Shoegaze, once considered a forgotten subgenre, has entered a new renaissance over the past few years, fueled in part by young people discovering shoegaze bands via TikTok. Of course, we can’t overlook that shoegaze, a genre which can easily be melded with others, is also a sound that takes us outside of ourselves, amplifying emotions and making our lives seem more majestic and otherworldly than they might be—a genre suited for times of uncertainty and confusion. Brooklyn-based indie rockers Hotline TNT seem to both understand and fully embrace this; their Bandcamp page offers the description “music to listen to after redownloading hinge.” Cartwheel, the band’s sophomore effort, is a solid collection of power pop songs about heartbreak, love, and the weight of the world infused with the distorted guitars, sound layering, pedals, and loops indicative of classic shoegaze. Opener “Protocol,” reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine, crystallizes heartbreak in a few words (“After the fall / I pretend that it’s all my fault / But I need you to call”). Other standout songs include “BMX” and “I Thought You’d Change.” Lead singer and songwriter Will Anderson manages to avoid the trap of being too caught up in his own feelings by incorporating Midwestern modesty (Anderson came out of the Minneapolis scene) and garage rock, citing bands such as the Replacements as a key influence (“Out of Town”: “Baby girl, where’s the sign that you’re not around?”). The result? Cartwheel marries indie rock and shoegaze in a way that—while still producing gorgeous, multi-layered sounds—is less about the mystery and more about universal human feelings. —Mary Beth Campbell


The greatest thing about being grown up is you don’t have to grow old,” sings Paul “Duck” Tucker on “Boxes,” the first single from Joystick’s latest EP Dwell. With a decade and a half under their belts, Joystick have aged into being New Orleans’ longest continuously active ska punk band. However, just as Tucker sings, the band hasn’t lost the youthful spark that makes ska such an infectious type of music. Dwell marks the group’s second release on Bad Time Records, a driving force behind the modern American ska punk scene. Joystick and labelmates like Catbite, JER, and fellow locals BAD OPERATION have been collectively revitalizing the (often overlooked) genre with each group offering their own distinctive approach. On Dwell, Joystick alternates between brawl-worthy and skank-inducing takes. Opener “LFG” kicks off the EP with shouted vocals on top of a barrage of mean guitar chords as Tucker urges us to make the most of things. Reflective closer “Note To Self” packs in strong horn melodies and plenty of upstroke guitar as Tucker reassures both himself and listeners alike that, despite the deep anxieties that muddy daily life, everything will be OK. —William Archambeault


While arguments abound for what constitutes the true spirit of jazz, many of them nauseatingly lofty or academic, most anyone would agree on the primacy of the music’s spontaneity, its nowness. That’s the attitude pianist Peter Martin strove to capture with this most recent album. Peter Martin & Generation S was recorded live (and live-streamed) in a loungy, warm-lit studio at the St. Louis headquarters of Open Studio, the music mentoring platform Martin founded and for which he serves as CEO and piano instructor, this past September. Martin gathered with bassist Reuben Rogers, drummer Gregory Hutchinson, and saxophonist Sarah Hanahan—along with a team of producers, engineers, videographers, and even painter Cbabi Bayoc, who created the album art live on-site—to create a body of music that was, in his words, alive, interactive, and accessible, while walking the tightrope of no edits or second takes.” The result is stunning. I had the pleasure of viewing the September 7 livestream and witnessed the fruit of Martin’s theory: that by recording the whole album in one, live take, you preserve a certain energy, a shared enthusiasm among the musicians that the audience can experience over and over again. From the blazing samba jam “Groove Echo Chamber” to the hypnotically soulful “Abstract Courage,” the album glistens with that spirit of spontaneity. The musicians’ focus and chemistry, and the excitement of everyone involved in the project, are palpable and infectious. Martin’s idea was a gamble, but it paid off in spades. —Zane Piontek


With their first two albums, Spanish indie pop quartet Melenas (“mane”) became known for creating joyous, hook-driven tunes. Their latest and third release, Ahora, while still a jangly collection of pop songs, finds the band allowing a darker, weirder, synth-driven side to emerge. With influences from krautrock, post-punk, and art pop (Stereolab is one of the band’s inspirations), Ahora (“now” in Spanish) is primarily concerned with the concept of time, more specifically in relation to how one remains rooted in the present while also reckoning with the past. This is tackled directly on “K2” (“Los días pasan / Y cuando miro atrás no sé medir la distancia / El tiempo que pasó ¿a quién se lo dí?” / “The days pass / And when I look back I don’t know how to measure the distance / The time that passed, who did I give it to?”) and indirectly on “Flor de la frontera” (“Ya veo a lo lejos la flor de la frontera… / Ha salido el sol y crece siempre tan bella / delicada y fuerte como eres tú” / “I already see the flower of the border in the distance… / The sun has risen and it always grows so beautiful / delicate and strong as you are”). It would be easy for the band to get bogged down in existential musings and synths, but they manage to strike a balance with their mesmerizing melodies, addictive hooks, and harmonies (unlike their previous efforts, all four members contribute vocals on Ahora). They also avoid the trap of approaching the passage of time as something to fear; it is an inevitability, and one that can be celebrated. This is best summed up by the album’s third-from-last track, “Tú y yo”: “Hoy tú / hoy yo / ¿Quién más / si no? / Sabemos que 
será mejor” / “Today you / today me / Who else / but? / We know it will be better.” —Mary Beth Campbell


Minor Threat’s recorded output may be sparse but it has proved to be one of punk’s most influential discographies, inspiring generation after generation of youthful outcasts to bash away at instruments and speak their minds. In December, in honor of Out of Step’s 40th anniversary, Dischord Records released a seven inch containing three outtakes from the album’s recording sessions, marking the first official distribution of unreleased material in two decades. Since Minor Threat had extra tape left at the end of those sessions, they re-recorded “In My Eyes” and “Filler” to hear what the songs would sound like with their then-new five-piece lineup. These versions feel less rooted in the raw emotional release that defined the original recordings and instead showcase a slightly more refined sense of anger. Towards the end of “In My Eyes,” Ian MacKaye, perhaps fed up with the opposition to the straight edge movement the band spearheaded, deviates from the original lyrics of the movement’s early anthem (“Thanks a lot, friends”) and yells, “Does that answer your questions, motherfuckers?” The final track on this seven inch is the full version of “Addams Family,” a semi-instrumental that was tagged onto the end of Out of Step’s closing track “Cashing In.” Although the re-recordings don’t dethrone the originals, and a full take of “Addams Family” isn’t necessarily essential listening for non-devotees, this seven inch serves as an exciting footnote to one of punk’s most iconic albums. —William Archambeault


Ephemeral Ponds is the type of ambient music that swallows you whole and transports you somewhere beyond your physical surroundings. Local musician and inventor Quintron takes us deep into the swamp through the use of the Wildlife Organ, an invention he installed at A Studio in the Woods during a residency there last spring. The organ uses multiple microphones to pick up sounds of wildlife, such as frogs, birds, and nutria. Quintron then enhances these recordings with his own performances on a variety of instruments to forge a collaboration with nature. Bird calls, the deep ribbit of frogs, and the buzz of insects sing over the low droning hum of synthesizers and the occasional beep of the Weather Warlock, Quintron’s invention that transforms the weather via outdoor sensors into analog synth sounds. He aptly describes this combination as “old Folkways nature-sounds LPs dumped into the blender with an army of budget synths.” The album’s only physical release to date has taken the form of a USB flash drive in the shape of the dusky gopher frog (also known as St. Tammany gopher frog and the Mississippi gopher frog). The album title pays homage to the liminal ponds in which the endangered species lay their eggs. The frog’s distinctive call can be heard on the track “Dusky Gopher’s Revenge.” While the USB version of this album quickly sold out, nature enthusiasts can still drift off into the swamplands via the digital version available on Quintron’s Bandcamp page. —William Archambeault


When No Birds Sang is a bold collaboration that fuses Nothing’s ethereal melancholic shoegaze and Full of Hell’s broken glass amalgamation of harsh subgenres into an emotionally devastating listen. This album is the collaborators’ meditations on Richard Drew’s infamous photo “The Falling Man,” which depicts a man plummeting to his death from the World Trade Center on 9/11. “In my head, as soon as we’d figured out a narrative for the record, I was living a day in the life of this person – empathising with this experience and imagining feelings I’d be dealing with in whatever situation I was put in,” explained Full of Hell vocalist Dylan Walker to Kerrang!. Opening track “Rose Tinted World” starts the album off with the oppressive combination of Walker’s deranged, screamed vocals and slow, heavy guitars before giving way to a collage of mundane, everyday news segments that slowly devolve into overwhelming noise. The softly-spoken vocals and sparse, textural guitar of the second track, “Like Stars In The Firmament,” usher in a wave of calmness that starkly contrasts the song’s actual lyric content (The phrase “I don’t wanna die” is repeated multiple times). Throughout When No Birds Sang, Full of Hell and Nothing explore the vast depth of human emotion in the face of tragedy and traverse the great distance between their respective sounds. —William Archambeault


Los Angeles is the long-awaited collaboration between Lol Tolhurst (founding member and former drummer for The Cure), Budgie (née Peter Edward Clarke, former drummer for Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Slits), and producer Jacknife Lee. Coming on the tails of Tolhurst’s recent book GOTH: A HISTORY, Los Angeles is a celebration of goth without seeming like a nostalgia project; goth, after all, is still (un)dead and thriving. Featuring artists such as James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem), Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream), Isaac Brock (Modest Mouse), Mark Bowen (IDLES), and The Edge (U2), the project is a love letter to goth and punk of the past and future. It is also a musing on the dark chaos of the city, the United States, and perhaps the greater world (“Los Angeles”: “And Los Angeles eats its children / Los Angeles eats its young / Oh the babies that got this fever / A fever of one hundred and one and one”). Fittingly, the album’s songs are all anchored with percussive beats; the addition of moody guitars, synths, strings, and brass takes the music beyond the classic goth sound. “Travel Channel,” featuring rapper Pan Amsterdam’s mellow, heady flow over percussion and brass interludes, is a reminder of how well rap and goth fit together and a solid argument for more cross-collaboration across genre lines. Indeed, with absolutely no disrespect to Tolhurst and Budgie, the guest musicians might be the strongest part of Los Angeles, pushing the album’s sound and central vision beyond traditional goth. —Mary Beth Campbell


Instrumentalist, producer, rapper, singer, and songwriter Terrace Martin is known for the breadth and diversity of his collaborations—Kendrick Lamar, Raphael Saadiq, Stevie Wonder—but the artist he recently partnered with on The Near North Side, one of the first straight-ahead jazz albums to be heard from Martin in some time, is a special case. Guitarist Calvin Keys, now 81 years old, is a veritable jazz legend, having performed and recorded with Ahmad Jamal, Joe Henderson, and Ray Charles, to name a few. But what makes this album special is the deep history that brought the two artists together to create it. Martin cites Keys as one of his earliest and most cherished musical mentors. In an Instagram post, he recalls how Keys was a close friend of his parents—he refers to Keys as his uncle—and, on nights when an infant Martin would cry incessantly, it was only Keys’ guitar that could soothe him. Now, on The Near North Side, Martin celebrates that bond, as well as Keys’ prodigious contributions to music at large, with a collection of eight songs that merge the two musicians’ distinctive sounds and respective histories. The album opens with “The Island,” a mellow Latin groove on which Keys’ sharp, decisive guitar lines dance and swagger over the accompaniment of pianist Paul Cornish, bassist Ben Williams, and drummer Christian Euman. The first appearance of Martin’s saxophone is heard on a rendition of Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood.” They play the song rather straight, without frills, which leaves ample room for Martin’s characteristic combination of fiery blues vocabulary and free, Eric Dolphy-esque lines to take the familiar ballad into unexpected territories. Taken as a whole, for both its sound and story, The Near North Side is a precious musical artifact, rich in style and history. —Zane Piontek


Yorgos Lanthimos loves a fairy tale. Based on the novel by Alasdair Gray, Poor Things tells the story of Bella Baxter (Emma Stone), a woman who has been brought back to life by Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), whom she refers to as “God,” and is now intent on seeing and learning about as much of the world as she can. The first chapter of her life (the film is delineated into chapters) is presented in black and white, but each subsequent chapter is hued in extraordinary color, with cotton candy skies and seas backdropping her explorations. Tony McNamara’s screenplay is an equal mix of humor, candor, and absurdity that provides warmth and uncertainty simultaneously. A good fairy tale offers insight while maintaining clear separation between its world and ours. In Poor Things we are offered fresh wonder and bewilderment at being alive through the eyes of a woman who is not of us, in a world that isn’t actually ours. While dining one evening with Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), Bella is overcome by discordant music and begins gleefully thrusting her body around on the dance floor. Duncan joins her, trying to match her exuberance and prove he can keep up, though he never truly can. It’s a beautiful power struggle, both performances rendered masterfully—joy, longing, inadequacy, and jealousy all embedded into their movements and glances. Here, everyone is at the top of their game, and the world born from their efforts is delightful. —Marisa Clogher


Kliph Nesteroff is the author of 2015’s The Comedians, a sprawling and fascinating history of American comedy, and 2021’s Indigenous comedy history We Had a Little Real Estate Problem. In Outrageous, he explores almost two centuries’ of struggles over controversial content in comedy, theater, music, radio, television, and print. A few trends repeat throughout the generations: Conservatives, linked to well-heeled groups like the Heritage Foundation or John Birch Society, attack anything with sex or left-of-center politics. Members of oppressed groups push for less bigoted material—whether combating Gone with the Wind, the Frito Bandito, or homophobic sitcoms—and more actual representation. Aging performers and writers lament they can no longer use the “harmless” stereotype-based material of their youth—and gripe that younger practitioners have just become so artlessly explicit. Meanwhile, commercial sponsors and politicians trying to navigate these debates look out mostly for themselves. At times it’s depressing, and at times it’s repetitive, but that’s of course the point Nesteroff (who believes, cancel culture critics notwithstanding, that showbiz has never been less censored than today) is making. As in his previous work, the wealth of well-cited, fascinating anecdotes and quotes, along with his brisk and witty writing, make for an informative and memorable read. —Steven Melendez

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