New York Music Daily

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Tag: power pop

Guided by Voices’ Cool Planet: The Best Album of Short Songs Ever Made?

Guided by Voices’ sixth album (!!!!!!) since the turn of the decade, Cool Planet, is out today (this Spotify link should work once the album officially hits). As usual, Robert Pollard and Tobin Sprout eschew conventional pop song structure. Is this the album that they didn’t have time to finish? Is it the collection of sketches that Pollard didn’t have time to flesh out? Here’s another theory: these songs were meant to be exactly as they are: most of them two minutes or less, a single verse and chorus at the very most. Meaning that this album will never bore you. Even if you don’t like what the band is doing – which is hard to figure, considering how deliciously tuneful pretty much everything here is – it will be over practically before you could reach for the fast-forward button. Is this the best album of short songs ever made? Probably. Has anyone even made an album with so many short songs, for that matter? Outside of hardcore punk (and that lame-ass Magnetic Fields hundred-song monstrosity), you have to go back a long ways, to the Minutemen and Young Marble Giants and the postpunk era, and this is infinitely more interesting.

There are eighteen tracks here, alluding to the Beatles and the Who and the Kinks and especially David Bowie and others from the glamrock canon but never completely embracing any of those artists’ styles. Pollard’s genius is that he’ll nick a tune or an idea from that period but never go over the top with it. And Sprout’s creepy folk-rock is characteristically excellent, if more stripped down here than ever. And there’s zero filler! That’s a big deal – over the ongoing album marathon, for every Trashcan Full of Nails, there’s been one of those half-baked 4 AM piano-and-drums interludes that you put up with from Pollard just because the other stuff is so good.

The ba-bump Beatlesque stomp of the Orwellian Authoritarian Zoo (an Animal Farm reference) opens the album. It would be the Move if it had a busy bassline, but bassist Greg Demos keeps things pretty low-key in tandem with Kevin March’s even simpler, hard-hitting drums, although what Demos does as the album goes along, spinning and soaring as chorus after chorus hits a peak, is awfully cool.

Fast Crawl works a muted Syd Barrett vibe and then goes out with sputter barely a minute thirty seconds in. Psychotic Crush is sardonic early 70s glam and it’s over in barely over a minute. Sprout’s brooding acoustic frames Costume Makes the Man, the electric guitars (Mitch Mitchell and probably Pollard, who seems to be the one playing the occasional jagged, incisive lead here) coming in at the end.

Hat of Flames (a T.S. Eliot reference, maybe?) is arguably the most prototypical GBV number here – Sprout’s signature, roaring, reverb-drenched low register is the dead giveaway every time. These Dooms sets one of a litany of surreal lyrics to a simple reverb guitar track: it could be a demo, but then again, it’s fine just the way it is. Table at Fool’s Tooth is a clinic in how much 60s psych a band can throw at you in a minute fifteen seconds. By contrast, the album’s longest song, All American Boy blends Ziggy Stardust riffage with a steady All the Young Dudes anthemic pulse, stately piano and a woozily wistful aging rocker’s perspective.

The Bone Church goes unexpectedly and successfuly into early 70s Move/Sabbath riff-rock. Bad Love Is Easy to Do layers the guitars dynamically, with a very funny quote at the end. The No Doubters, a catchy glamrock tune, seems to be a low-key dis directed at haters. Cream of Lung, with its vintage 60s effects and enigmatically creepy tune, is the one song here that screams out the most loudly to keep going for another four minutes or so. But the rumbling, Beatlesque Males of Wormwood Mars, a puckish outer-space scenario with some of the album’s most luscious three-guitar sonics, makes perfect sense in under three minutes.

Ticket to Hide pairs Sprout’s wary acoustic against organ and electric guitar, with a funny mantra on the way out. The title cut, with its tumbling drums and catchy descending riff, is the closest thing to the Who here. There’s also You Get Every Game, a snidely deadpan one-chord miniature; Pan Swimmer, which perfectly crystallizes the band (catchy powerpop verse, nebulous turnaround); and Narrated by Paul, a woozy if simple piano-and-synth sketch. Do we know what Pollard’s droll stream-of-consciousness lyrics are about? That’s something to consider as the riffs kick in, one after the other. We take this band for granted: what they’ve done over the past couple of years is pretty amazing by itself. Add to that the fact that they’ve been making albums for over twenty years, Pollard for ten more than that. To put this in perspective: could the Stones have made one this good in 1994?

Iconic Dead Boys Guitarist Cheetah Chrome Returns to His Old Stomping Ground with a Brilliant New Album

Cheetah Chrome‘s career as an iconic lead guitarist hardly stopped when the Dead Boys called it quits the first time around. He went on to lead the Cheetah Chrome Motherfuckers, returning sporadically to his old CBGB band when they’d pull themselves together again for awhile back in the 80s and later, reunited Cleveland legends Rocket from the Tombs. Now based in Nashville, Chrome has made a name for himself as a producer, but he’s also a first-class if not overwhelmingly prolific songwriter. He’s coming back to town for a Dives of New York tour in the middle of the month on an excellent doublebill with edgy Nashville honkytonk singer Paul Burch. On May 15 they’re at Manitoba’s at 9ish, at the Delancey on May 17 and then upstairs at 2A on May 18 at around 9.

Chrome also has an absolutely brilliant solo album (Spotify link) out recently. Some of the tracks date from a Genya Ravan-produced 1996 session, the rest recorded in 2010 with a killer band including former New York Doll Sylvain Sylvain plus Sean Koos from Joan Jett’s band and Lez Warner of the Cult. Although originally from Cleveland, Chrome will always be associated with New York since he was such an important part of the CB’s scene in its heyday, and this album is pure oldschool seedy Lower East Side, part wickedly tuneful, expertly constructed punk, part powerpop with psychedelic touches. The first track, Sharky, rumbles along on a brisk surf beat with lively roller-rink organ paired against tersely jangly guitar. It sounds like the backing track for a rock anthem, but it works as an instrumental, especially when the bridge kicks in. Finally there’s a lingering, distorted guitar solo that eventually takes off and just when it really gets snarling, the song fades out. It’s the last thing you’d ever expect from a member of the Dead Boys.

Good as that one is, the stuff with lyrics is even better. The best song, and the closest thing to the Dead Boys (right around the time of their mid-80s comeback), is Stare Into the Night. No Credit is similar and a little faster, like an outtake from We Have Come for Your Children. Both songs take a cynical, understatedly desperate look around a Lower East Side underworld that’s been pretty much gentrified (and overdosed) out of existence. Nuthin is the most cynical of all the tracks but also the most dynamically rich: the way Chrome moves the opening hook from acoustic to electric, raising the menace casually all the way to redline, is pure genius.

East Side Story is a burning powerpop anthem with lush, rich layers of jangly, clanging, ringing, chiming guitars, Chrome’s vocals echoing the snotty desperation of his bandmate Stiv Bators on the second verse. Rollin Voodoo works the dynamics between a punchy, fuzz bass-driven hotrod theme and syncopated roadhouse rock, with a long psychedelic interlude. The album winds up with Love Song to Death, a viciously catchy kiss-off anthem, layers and layers of guitar textures and finally a solo where Chrome starts out taking his time and then going out in a smoldering, shivering shower of sparks. Chrome is the rare guitarist who never got slick and lazy, maintaining the unhinged intensity of his early years even after his technique got really, really good. Reputedly he’s at the peak of his powers as a player. If you go out to see any of these shows, you should get there early.

Purist Tunesmithing and a Slipper Room Show from Tamara Hey

Tamara Hey is New York to the core. She’s got an edgy sense of humor, a laser sense for a catchy classic pop hook and one of the most unselfconsciously ravishing voices in any style of music. Her album Miserably Happy (streaming at Spotify) is aptly titled: there’s a bittersweet dichotomy in her songs, biting lyrics with indelible New York City imagery set to a warmly tuneful blend of acoustic and electric folk-pop and powerpop. She’s playing the Slipper Room (Orchard and Stanton, upstairs over the big tourist restaurant) on May 8 at 7 PM; cover is $10.

The opening track, You Wear Me Out sets the stage: a deceptively sugary pop narrative about an exasperating guy who won’t give his girlfriend any breathing room. One minute he’s in the West Village with her, hell-bent on showing the world he’s not gay; the next he’s getting his mom on his side since the girl just happens to be the right religion for the holidays. The second track, Round Peg puts an only slightly lighthearted spin on the grim issue of female body issues: the narrator wishes she could relax and eat up like her full-figured friend rather than being “bitter in the center and no fun to be around.”

Umbrella, a delicate, vivid rainy-day tableau is a showcase for Hey’s clear, cool, crystalline maple sugar voice. Hey follows that with the backbeat powerpop gem Somebody’s Girl, a cleverly quirky number that wouldn’t be out of place in the Patti Rothberg catalog. Then Hey gets quiet and reflective again with Isabelle, which could be about schadenfreude, or the exasperation that comes with watching a dear friend screw up for the umpteenth time – or both.

Drive will resonate with any oldschool New Yorker. It starts with a 9/11 reference:

Any bright sunny day
With a low-flying plane
New York City, I lose feeling in my fingers
When there’s no subsequent crash
The blood returns and I go back
To doing what I do
But it still lingers

Then it hits a powerpop pulse with staccato strings and a biting Art Hays guitar solo, Hey hell-bent on just a momentary respite from crowded trains and random urban hassles. Likewise, the lushly arranged nocturne Long Dog Day vividly evokes post-dayjob exhaustion and the challenge of pulling yourself together for the rest of the evening.

The album’s funniest song, David #3 sardonically looks at how women get caught up with guys they really ought to stay away from – she hates his Red Sox hat, and when he’s in jail, since she can’t bail him out, she’s going to miss him! With Hey’s elegant tenor guitar intro, the album’s title track reimagines the Blondie hit Dreaming with more of an Americana edge. The final cut, October Sun, a gentle, pretty waltz, examines the price you pay for living intensely: “I unravel, not unwind,” Hey scowls, her lead guitarist channeling George Harrison during his solo. The whole album is one of the unsung purist pop releases of recent years.

Hey is also offering a very inexpensive series of Tuesday night workshops in music theory and writing lead sheets and charts beginning April 29 and continuing for five weeks through May 27.. As you might expect from her lyrics, Hey has a sardonic wit, and a disarmingly direct, commonsensical approach to music, qualities well suited to teaching. Classes run from 6:30 to 8:30 in the Astor Place neighborhood, close to the 6, N and R trains. If you can’t make the classes, Hey will also have courses available online starting in May, email for information or register online.

Boston Band Aloud Nails a Slew of Catchy Purist Rock Styles

If Boston band Aloud‘s new album It’s Got to Be Now had come out in, say, 1980, it would have been all over the radio. The same would have been true in 1970, or in 1965: their sound is that tuneful, and that timeless. The two guitars of bandleaders Henry Beguiristain and Jen de la Osa jangle and clang, the vocals soar and the rhythm section of bassist Charles Murphy and drummer Frank Hegyi is dynamic verging on explosive. Their songs are eclectic, ranging from 60s flavored garage and surf rock to classic powerpop spiced with psychedelia. And they don’t waste a note – most of the songs are done before the three minute mark (they’re streaming at Spotify). As you might imagine, Aloud are excellent live: they’re at Bowery Electric on April 28 at around 9.

The album kicks off with a triumphantly crescendoing powerpop number, Back Here with Me Again, with its guy/girl vocals, And Your Bird Can Sing bassline, and a tersely tuneful guitar panned in both  left and right channels. Don’t Let It Get You Down shifts nimbly back and forth between funky verses and the band’s signature, wickedly catchy choruses. The Wicked Kind sets a snide, politically-fueled lyric to distantly menacing, chromatically-fueled garage/psych rock, de la Osa singing coolly and imperturbably over the guitars and organ.

Jeanne, It’s Just a Ride! is a funny, catchy janglepop number about a girl who wants to make more of a one-night stand than she ought to. “The futility of existence requires not your assistance,” Beguiristain deadpans. They pick up the pace with the blistering A Little Bit Low and its burning Radio Birdman-esque garage-punk guitar hooks. Then they blend bittersweet twelve-string jangle with Lynchian 60s Nashville pop on Such a Long Time, following that with the new wave Motown of After the Plague, a surprisingly optimistic post-apocalyptic scenaro.

The album’s title track sets a devious variation on a classic garage riff to a vintage soul-clap beat: it’s like the kind of neo-garage that was coming out of the band’s hometown thirty years ago, but without the cliches. A defiant escape anthem, Complicity builds from punchy surf rock to a big roaring chorus. The Beatlesque Ballad of Emily Jane brings the album full circle. Aloud have been around for awhile and have messed with different styles: it’s good to see such an excellent band getting back to the kind of purist tunesmithing they do best.

The Split Squad Hits a Home Run Their First Time Up

During spring training, baseball teams often field two different squads on the same day against different teams, to facilitate plenty of practice time for both the stars and the scrubs. Which explains the sarcasm in the Split Squad’s name: this retro rock supergroup includes keyboardist Josh Kantor from Steve Wynn’s Baseball Project as well as Blondie drummer Clem Burke, guitarists Keith Streng of ageless garage rockers the Fleshtones and Eddie Munoz from powerpop cult legends the Plimsouls along with bassist Michael Giblin. On their debut album Now Here This, the Split Squad goes back through fifty years of rock, plundering ideas all over the place and mixing them up into a snarling, roaring, guitar-fueled blend of powerpop turbocharged with punk and oldschool garage rock. They’re at Bowery Electric on April 25 at around 10 atop a great purist guitar-fueled triplebill: Lakeside Lounge supergroup Los Dudes open the show at around 8 followed by legendary indie power trio the Figgs, still going strong after twenty years. Advance tickets are $10 and highly recommended.

The album unfortunately isn’t streaming on the web, but several of the tracks have made it to youtube (follow the link and enjoy!); there are also brief clips at the band’s music page. The title track opens the album. It’s Clash City Rockers meets Shakin’ All Over, as done by a late edition of Radio Birdman – yeah, that good. Those two paint-peeling wah guitar solos could be Chris Masuak. The steady, punchy, snide Touch & Go is the Kinks as done by Guided by Voices, more or less. With its mean, jangly guitar on the chorus, snappy bass and screaming guitar solo, She Is Everything could be a Del-Lords track from the late 80s. Then Sorry She’s Mine works the La Bamba/Hang On Sloopy riff before it goes in a janglier direction – anybody remember 18, that excellent Williamsburg garage-punk band from about six-seven years ago?

I’ve Got a Feeling has a tasty post-Stooges/Radio Birdman sway, with a deliciously swirly, all-too-brief organ solo. The vicious kiss-off anthem I Can’t Remember goes for a haphazard, 6/8 oldschool soul groove. I Feel the Same About You bookends a somewhat wry Beatles Abbey Road intro and outro around a four-on-the-floor powerpop stomp that could be Cheap Trick, right down to the Bun E. Carlos drumrolls out of the verse. Likewise, Superman Says, a look behind the mask of a stressed-out superhero: “They take it for granted that I never lose,” Clark Kent grouses.

Put It Down keeps the catchy powerpop going over a soul-clap beat that slows down to make way for the organ. Tinker Taylor hints at a Dolls glam vibe, while Hey Hey Baby, the most trad garage rock tune here, blends fuzz guitar into a biting minor-key riff-rock tune. You’ll Never Change is a brooding Vegas tango done as oldschool soul, Spooky by the Classics IV but genuinely spooky. The album winds up with Messin’ Around , which is basically Gloria, right down to the half-assed harmonica. They take it out with a nasty exchange of bars from the guitars. Recycling has seldom been so much fun.

The Sound of the Fab Four Inspires Andrew Collberg’s New Album

Swedish-born, New Zealand-raised and now based in Tucson, Andrew Collberg is a connoisseur of many retro rock styles. He has a background in southwestern gothic, and a couple of years ago put out a killer single, Dirty Wind b/w Back on the Shore, a rich evocation of classic paisley underground rock in the same vein as True West or the Dream Syndicate. These days he’s mining sounds that evoke ELO and the Beatles, adding layers of the blippy faux-vintage keyboard textures that are all the rage in the Bushwick indie scene on his latest album, Minds Hits. The whole thing is streaming at Spotify.

The opening track, Rich, is totally ELO, a soul-tinged update on the sound Jeff Lynne achieved with Evil Woman, then morphing into something of a glamrock song with a fuzztone guitar solo before coming back to the wickedly catchy, funk-tinged verse. From there Collberg segues into Hole and its Penny Lane bounce, followed by Take a Look Around, a retro 60s soul tune with Abbey Road touches: la-la-la backing vocals, elegant broken-chord guitar lines, organ and a terse faux electric harpsichord solo. After that, the long, hypnotically vamping Pepper Peter keeps the Abbey Road vibe going, this time on the Lennon side of the street.

Tear has Collberg playing precise soul chords that rise to a swaying, ba-BUMP late-Beatles groove that grows more majestic as he adds layers of guitars and keys. Stars takes the sound about a dozen years forward into ornately catchy Jeff Lynne space-pop territory, while Snide Creepy Soul takes an insistent, similarly hooky ELO-style pop tune thirty more years into the future with a mix of vintage and fake-vintage keyboard voicings.

Easy Lazy Dome speeds up a Hey Jude ambience doublespeed and then takes a turn into unexpectedly ominous psychedelia, fueled by shivery lead guitar. Cantaloupe looks back to Sergeant Pepper, complete with tumbling Ringo-esque drums. The album winds up with Hit the Gas, which sets a classic Lennon-style tune over boomy lo-fi drums before it picks up with increasingly ornate layers of guitar/keyboard orchestration. Isn’t it amazing that fifty years after the Beatles first hit, artists and audiences alike continue to be obsessed with them? Fans of Elliott Smith, Abby Travis, and of course ELO and the Fab Four will have a good time with this.

The Baseball Project’s 3rd Album: As Much Fun As an Unassisted Triple Play

The Baseball Project‘s new album, simply titled 3rd, sends you straight to Retrosheet. Baseball may not be the national pastime anymore, but this album is as deep and rich as the lore and the lure of the game. For fans, it’s pretty close to heaven – and for those who aren’t, it won’t alienate anybody because the tunes are so memorable and the playing is so flat-out excellent. What began as a one-off Steve Wynn side project has grown from a well-conceived novelty into a perennial World Series contender. The band is Hall of Fame caliber: Wynn (the Stan Musial of rock) on guitars and most of the lead vocals along with REM’s Peter Buck and Mike Mills plus the Minus Five’s Scott McCaughey and Linda Pitmon, who reasserts herself as the best and most consistently interesting rock drummer out there. The album isn’t up at Spotify yet, but the band’s first two are, so keep an eye out for it.

What makes the Baseball Project ultimately so much fun is that their songs celebrate the weird, the obscure and the tragic rather than the obvious. So many songs about baseball are cheesy and don’t really have a lot to do with the game, but the Baseball Project plunge into the history and the personalities involved, as well as what it’s like to be a diehard fan (and these guys really, really are). Although Wynn, the bandleader, has adopted the Yankees as his team, he’s written insightfully and poignantly about the Boston Red Sox, among other teams, on past albums. This time out, players from the Evil Empire are represented by four songs, while the Atlanta Braves – Mills’ and Buck’s team – also get plenty of props.

The first track is Stats, a pseudo-Ventures spacerock stomp with a seemingly random litany of numbers recited by Pitmon: random, that is, until you realize that’s Nolan Ryan’s season-record 383 strikeouts, Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak…and then the guessing gets really good. For those who don’t know, stats are crack for baseball fans and so is this song.

Two of the best songs here, neither of which namecheck the player involved, are the most depressing. From Nails to Thumbtacks traces the career arc of one of the early steroid casualties, Lenny Dykstra, who went from spare outfielder with the Mets to sudden and prodigiously beefed-up stardom with the Phillies, only to wind up behind bars after a long, long downward spiral. “You gotta be high to fall this far,”McCaughey intones over a backdrop that’s part Ramones, part new wave. And 13, arguably the best song on the album, looks at the A-Roid scandal with even more of a caustic eye than Wynn cast on Roger Clemens in the gorgeous Twilight of My Career, from the band’s first album Frozen Ropes & Dying Quails. Over a corrosively sarcastic spaghetti western tune, Wynn explains how Alex Rodriguez took #13 as his Yankees uniform number since Babe Ruth wore #3, but ultimately it was hubris rather than bad luck that scuttled the third baseman’s assault on Henry Aaron’s home run record.

Wynn evokes his classic 2001 riff-rocker Strange New World in Hola America, the brooding account of Cuban defector Orlando Hernandez, whose World Series stardom with the Yankees obscures the alienation he must have felt while estranged from his family in a new culture. McCaughey celebrates Dock Ellis, not for the Pirates pitcher’s acid-fueled no-hitter, but for his abbreviated start on May 1, 1974 when he decided to hit every batter in the Cincinnati Reds lineup as payback for what he perceived as hotdogging – and also to energize his lacklustre team, a ploy that actually worked! Mystified manager Danny Murtaugh pulled Ellis five batters into the first inning, but the hurler’s message had been heard loud and clear.

The mid-90s REM-style powerpop hit To the Veterans Committee makes a soaringly persuasive case for enshrining longtime Braves centerfielder Dale Murphy in the Hall of Fame. Not only was Murphy one of his era’s top power hitters, he made the tricky transition from catcher to centerfield – where he won more than one Gold Glove – and he also was (and maybe still is) a competent piano player!

Box Scores celebrates a great tradition that someday may only be accessible on your phone, but as Buck reminds, “Every summer, every day, the box scores keep me sane.” The only really obvious track here, The Babe, sends a shout-out to the Sultan of Swat over a regal Hey Jude pulse lowlit by some deliciously watery vintage chorus-box guitar. Another tribute to a home run king, They Don’t Know Henry makes haunting 60s style garage-psych rock out a tip of the cap to Henry Aaron.

McCaughey cynically ponders what makes the low-budget Oakland A’s so good – and connects the dots between Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter and the recently retired, mostly mediocre Dallas Braden – over a slinky Stones/T-Rex groove. Mills and Pitmon share vocals on Pascual on the Perimeter, memorializing the afternoon when the Braves’ eccentric righthander ostensibly got lost on the way to the ballpark – and wouldn’t you know it, Phil Niekro started in his place. Part Dream Syndicate, part True West and maybe part Yo La Tengo, it’s got some of the best snarling, burning guitar of any of the tracks here.

Larry Yount, a pensive folk-rock number by Wynn, recalls the older brother of Hall of Famer Robin Yount, whose single big league appearance ended before he’d thrown a pitch. He hurt himself while warming up after coming in from the Astros bullpen late in 1971 and never again appeared in a game.

The material gets funnier as the album goes along. The Baseball Card Song is a country patter tune rippling along with Buck’s banjo and a rapidfire rap by Wynn…see, he’d held onto the collection he’d amassed as a kid until this big Wall Street guy offered him some stock in a startup in exchange, and then the fun really starts. Another patter song riffs on both Johnny Cash’s Boy Named Sue and Heart’s Barracuda, a sideways look at a fireballing Red Sox righty who never won a single Cy Young Award despite his 511 career victories. Instead of the usual tired round-the-bases metaphors, the wry faux 70s boudoir soul number Extra Inning of Love looks at another kind of game you play at night from the perspective of a pitcher rather than a batter. And the album ends with Take Me Out to the Ballgame done Ramones style.

There’s also the They Played Baseball, a folk-rock rogues’ gallery of sorts: “Durocher had his lip, and Bob Welch his great big wine, Piniella had his temper, Mendoza had his line and it’s a fine line,” McCaughey grins. Which perfectly sums up this album, and this band: if you know who those guys are, this is for you. Now let’s get Steve Wynn to throw out the first pitch at a Mets home game sometime this year!

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.

Brilliantly Lyrical Janglerock from Son of Skooshny

Mark Breyer is one of the best underrated rock tunesmiths and lyricists of the past four decades. Beginning in 1978, he co-led powerpop mavens Skooshny – sort of the genre’s Steely Dan, considering that they never toured – with guitarist Bruce Wagner and drummer Brian Winogrond. As you might correctly assume from the band name (sarcastically meaning “boring” in Russian), they were popular in Russia, where they still have a cult following. And they deserve a global one. Since the band officially called it quits in the 90s, Breyer hasn’t slowed down, continuing to release richly tuneful, jangly, anthemic, deviously lyrical rock as Son of Skooshny. With its lush interweave of electric and acoustic guitars and wickedly literate lyrics, Son of Skooshny’s excellent latest album, Mid Century Mod, is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a dead ringer for Australian rock legends the Church at their most direct and accessible, circa 1982 or so, with lyrics that bring to mind Elvis Costello around that time. Breyer plays the acoustic guitars, with Steve Refling (who also produced) handling the other instruments.

The opening track, Dizzy mingles lingering, clanging twelve-string and six-string leads over a lush bed of acoustic guitars, with lyrics in the same vein as Walter Ego‘s more recent work:

Math is so cold, heartless, unfeeling
But don’t let me draw any parallels here
We won’t intersect and that’s become clear
Not in a point or a line
Not at a plane we’re not flying
Wrong place wrong time

The title track, a wickedly elegant kiss-off to a yuppie ex, is swaying backbeat folk-rock as the Church might have done it thirty years ago:

Yoga is liberating, even for beginners
While you are meditating, you’re thinking of your dinner
Have you ever looked in your coffee table pullout
I left a love note in a style
I thought would bring a bittersweet smile

While Breyer is based in Los Angeles, there’s a very New York edge to his songwriting, best exemplified here by Sorry. With its brooding, lingering chorus and echoeoy harmonies, it’s is a dead ringer for early-zeros dark New York rockers DollHouse:

The first time’s a charm but three strikes, you’re out
This was number three in our trilogy
One more would make a quadrology
But I am no good at apology

Knee Deep beefs up a Bydsy jangle as the Church or the Wirebirds would have, with Jason Staczek’s Hammond organ and a more four-on-the-floor powerpop chorus, a characteristically sardonic look at a relationship that was doomed from the start:

Swing ahead then fall back
In the red instead of the black
Back to school, learn to rap
Break the rules, break em in half 
We meet in the twilight sleep
Between sleep and the sundial
Make promises we can’t keep
Knee deep in the blue Nile

The final track, Untold History, traces an uneasy, early atomic age childhood with an offhanded savagery: with Refling’s keening slide guitar,  it’s the hardest-rocking and most overtly angry song here:

Outside the quarantine
A Cold War-era submarine
With a credo to protect
Torpedos can’t eject
In the shadow of the bomb
When my daddy left my mom
I stayed at home and paced the floor
I waited for the smoke to pour
All around the shelter door

Both lyrically and musically, this is a genuinely amazing album. The Church may have drifted into more opaque, symphonic terrain, but this guy is keeping the literate janglerock flame burning as strongly as any songwriter is these days.

And in case these five tracks aren’t enough, the previous Son of Skooshny album, Lovers Leap of Faith, is also up at Bandcamp. And it’s somewhat more diverse, perhaps owing to the shifting cast of characters. It’s got a handful of big rockers: the insistent opening track, Another Time, has Jeff Peters on guitars and bass, Arlan Schierbaum on keys and Mark Lewis on drums. That crew also plays How Does It End, a gorgeously wistful Florida narrative. Andy Colquhoun serves as a one-man powerpop army on the savagely guitar-fueled Kate’s Green Phone and also the brisk seduction anthem Spine. The biting dysfunctional family scenario Bare Bones is only a little more restrained, with Arthur Schlenger on guitars and bass and David Winogrond on drums.

The rest of the album works the Church-like Rickenbacker guitar jangle and clang with a nonchalant expertise, Breyer’s vocals precise and almost sardonically warm over the lingering resonance and steady backbeat. There’s Candy Air, a bedroom scenario interrupted by a sinister phone call, Steve Refling playing the rest of the band to Breyer’s Steve Kilbey. The Right Idea, which could be a poppy cut from the Church’s Blurred Crusade album, and the vividly sardonic LA folk-rock tableau Good Morning Gale Warning, have Schlenger doing triple duty on guitars, bass and keys. The cleverly lyrical, Beatlesque Science Changes Everything has Peters plus Michael Meros on string synth, Craig Fall on bass and Steve Bankuti on drums. Love’s Not Impossible, which hints at Orbison-style Nashville noir, features the Peters/Meros lineup.

Yet for all the intricate rhyme schemes, towering arrangements and anthemic angst, the best song on the album might be its simplest one, You Can’t Love Me, a bitter coming to grips with a situation where she’s taking her afternoon nap and he’s drinking alone and it can only get worse from there. Skooshny and Son of Skooshny have a substantial back catalog, something well worth investigating if the idea of state-of-the-art tunesmithing is your thing.

Garage Rock Legends the Fleshtones Kick Off Their US Tour on Feb 27 in Williamsburg

The Fleshtones have aged well. The world’s most enduring garage rock band have a new album, Wheel of Talent, and a marathon US tour that kicks off at around 8 PM at Grand Victory in Williamsburg on Feb 27: cover is $15. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about the same as what you would have paid to see them at the Ritz (now Webster Hall) thirty years ago. That this band is still around, let alone with virtually all of the original core members, testifies both to their endurance as well as the eternal popularity of the sound they helped revitalize and then make iconic. The whole album is streaming at Spin.com, of all places.

What differentiates the Fleshtones from their second-wave garage rock brethren the Lyres, and the Cynics, and the thousands who followed over the decades, is that they’re as well versed in classic 60s soul music as they are in Nuggets Anthology-style riff-pop. And over the last couple of decades – wow, has it really been that long! – they’ve also taken frequent diversions into boisterously guitar-fueled powerpop in the same vein as Handsome Dick Manitoba’s Master Plan, which makes sense since lead guitarist Keith Streng has also spent time in that band. The Fleshtones have also never been afraid to be funny: they know what they do is fun, they obviously have a good time doing it and have loosened up over the years while keeping their punchy four-on-the-floor groove as tight as ever.

The best and funniest songs here make fun of dumb, trendy spoiled brats, their social ineptitude and social media obsessions. Available – which has a violin on it, an unexpected texture for a Fleshtones song – ridicules kids who find it necessary tell the whole world their most intimate details on Facebook. And the Chuck Berry-flavored Hipster Heaven, a hellish chronicle of the band’s old New York neighborhoods being swallowed by hordes of narcissistic gentrifiers fresh out of college but acting like kindergarteners, will resonate with every real New Yorker.

What You’re Talking About, with Streng’s banks of distorted guitars, organ and snarling, bluesy guitar leads, is garage rock as Cheap Trick might have done it circa 1979. The jangly, Byrdsy It Is As It Was reaches to capture a snapshot of the band’s career: they may not have made a lot of money, but it’s been a good time. They follow that with a minute fifty-nine worth of Remember the Ramones, a spot-on punk rock homage. “CBGB’s was very loud, Suicide packed the crowd, I was drinking Remy with Marty Thau, ” frontman/organist Peter Zaremba reminisces (ironically, Thau’s little label failed to release the Fleshtones’ debut album and a legal brouhaha ensued).

Roofarama blends Byrds jangle and Stooges wah guitar into a funky, sexy up-on-the-roof narrative. With its spacy Ventures guitars, The Right Girl sounds suspiciously like a parody of Joe Meek-style surf pop, right down to the faux British vocals. What I’ve Done Before takes an oldschool soul ballad and soups it up with loud guitars, while How to Say Goodbye goes back to the Cheap Trick (or Blue Oyster Cult at their mid-70s poppiest).

Zaremba croons his way through the Buddy Holly shuffle For a Smile as a British band like the Records might have done it, while the hardest-hitting song on the album, Stranger in My House evokes Da Capo-era Love, right down to the galloping drums and dark guitar chords, a surreal, bitter tale of losing a home and everything in it to something like a divorce or a probate dispute. There’s also a vengeful, Orbisonesque doo-wop pop number, Tear for Tear and the fuzztone garage rock number Veo La Luz and its tortured Spanish lyrics.

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