New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: new wave

Changing Modes Add to Their Legacy As One of the Great New York Bands

Quick: who’s the best rock songwriter in New York? Wendy Griffiths of Changing Modes is on the shortlist, no question. Quietly and efficiently, the keyboardist/bassist and her artsy, new wave-flavored band have put out a series of bitingly lyrical, wickedly catchy albums, all of which are streaming at Spotify. They’ve got a new one, The Paradox of Traveling Light, their sixth full-length album, due out momentarily and a release show at 9 PM on July 19 at Bowery Electric. Much as Changing Modes have made a name for themselves for elegant arrangements and shapeshifting tunes, they’re great fun live. Griffiths may be unsurpassed at creating a nonchalantly menacing ambience, but onstage she’s full of surprises, and the band feeds off her energy.

She also has a devious sense of humor, and that’s in full effect from the first few beats of Timur Yusef’s garage-rock drum intro on the album’s opening track, Dinosaur. A trickily rhythmic piano-pop song, it could be a snarky commentary on trendoids, or the human race in general on the fast track to the apocalypse. Griffiths’ scream on the way out is classic, Jello Biafra-class evil.

She works a neon luridness on the second track, Red, one of a handful of guy/girl duets here with the stagy-voiced Vincent Corrigan. The two spar and threaten each other over a punkish guitar-driven backdrop that brings to mind vintage X. The band follows that with the moody, Siouxsie-esque new wave anthem Give Up the Ghost, Griffiths and co-keyboardist Grace Pulliam shifting shades up to an expansive but purposeful Yuzuru Sadashige guitar solo.

The guy sings Sycamore Landing, an elegantly troubled 6/8 piano ballad that would fit perfectly in the Neil Finn catalog. In June alternates between a bouncy but creepy pulse and lingering atmospherics, a rich study in contrasts that might be a breakup song…or it might be about a suicide. That’s what makes Griffiths’ songwriting so interesting: she never hits anything head on, always drawing the listener into the mystery.

The one cover here is Black & Grey, a surprisingly solid, pensive song by otherwise lightweight quirk-pop band the Dream Bitches. Jeanine is the most lighthearted song here, and it’s not the first one the band has done about a cat. Fly morphs from macabre to wryly hilarious (Yusef gets the punchline), a bitter suburban escape anthem. Ride keeps the menacing chromatics going over a brisk new wave pulse, Griffiths’ venomous lyric driven to a crescendo by a snarling Sadashige guitar solo.

Lately takes an unlikely blend of spacerock lyrics and a brisk, surfy, organ-fueled groove and makes it all work: it seems to be a death-in-space scenario. The album ends with Sadashige’s pensive Triangle Heart, an understatedly dark ballad that shifts tempos all the way through to a funereal, tremoloing Griffiths organ solo that perfectly caps off this troubled and sometimes wrenchingly beautiful album, a strong contender for best of 2014.

The Foxx Reinvent a Classic CBGB-Era Sound

The Foxx play an edgy, distinctively New York flavored style of powerpop that’s a dead ringer for what was happening at CBGB around 1978. At that point, new wave was still in its infancy, but glam was still fresh in everybody’s mind and some people, notably Lou Reed, were still playing it. That’s where the Foxx picks up. They’ve got a couple of albums up at Bandcamp: their most recent one, Lila, as well as their ep Born Tonite, recorded in 2009, a free download that you should grab immediately if this kind of stuff is your thing. The Foxx are at Death by Audio on March 26 at around 10 for a $7 cover.

Frontwoman Juliet Swango sings with a Chrissie Hynde seductiveness over an early Motown-style electric piano riff and Tim Cyster’s growly guitar on the ep’s title track, her deliciously swirly organ solo leading back into the stomp. Wanting Only You pairs Cyster’s Stonesy chords against Swango’s lush organ and quirky Missing Persons-esque vocals: they rip through it in two minutes on the nose.

With its darkly intricate interweave of guitar and keys, the artsy anthem Black Rainbow gives Swango a launching pad for some powerful, dramatic vocals in the same vein as Vera Beren. Waiting in the Dark bridges the gap between oldschool 70s soul music and gritty powerpop, with the album’s most sarcastic lyric. The final cut, Velvet Helmet layers Swango’s elegantly echoey Rhodes piano over a tense groove from bassist Zac Webb and drummer Jill McArthur up to a towering, anthemic chorus. With Swango’s creepy organ and practically operatic vocals as it rises, it’s the most menacing track here. .

The more recent release brings more of an anthemic C&W flavor into the mix: Swango distinguishes herself by writing and singing in a country vernacular without getting all cheesy or faking a southern accent. Standout track: Don’t Start Blaming Your Heart, a big anthem midway through the album.

Tammy Faye Starlite – From Lakeside Lounge to Lincoln Center

As an artist, you make your Lincoln Center debut – assuming you can get one – by bringing a polished program that’s going to knock out the critics, right? If you’re Tammy Faye Starlite, you bring a raw if tightly rehearsed work in progress – and pack the house, and blow them away with it. Thursday night the insurgent comedienne/chanteuse/agitator led a poised yet gritty six-piece rock band through a characteristically irreverent, often hilarious and just as shattering set of Marianne Faithfull songs, including the cult singer’s iconic 1979 album Broken English in its entirety.

Beyond her work in film, the theatre and tv, Tammy Faye Starlite has won a devoted following for her unsparing, often caustically funny but revealing portraits of complicated rock personalities. She’s come a long way since her days at the now-defunct Alphabet City hotspot Lakeside Lounge, where she led the Mike Hunt Band through a series of snarky Rolling Stones album cover nights, pillaging the Glimmer Twins catalog for both gems and duds. Her most popular revue both lampoons and celebrates the music of Nico. Likewise, Tammy has used music and albums by the New York Dolls, Blondie and the Runaways as well as her own alt-country songwriting as springboards for stingingly literate, historically informed, uproariously amusing political commentary.

As usual this time out, the comedy was merciless. Tammy mocked Faithfull’s socialite snobbery as well as the acid-fueled hippie mysticism with which much of her work from the 70s is laced. In an impressively faithful Tory accent, Tammy channeled the British singer garbling her Biblical references, quoting from the “Book of Seth.” A little later, in introducing an aching, vividly bitter version of John Lennon’s Working Class Hero, she pondered whether a child of privilege such as Faithfull, or for that matter, Rick Perry and the rest of the Fox News cabal, could understand a 99-percenter’s rage and frustration. Her wryly meandering conclusion was that they could, even if they’re not exactly working-class and hardly heroes. But the music just as often took centerstage.

Early on, the sheer strength of Tammy’s voice threatened to subsume the elegant hesitance, not to mention the drug-damaged melismatics, that are Faithfull’s signature vocal tics. But as the show went on, the evocation became more eerily accurate, culminating in a rivetingly surreal, jangly rock version of Times Square. That song quickly became just as much an elegy for an edgy early 80s New York priced out by mallstore sterility and Disney tastelessness as it was a portrait of heartbroken alienation set against a backdrop of menace and decay. Lead guitarist Kevin Salem rescued the lesser tracks on Broken English – “the filler,” as Tammy acknowledged – with nonchalantly savage, expertly unhinged, judiciously placed acid blues licks. Multi-instrumentalist Keith Hartel channeled another guy with the same name on electric guitar, later switching to keyboards, finally turning in a spot-on, absolutely haunting take of Sister Morphine on acoustic, which was the night’s most memorable song and the point at which the personalities of Tammy and Marianne fused as one.

Getting there was a lot of fun. As usual, Tammy sprinkled snide bits of trivia and razorwire improv in with the songs. Folksinger Tim Hardin, co-writer of Brain Drain, the prosaically bluesy ode to scoring dope, had become known as “Tim Heroin” in New York circles by the time he penned the lyrics. As the show went on, the way Tammy handled a persistently vocal audience member who once was a neighbor of Hardin’s, and still revered him, became a clinic in how to finesse the most unwilling subject to set up a cruelly perfect punchline. She finally let down her hair with a raging, aptly punked-out, expletive-strewn version of Why’d Ya Do It, complete with faux-orgasmic vocalese which became a very physical shout-out to Penny Arcade, whose performance piece Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! Faithfull had made a cameo in back in the 90s.

Bassist Jared Michael Nickerson gave the album’s seemingly interminable stoner new wave title track an unwaveringly circular groove in tandem with drummer Ron Metz. Salem fueled Shel Silverstein’s would-be suicide epic The Ballad of Lucy Jordan with some unexpected U2 riffage, while keyboardist David Dunton switched from fluid organ lines to more sardonically woozy synth voicings. And Craig Hoek built an unexpected but effectively optimistic ambience on some of the later material in the set on both alto and soprano sax. “We wanted to play as long as we could, considering that we probably won’t be invited back,” Tammy snidely averred before an attempt to get an audience singalong going with As Tears Go By, but the crowd seemed too stunned and overwhelmed to respond. And it wouldn’t be wishful thinking to hope for a return engagement: as both the performance and brave choice of artist made clear, this isn’t your father’s Lincoln Center anymore. In the meantime, Tammy and the band are going to reprise most of this show on May 13 at Joe’s Pub.

Big Buzz Band Blouse Breezes into Bowery Ballroom

Portland, Oregon band Blouse‘s early singles worked moody 80s-style synth-pop terrain. Their latest album, Imperium – streaming at Spotify – finds the band evolving to put a more melodic spin on classic late 80s/early 90s-style dreampop. With the guitars’ enveloping, jangly chill, early Lush is the obvious comparison, but this band has become both more tuneful and uses more varied textures than just the watery chorus-box effects that give dreampop its icy swirl and echoey resonance. Blouse’s Bowery Ballroom gig on March 25 opening for the ghoul-pop Dum Dum Girls is sold out but there are still general tix for $15 for their Music Hall of Williamsburg show the following night, where they’re playing around 9:30.

Throughout the album’s ten tracks, bassist Patrick Adams plays with a gritty, trebly tone, his lines winding and twisting but not wasting notes. Guitarist Jacob Portrait will hit his distortion pedal when the chorus kicks in and go back to an echoey clang on the verse, or vice versa. Frontwoman Charlie Hilton varies her vocals from clipped and Teutonic to much more wamly alluring, particularly when she uses her lower register.

And the songs are catchy. The title cut follows a steady path from watery to searing and back again: with the mantra “Are you one of us?,” it sounds like a sci-fi narrative. On the second track, Eyesite, Portrait brings in a little scratchiness and then what sounds like a vintage repeater box. The strummy 1000 Years hides an echoey electric piano behind the layers of jangle, while In a Glass welds growly guitars to an insistently hypnotic 80s vamp. Capote juxtaposes nebulousness and noise over a steady sway, then A Feeling Like This hints at vintage disco.

No Shelter is totally Lush circa 1990, with an aptly apprehensive lyric: “We can’t keep anything, sky’s getting cloudy and it’s a different time…there is no shelter from this storm.” Happy Days goes back in time ten years for a lo-fi Siouxsie ambience; Arrested takes a familiar early Joy Division beat and beefs it up with ringing twelve-string guitars. The vamping final cut, Trust Me gingerly adds textures until the band has a full-fledged song. Judging from this band’s buzz, if only Lush, and My Bloody Valentine, and the Cocteau Twins would get back together and tour, they’d pack stadiums. At the very least they’d pack Bowery Ballroom.

Trippy, Creepy Surf Rock from France’s La Femme

If there was a surf band in Blade Runner, or in Jabba the Hut’s lounge, it would be La Femme. The French group sound like no other band on the planet – or maybe the universe. While many of the tracks on their latest album, Psycho Tropical Berlin – streaming at Youtube – are instrumentals, the band’s latest shtick is to have a mystery woman guest as vocalist on many of the tracks, appropriate enough considering what the band call themselves. They’re at Glasslands on March 23 at 11ish for $12.

Their basic m.o. is to surround their often creepily Lynchian, twangy surf guitar with all kinds of layers of synths, some of them weirdly offcenter and adding to the uneasy ambience, some of them pretty cheesy. Their French lyrics often aim for humor, with mixed results: the music is the point here. The album’s opening track, Antitaxi, sets the stage: noir sci-fi keys speed up to a motorik spy movie theme of sorts, which gives way to shivery faux organ and eventually the Ventures-in-space guitar kicks in. Amour Dans le Motu makes a creepier cousin to that number, an organ-fueled baroque surf number with an unexpectedly atmospheric mellotron interlude midway through.

The band’s titular song is funk-pop with tremolo-bar guitar: on one level, it’s totally 80s, on another it’s completely original to this band. A slow Lynchian tone poem simply titled Interlude is next, followed by the equally Lynchian reggae of Hypsoline and Sur la Planche 2013, which takes early Ventures noir forward fifty years in time with synth bass and a big shuffling drum crescendo.

They go back to reggae, with some scary dialogue (in French) seemingly from a Chernobyl documentary, and then some bizarre but good boogie-woogie piano, in From Tchernobyl With Love. They mix up spy surf with cheesy dancefloor electronics in Packshot, then shift to a moody minor-key reggae/trip-hop mashup with Saisis La Corde. Le Blues de Francoise drifts along on a swooshy organ grove, a tale about a girl with problems.

With a grand total of twenty tracks, the album thins out as it goes along. The good stuff includes some more baroque spacerock and then a hypnotically murky dub version, some ominous trip-hop and a stab at Orbison noir through the warped, synthesized prism of new wave. On the downside, there’s one song that nicks the Modern Lovers’ Roadrunner, another that’s an overlong attempt to remake New Order’s Temptation, along with ripoffs of Blondie’s Heart of Glass and Berlin’s The Metro, a Missing Persons soundalike, some halfhearted Chuck Berry gone hi-tech plus a considerably more techy, purposeless remake of one of the songs on their previous release, Le Podium. Still, when this band is on their game, the ambience they create is as genuinely as it is offhandedly sinister.

Retro Trippiness from Nova Heart

On one hand, you might hear Chinese group Nova Heart’s retro 80s psychedelic pop and say to yourself, “I’ve heard this before.” And if 80s music is your thing, you assuredly have. Others might think dubstep, although Nova Heart’s music is slower and a lot closer to trip-hop. And it’s hard to imagine anyone doing either this artfully. Frontwoman Helen Feng writes catchy, anthemic hooks and sings them low, nonchalant and cool. But it’s Rome-based disco producer Rodion who’s shaped her themes into some of the trippiest hypnotic music to come over the transom here lately. Their Beautiful Boys ep is streaming all the way through at their Bandcamp page.

This music is all about textures: Nova Heart employ seemingly every weird, offcenter synth patch ever invented. For example, the third track, Good Ideas, which could easily have been a hit for ABC (the glossy British new wave pop band, not the tv network) thirty years ago: the way they take the hooks and move them around from the lows to the highs, or vice versa, and then back again, is as clever is as it is trippy. The first track, My Song, is sort of a trip-hop spy theme, with echoey Arp electric piano, layers of woozy upper-register synth, and a simple, catchy guitar line that they suddenly warp into doublespeed for a vintage new wave feel. And the title cut – an ode to tranny hookers – sways along with not one but two synth basslines, lowdown P-Funk style slyness balanced with eerily echoing, trebly, multitracked nocturnal electric piano. There’s also a song titled Ethereal which actually isn’t ethereal at all. Is this 80s nostalgia? Sort of. But it’s its own animal, too.

Avi Fox-Rosen and Raya Brass Band Slay at Rock Shop

“Love is a word you use so you don’t hurt the feelings of the ones who like to say it more than you,” Avi Fox-Rosen sang nonchalantly, without a hint of sarcasm, over a bouncy, singalong, pseudo-theatrical pop tune, early in his album release show Thursday night at Rock Shop. “Love is as suspect as me,” he added later on. That’s Fox-Rosen in a nutshell. He’s sort of akin to Elvis Costello with better guitar chops. Both are purist pop tunesmiths with an encyclopedic bag of licks and ideas. But where Costello goes for lyrical gymnastics and umpteen levels of meaning, Fox-Rosen tells sardonically and sometimes grimly funny, aphoristic stories, and slips you the shiv when you least expect it. For example, the organ soul song that opened the set, So Fucking Happy: the implication is that this may be the only time in the guy’s life that he’s not miserable.

That song is sort of the title track to Fox-Rosen’s December album, his final release in a year that saw him put out an album a month (all up at his Bandcamp page as name-your-price downloads). That he actually pulled off this feat is impressive in itself; that the material he released was so strong catapulted him to the top of the Best Albums of 2013 page here. He’d pulled an excellent band together for this show – a melodic, eclectic basssist, the similarly diverse and tasteful Chris Berry on drums and Dave Melton channeling 60s soul grooves on organ and electric piano: these guys really get Fox-Rosen’s incessant references to decades of rock history.

The night’s second song was Baby, a twinkling lullaby from February’s ep that poked fun at the lure of returning to the womb: Fox-Rosen drew plenty of laughs from its “Suck and shit and sleep” mantra. On album, Fox-Rosen’s apprehensive playground narrative Ugly Duckling begins as a cabaret tune – this time, the band made fluid new wave out of it until they took it doublespeed into creepy, snarling, guitar-fueled circus rock territory. “The other ducks didn’t give a fuck, Brother Duck cursed my rotten luck,” Fox-Rosen intoned, deadpan and cool. But this little duck turns out to have unexpected bite.

College had a similarly tongue-in-cheek sarcasm, Fox-Rosen bemoaning his “worthless degree in esoterica” and the fact that living at home with the ’rents doesn’t exactly compare with studying in Paris. He kept a low-key but corrosive political edge going – “Are you proud to be American?” he challenged over faux-celebratory Huey Lewis-style 80s anthemic radio rock, Melton taking an lush, swirly organ solo.

Then Fox-Rosen shifted gears, showing off some impressively creepy surf rock chops and took a searing, intense, noisy solo on Everybody Dies, the most macabre song of the evening, Melton adding the occaasional jarring slasher-flick riff. They lost the crowd on the song after that – sometimes Fox-Rose’s satire can be so subtle that it’s hard to tell when he’s being serious or not, or a mixture of both. But he got everybody’s attention with the savage God Who Lives in Your Head, who’s a real sourpuss, watching you like a spycam and digging up as much dirt as he can.  He closed with Where Is My Parade, underscoring the song’s twisted carnivalesque side, a snide spoof of rockstar (or wannabe rockstar) narcissism. Fox-Rosen is at Bar Chord, 1008 Corteyou Rd. (Stratford/Coney Island Ave.), in Ditmas Park on Feb 6 at 9.

Afterward, Raya Brass Band gathered on the floor in front of the stage rather than on it, drew the crowd in and then played their asses off. “Do you do originals as well as covers?” a woman in the crowd wanted to know.  Trumpeter Ben Syversen paused: “We’ve been playing mostly originals, although we also play a lot of the traditional repertoire,” he hastened to add. That’s this band’s appeal in a nutshell: you’d assume that they were from East Serbia if you didn’t know they were actually from Brooklyn. A nonstop gig schedule over the past couple of years has made this scorching Balkan five-piece group incredibly tight. Syversen and alto saxophonist Greg Squared use extended technique – microtones, slides and lickety-split doublestops – that would make most jazz players green with envy. Tuba player Don Godwin’s funky, surprisingly bright tuba pulse fueled the nonstop groove along with the ominously booming clip-clop clatter of the standup tapan bass drum. Ostensibly there were sound issues with Matthew “Max” Fass’ accordion, but out in the crowd his swirls and rapidfire riffage were cutting through just fine.

A lot of the traditional material from throughout the Balkans pulses along on menacingly chromatic vamps, and Raya Brass Band does that as well, although their songs are a lot more complex. They don’t rely on a simple verse/chorus format, they love tricky time signatures and they jam the hell out of the songs. By the time the first explosive minor-key number was over, Greg Squared had already shredded his first reed. By the end of the set, there was something in Syversen’s mouthpiece – a piece of him, maybe? Talk about giving 100% onstage. The staccato twin riffage between the two horns had an icepick intensity, the two sometimes doubling their lines, sometimes pairing off harmonically. Fass led the band through an unexpectedly lush, lingering ballad that took all kinds of wary twists and turns before they brought back the marauding minor-key assault. The high point of the many originals was a slinky number with an austere Ethiopian flavor. The most exhilarating of the traditional tunes was a lickety-split dash through Mom Bar, which does not have anything to do with your mother although drinking is definitely involved. Raya Brass Band are at Golden Festival Saturday night at 11 PM and then play a 2 AM set at Freddy’s afterward.

Heaven’s Gate Bring Dreampop Back with a Roar

Brooklyn band Heaven’s Gate put an energetic, anthemic spin on vintage dreampop, sort of a teens update on the Throwing Muses. Frontwoman Jess Paps’ angst-ridden wail is often half-buried in the mix and doesn’t move around much: that’s left to Michael Sheffield and Jack Wolf’s guitars, the rhythm section of bassist Alex Cvetovich and drummer Patrick Stankard holding down a rhythmic drive that’s propulsive but just as hypnotic. Their album Transmuting is streaming all the way through at their Albumstreams page. If the rain-drenched sound of guitars through a thousand chorus pedals entices you, you’ll love this album.

On one hand, this band absolutely nail the watery sonics that defined the 4AD era; on the other, the guitars roar as much as they ring and echo. Like so much of dreampop, the opening track has the bass carrying the melody line underneath the icy, resonant swirl. Drone builds from a catchy two-chord postpunk vamp to more enveloping sonics. Fight sets ringing open chords over uneasy syncopation, while Clean hints at New Order without lapsing into cliches

Lex Vision has both the bounciness and noisiness of middle-period Lush. I’m Forgetting turns the formula upside down: swirling verse, dancing chorus. Screams builds from a catchy, growling vintage-era Sonic Youth verse to more echoey and fleshed-out atmospherics over a skittish beat. In a minute forty-eight seconds, Iron Black manages to be both the best and most straightforward song on the album, with its biting minor-key changes over a scorching, distorted backdrop. Always adds echoes of the Cure and also surf music to the banks of watery murk;  the album winds up with the unexpectedly anthemic Sun City and its leaping, catchy vocals.

Avi Fox-Rosen’s Monthly Album Marathon Reaches the Finish Line

Avi Fox-Rosen set out this past January to release an album a month this year. That he achieved his goal is noteworthy enough; that the music has been so consistently good is mind-boggling, except for the fact that he’s always been a strong songwriter and a hell of a guitarist. Did he simply have a huge backlog of unrecorded songs waiting and decide to get it all out there this year, or are all of them brand new? The answer isn’t clear. Whatever the case, you can guess for yourself and enjoy everything he released because it’s all up at his Bandcamp page as a name-your-price download..

Fox-Rosen approached this project thematically. January’s album contemplated getting old, February’s was about love, followed by – in monthly order – money, stupidity (April’s album, the pick of the litter), fairy tales, teen angst, nationalism, sex, religion and fear (the existential kind),

November’s album focuses on family dysfunction. Oh boy, does it ever. Fox-Rosen’s tunesmithing is as eclectic as always, his cynicism at redline as it has been throughout much of this past year. And so is his snide sense of humor.The most LMFAO funny song here is Eat. It’s a noir cabaret tune about a mother who equates food with love. But that’s only part of the story. One of Fox-Rosen’s most effective tropes is to take a straightforwardly comedic song and use it to deliver savage sociopolitical commentary, and this is a prime example. Halfway through, he turns the story away from the ridiculous mom and launches into a litany of ridiculous food, a parody of fussy foodie trends. The jokes are too good to spoil.

Together Again is a sardonic gospel rock song about a family that likes to bond: their bonding mechanism happens to be fighting, the physical kind. We Ain’t Never Gonna Forget (What a Shit You Were) is a new wave tune and much as it it’s a little obvious, it’s irresistibly funny:

Well you were just two feet tall
You took out your penis and pissed on the wall
And everybody in town thought I cussed
When I said, “Hey, that little shit is pissing on the wall!”

Intertwined, a pensive folk-rock ballad, is a lot more subtle, contemplating some of the quieter ways a child’s individuality gets crushed. The album ends with one of the longer songs in this project, Demon Inside (Corporate Family), a big, enveloping art-rock anthem set in a surreal, futuristic, grey Orwellian world that is actually the here and now, Fox-Rosen offering a quietly revolutionary message. On another level, it might also be a Coldplay parody.

December’s album hints at being triumphant coda to all of this, but the central theme is rockstar narcissism: an easy target, and Fox-Rosen takes full advantage. Listen closely and decide for yourself which of these parodies might be outtakes from previous themes.  As he will do occasionally, Fox-Rosen occasionally drops his guard – in the first song, So Fucking Happy, a wry spin on generic Bad Company-style riff-rock, he admits that “I’ve never been happy quite this long, I’m either doing something very right or doing something very wrong.”

Where Is My Parade is a warped circus rock song that gets more over-the-top, and funnier, as it goes along – and the big brass band Fox-Rosen assembled for the track matches that surrealism. With Sisyphus, Fox-Rosen goes back to the classic radio rock for a spoof of optimistic “keep on keepin’ on” cliches. You Think That Was Something straddles the line between powerpop parody, a Spinal Tap-style narrative about an aging rocker mounting a dubious comeback, and a defiantly triumphant message that Fox-Rosen may be done with this project, but his best days are still to come. The album ends with Thank You, a generic blues ballad which on one level makes fun of musicians onstage pandering to an audience, but on the other puts both a scowl and a self-effacing shrug on the grim reality that most guys with guitars face. Fox-Rosen and band play a celebratory end-of-marathon show at Rock Shop in Gowanus at around 9 PM on Jan 9; explosive Balkan brass jamband Raya Brass Band, who put out one of the most phenomenal albums of 2013, open the festivities at 8.

The Plastic Pals Put Their Edgy Spin on Classic New Wave Era Sounds

The Plastic Pals‘ name is a dead giveaway for their sound: ferocious, wickedly tuneful late 70s/early 80s-style new wave and garage-punk. If the Stockholm rockers had recorded their latest album Turn the Tide in 1979 and then had been forgottten, it would be regarded as a lost classic today. The whole thing is streaming at their Soundcloud page, along with their other excellent albums. Yet what they do isn’t purely retro: they add their own guitar-fueled edge and sardonic worldview to well-loved, edgy styles from the late 70s and early 80s. Frontman Håkan “Hawk” Soold sings in good English, with a dry sense of humor that often recalls a classic European band from the new wave era, Holland’s Gruppo Sportivo. Ex-Green on Red keyboardist Chris Cacavas’ production is purist and period-perfect: the growling guitars of Soold and Anders Sahlin in each channel, terse and catchy with no wasted notes, Bengt Alm’s bass and Olov Öqvist’s drums in back, vocals up front where they should be.

One thing that sets the Plastic Pals apart from most of the original new wave bands is that their songs are a lot longer. One of the album’s most spine-tingling tracks, A Couple of Minutes is a good example, a cruelly vengeful, wickedly catchy account of a battered wife. The album’s title track works a bouncy, soul-tinged vintage Elvis Costello vein, a cynical look at how the current global depression hits you between the eyes. Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea nicks the tune from the late 80s Tom Petty/Jeff Lynne hit Runinng Down a Dream and takes it to the next level, with some neat clean/dirty guitar contrasts and a wry Rolling Stones quote at the end. And they go into swaying 6/8 groove for the junkie blues ballad Caramel, She Said, with a hard-hitting, anthemic guitar solo midway through.

Cards sets a biting, bluesy lead over marching multitracked guitars: there are echoes of early Squeeze, the Larch and Radio Birdman in there. Leave It Til Tomorrow has a funky, Stonesy vibe: “Stuck in this tragic sitcom – hey, write me out of the script,” Soold asserts. Miracles follows a slowly ominous, jangly, psychedelic soul-tinged tangent that brings to mind Golden Earring at their most focused. The most memorable song here is the bittersweetly anthemic Providence: with its surreal, nocturnal storyline and blend of country and Memphis soul, it could be the great lost Wallflowers hit. Close behind it is the richly anthemic, soaringly triumphant yet apprehensive All the Way.

The Final Remedy works a late-70s powerpop radio vibe but with better production values. The Sweet Spot again brings to mind Gruppo Sportivo, with its tongue-in-cheek story of a clandestine hookup, half sarcastic, half dead-serious, with some seriously catchy major/minor changes. Traveling completely rips the Radio Birdman classic Man with Golden Helmet, but with its fiery, bluesy guitars and alienated lyrics, it’s a killer song anyway. And Wouldn’t Change a Thing brings to mind Willie Nile at his anthemic best, burning, blues-infused guitars fueling a creepy, phantasmagorical tale. It’s one of the best albums of the year and makes you wonder who else in Stockholm might be making music this good.

Earlier this fall, the Plastic Pals did a brief Dives of New York tour with their pals Band of Outsiders, so it’s not unrealistic to expect them back at some point: watch this space.

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