New York Music Daily

Save Our Culture – Defund the WHO

Tag: indie pop

Catchy, Purist, Relevant Powerpop Songcraft From Elisa Peimer

It was about fifteen years ago that Elisa Peimer played a reasonably well-attended show at a long-gone Williamsburg venue, the Blu Lounge, as part of a multi-artist bill staged by the songwriters collective Chicks With Dip. It was early in her career, and she was one of the first of the acts to hit the stage that night, but it was obvious that she had a purist pop sensibility and a compelling blue-eyed soul voice.

In the years afterward, she’d contribute to a popular anthology celebrating the 40th anniversary of Joni Mitchell’s Blue album and then tour with the core group behind it. She’s also a founding member of the Sonic Youth and Wilco powerpop spinoff The End of Love, and has put out a series of solo albums as well. Her latest one, Navigator, is streaming at Spotify.

The opening track comes across as late 70s Pat Benatar without the cliched heavy metal guitar. In I’m Gonna Start, a defiant anthem about getting off the screen and staying off, the references are quaint: just tv and radio. But maybe Peimer’s already a step ahead of most everybody else in getting off of evil Facebook and Instagram too.

The second track, Shouldn’t I is a throwback to late 70s/early 80s CBs style powerpop. Peimer’s got a great, purposeful band behind her: Jay Deegan and Irwin Menken on guitars and a killer rhythm section of Whisperado’s Jon Sobel on bass alongside longtime Graham Parker and Mekons drummer Steve Goulding.

Cyrano has a Highway 61 Dylan sway and a telling lyric:

He thinks he isn’t pretty
But he’s being pretty blind
He doesn’t seem to know
That the girls, they always go for a beautiful mind

Adrift is a metaphorically loaded, electrified sea chantey, reflecting back on getting away from ever-present distractions and finding one’s own way. Peimer goes back to 6/8 time for the soul-tinged, ballad End of the Sunset and winds up the record with the bitttersweetly elegaic Slipped into a Dream. If catchy, purist tunesmithing is your demimonde, Peimer should be on your radar.

Smart, Stormy, Fearless Art-Rock From Victoria Langford

Singer/multi-keyboardist Victoria Langford writes lush, sweeping yet very sharply sculpted songs. She has a strong, meticulously nuanced, expressive voice and a venomous sense of humor. She likes swirling, stormy orchestration and using religious imagery as a metaphor for interpersonal angst. Her debut album, simply titled Victoria, is streaming at Bandcamp. Imagine a more organic Radiohead, or a young Kate Bush at half the volume.

The album’s first track is Psalm, Langford’s spare Wurlitzer and insistent piano contrasting with Brett Parnell’s nebulous wash of guitars. The phantasmagoria hits redline with the second song, Coney Island, a harrowing, achingly intense tableau awash in a roar of sound and creepy canival effects:

I see stars
From the back
Of your hand
You bury me
Alive

At a moment in time when domestic abuse is rising with all this endless quarantining, the song has more relevance than ever.

Langford’s cynicism hits a peak in Savior, a brief, thumping parody of dancefloor pop:

You think everyone wants to fuck you
You are a victim or most wanted on the streets
You like to think that you are Kanye
But sitting on your ass won’t make those beats

I Found Hell Looking For Heaven is an instrumental, a majestic title theme of sorts, Leah Coloff’s stark cello blending with Langford’s symphonic keyboard orchestration. The string into to Boboli Gardens, cello bolstered by Sarah Goldfeather and Andie Springer’s violins, is even more plaintive, Langford’s piano shifting to a hazy, country-tinged sway.

The Radiohead influence comes through the most clearly in the slow, brooding What Might Have Been, right down to the glitchy electronics and tinkly multitracks behind the starkly circling piano riffs.

Rob Ritchie’s guitar lingers amid a whoosh of string synth over Joe Correia’s bass and Evan Mitchell’s drums in Be a Dragon, a surreal mashup of hip-hop and Radiohead with a fearless Metoo-era message. Langford winds up the record with The Truth, a pulsing, unapologetic escape anthem: It’s rare to see an artist come straight out of the chute with something this unique and individualistic, a stealth contender for best debut album of 2020.

Shakey Graves’ Youtube Series Produces a Slyly Spot-On New Album

Shakey Graves’ sound has changed a lot since his wryly entertaining one-man-band days on the summer concert circuit over the last few years. But that’s ok – artists evolve. The question is whether Alejandro Rose-Garcia has simply followed his inner Badfinger muse, or if he’s been led astray by a holdover fringe of what’s left of the corporate music machine that imploded about fifteen years ago.

He’s definitely a lot more serious these days. The title track of his new ep Look Alive – a byproduct of his haphazardly inspired lockdown-era youtube series and streaming at Bandcamp– is a vampy 70s powerpop anthem. “I haven’t learned a thing since 1987,” he asserts – that’s the year he was born. Patrick O’Connor’s 12-string guitar riffs and a guitar-synth background linger throughout six sardonic minutes: long songs without digressive spoken-word interludes have not been this guy’s thing til now,

Jon Shaw’s boomy bass holds down the trip-hop groove of the second track, The Recipe, definitely a throwback: it’s an irresistibly funny look at really, REALLY bad branding. He mentions being free of some kind of past in Not Everything Grows, which follows a similar but more lo-fi pattern. The final product of this strange time is Under the Hood. “Use your eyes, don’t be easily deceived,” he warns calmly over an uncharacteristically woozy, techy backdrop. It speaks volumes that he uses autotune on the line “Don’t believe anything everyone tells you.” Big up to Shakey Graves for keeping the simple idea of a bunch of guys together in the studio making music alive at this pivotal historical moment.

A Bittersweet Triptych For a Grim Day

On one level, the Ukulele Scramble‘s new cover of the Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd classic See Emily Play is characteristically hilarious. The duo – Robin Hoffman and Richard Perlmutter – have interpolated the main theme from J.S. Bach’s First Goldberg Variation into the song, taking their inspiration from Rick Wright’s piano breaks on the original, which were recorded at a slower tempo and then sped up in the final mix for an approximation of baroque ambience.

All the same, this is one sad song! Emily seems happy at first…but wait til the sun goes down. Hoffman’s understated poignancy on the mic packs a lot more emotional wallop than Barrett did with the 1967 single.

Don’t watch the video for Delanila‘s It’s Been Awhile Since I Went Outside unless you can handle feeling heartbroken. The singer made it on her phone, walking in the rain through an absolutely deserted Soho and Tribeca. Lower Manhattan is truly dead in this one – cold drizzle or not, did you ever expect to see the sidewalks on Broadway south of Houston competely empty, in the middle of the day?

The song itself doesn’t specifically reference the coronavirus crisis: instead, Delanila’s pillowy noir-tinged ballad seems to be a snide commentary on the atomizing effects of social media (a bête noire for her – this isn’t her only critique of it).

And if you never guessed that the Rolling Stones would still be making records in 2020, let alone something worth hearing, guess again! If you haven’t heard the brand-new Living in a Ghost Town, give it a spin: it’s like their 1978 disco hit Miss You, but heavier and creepier.

Thoughtful, Carefully Crafted, Gospel-Tinged Songwriting From Christina Courtin

Since her Juilliard days in the early zeros, multi-instrumentalist Christina Courtin has shifted seamlessly between the worlds of classical, film music and low-key, pensive songwriting that sometimes fits into the chamber pop category. Her main axe is violin, but she’s also a competent guitarist. Her lyrics have a stream-of-consciousness feel that often masks a slashing sense of humor. Her latest album Situation Station is streaming at Bandcamp.

“If I had some money I’d take the train, take it further than faraway,” she sings on the album’s calmy lustrous opening track, Japanese Maple Tree. Chris Parker’s strummy acoustic guitar, Kenny Wollesen’s boomy drums, James Shipp’s muted vibraphone and Greg Cohen’s bass propel the suspiciously blithe, coldly sarcastic folk-pop tune Stare Into the Sun.

Pianist Danny Fox infuses Bouquet with a spare, gospel-tinged ambience, Courtin bringing in a lush orchestral arrangement. “Got my missile pointed right where I want it to be,” she asserts in Dear Lieder, which is even more skeletal: “If I blow up everyone I might just get some rest.”

The album’s most anthemic singalong is the triumphant Life So Far, with its gorgeous, gusty strings. Courtin returns to a soul-gospel vibe with the slowky crescendoing Matthew’s Wings, spiced with a terse slide guitar solo, and picks up that same warmth with a heftier arrangement a little later in Love Is a Season.

The most striking song here is the title track, Courtin tracing an idyllic childhood memory not likely to return, if ever, as the music shifts from overcast atmospherics to a jaunty ragtime strut. Fox moves to electric piano for Coyote Midnight, a simmering nocturne that could be about an abuser, or someone in politics. She closes the record with the gentle, elegaic You Held Me Up.

The last time this blog was in the house at one of Courtin’s gigs, it was at Barbes late on a Thursday night in the spring of 2018. Playing solo, she split the show between instrumentals and vocal numbers; her voice seemed clearer, less husky than it is on this record. It was a very calming, peaceful, enveloping performance, music to really get lost in, a welcome nightcap after a rather stuffy evening in one of the big midtown concert halls a couple of hours earlier.

Revisiting Exploded View’s Troubled, Coldly Loopy Postrock and No Wave

Exploded View play a troubled, loopy take on late 70s/early 80s postrock and no wave. Some of their songs bring to mind Can, other times the Ex, or even Joy Division at their most minimal. Frontwoman Anika doesn’t sing so much as she speaks, in icily accented English. Their debut album – streaming at Bandcamp – came out in the summer of 2016, arrived on the hard drive here…and went straight down the rabbit hole. While the bass, drums, guitars and keys (uncredited at the Bandcamp page; the band no longer have a webpage of their own) all seem to be completely organic, they loop their simple, catchy, ominously reverb-drenched riffs into a tersely twisted kaleidoscope. There’s a bleak, overcast, grey-concrete European quality to this music.

The opening track, Lost Illusion, sets the tone, a quasar pulse of reverb guitar repeating over and over to a mechanically spiraling beat, like an amplified laundromat washer with a loose axle on spin cycle.

One Too Many has a simple, elegant interweave of chilly, minimal guitar and keyboard riffs around a circling, hypnotic lo-fi bass hook. “You were outside my door at five AM again, broken nose and bloodied up,” Anika intones soberly.

Orlando has absurdly catchy minor-key disco bass and drums beneath coldly oscillating dreampop guitar sheen. Call on the Gods is one of the album’s more broodingly psychedelic tracks, noisy guitar incisions and tumbling drums over a thumping loop. With shards of guitar over an overdriven bass lick, Disco Glove could be a demo for Public Image Ltd.’s Metal Box album

Stand Your Ground is a bedroom-dub shot at a 70s soul groove. The band go back to a PiL-ish fodderstompf with No More Parties in the Attic, then build surrealistically ringing windchime ambience in Lark Descending, which seems to be a war parable.

Gimme Something grows into an acidic thicket of no wave dub reggae: “You tease with your fake democracy,” Anika accuses. The band close the album with Beige, a morose miniature, then the corrosively echoey Killjoy: once again, that loud, emphatic bass is a dead ringer for Jah Wobble in his early days with PiL.

Gentle, Expertly Textured Psychedelic Pop From Green and Glass

Green and Glass sometimes sound like a warmer, female-fronted Radiohead. Other times they come across as a calmer Arc Iris. Keyboards swoosh, filter and rise through the mix over a slow sway as frontwoman Lucia Stavros shifts from soaringly anxious highs to a more plainspoken delivery in the middle registers. They like to cap off a long crescendo with low-key trumpet…and they have a concert harp in the band. Their debut album is streaming at Bandcamp.

They open with an eponymous, soul-tinged ballad, Stavros’ tenderly resonant vocals over a slow, gentle trip-hop groove delicately flavored with Andrew McGovern”s trumpet alongside her harp. She reaches for the stratosphere over a loopy harp riff in 14 Hours; then a techy, blippy electric piano pulse takes over – that could also be Stavros, or sax/keys player Sam Decker..

Imagine Portishead with a harp and an unadorned, folky lead vocal, and you get the album’s third track, Black Hole. In Sand, they add spare, tremoloing electric guitar, and bassist Ryan Dugre turns up his treble to cut through the mix. Then they build SMC slowly and resolutely out of a circling, Afrobeat-tinged riff that begins with spiky guitar harmonics.

David Flaherty’s drums drop out for Another One, a brief, hazy tone poem awash in dreampop reverb. They bring back the neosoul tinges in Good Enough For Some: spare, watery chorus-box guitar adds a welcome disquiet behind the sheen. If psych-pop maven Jenifer Jackson played the harp, she could have come up with Gabriel.

The ninth track, Wash, is pretty much that, as is the one afterward: sometimes bands have a hard time discerning between minimal and prosaic. They come full circle with the closing cut, Corona (recorded long before the current crisis, and completely unrelated), a trippy, gently optimistic trip-hop tune: it could be early, low-key My Brighest Diamond. Most of this makes a good playlist for an early summer afternoon (which means April or May these days), sitting by the river, one-hitter in your pocket, plotting your next move.

Twin Peaks Pop and a Bushwick Gig From Nicole Mercedes

Riding home from Barbes the other night, there was a girl on the train who’d gone to extremes to tell the world that she was the saddest person alive. She was about fifteen: ragged blonde bangs, raccoon eyeliner carefully streaked down her cheeks. Her glassy eyes drifted in and out of focus: she was definitely on something, probably Oxycontin. She wore badly distressed turquoise jeans over matching polkadot tights, plus an altered turquoise sweatshirt embroidered with the words “Boys don’t cry.” To which she or her seamstress had stiched in the word “BROKEN,” running vertically down from the letter “B.”

She was with a thin-faced boy sporting a sloppy, day-glo yellow hair dyejob. He was on coke, couldn’t stop wiping his nose or running his mouth. Hell-bent on trying to get her to change her gloomy ways, he pitched group therapy, he pitched drugs. She tried pushing him away – as vigorously as a petite woman who’s zonked on Oxy can push away an obsessive cokehead, at least. It was hard to resist the temptation to go across the aisle, give her a pat on the arm and encourage her to go home and listen to Joy Division. That would have made her feel better.

In reality, she probably didn’t have Joy Division on her headset at that moment: Nicole Mercedes might have been a better guess. The former Debbie Downer frontwoman sings Twin Peaks pop: disembodied, distantly melancholy vocals over a coldly twinkling, techy, atmospheric backdrop where the guitars tend to blend into the keys. She’s a lot more energetic than Julee Cruise, infinitely more interesting than Lana Del Rey. She’s got a new solo album, Look Out Where You’re Going, which hasn’t hit her Bandcamp page yet. She had a gig on March 19 at 8 PM at the Sultan Room; which has been cancelled due to the coronavirus scare.

The opening track, At Ease, sets the stage: catchy four-chord changes, distinct guitars and then a starry synth riff at the end. The song title seems to be sarcastic to the extreme. The second cut, Filters comes across as a mashup of Casket Girls, Michael Gordon and late-period ELO, an unexpectedly tasty blend.

Just when Last Hike seems to be a wistful vacation reminiscence, there’s a grim plot twist: no spoilers! Nicole Mercedes is a dead ringer for early Linda Draper in Mediterranean, the next track, right down to the watery acoustic guitar. Motel has a slowly waltzing resignation that shifts in a more anthemic direction.

Haphazardly minimal, echoey guitar rings through the string synth ambience of Stoop. Thumbalina is album’s most icily orchestral, anthemic number. The closing cut, Watering is a steady, drifting spacerock gem. Beyond a general sadness and sense of abandonment, it’s never clear what Nicole Mercedes is singing about. But this is all about ambience, and she really nails it.

New York’s Most Ubiquitous Cello Rockers Play a Favorite Williamsburg Haunt

The Icebergs are New York’s hardest-working cello rock band. They’re at Pete’s Candy Store just about every month – where they’ll be on Feb 25 at 8:30 – and they play a lot of random places in Bushwick as well. There’s no other band around who sound like them. Cellist Tom Abbs plays with his axe slung over his shoulder like a guitar. Mixing catchy basslines, slithery single-note riffs and boomy low-register chords, he’s sort of the Lemmy of the cello – on steroids.

Frontwoman Jane LeCroy comes out of the punk poetry scene and has been published all over the place, so her lyrics have a sharp focus that’s sometimes playful, sometimes witheringly cynical, with a fierce political undercurrent. Most of the time she sings, sometimes she speaks: either way, the drama is usually understated.

In hindsight, drummer Dave Treut was the obvious choice to fill the big shoes left behind when David Rogers-Berry left the band, and the switch turned out to be a fair trade. Treut is more chill in this band than in other projects including his own, but he still brings the psychedelic textures and ghostly flickers.

This blog was in the house for the better part of two shows at the trio’s usual Williamsburg haunt, in the spring of last year, and about a year before then as well. What was most obvious was how much more material the band have beyond what’s available on their catchy, clever 2017 debut album, Eldorado. It’s a cynical title. In case you’re wondering, there are no ELO covers on it (it’s impossible to imagine that a cello rock band would be unaware of the magnum opus by the group who paved the way). Assuming the Pete’s show starts on time, there’s still a window to get home on the L train before the nightly L-pocalypse begins.

Catchy Space-Pop From Violinist Alicia Enstrom

The instrumentals on violinist Alicia Enstrom’s lushly atmospheric new loopmusic album Monsters – streaming at youtube – are also part of a larger concerto. There are vocal numbers on the record as well: it’s just Enstrom (whose name is an anagram of “monster”), her voice, fiddle and loop pedal.

She opens the record with the slowly swaying title track, a catchy, vampy trip-hop tune with coy cartoon-monster flourishes. Half Moon starts out with spiky, echoey pizzicato, balanced by sweeping ambience: it could be Bjork at her most symphonic. Goodnight Nebraska – a shout-out to Enstrom’s home state – is the album’s most Lynchian track, a flamenco-tinged melody awash in reverb and slowly shifting tectonics.

The terse, Bach-like arpeggios in Big Idea make it the album’s most classically-influenced moment. Enstrom winds it up with Lies, a trip-hop song with more than a hint of circus rock, which comes as no surprise since Enstrom’s big gig so far has been with a famous acrobatic troupe. Fans of dark catchy pop with orchestral flourishes – think Amanda Palmer – ought to check her out.