A decade ago, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu took Japanese pop to a whole new level when the video for her single “PONPONPON” introduced the world to her eccentric, brightly-colored costumes and infectious hooks. On Candy Racer, she continues to excel with her signature brand of over-the-top J-pop while also showing signs of growth. The title track feels as outlandish as any of Kyary’s early work but leans more into distorted bass than the twinkly production of her early singles. She is still working with her career-long songwriter and producer Yasutaka Nakata, whose touch also shapes tracks for Japanese pop acts Perfume and Capsule. His production especially stands out on the wonderfully nonsensical club banger “Dodonpa,” on which Kyary scats in call-and-response with Nakata’s pumping bass and rhythms. While much of the album shows Kyary’s sugar rush is still going strong a decade into her career, she also explores new territory on some tracks. On the slow “Natsuiro Flower,” she attempts to channel the internet’s recent love for retro city pop. Similarly, six-minute-long “Perfect Oneisan,” Kyary’s longest track to date, feels aimed at the types who seek out old extended remixes as opposed to modern bite-sized hits. The pandemic may have prevented Kyary from making her Coachella debut in 2020, but she is still going strong. —William Archambeault
New Orleans/Baltimore indie-pop duo Latitude Unknown (Andrew Burke and Spencer Nessel) formed during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, releasing their debut EP just over a year ago. Their most recent single, “The Veil,” finds them picking up where they left off, once again crafting a gorgeous, bossa nova-infused pop jam that balances the upbeat with the poignant. In a recent email exchange with Nessel, he explained that the central theme of the track is the anxiety caused by the unknown, particularly in the context of new romance (“Ice on the windowpane / I can’t see through / Where will you be when it melts away?”). The song was built around a groove created on a Casio keyboard and influenced by the music of Ned Doheny, creating the warm and retro sound that has become the band’s signature. “The Veil” may provide more questions than answers for those yearning to know if it is worth taking a romantic risk (“If you could choose would you surrender all the pain for the palest pleasure?”), but there is a comfort in knowing that we are not alone in seeking out this answer. —Mary Beth Campbell
The Swedish word “makthaverskan” loosely translates to the female version of someone with power. Indeed, there is a sense of dark, feminine strength throughout their music. För Allting (“Forever”), the Swedish band’s fourth full-length, finds them gravitating more toward dark wave and shoegaze with a sharp edge. Centered around a relationship breakdown and the regrets which accompany it, Makthaverskan plays with tension and time. Ethereal synths and jangly indie pop clash with raw guitar solos and gothy shoegaze vibes, and Maja Milner’s vocals run from wistful dream pop to throaty and deeply emotional post punk. “This Time” is a heartbreaking lamentation on the end of love, guitars and synths interplaying to create an introspective atmosphere (“This time / It won’t matter / This time I said things / That I shouldn’t have said”). “Ten Days,” in contrast, is combative, ending with a powerful, Western-tinged guitar outro (“So do me this one last thing / Let the end begin”). The interplay between sound and tone encapsulates the bittersweet and sometimes painful lifespan of a romance. This is För Allting’s message to the listener: Everything will end, in its own way, but the memories and emotions linger on within our minds. Let us make of them what we will. —Mary Beth Campbell
Manchester-based Mandy, Indiana emerged in the past year seemingly out of nowhere. Formed by guitarist/producer Scott Fair and vocalist/lyricist Valentine Caulfield, their wonderfully abrasive music is the wake-up call you didn’t know you needed. Their debut EP, … , is an explosive album best described as post-punk meets industrial dance. Though the lyrics are entirely in French, if you do not speak the language Caulfield’s visceral performance conveys their raw emotion. Found sounds are woven into the songs, adding additional elements to the carefully crafted landscape. Opener “Bottle Episode” is perhaps the most club-oriented track on the EP, with fuzzed out guitars and tribal drums forming the song’s backbone. “Nike of Samothrace,” named for the famous sculpture of the Greek goddess of Victory, is dark psychedelic-meets-industrial. “Alien 3” deviates slightly from the other two songs, an entrancing techno track that is over six minutes in length. The EP is rounded out by remixes of “Alien 3” and “Nike of Samothrace.” Their music has a palpable anger to it, but just as present is their underlying irreverence. This is music meant to both provoke and offer a sense of release: organized chaos that does not take itself too seriously. —Mary Beth Campbell
Mouth Congress was the queercore brainchild of Scott Thompson (of The Kids in the Hall fame) and Paul Bellini (a frequent KITH collaborator). Formed in a Toronto basement in 1984, Mouth Congress borrowed from punk, disco, new wave, and stand-up comedy to explore the taboo. Waiting For Henry, their long-awaited compilation, contains 29 of Thompson and Bellini’s favorite tracks. Some of these songs are professionally produced, some are live performances, and some are extremely rough cuts but it doesn’t matter—Thompson and Bellini love them all the same. As their name suggests, many Mouth Congress songs drew on Bellini and Thompson’s explorations of their sexuality and experiences as young gay men in the 1980s (“Be My Hole” and “Thanks for the Disco” are notable examples). Unsurprisingly, they were also unafraid of embracing other controversial topics, using their wry, absurdist sensibilities to address issues such as abortion rights (the pro-choice anthem “The People Have Spoken”) and sexism (“Womyn”). Waiting For Henry showcases Bellini and Thompson’s uncanny ability to balance the truth and the absurd. That much of their catalogue remains relevant today is a testament to their keen understanding of the world and a reminder that we still have a lot of work to do. —Mary Beth Campbell
When Brooklyn darlings Nation of Language released their full-length debut, Introduction, Presence, in 2020 it was as though they had emerged from the glory days of the 1980s new wave scene. Their sophomore release, A Way Forward, is still rooted in classic new wave but also delves into the more synthy realms of krautrock and early 2000s indie dance. The band has not only built up their sound but also their depth, creating a beautiful album that is simultaneously joyous and an emotional punch to the heart. “Wounds of Love” begins with a stark arpeggio and semi-detached musing on lost love, evolving into a richer lamentation with a synth line that could have been taken from Kraftwerk. “Across That Fine Line” is the opposite in tone and message, a joyously anxious anthem exploring the moment when friendship becomes possibly something more. “The Grey Commute,” in another turn, taps into Nation of Language’s social awareness, a critique of late-stage capitalism with an indie disco beat. The songs on A Way Forward are constructed from the band’s myriad influences in distinct ways, connected by a common emotional and sonic thread. The ultimate result is an album that is not indebted to its predecessors but instead a classic in its own right—the next logical step in synth rock’s evolution. —Mary Beth Campbell
The time was 1998, encompassed in the New York City punk rock scene long before the Lower East Side would be marred with designer clothing stores and giant Whole Foods Markets. Between CBGB idolization and just shy of the next wave of LCD Soundsystem bands sits rock outfit Newborn Naturals. Merging the simplicity of rock’n’roll with the carriage of punk, they generate a collection of songs representative of a band that unites irreverence and dedication—but they didn’t release any of it. Not until now, that is—two decades later. They’re not above influences (The Velvet Underground is strong with this one, and “Reputation” is reminiscent of John Lennon‘s harder Let It Be days) but they don’t just adhere to any one in particular. Recorded on the Lower East Side and East Village of New York City and in Williamsburg, Brooklyn between 1998 and 2004, Newborn Naturals’ deferred debut is a welcome delay. —Danielle Dietze
The students of the NOCCA Media Arts Department have finally released the eclectic mixtape they compiled during the 2020-21 school year. The third edition of the Media Arts Recording Showcase (MARS III) arrives after a year when these students’ interactions—both with each other and NOCCA’s recording equipment—were severely limited, and yet the songs feel professionally produced. The result is a rich, strange, uneven record that falters at moments but is impressive throughout. At the risk of showing favoritism, the tape is front-loaded; its first three tracks are its strongest. “MC Of The Bibles” is a ‘90s throwback cypher from Tiara Joy, MastaWuu, and Styles. Amoeba flexes inspiring composition and production skills on “Image of You,” a Stones Throw homage that’s as least as convincing as most professional ones. And “Sometimes,” a touching R&B ballad by Teiron, has a rare textural nuance that brings to mind Frank Ocean’s earliest offerings. Mars III is now live on Soundcloud and will be available on other major streaming services soon. It comes out on vinyl December 17, courtesy of New Orleans Record Press. —Raphael Helfand
Since its publication in 1965, Frank Herbert’s Dune has had an undeniable influence on modern science fiction. Despite this, the book gained a reputation of being unfilmable. Thus, there was understandably much skepticism surrounding Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation. Villeneuve, however, has accomplished what was deemed impossible with Dune: Part One—creating a gorgeous, sweeping film that is both true to the story and accessible to the casual sci-fi viewer. The movie is slow-paced but also does a great job setting up for the second film, where most of the action will appear. Let us also not overlook the stellar casting choices—there was no role that was miscast. Villeneuve understands the message of the books, as is apparent in his creative decision to have the character of Chani (Zendaya)—a young Fremen woman whose home on the planet Arrakis has been colonized and ransacked over the invaluable psychedelic Spice—deliver the opening exposition. This accentuates the point that both the books and Villeneuve’s film are ultimately a treatise in environmentalism and a critique of colonialism. We can’t ignore, however, the hypocrisy of Herbert’s views on Middle Eastern culture and the fat shaming and queer coding of villain Baron Harkonnen; these exist alongside the wonderful elements of the stories and must be addressed. Though Dune: Part One has clearly made an effort to overcome these problems, there is still room for improvement before the 2023 release of Dune: Part Two. There is much to love about this film and story, but it is possible to be impacted by and love something and also demand that it be better. —Mary Beth Campbell
Director Todd Haynes’ compelling documentary offers a window into the origin, lifespan, and legacy of one of the 20th century’s most provocative bands. Haynes’ style of storytelling is associative and anecdotal. Contemporary and archived interviews of the band and Downtown peers such as filmmaker Jonas Mekas are collaged with vintage reels of TV commercials, kinetic animations, independent film by Maya Deren and others, and band members in various performances. The layout of split screen effects and overlays with alternating time sequences evokes Beat writers’ cut-up methods and the dichotomies and experimental nature of the 1960s. Even more significant, this film’s composition both employs and riffs on Andy Warhol’s pop art Screen Tests, in which original band members appear in individual slowed-motion black and white sequences, filmed during Warhol’s management of the band. Haynes focuses mainly on band founders Lou Reed and John Cale, contextualizing the tension and balance between Reed’s pop sensibilities and Cale’s enigmatic drone. Cale, whose use of sustained notes was inspired by minimalist composers, would tune instruments to a refrigerator’s 60-second cycle hum as “the drone of Western civilization.” The film suggests this strategy as perfect foil to Lou’s pop songs, which transformed encounters like copping heroin and experimentation with S&M into lyrics. Haynes situates Reed’s adoration of Decadent and Beat writers with an opening quote by Baudelaire and Allen Ginsberg footage. Archival appearances by Factory friends like Candy Darling and Warhol himself alongside imagery from iconic gay filmmakers Jack Smith and Kenneth Anger signify the important contributions of LGBTQ culture to The Velvet Underground’s development. V.U. ‘s songs are also intimated as cultural critique, which illuminates the antagonism between East Coast/West Coast sensibilities regarding a foiled performance at The Fillmore, Bill Graham’s love-and-peace, hippy-centric LA club. Haynes’ late placement of younger musician Jonathan Richman, who had befriended the band during their last iteration when harmonics-leaning Doug Yule had replaced Cale, foreshadowed the many fans inspired to start their own band after hearing The Velvet Underground. —Veronica Cross
Nestled away in the historic neighborhood of Tremé, the New Orleans African American Museum (NOAAM) displays a cozy and intimate Prospect.5 exhibit. The exhibit begins upon entering the welcome center, which showcases Spirit by Kameelah Janan Rasheed. Spirit is an intricate collection of lines and shapes within black and white prints, photographs, and mixed media. Rasheed painted on the surface of film and created images interpreting the unfettered and yet orderly movement of spirit and how it appears in our lives. The adjacent room on the ground floor features Master Harmoniser (IIe aya, moya, la, ndokh), a 25-minute video which is projected onto three walls within the room, featuring an array of abstract drawings made with clay sourced from ports in South Africa, Senegal, and Louisiana that once played key roles in the Transatlantic slave trade. The accompanying audio component of the video features sounds of wind, waves, cries, and music of resistance and celebration. Dineo Seshee Bopape’s inspiration for this piece was a man known as “Peter,” who was enslaved in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. Upon his escape in 1863, he became the subject of a photograph which was circulated worldwide. The excessive scarring on his back indicates the horrid abuse he endured through chattel slavey, and the resilience he possessed to survive and share his story. “Sanctuary,” the final installation for Prospect.5 at NOAAM, is an outdoor exhibit located in the courtyard. Artist Paul Stephen Benjamin laid thousands of brilliant metallic black bricks in an ascending monument. LED-lit letters in the center of the structure reading “Tremé” serve as a love offering to the neighborhood, the rich history of Black architectural traditions, and to Benjamin’s father who worked in New Orleans as a bricklayer. —Jamilla Webb
In 2019, Dawoud Bey photographed the sites of five Louisiana plantations in black and white for his series In This Here Place and conceived a three-channel color video from one of those locations, Evergreen. Selections from this series and Evergreen are currently installed at The Historic New Orleans Collection as part of P.5 Yesterday we said tomorrow, curated by Artistic Directors Naima J. Keith and Diana Nawi. The New Orleans based triennial’s title takes a thematic cue from the New Orleans jazz musician Christian Scott’s 2010 album Yesterday You Said Tomorrow. By chronicling contemporary views from sites of forced labor by and brutality to enslaved Black people, Bey’s objective to highlight the conditions of white barbarism and inequality that persist reflect the triennial’s intention to examine how “history informs the present.”
Bey’s photographs and video are unpeopled, yet bear traces of lived experience on a plantation. There is a voice-driven soundtrack for Evergreen; rows of tin-roofed cabins flank a dirt road. The photograph Irrigation Ditch shows a definitively cut pathway, a rusted sugar kettle, and gnarled live oaks that grasp at airlike arthritic hands. Evergreen’s soundtrack, which serves as soundscape to the low-lit gallery install, is resonant in appeals, “Come by here, someone’s praying,” shrieks, incantations, tambourine, and what sounds like rosary or prayer beads shifting in a person’s hand.
The soundtrack, composed and performed by Imani Uzuri, destabilizes any bucolic reading of the natural environment. Evergreen was filmed from different perspectives split between three screens. Grassy sugarcane undulates, oak branches sway. Aerial views of the site’s 22 cabins speak of surveillance, foreshadowing police helicopter presence over Black neighborhoods. The camera makes its patrol through the neighborhood, as though unattached to ground. There is a tainted cast to oak leaves, mold creeps over cabins, and there is algae in the sugar kettle’s water. “Evergreen” was named for someone else’s idyll.
The large-scale photographs of In This Here Place demonstrate Bey’s narrative expertise with the medium of light. In Mississippi River and Trees, shadows fall through backlit trees onto muddy waters, creating soft stained glass. A colossal elder oak in shadow works to conceal a tiny cabin, backlit with gentle light streaming through younger trees in Tree and Cabin. Here, the obfuscating nature of shadow is protective, and the gallery’s black walls extend that sheltering effect. Where human life is passed, these cabins, live oaks, fields of cane, and agricultural interventions remain as witnesses.
In addition to the Evergreen Plantation, Bey photographed the Oak Alley, Laura, Whitney, and Destrehan plantations. Located in Louisiana’s River Parishes along the Mississippi, the legacies of slavery, unregulated industry, and colonization endure through environmental racism in Cancer Alley. Geographically, in this here place, high levels of cancer from chemical plants along the river have impacted communities primarily of lower income African American and Indigenous peoples. The title In This Here Place is a line borrowed from Toni Morrison’s novel about a formerly enslaved family persevering through slavery’s traumatic legacies in Beloved. And in this moment, look no further than the news to see the perverse inheritances of the minds that promoted human chattel. —Veronica Cross