New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: jangle rock

A Wickedly Catchy Weekend Show by the Mysterious Melissa & the Mannequins

Melissa & the Mannequins are New York’s most exciting new band. There’s very little about them on the web. The only one of their songs that’s made it online so far is Slip Away, the gorgeously bittersweet, propulsively jangly number they closed their deliciously catchy set with at Long Island City Bar over the Labor Day weekend. They’ve been around for about  a year, tops. Quietly and steadily, they’ve put what’s obviously been an enormous amount of work into this band, equal to their formidable chops. Up-and-coming rock acts seldom have as much command of their instruments, let alone as many styles as this group winds their way through.

In roughly an hour onstage, frontwoman/guitarist Melissa Gordon sang with a cool, collected delivery over a tight rhythm section. Lyrically, most of the songs dealt with brooding breakup scenarios, often in contrast to the tunes’ bright,upbeat quality, Stylistically, they really ran the gamut. Several numbers worked a psychedelic soul vein, bringing to mind Chicano Batman with a woman out front and a more subdued, atmospheric keyboardist: throughout the set, the Mannequin on keys kept a tight focus and added all kinds of subtle textures and washes of sound.

Midway through the set, the band switched it up with an unexpectedly funky song, like Turkuaz in a rare low-key, trippy moment. There were also a couple of detours in the direction of Jacco Gardner-ish retro 60s sunshine pop and a distant Beatles influence. The most riveting song of the set might be called I Wasn’t Listening, an uncharacteristically haunting, epic, wounded noir soul ballad in 6/8 tiime, lead guitarist Steve Flakus capping it off with a long, biting, purist blues solo.

Gordon is also an excellent guitarist (which you wouldn’t know from her Soundcloud page, something she obviously put up as she was learning the fretboard). She and Flakus took a grand total of three perfectly synchronized twin solos: it wasn’t Iron Maiden, but it was just as tight. Gordon also engaged the crowd with her deadpan sense of humor: she seems to come out of a theatre background. LIC Bar also seems to be the group’s home base these days as they build a following, an aptly cool joint for this band. Watch this space for upcoming shows.

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80s Psychedelic Guitar Legend Russ Tolman Makes a Rare Stop in Brooklyn

Russ Tolman was the leader of one of the 80s’ most legendary guitar bands, True West. Though never as famous as their pals the Dream Syndicate – Tolman and Steve Wynn were in the equally legendary Suspects, and Wynn contributed some gloriously savage lead guitar to True West’s cover of Pink Floyd’s Lucifer Sam – Tolman’s songwriting was no less brilliant. And True West were every bit as incendiary live, fellow Telecaster player Richard McGrath dueling it out onstage with Tolman night after night. The band’s first two albums, Hollywood Holiday and Drifters are iconic: with its brooding layers of reverb guitar and Tolman’s ominous lyricism, the latter is easily one of the fifty greatest rock records ever made.

The original True West lineup hung it up in 1985; there were some sporadic but rewarding reunion tours in the mid-to-late zeros. All the while, Tolman has been releasing albums here and there, from Byrdsy folk-rock to low-key electronic experimentation. If he’s ever played Brooklyn before, it’s been a long time; if he hasn’t, then his show at Pete’s on Sept 14 at 8:30 PM will be his debut in the borough. Either way, he’s overdue.

Tolman’s latest recordings are a couple of singles. With it stomping beat and a whirling lead guitar line that brings to mind another great 80s guitar band, the Rain Parade, Marla Jane could be an upbeat track from True West’s peak era. Something About a Rowboat switches in a mandolin for the Tele Tolman might have played it on thirty years ago. Tunewise, this breakup anthem is just as strong – it’s interesting to compare Tolman’s flinty vocal delivery with the bravado of True West frontman Gavin Blair. Awfully heartwarming to see such an important, underrated artist from back in the day still at it and still at the top of his game.

Rebecca Turner Brings Her Richly Jangly, Anthemic Songcraft Back to the East Village

Songwriter Rebecca Turner earned a devoted following around the turn of the century for her catchy, anthemic blend of janglerock, Laurel Canyon folk-pop and the occasional detour into starker acoustic folk or more ornate psychedelia. In a lot of ways, she represents the vanguard of ex-Brooklynite musicians caught between the very tail end of the cds-and-college-radio era and the age of streaming and vinyl. She puts out albums at her own pace (she’s working on a new one, helmed in the studio by husband/bassist Scott Anthony, recently responsible for remastering the Feelies’ latest vinyl reissues). She also has an 8 PM gig coming up on May 7 at Hifi Bar, the scene of her most recent Manhattan gig.

That was last year, and it was killer. She had a five-piece backing unit for that one including Anthony on bass and Rich Feridun on six-string lead guitar; John Sharples, playing twelve-string, was the band’s not-so-secret weapon. They opened with a backbeat-driven anthem with torrents of lyrics and tantalizingly unresolved chord changes. The Cat That Can Be Alone, she explained, was inspired by an Anita O’Day quote relayed by Love Camp 7’s Dann Baker, something along the lines of “The cat that can be alone is better off than the cat that can’t.” It turned out to be a bouncy Beatlesque number, Turner soaring to the top of her range with a hint of country twang. She and the band wound it up with a tongue-in-cheek segue into the O’Day version of Tenderly.

Turner’s next number was period-perfect Lakeside Lounge rock from around 2000, a mashup of  swaying vintage 70s C&W-tinged with Blonde on Blonde era Dylan, The set hit a peak midway through with a rousingly jangling take of the Byrdsy anthem The Way She is Now, Sharples choosing his spots and leaving them out to glisten in the bar’s low lights.

Another backbeat anthem, That Did It, was part 60s electric Dylan, part Amy Rigby at her jangliest, with a delicious blend of six and twelve-string guitars meshing with Turner’s acoustic. She followed with Idiot, a similarly catchy, wryly propulsive number. A low-key, matter-of-factly fingerpicked take of the ballad Comfort You Up brought the lights down, Erica Smith joining to add lush low harmonies. Then they picked up the pace again with the lilting, bucolic My Morning.

The cover that had everyone in the crowd mystified was a BeeGees song from the 60s, Sun in My Morning, Sharples’ twelve-string filtering down into it as if in a Turner painting. Arguably the best song of the night was a new one, Tom Tom, shimmering in the twin-guitar jangle, up to a suspenseful turnaround on the chorus and a fiery, twangy Feridun solo. For the encore, Turner aired out what’s become her signature song, Brooklyn Is So Big. It was cute and wistful when it came out: it’s heartbreaking now, considering how many of Turner’s contemporaries have been priced out. It’s a good bet Turner and the band will bust out a lot of this material at the show this weekend.

The Molochs Bring Their Psychedelic Jangle and Clang to Williamsburg and the LES

The Molochs – whose core is guitarists Lucas Fitzsimons and Ryan Foster – fall on the side of the more tuneful, jangly retro psychedelic bands out there. Some of their material is more lo-fi third – or fourth, or fifth wave, which wave are we on now? – 60s British psych-pop. Other times, they fit in with the uneasy Laurel Canyon clang and twang of bands like the Allah-Las (who have a show coming up at Webster Hall on March 24). The Molochs are coming to Brooklyn at Union Pool on March 25 at 8, followed by the fuzzy drony Cosmonauts; cover is $10. Then on the 27th at 10 careeningly intense gutter blues bandleader Breanna Barbara and her excellent band open for that same twinblll at Berlin for the same price.

The Molochs’ debut album America’s Velvet Glory is streaming at Bandcamp. It kicks off with Ten Thousand, a scampering minor-key mosquito-jangle psych-pop smash with swirly organ: think Forever Changes-era Arthur Lee without the strings. No Control is sort of the Blues Magoos through the prism of retroish British garage rock like Babyshambles. Charlie’s Lips goes on and on, an over-the-top, sarcastic dis at a trust fund kid that’s part Beatles, part Kinks.

A Beggars Banquet-style web of slide guitars filters through That’s the Trouble with You. The One I Love channels the Byrds circa 1965 with a spot-on Mike Bloomfield lead break, followed by Little Stars, a slow, sad, vampy Jesus & Mary Chain style dirge. Then the duo mashes up 19th Nervous Breakdown Stones with Highway 61 Dylan in No More Cryin.

They build an organ-driven homoerotic Blonde on Blonde anthem with You and Me, then edge into early Velvets territory with New York, right down to the Run Run Run quote at the end. The album winds up with the swaying, minor-key I Don’t Love You and its doomed relationship imagery, and goes hack to BoB territory with You Never Learn. All of these styles have been mined for decades, often beyond the point of overkill, but these guys’ enthusiasm and catchy hooks make it all seem fresh again.

Jessie Kilguss Brings a Whole Slew of Great New Songs to Brooklyn

Nothing like a European tour to inspire you to write a whole set worth of new material, right? Freddie Stevenson had the good sense to bring Jessie Kilguss along as a harmony singer and keyboardist on his most recent tour there, and the crystalline-voiced songwriter brought back enough new songs of her own to keep an audience at the American Folk Art Museum rapt earlier this fall. That was her most recent Manhattan gig – her next one is in Brooklyn at Hank’s at 10 PM on Dec 16. Cover is $5.

With her clever wordplay and understatedly anthemic sensibility, Kilguss’ closest comparisons are Elvis Costello and Leonard Cohen, the latter being her biggest influence. Although she play both guitar and keys, she typically limits herself to vocals when fronting her own band, tall and resolute and swaying with eyes closed in front of a tight electric guitar/bass/drums backing unit. That voice is a magical instrument, with a reflecting-pool clarity and a soaring range matched by minutely nuanced attention to subtle details. And as much as her songs tend to be on the brooding side, she can be devastatingly funny when she wants to be.

At the museum gig, the new material turned out to be more upbeat as well, at least after Spain, a slow, allusively waltzing pastorale. Russian Roulette, a steady, elegantly driving backbbeat number with a typical soaring chorus, had a tricky surprise ending. Kilguss’ lithely leaping vocals on the slow, swaying, moodily plainspoken Rainy Night in Copenhagen brought to mind Linda Draper in a particularly animated moment.

The sparsely jangling, straightforward What Is It You Want From Me left no doubt that it was a frustrated kiss-off anthem. With its uneasily percolating bassline and a coyly quirky little modulation toward the end, Strangers came across like peak-era 90s Wilco playing new wave – but with an infinitely better singer out in front of the band. The show hit a peak with Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight. one of the most bittersweely gorgeous, catchy janglerock anthems written this century.

Then Kilguss went back to the new mateiral with Edge of Something, which had the feel of a terse early Patti Griffin-style coffeehouse rock number, but with a more defiant edge. The band closed with the lilting, anthemic Over My Dead Body, a nonchalantly assertive reminder that you never, ever want to mess with a songwriter: they always get even in the end. The band wound it up with a savage flurry of guitar tremolo-picking. That’s about as loud as you can get in the museum: you can expect Kilguss and her crew to cut loose more at the Hank’s gig.

Enigmatic, Psychedelic Postpunk from Supergroup Heroes of Toolik

Heroes of Toolik are as close to a supergroup as NYC has right now. Frontman/guitarist Arad Evans plays in avant garde legend Glenn Branca‘s ensemble. Bassist Ernie Brooks was in the Modern Lovers, and Billy Ficca held down the drum chair in Television. Violinist/singer Jennifer Coates rounds out the lineup with trombonists Peter Zummo (ex-Lounge Lizards) and John Speck. Together, they offer potently tuneful reinforcement to the argument that cerebral music can be just as catchy.

Their sound blends riff-driven postpunk, psychedelia and minimalism, with the occasional jazzy flourish. They’re playing a rare stripped-down duo show at around 9 at Troost in Greenpoint on Sept 28. Then they’re back in Greenpoint on Oct 12 at St. Vitus at around 11, playing the album release show for their new one, Like Night.  Cover is $10. The album hasn’t hit Spotify yet, but there are some tracks up at the band’s soundcloud page.

The opening track, Perfect builds quickly out of a pensively jangly guitar hook with a looming brass chart: “Pay your respects to the great unraveled…between the flash and lightning’s echo, that moment waiting is where you live,” Evans intones. Coates’ violin joins the intricate weave between the horns as the song winds out.

It’s good to hear her assertive, crystalline voice front and center on several of these tracks, beginning with Miles, which builds into an ominous march with alternating, minimalist clang and squall. Coates’ disembodied vocals add to the sepulchral ambience, the long psychedelic outro echoing the Branca symphonies that Evans is used to playing.

The surreal, distantly mambo-tinged Something Like Night sways along, terse trombone contrasting with spiky koto and a circular, pulsing guitar hook. The epic instrumental Warm follows the same pattern, guitar and violin exchanging loopy phrases, gradually building momentum as the drums and trombone add polyrhythms – it’s the closest thing to jazz here.

The briskly strolling Blind Man builds a vividly nocturnal tableau – it sounds like the kind of obscure, jangly 80s indie bands that influenced Sonic Youth, bluesy violin and spare trombone adding melody and texture. Say Virginia bounces along with a wry rondo of individual instrumental voices, a gruff trombone solo taking the tune out. The enigmatic, allusively phantasmagorical waltz Again sets Coates’ crystalline vocals over an increasingly ornate backdrop.

The band keeps the distant menace going through the noirish stroll Crazy Doll, a slowly unwinding, allusive northern New England mystery tale. Coates sings the album’s closing cut, You Will Not Follow, a creepily inscrutable nursery rhyme-inflected number that suddenly hits a growling, unhinged guitar-fueled sway, shades of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. It’s an aptly ambitious way to wind up this strange and compelling mix of songs.

The Hilariously Relevant Rachael Kilgour Makes a Highly Anticipated Lincoln Center Debut Next Week

This September 8 songwriter Rachael Kilgour makes her Lincoln Center debut. She’s hilarious, and her acerbic, catchy songs are witheringly relevant. Her latest album is a terse three-song ep, Whistleblower’s Manifesto: Songs for a New Revolution, streaming at her site. It’s hard to imagine a handful of tunes released in recent years that capture the state of the nation any better than these three. The folksinger who opens Kilgour’s show in the atrium space at Broadway and 62nd St at 7:30 PM is pretty generic, but Kilgour is worth getting there early for – and especially since this show is free, it’s likely to sell out, so getting there early will be worth it.

Since the late zeros, Kilgour has made a name for herself as one of the smartest, most individualistic, and most rock-oriented acts on the folkie circuit. She’s a strong singer, a vivid lyricist with a populist streak and has a first-rate band. This little album is all about sarcasm. In a bright, cheery, soaring voice, Kilgour savages the kind of Prosperity Christians and related rightwingers that she may have grown up with her native Minnesota. The opening track, In America, sways along with a 90s trip-hop beat, although the layers of acoustic and electric guitars over an acoustic rhythm section gives the song a more organic feel than what you might expect:

It’s rags to riches, baby, that’s our story and we’re sticking to it
If you don’t make it big, you can’t claim the game is rigged
In America, you manifest your own destiny
Stack the deck and deal a hand and if your daddy’s rich
Every card you hold will be turned to gold
For a white man and his tricks
The bottom few could be privileged too
If they’d buckle down and try…

But at the end, Kilgour goes to the well for a punchline as devastating as anything the Clash or the Dead Kennedys ever put on vinyl.

He’ll Save Me is the centerpiece here. In this case, the sarcasm extends to the music, Kilgour’s blithely Bible-thumping protagonist chirping over a creepy, noir backdrop that’s Nashville gothic to the core:

As long as I pray I know I’ll get my way
When it comes to Judgment Day…
I don’t have to make nice
I know he’ll forgive me
Well, Jesus Christ, who do you think you are
Telling me I’ve gone too far?
…A three-car garage and a weekly massage,
I only take what I deserve
Healthcare? Don’t you know I know better
Than to hand rewards to sinners?
…She’s going to hell, another fetus killed
The Lord’s commandments say it’s true
But God bless my son as he aims his gun
At a cursed Afghani fool

The concluding, title cut is the most sarcastic of all mighty, swaying janglerock anthem, blending 90s Oasis clang with 60s Byrds jangle. The nagging, persistent cheer, delivered by the kind of know-it-all conformist we’ve all worked with (or worked for), is crushing:

There’s a man-boys’ club everywhere you look
From the Pentagon to your hippie neighbors
Keeping secrets, doing favors
‘Cause maybe in the end it’s easier to pretend
Than risk pissing off all your friends
Nobody wants a conflict
Nobody likes a tattletale
So keep your mouth shut, keep it to yourself
…Though you did what’s right
You’ll be the one to pay the price
Chances are you won’t be liked
They’ll never forgive you, Whistleblower
It’s on your shoulders
And you’re the only one to blame

The rest of Kilgour’s catalog is neither this grim nor this overtly political, but it’s just as tuneful. One suspects that Kilgour will be just as funny onstage as she is on these tracks.

Ultan Conlon Hits New York With His Broodingly Lyrical, Vivid Grey-Sky Chamber Pop

Irish crooner Ultan Conlon sings with the same kind of hesitancy at the end of a phrase that Morrissey worked for so long – and for all we know, still is working. But Conlon can also sail up high like Orbison and belt like Pierce Turner when he feels like it. His latest album, Songs of Love So Cruel – streaming at Spotify – is a gloomy cycle told from the point of view of an old man looking back on his marriage with all sorts of angst and regret. Right now Conlon’s in town, with a Dives of New York tour in the works. Tonight, August 27 at around 8:30 PM, he’s at Hifi Bar, with the lyrically brilliant, increasingly harder-rocking Linda Draper opening at 7:30. Then tomorrow, August 28 at 8 PM he’s at 12th Street Bar & Grill in Park Slope; on the 29th at one in the afternoon, he’s at Little Water Radio in South Street Seaport.

Conlon’s site doesn’t credit the musicians on the record, and that’s a pity, because the arrangements and playing are first-rate, purist and inspired: a lot of work went into this. It opens with In the Mad, a brisk janglerock anthem with a lush string section that kicks in on the second chorus. Trouble’s brewing right from the start: “It’s wild and desolate in this snow-cold land,” Conlon grouses. He follows with The Golden Sands, a backbeat janglerocker. Conlon’s narrator longs to be swept off his feet, and “You wait for the day but it’s not coming round.”

The Lumberjack, You and Me, the first of the Americana numbers here, is an elegant waltz:

On the way to the Galway railway station
With your brother there so I can’t say what I’m thinking…
A wry smile, we will meet in September
All political lives end in failure…
I don’t grow, I just cling to the vine

“There’s a trail we wore down across the years,” the protagonist laments in the elegaically shuffling, slide guitar-fueled Dance to Paper Roses. Bristlecone Pines is even more wintry and morose, contemplating what hell must be like: “My limbs will mend but there are cracks, and those ones won’t.” Then the band returns to a shuffle groove with Lonely Avenues, the closest thing to the Smiths here, Conlon reaching for the rafters.

The lush art-rock ballad Eternally evokes Pink Floyd, especially when the slide guitar enters: “Oh how my eyes deceive me now, looking out on this minefield…like seeds waiting to explode, to go up in flames.”

Conlon follows the vampy stadium-rock anthem Place Of Sanctuary with the lush, gorgeously bittersweet art-folk ballad The River Flows and The Woods Creep, a duet with Sabrina Dinan. By the time the album closes with the spare, harp-speckled When I Fell in Love With You, it’s clear that this relationship is now one for the ages. Fans of the sad side of chamber pop will have a field day with this.

Flowers Bring Their Stellar-Voiced Rainy-Day Jangle and Clang to Two New York Shows

The last time this blog caught Flowers onstage, it was at one of those predictable, tantalizingly brief CMJ early afternoon gigs at Cake Shop in October of 2014. The British trio distinguish themselves with singalong melodies, late 80s Manchester after-the-rain guitars and frontwoman Rachel Kenedy’s pure, unadorned, almost crushingly direct chorister’s voice. She’s impossible to turn away from: you can get absolutely lost in her vocal flights, much in the same vein as another extraordinary British-born singer, Amanda Thorpe, who’s making a whirlwind trip through New York this month, with a stop at Hifi Bar on June 13 at 8 PM where she’s joined by fellow guitarists Steven Butler and Don Piper. Flowers are playing a couple of shows of their own on June 11: at 2 PM, they’re at Rough Trade for free, and if you can’t get away during the day and have a sawbuck to spare, you can catch them back at Cake Shop at around 10 that night.

Last time around, Kenedy’s voice lept and dove with an unselfconscious grace and a lock on perfect pitch while drummer Jordan Hockley and guitarist Sam Ayres kept close behind: the tunes in this band start with the voice and then the instruments fill in the blanks. They opened with Here with You, making their way methodically from plaintive jangle to buzzy guitar-and-drums lo-fi indie clang. From there, they followed a syncopated sway, their frontwoman moving counterintuitively back toward a summery, hazy delivery even while the music picked up. Hockley set down a jaunty shuffle groove for the soaring number after that, Ayres chopping at his chords with exacto-knife precision.

They hit an almost trip-hop groove afterward, then pounced through their most anthemic number of the afternoon, worked their way into an unexpectedly successful, funky drive and then gave Kenedy a platform for her most spectacular leaps and bounds of the evening. They closed with a stark, skeletal number, Kenedy playing bass. It’ll be interesting to see what other directions the band has branched out into since then.

Another Hauntingly Lyrical, Richly Jangly Masterpiece from Son of Skooshny

From 1978 until the band more or less dissolved somewhere around the late 90s – yet released a final single just this year – guitarist/songwriter Mark Breyer fronted Skooshny. The jangly powerpop trio still enjoys a cult following. Sort of the missing link between the Church, Cheap Trick and Elvis Costello, they played a single live show: an Arthur Lee benefit. As cred goes, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Since the group disbanded (but hey, we can always hope), Breyer has soldiered on as Son of Skooshny. And his songwriting, always packed with clever puns, multiple levels of meaning and an incessant angst, has never been better. With arrangements and spectacular multi-instrumentation from producer Steve Refling, Son of Skooshny’s catchy, anthemic latest album, the sardonically titled Confection, is streaming at Bandcamp.

Breyer claims to be technologically inept but he has a handle on marketing, releasing most of the album as singles over the past few months. Several of these have been featured on this page as they appeared, There’s Cloud Cover, “a wistful, dreamily uneasy transcontinental flight scenario. Just a Test is even better, a backbeat stomp that’s one of the funniest songs Breyer’s ever written…and then it gets dark. Refling turns in some of his finest work as a one-man version of the Church.”

No Ho “paints a gently devastating portrait of existential angst and understated despair, a couple doomed from the start traipsing their way through a vivid LA milieu. And the title could be as savage for the girl as the narrator’s prospects are bleak.”

Half of the World is Breyer at his sardonic, metaphorically-loaded best, opening this lushly swaying 70s folk-pop gem through the eyes of a guy trying to focus as the snow swirls around his eyes: Then,

Even this drunkard who chants between sips
And tries to keep the Lord’s name on his lips
Will surely move on and progress
When the mannequin changes its dress
It can see more than half of the world

As good as these tracks are, they pale next to The Subtle Eye. It’s one of best songs to come over the transom here in the past few years, never mind months, one of those 4 AM repeat-button numbers (in context: Matthew Grimm’s suicide narrative West Allis; Marianne Dissard’s drained and depleted Am Letzen; Karla Rose’s grimly defiant Time Well Spent).

Refling’s trebly accordion sheen belies a sadness that will rip your heart out. This is about dead people appearing in dreams – and it’s a wish song. Long-gone parents make fleetingly ominous appearances; a beloved canine comes to the rescue. That Breyer doesn’t completely rule out a happy ending is almost crueler than if he’d just wrapped it up on a depressing note: be careful what you wish for since you might not get it. It capsulizes his worldview, resolutely dreaming his way through every stop sign. Watch for this on the best albums of 2016 page if we get that far.