New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Category: dreampop

Yet Another Wildly Diverse Album From the Brilliantly Psychedelic, Lyrical Sometime Boys

The Sometime Boys are a rarity in the world of psychedelic music: a lyrically-driven band fronted by a charismatic woman with a shattering, powerful wail. Guitarist/singer Sarah Mucho cut her teeth in the cabaret world, winning prestigious MAC awards….when she wasn’t belting over loud guitars as an underage kid out front of the funky, enigmatic Noxes Pond, a popular act at the peak of what was an incredibly fertile Lower East Side rock scene back in the early zeros. Noxes Pond morphed into volcanically epic art-rock band System Noise, one of the best New York groups of the past decade or so, then Mucho and lead guitarist Kurt Leege went in a more acoustic, Americana-flavored direction with the Sometime Boys.

They earned the #1 song of the year here back in 2014 for their hauntingly crescendoing, gospel-fueled anthem The Great Escape. Their new album The Perfect Home – streaming at Bandcamp – is a mind-warpingly diverse collection of originals and covers. There aren’t many other bands capable of making the stretch between a country-flavored take of the Supersuckers’ deadpan, cynical Barricade and a similarly wry hard-funk cover of the Talking Heads’ Houses in Motion.

The other covers are a similarly mixed bag. Mucho’s angst-fueled, blues-drenched delivery over guest Mara Rosenbloom’s organ and the slinky rhythm section of bassist Pete O’Connell and drummer Jay Cowit takes the old Allman Brothers southern stoner standard Whipping Post to unexpected levels of intensity, Likewise, Pink Floyd’s Fearless has a bounce missing from the art-folk original on the Meddle album, along with a balmy, wise, nuanced vocal from Mucho and a starry, swirly jam at the end. And their slinky, gospel-influenced take of Tom Waits’ Way Down in the Hole is a clinic in erudite, purist blues playing.

But the album’s best songs are the originals. Unnatural Disasters has careening, Stonesy stadium rock over a bubbly groove and a characteristically sardonic but determined lyric from Mucho. The group are at their most dizzyingly eclectic on the European hit single Architect Love Letter, blending elements of bluegrass, soukous, honkytonk and an enveloping, dreampop-flavored outro.

Leege’s mournful washes of slide guitar, Rosenbloom’s pointillistic electric piano and Mucho’s brooding, gospel-tinged vocals mingle over a nimble bluegrass shuffle beat in Painted Bones. And the defiance and hard-won triumph in Mucho’s voice in the feminist anthem Women of the World – a snarling mashup of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Poi Dog Pondering, maybe – is a visceral thrill. Good to see one of New York’s most original, distinctive bands still going strong. They’re just back from European tour; watch this space for upcoming hometown shows.

A Killer Last Minute Bill at Union Pool This Thursday

Once in awhile a great concert springs up out of nowhere. Tomorrow night, August 22 at Union Pool there’s a great triplebill starting at 7 PM with wickedly catchy, jangly psychedelic rockers Girls on Grass followed by a kinda whiny Americana act, then intriguingly 80s-influenced rockers Shadow Year and finally the more punkish, post-Velvets Dares. It’s $10 cash at the door.

Shadow Year’s new album Hush Hush Panic is up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. They really nail that chilly late 80s dreampop sound: sometimes bracing, sometimes shoegazy. The album’s opening track, Convoy, is a duet between guitarists Scout Gillett and TV, her airiness and longing versus the television man’s calm, acidic dreampop dreampop chords over a catchy, simple bassline. The second track, PDA, draws a straight line back to Joy Division’s Still album: its steady minimalism is sort of a mashup of, say, The Only Mistake and Dead Souls, but with guy/girl vocals out front.

The two vocalists revisit the doomed relationship dynamic in Easy Mac, over a simple Bernard Sumner guitar lead contrasting with hypnotically clanging, steady guitar chords. Rene would be a genuinely wistful 60s pop ballad if the band used real chords instead of faking their way through; it’s a lazy approximation. They hit a shiny, icy chorus-box guitar pulse straight out of early Lush in the next track, Chud, Gillettr’s vocals bringing to mind the Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser in a particularly hazy moment. Then there’s a sardonic lonely-vampire interlude from TV; it’s both funny and poignant.

Ted Jamison’s crisp bassline along with Gillett’s keening synth in the intro to Joel Tudor don’t offer any hint of the roar that’s coming: it’s sort of the missing link between Joy Division and the Go-Go’s, a crazy blend that somehow manages to work. They close the album with the lingering Soft Note, its waftingly comfortable jangle bringing to mind the Church in their most dreampop moments. On one hand, Shadow Year are recycling a lot of old riffs; on the other, they really know their source material, and they’re creating something completely new and different out of those ideas.

Summer Cannibals Bring Their Catchy, Hard-Hitting, Fearlessly Political Sound to Bushwick

Summer Cannibals could be described as Sleater-Kinney in reverse. Where the iconic “riot gir[insert the letter R over and over again, as desired]l” band pulled their jagged, unhinged sound onto the rails enough to coalesce into some catchy tunes, Summer Cannibals take simple lead guitar hooks, buzzy chords and dangle them over the edge of the cliff. And they’re a lot more political. Plus, frontwoman/guitarist Jessica Boudreaux is a stronger singer than anyone in Sleater-Kinney ever was. The new Summer Cannibals album Can’t Tell Me No is streaming at Bandcamp (and available on both vinyl and cassette, yay). They’re playing Elsewhere on August 17 at 9 PM; cover is $12. Because of the L-pocalypse, you’ll do best to make a leisurely 20-minute walk to the J at Koszciusco St. after the show rather than taking your chances on hourlong-plus waits on the L train. If you’re heading back to south Brooklyn, be aware that if you have an unlimited-ride subway card, you can get off at Hewes St. and then catch the G at Broadway, which is only about three blocks away.

The opening cut, False Anthem, sets the stage. Guitarist Cassi Blum’s burning chords anchor Boudreaux’s simple, slashing hooks; “It’s so easy to hate them, the goddamn government,” she insists, bassist Ethan Butman and drummer Devon Shirley holding down a tight punk pulse.

The album’s title cut has a rumbling groove and gritty chorus that bring to mind pioneering funk-punks the Bush Tetras: “I am not your, I am not your bitch,” is the big refrain.

“What if I can’t behave, what if I can’t change?” is Boudreaux’s sarcastic chorus in Behave, a midtempo number in the same vien as the Throwing Muses at their most focused. Like I Used To is a kiss-off anthem with an early 80s edge, its simple, crescendoing hooks cutting through a wall of distortion. The similarly dismissive Innocent Man has slipsliding New Order bass and dreampop twinkle, followed by the album’s longest track, One of Many, an individualist’s anthem.

Butman’s catchy bassline propels the alienated, gloomily kinetic Staring at the Sun. “I could sing about murder and joke about too,” Boudreaux reminds in Start Breaking, a snide portrait of the kind of Bushwick trust fund kid who pays lip service to all the limousine liberal memes but probably votes Republican.

The band blend dreampop with a big stadium-rock chorus and more than a little 80s New Order in Hesitation, then sway their way through the album’s most potently anthemic, snarling anthem, Spin, with brooding chord changes straight ouf of the Castle Black playbook. The record’s final cut is Into Gold, an unexpectedly successful detour into vampy, reverbtoned Twin Peaks balladry. Strong tunesmithing, edgy guitars, political relevance: what else more could a rock band in 2019 possibly deliver?

Breathtaking Grandeur and a Feast of Guitars on Noctorum’s Latest Brilliant Album

Marty Willson-Piper is best known as this era’s greatest twelve-string guitarist, but he’s also a brilliant songwriter, an aspect that was often weirdly overlooked during his long tenure alongside another great tunesmith, Steve Kilbey, in iconic Australian psychedelic band the Church. Willson-Piper has also put out several great albums under his own name and with Noctorum, his project with Dare Mason. Noctorum‘s richly orchestral, mesmerizingly jangly latest album, Afterlife, is streaming at Bandcamp.

It opens with The Moon Drips, a slinky, seductive, bolero-tinged ballad: imagine Nick Cave at his lushest, with a brass section. The carnivalesque, hurdy-gurdy style bridge is delicious.

High Tide, Low Tide is a mighty, jangly, propulsive rocker that would have been a standout track on a late 80s Church album. Mason sings this cautionary tale to a high-flying party animal who’s heading for a fall.

Willson-Piper returns to lead vocals for the album’s first single, Piccadilly Circus in the Rain, a bleakly gorgeous, syncopatedly swaying portrait of quiet working class desperation in real estate bubble-era London. A lusciously icy blend of six and six-string guitars anchor Show, a grimly metaphorical breakup narrative set to vamping, Television-like janglerock. Willson-Piper’s incisive, climbing bass punctuates the lush, dreamy, pulsing sonics and baroque elegance of A Resurrected Man.

The album’s loudest track is A Girl with No Love: choogling, raging 70s riff-rock verse, lushly jangly chorus. “I don’t know if I’ll ever dream again, all I know is I can,” Willson-Piper croons in Trick, a surreal blend of Iggy Pop and the Cocteau Twins. Head On (not the Stooges classic but a duet between Willson-Piper and his violinist wife Olivia) rises out of incisively rhythmic riffage to a sultry, sinister peak and eventually an outro straight out of Jethro Tull: “See you at nine-ish where we first met, me and my Sunbeam, you and your Corvette.”

The album’s title track is its most amorphous number, Willson-Piper’s narrator waiting in the netherworld for loved ones amid the guitar swirl. The final cut is the unexpectedly whimsical, bouncy In a Field Full of Sheep. Good to see these guys, with careers that go back to the early 80s, still going strong.

Enigmatic, Cinematic Instrumentals and a Williamsburg Gig from the Royal Arctic Institute

The cover photo for the Royal Arctic Institute’s latest album Accidental Achievement – streaming at Bandcamp – shows the utterly flavorless top section of a 1970s adobe-tinged concrete highrise apartment complex. If only we could have stuck with that kind of quality construction…then again, nobody’s ever going to live in those cheap plastic-and-glass highrises that are being thrown up by sleazeball developers to replace perfectly good brick buildings on seemingly every Manhattan and Brooklyn streetcorner. Seriously: somebody could get murdered there and nobody would ever know. The cinematic instrumental trio’s latest album has a similar sardonic edge. They’re playing Rough Trade on April 16 at 9 PM; $13 advance tix, which you can and should get at the box office at the back of the record store, are still available as of today

The album’s first track, Leaky Goes to Brooklyn hints at spacerock before bassist Gerard Smith and drummer Lyle Hysen start tiptoeing behind guitarist John Leon’s lingering noir lines; then he switches to pedal steel for a mournful southwestern gothic feel. Then the band completely flip the script with The Grubert Effect, switching coyly between hypnotic, insistent Raybeats attack and a loungey theme.

A shout-out to surrealist poet Raymond Roussel has a lingering, reverbtoned, strolling menace, the steel adding a big-sky wonder over the jangle and eventual roar below. Graveltoned bass soars over resonant steel in When Razors Were Works of Art, Leon savaging the upper registers with his guitar as the rhythm section stays chill.

The Lark Mirror is a steady, distantly bittersweet, conversational stroll highlighted by plaintive violin – it’s the album’s most haunting track. Frosted Tips sardonically channels Celtic balladry via Sonic Youth. The Vorth is an icily dreampop-tinged march, while Dear Mr. Bookman – a Joe Maynard shout-out, maybe? – is a surreal mashup of western swing and triumphant new wave stadium rock.

Dark Matter (Song for Randy Newman to Sing) slowly coalesces into a pastoral waltz that quickly shifts into cold, cinderblock postrock territory. The album winds up with the jaunty, jangly, Northern Progress Exploration Company, the missing link between Fairport Convention and maybe early zeros Hoboken instrumentalist the Subway Surfers. The album makes a good companion to this year’s highly anticipated forthcoming release by this era’s premier noir guitar soundtrack band, Big Lazy.

Parlor Walls Bring Their Strongest, Most Direct Album Yet to Alphaville This Week

For the past few years, intense trio Parlor Walls have fired out a series of intriguing albums that span from post-Sonic Youth noiserock to aggressive no wave, with elements of fiery free jazz sprinkled throughout their work. Their latest release, Exo – streaming at Bandcamp – is their most acerbic and relevant one yet. Frontwoman/guitarist Alyse Lamb is putting her charisma to better use than ever: the album title seems to refer to the Greek word for outside. Considering how gentrification and the real estate bubble have scorched the earth of their Brooklyn home base, it’s no wonder the band would want to address the forces of destruction, if somewhat opaquely. The band are playing the album release show on April 26 at 8 at Alphaville; cover is $10.

The production is a lot more enveloping than their previous work, possibly due to Joseph Colmenero’s engineering (he’s RZA’s righthand man). Another development that’s undoubtedly contributed to the thicker sound is that the group have switched out alto saxophonist Kate Mohanty for clarinetist and multi-instrumentalist Jason Shelton. 

The opening track is Neoromancer, awash in a reverb-drenched hailstorm of guitar multitracks. “Must be electrifying knowing how to fix me right,” Lamb intones sarcastically as her Telecaster howls, shrieks and echoes over drummer Chris Mulligan’s torrential drive. It has the feel of a vintage Kim Gordon SY track, but with better vocals and more of an icy sheen to the production,

Love Complex might be the most straightforward rock song the band’s ever done, shifting from a dreampop swirl to heavy, emphatic, noisy riffage to momentary squiggly keyboard interludes as Lamb’s voice rises defiantly:

Pick me off of the floor
All ordinary things become giant
Steep, monolithic climbs
Lips give a sudden break of forced delight
But will you give me sanctuary from this biting
Love complex

Isolator – a reference to social media-fueled atomization, maybe? – slowly coalesces out of the “trash jazz” the band made a name for themselves with in their early days into a catchy Silver Rocket stomp, Lamb speaking of the need to “break through, break free.”

The final cut, Low Vulture is the album’s noisiest, angriest moment, snarling and pulsing like Algiers or Public Enemy circa Fear of a Black Planet: 

Get out in front of it
You got me surrounded
You want to sleep with vultures
You’re low flying
Messing with my head
Is it all a game?

There’s a lot to think about here – and you can dance to all of it.

Loosie Bring Their Enigmatically Intriguing, Artsy Psychedelia to Brooklyn

Loosie’s distinctively scruffy, psychedelic songs are tight, but also very unpredictable. Drummer/bandleader Alex Kirkpatrick’s tunesmithing doesn’t fall into typical verse/chorus patterns, and as with the best abstract art, it’s not easily categorized. This band is all about setting a mood.

Tempos and dynamics shift abruptly and impactfully, frontwoman Sara McDonald’s distantly soul-influenced vocals typically lingering back in the mix, drawing the listener in. It would be easy to call Loosie the bastard child of Sonic Youth and This Mortal Coil, but they’re more than the sum of that noisy, rainyday 80s mashup. A better comparison would be the similarly uncategorizable but more free-jazz influenced Parlor Walls – or McDonald’s other project, the mighty, majestic NYChillharmonic, who play blustery art-rock and chamber pop with big band jazz arrangements. Loosie’s new album Solvents in the Dream is streaming at Bandcamp; they’re playing the album release show for their new one, on April 27 at 10 PM at Friends & Lovers in Bed-Stuy. Cover is a ridiculously cheap $5; pensive guitar instrumentalist Koby Williamson opens the night at 8, followed by tuneful, delicate dreampop band Pecas at 9.

The album’s opening track, Turning, morphs in and out of Dominic Mekky’s allusively creepy toy piano and a slow, crashing, cymbal-fueled sway spiced with the occasional flicker of slide guitar from Louis Cohen. All Lies is another study in contrasts: gritty, unresolved dreampop guitar layers alongside tersely straightforward close-harmonied piano, the water imagery of the lyrics matching the music.

Fragmentary, minimalist lullaby phrases give way to towering, crushingly anthemic guitars in I Stopped You. Dirty Laundry comes across as part Os Mutantes tropical psychedelia, part chilly late Pixies mist, and part uneasy early Wire stomp – a weird blend, but the band manages to make it work. Reverbtoned slide guitar, violin and steady piano mingle in the brightly crescendoing 6/8 ballad Sitting on the Rooftop, one of the most straightforward tracks here.

The epically psychedelic, nine-minute Here #2 follows a loosely syncopated groove, guitars flickering, amps sputtering and cymbals building a hailstorm: “Just feels good to be here,” is McDonald’s mantra. Today is a sweeping, swaying, mostly instrumental piano-and-vocalese number, followed by Burnt Rubber, the closest thing to a pop song here. McDonald’s disarmingly distinct, cheery vocals mask a dark lyrical undercurrent as the song decays into a pulsing psychedelic cloud. The final cut, Blank, makes a return to syncopatedly enigmatic instrumental territory. A lot of thought and outside-the-box creativity went into this.

About the bandname: for those outside urban areas, a loosie is a single cigarette typically sold on the street or at bodegas. The murder of Eric Garner was instigated when the black Staten Islander was arrested for selling untaxed loosies outside a newly constructed “luxury” condo built for rich white gentrifiers.

 

A Killer Triplebill Foreshadows a Great Psychedelic Show on the LES

This Thursday, March 30 at 8 PM there’s a rare, intimate performance by second-wave Los Angeles psychedelic legends the Jigsaw Seen at Bowery Electric. They’re followed by the much louder New York Junk, whose retro sound moves forward in time another ten years to the Max’s Kansas City early punk rock scene. Cover is a ridiculously cheap, CBGB-era $8.

The Jigsaw Seen’s latest album, streaming at Spotify, is aptly titled For the Discriminating Completist. It’s a collection of B-sides and rarities. There’s an album of new material in the works, and frontman Dennis Davison has also recently immersed himself in a brand-new dark acoustic project, Witchfinder Witch, a duo with New York folk noir icon Lorraine Leckie. Speaking of which, she has an incendiary new protest single, America Weeping, just out and available as a free download at Bandcamp

The two made their debut at Pete’s Candy Store on a Saturday night in January, Davison on acoustic guitar and Leckie on piano. The highlight of that gig was Cave Canem, a witheringly lyrical anthem that casts the history of dogs – and centuries of canine abuse – as a metaphor for humans’ crimes against their own species.

A few days later at Maxwell’s, the duo were the centerpiece of what’s arguably been the best triplebill of the year. Debby Schwartz opened the show, jangling adn clanging through a series of arcane British folk turnings on her hollowbody Gretsch, bolstered by Bob Bannister’s nuanced, artfully jeweled, Richard Thompson-esque Strat work, Rose Thomas Bannister supplying lush harmonies and percussion. Through neo-Britfolk and more dreampop-oriented material, Schwartz sang with her her soaring, diamond-cutter delivery, dreaming New York City in the middle of LA and finally closing with a stunning take of the psych-folk anthem Hills of Violent Green.

By now, Witchfinder Witch had shaken off whatever early jitters they might have had: they’d come to conquer. Davison spun bittersweet, pun-infused psych pop gems weighing the pros and cons of clinical depression (do it right and you get tons of songs out of it) and a couple of darkly allusive, mystically-tinged co-writes with Leckie. She charmed and seduced the crowd with blue-flame red-light cabaret tune or two, a jaunty S&M piano number that was so deadpan that it was creepily plausible, and a mysterious, hypnotic folk noir tableau that could have been about heroin, or simply death itself. The crowd was rapt.

The Pretty Babies headlined, putting a deliriously fun coda on what had been a low-key, entrancing evening up to then. Professional subversive and rockstar impersonator Tammy Faye Starlite – who’s channeling Nico on Thursdays in April at 7:30 PM at Pangea – led the world’s funniest Blondie cover band through a stampeding take of Dreaming as well as a surprising number of deeper cuts from the band’s early days when they rocked harder. If memory serves right, Tammy took a hilariously politically-fueled detour that eventually drove Call Me off the rails. Everybody in the band has a funny, punny Blondie name. Was bassist Monica Falcone – who absolutely nailed the wry disco lines in Heart of Glass – newly christened as Chrissie Stein? It’s hard to remember who else everybody else was: Heidi Lieb and Keith Hartel as Frank Infantes separated at birth, and expert standins for Jimmy Destri on keys and Clem Burke on drums. Hearing the Pretty Things and watching the crowd on their feet and bopping along was a jab in the ribs that said, hey, the original outfit was pretty good too. 

Rich Girls Bring Their Enigmatically Catchy, Allusive Sound to Bowery Electric

You either have to be sarcastic, and afraid of nothing, or just plain clueless to call your band Rich Girls these days. Is this New York group a bunch of snobby, entitled Lana Del Rey wannabes – or are they punk, or hip-hop? As it turns out, none of the above. Frontwoman Luisa Black’’s cool, inscrutable vocals and enigmatic, offhanded lyrical metaphors float over a reverbtoned guitar backdrop that’s part new wave and part dreampop. Black’s latest project is a lot more dynamic than her old group, San Francisco dark garage band the Blacks. The new  debut ep Love Is the Dealer is streaming at Bandcamp; the band has a show at Bowery Electric on March 7 at 9:30 PM. Cover is $8

The opening number, New Bag has a hypnotic, insistent, echoey downstroke guitar drive set to a 2/4 new wave pulse: Wire and New Order are the obvious comparisons.

Loaded is the album’s best cut, a steady, twinkling, reverby, noir-tinged number, 60s Orbison pop updated for the teens. Early Sharon Van Etten and Holly Miranda sounded a lot like this; the band follows a steady trajectory upward to an enveloping dreampop vortex

Open Water is a more propulsive take on the post-New Order sound of the ep’s first song..It seems to be about taking a plunge, and the consequences afterward.

Grip has a catchy middle-period Jesus & Mary Chain growl and a far more dynamic singer than that band had. The ep’s final cut is Black Night, an allusive waltz. “White light, head in your hands, you’re alive again,” Black intones “Alive, alive, back from the dead…hold the feeling and not repeat until we run.” Like most of the other songs here, it builds toward a deep-space shimmer not unlike what the Church was doing 25 years ago. If the band does all this onstage, it could be something to get lost in.

Ellen Siberian Tiger Bring Their Smartly Lyrical, Eclectically Artsy Rock to Fort Greene

Philadelphia band Ellen Siberian Tiger play an enigmatic blend of dreampop, growly early Pixies-style anthems, and more delicate Americana and chamber pop-oriented material, all of it with an uneasy psychedelic tinge. Most of the songs on their album I Can’t Help It – up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download – contain elements of all of those styles.They’ve got a gig at 10:15 PM (that’s what the calendar says) on Nov 29 at the Way Station in Ft. Greene. The venue, with its yappy gentrifier bar crowd and lousy sound, isn’t the most hospitable place to see a band, but since so many people are out of town this weekend, this might be the time to do it.

The album’s opening, title track risese from an elegant web of acoustic guitar fingerpicking to a swirly, crashing, electric dreampop chorus, a mashup of Linda Draper and the Cocteau Twins, maybe, with vocals closer to the former than the latter.

“I begin to end,” frontwoman/guitarist Ellen Tiberio-Shultz intones in her cool, clear voice in Sylvia, as the song rises from a swirly/jangly dichotomy crashing, anthemic heights. With the emphatic violins of Catherine Joy Parke and Drew Percy, I Smelled the Rain is a catchy mashup of newgrass and chamber pop:

You’ve got a heart like Cinderella but a curfew that you keep
Your love goes home at midnight but I’m losing sleep
But you have no glass slipper, no test for you to take
Even if the shoe did fit how long til it breaks

Likewise, Asleep in the River takes a brooding folk noir theme and takes it toward electric Jefferson Airplane territory, lit up with drummer John Cox’s hailstorm cymbal work: it brings to mind New York’s similarly eclectic Sometime Boys. “It only takes so many words to tell the truth and half as many to tell a lie,” Tiberio-Shultz reminds acidically. “Run to the river, throw me in, see if I float.”

Cuttlefish shifts back and forth between tempos,  Cox’s spiky banjo juxaposed against lush strings. Mrs. Pontellier is a blaze of haphazard cowpunk with a joyously fun Collin Dennen bass solo midway through, while Pine Needles comes acrosss as a blend of Surrealistic Pillow-era psych-folk and unsettled Little Silver jangle. When We Grow Up has dancing pizzicato violin to light up its moodily hypnotic Randi Russo-esque ambience and segues into the album’s final, most ornately psychedelic cut, Lion Hearted, rising out of deep-space ambience toward Radiohead majesty. This album is like an artichoke, with many tasty layers and also spines that will grab you if you stop paying attention for a second.