New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Category: protest songs

Haunting Klezmer Sounds and Protest Songs Outdoors in Park Slope This Week

One of the most powerful protest songs that’s been resurrected in recent years is Mir Veln Zey Iberlebn (We Will Outlive Them).

This old Jewish melody, reinvented by Brooklyn klezmer band Tsibele, is as indomitable an anthem as any freedom fighter could want. In this seven-minute live clip, the group lead a singalong in the deliciously Middle Eastern-flavored freygische mode. Midway through, they provide the grim backstory.

When the Nazis marched into Lublin, Poland in 1941 and rounded up the Jews there, they were as sadistic as usual. Driving the population out into the fields, they commanded the captives to dance. The response was this song. As we all know, those Jews did not outlive their tormentors, but they raised the bar for defiance in the face of evil about as high as it can go.

As sadistic as the lockdowner regime has been, there’s special resonance in that song for us. Inevitability theories of history are full of holes, there’s no doubt that if the world is going to survive, we will outlive them. You can buy an embroidered patch for your coat which says exactly that, in Yiddish and English, from the band.

Half of the group – violinist Zoe Aqua and accordionist Ira Temple – are teaming up for an outdoor show with trumpeter Dan Blacksberg on July 29 at 4:30 PM at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, 58 7th Ave at Lincoln Pl in Park Slope. It’s about equidistant from the Grand Army Plaza and 7th Ave. B/Q stations.

Starting in the mid-teens, Tsibele became a fixture across several scenes here, and made some waves with their album It’s Dark Outside – Indroysn iz Finster, streaming at Bandcamp. Bassist Zoë Guigueno, flutist Eléonore Weill and trumpeter Eva Boodman focus intensely on Aqua’s dark arrangements of some well-known, politically resonant old songs.

Aqua’s slashing, low-register lines pierce the brooding ambience underneath in the first tune, Dem Nayntn Yanuar/Ninth of January, a dirge commemorating the 1905 massacre of freedom fighters in St. Petersburg, The band maintain a somber atmosphere in the blue-collar lament Di Svet Shop, based on a poem by Morris Rosenfeld.

They pick up the pace with a dead-serious take of Nifty’s Eigene, violin and trumpet taking turns with the original lead written by legendary klezmer clarinetist Naftule Brandwein. The album’s big, ominously atmospheric epic is a murder ballad, Tsvelef A Zeyger/Twelve O’clock, with a looming trumpet solo at the center.

Likewise, Boodman’s moody, soulful lines intertwine with the trills of the flute in the slow, darkly methodical Rosemont Terkisher. They close the record with the lilting, wistful title track, a love song.

Fun fact: tsibele is Yiddish for “onion.” Lots of layers to peel back here.

A Shimmering, Potently Relevant New Album From Fearless Composer Susie Ibarra

Percussionist and composer Susie Ibarra‘s rapturous, starkly orchestrated new album Walking on Water touches on the two most deadly ecological crises of our time: the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and global warming. Inspired by a breathtaking series of paintings by Mako Fujimura dedicated to the victims of the March 11, 2011 tsunami and subsequent nuclear explosions, Ibarra also addresses a familiar theme in her work, the perils of climate change. With the Japanese government threatening to dump millions of gallons of lethal radioactive water from the still-unstable Fukushima site into the Pacific, Ibarra could not have picked a more appropriate time to release this record of what she terms as “spirituals” at Bandcamp.

Ibarra’s DreamTime Ensemble here includes Jennifer Choi on violin, Yves Dharambaj on cello, Claudia Acuna on vocals, Jake Landau on guitar and keys, with Yuka C. Honda adding electronic elements. The music is much more dynamic than you would expect from such troubling central themes and includes many field recordings of water, from melting ice in the Himalayas to water tanks in Washington State.

The first track is Elegy in Azurite, a shimmery, circling theme, part terse, lush classical atmosphere aloft with Acuna’s vocalese, and part pointillistic Filipino kulintang music. Landau’s spiky acoustic guitar pierces the mist in the bouncy Light East of Sendai. His organ falls away, leaving Ibarra’s cymbals and gongs to mingle with melting ice sonics in Waterfalling.

Assertive, flamenco-tinged guitar chords anchor resonant, shivering phrases from violin and cello over Ibarra’s rustles in Coastal Birds The next track is High Wave, a mashup of found sounds of water amid nebulous acoustic and electronic ambience. Acuna sails soulfully above a syncopated organ groove and Ibarra’s slinky drums in the aptly titled Natural Lightness.

Night Rain sounds like exactly that, a field recording with birds chattering away as they take cover. Violin and cello rise warily over Landau’s lush arpeggios in Divine Forgiveness, followed by a fluttery tone poem, Celestial Migration. Floating Azurite makes a good segue, somber atmosphere contrasting with the mandolin-like delicacy of Landau’s guitars.

The bossa-tinged swing of New York With Grace comes as a real surprise, Landau’s spiny textures and the strings adding a surreal, disquieted edge. The album’s big epic is aptly titled Listening at Himalayan Waterfalls, a found-sound pastiche which Ibarra captured with underwater microphones. The group close with Floating Along Banares, a summery field recording of a boat trip mashed up with distantly Indian-flavored melodies. The implication seems to be that this kind of natural camaraderie is just the tip of the iceberg (pun intended) of what we stand to lose if we don’t stop burning things to power the world. The apocalypse never sounded so dreamy. Count this as one of the best and most captivating albums of 2021.

Ferociously Funny, Politically-Fueled Americana Rock From Esquela

In a crowded pack of Americana bands, Esquela distinguish themselves with their ferocious, often hilarious, fearlessly political lyrics and high-voltage guy/girl vocals. With New York under a draconian lockdown last summer and most studios officially shuttered, the group joined the legions of artists making albums over the web to record their latest one, A Sign From God, streaming at Bandcamp. Credit producer and multi-instrumentalist Eric “Roscoe” Ambel for piecing together individual tracks culled from very diverse sonic environments and somehow finding a way to make them sound like a cohesive group effort.

The opening number, Not in My Backyard sets the stage for the rest of the record. “Hydrofracking is a swear word, nuclear power is for the birds, guess we better burn some trees,” John “Chico” Finn and Becca Frame cynically observe over Ambel’s growling guitars and the steady four-on-the-floor drive from bassist Keith Christopher and drummer Mike Ricciardi.

Frame brings the lights down in Oradura, a grim account of the Nazi massacre of the French village of Oradour Sur Glane in 1944. With the smoldering intertwine of Brian Shafer and Matt Woodin’s guitars, it could be the Walkabouts: it’s the best song on the album.

With a lickety-split Shafer guitar solo and a ridiculously funny bridge, Rest of My Life offers two…um…individual perceptions of a one-night stand. Woodin and Shafer take turns with tantalizingly twangy solos in Give Ups, about a woman with distinctive taste in outerwear. Frame returns to the mic as the band get serious again, with 1861: in the current era of unprecedented divide-and-conquer, this Civil War parable really packs a wallop.

Ambel adds honkytonk-flavored lapsteel in Three Finger Joe, a cynical tale of casual redneck bigotry. Set to a snarling mix of Ambel guitar multitracks, First World Problems might the funniest song ever written about American exceptionalism. Together Finn and Frame chronicle the kind of devastating issues we have to cope with every day: our favorite teams finish last, the wifi acts up, we lose our phones, and country radio sucks. The joke at the end is way too good to spoil.

Rob Arthur guests on organ in What’s Your Problem, a snide account of white entitlement that brings to mind a big Dream Syndicate hit, right down to the opening Ambel guitar riff. Finn chronicles pioneer days in upstate New York over Ambel’s keening slide guitar in Two Stones. The band close the album with Wait For Me, Frame’s gorgeously chiming, haunting setting of a World War II poem by Russian soldier Konstantin Simonov. It’s been a slow year for rock records; count this as one of the best of the bunch so far.

DWB: The Most Relevant, Hauntingly Evocative New Chamber Opera in Years

It’s hard to imagine a song cycle more apropos to our era than composer Susan Kander and soprano Roberta Gumbel’s chamber opera DWB (Driving While Black), streaming at Spotify. Gumbel’s lyrics draw on her own experiences and worries as the parent of a black adolescent who’s approaching driving age. Interspersed amid this mom’s reveries are real-life “bulletins” ranging from incidents of mundane everyday racism – Henry Louis Gates arrested for trying to enter his own home – to allusively macabre references to the murders of Trayvon Martin and Philando Castile.

Kander’s dynamic, sometimes kinetic, often haunting series of themes bring to mind Bernard Herrmann’s Hitchcock movie scores, Gumbel nimbly negotiating their dramatic twists and turns. With tense close harmonies and chiming arrangements, Messiaen and maybe George Crumb seem to be influences. The duo New Morse Code come across as a much larger ensemble: credit percussionist Michael Compitello, who plays a vast variety of instruments, most notably vibraphone and bells, alongside cellist Hannah Collins. Together they shift, often in the span of a few seconds, from a creepy, deep-space twinkle to a stalking, monstrous pulse and all-too-frequent evocations of gunfire.

What hits you right off the bat is that this narrator mom is smart. She frets about putting her infant in a backwards-facing car seat, because he won’t be able to see her, and she won’t be able to offer him a smile to comfort him. We get to watch him grow up: to Gumbel’s immense credit, there’s a lot of humor in the more familial moments, welcome relief from the relentless sinister outside world. The driver’s ed scene is particularly hilarious. Yet this doesn’t turn out to be a trouble-free childhood: Gumbel casts the kid as the son in a single-parent household, reflecting the reality that an inordinate percentage of people of color are forced to cope with.

Most of the numbers are over in less than a couple of minutes, a kaleidoscope of alternately fond and grisly images. A soaring, drifting lullaby, a slinky soul-tinged groove and a plaintive cello solo break up the furtive, often frantic sequences. One of the most chilling interludes involves not a police shooting but a near-miss. In a case of mistaken identity with a rare happy ending, the cops end up dumping the ex-suspect out of the police van in an unfamiliar part of town. He has to walk all the way home from there. Wait til you find out how old he is.

Subtle Protest Songs and Dark 80s-Influenced Sounds From Polish Chanteuse Brodka

In a review of Polish singer Monika Brodka’s 2016 album Clashes, this blog called her “an artist who’s found an original sound and is still experimenting with other ideas: may that experimentation continue and find a wider audience.” Fast forward to 2021: Brodka (who records under her last name) has taken her songwriting to a powerfully political new level with her new one, Brut, streaming at Spotify.

How far does she cast her musical net this time around? Clashes had a persistent 80s gothic sensibility, as this one often does. From time to time, Brodka moves forward into the early 21st century, around the time of Goldfrapp‘s heyday, with a similar dichotomy between wounded, ripe vocals and icy, airless, techy production.

Brodka sings exclusively in English this time out, more assertively and confidently than ever. Much of the material here is protest songs, no surprise considering how horrific the body count from the needle of death, and the lockdown itself, have been in Poland.

“Quarantine this heart of mine if I ever come back home,” Brodka’s fugitive narrator insists over a blippy, twisted faux-martial backdrop in The World Is You, the album’s most haunting track. The warpy, melancholy ballad Chasing Giants makes a good segue, Brodka’s voice hitting breaking point over a trippy quasar-synth background.

“Enough enough, capricious girl, you better follow the team,” Brodka intones in the cynical goth-pop anthem You Think You Know. Brodka seems potently aware that the lockdown is first and foremost an attack on women.

Trebly hollowbody bass contrasts with crunchy electro beats in Falling Into You, a pensively bouncy pop song which, beyond its anti-lockdown message, may also allude to the struggle for women to maintain their reproductive rights in her home country.

Fruits, an airy, warped psych-pop ballad, conspicuously mentions a “poison seed.” In My Eyes captures the ache and crushing isolation of the past sixteen months, with subtle dubwise touches. “How I’d love touch your hand in glove,” seems to be sarcastic to the extreme.

With the keys warping off pitch and back again, Sadness, the closing cut, doesn’t seem to have any political overtones. Other tracks are more lighthearted and less impactful. Brodka branches out into an exuberant Goldfrapp-hip-hop mashup in Hey Man. Imagination could be the Cure covering the Eurythmics with a good singer out front. There are also places where the iciness of the production overwhelms the content. Happily, that’s not the case with the protest songs. We need more artists like Brodka.

A Very Professional New Protest Song

It’s been awhile since there’s been a brand-new protest song on this page. The last one was all fire-and-brimstone punk gospel rage, inspired by the protests over the George Floyd murder last summer. This one is…um…somewhat more lighthearted. Scroll to the bottom for chord changes and performer notes. This one’s easy and is set to a Bo Diddley beat:

Dr. Faulty

Hipe!
Hop along, hop along
Doop doop!
Hop along
BAAAAAAAAAA

Back in 1986 when Al Haig was king
The fomma boys made some noise and they sho’ liked to sing
Passin’ stones through the hole to the man who’s given head
For a blanket of immunity when the needle’s in the red

Hipe!
Hop along, hop along
Doop doop!
Hop along
BAAAAAAAAAA

To think it all began on that uneventful moan
Mr. Meese and the Thought Police droolin’ on their porn
The House of Representatives hittin’ on the jug
Dr. Faulty crawlin’ up your leg from underneath the rug

Hipe!
Hop along, hop along
Doop doop!
Hop along
BAAAAAAAAAA

Twinkletoes the Sailor Boy was givin’ up the ghost
He used to be patty cake but lately he just toast
Throwin’ Rumplestiltskin for a shot of AZT
Doing all the kind of work they say will set you free

Don’t ask me, ’cause I don’t know
Dr. Faulty told me so

Dr. Faulty makes investments in all the goods from China
Vents and stents and stuff the ladies put in they Instagram
His face is on the rag and the rag is on his face
But only if he see you walking round the place

Hipe!
Hop along, hop along
Doop doop!
Hop along
BAAAAAAAAAA

Dr. Faulty will tell you all the right things to invest in
If you don’t know that smell, boy, you don’t have intestines
Gimme double order of them green eggs and ham
And a pocketful of cabbage from Uncle Sam

Hipe!
Hop along, hop along
Doop doop!
Hop along
BAAAAAAAAAA

These days Dr. Faulty is the man who calls the shots
Some say he related to Mary Queen of Scots
The sharper the blade gets, the closer the shave
But he’ll still be in this circus when he’s laughing on your grave

Hipe!
Hop along, hop along
Doop doop!
Hop along
BAAAAAAAAAA

As you can see, this one leaves room for belching, flatulence and barnyard noises. That’s because it’s a parody of hippie rock. It could be other things as well, but that’s up to the listener, and the performer, to interpret.

Let’s face it: 80% of commercial music released since the 1950s is white people making fun of black people. This blog figured it’s time to make fun of white people who make fun of black people. You probably noticed how the lyrics to this one are written in completely over-the-top phony ebonics. That’s because so many hippie rock bands are bigtime offenders when it comes to white people singing in what’s essentially blackface.

Now it seems that every how-to book about writing hit songs includes at least a full chapter dedicated to nonsense syllables. So in order to make this song as professional as possible, it’s all nonsense syllables until the first time through the chorus – it starts with a chorus and then goes to the first verse.

And those nonsense syllables are important! Let’s review each one.

The first one, “Hipe!” is like a bark. It’s short and sharp. You could burp it. In fact, by the time you get to the last time through the chorus, you ought to burp it if you can. You could do a long one – “Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiipe!” or a short burst of “Hipehipehipehipehipe!” for example.

You can give the “hop along, hop along” after that a gentle naivete. Next is “doop doop,” which is where the girls in the band, or the guys who like to sing falsetto, get to go up the scale. Pretend that you’re Elvis’ backup singers for two syllables.

Finally, there’s the BAAAAAAA where you can channel your inner barnyard animal. That would also make a good belch if you can hold the note for awhile.

Musically, it’s very simple. Key of C with a Bo Diddley beat and chord pattern. That’s C, C, C C, C-C-F for the first line and C, C, C, C, G, G, C for the second, then repeat on lines three and four for both chorus and verse. There’s only one single “Don’t ask me ’cause I don’t know, Dr. Faulty told me so,” and that’s C-Bmin-C. The main vocal line is up to you: you can get crazy or keep it really chill. Likewise, if you want to get fancier with the changes, go for it. That’s what folk songs are all about.

The ending is very important. This is a fade. You decide where among the nonsense syllables to fade it down. Fades are also a very professional thing. They basically send one of three messages. The first is “We couldn’t get our shit together and figure out to how end this properly.” The second is probably the most common one: “We were too high in the studio to get it right all the way through.” The third is “We have so little respect for the listener that we didn’t bother coming up with an ending. This song is so bad it doesn’t deserve one anyway.”

A Brilliant, Subtly Satirical New Video From Kira Metcalf

Watch very closely in the first few seconds of Kira Metcalf‘s video for her new single Hoax for a visual clue that packs a knockout punch.

This is how dissidents in the old Soviet Union had to protest. Looks like we’ve come to that here in the US.

Metcalf actually wrote the cleverly lyrical kiss-off anthem eight years ago, but it’s taken on new resonance since the lockdown began. Videowise, the esthetic is pure early 90s Garbage, as Shirley Manson would have mugged for the camera. Musically, the song is closer to early PJ Harvey with even more of a vengeful wail

Twisted Things Come in Threes Today

Been a little while since there have been any singles on this page. But little by little, more and more artists are gearing up for a return to freedom. There’s optimism, apocalypse and fury in today’s trio of songs.

“I’m living in a ghost town, I’m doing things my way, I’m not dead yet, ” four-piece New York band Devora’s frontwoman asserts over skronky minimalist punk rock straight out of the late 80s in their latest single, Not Dead Yet.

Chicago guitar legend Dave Specter and blues harp player Billy Branch build a slow, venomously simmering groove in The Ballad of George Floyd: “Eight minutes of torture, begged for mercy, then he was killed.” Specter has been on a roll with good protest songs, ever since his venomous anti-Trump broadside, How Low Can One Man Go.

Marianne Dissard, who’s been putting out single after hauntingly eclectic single from a planned covers album, has just released the one of her disturbing picks so far, a ghastly remake of Adriano Celentano’s creepily dadaesque 1972 Prisencolinensinainciusol, with a pastiche of samples of lockdown posturing by Boris Johnson, two Trumps, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, Reccep Erdogan, and Xi Jinping. Together they give Dissard a long, long rope to hang them with.

The Latest Dose of Brown Acid: Trippier and More Amusing Than Ever

Over the course of eleven volumes, the Brown Acid compilations have rescued well over a hundred incredibly obscure proto-metal, psychedelic and soul songs from oblivion. Some of the original copies of those records go for thousands of dollars on the collector market, but the better part of this wild archive, from some of the most unlikely places on this continent, never reached beyond a small fan base. The loosely connecting thread here is the stoner factor. To celebrate 4/20 – and the de facto legalization of weed in New York this year – Riding Easy Records are releasing the twelfth “trip” in the series, streaming at Bandcamp. In keeping with a hallowed tradition, every volume is available on vinyl.

Is this the point where the bowl is finally cashed? Are we scraping the bong yet? No, although there are more WTF moments here than usual. Intentionally or not, this is one of the funniest mixes in the series.

Louisville power trio the Waters open the playlist with their 1969 single Mother Samwell: it sounds like the Yardbirds spun through a flange, panning the speakers. The bass player – who would go on to play with Hank Williams Jr. – is excellent, although he totally misses his cue right before the fade. Classic Brown Acid moment.

The Village S.T.O.P., from Hamilton, Ontario nick a famous Beatles playground riff – plus maybe a little Iron Butterfly – for their 1969 wah-wah tune Vibration. Minneapolis band White Lightning hit a chilling lyrical peak in 1930, a Move-inspired protest song whose anti-Vietnam War message resonates more than ever half a century later: “I’m not going to die for your greed!”

Bay Area heavy soul band Shane’s lone 1968 single, a one-chord jam, is a badly recorded mess. Another 1968 rediscovery, Dallas group Ace Song Service’s organ-fueled Persuasion is a more successfully trippy take on the same style. The compilation reaches outside the US in a rare moment for yet another one-chord jam, Belgian band Opus Est’s ridiculously PG-rated faux-risque 1974 single, Bed, which sadly never reached its intended audience of American thirteen-year-olds.

Hawaiian band the Mopptops contribute Our Lives, a funky, catchy, organ-fueled populist anthem. In 1977, at the peak of the CBGB era, Youngstown, Ohio’s Artist were still ripping off Hendrix, as evidenced by the innuendo-fueled Every Lady Does It.

Carthage, Missouri power trio Stagefright distinguish themselves with their tumbling drums (that’s frontman Jim Mills) in Comin’ Home, the compilation’s first foray into the 80s. And this is where the album ought to end: NRBQ’s lame, pseudonymous attempt to parody early 70s heavy psych sounds is as weak as everything else they ever did. Whatever the case, you don’t have to be high to get into this playlist: it sounds perfectly good after a couple of whiskies.

Funny and Troubling Songs For a Funny and Troubling Time

Good things come in fours today: here’s a mini-playlist of videos and streams to get your synapses firing on all cylinders

The woman who brought you the devious Tina Turner parody What’s Math Got to Do With It, singer/sax player Stephanie Chou has a provocatively philosophical new single, Continuum Hypothesis. It’s sort of art-rock, sort of jazz – a catchy, dancing, anthemic duo with pianist Jason Yeager, dedicated to mathematician Paul Cohen. According to this hypothesis, there is no set whose cardinality is strictly between that of the integers and the real numbers. This seems self-evident, but, based on Cohen’s work in set theory, Chou sees it as essentially unknowable, at least with what we know now. Snag a free download at Lions with Wings’ Bandcamp page while you can.

Here’s Erik Della Penna – the guitar half of erudite, lyrical superduo Kill Henry Sugar with drummer Dean Sharenow – doing a very, very subtle, rustically shuffling, Dylanesque acoustic protest song, Change the Weather:

I’m gonna make predictions
I’m gonna make it rain
I’m gonna put restrictions
On hearing you complain…
I’m gonna change the language
To make you change your mind
I’m gonna make predictions
That you can get behind

Swedish songwriter Moneira a.k.a. Daniela Dahl has a new single, The Bird (Interesting to See) It’s almost eight minutes of minimalist, anthemic art-rock piano and mellotron vibes, an oblique memoir of a troubled childhood, “a bird trapped in an open cage.” Sound familiar?

Natalia Lafourcade sings a slow, plush, epic take of the brooding Argentine suicide ballad Alfonsina y El Mar with Ljova orchestrating himself as a one-man string ensemble with his fadolin multitracks. You’d never know it was just one guy.