New York Music Daily

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Category: indie rock

How to Sneak In to See Yo La Tengo

Many years ago, before blogs existed, a future daily New York music blog owner and a friend went to Central Park Summerstage to see Anoushka Shankar. It was a late-season afterwork show, and by the time the two got there, the space was sold out.

Big surprise. Shankar had played Carnegie Hall with her famous dad a couple of years previously, and although she was still in her teens at that point, she blew everybody away with her sitar work.

Undeterred, the intrepid concertgoers walked around the back, jumped the wire fence and crawled on their bellies through the shrubbery until they were about fifty feet from the rear of the stage. Shaded from the indian summer sun, they got to enjoy a tranceworthy qawwali ensemble – if memory serves right, they were called Kamkars – and then Shankar, who proved as adept at more western-oriented material as the ragas she played so beautifully.

Last Friday, a daily New York music blog owner went to Central Park Summerstage to check out the Yo La Tengo show. Having seen them several times over the years, the issue of getting in or not wasn’t a big deal. If that had been an issue, would it have been possible to go through the thicket out back, just like in the old days?

Yes!

The vegetation has grown in much thicker since then, but there’s nothing but chicken wire between you, the trees and the shrubs. Considering that it was after eight at night, and that you never know what’s lurking in the park after dark, the optimal choice at that point seemed to be to leave the greenery and head for the rear embankment and the bandshell, where all but the show’s quietest moments were plenty audible.

Seeing how the Patti Smith concert there last month not only didn’t sell out, but that the younger contingent there walked out in droves during her set, was weird enough. It gets weirder.

Like Smith, Yo La Tengo had originally been scheduled for the wide expanse of the Rumsey Playfield immediately to the south and east, but had been moved to the much smaller Summerstage arena. Standing at the entrance were a couple of women trying to lure random people into the space. For a free concert.

A little context: Yo La Tengo might be the most popular indie rock band in the world. Sure, their crowd has greyed over the years, but they still sell out wherever they play…or used to play, anyway.

“Hi!” a young woman in a blue skirt chirped from underneath her muzzle as she approached, aggressively, like a 34th Street hustler trying to score a fiver for Save the Children. “Are you here for the show?”

Blog owner was taken off guard. A sheepish grin. “Uh, maybe…”

“We have [inaudible – opening band] and Yo La Tengo, they’re just going on. I just need to see your ID and your [proof of lethal injection].”

“I’m going to live to see next year instead,” blog owner replied and walked off. Yeah, that’s snarky. But how do you respond? Kevin Jenkins says he doesn’t do “low-frequency conversations” and walks away: words of wisdom.

What’s happened at the Central Park free concerts is part of a much bigger referendum. Don’t engage with the monster: without your energy to feed off, it shrivels and dies.

Yo La Tengo’s jams are legendary. Where was the big stoner picnic crowd out back? Maybe a half a dozen small gaggles on the slope, if that. Friday night, Central Park smelled like the inside of a bong, but this wasn’t where the smoke was coming from.

The benches by the bandshell? Deserted. A couple leapt onto the empty stage and danced for a bit. From time to time, a few fearless souls would take a walk up the steps up behind the shell, only to be shooed off by a security guard hidden out of view.

Maybe this is a function of not being able to watch Ira Kaplan’s volcanic fingers on the fretboard, or spinning the knobs on his pedalboard, but Yo La Tengo seemed on the quiet side. Georgia Hubley sang one of the shorter, sparse numbers and wasn’t very high in the mix. Kaplan moved to keys for a brief, no-nonsense take of the Stereolab soundalike Autumn Sweater. They closed with a deliciously extended, feedback-laced noisefest version of I Heard You Looking, the missing link between the Velvets at their most crazed, and New Order.

They encored with a lickety-split, practically hardcore AC/DC cover which included a mystery second guitarist. Then Kaplan’s mom came up to the mic and sang something as the band tentatively tried to pull themselves together. And that was it.

For anyone worried that these shows are the last ones that Smith or Yo La Tengo will ever play, good news. A loophole in the DiBozo administration’s lethal injection scheme exempts touring musicians and their entourages. All this is based on science, of course. Won’t it be beautiful to see both of these acts play again somewhere, someday in this city after all this madness is over.

Yo La Tengo Return to Central Park on the First of the Month: Are You Game?

Yo La Tengo are playing Central Park Summerstage on Oct 1 at around 8:30 PM. In a normal world, that’s cause for celebration, if you’re a fan of crazed, noisy psychedelic guitar jams, or the quieter, more reflective post-Velvets sound the band have turned more and more to since the turn of the century.

But this year this city’s creepy, homicidal mayor has thrust us into the New Abnormal, where proof of a lethal injection is required for entry. So that means we have to listen from outside. It’s not such a big deal:  if you’ve seen any number of shows here, chances are there was probably some instance where you didn’t get to the arena early enough to get in. Obviously, it would be fun to be able to watch Ira Kaplan’s guitar-torturing, but there’s still plenty of room on the slope out back, the sound carries well, and if you want you can catch a glimpse of the band from the sidewalk on the east side near the entrance. This blog was there for Patti Smith last weekend and while it would have been more fun to be able to hear what she said to the audience, the songs came through loud and clear.

The last time Yo La Tengo played the park, it was on a muggy Monday night in July of 2017. Kaplan sized up the capacity crowd and reflected with just the hint of contempt about free concerts he’d attended here as a kid: “Sha Na Na. Pure Prairie League. Mahavishnu Orchestra.” And then launched into a sarcastic bit of the Ace Frehley novelty hit New York Groove.

That didn’t last long. The show was a characteristic mix of paint-peeling squall over hypnotic, practically mantra-like vamps, and spare, reflective, airy songs that matched the hazy atmosphere. Kaplan’s antics are a little more subdued than they were back in the 90s, but there were plenty of beautifully ugly interludes where he’d go to his knees, shaking and bending at the neck of his guitar, sticking it into his amp or just leaving it to feed there. There was at least one point where he left the guitar feeding and then picked up another, and then resumed the song. Meanwhile, drummer Georgia Hubley kept a supple, swinging beat while James McNew played his simple, catchy, endlessly circling bass riffs for minutes on end without once falling back on a loop pedal.

The steady, hypnotic storm began with Pass the Hatchet and continued with From a Motel 6. Kaplan reminded what a purist, catchy pop tunesmith he can be with a relatively undisturbed. loping version of All Your Secrets. Then he switched to keys for a Stereolab-ish take of Autumn Sweater. Did McNew switch to guitar on that one? All these years later, it’s impossible to remember all the details.

The quiet part of the show went on for what seemed like more than half an hour, with the wistful Nowhere Near and then Black Flowers, which Hubley sang from behind the keyboard. Almost mercifully, Kaplan brought the energy up slowly with I’ll Be Around, which sounded like the Stones’ Moonlight Mile on crank.

Hubley and McNew harmonized on Before We Run, then the trio buzzed and burned through Sugarcube, the closest thing to Sonic Youth in the set. After that, they took their time raising Ohm from a drony nocturne into a feral feedback fest. They closed with I Heard You Looking, Kaplan’s sparks and sputters and firestorm of raw noise going on for more than twenty minutes, the two guitarists from the awful opening act invited up but obviously in awe and not adding much to the jam.

The game plan for this blog that night was to get a field recording and use that as a reference. Sadly, the recorder, which was literally being held together with rubberbands, picked that evening to flatline. And after standing through an interminable opening set and then Yo La Tengo, this blog’s owner assumed the show was over and left.

Other blogs mention an encore and a jokey appearance on the mic by Kaplan’s mom. Don’t discount those kind of shenanigans, if the PA is really loud on the first.

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?

A Long-Awaited, Anthemic, Intriguingly Textured New Album From the Joy Formidable

The Joy Formidable burst onto the European festival scene in the early zeros as a sort of dreampop version of the Pretenders. Blending a dense swirl into their simple, emphatic anthems, the Welsh power trio have never wavered from a formula that works. Their new album Into the Blue is streaming at Spotify. It’s as solid a soundtrack for a brisk drive, or a trip to the gym (assuming you live in a part of the world where gyms are accessible without restrictions) as you could possibly want.

The album’s title track is built around frontwoman Ritzy Bryan’s staggered, nebulously suspenseful 6/8 guitar riff, which explodes in layers of distortion on the chorus: it’s an optimistic, catchy opener. She picks up the energy with her swipes up and down the fretboard over the punchy drive of bassist Rhydian Dafydd and drummer Matthew James Thomas on the second cut, Cherries, down to a momentary piano break.

With the repeaterbox fluttering in the background and Bryan’s anxious, breathy vocals, track three, Sevier has an distant U2 feel. Watery chorus-box textures mingle with whiplash distortion over tricky syncopation in Interval, which at five and a half minutes is a whole lot more than that.

The band build Farrago around a simple descending riff, adding layes of noise and punches from the guitar that look back to the sledgehammer minimalism of Clinic. Bryan whispers the lyrics as Gotta Feed My Dog rises from new wave-flavored suspense, to a foggy insistence, and eventually a more fluid, psychedelic atmosphere.

Dafydd takes over the mic over Bryan’s fingerpicked, flamenco-flavored flourishes as Somewhere New gathers steam; it seems to be a childhood reminiscence. The playfully blippy, punchy 80s textures that kick off Bring It to the Front are a red herring: it’s the darkest and most memorable track here. Likewise, the defiance in Bryan’s voice in Back to Nothing, which could be the Cure through a very thick glass, brightly.

Thomas’ leadfoot 2/4 stomp propels Only Once, which also echoes the Cure but less opaquely: “Never coming home, never coming back” is the mantra. The album’s final cut is Left Too Soon, rising from a hypnotic, rainy-day acoustic waltz to a roaring, elegaic, increasingly elegaic blaze. This might be the band’s best album to date, not bad for an act who’ve been at it for practically two decades.

Hypnotically Intense, Resonant Psychedelic Instrumental Themes From the Mute Duo

If Big Lazy‘s creepy big-sky tableaux, the southwestern gothic vistas of the Friends of Dean Martinez or peak-era, late 80s Sonic Youth are your thing, you’ll love the Mute Duo. With just pedal steel and drums, their slowly unfolding, tectonically shifting soundscapes are as suspenseful as they are psychedelic. Their album Lapse in Passage is streaming at Bandcamp.

There’s enough reverb on Sam Wagster’s pedal steel here to drive a truck through, maxing out the icily overdriven resonance. A lingering menace slowly builds over airy drones as Derived From Retinas, the first track, coalesces out of spare, reverb-drenched phrases, Skyler Rowe’s drums and the spacious upward swoops from the steel hinting that the clouds will break. They don’t, and the rhythm never completely comes together, even as the duo make a grim modal anthem out of it.

A metallic mist of overtones rises as the one-chord tableau Past Musculature Plains gathers momentum: it could be the great lost atmospheric track from Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation.

Canopy Bells, a minimalist mini-suite, gets a summery, hazy introduction, wind chimes gently rattling in the breeze before the drums begin prowling. The frenetic, roaring crescendo comes as a jolt;

The brief ambient interlude A Timbre Profile leads into the album’s most epic track, Overland Line, which could be the skeleton frame of an early PiL instrumental played with a slide. This time it’s the drums which hold this together as Wagster leaves plenty of distance between his phrases. Echoey loops mingle through a long crescendo;  Rowe’s decisive cymbal whacks kick off the coda.

Dallas in the Dog Days has sheets of steel floating over a similarly reverb-iced, moodily pastoral, slightly out-of-tune piano track. With its simple variations on a drone finally gathering into a flock of busy wings, Redwinged Blackbirds comes across as a minimalist take on early 70s instrumental Pink Floyd. The album winds up with Last Greys, the drums pulling its anthemic, loopy phrases further outside. This is a great lights-out, late night listen.

Azure Ray Return With a Gorgeously Lyrical Psychedelic Pop Record

It’s been twenty years since Azure Ray put out their debut album, a major influence on a generation of bedroom pop perpetrators which was finally issued for the first time on vinyl this year. In the years since, the duo of Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink have not been idle, and they have a brand new album, Remedy, streaming at Bandcamp. In general, it’s more lush and keyboard-oriented, without the group’s earlier Americana touches. The vocals are calm but strong and the lyrics are fantastic: there’s a persistent existentialist streak throughout many of these otherwise warmly shimmery songs.

“How do you say hello when you know there is no more? What do you dream about when you’re not swallowing swords?” the two ask in the opening track, a spare, Lennonesque piano ballad.

They revert to the loopy keyboard pastiches they explored on their debut album in the second track, Bad Dream, but with more of a spacy, dreampop-influenced feel. It’s a wake-up call, possibly referencing an abusive relationship.

Likewise, there’s a gentle spacerock sway to Phantom Lover, swirly keys and chilly guitar clang over a simple drum machine loop. “All we’ve got is what we’ve done,” the duo observe in Already Written, an allusive, bittersweetly devastating psychedelic pop gem that’s one of the best songs of the year:

I want to bite my tongue, I’m never great with decisions
Got a lot to be desired but never asked for permission
Thank god I was raised this way
Now I’m somewhere between what I hear and when I listen
Try to write it down but it’s already written
How I miss those days

The album’s title track has a lush hypnotic web of guitars and a lyric that seems to reference the Trump era:

Stand alone in an empty room
Scared to stay, stared to bloom
Little beast clawing at my door
I call for peace, they call for war…
I’ve disadmired old tendencies
A secret greed in the cemetery

“If you think about it long enough, you’ll question everything you know,” the two remind, over the surreal blend of acoustic guitar and drifting keys in Desert Waterfall. They stick with the spare/sleek dichotomy in Grow What You Want and How Wild: finally, seven tracks in, we get a pedal steel.

The Swan is the most sweepingly angst-fueled, orchestrated number here, a hauntingly allusive tale of a steep decline:

Another fight for the waking light
Did you lose your wings at a sacrifice
It’s impossible to understand
And what tore your fingers back from your closed-up fist
You closed your eyes with confidence
It’s impossible to understand

29 Palms, a strangely successful mashup of atmospheric Americana and balletesque chamber pop, is a soberly imagistic breakup narrative. They close the record with the techy, blippy I Don’t Want To Want To: “Inside part of me has died but I still have a photograph.” Who would have thought that Azure Ray would make an album in 2021, let alone that it would be one of the best of the year!

Exuberantly Eclectic, Danceable Lo-Fi Rock From Century Egg

Century Egg play disarmingly unpretentious, exuberantly catchy, scruffily amusing, occasionally garagey songs you can dance to. That’s what frontwoman Shane Song wants everybody to do with the first song on the band’s new album Little Piece of Hair, streaming at Bandcamp. That number has buzzy guitar from Robert Drisdelle, a steady bass pulse from Matty Grace and tumbling drums from Meg Yoshida: it all adds up to an eclectically good time.

The rest of the album is much the same: this is party music for smart people with a sense of humor. The second track, I Will Make Up a Method has a kind-of-Motown beat, funny lyrics and a guitar break where Drisdelle gets to cut loose.

Imagine Shonen Knife doing 60s Merseybeat and you get Ring a Bell. The band go for a buzzy late 80s indie sound in the album’s title track: goofy lyric, serious metaphor. Riddle to Place, a surprisingly moody change of pace, has echoes of 60s psychedelia and is over way too soon: the band really had a good thing going here! The final track is Cornered; upbeat early Joy Division with a woman out front singing an allusively grim escape narrative in Chinese.. Crank this when your next party reaches critical mass and everybody will be asking you who this is.

Heather Trost Goes into Lush Psychedelia With Her New Solo Album

Violinist Heather Trost may be best known as the ferocious lead instrumentalist in Balkan band A Hawk and a Hacksaw, but she’s also proficient on several other instruments. Her new solo album Petrichor – streaming at Bandcamp – is quite a change. It’s a playful psychedelic rock album in the same vein as another solo debut from a couple of years ago by a similarly talented instrumentalist, Lake Street Dive bassist Bridget Kearney.

Trost opens the record with Let It In, a pulsing, shoegazy psychedelic tableau, layers of keys wafting around over distantly flurrying drums. For someone whose instrumental chops are so fierce, her voice is surprisingly delicate and airy.

The second song, Love It Grows is part Mamas & the Papas at their most warily autumnal, part Alec K. Redfearn Balkan noir – with fractured French lyrics. Tracks to Nowhere grows ghostlier over steady, spare electric guitar arpeggios, then the bass and drums come in and it takes shape as a moody, soul-tinged ballad.

Trost keeps the stately 6/8 rhythm going through I’ll Think Of You, a lullaby of sorts buoyed by her soaring violin. Burbling high keys contrast with a Velvets drone in VK09, a dead ringer for the Black Angels. Trost brings the album full circle with the hypnotically echoey Sunrise. The only miss here is the album’s lone cover – 70s hippie pop, ugh.

A Creepy New Abnormal Single From Tessa Lena

For the past year, author and poet Tessa Lena has written some of the most lucid, insightful commentary on the lockdown and the sinister motivations of the oligarchs and tech Nazis behind it. As a first-generation American immigrant who spent her early childhood in the Soviet Union, she knows totalitarianism when she sees it and somehow manages to keep her withering sense of humor intact.

She also records as Tessa Makes Love. One of her particularly creepy, techy singles is I Want to Know You As a Computer. Rather than just scrolling to the bottom of the page where you can find the song, check out her latest critique of the New Abnormal on your way there.

Lo-Fi, Melancholy Jangle and Swirl From Clever Girls

Clever Girls are a throwback to the lo-fi jangle that was so popular in the UK in the late 80s and early 90s, and also occasionally the singalong catchiness of the 50s. The group frequently beef up their sound with lingering dreampop resonance. Frontwoman/guitarist Diane Jean sings her forlorn, angst-infused lyrics in an unadorned high soprano. Their new album Constellations os streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening number, Come Clean is a distantly regretful, 50s-tinged waltz through a lo-fi 21st century prism, skeletal and then rising closer to ornate but not qutie. That sets the stage for a lot of what’s to follow: plenty of loud/soft contrasts and sudden, unexpected, explosive peaks.

Jangly, spare guitar shifts to dissociative ambience, then crunch and a big dreampop-infused coda in the second track, Lavender. Remember Pluto is a famous New Order tune as Comet Gain might have done it.

Bassist Tobias Sullivan introduces Womxn with a little ba-BUMP noir cabaret as guitarist Winfield Holt adds simmer and shards, drummer Rob Slater chilling in the distance through the reverb. Built around a catchy, rising three-note riff, Baby Blue is awash in even more of that reverb and distant dreampop sonics.

The group follow the album’s title track, a found-sound miniature, with Spark and its Oasis chorus. Stonewall is a surreal mashup of cloying pop and post-Velvets grit, while Saturn is unexpectedly upbeat, bouncing along with Sullivan’s bass, They close the album with Fried and its plainspoken, seething images of a relationship unraveling.