New York Music Daily

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Tag: gothic music

Holding Fort with Castle Black in Long Island City

The sun goes down behind a phalanx of shiny steel-and-glass speculator properties close to the water in Long Island City Friday night. On one hand, it’s a good omen to see a loud guitar band playing so close to what on the surface seems to be a high-income residential complex.

But it’s empty. Those condos are just game pieces, hard assets for people who did well in the big pharma boom of 2020 to move their money into before that market tanks. Those boxes weren’t designed for human habitation – rats, on the other hand, should do well there. They make the average public housing project look like Fort Knox.

Speaking of fortresses, Castle Black are the band playing on the back of a flatbed trailer at the edge of the parking lot beneath the empty condos. Frontwoman Leigh Celent’s roaring Fender guitar gives the power trio a punk sound, but they’ve become more of an art-rock band over the last couple of years.

None of the songs in the set follow a standard verse-chorus pattern; one of them is in 9/4 time. Maybe the band name is meant to reflect the labyrinth of bridges in her songs.

This is a new version of the group. Celent is the only remaining member of the original trio, and she keeps taking on more responsibilities. This time out she has keyboard pedals for string synth and organ textures, and that requires a lot of split-second footwork. Most of the time it works. The samples of movie dialogue are extraneous: Man or Astroman worked that shtick to death.

The new drummer is having fun negotiating the sudden metric shifts and tricky changes, saving his furious volleys and flurries for the occasional big crescendo. The new bassist plays a longscale Gibson, with a pick. Like the drummer, he also chooses his spots to go way up the scale as the songs peak out.

Celent’s fragmented imagery tends to be surreal, sometimes ominous or desperate: the punk and the 80s goth influences obviously play a part in that. Between the jangle, and the roar, and the occasional swoosh from the pedals, the sound of the band has come to resemble late 70s Patti Smith more and more, although the rhythmic complexity gives this group a completely unique sound.

There’s tons of new material in the set: Celent obviously went on a creative tear during the lockdown. Radio Girl, one of the more straight-up punk numbers, seems to be a cautionary tale about the perils of fame. There’s another new one, maybe titled Sorry, that has more of late 70s/early 80s postpunk edge. Other songs bring to mind the Breeders. Celent has come a long way since growing up in public, playing the Bleecker Street strip.

The group close the first set with one of their best and most haunting songs, Dead in a Dream. The album version has a finely polished sheen and layers of guitars; this version has a careening danger. The ominousness in Celent’s uncluttered, midrangey voice picks up and they end the song cold.

There’s another set – who would have though that Castle Black had enough material for two sets? Meanwhile, the parking lot is still radiating too much heat to put a beer down for more than a few seconds. Everybody in the band has a tallboy; dehydration is real. From an audience perspective, in this case it meant that time had come to hit the shade, and the train.

Castle Black’s next gig is a very rare acoustic one on Aug 28 at 3 PM at the Greenpoint Terminal Market, on Market St. past Kent Ave on the water. Take the G to Nassau Ave.

Subtle Protest Songs and Dark 80s-Influenced Sounds From Polish Chanteuse Brodka

In a review of Polish singer Monika Brodka’s 2016 album Clashes, this blog called her “an artist who’s found an original sound and is still experimenting with other ideas: may that experimentation continue and find a wider audience.” Fast forward to 2021: Brodka (who records under her last name) has taken her songwriting to a powerfully political new level with her new one, Brut, streaming at Spotify.

How far does she cast her musical net this time around? Clashes had a persistent 80s gothic sensibility, as this one often does. From time to time, Brodka moves forward into the early 21st century, around the time of Goldfrapp‘s heyday, with a similar dichotomy between wounded, ripe vocals and icy, airless, techy production.

Brodka sings exclusively in English this time out, more assertively and confidently than ever. Much of the material here is protest songs, no surprise considering how horrific the body count from the needle of death, and the lockdown itself, have been in Poland.

“Quarantine this heart of mine if I ever come back home,” Brodka’s fugitive narrator insists over a blippy, twisted faux-martial backdrop in The World Is You, the album’s most haunting track. The warpy, melancholy ballad Chasing Giants makes a good segue, Brodka’s voice hitting breaking point over a trippy quasar-synth background.

“Enough enough, capricious girl, you better follow the team,” Brodka intones in the cynical goth-pop anthem You Think You Know. Brodka seems potently aware that the lockdown is first and foremost an attack on women.

Trebly hollowbody bass contrasts with crunchy electro beats in Falling Into You, a pensively bouncy pop song which, beyond its anti-lockdown message, may also allude to the struggle for women to maintain their reproductive rights in her home country.

Fruits, an airy, warped psych-pop ballad, conspicuously mentions a “poison seed.” In My Eyes captures the ache and crushing isolation of the past sixteen months, with subtle dubwise touches. “How I’d love touch your hand in glove,” seems to be sarcastic to the extreme.

With the keys warping off pitch and back again, Sadness, the closing cut, doesn’t seem to have any political overtones. Other tracks are more lighthearted and less impactful. Brodka branches out into an exuberant Goldfrapp-hip-hop mashup in Hey Man. Imagination could be the Cure covering the Eurythmics with a good singer out front. There are also places where the iciness of the production overwhelms the content. Happily, that’s not the case with the protest songs. We need more artists like Brodka.

A Hauntingly Relevant World War I Concept Album From Bare Wire Son

Multi-instrumentalist Olin Janusz records under the name Bare Wire Son. Whether kinetic or atmospheric, his music has a relentlessly bleak intensity. One obvious comparison is the gloomy, cinematic processionals of Godspeed You Black Emperor. Other dark postrock acts, from Mogwai to Swans come to mind. His latest album Off Black – streaming at Bandcamp – is a World War I song cycle, often utilizing texts from journals by mothers who lost their sons. Janusz is a one-man, lo-fi orchestra here: everything is awash in reverb, vocals often buried deep in these slow but turbulent rivers of sound.

The parallels between the Great War and the lockdown are stunning, making this album all the more relevant. Chemical warfare played a major role: poison gas in 1918, deadly hypodermics 103 years later. Propaganda campaigns of unprecedented proportions are central to both events. The drive to get the British and the US involved in the war was inflamed by stories of hideous atrocities on the part of the “Huns,” as the Germans were rebranded. The ubiquitous, multibillion-dollar ad blitz promoting the needle of death also relies on many fictions, from grotesquely inaccurate computer models, to blood tests rigged to generate false positives.

The album’s opening track, Involuntary is a crescendoing conflagration, possibly a parody of a Catholic hymn, with a cruelly cynical coda. Percussion flails out a sadistic lash beat over the organ textures in Cenotaph, struggling to rise against a merciless march that finally hits a murderous peak.

Janusz assembles Saved Alone around a series of menacingly anthemic, twangy reverb guitar riffs and whispered vocals, shifting from a lulling organ interlude to a roughhewn crescendo. From there he segues into CSD, a brief, portentous, organ-infused tone poem.

Simple, ominous guitar arpeggios linger over an industrial backdrop of cello, percussion and organ in Ends Below: the visceral shock about two thirds of the way in is too good to give away. The Gore is portrayed more minimalistically and enigmatically than you would probably expect, resonant washes of slide guitar and organ behind a crashing guitar loop

Close-harmonied organ textures and cello drift through Antiphon, joined by guitar clangs and slashes in The Bellows and extending through the dissociative flutters and funereal angst of Kampus. Spare, Lynchian guitar figures return in Fingernest, an emphatic, pulsing dirge rising to Comfortably Numb proportions.

Heavy Grey is the closest thing to indie rock here, although it reaches an anthemic vastness at the end. Janusz trudges to the end of the narrative with the hypnotic Red Glass and then a quasi-baroque organ theme cynically titled Voluntary, This is one of the best albums of 2021 and arguably the most haunting one so far.

Revisiting the Dark Side of the 80s with Liela Moss

Liela Moss loves the 80s. Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, Siouxsie, a blue Boss chorus pedal, layers and layers of chilly synths and short, concise, anthemic songs. Her album Who the Power is streaming at Bandcamp and will resonate with anyone else with a thing for the decade that brought us the goth subculture, the compact disc, wine coolers…and the ugly Reaganite and Thatcherite roots of the lockdown.

Brassy, echoey vintage synths, loud drums and a brisk 2/4 new wave beat propel the album’s opening track, Turn Your Back Around. It’s a cautionary tale: “Here begins an endless fall from rule,” Moss intones, “Everything we saw will go unknown.”

There’s more than a little stern, angst-fueled Marianne Faithfull in Moss’ voice in Watching the Wolf, a cynical, pissed-off, goth-tinged synth anthem. With its icily pulsing chorus-box bass and chorus nicked straight from Prince, Atoms At Me keeps the vengeful vibe going.

“Now I feel unstoppable as the sun drums down on my door,” Moss belts in Always Sliding, soaring triumphantly over echoey synth layers. Hypnotically stormy synths and Siouxsie-esque vocal harmonies pervade The Individual, while White Feather wouldn’t be out of place on one Siouxsie’s innumerable mid-80s ep’s.

Twinkle and fuzz from the keyboards contrast in Battlefield, the album’s most sophisticated, Siouxsie-esque track. “If the wind blows, do you spin like a leaf and lie to make the rules?” Moss demands in Nummah, the most kinetically pulsing, poppiest tune here.

Suako is a mashup of PiL’s attempts at funk and Sisters of Mercy, maybe. Moss closes the album with Stolen Careful, a wistful ballad awash in echo and loops. Uncap that black eyeliner and take a sip of Michelob – do they still make that stuff?

Darkly Diverse, Atmospherically Trippy Sounds From Georgian Singer Nainnoh

Singer Nainnoh hails from the nation of Georgia, which has one of the world’s greatest and most distinctive choral music traditions. Georgian music is often described as otherworldly: its stark modes aren’t quite western, yet they don’t sound Middle Eastern or Asian, either. Much of Nainnoh’s debut album – streaming at Bandcamp – comes across as the missing link between Enya and Nico. English is not her strong suit – song titles are a giveaway – but to her credit she really enunciates. Behind her, spare acoustic guitars and layers of keyboards build an atmosphere that’s sometimes gothic, sometimes psychedelic.

She likes long songs: some of these tracks go on for five or six minutes apiece. Skip the opening ballad, which is pretty generic. The second track, Colors, is trippy trip-hop with brooding minor-key changes and tremoloing layers of keys. Sample lyric: “I am pixels.”

Nainnoh has fun with her pitch pedal in Water, building warpy ambience over spare, reverbtoned acoustic guitar. She follows Run, a starkly marching goth ballad with Threads, which sounds like Goldfrapp underwater.

Seasons could be late 90s Missy Elliott taking a stab at tropicalia. Nainnoh goes back toward gothic ambience in Reasons, pushing the bottom of her low register with mixed results. Angst rises in Break Apart, its loopy metal guitar shred half-buried in the mix: “Confrontation is a work of art,” Nainnoh muses.

The wafty keys, drum machine and ka-chunk sway return in Vital Illusions. Words is not a BeeGees cover but a catchy, surreal Gipsy Kings-style faux-flamenco tune. The airily gothic closing cut, Velvet Mode makes a good segue.

Totally 80s Gloom From Nicole Marxen

Nicole Marxen’s new short album Tether – streaming at Bandcamp – is a mini horror movie for the ears. It’s totally 80s goth: orchestral washes of minor-key string synth and mechanical beats pervade this gloomy quartet of songs.

She opens with the title track, smoky waves of synthesized orchestration over a creepy chromatic vamp, a spy-movie sequencer flutter taking centerstage, her disembodied vocals back in the mix.

She begins Moonflower as a swirly tableau with a thud for a beat, then the helicopter-like rhythm returns: Siouxsie seems to be the obvious influence. Marxen goes up the scale for a desperate femme-fatale vibe in Bones Dust and closes the album with Wild Again, the closet thing here to Wuthering, Wuthering, Wuthering, Wuthering Heights (and the Terminator soundtrack). Retro as this is, Marxen has really captured the relentless angst and despair of the past eleven months. And you can get it on cassette for ten bucks!

Snarling, Cynical, Dark 80s-Style Rock From All Souls

For an American band, All Souls sound very European: a little glam, a little goth, some punk, a lot of Bowie. Their album Songs for the End of the World is streaming at Bandcamp. All the members have gigs with other groups – most notably with Black Elk – but this really gives everybody in the band a chance to show off their good taste along with their chops. Frontman/guitarist Antonio Aguilar’s cynical, very 80s-inspired songwriting proves to be as sharp as his eclectic guitar playing.

They open with Sentimental Rehash, an acidic, no wave-tinged take on the Stooges, Aguilar raising a middle finger to clueless “media-manipulated minds” over drummer Tony Tornay’s rumble.

Twilight Times has dissolute Bowie grandeur and Stones disguised as skronk, the twin guitars of Aguilar and Erik Trammell anchored by Meg Castellanos’ gritty punk bassline. From there they segue up into Winds, the album’s big, slow, cynical, apocalyptic epic, flaring with quasi-metal guitar leads and a long, grimly hypnotic outro.

Bleeding Out opens with an insistent hook that brings to mind a big 80s anthem by the Church, veers toward New York Dolls territory and then back. Slowly pulsing over echoey, growling, scrapy guitar multitracks, You Just Can’t Win has a coldly crescendoing, distant 80s menace and unexpected tinges of Indian music. Then the band kick into apocalyptic Bowie mode again with Empires Fall

Lights Out has more allusive hints of Bowie and also some late Beatles, caught between enigmatic insistence and stadium rock hooks. Jaggedness and slow, catchy spacerock collide in Bridge the Sun, with a deliciously dark, chromatic outro. The album’s final cut is Coming with Clouds, a grim, Celtic-tinged seaside eco-disaster parable: “A history of violence, knowing that the time was finally at hand,” as Aguilar puts it. This album really grows on you and demands repeated listening. You’re going to see this on a lot of best-of-2020 albums lists at the end of the year if such things still exist by the time we get to December.

Revisiting a Memorably Dark, Lynchian Album by Promise & the Monster

Promise & the Monster’s album Feed the Fire – streaming at Spotify – came out in early 2016 and remains a great source of Halloween playlist material. Their signature sound is tersely crescendoing, intricately arranged Lynchian rock anthems, an ingenue singing over a darkly bristling backdrop. As girl-down-the-well rock goes, this group are considerably louder and use more organic textures than your average Julee Cruise ripoff.

They open the record with the title track, spare acoustic guitar heavy with reverb over lingering synth, sparkling electric harpsichord and two basslines, one a Joy Division reference, and buld from there. The second track, Hunter is an emphatic 60s psych-pop song spun through the prism of 80s goth.

They take a familiar, clangy early 80s Cure milieu and add weird syncopation for Tine of the Season – an original, not the cheesy Zombies hit .

“Let them run because they cannot hide,” frontwoman/multi-instrumentalist Billie Lindahl intones, deadpan and sinister as Slow and Quiet rises from a brooding acoustic folk tableau to a clanging sway. Likewise, in Apartment Song, the band built from tense acoustic sonics with shivery violin and lingering steel guitar to a catchy, waltzing deep-space nocturne.

They follow the hazy soundscape Julingvallen with the mutedly menacing Hammering the Nails, a distant shamanic beat anchoring eerie layers of jangle and clang. The most hypnotic, and idiomatically 80s goth tune here is The Weight of It All

They break out the eerie tremolo guitar, creepily twinkling keyboards and surreal faux-mariachi textures in Machines, the most recognizably Lynchian track here. The final cut, Fine Horseman, makes a good segue, awash in wafting keys, starry highs over boomy lows.

You may be wondering what the hell this blog was doing at the time this album came out and could have used the press here. The answer is that New York Music Daily was more concerned with obituaries – 2016 was a bad year for old rockers – and a monthly performance series called Murder Ballad Mondays, and concerts in general. Remember concerts? Where you could get off the screen for an hour or two, have a few drinks, and musicians could actually earn a little money? And nobody was surveilling you while you talked with your friends – in person, not via text or, perish the thought, on Facebook. And it may have been flu season, but nobody was shutting down the hospitals to create a health crisis and kill old folks, most of them people of color. And the only people wearing masks were tourists from China. How quickly people forget.

Dark Rockers Galanos Return with a Vengeance

Back in 2017 this blog called Kingston, New York’s Galanos “the X of dark 21st century rock.” How convenient that their latest release, a similarly sinister three-song ep, would be streaming at Bandcamp in time for Halloween month this year. Fans of brooding punk-inspired sounds will love this band.

Frontwoman Netochka Nezvanova splits the vocals with a couple of the guys in the band, guitarist Gregjaw and bassist Joe Pugsley over drummer John Steele’s four-on-the-floor stomp. The first track, They Take it All Away is a punching, anthemic look at creeping fascism. It’s hard to think of a more appropriate anthem for the year of the lockdown: but the band offers hope at the end.

The second track is the most Halloweenish, a mashup of late 70s no wave and freaky jazz poetry. The final cut is The Death of a Wolf, which reminds a lot of early Siouxsie.

Grim Early 80s-Style Guitar Rock From Linnea Olsson’s Maggot Heart

The last time anybody from this blog was in the house at a Linnea Olsson show, it was on a frigid February evening in 2014 at the now long-gone Highline Ballroom. Out in front of a big crowd that night, she played solo cello and sang a very brief, barely half-hour set of moody, skeletal chamber pop songs.

Olsson’s latest project is 180 degrees from that, a dark early 80s-influenced power trio, Maggot Heart. She leads the group and plays guitar, joined by bassist Olivia Airey and drummer Uno Bruniusso. Their latest album Mercy Machine is streaming at Bandcamp.

With its densely layered, ringing intro and contrastingly skronky loopiness, the opening track, Second Chance could be a more minimalist Bauhaus. For a song titled Sex Breath, the album’s punkish second cut is unexpectedly menacing, with a juicy, evilly watery guitar solo: Olsson has really taken her chops to the next level. This is a killer guitar record.

Driven by Airey’s gritty, chugging bassline, Justine wouldn’t be out of place on Siouxsie’s Juju album. The distortion on the bass gets even fuzzier for Roses, which comes across as syncopated Patti Smith with gothic chromatics and vocals spun tightly through a trebly flange effect.

Gutter Feeling has a ba-bump noir cabaret groove and some of the album’s most ghoulish lyrics: Olsson takes it galloping, doublespeed more or less, over a long bridge. The album’s death-obsessed title track is its most pummelingly punk-influenced moment: here as elsewhere, Olsson’s shrieking wide-angle chords bring to mind the late, great Siouxsie guitarist John McGeoch.

“All this talk about nothing gives us something to do,” Olsson intones cynically in High Rise, a mashup of Siouxsie and the Stooges. With its dissociative riffs popping up throughout the sonic picture, Lost Boys could be a straightforward, upbeat Live Skull number from the mid-80s.

Senseless has more of a slow, hypnotic early 80s growl and an ending where all hell breaks loose. The trio wind up this relentlessly interesting, disarmingly catchy album with Modern Cruelty and its contrastingly roaring and icy guitar multitracks, Olsson again threatening to go off the rails at any instant. Not a single substandard song on this album: there’s no telling what’s going to happen between now and the end of the year, but let’s hope there’s still a reason and an audience for a best albums of 2020 rundown when we get to December, Somebody has to keep music alive when the lockdowners are doing everything in their power to destroy it.