New York Music Daily

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Category: powerpop

Brooklyn’s Two Most Irrepressibly Entertaining Rock Bands Branch Out This Month

The most entertaining rock twinbill of the year so far happened on one of the summer’s most blustery, wet nights last month at cozy Prospect Lefferts Gardens boite the Nest. It began with a wail and ended with the headliner’s frontwoman skidding on her knees to the edge of the stage, drenched in blood.

As impossibly high as noir punk trio Hannah vs. the Many raised the bar, the Manimals were just as charismatic. Where Hannah Fairchild ripped through torrents of lyrics, literary references, savage puns and righteous feminist rage with her siren vocals and Telecaster roar, singer Haley Bowery and her theatrical powerpop band the Manimals were every bit as dramatic and ridiculously fun to watch. Hannah vs. the Many are back at the Nest, (504 Flatbush Ave.) on August 18 at 6 PM on a bill with lots of bands. The noiserock act on afterward, George Puke (jazz fans will get the joke) are also a lot of fun. Take the Q to Prospect Park; the venue doesn’t have a website, but cover probably isn’t more than ten bucks, if that. The Manimals are at Union Pool on August 24 at 9 as part of a pro-choice benefit show; cover is $12.

It’s never safe to say that a musician is the world’s best at any one particular thing, but there’s no better songwriter than Fairchild right now. For about the past four years, she’s stripped her material down to fit her nimble, scrambling, burning power trio with bassist Carl Limbacher and drummer Max Maples. In about an hour onstage, they ripped through one menacing number after another, a mix of songs from the group’s latest album Cinemascope as well as a couple of new tunes, calling bullshit on clueless exes on Instagram, madonna/whore dynamics in theatre, and narcissism run amok. The best of the brand-new tunes followed a long trail of phantasmagorical, Syd Barrett-esque chromatic chord changes, a familiar trope for this band.

The most savagely punk tune of the night was The Auteur, a kiss-off anthem to end all kiss-off anthems: in this group’s world, the battle of the sexes is always a death match. They closed with Kopfkino, which on one of many levels is a terse, allusive Holocaust narrative set to amped-up 60s Flamin’ Groovies janglerock: “What’s the last stop for a face on a train?” Fairchild asked pointedly.

The Manimals followed with a slightly less savagely surreal set of Bowie-esque powerpop: imagine what the Thin White Duke would have done, backed by Cheap Trick, around the time of the Alladin Sane album. Where Fairchild, tall and blonde in her slinky black strapless dress, played femme fatale, the lithe, strikingly blue-eyed Haley Bowery pulled off some neat split-second costume changes for a more chameleonic look.

The band’s set was less overtly venomous but still had an edge. Sadly, this was drummer Matt O’Koren’s last show with this crew: like so many other good New York musicians, he’s been brain-drained out of town. The twin guitars of Michael Jayne and Christopher Sayre kept the glamrock flair front and center while bassist Jack Breslin kicked in some emphatic climbs along with slithery low-end riffage.

The irresistible “whoah-oh” chorus of the big powerpop anthem Bury Me Here masked the song’s ambiguity over how much fun it really is to be young and out on the prowl in what’s left of this city. Likewise, the band scorched through a punked out take of A Key, a cynically detailed, defiant burner from the band’s latest album Multiverse. Another almost obscenely catchy tune from the record, Savage Planet was more Runaways than Go-Go’s.

The funniest moment of the night was when the band finally figured out what they were going to do with Under Pressure – the Bowie/Queen collaboration – playing it suspiciously deadpan. There was also a satanic ritual of sorts as an intro to Triple Hex, a big, creepy Lynchian country-pop ballad which set up the end of the night. The blood all over Haley turned out to be fake, but for a minute it wasn’t completely obvious whether all the drinks had finally caught up with her and she really was offering herself up as a human sacrifice. Or a female Iggy Pop – the show was that much fun.

Breathtaking Grandeur and a Feast of Guitars on Noctorum’s Latest Brilliant Album

Marty Willson-Piper is best known as this era’s greatest twelve-string guitarist, but he’s also a brilliant songwriter, an aspect that was often weirdly overlooked during his long tenure alongside another great tunesmith, Steve Kilbey, in iconic Australian psychedelic band the Church. Willson-Piper has also put out several great albums under his own name and with Noctorum, his project with Dare Mason. Noctorum‘s richly orchestral, mesmerizingly jangly latest album, Afterlife, is streaming at Bandcamp.

It opens with The Moon Drips, a slinky, seductive, bolero-tinged ballad: imagine Nick Cave at his lushest, with a brass section. The carnivalesque, hurdy-gurdy style bridge is delicious.

High Tide, Low Tide is a mighty, jangly, propulsive rocker that would have been a standout track on a late 80s Church album. Mason sings this cautionary tale to a high-flying party animal who’s heading for a fall.

Willson-Piper returns to lead vocals for the album’s first single, Piccadilly Circus, a bleakly gorgeous, syncopatedly swaying portrait of quiet working class desperation in real estate bubble-era London. A lusciously icy blend of six and six-string guitars anchor Show, a grimly metaphorical breakup narrative set to vamping, Television-like janglerock. Willson-Piper’s incisive, climbing bass punctuates the lush, dreamy, pulsing sonics and baroque elegance of A Resurrected Man.

The album’s loudest track is A Girl with No Love: choogling, raging 70s riff-rock verse, lushly jangly chorus. “I don’t know if I’ll ever dream again, all I know is I can,” Willson-Piper croons in Trick, a surreal blend of Iggy Pop and the Cocteau Twins. Head On (not the Stooges classic but a duet between Willson-Piper and his violinist wife Olivia) rises out of incisively rhythmic riffage to a sultry, sinister peak and eventually an outro straight out of Jethro Tull: “See you at nine-ish where we first met, me and my Sunbeam, you and your Corvette.”

The album’s title track is its most amorphous number, Willson-Piper’s narrator waiting in the netherworld for loved ones amid the guitar swirl. The final cut is the unexpectedl whimsical, bouncy In a Field Full of Sheep. Good to see these guys, with careers that go back to the early 80s, still going strong.

A Dark, Jangly Americana Masterpiece From Russ Tolman

Back in the 80s Russ Tolman led the psychedelic Americana band True West, who were best known for their feral twin-Telecaster duels. He put out three albums with them, if you count the first ep and the posthumous outtakes-and-demos collection. The second one, Drifters is one of the fifty best rock records ever made, a jangling, clanging, surrealistically haunting masterpiece. But all the guitar savagery wouldn’t have counted for much if Tolman wasn’t such a slashing tunesmith and evocative lyricist. Since then he’s made a name for himself as a connoisseur of western noir, a sort of slightly less prolific Steve Wynn (his bandmate in the legendary/obscure Suspects, Wynn’s pre-Dream Syndicate college group).

Tolman’s latest album, Goodbye El Dorado – streaming at Spotify – is a mellower, more carefully crafted take on the True West sound, a masterful intertwine of acoustic and electric guitars along with mandolin, electric piano and a swinging rhythm section. He’s never written more vividly or with more allusive grimness. It’s a historically-infused song cycle about how people are drawn to California, only to see their dreams dashed. As a native Californian, Tolman has the inside track.

With its border-rock accordion, the album’s first song, Los Angeles, is typical in the sense that Tolman never lets on to what happens to the woman at the center of the story. He doesn’t usually hit anything head-on: he takes you down to the crossroads and lets you wait for the devil, alone.

The album’s best cut is Kid, a searingly spot-on account of a girl from a broken home whose teachers think that she “might be talented at art,” but her refrain is “Please don’t make me go home.” The janglerock backdrop, with Kirk Swan’s incisive terse guitar fills and Robert Lloyd’s mandolin, is a little more gentle and sparkly than True West typically was, but it’s obviously the same writer here.

The 6/8 ballad North Hollywood Dream traces the story of an Idaho kid who lands in LA, only to watch his hopes drift slowly away. In 405, over an inteweave of guitars and Rhodes piano – that’s the bandleader with Swan and Lloyd – Tolman paints a wryly knowing picture of LA freeway hell. The album’s title track is a shuffling Bakersfield country tune with mariachi horns: “Goodbye El Dorado, you’ve been a good companion, I’ve been a dutiful son,” the narrator muses as he heads out for good.

Yuba City – as in, “I’m going down to Yuba City, if I’m going down at all” – is another escape anthem with a bizarre mix of tinkling saloon piano, soaring pedal steel and string synth, with a tantalizingly gorgeous guitar solo in the middle. Moody brass, Kevin Jarvis’ ominous drumbeats and ex-Dream Syndicateer Dave Provost’s supple bass groove permeate the bolero ambience of California Winter, a wrenchingly heartbroken narrative: “In the merry month of November I turned my thoughts to the dead,” Tolman intones. The funereal outro, with its exchange of riffs between the horns, reverb guitar and organ is as good as anything True West ever recorded.

Do You Like the Way is a ruthlessly hilarious yet sympathetic portrait of a guy who doesn’t know when to stop: “You’re a free spirit, or at least you like to drink them.” Tolman raises the sarcasm factor several notches with the country ballad Almost Heaven, a twistedly cynical California wildfire scenario. He stays on the country tip for the album’s most epic number, Take It Easy Take It Slow, spiced with sparse twelve-string guitar and pedal steel.

“Knew it was the border from the giant ‘Need weed’ sign/And the liquor stores in the rearview mirror on the California side,” Tolman explains in the caustically funny coastal roadtrip tale Pacific Rain. Honkytonk piano mingles with a famous Stones guitar riff and  swooshy organ in Satellite Bar, a celestial place with dollar beer night once a month, free popcorn…and a dogwater bowl by the door. Tolman brings the record full circle with the grimly jangly Time Flies, a folksy, aphoristic take on the perils of getting older but not wiser. Good to see a revered cult figure – not the Jim Jones kind – still at the top of his game.

Nonstop Catchy Hooks, New Depth and a Brooklyn Gig from Ferocious Powerpop Band the Manimals

The Manimals‘ latest release Multiverse – streaming at Bandcamp – is a great powerpop record. Big crunchy guitars rise through catchy verses into singalong choruses, and frontwoman Haley Bowery has become a hell of a singer. Yet for all the hooks that bodyslam you, one after the other, this is a pretty dark album. Haley’s lyrics here are as witheringly funny as ever, yet a lot of the songs have a seething, wounded undercurrent. The charismatic tunesmith and her band are headlining a triplebill on July 11 at around 11:30 at the Nest, 504 Flatbush Ave. in Prospect Lefferts Gardens. Mathrock band  Faster Than Light open the night at 9:30 followed by searing singer Hannah Fairchild’s lyrically brilliant noir punk power trio Hannah vs. the Many . Cover is $8; take the B/Q to Prospect Park

The album’s opening track, Gone with the Wind Fucked Me Up for Life sets the stage, looking back in anger via a mashup of Alladin Sane-era Bowie and watery 80s new wave. The title may be funny but it’s a metaphor. “All of the highs weren’t so,” Haley announces. A Key could have been a monster mid-80s radio hit for the Go-Go’s: it’s about being indomitable, not afraid to cheat, and a lot of other things. The twin-guitar assault of Michael Jayne and Christopher Sayre over the motoring beat of bassist Jack Breslin and drummer Matt O’Koren is unrelenting.

The album’s most epic track is The Maze, punctuated by a couple of disorienting, noise jams. The influence of Hannah vs. the Many also jumps out when Haley takes the song doublespeed, trying to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, even if it’s a pyrrhic one. It’s shattering, it’s as good as the vintage Bowie it resembles and will leave you hitting repeat for every second of its six minutes. After that, the band go to the sunnier side of the galaxy with Savage Planet, a coyly resolute punk-pop come-on.

“You know I don’t regret much but I regret fucking you,” Haley’s vengeful narrator snarls to her narscissistic rockstar ex in the punchy kiss-off anthem Sleepwalker. Bury Me Here offers a momentary flash of hope: “What a time to be alive!” Haley exults, even though she knows the guy she’s gone into Manhattan to pursue is just “sunlight on the river.”

The band take a stab at trip-hop with another kiss-off number, Transference, then pick up the pace with Triple Hex, an offhandedly creepy, hard-rocking update on Orbison Nashville noir pop. Just when you think that Super Human is a straight-up empowerment anthem, Haley pulls out the album’s best joke.

The Cyclone isn’t about the Brooklyn landmark, although Haley reaches for rollercoaster adrenaline, bruised but hardly defeated; a goofy sample at the end makes a good punchline. The album winds up with the guarded optimism of Believers, breaking the fourth wall with a mighty coda. Good to see a band who’ve been around since the early part of this decade taking their sound to the next level.

The Most Unlikely Killer Album of 2019 and a Lower East Gig by Binky Philips and the Planets

A lot of people forget how incredibly creative and talented the first wave of punk bands were. Punk wasn’t just three chords and amps turned up to eleven: it was about thinking outside the box, and lyrics that were smart and funny and had real-world resonance, and taking chances no corporate band would be allowed to. Punk was as much of a raised middle finger to corporate fascism as it was to the political kind. These days, with Amazon and Facebook doing the kind of job the gestapo and the KGB only wished they could have, there’s more need than ever for the kind of reality check that punk delivered.

And as serious as oldschool punk was, it was just as fun. That’s where New York vets Binky Philips and the Planets come in. It’s actually more astonishing that it took tem 47 years to make their first official studio album, Established 1972 NYC, than it is to hear how much better their chops are than they were when they started. On one hand, age eventually takes its toll on musicians; on the other, the more you play, the better you get, and these guys have had more time than most to sharpen their chops. They made their debut opening for the New York Dolls. They claim to be one of the first ten bands to play CBGB – before the Ramones – and they’re probably right. They definitely have claim to the bandname: the British new wave group responsible for the minor hit Iron for the Irons didn’t hit til seven years later. Philips and the original Planets debut album is just out (and not streaming anywhere – back in 1972, the internet was a dial-up connection for the Pentagon). They’re playing their usual haunt these days, Arlene’s, on May 13 at 8 PM; there’s no cover. You can bet this blog will be in the house.

As you would imagine from a band that actually predated the punk era, the influences on the album range from 70s Britsh pub rock to 60s garage rock and psychedelia, but also new wave. The esthetic is pure Old New York: brash, sarcastic, absolutely fearless. The opening track, Splitsville or Bust has a chugging pub rock pulse,: “You’re the one that wishes me dead…your’re all invited to eat my dust,” frontman Nolan Roberts roars. Drinking Gasoline is simpler, sort of the missing link between American pub rock legends the Reducers and early AC/DC.

With Philips’ layers of guitars and classic 60s riffage, the sardonic party anthem Just Fine Just Fine wouldn’t be out of place on a Flamin’ Groovies album from the mid-70s. “99 bottles of beer on the wall, yes they all are empty,” Roberts asserts.

Kinda Liked It at the Time, a grim cautionary tale, is even funnier, Mike Greenwberg’s growling bass in tandem with Bobby Siems’ steady, insistent drumming. Geenberg’s catchy bass hooks fuel Leave Me Hanging, an amusing new wave strut with a nod in the direction of the early Police.

Siems switches between a suspenseful clave and a four-on-the-floor stomp in Plumbing the Depths, a wee-hours scenario that any party animal can relate to. The album’s best track is Blink, a desperate narrative that could be a Vietnam War tale, or apocalypse by gentrification.”This will not stand from where I’m sitting, damn right I’m going to put up a fight,” Roberts bellows, Greenberg’s bass rising achingly as the chorus kicks in. Then the band hit a mashup of Certain General postpunk and Ducks Deluxe pub rock for the stomping mob hit story Goodbye to All That.

The only really straight-up punk tune here is Sour Grapes, with a chorus about running from the Border Patrol that resonates twice as much now as when the band most likely wrote it. The final cut, Wear Out the Grooves, is ripoff of the early Yardbirds, right down to the simple, honking blues harp and boisterous oldschool R&B vamping. Still, it’s amazing how much energy the band have after all these years. Unlikely as it seems, these guys have put out one of the dozen best rock records of 2019 so far.

The Tuneful, Funny CarvelsNYC Headline This Weekend’s Best Rock Show…That You Can Get To

Just about every year, right around Labor Day, there’s a big Sunday evening party at Otto’s Shrunken Head. Last year, one of the bands playing happened to be the CarvelsNYC. Although it was strange to see these nocturnal creatures onstage so early in the evening, it didn’t matter. Frontwoman Lynne Von Pang has an unearthly roar that seems to rise out of the murky depths of the NYC infrastructure – or the bedrock below, What a rare treat it was to witness that kind of gale-force power in such an intimate space. Her guitar was loud, but she barely needed a mic.

It’s not likely that anybody in the CarvelsNYC was older than a toddler, at the most, when CBGB was in its glory days, but their music looks back to that era without imitating it. Punk rock may not have always been revolutionary, but at least it was about being unafraid to be your own person. In a social media-infested age, a band like the CarvelsNYC stands out even more.

Their music blends influences of late 70s New York punk and powerpop, but it’s also not a ripoff. The cover illustrations of their latest 7” ep Life Is Not a Waiting Room – streaming at Bandcamp -shows a jealous-looking blonde woman surrounded by a martini glass, pills, a phone and a wad of cash. Make of that what you will: satire, or daily struggle?

“Life is not a waiting room, til you find out you’re at the end of the line,” Lynne belts on the chorus of the title track. It’s like turbocharged earky Blondie, with biting riffs from lead guitarist Brian Morgan and sax player David Spinley. Scarcity has a delicious blend of countryish jangle and chime, hints of noir and a funny video that slags status-grubbing and desperate-housewife lifestyles. Drummer Steve Pang and bassist Mike Dee give it a solid four-on-the-floor stomp.

The ep also includes a Spanish-language version of the title cut: Lynne sings it as fluently as she does in English. .There’s also an amusingly punked-outcover of Antony & the Johnsons’ I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy

The band are also playing the best rock show of this weekend that you can actually get to tomorrow night, April 27 at 10 at Shilleleigh Tavern, 47-22 30th Ave. in Astoria. Cover is $10, take the R to Steinway St. Giftshop – the missing link between Blondie and the Distillers – open the night at 8, followed by sardonically catchy powerpop/janglerockers the Hell Yeah Babies

Transcendent Lyrical and Vocal Power From Mary Lee’s Corvette at the Mercury

Saturday night at the Mercury, Mary Lee’s Corvette put on a clinic in eclectic tunesmithing, smartly conversational interplay, brilliant lyricism and spine-tlngling vocals. There literally isn’t a style that frontwoman/guitarist Mary Lee Kortes can’t write in: powerpop, Americana, glam rock, cabaret, classical, jazz, and psychedelia, to name a few. She did a lot of that, and held the crowd spellbound with that crystalline voice, which can leap two octaves or more, effortlessly. She’s been regarded as arguably the best singer in New York for a long time (noir haunter Karla Rose and Indian belter Roopa Mahadevan are good points of comparison).

Throughout a tantalizing forty-five minute set, Kortes validated everything good that’s ever been said about her. The band opened with the gritty new wave-flavored kiss-off anthem Need for Religion (as in, “Maybe it was just my need for religion that made me believe in you,” and it gets meaner from there). New lead guitarist Jack Morer played purposeful, incisiive fills on his Strat while new bassist Cait O’Riordan – founding member of the Pogues – shifted from nimble, dancing lines to snarling upward runs, and swung hard. Not only does she totally get Kortes’ songwriting – which some players can’t – but she also makes a good visual foil, two tall blondes bopping onstage and intertwining riffs.

Smartly, Kortes paired the warily triumphant garage-psych anthem Out From Under It with Learn  From What I Dream, with its edgy chromatic riffage and 60s Laurel Canyon psych-folk ambience. Through the night, the dream world was a frequent reference point, considering that Kortes is also a compelling prose writer and editor, with a new book, Dreaming of Dylan: 115 Dreams About Bob just out. Since Kortes has had more than a few (including a touching “don’t quit writing songs, no matter what” dream, as she explained to the crowd), it makes sense that she’d pull a collection like that together.

The best song of the night might have been Well by the Water, a corrosively metaphorical, lilting amthem that works on the innumerable, Elvis Costello-esque levels that Kortes loves so much, as apt a portrait of tightlipped Midwestern dysfunction as a history of human civilization itself. After that, the band stretched out in a bitingly bluesy take of Dylan’s Meet Me in the Morning – which Mary Lee’s Corvette famously recorded on their live cover of Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks album.

O’Riordan approached the slow, lingering bittersweet mini-epic Portland Michigan – a not-so-fond childhood reminiscence – with finesse but also as a search for impactful harmony, something few bass players do. They closed with a new song, a series of dreamscapes over a pulsing, Stonesy vamp – which Kortes used as a launching pad for her most spellbinding leaps of the night. Good to see this band back at a venue where they’ve put on similarly transcendent shows over the years.

Smart, Tuneful Classic Powerpop Sounds and a Union Pool Album Release Show by Big Eyes

Big Eyes play retro 70s powerpop which, if they’d been around then, would have been a big draw on the stadium circuit. If their new album Streets of the Lost – streaming at Bandcamp – had come out in, say, 1979, it would be considered a classic from that era. Frontwoman/guitarist Kait Eldridge’s hooks are relentlessly catchy, her lyrics are smart and her songs are a lot more imaginative and unpredictable than you typically get in a style that’s been done to death over the decades. Big Eyes are playing the album release show at Union Pool on March 30 at 10 PM; cover is $12.

The album’s first track, Hourglass Two opens with distorted guitars, Eldridge running a catchy minor-key riff, rhythm guitarist Paul Ridenour firing a blast of distorted chords. It seems to have an apocalyptic message: “I won’t be around when the trees are falling down,” Eldridge sings, sassily. From there the band could have taken it out with a return to the verse, but instead Eldridge adds a brand new riff. You like good tunesmithing?

Lucky You, a snide dis at a trust fund kid, is a stomping mashup of Cheap Trick, Big Star and the Stones: “Tell me do you ever feel an ounce of shame?” Eldridge asks. Nearly Got Away is slower, with rumbling riffage from Jeff Ridenour’s bass behind Eldridge’s spacious guitar snarls and icy chorus-pedal lines. The Upside is over in barely a cynical minute and a half, but not until after a wry twin guitar solo.

After a long space-storm intro, the album’s title track paints a grim but defiant picture of a homeless woman: While you’re at home, or on your phone you can’t ignore me,” Eldridge insists.

“Better watch the clock and make sure to check the locks,” she reminds in the riff-rocking When Midnight Comes. “Don’t stop to think, just pour me a drink.”

“I can’t get over it, i can read you like Dr. Seuss,” Eldridge sings over drummer Scott Mcpherson’s insistent four-on-the-floor beat in Try Hard Kiss Ass, “I don’t like myself when I’m around you.” The band nick a famous Modern Lovers lick for Young Dumb and Bored: “How you never have the time right?” Eldridge wants to know. Her searing guitar solo out could have gone on for another minute or two and nobody would complain.

Making fun of money-grubbing corporate types is like shooting fish in a barrel, but Eldridge gets our her machine gun in the sarcastic At the Top. The album’s final cut, Suddenly Nowhere maintains the hammering, cynical edge. If Cheap Trick, Paul Collins, Suzi Quarto or the Shivvers are your jam, so are Big Eyes. Count this among the two or three best rock releases of 2019 so far.

Another Withering Lyrical Rock Masterpiece by Ward White

It’s time we put Ward White up there in the pantheon with Elvis Costello, Richard Thompson, Rachelle Garniez, Steve Wynn, Ray Davies and any other first-ballot hall of famer you can think of. Over the last fifteen years or so, the now LA-based White been on a creative tear to rival any one of those songwriting icons. Bowie’s work in the 70s is a good comparison, although where the Thin White Duke would reinvent himself just about every year, White has crystallized a classic three-minute janglerock sound, often veering off to the psychedelic side. 

Lyrically speaking, nobody writes more compelling, allusively macabre narratives. The devil is always in the details: in this case, the crack in the porcelain, the kind of soap in the bathroom, the objects on either side of where the dead bird has fallen out of the sky. White’s 2013 release Bob got the pick for best album of the year here, but that might just as easily be said for anything he’s put out since, including his latest one, Diminish, streaming at Bandcamp. As usual, White keeps his songs short, everything less than five minutes, some less than three. White plays all the guitars, elegantly and tersely, joined by keyboardist Tyler Chester and the low-key rhythm section of bassist John Spiker and drummer Mark Stepro.

It opens with Titans, its plotline as inscrutable as its melody is straightforward and hard-hitting. Twin guitar leads roar up to a menacing, chromatic chorus: it’s one of White’s louder numbers. An infant’s death and a possible terrorist attack may be related, or just parallel events. “This is no time for dreams,” is the mantra: welcome to the end of the teens, USA.

Noise on 21, a punchy backbeat anthem with blippy organ, is a classic White urban tableau, the yuppies upstairs staying up late just to seal another sordid deal while the narrator reaches breaking point: “Some things that you should never see are happy in the shadows, now it’s time to go home.”

Back to the End, with its cruelly Beatlesque chorus-box guitar, is a throwback to White’s late 60s psych-pop period a few years ago, a characteristically allusive, twisted scenario tracing the ugly logic of a S&M scenario: “Cannibals don’t waste their time with darkening the roux.”

Canopy, a brief, catchy number with uneasily warpy 80s synth, is one of the more unselfconsciously poetic songs in White’s catalog, contemplating endings from contrasting viewpoints

Awash in jangle and starry synth orchestration, Flood paints a grim picture of dysfunction on a Hollywood film set, with a shout to Baudelaire:

Send a dozen roses up to Noah’s favorite failures
Don’t believe the rumors of a plague upon this town
This bar never closes and it’s filled with drunken sailors
For every one, an albatross who should have let him drown

Watch the Hands is the great lost track from Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces: “Your best laid plans will never bite you in the ass unless your turn your back and leave them starving,” the child killer taunts.

With White’s lingering, detfly textured guitar multitracks, Cowboy could be the most gorgeous, bittersweetly surreal number here. It’s White’s La Chute:

Tell Bob I’m not busy being born, or dying, just alive
Some flights leave too early out of Kennedy
And some pricks play the Castro card for years

White puts a fresh spin on an old myth in Sodom, bristling with Syd Barrett-ish changes, sardonic backing vocals and glammy guitars.

Some call us sacrilegious
The chafed and the chosen few
You polish your barnyard idol
I’ll tarnish the ewe

Alternately balmy and burning, Every Night I Have This Dream is another of the murder ballads White is unsurpassed at – it’s not clear whether this is really a dream or not:

Double nickels all the way
I can’t afford to lose the day
They pop that trunk trunk and we are done, and I’m not going out that way

White puts a sinister edge on a mashup of blithe Bacharach 60s bossa-pop and watery, artsy Beatlesque jangle in Uncle Bob (Akron), the album’s most corrosively cynical number. That’s hardly a surprise, considering it’s a tale from the campaign trail told by the manager of a candidate who turns out to be something less than ideal

The album’s final cut is The Living End, a somber, mostly acoustic portrait of defeat as harrowingly detailed as Richard Thompson’s Withered and Died:

Buried with your artifacts
Pharaoh’s favorite son
Too late to think of what you’ll do with what you’ve done

You’ll see this in a few days on the best albums of 2018 page.

Purist, Potently Lyrical Janglerock, Americana, Powerpop and Soul From the Bastards of Fine Arts

For the past several months, the Bastards of Fine Arts have been working up a formidable body of catchy, anthemic, purist rock songs via a mostly-monthly residency at 11th Street Bar. The project took shape as a challenge of sorts, songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Matt Keating and his lead guitarist co-conspirator Steve Mayone hell-bent on writing a new song every week. Their project caught on with social media and went viral. Fast forward to 2018, they’ve got a full band now (Jason Mercer on bass and Greg Wieczorek on drums) and a catalog as vast as a band who’ve been around for five times as long. Which means they can mine it for the real gems.

Playing as a duo at the American Folk Art Museum in May of last year, they were at the point where they were working every style they knew (and they know a lot!). Sam Cooke ballad? Check. Lou Reed (a guy Keating is unsurpassed at imitating)? Doublecheck. Honkytonk anthem, Wallflowers janglerock, wistful Americana waltz? Triplecheck.

A year later at an early 11th Street gig, they’d pulled the band together and had built up a set that transcended its origins. They opened with their catchiest number, the gorgeously bittersweet I’ll Take the Fall, Keating both self-effacing and witheringly cynical at the same time. Another even more vindictive number traced the story of an ex that the song’s narrator spies out on a date with some dude. On the way out of the bar, she drops her coat; the dude picks it up for her. Keating’s narrator would have left it there.

Because part of the project is “what style CAN’T we do,” there are plenty of jokes to go around, some more inside than others. Switching to piano, Keating turned a Mayone ballad into a gospel tune; Mayone added some sardonic metal licks to a Keating soul number. They worked a bossa groove, Mercer spiraling all over the fretboard during a more recent number, Walk in the Park, a rare instance of a song of theirs which doesn’t seem to have a cynical undercurrent.

In a very subtle Elvis Costello vein, they vamped along on a bouncy soul-blues tune for a good three minutes, at least, without changing chords once. At the end of the set, they brought up Keating’s daughter Greta, who flashed some incisive chops on Strat as well as a similarly edgy lyricism and soaring vocals. Most children of great musicians don’t go into music for obvious reasons; Greta Keating, like Amy Allison and Jakob Dylan, is every bit as formidable as her dad was when he was in his early twenties. Here’s hoping she sticks with it. The Bastards of Fine Arts are back at 11th Street Bar on Dec 18 at 9 PM.