New York Music Daily

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Tag: new wave

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 what 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.

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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.

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.

Nina Diaz Brings Her Relentless Angst and Catchy 80s-Influenced Tunesmithing to Wlliamsburg

Nina Diaz is best known as the frontwoman and guitarist of Girl in a Coma. Without knowing her background, you might swear that many of the songs on  her debut solo album The Beat Is Dead – streaming at Spotify – were relics from the 80s. Synthesizers pulse and swirl; the guitars and basslines are as dry as they are precise and catchy. Otherwise, the record sounds like a sleeker take on her main band, a series of angry anthems that would make a great soundtrack for a sequel to or remake of Fatal Attraction. You know – rain-slick streets, Soho lofts that you take the freight elevator up to since the real estate bubble hasn’t started to blow yet, and everybody’s wearing black eyeliner. 

Some of the songs here also recall Nicole Atkins, right down to the the brooding minor keys, slightly throaty vocals and noir tinges. Diaz’s next New York gig is at Rough Trade on August 17 at 9 for ten bucks in advance.

The album opens with Trick Candle, propelled by a dancing octave bass riff and spiraling synth, like Missing Persons without the metal buffoonery. With its darkly irresistible chorus, the album’s title track, more or less, is Queen Beats King.”All he seems to care about is fame… in the silence you create your own violence to turn and kill,” Diaz accuses.

Rebirth begins as syncopated cabaret-punk and then follows a trip-hop slink that eventually straightens out: “I will not love you until you are my enemy,” Diaz says perversely. With its doomed, angst-fueled major/minor changes, January 9th is a dead ringer for Atkins: “I don’t wanna be the bad one, I don;t wanna be the sad one that you find,” Diaz insists, althogh her voice can’t disguise that she knows what’s coming.

Fall in Love keeps that same wounded atmosphere going, awash in starry omnichord synth over a trip-hop groove: “Sometimes I speak too quickly, end up inside another shell…how would you know yourself, if you were never to fall in love…”

With Young Man, Diaz goes back to icy, stainless-countertopped new wave that explodes into Billy Idol bombast. She opens It with a tricky intro that artfully morphs into strutting, defiant ba-BUMP new wave noir cabaret. Then she hits a vengeful, sequencer-fueled motorik punk drive with Screaming Without a Sound. 

Its wryly blippy synth contrasting with big stadium rock guitars, Down continues the 80s vibe, this time going up into the attic for a Siouxsie-esque menace:: “I know all your secrets, I will push you to the ground, and you say, oh, why’d you kick me while I’m down?”, Diaz recounts.

She hits a creepy peak with Dig, its guitar chromatics fueling a lurid tale of abandonment and lust, and follows that with Star, a titanic, blue-flame 6/8 anthem, a counterpart to Atkins’ signature song The Tower.

Stark, starlit guitar builds a moody noir ranchera backdrop behind Diaz’s melancholy vocals in For You, a sad waltz. The album winds up with Mortician Musician, a bitter soul anthem recast as Orbison noir: “I’m not a fool for writing melodies, I’m just a fool for trying to make you see what I see,, ask me what kind of coffin I’d like, it’s the one you picked out for me,” Diaz rails..Dudes, get your skinny tie on; girls, feather your hair and take the subway to Bedford Avenue on the 17th because there was no Uber back when it sounds like this unselfconsciously brilliant album was made.

Lusterlit Bring Their Richly Lyrical, Creepy, Lynchian Rock to Bushwick

Multi-instrumentalists Susan Hwang and Charlie Nieland formed Lusterlit as a far darker spinoff of the Bushwick Book Club, a songwriting collective whose sprawling, global membership regularly contributes assignments based on a staggeringly diverse reading list of both fiction and nonfiction – they started with Vonnegut and then branched out from there. Musically speaking, Lusterlit compares most obviously to the Handsome Family, but switching out the Americana for more of an ethereal, gothic ambience. Lusterlit’s album List of Equipment is streaming at Bandcamp, and they’ve got a show at 9 PM this Wednesday, April 12 at the Well, 272 Meserole St. in Bushwick, Cover is $8; take the L to Montrose Ave. As a bonus, wry 70s style krautrock disco band Automaatio play afterward at 10. Cover is $8.

The duo hit the album’s first track, Ceremony, out of the park. It’s a long, creepy, ineluctably crescendoing, chromatically-charged Lynchian anthem inspired by Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Hwang’s voice slides up from low and understatedly menacing, growing more wrathful as the narrative shifts into more harrowing territory. She’s been a strong singer since her days as co-leader of the charming, eclectic trio the Debutante Hour with Maria Sonevytsky and Mia Pixley, but this could be the high point of her career so far. Behind the vocals, the two evoke a Phil Spector deep-space grandeur with their densely arranged, reverbtoned layers of acoustic guitar and synthesized strings.

The title track  – inspired by a Julia Child cookbook – is a jaunty noir cabaret piano tune, Hwang imagining her kitchen utensils as tools for more sinister purposes. As dark, quirky, artsy pop goes, it wouldn’t be out of place in the Changing Modes songbook. Nieland takes over vocals in The Day of the Triffids with a breathy, misterioso delivery against an enveloping, cumulo-nimbus backdrop punctuated by slowly tumbling John Barry film noir percussion.

The two concluding cuts draw on Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude. Hwang makes quasi-hip-hop out of her litany of Middle American images from decades past in the first one, Flight: the chorus of Marlon Cherry, Leslie Graves, and another first-rate literary songwriter, Jessie Kilguss add distantly gospel-flavored harmonies. The second, Genius of Love, sends a shout to a couple of iconic new wave hits, Nieland taking the music forward fifteen years with a 90s trip-hop vibe. As with all the songs here, the lyrics are torrential: they come at you like refugees across the Syrian border. If there’s any album released this year that demands many repeated listens, this is it.

An Unpredictably Fun Album Release Show by Changing Modes

It’s hard to imagine a New York band that has as much fun onstage as Changing Modes. Or a band anywhere who can negotiate the endlessly tricky metrics and serpentine twists and turns of their artsy, often new wave-tinged songs as tightly as they do. At their album release show for their new one, Goodbye Theodora at Webster Hall this past weekend, everybody in the band except for drummer Timur Yusef switched instruments.

Singer Wendy Griffiths is the best keyboardist in the band, but she played the better part of the set on bass – as it turns out, she’s also their most nimble bass player. Co-frontwoman Grace Pulliam is a guitarist, but she played keys and bass synth. Guitarist Yuzuru Sadashige took over bass duties early on and ended the show on keys. As usual, Griffiths and Pulliam took turns on lead vocals, often in the same song, Pulliam’s soul-infused lower register blending with Griffiths’ crisp, crystalline soprano for some unselfconsciously spine-tingling moments and some that were a lot more devious. Griffiths worked the mystery angle; everybody else in the band was pretty much grinning from ear to ear for the duration of the show. They’re bringing their multi-instrumental prowess, good cheer and darkly lyrical songs to the one-year anniversary celebration at the Muse Brooklyn at 350 Moffatt St. in Bushwick tonight, April 2 at 7:30 PM. Cover is $15; take the L to Wilson Ave.

It takes nerve to open with an instrumental, but that’s what Changing Modes did, tackling the creepy, futuristic tumbles and swells of 2-1/2 Minutes to Midnight without breaking a sweat. They kept the enigmatic, surreal atmosphere going with a swaying take of Mind Palace, the first of the tracks from the new album and followed with the sly noir swing romp Amanda’s House, which sounds suspiciously like a song somebody with that name might write.

Sadashige fired off some evil noiserock in between Pulliam and Griffiths’ vocal handoffs in Red, followed by the macabre, lingering anthem Arizona, the night’s best song. Fueled by Sadashige’s searing solo, they growled through the postapocalyptic allusions of Door, then had fun with Sharkbird, the night’s monster surf-tinged second instrumental.

After the uneasy dynamic shifts of Firestorm, they lightened the mood with Pulliam singing an Amy Winehouse-esque cover of Elle King’s Ex’s & Oh’s, and later elevated Radiohead’s Karma Police toward late Beatles grandeur. Too Far Gone – a co-write with their indie classical composer pal Denise Mei Yan Hofmann – made a detour back to grimly anthemic territory. They wound up the set with the poppy, bouncy Vital Signs and the woozy, fuzzy, older new wave song Pretty Vacant, which is nothing like the Sex Pistols. Changing Modes have a deep back catalog, seven albums worth of songs just as eclectic and unpredictably fun as these.

Rich Girls Bring Their Enigmatically Catchy, Allusive Sound to Bowery Electric

You either have to be sarcastic, and afraid of nothing, or just plain clueless to call your band Rich Girls these days. Is this New York group a bunch of snobby, entitled Lana Del Rey wannabes – or are they punk, or hip-hop? As it turns out, none of the above. Frontwoman Luisa Black’’s cool, inscrutable vocals and enigmatic, offhanded lyrical metaphors float over a reverbtoned guitar backdrop that’s part new wave and part dreampop. Black’s latest project is a lot more dynamic than her old group, San Francisco dark garage band the Blacks. The new  debut ep Love Is the Dealer is streaming at Bandcamp; the band has a show at Bowery Electric on March 7 at 9:30 PM. Cover is $8

The opening number, New Bag has a hypnotic, insistent, echoey downstroke guitar drive set to a 2/4 new wave pulse: Wire and New Order are the obvious comparisons.

Loaded is the album’s best cut, a steady, twinkling, reverby, noir-tinged number, 60s Orbison pop updated for the teens. Early Sharon Van Etten and Holly Miranda sounded a lot like this; the band follows a steady trajectory upward to an enveloping dreampop vortex

Open Water is a more propulsive take on the post-New Order sound of the ep’s first song..It seems to be about taking a plunge, and the consequences afterward.

Grip has a catchy middle-period Jesus & Mary Chain growl and a far more dynamic singer than that band had. The ep’s final cut is Black Night, an allusive waltz. “White light, head in your hands, you’re alive again,” Black intones “Alive, alive, back from the dead…hold the feeling and not repeat until we run.” Like most of the other songs here, it builds toward a deep-space shimmer not unlike what the Church was doing 25 years ago. If the band does all this onstage, it could be something to get lost in.

Another Dark Chapter in Morricone Youth’s Marathon Series of Film Scores

Avi Fox-Rosen‘s record of releasing a dozen albums in a dozen months may be safe, but Morricone Youth aren’t far behind. The latest album from New York’s most prolifically cinematic band – in a planned series of fifteen soundtracks to films they’ve played live to over the past five years – is guitarist/bandleader Devon E. Levins’ original score for George Miller’s pioneering, dystopic 1979 post peak oil monster truck epic Mad Max. Like the rest of the series, the record is available on limited edition vinyl, in translucent Coke bottle greeen, and streaming at soundcloud.

The initial release in the series, a mix of the original score and new material composed for George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, explores the darkest corners of 60s psychedelia. The second, for the 1926 silent film The Adventures of Prince Ahmed, is more Morricone-esque, with Middle Eastern and Italian influenes. This new one is a mix of 70s art-rock and early new wave. Which makes sense: when the movie was in production, new wave rock was in its embryonic stages (and Mel Gibson, if he was a rightwing Christian supremacist nutjob then, hadn’t yet become famous for it).

As with much of Morricone Youth’s work, the album is a series of themes and variations. In general, the music is more overtly dark than the film’s exuberantly cynical narrative about vigilantes who can’t quite figure out how to get the max out of their prized but rapidly evaporating stash of petrochemicals. Dan Kessler’s washes of keyboards fuel the brief title theme: its motorik foreshadowing takes centerstage in the second piece, Mad Goose, over the furtive new wave pulse of bassist John Castro and drummer Brian Kantor.

Noir singer Karla Rose – whose forthcoming album of hauntingly lyrical songs is reputedly amazing – contributes distantly ghostly vocals to Clunes Town, a mashup of Del Shannon and Morricone spaghetti western. From there the band segues into Revenge of the MFP, which sounds like the Ex taking on a Richard Strauss theme famously repurposed for outer space.

Fraser Campbell’s balmy sax floats over a starry backdrop throughtout Jessie, a surrealistic love theme. Then Levins puts the rubber to the road with his grittily circling riffage in Nightrider, a careening chase scene. The band channel their main inspiration in the creepy, woozily psychedelic bolero Anarchie Road, followed by Johnny the Boy. a sardonic mashup of early Squeeze and Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, Kantor propelling it with a tumbling leadfoot drive. Castro’s Geezer Butler-like, growling bass pushes Toecutter as it rises from Pink Floyd ominousness toward krautrock. The closing credits roll to the surprisingly upbeat, starlit spacerock of Bad Max. That there are another dozen albums like this in the works is really something to look forward to in what’s been a horror movie of a year so far.

Catchy Tunesmithing and Smartly Relevant Songwriting from the New Tarot

Friday night at the Poisson Rouge, a crowd of about fifty people – which is a lot, in this post-election depression – gathered out of the cold to witness a short but impactful set by the catchy and eclectic New Tarot. This band has a lot of flavors. New wave is where they’re coming from, but they blend in elements as diverse as 90s Portishead trip-hop, growling riff-rock, 60s psychedelia, a little ornate art-rock and some lyrically-fueled Americana.

They opened with a scampering new wave-flavored number and its coy “meow meow” or two early on, Karen Walker’s woozy keyboards bringing to mind state-of-the-art retro 80s New York band Changing Modes. Guitarist Sulene van der Walt – subbing for Beth Callen – worked her way expertly and effortlessly from stiletto tremolo-picking, to twinkling, starry upper-register resonance to some unexpected grit and roar as the set went on.

The night’s second number romped along with a jungly Antmusic groove from bassist Dave Kahn and drummer Chas Langston behind Karen’s spare keyboard accents. Her frontwoman sister Monika growled and wailed like a somewhat less feral version of the Grasping Straws’ Mallory Feuer on the song after that, fueled by van der Walt’s hard-funk riffage contrasting with the aircondiitoned synth textures wafting overhead.

They went back – or, more accurately, forward – into the 80s for a swaying, vampy Talking Heads-flavored seduction theme spiced by Karen’s electric piano in tandem with David Banker’s spare trombone, an instrument that at this point serves mostly as an extra texture and could be utilized for a lot more firepower if the group felt up to it. Bump-bump, ba-BUMP-bump White Rabbit allusions gave way to a snarling, anthemic drive on the big anthem after that.

The most epic song of the night was a kaleidoscope of orchestral keys, clustering drums and deep-space guitar shimmer: it wouldn’t have been out of place on the Portishead Live Roseland album. Karen took over lead vocals on the moody piano ballad that followed, part trip-hop, part ELO chamber pop. They could have played for twice as long as they did and nobody would have complained, hitting a peak a defiantly populist note with the hip hop-flavored The Kitchen’s On Fire and then the night’s trippiest, most memorable anthem, slinking along on a misterioso levantine groove. They closed with a C&W-tinged, crushingly sarcastic swipe upside the head of yuppie materialists, possibly titled America, Monika strapping on the bouzouki that had been lying tantalizing against the back wall of the stage. This band would go over well if they could hook on with the next Bat for Lashes or St. Vincent tour – their webpage doesn’t have any upcoming gigs listed at the moment, but they play around New York a lot. And stay tuned for an auspicious new album.