New York Music Daily

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Tag: dark rock

Mark Sinnis Brings His Gloomy Honkytonk Songs Back to His Old East Village Haunts

One consequence of the brain drain continuing to pour out of this city’s five boroughs is that in order to see some of the best musicians who’ve been priced out by the real estate bubble, you have to go where they are. So it was good to be able to catch longtime downtown NYC presence and charismatic Nashville gothic crooner Mark Sinnis playing a marathon gig at the refreshingly laid-back Mohansic Grill & Lounge in Yorktown Heights, up in Westchester, back in November. The show was like one of those old-fashioned tent revival style C&W extravaganzas from the 1950s, except with just one band, serenading an enthusiastic Saturday night crowd for well over two hours. Sinnis and his group 825 return to his old East Village stomping grounds, upstairs at 2A at 10 PM on Feb 15 as part of impresario/bandleader/genius guitarist Tom Clark‘s weekly Sunday American shindig.

The Yorktown Heights gig was on the back porch of a restaurant overlooking a golf course, not such a strange place to see a band up that way as it might seem. And the band was tremendous. Lead guitarist James “Smokey Chipotle” Brown locked in on some classic honkytonk harmonies with pedal steel player Brian Aspinwall when the two weren’t involved in high-voltage musical banter. Other times, Aspinwall would anchor the sound with high lonesome washes and wails as Senor Chipotle spun from wry hillbilly boogie licks, to eerie David Lynch twang, to chicken-scratch Johnny Cash rhythm or ringing, clanging Bakersfield riffage. Bassist John Goldberg held the rig to the road as drummer Michael Lillard kept the wheels spinning with every classic country shuffle beat ever invented, trumpeter Lee Compton adding both mariachi flair and a mournful, funereal New Orleans touch, often in tandem with a bluesy harmonica player who was new to the band.

Sinnis delivered the songs in his brooding baritone. Much as this band can hold their own with any other classic honkytonk crew out there, what distinguishes his Nashville gothic from, say, Nick Cave, or Roy Orbison, is that he really lets the band cut loose: several of the numbers went on for a solid six or seven minutes, with plenty of time for solos from pretty much everybody in the group. His lyrics mine a classic Americana vernacular full of doom and dread: funeral trains emerging into the dawn, ill-fated relationships, ghosts and faded memories of fleetingly good times now gone forever. And love affairs gone straight to hell, taking shape via slow, opiated dirges, bitter shuffle grooves or grimly romping numbers like one of the centerpieces of the early set, Mistaken for Love.

Many of the night’s hardest-hitting numbers – the angst-fueled funeral train anthem Cold Night in December, the booze-drenched Wine and Whiskey and the Devil Makes Three, and It’s Been a Long Cold Hard Lonely Winter – appear on his latest album with this band. Some of the unexpectedly quieter material, strangely enough, was taken from his extensive back catalog with dark art-rock band Ninth House, a unit Sinnis has fronted since the late 90s and has pulled deeper and deeper into Americana in recent years. He also brought out a couple of excellent new songs, one a brooding, manic-depressive bolero, another a morose honkytonk breakup ballad. All this gives you an idea of what to expect this Sunday: classic ideas and riffs updated for the here and now, with an unending gloom. Tom Clark’s Sunday nights at 2A draw a decent crowd and an A-list of NYC Americana talent – Amy Allison played a rare full-band show with LA cult favorite Don Heffington there last week, for example – but deserve an even wider audience and a better night than they have. Sinnis and 825 ought to bring it this Sunday.

This Saturday, January 24: A Great Night for Noir

This Saturday night, Jan 24 is a good one for noir music. At 7 PM LJ Murphy and his band the Accomplices are slumming at Sidewalk, bringing the nattily dressed, charismatic songwriter’s menacing urban narratives to life over careening, darkly bluesy rock. Then at 10 Big Lazy, New York’s preeminent noir instrumentalists for the past couple of decades, are headlining at Barbes. What’s the likelihood of being able to see two band this good on the same evening? Nights like this are why we live in New York. This blog’s covering both shows. No need to sign up or meet up or anything, just come along for the ride.

Big Lazy’s latest album, Don’t Cross Myrtle (a cautionary deep-Brooklyn reference) was ranked best album of 2014 here: it’s an absolute masterpiece of noir. Bandleader/guitarist Stephen Ulrich hit a high point with his soundtrack to the documentary film Art & Craft last year, then kept going with this one. At the album release show late in the year at the Manderley Bar in the Sleep No More building in Chelsea, the band was a little low in the mix, something that won’t be a problem at Barbes. But they didn’t let it phase them, turning in a performance that matched the haunted mood they created in the studio. Bassist Andrew Hall (who also happens to be first chair bass in the Greenwich Village Orchestra) opened the stygian waltz Swampesque with pitchblende bowing before Ulrich entered with a wash of shivery, ultraviolet reverb. Deep in its black heart, the song’s a blues, a twisted, monstrous one.

Drummer Yuval Lion kicked off the frantic Just Plain Scared, a big crowd-pleaser from right around the turn of the century, with a suspensefully tense gallop until Ulrich came in with his lingering, ominous phrasing, part downtown jazz skronk, part Bernard Herrmann. Then Hall took a verse and took it even further into the depths before Ulrich wrenched the band onto the express track for a harrowing ride to the end of the line. In much the same vein as Marc Ribot‘s noir soundtrack pieces, the band built Black Sheep out of a seemingly innocuous phrase of the utmost simplicity, then took it on a stroll through uneasily pastoral, Bill Frisell-ish territory.

They staggered through the tricky tempos of Avenue X, a shadowy, chromatically menacing original that Ulrich took his time with, finally reaching for the rafters with some hacksaw tremolo-picking. He went off on a more digressive, rather sardonic tangent on the loping highway theme The Low Way, then led the band through the mysterious improvabilly of Night Must Fall with his clusterbombing, reverb-drenched attack.

Charlie Giordano of Bruce Springsteen’s band guested on accordion on a plaintively swirling take of Unswerving, a slowly swaying lament. Baritone saxophonist Peter Hess – of Slavic Soul Party, and a frequent Big Lazy collaborator – joined them on the sepulchrally dubby Bring Me the Head of Lee Marvin. Then the band’s original drummer Willie Martinez took a turn on creepy congas on the new album’s opening track, Minor Problem. They closed with arguably the most menacing, slowly stalking number of the night, Skinless Boneless, followed by the Link Wray-tinged Human Sacrifice. It’ll be interesting to see who they might pull out of the woodwork for a guest appearance at the Barbes show – last time here it was Mamie Minch, putting a twisted spin on Patsy Cline.

Karla Moheno Brings Her Literate Noir Menace to the Mercury

If Karla Moheno‘s most recent show at the big room at the Rockwood was any indication, she’s going to turn the Mercury Lounge into a Twin Peaks set this January 22 at 10 PM.

Moheno personifies noir. The opium mist and airconditioned chill in her alto voice channels a lurid menace that never lifts. At the Rockwood, right from the opening bars of the first song, Silver Bucket, the band – Dylan Charles on guitar, Dan Parra on bass and Greg Wieczorek on drums – teamed with her to keep the red-neon ambience simmering. That song, on Moheno’s brilliant new album, Gone to Town, clangs along with a dirty, vintage Gun Club swamp blues feel. This time out, the band gave it a lurking, nocturnal Smokestack Lightning groove until Charles launched into a screaming, lurching solo before returning back to earth with Moheno’s lilting “Ride the night to here” refrain.

The high point of the night came early with an especially menacing take of Time Well Spent, a little more vigorous than the bluesy dirge on the album. It’s a mystery story to match any creepy narrative set to music in the last few years, an allusive, ambiguous account of two killers on the run. Moheno makes it clear that she’s willing to dispose of her conspirator the minute she gets the chance: “I just can’t let it slide,” she intoned with a knowing swoop upward, eyes closed, gently swinging her Telecaster back and forth. Likewise, she put a little more playful innuendo into a slightly amped up version of the sultry oldschool soul ballad Blacked Out and Blue, Charles jaggedly reaching for the rafters again.

Interestingly, they took The Return, a vicious and deliciously swinging kiss-off song on record, down to an almost Weimar blues pulse that rose and fell over Wieczorek’s rimshot beat. “Carry me up the stairs/I’ll make believe someone cares,” she purred on the quietly murderous Mexico, a swaying 6/8 ballad set in a sleazy bordertown where everyone is on the take. And she reinvented Girl Next Door, a blackly blithe escape anthem, as a morose soul tune that Charles used as a springboard for a Marc Ribot-style axe-murderer solo.

Moheno also did a couple of older, more rock-oriented songs: Drive, which would have made a good upbeat track on Neko Case’s Blacklisted album, and Stand Back, a lingering, bucolic ballad. She closed the set with a gently pulsing, deadpan cover of the Velvets’ Femme Fatale, which had all the right touches, the guys in the band doing spot-on harmonies on the backing vocals. But Moheno also left room to believe that she wasn’t just being self-effacingly funny. Much as she joked and bantered with the crowd between songs, the extent to which she was being unserious was never clear. Go to the Mercury and decide for yourself.

The 50 Best Albums of 2014

Of the hundreds of thousands of albums released every year, maybe ten percent of them are worth hearing. That’s about twenty-five thousand albums, possibly a lot more – it’s harder to keep track of the numbers than it was in the previous century. A very ambitious blogger can hear bits and pieces of maybe twenty percent of that total. That’s the triage.

A very, very ambitious blogger can hear, at best, maybe ten percent of that small sample, all the way through, at least enough to get the gist of what those few hundred albums are about. So consider this list – and the Best Songs of 2014 and the Best NYC Concerts of 2014 lists here – a celebration of good music released in 2014 or thereabouts rather than anything definitive. Links to listen to each album are included: whenever possible, the link is to an ad-free site like Bandcamp or Soundcloud rather than Spotify. So bookmark this page and come back to enjoy what you might have missed.

Every few years, there’s one album that stands out above all the rest, which transcends genre. This year, that was Big Lazy‘s Don’t Cross Myrtle, a creepy collection of reverb-drenched, Lynchian songs without words and desolate highway themes. Even by the standards of frontman/guitarist Stephen Ulrich’s previous work for film, tv and with this band, he’s never written with more delectable menace. Stream the album via Spotify.

Before the rest of the list kicks in, there are two ringers here from a couple years ago: Great Plains gothic tunesmith Ember Schrag‘s The Sewing Room, a quiet, allusive, disarmingly intense masterpiece (at Bandcamp), and a considerably more ornate and more chromatically-charged release, Philadelphia-based Turkish art-rockers Barakka‘s Uzaklardan (at Reverbnation). Both albums came over the transom too late to be included in the 2012 list here, but each of them is a real gem.

Beyond the choice of Big Lazy as #1, there’s no numerical ranking on this list. For fairness’ sake, the remainder of the fifty are listed in more-or-less chronological order as they first received attention here, without taking release dates into consideration. So the albums at the end aren’t the ass end of the list – they just happened to have been reviewed here at the end of the year. To be clear, the Ministry of Wolves, the last act on this list, are every bit as enjoyable as creepy surf band the Reigning Monarchs, who lead the rest of the parade:

The Reigning Monarchs – Black Sweater Massacre
Marauding crime-surf instrumentals from an unlikely cast of 90s powerpop types. Stream the album via the band’s page

Curtis Eller – How to Make It in Hollywood
Wickedly literate, historically rich, pun-infused and unexpectedly rocking Americana from the charismatic roots music banjoist. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Karla Moheno - Gone to Town
Nobody writes more intriguing noir musical narratives than this inscrutable chanteuse. If Big Lazy hadn’t put out their album this past year, this one would be at the top of the pile with a bullet. Stream the album via Soundcloud

Marissa Nadler - July
Arguably her best album, the atmospheric folk noir chanteuse and storyteller’s lushly enveloping adventure in Pink Floyd-style art-rock. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Marianne Dissard – The Cat. Not Me
A stormy, brilliantly twisted, angst-fueled, epically orchestrated art-rock album by the French southwestern gothic avatar and Sergio Mendoza collaborator. Stream the album via Spotify

Aram Bajakian – There Were Flowers Also in Hell
Darkly blues-inspired, characteristically eclectic, moody instrumentals by the last great lead guitarist from Lou Reed’s Band. Stream the album via Spotify

Rosanne Cash – The River & the Thread
A pensive southern gothic travelogue set to terse Americana rock, arguably as good as Cash’s iconic Black Cadillac album from a few years ago. Stream the album via Spotify

Laura Cantrell – No Way There from Here
The lyrically strongest and most musically diverse album yet by this era’s most compelling voice in classic country music. Stream the album via Spotify

The New Mendicants – Into the Lime
A janglefest of gorgeous Britfolk-infused powerpop from Joe Pernice of the Pernice Brothers, Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake and the Sadies’ Mike Belistky. Stream the album via Spotify

Siach HaSadeh – Song of the Grasses
Slowly unwinding, raptly intense improvisations on classic Jewish cantorial and folk themes from over the centuries. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Son of Skooshny – Mid Century Modern
Mark Breyer achieved cult status in the 90s with powerpop vets Skooshny and continues to write biting, lyrically rich, beautifully jangly songs. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Isle of Klezbos – Live from Brooklyn
A deliriously fun concert recording by the mostly-female, pioneering New York klezmer whirlwind. Stream the album via Bandcamp

New Electric Ride – Balloon Age
Period-perfect, fantastic mid-60s style psychedelic rock in a Dukes of Stratosphear or Love Camp 7 vein. Stream the album via Bandcamp

The Baseball Project – 3rd
Catchy, characteristically insightful powerpop, paisley underground and janglerock from Steve Wynn and Peter Buck’s supergroup, rich in diamond lore from across the decades. Stream the album via Spotify

Ichka – Podorozh
Meaning “journey” in Russian. the new album by the Montreal klezmer group blazes through bristling chromatic themes. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Jaro Milko & the Cubalkanics – Cigarros Explosivos
The Firewater lead guitarist’s adventure in psychedelic cumbias comes across as a sort of a Balkan version of Chicha Libre. Stream the album via Bandcamp 

Bad Buka -Through the Night
A harder-rocking, more theatrical take on Gogol Bordello-style Slavic punk from these New York guys and girls. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Gord Downie, the Sadies & the Conquering Sun
Ominously jangly southwestern gothic and paisley underground rock from the Canadian Americana band and the Tragically Hip frontman. Stream the album via the band’s page

Cheetah Chrome – Solo
It took practically twenty years for this searing, intense album by the punk-era guitar icon to see the light of day, but the wait was worth it. Stream the album via Spotify

Andrew Bird – Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of
The cult favorite Americana songwriter plunders the catalog of another similarly literate, frequently creepy Americana act, the Handsome Family, for an insightful and lyrically rich collection of covers. Stream the album via Soundcloud

Guided by Voices - Cool Planet
If the last of the final four albums from the indie powerpop band’s marathon of recording over the last two years is really their swan song, they went out with a bang. Stream the album via Spotify

Golem – Tanz
A wickedly hilarious, blistering mix of edgy punk rock, crazed circus rock and straight-up hotshot klezmer. Stream the album via Spotify

Matt Kanelos – Love Hello
Pensive, allusively lyrical Radiohead-influenced psychedelia and art-rock from the popular NYC jazz and rock keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Spottiswoode - English Dream
Purist, richly arranged, artsy janglerock with psychedelic and Britfolk tinges from the cult favorite lyrical songwriter and bandleader. Stream the album via Bandcamp

The Skull Practitioners – ST1
Searing, pummeling, catchy noiserock and riff-driven jams from Steve Wynn lead guitarist Jason Victor’s explosive trio. Stream the album via Bandcamp

HUMANWINE - Fighting Naked
Creepy, menacing, chromatically-fueled narratives from an all-too-plausible, Orwellian nightmare future from the politically spot-on Vermont band. Stream the album via Bandcamp – free download

Amanda Thorpe - Bewitching Me: The Lyrics of Yip Harburg
The riveting Britfolk chanteuse reinvents songs by the Tin Pan Alley figure as noir-inflected janglerock, backed by a stellar NYC band. Stream the album via Spotify

Changing Modes - The Paradox of Traveling Light
Frontwoman/multi-instrumentalist Wendy Griffiths’ band’s most ornate, intricately crafted art-rock masterpiece, with the occasional departure into punk or powerpop. Stream the album via Soundcloud

The Bakersfield Breakers - In the Studio with the Bakersfield Breakers
These New York surf and twang instrumentalists put their own kick-ass spin on a classic Telecaster-driven sound from the early 60s. Stream the album via Bandcamp

The Sometime Boys - Riverbed
One of the most distinctively unique bands on this list, they blend newgrass, country blues, funky rock and Nashville gothic into a spicy, anthemically psychedelic, lyrically intense blend. Stream the album via the band’s page 

The Immigrant Union - Anyway
The Australian band – a Dandy Warhols spinoff – craft deliciously catchy Rickenbacker guitar janglerock. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Bombay Rickey – Cinefonia
The year’s best debut album is by spectacular, intense singer/accordionist Kamala Samkaram’s ornate, intricate, surfy Bollywood-inspired art-rock band. Stream the album via Bandcamp 

Hannah Thiem – Brym
Lush, moody, Middle Eastern and Nordic-inspired violin grooves and cinematic soundscapes from Copal‘s dynamic frontwoman/composer. Stream the album via Soundcloud 

The Larch – In Transit
Characteristically urbane, insightfully lyrical, Costello-esque powerpop with searing lead guitar from the highly regarded New York quartet. Stream the album via Bandcamp

The OBNIIIs - Third Time to Harm
The twin guitar-driven Austin garage punks are probably the closest thing we have to Radio Birdman these days. They released two albums this past year, one a sizzling live set, and this studio release which is more psychedelic and every bit as volcanic. Stream the album via Spotify

The Wytches – Annabel Dream Reader
Arguably the darkest album on this list, this harrowing collection mines the desperation of living at the fringes of society, set to scorching, reverb-drenched noir rock. Stream the album via Spotify.

Lorraine Leckie & Her Demons – Rebel Devil Devil Rebel
The Canadian gothic chanteuse returns to her fiery, electric Neil Young-influenced roots with this stampeding effort, driven by guitar great Hugh Pool’s ferocious attack. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Ward White – Ward White Is the Matador
The most intricately literate of all the albums on this list. Nobody writes more intriguing, or menacing, rock narratives than this New York tunesmith. And he’s never rocked harder, either. Stream the album via Bandcamp 

Jessie Kilguss - Devastate Me
The title is apt – the NYC folk noir singer/bandleader offers a quietly shattering. impeccably crafted collection of Nashville gothic and paisley underground rock. Stream the album via Spotify

Mesiko - Solar Door
One of the most tunefully eclectic albums on the list, the debut by Norden Bombsight’s David Marshall and Rachael Bell with all-star drummer Ray Rizzo has postpunk, paisley underground, psychedelia and kinetic powerpop, sometimes all in the same song. Stream the album via Bandcamp

O’Death - Out of Hands We Go
A characteristically careening, ominous mix of Nashville gothic, oldtimey, circus rock and noir cabaret from these Americana individualists. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Chuck Prophet – Night Surfer
One of the great lead guitarists in rock, Prophet is also a great tunesmith who spans from psychedelia to janglerock to Americana and powerpop. Stream the album via Spotify

Wounded Buffalo Theory – A Painting of Plans
The New York art-rockers have never sounded more focused, or more intense on this richly ornate, psychedelic collection. Stream the album via the band’s page, free download

Mark Rogers & Mary Byrne – I Line My Days Along Your Weight
A brooding, plaintive and vividly lyrical folk noir masterpiece, Byrne’s tersely evocative lyrics and luminous vocals over a darkly magical web of acoustic textures. Stream the album via Spotify

Jessi Robertson – I Came From the War
Combat is a metaphor for all sorts of angst on the riveting soul and Americana-influenced singer/bandleader’s intricate, atmospheric latest release. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Metropolitan Klezmer – Mazel Means Good Luck
An especially wild live album by this deliciously shapeshifting, latin and reggae-influenced New York Jewish music juggernaut. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Matt Ulery - In the Ivory
The jazz bassist’s lush, rippling compositions blend soaring neoromantic themes, edgy improvisation, cinematic instrumental narratives and frequently haunting interludes. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Jenifer Jackson – TX Sunrise
One of the most diverse songwriters here, she’s done everything from Beatlesque bossa pop to psychedelia to Nashville gothic. This is her deepest and most rewarding dive into Americana, comprising both classic C&W and southwestern gothic. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Mark Sinnis – It’s Been a Long Cold Hard Lonely Winter
A death-obsessed hard honkytonk album from powerful baritone crooner and leader of cult favorite dark rockers Ninth House. Stream the album via Spotify

The Brooklyn What - Minor Problems
The best short album of 2014 has explosive, dynamic guitar duels, a catchy anthemic sensibility, psychedelic intensity and edgy, sarcastic wit. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Robin Aigner – Con Tender
Historically rich, period-perfect, sultry and often hilariously lyrical tunesmithing equally informed by stark southern folk music, vintage blues and oldtimey swing jazz. Stream the album via Bandcamp, free download

The Ministry of Wolves - Happily Ever After
The second album of creepily theatrical art-rock songs based on Grimm’s Fairy Tales by the all-star band of Botanica‘s Paul Wallfisch, Alexander Hacke and Danielle de Picciotto from Crime & the City Solution and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds co-founder Mick Harvey. Stream the album via Spotify 

If you’re wondering why there’s hardly anything in the way of jazz or classical music here, that stuff is more likely to be found at this blog’s older sister blog, Lucid Culture.

A Darkly Entrancing New Album and a Shea Stadium Show from Opal Onyx

Opal Onyx sound like Portishead with a much better singer and more organic, imaginative, atmospheric production values. Frontwoman/guitarist Sarah Nowicki varies her approach depending on the song: her voice can be acerbic and biting, or misty and dreamy, or bloodcurdlingly direct. Matthew Robinson adds texture and terse tunefulness on cello, lapsteel and keys, while Heidi Sabertooth’s electronics enhance the otherwordly ambience. Rich Digregorio plays drums and Cedar Appfell joins on bass on the more propulsive numbers. While some of the tracks on their new album Delta Sands – streaming at Bandcamp – sway along on a trip-hop groove, others are more nebulous and minimalistic. It’s pretty dark music, and much of it you can get seriously lost in. They’re playing Shea Stadium in Bushwick on Dec 9 at 10ish, door charge TBA.

The opening diptych, Black & Crimson could easily pass for a song from the Portishead Roseland album, Nowicki’s eerie chromatics rising high over a staggered, loopy backdrop; then it hits a straight-ahead trip-hop sway. Personal is a big anthem:  the band takes elegantly fingerpicked electric and acoustic guitar tracks and loops them while swirling textures filter through the mix behind them, Noveller style. Likewise, Evaun makes stadium rock out of a darkly bluesy vamp – but keeps a tense, cinematic pulse going, quiet drums way back in the mix with the atmospherics.

Iron Age begins with a minimalist insistence, like Randi Russo as produced by Daniel Lanois, maybe – the music calms, but the menace persists as the echoing vortex grows thicker. Both Fruit of Her Loins and The Devil blend bluesy minimalism and eerie, chromatically-charged cinematics, Nowicki’s impassioned vocals sailing over the murk behind them.

Desperate also evokes orchestrated Portishead, but with cumulo-nimbus Pink Floyd sonics. Arrows Wing begins as folk noir before the rippling keys and atmospheric washes take it even further into the shadows. The album winds up with the stark Bright Red Canyons – just Nowicki’s acoustic guitar and vocals – and then the woundedly echoing title track. Fans of artsy acts as diverse as St. Vincent and My Brightest Diamond will love this.

A Scorching New Rock Record and an Album Release Show at the Mercury by Lorraine Leckie & Her Demons

Lorraine Leckie is one of New York’s most eclectic and prolific songwriters. Her previous album Rudely Interrupted, a collaboration with legendary/notorious social critic Anthony Haden-Guest, was an elegant blend of chamber pop. The one before that, Martini Eyes, was an acoustic album. In the meantime, Leckie has been dividing her time onstage between the chamber pop and the ferocious electric rock of Her Demons, the name she’s bestowed on her group with lead guitar monster Hugh Pool, bassist Charles Dechants and drummer Paul Triff. And they’ve got a new album – one of the final projects to be recorded at the legendary Excello Recording, at least in the studio’s original Williamsburg space – titled Rebel Devil Devil Rebel. Leckie and the band are playing the album release show on Nov 13, appropriately enough, at 8 PM at the Mercury. Leckie’s longtime tourmate Kelley Swindall, who alternates between oldschool talking blues, murder ballads and pensive acoustic Americana, opens the night with her band at 7; advance tix are $10.

The creepy video for the album’s first single, Watch Your Step (that’s actress Celina Leroy in the role of the doomed girl) is over at No Depression. Leckie digs in with her vocals for a surprising amount of grit behind Pool’s snarling, resonant lines. The title track, a joyous shout-out to New Orleans and its temptations, is even more bristling, Pool channeling Hendrix when he’s not veering between Stones roar and classic Neil Young & Crazy Horse. Likewise, Always Got a Song blends Texas shuffle blues, 60s psych and vintage CBGB-era gutter rock.

Leckie wrote the uneasy Laurel Canyon ripper Paint the Towns Red while marching against the Iraq war during the peak of the past decade’s protests. Come A Dancin’, which shifts between Nashville gothic and psychedelic menace,  has quite the backstory: Leckie had a dream about a film titled Blood and Sand, starring Tyrone Power and Rita Hayworth. The following day, she went to the video store and, on a lark, asked the clerk if such a movie existed. Not only did the film actually exist – Leckie, who’d had no idea that there was any such thing, rented it and discovered that it’s about a woman who seduces men with her guitar!

The ominously lingering Beware, with its distant early Alice Cooper vibe, was inspired by friends lost to drug overdoses. Leckie switches from guitar to piano on the lithely dancing, string-infused Blink Blink, which she was inspired to write by her late dog Killjoy: “‘The dog would go sit in the yard for hours and stare like she was saying goodbye to the world,” Leckie explains. And the delicate Fly Away Little Sparrow is a dedication to her late brother, a suicide.

By contrast, Rainbow has a jaunty, glam-infused feel, like Warren Zevon on mushrooms. There’s also a much harder-rocking, eerily psychedelic take of the serial killer tale The Everywhere Man, which originally appeared on the Rudely Interrupted album. It’s another triumph for Leckie and her bleak yet resiliently individualistic vision. The new album’s not out yet but will be at all the usual spots in the next couple of weeks along with the rest of her darkly intense catalog.

The Wytches Burn Their Way Through New York

It’s a good week to see dark rock bands from out of town. Umpteen acts may reach for a menacing vibe, but British trio the Wytches actually nail theirs. The punk-inspired, dead-end desperation in frontman/guitarist Kristian Bell’s voice is so raw that it at least sounds like the real thing. And their narratives are all the more believable for being free of any kind of goth/ghoul cliche. They’ve got a savagely brilliant new album, Annabel Dream Reader – streaming at Spotify - and a clusterfuck of CMJ shows coming up. If assaultively doomy punk, horror surf or Lynchian sounds in general are your thing, you’ve got six chances to see this band in the next few days. Tomorrow, Oct 22 they’ll be at Glasslands at 9; on Oct 23 at Rough Trade at 3 in the afternoon and then at Baby’s All Right at 11 at night. They return to Baby’s All Right at one in the afternoon on Oct 24, then they’ll be at that free show at the Knitting Factory at four the same day (beware because the rsvp means you’ll get spammed). But you won’t have to get spammed in order to catch them when they return to Rough Trade at 7 on Oct 25.

The album’s opening track, Digsaw builds out of a squalling intro to an horror surf-tinged verse and then a screaming chorus over bassist Daniel Rumsey’s growling, trebly lines: you can hear some Jesus & Mary Chain, and Stranglers, and maybe Coffin Daggers, but more stripped-down than any of those acts.Wide at Midnight follows a creepy, Lynchian wammy-bar sway dripping with reverb; then the band makes horror surf out of a familiar Ventures theme.

Gravedweller is the best song here, a macabre zombie scenario with a reverb-tank menace that brings to mind Wooden Indian Burial Ground. Fragile Male for Sale blends the wet, poisonous reverb-tank echo with darkly distorted 60s psych riffage, while Burn out the Bruise has a snidely echoing sway until its desperate, screaming chorus kicks in.

“She shines a light from side to side, in my eyes it reflects from the corner,” frontman/guitarist Kristian Bell intones as the growly Transylvanian gothic anthem Wire Frame Mattress gets underway – and then the band makes surf rock out of it. Beehive Queen hits a slashingly sarcastic, slightly skronk-infused spaghetti western gallop, then they bring it down with Weights and Ties, a slow waltz with a little vintage PiL cached in its amped-up wee-hours Lynchian ambience.

The disarmingly catchy Part Time Model paints a disquieting tableau of what might be a S&M brothel – or the set of a snuff film, punctuated by the occasional muted gunshot burst from Bell’s reverb tank. The album’s longest track, Summer Again, another waltz, is all the more crushing for offering a hint of hope.

Robe for Juda builds a catchy garage rock tune out of a wicked chromatic riff and then hits an explosive, metalish crescendo. Crying Clown blends Orbison noir with an unhinged, doomed tableau straight out of the Doctors of Madness catalog. The album ends with a brief folk noir ballad simply titled Track 13. In a year that’s seen amazing albums by Karla Moheno and Marissa Nadler, and with Big Lazy‘s haunting new one still not out yet, this might be the best of them all. Miss these guys at your peril.

A Haunting New Album and a Rockwood Show from Mark Rogers & Mary Byrne

Mark Rogers & Mary Byrne‘s haunting, plaintively lyrical debut album I Line My Days Along Your Weight is a masterpiece of folk noir, one of the best releases of 2014. They’re playing the album release show on Oct 14 at 6 (six) PM at the small room at the Rockwood and one of the reasons why they’re doing it that so soon after work is that you’ll probably be hungry by 7. So they’ll have pizza at the little bar next door, just to the north, where reduced drink specials are also promised. But don’t go for dinner, go for the music. Their recent impromptu show uptown at the American Folk Art Museum turned out to be one of the most enjoyably intense sets witnessed by this blog in recent months.

The two make a good and rather striking pair. Byrne is wiry and determined, with a thousand-yard stare. Rogers is big, rugged and fixated on taking his formidable guitar chops to a new level. Neither are newcomers. She cut her teeth in hypnotic, lo-fi Atlanta band Hot Young Priest, while he was part of the core of brilliant southwestern gothic band Myssouri. Their new album – recorded more-or-less live to analog tape and streaming at Athens music blog Flagpole Magazine – opens pensively with the evocatively brooding First Fall Nights. Byrne’s voice has a distinctive, unselfconsciously down-to-earth quality reminiscent of Paula Carino and this is a prime example.

Hospital keeps the grey-sky atmosphere going, a lush intertwine of fingerpicked guitars underpinning the menace implicit in Byrne’s narrative, Rogers adding one of his signature terse, rustically blues-infused resonator guitar solos. And he plays biting, catchy hooks on a hundred-year-old mandolin on When Your Elders Are Tall, something of a more hypnotic take on the Handsome Family.

With its moodily vamping minimalist ambience, A Racing Heart brings to mind Randi Russo, Rogers capping it off with a glimmering Middle Eastern-tinged solo. The even more hypnotic Green Gold Violet paints a wounded late-afternoon tableau, Rogers’ luminous dobro paired against Byrne’s tensely fingerpicked stroll. “Put a sticky there – honey,” Byrne reminds as the absolutely chilling, metaphorically searing A Gracious Host gets going: this remembrance has serious baggage.

Walk With Me pairs mandolin with more of that hypnotic, circular acoustic guitar. Cold Spring has a briskly scampering bluegrass shuffle groove: “I wanna go more north with you , where it’s more serious…where children run from dangers, only then when the wolves howl,” Byrne suggests. And then Rogers channels George Harrison.

With its torrents of doomed imagery, Sirens Call paints a haunting, indelible outer-borough New York nocturnal scenario: with Byrne’s nimble fingerpicking, it wouldn’t be out of place in the Linda Draper songbook. Rogers and Byrne revisit that milieu with the album’s closing cut, Sing a Fare Thee Well, the mandolin adding a surreal Macedonian edge. Play this with the lights out, late at night and discover two people who share your precarious world.

Briana Layon & the Boys Bring Their Menacing, Heavy Intensity to Arlene’s

Briana Layon’s bio at her web page compares her to both the Runaways’ Cherie Currie and Jinx Dawson of Coven, which is ok for starters, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The trouble with the current crop of women with big voices – and Layon has an epic one – is that so many of them are American Idol-ing it, all show, no substance, one watered-down gospel riff after another. Or even worse, they do the dorky SING-song-EY her-KY-jer-KY up-AND-down Tourette’s thing that spewed out from emo into the dogshit pile of Disney autotune pop. Briana Layon doesn’t go for that – it seems she’d rather be her own person. Which is why she’s not on American Idol. Briana Layon & the Boys, her smart, ferocious, blues and metal-infused heavy rock band, have a killer album, Touch and Go streaming at Bandcamp and a show at 7 PM on August 20 at Arlene’s for $5.

What’s coolest about the album is that a lot of these songs are long, with plenty of room for Layon to hit a bitter, gale-force wail and hang there, or for brilliant lead guitarist Chris DiBerardino to scorch the earth with a deep arsenal of stylistic assaults. The opening track is All Yours, a catchy three-minute bluesmetal tune, Layon bringing to mind two other distinctive, charismatic frontwomen, Spanking Charlene‘s Charlene McPherson and then Ann Wilson of Heart, rising to a searing wail at the end. The title track has DiBerardino delivering vamping, clustering early 70s riffage with a hint of funk and some cool, evilly chromatic Buck Dharma glissandos.

Pistolero could be a standout track from the first couple of AC/DC records, bassist Josh Castellano’s chords lurking at the bottom with solid drummer Vlad Hancu, who trades off with DiBerardino on the chorus. Teach Me is unexpectedly subtle, DiBerardino channeling Keith Richards with his catchy chords on the verse and then going to an Angus Young growl on the chorus, Castellano delivering a rare snappy bass solo that doesn’t suck.

Cut My Man opens with an icy, watery lead over a sketchy, muted riff, Layon joining in the ominous ambience and then rising toward murderous rage, airing out her wounded low range and in the process channeling the Sometime Boys‘ Sarah Mucho. They take it out as a waltzing danse macabre – this is just plain awesome, one of the best songs of the year.

Playing Dead is a menacingly elegant noir soul ballad in the Clairy Browne vein, Layon rising from an aptly ghostly purr to a roaring peak. Rope blends sludgy Spanking Charlene-style punk and fuzzy early 70s style metal riffage – ironically, it’s as close to “R&B” as Layon gets here. Sticky Wicket (meaning tight spot, a term taken from cricket, the British empire’s ancestor to baseball) is the closest thing to funkmetal here, DiBerardino capping it off with a gritty wah solo.

Castellano’s pitchblende Geezer Butler lines anchor a sweet, vintage Iron Maiden-style hook on Vanagloria – it would make a good three-minute-thirty track from Number of the Beast. Tell Me I’m Good blends jaunty flamencoesque flourishes from DiBerardino, a dancing pulse from the bass and Layon channeling her usual luridness.

Dear Friend starts out as a 6/8 soul ballad with organ lurking in the background, Layon putting a teens update on pensive Vera Beren-style theatrics – her shivery, low-key outro is just as chilling as her fullscale wail. The album peaks out with Looks Like Rain, which is not the Grateful Dead song but an eerily atmospheric art-metal piece that if you listen very closely sounds suspiciously like it might have had another life as a trip-hop pop song. It’s amazing what a tricky time signature and a great band can do for a tune.

Intensely Fun Summer Concerts by Nicole Atkins and the Universal Thump

Nicole Atkins and her “band of Daves,’ as she put it – on lead guitar, electric piano and organ, bass and drums – played a soaringly eclectic, richly tuneful set to kick off this year’s outdoor concert series at Madison Square Park. What was most striking about the concert was the welcome absence of the cheesy keyboard textures that gunk up some otherwise excellent songs on Atkins’ latest album, Slow Phaser. Aside from a diversion into that on a swaying, funky tune early in the set, her keyboardist stuck to fluid organ fills and elegantly glimmering electric piano.

They opened with the new album’s first song, Who Killed the Moonlight, putting more emphasis on lingering, uneasy atmospherics than the disco bounce of the studio version. The bassist gave it a slinky groove as the lead player added terse, red-neon, noirish fills and bends. Atkins’ wounded outsider presence on the sardonic Cool People provided an edge that transcended all the purloined Beatles and Lou Reed licks. Atkins reaffirmed why she has such a devoted fan base, showing off a spectacular vocal range that she varied from low and apprehensive to some spine-tingling flights to the upper registers, adding subtle blues and soul tinges and then some grit at the end as her voice began to go ragged after all that exertion.

She and the band maintained the intensity with the organ-fueled ba-bump noir cabaret tune Gasoline Bride and its creepy slowdown at the end, then the slow, angst-fueled Vera Beren-esque 6/8 ballad The Way It Is, part darkly Orbisonesque Americana, part gothic art-rock. Atkins took that to a peak with the wickedly catchy Maybe Tonight, an anguished blue-eyed Motown hit as towering as anything Gary Usher wrote for Gary Puckett back in the 60s.

Girl You Look Amazing, another tune that’s pretty straight-up disco on the new album, took on extra bite with a more straight-ahead beat underneath Atkins’ sarcastic dig at a would-be pickup artist. Interestingly, they gave We Wait Too Long a swooshy, misterioso groove, in contrast to the album’s more direct, regret-laden version.

After the hypnotically loping, darkly bluesy Vultures, with its creepily twinkling electric piano, they tiptoed and swayed through the longing and bitterness of Red Ropes, the most luridly noir song on the new album.

Atkins’ cynical sense of humor came front and center on It’s Only Chemistry, a sardonic battle-of-the-sexes narrative, and then an aching take of The Worst Hangover, whose narrator is so miserable (and possibly still so drunk) that she ends up calling an ambulance. It was too bad that the lead player missed his chance to take The Tower – the crushing, potentially explosive anthem that’s sort of Atkins’ signature song – to a logically pyrotechnic peak, instead drifting unexpectedly into nebulously metal territory. After everything that had come before, it would have been the perfect way to end the show. It took a siren echoing across the park from further north to add just the right touch of horror as the song wound out. The Madison Square Park series of free concerts continues on July 16 at 7 PM with French jazz pianist Jacky Terrasson and his group.

And it was good to be able to catch about half an hour of a show that promised to be even better beforehand several blocks north at Bryant Park, where keyboardist/songwriter Greta Gertler’s lush art-rock band the Universal Thump aired out some of the soaring, often epic songs from their massive triple-cd debut album along with some tantalizing new tunes. Gertler’s elegantly intricate electric piano mingled with the otherworldly vocal harmonies of Las Rubias Del Norte‘s Emily Hurst and Allyssa Lamb over the terse pulse of drummer Adam D. Gold and bassist Byron Isaacs. Guitarist Oren Bloedow – the noir mastermind behind art-rockers Elysian Fields, and a longtime Jenifer Jackson collaborator – kept a low-key, blue-flame intensity going, finally rising to a savagely insistent attack as the show hit a peak right about at the midway point. And then it was time to head south.

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