New York Music Daily

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Category: punk rock

In Memoriam: Keith Levene

Keith Levene, one of the most distinctively brilliant guitarists of the punk era, died a week ago in his native England, as reported in Mark Crispin Miller’s weekly necrology. He was 65. Levene had battled cancer for the past two years; it is unknown if the lethal Covid injection hastened his demise.

A founding member of the Clash and then Public Image Ltd, Levene’s sound encompassed an otherworldly, icy menace. Arguably no other rock guitarist has used overtones to such a powerful effect as Levene did, playing though a chilly wash of reverb. Reviewing Levene’s 2012 album Yin & Yang, which reunited him with ex-PiL bassist Jah Wobble, this blog characterized him as “The rare guitar god who relies more on space than speed, minute timbral shifts more than rapidfire riffage. And yet, his sonic assault remains one of the most brutal in any style of music.”

Levene is widely credited with pioneering the nails-down-the-blackboard skronk popularized by Gang of Four and the innumerable “no wave” bands of the late 70s and early 80s. However, he is better remembered for his lingering, harmonically bristling attack, playing jagged broken chords against a resonanting open string as well as utilizing unorthodox voicings to draw on the guitar’s overtone system.

Levene was an original member of legendary/obscure punk pioneers the Flowers of Romance, with Sid Vicious on drums. As the original rhythm guitarist in the Clash, he recruited Joe Strummer to be the group’s frontman but left before they recorded. Only one of his songs, What’s My Name, appears on the Clash’s first record..

Moving on to PiL, Levene began to define his chilly chorus-box sound on the group’s far slicker, powerpop-inspired debut album, First Issue. Their second album, originally titled Metal Box, was where Levene crystallized the style for which he is best remembered. His approach turned more spare and skeletal on the group’s third studio release, The Flowers of Romance. Levene left the band in 1983 after a reputed rift with frontman John Lydon over song credits and rumors of heavy drug use.

Before his two albums with Jah Wobble, Levene’s creative output had been erratic; he also worked with members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Condolences to all those who knew this individualistic and paradigm-shifting artist.

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In Memoriam: D.H. Peligro

Mark Crispin Miller, via his weekly chronicle of deaths from the lethal Covid injection, has passed along the sad news that we lost Dead Kennedys drummer D.H. Peligro this past Friday. He was 63.

Peligro’s real name was Darren Henley. Press reports indicate that he died after a fall at his California home.

He joined the Dead Kennedys in 1981, replacing the group’s first drummer, Bruce “Ted” Slesinger. Peligro played on all the iconic punk band’s subsequent studio albums. After the obscenity trial spearheaded by Tipper Gore broke up the band at the end of 1986, Peligro took his signature machinegunning attack to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, with whom he toured but never recorded.

He would later go on to play in a number of other groups, switching to guitar as the frontman of his own Jimi Hendrix-inspired punk band, Peligro. In recent years he toured in a cover band with other DKs bandmates, who had appropriated the Dead Kennedys bandname after a lawsuit against bandleader and main songwriter Jello Biafra.

Beyond his drumming, Peligro’s best known contribution to the band was his political broadside Hellnation, from the band’s career-defining 1985 album Frankenchrist.

The Juliett Class Bring Their Dark Roar to Bushwick Next Week

When’s the last there was a great, loud rock triplebill in New York that wasn’t all metal bands? One of the best lineups of the year is happening this Oct 6 at Our Wicked Lady with three groups that mix up psychedelic punk and new wave-era sounds. The centerpiece of the bill is the Electric Mess, New York’s answer to Radio Birdman. Movie Movie, who include members of that band as well as Twin Guns axeman Andrea Sicco open the night at 8. Darkly catchy, purposeful all-female power trio the Juliett Class headline at 10. The club seems oblivious to #cashalways and for the moment is onboard with the goofy online ticketing fad, which means that the cool kids with cash will most likely have to fork over $14 at the door. It’s hard to imagine a door person fumbling around with nickels and dimes in the dark.

The Juliett Class’ debut album is just out and up at Bandcamp. The first song, Shut Off is like an early version of Joy Division doing Transmission, but with a woman out front – right down to frontwoman Niabi Aquena’s wounded, angst-fueled vocals over Joan Sullivan’s incisive bass. Drummer Heather Wagner adds some theremin textures for extra swirl

They slow down for Highway Girl, a burning, swaying tune where Aquena multitracks her vocals for a haunting counterpoint. Ohio is an original, not the Neil Young protest song, the trio picking up from a slow simmer to a stomp. They wind up the album with Next Week, their Dead Souls: “I am trying to make it through next week,” is Aquena’s mantra. Simple, effective, dark and catchy and one of the best short albums of the year.

One of New York’s Best Powerpop Bands Stands Up For the People of Ukraine

The only side this blog takes as far as the war in Ukraine is concerned is with the people against the governments. Zelensky is a World Economic Forum puppet and evil AF. Putin is just as horrible: he claims to have poisoned the entire Russian army with a domestic version of the lethal Astra Zeneca injection. As usual, it’s the people of Ukraine and Russia who are being screwed. For those who’d like to help civilians in Ukraine, there’s a benefit concert on Sept 30 at Otto’s with a very diverse lineup playing to benefit Razom For Ukraine. Artists on the bill include songwriter and visual artist Kassaye Selassie, Granite to Glass, Americana harmony duo Raising Daughters, the reliably ferocious Giftshop, edgy powerpop songwriter Abbie Roper, country-folk two-piece Plane Station, sardonic powerpopstress Carissa Johnson and others.

The night’s centerpiece is the smart, wickedly tuneful Giftshop, who have been featured on this page before and play a slashing mix of dark powerpop and punk at 8 PM. They’ve gotten a lot of press here, not just because they’re a good band, but because they were pioneers in making practically their entire discography available as free downloads. It’s the best possible advertising for their live show.

One album of theirs that hasn’t made it to the front page here til now is their Blue Monster record, from 2017. It captures the moment when they transitioned from  the harder, original punk sound into the darker, sleeker, more lyrically rich territory they’ve been mining in more recent years.

The opening number is Despicable, a catchy riff-driven dis song that seems designed for audience participation. Track two is Cill the Choreographer, which with a luscious blend of Fender Twin guitar sonics could be a New York version of the Avengers. And it’s even more venomous.

The band hit a slashing minor key pulse in track three, Dangerous, frontwoman Meghan Taylor sending out a word of warning to everyone on the junkie tip. Then she and the band flip the script with Doncha Know, a detour into lingering Lynchian Julee Cruise pop.

Red Letter Day comes across as the UK Subs with a young Belinda Carlisle out front. Spooky Halloween Christmas is a ghoulishly good punkabilly tune to get you psyched for next month (and New York Music Daily’s upcoming, annual monthlong Halloween celebration!). They close the album with a brilliantly turbocharged cover of the Motels classic Only the Lonely. Grab this while it lasts.

Giftshop are also on a killer twinbill at the Parkside with the similarly fiery, female-fronted Castle Black on Oct 21 at 8 PM.

This Is Not a Movie But It’s a Venomously Good New Album

What happens when member of two of the edgiest bands in New York join forces? Guitarist Andrea Sicco of the noir-tinged Twin Guns and bassist Derek Davidson of venomous garage-punk band the Electric Mess decided to work up an album of catchy, anthemic powerpop, and the result is Movie Movie‘s first album Now Playing, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s one of the best short albums of the year so far.

The opening track, Bright Lights sets the stage with a lush blend of guitars, tracing a sad Day of the Locust trail, legends in their own minds on an obsessive quest for fame. It could be an early Mark Sinnis song. It sets the stage for the rest of the record.

No Long Goodbyes is a lushly layered kiss-off anthem spiced with Sicco’s slide guitar leads over a bed of six and twelve-string guitars. He breaks out his repeaterbox and turns his reverb all the way up as organist Dave Amels holds the center in Big City Tonight, up to a lavishly clanging outro.

Sicco’s counterintuitive changes propel Love Has Come and Gone, a cynical account of the one that got away….or maybe the one that got away just in time! He finally reaches for his signature chromatic menace before the third verse kicks in. The final cut is She’s Man’s Best Friend, a canine-themed, enigmatic anthem that could be metaphorical or not, drummer Alan J. Camlet holding it to the rails until the organ winds out.

The Attacca Quartet Play Outdoors This Month. and Stagedive Into Punk Classical

Quick: name the New York string quartet who’ve played for a larger live audience than any of their peers. Obviously, that’s kind of a trick question since those groups typically all share a circuit of intimate spaces best suited to that repertoire.

Some of you might be surprised to find out that the answer to that question is the Attacca Quartet, who were invited by Jeff Lynne to open for the Electric Light Orchestra at that group’s Manhattan appearances during the mid-teens. What may have endeared them to him is their dedication to material far outside of standard repertoire, as well as their fondness for unorthodox venues.

One unorthodox space they’re playing this month is Madison Square Park, where they’re holding down a three-week Wednesday evening residency starting on July 13 at 6 PM and continuing with shows on the 20th and 27th. While they tackle a vast range of material from 21st century works, to art-rock with songwriter Becca Stevens, all the way back to Renaissance composers like John Dowland, they also have a punk side. And a punk classical album, Real Life, streaming at Spotify. It’s possible they may air some of that one out in the park.

The album’s shtick is string quartet arrangements of EDM themes. They’re simple and repetitive and obviously weren’t originally conceived for any kind of close listening, let alone much of a shelf life. To call their insistent riffs and endless whoomp-whoomp rhythms minimalist would be giving them too much credit – and the quartet seem to get that. This is closer to the early Kronos Quartet at their cheekiest, or Rasputina, than it is to, say, the fluffy orchestral versions of RZA or J Dilla themes that have been staged in recent years.

Cellist Andrew Yee seems to relish the chance to dig in hard on the low end, whether with his bow or his fingers. Violinists Amy Schroeder and Domenic Salerni and violist Nathan Schram are most likely playing their parts straight through rather than simply looping them. There is also a percussive component, which seems to be electroacoustic: it’s not clear who’s on the drums.

The quartet have the most fun when they’re ornamenting the sound with saucy glissandos, pizzicato flickers, mimicking the sound of a backward-masking pedal, or building hazy ambience before the whoomp-whoomp kicks in. There’s a drifting, summery interlude which looks back to 70s disco, as well as moments of sheer chaos and a woozy, wallowing tableau. This is a gimmicky record, but it’s fair to say that these versions will outlast the source material. And you can do the punk rock dance to most of it.

Punk-Soul Legend Jon Spencer Bursts Out of Lockdown With a Funny New Album

If Jon Spencer never made another record, his place in New York rock history would be secure. The genius of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion was that they were able to carve out a distinctive niche in the gutter blues scene here by adding a more colorful, focused soul and garage rock-influenced sound. Where, say, the Chrome Cranks pursued an unhinged, doomed junkie fixation, JSBX played party music. And (along with their more lyrically inclined colleagues White Hassle) they beat the White Stripes to the bassless shtick by several years.

Fast forward to 2022: Spencer has a new band, the HITmakers, and a new album Spencer Gets It Lit streaming at Bandcamp. This isn’t the first time Spencer has worked without a guitar sparring partner: his foil on the record is keyboardist Sam Coomes. M. Sord plays drums; former Sonic Youth Bob Bert is credited with “trash.” His bangable metallic objects punch through the surface from time to time, but the effect is more organic than industrial. All of this you can dance to.

They open the record with Junk Man, a fuzztone Stooges take on roller-rink soul. Then they pull back on the fuzz and ramp up the catchy 60s psych-pop riffs in Get It Right Now.

There are a grand total of fifteen tracks on this album: Spencer does not cheat his fans. Among them, there’s a skeletal, hypnotic one-chord stomp punctuated by a couple of creepy surf interludes. Spencer cleverly pokes the TV Eye riff out over clouds of buzzy synth. He mashes up Roky Erikson clang with a 90s loopiness, then does the same a little later on with late 70s Rockpile twang and woozy new wave.

Sometimes he harmonizes his riffs with the keys, sometimes he lets the synth weave around: he’s never played more minimalistically than he does here. He often throws in some surreal, sometimes sinister spoken word that draws a straight line back to Iggy through the Eels’ Mark E. Beyond sheer craftsmanship, this isn’t particularly serious music, but there are lots of good jokes if you listen closely.

Faithless Town Release the Best Freedom Anthem of 2022 So Far

There’s been a lot of great freedom music released this year, but the best song of the bunch so far is Atlanta band Faithless Town‘s Live Free. It’s a defiantly swaying protest anthem, a mashup of ELO and peak-era Oasis, a bittersweet symphony for 2022. Frontman/guitarist Gene Owens reminds that now is not the time to be riding the fence:

Open your eyes
And see the lies
That you’ve been told
Your mind doesn’t belong to you anymore
Fear is not a virtue
It’s time to be brave
Do you wanna live free or die as a slave’

And the video is inspiring, a montage largely taken from the Highwire coverage of the London protests last summer.

The song is the centerpiece of the band’s new album Into The Light Vol.1, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s the first part of a full-length record that’s on track to be finished later this summer. The band have been through some personnel changes, but the current lineup of Owens with Aaron Rogers on lead guitar, Nathan Rudolf on bass and Vic Fischer on drums is arguably their strongest ever. Owens’ smartly crafted tunesmithing spans from punkabilly to Americana to lyrical, singalong stadium rock, occasionally bolstered by organ or strings behind the twin-guitar attack.

The opening track is Berkshire, a stomping, Celtic-tinged punk tune that brings to mind Stiff Little Fingers or Wormburner. The group follow with Not Goodbye, a soaring, bittersweet anthem in the same vein, with a tantalizing, slashing Rogers guitar solo at the center

What I’m Dreaming Of is a swaying, distantly Beatlesque, midtempo salute to being openminded in an era of endless divide-and-conquer: “Don’t trust the TV, don’t believe your feed,” Owens cautions. The band take a detour into a vein they explored earlier in their career with Coal Mining Man, a Nashville gothic-flavored workingman’s lament about the decline of the domestic coal industry.

They go back to a Reducers-style garage-punk punch with Someone to Think Of and close the record with Do Not Comply, a relentless, hard-hitting, cynical singalong:

One shot to buy your freedom
Two shots to go outside
Three shots to see your family
Four shots and then you die
Do not comply
See through their lies
Do not comply or you’ll die

Faithless Town’s next gig is May 27 at 9 PM at Smith’s Olde Bar, 1578 Piedmont Ave NE in Atlanta with swamp rockers Handsome Jack; cover is $10.

Catchy Powerpop and Dark Female-Fronted Punk Sounds in Astoria This Friday Night

Giftshop have been one of New York’s most distinctively catchy bands for more than a decade. Under the best circumstances, that kind of tenacity is rare. At this point in history, it’s even more of an achievement that the punk/powerpop quartet not only survived the lockdown but managed to put out some great singles over the last several months. Frontwoman Meghan Taylor is bringing the band, her powerful pipes and simmering, sardonic songs to a gig on May 20 at 9 PM at the Shillelagh Tavern, 47-22 30th Ave. in Astoria; take the N/R to 46th St.

Giftshop are also the rare band who have figured out the marketing value in putting their studio work out as free downloads: truth in advertising. Their most recent album, Biginastoria, does not seem to be the least bit sarcastically titled. A previous release, Tourist Trap goes back to 2013, has a louder punk rock crunch.

The opening track, Left Right would have ruled the college airwaves if the band had existed thirty years earlier. It’s a snide antiauthoritarian blend of skittish late 70s XTC new wave with a harder-edged, syncopated New York stomp.

Shine is not the Psychedelic Furs classic but a catchy, slurry riff-rock anthem. Anything Anything is a throwback to Garbage (or Missing Persons, ten years before that), with a surprise bass solo.

Taylor sends a ridiculously funny shout-out to a distinctly New England breed of dirtbag party animal in Parking Lot Astronaut, then the band blast through You Can’t Make Me at practically hardcore speed. They wind up the record with C’mon, which seems designed for audience participation. This is a fun look back to a time when the group wasn’t quite so dark or complex; then again, that could be said for the world in general.

Giftshop Bring Their Catchy, Powerful Tunesmithing to a Benefit for Ukraine on the 30th

Giftshop are a throwback to an era when loud guitar-driven three-minute songs were an art form. This blog has called the band the missing link between Blondie and the Distillers. At this point in their career, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that they’re a crunchier version of the Go-Go’s. Their worldview is sharp, their songwriting is wickedly catchy and retro in a classic late 70s CBGB-style powerpop vein, and frontwoman Meghan Taylor has one of the most memorable, powerful wails of any singer in New York They’re headlining a benefit for Ukraine this weekend at Otto’s at around 9 PM on April 30. It’s a pass-the-bucket situation with all proceeds going to Razom for Ukraine. The Sloe Guns, who have been one of New York’s smartest Americana bands for going on two decades, play before at around 8.

Giftshop also know know something about marketing: practically their entire output since 2012 is up at their music page as a free download, and all of it is worth owning. This is the giftshop that keeps on giving! Their most recent singles are particularly choice. The newest and best one is More Than That, a searing reminiscence of the “wasted time and wasted years” since March of 2020, referencing Big Pharma fearmongering and “weaponized hugs.” It could be the best song of the year so far.

Another good one is Kewl With Me, a pulsing, riff-driven early new wave era-style number and showcase for Taylor’s powerful pipes. Matt Santoro varies his guitar textures from jangle to roar over Damian Eckstein’s buzzy bass and Jordan Kramer’s drums in Stylish Junkie, a snarling, sarcastic slap upside of the head of a girl who puts “the under in underwear.”

Their most recent album, Biginastoria came out in 2019. It’s one catchy, tantalizingly brief nonconformist anthem after another, They open it with We Want You, a sarcastically marching, synthy new wave tune, then Taylor takes aim at narcissistic trendoid groupthink in Same: “The rest of us just don’t buy in,” is the mantra.

They reach an early X-style punk stomp in Stacked, a dig at phony rebels, and then hit a hardcore sprint in Things I Feel, over in less than a minute and a half. They close with a deliciously rampaging cover of the Motorhead classic Ace of Spades – it ranks with the Avengers’ version of Paint It Black.