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Kris Wenschuh

Tenderness is Lighter Than Air


JANUARY 2019 • VOL 17.1 • #174
 

KRIS WENSCHUH
TENDERNESS IS LIGHTER THAN AIR
(LEMIEUX GALLERY)

This is an unexpected and pleasing series of dreamy, precisely-rendered oil paintings. Feathers, eggs, clouds, and iridescent bubbles are suspended in glossy phthalo blue spaces as if waiting for a unicorn to wander in and transform the scene into a Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper. The iconography does feel a little corny at first, but the unicorn never appears, and these restrained, tranquil images neatly avoid slipping into insipidity or irony, the overfamiliarity of the objects resolving into universal truths. The paintings have elements of landscape, still life, and surrealist dreamscape, in which gravity has been inverted and stones hover, unsupported, above the clouds. Bubbles glisten over a glassy marshland or support the weight of a birch branch in a vaporous place where land is indistinguishable from sky. The paintings are cleanly executed with fine, almost invisible brushwork that make it possible to see them as something other than mere paint on panel. It is easy to fall into these paintings and be swept away (on view until January 26). —Happy Burbeck

 

CLOUD NOTHINGS
LAST BUILDING BURNING
(CARPARK)

Last Building Burning is the fifth full-length for the prolific Cleveland indie-punk band Cloud Nothings. The band has come a long way since starting as a solo project in lead-singer/guitarist Dylan Baldi’s basement. They have excelled at molding aggressive punk attitude into easily digestible pop songs. it’s as if The Strokes took influence from Rites of Spring and bumped up the BPM. Last Burning Building is much anticipated after their 2017 release Life Without Sound, but the album may not satisfy listeners who enjoyed the previous release. While Lifeappeased the label’s pressures for a more sensible record, Last Building is a deliberate kick in the nuts. The album is unhinged and delivers the band’s rawest performance to date, evident in the opener “On An Edge,” where Baldi screams over shredding chords and vigorous drums. That kind of thing isn’t uncommon for the band, but it’s typically served sparingly instead of as the main idea. It is a breath of fresh air from the stagnant indie cliches of Life. The simplicity of the songs is often expanded upon by the synthesis of Chris Brown’s complementary guitar work and the mastery of Jayson Gerycz on drums, specifically his ability to push and pull the tempo to build intensity. “In Shame” and “So Right, So Clean” highlight this particularly nuanced gag that Cloud Nothings pulls off so well. The album was produced by Randall Dunn, producer of Sun-O))), giving the band’s fast moving hits more density and power, something their 2014 album, Here and Nowhere Else, was missing. Bali is quoted as saying, “A lot of the popular bands with guitars are light. They sound good, but it’s missing the heaviness I like.” —Robert Landry

 

GENERATIONALS
STATE DOGS: SINGLES 2017-18
(POLYVINYL)

After nearly a decade of Generationals releases, New Orleans natives Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer have foregone the traditional album format and crafted a surprisingly cohesive full-length in the process. As the title suggests, State Dogs is a compilation of singles released periodically over the last two years, and these tracks prove that the single is the perfect format for a band so hyper-focused on pop structure. “Give us something we can sway to,” Joyner sings on opener “Keep it Low,” practically outlining the mission statement for this collection of sunny mid-tempo tunes. Album highlight “Mythical” layers chimey guitars over electronic drum loops, pointing to the band’s new wave influences without being overly referential; and songs like “Catahoula Man” and “Silent Ocean” have an easy charm that seem destined for mid-afternoon festival slots. Penultimate track “Kid” is a serviceable cover of The Pretenders’ classic, but adds little to either the original song or this compilation, and feels like Dogs’ only misstep. Closer “Turning the Screw,” however, delivers the pulsing synths and earworm melodies that will no doubt land these singles on many playlists in the coming year. —Nick Pope

 

GUERILLA TOSS
TWISTED CRYSTAL
(DFA)

Punk rock has been done to death in just about every possible iteration. But eight years, seven EPs and six full-lengths in, Guerilla Toss’ peculiar brand of psychedelic disco punk still feels fresh. The group formed in 2010, and lead singer Kassie Carlson joined in 2012, adding the sardonic intonations the band needed to tie its noisy, abrasive instrumentals together. They signed with DFA in 2015, and the the three albums they’ve released since have increased incrementally in accessibility and production value, without sacrificing integrity. 2017’s GT Ultra was radically catchier than anything the band had produced in the past, and Twisted Crystal, released in September, follows suit. The album travels from track to track with hydraulic energy provided by the fluid interplay of Stephe Cooper’s bass, Peter Negroponte’s drums and Arian Shafiee’s guitar, while Sam Lisbeth’s synth embellishments and Carlson’s disturbingly deadpan yet somehow hyper-expressive vocals give each song a life of its own. Carlson’s lyrics touch on emotional instability (“Meteorological”), religious dogma (“Jesus Rabbit”) and the unreliability of the five senses (“Green Apple”). “The walls of the universe are very high,” she sings on standout “Walls of the Universe,” but she and her band remain fully committed to finding out what’s on the other side. —Raphael Helfand

 

MATRON
STANDING WATER
(STRANGE DAISY)

2018 was a busy year for indie bands with maternal names. L.A./NOLA’s Momma put out a beautifully-crafted bedroom pop project in May, and Philadelphia’s Mothers unleashed a dark, heaving mass of nihilistic post-punk on the world in September. New Orleans’ own Matron added to that list in October with their sophomore EP, Standing Water. Like their self-titled debut, the new record is a quick listen, comprised of four tracks and clocking in at only 13 minutes. Opener “Meet Again” is driven by a 5/4 groove set by drummer Jordan Bodzin and bassist Phil Stafford, laying the groundwork for Bobby Burvant’s jarring guitar refrain: a few dissonant, arpeggiated chords plucked painstakingly, like fingernails stroking a surprisingly well-tuned chalkboard. Laura Fisher’s vocals tie the song together, floating over the instruments in the verse and cutting through them on the much heavier chorus. Burvant and Fisher trade vocal passages for the rest of the record, with Fisher’s synth keyboards adding melodic and textural support. The band makes way to the final notes of closer “Train Problem” in fits and starts, shifting meter and tone abruptly, but remaining tightly wound at every turn. Standing Water sets Matron apart as one of a select few rock groups in New Orleans taking risks that pay off. —Raphael Helfand

 

MIKE DILLON & THE MALLET MEN
BONOBO BONOBO
(ROYAL POTATO FAMILY)

Bonobo Bonobo may be punk/funk/jazz/jam extraordinaire Mike Dillon’s strongest work yet. The vibraphonist, singer, and percussionist blends expert musicianship with a whole lot of energy to create these 13 dynamic songs. Trump diss track “Orange Julius Ceaser” may be the only tune ever to successful balance driving honky tonk with a doom metal chorus. Instrumental “Strung Out Again” shines forth with vibraphone lyricism, an extension of the lessons Dillon learned from tackling Elliott Smith’s songbook on 2016’s Functioning Broke. Bassist Nathan Lambertson—who appeared on Dillon’s last album—returns in a much more pronounced role as a co-producer, bringing an extra dimension to the tunes with textural synth overdubs. Other return conspirators include Dillon’s Garage A Trois bandmate Stanton Moore and his Nolatet bassist James Singleton. “Guns God & Pussy” lays Dillon and Tif Lamson’s crazed shrieking punk vocals over a thick horn section, resulting in one of the album’s most adrenaline-pumping moments. On the title track, he pays tribute to bonobos, a type of ape perhaps best known for the prominence of sex in their conflict resolution. Almost three decades after he first started shouting “Fuck more, bitch less” with Texas funk rockers Billy Goat, Dillon is still preaching his signature belief. —William Archambeault

 

RECLUSE
HALF LIFE
(SELF-RELEASED)

Heaviness comes from sorrow. For the recording sessions of Half Life, the Southern boys in Recluse took this concept to heart, entering a self-imposed exile in Maine during the freezing winter. Absorbing the cold misery of their surroundings, the New Orleans group delved into the black metal components of their sound more than ever before. The result sounds like a grindcore band playing black metal with the inevitable sludge overtones internalized by almost every metal band in New Orleans. Deep, thick growling vocals over abrasive thrashing will launch listeners deep into despair. Similar to their past two EPs, the tracks on this full-length hover comfortably around the one to two minute zone, avoiding drawn out repetition in favor of short and concise outbursts of anguish. Closer “Thaw,” which clocks in at four minutes (complete with acoustic break and ambient outro), feels like an epic compared to the neighboring micro-tunes. This album showcases a downsized version of Recluse, comprised only of local underground veteran Jason Meserole, who handles vocal and drum duties, and Trey Porche, who plays guitar and bass. Although Half Life might not feature a full band, Recluse is at max power on this album. –William Archambeault

 

SEXY DEX AND THE FRESH
DON’T PLAY MY B SIDES
(SELF RELEASED)

There has always been a sense of tongue-in-cheek facetiousness to Sexy Dex and the Fresh (it’s right there in the name), but the local funk futurists prove once again that their excellent musicianship overcomes any aesthetic trappings on their new EP Don’t Play My B Sides. These five songs find the pop maximalists exploring much of the same musical territory as their last outing, 2016’s Plus 1 Edition, evoking Prince and contemporary avant-pop composers like Dâm-Funk and Ariel Pink in their upbeat, spacey R&B. The challenge for any band that wears its influences so readily on its sleeve is to transcend that influence with unique personality. SDTF achieve this via charismatic singers Dexter Gilmore and Gabrielle Washington, whose dual-lead vocals provide a center around which the band’s frenzied funk can revolve. B Sides does an admirable job of conveying the fun and excitement of a Sexy Dex live show as it moves briskly from one high-energy track to the next. And while drummer Evan Cvitanovic and bassist Andrew Landry set a rapid pace for most of B Sides, standout track “Wait!” slows things down just enough to add some emotional heft to this manic, engrossing EP. —Nick Pope

 

THOU
NO ONE BORES ME QUITE LIKE THOU BORES ME
(ABWTB)

Are you sick of Thou yet? 2018 was overbearing: a full-length, three EPs, and two 12” splits. And if that wasn’t enough, they snuck in one last release for the year. This live tape captures their June appearance at Seattle’s Northwest Terror Fest. Performing one day after the release of Inconsolable, they open with “Fallow State” and “The Hammer,” both featured on that acoustic EP. Guitarist and singer KC Stafford, who appeared on Inconsolable as a guest, reprises their vocal parts, this time as a formal member of Thou. “Fallow State” stays mostly in line with the calm original until distortion swallows it whole and Bryan Funck lunges in with his growling vocals at the end. They reinterpret “The Hammer” as a doomed-out duet between Stafford’s clean singing and Funck’s trademark growls. This tape is the first release to feature current drummer Tyler Coburn, who is a great addition known for his stints drumming in Gnarwhal, Yautja, and Mutilation Rites. This recording sounds exactly like Thou’s cathartic live shows, capturing a pummeling wall of sound not polished for mass consumption. Although ABWTB’s initial run of 110 tapes quickly sold out, the label is repressing it in January. Rumor has it that Sisters in Christ may have copies. —William Archambeault

 

VARIOUS
BRAINFEEDER X
(BRAINFEEDER)

Brainfeeder X is a celebration of the last ten years of producer Flying Lotus’ eclectic label. This anthology compiles a massive selection of 36 songs, spanning more than two hours. The songs reflect the label’s signature yet diverse sound—a collage of experimental, atmospheric, and moody beats of varying styles. Brainfeeder has come a long way since Lotus started it out of his apartment in 2008. Modern sax star Kamasi Washington’s opus The Epic made international headlines in 2015 and groove master Thundercat has spent his entire solo career on the label, further promoting it across the globe. Although Washington is mysteriously absent, there is a hearty serving of Thundercat, ranging from his irresistible hit “Them Changes” to a new collaboration with instrumental hip-hop jazz group BADBADNOTGOOD. On “Funkzilla,” Mono/Poly brings some of the thickest bass this side of P-Funk’s “Flashlight.” On “The Lavishments of Light Looking,” supergroup WOKE (Flying Lotus, Thundercat, and Shabazz Palaces) get down with P-Funk legend George Clinton, reminding listeners that the label is built on the forward thinking that Clinton and company exemplified back in the day. These songs, mostly rare or previously unreleased, continue to promote that same ethos. For those unfamiliar with the label, this record is a perfect place to start. –William Archambeault

 

MORTAL ENGINES
DIRECTOR: CHRISTIAN RIVERS
(UNIVERSAL)

A thousand years in the future, war has reshaped the continents of Earth, and monstrous cities crawl across the scarred surface of the land, devouring each other for resources. These cities are marvels of goofy steampunk engineering, and I wish way more of them appeared in this movie. But the main focus is on London, a predatory behemoth with skyscraper-sized lions on its prow, and a plucky bunch of humans wearing frock coats on its decks. Don’t see Mortal Engines if you are looking for naturalistic performances and nuanced dialogue. The humans deliver familiar lines with unselfconscious theatricality, leaning hard into the stylized aesthetic of the film, which is at its best when least restrained. Jihae’s Anna Fang kicks villainous slavers across the screen while wearing a swirling red coat that is never marred by blood or grime. Hugo Weaving’s Thaddeus Valentine glowers magnificently, various youths gaze with overwrought emotion at each other, and all of it is straight-faced, campy, and perfectly delightful. The first half of the film is briskly paced and avoids unnecessary exposition with breezy confidence. In the second half, everything falls to bits in a mad dash to tie up all of the plot points in the meager two hour run time. This is a rare movie that would have been better had it been twice as long. —Happy Burbeck

 

TIM MOHR
BURNING DOWN THE HAUS: PUNK ROCK, REVOLUTION AND THE FALL OF THE BERLIN WALL
(ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILL)

During the 1980s, East German teens coming across photos of the Sex Pistols in smuggled magazines or hearing The Clash on Western radio were as captivated as their peers in London or Scranton. The trouble was, music from the other side of the Iron Curtain was heavily restricted by the Communist state, and playing punk tunes was a challenge. Instruments were hard to come by and live performances were limited by draconian licensing rules. Just putting a few safety pins and patches on an old denim jacket could bring judgment from school authorities that could permanently curtail a student’s career prospects in the planned economy. Punks also faced violence from the never-fully-eradicated far right, plus frightening interrogations and even jail time from the Stasi, East Germany’s notorious secret police. Mohr details the often surprising ways that East German punks managed to connect and play music, including grabbing space from sympathetic church leaders and destroying sheets of subversive lyrics as soon as they had them memorized. He doesn’t overstate his case—despite the subtitle, there’s no claim that punk hastened the Berlin Wall’s fall—but the movement is given its proper place among the Eastern European protests that helped ring in the end of the Cold War.  —Steven Melendez

 

MICHAEL TISSERAND
KRAZY
(HARPER COLLINS)

“How deer to my hott is the sins of my childhood,” sings George Herriman’s legendary comic strip character Krazy Kat as the sun sets over Coconino County, Arizona. In the next panel he pauses and turns to his beloved Ignatz mouse: “It’s that childhood wot puzzuls me.” In Krazy, Michael Tisserand’s richly detailed biography of George Herriman (1880-1944), Tisserand sheds new light on the “puzzul” of the artist’s childhood: although he passed for white for the majority of his life, George Herriman was born in the Treme to a politically prominent New Orleans Creole family that fled from the city’s racial violence at the turn of the century and made a fresh start in Los Angeles. Herriman never spoke openly of his race or origins, and the politics of “passing” is given delicate treatment in the book. Tisserand paints a vivid picture of the life and times of George Herriman, moving from the politically and racially fraught post-Civil War era New Orleans to the competitive world of New York City’s newspaper offices, where Herriman worked for the likes of Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. With rare historical nuance, Tisserand demonstrates how it was that he came to his astonishingly transgressive approach to identity—evident in the gender-bending, racially ambiguous Krazy Kat—a century before these themes could be openly engaged in public discourse. Ultimately, however, the book is a love letter to Herriman, whose transcendent vision inspired generations of artists from E.E. Cummings to Bill Watterson, an enthusiasm that proves to be quite contagious. —Holly Devon

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