New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Category: powerpop

Gorgeous, Purist Rock Tunesmithing and an East Village Gig From the Bastards of Fine Arts

Rock supergroups in New York are in short supply right now, but the Bastards of Fine Arts are at the top of the list. Guitarists Matt Keating and Steve Mayone are connoisseurs of classic songcraft, from powerpop to Americana to soul. And it’s impossible to think of a more colorful, melodic rhythm section than bassist Jason Mercer and drummer Greg Wieczorek. Keating and Mayone got their start as a duo. After putting out a series of viral videos on a certain social media platform that this blog boycotts, they survived the 2020 lockdown to release their debut album, A Good Sign, streaming at Bandcamp. They’re playing 11th St. Bar on Nov 30 at 8 PM.

They open with Hardest Part, a gorgeous, slowly swaying anthem that would fit in perfectly with the late 90s Jayhawks catalog, right down to the vocal harmonies. The way Mercer winds his way up out of the last chorus is a characteristic, luscious touch.

Track two, Take the Fall, is a punchy Keating take on vintage Lou Reed. The band add strings from violin superstar Claudia Chopek and organ from Keating in Happens All the Time, a tale of abandonment which winds from wry to absolutely vindictive: the ending is way too good to give away.

Mayone moves to banjo for the front porch Americana-tinged waltz Enough to Make You Cry. They stick with 3/4 and Mayone on banjo as they pick up the pace with Any Old Town, a cynical glimpse of rust belt anomie.

Row Away, an elegy, features a glimmering noctural interweave between Keating’s electric piano and Mayone’s sinuous lead work. Then the band kick in harder with the snidely strutting, ragtime-inflected Can’t Get My Head Around It.

They remake an earlier slow song, A Walk in the Park, as briskly chugging mid 70s British pub rock. Hole in One is brooding 60s soul through the prism of Abbey Road Beatles – right down to the watery analog chorus guitar patch, plus some neat tarantella work from Chopek and the rest of the crew..

Comin’ Home, a hushed folk-rock tune, celebrates a return from California to a now-vanished New York: these days it’s six of one, half a dozen of another. What a beautiful time it was when a song like this made you feel at home.

Keating takes over on gospel piano in You on My Arm. Next up, the band blend punchy Keith Richards riffage into a big Jayhawks-style anthem in the album’s title track.

Keating slows down for Kids, a wryly amusing look at trans-generational angst (incidentally, he is very good at the generational stuff: his daughter Greta is a similarly sharp, melodic multi-instrumentlist and songwriter). The group close the record on a benedictory note with a wee hours saloon blues tune of sorts, Lucky Stars.

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A Venomously Delicious Blast of Dark Retro Powerpop From Cinema Hearts

If the idea of noir-tinged powerpop makes your pulse race, look no further than Cinema Hearts‘ debut short album Your Ideal, streaming at Bandcamp. Frontwoman Caroline Weinroth packs a ton of counterintuitive chord changes and impact into very compact spaces, typically under three minutes. Likewise, the rest of her band – guitarist Bartees Strange, bassist Max Nichols and drummer Nicholas King – keep things dead on target. Brevity notwithstanding, this is one of the best rock records of the year.

Weinroth gets off to a good start with the first track, Mirror, a roaring little anthem in 6/8 time which will resonate with anyone who’s ever dealt with a narcissist. Sarcasm reaches redline in the album’s title track, extending to the retro 60s soul melody and those goofy handclaps.

Weinroth goes back to 6/8 for Everyday Is a Day Without You: if Amy Allison had a thing for Lynchian pop ballads, she would have written this offhandedly slashing gem. Likewise, Can I Tell You I Love You has an Orbisonian Tex-Mex bittersweetness, complete with a surreal, icy baritone guitar solo.

The final cut is Sister, a starry, drifting Twin Peaks tableau. Let’s hope this band stays together and gives us more of the same.

Three Powerful Women From Heavy Rock Join Forces in a Surprisingly Subtle, Poignant Project

One of the strangest and most distantly haunting albums of the year is the debut album by the Erinyes. Not to be confused with the punkish Berlin trio, this is a new group. Their debut album – streaming at Spotify – is a concept record of songs that look at pain from a distance. You could call this the heavy record the Motels never made.

Three strong, individualistic frontwomen from the world of heavy rock – Justine Daaé, from French death metal-lite band Elyose; Mizuho Lin of Brazilian group Semblant, and Italian band Kalidia‘s Nicoletta Rosellini – blend and contrast their voices in a collection that transcends stadium rock.

The central theme is angst, more or less: a love rivalry is involved, although it’s hardly over-the-top. While all the singers have versatile chops, their voices are distinctive. Daaé brings the fullscale plaintiveness, Lin edges toward grit and Rosellini is the big belter.

The three women join in a brief, icy chorale in the brief opening theme, Life Needs Love, rising to full-blown High Romantic angst. The second track is Drown the Flame. Keyboardist Antonio Agate’s brooding, purposeful suspense film orchestration anchors the music in reality as guitarist Aldo Lonobile goes tapping up into the stratosphere over Andrea Buratto’s methodical bass and Michele Sanna’s drums. Daaé sings what’s basically a catchy early 80s minor-key new wave pop hit in heavy disguise.

Lin, who has a grittier delivery, sings On My Way to Love, a stormy, hauntingly allusive ballad with a momentary operatic break from the women. Rosellini takes over lead vocals in Betrayed, a similarly bittersweet, enigmatic, early 80s-flavored number, Lonobile adding ornate bagpipe-like riffage.

Guitar crunch contrasts with swirly organ and blustery synth as the women blend voices in Death By a Broken Heart, the energy climbing toward fullscale angst but never quite getting there.

Where Do We Go is a gorgeous vintage 70s soul ballad subsumed in the flames of a sunset going down on a churning ocean. The band go back to four-on-the-floor new wave era anthem territory with It’s Time, then the intensity rises again in Someday, the album’s most darkly turbulent number.

They could have left the hip-hop influences out of My Kiss Goodbye and it would have been a lot stronger as a stomping power ballad. The group shift between dissociative, trickily rhythmic verse and big hooky chorus in Paradise and follow with Take Me, an unlikely successful blend of Asbury Park piano rock and moody European stadium bombast.

They close with the album’s most towering, majestic, art-rock oriented cut, You And Me Against the World, which despite all the heroic overtones seems like a pyrrhic victory. May these chthonic deities stick together and put out another record as good as this one.

Rogers & Butler Bring Their Erudite, Classic Riffage and Guitar Anthems to the Chelsea Piers

In terms of purist, catchy rock craftsmanship in 2022, Rogers & Butler’s new vinyl record Brighter Day – streaming at Bandcamp – is as good as it gets. Guitarist Stephen Butler’s American powerpop sensibility makes a good anchor for singer Edward Rogers’ more artsy, psychedelic blend of 70s Brummie rock, Bowie surrealism and more towering European-flavored sounds, from the Church to Oasis. Their six-stringer bandmate Don Piper’s production puts luscious guitar up front with the vocals, bass and drums in the back where they belong. The duo are opening for the brilliantly lyrical Amy Rigby on a killer twinbill on Oct 3 at 7:30 PM at City Winery; you can get in for $15.

Notwithstanding the bright chord changes and singalong melodies, there’s a frequent undercurrent of unease here, echoing Rogers’ work over the past several years. Although it’s likely that a lot of the songs here date from before the plandemic, themes of alienation and despair filter to the surface in places. They open with the title track, which comes across as beefed-up Big Star: “Six feet apart or six feet underground, the choice is yours to make,” Rogers rasps sarcastically.

Where Does the World Hide rises from a skittish midtempo new wave tune to a big nocturnal alienation anthem: “Every second’s a lifetime when no one ever returns your calls,” Butler confides. They follow with Last Reply, a distantly elegaic, Beatlesque piano ballad, Chris Carmichael overdubbing himself into a one-man string orchestra.

Spiced with Joe McGinty’s Fender Rhodes, Learn to Live Again is a more lithe, sparely arranged take on Willie Nile-style powerpop, a cynical chronicle dotted with plandemic imagery, “scarred stale reminders of where we’ve been.” It’s hardly optimistic.

Marmalade Eyes, a cautionary tale about a femme fatale, begins as a wary acoustic-electric waltz, then the band morph it into a steady powerpop update on 60s psych-pop. Over layers of guitar jangle, spare piano and floating mellotron, Rogers chronicles a carefree stroll along a main street of junk shops and t-shirt vendors in A Perfect Market Day. Yet beneath the surface, in the context of the events after March 2020, it’s heartbreaking. Who knew we would ever miss something as mundane as browsing in a vintage store?

The band follow Butler’s burning garage rock-tinged stomp Desire with Cabaret, a wistful Spanish guitar waltz by Rogers that wouldn’t be out of place on an early 70s Al Stewart record. The best song on the album is The Sun Won’t Shine, a haunting, death-fixated backbeat anthem that could be ELO from the latter part of that decade but with harder production values.

The band close the record with Oh Romeo, a Celtic ballad with an elegant interweave of acoustic guitar and mandolin, and then A Brand New Tomorrow, a Daytripper knockoff with extra guitar multitracks. It was fun to watch an early incarnation of the band pulling their show together about three years ago; it’s validating to see how well these two veteran tunesmiths complement each other.

One of New York’s Best Powerpop Bands Stands Up For the People of Ukraine

The only side this blog takes as far as the war in Ukraine is concerned is with the people against the governments. Zelensky is a World Economic Forum puppet and evil AF. Putin is just as horrible: he claims to have poisoned the entire Russian army with a domestic version of the lethal Astra Zeneca injection. As usual, it’s the people of Ukraine and Russia who are being screwed. For those who’d like to help civilians in Ukraine, there’s a benefit concert on Sept 30 at Otto’s with a very diverse lineup playing to benefit Razom For Ukraine. Artists on the bill include songwriter and visual artist Kassaye Selassie, Granite to Glass, Americana harmony duo Raising Daughters, the reliably ferocious Giftshop, edgy powerpop songwriter Abbie Roper, country-folk two-piece Plane Station, sardonic powerpopstress Carissa Johnson and others.

The night’s centerpiece is the smart, wickedly tuneful Giftshop, who have been featured on this page before and play a slashing mix of dark powerpop and punk at 8 PM. They’ve gotten a lot of press here, not just because they’re a good band, but because they were pioneers in making practically their entire discography available as free downloads. It’s the best possible advertising for their live show.

One album of theirs that hasn’t made it to the front page here til now is their Blue Monster record, from 2017. It captures the moment when they transitioned from  the harder, original punk sound into the darker, sleeker, more lyrically rich territory they’ve been mining in more recent years.

The opening number is Despicable, a catchy riff-driven dis song that seems designed for audience participation. Track two is Cill the Choreographer, which with a luscious blend of Fender Twin guitar sonics could be a New York version of the Avengers. And it’s even more venomous.

The band hit a slashing minor key pulse in track three, Dangerous, frontwoman Meghan Taylor sending out a word of warning to everyone on the junkie tip. Then she and the band flip the script with Doncha Know, a detour into lingering Lynchian Julee Cruise pop.

Red Letter Day comes across as the UK Subs with a young Belinda Carlisle out front. Spooky Halloween Christmas is a ghoulishly good punkabilly tune to get you psyched for next month (and New York Music Daily’s upcoming, annual monthlong Halloween celebration!). They close the album with a brilliantly turbocharged cover of the Motels classic Only the Lonely. Grab this while it lasts.

Giftshop are also on a killer twinbill at the Parkside with the similarly fiery, female-fronted Castle Black on Oct 21 at 8 PM.

This Is Not a Movie But It’s a Venomously Good New Album

What happens when member of two of the edgiest bands in New York join forces? Guitarist Andrea Sicco of the noir-tinged Twin Guns and bassist Derek Davidson of venomous garage-punk band the Electric Mess decided to work up an album of catchy, anthemic powerpop, and the result is Movie Movie‘s first album Now Playing, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s one of the best short albums of the year so far.

The opening track, Bright Lights sets the stage with a lush blend of guitars, tracing a sad Day of the Locust trail, legends in their own minds on an obsessive quest for fame. It could be an early Mark Sinnis song. It sets the stage for the rest of the record.

No Long Goodbyes is a lushly layered kiss-off anthem spiced with Sicco’s slide guitar leads over a bed of six and twelve-string guitars. He breaks out his repeaterbox and turns his reverb all the way up as organist Dave Amels holds the center in Big City Tonight, up to a lavishly clanging outro.

Sicco’s counterintuitive changes propel Love Has Come and Gone, a cynical account of the one that got away….or maybe the one that got away just in time! He finally reaches for his signature chromatic menace before the third verse kicks in. The final cut is She’s Man’s Best Friend, a canine-themed, enigmatic anthem that could be metaphorical or not, drummer Alan J. Camlet holding it to the rails until the organ winds out.

Faithless Town Play One of the Year’s Best Pro-Freedom Events in Nashville on the 16th

Atlanta band Faithless Town went viral with the scorching freedom rally footage in the video for their latest protest song, Live Free, a catchy, swaying mashup of Americana and Oasis. But they’ve been making good albums for a decade. Frontman Gene Owens got his start in the early teens playing Americana rock with a strong populist streak and honed his sharpshooter lyrical focus in the years that followed. They’re playing in the middle of an inspiring multi-band bill on July 16 at the Cobra, 2511 Gallatin Ave. in Nashville with the best of this era’s protest songwriters, Five Times August and folkgrass/redneck rock guitarslinger Campbell Harrison. Freedom fighter and journalist Ryan Cristian from the Last American Vagabond is also on the bill; cover is $15.

Faithless Town’s latest album Into the Light is a work in two parts: the first volume, streaming at Bandcamp, is a mix of four-on-the-floor anthems, folk noir and defiant singalongs for the noncompliant. But their previous album, Empires – streaming at Spotify – is just as good, and prophetic in places, especially considering that the band released it just weeks before the global totalitarian takeover in 2020. It’s as persistently uneasy, and immersed in regret and angst, as it is catchy. In Owens’ world, empires are as elusive as they are oppressive.

They open with the title track, a blistering two-guitar anthem that speaks truth to oligarch power with echoes of dark 60s Laurel Canyon psychedelia. “I spent my whole life sitting at a crossroads,” Owens confides restlessly in the anomie anthem Shot in the Dark, a harder-rocking shot at what Tom Petty was doing in the late 80s.

California Come Home is a gorgeously chiming, bittersweet reminiscence that wouldn’t be out of place in the Matt Keating catalog. “You’re wasting your time,” Owens soberly warns his wage-slave friend in Waste Away, icy spacerock ambience rising and receding behind him..

The existential angst reaches fever pitch in God’s Love as the band shift from stadium stomp to lavish ELO sweep. Then they nick the verse of a famous grunge tune until straightening out in the next song, The Return.

They slow down for the swaying, enveloping 6/8 ballad Out West: “All the things you want are still out of reach,” Owens cautions a nameless fortune-seeker. Likewise, the layers of guitar echo and resonate through Four Walls, a chronicle of what could be a marriage disintegrated beyond repair.

O Brother, a slowly building chronicle of betrayal, is a blend of Americana and late Beatles. The band return to amped-up Petty territory to close the record with 30 Years.

The Best-Ever Playlist on This Page

Today’s playlist is a murderer’s row of singles. Just for starters: a deviously subtle new video for the best song of 2020, and a new electric recording of the best song of 2016. There’s about half an hour worth of music here, plus some funny visuals. If you know this blog, you know the drill: click artist names for their webpages, click titles for audio or video.

Karla Rose’s allusive, slinky serial killer parable Battery Park topped the charts here in what was a pretty nightmarish 2020. She’s got a new video for it: see if you can spot her!

Another noir-inspired artist, LJ Murphy earned the top spot for 2016 with his cruelly prophetic Panic City. It was mostly acoustic then; it’s an electric scorcher now.

We live in perilous times, and Grace Bergere offers a more metaphorical take in A Little Blood, one of the most offhandedly chilling songs of the past several years.

Mark Breyer made a name for himself as sort of the Elvis Costello of powerpop and janglerock with his long-running studio project, Skooshny. And he keeps cranking out sharp, jangly anthems as Son of Skooshny. His latest is Runs in the Family: imagine the Church at their lyrical peak in the 80s..

Atlanta band Faithless Town‘s roaring slide guitar-driven protest anthem New World Order has a great newsreel video: protestors battling SWAT teams in Europe in the summer of 2020, images of the Lockstep tabletop exercise and Event 201, and plenty of usual Davos suspects.

Amy Rigby was not idle during the lockdown here in New York. Here’s her hauntingly hazy cover of the Bob Dylan classic Not Dark Yet

From the anonymous protest songwriter known as POTP – the same guy responsible for the viral video Bill Gates Sings – here’s Vaxx in the Cradle, sung to the tune of the old Harry Chapin hit. Beyond the snarky jokes, it’s amazingly well-crafted – it even follows the plotline of the original. “This song has Emergency Use Authorization to be deployed far and wide in the effort to stem the epidemic of infant experimentation.”

Loosie‘s No Future is the catchiest, most anthemic thing the band’s ever done, with a wistful Lynchian edge. A scruffier Sharon Van Etten, maybe?

You might know Mike Adams as the scientist in the lab coat who founded Brighteon, home to innumerable good censored videos. Want to know what video is at the very top of the search page today? The full stream of the Plandemic II documentary!. But believe it or not, Adams also has a history as a rapper. Check out his hauntingly prescient 2010 video Vaccine Zombie, which has resurfaced courtesy of the consistently brilliant and provocative Midwestern Doctor Substack page.

Moirai’s Völuspa is a starkly gorgeous recreation of an ancient Icelandic dragonslayer myth. Is this classical music? Folk music? 21st century minimalism? Maybe all of the above?

Let’s close with some funny stuff. First, click and scroll down the page for a 45-second tv ad for Oomph’s new “human meat plant based burger” via Jeff Childers’ indispensable Coffee & Covid. Reputedly the jury’s out on how it tastes compared to genuine human flesh.

And here’s a meme from cartoonist Anne Gibbons: a spot-on take on the FDA’s self-declared “future framework,”  where if they get their way there will be no more safety trials for any pharmaceutical products.

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.