New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Category: psychedelic pop

Martina Fiserova Brings Her Individualistic, Soulful Tunesmithing to the Lower East

From the mid-teens until the 2020 lockdown, Czech-born songwriter Martina Fiserova was a familiar presence and a distinctive voice in the New York small club scene. Her tunesmithing is sophisticated, purposeful and defies categorization, with elements of oldschool soul, chamber pop, 90s trip-hop and jazz. She plays electric rather than acoustic guitar, likes short songs and sings in strong English in an unselfconsciously direct, uncluttered voice. Since the lifting of restrictions, she’s back on the live circuit, with an early show tonight, May 22 at 5 PM at the small room at the Rockwood.

Like so many artists whose career was put on ice by the grim events of March 2020 and afterward, Fiserova hasn’t put out an album in awhile. Her most recent release, Shift, came out in 2015 and is still up at Bandcamp: it gives you a good idea of the many angles she comes from. She’s got a great band behind her: Brian Charette on organ and piano, and her fellow Czechs Tomáš Baroš on bass and Dano Šoltis on drums. In addition to guitar, Fiserova plays tone lyre, slate xylophone, bronze metallophone and keys.

She opens with Silver Streams, a slow, catchy, minimalist ballad awash in water imagery, that picks up with an unexpectedly funky pulse fueled by a cheery, blues-infused Charette piano solo. Track two, Crater is a hypnotically clustering number in 12/8: “The sleep is broken, tears are stuck in my throat… unseen forces, the pain spreads like white sheets…”

Song For Brian, a swaying, pensive number contrasts Charette’s strikingly direct piano with Fiserova’s more enigmatic guitar lines. “The sound of a breaking heart is stronger than a storm,” she muses in the intro to Cold, then the band leaps into a brisk, bracing offbeat shuffle, Charette on soul organ

She follows Misunderstanding, a slinky, low-key organ swing tune with Invisible Blood, the band slowly edging their way into waltz time as Charette adds iciness behind Fiserova’s elegant fingerpicking and more of that loaded water imagery.

An unlikely flock of pigeons serve as inspiration for the next track, And Fly!, Fiserova offering plainspoken, inspiring encouragement to leave fear behind. Little did she know when she recorded it how relevant this song would become five years later!

She keeps the fearless theme going in My Wind, with its rhythmic twists and turns. from jazz into oldschool soul and back on the wings of Charette’s organ. He blends organ and blippy Rhodes piano in Chasm, a brisk, twinkling, motorik soul tune that could be the album’s catchiest track. Then Fiserova completely flips the script with Silver Moon, rising from an understatedly dark, squirrelly free jazz intro to a big, soaring anthem. The final cut is the pensive, airily wary Closer. Since the album came out, Fiserova has pursued a more straightforward, guitar-driven sound: she is likely to take the volume up a notch at the Rockwood gig.

An Individualistic, Intriguing New Album and an Outdoor Afterwork Show From Singer Miriam Elhajli

Songwriter Miriam Elhajli has carved out a distinctive sound that draws equally on jazz, 70s South American nuevo cancion and levantine sounds, reflecting her Venezuelan-Moroccan heritage. She cuts loose with an expressive, constantly mutable voice, likes fingerpicking her acoustic guitar in odd tunings and writes intriguing, thoughtfully imagistic lyrics. Her latest album The Uncertainty of Signs is streaming at Bandcamp. She’s playing an outdoor show on May 19 at 6 PM at the secluded terrace at Pier 3, toward the southern tip of Brooklyn Bridge Park. It’s a good setting for her verdant, rustic yet original songs. When the park was first landscaped, there was a joke going around that it had been designed as a staging area for an invading guerilla army to hide in the shrubbery. Those in search of more peaceful pursuits here can take the A or C to High St., go down to the Fulton Landing and hang a left.

Interestingly, the first three songs on the record are in 6/8 time, more or less. When the Whirlwind Fades Out fades in with a whir from Cedric Easton’s drums, a growling drone from Ike Sturm’s bass and a brightly gorgeous, pointillistic solo from Firas Zreik’s kanun. Elhajli pulls the band into an elegant, anthemic sway with her steady fingerpicking and jazz-tinged vocals. “You should know better than to run toward that which falls,” she cautions.

There’s a subtle, conspiratorial mystery juxtaposed with a soaring angst in the second track, Tres Bocio, Elhajli’s voice rising from hints of the Middle East to a rousing, wordless crescendo, vibraphonist Chris Dingman adding lingering textures.

“I know the kingpin is an illusion, and I know we must not forget to sing in unison,” she asserts in Grayscale, which begins as a stark, Appalachian-tinged ballad and drifts further into an enigmatic contrast between dramatic vocals and a hazy backdrop. She revisits that same dichotomy a little later in Marble Staircase, Zreik’s rippling kanun setting up an otherworldly, tremoloing hulusi flute solo from Jake Rudin

Locusts Circumference is closer to Joanna Newsom-style freak-folk: it’s not clear what “quiet implosion” Elhajli is referring to. The strings of the Kasa Quartet waft and sail over Elhajli’s lattice of acoustic guitar and her full-throated, crescendoing vocals in Gold & God, an allusively jubilant salute to genuine human kindness.

The flute returns and flutters in Spiral Solutions, a brief, energetically circling number where Elhajli seeks to “recognize the unrecognizable.” Bracing, swooping strings permeate Bulk Flow: “Got two scissors and a match…I lost my spirit so I split to another land,” Elhajli relates over a lushly rustic, open-tuned, antique Britfolk-style melody.

She picks out a ringing web on electric guitar in Another Butterfly Ordeal. The next-to-last track, Cosmos is more of a jazz tone poem: “The unseen stays unseen,” Elhajli sings, “Pay attention, the cops encircle us, they don’t know what we’re up to.”

She winds up the record with In Your Arms, Familiar, a mutedly unsettled tableau reflecting a “state of utter hypnosis” where “everything is crushable” – sounds a lot like 2022, doesn’t it?

A Sophisticated, Cleverly Lyrical, Climactic Studio Album From Paris Combo

Paris Combo take care to explain that their latest and possibly final album Quesaco – streaming at Bandcamp – is Covid-free. Notwithstanding the record’s characteristically slinky good cheer, there’s a tragic backstory. Like so many albums recorded in 2019, it was scheduled for release the following year. But their tour fell victim to the totalitarian takeover, and frontwoman/accordionist Belle de Berry died s that fall, soon after a cancer diagnosis. Would she be alive today if there had been no lockdown and she could have received early treatment? We’ll never know.

At least she went out at the top of her game. The band open with the album’s title track, Provençal slang for “what’s up?” It’s a lush, Balkan-tinged swing nocturne packed with cynical rhymes, beginning with a sun, who as du Berry tells it, doesn’t give a fuck about the approaching nightfall. It aptly capsulizes her indomitable, deviously playful worldview.

Paris Combo first took shape as a Romany-tinged swing band but quickly developed a distinctively upbeat, often witheringly satirical blend of sophisticated art-rock, jazz manouche and cinematic pop. Including this one, they put out a grand total of seven albums: all of them are worth getting your hands on.

The second track on this one is Barre Espace, du Berry’s gently caustic commentary on the atomization that inevigtably awaits those who abandon the real world for the virtual one. Bassist Benoît Dunoyer de Segonzac, drummer François Jeannin and percussionist Rémy Kaprielan lay down a pillowy. understated cumbia groove for pianist David Lewis and guitarist Potzi.

They stroll briskly through Seine de la vie parisienne, du Berry’s puns beginning with the title, Potzi taking a spiky, Djangoesque solo midway through. She reaches for a reggaeton-inspired delivery over Lewis’ organ and trumpet in Panic á bord (rough translation: Breaking Point), a bouncy but brooding Balkan/cumbia mashup.

Maudit money (Damn Money) is part hip-hop, part oldschool 70s disco, part Manu Chao, with a wry Nancy Sinatra reference. Du Berry holds off on the WWI references until the end of Premiére guerre as she contemplates a more psychological, interior battle, rising from balmy and lingering to a triumphant strut and then back.

Shivery strings and soaring trumpet interchange in Axe imaginaire (Imaginary Path, or close to it), a subtle battle-of-the-sexes metaphor. The band go back to a disco stroll in Cap ou pas cap (slang for “yes or no?”), Lewis’ trumpet sputtering and Potzi’s guitar spiraling over a sleek backdrop and du Berry’s coy enticement.

Guitar and trumpet reach for a simmering flamenco ambience over a suspenseful, cumbia-tinged groove in Tendre émoi (this one’s hard to translate: “tender confrontation” or “make a scene, tenderly” would work, prosaically). Du Berry takes a rare turn into English on track ten, Do you think, as the band go back to a bittersweet cumbia sway. They close the record with the low-key, reflective Romany swing shuffle Paresser par ici (rough translation: Hanging Around). Maybe someday if we’re lucky we can get a retrospective live album out of this fantastic and underappreciated band. And even if we don’t, this is one of the best of 2022 so far.

Quirky, Individualistic, Shapeshifting Catalan Songwriting From Singer Magali Sare

You have to have a sense of humor to call your album “Sponge.” Catalan singer Magali Sare‘s new release, Eponja – streaming at Spotify – is playful and a lot of fun, although there’s a recurrent dark undercurrent. That’s no surprise, considering that it’s a coming-of-age record . Sare is a very eclectic singer and can reach spectacular heights. She comes out of a classical background, but here she shifts mostly between carefree trip-hop, sprightly chamber pop and more techy sounds, along with upbeat Catalan folk. If Bjork was Catalan, she might sound something like this. Sare’s inspired, purposeful band includes pianist Marta Pons, guitarist Sebastià Gris, bassist Vic Moliner and drummer Dídak Fernàndez along with occasional strings.

The lilting opening lullaby is aptly titled Hola, Sare’s voice trailing off with a little brittle vibrato at the end of a phrase. She follows with Mañana, a coy, fingersnapping mashup of trip-hop and tango: as Sare observes, love and freedom are one and the same.

Crooner Salvador Sobral joins in a rousing duet on Sempre Vens Assim (roughly translated: Your Usual Steez), rising to a mighty peak with a choir of voices and a little jaunty salsa piano. Sare reaches from a pensively fingerpicked verse to soaring choruses, toward the top of her register, in the album’s title track. It’s a somewhat more sobering look back on how children develop an ethical sensibility (the song is a lot more fun than such an explanation would imply).

Sare packs torrents of lyrics into a quirky but pensive trip-hop cabaret tune in Malifetes (Mischief), an account of a conflicted adolescence. The key line, roughly translated, is “I was emotionally blackmailed.” The deliriously crescendoing love song ETC features flamenco band Las Migas: lively verse, swoony chorus.

The narrative hits a bump in the road with No Se, circling piano phrases anchoring Sare’s metaphorically loaded account of literally being left out in the cold. A spoken-word piece set to a trippy, echoey backdrop, No Se Cantar is an amusing catalog of reasons to sing (including simply to shake people up a little).

Inframon (Underworld) is a brightly resonant tableau in contrast with Sare’s lyrics about dealing with the dark side: “You just know you’ve been there once you’re out and you aren’t afraid of falling in,” essentially. She reverts to a twinkly trip-hop ambience in M’ai Vist Mai Plorar (I’ve Never Seen You Cry): “Watch the wind lift the broken veil,” Sare muses.

She follows with the Mediterranean-tinged, elegantly fingerpicked seduction scenario No Te Edat (rough translation: Timeless), and then Niña Mujer (Womanchild), a pensive psychedelic pop study in contradictions. She closes the album with its lone classical interlude, a stately, energetic canon. You don’t have to speak Catalan to enjoy this smartly individualistic, constantly shapeshifting collection.

Sami Stevens Brings Her Blue-Flame Soul Intensity to the Lower East Side

Sami Stevens was sixteen when she sang the national anthem at Fenway Park. That’s a gig that’s just as difficult to get as it is to pull off. If there’s video evidence, it’s well hidden, which is too bad. It’s a fair bet that she hit it out of the park, sometime around the tail end of the Tito Francona era, in the years when the Red Sox were struggling to sustain the level they’d reached after their 2007 world championship.

More recently, Stevens has become one of the most electrifying singers in New York. She’s the not-so-secret weapon in faux-Italian psychedelic soundtrack band Tredici Bacci, and before the lockdown held down a popular residency at the Parkside in Ditmas Park. She’s back at an old haunt, the small room at the Rockwood in a couple of days, at 8 PM on April 28.

Stevens put out the full-length album And I’m Right in 2017 with her band And the Man I Love, which is still up at Bandcamp. The production is refreshingly oldschool, organic and features a full band with horns, shades of early Lake Street Dive. Stevens’ songwriting isn’t constrained to four minutes or less, and her songs are spiced with thoughtful sax solos and keyboard work (Stevens plays piano; it’s not clear if that’s her on the record). The title track to that one is a good indication of the kind of simmering intensity she channels onstage, a big, wounded, gospel-tinged struggler’s anthem in 6/8 time.

Stevens works a slinky/slashing dichotomy in Over and Over, another catchy, expansive ballad. She takes a more breathily expressive approach to Baby Blue, a retro Bill Withers-style tune, then follows a simmering, gospel-fueled upward trajectory in Where Will I Find My Best Friend. Then she picks up the pace with A Child They Said Was Mine, a parable of urban disquiet that rings just as true now

There’s also the catchy, steady self-empowerment strut Learn to Love, with its fluttery horns and starry keys; She Is God, a spine-tingling, impassioned shout-out to everyday female determination; and a slightly truncated single version of the title cut. If you missed this the first time around, it’s one of the most imaginative, purist albums of soul music released in the past several years.

Stevens’ most recent release is a short album, Make Your Mind, which she put out in the fall of 2020 and is also up at Bandcamp. In general, it’s more low-key, trippy and neosoul-oriented.

Yet Another Tab of Treats on the Latest Brown Acid Compilation

Every year, in celebration of 4/20, the warped brain trust behind the Brown Acid vinyl compilations release a new volume in the series. The initial concept focused on resurrecting rare heavy psych and proto-metal singles from the late 60s and early 70s. As the years went on, the project grew into a quasi-solstice celebration, twice a year, and began to encompass heavy funk as well as the occasional thrashy, garagey R&B or protest song, which makes sense considering that a lot of this music dates from the Vietnam War era. The brand-new fourteenth volume – streaming at Bandcamp – is a characteristically wide-ranging and entertaining celebration of stoner excess. For whatever reason, this one is somewhat more pop-oriented: Nuggets on Thai stick.

The first track is Fever Games, by Harrisburg, Pennsylvania band the Legends. Stoner boogie gives way to heavy funk in this 1969 Hendrix homage with a devious Little Wing quote – not the one you think – and Iron Butterfly drums.

Detroit duo Mijal & White’s 1974 B-side is a throwback to early heavy British pop bands like the Herd: some excellent extrovert drum work here. The real rediscovered gem on this playlist is Texas band Liquid Blue’s 1969 obscurity Henry Can’t Drive (why can’t he get behind the wheel? Guess).. Lead guitarist Ted Hawley would go on to become an important figure in Texas blues: his slithery multitracks here are exquisite.

The San Francisco Trolley Company were actually a Michigan band, represented by their fierce 1970 original, Signs. With the group’s cheap amps spewing dust-bunny overtones, it stands up strongly alongside the heavier Detroit acts of the era like SRC.

The contribution from West Virginia garage rock project Blue Creed is pretty generic. One of the most obscure but tightest and catchiest tunes here is Play It Cool, Transfer’s slyly shuffling, slightly surfy 1974 shout-out to stoners on the DL. Even less is known about Appletree, whose cowbell-driven single You’re Not The Only Girl (I’m Out To Get) is built around some tightly scrambling lead guitar work.

There’s an interesting blend of Beatles and Hendrix in I’m Tired, by Chicago collar-county area band Cox’s Army. The last song is the Columbus, Ohio crate-digger favorite Raven’s 1975 mostly one-chord jam Raven Mad Blues, a prime example of the extreme hippie self-indulgence the Brown Acid records sometimes descend into. Punk rock was born as an antidote to monstrosities like this – although as a comedic coda to this latest installment, it’s pretty priceless. May there be many more.

The New Midlake Record: Same Smart Tunesmithing, Slightly More Psychedelic

Although the anticipated deluge of new rock records this year has yet to materialize, what we’ve seen so far is reason for serious optimism. One long-awaited new release is from Midlake. who hail from Texas, so it wasn’t hard for them to get back into the studio to wrap up recording For the Sake of Bethel Woods. Interestingly, the new vinyl album – streaming at Bandcamp – is far less gothic than The Trials of Van Occupanther, their high-water mark so far, which was reissued a couple of years ago. This one is arguably their hardest-rocking and most concise, yet also most psychedelic release. Otherwise, frontman/guitarist Eric Pulido’s artsy tunesmithing and thoughtful lyricism haven’t changed much. For whatever reason, escape is a recurrent theme here.

The backstory is even more fascinating. As the band tell it, keyboardist/flutist Jesse Chandler’s dad, whom he’d lost in 2018, appeared to him in a dream and encouraged him to pull the group back together. The rest is history.

After a single, tensely strummed verse contemplating isolation and “the ones who came before,” the band launch into the title track, akin to the Church at their vintage 80s peak with more skittish rhythm.

Floating, spare guitar from Pulido and Joey McClellan follow an exchange with Eric Nichelson’s keys, wafting over Chandler’s terse piano hooks in the title track, a brisk, catchy escape anthem.

The band start with a similarly tense, loopy Vampire Weekend-style faux-soukous riff and build it into starry rock in the third track, Glistening. Drummer McKenzie Smith’s pulse grows heavier behind the fuzzy/sleek dichotomies in Exile: imagine Radiohead covering the Church in 1999.

Feast of Carrion comes across as a mashup of Elliott Smith and the Alan Parsons Project, its uneasy harmonies broken up by a cheery flute solo midway through. Noble, the album’s most Radiohead-inspired track, was inspired by Smith’s son, who although afflicted with a rare genetic condition is by all accounts happy and well adjusted.

Drifting flute, keys and Pulido’s low-key vocals float over Smith’s steady strut in the next track, Gone.

Meanwhile could be a Jeff Lynne jazz tune from, say, ELO’s New World Record album, switching out the strings for balmy keys and flute.

“Enter a cautionary tale not for the faint of heart,” Pulido warns over spare electric piano and muted staccato guitar as the band gather steam in Dawning. “Fading, a glass menagerie, built upon what’s left of the years of misery.”

The End is not the Doors classic but an original: wary atmosphere and uneasy harmonies notwithstanding, it seems to be optimistic. “Nobody’s coming to hunt you down,” is the mantra. The album’s final and most psychedelically pulsing cut is Of Desire. It’s refreshing to see this band still intact and still putting on a clinic in smartly crafted songcraft, everything in its right place, no wasted notes.

Eclectic Soul, Jazz and Funk Tunesmithing From Saxophonist Alison Shearer

Alto saxophonist Alison Shearer comes out of a jazz background but also writes genre-busting songs that bridge the worlds of soul, psychedelia and funk. Her debut album View From Above is streaming at Bandcamp. Her attack is nimble, purposeful, and her songs tend to be on the bright side. Shearer’s not-so-secret weapon here is keyboardist Kevin Bernstein, who fleshes out the material with layers of organ, Bernie Worrell-ish synth patches, electric and acoustic piano.

The first track is On Awakening, a cheery, kinetically loopy interweave of Shearer’s dancing sax and Marty Kenney’s blippy bass over Bernstein’s woozy P-Funk-ish keyboard layers, drummer Horace Phillips providing a solid footing. Shearer builds her mistily propulsive solo to a triumphantly emphatic series of closing riffs

Celestial has brightly circling sax hooks over a well-worn singer-songwriter progression that Bernstein quickly expands with his pointillistic piano, shreddy guitar voicings on the synth kicking off a cheery, singalong Shearer solo. The next tune, Cycles is a lithely dancing Hollywood Hills boudoir soul tune balanced with some neat triangulations between electric piano, sax and Wayne Tucker’s trumpet

Miranda Joan sings Breathe Again, a crescendoing, occasionally gospel-tinged soul-jazz ballad reflecting a hope to emerge into renewed freedom and optimism.

Shearer uses the vampy. swaying Toni’s Tune as a launching pad for catchy, misty soloing, bookeneded around a doublespeed bridge. “Art is dangerous,” a voiceover reminds, “Because dictators, and people in office, and people who want to control and deceive know exactly the people who will disturb their planning.” Take that, Klaus Schwab!

Tucker returns for tightly syncopated. bittersweet harmonies in Three Flights Up, anchored by Bernstein’s twinkling, resonant Rhodes. Jonathan Hoard, Vuyo Sotashe and Chauncey Matthews interchange on vocals in Big Kids; Bernstein plays somber neoromantic piano and Susan Mandel provides shivery cello behind a sobering sample of Martin Luther King commenting on police brutality.

Hattie Simon’s cut-and-pasted vocals float over a gentle, wistful, spare soul backdrop in Purple Flowers. The best song on the album is Dawn to Dusk, Shearer shifting from a stark, loopy Ethiopiques theme to swirly psych-funk and back. She winds up the album with Gentle Traveler, a warmly catchy song without words: the contrast between carefree sax and pensive cello is a neat touch.

Shearer doesn’t have any unrestricted gigs coming up, but Tucker is leading a quintet at Smalls tonight, March 17 at 7:30 PM. The trumpeter has a fiery side but is just as much at home in balmy Afrobeat-flavored sounds, and he likes to croon. The club is open again with no restrictions; cover is $25 at the door.

A Gorgeously Poignant, Long-Awaited Art-Rock Album from Carol Lipnik

When Carol Lipnik put out her album Almost Back to Normal in 2015, little did anyone know how profoundly prophetic it would become seven years later. Awash in waves of neoromantic piano, water imagery and allusive references to disasters of oceanic proportions – Fukushima, Hurricane Sandy, massive oil spills – it’s no less relevant now. At the same time. what a coincidence that the planets would be continuing their slow transit into a long-foretold Aquarian Age.

Since the mid-teens, Lipnik has not exactly been idle on the recording front. The woman widely regarded as the most spectacular singer in New York has a grand total of three new albums scheduled for release this year. The first is Goddess of Imperfection, streaming at Bandcamp. In keeping with Lipnik’s earlier work, there’s plaintiveness and mysticism along with her trademark phantasmagoria and moments of sly wit.

What’s new here is that for the first time, Lipnik has engaged a lot of her favorite artists in a series of collaborations. The album’s first two tracks are co-writes with another dramatic singer, Tareke Ortiz. As a child growing up in Coney Island, Lipnik was haunted by the sound of the wind swirling around the Astro Tower, reflected in the first track, Aeolian Tower Lullaby. Pianist Matt Kanelos shifts from a meticulously articulated, pointillistic glimmer to a stately waltz, matched by Lipnik’s sober, wintry metaphors.

Lipnik reaches for her signature poignancy, soaring through her four-octave range over Kyle Sanna’s wary, lingering reverb guitar, Kanelos’ rippling piano and Jacob Lawson’s strings in the imploringly rapturous title cut.

She reinvents Wildegeeses. by cult favorite freak-folk songwriter Michael Hurley as elegant, spare art-rock, Sanna’s sparse, resonant guitar mingling with Kanelos’ darkly circling piano. The Poacher, the first of two collaborations with David Cale is one of Lipnik’s best and most metaphorically-loaded mystery narratives, Kanelos’ gracefully bounding piano anchoring the lush Elizabethan ambience.

The slow antiwar anthem Nonviolent Man. a big concert favorite by Kanelos, packs more of a political wallop than ever, Lipnik’s unflinching, plainspoken delivery over steady, understated art-rock. Her expansive, psychedelic, bluesy reinvention of the title track to her early zeros album Hope Street hits just as hard: Lipnik’s vocals, from muted, flinty, Nina Simone-esque angst, to aching, fullblown angst, will give you chills.

A History of Kisses, the second co-write with Cale, follows a typical Lipnik dichotomy, playfulness juxtaposed with a brooding melancholy over Kanelos’ steady, restrained 6/8 rhythm. The album’s most symphonic cut is Ride on the Light of the Moon: spooky vocals notwithstanding, it’s ultimately about a triumph of the soul. Lipnik closes the record optimistically with Love, a psychedelic trip-hop number: “A beast breathes fire in and out, in and out of your sleepy paradise,” she observes. “Which side will you see when the hawk hunts the sparrow?”

It’s been a slow year for artists outside the ever-tightening orbit of subsidized recording projects, but more and more people are resurfacing. If this understatedly breathtaking project is any indication, Lipnik’s next scheduled release, Blue Forest – scheduled for this June – is also something to keep your eye on.

A Welcome, Long Overdue Return For Oliver Future

“A year at home has left our hands too weak, to grasp at what was coming next,” frontman Josh Lit sings in Phases of the Moon, the opening track on Oliver Future‘s first album in fourteen years, streaming at Bandcamp. “A year at home has left my eyes too dim to see the shadows on the wall.” How appropriate for a band named Oliver Future (say it slowly).

Meanwhile, his brother Noah plays sinuous, keening leads over a stately. late Beatlesque sway, up to a point where all hell breaks loose.

What’s happening here, and with more and more music that’s starting to trickle out, is that artists are wise to the 2020 totalitarian takeover and they’re not happy about it. Like so many albums of recent months, the group recorded this one by exchanging files over the web. Prediction: that meme’s going to be over soon, and we’re going to see bands and artists head back to the studio and the stage with a vengeance. Producer Adam Lasus deserves immense credit for making the record sound as contiguous as it does.

The second track is Flattened, which wouldn’t be out of place on a mid-80s Kinks album, bright guitars over techy new wave keys. “It still feels like the end of days…breathe in, cash out, such a precious thing to waste,” Josh muses.

Bassist Jesse Ingalls’ incisive piano punches over a brisk, tensely pulsing new wave beat in I Can’t Take It, The Great Conjunction – a reference to the epic astrology that began in the fall of 2020 and subsequently? – is the album’s most epic track. With the ensuing loopiness and squall, it’s akin to what Genesis might have sounded like if Peter Gabriel had stayed in that band into the 80s.

With its brooding litany of loaded imagery, Short On Miracles is a psych-folk shuffle in a plastic costume. A rich web of chiming guitars – Noah Lit and Sam Raver – fuels Race to the Moon Again. rising to a funky intensity and back. “Dark as the times that we’re trapped in, over to soon, long live the worst in us all, race to the moon.”

They reprise the theme over a reggae-tinged beat with Race to the Moon Again, Again: “Exhausted probability, is there anybody out there?” Lit wants to know. A jagged approximation of poppy 80s Bowie, All We’ve Lost is a sobering look at where we are now, “Knowing that normal will never be the same.” The hope, obviously, is that the new society we’re working on won’t be a place where “they shut down all the bars, quiet crept in louder than the wind.”

The album’s final cut is Open Ended Spring: “We knows the rules of the day, keeping the wolves at bay,” Lit asserts over steady fingerpicked acoustic guitar before the dystopian vocoder chorus kicks in. He knows this ordeal probably isn’t over yet. Crank this up and get some long overdue validation: in its relentlessly catchy, smartly provocative and quirky way, this is one of the best albums of 2022 so far.