New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Category: punk rock

A Blast of Garage Punk Intensity From the Grasping Straws

All of a sudden, good things are starting to happen around the world: resistance movements are building toward critical mass, and more rock bands are starting to release new material. The Grasping Straws’ latest single Help – which just hit Bandcamp – sounds nothing like the fantastic, fantastical, all-acoustic Quarantine Halloween, which frontwoman Mallory Feuer released last month. This one’s a full-band song and sounds like a cross between Patti Smith and the early Damned. “Meet me in the darkest room…I’m falling, I don’t need help,” Feuer warns. Love that gritty, catchy bassline!

A Savagely Spot-On Album of Holiday Protest Songs From the Pocket Gods

The Pocket Gods – British songwriter Mark Christopher Lee’s mind-bendingly prolific rock project – have a spot-on new album of protest songs, No Room at the (Holiday) Inn, out just in time for the last month of the year and streaming at Spotify. In the same vein as last year’s punk rock Xmas album, Lee has penned a collection of pro-freedom anthems that span a whole bunch of styles.

The best song on the album is the Beatlesque I Can’t Breathe, sending out a shout to the late George Floyd in a global context. “Like every battered wife strangled in lockdown…from oppressed singers to the homeless vying for patronage….it’s real for those with PTSD,” Lee reminds. Seriously: ask anyone who’s survived a building fire, a serious car accident, a near-drowning, or a violent assault that involved strangulation or asphyxiation. An awful lot of those people can’t be muzzled because muzzles are a PTSD trigger.

And what’s the most effective way to get a PTSD attack under control? Deep breathing. You do the math.

On the pissed-off, punk side, there’s the sarcastically galloping COVID Cavalry, part carnivalesque anthem, part phony Xmas carol, Lee speaking for a whole country full of people missing their significant others – or the kind of fun they used to have dancing in pubs, which they can’t have now, because it’s illegal.

“If you sing along to this catchy Christmas song in a pub you will be shot,” is basically all the lyrics to the sludgy, Jesus and Mary Chain-ish single COVID Christmas. I Saw Mommy Doing Track and Trace is a cynical, Ramonesy dis at Boris Johnson, “A big fat scrooge.”

The saddest song on the album is the title track, a gloomy psychedelic rock tune: “This used to be my town, now they’ve shut everything down,” Lee intones, speaking for urban dwellers around the world. Surplus Population is an ersatz funk number with a sample of Scrooge himself asserting that “If they would rather die they’d better do it and decrease the surplus population.”

On the optimistic side, there’s Celebrate, a pretty, jangly lo-fi folk-rock number. There are also a couple of careening, noisy, metalish horror themes and a horror surf tune titled Shitter Was Full.

Good to see the tireless Lee joining Jello Biafra, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton and Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown on the front lines of the pro-freedom movement.

Revisiting a Catchy, Fearless, Kick-Ass Rock Record by the Cleveland Steamers

The Cleveland Steamers’ Best Record Ever – streaming at Spotify– came out a couple of years ago. On one hand, it’s purist, catchy, dynamically shifting guitar rock with metal, garage and psychedelic influences. On the other, it’s incredibly original: nobody blends those styles like this crew. Some of these songs sound straight of 1980-  no doubt since many of the group were around back then – but the band really slay with the unexpected mashups.

The album’s darkest and most adventurous cut, Dream of Me is basically a slow, 6/8 doom metal theme infused with Cullen O’Connor’s creepy tremolo organ and an achingly melismatic Marianne Friend sax break. “Soon to share the cosmos with you,” frontwoman Meredith Rutledge-Borger soberly intones; then she makes a candy bar joke. Monsanto is much the same, from its menacing, flamencoish Nick Summa guitar intro, to drummer Emmett O’Connor’s stalking pulse afterward

Hung Up On You has a swaying garage rock beat and some slinky guitar work behind that keening, swirly organ, while Maple Leaf Girl is more of a straight-up, garagey powerpop number. The long trumpet intro to the vampy Last Love nicks a famous classical theme: “I found love is a good place to hide,” bassist/singer Cheese Borger confides.

The album’s funniest song is My Asshole Cousin, a punk tune: it’s a capsule history of Republican bigotry over the past hundred years. Never Saw You Again has a steady backbeat and a lingering guitar burn, a bitter reminiscence about a really bad choice.

There’s also the punchy powerpop tune, See You Tonight; Shut Up, a screaming, amusing punk song; and Something Bad, which sounds like Blue Oyster Cult taking a very successful stab at new wave.

Welcome Back, Thelonious Monster!

Thelonious Monster have put out their first new album in sixteen years, and Oh That Monster – streaming at Bandcamp – was worth the wait. Bob Forrest still has his creepy Leonard Graves Phillips voice, guitarists Chris Handsome and Dix Denney still wail, and the rhythm section of bassist Martyn LeNoble and drummer Pete Weiss hit as hard and as diversely as they did back when the band were a big draw on the club circuit. Their purist blend of punk rock and soul draws a straight line back to the first wave of punk in the 70s, and the new batch of songs, if anything, are stronger than ever.

The album’s first track, Disappear picks up like they never left, with a steady, fast punk beat, diversely textured guitars and eerie sound effects. Midway through there’s a voiceover: “Killing us all, imperialists destroying the world.” These guys don’t waste words.

The second track, Falling Behind is a gorgeously bittersweet, upbeat, organ-driven, Graham Parker-ish anthem, a cautionary tale about creeping complacency. The band work their way out of squirrelly rhythms to a straight-up anthemic drive in Buy Another Gun: the outro mantra, over a terse, icy guitar solo, is “Messed up!”

They channel late 70s Gang of Four and then the Beatles from ten years earlier over LeNoble’s gritty bass pulse in Trouble. Then they burn their way through the brooding minor-key anthem Elijah, sparks flying from their pedalboards, with a tantalizingly evil guitar duel on the way out. “People are gonna flock to you, oh they’re gonna love ya,” Forrest intones sarcastically.

Teenage Wasteland – about time somebody reclaimed that song title, huh? – is a pounding, sobering look back at wretched punk excess. Imagine the Ramones with a sax.

The band open Sixteen Angels with shards of psychedelic guitar over a clave beat, then punch in as the sax wafts broodingly overhead. “Shame on you, not shame on me,” Forrest’s homeless narrator rails. It’s the longest and most ferocious song on the album.

They follow that with the funky, anthemic, backbeat-driven LA Divorce: “Things used to matter, but nothing matters now,” Forrest rasps. Time After Time is a catchy, vampy, optimistic soul song with an electric mandolin. They close the record with The Faraway, a fond, bucolic, mostly acoustic tableau. 

A Brilliant, Scorchingly Lyrical Short Album From Swedish Rockers the Plastic Pals

Stockholm band the Plastic Pals are connoisseurs of the edgiest sounds to emerge from 60s American psychedelia, 70s powerpop and 80s punk. Frontman Håkan “Hawk” Soold sings in English and writes sharp, sardonic, spot-on lyrics in a very individualistic vernacular. The cover image of their new ep It Could Be So Easy, Free and Fine – streaming at Bandcamp – nails their sensibility, a municipal worker on a bridge struggling with a chain while a shiny expanse of skyscrapers looms ahead.

They open with their signature song, Plastic Pal, a scorching mashup of Radio Birdman, the Buzzcocks and the Clash. In two minutes eighteen seconds, they let you know they want no part of any New Abnormal:

I’ve got a brain the size of a planet
And they have me parking cars
I’m cruising through the universe
For some money in my tip jar
Artificial intelligence sex dolls
And self-driving cars
I need a better option
Than stumbling home from the bars

They completely flip the script with the second track, If Love Should Call, a slow, pastoral Velvets-inspired nocturne with a subtle revolutionary message:

You say life is like a circus
Well here you are, there’s the ring
Do you comply with the terms of service?
You fly like a butterfly but how do you sting?

The layers of jangly, lingering guitars – that’s Soold and Anders Sahlin – are exquisite.

With a completely different twin-guitar attack, Hangin´in the Louvre is a slashingly cynical, backbeat-driven minor-key anthem, its secret agent man waiting for the museum to close so the team can pull off the heist.

They close the album with More Than an Icon,, bassist Bengt Alm and drummer Olov Öqvist driving the new wave pulse:

Like Elvis, you left the building, you just took your cross and split
This planet wasn’t big enough for you
Palm branches at your feet, the future was already writ
A classic case of too much too soon

Along with Karla Rose‘s ep from earlier this year, this is one of the best short albums of 2020.

Beware of Greeks Bearing Loud Guitar Amps

Balothizer are among the most recent heavy psychedelic bands to realize how delicious haunting old Greek folk tunes sound when you crank up the volume and hit the distortion pedal. The obvious comparison is New York’s own Greek Judas, who, like Batholizer, are one of the few rock acts releasing new material these days. Check out the Brooklynites’ latest single, Snakey Song, which is probably the most succinct number in their repertoire of heavy metal versions of hash-smoking and protest songs from the 1920s and 30s..

Balothizer have a whole new album, Cretan Smash, streaming at Bandcamp. The eerie Arabic-influenced chromatics and fearless pro-freedom content of music from Crete are everywhere here, starting with the epic, defiant first track, Jegaman, kicking off with a slashing cadenza from guest violinist Stratos Skarakis. Frontman Nikos Ziarkas multitracks sizzling electric lute riffs over Pav Mav’s gritty, galloping bass and Steve J. Payne’s pummeling drums as the song veers between speedmetal and a slow, relentlessly doomy sway.

The second track is Peace, a slow, grimly stomping anthem until the shreddy stampede out. You want grim? The third number, Aleppo – a bitter exile’s tale – gets reinvented as sort of Greek Motorhead, but with more of a hypnotically propulsive drive, while the fourth, Ponente Levante, a vengeful chronicle of finding nothing but trouble in the world, has an even faster, circling attack.

Foustalieris, a popular tune with a witheringly metaphorical revolutionary message, has elegantly echoey acoustic twin lutes to kick things off, then the band barrel through to a long wah-wah stoner jam. They close the record with their most epic number here, Anathema, a shoegazy slowcore tune. Watch for this on the best albums of 2020 page at the end of the year.

Greek Judas – Snakey Song

Ride the Highway to Hell with the Death Wheelers

The Death Wheelers play heavy psychedelic rock instrumental soundtracks to imaginary sleazy biker flicks. They like gritty, gear-grinding bass, heavy drums and guitar textures that shift from sandpaper distortion to blue-flame Lynchian twang, Their new album Divine Filth – streaming at Bandcamp – is the heaviest one yet.

They open with a swooshy, crunchy title theme that’s over in less than two minutes, slide guitar hovering over Max Tremblay’s chainsaw downtuned bass and Richard Turcotte’s drums. Ditchfinder General is an epic mashup of a twisted ba-BUMP theme as early Sabbath would have done it, along with the Stooges’ TV Eye, thrash metal and spaghetti western textures.

Suicycle Tendencies is a heavy biker theme: imagine Agent Orange covering a Davie Allan & the Arrows tune, with an outro by Sabbath. The title track is a gritty battle theme where the whole gang unites against the enemy, throttles rumbling at full volume beneath Ed Desaulniers and Hugo Bertacci’s shreddy wah guitars.

Lobotomobile, a creepy spiderwalking horror surf tune, is the album’s most gleefully phantasmagorical track. Corps Morts starts off like a heavier Radio Birdman, decays to grim sludge and then rises from the lagoon. Murder Machines – Biker Mortis, true to its title, is part horror film theme, part evilly strutting Harley chopper rock.

The voiceover that kicks off Motorgasm – Canal Pleasures Pt. 1 is pretty priceless: the song. part Isaac Hayes psychedelic funk, part crunchy stoner riff-rock, is just as tongue-in-cheek. Chopped Back to Life is a 70s stoner boogie repurposed as crispy all-terrain vehicle music.

Road Rite shifts between hardcore punk and a strutting, vaguely Stonesy tune. The group close the record with Nitrus, a pummeling horror surf number, like Strange But Surf with distortion and a chunkier rhythm section. It’s the band’s best album so far and one of the most entertainingly cinematic releases of the year.

Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog Use Lockdown Time to Make One of the Year’s Best Albums

Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog’s new album What I Did on My Long Vacation – streaming at Bandcamp – is the rare album recorded in isolation during the lockdown that actually sounds like the band are all playing together. But that wasn’t how it was made. Guitarist Ribot, bassist Shahzad Ismaily and drummer Ches Smith each took turns laying down their tracks in Ismaily’s studio since for one reason or another they couldn’t pull the trio together at the same time. Testament to their long camaraderie, they got not only this funny, cynical, deliciously textured album out of it; they’ll be releasing a full vinyl record (yessssssss!) with material from these sessions in 2021. They’re playing the album release show at 8 PM on Oct 23 on the roof of St. Ann’s Warehouse, Beatles style, the band playing down to the crowd on the street below.

The first track is We Crashed In Norway, a sketchy, vamping, sardonic quasi-disco theme that harks back to Ribot’s similarly wry Young Philadelphians cover band project. Beer is just plain awesome – the suspiciously snide skronk/punk/funk second number, that is, forget about the (presumably) fizzy stuff that too many of us have been abusing since March 16.

With Ismaily’s loopy bassline and Ribot’s jaggedly spare multitracks, Who Was That Masked Man reminds of  classic Metal Box-era Public Image Ltd. Dog Death Opus 27 is a lot shorter and just as loopy, with a sarcastic turnaround.

The most sarcastically savage track here is Hippies Are Not Nice Anymore, a pretty straight-up punk rock tune tracing the sordid trail of the boomers to the point where “corporate was the theme of the week” – imagine the Dead Kennedys with a careening Velvets jam at the end. To close the album, the trio channel the Dream Syndicate – Ribot playing both the Steve Wynn and Jason Victor roles – in the buzzy, psychedelic, atmospherically careening The Dead Have Come to Stay with Me.

Considering the horrific toll the lockdown has taken on bands all around the world, it’s heartwarming to these these downtown punk-jazz legends still at the top of their game, undeterred.

Dark Rockers Galanos Return with a Vengeance

Back in 2017 this blog called Kingston, New York’s Galanos “the X of dark 21st century rock.” How convenient that their latest release, a similarly sinister three-song ep, would be streaming at Bandcamp in time for Halloween month this year. Fans of brooding punk-inspired sounds will love this band.

Frontwoman Netochka Nezvanova splits the vocals with a couple of the guys in the band, guitarist Gregjaw and bassist Joe Pugsley over drummer John Steele’s four-on-the-floor stomp. The first track, They Take it All Away is a punching, anthemic look at creeping fascism. It’s hard to think of a more appropriate anthem for the year of the lockdown: but the band offers hope at the end.

The second track is the most Halloweenish, a mashup of late 70s no wave and freaky jazz poetry. The final cut is The Death of a Wolf, which reminds a lot of early Siouxsie.

Dark Rituals and Gritty, Imaginative, Noisy Rock From Dorota

In a year where musicians and the arts are under assault more than at any other time in history, it’s heartwarming to see a group first featured on this page eight years ago still together and still putting out defiant and utterly unique music. Hungarian trio Dorota were characterized as “noisy noir punk surf jazz” here in 2012. Their latest album, Solar the Monk – streaming at Bandcamp – is just as noisy, more tuneful, and more influenced by late 70s no wave and 90s dreampop.

Is the blippy atmosphere at the beginning of the drony miniature that opens the album an allusion to sirens and lockdown-era fear? Actually not – the album predates the lockdown. The band don’t waste any time kicking into the first part of the album’s title track, a pouncing postrock stomp that recalls early Wire. Midway through, guitarist Dávid Somló, bassist Dániel Makkai and drummer Áron Porteleki slam out the same staccato E chord over and over as the overtones slowly rise. They reprise it later on with more syncopation and menacing clang.

The sternly marching third track, Neméreztem sounds like a group of Tibetan monks conjuring up an experimental rock ritual in a dingy Amsterdam club in 1979. Porteleki prowls mysteriously around his drum kit over spare atmospherics as Might Be Him takes shape, then the song morphs into a quasi-gospel groove punctuated by Makkai’s curlicue bass riffs.

Vacsorázin begins as a sputtering, drony dirge, then the monks return and chant their way slowly upward. The increasingly crazed instrumental Patient Religious Boys features flutes over boomy percussion, followed by the diptych The Stone Garden. The first part is just spare lo-fi keys and loops, then Somló switches back to guitar as Makkai’s looming chords rise along with Indian-flavored flutes.

From there we get dissociative ambience, Hare Krishnas on acid maybe, and twisted motorik noiserock. The concluding epic, It’s Gonna Rain slowly coalesces out of fuzzy, tensely wound bass to a wild stampede of guitar shred and huffing organ, and ends as you would expect. May this group survive the lockdown and continue to put out music as blissfully deranged as this.