New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: lush band

Big Buzz Band Blouse Breezes into Bowery Ballroom

Portland, Oregon band Blouse‘s early singles worked moody 80s-style synth-pop terrain. Their latest album, Imperium – streaming at Spotify – finds the band evolving to put a more melodic spin on classic late 80s/early 90s-style dreampop. With the guitars’ enveloping, jangly chill, early Lush is the obvious comparison, but this band has become both more tuneful and uses more varied textures than just the watery chorus-box effects that give dreampop its icy swirl and echoey resonance. Blouse’s Bowery Ballroom gig on March 25 opening for the ghoul-pop Dum Dum Girls is sold out but there are still general tix for $15 for their Music Hall of Williamsburg show the following night, where they’re playing around 9:30.

Throughout the album’s ten tracks, bassist Patrick Adams plays with a gritty, trebly tone, his lines winding and twisting but not wasting notes. Guitarist Jacob Portrait will hit his distortion pedal when the chorus kicks in and go back to an echoey clang on the verse, or vice versa. Frontwoman Charlie Hilton varies her vocals from clipped and Teutonic to much more wamly alluring, particularly when she uses her lower register.

And the songs are catchy. The title cut follows a steady path from watery to searing and back again: with the mantra “Are you one of us?,” it sounds like a sci-fi narrative. On the second track, Eyesite, Portrait brings in a little scratchiness and then what sounds like a vintage repeater box. The strummy 1000 Years hides an echoey electric piano behind the layers of jangle, while In a Glass welds growly guitars to an insistently hypnotic 80s vamp. Capote juxtaposes nebulousness and noise over a steady sway, then A Feeling Like This hints at vintage disco.

No Shelter is totally Lush circa 1990, with an aptly apprehensive lyric: “We can’t keep anything, sky’s getting cloudy and it’s a different time…there is no shelter from this storm.” Happy Days goes back in time ten years for a lo-fi Siouxsie ambience; Arrested takes a familiar early Joy Division beat and beefs it up with ringing twelve-string guitars. The vamping final cut, Trust Me gingerly adds textures until the band has a full-fledged song. Judging from this band’s buzz, if only Lush, and My Bloody Valentine, and the Cocteau Twins would get back together and tour, they’d pack stadiums. At the very least they’d pack Bowery Ballroom.

Heaven’s Gate Bring Dreampop Back with a Roar

Brooklyn band Heaven’s Gate put an energetic, anthemic spin on vintage dreampop, sort of a teens update on the Throwing Muses. Frontwoman Jess Paps’ angst-ridden wail is often half-buried in the mix and doesn’t move around much: that’s left to Michael Sheffield and Jack Wolf’s guitars, the rhythm section of bassist Alex Cvetovich and drummer Patrick Stankard holding down a rhythmic drive that’s propulsive but just as hypnotic. Their album Transmuting is streaming all the way through at their Albumstreams page. If the rain-drenched sound of guitars through a thousand chorus pedals entices you, you’ll love this album.

On one hand, this band absolutely nail the watery sonics that defined the 4AD era; on the other, the guitars roar as much as they ring and echo. Like so much of dreampop, the opening track has the bass carrying the melody line underneath the icy, resonant swirl. Drone builds from a catchy two-chord postpunk vamp to more enveloping sonics. Fight sets ringing open chords over uneasy syncopation, while Clean hints at New Order without lapsing into cliches

Lex Vision has both the bounciness and noisiness of middle-period Lush. I’m Forgetting turns the formula upside down: swirling verse, dancing chorus. Screams builds from a catchy, growling vintage-era Sonic Youth verse to more echoey and fleshed-out atmospherics over a skittish beat. In a minute forty-eight seconds, Iron Black manages to be both the best and most straightforward song on the album, with its biting minor-key changes over a scorching, distorted backdrop. Always adds echoes of the Cure and also surf music to the banks of watery murk;  the album winds up with the unexpectedly anthemic Sun City and its leaping, catchy vocals.

Dead Leaf Echo’s Debut Album: A Rainy Day Treat

Dead Leaf Echo plays the release show for their debut album Thought & Language on Feb 27 at 10:30 at the Mercury Lounge for $10. If this had come out on 4AD in 1989, it would be regarded as a classic of its kind today. The band name is well-chosen: their music has a vividly chilly autumnal feel as well as a reverberating, hypnotic ambience.  Wet, shimmery, frequently icy layers of guitar mist swirl and echo through simple, catchy hooks that often bring to mind bands like My Bloody Valentine and Lush in their early years. Call it shoegaze, or dreampop, or goth, it’s a mix of all three.

The album’s opening track, Conception, sets the tone, a rain-drenched soundscape morphing into an insistent, cyclical hook, riffs echoing dubwise throughout the mix. The second cut, Kingmaker opens bright and ringing like mid-80s Cure, echoey guitar screams fading into white noise a la the Church. That band is echoed even more vividly on Featherform, a mix of elegant jangle and nebulous shoegaze, its clangy lines rising insistently and then blending into a lushback drop for a baroque-tinged outro. It segues into Internal with its dreaminess juxtaposed against steady bass chords, once again building into an intricate, majestically enveloping web of sound.

Language of the Waves blends the catchy, chiming bounce of late 80s bands like the Mighty Lemon Drops with more ornate sonics. Memorytraces (a free download) is the album’s best and loudest song, a swaying, catchy anthem with a terse, incisive flange guitar solo and a lush, distantly jangling outro with biting harmonic flourishes. Like many of the tracks here, it segues into the next one, Birth, with it simple, direct bass pulse, pensive anthemicness and insistently crescendoing guy/girl vocals.

Child rises out of a hazy tone poem of sorts to a breathless pace, followed by the rising and receding waves of Thought, distantly majestic slide guitar moving through the mix. Dream of the Soft is sort of a gentler take on the blend of folk and new wave that the Railway Children began their career with, a New Order-ish bass hook rising and eventually pushing everything to the side.

The bouncy Heavensent is sort ofa  hybrid of the Cure, Lush and the Coctean Twins, period-perfect wthout being cheesy or a ripoff. By contrast, the slowly atmospheric Gesture reverts to early 90s Church sonics and dramatic heft. She Breathes goes for more of a late 80s pop feel amidst the grey-sky ambience, while Birthright brings in a marching goth vibe.

Flowerspeak, with its bass hook anchoring the spacious, minimalist melody, could be the Police if they’d stuck around after Synchronicity. The album ends with Language and its contrasting high/low, light/dark textures and echoey raindroplet guitar awash in banks of reverb. It’s music to get lost in, a treat for fans of dark, pensive, rainy-day music. One thing on this album that would be good to hear more of is guitarist Ana B.’s voice: she nails the moody uncertainty of the era the band has embraced. It’s tempting to say that they’ve coldly embraced it, but that be an extreme for a band whose sense of the understated and the enigmatic is their greatest asset.

Wave Sleep Wave Puts a New Spin on an Old Sound

If it’s absolutely necessary to pin a label on what Wave Sleep Wave does, you could call it dreampop. Reduced to its essentials, it’s a shimmering, glistening, swirling, jangly, misty vortex of guitar textures over steady drums. Frontman/guitarist Jerry Adler is a one-man orchestra, slowly and methodically building a web of textures, sometimes hypnotic, often symphonically ornate, like a late 80s British version of Jon Brion. Influence-wise, there are a million bands out there who ape the catchy, simple, major-key mid-80s sound that New Order and the Cure made so popular; here, Adler reverts back to a deeper, murkier 80s sound that also offers a nod to Wire and the Cocteau Twins. He first made a mark about ten years ago leading the Blam, the catchy but edgy indie pop band that should have been as popular as the Shins but wasn’t; a little later, he took a powerfully lyrical detour into Dylanesque acoustic rock with his Flugente project. What’s most impressive about this album is that it appears to be just guitars and drums, with no bass, yet the sonics have a gyroscopic balance. Drummer Yuval Lion – Adler’s cohort in the Blam – keeps things moving along tersely and briskly, for the most part. Fans of the dreampop canon from the Cocteau Twins, to Lush, to My Bloody Valentine, to more obscure bands like Downy Mildew, are going to love this record.

It’s best appreciated as an uninterrupted whole, considering that most of the tracks segue into each other. The opening cut, Rats starts out with edgy, percussive guitar accents against a wave of drone, then leaps into a swirling chorus, then back, with a characteristically juicy yet minimalist guitar solo midway through. Interestingly, while Adler is just as adept a wordsmith as a tunesmith, lyrics take a back seat to the guitars here. “We don’t know what’s wrong, we just know what’s right,” he intones, deadpan, on the second track, Laws, methodically crescendoing with echoes of Bauhaus and Pink Floyd as the guitar orchestra grows, and grows, and grows. Images of violence and discontent recur throughout the songs: it wouldn’t be a surprise to find out that this is a parable.

The hit single here is Hey…What, with its echoey guitar hook and dancefloor beat: “The pot is boiling with unbearable heat/The crowd turns violent and gets ready to blow/They’re tired of dancing with the devil they know,” Adler announces ominously as the song builds to a Railway Children-style chorus-box interlude with a seemingly endless wash of attractive, jazzy chords. Zip It artfully embellishes a catchy two-chord riff to a bell-like chorus and then echoey, choppy waves punctuated by buzzsaw lead lines, while Like Filings to Magnets is the most minimalist track here, juxtaposing a gentle, skeletal lead against a quietly oscillating drone. They evoke the artsy side of 17 Pygmies with the slowly swaying 1001 and then a sort of blend of Gang of Four and Cocteau Twins with Standard Fare, an apprehensive, allusive, nightmarish scenario. The album closes with Tongues, setting bloody imagery over a dark, offcenter backdrop that sounds like it might be playing at halfspeed, and then the anthemic How Low, which builds tension before finally resolving with a mighty “clang” on the chorus. As far as trippy, tuneful unease goes, albums don’t get much better than this. Wave Sleep Wave plays the album release show for this one at Bowery Electric on April 17 at 8 PM.

Mighty, Majestic 19th Century Rock Songs from Elisa Flynn

Elisa Flynn’s 2009 album Songs About Birds and Ghosts was a stark, moody collection of literate rock songs. The production went for a scruffy, jangly acoustic-electric feel, but the tunes sometimes reached toward a towering majesty, particularly the opening cut, Timber, a genuine 21st century classic (watch the video, a wry Blair Witch parody, here). So the question that screamed out was what if Flynn decided to go all the way and give her songs an epic grandeur rather than simply hinting at it? That’s exactly what she’s done with her latest release, 19th Century Songs, and that’s why it might be the best rock album of the year.

Flynn is a one-woman orchestra, playing all the guitars and keys, backed by an alternately mighty and elegant rhythm section of Mark Ospovat (who also produced) on bass and Anders Griffen on drums. Sometimes she unleashes a swirling dreampop cyclotron, other times a savage roar, often both at once: some of this music is the bastard genius child of My Bloody Valentine and the Throwing Muses. Flynn’s vocals on Songs About Birds and Ghosts were gripping – here they are exquisite. She’s always been a good singer – she’s a student of Shara Worden, something that pretty much gives her instant cred – but at this point Flynn has reached the point where she may have surpassed her teacher. And that’s not to disrespect My Brightest Diamond’s frontwoman, a powerful and dynamic presence, but simply to say that Flynn can pack more wallop into a single, wounded bent note than most people can with an entire album.

The lyrics explore historical themes, allusively: they’re sung from an eyewitness point of view, often without directly referencing a particular incident or time period, which makes them all the more interesting. The opening track, Close Your Eyes, once again is the real stunner here, pairing off the drama and intensity of the verse against a gentler, watery chorus straight out of the Lush playbook from around 1989. Is this song about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair murders by serial killer H. H. Holmes?  Maybe. 19th Century Breakup Song follows a more predictable trajectory, building up to the chorus, like the Walkabouts if they’d been from Brooklyn instead of Seattle. Flynn’s wary, nuanced voice contrasts with the raw power of the guitars: on an all-too-brief solo, she fires off a series of biting octaves while Ospovat slinks behind her in the shadows.

The third track, Eliza Donner, evokes Siouxsie & the Banshees, ominous guitar rising and falling above Griffen’s menacing, funereal drums. “Does He watch us like we’re figures in a snow globe?” the doomed woman asks, hope slowly turning to dread. “I can’t hear you talking but I hear the wind laughing at me.” The next song, Fram, seems to be a seafaring epic, a surreal torrent of sinister imagery, its narrator “cutting into ice for weeks and months” over a backdrop of intricate fingerpicking. Flynn goes back to Siouxsie-esque with Poor Little Lamb, the most exhilarating song here, carnivalesque organ fluttering behind the wall of guitars for extra menace. Midway through, when a completely evil dreampop bridge leaps out from behind the central riff, the effect is literally breathtaking. The album closes with the pensive, gothic folk tune William Tecumseh Sherman, a soldiers-eye view of the Civil War where “the blackest days have shown themselves” and southerners (or is it all the soldiers?) “lay down their lives for twisted dreams of older men.” The CD comes with a “lovely hand-crafted cover, 3 prints, and a 1″ pin,” for six bucks at Flynn’s bandcamp, where you can hear and also download the whole thing.