New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Category: indie rock

Revisiting a Catchy, Well-Loved 90s Sound with the Hasbros at Otto’s

The Hasbros play a scruffy, occasionally jangly, sometimes roaring style of powerpop and four-on-the-floor rock that sometimes brings to mind the Smithereens, Big Star, or Titus Andronicus without the Brooklyn wokester affectations. They’ve been around awhile. The four-piece lineup of frontman/guitarist Bob Hanophy, lead guitarist Ken O’Connor, bassist Tom Cavanaugh and drummer Joe Gorelick have a gig tomorrow night, Sept 2 at 11 PM at Otto’s. A surf band who call themselves the Hysterics open at 10.

The Hasbros’ most recent album Cart Before the Horse came out in 2018 and is streaming at Spotify. The opening number, For the Best sets the stage with a doo-wop catchiness over opaque Replacements changes. Throughout the record, there are unexpected touches, like a choogling Allman Brothers solo that pops up out of nowhere, a little swirly organ, moments of punkish riff-rock, Stoogoid snarl and a little Church spacerock.

Songs like Kenny bring to mind 90s nights at clubs like Brownies and Maxwell’s where flannel-shirted crowds would pack themselves in to see artists like Kevin Salem. Once in awhile the two guitars build toward a dreampop sheen, as Husker Du would do in their later years. Ever After Now, a bittersweet, swaying anthem, wouldn’t be out of place in the Son Volt catalog. Jackass, a brooding, glistening number, has a melodica blending wistfully into the guitars. The best song on the record is Later On, a gorgeously bittersweet portrait of alienation and missed connections. These guys really know their source material and will transport you to a better time and place before Facebook or ID scanners existed (Otto’s has one of the latter; bring your passport).

A Lusciously Layered, Anthemic New Art-Rock Record From Charlie Nieland

The 2020 totalitarian takeover didn’t stop Lusterlit mastermind Charlie Nieland from making another album: he pretty much did it himself, with a little help from outside. His latest release, Divisions – streaming at Bandcamp – is much more lush and majestically textured than you would expect, considering the circumstances. Predictably, it’s more guitar-centric than Lusterlit, although the songs are just as darkly luminous, with echoes of 80s goth and 90s Britrock. And they’re catchy as hell.

His trebly guitar through a cheap amp explodes into a majestic roar in the slow, swaying opening anthem, Always on Fire. Kleptocrats in basic black populate this grim, arson-infested gentrification-era Brooklyn tableau. Nieland is a one-man band, blending all the guitars, bass and keys, with a rotating drum chair shared by Brian Geltner, Billy Loose and Lusterlit’s Susan Hwang.

Nieland’s icy chorus-box chords and keening slide lines linger over hypnotic, suspensefully droning bass in the album’s title track: if Wire played long songs with an American accent, this might qualify as such.

Exploding is a catchy, bulked-up, artfully layered powerpop ballad. Violinist Heather Cole and cellist Patricia Santos build a lushly orchestrated coda in The Falling Man, which could be the Jayhawks taking a stab at a mid-90s Blur song. Then Nieland strips down the sound for I Refuse, a buzzy fuzz bass-driven new wave tune that wouldn’t be out of place in the Dada Paradox catalog.

He builds an insistent, minimalist menace before bringing the echoey guitars into The Land of Accidents, a broodingly rhythmic existentialist exploration. Meta Incognita, a metaphorically loaded explorer’s tale, has a tricky 15/4 beat and lush synth orchestration over insistent guitars.

Another Night on Earth is slower and starrier: the Eels meet Stereolab. Tightrope is not the ELO classic but an original, and it’s the album’s catchiest anthem, Hwang a one-woman choir wafting overhead.

Then Santos becomes the orchestra in Skin, a dreamy ballad, the Smiths without the pout. Nieland turns up the chilly guitars in So Few Have So Much, a swaying, syncopated dreampop song.

The allusively ominous Some Things You Keep to Yourself and the album’s closing cut, Pawns, could be late-80s Siouxsie with a guy out front – and superior production.

A Harrowing Solo Comeback Album and a Rare New York Show by Cult Icon Nina Nastasia

For about a decade beginning in the late 90s, songwriter Nina Nastasia earned a devoted following for her frequently haunting, painterly work. It’s hard to think of another artist who so perceptively captured the details in the darkness beneath the bustle in gritty New York neighborhoods which became artistic meccas before they were crushed in a blitzkrieg of gentrification.

The city’s decline mirrored Nastasia’s own. By 2010, her performing career had pretty much stalled. As Nastasia tells it, she and her longtime partner Kennan Gudjonsson sequestered themselves a tiny Chelsea apartment, caught up in a cycle of abuse and codependence. The day after Nastasia finally moved out, in January 2020, Gudjonsson killed himself.

In the first few months of the lockdown, Nastasia was able to process what by all accounts must have been inconceivable pain, and the result is a harrowing solo vinyl record, Riderless Horse, streaming at Bandcamp. She’s playing what could be her first Williamsburg show in at least fifteen years at Union Pool on August 20 at 7 PM for $20

It’s been a dozen years since Nastasia released an album, but she’s emerged a stronger singer than ever. Meanwhile, her songwriting has taken a detour into Americana. With her usual black humor, she opens with the sound of a cork popping: this will not exactly be a party, but it’s impossible to turn away from.

The album’s first song is Just Stay in Bed, a spare Tex-Mex flavored tune in 6/8. Just when it sounds like it’s going to turn into a fond love song, Nastasia’s voice grows menacing. Clearly this was a dysfunctional relationship on both sides.

Her vocals rise to fiery accusatory levels over steady strumming in the second track, You Were So Mad, a stoic breakup ballad: “You set a blaze inside our house, you set a blaze and smoked us out.” This Is Love is a subdued heartland rock anthem, a chronicle of “taking turns to follow and lead into the dissonance.”

The narrative grows uglier over Nastasia’s enigmatic fingerpicking in Nature, a plainspoken portrait of violence, and how easy it is to become habituated to it. This dynamic will resonate intensely through the rest of the record.

Nastasia switches to waltz time for Lazy Road, although even in this bucolic calm, death is lurking nearby. She revisits that atmosphere a little later with the bluegrass-tinged Blind As Batsies.

“I keep you alive as best as I can do,” Nastasia sings imploringly, but ultimately “to choose life over illness and leave,” in another waltz, Ask Me. She switches back to a muted Americana sway in the ironically titled The Two of Us, which wouldn’t be out of place on an Amy Rigby record from the 90s:

The simmering rage returns in Go Away: “There’s only one way to for me to give you peace, for me to leave: bury me,” Nastasia taunts. She follows with The Roundabout, an anguished request to bury the conflict under a blanket of denial.

The next track, Trust is the closest thing here to the stark sparkle that permeates Nastasia’s iconic early work. She sings to a ghost, in waltz time again, in Afterwards: “Love is tiresome when you’re older…it makes me wonder about the years that came before, and all the things I must ignore.” As a portrait of a relationship unraveling with catastrophic consequences, this ranks with Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights. Time may judge this a classic – just like Nastasia’s earlier albums, particularly The Blackened Air, her most bleakly orchestral release, from 2001.

A Catchy Free Twinbill in Williamsburg on the 12th

Considering how almost all of the remaining New York City concert venues allowed themselves to be weaponized for plandemic divide-and-conquer schemes and much worse, there’s hardly reason to single any one of them out for special treatment considering that they wouldn’t do that for us during the time when the New York Governor’s office was imposing apartheid restrictions.

“But we had to comply! Otherwise we would have gone out of business!”

No. When someone tries to take your rights away, you stand up and fight. If none of us had complied, none of this ever would have happened.

Be that what it may, right now this group of cowards still run the majority of the spaces for live music in this city. One such is Union Pool, which for years had an on-and-off series of free shows during the summertime, often in the back courtyard by the taco truck. The series is back this summer, although, maybe predictably, there’s been a considerable dip in the quality of the bands. One of the highlights of this month’s shows is on June 12 at around 3 PM with Savak, who play a shapeshifting blend of 90s jangle, 80s postpunk and more indie-flavored sounds. The buzzy 3rd-gen post-Velvets/no wave-ish Messthetics follow at around 4:30.

On one hand, Savak’s vibe is quaintly retro. On the other, it’s very much in the here and now. Their latest album Human Error/Human Delight is streaming at Bandcamp. The band have two main songwriters and guitarists: Sohrab Habibion, whose frequent sense of menace reflects his time fronting Obits, and Michael Jaworski, whose songs tend to be on the brighter side. Either way, Wire is the pervasive influence here. Matt Schulz plays drums; on the record, there’s a small army of guest bassists when Jaworski isn’t playing it.

The great Josh Sinton adds a tasty layer of baritone sax on the opening track, No Blues No Jazz, a catchy, hard-hitting, cynical post Lou Reed number as Marc Ribot might have done it. Track two, Empathy is a wistful blast of downstroke 80s REM clang, followed by My Book on Siblings and its motorik, declamatory take on late 70s Wire.

The group keep the pink flag flying through the next track, Cold Ocean. Nick Sewell’s catchy bass loop anchors the driftingly insistent psychedelia of Set Apart. The group the Obits sound, if a little more quietly, in Oddsmaker, Jaworski’s snapping, strolling bassline underneath the guitars’ distantly lingering menace. It’s the best song on the album.

Trashing the Ghost is an opaquely indie take on the 13th Floor Elevators, then Habibion’s anxious Wire-y chromatics take over in Recanted (Free the Singer). The unease is in the lyrics in the punchy, anthemic Baltimore Moon.

The group work a tersely layered one-chord vamp over a percolating bassline in Adolescence Obsolete, then they hit a gorgeously ringing Fender Twin attack in Dealers, the catchiest track on the record. They close with Dumbinance, which starts out with a surfy nocturnal atmosphere and grows more dense and postpunk.

This blog has never caught Savak live. The last time anyone here saw Habibion onstage, he was flinging out reverbtoned shards during a lusciously evil set with Obits at this very same venue, way back in 2014. Good to see him as vital as ever in this project.

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.