New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Tag: indie rock

Some Killer Rare and Unreleased Sonic Youth Rescued From the Archives

Other than field recordings, is there anything left in the Sonic Youth vault worth hearing that hasn’t already been released? As it turns out. yes, and some of it is prime! It’s a bit of a shock that several of the tracks on the new album In/Out/In – streaming at Bandcamp – haven’t surfaced until now. These rare and previously unreleased cuts date from the final decade of the most influential rock band of the past forty years.

One-chord jams, or close facsimiles, predominate here. In the case of one song, In & Out, a very late-period outtake, it’s amusing to watch SY turn into Yo La Tengo, a band they influenced so profoundly. Over Steve Shelley’s surprisingly muted, galloping rhythm, the guitarists assemble starry, chiming accents amid a warm drone laced with occasional flickers of feedback and Kim Gordon’s breathy, allusive, wordless vocals.

The opening instrumental is a false start: it could be your band, or anyone else’s, hesitatingly jamming out a two-chord Velvets vamp. Social Static, the theme from the Chris Habib/Spencer Tunick film, is a steady, one-note musique concrète mood piece that collapses into loops of feedback, oscillations, pulsing noise and R2D2 in hara-kiri mode: SY at their most industrially ugly but also subtly funny. No spoilers.

Machine, an outtake from The Eternal sessions, is a rare gem: a steady, midtempo stomp bristling with the band’s often-imitated-but-never-duplicated, dissociative close harmonies and layers of gritty textures that grow more assaultive. Why was this left off the album? Space considerations?

Out & In, an epic instrumental workout from 2000 is the real standout here. There’s a wry allusion to the moment The Wonder segues into Hyperstation (arguably the high point of the Daydream Nation album), with signature off-center Thurston Moore raga riffage, and just enough microtonality and clouds of overtones to let the ghosts in under the door. Everything falls away to buzz-and-clang midway through, then they start over with a squall that’s absolutely evil. The band take it out with a stampeding over-the-shoulder nod to Captain Beefheart. This is a must-own for fans and a surprisingly good overview for beginners.

Thoughtful, Gently Provocative Acoustic Songs From Allegra Krieger

The first image in Wake Me, the opening track on songwriter Allegra Krieger’s new album Precious Thing – streaming at Bandcampis a stretcher being rolled down the street. Presumably, it’s going to an ambulance…or a van from the morgue. Krieger links that story to a much more optimistic and personal one. but the unease remains, unwinding over rippling. fingerpicked guitar in an open tuning that Jimmy Page would use in folkie moments.

Krieger sticks with that throughout most of the record, sometimes set against spare electric guitar leads. The addition of dark washes of bowed bass in places is a welcome textural touch.

A gritty, distorted drone introduces the second song, Isolation – an original, not the Joy Division classic. “‘Return to city life. the smell of money leaks out…drink up, detached from the ideals of being one of God’s daughters…living in filth is something I have gotten used to again,” Krieger muses. Is this a tale of coming home too soon to totalitarian NYC hell? Maybe.

Taking It In is about defamiliarizing, underscored by layers of spastic electric guitar skronk and fluttery bass in contrast to Krieger’s calm, bright vocals. “Everything is precariously waiting to fortify as the time goes by,” she muses in a similarly bright domestic tableau: clearly, there’s still work to be done.

“All my life I drank wine, thought they were bottles of blood, thought they were cleaning me up,” she reflects in the slowly swaying next number

Krieger switches to piano for another slow, pensive 6/8 tune, Let Go, the bass adding a disquieting edge. Driftingly nocturnal layers of organ-like pedal steel provide the contrast in Just For the Night. The album’s title track is more gently resolute: “Looking back on my life now, little that all meant to me,” Krieger observes. What a reckoning to have to face in 2022, huh?

Her piano on No Machine, steady and spare, matches her steady acoustic guitar style: the cautious trumpet solo afterward enhances the mood. “No machine can keep us safe, what I feel is what I’ll be,” Krieger asserts.

She ends the album with a low-key country waltz: her narrator’s escape to bucolic southern comfort turns out well. That we should all be so lucky.

Thoughtful, Jangly, Reverbtoned Songs From Squirrel Flower

Lo-fi tunesmith Ella Williams a.k.a. Squirrel Flower got the thumbs-up here a couple of months ago for her Planet (i) album. She works fast: her new one, the Planet ep, is streaming at Bandcamp. The music is more roughewn, spare and intimate this time out: there’s a ton of reverb on everything, including the vocals.

The opening track, Open Wound has spare slide guitar mingling with Williams’ spacious acoustic strums, building a moody nocturnal ambience. “I was an open wound looking for a good time,” she muses. Aren’t we all.

Track two, Your Love Is a Disaster is something everybody can relate to! It’s actually not a vindictive kiss-off but a reflective, nocturnal, gently jangly reflection. Williams works a desperate/depleted dichotomy in Unravel, a slow, echoey tableau and then channels a low-key afterwork ambience in Long Day’s Done. “You don’ t need to hold it in your hands to know what it’s worth,” Williams observes.

The album’s driftiest, most opaque song is Sitting in Traffic, although Ruby at Dawn, awash in Stereolab-style synth, is a close second, Williams winds up the album strongly with Live Wire: “Don’t slip, or skid, or move, or breathe, or laugh, or die, or turn, or touch me, don’t do anything,” she warns, “I’m a live wire.” It’s about as far from the AC/DC hit as you could imagine. Squirrel Flower’s next free-state gig is on March 4 at Ruins, 2653 Commerce St,, corner of Prior St. in Dallas, time/price tba

Eels Still Vital and Thinking Outside the Fishtank

A quarter century down the line, do Eels have anything left in the tank? Good news for fans of Mark Oliver Everett, his longtime guitarslinging collaborator John Parish and their rotating cast of characters: they’ve got an energetic new album, Extreme Witchcraft streaming at Spotify.

Over the years, Everett has veered from withering cynicism to more optimistic territory. Happily, he hasn’t lost his edge here: there’s no shortage of the understated angst and relentless sarcasm that put Eels on the map in the mid 90s. And the album is very guitar-centric: credit Parish’s straightforward, purist four-on-the-floor production.

The opening track, Amateur Hour has haphazard guitars in an early 90s RaIlroad Jerk vein: “You gotta go pro someday…life can be dumb but I’m not gonna be your fool.”

In Good Night on Earth, the band start with fuzztone Black Keys-style riff-rock and add layers of guitar and keyboard textures over it. Built around a vampy slide guitar hook, Strawberries and Popcorn is closer to the allusive unease and screaming subtext that Everett has worked so well throughout his career. Likewise, he works the gloomy railroad metaphors in Steam Engine, a dark soul strut, for all they’re worth .

Grandfather Clock Strikes Twelve has a snarky 90s Citizen King faux-funk feel and lyrics to match. Stumbling Bee has echoey Rhodes piano, wah guitar and fuzztone layers, in a White Denim ersatz soul vein. Sarcasm hits fever pitch in The Magic, a self-referential stab at a whoomp-whoomp dancefloor jam.

Better Living Through Desperation – which could be Everett’s theme song – has a loose-limbed White Stripes sway. Then they slow down with more of that echoey Rhodes and drifting string synth in So Anyway, a morose, soul-tinged ballad.

The album’s best song, What It Isn’t shifts between a downcast, drifting Abbey Road Beatles theme and scrambling, defiant punk rock: the point is to avoid giving in to defeat. A wise suggestion for 2022.

Learning While I Lose is a surprising detour into Buddy Holly territory. The album’s final cut is I Know You’re Right, a bristling, catchy 60’s-influenced backbeat soul-rock number. Cool to see a guy who could just play to the nostalgia crowd and get away with it opting to stay vital and think outside the box – or the fishtank. Eels are on European tour right now, with UK shows beginning on March 14 at the Roundhouse in London.

Touched by Ghoul Explore New Ground Without Losing Their Edge

Chicago band Touched By Ghoul earned a big thumbs-up here for their 2016 album Murder Circus: “This makes you wonder what other treats this group have up their collective sleeves.” Fast forward to 2022: their new album Cancel the World is streaming at Bandcamp. In general, it’s less menacing, more dynamic and more oriented toward vintage Sonic Youth than punk. Which is not to say that the band have lost their edge, they’re just more diverse now.

Guitarists Angela Mullenhour and Andrea Bauer punch in with burning distortion over the tight punk stomp of bassist Alex Shumard and drummer Paige Sandlin on the album’s opening track, Better Than Me, a slap at a stuck-up type. The way the lead line subtly shifts from the guitar to the bass toward the end is a cool touch.

Mullenhour’s wounded vocals swoop over the guitars in God Hospital, dipping to a haphazard oldschool soul ballad interlude before picking up with a snarl. Quick Question has punchy, tensely bending Thurston Moore-style riffs at the center, while the deadpan, sarcastic, mostly acoustic Lost at the Costco has more of a rainy-day jangle – just like the Clash’s Lost in the Supermarket.

Siouxsie & the Banshees have been a frequent reference point for the band in the past, and Sitcom wouldn’t be out of place on the Juju album: the ending is too good to spoil. From there the band segue into the title track, a catchy, sarcastic punk rock stomp with simple, slashing SY riffage.

The band pack a lot into Suicide Space Camp: no-wave skronk and a shapeshifting bridge along with the deadpan vocals. The album’s most menacing track, Yacht Problems seems to allude to a much greater malaise: “It takes lungs to breathe, and they blew them away,” Mullenhour muses.

There’s also a Cancel the World Redux, where she works the ersatz soul ambience for every breathy ounce of sarcasm she can purr. Since March of 2020, rock records in general have slowed to a trickle from the volume we were getting before global totalitarianism. It’s good to see such a strong band still intact and staying true to their vision.

Catchy Jangle and Clang and Roar

Veteran Seattle band Chastity Belt‘s new single Fake/Fear is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s not about the lockdown or any kind of fake fear.

Guitarist Julia Shapiro sings the A-side, Fake over a jangly rainy-day backdrop with a slinky, sinuous lead guitar line. As she’s done many times, Gretchen Grimm distinguishes herself as a rock drummer who really swings. The B-side is slower and more hypnotic, in a growly post-Velvets vein – not quite as catchy, which seems to explain why it’s a B-side.

Tough, Smart, Angst-Fueled Guitar-Driven Tunesmithing From Squirrel Flower

Singer/guitarist Ella Williams calls herself Squirrel Flower. She rocks harder than most solo songwriters. She doesn’t get fenced in with standard verse/chorus patterns. She uses grit and noise to make a point, in lieu of a generic, conformist indie sound. The songs on her new album Planet (i) – streaming at Bandcamp – are angst-ridden but not mawkish. She hits you upside the head when you least expect it.

She puts the rubber to the road right from the start with I’ll Go Running. The song starts with just a simple hammer-on electric guitar riff and drums, then Williams adds layers until it’s a roaring blaze:

I’m an oil tank getting low
Didn’t listen long enough to know…
Pack it in and push it strong
Pack it up and move along

It seems optimistic. “I’ll be newer than before” is the closing mantra.

The second track, Hurt a Fly is a more standard-issue Lou Reed-style riff-rock tune: once again,  Williams’ guitar grows noisier as she fills in the details in this tale of betrayal.

Deluge in the South goes in the opposite direction, from a tasty acoustic-electric clang to dreamier sonics, even as the flood metaphors grow more ominous:

Storm is coming in, water in the gutter
Underneath your house, drink it undercover

Likewise, Big Beast has early Linda Draper-esque acoustic loopiness and surrealism. Williams picks up her electric and hits the distortion pedal for Roadkill: “Slow down,” is the loaded message as her voice rises from pensiveness to a soaring intensity.

She builds a birds’ nest of wafting nocturnal ambience over steady, close-miked acoustic fingerpicking in Iowa 146. The next track, Pass could be a catchy, hypnotic early 90s Penelope Houston tune.

Distorted, slurry bass anchors the hypnotic, dreampop-tinged Midwestern road narrative Flames and Flat Tires. Williams resurrects the high water imagery in To Be Forgotten, a resolute departure tale.

“I’ve seen the desert now, and I know I want the water,” Williams asserts in the album’s sparest song, Desert Wildflowers: bring on the natural disasters, she insists, she can handle them. With reverb-drenched guitars and vocals rising to a distorted squall, Night is the hardest-rocking track here. Williams closes the album with Starshine, which, as she sees it, can burn you just like the sun. This is a good late-night listen: lots to think about here.

How to Sneak In to See Yo La Tengo

Many years ago, before blogs existed, a future daily New York music blog owner and a friend went to Central Park Summerstage to see Anoushka Shankar. It was a late-season afterwork show, and by the time the two got there, the space was sold out.

Big surprise. Shankar had played Carnegie Hall with her famous dad a couple of years previously, and although she was still in her teens at that point, she blew everybody away with her sitar work.

Undeterred, the intrepid concertgoers walked around the back, jumped the wire fence and crawled on their bellies through the shrubbery until they were about fifty feet from the rear of the stage. Shaded from the indian summer sun, they got to enjoy a tranceworthy qawwali ensemble – if memory serves right, they were called Kamkars – and then Shankar, who proved as adept at more western-oriented material as the ragas she played so beautifully.

Last Friday, a daily New York music blog owner went to Central Park Summerstage to check out the Yo La Tengo show. Having seen them several times over the years, the issue of getting in or not wasn’t a big deal. If that had been an issue, would it have been possible to go through the thicket out back, just like in the old days?

Yes!

The vegetation has grown in much thicker since then, but there’s nothing but chicken wire between you, the trees and the shrubs. Considering that it was after eight at night, and that you never know what’s lurking in the park after dark, the optimal choice at that point seemed to be to leave the greenery and head for the rear embankment and the bandshell, where all but the show’s quietest moments were plenty audible.

Seeing how the Patti Smith concert there last month not only didn’t sell out, but that the younger contingent there walked out in droves during her set, was weird enough. It gets weirder.

Like Smith, Yo La Tengo had originally been scheduled for the wide expanse of the Rumsey Playfield immediately to the south and east, but had been moved to the much smaller Summerstage arena. Standing at the entrance were a couple of women trying to lure random people into the space. For a free concert.

A little context: Yo La Tengo might be the most popular indie rock band in the world. Sure, their crowd has greyed over the years, but they still sell out wherever they play…or used to play, anyway.

“Hi!” a young woman in a blue skirt chirped from underneath her muzzle as she approached, aggressively, like a 34th Street hustler trying to score a fiver for Save the Children. “Are you here for the show?”

Blog owner was taken off guard. A sheepish grin. “Uh, maybe…”

“We have [inaudible – opening band] and Yo La Tengo, they’re just going on. I just need to see your ID and your [proof of lethal injection].”

“I’m going to live to see next year instead,” blog owner replied and walked off. Yeah, that’s snarky. But how do you respond? Kevin Jenkins says he doesn’t do “low-frequency conversations” and walks away: words of wisdom.

What’s happened at the Central Park free concerts is part of a much bigger referendum. Don’t engage with the monster: without your energy to feed off, it shrivels and dies.

Yo La Tengo’s jams are legendary. Where was the big stoner picnic crowd out back? Maybe a half a dozen small gaggles on the slope, if that. Friday night, Central Park smelled like the inside of a bong, but this wasn’t where the smoke was coming from.

The benches by the bandshell? Deserted. A couple leapt onto the empty stage and danced for a bit. From time to time, a few fearless souls would take a walk up the steps up behind the shell, only to be shooed off by a security guard hidden out of view.

Maybe this is a function of not being able to watch Ira Kaplan’s volcanic fingers on the fretboard, or spinning the knobs on his pedalboard, but Yo La Tengo seemed on the quiet side. Georgia Hubley sang one of the shorter, sparse numbers and wasn’t very high in the mix. Kaplan moved to keys for a brief, no-nonsense take of the Stereolab soundalike Autumn Sweater. They closed with a deliciously extended, feedback-laced noisefest version of I Heard You Looking, the missing link between the Velvets at their most crazed, and New Order.

They encored with a lickety-split, practically hardcore AC/DC cover which included a mystery second guitarist. Then Kaplan’s mom came up to the mic and sang something as the band tentatively tried to pull themselves together. And that was it.

For anyone worried that these shows are the last ones that Smith or Yo La Tengo will ever play, good news. A loophole in the DiBozo administration’s lethal injection scheme exempts touring musicians and their entourages. All this is based on science, of course. Won’t it be beautiful to see both of these acts play again somewhere, someday in this city after all this madness is over.

Yo La Tengo Return to Central Park on the First of the Month: Are You Game?

Yo La Tengo are playing Central Park Summerstage on Oct 1 at around 8:30 PM. In a normal world, that’s cause for celebration, if you’re a fan of crazed, noisy psychedelic guitar jams, or the quieter, more reflective post-Velvets sound the band have turned more and more to since the turn of the century.

But this year this city’s creepy, homicidal mayor has thrust us into the New Abnormal, where proof of a lethal injection is required for entry. So that means we have to listen from outside. It’s not such a big deal:  if you’ve seen any number of shows here, chances are there was probably some instance where you didn’t get to the arena early enough to get in. Obviously, it would be fun to be able to watch Ira Kaplan’s guitar-torturing, but there’s still plenty of room on the slope out back, the sound carries well, and if you want you can catch a glimpse of the band from the sidewalk on the east side near the entrance. This blog was there for Patti Smith last weekend and while it would have been more fun to be able to hear what she said to the audience, the songs came through loud and clear.

The last time Yo La Tengo played the park, it was on a muggy Monday night in July of 2017. Kaplan sized up the capacity crowd and reflected with just the hint of contempt about free concerts he’d attended here as a kid: “Sha Na Na. Pure Prairie League. Mahavishnu Orchestra.” And then launched into a sarcastic bit of the Ace Frehley novelty hit New York Groove.

That didn’t last long. The show was a characteristic mix of paint-peeling squall over hypnotic, practically mantra-like vamps, and spare, reflective, airy songs that matched the hazy atmosphere. Kaplan’s antics are a little more subdued than they were back in the 90s, but there were plenty of beautifully ugly interludes where he’d go to his knees, shaking and bending at the neck of his guitar, sticking it into his amp or just leaving it to feed there. There was at least one point where he left the guitar feeding and then picked up another, and then resumed the song. Meanwhile, drummer Georgia Hubley kept a supple, swinging beat while James McNew played his simple, catchy, endlessly circling bass riffs for minutes on end without once falling back on a loop pedal.

The steady, hypnotic storm began with Pass the Hatchet and continued with From a Motel 6. Kaplan reminded what a purist, catchy pop tunesmith he can be with a relatively undisturbed. loping version of All Your Secrets. Then he switched to keys for a Stereolab-ish take of Autumn Sweater. Did McNew switch to guitar on that one? All these years later, it’s impossible to remember all the details.

The quiet part of the show went on for what seemed like more than half an hour, with the wistful Nowhere Near and then Black Flowers, which Hubley sang from behind the keyboard. Almost mercifully, Kaplan brought the energy up slowly with I’ll Be Around, which sounded like the Stones’ Moonlight Mile on crank.

Hubley and McNew harmonized on Before We Run, then the trio buzzed and burned through Sugarcube, the closest thing to Sonic Youth in the set. After that, they took their time raising Ohm from a drony nocturne into a feral feedback fest. They closed with I Heard You Looking, Kaplan’s sparks and sputters and firestorm of raw noise going on for more than twenty minutes, the two guitarists from the awful opening act invited up but obviously in awe and not adding much to the jam.

The game plan for this blog that night was to get a field recording and use that as a reference. Sadly, the recorder, which was literally being held together with rubberbands, picked that evening to flatline. And after standing through an interminable opening set and then Yo La Tengo, this blog’s owner assumed the show was over and left.

Other blogs mention an encore and a jokey appearance on the mic by Kaplan’s mom. Don’t discount those kind of shenanigans, if the PA is really loud on the first.

Catchy, Quirky High Plains Rockers Make a Long-Overdue Live Recording

We All Have Hooks For Hands are a South Dakota institution. The Sioux Falls band have two albums and a single up at their Bandcamp page. Their most recent release is the Mosquito ep, from 2019, which has both slow and fast, catchy, post-Velvets style tunesmithing (think Jesus & Mary Chain at the midpoint of their usual foggy gloom) along with a scruffy retro soul tune in the same vein as the Get Up or the Brooklyn What.

The group have a sense of humor – they called their 2018 album Bat Out of Hell II. That one’s closer to Supergrass or Babyshambles’ roughhewn newschool garage rock, with quirky allusions to the Cure at their mid 80s poppiest. plus one number that harkens back to the group’s earlier Manchester influences. Some of the songs get an extra jolt of adrenaline, or atmospherics, when keyboardist Dave Lethcoe switches to trumpet.

For fans in the area, they have an especially interesting gig coming up. They’re recording a live webcast on Sept 25 at 4 PM at the White Walls Sessions studio, on the lower level of the Last Stop CD Shop, 2121 E. 10th St. in Sioux Falls; cover is $5. Customers can enter through the Last Stop shop entrance. Since this is a live recording, audience members need to be on time and pay attention to the “on air” light, which signals when it’s time to be quiet so the band can get a good recording.

In keeping with this week’s ongoing project here, if New York venues are weaponized against those of us who won’t get on the fast track to slavery with the Mayor’s blockchain-based spyware, that means it’s time to look elsewhere. And where better to look than a free state like South Dakota? Who knew that starting in 2020, South Dakota would be kicking New York’s ass in terms of support for the arts, and the people who support them?