Posts Tagged ‘Louisiana’

On her earlier albums, Alynda Segarra (aka Hurray For the Riff Raff) explored the troubadour wanderings and raffish sounds of Americana. On the 29 year old’s visionary new work,  The Navigator she brings it all back home, re-connecting to her buried Puerto Rican roots. In the process, Segarra struck an original mix of roiling bomba rhythms and catchy New York rock. Drawing inspiration from Ziggy Stardust  , she conceived ‘The Navigator’ as a sci-fi tinged concept album, tracing the life of a character named Navita Milagros Negron through a metaphysical world. The lyrics present the story as a play, with allusions to the Latin political group of the ’70s, The Young Lords and verse from Puerto Rican poet Pedro Pietri. Segarra’s catchy songs connect the dots in the long lineage of Latin influences on popular music, from the street-corner harmonies of doo-wop to the romantic hits of the Brill Building to the Latin-rock of acts from Mink DeVille to The Ghetto Brothers. A song like “Living In The City”  sounds like something Lou Reed could have cut in the early ’70s, delivered with righteous fervor by Segarra’s resonant vibrato. Themes of gentrification and cultural appropriation anchor the story. Properly staged, ‘The Navigator’ could become a rock opera for our time.


Arguably the most overtly political act on the folk-rock scene right now, we suspected this new album from Alynda Lee Segarra and co would be a bit of a call to arms. Indeed, it is, and it delivers. “The Navigator” is the sixth full-length studio album by Hurray for the Riff Raff, released by ATO Records last March 2017. The album was produced by Paul Butler, a member of the band The Bees. This powerful album has musical diversity, consistent quality and gripping songwriting all while feeling effortless,

“The question of identity is touched upon throughout the songs here (national, political, gender), but in terms of musical identity, Hurray for the Riff Raff know exactly who they are.


In the aeroplane over the sea album cover copy.jpg

Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea is one of the great cult records. Issued in 1998, it’s full of enigmatic lines, like “Now she’s a little boy in Spain/Playing pianos filled with flames”, and Jeff Mangum’s raw performances are enticing. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea was expected to sell around 5,000 copies, but it’s sold closer to half a million and Jeff Mangum’s influence can be heard in the next generation of indie folk bands like The Decemberists and Arcade Fire.

For the most part, the mythology around Neutral Milk Hotel has existed beyond their control. Their singer and leader, Jeff Mangum, is certainly a part-recluse, but beyond anything he’s simply a man who called it quits at the very moment his band saw their name in lights. By shunning interviews, he’s subsequently been billed as either a JD Salinger-like enigma or a modern-day Syd Barrett. These are two exaggerated interpretations, coined largely because the band, who split in 1999, have barely said a word since then.

The trouble is, they departed with a record that remains hard to explain. Unintentionally, they timed their disbandment with the rise of music-forum discussions,  Neutral Milk Hotel ended just when mythology became a crucial factor in propelling a band’s reputation, and in the absence of anything to diminish them, their reputation simply just grew and grew .

That’s not to say the 1998 album that made their name, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, isn’t a phenomenal record. Born from Mangum’s bizarre, brutally heartfelt interpretation of The Diary of Anne Frank, it shuns reality and historical interpretations for surrealist imagery, Bulgarian street music, drone sections and a lifetime’s supply of fuzz pedals.

The first release under the Neutral Milk Hotel moniker was the 1994 EP “Everything Is”, a short collection of tracks featuring Mangum. On the band’s full-length debut album “On Avery Island”, which followed shortly thereafter, Mangum was joined by childhood friend and frontman of the band Apples In Stereo Robert Schneider who contributed production and instrumentation. Upon the album’s release, the full band was formed and extensive touring began.

“In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” went on to inform the following decade’s biggest alternative breakthroughs, from Arcade Fire’s rousing collective cries to Beirut’s well-travelled spirit. You can even hear the splintering emotion mirrored on Bon Iver’s cabin-feverish debut, For Emma, Forever Ago. And the record is so crammed full of the frontman’s subtle, autobiographical references, it’s still being decoded 18 years on. By disappearing, they allowed word of mouth to set the agenda and “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” attained the status of being the one indie record you had to hear. Mangum’s unique lyricism, combined with his reclusion, only enhanced fever around the band.

By the time the wheels came off, Neutral Milk Hotel were already enjoying cult status. One of the reasons they split is that Mangum found it hard to deal with the attention he started to get. “Jeff’s a very private person,” Bill Doss, co-founder of the Olivia Tremor Control, told the Guardian, “and kids were freaking out over him. [They’d] be following him around, these little packs of kids staring at him. It weirded him out, and he just sorta backed off.”

Neutral Milk Hotel

The first NMH albun, On Avery Island, had sold 5,000 copies. The band’s early converts were on board for life, and shows soon had the status of being emotionally overwhelming, must-see experiences. But the group still enjoyed the freedom to write and record with little-to-no expectation, sharing communal spaces in Athens, Georgia; making music with zero regard for time of day or final product.

That goes some way to explaining Mangum’s sudden reluctance to pursue the project as soon as it took off. Involved in cassette culture and DIY collectives from an early age, music was a free-spirited outlet for him. Once he realised it was not what he had imagined it to be, he decided enough was enough., in a rare interview in 2002: “I went through a period, after Aeroplane, when a lot of the basic assumptions I held about reality started crumbling. I guess I had this idea that if we all created our dream we could live happily ever after. So when so many of our dreams had come true and yet I still saw that so many of my friends were in a lot of pain … I realised I can’t just sing my way out of all this suffering.” Given how many bands today tend to press on before fading out with a whimper, his decision to go out with a bang seems admirable.

NMH perform a reunion show at Fun Fun Fun festival, in Austin, Texas, 2014.

A reunion tour in 2013 did little to tarnish the Neutral Milk Hotel legacy. Proceeds went to a charity aimed at improving the lives of Mongolian children, and they weren’t billed beyond the hype in nostalgic festival headline slots. And by not caving in and releasing another record in conjunction with a tour, they helped keep things on their terms. Everyone’s accounts of the reunion shows are wildly different. Depending on who you ask, these comeback gigs were either religious experiences or bitter disappointments. But most crucially, Neutral Milk Hotel remained a source of personal investment. Every one of the band’s fans has their own epiphany, an individual account of the first time they were struck down by what they heard. By opening up these moments to a new generation, or simply those who missed the boat last time round, Mangum finally managed to hold the ropes of his band’s mythology.

The band’s never released a followup album, so their non-album material is pored over more than most. ‘Engine’ turned up on the b-side of the ‘Holland, 1945’ single. The version of ‘Holland, 1945’ was recorded in the London Underground – a train can be heard approaching at the end, and a single person clapping.


The (independent) band built around the colorful dynamic of Louisiana ex-pats singer Jessica Ramsey and guitarist Andrew Martin spent much of 2016 making an album with producer John Goodmanson (Blonde Redhead, Sleater Kinney, Blood Brothers). Almost indescribable, but think Kate Bush on swamp gas taking a mystical trip through the bayou


Seratones are beasts of the Southern wild. The four-piece rock band, hailing from Shreveport, Louisiana, play rocking, swinging, soul-stirring tunes that are uniquely their own. Their debut single “Necromancer”/”Take It Easy” is set for release October 16th on Fat Possum Records. It is produced by Jimbo Mathus. Here’s a dose of the good stuff.

The band’s sound owes much to the commanding vocals of frontwoman AJ Haynes. At age six, Haynes began singing in Brownsville Baptist Church in Columbia, Louisiana, where she was taught to project her voice to hit the back wall. “Church was where I was introduced to the spirit, y’know?” AJ says with her sage laugh.


One of the best newcomers in recent months, though, are an act from Shreveport, Louisiana called Seratones. They performed with great reaction at SXSW, when they’d just (literally, it was that week or something) signed to Fat Possum and come down on a whim. They were jaw-dropping live, with frontwoman AJ Haynes – a petite ex-schoolteacher with a big personality and even bigger fro – spending half their set walking up and down the bar, kicking people’s drinks over while mashing a tambourine into her hands as if Phil Spector was stood at the other end pointing a gun at her.

They also played NME’s CMJ show in October . There, it seemed like they’d grown massively as a band, but last month in Austin for SXSW 2016 was when it all really seemed to come together.

They’ve got a debut album called ‘Get Gone’ out on May 6th, and below is a brand new track from it called ‘Sun’. Here’s a quote from AJ about the track: “When Connor [Davis, guitar] came up with that sinister melodic line, we had no choice but to see how far we could run with it. At the time I was teaching ‘Young Goodman Brown’ and listening to ‘Beggars Banquet’ on repeat, so that lovely thematic thread seamlessly wove into sound we were going for.”


Led by powerhouse frontwoman A.J. Haynes whose thunderous vocals recall the grit of Janis Joplin and gospel of Mavis Staples, Seratones will release their debut album Get Gone onMay 6th via Fat Possum. Recorded at Dial Back Sound studios in Mississippi, Get Gone is all live takes, a portrait of Seratones in their element.

Kyle Craft

A swamp bar jukebox loaded with British glitter and Seventies Southern rock; a crawfish boil aboard ELO’s spacecraft For Fans of: Dr. Dog, Ryan Adams, The Last Waltz

You Should Pay Attention: After falling hard for Bob Dylan and David Bowie as a child in Louisiana, Kyle Craft channeled his heroes on his Sub Pop debut, Dolls of Highland. A couple years ago, he holed up in a friend’s Portland laundry room and turned true-to-life tales of a “Gloom Girl,” the “Lady of the Ark” and “Black Mary” into a poetic gumbo of Southern roots, electric folk and preening glam rock. “That’s one of the more beautiful things about songs is that they’re more like pictures,” he says. “[Dylan’s] ‘Visions of Johanna’ is a picture. It’s not some sort of thing that’s telling you to feel a certain way, it’s just there.” Dolls’ echoing honky tonk saloon piano, harmonica, vintage organ and his unrestrained howl — like Carly Simon chasing Freddie Mercury-level vocal runs — provide an immediacy that he’ll showcase in May while touring with the Fruit Bats. Mixed by Brandon Summers and Benjamin Weikel of the Helio Sequence, this album stokes the warmth, looseness and unpredictability of a live show just inches from coming unhinged.


He Says: “I couldn’t sleep [the night after I found out Bowie died]. Every time I’d go to sleep I’d have these nightmares. It was rough. Bowie was the first album I ever had. He’s always been a giant influence on me. At the same time, he went out perfectly. His passing was graceful. It was classy, beautiful, and he made it feel like it was right. It felt like he was like, ‘All right, see you guys later.'”

“[Summers and Weikel] are geniuses when it comes to mixing. When you hear this album now, it has this polish to it. Not overproduced, or extremely polished, but it does sound galaxies different from where it started. When it started, it certainly sounded like it was recorded in a laundry room. They get down to what grade of cable it is. I’ve never been like that before. I’m like, ‘Lemme throw this shitty mic into this shitty pre-amp and through this shitty cable.’ Phil Spector once said: ‘Mic anywhere in a room with a good performance and it’s gonna turn out good.'”

Hear for Yourself: Just enough of Ziggy’s stardust gives “Pentecost” .

Kyle Craft Photo Credit: Andrew Toups

Kyle Craft’s “Pentecost” is the latest offering from Dolls of Highland, his forthcoming Sub Pop Records debut, which is due to be released on April 29th.

Kyle Craft grew up in a tiny Louisiana town on the banks of the Mississippi, where he spent most of his time catching alligators and rattlesnakes instead of playing football or picking up the guitar. He’s not the born product of a musical family, and bands never came through town – it was only a chance trip to K-Mart that gave him his first album, a David Bowie hits compilation that helped inspire him eventually to channel his innate feral energy into songwriting and rock and roll.


That self-made talent drives every note of Dolls of Highland, Craft’s solo debut. “This album is the dark corner of a bar,” he says. “It’s that feeling at the end of the night when you’re confronted with ‘now what?’”