New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: pop music

A Long Overdue Appreciation of a Great Defunct Powerpop Band

In a career that spanned the better part of three decades, Skooshny played a grand total of one live gig. It was an Arthur Lee benefit.

That pretty much sums up what this band was all about. But a lack of gigs didn’t stop them from making great albums. Frontman/guitarist Mark Breyer, guitarist/bassist Bruce Wagner and drummer David Winogrond started right around the time punk was getting off the ground, finally packing it in sometime in the late zeros. Undeterred, Breyer continues as Son of Skooshny, releasing both new material and somewhat more lush versions of old Skooshny favorites. For a taste of where this cleverly lyrical, purist tunesmith is these days, check his Bandcamp page.

Although their substantial catalog is still in print, probably the best introduction to the band is their lavish 2004 best-of collection streaming at Spotify, coyly titled Zoloto, Russian for “gold” (the band name means “boring”). As you might expect, they have a cult following in Russia, and for many years were popular with the Bucketfull of Brains crowd. The songs span the band’s career, beginning in 1978, although the tracks don’t follow any kind of chronological sequence.

As a singer, Breyer pushes his airy voice to the limit without breaking: craft is one of this band’s defining qualities. Wagner is the rare guitarist who knows that less is more, and Winogrond’s stadium-riser drums are integral to the group’s often majestic sound. Lyrically, Breyer writes in the same vein as Elvis Costello or Steve Kilbey: he can’t resist a double entendre or a wry pun. And like those two, he’s a psychopathologist, dissecting relationships with a finely honed scalpel.

Alcohol is a frequent prop in Breyer’s bitter tableaux, right from the first few lines of the wickedly catchy Even My Eyes, which borrows an old Alice Cooper riff and reinvents it as vintage Cheap Trick-style powerpop. Flawed depicts a romance that was doomed from the start, over a tune that would be perfectly at home in the Marty Willson-Piper catalog.

Beautiful Bruise has a tasty blend of twelve-string and electric guitars, a ponderous waltz beat and a painterly (pun intended) Breyer lyric. The band bring in wistful Britfolk ambience with Sad Summer Spring and follow that with the even more gorgeously melancholy Holy Land, a vividly metaphorical passenger’s tale. Private Jokes nicks a classic Elvis Costello riff and beefs it up: it’s the hardest-rocking track here other than Masking the Moon, which finally goes over the edge into raw rage.

Science Changes Everyone has one of Breyer’s more clever lyrics…and a trick ending that totally blindsides you. The Water Song is the saddest number in the collection: it’s something of a more low-key update on the Stones’ Paint It Black. I See You Now maintains a jangly, Churchlike melancholy edge, while Ceiling to the Lies is the closest thing to 70s radio rock here.

Wagner takes over vocals on No Life Story, which could be a Stiv Bators ballad, and the epically aching, intense, Kevin Ayers-ish  Lullabye. And Michael Penn makes a guest appearance, playing jaunty chamberlain – which sounds like the flute setting on a mellotron, appropriately enough – as well as bass on the low-key Dessert for Two, which he also produced. It makes a good segue with Mike Thompson’s organ intro on the otherwise much more roughhewn It Hides More Than It Tells, the first of the 1978 tracks.

I Never Change My Mind sounds like the Church circa 1984 covering a catchy psych-pop hit from 1967 or so, while You Paint My World evokes that band’s jangly originals from the 80s, particularly when Wagner’s solo kicks in. And the guitarist also wails on the snarling post-Byrds anthem Crossing Double Lines. The last of the 25 tracks here is Clicking My Fingers: “Sterno in a paper cup, drink up, we’re having a party,” Breyer sardonically orders over a backdrop that’s part Byrds, part Magical Mystery Tour. Including an unexpectedly elegant cover of Davie Allan & the Arrows’ psychedelic pop classic Angel with a Devil’s Heart makes sense especially considering Wagner and Winogrond’s longtime membership in Allan’s band. What’s most striking about these songs is how consistent they are: clearly, the three had a vision and stuck with it throughout a career that deserves more than cult status.

Flowers Glisten and Jangle and Clang and Have a Lot of Shows Coming Up

British band Flowers sound like Britfolk rock legend Amanda Thorpe backed by the Smiths – but not in a florid, campy Beirut way. And in a more trebly, considerably more stripped-down way, too. None of the full-band songs on their latest album, Do What You Want to, It’s What You Should Do – streaming at Spotify - have bass on them, and drummer Jordan Hockley sometimes pounds out a dancing beat with just a single tom-tom. Frontwoman Rachel Kenedy doesn’t have quite the torchy, belting power that Thorpe does, but she’s a soaring, compelling singer in her own right. For those who feel like ditching work, they’re at Cake Shop at about one in the afternoon on Oct 21; at the Delancey at 8, the following night, Oct 22; at the Knitting Factory on Oct 23 at around 2 in the afternoon, followed by psychedelic rockers Gringo Star (free with rsvp  although you will get spammed if you sign up) ; back at Cake Shop on Oct 24 at three in the afternoon, and then later that night at the Brooklyn Night Bazaar, time tba. You definitely won’t run the risk of getting spammed for those shows.

Kenedy sing with a full, round, chorister’s tone on the album’s opening track, Young, bringing to mind Linda Draper‘s adventures in janglerock a few years back. Forget the Fall starts out with a skeletal sway before guitarist Sam Ayres adds brightly clanging layers of chords. Drag Me Down is the closest thing here to a Thorpe/Smiths mashup, while Worn Out Shoes hitches a doo wop-inflected verse to a big anthemic chorus

Lonely is a return to straight up catchy janglerock, Joanna a Smiths-ish launching pad for some spectacular vocal leaps and bounds from Kenedy. They strip it down to just the guitar and vocals for If I Tell You, then return to anthemic mode – with jaunty splashes of cymbals, would you believe – with Comfort.

I Love You blends some midsummer folk ambience into its bouncy sweep. All Over Again is one of the most irresistibly catchy numbers here; by contrast, Anna goes for more of a gently pastoral neo-Velvets feel, with a couple of the trick endings this band likes so much. Be With You is the most low-key song here, followed by the unexpectedly cynical Plastic Jane. Kenedy winds up the album with a brief solo number, just vocals and bass.

This band is all about setting a mood and keeping it going. Their lyrics don’t cover a lot of ground – angst-tinged romantic longing is pretty much it for Kenedy – and there isn’t much variation among all the brightly ringing tunes. But if catchy, smartly assembled, sunshiney three-minute janglerock songs are your thing, these guys deliver 24/7.

Urban Country Legend Amy Allison Returns to Her Old East Village Stomping Ground This Sunday

It was fun to see Amy Allison make a return trip last month to what’s left of the East Village where she started. The iconic Americana songwriter played a mix of hits and unexpected new treats to an adoring crowd upstairs at 2A, where she’s on the bill again this Sunday Oct 19 at 10. Last time out was a duo show with brilliant guitarist Jon Graboff, her longtime bandmate back in the day who’ll be joining her along with bassist Richard Hammond this time out.

After she’d run through the coy Shakespearean country song Love’s Labors Lost – only Amy Allison could pull off a Shakespearean country song and make it not sound fake – she told the crowd that she’d wanted to change one of the verses to “My love for you is real/Her tits are fake,” in honor of the recently deceased Joan Rivers. But Allison forgot to do that. So she told that to the audience. Since her music is so nuanced and meticulous, just like her minutely jeweled vocals, she’ll own up to a mistake if it gets a laugh…or adds another level of meaning to the many others. She’s like that.

Emmylou Harris is going to cover Allison’s song Her Hair Was Red – a dedication to her grandmother – on her next album, so she played that wistful, nostalgic number, as well as the more rapt Everywhere You Are Is Where I Am. Graboff lit up the distantly Orbisonesque Don’t Go to Sleep with some richly jazzy phrasing, then echoed that later when the two teamed up for a broodingly ominous cover of Was, by her famous jazzcat dad Mose Allison. They romped through Blue Plate Special, a bittersweet portrait of her days living in Memphis, then Garden State Mall, her poignant tale of a girl who ends up with barely enough in her wallet to justify the expedition. Then they got more optimistic – sort of, anyway – with Pretty Things to Buy, which might have been inspired by her days working in retail at a boutique a few blocks south. In those days, New York musicians could actually pay rent without inherited money.

She encored with Sad Girl, the title track to the album Elvis Costello picked as one of his favorites, a song she’s played over and over again. It’s sort of her signature song, and she still sings it like it’s the first time, aching and hopeful despite all evidence to the contrary. Which is why she’s such a treasure. Upstairs at 2A this Sunday night – c’mon, it’s Professional Night, all the amateurs will be asleep in their beds – is where it’s at.

A Handful of NYC Shows by Sardonic Punk/Garage/Pop Band Archie Powell & the Exports

Chicago band Archie Powell & the Exports’ shtick is that they can sound British when they want- “exports,” get it? Otherwise, they do the snotty/funny Dead Milkmen Cali-punk thing, the surreal stoner Hussy thing, sometimes a catchy, anthemic Cheap Trick powerpop thing or maybe an unhinged Libertines thing. Sometimes they end up doing all that in the same song. Powell shreds his vocal cords the way Brandon Seabrook shreds a guitar – mercilessly. It’s a miracle the guy can get through an album, let alone a set. They’re doing the usual clusterfuck of CMJ shows: at Rock Shop at 10 PM on Oct 18 for $10, then they’re at Matchless on Oct 22 at 10 for two bucks less and on Oct 23 for free at Northern Soul Bar, 557 First St. in Hoboken (past Newark Street, about five minutes from the Path train station), time TBA.

They’ve also got a new album, Back in Black – no, not a bunch of AC/DC covers – streaming online. The first track is Everything’s Fucked, a screaming punk-garage-quirkpop number. Tattoo on My Brain builds from snotty vox and repeaterbox guitar to a pretty straight-up powerpop chorus. Lean is the first track that brings to mind the Hussy, followed by Scary Dreams, which takes an early Joe Jackson faux-reggae idea and makes fuzzy punk out of it.

With its fuzz bass way up in the mix and Powell’s distorted bullhorn vocals, Holes sounds like a demo by a punk-era pop band like the Shirts. The High Road is a steady, catchy four-on-the-floor pseudo-Oasis stomp; the band reprises that with more of a coy come-on feel (“My rehab’s overdue,” Powell confides) on I’m Gonna Lose It.

“That gurney’s gonna be a friend to me,” Powell theatens, “You make me wanna drink a fifth,” he continues in Jump off a Bridge. The poor guy’s holed up in the nuthouse and dreaming of oral sex – you can’t blame him. Mambo No. 9 isn’t a mambo it all – it’s practically oi-punk. The album’s last track, Everything’s Cool reaches for 70s novelty-pop drollery. There are also a couple of hilariously miscast ballads here, best left unspun: Powell’s full-throated attack on the mic is endearing but he gets completely lost when the volume comes down. He doesn’t seem the type to do that onstage – sing ballads, that is.

A Typically Urbane, Incisively Lyrical New Album from the Larch

The Larch have been one of New York’s catchiest, most lyrically acerbic bands for a long time. Their 2012 album Days to the West blended new wave and psychedelia with a witheringly cynical Costelloesque lyrical edge. The one before that, Larix Americana – written mostly at the tail end of the Bush regime – set frontman/guitarist Ian Roure’s corrosive, politically charged commentary to hypnotic, guitar-fueled paisley underground rock. Lately the band seems to be on hiatus, but they have an excellent new ep, In Transit, picking up where the last album left off and streaming at Bandcamp.

The first track, Science & Charity – whose title the band nicked from a Picasso painting – assesses the pros and cons of space-age advances over keyboardist Liza Roure’s swooshy synth and Ross Bonadonna’s rising bassline, drummer Tom Pope negotiating its tricky syncopation. A jet-engine guitar solo takes it echoing out.

Welcome to the Institute alternates between hard funk and mid-80s Costello, a sardonic narrative told from the point of view of a pitchman for an online reputation repair service. Liza’s woozily processed backing vocals add an aptly tacky, techy touch, Bonadonna’s slithery lines echoing Bruce Thomas, the guitar again taking it out with a lickety-split, spiraling solo (Ian is the rare hotshot lead player who doesn’t waste notes).

Saturn’s in Transit, the catchiest and most Costelloesque tune here, seems to be one of those metaphorically charged workday anomie narratives that Ian writes so well. The jangliest track is the similarly metaphorical, nonchalantly ominous Mr. Winters, sort of a mashup of Squeeze and lyrical powerpop legends Skooshny – Ian’s voice often brings to mind that band’s frontman, Mark Breyer.

The backbeat Britpop tune Images of Xmas contemplates a deceptively comfortable litany of holiday gatherings and overindulgences. There’s also a hard-charging punk-pop bonus track. The Larch may be on the shelf for now, but the Roures continue with their duo project, Tracy Island, wherein they mix works in progress with favorites from the Larch and Liza and the Wonderwheels catalogs. They’re playing tomorrow, Oct 15, at 8 PM at Bowery Electric for an $8 cover and it’s a good bet some of these songs will be on the bill.

Roadkill Ghost Choir’s Big Anthems: Cynical Commercial Move or Genuine Originality?

To what degree is an artist’s motive important in experiencing a work of art? Doesn’t that motive – if it’s fair, or even possible, for an observer to impute one – become a moot point if the experience of that particular work turns out to be fun? More specifically, in the case of Florida band Roadkill Ghost Choir, so what if they seem to be on a quest for corporate radio airplay? Their anthems sure are catchy, even if there’s more than a trace of cynicism in how they assemble them. And that cynicism might well evaporate when the band brings those motoring, propulsive tunes to the Mercury tomorrow night, Oct 14 at 8 PM where they’re playing the album release show for their new one, In Tongues (streaming at Bandcamp). General admission is ten bucks.

The music business these days is weirder than it’s ever been. The only reason there’s even a shell of the corporate record labels left is that they no longer manufacture physical product: outside of an ever-shrinking payroll, their costs have essentially been cut to zero. And as much as DIY has supplanted the old system of lawyers and publishers and managers and middlemen of all kinds, and Bandcamp and Youtube have moved into the space occupied by radio for so many decades, there are elements left over from the past century that haven’t disappeared into the ether yet. After all, acts like Coldplay still exist, and an aging crowd still comes out to see them, if in smaller and smaller numbers. Do Roadkill Ghost Choir aspire to being the new Coldplay – a scenario which could never happen at this point, anyway – or do they genuinely like writing suspenseful minor-key hooks that build up to big, catchy, singalong choruses?

And is it even fair to compare them to Coldplay, when they’re a way better band? What seems to be cynical is how Roadkill Ghost Choir adds just the slightest touch of Americana – a lingering steel guitar phrase here, a little thirdhand bluegrass there – for the sake of roping in the Deer Tick crowd. And how they use the same chilly faux vintage synth sounds as all those inept Bushwick bands. But maybe, frontman/songwriter Andrew Shepard just likes mixing up Americana, and new wave, and a big arena-rock sound. Other than Americana, which continues to supplant straight-up rock as this generation’s default music outside of hip-hop, those other styles have been done to death. Strange as this may seem to some people, this band’s mashup of well-worn tropes is absolutely original.

And they do it over and over again, putting all those parts in place like a giant musical Lego. The production is on the flat, digital Protools side: it’s obvious that this album wasn’t made in a big live room. But in an age of mp3s, nobody other than vinyl heads are going to even notice. And the band keeps the hooks coming, and keeps them interesting: a bluesy interweave of guitars; washes of organ; resonant guitar accents deftly ringing out against each other in opposite channels. A purist might well dismiss this band as crassly commercial, and that would be shortsighted. The new album is best experienced not as individual tracks but as a soundtrack for an imaginary late-night, contented drive home along a long coastal highway – or as an energetic, fun thing to experience live in a small club.

Lila Downs Brings Her Intense, Relevant South-of-the-Border Sounds to Town This Weekend

Fiery, perennially relevant Mexican folk-rock songwriter Lila Downs has a new album out, Raiz – streaming at Spotify- and a show at the Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center at 7 PM tonight, Oct 10 and tomorrow night, Oct 11. At this point, the only real way you’re going to get into either of them might be with $10 “hot seats” and student rush tickets which might be available: hit the box office an hour before showtime and find out what’s left.

An artist with a devoted cult following in this country, Downs’ embrace of her Mexican roots has made her one of the most popular stadium concert draws south of the border. Interestingly, she doesn’t play a lot of New York shows: Summerstage, a Bronx theatre, El Museo del Barrio and a City Winery gig that sold out in seconds have been pretty much it in recent years. Kind of surprising for one of the world’s elite singers and songwriters.

Since the new album – sort of the equivalent of the Dolly Parton/Emmylou Harris/Linda Ronstadt trio albums for the Spanish-speaking diaspora – is a collaboration with flamenco chanteuse Niña Pastori and Argentine folk-pop singer Soledad Pastorutti, it’s a good bet that her live show is going to draw just as heavily on her album before that, 2011’s eerily carnivalesque Pecados y Milgaros (also streaming at Spotify). As Downs typically does, she mixes covers with originals. Downs’ songs on that one include the phantasmagorically scampering drinking song Mezcalito; Zapata Se Queda, a similarly somber reggae tune; La Reyna Del Inframundo, a metaphorically bristling narcocorrida; a wary, stately ranchera/cumbia mashup, Pecadora (with Illya Kuryaki and the Valderramas); and Solamente un Dia, a hazily psychedelic bachata number. The covers drawn on sources as diverse as Marco Antonio Solis ( a raptly waltzing take of Tu Carcel) and Cuco Sánchez (a meticulous, almost comically retro version of Fallaste Corazón) and other folkloric material. Downs delivers all this in her signature, disarmingly direct, insistent, slightly gritty alto.

In retrospect, the ambitious scope of Pecados y Milgaros foreshadows what Downs (and her label guys) may have been thinking where she could go with the new album. Frankly, Pastorutti comes across as out of her element alongside the two heavy hitters – and Downs ends up being the star here, almost despite herself. And the production, though lush with tasteful orchestration, is slicker and more digital than Downs’ usual organic sound. Again, Downs’ originals here are particularly tasty (pun intended): the bubbly Cumbia Del Mole, the even more psychedelic cumbia Agua De Rosas, the jazzily nocturnal Tierra de la Luz and a harder-rocking albeit less successful reprise of Zapata Se Queda. Pastori more than holds up her own throughout the more continental material. Kudos – and schadenfreude – to those who had the foresight and the funds to get tickets to this weekend’s shows when they went onsale.

Shelley King Brings Her Southern Gospel, Soul and Country Fire to Manhattan

Shelley King is a big deal in Texas. The Arkansas-born, Austin-based bandleader has a sizzling new album, Building a Fire – streaming at Spotify – and a free show tonight at 9 PM at Hill Country. If they give her any amperage in the PA, there won’t be a tourist there who can drown her out. King’s music is retro in the best way possible, drawing on oldtime gospel, C&W and soul, and the band on the album is killer. A couple of Subdudes do much of the heavy lifting: John Magnie on accordion and organ and Steve Amedee on drums, with Marvin Dykhuis on guitars, dobro and mandolin, Sarah Brown on bass and cameos from fellow Austinites Warren Hood, Cindy Cashdollar and Carolyn Wonderland. King’s soulful midrange vocals are down-to-earth but full of bristling intensity and a little grit in places: the influence of the southern gospel church is everywhere. .

The album’s title track is a swaying, subtly blues-tinged, ominous noir soul song. King follows that with Grace, a stark, stripped-down oldtime gospel shuffle with nifty accordion and slow-burning slide guitar. King gets even more intense on the traditional gospel tune I Know I’ve Been Changed a little later on, over more of that blue-flame slide work.

The best song on the album is The Ones You Don’t See Coming, a gorgeous backbeat country tune, King working her oldschool metaphors for all they’re worth:

Hidden from the radar in the still of the night
Left total devastation in the morning light
Rain-wrapped tornado, invisible storm
Never saw it coming, no sirens to warn
Worst are the ones you don’t see coming…

Things You Do is a brisk, hard-hitting soul-blues number anchored by dirty, distorted Rhodes piano, while The Real Thing offers the flipside of that vibe, roto organ propelling the wamly swaying soul ballad. King learned Larry Campbell’s bittersweet gospel anthem When I Go Away from Levon Helm, offering it up here as a darkly soaring tribute to her old pal.

The rustically waltzing 1940s Eyes mines a wistful acoustic string band vein, then King and band pick up the pace with the punchy organ-soul groove Hard Times Are No Match for Sweet Dreams. King brings back a bucolic, pre-bluegrass feel on the album’s closing cut, Moonlight.

There are also a couple of 70s style country-pop ballads here:, Talking ‘Bout the Weather and Lost in You, both substituting purist acoustic production values for Nashville big-studio gloss (and some tasty glockenspiel on the second one). Miranda Lambert only wishes she had material this catchy.

Good Cop and Bad Cop Consider Jenifer Jackson’s Sunday Show at the Rockwood

Good Cop: I’ve got a secret.

Bad Cop: I don’t trust this. Sounds like a setup.

Good Cop: OK, I’ll just say it. Between you and me and the boss at this blog, we went to a lot more concerts this summer than anyone might realize. Like, A LOT. Dozens. And I’m, um, just guessing, if you follow my drift, that people who follow this blog will be hearing more about how awesome this summer was in the weeks to come.

Bad Cop: Sweet nostalgia. Is it time for 2014 nostalgia already?

Good Cop: C’mon, don’t be such a cynic. After all, think of how many amazing shows we saw this year. Jenifer Jackson, twice, with a completely different band both times! And she’s playing again, at the small room at the Rockwood this Sunday, October 5 at 8, and we’re going. Are you psyched or what?

Bad Cop: More or less. I’ve got a party to go to before then so by the time I get there I’m gonna be toasted. Which is pretty much the only way I can deal with this venue. But that’s another story. I can’t decide which Jenifer Jackson show I liked more: the one back in March with the vibraphone, or the one with Oren Bloedow on lead guitar in July.

Good Cop: I would think that you would have preferred the July show since that was closer to what Jenifer had for a lineup when you used to go see her: Oren, and Jason Mercer on bass, Greg on drums and Matt Kanelos on piano. Just for the record, how many times have you seen Jenifer play?

Bad Cop: To copy what you said about shows this summer: dozens. If Jenifer had only hung in there for a couple more years, she could have made it work in New York. These days, you have to play New York like a tour: maybe you do some Lower East Side or East Village gig that whoever’s left in those neighborhoods can get to. Then you take it on the road. Inwood. Park Slope. Williamsburg. Red Hook. You look for a place that has a captive audience and you book it. And you might catch a handful of diehards from other parts of town who make it out to some of those shows. And that’s how you build a career playing music in New York in 2014. You can’t expect people to come to you when everybody has their local, where it’s usually cheaper than where you’re playing. You have to bring the music to the people.

Good Cop: Yeah, but she’s got a career playing music for a living in Austin. That, and teaching Italian.

Bad Cop: True. And she’s out of touch with the zeitgeist that’s taken over so much of this city. Jenifer’s music is fun, and intricate, so full of joy and snazzy interplay and musical conversations. Rock tunesmithing, jazz values. Completely out of touch with Bushwick awkwardness and ineptitude.

Good Cop: I know you miss her.

Bad Cop: I miss a lot of things. But it will be good to see her again. This last time she played, you got there on time but I was late. What did I miss?

Good Cop: A very warm and friendly TX Sunrise – that’s the title track from her latest album

Bad Cop:…and then All Around, right? My favorite song on the new album, and I missed it.

Good Cop: I know we disagree on the meaning of that song. You think it’s a despair song and I think that Jenifer, being a strong person, wouldn’t ever write a despair song: she always finds something positive, something hopeful to focus on. Although I do love the bittersweet, windswept seaside ambience that song has.

Bad Cop: What did she do after that? A new one?

Good Cop: Yeah, a slowburning country waltz. Only in Dreams, maybe that’s what it’s called? You remember, some nice, spare C&W leads from Oren and slip-key piano from Matt? And the same on the honkytonk number after that?

Bad Cop: Barely. My memory only goes back so far. Medical marijuana, you know.

Good Cop: Good grief. You don’t remember After the Fall?

Bad Cop: Omigod, you’re right. One of the most unselfconsciously beautiful, sad songs ever written. “Love is an ocean, love is a stone, love is a wish that you make on your own, if all of these ghosts would just leave me alone, I know that I could be free.” Lots of piano and jangly guitar on that one. Maybe the best single song I’ve seen anybody play this year.

Good Cop: I’m with you on that one. And then she did We Will Be Together…

Bad Cop: A real heartbreaker from 2002 or so. She recorded it later. Sad slash hopeful slash hopeless lyric – I know we disagree – over Ticket to Ride rock. I know you don’t like it when I get nostalgic for that time – and I guess you must have your own nostalgia for whatever you were up to – but this kills me. And then she did Whole Wide World, one of the bossa-psych tunes from Slowly Bright, her second album, the one that floored me the first time around.

Good Cop: It’s nice to be able ro relive these songs, isn’t it?

Bad Cop: No it’s not. I thought at the time that I’d be able to listen back to all this stuff in ten years and find reassurance that I was in the right place at the right time and it’s all turned out wrong. None of the people who were doing this stuff or the places they were doing it at are left. And that’s a crime. Gentrification kills. Ask Eric Garner. And as much as Jenifer Jackson was such an important part of an incredibly vital New York music scene, she had to go to to Texas to really kick her career into high gear. Think about that for a minute.

My Brightest Diamond Bring Their Lush, Kinetic Art-Rock to Bowery Ballroom

Is Shara Worden the female Peter Gabriel? Consider: her songs are serious and meticulously put together, but also quirky and fun. In concert, she loves costumes and wry theatrics. And she’s an accomplished composer of indie classical music. Then there’s the matter of that exquisite voice (Worden also gets props for teaching Elisa Flynn - one of the best folk noir songwriters of recent years – how to unleash a similarly luminous voice). Worden and her kinetic, woodwind-driven art-rock band My Brightest Diamond have a new album, This Is My Hand – streaming at NPR – and a monster world tour coming up, with a stop at Bowery Ballroom on Sept 25 at 9. Advance tix are $20 and very highly recommended.

.While the album traces the arc of a doomed romance, the music is usually anything but gloomy. Worden may be best known as a singer, but she’s an elite songwriter, the songs here veering between seamlessly polished, new wave-inflected pop and gusty art-rock. Flurries of marching band drum rudiments, punchy horn charts and bubbly woodwind flourishes punctuate Worden’s pensive yet kinetic tunesmithing.

She channels her inner soul sister on the album’s opening track, Pressure, an emphatically bouncy tune that contrasts tinkly keys with a bluesy synth bassline, rising to an unexpected ending. With a playfulness that brings to mind Nicole Atkins, Before the Words is sort of a triumph of the organic over the techy and cheesy, the orchestra mounting a sneak attack on the woozy keybs and eventually taking over.

Worden’s ripe, wounded vocals and imagistic lyrics bring to mind another great art-rocker, Serena Jost, on the title track: after a rousing orchestral coda, the way that Worden backs off just a hair when she gets to the song’s punchline will give you goosebumps. On the trickly rhythmic, new wave-ish Lover Killer, Worden hitches an ominous lyric to perky brass and a funky rhythm section that gets funkier as it goes along.

A mashup of Philly soul and indie classical, I Am Not the Bad Guy is the album’s most minimalist number: midway through, she runs her vocals through a watery Leslie speaker effect for extra menace. The contrasts continue throughout Looking At the Sun, knottily kinetic verse paired off with a soaring, lush chorus, the music perfectly matching the push-pull tension of Worden’s lyrics. The album’s longest song, Shape is a kaleidoscope of polyrhythms, keys and vocal overdubs: “You never know how I may appear, first time unlike the wind, next time like a storm,” warns Worden. “I know prismatic!” is the tag out of the chorus – and does she ever!

So Easy brings to mind glossy 80s pop bands like ABC, juxtaposing echoey electric piano, chilly string synths and a dancing pulse against Worden’s angst-fueled narrative. Resonance sounds like an artsy update on a well-worn Soft Cell theme, with more tricky rhythms, big orchestral swells and layers of vocal harmonies. The album ends with its darkest, most ethereal song, Apparition: “You were a spoiled child, your careless hand is dropping,” Worden accuses. “The leaves will smoke with perfumed stars.” It’s a powerful payoff, considering all the angst that’s been building up to it.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 151 other followers