New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: garage rock

More Brown Acid For Halloween Month

Halloween month this year is turning out to be a long, strange trip around here. In celebration of the creepiness coming up at the end of the month, there’s a sixth compilation in the Brown Acid series of obscure proto-metal and heavy psych treasures, most of them from the 60s and early 70s.

Most of the dozens of bands anthologized in the series never made more than a few singles at best. Many made only one. Some of those 45’s sell for thousands of dollars on the collectors market, but the Brown Acid folks have made them available for people who don’t have hedge funds or trust funds. And they actually pay royalties to the surviving artists. Imagine – buy the vinyl and you’re actually helping support some old weedhead.

The most recent vinyl release Brown Acid: The Sixth Trip – streaming at Bandcamp – is the most R&B, psychedelic soul and funk-influenced volume to date. It kicks off with No Parking, by San Franciso band Gold, which welds frantically scampering Blues Magoos garage rock to amped-up R&B. Like a lot of these singles, it’s mixed in mono, an effect which actually helps hold the convulsive outro together.

Inferno, by Canadian group Heat Exchange, comes across as a more nimble version of Cream, with tasty twin leads from guitar and organ and a shockingly good, biting alto sax solo before the wah-wah kicks in. Lovin’ You, by Travis (not the late 90s British arena-rock band) is a slinky,psychedelic soul groove that could almost pass for very early Hendrix. Enoch Smoky’s It’s Cruel distinguishes itself with one of the tastiest, fattest basslines in the entire series: don’t let the fact that it’s basically a supercharged Brill Building pop tune scare you off.

Backwood Memory’s Give Me Time is a vintage psychedelic soul nugget: it’s too bad the band never connected with a record label that could buy some airplay. One of the funnier titles in the collection, Luvin, Huggin & More, by Flight, sounds like a prototype for Bachman-Turner Overdrive recorded on somebody’s home stereo, guitars pinned in the red. Which comes as no surprise – six years after “releasing” this in 1974, bandleader Victor Blecman had a left-field new wave hit with Space Invaders.

Midnight Horsemen, by Truth & Janey, has a loping, funky beat and a doublespeed bridge that almost falls apart: if REO Speedwagon had started out in the 60s, they might have sounded something like this. My Life, by West Minst’r, is the most generic riff-rock track here, although the befuddled lyrics are really funny.

Purgatory’s Polar Expedition is a hippie blues bounce that could be Brownsville Station covering the Doors. Boston hippie Johnny Barnes’ Steele Rail Blues could be early Thin Lizzy. before the label censors edited out the weed references: it’s the one track here that could have been edited down to two minutes fifty seconds without sacrificing anything. The album winds up on a high point with Chicago rockers Zendik’s wickedly catchy, 13th Floor Elevators-tinged There No Peace. The biting diminished chords and “god is dead” mantra make you wish there was more material from this talented, insightful crew.

Devil’s horns raised to the skies for the tireless playlisters here who’ve dedicated literally thousands of hours to giving this music the audience it’s deserved for decades but never reached until recently.

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What Would Halloween Month Be Without Brown Acid?

What’s more Halloweenish than LSD? If you’re lucky, you associate it with laughing fits and the ability to consume ridiculous amounts of alcohol without feeling it. But anyone who’s experienced knows the flipside, which can be the distilled essence of macabre. Very few of the songs in the Brown Acid compilations actually reference the drug, pro or con. Do these playlists, whose raison d’etre is to exhume buried treasures from the 60s and 70s at the magic moment when psychedelia got really heavy and started to morph into metal,  actually make a good soundtrack for tripping? Depends on your taste – or maybe your condition.

There are now six Brown acid collections available for stoners and fans of what was called hard rock back in the 60s and 70s. Each compilation is very eclectic: there’s doom metal, stoner boogie, a surprising amount of psychedelic soul, and heavy psych. The fifth one, which is streaming at Bandcamp and available on vinyl, turns out to be more garage and Britrock-influenced.

Track one is No Reason, by Captain Foam, a catchy piece of tumbling Dave Clark Five Britpop turbocharged with fuzzy guitars with the reverb turned all the way up, in the same vein as Spooky Tooth or the Move at their heaviest. The spacy instrumental bridge leaves you wanting several minutes more.

George Brigman’s Blowin’ Smoke is a Hendrix knockoff without the Hendrix – they could have left this one in its dusty sleeve. But Nothing in the Sun, a 1968 rarity by Milwaukee rockers Finch, is a post-Velvets gem: it’s more proto-glam than proto-metal, cheap amps driven to deliver every ounce of buzz and feedback they can as the lead guitar goes up the scale.

The smoky organ over the trebly, jagged heartbeat bassline in Cybernaut’s instrumental Clockwork sounds like Uriah Heep with a Ph.D. – the rhythmic changes are a neat psychedelic touch. The album’s A-side ends with Fargo’s Abbadon, its weirdo religious imagery and twisted early Moody Blues-meet-the-MC5 vibe.

Side 2 opens with Mammoth, by Mammoth (yup), adding a wild, woolly edge to what would otherwise be a mostly one-chord, early Kinks-ish R&B vamp. Icky Blicky, by Flasher opens with the turn of a key in the ignition and then hits a psychedelic soul pulse: Rare Earth comes to mind in this surreal tale about a guy so high he apparently can’t move his car. Fireball, by obscure Canadian band Lance, is a grittier take on what Bowie was doing on Aladdin Sane, while Zebra’s cover of Helter Skelter goes in a psychedelic soul direction and is a little slower than the original (how did the compilers afford what it must have cost to license this?!?!)

The album’s final cut is Lick It, by Thor – keep in mind that this was made long before Spinal Tap, and before gangsta rap made coyly smutty rock innuendos seem like a quaint artifact. Cowbell and fuzztones rule here, a growling lead track half-buried in the mix. The song isn’t quite as funny as Be On My Side, by Fragile & the Eggs, but it’s close. Further proof that the major label history of rock music only tells a tiny fraction of the story.

More Searing Psychedelic Garage Rock From One of NYC’s Best Bands

Is this the great long lost Radio Birdman album? The Electric Mess don’t sound exactly like menacing Australian garage-psych legends, but the resemblance is luscious. If relentless punk cynicism, scorching fretwork, jugular-slashing pickslides, overdriven vintage tube amp sonics and wickedly purist, oldschool rock tunesmithing are your thing, you need to know this band. Their new album The Beast Is You is streaming at Bandcamp. They’re playing Coney Island Baby (the old Brownies/Hifi Bar space) on July 25 at 9 PM; cover is $12.

Their previous album House on Fire was a little heavier on the psychedelia; this one is leaner and more stripped down. The production is delicious: you can practically smell the scorch of vinyl insulation from the back of the amps, and the rhythm section are back in the pocket where they need to be, guitars and vocals out front with funereal organ tremoloing overhead.

The album’s opening cut, Disconnected kicks off with Alan J. Camlet’s machinegunning surf drum intro, hits a vampy 60s garage rock drive followed by a searing Dan Crow wah-wah guitar solo and a trippy early Pink Floyd interlude before the band blast out at the end. That’s about as ornate as the band’s songs get this time out.

‘I’m gonna crash about fifteen cars,” frontwoman Esther Crow announces as We’re Gonna Crash gets underway, Oweinama Biu’s jet-engine organ over the slashing guitars, looming bass and  four-on-the-floor GTO drums. Dan Crow pulls out his wah pedal on the launching pad again.

The snidely propulsive I’m Gone blends eerie Ray Manzarek organ, space acid Chris Masuak guitar and a kiss-off message directed at some kind of religious nut or new age freak. With twin guitars flinging bits and pieces of chords into the bonfire and Derek Davidson’s bass slithering upwards, the wry outer-space anthem You’re My Overdrive wouldn’t be out of place on Radio Birdman’s iconic Radios Appear album.

The guitars take that incendiary, chromatically bristling attack even higher in Snow Queen – Dan Crow’s cruelly spiraling, Deniz Tek-ish lead break is one of the album’s high points. The band keep the assault going in the gleefully apocalyptic No One Gets Out Alive; Dan’s tantalizingly brief solo sets up an unexpectedly funny vocal outro.

Seems like they turn up the reverb a little higher the title track, arguably the album’s most searingly tight number, Davidson’s bass building toxic waste bubbles underneath the guitars’ roar and slash. Then they get the wahs going again in You Can’t Hide, the most Stoogoid number here. “Let me your sloppy seconds, baby,” Esher leers over the organ’s evil oscillations. “Let me clean up every mess you make, I’ll keep away the promises you break.”

Things start to get a lot more eclectic starting with the Plastic Jack, which edges toward janglerock a la Plan 9. Fueled by retro organ, the regret-heavy It Happens All the Time is a rare midtempo garage rock number, while Mystery Girl is surprisingly Beatlesque.

Starry, Doorsy organ swirls through the pulsing vamps of Read You Your Rights; the band close out the album with Yes Future, a glamrock tune. House on Fire ranked high on the best albums of 2015 page here; check back at the end of the year for the 2017 list!

A Refreshing New Spin on Old Soul Sounds and a Bowery Ballroom Gig from the Individualistic Liz Brasher

The coolest thing about Body of Mine, the opening track on soul singer Liz Brasher’s debut ep Outcast, isn’t the vocals, which have a refreshingly understated angst. Nor is it the song’s purposeful, bluesy tune. It’s how Brasher substitutes her own fuzztone guitar for a smoky baritone sax. Ever since Amy Winehouse and then the late great Sharon Jones springboarded the oldschool soul revival, it seems that every suburban lawyer with money to burn has been getting behind one big-voiced soul woman after another in search of something like cred, and some apocryphal payday in what’s left of an industry they know nothing about. Liz Brasher does not appear to be part of that crowd, because her music doesn’t fit the mold. She’s playing Bowery Ballroom this June 22 at 9 PM; cover is $20. Just be aware that there are two bands on after her and neither one is worth knowing about.

The ep – streaming at Bandcamp – rocks harder than your typical vintage 60s soul ballad collection, and it’s darker and bluesier than any of the frantic American Idol imitators could ever be. Brasher gets that fuzztone going again in the biting minor-key second second track, Come My Way, rising to a swaying, pulsing Tammi Terrell-style crescendo on the chorus and then doubletracking her guitar for extra slash on the way out.

Distorted Nord Electro piano and swirling organ mingle over a stomping, swinging beat in Feel Something. “You copy my moves, you do what you want but everyone knows,” Brasher intones knowingly; there isn’t a single point here where she goes for phony gospel excess.

The title cut is a straight-up garage rock nugget, all catchy fuzztone vamping and tumbling drums. Brasher’s lingering, tremoloing chords underpin distant latin allusions (no surprise considering her Dominican heritage) in the bittersweetly crescendoing Remain. The ep winds up with its most retro cut, Cold Baby, Brasher channeling righteous defiance over a lushly orchestrated bed of strings and organ. She’s got a full-length album due out this summer, which is worth keeping an eye out if you’re into this stuff but don’t have the energy to look that fa-fa-fa to find a soul cliche.

That’s an Elvis Costello quote, by the way.

Twin Guns Bring Their Searing Noir Intensity to a Revered, Repurposed East Village Spot

Are Twin Guns the best straight-up rock band in New York right now? They could be. Since the early zeros, the trio of guitarist Andrea Sicco, former Cramps drummer Jungle Jim and bassist Kristin Fayne-Mulroy have put out three volcanic, creepy, reverb-oozing albums that blend punk, garage rock, horror surf and spaghetti western sounds. Their latest one, Imaginary World – streaming at Bandcamp – continues in the more ornate, menacingly psychedelic direction of their previous release The Last Picture Show. Their next gig is tomorrow night, June 14 at 9:30 PM at Coney Island Baby, the former Brownies and Hifi Bar space. Cover is $12.

The new album begins with the title cut, Sicco’s menacingly reverberating layers of guitar over steady, uneasy tom-toms and cymbal splashes, the bass a looming presence deep in the mix. As the surreal tableau builds, Sicco adds roaring, pulsing and keening slide guitar textures, a one-man psychedelic punk guitar army.

100 Teenage Years follows a furtively vampy Laurel Canyon psych-folk tangent in the same vein as the Allah-Las. Cannibal Soul is a twisted waltz, Fayne-Mulroy supplying hypnotic fuzztone growl beneath Sicco’s slowly uncoiling, macabre layers of chromatics, a sonic black velvet cake. Then the trio mash up doom metal and horror surf in Dark Is Rising, funeral organ tremoloing over a crushing Bo Diddley beat.

Complete with a peppy horn section, Portrait in Black could be the darkest faux bossa Burt Bacharach ever wrote – or Tredici Bacci in especially mean, sarcastic mode. The band revisit their more straight-ahead vintage garage rock roots with the shuffling Sad Sad Sunday, then move forward thirty years to the hypnotically riff-driven Blueberry Sugar, which sounds like the Brian Jonestown Massacre playing Motown.

Sociopath is a straight-up zombie strut, Sicco artfully adding layers around the skeleton. The lush, bleak dirge House on the Hill brings unexpected plaintiveness and gravitas to the playlist, followed by the album’s most ep[ic track, Endless Dream, rising from 60s riff-rock to BJM spacerock to melancholy psych-folk and a final sampede out.

There are also three bonus tracks. My Baby, awash in a toxic exhaust of white noise, drifts from punk R&B toward the outer galaxies. Sick Theater might be the album’s best and creepiest track, a macabre, funereal, organ-infused waltz. The final song is Late at Night, an evilly twinkling, hypnotic way to wrap up one of the most unselfconsciously fun and intense albums in recent memory.

The Shelters Steal the Show in Williamsburg

Just when the Shelters really started to get cooking, they had to leave the stage. That’s the trouble with opening acts all too often. The Cali psychedelic pop band had just scampered through their one genuine cover of the night, a high-voltage version of the Yardbirds’ Lost Woman, bassist Jacob Pillot playing that big, rapidfire hook with a pick (rather than fingerpicking like Paul Samwell-Smith did on the original) and not missing a beat. They wound up their tantalizingly brief, stormy jam out with a wry Link Wray quote. And then they were gone. They deserved to headline their twinbill last night at Warsaw with Royal Blood, who were essentially doing karaoke, at least half of what they were “playing” stashed away in the mixing desk or on a laptop or wherever they hide pre-recorded tracks these days.

The Shelters are strong musicians and know their roots. Beatles? Check. Oasis? Doublecheck and triplecheck. Velvets? Sure. Post-Velvets? You bet. “Pretty good cover band,” one cynic in the crowd deadpanned. Frontman Chase Simpson alternated between a Les Paul and a Rickenbacker, proving as adept at Nashville gothic and garage-psych as he is with channeling George Harrison. Josh Jove pushed the tunes along with fiery rhythm guitar, playing a second Rick on a couple of the night’s jangliest numbers in tandem with Pillot and drummer Sebastian Harris. They got the Oasis/Blues Magoos mashups out of the way early, charmed the crowd with a clanging anthem that nicked the changes from Patti Smith’s Dancing Barefoot and then got a little retro Shakin’ All Over action going.

Interestingly, their best song was a hypnotically vamping, spacerock-infused midtempo number that sounded like vintage 90s Brian Jonestown Massacre. Then it was Yardbirds, over and out. Which was too bad. Realistically, there are easily a hundred bands in New York who might not be quite as tight but are infinitely edgier than the Shelters – lyrics are not their thing. On the other hand, it was impossible not to find it heartwarming to see so many kids (this was an all-ages show) among the very diverse, unpretentious crowd who’d come out for a midnight concert billed as an afterparty for a ridiculously overpriced, daylong corporate music festival staged on an island in the Hudson.

The official story is that Tom Petty saw the Shelters in some random bar and liked them so much that he ended up producing their debut album. On the other hand, it’s hardly unreasonable to believe that the record label simply rounded up four goodlooking guys who could really play, could write fluently in the styles of a whole bunch of popular bands from years gone by, and got Petty, a guy who truly appreciates this stuff, to helm the project. Whatever the case, it’s refreshing to see somebody putting some money behind a group with genuine talent and tunesmithing ability. The Shelters’/Royal Blood tour continues; the next stop with affordable tickets which isn’t sold out is on June 10 at 7 PM at Newport Music Hall, 1722 N High St in Columbus, Ohio. Then they’re at Bonnaroo the following day. 

Slashing, Fearlessly Populist Classic Detroit-Style Rock from Sulfur City

Sulfur City evoke the hard-charging, uncompromising Murder City garage-punk intensity of Radio Birdman and Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, with elements of retro soul, psychedelia, a little funk and a fearlessly populist political sensibility. But they’re not from Detroit or Australia: they hail from Sudbury, in northeast Ontario. Their album Talking Loud is streaming at Soundcloud. And it’s one of the best four-on-the-floor rock records of the year.

The opening track, Whispers, is anything but. It’s basically a frenetic one-chord minor-key jam over a stomping hardcore punk pulse. The way frontwoman Lori Paradis bends her notes with just a hint of plaintive angst, she sounds a lot like the Passengers’ Angie Pepper with a slightly lower voice. Keith Breit’s organ interlude midway through is unexpected, and wouldn’t be out of place in the Radio Birdman songbook either.

The defiant War Going On, with its funky, organ-fueled sway, connects the dots between the grotesqueness of consumer capitalism and combat – is the reference to “plastic-wrapped people” a dis, or a grisly image of battlefield casualties?

Pockets is a sort of mashup of Bo Diddley, Rare Earth and the MC5 at their most populist and confrontational, with a snide gospel interlude. With its smoky organ, Ride With Me has a Sticky Fingers latin soul groove. It ‘s hard to figure out whether Paradis’ vengeful wail in Don’t Lie to Me is channeling the wrath of an abused woman, or if this is an S&M anthem. Jesse Lagace’s eerie slide guitar bends and warps through the gritty boogie backdrop of Sold, revisiting an ages-old, devilishly bluesy theme.

Highways, a ghoulabilly shuffle, keeps the lurid intensity going up to a tumbling, bluesy piano solo straight out of the Pip Hoyle playbook. With its intertwining minor-key guitar leads, the ominously elegaic murder ballad Johnny could be an outtake from Radios Appear with a woman out in front of the band. The album’s most epic track, One Day in June is a brisk noir blues in 6/8, fueled by Lagace’s slide guitar and Paradis’ grim, Patti Smith-ish vocals. It’s an apt post-election anthem: “We tell ourselves it’ll be ok, this too shall pass, everything must change,” Paradis intones. “The end of November and the leaves have all gone, and the air is cold and the snow’s about to fall, standing with my palms raised up to the sky.”

By contrast, Raise Hammer is a sarcastic Celtic punk number with layers of gritty open-tuned guitars and a carnivalesque organ solo. The album winds up with You Don’t Know Me, a gutter blues shuffle in an early 80s Gun Club vein. Lots of flavors and plenty of tunefulness from a group with great influences that seems to be on the verge of similar greatness.

Heaters Bring Their Envelopingly Tuneful Psychedelia to South Williamsburg

Heaters‘ new album Baptistina – soon to be streaming at Bandcamp, and available on both green and black vinyl – further cements their reputation as one of the world’s most consistently excellent dark retro psychedelic bands. What’s most impressive about them is that a close listen reveals how seldom they change chords. They can vamp out on one for minutes on end and it never gets boring because there are so many interesting things going on, texturally and melodically: repeaterbox echoes flitting through the mist, shifting sheets of feedback and jagged twelve-string guitar incisions in contrast with an enveloping quality that seems to draw on Indian classical music as much as it does classic 60s psychedelia. The trio – guitarist Nolan Krebs, guitarist/bassist Andrew Tamlyn and drummer Joshua Korf – also shift tempos on a dime, making things all the more strange and compelling. They’re playing the album release show at Baby’s All Right on August 5 at 10 PM; cover is $10.

The obvious influence is the 13th Floor Elevators, but there’s also a little early Country Joe & the Fish as well as Brian Jonestown Massacre in the mix as well as a whole slew of other influences. The sonics are period-perfect: guitars awash in reverb with a clanging, slightly tinny vintage Vox amp attack, trebly melodic bass hanging back with the drums. The opening track, Centennial, begins with a Byrdsy jangle and ends with White Light/White Heat guitar freakout .The lushly crescendoing Ara Pacis puts Syd Barrett on a Magical Mystery Tour bus, while the expansive soundscape Orbis brings to mind early Nektar.

Elephant Turner pounces along on a tricky fuzz bass riff, sinuous guitar interweave overhead. Garden Eater sets a nimbly scampering bassline over a steady, swirly stomp and then floats off into spacerock. Another catchy fuzztone bassline fuels Dali, which then sinks in a morass of trippy waves. Then the band picks things up again with Mango, referencing both the Kinks as well as early 70s proto-metal.

The resonant spacerock ambience returns as the band sets the controls for the heart of the sun in Voyager. The album winds up with the teasingly loopy instrumental Turkish Gold and then the catchy, propulsively tumbling Seafoam, Del Shannon on brown acid, winidng up with the longest, most searing guitar solo here. This is music for people who won’t settle for merely being stoned: it’s a soundtrack for getting high as a kite.

Their excellent, somewhat more kinetic previous album Holy Water Pool is also streaming at Bandcamp, for the most part. Kamikaze, a slowly simmering, echo-drenched minor-key neo-Elevators number, opens it, bass rising as the chorus winds up, twelve-string guitar piercing the reverb cloud. There’s also the loping and then frantic spaghetti western blues of Master Splinter; the careenng Highway 61 vamp Sanctuary Blues; Propane, with its spiky/drony neo-Velvets sway and artfully menacing rhythmic shifts. the jangly, catchy Hawaiian Holiday and its playful tv theme references; the uneasy Bakersfield twang-influenced Detonator Eyes; Bad Beat, a mashup of early Pretty Things, Brian Jonestown Massacre and Radio Birdman; the starlit stoner soul of Gum Drop; Honey, a Blues Magoos/Count Five hybrid; Cap Gun, which very cleverly nicks the chords from a new wave-era cheeseball hit; and Dune Ripper, part BJM, part Byrds. The band takes their time with each of these, although they don’t go on nearly as long as that previous sentence.

Breanna Barbara Brings Her Haunting, Intense, Enveloping Psychedelic Blues to Berlin

Blues guitarist/songwriter Breanna Barbara’s debut album Mirage Dreams – due out this Friday, and soon to be streaming at Bandcamp – blends the otherwordly, hypnotic tumbles and rolls of Mississippi hill country icons R.L. Burnside and T-Model Ford with the raw desperation of early 90s gutter rock bands like the Chrome Cranks and the lysergic menace of the 13th Floor Elevators. As relentlessly dark as her music is, there’s actually a happy backstory to how the album came to be. It’s a triumph of good ears and a throwback to an earlier era when there was much more of a music industry.

Back in 2014, she recorded a bunch of songs on her phone and slapped them up on Bandcamp. Then she sent those files to Andrija Tokic, who produced both the Alabama Shakes and Hurray for the Riff Raff. Tokic, being a purist, was taken by the raw intensity of Breanna Barbara’s music, and decided to make an oldfashioned, big-room studio album with her. They assembled a crack Nashville band including most of Clear Plastic Masks (Matt Menold on lead guitar and organ, Charles Garmendia on drums, and Eduardo DuQuesne on bass), plus Ben Trimble of Fly Golden Eagle on keys; Jon Etes on upright bass, pedal steel and keys, and David Grant sharing drum duties, The result is one of the most stunningly, darkly individualistic releases of 2016. Breanna Barbara is playing the album release show at around 10 PM on July 22 at Berlin, under 2A.

The album’s careening opening track is Sailin’, Sailin’, its chilling Requiem for a Dream-influenced imagery awash in a sea of guitars and garage-rock organ. And then it’s suddenly over. Who Are You, a defiant individualist’s anthem, is your classic one-chord jam, lit up with DuQuesne’s high-register bass riffs and more of that creepy organ in the background. The Race has an echoey ominousness to match Breanna Barbara’s airy, wary vocals and the lyrics’ grim undercurrent: it reminds of the Bright Smoke in their earliest, bluesiest moments. Menold’s creepy chromatic multitracks complete the picture.

She lets her vocals cut loose on the slowly marauding, dynamically shifting, metaphorically-charged Nothin’ But Your Lovin’, bringing to mind Molly Ruth’s most recent electric work. The band builds a delicious Carnival of Souls ambience with boomy drums, a web of tremolo guitars and phantasmagorical keys in Baby Where You Are. The story draws on a funny incident where Breanna Barbara lent her phone to a stranger who needed to get in touch with his girlfriend – as it turned out, he’d been just been sprung from jail after getting caught jumping a subway turnstile..

The album’s title track is also its most psychedelic, the bandleader’s hypnotically tremolo-picked Telecaster contrasting with her howling vocals. She follows that with the album’s lone cover, reinventing Melanie’s Some Say (I Got Devil) with equal parts gothic menace and punk fury. By contrast, the spare, lingering I’m All Right – the oldest original on the album – brings to mind something from the first Hole album reduced to lowest terms.

The sardonic Jessie Mae Hemphill-influenced Where’s My Baby has an epic, trippy sweep, the whole band – bass, drums, organ and a tsunami of guitars – all on overdrive. The vengefully crescendoing Go Back blends all sorts of cool reverb and icy vintage chorus-box guitar textures. The album’s most harrowing number, Daddy Dear, rises and falls in waves of spare reverb guitar and deep-space elecric piano, tracing the grim trajectory of a deadly drug overdose. The final cut is the stark, death-obsessed Wood Demon. Whether you consider this psychedelia or blues – and it’s both – it’s one of the best albums of the year. And this band is amazing live – their opening set at this past Saturday’s festival at Pier 97 over on the west side raised the bar impossibly high for the rest of the night.

Relentlessly Haunting 60s-Influenced French Noir from Juniore

If the French didn’t invent noir, they deserve at least half credit since it’s their word. And much as the concept of existential angst may not be a French construct (for those of you who weren’t phil majors, meaning probably all of you, its roots are German), it’s safe to say that it wouldn’t have become so much a part of our collective consciousness if not for Jean-Paul Sartre. French singer Anna Jean’s band Juniore’s debut full-length album – streaming at Bandcamp – channels that restless, relentless solitude, putting a shadowy spin on bouncy Françoise Hardy-style 60s ye-ye pop. It’s one of the darkest and best albums of the year and it might well be the very best of all of them: hard to say, as we’re only in the beginning stages of another été meurtrier.

The opening track, Christine  sets the stage: the guitars building a mix of 60s fuzztone and icy 80s wash over trebly, snappy bass and skittish drums. The song is a period-perfect take on the peppy garage-pop that was all the rage in France in the late 60s, but with a brooding, noir edge. Jean sings with a snippy impatience on this one. Dans le Noir is 180 degrees from that, vocally, a warmly swirling, bittersweetly nocturnal tableau – but by the end, Jean hardly sounds like she’s looking forward to dancing in the dark, like she says. Similarly, La Fin Du Monde, with its blend of psychedelic grit, swooshy cinematics and Jean’s cleverly intricate rhyme scheme, isn’t as quite apocalyptic as its title would imply.

Jean follows a vivid, doomed narrative over a Ghost Riders in the Sky gallop in Marche, lit up with some creepy chorus-box guitar cadenzas midway through. She works the road metaphor implicit in the pouncing, persistent horror-garage hit La Route for all it’s worth – thematically if not musically, it’s her take on Iggy Pop’s The Passenger. Then she opens the skeletally dancing Mon Autre with a scream – finally, six tracks in, she can’t avoid a comparison to French obsessions the Cure, but with surreal deep-space keyb tinges.

The band goes back toward creepy new wave-ish border rock with Cavalier Solitaire (Lone Rider), bringing to mind the similarly brisk but persistent unease of Jean’s colleague Marianne Dissard‘s early work. The best song on the album, Je Fais Le Mort (I Play Dead) might also be the best song of the year, comparable to this year’s early frontrunner, Karla Rose & the ThornsBattery Park. That one’s a bolero of sorts; this is a toweringly sad, phantasmagorical lament in in 6/8 time. Over and over again, Jean underscores how this metaphorical killing wasn’t worth the time it took – along with plenty of other implications.

Even the bounciest and most retro number here, Marabout, a single from last year, has a dark undercurrent: this ladykiller will get you on your knees. And A La Plage might be the most melancholy beach song released in recent years, part Stranglers, part dark 60s Phil Spector, with hints of dub reggae. The album winds up with Animal, a coyly menacing number that reminds of Fabienne Delsol. While there’s no need to speak French to appreciate this on a musical level, Jean’s lyrics are superb, packed with double entendres and clever, sometimes Rachelle Garniez-class wordplay. You’ll see this high on the list of best albums of 2016 if the screen you’re watching doesn’t go completely noir by then.