New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: 80s music

Sharply Crafted Eighties Guitar Rock with a Snide Current-Day Esthetic

The Doctor Swillings Band, once based in Maryland, are one of the rare rock acts who’ve been able to maintain their creativity by recording remotely this year. The now multi-state group – frontman Jon Lilly and special guests – have a very 80s feel, with sarcastic, quavery Dead Milkmen vocals and a snotty punkish edge matched to expert lead guitar that draws on decades of influences while retaining an icy, chorus-and-delay-pedal esthetic: haphazard elegance. As retro as their musical influences are, the issues they deal with are in the here and now: many of the songs deal with dead-serious implications of the lockdown. Their new album Making Monsters Men Again is streaming at youtube.

They open with the album’s simplest number, Oxygen and Gin, a clapalong over well-worn garage rock chord changes. With its icy,phased guitars, Shotgun Satan comes across as a mashup of early PiL and late 80s Psychedelic Furs, but with 90s vocals. “Drive like the devil’s in the car” is the message. The vibe isthe same in Greasy Monsters,awash in oscillating digital reverb and a cynical new wave drive .

2020 Survivor is built around a blippy synth patch and spare guitar jangle, a classic stoner lockdown theme reflecting one way to stay centered – more or less – amid this year’s relentless fearmongering and paranoia. The band get their bearings back with The Devil’s Wife, a slow/midtempo number with an ominous, allusive hook and a loopy vintage, Robert Fripp King Crimson guitar edge.

Action Man, one of the album’s sharpest, most focused tracks has a staggered beat and echoes of early 80s Siouxsie, with a boomy bass solo midway through. Wormhole, a rim sci-fi scenario, has a Lou Reed feel, its nails-down-the-blackboard Keith Levine tonalities matched to some metal crunch.

Jeff Bezos Space Center is definitely a song for this era, with its loping beat and falsetto vocals “Bezos, get out of my mind, whatcha gonna find?” From there, the band take an unexpected detour toward funk with the vampy When PeeWee Comes Back

With a ba-bump cabaret beat and burning distorted guitars, Maryland Manson very cleverly nicks the chord changes from the Sabbath classic Electric Funeral. The band follow with America’s Satan, a cynical political number with contrapuntal vocals over a blend of chilly 80s postrock and snide, phaser-driven metal: “Give me your money, your oil, your fear…your shopping, your lipstick, your fear!”

20th Century Masculine has a swirly mid-80s John Ashton jangle and crunch – think the Furs’ Mirror Moves album – over a ka-chunk, proto trip-hop beat. The album winds up with a couple of live tracks: Feeling Fantastic, a woozier, punkish take on the Blondie hit Dreaming, and You Don’t Know Me, which could be a Bowie psychedelic number from the Mick Ronson days, right down to the evil guitar duel midway through. Connoisseurs of smart, purposeful rock guitar are going to find a lot of inspiration here.

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.

Grim Early 80s-Style Guitar Rock From Linnea Olsson’s Maggot Heart

The last time anybody from this blog was in the house at a Linnea Olsson show, it was on a frigid February evening in 2014 at the now long-gone Highline Ballroom. Out in front of a big crowd that night, she played solo cello and sang a very brief, barely half-hour set of moody, skeletal chamber pop songs.

Olsson’s latest project is 180 degrees from that, a dark early 80s-influenced power trio, Maggot Heart. She leads the group and plays guitar, joined by bassist Olivia Airey and drummer Uno Bruniusso. Their latest album Mercy Machine is streaming at Bandcamp.

With its densely layered, ringing intro and contrastingly skronky loopiness, the opening track, Second Chance could be a more minimalist Bauhaus. For a song titled Sex Breath, the album’s punkish second cut is unexpectedly menacing, with a juicy, evilly watery guitar solo: Olsson has really taken her chops to the next level. This is a killer guitar record.

Driven by Airey’s gritty, chugging bassline, Justine wouldn’t be out of place on Siouxsie’s Juju album. The distortion on the bass gets even fuzzier for Roses, which comes across as syncopated Patti Smith with gothic chromatics and vocals spun tightly through a trebly flange effect.

Gutter Feeling has a ba-bump noir cabaret groove and some of the album’s most ghoulish lyrics: Olsson takes it galloping, doublespeed more or less, over a long bridge. The album’s death-obsessed title track is its most pummelingly punk-influenced moment: here as elsewhere, Olsson’s shrieking wide-angle chords bring to mind the late, great Siouxsie guitarist John McGeoch.

“All this talk about nothing gives us something to do,” Olsson intones cynically in High Rise, a mashup of Siouxsie and the Stooges. With its dissociative riffs popping up throughout the sonic picture, Lost Boys could be a straightforward, upbeat Live Skull number from the mid-80s.

Senseless has more of a slow, hypnotic early 80s growl and an ending where all hell breaks loose. The trio wind up this relentlessly interesting, disarmingly catchy album with Modern Cruelty and its contrastingly roaring and icy guitar multitracks, Olsson again threatening to go off the rails at any instant. Not a single substandard song on this album: there’s no telling what’s going to happen between now and the end of the year, but let’s hope there’s still a reason and an audience for a best albums of 2020 rundown when we get to December, Somebody has to keep music alive when the lockdowners are doing everything in their power to destroy it.

The Psychedelic Furs’ New Album: As Dark and Witheringly Relevant As Ever

The Psychedelic Furs have a new album. It’s really good!

Let’s be clear, this isn’t the same band who channeled horrorstricken, Joy Division-class angst with their densely atmospheric 1989 classic Book of Days – or whose guitar/organ/alto sax-fueled post-Velvets stomp had established them as one of that decade’s most important bands several years earlier. The sound of this record is closer to the former than the latter, with an even techier, postrock feel in places. Among core members from the group’s classic period, only frontman Richard Butler and keyboardist Joe McGinty remain. Butler, however, is in strong voice, and writing with the same withering punk sarcasm and bleak imagery that informed his best work. And the replacements – Richard Fortus, Jon Carin and someone who goes only by “BT” (could that be another founding member, Butler’s bassist brother Tim?) – share a commitment to the murk.

The album is titled Made of Rain; it’s streaming at Spotify. The first track, The Boy Who Invented Rock & Roll seems to be an Elvis parable, awash in vastly pulsing atmospherics and all kinds of guitar effects, Butler’s baritone a savage rasp overhead:

The druggy days the pointless pain
My glitter hips this bloodless ass
The endless days the starless dark
A bag of tears where love is gone
Her darling pays, a siren song…
The breathless air, the frozen tide
The greenless spring, the timeless night
The suicidal drunken dance
The sense that things will fall apart

In the wordless, echoey outro, the distantly reverberating flutter of a sax, and the snap and crackle of the bass rise up through the swirl.

You’ll Be Mine follows the same architecture: long, trancey verse and a big turnaround on the chorus. Butler works variations on a sarcastic “don’t be surprised” theme – this isn’t about seduction. He pushes his voice beyond where he really ought to (then again, he always did that) in the more upbeat, catchy, distinctly new wave-flavored Wrong Train. This song’s a typically imagistic narrative about a missed connection, in both senses of the word. Drugs and their dark side are a recurrent theme here.

This’ll Never Be Like Love has a slower, dreamlike sway: throughout the album, the soprano sax is a tasty, tasteful textural contrast. The band return to rainy-day washes of sound with the somber, wee-hours resignation of Ash Wednesday. Then they pick up the pace with the junkie cynicism of Don’t Believe, layers of icy chorus-box guitars filtering through the mix.

Come All Ye Faithful, a venomous minor-key kiss-off anthem, has as much of a funky bounce as this band could ever manage. No-One is a sequel, just as vicious and even catchier, set in a place where everyone’s “Dressed up in Halloween, where nobody ever screams.”

McGinty’s baroque electric piano ripples anxiously in Tiny Hands, a grimly knowing account of family dysfunction. Butler keeps that theme front and center over an acoustic-electric sway in Hide the Medicine. The band close the album with Turn Your Back on Me and its dreampop Dark Side of the Moon sonics, and then Stars, a wistfully twinkling, distantly Lynchian anthem.

Where does this fit in the Furs’ hall-of-fame lineup of albums? Somewhere in the middle. File this between the musically rich but lyrically deficient 1991 album World Outside and the 1982 classic Forever Now.

Twin Peaks Pop and a Bushwick Gig From Nicole Mercedes

Riding home from Barbes the other night, there was a girl on the train who’d gone to extremes to tell the world that she was the saddest person alive. She was about fifteen: ragged blonde bangs, raccoon eyeliner carefully streaked down her cheeks. Her glassy eyes drifted in and out of focus: she was definitely on something, probably Oxycontin. She wore badly distressed turquoise jeans over matching polkadot tights, plus an altered turquoise sweatshirt embroidered with the words “Boys don’t cry.” To which she or her seamstress had stiched in the word “BROKEN,” running vertically down from the letter “B.”

She was with a thin-faced boy sporting a sloppy, day-glo yellow hair dyejob. He was on coke, couldn’t stop wiping his nose or running his mouth. Hell-bent on trying to get her to change her gloomy ways, he pitched group therapy, he pitched drugs. She tried pushing him away – as vigorously as a petite woman who’s zonked on Oxy can push away an obsessive cokehead, at least. It was hard to resist the temptation to go across the aisle, give her a pat on the arm and encourage her to go home and listen to Joy Division. That would have made her feel better.

In reality, she probably didn’t have Joy Division on her headset at that moment: Nicole Mercedes might have been a better guess. The former Debbie Downer frontwoman sings Twin Peaks pop: disembodied, distantly melancholy vocals over a coldly twinkling, techy, atmospheric backdrop where the guitars tend to blend into the keys. She’s a lot more energetic than Julee Cruise, infinitely more interesting than Lana Del Rey. She’s got a new solo album, Look Out Where You’re Going, which hasn’t hit her Bandcamp page yet. She had a gig on March 19 at 8 PM at the Sultan Room; which has been cancelled due to the coronavirus scare.

The opening track, At Ease, sets the stage: catchy four-chord changes, distinct guitars and then a starry synth riff at the end. The song title seems to be sarcastic to the extreme. The second cut, Filters comes across as a mashup of Casket Girls, Michael Gordon and late-period ELO, an unexpectedly tasty blend.

Just when Last Hike seems to be a wistful vacation reminiscence, there’s a grim plot twist: no spoilers! Nicole Mercedes is a dead ringer for early Linda Draper in Mediterranean, the next track, right down to the watery acoustic guitar. Motel has a slowly waltzing resignation that shifts in a more anthemic direction.

Haphazardly minimal, echoey guitar rings through the string synth ambience of Stoop. Thumbalina is album’s most icily orchestral, anthemic number. The closing cut, Watering is a steady, drifting spacerock gem. Beyond a general sadness and sense of abandonment, it’s never clear what Nicole Mercedes is singing about. But this is all about ambience, and she really nails it.

The Ocean Blue Prove That There’s Life After Goth

“Suddenly, I feel that the world could end in a flash,” frontman David Schelzel muses early on in the opening track on the Ocean Blue‘s latest album Kings and Queens, Knaves and Thieves, streaming at Bandcamp. It could be the Smiths without the camp – hard to imagine, but just try. The point of the song echoes an old Roger Waters theme, that if we blow up the world, everybody’s equal in the end. If anything, the new record is more eclectic, more energetic and possibly even better than these veterans’ more overtly gothic, vintage 4AD-style back catalog. The Ocean Blue had an avid cult fanbase back at their late 80s/90s peak, who will no doubt come out in full force for their show at the Bell House on Feb 28 at 8:30 PM; general admission is $20.

The album’s bouncy second track, It Takes So Long could be Happy Mondays without the ditziness – how’s that for being iconoclastic with your contemporaries’ signature sounds? Love Doesn’t Make It Easy on Us has the band’s usual, watery, Cure-style guitars and contrasting synth textures, and just as much of a bounce.

Icy synths and tinkly guitar sonics echo over a steady new wave beat in All the Way Blue. Bobby Mittan’s rubberband bassline anchors Paraguay My Love, a bizarre mashup of 80s British goth and American bluegrass. F Major 7 – hey, back when this band was big, you had to actually know how to play your instrument – is a nifty, characteristically vamping little acoustic/electric instrumental, followed by the pouncingly catchy kiss-off anthem The Limit, with Scott Stouffer’s coy ska drums.

The resolutely swaying midtempo ballad Therein Lies the Problem (with My Life) could be Morrissey…or American powerpop legends Skooshny in a low-key moment. The steady, brooding nocturnal tableau 9 PM Direction is the album’s most vivid and strongest track, bringing to mind an even more legendary band, the Room.

Step into the Night blends the catchiness of the Cure at their most new-wavey and the Smiths at their most optimistic. The album ends with Frozen, a throwback to the group’s 4AD heyday. Some people will hear this and say here we go again, the damn 80s, can’t we just say goodbye for good to that awful decade, its pervasive Reagan/Thatcher fascism, cliched subcultures, beyond-ridiculous haircuts and lame synthesizers? On the other hand, for the Ocean Blue, old goths don’t die: they just find something to live for.

Righteous Rage and Smoky Atmospherics with Algiers at Rough Trade

Algiers played a tantalizingly brief, barely half-hour set at Rough Trade on Wednesday night. This blog characterized their 2015 debut album as “revolutionary postrock soul.” These days, industrial gothic gospel is a better description. Their smoky, swirly yet rhythmically pummeling sound is more Sisters of Mercy, less Terminator soundtrack now.

Frontman/keyboardist Franklin James Fisher sings powerfully in the studio; he is amazing live, and even more dynamically diverse. On the band’s opening number, Void – the final cut on their just-released vinyl record, There Is No Year – he had a gleefully brittle Jello Biafra quaver in his voice. That song came across as a Dead Kennedys homage, right down to the ominous chromatics and drummer Matt Tong’s 2/4 hardcore thump. It seems to be the key to the record, with its relentless theme of escape.

Aside from a leaner sound, what was most obvious was how much of the music was in the mixer: guitar, bass, keys, backing vocals…other than Fisher’s electric piano, and his own mixer too, was anything actually being played live? Guitarist Lee Tesche put down his axe for a sax on the second number, but if that was miked at all, it got lost in the grim, grey-sky sonics. Although he did reach for his tremolo bar for Lynchian twang for the intro to a song a little later, and his icily minimalist, Robert Smith-style riffs afterward cut through the mix as well.

Fisher channeled angst-fueled Levi Stubbs passion throughout Unoccupied, a darkly techy update on classic, minor-key Motown: an allusive breakup narrative, it seemed to be the only number in the set that wasn’t political. “Run around, run away from you, America, while it burns in the streets,” Fisher belted as Dispossession, another new track, took shape over his own stark, insistent gospel piano chords. “Here they comes from the ashes of ashes, so immune to defeat,” he cautioned – but there was also defiance and hope in his imploring crescendos and flood metaphors. Which seems to be his ultimate message: with their bankster economy and surveillance, the enemy is always encroaching. But we’ve got the numbers.

Algiers will be back on April 9 at St. Vitus, a great spot for them.

Ashjesus Can’t Live in Bushwick But They’re Willing to Play There

“I can’t live in Bushwick, those people make me sick,” Ashjesus frontwoman Em Ashenden intones, before the screaming guitar and drums kick in on the first track of the 80s throwbacks’ so-called “demos” collection that’s up at Bandcamp as a free download. As the band churn up an acidic storm,like an early Bauhaus, she admits that she tried to get into Bed-Stuy…but insists she’s found nirvana in Ridgewood. Obvious, maybe, but this is one of those songs that needed to be written

It’s rare that you find a good band playing on a Saturday night in the ‘Shweck, but Ashjesus have a gig a the Broadway (the old Gateway space) on Jan 18 at around 11. Kaheim Rivera does his woozy, weedheaded raps beforehand at 10. Neither of the acts on the bill nor the venue have webpages of their own, so it’s anybody’s guess how much cover is, or if there is one – the Gateway was a pass-the-hat situation.

The rest of Ashjesus’ album keeps the early 80s noise-goth vibe going. Room – as in “I need a room” – has more of the loud, watery chorus-box guitar and bass that define this group’s retro sound. The implication is that a friend with a couch is a friend indeed: “Get one for yourself too,” Ashenden encourages.

Soda Bitters sounds like a lo-budget Joy Division. “I don’t need to take a cab, I can drive to rehab, how cool is that?” she wants to know. The poppiest song here, How Do You Feel Special says a lot in a few words, one of this band’s specialities – it’s a dis to a controlling boyfriend. With its quasi-reggae bassline and icy guitars, the last song, Tour, could be XTC or PiL, or the bastard child of the early Police and Bauhaus. Grab this haphazardly spot-on, period-perfect morsel while it lasts.

The Long Ryders Celebrate Americana Rock Legend Sid Griffin’s Birthday in Jersey City

“After this obligatory encore, I’ll be at the merch table where you can ask me anything about the Bangles and the Dream Syndicate,” Long Ryders founder and guitarist Sid Griffin told the packed house at WFMU’s Monty Hall in Jersey City last night.

He was joking, of course. But who ever imagined that the Long Ryders – or the Dream Syndicate – would be back in action, touring and still making great records, almost forty years after they started? The difference for this band is that the individual members seem to be more involved as songwriters this time around. “The world’s smallest Kickstarter,” as Griffin called it, crowdfunded the Long Ryders’ often astonishingly fresh, vital, relevant new album, Psychedelic Country Soul, which figured heavily in the set.

Griffin was celebrating his 64th birthday, and was regaled from the stage by his bandmates: guitarist Stephen McCarthy played the Beatles’ When I’m 64 into the PA from the tinny speaker on his phone, and the crowd revealed their music geekdom by not only knowing the words but also the instrumental break after the first chorus. Griffin held up his end: he still has his voice and his lead guitar chops, trading long, crackling honkytonk solos with McCarthy early in the set.

“I had a dream that Trump was dead,” McCarthy ad-libbed, updating the new wave-flavored I Had a Dream for the end of a new decade. The band had most recently played this particular venue the night of the fateful 2016 Presidential election, and had plenty of vitriol for the possibly soon-to-be-impeached tweeting twat in the Oval Office. That wasn’t limited to banter with the crowd: Griffin reminded how prophetic the broodingly jangling anti-Reaganite protest song Stitch in Time, from the band’s 1986 Two Fisted Tales album, had turned out to be. And bassist Tom Stevens switched to Telecaster for the plaintively jangling Bells of August, the song Griffin described as the best on the new album, a familiar story centered around a family’s beloved son finally returning home…in a body bag.

It’s been said many times that the Long Ryders invented Americana as we know it today, but despite their vast influence in that area, they were always a lot more eclectic. This time out, they broke out covers by the late Greg Trooper, Mel Tillis – the big crowd-pleaser Sweet Sweet Mental Revenge – and what sounded like the Flamin’ Groovies. Of the band’s classic 80s material, both Final Wild Son and the last song of the night, a delirious singalong of Looking for Lewis and Clark, came across as chicken-fried Highway 61 Dylan.

Stevens’ other standout among the new material was a garage-psych flavored tune, What the Eagle Sees. And Griffin put some muscle behind his punkish stage antics with a slashing, embittered new one, Molly Somebody, which for whatever reason sounded a lot like the Dream Syndicate. And that makes sense – if you know any of the baseball-hatted old guys who went to this show, or knew them when they were baseball-hatted young guys, everybody who liked the Dream Syndicate was also into the Long Ryders, and True West. And the other great 80s guitar bands, including the Del-Lords: their frontman and lead guitarist, Eric Ambel, had played the evening’s opening set.

The Long Ryders tour continues tonight, Sept 19 at 9 PM at the Lockx, 4417 Main St.  in Philadelphia? Cover is $30

Monograms Bring Their Spot-On Gothic 80s Sound to Bushwick This Weekend

Monograms call themselves “New York’s nuke wave.” In an era when rock music has become a legacy style like bluegrass or roots reggae, this four-piece band do a great job emulating the dark side of early 80s British new wave, particularly the Cure around the time of the Pornography album. Monograms’ debut album Living Wire is streaming at Bandcamp; they’re playing the release show on Sept 21 at 9ish at the Broadway, the recently reopened former Gateway space at 1272 Broadway in Bushwick. The noisy Big Bliss play beforehand. Most of the shows at the Gateway were pass-the-hat: the venue doesn’t have a website. so it’s not clear if that’s the situation, or if there’s a cover charge. Take the J to Gates Ave. and walk back toward Williamsburg a couple of blocks.

The album opens with the opaque Buzz Choir, a swirly, dreampop-tinged take on Joy Division. The second track, Sounds Like Mean Spirit is total 80s goth, frontman Ian Jacobs’ spare, catchy, watery chorus-box guitar over Sam Bartos’ snappy, trebly bass and Rich Carrillo’s skittish 2/4 drumbeat. In the background, Michelle Feliciano’s synth quivers and oscillates.

Likewise, Don’t Fight For It is awash in grey-sky string synth and icy guitar/bass textures: it’s basically a one-chord song. The chugging dancefloor beats and washes of synth in Nose Dive are pure New Order circa 1981. Common Circles has some neat guitar/bass/synth tradeoffs, while the gloomily propulsive Century pulses with fried-plastic textures.

Garbage Can could be an especially guitarish outtake by mid-80s New Order; likewise, the final cut, Pirate Government Inc. is a denser take on early Human League (before that band got all poppy).

For the most part, lyrics and vocals don’t really figure into this band’s music: it’s all about the chilly ambience. If you have an aunt or uncle who spent time at any of the New York goth palaces like Slimelight or the Cooler back in the 90s, ask them if they have any black eyeliner you can borrow for the Bushwick gig.