New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: cocteau twins

Breathtaking Grandeur and a Feast of Guitars on Noctorum’s Latest Brilliant Album

Marty Willson-Piper is best known as this era’s greatest twelve-string guitarist, but he’s also a brilliant songwriter, an aspect that was often weirdly overlooked during his long tenure alongside another great tunesmith, Steve Kilbey, in iconic Australian psychedelic band the Church. Willson-Piper has also put out several great albums under his own name and with Noctorum, his project with Dare Mason. Noctorum‘s richly orchestral, mesmerizingly jangly latest album, Afterlife, is streaming at Bandcamp.

It opens with The Moon Drips, a slinky, seductive, bolero-tinged ballad: imagine Nick Cave at his lushest, with a brass section. The carnivalesque, hurdy-gurdy style bridge is delicious.

High Tide, Low Tide is a mighty, jangly, propulsive rocker that would have been a standout track on a late 80s Church album. Mason sings this cautionary tale to a high-flying party animal who’s heading for a fall.

Willson-Piper returns to lead vocals for the album’s first single, Piccadilly Circus in the Rain, a bleakly gorgeous, syncopatedly swaying portrait of quiet working class desperation in real estate bubble-era London. A lusciously icy blend of six and six-string guitars anchor Show, a grimly metaphorical breakup narrative set to vamping, Television-like janglerock. Willson-Piper’s incisive, climbing bass punctuates the lush, dreamy, pulsing sonics and baroque elegance of A Resurrected Man.

The album’s loudest track is A Girl with No Love: choogling, raging 70s riff-rock verse, lushly jangly chorus. “I don’t know if I’ll ever dream again, all I know is I can,” Willson-Piper croons in Trick, a surreal blend of Iggy Pop and the Cocteau Twins. Head On (not the Stooges classic but a duet between Willson-Piper and his violinist wife Olivia) rises out of incisively rhythmic riffage to a sultry, sinister peak and eventually an outro straight out of Jethro Tull: “See you at nine-ish where we first met, me and my Sunbeam, you and your Corvette.”

The album’s title track is its most amorphous number, Willson-Piper’s narrator waiting in the netherworld for loved ones amid the guitar swirl. The final cut is the unexpectedly whimsical, bouncy In a Field Full of Sheep. Good to see these guys, with careers that go back to the early 80s, still going strong.

Big Buzz Band Blouse Breezes into Bowery Ballroom

Portland, Oregon band Blouse‘s early singles worked moody 80s-style synth-pop terrain. Their latest album, Imperium – streaming at Spotify – finds the band evolving to put a more melodic spin on classic late 80s/early 90s-style dreampop. With the guitars’ enveloping, jangly chill, early Lush is the obvious comparison, but this band has become both more tuneful and uses more varied textures than just the watery chorus-box effects that give dreampop its icy swirl and echoey resonance. Blouse’s Bowery Ballroom gig on March 25 opening for the ghoul-pop Dum Dum Girls is sold out but there are still general tix for $15 for their Music Hall of Williamsburg show the following night, where they’re playing around 9:30.

Throughout the album’s ten tracks, bassist Patrick Adams plays with a gritty, trebly tone, his lines winding and twisting but not wasting notes. Guitarist Jacob Portrait will hit his distortion pedal when the chorus kicks in and go back to an echoey clang on the verse, or vice versa. Frontwoman Charlie Hilton varies her vocals from clipped and Teutonic to much more wamly alluring, particularly when she uses her lower register.

And the songs are catchy. The title cut follows a steady path from watery to searing and back again: with the mantra “Are you one of us?,” it sounds like a sci-fi narrative. On the second track, Eyesite, Portrait brings in a little scratchiness and then what sounds like a vintage repeater box. The strummy 1000 Years hides an echoey electric piano behind the layers of jangle, while In a Glass welds growly guitars to an insistently hypnotic 80s vamp. Capote juxtaposes nebulousness and noise over a steady sway, then A Feeling Like This hints at vintage disco.

No Shelter is totally Lush circa 1990, with an aptly apprehensive lyric: “We can’t keep anything, sky’s getting cloudy and it’s a different time…there is no shelter from this storm.” Happy Days goes back in time ten years for a lo-fi Siouxsie ambience; Arrested takes a familiar early Joy Division beat and beefs it up with ringing twelve-string guitars. The vamping final cut, Trust Me gingerly adds textures until the band has a full-fledged song. Judging from this band’s buzz, if only Lush, and My Bloody Valentine, and the Cocteau Twins would get back together and tour, they’d pack stadiums. At the very least they’d pack Bowery Ballroom.

The Lost Patrol Haunts Otto’s

The Lost Patrol headlined this month’s Saturday night surf rock shindig at Otto’s. Part of the set was sort of a mashup of the Cocteau Twins and the Ventures in their most deep-space moments, other times they were the ultimate Lynchian noir Nashville band. On record, their frontwoman Mollie Israel gives the songs an otherworldly allure; on stage, she is the ultimate Lynch girl. Watching her was surreal: between songs, she was unexpectedly down-to-earth, bantering with the crowd, but when the songs began she went into character and never left, a lithely electric, black-clad presence whose charisma was visceral. Having seen both Neko Case and Eilen Jewell recently, Israel is just as compelling, maybe more so, doomed and dangerous yet strangely vulnerable.

The band took a long time to set up: if they’d wanted to be pretentious, they could have called their set “electroacoustic,” the singer and her two guitarists playing to a backing track with bass, drums and occasional keyboards. This didn’t bode well, but they transcended the challenge of having to perform without any useful interaction from whoever had originally played the stuff in the can (it was probably them). They did their earlier material first, some of which reminded of the Church back around the time of the Blurred Crusade album, then one song sounding like Rebel Rebel slowed down and moved forward into the 4AD Records era. Lead guitarist Stephen Masucci’s casually expert, minutely nuanced blend of elegant reverb lines, crescendoing tremolo-picking and eerily resounding, bending chords blended with twelve-string acoustic guitarist Michael Williams’ lustrous jangle, which unfortunately was too low in the mix. But this was Otto’s, where the sound is going to be hit-and-miss and at least Israel’s voice was audible.

All Tomorrow’s Promises blended ethereal dreampop resonance into a sad but purposeful anthem, again much like the Church. Spinning, the first track on the band’s excellent new album, Driven, had the a catchy, bracing, late-winter jangle that reminded of Liza & the WonderWheels. Israel’s best vocals of the night might have been her wordless ones on the late-night highway theme There & Back. She said that her favorite song on the new album is See You in Hell, which takes a familiar dark garage rock riff and uses it in all kinds of original and interesting ways. And then she sang the hell out of it, bright and clear as a bell but irreparably wounded at the same time. They encored with a brightly surreal, gently reverberating cover of the haunting Ginny Millay country ballad Jukebox on the Moon, winding up the night on a perfectly Lynchian note, sad and completely alone, perfectly capsulizing what this band is all about. This show was an increasingly rare treat: although their songs are regularly featured in film and on tv, they don’t play around or tour as much as they used to. Catch them next at Bowery Electric on Sept 12.

Gorgeous Noir Janglerock and Dreampop From the Lost Patrol

The Lost Patrol have been around in one form or another since the late 90s. They started out as a cinematic soundtrack project, then became a surf band more or less and about five years ago morphed into a deliciously noir janglerock band, sort of the missing link between the Church and the Cocteau Twins. The addition of frontwoman/guitarist Mollie Israel pretty much brought them to their peak as a recording and touring band. In an era when supposedly nobody makes albums anymore, this band has ten (10) to their credit plus numerous singles and contributions to anthologies. Their latest one, Driven, with its lushly clanging unease and swirl, is streaming at the group’s Bandcamp page. They’re headlining Otto’s – a venue far too small for a band this good – at around midnight on Saturday, August 3 on one of Unsteady Freddie’s surf rock nights with purist Connecticut instrumentalists the Clams playing at 10 followed at 11 by powerhouse original reverb rockers Strange But Surf.

The album’s first track, Spinning sets the stage for much of what’s to come, an anthemic janglerock tune straight out of the Church circa The Blurred Crusade. With its lingering guitars and sweeping synth, All Tomorrow’s Promises sets Israel’s dreamy vocals against guitarist Stephen Masucci’s tersely echoey resonance, a spot-on evocation of the Church’s Peter Koppes. Chance of Rain is a morbidly gorgeous, twangy 60s garage tune lowlit by Israel’s brooding, elegaic vocals: “A chance of rain/Still remains/You tried in vain/To wash away/All the days you left behind.”

Israel takes the sultry menace just short of over the top with Little Black Kitten, a slow, slinky, simmering noir organ/janglerock groove. See You in Hell builds off a familiar old garage rock riff: where other bands would take it straight to cliche central, this crew sways it gently and lushly and makes it all the more ominous. The echoey, anxious, tonebending sway of Burn Me Down brings back memories of the late, great late 90s/early zeros New York rockers DollHouse.

There & Back shuffles along on a dark surf groove, followed by the moody dreampop ballad Tell Me. Invincible looks back to the early 80s for its apprehensive new wave swirl, followed by Just Go, an abrupt but impressive detour into torchy saloon jazz featuring Rob Schwimmer’s jaunty ragtime-fueled piano. The two most Lynchian songs here wind up the album: the propulsive noir 60s pop hit In Too Deep and then the towering, angst-fueled Disguise. One of the half-dozen best albums of 2013, by this reckoning: you’ll see it on the final list at the end of year here if we make it that far.

Dead Leaf Echo’s Debut Album: A Rainy Day Treat

Dead Leaf Echo plays the release show for their debut album Thought & Language on Feb 27 at 10:30 at the Mercury Lounge for $10. If this had come out on 4AD in 1989, it would be regarded as a classic of its kind today. The band name is well-chosen: their music has a vividly chilly autumnal feel as well as a reverberating, hypnotic ambience.  Wet, shimmery, frequently icy layers of guitar mist swirl and echo through simple, catchy hooks that often bring to mind bands like My Bloody Valentine and Lush in their early years. Call it shoegaze, or dreampop, or goth, it’s a mix of all three.

The album’s opening track, Conception, sets the tone, a rain-drenched soundscape morphing into an insistent, cyclical hook, riffs echoing dubwise throughout the mix. The second cut, Kingmaker opens bright and ringing like mid-80s Cure, echoey guitar screams fading into white noise a la the Church. That band is echoed even more vividly on Featherform, a mix of elegant jangle and nebulous shoegaze, its clangy lines rising insistently and then blending into a lushback drop for a baroque-tinged outro. It segues into Internal with its dreaminess juxtaposed against steady bass chords, once again building into an intricate, majestically enveloping web of sound.

Language of the Waves blends the catchy, chiming bounce of late 80s bands like the Mighty Lemon Drops with more ornate sonics. Memorytraces (a free download) is the album’s best and loudest song, a swaying, catchy anthem with a terse, incisive flange guitar solo and a lush, distantly jangling outro with biting harmonic flourishes. Like many of the tracks here, it segues into the next one, Birth, with it simple, direct bass pulse, pensive anthemicness and insistently crescendoing guy/girl vocals.

Child rises out of a hazy tone poem of sorts to a breathless pace, followed by the rising and receding waves of Thought, distantly majestic slide guitar moving through the mix. Dream of the Soft is sort of a gentler take on the blend of folk and new wave that the Railway Children began their career with, a New Order-ish bass hook rising and eventually pushing everything to the side.

The bouncy Heavensent is sort ofa  hybrid of the Cure, Lush and the Coctean Twins, period-perfect wthout being cheesy or a ripoff. By contrast, the slowly atmospheric Gesture reverts to early 90s Church sonics and dramatic heft. She Breathes goes for more of a late 80s pop feel amidst the grey-sky ambience, while Birthright brings in a marching goth vibe.

Flowerspeak, with its bass hook anchoring the spacious, minimalist melody, could be the Police if they’d stuck around after Synchronicity. The album ends with Language and its contrasting high/low, light/dark textures and echoey raindroplet guitar awash in banks of reverb. It’s music to get lost in, a treat for fans of dark, pensive, rainy-day music. One thing on this album that would be good to hear more of is guitarist Ana B.’s voice: she nails the moody uncertainty of the era the band has embraced. It’s tempting to say that they’ve coldly embraced it, but that be an extreme for a band whose sense of the understated and the enigmatic is their greatest asset.

Wave Sleep Wave Puts a New Spin on an Old Sound

If it’s absolutely necessary to pin a label on what Wave Sleep Wave does, you could call it dreampop. Reduced to its essentials, it’s a shimmering, glistening, swirling, jangly, misty vortex of guitar textures over steady drums. Frontman/guitarist Jerry Adler is a one-man orchestra, slowly and methodically building a web of textures, sometimes hypnotic, often symphonically ornate, like a late 80s British version of Jon Brion. Influence-wise, there are a million bands out there who ape the catchy, simple, major-key mid-80s sound that New Order and the Cure made so popular; here, Adler reverts back to a deeper, murkier 80s sound that also offers a nod to Wire and the Cocteau Twins. He first made a mark about ten years ago leading the Blam, the catchy but edgy indie pop band that should have been as popular as the Shins but wasn’t; a little later, he took a powerfully lyrical detour into Dylanesque acoustic rock with his Flugente project. What’s most impressive about this album is that it appears to be just guitars and drums, with no bass, yet the sonics have a gyroscopic balance. Drummer Yuval Lion – Adler’s cohort in the Blam – keeps things moving along tersely and briskly, for the most part. Fans of the dreampop canon from the Cocteau Twins, to Lush, to My Bloody Valentine, to more obscure bands like Downy Mildew, are going to love this record.

It’s best appreciated as an uninterrupted whole, considering that most of the tracks segue into each other. The opening cut, Rats starts out with edgy, percussive guitar accents against a wave of drone, then leaps into a swirling chorus, then back, with a characteristically juicy yet minimalist guitar solo midway through. Interestingly, while Adler is just as adept a wordsmith as a tunesmith, lyrics take a back seat to the guitars here. “We don’t know what’s wrong, we just know what’s right,” he intones, deadpan, on the second track, Laws, methodically crescendoing with echoes of Bauhaus and Pink Floyd as the guitar orchestra grows, and grows, and grows. Images of violence and discontent recur throughout the songs: it wouldn’t be a surprise to find out that this is a parable.

The hit single here is Hey…What, with its echoey guitar hook and dancefloor beat: “The pot is boiling with unbearable heat/The crowd turns violent and gets ready to blow/They’re tired of dancing with the devil they know,” Adler announces ominously as the song builds to a Railway Children-style chorus-box interlude with a seemingly endless wash of attractive, jazzy chords. Zip It artfully embellishes a catchy two-chord riff to a bell-like chorus and then echoey, choppy waves punctuated by buzzsaw lead lines, while Like Filings to Magnets is the most minimalist track here, juxtaposing a gentle, skeletal lead against a quietly oscillating drone. They evoke the artsy side of 17 Pygmies with the slowly swaying 1001 and then a sort of blend of Gang of Four and Cocteau Twins with Standard Fare, an apprehensive, allusive, nightmarish scenario. The album closes with Tongues, setting bloody imagery over a dark, offcenter backdrop that sounds like it might be playing at halfspeed, and then the anthemic How Low, which builds tension before finally resolving with a mighty “clang” on the chorus. As far as trippy, tuneful unease goes, albums don’t get much better than this. Wave Sleep Wave plays the album release show for this one at Bowery Electric on April 17 at 8 PM.