New York Music Daily

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Tag: dark rock

Karla Rose & the Thorns Bring Their Inscrutable Film Noir-Inspired Menace to the Rockwood This Thursday

Why do we go see bands? To hang with our friends? For an excuse to tie one on? Maybe to transcend whatever trouble this century’s ongoing depression has sent us. If there are clouds ahead, and clouds behind, as Karla Rose sings in her signature song, Time Well Spent, her band will drive those clouds away, at least as long as the torchy, magnetic singer/guitarist is onstage. Karla Rose & the Thorns are the kind of act that you walk away from glad to be alive, firing on all cylinders, the roar of the guitars, slinkiness of the bass, misterioso groove of the drums and Rose’s hauntingly lyrical vocals still playing in your head. They’re bringing Rose’s signature blend of menacing, film noir-inspired torch song, jaunty new wave and offhandedly savage psychedelia to a headline slot at midnight this Thursday, April 14 at the big room at the Rockwood. The even louder, hard-charging, more Americana-influenced Marco with Love play the album release show for their new one beforehand at 11.

Rose did a stint fronting Morricone Youth, so it’s no surprise that there’s a cinematic influence in her music, although she’s developed a sound all her own. Her band is relatively new: starting about last July, she pulled this semi-rotating cast of players together. Right now, the one constant is the sometimes elegant, sometimes thrashing interweave between Rose’s Telecaster and lead guitarist Dylan Charles’ hollowbody Gibson. They played a tantalizingly brief show last November at the Mercury that landed on this blog’s Best New York Concerts of 2015 list, but looking back, their gig at Berlin a month beforehand might have been even better.

It definitely was louder. As you might expect from someone who writes lyrics that are usually pretty dark but can also be extremely funny, Rose typically zings the crowd with one-liners in between songs. This was not one of those shows. Fronting this group, Rose tends to be pretty inscrutable, but she was clearly out of sorts, maybe because she’d just spilled vodka all over her butt. “Very sanitary,” she joked, but otherwise she took out whatever was troubling her on her instrument. It was rewarding to hear that jangle, and clang, and eventually the unrestrained ferocity blasting from her amp while Charles made his way up the fretboard, chopping at the strings with an unhinged attack that made Dick Dale look like a wimp by comparison.

The best song of the night was a new one, Battery Park. Rose opened it solo, flinging her chords out over a slithery altered bolero groove, with a deliciously Lynchian, unexpectectedly minor-to-major change before the first verse kicked in. This is how Rose works at the top of her game: in the middle of this creepily allusive narrative, inspired by American Pycho, there’s subtle political subtext and also a hilarious double entendre that looks back to hokum blues. The joke is too good to give away. Charles eventually took the song out with a machete-through-the-underbrush solo.

The rest of the set wasn’t quite as feral but just as intense. The angst-fueled chromatics of Girl Next Door – which has a surrealistic, Twilight Zone-esque video, directed by Peter Azen – contrasted with the achingly sultry Sunday hangover sceneario alluded to in the bouncy new wave of Drive, as well as the serpentine, seething Time Well Spent, which seems on the surface to be a murder mystery but is actually a thinly veiled, exasperated account of trying to stay sane in gentrification-era Manhattan. Rose has a new album in the works, which, if this show is any indication, is a lock for best of 2016.

Rose also has impeccable taste as an impresario. This time out she decided to book the Paul Collins Beat to headline the show, and the “king of powerpop” lived up to his regal status as hookmeister and guitarslinger. And by the end of the night, Rose seemed to have her mojo back and was down front, dancing. You could do the same at the Rockwood this Thursday.

A Fond Look Back at a Brooklyn Show by Noir Chanteuse Gemma Ray

It’s hard to fathom that Gemma Ray hasn’t played a New York show since a tantalizingly brief, luridly delicious set at Rough Trade about a year and a half ago during Colossal Musical Joke week. While it would be understandable if CMJ turned her off to this city, the now Berlin-based noir chanteuse/guitarist was originally scheduled to make an auspicious return this April 9 at the new Owl in Lefferts Gardens. Unfortunately, that gig has been cancelled. Stepping in to fill the slot is none other than Patti Smith’s lead guitarist and powerpop mastermind Lenny Kaye. Botanica pianist/frontman Paul Wallfisch is booking the venue that night, and the rest of this week with some of the best acts from his deep address book, both from playing and booking artists at his long-running Small Beast night at the Delancey a few years back – one of the very few genuinely essential weekly rock events this city’s ever produced.

The grim, overcast, rainy atmosphere outside the venue set the tone for Ray’s set that September day. Inside on the high stage, backed by just a drummer, the black-clad, leather-jacketed, raven-haired singer brought down the lights and turned the venue into a sonic Twin Peaks set, opening with a mutedly percussive ghoulabilly number. Ray has a very distinctive, terse guitar style, flinging bits and pieces of chords in between strums, not wasting a note – Randi Russo comes to mind. Ray also had fun teasing the crowd by leaving her loop pedal going in between songs, a red herring of a segue machine.

Ray’s vocals rose from an icepick alto to a wounded upper register on the shuffling, staggering noir blues The Right Thing Did Me Wrong. She brought things down low with a skeletally creepy 6/8 soul ballad, adding a nonchalantly chilling guitar solo full of murderous passing tones midway through. Ray and her drummer swayed their way through the doomed, starlit, Lynchian number after that, her reverb turned up all the way. The two then made a return to shuffling, anguishedly bluesy terrain with There Must Be More Than This, Ray punctuating it with a series of tremoloing, gutpunch chords midway through. Then she fingerpicked her way through the folk noir gloom of If You Want to Rock and Roll. She closed with a cantering, low-key take of the Gun Club’s Ghost on the Highway, a slow, elegaic dirge and then a more direct, guitar-fueled number that was part Spector pop, part Julee Cruise. Ray has a new album in the works, and hopefully a return engagement here some time after that.

In the meantime, if noir is your thing, New York’s state-of-the-art noir band, Karla Rose & the Thorns are at the big room at the Rockwood on April 14 at midnight.

Fable Cry Draw the Crowd in Saturday Night on the Lower East

There’s a big crowd gathered toward the back of the room at Fat Baby on Rivington Street Saturday night. “You can get closer, you know,’” Fable Cry frontman/guitarist Zach Ferrin tells them. “But maybe you might not want to,” he adds with a hint of a sinister smile. Then he and a four-piece edition of the Nashville circus rock outfit – Jo Cleary on violin, Scott Fernandez on twelve-string bass and Rachel Gerlach on drums – launch into the lickety-split noir cabaret shuffle Onion Grin. Zach tells the crowd that this particular number is about getting too cozy for safety’s sake.

Fable Cry’s songs cover topics like making Frankenstein babies, and the kind of things that happen when somebody forgets to lock the gate at the mechanical monster park. Symbolism or just bizarre, creepy storytelling? Whichever – the band kicks ass. Ferrin fires off phantasmagorical flourishes when he’s not vamping out on a suspenseful two-chord minor-key groove while Cleary mashes up Romany and bluegrass licks. He’s got the eyeblack, the Halloween pirate getup; she’s more demure in overall cutoffs and black stockings. Both go out into the audience with their respective axes and get in everybody’s face. Funny thing is that the more they do it, the more people gravitate down front: they want to get in on the action.

Speaking of axes, Fernandez’s is huge. It’s about half the size of a harp and must weigh a ton, but he’s a big guy and it doesn’t seem to phase him. And instead of Chapman Stick-ing it and playing a million notes where one would do, he sticks to the groove and adds slinky leads on the middle strings when the guitar and violin are fluttering ominously and vamping out. Gerlach swings hard and she can play a mean Texas shuffle, but when the music gets darkest that seems where she likes it best: it wouldn’t be a surprise if she had a background in artsy metal.

Three of their songs tonight have a rapidfire, surrealistic hip-hop edge to the lyrics: Ferrin rips through them before they have a chance to settle in. The Train Song is the bluegrass/circus rock mashup; The Zoo of No Return is the missing-monsters-run-amok scenario. From Myth to Moon has a little Celtic edge; if memory serves right, they either close or come close to closing with the catchy Fancy Dancing, one of the numbers with a touch of hip-hop. Technical difficulties onstage on the part of the club limit the band to just a tad over half an hour onstage; it would have been fun to see what they could have done with a longer set.

The Legendary Shack Shakers Bring Their Expertly Menacing Party to the Bell House

The Legendary Shack Shakers are at the peak of their long career in creepy, sometimes macabre, cynical Americana party music. Frontman JD Wilkes has never sounded more in command of the dark side of every roots rock style ever invented: ghoulabilly, southwestern gothic, garage rock, punk and blues. They’re one of the few bands alive who can match the offhandedly savage minor-key intensity of Australian legends Radio Birdman. a band they often resemble. They’ve been hitting New York regularly over the last couple of years; their next gig is a headline slot at the Bell House on April 7. Raucous southern roots/jamgrass/honkytonk band the Pine Hill Haints open the night at 9; $15 advance tix, available at the venue box office, are your best bet.

The Shack Shakers’ latest album is The Southern Surreal, out from Jello Biafra’s label, Altenative Tentacles and streaming at Spotify. The first track, Mud, is a scampering, banjo-driven ghoulgrass shuffle. Its funniest number is Misamerica. 60s noir garage as Stiv Bators would have done it circa 1979, or Radio Birdman at three-quarter speed. “Bloody lipstick all over her teeth…the queen of idiocracy…from the party line to the tv screen,” Wilkes intones.

Cold, a loping gothic cowboy ballad, wouldn’t be out of place in the Mark Sinnis catalog; then guitarist Rod Hamdallah fires off a Birdman riff as the chorus kicks in. Gloomy lyrics soar over snarling Stonesy guitars on The One That Got Away, which looks back to a classic Grateful Dead anthem. Let the Dead Bury the Dead blends tongue-in-cheek noir cabaret and punked out Tex-Mex, while Young Heart, Old Soul represents the lighter side of the band, a carefree, stomping ska number, like the Slackers with distorted guitars

Fool’s Tooth, a brief blues vamp with honking harmonica sets things up for Down to the Bone, a southern psych-soul vamp. They really mix things up here: Christ Almighty, a lickety-split update on the Yardbirds or early Pretty Things, gets followed by Demon Rum, a snidely nonchalant honkytonk piano number.

Buzzard & the Bell, by drummer Chris Whitacre, makes a creepy shuffle out of a 1920s style Greek gangster tune, like Greek Judas in English. The album closes with a similarly menacing, slinky take of the Albert King blues classic Born Under a Bad Sign. The tracks are punctuated by fragmentary, sardonic samples including a really grisly roadkill story.

Their 2003 album Cockadoodledont also got a welcome reissue recently and is up at Spotify as well. Its first track, Pinetree Boogie is dirtier than the Yardbirds but tighter than, say, Knoxville Girls. The swamp-rock CB Song offers a darker take on a silly novelty genre. Help Me From My Brain spices frantic World Inferno circus-rock with eerie Romany and Balkan riffs

Shakerag Holler welds a slyly shuffling oldtimey blues to a split-second detour into hardcore punk. Hunkerdown bounces along on a familiar Doors riff, while Clodhopper goes in a sardonic jug band direction. Bullfrog Blues mashes up Radio Birdman and an Otis Rush classic, with more of that honking blues harp.

Blood on the Bluegrass foreshadows punkgrass bands like the Devil Makes Three. Devil’s Night Auction is your basic rockabilly dressed up in a flickering Halloween costume. Wild Wild Lover offers a nod to the haphazard shuffles of the early Gun Club, while the cover of Slim Harpo’s ShakeYour Hips improves on than the Stones version, although it’s not as feral as Randi Russo’s. The album winds up with the punkabilly Hoptown Jailbreak It’s good to see this back in print: you will probably get some of both albums and a lot more in Gowanus on the 7th.

Murder Ballad Mondays Makes a Mean Return to Fort Greene on the 21st

A monthly residency is a sneaky way to keep your fanbase coming out without stating the obvious, that they could always blow off your show this month and catch you next time around. After all, who can keep track of when the third Thursday of the month is going to fall, other than the band playing that night?

A lot of touring artists use small New York venues as an anchor when they’re here – or as a rehearsal room, basically. Barbes is home base to many of the elite among them, most notably Big Lazy (first Friday of the month at 10) and Rachelle Garniez (first Thursday at 8). There are also a trio of good acts using Sidewalk to keep themselves sharp: guitarist Lenny Molotov’s bitingly lyrical original oldtime swing band the Fascinators (first Saturday at 8), Mac McCarty‘s careening folk noir Kidd Twist Band (first Saturday at 9) and the darkly eclectic, avant garde-inclined Lorraine Leckie (third Friday at 11, including tonight the 18th).

This blog’s favorite monthly residency is Murder Ballad Mondays at Branded Saloon. Like Paul Wallfisch‘s late, lamented Small Beast at the Delancey, it’s blogbait. Any lazy blogger can save himself or herself four or five separate nights out and catch several of the best acts in town all on the same bill on an off night that doesn’t conflict with anything. And it’s become a hit with the local Fort Greene contingent.

Last month’s was a prime example: with cold rain pelting the slush outside, torchy noir singer Ellia Bisker and her guitarslinging Charming Disaster conspirator Jeff Morris packed the place and treated folks to a deliciously lowlit, lurid evening. They used to treat the crowd to at least a short set, but lately they’ve been teasing everybody with just a song or two. This time out their contributions were a slinky version of a shadowy, swing-infused new number with some hilarious rhyme schemes as well as Murderer, Charming Disaster’s signature song of sorts, a coldly wary, subtle cautionary tale reminding that the perfect crime has no witnesses.

Jessi Robertson set the bar high right off the bat. Hauntingly resonant, deeply soul-infused vocals fused with lead guitarist Rony Corcos’ similarly lingering, bluesy lead lines and elegantly jangly phrasing. Part of Robertson’s appeal is that her big crescendos sometimes seem triumphant and celebratory when they’re actually venomous, and their first song was a prime example. They also made their way through the bristling underbrush of a folk noir number and closed with a fiery PJ Harvey cover.

Liz Tormes, this city’s leading exponent of murder ballads, brought the ambience down to a blue-flame intensity, mining the catalogs of Peter Rowan and Bill Monroe, her own calmly and murderously alluring repertoire and closed with a stark Elizabethan suicide song. Former Snow frontwoman Hilary Downes sang a calmly brooding version of the Townes Van Zant classic Pancho & Lefty. And Mudville – singer/keyboardist Marilyn Carino and brilliant bassist Ben Rubin – kept the simmeringly ominous ambience going with noir cabaret takes on the Misfits and Tom Waits as well as an even more allusively venomous original.

That’s what makes Murder Ballad Mondays so interesting – it’s taking the concept of songs about killing people far beyond the time-honored Britfolk/Appalachian tradition. The more you know about music, the more you realize just how much we have in common: no matter the culture, people around the world just love to kill each other. And then write about it. This coming Murder Ballad Monday on March 21 starts at 8 sharp and features Charming Disaster, Elisa Flynn – whose rapturously haunting voice is matched by her historically-informed, erudite tunesmithing – and others TBA who will probably be just as good.

Beninghove’s Hangmen and Big Lazy in Brooklyn: Noir Music Heaven

Considering that we’re only in March, it’s hardly safe to say that the twinbill coming up this Monday the 14th at around 9 at Manhattan Inn, with Beninghove’s Hangmen and Big Lazy, is the best one of the year. The April 15, 10 PM doublebill of Desert Flower and Lorraine Leckie & Her Demons, at Sidewalk, of all places, looks awfully good. And there will be others. But as far as dark and blackly amusing sounds are concerned, it doesn’t get any better than Monday’s lineup in Greenpoint.

Big Lazy’s set last Friday night at Barbes was surprisingly quirky. Gallows humor, and funny quotes from other songs are familiar tropes for the noir cinematic trio, but frontman/guitarist Steve Ulrich was having an especially good time with them: Mission Impossible, My Funny Valentine, Caravan – which Ulrich has covered murderously well in the past – and a whole bunch of others. And a trio of creepy cover tunes: Girl, by the Beatles, a stabbing version of an Astor Piazzolla tango and an absolutely lurid take of John Barry’s You Only Live Twice, with a savagely tremolo-picked solo midway through.

It was kind of a weird night, if a good one. The crowd wasn’t the usual mobscene that this band draws. Out front at the bar, it looked like the prom bus from Jersey or somewhere in Alabama had just disembarked. Scarier than Big Lazy’s originals – even Park Slope isn’t safe from yuppie puppy zombie apocalypse anymore. But in back, people were dancing in an oasis of reverb guitar and pitchblende basslines.

This Monday’s opening act, Beninghove’s Hangmen work the same turf: raindrenched wee hours crime jazz tableaux and more overtly humorous interludes. Like Ulrich, frontman/multi-saxophonist Bryan Beninghove gets a lot of film work, so his instrumentals can shift shape from, say, blithe to brutal in a split second and the segue doesn’t seem the least bit jarring. Case in point: the title track to their deliciously creepy upcoming album, Pineapples & Ashtrays.

And they’re more of a jamband than Big Lazy. While a lot of their material can be grim, and ghoulish, and sometimes downright morose, they can also be hilarious. The best example is Zohove, their instrumental album of Led Zep covers, streaming at Spotify.. Zep’s music can be awfully funny by itself, and Beninghove’s reimaginings are even funnier.

On the opening track, Kashmir, Rick Parker’s elephantine trombone snorts and Beninghove’s spectacularly swirling soprano sax lines over the stomp behind it elevate it to Vesuvius heights. Heavy new wave rhythm from drummer Kevin Shea (of another even funnier band, Mostly Other People Do the Killing) and bassist Ezra Gale (of dub reggae crew Super Hi-Fi, who are also hardly strangers to funny songs) might be the last thing you might expect to work in a cover of Misty Mountain Hop, but it does. And the guitar is trippy behond belief: Eyal Maoz’s droll Spinal Tap bends over Dane Johnson’s Jabba the Hut Space Lounge electro-breakdown.

What Is and What Never Should Be is a droll mashup of quotes:You Can’t Just Get What You Want, ad infinitum. Likewise, the album’s title track, a sort of a greatest-riffs collection, cleverly disassembled in the same vein as what you find in how-to books like “Play Guitar in the Style of Tony Iommi.”

The group’s version of Immigrant Song substitutes Bennghove’s sax and Parker’s trombone for Robert Plant’s bleat – and it’s priceless. A shivery twin guitar solo decays toward the noir the band’s known for, over dancing bass to match Beninghove’s bluesy tenor spirals

It’s amazing how they reinvent D’yer Maker as uneasy, metrically tricky noir ska, and then an Afrobeat epic, And the Specials quote at the end is LMFAO too. The album ends with a slinking, incendiary take of When the Levee Breaks fueled by blue-flame slide guitar worthy of Jimmy Page himself. It’s the one place on the album where the band actually seems to take the material seriously, and it might be the best track of all. Get this and get a roomful of Zep fans laughing their collective asses off. Beninghove’s Hangmen usually play at least one Zep cover at most of their shows, so we’re likely to get some of this buffoonery Monday night in Brooklyn.

Tom Shaner Brings His Darkly Purist, Eclectically Expert Tunesmithing to Bowery Electric Tonight

Tom Shaner personifies the veteran New York cult artist. With his cool, inscrutable vocal delivery, he’s fluent in all sorts of styles, from dusky southwestern gothic, to rockabilly, to psychedelia and brooding Tom Waits-ish saloon blues. His late 90s-early zeros band Industrial Tepee wowed the critics, blew the Dave Matthews band off the stage while opening for them and held down a Manhattan residency at Manitoba’s for awhile. After that, Shaner went solo and had a monthly Saturday night residency at Lakeside Lounge for several years. Since then, his hometown live shows have been more infrequent, although he continues to make great albums and funny videos. He’s got an epic new one, I Hate to See Your Spirit Fade – streaming at Spotify -and a show at 8 PM tonight, March 5 at Bowery Electric. Cover is $10.

The production and arrangements are intricate and purist. Shaner weaves layers of electric and acoustic guitars, piano and organ, accordion, upright and electric bass, and subtle drums into an imaginative, purist mesh, vocals up front, drums in the back, oldschool style. The album opens with the vividly desolate, desperate border-rock anthem Viva Las Nowhere, adrift in tinkly saloon piano, mariachi guitar and accordion:

We can’t stay here, riding the wild rapids of our tears…
It’s the wrong kind of silence here
Like everybody wants to disappear

“If you like your honey on the edge of knife,” Shaner asserts, New York City Is Paradise Number 2, a soberingly edgy minor-key strut that doesn’t shy away from the fact that most of this town is in crushing poverty. By contrast, the warmly catchy ballad Tide of Love reminds of Richard Thompson, with its delicate web of fingerpicked guitars.

Much as a lot of Shaner’s music is pretty dark, he can also be hilarious. Case in point: Vanessa the Vegan Murderess, a cruelly tongue-in-cheek, vaudevillian tale of a real killjoy of a killer. Likewise, When the Machine Tells You No takes a random computer crisis and makes galloping, full-throttle southwestern gothic rock out of it.

The album’s longest and most haunting track is the swaying, trippily nocturnal Lake 48, tracing a pilgrimage to a paradise which might turn out to be something else entirely. The title track brings to mind the Grateful Dead or Asylum Street Spankers in briskly shuffling mode, livened with terse pedal steel. Shaner edges toward aphoristically bluesy Waits territory with the haphazardly swinging, bitingly minor-key When the Devil Comes Calling, then revisits that rakish vibe with the wry Soldier of Sin and then Rock and Roll Is a Natural Thing.

True Love Is Hard Work, featuring Emmy Bean on harmony vocals, is part Orbison, part Byrds and part Buddy Holly. Wandering Heart also looks back to that era, but with more of a sadly glimmering Lynchian C&W edge. New Rebel Girl takes an unexpectedly harrowing detour into dub reggae, a portrait of womens’ struggle to survive under repressive Asian regimes.

There’s also the hazy, Meddle-era Pink Floyd-tinged psych-folk waltz Last Summer, the similarly laid-back Lazy Man and;the jaunty I Can’t Be the One. Seventeen tracks and no filler, one of the best albums to come over the transom here in the past year. And Shaner’s even more acerbic onstage than he is on record.

Film Noir Instrumentalists Big Lazy and Italian Singer Julia Patinella Haunt the Crowd at Barbes

As the story goes, Julia Patinella‘s first live appearance at Barbes lasted for about two bars.worth of music “But what two bars!” said Big Lazy frontman/guitarist Steve Ulrich, as he introduced the singer early in the band’s set there last month. The two first met in the wee hours there. She’d done what a lot of musicians do when it’s past midnight and the bands are finished: she broke out her guitar and took a stab at entertaining her friends with a couple of Italian folk songs, completely unplugged.

Uh uh. Like a lot of venues, Barbes has a strict curfew on music, and they enforce it. But unlike the bartender who did the enforcing, Ulrich was entranced. Being a devotee of Italian music and heavily influenced by both Nino Rota and Ennio Morricone, Ulrich asked Patinella if she’d sing with the band. The result turned out to be a couple of hauntingly affecting, nocturnally lilting numbers, the first with Romany tinges, the second a playful commentary on how women deserve just as much fun in the sack as guys do, complete with sardonically low-key orgasmic vocalese. And as comfortable as she was with this material, maybe considering her Sicilian heritage, this was something of a departure for her since she’s focused mostly on flamenco lately. Years from now, when Patinella is playing big stages around the globe, she can tell the world that she was discovered by Big Lazy.

For their part, the iconic noir instrumental trio hung back with a moody jangle to match Patinella’s nuance. Their own material was just as dynamic, and considerably darker, as you would expect from this creepy crew. Their show on New Year’s Day here featured a lot of highway themes and big-sky ambience: this set was a particularly murderous one. Bassist Andrew Hall used his bow more than usual, painting pitchblend swaths underneath Ulrich’s lurid chromatics, lingering blues phrases drenched in reverb, and the occasional savage flurry of tremolo-picking. It’s a mystery how this guy manages not to break strings.

Mystery was the theme for the rest of the show, part horror surf, part crime jazz, part shapeshifting cinematic sweep. Drummer Yuval Lion seemed more amped than usual as the band stabbed and pulsed through a cover of Piazzolla’s Pulsacion #5, then later the surrealistic sprint Princess Nicotine – a new theme for an old silent short from the 20s. Otherwise, the menace was relentless, through the slinky shadows of Don’t Cross Myrtle, Swampesque and one of the creepiest songs of the night, Influenza, which Ulrich wryly pondered about renaming. If dark sounds are your thing, Big Lazy are your band. Their monthly Friday night Barbes residency continues this Friday, March 4 at 10. T’hey’re also at Manhattan Inn in Greenpoint on March 14 at around 9 on what might be the years’s best twinbill, with similarly macabre, surfy, shapeshifting soundtrack instrumentalists Beninghove’s Hangmen.

Raquel Vidal & the Monday Men Bring Their Jangly Paisley Underground Noir to the Upper West

“This song is about not questioning things,” Raquel Vidal explained to the crowd as she took the stage last Friday night at Desmond’s. “Too many people do that.”

Then the darkly cinematic songwriter and her band the Monday Men – David Hollander on lead guitar, Seth Masten on bass and Todd Guidice on drums – launched into a sarcastically jangling, minor-key paisley underground groove. “Can’t cook a meal so I hired a chef,” Vidal intoned in her deadpan alto, Hollander spiraling through an all-too-brief solo. Although her main axe is keyboards, Vidal is also a strong rhythm guitarist, playing up in the mix with an incisive, reverbtoned clang.

Next on the bill was the brooding, Lynchian, bolero-flavored Leather Trunk, a showcase for Vidal’s cool, distantly menacing vocals and a casually bloodcurdling solo from Hollander. It wouldn’t have been out of place in the Bliss Blood catalog. From there they went to a steady backbeat while the band kept the ominous mood going through Black Cat, Hollander building a vintage 60s Chicago blues lounge ambience with his simmering riffage.

The dusky, propulsively shuffling murder ballad after that brought to mind both Eilen Jewell and Steve Wynn, especially when Hollander cut loose again, thisclose to unhinged, keeping the suspense at redline with his steady volleys of chromatics and blues licks. Then the band swung and pounced through a grimly oldtime gospel-flavored number sung by Guidice.

Vidal took over the mic again, voicing a bittersweet optimism, a tribute to the late bloomers among us, as the guitars built from uneasily lingering. clave-driven ambience to a fiery crescendo. Then Guidice sang Put the Hammer Down, its portrait of somebody close to the edge contrasting with a warmly twangy, C&W-tinged backdrop. They closed with the Stonesy, fearlessly political Be the Change That You Wanna Become, an apt choice for the Bernie Sanders era.

Raquel Vidal & the Monday Men hail from the Hudson Valley but play here frequently. It’s too bad that Lakeside Lounge is gone, since they would have fit right in there. Their next gig is Friday night, March 4 at 11 PM at the West End Lounge, 855 West End Ave just south of 102nd. The venue’s webpage leaves it a mystery as to whether there’s a cover or not.

A Tortured Lyrical Masterpiece and a Friday Night Album Release Show by Jagged Leaves

Back in 2004, hauntingly lyrical punk/metal group the Larval Organs were one of New York’s hottest bands. They’d just released their second brilliant ep and frontman Dan Penta – who seemed to change his stage name every month or so – was at the top of his unhinged game as avatar for a million alienated, tortured souls. Then the band’s lead guitarist moved away. After that, they played a few shows and then pretty much disintegrated. Since that time, Penta has become more and more elusive a presence here but has remained one of the world’s most criminally underappreciated songwriters. No one mines the darkest corners of the human psyche with more insight, and gallows humor, and surrealistic expertise.

After the Larval Organs, he led an austerely elegant chamber pop unit called Hearth, when he wasn’t playing solo as Cockroach Bernstein or collaborating with his wife Erin Regan, who shares an avid cult following for her similarly brilliant, troubled songs. Happily, Penta has a new band, Jagged Leaves, and a new album, Nightmare Afternoon – streaming online – sort of a greatest hits collection from the past fifteen years or so. In a real stroke of serendipity, it reprises all but one of the tracks from that long out-of-print Larval Organs ep, although the best one, Mansion of Your Skull, is conspicuously absent. The band play the album release show on a rare good twinbill at Sidewalk on February 26 at around 9:30. Darkly gritty guitarist/singer Mallory Feuer’s power trio, the Grasping Straws, open the night beforehand at around 8:30.

Penta’s voice has deepened over the years, but he still basically just puts it out there, a caterwauling assault that draws a line straight back to grunge – expect honesty rather than polish here. The music here is acoustic-electric, a synthesis of pretty much everywhere he’s been. The album’s opening track is Low and Wet, Penta’s steady strums over a lush bed of strings; Regan’s high harmonies add subtlety and poignancy. They bring in a tremoloing funeral organ on the second chorus, setting the stage for the rest of the record.

City Parks, with its stark cello and Americana tinges, works familiar terrain: solitude and despondency in an urban milieu akin to “Grey skin like the hue of rotting meat that is cooking itself in the heat of its disease…I know that love is not some sort of prize, and that I am all alone on this ride…”

“Pack the ornaments and unstring the lights, we’ll be hanging ourselves from the tree tonight.” Penta wails in the broodingly waltzing Moth in the Sand – formerly titled Ziploc Torso. The cynicism is crushing in Sewn in the Seam, built around a Shoah metaphor: “In this winter holocaust, we warm ourselves around a burning cross…” The careening, horn-spiced Wizard Gardenia takes its title from a brand of air freshener:

With a Bible belt he stole her grace
That a rusted truckbed won’t erase
But drives the witches out of town
And they won’t come back to the judge’s crown…
If I never woke up for a thousand years
Would you still be blowing those Pyrex tears?

The centerpiece here is John Brown’s Grave. It’s one of the most harrowing rock songs ever written, end of story. The organ looms ominously under Penta’s drugged-out despondency

I want to break myself into my room
Pretend the lighting fixture is the moon
Pretend that we are not sketched on a page…
So let’s sleep late and drive all night
Into the diffused grey light
The pain inside, the scorching heat
I’m on the outside and I’ve been beat
And we go on to John Brown’s Grave
I’ve got a heartache the size of a Great Lake
She’s so faraway
I’m on the outside either way.

Fueled by a searing slide guitar hook, Devil Come Madness, the final Larval Organs track here, opens with twisted images of a psych ward:

In the padded room where I was born
With a million thorns to a black-eyed boy
From a cotton amnion with a cheap vinyl lining
How could I compete with the ancient gloom?
The choir shrieks, “Motherfucker, shoot!”
I did
They locked me up for being crazy

Images of disease, drunken sickness and sorcery gone awry flit through Never Been Born, the most Nirvana-influenced track here. The reverb guitar bounce of Home thinly masks Penta’s usual cynicism,. He shifts the hopeless wish-I’d-never-been-born point of view to an only slightly depressed fling from younger days over the hypnotic ambience of Powderkeg. And they reinvent the stomping Larval Organs tune Calm Me Down Penta intoning his grisly images over a Jesus & Mary Chain-style fuzztone waltz. The final cut, Death Is a Charm seems to be a stab at something approaching optimism. Much as the idea of a single best album of the year isn’t meant to imply that there’s any kind of competition between artists, or that there should be, there hasn’t been any collection of songs this good released this year. While it’s still early in the year, it looks like this is the cult classic of 2016. For Penta, it’s about time.

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