New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Tag: indie pop

The Dracu-Las Sink Their Fangs Into a Catchy, Reverb-Drenched New Album

One of the most refreshingly original albums to fly across the radar here in the last couple of months is the Dracu-Las‘ debut cassette, Fever Dream, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s part surf, part janglerock, part powerpop, with a wistful early 60s Orbison-pop undercurrent.

They open with a tantalizingly brief surf instrumental, Highway, a skittish mashup of Link Wray and Messer Chups (minus the scream samples). Track two, Tell You the News is a punchy sort-of go-go tune lit up by lead guitarist Babak Khodabandeh’s soul riffage

Girls is part spare Ventures space-surf, part Black Angels at their most slinky and Velvetsy. “Giving up on girls like me,” one of the band’s two frontwomen muses. Hard to tell if that’s guitarist Kyna Damewood or bassist Courtney Eddington.

The album’s title track has a bouncy bassline and a soaring, chiming chorus: imagine an early 20s version of Liza & the WonderWheels. Then drummer Mitch Cady hits a classic powerpop drive and the guitarists stomp their distortion boxes for Fire , the hardest-rocking track here.

They close the record with Burning Heart, rising out of a syncopated ballad to scruffy psychedelia and back. Now where is this excellent group playing next, you might ask? They’re on a dubious battle-of-the-bands lineup in a couple of days at a Brooklyn club which enjoyed a massive resurgence in the spring of 2022 but wasn’t able to keep that momentum going (therefore dumb desperation moves like a battle-of-the-bands contest?). There will hopefully be other shows where you can see a full set of the Dracu-Las without having to suffer through three nothingburger bands and pony up a $15 cover charge as well.


Cupid’s Nemesis Bring Their Catchy Retro Guitar Pop Sounds to the Rockwood

By last summer, when a substantial number of venues began breaking free of lockdown restrictions, it quickly became obvious that there wasn’t much left of the New York rock scene. However, that brain drain has opened a window of opportunity for some of the remaining talent here, much of which probably would never been able to score a gig at a “name” venue like Rockwood Music Hall on a weekend night That’s where power trio Cupid’s Nemesis are playing on Jan 28 at 10 PM.

Their new ep, Sleepover – streaming at Bandcamp – is a competent take on Big Stir Records guitar pop. The three brief tracks include a cynical, scruffy Shirts-style new wave tune, a decent, bittersweet powerpop anthem and an early 60s-style proto-Merseybeat number that could be an early song by the Who.

Their debut album, which they released last year, has a lot more detail, stylistic breadth and guitar textures – and it’s up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. The band – guitarist/frontman Erik Reyes, bassist Antony DiGiacomo and drummer Declan Moy Bishow – stake their claim to a catchy mid-sixties four-chord Britpop sound in the opening song, Time Traveling Man, with keening roller-rink organ and layers of acoustic and electric guitars.

All of My Friends is a punchier midtempo take on Jacco Gardner sunshine pop. Then the group make trip-hop out of a jazzy Burt Bacharach-inflected sound in Amores. The best song on the album is Best Friends With a Ghost, a similarly jazz-tinged miniature that clocks in at barely a minute twenty-five.

The band leap forward thirty years into gritty indie pop with I Don’t Care. Then they go back to the sixties, bringing back the organ and adding some flute in Scary World, a gently strutting psych-pop tune.

Reyes hits his chorus pedal and DiGiacomo plays fuzz bass up to an unexpectedly swirly spacerock chorus in Drop Out. The album’s slow, catchy, melancholy concluding ballad is simply titled Me. Considering the more raw, stripped-down sound of the ep, the band may be going in a more straightforward direction, something you can find out this Saturday night at prime time.

Surreal, Disqueting Atmospherics and Lynchian Pop on the Debut Solo Album by the Coathangers’ Julia Kugel

Julia Kugel, frontwoman and guitarist of playful, punkish Atlanta band the Coathangers decided to make a solo record all by herself. Playing guitars, bass, keys and drums, she ended up with one of the year’s most consistently evocative albums. Her debut solo release, Derealization – recorded under the name Julia, Julia – is streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening track, I Want You is not the Dylan hit but a Lynchian pop tune. Disembodied Julee Cruise vocals? Check. Enough reverb on the drums to drive a truck through? Doublecheck. Sad, lingering reverb lead guitar? Triplecheck…and a little creepy glockenspiel for good measure

Kugel goes a lot further down the Twin Peaks rabbit hole with the second track, Forgive Me, squiggly electronics contrasting with her stately acoustic fingerpicking. She switches to piano for a meandering rainy-day theme in the brief instrumental Impromptu, then makes loopy Twin Peaks pop out of it in Fever in My Heart, which is more of a fever dream.

The drifting, dissociative ambience continues in Words Don’t Mean Much, outer-space vocals over a spare, echoey pastiche anchored by a simple, rhythmic acoustic guitar bassline. There’s a hazy sense of karmic payback in Do It Or Don’t, a brooding, swaying ballad: is that a brass patch on a synth, or is it a trumpet Kugel is playing over those elegantly mournful strums?

She follows the spare, fingerpicked waltz No Hard Feelings with the drifty, starry tableau Big Talkin’ and then Paper Cutout, a sparse, more atmospheric take on the cheeky, sly pop side of her main band.

Where Did You Go is the album’s most hypnotic track. Kugel brings the moody atmosphere full circle to close the record with Corner Town, a distantly rockabilly-tinged, otherworldly number that seems guardedly optimistic. Apparently Kugel’s alternate Twin Peaks universe is more complicated than just dead girls lying on a riverbank.

A Subtly Withering, Cynical New Album From Office Culture

Over the past few years, Office Culture frontman and keyboardist Winston Cook-Wilson has built a career as a musical counterpart to Neil LaBute. Over a backdrop of snarky (some would say ineffably cheesy) fusion jazz-pop, Cook-Wilson’s anti-heroes and anti-heroines do offhandedly horrible things to each other…because they can. Love songs for the screen-obsessed never sounded so casually cruel in this band’s crisply efficient hands. Their previous release A Life of Crime made the top thirty albums of 2020 list here; their latest, Big Time Things is streaming at Bandcamp.

It’s not as corrosive as the last one, but a close listen rewards the listener with big tells: this music is infinitely more subversive than it might seem from its plasticky surface. Cook-Wilson’s character studies often bring to mind Ward White‘s ominously allusive narratives. The album opens with Suddenly, a study in Aja-era Steely Dan funk-lite with an unexpectedly bracing bit of bagpipey orchestration from violinist Ben Russell and cellist Kristen Drymala. Does the user meet karmic blowback? “What will I find at the end of my big mistake, something suddenly changed?”

Bassist Charlie Kaplan and drummer Pat Kelly give the album’s title track a cold quasi-strut, harmony singer Caitlin Pasko adding a layer of Julee Cruise icy-hot as Cook-Wilson channels a similar ruthless cynicism, “Wondering if it’s you I should try.”

Guitarist Ian Wayne provides lingering, trebly accents over spare, blippy electric piano and increasingly lush strings in the third track, Timing. “The underdog should have won, did you hope you’d be treated the same?” Cook-Wilson asks. “Bodies stacked in the hall, so they heard every call, freedom fighters never went there at all.” A reference to plandemic-era remdesivir murders, death on a more global scale, or just a metaphor for interpersonal dynamics informed by a “kangaroo court” conscience? All of the above?

Turtles all the way down, things were bad, but they’re better now,” Cook-Wilson intones over a light-footed trip-hop groove in Things Were Bad: over the last couple of years, he’s learned how to hit the high notes with his reedy falsetto. “I don’t need things to fall in line, I never knew where the line was,” he admits in the album’s fifth track, Line.

“We stuff crumbled receipts in cracks in the walls, so somebody would know we were here at all,” the narrator muses over deadpan DX7 electric piano pop in Elegance. Somehow the “I only want you to be happy” mantra amid the wafting strings is a little much.

The satire shifts from lyrical to musical in Little Reminders: what happens on the chorus is obvious but irresistibly funny all the same. And yet, Cook-Wilson can’t resist dropping the veil for some genuine poignancy in a shivery string arrangement

Likewise, the gentle funkdaddy bass, plush backing vocals and slow faux-funk of A Word are dead giveaways

Tell me in a few words
Show me it’s the thought that counts
Get some new eyes on this production, blow the crowd away…
I hauled that junk out of the yard on slow decay 
I skipped four lanes, veered back into traffic
With the sky beamed red in flames 

Cook-Wilson reaches toward a soul-gospel electric piano vibe in the final cut, Rules: “Nothing gets past me ’cause no one treads soft enough,” he reminds. This is one mean record.

Horror Movie Marathon Bring Their Troubled Keyboard-Pop Surrealism to Queens on the 9th

Horror Movie Marathon would have made a good fit for this year’s installment of the long-running annual October-long celebration of dark music here. Their latest single, released this past summer, is Flirting At a Funeral, a scenario that could be even more problematic if, as in the case of this song, it’s your dad who’s doing it. The key line is “You can drag everyone down to hell but it’s not gonna save you.” If catchy keyboard-based pop with strangely troubling lyrics is your thing, they’re playing Bar Freda in Ridgewood on Dec 9 at 8:30 PM; cover is $10

Horror Movie Marathon put out their lone full-length album so far, Good Scare – also up at Bandcamp – on one of the creepiest dates in recent memory: October 18, 2019. That was the day that the Bill Gates-sponsored plandemic rehearsal Event 201 was held. The album isn’t anywhere near as sinister or prophetic, but there is a persistent if allusive sense of disquiet beneath the distantly Beatlesque melodies. You could characterize frontman/multi-instrumentalist Will Rutledge’s songs as Elliott Smith in a less opiatedly dark mood, or maybe Ward White Junior. The Eels are also another obvious influence. Another New York band, Office Culture, also come to mind, although the sarcasm here is a lot more opaque and surreal.

The album is Rutledge on a bunch of instruments – keys, guitars and lapsteel – joined by Alex Molini on keys and bass and Will Ponturo on drums, alonb with a couple of flaring lead guitar breaks from Peter Katz. They open with Las Vegas, which comes across as Sean Lennon in an odd tempo. The group follow with the ragtime-ish piano pop of The Broadway One and then Chewed a Hole in My Cheek, churchy organ-fueled gospel-pop through a xanax haze.

We finally get some tasty, luridly tremoloing funeral parlor organ in Jack O’lantern. Sarcasm reaches a deliciously memorable redline in Costume Contest, a tantalizingly brief pickup-bar scenario. Rutledge looks at a well-loved October-long ritual through the glazed and embittered retail eyes in Halloween Party, which rises to a majestic, Lennonesque peak.

He really hits a brooding, immersively cinematic vein with Warm & Dark, then the song suddenly morphs into an I Am the Walrus psych-pop ballad. I’d Love To See Your Show (But I Just Can’t Go) is another funny one: it will resonate with any struggling musician trying to get the crowd out to an important gig. “All my OCD’s are in town and I’m obliged to hang out with them,” Rutledge advises with regrets.

Junk Food Paradise is a cautionary tale that ends with a neatly snaky bass-and-piano duet. “Guess I have to own my own bullshit if I want to make it out alive,” Rutledge muses in the album’s title track. “The hand is your phone and your phone is your grave,” he warns. The final cut is It’s All In My Mind, a bizarre remake of the Tennessee Waltz.

Whimz Put an Update on Hazy, Catchy, Drifting Late 80s and 90s Sounds

Whimz is the side project of Sunny Faris from Blackwater Holylight and Cam Spies of Night Heron. Spies seems to be a bigger part of the picture than Faris, who typically gravitates toward heavier and darker psychedelic sounds. Both sing and share guitar, bass, keys and drums duties. They file their new short album PM226 – streaming at Bandcamp – under “sludge pop.” It’s actually a surprisingly lighthearted, catchy record.

The first track is AM1, a slow, catchy, hazy dreampop theme set to a 90s trip-hop beat. AM2 is slower, slinkier and more mysterious, a mashup of 80s Clan of Xymox and dark orchestral Portishead.

The album’s centerpiece is the instrumental I Wanna, a warpy take on ethereally catchy Big Thief minimalism fueled by insistent raga guitar riffage. They build a more minimal, gritty take on late 80s Lush and Cocteau Twins in the album’s most epic number, titled PM1. The album has both a full-length and a single version of the closing cut, PM2, a morose but upbeat bedroom pop backbeat number with contrastingly icy textures.

Greta Keating Brings Her Catchy, Eclectic Tunesmithing to the Lower East Side

Although there’s a long history of family legacies in folk music around the world, and plenty of cross-generational jazz pollination, rock tends to die with the first generation. The good rock legacies are a very short list: the Dylans (Bob and Jakob), the Rigbys (Amy and Hazel), the Lennons (John and Sean), with the Allisons (Mose and Amy) at the top of the list if you count brilliance that transcends jazz and Americana.

Add the Keatings to that list. Greta Keating is the daughter of Matt Keating – whose prolific and darkly lyrical songwriting career spans janglerock and soul, and goes back to the 90s – and his wife Emily Spray, a somewhat less prolific songwriter but an equally breathtaking singer. In this case, the apple didn’t fall far. Greta Keating has a soaring voice, writes catchy, anthemic songs, has a flair for the mot juste and like her dad plays a number of instruments. She’s bringing those songs to the small room at the Rockwood on Sept 23 at 7 PM.

Also like her dad, she writes a lot of songs. Her Soundcloud page has a bunch, some which could fall into the bedroom-pop category, others which are more fleshed out with acoustic and electric guitars, judicious piano, organ and occasional synthesized strings.

Keating has a thing for starry, drifting Julee Cruise-like tableaux, and there are a bunch here, including It’s a Drug, Ain’t It Strange and Hungry Dog. My Perfect Man is torchier, in waltz time, as is The Cold Makes Me Think, a hazy, spacious piano ballad that brings to mind A. A. Williams.

Keating goes into opaque trip-hop in Betwixt and Between, then reaches for quietly venomous, cynical Lynchian pop vibe with 15-Year-Old Boy. Too Late to Lay could be an early Everything But the Girl song with more delicate vocals, while Head Down to My Toes is a determined adventure into big assertive anthemic stadium rock.

How Could You Be But You Were is a bittersweet, swing-tinged stroll. The best song on the page is Small As I Felt, where she raises the angst to redline over Orbisonian crescendos: it screams out for sweeping orchestral strings and a kettledrum.

A Girl With Cheeks Damp is another stunner, a brooding plunge into jazzy 70s soul. The funniest tune on the page is Adderall Song: crystal meth makes people do the craziest things, huh?

The rest of the many songs in this long playlist range from soul (Hard to Please), to driving, sarcastic rock (My Body Is Allergic); dreamy Stereolab sonics (Out of Nowhere) and fingersnapping Peggy Lee jazz (Shadow Shadow).

There’s even more on Keating’s youtube channel, including a Telecaster-driven powerpop shout-out to girl-bonding empowerment. If the future of New York rock tunesmithing is your thing, Keating’s songs will resonate with you.

A Gorgeous New Album and a Williamsburg Gig by Purist Tunesmith Alice Cohen

Alice Cohen plays purist, often gorgeously melodic, artsy rock anthems and sings with an unpretentious delivery that’s sometimes cheery and sometimes borders on conspiratorial. On her new album Moonrising – streaming at Bandcamp – she plays most of the instruments herself, building a lush bed of acoustic and electric guitars and vintage synths over an unobtrusive drum-machine beat. Multi-reedman David Lackner and multi-percussionist Adrian Knight flesh out Cohen’s elegant arrangements. She’s playing Union Pool on August 24 at 9 PM. Since the venue has fallen under the spell of surveillance-state digital ticketing, the cover charge there lately has been measured in dollars and cents. It stands to reason that the door girl will round it up to sixteen bucks for those of us who are ahead of the curve and have gone to #cashalways.

Cohen opens the record with Wild Wolf, a swaying, twangy, Lynchian trip-hop ballad: this “eight-track Cadillac cruising through the milky way” seems to be on its way back from the Black Lodge. Then she looks back to the bittersweet starriness of 80s janglerock in Bodies in Motion. It could be a track from the Church’s Seance album, with a woman out front.

Cohen picks up the pace with Life in a Bag, an insistent, 90s-flavored downstroke anthem spiced with neoromantic piano flourishes. After the starry keyboard instrumental Inner Galaxies, she goes back to a pensive, richly textured sway with Under Chandeliers, her watery guitars and glimmering keys mingling with Knight’s vibraphone and Lackner’s echoing, spiraling soprano sax.

Baby’s Fine is a surreal mashup of early 80s new wave pop with hip-hop lyrics: it’s hard to figure out where the sax stops and what could be an old Juno synth kicks in. Vanilla Tea is a glistening backbeat stadium rock nocturne without the bombast – an oxymoron, sure, but just try to imagine.

The driftiest, most opaque song on the album is Telepathic Postcards. Cohen follows that with Queen Anne’s Lace, a breezy, jazz-inflected ballad in a Stylistics vein that she takes ten years forward in time – or forty years forward, depending on how neo-retro it seems to you. She closes the record with Fragile Flowers, following a serpentine series of chord changes with Lackner’s sax floating above. It’s been a slow year for rock records, at least compared to what we were used to before March of 2020, but this is one of the best of 2022 so far.

A Harrowing Solo Comeback Album and a Rare New York Show by Cult Icon Nina Nastasia

For about a decade beginning in the late 90s, songwriter Nina Nastasia earned a devoted following for her frequently haunting, painterly work. It’s hard to think of another artist who so perceptively captured the details in the darkness beneath the bustle in gritty New York neighborhoods which became artistic meccas before they were crushed in a blitzkrieg of gentrification.

The city’s decline mirrored Nastasia’s own. By 2010, her performing career had pretty much stalled. As Nastasia tells it, she and her longtime partner Kennan Gudjonsson sequestered themselves a tiny Chelsea apartment, caught up in a cycle of abuse and codependence. The day after Nastasia finally moved out, in January 2020, Gudjonsson killed himself.

In the first few months of the lockdown, Nastasia was able to process what by all accounts must have been inconceivable pain, and the result is a harrowing solo vinyl record, Riderless Horse, streaming at Bandcamp. She’s playing what could be her first Williamsburg show in at least fifteen years at Union Pool on August 20 at 7 PM for $20

It’s been a dozen years since Nastasia released an album, but she’s emerged a stronger singer than ever. Meanwhile, her songwriting has taken a detour into Americana. With her usual black humor, she opens with the sound of a cork popping: this will not exactly be a party, but it’s impossible to turn away from.

The album’s first song is Just Stay in Bed, a spare Tex-Mex flavored tune in 6/8. Just when it sounds like it’s going to turn into a fond love song, Nastasia’s voice grows menacing. Clearly this was a dysfunctional relationship on both sides.

Her vocals rise to fiery accusatory levels over steady strumming in the second track, You Were So Mad, a stoic breakup ballad: “You set a blaze inside our house, you set a blaze and smoked us out.” This Is Love is a subdued heartland rock anthem, a chronicle of “taking turns to follow and lead into the dissonance.”

The narrative grows uglier over Nastasia’s enigmatic fingerpicking in Nature, a plainspoken portrait of violence, and how easy it is to become habituated to it. This dynamic will resonate intensely through the rest of the record.

Nastasia switches to waltz time for Lazy Road, although even in this bucolic calm, death is lurking nearby. She revisits that atmosphere a little later with the bluegrass-tinged Blind As Batsies.

“I keep you alive as best as I can do,” Nastasia sings imploringly, but ultimately “to choose life over illness and leave,” in another waltz, Ask Me. She switches back to a muted Americana sway in the ironically titled The Two of Us, which wouldn’t be out of place on an Amy Rigby record from the 90s:

The simmering rage returns in Go Away: “There’s only one way to for me to give you peace, for me to leave: bury me,” Nastasia taunts. She follows with The Roundabout, an anguished request to bury the conflict under a blanket of denial.

The next track, Trust is the closest thing here to the stark sparkle that permeates Nastasia’s iconic early work. She sings to a ghost, in waltz time again, in Afterwards: “Love is tiresome when you’re older…it makes me wonder about the years that came before, and all the things I must ignore.” As a portrait of a relationship unraveling with catastrophic consequences, this ranks with Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out the Lights. Time may judge this a classic – just like Nastasia’s earlier albums, particularly The Blackened Air, her most bleakly orchestral release, from 2001.

Serious Fun: News and Songs for July 8

Because we don’t live in a bubble, today’s playlist is part funny and part really scary. The Covid shot is dead in the water and the pivot to monkeypox (which is really shingles from the Covid shot) isn’t catching on. So now it looks like Marburg virus is being floated as the next plandemic. Let’s keep our eye on it. In the meantime, tonight we have some awesome news, some snarky memes, some more sobering information to ground us, and then let’s close with a mix of songs which are all over the place stylistically but also a lot of fun. Literally something for everybody today: click on artist or author names for their webpages, click on titles for audio and visuals.

On the good news front, in the wee hours of July 6 the Georgia Guidestones were struck by lightning, taking out one of the obelisks and destabilizing the rest of the structure. The remaining pieces of the notorious edifice – erected under a cloak of secrecy in 1980 as a monument to future global genocide – were demolished by a bucket loader the next day. Celia Farber offers a characteristically smart, succinct take on it.

Dr. Monica Hughes has the best memes about it: ever notice how closely the structure resembled the World Trade Center?

Speaking of meme-meisters, here’s the latest from illustrator Bob Moran on the removal of WEF puppet Boris Johnson.

One more funny one before we get to the nitty gritty: the 2030 Food Pyramid, courtesy of El Gato Malo

Now we get serious. Brooklyn’s own Brucha Weisberger, one of this city’s leading freedom fighters, has put together a brilliant flyer comparing the events of 1942 with 2022: “You are a conspiracy theorist, a wacko and an antigasser!”

Dr. Pam Popper, author of the very first plandemic expose, Covid Operation and founder of Make Americans Free Again, has a very succinct video about the myth of cat-to-human Covid transmission…and how first the Nazis came for the Jews’ pets. The meat of the video starts at about 8:00.

Now for some tunes! At the top of the list is Johnny Bitcoin doing Take This Jab and Shove It: “The CDC can KMA for all the things they did, they’re guttier than hell to think they’re gonna shoot that crap in our kids.”

Van Morrison, who has reinvented himself as the hottest protest songsmith in the North Atlantic, admits that he’s Dangerous: “Somebody said I was dangerous, I must be getting close to the truth!”

Alice Cohen keeps the scary vibe going with Wild Wolf, a trip-hop tune with jangly folk noir guitar grafted on. On one hand, this is totally 90s, on the other it’s completely in the here and now.

Most Amy Winehouse imitators can’t compare with the original, but Long Island City soul singer Jennah Vox picks up where she left off with a cool hip-hop edge in her single, Cannibal. Scroll down the page a little for the audio: “Spent all these years trying to read these strange men.”

Aubrey Haddad’s Future Boxes is a calmly defiant mashup of icy 80s new wave and late 90s neosoul with an understated message: don’t buy the false dichotomy,

Blixie Perestroika’s latest, Everything and Nothing makes a good segue: hazy trip-hop explodes into fierce darkwave, with a creepy gothic video. The gist of it is coming to grips with finding out that your idols are really hollow illusions

The charge continues with some classic CBGB style punk rock in Vixen77‘s witchy, chromatic single Your Love.

Let’s end this on a positive note with the Let’s Go Brandon mug, which is a predictable kind of funny, but will be a collectible once we get to the other side of this insanity – and it benefits a good cause. Thanks to Libs of Tik Tok for passing this along.