New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: punk rock

New York’s Most Ubiquitous Cello Rockers Play a Favorite Williamsburg Haunt

The Icebergs are New York’s hardest-working cello rock band. They’re at Pete’s Candy Store just about every month – where they’ll be on Feb 25 at 8:30 – and they play a lot of random places in Bushwick as well. There’s no other band around who sound like them. Cellist Tom Abbs plays with his axe slung over his shoulder like a guitar. Mixing catchy basslines, slithery single-note riffs and boomy low-register chords, he’s sort of the Lemmy of the cello – on steroids.

Frontwoman Jane LeCroy comes out of the punk poetry scene and has been published all over the place, so her lyrics have a sharp focus that’s sometimes playful, sometimes witheringly cynical, with a fierce political undercurrent. Most of the time she sings, sometimes she speaks: either way, the drama is usually understated.

In hindsight, drummer Dave Treut was the obvious choice to fill the big shoes left behind when David Rogers-Berry left the band, and the switch turned out to be a fair trade. Treut is more chill in this band than in other projects including his own, but he still brings the psychedelic textures and ghostly flickers.

This blog was in the house for the better part of two shows at the trio’s usual Williamsburg haunt, in the spring of last year, and about a year before then as well. What was most obvious was how much more material the band have beyond what’s available on their catchy, clever 2017 debut album, Eldorado. It’s a cynical title. In case you’re wondering, there are no ELO covers on it (it’s impossible to imagine that a cello rock band would be unaware of the magnum opus by the group who paved the way). Assuming the Pete’s show starts on time, there’s still a window to get home on the L train before the nightly L-pocalypse begins.

Righteous Rage and Smoky Atmospherics with Algiers at Rough Trade

Algiers played a tantalizingly brief, barely half-hour set at Rough Trade on Wednesday night. This blog characterized their 2015 debut album as “revolutionary postrock soul.” These days, industrial gothic gospel is a better description. Their smoky, swirly yet rhythmically pummeling sound is more Sisters of Mercy, less Terminator soundtrack now.

Frontman/keyboardist Franklin James Fisher sings powerfully in the studio; he is amazing live, and even more dynamically diverse. On the band’s opening number, Void – the final cut on their just-released vinyl record, There Is No Year – he had a gleefully brittle Jello Biafra quaver in his voice. That song came across as a Dead Kennedys homage, right down to the ominous chromatics and drummer Matt Tong’s 2/4 hardcore thump. It seems to be the key to the record, with its relentless theme of escape.

Aside from a leaner sound, what was most obvious was how much of the music was in the mixer: guitar, bass, keys, backing vocals…other than Fisher’s electric piano, and his own mixer too, was anything actually being played live? Guitarist Lee Tesche put down his axe for a sax on the second number, but if that was miked at all, it got lost in the grim, grey-sky sonics. Although he did reach for his tremolo bar for Lynchian twang for the intro to a song a little later, and his icily minimalist, Robert Smith-style riffs afterward cut through the mix as well.

Fisher channeled angst-fueled Levi Stubbs passion throughout Unoccupied, a darkly techy update on classic, minor-key Motown: an allusive breakup narrative, it seemed to be the only number in the set that wasn’t political. “Run around, run away from you, America, while it burns in the streets,” Fisher belted as Dispossession, another new track, took shape over his own stark, insistent gospel piano chords. “Here they comes from the ashes of ashes, so immune to defeat,” he cautioned – but there was also defiance and hope in his imploring crescendos and flood metaphors. Which seems to be his ultimate message: with their bankster economy and surveillance, the enemy is always encroaching. But we’ve got the numbers.

Algiers will be back on April 9 at St. Vitus, a great spot for them.

Catchy, Pissed Off Punkish Sounds and a Ridgewood Gig from Cruel Children

Cruel Children do things right. Why worry about making a fancy studio album when you’re just getting started? Why not just record a rehearsal on your phone and slap it up on Bandcamp as a free download?

That’s exactly what they did, and as rough as the results were, their songs are catchy and have a bite.They’re playing Footlight Bar at around midnight on Jan 26 at the top of an excellent five-band lineup of pissed-off, funny, punkish music for the disenfranchised. Irresistibly amusing, politically woke, all-female punk trio Witchslap open the night at 8, followed by the even more pissed-off Bint, the even rougher Que Sick and then the sardonically spot-on Anxious? Anxious! Cover is $10. With the L-pocalypse in full effect, take the M to Seneca Ave and walk north eight blocks.

Frontwoman/guitarist Ella Sanandaji’s vocals have a dramatic, angry, stagy edge: she really goes to the top of her raging range on the album’s first song, An Empty Space. It seems to be a kiss-off anthem. The instrumentation is just her distorted guitar through a cheap amp, over Bill Schoenberg’s splashy drums.

You Don’t Belong is just as catchy, with hints of noir swing, 60s psychedelic folk and Syd Barrett. Criminal is closer to oldschool CB’s era punk: “You’re a woman-hater, I don’t feel sorry for you, it’s all about control control control…you’re not a man,” Sanandaji snarls. The last song is Eat the World, an antiglobalist rant, chaotic verse into an anthemic chorus. “I’ve never met anyone so selfish as you,” Sanandaji screams. Truth in advertising; Cruel Children probably sound even better live now than when they recorded this

Holiday Irreverence

On a macro level, holidays are always a good thing. In an era where workers’ rights are under fire more than at any time since the Industrial Revolution, anything that stands in the way of the bosses’ sense of entitlement is worth celebrating.

On the other hand, we in the west have become estranged from the winter solstice and harvest festival best remembered by the latin name Saturnalia. With all the religious associations weighing it down over the centuries, year-end holiday music has become a vomitorium of cheese and schmaltz. It’s time to take our holidays back! Here’s a handful of irreverent sonic treats to inspire you.

Jewish a-cappella group Six13 have a couple of seasonal tunes that deserve to be sung while the dreydl spins. A Star Wars Chanukah has some familiar lyrics set to the tune of John Williams’ Star Wars theme: the video, and the costumes, are the funniest part. Bohemian Chanukah – an update on Bohemian Rhapsody – is just plain LMFAO hilarious. The jokes are too good to give away, but it’s the one about the shonde known as baked latkes that might be the best of the batch. And as much as these guys are a comedy act, they’re actually fine singers.

On the Christmas side, the UK’s most prolific psychedelic punk weirdos, the Pocket Gods have a brand-new album, Rock N Rollin’ Fornicating Xmas streaming at Spotify. Frontman Mark Christopher Lee can’t keep a straight face throughout a punk rock Silent Night. There’s also a phony country song about getting fast food takeout with Jesus; a Ramonesy dis dedicated to Boris Johnson; a number about Christmas masturbation; and a sludgy, Black Angels-esque dirge, I Killed My Parents on Christmas Day. If December 25 bums you out, this will make your day a bit more tolerable.

The Latest Evil, Psychedelic Chapter in the Skull Practitioners’ Brilliantly Noisy Career

Power trio the Skull Practitioners have been one of New York’s most assaultively excellent bands for several years, and have played a lot of seemingly impromptu show in between bandleader and lead guitarist Jason Victor’s gigs with Steve Wynn and the Dream Syndicate. It’s not an overstatement to say that at the top of their unhinged game, the Skull Practitioners are just as dark and intense. Their latest ep, Death Buy is streaming at Spotify.

They open the album with the instrumental title track, a slowly swaying, ominous groove with layers of reverb and evil sheets of sustain that Victor finally turns into chords – for awhile, anyway, until the trails of sparks and fumes return. Kenneth Levine’s gritty bass emerges from the toxic puddles, drummer Alex Baker flurrying like Dennis Thompson would do to pull the MC5 out of the murk.

Grey No More is one of the band’s most straight-ahead punk songs: you can hear echoes of the Cramps, the Damned and the Stooges over late 70s/early 80s SoCal drive. The epic instrumental jam Miami is a real departure for the band, the rhythm section more or less looping a quasi-funk fuzztone bass groove, Victor adding spacious, spacy sheets overhead, finally shrieking his way to the top of the fretboard. It gets a lot tripper from there.

The album’s last track is The Beacon, a growling gutter blues tune that sounds a lot like the early Gun Club with a better singer. Look for this on the Best Albums of 2019 page here at the ehd of the year

Warish Bring Their Hard, Fast Attack to the Knitting Factory

Warish play hard, fast, heavy music that sounds a lot like Queens of the Stone Age: metal chord changes at punk speed. They’re not big on guitar solos but they are big on hooks and evil chromatics. They like their textures fuzzy and dry, Pantera-style. Their new album Down in Flames – which doesn’t seem to be a Dead Boys reference – is streaming at Bandcamp. On the record, they tend to pair similar-sounding songs together, maybe because the tunes here are on the short side: no wasted notes. Warish are playing the Knitting Factory on Sept 30 at 8 PM followed by the epic Wizard Rifle and then psychedelic doom legends Acid King; cover is $20. Because of the L-pocalypse, you’ll need to find a way to take the G train – which doesn’t have any scheduled delays that night, at least as far as we know – to connect with whichever subway you’re taking home.

The album’s first track, Healter Skelter doesn’t sound anything like the Beatles, but it does sound exactly like QOTSA: fast, gritty, simple riffage, mostly a one-chord jam. You’ll Abide has the same kind of hammering QOTSA drive, but the changes are just as fast and furious and a lot catchier.

Big Time Spender has gleefully evil doomy hammer-ons from frontman/guitarist Riley Hawk in between the bludgeoning riffs; Bleed Me Free follows the same pattern. With its catchy 3-2-1 minor-key hook, the desperate wartime trench tune In a Hole is the album’s punkest tune. Then they follow with Bones, which is much the same.

Voices has an especially tasty chromatic menace and hints of horror garage rock. They go back toward punk with Fight and its slithery raga-rock intro. Then, in Shivers, they shift from wide-angle psychedelic chords to straight-ahead punk and a little halfspeed Sabbath.

Running Scared could be surf punk legends Agent Orange at their heaviest. The album closes with the cynical, QOTSA-style blues-tinged Their Disguise – finally, a shreddy guitar solo, and it’s unhingedly good! Not a single weak song on this record: these guys have really figured out their sound. If you like speed and power, this is for you

Fearlessly Funny, Political Punk Rock at Arlene’s Next Week

In times like these, we need bands like Jack and the Me Offs. True to the spirit of classic punk, the New Brunswick, New Jersey band are funny and not afraid to piss people off. Their recording output so far is limited to a three-song, name-your-price live Bandcamp “demo” recorded at Rutgers in 2017. They’re playing Arlene’s on Sept 5 at 7 PM; cover is $10.

The first song on the ep, Designer Fascist, is the best. It’s a catchy, trebly singalong: you can feel those distorted guitar chords bouncing off those basement walls. The title refers to how fascists these days have traded in their KKK hoods and Nazi uniforms for fancy  officewear:

It’s sad but it’s true
They’re not like me and you
They hate the gays they hate the Jews
They’re all coming after you
It’s sad but it’s true
They’re not like me or you
Their lawns sport Trump signs their eyes scream dollar signs
This is the new regime

The other two songs are comic relief and designed to make you squirm a little. Skin Suit is a garage-punk tune about an Ed Gein-type character. Please Be Neat, Clean the Seat is a Ramonesy number about um, splashback from being careless. The band are tight and play a lot better than any of the phony punk bands out there left over from the Warped Tour days. More people should make live albums: these guys are obviously a lot of fun onstage.

Brooklyn’s Two Most Irrepressibly Entertaining Rock Bands Branch Out This Month

The most entertaining rock twinbill of the year so far happened on one of the summer’s most blustery, wet nights last month at cozy Prospect Lefferts Gardens boite the Nest. It began with a wail and ended with the headliner’s frontwoman skidding on her knees to the edge of the stage, drenched in blood.

As impossibly high as noir punk trio Hannah vs. the Many raised the bar, the Manimals were just as charismatic. Where Hannah Fairchild ripped through torrents of lyrics, literary references, savage puns and righteous feminist rage with her siren vocals and Telecaster roar, singer Haley Bowery and her theatrical powerpop band the Manimals were every bit as dramatic and ridiculously fun to watch. Hannah vs. the Many are back at the Nest, (504 Flatbush Ave.) on August 18 at 6 PM on a bill with lots of bands. The noiserock act on afterward, George Puke (jazz fans will get the joke) are also a lot of fun. Take the Q to Prospect Park; the venue doesn’t have a website, but cover probably isn’t more than ten bucks, if that. The Manimals are at Union Pool on August 24 at 9 as part of a pro-choice benefit show; cover is $12.

It’s never safe to say that a musician is the world’s best at any one particular thing, but there’s no better songwriter than Fairchild right now. For about the past four years, she’s stripped her material down to fit her nimble, scrambling, burning power trio with bassist Carl Limbacher and drummer Max Maples. In about an hour onstage, they ripped through one menacing number after another, a mix of songs from the group’s latest album Cinemascope as well as a couple of new tunes, calling bullshit on clueless exes on Instagram, madonna/whore dynamics in theatre, and narcissism run amok. The best of the brand-new tunes followed a long trail of phantasmagorical, Syd Barrett-esque chromatic chord changes, a familiar trope for this band.

The most savagely punk tune of the night was The Auteur, a kiss-off anthem to end all kiss-off anthems: in this group’s world, the battle of the sexes is always a death match. They closed with Kopfkino, which on one of many levels is a terse, allusive Holocaust narrative set to amped-up 60s Flamin’ Groovies janglerock: “What’s the last stop for a face on a train?” Fairchild asked pointedly.

The Manimals followed with a slightly less savagely surreal set of Bowie-esque powerpop: imagine what the Thin White Duke would have done, backed by Cheap Trick, around the time of the Alladin Sane album. Where Fairchild, tall and blonde in her slinky black strapless dress, played femme fatale, the lithe, strikingly blue-eyed Haley Bowery pulled off some neat split-second costume changes for a more chameleonic look.

The band’s set was less overtly venomous but still had an edge. Sadly, this was drummer Matt O’Koren’s last show with this crew: like so many other good New York musicians, he’s been brain-drained out of town. The twin guitars of Michael Jayne and Christopher Sayre kept the glamrock flair front and center while bassist Jack Breslin kicked in some emphatic climbs along with slithery low-end riffage.

The irresistible “whoah-oh” chorus of the big powerpop anthem Bury Me Here masked the song’s ambiguity over how much fun it really is to be young and out on the prowl in what’s left of this city. Likewise, the band scorched through a punked out take of A Key, a cynically detailed, defiant burner from the band’s latest album Multiverse. Another almost obscenely catchy tune from the record, Savage Planet was more Runaways than Go-Go’s.

The funniest moment of the night was when the band finally figured out what they were going to do with Under Pressure – the Bowie/Queen collaboration – playing it suspiciously deadpan. There was also a satanic ritual of sorts as an intro to Triple Hex, a big, creepy Lynchian country-pop ballad which set up the end of the night. The blood all over Haley turned out to be fake, but for a minute it wasn’t completely obvious whether all the drinks had finally caught up with her and she really was offering herself up as a human sacrifice. Or a female Iggy Pop – the show was that much fun.

Yet Another Killer Short Album and a Williamsburg Gig From Ferocious Power Trio Castle Black

Over the last couple of years, power trio Castle Black have put out a series of ferociously smart, edgy short albums. Watching the group develop from a promising, messy punk band into a sleek, relentlessly dark, complicated beast has been one of the real feel-good stories in the ever-shrinking New York rock scene. Their latest release, Dead in a Dream is streaming at Bandcamp. They’re playing the album release show this July 9 at 9 PM at Muchmore’s; cover is $7. For people worried about not being able to get home from Williamsburg on the L train, the venue is a leisurely five-minute walk from the Lorimer St. station, and the G train is running all night.

The first couple of tracks on the new ep blend dark garage rock with shapeshifting psychedelia. Throughout U Do the Same the band veer between time signatures, new drummer Joey Russo handling the tricky changes and also addiug gritty intensity on bass.

Frontwoman/guitarist Leigh Celent begins the moody Know Me, Anyway with a wall of feedback, the song rising from a plaintive verse into a venomously catchy chorus: “You don’t know me, anyway,” she intones as the storm builds toward gale force..

The title track is a creepy, sabretoothed masterpiece, Celent working the contrast between her lingering, jangly lines and savagely insistent chords, up to a series of brooding, psychedelic interludes. It’s one of the half-dozen best songs of 2019 so far, and the band play the hell out of it live.

The Most Unlikely Killer Album of 2019 and a Lower East Gig by Binky Philips and the Planets

A lot of people forget how incredibly creative and talented the first wave of punk bands were. Punk wasn’t just three chords and amps turned up to eleven: it was about thinking outside the box, and lyrics that were smart and funny and had real-world resonance, and taking chances no corporate band would be allowed to. Punk was as much of a raised middle finger to corporate fascism as it was to the political kind. These days, with Amazon and Facebook doing the kind of job the gestapo and the KGB only wished they could have, there’s more need than ever for the kind of reality check that punk delivered.

And as serious as oldschool punk was, it was just as fun. That’s where New York vets Binky Philips and the Planets come in. It’s actually more astonishing that it took tem 47 years to make their first official studio album, Established 1972 NYC, than it is to hear how much better their chops are than they were when they started. On one hand, age eventually takes its toll on musicians; on the other, the more you play, the better you get, and these guys have had more time than most to sharpen their chops. They made their debut opening for the New York Dolls. They claim to be one of the first ten bands to play CBGB – before the Ramones – and they’re probably right. They definitely have claim to the bandname: the British new wave group responsible for the minor hit Iron for the Irons didn’t hit til seven years later. Philips and the original Planets’ debut album is just out and streaming at youtube. They’re playing their usual haunt these days, Arlene’s, on May 13 at 8 PM; there’s no cover. You can bet this blog will be in the house.

As you would imagine from a band that actually predated the punk era, the influences on the album range from 70s Britsh pub rock to 60s garage rock and psychedelia, but also new wave. The esthetic is pure Old New York: brash, sarcastic, absolutely fearless. The opening track, Splitsville or Bust has a chugging pub rock pulse,: “You’re the one that wishes me dead…your’re all invited to eat my dust,” frontman Nolan Roberts roars. Drinking Gasoline is simpler, sort of the missing link between American pub rock legends the Reducers and early AC/DC.

With Philips’ layers of guitars and classic 60s riffage, the sardonic party anthem Just Fine Just Fine wouldn’t be out of place on a Flamin’ Groovies album from the mid-70s. “99 bottles of beer on the wall, yes they all are empty,” Roberts asserts.

Kinda Liked It at the Time, a grim cautionary tale, is even funnier, Mike Greenwberg’s growling bass in tandem with Bobby Siems’ steady, insistent drumming. Geenberg’s catchy bass hooks fuel Leave Me Hanging, an amusing new wave strut with a nod in the direction of the early Police.

Siems switches between a suspenseful clave and a four-on-the-floor stomp in Plumbing the Depths, a wee-hours scenario that any party animal can relate to. The album’s best track is Blink, a desperate narrative that could be a Vietnam War tale, or apocalypse by gentrification.”This will not stand from where I’m sitting, damn right I’m going to put up a fight,” Roberts bellows, Greenberg’s bass rising achingly as the chorus kicks in. Then the band hit a mashup of Certain General postpunk and Ducks Deluxe pub rock for the stomping mob hit story Goodbye to All That.

The only really straight-up punk tune here is Sour Grapes, with a chorus about running from the Border Patrol that resonates twice as much now as when the band most likely wrote it. The final cut, Wear Out the Grooves, is ripoff of the early Yardbirds, right down to the simple, honking blues harp and boisterous oldschool R&B vamping. Still, it’s amazing how much energy the band have after all these years. Unlikely as it seems, these guys have put out one of the dozen best rock records of 2019 so far.