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Ferocious Power Trio Castle Black Put Out One of 2017’s Best Short Albums

In an era when gentrification, the demise of one venue after another and subway closures all down the line at night have landed one crushing blow after another on the New York music scene, Castle Black’s rise to become one of this city’s best bands is as heartwarming as it is improbable. A couple of years ago, they were playing the usual cruddy circuit of bottom-tier venues that most new bands never gain enough traction to leave. Since then, Castle Black have put out a succession of ep’s, each one better than the other and emerged as a relentlessly touring powerhouse.

Armed with a couple of vintage Fenders, guitarist/frontwoman Leigh Celent has grown into a powerful and distinctive player equally at home with noise and melody. Bassist Lisa Low anchors the music with a looming ominousness while drummer Matt Bronner ranges from rapidfire four-on-the-floor punk to doomy metal to the occasional departure into unorthodox meters, holding the beast to the rails. The band’s latest ep, Trapped Under All You Know is streaming at youtube. They’re playing the release show on August 25 at 10 PM at the Well in Bushwick – they’re definitely loud enough to drown out any of the other bands rehearsing in the upstairs rooms there.

The album’s first track, Seeing in Blue kicks off with Bronner’s boomy tom-tom rolls, Celent building an angst-fueled nocturnal scenario with her guitar and her vocals. It’s part Avengers roar and part enigmatic late-period Bush Tetras, with a little Cramps menace. And it’s as catchy as all those references

Broken Bright Star is one of the half-dozen best songs of 2017, hands down. The catchy, doomy opening guitar riff brings to mind the Vice Squad classic Last Rockers, rising to a richly jangly mesh of guitar multitracks on the chorus. The point where the verse suddenly dips down to just Celent’s vocals, and then explodes with a wrathful guitar chord, will give you goosebumps.

Blind Curtain is just as anthemic and catchy: imagine a two-guitar version of Blondie covering mid-80s Husker Du. The album stays in that relentlessly troubled zone with the distantly Joy Division-inflected last cut, Rise, Celent’s roaring, reverbtoned guitar shards flickering through the “shadows as they rise, again and again again.”  Brief as this is,  you’ll see this album on the best of 2017 page here in December if we’re still all here.

Castle Black’s New Album: A Tower of Power

A year ago, power trio Castle Black had relentless energy, tons of promise and some good tunes that they were thrashing into shape through constant gigging, all the while trying to get off the Dives of New York treadmill. You know the dril: the Bitter End, Leftfield, Desmond’s, ad nauseum. Fast foward to now: they’ve got two excellent ep’s out, along with a killer video shot at Fort Tilden. The group – guitarist Leigh Celent, bassist Lisa Low and drummer Matt Bronner – are all decked out in post-apocalyptic camo, trudging with characteristic menace through the underbrush, finally emerging…no spoilers here! It’s the rare video that holds your attention all the way through to see what finally happens, a mystery story in images with a ferocious soundtrack. As usual, the trio have a couple of gigs coming up: tomorrow night, Nov 8 at 10 PM they’re playing Shrine in Harlem, followed at 11 by the intriguing Unknown Nobodies, who have both a punk side and another that veers closer to paisley underground psychedelia. Then the two bands are at the Parkside starting at 10 on Nov 18.

The new ep, Losing Forever, is streaming at their webpage. The title is typically enigmatic: is it apocalyptic, or just self-effacingly sarcastic? This group keeps you guessing. The opening track, Sabotage has a mighty oldschool Britpunk feel, it’s catchy, and anthemic, and pissed off, and like a lot of this band’s songs, is packed with unexpected tempo shifts, counterintuitive major/minor changes and catchy hooks. Premonition, by contrast, is a lot more straightforward, a bitter, vivid late-summer reminiscence. The jangle/crunch dichotomy in Celent’s gutar overdubs brings to mind the Distillers.

Bronner’s menacing rumble undpins the wickedly catchy, minor-key Secret Hideaway, part dark garage rock, part X, part Thalia Zedek. “We’ll be ok on a private holiday, wish for nevermore,” Celent intones enigmatically: a suicide pact, maybe?

Leave It kicks off like a swaying, midtempo Buzzcocks ballad and then hits a burning doublespeed punk drive, like peak-era Sleater-Kinney but with better vocals. The album winds up with its best song, the hauntingly epic, doomed Dark Light, built around Celent’s menacing, opening cliffhanger riff: it’s this band’s Last Rockers. There will be a Best Albums of 2016 page here at the end of the year and this one will be on it.

Power Trio Castle Black Blast Through a Tight, Killer Set in Bushwick

Doesn’t it feel great when you stumble on an up-and-coming band who end up fulfilling their promise, and them some? Castle Black‘s sizzling set Friday night at Basement Bar in Bushwick had the fearlessness and outside-the-box creativity of classic punk rock. A lot of people assume that punk music is just three chords and a fast beat, but the reality is that the artists in the first wave of punk bands went into punk because they wanted to do something more fun and also more sophisticated than they could within the cliched confines of 70s dadrock or hippe blues. Castle Black delivered that kind of defiantly individualistic energy with equal parts guitar-fueled savagery and sardonic humor.

It’s amazing how tight this band has become over the past six months: constant gigging will do that to you. And yet, their music hasn’t lost its raw edge, or persistent unease, or outright menace. And they’re a lot of fun to watch live. Guitarist Leigh Celent played most of the set on her Fender Jazzmaster, changing to a Mustang when she wanted to switch out grit for reverb and resonance. She rocked a vintage Runaways t-shirt and jeans, with a wiry intensity in both her vocals and stage presence.

Back-clad, dark-eyed bassist Lisa Low made a stark contrast, distant, enigmatic and seemingly haunted. She ran her Fender Precision bass through an amp turned way up, then varied her attack on the strings for an unexpected amount of sublety. But when she stepped to the mic and traded vocals with Celent, she was no less forceful. If you could find the perfect picture of a rock drummer circa 1981, that would be Matt Bronner. Head down, sticks in the air, focused to the point of tunnel vision, he made the band’s sudden detours into some unexpectedly tricky metrics look easy, as one song shifted into 10/4 time, another one with some deviously teasing syncopation. And he’s not the kind of guy who tries to beat the sound into the drums: instead, he lets it out, for extra low rumble.

The band opened with the skronky postpunk of Doing Time Pass. Celent is an interesting guitarist: she likes catchy hooks, but just when things might get predictable, she veers off into noise. There was a little Andy Gill, or maybe Arto Lindsay in her jagged lines, but mostly it was just her. The band roared their way into Leave It with a slow, stalking groove, like a vintage Buzzcocks epic that they suddenly took doublespeed into anthemic Avengers territory, then back again.

This Old Town, with its uneasy shifts between major and minor, was a biting, bitter portrait of deadend hopelessness. Just when the catchy, Joan Jett-flavored Premonition sounded like it was going to sway along with an easygoing highway rock beat, Bronner and Celent bit down hard. They took that drive to an angrier level with Sabotage and then segued into the night’s best song, the ominously ferocious Secret Hideaway. After a confident run through the endlessly unanticipated, haunting dynamic shifts of Dark Light – Castle Black’s Last Rockers – they closed with their single The Next Thing, with its offhanded references to both stoner metal and classic punk. Castle Black’s next New York gig is July 29 at 10 PM at the Parkside; for the Hoboken crowd, they’re also at Maxwell’s the previous night, July 28 at 8.