New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Category: psychedelic pop

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.

The Lucky Thirteenth Volume of the Brown Acid Heavy Psych Compilations Is Out Today

Over the course of a dozen compilations, the tireless crate diggers behind the Brown Acid series have unearthed innumerable rare heavy psychedelic, heavy soul and proto-metal singles and deep cuts. At what point is the bowl finally played? Where does the trip wind down to the point where it’s time to kill what’s left of the case of beer and crash? Not now. The Thirteenth Trip is out on vinyl today and streaming at Bandcamp.

Previous compilations have spanned from the late 60s to as recently as 1981. The year 1972 is a big one for this playlist. The first cut is Run Run, a riff-rock curio by Montreal band Max. Nice high-midrange guitars, barely passable English lyrics, such that there are any.

Ralph Williams’ Dark Street immediately validates the Brown Acid esthetic, a lithely pulsing heavy blues with some tantalizingly tasty lead guitar work. “Dark street, you are my life,” Williams asserts, even if “I haven’t got a single thing to eat.”

Third Side, by Geyda, is a mostly one-chord Spooky Tooth-style number: skittish drums, minor sixth chords. In a primitive way, it embraces non-binary thinking. No joke.

Gary Del Vecchio’s Buzzin is a feast of sizzling riffage, overdubbed call-and-response style in each channel: as the liner notes tell it, he was the lead guitarist on the Max single. John Kitko’s 1972 acid rock gem Indecision obviously took even more time in the studio for the icepick-precise lead guitar multitracks: bizarrely, it ends cold, seemingly cut off. Did the master tape run out, or break off? We’ll probably never know.

Tampa band Bacchus’ 1972 single Hope is a heavier take on what the Doors did with Roadhouse Blues: they would go on to become Fortress, who had some success with their 1981 album Hands In The Till.

“How can I live without this disease, yeah?” Master Danse’s singer intones in the Detroit band’s monstrous 1972 blues Feelin Dead. It’s both a tribute to the band’s Detroit roots, and one of the most venomous anti-Boston songs ever written. Vengeance would be on the Murder City’s side that year: Red Sox manager Eddie Kasko started a rookie against the Tigers in a pivotal late-season game, with disastrous results.

Orchid’s Go Big Red is one of the great mindfucks that pop up here and there throughout the Brown Acid series. It’s a squeaky-clean garage-pop song with a couple of fuzztone guitar breaks that sound so improbable, it’s as if some studio stoner decided to overdub them just to fuck with the band…or to get them to pay for their time.

These compilations also occasionally feature a novelty song or two. Dry Ice’s garagey Don’t Munkey with the Funky Skunky speaks for itself, a cheap attempt at what Brownsville Station would do much more effectively with Smokin in the Boys Room. The last song on the record is Good Humore’s souped-up soul shout-out to their Detroit home turf.

In a very auspicious development, Riding Easy Records is launching a new series focusing on rare 80s metal. That promises to be even more of a gold mine, considering how advances in low-budget cassette recording fueled an explosion of both studio and live material.

Revisiting a Lush, Lynchian Treat by the Lovely Intangibles

The Lovely Intangibles are a spinoff of Lynchian cinematic band the Lost Patrol, one of the most consistently disquieting New York groups of the past twenty years or so. This project features the core of the band, lead guitarist/keyboardist Stephen Masucci and twelve-string player Michael Williams, plus singer Mary Ognibene and drummer Tony Mann. Their 2015 debut album Tomorrow Is Never is streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening track, No Amends, has everything that made the Lost Patrol so menacingly memorable. That lingering reverb guitar, those icy washes of string synth and deep-sky production, and Ognibene’s breathy, woundeed vocal harmonies are a good fit.

The Dust Settles Down is basically a catchy 80s new wave ballad lowlit by ominous spaghetti western guitar: imagine Julee Cruise if she could belt. Opening with dusky guitar jangle, Tell Me When takes on a gusty, string synth-driven ba-BUMP noir cabaret tinge.

Beatlesque riffage punches in and out of the sweep and swoosh of Do As You Please. The album’s title track ripples and glistens, Ognibene’s voice channeling a cool but angst-fueled intensity: the kettledrums and snappy bass are an aptly Orbisonian touch.

Masucci’s icepick reverb guitar and looming bass propel the anthemically waltzing It’s Just Like You. Then the band sway through the gorgeously bittersweet early 60s-influenced Will You Surrender: you could call it Theme From a Winter Place.

The most straight up new wave number here is Divine. They close the album with Relapse, a broodingly twinkling tableau. Play this with the lights out – if you can handle it,after all we’ve been through over the past year and a half.

Sarah McQuaid’s Starkly Lyrical New Live Album Captures a Dark Zeitgeist

Songwriter Sarah McQuaid was into the early part of a marathon 2020 tour when live music was criminalized throughout most of the world. Since she’d planned on making a live album while on the road, she made one closer to home, solo acoustic in the charming, medieval Cornwall church where she sings in a choir. The result is the vinyl record The St Buryan Sessions, streaming at Bandcamp. McQuaid has made a lot of good, darkly pensive albums over the years and this might be the best of them all, a quasi greatest hits collection that promises to have lasting historical resonance, capturing the zeitgeist of a moment that the world would rather never revisit.

Even the guarded, seductive optimism of What Are We Going to Do, in the stark solo electric version here, is far more muted than the original. The record is notable right off the bat for having the only recording of McQuaid singing Sweetness and Pain – a troubled but ultimately hopeful, plainchant-inspired mini-suite – as a contiguous whole. She does that a-cappella, taking advantage of the church’s rich natural reverb and what could be more than a two-second decay.

That reverb also enhances both McQuaid’s guitar and piano work. There’s a similarly resolute sense of hope through dark times in the second song, The Sun Goes On Rising. McQuaid’s voice is strong anyway, and here she reaches back for power to match the anxiousness and uncertainty.

If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous – what a song title for the fall of 2021, right? – brings to mind Richard Thompson‘s solo acoustic work, McQuaid starkly fingerpicking an enigmatic blues behind her loaded imagery. For the record, the vocal harmonies are live loops.

She switches to piano for The Silence Above Us, a brooding, slow, nocturnal waltz which seems practically prophetic, considering the events of 2020. One Sparrow Down is an understatedly grim little swing tune about a cat-and-bird game, McQuaid backing herself with just a kickdrum.

The sparkling open-tuned guitar melody of Charlie’s Gone Home, one of McQuaid’s earliest songs, contrasts with the elegaic narrative. The rainy-day jazz guitar backdrop dovetails more closely with the volcanic portents of Yellowstone, McQuaid capping it off with a slashing flourish.

Time to Love is the sparest, most hypnotic number here and makes a good segue with her similarly sparse cover of Autumn Leaves where she really airs out her upper register. Live vocal loops enhance the somber reflections on mass mortality that pervade In Derby Cathedral: yesterday the church crypt, tomorrow the world.

McQuaid loves open tunings, best exemplified by her eerily echoing, chiming, increasingly macabre phrasing over an ominously swooping bassline in the instrumental The Day of Wrath, That Day. She keeps the subdued atmosphere going in, the pall lifting a little in The Tug of the Moon.

She returns to piano, adding gravitas to Michael Chapman’s Rabbit Hills, pulling it closer toward pastoral Pink Floyd territory. The closing number, Last Song is a requiem for McQuaid’s mom – a musician herself – and a reflection on the enduring strength of intergenerational traditions.

Acoustic Reggae and Similar Rarities by a Fixture of the NYC Parks Concert Circuit on the Upper East

Other than Bob Marley’s iconic Redemption Song – “How long must they kill our brothers while we stand aside and look?” – there’s hardly any acoustic reggae. In fourteen and a half years of concerts in what was once the live music capitol of North America, this blog and its predecessor covered exactly one acoustic reggae show, by Jamaican toaster I-Wayne. And that was a private performance for media, in the fall of 2011 in a west side studio with ganja smoke seeping out through cracks in the door.

But if you’re in Manhattan on Oct 29 and you can get to Second Avenue and 90th St. by 3 PM, you might see some acoustic reggae when ukulele player Dahlia Dumont and her group the Blue Dahlia play Ruppert Park.

Dumont has been plugged into the municipal concert circuit for the past several years, and her passion for reggae and ska matches her fondness for playing outdoors. She writes in English and her native French, in lots of other styles ranging from French varietés pop to Balkan music. Her most recent, characteristically eclectic album La Tradition Américaine got the thumbs up here in 2018.

She’s put out more material since that record, streaming at her music page. At the top, there’s Betty, a characteristically bouncy, horn-spiced quasi-ska song encouraging everybody to stop complaining about the status quo and police brutality, and go out and vote. En Dehors du Temps (Outside of Time) is a lot quieter, a wistfully waltzing familial reminiscence. Dumont recorded The Walls during the 2020 lockdown, an understatedly angst-fueled piano ballad about a relationship interrupted by fascist travel restrictions. “If we make it to the other side, will you be much changed?” she asks, speaking for as many people as Marley did with Redemption Song.

Nobody at this blog has ever caught a full set by Dumont. The closest was about the last twenty minutes of a show where she squeezed a good-sized band, including guitar, accordion and rhythm section, into an intimate Park Slope space a few months before the album came out. Dumont has also been a fixture at the annual late-November outdoor music festival that ran down Broadway from Dante Park across from Lincoln Center down to Columbus Circle. She brought a stripped-down trio to those shows, as she most likely will do at the Upper East Side park gig. She has an expressive voice, boundless energy and a sense of humor, all things we all could use right now.

A Characteristically Brilliant, Surprising, Slashingly Lyrical New Album by Changing Modes

Changing Modes have been one of the best bands in New York since the zeros, when they began releasing a formidable series of catchy, ambitious, individualistic rock records. Their music features layers of keyboards and vocal harmonies from frontwomen Wendy Griffiths and Grace Pulliam, enigmatically virtuosic and often slashing lead guitar from Yuzuru Sadashige, with drummer Timur Yusef colorfully negotiating the songs’ serpentine, shapeshifting rhythms. As the years went on, their playful lyrical edge grew angrier and more politically-inspired, particularly as the Metoo movement gained momentum. Their latest album Wax World is streaming at youtube.

From a performance point of view, what’s most amazing is that it sounds as lush and contiguous as the rest of their catalog, considering that Yusef – one of the most colorfully nimble players in town – recorded his tracks remotely from the UK.

The opening number, Audio Polaroid, is a searing, sardonic commentary on IG-era narcissism: “Audio Polaroid never will fill the void,” the two women harmonize over a surreal blend of reggae and skittish new wave. The ultimate message seems to be that it’s never more than a memory – and a hazy one at that.

Griffiths and Pulliam exchange lyrical lines and harmonies over haphazard Beatles blues in Nothing to Say: “You’re selling your soul on ebay, you’re selling secrets that aren’t yours to give away,” Pulliam accuses. Strychnine is not the Cramps classic but an slyly blippy, very subtly venomous, new wave-tinged original with a hilarious intro.

Stasis Loop rises out of an evil morass of feedback and horror-movie keys, a macabre, picturesque account of the early days of the lockdown in New York, “Stuck in a place where nobody waits for summer or fall…playgrounds are empty, their friends are all gone and even their masters are someone else’s boss.” It might be the best song of 2021.

The band maintain the chilly ambience in Autumn, a vehicle for Sadashige’s enigmatically skeletal guitar leads. Likewise, the rainy-day guitar clusters, keening organ and plaintive vocal harmonies in Glass of Winter. If this song is any indication, Sadashige was a great surf guitarist in a past life and has graduated to jazz.

Solitary, a brisk punchy new wave/punk number, speaks for itself: this time the grisly joke is the outro. Yusef’s gracefully tumbling Atrocity Exhibition-style drums bookend On an Island, a gorgeously symphonic, surreal esape ballad. Baritone saxophonist Sawa Tamezane caps off Haze, a ba-bump cabaret-tinged number, with an incisively lyrical solo.

The band close with Undertow, a dynamically shifting, baroque-tinged anthem, late Beatles through a glass darkly. Changing Modes’ records have been ubiquitous on this blog’s annual Best Albums of the Year page since day one and this one will be high on the list for 2021.

Lurid, Lowlit, Slyly Reinvented Lounge Sounds From the Tiki Collective

Why did David Lynch take the title of his iconic second film from a lounge song? Because lounge jazz is creepy, and seedy, and phantasmagorical. Not everything on the Tiki Collective’s 2018 debut album Muse – streaming at Spotify – is creepy. In fact, some of the Toronto crew’s reinventions of pop hits are funny as hell, in a sarcastic Richard Cheese vein. But there’s sinister stuff here that’s perfect for any Halloween party playlist you have planned for this year.

The group chose a different vocalist for each song. There are subtle, ominous touches – a reverb guitar riff from Eric St-Lauren, a ripple of Michael Davidson’s vibraphone – in I’ve Never Left Your Arms, sung by Genevieve Marentette. With its moody klezmer overtones, It’s a good choice to open the record.

Did you know that Harlem Nocturne and Mood Indigo had words? Joanna Majoko and Tyra Juta do, and they sing them. Neither version is up to Ellington level…or the Ventures for that matter. The first of the really funny numbers is the Fleetwood Mac hit Hypnotized, reinvented as a deadpan, brooding soul song with Heather Luckhart and the Willows out front.

The Willows return with Melissa Lauren for a Sade-ized version of Don’t Fear the Reaper, which is also funny, though not quite as ridiculously surreal as Bobtown’s bluegrass cover. Speaking of Sade, guest singer Paget reaches for dreamy ambience in a slow, trip-hop influenced take of The Sweetest Taboo: the original vocalist would do just as well with these guys behind her.

The reliably excellent Lily Frost’s airy delivery matches the band’s spare Asian inflections in Mountain High, Valley Low. Irene Torres sings a muted, remarkable southwestern gothic remake of the old cheeseball mambo Quizas Quizas Quizas. Likewise, Chelsea Bridge gets the album’s most menacingly lingering intro before singer Mingjia Chen’s vocalese takes over.

There are two originals on the album. Avery Raquel sings the fluttering, bossa-tinged Dreaming, while Denielle Bassels closes the record with The Wanderer, a Ricky Nelson-style pop song. Also included are pretty straight-up covers of All Too Soon and I’ll Be Seeing You, sung by Jocelyn Barth and Jessica LaLonde, respectively.

Another Allusively Menacing, Lyrical Masterpiece From Ward White

Ward White is the Elvis Costello of the 21st century. Nobody does deviously whirlwind literary wordplay and catchy tunesmithing better. Like Costello, White is prolific – thirteen albums, including his latest, The Tender Age, streaming at Bandcamp. His influences are vast, he thinks outside the box, but he’s had the good sense to resist getting in over his head (Elvis C turned out to be great at string quartets but was, um, less successful with opera buffo and hip-hop). And White is arguably even darker than the past century’s greatest songwriter.

And he’s a hell of a lead guitarist, and a damn good bass player too. The new album features his longtime collaborators Tyler Chester on keys and the Wallflowers’ Mark Stepro on drums. This is their best album together: they’ve become White’s Attractions. Tenacious D bassist John Spiker engineered with his usual retro purism and flair.

Allusive violence and an ever-present menace have come to permeate most of White’s most recent material. The first track, Dirty Clouds, is a slow, funk-tinged number, Chester’s echoey Wurlitzer percolating beneath White’s dissociatively grim imagery. Check out the hilarious video – is this a metaphor for media terrormongering? Maybe a little bit. There are innumerable levels of meaning in White’s songs: they don’t just stand up to repeated listening, they require it. Catchy as his catalog is, it’s not for people with short attention spans or the faint of heart.

Track two, Easy Meat is one of White’s more sinisterly evocative narratives, vintage 80s powerpop pulsing along on a tense new wave beat, with a spacerock guitar solo at the center. Reduced to lowest terms, it’s about acting on impulses that would be unthinkable to anyone outside, say, the Gates Foundation or the California governor’s office.

Rhyme schemes, metaphors and reflections on anomie fly fast and furious in the Bowie-tinged Let’s Don’t Die At the Stoplight – like the gunfire White once found himself caught in while waiting at an intersection:

It’s not what he expects
But how he expects it
So quick to arrive
So grisly an exit
The eye takes an eye
And the windshield reflects it
You can put it into gear again….

White imagines Chet Baker in the afterlife, trying to pull himself together in Dentures, a mashup of piano-fueled Bowie balladry and Richard Thompson ghoulishness:

You’re either making art or getting paid
And the angel licked his nails and thought,
“All the really good ones die afraid.”
Put down your horn, you won’t need it
The day you’re born, you’re defeated…

Chester’s enigmatic organ solo is spot-on beyond belief.

On Foot, a brisk new wave/powerpop burner, is a murder ballad: the cruellest joke is musical rather than lyrical. The most Bowie-inspired song here is the album’s bittersweetly catchy title track, White channeling Mick Ronson with his solo in a surreal tale of a LA cop casually making a shocking existential choice.

One of White’s recurrent themes is the question of where everyday mishegas crosses the line, whether that might endanger merely the crazy person or everyone around them. Gail, Where’s Your Shoes is a prime example, complete with tantalizingly woozy guitar solo. Is this a thinly veiled portrait of a woman pouring herself out of a cab on a Williamsburg avenue in the fall of 2006? Hmm…..

White builds a more overtly cynical, vengeful narrative over Stonesy sarcasm in Wasn’t It Here: as he does throughout the album, Stepro’s casual flurries drive the murderous point home. White hits his chorus pedal for icy 80s gloss in Heavy Lifting, the album’s funniest number.

“Suicide rates are an urban myth if you look into it,” White’s titular Karate Dentist relates over a backdrop that could be Steely Dan at their most rocking, White closes the album with Monrovia, a distantly Turkish (or Smiths) tinged kiss-off anthem, and the only place where he stops trying to conceal the snarl beneath the surface. He’s no stranger to best-albums-of-the-year list here: his 2013 album Bob and his 2020 release Leonard at the Audit both topped the full-length charts here, and this may end up at the top of the crop of 2021 as well.

Drifting Disconnection and Distant Disquiet From Lizzie Loveless

Singer/keyboardist Lizzie Loveless’ new album You Don’t Know – streaming at Bandcamp – falls somewhere between recent Courtney Marie Andrews and Julee Cruise. The former member of indie sister act Teen sings in an unadorned, unpretentious high soprano and likes strange synth textures. There’s a persistent unease to the songs here, no surprise considering the circumstances we all find ourselves under these days.

“You don’t know what it means to be me, and you don’t know what it means to stay,” she intones in the album’s opening, title track, a summery, bittersweet blue-eyed soul ballad in 6/8 time. The shimmering, sweeping, twinkling layers of keys make a decent digital facsimile of how, say, Dusty Springfield might have approached this song half a century ago.

Loveless’s disconnected, anomie-stricken vocals float over a skeletal guitar figure and more of those starry keys in The Joke, which could be about drugs, or just emotional abandonment – or both. There’s an even more opiated, hazily Lynchian pop feel to Memory: “When memory fails, does muscle prevail?” Loveless wants to know.

Eyes of a Man has surreal, techy new wave touches, Loveless ambitiously tackling the problem of viewing romance from a male perspective. Dudes don’t exactly come off well here.

The album’s fifth track, titled Loveless, also has a synthy new wave feel, but a more hypnotically propulsive one. She blends oldschool gospel allusions with wafting synth ambience in Hold Me Close and follows with Window, rising more quickly out of the ether to a catchy, shuffling anthem.

New York, Yesterday – how’s that for a gutpunch of a title? – is not a lockdown chronicle but a wintry, wistfully motorik reminiscence of a doomed relationship. It’s the best song on the album. There’s unexpected energy and a squiggly, funky bassline beneath the surface sheen of Underneath. Loveless stays with the upbeat (ok, that’s a relative word here) energy to wind up the album with Again, a catchy four-chord trip-hop groove.

Delicate, Warmly Enveloping Music For Harp and Guitar From Mirabai Ceiba

Mirabai Ceiba play delicate, warmly thoughtful, often hypnotic pastoral themes on harp and guitar. Sometimes harpist Angelika Baumbach colors the music with simple piano phrases, intertwining with Markus Sieber’s meticulously fingerpicked acoustic guitar, along with occasional resonant electric textures. Their new album The Quiet Hour – streaming at Bandcamp – has an understatedly persistent, optimistic, meditative quality. As you might expect, this duo likes long songs.

The first track is titled Ma. Baumbach sings the gentle mantra “My heart” over and over as the loopy web of acoustic guitar and harp grows increasingly intricate behind her.

The pattern continues in She (an original, not the 60s pop hit), a stately series of syncopated triplet figures underpinning Baumbach’s low-key meditation on connecting with the archetypal female.

Harp Lullaby is exactly that – it reminds of Kurt Leege‘s starry jazz lullabies

Baumbach duets with guest Marketa Irglova in the hushed, bittersweet Britfolk-flavored Take on a Thousand Forms. Que Quede Escrito features a stark string section and minimalist piano: Baumbach sings this tender spiritual in her native Spanish.

The album’s big meditative loopmusic epic is Ra Ma. The duo close the record with The Time Given to Us, its most bucolic and folk-tinged but also most anthemic number. If you’re feeling stressed – and who isn’t right now? – give this a spin.

Fun fact: the duo’s bandname is a shout out to both pioneering medieval Indian feminist and composer Mira Bai, and also the Ceiba tree, sacred to Mayan mythology.