New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: 80s rock

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.

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.

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.

A Rare NYC Show by Distantly Menacing, Icily Sepulchral Shapeshifters Dollshot

It might seem hard to imagine free jazz stalwarts like drummer Mike Pride and microtonal saxophonist Noak Kaplan making a  80s-influenced rock record. Add JACK Quartet cellist Kevin McFarland to the mix and the idea gets even more suspicious. Except that this actually happened – and the record turned out to be fantastic.

Dollshot – whose core is Kaplan and his otherworldly singer wife Rosalie – put out a monster debut album back in 2011. Mixing the sardonic and the sinister, the duo twisted early Second Viennese School songs into bizarre shapes when they weren’t writing their own surreal, carnivalesque originals, spinning the sounds of the early 20th century avant garde through a smoky funhouse mirror from the jazz loft scene of the 60s and 70s. It took them six more years before they made Lalande, a new wave-inflected record which in an icier way is just as menacing, and streaming at youtube. Reputedly there’s a follow-up in the works: you might hear songs from both at their show tomorrow night, March 11 at 10 PM at Coney Island Baby. Cover is $8.

The album’s opening track, Paradise Flat comes across as a mashup of techy 80s Peter Gabriel and French postpunk-popsters Autour de Lucie, Wes Matthews’ starry keys balanced by the dry, crisp syncopation of Pride’s drums and Peter Bitenc’s bass, sax wafting subtly overhead. Rosalie Kaplan’s inimitably sepulchral, high soprano vocals are so pitch-perfect they’re scary – there’s deadly nightshade in the tenderness of her delivery.

With its martial drum flurries and Kaplan’s sotto-voce shifts, the second track, Gimbal seems to be a chilly 80s update on the Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit, McFarland’s austere lines calm amid a maze of dripping sonic stalactites. Dollshot also have a very funny side, which bubbles up in Circulate Stop, Kaplan’s spoken word cadavre exquis lyrics over ominously wafting ambience.

She rises matter-of-factly from somber to soaring over Matthews’ melancholy neoromantic piano throuhout the album’s title track, its most majestic, anthemic number. The backdrop of Swan Gone is a Bride of Frankenstein stroll, Kaplan’s enigmatic, almost-imploring voice overhead.

Ichor (meaning blood of the gods) is mashup of the debut album’s warptone surrealism and syncopated 70s Genesis, but with a nimbler rhythm section. Cythera seems to be a torch song parody, Kaplan’s gentle, feathery vocals taking a barrage of spitballs from the rest of the band.

Birds of the West, the closest thing to oldschool 80s new wave pop here, has stabbingly insistent keys balanced by dreamy vocals. The next-to-last cut, She, begins austerely with Kaplan’s wounded resonance amidst horror movie music-box sonics, and picks up steam from there, a march toward a grim ending you can see coming a mile away. The album ends elegantly and not a little enigmatically with Nacht und Traume. All this is reason to look forward to whatever other strangely captivating sounds the band can conjure up on the next record.

80s Psychedelic Guitar Legend Russ Tolman Makes a Rare Stop in Brooklyn

Russ Tolman was the leader of one of the 80s’ most legendary guitar bands, True West. Though never as famous as their pals the Dream Syndicate – Tolman and Steve Wynn were in the equally legendary Suspects, and Wynn contributed some gloriously savage lead guitar to True West’s cover of Pink Floyd’s Lucifer Sam – Tolman’s songwriting was no less brilliant. And True West were every bit as incendiary live, fellow Telecaster player Richard McGrath dueling it out onstage with Tolman night after night. The band’s first two albums, Hollywood Holiday and Drifters are iconic: with its brooding layers of reverb guitar and Tolman’s ominous lyricism, the latter is easily one of the fifty greatest rock records ever made.

The original True West lineup hung it up in 1985; there were some sporadic but rewarding reunion tours in the mid-to-late zeros. All the while, Tolman has been releasing albums here and there, from Byrdsy folk-rock to low-key electronic experimentation. If he’s ever played Brooklyn before, it’s been a long time; if he hasn’t, then his show at Pete’s on Sept 14 at 8:30 PM will be his debut in the borough. Either way, he’s overdue.

Tolman’s latest recordings are a couple of singles. With it stomping beat and a whirling lead guitar line that brings to mind another great 80s guitar band, the Rain Parade, Marla Jane could be an upbeat track from True West’s peak era. Something About a Rowboat switches in a mandolin for the Tele Tolman might have played it on thirty years ago. Tunewise, this breakup anthem is just as strong – it’s interesting to compare Tolman’s flinty vocal delivery with the bravado of True West frontman Gavin Blair. Awfully heartwarming to see such an important, underrated artist from back in the day still at it and still at the top of his game.