New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Category: rock music

Smart, Politically Woke Party Music From Los Mocosos

Old ska bands never die: the party never stops. Look at the Skatalites. They invented ska, and even as they lost some members along the way – starting early, with Don Drummond – they had a fifty-year career. Los Mocosos have a long, long way to go before they get that far, but don’t rule them out. And they play a lot more than just ska. Their latest album, wryly titled All Grown Up, is streaming at Bandcamp.

Throughout the record, the band switch between English and Spanish, typically in the same song. They start out with the party songs and get more political as the album goes along. They open with the title cut, a catchy minor-key mashup of rocksteady, salsa and ska. “‘I’m just here to play my tunes, get your body to move and get all the ladies,” frontman Manny Martinez sings in a resonant croon with a strong resemblance to Steel Pulse’s David Hinds.

Speaking of classic reggae, the second track, United We Stand, immediately brings to mind Bob Marley’s Exodus, right down to Steve Carter’s slinky organ, Happy Sanchez’s tightly clustering bassline and the punchy brass section. It’s a reminder that we’re one big nation of immigrants who need to stick together and fight, or else we’re all in trouble.

Mirala is a psychedelic cumbia party tune with balmy horns and a little reggaeton. Ready for the Weekend shifts back and forth between a turbocharged oldschool disco groove and a ska bounce. Then the band hit a simmering roots reggae pulse and make their way into a Sympathy For the Devil-style sway in Caminos, an anthem for hardworking strugglers everywhere.

They slow things down even further with the twinkling retro rock ballad Memories of Love and then give themselves a shout-out with the salsa-ska theme Viva Los Mocosos. Martinez contemplates how an immigrant fits into a neighborhood and its history with It’s All Good, a brooding mashup of lowrider funk, oldschool soul and hip-hop.

The album’s most defiant track is Libre, a big, soaring rocksteady anthem. They close with Brothers & Sisters, a call for unity. It’s been a brutal year, and it’s been a long time since there’s been any party music on this page. Feels good to know bands like this still exist.

Snarling, Cynical, Dark 80s-Style Rock From All Souls

For an American band, All Souls sound very European: a little glam, a little goth, some punk, a lot of Bowie. Their album Songs for the End of the World is streaming at Bandcamp. All the members have gigs with other groups – most notably with Black Elk – but this really gives everybody in the band a chance to show off their good taste along with their chops. Frontman/guitarist Antonio Aguilar’s cynical, very 80s-inspired songwriting proves to be as sharp as his eclectic guitar playing.

They open with Sentimental Rehash, an acidic, no wave-tinged take on the Stooges, Aguilar raising a middle finger to clueless “media-manipulated minds” over drummer Tony Tornay’s rumble.

Twilight Times has dissolute Bowie grandeur and Stones disguised as skronk, the twin guitars of Aguilar and Erik Trammell anchored by Meg Castellanos’ gritty punk bassline. From there they segue up into Winds, the album’s big, slow, cynical, apocalyptic epic, flaring with quasi-metal guitar leads and a long, grimly hypnotic outro.

Bleeding Out opens with an insistent hook that brings to mind a big 80s anthem by the Church, veers toward New York Dolls territory and then back. Slowly pulsing over echoey, growling, scrapy guitar multitracks, You Just Can’t Win has a coldly crescendoing, distant 80s menace and unexpected tinges of Indian music. Then the band kick into apocalyptic Bowie mode again with Empires Fall

Lights Out has more allusive hints of Bowie and also some late Beatles, caught between enigmatic insistence and stadium rock hooks. Jaggedness and slow, catchy spacerock collide in Bridge the Sun, with a deliciously dark, chromatic outro. The album’s final cut is Coming with Clouds, a grim, Celtic-tinged seaside eco-disaster parable: “A history of violence, knowing that the time was finally at hand,” as Aguilar puts it. This album really grows on you and demands repeated listening. You’re going to see this on a lot of best-of-2020 albums lists at the end of the year if such things still exist by the time we get to December.

Slashing, Anthemic, Melodic Metal From Rising Steel

French band Rising Steel play ferociously melodic, shapeshifting mid-80s style European metal. The obvious influence is Iron Maiden. Like that foundational NWOBHM band, these guys typically take a symphonic approach beyond any kind of simple verse/chorus patterns or blues progressions. They like big crushing hooks, their guitar solos have fangs, and nobody in the band wastes notes. Their album Fight Them All is streaming at Spotify.

They open at a machinegunning pace with Mystic Voices, veering back and forth between Motorhead and Maiden, with what sounds like a recurrent Bloodrock reference: these guys obviously know their source material. Frontman Emmanuelson delivers the requisite Viking operatics over the two-guitar attack of Mat Heavy Jones and Tony Steel and the surprisingly lithe rhythm section of bassist Flo Dust and drummer Steel Zard.

The album’s title track has bleak, crunchy chromatic guitars over a catchy, relentlessly galloping pulse. Steel Hammer could be British oi punk legends the UK Subs with more menacing chords, at least until they take the song halfspeed, and then out with a classic Maiden-ish charge.

They slow things down for a little while with Blackheart, but don’t hold back on the doomy chromatics. The stampede continues with Savage and segues with a swirl into the icily macabre Gloomy World, a surreal mashup of Maiden, Sabbath and piledriver postrock.

Malefice has a straightforward vintage Metallica drive, while Metal Nation is the album’s thrashiest number, and also one of its angriest ones, a furious call for unity against repression.

It’s surprising how few bands have ever done a song called Pussy: count Rising Steel among the few and the proud. Turns out that they don’t even use the word in this unexpectedly lighthearted party anthem.

They go back to thrashy punkmetal with Led By Judas and wind up the album on more of a Metallica style note with the steady, rampaging Master Control. Darkly anthemic heavy music doesn’t get much more memorable than this in 2020.

What Would Halloween Month Be Without Blue Oyster Cult?

How ironic that a band as obsessed with death as Blue Oyster Cult would be around forty-five years after they started. After doing insane amounts of drugs.

OK, the group that took the stage at at the Stone Free Festival in London on June 17, 2017 only included two original members, frontman/guitarist Eric Bloom and lead player Buck Dharma. But the ringers – guitarist/keyboardist Richie Castellano, bassist Danny Miranda and drummer Jules Radino – held up their end, playing iconic material, blurring the line between psychedelia, metal and art-rock. They began by playing the group’s immortally cynical first album in its entirety and ended with a handful of hits and concert favorites. Serendipitously, that show was recorded and has been released as 45th Anniversary – Live In London, streaming at Spotify.

There’s more grit on the bass, less headbanging from the drums on the opening number, Transmaniacon MC, but in parts of six decades onstage, Dharma has not lost a step. This version reminds of the slinky Radio Birdman cover from the mid-70s.

I’m on the Lamb, But I Ain’t No Sheep – an anthem for the unmasked these days, huh? – has fun phased guitars and catchy double-axe riffage. They follow with a fast, trippy, eleven-minute take of Then Came the Last Days of May, a cruel, gorgeously bluesy tale of a weed deal gone horribly wrong which gets a long doublespeed outro with Dharma going full tilt. Amazing what you can do with a four-chord descending progression from C minor.

The band hit the stoner boogie Stairway to the Stars harder: it’s less subtly macabre than the album version. Hell, any resemblance to a classic album version is welcome at this point, and Dharma’s icy chorus-pedal work is a treasure. Before the Kiss, a Redcap – the alltime great rock tribute to butyl nitrate – also comes across as more of a loud Steely Dan boogie.

Bloom is in unexpectedly strong voice through the propulsive noir art-rock anthem Screams. She’s As Beautiful As a Foot, notwithstanding the gruesome lyrics, comes across as more of an Indian-influenced psych-pop song. Cities on Flame with Rock And Roll draws muted audience response as a leaden riff-rock prototype for Godzilla, which the band slog through later.

The first album’s best song, Workshop of the Telescopes, has a raggedly phantasmagorical glory, even if the band don’t take it as far outside as the original lineup would. From there they reinvent southern rock as goth horror in Redeemed, give Dharma a long launching pad for his signature boogie, and turn in a serviceable version of the big teen-suicide anthem best covered by Bobtown.

They end the show with inspired versions of Tattoo Vampire, an icy 80s-fueled step above generic riff-rock and then a sleek take of the chugging classic Hot Rails to Hell. Wouldn’t it be cool if a hundred years from now, some Blue Oyster Cult cover band decided to play this same set. The people you love can burn your eyes out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revisiting a Memorably Dark, Lynchian Album by Promise & the Monster

Promise & the Monster’s album Feed the Fire – streaming at Spotify – came out in early 2016 and remains a great source of Halloween playlist material. Their signature sound is tersely crescendoing, intricately arranged Lynchian rock anthems, an ingenue singing over a darkly bristling backdrop. As girl-down-the-well rock goes, this group are considerably louder and use more organic textures than your average Julee Cruise ripoff.

They open the record with the title track, spare acoustic guitar heavy with reverb over lingering synth, sparkling electric harpsichord and two basslines, one a Joy Division reference, and buld from there. The second track, Hunter is an emphatic 60s psych-pop song spun through the prism of 80s goth.

They take a familiar, clangy early 80s Cure milieu and add weird syncopation for Tine of the Season – an original, not the cheesy Zombies hit .

“Let them run because they cannot hide,” frontwoman/multi-instrumentalist Billie Lindahl intones, deadpan and sinister as Slow and Quiet rises from a brooding acoustic folk tableau to a clanging sway. Likewise, in Apartment Song, the band built from tense acoustic sonics with shivery violin and lingering steel guitar to a catchy, waltzing deep-space nocturne.

They follow the hazy soundscape Julingvallen with the mutedly menacing Hammering the Nails, a distant shamanic beat anchoring eerie layers of jangle and clang. The most hypnotic, and idiomatically 80s goth tune here is The Weight of It All

They break out the eerie tremolo guitar, creepily twinkling keyboards and surreal faux-mariachi textures in Machines, the most recognizably Lynchian track here. The final cut, Fine Horseman, makes a good segue, awash in wafting keys, starry highs over boomy lows.

You may be wondering what the hell this blog was doing at the time this album came out and could have used the press here. The answer is that New York Music Daily was more concerned with obituaries – 2016 was a bad year for old rockers – and a monthly performance series called Murder Ballad Mondays, and concerts in general. Remember concerts? Where you could get off the screen for an hour or two, have a few drinks, and musicians could actually earn a little money? And nobody was surveilling you while you talked with your friends – in person, not via text or, perish the thought, on Facebook. And it may have been flu season, but nobody was shutting down the hospitals to create a health crisis and kill old folks, most of them people of color. And the only people wearing masks were tourists from China. How quickly people forget.

Creepy, Anthemic, Relevant Metal From Semblant

Murder of Crows, the first track on Brazilian band Semblant’s new album Obscura explodes out of a creepy minor-key intro from keyboardist J. Augusto. Drummer Thor Sikora gets his twin kick pedals going behind the big crescendoing chorus, with layers and layers of digital reverb on the guitars – that’s Sol Perez and Juliano Ribeiro getting into a tantalizingly brief, machinegunning duel. These guys want you to listen to the rest of the record, whether at their youtube channel or elsewhere.

The persistent dichotomy here is between soaring frontwoman Mizuho Lin and Sergio Mazul’s guttural death-metal roar. The songcraft is catchy and anthemic, usually based on upward waves from verse to chorus, as in the rapidfire intensity of Left Behind, a relentless minor-key punk-metal number.

Dethrone the Gods, Control the Masters, Legacy of Blood is much the same: somebody sends a scream into the stratosphere and signals a guitar solo over the classical synth and ominously ascending firestorm. “The number of unconfirmed deaths is unknown…the government declares a state of emergency.” Sound familiar?

Techy, blippy synth introduces the venomous guitars and gritty bass of Mere Shadow, set in an in an increasingly familiar dystopia where “The walls are closed down, separating me from the emptiness unfolding,” as Lin wails.

Likewise, the band explode into the chorus of Porcelain, an ominously lingering anthem in 6/8 time. They shift up the rhythm for The Hunter, the Hunger, angel versus devil, then pick up the pace with Wasteland its menacing, allusively Middle Eastern guitar break. They hit Barely Breathing just as hard, although it could have been a new wave-era hit if you switched out the guitar roar for a synth and left the vocals to Lin.  Remember Ninth House’s crushing cover of Real Life’s Send Me an Angel?

The demon/angel tension reaches a peak in the murderously crescendoing, rapidfire Wallachia. A tortured blues intro foreshadows the album’s best and most dynamic, classically-influenced anthem, Daydream Tragedy, Lin’s avenger vocals finally taking over for good. The album peaks out at the end with Insomnia, a grimly strutting chromatic assault: it looks like the bad guys win this time. 

A Gorgeously Eerie Debut Album From Psychedelic Band Immaterial Possession

Immaterial Possession play deliciously individualistic, macabre psychedelic rock informed by but hardly limited to classic 1960s sounds. Their self-titled debut album is streaming at Bandcamp.

The band vamp over Cooper Holmes’ punchy, chugging bassline in Midnight Wander, keyboardist Kiran Fernandes’ clarinet leaping and bounding, guitarist Madeline Polites adding eerie chromatic flourishes. Imagine the Brian Jonestown Massacre playing one of Alec K. Redfearn‘s more Balkan-tinged tunes.

With its eerie, swoopy organ, See Through Stares could be a low-key Blue Oyster Cult lurker from the early 70s with a woman out front. The album’s first big epic is Tropical Still Life, with its ultraviolet blend of starry keys and jangly, lingering reverb guitar, drummer John Spiegel’s boomy flourishes enhancing the mysterious ambience.

The instrumental Phase One follows an increasingly mechanical, marching sway – a reference to the initial deadly effects of this year’s lockdown, maybe? Bosphorus Brine has echoes of Ummagumma-era Pink Floyd, Indian-tinged modal menace and keening organ. From there the group segue into the witchy, gamelanesque instrumental Circle of Bells.

Rising Moons, another organ-driven instrumental nocturne, wouldn’t be out of place in the Lost Patrol catalog. Accidental Summoning has trippy singing bowls, crazed doubletracked bass clarinet and a hypnotic, Arabic-tinged groove.

Phase Two, another instrumental interlude, has a haphazardly plucked, loopy menace. The album’s final cut, Nightcap could be tropical psychedelic legends Os Mutantes at their darkest. This one’s on the shortlist of best rock records of what has otherwise been a miserable year, although not the fault of any musicians who’re still active.

A Broodingly Gorgeous, Haunted New Soundtrack From Morricone Youth

What’s more Halloweenish than porn? You want real-life abduction, torture and worse?

Dating back to the late 90s, Morricone Youth have scored a daunting number of films, many of them classics from the silent era. Their latest release is the original score to Kire Papputs’ The Last Porno Show, a suspense flick about a kid who inherits a seedy Brooklyn X-rated theatre and decides to try to monetize it despite formidable odds. If the band’s composer/frontman/guitarist Devon E. Levins is to be believed, it’s an incredibly sad place. On one hand, this is an absolutely gorgeous soundtrack, streaming at Bandcamp. On the other, it really captures the hopelessness of an exploitative industry. Like all of Morricone Youth’s scores, it’s best experienced as a cohesive whole. For those who want a breakdown of the nitty gritty, here goes.

The main title theme is a trickily rhythmic, marionettish strut, part Angelo Badalamenti Twin Peaks score, part Tschaikovsky. Levins’ eerie, clanging multitracks ring out over a brooding 6/8 groove from bassist John Castro and drummer Brian Kantor in one of the longer, more haunting interludes, Method Acting.

The coldly methodical third track, sarcastically titled Best Show XXX in Town, sways above Scott Hollingsworth’s orchestral keys. Sean McCaul’s echoey vibraphone sets the stage for a tense scene in Al’s Apartment. An audition for something is involved, Dan Kessler’s Rhodes electric piano and the bandleader’s gritty surf guitar reverberating over an eerie Ethiopian pulse.

From there the music gets quieter and more melancholy. Levins breaks out his glockenspiel for creepy twinkle, viola sorceress Karen Waltuch and torchy chanteuse Sami Stevens waft into an increasingly zombie-ish picture (something the band excel at – their George Romero soundtracks are to die for).

Motorik loops give way to sarcastic 70s vintage keys lowlit by Levins’ desolate, spare guitar and finally a rise to a big, menacing peak. Levins brings the score full circle with surprising subtlety. It’s been a cruelly bleak year for albums and the arts in general: good thing we still have these irrepressible, increasingly iconic soundtrackers.

A Twisted, Phantasmagorical Memento From Knife Throwers Assistance

Today’s album is the one and only release by sprawling circus rock collective Knife Throwers Assistance. Not much remains of them on the web, other than a Bandcamp page where you can still get a free download of the live recording the haphazardly orchestrated, mostly-female band made at their final show. They liked lurid harmonies, contrapuntal vocals and unorthodox instrumentation – and their songs were pretty relentlessly creepy.

As that final gig began, the band took the stage to a weird sample collage: it’s almost nine minutes of random noise, mic checking and guitar tuning. You can start your playlist with Mr. Detective, a long, ominously vamping murder ballad. This time out the group included the founding duo of guitarist Eve Blackwater and pianist Heidi Harris; singers Bridget Rooney, Deb Zep (who also plays bass clarinet) and Tea Leigh; banjo players Christen Napier and Annie Levey; cellist Elizabeth Glushko; singing saw player Cara White; bassist Kevin Anderson and drummer Matthew Vander Ende.

The forlorn piano ballad Crow Cry sounds like Carol Lipnik trying her hand at trip-hop, with a really cool, ominously circling vocal arrangement. They follow with the ba-bump stripper theme That Cat, then Voodoo, a folk noir tune with ridiculous faux-southern vocals.

Somebody plays eerie, chromatic melodica behind the steady guitar and aching vocals (guessing that’s Deb Zep) in Freedom, a gospel-tinged tableau. “Meet me by the railroad, that’s where we mortgaged off our souls,” Blackwater musees in Second Repeater, a surreal roadtrip tale.

Hildegard You Have My Heart has all kinds of neat touches: flamenco-ish interludes, snarling cello glissandos and glockenspiel tinkling evilly as the song rises and falls. The singing saw and Levey’s flute flutter uneasily behind the insistant vocals of Unfair, then the band wind up the show, and their career, with Scarlet the Fire-Eater, a plaintive, Appalachian-tinged ballad.

The album also comes with lo-fi concert videos of Crow Cry and Mr. Detective from the band’s early days, the latter with a long, haphazard glockenspiel solo, singing saw and bass clarinet among the many other instruments gathered onstage.

Since the band’s demise, Blackwater continues as a solo artist and member of the Greenpoint Songwriters Exchange, who for the better part of a year put on similarly sprawling monthly shows at Pete’s Candy Store until the lockdown drove live music in New York underground.