All relationships are ephemeral: No matter their form or strength, the only guarantee is that they will, in some manner, end. So what do we do when all we have left of a person are memories and the void that their absence leaves behind? And what do we do with our intimate knowledge of a person when they are no longer in our lives? New Zealand quartet The Beths explores these questions on the band’s third and latest album, Expert In A Dying Field. Lead singer and songwriter Elizabeth Stokes’ lyrics deftly invoke the myriad emotions which accompany loss. That the band wrote and recorded much of the album during New Zealand’s COVID-19 lockdown adds another layer to this emotional exploration. The Beths approach these feelings with both tenderness and acceptance. Standout tracks include the titular “Expert In A Dying Field,” which sets the thesis and tension for the album with its catchy, guitar-laden hooks; the introspective “Knees Deep”; and “When You Know You Know,” an expert study in heartfelt pop anthems. There is joy and understanding at the core of this album, with The Beths pulling off the feat of creating dazzling power pop that manages to highlight the pain of loss while still embracing the light. —Mary Beth Campbell
Two decades after the release of City of Caterpillar’s first album, the screamo pioneers have finally returned with a follow-up. It can be scary when bands you love reunite after a long time and start putting out new material. A lot of times, those songs feel like lackluster recollections of past glory years. Mystic Sisters is the rare reunion effort that reflects the maturity that comes with two decades of growth while still sounding as visceral as their peak years. The title track’s eerie black and white music video, directed by ANTIGRAVITY alum Derek Zimmer and co-starring Emily McWilliams (Silver Godling / Thou), perfectly matches City of Caterpillar’s distinctively cinematic music style. Lengthy songs like the title track and “Ascension Theft… (Gnawing of the Bottom-Feeders)” build up from beautiful trance-inducing soundscapes into devastating fits of raw emotion. Shorter tunes like “Paranormaladies” ditch the pretty parts for downright ugly displays of catharsis. Overall, the songs tend to feel more like the work of refined craftsmen rather than the rowdy youths who made their 2002 self-titled album. The emotions may be coming from a slightly different place, but City of Caterpillar have not lost their knack for sculpting resonating songs that put it all out there. One of the great underground sounds that shook the world is back. —William Archambeault
Iron Cage is 17 minutes of wonderfully scrappy oddball rock‘n’roll. Italian garage punks DADAR are charmingly lo-fi and in your face on these eight danceable tunes. Sharp guitars slash through energetic songs like opener “Desperate” and the deranged “Failure.” Another key element of the group’s sound is the hum of synths, particularly evident on “Synth Pacco”: “I wanna set this world on fire / I wanna take drugs” whispers a distorted voice over a thick key line and a repetitive drum machine beat. While the group momentarily flirts with the drum machine, the rest of this album focuses on the type of raw rock‘n’roll fueled by caveman drum smashing. Iron Cage is out on Italian lo-fi punk label Goodbye Boozy, which has also released local garage freaks Sick Thoughts and Buck Biloxi and the Fucks. If you’re into getting beer spilled on you while dancing along to rowdy bands in dive bars, there is a good chance you’ll find something to enjoy in Iron Cage. —William Archambeault
On their long-awaited debut album, DOMi & JD Beck attempt to wrestle jazz from the grips of elder gatekeepers and reposition it as something contemporary for the Zoomer generation. The young duo’s chops had already spread far and wide through short social media clips in the years leading up to NOT TiGHT. The album largely lives up to the anticipated buzz with 22-year-old keyboardist DOMi and 19-year-old drummer JD Beck firing away on all cylinders as they navigate their signature style of complex and chaotic jazz fusion. While most of the album features just the two players, almost half of the songs feature them in collaboration with others. Herbie Hancock, still arguably one of jazz’s most forward-facing greats, plays vocoder on “MOON.” Household-name rappers Anderson .Paak, Busta Rhymes, and Snoop Dogg fly on top of “PiLOT.” DOMi and Beck’s collaborative forces feel at their highest on two tracks with the equally humorous and shreddy Thundercat, an early supporter who brought the duo out to back him at Champions Square in 2019. NOT TiGHT shows a young generation that jazz can, in fact, be very tight. —William Archambeault
In the late ‘90s, there seemed to be a very peculiar trend of New Orleans ska punks polymorphing into effete and wistful emos. It all started with the Fueled by Ramen grandpas in the Supaflies re-emerging as the melodious, harmony-laden Community. Soon, the young bucks in Point 07 were wearing all black and called Fire.Is.Real. Some bands like The Munx and Class Act seemed to inexplicably lose their horn section and gently shift gears into a less rambunctious sound. Over the span of a few short years other emo-adjacent bands like Audibuild, Walk Through Walls, and The Gretna Sewing Circle sprouted here and there. Even pop punks like Out of My League, Backhand, Marc with a C, and Stand-In (later called As Cities Burn) all flirted with the genre. And somewhere in all of this mess a few members of an uninspired ska band called Calvin & the Snobbes started one of the best bands to ever come out of New Orleans: Hatchback.
“Emo” is such a loaded word, but here it refers to the early output of the second wave bands like Cap’n Jazz, Braid, The Promise Ring, The Get Up Kids, etc. The hallmarks are quite clear: a little twinkle, some rock, some math, lots of feedback, soft/loud dichotomy, earnest and/or sad boy lyrics, a mixture of singing and screaming, rolling around on the floor like a maniac. Hatchback had all of these traits in spades. And while they and their peers despised emo as their music’s codification, certainly their early, rougher-edged, Pierre-era output fits the description quite nicely. One can easily imagine finding any of those early songs on some obscure compilation 7″ with a xeroxed cover, typewriter lyrics, and a woodcut lifted from The Adventures of Christopher Robin.
But that early output, while marvelous and superior to many of the bands of the day, wasn’t all they had to offer—some drastic shift occurred midway through their lifespan. Seemingly overnight the musicianship of the four core members increased exponentially. Gone was the tender, Midwest melancholy; in its place was a harsh, manic fervor with a breathtaking ability to balance chaotic tension and taut control. Sure, there were some other bands similarly on the periphery of the genre like At the Drive-In, Jets to Brazil, Burning Airlines, and Sunny Day Real Estate also pushing the boundaries of the form. But in all likelihood, Hatchback was considerably more inspired by their exposure to bands like Monotanashhfuck and pageninetynine, which probably informed a more creative result. Outwardly, “Perfect Circle” might have hinted at this turn to a more guitar-aggressive, pained-vocals, frantic-yet-catchy sound. Or, perhaps, the rotation of bass players and second guitarists in their membership could explain some of the changes. But, really, it was just the four main guys having so much more talent with their instruments and a clearer vision for the band.
New Orleans ruthlessly crushes most of its artists into obscurity. Incredible bands like Indignation, Ovary Action, Community, Gathered Here, The Faeries, Tragic Girls, The Ghostwood, Necro Hippies, Grotto Girl, Gland, and so on will probably be overlooked by most, forgotten by all but a few wizened punks shambling and wheezing around the dusty, abandoned scene. If not for the current release of Eulogy, Hatchback might also have faced a comparable outcome. Thankfully, labels like Ashtray Monument, Strange Daisy, and Community Records are doing the world a great service by compiling and releasing music that would otherwise be tragically lost to time.
Eulogy is such a release that needs to exist, to be readily accessible to the people who need to find it. And while the compilation stands on its own merits, it also marks a small milestone on these musicians’ lengthy and prodigious output. Some people are blessed to write one good song or play in one decent band, but these guys gave us a pile. Additionally, the impact they’ve had on contemporary, high-functioning local artists like HighTower Recording, Thou, HiGH, Geography of Robots—even ANTIGRAVITY—can trace some part of their lineage back to Hatchback.
When I was 19 and playing with my high school buddies in a hardcore band called Chopsley, befriending Hatchback was my first experience with having a seemingly incongruous buddy band where everyone immediately hit it off and would even start new bands with each other. In my teenage years, I’d go see my pals out of dutiful obligation, but I went to every single Hatchback show out of sheer enjoyment of their music. This was the first band that let me go out of town with them. I learned how to use a camera from them. My core sense of design aesthetics was carved from their flyers and demos. I played music with these guys. I lived with some of them. Is Eulogy an amazing, incredible, IMPORTANT release that you should listen to? YES. I’ve been subsisting on it for the better part of my life, and it continues to inform me artistically and emotionally to this day. —Bryan Funck
Under an oak tree on the Lafitte Greenway, I click in a cassette copy of King Poobah’s Park King. Its summery beats perfectly soundtrack the darting dragonflies, heat haze rising off of bleachers, and bustling skyline. The addictive nature of lo-fi hip-hop comes from its open-ended impressions: Although Park King might be an urban meadow to me, it could be another thing entirely for someone else. King Poobah contrasts smooth sequencing and jazz beats with jagged textures created by chopping and a drum pad. His tool of choice, a Roland SP-555, gives each track a signature lo-fi fuzz. The album’s cohesive vibe and conventional approach make each song blend well together, but doesn’t lend many standout moments. Much of the character of the music comes from the persona of King Poobah, a Lemongrab-meets-handsome-Squidward-looking figure. The DJ behind the mask sources their music from local crates, sampling a variety of horns and voices that fit within New Orleans’ diverse musical landscape. Overall, Park King brings bright and flavorful beats that don’t break the genre but still do it well. —Dalton Spangler
You know those nights: too hot or too cold, pacing the place, checking the phone, checking the fridge, looking for something to take your mind off the running loop playing in your head. On her recently released EP tried to be everything, Eva LoVullo provides a suite of songs to guide you through the process of letting go. On the opening track, she transforms “A hundred ways of saying I don’t think we can talk” into the poppy hook that gives the song and album their name. The accompanying strings, pedal steel, and vocal harmonies throughout the collection embody the sweep of emotional stages LoVullo showcases within the intimate scenes she paints. On the earworm “midnight snack,” she contemplates her connection with a fly-by-night lover who only is “Here to make you laugh / Here to be your midnight snack / Here to slow down panic attacks.” The tension comes to a head on the closer “save me,” as the singer finally gets some rest and catharsis that allows her to find her footing and take on a new perspective. With this release, LoVullo lingers with the pain of grief long enough to learn how to grow from it. —Anthony Oscar
Emily McWilliams’ abstract, ruminative EP Form in Flow is truly unsettling. Through her Silver Godling releases, she’s experimented with lengthy silences, jarring instrumental entrances, and compositions constructed like modern dance pieces, but this release goes a step further. Devoid of vocals or any instrumentation other than “an old piano and its bench,” Form in Flow requires a complete letting go of expectations. The first track (“silver.orange.rose.silver. – zzz – silver.orange. – z – silver.”), totalling 17 minutes, gives us the pretty relief of twinkling notes around the four-minute mark, though calling it a full melody would be a stretch—this is an improvisation of sounds and their disintegration. Around minute nine, we’re gifted the sweet satisfaction of chords and contemplative, melodic meanderings. Track two (“orange. – z – rose. – z – silver.”) also builds with disparate notes, evolving to a more organized sound around minute three. Track three (“orange. – z”) picks up speed and builds to an energetic improvisation by minute five, which cools by minute seven. Once you’ve made it through all three songs, you’re left with a feeling of calm and maybe some extra air in your lungs. After absorbing the sparsity of these tracks, you might feel spoiled—even overwhelmed—by a fully-produced pop song. There’s something to be said for giving space to the pressing of individual keys, the plucking of each piano string, the pushing and releasing of foot pedals, the creaking of a bench, and the ponderings of a mind. —Sabrina Stone
If there’s anything interwoven throughout the many genres and subgenres formed within New Orleans, it’s a celebration of life—the good, the bad, and the people who go through it with us. Mr. Sam (Sam Gelband) seems to understand this songwriting well. With a whimsical disposition à la Jonathan Richman and the swamp pop reverberation of Bobby Charles, his new album People People People People! is a sunny record built upon friends and local, musical kin (including Sam Doores of The Deslondes, Chris Acker, Gina Leslie, and The Lostines). Recorded live to tape at The Tigermen Den, it sounds alive—the organ sings, the piano whirls, and the group harmonies joyously rattle. The rambunctious “Get Along” echoes early New Orleans rhythm & blues, meeting jangle-folk in “People People People People” and there’s even an ode to Gelband’s childhood hero in “Thank You, Conan O’Brien.” People People People People! has something to offer almost anyone, as long as you’re ready for a good time. —Danielle Dietze
After eight long years, OFF! is finally back with Free LSD. When the Keith Morris-fronted band first began in 2010, their mission was simple: Inject ‘80s hardcore punk back into the very heart of America. This time, the band feels more ambitious than ever, no longer content to exist as a mere callback to long gone glory days. Free LSD’s punk take on psychedelia fuses OFF!’s signature brand of dejected hardcore with occassional industrial and free jazz textures. The 38-minute-long album, the group’s longest release thus far, feels less like the soundtrack of youthful skateboard adventures and more like the soundtrack to the mishap-ridden years that come after. The album marks the beginning of a new era for the band with Thundercat drummer Justin Brown and former …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead bassist Autry Fulbright II replacing founding members Mario Rubalcaba (Earthless) and Steven McDonald (Redd Kross / Melvins). The resulting release might just be their masterpiece, the rare type of album that is every bit as Hawkwind and Headhunters as it is Black Flag and Black Sabbath. It sounds bigger and more grandiose than past efforts, but make no mistake—this turbocharged version of OFF! is still as in-your-face as ever. While most of the songs stand tall on their own, Free LSD is designed to be experienced as one long trip. Take the journey if you dare. —William Archambeault
“I don’t want your blessing / I don’t need your prayers,” snarls Drew Owen on Heaven Is No Fun’s power pop-tinged lead single “Mother, I Love Satan.” The album is a much welcome return for Sick Thoughts’ signature snaggletooth rock‘n’roll. It’s been four years since Owen’s last full-length as Sick Thoughts, which feels like an eternity for what started nine years ago as a prolific one-teen recording project. Thankfully, he has kept plenty busy during that time with fierce locals like satanic thrashers Total Hell, rowdy punks Trampoline Team, and supersized aggressors Fat Savage. From the ripping dual lead guitars on “Hole In The Wall” to the Kiss-tastic gang vocals on “Submachine Love,” Owen plays everything on Heaven Is No Fun. Still, listeners would be hard pressed to blind ID this rambunctious collection of precisely executed rockers as a one-man project. Owen grinds through revved up songs such as “E.M.P.” and “Skrewed” like a reckless train sparking its way down the rails. He even speeds through an excellent cover of The Limps’ wonderfully obscure 1979 U.K. punk gem “Someone I Can Talk To.” Owen may assert that heaven is no fun, but there is plenty of fun to be had with what just might be Sick Thoughts’ best album thus far. —William Archambeault
Sudan Archives, the solo project of self-taught multi-instrumentalist and producer Brittney Parks, is in a sonic realm all its own. Melding West African rhythms and influences from Sudanese fiddlers, avante-garde pop, hip-hop, and electronica, Parks is not interested in fitting into any sort of musical box, preferring instead to push her sound to new limits. Natural Brown Prom Queen, the follow-up to her 2019 debut Athena, explores Parks’ musical idiosyncrasies further as she details her journey from Cincinnati to Los Angeles and all the people and places in between. Central to the album are discussions of community, self-confidence, control, relationships, and the experiences of being a Black woman navigating this world. “NBPQ (Topless),” which spans from sparse violin beats to rap to hyperpop, begins as a rumination on white-centric beauty standards (“Sometimes I think that if I was light-skinned / Then I would get into all the parties / Win all the Grammys, make the boys happy”), eventually evolving into a declaration of her confidence and power (“I’m not average, I’m not average, I’m not average”). Opening track “Home Maker,” both a celebration of personal freedom and of community, starts out with Vangelis-esque synths and eventually builds into an R&B jam. Indeed, Parks’ musical curiosity is not only explored between but also within songs. This is music which defies genre, simultaneously entertaining and encouraging its audience to rise to the level of its creator. —Mary Beth Campbell
Titus Andronicus is swinging for the fences again. Following a pair of relatively slight releases, frontman/songwriter Patrick Stickles has not been shy in describing his aims for the New Jersey band’s seventh album. He has offered up Who’s Next, Hysteria, and Metallica’s “Black Album” as targets when he joined producer Howard Bilerman to pursue his stated goal of “Ultimate Rock.” Supported by Liam Betson on guitar, R.J. Gordon on bass, and Chris Wilson on drums, Stickles is still mining the same bag of classic rock tricks on The Will to Live, but no longer hiding them under layers of DIY grit, resulting in the most pristine-sounding T.A. record to date. While the gang vocals, horns, barroom piano, and Thin Lizzy guitars have been deployed before, they are given a new confidence through the clarity and depth of the production here. Stickles has penned a solid set of songs to pair with the lush sounds, with “Give Me Grief” and “(I’m) Screwed” ranking among the band’s most immediate. True to form, the most successful tracks are the two seven-minute epics that make up the centerpiece of the album (“Bridge and Tunnel,” “An Anomaly”). The latter sounding something like Bat Out of Hell recorded with a chain-smoking punk in place of Meat Loaf. Though only time will tell if The Will to Live will be canonized as “Ultimate Rock,” it is certainly worthy of its place in the band’s increasingly impressive catalog. —Will Hibert
Where Nothing Burns is a beautiful cutting from its root system—Metronome the City. MTC is one of the few holdovers from a vibrant late ‘90s New Orleans underground music scene that was as thriving as it was eclectic. On the heels of MTC releasing their latest album, End Transmission, Metronome’s ultra-controlled chaos of a drummer William Gilbert (who plays drums like a subway map designed by Massimo Vignelli with one line farmed out to David Carson) and the progged out vocal-like virtuosity of guitarist Pat Condon have spliced themselves into a new project with Abdon Callais (guitar), Brad Guillory (guitar/vocals), and Brad Klamer (bass). Their debut album is a throwback to the early days of Failure and offers diversity—much like the relatively underappreciated time capsule of the wide scope of ‘90s alternative rock that was Dig’s 1993 self-titled debut album, with a touch of the spaciness of Hum. WNB is right in the wheelhouse of the olds, while being a perfect ambassador to the millennial crowd that is embracing ‘90s nostalgia through rediscovery and reunion tours from their favorite bands’ favorite bands. —Kevin Barrios
Despite playing shows over the past few years, it has been nearly a decade since the Yeah Yeah Yeahs released their last album, Mosquito. Fueled by both a desire and need to unleash and process the collective trauma of the past couple of years, the band returned to the studio in 2021 to create new music. The result is Cool It Down, the distillation of the band’s best elements in eight tracks. The straightforward yet magical combination of Nick Zinner’s guitar, Brian Chase’s drums, and Karen O’s vocals and presence has not waned over time. Nor has the band forgotten their musical roots: Included on the album are homages and direct references to the likes of David Bowie (the Perfume Genius collaboration “Spitting Off the Edge of the World,” “Wolf”), ESG (“Fleez”), and The Four Seasons (“Burning”). Synths and samples offer their sound a richer, funkier vibe than their early indie punk days, and the album has a more serious undertone than previous efforts, focusing in particular on the climate crisis. This does not mean that they have abandoned their indie, dance punk ethos altogether, but now their danceable jams also double as a means of raising collective consciousness. Cool It Down is a reminder of the power that music has as a source of joy, a platform for change, and a confirmation that we are not alone in our experiences of the world. —Mary Beth Campbell
When the recently-orphaned Evelyn “Evie” Jackson (Nathalie Emmanuel) realizes she has new family members after a fortuitous DNA test, she is delighted to meet them. And when she meets a cousin who invites her to a large wedding in England at “New Carfax Abbey,” it seems like a fairytale, especially after meeting the handsome lord of the manor, Walter (Thomas Doherty). But strange memories and creatures prowl the manor and its grounds, and pretty soon the help is vanishing and the relatives seem more and more parasitic. The movie is well-acted, with Emmanuel proving that she has far more to offer than her role in Game of Thrones as translator and handmaiden Missandei. Doherty as well is charming and interesting to watch, and the actors’ chemistry together is captivating. The costumes and setting are beautiful (the film was shot in Hungary), and fans of vampire fiction may delight in the movie’s many references to Bram Stoker’s original novel Dracula, to which this film is a direct spiritual descendant. While the film does reference race in passing, in its exploration of Evie’s bond to her extremely white and British family, it is Emmanuel’s command of each scene more than the script’s nuance that pulls these parts off successfully. As the outfits grow more and more formal and the body count climbs, the movie builds towards an exciting finale. New classic? Probably not, but a very enjoyable watch. —Jesse Lu Baum
Professor Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton) believes herself content with her solitary life as a prosperous narratologist teaching at a London university, until a trip to Istanbul, when she accidentally frees a djinn (Idris Elba) who has endured 3,000 years of en-bottled captivity. Thus begins George Miller’s new yarn. (Spoilers to follow.) After the initial shock of discovering a magical, giant, humanoid creature in a bottle, Alithea and the djinn (who is never given a name) begin to talk, and ultimately share the stories of each others’ lives. Alithea realizes she is lonely and (after detailing the well-known folly of wishing for one’s heart’s desire) wishes for the love—physical and emotional—of the djinn. Elba is her ensorceled slave, and she commands him to love her. Of course, no movie can escape such an icky setup. When the djinn is sickened by the electronic and telecommunications signals in London, the viewer understands that in George Miller’s mind, this is not an issue in Istanbul, which is pretty illustrative of the overtly Orientalist tone of the entire enterprise. While the movie displays some interesting use of color, costume, and special effects (though none are mind-blowing) and, most skillfully, uses the story-within-a-story structure (prominent in One Thousand and One Nights), the overall result is clumsy and deeply flawed. —Jesse Lu Baum