New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: indie rock

Yet Another Wildly Diverse Album From the Brilliantly Psychedelic, Lyrical Sometime Boys

The Sometime Boys are a rarity in the world of psychedelic music: a lyrically-driven band fronted by a charismatic woman with a shattering, powerful wail. Guitarist/singer Sarah Mucho cut her teeth in the cabaret world, winning prestigious MAC awards….when she wasn’t belting over loud guitars as an underage kid out front of the funky, enigmatic Noxes Pond, a popular act at the peak of what was an incredibly fertile Lower East Side rock scene back in the early zeros. Noxes Pond morphed into volcanically epic art-rock band System Noise, one of the best New York groups of the past decade or so, then Mucho and lead guitarist Kurt Leege went in a more acoustic, Americana-flavored direction with the Sometime Boys.

They earned the #1 song of the year here back in 2014 for their hauntingly crescendoing, gospel-fueled anthem The Great Escape. Their new album The Perfect Home – streaming at Bandcamp – is a mind-warpingly diverse collection of originals and covers. There aren’t many other bands capable of making the stretch between a country-flavored take of the Supersuckers’ deadpan, cynical Barricade and a similarly wry hard-funk cover of the Talking Heads’ Houses in Motion.

The other covers are a similarly mixed bag. Mucho’s angst-fueled, blues-drenched delivery over guest Mara Rosenbloom’s organ and the slinky rhythm section of bassist Pete O’Connell and drummer Jay Cowit takes the old Allman Brothers southern stoner standard Whipping Post to unexpected levels of intensity, Likewise, Pink Floyd’s Fearless has a bounce missing from the art-folk original on the Meddle album, along with a balmy, wise, nuanced vocal from Mucho and a starry, swirly jam at the end. And their slinky, gospel-influenced take of Tom Waits’ Way Down in the Hole is a clinic in erudite, purist blues playing.

But the album’s best songs are the originals. Unnatural Disasters has careening, Stonesy stadium rock over a bubbly groove and a characteristically sardonic but determined lyric from Mucho. The group are at their most dizzyingly eclectic on the European hit single Architect Love Letter, blending elements of bluegrass, soukous, honkytonk and an enveloping, dreampop-flavored outro.

Leege’s mournful washes of slide guitar, Rosenbloom’s pointillistic electric piano and Mucho’s brooding, gospel-tinged vocals mingle over a nimble bluegrass shuffle beat in Painted Bones. And the defiance and hard-won triumph in Mucho’s voice in the feminist anthem Women of the World – a snarling mashup of Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Poi Dog Pondering, maybe – is a visceral thrill. Good to see one of New York’s most original, distinctive bands still going strong. They’re just back from European tour; watch this space for upcoming hometown shows.

The Plaster Cramp Bring Their Distant Menace to a Halloween Eve Bushwick Gig

Today’s Halloween installment is the Plaster Cramp’s debut album – streaming at Bandcamp – which came out back in 2016. The band’s cynical surrealism looks back to the downtown postpunk scene of the early 80s, with occasional tinges of psychedelia and latin music. They like sprawling Velvets vamps with jagged guitar spilling over the edges; the darkness in the songs’ lyrics is allusive, and it draws you in. They’re playing Alphaville on Oct 30 at 10 PM; cover is $11.

The album opens with The Ghost of Great Jones. Aside from a little Daniel Ash-style string-torturing from guitarist/frontman John Frazier, there isn’t anything particularly dark about this slinky, Talking Heads-ish one-chord jam.

In the Stacks is a throwback to the Velvets’ first album, complete with the hammering piano, just a hair out of tune. Dracula is a phony bossa tune that coalesces out of atonal weirdness, multitracked vocals half-buried in the mix.

A dancing bassline propels Pinball Safari, a latin-flavored funk tune. The group go back to vintage Velvets stomp for Change It, “While the moon above weeps above the drying poplar trees,”Frazier speaks, calmly. “Do you like what you see?”

The group mash up Talking Heads and the Velvets in Impatient Knives, then bring the lights down with the album’s best and most implicitly grisly song, Apartment 23. It sounds like a more fleet-footed Botanica:

His car sat on the wrong side of the streeet
The phone just rang and rang in apartment 23
Nobody expects to discover anything
He had hidden himself
An ordinary man, no next of kin
No one to notice…
Lost in a city of pinstripes and grey suits
How they go together holy jesus

Cherry Dark is the Plaster Cramp’s What Goes On, a catchy, tastily twisted 4 AM Lower East Side scenario. The guardedly optimistic Fingers Crossed sounds like the Velvets playing New Order: the anachronism is actually very funny. The album closes with the starry nocturne Downstream, a dead ringer for vintage Brian Jonestown Massacre. The group have been playing more frequently over the last few months, a good sign, even if very few of the venues they’ve been at do anything to promote the bands who play there.

Revisiting a Deliciously Dark, Psychedelic Album from Sugar Candy Mountain

Today’s Halloween month installment is Sugar Candy Mountain‘s deliciously lurid, cinematic, tropically psychedelic album 666 – streaming at Bandcamp – which came over the transom here in 2016 and promptly vanished down that black hole better known as the hard drive. So, it’s long overdue. Sorry, folks – what a fun record!

Frontwoman/guitarist Ash Reiter has a misty voice with just a hint of enticement, infusing the opening track, Windows, with gently torchy allure over a samba-tinged, minor-key retro 60s groove with a long, undulating, reverb-drenched solo. A brief, similarly dark tropical interlude with Will Halsey’s tumbling drums at the centetr leads into the album’s title track, a midtempo, simmering, surf-tinged theme: the sarcasm in Reiter’s airy, half-spoken vocals is irresistible.

Rippling, watery guitars and Jason Quever’s multitracked synth permeate the next track, Being: imagine a quirky existentialist along the lines of the Icebergs’ Jane LeCroy fronting a lo-fi, trippy indie project like Extra Classic. The album’s longest cut, Atlas is a surreal mashup of oldschool soul, glossy new wave and late Beatles, but somehow the band make it all work.

Thomas Edler’s precise, snappy bass opens Eye on You, a jaunty soul tune with starry guitars and organ. “Regrets and wasted time have wasted you,” Reiter and Halsey intone in Time, a pulsing Rubber Soul-esque anthem. They follow that with Tired, a moody Laurel Canyon psychedelic soul strut with icy analog chorus box guitar.

Snorting reverb riffs contrast with summery organ in the Brazilian-tinged Who I Am; the album ends with Summer of Our Discontent, which perfectly sums up what this band is all about. No matter how sunny some of these tracks are on the surface, there’s always an undercurrent.

Cutting-Edge, Diverse Sonics and a Williamsburg Album Release Gig From the Dither Guitar Quartet

The big news about the Dither Guitar Quartet is that Gyan Riley is in the band. He’s the rare scion of a famous western musical legacy (son of iconic minimalist composer Terry Riley) who’s an individualistic artist in his own right. On the ensemble’s new album Potential Differences – streaming at Bandcamp – he makes a good fit with returning members Taylor Levine, Joshua Lopes and James Moore. This is the band’s most accessible record to date: fans of psychedelic rock and metal who can handle strange and often troubling tonalies should check it out. Dither are playing the release show at the Frost Theatre at 17 Frost St. in Williamsburg on Oct 27 on a bill that starts at 2 in the afternoon and continues into the night. It’s not clear who’s playing when, but there are a bunch of interesting, individualistic acts on the bill including but not limited to singer Alicia Hall Moran and the Mivos Quartet, sort of a reprise of the New Music Bake Sales in Fort Greene and then Roulette a few years back.

The album’s first track is The Garden of Cyrus, by Eve Beglarian, a 1985 piece pulsing with steady, emphatic echo chords, the group quickly adding polyrhythms that shift in and out of the mix. The variety of timbres, the mix of familiar and odder harmonies and the reverb in the room give it a Sonic Youth vibe.

Riley’s The Tar of Gyu is a strangely shifting blend of buzzy volume-knob swells, delicate toy piano-like phrasing and hardbop. The gently ringing harmonics and rising chromatic menace of Paula Matthusen‘s But Because Without This provide considerable contrast.

The album’s centerpiece, the four-part Ones, by Jascha Narveson, offers comic relief. The opening segment, The Wah One, is a playfully hypnotic mashup of the intros from the Theme From Shaft and Pink Floyd’s One of These Days. Then there’s the distortedly circling The Driving One, The Warped One with its down-and-up tuning-peg goofiness and finally the clock-chime harmonics of The Floaty One.

The group shift from gritty late 70s Robert Fripp-style riffage to eerie spacerock bubbles, austere resonance, wry hints of Eddie Van Halen and back in Lopes’ Mi-Go. Moore’s Mannequin is a desolate, morosely howling soundscape. Candy, by Ted Hearne, takes awhile to get going but eventually develops coy humor and incisively paired harmonies between the guitars.

Renegade, a Levine composition, sets growling, increasingly dissociative menace and shred over a piledriver beat. The quartet wind up the album with James Tenney’s 1967 dronescsape Swell Piece. Many different flavors; this group rock harder than just about anyone in the avant garde.

A Killer Last Minute Bill at Union Pool This Thursday

Once in awhile a great concert springs up out of nowhere. Tomorrow night, August 22 at Union Pool there’s a great triplebill starting at 7 PM with wickedly catchy, jangly psychedelic rockers Girls on Grass followed by a kinda whiny Americana act, then intriguingly 80s-influenced rockers Shadow Year and finally the more punkish, post-Velvets Dares. It’s $10 cash at the door.

Shadow Year’s new album Hush Hush Panic is up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. They really nail that chilly late 80s dreampop sound: sometimes bracing, sometimes shoegazy. The album’s opening track, Convoy, is a duet between guitarists Scout Gillett and TV, her airiness and longing versus the television man’s calm, acidic dreampop dreampop chords over a catchy, simple bassline. The second track, PDA, draws a straight line back to Joy Division’s Still album: its steady minimalism is sort of a mashup of, say, The Only Mistake and Dead Souls, but with guy/girl vocals out front.

The two vocalists revisit the doomed relationship dynamic in Easy Mac, over a simple Bernard Sumner guitar lead contrasting with hypnotically clanging, steady guitar chords. Rene would be a genuinely wistful 60s pop ballad if the band used real chords instead of faking their way through; it’s a lazy approximation. They hit a shiny, icy chorus-box guitar pulse straight out of early Lush in the next track, Chud, Gillettr’s vocals bringing to mind the Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser in a particularly hazy moment. Then there’s a sardonic lonely-vampire interlude from TV; it’s both funny and poignant.

Ted Jamison’s crisp bassline along with Gillett’s keening synth in the intro to Joel Tudor don’t offer any hint of the roar that’s coming: it’s sort of the missing link between Joy Division and the Go-Go’s, a crazy blend that somehow manages to work. They close the album with the lingering Soft Note, its waftingly comfortable jangle bringing to mind the Church in their most dreampop moments. On one hand, Shadow Year are recycling a lot of old riffs; on the other, they really know their source material, and they’re creating something completely new and different out of those ideas.

Summer Cannibals Bring Their Catchy, Hard-Hitting, Fearlessly Political Sound to Bushwick

Summer Cannibals could be described as Sleater-Kinney in reverse. Where the iconic “riot gir[insert the letter R over and over again, as desired]l” band pulled their jagged, unhinged sound onto the rails enough to coalesce into some catchy tunes, Summer Cannibals take simple lead guitar hooks, buzzy chords and dangle them over the edge of the cliff. And they’re a lot more political. Plus, frontwoman/guitarist Jessica Boudreaux is a stronger singer than anyone in Sleater-Kinney ever was. The new Summer Cannibals album Can’t Tell Me No is streaming at Bandcamp (and available on both vinyl and cassette, yay). They’re playing Elsewhere on August 17 at 9 PM; cover is $12. Because of the L-pocalypse, you’ll do best to make a leisurely 20-minute walk to the J at Koszciusco St. after the show rather than taking your chances on hourlong-plus waits on the L train. If you’re heading back to south Brooklyn, be aware that if you have an unlimited-ride subway card, you can get off at Hewes St. and then catch the G at Broadway, which is only about three blocks away.

The opening cut, False Anthem, sets the stage. Guitarist Cassi Blum’s burning chords anchor Boudreaux’s simple, slashing hooks; “It’s so easy to hate them, the goddamn government,” she insists, bassist Ethan Butman and drummer Devon Shirley holding down a tight punk pulse.

The album’s title cut has a rumbling groove and gritty chorus that bring to mind pioneering funk-punks the Bush Tetras: “I am not your, I am not your bitch,” is the big refrain.

“What if I can’t behave, what if I can’t change?” is Boudreaux’s sarcastic chorus in Behave, a midtempo number in the same vien as the Throwing Muses at their most focused. Like I Used To is a kiss-off anthem with an early 80s edge, its simple, crescendoing hooks cutting through a wall of distortion. The similarly dismissive Innocent Man has slipsliding New Order bass and dreampop twinkle, followed by the album’s longest track, One of Many, an individualist’s anthem.

Butman’s catchy bassline propels the alienated, gloomily kinetic Staring at the Sun. “I could sing about murder and joke about too,” Boudreaux reminds in Start Breaking, a snide portrait of the kind of Bushwick trust fund kid who pays lip service to all the limousine liberal memes but probably votes Republican.

The band blend dreampop with a big stadium-rock chorus and more than a little 80s New Order in Hesitation, then sway their way through the album’s most potently anthemic, snarling anthem, Spin, with brooding chord changes straight ouf of the Castle Black playbook. The record’s final cut is Into Gold, an unexpectedly successful detour into vampy, reverbtoned Twin Peaks balladry. Strong tunesmithing, edgy guitars, political relevance: what else more could a rock band in 2019 possibly deliver?

Eleni Mandell’s Best Album Offers Grim Insight Into Survival in the Prison-Industrial Complex

Eleni Mandell got the inspiration for her new album, Wake Up Again, behind bars. No, she wasn’t doing time. She was teaching songwriting as part of the Jail Guitar Doors program founded by the MC5’s Wayne Kramer. The record – streaming at Spotify – is surprisingly her most indie rock-flavored release to date, at least until about the halfway point. But it’s also her most relevant, and most lyrically powerful. These clear-eyed, sobering songs elegantly and often allusively chronicle the cycles of despair, and addiction, and hopelessness of being caught in the prison-industrial compex. As Mandell makes crystal clear, orange is anything but the new black. She’s currently on tour, with a New York stop on June 27 at 9:30 PM at the big room at the Rockwood; cover is $15

Milo Jones’ reverbtoned guitar weaves enigmatically, going nowhere in particular, throughout the album’s opening track, Circumstance, Mandell matter-of-factly traces the outline of a woman caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, knowing that her babies will grow up without her.

“Got my foot out the window it’s a long way down, if you know the secret password there’s another way around,” Mandell explains in Be Together. “Am I waiting for a punishment for all the time I wasted?” she asks. In a career packed with some of the most captivating vocals ever recorded, this is one of Mandell’s most shattering.

Just Herself is just as harrowing, a resolutely waltzing account of someone who’s just as much of an outsider on the inside as she was before she got thrown in jail. Evelyn, a throwback to Mandell’s days as queen of late 90s/early zeros noir, underscores the fact that a large percentage of people in the prison-industrial complex – and the majority of the women there – aren’t criminals. They’re addicts, and people who sold them substances, some of which have been legalized in the years since many of these prisoners were locked up.

“Don’t ask when it was better – she would say that was never,” Mandell intones in Box in a Box, a catchy, gritty account of what could be solitary confinement, or addiction, or both. A brisk, subtly torchy backbeat number, Oh Mother could be a sideways tribute from a prisoner to a mom who managedto stay out of trouble – or the child of a prisoner admiring her mother’s resilience.

The gloom lifts in the quirky, upbeat, country-tinged What’s Your Handle (Radio Waves), following a thinly veiled escape theme that resurfaces a bit later in Air, a similarly bubbling, Americana-tinged number. Empty Locket, a duet with Jones, recounts a wistful, one-sided long-distance phone coversation.

Slowly swaying over Kevin Fitzgerald’s brushy drums and Ryan Feves’ bass, the country lament Ghost of a Girl is the closest thing here to Mandell’s signature noir Americana. The album close with another country waltz, the surreal, enigmatic title track. In a way, it’s no surprise that Mandell, an icon of noir since the late 90s, would end up behind bars – songwriting-wise, anyway. The most basic rule in noir is that ultimately there are none – and the consequences can be lethal.

Field Medic Brings His Strummy Stories of Sadness and Drinking to Bushwick

Poor Field Medic, a.k.a. Kevin Sullivan. People talked through his set when he played, and that bummed him out. So he wrote a song about it. It’s called Used 2 Be a Romantic, and it’s on his latest album Fade Into the Dawn, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s jangly and melancholy and plainspoken and catchy, like all his best stuff. He’ll probably play that tune at his gig at Alphaville on May 11 at 10 PM; cover is $12. With the L train apocalypse in full effect this coming weekend, this show is even more of an attrraction, considering that the venue is just a couple of blocks from the Central Ave. stop on the J/M line.

But you mustn’t feel sorry for him. That song’s a humblebrag. “I used to be a romantic. now I’m a dude in a laminate,” Sullivan kvetches. Meanwhile, a million other dudes with acoustic guitars, playing for the tip bucket and a couple of drink tickets, would gladly trade places, blinding stage lights and all. One assumes a guarantee came with what Sullivan’s got slung around his neck.

He follows that with I Was Wrong, an oldtimey-flavored freak-folk shuffle, and stays in Americana mode – vocally, anyway – for the waltz The Bottle’s My Lover, She’s Just My Friend. Imagine Hank Snow and Bon Iver duetting – ok, that’s a stretch, but just try.

Hello Moon is acoustic spacerock, part trip-hop and part Elliott Smith. Sullivan picks up his banjo and goes back to oldtimey flavor with Tournament Horseshoe: it wouldn’t be out of place as a rare happy song from a vintage Violent Femmes album.

“When the bombs start to drop and the world starts to end…I can hear the hooves pounding, sounds like apocalypse” he intones in the brief waltz Songs R Worthless Now. A New Order-ish percussion loop foreshadows where Everyday’s 2Moro is about to go: it’s a funny account of daydrinking and then trying to clean up the crash pad before the girl with the lease gets home. The album’s last track, Helps Me Forget is a pretty waltz straight out of the early Jayhawks catalog: “How did I get here, how in the hell am I going to escape?” Sullivan asks the empty room.

Not everything here works. Henna Tattoo is a bizarre mashup of newgrass and 90s emo – although you have to give the guy credit for at least using real percussion instead of a drum machine to make that trip-hop loop, and the other ones on the album. And Mood Ring Baby could use a verse that’s as catchy as the banjo-driven chorus.

Back in the day, this is what we used to call a three dollar record. Those of us who were lucky enough to be kids – and who were at least theoretically solvent enough to pick up some of the vinyl that the yuppies had dumped and replaced with cd’s – ended up with lots of those cheap albums. They were three bucks instead of four or five because everybody knew that most of them had only about a single side worth of good material. Some of those we kept; others we recycled again, but not before making some pretty awesome mixtapes. It’s a good bet the same thing’s going to happen to this one, digitally at least.

Enigmatic, Cinematic Instrumentals and a Williamsburg Gig from the Royal Arctic Institute

The cover photo for the Royal Arctic Institute’s latest album Accidental Achievement – streaming at Bandcamp – shows the utterly flavorless top section of a 1970s adobe-tinged concrete highrise apartment complex. If only we could have stuck with that kind of quality construction…then again, nobody’s ever going to live in those cheap plastic-and-glass highrises that are being thrown up by sleazeball developers to replace perfectly good brick buildings on seemingly every Manhattan and Brooklyn streetcorner. Seriously: somebody could get murdered there and nobody would ever know. The cinematic instrumental trio’s latest album has a similar sardonic edge. They’re playing Rough Trade on April 16 at 9 PM; $13 advance tix, which you can and should get at the box office at the back of the record store, are still available as of today

The album’s first track, Leaky Goes to Brooklyn hints at spacerock before bassist Gerard Smith and drummer Lyle Hysen start tiptoeing behind guitarist John Leon’s lingering noir lines; then he switches to pedal steel for a mournful southwestern gothic feel. Then the band completely flip the script with The Grubert Effect, switching coyly between hypnotic, insistent Raybeats attack and a loungey theme.

A shout-out to surrealist poet Raymond Roussel has a lingering, reverbtoned, strolling menace, the steel adding a big-sky wonder over the jangle and eventual roar below. Graveltoned bass soars over resonant steel in When Razors Were Works of Art, Leon savaging the upper registers with his guitar as the rhythm section stays chill.

The Lark Mirror is a steady, distantly bittersweet, conversational stroll highlighted by plaintive violin – it’s the album’s most haunting track. Frosted Tips sardonically channels Celtic balladry via Sonic Youth. The Vorth is an icily dreampop-tinged march, while Dear Mr. Bookman – a Joe Maynard shout-out, maybe? – is a surreal mashup of western swing and triumphant new wave stadium rock.

Dark Matter (Song for Randy Newman to Sing) slowly coalesces into a pastoral waltz that quickly shifts into cold, cinderblock postrock territory. The album winds up with the jaunty, jangly, Northern Progress Exploration Company, the missing link between Fairport Convention and maybe early zeros Hoboken instrumentalist the Subway Surfers. The album makes a good companion to this year’s highly anticipated forthcoming release by this era’s premier noir guitar soundtrack band, Big Lazy.

Icy, Trippy, Shapeshifting Anthems and a Bed-Stuy Show From Arc Iris

Arc Iris sometimes play icily orchestrated, techy art-rock in the same vein as My Brightest Diamond, or a more keyboard-driven Wye Oak. In more concise moments, they put a trippier spin on glossy 80s new wave pop – not what you might expect from a band fronted by a woman who got her start in earnest-core folk-rockers the Low Anthem. Arc Iris are playing C’Mon Everybody on April 10 at 10 PM; cover is $10.

Their latest album, Icon of Ego is streaming at Bandcamp. This band likes long songs, weird time signatures and syncopation, and surreal lyrics that sometimes seem to be in the stream-of-consciousness vein, other times with a Romantic poetic tinge. There’s also a welcome guitar-fueled edge: this is the hardest-rocking release the band’s put out to date. 

Drummer Ray Belli’s insistent thump anchors singer Jocie Adams chirpy yet emphatic vocals as the anxiously blustery opening track, $GNMS (a remake of the first cut on the band’s debut album) gets underway, keyboardist Zach Tenorio-Miller layering his textures from lush to woozy and bassy.

Dylan & Me is a chilly, loopy, stainless-topped 90s trip-hop joint in an early Goldfrapp vein, the swirly oscillations of the keys contrasting with Adams’ coyly nuanced vocals. The charmingly catchy If You Can See begins with a big smack from Adams’ guitar and grows more serpentine, with echoey Rhodes piano cascades as the song goes along.

She multitracks stately, incisive stadium rock riffage into the towering atmosphere of Turn It Up: the lyrics seem to be more playfully amusing than on any of the other tracks. The fluttering strings of violinist Anna Williams and cellist Misha Veselov open the album’s title cut, then it takes on both more epic and hypnotic proportions.

Chattermachines has echoes of Radiohead and the Cocteau Twins filtering through a mix of sheen and low growl. It’s hard to figure out what these songs are about: this could be a snide commentary on social media obsession, but it could just as easily be something else entirely.

Beautiful Mind is a catchy, starrlly orchestrated, trickily dancing kiss-off anthem, it seems. Everybody’s Counting on Her is a rather wistful early 70s soul ballad spun through the prism of post-Radiohead art-rock. Something here is “shadowed by the great machine” – ain’t that the truth. The album’s final cut is Suzy, Adams’ torrents of lyrics bringing to mind REM’s It’s the End of the World. If you like to get lost in an epic way, Arc Iris are for you.