New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Category: dreampop

Lush, Majestically Jangly Art-Rock and Spacerock From Guitar Icon Marty Willson-Piper’s Space Summit

Space Summit picked a good bandname: they’re a trans-global collective of spacerock and art-rock luminaries. Marty Willson-Piper, this era’s foremost twelve-string guitarist, pulled the project together. He’s the architect of the many, luscious layers of guitar and bass on their new album Life This Way, streaming at Spotify. The obvious comparison is Willson-Piper’s old band, Australian legends the Church in their energetic early years. If melodic, impeccably crafted guitar sounds are your thing, this is your holy grail.

Interestingly, the opening track, I’m Electric comes across as a more direct, snarling take on the kind of drifting midtempo spacerock the Church played throughout the 90s. Willson-Piper brings the roar down on the choruses, where Dare Mason’s keys, Olivia Willson-Piper’s strings and Nicklas Barker’s mellotron float in.

Harmony singer Phoebe Tsen shadows frontman Jed Bonniwell on the album’s title track, Willson-Piper’s quasar guitars and the mellotron providing a lushly textured backdrop. Ancient Towers has an aptly majestic minor-key jangle and clang, austere violin blending into the mix, drummer Eddie John adding the occasional tumbling flourish.

Queen Elizabeth’s Keys is a coyly strolling, chiming look back at 60s British psychedelic pop with a current-day digital sheen. Uneasily close-harmonied vocals float over the increasingly bristling guitar intertwine and insistent beat of Deep Paisley Underground. Then the group shift gears with Fold With the Light, its more broodingly anthemic acoustic-electric layers giving way to more of a sunshine pop feel.

They mix up the riffs, from lingering steel guitar to gentle chime and drifting atmosphere in Marlowe, one of the album’s more intriguing narratives. The Four Horses of Venice has more of an orchestral folk lushness, Willson-Piper finally firing off a tantalizingly brief, savage solo.

The dreamiest track here is Dome of Light, Willson-Piper’s sinuous leads piercing the veil. The band bring the album full circle, more or less, with the allusively ominous If You Believe. Now for the surprise: all this was recorded in diverse sonic environments all over the world. Credit Mason for pulling this together into such a lavish, contiguous mix.

A Long-Awaited, Anthemic, Intriguingly Textured New Album From the Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable burst onto the European festival scene in the early zeros as a sort of dreampop version of the Pretenders. Blending a dense swirl into their simple, emphatic anthems, the Welsh power trio have never wavered from a formula that works. Their new album Into the Blue is streaming at Spotify. It’s as solid a soundtrack for a brisk drive, or a trip to the gym (assuming you live in a part of the world where gyms are accessible without restrictions) as you could possibly want.

The album’s title track is built around frontwoman Ritzy Bryan’s staggered, nebulously suspenseful 6/8 guitar riff, which explodes in layers of distortion on the chorus: it’s an optimistic, catchy opener. She picks up the energy with her swipes up and down the fretboard over the punchy drive of bassist Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matthew James Thomas on the second cut, Cherries, down to a momentary piano break.

With the repeaterbox fluttering in the background and Bryan’s anxious, breathy vocals, track three, Sevier has an distant U2 feel. Watery chorus-box textures mingle with whiplash distortion over tricky syncopation in Interval, which at five and a half minutes is a whole lot more than that.

The band build Farrago around a simple descending riff, adding layes of noise and punches from the guitar that look back to the sledgehammer minimalism of Clinic. Bryan whispers the lyrics as Gotta Feed My Dog rises from new wave-flavored suspense, to a foggy insistence, and eventually a more fluid, psychedelic atmosphere.

Dafydd takes over the mic over Bryan’s fingerpicked, flamenco-flavored flourishes as Somewhere New gathers steam; it seems to be a childhood reminiscence. The playfully blippy, punchy 80s textures that kick off Bring It to the Front are a red herring: it’s the darkest and most memorable track here. Likewise, the defiance in Bryan’s voice in Back to Nothing, which could be the Cure through a very thick glass, brightly.

Thomas’ leadfoot 2/4 stomp propels Only Once, which also echoes the Cure but less opaquely: “Never coming home, never coming back” is the mantra. The album’s final cut is Left Too Soon, rising from a hypnotic, rainy-day acoustic waltz to a roaring, elegaic, increasingly elegaic blaze. This might be the band’s best album to date, not bad for an act who’ve been at it for practically two decades.

An Appetizing New Album From Piroshka

Piroshka is Russian for “little dumpling.” But the sound of this British supergroup of 80s and 90s rock veterans has a lot more flavor than your average pot-sticker. Their new album Love Drips and Gathers is streaming at Spotify. Guitarists Miki Berenyi (founding member of dreampop and 90s Britrock visionaries Lush) and KJ “Moose” McKillop choose their spots to echo and clang as the ambience wafts behind them. It’s an interesting synthesis of everything Lush was, from the foundationally icy dreampop of their early career through the more straightforwardly anthemic sound they ended with.

The two guitars linger and mingle in the opening track, Hastings before bassist Mick Conroy and drummer Justin Welch raise the energy. But the hypnotic spacerock ambience remains the same, at least until Terry Edwards’ flugelhorn signals an undulating crescendo out, pure late 80s Britpop.

The Knife Thrower’s Daughter has a muted, drifting art-rock ambience and one of Berenyi’s classic, allusively menacing narratives over increasingly pulsing atmospherics. From there they segue into Scratching at the Lid, another dark Berenyi lyric and icy chorus-box guitars over a brisk new wave bassline.

Lovable is the missing link between immersively artsy early 90s Lush and a big early influence, Siouxsie & the Banshees, in nocturnal mode five years earlier. With its echoing, puffing string synth and brooding minor-key ambience, VO is also a throwback to that era and one of the strongest songs on the album.

Set to a steady backbeat with layered guitar textures and a big, stabbing keyboard crescendo, Wanderlust could be a recent, poppier song by the Church with a woman out front. The album’s high point is another backbeat tune, Echo Loco, turning an old pop formula on its head: catchy, biting verse, nebulous chorus.

The closest thing to an epic here is Familiar, a rippling spacescape. They close with We Told You, a cinematic, goth-tinged mostly instrumental theme. 

One complaint about this album: Berenyi’s vocals are too low in the mix, and oddly processed in places, a move that backfires more often than not. This blog’s owner saw Lush live more than once back in the 90s and insists that she was as strong a singer onstage, maybe even more so, than she was in the studio, and there’s no reason to think that’s changed.

Piroshka are touring Europe this year, but until the specter of medical “passports” has been put back in its coffin for good, it’s not “safe” to buy tickets to a venue where at the moment you may not be able to enter without taking a lethal injection.

Azure Ray Return With a Gorgeously Lyrical Psychedelic Pop Record

It’s been twenty years since Azure Ray put out their debut album, a major influence on a generation of bedroom pop perpetrators which was finally issued for the first time on vinyl this year. In the years since, the duo of Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink have not been idle, and they have a brand new album, Remedy, streaming at Bandcamp. In general, it’s more lush and keyboard-oriented, without the group’s earlier Americana touches. The vocals are calm but strong and the lyrics are fantastic: there’s a persistent existentialist streak throughout many of these otherwise warmly shimmery songs.

“How do you say hello when you know there is no more? What do you dream about when you’re not swallowing swords?” the two ask in the opening track, a spare, Lennonesque piano ballad.

They revert to the loopy keyboard pastiches they explored on their debut album in the second track, Bad Dream, but with more of a spacy, dreampop-influenced feel. It’s a wake-up call, possibly referencing an abusive relationship.

Likewise, there’s a gentle spacerock sway to Phantom Lover, swirly keys and chilly guitar clang over a simple drum machine loop. “All we’ve got is what we’ve done,” the duo observe in Already Written, an allusive, bittersweetly devastating psychedelic pop gem that’s one of the best songs of the year:

I want to bite my tongue, I’m never great with decisions
Got a lot to be desired but never asked for permission
Thank god I was raised this way
Now I’m somewhere between what I hear and when I listen
Try to write it down but it’s already written
How I miss those days

The album’s title track has a lush hypnotic web of guitars and a lyric that seems to reference the Trump era:

Stand alone in an empty room
Scared to stay, stared to bloom
Little beast clawing at my door
I call for peace, they call for war…
I’ve disadmired old tendencies
A secret greed in the cemetery

“If you think about it long enough, you’ll question everything you know,” the two remind, over the surreal blend of acoustic guitar and drifting keys in Desert Waterfall. They stick with the spare/sleek dichotomy in Grow What You Want and How Wild: finally, seven tracks in, we get a pedal steel.

The Swan is the most sweepingly angst-fueled, orchestrated number here, a hauntingly allusive tale of a steep decline:

Another fight for the waking light
Did you lose your wings at a sacrifice
It’s impossible to understand
And what tore your fingers back from your closed-up fist
You closed your eyes with confidence
It’s impossible to understand

29 Palms, a strangely successful mashup of atmospheric Americana and balletesque chamber pop, is a soberly imagistic breakup narrative. They close the record with the techy, blippy I Don’t Want To Want To: “Inside part of me has died but I still have a photograph.” Who would have thought that Azure Ray would make an album in 2021, let alone that it would be one of the best of the year!

Vast, Relentless, Menacing Epics From Nordgeist

T sits alone in her room somewhere in Siberia and screams.

And sings in a ghastly whisper, and plays layers and layers of guitar, and records it, probably on Garageband. And releases it under the name Nordgeist. That’s about all we know about her. Glenn Branca’s minimalist multi-guitar symphonies are a good point of comparison, Paysage D’Hiver is another: endless, hypnotic epics, vast clouds of guitar overdubs, and, song length aside, a very tuneful sensibility. You really can hum – or scream – along to Nordgeist’s new album Frostwinter, streaming at Bandcamp.

You could crank up the almost fourteen-minute opening monstrosity, Winter, and notice how fast she’s tremolo-picking those chords. The woman must have strength in her wrists to match the venom in her lungs. She finally slows down to a bitter, resigned descending progression before returning to the jackhammer assault.

A drum riff and then a pummeling vortex of My Bloody Valentine digital-reverb guitar burst in over Siberian steppe sonics as she launches into The Old Wolf. It’s a muddy, hypnotic mix, guitar and bass a lot higher than the vocals and the drums, which seems intentional. Is that a wood flute way, way in the back? Is that a blunt you’re smoking? That would make sense under the circumstances.

What does Revenge sound like? A lot like the rest of the album, and until about a third of the way through it doesn’t seem to have a time signature: it just keeps going on, and on, and on for almost a quarter of an hour. Talk about getting even.

From there she segues into the last song, Sorrow, quickly rising to a galloping intensity. The past almost fourteen months have been hell. Nordgeist feels your pain.

Lo-Fi, Melancholy Jangle and Swirl From Clever Girls

Clever Girls are a throwback to the lo-fi jangle that was so popular in the UK in the late 80s and early 90s, and also occasionally the singalong catchiness of the 50s. The group frequently beef up their sound with lingering dreampop resonance. Frontwoman/guitarist Diane Jean sings her forlorn, angst-infused lyrics in an unadorned high soprano. Their new album Constellations os streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening number, Come Clean is a distantly regretful, 50s-tinged waltz through a lo-fi 21st century prism, skeletal and then rising closer to ornate but not qutie. That sets the stage for a lot of what’s to follow: plenty of loud/soft contrasts and sudden, unexpected, explosive peaks.

Jangly, spare guitar shifts to dissociative ambience, then crunch and a big dreampop-infused coda in the second track, Lavender. Remember Pluto is a famous New Order tune as Comet Gain might have done it.

Bassist Tobias Sullivan introduces Womxn with a little ba-BUMP noir cabaret as guitarist Winfield Holt adds simmer and shards, drummer Rob Slater chilling in the distance through the reverb. Built around a catchy, rising three-note riff, Baby Blue is awash in even more of that reverb and distant dreampop sonics.

The group follow the album’s title track, a found-sound miniature, with Spark and its Oasis chorus. Stonewall is a surreal mashup of cloying pop and post-Velvets grit, while Saturn is unexpectedly upbeat, bouncing along with Sullivan’s bass, They close the album with Fried and its plainspoken, seething images of a relationship unraveling. 

Horsehunter’s Crushingly Psychedelic Set at Last Year’s Day of Doom Festival Immortalized on a New Live Album

In a stroke of genius, the organizers of the Day of Doom Festival at St. Vitus in Brooklyn last year decided to record it. They’re now releasing the recordings; the first was a wickedly psychedelic set by Summoner. The latest one in the series is Horsehunter’s Day of Doom Live, streaming at Bandcamp. These albums’ sound quality is consistently excellent, no surprise considering the venue’s tremendous PA system.

As these records remind, not all the bands at the festival were straight-up doom metal: the loosely connecting thread was dark psychedelia. Horsehunter have throat-shredding vocals and build immersive, dynamically shifting atmospheres that brings to mind early 80s no wave bands like the Ex and the dreampop of My Bloody Valentine as much as any kind of metal. For a band who can be dangerously loud, they’re sometimes shockingly quiet.

There are only four tracks here: only their first number, Witchery, is less than ten minutes long. They open that one with feedback shrieking from guitarists’ Michael Harutyunyan and Dan Harris’ Flying V and Les Paul, bassist Himi Stringer and drummer Nick Cron building to a hypnotic, enveloping gallop and then a series of bludgeoningly tricky rhythms.

Bring Out Yer Dead, the first of the epics, shifts from a spare, funereal, circling riff to a long series of variations on gritty, thick cinderblock chords. They bring it full circle, hauntingly.

Nuclear Rapture has allusive Sabbath chromatics over an undulating mathrock-tinged sway, an unexpectedly minimalist, low-key funeral march midway through, a tantalizingly brief thicket of machete tremolo-picking and finally a big payoff with a completely haphazard guitar solo.

Decaying for a bit to more sheets of feedback, they segue from there into a practically seventeen-minute version of Stoned to Death to close the set. This is where the doom wafts in, from a syncopated Electric Funeral riff, to a spine-pounding doublespeed break, crazed exchanges of guitar shredding and tarpit atmospherics.

This blog has been agitating for years for artists to release more live albums, considering that it’s infinitely cheaper to record a show than rent studio time. Who else had the presence of mind to record a live set at St. Vitus, or any other good metal venue? Let’s hear it.

Relentlessly Anthemic, Enveloping, Desperate Epics From Paysage D’Hiver

As Paysage D’Hiver, Swiss multi-instrumentalist Wintherr (the name is a German pun) has built a vast, distinctive, obsessively focused body of work that blends elements of dreampop, no wave, black metal, classical and film music. It’s often impenetrably dense: the guitars typically sound like they’ve been recorded through a brick wall. Yet Wintherr’s towering neoromantic themes are just as catchy and anthemic, He likes endless washes of chords, with simple, purposeful minor-key riffs layered over them. He doesn’t take solos here, at least in the traditional sense. The vocals are in German, his guttural roar buried deeper in the mix than anything else, even the bass: this is a pretty trebly record.

The name of the project – French for “winter landscape” – reflects a single existential metaphor: an interminable winter walk. There is a plotline with a lot of jump cuts: the beginning and ending have already been released, or so it seems at this point. Narrative-wise, this latest epic installment, Im Wald (In the Woods) falls somewhere in the middle and is streaming at Bandcamp.

This is a long album, two hours worth of songs that go on for almost twenty minutes at times. With its relentlessly pummeling beats and loops – all of which sound organic – it will jar you awake at high volume: it’s great driving music. Yet at low volume it’s soothing, validating Wintherr’s sense for a good tune. Loops of what sounds like a man walking pretty briskly across muddy terrain are interspersed between the songs. Wintherr breaks up the relentless, reverb-iced attack with calmer, more brooding interludes where keyboards (or a keyboard patch) come to the forefront.

There’s a point where the music recedes to a forlorn minor-key guitar loop and the walking man sets up camp for the night. Everything gets more orchestral, desperate, and slightly more rhythmically diverse from there: a recurrent riff toward the end is absolutely bloodcurdling. It’s hard to think of a more apt album for the year of the lockdown, so many of us trudging onward, atomized and alone, running out of money and food and losing hope, one eye on the road ahead, the other on the Trace and Track gestapo and the spectre of the death camps. And they said it could never happen here.

Thoughtful, Attractively Enveloping Nocturnes From Swimming Bell

Swimming Bell play slow, pensively lingering, atmospheric songs that draw equally on Americana and ambient music. Their new album Wild Sight – streaming at Bandcamp – brings to mind Neko Case or Tift Merritt as produced by Brian Eno, maybe. Washes of pedal steel and vocal harmonies figure prominently in frontwoman Katie Schottland’s songs. Her narratives are subtle, full of small, allusively telling details: they invite you in for repeated listening.

Good Time, Man begins as a hazy, atmospheric, wistful summertime tableau awash in Oli Deacon’s pedal steel. By the time Schottland’s intricate, fingerpicked acoustic guitar kicks in, it’s clear that this is a breakup scenario.

Deliciously icy tremolo guitars clang and ring out over a slow, swaying 6/8 groove in 1988, unraveling into a starry dreampop mist at the end: it seems to be a sad childhood reminiscence.  The pedal steel returns along with tasty, looming bass clarinet in For Brinsley, a Brinsley Schwarz homage: “Don’t lose your grip on love,” is the mantra.

“She’d lost the medal but she’d won the fight,” Schottland recalls in We’d Find, the enveloping sonics coalescing into an indian summer haze. Cold Clear Moon, a Tomo Nakayama cover, is catchy, steady and spare, the acoustic and electric guitar textures, glockenspiel and contrapuntal vocals building a hypnotic interweave.

The band follow Wolf, an echoey, circling vignette, with Got Things, a glistening anthem and the album’s catchiest, most straight-up rock number: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Rose Thomas Bannister catalog.

Left Hand Path is a front-porch folk tune with delicate electronics and steel twinkling in the distance. Schottland launches into Love Liked You slowly over National steel guitar, the band methodically rising into a slow, crescendoing, Hem-like sway: the swirly atmospherics are the icing on the cake. The album ends with Quietly Calling, a lush, crepuscular waltz that could be the Grateful Dead in a sharply focused moment: “You were listening to prove that you could while I was trying to be good,” Schottland intones. What a refreshing and individualistic sound: let’s hope Swimming Bell figure out how to make another album like this, clandestinely or otherwise.

A Dark, Noisy, Psychedelic Swedish Blend of 90s Indie Rock, Dreampop and No Wave

Kall are another one of those bands who sound like no other group on the planet. Their attack is part unhinged 90s indie rock, part no wave, with a little dreampop and a rhythm section that’s heavier but also busier than you typically find in any of those styles. Add lead vocalist Kim’s guttural black metal rasp and you have one of the most distinctively psychedelic acts around. They have a thing for loops and really like long songs. Their latest limited edition vinyl album Brand is streaming at Bandcamp.

The album opens with Rise, beginning with a sun-seared, disjointedly lingering solo guitar intro, building to an even more scorching, reverb-infused, careening minor-key drive. The band’s two guitarists, H. and Fix, team up for a roar that strongly brings to mind Thalia Zedek’s legendary 90s band, Come.

Fervour has contrasting, loopy, lingering rainy-day guitars over bassist Phil A. Cirone’s lithe, trebly lines until the distortion kicks in. Sax player Sofia blows noisy sheets of sound as the volcanic layers grow thicker.

Eld sounds like Yo La Tengo playing an early Wilco song, drummer Peter guiding its increasingly complex, Sonic Youth-tinged trajectory before everybody drifts away for a summery sax break.

The seventeen-minute epic Fukta din Aska has a hammering, hypnotic Astronomy Domine feel that rises and falls between noisy SY interludes and sparse, spacious sketches. When the sax wafts in, it’s very evocative of Brooklyn band Parlor Walls‘ early work,

Hide Below could be enveloping early zeros favorites Serena Maneesh, rising in thirteen minutes from drizzly and atmospheric to more gusty terrain as the bass bubbles and the drums pummel. The band wind up the album with Fall, shifting from a funereal bass pulse to elegantly brooding guitar variations, a long scream and a drift through hints of doom metal to a slowly swaying, psychedelic peak.

By the way, the lp cover illustration is also excellent: a real metaphor for this point in global history. The Swedes, who DIDN’T lock down, know this better than pretty much everyone else.