REVIEWS

CAMERA OBSCURA
LOOK TO THE EAST, LOOK TO THE WEST
(MERGE)

Scottish pop outfit Camera Obscura was an important part of the U.K. twee pop scene in the early 2000s, producing smart, jangly songs and championed by the likes of Belle & Sebastian and legendary BBC DJ John Peel. It has been over a decade since the band released an album: In 2015, founding keyboardist Carey Lander passed away from bone cancer, resulting in the band going on extended hiatus to grieve this loss. A slate of successful reunion shows eventually led them back to the studio and the creation of Look to the East, Look to the West. The songs on this album are built upon simpler instrumentation and the band’s soul and country influences, foregoing the lush, baroque pop production and brass and string arrangements employed in previous efforts. This is a great example of “less is more,” as these musical choices have led to a paradoxically bigger sound with lead singer Tracyanne Campbell’s vocals front and center, rather than lost in the mix. There is also space created in the music that allows for more focus on the album’s themes of grief, love, and the march of time; Camera Obscura are known for deftly examining and exposing emotions in their music and this is felt especially deeply on this album. Lead single Big Love is indie rock meets Nashville sound, a steel pedal-backed heartbreaker about a past (toxic) romance. We’re Going to Make It in a Man’s World,” co-written by Campbell and keyboardist Donna Maciocia, is a critical yet earnest look at the realities of being a woman in the music industry, to say nothing of the world: “I try to lie / But the words come out as truth / How come I / Don’t get away with being as rude as you.” The penultimate song, “Sugar Almond,” is a bittersweet tribute to Lander, whose presence is felt on all 11 tracks (“I’ll match Bette Davis drink for drink / I’ll cry like Tiny Tears over your favourite pink”). Look to the East, Look to the West is a reminder that music can force us to examine our grief and sadness while still bringing us pure joy.  —Mary Beth Campbell

LILY UNLESS & THE IF ONLYS
A REAL GOOD TIME
(LONG GONE)

Music can transport us back through time via our memories and emotions. In his celebrated work Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, the late, great neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks wrote about the impact of music on people living with Alzheimer’s and memory loss, and many other artists, scientists, and writers have examined the role that music plays in our memories and identity. Of course, this is mostly observed in music that we are familiar with, but sometimes a band has the uncanny talent to capture the spirit of a genre and time so well that your frontal cortex whisks you away. Though only formed in 2022, New Orleans swamp country and rockabilly quartet Lily Unless & The If Onlys have mastered not only the 1950s country-rockabilly sound but also, as it were, the spirit of that period in musical history (minus the problematic politics of the 1950s, of course). Lead singer Lily Unless’ rich vocals anchor each track, with the rest of the band keeping pace with tight instrumental work. The lyrics strike a balance between timelessness and modernity, adding another layer of authenticity to the album—they are not cosplaying this music, they are embodying it. Standout tracks include “Bobby,” “If Only,” and the gorgeously mournful “My Undoing.” Though every song on A Real Good Time is an original, there are times where you might swear you’ve heard it before, not because they are a copycat but because they have fully embodied this classic sound while making it their own. —Mary Beth Campbell

PAPRIKA
LET’S KILL PUNK
(IRON LUNG)

On their long-awaited first album Let’s Kill Punk, PAPRIKA sink their teeth in and refuse to let go. The shouted vocals are drenched in reverb to the point of becoming indecipherable. It’s a surprisingly effective technique that conjures the image of a dog foaming at the mouth from the sheer intensity of its rage, a fitting pairing for the band’s bludgeoning sound. Thankfully, the lyric sheet helps with decoding the subhuman snarls, revealing pointed critiques of the police (“Greasy Pig Disease”), war mongers (“Civilized”), and even punk itself (“Let’s Kill Punk”). Opening cut “Peace Talks” positions them firmly against the ongoing slaughter in Gaza by calling out “useless peace talks” with lyrics like “Killed their children, stole their land.” While PAPRIKA has dropped a couple of solid EPs over the past two and a half years, those were both decidedly lo-fi endeavors that left a lot to be desired, sound-wise. One listen to the album’s new versions of “Polite Society” and “Greasy Pig Disease” (the only songs re-recorded from past releases) makes it clear that this is a vast leap in recording quality (yet another James Whitten/High Tower Studios production), which stokes their already blazing fire. Whether you want to think about society or turn off your brain and mosh, Let’s Kill Punk has a lot to offer over the course of its explosive 13-minute runtime. —William Archambeault

TAYLOR SWIFT
THE TORTURED POETS DEPARTMENT
(REPUBLIC)

I’m a Swiftie. Slow boring pop music about hardcore self-loathing? Finally something I can relate to. I’m not being sarcastic; I love Folklore and Evermore, and I maintain that they’re genuinely great electro-folk albums. Midnights is excellent shiny dreampop. I’m obsessed with her work with Bon Iver, The Jungle Remix of “Lavender Haze” is the perfect lesbian club hit, the Lonely Witch version of “Willow” is breathtaking. And I was genuinely excited for this new album, but y’all: The Tortured Poets Department is not good. It is objectively bad, in fact. I don’t know what the fuck Jack Antonoff and Aaron Dessner were doing because it’s certainly not producing this shit. I love a spare, lazy synth, but not like this. Who, in the history of the universe, has ever wanted a Post Malone duet? “Florida!!!” sounds like a Florence + The Machine b-side musically with knockoff Lana Del Rey lyrics (which—I’m not a Florence fan at all, so this fell especially flat for me). “Down Bad” is embarrassing. I’ve listened to the whole album three times and I cannot again. All of her growth as an artist is negated by this self-indulgent, poorly produced, completely unedited mess. I find it depressing because Taylor has written some excellent music and especially after Folklore and Evermore, I was really excited to see where she would go. It feels AI-generated. It’s BAD. And that makes me SAD. And in case you’re wondering, that rhyme scheme could compete with the lazy-ass rhyming dictionary lyrics on this album. I hate it. —Yvette Tyler

TWISTED TEENS
S/T
(SELF-RELEASE)

The only thing original about you is sin.” This first line serves much like a thesis statement to twisted teens’ self-titled debut before launching into a throttling track punctuated by Razor Ramone’s sharp steel guitar and Caspian’s thumpy bass and drums under gravelly vocals. A man of many names, Caspian (Cas P. ian, CPN Hollywell, C-SPAN) wrote, recorded, and played most of the album with a few notable exceptions. The result is a focused style sounding much like contemporary post-punk act Viagra Boys with influences from old-school punk and rock’n’roll. Caspian injects fresh sensibilities into these vintage styles with tongue-in-cheek lyrics about “bad vibes” or being a “rando.” He can balance humor with vulnerability, though. The song “tic tac toe” shifts from a kitschy chorus saying, “I might be your X but I can give you an O,” into verses about how Western psychology fails him due to its colonialist roots or wishing a little wizard would fix his credit score. The absurd moments make the whole record feel endearingly trashy, like a raccoon washing cotton candy into a storm drain. Ramone’s steel guitar throughout adds a country charm and twangy high to contrast Caspian’s vocal and instrumental lows. For what easily could’ve been a straight-forward rockabilly punk record, there’s clever production in the mix without it sounding overly-polished. Many of the tracks do end abruptly in a rough punk sort of way, but the result is a uniquely Holy Cross LP that’s a lot of fun. —Dalton Spangler

JASON BERRY
LAST OF THE RED HOT POPPAS
(UL PRESS)

Originally published in 2006, Jason Berry’s Last of the Red Hot Poppas is a comic-novel-meets-murder-mystery that has been re-released by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press. The novel explores themes of systematic corruption that Berry, a Louisiana-based investigative reporter, has spent decades covering. Specifically, he cites former governor Edwin Edwardsillegal waste dumping scandal as inspiration for the story’s political backdrop. Last of the Red Hot Poppas opens with a shocking murder—a fictional governor, Rex LaSalle, is found dead one morning with a mysterious lipstick print on his leg. Before his body has even left the mansion, a dramatic cast of characters, from senators and law enforcement to the assistant attorney general and the first lady, swoops in, each insistent on protecting their own interests. Berry’s prose is dense at times—the language is heavy with descriptions and regionalisms, and the third-person point of view often jumps between characters without warning. The novel succeeds most in the complex network it uncovers between power players and what happens when their interests sync up or collide. One could imagine that some aspects of these corrupt negotiations aren’t far off from how real Louisiana politics is conducted. Last of the Red Hot Poppas is a worthy read for those interested in Louisiana political history and the complicated ties that bind people in power. —Paula Ibieta

MAEVE HOLLER
HOW TO LEAVE YOUR FAMILY
(FINISHING LINE PRESS)

HOW TO LEAVE YOUR FAMILY maps a family history—a forever complicated and emotional endeavor. The poetry collection moves mostly linearly through time, and author Maeve Holler provides a family tree at the beginning to keep track of our intergenerational characters. Our narrator enters in the section titled “IVY MATH,” with the earlier sections employing a close third person to tell the story of previous generations. In this collection, physical and internal landscapes collide: Tornadoes engulf both homes and minds, the forest subsumes a woman trying to escape violence. Holler’s language lures the reader into the topography of this family, a loving gesture that erases judgment of, or perhaps bestows forgiveness on, the actions of the narrator’s predecessors. In “I Can Still Hear the Nights We Dream,” a pantoum for the narrator’s sister Monica, the form’s cyclical nature mirrors the rhythms of familial patterns and responsibilities when Holler writes, “And nothing hurts more than this trust. / The fragile & unnamed mental science, / our hearts flashing together in code. / My little sister singing in my brainwaves.” HOW TO LEAVE YOUR FAMILY paints a portrait marked by brutal circumstance and undying love between blood. —Marisa Clogher

TRICIA ROMANO
THE FREAKS CAME OUT TO WRITE: THE DEFINITIVE HISTORY OF THE VILLAGE VOICE, THE RADICAL PAPER THAT CHANGED AMERICAN CULTURE
(PUBLICAFFAIRS)

was groundbreaking in its coverage of rock and hip-hop, film and theater, LGBTQ rights, AIDS (even winning a Pulitzer for journalist Mark Schoofs‘ reporting on the epidemic in Africa), and Donald Trump. Editors fiercely protected its independence from owners including, at one time, Rupert Murdoch. Following its tradition of thorough reporting, onetime Voice writer Tricia Romano conducted more than 200 interviews to share the seldom dull words of Voice contributors, editors, and subjects. She doesn’t shrink from controversies, or when the paper was dismissive or worse about race, gender, or sexuality to the detriment of its slowly diversified newsroom. Ultimately, though the Voice pushed back on postwar American capitalism, it was a product of it. Its editorial freedom came from ad revenue—especially Manhattan real estate listings, which owners knew couldn’t be severed from the rest of the golden goose. Until they suddenly were: Craigslist’s rise left the paper bouncing from owner to owner, its workforce decimated. An alt-weekly funding prize-winning overseas journalism seems inconceivable now, but Romano’s oral history captures a broader sense of the power—and fragility—of idealistic reporting. —Steven Melendez

SAMANTHA J. SIMON
BEFORE THE BADGE: HOW ACADEMY TRAINING SHAPES POLICE VIOLENCE
(NYU PRESS)

Sociologist Samantha J. Simon spent a grim but captivating year immersed in several police academies in an unnamed Southern U.S. state, observing and sometimes participating in training that transforms recruits into cops. Instructors overwhelmingly emphasized violence as both a deadly danger to police and a necessary skill to master. Trainees were repeatedly shown footage of notorious killings of officers and told in no uncertain terms that failure to physically take control of situations could kill them and their coworkers. Training in de-escalation techniques was minimal and vague by comparison—recruits were heavily critiqued and even drummed out for reluctance to use force, and the public was often portrayed as naive for wanting kinder, gentler police. Simon, a keen observer and captivating writer, found herself receiving some unpleasantly sexist comments from academy staff, in what she describes as deeply gendered and male-dominated environments. She also saw herself affected by the training, developing a more commanding presence and more suspicious approach to her day-to-day surroundings. Her experience ultimately convinced her that abolition, not reform, is the solution, even as she acknowledges that exactly what this means remains a bit fuzzy. “After spending a year at police training academies, I do not see any other way forward,” she writes. —Steven Melendez

DIR. DEREK ZIMMER
FOUNTAINBLEAU
(LESION INDUSTRIES / WHITHERING STUDIOS)

Fountainbleau is a loving tribute to the diverse ecosystem that inhabits the practice rooms of its namesake former-hotel-turned-storage-unit depot in Mid City. This 11-minute short follows Avery Legendre as she meanders through different parts of the facility, engaging with different individuals who practice there. Devotees of the local underground scene will surely recognize many of the figures, ranging from up-and-coming doomers SLOWHOLE to PEARS vocalist Zach Quinn, a punk scene veteran. At its core, this short is a celebration of the mundane. It opens with Guts Club guitarist and vocalist Lindsey Baker impassionately championing “lurve” songs, numbers where the singer belts out the word “love” to such an extent that it alters the word’s very phonetics. At another point, Special Meat guitarist and vocalist Katie Ballou speaks extensively about her very real passion for aviation. As Legendre strolls the halls aimlessly, she encounters Community Records co-founder Greg Rodrigue, who opens up about his struggles with depersonalization as he hides to avoid the secondhand smoke of his bandmates. None of these conversations feel groundbreaking (except for maybe HiGH guitarist and vocalist Craig Oubre’s JFK conspiracy theories tied to the building) yet that is exactly what makes this work so captivating. Director (and former ANTIGRAVITY columnist) Derek Zimmer has been responsible for some stunning music videos for the likes of City of Caterpillar and Silver Godling and, as such, Fountainbleau—shot exclusively on 16mmoffers a refreshingly cinematic perspective on what is often overlooked (rightfully so) as a dump. (Fountainbleau’s next screening is at Temple House—@templehousenola on Instagram—on Sunday, May 19). —William Archambeault

DIR. JANE SCHOENBRUN
I SAW THE TV GLOW
(A24)

It’s impossible to deny that I Saw The TV Glow is a trans narrative, but to see it as only that sells it profoundly short. It follows Owen (Justice Smith) as he befriends Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine) in junior high, their friendship centering on their love of a TV show: The Pink Opaque. The show is glaringly low budget, corny in a specific ‘90s fashion, and it’s hard to believe it isn’t modeled after Buffy the Vampire Slayer—it even uses the same font. These two blossoming teenagers find refuge in the possibility of this supernatural, metaphor-laden world, and whether the show was just a show becomes increasingly unclear. Writer-Director Jane Schoenbrun is adept at atmospheric world-building, with vibrant and claustrophobic set design that feels both hazy and stark, the way memories often do. Whether it be a parachute in gym class, an inflatable planetarium, the framing of a television set, or just literal darkness, we are constantly kept confined and meant to feel suffocated. But along with this forced restraint comes a way out, if we take it: This world is also buzzing with color, unsurprisingly hued with blues and pinks. Yes, it’s a coming out narrative, but really this film is about the power that storytelling has on shaping our material reality. If you want to live in another world, build it and live there. —Marisa Clogher

RICHARD MCCABE
PERDIDO
(NEW ORLEANS PHOTO ALLIANCE)

Perdido, by artist and photographer Richard McCabe, was an intimate perspective on Florida’s Gulf Coast that ran from March 23 through April 9 at the New Orleans Photo Alliance. The exhibition featured a pared-down version of McCabe’s photographs, paintings, and found objects that premiered at the Pensacola Museum of Art in 2023. To the delight of film photography buffs, McCabe eschewed the digital. The artist used ortho litho film, a high-contrast medium ideal for capturing the architectural details of beachfront high-rises; Polaroid and Instax snapshots showing gaudy motel and strip club signs; and crisp, classic gelatin silver prints of shuttered restaurants and tourist attractions abandoned to the elements. Some images were displayed on the wall in typical gallery fashion, while others were projected via vintage overhead projectors and illuminated in old lightboxes, giving the exhibition a relaxed, lo-fi vibe. McCabe’s work gave a melancholy take on widening class differences and environmental degradation: In going back to his home state, he found a Florida that is increasingly distant from the one of his childhood memories. But while Perdido implied a sense of time elapsed, it also reached beyond narrative to play with shapes, colors, and light—a uniquely photographic interpretation of a region in transition. —Paula Ibieta

JAMES BARTELLE
THE TEMPEST
(NOLA PROJECT)

I have an undying devotion to William Shakespeare which has been with me ever since I can remember—both of the households in which I was raised had his complete works within easy reach of children. My parents loved his plays unpretentiously, and they taught me to do the same. My conviction that this is the best approach has only grown firmer with age. Shakespeare never took himself nearly as seriously as his audience developed the habit of doing in the last couple centuries. He was a working class writer, not a god. His plots are often borrowed, his workmanship can be uneven, and he really likes dick jokes. But his intense interest in the project of being human is guided by a revelatory empathy, and as a result his insights are profound enough to remain guiding lights in a century so astonishingly different from his own. But for those without such early exposure to his work, that difference can remain prohibitive, and there’s nothing like a stalwart group of thespians to throw open the door.

In Shakespeare’s Tempest, Reimagined, The NOLA Project (in partnership with Friends of Lafitte Greenway and NORD) is bringing one of Shakespeare’s most sophisticated works to the Greenway Station. Arguably the finest of Shakespeare’s late career romance plays, The Tempest is a strange tale concerning magical powers and their limitations, freedom and restraint, sweet revenge, and young love. It’s vivid, humorous, and incredibly ideologically complex. Under the direction of James Bartelle, who performed an experimental version of the play a year after Katrina, The NOLA Project’s adaptation takes a daring approach to the text, and will debut on May 8. The date’s awkward coincidence with our publishing schedule meant that I had to enter their performance process prematurely, for which I felt rather guilty. Personally, knowing a theater critic was coming to see a rehearsal more than two weeks out from opening night would make me break out in hives. Nevertheless, they graciously welcomed me into the space, and there I was treated to a sneak peek of a powerful production in progress.

The casting struck me most at first. Absent the bells and whistles of a final production, the actors are the play, and I loved watching each actor bring the production to life in their own way. Prospero, the exiled duke and sorcerer around whose quest for revenge the action of the play revolves, is played by Monica R. Harris, and her stage presence was immediately evident and sufficiently abundant to carry the play, as Prospero must. At no point while watching her piercing eyes flash above her sorcerer’s staff did I doubt her mastery over the supernatural, which I suspect will go a long way in bringing the audiences along for the Shakespearean ride. Alexandria Miles has opted for an unusually full-throttle interpretation of Miranda, Prospero’s delicate, sheltered daughter, while her love interest, Ferdinand, played by Zarah Hokule’a Spalding, strikes a more classically Shakespearean lovestruck note. Their chemistry somewhat suffers from their interpretive divergence, but perhaps they will have found one another by the time the play opens—the course of true love never did run smooth, after all. Leslie Claverie’s Ariel is satisfyingly clever and spritely, and the various nobles and subjects that wash up on the magic island’s shores successfully hit the play’s comedic notes. Keith Claverie’s Caliban is achingly grotesque, eliciting the pity and aversion that delineate much of the play’s moral gray areas.

 What most sets this production apart are the liberties taken with the language—the company’s theatrical interpretation has been augmented by considerable edits and revisions to the original text. According to Bartelle, blending new material with Shakespeare’s language achieves everything from expediting the play’s original 3-hour runtime to updating the comedy and moral standards for modern sensibilities. The changes are mostly subtle, though the approach takes a more dramatic turn in its reworking of Shakespeare’s ending to emphasize what Bartelle sees as the play’s most important theme—transforming the burden of revenge into forgiveness. The approach is bold, and likely to drive purists absolutely mad. But for all my everlasting love for the bard, I would not count myself among them. I believe that what most delights the ghost of William Shakespeare is to watch successive generations of hands working his text in their own way. Creative, strong reinterpretations of Shakespeare plays cannot be done without deeply considering the wealth of ideas contained within each one, and I see tribute more in the depth of engagement than a perceived fidelity to whichever folio has been declared by scholars to be the original. And so it is that I wholeheartedly urge everyone who can to join The NOLA Project this spring in their joyous labor of dreaming, singing, and dancing The Tempest to life. (Shakespeare’s Tempest, Reimagined will be performed at the Lafitte Greenway Station from May 8 to 25) —Holly Devon

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