New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Category: punk rock

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.

Smart, Sarcastic Punk Band the OC Rippers Hit Otto’s This Weekend

This Friday night, April 29 there’s a solidly good punk rock bill in the back room at Otto’s. Headliners the No-Heads work an acrid late 70s/early 80s postpunk sound that sometimes rumbles into hardcore. Before them on the bill at 11 PM are the Slaughter Boys, a San Diego act with short songs and a straight-up melodic sound.

From what’s up at the OC Rippers’ Bandcamp page, the New Jersey band, who play the 10 PM slot, are the highlight of the night. Big Brotha, the A-side of their latest single sounds like the Dead Boys covering the Stooges. On the band’s Born to Fuck ep from the fall of last year, they go for more of a pummeling Raw Power Stooges sound.

They also put out a full-length cassette, Wasteland Blues, in the spring of last year which is up at Bandcamp. That one’s thrashier, with the kind of short songs you might expect from a band who’ve covered legendary/obscore Long Island punks the Alan Millman Sect. There’s a dance tune (Do the Whip), some tasty, menacing chromatic stomp (Brats), some sarcastic hardcore, and Stoogoid rampages (the cleverly shapeshifting Feed Me and the funny, bass-driven Born in Waco)

Never Coming Down sounds like Sham 69 with an American accent. The best song on the record is Forced Vaccination, which speaks for itself with its creepy, techy touches.

There’s also a mystery band opening the night at 9 who call themselves the Kartel; presumably, they are not the excellent Greek metal band. One thing that is not a mystery is that the door goon at Otto’s cards everybody. You could be eighty with white hair and on a walker and you would have to show ID. What’s more is that they have an ID scanner and use it mercilessly. Thankfully, ID scanners don’t work on passports, so if you’re going, bring yours.

And from what we know now about the rollout of obedience programs in the years leading up to the 2020 global fascist takeover, it appears that the East Village was a pilot program for Klaus Schwab and the World Economic Forum’s Glate Leeset. Right around the end of 2009, all of a sudden, bars and restaurants in the area started using ID scanners. It was a gimmick that never caught on anywhere else in town until Andrew Cuomo’s infamous vaxxport from the summer of 2021.

The Neighborhood Brats Blast Through Bushwick

The difference between the Neighborhood Brats and a lot of punk bands is that the Brats are more musically imaginative than most. Guitarist George Rager plays big, fat, blasting chords, not just crunchy little two-string power chords, and chooses his spots for solos. Frontwoman Jenny Angelillo projects with a big, powerful wail; likewise, the group’s sound is a throwback to classic first-wave bands like the Avengers, Dead Kennedys and Adverts. There’s been some turnover in the rhythm section, but the current one is as strong as ever, They’re making a rare New York stop on April 26 at 7 PM at Our Wicked Lady; cover is fifteen bucks at the door. There’s a screamo band on afterward who are good with song titles but not so good with music.

The Brats’ latest album Confines of Life – streaming at Bandcamp – came out about a year ago. It’s arguably their strongest release so far, both musically and lyrically. Rager’s multitracked, overdriven tube-amp guitar sonics are especially juicy this time out. As usual, they don’t shy away from disturbing issues. They tackle eco-disaster in Who Took the Rain, the catchy opening track, then take a venomous sprint through Signs and Semantics, Rager tossing in a couple of wry Dead Kennedys references.

Angelillo raises a middle finger to the objectification of women in Miss America Pageant while Rager shifts from Flamin’ Groovies jangle to fullscale roar. “I am not a model, I don’t act,” she wails in FFBF, which is over in less than a minute and a half. Transitional Housing is a spot-on, funny dismissal of the homeless-industrial complex, followed by We’ll Find You. Is this about surveillance, or us finding each other? Hard to tell.

The band reach hardcore escape velocity in Harvey Weinstein (Is a Symptom), then shift to ghoulabilly for the catchy instrumental All Nazis Must Die. It’s hard to think of a more spot-on appraisal of the state of the world right now than I Weep for the Future and its macabre undercurrent.

The longest and most musically interesting anthem on the record is Migraines: you can hear echoes of PiL and the Buzzcocks along with a peak-era DKs acidity. “All you do is talk and talk, I’m not standing quiet in the shadows,” Angelillo sings in next-to-last track, LeBron James. They wind up the record by punking the hell out of Joan Jett’s I Want You. This is one of the best rock records of the past several months.

Edgy, Fearless Oldschool Punk Rock in the East Village Tomorrow Night

Elefantkiller sound a lot like the Dead Kennedys. They have a similarly macabre chromatic guitar sound and funny lyrics. They are also the furthest thing from politically correct:

Fuck your Whole Foods and your vegan bullshit
Pernil con arroz y habichuelas
Is what I wanna eat before I cut your head off
This ain’t Spokane, or Michigan
If my neighborhood’s sketchy, why did you move in?

That’s from the first track from their most recent album, Hipsterkiller, which you can download for free from their Bandcamp page. It’s a New York punk rock classic. They’re headlining Otto’s tomorrow night, April 22 at around midnight. For those who might have awful memories of dodging bridge-and-tunnel amateurs there, consider that this city has lost 25% of its population since March of 2020 and much of that crowd is the trendoids that Elefantkiller are taking aim at.

The rest of the record is great. Track two, Devotion is a sarcastic slap upside the head of a narcisssist, with some haphazardly shreddy metal guitar. The band follow that with Misery, a brief observation on the killjoys around us The last cut, Spare Some Change is gross, and catchy, and just as sarcastic.

Elefantkiller have been making acerbically humorous music for a long time. One of their funniest songs is a sludgy 2017 holiday single, Santa Bought Me Coke. There’s a lot of other stuff up at Bandcamp that’s also worth getting your hands on.

In Memoriam: Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey, founder and lead singer of legendary Australian band the Saints, died on April 9 under circumstances which are still not clear. He was 65.

Although Bailey was most commonly associated with punk rock, and returned to a distorted guitar sound with a vengeance in the early zeros, his greatest musical contribution was to the janglerock movement of the 80s and 90s. By the time bands like REM became popular, Bailey had already refined a distinctively clanging, chiming sound, often using the watery chorus effect so popular in 80s guitar music.

Bailey’s songs and career were marked by many dichotomies. He got his start as a teenager in Brisbane fronting the first in a very long line of Australian bands who would emulate the gritty Detroit rock of the Stooges. The Saints’ very first single, I’m Stranded, became iconic in punk circles yet remains far from their best song. Moving to England, the group slowly built an international following, even as Bailey’s supporting cast continued to change with each successive album and tour.

Likewise, Bailey’s songwriting grew more complex, with frequent detours into oldschool R&B, elegantly orchestrated chamber pop and Celtic-flavored balladry. Although known as one of the great, soulful crooners in Australian rock history, Bailey quickly grew into a fine guitarist, flinging chordlets and arpeggios into an intricately multitracked mix.

Bailey’s lyrics are allusive yet imagistic: he could pack several layers of meaning into just a few words. Although themes of cynicism, gloom and alienation pervade his songs, offstage he was a friendly, down-to-earth presence. In a milieu where standoffishness was often the norm, Bailey stood out with his beefy frame, his unruly mane of hair and extrovert personality. Well-read and articulate, he could be devastatingly funny and never met a good pun he could resist. He also earned a well-deserved reputation for the ability to consume prodigious amounts of hard liquor without showing any effects.

The Saints’ best album is the one most people have never heard, since it was never officially digitized. Live in a Mud Hut, recorded on tour in Sweden in 1984 with Brian James of the Damned on guitar, is a foundational moment in the history of janglerock, a mix of some of Bailey’s best songs of the era along with more raucous, R&B-flavored material.

Likewise, many of his best songs are on the obscure side. Give a listen to the chillingly prophetic Brisbane (Security City), from the band’s 1979 album Prehistoric Sounds:

It’s always guarded by the sea
Our prison island is not free
Our hope goes but is still there
It doesn’t alter if you stare
Living room isolation
Extraordinary situation
I see police but where’s the crime?
We’re just like convicts doing time

The best one of them all might be Grain of Sand, one of the most understatedly withering (and catchiest) portraits of despondency and addiction ever written. If you want cynicism, try Follow the Leader (the live version is better but missing from the web). The big international hit was the lush, wryly aphoristic alienation anthem Just Like Fire Would (scroll down a bit for the video).

On a sweltering evening in the early summer of 2003, a future daily New York music blog owner and his girlfriend took the D train up from their Chinatown apartment to the old Roseland Ballroom to see Bailey open a sold-out twinbill with fellow Australian Nick Cave. The aging goths in attendance did not seem very interested in a guy playing solo on twelve-string acoustic guitar, but Bailey projected and sang his guts out into the boomy space. In his own unselfconsciously defiant way, that was more punk rock than anything he could have done with a loud band behind him.

Deepest condolences to his sisters, his many bandmates and all those who had the good fortune to know this fearless, generous soul.

Smart, Cynical Punk Sounds in Bushwick Next Week

More about that unexpectedly good quadruplebill at Our Wicked Lady in Bushwick on the 14th: catchy female-fronted powerpop/janglerock band the Rizzos, open the night at 8ish, followed by the more straight-up punk  Duke of Vandals, the pro-immigrant, all-female Frida Kill and kinetic no-wavers Weeping Icon headlining at around 11. The club webpage says cover is $11.33 which means it’s twelve bucks at the door.

Duke of Vandals’ latest album Vandalism came out last year and is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s solid four-on-the-floor, cynical punk rock. The first track, Horror Cinema pairs off a slow intro and fast, cynical verse. Track two, Psychosomatic has hints of vintage Dead Kennedys: “I think the juice is not enough,” is the mantra on the way out.

Track three, 24, is a cautionary tale about getting old before your time. The band snidely contemplate the end of the world in Car Crash TV and close the record with the escape anthem The Thing

The all-female, bilingual Frida Kill don’t have much online, but what’s up at Bandcamp is good. The A-side of their “demo” single is Mujeres Con Mangos, a catchy salute to the intrepid immigrant vendors whose tasty snacks make our subway trips more tolerable. The B-side, Here’s Hoping is punchier, like a beefier version of the Slits. The quartet of multi-instrumentalists Lily Gist, Maria Lina Canales, Jeanette D. Moses and Gabriela Canales have a debut cassette ep with both of the songs on it due out later this month.