New York Music Daily

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Tag: hannah fairchild

Who Goes to the Middle of Nowhere for a Couple of Great Bands?

The last thing this blog wants to encourage anybody to do is to stay home. We should all be out, interacting, gathering, celebrating what’s left in this city to celebrate. That’s how societies are built and revolutions begin. Bernie Sanders wouldn’t be drawing thousands and thousand of people at rallies and picket lines if we were all spending what free time we have alone and atomized, substituting Facebook ‘friends’ for real ones. But that’s a story that’s too long to get into here.

How does this relate to the twinbill of Hannah vs. the Many and Haley Bowery & the Manimals at the Way Station on April 23 at 9 PM? On one hand, the option of watching the live webcast might be your best bet. The bar is hard to get to unless you’re in that other-side-of-the-park Bed-Stuy neighborhood, it’s a Saturday night and there’s going to be a loud crowd there – nobody goes there to listen – and the sound system is horrible. Then again, these bands can be so much fun that it could be worth the trip.

Hannah vs. the Many have been through several incarnations and have most recently reinvented themselves as the most lyrically brilliant punk band in the world. Frontwoman Hannah Fairchild got her start playing opaque, roughhewn acoustic guitar tunes with venomous, corrosive lyrics packed with double entendres, literary and historical references and savagely cynical humor. Then she learned how to play, went electric and put a band together, part punk, part noir cabaret and part janglerock – a little like Pulp but with a woman out front who can really wail.

The last time this blog caught them was out in Bushwick at Pine Box Rock Shop on a cold Saturday night in February. The way that bar is set up, you’d never know they have music in the back room if you just wandered in randomly. But there is, and a lot of is quite good: the Skull Practitioners, Pete Lanctot and Rony’s Insomnia have all had recent gigs there. Hannah vs. the Many blasted through a lickety-split set marred by a horrible sound mix, drums and bass way too high and vocals too low. Which was too bad, since lyrics and narratives are what this band’s all about. Even so, just getting to hear Fairchild’s jet-fueled valkyrie voice soaring, embittered, alienated and defiant over the roar of her Telecaster made the trek out to the ‘Shweck worthwhile.

Fairchild debuted a catchy new number; her bassist is excellent and plays a lot of slinky riffs, and the drummer is solid too. Two of the best songs were the rapidfire, surrealistic suicide plunge story All Eyes on Me, and The Party Faithful, one of the most spot-on descriptions of what constitutes nightlife in New York these days. Frida Kahlo said, “I tried to drown my sorrows in alcohol, but the bastards learned how to swim,” and that’s the gist of the song.

The last time this blog caught Haley Bowery & the Manimals was a few years back at Webster Hall. These bands like to play as a twinbill, Haley taking the good cop role, more or less. Her band plays meat-and-potatoes, glamrock-flavored anthems with lyrics that can be hilarious. That summer night, their frontwoman brought a giant water rifle fillled with good-quality whiskey and drenched the crowd with it. And she was generous! Whenever somebody thirsty – guess who – went up to the edge of the stage for a mouthful or two, she really let them have it, right in the face. It’s not every day you walk away from a show reeking of bourbon, with a buzz courtesy of the band’s lead singer. No guarantees that this would or could happen at the Way Station gig – you can watch the webcast and find out.

The Year’s Best New York Rock Show Happened in Queens Last Week

The best New York show of 2014 happened last week at Trans-Pecos. There’s no way anybody’s going to top the quadruplebill of art-rock cellist-singer Meaner Pencil, charismatic Great Plains gothic bandleader Ember Schrag, the starkly entrancing duo of guitarist Mary Halvorson and violist Jessica Pavone and the darkly psychedelic Christy & Emily. After the show had finally ended, the challenge of getting home from Ridgewood at half past midnight seemed pretty much beside the point. Nights like this are why we live here instead of in New Jersey.

Meaner Pencil takes her stage name from the online anagram generator. Her music is plaintive and poignant but also occasionally reveals the kind of quirky humor that you would expect from someone who would do that. Or, from someone who honed her chops and her ability to hold a crowd by playing in the subway. This crowd responded raptly – you could have heard a pin drop as she sang in the arrestingly bell-like, soaring voice of a chorister, playing solo on her cello with a elegant, minimalistic blend of gentle plucking and bowing. Her second song, with its sadly tolling, funereal chords and hypnotically drifting sense of resignation, was a quiet knockout. Longing, alienation and abandonment were recurrent themes, set to slow tempos with the occasional hint of renaissance plainchant, pansori stateliness, and maybe Stereolab. And there was a riff-based art-rock piece that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Serena Jost catalog.

Ember Schrag’s albums have a similar kind of low-key, lustrous elegance, but with a more distinct Americana flavor. Onstage, she leads a fiery, virtuosic art-rock band who are unrivalled in all of New York. Drummer Gary Foster established an ominous tone with rolling toms and deep-fog cymbals in tandem with bassist Debby Schwartz as their hypnotically rumbling first number, The Real Penelope got underway. Schrag varied her vocals depending on the lyrics, from austere on this particular one, to torchy, gritty and often downright haunting, playing nimble rhythm on a beautiful vintage Gibson hollowbody guitar while lead guitarist Bob Bannister aired out a deep vault of eclectic licks. In this case, he started out with wry wah-wah and ended up ankle-deep in murky surf.

They followed with the bittersweet, trickily rhythmic, distantly Beatlesque Sandhill/Seaside: “Is it worse to kill a god or kill a child?” Schrag challenged. Tell Me a Nightmare blended sardonic ba-ba harmonies into its lushly theatrical sonics, the band joined by a string trio featuring both Pavone and Lenna M. Pierce (an anagram of Meaner Pencil) as well as violinist Sana Nagano, playing an arrangement by June Bender.

From there Schrag led the band into a wickedly catchy, waltzing Celtic-tinged anthem, The Plant & the Seed and then the menacingly sensual, carnivalesque 60s psychedelia of As Birds Do. Schrag dedicated William for the Witches – not the first Macbeth-inspired song she’s written – to “all the Republicans back home,” ramping up the menace several notches with her litany of spells as Bannister veered from monster surf, to ominous jangle, to a little skronk. They went back to Nashville gothic with Sycamore Moon, lowlit by Bannister’s blue-flame slide work and closed with a sardonic art-pop anthem, Virgin in the Shadow of My Shoe that would have fit well in the Hannah Fairchild songbook. There is no more interesting, intelligent rock songwriter than Ember Schrag anywhere in the world right now. To put that in context: Steve Wynn, Richard Thompson, Paul Wallfisch and Neko Case, scooch over and make some room for your sister.

Flipping the scirpt and putting Halvorson and Pavone next on the bill was a smart piece of programming: it kept the intensity at redline even as the idiom completely changed. They’re two of the world’s foremost improvisers, yet what they played seemed pretty much composed. An alternately lively and broodingly conversational repartee between Pavone’s meticulous, elegant washes and biting, austere motives, and Halvorson’s similarly precise, pointillistically rhythmic tangents took shape immediately and kept going. Like the night’s opening act, a feeling of unease pervaded the duo’s short, two-to-three-minute pieces, both instrumentals and moody vocal numbers, yet there was subtle, sardonic humor that bubbled up from time to time as the melodies and voices intertwined. A distantly Balkan-tinged instrumental, Halvorson bobbing and weaving through the flames shooting from Pavone’s viola, was the high point of the set.

Guitar/keyboard duo Christy & Emily opened with a droning, pitchblende organ dirge that was a dead ringer for the Black Angels, but with better vocals, enhanced by a harmony singer who contributed to several songs. Christy stabbed against Emily’s neo John Cale drone, All Tomorrow’s Parties without the drums, so to speak. At one point Emily played nimble broken chords in her lefthand on the organ while hitting a boomy tom-tom – crosshanded, without missing a beat. Cheery, clear vocals contrasted with the enveloping ultraviolet sonics as the show went on, Emily’s sometimes minimalisticaly echoing, sometimes ornately neoromantic phrases counterbalanced by Christy’s off-the-rails attack on the frets. They wound up the show with a Lynchian Nashville gothic ballad and then a more lighthearted, bouncy singalong. Schrag has another full-band show coming up in Greenpoint next month while Pavone can be found next with Clara Latham’s Same Size at Radio Bushwick a couple of days from now, on Oct 16. Halvorson is at the Firehouse Space on Nov 6 with Dan Blake and Sam Pluta.

Hannah vs. the Many Battle the Sound at Cake Shop

Hannah vs. the Many played the album release show for their latest one, Ghost Stories, at Cake Shop Thursday night. Frontwoman/guitarist Hannah Fairchild’s songs are lyrically driven, and the vocals were hit-and-miss in the mix all night, beginning with the opening bands and continuing through her band’s ferocious, roughly 40-minute set. So this was a chance to focus on Hannah the tunesmith. She’s just as strong with the tunes as she is with the words and the vocals (too bad there were issues, since this club usually has much better sound than in your typical bodega basement). Guitarist Josh Fox is her not-so-secret weapon, weilding spaghetti western/crime jazz twang against acidic postpunk chords, judicious single-note harmonies and roaring punk riffage. Fairchild is no slouch on guitar herself, wailing and tremolo-picking her Strat with a slasher menace as the drums pummelled and the bassist (yeah – this band has bass now!) played tight, melodic lines.

The opening number, Poor Leander – a lit-rock scorcher from the new album – got a menacingly scampering, chord-chopping  psychobilly edge fueled by long drum rolls over bridge and some paint-peeling vocals from Fairchild, whose vocals are even better live than in the studio. The twin slasher guitars on the twin suicide anthem All Eyes on Me led up to a cartwheeling bridge and then a false ending that faked out the crowd. Jordan Baker, Fairchild’s gentlest and arguably most haunting song matched her elegantly apocalyptic lyric to a quiet jangle that Fox finally lit into with some otherworldly swoops before the last chorus kicked in.

There were a couple of new songs, one that built from noir to a punkish scamper, another that worked a skeletal/explosive dynamic;. Fairchild’s song structures don’t follow any kind of typical verse/chorus architecture, and from the looks of things that’s not about to change. Her next song, Muse, galloped along with a scathing, bitter lyric: “No kiss is ever more than sugar sweet/No affection is ever more than river deep.” Then they took the breathlessly sardonic Biography of Cells down to just the cymbals and Fairchild’s guitar for the last verse. The equally searing Lady of the Court – another track from the new album – had a Fox guitar solo in place on the wry 80s synth on the album and was better for it. They wound up with an absolutely bloodcurdling version of the raging noir cabaret anthem The Party Faithful and closed with a sarcastic, punked-out cover of some mallstore pop song. A lot of people in the crowd sang along. but for others, it was a WTF moment. That Hannah vs. the Many’s songs are better known in some circles than, say, Lady Gag, says a lot about the state of the rock music world in 2013.

While Fairchild’s lyrics tend to be on the venomous side, she had a coy repartee going with the crowd and with her band – when her drummer called her out for wearing her underwear on the outside of her fishnets, she didn’t blink. That every guy on the Lower East Side wasn’t packed into Cake Shop to enjoy those visuals pretty much speaks for what’s happened to the neighborhood.

The opening bands were good, too, if not particularly tight. The 9 PM act, Toronto’s Fast Romantics, worked an retro 80s/90s Britrock vibe that evoked both the Smiths and Pulp without being arch or affected. The high point was a decent cover of Pulp’s classic anti-fauxhemian anthem Common People, which is almost 20 years old now but in a lot of ways was the perfect song for the night, considering what part of town the band was playing in. Pep, the 10 PM act, had a trio of women out front singing fetchingly catchy, Spector-ish 60s girl-group pop and oldschool soul.

Another Assaultively Brilliant Album from Hannah vs. the Many

It’s never safe to say that one artist is the best in a particular genre: every time you think you’ve heard everything, a songwriter like Nehedar comes out of the woodwork and blows you away. But it’s safe to say that there is no better lyricist, tunesmith or singer in rock right now than Hannah Fairchild of Hannah vs. the Many. Her previous album All Our Heroes Drank Here was rated #13 on the best of 2012 list here and probably should have been #1. With its torrents of lyrics, savage humor, menacing noir cabaret cascades, scorching guitar riffage and relentless angst – not to mention Fairchild’s searing, wounded wail – it illustrates a bitter, doomed urban milieu as memorable as anything Leonard Cohen or Jarvis Cocker ever wrote. Hannah vs. the Many have a new ep aptly titled Ghost Stories just out and an album release show coming up on Nov 14 at Cake Shop. They’re ferociously good live, and Fairchild is as charismatic a frontwoman as you would expect after hearing her studio material.

The new ep reinvents several of the tracks from Fairchild’s 2010 solo album Paper Kingdoms. It’s amazing how different they are, yet how much the original, mostly acoustic versions sound like demos for these volcanic full-band performances.

All Eyes on Me builds from layers of resonant guitar from Fairchild and her brilliant lead player, Josh Fox, as the organ and keys rise to a slashing insistent Strat-fueled chorus. The narrative could be about a triumphant flight above the “the sorry strangers under glass, no time to think about their lives, identical in horror” – or it could be the desperate tale of a double suicide told from the point of view of someone with no fear of the reaper.

Lady of the Court is Fairchild at the top of her dramatic power, a bitter cautionary tale from the perspective of someone who’s just willing enough to work her way up…but to what? From its faux-bombastic twin guitar intro, it hits a roaring anthemic groove, Fairchild’s voice low and menacing as she traces another angst-fueled trajectory:

Unlikely princess in the eyes of the day-old drunks
I’ve never been the girl whose name is in the title
The story is ending and the world just blurs away
Turning pages and waiting on the hero
I am a guardian of thieves
Flying on unbuttoned sleeves 
Falling in the backstreets but not for too long

It hits a wry 80s keyboard interlude on the way to a surprise ending.

Nicollet captures a bitter breakup over creepy piano-based art-rock. The original version has a folkie acoustic feel, albeit with a distant menace; what’s stunning about this version is how much more power, yet more nuance there is in Fairchild’s voice:

Crossing yourself at my door
You’ve come seeking some quick and easy absoloution
But I’m only as clean as the floors I’ve been kneeling on

The most explosive and arguably best song here is Poor Leander, a corrosively poignant account of two probably irreparably damaged souls hell-bent on NOT making things work, set to marauding noir cabaret rock:

Bedsheet around your shoulder, scrapes on both your knees
Were you running off the rooof again, my broken friend?
Now you’re flying out to save her from the latest ivory castle that you found
But the second she lets you in her window it’ll all come crashing down

The closest thing to the original here is the luridly torchy, aptly titled Slow Burn, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Julia Haltigan catalog. As with the rest of the album, guitars gleam and smolder, electric piano tingles and Fairchild’s voice rises from an anxious murmur to a vengeful scream and then back again. Forget about Grace Potter and all those wannabes: Hannah vs. the Many are the real deal, the teens equivalent of what Siouxsie & the Banshees were in the 80s or the Avengers ten years before.

Halle & the Jilt: Oldschool Soul with a Fresh, Dark Undercurrent

A cynic might say that the recent explosion of female-fronted oldschool soul bands are all trying to be the next Adele. But the reality is that most of them have been going for as long or longer than she has: the main reason why Sharon Jones isn’t on commercial radio is because her little label doesn’t have the payola money. Meanwhile, fantastic acts like Clairy Browne & the Bangin’ Rackettes, the Right Now and Meah Pace are packing small and midsize clubs. Halle & the Jilt work a lot of that same turf: for a taste of some of the lusciously noir cutting edge of retro soul music, they’re playing the album release for their second one, Three Roads Home, at the big room at the Rockwood tonight at 7.

Frontwoman Halle Petro goes for a steamy but biting oldschool soul vibe. Her voice is more crystalline and direct than most of the other retro soul mamas; when she’s not wailing full steam, her vocals often have jazz nuance. Petro’s not-so-secret weapon here is guitarslinger Michael Gomez, best known for his purist but often slashingly pyrotechnic work in careening minor-key gypsy/jamband Hazmat Modine. The album’s production is anything but slick, and all the better for it. At first listen, the funky opening track, Kiss My Ghost sounds like she’s saying “kiss my nose.” Petro sings vengefully over Tim Luntzel’s dancing, boomy bass, Jim Wert’s prominent drums and Gomez’ distorted funk guitar: “Are you happy when you kiss my ghost?” she demands. Did  she kill herself? Was she killed instead? Did anybody really get killed? The answer isn’t clear, and it’s intriguing.

The second track, Confessions is a feast of oldschool, jangly Memphis soul guitar under Petro’s nonchalant alto. Signs – which appears here in both live and studio versions – works a surprisingly interesting, artsy take on standard coffeehous singer-songwriter fare. Graveyard of the Ocean sets shipwreck metaphors over a cleverly creepy blend of noir funk and gothic folk. One suspects it might have a past life as a country song, reinforced by the presence of a broodingly torchy electric version of Wayfaring Stranger (which is actually fantastic – it wouldn’t be out of place on a Jennifer Nicely album).

Take What I Can Get pairs Petro’s elegant kiss-off narrative against echoey blues harp and nonchalantly unhinged, bluesy wailing from Gomez. Trees has a catchy, upbeat sway, Petro’s voice taking on a clipped, sardonic edge in the same vein as Hannah Fairchild of Hannah vs. the Many.

“You’re just a paper doll,” Petro adds casually on the burning, crescendoing, funk rock tune 10 East. Carry Me Home, a catchy 60s-style soul ballad, is a showcase for Gomez’ inspired, oldtime blues work with a slide on resonator guitar. The album winds up with a doo-wop soul number.

CMJ 2012: Make Music NY for Kids with Badges

When the Figgs played their first show in 1987, CMJ was a marketing idea whose time had come. By then, just about every college was sending at least a couple of representatives of the campus radio station to the annual festival. In reality, since it was a pretty much all-expenses-paid New York vacation, most of the kids who went to CMJ didn’t go to more than a show or two. In those days, New York had plenty of cheap bars where underage drinking was openly encouraged, and if you knew where to look, there were drugs as good as anything available on campus for half the price. Other than the overabundance of cheap drugs making up somewhat for the disappearance of dives catering to an under-21 crowd, it’s hard to imagine that things have changed much for CMJ attendees since then..

At that point in history, bands were ostensibly auditioning for airplay. Then the urban myth that record labels were signing bands out of CMJ persisted for a few years. By the late 90s, crowds were often still good enough to make a CMJ show worth the hassle since it could be an opportunity to play to some fresh faces. But as the festival ran out of venues, spilling over into rice-and-beans joints and coffeeshops and anywhere a primitive PA could be set up, overkill set in. With the web and Youtube eliminating the need for any kind of live audition, a CMJ gig inevitably became no more of a big deal than any other random show – which it probably never had been, anyway.

But as much as the crowds, and the number of bands gets smaller and smaller every year, CMJ still comes around. And somebody had asked the Figgs to play a CMJ gig Saturday night at Rock Shop. It’s hard to imagine any other show on the slate this year being as wickedly fun as this one was, despite its brevity. “25 years, 25 minutes,” drummer Pete Hayes said sardonically, seconds after the set had ended without an encore – gotta run ’em up and run ’em off, after all, this is CMJ. But the sold-out crowd went wild, at least as wild as guys who probably saw the band at CMJ 1992 can get for an hour after leaving the wives and kids at home.

But the band is absolutely undiminished: after 25 years, their passion and energy puts most acts half their age to shame. It’s no wonder that they’re Graham Parker’s first choice as a backing band. This show had special significance for being a reunion of sorts with original lead guitarist Guy Lyons, who stepped back in as if he’d never left. Leaving barely a pause between songs, they blasted through one catchy tune after another. As powerpop bands go, do these guys have as solid a back catalog as the Raspberries or Big Star? No question. Is Hayes the most solid four-on-the-floor rock drummer anywhere in the world at this point? No question. Bassist Pete Donnelly added a darkly growling edge with burning chords, tree-snapping climbs to the top of the fretboard…or he’d deliver a laid-back soul groove, as on a wryly amusing version of Do Me Like You Said You Would, the first single from the band’s latest album The Day Gravity Stopped. And guitarist/singer Mike Gent got to indulge his Stones fixation as well as blast through both Kinks and Beatles-inspired riffage throughout the set, which was catchier than anything Chisel or any other of the Figgs early 90s contemporaries ever could have mustered.

Hayes drove the barely minute-long opening number with a grinning hardcore stomp; then they lauched into the considerably more tongue-in-cheek Favorite Shirt, a big crowd-pleaser from their 1994 Lo-Fi at Society High album. Lyons sang the biting, sardonic Bad Luck Sammie and the even more snarling Rejects. Did Wilco rip off the Figgs for Shot in the Arm? Hearing this show, you could make a strong case for it. As the show wound up, they messed with an insistent reggae pulse, then referenced the Ramones with Wait on Your Shoulders and finished with the Kinks/Who stomp of Something’s Wrong. The only thing wrong with this picture was that a band this good deserved a biggger venue – and if this had been Manhattan rather than the Gowanus, they would have packed it.

A couple of other acts who made CMJ appearances this year deserve a mention. Fiery, charismatic, literate rockers Hannah vs. the Many played an all-too-brief set here on Friday night: it was good to get to hear frontwoman/guitarist Hannah Fairchild’s blistering wail over the roar of the guitars and the macabre cascades of the keyboards (the band still seems to be without a bass player). It’s hard to think of any other band who has smarter, more incisive lyrics than they do.

And for what it’s worth, the single most impressive song of the entire festival – at least from this perspective,  it’s still impossible to catch each and every act – came from an unexpected source, jangly 80s-influenced Bushwick guitar pop band the Denzels. The version of the ominously swaying minor-key garage-rock anthem Waterfront up at their Bandcamp site doesn’t do justice to the majestic power they gave it onstage at the Knitting Factory on Saturday. Hearing a song that intense and smartly orchestrated makes you wonder, is there more where that came from? Throughout the rest of their show, some of which was more Britpop-inflected, some of which sounded like the Alabama Shakes without the girl singer, there wasn’t – but it was a short set. Which perfectly capsulizes CMJ’s appeal as well as the severity of its limitations.

Doing Shots with Haley and Hannah

Saturday night at Webster Hall, singer Haley Bowery waited about half an hour into her show before she reached behind the sound monitor and pulled out the gun. Before the song started, she’d lured several people in the crowd to the edge of the stage with the promise of whiskey. She pumped the rifle, then held it steady in her right hand, taking aim at a guy in the front row. As his jaw dropped, she fired at him.

If he’d been as steady on his feet as her aim was – Keith Richards’ right hand has nothing on Haley Bowery’s – he would have gotten a generous mouthful of hooch. It wasn’t bottom shelf, either: whatever she’d filled that big black heavy-duty squirt gun with, it was decent whiskey. As the band stomped behind her, she moved on to the next person, and then the next. A couple of them came back for seconds and she took her time with them: at least a couple of people left the show with a free buzz. But that’s not the only reason why it’s impossible not to like Haley Bowery.

Her songs imagine a CBGB of the mind, but not from the punk rock era. Instead, her glam-infused four-on-the-floor rock has a little bit of Bowie, the Dolls, maybe T-Rex but through the prism of cynical 80s New York powerpop, with all the accoutrements: the leather boots, the torn fishnets, the booze, the defiant pose and maybe other stuff. It’s a lifestyle, and she seems hell-bent on putting across the fact that she’s living it – and maybe building a tribe of fellow troublemakers who also consider themselves born strange (which is the title of the album whose release she was celebrating). Her band the Manimals is tight and unexpectedly diverse: solid Attis Jerrell Clopton on drums, surprisingly eclectic Patrick Deeney on guitar and Joseph Wallace (who also plays in the excellent Wallace on Fire) on bass, with Matthew Pop guesting on keys on a couple of numbers. She didn’t waste time getting to the point: “Fuck the rest of ’em, let’s paaaarty,” she ordered the crowd the end of Halloween, a lurching anthem that with a little youtubing could be the theme for next year’s freshman class and many afterward. Some of her songs turned out to be unexpectedly bittersweet, like 29, a wistful ballad pondering  how to stay young when you’re staring down the wrong side of 30. A little later she turned to the bitterness and anger of Blitzed, a kiss-off song whose protagonist “Tried to find my bliss, and I got blitzed”- and then “If you need me, boy that ship has sailed.” And Undertow (the backdrop for the booze and the squirt gun) implored everyone to “Drink your whiskey up for the people who never thought you’d be more than a zero.” Revenge is sweet.

Opening act Hannah vs. the Many took that theme further. With a ferocious, spun-steel wail, charismatic frontwoman/guitarist Hannah Fairchild poured out torrents of double entendres and embittered imagery over catchy melodies that ranged from roaring punk-pop to hauntingly ornate, slower, artsier ballads. Her four-piece band didn’t have a bass player this time out, but that didn’t phase them, lead guitarist Josh Fox raising the songs’ searing ambience with long, echoing, slowly twisting sustained notes drenched in cold reverb. Fairchild projects a warmth and nonchalance in contrast with her songs’ raging angst: she reflected on how nice she felt the audience was, but then she related how when she’d just arrived here from her native Minnesota, people had said the same thing about her. “So I called up my girl friend and told her that, and she just laughed. I’m Minnesota mean!”

But her songs aren’t so mean as they’re just plain anguished: they’re anthems for a new generation of smart, alienated kids. The best one of the entire night, and the quietest one, was Jordan Baker, a torchy, sadly bouncing chamber-pop song that Jarvis Cocker would be proud to have written, and it was there that the audience split up: the front row bobbing their heads in unison, completely lost in Fairchild’s tale of infatuation despite knowing better, while the crowd in back noisily readied themselves for the whiskey. The rest of the show was a lot louder: over scorching punk-noir and stagy, gypsy-tinged dark cabaret, Fairchild savaged poseurs, backstabbers and the slow death of hope in a city full of promises that end up dashed in the crush simply to survive as rents rise and imagination is drowned out in the roar of conspicuous consumption and a cultivated shallowness. “How long before the suburbs come to claim us?” she pondered toward the end of Fox’s Wedding, as the song built from almost a whisper to a wail. A lot of the songs were new, and considerably louder than the haunting, often piano-based tracks on her absolutely brilliant new album All Our Heroes Drank Here: whether she follows that or remains sort of a New York teens counterpart to Pulp, she’s someone to keep an eye on. In a way, Haley Bowery was the perfect segue: there wasn’t any way anybody was going to top Fairchild as far as intensity was concerned, so, fuck the rest of ’em, it was time to party. Hannah vs. the Many are at Spike Hill on July 7 at 11; Haley Bowery’s next gig is a private show (well, sort of – her site lists it as July 17 at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, presumably indoors).

Hannah vs. the Many’s New Album Packs a Wallop

If you like the idea of Amanda Palmer but the nerdgirl shtick makes you want to barf, Hannah vs. the Many is the band for you. Their new album All Our Heroes Drank Here is streaming at their Bandcamp site, where it’s onsale for a sarcastic-as-hell $1. Hannah Fairchild’s acidic, unaffectedly malevolent, frequently menacing songs chronicle a bleak early 21st century depression-era New York drenched in disappointment and despair. She sings with a powerful wail, has a laserlike feel for a catchy tune and a worldview that’s something less than optimistic, no surprise given the uneasy, desperate milieu her characters inhabit. Her women drink hard and crash hard when their diminishing sense of hope finally deserts them – imagine a female Jarvis Cocker, or Aimee Mann in a really bad mood, with a harder-rocking band.

Over the roar and the chime of the guitars, Fairchild slings torrents of lyrics:

Looking for your echoes in the melodies I’ve found
There are songs I sing on days you’re not around
Every time the notes are pretty, every time the notes fail me
No kiss is ever more than sugar sweet
No affection is ever more than river deep

she wails, in Muse, the album’s loudest song, a hellbent, galloping rocker. Interestingly, her most opaque lyric is set to the album’s most striking, unpredictably memorable tune, the new wave-tinged Better Off My Way. Yet that one ends cruelly as well, her shellshocked protagonist standing in in the harbor up to her ankles, freezing and fooling nobody. The most unselfconsciously beautiful song on the album, and maybe its strongest track, is Jordan Baker. Lushly watery Rickenbacker guitar chiming and mingling with the piano, Fairchild casually yet meticulously paints a picture that was doomed from the start – and it ends ambiguously with what might be a suicide…or maybe just the apocalypse.

Other songs are driven more by frustration and rage than by total emotional depletion. The bouncy, dramatic opening track, A Biography of Cells caustically chronicles a would-be up-and-coming New Yorker’s frustrations in an all-too-familiar milieu that later reaches fever pitch in the corrosive noir cabaret song The Party Faithful. Proof of Movement, a frustration anthem, contrasts a claustrophobic lyric with a bustling, insistent piano-driven art-rock melody, while 20 Paces quietly and apprehensively explores a budding, doomed, drunken relationship. True Believers is a lushly orchestrated art-rock anthem that takes an offhand swipe at a crowd who “came to be seen and we stay for the show, coming together to stand here alone.” The rest of the album includes an apprehensively glimmering chamber-rock ballad simply titled Nocturne, and the lickety-split noir cabaret scenario Hideous/Adorable. There’s a lot to like here – fans of noir rock, steampunk and gypsy rock as well as classic lyrical songwriters from Elvis Costello to Randi Russo should check out this band: solid, purist playing from Matthew Healy on piano, Jake W-M on bass, Erica Harsch on drums, Josh Fox on guitar and Meredith Leich on violin. It’s an early contender for best rock record of 2012.