New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: jarvis cocker

A Lush Lyrical Masterpiece from the Leisure Society

The Leisure Society play erudite, wickedly catchy, smart chamber pop and art-rock. Frontman Nick Hemming’s vocals are gentle but resolute; his tunesmithing is brilliant and his influences reveal him as someone who’s listened widely and deeply to decades worth of literate rock. The references fly fast and furious on the band’s new album Alone Aboard the Ark: the Kinks (not surprising, since Ray Davies sought them out to record at his Konk Studios, where they cut the record more or less live), Hal David and Burt Bacharach, Pulp, Elvis Costello, the Smiths, obscure but sometimes brilliant 80s bands like the Wild Swans and Shelleyan Orphan. The album is streaming at the NY Times, of all places. The British press – always with a chip on its shoulder, more than willing to misrepresent in order to win an American audience – has compared them to Fleet Foxes, the Decemberists and the like, which is ridiculous, since the Leisure Society’s hooks hit you like a Rolls-Royce with no brakes and their lyrics are also strong.

The album’s opening track, Another Sunday Psalm, contrasts a breezy backbeat acoustic guitar-and-piano pop tune with Hemming’s pensive lyric:

Can you keep this pose too many other cats are craving
They’re polishing their claws and saying in fifteen words
What took me years to hang my name upon 

A Softer Voice Takes Longer Hearing sets a cynical, morose lyric over twangy Lynchian bolero pop: “Every hour is a cavalcade to be gazed upon as it slips away,” Hemming muses.  Fight for Everyone, inspired by watching the 2012 Olympics, kicks off with trumpet from Mumford & Sons’ Nick Etwell, then the period-perfect, drolly oscillating 80s synth kicks in. Faux Rick Wakeman riffage underscores the relentless bombast and pressure that elite athletes have to endure even before the starting gun fires.

Tearing the Arches Down sardonically mingles Ziggy-era Bowie and late T Rex glam, like Edward Rogers in a particularly 1972 moment. The album’s best song is the Sylvia Plath homage The Sober Scent of Paper, Botanica noir filtered through the misty prism of 70s Britfolk – a free download in exchange for your email. All I Have Seen blends northern soul with Ronsonesque glam, building to a mad crescendo, while Everyone Understands is La Bamba as Botanica might have done it, a bitter sendup of a drama queen in 7/8 time. “What do you get for all this freewheeling? A pirouette in a castle of sand,” Hemming grouses.

Life is a Cabriolet (Edwardian British for convertible) juxtaposes bouncy swing with a doomed cynicism, followed by the similarly cynical cabaret-infused chamber pop song One Man & His Fug. The Romany-flavored title track of sorts, Forever We Shall Wait follows a Jarvis Cocker-style party animal’s desperate trajectory up to a big circus rock ending. Gay overkill doesn’t set in til the last two tracks, and if homoeroticism is your thing, you’ll like those songs too. Big-studio 1970s production values and lush yet terse playing from multi-instrumentalist Christian Hardy, violinist Mike Siddell, cellist William Calderbank, flutist Helen Whitaker, bassist Darren Bonehill and drummer Sebastian Hankins propel this magnificent beast. A lock for one of the best albums of 2013.

Haunting, Picturesque Retro Chamber Pop from Jon DeRosa

Jon DeRosa’s latest album A Wolf in Preacher’s Clothes is sort of the missing link between Jarvis Cocker and Leonard Cohen; or in a more modern context, between Ward White and Mark Sinnis. DeRosa grew up with punk, then took a plunge into goth (his Aarktika project was his main gig until he ventured into dark Americana in the mid-zeros). This one – available on vinyl in the US from Motherwest and out on Nov 5 from Rocket Girl in Europe – finds him alternating between dark, lushly crooned, Scott Walker-inflected chamber pop and more minimalist, postpunk-tinged, distantly creepy rock. Violinist Claudia Chopek’s string arrangements – also featuring Julia Kent on cello – are to die for, a rich, velvety chocolate truffle for the ears. Overhead, DeRosa’s nuanced, cat-ate-the-canary baritone lingers, sometimes ominous, sometimes with more than a hint of rakishness. And he paints a hell of a picture.

Birds of Brooklyn sets the scene, DeRosa’s crepuscular croon over Burt Bacharach-inflected chamber pop. It’s a cruel juxtaposition: all eyes are on the gentrifier girl, including the old blue-collar guy with the “thousand yard stare” drinking boilermakers and stuck with “love songs on the underside of the sports page, in a nom de plume.” That’s DeRosa’s genius: this scenario could go from elegance to cliche in a second, but he never caves in to sentimentality. This is one cynical album.

True Men sets a more wistful tone, boxing serving as its central metaphor. Over a sweeping arrangement straight out of late 50s Ricky Nelson, DeRosa lets the double entendres fly. “I’ve woken the neighbors, after hard nights of labor,” is the closing mantra. And who hasn’t? But the way he sets it up – and then knocks it down – is sweet science.

Over lush 80s goth-rock, Snow Coffin paints a chillingly allusive nocturnal scene lowlit by Sam Lazzara’s vibraphone, drummer Mike Pride throwing in some deadpan Atrocity Exhibition rolls. Teenage Goths is as sardonically funny as you’d hope it would be: it sounds like an outtake from a mid-90s Pulp album.

The hypnotic, echoey Tattooed Lady’s Blues paints an ominous afterparty scenario, with a cruelly offhand Lou Reed reference. By contrast, Who Decides balances jauntiness with a more somber noir 60s Orbisonesque vibe, weighing whether or not a “kiss is just as kiss – the sun that also rises might bring surprises.” Again, Pride’s Sonny Bono/Phil Spector drumming is spot-on. After that, DeRosa keeps the guarded optimism going with the clever, coy Don’t Say Goodnight.

Ladies in Love sets plaintive washes of strings against DeRosa’s starkly fingerpicked acoustic guitar; the album’s closing track, Hollow Earth Theory – previously released as an Aarktika song – takes the swirling, hypnotic factor up a notch.

DeRosa also gives a welcome sheen, heft and bulk to the Blue Nile‘s bitterly minimalist Easter Parade. Hearing it only makes you wonder what he could do with, say, John Cale’s Paris 1919. Throughout the album, the playing is understatedly seamless, terse, and tuneful, also including contributions from JJ Beck on accordion, Charles Newman on organ, Kendrick Strauch on piano, Matt Basile on electric and upright bass and a horn section of James Duncan on trumpet and Jon Natchez on a small army’s worth of instruments. One of the most haunting and intriguing albums of 2012: you”ll see this on the best albums of the year page here at the end of December if we make it that far.

Hannah vs. the Many’s New Album Packs a Wallop

If you like the idea of Amanda Palmer but the nerdgirl shtick makes you want to barf, Hannah vs. the Many is the band for you. Their new album All Our Heroes Drank Here is streaming at their Bandcamp site, where it’s onsale for a sarcastic-as-hell $1. Hannah Fairchild’s acidic, unaffectedly malevolent, frequently menacing songs chronicle a bleak early 21st century depression-era New York drenched in disappointment and despair. She sings with a powerful wail, has a laserlike feel for a catchy tune and a worldview that’s something less than optimistic, no surprise given the uneasy, desperate milieu her characters inhabit. Her women drink hard and crash hard when their diminishing sense of hope finally deserts them – imagine a female Jarvis Cocker, or Aimee Mann in a really bad mood, with a harder-rocking band.

Over the roar and the chime of the guitars, Fairchild slings torrents of lyrics:

Looking for your echoes in the melodies I’ve found
There are songs I sing on days you’re not around
Every time the notes are pretty, every time the notes fail me
No kiss is ever more than sugar sweet
No affection is ever more than river deep

she wails, in Muse, the album’s loudest song, a hellbent, galloping rocker. Interestingly, her most opaque lyric is set to the album’s most striking, unpredictably memorable tune, the new wave-tinged Better Off My Way. Yet that one ends cruelly as well, her shellshocked protagonist standing in the harbor up to her ankles, freezing and fooling nobody. The most unselfconsciously beautiful song on the album, and maybe its strongest track, is Jordan Baker. Lushly watery Rickenbacker guitar chiming and mingling with the piano, Fairchild casually yet meticulously paints a picture that was doomed from the start – and it ends ambiguously with what might be a suicide…or maybe just the apocalypse.

Other songs are driven more by frustration and rage than by total emotional depletion. The bouncy, dramatic opening track, A Biography of Cells caustically chronicles a would-be up-and-coming New Yorker’s frustrations in an all-too-familiar milieu that later reaches fever pitch in the corrosive noir cabaret song The Party Faithful. Proof of Movement, a frustration anthem, contrasts a claustrophobic lyric with a bustling, insistent piano-driven art-rock melody, while 20 Paces quietly and apprehensively explores a budding, doomed, drunken relationship. True Believers is a lushly orchestrated art-rock anthem that takes an offhand swipe at a crowd who “came to be seen and we stay for the show, coming together to stand here alone.” The rest of the album includes an apprehensively glimmering chamber-rock ballad simply titled Nocturne, and the lickety-split noir cabaret scenario Hideous/Adorable. There’s a lot to like here – fans of noir rock, steampunk and gypsy rock as well as classic lyrical songwriters from Elvis Costello to Randi Russo should check out this band: solid, purist playing from Matthew Healy on piano, Jake W-M on bass, Erica Harsch on drums, Josh Fox on guitar and Meredith Leich on violin. It’s an early contender for best rock record of 2012.