First things first: as much as their gastronomic album titles beg for the name “Diets” to be a calorie-counting pun, it’s pronounced “Deets.” And with their six-song album Hot Sausage, PoBoy (the follow-up to 2019’s Macaroni & Squeeze), the local soul/rock act proves that big things come in small, uh, packages. Sausage jokes aside, there’s a lot going on in the album’s 25-minute runtime. Over a dozen local musicians are featured, and frontman Dustin Dietsche balances his four original tunes with two covers, recorded at Marigny Studios by Rick Nelson and mixed by Joe Kalb. The album opens with Diets’ take on the 2007 Charles Bradley single “The World (Is Going Up in Flames)” with Dietsche wailing away on his Telecaster while Richard Rourke (who also plays keys on the album) takes the mic. Less likely is the cover of Ariana Grande‘s “Needy,” but it’s compelling enough that the pop queen might consider rounding up a brass section. Another guest vocalist, Beach Angel, is featured on “Sweet Thing,” a stripped-down jazz track you could imagine hearing on a Royal Street corner at almost any point in the past century. Otherwise it’s Dietsche on the mic, trying to find love in a world full of wayward women and whiskey, making self-aware lamentations such as, “When we wake up she ain’t smilin’ no more / Once she remembers it’s me.” The album comes to a powerful close with “Song 19,” wherein a properly testifying organ sets the stage for one last pleading guitar solo, ending the album the way it began. (Diets will be playing a delayed album-release show—thanks Ida!—at Carnaval Lounge on November 11.) —Angela Calonder
New Orleans’ HiGH reemerge roughly a year from the debut of their high-water mark third LP, Out My Scope, and keep their momentum intact here with the release of the Unearther EP. While the previous album saw the band (guitarist Craig Oubre, bassist Isidore Grisoli, drummer Joshua White) start to push their punk and indie influences in new directions, Unearther plays like a mixtape with the only common denominator being the names on the credits. Seemingly free from any restraint or unifying theme, HiGH confidently pogoes between disparate rhythms and sounds. Things start firmly in the band’s sweet spot with “Tie Me Up,” a pop-punk ripper with searing guitar leads. From there, we get the breezy, reverb-laden “Vacation,” followed by the slow burn sludge of the title track. The most interesting moments of Unearther are saved for last as “Day Off” cranks the tempo back up and delivers an absolute earworm of a refrain that contains a lyric that will likely be relatable to many who grew up in the area: “I’ve got a lot of Catholic friends and we feel very guilty.” HiGH then closes things out with “Kick Around,” built around deftly-plucked acoustic guitar played incongruously over a building squall of distortion. Catholic guilt might not be the healthiest thing to grow up with, but it can apparently be fertile ground for potent song writing.—Will Hibert
If The Painted Hands’ first record was a spaghetti western, their sophomore album is a sidecar ride through a slick psychedelia inferno. Gloss finds the garage glam locals’ high-strung live sound captured better than most bands in their class. Dylan James’ riffs snarl hard on album opener “Follow Me” under hi-volt howls from Joey Goedtel (“Follow me / Follow me / Follow me into the void”) and a jittery drumbeat. “Latex-Pop” creeps along with a ‘70s-metal sensibility, and even less subtle allusions to “cocaine for breakfast” (“And Xanax / With your tea”). “Touch Me,” a moany-groany standout smack in the middle of the tracklist, feels like the best kind of buried lede. Any small-time, self-described “glam” band runs the risk of being way more style than substance, but the ground under Gloss feels solid. At just under half an hour, the record lurches by with eye-rolling abandon. Everything, even the claymation tooth extraction in the music video for “Drawn & Quartered,” does what it came to do and gets out of town. Gloss is equal parts bubblegum, Lone Ranger, and cock-and-ball torture, with enough sweet rock’n’roll sadomasochism for all. —K. Gauthreaux
It’s been three years since Parquet Courts’ last album, the highly acclaimed Wide Awake!, was released. In that time, the band has undergone a musical evolution of sorts. While their psychedelic garage punk core remains firmly in place, Sympathy for Life also embraces their more experimental side. The band utilizes synths and improvised grooves more than in their previous works, citing the Talking Heads and Primal Scream as influences. Sympathy for Life opens with “Walking at a Downtown Pace,” an ode to the beauty that is often missed in the hustle of city life (“Fighting temptation, walk at a downtown pace / And treasure the crowds that once made me act so annoyed”). The sweeping, improvisational “Plant Life” is like sonic ecstasy, made for the very dance floors that influenced its creation. Despite the elements of joy in these songs, there are serious threads woven throughout. The David Byrne-esque “Marathon of Anger” is an ode to last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, and closing track “Pulcinella” is as melancholy as it is hedonistic, much like its namesake. But that is much of the way of this reality —recognizing the darkness is necessary if we are to truly embrace the joy. Sympathy for Life is yet another triumph from Parquet Courts, a disco punk tour de force that calls you to both dance and rail against the state of the world. —Mary Beth Campbell
UNDO/REDO, the debut EP from New Orleans-based Pricked, is a fast and dirty collection of punk songs reminiscent of The Stooges, but with a hardcore bent. The EP opens with “Stayed Awake” which, with the first fuzzed-out notes, leans full-throttle into Pricked’s lyrically smart and chaotic approach to punk rock. Like so many of its predecessors, UNDO/REDO is cathartic in its noise, an aural manifestation of emotion. This is a band with an unfettered enthusiasm and frank approach to their music, and UNDO/REDO is all the better for it. “Dead Air,” the second (and standout) track, is the most structured song on the EP. Though it too descends into a cacophonous splendor of fuzz and distortion in the end, it is more focused on melody and rhythm and features a heroic guitar solo to boot. The remaining songs on the album are pure, punked-out bliss, with the no-nonsense “City Folk” leading into the delicious chaos of “Hysterical Blindness” and “Thirsty.” Closer “Top Drawer” finds the album melting in on itself in a speedy fervor, ending the EP just as it began, with distortion and passion. —Mary Beth Campbell
Twin Plagues is the sophomore effort from Asheville-based indie rockers Wednesday. Consisting of Karly Hartzman (vocals/guitar), Jake Lenderman (lead guitar), Xandy Chelmis (lap steel guitar), Margo Schultz (bass), and Alan Miller (drums), Wednesday wear classic shoegaze influences on their sleeve but still manage to forge the collection of songs here into something wholly their own. That unique character mainly presents itself through Hartzman’s evocative lyrics that depict vivid fragments of memories of small town life like “a Dallas Cowboys urn to put your ashes in” and “a crossbow in a family photo.” Hartzman’s vocals can get a bit buried in the imposing churn of guitars but come to the fore in quieter moments like “The Burned Down Dairy Queen” and the gorgeous country lament “How Can You Live If You Can’t Love How Can You If You Do.” The latter is also a showpiece for another component that distinguishes the band from its My Bloody Valentine-worshipping peers: Chelmis’ lap steel. It adds an interesting textural counter to Lenderman’s thrashing distortion on the rockers, and especially shines when the rest of the band ease back from their normal torrent of noise, ensuring the atmosphere doesn’t let up even when the songs are allowed a little room to breathe. Belying the brief amount of time the band has been together, Twin Plagues is an impressive, fully-realized work. —Will Hibert
When goth, new wave, and post-punk music is discussed, bands outside the U.S and U.K. are often (unfairly) excluded or underrepresented. Mexico, in particular, had (and still has) a rich and influential scene, one that is celebrated in Dark Entries’ latest compilation Back Up: Mexican Tecno Pop 1980-1989. The artists and songs selected for Back Up are diverse in scope, spanning dark goth to synth-drenched, campy new wave. The album opens with the dark wave track “Pesadillas” by Avant Garde, ethereal synths and punchy drum machine creating a layered and eerie atmosphere. Década 2’s industrial “Alfabeto” is a lamentation of the loss experienced by their generation, while Volti’s “Corazón” is more whimsical, steeped in Mexican music traditions as much as new wave. “Mundo Sin Viento” by Artefacto is a dance track reminiscent of U.S. groups like Information Society, though it’s still very much its own unique entity, and the avant-garde “Cou Cou Bazar” set the stage for the global vaporwave movement that was to come. Indeed, the thread to modern movements, including Latin freestyle in the U.S. East Coast, runs directly through these bands. Back Up is a beautifully curated compilation and an important addition to the history of modern music in Mexico and beyond. —Mary Beth Campbell
The teenage Wu Zetian is devastated when her older sister leaves their childhood home to enlist in the army and serve as a pilot concubine—a woman partnered with the exclusively male pilots who control giant machines in order to kill the invading aliens known as hunduns. When her sister is killed by her pilot, Zetian enlists to serve the same pilot—and kill him in his sleep. So begins Xiran Jay Zhao’s dazzling and frenetic debut novel. The story races from a highland village to the capital city, from glamorous photoshoots to forests, in a world that draws inspiration from imperial China while its protagonists pilot mechas (robot-weapons) with their qi and watch their own journey to war hero-stardom on tablets. Inspired by the life of the very real and ruthless Empress Wu Zetian, Zhao’s young adult sci-fi novel has ceaseless and cinematic action, while providing ample character development and romance. The love triangle becomes a power-throuple. Need I say more? Go read this book. —jesse lu baum
The first solo exhibition of visual art by architect of funk George Clinton, Free Your Mind, was on view during October. Now 80 years of age, Clinton’s achievements have spanned doo-wop harmonizing, songwriting, producing, touring for decades with Parliament Funkadelic (a.k.a. P-Funk), multiple collaborations, a solo career, and widespread influence over hip-hop, rock, and more. If an art show comes as a surprise for such a seasoned musician, consider the complex optics Clinton developed to convey the unique personae and aims of his projects. George Clinton’s realization of The P-Funk Mothership—a spaceship resembling a pyramid used in performances—is the visual metaphor for Afrofuturism’s investment in liberation, science fiction, and technology. And The Mothership’s first ever landing was here in New Orleans in 1976, so it’s fitting that his art lands here again.
The bulk of the works in this exhibition were created during lockdown 2020 to 2021. With the P-Funk farewell tour postponed, Clinton looked back at his sketchbooks and got to work. Gallery partners Leslie-Claire Spillman and Amy Blackwell selected 28 works from 200 paintings to exhibit in Free Your Mind, later adding selections from the artist’s sketchbook from the ‘90s-on, which includes collaborations with Overton Loyd and Jona Cerwinski.
Clinton, who is colorblind, had been coached by Loyd, the creator of the cover art for Parliament’s Motor Booty Affair and other projects for P-Funk. Loyd suggested that Clinton approach painting and drawing in terms of “tones and values.” The kaleidoscope of colors greeting viewers in this exhibition was therefore something Clinton experienced differently. And in a 2020 online conversation with PAMM director Franklin Sirmans, Clinton explained his process of seeing and making as, “to rely on it as a rhythm… the same way I make music.” In this acknowledgment, Clinton honors his profound work ethic and legacy in music, revealing an applied synesthesia, transferring one sensory perception for another.
Synesthesia can be understood metaphorically here, separate from the neurological phenomenon, and in keeping with sensory-based experimental works by early 20th century abstract artists such as Wassily Kandinsky. We can receive George Clinton’s artwork in relation to his music; a painting can also be a song. Like his songs, these paintings tell stories, reflect values and culture, and speak to the moment, sometimes with a touch of cheek.
The painting Epistemological Mayhem (2020), improvises with visual melody along lines of rhythm. As the title proposes, this is the chaos ensuing from conflicts of opinion vs. justifiable belief, and it’s a loud, wailing work. The screaming Black head in this corporeal pandemonium gives off Rashid Johnson meets Francis Bacon vibes. Aerosol lines bending back in on themselves along an exploded Looney Tunes ribcage are elegantly delineated in charcoal. A suture runs along bone, reminiscing on past injuries not easily fixed.
Clinton employs aerosol paint, charcoal, acrylic, and pastels; he uses collage in one painting and in sketchbook works. Like the aforementioned painting, his use of spray paint with other media is reminiscent of graf art layered via multiple artists over time, implying many voices and intertextual communications. This befits an artist so expert in collaboration and complex compositions.
In 2020’s My Dog, the aerosol paint outlines a dog-like neon signage to an exclusive club. Clinton’s dog motif is a nod to his 1982 solo hit Atomic Dog and is a signature motif. Rendered in gray tones with white defining lines, this inversion effect is akin to night vision as seen through video. The white dashes animate, pulsing like Morse code. This is a strategy used in other works and the resultant rhythmic geometries imply weaving, not dissimilar to kente cloth at times. With a teal dash across one eye and three sides of a square rendered in green around the other, the dog takes on the demeanor of a cyborg. Futuristic bow-wow.
The painting Alice in My Fantasies (1999, pictured above), borrows the title of a Funkadelic song, employing a magazine clipping of an alluring woman onto which Clinton paints a hybrid dog-human couple, radiating from her head. Is it an ideation of coupledom? That song’s lyrics depict some freakiness. Clinton pays homage to neo-expressionism and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s signature crown, flexing his own sophisticated paint-pushing. The body of the entity (serpent?) holding the unlikely trio is built up of layers of acrylic paint appearing as glitter in complex iridescence, held down by confident outlines.
From the sketchbooks, Untitled No. 14 (possibly 2002) is a page covered with text, character studies, and doodles including an old gangster, a peevish dandy, a moody strutter in vintage sweats, afroed folks with puckering orifices, and what appears to be Sly Stone as a butterfly with a catcher’s mitt. The composition conjures multiple series by Basquiat of famous athletes and musicians. Sly is recognizable via his signature hairline, mutton chops, and distinctive mouth. He was Clinton’s idol and years later they toured together, Sly opening for George. Scrawled at the page’s top, “Black Weired Muthus,” is both tribute and jive.
George Clinton’s exhibition of paintings and attendant works on paper from his sketchbooks offer inroads to one of music’s most unique and prolific minds. You don’t have to already be a fan of his music to enjoy the show as his works clearly stand on their own. The scheduling of the exhibition is timely as to dovetail with triennial multiplatform exhibition Prospect.5’s mission to create a polyvocal retelling of histories. The Contemporary Arts Center also presented a talk with George Clinton and DJ Soul Sister (Melissa Weber) during the show’s timeline. If you didn’t already know, the name of this exhibition is taken from a title of the Funkadelic album, “Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow.” For more info on Free Your Mind, check out spillmanblackwellart.com. —Veronica Cross