New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: gang of four band

Playful, Bouncy, Quirky 80s-Influenced Sounds From Pom Poko

Pom Poko like big, simple riffs, noisy guitar and keyboard accents, a steady, danceable beat and 80s sonics. Sometimes that means new wave, sometimes the bracing, in-your-face side of the Pixies. Frontwoman Ragnhild Fangel sings in a chirpy high soprano over a generally bouncy, often rather spare mix anchored by  Jonas Krøvel’s similarly terse bass and Ola Djupvik’s drums. Their new album Cheater is streaming at Bandcamp.

They open with the title track, a skittish, minimalist, skronky strut fueled by Martin Miguel Tonne’s jagged Gang of Four guitars. The group switch on a dime between buzzy and spare in LIke a Lady, like Goldfrapp with guitars instead of synths, a contrast they revisit a little later with Look.

The third track, Andrew, has blippy new wave keyboard and guitar accents and some rhythmic trickiness. The band shift between lo-fi sparseness, My Sharona octaves and a lickety-split punk stomp in My Candidacy.

Sparse, watery guitars give Danger an icy dreampop edge, with echoes of Siouxsie but also calypso. Andy Go to School comes across as math-y late 70s XTC with a woman out front, at least until the straight-ahead punk chorus kicks in. Baroque Denial is much the same with fuzz bass taking the place of the guitar roar.

Curly Romance is the closest thing here to classic powerpop, and the album’s most unselfconsciously catchy number. They close with Body Level, built around a catchy, circling bass riff. It’s hard to tell what these songs are about, other than dancing and having fun, two things that we need to be doing a lot more these days.

An Intriguing New Album from the Propulsively Enigmatic Parlor Walls

Parlor Walls are one of those great bands who defy categorization. Are they postrock? Postpunk? Noiserock? Psychedelia? Free jazz?

All of the above. Guitarist/singer Alyse Lamb is a charismatic presence out in front of the trio, with as much of a flair for a catchy hook as sonic mayhem. She never plays anything remotely the same way twice. Drummer Chris Mulligan is a beast, playing thick, churning rivers of organ or fuzzy synth lines with his left hand while keeping time with the right and the kickdrum. Alto saxophonist Kate Mohanty adds her signature acidity, acerbity and occasional extended-technique squall, just as she did on the band’s previous record. They’re playing the album release show for their new one, Opposites – streaming at Bandcamp, and available on vinyl – on March 9 at 10 PM at Sunnyvale. Cover is $10.

None of the songs follow any predictable verse/chorus pattern: the group squeezes a lot into short, impactful packages. Mulligan drives the opening track, Crime Engine Failure with something of an altered qawwali groove, Lamb’s catchy vocal hooks against lingering, minimalist swaths of guitar and sax that intertwine as the song goes on. “Cover me…and all that lies in front of me,” Lamb intones amid the stormy cloudbanks of the second track. “You won’t let me bleed when you’re gone.”

The spare/densely roaring dichotomy of Play Opposites brings to mind peak-era Sonic Youth. “Open up your eyes…burn it to the ground…not going there,” Lamb half-sings, half-insists: allusion and unease define this band. Ambassadress juxtaposes Mulligan’s calm organ with stun-guitar blasts from Lamb, up to a tasty, sirening outro.

Love Again has a stomping martial beat, a less inchoate mashup of early Gang of Four and Goo-era SY fueled by Lamb’s swoops and dives. In Teach Me Where to Roam, the band vamps hypnotically as Mohanty hovers ominously over Mulligan’s four-on-the-floor thump, up to yet another simple, catchy, crescendoing chorus and then back.

As the band shifts back and forth from a heavy, syncopated beat, Hesitation alludes to resistance against repression, or at least conformity, arranged around Lamb’s recurrent seven-note slide riff. Shorts bursts from Mohanty pepper the whirling lows of Me Me My, an update on a familiar X-Ray Spex trope; Lamb’s long outro is pretty amusing.

The album’s longest track, Birthday, is an audience favorite,  Albert Ayler-ish sax busting out over a hypnotically circling backdrop. “Don’t you know I’m perfect?” Lamb asks, completely deadpan. The album winds up with the twinkling improvisation Carstairs and then the darkest, most epically anthemic track here, Red Shed. Another winner from one of Brooklyn’s most consistently unpredictable and interesting bands. 

Power Trio Castle Black Blast Through a Tight, Killer Set in Bushwick

Doesn’t it feel great when you stumble on an up-and-coming band who end up fulfilling their promise, and them some? Castle Black‘s sizzling set Friday night at Basement Bar in Bushwick had the fearlessness and outside-the-box creativity of classic punk rock. A lot of people assume that punk music is just three chords and a fast beat, but the reality is that the artists in the first wave of punk bands went into punk because they wanted to do something more fun and also more sophisticated than they could within the cliched confines of 70s dadrock or hippe blues. Castle Black delivered that kind of defiantly individualistic energy with equal parts guitar-fueled savagery and sardonic humor.

It’s amazing how tight this band has become over the past six months: constant gigging will do that to you. And yet, their music hasn’t lost its raw edge, or persistent unease, or outright menace. And they’re a lot of fun to watch live. Guitarist Leigh Celent played most of the set on her Fender Jazzmaster, changing to a Mustang when she wanted to switch out grit for reverb and resonance. She rocked a vintage Runaways t-shirt and jeans, with a wiry intensity in both her vocals and stage presence.

Back-clad, dark-eyed bassist Lisa Low made a stark contrast, distant, enigmatic and seemingly haunted. She ran her Fender Precision bass through an amp turned way up, then varied her attack on the strings for an unexpected amount of sublety. But when she stepped to the mic and traded vocals with Celent, she was no less forceful. If you could find the perfect picture of a rock drummer circa 1981, that would be Matt Bronner. Head down, sticks in the air, focused to the point of tunnel vision, he made the band’s sudden detours into some unexpectedly tricky metrics look easy, as one song shifted into 10/4 time, another one with some deviously teasing syncopation. And he’s not the kind of guy who tries to beat the sound into the drums: instead, he lets it out, for extra low rumble.

The band opened with the skronky postpunk of Doing Time Pass. Celent is an interesting guitarist: she likes catchy hooks, but just when things might get predictable, she veers off into noise. There was a little Andy Gill, or maybe Arto Lindsay in her jagged lines, but mostly it was just her. The band roared their way into Leave It with a slow, stalking groove, like a vintage Buzzcocks epic that they suddenly took doublespeed into anthemic Avengers territory, then back again.

This Old Town, with its uneasy shifts between major and minor, was a biting, bitter portrait of deadend hopelessness. Just when the catchy, Joan Jett-flavored Premonition sounded like it was going to sway along with an easygoing highway rock beat, Bronner and Celent bit down hard. They took that drive to an angrier level with Sabotage and then segued into the night’s best song, the ominously ferocious Secret Hideaway. After a confident run through the endlessly unanticipated, haunting dynamic shifts of Dark Light – Castle Black’s Last Rockers – they closed with their single The Next Thing, with its offhanded references to both stoner metal and classic punk. Castle Black’s next New York gig is July 29 at 10 PM at the Parkside; for the Hoboken crowd, they’re also at Maxwell’s the previous night, July 28 at 8.

Meet Darkly Noisy, Catchy, Up-and-Coming Castle Black

Castle Black are the kind of band you want to catch on the way up. Right now, the power trio are running on inspiration. They’re pushing the limits of their chops, careening through a bunch of styles – oldschool punk, abrasive post-Bush Tetras postpunk and noisy later-period Sleater-Kinney indie aggro, to name a few – on their way to really crystallizing a sound of their own. If this is as far as they get, they’re a lot of fun live. If they keep at it, they’ve got a high ceiling. Both guitarist Leigh Celent and bassist Lisa Low sing; drummer Matt Bronner is the kind of uncluttered rock player a band like this needs. Right now they’re making their way up from crappy venues – their youtube channel has a lot of good live stuff from the odious Bitter End, for example – to good places like Matchless. Their next gig is tomorrow night, December 19 at 8 PM at Leftfield, the old UC Lounge space at 87 Ludlow St. just south of Delancey; cover is $10.

At this early point in their career, they’ve got the tunes, and a consistently dark vision. All a band like this needs to do is keep playing, and grow beyond just playing scales, or noise when just a little something from outside the box would set them apart from the rest of the pack. The stuff at youtube is tantalizingly haphazard. There’s Premonition, which has a sludgy country feel and then picks up steam; the epic Dark Light: A Plague Revisited, with the eerie foreshadowing of its opening hook, to a series of unexpected up-and-down tempo shifts; The Next Big Thing, with its trippy, oscillating white noise and mashup of stoner metal riffage and viciously chugging oldschool punk rumble. Song of Winter is the simplest of the songs, and catchy as it is, sounds like a very early one. Someone Hear Me shuffles and careens along over a noisily embellished blues scale as the cymbals build a hailstorm behind the roar. Doing Time Pass puts a noisier spin on a vintage Gang of Four riff and then goes in a more straight-up direction.

They’ve also got an ep, Find You There, streaming at their music page. The opening track, This Old Town builds from an aching, tense postpunk verse into an ominously lingering chorus, an allusive tale of kicking around a hopeless place where bad accidents happen, and you’re so numbed by the pain that you feel nothing when they do. It’s their best song so far. There are also cleaner studio versions of Doing Time Pass and The Next Thing, plus their funniest number, Psychic Surgery, sort of the early Go-Go’s doing boogie rock.

The Puff Pieces Revisit a Classic Postpunk Sound

Washington, DC postpunk project the Puff Pieces’ debut 7″ ep New Nazis (streaming at Bandcamp) is a trip back in time to a 1981 of the mind, when kids flocked to college-town record stores to blow their Reagan Recession paychecks on expensive Gang of Four import lp’s they’d never heard…or crammed themselves into tiny basement studios to record simple, snarling, tinny, politically-fueled cassettes, using just a single guitar, bass and drumkit. But this one was recorded last year – presumably on digital equipment, although it has a lo-fi analog sound – by frontman Mike Andre with E.D. Sedgwick’s Justin Moyer and Weed Tree’s Amanda Huron.

These skronky, propulsive, sketchily funky songs are short, evoking the Gang of Four as well as legendary/obscure DC band the Urban Verbs. The briskly marching first track, with its jagged upper-register guitar shrieks, trebly bassline and uneasy, off-key vocals, makes deadpan mockery of taking tests for this and that. The title track has a similarly sarcastic, vamping pulse, the bass carrying the melody: “What are you gonna think when the new Nazis spill your drink?” Andre asks, and it gets more disturbing from there. The third tune strips the idea of capitalism down to the caveman competition that it essentially is: it’s the most straight-up punk of all the songs here. The scampering, bass-driven final cut makes fun of the spend-and-consume economy: the credit card joke at the end might be a little obvious, but it’s too good to spoil. Big picture ideas, catchy simple riffs, and you can dance to all of them.

Wire’s New Album: Change Becomes Them

If Wire’s new album Change Becomes Us sounds like the great lost follow-up to Chairs Missing, that’s because it sort of is. Many of its tracks are finished versions of sketches of songs from the band’s late 70s period, dating from their brilliant initial trio of albums: Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154. Much as these songs share a scruffy surrealism, bracingly dark tunefulness and Wire’s signature wry humor, the original postpunk band is not trying to recapture the past: they keep evolving, and the songs are in the here and now. Ironically, in an age where anybody can record an album with their phone, the kings of late 70s DIY have expanded their sonic palette further here than ever, giving the songs an often hypnotic lushness that sometimes evokes Australian art-rockers the Church.

Doubles & Trebles, a menacing spy story, immediately sets the tone, building from an eerie whole-tone guitar riff to a stalker insistence. With its offkilter vocal harmonies and watery dreampop clang, Keep Exhaling is primo vintage Wire with early 90s production values – and is that an I Am the Walrus quote? Likewise, Adore Your Island snidely references the Who’s Baba O’Reilly.

Re-Invent Your Second Wheel works a tricky tempo with more than a hint of theatrical Peter Gabriel-era Genesis amthemics. Stealth of a Stork builds layer upon layer over a straight-ahead punk stomp, while B W Silence works a suspenseful, watery dreampop vibe. Trippy flanged vocals and enveloping sonics give Time Lock Fog a feel like the Church circa 1993 or so. Magic Bullet, with its unexpected hints of reggae, would have been a standout track on Chairs Missing. Eels Sang reminds of early Gang of Four but with wetter guitars, while Love Bends is a more organic take on the dancefloor rock Wire was doing in the mid-80s: think Ultravox with heavy drums.

The album gets stronger as it goes along. As We Go has a catchy Outdoor Miner hookiness, but more ominously…until a droll singalong chorus that they run over and over again. & Much Besides segues out of it, a lush, balmy futuristic scenario that sounds suspiciously saracastic. The album winds up with Attractive Space, which grows from a Zarathustra-ish riff into a big spacerock anthem. In the time between when many of these songs were conceived and finally realized, Colin Newman and Graham Lewis’s voices have mellowed, Robert Grey’s beats have taken on an unexpected subtlety, with the band’s most recent member Matthew Simms adding textural lushness and diversity. Not a substandard track on the album, pretty impressive for a band that’s been around, more or less, since 1976. Also available: the latest in Wire’s series of “legal bootlegs,” a grab bag of live material culled from a 2000 Nottingham Social gig as well as radio sessions at WFMU and KEXP in 2011. Wire are at Bowery Ballroom in June and likely to sell out the venue; watch this space for onsale dates for tix.

Legendary Pittsburgh Punk Funk Band Reunites with a New Album

Stick Against Stone Orchestra”s new album Get It All Out has a quaint early 80s charm: it should resonate mightily with people who were there at the time and dancing up a storm at college parties and punk clubs. That’s because this group was there, a wildly popular Pittsburgh attraction who never managed to catch on outside their local scene. Many of the catchy, simple songs on this album date from from 1983 or before: as early indie funk, this stuff foreshadows the advent of cool bands like D’Tripp and the Family Stand, who were influenced as much by the Talking Heads as James Brown. What’s obvious is that this was a bunch of punks trying their hand at funk and Afrobeat. Like the Gang of Four, their plainspoken, politically-charged lyrics, shouted more often than sung, have the feel of a college term paper, but as early Reagan-era observations, they’re spot-on. Musically, the hooks are simple and catchy, with bright horn charts and incisive bass, and the NYC pros who form the backbone of the newly reassembled band do a good job capturing the music’s irrepressible, subversive spirit.

The backstory is a heartwarming one: in the early stages of producing a documentary on the band (due out next year, with the same title as the album), filmmaker Will Kreth ended up putting the surviving members of the group back together, bolstered by some hot NYC funk talent including baritone sax genius Paula Henderson (who absolutely nails this ambience) and Shudder to Think bassist Jesse Krakow, along with jazz saxophonist Michael Blake (doing double duty on soprano and alto) and drummers Tony Mason and Denny McDermott.

The opening track – a snide broadside against the music business – blasts through in a minute fifty-one seconds and sets the stage with growly bass, a tensely aggressive beat and catchy horn hooks. Wasted Lives keeps the briskly shuffling pulse going, through long bass-and-drum and horn vamps; they follow that with a slinky reggae tune, Wish and Want, spiced with melodica and flute and sarcastic, politically-fueled, stream-of-consciousness lyrics.

They go back to the rapidfire punk funk for Face Down and then hit a smooth Afrobeat groove with Moonlight Finds a Face, violin and flute dancing over simple, wickedly catchy verse and chorus hooks – it could be Liza & the WonderWheels trying their hand at an African vibe. They mingle funk and Afrobeat on the next track and then make their way through Elephants, a slowly undulating, hypnotic, summery Afrobeat-tinged groove, followed by a similarly slinky, somewhat more lush track.

Medicine Wheel juxtaposes snarling staccato guitar, flute and another wicked horn chart. The Private Sector is the best, most sonically assaultive and funniest track here, reminding that the roots of turning essential services like health and childcare into a profitable means of exploiting the public go back a lot further than Mitt Romney.”They’ve been held back by regulation, from here on out you’re dependent on them,” the singer shouts gleefully. The album ends with the warm, rootsy reggae of Necessity’s Tongue and then a long, intensely crescendoing funk vamp to close it out on a high note. Stick Against Stone Orchestra play Joe’s Pub on 1/29 at 9:30 PM.

Bebe Buell – Better Than Ever At the Hiro Ballroom

At this point Bebe Buell can rest on her laurels if she wants to. The legendary rock scenestress has written the well-received memoir Rebel Heart; raised a popular daughter (Liv Tyler); and in the 80s and early 90s, she led a couple of first-class bands who were sort of thinking person’s alternatives to Blondie. So it was something of a surprise, and a heartwarming one, to see Buell pack the Hiro Ballroom last night, fronting a tight new group and airing out a bunch of first-rate powerpop songs from her new album Hard Love. Some of those tunes evoked 80s new wave/popsters the Motels – especially since Buell is working her lower register with more authority than she used to – and some of them leaned back toward glamrock. But the best ones – in fact, almost everything she played – had a distinctly defiant, oldschool New York edge.

If you look at the video from thirty years ago, it’s obvious that Buell wasn’t out of her element with the guys she palled around with (Elvis Costello and the Psychedelic Furs’ Richard Butler, to name a couple). She really knew what she was doing in front of the mic, and she still does – this could be her finest hour. Backed by two guitars, inobtrusive synthesizer, drums and Joan Jett’s former bassist, Buell didn’t have anything on a laptop and she didn’t rely on her excellent backup singer to carry the tunes – although she did appreciate the harmonies. “She’s got my back,” Buell explained with an appreciative wink. The show kicked off on an impressively ominous note with the crunchy powerpop Sugar Sugar (no relation to the 60s pop ditty), with a gypsy punk edge that sounded like Vera Beren in a slightly less menacing mood. They got even crunchier after that with a glam/80s tune possibly titled Stop Look Listen. Several of the songs revisited a dark new wave vibe that evoked DollHouse, another New York band who should be better remembered than they are. “Turn out all the lights, she said,” Buell intoned on a particularly ominous, seductive one of those songs a little later in the set.

Normal Girl sounded like the Ramones doing the Runaways, toying with gender roles – Buell’s normal girls raise hell, mess with guys and don’t kiss ass. The Joey Ramone requiem Fly Black Angel got an epic glam-noir treatment, with a long, surprisingly ethereal outro: “Across this city headlights shine for you,” Buell sang over the brooding, watery swoosh and clang. You Got It All Wrong swung with a raging Dead Boys midtempo stomp welded to creepy, swooping upper-register synth; her cover of the Gang of Four’s I Love a Man in a Uniform ripped the sarcasm of the lyric from the margins and stuck it on the front page. The closing track on the new album, a big, crashing anthem called I Will Wait had a chilly unease that they sent flying with a cover of her old boyfriend Mick Jagger’s God Gave Me Everything. Throughout the show, Buell enticed the surprisingly young crowd to come toward the stage: “I want you to be close to me,” she assured them. And she made good on that promise. After the set was over, she went straight to the merch table to hang out with everyone, exactly what you’d want from someone who’d just done a song called the Mother of Rock n Roll.