New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: new wave rock

A Promising, Characteristically Eclectic Start to This Year’s Bryant Park Accordion Festival

This year’s Bryant Park Accordion Festival runs through Sept 14 and promises to be as rapturously fun as last year’s was. On Wednesday evenings starting at 5:30 PM, a rotating cast of accordionists play half-hour sets of an amazingly eclectic range of music. This year there are five sets happening simultaneously, which created some dissonance on opening night when one group was going full steam while their neighbor played a quiet ballad. But the music was sublime.

For a connoisseur of accordion music – and who wouldn’t want to be one, right? – it’s always a triage. Forro or klezmer? Irish folk-punk or cumbia? The advantage of staggered sets is that you get multiple chances to see your favorite player or style of music. This week it was easy to choose a set by the brilliant and erudite Christina Crowder to begin the evening. Most of her numbers were minor-key Jewish wedding tunes, including a bouncy one about giving away the family’s youngest daughter, along with a mysterious, enveloping theme typically played early in the day for relatives of the betrothed. She romped through a jaunty bulgar and another, more somber tune, both of which contained the Twilight Zone riff. Late in the set, she treated the crowd to a Moldavian tune whose title translates roughly as “Freestyle Over This Groove.” Crowder didn’t rap; instead, she built an ambience that was as kinetic as it was hypnotic.

After that, it was time to head to the southeastern corner of the park for an even livelier set of oldschool cumbia and vallenato – “Colombian country music,” as accordionist Foncho Castellar termed it. Backed by a couple of percussionists, he played button accordion. The trio romped through some very brisk cumbias before the even more rustic stuff about peasants in the big city, or way out on the frontera, dancing, partying and chasing women.

After that, Susan Hwang – half of haunting literary art-rock duo Lusterlit – broke out her accordion for a deviously fun set. Backed by a djembe player, she opened with a coyly exasperated, new wave-flavored original, from her days with charming late zeros/early teens trio the Debutante Hour, concerning New York parking. Her funniest cover was a remake of the Willie Dixon/Muddy Waters blues classic, which she titled Hoochie Koochie Woman. Another fun one was an original from her lit-rock collective the Bushwick Book Club, a thoughtful, quirky bounce told from the point of view of physicist Richard Feynman.

Like Hwang, Dolunay frontwoman Jenny Luna is best known as a singer and percussionist. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to call her one of New York’s – and arguably the world’s – most riveting, shattering vocalists. She’s also a first-rate Balkan and Middle Eastern drummer. As it turns out, she’s a competent accordionist as well. Much as she got plenty of brooding, sometimes haunting atmospherics and chromatics wafting from her reeds, it was her voice that held the crowd spellbound,. She began with a moody tone  poem of sorts, then a couple of Rumeli (Balkan Turkish) laments that gave her a chance to air out both her soaring highs and haunting low register. She wound up the set with a jaunty if hardly blithe singalong, in Turkish – the chorus translated roughly as variations on “be my habibi.”

Next week’s installment of the festival, at 5:30 PM on Aug 22, features a similarly diverse lineup including but not limited to gothic Americana songwriter Sam Reider; the torchy, swinging Erica Mancini; edgy, avant garde-influenced chamber pop singer Mary Spencer Knapp; Argentine tango duo Tinta Roja and Mexican norteño crew Toro de la Sierra.

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The Blue Dahlia Bring Their Catchy, Quirky, Wildly Multistylstic Mashups to Barbes

Dahlia Dumont sings fluently in both French and English. As you might expect from a ukulele player, she has a quirky sense of humor. She also writes very eclectically, from South American and Caribbean styles to Americana, with frequent detours into Balkan and Romany sounds. Her gently melismatic vocals have tinges of both Americana as well as reggae and corporate urban pop. She honed her chops as a bandleader playing over crowds of drunks in dives all over Brooklyn…and she has a completely separate band in France playing her repertoire.

Fast forward to 2018: she’s plugged into the New York parks summer concert circuit, and she has a new album, La Tradition Americane, streaming at her music page. And she’s sticking with elite venues now: she and her band the Blue Dahlia will be at Barbes this Saturday night, Aug 11 at 8 PM. Similarly eclectic jazz pianist Joel Forrester opens the night solo at 6; psychedelic cumbia band Cumbiagra (with whom she shares accordion wizard George Saenz) play after at 10.

The album opens with the title track, a coyly modulating mashup of tango and ska, spiced with Zoe Aqua’s stark Romany violin, as well as horns and a brief, soulful Giovanni Hector trombone solo. Is the closing mantra “la belle de Louisianna” or “la bête de Louisianne?”

The band does two radically different arrangements of I See Trees Differently, first as oldtime country ballad and then as straight-up roots reggae. They follow that with the sardonic reggae tune Mai Tai, Diego Cebollero’s bluesy electric guitar paired against rustic fiddle and accordion.

Uneasy washes of accordion open Wake Me Up, then Yoshiki Yamada’s chugging reggae bassline kicks in along with the rest of the band’s moody, klezmer-inflected lushness. Canal Saint Martin is an elegant Cajun waltz; Dumont stays in that tempo for Reasonable and its bluesy, piano-fueled Tom Waits-ish milieu.

Karina Colis’ caffeinated drumming propels Blah Blah, which shifts in a split-second back and forth between new wave and ska. Then the band hit a balmy reggae groove, awash in the strings of Aqua and cellist Nelly Rocha before Jackie Coleman’s muted trumpet solos over Dumont’s exasperated chronicle of social media-era overkill.

The most straight-up French chanson number here is La Fontaine, a moody, swaying tune with soulful, lowlit clarinet. Dumont shifts to soca for Your Love, which grows much more brooding as the strings swell and spiral. It makes a good setup for the album’s best cut, the hauntingly Balkan-inflected, string-driven Influence. Then the band go back to breezy reggae for Plantation and close with Le Rêve, a jaunty reggae bounce. There’s literally something for everyone here.

Poignant, Pensive Brilliance on Jessie Kilguss’ Allusive, Eclectic, Wickedly Tuneful New Album

You’d think that someone who’d taken a star turn in stage productions with Daniel Day Lewis and Marianne Faithfull would stick with a successful theatrical career. But Jessie Kilguss was drawn to music – and that’s our victory and the theatre world’s loss. Over the past decade, she’s become one of the most haunting singers in any style of music. Her delivery is intimate, like she’s letting you in on a secret – whether that might be a sly joke, an innuendo or something far more sinister. While she’s best known as a purveyor of folk noir, her back catalog spans from witchy art-rock to anthemic janglerock to Richard and Linda Thompson-esque, Britfolk-influenced stylings.

Her new album The Fastness – streaming at Spotify – is not about velocity. It’s about refuge. The title is a North Sea term for a secluded hideaway: a place to hold fast. That sheltering theme resonates mightily through a mix of imagistic, often poignant songs blending elements of 60s soul, 80s goth, new wave and art-rock. And Kilguss’ voice has never soared more mightily or murmured more mordantly than here on this album. She and her first-class band are playing the album release show this Thursday, June 28 at 8:30 PM at the downstairs third stage at the Rockwood; cover is $10.

With Kirk Schoenherr’s contrasting layers of guitar – icy and Siouxsie-esque in the left channel, watery and organ-timbred in the right – the album’s opening track The Master is an elegaic masterpiece. In usual Kilguss fashion, it’s enigmatic to the extreme. “Who will be the oracle when he is gone?” is the final refrain. A Bernie Sanders parable, maybe, or a more ancient, mythological reference? 

Kilguss follows that with Spain, a guardedly optimistic if understatedly brooding update on 60s soul balladry, spiced with guitar grit over the calmly swaying pulse of John Kengla’s bass and Rob Heath’s drums. Strangers comes across as a wistful mashup of Guided By Voices and Blondie, while Dark Corners of Your Mind follows a hypnotically vamping, psychedelic path, akin to the Frank Flight Band with a woman out front. Kengla’s bass dances amid the sheets of rainy-day guitars as Kilguss ponders the danger of being subsumed by the demands of a relationship.

New Start is a surreal, unlikely mashup of classic 60s C&W and echoey new wave, but Kilguss manages to make it work, all the way through one of the album’s catchiest choruses, awash in the waves from her harmonium. Hell Creek – a co-write with Kengla – is one of the murder ballads she writes so well. With its lingering atmospherics, Kilguss references current-day atomization and how its ramifications can do far more damage than just playing tricks with your mind.

Likewise, Rainy Night in Copenhagen has aptly echoey, Cure-like ambience. Bridge the Divide is the monster anthem here, an eerily propulsive Laurel Canyon psychedelic verse giving way to soaring new wave on the chorus.

What Is It You Want From Me is the closest thing here to Kilguss’ purist pop masterpiece Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, from her 2014 album Devastate Me. She winds up this cycle with with the metaphorically-loaded Edge of Something, an easy place to fall off one way or another. Another triumph for one of the most unselfconsciously brilliant tunesmiths to emerge from this city in recent years and a strong contender for best rock record of 2018.

Two Rare New York Shows by Magically Chameleonic Israeli Singer Victoria Hanna

Singer Victoria Hanna has built a career as one of Israel’s most individualistic and magically protean vocalists. She draws on centuries of Middle Eastern music as well as the avant garde and more commercial dancefloor sounds. Her lyrics often explore ancient mystical themes; her evocative, protean voice transcends linguistic limitations. You don’t have to speak Hebrew to fall under her spell. The last time anybody from this blog was in the house at one of her performances was way back in the zeros, when she electrified a sold-out crowd at Tonic on the Lower East Side with a couple of cameos at a Big Lazy album release show. Since that iconic noir cinematic group very seldom uses vocals, that they would choose Hanna to sing with them speaks for itself.

Hanna is at the Bronx Museum of the Arts at 1040 Grand Concourse on April 25 at 6 PM in conjunction with the opening for new exhibits by Oded Halahmy and Moses Ros. Admission is free but a ravp is required; take the B to 167th St. Then the next day, April 26 she’s making a very rare Brooklyn appearance on April 26 at 7 PM with Gershon Waiserfirer on electric oud and trombone at the first special event in Luisa Muhr’s fascinating Women Between Arts series at the Arete Gallery, 67 West St. in Greenpoint. The closest train is the G at Greenpoint Ave; cover is $25.

Hanna’s long-awaited debut album is streaming at her music page. The instrumentation is usually very spare – occasional strings, brass and percussion. The songs are a mix of upbeat, new wave-tinged dance numbers, with occasional windswept ambience. The first track, Aleph- Bet (Hoshana) is both characteristically playful and unsettling. It’s a Hebrew alphabet rhyme that also references ancient Jewish numerology. Hanna’s multitracked, processed voice takes on both techy outer-space and otherworldly Middle Eastern cadences over former Big Lazy drummer Tamir Muskat’s shamanistic, echoey beats – if Bjork was Middle Eastern, she might sound something like this

The second track, 22 Letters revisits that theme over a funky, minimalist habibi pop groove. That grows a lot slinkier in Orayta, a catchy, bouncy, similarly spare devotional hymn spiced with spare, echoey synth and spiky buzuq riffs. Hanna infuses Sheharhoret (Brown-haired Girl) with a misterioso, coyly conspiratorial energy, her melismatic delivery part levantine, part Bollywood.

Ani Yeshena (Sleeping But My Heart Is Awake) is a surreal mashup of a stately klezmer dirge, Balkan brass music and catchy new wave pop. Hanna follows with the wistfully hazy, atmospheric Kala Dekalya (The Voice of All the Voices) and Hayoshevet Baganim (Sitting in the Garden), the latter with airy accordion and echoes of north Indian ghazals.

In contrast with the song’s spacious rainy-day piano, Hanna’s voice is both more hopeful and tender throughout Shaarei Tziyon, a duet. With its lush string ambience, Yonati (My Dove) brings to mind the terse art-songs of Tunisian chanteuse Emel Mathlouthi. The album’s final and most haunting track is the majestically crescendoing grey-sky tableau Asher Yarzar. Fans of all of Hanna’s many influences, from classical Indian to Middle Eastern to dance music should get to know her.

A Wryly Trippy, Picturesque New Album and an Owl Release Show by Curtis Hasselbring

Curtis Hasselbring has been a mainstay at the adventurous edge of the New York jazz scene since the late 80s. Best known as a trombonist and composer of cinematic themes with a sardonic sense of humor, he’s also a very distinctive guitarist and keyboardist. His new solo album, Curha II is streaming at his music page. It’s a lot more techy than his usual work, and probably the most psychedelic thing he’s ever done. Here, he plays all the instruments. He’s playing the album release show on April 20 at 9:30 PM at the Owl, leading a very cool quintet with Alec Spiegelman and Peter Hess on bass clarinets, Ari Folman-Cohen on bass and John Bollinger on drums.

The album opens on a slashing note with Scissors, a gamelanesque, pointillistic stroll through a Javanese funhouse mirror. Then Hasselbring completely flips the script with Egon, a woozy, blippy synth-and-drum-machine acid jazz number.

A squirrelly new wave-influenced shuffle, Respect the Pedestrian comes across as an early 80s video game theme as XTC might have done it – with a not-so-subtle message for an era in New York where a driver can blast through an intersection, take out a couple of toddlers, and get away with it.

Mystery Guest mashes up Eno-esque rainy-day ambience and a warpy trip-hop groove. The Beatles catch up with Gary Numan in the catchy Sir Fish; then Hasselbring goes further into psych-folk mode with ’68, its wah-wah guitars and catchy acoustic garage riffage.

Party Platter People is prime Hasselbring: a staggered motorik drive, cascading Tangerine Dream synths against King Crimson guitar flares…and dreamy Hawaiian swing when you least expect it. The dubby Fish Coda is sort of King Tubby meets sleng teng uptown. The album ends with the stomping Ana-lo, which sounds like a Joy Division instrumental b-side. There’s also the surreal trombone-and-electronics shuffle Alpaca Lunch and Madgit, an interminable, robotic techno parody – maybe. Tune in, turn on, bug out. 

Lyrical, Mesmerizing Psychedelia From Rose Thomas Bannister in Williamsburg Saturday Night

Psychedelic rock bands aren’t known for searing, literary lyrics. It’s even rarer to find a psychedelic group with a charismatic woman out in front. Likewise, it’s just as uncommon for a woman songwriter with an acoustic guitar to be leading a great psychedelic band. Saturday night at the brand-new Wonders of Nature in Williamsburg, the crowd got all that from Rose Thomas Bannister and her mesmerizing backing unit.

She and lead guitarist Bob Bannister are the closest thing we have to an American Richard & Linda Thompson – except that these two don’t hit each other over the head with things (or at least it doesn’t seem so). Her career dates back to the past decade in Nebraska, where she sharpened her hauntingly spare, broodingly allusive “great plains gothic” songcraft. His dates back a decade before to post-no wave bands like The Scene Is Now, who are still going strong.

With a wry grin, he bowed the strings of his Strat for “ambience,” as he put it, as the undulating, enigmatic opening number, Sandhll slowly coalesced, drummer Ben Engle’s subtle cymbals mingling with bassist Debby Schwartz’s nimbly melodic, trebly, punchy countermelodies and violinist Concetta Abbate’s ethereally tectonic washes. In this context, The Real Penelope and its achingly Homeric references were reinvented as a sort of mashup of the Grateful Dead’s China Cat Sunflower and Rubber Soul-era Beatles.

Appropriating religious imagery and turning it inside out is a device that goes back centuries – Rumi, for example – but Rose Thomas Bannister is unsurpassed at it. The best song of the night was a brand-new one, Heaven Is a Wall, a prime example. She opened it with a hypnotic, cirlcing fingerpicked riff, then it morphed into a sarcastic march as she let loose a litany of fire-and-brimstone imagery straight out of the Mike Pence speechbook. Likewise, the gritty, swinging In the Alley and its understatedly Tom Waits-like tableau.

The rest of the set rose and fell, from Sutherland, a misty, ominous murder ballad, to the jauntily sarcastic Like Birds Do (a subtle Macbeth reference); the grim, claustrophobic narrative Jephthah’s Daughter, and Houston, an escape anthem recast as late-60s blue-eyed soul. Terse, sinewy, slinky Strat lines blended with stately violin, leaping and swooping bass and Engle’s low-key propulsion. They closed with their one cover of the night, a pulsing, emphatic take of Ivor Cutler’s Women of the World: Bannister knows as well as anyone else that the future of this country is female.

Cellist Leah Coloff opened with an acerbic solo set of her own, a mix of stark blues phrasing, edgy Patti Smith-style anthems and bracing detours toward free jazz and the avant garde. Franklin Bruno and his power trio the Human Hands closed the night with a set of haphazardly punchy, catchy, sardonically lyrical tunes that brought to mind acts as diverse as Cheap Trick, Big Star and the Dream Syndicate. Afterward, Bob Bannister spun a mix of obscure 70s dancefloor tracks over the PA; everybody danced.

Globalfest 2018: The Best Ever?

Yeah, Globalfest this year was cold. But it’s winter. Judging from the number of midwestern and Canadian accents in the crowd last night, an awful lot of people at this year’s annual festival of sounds from around the world are on familiar terms with it. At this point in history we should be grateful that anything approximating winter still exists.

And it was reassuring to see such great throngs of people coming out on what might have been the coldest night of the year to see music from shithole countries. Neither of the two nations officially designated as shitholes by the Oval Office – El Salvador and Haiti – were represented among the dozen acts on the bill. But Iran has been on a White House shitlist for a long time, Cuba for far longer. And by today’s White House standards (if not tomorrow’s), the cities of New Orleans and Detroit can’t be far behind. So a lineup, which by European standards would have made for a good, solidly eclectic summer festival bill, was positively subversive here in the US in 2018.

Mohsen Namjoo set the bar impossibly high for the rest of the night, opening up the evening with his Persian rock band at the Liberty Theatre stage on the south side of 42nd Street. How did the Iranian setar lute player handle singing to an audience of non-Farsi speakers? Mostly by just vocalizing. “Understand it as sound,” he said with a sardonic wink to the crowd jammed at the front of the stage. Which is a step outside the box for a guy known for his incendiary lyrics.

He’s been called the Iranian Bob Dylan, although Tom Waits is a better comparison – and Namjoo rocks a lot harder than both of those guys put together. Showing off every octave of his formidable range, he prowled from gritty lows to overtone-enhanced highs, evoking a ney flute during one long interlude. His snarling band – lead guitar, bass and drums – made fanged Iranian art-rock out of Metallica, and took innumerable twists and turns through a dynamic mix of multi-part epics in 5/4, 7/4 and 11/4.

Namjoo, who has a withering sense of humor, cynically dismissed the American fixation with four-on-the-floor rhythms. His funniest moment of the night was when he played sarcastic bebop on his setar and scatted – after opening the song with a plaintive, haunting, spacious minor-key lute intro.

Later in the night there were similarly spectacular vocals from Georgia’s Iberi Choir, who are not only a choral ensemble but what could be termed an acoustic psychedelic folk band. Georgian harmonies are unlike music from anywhere else on the globe, with plenty of uneasy adjacencies but not the microtones of Middle Eastern or Balkan music. There was a brooding sensibility throughout much of the group’s set, and also a relentless, sometimes hypnotic intensity, alluding to but never hitting the kind of big minor-key crescendo you might expect from, say, Russian music.

Like Namjoo, the group members all seem to have impressive range, leaping far from monklike gothic lows within thirty seconds of the start of the set. The group’s instrumental chops were also as gripping as their vocals. Throughout a mix of dance numbers, Central Asian field hollers, laments and celebrations, various subsets of the ensemble would move to the front, accompanying themselves on a variety of lutes. In the most spectacular moment of the entire evening, the group leader played jaunty harmonies on two wood flutes at once and didn’t miss a note.

Across the street at Lucille’s, Brazilian rock singer Ava Rocha led her wickedly psychedelic four-piece band through a deliciously acidic, unpredictably shapeshifting set. South of the border, the 80s are still very much alive, but in a much darker way than they are here. American indie bands tend to ape the blithest, poppiest side of the Cure or New Order; down there, the sound tends to be much darker. Rocha’s mask finally came off three songs into her set. By then, the band had prowled through enigmatic early 80s Souxsie terrain, then a hypnotic series of interludes that were best appreciated as a contiguous whole rather than individual songs.

Tightly and methodically, the band negotiated sharp-fingernailed no wave, clenched-teeth Gang of Four skronk and insistently pulsing postrock interludes, the Telecaster player often hanging on the same tense, unresolved hook for what seemed minutes on end, at a couple of points switching to mini-synth for a series of woozy, warpy textures. The other Fender player handled the more aggressive, jagged lines over the rhythm section’s relentless drive. Rocha’s moody mezzo-soprano made a strong match with the songs’ often pained intensity, another case of many this evening where the mood of the music transcended any linguistic barrier.

That was most vividly the case in singer Eva Salina’s rapturous set of music from across the Balkans, in a rising and falling intimate duo set with her longtime accordionist Peter Stan. Where he’d animated a big ballroom full of dancers at Golden Fest a couple of nights before with his whirlwind arpeggios, cascades and looming low pulse, this time he fired off bright rivet-gun staccato riffs and similarly nimble spirals when he wasn’t lowlighting the sadder numbers.

Which would eventually go in all sorts of different directions. Eva Salina reminded the crowd that there’s a little bit of sadness – and happiness too – in pretty much everything, varying her delivery from delicate microtonal nuance, to lustrously sustained midrange, to lively, bounding passages. A handful of numbers – including a surreal tale of a drunk trying (or not trying) to pull his life together, and a bouncy celebration of a rotund little bride who’s eventually going to bear nine children – were taken from the catalog of legendary Romany crooner Saban Bajrmovic. Salina’s forthcoming album mines a completely different repertoire, that of the tragic but indomitable chanteuse Vida Pavlovic, most poignantly exemplified by a couple of ballads about abandonment – with and without children.

Finally, as midnight approached, it was time to move next door to B.B. King’s, the biggest room at this this year’s festival, for Mariachi Flor de Toloache. Where Eva Salina had been all about subtlety, New York’s only all-female mariachi band were all about fire and drama, breathtaking vocal acrobatics and audience participation. Bandleader Mireya Ramos played nimble basslines on her guitarron but saved her most spectacular chops for violin, in a sizzling solo during the night’s final cumbia. Her counterpart on tenor guitar also showed off a sensational top range during an unexpected and wildly successful detour into noir soul- somewhere Amy Winehouse is very jealous. With two trumpets, soaring violin and balmy flute, the group made their way through a defiant shout-out to Puerto Rico, a handful of rhythmically tricky, punchy dance numbers and a droll medley that quoted Led Zep along with other more snarky riffs.

Serendipitously, there was less of a need to triage this year than at past festivals. The only major disappointments were missing Miramar – who are playing Barbes tonight, Jan 15, at 9 – and also Indian carnatic hip-hop duo Grand Tapestry, who if they played at all, were done by half past midnight. And it would have been a lot of fun to see the whole set by slinky, shuffling New Orleans trio Delgres, who with slide guitar, sousaphone and drums played a kinetically hypnotic mashup of Mozambiquean duskcore over New Orleans-tinged rhythms. It was akin to watching Tinariwen playing R.L. Burnside tunes – with a fat low end that frequently bubbled over with distortion.

And what a difference a venue makes. What a pleasant change to see the calm, comfortable faces of the staff at B.B. King’s instead of the paranoid stares of the goons at Webster Hall, a place where just getting inside felt like trying to break into Riker’s Island. Even as transcendent as many of the past fifteen years’ worth of Globalfest lineups could be, being treated like a criminal from the git-go always leaves a bad taste.

But revenge is sweet. At Globalfest 2013, a daily New York music blog proprietor managed to sneak two bottles of wine through Webster Hall’s security gauntlet. Not to drink there – to take home afterward, and carry out through that same exit door, a raised middle finger to every little Hitler in the house.

Goth Music Rises From the Grave in Williamsburg Friday Night

Long after it seemed that emo had finally driven a stake through what was left of goth music, turns out that it’s very much alive – in Williamsburg, of all places. There’s a twinbill at Muchmore’s on Dec 15 at 11 that could be a real throwback to the sounds of the Meatpacking District dungeons in the 80s, awash in digital reverb and tight new wave beats,. It’s not clear whether Safe Hex or Picture One are playing first, but their sounds are very similar. Likewise, each band has an album up as a free download at Bandcamp.

Sidereal, by Safe Hex, opens with Watched Us Fade, which sets the scene: stiff 2/4 drum machine beat, brisk new wave bass and echoey downstroke guitar that pinwheels into a splatter of dreampop. The vocals are the only giveaway that this wasn’t made in the mid-80s in the shadow of the Cure.

The second cut, With What Sacrifice shifts from steadily pulsing early New Order into a more enveloping, hypnotic dreampop ambience. Rachael, with its soaring, watery bass, icy pulsar guitars and ominous chromatic riffage, is the one dead ringer for the Cure circa 1984 here.

Forgotten Bodies, which closes the album, is both its fastest, most atmospheric and anthemic cut, building to a catchy crescendo before the skittish staccato guitar returns.

Picture One’s all-instrumental album sounds less like a band and more like a bedroom project with guitars, lo-fi keys and drum machine. The opening track, Bunkbed Tapes follows a familiar, tense pattern as multi-instrumentalist Thomas Pinkney’s layers of Roland Juno-style faux organ and piano enter the picture and then recede. It segues into the aptly titled miniature Gray Signals, followed by Light Beyond This, Light Before, snappy bass strutting and winding through spare, reverb-drenched rainy-day guitar.

The cover of the Cleaners From Venus’ Only a Shadow is more than a shadow of the Cure’s Pictures of You sped up a bit, with a neat bit of a surf edge (or did was it the Cure who ripped off the original?). Things slow down with the dirgey, cinematic theme Red Rainbow and then pick up with A Dream Like Death Like, one of many tracks here screaming out for a full band to play it behind some black-clad guy who can really croon about things like desperate winter moons and lonely werewolves – ok, maybe not that, but you get the picture.

Robot Heart is another Cure soundalike. anchored by a fast, vamping, percussive bassline. The fleeting closing track, Montrose motors along over an anthemic four-chord riff driven by the bass, swooshy atmospherics looming in the background. There are plenty of gloomy neoromantic one-man-band types all over youtube, but it’s impossible to think of any writing goth songs without words in a vein as catchy as this.

Dark, Brooding, Catchy Powerpop and New Wave From Lauren Hoffman & the Secret Storm

Today’s Halloween album, streaming at Bandcamp, is The Family Ghost, by Lauren Hoffman & the Secret Storm. As with yesterday’s album, it’s anything but cartoonish: the unease is pretty relentless, and when there’s menace, it’s typically implied. The music is on the dark side, blending artsy parlor pop, powerpop, and new wave – and it’s catchy as hell. Hoffman’s clear, uncluttered voice is a powerful vehicle for these mostly sad songs.

The opening track sways along on a trip-hop groove, Hoffman’s elegantly restrained vocals evoking Changing Modes’ Wendy Griffiths over Tony Lechmanski’s lingering, Lynchian guitar clang. And then the song hits a blazing crescendo. It’s about being hunted, and escaping that: it’s not clear who the girl and her little brother are running from. In a city where the subways and buses are on track to become part of a surveillance-based system by 2023, songs like this really resonate.

Feel It All Over is a catchy minor-key new wave powerpop hit bolstered by Ethan Lipscomb’s piano and Cathy Monnes’ one-woman string section, Hoffman’s protagonist determined to live at full throttle until the curtain falls. A Britfolk-tinged waltz amped up with burning guitars, Let the Waves Crash on Me is a love song to a would-be escapee: I’ve got your back, I’ll hold your guns while you make a break for it, Hoffman insists.

Sick With Love is every bit as plainspoken and morose as the title indicates, Hoffman pondering  who’ll miss the random strangers in the street when they’re dead. Over an anthemic four-chord powerpop hook, In the Sun broodingly contemplates the hope for something genuinely transcendent. “I’m not that strong, but I’m strong enough to suffer if that’s the price I have to pay,” she laments.

She goes back to mid 80s style Go-Go’s powerpop with I Just Broke up With a Guy Who Looks Kinda Like You, whose title doesn’t come close to hinting at where the muted, somber vocals and narrative are going. The snarling, Middle Eastern-tinged title track is both the album’s musical high point…and its lyrically weakest track. OK, seduce the dude, whatev. And skip the next track – even some tasty, fluttery cello can’t redeem that one.

With its blend of enigmatic guitar, swooping cello and incisive keys, the album’s most ornate, witchiest number is The Dragon: “You’re a tease and a flirt,” Hoffman tells the monster. The album closes with the sad waltz Til it Lasts: “I won’t be so brave next time,” Hoffman tells herself, “You die for their love, or die of it.” Nothing more Halloweenish than that.

Ella Atlas’ Debut Album Builds Hauntingly Cinematic Twin Peaks Ambience

Stephen Masucci is best known for his film music and for his lead guitar in one of the most haunting, Lynchian New York bands ever, the Lost Patrol. Since that group ground to a halt a couple of years ago, he’s been busy with a new, similarly dark, cinematic project, Ella Atlas, with compellingly enigmatic, eclectic singer/multi-instrumentalist Tarrah Maria. The duo’s deliciously reverb-drenched new album The Road to Now is streaming at Bandcamp.

It opens with the catchy, distantly shimmering When the Gods Are Fading, swirly late 70s ELO through a surreal new wave prism peppered with references to wars and death. Masucci’s icy clang fuels the slowly swaying Red Kingdom, Tarrah Maria’s vocals lush with a similarly chilly allure.

Likewise, Hotel You begins with blue velvet tremolo guitar chords but quickly hits a brisk new wave take on a roadhouse rock groove, Tarrah Maria’s voice taking on a hint of a country twang in a luridly aphoristic tale of conflagration and escape. The slower. even more plush Waking Up has a spacerock sweep, the frontwoman’s voice bringing to mind Karla Rose at her most subtly torchy and dynamic.

Meteor shower atmospherics build to a propulsive chorus in Horses on the Run. Breaking Ice comes across as a noir surf-influenced take on the kind of angst-fueled retro new wave the New Collisions mined so memorably around the turn of the past decade.

Something to Be Desired is part hearbroken Nashville gothic pop, part Cocteau Twins, Tarrah Maria turning in her most ominously pillowy vocals here. The duo make an enveloping anthem out of an On Broadway vamp in Blindful & Bliss, then build strutting, turbulent, red-neon ambience in Can’t Go Back.

“I know that this will end, but I’m addicted to the view,” Tarrah Maria intones in Leave Me in Blue, the most darkly lingering, epically sweeping track here. The album winds up with Skin & Bones, rising out and then back to spare, rainy-day melancholy. As with the Lost Patrol, a persistent unease and distant sense of dread pervades these nocturnes: they’re songs for our time. Arguably the best debut album of 2017 so far.