New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Going to the Well For an Overlooked Phantasmagorical Treat by Brodka

Polish singer Monika Brodka‘s album Clashes came out in 2016; if she ever played New York, that evidence never made it this far. Since then, the record’s been sitting on the hard drive here, but leaving it there was a mistake. If you like catchy, dark, carnivalesque sounds or 80s goth bands, you should hear it. It’s streaming at Bandcamp.

Creepily twinkling music-box electric piano underscores the airy violin and wounded vocals of the title track: imagine Lorde if/when she ever grows up. The band shift between a cantering syncopation to a straight-up gothic rock pulse in Horses. By now, it’s obvious they’ve got a great bass player; nice creepy, quiet outro too.

Santa Muerte is a surreal, galloping southwesern gothic bounce…with funeral organ. Can’t Wait For War is not a Trumpie march but a pulsing blend of Siouxsie and Romany-flavored sounds. With its blippy minor-key synth and processed vocals, Holy Holes has a moody 80s New York vibe.

A mbira (or a close digital approximation) pings through the steady, hypnotic Haiti: something in the song relates to “cherry flavor.” Funeral is a strange mashup of noir swing and macabre art-rock, afloat in menacingly waltzing keyboard textures. Up in the Hill is the weirdest track here: it’s a generic pop song with an unexpectedly serpentine guitar solo buried in the mix. Could it be that another band’s tune got sequenced into the files that were sent here?

The bass-heavy new wave track afterward is pretty forgettable as well. They bring back the macabre, funeral-organ ambience with the instrumental Kyrie and keep it going through Hamlet, an elegantly muted, disconsolate processional. The final cut is Dreamstreamextreme, an airy, slowly swaying tableau. Throughout the album, you can hear an artist who’s found an original sound and is still experimenting with other ideas: may that experimentation continue and find a wider audience.

In Memoriam – John Prine

John Prine, the ruggedly individualistic, fiercely populist songwriter and early pioneer in what would become the Americana music movement, died of coronavirus this past Tuesday in a Nashville hospital. He was 73.

Vital to the end, Prine had a tour planned for this year. One of the first artists to successfully break from a big record label to play live and record independently, Prine’s influence over several generations of songwriters was vast. A brilliant lyricist, nimble guitarist and wryly laconic raconteur, Prine chronicled the struggles of working-class Americans with sardonic humor and empathy as they confronted the ugly unattainability of the American Dream. Esteemed by his peers, artists as diverse as Elvis Costello and Steve Earle cited Prine as a formative influence.

Prine got his start in Chicago in the late 1960s while working there as a mailman. During one particular harsh winter, he would take shelter inside mailboxes, where he wrote several of his most popular songs. With the surrealism of Dylan, the aphoristic, down-home sensibility of honkytonk and a defiant workingman’s politics, he had a soft spot for old people and spoke out articulately against the Vietnam War. He could spot a hypocrite a mile away.

Many of his songs – the antiwar anthem Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore, the Vietnam veteran chronicle Sam Stone, and Hello in There, the hardscrabble tale of an old couple in the heartland becoming more and more atomized – have become iconic in Americana circles. Among songwriters, simply knowing who Prine is gives you instant cred; being able to cover his songs is even better. Not many did: the most famous one was Bonnie Raitt’s version of Angel From Montgomery, the closest thing Prine ever had to a radio hit.

As the years went by, Prine’s drawling baritone became more weathered: he always sounded twenty years older than he was. And his songwriting never diminished, as he shifted toward rock in the 90s and then a return to his original acoustic sound in this century. Two key albums from his deep catalog include the pseudo-greatest-hits collection Prime Prine, from 1976 and the 2011 archival release The Singing Mailman Delivers, a collection of many of his best-known songs made on the fly at a Chicago radio station.

Prine could be hilarious: give a listen to Illegal Smile, a sly weedhead tale from his 1973 album Sweet Revenge, where the record label tried to recast him as an outlaw country singer, with mixed results: no wonder Prine would go independent. He could also be very, very dark, as you can hear in Down By the Side of the Road, a chilling highway tale from his 1978 Bruised Orange album.

He is greatly missed. Deepest condolences to the Prine family and his many friends.