REVIEWS

CRUSH DIAMOND
MUTOPIA
(YES WE CANNIBAL)

At long last, Houma weirdos-supreme Crush Diamond are on wax! This seven inch captures the group’s heavily experimental yet groovy instrumental combination of synths, guitars, and drums. Originally a solo project for Intracoastal Club co-owner Tony Bergeron, Crush Diamond later evolved into a three piece outfit, fusing the pounding intensity of rock with the more peculiar textures of experimental electronic music. The video for A-side Mutopia features the trio performing alongside a bunch of animatronics during a crazy dance party at Smitty’s Super Service Station in Sandy Hook, Mississippi. The fusion of the band’s sound and intense visuals serves as a testament to small town heroes’ power to outfreak a lot of big city wannabes. B-side Calculations is equally as out there with its non-stop beeps, overarching textural synth, scratchy guitar, and powerful drums. This seven inch serves as the inaugural release for Cannibal Singles Club, a series run by Baton Rouge event space and record label Yes We Cannibal. The series plans to bring locals Guts Club and Helen Gillet to wax in coming months. —William Archambeault

FLAGBOY GIZ
LIVE FROM THE FRENCH QUARTER FEST
(INJUN MONEY)

Flagboy Giz’s strong work ethic and local hit “We Outside” have been putting him increasingly in the spotlight, including being the subject of a recent New York Times article, being featured in a question on Jeopardy!, and making his French Quarter Festival debut last year. Giz dropped this recording of his French Quarter Fest set on streaming services mere days before hitting the streets with the Wild Tchoupitoulas on Mardi Gras. Members of the tribe also join him throughout this live set. This recording proves that, in addition to killing it in the studio, Giz is a strong live performer. He distances these renditions from their studio counterparts through the employment of a full band, who trade solos on a nearly 10-minute rendition of “Fell in Love at the Secondline.” In addition to his many songs centered around Black Masking Indian practices, Giz captures the diverse feelings of modern life in New Orleans with themes ranging from celebratory local-centric love stories (“Fell in Love at the Secondline”) to strong critiques of gentrification (“Gentri Fire in the City”). The true gem of this set is the grandiose set-closing rendition of “We Outside,” which he keeps going for 23 minutes by inviting out a seemingly nonstop stream of local rappers, such as Choppa Style and Keedy Black. —William Archambeault

GRANDADDY
BLU WAV
(DANGERBIRD)

As their sixth studio album in a three-decade-long discography, Grandaddy’s latest release feels aptly middle-aged. In comparison to their characteristically upbeat sound, Blu Wav flows through a pool of nostalgia, creating a gentle solemnity reminiscent of heartfelt letters reflecting on memories of the past. Tender and cinematic, the record features reverberant, layered instrumentals that back singer-guitarist-keyboardist Jason Lytle’s soft vocals in a marriage of shoegaze and rhythmic waltz. Each ballad occupies the space between romanticism and the mundane, speaking of unsuccessful office flings (“Watercooler”) and missed connections (“On a Train or Bus”). Evoking bygone loves and fading friendships, Blu Wav is wistfully honest, if not approaching self-deprecation: “Well, we lost out on love / And now you’re better off / But for me it’s not going so well” (“You’re Going to Be Fine and I’m Going to Hell”). The 13-track album is sparsely littered with experimental-leaning instrumental tracks that break up the cohesive body of work, resulting in an enthralling soundtrack for angsty teens turned 9-to-5ers. Nonetheless, ennui cannot kill the artist within. Lytle’s songwriting reveals the whispers of a hopeless romantic, steadfast in welcoming the fickleness of the world with an undying sense of sanguine appreciation. —Victoria Conway

ROLAND GUERIN
PROG:FUNK 
(LOUISIANA RED HOT)

The latest release from New Orleans bass virtuoso Roland Guerin marks a venture into new, modern territory for an artist with firm roots in the city’s musical tradition. Guerin, who was mentored by Allen Toussaint and has performed with the likes of Alvin Batiste, Jon Batiste, and Dr. John, released PROG​:​FUNK, a three-song EP full of ambitious compositions and masterful bass work. Opening track “I Propose” is a proper introduction to Guerin’s new, progressive style, replete with hard-hitting bass riffs, crisp vocals, and a melodic agility that feels both rooted and experimental. “Crunch Time” follows with a dreamy, pensive meditation on the value of time in the modern world, delivered through an eerie soundscape and supported by an appropriately crunchy electronic drum pulse. Closing the EP is “Bridge to Open Waters,” an upbeat jam that hints at Guerin’s forthcoming full-length album of the same name, set to release later this year. Taken as a whole, the EP previews a promising new chapter for Guerin. He wrote and recorded the parts for every instrument himself, with the exception of drums by John Jones on “I Propose.” Guerin is poised to set off on his own journey of exploration and innovation in this new style, with PROG:Funk serving as both an announcement of his intent and a sample of things to come. —Zane Piontek

LATEX COP
PRIVACY POLICY
(OPTIK MUZAK)

Privacy Policy is a collection of twisted critiques on criminology via the methodology of experimental electronic music. New Orleans-based minimal synth artist Sara Nicole Storm, primarily active as Nail Club, brandishes the moniker Latex Cop for this release, which was originally put out as a tape in 2020 and is now on vinyl. The tracks on this album are largely improvised, drawing upon an often disorienting fusion of heavily distorted vocals, repetitive synth parts, and drum machine beats. A constant sense of unease runs throughout, ranging from the crazed “Last Decoy” to the ominous instrumental “Arrest 4.” Storm opts for a decidedly lo-fi aesthetic, a direct extension of her sound which serves to heighten the omnipresent tension found in this mix of both live and studio tracks. These aesthetics, as well as vocal effects, often make it difficult to decipher Storm’s exact lyrical content, but she says all of the songs were directly inspired by French philosopher Michel Foucault’s book Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Song titles like “Seduction of the State” and multiple pieces titled “Arrest” make these themes readily apparent. —William Archambeault

J MASCIS
WHAT DO WE DO NOW
(SUB POP)

J Mascis solo albums tend to lean toward the mellower side, a sort of musical breather from the louder and fuzzier fare of his primary project, Dinosaur Jr. What Do We Do Now, his latest effort, is no exception, with acoustic guitars and vulnerable lyrics once again front and center. On What Do We Do Now, Mascis has also made the decision to not completely forego the louder guitar heroics of the Dinosaur Jr. sound, with a full drum kit, keys, and, yes, Mascis’ signature electric guitar work adding a little more adrenaline than his previous solo releases. Much of the album is centered around Mascis’ relationships and frustrations, territory he has already explored in depth on previous albums. Mascis is certainly not skimping on talent on this record, and a few songs do stand out, including opener “Can’t Believe We’re Here” and single “Set Me Down.” In general, however, there is nothing really noteworthy on What Do We Do Now, although it does offer a certain musical comfort, particularly to those of us who were already fans. But there are times when one can’t help but wonder if we really needed yet another toned down, guitar-driven album by a male rock star who needs to explore his feelings, especially when there are so many talented artists out there struggling to gain a platform for their music. —Mary Beth Campbell

SCREAMING FEMALES
CLOVER
(DON GIOVANNI)

In December, storied rockers and repeat ANTIGRAVITY fixtures Screaming Females announced their break up, bringing an end to an impressive 18-year run as a DIY-oriented band. During their time together, the New Brunswick, New Jersey trio earned praise for their rich discography (eight studio albums plus more) as well as a reputation for vigorous live performances. Now, Screaming Females’ final EP Clover has been given a proper widespread release after previously being available only at shows or directly via their label. This EP draws from the same recording sessions that produced the group’s 2023 full-length Desire Pathway, which now stands as the band’s final studio album. Clover captures a lot of Screaming Females’ strengths, ranging from Marissa Paternoster’s blistering guitar leads that open the EP on “Swallow The World” to her powerful vocal delivery on tracks like “Violence and Anger.” All of these moments are anchored by the tight-knit teamwork of one of the strongest power trios in underground rock. While it’s tempting to look back at these recordings solely through rose-tinted glasses in light of the group’s recent demise, it’s simultaneously difficult to escape the feeling that Clover is essentially scraps that didn’t quite fit on Desire Pathway. Thankfully, Screaming Females kicked ass even during their B-side moments. —William Archambeault

SLOWER
S/T
(HEAVY PSYCH SOUNDS)

Slayer made a name for themselves fighting on the forefront of thrash metal’s arms race for faster and faster riffage during the 1980s. Now, Fu Manchu guitarist Bob Balch has come around to beg the question: What if Slayer was slower? On SLOWER’s debut album, he answers that question by recontextualizing the notorious thrash metal group’s material anew as doom metal that creeps by like a crushing steamroller. As such, the opening cut “War Ensemble” clocks in at over 10 minutes, well over twice the length of Slayer’s original version. The group further distances themselves from the originals by utilizing lower guitar tunings and clearly-delivered female vocals (courtesy of Year of the Cobra’s Amy Tung Barrysmith and Kylesa’s Laura Pleasants) that starkly contrast Tom Araya’s iconic screams. Balch and his co-conspirators (who include members of Monolord, Kyuss, and Lowrider) wisely avoid a greatest hits approach, going so far as completely forsaking Slayer’s magnum opus Reign In Blood, with the exception of one small tongue-in-cheek reference. Instead, they focus on material befitting the stylistic change, leaning particularly heavy on cuts from Seasons In The Abyss. This group of well-seasoned heavy riffers clearly took great effort to show these songs in a new light, but it will ultimately be up to individual listeners to decide if they think the results justify the experiment. —William Archambeault

MARY TIMONY
UNTAME THE TIGER
(MERGE)

The guitar heroics and singer-songwriter prowess of Mary Timony (Ex Hex, Wild Flag, Autoclave, and Helium) have made her a critical and indie darling over the past 30 years, and  Untame the Tiger, her fifth solo album, finds Timony at the height of her creative powers. Written during a two-year period in which she not only lost both of her parents but also experienced the end of a long-term relationship, this is an album about grief, and so it is also an album about transformation and love. Timony takes influence from the surreal, sun-drenched psychedelic folk music of the late 1960s and ‘70s, utilizing everything from stripped back acoustic instrumentation (“The Guest”) to searing electric guitar solos (“Summer”) to encompass the complexity of these feelings. Lead single “Dominoes” is a sardonically funny ode to accepting the disaster that arises from dating the wrong person (“We were going 90 in the wrong direction / I was riding right beside you trying to steal back my affection”). “No Thirds” is a musical road trip through a barren desert with nothing to think about except for acceptance of loss and what one’s life will look like when loved ones are gone (“A brand-new day, it still hurts like hell / You said nothing, like there was nothing to tell / Now the dead leaves are blowing around in my mind / We only know this one life at a time”). Though there is certainly a sadness to Untame the Tiger, Timony does not get lost in her grief; rather, through these songs, grief can be seen as a means of confronting what is important in this one life we have to live. —Mary Beth Campbell

TOPOGRAPHIES
INTERIOR SPRING
(DARK ENTRIES)

In the winter 2023 issue of The Believer, Gray Tolhurst—lead singer and guitarist for San Francisco-based post-punk/darkwave band topographiesinterviewed his father Lol Tolhurst (founding drummer of The Cure) about his recent book GOTH: A HISTORY. In the (rather heartwarming) interview, the younger Tolhurst mentions how he wanted not only to forge his own creative path separate from his famous father, but also transcend him. This is a lofty goal, of course. While topographies does not break the same ground as The Cure or their contemporaries, this does not detract from the quality or message of their music; they are indeed goth at heart and not a cheap imitation relying on aesthetic and vibes. Interior Spring, their sophomore full-length, explores themes of guilt, generational trauma, and substance use, much of which is derived from Tolhurst’s own personal experiences. The band exhibits technical prowess with intricate, cool guitars and melodic bass lines accompanied by textured drums and synths. The album jolts open with the anthemic “Night Sea,” as Tolhurst’s haunting vocals meld with the cool, pulsating music to create a hypnotic atmosphere. Other standouts include the soulful and self-reflective “Chain Of Days” and “I Never Understood,” and the hopeful, romantic energy of “1959.” Like their literal and figurative goth forebears, topographies understand that immersing oneself in the darkness can be a way of reaching back into the light—per their official Bandcamp page: “the group hopes to present the idea that freedom is not an escape but an embrace of the quotidian beauty of human life.” —Mary Beth Campbell

YARD ACT
WHERE’S MY UTOPIA
(REPUBLIC)

In November 2023, Leeds, U.K. quartet Yard Act played an electrifying set at the Toulouse Theatre to a surprisingly sparse crowd. Lead singer James Smith generously commented that they like playing to small crowds since they have been selling out stadiums in the U.K. (New Orleans, if we want bands like this to tour here again, we need to actually show up to their gigs.) Indeed, since the group made their debut in 2020 they have gone from scrappy up-and-comers to international indie darlings who have collaborated with Sir Elton John. This is all reflected in their sophomore full-length Where’s My Utopia, which finds the band’s lyrics digging deeper and more inward and their sound expanding beyond minimalist post-punk. The album’s lush production combines disco, Brit-pop, and rock’n’roll with string arrangements, choirs, and sound clips, punctuated by Smith’s signature spoken word delivery and lyrics that explore change and adaptation in its various forms. “We Make Hits,” one of the album’s first singles, is an exuberant ode to creating music. “Down By The Stream” and “Blackpool Illuminations” transport to childhood memories, both painful and tender. “The Undertow,” with Smith invoking Jarvis Cocker of Pulp, reflects on leaving one’s family to chase fame (“What’s the guilt worth?”). Though Yard Act does not shrink from reality, there is an optimism to this album. Closing song “A Vineyard for the North” addresses the climate change dystopia we face with a spark of hope: “And they said that from this soil under that sun, / no more could grow, but just look.” Though there are real threats to face, we must not forget that humanity’s ability to create and adapt is a great strength. If everything is uncertain then so too, perhaps, is despair. —Mary Beth Campbell

ZULU
ZULU ON AUDIOTREE LIVE
(AUDIOTREE MUSIC)

Unapologetically Black hardcore band Zulu made waves last year with the release of their full-length A New Tomorrow, a fierce album defined by deep contemplation on both self and society. The group’s recently released Audiotree Live session, recorded in October on the last day of a tour with Soul Glo and Playytime, showcases their forceful presence as a live band. The tour-sharpened five piece burns through the eight-song session in no time flat, slicing and dicing their already short songs into even more compact displays of pointed anger. The genre-hopping that made A New Tomorrow so endearing for many isn’t as apparent in this session. Instead, the band opts to let the guttural shouting, guitar bashing, and physically intense drumming of songs like “For Sista Humphrey” and “Our Day Is Now” bleed into each other, forming solid blocks of adrenaline drivers designed to go off in live settings. The sole palette cleanser in this session comes in the form of the rejoiceful “Shine Eternally,” which features blazing, emotive guitar shredding on top of an instrumental that vocalist Anaiah Rasheed Sayyid Hadi Muhammad describes as the band’s attempt at conjuring Jill Scott. From the first note to the very last, Zulu prove that live music can provide a vital moment of catharsis in a world that is often overwhelming. —William Archambeault

VARIOUS ARTISTS
A STRANGE DAISY RECORDS BEAT TAPE
(STRANGE DAISY)

New Orleans has produced more than its fair share of iconic beats, but don’t expect any Triggerman samples on this compilation put out by local label Strange Daisy Records. Instead of creating the foundation for rappers’ lyrical workouts, the topnotch, mostly local producers showcased on this comp treat instrumentals as fully fledged compositions in their own right. As such, these beats ebb and flow, full of the type of rich texture and depth associated with paintings rather than being mere background color. Wino Willy & DoyDank’s slick production on “Trana” fuses ethereal vocal lines, spaced out synths, and head-bop-inducing percussion. Seprock sharply cuts and manipulates Japanese vocals into jagged samples that anchor his track “P Disco Drums In a Strange Doo Wop.” One of the most refreshing aspects of this tape is its focus on small artists, even going so far as to include a track credited to Upbeat Students at Living School Studios. The students’ atmospheric beat “Living Poetry” opens the tape, signifying a literal passing of the torch to an even younger generation of beatmakers, with proceeds from each sale also going to Upbeat Academy. —William Archambeault

SIM KERN
THE FREE PEOPLE’S VILLAGE
(LEVINE QUERIDO)

This novel by Houston environmental journalist and fiction writer Sim Kern is set in a world where Al Gore won the 2000 presidential election, setting in motion a War on Climate Change. Still, rich people find ways to manipulate carbon restrictions to their advantage while poor and Black people are forced into labor for dodging quotas, the economy still heavily depends on fossil fuels, an imperialist war rages in Brazil under the guise of saving the Amazon, and the left is as divided against itself as ever. So it’s no utopia, but it is a charming and beautifully written coming-of-age novel, whose main character grows emotionally and politically while fighting ecofascism and a highway-and-pipeline project that threatens her Houston punk house and its gentrifying neighborhood. Kern is the rare speculative fiction writer who’s equally adept at imagining the technology of an alternate world and actually telling a moving, character-driven story, and the rare political novelist who can explore ideas and imagined political meetings without being dull or preachy. Unsurprisingly, a previous story of Kern’s was featured on a podcast by the anarchist science fiction writer Margaret Killjoy, and the novel will certainly resonate with fans of writers like Killjoy and Annalee Newitz. —Steven Melendez

MARC MASTERS
HIGH BIAS: THE DISTORTED HISTORY OF THE CASSETTE TAPE
(UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA PRESS)

It’s no secret that the cassette tape isn’t dead, kept in circulation by a mix of nostalgists, avid mixtapers, and musicians happy to have a way to release analog recordings that’s cheaper and easier than pressing vinyl. Music journalist Marc Masters covers the cassette’s recent life but mostly addresses the 20th century history of the medium, which evolved in the 1960s as a far simpler alternative to bulky reel-to-reel tape. Cassettes proved pivotal to the evolution of hip-hop and DC’s go-go music, as sought-after performers and DJs distributed mix tapes; and to DIY rock and experimental music scenes, where 4-track recorders let musicians record and mix their own audio without studio access. Overseas, too, tapes played a similar role in helping musicians and small-scale distributors get around government censors and monopolistic record labels, preserving what would have been ephemeral sounds for future generations. Masters’ real achievement is enabling readers to feel the excitement radiating from these scenes even decades later. While there’s an inevitable element of nostalgia, in a time when, as Masters reports, flea market and thrift store visitors often find that tapes haven’t been stocked in years, cassettes’ story remains relevant and inspiring today. —Steven Melendez

FRANCIS SPUFFORD
CAHOKIA JAZZ
(SCRIBNER)

Detective stories let authors explore the nuances of cultures, real or imagined, as investigators move from the margins of society to its privileged core within a few pages. Here, that culture is the pre-Columbian city of Cahokia, located near St. Louis. In this alternate history, it thrived into the 20th century, becoming a U.S. state harboring an uneasy mixture of Indigenous and European approaches to race, religion (a synthesis of traditional practices and Catholicism), politics, and capitalism. The detective is an orphan of uncertain ethnic background, turned police officer after serving in World War I and tasked with solving the murder of a white man, made to look like a stereotypical human sacrifice. He’s also a 1920s jazz pianist living above a speakeasy, since Spufford often falls into the historical fiction writer’s trap of trying to embed too much period atmosphere into one novel. That’s particularly unfortunate here, where evoking the actual U.S. of a century ago means less room for the culture of his imagined Cahokia. The mystery and characters are memorable, though the core questions of how a non-Anglo-American culture on the Mississippi would fare surrounded by 20th century capitalism may seem old hat to Louisianans. —Steven Melendez

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