REVIEWS

CALDWELL
S/T
(POPCLAW)

The debut LP of New Orleans-based Caldwell hearkens to the past, a pleasant nostalgia that welcomes escapism in a time of modern despair. Combining elements of psychedelia with 1960s-era baroque pop and garage rock, Kevan Caldwell’s newest project provides an upbeat, delightful soundtrack. Following the dissolution of his former group Planchettes, Caldwell wrote, recorded, and produced the eponymous record completely independently. Anachronistic by design, Caldwell draws upon 20th-century influences to produce a warm, feel-good reminiscence filtered through the lens of a modern imagination. The record’s opening track, “No Flowers Today,” launches with the twang of a wah pedal and psychedelic distortion, instantly transporting the listener backwards. As it progresses, the record becomes a sort of archival revival, yielding new interpretations of historical elements—from the harpsichord, Beach Boys-style harmonies, and doo-wop influence in “Love Confessions” to the distinct sound of the Mellotron (“Picturesque Self Portrait”), an allusion to The Beatles’ iconic “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Each track draws upon a new influence, ranging from the aforementioned British Invasion group to The Zombies, to produce a rhythmic levity that provides escape from an oft-depressing landscape of hubris. “She lives in a fairy tale / Don’t you ask her to come home,” sings Caldwell on “FAE TELL,” a lyrical microcosm of this record. —Victoria Conway

D. SABLU
NO TRUE SILENCE
(YES WE CANNIBAL)

D. Sablu started as a COVID-era coping mechanism for local scene veteran David Sabludowsky but has since turned into his punk opus. No True Silence fully realizes the project. After beloved garage punk band Casual Burn went on hiatus in 2019, Sabludowsky started releasing 4-track home recordings which added up to lo-fi debut album Taken By Static in 2020 as well as a handful of tapes and demos. Now this long overdue vinyl pressing sees these cuts recorded professionally by PEARS’ Brian Pretus and mastered by Orchid’s Will Killingsworth. The difference is immediate. Listening to opener “Bomber Stomp,” on this LP versus Taken By Static, you hear the full effect of Shana Applewhite’s bass and Cole Jones’ guitar. No more fuzzy, played-through-a-camcorder compression, just unadulterated punk that previously you could only hear live. Chunky bass riffs, rollercoaster guitar, stomping drums, and even bits of clapping and electronic elements elevate it past its DIY roots. The previously unrecorded run of songs between “Scandalous” and “Smut Date” are my favorites of the LP. “Scandalous” is no holds barred, full-throttle punk. “Stuck in a Rut” and “Spiral Out” turn more inward like ‘90s emo but with Ramones energy, lyrically exploring negative self-beliefs and codependency-induced panic attacks. “Smut Date” chugs on with a story about going to his date’s trailer park to watch her porn on VCR, an apt metaphor for the sweaty, vintage, and no-shame style of No True Silence. —Dalton Spangler

THE DECEMBERISTS
AS IT EVER WAS, SO IT WILL BE AGAIN
(YABB)

It’s been six years since America’s favorite weird folk rockers released a studio album. Times have perhaps never been weirder, so it seems fitting that The Decemberists have released this 13-track soundscape full of untimely deaths, horn solos, and teenage martyrs. Opener “Burial Ground” (which was leaked as a single to build buzz back in February) is classic Decemberists—delightfully upbeat and sunny instrumentation laid across the lyrical bones of a call to willingly contract malaria in order to escape the “wrongness” of this world. Next comes “Oh No!”—a tale of murderers who crash a wedding, all set to an addictively danceable samba beat (strong “Jockey Full of Bourbon” vibes here). The next five tracks settle into a more melancholy acoustic sound, leveraging a wide array of instrumentation (beautiful pedal steel, flute, and tuba) to great effect. Standout “All I Want Is You” is a sweet and simple love song, putting Colin Meloy’s vocals front and center atop a subtle foundation of muted horns with lyrics like “Drag me to your altar / When my footing falters / All I want is / All I want is you.” Themes at play in this section will feel deeply familiar to longtime fans: We get not one but two tragic wedding-day deaths (the aforementioned “Oh No!” and “Long White Veil”); a rumination on the inevitability of life’s end (“The Reapers”); a cautionary tale (“Don’t Go to the Woods”); and a prisoner’s lament (“The Black Maria”). The back half of the album gets a bit weirder. “Born to the Morning” plays with sludgy psychedelic guitars and big, full keys whereas “America Made Me” is an unavoidable head-bobber with an epic horn solo. “Tell Me What’s On Your Mind” is a tight, funky, moody ‘50s-rock slow burn and “Never Satisfied” is sparse and wandering. The album concludes with a nearly 20-minute-long track about Joan of Arc (“Joan in the Garden”), which opens atmospheric and contemplative before building to discordant shredding and fevered vocals, only to take a hard turn into an overly-long and overly-prog spacey second bridge. It rounds out with a big rock guitar break and—why not?—wild synths. It’s a journey, and live it could be very interesting, but I have notoriously little patience for jamming like this, so it made for a somewhat strange end to an otherwise solid album. Fans of the band will see it as an enjoyable return to form. New listeners abandon your pretense of what “rock” should be and enjoy the ride. —Erin Hall

DOG PARK DISSIDENTS
MAGNIFICENT BASTARDS
(SAY-10)

With despair-inducing headlines overloading our senses every day, it can be hard to determine what we should focus on at any given moment, and it’s tempting to either dissociate completely or remain in our self-created siloes. But nothing truly exists in a silo; the issues we face as individuals and communities can be tied to issues beyond our neighborhoods and cities. This is something that local queercore band Dog Park Dissidents has long been concerned with. The song “Refugees,” first released on their 2019 EP High Risk Homosexual Behavior, highlights the intersection between queer liberation, immigration, and the climate crisis. The band’s latest release, the ambitious concept album Magnificent Bastards, explores these intersections further, along with a companion comic book with artwork by artist Mueritos. The songs on Magnificent Bastards tell the story of queer supervillains and their actions to stop the climate crisis. Though still very much a queer punk album, Dog Park Dissidents has embraced more of an emo sound for these songs, influenced strongly by the likes of My Chemical Romance. Lead singer Zac Xeper’s lyrics and strong, theatrical vocals are the lynchpin, though the story could not be fully told without guitarists Jon Greco and Skylar Stravinsky, bassist Joe Bove, and drummer Zeke Xander. There is a righteous anger to this album but also an earnest charm—the songs are meant to be a call to action, not despair. As Kepler noted in the band’s 2023 interview with ANTIGRAVITY, “If the world is on fire we don’t get to be gay anymore.” —Mary Beth Campbell

DUMBSTER
S/T
(SELF-RELEASE)

On first glance, Dumbster seem like they’d be a snotty punk band with a lot of angst. But in reality, they’re more of a twangy, ‘90s alt-rock band, still with a lot of angst. Sounding like a less douchey version of The Black Crowes or a dive-ier version of Pavement, Dumbster follows a blues rock style over grungy meditations. In 2022, the band released their first two singles, “Duck For Cover” and “Steam” as live recordings, which have been re-recorded as the first two songs of their debut EP. And it shows, as they seem to have the tightest songwriting of the bunch. A thumping bass line opens “Duck For Cover” like the initial rumbles of a bomb blast before a shockwave of guitars and drums join in, crashing into the first verse. Vocalist and songwriter Steven Gil plainly sings about trying to live life with a cautious sense of optimism in spite of a brain full of complaints. “Steam” carries on the theme with scuzzy guitars inspiring images of smokey bars or lightning bug summer nights as Gil ponders life’s transient nature, slipping away from us like hot air. Drums knock at the door on “Its All Over” as the rest of the EP slows things down for words on love and loss, death and defeat. These tracks get to be a bit long and jammy, which can be meditative if you’re into it but if not, the record hits a dry spot. Inspiration still feels present here making me curious where Dumbster will take their sound. Will they follow a more country rock formula like contemporaries MJ Lenderman and Goose, or will they lean more into post-punk like their aesthetics suggest? Overall though, Dumbster has delivered a full, dynamic, and professionally produced introduction to their music. Side note: Isn’t it weird that there are two bands in this city whose name is chiefly dumb/dummy and dumpster? —Dalton Spangler

McCLOUD
LOOK BEHIND YOU
(SELF-RELEASE)

Formed in 1994, New Orleans indie band McCloud has had a relatively subdued musical existence, releasing three albums in as many decades. Recorded in January 2024 at Marigny Studios, their latest release, the six-song EP look behind you, is a tight 27 minutes of indie rock rooted in the sounds of the 1980s to early 2000s, with the guitar solo reigning supreme. On their website, the band cites Pearl Jam, Sunny Day Real Estate, and “whatever the drummer listens to” as influences. As might be expected from a band that has been together for 30 years, the lyrics at times lean toward the introspective and nostalgic, though McCloud manages to avoid getting bogged down in any melancholy for too long, in part due to their deft musicianship. Standout tracks include opener “accident,” which is reminiscent of Apologies to the Queen Maryera Wolf Parade, and “movie script,” a 1980s influenced rocker that dares you not to sing along and play air guitar.  —Mary Beth Campbell

WHIP APPEAL
SHIMMERING SEED
(FULL-TILT)

I felt young again listening to Shimmering Seed, the new release from Whip Appeal (formerly “the Whip Appeal,” and prior to that “American Whip Appeal”) on hometown label Full-Tilt. James Coarse (guitar/vocals), Lily Fine (drums/vocals), and Ian Woods (bass) are the core of the group, with the fingerprints of Dillon “Barstool” Brown, Al Pianovich, Bruisey Peets, Lee Garcia, Lily Unless, and R. Scully marking the album as well in the form of steel guitar, aux percussion, and additional guitar parts and harmonies. It brought me back to high school, learning all the ways it was possible for music to make me feel via the conduit of similarly lo-fi, country-inspired groups popular on the indie scene in the early aughts. The synced-up, unrefined male-female vocals had me thinking Tilly and the Wall at times; the weary waltzes were reminiscent of Lifted-era Bright Eyes (HIGH praise if you know me). Songs that are stories about the likes of Daisy and Long Tall Ani (of “Daisy Does” and “Long Tall Ani,” respectively), backed by sparse, methodical guitar, suggest a strong Velvet Underground influence as well. The album’s 16 tracks come at you in a rapid-fire 47 minutes. There are whimsical ditties about love and neglect (“The one I really care for, she’s a rockin’ queen / and though I believe she cares for me I’m rarely in her company” from “Rock and Roll Queen”); devotion and fruit (as the titular shimmering seed is stuck to the lip of a loved one in “Blackberry”); and, as you might hope and expect from a country-leaning band called Whip Appeal, occasionally about cars (“God is a Ford and I bought a Dodge / I can’t get the fuckin’ thing outta my garage,” they lament on “God is a Ford”). It’s a perfect album to put on around a campfire, at the barbecue, or on your roadtrip to get you through these dog days of summer. —Angela Calonder

KATHLEEN HANNA
REBEL GIRL: MY LIFE AS A FEMINIST PUNK
(ECCO)

I first saw Bikini Kill perform live on a crisp September evening in 2022 at Marymoor Park, just outside Seattle. The crowd was full of people of all ages, races, and genders, who knew all the words to all the songs and listened raptly to front person Kathleen Hanna’s interludes—a far cry from the shows Bikini Kill played in their early days, scraping by and enduring harassment and threats from male audience members long before their music and contributions to riot grrrl were heralded across the world. Hanna describes these early struggles in unflinching detail in Rebel Girl: My Life as a Feminist Punk, a book that is equal parts memoir, punk rock history, and candid self-reflection. Rebel Girl spans Hanna’s life from her childhood until now, touching upon not only her history with Bikini Kill, The Julie Ruin, Le Tigre, and the formation of the riot grrrl movement, but also her friendships, her family (she and Beastie Boy Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz have been together for nearly 30 years and have a young son), her struggles with Lyme disease, and the traumas she has endured. In an interview with SPIN, she notes that “Through the process of the book, I wanted to come to terms with the crappy things in my life and the joyous things in my life and be able to move on from them.” Hanna has an incisive wit that shines in her writing, balancing out the darker parts of her story: “While I was ill [with Lyme disease] I got sent a YouTube link to a band that wrote a song making fun of my marriage… about how I used to be a feminist until I married a Beastie Boy and became a total jerk. It hurt my feelings a little, because I was a jerk long before I met Adam.” She is also unafraid to critically examine her past, including the limitations and lack of intersectionality in the original riot grrrl movement: “‘Girls to the front’ may have served a purpose when we were a tiny band playing tiny clubs, but it was outdated. And while I knew ‘girls’ included trans women… they might not feel safe pushing to the front, where TERF-y cis women might hassle them. And what about trans men, nonbinary folk, and BIPOC men? I didn’t want to tell them to go stand in the back.” Rebel Girl is a captivating portrayal of one of the most influential musicians in punk rock and an example of how to harness your story in a way that does not keep you in the past but, rather, moves you forward. —Mary Beth Campbell

JAMES WORKMAN
LIBERTY IN LOUISIANA: A COMEDY
(UNIVERSITY OF LOUISIANA AT LAFAYETTE PRESS)

With the publication of Liberty in Louisiana, UL Press has given us an entertaining read in a genre the average reader couldn’t dream up, and perhaps wouldn’t reach for on tagline alone: a Federalist propaganda play that celebrates the United States’ Louisiana purchase from France. Liberty in Louisiana, written in 1804 by Irish-born lawyer James Workman and dedicated to none other than Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, is the first known play written about Louisiana (notably, Workman had not stepped foot in Louisiana at the time of publication). This comedy of manners chronicles the antics of con men, corrupt Spanish politicians, and others on the first day of American control of New Orleans. The play itself is entertaining—editors Dr. Bruce R. Magee and Stephen M. Payne rightly place the two principal characters within the literary legacy of bawdy American rascals. But it becomes far more interesting within the context that Magee and Payne provide. A thorough introduction to the play situates the reader within Workman’s historical context, as well as his personal and political interests in portraying the United States as the righteous savior of those whose territories it annexed. Liberty in Louisiana is a quick, fascinating read for anyone interested in the state’s literary history or the history of pro-American propaganda. —Paula Ibieta

CARYN COSSÉ BELL
CREOLE NEW ORLEANS IN THE REVOLUTIONARY ATLANTIC, 1775–1877
(LSU PRESS)

When LSU Press reached out to ANTIGRAVITY about reviewing this book, I could scarcely contain my excitement—I squealed  when I received the review copy in the mail. No topic fascinates me quite like the historical hurricane of the revolutionary Atlantic, and Caryn Cossé Bell’s narrative puts New Orleans right at the center of the action. Eagerly, I embarked on her journey through the storm-tossed insurrectionary waves into depths of the New Orleans past that I would never have otherwise known.

When I remembered that I was reviewing this book for the general reading public, I fell back into the 21st century with a thud. As much as I wanted to share the intricacies of Cossé Bell’s masterful work—exactly how she picked up the trail of an individual Creole family in dusty archives where only great historians can detect signs of life, and how she illuminated the grand, vivacious saga of 18th and 19th century New Orleans—books by historians are almost never picked up by anyone outside of academe. I’d have to accept that this is a book I might not be able to induce anyone to read, no matter how lovingly I sang its praises.

I am aware of just how dense and difficult academic histories are, and I completely understand why most people decline to take them on. But I think it’s important to know why contemporary historians challenge their readers the way they do. For almost as long as the discipline has been in existence, historians have been responsible for perpetrating terrible falsehoods about a past that they scarcely even tried to understand. They were taken at their word largely because they were rich and powerful, and frequently unqualified for the job. Did Winston Churchill have a PhD when he wrote his bloated, jingoistic A History of the English-Speaking Peoples? He did not. Was Woodrow Wilson’s Lost Cause propaganda (in A History of the American People) used as a standard university Civil War textbook well into the 20th century? It was. History, in the (presumably unironic) words of Winston Churchill, was written by the victor, and often it was written badly.

But as of more recently, something wonderful has overtaken the discipline. Serious inquiries into the past are increasingly done by scholars who critique the power structure instead of reinforcing it, and they repair the damage of their predecessors by writing with humility, precision, and astonishing expertise about lost worlds that they take an unfathomable amount of time and care to know. This is especially true of Atlantic history, which features so many enslaved and Native protagonists that have been intentionally erased from the written narrative; faithfully resurrecting their stories can be as difficult as sorcery. The hard work these historians ask of their readers is still only a fraction of what they themselves put in, and all things considered it’s a reasonable price for quality time travel.

I didn’t always think so. Until I learned how to read historians, I was impatient with the process. I wanted to skip over the details straight to the good stuff—treacherous kings, triumphant rebels, and pirate queens on the high seas. This juvenile habit met its demise the first day of a PhD-level Atlantic history class I took with the legendary Louisiana historian Emily Clark. Though warm and encouraging, Dr. Clark nevertheless wielded her historical expertise like a blade to cut away all my assumptions and preconceptions, until I was left humbled before a past that she revealed I did not yet possess the skill to truly see. Under her patient tutelage, I learned that the details are the good stuff—the most unassuming minutiae are often hiding history’s juiciest secrets. Cossé-Bell’s details, for instance, reveal French court intrigue from the days when Cardinal Richelieu held the king in the palm of his hand, itinerant revolutionaries lending swords and pistols to insurgencies across the Atlantic, and a 10-year-old African girl finding her fate after she is plucked from the sea as the flames of the Haitian Revolution blaze ashore.

So while Creole New Orleans is not an easy read, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t written for you. You just have to approach it like a fitness goal that requires time, discipline, and pushing through a certain degree of discomfort. In exchange, you’ll earn a chance to break the invisible chains of the present, and move outside of linear time in a city that appears to have been designed for exactly such metaphysical freedom of movement. You know, the really good stuff. —Holly Devon

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