New York Music Daily

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Tag: jangle rock

Melissa Gordon Brings Her Catchy Purist Retro Rock Tunesmithing Back to a Familiar Haunt

Back in 2017, this blog picked Melissa & the Mannequins as the best new rock band in New York. With frontwoman Melissa Gordon’s calm, uncluttered vocals and purist retro 80s janglerock tunesmithing, the future looked bright. Since then, the Mannequins seem to have left the store window, but Gordon has soldiered on as a solo performer and bandleader. If catchy tunesmithing and big redemptive choruses are your thing, Gordon’s songs will hit the spot. She’s returning to a familiar haunt, the small room at the Rockwood on April 6 at 8 PM. It’s a pass-the-bucket situation.

From the low-key, plainspoken acoustic sketches on her Soundcloud page, it’s clear she hasn’t been idle since the arts in this city were put on ice by the 2020 totalitarian takeover. But her magnum opus so far is the 2017 Mannequins album Mtns​/​Plane​/​Sky, which is still up at Bandcamp.

Beyond her songwriting, Gordon’s biggest drawing card is her nimble guitar work, flinging one catchy riff or flurry of chordlets into the mix. The album opens with Can’t Let Go, a gorgeous intertwine of chiming guitar textures over a low-key backbeat from drummer Oskar Hagghdal, Gordon and guitarist Steve Flakus hit a wry twin-lead break that they send wafting off in a a flangey fog. Then they take a turn into slinky, retro soul-infused funk with All the Time, eventually rising to a cheery, punchy peak over a sleek organ backdrop.

Bliss is a crunchy powerpop tune with all kinds of clever touches, from bittersweet ELO keys to big Bowie-esque flares.. The band shift from funky verse to shiny, swooshy chorus and back in the the next number, Breathe, then tale a memorably moody detour into Lynchian soul balladry with Intruder

Listen, a brisk, gorgeously angst-fueled 6/8 soul tune bristling with layers and layers of guitar, is the genuine classic here, and a high point of the band’s live show. Slip Away is another real gem, with the album’s catchiest chorus: the recorded version reveals the song’s soul roots. The last track is Night in the Park, the synthiest, new wavey-est tune here.

One beef about this album: Gordon is a fine singer, and the places where her vocals were autotuned instantly date this music to a time when the entertainment-industrial complex was trying to wean people off human artistry and replace it with computers. Historians looking back at the early 21st century will shudder at how successful that meme turned out to be.

A Feast of Jangle and Clang From David Koral

Psychedelic lead guitarists are not usually associated with lyricism, but David Koral is the rare guy who is. He has an impressively eclectic history playing in various New York rock scenes and is also a first-class songwriter with a strong lit-rock streak. He’s got a couple of singles up at Bandcamp that you should hear.

The latest one, Morning Gathers In comes at you in waves, a rainy-day janglefest like peak-era mid-80s REM without the mumblemouth. This one’s an imagistically loaded cross-Manhattan stroll:

Dark in a flash
In your eyes
Was a taste
For a night to behold
A flight to unfold

There’s also an older song, Handful of Mist. which makes a good segue. It’s a little more upbeat: you can hear influences as diverse as the Rain Parade, the Church and Jefferson Airplane. Now if he would only break out that long-rumored cover of Billy Idol’s Flesh For Fantasy…

Singles for the (Almost) Ides of March

This blog predicted that 2022 would be way better than 2021. The global totalitarians’ ongoing death throes have been ugly – Justin Trudeau building a shitlist and seizing citizens’ bank accounts for wrongthink seems to be a prototype. But the blowback has been fierce, and reason for real optimism. No wonder the narrative has suddenly been shifted from hygiene theatre to the latest circus of two corrupt-AF ex-Soviet kleptocrats duking it out, with no thought to the colossal toll on their respective nations’ populations.

Another reason for optimism is that more and more musicians are stepping back into the ring. Today we celebrate that with a short, roughly twenty-five minute self-guided playlist. Click on artist names for their webpages, click on song titles for audio.

Americana songwriter Kaitlin ButtsBlood comes across as a very subtle protest song disguised as a fierce kiss-off ballad, set to a simmering oldschool country backdrop with some tasty resonator guitar. “My name dragged through the mud, and godawful things swept under the rug.” Relatable, huh?

Dr. Jordan Peterson may be known as one of the most insightful researchers and analysts in the reality space, but as it turns out he’s also a songwriter! His latest anthem, Wake Up is an aptly creepy, Floydian art-rock tune with a shifting cast of vocalists.

Lowly Weep, by UK songstress Darkher, is a heavier art-rock take on the mystical gothic sound that New York’s own Kristin Hoffmann was exploring back in the late zeros and teens. Don’t let the awkward title put you off.

Here’s Good Before, by another moody songwriter, Maria BC, rainy-day jangle-and-clang spacerock. All is not so safe in her hotel womb.

Let’s wind up the playlist on a positive note. Rapper Bryson Gray‘s No Mask No Vax – featuring his bud Forgiato Blow – is a singalong Pitbull-style banger. Gray is a man of many lyrical styles and as rugged as individualists get, as he makes clear in Controlled, a hilarious, golden age-style dis at everyone who hates on him. “Big Pharma must be lobbying rappers.” Thanks to fearless investigative journalist and incorrigible listmaker Sharyl Attkisson for the tipoff.

Today’s last song is an oldie, from 2016. How did Debris, by Neia Jane, pop up on the radar here earlier this week? It was on autoplay after a completely unrelated Soundcloud clip. Imagine Guided by Voices at their majestic, multitracked peak, but with a woman out front

Tasha Delivers Catchy, Low-Key, Evocative Jangle and Clang

Tasha sings in a calm, breathy, sometimes airy voice and writes catchy janglerock songs. She likes open tunings and doesn’t waste notes. Her album Tell Me What You Miss the Most is streaming at Bandcamp.

She bookends the album with two versions of Bed Song. It’s an original, not the Amanda Palmer classic. The first is more spare and acoustic; the second take of this verdant open-tuned tune, akin to pastoral, mostly-acoustic 70s Pink Floyd, is more enveloping and psychedelic.

The full band join her on the album’s second song, History, an electric tune with spare lead guitar and a slow country-flavored sway. She picks up the pace with Perfect Wife, its rainy-day jazz chords and lo-fi synth flutes. Then she mashes up those two styles in Sorry’s Not Enough.

An echoey, evocative seaside tableau, Love Interlude introduces Dream Still, a return to swaying, optimistic after-the-rain jangle. Then Tasha picks up her acoustic for the steadily fingerpicked, warmly hypnotic sunset theme Burton Island

As befits a vast body of water, Lake Superior is the most orchestrated, expansive track here. Tasha follows that with the enticingly enigmatic Year From Now. If you’re looking for a thoughtful way to start a weekend morning, this is a good stepping-off point. Even better, it’s available on cassette!

Lush, Majestically Jangly Art-Rock and Spacerock From Guitar Icon Marty Willson-Piper’s Space Summit

Space Summit picked a good bandname: they’re a trans-global collective of spacerock and art-rock luminaries. Marty Willson-Piper, this era’s foremost twelve-string guitarist, pulled the project together. He’s the architect of the many, luscious layers of guitar and bass on their new album Life This Way, streaming at Spotify. The obvious comparison is Willson-Piper’s old band, Australian legends the Church in their energetic early years. If melodic, impeccably crafted guitar sounds are your thing, this is your holy grail.

Interestingly, the opening track, I’m Electric comes across as a more direct, snarling take on the kind of drifting midtempo spacerock the Church played throughout the 90s. Willson-Piper brings the roar down on the choruses, where Dare Mason’s keys, Olivia Willson-Piper’s strings and Nicklas Barker’s mellotron float in.

Harmony singer Phoebe Tsen shadows frontman Jed Bonniwell on the album’s title track, Willson-Piper’s quasar guitars and the mellotron providing a lushly textured backdrop. Ancient Towers has an aptly majestic minor-key jangle and clang, austere violin blending into the mix, drummer Eddie John adding the occasional tumbling flourish.

Queen Elizabeth’s Keys is a coyly strolling, chiming look back at 60s British psychedelic pop with a current-day digital sheen. Uneasily close-harmonied vocals float over the increasingly bristling guitar intertwine and insistent beat of Deep Paisley Underground. Then the group shift gears with Fold With the Light, its more broodingly anthemic acoustic-electric layers giving way to more of a sunshine pop feel.

They mix up the riffs, from lingering steel guitar to gentle chime and drifting atmosphere in Marlowe, one of the album’s more intriguing narratives. The Four Horses of Venice has more of an orchestral folk lushness, Willson-Piper finally firing off a tantalizingly brief, savage solo.

The dreamiest track here is Dome of Light, Willson-Piper’s sinuous leads piercing the veil. The band bring the album full circle, more or less, with the allusively ominous If You Believe. Now for the surprise: all this was recorded in diverse sonic environments all over the world. Credit Mason for pulling this together into such a lavish, contiguous mix.

Brilliantly Catchy Rock Tunesmithing on Noga’s Debut Album

The way songwriter Noga’s bassline winds and leaps around the catchy chords of the title track to her new album The Alchemist is absolutely sublime. She also plays acoustic guitar on it, parsing the loaded nature imagery of the lyrics in a gentle, uncluttered delivery. The main theme here is finding inner calm and holding on to it. Stay centered, we’re going to win this, Noga seems to be telling us: words of wisdom for 2021, for sure.

The rest of the album – streaming at Bandcamp – is just as catchy. The second track, Any Kind of Dream has subtle layers of keys from Frank LoCrasto, steady bass from Scott Collberg and lithe syncopation from drummer Jason Nazary behind a tune that reminds of the Cure at their mid-80s poppy peak without being a total ripoff.

LoCrasto’s swirly organ and twinkly glockenspiel patch blend together in the tenderly expectant Special Friend. The last song is Tides, Nazary’s subtle, anthemically rising riffs fueling a long. increasingly intense upward drive with Noga’s layers of Velvets-style guitars. Her tunesmithing is uncommonly smart, she doesn’t waste notes and she could write a catchy hook in her sleep. Let’s hope there’s more where this came from.

All-Female Norwegian Janglerockers Veps Get Off to a Good Start

Usually when a publicist sends out a pitch for a recording by someone under 20, it’s because somewhere there are parents with a spoiled brat…or those parents are trying to live vicariously through their poor offspring. At the same time, it’s stupid to disrespect people because of their age. Annabella Lwin was fronting Bow Wow Wow at 14. John Lydon was 17 when he joined the Sex Pistols; George Harrison was 19 when John Lennon recruited him for the Beatles. Not to mention acts like the Carter Family or the Staples Singers.

All-female Oslo group Veps’ four members are all 17, they don’t sound anything like the Sex Pistols or much like the Beatles either, but they’re a good band. Guitarist Laura, keyboardist Helena, bassist June and drummer Maja are all competent musicians and they can write a catchy janglerock song. Their debut album Open the Door is streaming at Bandcamp.

The first track is Girl on TV, a slow, catchy, knowingly cynical look at the the dark side of celebrity:

Her fingers wrapped around her secrets
Tearing down the walls is getting frequent
She’s the kind that’s always insecure
She’s lonely so she never shuts the door

And it gets more disturbing from there.

The second track is Do I Hear a Maybe: the ooh-oohs are a schlocky touch, but this post-Velvets anthem, with its big chorus, has balls. Track three, Ecstasy is a bizarre mashup of gothic early 80s Cure and current-day urban corporate pop.

“You ran away on demand,” the band scream at Oliver, the faithless dude in the big powerpop ballad they wrote about him. Funny Things has a lot of haphazardly biting chord changes: the Cure are in there, but maybe early Lush too. Somebody in this band has a good record collection (or Spotify playlists).

They close the album with Colorblind, a brisk, skittish, strutting tune with some unexpected Pink Floyd changes. Here’s hoping Veps stay together, survive this year and go on to even better things.

Fun fact: the inspiration for the band’s name comes from the time a wasp flew into their rehearsal space and everybody screamed, “VEPS!” Maya was able to kill the invader before anyone got stung.

A Richly Lyrical, Understatedly Haunting New Album From the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris

With his usual modesty, Gary Louris would probably call himself the co-leader of the Jayhawks. But the reality is that they didn’t become one of the best bands in the world until he took over as their main songwriter. And that’s not meant as disrespect to Karen Grotberg, Marc Perlman and Tim O’Reagan, whose harmonies became so crucial to Louris’ eclectic lyrical brilliance, which blends influences from Big Star, to Bowie, to all sorts of Americana and psychedelia.

Beyond the Jayhawks, Louris has released plenty of material, notably with Golden Smog. His latest solo record, Jump for Joy is streaming at Spotify. The title could be taken at face value, or as total sarcasm. It’s definitely an album for our time: the spectre of death and impending doom hangs over many of the songs here, although there’s some upbeat material as well.

He opens with Almost Home, a cheerfully shuffling, Tex-Mex flavored, band-on-the-road saga livened by his usual colorful narrative detail. Living in Between could be the Jayhawks: gorgeously Beatlesque vocal harmonies, bittersweet changes, some George Harrison-ish slide guitar and an allusively troubled look at the bewildering state of the world. “All the books that I have read didn’t get me through,” Louris concedes. Ain’t that the truth.

Set to a hypnotic web of open-tuned acoustic guitars, White Squirrel is another typically imagistic number, a hopeful anthem for anyone who feels alienated and atomized by encroaching New Abnormal fascism. It’s Louris’ Rock N Roll Suicide.

Driven by a sunshiney keyboard riff that wouldn’t be out of place on the Jayhawks’ Smile album, the fourth track is titled New Normal. It’s surreal to the extreme, although Louris finally drops the facade as his guitar solo goes sputtering over the edge, the world outside “gathering like slow death, nipping at your heels.”

He salutes John Updike in the glamrock anthem after that: it brings to mind Ward White‘s most literary work. The guitars chime and shimmer throughout the Merseybeat-flavored next cut, Follow. The rest of the record alternates gloomy numbers with contrasting optimism, beginning with the richly textured, wintry guitars of Too Late the Key, a somber contemplation of missed exits with potentially catastrophic results.

One Way Conversation is an enigmatic, pensive, possibly elegaic number with tinges of Kraftwerk, Indian music and the Grateful Dead. The album’s chiming, lush title track is very guardedly exuberant: “Hip hip hooray for the longue dureé, bearing this parade of souls.” He closes with the eight-minute, late-Beatlesque apocalyptic epic Dead Man’s Burden. It asks more questions than it answers. Do we have it in us to transcend the residue of unsustainable evil left over from the Cold War, from centuries of ravaging the environment and anything else that got in our way? We’re going to have to figure that out this fall and winter when the toll from the needle of death starts to skyrocket.

Iconic Guitarist and Bassist Release a Blissfully Gorgeous Duo Record

The preeminent jazz guitarist of our time and one of our era’s greatest and most distinctive bassists played a gorgeous 2017 duo session originally released as part of a box set which is now available for the first time as a stand-alone vinyl record. Bassist Skúli Sverrisson wrote the music on his album Strata – streaming at Spotify – for guitarist Bill Frisell, whose resonant lyricism and judicious, terse overdubs are a perfect fit for these sublime melodies. Frisell likes working in a duo situation and in 35 years of recording, this is his best album in that configuration. Pretty much everything Frisell has ever done since this blog went live has ended up in the ten-best list at the end of the year and this should be no exception.

The first track on the record is Sweet Earth, a lingering, echoey, jangly, distantly Britfolk-tinged theme. The bass is typically so sparse that it’s almost invisible…or simply seamless. The second song, Instants has the feel of an arpeggiated Nordic space-surf instrumental: right up Frisell’s alley, or one of them. Again, the intertwine of the two instruments is such that it’s often impossible to figure out who’s playing what, especially as the song takes on a more fugal feel, or when the bass is shadowing the guitar.

Frisell plays twelve-string on the ravishing, chiming, bittersweet Vanishing Point, a waltz pulsing along on a steady, emphatically minimalist bassline. Ancient Affection is more complex, Frisell adding ominously psychedelic fuzztone resonance beneath the increasingly intricate, glistening thicket overhead. Sverrisson’s spare chromatics add suspense to his steady arpeggios beneath Frisell’s spare, echoey riffs in the austere, moody Came to Light, which closes the first album side.

Side two opens with Cave of Swimmers, a slow, rapt, warily strolling theme with distant baroque echoes. There’s also a spare, gently emphatic fugal sensibility in Amedeo, Frisell’s low accents adding a warm resolve to this otherwise rather opaque tune.

Sverrisson’s variations on a staggered, loping riff hold the foreground as Frisell fills out the picture with a lingering bittersweetness in Afternoon Variant. The simply titled Segment is an echoey tone poem of sorts. The duo wind up the album with Her Room and its gentle echoes of a well-known David Lynch film theme. Whether you call this jazz or jangly rock – it’s both, in the best possible ways – this is one of the most unselfconsciously beautiful albums of the year.

Theme From a Twisted Summer Place

Irene Pena‘s new single The Summer Place – streaming at Big Stir Records – is a venomously hilarious powerpop gem, the missing link between LJ Murphy’s Pretty For the Parlor and that famous Squeeze song. Behind the chalet, this holiday is never complete with some sick drama.. If JD Salinger had been a janglerock guy, he would have written this. “Injuries fade but the memories last a lifetime.”