New York Music Daily

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Tag: hurricane bells

A Clinic in Tunesmithing with Daniel Stampfel

Thursday night Daniel Stampfel played the album release show for his new ep at Fontana’s. The singer/guitarist looks the same as he did when he was packing the old Luna Lounge ten years ago, fronting the Inevitable Breakups, a fantastic powerpop outfit that should have been the band representing New York around the world instead of the Strokes or Interpol. Stampfel’s crowd hasn’t changed any more than he has: fellow musicians out to watch a talented colleague work his magic live, and wide-eyed twentysomething women (Stampel always pulls the chicks no matter where he goes). The band was tremendous, as usual: good tunesmiths never have a hard time finding musicians to play those tunes. The lead guitarist switched expertly from searing, sun-drenched slide lines, to rapidfire, pointillistic bluesy runs, to plenty of nimble Johnny Marr-style jangle and clang, while the drummer walked the line expertly between swing and anthemic and the bassist picked out a steady, often suspenseful new wave pulse (and took the most interesting solo of the night on the next-to-last song). Stampfel’s nonchalantly soaring vocals sometimes took a back seat to the roar of the band, but that didn’t matter: people were there for the hooks.

As usual, there were plenty of those. Stampfel works a catchy area between the Jayhawks at their most cosmopolitan, the Raspberries at their most melodic and Big Star at their most focused, with a more propulsive, rhythmic drive than any of those bands. While those are all old groups, what Stampfel is doing is putting his own stamp on an oldschool style,┬átuneful verses working their way up to irresistibly catchy resolutions when the choruses hit. He opened playing acoustic guitar on a jangly midtempo number that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Gary Louris songbook, following with a bouncy, 80s-influenced song that was the poppiest one of the night. The band picked up the pace with a biting riff-rock number, then a more laid-back soul-flavored tune with a gorgeous little hailstorm of tremolo-picking by the lead player. Hurricane Bells’ Steve Schiltz (who produced the record) then came up to add an extra layer of his characteristically thoughtful, spacious guitar on a lush, anthemic tune that reminded of the Church back when that band was writing the occasional pop song. They closed with an unexpectedly minor-key new wave tune (the one with that great bass solo) and then an exuberant one that might have been an Inevitable Breakups song.

That was the music. Lyrics don’t really figure into what Stampfel does: some of the songs could have been titled Oh Baby I Love Your Way or Just the Two of Us (they weren’t, but you get the picture). In order to take his stuff to the next level, i.e. Carl Newman/Steve Kilbey/Elvis Costello territory, he needs a lyricist: tunes as good as this guy’s deserve some substance. One can only imagine the greatness that would result from a collaboration with, say, a Paula Carino or Ward White.


An Intimate Evening with Scout

It was weird watching Scout frontwoman Ashen Keilyn sing without her guitar – before her low-key acoustic gig Monday at the Rockwood, did she ever do a show without it? In a lot of ways, that old brown Gibson defines her, the way she’ll casually jangle through a verse before kicking in hard on the chorus, sometimes letting just the hint of a rasp into her voice. But on Monday she didn’t need the axe: watching her get torchy and nuanced, swaying confidently behind the mic, was a quietly potent reminder of what an unselfconsciously excellent,┬ásubtle singer she is.

It was just as incongruous watching Hurricane Bells’ Steve Schiltz, one of this city’s masters of artsy guitar texture and shade, playing unadorned, simple chords and broken chords on an acoustic, occasionally in tandem with the simple beat looping out from inside Keilyn’s Omnichord. But it worked perfectly: the simplicity of what the two were doing made the hooks in Keilyn’s songwriting seem stronger than ever. The set was a mix of old goodies and new treats. Scout’s selling point throughout their career, irrespective of whoever might have been in the band at a particular time, has always been a relentless unease, juxtaposing unresolved indie angst against purist pop or garage rock hookiness. The opening track was a perfect example, an older song that followed the band’s early, Nirvanaesque formula of mellow verse/explosive chorus. “Now I know my ways always cause harm,” Keilyn fretted against Schiltz’s spiky picking.

The second song plaintively set the scene at some lame party, “My heart stuck in a splint, so close to calling it quits,” Keilyn sang, hinting at but never reaching a fullscale wail. Please Excuse Me, from Scout’s recently released Pi ep, was reinvented as a tense shuffle; they followed that with Always Waiting,the most wistful number of the night. “I wonder what’s become of us, what’s become of me,” Keilyn brooded.

Even a false start couldn’t stop the two’s energetically pissed-off cover of Guided by Voices’ Game of Pricks, which contrasted mightily with the plaintive, imploring vibe of First in Line. They closed with a big, anthemic concert favorite from the old days, Won’t Ask Why (from the band’s classic 2000 It Seemed Like a Good Idea At the Time album), and then an apprehensively steady, stripped-down version of Under Attack, the standout original on the new ep. For a band that depends as much on guitar as Scout always has, you wouldn’t think that this would been such a great show, but it was. And as the early afterwork crowd filtered in, people were openly hoping for a later set time the next time the band does something like this.