New York Music Daily

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Two of New York’s Best Psychedelic Acts and an Indie Stalwart at Cake Shop on the 13th

The headliner of the triplebill this Sunday night, Sept 13 at Cake Shop will most likely draw an older, 90s indie crowd. Hamish Kilgour, who plays at 11, is best known for his work with aptly named New Zealand indie rockers the Clean, whose coolly nebulous sonics influenced a ton of bands back in the day. But that crowd will be balanced, demographically at least, by the two acts who open the night. Ember Schrag, who began her career as a “great plains gothic” tour warrior in the late zeros, has gone deeper and deeper into psychedelia lately: her shows this year with her band have been transcendent. She kicks off the evening at 9 in a rare duo acoustic show with her similarly superb lead guitarist, Bob Bannister. Then she’s leaving Monday morning to go on tour as the organist for another dark psychedelic outfit, the Balkan-infused Alec K Redfearn & the Eyesores.

Schrag’s latest album, a live recording and free download in the Folkadelphia Sessions series, offers a look at what Schrag does with a band: it capturs them at the peak of their subtle powers. The opening track, Lady M sets the stage, the guitar interweave between Schrag and Bannister so tight that it seems like a single, otherworldly, rippling twelve-stirng – until he cuts loose with a wry Tex-Mex-flavored solo. Meanwhile, Susan Alcorn’s pedal steel soars elegantly in the background. Schrag has a Macbeth fixation: the chorus of “your children will be kings” cuts both ways, in true Shakespearean fashion.

Iowa, an older song, has been a live showstopper lately, a slowly swaying ballad heavy as stormclouds over the Midwest. Schrag takes a series of three metaphorically-charged roadside images, weaves them into one of the most menacing, apocalyptic songs released this year, and sings the hell out of it. Schrag has a thing for taking biblical imagery and turning it inside out, and this is a prime example.

Virgin in the Shadow of My Shoe packs the iconoclastic wallop of PiL’s Religion, but a thousand times more subtly, with its spiky, psychedelic sway. The final cut, The Real Penelope, works a misty, opaque groove fueled by drummer Gary Foster’s masterful malletwork: it’s the most hypnotic and enigmatic track here, capped off with a slowly spiraling, acid-wah Bannister solo. You’ll see this album on the best albums of 2015 page here at the end of the year if we all last that long.

Another album that’ll be on that page is the latest release from the 10 PM act,  Goddess – the full review is here. It was also great fun to catch the band play a rare house concert in south Brooklyn a couple of months back.That phantasmatorical, tragicomic psychedelic suite opened with singer Fran Pado soaring over a a mashup of jangly Laurel Canyon psychedelia and Abbey Road Beatles, introducing the tale of “Grinny,” a witchy figure who takes over a New Jersey family, who then struggle to break free of the evil spell that paralyzes them.

As the tale unwound, Andy Newman’s enveloping, shapeshifting keyboard textures took centerstage, then receded, then returned, in an early Genesis vein. An eerily twinkling, strummy folk-rock number followed: “Grinny was great on Halloween,” Pado revealed as the mellotron oscillated in the background. The band took a twisted bit of neo-plainchant and made a mantra-like groove out of it as Newman let his flute settings resonate above while the narrative grew grimmer. After a bit of a waltz, a spacious, minimalist intro grew slowly into a march, with hauntingly echoey vocal counterpart between Pado and one-string violinist Tamalyn Miler, who then took the creepiest solo of the night as the song built to a horrified peak. The band worked that suspensefully lustrous/macabre dynamic for the rest of the show, capped off by Miller’s shivery glissandos: it wouldn’t be fair to give away the ending.

Goddess will also be on WFMU at midnight on 9/15, joined by Bannister, Leah Coloff, and Peter Zummo, who will also be part of the festivities at the Cake Shop gig. Cover is $10.

A Deliciously Noisy New Free Download and Some Brooklyn Shows from Parlor Walls

Guitarist/singer Alyse Lamb is best known for her work leading Eula, who’ve generated a ton of buzz over the past year, and deservedly so. But she has another project, Parlor Walls, with her partner Chris Mulligan. How do the two bands compare? Lamb is equally adept at noise and melody, and has a very distinctive sound: generally speaking, Parlor Walls is less minimalist and tends to be more straight-ahead, rhythmically speaking. You could pigeonhole both bands as postpunk or noiserock, but they transcend both labels. Parlor Walls have a debut ep up at Bandcamp as a free download and have been playing a lot this month. On Wednesday, June 10 they’ll be at Alphaville, 140 Wilson Ave (Snydam/Willoughby) in Bushwick, take the M to Central Ave. On June 25 they’ll be at Cake Shop at 11 for $8. And Eula will be at Palisades on June 13 at 8 for $15 followed by what looks like a big gay meat market night.

What does the Parlor Walls album sound like? About eleven minutes of corrosive fun. The guitars distort into the red and crack up, or throw off jagged metal shards of reverb. Creepy organ lingers back in the mix like a stalker, set against an  explosively tight beat. Mississippi, the opening track, hints at an industrial/drone vibe before hitting a punchy, bristling, tastily chromatic My Sharona groove. Lamb’s high, insistent vocals on Bon Nuit could imply seduction, violence or both over a menacing major-on-minor guitar/organ backdrop that goes completely off the edge at the end of the verse.

Cover Me, with its skronk and fuzz and feedback, is probably the closest thing to Eula here. The final cut is Seeds, conjuring up Sister-era SY in about 100 seconds of stomp. Fire up the wifi and grab this tasty slice of the good side of Brooklyn, 2015, while it’s here.

Madam West Bring Their Psychedelic Soul to Palisades: Not an April Fool Joke

Isn’t it cool when a band actually know themselves well enough to tell you what they do? You’d think that more artists would be able to do that…but a lot of times they don’t. Madam West call themselves psychedelic soul and that’s what they are. That, and danceable, and fun. On their new four-track ep, Not Pictured – a name-your-price download at Bandcamp – the group comprises singer/uke player Sophie Chernin, keyboardist Todd Martino and dummer Mike McDearmon. They’ve expanded to a five-piece for their 9:15 PM Palisades show in Bushwick on April 1 (no joke) and they sound like they bring the party live.

The album’s first track, Darlin’ has a funny video that’s sort of a Fatal Attraction spoof. The song is a vampy, bouncy thing where Chernin finally decides to take off and head for the sky about halfway through. The next song, Home starts out as a uke waltz, but then McDearmon adds a funk groove underneath. And why not – there’s such a thing as a jazz waltz, why not a funk waltz? The music-box synth tones are an unexpectedly cool touch too.

In her more stressed moments, Chernin takes on a bluesy, imploring tone that reminds of Jolie Holland. She stays closer to the ground throughout most of The End, a steady, resonant latin soul groove with some playful synth squiggles and blips. The last track is October, which fools you into thinking it’ll be a brooding waltz before Chernin’s vocal leaps and Martino’s judiciously hard-hitting chords take it in a more kinetic direction. Promising debut; hopefully more to come. More bands should be doing stuff like this: it’s fun and catchy without being bland, and you can dance to it.

Real NYC Punk Rock and a Grand Victory Show on Saturday by Scrapers

Scrapers play real punk rock. Not emo posing as punk rock. Not phony circus rock with loud guitars. Their album Dark Places – a free download at Bandcamp – is the kind of stuff you would have heard at the top of a good bill at CBGB around 1981. They’re playing Grand Victory at two in the afternoon on March 7 to kick off what’s more or less a hardcore matinee there; cover is ten bucks.

It’s a good bet they’ll be playing more than what’s on the album, considering that it’s about fifteen minutes long. By the time it’s over, if classic punk is your thing, you’re left wishing it was twice as long. And nobody would be complaining if the songs went on longer: most of them max out at less than two minutes. If anybody understands the concept about always leaving audiences wahting more, it’s these guys. Bee Wiseman fronts the band; Brian Darwas, formerly of Roger Miret & the Disasters, plays bass; Sol Keller and Dodi Wiemuth are the rest of the crew. The first track on the album seems to be sort of a theme song: these guys are just managing to scrape by, the guitars screaming over a practically oi-punk scramble: “You wanna see a dead body?” Wiseman leers at the end.

Gravity is a catchy number: it’s got those muted downstrokes and then big scorching chords and the hint of a big solo. And then it’s over. White Boys is half noisy intro and half murderous oldschool punk menace. Forget the catchy intro: Kids Will Kill has the same kind of head-on assault, the kind that makes you wonder whether you should highfive the band after the show or leave them the hell alone.

Bad Blood is over in less than a minute, a blast of searing chromatic fury like the album’s runaway express-train title cut. Shot Out has a few bass rumbles seeping out from under the pitchblende attack. Missing Person could be the Avengers with one of the guys out in front of the band; the album winds up with World War 4, a minute four seconds of what could be vintage X as played by the Ramones. This band is tight as a drum of toxic waste, loud as hell, and catchier than they probably want to admit. So many bands make complete fools of themselves trying to sound dark and desperate: these guys sound like they can’t help it. Get the album, blast it in your headphones and remember how it feels to be totally alive if not necessarily happy about it.

Que Vlo-Ve Bring Haunting, Edgy Greek Crime Rhymes and Revolutionary Anthems to Barbes

Que Vlo-Ve aren’t the only band in town who play haunting, Turkish-influenced Greek revolutionary songs and hash-smoking anthems from the 20s and 30s, but they’re one of the best. Right now they’ve got three singles up at Bandcamp as free downloads, which offer an intriguing glimpse of the kind of material they’re likely to air out at their upcoming show at Barbes on Nov 26 at 8 PM. The first song, O Psilos, shows off the lively, upbeat side of their music. The second, Ferte Preza Na Prezaro, dances along with forceful Greek vocals from frontman/percussionist Quince Marcum and biting chromatics from violinist Maya Shanker and guitarists Wade Ripka and Izaak Mills. The most recent one, To Baglamadaki Spase is slower and more brooding.

At their previous Barbes show, Marcum told the audience that although it would be overly reductionistic to explain this music as something created by a clash between stoners and drunks, there’s some truth to that. The backstory is that when the Turkish dictatorship kicked its indigenous Greek population out of Smyrna right before World War I, those people once again found themselves outcasts once they’d made it to Greece since their expatriate culture differed in many ways from what was the rule on the mainland. As a soundtrack to their demimonde, which helped fuel the Greek underground resistance to their own repressive dictatorship, they invented rembetiko, the so-called “Greek gangster blues” that draws heavily on ominous, Middle Eastern sounds from Turkey and points further east.

Marcum intoned in an expressive baritone as Shanker and Ripka passed a spiky baglama lute back and forth. One airy song concerned a guy trying to impress a hot girl with how cunning a linguist he is – he speaks both Greek and Turkish, plus, since she’s Jewish, a little Ladino. Another, The Knife Fight offered a tale of death and retribution in the criminal underworld: hip-hop themes go back a lot further than Biggie Smalls. The chorus of one murky, hypnotic tune reminded how it takes a stoner to know a stoner: a Greek take on When You’re a Viper, more or less. A little later they played an even more hypnotic tune, a drug smuggler’s sea chantey of sorts.

Ripka opened a couple of numbers with slowly unfolding, mysterious guitar improvisations, one on baglama. Shanker’s soaring violin carried most of the big crescendos and the occasional departure into otherworldly Arabic microtones. The funniest number was The Flea, a deviously dancing tune: Marcum explained that its gist is, “I will penetrate you and keep you awake, just like you keep me awake all night.” For the sake of the non-Greek speakers in the crowd, that context added a dimension too often missing at performances of this kind of esoterica.

What does Que Vlo-Ve mean? That’s not clear. However, there once was a scholarly journal of Apollinaire studies with that same name.

Carsie Blanton Brings Her Sultry Southern Sound to the Rockwood and Elsewhere

Torchy New Orleans chanteuse Carsie Blanton is doing a different kind of American tour this year, inspired as much by her wildly popular blog as well as her music. She’s playing clubs, but she’s also appearing at sex toy shops. Here in New York, her first stop is at Babeland at 43 Mercer St. on July 12 from 3 to 5 PM. Then she’s playing the third stage at the Rockwood at 8 PM on July 13 for $10 plus a $10 drink minimum. Her aptly titled new album, Not Old, Not New is up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download: you should grab it.

Is the album about sex? It’s more about innuendo. Blanton’s pillowy voice may be seductive, but in a genuine rather than campy or over-the-top way. She’s got a great, purist jazz combo behind her: Neal Caine on bass, Joe Dyson on drums, Rex Gregory on sax and clarinets, Kevin Louis on trumpet, Shane Theriot on guitar and David Torkanowsky on piano. The opening track, Azaleas sets the mood immediately, Blanton musing how “nothing evil can assail ya” against a sunmery backdrop of resonant piano, terse bass, brushed drums and balmy, muted trumpet. Blanton matches sly wit with southern charm on the slow, slinky Laziest Gal in Town, enhanced by a gently smoky bass clarinet solo. Then she and the band pick up the pace with the ragtime-flavored Heavenly Thing, a vibe they maintain on Two Sleepy People, a portrait of two lovers in the wee hours who’ve run out of gas yet can’t bear to part. It’s more coy than Daria Grace‘s unforgettably endorphin-infused version.

Blanton’s slow, wounded take of You Don’t Know What Love Is has a vividly stripped-down arrangement that contrasts brooding piano against fluttery tenor sax. Then she romps through a brisk take of What Is This Thing Called Love, spiced with a spiky Jason Marsalis vibraphone solo.

They go back to slow, low-key ballad mode for the picturesque Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans. Blanton offers Sweet Lorraine from the perspective of a woman who’s getting gaymarried, with a slow, soulful piano-based arrangement that mirrors the album’s first song.

The funniest, most innuendo-fueled track here is the swinging hokum blues tune Don’t Come Too Soon. Blanton brings down the lights again with a slow, warmly wistful version of I’ll Be Seeing You and winds up the album with the title track, a miniature for just solo voice and acoustic guitar. Fans of oldtime Americana and swing jazz are in for a treat with this one.

A Grim Look into the Future from HUMANWINE

Boston’s best band for the better part of a decade and now based in Vermont, HUMANWINE play important, politically insightful, exhilarating Romany-flavored punk rock and noir cabaret. They’re the closest thing to the Clash or the Dead Kennedys that we have right now. Those comparisons are especially appropriate considering that HUMANWINE (a cryptic acronym for Humans Underground Making Anagrams Nightly While Imperialistic Not-Mes Enslave) don’t just write songs about doom and despair under an all-seeing Orwellian eye. The band’s core, frontwoman Holly Brewer and guitarist/keyboardist Matthew McNiss envision an alternate future that’s NOT a corporate fascist surveillance state. Since the band came up right after the Bush/Cheney coup d’etat in 2000, their response has been venomous, and sarcastic, and articulate right from the start. They see this happening in their own country, and they take it personally. More of us should.

Right now they have a characteristically creepy, carnivalesque new album, Fighting Naked, and an ep, Mass Exodus, up at their Bandcamp page as name-your-price downloads, as ominously entertaining as they are prophetic. The music on the album is intense, and feral, and anthemic, and the message is spot-on. Are we going to be hypnotized by the “hypocritical fascist porno priests on the tv selling you shit you don’t need, ” while we let the billionaires and their multinational cartels inch us closer and closer to fullscale slavery – or are we going to join forces, all of us, delete our Facebook accounts and then give Big Brother the boot? It’s our call.

Many of the corrosively propulsive narratives here are told from the point of view of exiles and freedom fighters battling a murderous occupation. Some are set in the imaginary fascist state of Vinland, which is basically the world taken forward a few years to where every move a person makes is recorded and watched. But as Brewer reminds on the live acoustic version of the catchy, defiant protest anthem 1st Amendment, surveillance can work both ways. Who’s watching the watchers?

The first track on the album is a macabre punkmetal waltz, UnEntitled States of Hysteria, Brewer’s machinegun vocals splattering a grim tableau of life under the occupation, with a snide outro that makes the connection between medieval witch trials and this era’s demonization of so-called terrorists. The next cut, Big Brother, a Middle Eastern-tinged punk tune, is more defiant and optimistic: when the “Eye of the pyramid is keeping track of your every move, every day your thoughts are all you got – so go and do what you gotta do.”

Tumbling drums – is that Brian Viglione or Nate Greenslit? – and McNiss’ murderously growing low-register guitar fuel the title track, another creepy waltz. Wake Up is next, a sarcastic, surreal lullaby that morphs into a viciously sarcastic faux military march, followed by a punk sea chantey that offers a hint of comic relief.

“Sometimes families change…create your own,” Brewer sings coldly on the chorus of Epoch, which opens as a deliciously ominous, Britfolk-tinged number and then bounces toward Balkan musical territory in 5/4 time. Likewise, the album’s most macabre song, Worthless Ode, shifting from a morbid march to a Transylvanian dance: it’s about love during wartime, and it doesn’t end well. Another menacing waltz, Script Language sounds like Vera Beren covering Trans-Siberian Orchestra, with some brooding trumpet from the Ghost Train Orchestra‘s Brian Carpenter.

The banjo-driven Rivolta Silenziosa has a World Inferno-style noir cabaret feel, shifting uneasily between low-key and anguished. The most vivid of the Bush-era parables is the pensive, defeated, Pink Floyd-ish art-rock anthem When in Rome: “You can’t see the dead as they’re arriving – many more in the back are under flags and hiding,” Brewer intones. The album ends with a radio transmission from Vinland, the hardy few remaining trying to enjoy themselves with “an apocalyptic night on the town,” or what remains of it, Brewer taking it up and out with an operatic intensity.

The ep also includes Our Devolution Is Televised, whose recurrent mantra is “Can’t you feel the lockdown?”, and the raging, surreal Death Wish for the Impostor. These are great albums, and they’re important ones. The whole point of this music is that in times like these, you become either a hero or a zero: it falls to ordinary people like us to do heroic things. And history is on our side: there’s plenty of precedent. The Nazis weren’t defeated by a race of giants. It was people just like you and everybody else who risked their lives – and lost them, sometimes – to put an end to that particular strain of fascism. We really don’t have any other choice. Imagine what the guards at Auschwitz would have done with GPS technology.

HUMANWINE are playing the album release show for these two on June 10 at the Lizard Lounge, 1667 Mass Ave. in Cambridge, Massachusetts with their acoustic side project the Folks Below opening.

A Brief, Unhinged Masterpiece from the Skull Practitioners

Jason Victor is the best lead guitarist/sparring partner Steve Wynn‘s ever had. That’s high praise, considering Karl Precoda’s unhinged work in Wynn’s iconic 80s band the Dream Syndicate. Then there’s Chris Brokaw, whose uneasy riffage in the early days of Wynn’s Miracle 3 band was probably the most menacingly gorgeous that group’s ever had. And let’s not forget Rich Gilbert’s similarly paint-peeling playing in Wynn’s sinister, ferocious mid-90s band. But Victor stands alone as a master of both noise and tunefulness, shifting gears in a split second from savage to beautifully terse. For a taste of some of the wildest guitar jams ever attempted, let alone recorded, check out Wynn’s channel – you can get lost there for days.

But Victor also plays in other bands. There was an adrenalizing, sludgy unit called DBCR who recorded an ep a couple of years ago that you should hear if noise is your thing. What’s even better is ST1, the awesome ep by the Skull Practitioners, Victor’s band with Kenneth Levine and Alex Baker, which is also up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download (although what you really should own is the cassette recording – you have a boombox, right?). It’s as good as the best side on the Stooges’ Metallic KO.

This ep is so beautifully evil and assaultive and catchy despite itself that there’s really nothing that compares with it this year other than G.W. Sok’s album with Action Beat, and this is more tuneful. The first track evokes both Daydream Nation era Sonic Youth and 80s noiserock legends Live Skull, with desperate vocals from Ana Barie: “I’ll bring it down” is the mantra that she hits after every litany of doomed imagery. Victor hits a haphazard raga-ish solo that eventually echoes itself to death, then a vicious, Blue Oyster Cult-style progression as Barie wails to the end.

The second track, Nelson D (a reference to the New York Governor responsible for the state’s paleoconservative drug laws, maybe?) sounds like Arthur Lee on crank, an endless series of whistling, whirring, toxic guitar lines sputtering and chopping through riff-rock and then dreampop interludes: the Steve Wynn influence is everywhere. Foreign Wives is sort of their Psychotic Reaction: spiky icepick intro, sarcastically wailing guitar leads, brisk new wave beat. The final track is the longest, with an out-of-focus vocal from Tom Derwent, long drones, allusions to funk, sick bent-note mental asylum screams from the guitars going on for what seems minutes and an ending that the band finally allows to completely disintegrate – considering how tight they’ve kept everything this far, they’ve earned it. Crank this up whenever: getting up for work, coming home furious after a bad day at work, smoking up, it’ll hit the spot.

The Foxx Reinvent a Classic CBGB-Era Sound

The Foxx play an edgy, distinctively New York flavored style of powerpop that’s a dead ringer for what was happening at CBGB around 1978. At that point, new wave was still in its infancy, but glam was still fresh in everybody’s mind and some people, notably Lou Reed, were still playing it. That’s where the Foxx picks up. They’ve got a couple of albums up at Bandcamp: their most recent one, Lila, as well as their ep Born Tonite, recorded in 2009, a free download that you should grab immediately if this kind of stuff is your thing. The Foxx are at Death by Audio on March 26 at around 10 for a $7 cover.

Frontwoman Juliet Swango sings with a Chrissie Hynde seductiveness over an early Motown-style electric piano riff and Tim Cyster’s growly guitar on the ep’s title track, her deliciously swirly organ solo leading back into the stomp. Wanting Only You pairs Cyster’s Stonesy chords against Swango’s lush organ and quirky Missing Persons-esque vocals: they rip through it in two minutes on the nose.

With its darkly intricate interweave of guitar and keys, the artsy anthem Black Rainbow gives Swango a launching pad for some powerful, dramatic vocals in the same vein as Vera Beren. Waiting in the Dark bridges the gap between oldschool 70s soul music and gritty powerpop, with the album’s most sarcastic lyric. The final cut, Velvet Helmet layers Swango’s elegantly echoey Rhodes piano over a tense groove from bassist Zac Webb and drummer Jill McArthur up to a towering, anthemic chorus. With Swango’s creepy organ and practically operatic vocals as it rises, it’s the most menacing track here. .

The more recent release brings more of an anthemic C&W flavor into the mix: Swango distinguishes herself by writing and singing in a country vernacular without getting all cheesy or faking a southern accent. Standout track: Don’t Start Blaming Your Heart, a big anthem midway through the album.

Alternately Catchy and Noisy Sounds from Brooklyn Art-Rock Trio Goddess

Goddess may not be the optimum choice of band name if branding is the issue. But this particular Brooklyn Goddess – a trio with single-string fiddle, dulcimer, Casio and calm, unselfconsciously warm, folk-tinged, two-woman harmonies – has an intriguing name-your-price ep titled Mind Control up at Bandcamp. If the artsiest side of art-rock is your thing, you’ll love this stuff. This group likes circular melodies and vamping out on them, which they do best on the opening number, Confinement. Their songs are all about contrasts and juxtapositions, calm versus agitation, smoothness versus abrasiveness: in this case, it’s stark overtones from the fiddle against an attractively stately piano melody that runs over and over. The lyrics are enigmatic: is it “All I could find,” or “I’ll occupy?” Maybe it’s both.

The second track, Candle Magick, paints a picture of an animated black magic ritual against a gentle lullaby melody with faux mellotron and Rhodes electric piano settings, and a flute that adds an off-center edge midway through: it’s so pretty that it might well be sarcastic. The title track sets the hint of a tune emerging from the dulcimer over an increasingly abrasive string drone. Once again, the lyrics are on the opaque side: “Catch some rays, free your mind…special rates, free your mind.” It gets more ominous as it goes along.


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