New York Music Daily

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Category: southwestern gothic

The Best-Ever Playlist on This Page

Today’s playlist is a murderer’s row of singles. Just for starters: a deviously subtle new video for the best song of 2020, and a new electric recording of the best song of 2016. There’s about half an hour worth of music here, plus some funny visuals. If you know this blog, you know the drill: click artist names for their webpages, click titles for audio or video.

Karla Rose’s allusive, slinky serial killer parable Battery Park topped the charts here in what was a pretty nightmarish 2020. She’s got a new video for it: see if you can spot her!

Another noir-inspired artist, LJ Murphy earned the top spot for 2016 with his cruelly prophetic Panic City. It was mostly acoustic then; it’s an electric scorcher now.

We live in perilous times, and Grace Bergere offers a more metaphorical take in A Little Blood, one of the most offhandedly chilling songs of the past several years.

Mark Breyer made a name for himself as sort of the Elvis Costello of powerpop and janglerock with his long-running studio project, Skooshny. And he keeps cranking out sharp, jangly anthems as Son of Skooshny. His latest is Runs in the Family: imagine the Church at their lyrical peak in the 80s..

Atlanta band Faithless Town‘s roaring slide guitar-driven protest anthem New World Order has a great newsreel video: protestors battling SWAT teams in Europe in the summer of 2020, images of the Lockstep tabletop exercise and Event 201, and plenty of usual Davos suspects.

Amy Rigby was not idle during the lockdown here in New York. Here’s her hauntingly hazy cover of Bob Dylan classic Not Dark Yet

From the anonymous protest songwriter known as POTP – the same guy responsible for the viral video Bill Gates Sings – here’s Vaxx in the Cradle, sung to the tune of the old Harry Chapin hit. Beyond the snarky jokes, it’s amazingly well-crafted – it even follows the plotline of the original. “This song has Emergency Use Authorization to be deployed far and wide in the effort to stem the epidemic of infant experimentation.”

Loosie‘s No Future is the catchiest, most anthemic thing the band’s ever done, with a wistful Lynchian edge. A scruffier Sharon Van Etten, maybe?

You might know Mike Adams as the scientist in the lab coat who founded Brighteon, home to innumerable good censored videos. Want to know what video is at the very top of the search page today? The full stream of the Plandemic II documentary!. But believe it or not, Adams also has a history as a rapper. Check out his hauntingly prescient 2010 video Vaccine Zombie, which has resurfaced courtesy of the consistently brilliant and provocative Midwestern Doctor Substack page.

Moirai’s Völuspa is a starkly gorgeous recreation of an ancient Icelandic dragonslayer myth. Is this classical music? Folk music? 21st century minimalism? Maybe all of the above?

Let’s close with some funny stuff. First, click and scroll down the page for a 45-second tv ad for Oomph’s new “human meat plant based burger” via Jeff Childers’ indispensable Coffee & Covid. Reputedly the jury’s out on how it tastes compared to genuine human flesh.

And here’s a meme from cartoonist Anne Gibbons: a spot-on take on the FDA’s self-declared “future framework,”  where if they get their way there will be no more safety trials for any pharmaceutical products.

Revisiting One of the World’s Most Intriguing Guitarists in an Intimate Space

For more than two decades, guitarist Jim Campilongo has carved out a distinctive, erudite, energetic niche somewhere between jazz, surf rock and film noir music. For almost as long, he’s had an on-and-off residency at the various Rockwood rooms. In 2017, he finally got around to making a live album there with his long-running trio of Chris Morrissey on bass and Josh Dion on drums. That album is still streaming at Bandcamp, and Campilongo has returned to his old haunt. His next appearance there is April 25 at 7 PM in the big room; cover is $15

Obviously, considering how Campilongo’s music continues to evolve, a listen to the live record isn’t necessarily a good idea what his live show is about these days. His most recent album is even more intimate, an intricate, sometimes spare duo record with fellow six-stringer and Morricone fan Luca Bendedetti. It’s full of surprises: their quarterspeed version of Chopin’s Minute Waltz is a hoot. Much as Campilongo’s studio material is all worth hearing – his 2006 album Heaven Is Creepy is this blog’s favorite – live is where he excels most.

Is that a vintage repeaterbox he’s using on the intro to the live record’s first song, I’m Helen Keller and You’re a Waffle Iron? Maybe. It comes across as a more restless, ornamented take on Big Lazy noir skronk. The way he builds up to a scorching, circling series of sus chords is a clinic in tunesmithing – or creating a melody out of thin air.

The second number, Big Bill is a squiggly strut, Dion kicking up the dust as Morrissey shadows the bandleader and eventually gets his amp burning with a long, emphatic series of chords. Imagine Mary Halvorson playing a John Zorn noir surf tune and you wouldn’t be far off.

Dion sings the spare, sophisticated, angst-fueled blues ballad Here I Am, Campilongo defying gravity on the long ladder upwards. In what’s titled the “Jimi Jam,” he detunes his Telecaster, indulges in some of his signature neck-bending, fires off a handful of foghorn slide riffs and keening harmonics among his gritty chords. There are no distinguishable Hendrix licks.

Nels Cline guests on the album’s big epic, Cock and Bull Story, adding incisive Middle Eastern riffs and noisy haze against Campilongo’s biting, chromatic theme, the rhythm section keeping a tense pulse. The duel that follows, Cline first trailing and then engaging with the bandleader’s unhinged vintage Velvets squall is blissfully adrenalizing.

There are echoes of styles as different as Jerry Garcia spacescapes and Tal Farlow Americana swing in Sal’s Waltz, a more-or-less rubato tableau with Morrissey and Dion hanging on the fringes.

Cline returns for There You Are, a wistfully wafting theme that foreshadows where Campilongo would go with Benedetti almost five years later. The final number is Jim’s Blues, a loosely expansive launching pad for erudite Chicago and western swing-influenced clusters, a searing, machete coda and even a little Link Wray. Campilongo has so many ideas up his sleeve that it’s always a wild guess where he’s going to go next.

Smartly Concocted, Original Lynchian Themes From Daisy Glaze

Daisy Glaze put an interesting and surprisingly original spin on Lynchian pop songcraft. Fronted by guitarist Louis Epstein and bassist/chanteuse Alix Brown, this crew are experts at the Angelo Badalamenti school of tunesmithing. They start with the simplest ingredients and methodically add layers until they have a sonic velvet cake that comes in many colors other than blue. They like jangly guitars and variously textured keyboards, and blend them for both angst and playful surrealism on their new album, streaming at Spotify. They also have a visual side that more closely mirrors their film noir influences.

They set the scene for the rest of the album with Occasus, a wistfully vamping instrumental theme, Erik Tonnesen’s tersely multitracked keys mingling with the slow jangle. The first of the songs is Ray of Light, a mashup of Link Wray and 60s Vegas noir pop, Brown’s snappy hollowbody bass and Rex Detiger’s drums anchoring glistening orchestration from the synth, Tiago Rosa’s cello and Francisco Ramos’ violin,

Buffalo Thunder is a wacky attempt to dress up a very, very familiar garage rock riff in tailfins and chrome. Strangers in the Dark – boy, that’s a subtle one, huh? – sees the duo revisiting sassy Lee Hazlewood/Nancy Sinatra mid-60s ambience. Epstein’s sidewinding guitars behind the suspiciously deadpan vocals are absolutely luscious.

Eerily phosphorescent surf riffs linger and resonate over a noir bolero beat in Call Me Midnight. With its artfully arranged baroque architecture, the instrumental Ortus would be a standout track in the Morricone Youth scorebook.

The duo go for a harder-rocking take on the original Morricone’s southwestern gothic in Ghost of Elvis, with a cruelly cynical message: this dude is gone for good. Brown takes aim at a femme fatale over a snarky carnival organ tune in Mary Go Round. Statues of Villains owes a lot more to late 70s Wire – or bands who’ve ripped off late 70s Wire – right down to the flashes of grim chromatics.

The band close the record with How the City Was Lost, a swaying, flamenco-influenced anthem with layers of jangle and clang, swirling organ and guy/girl vocals. It’s like X doing a Julee Cruise song backed by Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks studio band. It could be just a grim dystopic scenario, or there could be more subtext concerning the horrific prospect of the death of cities in general as the World Economic Forum’s Orwellian surveillance looms in from over the Alps. Whatever the case, the level of craft in this album is pretty amazing. It’s been a super slow year for rock records, but this is one of the best of 2022 so far.

A Friendly Pitchblende Night Drive With Suss

New York instrumentalists Suss have carved out a unique niche playing big-sky nocturnes more evocative of the wide open spaces of the west than, say, Long Island City. That’s where the band are pictured on the cover of their very accurately titled latest album, Night Suite, streaming at Bandcamp. This time, they’ve switched out the locales of the mind conjured up in their previous work, and switched in an overnight trip on Highway 66 from Gallup, New Mexico to the desert town of Needles, California, just across the Colorado River.

As the convoy drift out of Gallup, casual flickers from reverb guitar, pedal steel and starry guitar pedalboard textures begin to creep through the shadowy calm. Flagstaff, Arizona turns out to be a patchwork of stillness punctuated by the occasional passing big rig, fluorescent-lit all-night diner or distant train whistle, or so it would seem.

Further into Arizona, there’s Ash Fork, the most expansive tableau here with its organlike high-lonesome washes of sound. If Pink Floyd were a Tucson band, they would have sounded like this. Guessing that’s Pat Irwin’s guitar flaring gently over Jonathan Gregg’s pedal steel and Gary Lieb’s gently keening synth.

Hints of southwestern gothic – that’s either Bob Holmes or Irwin on guitar – reverberate on the low end. static misting the mix when the convoy reaches Kingman. The distant ghost of a Lynchian ballad wafts in as the group pull gently into their final destination

A Lush Lynchian Masterpiece From Howe Gelb and the Colorist Orchestra

It is nothing short of astonishing how after a long career leading iconic southwestern gothic pioneers Giant Sand, and then as a solo artist, Howe Gelb is arguably at the peak of his career as a songwriter. His latest album, Not on the Map – streaming at Bandcamp – is a serendipitously Lynchian collaboration with Belgian art-rock ensemble the Colorist Orchestra. As you would expect just from the artists involved, this is a lock for one of the best albums of 2021.

The group open with Counting On: “The frontlines are closing in,” Gelb mutters as the strings flutter and Sep François’ vibraphone rings eerily. It could be an especially lush Botanica number from that band’s most orchestral, mid-zeros peak.

Gelb’s voice has weathered like a good whiskey over the years, best evidenced here by his unselfconsciously saturnine delivery throughout the cover of the Glenn Campbell countrypolitan hit Gentle on My Mind.

Pieta Brown contributes two songs of her own, first joining Gelb in a duet, Sometimes I Wish, a fondly nocturnal waltz. Karel Coninx’s viola floats starkly over the enveloping backdrop from violinist Jeroen Baert, Gerrit Valckenaers’ bass clarinet and Tim Vandenbergh’s bass. Wim De Busser’s piano is a light in a windowshade alongside the twinkling percussion. Brown’s other duet here is Sweet Pretender, a hazy country ballad.

Percussionists Kobe Proesmans and Aarich Jespers anchor the lilting latin-tinged groove in Dr Goldman, a distantly sinister, enveloping twilight tableau: imagine a warmer, less synthy version of Australian legends Flash & the Pan flown in to the Arizona desert..

The closest comparison to Leonard Cohen here is Thyne Eyes, a semi-bolero gently spiced with De Busser’s plucky prepared piano and the gleam from François’ vibes. Gelb half-sings, half-whispers Ruin Everything in his weathered baritone, the album’s most hypnotic, atmospheric, subtly gospel-tinged ballad. “Now you’ve mastered the art of the undone,” he intones.

The album’s most unselfconsciously gorgeous track is Tarantula, a dusky opening-credits theme with Gelb on what sounds like a reed organ. A single, fleeting moment of menace from the bass clarinet could be the most breathtaking point here.

Vandenbergh’s spare, dancing bass gives More Exes a loping Big Lazy groove behind Gelb’s evocative, understatedly menacing railroad trestle scenario. The group close the record with the title track, a classic Gelb noir bolero awash in aching strings, keening highs from Valckenaers’ glass bowls and some deliciously uneasy, microtonal work from Coninx.

Brilliantly Catchy, Creepy Reverb-Drenched Desert Rock From Cate Von Csoke

Australian guitarist Cate Von Csoke blends reverb-infused desert rock and girl-down-the-well vocals for one of the most distinctively creepy sounds around. Her new vinyl record Almoon – streaming at Bandcamp – is a lock for one of the best of 2021. Throughout the album, the mystery never lifts. After awhile, it all starts to sound like one long, forlorn song – but Von Csoke owns that sound.

She opens it with Coyote Cry, her hazy, distant vocals and reverb-drenched, Link Wray-inspired changes over drummer Steve Shelley’s slow, loping beat. Jared Artaud’s eerily twinkling Wurlitzer twinkles eerily amid Von Csoke’s icy clang in the second song, Silver Screen

Imagine Marissa Nadler covering a Morricone spaghetti western theme and you get Silver Highway. Von Csoke breaks out her repeater box for an Electric Prunes-style strobe in the next cut, Flake and follows that with Dream Around, just disembodied vocals and lingering guitar jangle.

She sticks with the guitar-and-vocals format for Flowers, which brightens the mood a little. But that doesn’t last, as Darkchild unfolds over a catchy series of brooding 60s folk-rock changes. The final cut, Hold True brings the album full circle: Australians have always had a thing for Wray and surf rock in general.

Now where did Von Csoke escape to, before the Australian government decided to institute draconian lockdowns whenever any rando shows up positive on a meaningless PCR test? She ended up in Brooklyn: apartheid capitol of the US, outside of Oregon, anyway. Rents are coming down all over town: these days the South Bronx is looking better and better.

Classic, Purist, Smartly Crafted Country Sounds From the Shootouts

The Shootouts are a throwback to the glory days of classic 1950s and 60s country music, with uncluttered 21st century production values. Their songwriting harks back to an era of clever storytelling, jokes with unspoken punchlines and unselfconscious poignancy. Their new album Bullseye is streaming at Soundcloud. These guys really know their retro sounds – it wouldn’t be overhype to mention them in the same sentence with Dale Watson. Their solos are short, concise and always leave you wanting more.

They open with I Don’t Think About You Anymore, which is sort of a heartbroken take on what the Statler Bros. did with Flowers on the Wall, built around a hammer-on rockabilly riff that everybody from Elvis and Johnny Cash on forward have made songs out of.

Brian Poston’s lead guitar twangs and looms ominously in Rattlesnake Whiskey, a spaghetti western shuffle about a moonshiner who gets high on his own supply. Frontman Ryan Humbert sends a shout-out to his mom in Another Mother – as in “you won’t get another mother” – with wistful fiddle and pedal steel in the background.

Bassist Ryan McDermott and drummer Dylan Gomez add an emphatic skinny Elvis strut to Hurt Heartbroke; Poston’s choogling lead out of that slip-key rockabilly piano break is over way too soon. The album’s title track is a western swing instrumental with a long, biting series of tradeoffs between lead guitar and steel. These guys really know their retro sounds

There’s more of that in Here Comes the Blues, an oldschool Bakersfield-style number with a sly couple of Merle Haggard quotes. Everything I Know is Buddy Holly updated for an era with better guitar amps, organ looming in the background and elegant harmony vocals from Emily Bates. Then the band put an energetic spin on Hank Williams in Waiting on You.

They weld a wry, aphoristic lyric to a loping Johnny Cash groove in Missing the Mark, with another lively conversation between guitar and steel on the way out. They go back to a hillbilly boogie bounce in I Still Care, with echoes of 60s George Jones.

The imagery gets really gloomy in the low-key, meticulously crafted heartbreak ballad Forgot to Forget (but dudes, you’re not playing in 3/4: this is too fast, it sounds like 12/8!). They end the album on a high note with the rapidfire party anthem Saturday Night Town. The Shootouts play the album release show on June 12 at 7:30 PM at the Auricle, 201 Cleveland Ave North in Canton, Ohio; cover is $15.

Celebrating the Spanish-Language Side of a Great Mexican-American Rock Bandleader

Patricia Vonne has been a fierce advocate for immigrant rights since bursting onto the Americana scene right around the turn of the century. She has an artistic bloodline: her great uncle, Guillermo Aguirre y Fierro, was an acclaimed Mexican poet, and her brother is filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. For those who aren’t already acquainted, a good way to get to know her fiery anthems and poignant ballads is her 2015 career retrospective, Viva Bandolera, streaming at Spotify.

It’s a long record, seventeen tracks. It’s missing one of her best songs, the escape anthem Blood on the Tracks (a title that took a lot of nerve to appropriate, but Vonne validated that hubris). Still, it’s packed with plenty of big concert favorites. Vonne’s richly arranged and orchestrated catalog comprises songs in both English and Spanish, this collection focusing on the Spanish material.

The self-described “blood drenched love song” Traeme Paz (Bring Me Peace) opens the album, Vonne’s wounded, full-throated delivery over a lushy syncopated web of guitars. The similarly aching, swaying minor-key ranchera rock anthem Dulce Refugio (Sweet Refuge) draws on an Aguirre y Fierro poem, Insomnio. Vonne flexes her signature castanets in El Marinero y La Sirena (The Sailor and the Mermaid), looking at the lure of the mermaid archetype from both male and female perspectives.

The album’s bristling, mariachi-rock title track celebrates a female bandit who gets sweet revenge on the Texas Rangers who murdered her husband. The lusciously jangly Qué Maravilla (How Marvelous) may be a love song, but there’s a persistent dark undercurrent. With its spiraling leads and inventive drums, Guitarras y Castañuelas – the title track from Vonne’s second album – is a sultry shout-out to her cultural heritage on both sides of the Atlantic. Lowlit by accordion, violin and a glimmering piano solo, the subtly bolero-tinged (The Orchard of St. Vincent) is a salute to Federico Garcia Lorca.

The one song here that hasn’t stood the test of time is Torera – it’s no less gauche for an armed woman to kill a defenseless animal than it is for a man. Vonne builds a suspenseful Sevillian flamenco atmosphere in La Gitana de Triana (The Triana Gypsy) and follows that with one of her most searing rock anthems, Mujeres Desaparecidas (Missing Women), memorializing the scores of Juarez women abducted and murdered in transnational drug wars.

Echoing with ominous tremolo guitar, the briskly pulsing Fuente Vaqueros (Fountain of the Cowboy), reflects on Lorca’s early years. Vonne follows that with a couple of drinking songs, the crescendoing, reggae-tinged nocturne Fiesta Sangria and the reverb-drenched southwesten gothic anthem Tequileros, a salute to bootleg hooch.

La Lomita de Santa Cruz (The Cross on the Hill) has a similar, moodily twangy energy, a reflection on keeping cultural traditions alive. With its somber trumpet, the breakup ballad Soledad has a towering angst. The last vocal number here, Severina, is Vonne’s tender dedication to her grandmother. One side of Vonne that’s been overlooked is that she also writes great instrumentals, underscored by the album’s closing spaghetti western theme, Mexicali de Chispa (Mexicali Spark), one of several collaborations here with her filmmaker brother.

Celebrate the End of an Ugly World with Brent Amaker and the Rodeo’s Protest Songs

Everybody’s favorite tongue-in-cheek baritone C&W crooner, Brent Amaker, has a new ep Ugly World, with his band the Rodeo streaming at Spotify. His protest songs speak for billions of people around the globe. How do you write a hit song? Make it a broadside about everybody’s least favorite bully.

You probably know the big hit, Dump Trump:

He has his head up his own butt…
Dude loves himself so much he’ll take us down for a buck
This tv star is a hack
I want my country back

It’s a solid piece of retro tunesmithing, too – that machete-chord guitar outro is spot-on.

The rest of the record is just as relevant. The title track is a spaghetti western tune with a bunch of amusing musical quotes and a long, incendiary guitar solo. Amaker would love a beer, but the bars are closed: things just get uglier and uglier in this lockdown hell!

He sticks with a loping southwestern gothic groove for Soldier, an unexpectedly subtle number that manages to be sympathetic to the battlescarred dude while not missing the implications of what people this damaged do if they’re running the show. Amaker closes with  New Rodeo Anthem. a stadium-friendly (or corral-friendly) singalong. You know that when the lockdown is over and Amaker is back on the road, he and the band are going to break this one out for the encores.

Now, some of you regular readers might be wondering why, after salivating over the prospect of a Trump impeachment week after week a year ago, this blog went totally silent on the Presidential election. Did New York Music Daily secretly go over to the dark side and endorse Trump?

No. But if anybody thinks Biden is an improvement, they’re living in a dream world. In many respects Biden is Trump with a smiley face – or wearing a muzzle with a smiley face on it. Trump was surrounded by a bunch of cheap snatch-and-grab thugs, but Biden’s people are far more sinister. The Trump crowd simply wanted to loot the treasury and make a quick getaway. Biden’s people have an agenda: permanent lockdown. The New Abnormal. We are going to have to be twice as dedicated to noncompliance as we’ve been the past year in order to get rid of it. And this blog believes we can. Stay strong because the next four years are going to be hell. But we’re going to win this thing.

Best Short Album of 2020: Karla Rose’s Mysterious New EP The Living End

Karla Rose is best known among her musical colleagues in New York as a formidable and incredibly mutable singer. She can channel any emotion a person could possibly feel, from the subtlest to the most desperate. Just listen to her negotiate the tricky phrasing of My Hero – Sean Lennon’s doo-wop noir theme from the film Alter Egos – with a little cadenza at the end that will give you goosebumps.

But Rose is just as formidable a tunesmith and lyricist, with a distinctly sinister side. She is not one of the would-be femmes fatales who sprung up in the wake of Lana Del Rey – she is the real deal. Her latest release, the three-song ep The Living End is streaming at Spotify.

The title alone speaks to Rose’s fondness for wordplay and multiple levels of meaning: it wouldn’t be hubris to compare her to Elvis Costello, Ward White or Hannah Fairchild.  The first song on the record is Battery Park. Partly inspired by Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, it’s a haunting, bolero-tinged anthem that subtly speaks truth to the grisly power of Wall Street entitlement. Over the terse pulse of drummer Kevin Garcia and bassist Ari Folman-Cohen, Rose’s Telecaster jangles and clangs with the reverb full on, lead player Dylan Charles building to chainsaw volleys of tremolo-picking at the end. This version is a lot quieter than the absolutely feral attack she and the band gave the song at places like the Mercury Lounge around the time she wrote it. It’s a frontrunner for the best song of the year.

The two other songs are even more enigmatic. Moon and I is part classic 70s soul and part dreampop, Rose’s guitar building starrier, more atmospheric textures as Scott Hollingsworth’s organ hangs in the background over the low-key groove of Lorenzo Wolff’s bass and Andrew Zehnal’s drums.

The title track is a dead ringer for Lou Reed, but Rose plays the verse in a devious 12/8 rhythm to shake things up. Her message is hopeful: stay on plan and we’ll get through this. In the year of the lockdown and the muzzle, that inspiration couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time.