New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: pop music

Powerful Singer Nicole Zuraitis’ New Album Explores the Dark Side of the Psyche

Nicole Zuraitis is one of the most powerfully eclectic singers in New York. She can literally sing anything: jazz, Americana, rock, you name it. Maybe because of that, her songwriting isn’t easily categorized. A similarly diverse pianist, she’s had a monthly 55 Bar residency since what seems forever. She’s playing there tomorrow night, Jan 12 at 10 PM with her husband, drummer Dan Pugach’s mighty nonet.

Zuraitis’ 2013 debut album Pariah Anthem was ambitious but not particularly translucent. Her new one, Hive Mind – streaming at Spotify – goes completely in the opposite direction. Yet while the music is often brightly attractive, Zuraitis’ subject matter drifts toward the dark side. The album’s title  is a reflection on madness, a theme that recurs occasionally in the ten tracks here. Carmen Staaf’s tersely echoey Wurlitzer adds subtle hints of reggae in the opening number, Move On, a hypnotic late 80s Sade-style jazz-pop ballad. Guitarist Idan Morim winds it up with a gritty, jagged solo, flying out of a big Zuraitis vocal crescendo.

Pugach’s jaunty shuffle and bassist Alex Busby Smith’s staccato pulse propel The Inscription: imagine peak-era Earth Wind & Fire stripped to the guitar and rhythm section, with a woman out front playing bubbly Rhodes lines. Guest singer Nandini Srika opens Idle, an angst-ridden Indian-influenced art-rock tone poem of sorts with rapturously enigmatic vocalese, in contrast to Zuraitis’ plaintive intensity over Morim’s David Gilmour-esque slide guitar. It packs a wallop, and it’s the album’s strongest cut.

Covering a song as iconic as Jolene is a disaster waiting to happen, but Zuraitis pulls it off, reinventing it as brooding, dymamically shifting, gospel-infused soul: Roberta Flack might have done it this way. Then the band pick up the energy with the slinky, catchy, crescendoing Sunny Side: this time it’s Morim who’s adding the neat little reggae touches.

Episodes, a twinkling, sweeping Hollywood Hills boudoir soul instrumental, seems serene enough on the surface. but the disembodied voices in the background hint at something more sinister. Zuraitis’ reinvention of a tune from the Willy Wonka movie keeps the Rhodes lullaby ambience going. The album closes with Shirley’s Waltz, a tribute to Zuraitis’ late grandmother: you could call it Lynchian ragtime. While the album is obviously meant as a showcase for the many subtleties in Zuraitis’ voice, what she doesn’t do too often here is really cut loose with that fearsome wail of hers. Then again, you can always see her do that live.

Advertisements

Rapturous Musical Cross-Pollination at Women Between Arts at the New School

Yesterday was the fourth installment of Luisa Muhr’s new interdisciplinary series Women Between Arts at the New School. One would think that there would be several series in this city devoted to women whose work crosses the line between different artistic disciplines, but this appears to be the only one at present. What’s new with Muhr’s series is that it isn’t just a place for women artists who defy categorization: it’s also a space where adventurous established artists can branch out beyond their usual practice.

Case in point: Jean Rohe. She’s known as a songwriter and a strong, distinctive acoustic guitarist (to call her a folksinger would be reductionistic). Throughout her tantalizingly brief performance yesterday’s show, she did a lot of storytelling.

This narrative was harrowing. Rohe was named after her paternal grandmother, who killed herself on December 9, 1961. Tragically, just like her father, Rohe didn’t find out about the suicide until years later. That revelation springboarded an “odyssey,” as she termed it, to find out the truth and what pushed the woman over the edge.

Like many of the projects that find their way to Women Between Arts, it’s a work in progress, and a hauntingly captivating one. Rohe’s fingerpicking channeled distant delta blues grimness with her opening number, then she referenced the Penelope myth with a more expansive, anthemic tune. Her final song, she told the crowd, was set in Hades: “In New Jersey, as we all know,” she mused, drawing a handful of chuckles. The narrative saw her climbing into her grandmother’s old black Buick at a stoplight, to find her crying and incommunicado, a ghost before her time.

Noa Fort is known as a composer of translucent piano jazz informed by classical music as well as her own Israeli heritage. After guiding the crowd through a brief meditation, she had them write down their innermost feelings on slips of paper so she could channel and maybe exorcise those issues. As it turned out, this was a very  uneasy crowd. Fort plucked around inside the piano gingerly, George Crumb style before launching into a series of eerie belltones, close harmonies and finally a woundedly descending anthem. She closed with a somewhat elegaic but ultimately optimistic ballad where a calmly participatory crowd carried the melody upwards. 

Trina Basu, one of the great violinists in Indian classical music, leads the pioneering carnatic string band Karavika. This time out, she played a rapturous homage to 16th century mystic Meera Bai, joined by Orakel tabla player Roshni Samlal and singer Priya Darshini. Basu explained that she’d discovered the controversial, pioneering proto-feminist poet via the work of 1960s singer Lakshmi Shankar.

Basu opened the trio’s first epic number with elegant spirals that spun off into sepulchral harmonics, then built steam, rising up and down in a series of graceful pizzicato exchanges with the tabla. Darshini sang the second long piece, Basu and Samlal matching its poignancy, an ancient raga theme sliced and diced through the prism of progressive jazz. 

 The next installment of Women Between Arts is Jan 21 at 3 PM at the New School’s Glass Box Theatre (i.e. the new Stone) at 55 W 13th St., with Meredith Monk collaborator Ellen Fisher, lustrously haunting singer/composer Sara Serpa with cellist Erik Friedlander and saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, and Appalachian music maven Anna Roberts-Gevalt.

Cynical, Bittersweet Powder Drug Noir at Pete’s Tonight

Interesting twinbill tonight, Dec 16 starting at 9 PM at Pete’s Candy Store. Bad Galaxy, who mine a sardonic folk noir vein, open for the similarly cynical, wryly surreal Dream Eaters, who play their distantly Lynchian quasi new wave at 10.

Ironically – in the true sense of the word – the Dream Eaters’ best song is the one that’s not on their album We Are a Curse, streaming at Bandcamp. That number is the woozily spot-on Klonopin Girl. But it’s a good prototype for the album tracks. “Back in the wasteland, sinking in the quicksand,” frontwoman Elizabeth LeBaron intones in a phenobarbitol murmur as Dead on the Inside begins. But then her voice rises to the rafters as the song grows from Jake Zavracky’s steady, staccato guitar strum to anthemic Julee Cruise territory. “I get so fried, trying to get through,” LeBaron wails.

With acoustic guitar, drum machine and enveloping vintage lo-fi synth textures, the calmly stomping Neanderthals follows the same template. “Keep the vermin out,” LeBaron instructs,” They won’t make us crawl, they’re all neanderthals.”

Dots is much the same: steady acoustic fingerpicking sparkles against deep-space ambience and LeBaron’s girl-down-the-well vocals. As you’ve figured out by now, the songs titles are dead giveaways. Astral Asshole and Sugar Coma share druggy outer-space metaphors and melancholy DollHouse harmonies. Almost Afraid, with its dreamy death imagery and understated front-porch folk guitar, brings back fond memories of late zeros Williamsburg cinephiles the Quavers. But Plastic Princess, which would be straight-up new wave at twice the speed, isn’t a dis: it’s a cautionary tale about the perils of conformity.

“Let me be your albatross,” LeBaron intones over a slow, stately chamber pop backdrop in So Heavy. With its grisly images, is the album’s languid title track a condemnation of Brooklyn gentrifier anomie? That’s open to debate. A final, fingerpicked lament, Brazil Song, is about as Brazilian as the Brazilian Girls. Some people might catch a few bars of this and dismiss it as wannabe Lana Del Rey faux-noir. But if sad, drifty music infused with gallows humor is your thing, stick with it.

Poignant, Fascinating Korean Sounds in Queens Last Night

It would make sense to assume that a band who’d play a song called The Scream of the Sunflower would be more than a little psychedelic. Much as there were plenty of surreal moments in improbably named Korean chamber-folk group Fairy Tale’s North American debut last night at Flushing Town Hall, the show was more about elegance and poignancy.

“Legend” is probably a better English translation of what the sextet call themselves. Lyrics are very important to this group, especially to expressive frontwoman Myeongseo Jang, so she and her bandmates took turns introducing the songs in coyly fractured English. Their signature sound is piano-based parlor pop laced with terse, expertly played Korean folk riffs and playful trick endings. “Less is more” seems to be their mantra.

Their new album Land of the Poet features new songs with lyrics by Korean poets from across the years, and they played several of those, the most plaintive of them written under the Japanese occupation. The band’s not-so-secret weapon is haegeum (spike fiddle) player Yunjin Ko, whose eerie, slippery low-midrange glissandos and austere, overtone-spiced washes grounded the music in an austere rusticity. That effect was enhanced by the low-register geomungo lute of Juhee Kim, who played mostly low-key rock-style basslines, but tantalized the crowd with a couple of breathtakingly surreal, tone-warping solos. If there’s anybody in the band we need to hear more of, it’s her.

Drummer Kyuyeon Kim was a similarly understated presence: much of the time, purposefully emphatic pianist Youngjin Oh carried the rhythm. Daegeum (wood flute) player Youseok Seo traded brief contrapuntal passages with the haegeum and geomungo when he wasn’t adding precise flickers and flutters behind Jang’s nuanced vocals.

The night’s most arresting song was Dear Boy, a brooding lament with a lyric from the Japanese occupation years, bringing to mind early Genesis with its intricate, tantalizingly brief interplay between geomumgo and piano on the intro and outro. Most of the songs built momentum over an allusive triplet groove fueled by Oh’s steely lefthand. One of the early numbers came across as a mashup of Korean folk and Springsteen stadium rock; a later tune bounced along on a catchy, circling new wave piano riff.

The rest of the set edged toward both darkness and drama but seldom went all the way there, tension and suspense lurking but never showing themselves. A moody strut driven by a downward piano progression had echoes of Tom Waits. It wasn’t until the encore, a blazing sunset tableau, that Jang finally cut loose with a full-throttle wail at the very end.

Fairy Tale’s first tour outside of Korea continues tonight, Dec 2 at 6  PM at the Korean Community Center, 100 Grove St. in Tenafly, NJ. Flushing Town Hall continues to program some of the most exciting global sounds coming through New York outside of the usual Barbes-Drom-Lincoln Center pipeline. One especially intriguing upcoming concert here is on January 26 at 8 PM with another genre-defying Korean band, Black String, who blend edgy guitar improvisation with classic geomungo and flute sounds. Tickets go onsale on December 11, and as with all Flushing Town Hall events, ages 13-19 with school ID get in free.

Trippy, Eclectic Sounds in Deep Bushwick This Sunday Night

This December 3 there’s an excellent multi-band lineup put together by boutique Brooklyn label Very Special Recordings at Secret Project Robot, 1186 Broadway between Lafayette and Van Buren in Bushwick. The show starts at 8; the lineup, in reverse order, is psychedelic Afrobeat headliners the People’s Champs; female-fronted trip-hop/postrock band Green and Glass; brilliant bassist Ezra Gale’s funky, dub-inspired psychedelic project the Eargoggle; psychedelic pastoral jazz guitarist Dustin Carlson; similarly eclectic guitarist Ryan Dugre; and cinematic guitar-and-EFX dude Xander Naylor, who can be a lot louder and more fearsome than his latest, more low-key album. Cover is ten bucks; take the J to Kosciusko St.

It’s an album release show for the label’s new Brooklyn Mixtape, streaming at Bandcamp. The playlist is a cheat sheet for their signature, eclectic mix of hypnotic, globally-influenced grooves as well as some more jazz, postrock and indie classical-oriented sounds, which are a new direction from the stoner organic dance music they’re probably best known for.

The A-side begins with Swipe Viral, by Sheen Marina, a skittish, math-y, no wave-ish number awash in all kinds of reverb: “I gotta go to the edge of a digital world where I can find my soul,” the singer says snottily. Green and Glass’ Night Runner brings to mind Madder Rose with its slow trip-hop sway, uneasy low tremolo-picked harp anchoring frontwoman Lucia Stavros’ clear, cheery vocals.

Ryan Dugre’s Mute Swan makes postrock out of what sounds like a balmy Nigerian balafon theme. He’s also represented by another track, the pretty, spare, baroque-tinged pastorale Elliott, on side B.

There are three Eargoggle tracks here. Picking My Bones opens with a tasty chromatic bass solo: deep beneath this sparse lament, there’s a bolero lurking. The second number is You’re Feeling Like, a blippy oldschool disco tune with dub tinges. A muted uke-pop song, Hero, closes the mix

Shakes, by Carlson, is a gorgeously lustrous brass piece with countryish vocals thrown on top. Trombonist Rick Parker and acoustic pipa player Li Diaguo team up for the album’s best and most menacing track, the eerily cinematic, slowly crescendoing Make Way For the Mane of Spit and Nails. Then Middle Eastern-influenced noir surf band Beninghove’s Hangmen put on their Zep costumes to wind up the A-side with the coyly boisterous Zohove, from their hilarious Beninghove’s Hangmen Play Led Zeppelin album.

The.People’s Champs open the B-side with a throwaway. Twin-trombone roots reggae band Super Hi-Fi – whose lineup also includes Parker and Gale – toss in an echoey Victor Rice dub. Xander Naylor kicks in Appearances, a shifting, loopy resonator guitar piece with innumerable trippy overdubs.And Council of Eyeforms’ slowly coalescing, oscillating tableau Planet Earth – with guitarist Jon Lipscomb of Super Hi-Fi – is the most hypnotically psychedelic cut.

All of these artists have albums or singles out with the label, who deserve a look if sounds that can be equally pensive and danceable are your thing.

Maximo Park Bring Their Populist Dance Party to Bowery Ballroom

Maximo Park play fun, catchy, acerbic new wave-flavored dance-rock with smartly conscious lyrics. They’re more likely to bounce their way through the smoke machine haze than to strike a pose with a boot up on the monitor, Oasis-style. So it’s not likely that there’ll be a lot of trumpies at their show at Bowery Ballroom on Nov 30 at 9:30 PM. For the 99%, tickets are a reasonable $20 in advance, and you can get them at the Mercury Lounge on weekdays until 7.

The band’s latest album Risk to Exist is streaming at Spotify. The funky opening track is What Did We Do to You to Deserve, a sort of mashup of 1994-era Blur and the Cat Empire:

When the auditors add it up in the books
Will you keep it away
What’s that look upon your face
No this is not the good old days
What did we do to you to deserve this
You’re doing everything in your power to preserve this
Let’s all pretend to tell the truth…

Get High (No I Don’t) follows the same pattern, frontman Paul Smith calling bullshit on the appeal of forbidden fruit: “If someone tells your it’s wrong enough times, it’s a sinner’s song.” At the same time, the “no I don’t” mantra seems awfully suspicious.

What Equals Love is a more organic take on slick mid-80s new wave, guitarist Duncan Lloyd and organist Lukas Wooller harmonizing what probably would have been a string synth arrangement if a band thirty years ago was doing it:

Lock up the glass house every day
Hope the problem goes away

Tom English’s flurrying drums fuel album’s title track, a carpe diem anthem: so good to be alive while the whole world is dying, huh?

Wooller’s keys blip and bleep over tricky syncopation and then an enigmatic bass solo in I’ll Be Around: is this a come-on, or a sardonic look at a guy who’s willing to do the absolute minimum to look good?

Work and Then Wait is a defiant singalong anthem:

The rightwing views are getting me down..
The rich start life with a hand-me-down
The hand that giveth is set to take it away
They strip you of your dignity…
I won’t be caught in my fate

The Hero is a faux EDM dancefloor stomp, a sardonic tale of a hardworking guy too worn out to affect the pose:

How on earth do you begin
When you know you can’t win
They say that money doesn’t change a thing
But you know they’re not suffering…
Sometimes you have to give in but you better not make a habit of it

The Reason I Am Here starts out as Gang of Four no wave and rises to a big, triumphant Midnight Oil peak:

You will have to make a journey
Through the eyes of idiots
Where every problem is a country
It’s blamed on the immigrants
Not exactly high society
Neither fact nor sobriety
People who never doubt are the ones I’m worried about
People who never doubt are the ones who carry the clout

The ferocious, insistent Make What You Can has woozy Split Enz call-and-response, again building to a mighty peak, referencing somebody whose “Language is violent, somebody on the take” – which could be any dictator or would-be dictator, anywhere.

Respond to the Feeling is spare and funky:

You can sleepwalk into the night or focus on forever
You can make the short term right but you gotta focus on forever

The final cut here is Alchemy, a grimly funny, pulsing anthem that turns your typical online privacy disclaimer on its head and slams it into the ground. The Clash used to make albums like this.

Two Red Mollies Play Their Own Individualistic Americana at Pete’s

There’s going to be a rare Red Molly reunion of sorts this Nov 14 at 8:30 PM at Pete’s Candy Store when brilliantly incisive dobro player Abbie Gardner – who has a Tuesday night residency there this month – opens a twinbill with her old Red Molly bandmate, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Carolann Solebello.

Obviously, Red Molly have been back in action for awhile, with Molly Venter in Solebello’s place. The Pete’s show is a chance to hear two longtime friends and distinctive Americana artists in an intimate setting, doing their own material and very possibly working up new stuff.

The last time this blog caught up with Solebello, she was playing a fantastic twinbill at the American Folk Art Museum on a Friday night last spring with brooding New England gothic songsmith Nathaniel Bellows. With the first soaring notes of the bittersweet, opening country ballad, Brooklyn in the Rain, her strong, clear, insistent vocals were a potent reminder why she’d gotten the Red Molly gig to begin with. That, and her purist, similarly eclectic guitar chops. The fluidity of Solebello’s fretwork, whether with her chords or fingerpicking, should be the rule rather than the exception, but in what’s left of the singer-songwriter demimonde, it seldom is.

She told a funny story about her experiences as a struggling Brooklyn-born-and-raised songwriter dating an Upper West Side yuppie with season tickets to the opera, and then followed with a bouncy, pouncing, defiant, bluegrass-tinged post-breakup narrative. Like many of her songs, it was equal parts urban and bucolic, traditional and in the here and now: clearly, the dude was a fish out of water in her Lower East Side Americana scene.

That defiant quality is a consistent trait: she doesn’t feel at home in the role of victim. She added a gentle touch of vintage Judy Collins-style vibrato to a swaying, pensively catchy number after that, then brought the lights down for a fond reminiscence of her grandmother. The rest of her tantalizingly brief set was much the same, acerbic major/minor chord changes and often surprising dynamic shifts in support of vivid narratives that transcend the usual lovelorn coffeehouse girl stereotype. There will no doubt be plenty of those at the Pete’s show, times two, and maybe a duet or two.

And the ongoing Friday night series at the Folk Art Museum continues on Nov 17 at 5:30 PM with low-key, plainspoken, populist folk-pop songwriter Jeremy Aaron.

Little Coyote Bring Their Relentless Angst to Bushwick

The alienation and sadness are relentless through Toronto band Little Coyote’s debut album The Trouble With Teeth, streaming at Bandcamp. Frontwoman/keyboardist Teagan Johnson blends brooding, neoromantic piano with Mike Poisson’s lushly elegant synthesized orchestration, yet with remarkable restraint: there’s more 21st century minimalism than there is Chopin or Tschaikovsky in her emphatic anthems. Little Coyote are headlining an excellent triplebill this Friday night, Nov 10 at Bushwick Public House at around 10 PM; trippy electro/downtempo chanteuse Pearla opens the night at 8, followed by excellent, catchy rainy day psych-pop band Minor Poet at 9. Cover is 5.

“I’ll figure it out,” Johnson intones uneasily as the album’s first full-length cut, The Bottom, winds up – but at that point her voice breaks. All the bluster that led up to it, bassist Aretha Tillotson’s lines rising like waves amidst a hurricane over the insistent drums, can’t lift Johnson out of the gloom that persists throughout this album.

“All my old friends say they can’t breathe,” she laments as the icepick piano chords of Medicine kick in. “Setting off atom bombs in the desert, said there’s nothing wrong wiith forever,” she broods as the alienated rainy-day ballad Daylighit Twilight begins its relentless sway. “Black water, black water swallow me whole/Oh daugher, oh daugher, when will you control the darkness?” she asks.

Teeth Rot is Cure-influenced without being a total ripoff: it’s the poppiest track here (and could do double duty as a commercial for small-batch toothpaste). Annie’s Dead rises from a plaintive, elegiac intro to a roaring blend of noir cabaret and stadium rock: “I’m just a memory, too easily replaced,” Johnson muses.

Byron Patterson’s icy tremolo-picked guitar mingles with stately piano in Lucy Get Blue, while the pounding, turbulent swirl of Electric mashes up two generations of goth: 17 Seconds-era Cure and Amanda Palmer. With its torrents of water imagery, Handshake Tragedy is the album’s most hypnotic track.

“We’ll make it out alive,” Johnson asserts in the bouncy Delirium, but again, she sounds far from certain. It’s clear that it’s going to take more than a relationship to pull this woman up from the bottom of the well: “My heart breaks easy and my bones do too.” The album winds up with the title track, which hints at ragtime but never goes there. Fans of the Mynabirds and Holly Miranda – and all the girls who’ve outgrown that New Zealand goth chick who was all the rage a couple of years ago -ß ought to check this band out. Dig out that black eyeliner and jump on the L this Friday night. 

Dawn Oberg’s Nothing Rhymes With Orange: 2017’s Funniest Political Album

What’s more Halloweenish than Putin’s little bitch in the Oval Office? That’s what Dawn Oberg calls him in the scathingly hilarious, Beatlesque parlor-pop title track of her new ep, Nothing Rhymes with Orange. It’s streaming at Bandcamp, and she’s making a relatively rare New York appearance at 2:45 PM at Matchless in Williamsburg on Nov 12. Similarly lyrical, unpredictable, wickedly catchy keyboard-fueled art-rockers Changing Modes eventually follow later in the evening at 5:45; cover is $10.

Oberg is unsurpasssed at sardonically funny, insightful tunesmithing. With her sharp wit, erudite gospel-inspired piano chops and quirky vocals, she’s been pursuing her distinctive, literary parlor pop and artsy rock since the early zeros. She never met a good pun she could resist, and slings one of those after another at the failed casino magnate whose unlikely ascendancy to the one public office he’ll ever hold left the world in a state of shock and horror last November. Until the slow wheels of impeachment reach their inevitable destination, we have this record to soothe the burn.

Oberg’s band here includes Roger Rocha on guitar, Shawn Miller on bass, Erik Ian Walker on organ and Andrew Laubacher on drums. They shuflfle along with with Oberg’s tumbling piano and torrents of lyrics in Information Is Your Friend, a snide response to the deluge of fake news being sent out by the “tweeting twat” in the White House:

Someone smart said a long time ago, the truth will set you free
And it sucks I even have to say it, that I have to sing and play it…

That disillusion is echoed in I’d Love to Be Wrong, which alludes to Oberg’s classic breakup-as-earthquake anthem End of the Continent:

I see four guys on horses
The sky growing dark,
I can hear the rattle of chains
They ain’t coming to help us
Their hostages already slain

Oberg is no stranger to political satire, or irresistible jokes – her 2008 album is titled Horticulture Wars – but this is the funniest thing she’s ever done. And it’s reason to look forward to what she has to say when hubris catches up with that tweeting twat. Let’s just hope he doesn’t start a real war when he finally figures out that he bit off way too much more than he could chew.

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.