New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Category: indie pop

Greta Keating Brings Her Catchy, Eclectic Tunesmithing to the Lower East Side

Although there’s a long history of family legacies in folk music around the world, and plenty of cross-generational jazz pollination, rock tends to die with the first generation. The good rock legacies are a very short list: the Dylans (Bob and Jakob), the Rigbys (Amy and Hazel), the Lennons (John and Sean), with the Allisons (Mose and Amy) at the top of the list if you count brilliance that transcends jazz and Americana.

Add the Keatings to that list. Greta Keating is the daughter of Matt Keating – whose prolific and darkly lyrical songwriting career spans janglerock and soul, and goes back to the 90s – and his wife Emily Spray, a somewhat less prolific songwriter but an equally breathtaking singer. In this case, the apple didn’t fall far. Greta Keating has a soaring voice, writes catchy, anthemic songs, has a flair for the mot juste and like her dad plays a number of instruments. She’s bringing those songs to the small room at the Rockwood on Sept 23 at 7 PM.

Also like her dad, she writes a lot of songs. Her Soundcloud page has a bunch, some which could fall into the bedroom-pop category, others which are more fleshed out with acoustic and electric guitars, judicious piano, organ and occasional synthesized strings.

Keating has a thing for starry, drifting Julee Cruise-like tableaux, and there are a bunch here, including It’s a Drug, Ain’t It Strange and Hungry Dog. My Perfect Man is torchier, in waltz time, as is The Cold Makes Me Think, a hazy, spacious piano ballad that brings to mind A. A. Williams.

Keating goes into opaque trip-hop in Betwixt and Between, then reaches for quietly venomous, cynical Lynchian pop vibe with 15-Year-Old Boy. Too Late to Lay could be an early Everything But the Girl song with more delicate vocals, while Head Down to My Toes is a determined adventure into big assertive anthemic stadium rock.

How Could You Be But You Were is a bittersweet, swing-tinged stroll. The best song on the page is Small As I Felt, where she raises the angst to redline over Orbisonian crescendos: it screams out for sweeping orchestral strings and a kettledrum.

A Girl With Cheeks Damp is another stunner, a brooding plunge into jazzy 70s soul. The funniest tune on the page is Adderall Song: crystal meth makes people do the craziest things, huh?

The rest of the many songs in this long playlist range from soul (Hard to Please), to driving, sarcastic rock (My Body Is Allergic); dreamy Stereolab sonics (Out of Nowhere) and fingersnapping Peggy Lee jazz (Shadow Shadow).

There’s even more on Keating’s youtube channel, including a Telecaster-driven powerpop shout-out to girl-bonding empowerment. If the future of New York rock tunesmithing is your thing, Keating’s songs will resonate with you.

A Harrowing Solo Comeback Album and a Rare New York Show by Cult Icon Nina Nastasia

For about a decade beginning in the late 90s, songwriter Nina Nastasia earned a devoted following for her frequently haunting, painterly work. It’s hard to think of another artist who so perceptively captured the details in the darkness beneath the bustle in gritty New York neighborhoods which became artistic meccas before they were crushed in a blitzkrieg of gentrification.

The city’s decline mirrored Nastasia’s own. By 2010, her performing career had pretty much stalled. As Nastasia tells it, she and her longtime partner Kennan Gudjonsson sequestered themselves a tiny Chelsea apartment, caught up in a cycle of abuse and codependence. The day after Nastasia finally moved out, in January 2020, Gudjonsson killed himself.

In the first few months of the lockdown, Nastasia was able to process what by all accounts must have been inconceivable pain, and the result is a harrowing solo vinyl record, Riderless Horse, streaming at Bandcamp. She’s playing what could be her first Williamsburg show in at least fifteen years at Union Pool on August 20 at 7 PM for $20

It’s been a dozen years since Nastasia released an album, but she’s emerged a stronger singer than ever. Meanwhile, her songwriting has taken a detour into Americana. With her usual black humor, she opens with the sound of a cork popping: this will not exactly be a party, but it’s impossible to turn away from.

The album’s first song is Just Stay in Bed, a spare Tex-Mex flavored tune in 6/8. Just when it sounds like it’s going to turn into a fond love song, Nastasia’s voice grows menacing. Clearly this was a dysfunctional relationship on both sides.

Her vocals rise to fiery accusatory levels over steady strumming in the second track, You Were So Mad, a stoic breakup ballad: “You set a blaze inside our house, you set a blaze and smoked us out.” This Is Love is a subdued heartland rock anthem, a chronicle of “taking turns to follow and lead into the dissonance.”

The narrative grows uglier over Nastasia’s enigmatic fingerpicking in Nature, a plainspoken portrait of violence, and how easy it is to become habituated to it. This dynamic will resonate intensely through the rest of the record.

Nastasia switches to waltz time for Lazy Road, although even in this bucolic calm, death is lurking nearby. She revisits that atmosphere a little later with the bluegrass-tinged Blind As Batsies.

“I keep you alive as best as I can do,” Nastasia sings imploringly, but ultimately “to choose life over illness and leave,” in another waltz, Ask Me. She switches back to a muted Americana sway in the ironically titled The Two of Us, which wouldn’t be out of place on an Amy Rigby record from the 90s:

The simmering rage returns in Go Away: “There’s only one way to for me to give you peace, for me to leave: bury me,” Nastasia taunts. She follows with The Roundabout, an anguished request to bury the conflict under a blanket of denial.

The next track, Trust is the closest thing here to the stark sparkle that permeates Nastasia’s iconic early work. She sings to a ghost, in waltz time again, in Afterwards: “Love is tiresome when you’re older…it makes me wonder about the years that came before, and all the things I must ignore.” As a portrait of a relationship unraveling with catastrophic consequences, this ranks with Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights. Time may judge this a classic – just like Nastasia’s earlier albums, particularly The Blackened Air, her most bleakly orchestral release, from 2001.

Brilliant Bassist Yula Beeri Brings Her Upbeat New Duo Project to Long Island City

Yula Beeri played bass in wildly influential circus rock band World Inferno. That group met a tragic demise with the death of their frontman Jack Terricloth, murdered by the Covid shot just over a year ago. However, Beeri has always stayed busy with other groups, from the sizzling, slinky Israeli-tinged Nanuchka, to a rotating cast of characters she calls Yula & the Extended Family. Her latest project is Y&I with drummer Isaac Gardner. Their debut album Holy Vol. 1 is streaming at Spotify. They’re playing outdoors at Culture Lab in Long Island City on July 16 at 5 PM.

It was a lot of fun watching the two working up this material over the course of a series of shows at LIC Bar at the top of the street in the months before the 2020 lockdown. There aren’t many bassist-fronted bands, let alone singers who can play Beeri’s serpentine, melodic lines at the same time. Throughout her shows there, she’d sometimes play along to a loop pedal, sometimes adding layers live and building a song on top of them while Gardner played low-key funk, and shuffles, and dancefloor beats behind her.

The new album is a lot more lighthearted and techy than Beeri’s harder-rocking earlier work. The first track, Cub sets the stage with its tricky tempo, woozy processed layers of vocals and flurrying drums. The duo follow with Slip & Slide, a cheery, aptly slithery trip-hop tune with dub echoes, some icy raga guitar licks and a lickety-split ska outro

Gate (as in “finish gate”) has playfully syncopated layers of vocals over a muted, galloping beat where Beeri’s guitar and bass tracks pick up with her signature chromatic edge. The duo go back to trip-hop with a more minimalist, loopy, skronky Goldfrapp/Garbage edge in the next track, Wire.

Beeri hits her chilly vintage chorus pedal for an icy strobe in the album’s title track, Gardner rattling the traps vintage one-drop style at the end of a phrase. The last song is This House, Beeri’s disembodied sci-fi vocal multitracks and a sly hip-hop interlude over Gardner’s loose-limbed swing beat. There’s plenty of room in the parking lot in Queens to dance to this.

Martina Fiserova Brings Her Individualistic, Soulful Tunesmithing to the Lower East

From the mid-teens until the 2020 lockdown, Czech-born songwriter Martina Fiserova was a familiar presence and a distinctive voice in the New York small club scene. Her tunesmithing is sophisticated, purposeful and defies categorization, with elements of oldschool soul, chamber pop, 90s trip-hop and jazz. She plays electric rather than acoustic guitar, likes short songs and sings in strong English in an unselfconsciously direct, uncluttered voice. Since the lifting of restrictions, she’s back on the live circuit, with an early show tonight, May 22 at 5 PM at the small room at the Rockwood.

Like so many artists whose career was put on ice by the grim events of March 2020 and afterward, Fiserova hasn’t put out an album in awhile. Her most recent release, Shift, came out in 2015 and is still up at Bandcamp: it gives you a good idea of the many angles she comes from. She’s got a great band behind her: Brian Charette on organ and piano, and her fellow Czechs Tomáš Baroš on bass and Dano Šoltis on drums. In addition to guitar, Fiserova plays tone lyre, slate xylophone, bronze metallophone and keys.

She opens with Silver Streams, a slow, catchy, minimalist ballad awash in water imagery, that picks up with an unexpectedly funky pulse fueled by a cheery, blues-infused Charette piano solo. Track two, Crater is a hypnotically clustering number in 12/8: “The sleep is broken, tears are stuck in my throat… unseen forces, the pain spreads like white sheets…”

Song For Brian, a swaying, pensive number contrasts Charette’s strikingly direct piano with Fiserova’s more enigmatic guitar lines. “The sound of a breaking heart is stronger than a storm,” she muses in the intro to Cold, then the band leaps into a brisk, bracing offbeat shuffle, Charette on soul organ

She follows Misunderstanding, a slinky, low-key organ swing tune with Invisible Blood, the band slowly edging their way into waltz time as Charette adds iciness behind Fiserova’s elegant fingerpicking and more of that loaded water imagery.

An unlikely flock of pigeons serve as inspiration for the next track, And Fly!, Fiserova offering plainspoken, inspiring encouragement to leave fear behind. Little did she know when she recorded it how relevant this song would become five years later!

She keeps the fearless theme going in My Wind, with its rhythmic twists and turns. from jazz into oldschool soul and back on the wings of Charette’s organ. He blends organ and blippy Rhodes piano in Chasm, a brisk, twinkling, motorik soul tune that could be the album’s catchiest track. Then Fiserova completely flips the script with Silver Moon, rising from an understatedly dark, squirrelly free jazz intro to a big, soaring anthem. The final cut is the pensive, airily wary Closer. Since the album came out, Fiserova has pursued a more straightforward, guitar-driven sound: she is likely to take the volume up a notch at the Rockwood gig.

An Individualistic, Intriguing New Album and an Outdoor Afterwork Show From Singer Miriam Elhajli

Songwriter Miriam Elhajli has carved out a distinctive sound that draws equally on jazz, 70s South American nuevo cancion and levantine sounds, reflecting her Venezuelan-Moroccan heritage. She cuts loose with an expressive, constantly mutable voice, likes fingerpicking her acoustic guitar in odd tunings and writes intriguing, thoughtfully imagistic lyrics. Her latest album The Uncertainty of Signs is streaming at Bandcamp. She’s playing an outdoor show on May 19 at 6 PM at the secluded terrace at Pier 3, toward the southern tip of Brooklyn Bridge Park. It’s a good setting for her verdant, rustic yet original songs. When the park was first landscaped, there was a joke going around that it had been designed as a staging area for an invading guerilla army to hide in the shrubbery. Those in search of more peaceful pursuits here can take the A or C to High St., go down to the Fulton Landing and hang a left.

Interestingly, the first three songs on the record are in 6/8 time, more or less. When the Whirlwind Fades Out fades in with a whir from Cedric Easton’s drums, a growling drone from Ike Sturm’s bass and a brightly gorgeous, pointillistic solo from Firas Zreik’s kanun. Elhajli pulls the band into an elegant, anthemic sway with her steady fingerpicking and jazz-tinged vocals. “You should know better than to run toward that which falls,” she cautions.

There’s a subtle, conspiratorial mystery juxtaposed with a soaring angst in the second track, Tres Bocio, Elhajli’s voice rising from hints of the Middle East to a rousing, wordless crescendo, vibraphonist Chris Dingman adding lingering textures.

“I know the kingpin is an illusion, and I know we must not forget to sing in unison,” she asserts in Grayscale, which begins as a stark, Appalachian-tinged ballad and drifts further into an enigmatic contrast between dramatic vocals and a hazy backdrop. She revisits that same dichotomy a little later in Marble Staircase, Zreik’s rippling kanun setting up an otherworldly, tremoloing hulusi flute solo from Jake Rudin

Locusts Circumference is closer to Joanna Newsom-style freak-folk: it’s not clear what “quiet implosion” Elhajli is referring to. The strings of the Kasa Quartet waft and sail over Elhajli’s lattice of acoustic guitar and her full-throated, crescendoing vocals in Gold & God, an allusively jubilant salute to genuine human kindness.

The flute returns and flutters in Spiral Solutions, a brief, energetically circling number where Elhajli seeks to “recognize the unrecognizable.” Bracing, swooping strings permeate Bulk Flow: “Got two scissors and a match…I lost my spirit so I split to another land,” Elhajli relates over a lushly rustic, open-tuned, antique Britfolk-style melody.

She picks out a ringing web on electric guitar in Another Butterfly Ordeal. The next-to-last track, Cosmos is more of a jazz tone poem: “The unseen stays unseen,” Elhajli sings, “Pay attention, the cops encircle us, they don’t know what we’re up to.”

She winds up the record with In Your Arms, Familiar, a mutedly unsettled tableau reflecting a “state of utter hypnosis” where “everything is crushable” – sounds a lot like 2022, doesn’t it?

Quirky, Individualistic, Shapeshifting Catalan Songwriting From Singer Magali Sare

You have to have a sense of humor to call your album “Sponge.” Catalan singer Magali Sare‘s new release, Eponja – streaming at Spotify – is playful and a lot of fun, although there’s a recurrent dark undercurrent. That’s no surprise, considering that it’s a coming-of-age record . Sare is a very eclectic singer and can reach spectacular heights. She comes out of a classical background, but here she shifts mostly between carefree trip-hop, sprightly chamber pop and more techy sounds, along with upbeat Catalan folk. If Bjork was Catalan, she might sound something like this. Sare’s inspired, purposeful band includes pianist Marta Pons, guitarist Sebastià Gris, bassist Vic Moliner and drummer Dídak Fernàndez along with occasional strings.

The lilting opening lullaby is aptly titled Hola, Sare’s voice trailing off with a little brittle vibrato at the end of a phrase. She follows with Mañana, a coy, fingersnapping mashup of trip-hop and tango: as Sare observes, love and freedom are one and the same.

Crooner Salvador Sobral joins in a rousing duet on Sempre Vens Assim (roughly translated: Your Usual Steez), rising to a mighty peak with a choir of voices and a little jaunty salsa piano. Sare reaches from a pensively fingerpicked verse to soaring choruses, toward the top of her register, in the album’s title track. It’s a somewhat more sobering look back on how children develop an ethical sensibility (the song is a lot more fun than such an explanation would imply).

Sare packs torrents of lyrics into a quirky but pensive trip-hop cabaret tune in Malifetes (Mischief), an account of a conflicted adolescence. The key line, roughly translated, is “I was emotionally blackmailed.” The deliriously crescendoing love song ETC features flamenco band Las Migas: lively verse, swoony chorus.

The narrative hits a bump in the road with No Se, circling piano phrases anchoring Sare’s metaphorically loaded account of literally being left out in the cold. A spoken-word piece set to a trippy, echoey backdrop, No Se Cantar is an amusing catalog of reasons to sing (including simply to shake people up a little).

Inframon (Underworld) is a brightly resonant tableau in contrast with Sare’s lyrics about dealing with the dark side: “You just know you’ve been there once you’re out and you aren’t afraid of falling in,” essentially. She reverts to a twinkly trip-hop ambience in M’ai Vist Mai Plorar (I’ve Never Seen You Cry): “Watch the wind lift the broken veil,” Sare muses.

She follows with the Mediterranean-tinged, elegantly fingerpicked seduction scenario No Te Edat (rough translation: Timeless), and then Niña Mujer (Womanchild), a pensive psychedelic pop study in contradictions. She closes the album with its lone classical interlude, a stately, energetic canon. You don’t have to speak Catalan to enjoy this smartly individualistic, constantly shapeshifting collection.

Thoughtful, Gently Provocative Acoustic Songs From Allegra Krieger

The first image in Wake Me, the opening track on songwriter Allegra Krieger’s new album Precious Thing – streaming at Bandcampis a stretcher being rolled down the street. Presumably, it’s going to an ambulance…or a van from the morgue. Krieger links that story to a much more optimistic and personal one. but the unease remains, unwinding over rippling. fingerpicked guitar in an open tuning that Jimmy Page would use in folkie moments.

Krieger sticks with that throughout most of the record, sometimes set against spare electric guitar leads. The addition of dark washes of bowed bass in places is a welcome textural touch.

A gritty, distorted drone introduces the second song, Isolation – an original, not the Joy Division classic. “‘Return to city life. the smell of money leaks out…drink up, detached from the ideals of being one of God’s daughters…living in filth is something I have gotten used to again,” Krieger muses. Is this a tale of coming home too soon to totalitarian NYC hell? Maybe.

Taking It In is about defamiliarizing, underscored by layers of spastic electric guitar skronk and fluttery bass in contrast to Krieger’s calm, bright vocals. “Everything is precariously waiting to fortify as the time goes by,” she muses in a similarly bright domestic tableau: clearly, there’s still work to be done.

“All my life I drank wine, thought they were bottles of blood, thought they were cleaning me up,” she reflects in the slowly swaying next number

Krieger switches to piano for another slow, pensive 6/8 tune, Let Go, the bass adding a disquieting edge. Driftingly nocturnal layers of organ-like pedal steel provide the contrast in Just For the Night. The album’s title track is more gently resolute: “Looking back on my life now, little that all meant to me,” Krieger observes. What a reckoning to have to face in 2022, huh?

Her piano on No Machine, steady and spare, matches her steady acoustic guitar style: the cautious trumpet solo afterward enhances the mood. “No machine can keep us safe, what I feel is what I’ll be,” Krieger asserts.

She ends the album with a low-key country waltz: her narrator’s escape to bucolic southern comfort turns out well. That we should all be so lucky.

Eclectic, Imaginatively Arranged Soul Stylings From Lunar Noon

On her new album Symbolic Creature – streaming at Bandcamp – multi-keyboardist/songwriter Michelle Zheng a.k.a. Lunar Noon contemplates the empowerment that the act of questioning triggers, and how we assign meaning to otherwise completely random objects and events. The takeaway, she seems to say, is up to us.

Many but not all of the tracks could be classified as soul music. Zheng likes textures, a mix of the organic and the icily techy, plus layers of vocals, recorded over the web with a rotating cast of players in the summer of 2021. She cites Susanne Sundfor as a major influence, reflected by the wide range of styles covered here. Flickers of Chinese folk music sometimes bubble to the surface, whether melodically or in the choice of instrumentation. Some of the song titles reflect a Japan trip Zheng took which seems to have ended badly.

In the album’s brief opening number, Rabbits, as she sees them, are gospel creatures, in a slow waltz awash in strings The second track is Ginkgo, a trip-hop number with stark cello, koto, and operatic backing vocals, a more ornate take on what Fiona Apple was doing in the mid-zeros.

Blippy keys contrast with washes and pulses of sound in track three, Peregrine; then, picturesque percussion and harp percolate through The Rain, which becomes more of a soul-infused rain dance.

Anywhere, a jaunty soul strut, has artfully assembled layers of starry electronic keys. Provenance has an elegant sweep beneath Zheng’s achingly soaring vocals; Ash gets more of a robotic, psychedelic atmosphere.

Cold cyborg vocals contrast with the lushness of Suspension. Zheng shifts gears with Meteor, its spare, shuffling beat anchoring a tune that hints at warmly enveloping soul balladry. The same spareness persists in Alchemist, up to a catchy, determined lead vocal and a big, driving piano solo: it’s the album’s most forceful song.

Another strong track is Yellow House, a chamber-pop waltz with classically-inspired piano. The best and catchiest song is Daylight, a big art-rock anthem where Zheng switches between lingering bittersweetness and an energetic sway. Hypnotic cell-like piano riffs permeate the closing cut, Gold, which brings to mind early My Brighest Diamond. It will be interesting to see which of these many directions Zheng decides to follow in the coming months or years.

Tasha Delivers Catchy, Low-Key, Evocative Jangle and Clang

Tasha sings in a calm, breathy, sometimes airy voice and writes catchy janglerock songs. She likes open tunings and doesn’t waste notes. Her album Tell Me What You Miss the Most is streaming at Bandcamp.

She bookends the album with two versions of Bed Song. It’s an original, not the Amanda Palmer classic. The first is more spare and acoustic; the second take of this verdant open-tuned tune, akin to pastoral, mostly-acoustic 70s Pink Floyd, is more enveloping and psychedelic.

The full band join her on the album’s second song, History, an electric tune with spare lead guitar and a slow country-flavored sway. She picks up the pace with Perfect Wife, its rainy-day jazz chords and lo-fi synth flutes. Then she mashes up those two styles in Sorry’s Not Enough.

An echoey, evocative seaside tableau, Love Interlude introduces Dream Still, a return to swaying, optimistic after-the-rain jangle. Then Tasha picks up her acoustic for the steadily fingerpicked, warmly hypnotic sunset theme Burton Island

As befits a vast body of water, Lake Superior is the most orchestrated, expansive track here. Tasha follows that with the enticingly enigmatic Year From Now. If you’re looking for a thoughtful way to start a weekend morning, this is a good stepping-off point. Even better, it’s available on cassette!

Eclectic Digital Sounds Trace the Development of an Analog World

Multi-instrumentalist Uèle Lamore‘s new instrumental album Loom – streaming at Spotify – traces the evolution of life on earth. The music is more airy and playful than you would probably expect from such an ambitious theme. Lamore blends elements of psychedelia, downtempo, chillwave, ambient and film music in a series of succinct, relatively brief tracks with occasional vocals.

A loon, or the electronic equivalent, calls out in the darkness, then a swaying, echoing, slickly 80s-style trip-hop theme develops to open the record. Lamore takes a flippant little piano phrase, flips it upside down and then runs the riff and variations through a series of patches for the second track, The Dark.

The Creation begins with gamelan-like chimes, then a flute patch moves to the forefront over puffy, rhythmic synth.

The First Tree is a sweeping, vaguely mysterious hip-hop tune.The next track, Breathe is not a Pink Floyd cover but a motorik-flavored theme that reminds of a big hit by Prince.

Currents has a wry vocoder track over the swirl, while Gene Pool is a return to fun things that can be done with a simple piano riff and textural variations.

Lamore follows Pollen, an atmospheric neosoul tune, with Predation, a muted whoomp-whoomp dancefloor jam. By the time we reach Dominance, are we in the dinosaur era yet? This loopy, cinematic segment is much more futuristic. Lamore winds up the album with Warm Blood, her vocals adrift in an echoey sheen.