New York Music Daily

Music for Transcending Dark Times

Category: psychedelic pop

Smart, Stormy, Fearless Art-Rock From Victoria Langford

Singer/multi-keyboardist Victoria Langford writes lush, sweeping yet very sharply sculpted songs. She has a strong, meticulously nuanced, expressive voice and a venomous sense of humor. She likes swirling, stormy orchestration and using religious imagery as a metaphor for interpersonal angst. Her debut album, simply titled Victoria, is streaming at Bandcamp. Imagine a more organic Radiohead, or a young Kate Bush at half the volume.

The album’s first track is Psalm, Langford’s spare Wurlitzer and insistent piano contrasting with Brett Parnell’s nebulous wash of guitars. The phantasmagoria hits redline with the second song, Coney Island, a harrowing, achingly intense tableau awash in a roar of sound and creepy canival effects:

I see stars
From the back
Of your hand
You bury me
Alive

At a moment in time when domestic abuse is rising with all this endless quarantining, the song has more relevance than ever.

Langford’s cynicism hits a peak in Savior, a brief, thumping parody of dancefloor pop:

You think everyone wants to fuck you
You are a victim or most wanted on the streets
You like to think that you are Kanye
But sitting on your ass won’t make those beats

I Found Hell Looking For Heaven is an instrumental, a majestic title theme of sorts, Leah Coloff’s stark cello blending with Langford’s symphonic keyboard orchestration. The string into to Boboli Gardens, cello bolstered by Sarah Goldfeather and Andie Springer’s violins, is even more plaintive, Langford’s piano shifting to a hazy, country-tinged sway.

The Radiohead influence comes through the most clearly in the slow, brooding What Might Have Been, right down to the glitchy electronics and tinkly multitracks behind the starkly circling piano riffs.

Rob Ritchie’s guitar lingers amid a whoosh of string synth over Joe Correia’s bass and Evan Mitchell’s drums in Be a Dragon, a surreal mashup of hip-hop and Radiohead with a fearless Metoo-era message. Langford winds up the record with The Truth, a pulsing, unapologetic escape anthem: It’s rare to see an artist come straight out of the chute with something this unique and individualistic, a stealth contender for best debut album of 2020.

Understatedly Troubling Music For Troubling Times From the Nine Seas

Folk noir superduo the Nine Seas take their name from the long-defunct, legendary Alphabet City bar 9C, located at the corner of 9th Street and Avenue C. Years before Pete’s Candy Store was anything more than a numbers joint, and more than a decade before the Jalopy opened, 9C was New York’s ground zero for Americana music. That’s where Liz Tormes and Fiona McBain cut their teeth at the wildly crowded, weekly bluegrass jam.

In the years since then, both would become important voices in Americana, as solo artists and with other bands (McBain best known for her longtime membership in the gospel and soul-tinged Ollabelle). This project, which began as a murder ballad cover act, also goes back several years, attesting to the chemistry between the two musicians. Their long-awaited debut album Dream of Me is streaming at their music page. It’s a mix of originals and imaginative covers, the two singer-guitarists occasionally abettted by keys and horns.

Tormes’ first number, Am I Still Your Demon is the album’s quietly potent opener. It has a classic Tormes vocal trick that she’s used before (see the devastating Read My Mnd, the opening number on her 2010 Limelight album). J. Walter Hawkes’ looming trombone arrangement perfectly matches the song’s understated angst.

The duo reinvent the old suicide ballad I Never Will Marry with a hazy dreampop tinge, as Mazzy Star might have done it. They do E.C. Ball’s fire-and-brimstone country gospel classic Trials, Troubles, Tribulations much the same way. Here and throughout the record, Jim White’s spare banjo, organ and other instruments really flesh out these otherwise stark songs.

Likewise, his glockenspiel twinkles eerily in Go to Sleep, an elegaic Tormes tune. McBain’s I Really Want You is just as calmly phantasmagorical: it’s more about longing than lust. Then Oliver de la Celle ‘s Lynchian guitar and White’s banjo raise the menace in a radical reinvention of Charlie Rich’s Midnight Blues

The hypnotic version of the murder ballad Down in the Willow Garden, a concert favorite, is all the more creepy for the duo’s bright harmonies and steady stoicism, White adding airy pump organ. McBain switches to piano for the even more atmospheric, Julee Cruise-ish Where He Rests.

They wind up the album with a pair of covers. They transform Midnight, a bluesy, Jimmy Reed-style 1952 hit for Red Foley, into minimalist girl-down-the-well pop. And they remake Don Gibson’s Sea of Heartbreak as jungly exotica: nobody plays with more implied menace than the Nine Seas.

The album also includes stripped-down alternate takes of Trials, Troubles, Tribulations and Midnight Blues. Beyond this album, since they’re unable to play shows at the moment, the Nine Seas have a weekly webcast, the Quarantine Chronicles, where they run through many other songs from the immense dark folk repetoire they’ve amassed over the years.

Some Sobering Context For Tredici Bacci’s Latest Funny Video

Tredici Bacci make very funny videos. But the best joke in the lavish, cinematic band’s latest one, Defino De Venezia, is musical rather than visual. It starts at about 1:58 – but it won’t be as funny if you don’t watch from the beginning

What’s most amazing about it is that all seventeen people who play on it recorded their parts while sequestered – via Zoom, most likely. This is a case study in how video connections enable musicmaking, but also how they imperil it. On one hand, getting seventeen people in seventeen different places to sound anything like a cohesive unit is quite the feat. Bandleader Simon Hanes obviously went deep into his address book for the talent to pull this off (musician credits are listed below the video).

Let’s also give props to mixing engineer Myles Boisen for whatever mojo he was able to work to tighten everything up.

And that right there is the problem. You can’t fault anybody involved with the project, really. It’s just that Tredici Bacci are a funny band. Onstage they tend to be loose and spontaneous, and they can swing like hell. And that kind of magic, which really defines them, is missing here. Everybody seems so fixated on getting their parts right that there’s literally no chemistry. Which testifies to the limits of this kind of technology.

Obviously, anybody can take a stab at improvising over a video connection. But the camaraderie that enables a good jam can never be there. Not to be a killjoy, but ultimately this only underscores the undeniable truth that virtual reality can never be more than a pale imitation of the real thing, good jokes or not. And it’s frustrating to have to wait for the day when all this madness is over and we can see Tredici Bacci play live, for real, and not from six feet away. Ok, six feet away from the band, for sure, but not from each other.

A Bittersweet Triptych For a Grim Day

On one level, the Ukulele Scramble‘s new cover of the Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd classic See Emily Play is characteristically hilarious. The duo – Robin Hoffman and Richard Perlmutter – have interpolated the main theme from J.S. Bach’s First Goldberg Variation into the song, taking their inspiration from Rick Wright’s piano breaks on the original, which were recorded at a slower tempo and then sped up in the final mix for an approximation of baroque ambience.

All the same, this is one sad song! Emily seems happy at first…but wait til the sun goes down. Hoffman’s understated poignancy on the mic packs a lot more emotional wallop than Barrett did with the 1967 single.

Don’t watch the video for Delanila‘s It’s Been Awhile Since I Went Outside unless you can handle feeling heartbroken. The singer made it on her phone, walking in the rain through an absolutely deserted Soho and Tribeca. Lower Manhattan is truly dead in this one – cold drizzle or not, did you ever expect to see the sidewalks on Broadway south of Houston competely empty, in the middle of the day?

The song itself doesn’t specifically reference the coronavirus crisis: instead, Delanila’s pillowy noir-tinged ballad seems to be a snide commentary on the atomizing effects of social media (a bête noire for her – this isn’t her only critique of it).

And if you never guessed that the Rolling Stones would still be making records in 2020, let alone something worth hearing, guess again! If you haven’t heard the brand-new Living in a Ghost Town, give it a spin: it’s like their 1978 disco hit Miss You, but heavier and creepier.

A Rare Chance to Score This Era’s Most Formidable Rock Songwriter’s Obscure Debut Album

Hannah vs. the Many frontwoman Hannah Fairchild released her debut album Paper Kingdoms under her own name in 2010. She and the first incarnation of the band played the release show at the tiny, long-defunct Park Slope boite Bar 4. That’s how the great ones get started.

The album pretty much sank without a trace. But just for today, May 1 it’s up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. On one hand, you could say that this is strictly for the diehards. On the other, it’s a fascinating blast from the past from a songwriter who would grow into one of the most witheringly lyrical, ferociously powerful rock tunesmiths ever.

At her blog (also recently resurrected), she looks back on the strategy and logistics (or lack thereof) for making a bedroom pop record on a secondhand laptop, playing all the instruments….with a broken ankle, no less. While a lot of these songs lack the focus and savagery of her breakout album, All Our Heroes Drank Here, and her valkyrie wail doesn’t cut loose to the extent that she’s let it in the years since, there are moments of vocal brilliance and embryonic craft that will take your breath away.

Fairchild would eventually reprise five of these songs for her ferocious 2013 short album Ghost Stories. Hearing the subdued take of All Eyes on Me – Fairchild’s Don’t Fear the Reaper – is a revelation. So is Poor Leander, with its slashingly detailed story of a poor schlub in way, way too deep for his own good; it cuts through just as ominously if a lot more quietly here. And who would have known how much new resonance the line about how “I’ve got my mask on and I’m slipping out the side door” – in the defiant individualist’s anthem Lady of the Court – would take on over the past few weeks? Grab this piece of history while it lasts.

Wryly Expert, Wildly Catchy Retro 60s Psychedelia From Lucille Furs

Lucille Furs is not an obscure French actress, nor a store on West 30th Street in Manhattan selling unfashionable outerwear made from dead animals. Lucille Furs are a spot-on retro 60s psychedelic band with more of a Beatles influence than most. Their album Another Land is streaming at Bandcamp.

Unsurprisingly, the first instrument you hear in the title track, which opens the album, is Patrick Tsotsos’ slithery, trebly bass, playing a shivery, McCartneyesque, Come Together-ish riff.  Brendan Peleo-Lazar’s drums straighten the rhythm out, the spare, catchy minor-key reverb guitars of frontman Trevor Pritchett and Nick Dehmlow kick in along with Constantine Hastalis’ starry keys, and suddenly it’s 1967 again: the band really nail those vintage sonics. Here as elsewhere, the songs’ lyrics are gnomic and fantastical; it’s seldom clear what they’re about beyond a life of the mind, all synapses running at peak voltage.

With its trippy narrative and elegantly vaudevillian piano, Leave It As You Found It has a Penny Lane feel. First Do No Harm pulses along with that soaring, melismatic bass, awash in gorgeous layers of jangling, chiming twelve-string guitar and keening Farfisa. Paint Euphrosyne Blue could be one of the bluesier, vampier numbers from the White Album, at least until that noisy breakdown and wry early 70s-style twin guitar solo.

Sooner Than Later has a sparsely jangling, brooding 60s British psych-folk tune and a mellotron (or a good digital facsimile) back in the mix. The band build All Flowers Before Her around a familiar, insistent Link Wray riff, jaggedly reverbtoned textures panning the speakers. They straighten out of a hovering organ intro in Eventually. “You are back in that place where you smoke, in your room, and not once or twice…we’re glad to have you back!” Pritchett announces.

In Madredexilliados, the group blend tropical bursts from the keys, a clanging Secret Agent Man guitar riff and hints of surf from the drums. Sparkling with that twelve-string guitar, the album’s funniest and arguably most anthemic song is Karaoke Trials, something you definitely want to be saved from!

Opening with a Beatlesque descending progression and continuing with deliciously icy analog chorus-box guitar, it’s not clear what Pritchett misses most about The 34th Floor: the girl there, or the party. After that, the band revisit an uneasily steady Laurel Canyon jangle and more of those looming bass hammer-ons with Transmitting From the Blind Guard.

The album’s most expansive track, Almond Bees is the missing link between Abbey Road Beatles and the Byrds. The twelve-strings ring more brightly than anywhere else here on the final cut, No Word in English, a catchy country song at heart. If you’re a fan of nouveau psychedelic bands from the Jigsaw Seen, to the Chemistry Set and the Allah-Las, set the controls for the heart of this album..

Unpredictable, Deliciously Psychedelic Venezuelan Sounds From Insolito UniVerso

Digging through the crates to find another treat for you today! Paris-based Venezuelan expats Insólito UniVerso’s deliciously unpredictable, psychedelic album La Candela Del Río – streaming at Bandcamp – landed on the hard drive here in 2018. With their adopted city under an even more severe lockdown than New York, we can only hope the band are surviving.

Looking back, maybe the reason why the album sat around as long as it did without getting any attention here is that the opening track, Transmutada takes so long to get going. When it does, it’s a perfectly pleasant bossa-tinged waltz with surreal touches like keyboardist Edgar Bonilla Jiménez’s electric harpsichord and what sounds like a mellotron, plus, Raúl Monsalve’s dancing bass solo midway through.

The band really put the rubber to the road with the wryly circling Vuelve, with its joropo llanero triplet rhythm, rapidfire lyrics about doing things over and over again, and keening psychedelic organ. It’s like Brooklyn’s Las Rubias Del Norte at their trippiest.

Frontwoman Maria Fernanda Ruette’s multitracked cuatro mingles with the organ in the slowly swaying, bittersweetly gorgeous Machurucuto, a shout-out to a Venezuelan seaside town. The smoky, dubby breakdown comes as a surprise: imagine Country Joe & the Fish with a woman out front. After that, the group pick up the pace with the jauntily rippling Pájaro, which could be a rhythmically trickier Os Mutantes.

Lloviendo en Guatire, which opens on side 2 of the record, blends a hypnotic, Indian-influenced theme with dreampop, surf guitar and bass over drummer Andres Sequera’s mutedly suspenseful beats. He gets a lot busier behind the eerily acidic keys and fuzztone bass in Yo Soy Mi Río. Scampering along with the minor-key rivulets from the band’s arsenal of keyboards, their instrumental cover of harpist José Gregorio López’s El Vuelo del Gabán is the album’s catchiest track and closest thing to psychedelic cumbia here. They close it with Tonada del Guante, a slowly swaying, dubwise, bass-fueled update on an old Venezuelan work song. It’s like nothing you’ve heard this year. If psychedelic sounds are your thing, you’re in for a treat.

Going to the Well For an Overlooked Phantasmagorical Treat by Brodka

Polish singer Monika Brodka‘s album Clashes came out in 2016; if she ever played New York, that evidence never made it this far. Since then, the record’s been sitting on the hard drive here, but leaving it there was a mistake. If you like catchy, dark, carnivalesque sounds or 80s goth bands, you should hear it. It’s streaming at Bandcamp.

Creepily twinkling music-box electric piano underscores the airy violin and wounded vocals of the title track: imagine Lorde if/when she ever grows up. The band shift between a cantering syncopation to a straight-up gothic rock pulse in Horses. By now, it’s obvious they’ve got a great bass player; nice creepy, quiet outro too.

Santa Muerte is a surreal, galloping southwesern gothic bounce…with funeral organ. Can’t Wait For War is not a Trumpie march but a pulsing blend of Siouxsie and Romany-flavored sounds. With its blippy minor-key synth and processed vocals, Holy Holes has a moody 80s New York vibe.

A mbira (or a close digital approximation) pings through the steady, hypnotic Haiti: something in the song relates to “cherry flavor.” Funeral is a strange mashup of noir swing and macabre art-rock, afloat in menacingly waltzing keyboard textures. Up in the Hill is the weirdest track here: it’s a generic pop song with an unexpectedly serpentine guitar solo buried in the mix. Could it be that another band’s tune got sequenced into the files that were sent here?

The bass-heavy new wave track afterward is pretty forgettable as well. They bring back the macabre, funeral-organ ambience with the instrumental Kyrie and keep it going through Hamlet, an elegantly muted, disconsolate processional. The final cut is Dreamstreamextreme, an airy, slowly swaying tableau. Throughout the album, you can hear an artist who’s found an original sound and is still experimenting with other ideas: may that experimentation continue and find a wider audience.

Celestially Orchestral Lushness and Persistent Unease on Lisa Hannigan’s Live Album

We may not have concerts in New York right now, but more and more artists are realizing the benefits of recording live albums. Unless you make your albums on your phone – as many do – it’s infinitely cheaper to record a concert than to run up studio time. And live albums are the best advertising: prospective concergoers know exactly what they’re getting themselves into. One relatively recent one that perfectly fits the zeitgeist is Live in Dublin, by Lisa Hannigan and S t a r g a z e (that’s how she spells it), streaming at Spotify.

Hannigan has a soaring, nuanced voice and stately cadences that reflect the folk tradition of her native Ireland. Her lyrics are pensive and often rather dark. The concert’s opening waltz, Ora, perfectly capsulizes the balance of persistent unease and lush, starry atmosphere that will pervade the rest of the set. The long, sustained tones of the strings and woodwinds are a throwback to the terse orchestral arrangements common on European folk-rock records of the early 70s. Then the bass and drums kick in elegantly behind an upward swirl from the strings as the soul-tinged piano ballad Prayer For the Dying gets underway: Radiohead meets Renaissance.

Twinkling mandolin and vibraphone mingle above the increasingly lavish backdrop of Little Bird. “You are lonely as a church despite the queueing out the door – I am empty as a promise,” Hannigan muses.

Insistently slurry strings and ominous brass swells build unsettling druidic ambience in Undertow. Overtones rise in a similarly suspenseful vein from the low brass drone that introduces Bookmark, a swing ballad stripped to its bare, fingerpicked bones: “Am I a friend, or an unwieldy heroine?” Hannigan ponders.

The band take a break for the rustic vocal harmonies of Anahorish, which foreshadows what Irish immigrants would bring with them to Appalachia. The tenderness of Hannigan’s vocals bely the melancholy, pulsing orchestral textures of Nowhere to Go. The energy of the concert hits a high point with Lo, a moody anthem with a neat web of counterpoint.

They back away for a trip-hop sway with Swan, which the orchestra elevates above the level of generic 90s pop. A hushed gloom grows more enveloping in We the Drowned, up to a mighty, stricken intensity with eerie backing vocals and echo phrases from the orchestra: it’s the high point of the show. After that, there’s nowhere to go but down with Lille, a spare, gently fingerpicked, wistful folk-rock ballad.

After that, A Sail comes as a surprise, a stomping, insistent, backbeat anthem and the most unselfconsciously catchy song of the set. The group shift from hazy atmospherics to equally hypnotic but more energetic trip-hop with Barton and close the night with Fall, an attractively strummy anthem: “Drain the spirits from the jar, hop the fences, steal the car,” Hannigan instructs rather somberly.

Gentle, Expertly Textured Psychedelic Pop From Green and Glass

Green and Glass sometimes sound like a warmer, female-fronted Radiohead. Other times they come across as a calmer Arc Iris. Keyboards swoosh, filter and rise through the mix over a slow sway as frontwoman Lucia Stavros shifts from soaringly anxious highs to a more plainspoken delivery in the middle registers. They like to cap off a long crescendo with low-key trumpet…and they have a concert harp in the band. Their debut album is streaming at Bandcamp.

They open with an eponymous, soul-tinged ballad, Stavros’ tenderly resonant vocals over a slow, gentle trip-hop groove delicately flavored with Andrew McGovern”s trumpet alongside her harp. She reaches for the stratosphere over a loopy harp riff in 14 Hours; then a techy, blippy electric piano pulse takes over – that could also be Stavros, or sax/keys player Sam Decker..

Imagine Portishead with a harp and an unadorned, folky lead vocal, and you get the album’s third track, Black Hole. In Sand, they add spare, tremoloing electric guitar, and bassist Ryan Dugre turns up his treble to cut through the mix. Then they build SMC slowly and resolutely out of a circling, Afrobeat-tinged riff that begins with spiky guitar harmonics.

David Flaherty’s drums drop out for Another One, a brief, hazy tone poem awash in dreampop reverb. They bring back the neosoul tinges in Good Enough For Some: spare, watery chorus-box guitar adds a welcome disquiet behind the sheen. If psych-pop maven Jenifer Jackson played the harp, she could have come up with Gabriel.

The ninth track, Wash, is pretty much that, as is the one afterward: sometimes bands have a hard time discerning between minimal and prosaic. They come full circle with the closing cut, Corona (recorded long before the current crisis, and completely unrelated), a trippy, gently optimistic trip-hop tune: it could be early, low-key My Brighest Diamond. Most of this makes a good playlist for an early summer afternoon (which means April or May these days), sitting by the river, one-hitter in your pocket, plotting your next move.