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Yet Another Enigmatic, Unpredictable Short Album and a Bushwick Show From Power Trio Castle Black

Marauding power trio Castle Black are a rare feel-good story amidst the wreckage of what was once a thriving New York rock scene. They tour relentlessly and put out one scorching short album after another. Their latest release, The Gods That Adored You – streaming at Bandcamp – picks up where their magnificent Trapped Under All You Know left off, yet it’s a lot more minimalist and straightforward. Their next hometown gig is on Jan 17 at 8 PM at Gold Sounds in Bushwick. Cover is $10, and since we’ve been granted a gubernatorial reprieve from the dreaded L train shutdown, it looks like there will be subway service in that part of Brooklyn.

The album has five tracks, divided up into Part A: Fucked and Part B: Adored. The Fucked diptych opens with Man on a Train, its endless exchange of unexpected chord changes like a New York take on first-wave Bay Area punk legends the Avengers. The bassline that opens the second part, River, hints at disco before frontwoman Leigh Celent’s distorted guitar chords and drummer Matt Bronner’s galloping clusters kick in. Celent keeps getting more and more ambitious as an instrumentalist: this time, she adds layers of feedback and some strange, spacy textures.

Part B begins with Sierra, an echoey, hypnotically pulsing murder narrative awash in icy chorus-box guitar…until the distorted burn of the guitars and the drums kicks in, anyway. A Cigarette, Saved alternates between spare, chilly echoes of Joy Division and punchy punk insistence: the mantra is “I’m in love with the way you think.”

Celent’s distantly anguished vocals over delicious, grimly catchy chords blend with bass swoops and a galloping art-rock interlude in the album’s most ornately gorgeous song, Linen. Castle Black aren’t particularly retro, but songs like these remind how musically talented and outside the box those first-wave punk bands were. In that sense, Castle Black do justice to their ancestors without imitating them.

Castle Black Bring Their Towering, Magnificently Dark Roar to Arlene’s This Saturday Night

If you run a music blog, it’s especially validating to watch an artist or an act deliver on the promise of their early days.  A couple of years ago, power trio Castle Black weren’t all that tight, and they were still getting the hang of their instruments. But it was obvious they had something that most rock acts in this city don’t have: fearlessness. For one, they don’t fall back on all the lazy indie rock guitar cliches – the moveable chords, the open chords, the pilfered New Order and Cure licks – that all the richkid Bushwick bands use. Do Castle Black even know what a cliche is? OK, last Friday night at the Well, there were a couple of choruses during the band’s blistering, careeningly triumphant release show there for their latest short album Trapped Under All You Know that were pretty Ramonsey. But all punk bands do that.

Otherwise, it was impossible to tell was coming next, except that it was bound to be loud and hard and intense – and catchy. At the release show at Matchless this past winter for their video Dark Light, guitarist Leigh Celent was starting to really flex her chops as the savage lead player she’s always wanted to be. This time out, she was that person – and bassist Lisa Low is flexing too, with a lot of riffs instead of just a booming low resonance. Drummer Matt Bronner, who was the best musician in the band when they first started, now finds himself propelling one of the most powerful and interesting bands in town.

Celent is really cutting loose on the mic now too. She finally unleashed that wounded wail in all its vengeful glory in the night’s best song, in fact one of the year’s best songs, Broken Bright Star, through all sorts of permutations. finally bringing it full circle to the haggard, elegaic blown-tube opening riff. Watching as the band built steam from from there, through the bitterly anthemic Sabotage, the serpentine, jaggedly noisy Dark Light and then Next Thing, echoing 70s Patti Smith, was just as much fun.

A new number, Man on a Train followed an unpredictable path of doomed late-night imagery. Low’s suspenseful epic-Buzzcocks rumble as Rise slowly got underway gave Celent a long launching pad to burn out of. They ended the show with some of their catchiest numbers: Blind Curtain, which sounded like powerpop Blondie on steroids; Seeing in Blue, the new album’s opening track, smoldering with Fender Twin amp roar and machete postpunk riffage; and the sardonically funny classic punk encore, One Track Mind. Castle Black will probably do a lot of this at their next Manhattan gig this Saturday night, September 2 at 10 PM at Arlene’s. Cover is $10.

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.

Meet Darkly Noisy, Catchy, Up-and-Coming Castle Black

Castle Black are the kind of band you want to catch on the way up. Right now, the power trio are running on inspiration. They’re pushing the limits of their chops, careening through a bunch of styles – oldschool punk, abrasive post-Bush Tetras postpunk and noisy later-period Sleater-Kinney indie aggro, to name a few – on their way to really crystallizing a sound of their own. If this is as far as they get, they’re a lot of fun live. If they keep at it, they’ve got a high ceiling. Both guitarist Leigh Celent and bassist Lisa Low sing; drummer Matt Bronner is the kind of uncluttered rock player a band like this needs. Right now they’re making their way up from crappy venues – their youtube channel has a lot of good live stuff from the odious Bitter End, for example – to good places like Matchless. Their next gig is tomorrow night, December 19 at 8 PM at Leftfield, the old UC Lounge space at 87 Ludlow St. just south of Delancey; cover is $10.

At this early point in their career, they’ve got the tunes, and a consistently dark vision. All a band like this needs to do is keep playing, and grow beyond just playing scales, or noise when just a little something from outside the box would set them apart from the rest of the pack. The stuff at youtube is tantalizingly haphazard. There’s Premonition, which has a sludgy country feel and then picks up steam; the epic Dark Light: A Plague Revisited, with the eerie foreshadowing of its opening hook, to a series of unexpected up-and-down tempo shifts; The Next Big Thing, with its trippy, oscillating white noise and mashup of stoner metal riffage and viciously chugging oldschool punk rumble. Song of Winter is the simplest of the songs, and catchy as it is, sounds like a very early one. Someone Hear Me shuffles and careens along over a noisily embellished blues scale as the cymbals build a hailstorm behind the roar. Doing Time Pass puts a noisier spin on a vintage Gang of Four riff and then goes in a more straight-up direction.

They’ve also got an ep, Find You There, streaming at their music page. The opening track, This Old Town builds from an aching, tense postpunk verse into an ominously lingering chorus, an allusive tale of kicking around a hopeless place where bad accidents happen, and you’re so numbed by the pain that you feel nothing when they do. It’s their best song so far. There are also cleaner studio versions of Doing Time Pass and The Next Thing, plus their funniest number, Psychic Surgery, sort of the early Go-Go’s doing boogie rock.