New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: new wave music

Heroes of Toolik Reprise One of 2018’s Most Entrancing Shows in Williamsburg This Weekend

On one hand, the idea of Heroes of Toolik squeezing themselves into Pete’s Candy Store might seem incongruous. On the other hand, the band have pared down their sound to a more acoustic, pastoral, overcast psychedelia. Their show at the irresistibly intimate new Spectrum, out by what’s left of the Brooklyn Navy Yard last month, revealed a side of the band that they’d been percolating for a long time but really perfected with their 2016 album Like Night. They’ll be at Pete’s at 8;30 PM on March 25, and then at Sunny’s on April 17 at 9:30.

At the Spectrum show, the psychedelic factor might have been ratcheted up a few notches by a ringer rhythm section. Brian Adler took over Billy Ficca’s drum chair with a slithery pulse, using his hardware and rims for all kinds of spectral flickers. On bass was the most acerbic and funniest composer in jazz, Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s Moppa Elliott, playing the changes with a deadpan slink. Frontman Arad Evans played acoustic guitar with more of a spiky, incisive attack than he typically does when he’s on electric.

The songs ran the gamut of several decades’ worth of psychedelic, new wave and early CB’s era postrock influences. A swaying anthem with meticulous, nuanced vocals from violinist Jennifer Coates and tersely looming trombone from John Speck came across as sort of a mashup of lo-fi 90s British rock – think Comet Gain – and the Grateful Dead. Throughout a vampy post-Television rainy-day psychedelic mini-epic, the guy/girl vocals of Evans and Coates brought to mind similarly slinky, hypnotically jangly zeroes Brooklyn band Liza & the WonderWheels. Coates took lead vocals on another much more spare, marching number, with a clipped, broodingly precise delivery that brought to mind another luminary from the zeros, Erika Simonian.

As the show went on, there were several detours into freer improvisational interludes, individual voices going out on a limb and then reconfiguring in turn. Was Elliott going to indulge the crowd in any tongue-in-cheek shenanigans? As it turned out, no: he was just having fun chilling back with the drums. The overall ambience was enigmatic, sometimes bordering on trance-inducing, a constantly shifting textural intertwine of violin, guitar and trombone over a thicket of beats. Get your trance on at Pete’s on the 25th.

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A Lavish, Ambitious, Politically-Inspired New Album by Banda Magda

Banda Magda frontwoman Magda Giannikou writes fluently and fearlessly in an amazing number of styles from around the world. Accordion is her main axe, but she also plays the lanterna, an ancient, magically rippling Greek instrument. Her band’s debut album T’es La put a cheery Mediterranean spin on vintage French ye-ye pop. The follow-up, 2014’s Yerakina, was far darker, established the band as a major force in latin and Mediterranean psychedelia, and earned them a regular spot in the rotation on the New York outdoor summer concert circuit.

The songs on the band’s latest album Tigre –  streaming at Spotify – draw inspiration from freedom fighters in her native Greece battling Eurozone bankster terrorism. The Nicaraguan struggle against corporate-funded death squads became a focal point for punk rock forty years ago. Is this the 2018 counterpart to the Clash’s Sandinista album? It’s more opaque, maybe a wise move considering global circumstances at the moment, but it’s practically just as epic. This is all about the orchestration: sweep and grandeur punctuated by elegant guitar and keys, driven by an eclectic rhythm section. The central theme is stay strong: we’ve really got our work cut out for us.

The first track, Tam Tam, welds a slinky, surfy, Middle Eastern-tinged electic bouzouki line to lush, sweeping new wave: if Chicha Libre had been Greek and had existed in 1982, they might have sounded something like this. Giannikou sings this one in French. She welds those lush strings, lingering guitar and new wave touches to a bouncy samba beat in the chipper, cheery Coração – as the song rises, the orchestration and clickety-clack groove grow more hypnotic.

Ase Me Na opens with a long, sweeping, mournful string introduction, then becomes a swaying Aegean anthem – as with the first track, uneasy, spiky electric bouzouki punctuates the enveloping majesty of the strings. Giannikou saves her most hushed, tender vocal for Muchacha, the orchestra occasionally bubbling over a hypnotically circling tropical acoustic guitar tune.

She blends rapidfire Indian riffage into Brazilian forro in the insistent Vem Moren, rising from stark cello riffage to a brass-fueled dance. Chanson is a lush, starry throwback to the balmy pop of the band’s first album, then the band pick up the pace with the tricky, sauntering metrics of Reine de (Queen of…), which could be early 80s Kate Bush with simmering bouzouki, lithe strings and an ending that goes straight to the Sahara.

The title track is a triptych. Over a cinematic, lavish backdrop, Snarky Puppy’s Michael League narrates Giannikou’s thinly vieied political parable about three girls facing down a thieving tiger .The song itself is a vengeful, indomitably pulsing blend of Romany swing, psychedelic cumbia and qawwali, maybe, up to a mighty, shivery, orchestrated coda.

Starry vibraphone lingers over a brisk, emphatic clave beat in Venin (Venom), Giannikou’s French lyrics commenting on the frustrations of love rather than geopolitics. The album winds up with the swirling, droning spacerock of Thiamandi. Count this among the most wildly ambitious and original albums of the past several months.

Cynical, Bittersweet Powder Drug Noir at Pete’s Tonight

Interesting twinbill tonight, Dec 16 starting at 9 PM at Pete’s Candy Store. Bad Galaxy, who mine a sardonic folk noir vein, open for the similarly cynical, wryly surreal Dream Eaters, who play their distantly Lynchian quasi new wave at 10.

Ironically – in the true sense of the word – the Dream Eaters’ best song is the one that’s not on their album We Are a Curse, streaming at Bandcamp. That number is the woozily spot-on Klonopin Girl. But it’s a good prototype for the album tracks. “Back in the wasteland, sinking in the quicksand,” frontwoman Elizabeth LeBaron intones in a phenobarbitol murmur as Dead on the Inside begins. But then her voice rises to the rafters as the song grows from Jake Zavracky’s steady, staccato guitar strum to anthemic Julee Cruise territory. “I get so fried, trying to get through,” LeBaron wails.

With acoustic guitar, drum machine and enveloping vintage lo-fi synth textures, the calmly stomping Neanderthals follows the same template. “Keep the vermin out,” LeBaron instructs,” They won’t make us crawl, they’re all neanderthals.”

Dots is much the same: steady acoustic fingerpicking sparkles against deep-space ambience and LeBaron’s girl-down-the-well vocals. As you’ve figured out by now, the songs titles are dead giveaways. Astral Asshole and Sugar Coma share druggy outer-space metaphors and melancholy DollHouse harmonies. Almost Afraid, with its dreamy death imagery and understated front-porch folk guitar, brings back fond memories of late zeros Williamsburg cinephiles the Quavers. But Plastic Princess, which would be straight-up new wave at twice the speed, isn’t a dis: it’s a cautionary tale about the perils of conformity.

“Let me be your albatross,” LeBaron intones over a slow, stately chamber pop backdrop in So Heavy. With its grisly images, is the album’s languid title track a condemnation of Brooklyn gentrifier anomie? That’s open to debate. A final, fingerpicked lament, Brazil Song, is about as Brazilian as the Brazilian Girls. Some people might catch a few bars of this and dismiss it as wannabe Lana Del Rey faux-noir. But if sad, drifty music infused with gallows humor is your thing, stick with it.

Goth Music Rises From the Grave in Williamsburg Friday Night

Long after it seemed that emo had finally driven a stake through what was left of goth music, turns out that it’s very much alive – in Williamsburg, of all places. There’s a twinbill at Muchmore’s on Dec 15 at 11 that could be a real throwback to the sounds of the Meatpacking District dungeons in the 80s, awash in digital reverb and tight new wave beats,. It’s not clear whether Safe Hex or Picture One are playing first, but their sounds are very similar. Likewise, each band has an album up as a free download at Bandcamp.

Sidereal, by Safe Hex, opens with Watched Us Fade, which sets the scene: stiff 2/4 drum machine beat, brisk new wave bass and echoey downstroke guitar that pinwheels into a splatter of dreampop. The vocals are the only giveaway that this wasn’t made in the mid-80s in the shadow of the Cure.

The second cut, With What Sacrifice shifts from steadily pulsing early New Order into a more enveloping, hypnotic dreampop ambience. Rachael, with its soaring, watery bass, icy pulsar guitars and ominous chromatic riffage, is the one dead ringer for the Cure circa 1984 here.

Forgotten Bodies, which closes the album, is both its fastest, most atmospheric and anthemic cut, building to a catchy crescendo before the skittish staccato guitar returns.

Picture One’s all-instrumental album sounds less like a band and more like a bedroom project with guitars, lo-fi keys and drum machine. The opening track, Bunkbed Tapes follows a familiar, tense pattern as multi-instrumentalist Thomas Pinkney’s layers of Roland Juno-style faux organ and piano enter the picture and then recede. It segues into the aptly titled miniature Gray Signals, followed by Light Beyond This, Light Before, snappy bass strutting and winding through spare, reverb-drenched rainy-day guitar.

The cover of the Cleaners From Venus’ Only a Shadow is more than a shadow of the Cure’s Pictures of You sped up a bit, with a neat bit of a surf edge (or did was it the Cure who ripped off the original?). Things slow down with the dirgey, cinematic theme Red Rainbow and then pick up with A Dream Like Death Like, one of many tracks here screaming out for a full band to play it behind some black-clad guy who can really croon about things like desperate winter moons and lonely werewolves – ok, maybe not that, but you get the picture.

Robot Heart is another Cure soundalike. anchored by a fast, vamping, percussive bassline. The fleeting closing track, Montrose motors along over an anthemic four-chord riff driven by the bass, swooshy atmospherics looming in the background. There are plenty of gloomy neoromantic one-man-band types all over youtube, but it’s impossible to think of any writing goth songs without words in a vein as catchy as this.

Electric Youth’s Movie Deal Falls Through, But They Get a Great Album Out of It

Today’s Halloween album is the utterly Lynchian soundtrack to a movie that never came out. At least Electric Youth – the duo of  keyboardist Austin Garrick and singer Bronwyn Griffin – got a great album out of it, if no residuals. The total of 23 brief interludes that comprise the score to Breathing – the working title of the film, maybe? – are streaming at Soundcloud. Angelo Badalamenti’s iconic Twin Peaks soundtracks are the obvious prototype: very simple, catchy riffs and artful, slowly developed variations awash in reverb, distant menace everywhere. The production is a lot more lo-fi, with warpy vintage Roland Juno patches substituting for the lush string synth in the Lynch film scores.

The score opens as a contentedly vamping piano nocturne with airy Julee Cruise-type vocals that goes dark suddenly, and an audio horror filim is underway. Where Did You Go nicks not only the vocal style but also a key lyric from the Lynch/Badalamenti playbook, although the music is a lot different: ominously looming faux organ and then dancingly techy new wave. Loopy variations introduce the title theme and then grow more ominous.

It’s Them is the closest approximation of a classic David Lynch theme here, in this case the iconic Twin Peaks title music. From there, cloudy synth echoes it, slowly; a red herring of a lullaby emerges; then Griffin returns with a spare, 80s-tinged goth-pop ballad punctuated by odd poltergeist effects.

A coldly menacing, Brad Fiedel-esque robo-walk, twinkly loops, a forlorn piano reprise of the opening theme and more slowly shifting Twin Peaks ambience lead to a surreal miniature that sounds like it was recorded on the same piano Sonic Youth used for the Daydream Nation album.

A slow, elegant fragment of a pavane, lingering stormcloud atmospherics, a hint of goth-pop, a hypnotic allusion to a Lou Reed classic, and a funhouse mirror return to the opening theme follow in turn. If the track titles reflect the plot, there’s at least one particularly tragic character, and the cast eventually end up somewhere between Britain and France in the Chunnel, where the dark truth finally comes out. Sure sounds like a great movie!

Dark, Brooding, Catchy Powerpop and New Wave From Lauren Hoffman & the Secret Storm

Today’s Halloween album, streaming at Bandcamp, is The Family Ghost, by Lauren Hoffman & the Secret Storm. As with yesterday’s album, it’s anything but cartoonish: the unease is pretty relentless, and when there’s menace, it’s typically implied. The music is on the dark side, blending artsy parlor pop, powerpop, and new wave – and it’s catchy as hell. Hoffman’s clear, uncluttered voice is a powerful vehicle for these mostly sad songs.

The opening track sways along on a trip-hop groove, Hoffman’s elegantly restrained vocals evoking Changing Modes’ Wendy Griffiths over Tony Lechmanski’s lingering, Lynchian guitar clang. And then the song hits a blazing crescendo. It’s about being hunted, and escaping that: it’s not clear who the girl and her little brother are running from. In a city where the subways and buses are on track to become part of a surveillance-based system by 2023, songs like this really resonate.

Feel It All Over is a catchy minor-key new wave powerpop hit bolstered by Ethan Lipscomb’s piano and Cathy Monnes’ one-woman string section, Hoffman’s protagonist determined to live at full throttle until the curtain falls. A Britfolk-tinged waltz amped up with burning guitars, Let the Waves Crash on Me is a love song to a would-be escapee: I’ve got your back, I’ll hold your guns while you make a break for it, Hoffman insists.

Sick With Love is every bit as plainspoken and morose as the title indicates, Hoffman pondering  who’ll miss the random strangers in the street when they’re dead. Over an anthemic four-chord powerpop hook, In the Sun broodingly contemplates the hope for something genuinely transcendent. “I’m not that strong, but I’m strong enough to suffer if that’s the price I have to pay,” she laments.

She goes back to mid 80s style Go-Go’s powerpop with I Just Broke up With a Guy Who Looks Kinda Like You, whose title doesn’t come close to hinting at where the muted, somber vocals and narrative are going. The snarling, Middle Eastern-tinged title track is both the album’s musical high point…and its lyrically weakest track. OK, seduce the dude, whatev. And skip the next track – even some tasty, fluttery cello can’t redeem that one.

With its blend of enigmatic guitar, swooping cello and incisive keys, the album’s most ornate, witchiest number is The Dragon: “You’re a tease and a flirt,” Hoffman tells the monster. The album closes with the sad waltz Til it Lasts: “I won’t be so brave next time,” Hoffman tells herself, “You die for their love, or die of it.” Nothing more Halloweenish than that.

Ella Atlas’ Debut Album Builds Hauntingly Cinematic Twin Peaks Ambience

Stephen Masucci is best known for his film music and for his lead guitar in one of the most haunting, Lynchian New York bands ever, the Lost Patrol. Since that group ground to a halt a couple of years ago, he’s been busy with a new, similarly dark, cinematic project, Ella Atlas, with compellingly enigmatic, eclectic singer/multi-instrumentalist Tarrah Maria. The duo’s deliciously reverb-drenched new album The Road to Now is streaming at Bandcamp.

It opens with the catchy, distantly shimmering When the Gods Are Fading, swirly late 70s ELO through a surreal new wave prism peppered with references to wars and death. Masucci’s icy clang fuels the slowly swaying Red Kingdom, Tarrah Maria’s vocals lush with a similarly chilly allure.

Likewise, Hotel You begins with blue velvet tremolo guitar chords but quickly hits a brisk new wave take on a roadhouse rock groove, Tarrah Maria’s voice taking on a hint of a country twang in a luridly aphoristic tale of conflagration and escape. The slower. even more plush Waking Up has a spacerock sweep, the frontwoman’s voice bringing to mind Karla Rose at her most subtly torchy and dynamic.

Meteor shower atmospherics build to a propulsive chorus in Horses on the Run. Breaking Ice comes across as a noir surf-influenced take on the kind of angst-fueled retro new wave the New Collisions mined so memorably around the turn of the past decade.

Something to Be Desired is part hearbroken Nashville gothic pop, part Cocteau Twins, Tarrah Maria turning in her most ominously pillowy vocals here. The duo make an enveloping anthem out of an On Broadway vamp in Blindful & Bliss, then build strutting, turbulent, red-neon ambience in Can’t Go Back.

“I know that this will end, but I’m addicted to the view,” Tarrah Maria intones in Leave Me in Blue, the most darkly lingering, epically sweeping track here. The album winds up with Skin & Bones, rising out and then back to spare, rainy-day melancholy. As with the Lost Patrol, a persistent unease and distant sense of dread pervades these nocturnes: they’re songs for our time. Arguably the best debut album of 2017 so far.

Artsy Afrobeat-Inflected Tunesmithing and a City Winery Show from Jenn Wasner

Jenn Wasner is an anomaly in the indie rock world: a fluent, imaginative guitarist who uses just about every sound available to her and writes smart, pensive, lyrical songs. She’s bringing her band Wye Oak to a rare Manhattan gig tomorrow night, Oct 6 at City Winery. If you can get to Manhattan, you can also get home afterward since the show is early – 8 PM – and you won’t have to worry about the train leaving you at some random outpost in the remote fringes of Bushwick. And you can get in for twenty bucks at the door.

Wasner also has an intriguing side project, Flock of Dimes, whose debut album is streaming at Bandcamp. The songs blend icy, crisply produced ABC-style 80s art-pop with a stainless-topped, airconditioned 90s lounge feel over Afrobeat-inflected rhythms. Wasner likes dancing vocal melodies and tricky tempos which percolate throughout pretty much every song here.

Wasner’s lingering guitar resonates over a soukous-ish triplet beat on the opening track, Birthplace; “My love is not an object,” she asserts, then dancing, synthesized strings kick in. The Joke is a powerpop gem as the Talking Heads might have played it, with blippy synth and surrealistically echoing faux-Leslie speaker guitars: the steel solo that the song fades out on is anunexpected treat and over too soon.

Everything Is Happening Today pairs atmospheric verse against kinetic, metrically tricky chorus.  Likewise, Semaphore shifts from uneasy resonance to subtly crescendoing dancefloor-beat angst on the chorus, “Too far gone for a sempahore.”

The danciest and techiest track is Ida Glow. which could be Missing Persons or Garbage without the sexpot pose. Wasner goes back toward Remain in Light-era Talking Heads with Flight, an allusive, lushly textured account of betrayal.

With its watery layers of chorus-box guitar and similarly disembodied vocals, Apparition could be late-period Siouxsie without the microtones…and then it goes in the direction of the Fixx or Tears for Fears. Spiraling, Spanish-tinged guitars punctuate the gorgeous Given/Electric Life, which could be Linda Draper with slicker production: “I’m not in the ways of counting days, distract myself,” Wasner insists.

“We seem to be awake, but we are dreaming,” shse intones enigmatically at the end of Minor Justice, a return to icy, blippy Afrobeat-pop. “I couldn’t free you, I couldn’t free myself,” she laments in You, the Vatican – #bestsongtitleever, huh? The album ends with,…To Have No Answer, which sounds like Bjork at her trippiest and most atmospheric. Throughout the album, Wasner plays all the guitars and keys as well: she obviously put a lot of time and effort into this. It’s like an artichoke, one layer after another to unfold. If the album had come out thirty years ago, every graying Gen-Xer would still have the cd somewhere – and that’s a compliment.

A Wickedly Catchy Weekend Show by the Mysterious Melissa & the Mannequins

Melissa & the Mannequins are New York’s most exciting new band. There’s very little about them on the web. The only one of their songs that’s made it online so far is Slip Away, the gorgeously bittersweet, propulsively jangly number they closed their deliciously catchy set with at Long Island City Bar over the Labor Day weekend. They’ve been around for about  a year, tops. Quietly and steadily, they’ve put what’s obviously been an enormous amount of work into this band, equal to their formidable chops. Up-and-coming rock acts seldom have as much command of their instruments, let alone as many styles as this group winds their way through.

In roughly an hour onstage, frontwoman/guitarist Melissa Gordon sang with a cool, collected delivery over a tight rhythm section. Lyrically, most of the songs dealt with brooding breakup scenarios, often in contrast to the tunes’ bright,upbeat quality, Stylistically, they really ran the gamut. Several numbers worked a psychedelic soul vein, bringing to mind Chicano Batman with a woman out front and a more subdued, atmospheric keyboardist: throughout the set, the Mannequin on keys kept a tight focus and added all kinds of subtle textures and washes of sound.

Midway through the set, the band switched it up with an unexpectedly funky song, like Turkuaz in a rare low-key, trippy moment. There were also a couple of detours in the direction of Jacco Gardner-ish retro 60s sunshine pop and a distant Beatles influence. The most riveting song of the set might be called I Wasn’t Listening, an uncharacteristically haunting, epic, wounded noir soul ballad in 6/8 tiime, lead guitarist Steve Flakus capping it off with a long, biting, purist blues solo.

Gordon is also an excellent guitarist (which you wouldn’t know from her Soundcloud page, something she obviously put up as she was learning the fretboard). She and Flakus took a grand total of three perfectly synchronized twin solos: it wasn’t Iron Maiden, but it was just as tight. Gordon also engaged the crowd with her deadpan sense of humor: she seems to come out of a theatre background. LIC Bar also seems to be the group’s home base these days as they build a following, an aptly cool joint for this band. They’re also at Bowery Electric at 9 on Oct 1; cover is $10.

The Colorful Dalton Deschain & the Traveling Show Make a Lower East Side Stop

Dalton Deschain & the Traveling Show are one of the most individualistic and artistically ambitious bands in New York. They’re very high-concept: their catchy, anthemic songs mirror and elaborate on characters and events in an ongoing retro-futurist serial novel that could go in plenty of directions, from graphic series to feature film. Over the past couple of years, Deschain (not his real name) and the band have been beating a path with their catchy, anthemic songs between Bed-Stuy and the Lower East Side when they’re not on tour. They’ve got a new ep, Catherine, streaming at Bandcamp and an accompanying novelette. They’re playing at Sidewalk on August 18 at 10:40 PM (tnat’s 10:40, not 10:30, folks), opening for perennially popular folk noir denizen Lorrane Leckie, who’s playing a rare, intimate solo show.

Deschain weaves a hell of a yarn. Set in 1945, the plotline traces a postwar America reeling from a biological attack and an Axis victory. Deschain builds suspense to the breaking point, doesn’t telegraph the action and keeps you on the page. As with all steampunk scenarios, verisimilitude sometimes takes a backseat to action, and when that gets all wiz-bang, a suspension of disbelief can be required. Loaded down and encumbered as she was, the heroine somehow gets away from the bad guys with guns? Really??? That’s where the story unravels away from Philip K. Dick toward Quentin Tarantino.

The songs on the ep are artsy and eclectic, and the band is first-rate, with Deschain handling all the guitars, David Warpaint on bass and Phil Harris on drums. Deschain sings through a tidal, uneasy vintage chorus-box effect as Tin Laurels gets underway, an enigmatic ingenue-in-the-big-city anthem. Interstitial (Approximate Man) alludes icily and mechanically to one of many stories nested within the narrative, in this case a mysterious, gnomic avant-garde poet who may hold the key to something not yet revealed. Approximate Girl concludes the ep: “if you think I’m beautiful then you never watched a star die,” the narrator asserts early on. Deschain’s long, tremolo-icepicked guitar solo at the end is irresistibly delicious. There’s a watery 80s feel to much of this music and this is a prime example: Peter Gabriel from late in the decade comes to mind, as well as late-period Bowie. It’ll be fun to see where the next episode picks up.