Bret McCabe


Music review: New albums by Lower Dens, Joy Postell, Ami Dang and Height Keech

Jana Hunter of Lower Dens. Credit: Torso.

Lower DensThe Competition” (Ribbon Music)
A number of things have changed about the world and human existence in the four years since Lower Dens’ “Escape from Evil” came out. In hindsight, “Evil‘s” at-times anxious and excited considerations of the heart’s impulsive and earth-moving feelings sound downright quaint. “The Competition,” singer/songwriter Jana Hunter and drummer Nate Nelson’s latest, is a more poignant and confident consideration of what an “escape from evil” might mean in 2019.

Music review: New albums by The Holy Circle, Lafayette Gilchrist, Eze Jackson and Multicult

The Holy Circle. Handout image.

The Holy Circle “Sick With Love” (Deathbomb Arc)
Synthesizer-based pop mood swings have gone through a litany of derided genre tags over the past four decades; one person’s synth-pop may be another’s dream pop and still another’s new wave. So let’s step right into this kiddie pool: If dream pop is your thing but Beach House sounds like musical Goop, have I got a band for you.

Take in the Sondheim finalists’ work showing how economic realities impact culture, skip the marketing panels

Cheeny Celebrado-Royer’s work in the Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize Finalists Exhibition. Credit: Tiffany N. Thompson from the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts.

Cheeny Celebrado-Royer‘s motorcycle has a flat. Sure, the two-wheeled vehicle is constructed out of upcycled cardboard tape, and twine, but its rear wheel is toast. It’s not merely deflated, but the rim’s got a flat spot like it was carrying an oversized cargo and hit a pothole at speed. Cyclists, of the human- or machine-powered variety, will see that flat spot and internally groan. An ordinary flat tire is quick, easy and cheap to fix. A rim with a flat spot means replacing or rebuilding the wheel, an investment of time and money. And if the two-wheeled vehicle is your main form of transportation—or what you use to work—it’s not something you can put off.

Joyce and Elizabeth Talford Scott’s exhibition ‘Hitching Their Dreams to Untamed Stars’ feels potent, if out of place within BMA

“Plantation” (1980), by Elizabeth Talford Scott. Image courtesy of Baltimore Museum of Art/Estate of Elizabeth Talford Scott.

Joyce Scott’s “Inkisi #2” is one of her sculptural works that sneakily knocks you out. It’s a wooden figurine from Nigeria that Scott clad in a billowing tiered skirt made of cast glass, beads of clay, plastic, thread and wire. Scott sewed some of the beads together to become faces on large medallions that hang among the skirt’s folds. Strings of beads end in some relic—a hand, an animal shape—that suggest some aspect of a spiritual practice.

Interspersed among the folds are columns of coke-bottle green glass that end in a bell-shaped bulge. Stare into the face of the figurine and you start thinking its features suggest a knowing smile. Phalluses, icons, prayer, wit, “Inkisi #2” hits the eyes like a totemic relic even though it vibrates with a contemporary tension. Past and present converge in an object that feels like it has something to say to you about the here and now.

Slyly funny, sexually frank, historically complex, politically astute and above all, visually striking, “Inkisi #1” greets visitors to the intimate gallery space at the Baltimore Museum of Art where a small assortment of Scott’s works are paired with those of her mother, Elizabeth Talford Scott. Titled “Hitching Their Dreams to Untamed Stars,” the exhibition spotlights the artistic potency of a creative family.

FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture takes the Monument Quilt to the National Mall

A mock-up of the Monument Quilt on display at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Stackable, green plastic storage bins with lids crowd the entrance of an Episcopal church in Bolton Hill on a recent Saturday. They’re labeled with numbers written on a piece of white duct tape. These numbers are grouped in fives—”1-5,” “6-10,” “71-75,” etc.—and need to be sequentially ordered.

Some bins are being organized in the outer aisles around the church’s pews. Some are stacked and need to be sorted. And others still need to be unloaded from the U-Haul parked out front. Each bin should contain five four-foot-square pieces of fabric sewn to a four-foot-square stretch of Tyvek. There are one, two, three, four, five—uh, hundreds of bins.

Abdu Ali finds a new level of confidence on ‘FIYAH!!’

Image courtesy of the artist.

The Abdu Ali who appears on their self-released new album “FIYAH!!” both is and isn’t the artist you may have fallen for on their previous mixtapes and EPs, and in blistering live performances.

The insistent intelligence of Baltimore club remains the music’s rhythmic foundation, as does Ali’s gift for speedy, declamatory rap. Also still there is a polymath’s thematic interest in stretching the limits of genres, be they of music or politics or identity.

What’s new is the sense of space in the songs and a comfort level with a variety of vocal performances. Ali reveals the subdued and vulnerable, witty and celebratory registers of their voice, and you get the suspicion that as boundary breaking as their music has been, the creative river of ideas that informs their art ain’t just wide, it’s deep.

Eze Jackson combats holiday season stress with Dirty Christmas

Image via “The Whole Bushel” on Facebook

Versatile Baltimore MC and Real News Network reporter Eze Jackson stands in the local nonprofit news organization’s recording studio looking over some lyrics he’s penned in a spiral notebook.

As studio manager Dwayne Gladden and audio engineer Stephen Frank go over a few things in the control booth, Jackson nods his head along as he mentally reads through his lines, jotting down a few notes in the process. I’ve dropped by to chat with Jackson about his fourth annual Dirty Christmas party taking place at the Metro Gallery Dec. 29, but first he needs to hop into the booth to record a short experiment, an attempt to bring Jackson’s considerable hip-hop gifts to the kinds of news stories the Real News covers: economic inequality, climate change, political corruption.

Stillpointe’s ‘Heathers: The Musical’ stages the darkly comic ’80s flick as a rock concert

From left to right, Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, Kim Walker and Winona Ryder in the film “Heathers.” Image via IMDB.

Stillpointe Theatre co-founder, actor and director Danielle Robinette is herding her cast and orchestra together in a church basement for the sitzprobe of “Heathers: The Musical,” Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy’s 2014 adaptation of the darkly comic 1989 cult film. The cast members of Stillpointe’s production, which opens Dec. 20 at the Ottobar for the first of three nights, mill about checking their phones, flipping through copies of the book and doing some vocal warm-ups.

‘John Waters: Indecent Exposure’ highlights the auteur’s intellectual savvy

Image courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Art.

She Shoulda Said ‘No!’ was a 1949 exploitation film in the “Reefer Madness” mold, designed to warn red-blooded, young Americans about the moral rot, social deviancy and sexual degeneracy that comes with using drugs. In it, a young woman’s experiments with weed lead her into a wayward spiral of selling drugs, losing her job and promiscuity, her moral downfall pushing her brother to suicide. Only after cleaning up in jail and collaborating with authorities can she right her way in life.

Exit Interview: Kwame Kwei-Armah reflects on his time at Center Stage, his upcoming play on Stax Records and more

Image courtesy of Center Stage.

Over the course of Kwame Kwei-Armah’s seven-year run as artistic director, Baltimore Center Stage regulars have grown accustomed to seeing him walking around during previews, those first few times a production is performed before an audience. The tall, lean, and handsome Kwei-Armah can typically be found dapperly attired and casually milling about, as if just another theatergoer on a night out. On Saturday, prior to the second preview of “Soul: The Stax Musical,” his final directing effort of his tenure, he stood in the lobby surrounded by a small throng of people, chatting and having a laugh.