New York Music Daily

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Category: pop music

Singles for 10/26

Here’s Labba doing Nice to Meet Ya featuring Illa Ghee and B Rutland – heavy-lidded, blunted ODB-inspired deep Brooklyn hip-hop. Nice vintage Ralph McDaniels-style video too (youtube).

Speaking of cool footage, here’s some from Coney Island now – for future archives, when the coastline is all deserted luxury condos turned into crackhouses – via Lorraine Leckie’s bittersweet Happy City video. She’s got a release show for her new album coming up at the Mercury on Nov 13 at 8; Nashville gothic singer Kelley Swindall opens the night at 7.

And another Canadian crew, the Rural Alberta Advantage bring to mind the Jayhawks circa Sound of Lies with Terrified (soundcloud).

Singles for 10/25 – Going to the Back of the Garage

No comic relief today, just dark-ish garagey sounds – Halloween is coming after all. Here’s Majestico revisiting a gutter blues sound that was all the rage on the Lower East Side twenty years ago (youtube).

The High Learys’ Clear My Mind is the Doors circa 1967 mashed up with the Kinks – cool stuff with vintage organ (soundcloud). And Seattle band Mega Bog’s Year of Patience reminds of British revivalists Comet Gain a couple of decades ago, scampering dreampop-tinged female-fronted janglerock with a little bit of Brill Building la-la’s and some real nice alto sax drenched in reverb (soundcloud).

A Rare Live Gig in August Spawns Two Auspicious October Shows

Was drummer/impresario John Sharples‘ excellent, rare gig as a bandleader back in August responsible for two of this weekend’s most enticing shows? Maybe yes, maybe no. In the case of the show tomorrow night, Oct 24 at Freddy’s, definitely yes, since he’s booked it. It’s an eclectic lineup starting at 9 with a similarly rare performance by the jangly, edgy band that songwriter Paula Carino made a name for herself with back in the late 90s, Regular Einstein. After that there’ll be short sets by Psychic Lines and guitarist Tim Simmonds’ Ex Extract project followed at 11 by Calm King, which is members of Beefheart cover band Admiral Porkbrain playing “improvisational postpunk chamber pop.”

And an artist Sharples drew on for her nuanced but powerful, torchy voice at that August show, Americana songwriter Robin Aigner, plays the album release show for her long-awaited new album of historically-infused oldtimey songs and chamber pop at Barbes this Saturday, Oct 26 at 8 on a great bill (this one not booked by Sharples) that starts with oldtime blues guitar monster Mamie Minch at 6 and continues at 10 with harmony-driven noir cumbia and bolero band Las Rubias Del Norte at 10.

What was the August show like? Drummers have deep address books since the good ones play with a ton of people, and Sharples is no exception. This particular night started with crystalline-voiced songwriter Rebecca Turner opening solo with a wryly epic, brooding contemplation of family tensions. Then she brought up her band – including John Pinamonti on lead guitar and studio mastering legend Scott Anthony on bass – for terse, quietly bristling versions of older material like The Way She Is now and newer songs including the metaphorical Cassandra and The Cat That Can Be Alone. She and the band closed with Brooklyn Is So Big, which ten years ago was a triumphant shout-out to the borough’s musical riches and now seems more like an obituary.

Sharples played both six and twelve-string guitar out in front of a band that included Ross Bonadonna on guitar and Tom Pope on drums, mixing up material from the cult classic 2004 I Can Explain Everything album along with unexpected treats like the tongue-in-cheek, metrically Carino favorite Robots Helping Robots and a blistering take of Brooklyn, by Celtic punk band Box of Crayons.

But the best song of the night was a straight-up janglerock version of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, the lushness and overtones of the twelve-string providing some of the original’s angst-fueled grandeur. Or it might have been the ominously swaying version of Tom Warnick’s noir blues anthem The Impostor. Or for that matter, Dylan’s Positively 4th Street reinvented as tightly wound janglerock. Or the lusciously jangling Matt Keating cover, Mind’s Eye, with Aigner adding her plaintive harmonies. It was one of those kind of shows.

The night wound up with a catchy solo set by guitarist/frontman Tim Reedy, of indie rockers Electric Engine. Nobody evokes the mid-90s anthemic REM sound like that band, and it was cool to hear Reedy’s witty lyrics and frequent baseball references without the ring of the amps behind him.

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.

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