New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: pop rock

Rebecca Turner Brings Her Richly Jangly, Anthemic Songcraft Back to the East Village

Songwriter Rebecca Turner earned a devoted following around the turn of the century for her catchy, anthemic blend of janglerock, Laurel Canyon folk-pop and the occasional detour into starker acoustic folk or more ornate psychedelia. In a lot of ways, she represents the vanguard of ex-Brooklynite musicians caught between the very tail end of the cds-and-college-radio era and the age of streaming and vinyl. She puts out albums at her own pace (she’s working on a new one, helmed in the studio by husband/bassist Scott Anthony, recently responsible for remastering the Feelies’ latest vinyl reissues). She also has an 8 PM gig coming up on May 7 at Hifi Bar, the scene of her most recent Manhattan gig.

That was last year, and it was killer. She had a five-piece backing unit for that one including Anthony on bass and Rich Feridun on six-string lead guitar; John Sharples, playing twelve-string, was the band’s not-so-secret weapon. They opened with a backbeat-driven anthem with torrents of lyrics and tantalizingly unresolved chord changes. The Cat That Can Be Alone, she explained, was inspired by an Anita O’Day quote relayed by Love Camp 7’s Dann Baker, something along the lines of “The cat that can be alone is better off than the cat that can’t.” It turned out to be a bouncy Beatlesque number, Turner soaring to the top of her range with a hint of country twang. She and the band wound it up with a tongue-in-cheek segue into the O’Day version of Tenderly.

Turner’s next number was period-perfect Lakeside Lounge rock from around 2000, a mashup of  swaying vintage 70s C&W-tinged with Blonde on Blonde era Dylan, The set hit a peak midway through with a rousingly jangling take of the Byrdsy anthem The Way She is Now, Sharples choosing his spots and leaving them out to glisten in the bar’s low lights.

Another backbeat anthem, That Did It, was part 60s electric Dylan, part Amy Rigby at her jangliest, with a delicious blend of six and twelve-string guitars meshing with Turner’s acoustic. She followed with Idiot, a similarly catchy, wryly propulsive number. A low-key, matter-of-factly fingerpicked take of the ballad Comfort You Up brought the lights down, Erica Smith joining to add lush low harmonies. Then they picked up the pace again with the lilting, bucolic My Morning.

The cover that had everyone in the crowd mystified was a BeeGees song from the 60s, Sun in My Morning, Sharples’ twelve-string filtering down into it as if in a Turner painting. Arguably the best song of the night was a new one, Tom Tom, shimmering in the twin-guitar jangle, up to a suspenseful turnaround on the chorus and a fiery, twangy Feridun solo. For the encore, Turner aired out what’s become her signature song, Brooklyn Is So Big. It was cute and wistful when it came out: it’s heartbreaking now, considering how many of Turner’s contemporaries have been priced out. It’s a good bet Turner and the band will bust out a lot of this material at the show this weekend.

Catchy Tunesmithing and Smartly Relevant Songwriting from the New Tarot

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

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

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

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

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

Jessie Kilguss Brings a Whole Slew of Great New Songs to Brooklyn

Nothing like a European tour to inspire you to write a whole set worth of new material, right? Freddie Stevenson had the good sense to bring Jessie Kilguss along as a harmony singer and keyboardist on his most recent tour there, and the crystalline-voiced songwriter brought back enough new songs of her own to keep an audience at the American Folk Art Museum rapt earlier this fall. That was her most recent Manhattan gig – her next one is in Brooklyn at Hank’s at 10 PM on Dec 16. Cover is $5.

With her clever wordplay and understatedly anthemic sensibility, Kilguss’ closest comparisons are Elvis Costello and Leonard Cohen, the latter being her biggest influence. Although she play both guitar and keys, she typically limits herself to vocals when fronting her own band, tall and resolute and swaying with eyes closed in front of a tight electric guitar/bass/drums backing unit. That voice is a magical instrument, with a reflecting-pool clarity and a soaring range matched by minutely nuanced attention to subtle details. And as much as her songs tend to be on the brooding side, she can be devastatingly funny when she wants to be.

At the museum gig, the new material turned out to be more upbeat as well, at least after Spain, a slow, allusively waltzing pastorale. Russian Roulette, a steady, elegantly driving backbbeat number with a typical soaring chorus, had a tricky surprise ending. Kilguss’ lithely leaping vocals on the slow, swaying, moodily plainspoken Rainy Night in Copenhagen brought to mind Linda Draper in a particularly animated moment.

The sparsely jangling, straightforward What Is It You Want From Me left no doubt that it was a frustrated kiss-off anthem. With its uneasily percolating bassline and a coyly quirky little modulation toward the end, Strangers came across like peak-era 90s Wilco playing new wave – but with an infinitely better singer out in front of the band. The show hit a peak with Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight. one of the most bittersweely gorgeous, catchy janglerock anthems written this century.

Then Kilguss went back to the new mateiral with Edge of Something, which had the feel of a terse early Patti Griffin-style coffeehouse rock number, but with a more defiant edge. The band closed with the lilting, anthemic Over My Dead Body, a nonchalantly assertive reminder that you never, ever want to mess with a songwriter: they always get even in the end. The band wound it up with a savage flurry of guitar tremolo-picking. That’s about as loud as you can get in the museum: you can expect Kilguss and her crew to cut loose more at the Hank’s gig.

Jeanne Marie Boes Channels the Soul of a Troubled Time in New York

“I can’t take it anymore,” Jeanne Marie Boes intoned, hushed and low, standing resolutely behind her electric piano a couple of Fridays ago at the American Folk Art Museum. “All that’s left are roses underfoot.” She wasn’t talking politics: her big theme is heartbreak. And she takes it to the mountaintop, to forbidding heights, Wuthering, Wuthering, Wuthering Heights! Heathcliff, you bastard!

Yet much as Boes can bring the Kate Bush drama, and belt with anyone alive, she has incredible nuance, especially for somebody with such a big voice. As she moved effortlessly if vigorously between blue-eyed soul, brassy cabaret tones, saloon jazz and majestic art-rock, her mic technique wa a dead giveaway, from a close whisper to a distant wail. She may look like a typical sophomore on her way to, say, a Juilliard rehearsal room, but she’s been doing this a long time, starting as a pre-teen singing sensation in her native Queens. And her parents were cool, and encouraged her, and fifteen years down the line, she’s one of the most magnetic singers in town and a strong pianist as well. That song is the title track to her fantastic latest ep Holdin’ My Heart, streaming at her Bandcamp page. She’s probably doing that number along with plenty of others from a pretty deep catalog at LIC Bar on Nov 30 at 7 PM, where she’s opening for a drummer who used to play for Billy Joel and whose leadfoot thump has been sampled on a million hip-hop joints over the years.

“Look me in the eye, all I see is black,” was Boes’ opening line in the luridly desperate Strangers, which she took all the way up to an unexpectedly amusing trick ending. “Every time I fall in love, I fall hard,” she admitted as she opened The One, the ep’s darkly chromatic, suspensefully pulsing first track, part noir cabaret, part oldschool 60s soul, part towering Alan Parsons Project symphonic rock ballad.

Yet as much as she loves minor keys – there’s Chopin, and Tschaikovsky, and Rachmaninoff lurking behind her fingers – and as much raw pain as there is in her tales of abandonment and loss, she doesn’t come across as a sad person at all. In between songs, she smiled and chatted with the crowd, unselfconscious and down to earth, hardly the diva you might expect after hearing her reach for the rafters and hold on for dear life. And that sense of humor came across in a couple of coy soul ballads that wouldn’t have been out of place in, say, the Bettye Swan songbook. Fun fact: onstage, Boes always rocks a hat. Has she ever been seen without one? Go to the show in Queens and find out.

Boes is typical of the acts that impresario Lara Ewen – a first-rate songstress herself – books for the free Friday evening series at the Folk Art Museum, arguably Manhattan’s best remaining listening room. The next show there is Dec 2 starting at 5:30 PM with the rousingly rustic guy-girl harmonies of the Piedmont Bluz duo.

Band of Skulls Entertain Hell’s Kitchen With a Surprisingly Diverse, Hard Set

It’s about 9:30 when Band of Skulls hit the stage in Hell’s Kitchen, right at the river’s edge Thursday night. Terminal 5 smells like the inside of a bong. There are lots of couples, both kids and oldsters from across the river: it’s stoner date night. There’s a healthy crowd in the house, although the turnout wouldn’t have been enough to sell out Bowery Ballroom. Getting halfway to the stage, even with a sturdy laptop case slung over the shoulder, is no problem. This audience is mellow, courteous, considerate: hostility is not a stoner value. And there’s not a single stinky, annoying Bushwick trendoid to be seen anywhere.

The four-piece band open with a song that sounds like one of those rap-rock acts from the 90s – Limp Bizkit, maybe? – if that group had actually taken the time to listen to RZA’s murky, sinister Wu-Tang productions. A cynic would say that Band of Skulls have the metal for the guys and the phony “R&B” for the girls, but that doesn’t do the band justice: they’re a whole lot more than that, as their unfailingly catchy, roughly 90-minute set proved. It’s easy to see why people like this band. They’re all solid musicians, and constant touring has made them tight as a drum.

What’s most obvious is that this crew is happiest at their heaviest, and so is the crowd. There’s a point toward the end of the show where guitarist Russell Marsden, bassist Emma Richardson and drummer Matt Hayward hit a tricky, stomping, tumbling passage straight out of The Ocean, by Led Zep. Marsden adds some over-the-edge, vintage Jimmy Page noise to his precise, slithery, Robin Trower vibrato while Richardson pounces on the changes. A muddy sound mix doesn’t do much to reveal what a nimble bassist she is, at one point flying up to the 14th fret or so while she’s singing, firing off a lick just as tricky, and not missing a beat. This is where the band’s chops are put to the test, and they pass that test flawlessly. It’s a fair bet that if they stick it out, beyond the last dying embers of what’s left of the radio-and-records era, they’ll be a hell of a metal band.

Throughout the rest of the show, they show off how eclectic they are. Early on, there’s an acid funk-tinged number that draws a straight line back to the MC5. There’s a heavy but dancey anthem that draws a line back to 80s goth. One of the numbers midway through sounds like a mashup of peak-era Oasis and, say, The Streets. Hayward proves to be a capable acoustic guitarist on the unexpectedly psych-folk ballad on which he plays both kickdrum and hi-hat simultaneously while not missing a guitar chord: neat trick. Keyboardist Milo Fitzpatrick stays out of the way but is a welcome presence when needed, whether providing twinkly psychedelic ambience or apprehensive organ, particularly during segues or suspenseful bridges. The high point of the set turns out to be a propulsive, Gemma Ray-style Euro-ghoulabilly number with a macabre metal chorus grafted on. That’s when the bullshit detector shut down and pure bliss sets in.

Lyrics don’t factor into what they do: we’re all brothers and sisters, and if you wanna find yourself, you gotta roam. Whatev. But the music so often kicks ass – and leaves you wishing they’d kick more. At the end of the show, Marsden – who has mastered the art of getting just enough feedback out of his stack of Fenders without shutting down the PA – balances high on one of the wedges, then raises his beautiful vintage Fender Jazzmaster, headstock up, balanced in his palm…and then flings it sideways into the stacks and leaves it feeding as he saunters offstage.

 

Avers Bring Their Catchy, Psychedelically-Tinged New Album to the Mercury

To what degree does allusiveness and indirectness describe Richmond band Avers‘ sound? Pretty well. Beyond having not one but four songwriters, they distinguish themselves with their sense of humor, exuberantly referencing and mashing up styles that date back as far as the 70s. Adrian Olsen, Alexandra Spalding, James Mason, and JL Hodges share vocals as well as their songs, with multi-instrumentalist Charlie Glenn pitching in on keys and guitar. They’re playing the album release show for their new one, Omega Whatever – soon to be streaming at Bandcamp – on August 4 at 10:30 PM at the Mercury; adv tix are $10.

The wrly shuffling opening track, Vampire alludes to both Lou Reed and a cheeseball 80s goth hit, stadium rock spun through the warped prism of second-wave dreampop. Spalding sings the glam-tinged second cut, Everything Hz – damn, another great title just got taken, huh? – with an icy calm: “Take a pill, sleep it off, let it in…these are the days that everything Hz, these are the days in reverse.” If Spacehog weren’t so over-the-top, they would have sounded something like this.

With its catchy, Beatlesque blend of six and twelve-string guitars, Tongues is a dead ringer for Oasis circa 1996, but with better vocals. Insects is a lot simpler, and kind of a throwaway: the backward-masked guitar solo is the high point. Spalding returns to the mic for Low, another post-Velvets shuffle, looking back on “Flowers sent to my door…fancy bottles of shit you no longer can afford.” Then the band goes back toward swaying, midtempo Oasis territory for All You Are.

The fuzztone stomp of Holding On brings to mind vintage Brian Jonestown Massacre. The band blends that with a brightly clanging Oasis drive in Santa Anna. With its moody, wavery chorus-box guitars, Don’t Care looks back to the 80s, over the shoulder of Deer Tick. Then the band synthesizes every style they’ve mined up to this point – hypnotic post-Velvets psychedelia, towering 90s Britrock and a little uneasy 80s jangle – in My Mistakes. The album should stop there, but it doesn’t; the long, unfocused concluding track doesn’t add anything. And one of the guys in the group hasn’t outgrown the emo of his gradeschool years: that singsongey dorkiness pops up annoyingly once in awhile. Maybe he’s the weak link who could be replaced. Otherwise, Avers are proof that accessibility and intelligence don’t have to be incompatible.

Of Clocks & Clouds Bring Their Brooding Bombast to the East Village

Drugs, death and a persistent unease permeate Of Clocks & Clouds‘ new album Better Off, streaming at Bandcamp. On one level, those themes have been done to death over the years. On the other, the band has an absolutely unique sound, blending moody, intricately orchestrated European stadium rock with psychedelia, a little garage rock and hints of metal. Another cool thing about them is that they play instrumentals as well as vocal numbers. They’re playing the album release show at the downstairs space at Webster Hall on July 16 at 8 PM; cover is $10.

The album’s brief, hypnotic overture, Burn a Hole rises out of vintage video game blips and bleeps to a synthy, gothic pulse. She Had to Go makes trip-hop out of a reverbtoned 60s dark garage rock tune, then the guitars and bass reach toward metallic heights, a portrait of a femme fatale. “The cocaine fix exploding in her eyes…wasting all your precious time, the lies she told me somehow got to you,” frontman/guitarist Joe Salgo recounts.

When She’s High blends dub reggae touches into its gracefully tumbling groove, then builds to an anthemic scramble propelled by bassist Caravaggio Loria and drummer Ross Procaccio, eventually hitting a deliciously macabre, swirling peak. Likewise, the instrumental Open Heart Failure grows from moody reflecting-pool sonics to a majestically pounding motorik theme. Another Life is a weird mashup of the Police and hair-metal, then Komorebi, another instrumental, goes in a far more successful and cinematic direction with the same theme.

The album’s title track blends those atmospherics into a brooding, slowly swaying anthem tailor-made for smoke machines and one foot up on the monitor. Don’t write these guys off as mallternative: there’s a lot of creativity here. It’s easy to imagine them going even further in a psychedelic direction as they grow.

A Look Back at Last Year’s Vocal Summit With Amanda Thorpe and Her Siren Friends

More about that Amanda Thorpe show coming up on June 13 at 8 PM at Hifi Bar. She’s playing in the intimate space in the back, where the Britfolk and chamber pop songwriter – the closest thing to Linda Thompson that this generation has produced – will be joined by guitarists Don Piper and her longtime Bedsit Poets bandmate Edward Rogers.

Mary Lee Kortes was one of three other women who joined Thorpe late last year onstage at the Treehouse at 2A for a summit meeting of four of the most haunting voices in all of rock. It was one of the half-dozen most spellbinding shows of the year: vocally speaking, no other performance all year came close. The quartet of Thorpe, Kortes, Lianne Smith and Debby Schwartz each played guitar, singing in the round, trading songs, joining voices as duos and trios and once or twice in four-part harmony: pure, unaffected, spine-tingling intensity.

Thorpe has an ambered delivery that can be either coyly fun or woundedly resigned in the low registers, but when she cuts loose and soars way up, that’s when the firepower really kicks in. Likewise, Smith channels hushed nunace as much as poignancy, has a spun-steel upper register and has never written better than she’s doing now. With her metalcutter crystalline tone and ability to effortlessly leap octaves, Kortes is probably one of the half-dozen best singers in the world, never mind the rock world. Schwartz, the former Aquanettas frontwoman, might have the most distinctive voice of all four singers,  both plaintive and atmospheric with a tinge of grit. She and Smith – who also draws on rockabilly, Americana and psychedelia – share an indie rock background. Kortes draws on all sorts of Americana, and like Thorpe is equally adept at jazz.

Smith had her Strat with the reverb turned up as she usually does. A typically allusive new number parsed the understated ache and longing from eyes that are “bright, bright, bright” in circumstances that are hardly “right, right, right” – chilling, especially in contrast to the power she unleashed on the chorus. A spare, skeletal, southern soul-tinged new song gave her a platform for the kind of simmering vengeance that Dusty Springfield would have killed for.

Schwartz aired out the sardonic, understatedly brooding Dreaming New York City in the Middle of LA and also the evening’s high point among many, a viscerally  spine-tinglingtake of the otherwise enigmatic, minor-key anthem Hills of Violent Green. Kortes’s high points were the wickedly catchy, darkly chromatic, soaring Vegas noir-tinged Learn from What I Dream and the jaunty, uneasily defiant oldtimey swing tune Big Times, along with a swinging, embittered, coiled-cobra new song that might have been the evening’s single best number.

Joining voices with Treehouse impresario and guitar monster Tom Clark, Thorpe elevated a sad Everly Brothers song far above early 60s folk-revival stuff, to the level of something from the Skooshny catalog, maybe. She channeled the most nuance of anyone, especially in a handful of shadowy, noir-tinged reinventions of Great American Songbook jazz-pop from the Yip Harburg catalog, which she memorably recorded in 2014. A longtime staple of the Lower East Side scene back when it was about art far more than commerce, she rarely makes it back to town these days: if you missed her the first time around, now’s your chance not to miss out again.

A Vivid, Elegant New Album and a Murray Hill Show from Singer Heather Nova

Singer Heather Nova may have been throwing fire at the sun since the 90s, but she’s undiminished as a songwriter. Her voice has taken on a bit more of a wintry tinge than in her heyday, when she was cranking out one European hit after another, but she still hits the high notes with an enigmatic intensity, from a whisper to a wail. Her latest album, The Way It Feels, is streaming at Spotify. She’s got a relatively rare New York show coming up on April 6 at 7:30 PM at the Cutting Room; $22.50 advance tix are available at their ticket window.

The album opens with the angst-driven Treehouse, an ocean of atmospheric guitars and strings moving in and out like the tide over spare fingerpicked lines, gracefully rising to towering art-rock, part Aussie legends the Church, part Nicole Atkins. The shuffling Sea Glass, with its insistent rhyme scheme and pensive oceanside metaphors, brings to mind Mary Lee Kortes at her poppiest.

“Every day is like Pompeii,” Nova muses as The Archaeologist opens, a stark throwback to Nova’s 90s adventures in trip-hop. Girl on the Mountain layers a moody Britfolk verse and one of Nova’s signature, breathtaking, surprise choruses over a similar groove that rises to an icy majesty. Lie Down in the Bed You’ve Made isn’t the kiss-off anthem you might expect: it’s a seduction ballad, like a more country Aimee Mann.

With its catchy four-chord hook and artful piano/vibraphone chamber-pop arrangement, the woundedly resigned On My Radar is a more warmly organic throwback to Nova’s 90s work. Her breathy vocals gives Sleeping Dogs a disarming intimacy against a broodingly artsy Britfolk backdrop. The psychedelic pop ballad Sea Change morphs cleverly in and out of a 6/8 rhythm, awash in swirly keyboards and spare, glittering guitars. Nova follows that with the album’s most ethereal cut, This Humanness, weighing emotional baggage and the inevitable passage of time.

Over an intricate web of acoustic guitars and cello, I’m Air is Nova at her inscrutably counterintuitive best, moving in an unexpectedly triumphant, symphonic direction, an update on an old Moody Blues theme. With its archetypal metaphors, Women’s Hands tackles heavy themes like societally-inflicted self-hatred and insecurity. The album winds up with the oldtimey-tinged ukulele waltz Moon River Days. Good to see someone who quietly and methodically built one of the most consistently catchy catalogs of the past twenty years or so still at it and still going strong.

Above the Moon Bring Their Edgy Intensity to a Jersey City Triplebill Friday Night

This Friday, March 11 starting at 8 there’s a solid bill of three female-fronted acts at the Citizen, 332 2nd St. in Jersey City, about six blocks from the Grove St. Path station. The opening band, Pepperwine, works a sassy saloon blues vibe. Headliner Debra Devi, one of the most exhilarating and bluesily purist lead guitarists in psychedelic rock, plays a rare solo set.. In between there’s Above the Moon. who have an edgy, very 90s sound, blending noisy indie rock and propulsive powerpop in the same vein as Versus. Frontwoman/guitarist Kate Griffin has an edge in her voice that brings to mind Fontaine Toups and Ursa Minor‘s Michelle Casillas, although Above the Moon have a heavier sound, with their two guitars.

Their debut ep is up at Bandcamp as a free download. The opening track, Coat, has Griffin and lead player James Harrison’s guitars punching at each other up to the big, catchy chorus where they join forces. It’s an escape anthem of sorts: “It’s so warm I’ll leave my coat behind, for someone else to find, I won’t need it anymore,” Griffin asserts.

Bassist Shawn Murphy and drummer John Gramuglia give Easy a brisk groove that anchors it rather than letting it drift into skittish Strokes territory. Out of the Woods,with its burning, multitracked downstroke guitars and Griffin’s calmly warm vocals, is the closest thing to Versus here;  The final cut is a kiss-off number, Loving & Leaving, Griffin clear and resolute over a web of stabbing, bellicose minor-key guitar.

These songs have a sense of defiance and optimism despite it all. Blast this on your way home from work or school and feel good about yourself again. Discovering bands like Above the Moon makes all the drudge work of a music blog worth the effort.