New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: chris mulligan drums

Darkly Noisy, Unhinged Sonics and a Union Pool Show From the Resolutely Uncategorizable Parlor Walls

Since spinning off from the noisily anthemic Eula, enigmatically intense duo Parlor Walls have developed a careening, slashing style all their own. Frontwoman/guitarist Alyse Lamb winkingly calls it “trash jazz.” But it’s more rock than jazz, and it isn’t really trashy, either. While their songs often sound like they’re thisclose to going completely off the rails, they’re actually very meticulously choreographed. And as intense a stage presence as Lamb is, Chris Mulligan is a force of nature, playing drums and an assortment of keyboards at the same time.

Other bands – Mr. Airplane Man, most famously – have done it, and then there was Ray Manzarek, who played a keyboard bass with his lefthand and organ with his right. But this band’s really something to see. They’re playing the album release party for their latest one, Heavy Tongue – streaming at Bandcamp – on Feb 27 at around 10:30 PM at Union Pool. Cover is $10; Lutkie’s pulsing, noisy electronic weedscapes open the night at around 9:30. You will need to take the G train home unless you’re looking forward to hours waiting on the L platform, or you get very lucky.

In a lot of ways, the new album is a return to the sometimes sideways, sometimes in-your-face assault of the band’s debut ep, although the songs (or soundscapes) are longer. The lurching first track, Birds of Paradise is a mashup of jagged late 70s no wave, more enveloping, techy ambience (and early New Order too). They segue into Game, its blippy/buzzy contrasts filtering in and out of an uneasy swirl over Mulligan’s piledriver pulse.

Lunchbox is a loopy, unexpectedly amusing detour into industrial trip-hop, if such a thing exists, Lamb’s voice calm amid the mechanical maelstrom. In Violets, hip-hop becomes a ghost in the relentless machine, followed by the grinding 80s Foetus sonics of Pinafore.

Lamb pulls back the effects on her voice and then really cuts loose in the brooding, pummeling Spinning Gold, which could be Algiers with a woman out front. The two close the record with Rails,its spacy machine-shop sonics and wry  Supremes allusions.

Parlor Walls Bring Their Strongest, Most Direct Album Yet to Alphaville This Week

For the past few years, intense trio Parlor Walls have fired out a series of intriguing albums that span from post-Sonic Youth noiserock to aggressive no wave, with elements of fiery free jazz sprinkled throughout their work. Their latest release, Exo – streaming at Bandcamp – is their most acerbic and relevant one yet. Frontwoman/guitarist Alyse Lamb is putting her charisma to better use than ever: the album title seems to refer to the Greek word for outside. Considering how gentrification and the real estate bubble have scorched the earth of their Brooklyn home base, it’s no wonder the band would want to address the forces of destruction, if somewhat opaquely. The band are playing the album release show on April 26 at 8 at Alphaville; cover is $10.

The production is a lot more enveloping than their previous work, possibly due to Joseph Colmenero’s engineering (he’s RZA’s righthand man). Another development that’s undoubtedly contributed to the thicker sound is that the group have switched out alto saxophonist Kate Mohanty for clarinetist and multi-instrumentalist Jason Shelton. 

The opening track is Neoromancer, awash in a reverb-drenched hailstorm of guitar multitracks. “Must be electrifying knowing how to fix me right,” Lamb intones sarcastically as her Telecaster howls, shrieks and echoes over drummer Chris Mulligan’s torrential drive. It has the feel of a vintage Kim Gordon SY track, but with better vocals and more of an icy sheen to the production,

Love Complex might be the most straightforward rock song the band’s ever done, shifting from a dreampop swirl to heavy, emphatic, noisy riffage to momentary squiggly keyboard interludes as Lamb’s voice rises defiantly:

Pick me off of the floor
All ordinary things become giant
Steep, monolithic climbs
Lips give a sudden break of forced delight
But will you give me sanctuary from this biting
Love complex

Isolator – a reference to social media-fueled atomization, maybe? – slowly coalesces out of the “trash jazz” the band made a name for themselves with in their early days into a catchy Silver Rocket stomp, Lamb speaking of the need to “break through, break free.”

The final cut, Low Vulture is the album’s noisiest, angriest moment, snarling and pulsing like Algiers or Public Enemy circa Fear of a Black Planet: 

Get out in front of it
You got me surrounded
You want to sleep with vultures
You’re low flying
Messing with my head
Is it all a game?

There’s a lot to think about here – and you can dance to all of it.

An Intriguing New Album from the Propulsively Enigmatic Parlor Walls

Parlor Walls are one of those great bands who defy categorization. Are they postrock? Postpunk? Noiserock? Psychedelia? Free jazz?

All of the above. Guitarist/singer Alyse Lamb is a charismatic presence out in front of the trio, with as much of a flair for a catchy hook as sonic mayhem. She never plays anything remotely the same way twice. Drummer Chris Mulligan is a beast, playing thick, churning rivers of organ or fuzzy synth lines with his left hand while keeping time with the right and the kickdrum. Alto saxophonist Kate Mohanty adds her signature acidity, acerbity and occasional extended-technique squall, just as she did on the band’s previous record. They’re playing the album release show for their new one, Opposites – streaming at Bandcamp, and available on vinyl – on March 9 at 10 PM at Sunnyvale. Cover is $10.

None of the songs follow any predictable verse/chorus pattern: the group squeezes a lot into short, impactful packages. Mulligan drives the opening track, Crime Engine Failure with something of an altered qawwali groove, Lamb’s catchy vocal hooks against lingering, minimalist swaths of guitar and sax that intertwine as the song goes on. “Cover me…and all that lies in front of me,” Lamb intones amid the stormy cloudbanks of the second track. “You won’t let me bleed when you’re gone.”

The spare/densely roaring dichotomy of Play Opposites brings to mind peak-era Sonic Youth. “Open up your eyes…burn it to the ground…not going there,” Lamb half-sings, half-insists: allusion and unease define this band. Ambassadress juxtaposes Mulligan’s calm organ with stun-guitar blasts from Lamb, up to a tasty, sirening outro.

Love Again has a stomping martial beat, a less inchoate mashup of early Gang of Four and Goo-era SY fueled by Lamb’s swoops and dives. In Teach Me Where to Roam, the band vamps hypnotically as Mohanty hovers ominously over Mulligan’s four-on-the-floor thump, up to yet another simple, catchy, crescendoing chorus and then back.

As the band shifts back and forth from a heavy, syncopated beat, Hesitation alludes to resistance against repression, or at least conformity, arranged around Lamb’s recurrent seven-note slide riff. Shorts bursts from Mohanty pepper the whirling lows of Me Me My, an update on a familiar X-Ray Spex trope; Lamb’s long outro is pretty amusing.

The album’s longest track, Birthday, is an audience favorite,  Albert Ayler-ish sax busting out over a hypnotically circling backdrop. “Don’t you know I’m perfect?” Lamb asks, completely deadpan. The album winds up with the twinkling improvisation Carstairs and then the darkest, most epically anthemic track here, Red Shed. Another winner from one of Brooklyn’s most consistently unpredictable and interesting bands. 

Catchy Postpunk Tunefulness and Joyous Noise in Williamsburg Last Night

Melody and noise are two sides of the same coin. Martin Bisi and his band, and Parlor Walls know that, and work that dichotomy for all it’s worth. So did Guerilla Toss guitarist Arian Shafiee, who opened a vastly enjoyable bill featuring both those acts at Aviv in Williamsburg last night. His single, long, droning, pitchblende intro – “Like an invocation,” Parlor Walls frontwoman/guitarist Alyse Lamb beamed afterward – built a warm, welcoming ambience in the lowlit space, all the more resonant for Shafiee dedicating it to David Bowie.

Bisi and his three-piece European touring band kept the ultraviolet gleam going with a set that alternated between kinetic drive and a vortex of ominous low register sonics. The secret to this band’s sound, other than Bisi’s umpteen pedals, disembodied vocal loops and occasional whoops, is Diego Ferri’s baritone guitar. Sometimes he’d play straight-up basslines but other times went into trebly Peter Hook territory, then washes and bursts of chords to match the bandleader’s swirling menace. Rather than letting any song end cold, Bisi would let a chord linger, filter through the mix and then pulled out of the chaos toward another. Toweringly anthemic post-Velvets hooks swayed and punched side by side with shimmering pools of noise, muted Syd Barrett-ish motives and creepy chromatics ramped up a notch by Genevieve Kammel Morris’ ragingly insistent viola and washes of organ. Dummer Oliver Rivera Drew negotiated the thicket with a nimble pulse and drive: oldschool punk energy, newschool psychedelic atmosphere.

Parlor Walls drummer/organist Chris Mulligan chose to keep that murky river flowing. The segue between bands was so seamless that it was almost as if it was the same group onstage, if with completely different personalities. Parlor Walls never play a set or a song the same way twice: this was. an enveloping blanket of dreampop-laced, no wave-referencing postpunk. Alto saxophonist Kate Monahty was motionless, a human statue firing off slithery Coltrane gliesandos, coyly minnmalistic rhythmic bursts and squawks and austerely shifting sheets of sound. Lamb’s vocals bent and swayed with the music; likewise, the band would let the organ and guitar siren and shimmer, Lamb firing off a jagged phrase and then swooping to her pedalboard to sculpt an edge or extend the envelope. On their latest album, Cut, the opening track is a sort of mashup of indie classical circularity and droll faux “R&B” – onstage this time, they reinvented it as skittish postpunk. Likewise, they extended the stampeding miniature The Key into a fullscale gallop across a postapocalyptic plain.

Zs drummer Greg Fox closed the night with his Guardian Alien duo project with Eartheater’s Alex Drewchin. Swaying and bending, she intoned her vocals low over a rippling electroacoustic backdrop, shaping its edges via a mixer/keyboard as Fox clustered and circled with an elegance that brought to mind Lukas Ligeti’s more kinetic adventures in indie classical music. But by the end of the relatively brief (half-hour) set, Fox was machinegunning and volleying, at one point in 15/8 time. As precise and purposeful as the drums were, the pulsing, pointillistic electronic backdrop and the vocals were uneasy and messy, a long way from contentment. It ended the night on an aptly energetic yet enigmatic and restless note.

Parlor Walls are at the Citizen, 332 2nd St, about six blocks from the Grove St. Path station in Jersey City at around 10 on January 28, then they’re back with a couple of February shows at Shea Stadium and Trans-Pecos.

A Smartly Enigmatic New Album From the Shapeshifting Parlor Walls

Parlor Walls – part of the Famous Swords art collective – call themselves trash jazz. It’s a modest handle for their ferociously kinetic, shapeshifting, noisy songs. Much as their sound is distinctly teens, their esthetic looks back to the no wave era of James Chance & the Contortions and Lydia Lunch’s various projects, if with a lot more focus and emphasis on melody and memorable hooks. In music-school terms, their songs are pretty much through-composed. Not only do verses and choruses tend not to repeat: the music just flows, or leaps and bounds, rather than following a distinct progression. Tempos and meters shift in a split-second.

Onstage they’re a lot of fun to watch. Drummer Chris Mulligan anchors the music with a mighty rumble and crash while playing organ, ambitiously, with his left hand. Frontwoman/guitarist Alyse Lamb spins and pounces and fires off shards of noise one second, then evilly lingering, noirish phrases the next. Alto saxophonist Kate Mohanty provides a calm yet similarly brooding presence with her resonant, minimalist lines and astringent, boxcutter tone. Parlor Walls also find a way to join a lot of really good lineups onstage. This Thursday, January 14 they’re at Aviv at 496 Morgan Ave. (Division/Beadel) in Williamsburg starting at 8 with the restlessly noisy, hypnotic, surprisingly groove-driven, bitingly lyrical Pill, then the more assaultive, noisier Guardian Alien, Parlor Walls at around 10, darkly psychedelic art-rock legend Martin Bisi and finally guitarist Arian Shafiee of dance-punks Guerilla Toss at the top of the bill. Cover is $10.

Parlor Walls’ latest album, Cut is up as a name-your-price download at Bandcamp. It opens with Bloodsport, a maze of guitar loops quickly giving way to a mashup of circling indie classical riffs and what sounds like wry faux urban corporate pop. The Key, clocking in at just a little over two minutes, sets haphazardly lingering guitar, warping organ and sax over a drum stampede.

Mulligan and Mohanty work a creepy/jaunty contrast for all it’s worth on Me Me My, Lamb adding a similar dichotomy with her menacing guitar flares and enigmatically playful vocals: “Push me out,” is the mantra. The build up to bell-like hypnotic ambience over Mulligan’s tersely dancing drums as the surprisingly dreampop-influenced Sundress reaches toward escape velocity is a lot of fun. Likewise, the final track, Birthday, which rings and clangs as it follows an unexpectedly warm, Afrobeat-tinged triplet groove before a tempo change, Lamb and Mohanty throwing off sparks over Mulligan’s pulsing syncopation. Get this album, crank it and revel in the fact that we live in such uneasy, interesting times.

Parlor Walls Entertain Bushwick, Then Hit Cake Shop with Their Goodies

Parlor Walls have a bracingly fun ep that for lack of a better word could be called noiserock, a free download at Bandcamp. But they’re way more than that – and they have a lot more material than just what’s up there. A couple of weeks ago at the laid-back new venue Alphaville in Bushwick, they did more onstage in barely half an hour than most bands could do in two. While there’s no predictable verse/chorus structure to their songs and they like noise as much as tunes, their material can be awfully catchy.: when they have to, they keep things simple. They’re playing at 9 PM on June 25 at Cake Shop; cover is $8 and worth it. They’re also at Trans-Pecos the following night, June 26 at 9, opening for no wave sax legend James Chance; cover is $10.

Even though the Bushwick gig was late on a work night, there was a good crowd in the house, and the band kept them there. Frontwoman/guitarist Alyse Lamb – better known as the leader of the very popular Eula – would switch in a split-second from throwing off shards of reverb, to apprehensive postpunk chromatics, a hint of Chris Isaak noir twang, and oldfashioned punk rock roar. Meanwhile, drummer Chris Mulligan held down a thunderously swinging pulse and anchored the songs with deep washes of organ at the same time. This band’s ancestor, lineupwise if not exactly stylistically, is cult classic dark blues duo Mr. Airplane Man.

Guest alto saxophonist Kate Mohanty added an element of surprise, switching between blustery postbop jazz clusters, trickily rhythmic indie classical circles, reverb-drenched no wave acidity, abrasive duotone washes and catchy, blippy, polyrhythmic phrases. There was a menacingly psychedelic, drony quality to a couple of songs, like the Black Angels on molly. Other songs introduced tricky tempos (if memory serves right, one was in 9/8), dreamy/biting organ/guitar contrasts; and half the time it was impossible to tell who was playing the high frequencies, Lamb or Mohanty, the sound was so immersive. Persistent Daydream Nation echoes surfaced and then resurfaced frequently, Lamb’s vocals somewhat less agitated than they can be in Eula. And the trio did all this within the constrictions of maybe three minutes per song at the absolute max.

And there were fringe benefits: Lamb had brought lots of delicious homemade oatmeal-banana cookies. A whole tupperware containerful! They were almost as good as the music. On a night when the trains were all messed up and there was no telling how long it was going to take to get home, and stopping at a deli might mean missing the last train and a long walk to Myrtle Avenue, that hit the spot. Not that there’s any guarantee that there’ll be free munchies at the Cake Shop gig, but…you never know. It is Cake Shop after all.