New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: new wave

First-Wave Punk Era Legends Wire Put Out Yet Another Timely Album

Imagine if the Clash were still going strong, still making smart, relevant records.

What if Ian Curtis had gone off his prescription for barbituates, quit drinking, got his epilepsy under control, and Joy Division were still together?

One of those two bands’ contemporaries, Wire, are still together, and even arguably better than when they were beginning to define what would come to be known as postpunk and new wave. By quirk of fate, they were also one of the last bands scheduled to play Brooklyn before the lockdown. Sadly, it doesn’t look likely that we’ll get amother American tour out of Wire this year, but they have a typically strong new album,10:20, a collection of first-class outtakes and new material  streaming at Spotify.

Their previous release, Mind Hive, was their most dystopic yet. This one is more allusive. As the album title implies, the lyrics are all about foreshadowing and the clock winding down, although the music is generally more upbeat. They open with the steady, hypnotic Boiling Boy, glistening with the group’s icy chorus-box guitars: “Lock up your house,” is the mantra as the chords change suddenly from major to minor. Bassist Graham Lewis’ subtly shifting lines pack a psychedelic wallop.

The big stadium guitar hooks that introduce the second cut, German Shepherds, seem to be a red herring (this band’s deadpan sense of humor is legendary). Likewise, the lyrics’ seemingly mundane imagery masks a grim scenario. The next track, He Knows has a slow dreampop sway and a very cool major-on-minor trick.

Underwater Experience has a lickety-split, practically hardcore punk drive: it could be an outtake from the Pink Flag sessions redone with digital production values. The Art of Persistence has eerie early 80s Cure jangle blended in with the album’s catchiest and yet most counterituitive changes – it involves a murder mystery and ends cold. Small Black Reptile also brings to mind the Cure, but in blithe mid-decade pop mode – which is almost certainly sarcastic.

Pulsing loops echo behind a seemingly easygoing post-Velvets sway in Wolf Collides. The album’s final cut is Over Their’s, marching toward the precipice and ending with a drone – or is that a flatline? Some hall-of-famers refuse to quit – and in Wire’s case, that’s a good thing.

Hilarious Video Makes Fun of Lockdown-Era Paranoia

One of the funniest videos to come over the transom here in recent weeks is Media Bear’s I Wear My Face Mask in the Car. Lately youtube has been taking down pro-freedom videos, but this one’s still up there.

This LMFAO parody of masker behavior has new lyrics set to the tune of the cheesy 80s pop hit I Wear My Sunglasses At Night. The funniest part of the video starts with the shaving scene at about 3:05, and it gets even better from there. No spoilers!

Ward White’s Leonard at the Audit – Best Rock Record of 2020 So Far

Since the early zeros, songwriter Ward White has been on a creative tear matched by few other artists, ever. In context: Bowie in the 70s; Aretha in the 60s; Elvis Costello from 1977 to about 1985; and Steve Wynn pretty much since birth. Hall of fame company. And White just doesn’t stop: his tenth and latest album, Leonard at the Audit, is streaming at Bandcamp. In terms of searingly literary lyricism set to imaginative, catchy rock changes, White is pretty much unsurpassed these days.

This particular record is probably the closest thing to White’s sinister nonlinear song cycle Bob – rated best rock record of the year here in 2013 – that he’s released since then. The album title reflects parallel narratives: Leonard Cohen’s 1960s flirtation with Scientology, and a seemingly mundane but actually much more grim story that looks back to the deadly geopolitics of the Bob record. Is this a sequel? Maybe.

The opening track, Bubble and Squeak, is White at the top of his imagistic, slashing game. A creepy cast of characters from the deep state along with an undertaker’s assistant make their entrance, none of them identified by name. “If you tangle with the Pharisees, be prepared to give up a son,” White warns. Musically, this sounds like the Police, built around a recurring guitar figure that White calls “seasick.” The band – Andrew Bird keyboardist Tyler Chester, Jakob Dylan drummer Mark Stepro and bassist John Spiker – maintain a low-key new wave pulse alongside him.

White goes for a more lush, ornate, briskly backbeat-driven feel in Not the Half, probably the only song to date to make the connection between Dylan Thomas final post-barroom collapse and lockdown-era respirator deaths. Above the watery web of guitars, the story references a hostage but also issues of artistic posterity or lack thereof.

The voice of a seemingly stoned and enlightenment-fixated Cohen alternates with someone whose marriage is going to hell on the express track in the similarly enveloping, jangly Ice Capades – or maybe it’s just a single narrator. The journey to the center of White’s songs is always a challenge, but an irresistible one.

Awash in hazy mellotron and icy chorus-box guitar, the Pink Floyd-inflected title track weighs the sacred against the profane – alongside what might or might not be a plane crash. The next song’s “Kleenex/Phoenix” rhyme is one of White’s funniest lyrical moments ever, and the litany of 70s references afterward are just as amusing, as is the central guitar hook – in a skeletal art-rock song about a contract killing, no less.

Likewise, the opening clang of Edmund Fitzgerald Is a Wreck (DAMN, White nails everything 70s here!), a sick, distantly late Beatlesque, characteristically image-rich Wisconsin death trip.

The backdrop shifts ten years forward into allusive 80s powerballadry with Try Me. The suspense and the black humor are relentless:

I was talking to the funeral director
Asking him how much this might all cost
He said “It’s hard to put a price on a relationship with God”
I said “Try me”

The surrealism reaches fever pitch in Dreaming of Dentistry, a druggy El Lay tableau akin to Floyd doing a sneering take on 70s lounge-pop with more than a hint of southwestern gothic. Dead People Fucking is one of White’s more Costelloesque numbers, referencing James Joyce, Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski, and others with wry imagery that’s part Shakespeare, part Warren Zevon.

White sets the ominous gambling metaphors of You Gotta Have a System to a slow, lingering sway:

Lucky with queens, but not in spades
I told you to hit me!
Diamonds retreat where the heart invades
You might as well double down

He winds up the record with the Bowie-esque Pornographic Ennui, connecting the bloody dots between dirty pix and police state ruthlessness:

He was a man who liked machines;
On cocaine it was guns, on beer, anything that runs on gasoline

If it still makes sense for there to be such a thing as a music blog in December 2020 – let’s hope there is – you’ll see this again, high on the best albums of the year list.

New Wave-Era Legends Wire Play Their Most Intimate NYC Shows in Decades

On one hand, it’s a shock that new wave-era legends Wire are still together and making excellent albums. Considering how vast their influence has been, from the dreampop bands of the late 80s through indie rock, it’s also a shock to see that their next New York shows are at the smallest venue they’ve played here in decades. Their March 11-12, 8 PM two-night stand is not at, say, Bowery Ballroom, but the Music Hall of Williamsburg, for $30 general admission.

The biggest shock of all is that the shows aren’t sold out yet, although they probably will be soon. Since the club is no longer part of the Bowery Ballroom chain, you can try your luck with getting tickets at the box office, which is open on show nights. This being midweek, it’s also a good bet that the L train will still be running by the time the band are done; if not, the G at Lorimer isn’t so faraway. You could even walk down Bedford to the south side and catch the J or M at Marcy.

Wire have yet another album, Mind Hive – streaming at Spotify – to add to their immense back catalog. The production is on the big-room side, as it has been since the group reformed back in the mid-80s, guitars dense and icy with reverb as usual. It’s amazing how the band work their signature tropes – sometimes an insistent, downstroke guitar pulse, other times those deliciously creepy, Syd Barrett-ish minor-to-major changes – without repeating themselves. And for a band who made a name for themselves as Modernists, they’re pure Romantics at heart. They’re not the least bit optimistic about the future: this is their most dystopic album yet, often drifting into psychedelia.

The sarcastic opening track, Be Like Them blends that downstroke beat and those ominous changes, setting the tone for the rest of the record. Track two, Cactused is classic Wire: sardonically wide-eyed spoken-word lyrics on the perils of the datamining age, that steady pulse, a big crunchy chorus and spacious, reggae-tinged bass from Graham Lewis. Primed and Ready is only slightly less sardonic: it could be a three-quarterspeed, backbeat-driven version of a standout track from the band’s iconic 1977 debut, Pink Flag.

Off the Beach has a watery theme that looks back to the Cure’s first album, when those guys were a scruffy janglerock band. Unrepentant is an unexpectedly successful detour into trancey, Indian-tinged psychedelia, in a Black Angels vein. From there the band segue into Shadows, the album’s grimmest, most Orwellian scenario and best song,

Awash in creepy keyboards, the ominously galloping Oklahoma continues the macabre, futuristic narrative. The album’s big epic, Hung has a smoky, grey haze over a slow, pounding sway; “In a moment of doubt the damage was done” is the mantra. The group close the record with the elegaic, atmospheric Humming. Who would have thought that a band who debuted almost forty-five years ago would still be going so strong.

The Ocean Blue Prove That There’s Life After Goth

“Suddenly, I feel that the world could end in a flash,” frontman David Schelzel muses early on in the opening track on the Ocean Blue‘s latest album Kings and Queens, Knaves and Thieves, streaming at Bandcamp. It could be the Smiths without the camp – hard to imagine, but just try. The point of the song echoes an old Roger Waters theme, that if we blow up the world, everybody’s equal in the end. If anything, the new record is more eclectic, more energetic and possibly even better than these veterans’ more overtly gothic, vintage 4AD-style back catalog. The Ocean Blue had an avid cult fanbase back at their late 80s/90s peak, who will no doubt come out in full force for their show at the Bell House on Feb 28 at 8:30 PM; general admission is $20.

The album’s bouncy second track, It Takes So Long could be Happy Mondays without the ditziness – how’s that for being iconoclastic with your contemporaries’ signature sounds? Love Doesn’t Make It Easy on Us has the band’s usual, watery, Cure-style guitars and contrasting synth textures, and just as much of a bounce.

Icy synths and tinkly guitar sonics echo over a steady new wave beat in All the Way Blue. Bobby Mittan’s rubberband bassline anchors Paraguay My Love, a bizarre mashup of 80s British goth and American bluegrass. F Major 7 – hey, back when this band was big, you had to actually know how to play your instrument – is a nifty, characteristically vamping little acoustic/electric instrumental, followed by the pouncingly catchy kiss-off anthem The Limit, with Scott Stouffer’s coy ska drums.

The resolutely swaying midtempo ballad Therein Lies the Problem (with My Life) could be Morrissey…or American powerpop legends Skooshny in a low-key moment. The steady, brooding nocturnal tableau 9 PM Direction is the album’s most vivid and strongest track, bringing to mind an even more legendary band, the Room.

Step into the Night blends the catchiness of the Cure at their most new-wavey and the Smiths at their most optimistic. The album ends with Frozen, a throwback to the group’s 4AD heyday. Some people will hear this and say here we go again, the damn 80s, can’t we just say goodbye for good to that awful decade, its pervasive Reagan/Thatcher fascism, cliched subcultures, beyond-ridiculous haircuts and lame synthesizers? On the other hand, for the Ocean Blue, old goths don’t die: they just find something to live for.

The Legendary Dream Syndicate’s Latest Album Is Their Most Political and Lyrical One Yet

“You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way,” Dylan said. But the Dream Syndicate proved him wrong. It’s mind-blowing how a band who put out their first album in 1981, broke up in 1989, regrouped early in this soon-defunct decade and influenced pretty much every noiserock and psychedelic band since are arguably better than ever. Their latest album These Times – streaming at youtube and available on autographed limited edition vinyl – is their quiet one so far.

As quiet as the world’s most brilliantly feral jamband gets, anyway. The janglerock ticks more tightly, and frontman/guitarist Steve Wynn goes deeper into his recent explorations of dreampop and psychedelic soul, taking advantage of drummer Dennis Duck’s slinky capabilities (anybody who thinks he’s just a four-on-the-floor rock guy hasn’t seen the band play John Coltrane Stereo Blues live). It’s also one of Wynn’s lyrically strongest albums, and his most allusively political one.

The first track on the record is The Way In, Wynn’s vampy downstroke guitar over a nebulous dreampop backdrop:

What a tangled web
What a piece of the puzzle
Hot licks and rhetoric
A syntactical muzzle
And we can’t begin
Until we find a way in

Put Some Miles On is the most motorik song the band’s ever done , a wryly defiant commentary on the wear and tear of the road, literally and metaphorically Wynn goes deeper into that theme with the haunting Black Light, its spare, resonantly jangly guitar and eerily blippy keys over a midtempo swing groove:

Crawled out from beneath the rock
Crustacean rough and steely strong
A weathered eye with a ticking heart
I know where and why but not how long

Awash in watery 80s guitar, Bullet Holes is a catchy backbeat hit over a classic Wynn two-chord verse, contemplating the ravages of time and knowing where the bodies are buried:

Barely surviving
Shell shocked, struck by lightning
And alone
Death defying
Acceptance without trying
Walking on gilded air
Down the boulevard without a care
Something reminds me
Nothing left to bind me
I see the bullet holes
The history that no one knows
Just the way the story goes…

Still Here Now is just plain gorgeous, a bitterly resolute midtempo anthem that picks up with incisive piano and distantly unhinged sheets of Jason Victor guitar, building to his first tantalizingly savage solo here:

I sing the song in vain
And I know there are those
Who might feel the same
Stunted by light
I just guess I wasn’t thinking right

The slyly allusive revolutionary anthem Speedway comes across as less lyrically dense Highway 61 Dylan:

Banging on the shuttered doorway
The owner is fast asleep
Gonna work it out this time
Maybe just for keeps

Recovery Mode is a brisk, new wave-tinged tune: the momentary guitar duel between Wynn and Victor is spot-on and like nothing they’ve ever done before. It’s a tense, metaphorically-loaded late Trump-era scenario:

You came to the right place
You got a kind face
What if your saving grace
Was lost in the chase

Duck opens The Whole World’s Watching with a sly lowrider clave groove, bassist Mark Walton turning up his treble for a little funk flash as the guitar swirl grows denser and more abrasive, distorto organ flitting through the mix. “Differentiate the sides,” Wynn instructs: “Same wrong, different time.”

The growlingly propulsive Space Age could be a snide come-on to a groupie, or an even snider commentary on politics as spectacle. The band wind up the record with Treading Water Underneath the Stars, a crushingly cynical eoo-disaster parable over lingering Meddle-era Pink Floyd atmospherics. It goes without saying that this is one of the best albums of the year.

Why did this blog wait so long to pitch in and spread the word? Waiting for the band to come back to town! Good news: there’s a 2020 tour in the works, keep your eye on Wynn’s tour page.

Jessie Kilguss Brings Her Subtly Sinister Songcraft and Soaring Voice to Gowanus Next Week

There was a four-song stretch in Jessie Kilguss‘ set last week at 11th Street Bar that was as evocative and mysteriously enticing as any show anywhere in New York this year. The first song was What Do Whales Dream About at Night, which was both enigmatic, and quirky, and had an ambitious sweep. Kilguss kept the jaws of fate open with Great White Shark, then sang the most haunting song of the night, The Master, one of the best of her folk noir masterpieces. Sinister as it seems, it’s actually a shout-out to Leonard Cohen, arguably Kilguss’ biggest influence

Then Kilguss and her jangly four-piece backing band careened through House of Rain and Leaves, a broodingly steady grey-sky narrative. With her calmly nuanced, crystalline voice soaring to the highs and murmuring among the lows, Kilguss channeled distant disaster and sudden menace as well as sardonic detachment. She knows that singing is acting, which makes sense since she built a career as a stage actress before plunging into songwriting more or less fulltime. She’s playing on an intriguing acoustic bill on Dec 4 at 7 PM at Mirror in the Woods, a tea shop at 575 Union St. in Gowanus. Take the R to Union St. and walk away from the slope. The other acts on the bill range from similarly strong tunesmiths like dark duo Lusterlit (Kilguss’ bandmates in lit-pop collective the Bushwick Book Club),, soulful cello-rocker Patricia Santos, Americana songstress Andi Rae Healy and some open mic lifers.

Kilguss’ other songs at the East Village show last week were subtler and somewhat more lighthearted. She opened, playing swaths of chords on harmonium, with Spain, a pensive blend of new wave and vintage soul and continued with Strangers, an opaque mix of Guided By Voices and Blondie, maybe. She closed the show with an unexpectedly upbeat Lori McKenna cover and then an almost completely deadpan take of a big radio hit from one of the most awful chick flicks of the 80s, a moment where nobody in the band could keep a straight face all the way through. Kilguss will probaby bring just as much angst, and menace, and ridiculous fun to the Brooklyn gig: it’s a pass-the-tip-jar situation.

The Plaster Cramp Bring Their Distant Menace to a Halloween Eve Bushwick Gig

Today’s Halloween installment is the Plaster Cramp’s debut album – streaming at Bandcamp – which came out back in 2016. The band’s cynical surrealism looks back to the downtown postpunk scene of the early 80s, with occasional tinges of psychedelia and latin music. They like sprawling Velvets vamps with jagged guitar spilling over the edges; the darkness in the songs’ lyrics is allusive, and it draws you in. They’re playing Alphaville on Oct 30 at 10 PM; cover is $11.

The album opens with The Ghost of Great Jones. Aside from a little Daniel Ash-style string-torturing from guitarist/frontman John Frazier, there isn’t anything particularly dark about this slinky, Talking Heads-ish one-chord jam.

In the Stacks is a throwback to the Velvets’ first album, complete with the hammering piano, just a hair out of tune. Dracula is a phony bossa tune that coalesces out of atonal weirdness, multitracked vocals half-buried in the mix.

A dancing bassline propels Pinball Safari, a latin-flavored funk tune. The group go back to vintage Velvets stomp for Change It, “While the moon above weeps above the drying poplar trees,”Frazier speaks, calmly. “Do you like what you see?”

The group mash up Talking Heads and the Velvets in Impatient Knives, then bring the lights down with the album’s best and most implicitly grisly song, Apartment 23. It sounds like a more fleet-footed Botanica:

His car sat on the wrong side of the streeet
The phone just rang and rang in apartment 23
Nobody expects to discover anything
He had hidden himself
An ordinary man, no next of kin
No one to notice…
Lost in a city of pinstripes and grey suits
How they go together holy jesus

Cherry Dark is the Plaster Cramp’s What Goes On, a catchy, tastily twisted 4 AM Lower East Side scenario. The guardedly optimistic Fingers Crossed sounds like the Velvets playing New Order: the anachronism is actually very funny. The album closes with the starry nocturne Downstream, a dead ringer for vintage Brian Jonestown Massacre. The group have been playing more frequently over the last few months, a good sign, even if very few of the venues they’ve been at do anything to promote the bands who play there.

A Purist Retro Rock Record and a Bushwick Release Show From New York Noir Icon Julia Haltigan

These days Julia Haltigan may be best known for her work as an actress in Sleep No More, the gothic Macbeth. But she’s never let the demands of her stage career derail her role as one of New York’s most torchily captivating singers and bandleaders. She can be lurid, seducive and downright macabre, frequently in the same song. Her lyrics paint uneasy urban tableaux, usually set somewhere on the Lower East Side where she was born and raised. She’s alaso a hell of a tunesmith, with a taste for retro sounds. Her latest and hardest-rocking album, Trouble, isnt up at her at Bandcamp page yet, but a bunch of the singles from it are. She’s playing the album release show at around 11 on Oct 24 at the Sultan Room (the old Starr Barr space at 234 Starrr St. in Bushwick). Cover is $10.

The core of the band this time out is longtime Jessie Kilguss sideman John Kengla on lead guitar, Andrew Raposo (who also produced) on bass, Morgan Wiley on B3 organ and  Caito Sanchez on drums. Haltigan opens the record with Earthquake, a Manhattan rooftop party senario set to a chugging Nick Lowe-style pub rock tune. “I don’t give a fuck, I’m tired of being hustled – is it something in the air or is it that we’re jaded?” she ponders. “if we don’t do it, who’s gonna run this city?”

The oldschool soul anthem You Don’t Even Know It is soberingly set in the here and now: “They raised your rent, but the neighborhood’s the same….You don’t even kow that they follow your feet, you don’t even know that the temperature’s rising”

Wool is a hazy. slowly swaying, noir-tinged nocturne where you can “Lose your mind in the summer heat, waltz yourself down the broken street…passing through scenes that I know too well.” Then Haltigan gets even more cynical, mashing up Blondie with Rockpile and some tasty, swirly organ in Debris of Love

With its layers of icy electronic keys and Wiley’s epic Jungleland piano at the end, Thunder is a surreal mix of third-gen Casket Girls new wave and imagistic Lynchian torch song.“You can watch me walk away, I’ll even let you hold the door,” Haltigan announces in Walk Away, another late 70s-style pub rock/new wave hybrid.

With Kengla’s spaghetti western guitars and the starry constellation of keys and percussion, Bad Habit is a noir soul tableau, Haltigan at her Lynchian best; Amy Winehouse’s shadow hangs over this one. Skeleton Dance is a spare, soul-infused requiem that wouldn’t be out of place in the Nicole Atkins catalog.

“I don’t even wanna stay connected,” Haltigan sings in Mind Eater, the most new wave of all the songs here, a relentlessly troubled look at a world on the express track to self-destruction. “Just like that, it’s gone,” she half-whispers in the synthy, Cure-influenced nightscape Be With You: from a heartbroken perspective, the personal really is political these days. There’s also a bonus track, Cindy, a wickedly catchy, sympathetic powerpop shout-out to a girl from out of town struggling to keep herself together in a new metropolis. Not a single weak track on this album: you’ll see it on the best records of 2019 page if we make it that far.

Monograms Bring Their Spot-On Gothic 80s Sound to Bushwick This Weekend

Monograms call themselves “New York’s nuke wave.” In an era when rock music has become a legacy style like bluegrass or roots reggae, this four-piece band do a great job emulating the dark side of early 80s British new wave, particularly the Cure around the time of the Pornography album. Monograms’ debut album Living Wire is streaming at Bandcamp; they’re playing the release show on Sept 21 at 9ish at the Broadway, the recently reopened former Gateway space at 1272 Broadway in Bushwick. The noisy Big Bliss play beforehand. Most of the shows at the Gateway were pass-the-hat: the venue doesn’t have a website. so it’s not clear if that’s the situation, or if there’s a cover charge. Take the J to Gates Ave. and walk back toward Williamsburg a couple of blocks.

The album opens with the opaque Buzz Choir, a swirly, dreampop-tinged take on Joy Division. The second track, Sounds Like Mean Spirit is total 80s goth, frontman Ian Jacobs’ spare, catchy, watery chorus-box guitar over Sam Bartos’ snappy, trebly bass and Rich Carrillo’s skittish 2/4 drumbeat. In the background, Michelle Feliciano’s synth quivers and oscillates.

Likewise, Don’t Fight For It is awash in grey-sky string synth and icy guitar/bass textures: it’s basically a one-chord song. The chugging dancefloor beats and washes of synth in Nose Dive are pure New Order circa 1981. Common Circles has some neat guitar/bass/synth tradeoffs, while the gloomily propulsive Century pulses with fried-plastic textures.

Garbage Can could be an especially guitarish outtake by mid-80s New Order; likewise, the final cut, Pirate Government Inc. is a denser take on early Human League (before that band got all poppy).

For the most part, lyrics and vocals don’t really figure into this band’s music: it’s all about the chilly ambience. If you have an aunt or uncle who spent time at any of the New York goth palaces like Slimelight or the Cooler back in the 90s, ask them if they have any black eyeliner you can borrow for the Bushwick gig.