New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: indie rock

Aram Bajakian and Julia Ulehla Bring Their Magic Reinventions of Ancient Moravian Songs to the Stone

Aram Bajakian is one of the world’s elite guitarists. Of all the lead players, good and not-so-good, who filtered through Lou Reed’s band, the only two who rate with Bajakian are iconic and sadly no longer with us: Mick Ronson and Robert Quine. But as you would expect from a member of John Zorn’s circle, Bajakian plays a lot more than just rock lead guitar: he’s just as adept at enigmatic, cinematic instrumentals, reinvented Armenian folk themes and surf music. He’s got a weeklong stand at the Stone this week, with sets at 8 and 10 PM starting on May 19 and running through the 24th with an intriguing cast of characters. Cover is $15; there are too many good sets to list. The late show on opening night, a Yusuf Lateef tribute with Sylvie Courvoisier on piano and Mat Maneri on viola, is tempting. But the best one of all might be the late set Friday night, May 22 at 10 PM where Bajakian and his singer wife Julia Ulehla reinvent ancient Moravian folk songs from their recent collaboration, Dalava.

The duo project – streaming at Bandcamp – has a really cool backstory. Bajakian and Ulehla first discovered those songs in a hundred-year-old book passed down through her family, meticulously transcribed by her great-grandfather Vladimir. But rather than trying to recreate an ambience to match the era the book dates from, the two decided to do their own versions. The results run the gamut from plaintive to jaunty to richly otherworldly: it’s an unselfconsciously magical album. The opening track takes a stark, rather mystical melody, infused with longing, and adds echoey harmonies and creepily tinkling glockenspiel, sparsely and then lushly orchestrated with violin from Tom Swafford and Skye Steele. By contrast, the second number is darkly bouncy, the violins’ acidic lines underpinned by Shanir Blumenkrantz’s spiky gimbri.

They follow that with a wistful waltz, Bajakian’s mutedly dancing reverbtoned incisions and surrealistic blues lines anchoring Ulehla’s dramatic, knifes-edge Czech vocals. From there the guitar and strings hit a minimalistic, otherworldly pulse that Ulehla eventually risees over with a pensive elegance. Mamičky (Mother) mines a similarly hypnotic ambience, but with a swaying, feral groove with guitars and violins wailing in tandem.

Originally a big, rousing hymn, Nech Je Pán Lebo Kraál gets reinvented as an airy, poignantly atmsopheric mood piece, Ulehla’s gently melismatic lines awash in Bajakian’s ebow guitar. Then they have fun with an old mountain melody, Bajakian’s burning, fuzztone metal attack contrasting with Ulehla’s delicately precise vocals. On Litala, she rises to wary, otherworldly levels over fluttery, misterioso ambience before the band picks up with a similarly uneasy, dancing pulse.

The love song after that reverts to gentle minimalism, just vocals echoed artfully by violin. The band does Vyšla Devcina as a creepy circus rock waltz, Bajakian’s icepick guitar paired against nebulous strings and Ulehla’s calmly enigmatic voice. The album winds up with Hájíčku Zeleny, its most gently anthemic, woundedly epic track. The audience for this is vast: fans of Balkan music, obviously, but also dreampop, cinematic soundscapes, indie classical, psychedelia and folk music as well. Follow these two to a land that time forgot.

The Bright Smoke Earn Comparisons to Joy Division

Lots of groups draw comparisons to Joy Division. Inevitably, all of them fall short. None of them can match that iconic band’s shatttering gothic art-rock grandeur…and nobody goes as far into the abyss as Ian Curtis. The Bright Smoke are a rare exception to that rule. In a way, their new album, Terrible Towns – streaming at Bandcamp – could be the great lost Joy Division album between Unknown Pleasures and Closer. Except that frontwoman/guitarist Mia Wilson doesn’t sound anything like Ian Curtis. However, she does have a powerful, angst-fueled low register, something akin to Cat Power without the affectations (ok, hard to imagine, but just try). She’s as strong a tunesmith and lyricist as she is a singer, and an inventive guitarist. Her songwriting is equally informed by oldtime acoustic blues and dark rock: other than the guys from Manchester, the new album occasionally brings to mind the live Portishead album. The Bright Smoke are playing the Cameo Gallery on May 19 at 9 PM; cover is $8.

As you would expect from such a relentlesly dark outfit, their songs are on the slow side, and usually in ninor keys. Beyond having a woman out front, the Bright Smoke distinguish themselves from Joy Division in that they’re considerably more swirly and psychedelic. Live, drummer Karl Thomas colors the songs with a terse, almost minimalist precision and the occasional jazzy flourish. Lead guitarist Quincy Ledbetter is a monster player, a master of texture and timbre, who although he has blazing speed doesn’t waste notes: if Bernard Sumner had started playing earlier than he did, he might have ended up sounding something like Ledbetter. Lately, for atmospherics, onstage the Bright Smoke have been including an electroacoustic element.

The album’s opening track, Hard Pander, could be Sade covering Joy Division. Wilson’s lyrics are enigmatic, sardonic, often imbued with gallows humor and this number is typical:

I don’t have to fake my inclinations
I don’t have to draw on my scars
You’re in over your head, girl
Pander right and pander hard

The way the bass rises, a low harmony with the wary, wounded guitar overhead in Like Video is a recurrent, artful touch throughout the album: this band really works every dark corner of the sonic spectrum. And Wilson’s cynicism is crushing:

I hear the Midwest stretches on for miles
And calls you back and it’s always on time
I hear it don’t have a past like mine
I hear the Midwest don’t have a voice to raise
Just settles down on her knees and prays
And makes you feel big in your small way
Baby, I’m in town today

On Ten also works a recurrent trope, Wilson’s elegant fingerpicking against layers and layers of lingering ambience, a savage dissection of Notbrooklyn ennui:

Join, join, join the ranks
Of the pretty, white, and jobless
And pray your daddy’s money away
At St. Sebastian’s School for the Godless

August/September is a diptych, the first part a plaintive piano waltz evoking Joy Division’s The Eternal, the second fueled by a menacing, echoing pulse that ends in crushing defeat: its quiet, sudden ending is one of the album’s most powerful moments. “There’s a bloody side to this, I don’t share your sunny disposition,” Wilson warns in Exit Door, with its wickedly catchy “You wanna know where the money comes from” mantra. Shakedown, a creepy roadhouse boogie in Lynchian disguise, brings to mind Randi Russo. “If there’s a game of losing friends…you and I would be Olympians,” Wilson broods.

Howl builds nonchalantly to an unexpectedly catchy, yet unpredictable chorus that would be the envy of any stadium rock band, a sardonic look at self-absorption lit up by a nimble tremolo-picked Ledbetter solo. City on an Island, with its watery chorus-box bass and 80s production values evokes early New Order and might be the album’s catchiest song. It might also be its most searing one, a kiss-off to a fauxhemian:

Good luck with your pylons
With your city on an island
And good luck with the small false hints
That you live the way I live

The album’s final track, simply titled Or, is a Mississippi hill country blues vamp, T-Model Ford spun through the prism of psychedelia and trip-hop, closer to the band’s stark, spare previous output than anything else here. Look for this around the top of the best albums of 2015 page in December if we make it that far.

The Bright Smoke Haunt Mercury Lounge

Friday night at the Mercury the Bright Smoke played a magical, haunting show. Since she fronted the equally haunting, even more angst-fueled French Exit back in the late zeros, frontwoman/guitarist Mia Wilson’s enigmatic alto voice has gone deeper into the lows. As unassailable, outraged witness, she’s sort of a teens counterpart to Siouxsie Sioux at her mid-80s peak. Guitarwise, Wilson has found her muse in the most otherworldly corners of old delta blues. She surrounds those ancient, rustic riffs with a swirling yet rhythmic, psychedelic ambience. Drummer Karl Thomas was given the difficult task of matching beats with Kevin the laptop (manipulated with split-second precision by Yuki Maekawa Ledbetter) and didn’t miss a beat, coloring the music with terse, emphatic cymbal shades and defly chosen rimshots. Lead guitarist Quincy Ledbetter was a sorcerer in his lab, shifting seamlessly from wary circular riffs to biting clusters of Chicago blues riffage, minimalist 80s jangle and clang, and watery dreampop atmospherics.

They opened with Pure Light, Wilson and Ledbetter trading off and mingling notes as they would do throughout the set, nebulous clang versus ambient austerity, a girl-at-the-bottom-of-the-well milieu that grew more majestic, a la the Church circa Priest = Aura. They worked the same contrast on the broodingly strolling Late for War. Trade Up turned out to be the most exhilarating song of the night, Ledbetter slowly building a searing solo from enveloping, menacingly echoes to a skin-peeling, stygian slide down the fretboard as it wound out.

City on an Island, a slow, watery Joy Division-tinged anthem was the antithesis of the wet-behind-the-ears gentrifier tributes this city’s received so many of in the past few years: Wilson mused cynically about this “mess of a machine…take me to your parties, show me your scene.” She evoked Marissa Nadler with her steady, graceful fingerpicking throughout the achingly soul-infused trip-hop of On Ten, another number that grew to a majestic, Church-like crescendo

The band followed the same trajectory, with more white-knuckle Joy Division intensity on the simply titled Or, then made acid rock out of Sade with Hard Pander, the new album’s opening track: “You’re in over your head, so pander right and pander hard,” Wilson’s nameless narrator warned caustically. The band worked the swirly/jagged dynamic for all it was worth on Shakedown and closed with the understatedly ferocious, accusatory Exit Door, whose mantra is “I wanna know where the money comes from.” A logical question in real estate bubble era New York from a band who capture this particular age of anxiety better than pretty much anybody else. The Bright Smoke play at around 10 on May 9 at Nola Darling, 161 W 22nd St. east of 7th Ave. Cover is $10 on a bill to benefit homeless LGBT youth.

Paula Carino’s Edgy, Lyrical Original Band Makes a Brilliant Return

Paula Carino is one of the half-dozen smartest rock songwriters of the past twenty years. She hasn’t been as prolific as, say, Richard Thompson or Elvis Costello, and she came up couple of generations after them, but she’s just as clever a wordsmith and as catchy a tunesmith. It’s impossible to imagine a better album released in 2010 than her bittersweet Open on Sunday, or for that matter, a more richly tuneful, lyrical 2002 release than the somewhat more powerpop-flavored Aquacade. Most recently, Carino has resurrected her original band, Regular Einstein, who had been dormant since the mid-zeros. They’ve got a characteristically melodic, lyrically rich new album, Chimp Haven, streaming at Bandcamp and an album release show at 10 PM on March 20 at Rock Shop in Gowanus. It’s a great twinbill, with the similarly smart, intense Lazy Lions also playing the album release show for their excellent new one and headlining at 11. Cover is $10.

Regular Einstein’s new record opens with Mayor Beam: it’s an unexpected departure toward insistent, downstroke-driven postpunk, with some dreampop swirl in there as well. The lyrics mirror the enigmatic melody. Carino’s cool, resonant vocals channel a relentless unease:

We wanna stop the bad guys
We wanna yank the thread
And then end up pulling wool over our own heads
But far away a flare is fired into the freezing air…
Mayor Beam is always hiding, guiding us

Those outside New York might miss the pun in the title: Abraham Beame was the New York City mayor in office during the “Bronx is burning” era in the 70s and the city’s plunge toward bankruptcy.

Jimmyville is a triumphant escape anthem fueled by drummer Nancy Polstein’s artful, hard-hitting drive and lead guitarist Dave Benjoya’s raga-ish licks. The punchy Three-Legged Race, a sardonic breakup anthem, recalls the early Kinks, Benjoya adding swirly organ and honking harmonica. Carino, always a tremendously good singer with her cool, crystalline alto voice, has never sung with more velvety nuance than she does here: “I’ll watch your back ’cause there’s nothing left to see,” she intones.

Bassist Andy Mattina’s dancing lines propel the paisley underground-tinged Hydrangea, a love song that seems hopeful at first and then predictably hits a bump in the road. Bad Actor is pretty straight-up punk rock: “I’m an amateur production of A Streetcar Named Desire,” Carino broods, “When you start that smooth talk I’m Madonna in Shanghai Surprise.” Evolution welds Benjoya’s dixie-fried lines to Carino’s scratchy postpunk rhythm over a waltz beat, a wry look at what it truly might mean to be evolving.

Another snarling, punk-infused number, Queens Tornado has Carino riffing on a completely unexpected, metaphorically-charged storm that leaves carnage across the whole borough, “from Forest Hills to Jamaica Bay, Flushing our Sunnyside away.” Polstein’s jungly tom-toms give the album’s Link Wray-tinged title track an uneasy undercurrent,

At this point, the band sticks with a punky psychedelic tangent throughout Old People, a funny, older song and a big audience favorite: “They’re a living affront to the sexual hunt…old people must go, set them all on an ice floe,” Carino deadpans. Never Saw It Coming has a catchiness that contrasts with its grim lyrics: it marks the first point on the album where Carino indulges her love for odd meters.

The Good Times is the albun’s most unexpectedly savage and arguably best track, a noirish 6/8 soul anthem that reaches haphazardly toward some better future that doesn’t exactly seem to be on the way. The album winds up with the deliriously catchy, upbeat Coming to My Senses and its delicious bed of alternately watery and skittish guitar multitracks. It’s classic Carino with a little more guitar energy: Dann Baker‘s production aptly captures the buzz and roar without muting it. Watch for this on the best albums of 2015 page here at the end of the year if we’re all still here.

A Deliciously Menacing New Album and a Palisades Show from Edgy Postpunks Eula

Eula are one of the most individualistic bands in New York. As noisy as they can be onstage, the noise works because throughout their terse, relatively short postpunk songs, there’s always an underlying tune. Frontwoman/guitarist Alyse Lamb knows all the most menacing places on the fretboard and makes it to all of them on the band’s meticulously arranged new cassette album (which isn’t out yet, hence no streaming link, although a couple of tracks are up at Bandcamp and Soundcloud). Although they’ve been lumped in with the indie crowd, Eula are too edgy, purposeful and often downright Lynchian to be tagged with that logo. You have to go back a few years, to groups like the Throwing Muses at their most assaultive, or to Siouxsie & the Banshees, to find a real point of comparison. They’re playing the album release show at Palisades in Bushwick at around 11 on March 5, with psychedelic noiserock legend Martin Bisi, who produced it, playing earlier at around 9 along with a Swan and an ex-Sonic Youth: cover charge TBA. Eula will also be at Abbey’s Pub at 407 Monmouth St. in Jersey City on March 8 at around 11.

The album kicks off with Noose, which artfully scatters all kinds of eerily ringing, resonant shards of guitar over a percussively pitchblende, looping, qawwali-influenced groove. I Collapse reminds of X circa Wild Gift, bassist Jeff Maleri and drummer Nathan Rose giving it a galloping rhythm until Lamb’s guitar explodes on the chorus: “Can you handle nasty weather?” is the mantra.

Maleri’s creepy, bolero-ish bass and Rose’s murky cymbal washes open Little Hearts, which builds to another volcanic chorus before Lamb goes back to a whispery noir insistence: “And then you wake to find the circumstances are not so kind.” She anchors the snide, sarcastic Orderly in stomping, jagged, early Joy Division minimalism.

Rising slowly out of hypnotically misty jangle to a wistfully echoey sway, The Destroyer brings to mind Boston’s great Black Fortress of Opium. Like No Other also sways along, juxtaposing aggressive, late Sleater-Kinney style vocals against a swooping, looping backdrop. With its distant hints of Indian music and dark Appalachian folk, the subdued Your Beat is the album’s catchiest track.

Driven by Maleri’s gritty, circling bass, Aplomb is as punk as these songs get, followed by the noisiest number here, Meadows. The album – one of 2015’s three or four best up to this point – winds up with the trippy, disquietingly echoey Monument. Expect the band to rip these songs to shreds onstage, possibly with a power assist from some special guests.

The Sway Machinery Release Another Fiery, Eclectic, Psychedelic Masterpiece

The Sway Machinery are one of the real feel-good stories of the New York rock scene. They’ve come a long, long way since their days in the early zeros, when as one esteemed New York guitarist put it, they were sort of the “cantorial AC/DC.” There’s no band in the world who sound remotely like them. Mashing up hypnotic Saharan duskcore, biting postpunk, Afrobeat, funk and ancient Hasidic ngunim with a searing, guitar-fueled undercurrent, they’re one of the most individualistic and consistently exciting groups to emerge from this city in this century. They’ve got a new album, Purity and Danger, due out next week (hence no streaming link, although three of the tracks are up at soundcloud) and an album release show on March 1 at 6 (yes, six) PM at Baby’s All Right. Cover is $10, which is dirt cheap for that venue.

The big difference with this album is that it’s something of a return to their hard-rocking roots. Bass saxophonist Colin Stetson has been switched out for Antibalas‘ guitar-bass team of Tim Allen and Nikhil Yerawadekar, who provide a bouncy contrast for frontman Jeremiah Lockwood’s tersely searing reverbtoned guitar riffs. The album opens with the brisk, punchy Afrobeat-tinged instrumental title track, Lockwood’s chords blasting in the right channel, Allen playing lithe jangle in the left against the bright harmonies of trumpeter Jordan McLean and saxophonist Matt Bauder over a groove that’s equally catchy and hypnotic.

Rachamana D’Onay mashes up Middle Eastern rock, reggae and Ethiopiques into a surreallistically dancing stew. Revive the Dead has an irrepressible drive that’s part Sly Stone, part pensive 70s European art-rock, with a long jam that’s a study in tasty guitar contrasts, and a soulful trumpet solo out. My Dead Lover’s Wedding circles and careens around a rhythm that’s part 70s stoner art-rock, part camelwalking assouf desert rock.

On Magein Avos, Lockwood makes a bouncy, trickily rhythmic anthem out of its otherworldly, rustic cantorial theme, drummer John Bollinger pushing it with a restless, hard-hitting pulse. The band does Longa, another number based on an ancient traditional theme, as marauding Middle Eastern surf: imagine Eyal Maoz out in front of Budos Band. Then Lockwood returns to a lingering, resonantly psychedelic groove with Al Tashlicheini, a launching pad for his soaring, impassioned baritone vocals.

Od Hapaam is a mashup of joyous oldschool soul, blazing Ethiopiques and searing, suspensefully cinematic stadium rock, Lockwood’s rumbling solo leaving a long trail of sparks in its wake. My Angel’s House skirts funk, desert rock and rhythmically shapeshifting art-rock without hitting any of those style head-on, although Lockwood’s sputtering guitar here wouldn’t be out of place in a Bombino song. The album winds up with Rozo D’Shabbos, by the great Russian-American cantor Pierre Pinchik, reinvented as a vigorously crescendoing anthem that rises out of a hypnotic Afrobeat vamp. Knowing the band, they’ll probably jam the hell out of these songs live.

Irresistibly Funny, Jangly Soul-Flavored Sounds from Larry & the Babes

Larry & the Babes have a fun, catchy, snarky self-titled cassette debut album, The Dolphin Tapes, streaming at Bandcamp. What’s cool and different about them is how they mash up all kinds of retro 60s styles – doo-wop, Phil Spector bubblegum pop, soul balladry and hints of Nashville gothic – and turn all of it into an original sound. Some of their songs come across as a less punk take on what Nashville group Clear Plastic Masks do with vintage soul. And their lyrics are really funny.

“You think I’m the perfect person, but I’m made of wax…you’re gonna melt me so I’ve got to stop you in your tracks,” the singer intones on the opening cut, Perfect Person, “You shat on my tv show.” WTF?

The second track, HCDB is a charmingly jangly update on Orbison bolero-pop. The band takes a stomping detour into wah-infused garage rock with Bad Dog and then offers an amiable latin-soul shout-out to one of the world’s most annoying voices, Fran Drescher. Seriously: who wouldn’t want to “shoot the shit and eat tofu” with the actress? Um, ok. The last and most unselfconsciously pretty track is Mostess. This band sounds like they’re a lot of fun live: fans of entertaining, irreverent bands from the Brooklyn What to the Dead Milkmen ought to check them out. They’re at Palisades in Bushwick tomorrow, Thursday, Feb 19 at around 10.

Janglerock Cult Favorite Jeffrey Dean Foster Makes a Couple of Rare NYC Appearances

REM was just the tip of the iceberg. The American south was a hotbed of janglerock back throughout the 80s – the Athens band may have triggered the explosion, but there were also the dB’s, Let’s Active and a whole slew of what were then called college radio groups, many of whom got their fifteen minutes on the low end of the FM dial. Jeffrey Dean Foster goes back that far, starting with the Right Profile (whose keyboardist went on to fame co-authoring the Freakanomics books, and whose drummer later joined Superchunk), then the Carneys, and afterward in the late 90s with the Pinetops (the powerpop band, not the Pennsylvania newgrass cult favorites). So it makes sense that Foster’s new album, The Arrow – streaming at Bandcamp – would be produced by janglerock mavens Mitch Easter and Don Dixon. Foster is passing through town over the next few days, with a stop in Brooklyn tomorrow night, Feb 15 at 8:30 PM at 12th St. Bar & Grill, 1123 8th Ave @ 12th St in Park Slope (F/G to 7th Ave). Then on Tuesday the 17th he’s at the small room at the Rockwood at 6 – and afterward, serious janglerock fans who want to make a real night of it can go right next door for Matt Keating’s album release show.

Foster’s new album kicks off with the mid-period Wilco powerpop soundalike Life Is Sweet, a pensively rousing shot in the arm complete with big two-guitar freakout by John Pfiffner and Easter himself. “Life is sweet but it doesn’t last,” Foster sings energetically: his enthusiasm hasn’t lost a step in practically thirty years, something for all of us to consider. Likewise, When You Break looks to Jeff Tweedy at his most animated for its mashup of 90s alt-country and powerpop, fueled by Brian Landrum’s hard-hitting drums and Dixon’s terse bass work.

With its web of watery 80s chorus-box guitars, Morningside has a period-perfect Reagan-era angst: “Watch the water under the bridge downtown, fear and envy running round,” is Foster’s opening line: the menacing ambience grows from there. Foster picks up the pace after that with Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts, a ghoulabilly song in an 80s costume with an aching string arrangement overdubbed by Ecki Heins. After that, The Sun Will Shine Again reimagines Big Star as late 80s REM but with good vocals.

The piano ballad The Lucky One mingles Beatles and late 80s/early 90s Hoboken indie pop: “I used to ride the subway train at four o’clock in the morning, I didn’t know how lucky I was to make it home,” Foster muses soberly. From there the band segues into the fiery, scampering powerpop smash Young Tigers Disappear: speaking of Hoboken, it would be a standout track on a Bongos record. Then they bring it down, ominously, with a stark Appalachian-tinged miniature featuring the eerie harmonies of Tres Chicas‘ Lynn Blakey and Tonya Lamm.

The similarly gorgeous and uneasy Jigsaw Man has a psychedelic shimmer straight out of the Chuck Prophet playbook, as does the more soul-inspired, restlessly ethereal Out of the Blue. Hang My Head On You has a glamrock strut like the Jayhawks doing Bowie, while Open Book puts a 90s alt-country swirl on four-on-the-floor Springsteen rock. The album comes full circle with the steady, straightforward title track and its neat chamber pop touches. All this ought to go a long way toward helping the world get to know a guy whose consistently strong tunesmithing deserves more than a cult following.

Arborea Takes You Deep Into the Haunted Woods

Maine is the most beautiful state in the American northeast: deep pine woods, rugged Atlantic coast, breathtaking highlands. Its most famous native, Stephen King, does a great job portraying its sinister side. Sure, like seemingly everywhere else in the fifty states, it’s been invaded, partially by a subset of the same speculator class who’ve decimated New York neighborhoods and transformed them into a ghost town of empty condos, hoping to unload them on the next sucker before the market caves in. But there’s still plenty of pristine countryside left Down East.

Out of that bucolic, richly verdant, often desolate part of the world comes the aptly named Arborea, the noir folk banjo-and-guitar duo of Shanti and Buck Curran. Their two most recent albums are Red Planet – a reissue of their raptly haunting 2011 release – and Fortress of the Sun, both of which are streaming at Bandcamp. Each is rustic, otherworldly and considerably uneasy; the more recent one is less stark and skeletal. Settle in for a hypnotic and often riveting journey through their sonic underbrush.

Red Planet opens with a pensive solo guitar miniature, followed by an airy version of the old folk song Black Is The Colour, Buck building contrast with his spare, incisive dobro over a guitar drone. Phantasmagoria in Two establishes an echoey noir ambience: “Everywhere I go there’s fear,” Shanti intones. She keeps the brooding, doomed imagery going through Spain, an autumnal mood piece and then Careless Love, its title a mantra of sorts.

The title track juxtaposes Shanti’s chiming hammered dulcimer against another drone, followed by the artfully crescendoing Wolves, which rises to an intricate blend of spiky textures: if Joanna Newsom ever grew up, she might sound something like this. Shanti’s voice rises to the rafters on the plaintive Song For Obol, following with the album’s best and catchiest song, Arms and Horses. Shanti winds up the album with a solo banjo-and-voice piece, A Little Time, which sounds like Marissa Nadler but more stripped down.

Fortress of the Sun is considerably more fleshed-out and slightly more rock-oriented, the Currans joined by Greg Boardman on viola, Michael Krapovicky on bass and Anders Griffen on drums. The catchy opening anthem, Pale Horse Phantasm draws a straight line back to 80s goth, both lyrically and musically, but with organic instrumentation. Daughters of Man paints a doomed, nocturnal narrative over loops of minor-key folk guitar. After The Flood Only Love Remains is just as hypnotic and more optimistic, Shanti’s apprehensive lovers “Breaking your heads to save this place.”

Buck sings and plays dobro on Rider, a more orchestrated take on what the band was doing five years ago. When I Was On Horseback, a surreallistically hypnotic Britfolk waltz, nicks the tune from Scarborough Fair. Hints of flamenco spice the spacious, terse miniature Rua das Aldas, followed by Cherry Tree Carol with its lingering/incisive dynamic. There’s also a whispery, dynamically-charged one-chord jam aptly titled Ghosts along with more subdued alternate versions of three tracks. See you in the woods – you might want to bring a flashlight.

A Long Overdue Look at the Brooklyn What’s Latest Incendiary Release

The Brooklyn What exploded out of the Freddy’s Bar scene in the late zeros. That was right before the building that housed the first incarnation of that beloved Brooklyn venue was bulldozed, in the wake of the illegal land grab that resulted in the construction of the notorious Barclays Center. So it’s no wonder that the band’s music has been so relevant, and so hard-hitting. Yours probably would be, too, if your home turf was seized in the name of eminent domain and then turned into a basketball stadium, to further enrich an already mega-wealthy out-of-state developer.

Since then, the band’s musicianship has grown exponentially, over the course of two full-length albums and a bunch of singles, without losing touch with their punk roots. Watching them develop has been akin to seeing how the Clash rose from their early three-chord stomps to the epic stylistic mashups of Sandinista. The Brooklyn What’s latest, characteristically intense ep, streaming at Bandcamp, is titled Minor Problems. Their next show, starting around 9 this coming January 17 at the Gutter in Williamsburg, is a Lou Reed/VU tribute and benefit for the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri with a whole slew of bands including Jeff Lewis, psychedelic folk legend Peter Stampfel, No One and the Somebodys, Ghospal, the Planes, Electric People, Old Table and possibly others.

The new record’s opening track, Sledgehammer Night, gives you a good idea of where the band is coming from these days: it’s amazing how much they can pack into a single song, even in just a couple of minutes. This one’s got an intro like an early Wire outtake and a catchy twin guitar hook from Evan O’Donnell and John-Severin Napolillo. It’s alternately skronky and propulsive – and kind of creepy in places. “I’m sick and tired of staring at screens,” frontman Jamie Frey intones, “I need a reaction, I need a release.” His voice has grown deeper, more world-weary since the early days, no surprise considering how much this city, and the world, has changed since then.

The intro to Blowin’ Up hints at the Dead Boys; the verse is hardcore, the missing link between Black Flag and Guided by Voices. Then the band swings the hell out of it, with a searing, unhinged guitar solo (guessing that’s O’Donnell putting blisters on his fingers). By contrast, Metropolitan Avenue is a four-on-the-floor backbeat anthem held together by bassist Matt Gevaza and drummer Jesse Katz as Frey makes his best pitch to a standoffish Bushwick girl while the guitarists trade jagged incisions and fullscale roar.

As good as those songs are, the masterpiece here is Too Much Worry, almost nine minutes of white-knuckle intensity, relentless angst and psychedelic guitar fury. Napolillo’s homage to early Joy Division extends to the rapidfire rhymes of No Love Lost (and echoes of Warsaw), and as the song careens forward, there’s an interlude where it evokes a tighter take on that band doing the Velvets’ Sister Ray, at least musically speaking. The guitars rise and fall and after a brief passage with Frey’s eerily distant piano rippling overhead, heat up with a volcanic duel worthy of the Dream Syndicate. That’s O’Donnell with the icepick attack in the left channel, Napolillo’s scorched-earth stampede on the right. As four-song ep’s go, there’s been nothing released in 2014 that comes close to this: watch for it on the best albums of the year page here in about a week.

Frey’s prowess as a prose writer matches his songwriting: his blog is LMFAO and just as insightful, in terms of what’s happening to this city.

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