New York Music Daily

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Tag: eighties music

80s Psychedelic Guitar Legend Russ Tolman Makes a Rare Stop in Brooklyn

Russ Tolman was the leader of one of the 80s’ most legendary guitar bands, True West. Though never as famous as their pals the Dream Syndicate – Tolman and Steve Wynn were in the equally legendary Suspects, and Wynn contributed some gloriously savage lead guitar to True West’s cover of Pink Floyd’s Lucifer Sam – Tolman’s songwriting was no less brilliant. And True West were every bit as incendiary live, fellow Telecaster player Richard McGrath dueling it out onstage with Tolman night after night. The band’s first two albums, Hollywood Holiday and Drifters are iconic: with its brooding layers of reverb guitar and Tolman’s ominous lyricism, the latter is easily one of the fifty greatest rock records ever made.

The original True West lineup hung it up in 1985; there were some sporadic but rewarding reunion tours in the mid-to-late zeros. All the while, Tolman has been releasing albums here and there, from Byrdsy folk-rock to low-key electronic experimentation. If he’s ever played Brooklyn before, it’s been a long time; if he hasn’t, then his show at Pete’s on Sept 14 at 8:30 PM will be his debut in the borough. Either way, he’s overdue.

Tolman’s latest recordings are a couple of singles. With it stomping beat and a whirling lead guitar line that brings to mind another great 80s guitar band, the Rain Parade, Marla Jane could be an upbeat track from True West’s peak era. Something About a Rowboat switches in a mandolin for the Tele Tolman might have played it on thirty years ago. Tunewise, this breakup anthem is just as strong – it’s interesting to compare Tolman’s flinty vocal delivery with the bravado of True West frontman Gavin Blair. Awfully heartwarming to see such an important, underrated artist from back in the day still at it and still at the top of his game.

The Colorful Dalton Deschain & the Traveling Show Make a Lower East Side Stop

Dalton Deschain & the Traveling Show are one of the most individualistic and artistically ambitious bands in New York. They’re very high-concept: their catchy, anthemic songs mirror and elaborate on characters and events in an ongoing retro-futurist serial novel that could go in plenty of directions, from graphic series to feature film. Over the past couple of years, Deschain (not his real name) and the band have been beating a path with their catchy, anthemic songs between Bed-Stuy and the Lower East Side when they’re not on tour. They’ve got a new ep, Catherine, streaming at Bandcamp and an accompanying novelette. They’re playing at Sidewalk on August 18 at 10:40 PM (tnat’s 10:40, not 10:30, folks), opening for perennially popular folk noir denizen Lorrane Leckie, who’s playing a rare, intimate solo show.

Deschain weaves a hell of a yarn. Set in 1945, the plotline traces a postwar America reeling from a biological attack and an Axis victory. Deschain builds suspense to the breaking point, doesn’t telegraph the action and keeps you on the page. As with all steampunk scenarios, verisimilitude sometimes takes a backseat to action, and when that gets all wiz-bang, a suspension of disbelief can be required. Loaded down and encumbered as she was, the heroine somehow gets away from the bad guys with guns? Really??? That’s where the story unravels away from Philip K. Dick toward Quentin Tarantino.

The songs on the ep are artsy and eclectic, and the band is first-rate, with Deschain handling all the guitars, David Warpaint on bass and Phil Harris on drums. Deschain sings through a tidal, uneasy vintage chorus-box effect as Tin Laurels gets underway, an enigmatic ingenue-in-the-big-city anthem. Interstitial (Approximate Man) alludes icily and mechanically to one of many stories nested within the narrative, in this case a mysterious, gnomic avant-garde poet who may hold the key to something not yet revealed. Approximate Girl concludes the ep: “if you think I’m beautiful then you never watched a star die,” the narrator asserts early on. Deschain’s long, tremolo-icepicked guitar solo at the end is irresistibly delicious. There’s a watery 80s feel to much of this music and this is a prime example: Peter Gabriel from late in the decade comes to mind, as well as late-period Bowie. It’ll be fun to see where the next episode picks up.

Nina Diaz Brings Her Relentless Angst and Catchy 80s-Influenced Tunesmithing to Wlliamsburg

Nina Diaz is best known as the frontwoman and guitarist of Girl in a Coma. Without knowing her background, you might swear that many of the songs on  her debut solo album The Beat Is Dead – streaming at Spotify – were relics from the 80s. Synthesizers pulse and swirl; the guitars and basslines are as dry as they are precise and catchy. Otherwise, the record sounds like a sleeker take on her main band, a series of angry anthems that would make a great soundtrack for a sequel to or remake of Fatal Attraction. You know – rain-slick streets, Soho lofts that you take the freight elevator up to since the real estate bubble hasn’t started to blow yet, and everybody’s wearing black eyeliner. 

Some of the songs here also recall Nicole Atkins, right down to the the brooding minor keys, slightly throaty vocals and noir tinges. Diaz’s next New York gig is at Rough Trade on August 17 at 9 for ten bucks in advance.

The album opens with Trick Candle, propelled by a dancing octave bass riff and spiraling synth, like Missing Persons without the metal buffoonery. With its darkly irresistible chorus, the album’s title track, more or less, is Queen Beats King.”All he seems to care about is fame… in the silence you create your own violence to turn and kill,” Diaz accuses.

Rebirth begins as syncopated cabaret-punk and then follows a trip-hop slink that eventually straightens out: “I will not love you until you are my enemy,” Diaz says perversely. With its doomed, angst-fueled major/minor changes, January 9th is a dead ringer for Atkins: “I don’t wanna be the bad one, I don;t wanna be the sad one that you find,” Diaz insists, althogh her voice can’t disguise that she knows what’s coming.

Fall in Love keeps that same wounded atmosphere going, awash in starry omnichord synth over a trip-hop groove: “Sometimes I speak too quickly, end up inside another shell…how would you know yourself, if you were never to fall in love…”

With Young Man, Diaz goes back to icy, stainless-countertopped new wave that explodes into Billy Idol bombast. She opens It with a tricky intro that artfully morphs into strutting, defiant ba-BUMP new wave noir cabaret. Then she hits a vengeful, sequencer-fueled motorik punk drive with Screaming Without a Sound. 

Its wryly blippy synth contrasting with big stadium rock guitars, Down continues the 80s vibe, this time going up into the attic for a Siouxsie-esque menace:: “I know all your secrets, I will push you to the ground, and you say, oh, why’d you kick me while I’m down?”, Diaz recounts.

She hits a creepy peak with Dig, its guitar chromatics fueling a lurid tale of abandonment and lust, and follows that with Star, a titanic, blue-flame 6/8 anthem, a counterpart to Atkins’ signature song The Tower.

Stark, starlit guitar builds a moody noir ranchera backdrop behind Diaz’s melancholy vocals in For You, a sad waltz. The album winds up with Mortician Musician, a bitter soul anthem recast as Orbison noir: “I’m not a fool for writing melodies, I’m just a fool for trying to make you see what I see,, ask me what kind of coffin I’d like, it’s the one you picked out for me,” Diaz rails..Dudes, get your skinny tie on; girls, feather your hair and take the subway to Bedford Avenue on the 17th because there was no Uber back when it sounds like this unselfconsciously brilliant album was made.

Lounge Lizard Jack Ladder Brings His Rakish 80s Persona to Town Next Week

If you’re going to steal from someone, you might as well rip off somebody good, right? Unlike a lot of crooners from Down Under, singer Jack Ladder isn’t trying to be Nick Cave. He’d rather be Leonard Cohen. Which isn’t such a bad thing, in a very stylized, 80s, Everybody Knows kind of way. His latest album Playmates, with his band the Dreamlanders, is streamng at Spotify, with a trio of tracks up at Bandcamp as well if you want a taste and don’t feel like riding the fader to kill the ads. Ladder and the band have a couple of New York shows coming up: on December 1, they’re at Baby’s All Right at around 10 for $14. Then they’re at the Mercury the following night, December 2 at 7:30 PM for two bucks less if you get tix in advance. The Mercury box office is open Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 6 PM.

Sharon Van Etten guests on ethereal backing vocals on the album’s opening track, Come On Back This Way. It’s a good story, one that pretty much everybody’s known. A guy and a girl leave the bar, under “the magnesium moon, the streets all smell like piss…if tomorrow never comes, I wouldn’t ever care at all,” he says. She’s drunker than he is. She’s taken a glass from the bar, probably wonders why the creep she’s with won’t leave her alone and is pissed off about it. She does something reckless that she shouldn’t – a few things, actually. And the ending is less pat than you might expect.

Track two is Her Hands, an icy 80s downtempo number awash in trippy/cheesy synth patches, a portrait of a femme fatale. The cynical goth-pop Model World is where “The streets are alive with picket fences,” and “Where we need to know everyone is safe…this shit wasn’t built to last, the water’s overflowing, and privacy is a thing of the past, everybody knows it, you can’t escape what you create.”

Reputation Amputation reaches for squizzling industrial ambience, a dirtier take on what Iggy was going for on the Idiot, maybe. By contrast, lingering Lynchian guitars echo in from the shadows on the bolero-tinged Let Me Love You. Van Etten adds her wounded understatement on To Keep & to Be Kept, a new wave update on angst-fueled Orbison noir 60s pop. With its dry-as-a-bone drum samples and warptone synth, The Miracle is period-perfect late 80s new wave.

Ladder takes a stab at heavy-duty stadium goth grandeur with Neon Blue, while Our Ascension brings to mind Billy Idol with a worldview. The final cut is the aphoristic ballad Slow Boat to China and its shameless Leonard C. quotes. While the album’s production is cold and techy, there are some neat touches, like the faux Hawaiian guitar licks oscillating from the portamento lever here and there, and a decent approximation of gritty guitars. And a look at the red-jacketed Ladder (not his real name, obviously) on the album cover suddenly makes twisted sense: OMG, that’s Rick Springfield! And wasn’t he Australian? Are we ever going to escape the 80s or are they going to be stalking us forever?

The Naked Heroes Bring Their High-Voltage, Charismatic Assault to Grand Victory and the Rockaways

When the Naked Heroes’ George Jackson takes a flying leap from the stage, clears a monitor, lands directly in front of you and then slams you – all the while wailing on his Strat – you know you’ve been hit. With primal punk energy, a sly new wave sense of humor and lots of danceable, catchy tunes, there’s no other band in New York who sound anything like them. They’re very visual, too. They love to stop songs on a dime and then restart them…or leap from one into another. Jackson is a very expressive performer with his googly-eyed monster-movie faces, sometimes droll, sometimes with more than a hint of menace. Much as a lot of what he does is completely over-the-top, a lot of it isn’t, leaving room for the possibility of genuine danger. Meanwhile, statuesque drummer/singer Merica Lee sometimes hangs back with a swing groove, other times bounding around the stage, walloping on a tom-tom or a sampler loaded with explosive dancefloor thuds.

At the band’s show Saturday night at the Poisson Rouge, she was rocking a black-leather Catwoman-style bodysuit that didn’t leave much to the imagination. The mustachioed Jackson stuck to basic black jeans and shoes, with a button-down shirt left open to midway down the chest, his Robinson Crusoe necklace flying as he romped across the stage and then out over it to bodyslam the likes of unsuspecting music bloggers.

The band’s songs are as simple and irresistibly catchy as their beats. One of the set’s early numbers worked a feral, tribal early 80s Antmusic groove, Jackson blasting out a terse, mimalist two-chord vamp over it. There’s a lot of call-and-response, and wry repartee between the duo, sometimes involving the audience, in this case on an Ike & Tina Turner cover. Jackson is a hell of a guitarist (and bassist, as evidenced by his time as one of Lorraine Leckie‘s Demons) – who saves the flash for when he really needs it. His most impressive fretwork came on an unexpectedly ornate intro to a ballad that evoked Hendrix’s Little Wing without ripping it off. Likewise, the songs’ raw but incredibly tight riffage brought to mind bands as diverse as the White Stripes, the Black Keys, the Cramps and Bow Wow Wow without being imitative. On one number, Jackson went behind the kit and held down a beat on the kickdrum while playing guitar as Lee came out in front; by the end of the show, the two were out at the edge of stage, putting a mean dancefloor spin on an ancient gospel tune, wailing on the sampler and a single drum that Lee pummeled so hard that the mic came undone. The Naked Heroes are at Grand Victory at on Sept 16 at 8 PM, making a good segue with the 7 PM opening act, female-fronted horror punk/surf/darkwave band the Long Losts. Cover is $10. Then on Sept 27 at 5 PM the Naked Heroes are on the Rockaway Beach boardwalk.

Lazy Lions’ New Album Evokes Classic, Early 80s Graham Parker and Elvis Costello

The 80s get a bad rap. Sure, pretty much all evil today took root under Ronald Reagan, and deregulation paved the way for the Clear Channel monster to seize the airwaves in its iron fist, effectively killing off commercial radio as a viable means for a band to build an audience. But much as 80s music is typically remembered for cheese and cliche, from Tears for Fears to Bon Jovi, that decade also produced a ton of incredibly good stuff: paisley underground rock, new wave, hip-hop and what would become alt-country in the 90s, among dozens of other styles.

In that era, Lazy Lions would have been stars of college radio and the club circuit. With frontman/keyboardist Jim Allen’s sharp, sardonic lyricism, Robert Sorkin’s similarly edgy, tuneful guitar work, Maul Girls bassist Anne-Marie Stehn’s signature melodic groove and former Richard Lloyd drummer Sean McMorris’ artful four-on-the-floor beat, they’re the rare band who deserve comparisons to vintage, early 80s Graham Parker and Elvis Costello. They’re playing the album release show for their full-length debut, When Dreaming Lets You Down on a killer twinbill on March 20 at 11 PM at Rock Shop in Gowanus, with Paula Carino‘s similarly lyrical, tuneful Regular Einstein also playing the album release show for their new one and opening the night at 10. Cover is $10

Since Lazy Lions’ album isn’t out yet, there are only a couple of tracks up at the band’s Soundcloud page, although their excellent previous ep is up at Reverbnation. The new record kicks off with I Don’t Think That It’s Gonna Stop, a cynicallly catchy, swinging powerpop smash that would fit perfectly on a Graham Parker album like Squeezing Out Sparks (which, incidentally, will be covered by a bunch of NYC rock luminaries at the Mercury at 6 PM on the 22nd along with Richard & Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights).

Sorkin’s crunchy/jangly guitar multitracks contrast with Allen’s roller-rink organ on February – cold climactic metaphors abound on this album, and this is a prime example. Tiny Little Cracks sets corrosive Parkerilla galllows humor (the classic Lunatic Fringe comes to mind) to a spiky early ska-punk bounce. One of the real killer tracks here, It’s Just the Night pounces along on a wicked minor-key tune, Allen’s deadpan baritone refusing to allude to impending doom:

Thoughts rising from the bottom
Once you got ’em they hang around
Shadows are falling right into your path
Trouble is crawling through, you better do the math

Stehn’s oldschool soul pulse and Allen’s swirly organ propel the wistful Diane:

The title that we’re writing’s nothing new
The palace falls to pieces
The penury increases
What I need is someone to expound on
Is why she turned around and flew

Hints of funk, hip-hop, a latin beat and some acidically bright french horn from Sorkin push Let the Bad Times Roll up to yet another catchy chorus, an anthem that any 99-percenter can sing along to. Freezing blends an ambered french horn chart and flamenco guitar into a stately chamber-pop waltz:

It’s the wrong time of year to be opening windows
And whiskey works better than beer
How hard can you pray that nobody will say
Jesus, it’s freezing out here

The chorus of Scientific -“She’s not coldhearted, she’s not scientific” – gives Allen a springboard for all kinds of cruel puns and wordplay, set to soul-inflected 80s Graham Parker rock. Susannah Rachel is a kick-ass kiss-off song:

Every face can mask a mystery
The one you wear can be the hardest thing to see
But I got wise to inside information
I got high above the vale of tears
I disappeared like steam into a hazy atmosphere

The album’s catchiest and most vicious track, She’s Your Nightmare Now paints a cruelly allusive picture of a backstabbing girl who “packed up and backed out on me…I lose the kind of sleep that only dreaming will allow, all you fools line up, she’s your nightmare now,” Allen croons with a savage grin. The album winds up with You Can Run, a lingering, warily hypnotic stroll and then the swinging noir blues-infused Creep Across the Night, which nicks the hook from the Church’s powder-drug classic Under the Milky Way. Pound for pound, this is a lyrically and tunefully rich addition to the shortlist of 2015’s best albums alongside postpunkers Eula, desert psychedelicists the Sway Machinery, the luminous Carol Lipnik, noir duo Charming Disater and tirelessly lyrical, uneasy rocker Matt Keating. Oh yeah, and Regular Einstein, whom you’ll be hearing about here tomorrow.

Another Lush, Lusciously Lynchian Album from the Lost Patrol

The Lost Patrol get a lot of film and tv work, which makes sense for such a Lynchian band. Their latest album Chasing Shadows is streaming at Bandcamp, and it’s one of the year’s best. Frontwoman Mollie Israel’s reverb-drenched, unselfconsciously poignant vocals waft over lead guitarist Stephen Masucci’s icy, echoing phrases and twelve-string guitarist Michael Williams’ lush jangle, new drummer Tony Mann maintaining a tersely stalking beat.

The opening track, Creeper, mashes up Rob Schwimmer’s Booker T. organ, creepy Lynchian tremolo guitar and an 80s goth sway, but it doesn’t swing – the tension is relentless, and vertiginous. Likewise, Too Hard Too Fast pulses along on a new wave beat: if Blondie at their peak were darker, they’d sound like this. Israel sings S’Enfuir (meaning “run away”) in breathy, angoisse-drenched French as the two guitars gently but menacingly jangle and intertwine.

Israel’s wounded, poignant vocals soar over baritone guitar riffage and a lush web of acoustics and electrics on the Nashvillle gothic shuffle Trust Me. By contrast, Treachery rocks a lot harder than this band usually does, echoing both Bowie and X. The album’s title track has Masucci mingling a Blue Oyster Cult-ish riff into the nocturnal, echoey swirl behind Israel’s brooding, resigned voice.

The album’s catchiest song is Hurricane, a cautionary Juliee Cruise-esque guitar pop hit directed at a guy who can’t resist a femme fatale. Its final cut is the regret-laden waltz If I Could. And you might think that the one cover here, I’m 28 – originally recorded by lightweight 80s chirper Toni Basil – would be a laugh, but Israel actually manages to lend some genuine dignity to a girl who breathlessly feels her clock ticking. Not bad for a song written by a guy (ex-Hollie Graham Gouldman).

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

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

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

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

Peggy Sue Gets a New Sound Out of Old Ideas

A cynic could say that jangly retro 80s British trio Peggy Sue have absolutely nothing new to offer, and that would be wrong. On one hand, they have the era down cold: they absolutely nail the brightly chiming, shimmery guitar pop sound that was all the rage around 1988 or so. What they do that’s original is to mix Britpop effervescence, hypnotic dreampop resonance and the opaquely minimalistic sound of first-wave American indie rock, which emphasized single-note lines rather than chords. Like so many of the best bands from those days, they’ll vamp out on a catchy, anthemic hook rather than following a series of changes or a traditional blues or rock scale. The effect creates an atmosphere that’s both dreamy and kinetic at the same time: it might seem like an oxymoron, but it works.

And they mine those styles fluently. Lead guitarist Katy Young plays with a nimble, precise attack: she doesn’t have the pyrotechnics, of, say, the Room’s Paul Kavanagh, but she’s good. Frontwoman/guittarist Rosa Slade typically anchors the songs with a steady downstroke rhythm in the lower registers while drummer Olly Joyce artfully shifts between contrasting meters, goodnatured shuffles and colorful syncopation. Their aptly titled new third album, Choir of Echoes (much of which is streaming, with a bunch of free downloads, at the band’s site), was recorded at Dave Edmunds’ legendary Rockfield Studios – where Radio Birdman did their immortal Radios Appear album – and makes full use of the space’s delicious natural reverb. There’s reverb on everything here, even the drums! It’ll be interesting to see what use they might be able to make of the primitive barewalled sonics at Glasslands, where they’re playing on Feb 13 at around 1ish for $12.

It takes nerve to open your album with a wordless choral piece that’s part Renaissance plainchant and part circular indie classical theme, but that’s what the band does. They follow it with Esme, which Joyce cleverly works from a waltz into a briskly shuffling Manchester groove, the two women’s vocal harmonies mingling with Young’s dreampoppy lead lines. Substitute blends moody 80s Boston minmalism and surreal Syd Barrett clang, fleshing out a skeletal theme as it goes along. Figure of Eight builds out of open-string licks and washes of harmonies to a skitttishly insistent 80s pop pulse.

The album’s best songs are the darkest ones: Longest Night of the Year Blues gives a haphazard neo-Velvets sway and some unexpectedly Lynchian, eerily twangy guitar to a vintage soul ballad, while And Always Is syncopates a backbeat noir folk tune and makes distantly menacing, clanging, nocturnal psychedelia out of it. Always Going works the luminous/dark dichotomy between the two guitars up to a burning bridge that’s the loudest thing on the album, and Just the Night does the same thing as it goes in the opposite direction, the bass jumping around and bringing it back up again.

There’s also a folksy waltz that sounds like Linda Draper doing C&W; a number that makes pouncing reverb rock out of a rustic sea chantey theme; Two Shots, with its allusions to the blues; Electric Light, with its bracing, wall-bending guitar licks; and the closing cut, The Error of Your Ways, the poppiest number here. It’s very cool how this band manages to follow so many different tangents while never losing their distinctive sound.

Retro Trippiness from Nova Heart

On one hand, you might hear Chinese group Nova Heart’s retro 80s psychedelic pop and say to yourself, “I’ve heard this before.” And if 80s music is your thing, you assuredly have. Others might think dubstep, although Nova Heart’s music is slower and a lot closer to trip-hop. And it’s hard to imagine anyone doing either this artfully. Frontwoman Helen Feng writes catchy, anthemic hooks and sings them low, nonchalant and cool. But it’s Rome-based disco producer Rodion who’s shaped her themes into some of the trippiest hypnotic music to come over the transom here lately. Their Beautiful Boys ep is streaming all the way through at their Bandcamp page.

This music is all about textures: Nova Heart employ seemingly every weird, offcenter synth patch ever invented. For example, the third track, Good Ideas, which could easily have been a hit for ABC (the glossy British new wave pop band, not the tv network) thirty years ago: the way they take the hooks and move them around from the lows to the highs, or vice versa, and then back again, is as clever is as it is trippy. The first track, My Song, is sort of a trip-hop spy theme, with echoey Arp electric piano, layers of woozy upper-register synth, and a simple, catchy guitar line that they suddenly warp into doublespeed for a vintage new wave feel. And the title cut – an ode to tranny hookers – sways along with not one but two synth basslines, lowdown P-Funk style slyness balanced with eerily echoing, trebly, multitracked nocturnal electric piano. There’s also a song titled Ethereal which actually isn’t ethereal at all. Is this 80s nostalgia? Sort of. But it’s its own animal, too.