In 2021, Hey, ily! surged into the emo scene with their unique blend of Game Boy chiptune, pop, and screamo. They released two EPs, each growing the band’s unpredictability while carving a space for themselves amongst fifth wave emo bands like Home is Where, Origami Angel, and others. Psychokinetic Love Songs, the band’s debut album, pushes their extremes even further, incorporating elements of everything from vaporwave to straight-up concert band. Although generally upbeat, the album’s lyrics deal with issues of mental health, climate dread, and general 20-something angst. Bouncing off the walls, “Glass House” defines the oxymoron of an emo-party song. It juxtaposes its energy with lyrics on feeling disconnected from friends, the world, and yourself (“Why is it so damn hard to speak? / Suddenly, all my friends are scary / Watching all my friendships pass me / Banging on these glass walls, why can’t you hear me?”). Psychokinetic Love Songs fuses nostalgic sounds and fringe genres into a mad scientist concoction of relatable lyricism and sick melodies. —Dalton Spangler


Kendrick Lamar’s been “going through something [for] 1,855 days.” His latest double album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, is his first since 2017’s DAMN. On the leadoff track, “United in Grief,” Lamar declares: “I grieve different.” This begs the question, what has he been going through for the past five years? Lamar has always been an artist who feels the weight of the world on his shoulders. On the standout second track, “N95,” Lamar’s signature staccato flow skips smoothly over a trap beat, capped off by a punchy synth bass coda. “You’re back outside / but they still lied”—clearly the state of the post-pandemic world hasn’t been sitting lightly on Kendrick’s mind. Here he raps about superficiality and condemns one target after another (“Take all that designer bullshit off and what do you have? / Ugh, you ugly as fuck”). He doesn’t stop there, attacking politicians (“the president actin’”) and the one percent (“Where the hypocrites at? / What community feel they the only ones relevant?”). “We Cry Together” is a blazing duet with Taylour Paige that stages an argument between a couple (“this is what the world sounds like…”). The two artists go back and forth swapping verses over staggering piano and slow drums. It sounds like a real argument; it sounds like grief. It sounds like the real world. —Andy Pham


Nail Club, the minimal synth project from New Orleans artist Sara Nicole Storm, has a dark and dreamy cinematic sound that is equally indebted to true crime, retro film, TV soundtracks, and bands such as Algebra Suicide and Esplendor Geométrico. On Mise en Abyme, hissing tape, distortion, and sharp drum machine beats are woven with sawtooth waves to create an ambience that is both visceral and hypnotic. Though at times obscured by the rest of the sonic tapestry, the lyrics and the feelings they imbue remain in your head after the music ends. The eight-track album opens with a crackle and a hiss on “Opening Night,” which brings to mind 1980s video game soundtracks. “Patience” is a dark, dancy track, while songs such as “Mirror” and “You Belong To Me” induce a gritty, trance-like effect, reminiscent also of modern bands such as Boy Harsher and Mandy, Indiana. “Pending,” the album’s deliciously melodramatic lead single, is accompanied by a sinister and erotic music video, which portrays the loss of innocence in the context of the casting couch. Mise en Abyme is a gorgeous collection of songs, urgently beckoning you to become immersed in its intoxicating lo-fi soundscape. —Mary Beth Campbell


You Won’t Remember This is a living example of form married to function. Created by the local duo Orca, Attack! (Elizabeth Joan Kelly and David Rodriguez), the two-song EP is part of DIY label superpolar Taïps’ cassette single and EP series, and is as quirky as the label and its chosen medium (tapes, in this the year 2022. You can also find the EP on Bandcamp). Orca, Attack! which bills themselves as “swamp-rock-meets-space-opera-and-folk,” previously garnered Bandcamp’s “best experimental music for May 2021, Tabs Out‘s top 200 tapes of 2021, and Avant Music News‘ “Best of 2021.” Title track and opener “You Won’t Remember This” begins with a gentle guitar riff and the album’s only verse: “It’s true / Everyone you used to know / Became much bigger than you were hoping for,” and the song continues into swooping reverberations that recall a whale’s song. There’s something icy and dramatic to the eventual rhythm and electric guitar as it becomes operatic and weird. Recalling the polar oceans of the titular orca, the listener gets the sense that they are traveling great distances in the short track. The second tune, “World Map” starts with a catchy bass hook and builds into an auditory scene that brings to mind a cityscape, and ends jauntily and kind of abruptly. It’s a delightfully odd listen! Jesse Lu Baum


Icy, gaseous Saturn must orbit for 29 1/2 years to make it once around the sun. In it for the long haul, Saturn Quartet’s thoughtfully composed Synchronicities floats listeners to outer spaces and back to earthly places in only 35 minutes of musical chilling. With sax player Ricardo Pascal’s initial pronounced inhale on opening track “Inspiration” (an original by pianist Brendan Polk), the debut album saunters with suavity to the launch pad for what turns out to be a surprising and nonlinear voyage of musical imagination and reinvention cohering across seven tuneful galaxies. Via a weightless arrangement of “Moon River,” the near-hackneyed classic crowd pleaser is miraculously made new, almost sneaking up to serenade us when it arrives after a gossamer intro of tinkly piano riffs supported by a lilting sax. Sir Paul’s wan “Blackbird” retread “Jenny Wren” is transmuted into a bright and boldly assertive musical statement that informs the lyrics—Jenny Wren will sing, she will take wing, listen to her fledge! Other tunes are raucously exuberant, invoking dizzily happy scenes of fast-moving crowds maneuvering through Polk’s spectacle- and horn-filled “New York Streets,or dancers loosely sambaing to bassist and bandleader Robin Sherman’s homage to his late grandmother, “Nita,” a passionate aficionada of bossa nova. Drummer Gerald Watkins Jr. pilots Coltrane’s “Satellite,” deliberately crashing through debris-strewn space to clear a crowded universe for an ever-accelerating, high-velocity saxophone performance ringing out by Pascal. —Frances Madeson


From its melodramatic opening—an anxious heartbeat plucked on an upright bass, a single loud and heavy piano chord followed by sticks cracking—Watertown’s alternately pushy or syrupy orchestrations sound passé even for long ago 1970. UMe is re-re-releasing the epistolary concept album in which a forlorn and forsaken workaday husband sings the contents of letters he’s composed to his wife who’s left him and their two sons—letters that we learn in the 12th hour he never sent. This bit of psychodrama, along with the quotidian descriptions of his life without her, sung with Sinatra’s trademark commitment and composure, make Watertown (the fictional place) and Watertown (the album) both seem like a vapid space of magical thinking and futile gestures, where nobody knows what’s up, or why. In what feels a little like attempted artistic parricide, America’s premier Cold War entertainer literally sings the sustained notes of “Old Watertown / Everyone knows the perfect crime / killing time…” drifting down the scale. The journey of the blinkered Everyman in this musical novella composed in 10 prismatic songs ranging across detachment, displacement, and delusion, is one of penumbral lunar eclipse where whatever occasional splotches of natural light do appear end up adding to the haze. Despite the cognitive dissonance of the aggressively peppy up-tempo arrangement at the album’s it-was-all-a-mirage close, the protagonist never eludes the shadow, or cloud, or woo-woo, or fog of American optimism. Sinatra stays as cool as possible, but the whole is a lugubrious downer being touted by the label’s publicists as “re-evaluated” and by its creators as “ahead of its time.” There’s no dishonor in admiring an experiment for experimentation’s sake, while also acknowledging that it failed in its execution. It’s Sinatra, so it’s garnered a cadre of devotees, but Watertown was squishy when it flopped in its day, and remains an oddball relic. —Frances Madeson


Stevie Spring is the type of slippery artist who revels in the evasion of stylistic signifiers. “I am STEEF. My music is very stinky,” he writes, in lieu of a traditional bio. “It sounds like the smell of my favorite cheese: GORGONZOLO.” Aside from his penchant for capitalization and love of fragrant comestibles, STEEF’s likes include computers that “go BEEP BOP,” guitars that “go CLANK CLANK,” and drums that “go BOOM BOOM CRASHHHH, all while I sing and shout LA LA LALAAAAA.” In POST F, his goofiness shines through on tracks likes “Hot N Spicy” (“Hahahahahahaha / Oh something spicy in the name of the main course / I think I’ll take that Mr. Waiter”) but rarely gets in the way of his undeniable talent and ingenuity, best showcased in the jittery post-punk freakout “Roll With The Punches,” the ELO-indebted psychedelic self-acceptance jam “Get Uglier,” the lounge-jazz clock-puncher anthem “Only A Job,” and album closer “I Just Needed The Feeling,” a Magical Mystery Tour b-side on a heavy dose of ketamine. —Raphael Helfand


Toro y Moi, the project of Bay Area-based Chaz Bear (née Bundick), first emerged in the late 2000s as one of the leading figures in the chillwave movement. Though the fuzzed out, synth-driven chillwave sound is still present in his music, in the past decade-plus Bear has allowed his sound to evolve and layer upon itself, incorporating his experience in house, hip-hop, and everything in between. On Mahal (the Tagalog word for “love” and “expensive”), his seventh album under the Toro y Moi name, Bear delves into the realm of psychedelic funk. Spacey guitars, saxophones, and keys accompany the project’s signature synths, creating a sound that is more jubilant than some of Bear’s earlier albums. This looser, more celebratory atmosphere is amplified by guest appearances from Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Salami Rose Joe Louis, Sofie Royer, and The Mattson 2. With the joyous vibe also comes more introspection. On “Last Year,” a musing on the events of the pandemic and mental health, he shares, “I learned to love myself last year / Breakthroughs in conversations / Session went well / Yeah, I kept my chill.” Mahal is the most personal Toro y Moi album to date, finding Bear, like so many of us, moving beyond the indie zeitgeist and examining what really matters within and outside ourselves. —Mary Beth Campbell


Darlings of the cerebral indie rock scene in the 2010s, Los Angeles quartet Warpaint went fairly quiet after their 2016 release Heads Up, focusing on cultivating their personal lives and side projects. Then, in 2021, the band released three songs (“Lilys,” “Empty,” “Paralysed”), with rumors of a new full-length album in the works. This rumor has finally been manifested into reality, with the release of Radiate Like This. Though their signature dreamy pop sound remains at the center of their work, Radiate Like This finds the band exploring a sound that is also steeped in atmospheric trip-hop. Beyond that, the songs on the album exude confidence and self-love, the result of knowing and finding comfort in who you are as a person, an artist, and a band. Fittingly, the album opens with “Champion,” an ode to lifting up not only oneself but those you love (“And here it is, I’ve got you / And here it is, I talk to you / I hope you figure out / Everything you’re on about”). Crossing between dancey beats (“Hips”), breakup ballads (“Hard To Tell You”), and trippy love songs (“Stevie”), Warpaint strikes the fine balance between being mature and fun-loving. Radiate Like This is a testament to the power of creating art that is born out of a celebration of love for oneself and others. —Mary Beth Campbell


In the near future, people have started experiencing Accelerated Evolution Syndrome, where bodies grow extra organs that function more like tumors. In a world where some consider organ growth an art, performance artists Saul Tensor (Viggo Mortensen) and Caprice (Léa Seydoux) partner together for shows of organ removal using new technology. But outside of these surgery theater shows, there are undercurrents of resistance. On one side exists those who defy the change, taking extreme measures to stop these abnormal bodies from existing. On the other are those who find solidarity and hope in the evolution these changing bodies may hold. Similarly to his film Crash, Cronenberg uses body horror to grow humans’ understanding of ourselves, both body and mind. He pushes his characters, and by extension his viewers, to the limits of our boundaries. In this film body horror is the love of a teacher. What we find at our limits might be weird, scary, sexy, isolating; but Cronenberg is here guiding us with absolute care and support. This is not body horror for the sake of shock, it is body horror as the only vessel for a deep discovery into the parts of our psyches that most cannot reach. And with a story that highlights some of today’s most pressing issues, this might be his best film yet. —Kallie Tiffault


The exhibition #fail includes 25 artists whose multidisciplinary works span from video and sculpture to printmaking and participatory installation. Broadly speaking, the theme is systemic failure within the society we currently live in. “Lover Earth (YOU USED ME)” is the first piece one encounters when entering the exhibit space. With headphones on, the visitor listens to a computer-generated figure, representative of Mother Earth, set in the foreground against a background of vivid green grass and cloudy blue skies, reminiscent of the classic Microsoft Windows background. “Even though you hurt me I still want you, but I don’t need you because the future is fiction and together we make meaning,” the voice says. Hauntingly direct, the piece speaks of environmental catastrophe and humanity’s excessive exploitation of the natural world.  “After the Wake Up” is a powerful participatory installation piece that allows the viewer to carve directly into the museum wall, referencing the physical marking of time and space that prisoners engage in during incarceration. The work addresses the ideas of innocence, justice, and the failures and flaws of the carceral system. Other potent issues explored by the artists include police brutality, racism, and the failures of language. The exhibition shows that large-scale, systemic failure is inevitable, and that humanity has a choice: to accept its own self-created doom, or to work together toward change (On view through June 19). Andy Pham


Under the Weather is a group show that smashes the grim clichés of the end times and offers instead an immersive, cathartic experience. Quintron’s Weather Warlock is a wire and knob covered box that glows with a sickly yellow light, and it fills the entire gallery with deep, eerie hooting. This, along with a fog machine, creates a disorienting atmosphere. Dawn DeDeaux’s sculpture Meteor Approach resembles what its name suggests and feels ominously pessimistic. Theodora Eliezer’s Soft Decay is a series of haunting photographs of old stuffed animals sprouting mushrooms from their matted fur. These images foretell an inevitable triumph of nature and feel ominously optimistic. This conflicted sanguinity shows up in the two photos by Generic Art Solutions (Tony Campbell and Matt Vis) the art-making duo who also curated the exhibit. Buddy Breathing demonstrates this most markedly, showing the two men linked by masks that form a long cloth tube, keeping them at a distance from each other but also forcing them to breathe the same air. Christy Lorio’s photographs also offer scenes of connection. Of the Earth (Old Hand) is a diptych that shows, in one image, a closeup of the artist lying on the ground. The textures and colors of her skin are reflected in the eddies of red dirt that appear in the second image. Lorio is living with cancer and returning to the earth is an idea that probably sits more heavily with her than it does with most artists. But it is something we all will do in the end, and her photographs express this universality and specificity with a clarity that defies the darkness (On view until June 5). —Harriet Burbeck

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