New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: indie pop

Heather Trost Goes into Lush Psychedelia With Her New Solo Album

Violinist Heather Trost may be best known as the ferocious lead instrumentalist in Balkan band A Hawk and a Hacksaw, but she’s also proficient on several other instruments. Her new solo album Petrichor – streaming at Bandcamp – is quite a change. It’s a playful psychedelic rock album in the same vein as another solo debut from a couple of years ago by a similarly talented instrumentalist, Lake Street Dive bassist Bridget Kearney.

Trost opens the record with Let It In, a pulsing, shoegazy psychedelic tableau, layers of keys wafting around over distantly flurrying drums. For someone whose instrumental chops are so fierce, her voice is surprisingly delicate and airy.

The second song, Love It Grows is part Mamas & the Papas at their most warily autumnal, part Alec K. Redfearn Balkan noir – with fractured French lyrics. Tracks to Nowhere grows ghostlier over steady, spare electric guitar arpeggios, then the bass and drums come in and it takes shape as a moody, soul-tinged ballad.

Trost keeps the stately 6/8 rhythm going through I’ll Think Of You, a lullaby of sorts buoyed by her soaring violin. Burbling high keys contrast with a Velvets drone in VK09, a dead ringer for the Black Angels. Trost brings the album full circle with the hypnotically echoey Sunrise. The only miss here is the album’s lone cover – 70s hippie pop, ugh.

Playful, Gently Trippy Dance Tunes and Neosoul From Kalbells

Kalbells play psychedelic funk and neosoul. They’re a road-warrior supergroup: Rubblebucket’s Kalmia Traver fronts the band with her cheery, chipper vocals, alongside Okkervil River keyboardist Sarah Pedinotti, Angelica Bess of Body Language and drummer Zoë Brecher of Hushpuppy. Their new album Max Heart is streaming at Bandcamp. This stuff is all about trippy textures and messing with your head: airy highs, reverb and uncluttered dance beats all figure into their web of sound. This is a good party record but it works just as well as chillout music.

Lush string synth joins the twinkly electric piano, Bernie Worrell-esque keyb flourishes, and fluttering flute in the opening track, Red Marker, Traver’s bandmates’ harmonies wafting behind her vocals. The song seems to be about picking up the pieces and moving on.

Traver testifies gently to the therapeutic effects of blowing some notes out into the street in Flute Windows Open In the Rain, exchanging phrases with thoughtful sax over an altered oldschool disco groove. Purplepink has a muted but resolutely funky strut and a slit-eyed, sunbaked guitar solo.

Twinkling keys return over a spare, steady beat and increasingly lush keys in Poppy Tree. Dancing along over some catchy bass octaves, Hump the Beach is just as hypnotic as it is catchy.

Pickles is the album’s funniest track: without giving anything away, it’s metaphorical and features a cameo by hip-hop artist Miss Eaves.

Brecher supplies an elegantly rattling Afrobeat rhythm to anchor the blippy, playful textures of Bubbles. Big Lake is closer to four-on-the-floor, with a catchy, leaping bassline and enveloping harmonies.

Diagram of Me Sleeping is a slow jam that gets funnier the more closely you listen to the lyrics – although that whistling is annoying. The band wind up the album with the defiantly anthemic, whimsically ornamented title track.

Lo-Fi, Melancholy Jangle and Swirl From Clever Girls

Clever Girls are a throwback to the lo-fi jangle that was so popular in the UK in the late 80s and early 90s, and also occasionally the singalong catchiness of the 50s. The group frequently beef up their sound with lingering dreampop resonance. Frontwoman/guitarist Diane Jean sings her forlorn, angst-infused lyrics in an unadorned high soprano. Their new album Constellations os streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening number, Come Clean is a distantly regretful, 50s-tinged waltz through a lo-fi 21st century prism, skeletal and then rising closer to ornate but not qutie. That sets the stage for a lot of what’s to follow: plenty of loud/soft contrasts and sudden, unexpected, explosive peaks.

Jangly, spare guitar shifts to dissociative ambience, then crunch and a big dreampop-infused coda in the second track, Lavender. Remember Pluto is a famous New Order tune as Comet Gain might have done it.

Bassist Tobias Sullivan introduces Womxn with a little ba-BUMP noir cabaret as guitarist Winfield Holt adds simmer and shards, drummer Rob Slater chilling in the distance through the reverb. Built around a catchy, rising three-note riff, Baby Blue is awash in even more of that reverb and distant dreampop sonics.

The group follow the album’s title track, a found-sound miniature, with Spark and its Oasis chorus. Stonewall is a surreal mashup of cloying pop and post-Velvets grit, while Saturn is unexpectedly upbeat, bouncing along with Sullivan’s bass, They close the album with Fried and its plainspoken, seething images of a relationship unraveling. 

Thoughtful, Tuneful Pastoral Sounds From Andrew Rowan and Steven van Betten

Andrew Rowan and Steven van Betten have an attractively melancholy, bucolic chamber pop album, No Branches Without Trees. streaming at Bandcamp. Fans of the quiet side of Elliott Smith, or the early BeeGees, should check this out.

They open with Calico Basin, a wistful pastoral theme for strings. piano and glockenspiel God Given Beauty wouldn’t be out of place on Nick Drake’s first album, although this has more somber orchestration that blends with Rowan’s stark reed organ. The album’s title track is a wistful waltz, strings wafting starkly over van Betten’s delicately fingerpicked guitar.

“Have no fear when they come for you,” is the refrain in the Radiohead-tinged Little Boy: words to aspire to in an era of trace-and-track.

A quaint, fleeting string theme introduces Mining Claim, a brooding waltz that strongly brings to mind Philip Glass’ Dracula score. The narrative for Herrman, set to plaintive strings and guitar, is hauntingly allusive: it appears this Dutch gradeschooler survived the Holocaust, but his siblings may be another story. The album winds up on a similar note with Last Walk Through the Desert: as the strings flutter and shiver, does this guy ever make it out?

Moody, Enveloping, Purposeful Girl-Down-the-Well Sounds From Caitlin Pasko

Caitlin Pasko plays minimalist, pensive parlor pop songs and sings in a nebulous high soprano. An economy of notes is her thing. Her new solo album Greenhouse – streaming at Bandcamp – is sardonically titled. There’s nothing verdant about her alternately hazy and icy keyboard textures or her moody vocals. On one hand, this often comes across as one long song, with a relentlessly suffocating, claustrophobic feel. On the other, Pasko really owns that sound. Fans of Julee Cruise will love this.

She opens the record with the minimalist, rhythmic piano chords and enigmatic, close-harmonied vocals of I Know I: “I can’t trust my emotions,” Pasko reflects, “Because my skin crawls.”

Pasko reaches for her airy uppermost registers in Unwell as a drone looms in and wafts above her steady chords. She switches to electric piano for Even God. “I’m stuck in death,” she half-whispers, again and again, eventually shifting back to piano and then a low Rhodes rumble at the end. Definitely a lockdown moment!

Horrible Person is probably the most succinct kiss-off song ever written, and it’s actually very funny. Over lingering, Eno-esque atmospherics, Pasko doesn’t waste either notes or words. The simple instrumental Ooo Happy introduces To the Leaves, which seems to be a tenative stab at happiness…or merely escape.

She gets back on her feet – literally – in the next song, Mother: Pasko’s images of abandonment and alienation pack a quiet wallop. “You are lake and you’re still as glass,” she muses enigmatically in Quiet Weather: it seems to be a paradoxical love song. Pasko closes the album with Intimate Distance, the closest thing to a straightforward pop ballad, or for that matter any kind of closure. A cynic would say that any second-year piano student could play the whole record from beginning to end, but Pasko’s commitment to maintaining a mood and resisting the urge to go fulllblown orchestral is pretty remarkable.

 

A Trippy, Twinkling Debut Album by Dreampop Duo Vákoum

Multi-instrumentalists Natalia Padilla and Kelli Rudick are Vákoum, whose envelopingly atmospheric, imaginative, sometimes quirky new album Linchpin is streaming at Bandcamp. Bjork and the dreampop bands of the 80s, particularly Lush and the Cocteau Twins, are the influences that jump out at you. If chilly, watery guitar surrounded by airy synth atmospherics is your thing, this is your jam.

It’s best appreciated as a cohesive whole, an immersive late-night wind-down record. For the play-by-play, here goes: the echoey synth and blippy sequencer that open the first track, simply titled intro, are a red herring. Instead of an ambient soundscape, it turns into a lushly (pun intended) wafting dreampop tune, awash in late 80s gloss and sheen. The two women’s close harmonies are a welcome bracing touch.

That sets the stage for the rest of the record. The second track, Beast has a similarly blippy/icily resonant dichotomy, set to tricky, techy, dancing syncopation. There’s a little jazz in the guitar in the loopy Spark, while Sync is a blend of twinkling 90s trip-hop with hints of the Balkans in the vocal harmonies.

For whatever reason, Love is more about textures and coy accents than melody, as is the dissociatively glimmering Freedom. The bass rises higher in Thought than any of the other tracks: this is a pretty trebly record.

Airotic is more skeletal and jangly; Trust concerns something “To help us heal after what he put us through.” What that was isn’t clear. The duo wind up the record with SOA, which is pissed-off and has more of an action-flick soundtrack feel. The autotune doesn’t seem to be on all the vocal multitracks, although by the end of the album it gets annoying. If you can get past that, kick back and chill with this.

A Rainy Day Classic From the Early Zeros Finally Available on Vinyl

Azure Ray‘s 2001 debut was a foundational album for the deluge of bedroom pop records that would follow throughout the decade, and remains a cult favorite. Finally, it’s been reissued on vinyl for those who prefer something sonically superior and longer-lasting than a Spotify stream.

And let’s cut to the chase: it has a previously unreleased bonus track, which is killer. Singers Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink join voices with their usual mistiness and an only slightly unrestrained joy in Witches, a steel guitar-infused, countryish escape anthem:

As they watched us share our souls they tried to copy us
But they’re witches, they couldn’t copy us
As they watched us from above
The knew they’d never love enough

And it’s fun to revisit the rest of the record. The big hit was Sleep, a chimy, distantly bittersweet post trip-hop song with a good facsimile of a mellotron patch wafting over all the loops. The hazy, summery waltz Displaced, the slightly out-of-tune, quietly defiant working couple’s ballad Another Week and the whispery, brooding cautionary tale Don’t Make a Sound hold up strongly twenty years after the cd first hit the record store racks (remember those?). Less so for the opaquely echoey Rise.

The dobro against a churchbell loop in the Beatlesque 4th of July is as offhandedly ominous as it was in the months before 9/11. The tenderly opiated, Elliott Smith-ish chamber pop of Safe and Sound, the lo-fi C&W of Fever and the faux tropicalia of For No One are no less pensively attractive for being period pieces. Awash in post-Velvets shimmer and strum, How Will You Survive serves as an uneasy coda. Looking back, there’s no counting how many other girl-and-guitars duos they influenced, all the way down the line from the groups here who on any random night could be found at the C-Note, to CB’s Gallery, the Blu Lounge and Pete’s Candy Store. Good thing this album still exists to remind us of the hope and resilience of that time.

Imaginatively Arranged, Trippy, Artsy Retro Pop Sounds From James Righton

Klaxons keyboardist James Righton most likely has a huge record collection. His new album The Performer – streaming at Bandcamp – is informed by decades of soul and smartly orchestrated pop sounds. The production is elegant, frequently psychedelic and despite all the digitally precise layers, sounds pretty organic. The catchy tunes and artful arrangements are the focus here rather than lyrics or vocals.

The album opens with the title track, which sounds like Roxy Music playing an Oasis song, built around the former’s signature, biting, reverberating Arp electro piano sound but with more of Oasis’ loucheness. The band take it out with a perfect 1974 Country Life-style arrangement, layers of keys and sax hitting a peak.

The second song is titled Edie, but Righton uses her full name throughout this vampy mashup of vintage 70s soul and trippy 90s neosoul. With its strummy acoustic guitar, emphatic riffs from a string section and catchy bassline, See the Monster is the great lost disco track from ELO’s much-maligned but actually fairly respectable Discovery album from 1979.

Devil Is Loose has tasty layers of watery chorus-box guitars over a strutting bassline: the way the bass shifts to that same liquid, echoey tone is very clever. There are two versions of Lessons in Dreamland here. Part 1 is a starry miniature like the ones that Roxy Music would use to fill out an album side. Righton fleshes out the theme as a slow piano ballad with a staggered trip-hop beat to close the record.

Before that, there’s Start, a twinkling, swirly, anthemic art-pop original, not the big punk-funk hit by the Jam. Are You With Me has disorientingly tricky rhythms: at heart, it’s ELO doing a ba-bump Vegas noir pop song. And Heavy Heart is an imaginatively minimalist stab at shimmery Hollywood Hills boudoir soul.

Intriguing, Allusively Lyrical Violin Songs From Concetta Abbate

Violinist Concetta Abbate writes imaginatively detailed, concise chamber rock songs – when she’s not playing string quartets, or ambient music. She draws on a classical background as well as an immersion in the New York free improvisation scene. Some of the songs on her new album Mirror Touch – streaming at Bandcamp – bring to mind a higher-register Rasputina, or in more delicate moments, cello rocker Serena Jost or the Real Vocal String Quartet. Much of this material is through-composed: Abbate doesn’t typically repeat herself or stay in one place for very long. She also uses pizzicato as much as she bows: this music has plenty of bounce and groove.

The album title refers to mirror-touch synesthesia, where an individual physically feels a physical reaction when another person is touched (many consider it extrasensory perception). The first song, Creatures, is a diptych, its elegantly vamping, swaying baroque pop shifting to a triumphant, emphatic conclusion. Abbate’s search for solid ground amid the relentless uncertainty of gentification-era New York becomes a rare success story.

She leaps to the top of her expressive high soprano in the precise cadences of the Renaissance-flavored miniature Madrigal. Then she matches a gentle but resolute vocal to more baroque-tinged, acerbically leaping violin riffage in Lavender, drummer Ben Engel artfully handling the subtle rhythmic shifts.

The jaunty latin jazz pulse of September, spiced with Charlie Rauh’s guitar and Abbate’s resonant lines on the low strings of her five-string model contrasts with the song’s troubled lyrics. Sunlight, an instrumental with wordless vocals, slowly coalesces toward Bach out of carefree, leaping phrases; then the energy picks up again.

Building has delicate pizzicato that shifts into ambience and one of Abbate’s most acerbically loaded lyrics:

Notebooks upon notebooks
Cost more than I make
Face upon illusion
Give and take
Will they discover me
Will I be found out

Hazy harmonics from both violin and Vasko Dukovski’s bass clarinet provide a surreal backdrop for the warmly inviting vocals of Overflow. The album’s funniest, most playful number is Mis, an instrumental duet between Dukovski and flutist Leanne Friedman.

Abbate returns to a more broodingly poetic atmosphere with Bit of Rain, which has hints of both trip-hop and 20th century minimalism. She follows that with the album’s most hypnotically circling number, Secrets

Worlds, a solo instrumental for violin and vocals, follows a disquieted path through riffage that evokes Ligeti, Bartok, and also Celtic music. Abbate concludes with the benedictory diptych Forgetful, an apt way to close this fresh, verdant, allusively intriguing album.

Rare Live Elliott Smith Available For the First Time on Record

The big deal about the new, remastered 25th anniversary edition of Elliott Smith’s solo debut – streaming at Bandcamp – is that it comes with a bonus live album, something that the iconic 90s songwriter never released during his lifetime. It took a conversation with one of his best friends from college to get the inside dope. “Oh, from when he was doing all those drugs,” she said with a dismissive wave of the hand: she wasn’t inclined to hear it.

For whatever reason, Smith doesn’t sound particularly opiated. His voice is ragged in places, and he doesn’t interact much with an impressively large crowd who’d come out for his solo acoustic set at Umbra Penumbra in Portland, Oregon on September 17, 1994. But his guitar work is solid, and vigorous, and everybody who was listening to Smith before he was murdered will want to hear it.

Knowing how he ended up, it’s sobering to hear the endless druggie references: the desperate narrative over those Wilco-ish chords in his first number; the references to scoring on the Lower East Side in Alphabet Town; and the appearance of Constantina, a recurrent, pseudonymous character who would outlive him.

Plenty of early versions of as-yet unreleased material in the setlist. No Name #4, an allusively grim narrative over briskly picked folk chords; the even more grisly detailed Condor Ave.; the wistfully waltzing No Name #1; and the broodingly Britfolk-tinged No Confidence Man, among others. Smith’s old Heatmiser bud Neil Gust joins him for a stark two-guitar version of Half Right.

On the reissue record, the bass response seems substantially boosted: does that explain why the downstrokes and atonal open-string harmonies of Needle in the Hay, for example, sound so much like Nirvana? Or is that just a function of listening on headphones instead of getting to know this otherwise rather delicate, mostly acoustic cd by cranking it up on a big oldschool stereo in a Gramercy Park apartment?

Hindsight being 20/20, it’s easy to hear the otherwise opaque Christian Brothers as a prototype for the gorgeously anthemic sensibility of Figure 8. Or how tantalizingly the briskly strummed layers of Southern Belle foreshadow that era as well. Or, listening to the full-band studio version of Coming Up Roses here, how much he already had that in his fingers to an extent that nobody realized at the time.