierce anti-service anthem “Casualty.” This seething attack, coming from a country where men undergo compulsory military service, feels far more venomous than anything their American counterparts could conjure up. The band recorded part of this album at beloved Seoul punk venue GBN Live House. Those curious to hear more from Slant and Seoul’s diverse punk bands should also check out the venue’s lengthy Golden Hits compilation on Bandcamp. —William Archambeault
Two-and-a-half years is an eternity between albums for a young punk band. Thankfully, the wait for Waste Man’s newest effort is well worth it. The local group feels a bit more refined in their execution this go around, but are still vicious and bloodthirsty when they want to be. They hit the ground running on opener “The Siren,” which lures listeners in with catchy grooves and then bashes them over the head with thick guitar chords. One Day It’ll All Be You hits hard at times, but would probably be a better soundtrack for dimly-lit dance floors as opposed to fist fights. The album’s first single, “Run All Night,” stands out with some great pop hooks and even has wacky outer space guitar delays. The band rightfully gets a lot of comparisons to SST’s quirky catalog, but brings plenty of their own vibe to the table. The album closes with “Sinking (Trapped in a Skin),” their highly unsettling five-minute epic. Jack Long’s stuttered vocals sound like a man coming undone while the band soundtracks him with sparse, bleak guitar and abstract drumming. Three minutes into the song, the band suddenly jumps into action with their final frantic assault. —William Archambeault
“Hope is a discipline,” Mariame Kaba says—a mantra for these times. We Do This ‘Til We Free Us: Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice is the long-anticipated collection of essays and interviews from Kaba, a prison abolitionist and organizer who has long shared her polymathic brilliance under the moniker Prison Culture. Her central thesis is that “cages confine people, not the conditions that facilitated their harms or the mentalities that perpetuate violence,” calling to mind peer Dr. Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s argument that prisons are a geographical solution to a social problem.
As a result of the George Floyd uprising and subsequent calls to defund the police, “prison abolition” entered the mainstream. The language of defunding was quickly recuperated—that is the nature of carceral capitalism—co-opted by opportunist politicians, careerist activists, and carceral feminists. Kaba’s collection regrounds us in actual abolitionist praxis, forged by decades of organizing led by BIPOC women, queer, and trans people—not coincidentally largely led by survivors of interpersonal and systemic violence.
What does it mean to be an abolitionist? What is (and isn’t) transformative justice? Which reforms are reformist reforms, upholding carceral institutions, and which reforms are abolitionist? Kaba offers frameworks, like a guide for evaluating reforms and examples of campaigns that have been successful in their goals. This book is not an instruction manual. She emphasizes that nobody has all the answers, an acknowledgement which requires ongoing dialogue within our communities and approaching difficult, even painful questions with curious and open minds.
What could a New Orleans without police look like? It’s less a question than a challenge, requiring agility and commitment to ego-less course correction. Kaba stresses the need to act “at the individual, community, institutional, and societal levels.” One commitment is never calling the police. Another is writing to imprisoned people. Another is opposing increases to police funding, instead advocating for reallocation to social goods. In November, during a city council budget hearing, hundreds submitted comments in support of defunding the police. Instead they’ve been expanding the punishment bureaucracy: unanimously extending curfew to 17-year-olds and considering an ordinance encouraging NOPD to enter “blighted” properties, criminalizing anyone taking shelter inside or hanging out on the lot. They want more money to do that. What if our collective wealth was spent on housing? Health care? Kaba’s provocations don’t merely suggest that another world is possible—one in which people have what they need to live with dignity—but that that world is being held captive in our names.
What campaigns can we support that lessen harms and reduce violence? A local coalition led by Women With A Vision is current campaigning to decriminalize sex work in Louisiana. Newly elected DA Jason Williams claimed that he was in favor of decriminalizing sex work on the campaign trail, but has yet to take a definitive stance now that legislation is in the works—another piece of evidence that “progressive” DAs will not save us and that this system is unreformable. We can also support teachers unionizing, which helps stabilize school conditions for both teachers and students and contributes to fewer kids getting funnelled into the carceral system from an early age. What other campaigns can we start? Who can we put pressure on? What can you do in your daily life to experiment with new approaches to social relations?
In an interview with Eve L. Ewing, Kaba says “We can’t do anything alone that’s worth doing. Everything that is worthwhile is done with other people.” This book revitalizes our belief that the messy work of abolition is our only shot at a less ugly, abject world. It’s going to be a hot summer. Fortify yourself with this book to prepare for necessary creative destruction. —Marisa Clogher and Beck Levy
Part documentary and part confessional poetry, Tiana Nobile’s debut collection, Cleave, navigates loss, longing, and the poet’s coming of age as a Korean American adoptee grappling with the trauma of being severed from her mother and the erasure of her origins. Epigraphs from Harry Harlow’s research on attachment theory, “The Nature of Love,” thread the collection. Other documentary poems are incisive criticisms of the politics of transnational adoption. “Operation Babylift” is a horrific account of the 1975 plane crash that killed 78 Vietnamese children. In “The Stolen Generation,” which features an erasure of the Aboriginal Protection Acts of 1869 and 1886, the poet asks, “How do you begin to reconcile a cleaving? / We try to hold each other without touching.” The poetry in Cleave, then, is as personal as it is political. Delicate yet powerful lyrical moments wax and wane throughout, beginning with the first poem, “Moon Yeong Shin,” a meditation on the poet’s original name: “I will orbit the earth like a moon / searching for its shadow.” The voice and poems in this collection are inquisitive, intellectual, and sensual in their beauty. They search for both meaning and love, and the formal scope of the poetry is delightfully expansive. —Michelle Nicholson
Economy Hall: The Hidden History of a Free Black Brotherhood is the story of a historic 7th Ward brotherhood of free men of color who supported and inspired each other as they fought against suppression and segregation. A treasure trove of New Orleans history, the very existence of the book is nothing short of a miracle. When Shaik’s father was in his mid-30s, he received a call from his best friend and Economy Hall member Louis Wilderson Sr., who offered him the leatherbound, rain-drenched books—a century’s worth of records. While it was ultimately his daughter who finally brought the contents of this archive into the light, Economy Hall is a rich repository of family lore and lived history that dates back generations. Though the book is a meticulous work of scholarship, the intimacy of the author with her material is obvious in the way she brings a century of New Orleans history to life. The book begins with the Haitian Revolution and its impact in New Orleans, establishing the complexities of race relations in the city out of which Economy Hall would emerge. Soon after, Shaik introduces Ludger Boguille, whose father was likely involved with the Haitian Revolution and who became the secretary for the brotherhood, documenting their meetings with elegant handwriting and expressive flourishes. Boguille acts as our guide through the tumultuous 19th century. Through his notes, we watch the brotherhood take on the hypocrisy of white New Orleanians, and we grieve and worry with him as white supremacist Reconstruction-era violence wreaks havoc on a community we have grown to love. By the end of the book, it is impossible to shake the feeling that a hundred years of New Orleans history is now intermingled with your own memories, making the book an invaluable resource for anyone seeking a nuanced, human understanding of New Orleans’ past. —Holly Devon