THE COLOUR IN ANYTHING
“I can’t believe this, you don’t wanna see me,” croons the refrain, amid spectral moans and piano chords. From this opening, James Blake’s newest offering, The Colour in Anything, engages listeners on a raw, human level. His first full length release since 2013’s Overgrown, and fresh off of his contributions to Beyonce’s Lemonade, The Colour in Anything doesn’t offer much new to well-acquainted listeners, but it is a rewarding listen regardless. His production is still top notch, weaving piano work and dub throb that cut to the root of heartache. Co-produced by renowned record cutter Rick Rubin, this is the first James Blake album not solely produced by Blake. With songwriting credits on a couple of the album’s best tracks going to Frank Ocean and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, it’s clear that Blake is becoming more open to collaboration. The Colour in Anything is a notably long album, at 17 tracks that total over 76 minutes, which is practically unheard of for a pop record. Blake’s velvety voice sounds as good as ever on Colour, giving somber belief to lines like “you must not be trying like I’m trying,” from the title track. For longtime fans of Blake, The Colour in Anything doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does scratch the itch that only his music seems to reach.
SUCK ON THIS
South African rap duo Die Antwoord have been working on their new album, We Have Candy, over the last couple years and decided to release a mixtape to hold people over until it’s done. Suck On This is a combo of new material and remixes of previously released songs with the help of The Black Goat (not to be confused with Black Phillip), an unsearchable entity they’re also collaborating with for their upcoming album. According to an explanation from Die Antwoord’s Ninja about the mixtape, Black Goat taught them how to make it, which just makes me want to write even more Black Philip jokes along the lines of “what dost thou want? A mixtape?” (You guys saw The Witch, right?) Really though, the only firm comparisons to be reached for between Die Antwoord and the film The Witch is that they’re both terrifying while also being highly enjoyable. Listening to this mixtape will make you feel like your house is about to be haunted by a very sexy ghost. There are songs here about anal (“Bum Bum”), songs featuring Dita Von Teese (“Gucci Coochie”), and a song called “Where’s My Fukn Cup Cake” which features The Black Goat. If it were possible to get pregnant through headphones, this would be a good way to try.
(ROYAL POTATO FAMILY)
Mike Dillon is one of New Orleans’ most diverse musicians. In recent years, the vibraphonist and percussionist has played with everyone from funk rockers Primus to local jazz legend Johnny Vidacovich. His newest release, Functioning Broke, continues a trend of making bold and unpredictable decisions, and it marks a departure from his typical punk jazz style. Instead of smashing his mallets into oblivion, songs like “Chimp and Flower” show a more refined and melodic approach. Six of Functioning Broke’s twelve songs are Elliott Smith compositions, and while a vibraphonist tribute to Smith sounds incredibly boring on paper, Dillon pulls it off. His arrangements pay respect to the late songwriter without falling into stiff blind imitation. Following in the tradition of albums like Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington, Dillon takes the works of another musician and adds his own spin to tunes like “Independence Day” and “Christian Brothers.” In addition to the Smith compositions and two other covers, Functioning Broke features four original compositions that help to bridge the gap between Dillon’s eccentric punk jazz style and Smith’s melodic melancholy.
(MIND OF A GENIUS)
Gallant has one foot in the past and one in the future. The Maryland-raised, Los Angeles-based singer’s brand of R&B is clearly descended from the genre’s ‘80s and ‘90s greats, but his intensely personal songwriting and genre-bending production makes for a truly original sound. On his debut full length Ology, the 24 year-old former NYU music student showcases an impressive vocal range and deep knowledge of popular music. The album’s polished production, courtesy of L.A.’s Stint, is a methodical survey of R&B, rock, blues, and soul—hence the title. Gallant’s voice navigates those genres well, but it’s the songwriting on Ology that really distinguishes the album. The breakout single, “Weight In Gold,” sounds like a 2016 power-pop ballad, but Gallant’s lyrics paint a darker portrait: “Bricks on my shoulders/ This gravity hurts when you know the truth.” Gallant’s vulnerability on the album is a welcome break from the aggressive masculinity of recent R&B acts like The Weeknd. In a genre that has—at times—seemed stagnant over the past five years, Gallant provides something to look forward to.
STANDING AT THE MOUTH OF HELL
Other than a “Live at Side Two” recording dated September 2014, Standing At the Mouth of Hell breaks a three year silence from Boston/NYC d-beat hardcore outfit Green Beret. These guys rarely play live and, with the exception of their incredible August 2014 West Coast tour—with fellow Boston/Portland hardcore stalwarts Koward—Green Beret always confine their live sets to choice gigs in the Northeast. Their deadpan vocal delivery marked by restrained, yet unequivocally powerful yelling has become as distinctive as the band’s tightness, partly due to sharing a drummer with Boston’s Chain Rank. Not one of their 11 songs on Standing at the Mouth of Hell clocks in at more than 1:49, so there is no time for frilly guitar solos, drawn-out breakdowns, or preachy vocal banter. Since their 2010 demo, I’ve been thoroughly impressed by Green Beret’s universally resounding, thoughtful lyrics, and with the sharp, apropos message of their art. Green Beret continues to leave its mark while keeping a refreshingly low profile, staying enigmatic and musically impactful.
WE BELIEVE IN THE NIGHT
(PELICAN POW WOW)
Stabbing your enemy in the face, pushed to the precarious brink of insanity, leaving your pistol on the floor before making the next move. These are three examples of the colorful and numerous lyrical imagery featured on Heavy Lids’ latest full-length offering, We Believe in the Night. Released by local label Pelican Pow Wow, We Believe in the Night enmeshes the previously uninitiated in Heavy Lids’ explosively manic synthesis of proto punk, including nods to early 80’s UK hardcore—in guitarist Andy Goceljak’s Discharge-styled guitar wails—and early surf punk (Andy humorously calls their sound “Surfcharge”). Bands have beaten vocal reverb to death in recent years, rendering it sterile and uninspiring, but Heavy Lids uses the effect well, capturing snarl and enduring grit throughout the album, especially during group chants.We Believe in the Night is going to make a serious dent.
(LOUISIANA RED HOT)
It’s unsurprising that Corey Henry’s Lapeitah is a solid brass-heavy funk album, since the New Orleans trombonist has spent years honing his chops with the likes of Galactic and Rebirth Brass Band. With Lapeitah, Henry proves he can hold his own against the most formidable names in modern New Orleans funk. One of the strongest cuts is “Muddy Waters,” an upbeat tune about trying to get paid for a gig. As the song’s main chant proclaims, “Stepping through muddy water, I want cash. No check, no credit, no money order.” The horns on Henry’s cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “If 6 Was 9” give the song’s signature riff a heavy bounce, and Living Colour singer Corey Glover updates “If the hippies cut off all their hair, I don’t care” to target modern hipsters. In addition to Glover, the album features other guest vocalists like Cole Williams and Erica Falls, and Henry even grabs the mic himself to rap on “Treme Lyfe.” However, the heart of Lapeitah is the horn section (including Greg Thomas of George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, Maurice “Mobetta” Brown, and Travis “Trumpet Black” Hill): they are the glue that holds everything together. Notably, this album features some of the last recordings Hill made before passing away in spring 2015. Even in the death of a musician, Lapeitah serves as a celebration of life and good times.
When you think about it, the idea of having a second puberty is probably one of the scariest things that could happen to anyone. On the surface it may seem nice to have the chance to go back and re-do the portion of your years that are filled with hormone driven rage, sweat, and painful pimple fueled choices, but most people would—once the reality of the option set in—choose to literally do almost anything else. Coming out the other end of puberty usually rewards some level of independent relief which “adults” wear like a newly purchased, slightly ill-fitting blazer. Hard-earned happiness and peace comes with a side of untethered misery and free floating anxiety that lasts for basically ever. Are we to all just accept that there’s no such thing as 100% happiness in life no matter what we do? Mitski seems to think so. The overall theme of Puberty 2, her first since 2014’s highly acclaimed Bury Me at Makeout Creek, is that there can be no ups without downs. There can be no good days without knowing what shitty days feel like. Songs like “Fireworks,” and “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars” are the musical equivalent of a Sunday afternoon. Free, optimistic, but knowing full well there’s some uncomfortable shit right around the corner.
MY MORNING JACKET
IT STILL MOVES (REISSUE)
I’ll never forget the first time I heard the opening strains of “Mahgeetah” cascading through the shoddy computer speakers of my college dorm room. All tinny guitars and stoned sunshine, it had me hooked instantly and my love affair with the wild warbling of Jim James began. My Morning Jacket hail from Kentucky and their early work certainly possesses a sort of barefoot southern charm that I find irresistible. It Still Moves completed a trio of albums (preceded by The Tennessee Fire and At Dawn) marked by a distinguishable southern-rock-meets-jam-band vibe. What came after was a clear shift in focus for the group’s sound, as well as their notoriety. Thirteen years later, the band revisits what is arguably their most iconic record with this reissue. In addition to remastered album tracks, we get James’ original acoustic demos and three b-sides. These extras make for great listening, especially for established fans, as they provide a window into James’ creative process, allowing us to peek through the flesh and see the bones of the thing. While reissues can often be a crutch for a struggling band to recapture their glory days, MMJ is steadily on the move towards broad and bold new horizons and the luxury of finetuning the tracks that started them down this path feels like the richest kind of celebration.
A MOON SHAPED POOL
Over the last 25 years, Radiohead have grown into and maintained themselves as one of rock’s most complex beasts. With each shape-shifting album, they earn a new level of trust among fans, allowing the band carte blanche when it comes to exploring new/old sounds and recording techniques. In short: expect the unexpected. On their ninth studio full length album, A Moon Shaped Pool, it seems the band has traded in a lot of the skittering electronics and are now leaning heavily into more piano/string-centric song arrangements. This shouldn’t be that surprising, considering Thom Yorke’s recent score for the Broadway play Old Times and Jonny Greenwood’s longstanding collaborative relationship with director Paul Thomas Anderson. However, it’s in this approach they are able to achieve a cinematic breathability that has yet to characterize any previous Radiohead release. Not unlike their recently rejected theme song, “Spectre” for the James Bond film of the same name, “Daydreaming” and “The Numbers” slink along to a sultry orchestra that will send chills down your spine with every listen. They might just be the sexiest songs about climate change ever written. And while it’s easy to swoon over beautiful piano melodies and swollen string arrangements, I challenge listeners to soak up the unsung rhythm section, as it will return the favor. Colin Greenwood’s sparse bass melodies in “Burn the Witch” and Phil Selway’s no frills backbeat to “Decks Dark” actively demonstrate the lost art of negative space when sculpting rhythm—a heady clinic in knowing when not to play in order to achieve maximum musical potency. It amuses me to think that older fans will be hailing AMSP as a “return to form” whereas a younger, more impatient crowd will dismiss it as a “departure.” Seasoned fans will remain true knowing that that there was never a form from which to depart.
BEYOND THE BLOODHOUNDS
Nashville-based “Southern Goth” artist Adia Victoria released her very first studio album, Beyond the Bloodhounds with Canvasback records last month. This impressive debut features eerie vocals sung over a strategically melodic country base, exploring delicate themes like self-exploration, identity, and mental health. Victoria called her album “a memorial to [her] 20s,” and explained that they “are tender years for a lot of women. It hurts. You get busted up in love and life. You make a lot of mistakes. You meet a lot of people who do you dirty because you don’t understand your value yet.” With the record toting dark tracks like “Invisible” and “Head Rot,” South Carolina native Victoria gets raw and brings to light the mental and emotional state of a young Black woman growing up in the American South. Beyond the Bloodhounds sits deep in narrative introspection, reminiscent of Southern Gothic writings like those of Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty. The title of the album pays tribute to a chilling line in Harriet Jacobs’ infamous Incidents in The Life of a Slave Girl: “When a man is hunted like a wild beast he forgets there is a God, a heaven. He forgets everything in his struggle to get beyond the reach of the bloodhounds.” With this and the complexity of he own roots, Adia Victoria is offering a fresher, creepier, and more important perspective on country rock—and it’s intense.
HEALTH RISK OF HIGH HEALS
How much does this Dry Birth Records sampler love the ‘90s? Let us count the ways: 1) cassette release, with high gloss j-card and crayon red cassette; 2) eclectic showcase that goes from lo-fi hip-hop to snot-punk to gritty basement noise jams; 3) a track by Dang Bruh-Y?—a band literally from the ‘90s who ruled the funk-punk slice of the New Orleans underground during that first Clinton presidency; 4) a 4-page handwritten letter to the AG P.O. box accompanying said cassette, detailing at length Dry Birth CEO Michael Kunz’s previously unsuccessful attempts to get reviewed, as well as a personal take on New Orleans’ musical history of the last decade and a breakdown of the compilation (nice touch, Michael!). Standout tracks include the gnarly, snarly “Frozen Food” by the Melville Dewys, the dreamy, Ween-inspired “Celestia” by Pretty Party, and the twisted rap sorcery of Metatronic Sic Hop’s “Black Yeshua”. For anyone who is feeling the Disneyfication or Burning Man Creep of this city’s current culture wars, wondering if there are any pockets of genuine, old-school freaks left, find this cassette and take solace that there’s still some spice in our city’s musical special sauce.
WETLANDS ART TOUR
(5 PRESS GALLERY)
John Barry walks into NOCCA’s 5 Press Gallery in a t-shirt that reads “SAVE THE MARSH, EAT MORE NUTRIA!” and I’m struck by his sense of humor: I’m humbled by his response to such a dire situation— Louisiana’s rapid coastal erosion—and only a day after Shell discovered a wayward 90,000 gallons had leaked into the Gulf from one of their pipelines. After spearheading a lawsuit to hold nearly a hundred oil, gas, and pipeline companies accountable for damages to the state’s wetlands, Barry emerged as a figurehead in the ongoing (and seldom encouraging) fight to preserve the marsh in the face of its accelerated disappearance.
I am at the 5 Press Gallery to attend a panel as part of the third annual Wetlands Art Tour, a three-day roster of art openings, film screenings, and live music. Before the panel begins, I take in the artwork by NOCCA students posted around the gallery, noting that it all looks the same—not because the art itself is unremarkable, but rather because they focus on the same environment, and the same plight, as their subject. Bleak beaches dappled with trash and horizons that stretch on infinitely, unbothered by marsh that washed away long ago, are rendered in black and white. In one photograph, on a porch framed by jungle-like greenery, a dog is caught mid-howl.
I notice John Barry shaking the hand of a man who identifies himself shortly thereafter as the founder of the Wetlands Art Tour, John Calhoun, host of the popular late-night-talk-show-style variety show, Spotlight New Orleans. Barry asks him what he does; Calhoun hands him a card and tells him he is a professional auctioneer. I am struck a second time by the city’s capacity to nurture such idiosyncratic ambitions, a veritable greenhouse for the most far-flung of desires.
Calhoun introduces the Wetlands Art Tour as originating in a desire to inspire people to care about a problem that is not easily rendered in human terms. Indeed, an environment that formed over the course of 6,000 years has been reduced to a specter of what it once was in just under a century. He hopes that the artists, activists, and scientists of this panel will spark a conversation to continue throughout the rest of the year. Today, panelists offer answers to the question: how do we respond to Louisiana’s coastal crisis? Although this prompt seems to provoke as many questions as it does answers.
Singer-songwriter Sarah Quintana begins the panel with her song “Miss River.” “I was walking along the river feeling a little heartbroken about something,” she says and stops. In a clear, almost birdlike voice, she comes to the refrain: I give it all and I take it away, which could easily serve as the thesis of Gulf Restoration Network Campaign Director Raleigh Hoke’s presentation on the river and its effects on the coastal wetlands. He speaks articulately, with grim efficiency.
Skipping through slides, he shows a series of maps detailing Louisiana’s infamous boot, fleshed out around the toes with spongy marsh in the 1800s, as it recedes into something more reminiscent of a stump, cut off at the ankle, by the 1990s. Everyone in the room has heard the statistic about Louisiana losing a football field’s worth of land every hour, but he continues to say that the Mississippi Delta is not only the fastest disappearing land mass in the world, but also has the highest relative sea level rise in the world. If the wetlands serve as the region’s foremost hurricane protection in their capacity to absorb catastrophic storm surge, then coastal Louisiana —and New Orleans, not long after—is fucked.
Why is Louisiana so fucked? As with any good dilemma, myriad reasons lurk behind the troubled facade. Hoke diplomatically outlines sea level rise, river engineering (i.e., the levee system), and—most contentiously—the activities of oil and gas companies as the primary factors in the coastline’s imminent demise. Slashed with nearly 10,000 miles of canals, the wetlands become vulnerable to saltwater intrusion, thereby inducing the degradation of the freshwater environment.
A plan does exist, however, to counteract what appear to be Louisiana’s apocalyptic inevitabilities: a government-devised Master Plan, which Hoke refers to as Louisiana’s “moonshot” for coastal restoration. The measures are sound, though the price tag—lowballed at $50 billion—is unaccounted for. Meaning: if nobody pays for it, nothing happens, and Louisiana is swallowed into the sea.
A member of the audience raises his hand to ask about liability and Hoke nods to Barry sitting in the back of the room, suggesting that he will be better able to answer his question. When John Barry steps to the front of the room, I feel suddenly as though I’m in a secret convening of Harry Potter’s Order of the Phoenix, where wizened veterans talk strategy over butterbeer. Barry is here to answer the question of who should pay for Louisiana’s Master Plan—from one vantage point, at least. “I served for six years on [the Southeastern Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East], until I came up with the idea of getting the oil and gas companies to…” Barry pauses. “Obey the law,” he says finally.
The law in question would be the terms of oil and gas permits requiring restoration of the drilling sites as much as possible to their natural state—a law that goes virtually unregulated in a political climate married to petrochemical interests. Barry’s retelling of the convoluted path the lawsuit took through Louisiana’s regulatory rigmarole is riddled with absurdities, loopholes, and dead ends befitting a Kafkaesque, Southern gothic tome. The Levee Board, in its post- Katrina incarnation, emerged in a series of reforms aimed at prioritizing scientific expertise over political patronage within the group tasked with overseeing New Orleans’ flood protection measures. The Board’s decision, led by Barry, to sue nearly a hundred oil, gas, and pipeline companies encountered swift retribution from former Governor Bobby Jindal.
The lawsuit now lingers in between the State Court of Appeals, where it was filed, and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, where defendants would like it to stay. In filing, Barry hoped that the litigation could inspire a settlement between the state and the oil and gas companies that would provide for coastal restoration, inasmuch as they are responsible. He acknowledges readily that oil and gas companies are not the sole agent behind coastal erosion, though they represent a major one – and what’s more, one that profits wildly from its activities in Louisiana’s increasingly sorry-looking backyard.
In the lawsuit’s wake, parishes like Jefferson, Plaquemines, and Cameron also filed suit against oil and gas companies, albeit in much narrower scope—not to mention that “virtually every other coastal parish is considering filing,” according to Barry. His suggestion for how to respond to the runaway issue of coastal restoration emphasizes the possibility of a statewide front against oil and gas companies that brings them to the bargaining table, where they can negotiate an equitable settlement that helps to pay, in part, for the Master Plan. With Bobby Jindal out of office, Barry is hopeful that current governor John Bel Edwards will be more amenable to addressing Louisiana’s grim future. And so David meets Goliath at the foot of the Mississippi, slingshot blazing.
Other panelists include Monique Verdin, a Houma native and artist-activist capturing her threatened home with photography and documentary, who’s helped to establish the #NoNewLeases movement: no new lease for drilling in the Gulf; keep fossil fuels in the ground. She believes that, down here in the “belly of the beast,” we need a “big vision conversation.” Photographer Michel Varisco situates the unwieldy problem of coastal restoration in human terms, as in her photo of Fort Proctor, where the lonely outpost perches precariously between the receding marsh and vast ocean. She describes her work as “going to the side of a dying friend.” John Taylor, an activist and self-described “wetlands preacher,” tells the audience to “go cuckoo on public officials.” Delaina LeBlanc, an artist first and scientist second, waxes sentimental about birds and tells us that even the smallest of gestures, like volunteering, make a difference. “It’s so simple just to show up,” she says.
Each panelist comes from a decidedly different background, wielding a different sword against the many-headed beast threatening Louisiana’s survival. They all agree that elected officials hold the reins, and that the combined pressure of the Parish lawsuits, plus the Levee Board lawsuit, provide the best chance of bringing oil and gas to a fair settlement. In other words, call your elected officials. But in a system insulated with graft, where political measures are too little, too late, then artists represent the wild card in a battle of ideas. If you can win the hearts and minds of the people—not only coastal residents, but also the tourists who arrive in droves to patronize the birthplace of jazz, wrought iron balconies, and Bourbon Street—then the slingshot suddenly carries a lot farther towards the giant’s head.