New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Category: postrock

Brooding, Incisive, No-Nonsense Heavy Sounds From Eight Bells

The opening track on Eight Bells‘ new album Legacy of Ruin – streaming at Bandcamp – pretty much capsulizes everything the power trio do. Lushly arranged, haunting vocal harmonies and lingering rainy-day melody blend uneasily with dense postrock ambience and passages of hammering black metal. The black metal is front and center on this particular number, Destroyer, frontwoman Melynda Jackson adding drifting guitar leads over her savage tremolo-picking, bassist Matt Solis piercing the surface over drummer Brian Burke’s machinegun attack.

Track two, The Well is the album’s longest dirge, with eerie, Balkan-tinged vocal harmonies wafting over spare, bell-like guitar accents and distant synth orchestration: “Say a prayer to no one,” Jackson suggests. It isn’t long before the storm blasts, then subsides in a return to mournful stateliness.

Jackson mashes up tricky syncopation, enigmatic dreampop and a doom metal menace in Torpid Dreamer. Nadir is not the low point of the album but a steady, swaying anthem that builds to a bleak majesty.

The Crone isn’t particularly witchy: it’s a slow mix of spacerock drift, moody guitar clang and unhinged black metal. There’s more drift but just as much assault in the final cut, Premonition. For people who gravitate to black metal but not the mead-swilling viking cliches….or who like postrock but not mumblemouth indie-ness, this is your cup of bitter herbs.

It’s worth mentioning that the album is also available through the Prophecy Club, where for thirty bucks, subscribers get every new release from Prophecy Productions, in perpetuity, plus 34 back-catalog releases from a consistently strong roster of dark and heavy artists including Eight Bells, Fortid, Empyrium, Negura Bunget and others. In an age when most so-called record labels suck ass, these guys have an enviably good track record. Bottom line: if Prophecy Productions dies now, your total outlay is less than a dollar an album. If Prophecy Productions survives, and let’s hope they do, your cost grows closer and closer to zero with every release.

A Friendly Pitchblende Night Drive With Suss

New York instrumentalists Suss have carved out a unique niche playing big-sky nocturnes more evocative of the wide open spaces of the west than, say, Long Island City. That’s where the band are pictured on the cover of their very accurately titled latest album, Night Suite, streaming at Bandcamp. This time, they’ve switched out the locales of the mind conjured up in their previous work, and switched in an overnight trip on Highway 66 from Gallup, New Mexico to the desert town of Needles, California, just across the Colorado River.

As the convoy drift out of Gallup, casual flickers from reverb guitar, pedal steel and starry guitar pedalboard textures begin to creep through the shadowy calm. Flagstaff, Arizona turns out to be a patchwork of stillness punctuated by the occasional passing big rig, fluorescent-lit all-night diner or distant train whistle, or so it would seem.

Further into Arizona, there’s Ash Fork, the most expansive tableau here with its organlike high-lonesome washes of sound. If Pink Floyd were a Tucson band, they would have sounded like this. Guessing that’s Pat Irwin’s guitar flaring gently over Jonathan Gregg’s pedal steel and Gary Lieb’s gently keening synth.

Hints of southwestern gothic – that’s either Bob Holmes or Irwin on guitar – reverberate on the low end. static misting the mix when the convoy reaches Kingman. The distant ghost of a Lynchian ballad wafts in as the group pull gently into their final destination

Singles For Today: Laughs, Raised Middle Fingers and Moody Mystery

More protest songs, epic darkness and riotously vindicating laughs at the end, Click on the artist name for their webpages, click on song titles for audio.

Rap artist Lukas Lion‘s biggest hit is 1984, which was censored by youtube, so you know he has to be good. He’s brilliant, actually.

Fear is their greatest tool.
Fear can turn the brightest minds to fools
Televise endless lies, keep people terrified
That’s the way they maintain their rule.
Fear is the prison that they want us all to live in
And ever since the beginning this has been their only mission….
A real pandemic doesn’t need advertising…

One good song deserves another, so he came up with 1984 Part 2 (scroll to the bottom of the page after Margaret Anna Alice’s eloquent and meticulously referenced takedown of Kathy Hochul’s fascist end run around the New York State legislature).

The Ministry of Truth has taken over.
There’s a reason that they chose Corona.
Corona means crown, work it out man
It’s all symbolism from the beginning they told ya.
A virus of the mind, infecting your thoughts.
But enough is enough. Now we’re saying no more.
The emergence of apartheid, creating segregation
That’s the road that they’re paving.
Cuz if you’re not jabbed then it’s you that they’re blaming.
It’s you that is dangerous. Mass manipulation.
Coercing you to get penetrated.
What’s the difference between that and a rapist?

Lion’s latest release is The Great Puppet Show, a circus rock hip-hop parable: “Our magical screens will make you believe anything that we please.”

Irish folk-rock songwriter Dantom a.k.a. Daniel Thomas Dyer has a couple of spot-on, sarcastic protest songs from his album Root of the Root up at Odysee. The funnier one is Talking Covid Attack Blues (aka Sleeptalking Blues), a full-band Subterranean Homesick Blues for the twenties,  with pricelessly amusing backup vocals:

Spread the facts from the BBC, most trusted source in the world to me we should al live i fear
PCR, they say it’s the best, gold standard, 40 cycles…
Been on Facebook most of the time, we need more censorship there I say

He’s one of the few to make the connection between 9/11 and the plandemic in a solo acoustic tune, Breathe. Thanks to Mark Crispin Miller for passing these two along

On the more expansive side, Darkher’s new single Where the Devil Waits has stately ominous High Romantic angst rising over a cello drone and spare acoustic guitar

The big epic on this list is the new single by New Zealand band Die! Die! Die!, This Is Not an Island Anymore, rising from a drony intro punctuated by percussive blasts. It sounds like peak-era Sonic Youth with Kim Gordon out front, but much noisier and postrock-y

Let’s end this with a good vindictive joke. This isn’t a music video: it’s what tyrants look like once the mob outside the castle has busted down the gate. Here’s Boston Mayor Michelle Wu going into full panic mode once she realizes that her Twitter chat is not turning out the way she planned. The people have spoken!

Rare Unreleased Psychedelic Funk and Jamband Sounds From a New York Gone Forever

It’s a sweltering night on New York’s Lower East Side in June of 1987: summer has gotten off to a scorching start. Inside CBGB, there’s a good crowd, and they’re in a dancing mood. High on the stage, drummer Bobby Previte lays down a colorful clave. Elliott Sharp and Dave Tronzo play skronky, smoky guitar funk. Bassist Dave Hofstra is too low in the mix, and bandleader Wayne Horvitz adds layers of woozy keyboard textures. It’s the missing link between Defunkt’s jagged dancefloor attack and sprawling mid-70s Can. About four and a half minutes in, the song ends cold.

That’s the opening number, This New Generation, on Horvitz’s fifteen-track initial release in a series of archival recordings, Live Forever Volume 1, The President NY Live in the 80s, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a party in a box. From the perspective of the Orwellian nightmare that 2022 has been so far in this city, what an incredible time and place that was. The door guy at CB’s never bothered to ask customers to show ID, never mind a vaxxport or a muzzle. And if vaxxports had existed in 1987, the crowd would have laughed him off and bumrushed the stage. For the young people of the Reagan era, everybody’s bullshit detector for authoritarianism was set to stun. How far we’ve fallen since then.

The rest of the album is a period piece. In his extensive liner notes, Horvitz avers to how messy and uneven some of it is, but there’s no question this band could jam their asses off. There are also a handful of rare studio recordings as well as a quartet of songs from the earliest incarnation of this snarkily named ensemble, The President of the United States of America, from a CB’s show five years earlier.

The next song is Bring Yr Camera. Tronzo slips and dives and tenor saxoponist Doug Wieselman soars over a gritty groove that could be a 1960s incarnation of the Crusaders. After that, These Hard Times foreshadows what Susie Ibarra would do with Filipino kulintang music, albeit with a harder edge.

There are two versions of Andre’s Mood here. The first is from that 1987 set, a tumbling, blippy, downtown New York take on what the Talking Heads were doing with Burning Down the House. The second is a more skittish, Afrobeat-flavored studio recording with Horvitz’s organ further to the front.

Likewise, there are two takes of Three Crows, a swaying, midtempo funk tune. The live version has a reggae bassline from Hofstra and a snazzy handoff from Wieselman to a jagged Sharp solo; the studio take is a little faster. The final song from the live set is Ride the Wide Streets, which veers further toward frantic punk-funk.

The rest of the studio material here is on the techy side, focusing on Horvitz’s incisively layered, punchy keyboard riffs. There’s Serious, which prefigures that expansive Afrobeat jams of bands like the Brighton Beat, and Science Diet (a reference to cat food), which is short and snarling.

The 1982 CBGB tracks are the most expansive and jam-oriented here. Despite a completely different lineup – Stew Cutler on guitar, Joe Gallant on bass and Dave Sewelson on alto sax – they’re testament to the consistency of Horvitz’s vision. The appropriately titled On and On is basically a reggae tune with a couple of big screaming peaks. Horvitz dedicates the more Booker T-flavored Flat on Yr Back to the sound guy – hmmmm!

Kevin Cosgrove is the guitarist on the two earliest live numbers. Of Thee I Sing is the most haphazard one here – hearing Sewelson’s sax through the board with all that reverb on it is a trip, as are Horvitz’s synth settings. The final number, Boy, is a surreal mashup of New Orleans second-line groove and abrasive no wave. All this is reason to look forward to what else Horvitz has lying around for the next installment.

Daxma’s New Album: Unlimited Shades of Grey

Bay area band Daxma play hypnotic, melancholy slowcore, akin to a missing link between Godspeed You Black Emperor and My Bloody Valentine. Vocals serve more of an instrumental than lyrical role in this music, such that there are any here. Their new album Unmarked Boxes is streaming at Bandcamp. Other than the occasional screaming guitar burst or tumbling drum riff, the pall never lifts: if grey is your color, this is your sound. Love it or hate it, it’s hard to argue with how accurately this band reflect the past twenty months’ interminable, oppressive gloom.

The first track, The Clouds Parted begins with a broodingly anthemic, looping piano riff, then the guitar crunch kicks in and the dirge is on, but with more of an opaque My Bloody Valentine feel. The band shift gears to a Dark Side of the Moon clang that grows more insistent yet hypnotic as the bass takes over the melody. The MBV cyclotron returns, interchanging with moments of minimalist calm throughout the rest of the song’s almost fourteen minutes. It sets the stage for the rest of the album’s longer tracks.

The second cut is And the Earth Swallowed Our Shadows, rainy-day guitar loops within an increasingly dense fog punctuated by aching washes of tremolo-picking. It ends calmly and stately.

The grey-sky ambience looms closer and closer to the growling bass riff that anchors the epic Hiraeth: as the tableau slowly unfolds, it’s like Mogwai covering the Cure at quarterspeed. Suadade is aptly titled: it’s more sparse, beyond the interlude where the stormclouds come sweeping past.

Anything You Lose begins with one of the album’s catchiest passages, then the melody and textures grow more densely immersive. The final track, Comes Back to Another Form, contrasts the album’s quietest sections with its most raging, sustained peak.

Hypnotically Intense, Resonant Psychedelic Instrumental Themes From the Mute Duo

If Big Lazy‘s creepy big-sky tableaux, the southwestern gothic vistas of the Friends of Dean Martinez or peak-era, late 80s Sonic Youth are your thing, you’ll love the Mute Duo. With just pedal steel and drums, their slowly unfolding, tectonically shifting soundscapes are as suspenseful as they are psychedelic. Their album Lapse in Passage is streaming at Bandcamp.

There’s enough reverb on Sam Wagster’s pedal steel here to drive a truck through, maxing out the icily overdriven resonance. A lingering menace slowly builds over airy drones as Derived From Retinas, the first track, coalesces out of spare, reverb-drenched phrases, Skyler Rowe’s drums and the spacious upward swoops from the steel hinting that the clouds will break. They don’t, and the rhythm never completely comes together, even as the duo make a grim modal anthem out of it.

A metallic mist of overtones rises as the one-chord tableau Past Musculature Plains gathers momentum: it could be the great lost atmospheric track from Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation.

Canopy Bells, a minimalist mini-suite, gets a summery, hazy introduction, wind chimes gently rattling in the breeze before the drums begin prowling. The frenetic, roaring crescendo comes as a jolt;

The brief ambient interlude A Timbre Profile leads into the album’s most epic track, Overland Line, which could be the skeleton frame of an early PiL instrumental played with a slide. This time it’s the drums which hold this together as Wagster leaves plenty of distance between his phrases. Echoey loops mingle through a long crescendo;  Rowe’s decisive cymbal whacks kick off the coda.

Dallas in the Dog Days has sheets of steel floating over a similarly reverb-iced, moodily pastoral, slightly out-of-tune piano track. With its simple variations on a drone finally gathering into a flock of busy wings, Redwinged Blackbirds comes across as a minimalist take on early 70s instrumental Pink Floyd. The album winds up with Last Greys, the drums pulling its anthemic, loopy phrases further outside. This is a great lights-out, late night listen.

Lushly Allusive, Symphonic Eco-Disaster Anthems From These New Puritans

These New Puritans occupy a uniquely uneasy space between ornately symphonic rock and minimalist postrock. Their latest album Inside the Rose – streaming at Soundcloud – is somewhat icier and techier than their previous work. The obvious comparison is Radiohead, but this British band are more darkly lyrical and rely on what can be relentless grey-sky sonics instead of cynical glitchiness.

Infinity Vibraphones is an apt title for the album’s opening track, those rippling textures contrasting with ominous cloudbanks of bassy string synth. Frontman Jack Barnett’s hushed, conspiratorial vocals parse a surreal litany of elements, some radioactive and some not. A“sea of plastic horses” figures into what seems to be a dystopic scenario. His brother George’s dancing drumbeat gets trickier and then smooths out again: a more organic Radiohead with a better singer.

The formula is the same in Anti-Gravity, with spare synth and piano figures in place of the vibes: “Never get up, never give up” is the mantra. “This is a fire we can’t put out…all those wise men say nothing,” the group’s frontman intones in the brooding, tectonically shifting, new wave-tinged Beyond Black Suns. The response, through a robotic effect, is “This isn’t yesterday.”

The album’s title track has an airy intro and a staggered beat; it could be an eco-disaster parable, or simply an allusive portrait of love gone wrong. Brassy ambience rises and subsides in Where the Trees Are on Fire, with a crushingly sarcastic ersatz nursery rhyme of a lyric. Into the Fire has tumbling syncopation and unexpected hip-hop touches: it’s nowhere near as incendiary as the title would imply.

The brief string-and-piano theme Lost Angel contrasts with the loopy synths and icy Terminator soundtrack techiness of A R P: “This is not a dream, this is really happening,” the bandleader cautions .

They wrap up the album with a slow, hypnotic, circling processional theme simply titled Six. This is a good record for a rainy day when you can spend some time with it and explore its deceptive depths.

Arooj Aftab’s Misty, Organic New Album Transcends Tragedy

Pakistani singer Arooj Aftab’s new album Vulture Prince – streaming at Bandcamp – takes its title from a Parsi funeral custom, where a body is left for the vultures in order to continue the natural cycle of life. The backstory is grim: the singer lost her younger brother Maher while making the record. Somehow she found the perseverance to transcend that tragedy. The central theme is revisiting places, and situations, and people, who may not exist anymore. With the lockdowners still exerting an iron grip on much of the world, the album couldn’t be more relevant.

As usual, Aftab defies categorization. Several of these songs could be called ghazals, but the instrumentation is more jazz and art-rock oriented. Baghon Main is a verdantly catchy remake of a track from her debut album, Maeve Gilchrist opening the song with a flourish on her harp, then Petros Klampanis’ stately bass and Juliette Jones’ distant violin enter the picture. Aftab’s meticulously modulated voice has taken on additional gravitas and maybe even more nuance – if that’s possible! – in the the years since.. And it’s the key to the album. Instrumental voicings that would have been spun through a mixer earlier in her career are organic now – the echo and doppler-like effects from the violin, for example.

Diya Hai has a similarly catchy, spiky backdrop, Badi Assad supplying  acoustic guitar with Jones’ shivery violin entering later, Aftab’s gently emotive voice just as haunting. She keeps her melismas low-key and lustrous in Inayaat, awash in violin, Aftab’s spare, hypnotic piano contrasting with the incisive pings and ripples of the harp. Percussionist Jamey Haddad’s shift from a drifting, ghazal-like feel to an implied qawwali groove is a striking touch.

Aftab multitracks her vocals in the starkly catchy minor-key dub reggae tune Last Night, a setting of a Rumi love poem with a handful of lines in English. Mohabbat comes across as a gently undulating mashup of Elizabethan British folk and Punjabi devotional music, Nadje Noordhuis’ resonant trumpet calm above Gyan Riley’s guitar, the harp and the tremoloing lines of the violin.

Aftab’s misty intonation of her late friend Annie Ali Khan’s lyrics in Saans Lo – an encouragement to move on and the closest thing here to Aftab’s swirly, immersive earlier work – is unselfconsciously wrenching. She closes the album with Suroor, her hazy vocals contrasting with the lively, lightly processed harp and a dancing rhythm: as imaginatively arranged as this is, it’s the closest thing to a traditional ghazal here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Uneasy Treat From Noa Fort and Vinnie Sperrazza

The new short album Small Cities by multi-keyboardist Noa Fort and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza – streaming at Bandcamp – is a real change of pace for both of them because it’s so minimalist. The centerpiece, Only Happy When I’m Haunted, is the real showstopper here. Bookended by a wry drum solo, and a final, playful vocal-and drum-tune, it features Fort on what sounds like an old Yamaha organ instead of her usual piano. And it’s creepy, with an almost-unhinged tension similar to Serena Jost’s improvisational work in a completely diffferent context.

All proceeds of purchases go to Planned Parenthood.