New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

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Ward Hayden and the Outliers Put Out a Smart, Subtly Lyrical, Searingly Relevant Americana Rock Record

Ward Hayden and the Outliers play catchy, high-voltage, lyrically edgy Americana rock. Their new album Free Country – available as a name-your-price download at Bandcamp – was written and recorded during the lockdown, although the political content is more subtext than it is central in Hayden’s sharply detailed narratives. He keeps his songs short, sings in an unselfconsciously soulful baritone and likes escape anthems.

The band open with a brisk four-on-the-floor burner, Nothing to Do (For Real This Time), which strongly brings to mind Matt Keating, another great songwriter with a Massachusetts connection:

A stranger in my hometown,
A stranger in my own house
I can’t go home, I burned that bridge, spent my last dime
I’ve got nothing to do for real this time
This is what happens when you wake up
All the cool kids in the class
Just actors in a mask…

The band – Hayden on guitar and vocals, Cody Nilsen on lead guitar and pedal steel, Greg Hall on bass and Josh Kiggans on drums – slow down for Shelly Johnson, a grim salute to the Twin Peaks character. “Muscle and mind are two different things, that’s why smalltown queens rarely keep their kings,” Hayden observes. The outro is priceless.

“It seems the truth no longer matters,” Hayden relates in I’d Die For You, a brisk shuffle fueled by Nilsen’s steel:

Life isn’t like the movies, you think just what you believe,
No matter your perspective
As fate would have it
We’ve got to share reality

Political message cached in a love song, Soviet style – or lockdown-era Massachusetts style.

The band work off a familiar Link Wray riff as Sometimes You Gotta Leave gets underway, twelve-string jangle contrasting with distorted roar and soaring bass, with a big careening guitar outro. Middle Man is part loping, twangy southwestern gothic and part honkytonk: Hayden’s message is carpe diem.

Over a punchy twin-guitar crunch, he contemplates the end of the world – and the heroism that could stop it – in All Gone Mad, a capsule of the ugly early days of the lockdown:

Seriously, I’m asking, as I’ve been thinking
That if you ain’t Babe Ruth then you ain’t Abe Lincoln
You don’t die trying, until you just get old
Then you ride down the road with your blinkers still blinking

Hayden goes back to the carpe diem theme in the escape anthem Bad Time to Quit Drinkin’ – the reference to a famous song by the Who is a typically sardonic touch. Irregardless, a Buddy Holly-ish shuffle, touches on the interminable torture so much of the world has suffered under lockdowns, and the mess future generations will have to clean up:

All we’ve got is the damn tv
Leading us from the path to glory
I don’t want this reality

As Hayden sees it, Indiana is a place where “The devil rocks the cradle, it’s in the soil, in the air and one and all.” He and the band close the record with When the Hammer Falls, a smoldering, swaying number that sounds a lot like the Dream Syndicate. It’s a good bet that producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel is responsible for one or more of the noisy guitar multitracks. It’s been a real slow year for rock records, and it may get even slower. Be that what it may, this is one of the best of the bunch.

A Bushwick Gig and a Couple of Hot Records From Cold Dice

More about that killer heavy rock quadruplebill happening at Our Wicked Lady on Aug 12 starting at 8.

Cold Dice open, followed at 9 PM by Certain Death, whoever they are, then at 10 PM the fuzzily surreal stoner sounds of Grave Bathers, with the sinister, female-fronted Castle Rat headlining. Cover is $12.

Cold Dice’s new single and also their debut cassette are up at Bandcamp as name-your-price downloads. They’re a power trio with an unusual lineup: bassist Aidan also fronts the band, joined by guitarist Frank and drummer Ben.

The single is Vengeance Calls: simple, catchy and riff-driven, with a tantalizingly short guitar solo welded on. The B-side, Lure of the Animal, is more of a punk song, with serpentine bass and a Dead Boys/Radio Birdman feel. Yeah, that good.

The cassette opens with White Ooze, a simple, thrashy punk-metal number. Demon’s Tongue could be the UK Subs at their most metal-ish with a more assaultive singer. Wild Irish Rose is a sort of cross between the two, a shout-out to daydrinking on a tight budget.

Side two begins with Walkin’ on the Wire: you don’t expect a band this heavy to have this much of a groove, but they do. It’s cool to hear such a good rhythm section playing something this loud. The last song is Unholy Union: follow the bubbling bass and the searing guitar solo all the way to early AC/DC. New York needs more bands like this.

Funny and Troubling Songs For a Funny and Troubling Time

Good things come in fours today: here’s a mini-playlist of videos and streams to get your synapses firing on all cylinders

The woman who brought you the devious Tina Turner parody What’s Math Got to Do With It, singer/sax player Stephanie Chou has a provocatively philosophical new single, Continuum Hypothesis. It’s sort of art-rock, sort of jazz – a catchy, dancing, anthemic duo with pianist Jason Yeager, dedicated to mathematician Paul Cohen. According to this hypothesis, there is no set whose cardinality is strictly between that of the integers and the real numbers. This seems self-evident, but, based on Cohen’s work in set theory, Chou sees it as essentially unknowable, at least with what we know now. Snag a free download at Lions with Wings’ Bandcamp page while you can.

Here’s Erik Della Penna – the guitar half of erudite, lyrical superduo Kill Henry Sugar with drummer Dean Sharenow – doing a very, very subtle, rustically shuffling, Dylanesque acoustic protest song, Change the Weather:

I’m gonna make predictions
I’m gonna make it rain
I’m gonna put restrictions
On hearing you complain…
I’m gonna change the language
To make you change your mind
I’m gonna make predictions
That you can get behind

Swedish songwriter Moneira a.k.a. Daniela Dahl has a new single, The Bird (Interesting to See) It’s almost eight minutes of minimalist, anthemic art-rock piano and mellotron vibes, an oblique memoir of a troubled childhood, “a bird trapped in an open cage.” Sound familiar?

Natalia Lafourcade sings a slow, plush, epic take of the brooding Argentine suicide ballad Alfonsina y El Mar with Ljova orchestrating himself as a one-man string ensemble with his fadolin multitracks. You’d never know it was just one guy.

Trippy, Free Neosoul on the Northern Plains Next Weekend

There’s another intriguing free outdoor concert next weekend at 4 PM on Sept 20 at Terrace Park, 1100 W 4th St in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where neosoul singer and hip-hop artist Arlinda Peacock plays a duo set with keyboardist Gus Martins. Her most recent album is the Peacock Cassette, which came out in 2016 and is still available at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. It’s sort of Janelle Monae before Janelle Monae got really popular, with simple, swoopy layers of keys and a beatbox. Peacock has an expressive voice and doesn’t waste notes: you won’t hear any over-the-top American Idol bullshit in her songs.

Peacock opens the record (or the cassette, if you want to to call it that) with a loopy, twinkly, mostly instrumental trip-hop intro. The first song is Eff Annie, a Little Orphan Annie parable. Rapper Bob Rawss takes the bridge, with insights into how people who haven’t had positive influences growing up figure out how to make sense of the world.

”There was once a beginning, that we all decided to destroy,” Peacock announces as  Chosen Unchosen gets underway  It’s a simple, telling commentary on equality and how to create it. “We call them people these days,” she explains dryly.

Pony Boi is a trippy, spare number with a catchy piano hook and jazzy synthesized brass. “Don’t ever let me catch you looking down again,” Peacock sings in Bravery, a chiming, upbeat trip-hop anthem.

The album’s swooshiest and most psychedelic track is Attitude Rewind: it could be a Missy Elliiott tune from the late 90s. Peacock keeps the surreal, cinematic ambience going with the most ominous cut here, Justice.

Konstantly is even scarier, when you consider that Peacock’s character is talking to her dead mom. The last of the songs is the epically mysterious Timmy on the Run, set to a dark, classically-influenced, vintage RZA suspense/action film style backdrop. Peacock brings the album full circle at the end.

If you’re wondering why a New York music blog would be paying this much attention to such a faraway state as South Dakota, be aware that it’s one of the few places in the nation where it’s still legal for crowds to gather to see live music. Here in New York, the State Liquor Authority recently ordered restaurants and bars not to charge a cover or sell tickets to performances, and to keep musicians twelve feet or more from the customers. Presumably this bureaucratic overrreach extends to places that do not serve alcohol as well. Whoever thought we’d live to see the day when South Dakota would be kicking New York’s ass 24/7 as far as support for the arts is concerned.

Three New Singles For Tough Times

Every Friday night at 8, Charming Disaster’s web series airs at their youtube channel. Kotorino‘s Jeff Morris and Sweet Soubrette‘s Ellia Bisker started the project as a murder ballad duo and branched out to include both Kotorino’s latin noir and Sweet Soubrette’s dark folk and soul, among an increasing number of styles. Their latest single, I Am a Librarian is an elegantly waltzing throwback to their creepy early days. Are you awaiting the moment you make your escape? Charming Disaster feel your pain.

Smoota – the boudoir soul crooner alter ago of trombonist Dave Smith – also has a new single, Catch It! (The Coronavirus Boogie). It’s a great oldschool funk tune, but if you’re 65 or older, or immunocompromised, you, um, might want to think twice about this particular path to herd immunity.

Once and future HUMANWINE frontwoman Holly Brewer continues to release singles at a breakneck pace. The latest one is Good Ole Fashioned Protest Song, up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. Brewer has been a big-picture person for a long time: follow the money and you’ll find the perp, whether you’re talking about petty crime, or the nonsense coming out of the Oval Office.

A Rare Chance to Score This Era’s Most Formidable Rock Songwriter’s Obscure Debut Album

Hannah vs. the Many frontwoman Hannah Fairchild released her debut album Paper Kingdoms under her own name in 2010. She and the first incarnation of the band played the release show at the tiny, long-defunct Park Slope boite Bar 4. That’s how the great ones get started.

The album pretty much sank without a trace. But just for today, May 1 it’s up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. On one hand, you could say that this is strictly for the diehards. On the other, it’s a fascinating blast from the past from a songwriter who would grow into one of the most witheringly lyrical, ferociously powerful rock tunesmiths ever.

At her blog (also recently resurrected), she looks back on the strategy and logistics (or lack thereof) for making a bedroom pop record on a secondhand laptop, playing all the instruments….with a broken ankle, no less. While a lot of these songs lack the focus and savagery of her breakout album, All Our Heroes Drank Here, and her valkyrie wail doesn’t cut loose to the extent that she’s let it in the years since, there are moments of vocal brilliance and embryonic craft that will take your breath away.

Fairchild would eventually reprise five of these songs for her ferocious 2013 short album Ghost Stories. Hearing the subdued take of All Eyes on Me – Fairchild’s Don’t Fear the Reaper – is a revelation. So is Poor Leander, with its slashingly detailed story of a poor schlub in way, way too deep for his own good; it cuts through just as ominously if a lot more quietly here. And who would have known how much new resonance the line about how “I’ve got my mask on and I’m slipping out the side door” – in the defiant individualist’s anthem Lady of the Court – would take on over the past few weeks? Grab this piece of history while it lasts.

A Killer Heavy Psych Quadruplebill on the Lower East on the 18th

EDITOR’S NOTE – THIS SHOW IS NOW CANCELLED

The doomy heavy psychedelic quadruplebill at Arlene’s on March 18 starting at 8 PM might be the best lineup to ever play that venue – and that includes the club’s glory days in the late 90s as the place where bands built a following, then moved up to the Mercury and the Knitting Factory. Sleeping Village, Grass, Grandpa Jack and finally Shadow Witch all work the same creepy, bludgeoning, gloomy turf, with more or less psychedelic results: it’s a lot of music, but it’s all worth hearing. Cover is ten bucks.

The smartest one of these acts, businesswise anyway, is Grass, the 9 PM band. Their debut album Fresh Grass is up at Bandcamp as a free download. Those downloads don’t last, so if you like heavy music, snag it now. This Brooklyn trio are closer to heavy blues than straight-up doom metal; they like hooks and don’t waste notes.

The album’s opening two-parter, Amnesia/My Wall starts out as a ponderous, loopy heavy blues tune, then the band pick it up with more of a stoner boogie feel. About three and a half minutes in, we get a jugular-slicing pickslide, then a fragmentary guitar solo. The guitarist (uncredited on the Bandcamp page) throws in some paint-peeling wah-wah a little later on.

The second track, Black Clouds is a variation on the opening theme: flangy bass intro, catchy hard-hitting riffage, refreshingly unpretentious vocals and totally 80s goth lyrics. After that, Fire comes across as Sabbath in midtempo heavy blues mode – especially with that classic quote toward the end.

The heavy funereal drums come up in the mix in Runaway; finally we get a tantalizingly screechy wah guitar solo before the band bring it way down to the bass and drums. The last track, Easy Rider could be a Syd Barrett proto-metal tune, at least in the beginning before the bass starts bubbling like a tarpit and another hazy, hallucinatory wah guitar solo appears. There are probably a million bands out there who sounds like this – and that’s a good thing. What a great time to be alive.

Ashjesus Can’t Live in Bushwick But They’re Willing to Play There

“I can’t live in Bushwick, those people make me sick,” Ashjesus frontwoman Em Ashenden intones, before the screaming guitar and drums kick in on the first track of the 80s throwbacks’ so-called “demos” collection that’s up at Bandcamp as a free download. As the band churn up an acidic storm,like an early Bauhaus, she admits that she tried to get into Bed-Stuy…but insists she’s found nirvana in Ridgewood. Obvious, maybe, but this is one of those songs that needed to be written

It’s rare that you find a good band playing on a Saturday night in the ‘Shweck, but Ashjesus have a gig a the Broadway (the old Gateway space) on Jan 18 at around 11. Kaheim Rivera does his woozy, weedheaded raps beforehand at 10. Neither of the acts on the bill nor the venue have webpages of their own, so it’s anybody’s guess how much cover is, or if there is one – the Gateway was a pass-the-hat situation.

The rest of Ashjesus’ album keeps the early 80s noise-goth vibe going. Room – as in “I need a room” – has more of the loud, watery chorus-box guitar and bass that define this group’s retro sound. The implication is that a friend with a couch is a friend indeed: “Get one for yourself too,” Ashenden encourages.

Soda Bitters sounds like a lo-budget Joy Division. “I don’t need to take a cab, I can drive to rehab, how cool is that?” she wants to know. The poppiest song here, How Do You Feel Special says a lot in a few words, one of this band’s specialities – it’s a dis to a controlling boyfriend. With its quasi-reggae bassline and icy guitars, the last song, Tour, could be XTC or PiL, or the bastard child of the early Police and Bauhaus. Grab this haphazardly spot-on, period-perfect morsel while it lasts.

Relentless, Gloomy Intensity, Tight Songs and a Greenpoint Show by Murky Texas Metal Band Frozen Soul

There’s a typically explosive triplebill at St. Vitus on the fifth of the month with metalcore shredders Steel Bearing Hand, the even faster death metal Vomit Forth and then the much murkier Texas power trio Frozen Soul. These Sunday shows start early at around 7; cover is $12.

Frozen Soul’s debut ep from the spring of last year is up at Bandcamp as a free download: smart move for a band looking to build a fan base to share their stuff and come out to shows In a style that can be painfully cartoonish, it’s cool to hear these guys’ tasty, purposeful guitar, looming downtuned bass and drums that deliver these relatively short songs to a timely end.

Wind whips around behind a doomy dirge as the first track, Encased in Ice gets underway: the band pick it up, shifting rhythms around creepy chromatic riffage, vocals half-buried in the mix. So many promising metal bands ruin their sound with cliched, pigsnorting vocals: good to see these guys steering away from all that.

The band go sprinting into Hand of Vengeance, then slow it down, Motorhead style. The one cover on the ep is Mortician‘s Witches Coven: the group match the original’s macabre music-box intro but find the song’s inner Sabbath, with much better production that maxes out the vortex factor. From there they segue into the final cut, Merciless: like the rest of the tracks here, you can get lost in the tight, hypnotic tremolo-picking and then get jarred back into reality when the rhythm suddenly whiplashes you.

 

A Rare Live Show by Composer Christopher Marti’s Intense, Cinematic Postrock Project

Guitarist Christopher Marti is best known for his film scores. But he also has a pummeling, epically vast postrock instrumental project, Cosmic Monster. He’s released several albums under that group name over the years, and he’s bringing that project to do an improvisational show tonight, Sept 5 at 6 PM at Holo in Ridgewood. What’s more, the show is free, and since it’s so early, you still have time to get home on the L train before the nightly L-pocalypse begins.

To get a sense of what Marti does with Cosmic Monster, give a listen to their eponymous 2014 six-track ep up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. The ominously titled first track, Strontium 90 – inspired by the Fukushima disaster three years previously, maybe? – has a pounding attack and multitracked guitars that strongly evoke Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth, coalescing out of enigmatic close harmonies to a straightforward, anthemic chorus and then retreating.

Electric Battle Masterpiece has a watery 80s dreampop vibe – it could be Sleepmakeswaves covering a track from the Church’s Seance album. Marti brings back the vintage SY feel for Monster/Monster, awash in vigorously slamming tremolo-picked chords and big bass/drums crescendos, then returns to punchy Aussie-style spacerock with Answers From Space.

Ten Thousand Pink Satellites is both the densest and most concise track here, a spacier take on My Bloody Valentine. Marti winds up the album with the evilly majestic The Deep Blue Sleep, part Big Lazy noir surf, part coldly drifting deep-space tableau, part crawling Mogwai menace. It’s anybody’s guess what Marti might do in Queens, flying without a net, but it’s a good bet it might sound like all of the above.