Anuraag Pendyal commandeers old-fashioned New Orleans music and venerates modern leftist values in a provocative but reverent way on solo originals vol. 1. Many of the most potent moments on the album reflect the politics of our time, like the aptly-titled “Covid Blues (A Political Song)” or the instructional “Whole Foods.” In many ways, New Orleans culture defines the U.S. By imbuing ragtime jazz ballads of the city’s “golden era” with this new rhetoric, Pendyal gets to the heart of issues plaguing the city and the country at large. Pendyal isn’t just preaching, though. His comedic and slam poetry-esque stories hold together the otherwise disjointed tracklist. One such highlight is the absolute fever dream “Running on the Beach,” which ends with a particularly goofy punchline and a gorgeous keys crescendo. From the waltzy opener on “May Life” to the droney guitars on the bridge of “Mountain Song,” Pendyal shows off his potential to create dynamic moments denser than the usual key progressions. In a rare movement of vulnerability, Pendyal’s songwriting on the closer “Reaching Out” sounds like Phil Elverum wrote it with the song’s blunt but simple truths. I don’t regularly turn on NOLA R&B piano music from this century. Still, if more music like this came out of local jazz venues, maybe I’d start. —Dalton Spangler


GOOD LUCK, the debut full-length from DEBBY FRIDAY, is less of an introduction and more of a declaration: as she intones in the title track, “You got shit to do, you got a lot to prove / You’re gonna make your way.”  DEBBY FRIDAY got her start as a DJ in Toronto’s club scene, eventually pivoting to writing and producing her own music. GOOD LUCK crosses genres, steeped in industrial goth, rap, and house. Though her sound is not necessarily new, her execution and versatile voice give it a fresh, electrifying spin. Pulsating with a bold confidence (“PLUTO BABY”: “I said I’m sicker than Lazarus / Back from the dead / I’m so bitchpunk and hazardous”), DEBBY FRIDAY is not afraid to explore insecurities and heartache—though a spikiness is still ever present; see the music video for “WHAT A MAN,” with its delicious homage to Judith Slaying Holofernes. Standout track “SO HARD TO TELL” departs slightly from the album’s industrial leanings and embraces a more hypnotic and nurturing side (“Baby, baby / The tears, they fall from your eyes / When the sun go down / The big girls, they do not cry”). This is a wonderfully brash and energizing album, music to inspire confidence as you dance yourself into a sweaty frenzy. —Mary Beth Campbell


Local retro rock outfit Dr. Mary’s Monkey delivers in its debut album, Velvet Dreams, everything you could hope for from a band draped in so much satin and nostalgia. It is hard-driving, old-school rock with touches of anti-corporate rancor and postmodern desolation. Between the lyrics and vocals of frontman and guitarist Shawn “Sage” Gwin and the contributions of bassist Robin Sherman, keyboardist Yano, and drummer David Shirley—all of whom also contribute backing vocals—the album plumbs the rabbit hole of DMM’s retro psychedelic power pop ethos. But before getting any further into that, it feels necessary—if not directly germane to the music itself—to discuss the band’s name. Dr. Mary’s Monkey is the title of a book by Edward T. Haslam that proposes a sprawling conspiracy linking the assassinations of John F. Kennedy (verified, successful) and Fidel Castro (unverified, unsuccessful) to secret research in biological warfare conducted by New Orleans physicians in the mid-20th century. The Mary in question is Dr. Mary Sherman, who was recruited to New Orleans by Dr. Alton Ochsner Sr. (namesake of all things Ochsner) in 1952, and was never confirmed as having any association, personal or professional, with monkeys. Sherman worked both as a physician and researcher of cancer and virology until she was mysteriously and brutally murdered in 1964, a case that remains open today. In his book, Haslam alleges that Sherman was secretly attempting to mutate monkey viruses into weaponizable forms of cancer and AIDS by subjecting them to radiation from a linear accelerator (scientifically impossible) with the intent of using these bio-weapons to kill Fidel Castro. He claims it was an error in these experiments that necessitated her death at the hands of some unknown co-conspirator. After her murder, the book claims Sherman’s research fell to David Ferrie—alleged in the ‘60s by then-district attorney of New Orleans Jim Garrison to have been an accomplice of Lee Harvey Oswald—who, according to Haslam, deposited the unlaunched viruses in Haiti for them to somehow lay dormant for 20 years until later erupting into the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. It is a narrative of both great ardor and great historical and scientific leniency. Perhaps an equally rabid conspiracy may reveal the connection between Haslam’s theory and the band on which this review ostensibly focuses. The tone and style of the music falls in the realm between retro emulation and modern production that inevitably feels like a nightmarish flashback to some simulated rock‘n’roll golden age. In this light, it is not entirely imprudent to think some connection may exist between the leisure suit–and-leather-clad members of Dr. Mary’s Monkey (the band) and the shadowy forces that abound in the book of the same name. The allure of such possible connections alone makes it worth a listen. —Zane Piontek


The line between experimental and listener-friendly music can be difficult to walk, but Helen Gillet’s new release, ReBelle, pulls it off. The album is a tribute to the Belgian poet Julos Beaucarne, and it’s a shame that no English translations of his work exist, since a lot of the album’s artistry lies in the delicate dance between the music and the lyrics. The slow melancholy of “Lettre à Kissinger” and “Les Loups” adds emotional depth to the outspoken politics of the lyrics. On “Demain,” a song about putting things off for a tomorrow that never comes, the rhythm and instrumentation are as flirtatious as empty promises. But there is plenty there for everyone—the catchy ‘60s pop banger “Laisse tomber” will be familiar to many, delivering some welcome levity and a beat that’s impossible not to dance to. And in both the first and last track, short poems are read aloud against improvised instrumentation and ambient sound, showcasing the musicality of the words even if you don’t know their meaning. With its expansive sonic terrain, this album invites deep listening, and there are plentiful rewards for curious ears. —Holly Devon


The HIRS Collective fuses the emotive anguish of fighting like hell to survive with the celebratory, uplifting energy of making it through. We’re Still Here, like their 2018 full-length Friends. Lovers. Favorites., is built upon a collaborative approach that deemphasizes core members in favor of letting both longtime friends and newcomers alike take the spotlight. These 17 tracks feature contributions from over 35 musicians, including members of prominent groups like My Chemical Romance, Garbage, and Thou. While a massive undertaking like this could easily become a trainwreck, HIRS Collective flourishes with the help of their diverse collaborators. They feel equally at home being noisy with Japanese experimental legends Melt-Banana (XOXOXOXOXOX), getting saxy with former Less Than Jake member Jessica Joy Mills (Sweet Like Candy), and taking a step back from the chaos to make room for Lora Mathis’ poetry (You Are Not Alone). As always, the group’s core ideology to “fight for, defend, and celebrate the survival of trans, queer, poc, black, women and any and all other folks who have to constantly face violence, marginalization, and oppression” forms the strong base from which these harsh sounds spring up. We’re Still Here feels fierce and defiant, a manifestation of the fighting spirit that the collaborators have buried deep inside them. —William Archambeault


It has been four years since The New Pornographers released their last album, 2019’s In The Morse Code Of Brake Lights and, to put it mildly, a lot has changed in the world since then. Though their signature exuberant, emotional power-pop is still present (see opener “Really Really Light”), Continue as a Guest finds the Canadian supergroup in a more subdued and introspective musical state. A.C. Newman has taken the helm as primary songwriter and producer, rendering the album’s sound closer to his solo work than classic New Pornographers, though Neko Case and Dan Bejar’s contributions are still present. The addition of moody saxophones and synths further add to the ambience, most notably on the sophisti-pop number “Cat and Mouse with the Light.” “Pontius Pilate’s Home Movies,” the second track, formally introduces the album’s musings on existential angst and isolation (“Came out the other side some kind of agnostic / Keeping a straight face, but at some point you lost it”). This theme is expanded upon throughout the album, most notably with the titular “Continue as a Guest” (“I’ll find a place out on the plains / With some space to fall apart / With a long fade out / Continue as a guest”). Continue as a Guest is a well-crafted and thoughtful effort, meant more for reflection than celebration; indeed, there is a place in pop music for both. —Mary Beth Campbell


Algorithms send us all down weird rabbit holes. Recently, my YouTube suggestions have exploded with videos from various accounts that weaponize the soundfont from Super Mario 64 to recreate classic albums. Many of these attempts feel half baked at best, but occasionally, some stand out like diamonds in the rough. Something is Real’s take on Nirvana’s Nevermind fuses two iconic sounds of the ‘90s to produce something simultaneously nostalgic and fresh. This album could easily be written off as silly meme music, but the producer’s creative arrangements hold up surprisingly well after repeat listens. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” conjures a fun and carefree mood. In contrast, “Breed and “Stay Away” both feel like stress-inducing boss battle themes. The producer even goes so far as to recreate Krist Novoselic’s off kilter vocal intro to “Territorial Pissings” using a barrage of Mario’s signature “Wahoo!” screams. Unfortunately, Something is Real deprives listeners of a Mario version of Nevermind’s hidden track noise jam. The entire album serves as a testament to the power of Kurt Cobain’s songwriting and the beauty of the limited palettes that video game music composers had to work with during the ‘90s. —William Archambeault


If you were going off of no source other than the national media, Louisiana would seem like a pretty depressing place. From “Cancer Alley” to the disappearing wetlands, major news outlets depict this state as a perpetual victim, casting Louisiana in the unenviable role of canary in the coal mine of nationwide environmental disaster. So for those of us choosing to make a life here, it is a relief when local storytellers step in to offer a more nuanced perspective. In The Precipice, a Louisiana Public Broadcasting documentary on the Pointe-au-Chien tribe, the impact of Hurricane Ida may be central to the story but it’s only one component. The film is a portrait of a way of life that, for all that it is threatened, is still surviving and evolving. Director Ben Johnson moves with tenderness through the watery world that holds so much collective memory for the state of Louisiana. From crabbing excursions to bittersweet boat tours through islands the tribe was forced to cede to rising tides, the beauty of the place is ever-present. Framing the film around the tribe’s quest for federal recognition—which would give them more political autonomy and access to funding—demonstrates this tight-knit community’s pragmatism in the face of seemingly insurmountable problems. —Holly Devon


Three types of “letters” defined early anarchist movements, University of Hawaiʻi professor Kathy E. Ferguson writes: the individual characters painstakingly placed on presses by devoted printers of innumerable radical periodicals; the voluminous, often intimate correspondence between anarchists; and the body of literature they created in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Letterpress Revolution is a book born of deep and joyful archival research, and one whose appendices alone, cataloging radical figures and their publications, are likely to send interested readers down their own rabbit holes of discovery. But just as Ferguson persuasively argues anarchist thought was shaped by the processes, economics, and aesthetics of letterpress printing and postal mail, her book feels deeply molded by the realities of modern academic publishing. Images of publications are frustratingly few, and block quotes from other scholars, often on abstract aspects of literary research, disrupt and steal space from her own narratives and findings. Ferguson writes movingly of being brought to tears when the archive of a vibrant research subject abruptly ended with his 1958 obituary—”I thought we had more time,” she writes—but we never quite get to share her immersion in her subjects’ lives and the literary worlds they built. —Steven Melendez


This mind-bending novel is a fictional biography of a fictional late-20th century artist by her fictional journalist widow—but many supporting characters are quite real. X, we learn, was an identity-shifting cult novelist and one-time erotic performer who shared a stage with Kathy Acker; a feud-prone musician in a complex relationship with enigmatic singer-songwriter Connie Converse; and a visual artist honored with a retrospective at MoMA. Oh, and she composed this timeline’s version of “Heroes” for David Bowie. Biography features an alternate history, where most of the South seceded again after World War II (X, like author Lacey, hails from Mississippi). It formed a “fascist theocracy” reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale while the North pursued Scandinavian-style social democracy, with Emma Goldman a national hero and same-sex relationships long destigmatized. It’s a fascinating but discomfiting read, as the narrator reveals truths about her world, including grim Southern atrocities and Northern indifference, and about X, whose abuses and manipulations evoke Gone Girl or Poison Ivy. The altered real-life creative figures—overwhelmingly 20th century artists deemed hip in real world 2023, who readers will likely want to revisit or explore for the first time—keep us queasily unmoored, as does the fact that Lacey constructed anecdotes and even quotes about X as a kind of collage of real artists’ biographies, duly cited in endnotes. –Steven Melendez


Benry Fauna’s first solo show, OVERTURE, is all at once enchanting and disorienting. Fauna is a surrealist portrait photographer (and ANTIGRAVITY contributor), and his unique printing technique on textiles and paper creates an experience of layering and texture that encourages you to take a closer look, and certainly walk the show a second time. His notorious color scheme is not quite black and white, but rather sleeker silver and gray tones that shift as you stroll by. He says of his own work “It’s visceral. I get obsessed with the idea of how you feel about something can change the way you see it.” The show is actually almost an experience beyond 2D. His art flows delicately in the air, while other self-portraits and characters of New Orleans vibrate in their frames. (OVERTURE is on display at The Front until May 7) —Kellie Peach


Let it be known that I am an advocate for catharsis. More than that, I crave it. It’s why I watch more television than I should and it’s what I am hoping for when I go to the theater. When a well-formed narrative brings a complex morass of human drama to a satisfying point of unifying action, I luxuriate in the release. But after seeing the high-energy feminist empowerment parable Exit, Pursued by a Bear, I remembered how the avant garde developed their antipathy towards catharsis to begin with. Though not an altogether unpleasant theatergoing experience, this play perfectly justifies a general suspicion of stories tidy enough to wrap up in a big red bow. The plot centers around Nan (Natalie Boyd), a sweet, small town animal lover who has had enough of getting knocked around by her deer-hunting, hard-drinking husband, Kyle (Jon Greene). Thanks to a new friendship with Peaches (Angie Z), a club dancer and aspiring actress, she decides to indulge in some Shakespeare-inspired hungry bear revenge—unless Kyle can convince her there’s love among the ruins. It’s the kind of a domestic abuse scenario that a group of giddy teenagers at theater camp might dream up, enjoyable only if you abandon all critical thinking for the duration of the show. Exit was written by Lauren Gunderson, the most produced playwright in the country aside from Shakespeare. According to Gunderson, she owes her popularity to the fact that she doesn’t write for well-heeled, cynical New York intellectuals, but for America (whatever that means). She is a feminist in the tradition of Take Your Daughter to Work Day—her heroines are spunky go-getters who break glass ceilings in science, politics, and the law, and then sing about it. She unabashedly dabbles in Pride and Prejudice fanfiction. It stands to reason, then, that the female lead in Exit is whistling down the road to feminine empowerment. Nan shows no signs of the gnarled, love-drenched mutilation that follows intimate violence, and her first bid for freedom is immediately rewarded with a happily-ever-after. Setting aside the ethics of depicting domestic abuse with the emotional nuance of a Hallmark card, the play had plenty of clever moments, and the actors’ performances were full-throttle and sincere. Their total commitment to the story temporarily suspended my misgivings and kept me invested until the end. I rooted for Boyd’s Nan when she delivered her heart-wrenching monologues, and appreciated the way Greene brought some much-needed humanity to the role of Kyle, written as a wife-beating redneck straight out of central casting. Mint Bryan and Angie Z each worked the best friend role well from their respective angles, and they were fun to have around. But when the play arrived at its preposterously cheerful conclusion, there was nothing these stalwart thespians could have done to abate the revulsion I always feel when someone shoves girl power feminism down my throat and expects me to cheer. Soothing an audience with easy resolutions to real life chaos does them no favors—Bertolt Brecht referred to this approach to theater as “a branch of the narcotics business.” The catharsis I crave comes from revelation, not wish fulfillment, and it’s an appetite too strong to settle for less.—Holly Devon

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