Super Standards takes listeners on a journey through jazz standards as filtered through the worlds of various 16-bit video games. Button Masher—pianist and arranger Jake Silverman—reimagines pieces like Wayne Shorter’s Infant Eyesthrough the lens of games like SNES title Chrono Trigger. While it might be tempting to write off the concept as merely meme music, it becomes immediately clear that Silverman is dead serious in his execution of these pieces, using these recordings to honor both the songs’ original composers and the architects responsible for the respective game’s signature sounds. In doing so, Silverman argues for video game music to be recognized as a legitimate art form worthy of serious contemplation, just like the work of the jazz greats referenced on this album. Silverman’s past efforts on this front even earned him a Grammy for Best Arrangement, Instrumental or A Cappella for his big band arrangement of the Kirby piece “Meta Knight’s Revenge.” On Super Standards, he revisits the pink puffball again, reimagining Chick Corea’s Humpty Dumpty and Kermit the Frog’s iconic “Rainbow Connection as strolls through Dream Land. Throughout this album, Silverman bridges worlds that are seldomly connected and takes listeners on an adventure that is uniquely his own. —William Archambeault


Japanese four-piece CHAI create jubilant pop music that is steeped in their own philosophy of Neo Kawaii, a reaction against the concept of kawaii (cute) and the socially prescribed beauty standards applied to women. CHAI instead embodies a joyful and inclusive form of feminism. CHAI, their self-titled fourth album, finds the band looking more inward toward their Japanese culture and their experiences as Japanese women. The songs on CHAI are heavily inspired by pop and funk from the 1970s and 1980s, including dance-punk and city pop artists such as Mariya Takeuchi of “Plastic Love” fame. Neither the sound nor the message are necessarily groundbreaking, but that doesn’t seem to be what they are aiming for. Rather, CHAI is concerned with creating expertly crafted pop music with a thoughtful message, and on that front, they deliver. The ESG-inspired “NEO KAWAII, K?” is the musical anthem for the band’s central ethos. “This is just my body, not a trendy body,” sings keyboardist MANA before switching to Japanese to elaborate, “Gonna be loved, baby! / Just as I am.”We The Female!” is a riotous and funky dance number, invoking not only the album’s inclusive feminist message but also the band’s pure, unbridled joy (“Hello universe / We are pretty but masculine / We the female”). On the new wave track “GAME,” CHAI embraces both the wins and losses we all encounter in life, framing it as just part of the experience (“I’m a winner and a loser / Fresh start, OK”). The result is an album built around a refreshingly authentic and enthusiastic core belief that we should embrace our identities and the world we inhabit. —Mary Beth Campbell


Garage rock veterans the Green Demons return with their first new album in 11 years, the cleverly titled Yeah, We Burn. In 2011, I attended the band’s album release show for their previous album Outer Sex, and the experience has always remained with me as a highlight of that year. The release party featured craft cocktails, a free CD, and a very up-close and intimate set by the band, which lasted until the witching hour at the Big Top gallery. Band members Laurie Shefsky, Keith Hajjar, and Todd Voltz complement each other’s playing on this album by delivering a crunchy, surf-like rhythm section and a unique vocal style indicative of the New Orleans alternative scene in the 1980s which mixed early punk, new wave, noise, and doom riffs. The track “Covered in Slime” gets the momentum going with a soaring organ melody and slam-dance power chords, while tracks like “Kirby’s Strut” meld a sincere homage to arena rock with punk swagger. Yeah, We Burn in its entirety delivers bombastic drumming, pulsating bass, gritty guitar, and melodic vocals—a sound that puts the Green Demons into a category all their own as veterans of New Orleans rock’n’roll. —Ryan McKern


As the New Orleans trad jazz scene knows all too well, those who play traditional music often find themselves in a bind when it comes time to record: How do you say something new with songs that have already been recorded a thousand times before? Clara Sinou, frontwoman of La Mancha Cuarteto, has found an answer in bringing together traditional music from the three places where her deepest roots are set: France, New Orleans, and Mexico (the band’s current country of residence). On their eponymous first release, Django Reinhardt songs and jazz standards sit side-by-side with Mexican classics, but this approach goes much further than a diverse set list. “La Valse des Niglos,” written by Django Reinhardt’s friend and rival Baro Ferret, starts out as a jaunty jazz manouche number, but transitions midway through into a flurry of violin playing son huasteco, the strident, joyful music of Veracruz. The mariachi favorite “El Ausente” begins with the slow swing of New Orleans trad jazz rhythms, staying sultry until it is reclaimed by featured Mexican vocalist Monica Luna Huasteca. Jazz standard “I Get a Kick Out of You” starts off like a backyard party cumbia before shifting into manouche, and the two styles alternate more and more rapidly until they finally merge into one triumphant voice. Throughout the album, the stylistic shifts are pronounced but smooth, and it is viscerally satisfying to watch risky arrangements pay off in each thrilling journey. With this true delicacy of an album, Sinou shows that innovation doesn’t necessarily require breaking new ground. Joining unlikely bedfellows can be just as daring, and it still leaves you with something you can dance to. —Holly Devon


Two decades after releasing their debut album on John Zorn’s label Tzadik, Limited Express (has gone?) still retain their throne on top of Japan’s legendary underground scene. The group’s seventh album, Tell Your Story, exemplifies their non-conformist fusion of no-fucks-given punk power and frantic free jazz madness. The band sees boundaries as something to be struck down forcefully, transforming chaotic music into surprisingly empowering tracks like “EDUCATION” and BET ON ME.” The group’s tempos and musical directions often vary wildly over the course of the same song, creating an uncertainty that breathes excitement and anticipation into every note. The combination of unhinged vocals and frantic sax soloing on top of breakneck instrument bashing on Discommunication somehow leads perfectly into the laid-back groove that opens PICK A FIGHT.” Most of the lyrics are in Japanese, but Limited Express’ mixture of blaring sax, jagged guitar, pummeled drums, and hysterically yelped vocals conjures an attitude that transcends one’s limited understanding of the song’s linguistic intricacies. For instance, the fusion of call-and-response chanting, a mosh-worthy drum break, and a thick wall of saxophone and distorted guitar turns No more ステートメント (“No more statement”) into a clear statement that Limited Express are even more urgent now than ever. —William Archambeault


The Land is Inhospitable and So Are We, the seventh album from Mitski, is a departure from her acclaimed 2022 release Laurel Hell. Via the gorgeous yet brittle synth-pop of Laurel Hell, Mitski laid open her internal turmoil—realizing her pop ambitions and the desire to walk away from it all. Obviously, she did not walk away from her career, instead creating what she has referred to as her “most American album.The Land is Inhospitable… explores the loneliness of the American landscape and American life—but through a lens of love and understanding. The tracks on this album are warm even in their sadness, and showcase Mitski’s skills as a songwriter, as in “The Frost”: “The frost, it looks like dust settled on the world / After everyone’s long been gone / But me, I was hiding, or forgotten, the only one left / Now the world is mine alone.” Contrasting and complementing this are sweeping orchestral arrangements by Drew Erickson, who has worked on recent albums by Weyes Blood and Father John Misty (similarities to Father John Misty’s folk theatrics are especially clear on “I Don’t Like My Mind”), and a full choir of 17 people. The result is an album that envelops your senses with comfort and a dull ache of longing—a reminder that this world, this culture, this life can be lonely and isolating, but we should still pursue comfort and love for ourselves and for others all the same. What else is there, in the end? —Mary Beth Campbell


For a little over a year, New Orleans Synth Cult has been bringing local gear nerds together to celebrate analog synthesizers. This live album, recorded at Zony Mash Beer Project last month, captures one of the Cult’s gatherings and showcases the vast array of sounds these electronic yet non-digital instruments are capable of in the hands of various knob twiddlers. Each of the six performers have their own respective tracks, ranging from unknownparts’ three-and-a-half minute arrangement of drifting textures to an extensive journey by normalien that clocks in at just under 24 minutes. While some tracks feel like loose jams exploring the tones and sounds available at performers’ fingertips via this technology, Oscillation Communications’ 21-minute densely layered track is executed with razor sharp precision, recalling various strains of electronic music that were popularized in the ‘90s. The album ends with a chaotic group drone session that draws on the varied sounds of each performer’s respective approach to form a wall of sound. Those with an interest in joining the cult or making beep-boop sounds can check out their Instagram (@nolasynthcult) to keep up with their open mic events and their new residency at Zony Mash, which happens on the first Wednesday of each month. —William Archambeault


Saxophonist Joshua Redman’s latest album where are we is a travelog through the American mythos that pushes the parameters of jazz. Containing time-worn standards like Louis Armstrong’s “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?,” younger classics like Bruce Springsteen‘s “Streets of Philadelphia,” and Redman’s own fresh originals like the sweeping and ominous “Alabama,where are we offers a decades-spanning meditation on the fantasies and realities of the American experience. The album marks both Redman’s first project with legendary jazz house Blue Note Records and his first album to prominently feature a singer, New Orleans-based Gabrielle Cavassa, whose lithe and sensitive vocals expound on the tones of longing and remembrance that persist throughout the songs. Also joining Redman is the world-class rhythm section of Aaron Parks on piano, Joe Sanders on bass, and Brian Blade on drums, with features from trumpeter Nicholas Payton, vibraphonist Joel Ross, and guitarists Kurt Rosenwinkel and Peter Bernstein. Beginning with the original composition “After Minneapolis (face toward mo[u]rning),” where are we opens on Redman playing an unaccompanied cadenza that is equal parts nostalgic and rousing. Then, a final, fading note from his horn gives way to an eerie acoustic vamp that seems to initiate the dream state that develops throughout the album. From there, where are we traverses the memories and romances of familiar tunes, arriving finally at a dreamy, tender rendition of the old jazz ballad “Where Are You?” to close out this poignant journey. —Zane Piontek


Roussel Maajon, a collaboration project of Preservation Hall Jazz Band members Kyle Roussel and Clint Maedgen, conjures a mix of New Orleans funk, Motown soul, new wave, and rockabilly. “Sookie Sookie” is the album’s first single and sports a music video full of dancing and stylized cinematography, showcasing a full cast of talented actors partying and singing along to the video’s atmosphere and Mardi Gras vibe. Maedgen’s vocals are a crooning range somewhere between Buddy Holly, Stevie Wonder, Conway Twitty, Prince, Mike Patton, and a Sazerac cocktail. Carpe Diem” shifts direction completely with eastern and Moroccan grooves, synth-pop, and an Arabian night serenade of dreamy vocals and Cuban jazz percussion. “I Love You So” brings the second line charm while “It’s Gonna Do What It’s Gonna Do” is a beautiful boogie blues piano melody with full-sounding production on the brass and organ. “Waiting for the Sunshine” takes us out with a big band gospel version of Maedgen’s solo song of the same name, which kept me loving and laughing during the early days of the pandemic in 2020. —Ryan McKern

DEMO 2023

This demo hits like a punch in the face. South Korean hardcore punk band SLANT burns through three songs in just under six minutes, scorching the very earth beneath them with their anger and discontent. “Gasping for breath through the gash in my throat,” screams vocalist Yeji with pure venom dripping from her mouth as the band launches into the jackhammer guitars of “Dejected.” “I’ll never be enough / It’s never good enough,” she growls later with the intensity of a rabid dog biting blindly at anything within chomping distance. SLANT quickly recorded these three songs to have a tape to sell on a brief Japan tour. As such, it isn’t quite as pristine as their excellent 2021 debut album on Iron Lung, but the contents are far from the half-baked mediocrity that I would expect from a rushed demo. Throughout these three songs, SLANT sticks to a simple yet effective take on hardcore punk, bashing away at their instruments with a groove and intensity that drills their emotions into listeners’ skulls. While K-pop has held the global spotlight in recent years, SLANT reminds listeners that the Korean underground also has much to offer as well. —William Archambeault


Before he became known as the Queen of Disco, with international hits like “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real),” before he paved the road for other queer and gender non-conforming artists, Sylvester (née Sylvester James) was a young, broke musician with a deep love for icons like Billie Holiday. Through his involvement with the infamous San Francisco avant-garde psychedelic hippie theater troupe the Cockettes, Sylvester bonded with pianist Peter Mintun over their shared love for classic jazz and blues, particularly from the glamorous 1920s. In August 1970, the two of them recorded several of their favorite standards of the Prohibition area, nine of which were recently released by San Francisco label Dark Entries as Private Recordings, August 1970. The album opens with “God Bless The Child,” Sylvester’s soft falsetto and Mintun’s piano moving together in sync, on this song and throughout the album. With the exception of the occasional guest vocals from fellow Cockette John Rothermel (“A Foggy Day,”Indian Love Call”), the album is just Sylvester and Mintun, their recorded banter between songs a glimpse into their close friendship and collaborative partnership—the artistic trust that existed between them is palpable. Sylvester and Mintun remained true to the spirit of the music and honored those who made these songs famous while still making them their own; reverential, yes, but also playful and camp, giving them a contemporary edge that still holds up after all these years. —Mary Beth Campbell

ሸ​ገ​ኔ​ዎ​ች (BEAUTIES)

There is a certain snobbery endemic in record collecting, illustrated to the point of parody in the movie High Fidelity; the proprietary listening experience of a rare record is coveted by pretentious music nerds everywhere. So let’s applaud the heroic music nerd tag team of Domino Sound and Mississippi Records for spreading the wealth instead, with their re-release of Beauties, a 1976 record from the tail end of Ethiopia’s recording golden age. This collection of duets is a time capsule of yearning, melancholy, and elation from Ethiopian stars Aselefech Ashine and Getenesh Kebret, brought together by the recording. Like many Ethiopian albums from this time period, the mood is wide ranging—a little universe unto itself. According to the somewhat roughly translated lyrics, most of the songs concern the longing for love. But while the first track describes the desperation of a woman who has been rendered “sick, tired, and powerless” by her lover, the music is buoyant, as irrepressible as the electricity of the women’s intertwined voices. In tracks two and four—whose sound carries a similar psychedelic melancholia to Mulatu Astatke’s “Yèkèrmo Sèw”—the message and the medium are more united, the restless desire of the lyrics articulated by the wildness of the music. By the end of side A, the tension between the joys and pangs of love find a revelatory resolution in the extraordinary “Lametew (Laboring),” an epic tribute to the feminine power to bear the trials of deep feeling. Comparing the arrival and passing of love to the agony of birth, the song defiantly claims pain as a birthright. “What’s with all the shushing? / I want people to hear my pain,” the lyrics call out amidst soft, staccato grunts that mimic birthing pains. “I labored and birthed it / Like it wasn’t grueling at all,” sing the eponymous beauties in all their bright burning glory. The triumph of “Lametew” serves as the emotional peak of the album; “Wegenne (My Kin),” the first track on side B, hints at trouble ahead, and not just in the unsettling feeling left by the final songs. Warning that “being divided leaves us scattered,” “Wegenne ” foreshadows the arrival of a darker age than one in which Ethiopian musicians like Ashine and Kebret reigned supreme. In 1974, the totalitarian communist coup against Haile Selassie carried out by the Derg sought to rid the country of all vestiges of Emperor Selassie’s rule, and under their repression the musical golden age entered its twilight. The Beauties never recorded together again. But thanks to this re-release, a little bit of light from their golden hour can now be ours for only the cost of the vinyl. —Holly Devon

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