New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: john mcgeoch

Grim Early 80s-Style Guitar Rock From Linnea Olsson’s Maggot Heart

The last time anybody from this blog was in the house at a Linnea Olsson show, it was on a frigid February evening in 2014 at the now long-gone Highline Ballroom. Out in front of a big crowd that night, she played solo cello and sang a very brief, barely half-hour set of moody, skeletal chamber pop songs.

Olsson’s latest project is 180 degrees from that, a dark early 80s-influenced power trio, Maggot Heart. She leads the group and plays guitar, joined by bassist Olivia Airey and drummer Uno Bruniusso. Their latest album Mercy Machine is streaming at Bandcamp.

With its densely layered, ringing intro and contrastingly skronky loopiness, the opening track, Second Chance could be a more minimalist Bauhaus. For a song titled Sex Breath, the album’s punkish second cut is unexpectedly menacing, with a juicy, evilly watery guitar solo: Olsson has really taken her chops to the next level. This is a killer guitar record.

Driven by Airey’s gritty, chugging bassline, Justine wouldn’t be out of place on Siouxsie’s Juju album. The distortion on the bass gets even fuzzier for Roses, which comes across as syncopated Patti Smith with gothic chromatics and vocals spun tightly through a trebly flange effect.

Gutter Feeling has a ba-bump noir cabaret groove and some of the album’s most ghoulish lyrics: Olsson takes it galloping, doublespeed more or less, over a long bridge. The album’s death-obsessed title track is its most pummelingly punk-influenced moment: here as elsewhere, Olsson’s shrieking wide-angle chords bring to mind the late, great Siouxsie guitarist John McGeoch.

“All this talk about nothing gives us something to do,” Olsson intones cynically in High Rise, a mashup of Siouxsie and the Stooges. With its dissociative riffs popping up throughout the sonic picture, Lost Boys could be a straightforward, upbeat Live Skull number from the mid-80s.

Senseless has more of a slow, hypnotic early 80s growl and an ending where all hell breaks loose. The trio wind up this relentlessly interesting, disarmingly catchy album with Modern Cruelty and its contrastingly roaring and icy guitar multitracks, Olsson again threatening to go off the rails at any instant. Not a single substandard song on this album: there’s no telling what’s going to happen between now and the end of the year, but let’s hope there’s still a reason and an audience for a best albums of 2020 rundown when we get to December, Somebody has to keep music alive when the lockdowners are doing everything in their power to destroy it.

Surreal, Entertaining, Strangely Cinematic Themes on Curtis Hasselbring’s New Album

Curtis Hasselbring may be best known as one of the mostly highly sought-after trombonists in the New York jazz scene, but he also plays a lot of other instruments. As a guitarist, he has a very distinctive, jagged style and impeccable taste in late 70s/early 80s postpunk and new wave. He’s been involved with innumerable projects over the years, but his most psychedelic one is Curha, his mostly one-man band. Hasselbring’s music has always been defined by his sense of humor, but this is where you’ll find some of his funniest songs. The brand-new Curha II album is streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening track, Casa Grande is a tongue-in-cheek surf tune with neatly intertwining guitars and keening funeral organ, Dan Reiser supplying a low-key beach-party beat. He sticks around for the second track, Togar, an outer-space Motown theme, guest guitarist Brandon Seabrook mimicking the squiggle of the keys.

Hasselbring keeps the sci-fi sonics going in Sick of Ants!: listen closely to the watery guitar and you’ll catch his appreciation for the late, great John McGeoch of Siouxsie & the Banshees and PiL. How airy is Blimp Enthusiast, a rare vocal number? Not particularly, but this quasi trip-hop song is very funny.

The blippy Blaster comes across as a motorik tv theme on whippits. With its loopy low-register piano and clip-clop beats, Soap makes even less sense until Peter Hess’ bass clarinet ushers in a somber mood for a second. Hasselbring’s trombone appears distinctly for the first time in Murgatroid, a clever mashup of 70s disco, outer-space theme and early new wave.

With its intricately dancing web of guitar multitracks, the rather disquieting MMS has echoes of early 80s Robert Fripp; then Hasselbring takes it further toward acid jazz. He goes back to lo-fi motorik minimalism with Totally Hired, then shifts toward spare, 90s electro-lounge with History of Vistas.

He closes the album with the coyly tiptoeing Her Pebble Fusion and then Blown Bubble Blues, which is kind of obvious but irresistibly fun. Hip-hop artists in need of far-out samples need look no further. You don’t have to be high to enjoy this, but it couldn’t hurt.

Unhinged Hungarian No Wave Noir Surf Jazz

The danger in writing about an album that came out almost a year ago is that the band might not still exist. Dorota hail from Budapest: their album is a brain-warping, assaultive mix of surf rock, no wave funk and free jazz, often with a creepy noir edge. With shimmery reverb and chorus-box guitar contrasting with menacingly growling, melodic bass and a drummer who smartly chooses the spots where he gets ugly, it’s a time trip back to around 1980. If this band had been around then, they’d be worshipped for being an influence on Sonic Youth, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and god knows who else. It’s feral, fearlessly noisy, adrenalizing stuff; while there were plenty of bands who prowled around the jagged outskirts of new wave back in the day, no one sounds quite like Dorota. The album cover gives it away more or less: a rough woodcut showing a warrior, naked except for the antlers on his head, skewering a rifle-toting soldier.

They introduce their menace quietly, just steady, scraping bass over a vocal loop. The second track is sort of a twisted Besame Mucho Twist, a staggering one-chord surf jam that cruelly refuses to find any kind of resolution except in horror tonalities. A brief no wave funk interlude is followed by a sick, skronky funk tune in 7/8 time that they take down to an atmospheric interlude before bringing it back. The way these instrumentals shift shape, switch tempos abruptly and then return to something approximating coherence is the jazz element here. The best two songs are the most noirish: the first a swaying mix of surf and dark new wave built around a brooding bolero guitar hook, the second a cinematic, ten-minute southwestern gothic epic that alternates a slow, twangy, desolate desert guitar theme with ghostly, quiet interludes where shadowy flickers of sound twitch their way from the amps to the cymbals.

The best of the funky songs blends paint-peeling atonalities and junkie blues guitar over the snarl of the bass, the guitar’s watery tone and horror-film motifs echoing John McGeoch of Siouxsie & the Banshees. The funniest one is basically a one-chord jam that slowly and matter-of-factly speeds up to a whirlpool of dreampop guitar over the roar and clatter of the rhythm section. Another of the funkier tracks evokes Robert Fripp’s abrasive King Crimson stuff; the strangest of the short interludes here features bagpipes over a distant guitar din. The band brings back the bolero allusions on a song that sounds like a cross between Bauhaus and the Raybeats, and ends the album with a warped big sky theme, Bill Frisell on an acid O.D.

Does Dorota still exist? YESSSSS. Even if this is the last album they ever put out (happily, from the looks of it, there may be many more),  it’s a classic of its kind. Download it at their site and then hit their Soundcloud page where there’s even more delicious pandemonium!