New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Category: indie pop

Smart, Catchy, Provocative Freedom Anthems From Alicen Grey a.k.a. When Humans Had Wings

Alicen Grey is an intuitive. She works at what some might call the intersection of energetic healing, spirituality and the paranormal. She’s down-to-earth, and entertaining, and also one of the growing legions of freedom fighters who have emerged since the 2020 global coup. She shares her insights into the ongoing Great Awakening – including a wild experience with mysterious, symbolic wreckage in the Arizona desert – via her Substack and youtube channel.

And she’s a musician as well, recording catchy keyboard-based songs under the name When Humans Had Wings. She released her most recent album Run Rabbit Run – streaming at Bandcamp – in 2022. After a provocative bit of an intro, she launches into I’d Rather Be High, a swaying, hypnotic trip-hop anthem: “I dare you to seek until you find the power that sleeps in your spine,” she challenges. The instrumentation is simple, just Grey’s echoey, layered keys plus occasional guitar and drums from Sean Seybold.

Track three, Ears to Hear is a resolute protest anthem:

They got you wearing a mask
Got you wanting the past
Got you nervous to ask any questions
Got you looking at me
Like I’m your enemy
Got you turning your words to weapons

The synths get more fuzzy and the lyrics get more cynical in the album’s title track: “I wonder what you wanted to show me back when I gave a fuck,” she tells her antagonist. The fifth cut, a pulsing escape anthem, is titled Pray, Animal: it’s an intriguing mashup of vintage krautrock and Bjork with hints of psychedelic late Beatles.

The most minimalist anthem here is The Madness of the Saints, Grey shifting between suspenseful electric piano, rapturous pipe organ and rainy-day piano textures over Seybold’s tumbling drums. The final cut is Alternate Universe, a big, delicious kiss-off to a narcissist bandmate.

Grey has a couple of singles up at Bandcamp as well. Earthquake, featuring Dosyble Sane, is super catchy, goes back a couple years and also deals with treachery. And Smoke and Mirrors, from 2022, is her most mysterious, cinematic track so far.

And if you’re interested in how she defines evil – and how to get it out of your life – check out her appearance earlier this week on Mickey Z’s Post-Woke podcast.


An Unusual, Eclectic Songwriter Triplebill on the Lower East on April 2

Songwriters in the round usually suck. That’s because, almost inevitably, there’s a weak link: a show-swap quid pro quo, an attempt by an underappreciated tunesmith to kiss up to a mediocrity with a larger but equally mediocre fan base, that sort of thing. But there’s a rare first-class song-swap show coming up on April 2 at 7 PM at the downstairs room at the Rockwood, where fantastic story-songwriter Lara Ewen, the enigmatically tuneful Shira Goldberg and Nashville honkytonk/southern rock songstress Mercy Bell share the stage. Cover is $10.

Ewen earned a place on the abbreviated best-shows-of-2020 list here and for several years booked the American Folk Art Museum when they had regular weekly music. Back home, Bell fronts an excellent, purist band. But Goldberg is the most intriguing of the bunch. Back in 2011 she put out a jazz-tinged bedroom pop record, then eight years later released an excellent ep, Caught Up in a Dream, which is streaming at Bandcamp.

The centerpiece is the title track, a subtly soul-infused, gorgeously bittersweet, distantly haunting janglerock masterpiece. But the rest of the songs are strong as well. The opening number, Keeping It Together is a stark, imagistic acoustic narrative. “The lines have gone dark, giving up the core,,,you can count me out,” Goldberg relates. “You can drive without the lights if you take it slow.”

She adds lingering layers of tremolo guitar in It’s a Beautiful Night, an optimistic oldschool soul-tinged ballad. She returns to a catchy blend of vintage soul and New Pornographers-style backbeat rock spiced with wry Dr. Dre synth in the last track, Who Am I to Say. Let’s hope we hear more from this individualistic voice.

A Brave, Haunting Reflection on Lockdown-Era Alienation and Angst From Lily Desmond

Lily Desmond released her latest album Beast – streaming at Bandcamp – on Halloween in the dead of the 2020 lockdown. As a portrait of that year’s alienation and atomization, it packs a wallop. Desmond is a dynamic and versatile singer, rising form a wisp to a wail in a succession of intriguing, subtly detailed songs with elements of ambient music, indie rock and dark folk. With the exception of “noise guitar” played by a nameless person called “Distancing,” Desmond handles all the instruments, including acoustic and electric guitars, drums, keys and a web of violin. She’s playing the downstairs room at the Rockwood on March 4 at 10 PM; cover is $10.

“Put on your shoes and get in bed,” Desmond intones, querulously, in the opening track, Burner. “Been doing hard time under my sheets, no one wants to hear anything about it….it’s all the same, the echoes roll in from last year, trying to get back where they came.” Simple downstroke acoustic guitar and an increasingly dense haze of violin and guitar completes this troubled picture.

Desmond shifts to an acerbic clarity in track two, Giulia, a surreal, allusive bedroom trip-hop tune: violence is only a half-step away in this fragmented world. She rises from gloomy folk noir to scruffy, opaque electric rock over a tumbling beat in Haunt: Elisa Flynn‘s darkest songs come to mind.

Desmond captures a claustrophobic, relentless solitude in Mess, with its staggered blend of guitar and violin loops and fleeting, jaunty bluegrass references: triumph remains behind an impenetrable and constantly shifting wall.

First is a twisted vaudevillian narrative: the party may be next door, but Desmond wishes it would stay there instead of seeping through the wall: she grips the edge of the sink and considers suicide. The album’s final and most straight-up cut is Red: over steady, emphatic rainy-day acoustic guitar, Desmond poignantly chronicles “years of struggling under streetlights, bled me dry…” Yet somehow she finds the strength to keep going. This will resonate with anyone who suffered through what New York became three years ago. Let’s hope Desmond can give us more where this came from.

The Dracu-Las Sink Their Fangs Into a Catchy, Reverb-Drenched New Album

One of the most refreshingly original albums to fly across the radar here in the last couple of months is the Dracu-Las‘ debut cassette, Fever Dream, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s part surf, part janglerock, part powerpop, with a wistful early 60s Orbison-pop undercurrent.

They open with a tantalizingly brief surf instrumental, Highway, a skittish mashup of Link Wray and Messer Chups (minus the scream samples). Track two, Tell You the News is a punchy sort-of go-go tune lit up by lead guitarist Babak Khodabandeh’s soul riffage

Girls is part spare Ventures space-surf, part Black Angels at their most slinky and Velvetsy. “Giving up on girls like me,” one of the band’s two frontwomen muses. Hard to tell if that’s guitarist Kyna Damewood or bassist Courtney Eddington.

The album’s title track has a bouncy bassline and a soaring, chiming chorus: imagine an early 20s version of Liza & the WonderWheels. Then drummer Mitch Cady hits a classic powerpop drive and the guitarists stomp their distortion boxes for Fire , the hardest-rocking track here.

They close the record with Burning Heart, rising out of a syncopated ballad to scruffy psychedelia and back. Now where is this excellent group playing next, you might ask? They’re on a dubious battle-of-the-bands lineup in a couple of days at a Brooklyn club which enjoyed a massive resurgence in the spring of 2022 but wasn’t able to keep that momentum going (therefore dumb desperation moves like a battle-of-the-bands contest?). There will hopefully be other shows where you can see a full set of the Dracu-Las without having to suffer through three nothingburger bands and pony up a $15 cover charge as well.

Cupid’s Nemesis Bring Their Catchy Retro Guitar Pop Sounds to the Rockwood

By last summer, when a substantial number of venues began breaking free of lockdown restrictions, it quickly became obvious that there wasn’t much left of the New York rock scene. However, that brain drain has opened a window of opportunity for some of the remaining talent here, much of which probably would never been able to score a gig at a “name” venue like Rockwood Music Hall on a weekend night That’s where power trio Cupid’s Nemesis are playing on Jan 28 at 10 PM.

Their new ep, Sleepover – streaming at Bandcamp – is a competent take on Big Stir Records guitar pop. The three brief tracks include a cynical, scruffy Shirts-style new wave tune, a decent, bittersweet powerpop anthem and an early 60s-style proto-Merseybeat number that could be an early song by the Who.

Their debut album, which they released last year, has a lot more detail, stylistic breadth and guitar textures – and it’s up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. The band – guitarist/frontman Erik Reyes, bassist Antony DiGiacomo and drummer Declan Moy Bishow – stake their claim to a catchy mid-sixties four-chord Britpop sound in the opening song, Time Traveling Man, with keening roller-rink organ and layers of acoustic and electric guitars.

All of My Friends is a punchier midtempo take on Jacco Gardner sunshine pop. Then the group make trip-hop out of a jazzy Burt Bacharach-inflected sound in Amores. The best song on the album is Best Friends With a Ghost, a similarly jazz-tinged miniature that clocks in at barely a minute twenty-five.

The band leap forward thirty years into gritty indie pop with I Don’t Care. Then they go back to the sixties, bringing back the organ and adding some flute in Scary World, a gently strutting psych-pop tune.

Reyes hits his chorus pedal and DiGiacomo plays fuzz bass up to an unexpectedly swirly spacerock chorus in Drop Out. The album’s slow, catchy, melancholy concluding ballad is simply titled Me. Considering the more raw, stripped-down sound of the ep, the band may be going in a more straightforward direction, something you can find out this Saturday night at prime time.

Surreal, Disqueting Atmospherics and Lynchian Pop on the Debut Solo Album by the Coathangers’ Julia Kugel

Julia Kugel, frontwoman and guitarist of playful, punkish Atlanta band the Coathangers decided to make a solo record all by herself. Playing guitars, bass, keys and drums, she ended up with one of the year’s most consistently evocative albums. Her debut solo release, Derealization – recorded under the name Julia, Julia – is streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening track, I Want You is not the Dylan hit but a Lynchian pop tune. Disembodied Julee Cruise vocals? Check. Enough reverb on the drums to drive a truck through? Doublecheck. Sad, lingering reverb lead guitar? Triplecheck…and a little creepy glockenspiel for good measure

Kugel goes a lot further down the Twin Peaks rabbit hole with the second track, Forgive Me, squiggly electronics contrasting with her stately acoustic fingerpicking. She switches to piano for a meandering rainy-day theme in the brief instrumental Impromptu, then makes loopy Twin Peaks pop out of it in Fever in My Heart, which is more of a fever dream.

The drifting, dissociative ambience continues in Words Don’t Mean Much, outer-space vocals over a spare, echoey pastiche anchored by a simple, rhythmic acoustic guitar bassline. There’s a hazy sense of karmic payback in Do It Or Don’t, a brooding, swaying ballad: is that a brass patch on a synth, or is it a trumpet Kugel is playing over those elegantly mournful strums?

She follows the spare, fingerpicked waltz No Hard Feelings with the drifty, starry tableau Big Talkin’ and then Paper Cutout, a sparse, more atmospheric take on the cheeky, sly pop side of her main band.

Where Did You Go is the album’s most hypnotic track. Kugel brings the moody atmosphere full circle to close the record with Corner Town, a distantly rockabilly-tinged, otherworldly number that seems guardedly optimistic. Apparently Kugel’s alternate Twin Peaks universe is more complicated than just dead girls lying on a riverbank.

A Subtly Withering, Cynical New Album From Office Culture

Over the past few years, Office Culture frontman and keyboardist Winston Cook-Wilson has built a career as a musical counterpart to Neil LaBute. Over a backdrop of snarky (some would say ineffably cheesy) fusion jazz-pop, Cook-Wilson’s anti-heroes and anti-heroines do offhandedly horrible things to each other…because they can. Love songs for the screen-obsessed never sounded so casually cruel in this band’s crisply efficient hands. Their previous release A Life of Crime made the top thirty albums of 2020 list here; their latest, Big Time Things is streaming at Bandcamp.

It’s not as corrosive as the last one, but a close listen rewards the listener with big tells: this music is infinitely more subversive than it might seem from its plasticky surface. Cook-Wilson’s character studies often bring to mind Ward White‘s ominously allusive narratives. The album opens with Suddenly, a study in Aja-era Steely Dan funk-lite with an unexpectedly bracing bit of bagpipey orchestration from violinist Ben Russell and cellist Kristen Drymala. Does the user meet karmic blowback? “What will I find at the end of my big mistake, something suddenly changed?”

Bassist Charlie Kaplan and drummer Pat Kelly give the album’s title track a cold quasi-strut, harmony singer Caitlin Pasko adding a layer of Julee Cruise icy-hot as Cook-Wilson channels a similar ruthless cynicism, “Wondering if it’s you I should try.”

Guitarist Ian Wayne provides lingering, trebly accents over spare, blippy electric piano and increasingly lush strings in the third track, Timing. “The underdog should have won, did you hope you’d be treated the same?” Cook-Wilson asks. “Bodies stacked in the hall, so they heard every call, freedom fighters never went there at all.” A reference to plandemic-era remdesivir murders, death on a more global scale, or just a metaphor for interpersonal dynamics informed by a “kangaroo court” conscience? All of the above?

Turtles all the way down, things were bad, but they’re better now,” Cook-Wilson intones over a light-footed trip-hop groove in Things Were Bad: over the last couple of years, he’s learned how to hit the high notes with his reedy falsetto. “I don’t need things to fall in line, I never knew where the line was,” he admits in the album’s fifth track, Line.

“We stuff crumbled receipts in cracks in the walls, so somebody would know we were here at all,” the narrator muses over deadpan DX7 electric piano pop in Elegance. Somehow the “I only want you to be happy” mantra amid the wafting strings is a little much.

The satire shifts from lyrical to musical in Little Reminders: what happens on the chorus is obvious but irresistibly funny all the same. And yet, Cook-Wilson can’t resist dropping the veil for some genuine poignancy in a shivery string arrangement

Likewise, the gentle funkdaddy bass, plush backing vocals and slow faux-funk of A Word are dead giveaways

Tell me in a few words
Show me it’s the thought that counts
Get some new eyes on this production, blow the crowd away…
I hauled that junk out of the yard on slow decay 
I skipped four lanes, veered back into traffic
With the sky beamed red in flames 

Cook-Wilson reaches toward a soul-gospel electric piano vibe in the final cut, Rules: “Nothing gets past me ’cause no one treads soft enough,” he reminds. This is one mean record.

Horror Movie Marathon Bring Their Troubled Keyboard-Pop Surrealism to Queens on the 9th

Horror Movie Marathon would have made a good fit for this year’s installment of the long-running annual October-long celebration of dark music here. Their latest single, released this past summer, is Flirting At a Funeral, a scenario that could be even more problematic if, as in the case of this song, it’s your dad who’s doing it. The key line is “You can drag everyone down to hell but it’s not gonna save you.” If catchy keyboard-based pop with strangely troubling lyrics is your thing, they’re playing Bar Freda in Ridgewood on Dec 9 at 8:30 PM; cover is $10

Horror Movie Marathon put out their lone full-length album so far, Good Scare – also up at Bandcamp – on one of the creepiest dates in recent memory: October 18, 2019. That was the day that the Bill Gates-sponsored plandemic rehearsal Event 201 was held. The album isn’t anywhere near as sinister or prophetic, but there is a persistent if allusive sense of disquiet beneath the distantly Beatlesque melodies. You could characterize frontman/multi-instrumentalist Will Rutledge’s songs as Elliott Smith in a less opiatedly dark mood, or maybe Ward White Junior. The Eels are also another obvious influence. Another New York band, Office Culture, also come to mind, although the sarcasm here is a lot more opaque and surreal.

The album is Rutledge on a bunch of instruments – keys, guitars and lapsteel – joined by Alex Molini on keys and bass and Will Ponturo on drums, alonb with a couple of flaring lead guitar breaks from Peter Katz. They open with Las Vegas, which comes across as Sean Lennon in an odd tempo. The group follow with the ragtime-ish piano pop of The Broadway One and then Chewed a Hole in My Cheek, churchy organ-fueled gospel-pop through a xanax haze.

We finally get some tasty, luridly tremoloing funeral parlor organ in Jack O’lantern. Sarcasm reaches a deliciously memorable redline in Costume Contest, a tantalizingly brief pickup-bar scenario. Rutledge looks at a well-loved October-long ritual through the glazed and embittered retail eyes in Halloween Party, which rises to a majestic, Lennonesque peak.

He really hits a brooding, immersively cinematic vein with Warm & Dark, then the song suddenly morphs into an I Am the Walrus psych-pop ballad. I’d Love To See Your Show (But I Just Can’t Go) is another funny one: it will resonate with any struggling musician trying to get the crowd out to an important gig. “All my OCD’s are in town and I’m obliged to hang out with them,” Rutledge advises with regrets.

Junk Food Paradise is a cautionary tale that ends with a neatly snaky bass-and-piano duet. “Guess I have to own my own bullshit if I want to make it out alive,” Rutledge muses in the album’s title track. “The hand is your phone and your phone is your grave,” he warns. The final cut is It’s All In My Mind, a bizarre remake of the Tennessee Waltz.

Whimz Put an Update on Hazy, Catchy, Drifting Late 80s and 90s Sounds

Whimz is the side project of Sunny Faris from Blackwater Holylight and Cam Spies of Night Heron. Spies seems to be a bigger part of the picture than Faris, who typically gravitates toward heavier and darker psychedelic sounds. Both sing and share guitar, bass, keys and drums duties. They file their new short album PM226 – streaming at Bandcamp – under “sludge pop.” It’s actually a surprisingly lighthearted, catchy record.

The first track is AM1, a slow, catchy, hazy dreampop theme set to a 90s trip-hop beat. AM2 is slower, slinkier and more mysterious, a mashup of 80s Clan of Xymox and dark orchestral Portishead.

The album’s centerpiece is the instrumental I Wanna, a warpy take on ethereally catchy Big Thief minimalism fueled by insistent raga guitar riffage. They build a more minimal, gritty take on late 80s Lush and Cocteau Twins in the album’s most epic number, titled PM1. The album has both a full-length and a single version of the closing cut, PM2, a morose but upbeat bedroom pop backbeat number with contrastingly icy textures.

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.