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Tag: new wave

Moodily Atmospheric New Wave and Lynchian Sounds From Brass Box

Sometimes Brass Box’s album The Cathedral – streaming at Bandcamp – totally nails a David Lynch soundtrack atmosphere. Other times the group totally nail a dark 80s new wave sound. Either way, their songs are catchy and tightly focused, frontwoman/bassist Ammo Bankoff channeling clear-eyed abandonment and despondency over the chilly echo and swirl.

The album opens with the title track, a mutedly galloping Pink Floyd Run Like Hell riff anchoring Neil Popkin and Matt Bennett’s broodingly echoey mix of guitars that explode in a ringing dreampop vortex on the chorus, Bankoff’s searching, anxious vocals awash in the icy mist.

With its resonant, reverberating deep-space sonics and wistful, starry backdrop, the second track, DDM could be the Lost Patrol. Surrender is not the Cheap Trick teen-rebellion anthem but a dead ringer for Siouxsie & the Banshees circa 1982, right down to the watery chorus-box guitar and prominent bass.

They follow the atmospheric, enveloping goth rock tune Latency with the allusively catchy Waves, which rise to some gorgeously Eastern European-tinged vocal harmonies on the chorus. Then they hit a steady, fast new wave groove with Towne, the album’s hardest-rocking track.

The record’s slowest track, Roses, comes across as a dreampop update on the more skeletal material on Unknown Pleasure-era Joy Division. The band go back to Lynchian/dreampop mashup mode with Ivory Skies and close the album with Parting Ways, a song they should have parted with prior to sequencing the record. On one hand, all the sounds that Brass Box evoke have been around for decades. On the other, nobody has figured out how to blend them quite like this.

A Characteristically Brilliant, Surprising, Slashingly Lyrical New Album by Changing Modes

Changing Modes have been one of the best bands in New York since the zeros, when they began releasing a formidable series of catchy, ambitious, individualistic rock records. Their music features layers of keyboards and vocal harmonies from frontwomen Wendy Griffiths and Grace Pulliam, enigmatically virtuosic and often slashing lead guitar from Yuzuru Sadashige, with drummer Timur Yusef colorfully negotiating the songs’ serpentine, shapeshifting rhythms. As the years went on, their playful lyrical edge grew angrier and more politically-inspired, particularly as the Metoo movement gained momentum. Their latest album Wax World is streaming at youtube.

From a performance point of view, what’s most amazing is that it sounds as lush and contiguous as the rest of their catalog, considering that Yusef – one of the most colorfully nimble players in town – recorded his tracks remotely from the UK.

The opening number, Audio Polaroid, is a searing, sardonic commentary on IG-era narcissism: “Audio Polaroid never will fill the void,” the two women harmonize over a surreal blend of reggae and skittish new wave. The ultimate message seems to be that it’s never more than a memory – and a hazy one at that.

Griffiths and Pulliam exchange lyrical lines and harmonies over haphazard Beatles blues in Nothing to Say: “You’re selling your soul on ebay, you’re selling secrets that aren’t yours to give away,” Pulliam accuses. Strychnine is not the Cramps classic but an slyly blippy, very subtly venomous, new wave-tinged original with a hilarious intro.

Stasis Loop rises out of an evil morass of feedback and horror-movie keys, a macabre, picturesque account of the early days of the lockdown in New York, “Stuck in a place where nobody waits for summer or fall…playgrounds are empty, their friends are all gone and even their masters are someone else’s boss.” It might be the best song of 2021.

The band maintain the chilly ambience in Autumn, a vehicle for Sadashige’s enigmatically skeletal guitar leads. Likewise, the rainy-day guitar clusters, keening organ and plaintive vocal harmonies in Glass of Winter. If this song is any indication, Sadashige was a great surf guitarist in a past life and has graduated to jazz.

Solitary, a brisk punchy new wave/punk number, speaks for itself: this time the grisly joke is the outro. Yusef’s gracefully tumbling Atrocity Exhibition-style drums bookend On an Island, a gorgeously symphonic, surreal esape ballad. Baritone saxophonist Sawa Tamezane caps off Haze, a ba-bump cabaret-tinged number, with an incisively lyrical solo.

The band close with Undertow, a dynamically shifting, baroque-tinged anthem, late Beatles through a glass darkly. Changing Modes’ records have been ubiquitous on this blog’s annual Best Albums of the Year page since day one and this one will be high on the list for 2021.

Another Allusively Menacing, Lyrical Masterpiece From Ward White

Ward White is the Elvis Costello of the 21st century. Nobody does deviously whirlwind literary wordplay and catchy tunesmithing better. Like Costello, White is prolific – thirteen albums, including his latest, The Tender Age, streaming at Bandcamp. His influences are vast, he thinks outside the box, but he’s had the good sense to resist getting in over his head (Elvis C turned out to be great at string quartets but was, um, less successful with opera buffo and hip-hop). And White is arguably even darker than the past century’s greatest songwriter.

And he’s a hell of a lead guitarist, and a damn good bass player too. The new album features his longtime collaborators Tyler Chester on keys and the Wallflowers’ Mark Stepro on drums. This is their best album together: they’ve become White’s Attractions. Tenacious D bassist John Spiker engineered with his usual retro purism and flair.

Allusive violence and an ever-present menace have come to permeate most of White’s most recent material. The first track, Dirty Clouds, is a slow, funk-tinged number, Chester’s echoey Wurlitzer percolating beneath White’s dissociatively grim imagery. Check out the hilarious video – is this a metaphor for media terrormongering? Maybe a little bit. There are innumerable levels of meaning in White’s songs: they don’t just stand up to repeated listening, they require it. Catchy as his catalog is, it’s not for people with short attention spans or the faint of heart.

Track two, Easy Meat is one of White’s more sinisterly evocative narratives, vintage 80s powerpop pulsing along on a tense new wave beat, with a spacerock guitar solo at the center. Reduced to lowest terms, it’s about acting on impulses that would be unthinkable to anyone outside, say, the Gates Foundation or the California governor’s office.

Rhyme schemes, metaphors and reflections on anomie fly fast and furious in the Bowie-tinged Let’s Don’t Die At the Stoplight – like the gunfire White once found himself caught in while waiting at an intersection:

It’s not what he expects
But how he expects it
So quick to arrive
So grisly an exit
The eye takes an eye
And the windshield reflects it
You can put it into gear again….

White imagines Chet Baker in the afterlife, trying to pull himself together in Dentures, a mashup of piano-fueled Bowie balladry and Richard Thompson ghoulishness:

You’re either making art or getting paid
And the angel licked his nails and thought,
“All the really good ones die afraid.”
Put down your horn, you won’t need it
The day you’re born, you’re defeated…

Chester’s enigmatic organ solo is spot-on beyond belief.

On Foot, a brisk new wave/powerpop burner, is a murder ballad: the cruellest joke is musical rather than lyrical. The most Bowie-inspired song here is the album’s bittersweetly catchy title track, White channeling Mick Ronson with his solo in a surreal tale of a LA cop casually making a shocking existential choice.

One of White’s recurrent themes is the question of where everyday mishegas crosses the line, whether that might endanger merely the crazy person or everyone around them. Gail, Where’s Your Shoes is a prime example, complete with tantalizingly woozy guitar solo. Is this a thinly veiled portrait of a woman pouring herself out of a cab on a Williamsburg avenue in the fall of 2006? Hmm…..

White builds a more overtly cynical, vengeful narrative over Stonesy sarcasm in Wasn’t It Here: as he does throughout the album, Stepro’s casual flurries drive the murderous point home. White hits his chorus pedal for icy 80s gloss in Heavy Lifting, the album’s funniest number.

“Suicide rates are an urban myth if you look into it,” White’s titular Karate Dentist relates over a backdrop that could be Steely Dan at their most rocking, White closes the album with Monrovia, a distantly Turkish (or Smiths) tinged kiss-off anthem, and the only place where he stops trying to conceal the snarl beneath the surface. He’s no stranger to best-albums-of-the-year list here: his 2013 album Bob and his 2020 release Leonard at the Audit both topped the full-length charts here, and this may end up at the top of the crop of 2021 as well.

Edge of Paradise Welcome You to Dystopia

This being Halloween month, it’s the most likely time of the year to find a nebulously dystopic metal-flavored album here. Edge of Paradise‘s new release The Unknown – streaming at Soundcloud – is more for fans of anthemic, retro 80s new wave sounds than diehard metalheads. But it’s hardly lightweight.

The first song on the record is Digital Paradise – let’s say frontwoman/keyboardist Margarita Monet doesn’t exactly see this hall of avatars as heaven. It’s a steady backbeat tune, as Missing Persons might have done it (but didn’t) with a brief, muted finger-tapping solo from guitarist Dave Bates grafted on. Throughout the album, Monet sings through a maze of effects, further enhancing the bleak, techy, futuristic chill.

She goes up to the top of her forceful yet airy range in My Method Your Madness, a ba-bump cabaret theme with crunchy guitars. It’s closer to an old 80s Moody Blues hit than, say, Gogol Bordello.

Layers of subtly but wickedly intertwined guitar roar rise to redline in Tidal Wave along with Monet’s righteously raging vocals. The album’s title track starts out as a strangely floating soundscape, then the band take it into aggressive action movie theme territory. The next cut, Believe is a defiant resistance anthem, Monet’s leaps into the stratosphere grounded by bassist Ricky Bonazza’s crunchy chords.

Bates’ muted machinegun riffs line up against Monet’s blustery synth in False Idols. From there the band segue into You Touch You Die, drummer Jamie Moreno hanging back suspensefully until the synthy skies break. “You were given a perfect world and you threw it away,” Monet accuses.

Darkness descends anxiously to match the metal crush in One Last Time – it’s the album’s best and heaviest track. Leaving Earth is the bounciest and poppiest number: “Who’s in control, machine or man?” Monet wants to know. The title of the anguished, drifting final cut, Bound to the Rhythm, telegraphs how this ugly story ends. There’s also a bonus track, an “industrial remix” of My Method Your Madness which is actually quite good since it’s more of a dub version.

New York Underground Legends Faith Bring Their Shapeshifting Sound Outside

Faith are one of the most individualistic and resilient bands in the history of the downtown scene. They’re also one of the very few left from that era. As far back as the 80s, frontwoman Felice Rosser made a mark with her imaginative, melodic, reggae-inspired bass playing and a distinctive, earthy contralto voice with a disarming falsetto. They have some outdoor shows on their East Village home turf coming up: Sept 25 at around 4 they’re at Tompkins Square Park, then on Oct 1 at 8 they’re at the LUNGS Festival in the Green Oasis Garden, 368 E 8th Street between Aves. C and D.

Their new album Shadowman is streaming at Bandcamp. Rosser has gone deep into dub, and improvisation, and low-key soul and funk in recent years, so this plunge into retro 80s rock is a real departure – and proves she’s just as much at home with a harder, more straight-ahead sound.

The first song on the album is Hey Emily, which has a catchy three-chord hook and a steady new wave beat from drummer Paddy Boom that gives away the band’s origins. “I found the thing that you gave me, it was in my purse with my loose change, it was still empty but I couldn’t throw it away,” Rosser explains. We never find out what it was.

The album’s title track shifts back and forth between an altered reggae beat – something Rosser is an expert at – and a straight-up new wave pulse, anchored around guitarist Nao Hakamada’s lingering, moody chords and jazzy octaves.

Surrender has spare, vintage 80s chorus-box guitar and a big, icy, oscillating chorus: it’s the band’s big stadium anthem. Rosser goes to the top of her range in Oh Father, a steady, understatedly aching soul ballad in 6/8 time with an unexpected reference to the Cure. It’s one of the band’s biggest audience hits in recent months – ok, years, considering that we were rudely interrupted in 2020.

There are two versions of the album’s final song, Saving All My Love, the first a cheery, Marley-inspired reggae tune, the second a wickedly psychedelic dub by E Blizza. No doubt the band will be airing out all these flavors and more over the next week or so.

Drifting Disconnection and Distant Disquiet From Lizzie Loveless

Singer/keyboardist Lizzie Loveless’ new album You Don’t Know – streaming at Bandcamp – falls somewhere between recent Courtney Marie Andrews and Julee Cruise. The former member of indie sister act Teen sings in an unadorned, unpretentious high soprano and likes strange synth textures. There’s a persistent unease to the songs here, no surprise considering the circumstances we all find ourselves under these days.

“You don’t know what it means to be me, and you don’t know what it means to stay,” she intones in the album’s opening, title track, a summery, bittersweet blue-eyed soul ballad in 6/8 time. The shimmering, sweeping, twinkling layers of keys make a decent digital facsimile of how, say, Dusty Springfield might have approached this song half a century ago.

Loveless’s disconnected, anomie-stricken vocals float over a skeletal guitar figure and more of those starry keys in The Joke, which could be about drugs, or just emotional abandonment – or both. There’s an even more opiated, hazily Lynchian pop feel to Memory: “When memory fails, does muscle prevail?” Loveless wants to know.

Eyes of a Man has surreal, techy new wave touches, Loveless ambitiously tackling the problem of viewing romance from a male perspective. Dudes don’t exactly come off well here.

The album’s fifth track, titled Loveless, also has a synthy new wave feel, but a more hypnotically propulsive one. She blends oldschool gospel allusions with wafting synth ambience in Hold Me Close and follows with Window, rising more quickly out of the ether to a catchy, shuffling anthem.

New York, Yesterday – how’s that for a gutpunch of a title? – is not a lockdown chronicle but a wintry, wistfully motorik reminiscence of a doomed relationship. It’s the best song on the album. There’s unexpected energy and a squiggly, funky bassline beneath the surface sheen of Underneath. Loveless stays with the upbeat (ok, that’s a relative word here) energy to wind up the album with Again, a catchy four-chord trip-hop groove.

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.

A Brilliant, Subtly Satirical New Video From Kira Metcalf

Watch very closely in the first few seconds of Kira Metcalf‘s video for her new single Hoax for a visual clue that packs a knockout punch.

This is how dissidents in the old Soviet Union had to protest. Looks like we’ve come to that here in the US.

Metcalf actually wrote the cleverly lyrical kiss-off anthem eight years ago, but it’s taken on new resonance since the lockdown began. Videowise, the esthetic is pure early 90s Garbage, as Shirley Manson would have mugged for the camera. Musically, the song is closer to early PJ Harvey with even more of a vengeful wail

Twisted Things Come in Threes Today

Been a little while since there have been any singles on this page. But little by little, more and more artists are gearing up for a return to freedom. There’s optimism, apocalypse and fury in today’s trio of songs.

“I’m living in a ghost town, I’m doing things my way, I’m not dead yet, ” four-piece New York band Devora’s frontwoman asserts over skronky minimalist punk rock straight out of the late 80s in their latest single, Not Dead Yet.

Chicago guitar legend Dave Specter and blues harp player Billy Branch build a slow, venomously simmering groove in The Ballad of George Floyd: “Eight minutes of torture, begged for mercy, then he was killed.” Specter has been on a roll with good protest songs, ever since his venomous anti-Trump broadside, How Low Can One Man Go.

Marianne Dissard, who’s been putting out single after hauntingly eclectic single from a planned covers album, has just released the one of her disturbing picks so far, a ghastly remake of Adriano Celentano’s creepily dadaesque 1972 Prisencolinensinainciusol, with a pastiche of samples of lockdown posturing by Boris Johnson, two Trumps, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, Reccep Erdogan, and Xi Jinping. Together they give Dissard a long, long rope to hang them with.