New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: pop rock

Revisiting and Looking Ahead to a Bunch of Great Acoustic Shows

Karen Dalhstrom is one of the four first-rate songwriters in Bobtown, who with their unearthly four-part harmonies and creepy tunesmithing are arguably the most distinctive noir Americana band on the planet. They’re playing the album release show for their long-awaited new album, A History of Ghosts on the big stage downstairs at Hill Country at 9:30 PM on Jan 14. Not to take anything away from her work with that band, but Dahlstrom is also a solo artist, with a killer album of her own, Gem State, a collection of songs set in frontier-era Idaho and written in a period-perfect oldtime vernacular. It was good to be able to catch one of her infrequent solo shows awhile back at the American Folk Art Museum across the Broadway/Columbus triangle up by Lincoln Center.

Taking advantage of the space’s natural reverb, Dahlstrom aired out several of the songs from that album, including a goosebump-inducing a-cappella version of Streets of Pocatello, a menacing, hardscrabble hobo’s tale. Miner’s Bride, an even more doomed narrative told by a mail-order bride sent off to an uncertain fate on the high plains, was every bit as haunting. But the high point of the show – and one most spine-tingling moments at any concert in town last year – was her version of Galena. The Idaho city takes its name from a woman, maybe a Russian or Polish immigrant, mother or wife to one of the men who flocked there during the Gold Rush. Over a sad, elegantly waltzing tune, Dahlstrom brought the sudden rise and equally sudden decline of this boomtown to life, aptly personifed as a woman, who ends up “A penny curiosity, old bones in a pinewood vale,” Dahlstrom’s elegaic alto rising just a little from almost a whisper, to low and mournful.

Lara Ewen, the crystalline-voiced Americana songstress who hosts the pretty-much-weekly free Friday evening afterwork acoustic shows at the Folk Art Museum, told the crowd that this show was roughly the fourth time she’d booked Dahlstrom for a gig there: if that’s not instant cred, nothing is. As you would expect, there have been plenty of other excellent shows there in recent months. Sweet Soubrette, the more pop-oriented project of singer/ukulele player Ellia Bisker (who has a murderously good new album with the creepy Charming Disaster, her duo with Kotorino‘s Jeff Morris, due out shortly) swung through to play a stripped-down trio set. The highlight of that one was the eerily glimmering Burning City, an evocation of the bombing and subsequent firestorms in WWII Berlin.

Greg Cornell of the Cornell Brothers played a fascinating duo set there. What an interesting, and original, and excellent guitarist this guy is. Few other players rely on the low strings as much, and as imaginatively, and tunefully, as this guy does. His style is somewhere between bluegrass flatpicking and janglerock, and it’s completely his own. It helps that his songs are as anthemic and catchy as they are.

Another individualistic act, folk noir duo Mark Rogers and Mary Byrne – whose debut album I Line My Days Along Your Weight has been burning up the internet lately – got the call to pinch-hit for an act who’d cancelled, and hit one out of the park with their hypnotically moody, allusively lyrical songs. Byrne switched between guitar and a vintage mandolin, singing with a wary, carefully modulated, wounded delivery as Rogers nonchalantly aired out a deep and equally considered mix of classic blues, folk and bluegrass licks that merged seamlessly into Byrne’s somber, crepuscular narratives.

There seem to be two Caitlin Bells playing music in New York these days; purist oldtime Americana singer Caitlin Marie Bell is the talented one. She shares a pensive, rustic quality with Rogers and Byrne, mining the classic folk repertoire from the 1800s for her all-too-brief solo acoustic set there. Her high, resonant vocals soared over her nimble guitar fingerpicking as she made her way through warmly bucolic, Appalachian flavored front porch material along with a couple of darker, more incisive, blues-infused numbers.

Another purist folk musician from a completely different idiom, Pete Rushefsky played a rapturous, often exhilarating, glistening set there a few weeks later. His axe is the tsimbl, the pointillistically rippling, otherworldly Ukraininan Jewish hammered dulcimer that’s the forerunner of the Hungarian cimbalom and the western European zither. The first part of his set featured him leading a trio with two violins leaping and dancing against the tsimbl’s lush undercurrent; the second featured his wife doubling on flute and vocals, delivering several obscure treats from the Ukraininan folk tradition. What’s especially interesting about Rushefsky’s songbook is that much of it sounds completely different fom the boisterous, carnivalesque Romany-flavored klezmer music from points further west: this was both more somber and lustrous.

Where Rushefsky worked a pensive, hypnotic ambience, Sharon Goldman was her usual direct self: the acoustic rock tunesmith can say more in a few words than most people can in a whole album. She can also be drop-dead funny, although this time out her set was more about painting pictures, whether an unexpectedly triumphant late summer Park Slope scenario, or the ominous foreshadowing of the morning of 9/11…or a coy couple competing over a pint of ice cream. Goldman bought them to life with catchy chord changes on the guitar and her richly modulated, subtly nuanced vocals.

And Ewen booked a pretty perfect choice for Halloween: Jessi Robertson. She’s got an unearthly wail to rival anyone, and this time out had made herself up as a bloody corpse or accident victim or something similarly gruesome. So when she cut loose with “You’re gonna burn, my love,” on the chorus of the first song on her excellent new album, it worked on every conceivable level. And after she’d done a few similarly harrowing numbers, going off-mic and singing without any amplification, she did a cruelly funny country song with a title something along the lines of I Hope I Hurt You As Much As You Hurt Me.

Goldman, like so many others in the vanguard of acoustic music, likes house concerts: her next one is in Jersey City on Jan 25 at 8 PM, email for info. Sweet Soubrette are at Freddy’s on Jan 22. And the American Folk Art Museum’s free, 5:30 PM Friday concert series resumes on Jan 9 with first-class, politically-fueled lyricist and anthemic folk-rock songwriter Niall Connolly headlining at around half past six.

Kristin Hoffmann Plays an Intimate West Village New Year’s Eve Show

If you like art-rock with elegant, baroque-tinged melodies, precisely nuanced piano, hypnotic rhythms and out-of-this-world gorgeous, dynamic vocals, Kristin Hoffmann is playing a New Year’s Eve show starting at around quarter to midnight at her longtime West Village haunt, Caffe Vivaldi at 32 Jones St. just off Bleecker. There are two dinner seatings (VERY EXPENSIVE) before then. The club calendar says “open house 1-3 AM” which can be interpreted any number of ways: assuming open bar might not be the safest bet.

In addition to her sweeping, often achingly intense work as a solo artist, Hoffmann is the singer in NASA’s Bella Gaia multimedia extravaganza, with whom she tours the globe. The Juilliard-trained singer is also in demand in the contemporary classical world: her latest album in that field is her Unfolding Secrets collaboration with cinematic Italian composer Marco Missinato. At her most recent Saturday night Caffe Vivaldi gig, Hoffmann sang one of those warmly neoromantic, colorful themes with a soaring, operatically-tinged intensity, adding just a hint of vibrato at the end of phrase when the music called for a little extra voltage. A little later, she brought the crowd to their feet with an even more high-octane, arioso rendition of Ave Maria.

But it’s her originals that people come out for here, and she played to the crowd. As precise and catchy as Hoffmann’s hooks are, there’s an angst-ridden undercurrent throughout her music. Hoffmann is a Libra: balance is a major theme with her, something she seems to grapple with and manages to achieve through her music’s gusty swells and majestic tectonic shifts. This was an electroacoustic performance, Hoffmann at the piano playing along to orchestration and beats on her tablet, Premik Russell Tubbs serving as a one-man band behnd her on – take a deep breath – lapsteel, alto sax, bass flute and wind synth.

The lingering, resonant washes from his lapsteel grounded several of the songs, notably the suspensefully brooding art-trip-hop of the opening number, The Magic and a later anthem, Falling, about jumping off a cliff – metaphorically speaking. On another song, Hoffmann worked an insistent piano riff that brought to mind Carol Lipnik‘s more minimalist work. As the show went on, Hoffmann aired out her many voices : an impassioned, confident alto, a stratospheric, spine-tingling soprano as many of the songs would hit a peak, and a no-nonsense soul approach on a rousing Aretha Franklin-influenced ballad. She kept that vibe going with a plaintive, similarly soulful take of Joni Mitchell’s River. Meanwhile, Tubbs, who’d been adding judicious textures via his many wind instruments – and a jaunty sax solo on River – went back to lapsteel for his most adrenalizing, crescendoing solo of the night on another big anthem. Hoffmann wound up her first set with a stately lullaby of sorts, a spaciously syncopated mood piece and a similarly nocturnal number that brought to mind the old Cindy Lauper hit Time After Time.

Saturday Singles

Former Band of Susans guitarist (and Demolition String Band bassist) Anne Husick has a creepy new single, The Other Side out from the World Wide Vibe folks and streaming at Soundcloud. With its absolutely gorgeous layers of guitars, it’s a noir blues at the core, lit up with Robert Aaron’s organ and drummer Kevin Tooley’s echoey snare beat. She’s playing the release show at Sidewalk on Dec 3, time TBA. If her show at Otto’s a couple of Sundays ago was any indication, you’re in for a night of dark oldschool LES rock treats. Tons of people rip off Lou Reed: Husick uses a 70s version of the post-Velvets sound as a springboard, and dives in from there.

Powerpop maven Mark Breyer has been writing heartbreakingly beautiful songs for a long time, first with cult favorites Skooshny and most recently on his own, under the name Son of Skooshny. His latest one, No Ho – a collaboration with multi-instrumentalist/producer Steve Refling, streaming at Bandcamp – paints a gently devastating portrait of existential angst and understated despair, a couple doomed from the start traipsing their way through a vivid LA milieu. And the title could be as savage for the girl as the narrator’s prospects are bleak.

You want a sultry vocal? Check out Melissa Fogarty’s multilingual delivery on Metropolitan Klezmer‘s Mazel Means Good Luck, based on a 1954 arrangement of a 1947 big band hit. The irrepressible cross-genre Jewish jamband are playing the album release for their new one – this song is the title track – at the legendary Eldridge Street Synagogue Museum on December 15 at 4 (four) PM. Tix are $20/$15 stud/srs.

And check out September Girls‘ Black Oil, ornate postpunk with Middle Eastern flourishes, that’s catchy and disorienting at the same time.

Dina Regine’s Soulful New Album Was Worth the Wait

What does it say about our society that Dina Regine has probably made more money spinning other peoples’ records than she’s made by playing her own unique blend of classic soul and rootsy rock? She was getting paid for playlisting long before just any random person could plug their phone into the PA system and then call it a night. But Regine’s greatest accomplishments have been as a songwriter, bandleader and singer. A well-loved presence in the New York club scene throughout the late 90s and early zeros, she still has an avid cult following, and an excellent, long-awaited new album, Right On All Right. And she’s got an album release show coming up on Nov 18 at around 8:30 PM at Bowery Electric. Ursa Minor, who have a similarly dynamic singer in Michelle Casillas – who also contributes to Regine’s album – are on the bill afterward at around 9:30. Cover is eight bucks.

On the album, Regine plays much of the guitars along with keys, mandolin and harp (!). Tony Scherr plays lead guitar on several tracks, along with Tim Luntzel on bass and Dan Rieser on drums. The opening track, Gotta Tell You is a gorgeously jangling, swaying 6/8 soul ballad, Jon Cowherd’s organ rising on the chorus with Regine’s impassioned vocals – and then they rock it out for a bit. The oldschool soul-funk number Dial My Number has a hot horn section (Erik Lawrence on tenor sax, Briggan Krauss on baritone sax and Frank London on trumpet) juxtaposed with Regine’s more low-key yet simmering vocals. By contrast, Can’t Find You Anywhere welds red-neon noir soul ambience to soaring, anthemic choruses, fueled by Scherr’s biting guitar multitracks.. Likewise, Hurt Somebody works the tension between blue-flame soul and brisk new wave-tinged powerpop – Regine likes to mix up her styles and this is a prime example.

Far Gone takes an unexpected and very successful departure into oldschool C&W with a tasty blend of Regine’s baritone guitar mingling with Scherr’s twangy lines. Then Regine hits a pulsing garage-soul vamp on Until Tomorrow and keeps that going with the gloriously guitar-driven, Gloria-esque Fences. The best track here is Broken, a brooding yet brisk latin-tinged groove with Steve Cropper-esque guitar: “You beat the wall for your past oppressor – sometimes spirits treat you real kind but most of the time they mess with your mind,” Regine sings with a gentle unease. How she varies her delivery from one track to another, from sweet to defiant and undeterred is one of the album’s strongest points.

The title track adds slink and suspense to a vintage go-go theme, with yet another one of Regine’s usual, crescendoing, anthemic choruses.  Shaky Dave Pollack’s hard-hitting blues harp drives the vintage Stonesy Nothing Here. The album’s final cut, Wildest Days, is also its most epic, and it’s surprisingly wistful, a snapshot of a deliriously fun time that threatens not to last too long. Fans of the creme de la creme of retro soul, from Lake Street Dive to Sharon Jones, will love this album. It’s not out yet, therefore no spotify link, but a lot of the tracks are up on Regine’s soundcloud page.

A Rare Live Gig in August Spawns Two Auspicious October Shows

Was drummer/impresario John Sharples‘ excellent, rare gig as a bandleader back in August responsible for two of this weekend’s most enticing shows? Maybe yes, maybe no. In the case of the show tomorrow night, Oct 24 at Freddy’s, definitely yes, since he’s booked it. It’s an eclectic lineup starting at 9 with a similarly rare performance by the jangly, edgy band that songwriter Paula Carino made a name for herself with back in the late 90s, Regular Einstein. After that there’ll be short sets by Psychic Lines and guitarist Tim Simmonds’ Ex Extract project followed at 11 by Calm King, which is members of Beefheart cover band Admiral Porkbrain playing “improvisational postpunk chamber pop.”

And an artist Sharples drew on for her nuanced but powerful, torchy voice at that August show, Americana songwriter Robin Aigner, plays the album release show for her long-awaited new album of historically-infused oldtimey songs and chamber pop at Barbes this Saturday, Oct 26 at 8 on a great bill (this one not booked by Sharples) that starts with oldtime blues guitar monster Mamie Minch at 6 and continues at 10 with harmony-driven noir cumbia and bolero band Las Rubias Del Norte at 10.

What was the August show like? Drummers have deep address books since the good ones play with a ton of people, and Sharples is no exception. This particular night started with crystalline-voiced songwriter Rebecca Turner opening solo with a wryly epic, brooding contemplation of family tensions. Then she brought up her band – including John Pinamonti on lead guitar and studio mastering legend Scott Anthony on bass – for terse, quietly bristling versions of older material like The Way She Is now and newer songs including the metaphorical Cassandra and The Cat That Can Be Alone. She and the band closed with Brooklyn Is So Big, which ten years ago was a triumphant shout-out to the borough’s musical riches and now seems more like an obituary.

Sharples played both six and twelve-string guitar out in front of a band that included Ross Bonadonna on guitar and Tom Pope on drums, mixing up material from the cult classic 2004 I Can Explain Everything album along with unexpected treats like the tongue-in-cheek, metrically Carino favorite Robots Helping Robots and a blistering take of Brooklyn, by Celtic punk band Box of Crayons.

But the best song of the night was a straight-up janglerock version of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, the lushness and overtones of the twelve-string providing some of the original’s angst-fueled grandeur. Or it might have been the ominously swaying version of Tom Warnick’s noir blues anthem The Impostor. Or for that matter, Dylan’s Positively 4th Street reinvented as tightly wound janglerock. Or the lusciously jangling Matt Keating cover, Mind’s Eye, with Aigner adding her plaintive harmonies. It was one of those kind of shows.

The night wound up with a catchy solo set by guitarist/frontman Tim Reedy, of indie rockers Electric Engine. Nobody evokes the mid-90s anthemic REM sound like that band, and it was cool to hear Reedy’s witty lyrics and frequent baseball references without the ring of the amps behind him.

Flowers Glisten and Jangle and Clang and Have a Lot of Shows Coming Up

British band Flowers sound like Britfolk rock legend Amanda Thorpe backed by the Smiths – but not in a florid, campy Beirut way. And in a more trebly, considerably more stripped-down way, too. None of the full-band songs on their latest album, Do What You Want to, It’s What You Should Do – streaming at Spotify – have bass on them, and drummer Jordan Hockley sometimes pounds out a dancing beat with just a single tom-tom. Frontwoman Rachel Kenedy doesn’t have quite the torchy, belting power that Thorpe does, but she’s a soaring, compelling singer in her own right. For those who feel like ditching work, they’re at Cake Shop at about one in the afternoon on Oct 21; at the Delancey at 8, the following night, Oct 22; at the Knitting Factory on Oct 23 at around 2 in the afternoon, followed by psychedelic rockers Gringo Star (free with rsvp  although you will get spammed if you sign up) ; back at Cake Shop on Oct 24 at three in the afternoon, and then later that night at the Brooklyn Night Bazaar, time tba. You definitely won’t run the risk of getting spammed for those shows.

Kenedy sing with a full, round, chorister’s tone on the album’s opening track, Young, bringing to mind Linda Draper‘s adventures in janglerock a few years back. Forget the Fall starts out with a skeletal sway before guitarist Sam Ayres adds brightly clanging layers of chords. Drag Me Down is the closest thing here to a Thorpe/Smiths mashup, while Worn Out Shoes hitches a doo wop-inflected verse to a big anthemic chorus

Lonely is a return to straight up catchy janglerock, Joanna a Smiths-ish launching pad for some spectacular vocal leaps and bounds from Kenedy. They strip it down to just the guitar and vocals for If I Tell You, then return to anthemic mode – with jaunty splashes of cymbals, would you believe – with Comfort.

I Love You blends some midsummer folk ambience into its bouncy sweep. All Over Again is one of the most irresistibly catchy numbers here; by contrast, Anna goes for more of a gently pastoral neo-Velvets feel, with a couple of the trick endings this band likes so much. Be With You is the most low-key song here, followed by the unexpectedly cynical Plastic Jane. Kenedy winds up the album with a brief solo number, just vocals and bass.

This band is all about setting a mood and keeping it going. Their lyrics don’t cover a lot of ground – angst-tinged romantic longing is pretty much it for Kenedy – and there isn’t much variation among all the brightly ringing tunes. But if catchy, smartly assembled, sunshiney three-minute janglerock songs are your thing, these guys deliver 24/7.

A Typically Urbane, Incisively Lyrical New Album from the Larch

The Larch have been one of New York’s catchiest, most lyrically acerbic bands for a long time. Their 2012 album Days to the West blended new wave and psychedelia with a witheringly cynical Costelloesque lyrical edge. The one before that, Larix Americana – written mostly at the tail end of the Bush regime – set frontman/guitarist Ian Roure’s corrosive, politically charged commentary to hypnotic, guitar-fueled paisley underground rock. Lately the band seems to be on hiatus, but they have an excellent new ep, In Transit, picking up where the last album left off and streaming at Bandcamp.

The first track, Science & Charity – whose title the band nicked from a Picasso painting – assesses the pros and cons of space-age advances over keyboardist Liza Roure’s swooshy synth and Ross Bonadonna’s rising bassline, drummer Tom Pope negotiating its tricky syncopation. A jet-engine guitar solo takes it echoing out.

Welcome to the Institute alternates between hard funk and mid-80s Costello, a sardonic narrative told from the point of view of a pitchman for an online reputation repair service. Liza’s woozily processed backing vocals add an aptly tacky, techy touch, Bonadonna’s slithery lines echoing Bruce Thomas, the guitar again taking it out with a lickety-split, spiraling solo (Ian is the rare hotshot lead player who doesn’t waste notes).

Saturn’s in Transit, the catchiest and most Costelloesque tune here, seems to be one of those metaphorically charged workday anomie narratives that Ian writes so well. The jangliest track is the similarly metaphorical, nonchalantly ominous Mr. Winters, sort of a mashup of Squeeze and lyrical powerpop legends Skooshny – Ian’s voice often brings to mind that band’s frontman, Mark Breyer.

The backbeat Britpop tune Images of Xmas contemplates a deceptively comfortable litany of holiday gatherings and overindulgences. There’s also a hard-charging punk-pop bonus track. The Larch may be on the shelf for now, but the Roures continue with their duo project, Tracy Island, wherein they mix works in progress with favorites from the Larch and Liza and the Wonderwheels catalogs. They’re playing tomorrow, Oct 15, at 8 PM at Bowery Electric for an $8 cover and it’s a good bet some of these songs will be on the bill.

Another Tantalizing Album from Elizabeth & the Catapult


Elizabeth Ziman, who basically is Elizabeth & the Catapult, is one of this era’s great purist pop tunesmiths. While the keyboard textures on her latest album Like It Never Happened (streaming at Paste, of all places) are totally Bushwick, 2014, her wickedly catchy hooks and artsy song structures are closer to the radio hit side of ELO circa 1976. Ziman is no slouch as a pianist, a competent rhythm guitarist and a strong, brilliantly nuanced, individualistic singer. When she’s at the top of her game, her songs have an Aimee Mann-class intensity. Even when she’s not at the top of her game, they’re still catchy. There’s a lot of everything here. She’s had an off-and-on residency at Rockwood Music Hall over the past few months, and she’s at the relatively new third stage there every Monday in February at 8 for $10.

Like everything else Ziman has done (she’s got two other albums out), this one has a couple of absolutely killer tracks. The first is a joke, a deliciously good one. With its sarcastically monotonous piano pedaling and snarky lyrics, Happy Pop wouldn’t be out of place in the Patti Rothberg catalog – and it ends with a bemused busker making snide fun of people who don’t get it. By contrast, Wish I Didn’t is a brooding kiss-off anthem that moves cleverly from a minimalist vocal intro to Jeff Lynne-style art-rock majesty – with a lot of curse words, crudeness and elegance side by side. Metaphorical, maybe?

Salt of the Earth sounds like an oldtime chain gang singalong tricked out with layers of keys and shivery strings, a trip-hop groove emerging and then receding in favor of jaggedly bluesy guitar. Shoelaces is a ridiculously catchy 60s garage-pop song updated with a bit of a whimsical late 90s vibe: the tune, the edgy guitar solo and swoopy organ are the highlights rather than the lyrics. Ziman follows it with the atmospheric, hypnotic chamber pop number Someday Soon.

More Than Enough has lushly sweeping string synth, rippling tremolo organ and another one of those irresistibly catchy, anthemic choruses, Ziman contemplating how to ground herself amid the angst: “Don’t take darkness for granted, without it light can’t exist.” From its staccato Penny Lane bounce to its woozily oscillating synth. Please Yourself is an ELO pop hit updated for the teens. Sugar Covered Poison pairs sarcastically acrid, techy synth voicings that leave an artificial, chemical taste with a knowing lyric about a guy who’s hard to resist but no more than the emotional equivalent of junk food. The final track, Last Opus, is a richly tuneful art-rock ballad that gives Ziman a long launching pad for a handful of gloriously brooding, gorgeous piano solos.

The album’s title track is somewhat disingenuous. It’s funny how all these careless girls are the first to complain that they’ve had their hearts broken, but they won’t cop to doing that to anyone themselves. Over a distantly Carole King-ish sway with resonant electric piano, Ziman’s cynical narrator owns up to what she’s been doing – sort of. And there’s also a ballad here that’s the lyrical equivalent of a Precious Moments tchotchke – but even there, Ziman stays on task and plays with purist taste and restraint. Which helps explain why this is a tantalizing album, and why Ziman’s best days as a songwriter are still probably ahead of her. In the meantime, she’s really good live.

Peggy Sue Gets a New Sound Out of Old Ideas

A cynic could say that jangly retro 80s British trio Peggy Sue have absolutely nothing new to offer, and that would be wrong. On one hand, they have the era down cold: they absolutely nail the brightly chiming, shimmery guitar pop sound that was all the rage around 1988 or so. What they do that’s original is to mix Britpop effervescence, hypnotic dreampop resonance and the opaquely minimalistic sound of first-wave American indie rock, which emphasized single-note lines rather than chords. Like so many of the best bands from those days, they’ll vamp out on a catchy, anthemic hook rather than following a series of changes or a traditional blues or rock scale. The effect creates an atmosphere that’s both dreamy and kinetic at the same time: it might seem like an oxymoron, but it works.

And they mine those styles fluently. Lead guitarist Katy Young plays with a nimble, precise attack: she doesn’t have the pyrotechnics, of, say, the Room’s Paul Kavanagh, but she’s good. Frontwoman/guittarist Rosa Slade typically anchors the songs with a steady downstroke rhythm in the lower registers while drummer Olly Joyce artfully shifts between contrasting meters, goodnatured shuffles and colorful syncopation. Their aptly titled new third album, Choir of Echoes (much of which is streaming, with a bunch of free downloads, at the band’s site), was recorded at Dave Edmunds’ legendary Rockfield Studios – where Radio Birdman did their immortal Radios Appear album – and makes full use of the space’s delicious natural reverb. There’s reverb on everything here, even the drums! It’ll be interesting to see what use they might be able to make of the primitive barewalled sonics at Glasslands, where they’re playing on Feb 13 at around 1ish for $12.

It takes nerve to open your album with a wordless choral piece that’s part Renaissance plainchant and part circular indie classical theme, but that’s what the band does. They follow it with Esme, which Joyce cleverly works from a waltz into a briskly shuffling Manchester groove, the two women’s vocal harmonies mingling with Young’s dreampoppy lead lines. Substitute blends moody 80s Boston minmalism and surreal Syd Barrett clang, fleshing out a skeletal theme as it goes along. Figure of Eight builds out of open-string licks and washes of harmonies to a skitttishly insistent 80s pop pulse.

The album’s best songs are the darkest ones: Longest Night of the Year Blues gives a haphazard neo-Velvets sway and some unexpectedly Lynchian, eerily twangy guitar to a vintage soul ballad, while And Always Is syncopates a backbeat noir folk tune and makes distantly menacing, clanging, nocturnal psychedelia out of it. Always Going works the luminous/dark dichotomy between the two guitars up to a burning bridge that’s the loudest thing on the album, and Just the Night does the same thing as it goes in the opposite direction, the bass jumping around and bringing it back up again.

There’s also a folksy waltz that sounds like Linda Draper doing C&W; a number that makes pouncing reverb rock out of a rustic sea chantey theme; Two Shots, with its allusions to the blues; Electric Light, with its bracing, wall-bending guitar licks; and the closing cut, The Error of Your Ways, the poppiest number here. It’s very cool how this band manages to follow so many different tangents while never losing their distinctive sound.

Kjersti Kveli: Counterintuitive Tunesmith, Powerful Voice, Great Band

“This song is about sacrificing people,” Kjersti Kveli laughed as she told the crowd at the Triad Theatre on the Upper West Side Friday night. Nervous laughter echoed back at her. “That’s what it’s about,” the Norwegian-American songwriter/bandleader responded matter-of-factly – and laughed again. Then midway through the broodingly crescendoing minor-key waltz – the title track to her latest album Release the Virgin – her bandmate Nicole Camacho fired off a sudden cadenza on her bass flute just as Kveli’s voice finally rose toward a scream. The effect was spine-tingling.

A few songs later, Kveli brought the ambience down to whispery and ghostly for a brief narrative about sleepwalking in the street. Toward the end of the show, she unveiled an uneasily stomping noir folk-rock anthem, Whaling Songs, her voice rising ominously against Camacho’s poltergeist wood flute and lead guitarist Tor Morten’s gritty chordwork.

But Kveli isn’t always so dark. Early on in the set, she showed a fondness for catchy two-chord vamps, giving Morten and Camacho a chance to add harmonies and fills that ranged from biting to hypnotic over the pulsing groove of drummer Anders Griffen and Old Time Musketry bassist Phil Rowan. Kveli is conservatory trained and can leap from a whisper to a wail in a split second if she wants, but she saves those moments for when she has to make a point, and usually stays in her midrange when she does. Her English is flawless, she tells a good story and has a knack for imagery that steers clear of cliche: the “loudspeaker answering machine” on the night’s lilting first number, Call Me Up, or the coin whose endless journey from hand to hand she illustrated in a fetching acoustic duet with Rowan.

Kveli and her KK Band made their way through the rest of the songs on the album and then closed with some auspiciously edgy, louder new material. With their bittersweet chord changes, the night’s two most attractively nocturnal ballads evoked Mary Lee Kortes‘ Americana-flavored work, Kveli’s crystalline voice rising anxiously over the top of the melody line before floating down to land. The rest of the songs in the set were diverse and counterintuitively arranged: a soul vamp like a Paul sketch from Abbey Road, but fully fleshed out, with gale-force vocals from Kveli; a swaying highway rock tune that waltzed along with graceful flute flourishes; a pensive ballad that she played on piano, using acid rain as a metaphor for a bitter breakup; and a hypnotic song toward the end of the show that echoed post-VU Nico but with a wounded wail. There are plenty of women in New York with pretty voices, toting acoustic guitars;  Kveli’s ability to shift seamlessly between genres, not to mention her fantastic band, puts her a cut above most of them. She also recorded this show, so she’s got a good live album to put out if she sees fit. In the meantime, she’s giving the subscription model a shot, sort of a Kickstarter where you get a new single from her over the next year every time she records one.


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