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Ferocious Power Trio Castle Black Put Out One of 2017’s Best Short Albums

In an era when gentrification, the demise of one venue after another and subway closures all down the line at night have landed one crushing blow after another on the New York music scene, Castle Black’s rise to become one of this city’s best bands is as heartwarming as it is improbable. A couple of years ago, they were playing the usual cruddy circuit of bottom-tier venues that most new bands never gain enough traction to leave. Since then, Castle Black have put out a succession of ep’s, each one better than the other and emerged as a relentlessly touring powerhouse.

Armed with a couple of vintage Fenders, guitarist/frontwoman Leigh Celent has grown into a powerful and distinctive player equally at home with noise and melody. Bassist Lisa Low anchors the music with a looming ominousness while drummer Matt Bronner ranges from rapidfire four-on-the-floor punk to doomy metal to the occasional departure into unorthodox meters, holding the beast to the rails. The band’s latest ep, Trapped Under All You Know is streaming at youtube. They’re playing the release show on August 25 at 10 PM at the Well in Bushwick – they’re definitely loud enough to drown out any of the other bands rehearsing in the upstairs rooms there.

The album’s first track, Seeing in Blue kicks off with Bronner’s boomy tom-tom rolls, Celent building an angst-fueled nocturnal scenario with her guitar and her vocals. It’s part Avengers roar and part enigmatic late-period Bush Tetras, with a little Cramps menace. And it’s as catchy as all those references

Broken Bright Star is one of the half-dozen best songs of 2017, hands down. The catchy, doomy opening guitar riff brings to mind the Vice Squad classic Last Rockers, rising to a richly jangly mesh of guitar multitracks on the chorus. The point where the verse suddenly dips down to just Celent’s vocals, and then explodes with a wrathful guitar chord, will give you goosebumps.

Blind Curtain is just as anthemic and catchy: imagine a two-guitar version of Blondie covering mid-80s Husker Du. The album stays in that relentlessly troubled zone with the distantly Joy Division-inflected last cut, Rise, Celent’s roaring, reverbtoned guitar shards flickering through the “shadows as they rise, again and again again.”  Brief as this is,  you’ll see this album on the best of 2017 page here in December if we’re still all here.

Power Trio Castle Black Blast Through a Tight, Killer Set in Bushwick

Doesn’t it feel great when you stumble on an up-and-coming band who end up fulfilling their promise, and them some? Castle Black‘s sizzling set Friday night at Basement Bar in Bushwick had the fearlessness and outside-the-box creativity of classic punk rock. A lot of people assume that punk music is just three chords and a fast beat, but the reality is that the artists in the first wave of punk bands went into punk because they wanted to do something more fun and also more sophisticated than they could within the cliched confines of 70s dadrock or hippe blues. Castle Black delivered that kind of defiantly individualistic energy with equal parts guitar-fueled savagery and sardonic humor.

It’s amazing how tight this band has become over the past six months: constant gigging will do that to you. And yet, their music hasn’t lost its raw edge, or persistent unease, or outright menace. And they’re a lot of fun to watch live. Guitarist Leigh Celent played most of the set on her Fender Jazzmaster, changing to a Mustang when she wanted to switch out grit for reverb and resonance. She rocked a vintage Runaways t-shirt and jeans, with a wiry intensity in both her vocals and stage presence.

Back-clad, dark-eyed bassist Lisa Low made a stark contrast, distant, enigmatic and seemingly haunted. She ran her Fender Precision bass through an amp turned way up, then varied her attack on the strings for an unexpected amount of sublety. But when she stepped to the mic and traded vocals with Celent, she was no less forceful. If you could find the perfect picture of a rock drummer circa 1981, that would be Matt Bronner. Head down, sticks in the air, focused to the point of tunnel vision, he made the band’s sudden detours into some unexpectedly tricky metrics look easy, as one song shifted into 10/4 time, another one with some deviously teasing syncopation. And he’s not the kind of guy who tries to beat the sound into the drums: instead, he lets it out, for extra low rumble.

The band opened with the skronky postpunk of Doing Time Pass. Celent is an interesting guitarist: she likes catchy hooks, but just when things might get predictable, she veers off into noise. There was a little Andy Gill, or maybe Arto Lindsay in her jagged lines, but mostly it was just her. The band roared their way into Leave It with a slow, stalking groove, like a vintage Buzzcocks epic that they suddenly took doublespeed into anthemic Avengers territory, then back again.

This Old Town, with its uneasy shifts between major and minor, was a biting, bitter portrait of deadend hopelessness. Just when the catchy, Joan Jett-flavored Premonition sounded like it was going to sway along with an easygoing highway rock beat, Bronner and Celent bit down hard. They took that drive to an angrier level with Sabotage and then segued into the night’s best song, the ominously ferocious Secret Hideaway. After a confident run through the endlessly unanticipated, haunting dynamic shifts of Dark Light – Castle Black’s Last Rockers – they closed with their single The Next Thing, with its offhanded references to both stoner metal and classic punk. Castle Black’s next New York gig is July 29 at 10 PM at the Parkside; for the Hoboken crowd, they’re also at Maxwell’s the previous night, July 28 at 8.

Real NYC Punk Rock and a Grand Victory Show on Saturday by Scrapers

Scrapers play real punk rock. Not emo posing as punk rock. Not phony circus rock with loud guitars. Their album Dark Places – a free download at Bandcamp – is the kind of stuff you would have heard at the top of a good bill at CBGB around 1981. They’re playing Grand Victory at two in the afternoon on March 7 to kick off what’s more or less a hardcore matinee there; cover is ten bucks.

It’s a good bet they’ll be playing more than what’s on the album, considering that it’s about fifteen minutes long. By the time it’s over, if classic punk is your thing, you’re left wishing it was twice as long. And nobody would be complaining if the songs went on longer: most of them max out at less than two minutes. If anybody understands the concept about always leaving audiences wahting more, it’s these guys. Bee Wiseman fronts the band; Brian Darwas, formerly of Roger Miret & the Disasters, plays bass; Sol Keller and Dodi Wiemuth are the rest of the crew. The first track on the album seems to be sort of a theme song: these guys are just managing to scrape by, the guitars screaming over a practically oi-punk scramble: “You wanna see a dead body?” Wiseman leers at the end.

Gravity is a catchy number: it’s got those muted downstrokes and then big scorching chords and the hint of a big solo. And then it’s over. White Boys is half noisy intro and half murderous oldschool punk menace. Forget the catchy intro: Kids Will Kill has the same kind of head-on assault, the kind that makes you wonder whether you should highfive the band after the show or leave them the hell alone.

Bad Blood is over in less than a minute, a blast of searing chromatic fury like the album’s runaway express-train title cut. Shot Out has a few bass rumbles seeping out from under the pitchblende attack. Missing Person could be the Avengers with one of the guys out in front of the band; the album winds up with World War 4, a minute four seconds of what could be vintage X as played by the Ramones. This band is tight as a drum of toxic waste, loud as hell, and catchier than they probably want to admit. So many bands make complete fools of themselves trying to sound dark and desperate: these guys sound like they can’t help it. Get the album, blast it in your headphones and remember how it feels to be totally alive if not necessarily happy about it.

Fearless Oldschool Punk Rock from Sweden’s Terrible Feelings

Swedish punk rockers Terrible Feelings’ Blank Heads ep is out officially for the first time in the US, and it’s one of those rare albums that stand up to being played over, and over, and over – which is what you may end up doing when you hear this. They play as if time stopped in 1979 – it’s punk rock informed not by the Warped Tour but by the Avengers, the Clash and the Sex Pistols. A sense of doom and foreboding pervades their music, and it has a genuineness rather than sounding as if they’re just out to ape a style that’s been done to death. Frontwoman Manuela Iwansson rasps when she goes up the scale – singing in pretty good English – over an unexpectedly rich bed of clanging, roaring, screaming guitars and a pummeling rhythm section. The whole thing is streaming at Soundcloud.

The first track, Trash and Burn comes together out of a chaotic verse. This stuff’s a lot more interesting musically than just verse/chorus/verse: there’s pickslides, tremolo-picking and twin riffage from drums and guitar. The ominously minor-key title track brings to mind the Avengers, especially as the rolling beat comes in like a tidal wave and the layers of guitars build to a firestorm. “We’re damaged” is the closing mantra.

The Moon is even more like the Avengers (specifically, the stuff that Steve Jones produced) with its uneasy balance between desire and dread, both musically and lyrically: “I see him walking by frustrated and alone,” Iwansson muses before she realizes how “forlorn and scared he was because he knows that we all die alone.” The final cut, Hollow nicks the riff from Blondie’s One Way or Another on the verse and builds to an anguished crescendo on the chorus. “Everyone I know has become so hollow,” Iwansson rages.

For an only slightly less polished take on these same songs, download their surprisingly tight 2010 demo ep here.