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Category: surf music

NYC Surf Rock Favorites Bring Their Clang and Twang to the South Slope Tomorrow Night

When you think about it, surf rock has been retro for almost as long as swing jazz. And every year, a new generation of kids discovers the catchy, danceable, reverb-drenched sound which these days is made mostly by bands who live nowhere near the water.

One group that does live near the water, or close to it, anyway, is the Supertones. Dating back to the mid-90s, they’re one of the longest-running bands in New York. A lot of surf artists, from legends like Dick Dale to Los Straitjackets and the Coffin Daggers, bring their sensational chops and supersonic tremolo-picking to wow the crowd. The Supertones do the opposite: Bandleader and Telecaster player Tim Sullivan writes lingering, spacious themes that border on the minimalist, with a sound that looks back to the early 60s and the golden age of the Ventures and Shadows.

Everything they play sounds familiar, yet hard to place, maybe because Sullivan is awfully good at taking classic surf hits and tweaking them just enough to call them his own. The group’s late-90s residency at the old Luna Lounge on Ludlow Street is legendary. There’s been some turnover in the group over the years (the original rhythm section left and eventually became Mr. Action & the Boss Guitars), but the Supertones didn’t drown in the lockdown and have emerged with a gig at 9 PM tomorrow night, June 25 at Freddy’s. A couple of cover bands, Band of Others and then Link Wray cover crew the WrayCyclers play after; it’s a pass-the-bucket situation.

There are as many tracks on the Supertones’ Reverbnation page as Heinz has flavors. At about two minutes a clip, that’s two hours of jangle and twang. Skip the first track, Paradise Point Pt. 1 which is a red herring with that fakeout organ intro. Instead, roll with The Last Ride, a twangy Bakersfield-style tune with rolling surf drums. There’s close harmonies off a low string in Avanti, a gently twangy blend of loping desert rock and low-key Ventures in El Rollo, and Ali Baba, a very, very close cousin to Misirlou with a few goofy moments thrown in to distance it from the original.

I Surf in Black is a prime example of how the group typically do a slow, vaguely melancholy ballad. They pick up the pace in Dora Lives. a tightly galloping number, while Morbious is a reminder that cheap Casio organ tunes were not the band’s strong suit. Likewise, it’s a mystery why there’s such a sloppy version of Moon Shot here. That sets you up for three different takes of All For a Few Perfect Waves. After that, there’s still over an hour of music to keep you fresh and icy for whatever you’re doing after you get offline. If you get as far as the deliciously bittersweet Bushwacked, you will be richly rewarded.

The last time anyone from this blog was in the house at a Supertones show, it was at Otto’s – where else, right? – to kick off what turned out to be an amazing 2018 Labor Day weekend. That Friday night, the group did more slinking than pummeling through a set much like the Reverbnation page. Truth in advertising – and don’t hate on them because they use an old platform. It’s only fitting for a band that plays old music.

Singles For May: Pure Bliss, Pure Snark and Pure Evil

It took more than twice as long to pull together the May concert calendar as it did for April: now we just have to keep that momentum going. This calls for continued vigilance, but also celebration! Click on titles or descriptions for video, click on artist or author names for their individual pages.

Before it gets stale, here’s the happiest song of the year: unidentified airline steward sings eleven seconds of pure joy. Thanks to the irreplaceable Celia Farber for passing this along.

The next clip is one that the Biden regime’s new minister of truth never wanted to get out. So here it is! Two minutes fifteen seconds of Nina Jankowicz on camera singing an occasionally obscene version of I Wanna Be Rich, Famous and Powerful, back in 2015 when it seems she had her sights on being a cabaret star. You can’t make this shit up. Thanks to the fearless Dr. Paul Alexander for the link.

Unacceptable Dr. Jessica Rose and Twitter user TexasLindsay have created a couple of succinct, cynically amusing, very short videos which connect the Covid shot rollout with increases in mortality. If you know somebody who’s on the fence about the issue and has a sense of humor, try the best acoustic surf song video ever (this is the Israeli version).

The second video compares the graphs from the data in Spain, set to Paco de Lucia’s flamenco guitar.

Someone, by Anna of the North is not the kind of song you usually see on this page: autotuned faux-80s new wave isn’t this blog’s thing. Rising star Sage Hana turned the song into a meme during the “something in the water” controversy – which is far from over, by the way

Let’s bring this full circle with about seven minutes of Dr. Pam Popper, from her mostly-daily short podcast. She put this out right after the Federal judicial takedown of the CDC muzzle rule on public transit: the gist of it is that this is also far, far from over. And she isn’t just blowing off steam: the founder of Make Americans Free Again has some solutions.

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.

A Strong, Dark Return From an Individualistic Northern English Band

The Inca Babies are not a cumbia band. They occupy a unique spot in the history of Manchester rock: their darkly kinetic sound was typically more closely attuned to American gutter blues than the gothic and industrial esthetics that surrounded them during their 80s heyday. Over the years, they’ve had some turnover among group members. The great news is that this latest edition, a power trio of guitarist Harry Stafford, bassist Vince Hunt and drummer Rob Haynes have put out a new album, Swamp Street Soul – streaming at Spotify – which finds them more eclectically inspired than ever, exploring all kinds of fresh territory.

They open with the title track, a slow, surrealistically crawling mashup of Lynchian dub and the Cramps, guest trumpeter Kevin Davy a one-man orchestra with his soaring, reverb-iced harmonies.

Track two, Walk in the Park is a horror surf strut fueled by Stafford’s repeaterbox guitar strobe. Hunt turns up the grit on his bass amp for Slingshot, a catchy, impressively funky apocalyptic reflection. They keep the slinky groove going for Dear English Journalists, a knowing chronicle of political blowback: this is what happens when populations are demonized, Stafford reminds as he hits his chorus pedal to let the chill in under the door.

“I think this is the last station before hell,” Stafford relates over scrambling, Stoogoid riffage in Crawling Garage Gasoline, one of the band’s older tunes. Bigger Than All of Us is a surprising detour into brisk, enveloping dreampop, followed by I’m Grounded, a cynical, ba-bump blues tune with roller rink organ from Stafford.

Haynes’ steady Atrocity Exhibition rolls propel the next track, Oh, the Angels How I Bless Them, up to a roaring funeral pyre on the chorus. Stafford anchors his gloomy crime rap with spiky Bauhaus chords in Windshield Gnat, Haynes adding icicle percussion in the background.

Davy’s trumpet returns, backward masked in Mine of Bones. a catchy, stalking noir blues. The trio wind up the album with a pounding dub version of the opening track. After all this band has been through, even before 2020, it’s impressive to see this version of the group still going strong.

Chris Farren’s Death Don’t Wait Soundtrack Salutes and Savages Decades of Movie Scores

Chris Farren‘s original soundtrack to the film Death Don’t Wait – streaming at Spotify – is a party in a box. It’s a loving homage to, and sometimes a parody of film music from the 60s and 70s. Farren has really done his homework. drawing on both Sean Connery and Roger Moore-era Bond themes, 60s detective flicks and maybe Manfred Hubler’s Vampyros Lesbos soundtrack, If this score is any indication, the movie is packed with action and suspense…and just as much snark. Farren pulled a great band together for this project: Jeff Rosenstock, Jimmy Montague on keys, Frankie Impastato on drums, and Mark Glick on cello, plus a horn section.

The main title song is a gorgeous update on mid-60s Henry Mancini Vegas noir, lit up top to bottom with Farren’s 12-string Rickenbacker and fuzztone guitars. “Life is just a dream we suffer through,” Laura Stevenson intones, tenderly, “It’s your turn to lose.”

The first of the instrumentals is Attacked By Dogs, a fast-paced, brassy, punchy chase scene that leaps from mid-60s Bond ambience to the teens, on the warpy wings of some weird synth patch. Red Wire Blue Wire is Shaft as George Clinton might have envisioned him about ten years after the fact.

Chris Farren Noir – that’s the title of the interlude – turns out to be a minor-key soul groove that wouldn’t be out of place in the Menahan Street Band repertoire. Helicopter Shuffle is the Peter Gunne theme on a diet, with a wry, icy Ventures reverb-ping guitar solo and a brass crescendo.

Crime Party is a straight-up surf tune with roller-rink organ and smoky baritone sax: it’s over in less than two minutes. Farren goes back to psychedelic funk for Cash Is Heavy and follows that with Car Chase! It’s ridiculously funny: more Peter Gunne, galloping baritone guitar, the works. Farren has outdone himself here.

To his credit, he doesn’t go for the obvious punchline in Night Walk, which is not as self-explanatory as it could be. If Francoise Hardy’s backing band did Bond themes, Here’s Your Disguise would be one of them, although Farren doesn’t limit himself to tinny vintage amps or bittersweet major/minor changes.

The two final tracks are Hot Pursuit and Cold Pursuit: the former would work fine in a good vintage Bollywood crime flick, while the latter, a morose waltz, is the most recognizably noir set piece here. If this isn’t the best album of the year so far, it’s definitely the funnest.

Gorgeous, Glimmering Noir Instrumentals From the Royal Arctic Institute

Best album title of the year so far goes to the Royal Arctic Institute, whose new cassette ep From Catnap to Coma is streaming at Spotify. Over the last few years, the New York instrumentalists have developed a distinctive sound that draws on film noir soundtracks, surf music, psychedelia and new wave. At a time when so much of the New York music scene has been scattered to places like Texas and Florida, it’s good to see these guys sticking around and putting out their best record so far.

The opening number, Fishing by Lanterns has a slow, Lynchian sway, the spare, twangy guitars of John Leon and Lynn Wright building a starry unease over David Motamed’s bass and Lyle Hysen’s evocative drumming while keyboardist Carl Baggaley fills out the nocturnal ambience.

Track two is Shore Leave on Pharagonesia, a hypnotically pulsing, backbeat theme that’s part Ventures spacerock nocturne, part drifting but propulsive Los Crema Paraiso highway theme. After that, First of the Eight rises from a carefree glimmer to a more driving intensity.

Ghosts of the Great Library, a big-sky tableau, is a clinic in how to get the most mileage out of simple, economical riffs: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Big Lazy catalog. The final cut is Anosmia Suite, referencing the medical term for loss of sense of smell. Motamed’s sliding chordal intro is a cool touch; from there, it builds to the album’s most hypnotic interlude.

Revisiting a Lush, Lynchian Treat by the Lovely Intangibles

The Lovely Intangibles are a spinoff of Lynchian cinematic band the Lost Patrol, one of the most consistently disquieting New York groups of the past twenty years or so. This project features the core of the band, lead guitarist/keyboardist Stephen Masucci and twelve-string player Michael Williams, plus singer Mary Ognibene and drummer Tony Mann. Their 2015 debut album Tomorrow Is Never is streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening track, No Amends, has everything that made the Lost Patrol so menacingly memorable. That lingering reverb guitar, those icy washes of string synth and deep-sky production, and Ognibene’s breathy, woundeed vocal harmonies are a good fit.

The Dust Settles Down is basically a catchy 80s new wave ballad lowlit by ominous spaghetti western guitar: imagine Julee Cruise if she could belt. Opening with dusky guitar jangle, Tell Me When takes on a gusty, string synth-driven ba-BUMP noir cabaret tinge.

Beatlesque riffage punches in and out of the sweep and swoosh of Do As You Please. The album’s title track ripples and glistens, Ognibene’s voice channeling a cool but angst-fueled intensity: the kettledrums and snappy bass are an aptly Orbisonian touch.

Masucci’s icepick reverb guitar and looming bass propel the anthemically waltzing It’s Just Like You. Then the band sway through the gorgeously bittersweet early 60s-influenced Will You Surrender: you could call it Theme From a Winter Place.

The most straight up new wave number here is Divine. They close the album with Relapse, a broodingly twinkling tableau. Play this with the lights out – if you can handle it,after all we’ve been through over the past year and a half.

Play For Today 9/7/21

Been awhile since there’s been a playlist on this page, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of entertaining singles floating around. Here’s a fun and informative self-guided mix: the links in the song titles will take you to each one.

The Brooklyn Boogaloo Blowout are best known for their latin soul jams, but they’re a lot more eclectic than their name implies. The most electrifying song on their live album is Sheba, an Ethiopiques-tinged surf song

Louisiana rocker Rod Gator‘s Wanna Go for a Ride is the Clash’s version of Brand New Cadillac, as the Legendary Shack Shakers might have done it, darker and grittier with a guitar solo to match

Acoustic Syndicate‘s cover of the Grateful Dead classic Bertha has a tightness and a snarl that the original band sometimes let slip away. “Test me test me test me test me, why don’t you arrest me?” What a theme the lockdown era!

It makes a good segue with one you probably know, RC the Rapper‘s Just Say No, one of the big boombox hits from this summer’s protests here in the US. “It isn’t a theory if it keeps coming true.”

The smooth reggae grooves of Micah Lee’s No Lockdowns keep the inspiration flowing (thanks to the fearless folks at Texans For Vaccine Choice for this one).

The breathing metaphors and carefree sounds of children laughing on the playground in Alma’s Sips of Oxygen are a much subtler kind of commentary: “Someone in the doorway, hope they’re not afraid of them.”

Marianne Dissard and Raphael Mann’s delicate chamber pop duet reinvention of Townes Van Zandt’s If I Needed You is the great lost track from Nico’s Chelsea Girl album….with a woman who can hit the notes on the mic.

Let’s end this with something equally artful and poignant: Danny Wilkerson‘s Endless Haze, the best and least Beatlesque song on the new reissue of his very Fab Four-influenced 2018 solo debut album. The stark haggardness of the Boston Symphony Strings back his playfully lyrical but wounded chronicle of losing a battle with the bottle.

Smartly Lyrical, Guitar-Fueled Americana Sophistication on Jack Grace’s New Album

Jack Grace was one of the inventors of what came to be known as urban country back in the early zeros. He’s a New York legend. Everybody said that he should have been the guy who starred across from Reese Witherspoon in Walk the Line instead of Joaquin Phoenix: he definitely has the Johnny Cash voice.

Grace shared bills with Jerry Lee Lewis and Dale Watson and every remaining Grand Old Opry star who ever played here over the last twenty years. He booked the old Rodeo Bar on Third Avenue, keeping the flame of oldschool C&W alive until gentrification killed it in 2014: the space sat vacant for years afterward.

Grace also has a fantastic, characteristically diverse new album, What a Way to Spend a Night: rescued from a UK studio archive and streaming at Spotify. The band is the core of Grace’s prime supporting cast from the late zeros/early teens, with J. Walter Hawkes on trombone, Bill Malchow on his usual piano and organ plus viola and accordion, with Chris Lucca on trumpet and a British rhythm section of Fabian Bonner on bass and Ian Griffith on drums.

Much as a boisterous sense of humor pervades Grace’s work, his songs are deceptively sophisticated. Grace plays all the guitars here, building layers of jangle and twang in the opening ballad, Broken Melody, a surreal and poignant 60s-style countrypolitan tune with Malchow on organ and the horns wafting morosely in the background.

The Monster Song has a bluesy, carnivalesque, Waits-ish minor-key sway. It’s about keeping the demons at bay, sort of the reverse image of another popular Grace tune, Losing’s a More Comfortable Home.

Don’t Wanna Work Today, a big, defiant crowd-pleaser gets a tight, lean rock treatment here, with the droll Tex-Mex touches muted in favor of a tantalizingly careening guitar solo. You’d Be Disappointed (If I Didn’t Disappoint You) is Grace at his sardonically amusing best: much as it’s a parody of loungey crooner jazz, he nails the style, right down to the guitar parts.

Grace’s fondness for latin grooves comes to the forefront in Here Comes the Breeze, a brooding bossa-tinged escape anthem. Mr. Sanderson and Sons Amazing Secret Traveling Show, a subtly funny steampunk spoof, features Malchow’s rarely recorded viola and accordion work.

I’m a Burglar, which could be a metaphorically loaded cheating song or just a smalltime crook’s tale, has a hushed nocturnal pulse anchored by Malchow’s torrential organ. The most retro song here is the choogling, Chuck Berry-inspired stomp Nobody Brought Me Nothing,

The hardest-rocking numbers are Bearded Man, a slinky, strange psychedelic vamp that might date back to Grace’s early days fronting his cult favorite jamband Steak, and Smokehouse Discrepancy, a searing mashup of surf rock and Booker T. instrumental soul that’s arguably the album’s best song.

The final cut is Chinatown – an original, not the Move classic – a picturesque shout-out to the New York neighborhood where “ghosts and spices permeate the air,” and which until 2020 was the place that you might be sitting next to Woody Allen at a basement-level dumpling place on Mott Street in the wee hours. What a beautiful time and place that was, one we need to get back sooner than later.

Grace’s next New York gig is Aug 16 at 9 PM at Skinny Dennis – as of a couple of days ago the bar had no restrictions.

Irresistibly Fun Retro Cinematic Themes From Sven Wunder

Sven Wunder, like the soul/funk icon whose name he’s appropriated, is pretty much a one-man band. His specialty is balmy, cinematic instrumental themes with a psychedelic, late 60s/early 70s European feel. One good comparison is Manfred Hubler’s Vampyros Lesbos soundtrack in a particularly calm or pastoral moment. Among current bands, Tredici Bacci are another. This second Wunder’s playful, entertaining new album Natura Morta is streaming at Bandcamp.

Tinkly piano and fluttering flute breeze into the album’s opening track, En Plein Air before the strings go sweeping over a lithe, bouncy beat spiced with chiming keys. Is that an electric harpsichord? Is that real brass or the artificial kind?

More of those brassy patches alternate with brittle, trebly vintage clavinova, echoey Rhodes and sinuous hollowbody bass in Impasto. Prussian Blue begins with a cheery piano cascade and rustling flute but quickly becomes a strutting motorik surf rock theme. Surf popcorn? Popcorn surf?

The album’s title track is hardly the dirge the title implies: it comes across as a sort of orchestrated 70s soul take on Bob Marley’s Waiting in Vain. Wunder subtly edges the beat in Panorama into a 6/8 sway with 12-string acoustic guitar, wafting strings and winds, and vintage keyboard textures.

He goes back to vampy, lushly orchestrated early 70s soul with Alla Prima, those layers of 12-string guitar sparkling overhead. The sparkle continues in Umber, which has a somewhat more uneasy, pensive edge. Barocco, Ma Non Troppo is a funny little number: it’s a canon of sorts, but with shuffling syncopation and a funky Rhodes interlude

Wry low-register clavinova contrasts with the sweep of the strings in Memento Mori: the message seems to be, let’s party while we can. Pentimento is the album’s most hypnotic track, sheets of strings and winds shifting through the mix over growly, clustering bass. Wunder reprises the title track at the end with slip-key piano that’s just a hair out of tune. Somewhere there’s an arthouse movie director or two who need this guy.