New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Category: surf music

Lingering Mystery and Lynchian Sonics From the Royal Arctic Institute

If you have to hang a label on the Royal Arctic Institute, you could call them a cinematic surf band. They have a Lynchian side, a jazzy side and also a space-surf side. Their latest album Sodium Light is streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening number, the vampy Prince of Wisconsin has an easygoing sway, Gramercy Arms keyboardist Carl Bagaly’s bubbly Rhodes piano giving way to bandleader John Leon’s reverby twang and then grit. The distant wistfulness in Christmases At Sea is visceral, the jangly mingle of guitar over David Motamed’s tense bass pulse and Lyle Hysen’s muted drums.

We Begin on Familiar Ground is a real chiller: the big bite at the beginning is just a hint of what’s to come over spare, creepy, mutedly lingering ambience. The trick ending, and the searing guitar solo from And the Wiremen‘s Lynn Wright, are just plain awesome. Is this a lockdown parable? Who knows: the album was recorded clandestinely somewhere in the tri-state area last year.

The fourth track, Different in Sodium Light is a return to balmy Summer Place calm, Wright adding just a tinge of ominousness with his elegant solo. The final cut, Tomorrowmorrowland is the closest thing here to And the Wiremen’s ominous, Morricone-esque southwestern gothic, with a slashing organ break. On a very short list of rock albums released in 2021 so far, this is one of the best.. And it’s available on cassette!

Ferociously Lyrical, Amazingly Psychedelic, Eclectic Sounds From the Free Radicals

Fearlessly political Houston-based collective the Free Radicals have a brilliant, insightful new album, White Power Outage Volume 1 out and streaming at Bandcamp. Over catchy, psychedelically arranged organic grooves that range from hard funk, to roots reggae, to dub and even surf music, a vast cast of over fifty artists speak truth to power with witheringly insightful lyricism. This album is like a great musical podcast about the state of the world right at the first strike of the lockdown: over and over again, this crew breaks down the big picture in ways that make sense, especially considering what’s happened since March 16 here in New York and even earlier in Wuhan.

Not surprisingly, it took more than a year to pull together all 23 tracks here. Hip-hop artist Obidike Kamau kicks it off over with America Is a Lie, over a slinky, live funk groove with wah guitar:

I know how much this hurts your feelings
It’s not because you strive for justice, but I’ve heard this bullshit all my life
The propaganda you spit, the rose-colored myths you declare
…I guess it goes back to your gangster beginnings
Your genocidal belief in unhappy endings
…I know a thief appreciates possession being nine tenths of the law
And you’re a liar
I ain’t in fear, your reign is temporary
I see it leaving here

EQuality delivers another broadside so good all 58 seconds of it are worth reprinting:

If multiple black men are found dead in the apartment of a millionaire tied to the Democratic Party named Ed Buck, and nobody investigates his role in the incident, does it make a sound?
Bartender I’ll take another round
But pouring kool-aid in a wine glass don’t make it merlot
A cat having kittens in the oven don’t make them biscuits
Well I’ll be George Washington Carver selling peanuts to the peanut gallery at the art gallery See what’s on the walls, pictures of poverty and pain
‘Cause that’s what sells n____s to negros
Some inverse tradeoff
Paid off the most popular rapper so the house can run the field n____s
Capitalism and Christ cut a deal in the back of the Vatican
As the Pope pours another round of scotch
Excuse my cynicism
The gospel according to a con

“Maybe we just catch a case and disappear without a trace,” says rapper Nosaprise over the loopy psychedelic backdrop of Cash Out — and he’s not talking about COVID.

“Beware the boogieman, terror threats scaring us out of psychological reason,” D-Ology warns in Look at That, a far-reaching catalog of threats from police brutality to transhumanism.

The Great Australian Heist, featuring hip-hop lyricist Bryte from down under, reminds how the slave trade devastated his country’s indigenous population…and how that resonates today in, as just one example, the way fracking is destroying the country’s already scarce water supply. He doesn’t get into the fascist lockdown situation there, the most repressive clampdown on human rights outside of China and Israel right now.

Swatara Olushola takes over the mic in Racist Car No Driver, revealing a sinister white supremacist motivation behind driverless cars: their “garbage in, garbage out” technology was designed not to recognize the presence of black people in the street. Earlier in the record she contributes another rocksteady-tinged protest song that also pokes savage fun at technosupremacists.

The musicians here turn out to be a phenomenal roots reggae band. The best of many of the reggae tunes here are the intricately arranged Daughter of Diana, with Kam Franklin on vocals, and Student Debt Dub, an Ethiopiques number fueled by bass and brass. Yet the best straight-up instrumental on the album is the sarcastically titled Deepwater Horizon, a slinky, reverbtoned minor-key surf rock instrumental – it’s really cool how the bass gets to carry the melody for a verse.

Later on the band careen into punk klezmer for a bit, then toward the end of the record Matt Kelly contributes Piece of the Rock, a Celtic/punkgrass mashup sung from the point of view of a greedy oligarch. “Come take a hit of my rock,” he snarls.

Highlights among the many other tracks here also include also fiery, politically charged reggaeton from Karina Nistal; Rashard’s More Power, a political update on vintage James Brown spiced with vibraphone and horns; and Genesis Blu & Jasmine Christine’s Chariot Rock, a conscious hip-hop reinvention of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot over dubby, Ethiopian-tinged loops. You’ll see this on the best albums of 2020 page here at the end of the month.

Ride the Highway to Hell with the Death Wheelers

The Death Wheelers play heavy psychedelic rock instrumental soundtracks to imaginary sleazy biker flicks. They like gritty, gear-grinding bass, heavy drums and guitar textures that shift from sandpaper distortion to blue-flame Lynchian twang, Their new album Divine Filth – streaming at Bandcamp – is the heaviest one yet.

They open with a swooshy, crunchy title theme that’s over in less than two minutes, slide guitar hovering over Max Tremblay’s chainsaw downtuned bass and Richard Turcotte’s drums. Ditchfinder General is an epic mashup of a twisted ba-BUMP theme as early Sabbath would have done it, along with the Stooges’ TV Eye, thrash metal and spaghetti western textures.

Suicycle Tendencies is a heavy biker theme: imagine Agent Orange covering a Davie Allan & the Arrows tune, with an outro by Sabbath. The title track is a gritty battle theme where the whole gang unites against the enemy, throttles rumbling at full volume beneath Ed Desaulniers and Hugo Bertacci’s shreddy wah guitars.

Lobotomobile, a creepy spiderwalking horror surf tune, is the album’s most gleefully phantasmagorical track. Corps Morts starts off like a heavier Radio Birdman, decays to grim sludge and then rises from the lagoon. Murder Machines – Biker Mortis, true to its title, is part horror film theme, part evilly strutting Harley chopper rock.

The voiceover that kicks off Motorgasm – Canal Pleasures Pt. 1 is pretty priceless: the song. part Isaac Hayes psychedelic funk, part crunchy stoner riff-rock, is just as tongue-in-cheek. Chopped Back to Life is a 70s stoner boogie repurposed as crispy all-terrain vehicle music.

Road Rite shifts between hardcore punk and a strutting, vaguely Stonesy tune. The group close the record with Nitrus, a pummeling horror surf number, like Strange But Surf with distortion and a chunkier rhythm section. It’s the band’s best album so far and one of the most entertainingly cinematic releases of the year.

Wildly Cinematic, Halloweenish Glam Psychedelia From the Andretti

There’s always plenty of room for over-the-top grand guignol during this blog’s annual October-long Halloween celebration, and this year is no exception. Multi-instrumentalist Joe Ferrara’s project The Andretti has a new album, Suicide Italian Style, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s one of those rare records that’s so all-over-the-place stylistically that there’s nothing else like it. David Bowie is the obvious and pervasive influence. It’s very dark, just as psychedelic, politically woke and about as subtle as Bill Gates’ needle of death – here, have a shot of cancer-causing polyurethane while we pretend to vaccinate you against a virus that doesn’t even exist anymore. But it’s a lot of fun – the album that is.

Ferrara plays pretty much everything on this epically orchestral collection, except the drums  – that’s Blake Fleming behind the kit – and the brass instruments. The first track, Il Pavone D’oro is a math-y romp with growly, trebly bass, trickily shapeshifting meters, tremoloing reverb guitar, evilly twinkling keys and echoey, Bowie-esque vocals.

With its layers of creepy keys, Equinox at Cefalù could be Morricone Youth, or a particularly dark theme from Manfred Hubler’s Vampyros Lesbos soundtrack. The next cut, Marquis De Sade’s Rockin’ NYE is phantasmagorical circus rock as Bowie might have done it. 

The album’s title track is a colorful, cinematic mashup of horror surf, stalker flick theme, Bowie and math-rock. The Bowie-esque – that guy again – anthem DigitalEvil has a knowing gravitas, a word of warning about lockdown-era tech Nazi snooping, and a surf rock ending. Tim Ouimette’s trumpet and Rick Kriska’s sax and flute add flair in the distance.

The Man Who Never Was is another big Bowie-esque stadium-rock ballad about a guy whose life has made him “invisible and unkind.” The Soft Side of Hell has a ba-bump noir cabaret swing, an elegy for the outsiders who’ve been persecuted by tyrants throughout history – but as Ferrara reminds, all of the greatest minds  have been heretics.

If Bowie had been a connoissseur of surf rock, he would have written New Jersey Jailbreak – maybe with a itttle help from Ennio Morricone and the early BeeGees. After that, he revisits the gritty math of the opening track with A Dismal Method.

The album’s best track is the defiant outsider anthem Palace Depression:

Mark me at ground zero
We’ll bloody well see who wins
In a world of boring madmen
Nobody goes unscathed
But your love of suffering
Doesn’t prove your are depraved
It only proves you are not brave

The instrumental See Naples and Die veers from smoky atmospherics to menacing psychedelia, surf rock and back. The album winds up with A Seedy Type of Gravity, a phantasmagorical blend of Bowie, Spanish bolero, surf rock and psychedelia rock. You just might see this on the best albums of 2020 page at the end of the year.

The DriverX Soundtrack: A Crazily Diverse College Radio Style Playlist

, Lili Haydn and Marvin Etzioni‘s soundtrack to the 2018 film DriverX – streaming at youtube – is a long one, with a grand total of twenty tracks. Even for a film score, it’s especially eclectic, everything from soul to powerpop to uneasy set pieces. Etzioni plays mostly the good-cop role here, showing off his multistylistic erudition, while Haydn gets to be bad cop with her stark, troubled instrumentals.

Her brief main title theme is a surreal mashup of Central Asian folk and sinister oldtimey swing. Etzioni pulls a first-class oldschool soul band together for Oh Glory Be, sung with gospel passion by Helen Rose. The Model rip through a brief powerpop sprint; a little later, Etzioni plays a grimly amusing Dylan spoof on ukulele.

Talon Majors sings a turbulent, Amy Winehouse-ish neosoul tune. The Satellite Four prance through a long series of variations on a famous Shadows surf theme. Danny Peck takes over the mic on Haydn’s breathy, Orbisonesque Nashville noir ballad I’m Here, which she reprises at the end, Julee Cruise style.

Etzioni’s tense soul-blues epic Trouble Holding Back slowly rises to a jaggedly haphazard guitar solo; then he goes into low-key, flinty olschool C&W with Hard to Build a Home. He sticks with gloomy Americana in Miss This World.

Haydn’s other contributions include a brooding violin and acoustic guitar interlude; a hazy trip-hop tune; a bit of psychedelic baroque pop; a dubby, twinkling nocturne; some haunting instrumental folk-rock and a ridiculous descent into EDM.

Amazing, Surreal, Psychedelic Sounds From the Brazilian Amazon

The new compilation Jambú e Os Míticos Sons Da Amazônia – streaming at Bandcamp – is a collection of surreal, psychedelic dance music from northern Brazil in the 70s. Its epicenter was Belem, at the mouth of the Guamá river, which connects the area deeper in the Amazon with the Atlantic. There’s a lot of similarity between what the Peruvians and Brazilians were doing at the time, a cross-pollination facilitated by the airwaves.Yet it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard before unless you were around at the time it was popular, or know someone who’s obsessed with it. Where the Peruvians namechecked their local spirits and psychedelic plants, these Brazilians are more likely to reference the Yoruban gods along with their own indigenous flora.

This is a vast playlist of rare records, nineteen tracks in all. The first one, Pinduca’s Vamos Farrear is pretty primitive: just tinny minor-key rhythm guitar, boomy bass, percussion, bizarrely oompahing trombone and a sax solo out. The percussionist/bandleader’s second number, Pai Xangô, is a diptych and much closer to chicha, with spare, trippy wah-wah leads. Yet neither song hints at the jazz influences in his third track here, Coco Da Bahia.

Os Muiraquitãns’ A Misturada could be a mashup of vallenato and salsa….or simply a carimbo dance tune with muted electric guitar grafted on. Praia Do Algodoal, by Os Quentes de Terra Alta is the most rustically thumping, acoustic number here, a lusciously chromatic trumpet solo at the center.

Janjão’s bouncy sailor song Meu Barquinho begins with one of the album’s trippiest interludes, a strangely dissociative women’s choir. Messias Holanda’s wedhead anthem O Galo Canta, O Macaco Assovia and Vieira e Seu Conjunto’s Lambada Da Baleia could be Peruvian legends Juaneco y Su Combo with Portuguese lyrics. The question is who stole what from whom?

Verequete e O Conjunto Uirapurú are represented by the brisk, smoky sax-driven Mambo Assanhado and Da Garrafa Uma Pinga. O Conjunto De Orlando Pereira also have two tracks here, the spooky organ-driven Maruda and Carimbó Para Yemanjá.

A second Messias Holanda number, Carimbó Da Pimenta has distant echoes of reggae. Track number two by Vieira e Seu Conjunto, Melô Do Bode, has the most gorgeously spiky guitar here and is arguably the highlight of the record.

There are two Grupo da Pesada tune here: Võa Andorinha sounds like a scampering, electrified Veracruz folk tune, while the woefully out-of-tune Lundun Da Yaya is more of a salsa tune. There’s also the biting, chicha-tinged Xangô, by Magalhães e Sua Guitarra and Mestre Cupijó e Seu Ritmo’s tumbling, darkly careening Despedida. What an incredible service Analog Africa have done to help rescue these amazing sounds from obscurity.

Gorgeously Bittersweet Powerpop and Retro Rock From High Waisted

The level of craft, and depth, and command of a whole slew of retro rock styles in High Waisted guitarist/frontwoman Jessica Louise Dye’s songs is just plain stunning. Her band’s debut album On Ludlow made the top ten albums of the year list here in 2016. The group’s long-awaited follow-up, Sick of Saying Sorry, is streaming at Bandcamp. On the mic, Dye really airs out her upper register this time around, and although the band pull back from a somewhat misguided second-gen new wave tangent they went off on for awhile, there’s more 80s influence.

It gets off to a false start. Things get better in a hurry with the early 80s-style powerpop of the second track, Modern Love and its exhilarating chorus. Bassist Jeremy Hansen adds a catchy reggae pulse in tandem with drummer Jono Bernstein under the starry, lingering guitars in Drive: it’s High Waisted at their Lynchian best.

Burdens is a weird mashup of jazzily vamping 70s soul ballad and Phil Spector pop, but it works. Dye teams up with lead guitarist Stephen Nielsen for an insistent attack in the powerpop anthem Easy As It Comes, with yet another killer, regret-tinged chorus.

She wistfully reflects on the struggles of her friends scattered around the world in the wryly titled Cereal: it’s like Amanda Palmer without the theatrics. 8th Amendment has a loping, syncopated surf rock clang, calmly defiant vocals and an unexpected turn into Brian Jonestown Massacre-style psychedelia.

Eyes Crying is the album’s most gorgeously angst-fueled, Lynchian track: the Wallflowers’ toweringly elegaic classic Sixth Avenue Heartache comes to mind. Giving Up has a steady backbeat, a Mellotron (or a close facsimile) and Dye’s most spine-tingling vocal flights: it’s the album’s strongest cut. She and the band bring it full circle with I’m Fine, a blend of early Go Go’s and swirly dreampop. Fans of the darkest, torchiest songwriters to come out of this city in recent years – Karla Rose, Julia Haltigan and Nicole Atkins, at least in her early career – should check out this band.

Deliciously Shadowy Surf Tunes From the Pi Power Trio

The Pi Power Trio first took shape in the backyard at Long Island City Bar, where they entertained summertime crowds with a psychedelically drifting, rather darkly enveloping sound informed by guitarist Pat Irwin’s years of film work. They’re as close to a supergroup as exists in New York: bassist Daria Grace has been a prime mover in the city’s oldtimey scene since the late 90s, and drummer Sasha Dobson plays in another “power trio,” country soul band Puss N Boots with Norah Jones. This particular trio have a delightful, allusively dark surf rock album, The Walk, out recently and streaming at Bandcamp.

The title track, which opens the record, is not the woozy bass synth-driven new wave hit by the Cure but a distantly Lynchian, surfy reverb guitar-fueled go-go groove with cheery vocalese from the women in the band. The Dreamy Vocal (that’s the name of the tune) is a growling all-terrain-vehicle theme that harks back to Irwin’s days fronting 80s cult favorite instrumental band the Raybeats.

Grace hits a catchy surf riff right from the start of pH Factor, which comes across as vintage Ventures doing their cinematic thing, with plenty of Memphis in Irwin’s simmering guitar lines. The three close with a pummeling, somewhat haphazard, punky cover of the B-52s classic 52 Girls. The trio don’t have any gigs on the slate at the moment, but Grace is leading her luxuriantly boisterous oldtime uke swing band the Pre-War Ponies at 8 PM on March 12 at Barbes.

Cinematic Instrumentals and Surfy Dance Tunes From Retro Instrumentalists the TarantinosNYC

The TarantinosNYC are one of New York’s most entertainingly cinematic bands. With a name like that, it would be pretty pathetic if they weren’t. In the spirit of the Ramones, all four Tarantinos – lead guitarist Paulie, bassist Tricia, keyboardist Louie and drummer Tony – are a rock family. They started out back in the late zeros playing Quentin Tarantino film music, then began writing originals. Their latest album, simply titled III is streaming at youtube; they’re headlining the monthly surf rock show at Otto’s tonight. March 7 at around midnight.

It’s a good lineup, starting at 9 with the deliciously creepy, Balkan-tinged Plato Zorba, then Link Wray cover band the Wraycyclers and at 11 Atomic Mosquitos spinoff Killers From Space. For anyone shuddering at the prospect at spending a Saturday night in the East Village, consider that these surf shows tend to draw an older and less Instagram-obsessed crowd, compared to the shrieking frat/sorority clusterfuck at the surrounding watering holes.

The band open the new album with a cover of Link Wray’s The Shadow Knows which with the organ is more elegantly enveloping than it is Frankenstein-ish – although that jaggedly tremolo-picked guitar bridge is spot-on. You’re Gonna Lose That Curl, the first of the originals, is an upbeat early 60s-style go-go surf tune with roller-rink organ and Wipeout drums.

With a luscious blend of twelve-string guitars and keys, their instrumental version of the Grass Roots’ Midnight Confessions – from the Jackie Brown soundtrack – blows away the original. After that, (Please Don’t) Dead End follows a familiar series of progressions, like a slicker take on classic-era Ventures.

The group put a surreal latin soul spin on a sentimental old Beach Boys ballad and follow that with Shaken Not Stirred, a mashup of Balkanized Ventures and crime jazz that weirdly works much better than you’d think (this band do that kind of thing A LOT). They wrap up the record with the moody Vegas noir ballad Holding You in My Mind, with an aptly enigmatic vocal by guest Elena Barakhovski. If you like your surf sounds on the diverse and surprising side, you should also check out their fantastic 2015 release Surfin’ the Silver Screen.

Epically Intense, Cinematic Indian Grooves and a New Album From Red Baraat’s Sunny Jain

To what degree is drummer/composer Sunny Jain‘s new album Wild Wild East – streaming at Bandcamp – simply the latest release by his wild Indian brass band Red Baraat? For one thing, it’s more stylistically vast, mashing up that band’s blazing, brass-fueled bhangra with classic Bollywood grooves, surf and spy themes, Morricone spaghetti western soundtrack ambience, and majestic 70s art-rock. Jain’s next gig is leading Red Baraat from behind his massive doublebarreled dhol drum at Symphony Space on March 10 at 8 PM; you can get in for $30.

The new album’s title reflects both the chaotic unease that an immigrant experiences, and also turns the traditional American cowboy archetype inside out. As Jain sees it, immigrants are the new cowboys, blazing a trail for the West, relegating the old model to what it is: a swaggering, pistol-packing menace to society, and especially to newcomers here.

Jain kicks off the record with Immigrant Warrior, a brisk, flurrying epic built around a lavishly arranged action theme that begins as a Bollywood-flavored dancefloor stomp and rises to titanic heights with Grey McMurray’s layers of searing guitars,  Pawan Benjamin’s catchy, matter-of-fact alto sax carrying the tune. The title track is more swirlingly suspenseful, with chanteuse Ganavya’s echoey, wordless midrange vocals over tightly clustering syncopation.

Benjamin’s trills and bends build a bracing microtonal edge over the enveloping raga ambience in Osian, as Jain subtly pulls it onto the rails out of a tumbling introduction, guitar growing more deliciously jagged as the band gather steam. In a lot of ways the ominous hip-hop tune Red, Brown, Black is the key to the album; “I love my country but they think I’m ISIS,” guest rapper Haseeb muses early on in a grim struggler’s narrative.

Aye Meri Del Kahin Aur Chal has a swaying, machinegunning bhangra beat, catchy multitracked surf guitar and a big raga crescendo. Bhaagi is a stormy ghazal set to a trip-hop beat, followed by Blackwell, a languid, carefree tableau with balmy bansuri flute. Hai Apni Dil to Aawara is the album’s biggest musical mindfuck, a carnatic country waltz.

The bansuri returns, but much more darkly, in the lingering twists and turns of Turnse Lagi Lagan, which in its quietly brooding way might be the album’s strongest track. From there the band segue up slowly into a gathering storm in Maitri Bhavanu, Ganavya’s melismatic vocals imploring overhead. The clouds finally burst in Brooklyn Dhamal, closing the album with a barreling drive through a blend of Peter Gunne theme and Sufi music. Whether you call this dance music, film music, Indian music or its own unique creation, it’s one of the best albums of the year as well as a snapshot of where American music will be headed in the decades to come…assuming we survive four more years of the Trumpies. It’s starting to look really ugly at this point.