New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Category: indie rock

Some Killer Rare and Unreleased Sonic Youth Rescued From the Archives

Other than field recordings, is there anything left in the Sonic Youth vault worth hearing that hasn’t already been released? As it turns out. yes, and some of it is prime! It’s a bit of a shock that several of the tracks on the new album In/Out/In – streaming at Bandcamp – haven’t surfaced until now. These rare and previously unreleased cuts date from the final decade of the most influential rock band of the past forty years.

One-chord jams, or close facsimiles, predominate here. In the case of one song, In & Out, a very late-period outtake, it’s amusing to watch SY turn into Yo La Tengo, a band they influenced so profoundly. Over Steve Shelley’s surprisingly muted, galloping rhythm, the guitarists assemble starry, chiming accents amid a warm drone laced with occasional flickers of feedback and Kim Gordon’s breathy, allusive, wordless vocals.

The opening instrumental is a false start: it could be your band, or anyone else’s, hesitatingly jamming out a two-chord Velvets vamp. Social Static, the theme from the Chris Habib/Spencer Tunick film, is a steady, one-note musique concrète mood piece that collapses into loops of feedback, oscillations, pulsing noise and R2D2 in hara-kiri mode: SY at their most industrially ugly but also subtly funny. No spoilers.

Machine, an outtake from The Eternal sessions, is a rare gem: a steady, midtempo stomp bristling with the band’s often-imitated-but-never-duplicated, dissociative close harmonies and layers of gritty textures that grow more assaultive. Why was this left off the album? Space considerations?

Out & In, an epic instrumental workout from 2000 is the real standout here. There’s a wry allusion to the moment The Wonder segues into Hyperstation (arguably the high point of the Daydream Nation album), with signature off-center Thurston Moore raga riffage, and just enough microtonality and clouds of overtones to let the ghosts in under the door. Everything falls away to buzz-and-clang midway through, then they start over with a squall that’s absolutely evil. The band take it out with a stampeding over-the-shoulder nod to Captain Beefheart. This is a must-own for fans and a surprisingly good overview for beginners.

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.

Brooding, Incisive, No-Nonsense Heavy Sounds From Eight Bells

The opening track on Eight Bells‘ new album Legacy of Ruin – streaming at Bandcamp – pretty much capsulizes everything the power trio do. Lushly arranged, haunting vocal harmonies and lingering rainy-day melody blend uneasily with dense postrock ambience and passages of hammering black metal. The black metal is front and center on this particular number, Destroyer, frontwoman Melynda Jackson adding drifting guitar leads over her savage tremolo-picking, bassist Matt Solis piercing the surface over drummer Brian Burke’s machinegun attack.

Track two, The Well is the album’s longest dirge, with eerie, Balkan-tinged vocal harmonies wafting over spare, bell-like guitar accents and distant synth orchestration: “Say a prayer to no one,” Jackson suggests. It isn’t long before the storm blasts, then subsides in a return to mournful stateliness.

Jackson mashes up tricky syncopation, enigmatic dreampop and a doom metal menace in Torpid Dreamer. Nadir is not the low point of the album but a steady, swaying anthem that builds to a bleak majesty.

The Crone isn’t particularly witchy: it’s a slow mix of spacerock drift, moody guitar clang and unhinged black metal. There’s more drift but just as much assault in the final cut, Premonition. For people who gravitate to black metal but not the mead-swilling viking cliches….or who like postrock but not mumblemouth indie-ness, this is your cup of bitter herbs.

It’s worth mentioning that the album is also available through the Prophecy Club, where for thirty bucks, subscribers get every new release from Prophecy Productions, in perpetuity, plus 34 back-catalog releases from a consistently strong roster of dark and heavy artists including Eight Bells, Fortid, Empyrium, Negura Bunget and others. In an age when most so-called record labels suck ass, these guys have an enviably good track record. Bottom line: if Prophecy Productions dies now, your total outlay is less than a dollar an album. If Prophecy Productions survives, and let’s hope they do, your cost grows closer and closer to zero with every release.

Thoughtful, Jangly, Reverbtoned Songs From Squirrel Flower

Lo-fi tunesmith Ella Williams a.k.a. Squirrel Flower got the thumbs-up here a couple of months ago for her Planet (i) album. She works fast: her new one, the Planet ep, is streaming at Bandcamp. The music is more roughewn, spare and intimate this time out: there’s a ton of reverb on everything, including the vocals.

The opening track, Open Wound has spare slide guitar mingling with Williams’ spacious acoustic strums, building a moody nocturnal ambience. “I was an open wound looking for a good time,” she muses. Aren’t we all.

Track two, Your Love Is a Disaster is something everybody can relate to! It’s actually not a vindictive kiss-off but a reflective, nocturnal, gently jangly reflection. Williams works a desperate/depleted dichotomy in Unravel, a slow, echoey tableau and then channels a low-key afterwork ambience in Long Day’s Done. “You don’ t need to hold it in your hands to know what it’s worth,” Williams observes.

The album’s driftiest, most opaque song is Sitting in Traffic, although Ruby at Dawn, awash in Stereolab-style synth, is a close second, Williams winds up the album strongly with Live Wire: “Don’t slip, or skid, or move, or breathe, or laugh, or die, or turn, or touch me, don’t do anything,” she warns, “I’m a live wire.” It’s about as far from the AC/DC hit as you could imagine. Squirrel Flower’s next free-state gig is on March 4 at Ruins, 2653 Commerce St,, corner of Prior St. in Dallas, time/price tba

Eels Still Vital and Thinking Outside the Fishtank

A quarter century down the line, do Eels have anything left in the tank? Good news for fans of Mark Oliver Everett, his longtime guitarslinging collaborator John Parish and their rotating cast of characters: they’ve got an energetic new album, Extreme Witchcraft streaming at Spotify.

Over the years, Everett has veered from withering cynicism to more optimistic territory. Happily, he hasn’t lost his edge here: there’s no shortage of the understated angst and relentless sarcasm that put Eels on the map in the mid 90s. And the album is very guitar-centric: credit Parish’s straightforward, purist four-on-the-floor production.

The opening track, Amateur Hour has haphazard guitars in an early 90s RaIlroad Jerk vein: “You gotta go pro someday…life can be dumb but I’m not gonna be your fool.”

In Good Night on Earth, the band start with fuzztone Black Keys-style riff-rock and add layers of guitar and keyboard textures over it. Built around a vampy slide guitar hook, Strawberries and Popcorn is closer to the allusive unease and screaming subtext that Everett has worked so well throughout his career. Likewise, he works the gloomy railroad metaphors in Steam Engine, a dark soul strut, for all they’re worth .

Grandfather Clock Strikes Twelve has a snarky 90s Citizen King faux-funk feel and lyrics to match. Stumbling Bee has echoey Rhodes piano, wah guitar and fuzztone layers, in a White Denim ersatz soul vein. Sarcasm hits fever pitch in The Magic, a self-referential stab at a whoomp-whoomp dancefloor jam.

Better Living Through Desperation – which could be Everett’s theme song – has a loose-limbed White Stripes sway. Then they slow down with more of that echoey Rhodes and drifting string synth in So Anyway, a morose, soul-tinged ballad.

The album’s best song, What It Isn’t shifts between a downcast, drifting Abbey Road Beatles theme and scrambling, defiant punk rock: the point is to avoid giving in to defeat. A wise suggestion for 2022.

Learning While I Lose is a surprising detour into Buddy Holly territory. The album’s final cut is I Know You’re Right, a bristling, catchy 60’s-influenced backbeat soul-rock number. Cool to see a guy who could just play to the nostalgia crowd and get away with it opting to stay vital and think outside the box – or the fishtank. Eels are on European tour right now, with UK shows beginning on March 14 at the Roundhouse in London.

Touched by Ghoul Explore New Ground Without Losing Their Edge

Chicago band Touched By Ghoul earned a big thumbs-up here for their 2016 album Murder Circus: “This makes you wonder what other treats this group have up their collective sleeves.” Fast forward to 2022: their new album Cancel the World is streaming at Bandcamp. In general, it’s less menacing, more dynamic and more oriented toward vintage Sonic Youth than punk. Which is not to say that the band have lost their edge, they’re just more diverse now.

Guitarists Angela Mullenhour and Andrea Bauer punch in with burning distortion over the tight punk stomp of bassist Alex Shumard and drummer Paige Sandlin on the album’s opening track, Better Than Me, a slap at a stuck-up type. The way the lead line subtly shifts from the guitar to the bass toward the end is a cool touch.

Mullenhour’s wounded vocals swoop over the guitars in God Hospital, dipping to a haphazard oldschool soul ballad interlude before picking up with a snarl. Quick Question has punchy, tensely bending Thurston Moore-style riffs at the center, while the deadpan, sarcastic, mostly acoustic Lost at the Costco has more of a rainy-day jangle – just like the Clash’s Lost in the Supermarket.

Siouxsie & the Banshees have been a frequent reference point for the band in the past, and Sitcom wouldn’t be out of place on the Juju album: the ending is too good to spoil. From there the band segue into the title track, a catchy, sarcastic punk rock stomp with simple, slashing SY riffage.

The band pack a lot into Suicide Space Camp: no-wave skronk and a shapeshifting bridge along with the deadpan vocals. The album’s most menacing track, Yacht Problems seems to allude to a much greater malaise: “It takes lungs to breathe, and they blew them away,” Mullenhour muses.

There’s also a Cancel the World Redux, where she works the ersatz soul ambience for every breathy ounce of sarcasm she can purr. Since March of 2020, rock records in general have slowed to a trickle from the volume we were getting before global totalitarianism. It’s good to see such a strong band still intact and staying true to their vision.

Catchy Jangle and Clang and Roar

Veteran Seattle band Chastity Belt‘s new single Fake/Fear is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s not about the lockdown or any kind of fake fear.

Guitarist Julia Shapiro sings the A-side, Fake over a jangly rainy-day backdrop with a slinky, sinuous lead guitar line. As she’s done many times, Gretchen Grimm distinguishes herself as a rock drummer who really swings. The B-side is slower and more hypnotic, in a growly post-Velvets vein – not quite as catchy, which seems to explain why it’s a B-side.

Tough, Smart, Angst-Fueled Guitar-Driven Tunesmithing From Squirrel Flower

Singer/guitarist Ella Williams calls herself Squirrel Flower. She rocks harder than most solo songwriters. She doesn’t get fenced in with standard verse/chorus patterns. She uses grit and noise to make a point, in lieu of a generic, conformist indie sound. The songs on her new album Planet (i) – streaming at Bandcamp – are angst-ridden but not mawkish. She hits you upside the head when you least expect it.

She puts the rubber to the road right from the start with I’ll Go Running. The song starts with just a simple hammer-on electric guitar riff and drums, then Williams adds layers until it’s a roaring blaze:

I’m an oil tank getting low
Didn’t listen long enough to know…
Pack it in and push it strong
Pack it up and move along

It seems optimistic. “I’ll be newer than before” is the closing mantra.

The second track, Hurt a Fly is a more standard-issue Lou Reed-style riff-rock tune: once again,  Williams’ guitar grows noisier as she fills in the details in this tale of betrayal.

Deluge in the South goes in the opposite direction, from a tasty acoustic-electric clang to dreamier sonics, even as the flood metaphors grow more ominous:

Storm is coming in, water in the gutter
Underneath your house, drink it undercover

Likewise, Big Beast has early Linda Draper-esque acoustic loopiness and surrealism. Williams picks up her electric and hits the distortion pedal for Roadkill: “Slow down,” is the loaded message as her voice rises from pensiveness to a soaring intensity.

She builds a birds’ nest of wafting nocturnal ambience over steady, close-miked acoustic fingerpicking in Iowa 146. The next track, Pass could be a catchy, hypnotic early 90s Penelope Houston tune.

Distorted, slurry bass anchors the hypnotic, dreampop-tinged Midwestern road narrative Flames and Flat Tires. Williams resurrects the high water imagery in To Be Forgotten, a resolute departure tale.

“I’ve seen the desert now, and I know I want the water,” Williams asserts in the album’s sparest song, Desert Wildflowers: bring on the natural disasters, she insists, she can handle them. With reverb-drenched guitars and vocals rising to a distorted squall, Night is the hardest-rocking track here. Williams closes the album with Starshine, which, as she sees it, can burn you just like the sun. This is a good late-night listen: lots to think about here.

Daxma’s New Album: Unlimited Shades of Grey

Bay area band Daxma play hypnotic, melancholy slowcore, akin to a missing link between Godspeed You Black Emperor and My Bloody Valentine. Vocals serve more of an instrumental than lyrical role in this music, such that there are any here. Their new album Unmarked Boxes is streaming at Bandcamp. Other than the occasional screaming guitar burst or tumbling drum riff, the pall never lifts: if grey is your color, this is your sound. Love it or hate it, it’s hard to argue with how accurately this band reflect the past twenty months’ interminable, oppressive gloom.

The first track, The Clouds Parted begins with a broodingly anthemic, looping piano riff, then the guitar crunch kicks in and the dirge is on, but with more of an opaque My Bloody Valentine feel. The band shift gears to a Dark Side of the Moon clang that grows more insistent yet hypnotic as the bass takes over the melody. The MBV cyclotron returns, interchanging with moments of minimalist calm throughout the rest of the song’s almost fourteen minutes. It sets the stage for the rest of the album’s longer tracks.

The second cut is And the Earth Swallowed Our Shadows, rainy-day guitar loops within an increasingly dense fog punctuated by aching washes of tremolo-picking. It ends calmly and stately.

The grey-sky ambience looms closer and closer to the growling bass riff that anchors the epic Hiraeth: as the tableau slowly unfolds, it’s like Mogwai covering the Cure at quarterspeed. Suadade is aptly titled: it’s more sparse, beyond the interlude where the stormclouds come sweeping past.

Anything You Lose begins with one of the album’s catchiest passages, then the melody and textures grow more densely immersive. The final track, Comes Back to Another Form, contrasts the album’s quietest sections with its most raging, sustained peak.

Moodily Atmospheric New Wave and Lynchian Sounds From Brass Box

Sometimes Brass Box’s album The Cathedral – streaming at Bandcamp – totally nails a David Lynch soundtrack atmosphere. Other times the group totally nail a dark 80s new wave sound. Either way, their songs are catchy and tightly focused, frontwoman/bassist Ammo Bankoff channeling clear-eyed abandonment and despondency over the chilly echo and swirl.

The album opens with the title track, a mutedly galloping Pink Floyd Run Like Hell riff anchoring Neil Popkin and Matt Bennett’s broodingly echoey mix of guitars that explode in a ringing dreampop vortex on the chorus, Bankoff’s searching, anxious vocals awash in the icy mist.

With its resonant, reverberating deep-space sonics and wistful, starry backdrop, the second track, DDM could be the Lost Patrol. Surrender is not the Cheap Trick teen-rebellion anthem but a dead ringer for Siouxsie & the Banshees circa 1982, right down to the watery chorus-box guitar and prominent bass.

They follow the atmospheric, enveloping goth rock tune Latency with the allusively catchy Waves, which rise to some gorgeously Eastern European-tinged vocal harmonies on the chorus. Then they hit a steady, fast new wave groove with Towne, the album’s hardest-rocking track.

The record’s slowest track, Roses, comes across as a dreampop update on the more skeletal material on Unknown Pleasure-era Joy Division. The band go back to Lynchian/dreampop mashup mode with Ivory Skies and close the album with Parting Ways, a song they should have parted with prior to sequencing the record. On one hand, all the sounds that Brass Box evoke have been around for decades. On the other, nobody has figured out how to blend them quite like this.