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Category: punk rock

Intuitive, Fearlessly Fun Reinventions of Iconic Classical Pieces from Eliane Rodrigues

One of the funniest videos on youtube is a 2016 audience recording of the beginning of pianist Eliane Rodriguesperformance of Chopin’s Polonaise Fantasie, Op. 61 at a concert in her hometown of Antwerp. It’s obvious in the first few seconds that something is wrong with the piano. How she deals with it is priceless. Youtube pageview counts are notoriously inflated, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if all six million hits on this video were real: it’s that good.

After watching her in that situation, her solo piano arrangement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, on her new album Aeternum – streaming at Spotify – comes as no surprise. It’s the kind of thing you play at a party after everybody’s had a few drinks. Don’t even start with the famous first movement: put the second on and see how many people get the joke. And it doesn’t even start with a joke: Rodrigues reinvents it as a High Romantic tour de force, drenched in as much angst as devious humor.

And it sounds nothing like the comparatively tame, stolidly marching Liszt transcription: this is pure fun. Rodrigues uses a ton of space to ramp up the suspense, holds onto pivotal moments for dear life, employs rubato constantly to underscore as much gothic grimness as sheer buffoonery. This isn’t just punk classical: there’s immense depth and feeling when she’s not going for broke with the jokes. One suspects the composer, a recidivist bon vivant, would have played it much the same way.

Rodrigues also tackles a half-dozen Bach pieces here. Her approach to the Prelude and Fugue in G major, BWV 541 is practically breathless, with a stunningly light touch in places, even more so as the famous fugue theme begins. But she doesn’t stay there long, raising the volume with a crushing precision. Her take of the equally iconic Fantaisie and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542 is completely the opposite, riding the pedal for an approximation of organ resonance before backing away wistfully, syncopating while walking the bass hard, and conjuring up as much nocturnal glimmer as she can.

There are two other Bach pieces on the album. The Prelude and Fugue in A Minor, BWV 543 is another staple of the organ repertoire: her dusky introduction and angst-fueled insistence are spot-on, as is her steady but slashing, proto-Rachmaninovian interpretation of the fugue. And she teases out every bit of puckish humor, scampering phantasmagoria and grand guignol as anybody could want from the iconic Toccata and Fugue in D.

It’s obvious that Rodrigues really went under the lid with all of this. You may disagree with her dynamics but you can’t fault her for technical flaws or lack of chutzpah. Anyone who might think this music is stuffy (it’s actually anything but) has never heard Rodrigues play it.

A Rare Chance to Score This Era’s Most Formidable Rock Songwriter’s Obscure Debut Album

Hannah vs. the Many frontwoman Hannah Fairchild released her debut album Paper Kingdoms under her own name in 2010. She and the first incarnation of the band played the release show at the tiny, long-defunct Park Slope boite Bar 4. That’s how the great ones get started.

The album pretty much sank without a trace. But just for today, May 1 it’s up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. On one hand, you could say that this is strictly for the diehards. On the other, it’s a fascinating blast from the past from a songwriter who would grow into one of the most witheringly lyrical, ferociously powerful rock tunesmiths ever.

At her blog (also recently resurrected), she looks back on the strategy and logistics (or lack thereof) for making a bedroom pop record on a secondhand laptop, playing all the instruments….with a broken ankle, no less. While a lot of these songs lack the focus and savagery of her breakout album, All Our Heroes Drank Here, and her valkyrie wail doesn’t cut loose to the extent that she’s let it in the years since, there are moments of vocal brilliance and embryonic craft that will take your breath away.

Fairchild would eventually reprise five of these songs for her ferocious 2013 short album Ghost Stories. Hearing the subdued take of All Eyes on Me – Fairchild’s Don’t Fear the Reaper – is a revelation. So is Poor Leander, with its slashingly detailed story of a poor schlub in way, way too deep for his own good; it cuts through just as ominously if a lot more quietly here. And who would have known how much new resonance the line about how “I’ve got my mask on and I’m slipping out the side door” – in the defiant individualist’s anthem Lady of the Court – would take on over the past few weeks? Grab this piece of history while it lasts.

Revisiting a Nocturnal Rock Gem From Halycine

Halycine’s ep In the Salt – streaming at Bandcamp – made the shortlist of best releases of the year here in 2016. File this under acts who should be vastly better known. Frontwoman Chloe Raynes has a velvety, accusatory delivery that brings to mind Randi Russo; so does her darkly guitar-fueled songwriting. That comparison holds up strongest in the chugging midtemp anthem Circles, which opens the record.

The bitterly loping second track, Elixir has echoes of early 80s Siouxsie and delicious layers of guitar, from gritty to icy. One More Try is the most majestically angst-fueled anthem here, a 6/8 noir ballad disguised as dark 80s rock, awash in Raynes’ quasar guitar pulses.

She saves her most powerful vocal attack for Woman, You Better Run and its tantalizingly long series of chord changes: “I do not think it’s safe” is the mantra. The final cut, Silver Moon brings to mind the Jesus & Mary Chain circa Darklands: “It’s been a long road for you,” she intones enigmatically, “I wish you well.”

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.