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Tag: dark rock

A Venomously Delicious Blast of Dark Retro Powerpop From Cinema Hearts

If the idea of noir-tinged powerpop makes your pulse race, look no further than Cinema Hearts‘ debut short album Your Ideal, streaming at Bandcamp. Frontwoman Caroline Weinroth packs a ton of counterintuitive chord changes and impact into very compact spaces, typically under three minutes. Likewise, the rest of her band – guitarist Bartees Strange, bassist Max Nichols and drummer Nicholas King – keep things dead on target. Brevity notwithstanding, this is one of the best rock records of the year.

Weinroth gets off to a good start with the first track, Mirror, a roaring little anthem in 6/8 time which will resonate with anyone who’s ever dealt with a narcissist. Sarcasm reaches redline in the album’s title track, extending to the retro 60s soul melody and those goofy handclaps.

Weinroth goes back to 6/8 for Everyday Is a Day Without You: if Amy Allison had a thing for Lynchian pop ballads, she would have written this offhandedly slashing gem. Likewise, Can I Tell You I Love You has an Orbisonian Tex-Mex bittersweetness, complete with a surreal, icy baritone guitar solo.

The final cut is Sister, a starry, drifting Twin Peaks tableau. Let’s hope this band stays together and gives us more of the same.


A Darkly Lyrical, Tersely Enveloping Debut From Supergroup Night Crickets

It’s hard to imagine a more apt album for Halloween month, 2022 than supertrio Night Crickets‘ debut release, A Free Society, streaming at Soundcloud. The band – iconic noir songwriter and Bauhaus bassist David J, Violent Femmes co-founder and drummer Victor DeLorenzo and multi-instrumentalist Darwin Meiners – take their name from a David Lynch request for a sample of crickets at night rather than during the day. There’s a big difference!

To what degree does the album title reflect that anguish and desperate hopes of the post-March 2020 era? A handful of the songs are imbued with David J’s laser, Gogolian focus on grim imagery; others are more psychedelic, often with spare dub touches. His incisive, purposeful bass riffs are as masterful as always. Although the trio made the album over the web, the mix is seamless.

The opening number is a characteristically stylish, tense urban tableau set to a terse, minimalist trip-hop vamp:

Black leather on the inside and New York around the corner
And the devil is on your doorstep
‘Cause he knows you’re staying in
Although part of you is always out
Your life is wearing thin

Candlestick Park is a Meiners tune, a catchy, slowly swaying, vividly detailed late 80s reminiscence told from the point of view of a former vendor at the windswept San Francisco Bay stadium. They follow with Amanda’s Mantra, a brief, catchy, synthy new wave bounce.

“Imagine a free society where the horses can run free and wild, ad hoc, without variance or concern,” David J intones over a steady, trippy, Jah Wobble-esque dubwise groove in the album’s title track, “Where the boss and pagans can be at peace in the house of apes.”

Meiners takes over on the mic with more spoken word in Roman À Clef, another hypnotic vamp that brings to mind Flash & the Pan. Lingering Lynchian guitar and ghostly string synth mingle over a catchy bass loop in Soul Wave. Then DeLorenzo builds a colorful lowrider soul groove in Little Did I.

“There’s nowhere to hide, there’s nowhere to hide you,” is the mantra in Sloe Song, an uneasily atmospheric tableau. David J intones a cynical parable about mockingbird media over DeLorenzo’s ominously regal drumwork and Meiners’ oscillating tanpura in The Unreliable Narrator.

The band bring back the Indian dub influence in Down Below and follow with Return to the Garden of Allah, the closest thing to David J’s ominous, allusive rainy day bedroom-goth sound from the 80s.

With its gothic organ stroll, Sacred Monster is the album’s darkest track: it comes across as a more organic take on Flash & the Pan. The band give a shout-out to the filmmaker whose quip they nicked for their bandname in the final cut, I Want My Night Crickets!, a surreal, energetically dub-inflected pastiche. Let’s hope these three smart, theatrically-inspired veterans give us a follow-up to this offhandedly sharp, smart collaboration.

Darkly Energetic, Carnivalesque Rock Narratives From Northern English Band Weimar

Today’s installment in the ongoing October-long Halloween celebration is Dancing on a Volcano, by Manchester, UK band Weimar, streaming at Bandcamp. You could describe them as gothic circus rock with tinges of psychedelic folk and a loose-limbed rhythm section. About time we had some goth music on this page this month, right?

Not quite. This isn’t all that over-the-top, and it’s a lot more energetic. In case you’re looking for sterile museum-piece 80s rehash, this isn’t it. And much as there are innumerable familiar tropes here, these half-sung, half-spoken songs resonate in the here and now. These guys like ’em long: pretty much everything on the record is in the five-to-six-minute category.

You might not expect a goth record to open with a well-loved Sonic Youth riff, but that’s how Soho Rain begins. Frontman Aidan Cross narrates a seedy London street scene over John Armstrong’s loping bass and Anthony ‘Eddy’ Edwards’ drums, guitarists Johann Kloos and Stephen Sarsen taking their mix of chime and resonance up to a killer chorus.

Track two is The Sociopath, a mashup of noir cabaret and flamenco rock, an apt parable for the era of Bill Gates and Rochelle Walensky:

What do you play with?
What is it saving?
Your reputation
As you herd the sheep the flock will follow
And they march blindly on like there’s no tomorrow

The band shift between a horror-movie riff and a familiar Jesus & Mary Chain vamp in I Smashed the Looking Glass, up to an ending that recalls the Electric Prunes. Sketchy verse gives way to bounding, catchy chorus in The Hangers-On: Cross’ scowling rap about starfucking and its consequences works on both personal and political levels.

Keening slide guitar mingles within the clang in Arandora Star, a grimly pouncing seafaring ballad. The group reach back to a mosquitoey 60s Velvets jangle ambience on the wings of Armstrong’s trebly, climbing bass riffage in Polished Decay, a snide chronicle of the ravages of gentrification.

The band finally go for a lingering, slowly swaying Bauhans atmosphere in Hunter’s Moon, an allusive deep-state scenario spiced with spare Psychedelic Furs-style sax. Then they hit a tense, uneasily syncopated pulse in Faded Queen of the Night, a metaphorically bristling corporate parable.

The band work a surreal mashup of latin soul, loosely tethered disco and jagged, skeletal quasi-funk in Nights in Spanish Harlem. They take their time elevating the alienation ballad Heaven on High Street East to a fleeting, screaming psychedelic guitar break before the sullen, doomed routine returns. They close the record with The Tatterdemalions, an understatedly sinister Celtic-tinged dance fueled by Kloos’ pump organ chords.

Crone Fire Off a New Album of Dark, Hard-Hitting European Art-Rock Anthems

Despair and towering angst but also moments that reach for transcendence pervade German band Crone‘s latest album Gotta Light? streaming at Bandcamp. There are actually no women in this band, a darkly tuneful project sprung from the ashes of long-running black metal band Secrets of the Moon. This is an apt soundtrack for a population staring down a cold winter of VAIDS deaths, electric grid blackouts and fascist plandemic restrictions orchestrated by World Economic Forum puppets. Who knows, maybe famine. If you think New York has it bad now, be grateful you’re not in Europe.

They open the album with No One Is Ever Alive, a brooding, swaying, vampy dirge, Frank Flight gone down the well into gothic Britfolk. Track two, Abyss Road is a lickety-split, stomping mashup of acidic late 90s Versus downstroke rock and New Model Army dystopic battle anthem. It’s the big hit.

Hope emerges in Gemini. with Christian Schmidt’s layers of brassy synths, swoosh and swirl, and frontman Phil “sG” Jonas’ impassioned vocals. “This world is burning slow…let’s play God,” he muses in This Is War, the band finally picking up with a stampede into inevitability. Can anybody say prophetic?

From there the band segue with a rumble into track five, They: three minutes in, lead guitarist Kevin Olasz finally get a chance to channel his inner David Gilmour with his aching flares over drummer Markus Renzenbrink’s precisely leadfooted stomp.

Towers Underground comes across as enigmatic late-period Psychedelic Furs with more explosive guitars. Then the group pick up the pace and return to ominous New Model Army territory in Quicksand, with a whipsaw bassline and a terse, High Romantic piano interlude.

Waiting For Ghosts is a rip of Pink Floyd’s Breathe with a little Bowie thrown in. Silent Song also has a hypnotic Floyd pulse, but with walls of guitars where Rick Wright’s keys would have provided the ambience: the icily strobing analog chorus-box guitar solo is a delicious touch. They segue into the closing instrumental, Kenosis, a theological term meaning to surrender to the divine. The rattling downtuned bass hints at the band’s heavier origins beneath an increasingly ominous web of spacerock riffage that decays like a dying star. Assuming there still is a working internet at the end of the year, you’ll see this on the best albums of 2022 page here.

Revisiting the Prophetic Musical Side of One of This Era’s Most Visionary Journalists

Tessa Lena may be best known as one of this era’s most fearless investigative journalists, but she’s also something of a prophet. While covering the technology sector several years before Event 201, she warned how the infrastructure that would eventually enable the 2020 plandemic was being rolled out.

But Tessa Lena does a lot more than just write. She hosts a podcast, Make Language Great Again, where she interviews guests as diverse as historian Steven Newcomb, New Zealand freedom fighter Emmanuel Garcia and mass media polymath Mark Crispin Miller.

She’s also a musician. Trained in her native Moscow as a classical pianist, she has as many voices as a singer as she has as a writer, with a special fondness for Armenian music. And her songwriting is just as prophetic and colorful as her prose.

There’s a lot of Tessa Lena up at Bandcamp. Her 2017 album Tessa Fights Robots is the soundtrack to a multimedia project and most closely aligned to her current work (her article The Great Reset For Dummies is as definitive an analysis of the ongoing totalitarianism as anyone has written in the past two years). The album, a satire of social media obsession fueling a global takeover by tech oligarchs. is as venomously funny as it is prescient: “A bunch of metaphorical walking dead who figured out a way to siphon your creative energy into making money for them…they’re training you to act like viruses,” she intones. And the jokes aren’t limited to lyrics.

The music shifts from dystopic synthpop to delicate, moody Slavic psych-folk, to sarcastic Brechtian circus-rock and creepy, twinkling dystopic disco. There are also two covers: a witheringly icy version of Michelle Gurevich’s Party Girl, and a spare, poignant take of Tom Waits’ Blue Valentines.

Tessa Lena’s earliest track, a darkwave anthem, dates from 2013 and serves as a launching pad for her signature spine-tingling, operatic vocals. The next one, I Am This Child, is just as brooding and sounds like Portishead on acid.

The 2016 short album Tessa Makes Love is all over the map, ranging from jazzy noir cabaret to metal to a somber solo vocalese evocation of a duduk. Living Her Dream, a menacingly sarcastic 2017 art-rock tableau, could be David J with a woman out front.

Tessa Lena’s next appearance is not as a musician but as an activist onstage at the upcoming daylong Festival in a Field at at 55 Wenzels Lane in the town of Hudson, upstate, starting at 10 AM on Sept 10. Other freedom fighters scheduled to appear include Children’s Health Defense’s Mary Holland, hero attorney Bobbie Ann Cox (currently battling to stop Kathy Hochul’s appeal of the court ruling against her concentration camp edict), Autism Action Network’s John Gilmore and more. There’s music, too. It’s on the crunchy side. The highlight is shamanic multi-percussionist Kevin Nathaniel. Other artists scheduled to appear are Americana soul jamband the Mammals, multi-instrumentalist Bibi Farber’s Action Figures 432, kirtan-rock jammers Samkirtan Band, the Red Threat, Journey Blue Heaven and Americana guitar picker Jude Roberts, There’s also a haybale maze for the kids, local homemade food and crafts; it’s $25 for the whole day.

A Lurid, Simmering New Single From Satirist and Journalist Sage Hana

Sage Hana is arguably the best example of the explosion of first-class satire and investigative journalism that exploded across the web in response to the 2020 plandemic. More than anything, she’s hilarious. Her Boeing-24 parable is probably the most savagely funny piece she’s written – and she’s written many.

Not much is known about the inscrutable, pseudonymous Sage. She comes out of a film and tv background (she knows her acting and screenwriting…and crossfit training). Her Substack page, in its early days, was mostly focused on media criticism. But over the last six months, she’s become one of the most important and wide-ranging voices covering the ongoing global genocide. A couple of high-profile boosts from Mark Crispin Miller and Margaret Anna Alice helped vault this self-styled “guppy” with a devastating, deadpan sense of humor into a role she probably never anticipated, and she’s run with it.

You may have seen some of her slyly edited videos on the singles pages here over the last few months. And now she has a band…sort of. A few days ago she released the debut video for the surf noir single A Pox on Your Horse (Paste), by “Dendrite & the Prions.” The joke is too good to spoil – just watch it.

The Dream Syndicate Return With a Haunting, Stomping Masterpiece

Much as the Dream Syndicate will always be best known for their volcanic jams, those unhinged duels wouldn’t mean much without frontman Steve Wynn‘s allusive, frequently menacing songs.

And just when it might have seemed that the Dream Syndicate had finally gone off on an odyssey to the far shores of jazz, they return with their most song-oriented album since their iconic 1982 release The Medicine Show. The resolutely shapeshifting jamband’s latest vinyl record, Ultraviolet Battle Hymns and True Confessions – streaming at Bandcamp – is basically a light side followed by a dark side, with a trippy coda to bring it full circle.

Wynn’s songwriting is as novelistic, deviously allusive and counterintuitive as it has been ever since the band busted out forty years ago: is there anyone alive who has written more good songs? Hearing one catchy verse and chorus after another is a real mindfuck, in contrast to the slowly unwinding, symphonic AACM-rock epics on the band’s previous album, The Universe Inside, which was a rare bright light amid the relentless gloom of 2020.

The opening track, Where I’ll Stand has the classic Dream Syndicate backbeat sound, but with more of the dreampop swirl that Wynn has explored in recent years – and maybe a little Bowie in the mix too. The gist is “don’t bullshit me” – in more reflective, articulate terms.

Track two is Damian, a lithe 70s Tom Petty-style bounce that suddenly winds into one of Wynn’s signature series of unpredictable changes. His conspiratorial narrator seems to be telling his beaten-down bud that all omens aren’t necessarily grim. Lead guitarist Jason Victor fires off a tantalizingly sinuous guitar solo as it fades out.

“I’m a scrapyard and a barking dog, everything must go,” Wynn intones in Beyond Control, the band rising over drummer Dennis Duck’s brisk spacerock drive as keyboardist Chris Cacavas throws in a quirky mbira-like setting. Hearing Victor playing a skittish, staccato chorus-box pattern is a trip.

The Chronicles of You is a gorgeously vindictive, enveloping number glistening with layer after layer of guitars along with wafting horn harmonies from Marcus Tenney, who doubles on sax and trumpet. Wynn has been one of the great voices in rock noir for years, and this is prime: “Was it really scripted in the sky by your own private plane? Was it the undertaker’s arms that laid you down in the grave?” As usual, there are infinitely more questions here than answers.

Victor’s lapsteel and the horns resonate uneasily throughout Hard to Say Goodbye, a slowly strolling requiem for someone who couldn’t resist the lure of shiny objects that flicker. It comes across as pastoral Pink Floyd done Steve Wynn style, The band shift to a cyclotron take on the Jesus & Mary Chain in Every Time You Come Around, bassist Mark Walton rising to pierce the veil. “Tell me what you think is inappropriate, I’ll tell you why you’re wrong,” Wynn cryptically avers.

A searing Victor riff kicks off Trying to Get Over, a stampeding Wynn study in conman doublespeak. With Victor’s searing, careening lead lines, the song looks back to Wynn’s volcanic 90s work: say, the Melting in the Dark album.

Wynn’s rapidfire lyrics deliver a grimly aphoristic payoff in Lesson Number One, a withering portrait of someone slithering to move his own goalposts as damage control gets more complicated. It could also be a portrait of somebody recently scheduled for an exit from the NIAID – and could be the best song of the year.

The sarcasm remains at redline for My Lazy Mind, one of those tango-flavored struts that Wynn does so well. It wouldn’t be out of place in the Ward White catalog, all the way through the “curtain call from Frankenstein.” The album’s final cut is Straight Lines, a breathlessly charging garage rock number, the Seeds as played by mid-70s Can maybe. You’ll see this on the best albums of 2022 page here if we’re all still around..

Northern Noir Band the Sadies Leave Us With What Could Be The Best Album of 2022

Guitarist Dallas Good said that his band the Sadies‘ new album Colder Streams was the best record they’d ever made. They began recording it in 2019. Good and his bandmates had to sneak across provincial borders during the tyrannical Canadian lockdown to finally finish it in the summer of 2021. Too bad he didn’t live to see it. The lethal Covid injection killed him at 49 this past February.

The Sadies put out a ton of good albums, both under their own name as well as backing Neko Case. They started out in Americana, somewhere between Nashville gothic and punkgrass and by the time they wrapped up this one – streaming at Bandcamp – they’d gone in a more electric, psychedelic direction. Dallas Good was right: this is the Sadies best record. More than that, it’s a potent, metaphorically chilling historical document and arguably the best rock album of 2022.

The opening track, Stop and Start perfectly capsulizes the band’s sound in their final days: dense, reverb-drenched layers of jangle, clang, swirl and occasional scream from the Good brothers’ guitars over the precise, swinging groove of bassist Sean Dean and drummer Mike Belitsky. It may or may not be a lockdown parable – either way, it offers guarded hope for a new future:

The sickness comes like a rising sun
Now your war is done, what have you become?
Are you too far down to stop right now?
You can start right now
Stop and start right now

Is it a surprise that the next track – released as a single this past winter – would be titled Message to Belial? “The dark of all ages has come,” the band harmonize somberly over a spiky thicket of reverb this parable of a less than sympathetic devil.

Dallas Good’s lingering, twangy lines resonate over his brother Travis’ layers of distantly Beatlesque acoustic rhythm in More Alone, an increasingly angst-fueled elegy for both people and places gone forever:

In this day and age
Rage has become all the rage
We choose to behave
Like wolves left to starve in a cage
We keep going in circles around around
Spinning faster and faster and faster
Go round in the end and then start back down again
Looking forward to another disaster

So Far For So Few is a bouncy mashup of bluegrass and Flamin’ Groovies janglerock, growing more psychedelic and enveloping on the wings of Dallas’ soaring lead lines.

Fueled by stark banjo and some intricate guitar flatpicking, All the Good – with the brothers’ mom and dad Margaret and Bruce Good on harmony vocals and autoharp, respectively – is a throwback to the band’s more acoustic late 90s sound.

Jon Spencer guests on fuzz guitar on No One’s Listening, a scorching update on ominous 60s Laurel Canyon psych-folk: “What you don’t know can’t hurt you anymore,” is the crushingly ironic key to the song. You Should Be Worried, a gorgeously resonant open-tuned front-porch folk tune, has even darker foreshadowing: “I’m not worried about you, you should be worried about me,” the band harmonize.

They go back to scampering reverb-plated garage-psych rock in Better Yet, with a tantalizingly blistering acoustic/electric guitar duel. Then they turbocharge the Nashville gothic with silvery sheets of reverb guitar in Cut Up High and Dry before taking a brief, surreal detour into dub.

They keep the scampering drive going through Ginger Moon, with what’s arguably Dallas’ most savage solo here. In an eerie stroke of fate, the final cut is titled End Credits, an intricately layered, Morricone-esque southwestern gothic instrumental. How tragic to see such a great band go out at the top of their game.

A Harrowing Solo Comeback Album and a Rare New York Show by Cult Icon Nina Nastasia

For about a decade beginning in the late 90s, songwriter Nina Nastasia earned a devoted following for her frequently haunting, painterly work. It’s hard to think of another artist who so perceptively captured the details in the darkness beneath the bustle in gritty New York neighborhoods which became artistic meccas before they were crushed in a blitzkrieg of gentrification.

The city’s decline mirrored Nastasia’s own. By 2010, her performing career had pretty much stalled. As Nastasia tells it, she and her longtime partner Kennan Gudjonsson sequestered themselves a tiny Chelsea apartment, caught up in a cycle of abuse and codependence. The day after Nastasia finally moved out, in January 2020, Gudjonsson killed himself.

In the first few months of the lockdown, Nastasia was able to process what by all accounts must have been inconceivable pain, and the result is a harrowing solo vinyl record, Riderless Horse, streaming at Bandcamp. She’s playing what could be her first Williamsburg show in at least fifteen years at Union Pool on August 20 at 7 PM for $20

It’s been a dozen years since Nastasia released an album, but she’s emerged a stronger singer than ever. Meanwhile, her songwriting has taken a detour into Americana. With her usual black humor, she opens with the sound of a cork popping: this will not exactly be a party, but it’s impossible to turn away from.

The album’s first song is Just Stay in Bed, a spare Tex-Mex flavored tune in 6/8. Just when it sounds like it’s going to turn into a fond love song, Nastasia’s voice grows menacing. Clearly this was a dysfunctional relationship on both sides.

Her vocals rise to fiery accusatory levels over steady strumming in the second track, You Were So Mad, a stoic breakup ballad: “You set a blaze inside our house, you set a blaze and smoked us out.” This Is Love is a subdued heartland rock anthem, a chronicle of “taking turns to follow and lead into the dissonance.”

The narrative grows uglier over Nastasia’s enigmatic fingerpicking in Nature, a plainspoken portrait of violence, and how easy it is to become habituated to it. This dynamic will resonate intensely through the rest of the record.

Nastasia switches to waltz time for Lazy Road, although even in this bucolic calm, death is lurking nearby. She revisits that atmosphere a little later with the bluegrass-tinged Blind As Batsies.

“I keep you alive as best as I can do,” Nastasia sings imploringly, but ultimately “to choose life over illness and leave,” in another waltz, Ask Me. She switches back to a muted Americana sway in the ironically titled The Two of Us, which wouldn’t be out of place on an Amy Rigby record from the 90s:

The simmering rage returns in Go Away: “There’s only one way to for me to give you peace, for me to leave: bury me,” Nastasia taunts. She follows with The Roundabout, an anguished request to bury the conflict under a blanket of denial.

The next track, Trust is the closest thing here to the stark sparkle that permeates Nastasia’s iconic early work. She sings to a ghost, in waltz time again, in Afterwards: “Love is tiresome when you’re older…it makes me wonder about the years that came before, and all the things I must ignore.” As a portrait of a relationship unraveling with catastrophic consequences, this ranks with Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights. Time may judge this a classic – just like Nastasia’s earlier albums, particularly The Blackened Air, her most bleakly orchestral release, from 2001.

The Creepiest, Most Prophetic Music Video of the New Wave Era

These days it’s getting harder to differentiate between predictive programming, satire and actual news. Whatever the case, this 1990 video by Heaven’s Magic singing Watch Out For 666 will give you chills.

Did Bill Gates have this on loop in his office at Microsoft? Did this obscure Christian band – who put out a couple of strange and disquieting cassette albums in 1985 and 1994 – have deep state connections? Or, was whoever wrote this bouncy, Orwellian synthpop song (uncredited on the cassette) simply paying more attention to what was going on in Silicon Valley than anyone else? Why does the President in the video look so much like John Kerry?

There’s more. Take three minutes to watch the video for their 1985 single Cathy Don’t Go (scroll to the bottom at Edward Slavsquat’s brilliant and insightful news blog). The technology is slightly more retro – barcodes instead of QR codes – but the scene in the doctor’s office is pricelessly prescient.

The band’s backstory is just as troubling. A studio-only project, their songs originated on the Music With Meaning Show, which broadcast from Greece in the late 70s through the mid-80s. The program was produced by the Family, a Christian cult notorious for child abuse, and whose founder’s son murdered the woman who had molested him. Much of the program music has been archived at Soundcloud and ranges from a Stonesy rock song about sex in heaven (you really can’t make this stuff up) to an epic nuclear apocalypse narrative, 20 Minutes to Go, sung in part by a little girl.

These people may have seen Klaus Schwab’s New Abnormal coming a mile away, but their story reminds how the enemy of our enemy is not always our friend.