New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: pop music

The Allah-Las Brighten Their Surreal, Catchy Psychedelic Pop – Just a Little

The Allah-Las reaffirm the reality that if you tour good music coast to coast, larger and larger crowds will come out to see it. Watching them grow from small club band to solid large-venue attraction has been one of the more satisfying success stories among rock bands over the last couple of years. Their new second album, Worship the Sun, was produced by retro music maven Nick Waterhouse and is streaming at bandcamp.

The opening track, De Vida Voz continues the catchy, eerie, retro 60s psych-folk-rock vibe that filtered through their brilliant 2012 debut album: “Voices carry through the canyon,” is drummer Matthew Correia’s mantra over the band’s signature, jangly blend of twelve- and six-string guitars. The second track, Had It All bulks up a simple-but-catchy garage rock tune with twelve-string clang and a period-perfect solo that’s little more than just a single, reverberating note – you can pull that off with vintage guitars and amps and tons of reverb. The darkly anthemic Artifact is a real gem, frontman/guitarist Miles Michaud intoning his doomed imagery over a reverbtoned melody that sounds like a cult classic from the 60s that Carl Newman might have decided to appropriate.

With its keening, twangy guitar leads and insistent piano, the instrumental Ferus Gallery pays homage to the well-known LA art spot: it wouldn’t have been out of place as, say, the Sunset Strip theme in the Blues Project’s soundtrack to The Trip, the Jack Nicholson cult classic. Recurring builds the same kind of gentle but apprehensive Peanut Butter Conspiracy-style psych-pop atmosphere that distinguishes much of the band’s prior output.

Nothing to Hide takes a deceptively simple latin-tinged vamp and makes psych-pop out of it, with a tremoloing, aptly out-of-focus guitar solo out by lead player Pedrum Siadatian. The two guitars intertwine tersely on the similar Buffalo Nickel, then they trade punchy riffage on the distantly Kinks-flavored Follow You Down over Spencer Dunham’s judiciously dancing bass and Correia’s tight, nimble drumming. Likewise, 501-415 sets vertiginous Siadatian repeaterbox echoes to a brightly jangly vamp straight out of the early Kinks.

The instrumental Yemeni Jade adds elegantly jazzy touches to its delicately chiming twelve-string pulse, segueing into the balmy Classics IV-tinged title track. Better Than Mine reaches for an unexpected but successful detour into Rickenbacker-fueled, early Beatlesque pop sounds – with steel guitar, for extra surrealism. The dusky, wary surf/spaghetti western instrumental No Werewolf – the first of the two bonus tracks – is one of the strongest ones here. The other is Every Girl, a dead ringer for Van Morrison-era Them. Overall, as the title more than implies, this album is a sunnier if still surrealistically cloudy and interesting update on a classic 60s sound. It’ll be interesting to see what this band comes up with next.

Saturday Singles

Former Band of Susans guitarist (and Demolition String Band bassist) Anne Husick has a creepy new single, The Other Side out from the World Wide Vibe folks and streaming at Soundcloud. With its absolutely gorgeous layers of guitars, it’s a noir blues at the core, lit up with Robert Aaron’s organ and drummer Kevin Tooley’s echoey snare beat. She’s playing the release show at Sidewalk on Dec 3, time TBA. If her show at Otto’s a couple of Sundays ago was any indication, you’re in for a night of dark oldschool LES rock treats. Tons of people rip off Lou Reed: Husick uses a 70s version of the post-Velvets sound as a springboard, and dives in from there.

Powerpop maven Mark Breyer has been writing heartbreakingly beautiful songs for a long time, first with cult favorites Skooshny and most recently on his own, under the name Son of Skooshny. His latest one, No Ho – a collaboration with multi-instrumentalist/producer Steve Refling, streaming at Bandcamp – paints a gently devastating portrait of existential angst and understated despair, a couple doomed from the start traipsing their way through a vivid LA milieu. And the title could be as savage for the girl as the narrator’s prospects are bleak.

You want a sultry vocal? Check out Melissa Fogarty’s multilingual delivery on Metropolitan Klezmer‘s Mazel Means Good Luck, based on a 1954 arrangement of a 1947 big band hit. The irrepressible cross-genre Jewish jamband are playing the album release for their new one – this song is the title track – at the legendary Eldridge Street Synagogue Museum on December 15 at 4 (four) PM. Tix are $20/$15 stud/srs.

And check out September Girls‘ Black Oil, ornate postpunk with Middle Eastern flourishes, that’s catchy and disorienting at the same time.

Dina Regine’s Soulful New Album Was Worth the Wait

What does it say about our society that Dina Regine has probably made more money spinning other peoples’ records than she’s made by playing her own unique blend of classic soul and rootsy rock? She was getting paid for playlisting long before just any random person could plug their phone into the PA system and then call it a night. But Regine’s greatest accomplishments have been as a songwriter, bandleader and singer. A well-loved presence in the New York club scene throughout the late 90s and early zeros, she still has an avid cult following, and an excellent, long-awaited new album, Right On All Right. And she’s got an album release show coming up on Nov 18 at around 8:30 PM at Bowery Electric. Ursa Minor, who have a similarly dynamic singer in Michelle Casillas – who also contributes to Regine’s album – are on the bill afterward at around 9:30. Cover is eight bucks.

On the album, Regine plays much of the guitars along with keys, mandolin and harp (!). Tony Scherr plays lead guitar on several tracks, along with Tim Luntzel on bass and Dan Rieser on drums. The opening track, Gotta Tell You is a gorgeously jangling, swaying 6/8 soul ballad, Jon Cowherd’s organ rising on the chorus with Regine’s impassioned vocals – and then they rock it out for a bit. The oldschool soul-funk number Dial My Number has a hot horn section (Erik Lawrence on tenor sax, Briggan Krauss on baritone sax and Frank London on trumpet) juxtaposed with Regine’s more low-key yet simmering vocals. By contrast, Can’t Find You Anywhere welds red-neon noir soul ambience to soaring, anthemic choruses, fueled by Scherr’s biting guitar multitracks.. Likewise, Hurt Somebody works the tension between blue-flame soul and brisk new wave-tinged powerpop – Regine likes to mix up her styles and this is a prime example.

Far Gone takes an unexpected and very successful departure into oldschool C&W with a tasty blend of Regine’s baritone guitar mingling with Scherr’s twangy lines. Then Regine hits a pulsing garage-soul vamp on Until Tomorrow and keeps that going with the gloriously guitar-driven, Gloria-esque Fences. The best track here is Broken, a brooding yet brisk latin-tinged groove with Steve Cropper-esque guitar: “You beat the wall for your past oppressor – sometimes spirits treat you real kind but most of the time they mess with your mind,” Regine sings with a gentle unease. How she varies her delivery from one track to another, from sweet to defiant and undeterred is one of the album’s strongest points.

The title track adds slink and suspense to a vintage go-go theme, with yet another one of Regine’s usual, crescendoing, anthemic choruses.  Shaky Dave Pollack’s hard-hitting blues harp drives the vintage Stonesy Nothing Here. The album’s final cut, Wildest Days, is also its most epic, and it’s surprisingly wistful, a snapshot of a deliriously fun time that threatens not to last too long. Fans of the creme de la creme of retro soul, from Lake Street Dive to Sharon Jones, will love this album. It’s not out yet, therefore no spotify link, but a lot of the tracks are up on Regine’s soundcloud page.

Aiofe O’Donovan Brings Her Cutting-Edge, Purist Americana Tunesmithing to the Upper West

Aiofe O’Donovan is cool. The Crooked Still singer/guitarist played one of the outdoor concerts at Madison Square Park a couple of months ago and wasn’t impressed by that burger joint there with the interminably long lines – and if you’d been standing downwind in the greasy smoke wafting from the kitchen, you wouldn’t have been either. “Is the food really that good?” she asked, skeptical. A lone guy sheepishly put his his hand. “OK, if you say so,” she grinned back.

O’Donovan makes her living on the road, whether playing bluegrass classics, singing in progressive jazz icon Dave Douglas’ group, with symphony orchestras, or doing her own stuff. September’s show was mostly original material, much of it taken from her debut solo album, Fossils, and it was consistently excellent. If you missed the show – and a lot of people did – she’s making a quick swing through town, in between Crooked Still reunion shows, for a free concert at 7:30 PM on Nov 13 at the Lincoln Center Atrium. It’s not clear who’s playing when, but she’s on the bill with a solid quartet of performers: explosive New Orleans trombonist/gospel shouter Glen David Andrews; Elle King, who is sort of an Americana counterpart to Cat Power; and charming guy/girl harmony duo the Spring Standards. These shows are a neighborhood institution and fill up fast, so the earlier you get there, the better: you can probably expect about a half an hour from each act.

O’Donovan, being a runner, likes to jump around a lot onstage, and reveled in the chance to do that at the park because, as she explained, she’d been playing on a boat where that hadn’t been an option. Backed by terse upright bass, drums and lead guitar, she mixed up ballads and more upbeat numbers. As you might expect from someone in a band whose name refers to moonshine, whiskey figures into a lot of her songs, from the swaying, John Prine-influenced opening number, Oh Mama, to a jaunty country blues punctuated by a bouncy bass solo a little later on.

They followed the broodingly shuffling Thursday’s Child, fueled by Austin Nevins’ lingering, red-sunset guitar leads with a slower but similarly simmering, late-summery tune. O’Donovan sang Briar Rose with a moodily insistence as ambulance sirens passed north of the park. It was cool to watch the group mash up trad styles with electric rock energy, without turning it into cliched 70s-style dadrock, then going deep into the Appalachian catalog. And through it all O’Donovan soared, and sailed, and brought edge and bite to the songs when they asked for them, as songs do. It’s not clear if O’Donovan will have a band with her at the Lincoln Center show or not, but either way she’s a lot of fun live.

An Understatedly Devastating Masterpiece and a Bowery Electric Album Release Show from Jessie Kilguss

What’s the likelihood that two of the best albums of 2014 would be released within an hour of each other on the same night at the same venue? Unlikely as that might seem, it’s happening this Nov 11 at Bowery Electric when dark Americana songwriter Jessie Kilguss kicks off the night at 8 PM with the album release show for her latest one, Devastate Me (streaming at Spotify). And her crowd has the good luck to be able to stick around and see Ward White play the release show for his similarly tuneful, menacingly literate new album Ward White Is the Matador about an hour later. If that’s not enough ominously lyrical rock for you, Matt Keating is playing at 10. It’s hard to think of a better triplebill in this city this year – and it’s only ten bucks.

Kilguss has made other good albums, but this is her quantum leap. The title is apt, but in a quietly devastating way. Kilguss’ voice has a matter-of-factness that gives her wounded narratives an intensity that’s all the more shattering for its nonchalance, through an understatedly riveting mix of crescendoing, jangly, purist Americana rock and Nashville gothic tunesmithing.

The title track sets the stage, guitarist Jason Loughlin, bassist John Kengla and drummer Rob Heath keeping a terse, even skeletal pulse as Kilguss builds her narrative to a sudden, creepy noir chord change and then the soaring chorus where the layers of guitars begin to build. The band adds all kinds of artful touches, from how Kilguss sails all the way to the top of her range as the chorus kicks in, to where the glockenspiel takes it out.

The album’s best song – and one of the best songs of the entire year – is Red Moon. It could be a Civil War tale, or a present-day account of freedom fighters on the run from the gestapo, fueled by Loughlin’s searing slide work. And it’s all the more powerful for Kilguss’ portrayal of the political as personal:

If you want a happy ending
It depends on where you stop your story
Me, I started at the top
I’ve been working my way down
Such a long way down

I’m Your Prey is the biggest rock anthem here, again following a steadily upward trajectory as Kilguss gives voice to a girl who couldn’t resist temptation even while she was staring trouble straight in the eye. The muted sadness and longing in her voice on the wistful Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight – referencing the Alexandra Fuller memoir- will rip your face off, crepuscular organ mingling with the web of guitars underneath. And You Didn’t Do Right By Me takes an old country waltz theme and makes purist janglerock out of it, ending with an achingly vivid blend of wordless vocals and slide guitar.

A Safe Distance From You keeps the noir atmosphere going, from its opening bass/drums pulse to its big, anthemic chorus and choir of ominously reverberating slide guitars – again, Loughlin keeps the flames flickering with an intensity to match Kilguss’ voice. Likewise, Train Song works lingering, nocturnal, Pink Floyd resonance all the way to a big psychedelic outro. “It’s a beautiful day to lose control, leave this life for a little while,” Kilguss muses, leaving the listener to figure out what she means by that. The final track, City Map builds a moodily dreamy, resigned midsummer ambience, her narrator’s placemap defined by”people I’ve loved, victories and their declines.” All of this proves that it’s actually possible to transition from the theatre to music – as an actress, Kilguss has shared the stage with Marianne Faithfull, among others.

A Distinctive Album and a Couple of Intriguing New York Shows from Irish Songsmith Lisa O’Neill

Irish songwriter Lisa O’Neill likes waltzes. Almost everything on her latest album Same Cloth or Not – streaming at Bandcamp – is in either 3/4 or 6/8 meter.You can see O’Neill listening to Marissa Nadler – or for that matter Marissa Nadler listening to her. Where Nadler goes for the noir right off the bat, O’Neill goes for the folk, but in the end the result is much the same. She’s got a couple of New York shows coming up, at the Irish Arts Center, 553 W 51 St. in Hell’s Kitchen on Nov 1 at 8 PM for $30 and then at the third stage at the Rockwood at 8 PM on Nov 3 for about the same price, $15 plus their strictly enforced two-drink minimum.

The album features her current band, Stina Sandstrom on harmony vocals and Mossy Nolan on bouzouki, plus some lush arrangements from string duo the Geese (Emma Smith & Vincent Sipprell). The first track, England Has My Man is a bit of a red herring, a gently dancing, pretty waltz contrasting with O’Neill’s understatingly biting delivery: “England has my man/My body is cold/England’s so lucky/I’m not sure they know.”

The second track, Coward’s Corner – a big, defiantly brooding ballad with strings and a surreal tinge – is where O’Neill bares her fangs and keeps them out for much of the rest of the material here. She brings back a warmly wistful ambience for the farewell ballad Neillie’s Song, with its rich interchange of acoustic and electric guitars, then follows that with Apiania, a dreamlike piano piece that seems to be a dissociative old woman’s reminiscence.

The stately, ominous Come Sit Sing has a rich blend of guitar and bouzouki and a long, dramatic crescendo that reminds of the Waterboys at their mid-80s peak. Unlike what its title would imply, Speed Boat is a slow waltz, a requiem for an affair before its end. O’Neill brings back both the surrealism and the defiance with No Train to Cavan, the tale of someone “smuggled across the border in a wheelbarrow, and I’m doing grand.” The album’s title track, basically a one-chord jam, comes across as sort of a folk take on the Stones’ Moonlight Mile, but told from a woman’s defiant point of view. The album winds up with the slow, lingering lament Darkest Winter, followed by Dreaming, a lush, swaying art-rock anthem that recalls the Strawbs at their early 70s peak. O’Neill has a very distinctive, rustic voice that she varies from quiet and reflective to towering and intense, and the band matches the mood. She sounds like she’d be a lot of fun live.

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.

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