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Tag: hannah vs. the many

Hannah Vs. the Many Release the Best Rock Record of 2016

For the past five years or so, Hannah Vs. the Many have earned a reputation for incendiary live shows and brilliant albums equally informed by noir cabaret, punk, art-rock and theatre music, with a dash of magic realism. Frontwoman/multi-instrumentalist Hannah Fairchild might not just be the best songwriter in New York: she might be the best songwriter anywhere in the world. Her torrential volleys of lyrics have stiletto wit, sardonic and often savage double entendres, and a towering angst that sometimes boils over into raw wrath. While her writing reflects elements of purist Carl Newman powerpop, epic Paul Wallfisch grandeur and Neko Case noir, she’s a stronger and more eclectic writer than any of them with the possible exception of the Botanica frontman. Her wounded wail is one of the most riveting and dramatic voices in New York as well. Originally a keyboardist, she was writing brooding acoustic guitar songs almost from the moment she first picked up the instrument, then pulled a band together and the rest is history.

Their debut, All Our Heroes Drank Here, made the shortlist of the best albums of 2012 here; the follow-up, Ghost Stories ranked high on that list two years later. Their latest release, Cinemascope, draws its inspiration from classic film from over the decades. In terms of vast lyrical scope, genre-defying sophistication and sheer catchiness, it’s the best rock record of the year (caveat: Karla Rose & the Thorns have one in the can that hasn’t hit yet). Hannah Vs. the Many are playing the album release show at around 9 this Saturday, Nov 19 at Bushwick Public House at 1288 Myrtle Ave; the closest train is the M to Central Ave.

The opening track, Smoke Is Rising begins as a pensive art-rock ballad, Fairchild adding a jazz tinge with her piano, and builds to a noisy metallic inferno. It follows the same arc as the suicide jumper in Fairchild’s similarly searing All Eyes on Me; this one’s about a woman’s self-immolation, and every metaphor that could imply. When Fairchild intones, “You notice me, don’t you?” it’s just as much a condemnation of those who would watch without intervening as it is a cynical comment on depressive self-absorption.

Lovely Resolution blends elements of Nordic valkyrie metal, punk and classic garage rock, carried by Fairchild’s melismatic shriek. It ponders questions of authenticity and motives in revolutionary politics, it’s the most punk track on the album, and it’s a good anthem in this surreal post-election netherworld. And it’s optimistic:

We are the preface of a new day rising
Last year’s hope
This year’s trash
Next year’s gods

Carl Limbacher’s bubbly bass opens the bitter Cameo, a chronicle of a flirtation to rival the crunching cynicism of the Church’s For a Moment We’re Strangers, tense blue-flame jangle giving way to an explosive chorus. Fairchild has written about the inspiration for these songs in a series of poignant, sometimes shockingly revealing blog posts; this one was spiringboarded by a late-night hookup thwarted by too much alcohol.

I won’t be remembered
I won’t be remembered
Curling up and drifting off under blanket statements
Draw near help me fight this chill
Resolutions wearing thin
Morals bending backwards
Don’t stay, only say you will

The skittish new wave that opens The Auteur gives way to stomping, lickety-split punk. Like much of Fairchild’s work, this one casts a cold eye on how men expect women to subsume themselves, how some women do so willingly, and at great expense. It’s also very funny:

Once we’re discovered the question will ever be
Which of us settled for whom?
It’s uninspired at best, another biblical fall
You’re unravelling under surveillance
And now we’ll all place our bets
On if you’ll come when you’re called

The saddest, quietest and most radical change for Fairchild here is Chiaroscuro. It’s a muted country song with a banjo, of all things, a chronicle of a family trip to a Washington, DC historic site as well as the divorce that followed years later, a psychological autopsy of Midwestern stoicism worthy of Upton Sinclair:

Every child becomes a murderer in time
We take our leave of absence and we scatter from our homes
They offer contrast, these killers out of context
Someone else’s brother has been chiseled into stone
Not ours, though.

The hard-charging Hotel Empire, as Fairchild has explained, is the album’s turning point. Up to now, the songs have mainly chronicled women trying to be good. All the narratives after this are from anti-heroines. It’s also the climactic song in a suite inspired by what was probably a horribly abusive real-life relationship. Fairchild uses the plotline from Hitchcock’s Vertigo, from the point of view of the Kim Novak character, as the springboard for this harrowing conclusion. “Go on. I said I’m fine,” is the mantra.

Surrender Dorothy is the key to the album, a lickety-split look at the madonna/whore dichotomy through the prism of high school musicals (Fairchild had quite a successful career as a stage actress while still in her teens). It sounds like Patti Smith backed by the UK Subs:

Cinderella’s sisters tell us
Nothing in the final edit
‘Cause we left them blinded, bled and
Screaming through the rolling credits
Made a mistake, played it straight
How many punchlines til she breaks?
Splitting on seams, no reprieve
What I get is what you see

Max Tholenaar-Maples’ scrambling drums and Fairchild’s distorted guitar keep the punk rock going fulll-throttle in Murder Darling, bookending Wells Albritton’s brief, moody electric piano interlude. It’s another example of Fairchild at her most savagely hilarious and spot-on:

Flash right back to a boy in need of applause
Evading playground taunts
From bright young things with eyes rolled
Beat that track! Daddy said you’re whatever you want
And how that promise haunts

NSFW revisits love-as-war metaphors, both musically and lyrically, shifting between a sarcastic march and wounded jangle:

Curious trend
Isn’t it strange?
What information you chose to retain?
All of my fears, none of my wit
Drape me in jealousy tailored to fit
Lining your walls
Faces you’ve earned
Duchesses hanging themselves on your word
Women of rank I have surpassed

Kopfkino makes a harrowing coda to the album, an actress at the end of her rope in a Holocaust milieu whose ending you can’t see coming, but which brings the song cycle full circle. In terms of sheer ambition, epic grandeur and cruel insight, there’s no other album that’s been released this year that comes close to this one.

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.

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.

The 100 Best Songs of 2012

Was this the best year ever for music, or what? There could have been 500 songs on this list and they’d all be amazing. In order to give credit where credit is due, it became necessary to pare this down to just one track per artist.

Bookmark this page and visit often. Virtually every link here will take you to a stream or download of each song. Where this year’s 50 Best Albums page was all about rock, this page offers a chance to explore some of the best acts outside of the rock world. While these days, an “official release” tends to be the day someone uploads the song to youtube, there are a handful of tracks here which are so new that they haven’t made it to the web yet.

Outside of the top ten here, this list is in completely random order: trying to rank a jangly rock song against a lushly orchestrated Middle Eastern anthem, a bittersweet honkytonk song or a Serbian brass jam is absurd. So don’t think any less of the tracks at the bottom of the list: they’re all good. Rachelle Garniez, who happened to land on #99, is every bit as fun as Julia Haltigan at #9, or Lorraine Leckie at #19.

For the first time ever, this year’s top spots on the lists of best New York concerts, best albums and best songs were swept by a single group, Ulrich Ziegler. The noir guitar instrumental duo of Stephen Ulrich and Itamar Ziegler took top honors for their debut album, their album release show at Barbes in August and for their song Ita Lia, a morbidly reverb-toned, icily chromatic Nino Rota-inspired theme which you can play here. For those who’ve followed Ulrich’s career, that should come as no surprise, considering that his previous band Big Lazy pretty much ruled the top ten, year after year, at this blog’s predecessors on the web and in print.

2. Walter Ego – Sunday’s Assassin. This is an LJ Murphy song that Walter Ego used to play bass on when the two were bandmates back in the 90s. Murphy long since dropped this from his set list, and that’s too bad, because this casually lurid serial killer’s tale is one of the best things he ever wrote. Thanks to Walter Ego for resurrecting it. Watch the video

3. Mike Rimbaud – Idiot Wind. On one hand, to not put what could be the greatest rock lyric ever written in the top spot here is absurd, especially considering how Rimbaud reinvented it as straight-up, snarling rock. It’s also very hard to find: if you have Spotify, it’s here, otherwise here’s a sound snippet.

4. Chris Erikson – Ear to the Ground
Best jangly rock song of the year comes from this popular lead guitarist, who finally put out a debut album, Lost Track of the  Time, which includes this richly allusive, wickedly catchy track. He teases you with the hook and then makes you wait til the very end for the payoff. Watch the video

5. Saint Maybe – Everything That Rises
An epic masterpiece of volcanically guitar-fueled, psychedelic southwestern gothic rock from Patti Smith’s guitarist and Bob Dylan’s drummer. From their debut album Things As The Are. Play the song

6. Hannah vs. the Many – Jordan Baker. Prettiest sad noir 60s pop song of the year: girl finally finds guy she actually likes…and then the apocalypse swirls in. From the amazing new album All Our Heroes Drank Here. Play the song

7. The Sometime Boys – Good People of Brooklyn. Soaring lush acoustic chamber pop from this artsy Americana band. Frontwoman Sarah Mucho sings uneasily about her “city of trees,”  from the new album Ice & Blood. Play the song

8. Jon DeRosa – Birds of Brooklyn. Metaphorically loaded noir 60s chamber pop at its most cinematic, old guy eyeing a girl he could never have as the strings swoon behind him. From his new Wolf in Preacher’s Clothes album. Play the song

9. Julia Haltigan – Over the Fields. Looks to be too new to make it to the web yet – over careening southwestern gothic backbeat rock, the New York chanteuse amps up the suspenseful brassiness. She slayed with this at Make Music NY this summer.Stream some similar tracks

10. Changing Modes – Firewall. Nebulously narrative macabre chromatic Botanicaesque art-rock tune from this three-keyboard band’s brilliant latest album In Flight. Play the song

11. Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesores – Fire Shuffle. This is the most swirlingly psychedelic of the many macabre gypsy-tinged tracks on the Rhode Island band’s chilling latest album Sister Death. Play the song

12. Chicha Libre – Papageno Electrico. Like Alec Redfearn above, the Brooklyn Peruvian surf rock band’s latest album Canibalismo is loaded with trippy, creepy tracks and this is the creepiest, like a Japanese video game theme done as psychedelic cumbia. Watch the video 

13. Beninghove’s Hangmen – Surf & Turk. New York’s premier noir cinematic surf jazz monsters hit last year’s list with their debut album. This is a new creepy surf track; you can catch them at Zirzamin on Mondays at 9 where they play it frequently. Play the song; stream the first album

14. Daniel Kahn & the Painted Bird – Sunday After the War. Coldly wise, crushingly cynical klezmer-rock. “They’re always recruiting, after the war.” Kahn slayed with this at Lincoln Center Out of Doors this past summer. Watch a video

15. Emily Jane White – Clipped Wings. The murderess leaves a suicide note at the lake house and this is it: a great story and a chilling song. From her latest album Ode to Sentience. Watch the video

16. When the Broken Bow- Giving Up the Ship. Apocalyptic ukulele waltz with bloodcurdling screams at the end from this smart, raw, female-fronted Portland, Oregon art-rock crew. Play the song

17. Lianne Smith- The Thief. Now co-leader of the Golden Palominos, Smith has been playing this gorgeous but chilling oldschool country smash for years and finally released it on her debut Two Sides of a River. Sing along: “I found out, yeah, I found out too late. ” Play the song

18. Jan Bell – The Miner’s Bride. One of the great voices in Americana music, Bell makes the connection between Appalachian music and the British folk songs it sprung from. This is a Karen Dahlstrom song about a mail-order bride going off to what looks like disappointment and early death in the old west, from Bell’s new album Dream of the  Miner’s Child. Play the song

19. Lorraine Leckie – The Everywhere Man. This party crasher has come to kill everything in his path: a wicked serial killer tale from Leckie’s elegant new chamber pop collaboration with social critic/writer Anthony Haden-Guest, Rudely Interrupted. Play the song 

20. The Japonize Elephants – Melodie Fantastique. Lush sweeping majestic circus rock doesn’t get any more entertaining than this. Title track from the band’s sensational new album. Play the song  

21. Mac McCarty – My Name Is Jack. Another song about a killer, and one that hasn’t made it to the web yet, from one of the darkest voices in Americana. For awhile he had a monthly residency at Bar 82, where he would always play this, and he’s got other videos you can watch.

22. Dimestore Dance Band – Wren Wren. Might as well go with two relatively brand-new ones, this being an urbane, wry gypsy-inflected number from guitar virtuoso Jack Martin and his bassist accomplice Jude Webre. The band is back together and playing this from time to time, and you can hear more of their stuff here.

23. Jodi Shaw – The Witch. In the old days, dotty old women used to get burned. The Brooklyn pianist/songwriter works that metaphor for all it’s worth in this chilling art-rock ballad. From her latest album In Waterland. Play the song 

24. Choban Elektrik – Valle E Shquiperise Se Mesme. A classic Balkan folk song done as trippy psychedelic rock with funereal organ and searing violin, from the band’s sensational 2012 debut album. Play the song

25. Eilen Jewell – Warning Signs. Her 2012 album is called Queen of the Minor Key, which pretty much says it all: this is a killer backbeat noir Americana rock tune with cool baritone sax and reverb guitar. Watch the video

26. Kayhan Kalhor & Ali Bahrami Fard – Where Are You. Anguished alienation has never been more hauntingly restrained than it is on this epic instrumental from I Will Not Stand Alone, the transcendent new collaboration between the Iranian spiked fiddle and santoor virtuosos. Watch the video  

27. Damian Quinones y Su Conjunto – Barrio. This lead guitar-fueled epic from their brilliant 2012 album Gumball Ma-Jumbo is a throwback to the classic latin soul sound of the late 60s and early 70s, right down to the inspired, analog-sounding production.  Play the song

28. Matt Keating – Punchline. Bouncy, metaphorically charged vintage soul-infused cynicism from Keating’s characteristically literate, intense latest album Wrong Way Home. Play the song

29. Clairy Browne & the Bangin Rackettes – Vicious Circle. Dramatic, intense, theatrical oldschool soul anthem that may or may not be a bitter Amy Winehouse homage. From their album Baby Caught the Bus; they killed with this in their New York debut this fall at Webster Hall. Play the song

30. J O’Brien- Cottonmouth. Classic New York songwriting: a torrent of images of the kind of twisted people, and twisted psyches, you meet on the train home after work, from the former leader of fiery mod-punk rockers the Dog Show. Play the song  

31. Out of Order – Gimme Noise. Hammering hardcore riffage from this volcanic all-female noiserock/punk/postpunk trio’s deliciously assaultive new album Hey Pussycat! Play the song

32. Beware the Danger of a Ghost Scorpion – Denton County Casket Co Typically intense, macabre, breakneck horror surf from this unstoppable Boston band’s Five After Midnight broadcast recording. Play the song

33. Tri-State Conspiracy – The Clone. The high point of their Nuisance album from 2008, the noir ska/swing band’s savage version of this was the high point of this year’s Atlantic Antic festival, a cruel broadside directed at all the posers and gentrifiers. Watch the video

34. Les Sans Culottes – DSK. Another highlight of the Atlantic Antic, this viciously funny garage-psychedelic sendup of Dominique Strauss-Kahn hasn’t made it to the web yet, but you can check out a lot of other amusing stuff from the faux French rockers here.

35. David J – Not Long for This World. The ominous title track to the goth songwriting legend’s latest album, the once and future Bauhaus bassist/playwright turned in a riveting version of this backed by Botanica’s Paul Wallfisch at the Delancey this past spring. Watch a video

36. The NY Gypsy All-Stars – Sen Sev Beni. Their latest album Romantech is full of scorching gypsy vamps driven by clarinet powerhouse Ismail Lumanovski: this audience favorite  is the best of them. Play the song

37. Auktyon – Mimo. These Russian art-rockers have been around forever, and they put out a typically surreal, jazz and gypsy-influenced new album, Top, this year. This is the best track, a haunting, towering minor-key anthem. Play the song

38. Harmonia – Songs from Vojvodina. This prosaic title doesn’t give any idea of the ferocity and exhilaration of this lickety-split suite of gypsy music from the Cleveland band’s equally adrenalizing 2012 album Hidden Legacy. Sound snippet 

39. Nathan Halpern – The Mirror. A creepy Philip Glass-ine theme from the soundtrack to the documentary Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present, written by the esteemed Brooklyn noir rocker and composer. Sound samples from the score

40. Sam Llanas – Shyne. Low-key, brooding nocturnal noir 60s pop with an Americana edge from the longtime BoDeans frontman’s recent solo album 4 AM. Sound snippet

41. Super Hi-Fi – We Will Begin Again. The darkest and most mysterious track from the twin trombone deep-dub band’s debut album Dub to the Bone (get it?) Play the song 

42. LJ Murphy – Waiting by the Lamppost. The legendary New York noir rocker has a reputedly phenomenal new album due out next year and this might or might not be on it; it’s an uusually low-key, broodingly surreal soul song. Watch the video 

43. Mighty High – High on the Cross. Of all the drugs Brooklyn’s best-loved stoner rock parodists chronicle in their songs, none is more powerful – or funnier – than religion. Play the song

44. Band of Outsiders – Gods of Happenstance. Television and the Grateful Dead may both be history but these 80s New York garage-pychedelic-punk legends are still going strong; this is the standout track from their 2012 ep Sound Beach Quartet and it evokes the best of both of those bands. Play the song  

45. Spanglish Fly – The Po-Po. Oldschool 60s style latin soul about a familiar New York crisis: getting busted for an open container by cops who haven’t yet met their quota of summonses for harmless offenses. Play the song 

46. Love Camp 7 – Beatles VI. An especially loud, growling vintage 60s psychedelic style track with one of frontman Dann Baker’s characteristically sardonic lyrics, the 60s as a gloomy backdrop to the Fab Four. From their brilliant Beatles-themed album Love Camp VII. Play the song

47. Musiciens Sans Frontieres – Legalize. This song from cinematic guitarist/composer Thomas Simon’s artsy rock-pop project won an award for best video at a hemp film festival  and you can watch that video here.

48. Marcellus Hall – Afterglow. This might not be the right title, and it doesn’t seem to be anywhere on the web, which is too bad: it’s one of the former White Hassle frontman and Americana-punk songwriter’s funniest, and most withering – and catchiest – critiques. Band info 

49. The Ryan Truesdell Big Band – Punjab. Not what you might expect to see here on a daily basis – a recently rediscovered, epic Gil Evans big band noir classic, with lustrous Indian and Middle Eastern shades. From the new album Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans. Play the song

50 The Universal Thump – Opening Night. What an absolutely gorgeous song: late-period ELO with better strings, bigger theatrics and much better vocals from bandleader/singer Greta Gertler. She meets a girl in her dream who offers her a deal: if you bring me from the dream world to reality, you’ll never cry again. Think about that. Play the song  

51. Slavic Soul Party – Draganin Cocek. The high point of the ten-piece Balkan brass band’s scorching, eclectic new New York Underground Tapes – which don’t seem to have made it to the web yet. Stream some similar tracks

52. Magges – Ena Vrathi Pou’Vrehe. It may be all Greek to you, but even if you don’t speak the language, the ringing twin bouzouki riffs and haunting gothic undercurrent of their psychedelic classics will pull you under. From their new album 12 Tragouthia. Play the song

53. Wadada Leo Smith – Emmett Till. An epic narrative from the trumpeter’s Ten Freedom Summers concept album about the Civil Rights movement, this cinematic tale eventually hits a horrific crescendo, equal parts jazz and indie classical. Play the song

54. Bettye LaVette – Choices I’ve Made. The soul survivor took this old George Jone song and made a theme for anybody who’s ever lived to regret something or another. She sang an especially shattering version at Madison Square Park this past summer. Watch the video

55. Marcel Khalife – Palestinian Mawwal. The great Lebanese oud player and composer put out a titanic double album, Fall of the Moon this year and this is one of its high points, a lush Middle Eastern anthem with full orchestra and choir. Play the song

56. Alfredo Rodriguez – Fog. Noir soundtrack music doesn’t get any more haunting or evocative than the Cuban-American jazz pianist’s epic from his latest album Sounds of Space. Play the song 

57. Hot Club of Detroit – Midnight in Detroit. Proof that noir can be done just as well by a gypsy jazz bandk, in a minute 45 seconds. From their latest album Junction. Play the song 

58. EST – Three Falling Free. A rare outtake from the now-defunct, artsy, eclectic trio, this epic, Floydian monstrosity builds to a crushing crescendo with the piano and bass going full blast: you want adrenaline? Watch the video 

59. Israel Vibration – Ball of Fire. This apocalyptic roots reggae tune goes back almost as far as Culture’s Two Sevens Clash, and it’s even better. And the band kicked ass with it at Central Park Summerstage this past August. Watch the video 

60. Klezwoods – Charambe. One of many standout tracks from their new album The 30th Meridian – From Cairo to St. Petersburg With Love, this is a wicked blend of 60s style psychedelic rock and klezmer, like something the Electric Prunes would have done. Play the song

61. Glass Anchors – Winter Home. Sadness and longing set to wickedly evocative, catchy janglerock from the female-fronted, Americana-tinged Brooklyn band’s debut album.  Play the song

62. Bobtown – Battle Creek. High-voltage noir soul anthem from the point of view of a country girl steadily losing it in northern Midwest rust belt hell, sung electrifyingly by Karen Dahlstrom. From the noir Americana band’s killer new album Trouble I Wrought. Play the song  

63. Chicago Stone Lightning Band – Tears & Sorrow. Creepy, brooding  early 70s style acid blues from the Chicago band’s considerably more energetic debut album. Play the song  

64. Single Red Cent – Dilettante. A hilarious postpunk-flavored putdown of spoiled trendoids, “stealing a page from the better bands, nothing in common with the working man.” Play the song 

65. Wahid  – Looking for Paradise. New Middle Eastern instrumental sounds: hard to imagine that just an oud and drums can create a sound that’s this majestic and intense. From the duo’s new album Road Poem. Sound snippet

66. The Larch – Monkey  Happy Hour. Wry, spot-on double entendres abound in this psychedelic new wave look at the last people you’d ever want to hang with after work. From their excellent new album Days to the West. Play the song  

67. Sex Mob – Juliet of the Spirits. Even though the noir-ish jazz quartet’s version of the classic Nino Rota film theme is nowhere to be found on the web, it wouldn’t be fair to leave it off the list: the riveting version they played at the World Financial Center this past fall might have been their first time, and it was amazing.  Band info

68. M Shanghai String Band – Sea Monster
This offhandedly eerie, symbolically-fueled, gypsy-tinged cut might be the best one on the massive Brooklyn Americana band’s new album Two Thousand Pennies. Play the song 

69. Clare & the Reasons- Colder. An icy art-rock mini-epic from the Brooklyn band, with a chilling mantra on the way out: “When will it get better?” Watch the video 

70. Animation – Transparent Heart. The epic, cinematic instrumental title track from saxophonist Bob Belden’s concept album about how New York (and the country) went to hell, as the Bush regime used 9/11 as a pretext for dismantling 200 years of democracy, and New York became a haven for chain stores and suburban yuppie cluelessness. Play the song

71. Yankee Bamg Bang – Silver Bullet. The backlash against gentrifier music is in full effect from these Bollywood-influenced Brooklyn rockers, poking fun at “love songs we couldn’t swallow from musician/actor/models.” Play the song/free download

72. My Education – For All My Friends. Syd Barrett meets Nektar in this roaring ten-minute art-rock theme,  rising to a titanic wall of frantic tremolo-picking. From their latest album A Drink For All My Friends. Play the song

73. Amniotic Fluid – Be Careful Children. Creepy cinematics with virtuoso clarinet, accordion and percussion in under two minutes. From their fiery debut album. Sound snippet

74. Theo Bleckmann & ACME – To the Night. Like Sex Mob at #67 above, the list wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the rich, otherworldly debut that this crooner and indie chamber ensemble gave to Phil Kline’s new song cycle, Oud Cold, this past November. This is its high point, a feast of lustrous close harmonies. Not on the web yet, but you can check out the composer’s other intriguing song sequences.

75. Tom Shaner – She Will Shine. One of the highlights of the southwestern gothic rocker’s new album Ghosts Songs, Waltzes & Rock & Roll is a hilarious song called She’s an Unstoppable Hipster. This is sort of that song in reverse: gentrifier girl goes to the country because she’s sick of the city…or she just can’t hack it? This one’s not on the web but the first song is, in a very funny video

76. Tift Merritt – Small Talk Relations. The Americana chanteuse’s latest album Traveling Alone is the best guitar album of the year, with Marc Ribot’s noir playing off Eric Heywood’s steel and slide work. Ironically, this quiet, elegant countrypolitan number is the album’s best cut. Play the song/free download

77. Ramzi Aburedwan – Rahil. An absolutely sizzling, smashingly catchy theme for buzuq, accordion and percussion by the Palestinian virtuoso/composer, from his latest album Reflections of Palestine. Watch the video

78. Arturo O’Farrril & the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra – River Blue. One of the best concerts in New York this year was the first of two nights by this amazing, titanic band right after the hurricane: thsi darkly majestic  Rafi Malkiel Middle Eastern jazz epic is arguably the high point. Watch the video 

79. Ran Blake & Sara Serpa – Dr. Mabuse. With piano and wordless vocals, the noir jazz legend and his protegee evoke a troubled world of the spirits. From their live album Aurora, which is on Spotify if you have it; otherwise, good luck looking around.

80. Tom Warnick & World’s Fair- The Impostor. Kafkaesque rock doesn’t get any more intense than this: watch the keyboardist/bandleader finding it impossible to refrain from jumping back into the vocals after he’s handed them over to guitarist John Sharples on this noir classic. Here’s the video

81. Terrible Feelings – Blank Heads. This female-fronted punk band sounds like a dead ringer for the Avengers circa 1979, with rich Steve Jones style production. No streaming audio, but a free download from the band

82. Karthala 72 – Diable du Feu. Horror surf guitar grafted to a classic Afrobeat vamp with evil, buzzy bass by this period-perfect Brooklyn crew. Title track from their excellent new album. Play the song.

83. Spottiswoode -Enfant Terrible. This one came out a few years back, but the veteran art-rocker killed with this savage anti-trendoid broadside at a haphazardly assembled but absolutely brilliant show in the West Village right after the hurricane. Watch the video

84. Jaffa Road – Through the Mist of Your Eyes. A luscious Middle Eastern psychedelic rock tune from the eclectic female-fronted Canadian band. Play the song/free download 

85. The Funk Ark – El Rancho Motel. In case you think that Ethiopian cumbia is a crazy idea, check out this wickedly fun, creepily surfy track from the Washington, DC Afrobeat band’s excellent new album High Noon. Watch the video

86. Deleon – A La Nana. A creepy, stately minor key flamenco-flavored waltz with banjo as the lead instrument from this excellent Sephardic rock band. Play the song

87. Raya Brass Band – Melochrino. The hard-charging Balkan brass jamband is just as good at brooding, slowly unwinding, chromatically charged tunes like this one. From their phenomenal debut album Dancing on Roses, Dancing on Cinders. Play the song  

88. Andrew Collberg – Back on the Shore. A frequent Giant Sand collaborator, he writes period-perfect mid-80s style paisley underground psychedelic rock. This is a lush, hauning noir southwestern gothic anthem. Watch the video  

89. Tim Foljahn – New Light. From his brooding, pessimistic, absolutely haunting apocalypse concept album Songs for an Age of Extinction, this one artfully doubles the vocals: one track blithe and clueless, the other less so. Play the song

90. The Sweetback Sisters – Texas Bluebonnets
The harmonies and the melody of this oldschool western swing/Tex-Mex tune are so charming and chipper you know there has to be a sad undercurrent…and there sure is. “Those Texas bluebonnets just blew me away.” From their excellent album Lookin’ for a Fight. Watch the video

91. The Brixton Riot – Keep It Like a Secret. Snarling two-guitar rock from this New Jersey band, all too aware of how the Bush-era police state still lingers and makes you watch your back. From their scorching new album Palace Amusements. Play the song

92. Botanica – Manuscripts Don’t Burn. How the hell did the most epic, intense, grand guignol track from this era’s greatest art-rock band end up way down here? Roll of the dice. Sorry, guys. From their arguably most haunted, brooding album What Do You Believe. Play the song

93. Black Fortress of Opium – Afyonkaharisar Battle Cry. The female-fronted Boston band artfully crescendo from stately Middle Eastern sonics to a ferocious cauldron of dreampop guitar. From their new album Stratospherical. Play the song

94. Leigh Marble – Holden. The last of the anti-trendoid anthems here might be the funniest, which is ironic (in the true sense of the word) in that the Portland, Oregon songwriter’s latest album Where the Knives Meet Between the Rows is otherwise extremely dark. The title here is a Salinger reference. Play the song  

95. Marissa Nadler -The Wrecking Ball Company. Metaphorical, inscrutably deadpan, deathly noir atmospherics from this era’s unrivalled mistress of that style. From her latest and possibly best album The Sister. Play the song

96. Mucca Pazza – Last Days. An artsy, Russian-tinged accordion waltz from this titanically powerful gypsy punk brass band’s latest album Safety Last. Play the song

97. Niyaz – Shosin. A characteristically hypnotic, pulsing track from the Persian-Canadian dance/trance band’s latest album Sumud (Arabic for “resilience”). Watch the video

98.  Tribecastan – Jovanka. The darkest song on the eclectic-beyond-belief New York kitchen-sink worldbeat band’s latest album New Deli is sort of a balalaika bolero except that the web of stringed instruments is everything but a balalaika. Watch the video 

99. Rachelle Garniez – Land of the Living
The unexpectedly triumphant closing track on the inscrutable accordionist/chanteuse’s latest album Sad Dead Alive Happy, it starts with a devious dream sequence of sorts and ends with a warmly wry, indelibly New York stoop conversation. Play the song

100. Catspaw – Curl Up & Die. Let’s wrap up this list with a careening ghoulabilly track from this brooding 2/3 female New York retro rock trio. It’s a staple of their live show but hasn’t made it to the web yet – although you can hear their classic, even more haunting Southbound Line here.

The 50 Best Albums of 2012

About five years ago, people were saying that the album was a thing of the past. How wrong that turned out to be! This year’s crop of albums was so absurdly good that it felt criminal to whittle it down to a hundred, let alone fifty. And the only way of getting it down to that number was to cut out all the “world music,” including reggae and Afrobeat and most of the gypsy sounds, because there was so much of that and it was all so good.

Bookmark this page and return often. Virtually all of these albums are streaming (click the links) or are available as free downloads: consider this your place to discover some amazing sounds that were too smart for the Bushwick and Wicker Park blogs, and too dangerous for corporate radio and tv.

1.  Ulrich Ziegler – their debut album
Dating back to the 90s,  guitarist Stephen Ulrich has been New York’s most distinguished noir composer. When he wasn’t writing film and tv music, he was leading the ferociously creepy instrumental trio Big Lazy. When that band broke up (the drummer left to join Gogol Bordello), Ulrich eventually teamed up with Itamar Ziegler from Pink Noise, and then released this haunting, reverb-drenched, surf/skronk/jazz/soundscape masterpiece. Stream it

2.  Chicha Libre – Canibalismo
Chicha Libre’s 2008 debut album Sonido Amazonico landed in the top ten and this one is arguably even better, a trippy, wickedly dub-influenced mix of Peruvian surf rock, slinky Andean and latin grooves, and surrealistic psychedelic rock. There is no more fun, or more danceable, band in New York than Chicha Libre. Band info and audio/video

3.  Raya Brass Band – Dancing on Roses, Dancing on Cinders
This fiery Brooklyn crew distinguish themselves from the hundreds of other excellent Balkan brass units by virtue of their long, scorching jams: nobody does that better. Stream it

4.  Botanica – What Do You Believe In
This era’s pre-eminent art-rock band’s most brooding, haunted album, a rich blend of gypsy-tinged melody, raw, roaring guitar, edgy piano and spooky organ. Stream it

5.  The Universal Thump – their full-length debut
The final and concluding installment of the most massive, richly orchestrated album on this list, a lushly symphonic double-cd mix of chamber pop, art-rock, psychedelia and quirky, theatrical indie pop. Stream it

6.  Rachelle Garniez – Sad Dead Alive Happy
The iconic, eclectic accordionist/chanteuse – who has sort of become the Dorothy Parker of underground rock – took a deep dive into soul and gospel sounds, with richly soaring results. Stream it

7.  The Japonize Elephants – Melodie Fantastique
One of the original gypsy bands, this enormous, theatrical circus rock crew took their game to the next level with this one. Stream it

8.  Lianne Smith – Two Sides of a River
An iconic presence in the New York Americana and rock scene since the late 90s, Smith’s debut album was legendary before it was finally released – and it’s as eclectic, psychedelic, haunting and funny as anything else on this list. And her amazing voice is better than ever. Stream it 

9.  Bobtown – Trouble I Wrought
Nobody writes more cleverly creepy acoustic Nashville gothic and bluegrass than Bobtown. With four first-rate songwriters, their sound is as diverse as it is dark. Stream it

10.  Jan Bell – Dream of the Miner’s Child
One of the great voices in Americana music, Bell made this into a concept album that linked British folk with the American country and bluegrass sounds that grew out of it  with a vivid sense of history and a tantalizing mix of classics and originals that sound like Appalachian standards. Stream it/free downloads

11. M Shanghai String Band – Two Thousand Pennies
The mighty eleven-piece Brooklyn acoustic Americana crew’s most lush, haunting, diverse and ultimately best album, ranging from gypsy and chamber pop to brooding Appalachian ballads and the rousing singalong songs they’re best known for. Stream it

12.. Love Camp 7 – Love Camp VII
An expertly wry, tuneful, catchy janglerock concept album looking at recent history through the prism of the Beatles, with a jaundiced eye and expertly labyrinthine polyrhythms. Given up for dead after the tragic loss of brilliant drummer Dave Campbell, the band has recently regrouped and is as playful and fun as ever. Stream it

13. Hannah vs. the Many – All Our Heroes Drank Here
Ferociously literate, white knuckle intense female-fronted punk and powerpop, with some noir cabaret and Jarvis Cocker-style art-rock thrown in for good measure. Stream it

14. The Larch– Days to the West
The follow-up to their 2010 masterpiece Larix Americana finds the Brooklyn retro new wavers sounding more psychedelic and more savagely lyrical than ever. Stream it

15. Lorraine Leckie and Anthony Haden-Guest – Rudely Interrupted
A blackly amusing, gorgeously orchestrated chamber-pop collaboration between the caustic social critic and the Canadian gothic rock siren.  Band info and a/v

16. Black Fortress of Opium – Stratospherical
Lush, roaring, darkly psychedelic Middle Eastern-tinged art-rock from this powerful, female-fronted Boston band. Stream it

17. Matt Keating – Wrong Way Home
The respected Americana rocker’s best single-disc album, a brooding, offhandedly menacing blend of classic soul, country and elegant chamber pop. Stream it

18. Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesores  – Sister Death
Not to have this album in the #1 spot is pretty absurd: the Rhode Island band’s swirling, psychedelic, gypsy-tinged art-rock masterpiece is the most downright macabre collection on this list. Stream it

19.. The Sometime Boys – Ice & Blood
The second album from cabaret siren Sarah Mucho and art-rocker Kurt Leege’s sharply lyrical acoustic Americana project finds them funkier, more lush and more intense than ever. Stream it

20. Animation – Transparent Heart
As historically important as it is richly arrranged, saxophonist Bob Belden’s collection of cinematic instrumental themes traces the decline of New York over the past couple of decades, centered around 9/11 and the fascism that ensued. Band info and a/v

21. Tift Merritt – Traveling Alone
Marc Ribot’s guitar is amazing beyond belief, and Merrritt’s pensive Americana songs and nuanced vocals are as vivid as always.  Band info and a/v

22. Out of Order – Hey Pussycat
The loudest album on this list is by this assaultive all-female Long Island noiserock/punk trio, raw but richly produced by John Sharples. Stream it

23. Changing Modes – In Flight
With three keyboards and edgy lead guitar, these women and guys play biting, lyrical art-rock and new wave-influenced sounds. Stream it

24. Chris Erikson & the Wayward Puritans – Lost Track of the Time
Erikson has been one of the great guitarists in Americana for years, in other peoples’ bands. This is his long-overdue debut as a leader, a careening, gorgeously twangy mix of Americana, paisley underground psychedelia and riff-rock. Stream it

25. Marissa Nadler – The Sister
The Nashville gothic/noir cabaret chanteuse/songwriter’s most haunting and atmospheric album since her debut, a darkly nebulous, allusive gem. Stream it/free downloads

26. Spanking Charlene – Where Are the Freaks
Female-fronted Americana punk band with  powerful, intense lead vocals, hooks that run the gamut from the Stooges to X and a potently snide, sarcastic, spot-on worldview. Stream it

27. Frankenpine – In That Black Sky
Creepy original bluegrass, Appalachian ballads and elegantly dark acoustic sounds from this diverse Brooklyn band. Stream it/free dowloads

28. Choban Elektrik – their debut album
A side project by members of Zappa cover band Project/Object, they take classic Balkan and gypsy themes and make trippy psychedelic rock out of them. Stream it

29. Slavic Soul Party – New York Underground Tapes
The wildly popular Brooklyn Balkan brass band at the top of their funky, surprisingly eclectic, intensely danceable game. Stream it

30. Saint Maybe – Things As They Are
A throwback to the paisley underground bands of the 80s like True West and the Dream Syndicate, this project by a Patti Smith guitarist and Bob Dylan’s drummer mixes surreal, apocalyptic imagery and raw, surreal, psychedelic Americana rock. Stream it 

31. Mike Rimbaud – Can’t Judge a Song By Its Cover
The New York underground rocker – who also put out an excellent album of originals last year, and constantly releases video singles – puts his indelibly New York spin on politically charged classics by Phil Ochs, Dylan, the Stones and others. Stream it

32. When the Broken Bow – We, the Dangerous Weapons
A surreal, fearlessly political, apocalyptic concept album by this Oregon band  that runs the gamut from soul-pop to careening art-rock to goth and gypsy sounds. Stream it

33. Tim Foljahn – Songs for an Age of Extinction
Grimly lyrical, pensively psychedelic noir chamber pop and Americana-influenced songwriting. Stream it

34. Demolition String Band – Gracious Days
The well-loved New York Americana/bluegrass/rock twanglers’ best electric album, an intoxicating blend of guitars, mandolins, banjo and Elena Skye’s velvet vocals. Stream it

35. The Brixton Riot – Palace Amusements
Sort of the missing link between the Jam and Guided by Voices, this New Jersey band blast their way through a series of hard-hitting, swirling, lyrically biting three-minute songs. Stream it

36. L’il Mo & the  Monicats – Whole Lotta Lovin
Americana chanteuse Monica Passin’s most intimate and eclectic album to date, with soaring harmonies from fellow Americana siren Drina Seay. Song samples

37. Leigh Marble – Where the Knives Meet Between the Rows
Brooding, bitterly lyrical songwriting with a mix of hypnotically psychedelic and Americana-flavored tunes from the Portland, Oregon bandleader. Stream it

38. Eilen Jewell – Queen of the Minor Key
Truth in advertising – Jewel excels at noir Americana, ghoulabilly, garage rock and oldschool psychedelic sounds. Band info and a/v

39. Mucca Pazza – Safety Fifth
A characteristically high-voltage mix of short but sonically titanic gypsy punk and gypsy rock songs from the brass-heavy Chicago dance orchestra. Stream it

40. Chicago Stone Lightning Band – their debut album
With a raw, guitar-fueled edge, their twin-Gibson assault covers classic 60s style Chicago blues, riff-driven stoner rock, original soul and funk. Stream it

41. Emily Jane White – Ode to Sentience
Intense, broodingly lyrical, intricately orchestrated Nashville gothic and art-rock sounds. Band info and a/v 

42. My Education – A Drink for All My Friends
The Austin postrock/instrumental band have never sounded more lush or guitarishly intense on this mix of desert rock and cinematic themes. Stream it

43. Tom Shaner – Ghost Songs, Waltzes and Rock n Roll
That such a great album would be this low on the list attests to how amazing this past year was for music. The former Industrial Tepee frontman has never written more richly or lyrically than he does on this southwestern gothic gem. Band info and video

44. Jon DeRosa – A Wolf in Preacher’s Clothes
The Brooklyn crooner comes across as sort of a cross between Jarvis Cocker and Leonard Cohen, with a mix of lush chamber pop, Americana and 80s-influenced gothic art-rock. Band info and a/v

45. The Sweetback Sisters – Lookin’ for a Fight
This amazing two-frontwoman honkytonk band not in the top ten? How can that be possible? Take a look at the rest of the list. Stream it

46. Band of Outsiders – Sound Beach Quartet
The 80s psychedelic punk legends are still going strong, with a richly jangly, snaky new ep that evokes Television as well as the Jesus & Mary Chain, both groups whose careers they’ve now eclipsed. Stream it 

47. Mighty High – Legalize Tre Bags
The funniest album of the year blends roaring Motorhead-style biker rock with woozy stoner riffage and some of the best weed jokes ever put on vinyl. Stream it

48. The Weal and Woe – The One to Blame
Gorgeously harmony-driven oldschool honkytonk and 1950s style proto-rockabilly sounds from this wonderfully retro Brooklyn band. Stream it

49. Guided by Voices – The Bears for Lunch
Agelessly energetic, prolific indie surrealist Robert Pollard hasn’t lost a thing: this is the third and best release in the band’s incredibly productive 2012, not including Pollard’s own solo releases. Band info and a/v

50. Ian Hunter – When I’m President
Last but hardly least on this list, another ageless rocker from an even earlier era put out an album that could be the great lost Stones classic from 30 years ago. Band info/free downloads 

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).

Today’s Batch of Goodies

Can you name a better NYC band than Spanglish Fly? There are a bunch of others who are just as fun: Chicha Libre, Rev. Vince Anderson and his funk band, the Roulette Sisters, LJ Murphy in his many incarnations, but is there anybody better? Check out their latest summery single and see for yourself. Spanglish Fly play bugalu, a wicked mix of Puerto Rican grooves and oldschool soul music that originated in the 60s when the Puerto Rican kids in Spanish Harlem started listening to soul music. Meanwhile, the black kids uptown were listening to Puerto Rican music – it was one of those gorgeous melting-pot moments that could have only happened here. They’re playing the release show for their new single on Feb 16 at Zebulon starting at around 9. The A-side, Me Gusta Mi Bicliceta has frontwoman Erica Ramos wailing like never before. The B-side, The Po-Po is absolutely killer, a sarcastic plena soul groove that explores a universal NYC phenomenon: kids getting busted for open containers by cops desperate to make their “quality of life” arrest quotas. Check out that cool baritone sax! Both songs are streaming here; the vinyl – this stuff is pure analog! – will be out on Electric Cowbell Records.

Wave Sleep Wave – the latest project from the Blam’s Jerry Adler – has a new free download, Hey What – hypnotic, jangly reverby Britrock that wouldn’t be out of place on Wire’s 154 record. A full album is scheduled for next month.

Another free download worth checking out is the Feeling Anxious PR Valentine compilation. Not everything here is worth uploading, but the good stuff is choice: Tatiana Kochkareva’s bouncy retro psychedelic pop, Hannah vs. the Many’s assaultive, hyper-literate noir cabaret and Bryan Dunn’s super-sly country drinking song, Flowers, an anti-Valentine song if there ever was one.

And in case you missed Either/Orchestra’s transcendent three-hour marathon show of mostly brand-new Ethiopian-flavored jazz at the New School last November, it’ll be airing on WGBO’s Jazz Set program on Feb 19 at 6 PM and then on Feb 22 at 6:30. Listening back to a recording of the show, it’s amazing: an eclectic new suite by bandleader Russ Gershon plus several Ethiopian pieces never played outside Ethiopia, performed for probably the first time since the 60s or early 70s.

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.