Fight 4 Love is a challenging listen. Local rapper Ky Alexander creates a bleak landscape marred by violence, cloaked in rain, and stalked by rotten cops and starved rottweilers—the latter heard barking in the distance in the intro track. He’s departed from the calmer, cockier flows of his 2020 project, Element Forever, to explore a more theatrical vocal delivery, often wailing in an audibly pained timbre or growling out the lyrics through clenched teeth. Those two styles exemplify the prevailing flavors of the album: anguish and rage. On both Fight 4 Love and his previous record alike, Alexander frequently alludes to the death of a close friend. It’s unclear if the mourning on Fight 4 Love concerns the same loss, but what’s certain is that the anger and grief he feels are much more pronounced on this new project. On the song “K.E.A.” (kill ‘em all), he lashes out against his environment in a kind of crazed, panting voice, and seems to suggest that the only fathomable reaction to such a violent world is to become violent enough to contend with it. He exposes scars and screams against the systems and cycles against which he feels helpless, maintaining somewhere beneath it all that faith and love are the only antidotes. You couldn’t fairly call Fight 4 Love pleasant listening all the way through, but that doesn’t seem to be its aim. You get the sense Alexander made it strictly for himself and those he loves—especially those he’s lost—and if you can forget yourself and commit to the harrowing journey he’s plotted over these 14 tracks, you may come away feeling darkly enriched, if a little emotionally stunned. —Zane Piontek


Katherine Paul, the force behind Black Belt Eagle Scout, grew up in Washington State’s Skagit Valley, an enchantingly beautiful region between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia which is also occupied Indigenous land. Paul is a member of the Swinomish and Iñupiaq Indigenous communities—her music is deeply rooted in her culture and activism, and her sound is an amalgamation of the best elements of Pacific Northwest dream pop, indie rock, and grunge. The Land, The Water, The Sky is a deeply personal album, exploring what it means to return to one’s ancestral home and the many complexities therein. Opening track “My Blood Runs Through This Land” is a stirring and gloriously distorted guitar-driven track that follows Paul’s ties to the history of her ancestral land. The dreamy “Sedna” reconsiders the myth of the sea-deity Sedna, portraying the Inuit goddess not as a source of vengeance and fear but as a being worthy of love and protection (“When the end is near / I will hold you dear / In the dawn of all my layers”). “Spaces,” featuring vocals from Paul’s parents, blends indie rock with traditional Indigenous stylings as it honors the community that has surrounded and supported her (“You know I’ve been believing in you / Tonight”). The Land, The Water, The Sky is a joyous album at its core, using sonic landscapes to offer the glimpse of a world in which, ultimately, connection prevails over colonialism. —Mary Beth Campbell

PJ Morton

This apology letter of an album is a huge bouquet of sonic roses. PJ Morton messed up, so he laid his heart bare in front of his wife… and several million listeners. New Orleans’ smoothest local crooner since Harry Connick Jr., Morton pours it all out on the first three tracks, backed up by nothing but his own voice, his distinctive way of playing the keys, and a full orchestra of the best musicians in the city. The horn section on “Love’s Disease (Just Can’t Get Enough)” is even sleeker and sexier than Morton’s voice itself. Followed by the opening piano glissandos of “Biggest Mistake” and a lush string section on the chorus, the petals of sound almost smother the bud of the statement, “Maybe I just got way too comfortable / And I forgot to comfort you / But I see the error in my ways / I’m just hoping that you stay / ‘Cause I don’t know what I would do without my baby.” The album is all about the message, reiterated by Jill Scott, singing the part of Morton’s wife on “Still Believe.” Unless you’d like the music without all those messy lyrics, in which case, Watch The Sun (Deluxe) includes an extra 11 instrumental tracks, just for you. Morton really wants forgiveness, everyone’s forgiveness, and he is pulling out all the stops to get it. This release is a massive people-pleaser. It includes JoJo on “My Peace,” a satisfying follow-up to their megahit duet “SAY SO,” and even Stevie Wonder and Nas on “Be Like Water,” for good measure. The album may be excessive, featuring 19 collaborations and 24 tracks, but it’s also a satisfying spin. —Sabrina Stone


Paramore’s sixth studio album comes nearly six years after their last record, which reintroduced former drummer Zac Farro, who had left the band in 2010. The first two songs off the album, released as singles in late 2022, set the stage for the political criticisms that follow. In the eponymous track, singer Hayley Williams announces an agoraphobia that takes on manifold meaning in a COVID-era culture ridden with a staunch emphasis on objective truth that leaves no room for nuance or dissent: “If you have an opinion / Maybe you should shove it / Or maybe you should scream it / Might be best to keep it / To yourself.” Followed by a critique of the clamorous 24-hour news cycle, it becomes clear that the record embodies an angst greater than the individual, revealing a sense of collective rage. Making a hard pivot from the upbeat, synth pop sound of After Laughter (2017), the record’s post-punk influence creates an impassioned backdrop for a somewhat understated criticism of the present social system, falling back on tepid takes and weak gibes: “Big man, little dignity / No offense, but you, you got no integrity.” Reflecting an experience of dissociation and moral panic in response to extreme social polarization, This Is Why provides a soundtrack to surrender. —Victoria Conway


This tape is seven-and-a-half minutes of primitive, hyperactive hardcore punk. Primitive Fucking Ballers plays with immense energy reminiscent of a toddler running around incapable of tiring themselves out. This is the type of grimey punk that has absolutely no concerns about the future. Primitive Fucking Ballers only care about causing chaos on turbocharged tracks like “Hunger 2008” and G.I.S.M. nod “Covid Punks Is Hippies.” You Gotta Do Somethin’, which was recorded by Judy and the Jerks bassist Hampton Martin, sounds like it was recorded in the bottom of a dumpster, and I mean that in the best possible way. This tape is out via Earth Girl Tapes, the equally primitive but lovable label run by Hattiesburg’s international punk stars Judy and the Jerks. The Hattiesburg scene has been full of pleasant surprises in recent years, ranging from the aforementioned Jerks to rising synth weirdos MSPAINT, whose March debut album is by far one of my most anticipated releases this year. Let’s hope that Primitive Fucking Ballers keeps that ball rolling. —William Archambeault


Food For Worms, the third album from UK post-punkers shame, finds the band at a turning point in their development, both as musicians and as five individuals who have grown up together. At its core, Food For Worms is a celebration of friendship; as stated by frontperson Charlie Steen, “It’s weird, isn’t it? Popular music is always about love, heartbreak, or yourself. There isn’t much about your mates.” The band has pivoted from the more intense post-punk antics of 2021’s Drunk Tank Pink to create an eclectic collection of songs that are equal parts fuzzed out and melodic, reminiscent more of ‘90s alternative than punk. Fittingly, the band employed famed producer Flood for this album, and Phoebe Bridgers has guest vocals on “Adderall.” The jangly lead single “Fingers of Steel” is a takedown of our self-obsessed culture. In a great departure from their previous two albums, final track “All the People” is a gorgeous, Britpop-inspired ode to self-love and friendship (“All the people that you’re gonna meet / Don’t you throw it all away / Because you can’t love yourself”). To assuage any concerns from those who prefer shame’s earlier, harder works, Food For Worms is worth your listen: It retains the wit and spark that drew so many to their music while exhibiting musical growth and an exciting maturity. —Mary Beth Campbell


The youths are restless and they want to thrash! Lafayette thrash metal band Void packs their debut album Horrors of Reality tight with sharp riffs (“Godfather”), ripping leads (“Ghost in the Attic”), and a fair dose of attitude (“Feeding Frenzy”). The band dives deep into a throwback aesthetic, even going so far as to dress like a bunch of kids who have been cryogenically frozen since 1986. While they may resemble the part, don’t confuse them with Eddie Munson wannabes. Void began in 2019, predating the Stranger Things-fueled ‘80s metal nostalgia that bubbled up to the mainstream. The Lafayette band’s devotion to thrash pioneers like Anthrax, Exodus, and Testament is evident across every second of this album. Void takes a good stab at the mixture of refined technique and hell-raising attitude that made those bands exciting in their respective era. The album sports some killer artwork by Andrei Bouzikov, whose covers for the likes of Municipal Waste and Skeletonwitch have definitely made their mark on the metal world. Only time will tell if Void will also leave a mark, but Horrors of Reality is a promising debut. —William Archambeault


Throughout their 33-year discography, Yo La Tengo has done a little bit of everything. This Stupid World is among the band’s more vigorous works, and even then, the propulsion of the record is a gentle fuzz akin to The Cure with a sore throat. Layering near-whispered melodies over what sounds like the drone of tires on a highway, the group’s typical idyll is replaced by an ambient despondency, providing a pacifying soundtrack en route to oblivion. “Sinatra Drive Breakdown,” named after a street in the band’s hometown of Hoboken, New Jersey, reveals a sort of circularity. The seven-minute opening track is equal parts abrasive and alluring, a fitting sound to accompany vocalist Ira Kaplan’s existential disclosure: “I see clearly how it ends / I see the moon rise as the sun descends.” The record traverses time with reflections on mortality, maintaining a lovely lightness throughout despite the obvious weight of the human condition. As the album progresses, it seems to usher in an impending sense of doom, approached not with fear but with a certain tenderness: “I don’t know how it’s gonna be / Close your eyes / Fall out of time with me.” —Victoria Conway


Hattiesburg, Mississippi probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind when most people think of the word “punk,” but their small, humble scene has been slowly growing into a big, big wave over recent years. Touring musician Biff Bifaro, a big fan of the scene, came up with the crazy idea to host a marathon recording session when he dropped into Hattiesburg to play a show on October 17, 2019. Bifaro and co. captured as many bands as they could cram into the room, only stopping to play their own show across town. They managed to record 11 of Hattiesburg’s finest, which has finally seen the light of day thanks to this compilation. Big, Big Wave is a remarkably well-rounded collection given Hattiesburg’s size. For instance, the comp divebombs straight from Fumes’ energetic hardcore punk on “Fumes” into Stellatone’s psyched out, hard-rocking grooves on “Golden Zeppelin.” From there, Judy and the Jerks’ charmingly lighthearted canine tribute “Dog” (complete with howling) leaps into Control Room’s keyboard-heavy ‘80s dance number “No Zeros.” New bands have popped up since this 2019 recording session, and not all of these groups are together anymore, but that makes Big, Big Wave all the more compelling. This is one of those great regional punk compilations that documents a scene as it existed at one particular moment, preserving it on wax for generations to come. —William Archambeault


The Terraformers is likely journalist and science fiction writer Annalee Newitz‘s most ambitious novel yet, building on both their 2017 bioengineering thriller Autonomous and 2021 nonfiction historical work Four Lost Cities. It’s the kind of multigenerational science fiction epic where an evolving society itself becomes a character, exploring a centuries-long project shaping an entire planet into rustic luxury housing. On the surface, there’s universal reverence for a legendary group of radical environmentalists who saved humanity from today’s ecological disasters through truly inclusive decision-making. But the megacorporations behind the planetary development still rely on enslaved and indentured workers expected to shape a certifiably sustainable environment, then die off once affluent settlers arrive. A multi-species assortment of alliances and worker collectives fight back, and Newitz skilfully wends between the politics, battles, and day-to-day lives of the biological, robotic, and in-between people involved. An intimate relationship between a talking cat and a sentient train feels remarkably natural, and an environmental assessment for a planetwide rail network brings together a questing fellowship that feels more alive and human than anything from Tolkien. Corporate exec villains, despite seemingly limitless wealth and lifespans, feel cartoonishly two-dimensional and lifeless by comparison—but in this satirical tale of planet-scale gentrification, that’s likely the point. — Steven Melendez


Creativity flourishes in this unsettling and comedic film, which exists because the Winnie-the-Pooh books entered the public domain on January 1, 2022. The result is a slasher horror film depicting a monstrous version of the honey-and-friendship-loving bear that audiences have been familiar with since 1926. The internet has pioneered the imagination for laughter about dark and twisted versions of literary or television companions to our childhood. If one can carry that type of curiosity into the film, this retelling wil pique interest through a narrative that relies on depicting primal emotions and exaggerated movement. Taking all your typical tropes and cues from classic film horror, the script from director and producer Rhys Frake-Waterfield brings enjoyment from overall well-timed execution and a restrained approach, leaving viewers craving more. The film avoids being overbearing with its brand-based premise and low budget, and instead opts to create laughs or interest from its own awareness of the general absurdity that drags it along. Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey shines the most in its knack for patience and successfully developed character-revealing moments. With a sequel already anticipated for February 2024, Frake-Waterfield has developed a praiseworthy beginning for a surreal, connected world.  —Jamal Melancon


Renowned for his uplifting sculptures of African diasporic histories, idealized and near-erotic male figures, Richmond Barthé (1901-1989) was an African American figurative sculptor and painter whose work was informed by faith, position in the Harlem Renaissance, and identity as a gay man. In February, Studio Waveland in Waveland, Mississippi presented the exhibition Remembering Richmond Barthé, featuring three of Barthé’s figural sculptures (The Boxer, 1942; Inner Music, 1956; and Torso, circa 1942) alongside artworks from University of Southern Mississippi students and alumnae. This exhibition signified a lineage between Barthé’s narrative, idealized, and identity-driven works and those of the younger generation of artists. Working in glass, steel, brass, ceramic, and assemblage, Jean Austin, Brittney Brown, LaShandra Coleman, Donisha Edwards, Leo Green, Desirae Oliver, Byron Pratt, Xena S. Proctor, and Reagan Skinner exhibited works that define the body as a container of experience, both individual and generational. USM junior Desirae Oliver’s Untitled Sculpture, 2022, in cast glass (pictured) is a diminutive raspberry-candy-hued self-portrait with deeply inscribed features, emphasizing her locs as an impactful paean to her African American identity. Xena S. Proctor’s The Journey of the Messenger of Good News, 2022, is a sculptural response to Barthé’s spirituality as two sheet metal feet walk a gritty path, trailed by a divine gold footprint. Proctor’s footsteps also recall Barthé’s own urgent migration from the Jim Crow South of Bay St. Louis to pursue his degree at The Art Institute of Chicago, a venture funded by his church back home. Dovetailing with the exhibition’s humanitarian message, Mitchell Gaudet’s 2022 Murder Tally put symbolic faces to the 265 New Orleans murder victims as casts of old doll faces over prayer beads upon a wall. Remembering Richmond Barthé is an expansive project, grounded in the present as it also recalls. —Veronica Cross

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