Congealed Putrescence tear into death metal with absolute neanderthal power on Within the Ceaseless Murk. These local cavemen’s screams fit well on top of the never-ending barrage of grooving riffs and gnarly drum fills that make up this EP’s signature sound. On songs like “Gelid Fathomless Suffering” and “Burning Off,” brief guitar solos divebomb over the song’s chaotic foundation for a thrilling effect. While Congealed Putrescence is a death metal band first and foremost, members’ experience playing powerviolence, d-beat, and grindcore with groups like BRAT, Dracula, and Romasa also inform their sound. Within the Ceaseless Murk feels far more depraved than the group’s 2021 debut EP Dissolved In Hyphae, which the four-piece recorded in the cramped practice spaces of the Maze. This go-around the band recorded with James Whitten, who has built a serious reputation for himself recording local favorites like Special Interest, Eyehategod, and Thou. The result is a blazing 11 minutes of riffs that swing like an executioner’s blade and guttural screams that match the musical intensity. Congealed Putrescence might not be everyone’s cup of rot, but there is a lot to love about this EP. —William Archambeault
We live in a culture and age in which the passage of time is feared, where the reality of aging is often viewed with anxiety. But there is beauty in getting older, as well as insight and perspective. This is something that Philadelphia-based Gladie not only understands but embraces. On their latest album, Don’t Know What You’re In Until You’re Out, front person and guitarist Augusta Koch reflects on her journey to sobriety, her adult years, and her relationships with a self-awareness that could only have been achieved through trial and error. Gladie have expanded their sound beyond the lo-fi leanings of their first album to include rollicking punk, indie pop, and Americana. “Born Yesterday,” written eight months after she stopped drinking, finds Koch navigating the emotional waters of her sobriety. “Mud” is a love letter to those of us who are late bloomers, and the bell hooks-inspired “Hit The Ground Running” declares that “I wanna love you in the way that you still feel free.” With its upbeat sound and thoughtful lyrics, Don’t Know What You’re In Until You’re Out is perfect for both a summer road trip and an introspective winter day at home, an album that lovingly embraces the past and present while relishing the wisdom that comes with time. —Mary Beth Campbell
Buck Biloxi is back without any more Fucks to give. While he may have altered his project name, the New Orleans punk rocker thankfully hasn’t changed his signature recipe much. Cellular Automaton is an excellent slice of Biloxi’s signature minimalistic punk. On “New Band,” he shouts “I’m in a new band” ad nauseum for a minute-and-a-half over the hypnotic repetition of jagged guitar chords. He stands out as one of the few modern musicians capable of replicating the attitude that defined early punk bands like the Ramones. He gives this garage-dwelling, angst-fueled treatment to a cover of Joy Division’s “Interzone,” but Biloxi is at his best when crafting his own tunes. Songs like “Bad Future” have great sing-alongs elevated by the music’s infectious simplicity. He also incorporates some silly movie samples in between songs to humorous effect. Biloxi has a lot of fun on this album but he isn’t afraid to also touch on serious subjects. Cellular Automaton closes with “Mark Essex,” a song about the radicalized Navy veteran who died in a shootout with New Orleans police on January 7, 1973. “1-7-1973! Death to the NOPD!” shouts Biloxi in reference to the bloody event.—William Archambeault
For fans of New Orleans native Sarah Quintana, there is plenty to love in her most recent release. Recorded a few months before the COVID-19 shutdown, the album was initially performed at a small club on her birthday in the French city that most resembles New Orleans. The crowd warms quickly to her songbird voice, and listening to the album feels like borrowing their memory. Most of the songs are in English, but both an old Cajun tune and the bittersweet “C’est L’amour” show her beautiful French accent to full advantage. The setlist is selected from previous releases—no new ground is really covered. Like any live album, it’s about preaching to the choir. But since it only takes a song or two of hers to join the fan club, before long you’ll find yourself happily settled into this charming pre-pandemic time capsule from one of the city’s most delightful songstresses. —Holly Devon
Ctrl, SZA’s 2017 debut album, is my desert island pick. It reached me at my most insecure, when who I was felt difficult and wrong. It is, in my opinion, a perfectly constructed album front to back—careful, concise, poetic, and narratively rich. Ctrl makes clear the necessity of its own creation. Trying to follow such a monumental debut becomes an almost Sisyphean task. SZA’s sophomore album, SOS, is not Ctrl; it can’t be. It’s unfair to compare the two, but unrealistic not to. SOS is long—23 songs—and there are some gems within. A standout is “Kill Bill,” where she cheekily sings “I’m so mature, I’m so mature” while going on to fantasize about killing her ex and his new girlfriend, then singing “Rather be in jail than alone.” Tracks like “Love Language” and “Blind” highlight SZA’s poeticism, while tracks like “Forgiveless” work their way into your body, moving you involuntarily. On SOS, SZA is more ambitious and experimental. In a 3-song progression, SZA runs the gamut. On “Smoking on my Ex Pack” she raps about former flames, on “Ghost in the Machine”—another standout—she pairs up with indie darling Phoebe Bridgers for a more delicate, haunting reflection on her disappointments with the music industry, then on “F2F” she ventures into pop punk adjacent territory—all in the span of about 8 minutes. It’s a high risk, high reward gamble to weave genres drastically and suddenly, and I’m not positive it sticks the landing. SOS feels more like meandering rather than executing a clearly planned route, but it meanders some places I’ll return to often. —Marisa Clogher
The Lostines, alongside Nick Shoulders & the Okay Crawdad, unite for a love-affirming split EP, Heart of Night. Co-released by Gar Hole Records (Fayetteville, Arkansas) and Mashed Potato Records (New Orleans), the EP is a meeting of the minds of two of America’s great pockets of alt-country happening today. The Lostines’ “A Tear” greets the 4-track album with a throwback heartache ballad conjuring a deep tenderness through their characteristic harmonious spells, gliding organs, and twirling tambourines. Their offerings to the EP radiate the intense vitality accompanying heartbreak as wild and whipping as cicadas on a hot Southern night. While the Lostines are beloved for their country-tinged pop sound, their strength comes from the ability to crack open the listener and coerce them from their darkness into their light. Following them, Nick Shoulders placates “Heart of Glass” by Blondie with a tender yet infamous yodeling vocal, a huge acoustic feat without the iconic bass line, though it isn’t missed here. Next up is “Rise When the Rooster Crows,” where Shoulders goes electric, bookending the EP in a classic brightening holler. In Heart of Night, Nick Shoulders & the Okay Crawdad joined with The Lostines have coalesced a modern Southern collection for anyone who ever loved or lost or swayed solo on a bar stool to their favorite jukebox song. —Danielle Dietze
The past few years have brought many critiques of the machine learning technology used to target advertising, recognize faces, and categorize people based on their likelihood to buy diapers, vote Republican, or commit crime. What sets Revolutionary Mathematics apart from most others is its overtly revolutionary leftist perspective, drawing upon Karl Marx and his intellectual successors to critique modern statistics and its relationship with capitalism. Justin Joque argues they together incentivize the creation of private knowledge to game the system, from scientists picking and choosing publishable data points to tech companies’ secretive algorithms and datasets to Volkswagen‘s emissions test cheating. Joque, a data visualization librarian at the University of Michigan, presents an extremely accessible discussion of the history of statistics, leading up to the techniques and philosophical underpinnings in vogue today. He quotes liberally from the world of theory, though mostly avoiding the abstruse writing style and overly glib analogies that can characterize the academic left, taking care to define both Marxist and mathematical jargon as they come into play. The book is explicitly a call to action to build a “revolutionary mathematics” to replace today’s paradigms, but what form that should take is somewhat frustratingly left unstated, with Joque arguing such a breakthrough may only be recognized in hindsight. —Steven Melendez
As a former slave that came to be gifted with the powers of gods, Black Adam’s way of dealing with problems is solely concerned with his own personal moral compass. He likes to solve his problems or the problems of his followers in the most violent ways possible, often ignoring the damage that he leaves in his wake. This comic featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on the cover enters new storytelling territory for Black Adam. Writer Christopher Priest creates a juxtaposition with the old Teth or Theo Adam and a new African American character, Malik White, in order to take the costumed entity to a place where he is the one who needs saving. While Black Adam has been seen as a villain or foil to the superhero Shazam, his goals have also placed him in more moral gray areas. Priest’s story in this 12-issue limited series is about Black Adam’s approach catching up to him, whether he likes it or not. An immortal still feels pain even if they can’t die, and Priest uses specific changes within Black Adam’s mythos to embrace the new adventure he has coming in this series. Artist Rafa Sandoval draws sizzling, electric action with Black Adam, which contrasts the immortal’s power with the bombastic, uncertain circumstances even he has to face. Black Adam at his most complex exists in two worlds at once, mortal and immortal. Priest plays with the concept of mortality and ethnic history to organically introduce a relationship into Theo Adam’s life that might grow the character that originally debuted in 1945. Malik White is a new character to the Black Adam mythos brimming with potential for displaying the current socioeconomic politics and personal attitude about his environment that of course contrasts with Black Adam’s long history from being a former slave in Egypt. Both characters have the desire for rebellion within them, and how the issue sets up how much they clash or cooperate leaves readers wanting to know more about where Black Adam’s story goes. —Jamal Melancon
Legends of the all-powerful narcos and drug cartels permeate the discourse and media representation of Mexico and Central and South America. Perpetuated in popular media (e.g.,Sicario, Narcos, Queen of the South), these stories hide the true issues and realities at hand, including state violence and the U.S. government’s geopolitical machinations. In turn, these stories influence policy and act as further justification for the international War on Drugs. In Drug Cartels Do Not Exist: Narco-Trafficking and Culture in the US and Mexico, academic and journalist Oswaldo Zavala dissects this hegemonic mythos of the narcos/drug cartels, specifically in Mexico, asking the question, “What if narco violence and trafficking do not threaten the state, but are actually central to its operations?” While offering a sharp critique of the popular works which have been used as propaganda, Zavala also highlights authors such as Roberto Bolaño (2666, The Savage Detectives) and journalists Julián Cardona and Charles Bowden, who have accurately portrayed the effects of the Drug War. By highlighting the work of authors and researchers who seek the truth, not the sensational, Zavala reveals that the real threat is not the cartels but the machinery of state violence. The War on Drugs has been used to hide and amplify the exploitation of people and natural resources—and the power structures cannot be dismantled until this truth is addressed. —Mary Beth Campbell
New Orleans may have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to local eccentrics, but even here Valerie Sassyfras is in a league of her own. If you ever stumble across the native New Orleanian’s psychedelic video art, song, and dance routine, you may find yourself confused as to what exactly is happening on stage, but you can be certain that no one else on Earth is doing it. This full-throttle authenticity is on display in Nobody May Come, a new documentary that chronicles the strange world of Valerie Sassyfras and keeps you rooting for her all the way through.
In many ways, Sassyfras is a slam dunk subject for filmmakers Ella Hatamian and Stiven Luka. Tracing her journey from zydeco duet singer to cosmic solo act, this character study is pure gold. No matter what she’s doing in the film, whether it’s sending one-liners at the camera while rolling joints, getting twerking lessons from her backup dancers, or ordering chicken from a Popeyes drive-thru, it’s hilarious. Following her around with a camera is guaranteed to yield vast quantities of premium footage to choose from.
But as a subject she presents challenges, too; telling her story beyond mere spectacle calls for a delicate touch. Her road to gyrating on national television has been a long one, and life as Valerie Sassyfras requires some pretty serious hustle for a senior citizen. As she puts it, “I feel like everything I’m doing is huffing and puffing up a ladder, trying to make it before I fall.” While living gig to gig, she is also shown confronting the fact that her family doesn’t understand her, and grieving the loss of her mother. That the filmmakers so effectively balance their depiction of her quirks with her daily struggles implies solidarity with her core project: the fight to remain herself despite lifelong pressure to conform.
Without this solidarity the documentary might have ended up in some darker territory, something we glimpse during the section on her 15 minutes of fame as an internet sensation and America’s Got Talent contestant. When Sassyfras attracts the attention of the mainstream, it feels a bit like when an unpopular kid gets beckoned over to the cheerleaders’ table—you know in your gut that they’re up to no good. So when Simon Cowell approvingly moves her through the first round of America’s Got Talent, it’s hard not to feel protective of her up on that big stage, looking fragile and totally out of context. As the documentary shows, she never stood a chance of being appreciated. Behind the scenes the showrunners steamroll her out of creative control for the follow-up performance, and when Cowell tears her down publically just as quickly as he built her up, it is the final stage of a setup we’ve watched unfold. These ghouls just can’t see the sass in Sassyfras, and the pathos of the moment is temporarily overwhelming.
But the film uses her perspective on the experience to put it in the unflattering light it deserves. She knows they set her up to fail. As she puts it, “you can’t make art when the artist isn’t even there.” But she stays present in the process throughout and leaves with her integrity as an artist intact—a victory for her authenticity over the pop culture machine. By the end of Nobody May Come, the cost of sticking to your guns so hard and for so long is clear. But it’s a delight to think of her still out there, singing and dancing onstage in her cosmic outfits to the shock and awe of audiences everywhere. (Nobody May Come is screening on January 19th at the Broad Theater) —Holly Devon