Reviews, August 2015


AntigravityAugust2015-WEB_Page_38_Image_0006MOMMA TRIED
It’s an odd, archaic feeling, sitting at a table with a magazine. The pages are slick and heavy with ink. A thrill of muscle memory shivers up my spine as I place my thumb against the page-ends and flip through the articles and images in that old, familiar way. Momma Tried, “a biannually published nudie mag ” out of New Orleans, artfully resurrects the dying medium of the magazine with a delightful twist—Mad Men meets Mad Magazine. The mock ads serve as anti- venom in a system flooded by capitalist propaganda. An advertisement for Ennui Cold Cream encourages consumers to “Be beautiful forever with the youthful look of Ennui,” a light and funny satire rendered in the style of high-end beauty product ads from the ‘80s. On an unsettling two-page spread, an unearthly female face and her perfect mirror image stare into your soul as they ask, “Why should it just be Nature who changes her face for Autumn?” The “Hubba Bubba” photoset of five lovely, hairy men in sheer tights chewing bubblegum and playing with pink silly-putty is funny, unsettling and bordering on the divine. There are treasures inside for the literary sort as well. An article titled “Have You Wanked Over Me Yet?” is a case study of two female artists, how they present themselves, and how seriously they are taken by the artistic establishment. Another article draws attention to the Instagram account of Alfredo Gúzman, the son of an infamous Mexican drug lord. There are stories about polygamy and pain, sex and aging, and a summer storm that did not make landfall. The collection is not mere disposable entertainment. I have been carrying this monolith around with me for the past couple of months, flipping through it from time to time to discover tiny details I hadn’t noticed before, and I have come to appreciate it as a super-condensed, matryoshka doll of art. Published only twice a year, the creators of Momma Tried and their contributors use this time to produce something transcendent instead of transient. I look forward to seeing what they come up with next, and hope they continue to leave no depravity unexalted, no hierarchy unpunished. —Alex Taylor


The terrible story unfolding from the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina was far larger than the news could tell, and many of those displaced as a result knew it deeply, reaching out online with their points of view. For some, it was their job to document what they saw. For almost all, it was a cry for compassion in the face of one of the largest man-made and natural disasters to hit this country. Longtime journalist and professor Cynthia Joyce culled through thousands of emails, blog posts, and other online missives to construct a fuller portrait of the effects the levee breaches in New Orleans and the obliteration of the Mississippi Gulf Coast by the storm had on their populations. The pains of evacuation and the struggles to return, the ragged boredom of staying with friends and family longer than one thought, the longings for lives that could well be washed away for good are all laid bare in these writings dating from late 2005 to 2007. This isn’t the first book to compile such work (2010’s A Howling In The Wires comes to mind, among others), but Please Forward is a compelling, multi-faceted window on a tempestuous time. —Leigh Checkman



Director Asif Kapadia’s intimate portrait of British pop star Amy Winehouse is more horror story than simple, sentimental biography. It starts off sweet enough with home movies from her teenage years. The most peaceful moments in the documentary take place during her obscurity, singing in dimly lit jazz clubs and enjoying every second of it, body and soul. The passionate songstress doesn’t take long to score a record deal, and thus, makes a precipitous decline into fame and fortune. By the age of 21, her first album achieves platinum status. The definition of raw talent, Winehouse is completely unprepared for her newfound celebrity. The two men she loves most in the world, both of whom had abandoned her previously, realize what a terrible mistake they’ve made and return to guide her toward her own destruction. The public, ravenous for her candid nature and guileless vulnerability, bully her for her sensitivities and weaknesses. The paparazzi descend upon her like a pack of hyenas. The rest of the story is well-known, archived on the pages of tabloids. The documentary itself makes full use of the photographs and video that helped drive Winehouse to her death, which makes me wonder: while the documentarian implicates her family, the media, and the public in Amy’s demise, is he aware of his own role in the commodification of a uniquely talented and susceptible personality? Will the audiences for this film walk out of the theater deriding the harmful characters in Amy’s life without recognizing their own part in the play? The whole affair leaves a foul taste in my mind. Perhaps true lovers of Amy Winehouse would be best left alone to keep spinning her records, and leave the sordid details of her short life to the vultures. —Alex Taylor



AntigravityAugust2015-WEB_Page_36_Image_0003CHELSEA WOLFE
Chelsea Wolfe’s fifth album, Abyss, was influenced by her struggles with sleep paralysis; but the dark, collected iciness of it reminds me of every slow motion fight scene, supernatural act of bravery, or calmly delivered monologue of cutting evil from various movies that became catalogued in my brain through the years as examples of eloquently kicking ass. Although the inspiration for the songs comes from being frozen, the sound of them ripples with pure hell fire. This would be the ideal soundtrack to running over your most hated enemy with a horse ( bad things would be done right with this playing in the background). The opening song “Carrion Flowers” lulls and then pummels, rolling out a fog of repetitive synth and then, once you’re subdued, attacks with metallic, tribal thuds that rattle your chest. “Maw,” like a lullaby, dreamy and oceanic, makes you think that maybe everything is okay. Closer “The Abyss,” in a distorted, terrifying rumble, reminds you that everything ’s not okay. But that’s okay too. —Kelly McClure


AntigravityAugust2015-WEB_Page_36_Image_0004ECSTATIC VISION
On their first LP release, Ecstatic Vision displays an excitement for genre complexity. Album opener “Journey” showcases an exceptional understanding of Black Sabbath riffs (in both how catchy and heavy they are), and the three-part “Astral Plane” plays with dance-punk and prog-rock influences. At the same time, though, that’s exactly what can make this album appear so pretentious. Who doesn’t like to space out to Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother once in a while? However, who actually takes the time to do so in a sober state of mind? It doesn’t mean there isn’t craft to be appreciated on Sonic Praise, but it doesn’t approach the spirituality of the Modern Lovers’ track “Astral Plane,” one of the most tender rock-and-roll love songs of all time. Whereas Jonathan Richman intended to take the intense romantic longing of “At Last” and tried to boil it down to three-chord simplicity, Ecstatic Vision is only interested in pushing their songs to their “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast” limits. On a sonic level, they begin to approach this aesthetic tangent, but overall, they can never reach the line of latitude of desire that Richman hits when he says, “Well we’ve known each other from other lives/I want to see you today.” Tangential at best. —Joey Laura


Galactic is blissfully incapable of doing anything but bringing the funk. They still shout out many fellow artists from the South, bringing them on as guest vocalists and eliciting some great performances from them, even revealing some sides rarely heard (case in point: The Honorable South’s Charm Taylor reaches another kick- ass level in “Right On” that is seldom experienced with her own band). The question here is how long will Galactic tread this razor’s edge between being their own funk masters and being an above-average “house band” for these artists? Carnivale Electricos and Ya-Ka- May at least had the benefits of more unifying themes, but Into The Deep takes a different sort of plunge, cutting back on free-form instrumentals and attempting to transcend the musical boundaries of the South to back people like Macy Gray and Ryan Montbleau in order, I assume, to expand Galactic’s funk palette. The band’s work with Mavis Staples on Deep ends up being a superfluous inclusion in this context. “Does It Really Make A Difference” is good, it’s far more a Mavis Staples sound than a Galactic sound. Though this latest is still a great listen overall, that big question still lingers, remaining unanswered. —Leigh Checkman


AntigravityAugust2015-WEB_Page_36_Image_0006JAMES ROSE
This two-song release from Los Angeles-born, New Orleans-based James Rose showcases genuine singer- songwriter ability. “Sun Rays” thinks both wishfully and sanguinely about a romantic encounter, and “Breathe” uses natural imagery to paint a picture of young joie-de-vivre. This type of buoyancy is uncommon in today’s music scene. Rose’s tunes, and his overall approach to songwriting, are quite refreshing. His acoustic guitar styling is never overwrought—these songs couldn’t work if they were overplayed—and the arrangements are straightforward enough to support the song ’s themes while never sounding bare. Warm and inviting, “Sun Rays” suggests a coffee-shop intimacy. Like Elliott Smith (his closest music- relative), Rose’s lyrics are at their most deft when they are their simplest. In “Breathe,” with just a kiss of doe-eyed optimism (“Well it’s life, it’s love, it’s time”) and a portrait of the childishness of stubborn negativity (“Please won’t you come on/Down from the trees”), he reminds the listener how we choose to be happy and how easy it is to do so. The uplifting combination of the two tracks detoxes the narcissism and nastiness in a lot of today’s music. —Joey Laura


AntigravityAugust2015-WEB_Page_36_Image_0007LITTLE BOOTS
On her newest album, Debbie Harry doppelgänger Victoria Hesketh (known more popularly by the stage name Little Boots) forgets the context of Blondie’s music roots. Particularly, she ignores the new wave band’s masterful reappropriation of disco, especially Harry’s lyrical imagery and personal- but-universal lyrics. (What expresses a person’s emotional and sexual fragility better than a “heart of glass”?) Hesketh shows an unnatural apathy when she claims, “Never let it show, never let them know,” which is the total opposite of what Donna Summer and the Bee Gees stood for. (“I Will Survive” and “You Should Be Dancing ” both offer a rain-dance of pleasure and feeling that Hesketh could never approach.) And like fellow contemporary beat-maker La Roux, Hesketh doesn’t realize that the sensations of risk and crisis are what made disco so danceable in the first place. The careless lyrics behind “The Game” don’t give the audience a sense of loss or danger: it’s just a one- note acknowledgement of the dating/ getting-laid social structure (but without even exploring the silliness or playfulness of said structure). While Ellie Goulding and Kylie Minogue sacrifice privacy and bare their souls so we can emotionally connect just as well as we groove, Hesketh diminishes electropop to acceptable background noise. —Joey Laura


AntigravityAugust2015-WEB_Page_36_Image_0008NEIL YOUNG + PROMISE OF THE REAL
Neil Young seeking to collaborate with another band would seem to insinuate a jolt of electricity, but The Monsanto Years reveals itself as a mere political soapbox for Young and nothing more. Without Crazy Horse’s wall-of-sound aura, Young unfortunately depends on the very basic acoustics of Promise of the Real to carry his own sense of social justice. Thankfully, the ironic “People Want to Hear About Love” acknowledges the ignorance with which people blind themselves in this age of information overload, just like the drug-soaked fun-seekers in Tonight’s the Night’s “Come on Baby Let’s Go Downtown.” Unfortunately, the sermonizing triptych of “Big Box,” “A Rock Star Bucks A Coffee Shop,” and “Workin’ Man” has the preachifying of Young ’s previous political effort, 2006’s Living with War, without any of the cleverness of On the Beach’s “Vampire Blues,” which combined a rich sense of blues zeal with genuine political concern. Young hasn’t lost any technical talent (his guitar work on this album is as inspired as ever), but since the music and lyrics don’t carry as much weight as they have in the past, we’re left with a two-page pamphlet’s worth of propaganda. —Joey Laura


AntigravityAugust2015-WEB_Page_37_Image_0004PJ MORTON AND THE CRUSADE
With the release of 2013’s New Orleans, PJ Morton made a calculated bid to emerge from behind Maroon 5’s keyboards and strike out more fully as a major label R&B artist in his own right, getting guests Stevie Wonder and Lil Wayne to perform with him on otherwise fairly standard-sounding neo-soul fare. Live Show Killer is billed as an album-DVD set of Morton in performance, but the album alone is strong enough to stand alone. It eschews most of the electronic effects on New Orleans for instrumentation provided by the great live performers that make up The Crusade. This in turn gets Morton to step up his delivery on hits like “Only One” and “Lover,” and shift into a different gear on “Heavy,” Killer’s midway point, the spot when the crowd has truly given itself over to the band’s onstage alchemy. Morton also throws in Andrew Gold’s “Thank You For Being A Friend” and “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” along with some Otis Redding, treating all the covers just as lovingly as his own songs (though at the same time, I wonder when he’ll write something of his own that will communicate the same sentiments to his audience). Killer kills more than New Orleans ever did. —Leigh Checkman


AntigravityAugust2015-WEB_Page_37_Image_0005THE REVIVALISTS
The Revivalists, at first listen, seem to have picked up where they left off on City Of Sound: their particular wall of sound crops up on Men Amongst Mountains’ opener, “Keep Going,” followed by a second, swaggeringly wistful groove in “Wish I Knew You.” Then a number of things change, the biggest of which is the vocal range David Shaw exhibits throughout the rocky road traversed in Mountains. Backed up by players that cushion and envelop the reflective, occasionally remorseful lyrics, he knows when to pull back and when to stand tall. The strutting, cocksure band of the past seven years is definitely in evidence on “Stand Up;” it’s simply maturing, taking more chances, letting sparer arrangements speak just as well as the raucous stomps they have done so well in the past. A perfect example of this band in the here and now is in the order of songs on Mountains, especially the final two. The band in 2007 would likely have ended this album with the all-encompassing denouement of “Fade Away,” but today’s Revivalists tack on the poignant footnote of the title track as if to say they are still gently feeling their way through the large and the small. —Leigh Checkman


AntigravityAugust2015-WEB_Page_37_Image_0006SNEAKY PETE & THE FENS
Founded in 1998 when the general manager of Margaritaville asked them to play “drinking music,” The Fens, comprised of Peter “Sneaky Pete” Orr and Tony Frickey, have since performed around New Orleans and have only recently scraped together enough funds to put out their debut album. Coming on like a gimlet-eyed John Linnell, Orr tears through the vocals on the fractured folk music running through Live In Pompeii, all of it fittingly recorded at Mardi Gras Zone in the Marigny, regaling listeners with tales of yats, Big Easy denizens, and other unsavory characters stumbling about after the floods and beyond. Pompeii’s focused funhouse mirror gets even more bent in the demented, lovelorn doo-wop of “Lucy” and in the cynical calypso inviting all comers to visit “Cajun Haiti.” A guest vocal from Sarah Quintana transforms her normally waiflike soprano into that of a brassy broad singing her hood’s praises straight from her cups in “Moon Over Holy Cross,” and then The Fens take aim at real estate developers in “Epheux” (think two kiss-off letters) and at disaster tourism in “Ghouls.” When New Orleans becomes, as The Fens put it, “the Arkansas shore,”this ingeniously insane set will surely serenade its demise. —Leigh Checkman


This reissue of Superchunk’s beloved 1999 release comes remastered from the original tapes with eight additional tracks tacked on in a bonus digital download. Recorded at Electrical Audio Studios in Chicago, Come Pick Me Up holds the weight of the years behind it well. You have to figure, in this time of musical oversaturation from all sides, the choice to pull out a long recorded album like this and dust it off for another dance around the deck says something. Is that something “shit floats?” Maybe, if by “shit” you mean “really good albums that aren’t soulless bubble-gum poopy poop like most everything else.” Music from the 1990s has a very specific feel to it. Music from the late 1990s, even more so. The first five seconds of “Hello Hawk,” a favorite from this album, are like traveling back in time to when simpler pleasures like writing “FU” on your thrift store Converse in sharpie brought more vindication than tweeting or blogging ever could or will. Come Pick Me Up is from an age when “Indie Rocker” was used as an insult in the same way “hipster” is used now. It’s from a time when the single of the year was Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.” Its birth came two years before the birth of the first generation iPod. All these facts don’t add up to much other than to say, there are only a handful of existing albums worth listening to again and again and again, for years, and this is one of them. —Kelly McClure


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