New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: josh fox guitar

Hannah vs. the Many Battle the Sound at Cake Shop

Hannah vs. the Many played the album release show for their latest one, Ghost Stories, at Cake Shop Thursday night. Frontwoman/guitarist Hannah Fairchild’s songs are lyrically driven, and the vocals were hit-and-miss in the mix all night, beginning with the opening bands and continuing through her band’s ferocious, roughly 40-minute set. So this was a chance to focus on Hannah the tunesmith. She’s just as strong with the tunes as she is with the words and the vocals (too bad there were issues, since this club usually has much better sound than in your typical bodega basement). Guitarist Josh Fox is her not-so-secret weapon, weilding spaghetti western/crime jazz twang against acidic postpunk chords, judicious single-note harmonies and roaring punk riffage. Fairchild is no slouch on guitar herself, wailing and tremolo-picking her Strat with a slasher menace as the drums pummelled and the bassist (yeah – this band has bass now!) played tight, melodic lines.

The opening number, Poor Leander – a lit-rock scorcher from the new album – got a menacingly scampering, chord-chopping  psychobilly edge fueled by long drum rolls over bridge and some paint-peeling vocals from Fairchild, whose vocals are even better live than in the studio. The twin slasher guitars on the twin suicide anthem All Eyes on Me led up to a cartwheeling bridge and then a false ending that faked out the crowd. Jordan Baker, Fairchild’s gentlest and arguably most haunting song matched her elegantly apocalyptic lyric to a quiet jangle that Fox finally lit into with some otherworldly swoops before the last chorus kicked in.

There were a couple of new songs, one that built from noir to a punkish scamper, another that worked a skeletal/explosive dynamic;. Fairchild’s song structures don’t follow any kind of typical verse/chorus architecture, and from the looks of things that’s not about to change. Her next song, Muse, galloped along with a scathing, bitter lyric: “No kiss is ever more than sugar sweet/No affection is ever more than river deep.” Then they took the breathlessly sardonic Biography of Cells down to just the cymbals and Fairchild’s guitar for the last verse. The equally searing Lady of the Court – another track from the new album – had a Fox guitar solo in place on the wry 80s synth on the album and was better for it. They wound up with an absolutely bloodcurdling version of the raging noir cabaret anthem The Party Faithful and closed with a sarcastic, punked-out cover of some mallstore pop song. A lot of people in the crowd sang along. but for others, it was a WTF moment. That Hannah vs. the Many’s songs are better known in some circles than, say, Lady Gag, says a lot about the state of the rock music world in 2013.

While Fairchild’s lyrics tend to be on the venomous side, she had a coy repartee going with the crowd and with her band – when her drummer called her out for wearing her underwear on the outside of her fishnets, she didn’t blink. That every guy on the Lower East Side wasn’t packed into Cake Shop to enjoy those visuals pretty much speaks for what’s happened to the neighborhood.

The opening bands were good, too, if not particularly tight. The 9 PM act, Toronto’s Fast Romantics, worked an retro 80s/90s Britrock vibe that evoked both the Smiths and Pulp without being arch or affected. The high point was a decent cover of Pulp’s classic anti-fauxhemian anthem Common People, which is almost 20 years old now but in a lot of ways was the perfect song for the night, considering what part of town the band was playing in. Pep, the 10 PM act, had a trio of women out front singing fetchingly catchy, Spector-ish 60s girl-group pop and oldschool soul.

Another Assaultively Brilliant Album from Hannah vs. the Many

It’s never safe to say that one artist is the best in a particular genre: every time you think you’ve heard everything, a songwriter like Nehedar comes out of the woodwork and blows you away. But it’s safe to say that there is no better lyricist, tunesmith or singer in rock right now than Hannah Fairchild of Hannah vs. the Many. Her previous album All Our Heroes Drank Here was rated #13 on the best of 2012 list here and probably should have been #1. With its torrents of lyrics, savage humor, menacing noir cabaret cascades, scorching guitar riffage and relentless angst – not to mention Fairchild’s searing, wounded wail – it illustrates a bitter, doomed urban milieu as memorable as anything Leonard Cohen or Jarvis Cocker ever wrote. Hannah vs. the Many have a new ep aptly titled Ghost Stories just out and an album release show coming up on Nov 14 at Cake Shop. They’re ferociously good live, and Fairchild is as charismatic a frontwoman as you would expect after hearing her studio material.

The new ep reinvents several of the tracks from Fairchild’s 2010 solo album Paper Kingdoms. It’s amazing how different they are, yet how much the original, mostly acoustic versions sound like demos for these volcanic full-band performances.

All Eyes on Me builds from layers of resonant guitar from Fairchild and her brilliant lead player, Josh Fox, as the organ and keys rise to a slashing insistent Strat-fueled chorus. The narrative could be about a triumphant flight above the “the sorry strangers under glass, no time to think about their lives, identical in horror” – or it could be the desperate tale of a double suicide told from the point of view of someone with no fear of the reaper.

Lady of the Court is Fairchild at the top of her dramatic power, a bitter cautionary tale from the perspective of someone who’s just willing enough to work her way up…but to what? From its faux-bombastic twin guitar intro, it hits a roaring anthemic groove, Fairchild’s voice low and menacing as she traces another angst-fueled trajectory:

Unlikely princess in the eyes of the day-old drunks
I’ve never been the girl whose name is in the title
The story is ending and the world just blurs away
Turning pages and waiting on the hero
I am a guardian of thieves
Flying on unbuttoned sleeves 
Falling in the backstreets but not for too long

It hits a wry 80s keyboard interlude on the way to a surprise ending.

Nicollet captures a bitter breakup over creepy piano-based art-rock. The original version has a folkie acoustic feel, albeit with a distant menace; what’s stunning about this version is how much more power, yet more nuance there is in Fairchild’s voice:

Crossing yourself at my door
You’ve come seeking some quick and easy absoloution
But I’m only as clean as the floors I’ve been kneeling on

The most explosive and arguably best song here is Poor Leander, a corrosively poignant account of two probably irreparably damaged souls hell-bent on NOT making things work, set to marauding noir cabaret rock:

Bedsheet around your shoulder, scrapes on both your knees
Were you running off the rooof again, my broken friend?
Now you’re flying out to save her from the latest ivory castle that you found
But the second she lets you in her window it’ll all come crashing down

The closest thing to the original here is the luridly torchy, aptly titled Slow Burn, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Julia Haltigan catalog. As with the rest of the album, guitars gleam and smolder, electric piano tingles and Fairchild’s voice rises from an anxious murmur to a vengeful scream and then back again. Forget about Grace Potter and all those wannabes: Hannah vs. the Many are the real deal, the teens equivalent of what Siouxsie & the Banshees were in the 80s or the Avengers ten years before.

Doing Shots with Haley and Hannah

Saturday night at Webster Hall, singer Haley Bowery waited about half an hour into her show before she reached behind the sound monitor and pulled out the gun. Before the song started, she’d lured several people in the crowd to the edge of the stage with the promise of whiskey. She pumped the rifle, then held it steady in her right hand, taking aim at a guy in the front row. As his jaw dropped, she fired at him.

If he’d been as steady on his feet as her aim was – Keith Richards’ right hand has nothing on Haley Bowery’s – he would have gotten a generous mouthful of hooch. It wasn’t bottom shelf, either: whatever she’d filled that big black heavy-duty squirt gun with, it was decent whiskey. As the band stomped behind her, she moved on to the next person, and then the next. A couple of them came back for seconds and she took her time with them: at least a couple of people left the show with a free buzz. But that’s not the only reason why it’s impossible not to like Haley Bowery.

Her songs imagine a CBGB of the mind, but not from the punk rock era. Instead, her glam-infused four-on-the-floor rock has a little bit of Bowie, the Dolls, maybe T-Rex but through the prism of cynical 80s New York powerpop, with all the accoutrements: the leather boots, the torn fishnets, the booze, the defiant pose and maybe other stuff. It’s a lifestyle, and she seems hell-bent on putting across the fact that she’s living it – and maybe building a tribe of fellow troublemakers who also consider themselves born strange (which is the title of the album whose release she was celebrating). Her band the Manimals is tight and unexpectedly diverse: solid Attis Jerrell Clopton on drums, surprisingly eclectic Patrick Deeney on guitar and Joseph Wallace (who also plays in the excellent Wallace on Fire) on bass, with Matthew Pop guesting on keys on a couple of numbers. She didn’t waste time getting to the point: “Fuck the rest of ’em, let’s paaaarty,” she ordered the crowd the end of Halloween, a lurching anthem that with a little youtubing could be the theme for next year’s freshman class and many afterward. Some of her songs turned out to be unexpectedly bittersweet, like 29, a wistful ballad pondering  how to stay young when you’re staring down the wrong side of 30. A little later she turned to the bitterness and anger of Blitzed, a kiss-off song whose protagonist “Tried to find my bliss, and I got blitzed”- and then “If you need me, boy that ship has sailed.” And Undertow (the backdrop for the booze and the squirt gun) implored everyone to “Drink your whiskey up for the people who never thought you’d be more than a zero.” Revenge is sweet.

Opening act Hannah vs. the Many took that theme further. With a ferocious, spun-steel wail, charismatic frontwoman/guitarist Hannah Fairchild poured out torrents of double entendres and embittered imagery over catchy melodies that ranged from roaring punk-pop to hauntingly ornate, slower, artsier ballads. Her four-piece band didn’t have a bass player this time out, but that didn’t phase them, lead guitarist Josh Fox raising the songs’ searing ambience with long, echoing, slowly twisting sustained notes drenched in cold reverb. Fairchild projects a warmth and nonchalance in contrast with her songs’ raging angst: she reflected on how nice she felt the audience was, but then she related how when she’d just arrived here from her native Minnesota, people had said the same thing about her. “So I called up my girl friend and told her that, and she just laughed. I’m Minnesota mean!”

But her songs aren’t so mean as they’re just plain anguished: they’re anthems for a new generation of smart, alienated kids. The best one of the entire night, and the quietest one, was Jordan Baker, a torchy, sadly bouncing chamber-pop song that Jarvis Cocker would be proud to have written, and it was there that the audience split up: the front row bobbing their heads in unison, completely lost in Fairchild’s tale of infatuation despite knowing better, while the crowd in back noisily readied themselves for the whiskey. The rest of the show was a lot louder: over scorching punk-noir and stagy, gypsy-tinged dark cabaret, Fairchild savaged poseurs, backstabbers and the slow death of hope in a city full of promises that end up dashed in the crush simply to survive as rents rise and imagination is drowned out in the roar of conspicuous consumption and a cultivated shallowness. “How long before the suburbs come to claim us?” she pondered toward the end of Fox’s Wedding, as the song built from almost a whisper to a wail. A lot of the songs were new, and considerably louder than the haunting, often piano-based tracks on her absolutely brilliant new album All Our Heroes Drank Here: whether she follows that or remains sort of a New York teens counterpart to Pulp, she’s someone to keep an eye on. In a way, Haley Bowery was the perfect segue: there wasn’t any way anybody was going to top Fairchild as far as intensity was concerned, so, fuck the rest of ’em, it was time to party. Hannah vs. the Many are at Spike Hill on July 7 at 11; Haley Bowery’s next gig is a private show (well, sort of – her site lists it as July 17 at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, presumably indoors).

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.