REVIEWS

SARIYAH IDAN
GLITTER & BLOOD
(SELF-RELEASE)

Glitter & Blood is the fourth release from multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Sariyah Idan, and her first album recorded in New Orleans, which she now calls home. Idan’s use of local musicians and city field recordings on this collection tie even those songs written about other places back here. Idan combines jazz and folk—in which she is formally trained—with influences from hip-hop and Latinx-Caribbean music traditions to address themes tied to social justice and her Jewish ancestry. According to her official bio, “she views honoring the sounds of both influences and ancestors as a form of cultural activism.” Glitter & Blood is centered around the concepts of place, transition, and healing, both external and internal (from “Bold”: “my joy inscribed itself / on the sidewalk / & it has never washed off / no it has never washed off”). Overall, the lyrics are poetic and thought-provoking, though there are times when the album veers into the territory of New Orleans transplant cliché, most notably with the song “Royal Street.” Despite this, Idan is undeniably a talented musician, vocalist, and lyricist, and Glitter & Blood provides its audience with plenty of material for introspection and inspiration (from “Sweet Alibis”: “we prove importance by association / fame & fortune assumed destination / masking fear cellophane conversation”). —Mary Beth Campbell

LVVRS
MIDNIGHT FANTASY
(SELF-RELEASE)

Named for their Valentine’s Day formation, LVVRS invites us to celebrate the anniversary of their genesis with this February 14th release. Despite single releases dating back to 2018 and a cameo in the latest A24 film The Iron Claw, Midnight Fantasy is the South Louisiana-based band’s debut EP. Featuring driving drum lines and ubiquitous synth, the five-song release remixes disco pop with a rock influence to create a familiar sound, albeit somewhat out of the ordinary for a band hailing from the Dirty South. Midnight Fantasy successfully employs the tried-and-true pop formula—repeating choruses containing the song’s title, a 4/4 time signature, and four-bar phrases—to create a record designed for dance floors and Top 40 radio stations. Seemingly modeled after the ‘70s-era rock star image, LVVRS’ creative branding reflects the themes of the EP (and any good pop release): sex, love, and narcissism. Compounding the band’s anachronistic appearance, Midnight Fantasy is reminiscent of mid-2010s pop hits à la Maroon 5. Supported by Lillian Giacona on bass, Edward Principato on lead guitar, and Brenon Wilson on drums, singer/songwriter/guitarist River Gibson’s light tenor paints each track with impressive vocal control and a falsetto that could give Adam Levine a run for his money. —Victoria Conway

PORTIA
WANING EMPIRE
(SELF-RELEASE)

WANING EMPIRE is a surprisingly enjoyable descent into sorrow. Screams collide with distorted guitars as the members of local post-hardcore band PORTIA put their emotions on display. The four-piece just played their first show late last year, but managed to put out this tape within a couple months of making their live debut. Less than 12 minutes long, WANING EMPIRE features four songs composed of mangled emotional outbursts soundtracked by jagged guitars. Tracks like “Burn Your Bridges” and “Black Hen” feature the push-and-pull of softly-sung, clean vocals and screams, but most of this EP is delivered in cathartic shouts. The contrasting fluctuation between sparse arrangements and more aggressive distorted guitar bashing adds fire to already heated sentimental outpourings. The recordings are exactly the quality I would hope for from a new band’s first tape demo, which is to say it isn’t too rough but also not too polished. The QR code on the cover leads to an ominous message reading, in part, “My darling, don’t you dream? What is your heaven? Where is your hell?” Give the EP a quick listen if you enjoy feeling bummed out. —William Archambeault

ROTTEN MILK
MANQUÉ
(SELF-RELEASE)

As a WTUL DJ, Rotten Milk has long pushed his audience to explore sounds beyond the conventional music typically heard on air. Although I’m admittedly not as well acquainted with his work as an experimental musician, he demonstrates the same tenacity on manqué. Milk refers to the four-track release as his attempt at a “meditative, melancholic ambient drone album.” It draws upon three years of ambient recordings made using synthesizers, organ, and keyboards. Lengthy soundscapes, like the 10-minute long “Lapin Fantôme,” ebb and flow with layers of calming and jarring textures clashing against each other. “Onzaga Frost,” the release’s sole collaborative track, features Mary Hanson Scott’s ominous droning saxophone notes over the even more foreboding buzz of Rotten Milk’s amalgamation of electronic sounds. In addition to putting out this release, Rotten Milk recently joined forces with Chicago musicians Sonia Monet and Francis Zaander for a collaborative album with the wonderful title Wub Wub Doink Doink Beep Boop Swoosh Friends Band, which the trio describe as an attempt to “explore new possibilities for beat driven electronic music outside the realm of traditional dance music.” —William Archambeault

SKEPTIC MOON
BEARS
(SELF-RELEASE)

Skeptic Moon’s sophomore release, Bears, is truly experimental. A triumphant embodiment of indeterminacy, the five-song EP unflinchingly traverses an amalgamation of genres to produce a soundscape that leaves its audience constantly guessing. Skeptic Moon, which comprises Jacob Gartenstein (drums), Dane Harter (bass), Jamie Koffler (keyboard), Sam Kohler (guitar), and Michael Sze (violin), produces compositions reflective of the varied talents that inform them. Drawing from an eclectic array of influences—progressive rock, metal, jazz, noise, and classical, to name a few—the record is an emotional journey conveyed purely tonally. Without a vocalist, the band does not award the listener with the typical lyrical context that readily reveals the composer’s message. Instead, Bears demands a subjective listening experience felt in one’s body. Despite being lyrically devoid, the EP successfully tells a complex story that transports its audience through time and space, beginning with an anxiety-inducing discordance that sets the stage for what is to come, before leading into the record’s eponymous track. In “Lamassu”—named for a celestial being with the head of a human, body of a bull, and wings of an eagle—a twinkling fantasy dissolves into smooth New York jazz, painting an image of a place far from here. In the same way that the universe tends toward disorder, the instrumentalists oscillate between harmony and opposition to produce an entropic sound that thrashes wildly with perfect control, a beautiful cacophony full of contradictions. —Victoria Conway

STGMA
S/T
(SELF-RELEASE)

“It’s been 10 years and I’m still here / Drinking beers at the old St. Roch Tavern” sings STGMA’s vocalist Corrina in the opening line to “P​.​T​.​S​.​D.STGMA are a band of outcasts who have only become more scarred as the years have passed. Once upon a time, most of STGMA’s members played in Crackbox and Mea Culpa, both mighty, crusty local punk groups. While Crackbox were known for raw pop-punk with serious hooks, Mea Culpa favored danceable post-punk grooves. STGMA’s self-titled debut album combines both of these aspects of their past groups’ sounds with an added dose of wisdom, making for a powerful listen. Whether mourning the loss of friends to death and kids (“Hate”) or pleading for help (“P​.​T​.​S​.​D.”), Corrina has a knack for harnessing raw emotions and transforming them into something empowering. Much of the album’s outlook is bleak, but that emotional release is exactly what keeps me replaying this album again and again as the hooks dig deeper with each successive listen. “Music is revenge,” explains Corrina in a manifesto on the album’s Bandcamp page, “It is the words you didn’t get a chance to say. It’s all the feeling’s [sic] you could never express to the people who were never listening. Make them listen.” —William Archambeault

TORRES
WHAT AN ENORMOUS ROOM
(MERGE)

Mackenzie Scott has been releasing music as TORRES since 2013; her latest release, What an enormous room, is her sixth full-length studio album. At this point in her career, some might expect Scott to settle into one sound, but that would be ignoring the artistic versatility and curiosity she has exhibited over the past decade. While 2021’s Thirstier celebrates love and self-discovery via joyous, hook-laden anthems—itself a departure from her earlier, moodier works—What an enormous room draws from the past of indie and alternative rock to lay bare a multitude of big emotions. There is a ferocity and tenderness to this album: Though it does not contain any anthems or ballads, the songs still linger long after they are over. Lead single “Collect,” a simmering declaration of revenge, plays with the quiet-loud-quiet dynamic used by both the Pixies and Nirvana, and Scott’s dreamy vocals add an otherworldly and sinister atmosphere that keeps the song from being a purely grunge track. On “I got the fear,” synths and sharp percussion are partnered with Elliott Smith-style vocals to capture the effects of anxiety, while “Wake to flowers” is a tender ode to love in the face of grief. While not breaking new musical ground, Scott arranges everything in a manner that still feels fresh and exciting, invoking deep feelings and the importance of giving art the space to explore different creative and emotional dimensions. —Mary Beth Campbell

KATHERINE RYE JEWELL
LIVE FROM THE UNDERGROUND: A HISTORY OF COLLEGE RADIO
(THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA PRESS)

From the recent, heartbreaking news of Pitchfork being subsumed by GQ to ongoing conversations about the effects that music streaming platforms like Spotify have had on independent musicians and the smaller side of the music industry, it is apparent that, perhaps more than ever, independent media needs to be supported and preserved. And as efforts to combat the corporatization of our culture continue, college radio and its ongoing impact must not be left out of the discourse. In Live from the Underground: A History of College Radio, historian and former college DJ Katherine Rye Jewell unveils in meticulous detail the oft-overlooked history and undeniable influence of the many eclectic college radio stations scattered across the United States. The first college radio stations were established in the 1930s as part of the New Deal, and by the 1970s these institutions—and the DJs who made up their heart—found themselves both at the center of burgeoning music scenes and culture wars. College radio DJs helped to champion the likes of R.E.M., Nirvana, and Public Enemy; and it can be argued that without these platforms, the indie rock and underground hip-hop scenes may not have flourished. Though radio itself has changed over the years with the rise of the internet and digital formats, and as stations are shut down and sold, Jewell chooses not to despair. For one, college stations are not extinct. Locally, WTUL is both on the airwaves and online (disclosure: the reviewer is currently active on WTUL’s roster as DJ MB). As Jewell argues, “radio is still relevant. It’s just that the definition of radio has expanded,” with digital stations helping to foster musical communities across the world. Live from the Underground is not only a fascinating and valuable history of the intersection of U.S. media, culture, and politics, but a reminder that these institutions matter and must be protected.  —Mary Beth Campbell

CHIN-SUN LEE
UPCOUNTRY
(UNNAMED PRESS)

Upcountry, New Orleans-based writer Chin-Sun Lee’s debut novel, is a haunting portrait of three women—Claire, Anna, and April—whose lives become entangled in unexpected, often unwanted ways. The story opens with the begrudging sale of a house, ushering in a new couple to the fictional town of Caliban, New York, and with them a tide of events that no one, from generational locals and gossipy neighbors to members of a strict religious sect, could see coming. Upcountry’s clear, easy-to-read prose moves along efficiently, balancing intimate access to the three women’s internal lives as each bristles against the social identity and communities to which she belongs, as well as unrelenting action, which begins with a shocking tragedy early on and continues to escalate until the final pages. Upcountry is an impressive debut, a poignant exploration of the ways in which we cope with senseless tragedy, social isolation, pain, and death, and it rings true to life in its refusal to answer the question: Does anyone get what they deserve? —Paula Ibieta

LYDIA PELOT-HOBBS
PRISON CAPITAL: MASS INCARCERATION AND STRUGGLES FOR ABOLITION DEMOCRACY IN LOUISIANA
(THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA PRESS)

As Louisiana’s reactionary forces of prison-loving sadism rally under Governor Landry’s demonic banner, the timing couldn’t be better for the addition of Prison Capital: Mass Incarceration and Struggles for Abolition Democracy in Louisiana to the abolitionist arsenal. After years of exhaustive research, Lydia Pelot-Hobbs has produced a terrifyingly detailed map of Louisiana’s carceral nightmare, along with—mercifully—an accounting of the triumphs of community activists out to stage an intervention. From the crisis of prison conditions at Angola in the early ‘70s (which she argues the state surreptitiously addressed with an expansion of the prison system), to the French Quarter Management District’s marshalling of heavy surveillance and other policing initiatives in defense of the tourism economy, Pelot-Hobbs has hauled just about every monster of mass incarceration out from under the bed and left them to wriggle in plain view. Grueling work, no doubt, and very useful. Of particular note is her excavation of ties between escalating incarceration rates and the boom-and-bust cycle of the petrochemical economy, and her clarification that Louisiana’s exceptionally draconian system is not a result of the state’s backward thinking, but rather its innovative approach to carceral control. Be forewarned: This book is top form academic writing, and it is dense. But unlike the proliferation of scholars who let jargon do their work for them, Pelot-Hobbs writes incisively and with intention—there’s no trace of hot air in her clear, if weighty, prose. As she puts it in her acknowledgements, this book is “a love letter to Louisiana,” an affirmation that there can, and must be, a better world than this waiting for us—if only we can open our eyes in time. —Holly Devon

VALERIE SASSYFRAS
HORNY, LAZY AND READY TO SPILL: STORIES FROM THE SASS QUEEN
(PEL HUGHES)

Every community has its local stars, the artists you can’t quite imagine in any other context and feel vaguely protective of should they reach a national audience. New Orleans has more than most places, and high on the list is Valerie Sassyfras. In recent years, the Cajun-rooted multi-instrumentalist has gone from being a mainstay of Gasa Gasa, Tipitina’s, and French Quarter Fest to appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and America’s Got Talent, thanks to her catchy, quasi-raunchy anthem “Girls Night Out.” This memoir, told as a series of autobiographical vignettes, takes its name from that song’s memorable chorus, and mixes amusing tales of sex, drugs, and zydeco with poignant memories of her family and late, beloved husband and musical partner Johnny Donald. Together, Sassyfras’ frank and memorable recollections capture her life as a hardworking, distinctly New Orleans musician who continues to delight in new songs, friendships, and experiences long after many of her contemporaries have hung up their instruments and dreams—as she realizes while attending a school reunion hosted (naturally) at Morris Bart‘s mansion. Illustrations by ANTIGRAVITY comics editor Caesar Meadows perfectly complement her stories and ground them further in New Orleans legend. (Valerie Sassyfras will be appearing at Blue Cypress Books at noon on February 9 for a book signing and performance.) Steven Melendez

AGNES BORINSKY
THE TREES
(INTRAMURAL THEATER)

Though it is always scary to put your creation out into the world, perhaps no medium is as vulnerable as the theatre. What could be more terrifying than locking yourself in a dark room with an audience for hours while they sit there judging your every move—to say nothing of the ruthless scrutiny of theatre critics? But therein lies its power: For all the importance of skillful production, the vulnerability at the core of the art form is where its best prizes lie, waiting to be won. There are few greater thrills than sitting in that dark room with a bunch of people getting naked with the truth, and I will forgive a multitude of sins in a play’s execution for whoever is willing to try. And so it was that while watching the Intramural Theater collective’s The Trees I hardly noticed when the quality of the dialogue was uneven, and was unbothered by a pace slow enough to test anyone’s patience. From the outset, the words of playwright Agnes Borinsky rang clear and true among a group of actors whose belief in the work was evident in a warm, collective energy that carried me through to the end. The Trees begins with brother and sister Sheila (Rebeckah Gordon-Kirk) and David (Ian Hoch) making a drunken visit to the park one night only to wake up the next day to find themselves rooted to the ground like trees. The play follows their circuitous journey in the art of standing still. The premise never transcends its role as a device—there’s no explanation for how or why it happened, the audience just has to follow the characters’ lead and accept it as an unchangeable phenomenon. Other bits of magical realism pepper the play, like a Yiddish-speaking grandmother who survived the fall of the Hapsburg Empire and has the power to chase away errant wolf packs through song, but it’s more the exception than the rule—magic in The Trees is not about world building. Instead, it functions as a monkey wrench thrown into the modern machine to force characters to come into full consciousness by exploring their own depths. Sheila and David must discover how to claim sovereignty over their lives when they don’t even have the power to move their feet, and the visitors drawn into their orbit must figure out who they really are in order to fit into the strange world of the tree siblings. One such visitor, a rabbi played by the always excellent KC Simms, explains that he was compelled to come and witness this miracle out of a crisis of faith, which he describes as his visceral sense that the world is sliding continuously into some terrible void, a fate no god in heaven or on Earth can prevent. But if human beings can literally take root where they stood, he reasons, then perhaps this endless slide is not so inevitable after all. Thus the play’s poetry breathes life into a device that without sincerity would be nothing more than a gimmick, and with it offers some of the soundest metaphysical advice I’ve heard in a long while: No matter how turbulent and precarious our lives may be, the miraculous is waiting to be found in the ground beneath our feet and the ecosystems that spring up around us when we love fearlessly. —Holly Devon

Verified by MonsterInsights