REVIEWS

KAY WEATHERS
GO TO BED
(SELF-RELEASE)

To grow up with a big sister who had an extensive LimeWire library is to know true reverence. Mine taught me the lyrics to Smashing Pumpkins songs, permitted me to sit on her bed while she watched Buffy, and occasionally, when she was feeling particularly magnanimous, would share pearls of wisdom and anguish from her then-hallowed high school experience. About a decade later, Jennifer O’Brien’s second release as Kay Weathers reawakens that rapt attention in me. Go To Bed is your cool big sister’s malaise set to music—swingy, shreddy, playful, and sage. “For Love That Ends at ‘Go’” is a smart, sweet, self-aware melodrama; a “too bad, so sad” ode to the impermanence of romance. “Molly’s Boyfriend” leans in with the luminous and knowing tone of a matter-of-fact girl in the bar bathroom, telling you that it’s perfectly fine to head home, actually (“Just don’t go to that rave / It’s a Monday”). Go To Bed pulls you in with the promise of eye-rolling indie pop odes to the role we all play in our own bullshitbut when sincerity strikes on “R.I.P. (the last track), you can’t miss it: “Go to bed, Jen / I know you’ve been hurtingI know you’re scared / It happens.” The song builds from this pivotal moment of tenderness to a steady full-band shred, courtesy of Theresa Romero, Avery Legendre, and Dreux Gerard LeBourgeois Jr.. It’s humbling for a second, realizing your big sister isn’t just a paragon of cool, but a person, too. It’s sort of what’s so great about her. —K. Gauthreaux

MANDY, INDIANA
I’VE SEEN A WAY
(FIRE TALK)

Though it is easiest to categorize their music as noise rock or industrial, Manchester, UK quartet Mandy, Indiana plays with genre—synths that sound submerged, distorted guitars, and geometric percussion meeting repetitive, eerie vocals. On their debut full-length, i’ve seen a way, Mandy, Indiana build upon the eclectic foundation of their previous releases, incorporating sounds and session recordings from unlikely spaces, including a shopping mall in Bristol, the Wookey Hole Caves in Somerset, England, Gothic crypts, and a field of cows in Switzerland. The result is a sound that is simultaneously disquieting and stunning, pushing against established ideas of what is “good” and “bad” recording. Amidst the precise and intentional chaos of the sonic landscape, lead singer Valentine Caulfield’s opera-trained vocals add additional intensity and texture to the songs, exploring such topics as revolution in the face of fascism (“2 Stripe,” “Sensitivity Training”) and sexism (“Drag [Crashed]”). For listeners who are not able to discern the words, either due to the music’s distortion or an inability to understand French, Caulfield’s ability to emote conveys the meaning behind the songs. The penultimate track (titled as a string of Wingdings but also as “Crystal Aura Redux”) offers a blissful, gentle catharsis before transitioning into the revolutionary fervor of “Sensitivity Training,” showcasing one of the central aspects of i’ve seen a way: That glimmers of beauty and hope may still emerge among the darkest moments. —Mary Beth Campbell

MAX BIEN KAHN 
WHEN I CROSS IT OFF
(MASHED POTATO RECORDS/PERPETUAL DOOM)

Life is a tapestry of monotonous everyday activities—ticking items off our list, brewing coffee, taking the dog on a walk. Max Bien Kahn‘s latest album, When I Cross It Off, lingers in these moments, offering companionship in the everyday. The album’s namesake comes from the chorus of “List,” a breezy ode to completing our little adult to-dos. In the accompanying music video, Bien Kahn drifts through Mardi Gras Zone, floating dream-like as he shops for weekly groceries, singing, “When I cross it off / I feel brand new / I feel I can do it all.” Bien Kahn crafts charming jangle pop with a touch of twang that tackles a range of classic Americana sounds and filters them through a pastiche of contemporary styles. Using minimal equipment to evoke a live sound, an interplay of steel and sax creates a mesmerizing balancing act, blending tradition and innovation into stirring and lively compositions. It’s a testament to Bien Kahn’s ability to cultivate an uplifting dance tune while the lyrics explore grief. Bien Kahn’s writing style is at once cathartic and witty, always bolstered by his uncanny knack for melody. When I Cross it Off is the perfect New Orleans summer soundtrack, while sweet jasmine fills the dense air. —Danielle Dietze

NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL
THE COLLECTED WORKS OF NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL
(MERGE)

Neutral Milk Hotel is arguably one of the most influential indie bands of the past three decades, their lo-fi sound existing simultaneously in and out of time. Between their formation in 1989 and initial breakup in 1998, Neutral Milk Hotel produced two EPs (Everything Is, Ferris Wheel on Fire), two full-length albums (On Avery Island, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea), and a smattering of singles and demos. Their recent release, The Collected Works of Neutral Milk Hotel, is the remastered and expanded re-issue of their 2011 limited box set and includes the aforementioned works, along with Live at Jittery Joe’s and the 7” records for “Little Birds” and “You’ve Passed”/”Where You’ll Find Me Now.” In addition, the inclusion of an extended and remastered version of the Everything Is EP showcases the band’s DIY, punk roots, complete with the the field recordings and sound collages that would help form the band’s signature sound. For those wondering whether or not to make the purchase: This anthology contains content that was not previously in physical print, unless you were lucky enough to snag one of the limited edition 2011 box sets. In terms of content, there is nothing superfluous in this collection. Every demo, every live recording seems like a treasure unearthed, offering fans more insight into the band’s process, and the opportunity to rediscover and revel in their surreal, emotionally moving, and wholly original charms. —Mary Beth Campbell

SAXKIXAVE
NECTARINE PEELS EP
(SELF-RELEASE)

Nectarines were likely first domesticated in China thousands of years ago. Although the skin of a nectarine is edible, people did eventually start peeling the peach-cousin for various reasons. Unverified sources even report neurological effects of the peels, which urge some to reveal terrible things about others, or to seek one’s true self. In addition, the fruit’s disembodied skin inspired the name for New Orleans hip-hop duo SaxKixAve’s latest EP. Comprised of Uptown rapper Alfred Banks and Grammy-nominated saxophonist and producer Albert Allenback, the two shine together with their similarly dry wit and unique but synergistic musical abilities. Banks wields rap skills, songwriting, and beatboxing like a master swordsman, while Allenback brings flexibility as a gifted musician who even stretches out on “Albert Interlude Redux.” Food is a common theme throughout the EP with the entrees being the groggy breakfast tune “Hashbrowns” or the rich flute solo on “Yawp.” Emcees Mega Ran and Pell drop flavorful bars as features while LeTrainiump and HaSizzle’s vocal performances add garnish to their respective tracks. Despite its short runtime, Nectarine Peels shows the best of both artists, each comfortable within their own skin. —Dalton Spangler

SECRET COWBOY
S/T
(SELF-RELEASE)

Local math rock group Secret Cowboy thrives on chaos. The instrumental duo embarks on a seemingly never-ending series of left turns from the first note of this studio debut album up until the very last note. Guitarist Dane Harter and drummer Shannon Paine-Jesam both dedicated the last few years of their lives to jazz studies at Loyola University. That sense of dedication is more than evident in their precise execution of these jagged compositions. Tracks like opener “George Straight Jacket” are visceral workouts for the musicians and listeners alike. Paine-Jesam’s dynamic drumming shapes these pieces with feelings of tension and release while Harter utilizes a variety of guitar pedals to give the band a surprisingly rich sound for a two-piece. Last year, the duo dropped a live demo album composed entirely of improvisational material recorded with percussion madman Mike Dillon and odd sound expert Joe Badon at Hi-Ho Lounge. That one-off live collaboration showcased a spontaneous approach with tracks of loose jams stretching out as long as 15 minutes each. In contrast, most of the songs on this studio debut fly by in under three minutes each. This concise approach shows that the duo has certainly been doing their homework. —William Archambeault

SPARKS
THE GIRL IS CRYING IN HER LATTE
(ISLAND)

Art pop outfit Sparks (anchored by brothers Ron and Russell Mael) have been making music together since the late 1960s. Known for their acerbic, witty lyrics, unique stage antics, and avant garde approach to modern pop, the band has built up a cult-like following over the past half century. On The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte, their most recent and 26th full length album, the Mael brothers have produced a collection of songs that satirize modern life and explore existential dread with their trademark artful exuberance. The title track explores what it is like to live a life where you seemingly “have it all” yet feel empty inside, set to chaotic beats and synths. We Go Dancing,” its discordant sound borrowing from house music, satirizes authoritarian propaganda. Nothing Is As Good As They Say It Is is one of the album’s sharpest takes on the current state of things, a rollicking power pop number told from the perspective of a newborn human who has already seen too much of the world (“Take a look around and you’d understand / This is not a place I could ever stand / Ugliness, anxiety, phony tans / It ain’t for me / That’s all”). The album ends with the deceptively somber Gee, That Was Fun,” a send-up of the sort of introspective songs that are almost expected of artists once they reach their later years. If The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte is any indication, however, Sparks are still far from doing what is expected of them. —Mary Beth Campbell

SYMPATHY WIZARD
WRING
(SELF-RELEASE)

Let the record show that, yes, Sympathy Wizard was a Loyola Band. It’s a well-documented phenomenon—an ethos, an aesthetic, presumably a fake ID, the harbinger of the return of low-rise jeans. But I’m here to say that Sympathy Wizard was the best Loyola Band. Because no matter how good they sounded as one thing, they were never afraid to become another. And their final EP, wring, is all the proof we need. Circa 2019, Sympathy Wizard was not only a Loyola Band, but an Avey Tare-like Band. Their cast of characters rotated not just between shows, but four or five times a set. Their aptly named debut, People Become Different People, was dripping with reverb, stacked with cascading vocal harmonies, punctuated by fits of virtuosic piano—toying with ‘80s antiquities in a way that never felt stale or cloying. It was succinct, pithy, crisp. Both on record and performed live as a duo, wring feels organic, whirring, like the beating of bug wings. It plays like a transmission from a faraway, subaquatic planet; something somewhere sounds wet. Andrea Jahn’s vocals are a harsh murmur over skip-stumble percussion. Guitar loops come out backwards, “Paul is dead” style, and the strings are achy and verdant, pulling you from one track into the next. It’s a bizarre and beautiful 15 minutes, with infinite relistening potential. —K. Gauthreaux

GARNET HERTZ
ART + DIY ELECTRONICS
(THE MIT PRESS)

Garnet Hertz, an artist and professor at Vancouver’s Emily Carr University of Art and Design, has assembled what feels like a dream exhibition’s catalog of artworks harnessing DIY tech for both practical and aesthetic reasons. Many are explicitly political—like the Barbie Liberation Organization’s 1990s project that swapped absurdly gendered speech modules between Barbie and G.I. Joe dolls before returning them to stores, the pack of pollution-hunting Feral Robotic Dogs adapted from secondhand toys by New York teens under the instruction of Natalie Jeremijenko, and Nancy Paterson’s Stock Market Skirt, which robotically rises and falls with stock prices. Many also offer critiques of tech industry products and promises, like Laura Kikauka’s absurdist virtual reality suit Hairbrain 2000, where conductive ball-bearings trigger visual sparks and sounds within a helmet. Hertz distinguishes between these projects and the depoliticized, commercialized “maker movement,” placing them closer philosophically to DIY music and zines. More than theory, though, the real delight comes from Hertz’s detailed descriptions of these works’ creation, coupled with high quality photos, artists’ own sketches, and even a page from a RadioShack manual consulted by one artist (A free, Creative Commons-licensed version of this book is available at mitpress.mit.edu). —Steven Melendez

KENNY PORTER / RICARDO LOPEZ ORTIZ / ROMULO FAJARDO, JR.
THE FLASH: THE FASTEST MAN ALIVE #1
(DC COMICS)

The long-awaited release of The Flash’s solo film this summer is linked to an official tie-in comic book miniseries released in the Fall of 2022. The first of this three-issue mini-series answers questions audiences may have about changes that occur for the speedster between Zack Snyder’s Justice League and The Flash film. Fans of the films will wonder where so many elements of the franchise are in this comic world, and comic book fans may not see what character trait variations set apart The Flash and Batman in the earlier adventures of this version of Barry Allen. The dark and gritty atmosphere of the connected DC Comics films Snyder spearheaded is unrecognizable in this “Stronger Than Steel” storyline that features Ben Affleck’s Batman reuniting with The Flash to help the young hero progress in working alone. The cinematic universe both characters originate from comes off as nonexistent, due to the whimsical dialogue and narrative focus that only touches the surface level of the Barry Allen character readers might know from Justice League. While the visual storytelling of Ricardo Lopez Ortiz’s pencils and Romulo Fajardo Jr.’s colors display a great sense of momentum one would imagine for a Flash comic, writer Kenny Porter’s script leaves much to be desired for the almost 40-page story. The film associated with the comic book has had its marketing marred by controversies because of lead Ezra Miller’s recent history of legal trouble stemming from accusations of violence and grooming minors. Miller plays Barry Allen as The Flash, and their facial likeness is depicted in this movie tie-in comic, which unfortunately feels more like a random one-shot story. Jamal Melancon

JIM RULAND
MAKE IT STOP
(RARE BIRD BOOKS)

In this not-too-distant future dystopia, drug rehab clinics detain patients after treatment until they manage to pay their bills. A ragtag group called “Make It Stop” works to smuggle them out, often by sneaking in undercover as patients, and begins to investigate a rehab chain’s ties to a mysterious new drug. Yes, the plotline clearly resembles A Scanner Darkly, the Philip K. Dick novel adapted into a Richard Linklater movie. But author Jim Ruland‘s hardboiled prose and his characters’ white-knuckle lucid paranoia deliver what may be an even darker vision, probing the uncomfortable symbioses between those who lock people up and those who work to free them, between drug dealers and prohibitionists, and between the sick and the for-profit medical system. Ruland is a music writer and the author of Corporate Rock Sucks: The Rise and Fall of SST Records, and the novel seems to channel the gritty pessimism of ’80s alternative culture, set in a well-crafted world of megacorporations and radical movements whose various tactics generate headlines but little change. Ultimately, his sympathetic characters, wit, and fast-moving plot make for a quick but haunting book that keeps readers wondering until the end if and how he’ll Make It Stop. —Steven Melendez

MASH BUHTAYDUSSS
S/T
(NEW ORLEANS PHOTO ALLIANCE)

In conjunction with Kolaj Fest’s recent presence in the city, New Orleans-based art duo Mash Buhtaydusss has organized a retrospective of their eight-year mixed media collaboration. The work of Mash Buhtaydusss is a playful, sometimes unsettling exploration of collage’s potential. Artists Barbie L’Hoste and Brandt Vicknair use photographs of abandoned spaces as a base upon which to build; they incorporate paper cut-outs, paint, found objects, and more. Their work reminds us of the importance of seeing art up close—the rich textural elements and precision with which the pieces incorporate different media are much better appreciated in person. The distinction between photographic and collaged elements is not always immediately apparent, which speaks to the artists’ skill in seamlessly combining media. Some of the larger pieces, such as “Deliver Us From Diesel,” feel slightly chaotic, with so many scenes within a scene that the eye doesn’t have a clear path. Others, including “Miss Chief” and “Thumpher,” tell a slightly less complicated story, extending a clear invitation to the viewer to enter the duo’s absurd, darkly humorous worlds built upon a deft use of scale and setting. Mash Buhtaydusss’s retrospective suggests the gallery experience need not be solemn, and that new life may be waiting to emerge from once-loved, since-discarded places and objects (On view through July 22).Paula Ibieta

MASH BUHTAYDUSSS
S/T
(NEW ORLEANS PHOTO ALLIANCE)

In conjunction with Kolaj Fest’s recent presence in the city, New Orleans-based art duo Mash Buhtaydusss has organized a retrospective of their eight-year mixed media collaboration. The work of Mash Buhtaydusss is a playful, sometimes unsettling exploration of collage’s potential. Artists Barbie L’Hoste and Brandt Vicknair use photographs of abandoned spaces as a base upon which to build; they incorporate paper cut-outs, paint, found objects, and more. Their work reminds us of the importance of seeing art up close—the rich textural elements and precision with which the pieces incorporate different media are much better appreciated in person. The distinction between photographic and collaged elements is not always immediately apparent, which speaks to the artists’ skill in seamlessly combining media. Some of the larger pieces, such as “Deliver Us From Diesel,” feel slightly chaotic, with so many scenes within a scene that the eye doesn’t have a clear path. Others, including “Miss Chief” and “Thumpher,” tell a slightly less complicated story, extending a clear invitation to the viewer to enter the duo’s absurd, darkly humorous worlds built upon a deft use of scale and setting. Mash Buhtaydusss’s retrospective suggests the gallery experience need not be solemn, and that new life may be waiting to emerge from once-loved, since-discarded places and objects (On view through July 22).Paula Ibieta

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