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A Welcome, Long Overdue Return For Oliver Future

“A year at home has left our hands too weak, to grasp at what was coming next,” frontman Josh Lit sings in Phases of the Moon, the opening track on Oliver Future‘s first album in fourteen years, streaming at Bandcamp. “A year at home has left my eyes too dim to see the shadows on the wall.” How appropriate for a band named Oliver Future (say it slowly).

Meanwhile, his brother Noah plays sinuous, keening leads over a stately. late Beatlesque sway, up to a point where all hell breaks loose.

What’s happening here, and with more and more music that’s starting to trickle out, is that artists are wise to the 2020 totalitarian takeover and they’re not happy about it. Like so many albums of recent months, the group recorded this one by exchanging files over the web. Prediction: that meme’s going to be over soon, and we’re going to see bands and artists head back to the studio and the stage with a vengeance. Producer Adam Lasus deserves immense credit for making the record sound as contiguous as it does.

The second track is Flattened, which wouldn’t be out of place on a mid-80s Kinks album, bright guitars over techy new wave keys. “It still feels like the end of days…breathe in, cash out, such a precious thing to waste,” Josh muses.

Bassist Jesse Ingalls’ incisive piano punches over a brisk, tensely pulsing new wave beat in I Can’t Take It, The Great Conjunction – a reference to the epic astrology that began in the fall of 2020 and subsequently? – is the album’s most epic track. With the ensuing loopiness and squall, it’s akin to what Genesis might have sounded like if Peter Gabriel had stayed in that band into the 80s.

With its brooding litany of loaded imagery, Short On Miracles is a psych-folk shuffle in a plastic costume. A rich web of chiming guitars – Noah Lit and Sam Raver – fuels Race to the Moon Again. rising to a funky intensity and back. “Dark as the times that we’re trapped in, over to soon, long live the worst in us all, race to the moon.”

They reprise the theme over a reggae-tinged beat with Race to the Moon Again, Again: “Exhausted probability, is there anybody out there?” Lit wants to know. A jagged approximation of poppy 80s Bowie, All We’ve Lost is a sobering look at where we are now, “Knowing that normal will never be the same.” The hope, obviously, is that the new society we’re working on won’t be a place where “they shut down all the bars, quiet crept in louder than the wind.”

The album’s final cut is Open Ended Spring: “We knows the rules of the day, keeping the wolves at bay,” Lit asserts over steady fingerpicked acoustic guitar before the dystopian vocoder chorus kicks in. He knows this ordeal probably isn’t over yet. Crank this up and get some long overdue validation: in its relentlessly catchy, smartly provocative and quirky way, this is one of the best albums of 2022 so far.

Revisiting the Dark Side of the 80s with Liela Moss

Liela Moss loves the 80s. Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, Siouxsie, a blue Boss chorus pedal, layers and layers of chilly synths and short, concise, anthemic songs. Her album Who the Power is streaming at Bandcamp and will resonate with anyone else with a thing for the decade that brought us the goth subculture, the compact disc, wine coolers…and the ugly Reaganite and Thatcherite roots of the lockdown.

Brassy, echoey vintage synths, loud drums and a brisk 2/4 new wave beat propel the album’s opening track, Turn Your Back Around. It’s a cautionary tale: “Here begins an endless fall from rule,” Moss intones, “Everything we saw will go unknown.”

There’s more than a little stern, angst-fueled Marianne Faithfull in Moss’ voice in Watching the Wolf, a cynical, pissed-off, goth-tinged synth anthem. With its icily pulsing chorus-box bass and chorus nicked straight from Prince, Atoms At Me keeps the vengeful vibe going.

“Now I feel unstoppable as the sun drums down on my door,” Moss belts in Always Sliding, soaring triumphantly over echoey synth layers. Hypnotically stormy synths and Siouxsie-esque vocal harmonies pervade The Individual, while White Feather wouldn’t be out of place on one Siouxsie’s innumerable mid-80s ep’s.

Twinkle and fuzz from the keyboards contrast in Battlefield, the album’s most sophisticated, Siouxsie-esque track. “If the wind blows, do you spin like a leaf and lie to make the rules?” Moss demands in Nummah, the most kinetically pulsing, poppiest tune here.

Suako is a mashup of PiL’s attempts at funk and Sisters of Mercy, maybe. Moss closes the album with Stolen Careful, a wistful ballad awash in echo and loops. Uncap that black eyeliner and take a sip of Michelob – do they still make that stuff?

The Tea Club Bring Their Psychedelic Art-Rock Epics to Williamsburg

How smoky is the Tea Club‘s latest album, Grappling? It sure is mighty, and psychedelic – and streaming at their merch page. The obvious influence is early, Peter Gabriel-era Genesis: theatrical, dancing vocal lines, an endless succession of tricky tempo shifts, odd meters, spiraling keys and guitars and an epic sweep. The unenlightened might hear bits and pieces of this and think, “Ugh, Yes,” but the music is infinitely more purposeful and entertaining. Among this era’s bands, one good comparison is Brooklynites Wounded Buffalo Theory. Speaking of Brooklyn, the Tea Club – Patrick and Dan McGowan on vocals, guitars and keys, with Jamie Wolff on bass, cello and violin, Reinhardt McGeddon on keys and Tony Davis on drums – have a rare gig coming up there on Dec 17 at 7:30 PM at the Knitting Factory; advance tix are $15.

The album’s opening track, The Magnet sets the stage. It’s not clear whether its pilgrim narrator is alive or dead – at one point, a centipede crawls up the poor guy’s arm as the guitars and layers of organ and synth intertwine, rise and fall, hit an interlude that’s more atmospheric and then rise with a big Peter Gabriel-inspired chorus.

Remember Where You Were, an uneasy, midtempo wartime epic, opens with lush string orchestration, chiming Steve Hackett-style guitar overhead, pulsing along over a river of organ that grows smokier as the grim band of revolutionaries make their way across the battleground to confront the enemy ruler’s army. The song winds up at just under eight minutes with an ominously allusive guitar solo.

The sinister, futuristic nuthouse narrative Dr. Abraham opens with cumulo-nimbus guitar riffage over macabrely bubbling organ. The mad doctor gets to trade grand guignol verses with his hapless victim, ramping up the gothic drama over eerie piano tinkles, mighty stadium rock guitars and a vast, oceanic sweep.

Acerbic strings and precise folk-rock guitar mingle as the apocalyptic anthem Fox in a Hole gets underway, slinking through a trippy Bach-like web of counterpoint between guitars, piano, electric harpsichord and organ. The album’s catchiest track, Wasp in a Wig is also its darkest, a lavishly doomed minor-key waltz with a tasty, icy guitar solo amidst the chilly rivulets of keys. It segues into the album’s coda, The White Book, which seems to offer guarded hope for something other than a grim ending to this tale. A choir of synthesized monks sings a fugue against warpy keys and blippy organ as the vocals reach operatic proportions, the song shifting from vast deep-space twinkle to pounding, earthy anthemics and then a hauntingly allusive, Middle Eastern-tinged guitar interlude to wind it up. Very cool that even though it’s been a long time since the dinosaurs of the 70s ruled the earth, bands like the Tea Club still make music that’s every bit as formidable.

The Voice Project Goes to Bat for Political Prisoners Persecuted For Their Art Around the World

This is the first and probably only piece about t-shirts you will ever find here, considering that New York Music Daily is hardly a fashion blog.

But these t-shirts are important. The Voice Project – who arranged for local lawyers and representatives to watch over Pussy Riot during the time they were political prisoners, to make sure they weren’t tortured or harmed – has just issued a series of shirts featuring mugshot-style pix of famous, politically engaged artists with individuals around the world who have been imprisoned – and in one instance, facing a death sentence – for their art.

The artists paired in these stark, black-and-white shots include

Johnny Depp with filmmaker Oleg Sentsov imprisoned in Russia

Alex Ebert with singer Trần Vũ anh Bình imprisoned in Vietnam

Peter Gabriel with author and journalist Dawit Isaak imprisoned in Eritrea

Tom Morello with painter and journalist Tom Dundee imprisoned in Thailand

Ana Tijoux with poet Ashraf Fayadh imprisoned in Saudi Arabia 

Nadya Tolokonnikova with singer Nûdem Durak imprisoned in Turkey

Proceeds from the shirts go to support the Voice Project’s work on these and other artists’ behalf. Dare you to be the first on your block with one of them. You can also follow the links above and add your name to the petitions for these innocent artists’ release.

The Tea Club Bring Sweeping, Epic Grandeur to a Chill Little Williamsburg Room

The psychedelic art-rock epics on the Tea Club‘s third album, Quickly Quickly Quickly are closer to Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, Nektar or Boston neo-art-rockers the Brew than, say, the Mars Volta.  They’re playing the back room at the Gutter bowling alley at Kent Ave. and North 12th St. in Williamsburg on August 2 at around 9: if trippy, majestic, symphonic grandeur is your thing, see this band.

The opening track, Firebears, is eighteen minutes long. Yup, pushing Pink Floyd Echoes territory. Not for people with ADD, but for those with a long attention span and an appreciation for catchy hooks, there are thousands in this one. Patrick and Dan McGowans’ guitars roar and clang and jangle and mingle nebulously over Jamie Wolff’s growly, melodic bass and Joe Rizzolo’s flurrying, clustering drums, keyboardist Renee Pestritto adding neoromantic flair on synth and elegantly pensive piano. The Nektar influence is everywhere, from the dreamy, opiated interlude that reminds of that band’s Dream Nebula, and later the long symphonic crescendo that wouldn’t be out of place on the Recycled album. And while the arrangements are ornate, and majestic, and often sweepingly beautiful, they keep the tunes simple. It’s easier to picture someone in the band saying to another, “Wouldn’t this sound great as an audience singalong at the Garden?” as the closing vamp gets underway, than it is to visualize the band actually playing the entire epic  all the way through in a rehearsal room (although they must – and it might cost a fortune!).

The second track, The Eternal German Infant is about half as long and kicks in immediately without the two-minute intro. A litany of surreal images – “She hid the meteorite keys?” A “peaceful pepper witch?”- gives way to a triplet theme that winds down gently and rises again. The guitar and synth textures are tasteful and purposeful: distortion, jangles and washes mingle and interweave without wasted notes, a rarity in this kind of music. The same is true of the rhythm section: Rizzolo doesn’t go overboard, and Wolff often serves as a third guitar lead. As with the first track, a peaceful interlude rises to a big orchestrated swell. And the dream sequence takes on a disquieting tone: “When I looked back the house turned to flame, and everything turned black.”

The album’s shortest song, Mister Freeze opens ominously with wah bass, pensive acoustic guitar and a dark wash of string synth. It’s got more of a dark, folk-rock atmosphere: think the Strawbs circa Hero and Heroine but with vastly better, more down-to-earth production. The brooding instrumental break midway through evokes the doomy interlude midway through Iron Maiden’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It segues into the album’s final cut, I Shall Consume Everything, shifting from a moody Pestritto flute solo, up and down through alternatingly sinister and soft passages with harplike keys, once again evoking Nektar as the guitars go more and more unhinged.

On one hand, there are plenty of ponytailed old stoners out there who would trade in their extra copies of Yes records if they knew this band existed. On the other, the element that every year discovers Pink Floyd and has their lives changed forever by that experience will also love the Tea Club. Bet on them being around thirty years from now and making a good living places like B.B. King’s.

Wire’s New Album: Change Becomes Them

If Wire’s new album Change Becomes Us sounds like the great lost follow-up to Chairs Missing, that’s because it sort of is. Many of its tracks are finished versions of sketches of songs from the band’s late 70s period, dating from their brilliant initial trio of albums: Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154. Much as these songs share a scruffy surrealism, bracingly dark tunefulness and Wire’s signature wry humor, the original postpunk band is not trying to recapture the past: they keep evolving, and the songs are in the here and now. Ironically, in an age where anybody can record an album with their phone, the kings of late 70s DIY have expanded their sonic palette further here than ever, giving the songs an often hypnotic lushness that sometimes evokes Australian art-rockers the Church.

Doubles & Trebles, a menacing spy story, immediately sets the tone, building from an eerie whole-tone guitar riff to a stalker insistence. With its offkilter vocal harmonies and watery dreampop clang, Keep Exhaling is primo vintage Wire with early 90s production values – and is that an I Am the Walrus quote? Likewise, Adore Your Island snidely references the Who’s Baba O’Reilly.

Re-Invent Your Second Wheel works a tricky tempo with more than a hint of theatrical Peter Gabriel-era Genesis amthemics. Stealth of a Stork builds layer upon layer over a straight-ahead punk stomp, while B W Silence works a suspenseful, watery dreampop vibe. Trippy flanged vocals and enveloping sonics give Time Lock Fog a feel like the Church circa 1993 or so. Magic Bullet, with its unexpected hints of reggae, would have been a standout track on Chairs Missing. Eels Sang reminds of early Gang of Four but with wetter guitars, while Love Bends is a more organic take on the dancefloor rock Wire was doing in the mid-80s: think Ultravox with heavy drums.

The album gets stronger as it goes along. As We Go has a catchy Outdoor Miner hookiness, but more ominously…until a droll singalong chorus that they run over and over again. & Much Besides segues out of it, a lush, balmy futuristic scenario that sounds suspiciously saracastic. The album winds up with Attractive Space, which grows from a Zarathustra-ish riff into a big spacerock anthem. In the time between when many of these songs were conceived and finally realized, Colin Newman and Graham Lewis’s voices have mellowed, Robert Grey’s beats have taken on an unexpected subtlety, with the band’s most recent member Matthew Simms adding textural lushness and diversity. Not a substandard track on the album, pretty impressive for a band that’s been around, more or less, since 1976. Also available: the latest in Wire’s series of “legal bootlegs,” a grab bag of live material culled from a 2000 Nottingham Social gig as well as radio sessions at WFMU and KEXP in 2011. Wire are at Bowery Ballroom in June and likely to sell out the venue; watch this space for onsale dates for tix.

Epic Art-Rock Brilliance from the Universal Thump

The Universal Thump’s debut album is finally out: it’s taken the Brooklyn art-rock band two years and three installments, culminating in this lavish, magnificently orchestrated double-cd set. If this album had been released in, say, 1975 – which it could have been, considering its ornately symphonic arrangements and trippy, epic sweep – it would be regarded as a classic today. That designation may have to wait awhile, but for now you can enjoy all eighteen inscrutably beautiful songs on one of the most herculean efforts from any band in recent memory.

One of the things that differentiates the Universal Thump from, say, Pete Gabriel-era Genesis, is the vocals. Frontwoman Greta Gertler reminds of a more serioso Kate Bush and has command of a whole slew of keyboard styles: poignantly artsy Paul Wallfisch-esque rock piano, slinky sly soul, and swirly, quirky 80s synth-pop. The band’s other core member is drummer Adam D Gold, who comes across here as a more terse, nimble Nick Mason (he also plays with intriguing postminimalist instrumentalists Build, and composed a number of instrumental interludes here). Guitarists Tony Scherr and Pete Galub both contribute sweeping, anthemic, David Gilmour-influenced lines, while the bass is handled by either Groove Collective’s Jonathan Maron or Ollabelle’s Byron Isaacs. There are also choirs, a midsize orchestra, and cameos by a long parade of artists from accordionist par excellence Rachelle Garniez to the Throwing Muses’ Tanya Donnelly.

Swimming sets the stage. It’s a bouncy pop epic with a bassoon trading licks with the string section, and a long, murky psychedelic break midway through. A characteristically towering ballad, Grasshoppers juxtaposes apprehension with majestically carefree piano. After an austere, atmospheric tone poem, they bring up the energy for the sweeping Honey Beat, which wouldn’t be out of place on REM’s Reveal album from 1999, that band’s lone and very successful venture into art-rock.

To the Border (Wild Raspberries) evokes the Snow with its balmy atmospherics lit up by twinkly woodwinds,  then shifting to solemnly stately chamber pop. Opening Night is the most dramatic yet maybe the most accessible song here, a carnivalesque take on late-period ELO with a mammoth backup choir, a tuba intro and even a sly baritone guitar solo from Galub: guess that’s just the way things are meant to be with that one. Another real knockout here is Linear Messages, gorgeous and pensive with elegant orchestral swells and a dark Balkan-tinged carnival interlude fueled by Garniez’ accordion. After another brief intermezzo (contributed by John Ellis on bass clarinet), they end the first disc with The Last Time, a distantly sad, slow ballad that sounds like a young, inspired Kate Bush taking a stab at Procol Harum.

The second disc wastes no time in setting an epic tone with Darkened Sky, driven at first by Gertler’s alternately austere and searching piano, then by Scherr’s guitar, which kicks off a long, hypnotically nebulous Rick Wright-style interlude that looms in and pushes the piano and vocals to the edge of the picture. Ban Melisma starts out funny and then gets dark fast, with more ominously sustained cumulo-nimbus guitar from Scherr. They blend Pink Floyd and trip-hop with Dwell, capped off by a tersely Gilmouresque Scherr solo, then switch to a lushly bubbly, period-perfect, artsy mid-70s disco vibe for Flora, an inspiring, true story of a komodo dragon who gave birth via parthogenesis.

Likewise, Teacher takes the not-so-easy life of a conservatory student and makes a parable out of it: Galub and Gold follow each other with an irresistibly cool series of guitar cameos, with a powerfully soaring lead vocal from guest Lucy Woodward. Snowbird, the most pensively direct number here, evokes Jenifer Jackson, Maron adding an understatedly soaring bass solo before the long, ominously psychedelic trail out begins. The album closes with Only an Ocean, a throwback to the jaunty ragtime-flavored songs that Gertler had so much fun with on her previous solo album Edible Restaurant, Garniez and violinist Zach Brock adding a jaunty vaudevillian edge. Those are just two of the literally hundreds of clever twists, turns, jokes and knife’s-edge moments throughout this luscious slab of vintage art-rock with a fresh flavor. The band encourages listeners to enjoy a slice of cake with ice cream between its four “chapters,” a suggestion worth considering. Like a lot of the A-list of New York bands, the Universal Thump have a wider global following than they do here (Gertler originally hails from Australia). They’re currently on US tour; the full schedule is here. You can also catch the band playing a delightful live set streaming on demand from WFMU.

Meet MesAyah

MesAyah is a hip-hop artist from Norway. He seems to have learned English from hip-hop, which actually isn’t a bad thing, hip-hop being a lot more intelligent than, say, what’s on tv. His spelling is kind of unique also – but the insights this guy has? WOW.

He’s currently doing a 365 challenge, a new rhyme every day and a lot of them are totally kick-ass: hip-hop fans should bookmark his page and check back frequently. For example, the March 22 rhyme about kids rotting their brains with celebrity worship, or the March 11 joint about Starbucks in Norway: spot-on and funny as hell (you’ll have to click the link above and scroll down to the middle of the page). This self-styled “Nas meets Peter Gabriel” is the real deal, as aware as he is amusing, covering topics as diverse as the European Community taking over sovereignty from Norwegian citizens, to the plight of a poor cucumber destined for a salad (or maybe a pickle jar – it’s too bizarre and funny, you’ll have to read it for yourself and decide). For those who might be interested, he has four albums albums out. The most recent one is Paradise of Paradigms, from last year; the best title is 2007’s Mindgames for the Braindead.