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Tag: nick cave

Dark, Brooding Menace from Mike Marlin

Dark British rock songwriter Mike Marlin seems to be building a career out of gigs like  supporting Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler of the Jam on UK tour. But Marlin may well be the main attraction at shows like those: the old rake writes good songs. As he tells it, he cut his teeth in the early 80s, inspired by Siouxsie & the Banshees and the Cure, but it wasn’t until the end of the past decade that he dedicated himself exclusively to music. It’s a good thing he did: his new album, Grand Reveal is streaming at his Bandcamp page as is last year’s release, Man on the Ground. You can also grab a free download of the single The Murderer, a gorgeously orchestrated, bitterly understated lament for a dissolute life, from his Soundcloud page.

Marlin turns out to be less new wave than you might expect. Sometimes he goes in a noir cabaret direction, other times completely goth, occasionally looking back to early 70s glam – it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine these songs being fully realized versions of demos he made back in the 80s. His raspy baritone is strong, his worldview cynical and world-weary, his songs catchy and anthemic.”I’m older than I look, younger than I feel,” he snarls on the title track, a slinky, doomed cabaret anthem.

The new album’s best song is the opener, Skull Behind the Skin, building from creepy music-box electric piano to a searing chorus fueled by Johnny Marr-style guitar. Marlin’s deadpan croon and allusive lyrics here could be friendly encouragement to hang out and jam, but turn out to have somewhat different implications.

The most typically new wave track is War to Begin, a study in maintaining a tense, anxious mood, bass rising over a hypnotic, insistent guitar pulse. The poppiest are Forgive Me Yet, with its lively brass section, and Girl on the Roof, which could be Ian Hunter in blithely seductive mode. A couple other ballads bring to mind Nick Cave: Amazing building to a big crescendo, Giving It All Away broodingly contemplating the end. “I hear the saxophone on Baker Street on endless repeat, and I don’t mind, and I’ll hear it again,” Marlin accepts with unexpected grace.

“The neighbor’s cat comes into the garden to hunt birds; he never catches them or hurts them, which is more than I can say about you,” Marlin intones on the nonchalantly menacing More Than I Can Say. It wouldn’t be out of place in the Jon DeRosa catalog. Doesn’t Care is catchy and surprisingly wry; the album’s most theatrical song is To the Grave, a diptych that ends the album on an unexpectedly sympathetic if distantly angst-riddled note. An album like this raises the question of how many other Mike Marlins there might be out there who could be sitting on a similarly enticing collection of good songs from back in the day.

Henry Wagons Brings His Melbourne Menace to Joe’s Pub

Noir songwriter/bandleader Henry Wagons plays Joe’s Pub this Saturday night, March 2 at 9:30 PM. With his brooding baritone, Wagons’ fellow Australian Nick Cave is an obvious influence, but where Cave goes off into art-rock and Irish balladry, Wagons goes into vicious noir rock, like a more vengeful Mark Steiner. Wagons’ latest album Expecting Company? also has a similarly surreal, sardonic, irreverent gallows humor. As you might expect of a guy with a rakish persona, he likes to surround himself with women, in this case Patience Hodgson of the Grates and Sophia Brous representing for his musical hotbed of Melbourne along with Haligonian songstress Jenn Grant and the Dead Weather’s Alison Mosshart serving as sparring partner on several of these songs.

The opening track, Unwelcome Company sets the stage, a savage tango that explodes in a burst of drums and minor key guitar. Mosshart comes in for the uneasy mantra, “Everywhere I go they follow me;” as the song ends, there’s a nasty guitar solo half-buried in the mix that looks all the way back to Aussie garage-punk legends Radio Birdman.

The second cut, I’m In Love with Mary Magdalene begins as a ghostly faux madrigal over funeral organ and blends creepy vocal harmonies with macabre guitar twang while Wagons and Mosshart lament their unrequited lust. Give Me a Chance to Mend reminds of the country side of Jerry Teel, mixing warm pedal steel with wry honkytonk piano, while the rustically twisted family tale I Still Can’t Find Her evokes Tom Warnick & World’s Fair at their most surreal.

Wagons goes for an only slightly restrained Cramps-y menace on the ghoulabilly stomp A Hangman’s Work Is Never Done. He follows that with Give Me a Kiss, a country waltz so bizarre it’s irresistible, with its pinging Omnichord synth and coy, chirpy backing vocals. The album winds up with Marylou Two, Wagons reaching for a Willie Nelson ballad vibe and surprisingly hitting the target pretty head-on. But even in the quietest moments here, there’s a lingering unease: Wagons sounds like someone who’s always got a blunt instrument up his sleeve. The sedate confines of Joe’s Pub may be in for a rude shock when this guy hits the stage.

Tom Shaner’s Long-Overdue Solo Debut: Worth the Wait

For those who’ve followed Tom Shaner’s career since his days in the early zeros fronting Industrial Tepee – the great southwestern gothic rock band that should have been as famous as Calexico or Giant Sand but never was – his new album Ghost Songs, Waltzes and Rock n Roll is long overdue. Ironically, though billed to Shaner solo, it’s far more lush and richly arranged than anything he did with that band, in fact, the best thing he’s ever done. The music blends layers of jangly, twangy, spiky, occasionally searing electric and acoustic guitars over a nimble rhythm section, ornamented with deviously flickering keyboards, mandolin, banjo and the occasional wry electronic effect. Songwise, there are echoes of Steve Wynn, the Byrds, Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave in its most pensive moments.

Shaner’s nonchalant, laid-back vocals are sort of a cross between Lou Reed and the Wallflowers’ Jakob Dylan. The songs’ lyrics are terse, cynical and clever: they’ll resonate especially with anyone who’s weathered the same storms as Shaner has during these past few years as the New York he came up in slid closer and closer to New Jersey. Although many of the songs have a dusky desert feel, a familiar urban milieu recurs throughout the album. That factors in heavily on the funniest song here, the deadpan, early Elvis Costello-ish Unstoppable Hipster, as well as the considerably more spare, haunting Downtown Has Done Damage, which reminds of the Church around 1986 or so.

Sinner’s Highway sets a surreal, sordidly Lynchian scene to snarling minor-key rock: a late-period Industrial Tepee tune, it reminds a lot of Steve Wynn, with a wry quote in the solo guitar outro. Another one from that era, Sister Satellite manages to be dreamy yet bracing as its layers of guitar mingle and then surge.Then Shaner evokes another well-known late 90s/early zeros band, White Hassle, with Forever Drug, spiced with tongue-in-cheek samples and hip-hop turntablism.

She Will Shine is crushingly caustic: over punchy, syncopated, Jayhawks-flavored rock, Shaner relates how a girl who couldn’t hack it in the big city is ostensibly leaving for better things in the country, but “when the lid is lifted, everything is shifted…her time is complete, the future is a one-way street.” Rosa Lee, a big concert favorite, works a more pensive, regretful vein.

Shaner pairs Foreverland, a creepy reggae song, with the nebulous, only slightly less creepy psych-folk anthem Silent Parade. Where Grief Becomes Grace, an echoey desert rock dirge, is as broodingly evocative as anything Giant Sand ever did. A cover of Tom Waits’ Cold Water picks up the pace with a gospel-fueled menace, black humor in full effect.

Only slightly less dark colors close the album. Everything Is Silver returns to a romping Elvis Costello vibe: it’s the opposite of what it seems. And My House is Green builds a moody acoustic Velvets ambience. But not everything here is as dark: there’s Sun Girl #2, with its lushly gentle Sunday Morning sway, and Streets of Galway, a lively Irish tune. One of the best albums of 2012, no question. Shaner plays the release show – assuming the subways are back up and running – at the Knitting Factory on Nov 7 at 8:30 PM.

Creepy Intensity from Thee Shambels at Zirzamin

Most bands open a show with a bright, catchy song. Friday night at Zirzamin, Thee Shambels did just the opposite, with a LONG, morose, Irish-flavored ballad about the death of a relationship…or maybe a dead girlfriend. It could have been both. Frontman/guitarist Neville Elder sang it uneasily with a break in his voice over the rich, amber washes of Melissa Elledge’s accordion, Sarah Mischner’s harmony vocals adding another level of bitterness over the slinky, subtle groove of Scott Kitchen’s bass and JJ Murphy’s drums. Elder has a theatrical side and a knack for dramatic imagery, sometimes completely in your face, sometimes much less so. “We lie together like fish on a dock, gasping for breath,” he sang as the song wound up: it was a typical moment for this dark, frequently morbid “folk noir” band, ending in an unexpected blaze of chord-chopping.

This band loves slow 6/8 time, and they work it for all the suspense they can pull out of it. Awash in more lush, chocolatey accordion, Baby’s Bones told the tale of a guy who goes crazy after his girlfriend dies and and stashes his her body in the barn “way up high, where the rats won’t get her;” on the next song, Caroline, Elder pondered how to cut an absolutely crazy girlfriend loose, evoking a young, hungover but pre-delirium tremens Shane MacGowan taking a pensive take on Blonde on Blonde-era Dylan. When Will We Be Lovers, an understatedly creepy narrative told from the point of view of a frustrated stalker, opened with a suspenseful Chris Isaak-esque sway and then went into mournful Pogues ballad territory before hitting a big, clanging crescendo midway through.

“If I have to be this lonely, I might as well be alone,” Elder wailed on a briskly shuffling new song that blended Celtic and gypsy motifs. The big hit of the evening was Jenny Come Back, a completely twisted noir cabaret waltz set in an imaginary San Francisco “suicide bar.” Much as the story was obviously fiction, Elder sold it. “Lemme tell you about Jenny…she had long red dirty dreadlocks hanging down her back… not the sort of tidy little salon dreadlocks, you know the little type of cornrows that are sort of a bit fluffy, and that pretty little girls at parties at SVA…FIT…NYU, these were homeless dreadlocks, like a big fucking fist. And that was just one of them. They were supporting whole ecosystems.” He went on to paint a scenario as grotesquely entertaining as anything MacGowan, or Nick Cave for that matter, has ever written. That song, along with a bunch of other intriguing stuff, is up at the band’s Soundcloud page. They went back to Irish balladry for their new single Lost Gun (a free download at the band’s site) channeling misery and abandonment over a steady shuffling beat and aching torrents of accordion, closing the set with a surprising detour into Buddy Holly-style Americana.

Ferociously entertaining gypsy punks Amour Obscur were scheduled to play afterward; much as the idea of seeing such a high-voltage act in such an intimate space was intriguing, when it’s the dead of August, the subway card runs out at midnight and the air conditioner is waiting patiently to be turned on again, there’s only one place to go and that’s home. Catch you next time around, guys.

Creepy Apocalyptic Songs from Tim Foljahn

Tim Foljahn’s new album Songs for an Age of Extinction, out on Tuesday on Jennifer O’Connor’s Kiam Records label, is a masterpiece of gloomy, psychedelic retro rock. As the title implies, it’s about as far from optimism as you can get. Musically, like Rachelle Garniez (see yesterday), Foljahn looks back to other eras for his influences; swirling Pink Floyd grandeur, doomed Nick Cave neoromanticism, hushed gospel rapture and a dark rustic folk ambience that reminds of Swiss-based cult songwriter Bobby Vacant. Foljahn’s baritone voice is often hollow and haunted; when it’s not, the former Townes Van Zandt and Cat Power collaborator takes on a laconic country twang. Much as many of the arrangements are often ornate, they’re also terse: no wasted notes here. The lyrics are a litany of apocalyptic signs – it’s not clear whether the world ends because of nuclear war, Fukushima-style poisoning, global warming or all of the above. What is clear by the time the morbidly starlit, ten-minute closing instrumental comes around, building artfully from a minimalist light/dark dichotomy to an inescapable vortex, is that it’s gone for good.

With its oscillating layers of sitar mingling with guitar, the hypnotic title track, which opens the album, draws a straight line back to George Harrison. “Dying trees stand shore to shore, animal lovers in their midst, we’re heading for your holy war,” Foljahn sings with a tired, stoic resignation. The second cut, All Fall Away is a doomed gospel tune with a gorgeously ominous, all-too-brief Wurlitzer organ solo. Faded gracefully blends Kirsten McCord’s cello with washes of Foljahn’s slide guitar for an ambience that’s part Atomheart Mother-era Floyd, part Richard Buckner, with an ending that simply and cruelly seals the deal. With its web of blues-tinged fingerpicked guitar, the dark folk War Song is the closest thing to Bobby Vacant here, building matter-of-factly to atmospheric ambience with slide guitar, nimble bass, violin and echoey Rhodes piano behind a forlorn soldier’s tale.

New Light hypnotically overlays two sets of lyrics in the same vein as David J’s Stop This City, a warmly bucolic scenario contrasting with an apocalyptic nightmare. The god in Foljahn’s God Song is strictly Old Testament: “I’m not gonna leave you a sign, and I’m not gonna leave you alive,” he announces while the band channels Country Joe & the Fish at their creepiest circa 1967. Foljahn’s stinging, reverb-toned acid blues licks against a macabre funeral organ dirge give this song a mighty, surreal wallop, setting up the deathly spacious sonics of the closing theme. Without question, this is one of the most haunting albums of recent years: let’s hope it turns out to be a cautionary tale rather than a prophecy. Foljahn, O’Connor and their bands are currently on tour, with a stop at Union Pool on March 4 with Amy Bezunartea and Kleenex Girl Wonder opening the show at 8.

Walter Ego Brings His Cruel Wit to Otto’s

Walter Ego played Otto’s Saturday night. The tourists hadn’t made it to the back room yet, so he kept the crowd entertained for the better part of an hour. New York is full of great little scenes: country and oldtime Americana at the Jalopy and 68 Jay Street Bar; gypsy music at Drom and Barbes; metal at St. Vitus and Tommy’s Tavern; and also what has become an elite songwriter’s salon that began at Banjo Jim’s and migrated to Otto’s after the bar on Avenue C closed down this past summer. The core is mix of veterans: Lorraine Leckie, LJ Murphy, J Wallace and Mac MacCarty along with up-and-coming talent like Drina Seay. And then there’s this guy: Murphy’s longtime bass player, who has now moved to centerstage, part Magical Mystery Tour era Beatles, part Elvis Costello, part Nick Cave maybe. Lyrics drive his songs, but his tunes can be more ornate and complex than you typically find in his kind of powerpop and janglerock.

As usual, there was a theatrical aspect to the show. This time he took a little time away from the set to make fun of juggling in general – or maybe just his own juggling. And then launched into a bright, sarcastically bouncy, vintage Kinks-style 60s Britpop number possibly called Satellites. As with all this guy’s songs, it’s loaded with metaphors, balls flying through the air: “If I am your gravity, what are you to me? You are a tiny, tiny satellite, I am the one who put you in the sky…you’re so far away,” he sang to these poor satellites, letting the cruelty of the lyric speak for itself. After that, he did a funk song, The Immorality Detection Machine, which manages to make fun of both right-wing hypocrites and lie detectors. “It’s the next best thing to time travel to the 50s, when men were men and women were girls,” he explained. The swaying, bluesy Don’t Take Advice from Me offered a killjoy’s irrepressible point of view: “What else is one more yeasayer boosting your esteem when I can give you the ugly truth that wakes you from your dream?” Later in the set he echoed that with The Magician, who will explain why that joke you just laughed at isn’t funny, and is so magic that he can make magic disappear.

But not all his songs are as direct, or as funny. Switching to piano, he brought out a biting, Lennonesque anthem that could have been encouragement to seize the moment…or it might have been making fun of people who think their lives are bigger than life. As usual, the highlight of the set was I Am the Glass, a goth-tinged, brooding, vindictive, metaphorically loaded ballad that he sang icily: “Whether you were cruel or oblivious, it didn’t have to come to this, instead of fragments I should still be one,” the broken glass tells its owner: a little later on in the song, there’s a car crash that brings everything full circle. The biggest surprise of the night was a casually riveting version of an obscure LJ Murphy song, Sunday’s Assassin, a searing chronicle of clinical depression: this killer still can’t drag himself out of bed or out of the house as he waits for the cops to haul him off while the tv cameras give him his fifteen minutes. The set ended with a funky number with a never-ending series of chord changes, more Beatlesque psychedelia and then an obligatory encore, in this case a terse piano version of Nowhere Man. Although Walter Ego has been writing songs since his days in Murphy’s band back in the 90s, he wasn’t playing out regularly until the past couple of years. For the moment, he seems to call Otto’s home when he’s not out busking; watch this space for upcoming dates.

The Hollows – Unquestionably Unique Americana

File the Hollows’ recent album Belong to the Land under weird psychedelic Americana. Some of this sounds like Queen playing country music; other songs evoke Pinataland at their most surreal and out-of-focus. Perfectly illustrative moment: a bright piano pop song about a country church…titled Basilica. The songs have vintage 80s big room production; the lead instruments are David Paarlberg’s rippling piano and Daniel Kwiatkowski’s banjo. And frontman/bassist Jeffrey Kurtze’s soaring delivery owes more to, say, U2, than to the Stanley Brothers. A lot of this is so bizarre that it defies description – there are more WTF moments here than in your average Mitt Romney speech. And as psychedelia ought to be, it’s often considerably funny. “Mad as cows at sunrise”? That might be one of the lyrics in Mad As Dogs, the album’s best track, a seductively murderous banjo tune spiced with electric guitar and echoey Rhodes piano…and hints of metal in the vocals. This might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but you can’t say it’s not original.

Old Brown Dog is mandolin-fueled country gospel done as spiky psychedelic indie pop: then it goes halfspeed and morphs into a march like the late 60s Kinks. Ostensibly a bluegrass tune, Josephine echoes Balthrop Alabama’s theatrical ventures into Americana. Persephone recasts the Greek myth as hillbilly ballad: “They closed up her garden with bright yellow tape,” Kurtze announces. The ecstatic vocals of Sticks and Stones – which could be the Verve taking a stab at bluegrass – belies its morbid lyric. And the flat-out strangest song here could be the slow, hypnotically wintry piano ballad Poor Eyes, with its bizarre evocation of a girlfriend who apparently likes the taste of sawdust.

Not everything here is that off-the-wall. Whiskey and Wine echoes Nick Cave’s adventures in gospel, while Burgundy, a lushly orchestrated, artsy Britfolk anthem, outdoes Coldplay at the drama game. There are also a couple of casually bouncy banjo songs – and one awful white blues number – that hark back to the era of hippie bands like Delaney and Bonnie. The album ends on a down note with a faux-sensitive Bon Jovi-style stadium rock ballad disguised as oldtime C&W. This is one of those albums that’s great to slip into the mix when the party’s going full steam, if you really want to get everybody’s attention.

The Mad Pride’s Free Downloads Are Amazing

The Mad Pride is an Australian band from Wollongong, New South Wales. Essentially, the Mad Pride IS songwriter Rowan Galagher, a one-man band playing virtually all the guitars as well as bass, drums, keys and banjo on the astounding 39 tracks on his Reverbnation page. The songs are so good that you can just pull up the page day after day, stream them and get lost in the brooding, moody intensity (if you’re at work, good luck getting anything done). Even better, you can download the equivalent of about four albums’ worth of this stuff for free.

Here’s a look at just the first half-dozen tracks on the page. Scapegoat is a swirly, creepy 6/8 anthem, psychedelic 60s gone noir cabaret with 80s goth production: watery guitars, icy keys and vintage Bowie-esque vocals. Track number two, Berserkergang sets quavery/whispery goth vocals over reverberating Radiohead-style electric piano (reverb is an important part of this guy’s music – he uses it masterfully). Out to Sea is basically Michael Hurley’s Werewolf redone as late 70s Bowie; the real stunner on the page is Malice, an absolutely evil chromatic piano anthem, like Blonde Redhead at the top of their creepy mid-90s game. The last track here is Fade Away, 70s folk-rock as Radiohead might do it. Fans of that band as well as Leonard Cohen, the Church, Nick Cave et al. should get to know this guy. With 39 tracks at this one site alone, he’s got an awful lot more than most bands have – and he does it all pretty much by himself.

Download Mark Sinnis’ Debut Acoustic Show For Free

It takes a lot of nerve to release your first-ever live show, even more to give it away as a free download that anybody in the world can get their hands on. That’s what Mark Sinnis has done: his debut performance with his old 825 band, Live from Arlene Grocery June 30, 2001 is up at his reverbnation, free for the taking. The roughly 43-minute set comes as a single track, a surprisingly good-quality soundboard recording. Rough as some of this is, it captures a magical moment in New York rock history, when the Lower East Side was a hotbed of edgy nonconformity instead of the touristy clusterfuck it is today. Obviously, this wasn’t exactly Sinnis’ first time onstage: he’d been fronting bands since 1988, but this was his first adventure in the acoustic Nashville gothic “cemetery and western” style that would come to define him. Aside from a few missed chord changes, it’s amazing how tight the band is since they hadn’t yet recruited Landon Finnerty to play drums. And it’s also amazing how richly nuanced the vocals are: as crooners go, Nick Cave, Jim Morrison and Johnny Cash (the artist Sinnis most frequently gets compared to these days) have nothing on this guy, all the more impressive considering the notoriously uneven sonics where this was recorded. You can tell the band is competent, but other than accordionist Annette Kudrak – who was always this band’s not-so-secret weapon, and is already giving the songs her signature pitchblende swirl – they’re still getting their feel of the songs, electric guitarist Dave King and violinist Gavin Parker sticking to comping chords or doubling the melody line.

As a lush bed of jangle and clang quickly falls into place, Sinnis runs through a lot of what was then unreleased material. Jealousy, a slowly swaying blues that he would later record as a haunting duet with Randi Russo, rises from a dark, almost luridly seductive atmosphere to an aching, practically punk vibe and then back again. That tension recurs again and again toward the end of the set, possibly because the monitor mix might have gone haywire (a common problem at this joint). Without the drums, they push the beat a little on the unselfconsciously beautiful nocturne When the Sun Bows to the Moon, then reach for a murky, hypnotic ambience with Cause You Want To, probably the most Nick Cave-ish song in the set. After an unexpectedly optimistic, backbeat-driven country love song, they go back to the glimmering ambience with a brief version of Scars and then a strikingly restrained Waiting for the Train, which really captures the wee-hours “silence of futility” familiar to any New Yorker wondering if they’ll be in bed before dawn after a long night out. They wrap up the set with a triptych of backbeat dark country songs, closing with a surprisingly energetic version of Into an Unhidden Future, the title track from Sinnis’ solo debut that would finally appear eight years later. “We’re playing the C-Note on July 27 at midnight,” Sinnis tells the crowd; seconds after the band leaves the stage, the sound guy has Man or Astroman blasting over the PA. It’s a bittersweet moment in time, gone forever but thankfully captured for posterity, yours if you want it.


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