New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: dark rock

Intensely Fun Summer Concerts by Nicole Atkins and the Universal Thump

Nicole Atkins and her “band of Daves,’ as she put it – on lead guitar, electric piano and organ, bass and drums – played a soaringly eclectic, richly tuneful set to kick off this year’s outdoor concert series at Madison Square Park. What was most striking about the concert was the welcome absence of the cheesy keyboard textures that gunk up some otherwise excellent songs on Atkins’ latest album, Slow Phaser. Aside from a diversion into that on a swaying, funky tune early in the set, her keyboardist stuck to fluid organ fills and elegantly glimmering electric piano.

They opened with the new album’s first song, Who Killed the Moonlight, putting more emphasis on lingering, uneasy atmospherics than the disco bounce of the studio version. The bassist gave it a slinky groove as the lead player added terse, red-neon, noirish fills and bends. Atkins’ wounded outsider presence on the sardonic Cool People provided an edge that transcended all the purloined Beatles and Lou Reed licks. Atkins reaffirmed why she has such a devoted fan base, showing off a spectacular vocal range that she varied from low and apprehensive to some spine-tingling flights to the upper registers, adding subtle blues and soul tinges and then some grit at the end as her voice began to go ragged after all that exertion.

She and the band maintained the intensity with the organ-fueled ba-bump noir cabaret tune Gasoline Bride and its creepy slowdown at the end, then the slow, angst-fueled Vera Beren-esque 6/8 ballad The Way It Is, part darkly Orbisonesque Americana, part gothic art-rock. Atkins took that to a peak with the wickedly catchy Maybe Tonight, an anguished blue-eyed Motown hit as towering as anything Gary Usher wrote for Gary Puckett back in the 60s.

Girl You Look Amazing, another tune that’s pretty straight-up disco on the new album, took on extra bite with a more straight-ahead beat underneath Atkins’ sarcastic dig at a would-be pickup artist. Interestingly, they gave We Wait Too Long a swooshy, misterioso groove, in contrast to the album’s more direct, regret-laden version.

After the hypnotically loping, darkly bluesy Vultures, with its creepily twinkling electric piano, they tiptoed and swayed through the longing and bitterness of Red Ropes, the most luridly noir song on the new album.

Atkins’ cynical sense of humor came front and center on It’s Only Chemistry, a sardonic battle-of-the-sexes narrative, and then an aching take of The Worst Hangover, whose narrator is so miserable (and possibly still so drunk) that she ends up calling an ambulance. It was too bad that the lead player missed his chance to take The Tower – the crushing, potentially explosive anthem that’s sort of Atkins’ signature song – to a logically pyrotechnic peak, instead drifting unexpectedly into nebulously metal territory. After everything that had come before, it would have been the perfect way to end the show. It took a siren echoing across the park from further north to add just the right touch of horror as the song wound out. The Madison Square Park series of free concerts continues on July 16 at 7 PM with French jazz pianist Jacky Terrasson and his group.

And it was good to be able to catch about half an hour of a show that promised to be even better beforehand several blocks north at Bryant Park, where keyboardist/songwriter Greta Gertler’s lush art-rock band the Universal Thump aired out some of the soaring, often epic songs from their massive triple-cd debut album along with some tantalizing new tunes. Gertler’s elegantly intricate electric piano mingled with the otherworldly vocal harmonies of Las Rubias Del Norte‘s Emily Hurst and Allyssa Lamb over the terse pulse of drummer Adam D. Gold and bassist Byron Isaacs. Guitarist Oren Bloedow – the noir mastermind behind art-rockers Elysian Fields, and a longtime Jenifer Jackson collaborator – kept a low-key, blue-flame intensity going, finally rising to a savagely insistent attack as the show hit a peak right about at the midway point. And then it was time to head south.

Two First-Rate, Contrasting Tunesmiths

It’s hard to imagine two tunesmiths or performers with less in common than Shannon Pelcher and Jessi Robertson. Each played a tantalizingly short acoustic set Friday night at the American Folk Art Museum and held the crowd rapt for very different reasons, other than that both artists’ songs are purposeful and interesting, and that neither player wastes notes, vocally or guitarwise.

Pelcher went on first. She’s very eclectic, has a great sense of melody and sings in an unaffectedly clear, nuanced soprano. She’s also a strong guitarist and uses a lot of jazz chords, but spaciously: they don’t clutter her songs. And she switches up genres: a warmly swaying waltz, a straight-up oldschool country tune, a jaunty oldtimey swing number, bucolic Americana and sophisticated jazz (which may be her ultimate destination). So choosing to do the show as a duo with a jazz bassist who added a handful of tuneful, serpentine solos made perfect sense. One of the strongest tunes in Pelcher’s set, a terse, syncopated number with a wickedly catchy chorus, is on the compilation album that the museum is selling at their gift shop for a ridiculously cheap five bucks. Pelcher is playing Barbes tomorrow night, June 25 at 7 with the droll, literarily-inspired Bushwick Book Club.

Where Pelcher did a lot of things, Robertson did one thing, delivering a wallop with her full-throated, angst-ridden, soul-inspired alto wail and her harrowing songs. She’ll probably be the first to admit that she’s a band person rather than a solo performer, but she reaffirmed the old aphorism that if a song sounds good solo acoustic, it’ll sound even better with a full band behind it. She opened in a nebulously early 70s Pink Floyd/Britfolk vein with a vamping lament, following with a moody reflection on aging that reminded of Kelli Rae Powell. The longing and ache in Robertson’s voice was relentless; as powerful an instrument as it is, she proved just as subtle and dynamic a singer as Pelcher, at one point disdainfully pushing the mic down and singing the rest of her set without any amplification. Not that she needed it, especially with the museum atrium’s natural reverb.

Explaining that she had a new album in the can, she told the crowd that her producer had heard her playing a brand-new song and insisted that she go back in the studio, a smart move: with its dark blues and gospel echoes, it turned out to be a characteristicaly potent portrait of pain and alienation. The characters in Robertson’s narratives deal with a lot of that, especially the girl who cuts herself in You Don’t Want to Taste My Heart, from her 2011 album Small Town Girls, arguably the high point of the show. And when she sang “You’re gonna burn, my love, ” over and over again over a haunting minor-key vamp as the last song wound out, there was no doubt she meant it. Robertson is playing LIC Bar in Long Island City at 1:30 on June 28 on an excellent multi-songwriter bill that also features Lara Ewen, the irrepressible impresario and soaring Americana singer who runs the museum’s consistently good Friday night concert series.

 

A Dark Night of Soul at the Brooklyn Night Bazaar

Friday night at the Brookyn Night Bazaar, singer/guitarist Nick Waterhouse didn’t start a song in a major key until his long, menacingly pulsing set was almost over. And at that point, with a laid-back, warmly sunny retro soul groove, he lost the crowd. Apparently they liked his dark, minor-key stuff better, which makes sense considering how much there was of it and well he did it. It was almost funny watching guest Paula Henderson – ordinarily one of the world’s most colorful baritone saxophonists – hanging out way down in the smoky lows, inscrutable behind her red shades, decked out in a matching red dress, channeling luridness even when she wasn’t playing it. Waterhouse brought the regular drummer from his LA band, who has every snazzy retro soul thump and flourish in his fingers and used all of them judiciously, while the guest bassist and keyboardist evoked a shady, 1966-era Detroit soul lounge.

Waterhouse is also a hell of a guitarist, but he’s more about building a mood than he is about flash, firing off a handful of barely chorus-length solos, letting his menacing, reverb-drenched flourishes linger. His vocals have a drawl that draws more on 60s psychedelia than it does the retro soul that springboards his songs. Even when a verse would vamp along on a single chord until the chorus kicked in, there was always something interesting going on: an echoey Rod Argent-style electric piano solo; the organ and sax punching in together; oohs and aahs from the woman singing harmonies. The noir ambience never lifted until late in the show.

The first number sounded like a dark retro psych band like the Allah-Las doing oldschool soul. The second one was like Clairy Browne‘s band covering the 13th Floor Elevators. Another took the riff from Tom Petty’s Breakdown and made purist retro soul out of it. Waterhouse went into ghoulabilly and then a Lynchian bolero later on, followed by the night’s most lurid number, Sleeping Pills, which is probably about suicide but might not be. He also tossed in a couple of covers including an expansively furtive version of the Young-Holt Trio’s Ain’t There Something That Money Can’t Buy, one of several tracks from his new album, Holly. After well over an hour onstage, he and the band encored with a long jam on the Seeds’ Pushin’ Too Hard. That’s a funny song, and that’s how it started out, the drummer hitting on the “one” until he realized after about four minutes that it was just plain overkill. By then the song was going in a darker direction, Waterhouse and the organist pushing it through Stranglers territory on through to the Doors

On one hand, that Waterhouse got the people in the house to respond as energetically as they did was impressive, considering that this was Williamsburg, and that the show was part of a pathetic L Magazine-sponsored imitation of the CMJ indie clusterfuck. On the other, it’s probably safe to say that the crowd who came out for Waterhouse and the clique that goes to see bands like The Pains of Being Bear in Heaven probably don’t talk to each other much.

 

Ember Schrag Brings Her Haunting Great Plains Gothic Songs to Cake Shop

Ember Schrag writes what could be called Great Plains gothic songs. She’s a nimble guitarist, a gripping storyteller, clever lyricist and a strong, dynamic singer with a direct, clear, matter-of-fact voice. She originally hails from Nebraska and now makes New York her home. And while she’s far from unknown in the dark folk demimonde, her writing transcends that genre: she’s one of the most individualistic and interesting songwriters in any style of music. She and her excellent band are at Cake Shop on May 11 at 11 PM; cover is $8.

Her 2012 album The Sewing Room – streaming at Bandcamp – is a quiet, disarmingly intense masterpiece. Violence and death are everywhere, yet seldom seen: the way Schrag lets her images unwind, usually after the fact, makes them all the more haunting. The opening track, Jephthah’s Daughter, sets the stage, a cruelly allusive tale of frontier justice (or more accurately, an imitation of it), Schrag’s elegant fingerpicking mingling with Jonah Sirota’s viola. Sutherland is no less chilling, a murder ballad as nonchalantly disturbing as anything A.M. Homes or Joyce Carol Oates ever wrote, the viola again adding a plaintive edge.

Alex McManus’s ominously tremoloing guitar lines and Gary Foster’s misterioso brushes on the drums propel the surrealistically torchy, slowly swaying betrayal anthem My Brothers Men. La Maria works a skeletal acoustic riff up to a more country-tinged chorus fueled by Greg Talenfeld’s lapsteel, Schrag contemplating how troubled people so often draw you in, not only “Because their seeping problems overtake you like the ending of the day.”

Schrag goes back to a slow swing groove on the brooding, metaphorically loaded seaside tableau I Ain’t a Prophet: it reminds a lot of early-zeros Marissa Nadler. A mashup of Old Testament and pulp novel imagery set to a distantly menacing oldtime swing tune, In the Alley imagines Scripture not as an opiate but as something from the other side of the narcotic spectrum. Frauleh Jekketheka is as funny as it is redemptive, an escape anthem told not from the point of view of the escapee but by one of the rednecks she was running from, Amy Denio’s moody clarinet pairing off against Philip Gayle’s lithely dancing mandolin.

Schrag’s casually wounded vocals echo Rasputina‘s Melora Creager on the title track, possibly the only song ever written about being tortured by angels. Dark Lion Lover is the album’s most opaquely atmospheric, jazz-inflected number, Sirota’s acidic, resonant lines contrasting with Schrag’s distantly seductive delivery.

The austere, bitterly aphoristic Your Words begins as the most traditional song here and then picks up as Schrag and Talenfeld gnash their guitars a bit. P.G. Six’s piano and Jay Kreimer’s homemade instruments add ghostly ambience to Houston, a surreal portrait of alienation and estrangement. The album ends on an unexpectedly optimistic note with April Night, Schrag’s gently lilting vocals evoking Laura Cantrell as she snatches what could be victory from the jaws of defeat. This is one of the five or six best albums ever to appear on this page over the past thirty months or so – and the icing on the cake is that the rest of Schrag’s equally intriguing back catalog is also up at Bandcamp to sweep you off into a world that in its own strange way looks dangerously like this one.

Richly Dark, Jangly Rock from Gord Downie & the Sadies

Canadian janglerockers the Sadies have made some great albums both by themselves as well as with Neko Case. Their latest project finds them working a hauntingly propulsive southwestern gothic vein behind Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie, who channels a Celtic-tinged, Nick Cave-style desperation on their new album, Gord Downie, the Sadies & the Conquering Sun. The album is streaming at the band’s site; they’re bringing this gorgeously dark stuff to Bowery Ballroom on May 2 at around 10. General admission is $20.

The album’s opening track, Crater motors along on a snarling, catchy garage-punk groove: it’s one of the loudest things this band’s ever done. Travis Good takes a twistingly bluesy guitar solo; “Crater, getting crushed in your dreams,” Downie rages. The second cut, a title track of sorts, is the first of the lingering, backbeat-driven, jangly minor-key desert rock numbers, Downie “working the fugitive dust under the conquering sun.”Los Angeles Times sways more slowly, painting a restless party scenario, Downie frustrated that he can’t cut through a pretentious crowd to get to an intriguing girl. An unexpected, tasty flatpicked acoustic guitar solo takes the song out.

One Good Fast Job picks up the pace, a bristling, minor-key swamp-rock tune. “You sound hard, you sound dope, you sound like you lick your own envelopes,” Downie taunts. It Didn’t Start to Break My Heart Until This Afternoon opens with an uneasily droning intro and then scampers along with a hypnotic Brian Jonestown Massacre garage-psych ambience. The best song on the album is the ominously reverb-drenched Budget Shoes, fueled by Mike Belitsky’s artfully tumbling, Keith Moon drums, Downie tracing the steps of a couple of desperados “walking through the valley of ghosts,” one with his eyes on the other’s superior footgear.

Downie’s Irish-inflected vocals pair off with the band’s country-tinged jangle on Demand Destruction: “Is this accident ever over anymore?” Downie asks anxiously. They bring in a slow, warmly nocturnal Beggars Banquet ambience with spiky mandolin and flowing organ on Devil Enough before they pick it up with an electric bluegrass drive. I’m Free, Disarray Me goes in a nebulously uneasy Psychedelic Furs direction. The album ends with Saved, a slow, pensive, soul-tinged 6/8 anthem. Pretty much what you would expect from the Sadies, if not necessarily from Downie: not a single substandard song on this, definitely one of the best albums of the year.

Jessie Kilguss: State-of-the-Art Gothic Americana

If gothic Americana is your thing, singer Jessie Kilguss is someone you need to know. Friday night at the American Folk Art Museum, she made a point of telling the crowd that she usually plays a lot louder. But it didn’t matter: Kilguss and her four-piece band adjusted effortlessly to the spacious sonics there and brought down the lights, raising the menacing intensity that runs beneath the surface of her songs.

Beyond the attractiveness and singalong catchiness of the tunes, there’s a persistent unease and occasional savagery. Anger and betrayal are recurrent themes in her songwriting, as they are for so many Nashville gothic types, but Kilguss distinguishes herself by getting a lot of mileage out of implying that doom and despair rather than throwing it in your face. “Lately I’ve been really quiet,” she sang with a bittersweet restraint on the anthemic, backbeat-driven janglerock number that opened the set, her drummer playing with brushes, the guitarist throwing off an artful spiral from the frets of his vintage Telecaster as they lit into the second verse.

“If you want a happy ending, it depends on where you stop your story,” she mused a little later in the set, over a slowly swaying, moodily resonant groove. “Me, I started at the top, I’ve been working my way down, such a long way down, it’s a long way down [an Orson Welles reference, by the way].”  Her voice brightened, but just a little, on the warmly bucolic waltz that followed, an understatedly brooding reminiscence of being let down, probably for the umpteenth time.

“Maybe it’s better than I stay – a safe distance from you,” she intoned over a more insistent minor-key backdrop a little later, the bass playing a blues riff as the guitar jangled nebulously before hitting a growling peak on the chorus. They picked up the pace with a soaring anthem - possibly titled Don’t Let It Go to the Dogs Tonight – before getting quiet again with the Train Song. Most bands do a railroad theme with a clickety-clack rhythm, but Kilguss is more counterintuitive: the band kicked this one off with a trip-hop beat before cleverly shifting into a slow shuffle. They wound up the set with the vengeful murder ballad Hell Creek, “The creepiest song I’ve ever written,” Kilguss told the crowd.

She’s got an interesting backstory: she got her start in the theatre before dedicating herself to music more or less fulltime about seven or eight years ago. And while she’s not a stagy performer, she’s comfortable on it, swaying in her red dress (brighter than blood-red, but the symbolism seemed pretty obvious), her eyes closed, meticulously giving voice to the angst-ridden characters in her narratives. Those interested in catching her and the band at full volume can do that tonight at 7 PM at the small room at the Rockwood.

Agnes Obel Brings Her Somberly Catchy Art-Rock to Bowery Ballroom

If art-rock is your thing, Agnes Obel should be on your radar. The Danish-born pianist/chanteuse writes slow, brooding, extremely tuneful neoromantic laments that sometimes sound like Marissa Nadler with a piano – yeah, that good. Obel is playing Bowery Ballroom this Sunday night, March 2 at 10 PM; advance tix are $20 and as of today are still available.

Her latest album – streaming at Spotify  - is titled Aventine. It opens with a creepily minimalistic solo piano instrumental, Chord Left, which ought to be a horror film theme. From there Obel segues into Fuel to Fire, which adds a distant baroque tinge to the creepiness, dark washes of strings rising in the background, Obel’s elegant vocals building to big swells like Kristin Hoffmann in full-blown angst mode. While Obel’s Danish accent often makes her English lyrics hard to understand, it only adds to the songs’ menacing allure. The third track, Dorian is just piano, vocals and simple percussion: it’s more rhythmic and has more of a pop-oriented feel, albeit with some tricky syncopation.

Pizzicato cellos dancing in outer space – or at least that’s how they seem – juxtapose with a somber lead line on the title track. Obel disguises a Lynchian Nashville gothic vamp with swoops and shivers from the strings in Run Cried & Crawling, following it with the brief, rainy-night piano instrumental Tokka.

With its alternately stately and dancing cellos, the album’s longest track, The Curse sounds a lot like Rasputina, right down to the misterioso deadpan vocals. Simple, incisive piano contrasts with dark washes of strings on Pass Them By, which might be about a public lynching. Obel’s uneasy, breathy vocals on the catchily circling piano ballad Words Are Dead are the closest thing to Marissa Nadler here. After that, there’s the looping, crescendoing instrumental Fivefold, then the sad waltz Smoke & Mirrors, an Appalachian gothic tune reimagined with piano and ethereal vocal harmonies. Fans of Kate Bush, Linnea Olsson and Clara Engel, among other artists, will find a lot to like in Obel’s moody, wounded yet often unexpectedly kinetic sonics.

Darkly Intense Instrumentals from Lou Reed’s Last Great Lead Guitarist

Aram Bajakian was the last great lead guitarist in Lou Reed’s band. Since then, he’s shifted gears and gone on to play with Diana Krall. He’s also as strong and eclectic a composer as his background would suggest: a couple of years ago, he put out a fascinating trio album with with violinist Tom Swafford and bassist Shanir Blumenkranz that reimagined a series of old Armenian folk tunes. Bajakian’s new one, There Were Flowers Also in Hell (a William Carlos Williams quote), goes in a considerably different direction. It’s a feral, deliciously abrasive instrumental rock album, more informed by the blues than it is actually bluesy (although Bajakian is a strong and thoughtful blues player). This one again finds Bajakian leading a power trio, with Shahzad Ismaily on bass and Jerome Jennings on drums. It’s streaming at Bajakian’s Bandcamp page.

Bajakian nimbly weaves his way through many, many styles; he tends to work a concise, direct dirty/clean dichotomy. Ismaily is one of those rare players who listens in 360 degrees and improves everything he touches. As he does in Marc Ribot’s band, he excels at the dark, gritty stuff. Likewise, Jennings is an omnipresent, brooding. ready-to-pounce force at the low end. Much as everybody, especially the bandleader, can get completely unhinged, nobody wastes notes: for such a noisy record, it’s surprisingly focused.

The opening track is Texas Cannonball, which begins as lickety-split cowpunk and then gets all sludged out. One of Bajakian’s signature traits is that he can get just as wild and dirty (the crazed volleys of tremolopicking about two minutes in are only a hint as to how ferocious this album is going to get) as he can be expressive and lyrical. LouTone builds a clenched-teeth, apprehensively buzzing theme driven by Jennings’ leapfrogging, tumbling syncopation. Requiem for 5 Points, a somberly elegaic, minimalist piece, sets Bajakian’s lingering washes of sound over Ismaily’s stately, brooding, spacious lines.

Orbisonian, ablaze with a thicket of multitracked guitars, sounds like Big Lazy covering the Dead Kennedys, a contrast with the tender oldschool soul ballad, Sweet Blue Eyes, that follows it. Rent Party kicks off with a bouncy funk riff into a minor-key tune that’s part newschool Romany rock, surf music and Otis Rush blues – then they hit a long, surreal, muddy interlude reminiscent of 80s noiserock legends Live Skull as the bass growls to the surface. Bajakian then brings it down again with Medicaid Lullaby, a long, hypnotic tone poem that slowly develops a moody Middle Eastern-tinged theme.

Labor on 57th alternates between a hammering, anthemic, Darcy James Argue-like riff and noir surf. Japanese Love Ballad is a ghostly, spiky solo piece in the Asian scale that sounds like Bajakian is playing a resonator guitar with the strings muted. He picks things up again with the sardonic The Kids Don’t Want to Sleep, its growly, slowly simmering nocturnal groove bedeviled by flitting noise: all this pestering is driving dad nuts! The album winds up with For Julia, a spaciously pensive solo guitar sketch. Bajakian has made a lot of great music in recent years but this is some of his most interesting and adrenalizing – it’s one of the best instrumental rock records of recent years, hands down.

Marissa Nadler’s July: A Sullen, Overcast Art-Rock Masterpiece

Since the early zeros, Boston-area songwriter Marissa Nadler has built a richly creepy, allusively lyrical body of work that spans the worlds of folk noir, chamber pop, art-rock and Americana. Her latest album, July, is out today and streaming all the way through at NPR. And it might as well be called December instead. Her previous album, The Sister, took a turn away from Americana back toward the moody atmospherics of her mid-zeros work. This one takes that sound to the next level, methodically building layer upon swirling layer of Phil Wandscher’s guitars, Steve Moore’s keys and Eyvind Kang’s one-man string orchestra into a melancholy grandeur that sometimes reaches epic heights.

While the album has a handful of the mysterious, ghostly narratives and twisted historical vignettes that Nadler writes so well, the back end of the albm traces a theme of rejection, abandonment and despair that sinks deeper into the abyss as it goes on. Nadler’s nimble, hypnotic, baroque-tinged, fingerpicked acoustic and electric guitar work underpins most of these songs, although the production is far more lush than anything else she’s recorded. There are echoes of 80s goth music and densely echoey ambience a la the Cocteau Twins or the Church. As usual, Nadler puts reverb on all of it.

Nadler is as strong a singer as she is a storyteller, multitracking her vocals into an otherworldly choir of ethereal highs balanced on the low end by her gently menacing, elegantly melismatic attack. Drive unveils a typically sepulchral tableau, “Seventeen people in the dark tonight – you see some familiar faces behind the cellular lights.” It’s classic Nadler: the only driving in the song is a memory, the implication being that as this nebulously apocalyptic scene unfolds, there may not be any more. The song ends with a long, elegaic, Gilmouresque pedal steel solo.

1923 traces a theme of longing and absence as Nadler’s waves of guitar mingle with the organ, steel guitar and piano, building toward apprehensive cinematics. Firecrackers, a menacingly opiated, reverb-drenched, mostly acoustic Nashville gothic ballad, paints a booze-fueled Fourth of July scenario that does not end well. We Are Coming Back, with its richly spiky fingerpicking, is a vengeful ghost story, its narrator drawn back to a beloved childhood home where the unspoken horrific event at the center of the story went down.

Dead City Emily rises from similarly guitar-fueled, rhythmic insistence to icy, anthemic atmospherics, a wartime narrative that could be apocalyptic, or just symbolic of a metropolis or a scene that’s now gone. Nadler picks up the pace with Was It a Dream. a catchy, vintage 1960s style dark psych-folk hit fueled by snaky southwestern gothic guitar. By contrast, I’ve Got Your Name is a distantly gospel-inflected, minimalistic, cruelly sardonic breakup song, Nadler’s disconsolate narrator changing into her dress at a highway rest stop, taking care not to touch the floor, fighting highway hypnosis in the dark on the way back from New York to Massachusetts.

That story dominates the rest of the album. Desire is its most ornate, epic, overtly gothic track, a misty morass of reverberating vocals and darkly ethereal guitar. Anyone Else builds from a suspensefully apprehensive, richly jangling, ringing intro to an angst-fueled, bitter intensty. Nadler’s anger peaks on Holiday In, her narrator vowing that she’d rather be holed up at some cheesy roadside motel watching Crime TV than hanging out with the dubious fairweather character who left her hanging. And Nadler adds a country-gospel tinged note to the surreal, emotionally depleted Nothing in My Heart: “Got into the car today but didn’t go outside, maybe too far gone,” she frets. Raw, wounded and emotionally searing, this is one of the best albums covered here since this blog first went live in 2011. Time may judge this a classic. Nadler is at Glasslands on Feb 8 at 10 PM for $12. She also has a Soundcloud page with all kinds of deliciously creepy freebies.

A Long Overdue Look at Liv Mueller’s Haunting Solo Album

Over a year ago, Milwaukee songstress Liv Mueller sent her album Liv Sings – Love Songs for the Forlorn and Misguided over the transom here. It was a sensible thing for her to do, considering how well-suited to this blog her music is. She’s an individualistic songwriter with a thing for haunting, minimalist guitar, which she multitracks with the reverb turned all the way up, building a creepy, majestic backdrop for her slowly unwinding anthems and a waltz or two. She’s also an individualistic and tremendously good singer, with just as much power at the low end of her range as at the top. The songs on the album bring to mind Shannon Wright or Randi Russo taking a stab at Americana – admittedly, that might be a stretch, considering that neither of those artists is remotely country, but just imagine if you can. Mueller made a name for herself in that style of music in the midwest fronting the Lovelies and then the Dark Horse Project, so it’s no surprise that she’s equally at home with both vintage C&W and country blues-tinged material.

So why did such an excellent album sit around for so long here, unheard and forgotten? Umm…..dumbass blog owner (guess who) mistook it for somebody else’s jazz record, so it ended up hidden away on the server until a year-end cleanup sparked a listen to the first song. And this is one of those albums where the first song makes you want to hear what’s next, and so on until about an hour later, you’ve heard the whole thing and want to hear what else she’s got out there (good news – in the time that’s passed since she sent this one in, she’s been working on a new one). The noir torch song One More Time, which opens the album, is addictive, Mueller’s ghostly, mysterious a-cappella first verse rising to grand guignol orchestral heights on the wings of the string synth. Long Gone is the first of the many dark guitar-driven numbers: it’s got to be the only song that references both Edgar Allan Poe and the O.J. Simpson trial.

Mueller sings over a hypnotic, allusive country-blues vamp on This Kind of Love, her angst-ridden vocals matching the looming intensity of the music. Father Angel moves further toward indie rock, with creepy gothic lyrics and surreal backward-masked guitar. Salvation is a broodingly elegaic waltz – Mueller might be singing to a ghost here. And on the sardonic, embittered Let It Roll, is she singing “hell, hell, hell” as a mantra as the song opens – or is that just vocalese? Either would work, especially as Mueller adds a scorching, dreampop-tinged lead guitar line as the chorus kicks in.

She reinvents the country classic Crazy Arms, the only cover here, as Nashville gothic, and follows that with Haunted Face, a regret-laden neo-Velvets tune that wouldn’t be out of place in the Vera Beren catalog. An echoey noir bongo pulse pushes the Siouxsie-esque Beneath My Wings along, Mueller belting hard over the terse orchestration. Wish You May sets judiciously ringing tremolo guitar over a burning, distorted drone and another sardonic lyric; Mueller ends the album with a grimly amusing departure into Weimar-style cabaret. What’s coolest about this album is how she pulls together elements from styles that seem completely at odds with each other and makes everything work seamlessly along with her almost-lurid, unselfconsciously magnetic vocals.

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