REVIEWS

RODRIGO AMARANTE
DRAMA
(POLYVINYL)

Los Angeles-based Rio de Janeiro native Rodrigo Amarante (of Los Hermanos, Orquestra Imperial, Little Joy) returns with his first full-length album since the stunning Cavalo. Featuring Paul Taylor on drums, bassist Todd Dahlhoff, Andres Renteria on congas, Cornelia Murr on synthesizers and backing vocals, and horns by David Ralicke—in Amarante’s words, “[they] create these tools that are stories and songs, to help us see each other.” “Maré,” the album’s first single, is celebratory and upbeat though it has an “easy come, easy go” narrative underneath the infectious conga beats and twisting guitar lines. “Tango,” “Tanto,” and “Tao” were recorded in this same session and round out the foundational mélange that Drama holds—danceable, cerebral, and cinematic music supported by light electronics, strings, and occasional cuíca. Not to be overlooked are the remarkable videos and album trailer that accompany the record. Amarante’s conceptual prowess and interest in visual art coalesce in the elegant (and humorous) videos edited by his sister Marcela. Amarante has recent credits on songs with Gal Costa, Norah Jones, and Gilberto Gil in addition to penning the theme music for Narcos. His work has depth, variety, and is charmingly deliberate. Recognized the world over, Amarante’s music, Drama especially, is for anyone who wants their music slowly cultivated, gently nodding to Sticky Fingers-era Stones, and glazed in the sweet and bitter sauces of Brazilian instruments, the experience of living away from the place you call home, and the journeys of love and life’s folly.​ —Emily Elhaj

BLACK MIDI
CAVALCADE
(ROUGH TRADE)

British art rockers black midi caused quite the stir when they first arrived on the scene in 2018, pairing absurdist humor with incredibly technical songs that were a mix of prog-rock, post-punk, and avante-garde jazz—all performed by skilled musicians barely out of high school. On Cavalcade, their sophomore effort, their sound delves further into the experimental and compositional. The album opens with “John L,” an avante-garde jazz number told from the perspective of a sinister nationalist politician (“Judge not who you see by whatever you may say / But by their round eyes, lips, ears, and curves”). Though not all the songs reach that same level of antics (Diamond Stuff,” for example, is much more subdued), it does set the stage for a complex and dramatic album. “Chondromalacia Patella” (a.k.a. “runner’s knee” and, appropriately, about convalescence), switches between low-level tension and more aggressive sonic bursts. Closing number “Ascending Forth” is a sweeping, nearly 10-minute-long song that starts off with a quiet and uneasy beauty, eventually building to a slightly chaotic, orchestral high, and then purposefully ending on an absurdly funny and anticlimactic note. Cavalcade is a beautiful, challenging fever dream, as much a musical experimentation as it is a commentary on our absurd reality. —Mary Beth Campbell

DOG PARK DISSIDENTS
ACAB FOR CUTIE
(NERD CAVE)

Dog Park Dissidents are a New Orleans and Long Island-based queer punk rock duo comprised of Zac Xeper and Jon Greco. Xeper has described their music as “genrequeer,” explaining in a recent email exchange that they “like to keep things in the wheelhouse of punk rock but mixing in whatever else feels right… genre mixing is an inherently queer way of doing music.” Greco’s incredibly deft guitar work effortlessly compliments Xeper’s sweeping vocals, equal parts glam and punk. Just as important is the incorporation of their own experiences and politics, and their uncanny ability to bridge activism and camp. The songs on their latest EP, ACAB For Cutie, exemplify this. The sharp and fast punk number “Class Struggle” is based both on personal experiences and the essay Queer Liberation is Class Struggle (“Queer liberation is class struggle / No money, no freedom… / They can take it away until we make them pay”). “RuPaul’s Frack Race” is a deliciously danceable takedown of (unsurprisingly) RuPaul’s exploitation of the environment (“She saw Paris is Burning, and she thought / Why not the rest of the world?”). There is no weak song on this EP, a testament to both the band’s activism and musical talent. Here’s to the day (hopefully soon) when we can hear these songs live. —Mary Beth Campbell

CRAIG KLEIN
TALKATIVE HORNS: MUSICAL CONVERSATIONS ON LUCIEN BARBARIN
(SELF-RELEASED)

Lucien Barbarin was a character in the truest sense of the word. He was the type of person who would pull you onto the bandstand with both hands and unabashedly teach you his latest dance moves in front of a crowd of strangers. He could put a smile on your face solely with his irresistible energy and unbelievable horn skills, and he was always open to sharing his observations about the business he was in and his place in it. Knowing Lucien Barbarin was and will surely continue to be one of the greatest pleasures of my life—he’s someone that I and the whole of New Orleans have missed dearly since his passing in January 2020. This album is a tribute to him, and it paints a magnificent picture of who Mr. Barbarin was as both entertainer and New Orleanian. Listening to Talkative Horns was emotional, pulling at my heart strings in a personal way that I’m not sure I’ve ever felt from a set of songs before. Craig Klein’s rendition of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” quite literally brought tears to my eyes, with Kevin Louis’ deep and soulful voice gliding over the instrumentals with a surefire quality. But then “Girl of My Dreams” lifted me right back up, reminding me that with the lows in life always come the highs. A trombonist in his own right and a recent GRAMMY winner with the New Orleans Nightcrawlers, Klein brings his wealth of talent to each of these traditional tracks. Klein also employed some of our city’s best trad musicians, including bassist Mitchell Player and Lucien’s nephew Gerry Barbarin Anderson on drums. As the title suggests, Talkative Horns is indeed a musical conversation, debating life’s darkest and most brilliant moments through dirges, New Orleans anthems, and some of Lucien’s favorite tunes. —Julia Engel

MANNEQUIN PUSSY
PERFECT
(EPITAPH)

Perfect, the latest EP from Philadelphia punks Mannequin Pussy, was recorded between August 2020 and February 2021. As the band describes it, this EP “marks the end of one era and the beginning of a new one.” Though Mannequin Pussy has never shied away from exploring their feelings, Perfect finds them delving into their more tender emotions. The album opens with “Control,” which melds the band’s different sonic identities to create a tension that mirrors the song’s exploration of a begrudging acceptance of reality (“I’m in control / That’s what I tell myself / When all the walls around me close”). “To Lose You” and “Darling” showcase the band’s pop and melancholic sides, respectively. “Perfect,” on the other hand, is straight-up gnarled punk. While the band has always been political, ”Pigs is Pigs” is the first song that is overtly so. Written and sung by bassist Colins “Bear” Regisford, this song explores both the political and the personal as Regisford expresses the anger and fear he experiences as a Black man in America. Taken as a whole, Perfect offers a glimpse into Mannequin Pussy’s next stage—a metamorphosis instead of a complete reimagination. —Mary Beth Campbell

MEREBA
AZEB
(INTERSCOPE)

Singer-songwriter Mereba’s latest EP, AZEB, is simultaneously ethereal and inherently relevant. On the track “News Come” the Alabama-born musician, who grew up living in many U.S. states as well as in her father’s homeland of Ethiopia, offers listeners a call to action against the systemic racism and injustices suffered by African Americans past and present. It is reminiscent of a modern day “Redemption Song.” Backed by airy instrumentals she sings, “Freedom for my people is urgent / Tell me, who are you serving? / Tell ’em all the facts and they curve ’em / Guess the truth is a burden / Wipe that shit out like detergent / Either that or we burn it.” Mereba’s voice is silky and dreamy, soulfully skating between spoken word and song. The track “Aye” is a bop; the poppy chorus of ayes will hype you up and get stuck in your head. But Mereba quickly brings listeners back down to Earth when she internalizes, “I’m tryna master peace / Please don’t you disturb me / Your weapons can’t hurt me.” On the track “Rider” Mereba is speaking to a lover, insisting upon mutual ride-or-die devotion to weather life’s storms. The EP is an honest reminder of the range of emotions evoked by the constant trauma of the last year and a half. AZEB provides listeners with equal parts love, rage, and peace. —Shirani Jayasuriya

MDOU MOCTAR
AFRIQUE VICTIME 
(MATADOR)

For anyone fortunate enough to have seen Mdou Moctar perform live (I often daydream about his 2019 show at One Eyed Jacks), it is clear why his guitar playing is celebrated internationally. Mdou Moctar’s music—a marriage of Tuareg rock (or desert blues) and psychedelic rock—is transformative and hypnotic, music that is meant to be experienced. Afrique Victime finds Moctar and his band taking their music and message to another, grander level. While the previous album, Ilana (The Creator), had more of a late ‘60s/early ‘70s vibe, Afrique Victime hearkens to stadium rock of the ‘80s—the psychedelic elements remain, but the sound is more dramatic. Though not all the songs are inherently political, a thread of rebellion runs throughout the album. “Taliat” is an ode to women’s rights. “Afrique Victime,” the titular track, is a passionate call to action against imperialism, violence, and the long-lasting, toxic effects of colonialism in his home country of Niger and the rest of Africa. Moctar does not create music merely to entertain, but to help foster change, even if it puts him at risk at home. “If we stay silent it will be the end of us,” he sings. May we all take heed. —Mary Beth Campbell

MONONEON
BASQUIAT & SKITTLES ALBUM
(SELF-RELEASED)

MonoNeon has been ridiculously prolific lately. This year alone, he self-released three albums and an EP in addition to a never-ending stream of social media clips that feature him adding music to internet videos. The multi-instrumentalist, best known for his bass and vocals, has carved out his own distinct niche of absurd funk. Eddie Murphy probably put it best when he described the musician as “Basquiat and Skittles” on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, a quote that gave birth to this release’s peculiar title. This batch of songs range from the vulnerable “When I Am Weak, I Am Strong” to quirky microtonal instrumental “Jungle Juice & Laffy Taffy.” Slave veteran Steve Arrington joins in on the fun for the catchy, groove-heavy “I Got a Gold Chain with a Bad Name.” Arrington’s soulful singing, which also anchored Thundercat’s “Black Qualls” last year, fits effortlessly between MonoNeon’s lines, transforming the tune into the album’s cornerstone. MonoNeon is no stranger to the local music scene. He has participated in his fair share of late night Jazz Fest jams and holds down the low end in Nicholas Payton and the Light Beings. If he keeps working at his current pace, MonoNeon will have a wealth of material to pull from next time he throws down in New Orleans. —William Archambeault

YAUTJA
THE LURCH
(RELAPSE)

Yautja feels like a rarity: a technical powerhouse that somehow overcomes the urge to wank off that overtakes most overtly technical metal bands. Everything in their maximalist sound serves a purpose that elevates the whole to its gnarliest potential. The breakneck fury of opener “A Killing Joke” will grind the flesh off of faces. The band’s rough shouting vocals fit perfectly over the mean riffage of songs like “The Weight” and “The Spectacle.” While drummer Tyler Coburn joined local downers Thou a few years ago, his sound plays a much more prominent role in Yautja. His hyper-precise and powerful playing defines the trio’s technical sound in such a way that it can only be properly described as lead drums. The Lurch marks a major step up for the Nashville trio. Yautja put out a full-length and a few tiny releases on small labels over the past decade, but this album marks the band’s first time working with Relapse Records, a major player in the metal world. These recordings, made at Steve Albini’s infamous Electrical Audio studio, more than warrant the leap.  —William Archambeault

MACON FRY
THEY CALLED US RIVER RATS: THE LAST BATTURE SETTLEMENT OF NEW ORLEANS
(UNIVERSITY PRESS OF MISSISSIPPI)

The batture is the area of a river between the low and high water marks. Fry, who has lived since the early 1980s in a small cluster of houses built along the Mississippi River batture near the Riverbend, chronicles how generations have built homes and lives along the waterline despite an often tenuous physical and legal grasp on the land. He delves into governmental archives and old newspaper reports, conjuring up fascinating stories of waterside dwellers dubbed “wharf rats” being raided by railroad cops, children separated from “shantyboat”-dwelling parents in the 1910s for purported reasons of health and morality, and even a wildly popular 1920s faith healer operating from a houseboat. Most fascinating are previously unpublished oral histories that Fry has collected from current and former batture dwellers over the years. Less interesting are Fry’s tales of his own time on the river. He doesn’t lack for material, including a failed home elevation project that became a barnraising-style group rebuild and a long canoe trip down the Mississippi. But there’s a reticence to reveal too much, which makes these stories duller than the rest of the book, even compared to a brief dive into historic maritime law.  —Steven Melendez

MAIA SZALAVITZ
UNDOING DRUGS: THE UNTOLD STORY OF HARM REDUCTION AND THE FUTURE OF ADDICTION
(HACHETTE BOOKS)

Maia Szalavitz has devoted much of her career as a reporter to addiction, drug policy, and neuroscience, challenging the damaging beliefs that our society holds about drug use. She is also a long-time harm reduction advocate. Harm reduction is a movement founded on the radical idea that drug users should be centered and supported to reduce any harms associated with drug use, instead of the damaging, punitive approaches championed by the racist War on Drugs and the policies which preceded it. Undoing Drugs, Szalavitz’s latest book, is a riveting narrative history of harm reduction, from its modern origins in Liverpool and the intersection of the harm reduction and AIDS activist groups in the 1980s, all the way to the overdose crisis of recent years. Intertwined with the stories of the incredible people who helped form the movement—including Edith Springer (the “Goddess of Harm Reduction”), Dan Bigg, Imani Woods, Dave Purchase, and Louise Vincent—is the framework for a society built upon the principles of harm reduction. As Szalavitz argues, we must “undo” the very concept of drugs and the harmful policies based on moral panic rather than evidence and experience. Perhaps then we will be able to reimagine our world as one that values all human lives. —Mary Beth Campbell

LIAM WARFIELD / WALTER CRASSHOLE / YONY LEYSER
QUEERCORE: HOW TO PUNK A REVOLUTION: AN ORAL HISTORY
(PM PRESS)

This book dives deep into the history and ideology behind queercore, the explosive fusion of strong queer identities and fierce punk defiance. This oral history collection draws from the many interviews conducted for Yony Leyser’s 2017 documentary Queercore: How To Punk A Revolution. In doing so, this book allows the figures to speak for themselves and tell their own stories. Although the primary focus is on the mid-80s to mid-90s, there are insights from earlier queer punk pioneers like early trans rocker Jayne County and the infamous filmmaker John Waters. The stories documented in this collection are distinctly pre-internet, bringing readers back to an era where some clever ideas and a photocopier could change the world. Pioneering zines like J.D.s out of Toronto and Homocore out of San Francisco were built on lies. Through careful curation and distribution, these zines paved the way for queercore by painting the illusion of massive revolutionary queer-centric punk scenes that didn’t actually exist at that time. As the old phrase goes, build it and they will come. Members of Bikini Kill took direct inspiration from the way those zines fabricated a scene into existence. They later blew up similar falsehoods to build up the riot grrrl movement seemingly out of nowhere. While the band played alongside groups like Tribe 8, Bikini Kill reached a level of stardom that the mainstream denied their queercore counterparts. One chapter details Pansy Division’s experiences opening for Green Day on the breakout tour for Dookie. It was a moment that unexpectedly took Pansy Division from playing in front of small queer audiences to swarms of straight subburbanites crammed into massive arenas, arguably the peak of queercore’s mainstream exposure. While this book’s primary focus is on musicians and zine makers, it also documents the ways that the queercore movement manifested in art, film, and activism. The authors don’t make any claims for this book to be a definitive history, but it does provide a lot of insight into an underrecognized moment. —William Archambeault

VARIOUS ARTISTS
8TH ANNUAL HBCU ART SHOWCASE
(OGDEN MUSEUM OF SOUTHERN ART)

The 8th Annual HBCU Art Showcase is an exhibition featuring a medley of art displays in a small, intimate wing of the education gallery on the third floor of the Ogden. The exhibit showcases student artists from historically Black colleges and universities in New Orleans including Dillard University, Southern University at New Orleans, and Xavier University of Louisiana. Starting from the right and walking through the exhibit in a counter clockwise direction, viewers are greeted by modern expressions of bold ceramic sculptures. Ancient African masking traditions and self adornment are expressed with a modern twist. Several of the boldest pieces were created using mixed media: a fur coat composed of tissue paper, a 3D interpretation of policing within the Black community using wood and metal, and a colorful tapestry joined by threads of string and yam stand out. One common thread throughout the exhibit is the young artists’ expression of pride. Most of the portraits, paintings, and photographs feature beautiful dark-skinned women. This is refreshing, as many communities of color globally are plagued by colorism. A Black woman’s beauty is often judged by its proximity to whiteness as a by-product of colonialism. The remaining exhibits are thematically and visually clustered with family crests, escapism, misogyny, and nature all packed together at the end. The final piece is a showstopper—its dimensions overwhelming compared to the sizes of all the other art pieces. An easily missed QR code at the exit reveals that the art spins with an accompanying love song, which left me confused, exhilarated, and in awe. This exhibit is a celebration of a new generation of artists who have done an outstanding job recreating and reimagining the world in which we exist. On view until October 20. —Jamilla Webb

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