New York Music Daily

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Category: psychedelic pop

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.

Greta Keating Brings Her Catchy, Eclectic Tunesmithing to the Lower East Side

Although there’s a long history of family legacies in folk music around the world, and plenty of cross-generational jazz pollination, rock tends to die with the first generation. The good rock legacies are a very short list: the Dylans (Bob and Jakob), the Rigbys (Amy and Hazel), the Lennons (John and Sean), with the Allisons (Mose and Amy) at the top of the list if you count brilliance that transcends jazz and Americana.

Add the Keatings to that list. Greta Keating is the daughter of Matt Keating – whose prolific and darkly lyrical songwriting career spans janglerock and soul, and goes back to the 90s – and his wife Emily Spray, a somewhat less prolific songwriter but an equally breathtaking singer. In this case, the apple didn’t fall far. Greta Keating has a soaring voice, writes catchy, anthemic songs, has a flair for the mot juste and like her dad plays a number of instruments. She’s bringing those songs to the small room at the Rockwood on Sept 23 at 7 PM.

Also like her dad, she writes a lot of songs. Her Soundcloud page has a bunch, some which could fall into the bedroom-pop category, others which are more fleshed out with acoustic and electric guitars, judicious piano, organ and occasional synthesized strings.

Keating has a thing for starry, drifting Julee Cruise-like tableaux, and there are a bunch here, including It’s a Drug, Ain’t It Strange and Hungry Dog. My Perfect Man is torchier, in waltz time, as is The Cold Makes Me Think, a hazy, spacious piano ballad that brings to mind A. A. Williams.

Keating goes into opaque trip-hop in Betwixt and Between, then reaches for quietly venomous, cynical Lynchian pop vibe with 15-Year-Old Boy. Too Late to Lay could be an early Everything But the Girl song with more delicate vocals, while Head Down to My Toes is a determined adventure into big assertive anthemic stadium rock.

How Could You Be But You Were is a bittersweet, swing-tinged stroll. The best song on the page is Small As I Felt, where she raises the angst to redline over Orbisonian crescendos: it screams out for sweeping orchestral strings and a kettledrum.

A Girl With Cheeks Damp is another stunner, a brooding plunge into jazzy 70s soul. The funniest tune on the page is Adderall Song: crystal meth makes people do the craziest things, huh?

The rest of the many songs in this long playlist range from soul (Hard to Please), to driving, sarcastic rock (My Body Is Allergic); dreamy Stereolab sonics (Out of Nowhere) and fingersnapping Peggy Lee jazz (Shadow Shadow).

There’s even more on Keating’s youtube channel, including a Telecaster-driven powerpop shout-out to girl-bonding empowerment. If the future of New York rock tunesmithing is your thing, Keating’s songs will resonate with you.

A Gorgeous New Album and a Williamsburg Gig by Purist Tunesmith Alice Cohen

Alice Cohen plays purist, often gorgeously melodic, artsy rock anthems and sings with an unpretentious delivery that’s sometimes cheery and sometimes borders on conspiratorial. On her new album Moonrising – streaming at Bandcamp – she plays most of the instruments herself, building a lush bed of acoustic and electric guitars and vintage synths over an unobtrusive drum-machine beat. Multi-reedman David Lackner and multi-percussionist Adrian Knight flesh out Cohen’s elegant arrangements. She’s playing Union Pool on August 24 at 9 PM. Since the venue has fallen under the spell of surveillance-state digital ticketing, the cover charge there lately has been measured in dollars and cents. It stands to reason that the door girl will round it up to sixteen bucks for those of us who are ahead of the curve and have gone to #cashalways.

Cohen opens the record with Wild Wolf, a swaying, twangy, Lynchian trip-hop ballad: this “eight-track Cadillac cruising through the milky way” seems to be on its way back from the Black Lodge. Then she looks back to the bittersweet starriness of 80s janglerock in Bodies in Motion. It could be a track from the Church’s Seance album, with a woman out front.

Cohen picks up the pace with Life in a Bag, an insistent, 90s-flavored downstroke anthem spiced with neoromantic piano flourishes. After the starry keyboard instrumental Inner Galaxies, she goes back to a pensive, richly textured sway with Under Chandeliers, her watery guitars and glimmering keys mingling with Knight’s vibraphone and Lackner’s echoing, spiraling soprano sax.

Baby’s Fine is a surreal mashup of early 80s new wave pop with hip-hop lyrics: it’s hard to figure out where the sax stops and what could be an old Juno synth kicks in. Vanilla Tea is a glistening backbeat stadium rock nocturne without the bombast – an oxymoron, sure, but just try to imagine.

The driftiest, most opaque song on the album is Telepathic Postcards. Cohen follows that with Queen Anne’s Lace, a breezy, jazz-inflected ballad in a Stylistics vein that she takes ten years forward in time – or forty years forward, depending on how neo-retro it seems to you. She closes the record with Fragile Flowers, following a serpentine series of chord changes with Lackner’s sax floating above. It’s been a slow year for rock records, at least compared to what we were used to before March of 2020, but this is one of the best of 2022 so far.

A Lusciously Layered, Anthemic New Art-Rock Record From Charlie Nieland

The 2020 totalitarian takeover didn’t stop Lusterlit mastermind Charlie Nieland from making another album: he pretty much did it himself, with a little help from outside. His latest release, Divisions – streaming at Bandcamp – is much more lush and majestically textured than you would expect, considering the circumstances. Predictably, it’s more guitar-centric than Lusterlit, although the songs are just as darkly luminous, with echoes of 80s goth and 90s Britrock. And they’re catchy as hell.

His trebly guitar through a cheap amp explodes into a majestic roar in the slow, swaying opening anthem, Always on Fire. Kleptocrats in basic black populate this grim, arson-infested gentrification-era Brooklyn tableau. Nieland is a one-man band, blending all the guitars, bass and keys, with a rotating drum chair shared by Brian Geltner, Billy Loose and Lusterlit’s Susan Hwang.

Nieland’s icy chorus-box chords and keening slide lines linger over hypnotic, suspensefully droning bass in the album’s title track: if Wire played long songs with an American accent, this might qualify as such.

Exploding is a catchy, bulked-up, artfully layered powerpop ballad. Violinist Heather Cole and cellist Patricia Santos build a lushly orchestrated coda in The Falling Man, which could be the Jayhawks taking a stab at a mid-90s Blur song. Then Nieland strips down the sound for I Refuse, a buzzy fuzz bass-driven new wave tune that wouldn’t be out of place in the Dada Paradox catalog.

He builds an insistent, minimalist menace before bringing the echoey guitars into The Land of Accidents, a broodingly rhythmic existentialist exploration. Meta Incognita, a metaphorically loaded explorer’s tale, has a tricky 15/4 beat and lush synth orchestration over insistent guitars.

Another Night on Earth is slower and starrier: the Eels meet Stereolab. Tightrope is not the ELO classic but an original, and it’s the album’s catchiest anthem, Hwang a one-woman choir wafting overhead.

Then Santos becomes the orchestra in Skin, a dreamy ballad, the Smiths without the pout. Nieland turns up the chilly guitars in So Few Have So Much, a swaying, syncopated dreampop song.

The allusively ominous Some Things You Keep to Yourself and the album’s closing cut, Pawns, could be late-80s Siouxsie with a guy out front – and superior production.

Allusive, Intriguingly Lyrical Songs and a Long Island City Gig From Singer Sofia Rei

Singer Sofia Rei has carved out an individualistic niche somewhere between the folk music and nueva cancion of her native Argentina, jazz, and the techier side of the avant garde. She has a thing for pastiches, loops and surrealism, although there’s often a very serious undercurrent beneath the lively vocal acrobatics. Her latest album, Umbral – streaming at her music page – hit the web just before the fleeting few weeks of freedom here in New York in June of last year. She sings in Spanish with her usual blend of disarming directness and constant dynamic shifts.

The opening number, Un Mismo Cielo is loopmusic as Bjork might have done it in Spanish, with Martin Vejarano’s gaita flute throwing off rustic overtones before Leo Genovese’s swirly psychedelic synth and steady, spare piano enter the mix behind the cheery, enticing vocals. It’s a “when will I see you again” scenario – symbolism much?

The loops grow swirlier and more hypnotic as the second track, La Otra coalesces, then Rei shifts into a trickier, more emphatic rhythm with her charango. It’s quite a contrast with the creepy, mythologically symbolist lyrics.

Escarabajo Digital (Digital Beetle) is a blippy, soaring, metaphorically loaded mashup of 80s electropop and Argentine plains folk:

Herencia de otros tiempos
Difícil cambiar la ecuación
La sílaba equivocada del poema
[Inheritance from another time
Hard to change the equation
Wrong stanza of the poem]

The backdrop is much the same in Helvetica 12, a playful, stream-of-consciousness salute to the fine points of language. Rei’s charango mingles with JC Maillard’s spare ukulele in La Caida (The Fall), her anguished, elegaic vocals again contrasting with an alternately atmospheric and blithely rhythmic background.

La Quinta Pata (Fifth Leg) is a snide dis, Rei’s collage of multitracks flitting over Jorge Roeder’s dancing bass and Tupac Mantilla’s bounding but restrained drums. As upbeat as the album is, the final cut, Negro Sobre Blanco (Black on White) is downright chilling, with its spare, stark layers of charango, guitars and cuatro from guest Jorge Glem. Is this a portrait of a lockdown suicide, or a death from the lethal Covid shot?

Comenzó en la mañana de hoy
Sin saber
Percibió que el aire le era hostil
Algo rondaba su corazón
Algo decía que iba a explotar por dentro
[It started this morning
Not knowing
He felt the hostile air around him
Something haunted his heart
Something said it was going to explode inside him]

Sofia Rei’s next gig is outdoors at 7 PM on August 16 at Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City. Take the to 7 to Vernon-Jackson or the G to 21st/Van Alst and walk to the river.

A Subtle, Soaring New Art-Rock Gem From Carol Lipnik

Singer Carol Lipnik‘s career was derailed by the lockdown in more ways than one. By March of 2020, she was already putting the icing on the sonic confections on her album Goddess of Imperfection, She ended up in limbo until March of this year, when she finally released that long-awaited follow-up to her 2015 art-rock masterpiece Almost Back to Normal in  But there’s more. She had two other albums in the can! She wrote the second of the three, Blue Forest – streaming at her music page – in an 1893 stone tower at the Yaddo artist retreat, where she’d been invited. It was worth the wait.

Lipnik may be a streetwise Coney Island-bred New Yorker, but her songs are galactic. Where Goddess of Imperfection is lavish and orchestral, Blue Forest is more intimately ethereal. Lipnik’s practically five-octave range mingles within a sometimes swirling, sometimes cascading mix of Kyle Sanna’s guitar alongside her longtime pianist Matt Kanelos, with Mathias Künzli on percussion.

The loosely connecting thread between the songs is the imperiled state of our natural world, a persistent theme throughout Lipnik’s music. She opens with the title track, a gorgeous, ELO-tinged mini-anthem with a towering, glistening coda from Kanelos.

“While our world was coming apart, we dreamed,” she intones soberly in the second song, All the Colors of the Sky, Kanelos’ stately, rippling, baroque-tinged piano behind Sanna’s spare fingerpicking. “Will we miss it when it’s gone?” she asks, on the way to one of her signature, breathtakingly operatic crescendos.

“There’s radiant energy, fire in the sky, darkness is coming to open our eyes,” she sings in the stately, similarly baroque Birds of a Feather. You want prophetic or what?

Sanna’s chiming guitar and drifting synth provide a starry backdrop for I Don’t Work Hard, an elegantly soaring cabaret number. The album’s only cover is Thrice Toss These Oaken Ashes, a rare gem by Elizabethan composer and poet Thomas Campion, Lipnik channeling both grit and poignancy over Sanna’s elegant lute-like ukulele work.

She goes back toward a sly, knowing cabaret ambience as Sanna and Kanelos supply bouncy cheer in Tick Bite: “The flame that burns within you is the same flame that burns you,” Lipnik observes. The final cut is A Pure Dose of Mercy, a spacious, minutely nuanced meditation on the pros and cons of staying on the sunny side of the street…including when it gets dangerous. It’s a characteristic blend of deceptively simple, straightforward songcraft and vocal pyrotechnics. and an apt way to close the record. Even better, there’s another one on the way!

Mary Fahl Reinvents Iconic and Obscure Art-Rock and 70s Songs

Like so many people around the world over the past year, singer Mary Fahl was dealing with the loss of two of her family members – her mom, and also her sister. To cope, the former October Project frontwoman immersed herself in music which had left an indelible mark on her early years, and the result was the album Can’t Get It Out of My Head, streaming at Spotify. That title is deliberate: the iconic ELO song is the centerpiece of this rare covers collection that’s worth hearing. Fahl is playing the album release show at City Winery on August 9 at 7:30 PM; you can get in for $22.

It’s a collection of ten songs, and an occasional return to the chilly, atmospheric, occasionally gothic-tinged October Project sound. The first is the title track: Jeff Lynne’s sweepingly orchestrated, bittersweet original set the stage for the rest of the classic 1974 Eldorado album. Reduced to lowest terms, it’s about being unable to unsee something. Is it ELO’s symphonic grandeur that imbues their version with so much hope, the blinding flash of discovering pure existential freedom? And is it Fahl’s sober, restrained vocals against her bandmate Mark Doyle’s elegant, pensive layers of guitars and keyboards that seems to more strongly underscore the tortuous inaction of the second verse, and crushing philosophical weight of the third? Or does this just reflect the zeitgeist, the horrors of the world post-March 2020? It’s never safe to read too much into artistic intention: Lynne always said he was ok with whatever interpretation a listener gave a song if it helped them somehow. Clearly it helped Fahl.

If Can’t Get It Out of My Head is about piercing the veil of maya, Comfortably Numb is the reverse of that. Fahl completely reinvents the song as a sinister seduction, speeding it up as Doyle becomes a low-key, one-man Pink Floyd.

Fahl does the album’s final cut, Richard Thompson’s The Great Valerio as spare, drifting, hypnotic trip-hop: it’s the real comfortably numb here, and the closest thing to the October Project. How does she manage to remake the Moody Blues’ Tuesday Afternoon? By finding its inner ghazal, stretching her voice to its formidable low limits! The sweep of the string section – violinists Edgar Turmajyan, Jonathan Hwang, Neomi Miloradovic and Joe Davoli, violist Jessica Tumajyan and cellist Kate LaVerne over Josh Dekaney’s elegant drums complete an exotically symphonic tableau.

Fahl and Doyle recast Nick Drake’s River Man as subtly turbulent Supertramp-style keyboard art-rock. Fahl’s cover of the Stones’ Goodbye Ruby Tuesday looks back to late 60s Marianne Faithfull, but with considerably more energy (and a great inside orchestral-Stones joke). Likewise, Fahl takes the Mamas and the Papas’ Got A Feelin’ to a simmering chamber-pop intensity: Lou Reed could only have wished to have coaxed half as much power out of Nico on the Chelsea Girl album. Fahl also infuses her take of Neil Young’s Don’t Let It Bring You Down with welcome, wary energy.

The last two songs are more obscure. Fahl sticks with epic grandeur in Judy Collins’ Since You’ve Asked, then channels hope against hope throughout George Harrison’s Beware of Darkness: “It’s not what you are here for,” Fahl implores. There aren’t many rock cover albums that are worth hearing, but like Mary Lee Kortes‘ take on Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, this one’s in very select company and one of the best albums of 2022 so far.

An Eclectic Triplebill at a Legendary DIY Spot on the 26th

Rubulad might be the last attraction in New York that you would expect to have survived the lockdown. But the long-running warehouse party, which has been housed all over Brooklyn and occasionally Manhattan since the late 90s, is up and running again. With the massive exodus out of this city since March of 2020, it’s likely that much of the audience that gravitated toward that kind of full-blown excess has flown the coop. Just to be clear, this Burning Man-style confluence of what could involve space cake, bathtub absinthe, body painting, tarot readings and eclectic music is not everyone’s cup of tea. The organizers are now in their fifties, so the crowd is likely to be more mixed that you might imagine. For hardy souls who can handle it, the next party is on July 26. Music starts at 8 with a solo show by ambient/avant garde violist Jessica Pavone, then surrealist multi-instrumentalist Dave Ruder leading a quartet, and cinematic retro 60s soundtrack-soul group Dodi (f.k.a. Transistor Ray) headlining. The current Rubulad digs are on the Bushwick/Queens border and you have to email for directions. Cover is $10 cash at the door,

Transistor Ray’s lone recording so far is the short album You’ll Never Get to Heaven Without a Broken Heart, which came out right before the 2020 lockdown and is streaming at Bandcamp. The first track, Till the Trees All Leaf is a surreal mashup of loungey 60s jazz-pop with a hint of classic piano boogie-woogie, neoretro Italian film themes and full-blown psychedelia, in the same vein as Tredici Bacci. Brothers Giovanni and Giancarlo Saldarriaga pounce and linger on guitar and bass, respectively, over drummer Daniel Shubmeh’s dynamic shifts as frontwoman Suri holds it all together with an unassailable calm.

“I left my heart in the rain for much too long,” Suri confides in the bittersweetly soul-tinged April Sundays, Caley Monahon Ward’s Wurlitzer organ drifting over the band’s spiky tube-amp clang. The band go deeper into 60s blue-eyed soul-pop territory on last track, Hourglass in Sand: the counterpoint between the chiming guitar and Adrian Knight’s insistent piano as Tracy Brooks’ trumpet wafts through the mix is a neat touch. It’s a fair bet their live show is just as eclectic and will involve some of the other players on the bill.

Brilliant Bassist Yula Beeri Brings Her Upbeat New Duo Project to Long Island City

Yula Beeri played bass in wildly influential circus rock band World Inferno. That group met a tragic demise with the death of their frontman Jack Terricloth, murdered by the Covid shot just over a year ago. However, Beeri has always stayed busy with other groups, from the sizzling, slinky Israeli-tinged Nanuchka, to a rotating cast of characters she calls Yula & the Extended Family. Her latest project is Y&I with drummer Isaac Gardner. Their debut album Holy Vol. 1 is streaming at Spotify. They’re playing outdoors at Culture Lab in Long Island City on July 16 at 5 PM.

It was a lot of fun watching the two working up this material over the course of a series of shows at LIC Bar at the top of the street in the months before the 2020 lockdown. There aren’t many bassist-fronted bands, let alone singers who can play Beeri’s serpentine, melodic lines at the same time. Throughout her shows there, she’d sometimes play along to a loop pedal, sometimes adding layers live and building a song on top of them while Gardner played low-key funk, and shuffles, and dancefloor beats behind her.

The new album is a lot more lighthearted and techy than Beeri’s harder-rocking earlier work. The first track, Cub sets the stage with its tricky tempo, woozy processed layers of vocals and flurrying drums. The duo follow with Slip & Slide, a cheery, aptly slithery trip-hop tune with dub echoes, some icy raga guitar licks and a lickety-split ska outro

Gate (as in “finish gate”) has playfully syncopated layers of vocals over a muted, galloping beat where Beeri’s guitar and bass tracks pick up with her signature chromatic edge. The duo go back to trip-hop with a more minimalist, loopy, skronky Goldfrapp/Garbage edge in the next track, Wire.

Beeri hits her chilly vintage chorus pedal for an icy strobe in the album’s title track, Gardner rattling the traps vintage one-drop style at the end of a phrase. The last song is This House, Beeri’s disembodied sci-fi vocal multitracks and a sly hip-hop interlude over Gardner’s loose-limbed swing beat. There’s plenty of room in the parking lot in Queens to dance to this.

The Irrepressible NYChillharmonic Bring Their Epic Art-Rock to Queens Tonight

The NYChillharmonic are one of this city’s most enjoyably explosive bands. Much of the time they sound like symphonic Radiohead, the big obvious influence in frontwoman/composer Sara McDonald’s mighty anthems. Her lush, dynamically rising and falling arrangements can be just as thorny and packed with unexpected twists and turns. She and the band are back in action onstage tonight, July 8 at 7:30 PM outdoors at Culture Lab in Long Island City.

They’ve also been recording lately, all the more impressive considering how hard it became to find studio space for a 22-piece jazz band during the mass psychosis in the wake of the 2020 lockdown. Their most recent material is all up at Bandcamp, including their latest single, I Don’t Even Want It, which sounds like My Brightest Diamond at their bubbliest and most blustery, with a whoomp-whoomp dancefloor thud.

Their previous single, Mean, has an allusive, Middle Eastern-tinged chromatic feel: it’s the crunchiest, heaviest guitar tune they’ve put out yet, which makes sense considering that it’s a lot easier to mix a simple, straightforward rocker that’s been recorded over the web in a couple dozen different sonic environments.

Their first full-length album, simple titled 1, came out in 2019. McDonald sings and also plays keys on this one alongside the lush, often fiery textures of the brass, reeds, strings and rhythm section. The first track is Surface Tension, a catchy, pulsing, cheerily orchestrated new wave tune with warmly hazy dips and lulls.

The weird effects on the vocals disappear serendipitously in Aubergine, a cleverly syncopated mashup of newschool disco, ba-bump cabaret and 21st century classical string composition. Surrealism is big in McDonald’s songs, especially with the wry contrast between a brassy march and drifting, enveloping psychedelia in Wax Garden.

The Radiohead influence is most apparent in Blumen, from McDonald’s warpy, keening synth, to the spacy electronic effects and the trickily circling rhythm beneath her puffy, elegantly textured syncopation. The best song on the album is Observer Effect, McDonald pushing the limits of her vocals over a tightly rapidfire groove with the band rising from lush to stormy.

The strings punch through the mist in Patterned, the album’s most epic anthem, playful individual voicings rising to lavish waves. The last track on the record is Sun, an aptly titled, comfortably enveloping coda with an inventive choral arrangement.