New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: new wave music

Fun with Anthemic 80s Rock on Thought Leaders’ New Album

See if you can pull on your boots under those skinny jeans. Tell your girl to smudge on an extra layer of eyeliner and stick a couple of wine coolers in her Coach bag. We’ll see if the Ford Fiesta still runs after the thrashing we gave it the other night.

For those who weren’t there, those are 80s references. Thought Leaders‘ new album In Wastelands – streaming at Bandcamp – is the great lost soundtrack to the chilly European road movie that Jim Jarmusch never made. This is stylized, legacy music, but done with a surprising balance of period-perfect detail and unhinged energy.

The opening number, Enigma 41 is a mashup of the Cult and early U2, guitarist Andrew Lund throwing in a little Happy Mondays jangle among his spare, lingering chorus-box arpeggios. The chorus-box textures get icier and the chords get more menacingly juicy, in an early Wire vein, in the next song, Come Even.

Bassist Tyler Cox introduces Burning Glass with a growl before Lund slashes his way in, Daniel Ash style, just as he does on the way out: it’s the best and most savage song on the album. The band tighten up over drummer Kirk Snedeker’s 2/4 new wave beat in the next track, Jane Doe’s Estate (presumably a reference to an inheritance, however small: lyrics and vocals don’t really figure into this band’s music).

They make a memorable mashup of the Cult and Wire in the album’s title track and follow with Shallows, Lund turning up the chorus for a deep-freeze John McGeoch-era Siouxsie chill before a big, cinematic, doublespeed stampede out.

Tumbling Joy Division drums and freezer-burn Bauhaus broken chords mingle over the synths in the background in Desire Reserve, There’s a little vintage PiL in Enemy Flies Above; the band wind up the record with the careening Saturday Night Leave.

Subtle Protest Songs and Dark 80s-Influenced Sounds From Polish Chanteuse Brodka

In a review of Polish singer Monika Brodka’s 2016 album Clashes, this blog called her “an artist who’s found an original sound and is still experimenting with other ideas: may that experimentation continue and find a wider audience.” Fast forward to 2021: Brodka (who records under her last name) has taken her songwriting to a powerfully political new level with her new one, Brut, streaming at Spotify.

How far does she cast her musical net this time around? Clashes had a persistent 80s gothic sensibility, as this one often does. From time to time, Brodka moves forward into the early 21st century, around the time of Goldfrapp‘s heyday, with a similar dichotomy between wounded, ripe vocals and icy, airless, techy production.

Brodka sings exclusively in English this time out, more assertively and confidently than ever. Much of the material here is protest songs, no surprise considering how horrific the body count from the needle of death, and the lockdown itself, have been in Poland.

“Quarantine this heart of mine if I ever come back home,” Brodka’s fugitive narrator insists over a blippy, twisted faux-martial backdrop in The World Is You, the album’s most haunting track. The warpy, melancholy ballad Chasing Giants makes a good segue, Brodka’s voice hitting breaking point over a trippy quasar-synth background.

“Enough enough, capricious girl, you better follow the team,” Brodka intones in the cynical goth-pop anthem You Think You Know. Brodka seems potently aware that the lockdown is first and foremost an attack on women.

Trebly hollowbody bass contrasts with crunchy electro beats in Falling Into You, a pensively bouncy pop song which, beyond its anti-lockdown message, may also allude to the struggle for women to maintain their reproductive rights in her home country.

Fruits, an airy, warped psych-pop ballad, conspicuously mentions a “poison seed.” In My Eyes captures the ache and crushing isolation of the past sixteen months, with subtle dubwise touches. “How I’d love touch your hand in glove,” seems to be sarcastic to the extreme.

With the keys warping off pitch and back again, Sadness, the closing cut, doesn’t seem to have any political overtones. Other tracks are more lighthearted and less impactful. Brodka branches out into an exuberant Goldfrapp-hip-hop mashup in Hey Man. Imagination could be the Cure covering the Eurythmics with a good singer out front. There are also places where the iciness of the production overwhelms the content. Happily, that’s not the case with the protest songs. We need more artists like Brodka.

Revisiting the Dark Side of the 80s with Liela Moss

Liela Moss loves the 80s. Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, Siouxsie, a blue Boss chorus pedal, layers and layers of chilly synths and short, concise, anthemic songs. Her album Who the Power is streaming at Bandcamp and will resonate with anyone else with a thing for the decade that brought us the goth subculture, the compact disc, wine coolers…and the ugly Reaganite and Thatcherite roots of the lockdown.

Brassy, echoey vintage synths, loud drums and a brisk 2/4 new wave beat propel the album’s opening track, Turn Your Back Around. It’s a cautionary tale: “Here begins an endless fall from rule,” Moss intones, “Everything we saw will go unknown.”

There’s more than a little stern, angst-fueled Marianne Faithfull in Moss’ voice in Watching the Wolf, a cynical, pissed-off, goth-tinged synth anthem. With its icily pulsing chorus-box bass and chorus nicked straight from Prince, Atoms At Me keeps the vengeful vibe going.

“Now I feel unstoppable as the sun drums down on my door,” Moss belts in Always Sliding, soaring triumphantly over echoey synth layers. Hypnotically stormy synths and Siouxsie-esque vocal harmonies pervade The Individual, while White Feather wouldn’t be out of place on one Siouxsie’s innumerable mid-80s ep’s.

Twinkle and fuzz from the keyboards contrast in Battlefield, the album’s most sophisticated, Siouxsie-esque track. “If the wind blows, do you spin like a leaf and lie to make the rules?” Moss demands in Nummah, the most kinetically pulsing, poppiest tune here.

Suako is a mashup of PiL’s attempts at funk and Sisters of Mercy, maybe. Moss closes the album with Stolen Careful, a wistful ballad awash in echo and loops. Uncap that black eyeliner and take a sip of Michelob – do they still make that stuff?

A Creepy New Abnormal Single From Tessa Lena

For the past year, author and poet Tessa Lena has written some of the most lucid, insightful commentary on the lockdown and the sinister motivations of the oligarchs and tech Nazis behind it. As a first-generation American immigrant who spent her early childhood in the Soviet Union, she knows totalitarianism when she sees it and somehow manages to keep her withering sense of humor intact.

She also records as Tessa Makes Love. One of her particularly creepy, techy singles is I Want to Know You As a Computer. Rather than just scrolling to the bottom of the page where you can find the song, check out her latest critique of the New Abnormal on your way there.

An Edgy Playlist for a Spring Day…and a Great Upcoming Webcast

Spring is here and artists are starting to release more and more singles. Prediction: this year we’re going to see more and more music that was recorded in defiance of the lockdown. For your listening pleasure, here’s a self-guided playlist that’s just a small capsule of some of the very good things bubbling up from under the radar:

Molly Burman‘s Fool Me With Flattery has a noirish 60s rock edge with tropicalia tinges. Great jangly guitar!

Just when you think Paper Citizen‘s Scratching the Surface is totally no wave/skronky retro early 80s dystopia, the big catchy crunchy chorus kicks in. The lyrical message is allusive but spot on: let’s get off the screen before it gets us.

Shannon Clark & the Sugar‘s Let It Ride is not a cover of the Bachman-Turner Overdrive hit but a slow-burning minor key blues original. Remember the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks? This is probably on the jukebox there

Blood Lemon‘s Black-Capped Cry oozes through slow, doomy postmetal minimalism. They’re an Idaho band, and Idaho is a free state, so chances are they recorded this legally!

In elegant, stately Hebrew, singer Shifra Levy sings If I Found Grace over pianist/composer Yerachmiel’s neoromantic crescendos. It’s a Purim piano power ballad. Purim is sort of the Jewish Halloween: it’s not macabre, but all the cool kids dress up in costume and go to parties. Purim is over and Passover is looming, but give it a spin anyway

And speaking of awesome Jewish music, iconic klezmer violinist Alicia Svigals is playing a webcast live from Rockland, New York this March 13 at 7 PM. She chooses her spots for when she does these broadcasts, always gives you plenty of thrills and chills but just as much poignancy and an encyclopedic knowledge of the source material.

Totally 80s Gloom From Nicole Marxen

Nicole Marxen’s new short album Tether – streaming at Bandcamp – is a mini horror movie for the ears. It’s totally 80s goth: orchestral washes of minor-key string synth and mechanical beats pervade this gloomy quartet of songs.

She opens with the title track, smoky waves of synthesized orchestration over a creepy chromatic vamp, a spy-movie sequencer flutter taking centerstage, her disembodied vocals back in the mix.

She begins Moonflower as a swirly tableau with a thud for a beat, then the helicopter-like rhythm returns: Siouxsie seems to be the obvious influence. Marxen goes up the scale for a desperate femme-fatale vibe in Bones Dust and closes the album with Wild Again, the closet thing here to Wuthering, Wuthering, Wuthering, Wuthering Heights (and the Terminator soundtrack). Retro as this is, Marxen has really captured the relentless angst and despair of the past eleven months. And you can get it on cassette for ten bucks!

Playful, Bouncy, Quirky 80s-Influenced Sounds From Pom Poko

Pom Poko like big, simple riffs, noisy guitar and keyboard accents, a steady, danceable beat and 80s sonics. Sometimes that means new wave, sometimes the bracing, in-your-face side of the Pixies. Frontwoman Ragnhild Fangel sings in a chirpy high soprano over a generally bouncy, often rather spare mix anchored by  Jonas Krøvel’s similarly terse bass and Ola Djupvik’s drums. Their new album Cheater is streaming at Bandcamp.

They open with the title track, a skittish, minimalist, skronky strut fueled by Martin Miguel Tonne’s jagged Gang of Four guitars. The group switch on a dime between buzzy and spare in LIke a Lady, like Goldfrapp with guitars instead of synths, a contrast they revisit a little later with Look.

The third track, Andrew, has blippy new wave keyboard and guitar accents and some rhythmic trickiness. The band shift between lo-fi sparseness, My Sharona octaves and a lickety-split punk stomp in My Candidacy.

Sparse, watery guitars give Danger an icy dreampop edge, with echoes of Siouxsie but also calypso. Andy Go to School comes across as math-y late 70s XTC with a woman out front, at least until the straight-ahead punk chorus kicks in. Baroque Denial is much the same with fuzz bass taking the place of the guitar roar.

Curly Romance is the closest thing here to classic powerpop, and the album’s most unselfconsciously catchy number. They close with Body Level, built around a catchy, circling bass riff. It’s hard to tell what these songs are about, other than dancing and having fun, two things that we need to be doing a lot more these days.

Pure Escapism From Cuushe

Isn’t it really weird that there was so much happy, upbeat music released in 2020, the worst year in human history? That’s because it was all made in 2019…or at least before the lockdown. Case in point: Cuushe, AKA Mayuko Hitotsuyanagi and her twinkly, pillowy new album Waken, streaming at Bandcamp. Most of this one could have been made before 9/11, before Facebook, youtube, Myspace or even the Y2K scam. You want escapism, this is your jam.

The opening number comes across as late 90s Missy Elliott in a particularly lighthearted interlude, taking a stab at trip-hop electro from five years earlier. The second track, Magic looks back ten years before then to glossy new wave pop, synthesized strings gusting and shimmering over a techy bounce.

Cuushe’s airy voice sails over blippy dancefloor beats and icy, playfully layered layers of upper-register keyb multitracks in Emergence. Not to Blame is all melting-plastic neosoul, while Nobody sounds like somebody’s sampler went on the blink during the mixing process.

Drip is aptly titled: burying those autotuned vocals behind all the keys was a good idea. Cuushe winds up the album with Beautiful, a slow jam with what sounds like an out-of-tune koto riff popping up here and there, and then Spread, a glistening, rainswept summer evening trip-hop tune.

Office Culture’s Cynical Frontman Gets Slightly More Organic

Winston Cook-Wilson a.k.a. Winston C.W. is the deadpan lounge lizard frontman and keyboardist of hilariously slick 80s pop parody band Office Culture – whose debut record you’ll see on the best albums of the year page here at the end of this month. He has a new album, Good Guess, out under his own name, streaming at Bandcamp. The music is a lot more stripped-down and less cynically plasticky than his main project, and maybe a little less insincere. Ward White at his most sardonic is a good point of comparison.

The album’s first track is Cakewalk, a slow, swaying, chiming, Debussy-esque piano pop ballad – with a characteristically cruel punchline. Guitarist Ryan Beckley does a good job emulating a horn with his volume knob as bassist Carmen Rothwell keeps a steady pulse.

Business is much the same, a stroll “past the trappings of defeat.”  As you might guess, the third track, Safety, is not about being safe at all, with its allusions to betrayal. The joke in Broken Drum is more musical rather than lyrical, the band gettting murky and rubato with some familiar “classic rock” riffs. “Maybe I look like someone who thrives for a minute in this brutal season, someone who forgets what it’s like to be that other guy,” Cook-Wilson muses innocently.

The sarcastically titled instrumental Swing Time is a slightly Lynchian stab at free jazz. The narrator of the increasingly creepy kiss-off ballad No Regrets is no less blithely callous than the characters in Cook-Wilson’s main band’s songs.

The album’s best story is Birds, an allusively grim narrative set to a cliched, saccharine 80s easy-listening pop backdrop. The abrasively trippy title track brings the record full circle, “a joyous day for a sad affair,” as Cook-Wilson puts it. For anyone who’s ever suffered through a retail dayjob where Lite FM plays on loop, this is sweet redemption.

A Brilliant, Scorchingly Lyrical Short Album From Swedish Rockers the Plastic Pals

Stockholm band the Plastic Pals are connoisseurs of the edgiest sounds to emerge from 60s American psychedelia, 70s powerpop and 80s punk. Frontman Håkan “Hawk” Soold sings in English and writes sharp, sardonic, spot-on lyrics in a very individualistic vernacular. The cover image of their new ep It Could Be So Easy, Free and Fine – streaming at Bandcamp – nails their sensibility, a municipal worker on a bridge struggling with a chain while a shiny expanse of skyscrapers looms ahead.

They open with their signature song, Plastic Pal, a scorching mashup of Radio Birdman, the Buzzcocks and the Clash. In two minutes eighteen seconds, they let you know they want no part of any New Abnormal:

I’ve got a brain the size of a planet
And they have me parking cars
I’m cruising through the universe
For some money in my tip jar
Artificial intelligence sex dolls
And self-driving cars
I need a better option
Than stumbling home from the bars

They completely flip the script with the second track, If Love Should Call, a slow, pastoral Velvets-inspired nocturne with a subtle revolutionary message:

You say life is like a circus
Well here you are, there’s the ring
Do you comply with the terms of service?
You fly like a butterfly but how do you sting?

The layers of jangly, lingering guitars – that’s Soold and Anders Sahlin – are exquisite.

With a completely different twin-guitar attack, Hangin´in the Louvre is a slashingly cynical, backbeat-driven minor-key anthem, its secret agent man waiting for the museum to close so the team can pull off the heist.

They close the album with More Than an Icon,, bassist Bengt Alm and drummer Olov Öqvist driving the new wave pulse:

Like Elvis, you left the building, you just took your cross and split
This planet wasn’t big enough for you
Palm branches at your feet, the future was already writ
A classic case of too much too soon

Along with Karla Rose‘s ep from earlier this year, this is one of the best short albums of 2020.