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No New Abnormal

Tag: liza roure

Dada Paradox Pick Up Where the Wickedly Catchy, Lyrically Brilliant Larch Left Off

In recent years at least, it’s hard to imagine a more productive rock music couple than Ian and Liza Roure. As the brain trust of both the Larch and Liza & the WonderWheels, they made a mark as purveyors of hook-driven, lyrically sharp Elvis Costello-ish tunesmithing and acerbically catchy psychedelia, respectively. When both bands imploded, the Wheels morphed into Tracy Island – fronted by Liza, on guitar – and the Larch became Dada Paradox, fronted by Ian on a multitude of guitars, bass and percussion, with Liza on keys. Dada Paradox picks right up where the Larch left off with 2014’s In Transit without missing a beat. The new album, Mobile Flight – streaming at the band’s webpage – has some of the most memorable songwriting released this year, and the duo will bring it to the stage at the release show on May 25 at 8 PM at Bowery Electric. Low-key psychedelic crew Psychic Lines open the night at 7; cover is $10.

The anthemically crescendoing opening track, Find Ways to Matter traces an uneasily metaphorical space travel narrative over a tasty bed of judiciously multitracked guitar textures: the interweave between the acoustic, the electrics and the twelve-string is intricate and Byrdsy to the point where it’s hard to tell which is playing what. Light hand percussion rather than a full drumkit has the paradoxical effect of directing attention to Roure’s lattice of fretwork, adding a low-key bedroom pop charm.

The twelve-string also takes centerstage over twinkling electric piano on the first of a handful of miniatures here, the wistful, gently nocturnally-tinged Here Comes Another Day. From there the duo segue into the album’s catchiest and also most nonchalantly ominous track, the tropically-tinged Another Day in Paradise. It’s Squeeze’s Pulling Mussels without the one-note guitar solo, updated for the teens with a backdrop of global warming.

The resolute, propulsive Happy Families, another track from the late Larch days, looks back to vintage, offhandedly savage Armed Forces-era Costello with its sardonic portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Executive doing a number on each other while trying to keep up appearances. Spooky Action surrealistically explores an eerie sci-fi action-at-a-distance scenario over a stately Britfolk waltz, Ian’s recorder and Liza’s ghost-girl vocal harmonies ramping up the mysterioso ambience.

A gentle baroque keyboard interlude leads into the wryly sarcastic character study Inflexible Flyer, Ray Davies channeled through the prism of peak-era, mid-90s Blur. For those who don’t get the joke, the Flexible Flyer was a popular kids’ snow sled back in the 60s and 70s. There are a couple of folk-flavored tracks here –  The Far Side of the Fray has a deadpan savagery in the same vein as Roger Waters’ The Bravery of Being Out of Range, while The Apocalypse Cheering Committee is as cynically funny as you would expect from this crew.

There’s also Solar Birds, aloft on a keening slide guitar line with an early 70s pastoral Pink Floyd feel, and the album’s majestically jangly closing escape anthem, Sorrows of Stephen: “The sorrow suffocates, to draw a free breath seems like it’s worth the risk that you take,” Ian encourages. A good fifteen-plus years since the Larch started ripping it up in scruffy dives all over Brooklyn, it’s good to see the Roures arguably at the peak of their career as players and songwriters. Count this among the half-dozen best releases to come out of New York this year.

Foreshadowing the Dada Paradox Show This Friday at Freddy’s

Back in the day there were two songwriters, Ian and Liza, and their two bands, the Larch and Liza & the WonderWheels. The Larch was Ian’s band – he played lead guitar and Liza played keys. They sounded like Squeeze or Elvis Costello. Their final two albums – assuming that the band is finished at this point – are among the most brilliantly catchy, subtly venomous lyrical rock releases in recent New York music history.

Liza played rhythm guitar and keys while Ian played lead in Liza & the WonderWheels, who interestingly enough, were one of this city’s great jambands over the past fifteen years or so. Other than Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds, it’s hard to think of another female-fronted psychedelic band who were so consistently good.

Attrition set in, the rhythm section in both Ian and Liza’s  bands went through some changes – you know, New York brain drain, rents going up, people getting forced out, ad nauseum – and Liza and the WonderWheels morphed into Tracy Island. Meanwhile, the Larch faced the same dilemma and eventually turned into Dada Paradox, who have a show this coming Friday, March 25 at 8 PM at Freddy’s. Either way, both bands are basically Ian and Liza – who eventually married, but have so far avoided becoming a couplecore band, not only once but twice. That might seem like a major achievement, but it’s no big deal when you consider that Ian and Liza Roure would never write a song about the joys of shopping unless they were being very, very sarcastic.

This blog has yet to cover Dada Paradox, but back in November at Bowery Electric, Tracy Island played a show for the cognoscenti. There was probably as much talent in the crowd as there was onstage. Rebecca Turner and her band opened the night with a richly jangly set that put a teens Brooklyn update on 60s/70s Laurel Canyon psychedelic folk, John Sharples taking centerstage on several of the songs with his tersely gorgeous twelve-string lead guitar lines. John Pinamonti, another excellent, judicious twelve-string player, used to be this band’s lead player, and Sharples took his already formidable approach to a new level. Meanwhile, Turner her drummer and her melodic bassist Scott Anthony aired out a bunch of new material as well as old favorites like Brooklyn Is So Big, an ever more bittersweet shout-out to the borough and its ever more widely dispersed artistic class.

The Kennedys headlined, playing guitarmeister Pete Kennedy’s latest solo album Heart of Gotham from start to finish, his wife Maura on soaring vocal harmonies and rhythm guitar. “Down on the corner of hope and glory, to a place called Union Square,” they sang, two voices rising to anthemic proportions that most stadium rock bands can only dream of, in tribute to the many cultures that built New York into one of the world’s great cities until the luxury condo pestilence began wiping it out. A web of deliciously Byrdsy guitars mingled with rousing Celtic flourishes and slinky Pete Kennedy leads, the duo imagining Moses dreaming in the arms of Pharaoh’s Daughter. As a metaphor for a city, is that a ridiculous conceit, or something we can still aspire to? It felt awfully good to get a shot of optimism from these two.

Tracy Island were sandwiched between the two acts, playing the album release show for their debut, War No More. They opened with the catchy, vamping What You Want, a springboard for Liza’s jaunty, seductive vocals. The most delicious moment of the night was when they launched into Eddie Come Down. which is less an entreaty to a would-be suicide than it is an order to a crazy dude to pull his shit together. It wasn’t recognizable at first, Liza’s lingering blue-flame resonance against Ian’s resonantly evil slide lines. With just the two guitars, it brought to mind Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine dueling it out circa 1978, but with vocals that were cool, mentholated, on key, anchoring the stampede as Ian spun wild paisley underground circles against the center. They took it down to almost silence, then back up: if you’ve ever seen the Dream Syndicate, it was like that, just without drums. Back in the day it was the WonderWheels’ big showstopper: they’d go on for ten minutes or more if they were in the mood. Check out the Hall of Eds (hit the listen button and then scroll all the way down) for some of the most enjoyable moments from the last ten years or so of NYC jamband history.

The rest of the set had the jangle and clang and wah and scream going full steam. The catchy, sardonic faux-futurist Where’s My Robot Maid had a stairstepping, axe-murderer solo midway through. From there they rose from a cynical, brooding, minor-key New Depresssion anthem to summery post-Velvets ambience under Liza’s soaring, operatic vocals, then a shuffling, upbeat, Television-ish number. After that they worked an insistent Saturday Nigtht’s All Right for Fighting riff into a characteristically defiant Liza chorus, a reference to a classic punk anthem by X. And with Meet the Animal, they built a distantly simmering, sultry, psychedelic menace, Liza’s voice matched by Ians’s creepy washes of wah guitar. There will probably be many moments like these Friday night at Freddy’s.

A Brilliant, New Wave-Tinged Debut Album and a Bowery Electric Release Show by Tracy Island

Let’s get any possible preconceptions out of the way, fast: Tracy Island are not a couplecore band. Multi-instrumentalists Liza Roure and her husband Ian Roure have played together for years, in the brilliantly lyrical Larch – which Ian fronts – and also in the late, great psychedelic new wave band Liza & the WonderWheels, in which Liza switched out her keys for a Strat. In the wake of the demise of the latter group, she’s been fronting a duo project, Tracy Island, with Ian on lead guitar. Now, at last, Tracy Island have a characteristically catchy, brand-new debut album, War No More, streaming online and an album release show coming up on November 3 at 8 PM at Bowery Electric. It’s a hell of a triplebill, with cult favorite Americana songwriter Rebecca Turner opening the night at 7 and then art-folk icons the Kennedys headlining at around 9, celebrating the release of guitar genius Pete Kennedy’s new album Heart of Gotham as well. Cover is a ridiculously reasonable $9.

Although Tracy Island is a duo project, this is a full-band album. Ian handles the bass and Liza the drums, for a tersely tight groove; in the spirit of the WonderWheels, this is otherwise strictly a guitar album, no keys. The two open with a WonderWheels song, What You Want, a perfect marriage between cheery 60s Carnaby Street riffage and vamping, watery, chorus-box new wave. Likewise, the metaphorically-loaded Playing Checkers, Ian’s icy strobe guitar rising over its balletesque rhythms up to its vintage soul-infused chorus. Then the two go back to the skinny-tie era with the seductively propulsive Midnight Lightning.

Low Strung reaches back toward 70s folk-rock, but with a Beatlesque stroll. Can Better Days Be Far Behind is a real stunner, especially by comparison to the cheery material that precedes it, rising from a brooding, wary stroll to Ian’s blacklit, reverbtoned Roye Albrighton art-rock incisions. The album’s most gorgeous and troubled number is Cold Wind, the duo’s aching vocal harmonies over Ian’s ominously chugging bassline and supercooled rivulets of vintage chorus-box guitar. The enigmatic instrumental break midway through offers a fond nod back to the surprisingly focused jamming that the WonderWheels would often break out.

The moody ambience continues with the plaintive Land of Opportunity, part early 70s pastoral Pink Floyd, part Richard & Linda Thompson, part new wave: “This is not the first time life has let me down,” Liza broods. From there the two take an unexpectedly successful detour into simmeringly wounded Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris Americana with I Spy. The album comes full circle, back to catchy new wave with Message in My Head and its wry shout-outs to a classic by X and also a 70s pop cheeseball by somebody else. Ian’s meticulously timbred blend of flash and focus have never been in better form, and the same can be said for Liza’s early-spring brook of a voice, so clear that you can see yourself all the way to its depths. You’ll see this albun on the best of 2015 page here at the end of next month.

And for a fun look back at how crazy the WonderWheels could get, click the listen button here and scroll down to the “Hall of Eds,” three pretty wild live versions of the concert favorite Eddie Come Down from over the years.

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.