New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: Matt Basile Bass

Richly Jangly, Intricate, Smart Retro Rock Songcraft From Diane and the Gentle Men

What if the Dream Syndicate was fronted by a woman? That’s pretty damn high praise for singer Diane Gentile‘s new album White Sea, with her band the Gentle Men, streaming at Bandcamp – but a lot of the record sounds exactly like that. If imaginatively crafted, darkly bristling rock anthems with layers of guitars and keys and a distinctively downtown, oldschool New York ambience are your thing, this is your jam.

Drummer Colin Brooks opens the first track, Motorcycle, with a rolling surf riff. If the tight, dreampop-tinged downstroke pulse reminds you of recent Steve Wynn material, that makes sense since Wynn produced the song! All kinds of tasty touches here; a little creepy organ here, a surreal clang there from Wynn’s longtime Dream Syndicate sparring partner, Jason Victor, who plays lead guitar throughout the album

Track two, Perfect People is a new wave song as an older version of the DS – say, the Out of the Grey lineup – might have done it, Victor’s multitracks spiraling in both channels. It’s Gentile’s dis to shallow people in general. “Take off your makeup, wake up!” is the mantra.

The poignant, death-fixated Wicked Hours has a gorgeous web of acoustic guitars and keening, moody Victor slide work. The band rise from an elegant, spare waltz to a mighty sweep in the album’s similarly brooding title track.

Little Things could be an especially gritty early Blondie number. Gentile reaches for a towering angst in the backbear-driven, Orbisonian breakup anthem Just Pretend, then goes back to new wave with Boyfriend.

She mashes up catchy, vamping post-Velvets rock with a swirling, Lynchian anthemc sensibility in Joe: it’s a good guess that was the real name of the guy who didn’t work out. The album’s most chillingly relevant song is Memories, pushed along by bassist Matt Basile’s trebly growl with the rest of the band raging behind him. “And there’s not enough to pay the rent, the cost of living makes no sense, the dream I dream keeps me awake at night,” Gentile wails.

She closes the record counteirntuitively with a spare piano elegy, Second Hand Heart. On one hand, it’s always fun to discover music this smartly crafted. On the other, this kind of music is very imperiled at the moment. Gentile’s usual gig was booking one of the few remaining New York rock venues, Bowery Electric. Even with that kind of resume, survival is giong to be a struggle for everyone in the nightlife industry. A moratorium on evictions til just the middle of June isn’t realistic: we need rent amnesty in New York for the entirety of the coronavirus crisis.

Jon DeRosa Brings His Haunting, Lynchian Chamber Pop Back to New York

It’s amazing how Jon DeRosa can croon with such nuance and skill considering that he’s lost most of the hearing in his right ear. Another sad reminder of the brain drain that continues to plague New York, the noir chamber pop singer decamped for Los Angeles last year, but has a haunting new album, Black Halo  to show for it. He’s bringing those ghostly songs back to town for an album release show at around 10 at St. Vitus in Greenpoint on June 3; cover is $10.

“The initial inspiration was this intense feeling of isolation and disconnection growing in me while still in New York,” DeRosa explains, “And kind of retreating into this inner world, this spirit world, really. After living there for so many years, I literally felt like a ghost drifting through the crowds, invisible, and with no real connection to anyone or anything.”

Who in New York, who’s been here since the zeros or even earlier, hasn’t felt that way? We’re excluded from the political process that’s turning even the grungiest working-class neighborhoods into ghost towns of future crackhouses, built not as actual homes but as lifesize gamepieces for robber barons hell-bent on cashing in on the real estate bubble before it explodes. And the privileged white suburbanites displacing the artistic class here have no interest in what makes a city a city. The arts don’t exist in their social media-based meta-world. They barely even watch movies. They’re all starring in their own little status-grubbing dramas which they think are comedies but are really horror videos. And they all think they’re Spielberg, but they’re not even Ed Wood. What’s just as disturbing is that some of us have found ourselves dragged into that too, by demands of the dayjob or just trying to stay in touch with the rest of the world.

That was what DeRosa escaped; from the album, he seems to have regained his footing in a shadowy place between the living and the dead. Much as there’s an elegaic strain that runs throughout the songs, there’s hope as well. DeRosa plays guitars, with Charles Newman on keys, Matt Basile on bass, Tom Curiano on drums and Carina Round on vocals. Claudia Chopek’s one-woman string section and Brad Gordon’s one-man wind ensemble join forces to create a lush miniature orchestra on several of the tracks.

The album’s opening, Lynchian, 60s noir pop ballad, Fool’s Razor establishes an atmosphere of anomie and defeat despite its towering, angst-fueled sweep. DeRosa’s chiming twelve-string guitar mingles with glockenspiel and piano on The Sun Is Crying, a sad waltz with a late 60s Laurel Canyon psych-pop vibe and a shout-out to Leonard Cohen. Then DeRosa and Round reach for unexpectedly blithe, surrealistic, mariachi-tinged Vegas pop with When Daddy Took the Treehouse Down.

Coyotes veers from southwestern gothic to mid-80s Cure jangle: “Fear is a thief in disguise, cuts out your heart and flees with its prize,” DeRosa broods in his resonant baritone, then follows with a wryly familiar Edith Piaf riff. Give Me One More Reason is the album’s most psychedelic track, a bartender cynically watching the night’s last patrons, who “don’t know how it feels to end the night standing upright,” waiting til after the doors are locked to pour a few glasses for the ghosts of the whores who still call the dive their home.

The bolero-rock number Lonely Sleep works an elegant, understated angst:

You say that there’s a river, but I see no way across
And you say the mind’s the builder, but my mind has long been lost

DeRosa and Round duet on the ghostly lullaby Dancing in a Dream, a more organic take on Julee Cruise Twin Peaks atmospherics. The piano-driven dirge Blood Moon brings to mind the Ocean Blue as well as DeRosa’s more ambient work with Aarktika. Likewise, Knock Once has 80s values: brisk new wave bassline, hypnotically loopy goth guitar. Then DeRosa brings a lingering, astigmatic 80s ambience to Orbisonian pop with You’re Still Haunting Me – which, when you think about it, pretty much defines what Lynchian music is all about, right?

The album’s most epic number is High and Lonely, a spare, hypnotically apocalyptic anthem: “I want none of your fleeting wealth, I want none of your earthly fortune,” is DeRosa’s mantra. The album winds up with the title track, a Spectoresqe instrumental waltz. DeRosa has a strong and occasionally shattering back catalog, notably his 2012 release A Wolf in Preacher’s Clothes, but this is his strongest, most consistent release. It’s not officially out yet, therefore no streaming link, although a couple of tracks are up at Motherwest Studios’ soundcloud page. Fans of the creme de la creme of dark rock: Nick Cave, Mark Sinnis and the rest will love this. It’s good to see someone we pretty much took for granted here in New York able to keep the torch burning thousands of miles away.

The Minetta Lane Theatre Stages a Sinister, Politically Spot-On New Rock Musical

“If we act like we know what we’re doing, people will think we know what we’re doing,” Marrick Smith’s tirelessly ambitious yuppie character announces at a particularly pivotal juncture in Ivar Pall Jonsson‘s surrealistically sinister, fearlessly relevant new rock musical, Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson, Furniture Painter, currently playing at the Minetta Lane Theatre. Inspired by the Enron-like run on the Icelandic krona by currency speculators in the wake of the 2008 global financial collapse, the musical is a cruelly telling parable of how the ruling classes and those elected to represent them manipulate the rest of us – and convince us that their failures are somehow ours instead. As both political and musical satire, it’s surprisingly subtle, considering how much dramatic fireworks take place and how over-the-top the parody gets in places. With roots in hippie agitprop, glam rock and George Orwell, it’s well worth the price of admission and with better branding would have a very high upside on Broadway.

The story is simple. Elbowville is a sleepy town full of people situated deep in the titular laborer’s body, south of Mombreast and north of Knee York City and its trendy suburb, Hipburg. As befits satire, the characters are all pretty broad. Cady Huffman’s Manuela, the mayor, starts out egocentrically brassy and gets increasingly diabolical as the plot unwinds. Smith’s Peter, inventor of the Prosperity Machine that brings the town great joy and hilariously spoofy bodily “enhancements,” is insatiable in his quest for more and more until the whole scheme seems on the brink of collapse (a crisis that resolves itself via flashback early on). Jesse Wildman methodically emboldens the persona of Brynja, the ingenue who can’t decide between bossy Peter and his shy, good-hearted brother (Graydon Long). Brad Nacht is exasperatingly unwavering and amusing as doofy third-wheel brother Stein, who will avoid a decision at all costs just to get along. Kate Shindle lends an acerbic fire to his status-grubbing but increasingly suspicious wife Asrun, while Patrick Boll is wickedly perfect as Manuela’s sneaky, kiss-ass straight man, Kolbein (which sounds suspiciously like “Cobain” throughout the performance).

The satire goes beyond politics to Broadway spectacle itself. A good portion of the action unfolds during song sequences, and not a single character bothers to imbue his or her vocals with anything other than a rote, smiley-faced, Disney-approved cheer (which seems to be a directorial decision, a very effective one). The music, also by Jonsson, is catchy and tuneful, drawing heavily on Aladdin Sane-era David Bowie as well as the more anthemic side of 80s new wave pop, with a bit of metal crunch or goth horror in the tenser moments. The band – Matt Basile on bass, Bryn Roberts on keyboards, John Kengla and Rob Ritchie on guitars plus a terse, swinging drummer who somehow managed not to let an injured leg in a thigh-high boot stop him – play with dynamics and intensity.

Interestingly, the narrative positions the local powers that be as the villains, without taking into account external factors conspiring against them – there are a couple of very amusing repo man/woman scenes, but that’s about it. As the bank or its facsimile gets run on, pandemonium ensues and it looks like somebody’s going to get strung up. The sudden ending packs an unexpected wallop. This show succeeds on all levels: as comedy, as corrosively cynical political commentary, as a rock show. And there’s a soundtrack album – sung by the actors and band in the original Icelandic production – that you can listen back to.

Back to that title: it’s got to go for this to succeed on any sizeable level in the US.  A show this accessible yet this impactful could have a real future on Broadway (that Fela managed to last as long as it did is good reason to believe the time is ripe for a similarly edgy 99-percenters’ tale). But xenophobic American tourist audiences won’t buy Ragnar whateverhisnameis. Elbowville would work just fine.

Haunting, Picturesque Retro Chamber Pop from Jon DeRosa

Jon DeRosa’s latest album A Wolf in Preacher’s Clothes is sort of the missing link between Jarvis Cocker and Leonard Cohen; or in a more modern context, between Ward White and Mark Sinnis. DeRosa grew up with punk, then took a plunge into goth (his Aarktika project was his main gig until he ventured into dark Americana in the mid-zeros). This one – available on vinyl in the US from Motherwest and out on Nov 5 from Rocket Girl in Europe – finds him alternating between dark, lushly crooned, Scott Walker-inflected chamber pop and more minimalist, postpunk-tinged, distantly creepy rock. Violinist Claudia Chopek’s string arrangements – also featuring Julia Kent on cello – are to die for, a rich, velvety chocolate truffle for the ears. Overhead, DeRosa’s nuanced, cat-ate-the-canary baritone lingers, sometimes ominous, sometimes with more than a hint of rakishness. And he paints a hell of a picture.

Birds of Brooklyn sets the scene, DeRosa’s crepuscular croon over Burt Bacharach-inflected chamber pop. It’s a cruel juxtaposition: all eyes are on the gentrifier girl, including the old blue-collar guy with the “thousand yard stare” drinking boilermakers and stuck with “love songs on the underside of the sports page, in a nom de plume.” That’s DeRosa’s genius: this scenario could go from elegance to cliche in a second, but he never caves in to sentimentality. This is one cynical album.

True Men sets a more wistful tone, boxing serving as its central metaphor. Over a sweeping arrangement straight out of late 50s Ricky Nelson, DeRosa lets the double entendres fly. “I’ve woken the neighbors, after hard nights of labor,” is the closing mantra. And who hasn’t? But the way he sets it up – and then knocks it down – is sweet science.

Over lush 80s goth-rock, Snow Coffin paints a chillingly allusive nocturnal scene lowlit by Sam Lazzara’s vibraphone, drummer Mike Pride throwing in some deadpan Atrocity Exhibition rolls. Teenage Goths is as sardonically funny as you’d hope it would be: it sounds like an outtake from a mid-90s Pulp album.

The hypnotic, echoey Tattooed Lady’s Blues paints an ominous afterparty scenario, with a cruelly offhand Lou Reed reference. By contrast, Who Decides balances jauntiness with a more somber noir 60s Orbisonesque vibe, weighing whether or not a “kiss is just as kiss – the sun that also rises might bring surprises.” Again, Pride’s Sonny Bono/Phil Spector drumming is spot-on. After that, DeRosa keeps the guarded optimism going with the clever, coy Don’t Say Goodnight.

Ladies in Love sets plaintive washes of strings against DeRosa’s starkly fingerpicked acoustic guitar; the album’s closing track, Hollow Earth Theory – previously released as an Aarktika song – takes the swirling, hypnotic factor up a notch.

DeRosa also gives a welcome sheen, heft and bulk to the Blue Nile‘s bitterly minimalist Easter Parade. Hearing it only makes you wonder what he could do with, say, John Cale’s Paris 1919. Throughout the album, the playing is understatedly seamless, terse, and tuneful, also including contributions from JJ Beck on accordion, Charles Newman on organ, Kendrick Strauch on piano, Matt Basile on electric and upright bass and a horn section of James Duncan on trumpet and Jon Natchez on a small army’s worth of instruments. One of the most haunting and intriguing albums of 2012: you”ll see this on the best albums of the year page here at the end of December if we make it that far.