New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: rock music

Richard Thompson Reinvents His Brooding Acoustic Classics in Newark

It’s often been argued that Richard Thompson is not only the greatest guitarist but also the greatest songwriter in the history of rock. Year after year, he continues to validate that claim. This past evening in the sonically magnificent confines of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in downtown Newark, Thompson revitalized a mix of darkly glimmering folk-rock favorites from the 60s through the present decade, along with a trio of new songs that reaffirmed the iconic songwriter’s presence in the pantheon. Heavy praise earned by a heavy guy, philosophically speaking, anyway.

Plenty of bandleaders will do an occasional solo acoustic tour for the sake of putting a fresh spin on old material…or for the sake of some perceived intimacy with the audience (which only works if the lyrics are strong)…or to max out the bottom line since there’s no band to pay. Thompson, on the other hand, has at least two fully arranged versions of probably most of the songs in his vast back catalog, one electric and one acoustic, and probably other alternates as well. Like most of his contemporaries from the 60s and 70s English folk revival, he’s always had a thing for unusual guitar tunings, but he’s taken that obsession to a new level, and the songs with it. The result is richly layered internal harmonies that are as sophisticated as Bach and if anything enhance the succinctness and catchiness of his tunes. At this solo acoustic show, one prime example was I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, an eager, cheery folk-pop number in its original 1974 incarnation with Thompson’s ex-wife Linda on harmonies. Live, in a new tuning and without the bvox, it took on an unexpected gravitas that meshed especially well with the other material.

Which can be pretty grim. Thompson opened with Stony Ground, a pretty savage dig at an old goat who can’t manage to keep his overexcited, um, imagination zipped. He followed with an aptly sepulchral take of The Ghost of You Walks and revisited that haunted atmosphere with I Misunderstood at the end of his roughly 75-minute set. Revenge took centerstage in the deliciously vicious, anthemic Good Things Happen to Bad People and later in Fergus Lang, an excoriatingly funny portrait of a robber baron developer (who very, very closely resembles Donald Trump) who buys off the local powers that be in order to desecrate the countryside with golf courses and the like. The tune became even funnier in context after Thompson played a few bars of the dirty old Scottish folk song that inspired it.

The new material was characteristically vivid and eclectic: Josephine, a brooding minor-key portrait of a woman who isn’t completely together to begin with and is slowly losing what she has left; One Door Opens, a stark, rustically rhythmic number that harks back to Thompson’s roots; and a resonantly bittersweet portrait of Amsterdam. Thompson also did rousing takes of obligatory fan favorites including the lickety-split robber ballad Vincent Black Lightning, and The Wall of Death, his defiantly classic anthem about living at full emotional throttle, no matter what the cost. That one had some highwire, raga-esque soloing, as did the opening number, along with Read About Love, a sarcastic look back at 50s British sexual mores and their ugly consequences.

Otherwise, this show was about going as deeply into the songs as possible and wringing out their intensity, through the Newcastle gothic of Black Leg Miner (a fiercely pro-union song), the sardonic sea chantey Johnny’s Faraway on the Rolling Sea and an unexpected treat, a newly arranged take of Sandy Denny’s Fairport Convention classic Who Knows Where the Time Goes. Throughout the set, Thompson subtly varied his tones and timbres, coloring them with watery tremolo and judicious use of reverb and delay. And he’s never sung better, especially strong in the low registers.

A word about the venue: nice place! It’s about half the size of the Town Hall, with pristine acoustics, comfortable seating, pleasantly laid-back and helpful staff, and it’s just a brief five-minute walk from the Path train. Door-to-door home from the train station, in this case, took under an hour (admittedly, jumping on the F just as it was leaving the station was a big help)

No Ricolas for John Mellencamp

One of the fringe benefits of going to Carnegie Hall is the baskets of Ricolas they have outside the exits to the various spaces there. If you’re, say, a budget-conscious college kid, you can make enough of a haul of those things to get through a couple days’ worth of a nasty cold. For John Mellencamp‘s show there tonight, there were no Ricolas in sight. Although the gravelly-voiced arena rocker could have used a handful.

Busy ushers were quick to tell ticketholders that “John doesn’t like cellphones,” and that flash photography during the show would be verboten. Looking up from the orchestra level, it seemed that barely half the seats in the hall were taken. But all those people, or most of them anyway, were down on the floor, on their feet. And though it happened to be 4/20, the smell on everybody’s breath, it seemed, was booze rather than weed.

If the accents in the crowd were any indication, the former Johnny Cougar is more popular on Long Island than he is in New Jersey. It was a blue-collar demographic whose lives had gone on long after the thrill of living was gone. And a smart piece of booking for the venue, considering that few if any of those in attendance had ever been there. “There isn’t a bad seat in the house,” was a familiar refrain in between selfies against a backdrop from a previous era of robber barons in Manhattan.

Mellencamp played that song solo acoustic, reinventing it as he did many of the other radio hits, an unexpected and rather impressive move considering that he and the band could have phoned them in and probably no one would have complained.  Is that song actually sarcastic, a clever dig at the white trash Mellencamp grew up with? Probably not, but the snide Reagan recession anthem Little Pink Houses definitely is…and just like Springsteen’s Born in the USA, went over everybody’s head, at least as far as this crowd was concerned.

Much as Mellencamp has been tagged as a poor person’s Bruce, he’s actually been through several phases. It would have been cool to see him revisit his Ain’t Even Done with the Night days as a powerpop guy, but he didn’t go there. But he left no doubt that he’s a formidable bluesman, with an impassioned take of Robert Johnson’s Stones in My Passway, lead guitarist Andy York playing with his usual counterintuitive verve with a slide on a hybrid electric National steel model. Mellencamp also roared and wailed his way through some newer, similarly bluesy, gospel-tinged fire-and-brimstone Midwestern gothic anthems.

And much as this was a nostalgia trip for the crowd, Mellencamp’s still putting out new material, mostly competent if formulaic highway rock that rises to a vamping two-chord chorus with a singalong tagline. You gotta admire the guy for what he does: he’s a consummate pro. And there were moments that reminded that when he puts his mind to it, he can write a damn good song. The roar of the band’s three guitars subsumed the annoying violin-and-accordion hook on the late 80s hit Paper in Fire, an unanticipated breath of fresh air. The minor-key Human Wheels, with the night’s one interesting bassline slithering out of the chorus, was another. Too bad their version of Rain on the Scarecrow, on record one of the most excoriating Reagan-era populist broadsides, was so rote: York waited til the very end to fire off that searing, aching hook that made the single so powerful.

By the end of the show, Mellencamp had also run through some faux Waits, some secondhand Stones, a halfhearted detour into Land of a Thousand Dances and a boisterously bluesy cover that the Del-Lords did better back in the 80s. That being said, he probably could have retired a decade ago, and here he is, still out there doing what he’s always done, and finding ways to keep it from getting stale. May we all be that inspired when we hit sixty.

Tom Warnick Brings His Ominous Noir Sounds and Wry Black Humor to Otto’s

One of the reasons why Tom Warnick shows are always worth checking out is that he’s constantly reinventing his songs. His most recent New York show, at Freddy’s last month, recast about half the setlist. Meaning that the singer-keyboardist can take the exact same material and completely flip the script. For example, Side Effects – as in, “I’m experiencing all your side effects, won’t you give ’em all to me” – used to be a boisterous newgrass song, as you might expect with a tune about a guy who won’t take no for an answer. But this time out, the band completely redid it, as a swing tune. Alto saxophonist Jason Reese, who’s been a charter member of this group for a long time, is getting more and more time in the spotlight and making the most of it. You probably wouldn’t expect a sax player to take the music in as noir a direction as Warnick has returned to lately, but it’s happened. Reese slunk and slowly smoked and built ominous ambience through I’m a Stranger Here, which used to be an upbeat, cynical new wave-flavored tune but is now a minor-key circus rock number. And he teamed with Warnick for some disturbing chromatics through Cop Car, a cruelly funny tale of a highway pot bust that used to be a pretty straight-up blues but has been taken deep into Tom Waits territory without seeming cliched and imitative.

Likewise, the band took Lost in Place, which used to be total new wave, straight out of 1981, and gave it more of a swaying janglerock feel. And all this reinvention works because this crew – Warnick on piano and organ, Reese on sax, John Sharples and Ross Bonadonna on guitars, Scott Anthony on bass and the guy who plays drums under the pseudonym of Jacques Strappe in hilarious faux-French rockers Les Sans Culottes – can turn on a dime and play pretty much anything. Deep Jamaican roots reggae? That’s what the slow, grimly funny Old Man Blues is now. The grimmest number of the night was actually set to its most lighthearted tune, an oldschool country-folk sway – but maybe that was meant to reinforce a sense of irony. Warnick got a lot of flash going with his righthand organ lines as Bonadonna mined a satirical, over-the-top arenarock floridness on the reggae tune, Sharples switching between lingering chords and ominous chromatics. They finally relented to the crowd, who’d been pleading for 40 People, Warnick’s early-zeros classic about the increasing difficulty of even a good band (or for that matter a really bad one) getting booked into a decent New York gig at a decent hour on a decent day. And they slowed down City of Women – which used to be a lickety-split horror surf number – and in the process maxed out its goosebump-inducing triumph. They’re at Otto’s this Saturday, April 18 at 8, as good a time and place as any to find out what  Warnick will be up to next. You can count on it being different than what he did at Freddy’s.

Getting Up Close and Personal with Bjork at MOMA PS1

It must be as much fun for the museum staff to watch people watching Stonemilker – the new virtual reality piece by Bjork and filmmaker Andrew Huang at MOMA’s PS1 in Long Island City – as it is for the viewers themselves. Not to spoil the experience, but there’s more than one Bjork in it and she might be somewhere other than in front of you. Which makes for a, um, head-bobbing good time.

It’s a music video, and you’re in it, at the very center. Vertical movement won’t change your perspective much but horizontality will (although the stool you’re sitting on will limit that, probably for the better). The irrepressibly puckish Icelandic songstress/environmentalist is backed by a lush string orchestra in this rhythmically tricky, epically enveloping neoromantic art-rock piece. Its gist is that she wants to “synchronize emotions” with you. The scenery fits the music: it’s more majestic than your typical beachy scene. Bjork is as playful and fun as you would expect, and she gets right up in your face. And turns out to be considerably more petite than she seems onstage.

The 360 Bjork experience continues daily through May 17, Thursday through Monday, noon to 6 PM in the dome at MOMA PS 1, 22-25 Jackson Ave. in Long Island City. It’s about a ten-minute walk up Jackson Ave. from the Vernon-Jackson stop on the 7 train; those on the G should take it to 21st/Van Alst. LIC residents get in free; otherwise, it’s $10/$5 stud/srs, or $5 if you have a MOMA ticket from the previous two weeks. While you’re there, you should also check out the many current-day revolution-themed video installations as well as Simon Denny’s LMAO satire of technosupremacist mythmaking, The Innovator’s Dilemma, and Samara Golden‘s surreal, vertigo-inducing, three-floor cutaway The Flat Side of the Knife.

The Monophonics Bring Their Darkly Psychedelic Soul Sounds to Brooklyn Bowl

The Monophonics are sort of a more psychedelic west coast counterpart to the Dap-Kings, masters of all things darkly slinky and soulful. They get extra props for starting their career as an all-instrumental band: it wasn’t until fairly recently that they even bothered with vocals. But that’s a good thing, because it adds yet another trippy dimension to their ominous grooves. They’ve got a new album, Sound of Sinning due out soon, which will no doubt end up with the rest of their catalog at their Bandcamp page. They’ve also got a Brooklyn Bowl show coming up on April 15 at around 9, with the similarly slinky, groove-driven Afrobeat/psychedelic funk band Ikebe Shakedown opening the night at 8. Cover is $12.

The new album opens with Lying Eyes – an original, not the cheesy 70s hit by the Eagles – setting a well-traveled 60s noir garage guitar hook to a jaunty, shuffling soul-clap beat. It gets darker and trippier as it goes along, with hints of dub. Frontman/organist Kelly Finnigan’s raindrops-on-the-keys attack and gruffly impassioned vocals rise above an echoey backdrop, part Zombies, part noir soul, on the title track.

The slowly swaying 6/8 soul ballad La La La Love Me is straight out of 1967, right down to the reverb on all the instruments…but with a creepy undercurrent. Promises is a killer update on late 60/early 70s Rare Earth that adds reverbtoned depth and menace missing from the era’s original stuff. Then the band returns to a brooding nocturnal ambience with Falling Apart, guitarist Ian McDonald alternating between bright, Memphis tinged licks and dark-water chorus-box lines against a backdrop of period-perfect strings and brass.

Drummer Austin Bohlman propels Hanging On with a tight latin soul pulse, up to a darkly rising brass chart anchored by trumpeter Ryan Scott – and then they channel Jethro Tull for a few bars, an unexpectedly droll touch. Strange Love has a Spectorish majesty, Myles O’Mahony’s precise, hollowbody-toned bass dancing over the string section, bells and growly baritone sax. Find My Way Back Home artfully pairs watery guitar and airy organ for what sounds like a prototype for jazz-inflected 70s Stylistics art-soul balladry

They follow that with Holding Back Your Love, the hardest-hitting, most direct song here, infused with McDonald’s fuzztone Yardbirds riffage. Too Long follows a similarly straightforward groove, but a slow-burning, menacingly nocturnal one with a towering noir soul arrangement. The final track, Everyone’s Got is a surreal mashup of trip-hop, Lee Hazlewood southwestern gothic and oldschool soul. The Monophonics have been touring with Galactic and probably blowing that band off the stage, night after night. Fans of the dark side of soul and psychedelic pop – Clairy Browne and Nick Waterhouse in particular – will love these guys. Not to give away anything that’s going to happen here later this year, but an awful lot of best-of-2015 lists will have this album on it.

Concetta Abbate Brings Her Elegantly Enigmatic Violin Songs to Ember Schrag’s Fort Greene Hangout

Like many violinists, Concetta Abbate is classically trained, just as likely to be found playing Ravel or Paganini as she is her own music. She finds inspiration in poetry, literature and scientific observation. The point of the “pocket-sized songs” on her loosely thematic new debut album, Falling in Time (streaming at Bandcamp) is that despite how distracted we are by the demands of dayjobs, family and (yuck) technology and social media, we mustn’t cut ourselves off from the world around us because it’s so interesting. Abbate isn’t necessarily telling us to stop and smell the roses, although she might encourage us to stop and watch the waves at the river’s edge…or the faces on the platform as the train pulls into the station. Abbate finds meaning and beauty in the seemingly mundane, translating that tersely and imagistically into a series of brief, often barely two-minute songs that could be called chamber pop or art-rock but really defy categorization.

She’s playing some of them on April 12 at 2 (two) PM at Mayflower Bar, 132 Greene Ave. just off Waverly in Ft. Greene as part of the weekly Sunday afternoon series booked by brilliant Great Plains gothic songwriter Ember Schrag, who has collaborated with her in the past. Take the G train, if it’s running (check mta.info) to Clinton-Washington; you can also take the C to Lafayette Ave. and walk straight up Greene about seven blocks. Abbate is also playing the third room at the Rockwood on April 27 with singer Tine Kindemann’s pensively psychedelic chamber pop group DK & the Joy Machine at 7 PM for $10 plus a strictly enforced $10 drink minimum.

Some of the songs on the album are just multitracked violin and vocals, Abbate altenating between bitingly terse neoromantic, sustained lines and dancing pizzicato. Others are much more ornately orchestrated. Abbate works a misty, jazz-tinged expressiveness on the opening track: “Looking for a key we can follow, and many days are many lines, too many walls that we could climb,”she muses. The second song, Burst is characteristically allusive and enigmatic, fire as metaphor for jumpstarting something – a career path? A passage to clarity? The video offers a few hints.

A jazz-tinged trip-hop number with piano and acoustic guitar, Fish is a snide portrait of a slimy guy who can’t get enough. Vibrato-heavy multitracked strings color Leaves, an achingly autumnal instrumental diptych. Firefly balances woundedly lush orchestration with noir guitar jazz: imagine Karla Moheno with strings. Spring has an aptly hopeful, dancingly wistful pulse. Then Abbate picks up the pace with Sun Song, a glistening, bittersweetly gorgeous Laurel Canyon folk-pop miniature.

She sings Oh Little Shell with a velvety, smoke-tinged delivery over spiky layers of pizzicato violin and acoustic guitar. Then she switches to Spanish for Tonada al Tiempo, with its understatedly impassioned flamenco touches. House has an eerie horror-film music-box feel echoed in its foreboding lyrics. Then, with Cave of Stars, Abbate takes that eerie ambience to even more gothic, Siouxsie-esque proportions.

Wooden Box reverts to a dancing trip-hop groove, followed by the fiery flamenco jazz of Elements. The album – a stealth contender for one of 2015’s best – winds up with Thought Thieving Hen, a surreal take on eerie early 60s style Skeeter Davis Nashville orchestral pop.

Madam West Bring Their Psychedelic Soul to Palisades: Not an April Fool Joke

Isn’t it cool when a band actually know themselves well enough to tell you what they do? You’d think that more artists would be able to do that…but a lot of times they don’t. Madam West call themselves psychedelic soul and that’s what they are. That, and danceable, and fun. On their new four-track ep, Not Pictured – a name-your-price download at Bandcamp – the group comprises singer/uke player Sophie Chernin, keyboardist Todd Martino and dummer Mike McDearmon. They’ve expanded to a five-piece for their 9:15 PM Palisades show in Bushwick on April 1 (no joke) and they sound like they bring the party live.

The album’s first track, Darlin’ has a funny video that’s sort of a Fatal Attraction spoof. The song is a vampy, bouncy thing where Chernin finally decides to take off and head for the sky about halfway through. The next song, Home starts out as a uke waltz, but then McDearmon adds a funk groove underneath. And why not – there’s such a thing as a jazz waltz, why not a funk waltz? The music-box synth tones are an unexpectedly cool touch too.

In her more stressed moments, Chernin takes on a bluesy, imploring tone that reminds of Jolie Holland. She stays closer to the ground throughout most of The End, a steady, resonant latin soul groove with some playful synth squiggles and blips. The last track is October, which fools you into thinking it’ll be a brooding waltz before Chernin’s vocal leaps and Martino’s judiciously hard-hitting chords take it in a more kinetic direction. Promising debut; hopefully more to come. More bands should be doing stuff like this: it’s fun and catchy without being bland, and you can dance to it.

Anna Winthrop Brings Her Soaring, Classically-Infused Songs to Caffe Vivaldi

Singer/pianist Anna Winthrop defies categorization. Her Soundcloud page has a mix of lush art-rock, terse chamber pop and classical art-song, sometimes with just the hint of cabaret. Her tunes are translucent and catchy; she likes a steady beat and big anthemic crescendos, even if she’s not playing them in straight-up 4/4 much of the time. And she’s a fantastic singer. She’s at Caffe Vivaldi at 9:15 PM on March 31, playing a duo show with cellist Kirin McElwain, who’s also on the Soundcloud tracks.

Winthrop doesn’t waste any time going up into the midday sky with her arrestingly clear, stratospheric soprano on the first track, Look to the Sun over a pointillistic waltz beat that contrasts with the cello’s lush washes. Her lyrics are thoughtful, sometimes opaque and draw you in: this one seems to be about a struggle for clarity.

So High works a jaunty, skipping-down-the-sidewalk ragtime-pop pulse, but at the same time it’s not completely at ease: is it about being so wasted you can’t think straight? That would be very counterintuitive for a song this lively and direct. Words has a catchy, more somberly insistent quality, McElwain building an artfully terse weave behind Winthrop’s chords and pensive vocals.

Walk Away develops an aptly disorienting, jazzy edge, McElwain plucking out a bassline over Winthrop’s anxiously precise chromatics. See Me has a brooding circus rock/noir cabaret ambience, McElwain switching between stark washes and dancing lines. All of Me is an original, not the jazz standard, although it owes more to jazz and blues than the other tracks. The last one is Fantasie in G Minor, a solo piano instrumental that could be a miniature by Schubert or Faure. All this should sound good in Caffe Vivaldi’s intimate confines, especially on an off night when the place isn’t overrun with drunks on their way back to Jersey.

Winthrop also has an unusually eclectic background, having had considerable success as an actress and dancer, with experience in the opera world as well. The reason you’re seeing this here and not at the top of the page is to set her apart from the legions of newly arrived sorority girls who took a couple of tap lessons, appeared in a college production or two, moved to New York on their parents’ tab and then decided on a lark to take up singing.

Ward White Plays an Enticingly Quiet, Lyrically Rich Show at the Rockwood

Ward White is New York’s preeminent literate tunesmith. His songs come across as a sort of catchy, anthemic, current-day update on Hermann Hesse’s Glass Bead Game. They bristle with references to novels, film, theate, art, history…and sometimes silly current events. For all the doomed imagery, savagery and relentless cynicism on his latest album Ward White Is the Matador, those songs can be hilarious. His stage show is the same way. It would have been fun to have been able to catch him playing a relatively rare solo acoustic set – the kind where you can really listen, and get into those lyrics, and try to figure out what the hell all those twisted stories are about – at Pete’s Candy Store a couple of weeks back. But the L wasn’t running. For those who missed that show – or White’s searing electric show with his band at the big room at the Rockwood last month – he’s making another semi-rare acoustic appearance at the small room there at 9 PM on March 31. It’s a good segue, actually, because White’s a criminally good guitarist and he’s followed on the bill at 10 PM by another mean picker, bluegrass maven Michael Daves, who’s playing his weekly Rockwood residency.

That February show there was much like White’s fiery Bowery Electric album release show late last year. Violinist Claudia Chopek fueled the centerpiece of both the show and the album, Bikini – a reference to the radioactive South Pacific bombsite rather than beachwear – with her knifes-edge, shivery crescendos. Bassist Bryan Smith fired off boomy, muscular low-register chords coupled to nimbly catchy hooks further up the fretboard. While it’s not like White – who alternated between punchy glamrock hooks, resonant jangle and soaring leads all night – really needs a lead guitarist, Smith filled that role when the music got quieter. Visually, the star of the show was harmony singer Victoria Liedtke, who balanced a stoic Lynch girl presence with some pricelesss cat-ate-the-canary expressions in response to White’s banter, which were every bit as as funny as the songs’ double entendres and references to things like mylar balloons.

That’s what one of the night’s best songs was centered around, an offhandedly chilling hospital scene set to a allusively balmy ballad backdrop – mylar balloons are those shiny things you can get in any hospital gift shop, White explained. The understatedly creepy, retro 60s pop of Dolores on the Dotted Line was as suspenseful and offhandedly apt a portrait of control-freak sadism as it is on album. The album’s pulsing opening number, Sabbath, was as amusing as it was ineluctably bleak. In between, White cracked up the crowd with the S&M Bacharach bossa nova of Alphabet of Pain as well as plenty of sardonic between-song one-liners, but he didn’t do much explaining when it came to the songs. Although he did allude to references to both an unnamed Kurosawa film and a David Foster Wallace novel in one of the set’s later numbers. Go to the Tuesday night show and find out what else you missed.

A Gorgeously Noir New Album and a Little Italy Gig by Bliss Blood and Al Street

There’s an embarrassment of riches up at Bliss Blood‘s Bandcamp page. With the irrepressibly jaunty, harmony-driven, Hawaiian-tinged Moonlighters, she pioneered the swing jazz revival here in New York in the early zeros. She got her start before that as a teenager in the 80s and early 90s fronting noise-punk cult heroes the Pain Teens. But she’s also a connoiseur of noir. She first explored those sounds thematically with her trio Nightcall, which she stripped down to a duo with guitar sorcerer Al Street. The two have a gorgeously shadowy new album, Unspun, up at Bandcamp and plenty of gigs coming up. Their next one is a trio set with reedman Ian Hendricikson-Smith on March 29 at 8 PM at Epistrophy Cafe, 200 Mott St. (Kenmare/Spring).

Blood has been one of the most intriguing and enigmatic singers in this city for a long time. A master of nuance and innunedo, she can be playful, or swoony, or downright sultry one second, and sinister the next. She’s just as strong and eclectic as a songwriter: she has a thing for foreshadowing, and subtle metaphors, and clever double entendres: Street has a fluency and edge on acoustic guitar that most players only dream of achieving on electric: forget about nailing the kind of sizzling, flamenco and Romany-influenced riffs with the kind of nuance he employs without help from amps or pedals.

The new album’s first track is Alpha, a flamenco-tinged cautionary tale about a guy whose “fingers are always on the snare” – as she explains, you don’t want to be on the banks when this particular levee gives way. Entropy has a distantly injured pulse that’s as dreamy and Lynchian as it is ominously steady: “Now the laws of all transgression have all been broken but a few/So don’t pretend we didn’t bend the universe in two,” Blood broods. Then they pick up the pace with the droll, innuendo-fueled hokum blues shuffle Give Me Lots Of Sugar, a dead ringer for a Bessie Smith classic. And though you might think following that with a song called It’s So Hard would be pretty self-explanatory, it’s not: Blood’s insistent ukulele anchors a pensively torchy, bossa-flavored anthem.

Lucia, a lively flamenco swing instrumental, gives Street a launching pad for all kinds of nimble spirals. No One Gets It All, the album’s most haunting track, has a surreally captivating lyric to match its bittersweetly gorgeous melody. It seems to be a defiantly triumphant if deeply wounded existentialist anthem:

Satiated, sinking in your sweet domain
Waking to a distant and whispered call
Stirring to the echoes of a fractured song
Reflection’s fading, no one gets it all

It’s Comfortably Numb without the stadium bombast.

The two take a richly nuanced detour toward the Middle East with Nuyaim, then hit a steady noir swing strut with Pitfall and its wry chronicle of romantic missteps. Please Do (I Like It So Much) mines a vintage C&W sway, while Rustbelt works a catalog of sly junkyard innuendos over a cheery swing tune. Then they float their way through Snowmelt, a reverb-drenched, hypnotically Lynchian mood piece.

Tying My Tail In Knots sets more of those devious innuendos to a chirpy drive with an unexpected 90s quirk-pop tinge. Street does a mighty impersonation of a balalaika on the angst-fueled but ultimately triumphant title track. The album winds up with Vixen, a femme fatale theme infused with unexpectedly Stonesy blues guitar. Multiple levels of meaning reverberate throughout these songs: it would take a novel to count them all. It goes without saying that this is one of 2015’s best releases (some context: noisy postpunks Eula, lyrical new wave revivalists Lazy Lions, avant art-song siren Carol Lipnik, noir duo Charming Disaster, and Paula Carino’s double entrendre-fueled Regular Einstein all figure into that equation).

Bliss Blood and Al Street work fast. They’ve got a new single, Clash by Night up at Bandcamp, a brisk, strummy, resolute individualist’s anthem. “Solitude, not loneliness,” is the central theme, a cause for any rebel.

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