Album cover for Wink by CHAI. It’s a black and white photo of 4 Japanese women with their heads close together. The woman in the top left has blond hair and her hand is touching her face while she’s looking left. The woman in the top right has dark hair and is holding her nose and her eyes are closed tightly. The woman in the bottom left has dark hair and is closing her eyes and looking exasperated. The woman in the bottom right has blond hair and is making a sour face while the woman above her rests her arm on her face.

CHAI retains their signature positivity and infectious enthusiasm while pushing their sound in new directions on WINK. The group has built a lot of their identity off of challenging restrictive beauty norms and continue doing so on “Maybe Chocolate Chips,” a smooth single that paints moles in a positive light. CHAI leans especially hard into the electronic elements of their sound on this album, even welcoming outside production for the first time on some tracks. On the ridiculously fun “PING PONG!,” the group sings about enjoying ping pong and onsens on top of YMCK’s retro 8-bit beeps and boops. CHAI’s first two albums featured a quirky rock sound that incorporated influences from pop and dance music, but the pandemic has freed them to think less about sounds suited for energetic live shows and more about the music they relax with at home. Last fall, the band backed the album’s first single with a fun cover of “Plastic Love,” the obscure ‘80s Japanese city pop hit that YouTube turned into a global favorite. WINK isn’t exactly city pop, but tracks like “Donuts Mind If I Do” have a light, dreamy quality that pays homage to the retro sound the internet has become obsessed with in recent years. The pandemic has been miserable in many ways, but WINK is a great example of how it has also created new paths with promising futures. —William Archambeault

Album cover for Sweep It Into Space by Dinosaur Jr. It’s a grayscale painting of an abstract animals that resembles an owl. Its eyes are wide and circular, and those are the only features clearly defined. In the top left reads “Dinosaur Jr. Sweep In Into Space.”

There are very few surprises in Dinosaur Jr.’s music. You can always expect fuzzed out guitars, melodies with an underlying melancholy, and J Mascis’ trademark offbeat vocals, no matter the album or decade. This is not a criticism—Dinosaur Jr. do what they do very well. Sweep It Into Space, their 12th studio album, finds them at the height of their sound. Co-produced by indie rock stalwart Kurt Vile, this album is both a showcase of the band’s more mature songwriting and a throwback to the DIY aesthetic of earlier albums such as Bug. Vile’s influence is most noticeable on the excellent “I Ran Away,” on which he plays the 12-string guitar, complementing rather than overpowering their sound. In a slight deviation from the norm, bassist Lou Barlow provides vocals on the album’s more melodious tracks, the anthemic “Garden” and the ‘90s indie rock throwback “You Wonder.” The rest of the album is standard Dinosaur Jr. Notable tracks include “I Ain’t,” which is classic punk rock guitar heroics, and the heavy metal-tinged “Walking to You.” After 35 years as a band, Dinosaur Jr. have managed to remain creative without losing their sense of who and what they are. May we all follow their lead. —Mary Beth Campbell

Album cover for Sincerely, e by Elizabeth & the Catapult. It’s a grayscale illustration of what resembles rocks or grass in the bottom half, and a light sky in the top half. In the top right reads “sincerely, e” in typewriter font.

Sincerely, e is the fifth full-length outing from Elizabeth Ziman, a.k.a Elizabeth & the Catapult. While quarantine albums make me wary, this one addresses the new normal with astute observations, masterfully highlighting our anxieties and loneliness in an unsettlingly sweet, fluttering, folk pop tone. In the opener “birds and the bees,” Ziman discusses denial, death, wildfires, and our human need for comfort. She sings, “Underneath my mask, I smile as big as ever / Hope she knows that I was flattered by the creases of my eyes… We are beloved / Stranded here in space / We are beloved / I wish I’d said it to her face / Alone together and together we’re alone.” The concept of being “together, alone” is threaded throughout the album, and the music video accompanying the eponymous song is a perfect visual essay exploring the idea. If you’re a fan of Feist or Sara Bareilles (who Ziman frequently collaborates with), you’ll find comfort in Ziman’s voice and be swept along by her complex, flowing arrangements. She is a musician with astounding skill, often live streaming for hours on multiple instruments, while genre hopping and keeping up her classically sincere, playful banter. “Pop the placebo,” with its lush vocals and descending chromatic piano run, is the standout single, but the whole first five song arc of sincerely, e makes a tungsten-strong EP. The following six songs continue to prove her poetic strength in a quieter way, with “the stranger” as a late album standout. —Sabrina Stone

Album cover for Year of the Horse by Fucked Up. It’s a grayscale illustration of a horse with a rider on its back, but we can only see the horse’s face and the rider’s thighs. Above and below the image is white. At the top reads “Fucked Up” and at the bottom reads “Year of the Horse.”

Toronto innovators Fucked Up return with another entry in their Zodiac singles series, Year of the Horse. Calling Horse a single is misleading given its imposing 94-minute runtime, split into four parts and multiple scenes. The band itself has dubbed the release an “epic tone poem,” which works fairly well to describe this behemoth. Horse may be the most narratively ambitious work of Fucked Up’s career, which is notable given the two rock operas to their name. The lyrics and Western/fantasy story, following the travails of the titular animal, were written by guitarist Mike Haliechuk, who—along with drummer/trumpeter Jonah Falco—provides most of the musical framework. To convey the breadth of the tale, Fucked Up traverses a dizzying array of genres, with Spaghetti Western fanfares, stoner riffs, moody folk, classic rock touchstones, and other disparate influences utilized to match the shifting tones of individual scenes. The only hint of the band’s hardcore roots comes in the indomitable glass-gargling roar of frontman Damian Abraham, assisted here by a slew of guest vocalists to flesh out the cast of characters and provide needed tonal contrast. Despite the cinematic scope and whimsical premise, Horse contains some of the most engaging music Fucked Up has released, and rewards intrepid listeners with an immersive ride.  —Will Hibert

Album cover for Second Line by Dawn Richard. It’s a grayscale illustration of a futuristic person dressed in a head-to-toe metal suit that has feathers coming out the back of it. The person is kneeling, and there’s a ring around their head.

On Dawn Richard’s latest album, Second Line, the singer-songwriter finds her rhythm while taking us back to the roots and traditions of her birthplace, New Orleans. On the track “Nostalgia” the question, “What does it mean to second line?” is posed and answered over an intensely synthesized beat: “To give the good footwork with the good work / It’s a celebration / An opportunity for us / To do us.” Much like a second line, the album feels unencumbered by any one specific genre, style, or set of rules. She draws from the sound and history of her city, paying homage to the many forms of African and African American music to grow out of New Orleans, such as soulful R&B, funk, and hip-hop. But she makes them her own by adding heavy electronic influences and throwback dance beats. On “Le Petit Morte (a lude)” she belts, “This is the last time I’m gonna write a song about you / My breath is too precious to waste if it ain’t truth.” The vocally impressive track, backed only by a piano and intense heartache, is one of many emotional interludes showcasing her range. The short track gives way to “Radio Free,” a deeply personal song about the music industry, featuring a futuristic vibe and ethereal vocals: “Where do you go when the radio’s down? / Who are you now / When no one’s around? …Don’t lose sound / Play your free love / Play your free.” Second Line is a joyful homecoming for Dawn Richard. —Shirani Jayasuriya

Album cover for Ska Dream by Jeff Rosenstock. It’s a grayscale illustration of 2 people on top of a roof. The roof seems to be covered in something, and the 2 people are standing on top facing each other. The sun is in the right of the frame, and there are clouds in the sky. At the top reads “Ska” and at the bottom reads “Dream.”

Last year, Jeff Rosenstock released NO DREAM to widespread critical praise. This year, he has decided to test critics by diving deep into ska, one of the least critically praised genres in existence. On 4/20, he surprised everyone with the sudden release of SKA DREAM, a ska reimagination of NO DREAM. Rosenstock rebrands the songs with absolutely ridiculous ska-themed titles. For instance, “State Line” becomes “Horn Line” and “Honeymoon Ashtray” transforms into “Checkerboard Ashtray.” While SKA DREAM might seem like just a dumb joke, the album is far from a half-assed effort. Rosenstock and his bandmates, such as Dan Potthast of MU330, have a long history with the genre and bring that expertise to these rearrangements. They launch into breakneck skacore on opener “NO TIME TO SKANK” and even sneak part of 2 Tone cornerstones The Specials’ “Nite Klub” into “Leave It In The Ska.” Rosenstock wasn’t afraid to call in some favors on this album. Fishbone legend Angelo Moore drops in to bust an especially nasty sax solo on “p i c k i t u p.” George Clarke (of the decidedly un-ska Deafheaven) even joins in on the fun to let out some screams on “S K A D R E A M.” Against all odds, Jeff Rosenstock and his friends make SKA DREAM a fun, rewarding listen that might arguably surpass the original. —William Archambeault

Album cover for Inertia by Oscar Rossignoli. It’s a black and white photo of Oscar Rossignoli sitting at a piano. It’s a backlit picture, and he’s wearing a dark suit and looking to the left of the frame. Near the bottom reads “Inertia Oscar Rossignoli.

Oscar Rossignoli’s capacity on the keyboard might be infinite. That’s how it feels watching him live: his hands make shapes other pianists’ wouldn’t dare attempt, and they move at a rate unknown to most mortals. Classically trained from an early age at a conservatory in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, he took a liking to jazz in high school at Tegucigalpa. He followed its pull to Louisiana, where he studied formally at LSU and later cut his teeth on Frenchmen Street with mainstays such as Pat Casey, Jasen Weaver, Brad Walker, Steve Lands, Brad Webb, and Matt Booth. His new album, INERTIA, draws on this lattice of backgrounds to create something entirely new. There are moments on the record where his playing is referential to the greats: impossible chordal runs on opener “Pendulum” and elsewhere evoke those of Bill Evans; and his rhythmic intensity on “Vamanos” brings to mind Chick Corea, to whom he pays direct homage later on “Preludio for Chick.” On “Endless Fall,” he riffs on the more conventional ballad form with the melodic finesse of Oscar Peterson. But despite the album’s chameleonic energy, Rossignoli’s sound is squarely his own, as illustrated by standout “Long Story Short,” which builds a whole world in five breathless minutes. —Raphael Helfand

Album cover for 4 死 DEATH by S∴H∵I. It’s a grayscale illustration of what appears to be a landscape, with text overlaid in black and white. The top reads 4 死 DEATH by S∴H∵I.

S∴H∵I (Struggling Harsh Immortals) fuses metallic hardcore with a burning passion for industrial in order to sculpt some truly demented sounds. The mean riffage, unrelenting beats, and rough noise of pounding opener “Blood Lust” justifies the Osaka band’s large seven-piece lineup right off the bat. The group sports a sampler and a noisemaker in addition to the usual rock fare for a true more is more approach. Vocalist Cherry Nishida’s ragged vocals sound deranged. He sounds particularly unsettling on “In The Mouth Of Madness,” a slow-rolling song with enough space for listeners to feel the torment in his voice. S∴H∵I features multiple veterans of Osaka’s legendary 1980s hardcore punk scene. Most notably, Nishida and guitarist Debaso made up half of Zouo, a rowdy group that only recently had its discography officially released in the U.S. for the first time, via Relapse Records. Drummer Michung also drummed in Outo, a personal favorite of mine that rarely gets its proper due outside Japan. However, an intimate knowledge of Japanese punk groups of yesteryear isn’t required to appreciate 4 死 Death. The intensity of tracks like “Terminus” makes it clear that this album is a far cry from the worn out dad vibes that punks have come to expect from many other veterans. The members of S∴H∵I aren’t just reliving past glory years. They’re arguably in a renaissance. —William Archambeault

Album cover for Daddy’s Home by St. Vincent. It’s a black and white photo of St. Vincent dressed in a silk dress and fur coat sitting in a chair. She’s light-skinned and has blond hair. She has her legs crossed and is looking directly at the camera seductively. At the top right reads “Daddy’s Home” in a retro font.

Much has been made about the “daddy” behind the songs on Daddy’s Home, the latest from St. Vincent (Annie Clark), though the album is just as much about the celebration of the unconventional woman. A shapeshifter like her musical hero David Bowie, Clark takes on the persona of Candy Darling for this album, exploring the aforementioned themes via a gritty and glam ‘70s aesthetic. The end result is mixed. Clark is arguably one of the best guitarists and songwriters of her generation, and there are certainly gems on Daddy’s Home. “Down,” is a funky revenge fantasy. “Pay Your Way In Pain” invokes ‘70s Bowie, and “The Melting of the Sun” is a psych-tinged tribute to the rebellious woman. But the album gets bogged down in itself at times. More important and troubling to note, however, is the fact that the white and cisgendered Clark has taken on the persona of a famous trans woman, and uses Black music and artists to tell her personal story (her use of Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam” on “The Melting of the Sun” should raise everyone’s eyebrows). Given Clark’s undeniable talent and previous reputation for innovative music, it begs the question why she has felt the need to blatantly appropriate the image and cultures of these women for this particular album. —Mary Beth Campbell

Album cover for Trust No Wave by Special Interest. It’s an abstract image of some sort of textured pattern. There’s a black circle near the top right that reads “Special Interest Trust No Wave.”

Special Interest has come a long way since 2016 when they recorded these demos. Trust No Wave is a time capsule that transports listeners to an era long before the band was flying to Europe for tours or getting featured on Pitchfork. Back then, they were just a bunch of sweaty weirdos making artsy noise in New Orleans. Frankly, they still are. It’s just that a few more people are listening than before and their recordings sound a lot better now. Half of this material is grimier versions of tunes that later appeared on their 2018 debut Spiraling. Tracks like “DISCO” are certainly rowdy and have plenty of charm, but they don’t hold a candle to the proper album versions. Aggressive opener “Disease” stands out as one of the more powerful tunes that hasn’t appeared on an album yet. They also cover Chrisma’s “Black Silk Stocking,” ripping the Italian new wave bop into something that fits them a little better. The band closes these demos by slowly coming down from their collective high on “I’ll Never Do Ketamine Again,” a feedback-laden piece more in touch with their experimental side. Ultimately, Trust No Wave isn’t a great entry point into the world of Special Interest, but its raw and uncompromising sound has a lot to offer for those who don’t mind a little grit. —William Archambeault

Album cover for Bright Green Field by Squid. It’s a grayscale image of what appear to be trees in a field of grass that resemble the shape of a human body laying down on the ground.

Bright Green Field is the full-length debut from English band Squid. Part of the UK’s post-punk renaissance, Squid’s blend of Krautrock, jazz, funk, dub, and punk is the perfect soundtrack for the capitalist hellscape we inhabit. The ominous intro “Resolution Square” sets up the first song “G.S.K.,” the dystopian tale of a barren concrete island ruled by British Big Pharma company GlaxoSmithKline (“As the sun sets on the GlaxoKline / Well, it’s the only way that I can tell the time”). Just as they borrow from different musical genres, the band also incorporates an eclectic array of instruments—saxophone, violin, trumpet, trombone, cello, and sausage bassoon join drums, guitar, and bass in generating a chaotic soundscape. “Narrator” exemplifies the band’s sound and ethos, starting out as a new wave song reminiscent of Talking Heads and eventually dissolving into a gloriously unsettling frenzy. Other notable tracks include “Boy Racers” (“Are you suspended in time? / Does anyone even know what you might look like?”) and “Pamphlets” (“Pale bricks and wide smiles / That’s why I don’t go outside”). Listen to the album all the way through at least once to fully appreciate the dystopian tale that Squid have crafted. —Mary Beth Campbell

Album cover for Shirushi by TEKE::TEKE. It’s a grayscale illustration of a person’s face mixed up with limbs, and the side of another person’s face; it’s an abstract tangling of body parts. There is Japanese writing at the top right and top left. The background is gray.

Montreal-based seven-piece TEKE::TEKE take their name from the Japanese slang term for people who are into surf culture—which also happens to be the name of the vengeful ghost of a dismembered young woman featured in urban legends. This name suits their music, steeped in folklore, psych/surf rock, punk, ‘60s and ‘70s Japanese soundtracks, and Japanese enka. Their debut album Shirushi (“sign of big changes to come”) is wonderfully dramatic, each song encapsulating its own story while still fitting into the album’s overall atmosphere. Twangy surf guitars pair well with trombone and traditional Japanese wooden flute, with a solid rhythm section tying everything together. Lead vocalist Maya Kuroki, who is also an actor and visual artist, has a dynamic range and presence. On “Yoru Ni” (“at night”), Kuroki switches from breathy notes and French poetry to full on punk rock vocals, drawing you into a sonic dreamscape. Other standout tracks include “Barbara,” the raucous and playful story of a mischievous yokai, which is classic garage punk driven by a flute melody, and “Meikyu,” well-executed surf rock with a dark undertone. With Shirushi, TEKE::TEKE have created a glorious amalgamation of culture and sound, an album not only meant to be heard but also experienced. —Mary Beth Campbell

Album cover for Fever Dreams & Guillotines by Torture Garden. It’s a black and white illustration of a rose surrounded by a vine with thorns. At the top reads “Torture Garden” in Old English font. At the bottom reads “Fever Dreams & Guillotines.”

Over the past few years, Torture Garden has slowly built a strong reputation by duking it out in the dives and DIY spaces of New Orleans. Their first full-length, Fever Dreams & Guillotines, is a powerful testament to the city’s grimey punk scene. The band hits hard on opener “Rotten Earth” and seldom lets up during the following seven songs. Torture Garden has already put out some smaller releases, but this album captures them at their strongest. “We don’t call cops! We know what they do!” screams Emily Morgan on anti-police anthem “We Don’t Call Cops,” a tune that has only grown more relevant in the years since the original version appeared on the band’s split 7” with The World Is A Vampire. Morgan’s scratchy vocals sound full of venom and hatred on tracks like “Religious Reichs” and “Hypervigilance.” It’s no wonder why co-founder Rob Lovell, known locally for his work in ROMASA and Ossacrux, wanted to team up with her when he first started Torture Garden. While Lovell played all the instruments on the band’s earliest recordings, Torture Garden has grown through a few lineup changes to become a real band with meaning. —William Archambeault

Album cover for the Community Printshop Cover Album 2021 by various artists. It’s a black and white image of someone’s face who’s either screaming, singing, or both, and there are illustrations of flowers laid on top. The right reads “Cover Album 2021” and the bottom reads “The New Orleans Community Printshop and Darkroom.”

The New Orleans Community Printshop and Darkroom’s cover show fundraisers have been longtime favorites for local punks and weirdos. While the pandemic put those sweaty live get-togethers temporarily on hold, the Printshop organized this cover album to raise money for its much-needed services. There is a lot to unpack in these 12 tracks, ranging from DJ Cherish’s spliced up take on Alice Coltrane to Tuffy’s snotty Sabbath worship. Some acts stay inline with the original tunes, such as Porch Lord’s homey rendition of “It Tastes Just Like A Milkshake” by garage titans M.O.T.O. Others take some great liberties with the material. For instance, Phoebes Greek Band might be the first group to ever do a Greek language version of Kate Bush’s iconic “Running Up That Hill.” Waste Man’s absolutely bonkers version of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give It Away” is by far the most fun track on this compilation. Singer Jack Long ignores most of the original lyrics in favor of screaming complete nonsense over a turbulent combination of scronky guitar, thick synthy bass, and electronic-sounding drums. This compilation’s mixture of heartfelt tributes and chaotic rearrangements captures much of what makes the Printshop’s cover shows so much fun. —William Archambeault

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