New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Category: indie pop

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.

Acoustic Reggae and Similar Rarities by a Fixture of the NYC Parks Concert Circuit on the Upper East

Other than Bob Marley’s iconic Redemption Song – “How long must they kill our brothers while we stand aside and look?” – there’s hardly any acoustic reggae. In fourteen and a half years of concerts in what was once the live music capitol of North America, this blog and its predecessor covered exactly one acoustic reggae show, by Jamaican toaster I-Wayne. And that was a private performance for media, in the fall of 2011 in a west side studio with ganja smoke seeping out through cracks in the door.

But if you’re in Manhattan on Oct 29 and you can get to Second Avenue and 90th St. by 3 PM, you might see some acoustic reggae when ukulele player Dahlia Dumont and her group the Blue Dahlia play Ruppert Park.

Dumont has been plugged into the municipal concert circuit for the past several years, and her passion for reggae and ska matches her fondness for playing outdoors. She writes in English and her native French, in lots of other styles ranging from French varietés pop to Balkan music. Her most recent, characteristically eclectic album La Tradition Américaine got the thumbs up here in 2018.

She’s put out more material since that record, streaming at her music page. At the top, there’s Betty, a characteristically bouncy, horn-spiced quasi-ska song encouraging everybody to stop complaining about the status quo and police brutality, and go out and vote. En Dehors du Temps (Outside of Time) is a lot quieter, a wistfully waltzing familial reminiscence. Dumont recorded The Walls during the 2020 lockdown, an understatedly angst-fueled piano ballad about a relationship interrupted by fascist travel restrictions. “If we make it to the other side, will you be much changed?” she asks, speaking for as many people as Marley did with Redemption Song.

Nobody at this blog has ever caught a full set by Dumont. The closest was about the last twenty minutes of a show where she squeezed a good-sized band, including guitar, accordion and rhythm section, into an intimate Park Slope space a few months before the album came out. Dumont has also been a fixture at the annual late-November outdoor music festival that ran down Broadway from Dante Park across from Lincoln Center down to Columbus Circle. She brought a stripped-down trio to those shows, as she most likely will do at the Upper East Side park gig. She has an expressive voice, boundless energy and a sense of humor, all things we all could use right now.

Catchy, Quirky High Plains Rockers Make a Long-Overdue Live Recording

We All Have Hooks For Hands are a South Dakota institution. The Sioux Falls band have two albums and a single up at their Bandcamp page. Their most recent release is the Mosquito ep, from 2019, which has both slow and fast, catchy, post-Velvets style tunesmithing (think Jesus & Mary Chain at the midpoint of their usual foggy gloom) along with a scruffy retro soul tune in the same vein as the Get Up or the Brooklyn What.

The group have a sense of humor – they called their 2018 album Bat Out of Hell II. That one’s closer to Supergrass or Babyshambles’ roughhewn newschool garage rock, with quirky allusions to the Cure at their mid 80s poppiest. plus one number that harkens back to the group’s earlier Manchester influences. Some of the songs get an extra jolt of adrenaline, or atmospherics, when keyboardist Dave Lethcoe switches to trumpet.

For fans in the area, they have an especially interesting gig coming up. They’re recording a live webcast on Sept 25 at 4 PM at the White Walls Sessions studio, on the lower level of the Last Stop CD Shop, 2121 E. 10th St. in Sioux Falls; cover is $5. Customers can enter through the Last Stop shop entrance. Since this is a live recording, audience members need to be on time and pay attention to the “on air” light, which signals when it’s time to be quiet so the band can get a good recording.

In keeping with this week’s ongoing project here, if New York venues are weaponized against those of us who won’t get on the fast track to slavery with the Mayor’s blockchain-based spyware, that means it’s time to look elsewhere. And where better to look than a free state like South Dakota? Who knew that starting in 2020, South Dakota would be kicking New York’s ass in terms of support for the arts, and the people who support them?

Drifting Disconnection and Distant Disquiet From Lizzie Loveless

Singer/keyboardist Lizzie Loveless’ new album You Don’t Know – streaming at Bandcamp – falls somewhere between recent Courtney Marie Andrews and Julee Cruise. The former member of indie sister act Teen sings in an unadorned, unpretentious high soprano and likes strange synth textures. There’s a persistent unease to the songs here, no surprise considering the circumstances we all find ourselves under these days.

“You don’t know what it means to be me, and you don’t know what it means to stay,” she intones in the album’s opening, title track, a summery, bittersweet blue-eyed soul ballad in 6/8 time. The shimmering, sweeping, twinkling layers of keys make a decent digital facsimile of how, say, Dusty Springfield might have approached this song half a century ago.

Loveless’s disconnected, anomie-stricken vocals float over a skeletal guitar figure and more of those starry keys in The Joke, which could be about drugs, or just emotional abandonment – or both. There’s an even more opiated, hazily Lynchian pop feel to Memory: “When memory fails, does muscle prevail?” Loveless wants to know.

Eyes of a Man has surreal, techy new wave touches, Loveless ambitiously tackling the problem of viewing romance from a male perspective. Dudes don’t exactly come off well here.

The album’s fifth track, titled Loveless, also has a synthy new wave feel, but a more hypnotically propulsive one. She blends oldschool gospel allusions with wafting synth ambience in Hold Me Close and follows with Window, rising more quickly out of the ether to a catchy, shuffling anthem.

New York, Yesterday – how’s that for a gutpunch of a title? – is not a lockdown chronicle but a wintry, wistfully motorik reminiscence of a doomed relationship. It’s the best song on the album. There’s unexpected energy and a squiggly, funky bassline beneath the surface sheen of Underneath. Loveless stays with the upbeat (ok, that’s a relative word here) energy to wind up the album with Again, a catchy four-chord trip-hop groove.