New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: album review

A Rare Chance to Hear Japanese Psychedelic Band Kikagaku Moyo This Weekend

Japanese band Kikagaku Moyo distill some of the best psychedelic influences of the past half-century. Their songs are long, expansive and shift between eras and genres with a hypnotic elegance. Their latest album House in the Tall Grass is streaming at Spotify. They’re hitting New York this weekend for a couple of shows; tonight, Sept 30 they’ll be at Sunnyvale at 10:30 PM for $15. Tomorrow night, Oct 1 they’ll be at Berlin at 9ish for three bucks less.

The album’s opening cut, Green Sugar kicks off with a dramatic, savagely meticulous flurry of tremolo-picking, then hits a strutting groove, an echoey web of Tomo Katsurada and Daoud Popal’s guitars and Ryu Kurosawa’s sitar over bassist Kotsuguy’s catchy, upper-register bass hook, like a gentler Brian Jonestown Massacre. Spare, twinkling bells and chimes add to the surreallistic, nocturnal ambience until suddenly the guitars take the song down toward metal.

Drummer Go Kurosawa’s careful, precise rimshots propel the jangly Kogarashi, a mashup of electrified Indian folk and Malian duskcore. Spare icicle piano drips between the reverb-drenched acoustic guitar mesh of Old Snow, White Sun. The band builds a sparsely lingering, slow post-Velvets ultraviolet ambience in the one-chord instrumental jam Melted Crystal, then picks up the pace with Dune, a catchy, upbeat Japanese folk theme, resonant Pink Floyd grandeur over a jaunty surf-tinged groove.

Pastorally trippy echoes of the Church, Jenifer Jackson, Sergeant Pepper-era Beatles and late 60s Grateful Dead filter throughout the album’s most epic track, Silver Owl, up to a surprise doom-metal crescendo. The group follows that with the swirly spacerock interlude Fata Morgana.

The tricky rhythms and surfy guitar of Trad offer no hint that the band’s about to take its Japanese folk melody into majestic Pink Floyd territory, then rise to White Light/White Heat freakout. The album closes with the gentle, fingerpicked folk-rock Cardigan Song. If there’s any band out there who sound like they could pull off a double live album, it’s these guys.

The Explosive New Album by Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society Explores the Menace and Monkeyshines of Conspiracy Theories

The term “conspiracy theory” was invented by the right wing as a facile way to dismiss investigative reporting, lumping it in with farcical myths about aliens and Zionists. As actor James Urbaniak narrates at the end of Real Enemies – the groundbreaking new album by innovative large jazz ensemble Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, streaming at Bandcamp – the right wing has actually been responsible for spreading many of those theories as disinformation in order to hide their own misdeeds. Argue and his eighteen-piece big band explore both the surreal and the sinister side of these theories – “You have to choose which ones to believe,” the Brooklyn composer/conductor told the audience at a Bell House concert last year. This album is a long-awaited follow-up to Argue’s shattering 2013 release Brooklyn Babylon, a chronicle of the perils of gentrification. The group are playing the release show on Oct 2 at 7 PM at National Sawdust; advance tix are $30 and are going fast. From there the band travel to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where they’ll be playing on Oct 7 at 7:30 PM; general admission is $25.

Although Brooklyn Babylon has the occasional moment of grim humor on its way to a despairing oceanside coda, this album is more overtly dark, but also funnier. Conversations between various groups of instruments abound. Most are crushingly cynical, bordering on ridiculous, in a Shostakovian vein. And once in awhile, Argue lifts the curtain on a murderously conspiratorial moment. A prime example is Dark Alliance, an expansively brassy mashup of early 80s P-Funk, salsa romantica and late-period Sun Ra. And the droll/menacing dichotomy that builds throughout Silent Weapon for Quiet Wars is just plain hilarious.

The album opens on a considerably more serious note with You Are Here, a flittingly apt Roger Waters-style scan of tv headline news followed by tongue-in-cheek, chattering muted trumpet. A single low, menacing piano note anchors a silly conversation as it builds momentum, then the music shifts toward tensely stalking atmospherics and back. The second track, The Enemy Within opens with a wry Taxi Driver theme quote, then slinks along with a Mulholland Drive noir pulse, through an uneasy alto sax solo and then a trick ending straight out of Bernard Herrmann.

With Sebastian Noelle’s lingering, desolately atonal guitar and Argue’s mighty, stormy chart, Trust No One brings to mind the aggressively shadowy post-9/11 tableaux of the late, great Bob Belden’s Animation. Best Friends Forever follows a deliciously shapeshifting trail, from balmy and lyrical over maddeningly syncopated broken chords that recall Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, to an explosively altered gallop with the orchestra going full tilt. Likewise, The Hidden Hand builds out of a blithe piano interlude to cumulo-nimbus bluster.

The Munsters do the macarena in Casus Belli, a scathing sendup of the Bush/Cheney regime’s warmongering in the days following 9/11. Crisis Control opens with a mealy-mouthed George W. Bush explaining away the decision to attack Afghanistan, and contains a very subtle, ominous guitar figure that looks back to Brooklyn Babylon: clearly, the forces behind the devastation of great cities operate in spheres beyond merely razing old working-class neighborhoods.

Caustically cynical instrumental chatter returns over a brooding canon for high woodwinds in Apocalypse Is a Process, seemingly another withering portrait of the disingenuous Bush cabinet. Never a Straight Answer segues from there with burbling, ominously echoing electric piano and Matt Clohesy’s wah bass, talking heads in outer space. The apocalyptic cacaphony of individual instruments at the end fades down into Who Do You Trust, a slow, enigmatically shifting reprise of the opening theme.

Throughout the album, there are spoken-word samples running the gamut from JFK – describing Soviet Communism, although he could just as easily be talking about the Silicon Valley surveillance-industrial complex – to Dick Cheney. As Urbaniak explains at the album’s end, the abundance of kooky speculation makes the job of figuring out who the real enemies are all the more arduous. As a soundtrack to the dystopic film that we’re all starring in, whether we like it or not, it’s hard to imagine anything more appropriate than this. And it’s a contender for best album of 2016.

Another Creepy Classic Album and a Couple of New York Shows from the Handsome Family

Andrew Bird says that Brett and Rennie Sparks of the Handsome Family are this era’s greatest songwriters. He ought to know: he did a whole album of Handsome Family covers. Whether or not you agree with Bird – another one of this era’s best tunesmiths and wordsmiths –  you can’t argue with the Handsome Family’s iconic status in folk noir circles. They’ve got a new album, Unseen – streaming at Spotify – and a couple of shows this weekend. On Friday, Sept 30 they’re at the Mercury at 8:30 PM for $17 in advance; the following night, Oct 1 they’re at the Knitting Factory for the same price, a half-hour later.

It’s interesting how the new album is a throwback to their earliest days, when they were more of a straight-up Americana band. However, this is a harder-rocking effort. The opening track, Gold takes the hallowed tradition of the outlaw ballad into the Oxycontin era: “Got a tattoo of a snake and a ski mask on my face, but I woke up in the ditch behind the Stop-and-Go,” Brett intones. “Lying the weeds with a bullet in my gut, watching dollar bills fly away in the dust.” The interweave of his own tremolo guitars, Alex McMahon’s baritone guitar and pedal steel is as luscious as the cruel irony of the narrative. It’s classic Handsome Family.

The Silver Light shambles along with an acoustic honkytonk feel, a crushingly cynical Vegas casino scenario. “Neon glowstick in your drink.” For fans of classic 60s and early 70s country, the backing vocals are priceless. The broodingly cello-infused Back in My Day offers a typical Rennie Sparks narrative:

We had maps that unfolded
You could drink from the river
We had gods made of clay
There were mile-high glaciers
No locks on the doors
The stars burned brighter
We never counted past four

And at that point it becomes more and more clear that the good old days, while a lot more temperate than these cruel final global warming years, weren’t all they might be cracked up to be.

The bittersweet passing tones of the pump organ solo in the carnivalesque waltz Tiny Tina might be the album’s most understatedly heartbreaking touch. Underneath the Falls brings a distantly ominous, majestic, jangly Byrds-style grandeur to that waltz tempo, another global warming-era requiem.

Rennie makes her first appearance on vocals on The Sea Rose, a catchy, jangly, twist on a classic siren song with a gorgeously spare acoustic guitar solo midway through. The album’s most epically allusive cut, The Red Door is a Lynchian doo-wop update on a Brothers Grimm theme. The stately swaying Gentlemen, with its quaint electric harpsichord and cello, offers a shout-out to William Crookes, who invented the vacuum tube in 1875 as an ostensible means to access the great beyond.

King of Dust, a desolate wreck-on-the-highway scenario, revisits the cruel irony of the album’s opening cut. On the surface, the final cut, Green Willow Valley is a comfortable pastoral nocturne, but if you listen closely, the subtext is crushing. If this is the last album the Handsome Family makes before global warming, or the plutonium leaking into the Pacific from Fukushima reactor number three, kills us all, it further cements their status as arguably this century’s best band. Look for this on the best albums list of 2016 here if we make it that far.

Mad Meg’s Killer Debut Album Mashes Up Elegant Art-Rock and Creepy Phantasmagoria

Being in New York is a mixed blessing a lot of the time these days. Musically speaking, it means that you miss out on all kinds of good stuff if you aren’t hooked into one expatriate scene or another . For example, Mad Meg have a devoted following in the Russian community, although they aren’t as well known outside that demimonde – and they ought to be. They’re sort of a mashup of all sorts of good, moodily carnivalesque acts – Gogol Bordello, Nick Cave and Botanica, just for starters. They’ve got a new album, the sardonically titled Puberty Tales – streaming at Bandcamp – and an album release show this Thursday, Sept 29 at 9:45 PM at Drom. Cover is $10.

The band played a tantalizing preview for this show with an expansive, theatrical set at the end of last week at Alexandre Gertsman Contemporary Art, THE go-to gallery for A-list Russian artists these days. Despite the fact that the band was playing practically all acoustic, they held a packed house rapt for practically an hour on an impromptu stage. Frontman Ilya Popenko swooped and circled out into the crowd: tall and wiry, decked out in a black suit, the Cave resemblance is unmistakable. But he’s the rare, distinctive artist who’s as adept at music as he is with visuals. His twisted Photoshopped tableaux – substituting his face for a series of twisted characters coiled up in corners, schmoozing sardonically around a holiday table or engaging in all sorts of sordid behavior – are as funny as his series based on the cult favorite Soviet cartoon Gena the Crocodile.

The album is as witheringly cynical as it is catchy. Over a frantic, horn-fueled circus rock pulse, Popenko explains that the Circling the Drain Dance is a global phenomenon. “Play whatever music that makes you less annoyed, say hello to people that you still don’t avoid.” It’s the prequel to Botanica’s Castration Tango.

With its flashy piano intro, Engineer is a mashup of Botanica art-rock and Tom Waits saloon blues, with a little Hunky Dory-era Bowie thrown in. Livable Lovable Life sets Jason Laney’s trippy, echoey Wurlitzer electric piano and a sarcastic horn chart to a furtive swing, the missing link between Dark Side-era Floyd and Botanica. Moscow Song disguises a classic Pretenders bassline – and coyly references another 80s new wave hit – underneath menacing lounge lizard piano.

Polish Girl switches between an organ-driven noir waltz and some neat counterpoint between growly baritone sax and accordion, the tale of a gold-digging girl “majoring in volleyball and all sorts of interesting games.” Scary People tales a scampering detour toward disco: “Sitting in the forest, drinking their PBR’s,” Popenko intones, trading rasps with James Hall’s trombone: “I’m not ever going out, never going out there.” Words of wisdom for anybody contemplating a train ride to Bushwick.

The piano-and-resonator-guitar textures throughout the surrealistic Sky Grows Taller are s psychedelic as they are plaintive. Sunday Nights takes an even more surreal turn toward psychedelic soul: “I’m just a little beat, not an alcoholic,” Popenko snarls. The Very Last Train is the sneaky killer cut here with its swirly organ solo and mix of noir swing, disco and Romany punk. And Torn follows a hypnotically nocturnal Jesus & Mary Chain sway. Blast this at your next party and you’re guaranteed to get at least one “Who is this?” or “Which Gogol Bordello album is this?”

Enigmatic, Psychedelic Postpunk from Supergroup Heroes of Toolik

Heroes of Toolik are as close to a supergroup as NYC has right now. Frontman/guitarist Arad Evans plays in avant garde legend Glenn Branca‘s ensemble. Bassist Ernie Brooks was in the Modern Lovers, and Billy Ficca held down the drum chair in Television. Violinist/singer Jennifer Coates rounds out the lineup with trombonists Peter Zummo (ex-Lounge Lizards) and John Speck. Together, they offer potently tuneful reinforcement to the argument that cerebral music can be just as catchy.

Their sound blends riff-driven postpunk, psychedelia and minimalism, with the occasional jazzy flourish. They’re playing a rare stripped-down duo show at around 9 at Troost in Greenpoint on Sept 28. Then they’re back in Greenpoint on Oct 12 at St. Vitus at around 11, playing the album release show for their new one, Like Night.  Cover is $10. The album hasn’t hit Spotify yet, but there are some tracks up at the band’s soundcloud page.

The opening track, Perfect builds quickly out of a pensively jangly guitar hook with a looming brass chart: “Pay your respects to the great unraveled…between the flash and lightning’s echo, that moment waiting is where you live,” Evans intones. Coates’ violin joins the intricate weave between the horns as the song winds out.

It’s good to hear her assertive, crystalline voice front and center on several of these tracks, beginning with Miles, which builds into an ominous march with alternating, minimalist clang and squall. Coates’ disembodied vocals add to the sepulchral ambience, the long psychedelic outro echoing the Branca symphonies that Evans is used to playing.

The surreal, distantly mambo-tinged Something Like Night sways along, terse trombone contrasting with spiky koto and a circular, pulsing guitar hook. The epic instrumental Warm follows the same pattern, guitar and violin exchanging loopy phrases, gradually building momentum as the drums and trombone add polyrhythms – it’s the closest thing to jazz here.

The briskly strolling Blind Man builds a vividly nocturnal tableau – it sounds like the kind of obscure, jangly 80s indie bands that influenced Sonic Youth, bluesy violin and spare trombone adding melody and texture. Say Virginia bounces along with a wry rondo of individual instrumental voices, a gruff trombone solo taking the tune out. The enigmatic, allusively phantasmagorical waltz Again sets Coates’ crystalline vocals over an increasingly ornate backdrop.

The band keeps the distant menace going through the noirish stroll Crazy Doll, a slowly unwinding, allusive northern New England mystery tale. Coates sings the album’s closing cut, You Will Not Follow, a creepily inscrutable nursery rhyme-inflected number that suddenly hits a growling, unhinged guitar-fueled sway, shades of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. It’s an aptly ambitious way to wind up this strange and compelling mix of songs.

MAKU Soundsystem Bring Their Darkly Delirious Global Sounds Back to Lincoln Center

The secret to MAKU Soundsystem‘s latest album, the aptly titled Mezcla – streaming at Spotify – is Felipe Quiroz’s  tremoloing, funereal organ. There are thousands of bubbly, terminally cheery, dancey acts out there aping sub-equatorial sounds from both hemispheres. But MAKU Soundsystem have an element of danger, and a ubiquitous if understated populist political sensibility. For example, with the album’s opening track, Agua, the band takes a generic soukous guitar riff and layers suspenseful horn swells and slinky, creepy psychedelic rock organ over a scrambling beat. The point of frontwoman Liliana Conde’s lyrics is that water goes wherever it can, and that our own quest for global unity ought to be just as fluid, and, ultimately, successful. The group are bringing their conscious dance party to the Lincoln Center Atrium on Sept 22 at 7:30 PM, and judging from the crowds they’ve brought to Lincoln Center in the past, you should get there early if you’re going.

The album’s second cut, Thank You Thank You isn’t your ordinary psychedelic cumbia. As it clatters along, the band blend elements of Afrobeat, soukous and ancient African call-and-response into the psychedelic swirl. Let It Go is even trippier – while Camilo Rodriguez’s guitar runs a terse minor-key cumbia hook, the polyrhythms from the horns and a growing army of percussion build in both channels. There isn’t a mathrock band alive who could have so much fun with an interweave of so many different beats at once.

The tangent that Positivo takes is easier to follow – it’s phantasmagorical, it’s part cumbia, part reggae, part chamame and follows a hypnotic, swaying groove: 11/4 time was never so easy to swing your hips to. Then they straighten it out, with a deliciously incisive, smoky organ solo before the brass takes it up to a mighty peak. La Inevitable – implying that you can’t resist dancing to this stuff – is a lot more hypnotic, Rodriguez’s wah-wah guitar just as much a percussion instrument as the rest of the rattle and thump as the group rises to a fiery Ethiopian-inspired crescendo.

The band follows La Hatiana, the most straight-up psychedelic cumbia here, with the album’s most straight-up Afrobeat number, What Do You Wish For. The best track here is Happy Hour, a phantasmagorical cumbia that’s the missing link between Los Destellos and Antibalas. The album winds up with another stunner, De Barrio, a moody mashup of psychedelic cumbia, dub and a sad neoromantic waltz, pure solace for gutter stargazers. To paraphrase George Clinton, liberation isn’t a trickle-down effect.

More Delicious Retro 60s Psychedelia From the Allah-Las

The Allah-Las  – frontman/guitarist Miles Michaud, lead guitarist Pedrum Siadatian, bassist Spencer Dunham and drummer Matthew Correia – are one of the most tuneful and best-appreciated bands in a crowded field of psychedelic retroists including the Mystic Braves, Mystery Lights, Night Beats and a whole lot of other reverbtoned janglers and clangers. The California quartet’s latest album Calico Review is due out momentarily, meaning that it ought to be streaming at Bandcamp in a week or so. Testament to their popularity, their two-night stand this weekend at Baby’s All Right is sold out; fans in other cities on their current tour should take that into consideration in the case where advance tickets are available.

As usual, most of the songs on the new record clock in at around the three-minute mark. The lyrics channel a persistent unease, but ultimately this band is more about wicked hooks than words. This is their most overtly retro, Beatlesque release to date. It opens with the enigmatically sunny Strange Heat, driven by Siadatian’s spare, flickering mosquito leads over a muted backdrop: it’s the most Odessey and Oracle the band’s done so far in their career. They follow that with Satisfied, a very clever, rhythmically dizzying update on Taxman-era Beatles with a deliciously icy vintage chorus-box solo midway through. Then the band takes the energy up a notch with the late Velvets ringer Could Be You.

The band keeps the Velvets vibe going, but in a more delicate folk-rock vein, with High and Dry: the blend of acoustic and electric six- and twelve-string textures beats anything Lou Reed came up with in 1969. Tricky tempos and lingering twelve-string lines return in Mausoleum, which wouldn’t be out of place on a Church album from the mid-80s. Then Roadside Memorial mashes up early Yardbirds/Blues Magoos riff-rock with hints of vintage funk

The shapeshifting Autumn Dawn kicks off with a wry allusions to the most famous acid-pop riff ever, then struts along with echoes of mid-60s Pretty Things. Plaintive strings and misty mellotron add gravitas to the wryly acerbic, Magical Mystery Tour-tinged Famous Phone Figure: “What’s she got but a pretty face in real estate?” Michaud wants to know.

200 South La Brea – site of a casting agency – has a similarly sardonic feel, a return to What Goes On Velvets. The intro to Warmed Kippers hints that the song will go in a warped, noisy indie direction, then straightens out, straight back to the Fab Four. The group springboards off an iconic Dave Brubeck riff for the southwestern gothic of Terra Ignota; the album winds up with the sunny, summery, swinging Place in the Sun. The only thing about this album that’s not retro is the mention of a cellphone, a touch of funny surrealism amidst the period-perfect Vox-amped 1967 sonics.

Mighty, Explosive, Carnivalesque Brass Band Funk from MarchFourth

How do you fit a forty-piece brass band on a boat? Better be a big boat, right? Truthfully, the version of Portland, Oregon’s mighty MarchFourth currently on tour will probably number closer to half that. Still, if energy is your thing, it’s hard to imagine anything more adrenalizing than the group’s show tomorrow night, Sept 14 onboard the Jewel for a crazy cruise of New York harbor. The ship boards at 7, sails at 8, goes out and around the Statue of Liberty and then back leisurely while the band blazes and burns. While the band’s usual onstage spectacle – they’ve been known to play with a massive troupe of street performers including cheerleaders, dancers, jugglers and pretty much any act you would expect to see at a circus or sideshow – might be a tad less radical, this will be a chance to get down with the music itself. The cruise departs from out back of the heliport at 23rd St. and the East River; $20 advance tix are available at the office next door, or at the Highline Ballroom box office for a couple of bucks extra. It’s more expensive on the day of the show.

MarchFourth made a name for themselves with their wild, stomping original Balkan, circus rock and New Orleans tunesmithing. Their forthcoming album Magic Number, recorded in a marathon ten-day session in the Crescent City, takes a hard detour into funk, although vestiges of the band’s earlier, darker incarnation remain. As you would expect from a group this size, they;’re more or less a collective: everybody literally has something to contribute. Four core members add their songs to the upcoming album. Trombonist Anthony Meade is represented by the percussive, rapidfire newschool Serbian-tinged opening track Call to Action, although he’s also responsible for Drunk Bears, a hard-hitting, surreal Balkan brass cumbia of sorts; Science (Free Your Mind), which looks back to early Earth Wind & Fire; and It’s a Trap, with its exuberant, Slavic Soul Party-style blend of Balkan minor-key intensity and devious hip-hop flavor.

Baritone sax player Taylor Aglipay, whose gruff pulse and smoky swirls percolate deep in the mix, takes credit for the album’s the best and slinkiest number, the moody Jan Jar, Bassist John Averill contributes the title cut, the album’s catchiest, with its surf guitar and echoes of cumbia. Chandler’s tunes include the guitar-fueled hard funk of Push It Back, with Stanton Moore (one of several popular New Orleans funk/jamband road warriors guesting here) on drums; The Quarter, with live hip-hop touches, like a larger-scale Hypnotic Brass Ensemble; the wry Hotstepper, a woozy blend of P-Funk, Zapp and Roger and second-line riffage; Inventing the Wheel, with Trombone Shorty and Galactic’s Ben Ellman (who also produced) making guest spots; and the gentle, classically-inflected miniature of a fanfare that winds up the album on an unexpectedly pensive note.

It’s a good bet that the band will be airing out a lot of this stuff on the boat as well as throughout their current tour. You really have to admire a group like this: with so many members, if they can break even on the road, that’s a triumph. They’re strictly in it for the music, and the party. And it’s pretty amazing how tight such a sprawling conglomerate as this can sound. Musicians on this album also include Katie Presley on trumpet, Daniel Lamb on trombone, Jon VanCura on guitar, alto saxophonist Michelle Christiansen, tenor sax players Cameron DePalma and Andy Shapiro, and Jon VanCura on baritone, and bass sax, as well as drummer/percussionists Jenny DiDonato, Cheo Larcombe, Will McKinney and Jake Wood.

Amanda Shires Brings Her Thoughtful, Vivid Nocturnes to SoHo

Amanda Shires was already an established presence on the Americana circuit before she met Jason Isbell. No doubt that connection has given her career an extra boost, but she’s been a first-rate fiddler and a distinctive songwriter since the early zeros. Her latest album, My Piece of Land – streamng at NPR– is Shires’ shout-out to her Texas roots and the red dirt music that she grew up with. The songs are sparse, most of them on the slow and pensive side, building a dusky, mysterious ambience with lingering electric and acoustic guitars, washes of steel, acoustic bass and brushed drums. The production is similarly purist and organic, with just enough natural reverb to max out the saturnine backdrop behind Shires’ gently articulated vocals. She’s playing the album release show tomorrow night, Sept 13 at 9 PM at City Winery. The venue doesn’t sell tickets: your best deal is to tell the door person that you’re going to the bar, which will set you back $18. And there’s plenty of space to stand if you don’t want to drink. Otherwise, you can take a table for more money.

The album opens with the spare, brisk shuffle The Way It Dimmed, Shires’ voice cautious and pensive:

Closer was never close enough
Closing time we watched the lights and sun come up
You begged me to stay and I slipped away
I remember the the fire and the way it dimmed
As a fire will sometimes do

The uneasily swaying Slippin’ looks back to early 70s Laurel Canyon Americana pop, with a similarly brooding, nocturnal ambience, Shires’ narrator considering how long it’s going to be for her honkytonking man to be seduced by “the curve of her shoulder, the length of the bar.”

Shires channels Amy Allison cleverness and Tift Merritt tenderness in Harmless, a disarmingly gentle cheater’s tale:

There’s some I can’t remember
A talented bartender
Way out in the cheap seats
The stars stare unblinking
The ones that know anything
Won’t be revealing

Shires finally rosins up her bow for Pale Fire, a spacious, deep-sky nod to the Vladimir Nabokov novel. The playfully twinkling Nursery Rhyme follows a loping western swing groove. Then Shires opens the eerie blues My Love (The Storm) with a couple of creepy scrapes on her fingerboard: her all-too-brief solo over burning electric guitar and organ midway through is the high point of the album.

The big rocker here, When You’re Gone is an improbably successful mashup of Abbey Road Beatles and late 90s Sheryl Crow at her most intense. Mineral Wells is a pensive look back to the scenery of Shires’ childhood:” “The only tree with leaves in Lubbock, with roots in Mineral Wells.” She takes a detour into moody, echoey, Fender Rhodes-driven southern soul with I Know What It’s Like: “With everyone standing around, I buckled and hit the ground,” Shires recalls. She closes the album with another brooding 6/8 ballad, You Are My Home, rising to a brushfire crescendo of stark fiddle and searing slide guitar. In its purposeful, meticulously assembled way, this is one of the most solidly captivating albums of the year.

The Anniversary’s Josh Berwanger Exorcises Some More Demons

Josh Berwanger of the Anniversary writes catchy powerpop songs like it was the late 70s and his life – as well as the deed to his UK castle, his addiction to rare bordeaux, and his ex-wives’ alimony – depended on it. If this was 1979, he would rule the airwaves. That’s a compliment, not a dis. In 2016 terms, that means that every powerpop blog will go crazy over Berwanger‘s forthcoming album Exorcism Rock, he and the band will make a modest killing on the road, and it’ll get plenty of college radio airplay. An album like this could move ten thousand units if he puts it out on vinyl – a smash hit by this decade’s standards. The Anniversary was a serviceable powerpop band, but in the years since the group’s early zeros heyday, Berwanger has become a brilliant songwriter. Most recently, he’s doing an Anniversary tour (ok, bad pun) that’s hitting the Bell House tonight,  September 11 starting at around 8. It’s a weird bill: the excellent, hazily female-fronted dub reggae band Extra Classic, then a generic singer-songwriter, then the Anniversary. Advance tix are gone, so it’s $25 at the door.

Berwanger’s forthcoming record was ostensibly recorded in a marathon weeklong session fueled by equal parts red wine and tequila. It revolves around a familiar Berwanger theme, the evil that femmes fatales do. A surreal gothic choir kicks off the album’s opening title track, a backbeat numberin the hallowed tradition of Badfinger and Cheap Trick.

I heard you on the radio
They say you’re the new sensation
It’s so easy to fool this nation,

the frontman intones. A rapidfire blast of blues riffage and a brief twin-lead guitar passage between Ricky Salthouse and Berwanger completes the period-perfect 70s picture.

Rats & Cats swayss slowly over Scott Schoenbeck’s snappy bass, a twisted mashup of the Knack and Alladdin Sane-era Bowie “You move like a cat, taste like a cat..blow like the wind…” We get the picture.

Booty Shake is a dead ringer for Chuck Prophet, a Nashville gothic tune disguised as scampering early Tom Petty powerpop. Black Sun, a kiss-off number, is early 80s CBGB style punk-pop tune with a wicked hook and another savagely purposeful Salthouse guitar solo. Guess You Weren’t Wrong blends twelve-string jangle and spare piano over a lush bed of acoustic guitars, like a late Elliott Smith ballad. Then Berwanger flips the script with I Want You Bad, a minute fifty seconds of period-perfect 1979 punk-pop bliss, acidic sheets of guitar over a wickedly catchy tune propelled by drummer Jonny Phillip’s frantic pulse.

Slutty Skin – Berwanger’s titles leave nothing to the imagination – is Social Distortion as the Star Spangles might have done it, with starry washes from Brian Klein’s synth. Banks of distorted broken chords anchor Forever, bass hovering overhead before kicking in with the drums on the verse. “It won’t last forever,” Berwanger warns. Warm sheets of synth give way to a dual guitar break, Berwanger running the riff as Salthouse plays acidic noise. The girls in the chorus complete the picture at the end, closer to the Jayhawks than ELO. It’s the best song on the album.

Spirit King is a more straightforward, crunchy take on Adam Ant: “We’re lost in the underground,” Berwanger whispers. The acoustic Led Zep interlude, and the fuzztone glam crescendo after that, might seem completely out of place, but Berwanger makes it all work, right up to Salthouse’s long, searing solo out. The final cut is Space & Time, rising from a starry, Lynchian acoustic intro to fuzztone desperation and then back. “I think of you at night when I’m all alone, so I think of you all the time,” Berwanger explains. It all makes sense now. Last time Berwanger led a current project on tour, he and the band played the Mercury; this time, they’re scheduled to hit Cake Shop on November 4.