New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: punk music

Mustard Plug Can’t Contain It

The band on this page yesterday was for the stoners. Today’s is for the drinkers. The operative question about well-loved ska-punk veterans Mustard Plug‘s latest album Can’t Contain It is whether a bunch of guys in their forties can still pull off playing lickety-split party anthems. Answer: no question. As you would expect from a band that’s been living on the road for twenty years, they’re tight beyond belief, but they’re not phoning this stuff in. And the sonics of the new album are fantastic: this could easily be the best-produced album the band’s ever made. Colin Clive’s multitracked guitars roar and burn, Brandon Jenison’s trumpet punches and soars in tandem with Jim Hofer’s trombone over the pummeling rhythm section of Rick Johnson’s bass and Nathan Cohn’s drums. Frontman Dave Kirchgessner’s goodnaturedly sardonic vocals rise over hard-hitting verses that build to catchy singalong choruses – this is party music for people who aren’t stupid. The whole thing is streaming at Dying Scene.

The opening track We Came to Party sets the stage. You know the drill, but it’s still fun – what the band is going for here is a college radio hit. They raise the catchiness factor with The All-Nighter and then add a little latin flavor to a briskly walking two-tone skank on Aye Aye Aye (which the band sings as “AAAAH, ya, ya”). White Noise starts out with more of a straight-up rock feel before they get the ska beat going after the first chorus.

Bang! takes a sarcastic, exasperated poke at the amateurs who always find a way to turn a party into a brawl. Burn It Down brings back the stutterstep two-tone organ-and-horn vibe, while Shakin’ It Up works the horns into a blazing vintage Sham 69-style punk rock hit.

Clive keeps the guitar firepower going in tandem with the horns (and an Elvis Costello quote) on Blame Yourself. Gone and Faded takes what could be a cheesy NOFX hook and makes a big angst-fueled anthem out of it instead. What Does She Know? is catchy, and weird, and kind of a tongue-twister, followed by the album’s best song, the vengeful, searing Twist the Knife.

 With its punchy punk riffage, It’s You starts out like it might be a make-up song but quickly goes in the other direction. Perfect Plan sets a tasty horn chart over alternately pogoing and stomping guitars. The album ends with Running Out of Time, a snide punk rock blast at a nameless and undeservedly successful corporate music act.

Apropos of nothing – is this just a trick of the imagination, or does Kirchgessner’s voice have more than a little Boston in it? Does Red Sox Nation go as far as Michigan?

Globalfest 2014: Esoterica Rules

Globalfest, the annual celebration of high-energy, danceable music from around the world, grew out of the yearly booking agents’ convention. Youtube may have made live auditions obsolete, but every year the talent buyers for cultural centers across the country, along with the agents for a seemingly nonstop onslaught of global acts, still get together for an all-expenses-paid Manhattan party on the company tab. What’s most auspicious about this past Sunday’s edition of the festival at Webster Hall was the number of kids and random New Yorkers of all ages in the crowd. The booking agents drank hard and schmoozed: none of them seemed to be the least bit interested in the music. The kids, on the other hand, packed the main room for dramatic Bollywood pop revivalist orchestra the Bombay Royale, explosive Kiev folk-punk ensemble DakhaBrakha and even more explosive Romany brass band legends Fanfare Ciocarlia before cramming the downstairs space for darkly fiery Arizona desert rockers Sergio Mendoza y la Orkesta.

What’s happened is that there’s been a sea change among audiences, and among young people. Hard to believe as this may seem, thirty years ago it was considered weird for an American to like reggae – unless you were of Jamaican heritage. Forget about the kind of ridicule you might have faced if, perish the thought, a classmate discovered that you’d been sending oodles of money through the mail for limited-edition, low-budget vinyl pressings of Ukrainian folk or Romany brass music – or, if you were really lucky, you’d found a fellow weirdo who’d let you make cassette copies from his or her secret stash. People were troglodytes back then, weren’t they?

The Bombay Royale’s 2012 album You Me Bullets Love is a psychedelic blend of classic 60s-style Bollywood dance numbers spiced with surf and garage rock. This show  – the dramatic eleven-piece Melbourne, Australia band’s New York debut – found them taking their sound forward another ten years into the disco era with a lot of new material. Period-perfect as they sound, all their songs are originals. Singers Shourav Bhattacharya and Parvyn Kaur Singh – decked out in snakeskin suit and sari, respectively – slunk and spun, traded coy glances and wry pouts while the four-piece horn section, led by alto saxophonist Andy Williamson, blasted behind them.

They opened with a cinematically marching blend of Bollywood and spaghetti western, with the first of pyrotechnic keyboardist Matt Vehl’s many surreal, woozy synthesizer solos. Bhattacharya and Singh duetted on a surfy minor-key number, showed off some dance moves to a swaying bhangra beat and then went deep into anthemic funk. They followed that with Bobbywood, a number that sounded a bit like an Indian disco version of the Rocky theme mingled with brooding cinematics. Trumpeter Ros Jones ended up taking the first of many of the night’s chilling, chromatic solos; a little later, Williamson animatedly traded licks with Singh’s vocals on a creepy downtempo ballad.

It’s hard to think of another band writing songs that mix chromatic Dick Dale surf with Indian-spiced go-go vamps. Their sitar player wasn’t audible for much of the show, but ended up adding a surreal, bluesy solo on one of the later songs. Bass player Bob Knob’s chords loomed ominously underneath a couple of the harder-edged, surf-oriented tunes,  guitarist Tom Martin switching in a split-second from a twangy, reverb-toned attack to scratchy funk lines. The crowd roared for an encore; they didn’t get one.

Word was that it had taken the intervention of a U.S. Senator to assure visas for all four members of DakhaBrakha (Ukraininan for “give-and-take”), but the effort was worth it. They drew the most applause of all the bands on the bill. Their percussion-heavy sound is balanced by the eerie, high, close-harmony vocals of drummer/singer Olena Tsibulska, keyboardist/percussionist Iryna Kovalenko and cellist Nina Garenetska. The band’s lone male member, Marko Halanevych, also sang and contributed on both percussion and garmoshka (a small Ukrainian accordion). Garenetska started by plucking out funky pizzicato bass but before long she was firing off long, growling, raspy, sustained lines punctuated by macabre swoops and dives. Likewise, their set followed an up-and down trajectory, beginning with a wary marching feel with apprehensively insistent vocals, then a trio of creepy dirges before growing louder and more assaultive. Their funniest moments had a tongue-in-cheek hip-hop flavor. The most intense song in their set built explosive give-and-take interludes between ominous drums, ghostly vocals and snarling cello, sinking to a rapt, sepulchral interlude before rising to a pummeling outro. They wound up with a silly but very well-received spoof of cheesy electronic dancefloor beats.

The pride of Romania, eleven-piece Fanfare Ciocarlia were tight and fast beyond belief. The world’s most exhilarating Romany brass band has a precision to match their outrageous tempos, and chops that most American jazz players can only dream of. The four-man backline of a tuba and three slightly higher-pitched trubas played a looming, ominous introduction for their clarinetist, who then launched into wild volleys of shivery chromatics before the rest of the band came on to join in the hailstorms of rat-a-tat riffage.

They’d stop and start, sometimes taking a song doublespeed and then doublespeed after that, other times switching between soloists in a split second. One of the truba players came to the front about midway through the show and added a rapidfire solo of his own. They began with a single standup drummer, then added another for extra firepower. One of the more senior of the four trumpeters sang a couple of ballads, or at least parts of them, before the rest of the orchestra blasted them into the ozone. Hurichestra, true to its name, became a launching pad for a series of abrupt accelerations that were almost exponential: that any horn player can play so fast yet so fluidly defies the laws of physics. They traded birdcalls on a relatively brief take of their signature anthem, Ciocarlia, then teased the audience with droll Balkanized versions of Duke Ellington’s Caravan (which they probably learned from the Ventures) and St. James Infirmary.

Downstairs, Lebanese singer Yasmine Hamdan, backed by bass, drums, keyboards and a lot of pre-recorded stuff, played simple, low-key darkwave that, she said, was influenced by Siouxsie & the Banshees as well as Egyptian pop. The night ended with the feral southwestern gothic energy of Sergio Mendoza y la Orkesta, who put pretty much every other desert rock band to shame. The brass-fueled Tucson group pounced on a couple of noir-tinged, ska-punk flavored songs to open the show, then Mendoza put down his acoustic guitar and played surreal, macabre organ over a funereal bolero sway. From there they hit a lively, upbeat Tex-Mex groove that took a turn in a much more menacing spaghetti western direction when least expected, followed by an early Santana-esque psychedelic rock epic with long, space-reverb interludes for both organ and slide guitar.

The lead guitarist took an even longer, more murky, echo-drenched solo later on, then lit up a couple of more familiar southwestern gothic themes with some chilling slide work as memorable as anything Friends of Dean Martinez ever recorded. A long, slinky, pitchblende cumbia groove might have been the highlight of the night, although a similarly brooding, low-key bolero that might have been Mendoza‘s version of Besame Mucho was right behind. Addressing the audience in Spanish, singer/percussionist Salvador Duran explained that out in Tucson, or Nogales, where Mendoza comes from, everything is up for grabs: banda music, rancheras, cumbia, rock, you name it. They closed the set with a rapidfire return to a darkly shuffling border rock theme. This was Mendoza’s first New York show as a bandleader, hopefully the first of many.

Spindrift Bring Their Ghosts of the West to Glasslands on November 8

Fronted by Kirkpatrick Thomas, formerly of the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Spindrift play a reverb-drenched, surrealistically stagy mix of Lee Hazelwood-esque spaghetti western rock laced with punk-era influences from the Gun Club all the way back to the Cramps. Thomas is a connoisseur of desert rock and can’t resist employing every trope in the book in what seems to be a lovingly satirical, playfully Tarantino-esque take on it. Thomas’ baritone can be on the campy side; once in awhile he reaches for a Mark Sinnis-style menace. The band is at Glasslands at around 11 PM on Nov 8, playing songs from their latest album Ghost of the West, a mix of originals and wry updates on popular Old West tunes from across the decades. Spindrift are very good live, and as you might expect, a lot more psychedelic than they are in the studio.

Some of the new songs are cartoonish: Buffalo Dream, which sounds like the early Gun Club channeling their inner Indian tribe;  Cowpoke Cowpoke, a cartoonish faux-noir cowboy waltz; and a wryly deadpan version of Blood on the Saddle. They do When I Was a Cowboy in super lo-fi mode, shooting for a retro 20s 78 RPM ambience, then make psychedelia out of it. Thomas goes into crooner mode forCool Water, its swaying Apache vibe fleshed out with layers of ominously jangling guitars and Sasha Vallely’s lushly lurid vocal harmonies.

The  mariachi-pop Ballad of Paladin, “a knight without honor in a savage land,” sounds like Johnny Horton with more punk production values. King sings the elegantly arranged Hanging Me Tonight with a stoic sadness, while Thomas’ faux Johnny Cash slapback vocals on Gunfighter are irresistibly over-the-top. The western swing-flavored Wanderers of the Wasteland is much the same.

But the best songs here are the instrumentals. The epic Matador & the Fuzz begins by keeping the mariachi rock vibe going with flamencoish acoustic guitar, moody brass and a robust choir of voices, and builds to an explosive cop-car bolero. Mudhead works a briskly guitar-fueled, Romany jazz-tinged pulse. And the funniest track here might be Paniolos on the Range, adding bizarre gamelan touches over its loping Tex-Mex beat; it wouldn’t be out of place in the Tribecastan catalog. The album winds up with Navajo Trail, part rockabilly, part 50s lounge pop and part punk, and then a take of Ghost Riders in the Sky that offers a tip of the pitch-black cowboy hat to the Ninth House version.

A Rare Two-Night Stand by Legendary Postpunk Pioneers the Bush Tetras

CBGB-era no wave/funk/postpunk pioneers the Bush Tetras are playing a couple of nights on March 29 and 30 at 8 PM at the Slipper Room (the red-curtained strip club at the corner of Stanton and Orchard), of all places, and if you’re planning on going you should get there early: these shows are likely to sell out. After fifteen years in major label limbo, their long-awaited second album, Happy, has been released by RIOR on both vinyl and the usual digital formats. Brilliantly produced by noiserock maven and noted archivist Don Fleming, the album is a lot heavier than you might expect after hearing Too Many Creeps. For anyone lucky enough to have seen the band at, say, Brownies, around the time it was recorded and wondered when we might get a chance to hear studio versions of these songs, it’s a special treat.

It opens with the slow burn of Heart Attack, Pat Place’s guitar resonant and grim, then delivering a mean, minimalist metallic menace, Cynthia Sley’s vocals channeling her usual visceral unease. The second track, Slap, raises the menace factor, setting eerie minor-key janglerock over drummer Dee Pop’s suspenseful groove: “Could you slap me real hard, could you wake me up?” Sley asks plaintively.

Trip turns on a dime from a catchy two-chord funk vamp to snotty, straight-up rock. Nails reverts to the roaring, multitracked blue-flame ambience of the opening cut – what’s cool about this album is that as much as Place does the noisy/atonal thing more succinctly than just about anybody, here she gets to fill out the sound with a lush roar that she doesn’t often get the chance to create onstage.

The hypnotic, echoey instrumental Chinese Afro sets crashing percussion over the tiptoeing bass of Julia Murphy (who by that time had replaced Laura Kennedy in the group, and has since left). It makes a good segue with Pretty Thing, which  takes the atmospherics up a notch for an unexpectedly artsy, Velvets-tinged ambience.

At this point, the album hits a peak and stays there, beginning with You Don’t Know Me, a beefed-up take on the band’s abrasive early-period sound, Place firing off wickedly atonal swirls and macabre chromatics over a tight funk beat. Buckets of Blood works a slow, lingering, distantly menacing 80s jangle, Murphy hovering just underneath, Sley’s angst-ridden vocals overhead. Unlike what the title might suggest, Motorhead keeps the tensely simmering menace going.

Theremin (which actually has a theremin on it) builds from surreal no wave funk to a snarling groove that reminds of what Thalia Zedek and Come were doing around the time this album was made. Likewise, Ocean follows an arc from a hypnotic but harsh backdrop to a paint-peeling guitar workout. The album ends with Swamp Song, an off-kilter riff-rocker that evokes the Chrome Cranks, but funkier, a reminder that the Tetras were constantly evolving and keeping up with what was happening around them in New York. Kind of sad and funny that an album made in 1998 would be one of the best released in 2013 so far.

Skinny Lister and Flogging Molly Bring the Party to Roseland

Saturday night at Roseland, Flogging Molly’s show appeared to be sold out, a good sign in these depression times. The crowd was double- and triple-fisting beers, talking and jeering through the putrid emo act that opened the night: they hardly seemed to be in the mood for an English folk band many of them didn’t know. But Skinny Lister won them over – and appeared to have a sizeable fan base in the house as well. As Flogging Molly got when they first started (and still get), Skinny Lister draw a lot of Pogues comparisons. But as much as they’re all about raising the flagon (they passed a big one around the stage as their show wound up), they have a distinctive, individual sound, putting a fearless punk spin on oldtime English folk songs and sea chanteys. And they’ve got a singer, Lorna Thomas, who shares duties in front of the band, providing a charismatic, flirtatious contrast to guitarist Dan Heptinstall’s devil-may-care ferocity. And they’re excellent musicians, Thomas’ brother Max switching between melodeon and guitar, with Sam ‘Mule’ Brace on concertina and mandolin, Michael Camino on upright bass and guest Rosco Wuestewald on standup bass drum (and crowd-surfing).

The party had obviously started earlier – pretty much everybody in the house looked half in the bag – but these guys immediately made it official with a blistering take of If the Gaff Don’t Let Us Down, a delirious seafaring anthem with an ominous undercurrent echoed a little later in the stomping Trawlerman, a standout original from the band’s new album Forge and Flagon. They got the crowd to stomp and join the a-cappella “too-ra-ra-yay” choruses of  the medieval slacker anthem John Kanaka – no small achievement in a venue this size – then kept them stomping with a segue of a couple of old polkas, ending with the funny, sarcastic Forty Pound Wedding, written by Max and Lorna’s dad, Party George, a Leicestershire folk singer of some note as well. Months of playing summer festival after summer festival on their home turf have made this band extremely tight, if hardly slick. Even the slightly more sedate, bucolic Rollin’ Over sounded like the Mumfords sprung from under the thumb of the corporate overseer.

They made a hard act to follow, but Flogging Molly were at the top of their fiery, impassioned game. They tell good stories, their politics are spot-on and they’re impossible not to sing along to. Frontman Dave King was in a good mood, psyched to be in New York on a Saturday and the band kept up with him through a mix of songs from throughout their career. Violinist Bridget Regan played some rather chilling, ominously chromatic, ancient Celtic melodies on an early surprise, a heartfelt take of Exiled Years and a bit later as well on Heart of the Sea. The crowd knew all the words to Selfish Man and Drunken Lullabies and raised their pints (well, more like half-pints) to Revolution, a song that made sense when the band first released it all those years ago and has even more resonance today, now that the sons and daughters of the people who were getting downsized as the globalization conflagration started are now old enough to go to Flogging Molly shows. Searing, metal-tinged guitar sparred with lush, rich accordion, guitar jangle and clang, King’s biting lyrics and his sometimes droll, sometimes assaultive stage presence. In a city of fourteen million citizens plus immigrants who will all hopefully soon have that status, it was reassuring to see the 99% come out, tie one on and sing along with a bunch of well-loved, well-oiled road warriors whose energy dwarfs the Bushwick buzz bands who get all the ink but still can’t draw a crowd a tenth this size.

Molly Ruth: A Force of Nature at Sunday Salon 12

Molly Ruth sings with a wounded, raw but crystalline wail that will peel your skin. Sunday night at Zirzamin after the salon that this blog puts on every week, the charismatic songwriter left the crowd stunned and silent with her assaultive and wickedly catchy blend of oldtime acoustic blues, country and punk rock. Easy as it is to mix sex and religion for shock value, Molly Ruth does it as entertainingly as Tammy Faye Starlite. But Molly Ruth looks way back to guys like Blind Blake and before, sometimes mixing her metaphors, sometimes letting loose with a murderous exasperation. She barely said a word between songs, but she didn’t need to: her songs speak for themselves. Playing solo, she nonchalantly shifted between subtly fingerpicked blues, nimble ragtime, and a little straight-up country. The opening number, My Revelation’s Taking a Long Time to Come set the tone immediately. As funny as it was – “It may be little and weak, or it may break me into a million pieces,” she deadpanned – the not-so-hidden subtext that mingled with the mix of gospel and juicy innuendo was raw rage, the personal as political. Like a young Bob Dylan, she blends oldtime blues vernacular with a stream-of-consciousness surrealism. But she doesn’t rip off Dylan, lyrically or vocally, and she varied her vocals depending on the content of the song. She took that idea to its logical extreme on the night’s funniest number, where she played two characters, one more and more desperate for some kind of validation, the other sadistically playing oblivious and numb.

Maybe unintentionally, a bit of a Lucinda Williams vibe crept into the fullblown jealous insanity of the long, crescendoing punk-blues anthem A Million Fucking Whores (click the link above for a killer video from the Mercury Lounge last year). Ironically, the song that Molly Ruth belted the most intensely was a seemingly sincere, righteous (yeah, right) cover of Stand By Your Man. A casually biting fingerstyle blues sent her off searching for an alter ego who might have dropped everything and gone off to Africa “to escape expensive rent.” Loaded imagery – desolate extraterrestrial vistas, people cowering from some unnamed calamity or evil force, blood and guts and fire and brimstone – ran amok, but the plaintive, piercing way she delivered those scenes, they didn’t come across as over-the top. But they did pack a wallop. The narrator in the last song didn’t want to be cremated: she pleaded to be dismembered instead. And God, whatever he or it may be, was to be feared 24/7 -  for all the right reasons. Molly Ruth has been writing up a storm lately but hasn’t played a lot of shows (maybe that explains why) – she’ll be at Brooklyn Rod & Gun Club sometime in April.

Every Sunday at 5 PM, New York Music Daily presents the Sunday Salon at Zirzamin, where some of New York’s edgiest songwriters and musicians trade songs and cross-pollinate in the old Zinc Bar space at Houston and LaGuardia. There’s never a cover charge; the club has cheap beer, good Tex-Mex food, and the public is welcome to attend. Participation is by invitation only: you never know who might show up. The featured set at 7 PM this Sunday, Feb 3 is by brilliant guitarist and wry, purist Americana songwriter Homeboy Steve Antonakos.

Kagero’s New Album Is a Blast

Like an awful lot of gypsy rock bands, Kagero model themselves on Gogol Bordello, right down to frontman Kaz Fujimoto’s wry, surreal sense of humor and probably intentionally twisted English syntax. But Kagero’s sound is different. Although their lively minor-key songs are obviously made for dancing and keeping the party going, they’re a mostly acoustic band: other than a handful of electric guitar tracks and occasional keyboards, their lineup is totally acoustic, including a punchy horn section. Their songwriting is more eclectic than most of the rest of the gypsy crew, reaching into oldtime swing, hip-hop and sometimes taking on a little bit of a ska bounce. Any way you slice it, they’re one of New York’s most entertaining bands, as their new album Gumbo du Jour confirms. They’re playing the album release show sometime in the late hours of Feb 2 at Nublu and if you’re going, get there early because the place will be packed. People dance at Kagero shows.

The opening track, Smokin’ on Bali Shag, immediately sets the tone, a violin-fueled retro 20s swing shuffle with a surreal Cockney hip-hop flavor: imagine the Streets fronting Gogol Bordello. Most of it seems to be the random observations of a guy who’s really hungover. Back to Jakarta is a slyly funny look at a global problem: “I like my country but there’s no employment,” says the narrator, asking himself, “Should I stay just five more years, that’s what I said five years ago.”

One of the album’s funniest songs is Rockstar in a Grocery Store: the violin dances down the scale and sets off the tale of a guy who can only afford breakfast in Chinatown and may never be able to take a real vacation, but nothing’s gonna stop him from playing with his band every night. They keep that vibe going (outside of a gorgeously uneasy piano solo) with My Freedom, a look at life from beneath the Manhattan bridge from the point of view of an irrepressible guy who may be “less rich in my pocket but I’m richer in my mind.”

Angel Baby, a wry bossa rock tune, paints a picture of a guy who’s way too drunk to be hitting on the girls – and of course that’s what he does. Life’s a Thrill nicks the lick from Sunny, Bobby Hebb’s big 60s pop hit and turns it into gypsy rock with hip-hop touches and edgy horns. Girl from the Coldest Country recounts how sad it feels to suddenly see your favorite Polish girl bartender, who “was good at making drinks with some strange tropic names,” walk away to hopefully a better life far from her job at 301 West 42nd Street (Port Authority, in case you’re wondering).

The best tune here, the Ukrainian/klezmer-fueled It’s a Perfect Day to Laugh is also the hardest one to figure out, lyrically speaking. The band takes a surprisingly successful detour into funk with Greencard Bride, with its LMAO intro and then a sobering look at the cynical reality of life under the radar. Gypsy Connection celebrates gypsy rock in all its unselfconscious glory: “Yes I’m New York country boy, try to play cool and emotionless but the night is so exuberant.” Lonely Rose Vendor has another funny intro to kick off a bristling, fiery, mariachi-tinged story about the kind of entrepreneur you see late at night trying to cajole happy couples into buying things they really don’t need. The album ends with Song from Africa, a sarcastically funny tune about a possibly homeless busker who’s had enough of the clueless gentrifier girls who pester him to “play that song from Africa.,” and then the hard-hitting Morna, which has a tinge of ska. What a great album: thirteen tracks, all of them excellent, plus you can dance to them. It’s early in the year, but this is contender for best of 2013, right up there with the Brooklyn What and Pete Galub.

Twin Guns’ New Album: Dark Reverb Central

Twin Guns’ new album Sweet Dreams is all about the reverb: waves, and waves, and waves of it. What’s most amazing about the album is that it’s just two members, guitarist Andrea Sicco and drummer Jungle Jim (formerly of the Cramps and the Makers).  Recorded by Hugh Pool at Brooklyn’s famed Excello studios and produced by Heavy Trash’s Matt Verta-Ray, it’s a feast of menacing retro guitar sonics. In fact, there’s so much guitar, you don’t even notice that there’s no bass. Fans of vintage equipment will have a field day guessing which amps and guitars are getting a workout. And while you could pigeonhole this as garage rock or ghoulabilly, it transcends any label you could stick on it. It’s just good. Fans of loud, dark rock have a lot to enjoy here. One good band this resembles sometimes is bass-less two-guitar Pennsylvania garage/punk rockers the Brimstones.

The title track is a pounding, syncopated monster surf instrumental with hollers of pain – or something like pain – echoing in the background. It’s the great lost track from the acid trip sequence in Jack Nicholson’s The Trip. The second cut blends ghoul-garage rock with a relentlessly assaultive Radio Birdman vibe. “I always turned away from love to be with all my demons,” Sicco explains.

They follow that with a snarling fuzztone riff-rocker, then a slowish G-L-O-R-I-A vamp with reverbtoned harmonica. Never Satisfied moves ominously from echoing spaghetti western riffage, to a chromatically-charged menace, to a Psychotic Reaction verse and then gets slow and creepy again. The Creeper sounds like Morricone doing Link Wray, while Teenage Boredom, arguably the album’s best song, infuses Lynchian 60s-pop with layers and layers of guitar, tremoloing, smoldering, pulsing, filling every corner of the sonic picture like liquid pitchblende, lethal but irresistible.

Bloodline nicks the riff from Bela Lugosi’s Dead, adds an Apache drumbeat and echoes of the 13th Floor Elevators. Mystery Ride mingles screaming cowpunk and goth, with a tasty, surfy outro. Motor City – a tribute to the Ludlow Street bar, maybe? – blends Syd Barrett and X influences. The album ends with the slow, Gun Club-style dirge Wild Years, taking on a macabre bolero surf edge as its murky waves rise. As far as creating a mood and keeping it going, this is as good as it gets. An early, sonically luscious contender for best rock record of 2013. The whole thing is streaming at Twin Guns’ Bandcamp page.

Mucca Pazza: An Explosive Carnival of Souls at Globalfest

In their headlining set at Globalfest Sunday night at Webster Hall, Mucca Pazza played what had to be the most exciting, lavishly intense live show by any band in New York in recent months. With zombie apocalypse choreography and a raw, frequently macabre, punked-out brass band sound, the 28-member version of this Chicago circus rock monstrosity careened through a mix of  instrumentals that drew equally on marching band music, the Balkans, horror surf and menacingly cinematic vamps. They used the big split-level space for all it was worth, marching their way in from the balcony, many of the instruments running through battery-powered amps built into the band members’ uniform hats, the players trailed by a ceaselessly energetic crew of cheerleaders who lept gleefully and hoisted each other high above the band when they weren’t flopping into horror-stricken Pompeiian poses. On a couple of occasions, the band split, the brass section scampering from the stage to the balcony and then engaging in a lively call-and-response with the reeds gathered on the sidelines below.

As seemingly chaotic as their antics are, in reality Mucca Pazza are an exceptionally tight, well-rehearsed unit, which an act this size has to be in order to pull off their shtick. The juxtaposition of a bunch of wholesome, athletic, Middle American-looking bunch of guys and girls leaping and grinning against a backdrop of ominous minor keys and monster movie chromatics blasting behind them is surreal to the extreme, and it’s far more disconcerting than it would be if, say, they dressed like dead monks or real apocalyptic zombies (do such things exist? This band makes you think they might). And as entertaining as they are to watch in their non-matching vintage marching band uniforms, ultimately it’s the music (their most recent album Safety Fifth and other releases are streaming online or available for free download at their site) that’s the most exciting part of their act. The surrealism extended to a couple of intros chanted in unison by the cheerleaders: “Embrace absurdity and all that comes with it, good or bad,” seemed to be the message.

One after the other, the songs maintained a creepy carnivalesque atmosphere. A couple seemed to be parodies of happy-go-lucky parade marches; a handful of others were minor-key surf songs turbocharged many times over with roaring brass arrangements. They looked to Serbia or thereabouts a couple of times for pulsing two-chord vamps to bludgeon the audience (or make the cheer squad look as if they’d been bludgeoned); a few of the other tunes had a less gloomy, more lively Mediterranean flavor (the band name is Italian for “crazy cow.”)

One of the best songs got a sobering intro when a member of the band reminded the crowd how brave it must be to go to the school bus stop carrrying a violin – and then the band’s violinist made his way furtively and actually very hauntingly into a wicked gypsy-fueled dance number. Later in the set, guitarist Jeff Thomas led them through a pounding hardcore punk number built on a menacing series of tritone chords, spurring another exodus from the stage by what seemed half the band. The drumline came to the front, the cheer crew and some of the horn players keeled over into mock grotesquerie, and the glockenspiel player and electric mandolinist fired off chillingly strange, ringing solos. Before Mucca Pazza marched in, the impressively large crowd who’d stuck around after five hours of three stages’ worth of gypsy music, brass band funk, latin rock and an early-evening performance by brilliant Iranian composer/spike fiddle player Kayhan Kalhor, were suddenly reinvigorated. Which they should have been: Mucca Pazza are a force of nature. To think that this band actually squeezed themseves into little Public Assembly in Williamsburg a few months ago is as impressive as it is funny. Where this act really ought to be is Broadway, in a big space where they can work their theatrics for all they’re worth.

Fearlesss Anthems for Freedom Fighters from Neil Nathan

The ironic thing about Neil Nathan’s new album Sweep the Nation is that as fearlessly political and anti-corporate as he is, a lot of the songs on it wouldn’t have been out of place on commercial radio a couple of decades ago. Obviously, his lyrical message would have scared timid programmers away, but the songs are catchy and accessible: Nathan makes his point and wraps them up in three minutes, sometimes considerably less. He’s sort of a harder-rocking counterpart to similarly smart, socially conscious songwriter Stephan Said. Both want change, now, and aren’t content with vague Obama promises; where Said comes out of a jamband background and is doing his damnedest to bring his crowd into the movement springboarded by the freedom fighters of the Arab world, Nathan relies more on sarcastic, sometimes savage humor and loud guitars. The whole album is streaming online, and everybody who signs up for a “message from the Overlord,” presumably one of Nathan’s entertaining political commentaries, gets a new free download every month.

And this is where Nathan may be able to reach where others haven’t. Most musicians are politically progressive but find themselves preaching mostly to the converted in the case when they take a stand. Nathan  sings with a heavy drawl -  it’s not known if he’s from the south, but he could be. And while it wouldn’t be fair to say that Nathan’s songs don’t have an edge – they’re loud, angry and often funny – it’s not a stretch to imagine somebody whose usual musical diet is no more revolutionary than, say, Guns & Roses, enjoying this stuff and maybe, just maybe, getting Nathan’s message.

He blasts through the album’s first track, Jumpstart in about a minute forty five worth of late 70s style powerpop: “Let’s live like the world is doomed,”he tells his posse. The title track takes an early 70s stoner riff and gives it a shot of adrenaline, spurred by “an altercation with the enemy.”

“What was old now is new again,” the choir sings on the Britfolk-tinged intro to Coming Round the Bend, a hook straight out of the Strawbs or Fairport Convention playbook, right before Nathan takes it into a tense gospel-rock groove. “Was a time I did what I was told…you can’t see this condition and act like it isn’t  a crime,” he snarls.

The stomping Ain’t No Company Man envisions an Orwellian nightmare where corporations take over the world and merge into a single United Nations Inc. The roaring anthem There Is No Time looks back in anger to the bombast and pageantry of the Bush regime, while holding out hope for something better, but to get there we have to “take aim and attack.” This guy doesn’t pussyfoot around.

Another big anthem, For the Lucky Ones voices a similar anger from the point of view of anyone with dashed hopes who “trusted in vain while they were playing the shell game.”  The best song on the album is the Dead Kennedys-inflected Pathway to Ruin, a pummelling ghoulabilly number where the terrorized population finds themselves “wide awake in Disneyland, bumrush us all to the pathway to ruin.”

Nathan follows that with the unexpectedly optimistic soul-rock clapalong Everybody Everywhere: “Put your hands together, if you’re tired of all the lies that keep us tethered…turn your tv off and plug into your own disaster.”  The album winds up with a catchy, propulsive blend of soul, punk and southern rock, and then the absolutely spot-on, hypnotic singalong All We Need Is So Much More, which is sort of a Give Peace a Chance for a new century. There’s also a thematically unreleated track that sounds like Big Star. The louder you play this, the better it sounds: crank it on your headphones at work but don’t let your boss catch you doing it. Neil Nathan plays Bowery Electric at 7 PM on Feb 8.


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