New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Category: noise-rock

Relentlessly Anthemic, Enveloping, Desperate Epics From Paysage D’Hiver

As Paysage D’Hiver, Swiss multi-instrumentalist Wintherr (the name is a German pun) has built a vast, distinctive, obsessively focused body of work that blends elements of dreampop, no wave, black metal, classical and film music. It’s often impenetrably dense: the guitars typically sound like they’ve been recorded through a brick wall. Yet Wintherr’s towering neoromantic themes are just as catchy and anthemic, He likes endless washes of chords, with simple, purposeful minor-key riffs layered over them. He doesn’t take solos here, at least in the traditional sense. The vocals are in German, his guttural roar buried deeper in the mix than anything else, even the bass: this is a pretty trebly record.

The name of the project – French for “winter landscape” – reflects a single existential metaphor: an interminable winter walk. There is a plotline with a lot of jump cuts: the beginning and ending have already been released, or so it seems at this point. Narrative-wise, this latest epic installment, Im Wald (In the Woods) falls somewhere in the middle and is streaming at Bandcamp.

This is a long album, two hours worth of songs that go on for almost twenty minutes at times. With its relentlessly pummeling beats and loops – all of which sound organic – it will jar you awake at high volume: it’s great driving music. Yet at low volume it’s soothing, validating Wintherr’s sense for a good tune. Loops of what sounds like a man walking pretty briskly across muddy terrain are interspersed between the songs. Wintherr breaks up the relentless, reverb-iced attack with calmer, more brooding interludes where keyboards (or a keyboard patch) come to the forefront.

There’s a point where the music recedes to a forlorn minor-key guitar loop and the walking man sets up camp for the night. Everything gets more orchestral, desperate, and slightly more rhythmically diverse from there: a recurrent riff toward the end is absolutely bloodcurdling. It’s hard to think of a more apt album for the year of the lockdown, so many of us trudging onward, atomized and alone, running out of money and food and losing hope, one eye on the road ahead, the other on the Trace and Track gestapo and the spectre of the death camps. And they said it could never happen here.

Dark Rituals and Gritty, Imaginative, Noisy Rock From Dorota

In a year where musicians and the arts are under assault more than at any other time in history, it’s heartwarming to see a group first featured on this page eight years ago still together and still putting out defiant and utterly unique music. Hungarian trio Dorota were characterized as “noisy noir punk surf jazz” here in 2012. Their latest album, Solar the Monk – streaming at Bandcamp – is just as noisy, more tuneful, and more influenced by late 70s no wave and 90s dreampop.

Is the blippy atmosphere at the beginning of the drony miniature that opens the album an allusion to sirens and lockdown-era fear? Actually not – the album predates the lockdown. The band don’t waste any time kicking into the first part of the album’s title track, a pouncing postrock stomp that recalls early Wire. Midway through, guitarist Dávid Somló, bassist Dániel Makkai and drummer Áron Porteleki slam out the same staccato E chord over and over as the overtones slowly rise. They reprise it later on with more syncopation and menacing clang.

The sternly marching third track, Neméreztem sounds like a group of Tibetan monks conjuring up an experimental rock ritual in a dingy Amsterdam club in 1979. Porteleki prowls mysteriously around his drum kit over spare atmospherics as Might Be Him takes shape, then the song morphs into a quasi-gospel groove punctuated by Makkai’s curlicue bass riffs.

Vacsorázin begins as a sputtering, drony dirge, then the monks return and chant their way slowly upward. The increasingly crazed instrumental Patient Religious Boys features flutes over boomy percussion, followed by the diptych The Stone Garden. The first part is just spare lo-fi keys and loops, then Somló switches back to guitar as Makkai’s looming chords rise along with Indian-flavored flutes.

From there we get dissociative ambience, Hare Krishnas on acid maybe, and twisted motorik noiserock. The concluding epic, It’s Gonna Rain slowly coalesces out of fuzzy, tensely wound bass to a wild stampede of guitar shred and huffing organ, and ends as you would expect. May this group survive the lockdown and continue to put out music as blissfully deranged as this.

Grex Take Their Defiantly Uncategorizable Sound Even Further Outside the Box

Grex like to defy categorization. On their previous album Electric Ghost Parade, they toyed with ideas from psychedelia and jazz but resisted any straightforward embrace of pretty much any style. Their new album Everything You Said Was Wrong – streaming at Bandcamp – is even more defiantly (some might say obsessively) eclectic. You could call it punk jazz if you wanted and you wouldn’t be far off, but that’s only part of the picture. By no means is it easy listening (which is hardly a bad thing), although there are a lot of moments where the music is lyrical, seemingly despite itself.

The first few numbers work a Twin Peaks jazz poetry milieu, noisy and inchoate and persistently unsettled. The band – multi-instrumentalists Karl Evangelista and Rei Scampavia – use more loops, and keyboards in general this time out. The material also seems more highly improvised, and angrier: the band’s sense of humor was much more front-and-center on the previous album, no surprise considering the state of the world.

Some of the most frantic and seemingly random moments here are followed by the most cohesive and calmest ones. Math-y rhythms and Evangelista’s shrieky guitar contrast with Scampavia’s atmospheric keys. Her vocals are often autotuned, although that seems to be done strictly for sarcasm: the places where she’s not are the album’s most unselfconsciously compelling interludes. There’s also a hip-hop influence, especially in the jazz poetry numbers. All the cross-genre puddle-jumping makes for some rough segues, but this band will never bore you.

Grim Early 80s-Style Guitar Rock From Linnea Olsson’s Maggot Heart

The last time anybody from this blog was in the house at a Linnea Olsson show, it was on a frigid February evening in 2014 at the now long-gone Highline Ballroom. Out in front of a big crowd that night, she played solo cello and sang a very brief, barely half-hour set of moody, skeletal chamber pop songs.

Olsson’s latest project is 180 degrees from that, a dark early 80s-influenced power trio, Maggot Heart. She leads the group and plays guitar, joined by bassist Olivia Airey and drummer Uno Bruniusso. Their latest album Mercy Machine is streaming at Bandcamp.

With its densely layered, ringing intro and contrastingly skronky loopiness, the opening track, Second Chance could be a more minimalist Bauhaus. For a song titled Sex Breath, the album’s punkish second cut is unexpectedly menacing, with a juicy, evilly watery guitar solo: Olsson has really taken her chops to the next level. This is a killer guitar record.

Driven by Airey’s gritty, chugging bassline, Justine wouldn’t be out of place on Siouxsie’s Juju album. The distortion on the bass gets even fuzzier for Roses, which comes across as syncopated Patti Smith with gothic chromatics and vocals spun tightly through a trebly flange effect.

Gutter Feeling has a ba-bump noir cabaret groove and some of the album’s most ghoulish lyrics: Olsson takes it galloping, doublespeed more or less, over a long bridge. The album’s death-obsessed title track is its most pummelingly punk-influenced moment: here as elsewhere, Olsson’s shrieking wide-angle chords bring to mind the late, great Siouxsie guitarist John McGeoch.

“All this talk about nothing gives us something to do,” Olsson intones cynically in High Rise, a mashup of Siouxsie and the Stooges. With its dissociative riffs popping up throughout the sonic picture, Lost Boys could be a straightforward, upbeat Live Skull number from the mid-80s.

Senseless has more of a slow, hypnotic early 80s growl and an ending where all hell breaks loose. The trio wind up this relentlessly interesting, disarmingly catchy album with Modern Cruelty and its contrastingly roaring and icy guitar multitracks, Olsson again threatening to go off the rails at any instant. Not a single substandard song on this album: there’s no telling what’s going to happen between now and the end of the year, but let’s hope there’s still a reason and an audience for a best albums of 2020 rundown when we get to December, Somebody has to keep music alive when the lockdowners are doing everything in their power to destroy it.

Sharp and Hilarious New Protest Songs From Dawn Oberg

Nobody writes funnier, more acerbic protest songs these days than pianist and singer Dawn Oberg. The San Francisco songwriter’s previous political piano pop album Nothing Rhymes with Orange made the best albums of the year list in 2017. Lockdown or no lockdown, she was determined to get a new short album of relevantly entertaining songs out this year too. Her excoriating, irresistibly sardonic latest release, 2020 Revision is streaming at Bandcamp. As usual, the band behind her – Kelyn Crapp and Roger Rocha on guitars, Shawn Miller on bass and Andrew Laubacher on drums – are tight and inspired behind the velvet vocals.

Oberg loves puns and multiple entendres (in her world, doubles are for lightweights), and uses a lot of gospel voicings at the piano. “Those who hunger for justice are now starving at the station door,” she intones on the album’s first song, It’s 12:01, a fiery, insistent call for justice for the chilling list of innocent people murdered by the SFPD. The album includes a second, “clean” radio edit of the song so the censors don’t get their underwear all up in a knot over the word “motherfuckers.”

In the more woundedly subdued, gospel-tinged second track, Care, Oberg ponders what kind of “psychic surgeon practicing somewhere” could possibly give Donald Trump a conscience. In a year where the lockdowners are building concentration camps on American soil, this song has special resonance.

With Erik Ian Walker on the organ, the funniest, bounciest number here is Mitch McConnell. “I wouldn’t cross the street to pee on him if he were onfire,” Oberg insists. She takes issue with people who compare the Republican paleofascist to turtles, since that would be an insult to any reptile. We’ve never needed artists like Dawn Oberg more than we do now – which is why the lockdowners are doing everything in their power to keep audiences away from any kind of music. That’s an issue which Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Ayatollah Khomeini and the Taliban all agreed on.

A Rare, Turbulent Pauline Oliveros Online Concert Rescued From the Archives

The great Pauline Oliveros played her last New York concert in the spring of 2015, trading soulful accordion riffs and subtly sly musical banter with members of International Contemporary Ensemble at a since-relocated radical theatre space in Fort Greene. The inventor of the concept of deep listening had been such a force in the world of improvisation and the avant garde for so long that it seemed she’d be around forever.

She left behind an enormous body of work. Decades before locked-down musicians desperately turned to Zoom to serenade their fans or make records, Oliveros coined the term “telematic” and participated in innumerable online collaborations. One welcome rediscovery is the new vinyl album Telematic Concert, a duo performance with Argentine electronic musician Alan Courtis, originally webcast in the fall of 2009. It hasn’t hit the web yet, but as Oliveros would be quick to tell you, her work sounds best on vinyl.

This joint improvisation is divided into just two tracks, their long upward drives, swells and sustain mingling to the point where it’s impossible to tell who’s playing what. Much of this brings to mind early industrial acts like Suicide. The treble is really gaining in the mix early on: you may want to bring down the highs, especially if you’re listening on earbuds.

Courtis introduces flitting poltergeist accents, sudden, menacingly responsive drones, sounds of water and wind. A hammering interlude subsumes the accordion, but Oliveros returns resolutely to the mix. The music takes on a decidedly assaultive, disquieting edge from this point, Oliveros choosing her spots amid the looming, toxic whirlpool. The second part of the improvisation begins with its most grim interlude, rising and falling more spaciously and basically falling apart at the end: with a single coy flourish, Oliveros lets it be known she’s done.

It would be nice to hear more of her here in general, although it’s also extremely instructive to see how spaciously and methodically she approaches music this overtly dystopic. With her puckish sense of humor and finely honed improvisational reflexes matched by an unassailable calm, her own music was often dead serious, and the very definition of immersive, but seldom so macabre.

Revisiting Exploded View’s Troubled, Coldly Loopy Postrock and No Wave

Exploded View play a troubled, loopy take on late 70s/early 80s postrock and no wave. Some of their songs bring to mind Can, other times the Ex, or even Joy Division at their most minimal. Frontwoman Anika doesn’t sing so much as she speaks, in icily accented English. Their debut album – streaming at Bandcamp – came out in the summer of 2016, arrived on the hard drive here…and went straight down the rabbit hole. While the bass, drums, guitars and keys (uncredited at the Bandcamp page; the band no longer have a webpage of their own) all seem to be completely organic, they loop their simple, catchy, ominously reverb-drenched riffs into a tersely twisted kaleidoscope. There’s a bleak, overcast, grey-concrete European quality to this music.

The opening track, Lost Illusion, sets the tone, a quasar pulse of reverb guitar repeating over and over to a mechanically spiraling beat, like an amplified laundromat washer with a loose axle on spin cycle.

One Too Many has a simple, elegant interweave of chilly, minimal guitar and keyboard riffs around a circling, hypnotic lo-fi bass hook. “You were outside my door at five AM again, broken nose and bloodied up,” Anika intones soberly.

Orlando has absurdly catchy minor-key disco bass and drums beneath coldly oscillating dreampop guitar sheen. Call on the Gods is one of the album’s more broodingly psychedelic tracks, noisy guitar incisions and tumbling drums over a thumping loop. With shards of guitar over an overdriven bass lick, Disco Glove could be a demo for Public Image Ltd.’s Metal Box album

Stand Your Ground is a bedroom-dub shot at a 70s soul groove. The band go back to a PiL-ish fodderstompf with No More Parties in the Attic, then build surrealistically ringing windchime ambience in Lark Descending, which seems to be a war parable.

Gimme Something grows into an acidic thicket of no wave dub reggae: “You tease with your fake democracy,” Anika accuses. The band close the album with Beige, a morose miniature, then the corrosively echoey Killjoy: once again, that loud, emphatic bass is a dead ringer for Jah Wobble in his early days with PiL.

Darkly Noisy, Unhinged Sonics and a Union Pool Show From the Resolutely Uncategorizable Parlor Walls

Since spinning off from the noisily anthemic Eula, enigmatically intense duo Parlor Walls have developed a careening, slashing style all their own. Frontwoman/guitarist Alyse Lamb winkingly calls it “trash jazz.” But it’s more rock than jazz, and it isn’t really trashy, either. While their songs often sound like they’re thisclose to going completely off the rails, they’re actually very meticulously choreographed. And as intense a stage presence as Lamb is, Chris Mulligan is a force of nature, playing drums and an assortment of keyboards at the same time.

Other bands – Mr. Airplane Man, most famously – have done it, and then there was Ray Manzarek, who played a keyboard bass with his lefthand and organ with his right. But this band’s really something to see. They’re playing the album release party for their latest one, Heavy Tongue – streaming at Bandcamp – on Feb 27 at around 10:30 PM at Union Pool. Cover is $10; Lutkie’s pulsing, noisy electronic weedscapes open the night at around 9:30. You will need to take the G train home unless you’re looking forward to hours waiting on the L platform, or you get very lucky.

In a lot of ways, the new album is a return to the sometimes sideways, sometimes in-your-face assault of the band’s debut ep, although the songs (or soundscapes) are longer. The lurching first track, Birds of Paradise is a mashup of jagged late 70s no wave, more enveloping, techy ambience (and early New Order too). They segue into Game, its blippy/buzzy contrasts filtering in and out of an uneasy swirl over Mulligan’s piledriver pulse.

Lunchbox is a loopy, unexpectedly amusing detour into industrial trip-hop, if such a thing exists, Lamb’s voice calm amid the mechanical maelstrom. In Violets, hip-hop becomes a ghost in the relentless machine, followed by the grinding 80s Foetus sonics of Pinafore.

Lamb pulls back the effects on her voice and then really cuts loose in the brooding, pummeling Spinning Gold, which could be Algiers with a woman out front. The two close the record with Rails,its spacy machine-shop sonics and wry  Supremes allusions.

Righteous Rage and Smoky Atmospherics with Algiers at Rough Trade

Algiers played a tantalizingly brief, barely half-hour set at Rough Trade on Wednesday night. This blog characterized their 2015 debut album as “revolutionary postrock soul.” These days, industrial gothic gospel is a better description. Their smoky, swirly yet rhythmically pummeling sound is more Sisters of Mercy, less Terminator soundtrack now.

Frontman/keyboardist Franklin James Fisher sings powerfully in the studio; he is amazing live, and even more dynamically diverse. On the band’s opening number, Void – the final cut on their just-released vinyl record, There Is No Year – he had a gleefully brittle Jello Biafra quaver in his voice. That song came across as a Dead Kennedys homage, right down to the ominous chromatics and drummer Matt Tong’s 2/4 hardcore thump. It seems to be the key to the record, with its relentless theme of escape.

Aside from a leaner sound, what was most obvious was how much of the music was in the mixer: guitar, bass, keys, backing vocals…other than Fisher’s electric piano, and his own mixer too, was anything actually being played live? Guitarist Lee Tesche put down his axe for a sax on the second number, but if that was miked at all, it got lost in the grim, grey-sky sonics. Although he did reach for his tremolo bar for Lynchian twang for the intro to a song a little later, and his icily minimalist, Robert Smith-style riffs afterward cut through the mix as well.

Fisher channeled angst-fueled Levi Stubbs passion throughout Unoccupied, a darkly techy update on classic, minor-key Motown: an allusive breakup narrative, it seemed to be the only number in the set that wasn’t political. “Run around, run away from you, America, while it burns in the streets,” Fisher belted as Dispossession, another new track, took shape over his own stark, insistent gospel piano chords. “Here they comes from the ashes of ashes, so immune to defeat,” he cautioned – but there was also defiance and hope in his imploring crescendos and flood metaphors. Which seems to be his ultimate message: with their bankster economy and surveillance, the enemy is always encroaching. But we’ve got the numbers.

Algiers will be back on April 9 at St. Vitus, a great spot for them.

Sharkmuffin Cook Up Their Most Psychedelic Record Yet

All-female Brooklyn trio Sharkmuffin named their band well. They’ve grown up in public, more or less, playing irrepressibly fun, messy, loud music. They started out as a punk band and lately have been embracing garage rock, psychedelia, spacerock and surf sounds. For a band who like to keep their songs short, they pack a lot into them. Their new album Gamma Gardening is streaming at Bandcamp; they’re playing the release show at Alphaville at 11 PM on April 5. Cover is ten bucks. 

Tarra Thiessen’s blasts of distorted guitar punctuate Natalie Kirch’s catchy 60s garage rock bassline as the opening track, Receptionist pounces along, up to a spacy psychedelic chorus. This receptionist turns out to be really mean!

Designer Baby is a two-parter. “I’ve taken all these drugs,” Thiessen intones as the slow, Siouxsie-esque first verse slinks along in a sea of reverb effects, then the band punk it out and take it doublespeed. Serpentina is more labyrinthine than snaky: it could be Castle Black with treblier guitars.

Early Sleater-Kinney aggro meets Brian Jonestown Massacre swirl and early Jesus & Mary Chain guitar shriek in the album’s most epic track, Too Many Knobs. The final cut is Fate; Thiessen pulls out her slide over a ba-bump bassline in tandem with Jordyn Blakely’s drums. It sounds like a scruffier take on what Siouxsie was doing during the brief period when Robert Smith was playing guitar in the band. What’s the chance that you’ll ever hear anything this catchy or fun in Bushwick?