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Snarling, Cynical, Dark 80s-Style Rock From All Souls

For an American band, All Souls sound very European: a little glam, a little goth, some punk, a lot of Bowie. Their album Songs for the End of the World is streaming at Bandcamp. All the members have gigs with other groups – most notably with Black Elk – but this really gives everybody in the band a chance to show off their good taste along with their chops. Frontman/guitarist Antonio Aguilar’s cynical, very 80s-inspired songwriting proves to be as sharp as his eclectic guitar playing.

They open with Sentimental Rehash, an acidic, no wave-tinged take on the Stooges, Aguilar raising a middle finger to clueless “media-manipulated minds” over drummer Tony Tornay’s rumble.

Twilight Times has dissolute Bowie grandeur and Stones disguised as skronk, the twin guitars of Aguilar and Erik Trammell anchored by Meg Castellanos’ gritty punk bassline. From there they segue up into Winds, the album’s big, slow, cynical, apocalyptic epic, flaring with quasi-metal guitar leads and a long, grimly hypnotic outro.

Bleeding Out opens with an insistent hook that brings to mind a big 80s anthem by the Church, veers toward New York Dolls territory and then back. Slowly pulsing over echoey, growling, scrapy guitar multitracks, You Just Can’t Win has a coldly crescendoing, distant 80s menace and unexpected tinges of Indian music. Then the band kick into apocalyptic Bowie mode again with Empires Fall

Lights Out has more allusive hints of Bowie and also some late Beatles, caught between enigmatic insistence and stadium rock hooks. Jaggedness and slow, catchy spacerock collide in Bridge the Sun, with a deliciously dark, chromatic outro. The album’s final cut is Coming with Clouds, a grim, Celtic-tinged seaside eco-disaster parable: “A history of violence, knowing that the time was finally at hand,” as Aguilar puts it. This album really grows on you and demands repeated listening. You’re going to see this on a lot of best-of-2020 albums lists at the end of the year if such things still exist by the time we get to December.

Stonesy Stoner Songs and a Bowery Electric Show from 7horse

7horse are a surreal stoner bar band – imagine a more trad version of the Black Keys after a couple bong hits of good hash. This band’s music is less stoned than it is high. They’re at Bowery Electric on July 9 at 7:30ish for $12.

Their new album Songs for a Voodoo Wedding is streaming at the band’s site. The opening track, Carousel Bar works an open-tuned Stonesy riff for all it’s worth – the bass doesn’t even come in until after the first chorus. “Had a ringside seat, was all you could eat, but you never got out of the car,” lead singer Phil Leavitt reminds, “I could sit right here for a hundred years rolling in the Carousel Bar.” That pretty much explains what this band is all about.

Meth Lab Zoso Sticker is another open-tuned, Stonesy, more or less one-chord jam, this one a slide-driven blues with an even stranger lyric. Flying High (With No ID) reaches for a Sticky Fingers-era take on oldschool soul, an uneasily amusing scenario about a guy who seems to be tripping in the airport and then on the flight. Imagine being on acid and having to deal with Homeland Security – it would be impossible not to have a laughing fit.

Headhunter Blues centers around a funny lyrical riff from baseball slang, and a romping post Chuck Berry tune that could be the Bottle Rockets (or the Stones, for that matter) with no bass. Long Way has a restless, minor-key, vintage Stooges menace, both musically and lyrically. Please Come On Home has a darkly shuffling hillbilly boogie vibe that recalls bands like the Gun Club and the Sideshow Tragedy. The funniest and also the most punk song here is I Know the Meaning of Rock N Roll: it’s totally mid-70s Detroit.

On the 4th of July brings back a Stonesy pulse: it seems to be a sly, surreal swipe at patriotism. So Old Fashioned blends LES punk blues with catchy Dolls glam, a shout-out to an “ancient recipe” that never fails to hit the spot. Some MF seems to be a spoof of hip-hop; the album’s longest track, Before the Flood strings together a bunch of old blues aphorisms over a skeletal Smokestack Lightning-style vamp. The final cut is the oldtimey A Friend in Weed, which is kind of obvious, but also unquestionably true. Most of these songs don’t reference anything after about 1973: aside from the strange absence of bass in places, this album could have been made then and would have earned the band plenty of road gigs or a maybe even a spot opening for somebody like Bob Seger or REO Speedwagon back when both of those acts were actually pretty decent.

Iconic Dead Boys Guitarist Cheetah Chrome Returns to His Old Stomping Ground with a Brilliant New Album

Cheetah Chrome‘s career as an iconic lead guitarist hardly stopped when the Dead Boys called it quits the first time around. He went on to lead the Cheetah Chrome Motherfuckers, returning sporadically to his old CBGB band when they’d pull themselves together again for awhile back in the 80s and later, reunited Cleveland legends Rocket from the Tombs. Now based in Nashville, Chrome has made a name for himself as a producer, but he’s also a first-class if not overwhelmingly prolific songwriter. He’s coming back to town for a Dives of New York tour in the middle of the month on an excellent doublebill with edgy Nashville honkytonk singer Paul Burch. On May 15 they’re at Manitoba’s at 9ish, at the Delancey on May 17 and then upstairs at 2A on May 18 at around 9.

Chrome also has an absolutely brilliant solo album (Spotify link) out recently. Some of the tracks date from a Genya Ravan-produced 1996 session, the rest recorded in 2010 with a killer band including former New York Doll Sylvain Sylvain plus Sean Koos from Joan Jett’s band and Lez Warner of the Cult. Although originally from Cleveland, Chrome will always be associated with New York since he was such an important part of the CB’s scene in its heyday, and this album is pure oldschool seedy Lower East Side, part wickedly tuneful, expertly constructed punk, part powerpop with psychedelic touches. The first track, Sharky, rumbles along on a brisk surf beat with lively roller-rink organ paired against tersely jangly guitar. It sounds like the backing track for a rock anthem, but it works as an instrumental, especially when the bridge kicks in. Finally there’s a lingering, distorted guitar solo that eventually takes off and just when it really gets snarling, the song fades out. It’s the last thing you’d ever expect from a member of the Dead Boys.

Good as that one is, the stuff with lyrics is even better. The best song, and the closest thing to the Dead Boys (right around the time of their mid-80s comeback), is Stare Into the Night. No Credit is similar and a little faster, like an outtake from We Have Come for Your Children. Both songs take a cynical, understatedly desperate look around a Lower East Side underworld that’s been pretty much gentrified (and overdosed) out of existence. Nuthin is the most cynical of all the tracks but also the most dynamically rich: the way Chrome moves the opening hook from acoustic to electric, raising the menace casually all the way to redline, is pure genius.

East Side Story is a burning powerpop anthem with lush, rich layers of jangly, clanging, ringing, chiming guitars, Chrome’s vocals echoing the snotty desperation of his bandmate Stiv Bators on the second verse. Rollin Voodoo works the dynamics between a punchy, fuzz bass-driven hotrod theme and syncopated roadhouse rock, with a long psychedelic interlude. The album winds up with Love Song to Death, a viciously catchy kiss-off anthem, layers and layers of guitar textures and finally a solo where Chrome starts out taking his time and then going out in a smoldering, shivering shower of sparks. Chrome is the rare guitarist who never got slick and lazy, maintaining the unhinged intensity of his early years even after his technique got really, really good. Reputedly he’s at the peak of his powers as a player. If you go out to see any of these shows, you should get there early.

Midnight Moan Brings the Sound of the Stones Back to Life

 

A cynic would say that Midnight Moan would make a good Stones cover band. A close listen to their forthcoming album Comes in Phases (yeah, they like that kind of innuendo) reveals that they’ve listened closely to the band they most resemble to the point of often being indistinguishable from the Glimmer Twins, from their golden age in the late 60s through the Some Girls period. Again, a cynic might say why bother, the Stones did it first and did it better. On the other hand, if you’re going to rip somebody off, you might as well steal from the best. They’re at the Gutter bowling alley in Williamsburg at 11 PM on April 4.

The opening track, Mulberry has drummer Ricky Gordon doing a stone cold take on the Charlie Watts shuffle, right to the point where Joe Sweeney’s bass rises on the turnaround – the tune itself sounds like White Hassle doing the Stones. While the band’s frontman – who goes by “APB” – has a lot of Mick’s vocal tics down cold, he doesn’t seem to be trying to ape him completely (or if he is, he’s missing the mark). The low-key sax chart and the layers of burning midrange and twanging, trebly guitars from Brian Baker and Steve Cuiffo complete the picture.

The second cut, Short Stay sounds like a Stones demo, or the early Dolls, with loud, clattering drums and slurry Dead Boys chord changes. The closest approximation of the actual thing here is Just Yet – it could be a low-key semi-acoustic slow-burner from Let It Bleed, with a tasty blend of acoustic and open G-tuned electric guitars, organ in at just the perfect place, a spot-on Keith-circa -1969 solo and all kinds of allusions to white stuff.

What I Need bookends what sounds like the Stones covering Wild Thing around the time of Exile, with a reverb-fueled Smokestack Lightning vamp. “You like to take my hand? You best put down your arm,” the singer asserts. Maybe Someday is the closest thing to a track from Exile here. “If only you missed me I wouldn’t need whiskey, I’d be just as drunk as I need – I wouldn’t seek solace in everything lawless, I’d follow wherever you lead”, he promises, “And I’d order another!”

Room 1009 adds a little extra Memphis to a low-key Some Girls groove, a surprisingly vivid Almost Famous-style tableau. You Better Leave Room looks back to a bluesy, piano-spiced Beggars Banquet sway. Better Than Good strongly suggests that the band has been getting into a little riff-rocking Here Come the Miracles-era Steve Wynn along with all the Stones stuff; likewise, the album’s strongest, most original and most biting track, the eerie, nocturnal Turn Yourself Over. Triple Letter puts a lo-fi spin on a generic It’s Only Rock N Roll-style number; the album ends with You Do It Again, bringing it full circle with a sardonic White Hassle vibe.

Fifteen years ago in this city, there were probably at least a couple dozen scruffy wannabe Stones acts playing places like Lakeside and the Continental. Fifteen years before that, there were probably hundreds. A lot of people sneered and called them bar bands – which they were. But groups like Midnight Moan, derivative as they are, might make some of us wish we hadn’t been so dismissive of bands like that because compared to most of the rock coming out of Brooklyn these days, they’re a hell of a lot more fun.

The Brooklyn What’s Hot Wine: Best Rock Record of 2013?

The most hotly anticipated New York rock record of the year is out, it’s streaming at Bandcamp and the band is celebrating its release tonight, Jan 19 at Public Assembly in Williamsburg at around 11. The Brooklyn What’s new album Hot Wine justifies the buzz surrounding it: this savagely lyrical fifteen-song masterpiece blends sounds from across five decades of rock into an exuberant, exhilarating, ferociously guitar-driven storm. There is no other band that sounds anything like the Brooklyn What, and few who are as much fun. There literally isn’t a bad song on this album – and it’s amazing how much the band has tightened up since their brilliant, savagely ramshackle 2009 debut, The Brooklyn What for Borough President.

The opening track, Catastrophe Kids sets the stage: at heart, it’s the New York Dolls channeling Chuck Berry but through the prism of the ‘Mats and Guided by Voices, frontman Jamie Frey snarling about the too-cool-for-school crowd who’re afraid to move a muscle at rock shows since that might give the impression that they have individual personalities. There’s a guitar solo, too, a mean, live-wire punk-blues explosion from John-Severin Napolillo (who also fronts fiery purist band John-Severin & the Quiet 1s with Saruh Lacoff and the Brooklyn What rhythm section, bassist Doug Carey and drummer Jesse Katz).

Punk Rock Loneliness starts out with a slowly unwinding guitar duel that explodes into the first verse and then gets even more pyrotechnic after the second chorus: it’s a funky but bittersweet, blackly amusing elegy for CBGB and punk rock in New York in general. This version is slower and darker than the one the band released on their South Brooklyn Singles collection in 2010.

Come to Me is punk rock doo-wop, sly but sweet: “Anything that money can’t buy, I will give to you,” Frey rasps to the waitress he’s trying to pick up, while the band growls like the Dead Boys behind him (the guitar sonics on this album are to die for). Guitarist Evan O’Donnell plays tense postpunk chords underneath Napolillo’s lilting slide work on the uneasy, 80s Britrock-tinged Tomorrow Night. Napolillo takes a lead vocal on the viciously Stonesy Brown Spit, a gruesome drinking song.

The title track, by founding member Billy Cohen – who died young in 2010 – blasts through a surreal, oldtime swing-spiced Coney Island narrative about saving innocent children from an evil mayor who’s trying to boil them in oil. “Hot Wine” in this case seems to mean “hell yeah” or something like that – booze doesn’t really factor into the song.

With its roaring, wickedly catchy minor-key riffage and hollering back-and-forth vocals, the escape anthem Status Quo also looks back to the Dead Boys, adding a more recent noiserock edge. Too Loose raises the voltage on a catchy hardcore tune with a blazing horn section, while Winter Song has Frey singing a hopeful come-on over a pensive, aptly chilly sway. The album winds up with Late Night Travelers, its intricately jangly twin guitars leading up to yet another big anthemic chorus.

Other tracks here include The Basement, a wry, metaphorically-loaded tribute to the band’s rehearsal space that blends hazy GBV aggression with Sonic Youth murk; Crush You So Fast, which leaps from a spacy, spare two-guitar intro into sirening Silver Rocket stomp; Wildman, which grafts a noiserock intro onto defiant oldschool hardcore punk; Give Her All You Got, an unexpectedly jazzy, funny ballad, and Saturday Night, a catchy, cynical, trendoid-bashing singalong  It’s only January, but this could be the best rock album of 2013. And as a nice bonus, the album is also out on vinyl. The Brooklyn What have a lot of shows coming up; watch this space, or better yet, come out to Public Assembly tonight.