New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Category: psychedelic pop

An Appetizing New Album From Piroshka

Piroshka is Russian for “little dumpling.” But the sound of this British supergroup of 80s and 90s rock veterans has a lot more flavor than your average pot-sticker. Their new album Love Drips and Gathers is streaming at Spotify. Guitarists Miki Berenyi (founding member of dreampop and 90s Britrock visionaries Lush) and KJ “Moose” McKillop choose their spots to echo and clang as the ambience wafts behind them. It’s an interesting synthesis of everything Lush was, from the foundationally icy dreampop of their early career through the more straightforwardly anthemic sound they ended with.

The two guitars linger and mingle in the opening track, Hastings before bassist Mick Conroy and drummer Justin Welch raise the energy. But the hypnotic spacerock ambience remains the same, at least until Terry Edwards’ flugelhorn signals an undulating crescendo out, pure late 80s Britpop.

The Knife Thrower’s Daughter has a muted, drifting art-rock ambience and one of Berenyi’s classic, allusively menacing narratives over increasingly pulsing atmospherics. From there they segue into Scratching at the Lid, another dark Berenyi lyric and icy chorus-box guitars over a brisk new wave bassline.

Lovable is the missing link between immersively artsy early 90s Lush and a big early influence, Siouxsie & the Banshees, in nocturnal mode five years earlier. With its echoing, puffing string synth and brooding minor-key ambience, VO is also a throwback to that era and one of the strongest songs on the album.

Set to a steady backbeat with layered guitar textures and a big, stabbing keyboard crescendo, Wanderlust could be a recent, poppier song by the Church with a woman out front. The album’s high point is another backbeat tune, Echo Loco, turning an old pop formula on its head: catchy, biting verse, nebulous chorus.

The closest thing to an epic here is Familiar, a rippling spacescape. They close with We Told You, a cinematic, goth-tinged mostly instrumental theme. 

One complaint about this album: Berenyi’s vocals are too low in the mix, and oddly processed in places, a move that backfires more often than not. This blog’s owner saw Lush live more than once back in the 90s and insists that she was as strong a singer onstage, maybe even more so, than she was in the studio, and there’s no reason to think that’s changed.

Piroshka are touring Europe this year, but until the specter of medical “passports” has been put back in its coffin for good, it’s not “safe” to buy tickets to a venue where at the moment you may not be able to enter without taking a lethal injection.

Catchy, Bittersweet 60s Pop-Influenced Sounds and a Couple of Brooklyn Gigs From War Violet

Songwriter Jummy Aremu performs under the name War Violet. She writes catchy, anthemic, assertive songs and sings in a resonant, unpretentious voice. Her music has a strong 60s influence, both on the folk side and the pop side: Burt Bacharach-era Dionne Warwick is a good comparison. Aremu sold out the vinyl edition of her latest ep, Getaway, but it’s still streaming at Bandcamp. She’s at Our Wicked Lady on July 27 at 10 PM for $12. Then she’s at Pete’s on July 31 at 10 for the tip jar.

The first track on the record, Just For the Night is one of the most elegant songs ever written about a one-night stand, the synth orchestration sweeping over Arenmu’s spare guitar. “I’ve been to all of the parties in my day,” Aremu intones soberly in the album’s bossa-tinged second track: they must not have been much fun.

The big, exasperatedly poignant singalong here is the title track: “I don’t need this, I don’t need this,” is the mantra. With just emphatic acoustic guitar, snappy bass and a string synth, it’s simple, direct and will be wafting through your head for hours

The last track is I Hope I See You Again, a mix of sparkle and scruffiness: “Just look to the wall for answers big and small.” War Violet also has a Soundcloud page which probably predates the Bandcamp tracks and as you can imagine, the songs are rougher, but it shows she hit the ground running. Since last year’s lockdown, there’s been more attrition than ever in what you might call the rock scene here: good thing for us that War Violet stuck around.

Cellist Mia Pixley Puts Out a Thoughtful, Playful, Deceptively Deep Album of Soul Songs and Chamber Pop

Before she went solo, Mia Pixley was the cellist in the Debutante Hour, an all-female trio who charmed and needled New York audiences with their quirky, deceptively biting chamber pop throughout the late zeros and early teens. Since then, the individual members have done plenty of work on their own – Maria Sonevytsky in the worlds of Balkan and Ukrainian music, and Susan Hwang with the noir-tinged , cinematic Lusterlit and the erratically brilliant lit-pop collective the Bushwick Book Club.

On her new album Margaret in the Wild – streaming at Bandcamp – Pixley glides elegantly through undulating soul grooves and the occasional minimalist classical theme or chamber pop interlude. She plays bass and guitar voicings on the cello along with classical and blues phrasing, and her vocals have more depth and expressiveness than ever. Her supporting cast is first-rate: Ruth Davies and Kevin Goldberg sharing bass duties, Javier Santiago and Bryan Simmons each on piano, Luis Salcedo on guitar, Nahuel Bronzini contributing slide guitar and Wurlitzer, Barbara Higbie on mandolin, Aaron Kruziki on organ, Michaelle Goerlitz and Amelie Hinman on percussion, Isaac Schwartz on drums and Maryam Qudus on keyboards. This is one of those rare albums that sounds like nothing else that’s been released this year. Whatever you call this music – soul, cello rock, something that hasn’t been categorized yet – Pixley owns it.

She opens the record with Core, a terse but lushly orchestrated, nocturnally sweeping overture, the cello balanced by gentle, twinkly piano. In the Daylight, a lustrous, summery tableau, has Pixley’s lithe cello multitracks rising over a vamping lullaby. She follows with Good Taste, a slinky, catchy, soul and hip-hop-infused individualist’s anthem: “Don’t their education, don’t need their ok,” Pixley asserts. If songs like this got played on commercial radio, this would be the monster hit.

Mama’s Got Snacks is funkier, with a New Orleans groove and an amusingly aphoristic, defiantly feminist lyric. In Voices – a setting of a Christopher Shaw poem – Pixley reaches from hazy chamber pop to an assertively bouncy cello-rock theme.

The album’s centerpiece is Everything Is Slow Motion, which begins as a moody, mystical, gorgeously drifting tone poem awash in layers of cello and rippling piano before Pixley hits a trip-hop groove. It reminds of Nina Simone at her most avant-garde.

Pixley orchestrates a carefree, Malian-tinged tune in African Prayer – and is that a balafon, or just Pixley’s cello running through a pitch pedal? In Between Sound comes across as a sunny reverse image of Everything Is Slow Motion, with distant hints of Indian music and Bob Marley. She wraps up the album with Watering, an attractively rippling folk-pop tune with piano and guitar, the closest thing to the Debutante Hour here. There’s a lot of depth on this record: if we get to the point where there’s still enough of a reason to pull together a best-of-2021list, this should be on it.

A Brilliant, Spot-On 60s-Style Psychedelic Debut From Langan Frost & Wane

Langan Frost & Wane are a fantastic psychedelic folk-pop band. Their debut album – which isn’t online yet – straddles the line between period-perfect homage to their influences from the 60s, and parody of psychedelic excess. Brian Langan, RJ Gilligan (a.k.a. Frost) and Nam Wayne‘s songcraft and musicianship is very precise and very British, distantly sinister Elizabethan folk surrealism spiced with a hit of good blotter. The blend of acoustic and electric textures is elegant; most of these songs are over in well under four minutes, sometimes much less. Yet this isn’t sunshine pop: there’s a persistent disquieted edge here. Acid is scary stuff, after all.

The opening track, Perhaps the Sorcerer sets the stage: it’s Jethro Tull meets the Peanut Butter Conspiracy out behind the Moody Blues’ tour van in a shady Laurel Canyon back alley around 1970. With its gorgeously uneasy close-harmonied vocals, mellotron and faux-Balkan guitars, it’s done in less than 2:30.

The Dandelion has somberly arpeggiated folk guitar behind all sorts of goofy mid-60s effects including a jawharp, akin to an acoustic Dukes of Stratosphear. Falcon Ridge is a medieval Scottish-tinged waltz – the singer assures his girl that he will be there with “wagons of wine in tow.”

Babe and the Devil, a murder mystery tale, is a delta blues as the Stones would have done it on Beggars Banquet, complete with djembe instead of Charlie Watts’ drums. The band channel the Pretty Things at their trippy mid-60s peak in King Laughter, guitar sitar oscillating and clanging behind the song’s troubled narrative: where do good times go when they’re over?

Delicate hammer-on folk guitar mingles with glockenspiel in Everyday Phoenix. Frozen Shell comes across as a tripped-out take on gloomy Celtic balladry. On the surface, Learn the Names of the Plants sounds like Peter Paul & Mary, but there’s guile here: “Know the nightshade from the blueberry and live to see tomorrow!”

Gentle penumbral oscillations from the guitars enhance the unease in the stark, minor-key Libra Moon. Is Alchemist of Hazy Row about a sad drug dealer or a bereaved father? Maybe neither – the soaring violin solo is a tantalizingly plaintive touch, and the ending is way too good to give away. It might be the best song on the album.

The trio go back to SF Sorrow-era Pretty Things for The Weaver and the Traveler, with hobbits on the keys to liven the somber mood. Then they shift from a pounding, echoey dulcimer theme to Moody Blues sweep and Syd Barrett playfulness in Orange Magic

Set to an aptly feathery web of acoustic guitars, Everywing is a brooding medieval existentialist love story. She Walks Alone could be a sequel, and is the only remotely Beatlesque track here. The album closes with the pensive, enigmatic, violin-fueled Diomyria. Admittedly, 2021 has been the slowest year for rock records since rock records first existed. But even in a busy year, this would be one of the best.

A Colorfully Optimistic, Tropically-Tinged New Album From Trumpeter-Singer Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson’s individualism crosses many genres. She’s a trumpeter who also sings in a low-key, uncluttered mezzo-soprano, writes lyrical songs that bridge the worlds of jazz, chamber pop and theatre music, and takes inspiration from sounds of the tropics. Her new album Kaleidoscope is streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening track, Aspiration – how’s THAT for a loaded word in 2021! – is a benediction with gentle flutters from the rest of the band behind Wilson’s calm, comforting riffs. Violinist Charles Burnham and guitarist John Schott echo the bandleader before she brings the song full circle.

Drummer Matt Wilson’s nimble traps and bassist Jerome Harris’ tersely leaping riffs anchor the second tune, Presence, a lithely cheery soca number with a bright Burnham solo at the center. Wilson moves to the mic over Myra Melford’s low-key gospel piano in Young Woman, a shout-out to the pianist, a mentor and friend who seems to have lifted her out of a very dark place at a key moment.

The band return to a jauntily syncopated calypso-tinged beat in Color, lit up by a carefree, triumphant Schott solo, Melford bringing the lights down a little with her own glimmering judiciousness afterward.

The album’s subtly bossa-inflected title track opens with some gorgeous bell-like piano/guitar harmonies, Wilson adding a reflective, muted solo, Schott working his way out of a thorny thicket to jubilation.

Felta Road, a warmly front-porch folk-tinged number has Melford’s incisive, calypso ripples contrasting with Wilson and Burnham’s spaciously energetic lines overhead. Likewise, Quiet Rust has a bucolic swing, a bittersweet, potently imagistic look at picking up the pieces and moving on. It’s the best song on the album.

The best of the instrumentals is Night Still, Melford and Harris setting an eerily modal scene livened somewhat by Wilson’s enigmatically catchy trumpet, Burnham drifting uneasily through the glimmer.

The rhythm section scramble and cluster behind Wilson’s sonorous trumpet as The Hit slowly coalesces, then pulses along on Harris’ catchy upper-register riffage, Melford adding contrasting intensity with her bluesy modalities, matched by Burnham in turn.

Hearing this band play more-or-less straight-up country music on Wilson’s cover of M. Ward’s Lullaby+Exile is a trip: who knew Melford had Nashville slip-key piano up her sleeve? The band slow down again for With Grace, Wilson’s wafting lines giving way to a spiky Harris solo ushering in a lively carnaval scene. The party continues on the album’s last track, Go, a dramatic, lickety-split mashup of soca, circus rock, salsa and a bit of a chase scene.

Fun fact: Wilson was once head of puppet programming at Lincoln Center Out of Doors – which involved the kind of puppets worn on hands to entertain crowds, not the kind that walk around spouting World Economic Forum fear propaganda to keep those crowds from being entertained.

Aviva Chernick Mashes Up Haunting Old Ladino Songs With Americana

Aviva Chernick has an expressive, honeyed voice and leads an eclectic, sometimes psychedelically tinged band who reinvent old songs from across the Sephardic diaspora. Her album La Sirena, which also contains several of Chernick’s originals, is streaming at Bandcamp. If you think old Jewish songs and American country music have nothing in common, you haven’t heard this strangely beguiling record.

It begins with A Ti Espanya, a fond, gentle waltz.  Chernick sings Min Hametzar in Ladino and English, a brooding, metrically tricky psychedelic folk tune with Joel Schwartz’s moody washes of steel guitar over Justin Gray and Derek Gray’s rock rhythm section: “They call to you from an aeroplane,” is the refrain.

With Schwartz’s bluegrass-tinged leads Kol Dodi is the strangest old brooding medieval nigun you’ll ever hear, Likewise, the album’s title track, a muted bolero, has a simmering roadhouse blues undercurrent. And Arvoles Yorvan could be Dolly Parton…in Ladino, with National steel guitar and dobro swooping in the background.

The sad waltz Este Montanya de Enfrente has a delicate web of acoustic and Portuguese guitars. Notwithstanding her big crescendo on that one, Chernick’s alternately misty and acerbic delivery on a muted take of the traditional Adon Olam could be the album’s high point: the melody makes a good Balkan-tinged bounce. Chernick closes the record with the a-cappella miniature Rikondus de Mi Nona. The album also includes a couple of blithe tunes by Bosnian singer Flory Jagoda.

Lushly Allusive, Symphonic Eco-Disaster Anthems From These New Puritans

These New Puritans occupy a uniquely uneasy space between ornately symphonic rock and minimalist postrock. Their latest album Inside the Rose – streaming at Soundcloud – is somewhat icier and techier than their previous work. The obvious comparison is Radiohead, but this British band are more darkly lyrical and rely on what can be relentless grey-sky sonics instead of cynical glitchiness.

Infinity Vibraphones is an apt title for the album’s opening track, those rippling textures contrasting with ominous cloudbanks of bassy string synth. Frontman Jack Barnett’s hushed, conspiratorial vocals parse a surreal litany of elements, some radioactive and some not. A“sea of plastic horses” figures into what seems to be a dystopic scenario. His brother George’s dancing drumbeat gets trickier and then smooths out again: a more organic Radiohead with a better singer.

The formula is the same in Anti-Gravity, with spare synth and piano figures in place of the vibes: “Never get up, never give up” is the mantra. “This is a fire we can’t put out…all those wise men say nothing,” the group’s frontman intones in the brooding, tectonically shifting, new wave-tinged Beyond Black Suns. The response, through a robotic effect, is “This isn’t yesterday.”

The album’s title track has an airy intro and a staggered beat; it could be an eco-disaster parable, or simply an allusive portrait of love gone wrong. Brassy ambience rises and subsides in Where the Trees Are on Fire, with a crushingly sarcastic ersatz nursery rhyme of a lyric. Into the Fire has tumbling syncopation and unexpected hip-hop touches: it’s nowhere near as incendiary as the title would imply.

The brief string-and-piano theme Lost Angel contrasts with the loopy synths and icy Terminator soundtrack techiness of A R P: “This is not a dream, this is really happening,” the bandleader cautions .

They wrap up the album with a slow, hypnotic, circling processional theme simply titled Six. This is a good record for a rainy day when you can spend some time with it and explore its deceptive depths.

Irresistibly Fun Retro Cinematic Themes From Sven Wunder

Sven Wunder, like the soul/funk icon whose name he’s appropriated, is pretty much a one-man band. His specialty is balmy, cinematic instrumental themes with a psychedelic, late 60s/early 70s European feel. One good comparison is Manfred Hubler’s Vampyros Lesbos soundtrack in a particularly calm or pastoral moment. Among current bands, Tredici Bacci are another. This second Wunder’s playful, entertaining new album Natura Morta is streaming at Bandcamp.

Tinkly piano and fluttering flute breeze into the album’s opening track, En Plein Air before the strings go sweeping over a lithe, bouncy beat spiced with chiming keys. Is that an electric harpsichord? Is that real brass or the artificial kind?

More of those brassy patches alternate with brittle, trebly vintage clavinova, echoey Rhodes and sinuous hollowbody bass in Impasto. Prussian Blue begins with a cheery piano cascade and rustling flute but quickly becomes a strutting motorik surf rock theme. Surf popcorn? Popcorn surf?

The album’s title track is hardly the dirge the title implies: it comes across as a sort of orchestrated 70s soul take on Bob Marley’s Waiting in Vain. Wunder subtly edges the beat in Panorama into a 6/8 sway with 12-string acoustic guitar, wafting strings and winds, and vintage keyboard textures.

He goes back to vampy, lushly orchestrated early 70s soul with Alla Prima, those layers of 12-string guitar sparkling overhead. The sparkle continues in Umber, which has a somewhat more uneasy, pensive edge. Barocco, Ma Non Troppo is a funny little number: it’s a canon of sorts, but with shuffling syncopation and a funky Rhodes interlude

Wry low-register clavinova contrasts with the sweep of the strings in Memento Mori: the message seems to be, let’s party while we can. Pentimento is the album’s most hypnotic track, sheets of strings and winds shifting through the mix over growly, clustering bass. Wunder reprises the title track at the end with slip-key piano that’s just a hair out of tune. Somewhere there’s an arthouse movie director or two who need this guy.

Azure Ray Return With a Gorgeously Lyrical Psychedelic Pop Record

It’s been twenty years since Azure Ray put out their debut album, a major influence on a generation of bedroom pop perpetrators which was finally issued for the first time on vinyl this year. In the years since, the duo of Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink have not been idle, and they have a brand new album, Remedy, streaming at Bandcamp. In general, it’s more lush and keyboard-oriented, without the group’s earlier Americana touches. The vocals are calm but strong and the lyrics are fantastic: there’s a persistent existentialist streak throughout many of these otherwise warmly shimmery songs.

“How do you say hello when you know there is no more? What do you dream about when you’re not swallowing swords?” the two ask in the opening track, a spare, Lennonesque piano ballad.

They revert to the loopy keyboard pastiches they explored on their debut album in the second track, Bad Dream, but with more of a spacy, dreampop-influenced feel. It’s a wake-up call, possibly referencing an abusive relationship.

Likewise, there’s a gentle spacerock sway to Phantom Lover, swirly keys and chilly guitar clang over a simple drum machine loop. “All we’ve got is what we’ve done,” the duo observe in Already Written, an allusive, bittersweetly devastating psychedelic pop gem that’s one of the best songs of the year:

I want to bite my tongue, I’m never great with decisions
Got a lot to be desired but never asked for permission
Thank god I was raised this way
Now I’m somewhere between what I hear and when I listen
Try to write it down but it’s already written
How I miss those days

The album’s title track has a lush hypnotic web of guitars and a lyric that seems to reference the Trump era:

Stand alone in an empty room
Scared to stay, stared to bloom
Little beast clawing at my door
I call for peace, they call for war…
I’ve disadmired old tendencies
A secret greed in the cemetery

“If you think about it long enough, you’ll question everything you know,” the two remind, over the surreal blend of acoustic guitar and drifting keys in Desert Waterfall. They stick with the spare/sleek dichotomy in Grow What You Want and How Wild: finally, seven tracks in, we get a pedal steel.

The Swan is the most sweepingly angst-fueled, orchestrated number here, a hauntingly allusive tale of a steep decline:

Another fight for the waking light
Did you lose your wings at a sacrifice
It’s impossible to understand
And what tore your fingers back from your closed-up fist
You closed your eyes with confidence
It’s impossible to understand

29 Palms, a strangely successful mashup of atmospheric Americana and balletesque chamber pop, is a soberly imagistic breakup narrative. They close the record with the techy, blippy I Don’t Want To Want To: “Inside part of me has died but I still have a photograph.” Who would have thought that Azure Ray would make an album in 2021, let alone that it would be one of the best of the year!

A Poignant, Broodingly Gorgeous Greek Psychedelic Album From Kristi Stassinopoulou and Stathis Kalyviotis

You could make the argument that Greece has had a psychedelic music scene since the 1920s, when waves of refugees and exiles from Smyrna and Turkey brought their Middle Eastern-flavored hash-smoking songs with them. So it’s no surprise that psychedelic rock became a big thing there forty years later. Singer Kristi Stassinopoulou and Stathis Kalyviotis’ 2016 album NYN – streaming at Spotify – looks back to that era, with tastefully bulked-up 21st century production values.

The opening track, Ethertai Haimonas (Winter Is Coming) has a muted, wistful As Tears Go By vibe, set to a 90s trip-hop beat with layers of keys. The second track, Ouden Oida (I Know Nothing) is a gorgeously bristling, minor-key blend of brooding 60s Laurel Canyon psychedelic folk and chiming bouzouki janglerock.

The hypnotically droning, chromatically biting, syncopated Strati Strati (Step by Step) vividly echoes the dusky rembetiko sound from a hundred years ago, complete with a moody sax solo. Stassinopoulou’s poignantly misty mezzo-soprano takes centerstage in Gia Mia Stigmi (For a Moment), an unselfconsciously beautiful, swaying ballad with layers of clanging, ringing guitar and bouzouki.

They interrupt the pervasive melancholy for Mystic Rap, a whispery trip-hop number and then pick up the pace with Par Me Agea (Take Me, Wind), a starkly dancing, distantly Egyptian-tinged piano tune awash in trippy samples. The album’s most straight-up rock tune is the steady, darkly insistent Ah Athanate (Oh, You Century), bagpipes and backward-masked snippets fluttering in the background.

Nimbly fingerpicked acoustic guitar and swooping electric slide work contrast in the pensive Allarokania (Change in the Weather). Stassinopoulou sings the haunting rembetiko-tinged Sabah Tuo Erota, a love song, with an understated, melismatic, microtonal angst. While it’s understandable that the band would want to do something to beef up the hypnotic one-chord jam Kyma To Kyma (Wave After Wave), loopy trip-hop is definitely not the answer.

Thela Na Mouna Nero (I Wish I Was Water) is the album’s sparest number, just gongs, chimes, vocals and clattering percussion. The title track is a mashup of loops, a minor-key bouzouki riff and swoopy P-Funk keyboards. They break out the distorted electric guitar to close the record with the trickily dancing Ola Pane Ki Erhondai (Everything Comes and Goes). What a delicious rediscovery.