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Category: new wave rock

Moodily Atmospheric New Wave and Lynchian Sounds From Brass Box

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

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

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

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

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

Bleak Anthems For a Bleak Year From Blackwater Holylight

Blackwater Holylight are one of the most original and intriguing dark rock bands around. They started out as an improbably successful mashup of Black Sabbath and the Cure with a woman out front, then on their second album left much of the 80s behind for a heavier sound. Their third release, Silence/Motion is just out and streaming at Bandcamp. It’s the band’s most straightforwardly dark and quietest release yet, no surprise considering this year’s zeitgeist.

The first track is Delusional: a spare, lingering dirge introduces a venomous, growling, swaying anthem. Frontwoman/bassist Sunny Faris joins forces with guest vocalists Bryan Funck and Mike Paparo for Exorcist gasp-and-rasp over Sarah McKenna’s funereal organ, guitarist Mikayla Mayhew adding simple, single-note leads over drummer Eliese Dorsay’s supple beat.

Faris is a more distant, ghostly presence in Who the Hell, a surreal blend of the Cure at their most gothic and Tangerine Dream, but heavier than either of those two bands. She and Mayhew switch instruments on the title track, Dorsay’s muted martial volleys driving a rainy-day acoustic guitar-and-piano theme toward fullscale gothic majesty, then falling away elegantly.

Imagine Sonic Youth with lithe bass, echoey keys and a competent singer, and you get Falling Faster. Faris and Mayhew exchange axes again for MDIII, a swaying, drifting, desolate theme rising toward gritty dreampop-tinged roar.

Likewise, there’s a late 80s Lush feel in Around You: it’s the closest thing to a straight-up pop song the band’s ever done. The album’s final and most psychedelic cut is Every Corner, built around a catchy, hypnotic raga riff (Faris on guitar and Mayhew on bass) until the band hit an unexpected, increasingly sinister stoner boogie interlude.

Blackwater Holylight are on tour this fall: their next free-state show is January 21, 2022 at Trees in Dallas, Texas, opening for first-class heavy blues/psychedelic band All Them Witches.

Revisiting a Lush, Lynchian Treat by the Lovely Intangibles

The Lovely Intangibles are a spinoff of Lynchian cinematic band the Lost Patrol, one of the most consistently disquieting New York groups of the past twenty years or so. This project features the core of the band, lead guitarist/keyboardist Stephen Masucci and twelve-string player Michael Williams, plus singer Mary Ognibene and drummer Tony Mann. Their 2015 debut album Tomorrow Is Never is streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening track, No Amends, has everything that made the Lost Patrol so menacingly memorable. That lingering reverb guitar, those icy washes of string synth and deep-sky production, and Ognibene’s breathy, woundeed vocal harmonies are a good fit.

The Dust Settles Down is basically a catchy 80s new wave ballad lowlit by ominous spaghetti western guitar: imagine Julee Cruise if she could belt. Opening with dusky guitar jangle, Tell Me When takes on a gusty, string synth-driven ba-BUMP noir cabaret tinge.

Beatlesque riffage punches in and out of the sweep and swoosh of Do As You Please. The album’s title track ripples and glistens, Ognibene’s voice channeling a cool but angst-fueled intensity: the kettledrums and snappy bass are an aptly Orbisonian touch.

Masucci’s icepick reverb guitar and looming bass propel the anthemically waltzing It’s Just Like You. Then the band sway through the gorgeously bittersweet early 60s-influenced Will You Surrender: you could call it Theme From a Winter Place.

The most straight up new wave number here is Divine. They close the album with Relapse, a broodingly twinkling tableau. Play this with the lights out – if you can handle it,after all we’ve been through over the past year and a half.

Troubled Music For Troubled Times From Mary Ocher

One of the more darkly intriguing albums to come over the transom here in the past couple of years is German singer Mary Ocher’s The West Against the People, which is still streaming at Bandcamp. It’s hard to think of a better way to describe what the world’s been through since the lockdown began, isn’t it? And the music itself tends to be grim, grey and unrelenting, with a skeletal late 70s/early 80s no wave influence.

The album begins with Firstling II, a shifting, echoey vocal soundscape, drifting further toward desolation. There are two versions of To the Light here: the first with Ocher’s watery, quavery vocals over oscillating organ and a shuffle beat, the second with elegant piano and echoey electronic washes, more evocative of the song’s understated desperation.

Zah Zah, a simple, catchy dub-influenced bass-and-drums loop is also reprised later as a brief electronic interlude. My Executioner is a coldly marching, minimalist no wave march: “We come face to face, my butcher,” Ocher snarls, “How do you deconstruct fear?”

Pounding drums and carnivalesque synth underscore Ocher’s cynical defiance in Authority’s Hold: it could be an early Creatures song. Gritty wordless vocals contrast with blippy synth in The Irrevocable Temple of Knowledge, while Arms is unexpectedly calmer and seems more improvised.

With its pulsing, echoey synth, The Endlessness (Song For Young Xenophobes) could be Carol Lipnik in especially minimalist mode, Ocher’s voice jumping to spectacular heights. Washed Upon Your Shores is even more rustically simple, just vocals over a persistent high bass note and rattly percussion.

Ocher revisits a dub milieu with the spoken-word piece The Becoming, featuring Die Todliche Doris. “It is not uncommon to think of acts of unnecessary violence,” Ocher demurs in this sardonically detailed tale of revenge. Ocher closes the album with the eeriliy loopy Wulkania, a collaboration with Felix Cubin.

A Characteristically Brilliant, Surprising, Slashingly Lyrical New Album by Changing Modes

Changing Modes have been one of the best bands in New York since the zeros, when they began releasing a formidable series of catchy, ambitious, individualistic rock records. Their music features layers of keyboards and vocal harmonies from frontwomen Wendy Griffiths and Grace Pulliam, enigmatically virtuosic and often slashing lead guitar from Yuzuru Sadashige, with drummer Timur Yusef colorfully negotiating the songs’ serpentine, shapeshifting rhythms. As the years went on, their playful lyrical edge grew angrier and more politically-inspired, particularly as the Metoo movement gained momentum. Their latest album Wax World is streaming at youtube.

From a performance point of view, what’s most amazing is that it sounds as lush and contiguous as the rest of their catalog, considering that Yusef – one of the most colorfully nimble players in town – recorded his tracks remotely from the UK.

The opening number, Audio Polaroid, is a searing, sardonic commentary on IG-era narcissism: “Audio Polaroid never will fill the void,” the two women harmonize over a surreal blend of reggae and skittish new wave. The ultimate message seems to be that it’s never more than a memory – and a hazy one at that.

Griffiths and Pulliam exchange lyrical lines and harmonies over haphazard Beatles blues in Nothing to Say: “You’re selling your soul on ebay, you’re selling secrets that aren’t yours to give away,” Pulliam accuses. Strychnine is not the Cramps classic but an slyly blippy, very subtly venomous, new wave-tinged original with a hilarious intro.

Stasis Loop rises out of an evil morass of feedback and horror-movie keys, a macabre, picturesque account of the early days of the lockdown in New York, “Stuck in a place where nobody waits for summer or fall…playgrounds are empty, their friends are all gone and even their masters are someone else’s boss.” It might be the best song of 2021.

The band maintain the chilly ambience in Autumn, a vehicle for Sadashige’s enigmatically skeletal guitar leads. Likewise, the rainy-day guitar clusters, keening organ and plaintive vocal harmonies in Glass of Winter. If this song is any indication, Sadashige was a great surf guitarist in a past life and has graduated to jazz.

Solitary, a brisk punchy new wave/punk number, speaks for itself: this time the grisly joke is the outro. Yusef’s gracefully tumbling Atrocity Exhibition-style drums bookend On an Island, a gorgeously symphonic, surreal esape ballad. Baritone saxophonist Sawa Tamezane caps off Haze, a ba-bump cabaret-tinged number, with an incisively lyrical solo.

The band close with Undertow, a dynamically shifting, baroque-tinged anthem, late Beatles through a glass darkly. Changing Modes’ records have been ubiquitous on this blog’s annual Best Albums of the Year page since day one and this one will be high on the list for 2021.

Castle Black Take Their Dark Unpredictability to the Next Level

Castle Black started out as a haphazardly noisy power trio and have grown into more of an art-rock band while never losing their punk edge. Frontwoman Leigh Celent has kept the group going after the 2020 lockdown with a rotating rhythm section, and managed to make a scorchingly eclectic new short album, Get Up Dancer, streaming at Bandcamp. Since this is a pretty dark record – aren’t they all, with this band – it fits the bill for today’s episode in the ongoing, October-long Halloween celebration here.

It’s great to hear these tracks all fleshed out in the studio after seeing the latest version of the trio roar and slink through them at their show in Long Island City a couple of months ago. The first cut – the title track, more or less – is Radio Queen, a sleeker, more trickily rhythmic take on careening early 80s punk, like the Vice Squad classic Last Rockers but way tighter.

Likewise, the metric shifts in Another Grand Delusion, a gorgeously serpentine, angst-fueled anthem awash in Celent’s signature reverb and roar. Her machete guitar riffage, Scott Brown’s tersely ascending bass and the tumbling drums blend to raise the heartbroken angst in Talking About Those Nights to redline.

Knife in My Heart is a revenge fantasy, part ba-bump cabaret, part echoey psychedelia, part searing powerpop, Celent on keys in addition to guitar. An icy high/low guitar/bass contrast gives way to a burning chorus in That Little War: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Thalia Zedek tunebook. Same applies to the last song, Sorry, the album’s most darkly enveloping number. It’s rewarding to see Celent refusing to stay in one place and find dark new avenues to explore. Count this as one of the most intriguing and best rock records of 2021.

Edge of Paradise Welcome You to Dystopia

This being Halloween month, it’s the most likely time of the year to find a nebulously dystopic metal-flavored album here. Edge of Paradise‘s new release The Unknown – streaming at Soundcloud – is more for fans of anthemic, retro 80s new wave sounds than diehard metalheads. But it’s hardly lightweight.

The first song on the record is Digital Paradise – let’s say frontwoman/keyboardist Margarita Monet doesn’t exactly see this hall of avatars as heaven. It’s a steady backbeat tune, as Missing Persons might have done it (but didn’t) with a brief, muted finger-tapping solo from guitarist Dave Bates grafted on. Throughout the album, Monet sings through a maze of effects, further enhancing the bleak, techy, futuristic chill.

She goes up to the top of her forceful yet airy range in My Method Your Madness, a ba-bump cabaret theme with crunchy guitars. It’s closer to an old 80s Moody Blues hit than, say, Gogol Bordello.

Layers of subtly but wickedly intertwined guitar roar rise to redline in Tidal Wave along with Monet’s righteously raging vocals. The album’s title track starts out as a strangely floating soundscape, then the band take it into aggressive action movie theme territory. The next cut, Believe is a defiant resistance anthem, Monet’s leaps into the stratosphere grounded by bassist Ricky Bonazza’s crunchy chords.

Bates’ muted machinegun riffs line up against Monet’s blustery synth in False Idols. From there the band segue into You Touch You Die, drummer Jamie Moreno hanging back suspensefully until the synthy skies break. “You were given a perfect world and you threw it away,” Monet accuses.

Darkness descends anxiously to match the metal crush in One Last Time – it’s the album’s best and heaviest track. Leaving Earth is the bounciest and poppiest number: “Who’s in control, machine or man?” Monet wants to know. The title of the anguished, drifting final cut, Bound to the Rhythm, telegraphs how this ugly story ends. There’s also a bonus track, an “industrial remix” of My Method Your Madness which is actually quite good since it’s more of a dub version.

New York Underground Legends Faith Bring Their Shapeshifting Sound Outside

Faith are one of the most individualistic and resilient bands in the history of the downtown scene. They’re also one of the very few left from that era. As far back as the 80s, frontwoman Felice Rosser made a mark with her imaginative, melodic, reggae-inspired bass playing and a distinctive, earthy contralto voice with a disarming falsetto. They have some outdoor shows on their East Village home turf coming up: Sept 25 at around 4 they’re at Tompkins Square Park, then on Oct 1 at 8 they’re at the LUNGS Festival in the Green Oasis Garden, 368 E 8th Street between Aves. C and D.

Their new album Shadowman is streaming at Bandcamp. Rosser has gone deep into dub, and improvisation, and low-key soul and funk in recent years, so this plunge into retro 80s rock is a real departure – and proves she’s just as much at home with a harder, more straight-ahead sound.

The first song on the album is Hey Emily, which has a catchy three-chord hook and a steady new wave beat from drummer Paddy Boom that gives away the band’s origins. “I found the thing that you gave me, it was in my purse with my loose change, it was still empty but I couldn’t throw it away,” Rosser explains. We never find out what it was.

The album’s title track shifts back and forth between an altered reggae beat – something Rosser is an expert at – and a straight-up new wave pulse, anchored around guitarist Nao Hakamada’s lingering, moody chords and jazzy octaves.

Surrender has spare, vintage 80s chorus-box guitar and a big, icy, oscillating chorus: it’s the band’s big stadium anthem. Rosser goes to the top of her range in Oh Father, a steady, understatedly aching soul ballad in 6/8 time with an unexpected reference to the Cure. It’s one of the band’s biggest audience hits in recent months – ok, years, considering that we were rudely interrupted in 2020.

There are two versions of the album’s final song, Saving All My Love, the first a cheery, Marley-inspired reggae tune, the second a wickedly psychedelic dub by E Blizza. No doubt the band will be airing out all these flavors and more over the next week or so.

Patti Smith Plays Prophetic Powerpop in Central Park

Have you seen the anti-discrimination signs? They’re popping up in the windows of small businesses all over town. Even on the conformist-AF Upper West Side.

“We shall live again,” Patti Smith intoned to start her Central Park show last night. And encored with People Have the Power. There’s a sea change going on.

Smith’s show had been moved abruptly from the expansive Rumsey Playfield lawn to the much smaller Summerstage arena space. Set time had also been changed: she hit the stage sometime after 8. Likewise, if Antibalas played the park on Saturday, the time and venue had been changed as well. Apologies to readers of the live music calendar here who might have been led astray – some of those listings date back to when those shows were first announced.

Constantly flipping the script is a hallmark of abusive relationships, whether between a couple, parents and children, or on a societal scale. You do the math.

There was another odd kind of arithmetic at play here. Before the lockdown, Smith would routinely sell out a weeklong year-end stand at Bowery Ballroom, at outrageous prices. This show was free. Yet the arena never reached capacity. What’s more, a steady trickle of concertgoers slowly – s l o w l y – being let in by security was matched by twice as many people traipsing out, beginning at the start of the show. And although the party on the slope out behind the space was much more lively, much of Smith’s diehard fanbase had clearly stayed away.

That’s because proof of being part of a lethal injection campaign, which completely stalled out several weeks ago, was required for entry. Europeans come out in the millions to protest fascist takeovers. Australians bust through police barricades. Americans just stand firm and wait it out.

Smith’s set went on for short of an hour. Opening with Ghost Dance was characteristic of this ageless sage, who shows no sign of slowing down. This was the powerpop set: rather than pouncing on the syncopation on the chorus of Pissing in a River, she and the band motored through the changes with a lingering burn.

Although there were quiet moments – it was impossible to hear any of Smith’s poetry, or her remarks to the crowd from outside the space – most of the material was backbeat rock hits, starting with Dancing Barefoot and continuing with Because the Night. Lenny Kaye limited his lead guitar pyrotechnics to a couple of blue-flame solos, moving around edgily against a resonating string, raga style. Speaking of ragas, the night’s longest interlude was a mostly acoustic, Indian-flavored jam which ended with Smith roaring that “The future is NOW!”

Bassist Tony Shanahan’s soaring, melodic lines were serendipitously high in the mix, most enjoyably in his reggae leads in Ain’t It Strange. From there on, it was all rock, beginning with a stripped-down cover of the Stones’ I’m Free wrapped around a verse of Take a Walk on the Wild Side – subtext, anyone? An assertive bit of Horses set up a steady, resolute G-l-o-r-i-a. And soon afterward, it was over. “Patti Smith! A full moon!” a pretty blonde woman enthused to a bearded man on the hill behind the space. “She picked the right night!” he grinned back. Both were off by a day – the full moon is tonight.

A Searingly Catchy, Relevant New Album From Powerpop Icon Willie Nile

Willie Nile needs no introduction to fans of catchy powerpop anthems: he’s been one of the great practitioners of the art since the late 70s. He’s always had a populist streak, but his new album The Day the Earth Stood Still – streaming at Bandcamp – is his most fearlessly political album ever. It’s also one of his three or four best, right up there with Beautiful Wreck of the World and the sizzling Live at Mercury Lounge. Not bad for a guy who could have hung it up years ago and still would have been a first-ballot hall of famer.

Is this a lockdown parable? It could be – or maybe it’s simply a narrative of greed, deceit and ultimately, karmic payback. He doesn’t waste any time launching into the title track. By ten seconds in, all the nuts and bolts in Nile’s toolkit are in place: a solid four-on-the-floor beat, layers of guitar jangle and clang and roar, steady bass and torrential organ. The production is luscious, and Nile’s signature blend of lyrical surrealism and slash is as potent as ever, in this momentary, apocalyptic cautionary tale:

When the ABC’s of logic
Meet the CEO’s of greed
And the SRO’s of loneliness
Cry out and start to bleed
There comes a time for judgment
A time to pay the bill
And that is just the way it was
The day the earth stood still….
I saw grown men crying, making out their will
The day the earth stood still…

Nile channels a new wave stadium-rock catchiness in Sanctuary, which doesn’t have any political content. Where There’s a Willie There’s a Way is a song that needed to be written – and it’s good this guy wrote it, a defiant, punchy update on Buddy Holly.

Steve Earle guests on the stomping, venomous Blood on Your Hands, a shot across the bow at oligarchs everywhere:

Well you can dance with the devil
And you can run with the lord
And you can buy all the glory
That your conscience can afford
But there will come a day
When the pony gets played
When the goose gets cooked
When the piper gets paid
Blood on your hands, blood on your hands
There’s cracks in the walls of your best-laid plans
Blood on your hands, blood on your feet
There’s bodies piled up down on Blueblood Street

Nile moves to piano for The Justice Bell, a slow but resolute number dedicated to Civil Rights crusader and congressman John Lewis.

Fueled by a slinky, loopy minor-key bass, Expect Change is a creepy, unsettled psychedelic disco song and possibly the key to the album:

Hear the call
Hear the drumming
Say a mantra, say a prayer
Idols falling everywhere
Difference melting in the snow
Can you feel the wild wind blow

I Don’t Remember You begins as the most rustic, folky song Nile’s ever recorded: there’s wry sarcasm in that title. If you think that Off My Medication is just another bizarrely funny, free-associative, garage-rocking Nile narrative, wait til you get to the second verse. Then he slows down for I Will Stand, a gentle, richly textured, crescendoing ballad.

There’s more psychedelic disco-funk with Time to Be Great, an optimistic strut with one of the album’s best guitar solos. Nile winds up the album with Way of the Heart, which sounds a lot like the Jayhawks’ recent material and also has some sizzling guitar breaks. It may be one of the slowest years on record for rock albums, but this one’s on the shortlist for best of 2021.