New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: new wave

Lounge Lizard Jack Ladder Brings His Rakish 80s Persona to Town Next Week

If you’re going to steal from someone, you might as well rip off somebody good, right? Unlike a lot of crooners from Down Under, singer Jack Ladder isn’t trying to be Nick Cave. He’d rather be Leonard Cohen. Which isn’t such a bad thing, in a very stylized, 80s, Everybody Knows kind of way. His latest album Playmates, with his band the Dreamlanders, is streamng at Spotify, with a trio of tracks up at Bandcamp as well if you want a taste and don’t feel like riding the fader to kill the ads. Ladder and the band have a couple of New York shows coming up: on December 1, they’re at Baby’s All Right at around 10 for $14. Then they’re at the Mercury the following night, December 2 at 7:30 PM for two bucks less if you get tix in advance. The Mercury box office is open Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 6 PM.

Sharon Van Etten guests on ethereal backing vocals on the album’s opening track, Come On Back This Way. It’s a good story, one that pretty much everybody’s known. A guy and a girl leave the bar, under “the magnesium moon, the streets all smell like piss…if tomorrow never comes, I wouldn’t ever care at all,” he says. She’s drunker than he is. She’s taken a glass from the bar, probably wonders why the creep she’s with won’t leave her alone and is pissed off about it. She does something reckless that she shouldn’t – a few things, actually. And the ending is less pat than you might expect.

Track two is Her Hands, an icy 80s downtempo number awash in trippy/cheesy synth patches, a portrait of a femme fatale. The cynical goth-pop Model World is where “The streets are alive with picket fences,” and “Where we need to know everyone is safe…this shit wasn’t built to last, the water’s overflowing, and privacy is a thing of the past, everybody knows it, you can’t escape what you create.”

Reputation Amputation reaches for squizzling industrial ambience, a dirtier take on what Iggy was going for on the Idiot, maybe. By contrast, lingering Lynchian guitars echo in from the shadows on the bolero-tinged Let Me Love You. Van Etten adds her wounded understatement on To Keep & to Be Kept, a new wave update on angst-fueled Orbison noir 60s pop. With its dry-as-a-bone drum samples and warptone synth, The Miracle is period-perfect late 80s new wave.

Ladder takes a stab at heavy-duty stadium goth grandeur with Neon Blue, while Our Ascension brings to mind Billy Idol with a worldview. The final cut is the aphoristic ballad Slow Boat to China and its shameless Leonard C. quotes. While the album’s production is cold and techy, there are some neat touches, like the faux Hawaiian guitar licks oscillating from the portamento lever here and there, and a decent approximation of gritty guitars. And a look at the red-jacketed Ladder (not his real name, obviously) on the album cover suddenly makes twisted sense: OMG, that’s Rick Springfield! And wasn’t he Australian? Are we ever going to escape the 80s or are they going to be stalking us forever?

A Brilliant, New Wave-Tinged Debut Album and a Bowery Electric Release Show by Tracy Island

Let’s get any possible preconceptions out of the way, fast: Tracy Island are not a couplecore band. Multi-instrumentalists Liza Roure and her husband Ian Roure have played together for years, in the brilliantly lyrical Larch – which Ian fronts – and also in the late, great psychedelic new wave band Liza & the WonderWheels, in which Liza switched out her keys for a Strat. In the wake of the demise of the latter group, she’s been fronting a duo project, Tracy Island, with Ian on lead guitar. Now, at last, Tracy Island have a characteristically catchy, brand-new debut album, War No More, streaming online and an album release show coming up on November 3 at 8 PM at Bowery Electric. It’s a hell of a triplebill, with cult favorite Americana songwriter Rebecca Turner opening the night at 7 and then art-folk icons the Kennedys headlining at around 9, celebrating the release of guitar genius Pete Kennedy’s new album Heart of Gotham as well. Cover is a ridiculously reasonable $9.

Although Tracy Island is a duo project, this is a full-band album. Ian handles the bass and Liza the drums, for a tersely tight groove; in the spirit of the WonderWheels, this is otherwise strictly a guitar album, no keys. The two open with a WonderWheels song, What You Want, a perfect marriage between cheery 60s Carnaby Street riffage and vamping, watery, chorus-box new wave. Likewise, the metaphorically-loaded Playing Checkers, Ian’s icy strobe guitar rising over its balletesque rhythms up to its vintage soul-infused chorus. Then the two go back to the skinny-tie era with the seductively propulsive Midnight Lightning.

Low Strung reaches back toward 70s folk-rock, but with a Beatlesque stroll. Can Better Days Be Far Behind is a real stunner, especially by comparison to the cheery material that precedes it, rising from a brooding, wary stroll to Ian’s blacklit, reverbtoned Roye Albrighton art-rock incisions. The album’s most gorgeous and troubled number is Cold Wind, the duo’s aching vocal harmonies over Ian’s ominously chugging bassline and supercooled rivulets of vintage chorus-box guitar. The enigmatic instrumental break midway through offers a fond nod back to the surprisingly focused jamming that the WonderWheels would often break out.

The moody ambience continues with the plaintive Land of Opportunity, part early 70s pastoral Pink Floyd, part Richard & Linda Thompson, part new wave: “This is not the first time life has let me down,” Liza broods. From there the two take an unexpectedly successful detour into simmeringly wounded Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris Americana with I Spy. The album comes full circle, back to catchy new wave with Message in My Head and its wry shout-outs to a classic by X and also a 70s pop cheeseball by somebody else. Ian’s meticulously timbred blend of flash and focus have never been in better form, and the same can be said for Liza’s early-spring brook of a voice, so clear that you can see yourself all the way to its depths. You’ll see this albun on the best of 2015 page here at the end of next month.

And for a fun look back at how crazy the WonderWheels could get, click the listen button here and scroll down to the “Hall of Eds,” three pretty wild live versions of the concert favorite Eddie Come Down from over the years.

Regular Einstein and Lazy Lions Reprise One of 2015’s Best Concerts at Rock Shop on Friday Night

What if you could live your whole life over again? Even better, what if you could just relive the fun parts? Unlikely as that may seem, there’s a fun part of your life just waiting to be relived, if you were one of the lucky hundred or so people who went to see genius lyrical rock bands Regular Einstein and Lazy Lions in late March at Rock Shop. If so, you can revisit that wild, intense night of wicked lyricism, catchy tunesmithing and fiery guitars this October 30 at 9 PM…or you can live it for the first time and be jealous of everybody who got to see this before spring arrived. Cover is ten bucks.

If memory serves right, it was a chillly walk downhill from Atlantic Avenue, but frontwoman/guitarist Paula Carino’s band played a searing set to open the show. This is why we go to concerts – not just to hear a group play all the tracks on their new album, as Regular Einstein did – but to rip the hell out of them. You hear Carino’s velvety voice and cool, clean, lean guitar lines, and you might expect subtle, and there was plenty of subtlety at this show, especially when it came to the lyrics, but the energy was through the roof. Carino’s voice took on a menacing edge as the grimly propulsive Never Saw It Coming got underway with its two-guitar crunch. The Queens Tornado and its sardonic outer-borough wordplay had a similarly pouncing intensity. They hit an electrified, chord-chopping Celtic ballad sway, then took the mood down into the bittersweetly gorgeous territory that Carino has made a career of mining with Hydrangea and its dynamically shifting metaphors.

Likewise, they picked up Jimmyville – a pensively defiant adolescent escape anthem on the new album Chimp Haven – with resonance and stomp, lead guiitarist Dave Benjoya teaming with Carino, drummer Nancy Polstein and bassist Andy Mattina, whose gritty lines made him a second lead guitarist. After a detour toward punk rock with Bad Actor and its snarky Rotten Tomatoes movie references, they brought it down into nocturnal tropicalia rock with the album’s title track. From the riff-rocking Three-Legged Race – a double-entrendre-loaded mashup of early Kinks and the Pretenders –  they hit a high point with the most unselfconsciously haunting number of the night, The Good Times and its morosely punchnig 6/8 minor-key sway. The loudest and punkest number was the snidely and blackly amusing Old People.

Lazy Lions frontman Jim Allen made his mark in the early zeros as a sort of New York counterpart to Elvis Costello and Graham Parker. A guitarist by trade, he plays organ in this outfit, who draw deeply on classic new wave while taking the style to new places. And they very rarely play out: this gig, the album release for their brilliant new one When Dreaming Lets You Down, might have been their first since a sizzling Lower East Side gig way way back in 2008. They opened with a look back to early 80s Parker in I Don’t Think That It’s Gonna Stop, guitarist Robert Sorkin blazing over the tight backbeat of bassist Anne-Marie Stehn and drummer Sean McMorris. Allen didn’t waste any time hitting a lyrically scathing peak with Susannah Rachel, a kiss-off anthem rivalled by few others. Allen’s narrator can’t wait to “get high above this vale of tears” and disappear like steam into a chilliy night sky.

They made their way from a funky shuffle to a jauntily soaring chorus on the next number, then a slinky Elvis Costello Goon Squad groove on the enigmatc It’s Just the Night, an anthem for all of us nocturnal creatures who can’t resist all the delicious and also the less delicious things you find in the shadows, literally and metaphorically. Allen took an all-too-brief, swirly organ solo on the next number, then hit another punchy peak with the snarling She’s Your Nightmare Now, Sorkin’s guitar raging as the organ reached distortion point.

They went back to Parker new wave soul sway and got funny with Scientific – as in “she’s not coldhearted, she’s just scientific…you don’t wanna mess around with someone like that.” The band switched out all the extraneous rhythm of the album version of the irresisitibly catchy Let the Bad Times Roll for a burning, backbeat drive, then Stehn pushed the creepy new wave disco groove on the number after that. The straight-up, deadpan cheery cover of the Go-Go’s Our Lips Are Sealed was a lot of fun, right down to the murky “hush, my darling” bridge, Allen reaching way up from his usual baritone and nailing the notes. They closed with the cynical, self-effacing Magellan in Reverse, from the band’s auspicious 2008 debut ep. Hit Rock Shop on Friday night and avoid the Halloween plague from out of state.

Looking Forward and Back to a Couple of Tantalizing Album Cover Nights

An allstar cast of downtown New York talent got together this past August 27 at Hifi Bar, where they played Young Marble Giants’ cult favorite 1981 album Colossal Youth – right at the same time that the regrouped original band was doing the exact same thing at Royal Festival Hall in London. It’s not clear if the London show was recorded, but thanks to Elemental Films – who’ve also captured a ton of amazing, rare footage of Molly Ruth, the Shootout Band and many others – the night was immortalized, and you can watch it on youtube!

“In the year 1980, songs like Babe, by Styx and Lady, by Kenny Rogers were at the top of the pops…and this album was happening at the same time, something beautiful and stark and more powerful because it had such a sense of loneliness about it. Becuase of that, it has withstood the test of time. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to listen to Babe – I want to listen to Colossal Youth,“ organizer and Elk City forntwoman Renee Lobue explained with more sincerity than snark.

Without further ado, Lysa Opfer stepped to the mic for Searching for Mr. Right, guitarist Sam Weisberg supplying a spare proto-skronk as bassist Tom Shad held down a similarly stark reggae pulse in tandem with syndrum player Joe Fee. Shad, in particular, had a ball with Philip Moxhan’s incisive, all-over-the-place lines, pretty much note-for-note with the original, for the most part sticking to a biting, trebly tone. On guitar, Weisberg and Andy Wellington beefed up the originals, no surprise since they were using far better amps and a real sound system as opposed to a cheap four-track recorder. Speed the Plough‘s John Baumgartner supplied aptly swirly, noir-tinged organ lines when the songs required them. On the other hand, most of the singers – some of them guys – lent their own original style to the vocals rather than trying to match Alison Stottam’s muted, moody vocal delivery.

But many of those voices were as individualistic as hers, and made these new interpretations every bit as compelling as the originals. Paula Carino‘s assertively velvety vocals on Salad Days beat Stottam at her own game, a real treat. Earlier, Toot Sweet‘s Mary Spencer Knapp ramped up the angst over the stuttering bass and guitars on Constantly Changing. The Bush Tetras’ Cynthia Sley added color and dimension to the title track, and Lobue brightened up The Man Amplifier. Lobue, Carino, Opfer and Verena Wiesendanger joined voices at the end for a bittersweet take of Final Day. Even Hifi owner Mike Stuto – the man stoking the “starmaker machinery behind the unpopular songs,” as Kendall Meade recently put it – made a cameo on the mic midway through The Taxi.

Another cover night that could be off the hook happens this Monday, October 5 at 7:30 PM when a similarly talented cast including jazz and folk noir chanteuse Erica Smith and fiery, gospel-infused belter Lizzie Edwards play Paul McCartney’s Ram album all the way through at Bowery Electric. Shad being one of the masterminds of the Young Marble Giants night, it’s likely that he’ll be a big part of this too, alongside Charly Roth, the rare player who’s equally adept at drums and keyboards, plus a similarly strong band alongside them. Cover is $10.

The Naked Heroes Bring Their High-Voltage, Charismatic Assault to Grand Victory and the Rockaways

When the Naked Heroes’ George Jackson takes a flying leap from the stage, clears a monitor, lands directly in front of you and then slams you – all the while wailing on his Strat – you know you’ve been hit. With primal punk energy, a sly new wave sense of humor and lots of danceable, catchy tunes, there’s no other band in New York who sound anything like them. They’re very visual, too. They love to stop songs on a dime and then restart them…or leap from one into another. Jackson is a very expressive performer with his googly-eyed monster-movie faces, sometimes droll, sometimes with more than a hint of menace. Much as a lot of what he does is completely over-the-top, a lot of it isn’t, leaving room for the possibility of genuine danger. Meanwhile, statuesque drummer/singer Merica Lee sometimes hangs back with a swing groove, other times bounding around the stage, walloping on a tom-tom or a sampler loaded with explosive dancefloor thuds.

At the band’s show Saturday night at the Poisson Rouge, she was rocking a black-leather Catwoman-style bodysuit that didn’t leave much to the imagination. The mustachioed Jackson stuck to basic black jeans and shoes, with a button-down shirt left open to midway down the chest, his Robinson Crusoe necklace flying as he romped across the stage and then out over it to bodyslam the likes of unsuspecting music bloggers.

The band’s songs are as simple and irresistibly catchy as their beats. One of the set’s early numbers worked a feral, tribal early 80s Antmusic groove, Jackson blasting out a terse, mimalist two-chord vamp over it. There’s a lot of call-and-response, and wry repartee between the duo, sometimes involving the audience, in this case on an Ike & Tina Turner cover. Jackson is a hell of a guitarist (and bassist, as evidenced by his time as one of Lorraine Leckie‘s Demons) – who saves the flash for when he really needs it. His most impressive fretwork came on an unexpectedly ornate intro to a ballad that evoked Hendrix’s Little Wing without ripping it off. Likewise, the songs’ raw but incredibly tight riffage brought to mind bands as diverse as the White Stripes, the Black Keys, the Cramps and Bow Wow Wow without being imitative. On one number, Jackson went behind the kit and held down a beat on the kickdrum while playing guitar as Lee came out in front; by the end of the show, the two were out at the edge of stage, putting a mean dancefloor spin on an ancient gospel tune, wailing on the sampler and a single drum that Lee pummeled so hard that the mic came undone. The Naked Heroes are at Grand Victory at on Sept 16 at 8 PM, making a good segue with the 7 PM opening act, female-fronted horror punk/surf/darkwave band the Long Losts. Cover is $10. Then on Sept 27 at 5 PM the Naked Heroes are on the Rockaway Beach boardwalk.

George Usher and Lisa Burns Channel 50 Years of Gorgeously Erudite Rock Songcraft on Their New Album

Some artists get overlooked if they aren’t playing shows regularly, an unfair disadvantage to say the least. George Usher and Lisa Burns earned their cred playing all over New York beginning as far back as the 80s. There’s a harrowing backstory and a happy ending, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, behind their album The Last Day of Winter (streaming at Spotify).

Usher earned iconic status as a powerpop songwriter and bandleader with House of Usher, Beat Rodeo and other groups dating from the CBGB days (and wrote the title track of Laura Cantrell‘s classic 2000 debut album, Not the Tremblin’ Kind). Burns also enjoys an avid cult following as an innovative crafter and reinterpreter of classic soul, powerpop and occasionally psychedelic sounds. While making a successful recovery from cancer, Usher decided to reinvent himself as a lyricist since he was too debilitated to play, and Burns set those lyrics to music. The result is a pensive, often plantive, richly arranged blend of janglerock, powerpop, Americana and new wave, one of the best albums of 2015.

Happily, Usher’s back to playing his guitar, and also piano on this album. The opening track, Wake Me When Tomorrow’s Here has the soaring crescendos of the Church, Burns’ soulful, vibrato-heavy harmonies mingling with Usher’s understatedly triumphant vocals: he’s been through a lot. Burns widens that vibrato all the way in the vintage C&W-tinged ballad Depression Glass, a vividly downcast Flyover America tableau. More Than That I Cannot Say amps up the late 60s folk-rock that Burns does so well.

Lost in Translation has a slow, hazy sway that’s part Beatles, part pastoral Pink Floyd, spiced with Usher’s spiky, minimalist piano accents. The wrly shuffling My Precious Wisdom gives Usher a platform to stay at the keys and ripple through some ragtime. If It Ever Comes to Pass is the album’s best track, a snarling minor-key, darkly new wave-tinged gem fueled by Mark Sidgwick’s lead guitar. The guy/girl harmonies bring to mind legendary late 90s/early zeros New York band DollHouse.

Usher airs out an unexpectedly powerful upper register on another real gem, the brooding, metaphorically charged honkytonk ballad Dark Blue Room, lowlit by Jonathan Gregg’s high lonesome pedal steel. Then Usher returns to the 88s as Burns sings the angst-fueled Wasn’t Born to Belong: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Matt Keating catalog.

Drummer Wylie Wirth’s elegant brushwork pushes the gorgeous, ominously bittersweet Never Ever Land while Usher handles its big, restless acoustic guitar chords: “It’s a cloudy dream and a slow return when the fire has nowhere to burn,” Usher and Burns warn. Then they go back to channeling the Church in 80s folk-rock mode in the understatedly savage kiss-off anthem The World That Rested on Your Word. The album’s creepiest track is The Ferryman’s Name, evoking both the Fab Four and CSNY with its harmonies and surreallistic death imagery. The album winds up with its magnificently saturnine – and ultimately hopeful – title track, Jeff Hermanson’s horn sailing over Claudia Chopek’s stark string arrangement.

Musically speaking, this is arguably the strongest collection of tunes Burns has ever written, pretty impressive for someone who’s been at it as long as she has. Usher himself has been recording since the 60s, beginning as a pop prodigy in his native Cleveland. Fun factoid: as a kid, he was known to take credit – or at least not deny credit – for Gary Puckett’s hits, since they were credited to one G. Usher (the unrelated producer Gary Usher). But he’s a generation younger than McCartney and Jagger and the rest of the guys from that era. His voice may have weathered a smidge, but it’s still strong. Long may it resonate.

Singles for the End of August

You notice that today’s piece doesn’t say “the end of summer,” right? Uh uh. In the global warming era, summer goes on forever. To soothe the burn, here’s a self-directed playlist, about 40 minutes of music to lift your spirits in this depressingly hot week.

Guitarslinger Allen Devine plays a clinic in smart, tasteful noir-tinged Elvis Costello-ish new wave rock on his Berlin-based band the Inside Tracks‘ single Ordinary Girl. The flipside, Your Baby has a snarling, period-perfect, all-too-brief early 80s style guitar solo. That’s Matt Keating channeling Steve Nieve on Farfisa! Listen on Soundcloud

Son of Skooshny‘s two latest singles are both gems. Frontman/rhythm guitarist Mark Breyer may be revered in powerpop circles, but he should still be better known than he is. Check out Cloud Cover, a wistful, dreamily uneasy transcontinental flight scenario. And his latest release, Just a Test is even better, a backbeat stomp that’s one of the funniest songs Breyer’s ever written…and then it gets dark. Multi-instrumentalist/producer Steve Refling turns in some of his finest work as a one-man version of the Church. Listen on Bandcamp

Coney Island Russian rock band Newborn‘s Runaround is sort of Gogol Bordello meets roaring vintage 90s LES rock. Opening with that wicked bassline was smart – and you gotta love the visuals, the sight gag is priceless. Have a laugh via youtube.

Don’t let the primitive drum machine intro to Iva Dawn’s Officer scare you off – it turns out to be a solidly good Lynchian bossa-pop number, tasty reverb guitar paired against her smoky organ. Listen on Soundcloud

Chirpy-voiced oldschool soul songstress Rebecca Jordan‘s Remember When is creepy, torchy bossa noir worthy of Clairy Browne. Click the music player button at Jordan’s site and fast-forward to track 4.

Growling fuzztone bass and catchy, skittish garage guitar propel Bad Bad Hats’ Shame, a Minneapolis/Australia mashup. Watch it on youtube

And speaking of catchy and new wave-ish, Motobunny’s Thinkin’ Bout Me ought to be on the same youtube page.

A Rare Show and a Rare Gem of an Album by Shanghai Love Motel

Even in an era when obscurity has become a badge of honor, New York band Shanghai Love Motel are almost apocryphal. They don’t play a lot of gigs, so when they do, it’s a pretty major event. They basically play two styles of music, both of them looking back to the dark guitar-fueled underside of the 80s: stomping, growling paisley underground psychedelic rock, as well as more artsy, low-key, sometimes jazz-tinged new wave guitar pop. What distinguishes them more than their catchy hooks and biting guitars is their savage, literate lyrics: bands who can be this loud seldom have words as good as the music. Their lone album so far, Thrum, is streaming online – and to further intrigue you, their lyrics are all up online as well. They’re playing a rare NYC date at the Parkside on July 10 at 10, where they’ll be rejoined by their longtime guitarist Adam Russell ; cover is $5.

The band’s two main songwriters, guitarist Bryan Brown and bassist Bill Millard, each have their signature styles. Brown goes more for the hypnotically growling, understatedly menacing post-Velvets/Neil Young sway that the Dream Syndicate immortalized. Millard’s songs tend to be somewhat more low-key but no less sinister. The album’s opening track, by Brown, is King of Memory, a dead ringer for an early Steve Wynn number, its narrator a metaphorical monarch who has “lost more than you have purported to know” circling the wagons over a classic early 80s groove. Millard’s Snapshots from the Sinister Cathedral blends elegant jazz-tinged phrasing from Brown and keyboardist David Smith:

Meet me at four in the morning
At the Cathedral of John the Mundane
Assuming old Johnny’s in shape to get out of the rain
We’d better bring plenty of coffee
And pictures of places we like
And jokes we can aim at whoever is hogging the mic

Brown’s Too Good Too Soon sets a surrealistically smart-ass kiss-off lyric to Stratocaster-stung Tex-Mex soul: it’s the kind of song that John Sharples would cover. Another Brown tune, Almost Gone stomps uneasily between major and minor keys, its angst-fueled theme bringing to mind Matt Keating in hard-rocking mode, lit up by a couple of jaggedly sunsplashed guitar solos. As period-perfect paisley underground rock goes, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Millard’s almost imperceptibly crescendoing I Was the Dog opens with a verse that Elvis Costello would be proud to call his own and just gets more savage from there:

With all due respect, I don’t believe respect is due
They know now what the world spins ’round.
Somebody figured out that it ain’t you
The only truth that you know is that you’ll never know the truth
Another stoner paradox for terminally gullible youth…

Millard and Brown co-wrote Burning Bush, an enigmatic, ominous glimpse of a metaphorically-charged postapocalyptic landscape spiced by spiky mandolin and watery chorus-box guitar: is this an obit for the evil of the Bush/Cheney years, maybe?

Drummer Mark Hennessy pushes Millard’s Flip in Style with a vintage 60s Stones gorove, toward Replacements territory. Brown’s Strong Silent Type is the most low-key, nocturnal track here. The album’s most searing, torrentially lyrical number is The Universal Skeptical Anthem, a tour de force rant by Millard:

Spare me the line about machines for going back in time
And all the crying over moral turpentine
I get a whiff about a couple of state lines away;
That’s enough for maybe 90 billion days
Spare me the flag-wagging huckleberry knuckleheads
That can’t tell who’s the monster and who’s Frankenstein…

After the unhinged octaves of a guitar solo, the band segues into Brown’s Ruined Man, a sardonically syncopated look at world where “They resell mystery in burial mounds, with lots marked Resigned or Content.” The album comes full circle with How’s Dr. Ving, by Millard, a mashup of Elvis Costello and the Dream Syndicate. If this is the only album the band ever does, they’ve got themselves a cult classic – but we can always hope for more. See what they have in store for the future at the Parkside.

Tamara Hey Represents for Real New Yorkers at the Slipper Room

The dichotomy that runs through Tamara Hey‘s music is edgy, funny, picturesque New York-centric lyrics set to catchy, upbeat tunes with a purist pop sensibliity. Likewise, she balances the crystalline, unselfconscious charm of her vocals with what can be devastatingly amusing, deadpan between-song commentary. Her music has special resonance for those who consider themselves oldschool New Yorkers: Hey is sort of a songwriting Woody Allen of the Lower East Side…minus the celebrity and the ugly backstory. She’s playing the Slipper Room (Orchard and Stanton, upstairs over the big tourist restaurant) on July 1 at 7:30 PM; cover is $10.

And because there’s always an element of surprise when she plays live, she’s worth seeing more than once: this blog managed to catch a grand total of three of her shows over the past year at the Rockwood. One was a solo gig; two were with melodic bassist Richard Hammond, who managed to do double duty as rhythmic center and lead player, no easy feat. And the songs ran the gamut. One of the most charming numbers was Oscar & Bud, a vivid, minutely detailed portrait of a retired ex-showbiz couple who happen to be the narrator’s key people (i.e. they’ve got her spare keys – it’s a New York thing). That song looked back to vintatge Tin Pan Alley.

But Hey likes to mix it up. Drive, with its soaring chorus, 9/11 reference and get-me-the-hell-out-of-here theme, looked back to new wave, as did Miserably Happy (title track to her cult classic powerpop album), which evoked Blondie’s Dreaming. The rambunctiously pulsing, doo-wop tinged Alphabet City, a shout-out to familiar LES haunts which have lately been disappearing one after the other, took on a bittersweet quality. Likewise, We Lean on Cars, a snapshot of middle-school North Bronx anomie circa the early 90s. Hey and Hammond also ran through some more wrly entertaning snapshots of city life: David #3, weighing whether or not to succumb to the allure of a Mr. Wrong, who happens to be a Red Sox fan; Mexico Money, a droll tale of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat; and You Wear Me Out, a clever number about how macho guys sometimes turn out to be the most insecure ones. The C-Note may be long gone, Lakeside Lounge too, and Cafe Pick-Me-Up is moving to East 7th Street, but Tamara Hey still represents for the neighborhood.

And when she’s not playing gigs, she’s busy running Alphabet City Music, who offer economical and informative courses in guitar and applied music theory for players of all levels. This blog covered her introductory music theory course last year and found it both immensely challenging and also immensely useful. By the way, just in case anyone might assume ulterior motives, i.e. sucking up to the prof, to explain why this blog has been at so many of her recent shows, let’s set that record straight. The course was offered during the summer; two of those shows were in the fall and one was this past January.

Manchester’s Pins Headline at Rough Trade Tonight

At a CMJ show last October at Arlene’s, Pins had the misfortune of taking the stage on the heels of a searing, politically-charged performance by the brilliant and charismatic Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires. To their credit, the women in the Manchester, UK band – who come across as something akin to the bastard child of the early Go Go’s and Wire – held their own and managed not to be anticlimactic. The cheap advance tix for their midnight show tonight at Rough Trade are all gone, but it’s not sold out, general admission is a reasonable $12 and the L train is running, so you can get home afterward if you don’t live in Williamsburg. And who among us is still in that hideously gentrified part of town, anyway?

Pins’ new album, Wild Nights – streaming at Spotify – is considerably more polished than their stage show. Then again, they’re a lot more likely to strip the songs down and rock them out live than try to match the heft and bulk of the production. The opening track, Baby Bhangs takes a downtown NYC gutter blues riff and works around it, propelled by drummer Sophie Galpin’s artful blend of swing and stomp. “We’re not trying to be great, we don’t wanna be saved,”  guitarist/frontwoman Faith Vern intones matter-of-factly in Young Girls. But she’s nothing if not optimistic: “What will we do when our dreams come true?” she asks, over a chugging one-chord post-Velvets groove.

Bassist Lois Macdonald’s terse lead lines cut through the jangly nocturnal mist of Curse These Dreams. The album’s longest track, Oh Lord nicks a familiar Joy Division riff and builds a similarly hypnotic ambience, the guitars of Vern and Anna Donigan building a reverbtoned resonance. Likewise, Dazed By You sets a skittishly jangly early Go Go’s-style tune to a She’s Lost Control beat – and a really cool, surprisie ending. And the catchy, crescendoing House of Love works a minimalist, watery/gritty Unknown Pleasures dichotomy.

Got It Bad builds an echoey, repeaterbox-driven Lynchian soul ballad vibe: it wouldn’t be out of place in the catalog of fellow Brit Gemma Ray. Too Little Too Late, described by the band as “a middle-finger-to-the-world kind of song,” is a kiss-off number, a wall of distorted guitars and organ behind Macdonald’s catchy basslines, up to another trick ending.

If Only brings back the Lynchian pop sonics, post doo-wop melody lit up by blue-neon reverb guitar. Molly – a coy shout-out to the drug – sways along in a Black Angels-style garage-psych vein: “You look so good when you’re sad,” is the mantra. The album winds up with the mutedly brooding Everyone Says. Critical reaction to this album has been mixed – some have said that it lacks the punk spontaneity of their debut. But for all that defiant energy, at that point they could barely write or play their instruments: this is a strong step forward and a good late-night listen.


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