New York Music Daily

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Tag: new wave

Holly Miranda Brings Her Twin Peaks Pop to a Rare Small Club Residency at Hell Phone in Bushwick

Holly Miranda is one of the most distinctive and consistently interesting singers around. The former Jealous Girlfriends frontwoman’s nuanced vocals are sort of a cross between Marissa Nadler at her most energetic, and Karla Rose in a pensive moment. Tunewise, Miranda is just as much an individualist: she can sing gospel with anybody, is drawn to vintage soul music but also has a thing for the 80s (and probably current bands that look back to that decade). She doesn’t waste notes, but she also likes artsy arrangements. Her most recent, self-titled album is streaming at Spotify. While her most recent New York shows have been at Bowery Ballroom, she’s playing a rare, intimate residency on Thursdays beginning April 28 through May 26 at around 9 at Hell Phone, the swanky, charmingly retro boite at 247 Varet St. in Bushwick. Cover is $10, or $15 which includes a download of her upcoming album. The place is steps away from the Morgan Ave. L stop.

In the meantime, we have the self-titled album to enjoy. The opening track, Mark My Words follows a steady upward trajectory into syncopated new wave, built around a dreamy chiming guitar riff matched by  Miranda’s gentle, considered vocals. Drony baritone sax mingling with distorted guitar adds an ominous undercurrent to the slow oldschool soul ballad Everlasting, which rises to a mighty, searing, guitar-fueled peak.

Whatever You Want brings to mind Amanda Palmer‘s poppiest solo work, as well as 80s groups like the Joboxers, who mashed up Motown with new wave. Come On is even poppier, with hints of hip-hop amid the glistening, enveloping sonics and fluttery dreampop guitars. Pelican Rapids is the great missing Twin Peaks soundtrack ballad, right down to the oscillating, overcast, warptone analog synth having loopy fun with the tv show’s title theme.

A more oblique take on Twin Peaks pop, Desert Call has an appropriately surreal, spacious, nocturnal resonance, more of that smoky sax and an especially wounded angst in Miranda’s voice: for someone whose stock in trade is enigmatic restraint, she really cuts loose here. With its twinkling, blue-neon guitars, The Only One is the most Lynchian and best song on the album.

The hypnotically waltzing Heavy Heart rises from echoes of 80s goth to a big art-rock crescendo: “You see the lights are dancing as you swallow the poison pill.” Miranda intones inscrutably. Until Now comes across as a mashup of the Twin Peaks C&W of Detroit’s Whiskey Charmers and Australian spacerock legends the Church. The album winds up with Hymnal, a launching pad for some spine-tingling, stratospheric vocal flights.

Oh yeah – in case you think Miranda’s catalog is limited to sad songs, you haven’t heard All I Want Is to Be Your Girl. It went viral when it came out, probably because she drops the f-bomb a bunch of times. Text the video to al your middle-school friends.

Foreshadowing the Dada Paradox Show This Friday at Freddy’s

Back in the day there were two songwriters, Ian and Liza, and their two bands, the Larch and Liza & the WonderWheels. The Larch was Ian’s band – he played lead guitar and Liza played keys. They sounded like Squeeze or Elvis Costello. Their final two albums – assuming that the band is finished at this point – are among the most brilliantly catchy, subtly venomous lyrical rock releases in recent New York music history.

Liza played rhythm guitar and keys while Ian played lead in Liza & the WonderWheels, who interestingly enough, were one of this city’s great jambands over the past fifteen years or so. Other than Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds, it’s hard to think of another female-fronted psychedelic band who were so consistently good.

Attrition set in, the rhythm section in both Ian and Liza’s  bands went through some changes – you know, New York brain drain, rents going up, people getting forced out, ad nauseum – and Liza and the WonderWheels morphed into Tracy Island. Meanwhile, the Larch faced the same dilemma and eventually turned into Dada Paradox, who have a show this coming Friday, March 25 at 8 PM at Freddy’s. Either way, both bands are basically Ian and Liza – who eventually married, but have so far avoided becoming a couplecore band, not only once but twice. That might seem like a major achievement, but it’s no big deal when you consider that Ian and Liza Roure would never write a song about the joys of shopping unless they were being very, very sarcastic.

This blog has yet to cover Dada Paradox, but back in November at Bowery Electric, Tracy Island played a show for the cognoscenti. There was probably as much talent in the crowd as there was onstage. Rebecca Turner and her band opened the night with a richly jangly set that put a teens Brooklyn update on 60s/70s Laurel Canyon psychedelic folk, John Sharples taking centerstage on several of the songs with his tersely gorgeous twelve-string lead guitar lines. John Pinamonti, another excellent, judicious twelve-string player, used to be this band’s lead player, and Sharples took his already formidable approach to a new level. Meanwhile, Turner her drummer and her melodic bassist Scott Anthony aired out a bunch of new material as well as old favorites like Brooklyn Is So Big, an ever more bittersweet shout-out to the borough and its ever more widely dispersed artistic class.

The Kennedys headlined, playing guitarmeister Pete Kennedy’s latest solo album Heart of Gotham from start to finish, his wife Maura on soaring vocal harmonies and rhythm guitar. “Down on the corner of hope and glory, to a place called Union Square,” they sang, two voices rising to anthemic proportions that most stadium rock bands can only dream of, in tribute to the many cultures that built New York into one of the world’s great cities until the luxury condo pestilence began wiping it out. A web of deliciously Byrdsy guitars mingled with rousing Celtic flourishes and slinky Pete Kennedy leads, the duo imagining Moses dreaming in the arms of Pharaoh’s Daughter. As a metaphor for a city, is that a ridiculous conceit, or something we can still aspire to? It felt awfully good to get a shot of optimism from these two.

Tracy Island were sandwiched between the two acts, playing the album release show for their debut, War No More. They opened with the catchy, vamping What You Want, a springboard for Liza’s jaunty, seductive vocals. The most delicious moment of the night was when they launched into Eddie Come Down. which is less an entreaty to a would-be suicide than it is an order to a crazy dude to pull his shit together. It wasn’t recognizable at first, Liza’s lingering blue-flame resonance against Ian’s resonantly evil slide lines. With just the two guitars, it brought to mind Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine dueling it out circa 1978, but with vocals that were cool, mentholated, on key, anchoring the stampede as Ian spun wild paisley underground circles against the center. They took it down to almost silence, then back up: if you’ve ever seen the Dream Syndicate, it was like that, just without drums. Back in the day it was the WonderWheels’ big showstopper: they’d go on for ten minutes or more if they were in the mood. Check out the Hall of Eds (hit the listen button and then scroll all the way down) for some of the most enjoyable moments from the last ten years or so of NYC jamband history.

The rest of the set had the jangle and clang and wah and scream going full steam. The catchy, sardonic faux-futurist Where’s My Robot Maid had a stairstepping, axe-murderer solo midway through. From there they rose from a cynical, brooding, minor-key New Depresssion anthem to summery post-Velvets ambience under Liza’s soaring, operatic vocals, then a shuffling, upbeat, Television-ish number. After that they worked an insistent Saturday Nigtht’s All Right for Fighting riff into a characteristically defiant Liza chorus, a reference to a classic punk anthem by X. And with Meet the Animal, they built a distantly simmering, sultry, psychedelic menace, Liza’s voice matched by Ians’s creepy washes of wah guitar. There will probably be many moments like these Friday night at Freddy’s.

Marianne Dissard’s Cibola Gold Distills Some of Her Most Shattering Songs

More than anything else, French singer Marianne Dissard’s new greatest-hits collection, Cibola Gold – streaming at Bandcamp – is all about solace. Betrayal, disappointment and fullscale heartbreak are frequent themes, and for anyone who’s suffered any of that (hasn’t everyone?), Dissard feels your pain. It’s a potently plaintive playlist for cold nights at 3 AM when there’s only a single glass left in the magnum and the ghosts on the perimeter are closing in.

It opens with a funny song and closes with a harrowing one. In between, it documents the career of one of the world’s most consistently compelling songwriters since 2008. She started out looking back toward new wave, then went deep into desert rock. Since then, Dissard has been just as eclectic, ranging from the towering, angst-driven art-rock of her 2014 masterpiece The Cat. Not Me, to the stripped-down noir of last year’s live-in-the-studio release, Cologne-Vier Takes. Beyond the thirteen newly remastered tracks, the album comes with a lavish, full-color booklet documenting Dissard’s well-documented travels, from her native country to the Arizona desert  – where she famously collaborated with Giant Sand and Sergio Mendoza – and eventually full circle.

Like Balkan singer Eva Salina, recently covered here, Dissard’s vocals transcend the limits of language. While her lyrics, mostly in French, are full of double entendres and clever wordplay, her powers of expression are such that anyone can get the gist if not the complete picture of where she’s coming from, emotionally speaking. For example, her coyly deadpan delivery on the scampering Django jazz-flavored Les Draps Sourds. In French, “sourd” means “deaf,” but it also means “hammered,” as in having had too much bordeaux. So the tale of the two lovers beneath the sheets, interrupted, takes on new dimensions, whether or not you speak French.

The One and Only, with its insistent, echoey Rhodes piano and purist blend of soul and blues, sends a joyously breathy shout-out to Dissard’s old Tucson stomping ground. She takes an animatedly anguished approach to the ache and abandonment of Election over an insistently pulsing piano-pop arrangement. Cayenne refers not to the quasi-narcotic qualities of capsicum but to its lingering burn, and all that it represents, Dissard’s mutedly wounded contralto mingling with a gently pointillistic, Chelsea Girl-style acoustic backdrop. The metaphorically-loaded images of the swaying folk-rock of Les Confettis are much the same.

With La Tortue (The Turtle), the door opens wide and the darkness, always hinted at, pours in, with more than a hint of hip-hop in Dissard’s half-spoken nightmare imagery over waves of strings and incisive neoromantic piano. The whisperingly conspiratorial ranchera art-rock of Almas Perversas (Perverse Souls) is more allusively troubled. Then Dissard offers a mysteriously seductive groove with the sunbaked Booker T psych-soul groove of Trop Expres (rough translation: Too Obvious).

Pomme (The Apple) expands on the William Tell fable, chamber-pop gospel as Roger Waters might do it, with an irresistible woodwind chart and similarly tasty piano. La Peau Du Lait (Porcelain Skin) blends new wave bounce and dancing echoes of vintage vaudevillian chanson, with one of Dissard’s trademark clever rhyme schemes. Likewise, It’s Love, a mashup of new wave and angst-tinged artsy pop: Botanica in a rare, lighter moment comes to mind.

Un Gros Chat (Fat Cat), more or less the centerpiece of The Cat. Not Me is a chilling art-rock anthem, again bringing to mind Botanica as well as Aladdin Sane-era Bowie, with a rare verse or two in English from Dissard. The album ends with the whispery, elegaic Am Letzen, a shatteringly wintry depiction of wee-hours emotional destitution on the final morning of the year. Everybody else is probably getting stoked for the evening’s festivities: Dissard’s drained, despondent narrator only leaves the apartment so she can come back to it.

This album fits with Dissard’s current retrospective mode: when she isn’t touring, she’s back in France, with a memoir in the works. From an oldschool media perspective, albums of previously released material aren’t typically included among critics’ picks of the year’s best releases, but if there’s any one that deserves to be an exception, this is it. Pour that last glass, stare down the demons and let Dissard’s wise, knowing murmur pull you off the ledge.

Erudite, Cleverly Catchy Rockers Regular Einstein Open a Great Bill at Cake Shop on the 24th

Regular Einstein are the kind of band whose albums you listen to for the lyrics. Frontwoman Paula Carino can’t resist a double entendre or a hilariously snarky pun, as you might expect from a band with such a sarcastic name: these people aren’t dummies. You can’t help but wonder how many fans of, say, the Joy Formidable or for that matter the Pretenders or the Distillers would put Regular Einstein in rotation if they knew the band existed. And as good as their lyrics are, they’re the kind of act you go see live because of the tunes…and for Carino’s coolly modulated, plush vocals. They’re opening an excellent night of music on February 20 at 8 PM at Cake Shop, with the amazingly eclectic, kinetically psychedelic, occasionally haunting Sometime Boys headlining at 10.

The last time this blog caught Regular Einstein in action, they were at Rock Shop the last time the Mets won a game, opening for another brilliantly lyrical band, Lazy Lions. Onstage, they have an enigmatically scruffy look that goes back to their late 90s origins. Drummer Nancy Polstein, probably the most eclectic of the bunch, can play anything and has: Britfolk, garage rock and Americana, among other styles. Likewise, lead guitarist Dave Benjoya, whose credits span from punk to Middle Eastern and Balkan-influenced sounds. Bassist Andy Mattina comes out of a jamband background, while Carino, the youngest of the bunch, draws on punk and new wave but also indie rock.

This time out was a loud, hard-hitting show, Carino stage left rather than front and center, projecting with more vocal power and bite than usual. Benjoya had centerstage and made the most of it, with a gritty roar and lead lines that wove and dipped between no wave skronk, slashing bluesy licks and ominous chromatics over Polstein’s elegant tumble and drive and Mattina’s growling, gravel-toned riffage, like a second lead guitarist rising from the lower depths.

One of the highlights of the show was a steady, stalking version of Robots Helping Robots. What becomes clear in this Twilight Zone rock tale is that these helpful beings or quasi-beings might have a slightly different agenda. The best song of the night was The Good Times, which the band elevated from a brooding 6/8 anthem into an angst-fueled Romany-rock waltz, Carino singing low and wounded, looking back on a long-gone era when “All we wanted was love.” As the set went on, briskly pulsing major-key verses hit uneasy minor-key choruses, or vice versa, Benjoya sometimes skeletal, sometimes roaring, Mattina keeping the cinders burning underneath. All this is just part of what the band will bring to the stage next week.

It wouldn’t be fair to mention Regular Einstein’s set without including the headliner at that October show, new wave rockers Lazy Lions, who managed to lure most of the Mets crowd back downstairs for an edgy, lyrically-driven set of their own. Frontman/keyboardist Jim Allen sang with a mattter-of-fact, Graham Parker-esque blue-eyed soul delivery and played slinky, tersely tuneful organ over bassist Anne-Marie Stehn’s pulsing new wave, Motown and reggae-inflected grooves. Guitarist Robert Sorkin gave the group a burning, blues-infused backdrop, often taking a handoff from Allen for all-too-brief, incisive solos.

He brought to mind Keith Richards’ uneasy chord-chopping on Rock in a Hard Place on the opening number. A little later, he and Allen hit an more forceful update on an Elvis Costello Watching the Detectives style interlude midway through the vengeful kiss-off anthem Susannah Rachel. .From there they deftly blended hints of XTC, Antmusic, oldschool soul and Let It Be era Beatles into their brisk, scampering new wave tunes, suspenseful minor-key verses rising to catchy, anthemic choruses and turnarounds. The slowest, most wistful song of the night was the most soul-inflected, a new one titled Liverpool Is Leaving You Behind. The catchiest grew out of hints of dub to a snarling chorus fueled by Sorkin’s phaser guitar. They closed with a characteristically sardonic, self-effacing one, Magellan in Reverse. Lazy Lions don’t play a lot of shows, but when they do, they always pick a good bill to play on and this was no exception.

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.

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