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Tag: art-rock

Darkly Ambient Americana Instrumentalists Suss Headline an Enveloping, Inviting Brooklyn Triplebill Tomorrow Night

In 2018 this blog called cinematic instrumental group Suss “the missing link between Brian Eno and Ennio Morricone – or the Lost Patrol without the drums.” They were a quintet then. Tragically, they’ve been whittled down to a trio after the sudden 2021 loss of keyboardist Gary Lieb, but they keep putting out frequently mesmerizing, sometimes Lynchian deep-sky themes. Their latest album is a double-cd release comprising both their Heat Haze southwestern travelogue suite and their even more nocturnal Night Suite along with new material.

They’re headlining a great lineup tomorrow night, Feb 8 at around 10 PM at Public Records, that shi-shi monstrosity in the former Retrofret space north of Gowanus. As a bonus, deadpan and often hilariously lyrical new wave pop spoofers Office Culture open the night at 8ish, followed by the trippy electroacoustic trio of saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi, bassist Paul Bryan and drummer Jeremy Cunningham. Cover is pretty steep for a show like this, presumably $24 since the venue is one of many in Brooklyn who seem to be oblivious to the rising popularity of #cashalways and are still trying to make it with the goofy pennies-and-nickels online ticketing fad.

Both Suss’ Night Suite and Heat Haze got the thumbs-up here. The new tracks – the first several of which you can hear at Bandcamp – are just as drifty and evocative. Beyond Jonathan Gregg’s resonant pedal steel and spare dobro, it’s impossible to tell whether that’s Pat Irwin or Bob Holmes on the many other guitar and keyboard tracks. The first is a miniature, Winter Is Hard, rising from a delicate little piano figure to a flaring slide guitar peak and then out.

The band blend keening ebow textures, slow doppler effects, stalagmite piano drips and icepick reverb guitar incisions in North Wind. The most lingering thing in Linger is the gentle, precise acoustic guitar and the reverbtoned steel over the puffing, echoey loops in the background. Everything Is So Beautiful is steady and sad and Lynchian, and over too soon.

By now, the band are working variations on that initial crystalline three-note theme, notably in the rising and falling icy/hot textures of The First Thaw. Then they reprise Winter Was Hard with some unexpected timbres like autoharp and some gritty mechanical whirs.

At this point, you will have to switch to yucky Spotify to hear the rest of the record. Across the Horizon is aptly vast but peppered with warmly anticipatory fragments of blues and C&W riffs. The band warp the sustain a little in Ranger as a solitary acoustic guitar surveys the great plains, then in Shimmer (Reflection) they bring back the delicate quasar pulse: a distant Blue Velvet galaxy.

Holmes breaks out his mandolin and slowly works his way up in the mix in That Good Night. They waft their way out with the gentle phrases in The Open Door, shifting slowly through a characteristically twilit tableau.


Christmukah Protest Power

This blog’s approach to religious holidays is religiously Constitutional: to each his or her own. Christmas here typically means music by Jews or Muslims; Passover is more of a time for gospel. Ramadan lasts so long that it’s a fair bet that a Muslim or two makes an appearance at some point. So whatever your reason for celebrating this time of year, it’s been a long time since there’s been a list of singles on this page. Click on artist names for their webpages, click on titles for audio, video or a good laugh.

For the past couple of years, no one has chronicled the global fascist takeover more eruditely or entertainingly than novelist Margaret Anna Alice. She’s organized her amazing output by topic, from peaceful resistance to Covid concentration camps, along with her Letter to a Holocaust Denier and her classic poem Ode to a Whisteblower. Reiner Fuellmich’s hourlong Corona Committee interview with her is a must-watch if you have the time (and if you don’t, she covers everything in her notes here). And now, Chicago protest song crew Visceral Adventure have made a music video for her haunting poem Do You Remember. The sight gag at 1:55 is priceless – but don’t just fast forward, stick around for the whole thing.

Speaking of Visceral Adventure, here’s The Spike Girls doing their cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence: “The words of the prophets are written in Substack mail, and Twitter jail…”

Westboro, Massachusetts’ fearless Groen Family Productions give us a rousing, inspiring (and kinda musically cheesy) Hanukah classic.

In addition to being arguably the world’s foremost (and most accessible) expert on VAERS injury and death data, Dr. Jessica Rose is also a musician and composer. Lately she’s been writing deviously amusing, cinematic synth instrumentals with titles like Thank Him For His Email and Then Cut Him Off.

Violinist Lindsey Stirling’s version of Carol of the Bells – via paradigm-shifting researcher and physician A Midwestern Doctor – takes the theme to a lush, orchestral new level

Of all the freedom fighters on Substack, the most lyrical writer of them all is Amy Sukwan. She is also a powerful, soulful singer – and a memestress par excellence. This Ohio mermaid and her Nickelback poster is typical of what you get in her frequent meme dumps.

Check out tireless British activist Frances Leader‘s snarky and spot-on Intellectual Pyramid

On a more serious tip, Dr. Pam Popper unpacks Canada’s New Program for Depressed People. Start the video at 3:30: if you’re in Canada, people can be euthanized for depression now. And it gets worse: “Killing a baby is an option? An option, by these diabolical people…3% of all Canadian deaths last year were from euthanasia. It’s the highest number of euthanasia deaths in the world since 1945.”

And finally, a classic video from the summer of 2020, I Just Got Back From a Full Day of Being a Good Person: “Decided to trick my own mind into thinking that compliance is a virtue. It’s not. It’s cowardice.” Via the Random Archivist a.k.a. tireless plandemic chronicler Mathew Aldred.

A Rare Scheduled New York Appearance by Haunting Turkish Rock Balladeer Niyazi Koyuncu

Conventional wisdom is that anyone who could have gotten out of this city did a long time ago. The reality is that there are still a lot of entrenched indigenous and immigrant communities who are still here. That includes Turkish New Yorkers, who numbered approximately eighty thousand according to the 2010 census. Since that time, the primary hub for Turkish music here has been Drom in the East Village, which opened in 2007 and since then has probably staged more North American debuts than any other venue in town. That includes a lot of rare American appearances by Turkish rock acts.

Turkish rock has a lot of flavors, and as you can imagine some of them can be American Idol cheesy. But there’s a strong psychedelic streak in Turkish rock that goes back to a golden age of underground protest songs in the late 60s and 70s. There’s also a long tradition of brooding balladry that features haunting classically-tinged melodies, Middle Eastern flourishes and instrumentation, and allusive lyrics with frequent themes of being on the run from adversaries. One of those songwriters, Niyazi Koyuncu is playing Drom on Dec 16 at 11:30 PM; you can get in for $30.

Koyuncu’s music is not as ubiquitous on the web as it deserves to be, although his 2016 Liva album (which is not a concert recording) is streaming at Soundcloud. The first track, Uryan is a slowly swaying, moody minor-key anthem spiced with spare oud and piano over a lush bed of acoustic guitars. Lyrically, it’s paradigmatic, a metaphorically loaded tale of wartime abandonment.

Ağlama Bebeğim (Don’t Cry, Baby), a lullaby as escape anthem, has flute wafting over spare acoustic guitar. Yol (The Road) is a loping, flamenco-tinged lost-love ballad with strings. After that, there’s Kalbime Yağan Kar (Snow Falling in My Heart), a lingering art-rock duet with chanteuse Ceyl’an Ertem.

Koyuncu revisits a shadowy wartime tableau in Duman (Smoke), a surreal mashup of tricky Turkish dance rhythms and heavy rock, like a Near Eastern Jethro Tull. Verane has tasty bagpipes, Middle Eastern-style call-and-response and more tricky dance beats. The sweeping strings return alongside wistful accordion and piano in Gönlünün Kıyısı (The Heart’s Shore).

There’s a gorgeous kamancheh solo along with a spiky bed of guitars, baglama and orchestration in the pensive Sigara (Cigarette). Koyuncu finally picks up the pace with the rapidfire, scurrying rock tune Al Eline Fener (Carry the Torch)

Ayrılık (Far Away), a sweeping anthem with the guitars, orchestra and kamancheh going full force, is the album’s most exhilarating track. There’s also a surreal psychedelic tableau with slide guitars and bagpipes, and an imaginatively arranged Balkan reggae tune.

Obviously, a lot could change between today and the day of the show, in terms of venues being open without restrictions, but if the club is still open, this could be a great night for fans of haunting, lyrical sounds that don’t often make it to this country.

Robin Holcomb Brings Her Loaded Imagery and Tersely Crystallized Songcraft to Roulette

Few songwriters have the ability to crystallize a troubling image and build a tableau around it as memorably or tersely as pianist Robin Holcomb. She’s enjoyed a cult following since the 90s; she has an environmentalist streak and prefers shadowy melodies that draw as deeply on 19th century American front-porch folk and balladry as Charles Ives.

She had to go to the free state of Montana to find a studio to record her new solo album One Way or Another, streaming at Bandcamp. She’s playing the album release show on Nov 10 at around 9 at Roulette. Her husband, keyboardist Wayne Horvitz (of Presidents of the United States of America fame) opens the night at 8 in a duo performance with the brilliantly thoughtful bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck. You can get in for $25 in advance.

Holcomb’s new record is a mix of intimate versions of older songs, material from a couple of theatrical projects and a couple of covers. If anything, the songs are crystallized to a finer diamond finish than before: most of them clock in at under three minutes, some considerably less.

She opens with the title track (an original, not the Blondie hit), a spare spacious, gospel-tinged reflection. “Remember learning to crawl as you stagger out under the weight of the world, one foot it starts to fall,” Holcomb intones with her usual graceful understatement.

Track two is simply titled Waltz, Holcomb building a a distant sense of foreboding with her sparse, modal melody and imagery to match, a big-sky tableau with “nary a place to bury the bones.” Holcomb reinvents Stephen Foster’s Hard Times Come Again No More with tightly clustering phrases that bring to mind Dawn Oberg.

Doc Pomus’ I’ve Got That Feeling comes across as minimalist Carole King, at least until Holcomb really pounces on it after the second chorus. She shifts between gospel resonance and Carol Lipnik phantasmagoria in Once: the Steely Dan references and the trick ending are spot-on.

Likewise, Holcomb works uneasy Carla Bley harmonies over a jaunty Appalachian dance beat in A Lazy Farmer Boy, playing up the underlying grimness in the rustic tale. She builds the album’s most hauntingly allusive narrative in I’m Gonna Lose Again: the way she brings the story full circle will give you chills. It’s one of the best songs of the year.

“Don’t confuse me with my laughter, I won’t return the morning after,” Holcomb reminds in Copper Bottom, a key track from her Utopia Project about early 20th century cults.

“The mirror allows what the darkness divides,” she reveals in Rockabye, a subtly venomous, Tom Waits-ish lullaby for a drunken abuser. The darkness and regret is buried much deeper in the hypnotic circles of Shining.

Holcomb goes back to waltz time for Electrical Storm: the devil’s also in the details for that one. She mutes the absence and sense of sheer abandonment in the light-fingered Britfolk cadences of another Foster song, Old Dog Tray. The final cut, The Point of it All provides a wary, broodingly detailed coda for this inviting and often haunting record.

Crone Fire Off a New Album of Dark, Hard-Hitting European Art-Rock Anthems

Despair and towering angst but also moments that reach for transcendence pervade German band Crone‘s latest album Gotta Light? streaming at Bandcamp. There are actually no women in this band, a darkly tuneful project sprung from the ashes of long-running black metal band Secrets of the Moon. This is an apt soundtrack for a population staring down a cold winter of VAIDS deaths, electric grid blackouts and fascist plandemic restrictions orchestrated by World Economic Forum puppets. Who knows, maybe famine. If you think New York has it bad now, be grateful you’re not in Europe.

They open the album with No One Is Ever Alive, a brooding, swaying, vampy dirge, Frank Flight gone down the well into gothic Britfolk. Track two, Abyss Road is a lickety-split, stomping mashup of acidic late 90s Versus downstroke rock and New Model Army dystopic battle anthem. It’s the big hit.

Hope emerges in Gemini. with Christian Schmidt’s layers of brassy synths, swoosh and swirl, and frontman Phil “sG” Jonas’ impassioned vocals. “This world is burning slow…let’s play God,” he muses in This Is War, the band finally picking up with a stampede into inevitability. Can anybody say prophetic?

From there the band segue with a rumble into track five, They: three minutes in, lead guitarist Kevin Olasz finally get a chance to channel his inner David Gilmour with his aching flares over drummer Markus Renzenbrink’s precisely leadfooted stomp.

Towers Underground comes across as enigmatic late-period Psychedelic Furs with more explosive guitars. Then the group pick up the pace and return to ominous New Model Army territory in Quicksand, with a whipsaw bassline and a terse, High Romantic piano interlude.

Waiting For Ghosts is a rip of Pink Floyd’s Breathe with a little Bowie thrown in. Silent Song also has a hypnotic Floyd pulse, but with walls of guitars where Rick Wright’s keys would have provided the ambience: the icily strobing analog chorus-box guitar solo is a delicious touch. They segue into the closing instrumental, Kenosis, a theological term meaning to surrender to the divine. The rattling downtuned bass hints at the band’s heavier origins beneath an increasingly ominous web of spacerock riffage that decays like a dying star. Assuming there still is a working internet at the end of the year, you’ll see this on the best albums of 2022 page here.

A.A. Williams’ Grey-Sky Symphonic Rock Perfectly Captures the Emotional State of the World, 2022

A.A. Williams‘ new album As the Moon Rests – streaming at Bandcamp – perfectly captures the zeitgeist of the past thirty months. It might be an overstatement to call this the personal as political – a concept that’s been weaponized to the most evil ends – but she really nails the relentless gloom so many of us have felt since March of 2020. This is where she vaults herself into the realm of the world’s elite tunesmiths: it’s one of the best records of 2022.

Although the tempos are slow, this is her loudest, most epic and finest album to date, with her signature resigned, nuanced vocals over layers of distorted guitar, spare keyboards and a lushly symphonic bed of strings, elegantly anchored by her husband Thomas’ bass and Geoff Holroyde’s drums. This album is best appreciated as a cohesive whole. Pretty much all the songs are in the six- or seven-minute range. Whatever you’ve suffered, Williams feels your pain – at length.

“I must love myself above anyone else,” she admonishes herself in the opening track, Hollow Heart, a burning, immersive dirge that rises to a towering, symphonic peak. “It does not bring me any comfort anymore.” It’s hard to see beyond your own pain threshold.

Williams’ spare piano raindrops filter through the dense wall of distorted guitar in the second track, Evaporate. Is this an escape anthem or a death wish? Both? You be the judge. It ends cold.

Williams intones about regaining “some control from you” in Murmurs, adding layers of feathery but fanged tremolo-picking mingled within the smoky battlefield resonance. She reaches for hope against hope in Pristine, following a steady, doomed trajectory up from spare electric fingerpicking to a vast, ominous panorama.

Williams reaches for a vengeful understatement in Shallow Water, a gorgeously textured, intricately balanced and unexpectedly hopeful theme that rises with a grim wave motion. She opens For Nothing with a lingering, suspenseful Pink Floyd-style intro, rising and falling until she finally brings the heavy artillery in. With its long trail of distantly menacing chromatics, it’s the best song on the album.

Golden is even more allusive, with a late 80s Psychedelic Furs blend of digital drizzle and swirl. The clouds break and the stars gleam, a little at least, in The Echo. Then Williams returns to the spare/jangly verse vs. explosive, cumulo-nimbus chorus dichotomy in Alone in the Deep. It’s the closest thing to metal here.

“All I can see is my only chance to get away,” Williams intones gently over a spare web of acoustic guitar in Ruin (Let Go), the album’s most unexpectedly delicate moment. She closes the record with the title track, an expansive mashup of Nick Cave and Siouxsie at her early/mid 80s peak.

One of the Best New York Concerts of 2004 Finally Available As a Live Album

What’s more Halloweenish than a dusty archive haunted by ghosts and alcohol fumes?

Today’s installment in the ongoing, monthlong Halloween celebration here concerns a performance in the wee hours of September 3, 2004 at CB’s Gallery, where New York band Ninth House were the centerpiece of a night of gothic rock.

The venue is long gone. Frontman Mark Sinnis left New York for good in 2009 and has since built a career as one of the most formidable songwriters in Nashville gothic and dark country music. But at the peak of their career, Ninth House were a force of nature – and in recent months, Sinnis has been releasing a series of pristine live recordings.

Rather than reviewing the latest one, CB’s Lounge Drop Dead Party, streaming at youtube, here’s an account from this blog’s archive of previously unpublished concert reviews, which go as far back as the 1980s. Names have been changed to protect the guilty.

“Maybe the best show of the year. [Redacted] wanted me to show up at 9 and run interference in case his now-ex, [redacted], showed up (she did, looking all slutty in leather pants and halter top). This was a goth festival put together by some out-of-town folks and it had that flavor. [Redacted] and I hung at the bar through two awful Cure ripoff bands, far from home and sounding that way. The sound was horrible, all trebly and weak.

A good crowd had assembled by midnight for Ninth House. Then the organizers asked Sinnis if a punk band could do an unannounced mini-set (and also borrow his bass amp), and he acquiesced [no memory of this – 3+ hours drinking before a show will do that to you].

So by the time Ninth House hit the stage, it was 1 AM. The opener, Burn, an older song, has been reinvented as a sleek, slinky art-rock tune (it’s about cremation as closure). It has the hooky major-key catchiness of Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me and The Company You Keep, both of which they also played. This was one of their best sets, all the darkest material. The addition of Jennifer on keyboards (looking good in a short skirt) improves the band vastly, with Francis Xavier back behind the drumkit. She played mostly string synth and has adjusted her settings to give this edition of the band the Tschaikovskian orchestral grandeur they deserve.

The sound issues that had plagued the earlier part of the night had persisted, but when guitarist Bernard SanJuan turned up, his icy reverb roar cut through and that helped immensely. The set included the vast, panoramic Death Song, an inferno take of Murder, a chillingly High Romantic version of I Warned You, a hauntingly lush Put a Stake Right Through It and a roaring punk rock blast through their cover of Real Life’s new wave hit Send Me an Angel.

[This review conflicts with the playlist, stating that the encore was a cover of the Psychedelic Furs’ The Ghost in You. The live album ends with a so-so Cure cover; that dissonance makes sense in context, unless the review is accurate and Sinnis simply left the Furs cover off the record].

We hung at the bar until almost closing time while [redacted] alternated between chatting with [ex-girlfriend] and [then-current squeeze] behind the bar, who hooked us up with many more drinks than we needed.”

The e-zine publisher and future daily New York music blog proprietor who wrote this ends the chronicle of the evening there. Somewhere in the New York Music Daily archive, there’s an analog audience recording of all but the last couple of songs in the set, effectively perpetuating the mystery. Happily, this album mix of what was obviously a good soundboard recording is excellent and free of any of the problems with the front-of-house sound

Ninth House went through a long succession of lineup changes but never officially disbanded: once in awhile the most recent incarnation will pull a reunion show together. And Sinnis, who during his time here was one of the most interesting and melodic bassists in town, has finally made the switch to lead guitar. It’s never too late to reinvent yourself…or bring your old band back from the dead.

An Ornate, Magically Orchestrated, Fresh New Album From Art-Rockers GADADU

Hannah Selin, frontwoman and violist of art-rock band GADADU explains that her songs are “equally inspired by the natural and the supernatural.” The title of the art-rock band’s new album The Weatherman Is Wrong – streaming at Bandcamp – reflects both the unpredictability of Selin’s through-composed melodies as well as the world around us. It’s definitely an album for our time, even if the overall atmosphere is breathtakingly verdant and optimistic: the arrangements are nothing short of sumptuous. It’s as if Selin is saying, “Bring it on, we can handle it!”

The strings rises with a swirl and then echoes around in the album’s evocative opening track, Cicadas. Keyboardist Nicki Adams adds blippy loops as the horns – trumpeter Patrick Adams and tenor saxophonist Ayumi Ishito – enter regally over the sway of bassist Dan Stein and drummer Arthur Vint. “In our little house, the walls are slowly crumbling down,” Selin asserts brightly: the band take it out with an enigmatic wash that dissolves into reflecting-pool piano. Does this fit the zeitgeist, or what?

The second song, Bear is a catchy, tantalizingly brief anthem, bursting out of a delicate thicket of pizzicato: the gist of it is facing down one’s inner demons.

The elegant web of pulsing string, keyboard and horn textures in Dreamhouse are deliciously layered: the cyborg vocals and woozy synths in contrast to the organic, sun-drenched crescendos bring to mind the NYChillharmonic in a reflective moment.

Likewise, the harmonies between the electric piano and horns in the next cut, At Play: there’s reverie but also danger in the stabbing accents and enigmatic depths. Bright, tersely incisive piano stands out against a balmy backdrop in Makeup, descending to a more organic take on Radiohead minimalism before a sweeping, tidal return.

Vint plots out a circling Afrobeat groove as Selin’s voice soars upward with the horns in Ocean’s Children, then the harmonies pulse in and out over a series of rhythmic shifts, up to a dizzying chorale of sorts. There are echoes of slow, broodingly orchestrated Portishead in Tides, Selin floating an aptly vast, dynamically shifting expanse, the horns bursting over organ and electric piano that resist complete serenity.

The Xanthoria Quartet – violinists Abby Swidler, Kate Goddard and cellist Alexandra Jones – bolster the towering grandeur of Prove to You, a soul ballad at heart beneath the flurries and uneasy maze of concentric riffage. The album’s final cut is City of Lights: just when it seems this is going to be a warmly swaying soul tune, Nicki Adams pierces the veil with his alternately biting and sagely blues-infused piano. This is the band’s best album, one of the most beguiling releases of 2022 and reason to hope this allstar cast – all of whom have their own careers in new classical music, jazz and latin sounds – continue to weave fresh spells like these.

Revisiting the Prophetic Musical Side of One of This Era’s Most Visionary Journalists

Tessa Lena may be best known as one of this era’s most fearless investigative journalists, but she’s also something of a prophet. While covering the technology sector several years before Event 201, she warned how the infrastructure that would eventually enable the 2020 plandemic was being rolled out.

But Tessa Lena does a lot more than just write. She hosts a podcast, Make Language Great Again, where she interviews guests as diverse as historian Steven Newcomb, New Zealand freedom fighter Emmanuel Garcia and mass media polymath Mark Crispin Miller.

She’s also a musician. Trained in her native Moscow as a classical pianist, she has as many voices as a singer as she has as a writer, with a special fondness for Armenian music. And her songwriting is just as prophetic and colorful as her prose.

There’s a lot of Tessa Lena up at Bandcamp. Her 2017 album Tessa Fights Robots is the soundtrack to a multimedia project and most closely aligned to her current work (her article The Great Reset For Dummies is as definitive an analysis of the ongoing totalitarianism as anyone has written in the past two years). The album, a satire of social media obsession fueling a global takeover by tech oligarchs. is as venomously funny as it is prescient: “A bunch of metaphorical walking dead who figured out a way to siphon your creative energy into making money for them…they’re training you to act like viruses,” she intones. And the jokes aren’t limited to lyrics.

The music shifts from dystopic synthpop to delicate, moody Slavic psych-folk, to sarcastic Brechtian circus-rock and creepy, twinkling dystopic disco. There are also two covers: a witheringly icy version of Michelle Gurevich’s Party Girl, and a spare, poignant take of Tom Waits’ Blue Valentines.

Tessa Lena’s earliest track, a darkwave anthem, dates from 2013 and serves as a launching pad for her signature spine-tingling, operatic vocals. The next one, I Am This Child, is just as brooding and sounds like Portishead on acid.

The 2016 short album Tessa Makes Love is all over the map, ranging from jazzy noir cabaret to metal to a somber solo vocalese evocation of a duduk. Living Her Dream, a menacingly sarcastic 2017 art-rock tableau, could be David J with a woman out front.

Tessa Lena’s next appearance is not as a musician but as an activist onstage at the upcoming daylong Festival in a Field at at 55 Wenzels Lane in the town of Hudson, upstate, starting at 10 AM on Sept 10. Other freedom fighters scheduled to appear include Children’s Health Defense’s Mary Holland, hero attorney Bobbie Ann Cox (currently battling to stop Kathy Hochul’s appeal of the court ruling against her concentration camp edict), Autism Action Network’s John Gilmore and more. There’s music, too. It’s on the crunchy side. The highlight is shamanic multi-percussionist Kevin Nathaniel. Other artists scheduled to appear are Americana soul jamband the Mammals, multi-instrumentalist Bibi Farber’s Action Figures 432, kirtan-rock jammers Samkirtan Band, the Red Threat, Journey Blue Heaven and Americana guitar picker Jude Roberts, There’s also a haybale maze for the kids, local homemade food and crafts; it’s $25 for the whole day.

A Gorgeous New Album and a Williamsburg Gig by Purist Tunesmith Alice Cohen

Alice Cohen plays purist, often gorgeously melodic, artsy rock anthems and sings with an unpretentious delivery that’s sometimes cheery and sometimes borders on conspiratorial. On her new album Moonrising – streaming at Bandcamp – she plays most of the instruments herself, building a lush bed of acoustic and electric guitars and vintage synths over an unobtrusive drum-machine beat. Multi-reedman David Lackner and multi-percussionist Adrian Knight flesh out Cohen’s elegant arrangements. She’s playing Union Pool on August 24 at 9 PM. Since the venue has fallen under the spell of surveillance-state digital ticketing, the cover charge there lately has been measured in dollars and cents. It stands to reason that the door girl will round it up to sixteen bucks for those of us who are ahead of the curve and have gone to #cashalways.

Cohen opens the record with Wild Wolf, a swaying, twangy, Lynchian trip-hop ballad: this “eight-track Cadillac cruising through the milky way” seems to be on its way back from the Black Lodge. Then she looks back to the bittersweet starriness of 80s janglerock in Bodies in Motion. It could be a track from the Church’s Seance album, with a woman out front.

Cohen picks up the pace with Life in a Bag, an insistent, 90s-flavored downstroke anthem spiced with neoromantic piano flourishes. After the starry keyboard instrumental Inner Galaxies, she goes back to a pensive, richly textured sway with Under Chandeliers, her watery guitars and glimmering keys mingling with Knight’s vibraphone and Lackner’s echoing, spiraling soprano sax.

Baby’s Fine is a surreal mashup of early 80s new wave pop with hip-hop lyrics: it’s hard to figure out where the sax stops and what could be an old Juno synth kicks in. Vanilla Tea is a glistening backbeat stadium rock nocturne without the bombast – an oxymoron, sure, but just try to imagine.

The driftiest, most opaque song on the album is Telepathic Postcards. Cohen follows that with Queen Anne’s Lace, a breezy, jazz-inflected ballad in a Stylistics vein that she takes ten years forward in time – or forty years forward, depending on how neo-retro it seems to you. She closes the record with Fragile Flowers, following a serpentine series of chord changes with Lackner’s sax floating above. It’s been a slow year for rock records, at least compared to what we were used to before March of 2020, but this is one of the best of 2022 so far.