New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Category: new wave rock

Fun with Anthemic 80s Rock on Thought Leaders’ New Album

See if you can pull on your boots under those skinny jeans. Tell your girl to smudge on an extra layer of eyeliner and stick a couple of wine coolers in her Coach bag. We’ll see if the Ford Fiesta still runs after the thrashing we gave it the other night.

For those who weren’t there, those are 80s references. Thought Leaders‘ new album In Wastelands – streaming at Bandcamp – is the great lost soundtrack to the chilly European road movie that Jim Jarmusch never made. This is stylized, legacy music, but done with a surprising balance of period-perfect detail and unhinged energy.

The opening number, Enigma 41 is a mashup of the Cult and early U2, guitarist Andrew Lund throwing in a little Happy Mondays jangle among his spare, lingering chorus-box arpeggios. The chorus-box textures get icier and the chords get more menacingly juicy, in an early Wire vein, in the next song, Come Even.

Bassist Tyler Cox introduces Burning Glass with a growl before Lund slashes his way in, Daniel Ash style, just as he does on the way out: it’s the best and most savage song on the album. The band tighten up over drummer Kirk Snedeker’s 2/4 new wave beat in the next track, Jane Doe’s Estate (presumably a reference to an inheritance, however small: lyrics and vocals don’t really figure into this band’s music).

They make a memorable mashup of the Cult and Wire in the album’s title track and follow with Shallows, Lund turning up the chorus for a deep-freeze John McGeoch-era Siouxsie chill before a big, cinematic, doublespeed stampede out.

Tumbling Joy Division drums and freezer-burn Bauhaus broken chords mingle over the synths in the background in Desire Reserve, There’s a little vintage PiL in Enemy Flies Above; the band wind up the record with the careening Saturday Night Leave.

Revisiting an Unhinged Live Album by the Reducers

The best live bands always generate lots of field recordings. Some of those eventually turn into official albums: probably the most famous one is Black Sabbath’s Live at Last album. Another excellent field recording which finally made it to the web officially a couple of years ago is the Reducers‘ Live in Montville album. streaming at Bandcamp. While their Live: New York City 2005 album, recorded at Arlene’s, is probably the closest thing to a definitive concert recording of the band, this one is from a much earlier era and reveals what a great live act they’d already become, before they’d even made an album. The sound quality is shockingly good considering that it was recorded on a boombox. And there’s a ton of previously unreleased material.

The Reducers were to the US what the Jam were to the UK: ferociously catchy, tuneful, populist to the core and influenced by punk but not constrained by it. They had a long run, finally calling it quits in 2012 after the tragic, early death of their excellent bassist Steve Kaika. This album – recorded outdoors at a kegger in Montville, Connecticut in 1980 – validates the argument that the Reducers were already a first-class band before they were out of school. It’s amazing how tight, and how smartly constructed their songs are throughout this mix of originals and covers…even after several beer breaks..

They open with the choogling, rapidfire, Stonesy Little Punky Hood and follow with what was then an obscure Clash cut, Capitol Radio One: it’s cool to be able to hear all the lyrics for once, thanks to guitarist Hugh Birdsall.

As expected, the strongest material here is the originals. There’s Rocks, a dare to a generation of New London, Connecticut’s little punky hoods to shake up their local scene. New England rust belt decay and anomie pervades these songs: the savage Small Talk From a Big Mouth, echoed later in Big Time in a Small Town; the sarcastic No Ambition; and guitarist Peter Detmold’s blazing, minor-key Scared of Cops, a reminder of how kids of all colors had to watch their backs in those days.

The earliest-ever version of the searing, cynical Life in the Neighborhood resonates even more in an era where citizens are being encouraged to call the snitch patrol if somebody walks into a bar without a muzzle on. There are also a handful of choice rarities: BMW, which reminds that status-grubbing goes back a long way before Instagram; the Flamin’ Groovies-flavored Invisible Rain; and Chip on Your Shoulder, a defiant, tantalizingly short anthem. And Oh No It’s My First Time is as funny as you would expect.

The covers….um, the Reducers weren’t known for playing covers and are probably doing a slate of them here because they didn’t have enough original material to keep the drunks dancing for a whole afternoon. Their punked-out take of Secret Agent Man kicks ass, thanks to Kaika’s scrambling bassline and a searing Birdsall solo. Dr. Feelgood’s She’s a Windup has as much snarl as you could want.

I Think We’re Alone Now is an improvement on the original, right down to Tom Trombley’s momentary drum break. Janie Jones and Remote Control also rival the Clash’s originals for restless rage. The Groovies’ Shake Some Action, one of the few covers that the band frequently played, holds up well. Ditto Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight, predating the innumerable oil-punk versions of the early 80s.

The Modern Lovers’ Roadrunner? The Buzzcocks’ What Do I Get? The Undertones’ Girls Don’t Like It, itself a Buzzcocks ripoff? You had to be there. There’s more of this kind of stuff as the afternoon wears on, the crowd gets drunker and the band gets looser.

For one reason or another, the between-song audience chitchat wasn’t edited out. There’s a guy in the crowd with a Rhode Island accent who will. Just. Not. Shut. Up. Happily, you can’t hear him over the music.

Purist, Sharply Crafted Twin-Guitar Rock From Ratstar

The cover image of powerpop band Ratstar’s short album In the Kitchen – streaming at Bandcamp – displays an industrial-sized countertop that’s got to be twenty feet long. Next to the sink, there’s a blender overflowing with a suspicious grey substance that’s been blasted all over the floor. That’s truth in advertising. If searing layers of guitars and smart retro tunesmithing that brings to mind bands as diverse as the Stones, Squeeze, Cheap Trick and the British pub rock groups of the 70s are your thing, you should check them out.

The first track, Love You Again sets the stage for the rest of the record: Dave Hudson and Marty Collins’ tightly roaring guitars over a punchy, swaying beat that finally shifts toward reggae underneath a jagged solo. The bass uncurls to a slinky peak in the highest registers; these guys can really play.

The second cut, Stay a While starts out as a chugging, Stonesy tune, hits an unexpectedly lithe, funky groove from bassist Matt Collins and drummer Dean Mozian, then the band go back to It’s Only Rock n Roll territory. The band stay there for Unheavenly Dog, which is a little slower and brings to mind one of the great New York bands of the early zeros, the Sloe Guns.

The icing on the cake here, and the album’s punkest song, is No Encounter. Clustering drum breaks and high-tension lead lines rise to a spectacular exchange of solos between the guitars at the end, one of the best rock outros of the decade.

All-Female Norwegian Janglerockers Veps Get Off to a Good Start

Usually when a publicist sends out a pitch for a recording by someone under 20, it’s because somewhere there are parents with a spoiled brat…or those parents are trying to live vicariously through their poor offspring. At the same time, it’s stupid to disrespect people because of their age. Annabella Lwin was fronting Bow Wow Wow at 14. John Lydon was 17 when he joined the Sex Pistols; George Harrison was 19 when John Lennon recruited him for the Beatles. Not to mention acts like the Carter Family or the Staples Singers.

All-female Oslo group Veps’ four members are all 17, they don’t sound anything like the Sex Pistols or much like the Beatles either, but they’re a good band. Guitarist Laura, keyboardist Helena, bassist June and drummer Maja are all competent musicians and they can write a catchy janglerock song. Their debut album Open the Door is streaming at Bandcamp.

The first track is Girl on TV, a slow, catchy, knowingly cynical look at the the dark side of celebrity:

Her fingers wrapped around her secrets
Tearing down the walls is getting frequent
She’s the kind that’s always insecure
She’s lonely so she never shuts the door

And it gets more disturbing from there.

The second track is Do I Hear a Maybe: the ooh-oohs are a schlocky touch, but this post-Velvets anthem, with its big chorus, has balls. Track three, Ecstasy is a bizarre mashup of gothic early 80s Cure and current-day urban corporate pop.

“You ran away on demand,” the band scream at Oliver, the faithless dude in the big powerpop ballad they wrote about him. Funny Things has a lot of haphazardly biting chord changes: the Cure are in there, but maybe early Lush too. Somebody in this band has a good record collection (or Spotify playlists).

They close the album with Colorblind, a brisk, skittish, strutting tune with some unexpected Pink Floyd changes. Here’s hoping Veps stay together, survive this year and go on to even better things.

Fun fact: the inspiration for the band’s name comes from the time a wasp flew into their rehearsal space and everybody screamed, “VEPS!” Maya was able to kill the invader before anyone got stung.

A Brilliant, Subtly Satirical New Video From Kira Metcalf

Watch very closely in the first few seconds of Kira Metcalf‘s video for her new single Hoax for a visual clue that packs a knockout punch.

This is how dissidents in the old Soviet Union had to protest. Looks like we’ve come to that here in the US.

Metcalf actually wrote the cleverly lyrical kiss-off anthem eight years ago, but it’s taken on new resonance since the lockdown began. Videowise, the esthetic is pure early 90s Garbage, as Shirley Manson would have mugged for the camera. Musically, the song is closer to early PJ Harvey with even more of a vengeful wail

Twisted Things Come in Threes Today

Been a little while since there have been any singles on this page. But little by little, more and more artists are gearing up for a return to freedom. There’s optimism, apocalypse and fury in today’s trio of songs.

“I’m living in a ghost town, I’m doing things my way, I’m not dead yet, ” four-piece New York band Devora’s frontwoman asserts over skronky minimalist punk rock straight out of the late 80s in their latest single, Not Dead Yet.

Chicago guitar legend Dave Specter and blues harp player Billy Branch build a slow, venomously simmering groove in The Ballad of George Floyd: “Eight minutes of torture, begged for mercy, then he was killed.” Specter has been on a roll with good protest songs, ever since his venomous anti-Trump broadside, How Low Can One Man Go.

Marianne Dissard, who’s been putting out single after hauntingly eclectic single from a planned covers album, has just released the one of her disturbing picks so far, a ghastly remake of Adriano Celentano’s creepily dadaesque 1972 Prisencolinensinainciusol, with a pastiche of samples of lockdown posturing by Boris Johnson, two Trumps, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, Reccep Erdogan, and Xi Jinping. Together they give Dissard a long, long rope to hang them with.

Venomous Australian Heavy Rockers Stay Strong Under Hellacious Conditions

You could make a strong case that Australian band Hellz Abyss named themselves after their home country. The lockdown there has arguably been more hellacious there than anywhere else in the world other than Communist China or North Korea: freedom of speech has been banned, the government shut down the rice industry to starve the population into submission, and most recently, lawyers who fight the lockdown are being disbarred. Meanwhile, the lockdowners are diverting the country’s scarce water resources to a massive fracking project.

Hellz Abyss’ new album N#1FG – streaming at Bandcamp – doesn’t specifically address the lockdown. but if Australians have as much balls as this band, everything’s eventually going to be ok. The group have a unique sound, based in metal but with a snotty new wave edge: imagine Missing Persons or Garbage but with genuine bite. In a twisted way, this is a great party record.

Guitarist Daryl Holden builds a gritty, slow crunch around a famous Pink Floyd riff in the first song, Dead Ones: “Don’t be afraid to die, you’re already dead inside,” frontwoman the Venomous Hellz, a.k.a. Lisa Perry luridly intones. “You lost everyone, you spread it like a disease,” she snarls in over a heavy, minimalist postpunk stomp in the second track, Ratatatatat.

Built around a catchy, circling riff, Kill the Real Girls seems to be an attack at backstabbers. The band keep the crunch and roar going with The Darkest, a kiss-off anthem. Then they get more psychedelic, with tinges of Indian music, but also a lot more explosive in the next cut, Faith.

The bass gets more of a snap in Waste of Time, one of the catchiest tunes here. After that, the group bludgeon their way through the bizarrely atmospheric Liar, Mark McLeod’s double kickdrum going full force.

Rope Bunny has hammering QOTSA riffage, while Salute comes across as a tighter take on the Runaways: “I’m gonna make you regret every choice you made,” Perry warns. Nine tracks in, we finally get a squealing guitar solo.

They slow down for Trust, Perry cutting loose with her wounded wail, then go back to a fullscale four-on-the-floor roar with some weird sci-fi EFX in Paper Back Lover.

Viscious is a mix of black-lipstick goth ballad and growling punk rock, with the album’s most unhinged guitar shredding. Shoot to Kill is a thinly disguised one-chord riff-rocker; “You can’t control me” is the mantra. The album winds up with Soul Eater, an echoey mashup of early Van Halen and AC/DC with a woman out front.

Revisiting the Dark Side of the 80s with Liela Moss

Liela Moss loves the 80s. Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, Siouxsie, a blue Boss chorus pedal, layers and layers of chilly synths and short, concise, anthemic songs. Her album Who the Power is streaming at Bandcamp and will resonate with anyone else with a thing for the decade that brought us the goth subculture, the compact disc, wine coolers…and the ugly Reaganite and Thatcherite roots of the lockdown.

Brassy, echoey vintage synths, loud drums and a brisk 2/4 new wave beat propel the album’s opening track, Turn Your Back Around. It’s a cautionary tale: “Here begins an endless fall from rule,” Moss intones, “Everything we saw will go unknown.”

There’s more than a little stern, angst-fueled Marianne Faithfull in Moss’ voice in Watching the Wolf, a cynical, pissed-off, goth-tinged synth anthem. With its icily pulsing chorus-box bass and chorus nicked straight from Prince, Atoms At Me keeps the vengeful vibe going.

“Now I feel unstoppable as the sun drums down on my door,” Moss belts in Always Sliding, soaring triumphantly over echoey synth layers. Hypnotically stormy synths and Siouxsie-esque vocal harmonies pervade The Individual, while White Feather wouldn’t be out of place on one Siouxsie’s innumerable mid-80s ep’s.

Twinkle and fuzz from the keyboards contrast in Battlefield, the album’s most sophisticated, Siouxsie-esque track. “If the wind blows, do you spin like a leaf and lie to make the rules?” Moss demands in Nummah, the most kinetically pulsing, poppiest tune here.

Suako is a mashup of PiL’s attempts at funk and Sisters of Mercy, maybe. Moss closes the album with Stolen Careful, a wistful ballad awash in echo and loops. Uncap that black eyeliner and take a sip of Michelob – do they still make that stuff?

Wildly Popular New York Cult Artist Releases a Dark New Single

Singer/personality Anna Copa Cabanna had a big hit with a monthly punk cabaret residency at Joe’s Pub that lasted for years. She was a familiar presence at the legendary first incarnation of Freddy’s Bar before it was razed illegally to built that hideous, already-rusting Brooklyn arena. Most recently, she’s become the frontwoman of Big Balls, the hilarious AC/DC cover band.

Her new single is We Don’t Sleep, an expansive departure into lingering noir pop.

An Edgy Playlist for a Spring Day…and a Great Upcoming Webcast

Spring is here and artists are starting to release more and more singles. Prediction: this year we’re going to see more and more music that was recorded in defiance of the lockdown. For your listening pleasure, here’s a self-guided playlist that’s just a small capsule of some of the very good things bubbling up from under the radar:

Molly Burman‘s Fool Me With Flattery has a noirish 60s rock edge with tropicalia tinges. Great jangly guitar!

Just when you think Paper Citizen‘s Scratching the Surface is totally no wave/skronky retro early 80s dystopia, the big catchy crunchy chorus kicks in. The lyrical message is allusive but spot on: let’s get off the screen before it gets us.

Shannon Clark & the Sugar‘s Let It Ride is not a cover of the Bachman-Turner Overdrive hit but a slow-burning minor key blues original. Remember the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks? This is probably on the jukebox there

Blood Lemon‘s Black-Capped Cry oozes through slow, doomy postmetal minimalism. They’re an Idaho band, and Idaho is a free state, so chances are they recorded this legally!

In elegant, stately Hebrew, singer Shifra Levy sings If I Found Grace over pianist/composer Yerachmiel’s neoromantic crescendos. It’s a Purim piano power ballad. Purim is sort of the Jewish Halloween: it’s not macabre, but all the cool kids dress up in costume and go to parties. Purim is over and Passover is looming, but give it a spin anyway

And speaking of awesome Jewish music, iconic klezmer violinist Alicia Svigals is playing a webcast live from Rockland, New York this March 13 at 7 PM. She chooses her spots for when she does these broadcasts, always gives you plenty of thrills and chills but just as much poignancy and an encyclopedic knowledge of the source material.