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No New Abnormal

Tag: larch band review

A Typically Urbane, Incisively Lyrical New Album from the Larch

The Larch have been one of New York’s catchiest, most lyrically acerbic bands for a long time. Their 2012 album Days to the West blended new wave and psychedelia with a witheringly cynical Costelloesque lyrical edge. The one before that, Larix Americana – written mostly at the tail end of the Bush regime – set frontman/guitarist Ian Roure’s corrosive, politically charged commentary to hypnotic, guitar-fueled paisley underground rock. Lately the band seems to be on hiatus, but they have an excellent new ep, In Transit, picking up where the last album left off and streaming at Bandcamp.

The first track, Science & Charity – whose title the band nicked from a Picasso painting – assesses the pros and cons of space-age advances over keyboardist Liza Roure’s swooshy synth and Ross Bonadonna’s rising bassline, drummer Tom Pope negotiating its tricky syncopation. A jet-engine guitar solo takes it echoing out.

Welcome to the Institute alternates between hard funk and mid-80s Costello, a sardonic narrative told from the point of view of a pitchman for an online reputation repair service. Liza’s woozily processed backing vocals add an aptly tacky, techy touch, Bonadonna’s slithery lines echoing Bruce Thomas, the guitar again taking it out with a lickety-split, spiraling solo (Ian is the rare hotshot lead player who doesn’t waste notes).

Saturn’s in Transit, the catchiest and most Costelloesque tune here, seems to be one of those metaphorically charged workday anomie narratives that Ian writes so well. The jangliest track is the similarly metaphorical, nonchalantly ominous Mr. Winters, sort of a mashup of Squeeze and lyrical powerpop legends Skooshny – Ian’s voice often brings to mind that band’s frontman, Mark Breyer.

The backbeat Britpop tune Images of Xmas contemplates a deceptively comfortable litany of holiday gatherings and overindulgences. There’s also a hard-charging punk-pop bonus track. The Larch may be on the shelf for now, but the Roures continue with their duo project, Tracy Island, wherein they mix works in progress with favorites from the Larch and Liza and the Wonderwheels catalogs. They’re playing tomorrow, Oct 15, at 8 PM at Bowery Electric for an $8 cover and it’s a good bet some of these songs will be on the bill.

The Larch Rocks Bowery Electric

The Larch were working an 80s Britrock vein fifteen years before the recent wave of Smiths and New Order wannabes infested Bushwick. Thursday night at Bowery Electric, the four-piece Brooklyn band was at the top of their game – that they’ve never sounded better in their practically fifteen-year existence speaks to the quality of the songwriting as well as the musicianship. Frontman/guitarist Ian Roure’s voice has taken on a flinty resonance in the years since they were putting out vinyl singles around the turn of the century. It was good to hear keyboardist Liza Roure’s crystalline, bell-like voice blend with her husband’s, adding to the band’s increasingly otherworldly allure. They gave several of the songs eerie, cascading, sometimes horror-tinged intros and outros, bassist Ross Bonadonna’s nimble, growling, melodic lines soaring over Tom Pope’s artfully tumbling drums.

The set mixed songs from throughout their career with a lot of nonchalantly brilliant new material. They opened with a bouncy version of an early song, Poppy Day, with its wry Chris Difford-style marching bounce, following with In the Name of…, with its funky Moods for Moderns bass hooks and cynical view of religious zealotry of every kind. After the syncopatedly romping, coldly metaphorical Monkey Happy Hour, they debuted the first of the new songs, Saturn in Transit, the night’s most anthemic number. Apparently good things happen when this guy shows up – but there seems to be a catch.

Another new one, Science and Charity – whose title the band nicked from a Picasso painting – contrasted Liza’s buoyantly swirly keys against a refrain of “where did the future go.” As Burt Bacharach covers go, their take of My Little Red Book had the same freshing bite as the Stranglers’ version of Walk on By – and a cruel circus motif. Another brand-new one, Welcome to the Institute made fun of internet spin doctoring, with some LOL funny backing vocals from Liza and then finally one of Ian’s signature spiraling, Richard Lloyd-esque solos

Days to the West, the title track to their excellent 2012 album, made a stark contrast, a Celtic-hued, grimly expectant emigrant’s tale. They picked it up again with the new Images of Xmas, a distinctly British season-end song for drinkers, then the scathing Bishop’s Chair, possibly the only song to make the connection between ridiculous medieval religious pomp and mass media bombardment. They closed their set with the even more caustic Tracking Tina and its savage Frankie Valli references, a sarcastic tale of anxious helicopter parents who make the NSA seem innocuous by comparison. The crowd screamed for more, so they gave them the swirly, snide Midweek Nebula, ending with a long guitar solo that went from searing to appropriately nebulous. The Larch have made Freddy’s their home base in recent years; watch this space for upcoming gigs and maybe a new album if we’re lucky.

Another Great Album by the Larch

For more than a decade, the Larch have been making first-class British rock in Brooklyn. Frontman/guitarist Ian Roure’s status as an expat has a lot to do with that. Like Squeeze, or Elvis Costello – an artist he’s often compared to – Roure writes sardonically about dysfunctional office scenarios, schizos with cellphones and post-9/11 American fascism to rival any scheme Margaret Thatcher ever devised. After a flirtation with sci-fi rock on 2009’s Gravity Rocks, Roure’s worldview has become bleaker, his cynicism deeper. His songwriting hit a high point with Larix Americana, a masterpiece of lyrical New York underground rock, released just over a couple of years ago. Where that album took a richly successful plunge into psychedelic rock, the band’s new album Days to the West blends new wave and psychedelia, Roure’s withering lyricism as acerbic as ever. If Larix Americana was their Argybargy, you could call this their West Side Story, a richly eclectic and powerful followup to a classic.

The new wave pulse of Tons of Time sets the tone: “We don’t know what we’re going for, but it’s not here,” Roure sings with a gentle insistence: it’s a knowing anthem for any would-be rockers “watching the game you’re not sure you can win…rock criticism with your pickle and cheese, living the life but you’re feeling the squeeze.” But there’s hope to ” meet the word outside this penny market town.” Roure takes a long, rippling, lickety-split wah guitar solo out.

Monkey Happy Hour makes a slightly less caustic companion piece to LJ Murphy’s Happy Hour, a scenario that equates fratboy grotesquerie with post-office overindulgence, set to a terse riff that hits the chorus hard with a nice biting change. Already Lost Tomorrow is just as sardonic: like much of the Larch’s catalog, it could be just a bitter, brooding tale of a guy grabbing for all he can, or it could be a metaphor for disingenuous yuppie consumption, Liza Roure’s trebly organ mingling with a growling web of guitar and Ross Bonadonna’s melodic spiral-staircase bassline. Similarly, the title track, a lushly orchestrated, distantly Scottish-flavored 6/8 ballad, could simply be a reminiscence of watching a comet, or a metaphor for something far greater.

Honey Bee works a catchy, Kinks-influenced verse, an upbeat look at “balancing the nectar and the sting.” With its hypnotic space-rock intro, outro and sizzling lead guitar, Midweek Nebula looks at a memorably twisted bunch of office weirdos from the other end of the telescope, a milieu that gets revisited even more caustically with Second Face, a warmly Costelloish new wave pop tune that grimly ponders the loss of an office alliance. And The Bishop’s Chair, with its synthesized bells and tongue-in-cheek backing vocals, pokes fun at how “before you know, those old beliefs are stretched beyond repair.” This particular bishop may think all eyes are on him, but they’re not. The album ends with a darkly ornate, keyboard-driven, late 60s style psychedelic Britfolk anthem, and a return to the more 80s-flavored psych-pop that has been the band’s stock in trade throughout their career. Not a single miss on this album: another winner from a group that deserves to be much bettter known than they are.