New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: kinks band

Heaters Bring Their Envelopingly Tuneful Psychedelia to South Williamsburg

Heaters‘ new album Baptistina – soon to be streaming at Bandcamp, and available on both green and black vinyl – further cements their reputation as one of the world’s most consistently excellent dark retro psychedelic bands. What’s most impressive about them is that a close listen reveals how seldom they change chords. They can vamp out on one for minutes on end and it never gets boring because there are so many interesting things going on, texturally and melodically: repeaterbox echoes flitting through the mist, shifting sheets of feedback and jagged twelve-string guitar incisions in contrast with an enveloping quality that seems to draw on Indian classical music as much as it does classic 60s psychedelia. The trio – guitarist Nolan Krebs, guitarist/bassist Andrew Tamlyn and drummer Joshua Korf – also shift tempos on a dime, making things all the more strange and compelling. They’re playing the album release show at Baby’s All Right on August 5 at 10 PM; cover is $10.

The obvious influence is the 13th Floor Elevators, but there’s also a little early Country Joe & the Fish as well as Brian Jonestown Massacre in the mix as well as a whole slew of other influences. The sonics are period-perfect: guitars awash in reverb with a clanging, slightly tinny vintage Vox amp attack, trebly melodic bass hanging back with the drums. The opening track, Centennial, begins with a Byrdsy jangle and ends with White Light/White Heat guitar freakout .The lushly crescendoing Ara Pacis puts Syd Barrett on a Magical Mystery Tour bus, while the expansive soundscape Orbis brings to mind early Nektar.

Elephant Turner pounces along on a tricky fuzz bass riff, sinuous guitar interweave overhead. Garden Eater sets a nimbly scampering bassline over a steady, swirly stomp and then floats off into spacerock. Another catchy fuzztone bassline fuels Dali, which then sinks in a morass of trippy waves. Then the band picks things up again with Mango, referencing both the Kinks as well as early 70s proto-metal.

The resonant spacerock ambience returns as the band sets the controls for the heart of the sun in Voyager. The album winds up with the teasingly loopy instrumental Turkish Gold and then the catchy, propulsively tumbling Seafoam, Del Shannon on brown acid, winidng up with the longest, most searing guitar solo here. This is music for people who won’t settle for merely being stoned: it’s a soundtrack for getting high as a kite.

Their excellent, somewhat more kinetic previous album Holy Water Pool is also streaming at Bandcamp, for the most part. Kamikaze, a slowly simmering, echo-drenched minor-key neo-Elevators number, opens it, bass rising as the chorus winds up, twelve-string guitar piercing the reverb cloud. There’s also the loping and then frantic spaghetti western blues of Master Splinter; the careenng Highway 61 vamp Sanctuary Blues; Propane, with its spiky/drony neo-Velvets sway and artfully menacing rhythmic shifts. the jangly, catchy Hawaiian Holiday and its playful tv theme references; the uneasy Bakersfield twang-influenced Detonator Eyes; Bad Beat, a mashup of early Pretty Things, Brian Jonestown Massacre and Radio Birdman; the starlit stoner soul of Gum Drop; Honey, a Blues Magoos/Count Five hybrid; Cap Gun, which very cleverly nicks the chords from a new wave-era cheeseball hit; and Dune Ripper, part BJM, part Byrds. The band takes their time with each of these, although they don’t go on nearly as long as that previous sentence.

The Skull Practitioners Bring Their Tuneful Noiserock Assault to Grand Victory

The Skull Practitioners are just about the ultimate Halloween band – but not in a campy way. There’s no way any other group could have played as genuinely menacing, or deliciously noisy a set as the trio of guitarist Jason Victor, bassist Kenneth Levine and drummer Alex Baker did that night at Pine Box Rock Shop in Bushwick. The reason that their reverb-drenched noiserock assault works so well is because their songs are so catchy. They’re always going off the rails in one way or another, but there’s always a tune somewhere – even if it’s about to come unglued. They’re bringing their mix of savage jams and deceptively tight tunesmithing to Grand Victory in Williamsburg on December 9 at around 9:30.

These days everybody agrees that Victor is the best guitarist ever to play in Steve Wynn‘s band – and now, also in the Dream Syndicate, considering that Wynn has resuscitated his legendary 80s paisley underground outfit. And since Victor is always out on the road dueling with Wynn, he hasn’t had much time off for this project until the last couple of months, when they’ve been playing out a lot. That probably explained why they were as tight as they are their twisted debut cassette (which is also streaming at Bandcamp).

At the Halloween show, they got in and got out, Ramones style: seven songs in half an hour, then called it quits. Levine’s catchy bass riffage in tandem with Baker’s tersely bounding drums anchored Victor’s smoldering, anguished bends and swoops laced with shards of feedback when he wasn’t burning through a catchy chorus with the kind of rich Telecaster roar that few other guitarists – maybe Orville Neeley of the OBNIIIs – can generate. A tight, purposeful groove anchored the opening instrumental, Victor leaping through a cloud of reverb into a furious chorus and then winding his way through a rattlesnake of a string-wrenching solo.

A couple of friends of the band took turns hollering vocals that might or might not have been made up on the spot, just like much of the music. The band worked a biting, minimalist early 80s postpunk Gang of Four/Wire riff on the second song, but with more gravitas and edge than either of those bands. They segued into the ominous, Dream Syndicate-influenced third number, Victor flailing around wildly until he’d found his footing as the band took the song doublespeed and then back to a careening sway. The song after that had a chugging Train Kept a-Rolling style rhythm, Victor alternating between savage bluesmetal and raw, reverb-drenched noise. From there they hit an insistent, metalish attack, like a punk take on early Iron Maiden, then did a couple of numbers that could have been James Williamson-era Iggy Pop but more unhinged, Victor ripping his way through catchy Kinks-ish riffage, tense Dream Syndicate jangle, a funny Link Wray quote and a teeth-gnashing tremolo attack that pulled and eventually ripped away from the song’s central riff. So no matter how far out he went, the song never got lost. Listening back to a cheap recording of that show, along with a bunch of equally savage tracks the band cobbled together in the studio recently, is reason to believe the Grand Victory gig could be even more intense.

Singles for 10/25 – Going to the Back of the Garage

No comic relief today, just dark-ish garagey sounds – Halloween is coming after all. Here’s Majestico revisiting a gutter blues sound that was all the rage on the Lower East Side twenty years ago (youtube).

The High Learys’ Clear My Mind is the Doors circa 1967 mashed up with the Kinks – cool stuff with vintage organ (soundcloud). And Seattle band Mega Bog’s Year of Patience reminds of British revivalists Comet Gain a couple of decades ago, scampering dreampop-tinged female-fronted janglerock with a little bit of Brill Building la-la’s and some real nice alto sax drenched in reverb (soundcloud).

Guided By Voices’ Brilliant English Little League: The Other Blogs Got It All Wrong

You can never trust the indie music press: they screw everything up. For the past month, the blogosphere has been abuzz with the ostensibly bad news that Guided By Voices‘ fourth album (!!!!) in the past year, English Little League, is a dud. And that’s dead wrong.

It’s the best of the four, in fact, one of the best albums of the band’s celebrated career, even with the reinvigorated “classic” lineup of guitarists Tobin Sprout and Mitch Mitchell, bassist Greg Demos and drummer Kevin  Fennell. With their two-guitar attack, especially, there was always a hint that they were about to head in more of an art-rock direction, and this is the album where they finally do that. Which makes their ever-more anthemic sound even more intriguing, considering that none of the album’s sixteen songs go on for much more than two and a half minutes, if that. Frontman Robert Pollard is as inscrutable and sometimes frustrating as ever, but he’s still pretty unsurpassed as a surrealist visionary: among the unexpected lyrical gems here are a creepy recurrent theme of “friction in Japan,” a “fishtank with black sails” and a shout out to Zero Mostel, possibly the first ever in a rock song. Behind him, the band plays with fury and drollery and a rich, mentholated, reverb-toned resonance.

They get off on a good foot with the first single, Xeno Pariah, a post-Kinks romp with a tricky tempo and the gorgeous guitar sonics that will linger throughout all the other fully fleshed out songs here (impressively, most of them are). Know Me As Heavy works a solid backbeat drive, like Oasis with a sense of humor in lieu of insufferable attitude. Island (She Talks in Rainbows) rises from a hushed tiptoe to a killer four-chord hook, psychedelic 60s Britpop spun through Pollard’s wryly fractured lens. Trashcan Full of Nails pulses like mid-70s Who as it reaches for a tongue-in-cheek stadium rock swagger, while Send to Celeste (And the Cosmic Athletes) follows a trajectory up from elegant chamber rock, like the Church but with a smirk.

Quiet Game stomps along on a hypnotic riff in a gritty Steve Wynn garage rock way. Noble Insect is a dead ringer for apprehensive late 70s era Wire, except that it has a groove. The most nebulous, traditionally indie thing here is Crybaby 4 Star Hotel, which works because of the lyrics, followed by Flunky Minnows, which looks back to the Beatles and Kinks for a tune but gives the lead line to the bass.

Birds is dreampop as the Church (them again) would have done it if dreampop had existed in 1982. The Sudden Death of Epstein’s Ways is a Brian Epstein reference, given away by the gorgeously ornate Sgt. Pepper tune: what it means isn’t clear. The Fab Four are also referenced on Taciturn Caves, which is like Hey Jude with guitars, while the final track sounds like the Clash done as powerpop. Admittedly, there are a trio of what appear to be solo Pollard sketches featuring a disastrously out-of-tune piano that were unwisely included here. But that’s a small price to pay for tunesmithing this offhandedly brilliant. Count this among the best albums of 2013. To all the Bushwick and Wicker Park blogs who dissed this album: up yours.

Jacco Gardner’s Period-Perfect Psychedelia Comes to NYC

Psychedelic songwriter Jacco Gardner’s new album Cabinet of Curiosities so perfectly recreates the surrealistically vaudevillian sound of 60s British psychedelic pop that it could be a parody. Consider: the central instrument here is the electric harpsichord. If you’ve ever killed time with “classic rock” radio, you know the sound: Ray Manzarek plays one on the Doors’ People Are Strange. Gardner delivers his paradoxical, sometimes befuddled lyrics in in perfect deadpan English, his purist second-generation Beatles melodies mingling with the baroque via an endless series of vintage and neo-vintage keyboard patches. Does he realize how completely absurd, and completely ridiculous a lot of this sounds? Consider: Gardner is Dutch, and while it seems everybody in Holland speaks English, it’s not everyone’s first language. Whatever the case, ultimately it doesn’t matter. Whether or not this is a homage, a sendup, a serious (hmmm) attempt to take the psych-pop pantheon to new places, or all of the above, it’s impossible to listen to this and not smile. The whole thing (along with other miscellaneous treats) is streaming at his Bandcamp page.

What’s most spectacular about this is that Gardner not only writes this stuff, he plays all of it, manning all the keys as well as guitars, bass and drums, all of them period-perfect! If Elliott Smith had been born thirty years earlier and had followed his muse into mushrooms rather than opiates, he might have sounded something like this. The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle is an obvious influence, as are the Pretty Things, the Move and the Kinks in their airiest and artsiest mid-to-late-60s moments. Among current-day acts, the Smiles and Frowns and Jeremy Messersmith come to mind.

The opening track Clear the Air sets the tone, both swooshy and rippling all at once: the guitar doesn’t come in til the second chorus, and then it’s just an acoustic. The One Eyed King works a more classically-tinged minor-key vibe: “Open up the window to your mind so I can look inside,” Gardner teases as the mellotron pans the mix. Puppets Dangling continues in the same vein, a mix of oldschool chamber pop and fifth-wave psychedelia. Where Will You Go teleports the idea of Oasis’ Wonderwall 25 years back in time and improves on it immensely, sort of a carnivalesque take on the Moody Blues.

The most anthemic track here is Watching the Moon, making its way from a sureal waltz into more ornate territory. Gardner is brave enough to make the title track an instrumental, and a good one, with its ghost-girl vocalese and unexpected chord changes: with tunes this good, who needs lyrics, anyway?

The Riddle, with its wry Good Vibrations references, rocks harder than anything here: it reminds of Brooklyn art-rockers Aunt Ange. Gardner goes back to weird waltz mode with the aptly titled Lullaby, its Nektar-ish broken chords and long, dreamy fade, then raises the angst level and the epic sweep with Help Me Out: “I need another curtain just to make me feel all right…let the sunlight find me just before I turn into stone,” he intones with an eerie matter-of-factness.

With its warm harmonies and wistful catchiness, Summer’s Gone reminds of Love Camp 7. Chameleons contrasts nimbly fingerpicked guitar and resonant electric piano; the album winds up with The Ballad of Little Jane, a wry and strangely pretty ELO-tinged piano ballad. Gardner is at Death by Audio on Mar 3 and then back in New York on Mar 23 at the Mercury; it’s not known if he’s doing these shows solo or with a band. Either way, it should be a lot of fun.

Catchy, Exuberant Stuff from the Aves

The Aves, from Adelaide down under, have their latest album, Panic up at their Bandcamp page. It’s one of those albums that people would be claiming bragging rights to after picking up a dusty 30-year-old copy of the import vinyl at a flea market. You know, “forgotten classic from the 80s,” that kind of thing. Except that it’s from 2012. The four-piece band flex some serious classic pop chops through ballsy guitar rock – two genres they list themselves under are “squonk” and “space pop” – with influences that never quite make it to the 1990s.

The best track is Grow Up, a pulsing vintage Kinks musichall-rock tune with an absolutely searing, noisy guitar solo about halfway through. “We look through the window and we look to the sky, in the suburb which the monsters swallow up,” seems to be one of the lines in the chorus. The vocals are totally early 80s androgynous, so it’s not clear who out of Lucy Campbell, Thomas Williams, Tasman Strachan and Clair O’Boyle might be doing the singing.

There are two verisons of Standby: the first is 80s Britpop with a boisterous barroom singalong vibe, the second is almost two minutes longer and worth sticking around for a very cool outro, the bass artfully handing off to the lead guitar on the way out. The two other tracks are the minor-key, reggae-tinged Panic, which looks back even further to the very beginning of the new wave era, and Thick As Thieves, which reminds over a Johnny Cash gallop that indifference can be even harsher than outright hostility.

Guided By Voices Just Won’t Stop Making Good Albums

It’s been hard to keep up with Guided by Voices lately. In case you’ve been overwhelmed by Robert Pollard and GBV releases, the “classic” 90s lineup has yet another new album out today, The Bears for Lunch. Is it up to the level of Let’s Go Eat the Factory or Class Clown Spots a UFO? Actually, it’s better. The king of DIY has better equipment than he had in the 90s – ironically, it’s probably cheaper for him to record now than it was fifteen years ago during the band’s first heyday. And Pollard is still writing up a storm – the most recent trio of 2012 GBV albums (not to mention his more roughewn solo releases) turns out to be backloaded.

Is there another guitarist alive who gets a more luscious guitar tone than Tobin Sprout? It’s hard to think of one. As usual with this band, there are moments here where you’ll end up thinking to yourself, “c’mon, dude, just resolve the goddamn chord and get on with the song,” but those are few and far between. Episodes of self-indulgence are outnumbered by pure tuneful bliss by a factor of about 20 to 1 here, pretty impressive by GBV standards.

As usual, the tracks here run the gamut. Pollard sets the tone, “needles buried in the red” with King Arthur the Red, catchy verse paired off against nebulous chorus and all those lush, roaring, rich layers of guitar, a formula that he’s been working for decades and that he returns to again and again here. She Lives in an Airport does that with heavy chords and wry lyrics; Hangover Child sets biting hooks over rippling drum riffs and some tastily melodic bass. Pollard’s influences don’t take centerstage much beyond Up Instead of Running, which is sort of the Move done as indie, and the Pinball Wizard-ish Smoggy Boy.

The strongest of the louder songs here might be Amorphous Surprise, with its reverb-toned postpunk guitars and allusive menace. As expected, the album has several twistedly surreal miniatures, including the Wire-ish Dome Rust, the aphoristically anti-fascist Finger Gang, the wry, blues-tinged Have a Jug, and The Challenge Is Much More, which sounds like REM with balls and a British accent.

Surprisingly, the strongest moments here are the album’s quietest ones. Sprout contributes the attractively jangly, poppy acoustic number Waving at Airplanes and The Corners Are Glowing, which looks back to the Kinks’ Village Green through the prism of REM but more moody. Pollard veers from extremely direct, with Waking Up the Stars’ disarmingly attractive psych-folk, to completely off-center, as with the woozy cautionary tale You Can Fly Anything Right.

There’s also the Sonic Youth-ish, one-chord Tree Fly Jet; the growling indie powerpop of Skin to Skin Combat, the smirky antiwar vignette The Military School Dance Dismissal and a shot at 90s stadium rock, Everywhere Is Miles from Everywhere. Is this big news? Not for most fans of the band, but even so, it’s testament to the continued vitality of one of the most astonishingly prolific songwriters in rock history and the inspired group behind him.

Artful Psychedelic Tunesmithing from Jeff Beam

Jeff Beam hails from Maine. He plays bass in the Milkman’s Union. He also does his own psychedelic pop with an expanse of ideas that literally covers the entire psychedelic genre. He’s playing Pete’s Candy Store on April 14 at 10 PM. And he has an album, Be Your Own Mirror, streaming at his Bandcamp site. As you would imagine, it’s trippy and sometimes pretty dark. The coolest thing about it is how he takes all these old ideas from the 60s and mashes them up: there’s Kinks, and Floyd, and Procol Harum, and the Strawbs side by side and it all makes sense. The only thing missing is the big-room studio production, although to his credit, Beam’s endless layers of overdubs are a good facsimile. What’s most impressive is that like Elliott Smith – an artist who bears some resemblance – Beam plays almost everything here himself except for some drums, horns and strings (yup – the album’s got ’em).

The first track, Whispering Poison in His Ear evokes the folkie side of Roger Waters circa Obscured by Clouds, with a nice, stinging, tremoloing guitar solo wavering over and under a central note. Hospital Patience is a darkly tiptoeing minor-key late 60s Britfolk tune that builds to an epic majesty with a tasty, fat Robin Trower-ish solo. A two-part instrumental follows that, with mellotron, fuzztone guitar, tempo shifts, an eerie pregnant pause, and then takes on a funky edge.

The strongest cut here is Now. How Beam builds it from a slinky, brooding minor-key blues into an ornate Beatlesque anthem is a clinic in good songwriting. Lyrics don’t seem to be a major part of all this; this one’s the least opaque of all the songs. “I’m going underground…give me a quiet town, all these people chasing me around,” Beam muses.

The rest of the album includes riffy T-Rex style glamrock, an instrumental that looks back to early Genesis, a catchy Kinks-ish pop tune and a warped take on a Penny Lane riff that wouldn’t be out of place in Elliott Smith’s last work. Best thing about this is that’s free – or you can throw some bucks at his bandcamp site if you want. Download it here.

Matt Keating’s Wrong Way Home – Best Rock Album of 2012?

Matt Keating’s new Wrong Way Home (streaming in its entirety at the Sojourn Records site) is the best album he’s ever done. It’s a landmark in tunesmithing and songcraft to rival anything Elvis Costello or the Beatles ever recorded. Which is an even more impressive achievement considering the sweep and power of Keating’s 2008 double cd, Quixotic, a feast of lush, lyrically rich janglerock. This one is considerably different: blending elements of 1960s soul, country, ragtime and even jazz, it’s far more musically diverse. Lyrically, it’s his darkest album: as with Joy Division or late-period Phil Ochs, an encroaching, inescapable sense of doom pervades this record. Keating has always been an uneasy writer, able to dissect the fatal flaw in a relationship with a few sharp words: here, he takes his role as psychopathologist to a new level. He’s also never sung better – there are other singers who get called Orbison-esque, and most of those comparisons fall flat, but Keating’s nonchalant but wounded-to-the-core croon packs the same kind of emotional wallop.

The songs themselves are mini-epics, seldom going on for more than four minutes, arranged so that they begin sparsely and gradually add layers of strings, guitars, keyboards and horns until they reach an angst-driven orchestral grandeur. The musicianship is what you would expect from an A-list of New York players. Keating is a strong guitarist, but he’s a brilliant pianist, nimbly switching from blithe ragtime to tersely jeweled, incisive rock riffs, to torchy jazz on Baby’s Mind, a number that wouldn’t be out of place in the Chet Baker songbook, both compositionally and vocal-wise. Tony Scherr’s guitar channels a hundred styles, from Memphis soul to artsy metal, to psychedelia and country, alongside Jason Mercer on bass, Hem’s Mark Brotter and Greg Wieczorek (of Jenifer Jackson’s band) splitting duties on drums, Claudia Chopek’s one-woman string section, Cassis on accordion and Keating’s wife Emily Spray’s exquisite harmony vocals.

The opening track, Just About Now, a pulsing, piano-driven Burt Bacharach-esque soul song cruelly captures the moment where what seems to be redemption at last goes completely to hell. “I don’t remember facing a day so unafraid…when you’re in love you’re not on the take,” Keating observes, facing what appears to be an abrupt, cold ending. Punchline introduces a furtive clenched-teeth dread that will recur later on:

I’ve been using the back door
Keeping my own score
Scraping the bottom
Off of the top floor
You know I keep minimizing
All those expectations
On the horizon
In each situation

Scherr’s indulgent Comfortably Numb quote does double duty here as comic relief and deathblow as Keating runs the song’s mantra, “just leave it alone.”

Nobody’s Talking, a crushing portait of rural claustrophobia that you have to “claw your way through,” has a country sway and one of Keating’s signature allusive plotlines. Nobody’s taking out the trash or doing the dishes here: did somebody get killed, die, go on a bender or what? Likewise, the aphoristic Too Good to Lose – with lively dixieland from trumpeter Shane Endsley and the Microscopic Septet’s Dave Sewelson on baritone sax – could be completely sarcastic, or it could actually be one of the few bright spots amidst the gloom. It’s hard to tell. And the narrator of the wistfully Tex-Mex flavored title track – the most overtly Orbisonesque song here – might actually be the rare guy who actually wants to nurture communication in a relationship, or he could be a total control freak/stalker type.

Maybe He’ll Meet You, a shuffling country crooner tune, might be the album’s most haunting track. Keating shuffles his lyrics and his images artfully: the snakecharmer forgets his song and then dies of snakebite as the hope of finally being able to connect with someone slowly and inevitably slips away. Another real haunter is Maker of Carousels, Keating’s devastating portrait of self-inflicted emotional depletion, pulsing along with phantasmagorical carnival organ. Jersey Sky, a homage to Danny Federici, the late E Street Band organist, works a hypnotic, elegiac ambience, as does the ragtimey 1913 Coney Island, an understatedly brooding graveside scenario.

There’s also the absolutely hilarious, doo-wop flavored Back to the Party, an ominous tale of a clueless doofus whose ending is delivered with a riff rather than a lyric; the lavishly arranged, death-fixated Here and Then You’re Gone; the bitterly sardonic, Elvis Costello-inflected soul waltz Go to the Beach; the brightly shuffling Sound of Summer Days, which could be the great lost track from the Kinks’ Village Green; and the Springsteen-esque blue-collar lament Factory Floor, featuring Spray’s electrifying, vibrato-fueled soul harmonies. Even on the album’s closing track, a Lennon-esque piano ballad, Keating is apprehensive, unsure what’s going to happen to him if he allows himself the chance to salvage the remains of a relationship. How many people who heard London Calling, or Highway 61, or Armed Forces knew immediately that they had a classic in their hands? This album is one of those records: every time you hear it, there’s something new to reflect on and enjoy.