New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: indie rock

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 Trifecta of Singles for 10/24

Rass Kass has been one of the world’s elite hip-hop lyricists since the 90s. Here’s How to Kill God – his succinctly poetic distillation of two thousand years of religion perverted by tyrants and psychotics – from the upcoming joint album Blasphemy with the Ugly Heroes‘ Apollo Brown. No one is spared: “Motherfuck Donnie & Marie!” check it out via bandcamp.

Unpaid Internship, by Onwe – say it without a French accent and you’ll get the joke – is a LMFAO phony shoegaze parody of Bushwick poser bands (bandcamp).

And since baseball is still going on – go Royals! – here’s Steve Wynn‘s Baseball Project immortalizing not the time that Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis took a hit of acid and threw a no-hitter, but the day in the spring of 1974 when he decided to hit every batter in the Cincinnati Reds’ lineup. His manager pulled him from the game five batters in, and the Bucs ended up losing, but a message had been sent loud and clear. And Ellis was out there pitching again the next time his turn came around – no suspension, no fine. How times have changed (youtube).

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.

The Year’s Best New York Rock Show Happened in Queens Last Week

The best New York show of 2014 happened last week at Trans-Pecos. There’s no way anybody’s going to top the quadruplebill of art-rock cellist-singer Meaner Pencil, charismatic Great Plains gothic bandleader Ember Schrag, the starkly entrancing duo of guitarist Mary Halvorson and violist Jessica Pavone and the darkly psychedelic Christy & Emily. After the show had finally ended, the challenge of getting home from Ridgewood at half past midnight seemed pretty much beside the point. Nights like this are why we live here instead of in New Jersey.

Meaner Pencil takes her stage name from the online anagram generator. Her music is plaintive and poignant but also occasionally reveals the kind of quirky humor that you would expect from someone who would do that. Or, from someone who honed her chops and her ability to hold a crowd by playing in the subway. This crowd responded raptly – you could have heard a pin drop as she sang in the arrestingly bell-like, soaring voice of a chorister, playing solo on her cello with a elegant, minimalistic blend of gentle plucking and bowing. Her second song, with its sadly tolling, funereal chords and hypnotically drifting sense of resignation, was a quiet knockout. Longing, alienation and abandonment were recurrent themes, set to slow tempos with the occasional hint of renaissance plainchant, pansori stateliness, and maybe Stereolab. And there was a riff-based art-rock piece that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Serena Jost catalog.

Ember Schrag’s albums have a similar kind of low-key, lustrous elegance, but with a more distinct Americana flavor. Onstage, she leads a fiery, virtuosic art-rock band who are unrivalled in all of New York. Drummer Gary Foster established an ominous tone with rolling toms and deep-fog cymbals in tandem with bassist Debby Schwartz as their hypnotically rumbling first number, The Real Penelope got underway. Schrag varied her vocals depending on the lyrics, from austere on this particular one, to torchy, gritty and often downright haunting, playing nimble rhythm on a beautiful vintage Gibson hollowbody guitar while lead guitarist Bob Bannister aired out a deep vault of eclectic licks. In this case, he started out with wry wah-wah and ended up ankle-deep in murky surf.

They followed with the bittersweet, trickily rhythmic, distantly Beatlesque Sandhill/Seaside: “Is it worse to kill a god or kill a child?” Schrag challenged. Tell Me a Nightmare blended sardonic ba-ba harmonies into its lushly theatrical sonics, the band joined by a string trio featuring both Pavone and Lenna M. Pierce (an anagram of Meaner Pencil) as well as violinist Sana Nagano, playing an arrangement by June Bender.

From there Schrag led the band into a wickedly catchy, waltzing Celtic-tinged anthem, The Plant & the Seed and then the menacingly sensual, carnivalesque 60s psychedelia of As Birds Do. Schrag dedicated William for the Witches – not the first Macbeth-inspired song she’s written – to “all the Republicans back home,” ramping up the menace several notches with her litany of spells as Bannister veered from monster surf, to ominous jangle, to a little skronk. They went back to Nashville gothic with Sycamore Moon, lowlit by Bannister’s blue-flame slide work and closed with a sardonic art-pop anthem, Virgin in the Shadow of My Shoe that would have fit well in the Hannah Fairchild songbook. There is no more interesting, intelligent rock songwriter than Ember Schrag anywhere in the world right now. To put that in context: Steve Wynn, Richard Thompson, Paul Wallfisch and Neko Case, scooch over and make some room for your sister.

Flipping the scirpt and putting Halvorson and Pavone next on the bill was a smart piece of programming: it kept the intensity at redline even as the idiom completely changed. They’re two of the world’s foremost improvisers, yet what they played seemed pretty much composed. An alternately lively and broodingly conversational repartee between Pavone’s meticulous, elegant washes and biting, austere motives, and Halvorson’s similarly precise, pointillistically rhythmic tangents took shape immediately and kept going. Like the night’s opening act, a feeling of unease pervaded the duo’s short, two-to-three-minute pieces, both instrumentals and moody vocal numbers, yet there was subtle, sardonic humor that bubbled up from time to time as the melodies and voices intertwined. A distantly Balkan-tinged instrumental, Halvorson bobbing and weaving through the flames shooting from Pavone’s viola, was the high point of the set.

Guitar/keyboard duo Christy & Emily opened with a droning, pitchblende organ dirge that was a dead ringer for the Black Angels, but with better vocals, enhanced by a harmony singer who contributed to several songs. Christy stabbed against Emily’s neo John Cale drone, All Tomorrow’s Parties without the drums, so to speak. At one point Emily played nimble broken chords in her lefthand on the organ while hitting a boomy tom-tom – crosshanded, without missing a beat. Cheery, clear vocals contrasted with the enveloping ultraviolet sonics as the show went on, Emily’s sometimes minimalisticaly echoing, sometimes ornately neoromantic phrases counterbalanced by Christy’s off-the-rails attack on the frets. They wound up the show with a Lynchian Nashville gothic ballad and then a more lighthearted, bouncy singalong. Schrag has another full-band show coming up in Greenpoint next month while Pavone can be found next with Clara Latham’s Same Size at Radio Bushwick a couple of days from now, on Oct 16. Halvorson is at the Firehouse Space on Nov 6 with Dan Blake and Sam Pluta.

A Haunting New Album and a Rockwood Show from Mark Rogers & Mary Byrne

Mark Rogers & Mary Byrne‘s haunting, plaintively lyrical debut album I Line My Days Along Your Weight is a masterpiece of folk noir, one of the best releases of 2014. They’re playing the album release show on Oct 14 at 6 (six) PM at the small room at the Rockwood and one of the reasons why they’re doing it that so soon after work is that you’ll probably be hungry by 7. So they’ll have pizza at the little bar next door, just to the north, where reduced drink specials are also promised. But don’t go for dinner, go for the music. Their recent impromptu show uptown at the American Folk Art Museum turned out to be one of the most enjoyably intense sets witnessed by this blog in recent months.

The two make a good and rather striking pair. Byrne is wiry and determined, with a thousand-yard stare. Rogers is big, rugged and fixated on taking his formidable guitar chops to a new level. Neither are newcomers. She cut her teeth in hypnotic, lo-fi Atlanta band Hot Young Priest, while he was part of the core of brilliant southwestern gothic band Myssouri. Their new album – recorded more-or-less live to analog tape and streaming at Athens music blog Flagpole Magazine – opens pensively with the evocatively brooding First Fall Nights. Byrne’s voice has a distinctive, unselfconsciously down-to-earth quality reminiscent of Paula Carino and this is a prime example.

Hospital keeps the grey-sky atmosphere going, a lush intertwine of fingerpicked guitars underpinning the menace implicit in Byrne’s narrative, Rogers adding one of his signature terse, rustically blues-infused resonator guitar solos. And he plays biting, catchy hooks on a hundred-year-old mandolin on When Your Elders Are Tall, something of a more hypnotic take on the Handsome Family.

With its moodily vamping minimalist ambience, A Racing Heart brings to mind Randi Russo, Rogers capping it off with a glimmering Middle Eastern-tinged solo. The even more hypnotic Green Gold Violet paints a wounded late-afternoon tableau, Rogers’ luminous dobro paired against Byrne’s tensely fingerpicked stroll. “Put a sticky there – honey,” Byrne reminds as the absolutely chilling, metaphorically searing A Gracious Host gets going: this remembrance has serious baggage.

Walk With Me pairs mandolin with more of that hypnotic, circular acoustic guitar. Cold Spring has a briskly scampering bluegrass shuffle groove: “I wanna go more north with you , where it’s more serious…where children run from dangers, only then when the wolves howl,” Byrne suggests. And then Rogers channels George Harrison.

With its torrents of doomed imagery, Sirens Call paints a haunting, indelible outer-borough New York nocturnal scenario: with Byrne’s nimble fingerpicking, it wouldn’t be out of place in the Linda Draper songbook. Rogers and Byrne revisit that milieu with the album’s closing cut, Sing a Fare Thee Well, the mandolin adding a surreal Macedonian edge. Play this with the lights out, late at night and discover two people who share your precarious world.

A Killer Noisy-But-Tuneful Triplebill at Glasslands

Tuesday night’s show at Glasslands was as good as the segues were weird. You might not guess that a free jazz freakout followed by artfully if haphazardly assembled, psychedelically tinged soul music and then an explosive female-fronted rock band would make any sense together, but it all did. Was Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier going to break his sticks, shatter a cymbal or puncture a drumhead with his axe-murderer attack on the kit? After his barely half-hour set with the trio Short Nerve ended with a final wallop, it seemed that he’d gotten two out of three, at least. Marimbist William Mcyntire played good cop to Saunier’s relentless, Weasel Walter-ish assault, with lingering, resonant lines and rippling neoromantic cascades, while guitarist Ofir Ganon hung back with a spacious, often eerily echoey approach that brought to mind 60s avant garde great Gabor Szabo. That was the trio’s game plan early on, in an explosive, nonstop performance that rose and fell in waves, building to a couple of crazed cyclotron crescendos.

Adam Schatz of Landlady followed with a nimbly executed set of loopmusic soul that drew deeply on classic blues and soul music from the 50s through the 70s. Schatz began with a surreal, dizzying pastiche of dark blues motives and then played a handful of originals that evoked both Bill Withers and Al Green in places. Schatz’s gritty, expressive voice brought to mind the former more than the latter as he shifted from tenor sax to keyboards with the kind of split-second choreography you need if you’re going to construct a song out of loops, live onstage without a net, and make it work. He ended his roughly half an hour onstage by going out into the crowd with his sax to lead them in an animated singalong of P-Funk’s I Got a Thing.

Eula headlined. They’re an amazing band, plain and simple, with an intense, instantly recognizable sound, part postpunk, part noiserock, punctuating their jaggedly catchy themes with hard-hitting, hypnotic interludes that you could call postrock. The trio of frontwoman/guitarist Alyse Lamb, bassist Jeff Maleri and drummer Stephen Reader took the stage joined by guitarist Chris Mulligan – who played terse, incisive licks against Lamb’s searing, sinister chords – along with clarinetist Jason Shelton, whose washes of sound added a distantly flickering ambience. From the dusky, hypnotically galloping, qawwali-esque groove of their opener, Noose, they established a menacing ambience  that seldom relented. Why is it that so many lefty guitarists – Hendrix, Otis Rush, Randi Russo and Lamb herself – have such individualistic styles? She was inspiring to watch, leaping from flurries of abrasive noise, to ringing downstroke punk, the occasional dreampop swirl and on one of the set’s later numbers, an achingly unresolved yet wickedly catchy series of acidic chords that Thurston Moore would have been proud to come up with. While the band’s songs were short, seldom clocking in at more than a couple of minutes apiece, Lamb varied her attack and her dynamics as she explored every dark corner of the fretboard.

When she talked to the crowd, she was friendly and vivacious, but when she went to the mic there was venom in her voice and in an instant she’d reestalished a disquieting mood. The special guests stuck around for the second song, Your Beat, an even more hypnotic, one-chord minor key tune followed by the funky, Gang of Four-inflected Things, one of many new songs in the tantalizingly brief set. They brought back the qawwali sonics and raised them to a hardcore stomp on the next song, Aplomb, following with I Collapse, with its swaying groove and biting, vintage 80s Sonic Youth/Live Skull hooks. On the night’s last, savagely brief tune, Meadows, Lamb didn’t even bother playing chords or a melody, hitting her open strings and punctuating the wash of sound with rhythmic shrieks of feedback from her overdriven amp. It’s a simple trick, one you’d think someone else would have used before, and it was an apt way to close the show and sum up what this band’s about.

A Catchy, Pensive, Compelling New Album and a Cake Shop Show from the Aquanettas’ Debby Schwartz

Debby Schwartz is one of the most distinctive, compelling singers in rock, with a coolly expressive alto voice that can be sultry one moment and then quirky and funny the next: Dawn Oberg comes to mind. Back in the 90s, Schwartz fronted cult favorite powerpop band the Aquanettas. Since then, she’s pursued a solo career. She’s got an excellent new album, Garden of My Own (streaming at Bandcamp), with an all-star cast of players and an album release show coming up on Sept 24 at 10 PM at Cake Shop. Cover is a reasonable $8.

The album’s dostamtly George Harrrison-tinged opening track, Hummingbird, comtemplates bitterness and regret, Kate Gentile and Claudia Chopek’s stark violins paired agianst Schwartz’ own elegant fingerpicking. “You’ve learned to play on the tolerance of those too kind to call you on the fact you’ve overturned, go if you want to you, know you’ve beeen found out if you get burned,” Schwartz warns.

The second track, Ambivalent, is much the same, elegant electric guitar accents intermingled with the acoustic – Bob Bannister. Pat Gubler and James Mastro play the electrics here, with Peter Stewart on bass. Dreaming New York City in the Middle of LA is a classic example of East Coast angst coming unraveled on the other side of the continent, set to a gorgeous paisley underground backdrop, twang and jangle and resonant washes from the electrics contrasting with Schwartz’s spiky acoustic. “The roaches on my kitchen wall hang flaccid and serene while my neighbors ram their door through with a car,” Schwartz bemoans, “Please get me out of here.”

London brings back a lingering rainy-day atmosphere: “Something vile has been haunting me for days now…flashing eyes and words that burned into your ears, did you cry?” Schwartz broods. Arise has a moody gravitas not unlike the Church, a band the Aquanettas once toured with, in folk-rock mode: on the last verse, we get funereal drums from Robert Dennis.

The album’s drollest track is the ambling Satan You Brought Me Down. The album’s longest track, Bulldozer, is also its most hypnotic: Schwartz might be addressing the evils of gentrification here. To Become Somebody keeps the hypnotic atmosphere going, Gabler’s hurdy-gurdy adding a distinct Scottish folk flavor. The next track, My Hope comes across a more soaring second part of that song.

That’s What Johnny Told Me on the Train balances a bouncy pop melody against more of that 4AD, rainswept open-tuned guitar ambience. The album ends with the bittersweetly anthemic Sitting in a Garden of My Own. Schwartz also has an ep out recently comprising several of these tracks along with the lushly luscious folk noir anthem Hills of Violent Green, a showcase for some literally breathtaking, swooping upper-register vocals.

Trampled by Turtles Bring Their Catchy, State-of-the-Art Americana to Terminal 5

Duluth, Minnesota’s well-regarded Trampled by Turtles personify the drift many of this era’s top tunesmiths have taken away from rock into Americana perhaps better than any band around. Imagine Andrew Bird plus Low, divided by O’Death in somber, lush mode, and you get a good picture of what their new album Wild Animals (streaming at Spotify and produced, appropriately enough, by Alan Sparkhawk of Low) sounds like. They’re at Terminal 5 at around 10 this Friday, Sept 12, with Hurray for the Riff Raff, a.k.a. torchy oldtimey Americana songwriter Alynda Lee Segarra opening the show at 9. Cover is $25, and with Trampled by Turtles as popular as they are, advance tix (available at the Mercury Lounge 5-7 PM Mon-Fri) are always a good idea.

The new album – their seventh, if you can believe – opens with the title track, a waltz, managing to be rustically bittersweet yet rousingly anthemic at once. It’s a good tablesetter for everything that follows, frontman/guitarist Dave Simonett’s gentle, unassuming vocals always just a hair below pitch – he’s sort of a male indie-era counterpart to the B-52’s Kate Pierson. White noise – ebow guitar, maybe – whooshes in and raises the lushness factor behind him.

The second track, Hollow, motors along on the graceful midtempo bluegrass groove of Dave Carroll’s banjo and Erik Berry’s mandolin as Ryan Young’s fiddle soars tersely and somewhat warily overhead. Repetition, another waltz, is where the stadium-rock-disguised-as-country really starts to take off, Berry’s mando cutting a Milky Way through a deep-blue nocturnal backdrop. Then they pick up the pace Are You Behind the Shining Star, which comes across as something akin to a vintage ELO hit with newgrass production values…or ELO doing newgrass. You might not think it would work, but it does.

One of the album’s most memorable tracks, the harmony-fueled Silver Light brings to mind another first-class Minnesota band, the Jayhawks circa 1997 or so. Come Back Home is another cross-genre mindfuck: Mexican son jarocho, chamber pop (those multi-tracked strings by Young are killer) and a brisk bluegrass romp. Ghosts aptly looks back to Orbison Nashville noir, but through the prisms of newgrass and post-Coldplay stadium rock.

“I think it’s time to go/The bartender is mean and slow,” Simonett warbles morosely midway through Lucy, an ethereal wee-hours lament. Then they blast through the lickety-split yet brooding Western World, a showcase for some searing banjo and fiddle that would fit in perfeclty on an album by The Devil Makes Three, Tim Saxhaug’s bass driving the beast forward. The most oldtimey track here is the country gospel-tinged Nobody Knows, followed closely by the closing cut, Winners, a warmly catchy Appalachian theme reinvented as a late 90s Wilco-style sway. Pretty much everything here is the kind of stuff that you find running through your mind long after the concert’s over.

A Cool New Single and a Silent Barn Gig From Heroes of Toolik

Heroes of Toolik play deceptively catchy, hypnotically jangling post-Velvets grooves. They’ve got a new single, Aquarium School b/w Dances with Elsa just out and a show coming up at the Silent Barn (which in case you haven’t kept up, has relocated from Ridgewood to 603 Bushwick Ave. between Melrose and Jefferson in Bushwick) on July 21 at 10 PM: take the J or M to Myrtle Ave.

The A-side sets guitarist/frontman Arad Evans’ cool, nonchalant vocal to a catchy, rising riff colored with Jennifer Coates’ violin, Ted Ferguson’s accordion and ex-Lounge Lizard Peter Zummo’s soulful, lingering trombone: it wouldn’t be out of place on REM’s Chronic Town, but with a more lush, interesting arrangement than anything on that album. The B-side works a slow, swaying, burning glamrock vibe propelled by Ernie Brooks’ bass and Trip Kyle’s drums – it sounds like a more Celtic take on what Bowie was doing circa Aladdin Sane. Wharton Tiers’ production keeps everything in its place and at the same time lets the individual voices shine.

Tuneful, Noisy Intensity from Millsted

Millsted are way more tuneful and interesting than you’d expect a band who unassumingly call themselves “noise hardcore punk” to be. They’ve got a new album, Harlem – streaming at Bandcamp – and an album release show at Bowery Electric at 9:45 on July 18.

The album’s opening track, Perfume begins with a squall of icy high feedback and sheets of reverb, then Pete Belloli’s machinegun drums kick in along with the menacing, chromatic stomp from Christopher Carambot and Robert Dume’s guitars. It builds to a long, raging tremolo-picked peak that brings to mind Noir Desir or some of Jello Biafra’s more metal-flavored projects. Frontman Kelvin Uffre delivers a literally explosive ending before bassist Samuel Fernandez winds it out with a creepy little solo riff.

They keep the chromatic intensity going with Coyote, veering between a biting stadium rock pulse and a noisier, sideswiping sound. Benghazi is slow and deliciously abrasive in a vintage Live Skull/peak-era Sonic Youth vein, with twin reverb-drenched guitar lines that disintegrate into a skin-peeling of eerie, chilly textures.

The album’s best song, Televangelist brings back an uneasy, hammering pulse, built around murderously direct East Bay Ray-style horror-surf riffage that spirals out in acidic sheets of reverb, hits a misterioso interlude and then rises again. Raunchula opens with screechy feedback and then hammers along with SY-ish downstroke guitar: the way the two guitarists pair off midway through, one adding a funky edge, the other wailing up and down on the strings, is a cool touch.

Las Casas is a characteristically assaultive mashup of hardcore, prog and noiserock, ending with a nonchalantly savage pickslide. The album’s longest track, Seafoam Lovers, doesn’t mesh. The long drony outro is cool, but it feels like the band is just phoning it in up to there – New Order ripoffs are obviously not their thing. The rampaging, cumulo-nimbus closing track, Gypsy brings a headbanging focus. We need more good, loud, uncompromising bands like Millsted. Maybe the best thing about this album is that it’s available on transparent vinyl: a sound mix as rich as this deserves it.

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