New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: cure band

Lush Jangle and Clang and Retro 80s Spacerock From Blackout Transmission

Once in a blue moon a publicist for a band absolutely nails what they’re about. Here’s Dave Clifford on what retro 80s psychedellc group Blackout Transmission are all about: “This is not set-it-and-forget-it delay pedal rehash. Strong drums and lush guitars.” Thanks for the punchline Dave! Their jangly, atmospheric debut album Sparse Illumination is streaming at Bandcamp.

They open with a slow, echoey spacerock instrumental, Once There: it could be one of the short, vampy pieces that the Church would end an album side, or begin one with, back in the 80s. That comparison may seem like impossible hype, but this duo nail the Australian legends’ blend of lush clang and drifting textures in several tracks here. The tense, anxiously pulsing chords as the icy Heavy Circles gets underway, and the anthemic, ringing peaks and valleys of Verdant Return, in particular, are a delicious throwback to albums like Seance and Sometime Anywhere.

Since She Guided You Away is a loping Laurel Canyon psychedelic anthem through the prism of the 80s, with its layers of buzz, burn and drift, the missing link between the Church and, say, the Allah-La’s. Likewise, Tactile Responses comes across as the Cure’s Robert Smith staring at the desert sand. And the band loop a Seventeen Seconds-style riff for the most hypnotic, shoegazy number here, Pacifica.

The dancing bassline and echoey guitar trails in Portals are straight out of the Brian Jonestown Massacre playbook. The band go back to the Church again to close the record with Sleepwalking Again, Anthony Salazar’s restlessly tumbling drums and relentlesly uneasy chord changes. Lyrics and vocals don’t really figure into this music: it’s all about atmosphere, and textures, and tunes, and tight, purposeful playing from a group that also comprises bandleader/guitarist Christopher Goett, lead guitarist Adam D’Zurilla and bassist Kevin Cluppert. If that resonates and reverberates with you, fire this up and get lost.

First-Wave Punk Era Legends Wire Put Out Yet Another Timely Album

Imagine if the Clash were still going strong, still making smart, relevant records.

What if Ian Curtis had gone off his prescription for barbituates, quit drinking, got his epilepsy under control, and Joy Division were still together?

One of those two bands’ contemporaries, Wire, are still together, and even arguably better than when they were beginning to define what would come to be known as postpunk and new wave. By quirk of fate, they were also one of the last bands scheduled to play Brooklyn before the lockdown. Sadly, it doesn’t look likely that we’ll get amother American tour out of Wire this year, but they have a typically strong new album,10:20, a collection of first-class outtakes and new material  streaming at Spotify.

Their previous release, Mind Hive, was their most dystopic yet. This one is more allusive. As the album title implies, the lyrics are all about foreshadowing and the clock winding down, although the music is generally more upbeat. They open with the steady, hypnotic Boiling Boy, glistening with the group’s icy chorus-box guitars: “Lock up your house,” is the mantra as the chords change suddenly from major to minor. Bassist Graham Lewis’ subtly shifting lines pack a psychedelic wallop.

The big stadium guitar hooks that introduce the second cut, German Shepherds, seem to be a red herring (this band’s deadpan sense of humor is legendary). Likewise, the lyrics’ seemingly mundane imagery masks a grim scenario. The next track, He Knows has a slow dreampop sway and a very cool major-on-minor trick.

Underwater Experience has a lickety-split, practically hardcore punk drive: it could be an outtake from the Pink Flag sessions redone with digital production values. The Art of Persistence has eerie early 80s Cure jangle blended in with the album’s catchiest and yet most counterituitive changes – it involves a murder mystery and ends cold. Small Black Reptile also brings to mind the Cure, but in blithe mid-decade pop mode – which is almost certainly sarcastic.

Pulsing loops echo behind a seemingly easygoing post-Velvets sway in Wolf Collides. The album’s final cut is Over Their’s, marching toward the precipice and ending with a drone – or is that a flatline? Some hall-of-famers refuse to quit – and in Wire’s case, that’s a good thing.

The Ocean Blue Prove That There’s Life After Goth

“Suddenly, I feel that the world could end in a flash,” frontman David Schelzel muses early on in the opening track on the Ocean Blue‘s latest album Kings and Queens, Knaves and Thieves, streaming at Bandcamp. It could be the Smiths without the camp – hard to imagine, but just try. The point of the song echoes an old Roger Waters theme, that if we blow up the world, everybody’s equal in the end. If anything, the new record is more eclectic, more energetic and possibly even better than these veterans’ more overtly gothic, vintage 4AD-style back catalog. The Ocean Blue had an avid cult fanbase back at their late 80s/90s peak, who will no doubt come out in full force for their show at the Bell House on Feb 28 at 8:30 PM; general admission is $20.

The album’s bouncy second track, It Takes So Long could be Happy Mondays without the ditziness – how’s that for being iconoclastic with your contemporaries’ signature sounds? Love Doesn’t Make It Easy on Us has the band’s usual, watery, Cure-style guitars and contrasting synth textures, and just as much of a bounce.

Icy synths and tinkly guitar sonics echo over a steady new wave beat in All the Way Blue. Bobby Mittan’s rubberband bassline anchors Paraguay My Love, a bizarre mashup of 80s British goth and American bluegrass. F Major 7 – hey, back when this band was big, you had to actually know how to play your instrument – is a nifty, characteristically vamping little acoustic/electric instrumental, followed by the pouncingly catchy kiss-off anthem The Limit, with Scott Stouffer’s coy ska drums.

The resolutely swaying midtempo ballad Therein Lies the Problem (with My Life) could be Morrissey…or American powerpop legends Skooshny in a low-key moment. The steady, brooding nocturnal tableau 9 PM Direction is the album’s most vivid and strongest track, bringing to mind an even more legendary band, the Room.

Step into the Night blends the catchiness of the Cure at their most new-wavey and the Smiths at their most optimistic. The album ends with Frozen, a throwback to the group’s 4AD heyday. Some people will hear this and say here we go again, the damn 80s, can’t we just say goodbye for good to that awful decade, its pervasive Reagan/Thatcher fascism, cliched subcultures, beyond-ridiculous haircuts and lame synthesizers? On the other hand, for the Ocean Blue, old goths don’t die: they just find something to live for.

Blackwater Holylight: Gothic Rock Without the Cliches

Oregon band Blackwater Holylight‘s debut album was a surreal yet surprisingly effective mashup of the Cure and Black Sabbath, which makes more sense than it might seem, considering that there’s nothing more gothic than Sabbath. The all-female group’s latest release, Veils of Winter – streaming at Bandcamp – is a deeper plunge into doom metal, with occasional detours toward psychedelia and dreampop.

Bassist/frontwoman Allison “Sunny” Faris’ distant, girl-down-the-well vocals float above guitarist Mikayla Mayhew’s slow, minor-key fuzztone grimness in the album’s opening track, Seeping Secrets: they pick it up at the end, Electric Funeral style. There’s a ba-bump noir cabaret tune at the heart of the steady, more darkwave-ish Motorcycle, descending in the opposite direction.

Spiders comes across as a goth Television: the eerie quasar keys before drummer Cat Hoch’s stomp kicks in are a neat touch. Icy 80s chorus-box sonics mingle with menacing metal in The Protector, bringing to mind shapeshifting New York rockers Castle Black. Daylight is anything but, Faris’ subtle chromatics descending from the relentless, hypnotically orchestrated crush.

Death Realms has an early Lush-like grey-ocean dreampop density, while the distantly Indian-tinged Lullaby is part envelopingly opiated Black Angels and part late Beatles. The album’s final cut, Moonlit, has unexpected echoes of the Grateful Dead, a possible indication that there’s even more psychedelia in the future for a band who take a lot of well-worn ideas and make something fresh and new out of them.

A Relentless Gothic Postrock/Metal Hybrid from Alltar

Portland, Oregon’s Alltar bridge the gap between gloomy, dystopic Mogwai postrock and doom metal. Their new album Hallowed is streaming at Bandcamp. No shredding, no stoner blues, no boogie, just slow-baked, grimly swaying grey-sky vistas punctuated by the occasional upward drive. Interestingly, 80s gothic rock is a big influence along with the requisite Sabbath references.

The opening track, Horology starts out as a watery, spare chromatic bass-driven vamp and then explodes with a firestorm from guitarists Tim Burke and Colin Hill. The vocals are buried in the mix: if the dark early 80s Boston bands like Mission of Burma played metal, they would have sounded like this. Likewise, if the Cure were a metal band, they would have built War Altar as this band does here, taking a morose, drippy stalactite theme, finally making snarling doom metal out of it with a long series of distorted 6/8 guitar riffs and disembodied vocals. There’s also a sarcastic cynicism to the lyrics.

The most epic track here is Induction, opening with a clanging, bell-like, slowly syncopated art-rock sway. “Society has lost its connection to humanity, and I can’t understand why,” keyboardist/frontman Juan Carlos Caceres ponders. “If chosen, what would you say?” Drummer Nate Wright’s careful accents foreshadow grinding doom metal crush: again, It’s rare that you hear a guy behind the kit who’s as dynamic as he is here.

Hailstorm tremolo-picking and a slow, evil chromatic riff open Spoils before the relentless crush and lo-res distortion kick in, with a final rise from super-slow, to just plain slow and ceaselessly grim. The band seem to care more about vocals than most metal acts: the apocalypse seems awfully close. Four solid tracks to smoke up to and contemplate the end.

Monograms Bring Their Spot-On Gothic 80s Sound to Bushwick This Weekend

Monograms call themselves “New York’s nuke wave.” In an era when rock music has become a legacy style like bluegrass or roots reggae, this four-piece band do a great job emulating the dark side of early 80s British new wave, particularly the Cure around the time of the Pornography album. Monograms’ debut album Living Wire is streaming at Bandcamp; they’re playing the release show on Sept 21 at 9ish at the Broadway, the recently reopened former Gateway space at 1272 Broadway in Bushwick. The noisy Big Bliss play beforehand. Most of the shows at the Gateway were pass-the-hat: the venue doesn’t have a website. so it’s not clear if that’s the situation, or if there’s a cover charge. Take the J to Gates Ave. and walk back toward Williamsburg a couple of blocks.

The album opens with the opaque Buzz Choir, a swirly, dreampop-tinged take on Joy Division. The second track, Sounds Like Mean Spirit is total 80s goth, frontman Ian Jacobs’ spare, catchy, watery chorus-box guitar over Sam Bartos’ snappy, trebly bass and Rich Carrillo’s skittish 2/4 drumbeat. In the background, Michelle Feliciano’s synth quivers and oscillates.

Likewise, Don’t Fight For It is awash in grey-sky string synth and icy guitar/bass textures: it’s basically a one-chord song. The chugging dancefloor beats and washes of synth in Nose Dive are pure New Order circa 1981. Common Circles has some neat guitar/bass/synth tradeoffs, while the gloomily propulsive Century pulses with fried-plastic textures.

Garbage Can could be an especially guitarish outtake by mid-80s New Order; likewise, the final cut, Pirate Government Inc. is a denser take on early Human League (before that band got all poppy).

For the most part, lyrics and vocals don’t really figure into this band’s music: it’s all about the chilly ambience. If you have an aunt or uncle who spent time at any of the New York goth palaces like Slimelight or the Cooler back in the 90s, ask them if they have any black eyeliner you can borrow for the Bushwick gig.

Poignant, Pensive Brilliance on Jessie Kilguss’ Allusive, Eclectic, Wickedly Tuneful New Album

You’d think that someone who’d taken a star turn in stage productions with Daniel Day Lewis and Marianne Faithfull would stick with a successful theatrical career. But Jessie Kilguss was drawn to music – and that’s our victory and the theatre world’s loss. Over the past decade, she’s become one of the most haunting singers in any style of music. Her delivery is intimate, like she’s letting you in on a secret – whether that might be a sly joke, an innuendo or something far more sinister. While she’s best known as a purveyor of folk noir, her back catalog spans from witchy art-rock to anthemic janglerock to Richard and Linda Thompson-esque, Britfolk-influenced stylings.

Her new album The Fastness – streaming at Spotify – is not about velocity. It’s about refuge. The title is a North Sea term for a secluded hideaway: a place to hold fast. That sheltering theme resonates mightily through a mix of imagistic, often poignant songs blending elements of 60s soul, 80s goth, new wave and art-rock. And Kilguss’ voice has never soared more mightily or murmured more mordantly than here on this album. She and her first-class band are playing the album release show this Thursday, June 28 at 8:30 PM at the downstairs third stage at the Rockwood; cover is $10.

With Kirk Schoenherr’s contrasting layers of guitar – icy and Siouxsie-esque in the left channel, watery and organ-timbred in the right – the album’s opening track The Master is an elegaic masterpiece. In usual Kilguss fashion, it’s enigmatic to the extreme. “Who will be the oracle when he is gone?” is the final refrain. A Bernie Sanders parable, maybe, or a more ancient, mythological reference? 

Kilguss follows that with Spain, a guardedly optimistic if understatedly brooding update on 60s soul balladry, spiced with guitar grit over the calmly swaying pulse of John Kengla’s bass and Rob Heath’s drums. Strangers comes across as a wistful mashup of Guided By Voices and Blondie, while Dark Corners of Your Mind follows a hypnotically vamping, psychedelic path, akin to the Frank Flight Band with a woman out front. Kengla’s bass dances amid the sheets of rainy-day guitars as Kilguss ponders the danger of being subsumed by the demands of a relationship.

New Start is a surreal, unlikely mashup of classic 60s C&W and echoey new wave, but Kilguss manages to make it work, all the way through one of the album’s catchiest choruses, awash in the waves from her harmonium. Hell Creek – a co-write with Kengla – is one of the murder ballads she writes so well. With its lingering atmospherics, Kilguss references current-day atomization and how its ramifications can do far more damage than just playing tricks with your mind.

Likewise, Rainy Night in Copenhagen has aptly echoey, Cure-like ambience. Bridge the Divide is the monster anthem here, an eerily propulsive Laurel Canyon psychedelic verse giving way to soaring new wave on the chorus.

What Is It You Want From Me is the closest thing here to Kilguss’ purist pop masterpiece Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, from her 2014 album Devastate Me. She winds up this cycle with with the metaphorically-loaded Edge of Something, an easy place to fall off one way or another. Another triumph for one of the most unselfconsciously brilliant tunesmiths to emerge from this city in recent years and a strong contender for best rock record of 2018.

Lingering, Catchy Retro 80s Psychedelia from Annie Girl & the Flight

Before you consider San Francisco psychedelic new wave band Annie Girl & the Flight‘s new ep, Pilot Electric, hit their video page for The Devil, an incendiary, explosive, Thalia Zedek-esque mini-epic with a long, completely unhinged solo by lead guitarist Josh Pollock. That’s considerably more raw and feral than the stuff on the album (which is on Spotify, although mysteriously a Google search doesn’t reveal that), and it’s hard to think of anything more enticing to bring people out to see them live. They’re coming through town for a couple of shows, on May 21 at 9:30 at Shea Stadium in Bushwick and then early the next evening, May 22 at 6 PM at the small room at the Rockwood.

Their frontwoman sings in a dreamy, sometimes cooing high soprano over a lush backdrop with shimmery cymbals and lingering layers of guitar with a little wry wah action on the album’s tersely catchy first track, Fire Escape. When it picks up, the dreampop ambience remains.

The second track, The Forge vamps out a midtempo, nonchalantly swaying, hypnotic hook straight ouf of the Cure circa 17 Seconds; as the layers of guitar mingle and soar, they might distract you from the fact that it’s a one-chord jam all the way through. The title cut is similar, a little slower, alternating between resonant jangle and gritty wind-turbine washes as the rhythm steadies itself. With its blend of clang and swirl, the final cut, Summit evokes an early psychedelic ballad by the Church as it shifts between suspense and majesty. It’s a prime example of this band’s fondness for building a towering atmosphere around a very simple, memorable hook.

Trippy, Quirky Icelandic Rock from Mum

It’s tempting to say something like, “Oh, those crazy Icelanders, with their funny fractured English, one minute they’re all about weird sound effects, the next they’re doing all this somber gazing-at-the-ocean ambient stuff.” Obviously, that’s a stereotype and it’s true less often than not. But Icelandic band Mum’s new album Smilewound is a lot like that. The album title is as enigmatic as the music often is- is “wound” a noun or a verb? It could go either way, through the group’s icily trippy blend of quirky chamber pop and trip-hop.

Radiohead is the obvious influence, but where Radiohead uses electronics for the sake of menace, Mum sprinkle them throughout their songs with a grin. Some of these songs sound like Tom Tom Club with more modern toys; others evoke chamber pop bands like Edison Woods, but with more of a techy feel. “We’re all toothwheels in the mouth machine,” one of the women in the band announces in the first song, a trip-hop number anchored on the low end by bass synth, pizzicato strings dancing overhead. By contrast, Underwater Snow builds from simple, resonant, minimalist piano chords to a surreal blend of C&W balladry, trip-hop and chamber pop, with some droll, bubbly Baba O’Reilly synth thrown in toward the end.

When Girls Collide builds from a mechanical dancefloor thud to a more anthemic dreampop swirl; likewise, Slow Down juxtaposes lushness against minimalism, dreamy vocals against a steady trip-hop pulse. Candlestick starts out like a video game theme and then introduces a series of truly bizarre electronic percussion effects, like a 21st century Spike Jones. Then they bring hints of menace back with One Smile and its music-box theme. Then Eternity Is the Wait Between Breaths takes the music box theme and weird faux gamelan percussion in a more surrealistically comedic direction.

The Colorful Stabwound sounds like mid-80s Cure (the darker side of that band, anyway) taken ten years forward in time with coy female vocals. Sweet Impressions evokes Clare & the Reasons with its lively, whimsical tempo shifts and enigmatic lyrics: “screaming through a grassy meadow” ??? Likewise, Time to Scream and Shout isn’t exactly what the title suggests: it’s a lullaby (and possibly a reference to the disastrous Wall Street-engineered run on the nation’s currency back in 2008). The album ends with Whistle (with Kylie), more of a straight-up pop song than anything else here, with an attractively lush, baroque-tinged string outro. Sometimes funny, sometimes pensive and always psychedelic, the album gives your mind plenty of places to drift to.

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.