New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Category: powerpop

Catchy Powerpop and Dark Female-Fronted Punk Sounds in Astoria This Friday Night

Giftshop have been one of New York’s most distinctively catchy bands for more than a decade. Under the best circumstances, that kind of tenacity is rare. At this point in history, it’s even more of an achievement that the punk/powerpop quartet not only survived the lockdown but managed to put out some great singles over the last several months. Frontwoman Meghan Taylor is bringing the band, her powerful pipes and simmering, sardonic songs to a gig on May 20 at 9 PM at the Shillelagh Tavern, 47-22 30th Ave. in Astoria; take the N/R to 46th St.

Giftshop are also the rare band who have figured out the marketing value in putting their studio work out as free downloads: truth in advertising. Their most recent album, Biginastoria, does not seem to be the least bit sarcastically titled. A previous release, Tourist Trap goes back to 2013, has a louder punk rock crunch.

The opening track, Left Right would have ruled the college airwaves if the band had existed thirty years earlier. It’s a snide antiauthoritarian blend of skittish late 70s XTC new wave with a harder-edged, syncopated New York stomp.

Shine is not the Psychedelic Furs classic but a catchy, slurry riff-rock anthem. Anything Anything is a throwback to Garbage (or Missing Persons, ten years before that), with a surprise bass solo.

Taylor sends a ridiculously funny shout-out to a distinctly New England breed of dirtbag party animal in Parking Lot Astronaut, then the band blast through You Can’t Make Me at practically hardcore speed. They wind up the record with C’mon, which seems designed for audience participation. This is a fun look back to a time when the group wasn’t quite so dark or complex; then again, that could be said for the world in general.

Charismatic Road Warriors Frenchy & the Punk Bring Their High Energy Show to Queens This Evening

Before the lockdown, Frenchy & the Punk were one of the hardest-working bands touring the world. The duo of singer/dancer Samantha Stephenson and guitarist Scott Helland got their start when steampunk was all the rage and have since taken a turn in a harder-rocking direction than their original mix of noir cabaret and circus rock. The good news is that they’re playing again, with a show tonight, May 8 at 5 PM on the trailer in the back of the parking lot at Culture Lab in Long Island City.

Their most recent single, The Storm Is a Call For Rebuilding, is a rousing, Celtic-tinged protest song from the desperate days of August, 2020:

Watch who the leaders trample on
You might be next if in the way of their throne
Hear their words but judge on what they’ve done
It’s too easy to sway the unguarded
Oh, dance in the rain but see beyond the fog…

The single before that was a biting acoustic-electric cover of the Nerves’ Hanging on the Telephone, which beats the more famous Blondie version.

The band’s most recent album is Hooray Beret, which came out in 2019. They really mix it up on this one. The opening number is an unexpectedly successful detour into funk. From there they go into a lot of riffy powerpop in a more acoustic Joan Jett vein, Stephenson’s throaty wail over Helland’s punchy guitar and bass multitracks.

In the middle of all that, there’s Sing, bouncy cautionary tale that’s the band’s equivalent of Pink Floyd’s Time. There’s Monsters, a brisk but ominously pulsing take on the acoustic goth pop Siouxsie took with Christine. “They’ve disguised themselves as shepherds….it’s up to us to break the cycle,” Stephenson insists.

Stephenson switches to her native French for Oo La La, a catchy blend of vintage Squeeze and All Along the Watchtower. Onstage, Helland plays with a loop pedal, giving the duo a louder, lusher sound than most two-piece acts. Fun fact: Helland’s solo work is 180 degrees from his high-energy attack in this project. His instrumental loopmusic albums are fantastic if you like ambient, ethereal sounds.

Giftshop Bring Their Catchy, Powerful Tunesmithing to a Benefit for Ukraine on the 30th

Giftshop are a throwback to an era when loud guitar-driven three-minute songs were an art form. This blog has called the band the missing link between Blondie and the Distillers. At this point in their career, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that they’re a crunchier version of the Go-Go’s. Their worldview is sharp, their songwriting is wickedly catchy and retro in a classic late 70s CBGB-style powerpop vein, and frontwoman Meghan Taylor has one of the most memorable, powerful wails of any singer in New York They’re headlining a benefit for Ukraine this weekend at Otto’s at around 9 PM on April 30. It’s a pass-the-bucket situation with all proceeds going to Razom for Ukraine. The Sloe Guns, who have been one of New York’s smartest Americana bands for going on two decades, play before at around 8.

Giftshop also know know something about marketing: practically their entire output since 2012 is up at their music page as a free download, and all of it is worth owning. This is the giftshop that keeps on giving! Their most recent singles are particularly choice. The newest and best one is More Than That, a searing reminiscence of the “wasted time and wasted years” since March of 2020, referencing Big Pharma fearmongering and “weaponized hugs.” It could be the best song of the year so far.

Another good one is Kewl With Me, a pulsing, riff-driven early new wave era-style number and showcase for Taylor’s powerful pipes. Matt Santoro varies his guitar textures from jangle to roar over Damian Eckstein’s buzzy bass and Jordan Kramer’s drums in Stylish Junkie, a snarling, sarcastic slap upside of the head of a girl who puts “the under in underwear.”

Their most recent album, Biginastoria came out in 2019. It’s one catchy, tantalizingly brief nonconformist anthem after another, They open it with We Want You, a sarcastically marching, synthy new wave tune, then Taylor takes aim at narcissistic trendoid groupthink in Same: “The rest of us just don’t buy in,” is the mantra.

They reach an early X-style punk stomp in Stacked, a dig at phony rebels, and then hit a hardcore sprint in Things I Feel, over in less than a minute and a half. They close with a deliciously rampaging cover of the Motorhead classic Ace of Spades – it ranks with the Avengers’ version of Paint It Black.

A Strong Guitar-Fueled Quadruplebill in Bushwick on the 14th

Since the more financially sensible New York venues have been dropping apartheid restrictions on entry, is there anything left of the rock scene here? Happily, yes, and it looks like Our Wicked Lady in Bushwick is leading the way. There’s an excellent punk and punk-adjacent bill coming up on April 14 starting at around 8 with catchy female-fronted powerpop/janglerock band the Rizzos, then cynical punks Duke of Vandals, the fearlessly pro-immigrant, all-female Frida Kill and kinetic no-wavers Weeping Icon topping the bill at around 11. The club webpage says cover is $11.33 which realistically translates to twelve bucks at the door.

The Rizzos go back awhile: they’ve been around at least since contributing the best song on a 2014 King Pizza holiday compilation, a sludgy powerpop number where frontwoman/guitarist Megan Mancini announces that “Everyone’s excited for Christmas except for me.” They released their limited-edition cassette How It Was at the end of last year, and it’s still available and streaming at Bandcamp.

Mancini is a down-to-earth, unselfconsciously strong singer and a catchy tunesmith, joining forces with six-stringer Joshua Park for a tasty, beefy blend of distorted guitar. Drummer Bettina Warshaw grounds the band’s roaring powerpop songs with the heavy foot they deserve. They open the record with Lost Boys, an amped-up, stomping take on Brian Jonestown Massacre-style post-Velvets rock.

Bassist Justin Ferraro soars up the fretboard behind the roar of the catchy chords in the second track, Way Out. Other cuts which stand out are Breslin, which is a cut above your standard-issue skittish Velvets rock; the bittersweet Nowhere in Particular; Heavy Song, a richly textured, anthemic ballad; and the album’s most retro and arguably catchiest track, Crybaby.

It’s reassuring to know that there are still bands this good who’ve survived the past two years of hell. For those who might be thinking about this show but put off by the location – “Ewwww, Bushwick!” – consider that much of the crowd who invaded over the past several years have since gone home to mommy.

Melissa Gordon Brings Her Catchy Purist Retro Rock Tunesmithing Back to a Familiar Haunt

Back in 2017, this blog picked Melissa & the Mannequins as the best new rock band in New York. With frontwoman Melissa Gordon’s calm, uncluttered vocals and purist retro 80s janglerock tunesmithing, the future looked bright. Since then, the Mannequins seem to have left the store window, but Gordon has soldiered on as a solo performer and bandleader. If catchy tunesmithing and big redemptive choruses are your thing, Gordon’s songs will hit the spot. She’s returning to a familiar haunt, the small room at the Rockwood on April 6 at 8 PM. It’s a pass-the-bucket situation.

From the low-key, plainspoken acoustic sketches on her Soundcloud page, it’s clear she hasn’t been idle since the arts in this city were put on ice by the 2020 totalitarian takeover. But her magnum opus so far is the 2017 Mannequins album Mtns​/​Plane​/​Sky, which is still up at Bandcamp.

Beyond her songwriting, Gordon’s biggest drawing card is her nimble guitar work, flinging one catchy riff or flurry of chordlets into the mix. The album opens with Can’t Let Go, a gorgeous intertwine of chiming guitar textures over a low-key backbeat from drummer Oskar Hagghdal, Gordon and guitarist Steve Flakus hit a wry twin-lead break that they send wafting off in a a flangey fog. Then they take a turn into slinky, retro soul-infused funk with All the Time, eventually rising to a cheery, punchy peak over a sleek organ backdrop.

Bliss is a crunchy powerpop tune with all kinds of clever touches, from bittersweet ELO keys to big Bowie-esque flares.. The band shift from funky verse to shiny, swooshy chorus and back in the the next number, Breathe, then tale a memorably moody detour into Lynchian soul balladry with Intruder

Listen, a brisk, gorgeously angst-fueled 6/8 soul tune bristling with layers and layers of guitar, is the genuine classic here, and a high point of the band’s live show. Slip Away is another real gem, with the album’s catchiest chorus: the recorded version reveals the song’s soul roots. The last track is Night in the Park, the synthiest, new wavey-est tune here.

One beef about this album: Gordon is a fine singer, and the places where her vocals were autotuned instantly date this music to a time when the entertainment-industrial complex was trying to wean people off human artistry and replace it with computers. Historians looking back at the early 21st century will shudder at how successful that meme turned out to be.

Singles for the Last Week of March

Gonna keep the playlist short and sweet today. Some funny stuff, some dark stuff: same old. Click on artist names for their webpages, click on titles for audio or video.

Since June of 2020, Media Bear has put out a barrage of protest songs set to tunes from across the ages, starting with spoofs of 80s pop and moving forward. All of them, and the videos as well, are pretty hilarious. The most obvious and maybe most ridiculously funny one is Because I Complied. Just so you get the joke, the chorus is “Because I complied, because I complied, because I complied.”

Here’s a snarky new 90-second Peggy Hall comedy clip: she considers what your doctor would have said to you in, say, 2019, if you walked in and asked them to test you for something twice a week.

Disturbed’s dirgey art-rock cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence has a killer video by Sage Hana. The song itself isn’t quite is good as the Move’s version but it still packs a punch.

To 10 (as in turn it up to 10) by guitarist Sylvia Rose Novak is catchy powerpop with an early 90s angularity. You wouldn’t think it works but it does – and no autotune on the vocals either

Love’s Sudden Death, by Darkher is a gritty melange of doom metal, Renaissance fair folk and 90s trip-hop, in a dark Portishead vein

Let’s end this on a fun, high energy note with New Stamp (that’s Australian slang – you figure it out), by Andy Golledge. It’s a mashup of Legendary Shack Shakers hillbilly noir and Oasis. Thanks to Micky C. – always on top of what’s happening down under – for the heads-up on this one.

Some of the Most Outside-the-Box Sounds in Heavy Rock from the Neptune Power Federation

Australian band the Neptune Power Federation are one of the most original bands around. Just the idea of AC/DC with a woman out front is pretty cool (John Sharples’ New York AC/DC cover project Big Balls, with Anna Copa Cabanna on vocals is an obvious reference point). But as much as the Neptune Power Federation raise their lighters at the altar of Angus Young, they have all kinds of other influences. Their new album Le Demon De L’Amour is streaming at Bandcamp. The concept, heavy metal songs about love, is nothing new – except that these aren’t cheesy hair metal ballads. And they’re more acidic than saccharine.

The first one is Weeping on the Moon, with an intro that reminds of Pink Floyd’s Run Like Hell into a brisk stomp straight out of classic-era Highway to Hell AC/DC. Frontwoman Screaming Loz Sutch brings a little 60s girl-group-via-new-wave to the vocals. Bassist Jaytanic Ritual gets to cut loose on the long outro along with guitarists Search and DesTroy and Inverted CruciFox. Behind the kit – drum roll – is River Sticks, #bestdrummernameever.

Musically, the AC/DC is front and center in My Precious One, with a little Sabbath Paranoid edge, but it’s the lead singer’s unselfconscious angst that hits you upside the head: no cliches in that woman’s voice.

Baby You’re Mine is an unexpected detour into heavy wah-wah funk, with blippy clavinova and an organ swirling in the background. Loz reaches to the top of her wail in Loving You Is Killing Me, a strange, psychedelic mashup of AC/DC, early Santana and 80s metal with a shockingly delicate acoustic interlude before the earth-shaking charge out

The band go back to improbably successful new wave/metal cross-pollination in Stay With Thee. They follow that with Emmaline, a snarling riff-rock tune in an Electric Citizen vein with lush layers of backing vocals and a surreal outer-space interlude.

From the sarcastic intro, to the demolition right afterward, the heavy soul tune Madly in Love is the funniest track on the album. They close with We Beasts of the Night, a wistful acoustic twelve-string intro ceding to a straight-up powerpop anthem straight out of CBGB, 1979. It takes big balls to make music as defiantly individualistic as this – let alone in Australia at any time since March of 2020.

Some Catchy Songs and a Real Heartbreaking One

Been awhile since there’s been a playlist on this page. Four songs in twelve minutes for your listening pleasure. Click on the song title for audio, click on the artist name for their webpage.

Night Palace‘s Jessica Mystic is a drifty, wistful Lynchian jangle-and-keys pop song with a ska-tinged alto sax solo. It all works: go figure.

Churchyard. by Ex-Void is a blast of female-fronted powerpop that’s over in a minute 58. The chorus is “I get so bored.” But not by this song.

Joydah Mae gives us Hands Off Our Children, a big acoustic singalong anthem for our time: “Which side of history will you participate in?”

Warning: this last one will bring tears to your eyes. Teenage songwriter Julie Elizabeth couldn’t record her song Silence because she took the kill shot, “Thinking this would save me, I did what you asked me to…I was loyal to the fight, I lined right up to do what’s right.” And now this up-and-coming performer is too badly crippled to perform. Her friend April recorded it – and sang truth to power over a backing track at the freedom rally at the Lincoln Memorial last Sunday.

Catchy Dystopic Psychedelia and Powerpop From the Speed of Sound

“We were offered Star Trek, but they fed us Soylent Green,” guitarist Ann-Marie Crowley sings to open Tomorrow’s World, the first track on the Speed of Sound‘s new vinyl album The Museum Of Tomorrow, streaming at Big Stir Records:

There is no escape from the all-seeing eye
It records every word we mistype
This is not our future dream anymore
This is a futurescape to endure

As a whole, this is a characteristically cynical, dystopic, colorfully lyrical mix of jangly psychedelic pop tunes. Contemporaries of catchy neo-psychedelic bands like the Jigsaw Seen and Speed the Plough, the Manchester group been around since the late 80s. Frontman John Armstrong’s deadpan sense of humor and shiny melodies often conceal a much more troubled and insightful worldview. Lots of levels at work here: this is definitely a record for our time.

The second track is Opium Eyes, a late 60s style flange-rock anthem and antidepressant cautionary tale that bursts in and is gone in a minute forty five. Likewise, the cheery la-la’s in Smokescreen serve as exactly that, bassist Kevin Roache and drummer John Broadhurst supplying the deceptively lithe pulse.

The music darkens to match the narrative in Zombie Century, an appropriately marching portrait of a rudderless world on the express track to destruction, where the heretics who could save us are pushed out of the picture.

Henry Armstrong’s keyboards blend with the lush vocal harmonies and resonant guitars to lowlight the clueless neverland of Virtual Reality (Pt. 2). The band break out the twelve-string guitars and then the blippy spacerock keys for the gorgeously chiming, dissociatively wary Shadow Factory, John Armstrong twisting through a slithery solo.

Impossible Past wouldn’t be out of place in the Dada Paradox catalog, a knowing chronicle of revisionist history:

The golden time was never so sunny
Bleakly like a taste of honey
Duck-and-cover A-bomb drills
Among dark satanic mills

Set to a vampy retro 60s go-go tune, Leaf Blower is a metaphor for any kind of machine that blows hot air. Blood Sweat and Tears is not a shout-out to horrible 60s hitmakers but a scrambling workingman’s lament, stuck on a treadmill in a race to the bottom. Charlotte – a Jane Eyre-inspired anthem – has coy echoes of another veteran, jangly British band’s song by almost the same name.

The band reach their most epic sweep in the global warming apocalypse anthem The Day the Earth Caught Fire.  With the album’s final cut, Last Orders – a pouncing, late 60s Kinks-ish last-call scenario – this story doesn’t end optimistically. If smart lyricism and bright tunesmithing in a New Pornographers vein is your thing, this is your jam.

Two Finnish Femmes Fatales Join Voices in Big Anthems with Loud Guitars

Finland is free again! So the time has come to celebrate a Finnish metal siren summit. On their new album The Reckoning- streaming at SpotifySmackbound lead singer Netta Laurenne joins forces with Battle Beast frontwoman Noora Louhimo. The two complement each other: if anything, Louhimo gets Laurenne to air out her gritty lower register, while Laurenne pushes her bandmate further toward operatics. It’s not a stretch for either singer, but it’s fun to hear the role reversal.

The band – Samy Elbanna on lead guitar, Nino Laurenne on rhythm guitar, Pasi Heikkilä on bass, Vili Itäpelto on keys and Sampo Haapaniemi on drums – make their way through a symphonic series of tempo changes in Time to Kill the Night, a warmly determined ballad. Elbanna kicks off his solo with some machete tremolo-picking; “I have been holding onto promises too long,” the two women harmonize.

The Reckoning, a catchy, stomping powerpop dig-in-and-fight anthem, is followed by Tongue of Dirt, more of a pop song at heart. The drama rises toward stormy classical territory in Striking Like a Thunder (hey, these women are Finns, cut them some slack).

Bitch Fire – yeah, that language thing again, perkele!– is a rapidfire, gleefully venomous riff-rocker, followed by the slow, swaying piano ballad Hurricane Love, Louhimo rising out of a subdued, solemn intro.

The two women go back to defiant backbeat anthem territory in the next track, To the Wall. Remember when just a couple of years ago, choruses like “We’re gonna fight til we all are free, it’s time to be who we’re born to be” were considered cheesy?

Laurenne raises the angst factor in Viper’s Kiss, awash in clouds of distorted guitars and 80s keyboards. Louhimo brings a throaty intensity over alternately thrashy and lingering guitars in Walk Through Fire. The duo save the album’s real stunner, Dancers of Truth, for last, taking a mysterious late 60s style latin soul tune into the here and now, with extra crunch and sizzle.

Battle Beast’s next gig on their home turf is Dec 1 at around 10 PM at Keruti in Joensuu, Finland; cover is €32,50.