New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: elvis costello

Ward White’s As Consolation: Best Rock Record of 2017

Ward White’s album Bob topped the list of best releases of 2013 here. So it’s hardly a surprise that his latest album As Consolation is by far the best rock record released this year. Most artists who play loud, troubling, psychedelic music usually get quieter and more pensive as the years go by. but since the early zeros, White has gone in the opposite direction.

The new album – streaming at Bandcamp –  isn’t quite as surreal as Bob, but Bob is unlike any other record ever made, a disjointed whirlwind murder mystery psychedelic lit-rock suite. Its closest comparisons are not albums but Russell Banks novels and David Cronenberg films. As Consolation, on the other hand, does not seem to have a central storyline  – other than a relentlessly grim cynicism that crosses the line into sadism and the macabre. White’s worldview has never been more bleak – yet there’s never been this much unselfconscious joie de vivre in his music.

He’s a one-man guitar army here with his lavish but tersely arranged multitracks – for what it’s worth, he’s also an excellent bass player (that was his axe in the legendary Rawles Balls). This time around he’s fallen in love with a vintage analog delay pedal, for an eerie, watery effect akin to running his axe through a Leslie speaker. Now based in Los Angeles after a long stint in New York, he’s joined by Tyler Chester, who plays a museum’s worth of vintage keyboards (or clever digital facsimiles) – he turns out to be a sort of a left coast Joe McGinty, a longtime White collaborator who put out a fantastic album with him in 2009. Mark Stepro, who played on White’s withering 2008 album Pulling Out, returns to the drum chair.

Overarching narrative or not, there are characters who make multiple appearances in these allusively grisly, meticulously detailed narratives. One is the titular girl in Here’s What Happened to Heidi, the opening track. As with Bob, the events are anything but clear. Is this being told from the point of view of a corpse? A murder victim? “”Please tell me it’s not morning yet,” someone pleads again and again.

It’s rewarding to see White getting back in touch with the psychedelia and heavy rock he grew up with as a kid in Connecticut: there are more textures and more stylistic leaps than ever before in what has become a back catalog that ranks with guys like Richard Thompson and Elvis Costello.

The murderously catchy, organ-infused Crater is one of the most straightforwardly sinister cuts here – an incriminating envelope is involved. “Under the stone, don’t fight it, you’ll be at home,” White intones nonchalantly as the band gallops behind him.

A mashup of psychedelic soul and Abbey Road Beatles, Dude is White at his sardonic best:

Girls in California call me dude.
It’s non-negotiable
As smirks and disapproval misconstrued

“A few dreams, that much you’re owed,” White muses to the girl passed out on the sofa as Rhodes piano echoes uneasily in the miniature that serves as the album’s title track. Then he picks up the pace immediately with Spurs, its treacherous western vacation plotline shifting suddenly and strangely between a hard-hitting, syncopated pulse and lushly ethereal cinematics. “The paralyzing fear that we’re alone makes us cling to the humdrum,” White asserts: the rhyme that follows is too good to give away. It’s definitely a first in rock history.

Stepro flurries like Keith Moon throughout Hotel, a mashup of mod and new wave.

The fumes are playing havoc with your senses
You never listened before
Why would you listen now?

We never find out what Heidi, making a reappearance here, has to say to her assailant; White’s tongue-in-cheek, bluesy guitar solo adds a blackly amusing tinge.

White goes to the top of his formidable vocal range in Dog Tags, the narrator telling someone who was “naked on the fire escape: – his killer, maybe? – not to bother to look for the body, over an artfullly lingering remake of Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1. Then the music picks up with a blast of Beatles and Bowie in Parking Lot: “Frozen onfire in the parking lot, better hold your breath til I count to ten again,” White instructs.

With its tense, broken guitar chords and smoky organ, Stay Low is the most distinctly Lynchian song here: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Charming Disaster catalog. The raging guitars of Coffee Maker echo the sonics on his 2014 release Ward White Is the Matador, a pair of accomplices growing more desperate by the hour. The way White caps off his guitar solo is as cruel as it is priceless.

The psychedelic Twin Peaks narrative Which Pain takes place in a torture chamber: “Too late to turn back now, not too big to fail,” a vindictive narrator tells his victim. More echoes of early-70s Bowie return in The Crows, another chilling tale from beyond the grave. “Sadness will make you insane, leave your cake out in the rain,” White reminds: that’s among the most telling of the many wry and far more subtle lyrical references here. The album closes with Weekend Porsche, a surreal soundscape that slowly coalesces into a reprise of that glam theme. It’s the first instrumental White’s ever recorded and the Eclipse to this Dark Side of the Moon.

Advertisements

A Long-Overdue Retrospective From the Greatest Songwriter You Might Not Know

Back in the radio-and-records era, it was common for a band to put out a greatest-hits album to fulfill their obligation to the label in order to get out of a record deal. Mark Breyer, longtime leader of cult favorite powerpop band Skooshny, put his together to get a record deal. Which makes sense in a way: Breyer is nothing if not counterintuitive. The album, Matchless Gifts – out from Kool Kat Musik and streaming at Bandcamp – is a lavish, smartly assembled double-cd compilation of the best tracks he’s released since 2006 under the name Son of Skooshny, often in collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Steve Refling. For those new to the Breyer songbook, this is as good a way as any to get to know one of the greatest songwriters alive, and it’s one of the best albums of 2017.

The layers of jangly guitars and dreamy sonics draw obvious comparisons to Australian psychedelic/spacerock legends the Church, reinforced by Breyer’s brilliant lyrics – his double entendres and wordplay rank with the Church’s Steve Kilbey, and Elvis Costello, and Rachelle Garniez. And the songs are catchy beyond belief, drawing on decades of clang and twang – Carl Newman is another reference point. Yet Breyer’s catalog doesn’t really evoke any band other than his old one. This guy is a real individualist, a first-ballot Hall of Famer who might take you by surprise.

And much as Breyer can’t resist a good pun – it’s impossible to count all of them here – these songs are sad. The devil is always in the details: Breyer has a rare eye for them. The one that might rip your face off more than any of the others, The Subtle Eye, is actually a brisk, balmy number and one of the gentlest songs here:

Teddy lifts me to a cloud
To protect me from an angry crowd
We sit and watch the spectacle below
Teddy died too young for her to go

See, Teddy is a dog. She appears in a dream, after appearances by now-deceased parents who, if these cameos are characteristic, were real cheerful earfuls (NOT). Humans will betray you, but many other species won’t. And they care enough about you to visit you after they’re gone, if only to let you know that they’re ok. In his last verse, Breyer promises to do the same: who knows what the subtle eye can see, right?

The boisterous opening anthem, Just a Test is irresistibly funny, but quaint diner food turns out to have a surprise in it, and eventually Breyer declares that “I want the other actors dead instead !” He’s referring to a tv show, but obviously there’s more to it.

“You left a note on my door, I found the footnote on the floor,” he announces as Spine, a big, enveloping seduction athem gets underway: foreshadowing is a huge part of Breyer’s M.O. A picturesque, bittersweetly romantic stroll through North Hollywood, No Ho may be conceptually funny – nobody walks in LA, right? – but you can see the ending coming a mile away, and it’s bleak.

Likewise, don’t let the blase calm 70s folk-pop sheen of Half of the World fool you. It deals with issues of perception and drunken yoga, with a coda that’s way too good to give away. Science Changes Everything, with its litany of math and physics metaphors, follows the same pattern, as does Dizzy – a dead ringer for the catchiest stuff on the Church’s Blurred Crusade album. “When more is less you use subtraction, reduce it to a fraction,” Breyer calmly intones.

His images invite plenth of debate. What does the object of affection In Mid-Century Modern do when she visits the justice of the peace? Regret, disillusion, and alienation bordering on despondency are everywhere. “I had that flat but it wasn’t home, you had a cat but you were alone,” Breyer relates in Sorry, another contrast between dreamy, Church-like sonics and richly imagistic, grim narrative.

Good Morning, Gail Warning may take place in an ashram kitchen, but Arthur Schlenger’s eerily reverberating guitars and keys are pure David Lynch soundtrack. “Troubles brew, bubbles rise,” Breyer relates in How Does It End, glistening nocturne swirling through an allusive tale of fractured family ties.

“Take apart your Japanese contraption – douse the charcoal, tear the plastic tent,” Breyer implores in Candy Air: meanwhile, the cat’s under the house and won’t come out. “May I remove your elevator shoes?” he asks in The Right Idea, backed by a plaintively lingering web of twelve-string guitars that leave no doubt how this story is going to end.

Some of these tracks rock pretty hard – Knee Deep, one of the few more optimistic anthems here; the surreal Kate’s Green Phone, which may or may not be about daydrinking and unrealistic expectations; the autobiographical Untold History, which traces an allusively harrowing Cold War childhood narrative; and Another Time, a Costello-esque account of dealing with somebody from outer space. And Bare Bones reaches toward classic punk blast and thud: it’s the closest thing to Breyer’s old band here.

In typical fashion, he saves some of the best songs for the bonus disc. Jeff Peters’ guitar nicks a familiar Angelo Badalementi film noir riff for the doomed trajectory of You Can’t Love Me:

Thank god you’re farsighted instead of near
It might be the only thing keeping you here

And Love’s Not Impossible, with Michael Meros’ hilarious early 80s pop quote, offers a tantalizing flicker of hope, even as the drizzle grows more impenetrable.

In the meantime, Breyer hasn’t slowed down. His latest single, The New South – presumably from yet another formidable album – has unexpected country flavor and a typically sardonic plotline. 

Haunting Singer Carol Lipnik’s East Village Residency Takes On New Relevance

This past Sunday evening at Pangea, Carol Lipnik reached for the rafters, with her voice and with her hand, as if trying to pull stars from the sky. It wasn’t as if she was imploring some unseen force, but there was a quiet desperation as her four-octave voice rose to the stratosphere. Behind her, Matt Kanelos built a twilit mist of electronics and then played steady, lustrous neoromantic piano chords to anchor his longtime collaborator’s uneasy flights upward.

“We’ve fallen backward into a strange abyss of imperfection,” Lipnik mused, in between songs. Iridescent in a shimmery midnight blue dress, she addressed the ugly events of the past week with grim understatement. “Our pleasure ship has hit an iceberg. My life raft is made of paper, and my oar, a pen…my song is a torn sail, my voice the ripping wind.” Much as Lipnik’s performances, and especially her lyrics, can be both hilarious and heartwrenching, this was out of character.

Then again, we’ve all been wrenched from our comfort zones. Calmly and matter-of-factly, Lipnik built a dynamic intensity that rose and fell, laced with dark punk rock humor and ominous nature imagery. The fun stuff included a leap to the rafters with a boisterous cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ I Put a Spell on You that its author would no doubt have been proud of. Lipnik channeled Klaus Nomi in a phantasmagorical version of The Twist. She drew the most feverish applause when she introduced a famous 60s cabaret-rock hit. “The Barnum and Bailey circus is going out of business, Lipnik explained. “Now there’s a new circus in town. Let’s all drink to the death of a clown!” Without further elaboration, the duo onstage brought out every ounce of creepiness in Dave Davies’ metaphorically-loaded circus narrative. Later, the two brought out far more angst than hope in a relentlessly steady take of Leonard Cohen’s Anthem.

The most bittersweet number of the night was a brand-new, rather elegaic collaboration with David Cale titled A History of Kisses. The most apt for the moment was an insistent minor-key art-rock anthem titled Beast Bird, a familiar bestiary facing an even more familiar peril. An elegantly surreal “torch song to a wild goose,” a disquietingly airy take of Goddess of Imperfection – Lipnik’s theme song for her ongoing Pangea residency – and the allusive eco-disaster parable My Piano (which was a tree in a past life) completed the picture. Lipnik’s weekly Sunday shows in the sonically exquisite back room at this comfortable East Village boite are almost as legendary as her vocal range; the show continues this Sunday, Feb 5 at around 7 PM.

Midway through the show, Lipnik brought up Witchfinder Witch, the brand-new duo collaboration between Dennis Davison, frontman of LA psychedelic rock legends the Jigsaw Seen and folk noir songstress Lorraine Leckie, who were making their Manhattan debut. She delivered a cute singalong about legendary Lower East Side dive Mars Bar; he held the crowd rapt with The Unhappiest Man Under the Sun with Leckie on piano, a song that no doubt spoke for a lot of people in the crowd.

LJ Murphy Brings His Feral Stage Show and Visionary Lyricism Back to the East Village

Great musicians reinvent themselves every so often. Bowie did it, and Elvis Costello has done it a few times as well. And so has.LJ Murphy, who is the closest thing New York has to either of those songwriters these days. The Bowie influence isn’t really obvious, although Murphy’s songs have a surrealistic side. The Costello influence is something Murphy has deliberately muted over the past few years, although lyrically speaking, the two share a fondness for irresistible puns, double and triple entendres and a defiant, sometimes venomously anti-authoritarian sensibility. Where Costello these days is a suave elder statesman, Murphy is a ferociously charismatic showman. What’s new in Murphy’s music is that these days, he’s fronting a band with three electric guitars, taking an already high-voltage sound to new heights of intensity. He’s bringing his megawatt show to a Saturday night East Village gig at Sidewalk on Nov 12 at 8 PM. As a bonus, Mac McCarty‘s new Spoon River Anthology-inspired folk noir band, Abraham’s River, play afterward at 9 with Walter Ego – as good a songwriter as anybody else on this bill – probably doing his typical multi-instrumentalist thing on bass, piano and lead guitar.

Over the years, Murphy has fronted an eclectic series of groups, ranging from catchy, new wave-influenced janglerock to volcanic electric blues. Although there were some brilliant lineups behind him in the mid-zeros – the version of his group, The Accomplices, with the crushingly swinging rhythm section of Josh Belknap on drums and Andrew Plonsky on bass, comes to mind – the current lineup may be the best of all of them. And as explosive as this unit is, Murphy has lately been opening and closing his shows solo acoustic. It’s kind of a macho thing, as if to say, “Yeah, this band is great, but these songs don’t need a band.” Last time out, he opened with the haunting, minor-key Fearful Town, an understatedly savage portrait of East Village tourist trap hell, and closed with the similarly poignant Saturday’s Down, a 6/8 soul ballad set in McCarren Park in Williamsburg back in the days when it really was populated with cops on horseback, sleeping drunks and men who work three jobs.

The time before that Murphy played a brief acoustic set in tandem with his multi-instrumentalist not-so-secret weapon, Tommy Hoscheid, who’s as likely to break out his tenor sax as he is to fire off a vintage Memphsi soul solo on electric guitar, or accompany the band on piano. The time before that – yeah, this guy’s worth seeing three times over the course of a summer – Murphy opened with Saturday’s Down and closed with the ominously aphoristic noir blues cautionary tale Geneva Conventional.

But the funnest parts of those shows were when the band was really cooking. Hoscheid and Dylan Treadwell on guitars, Murphy rocking his vintage Gibson hollowbody, the kinetically tuneful Quinn Murphy (no relation) towering over the rest of the group on bass and Jacob Kavell on drums. Together they blasted through the punked-out Stax/Volt of Happy Hour – a crushingly funny portrait of Wall Street happy hour dysfunction that anybody who’s ever spent time in the belly of the beast down there can relate to. They shuffled propulsively through the menace of another soul-inflected number, Panic City and its evocation of post-9/11 paranoia and post-3/11 horror, quite possibly the most relevant song written by any rock writer in the past fifteen years. They swung gently through the brooding cautionary tale Sleeping Mind, a poignant evocation of terminal depression, and romped through more upbeat numbers like the jangly, sardonic Damaged Goods, the enigmatically crescendoing Nowhere Now, the drunk dream sequences in the decaying Rust Belt noir of Buffalo Red and the explosively bouncy Blue Silence. As seemingly every song wound up, Murphy reached for the rafters with the headstock of his guitar, chopping at his chords like an axe murderer until the rest of his accomplices joined him. As far as feral, unleashed energy is concerned, there’s nobody in town these days who can touch this guy. If raw adrenaline is your thing, miss this show at your peril.

 

Haunting, Brilliantly Lyrical Noir Americana from Ben De La Cour

Crooner Ben De La Cour brings to mind Townes Van Zandt, and also a young Ward White. De La Cour shares a similarly cynical worldview and world-weary, rakish persona, and sings in an assured baritone that he would probably prefer was fueled by quality bourbon, although rotgut might do the job in a pinch. And as he makes clear from the git-go, he’s no stranger to being in a pinch. He tells a good yarn, is a hell of a lyricist and has a thing for windmills. Vocally, Nick Cave is the obvious comparison, but De La Cour doesn’t rip him off wholesale: where Cave looks to Ireland for inspiration, De La Cour goes to the dark side of Nashville – his adopted hometown – or the Mississippi gulf. His brilliant new album Midnight in Havana is streaming at his music page,

The opening track is Mobile Bay, awash in a lush bed of acoustic and electric guitars, with accordion and Meredith Krygowski’s violin adding subtle cajun tinges. De La Cour keeps his imagery close to his vest in this one: do those bells across the water imply that the doomed narrator’s ex is marrying some other guy, that there’s a hurricane on the way, or both?

The band builds from bassist Jimmy Sullivan and drummer Erin Nelson’s steady Nashville gothic shuffle to an afterdark Tex-Mex rock blaze – the BoDeans circa 1993, feeding the fire – with Evelyn:

Pain lay deep in every track as we crossed over the border
But only one of us came back and I was so much older
And if I had it all again I’d probably make a couple changes to the end, Evelyn

Anybody Like You puts a bluegrass spin on the opening tune, with a disarmingly charming Freewheeling-era Dylan lyrical feel. Hold On takes a hard turn into grimly surreal fire-and-brimstone blues: “It makes me sick to think of Charley Patton in his grave, if he rose up they’d put him right back down in there again,” De La Cour rails. Walkin Around with the Blues is a less successful detour into Allman Brothers redneck rock.

The Last Last Dance nicks a familiar REM riff for a booze-drenched, doomed hookup scenario: “They say pick your poison, for all I know you do,” De La Cour’s narrator explaining that “At the emotional soup kitchen, I’m down at the front of the line.”

With its snarling guitars from lead player Ryan Dishen, Ain’t Going Down That Road brings to mind the Bottle Rockets in a particularly dark moment:

I heard Mr. Williams say we’re all just sitting around a hole in the ground
Shutterbugs are just far-out weird while the rest are just hanging around…
Some folks gotta feel the heat before they ever see the light
But I ain’t going down that road tonight

Brandywine Bouquet shifts into slowly swaying Blonde on Blonde territory, while Windmills and Trees offers both droll environmentalist relevance as well as a little insight into everybody’s favorite power source. But De La Cour can’t resist bringing back the gloom with the viscerally uneasy Down to the Water’s Edge:

I can see that light in your eyes, is it love or is it fear
If I could tell one from the other maybe neither one of us would be here

The album closes with the offhandedly ominous title track, an allusive tale that sounds a lot more like Matt Keating – or a Russell Banks short story – than anything Cuban. Time after time, De La Cour takes a theme that others would only scratch the surface of, and plunges to its murkiest, terminally depressed depths. Get to know this guy – he has a ceiling as high as both Van Zandt and White, and will hopefully last a lot longer than the former.

Amy Allison Brings Her Poignant, Distinctive Voice and Songcraft to the East Village Folk Festival

For the past six months, Amy Allison has held down a monthly Saturday night residency at Dixon Place with pianist Lee Feldman. It’s an amazing collaboration. The daughter of jazz piano icon Mose Allison, she made her mark in the 90s as the best songwriter to come out of what was known then as alt-country. Revered by her peers – Elvis Costello appears on one of her albums, and Emmylou Harris’ most recent release contains an Amy Allison cover – she maintains a devoted cult following here.

Feldman, an briliant and similarly poignant songwriter in his own right, has an intuitive grasp of Allison’s songs. He interprets them line by line, shifting from rapt, starlit neoromantic glimmer, to earthy gospel, to wry Floyd Cramer C&W, sometimes in the space of a few bars (for what it’s worth, he also has a thing for Bach, and jazz, and film and tv themes, and wrote one of the few childrens’ musicals worth seeing). He and Allison share an irrepressible, sometimes devastating sense of humor: when those two decide to ham it up for a bar or two, the result is killer. On June 19 at 7 PM, Allison is venturing beyond her usual turf to play the East Village Music Folk Festival at Theatre 80 St. Marks; $10.50 tix are available.

This month’s installment of Allison’s Lower East Side residency was a lot of fun. The house is usually packed when she plays: this time out, with thunderclouds looming in from across the Hudson and media hysteria about a deluge that never came, it was a more intimate gathering. Her distinctive, disarmingly direct yet minutely nuanced voice was in top shape, part pilowy velvet, part twang. Even by Allison’s standards, the set was an especially choice one, a mix of favorites, rarities and a couple of unexpected covers. The two opened with the gently swaying, characteristically bittersweet Beautiful Night, Feldman adding Beethovenesque upper-register lustre. They followed with a mutedly tender, understatedly longing take of Anywhere You Are Is Where I Am.

“You turned my silver heart into stainless steel,” she intoned in Silver Stone, a rare gem dating from her earliest C&W days. Another obscurity, Blueberry Pie, echoed hokum blues and 19th century folk with its droll dessert metaphors. Blue Plate Special, a vivid, Jarmusch-style early 80s Memphis tableau, drew on vintage soul music and also the time she’d spent living there, and made a good segue.

Bette Davis, a new one, has become a big hit with the crowd, and will resonate with anybody who ends the night glued to Turner Classics. Allison put down her guitar as Feldman channeled her dad’s erudite blues in a cover of his Vietnam War-era classic Everybody’s Crying Mercy – as relevant now as it was then. She told the crowd that both Ella Fitzgerald and Shirley Temple had done Goodnight My Love; this version turned out to be closer to Blossom Dearie.

Another new number, Angel Face, was classic Allison, a catchy, poignantly optimistic number, but as usual Allison had something up her sleeve; meanwhile, Feldman mashed up gospel and Schubert. The best song of the night was also its most ornate, a lushly gorgeous take of the gently ominous Come Sweet Evening. She closed with the richly plaintive Goodbye Lovers Lane, a song that wouldn’t be out of place in the Roy Wood/Move catalog, and encored with Dream World, which crystallizes her worldview better than the more famous sad-girl song that first put her on the map. Allison has been writing up a storm of good songs over the past year or so; Sunday’s East Village show could be a launching pad for a whole bunch of them.

Another Hauntingly Lyrical, Richly Jangly Masterpiece from Son of Skooshny

From 1978 until the band more or less dissolved somewhere around the late 90s – yet released a final single just this year – guitarist/songwriter Mark Breyer fronted Skooshny. The jangly powerpop trio still enjoys a cult following. Sort of the missing link between the Church, Cheap Trick and Elvis Costello, they played a single live show: an Arthur Lee benefit. As cred goes, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Since the group disbanded (but hey, we can always hope), Breyer has soldiered on as Son of Skooshny. And his songwriting, always packed with clever puns, multiple levels of meaning and an incessant angst, has never been better. With arrangements and spectacular multi-instrumentation from producer Steve Refling, Son of Skooshny’s catchy, anthemic latest album, the sardonically titled Confection, is streaming at Bandcamp.

Breyer claims to be technologically inept but he has a handle on marketing, releasing most of the album as singles over the past few months. Several of these have been featured on this page as they appeared, There’s Cloud Cover, “a wistful, dreamily uneasy transcontinental flight scenario. Just a Test is even better, a backbeat stomp that’s one of the funniest songs Breyer’s ever written…and then it gets dark. Refling turns in some of his finest work as a one-man version of the Church.”

No Ho “paints a gently devastating portrait of existential angst and understated despair, a couple doomed from the start traipsing their way through a vivid LA milieu. And the title could be as savage for the girl as the narrator’s prospects are bleak.”

Half of the World is Breyer at his sardonic, metaphorically-loaded best, opening this lushly swaying 70s folk-pop gem through the eyes of a guy trying to focus as the snow swirls around his eyes: Then,

Even this drunkard who chants between sips
And tries to keep the Lord’s name on his lips
Will surely move on and progress
When the mannequin changes its dress
It can see more than half of the world

As good as these tracks are, they pale next to The Subtle Eye. It’s one of best songs to come over the transom here in the past few years, never mind months, one of those 4 AM repeat-button numbers (in context: Matthew Grimm’s suicide narrative West Allis; Marianne Dissard’s drained and depleted Am Letzen; Karla Rose’s grimly defiant Time Well Spent).

Refling’s trebly accordion sheen belies a sadness that will rip your heart out. This is about dead people appearing in dreams – and it’s a wish song. Long-gone parents make fleetingly ominous appearances; a beloved canine comes to the rescue. That Breyer doesn’t completely rule out a happy ending is almost crueler than if he’d just wrapped it up on a depressing note: be careful what you wish for since you might not get it. It capsulizes his worldview, resolutely dreaming his way through every stop sign. Watch for this on the best albums of 2016 page if we get that far.

Dada Paradox Pick Up Where the Wickedly Catchy, Lyrically Brilliant Larch Left Off

In recent years at least, it’s hard to imagine a more productive rock music couple than Ian and Liza Roure. As the brain trust of both the Larch and Liza & the WonderWheels, they made a mark as purveyors of hook-driven, lyrically sharp Elvis Costello-ish tunesmithing and acerbically catchy psychedelia, respectively. When both bands imploded, the Wheels morphed into Tracy Island – fronted by Liza, on guitar – and the Larch became Dada Paradox, fronted by Ian on a multitude of guitars, bass and percussion, with Liza on keys. Dada Paradox picks right up where the Larch left off with 2014’s In Transit without missing a beat. The new album, Mobile Flight – streaming at the band’s webpage – has some of the most memorable songwriting released this year, and the duo will bring it to the stage at the release show on May 25 at 8 PM at Bowery Electric. Low-key psychedelic crew Psychic Lines open the night at 7; cover is $10.

The anthemically crescendoing opening track, Find Ways to Matter traces an uneasily metaphorical space travel narrative over a tasty bed of judiciously multitracked guitar textures: the interweave between the acoustic, the electrics and the twelve-string is intricate and Byrdsy to the point where it’s hard to tell which is playing what. Light hand percussion rather than a full drumkit has the paradoxical effect of directing attention to Roure’s lattice of fretwork, adding a low-key bedroom pop charm.

The twelve-string also takes centerstage over twinkling electric piano on the first of a handful of miniatures here, the wistful, gently nocturnally-tinged Here Comes Another Day. From there the duo segue into the album’s catchiest and also most nonchalantly ominous track, the tropically-tinged Another Day in Paradise. It’s Squeeze’s Pulling Mussels without the one-note guitar solo, updated for the teens with a backdrop of global warming.

The resolute, propulsive Happy Families, another track from the late Larch days, looks back to vintage, offhandedly savage Armed Forces-era Costello with its sardonic portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Executive doing a number on each other while trying to keep up appearances. Spooky Action surrealistically explores an eerie sci-fi action-at-a-distance scenario over a stately Britfolk waltz, Ian’s recorder and Liza’s ghost-girl vocal harmonies ramping up the mysterioso ambience.

A gentle baroque keyboard interlude leads into the wryly sarcastic character study Inflexible Flyer, Ray Davies channeled through the prism of peak-era, mid-90s Blur. For those who don’t get the joke, the Flexible Flyer was a popular kids’ snow sled back in the 60s and 70s. There are a couple of folk-flavored tracks here –  The Far Side of the Fray has a deadpan savagery in the same vein as Roger Waters’ The Bravery of Being Out of Range, while The Apocalypse Cheering Committee is as cynically funny as you would expect from this crew.

There’s also Solar Birds, aloft on a keening slide guitar line with an early 70s pastoral Pink Floyd feel, and the album’s majestically jangly closing escape anthem, Sorrows of Stephen: “The sorrow suffocates, to draw a free breath seems like it’s worth the risk that you take,” Ian encourages. A good fifteen-plus years since the Larch started ripping it up in scruffy dives all over Brooklyn, it’s good to see the Roures arguably at the peak of their career as players and songwriters. Count this among the half-dozen best releases to come out of New York this year.

LJ Murphy Brings His Fearlessly Relevant New York Noir Narratives to the East Village Saturday Night

The big news about LJ Murphy is that he went electric last year. Which is to say that although he’s been the leader of a careening electric band since the zeros, he typically played acoustic guitar to balance out the textures. But not lately. And surprisingly, the change has added as much subtlety as it has energy to Murphy’s blues-infused, suspensefully dynamic noir rock narratives. He’s going slumming this weekend at 8 PM Saturday night at Sidewalk on a good twinbill, followed by the similarly energetic, even more haphazardly careening, Pogues-ish folk noir of Mac McCarty & the Kidd Twist Band.

Murphy’s most recent show was also a doubleheader with McCarty. Rocking his usual black suit and porkpie hat, shiny black tie against a violet shirt, Murphy was all business as he swung his backing unit the Accomplices into the surreal Weimar cabaret strut of the title track to his cult classic album Mad Within Reason. Lead guitarist Tommy Hoscheid’s eerily reverberating eight-note runs offered a chilly nod to Otis Rush as Murphy barked a sinister portrait of our times:

….Crosses and pistols are slung ar our hips
I cried for my supper and then spat on the plate
While everyone tried to become what they hate
The industry captain, a smile on his face
So proud of the changes he’s made to this place

Although the song dates as far back as the 90s, if anything it’s more relevant now, with the spectre of a Trump Presidency looming on the horizon.

“I write songs about two things. Gentrification and sex,” Murphy smirked. And there’s plenty of truth to that, in that it’s hard to imagine a more withering critique of the mentality fueling the wholesale destruction of working-class and artistic communities in this city. And as a psychopathologist, Murphy rates with Elvis Costello.

The high-voltage Stax/Volt style shuffle Happy Hour painted an ugly picture of how those employed in the “wicked industries that are so celebrated now” blow off steam after work. Drummer Jacob Cavell gave the songs a caffeinated drive, sometimes riding a cymbal bell to ramp up the suspense. Bassist Nils Sorensen – also of well-liked Danish Americana rockers Brothers Moving – served essentially as a third lead guitarist with his sinewy, sometimes sardonically percolating lines. Otherwise, the two electric guitars out in front of the rhythm section really transformed the songs. The wickedly catchy, shuffling Imperfect Strangers and the similarly pulsing cautionary anthem Sleeping Mind took on extra growl and clang. The best song of the night was Panic City, another shuffle, eerily referencing both 9/11 and 3/11:

Can you hide in the darkness
Til the enemy’s gone
Can you remember the password
When the pressure is on?
When your hair is onfire
And your eyes are insane
Can you cover up the damage
From the poisonous rain?
From Panic City to your hometown…

Murphy’s likely to bust these out, and a whole lot more, this Saturday night.

Linda Draper’s New Album Adds to Her Hall of Fame Credentials

It’s time to head down to the quarry and hammer out a pedestal for Linda Draper. Eight albums into her career, not one of them anything less than brilliant: Richard Thompson, Elvis Costello, Steve Wynn, Aimee Mann brilliant. Draper is in their league both as a tunesmith and lyricist, and she can sing circles around all of them. And she’s explored a lot of styles over the past fifteen years or so: straightforward acoustic pop, surrealistic psychedelia, Nashville gothic and now a richly tuneful jangle and clang. Producer Matt Keating gets major props for making a big rock record out of Draper’s latest album, Modern Day Decay. It hasn’t hit the web yet, although you can hear a lot of it at her album release show on April 29 at 7 PM at the big room at the Rockwood.

Draper had the good sense to get the most out of Keating on this album. It’s arguably Draper’s strongest release to date, both lyrically and musically, and he really takes it to the next level, both as lead guitarist and keyboardist. Recorded mostly live in the studio in a single whirlwind 48-hour session, the songs have a bristling intensity, Draper’s strong but nuanced mezzo-soprano anchored by bassist Jeff Eyrich and drummer Eric Puente.

The gorgeously anthemic title track opens the album. With the layers of twelve-string guitar over piano and organ, it sounds like the Church with a woman out front:

In a world made for the masses
It ain’t easy to see
It all through rose-colored glasses
You know the thorns wait patiently
…Some say time is all we need
To heed, no matter the relevance
Or pick at the scab until it bleeds…

The matter-of-fact Keep Your Head Up has tinges of psychedelia and C&W and opens with a wry shout-out to Mary Magdalene. I’t s a prime example of Draper at her witheringly lyrical best:

We’re under the gun until one day we’re done…
Get on the latest medication
Join the rest of the brainwashed nation
Airport security, a little radiation
Stand in line, take a number
Don’t blame the stars for your lack of wonder
Like a wild tiger turned into a fur coat
We howl at the moon until we lose the fight

True Enough is another catchy, richly jangly 12-string guitar anthem, a rugged individualist trying to keep her cool under pressure:

Gone are the days of the heat and the haze
That once bled my eyes dry
They sensed in the place by the cold golden gaze
That a love almost passed me by
It’s just a blip on the screen, a switch in the scene
The rest is a big fat lie
Why can’t they just take me as I am…

Put Love In has some unexpected hip-hop tinges in the lyric over an uneasy acoustic-electric backdrop. The catchy, swaying Take Your Money and Run works on a whole slew of levels. On the surface, it’s an escape anthem of sorts:

I pawned my ring for everything and said let it ride
Now I’m here to tell you you reap what you sow
You sold me out, now you’d better let me go
Cause I’m done, all right, but I did it with love
Head for the hills tonight, no heaven above
Can stop me now
There’s nothing to slow down
There’s nothing to stop you
It doesn’t matter where you come from
That doesn’t mean that’s all you have to become
You have so much more love in your heart
Than the sum of your parts
So take your money and run

A slow, organ-infused soul ballad, the nonchalantly cajoling Lose with Me brings to mind Jenifer Jackson. “All my heroes are long gone, or sold their souls to some reality show,” Draper muses.

Awash in lingering, echoing psychedelic guitars, Burn Your Bridges sounds like the Church doing a late Beatles folk-pop number: “All hands on deck for the shipwreck, brace yourselves,” Draper warns.

Pedestal takes a careeningly successful detour into rockabilly: for that matter, it might be the most lyrically sophisticated rockabilly tune ever written:

Everyone’s listening to nobody else
The symphony sounds fine on the train
As we keep moving round in vain
Regurgitating joy and pain

Nashville builds from a stark, spare acoustic intro to a mighty cinematic sweep:

Into the evening
Out of my mind
What you call believing
I call dying
Can’t you see the bags under my eyes
Or the rags that I wore in disguise
The latest fashion, greatest curse
I don’t know which one should be worse….
Like cattle they packed us
Onto the bus
Eleven hours later we were in Nashville
The flames and the smoke followed me here
Ten years ago just seemed to disappear
Now I’m rnnning from the wind
‘Cause I know how fast it can blow
There ain’t gonna be a next time
All we’ve got is today
And all I see in my mind
Keeps driving away

The album winds up with a waltz, Good As New, another individualist’s manifesto

There’s nothing wrong if you don’t belong…
I spend my lifetime, I’ve made it a habit
Of staying on the outside, now why should I quit
“That’s just your way of hiding,” you say
You know, ’cause you see yourself in me

Just on lyrics alone – is Draper quotable, or what? – this is a strong contender for best release of 2016.