New York Music Daily

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Tag: postpunk

A Catchy Free Twinbill in Williamsburg on the 12th

Considering how almost all of the remaining New York City concert venues allowed themselves to be weaponized for plandemic divide-and-conquer schemes and much worse, there’s hardly reason to single any one of them out for special treatment considering that they wouldn’t do that for us during the time when the New York Governor’s office was imposing apartheid restrictions.

“But we had to comply! Otherwise we would have gone out of business!”

No. When someone tries to take your rights away, you stand up and fight. If none of us had complied, none of this ever would have happened.

Be that what it may, right now this group of cowards still run the majority of the spaces for live music in this city. One such is Union Pool, which for years had an on-and-off series of free shows during the summertime, often in the back courtyard by the taco truck. The series is back this summer, although, maybe predictably, there’s been a considerable dip in the quality of the bands. One of the highlights of this month’s shows is on June 12 at around 3 PM with Savak, who play a shapeshifting blend of 90s jangle, 80s postpunk and more indie-flavored sounds. The buzzy 3rd-gen post-Velvets/no wave-ish Messthetics follow at around 4:30.

On one hand, Savak’s vibe is quaintly retro. On the other, it’s very much in the here and now. Their latest album Human Error/Human Delight is streaming at Bandcamp. The band have two main songwriters and guitarists: Sohrab Habibion, whose frequent sense of menace reflects his time fronting Obits, and Michael Jaworski, whose songs tend to be on the brighter side. Either way, Wire is the pervasive influence here. Matt Schulz plays drums; on the record, there’s a small army of guest bassists when Jaworski isn’t playing it.

The great Josh Sinton adds a tasty layer of baritone sax on the opening track, No Blues No Jazz, a catchy, hard-hitting, cynical post Lou Reed number as Marc Ribot might have done it. Track two, Empathy is a wistful blast of downstroke 80s REM clang, followed by My Book on Siblings and its motorik, declamatory take on late 70s Wire.

The group keep the pink flag flying through the next track, Cold Ocean. Nick Sewell’s catchy bass loop anchors the driftingly insistent psychedelia of Set Apart. The group the Obits sound, if a little more quietly, in Oddsmaker, Jaworski’s snapping, strolling bassline underneath the guitars’ distantly lingering menace. It’s the best song on the album.

Trashing the Ghost is an opaquely indie take on the 13th Floor Elevators, then Habibion’s anxious Wire-y chromatics take over in Recanted (Free the Singer). The unease is in the lyrics in the punchy, anthemic Baltimore Moon.

The group work a tersely layered one-chord vamp over a percolating bassline in Adolescence Obsolete, then they hit a gorgeously ringing Fender Twin attack in Dealers, the catchiest track on the record. They close with Dumbinance, which starts out with a surfy nocturnal atmosphere and grows more dense and postpunk.

This blog has never caught Savak live. The last time anyone here saw Habibion onstage, he was flinging out reverbtoned shards during a lusciously evil set with Obits at this very same venue, way back in 2014. Good to see him as vital as ever in this project.

Castle Black Take Their Dark Unpredictability to the Next Level

Castle Black started out as a haphazardly noisy power trio and have grown into more of an art-rock band while never losing their punk edge. Frontwoman Leigh Celent has kept the group going after the 2020 lockdown with a rotating rhythm section, and managed to make a scorchingly eclectic new short album, Get Up Dancer, streaming at Bandcamp. Since this is a pretty dark record – aren’t they all, with this band – it fits the bill for today’s episode in the ongoing, October-long Halloween celebration here.

It’s great to hear these tracks all fleshed out in the studio after seeing the latest version of the trio roar and slink through them at their show in Long Island City a couple of months ago. The first cut – the title track, more or less – is Radio Queen, a sleeker, more trickily rhythmic take on careening early 80s punk, like the Vice Squad classic Last Rockers but way tighter.

Likewise, the metric shifts in Another Grand Delusion, a gorgeously serpentine, angst-fueled anthem awash in Celent’s signature reverb and roar. Her machete guitar riffage, Scott Brown’s tersely ascending bass and the tumbling drums blend to raise the heartbroken angst in Talking About Those Nights to redline.

Knife in My Heart is a revenge fantasy, part ba-bump cabaret, part echoey psychedelia, part searing powerpop, Celent on keys in addition to guitar. An icy high/low guitar/bass contrast gives way to a burning chorus in That Little War: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Thalia Zedek tunebook. Same applies to the last song, Sorry, the album’s most darkly enveloping number. It’s rewarding to see Celent refusing to stay in one place and find dark new avenues to explore. Count this as one of the most intriguing and best rock records of 2021.

Holding Fort with Castle Black in Long Island City

The sun goes down behind a phalanx of shiny steel-and-glass speculator properties close to the water in Long Island City Friday night. On one hand, it’s a good omen to see a loud guitar band playing so close to what on the surface seems to be a high-income residential complex.

But it’s empty. Those condos are just game pieces, hard assets for people who did well in the big pharma boom of 2020 to move their money into before that market tanks. Those boxes weren’t designed for human habitation – rats, on the other hand, should do well there. They make the average public housing project look like Fort Knox.

Speaking of fortresses, Castle Black are the band playing on the back of a flatbed trailer at the edge of the parking lot beneath the empty condos. Frontwoman Leigh Celent’s roaring Fender guitar gives the power trio a punk sound, but they’ve become more of an art-rock band over the last couple of years.

None of the songs in the set follow a standard verse-chorus pattern; one of them is in 9/4 time. Maybe the band name is meant to reflect the labyrinth of bridges in her songs.

This is a new version of the group. Celent is the only remaining member of the original trio, and she keeps taking on more responsibilities. This time out she has keyboard pedals for string synth and organ textures, and that requires a lot of split-second footwork. Most of the time it works. The samples of movie dialogue are extraneous: Man or Astroman worked that shtick to death.

The new drummer is having fun negotiating the sudden metric shifts and tricky changes, saving his furious volleys and flurries for the occasional big crescendo. The new bassist plays a longscale Gibson, with a pick. Like the drummer, he also chooses his spots to go way up the scale as the songs peak out.

Celent’s fragmented imagery tends to be surreal, sometimes ominous or desperate: the punk and the 80s goth influences obviously play a part in that. Between the jangle, and the roar, and the occasional swoosh from the pedals, the sound of the band has come to resemble late 70s Patti Smith more and more, although the rhythmic complexity gives this group a completely unique sound.

There’s tons of new material in the set: Celent obviously went on a creative tear during the lockdown. Radio Girl, one of the more straight-up punk numbers, seems to be a cautionary tale about the perils of fame. There’s another new one, maybe titled Sorry, that has more of late 70s/early 80s postpunk edge. Other songs bring to mind the Breeders. Celent has come a long way since growing up in public, playing the Bleecker Street strip.

The group close the first set with one of their best and most haunting songs, Dead in a Dream. The album version has a finely polished sheen and layers of guitars; this version has a careening danger. The ominousness in Celent’s uncluttered, midrangey voice picks up and they end the song cold.

There’s another set – who would have though that Castle Black had enough material for two sets? Meanwhile, the parking lot is still radiating too much heat to put a beer down for more than a few seconds. Everybody in the band has a tallboy; dehydration is real. From an audience perspective, in this case it meant that time had come to hit the shade, and the train.

Castle Black’s next gig is a very rare acoustic one on Aug 28 at 3 PM at the Greenpoint Terminal Market, on Market St. past Kent Ave on the water. Take the G to Nassau Ave.

Surreal, Entertaining, Strangely Cinematic Themes on Curtis Hasselbring’s New Album

Curtis Hasselbring may be best known as one of the mostly highly sought-after trombonists in the New York jazz scene, but he also plays a lot of other instruments. As a guitarist, he has a very distinctive, jagged style and impeccable taste in late 70s/early 80s postpunk and new wave. He’s been involved with innumerable projects over the years, but his most psychedelic one is Curha, his mostly one-man band. Hasselbring’s music has always been defined by his sense of humor, but this is where you’ll find some of his funniest songs. The brand-new Curha II album is streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening track, Casa Grande is a tongue-in-cheek surf tune with neatly intertwining guitars and keening funeral organ, Dan Reiser supplying a low-key beach-party beat. He sticks around for the second track, Togar, an outer-space Motown theme, guest guitarist Brandon Seabrook mimicking the squiggle of the keys.

Hasselbring keeps the sci-fi sonics going in Sick of Ants!: listen closely to the watery guitar and you’ll catch his appreciation for the late, great John McGeoch of Siouxsie & the Banshees and PiL. How airy is Blimp Enthusiast, a rare vocal number? Not particularly, but this quasi trip-hop song is very funny.

The blippy Blaster comes across as a motorik tv theme on whippits. With its loopy low-register piano and clip-clop beats, Soap makes even less sense until Peter Hess’ bass clarinet ushers in a somber mood for a second. Hasselbring’s trombone appears distinctly for the first time in Murgatroid, a clever mashup of 70s disco, outer-space theme and early new wave.

With its intricately dancing web of guitar multitracks, the rather disquieting MMS has echoes of early 80s Robert Fripp; then Hasselbring takes it further toward acid jazz. He goes back to lo-fi motorik minimalism with Totally Hired, then shifts toward spare, 90s electro-lounge with History of Vistas.

He closes the album with the coyly tiptoeing Her Pebble Fusion and then Blown Bubble Blues, which is kind of obvious but irresistibly fun. Hip-hop artists in need of far-out samples need look no further. You don’t have to be high to enjoy this, but it couldn’t hurt.

First-Wave Punk Era Legends Wire Put Out Yet Another Timely Album

Imagine if the Clash were still going strong, still making smart, relevant records.

What if Ian Curtis had gone off his prescription for barbituates, quit drinking, got his epilepsy under control, and Joy Division were still together?

One of those two bands’ contemporaries, Wire, are still together, and even arguably better than when they were beginning to define what would come to be known as postpunk and new wave. By quirk of fate, they were also one of the last bands scheduled to play Brooklyn before the lockdown. Sadly, it doesn’t look likely that we’ll get amother American tour out of Wire this year, but they have a typically strong new album,10:20, a collection of first-class outtakes and new material  streaming at Spotify.

Their previous release, Mind Hive, was their most dystopic yet. This one is more allusive. As the album title implies, the lyrics are all about foreshadowing and the clock winding down, although the music is generally more upbeat. They open with the steady, hypnotic Boiling Boy, glistening with the group’s icy chorus-box guitars: “Lock up your house,” is the mantra as the chords change suddenly from major to minor. Bassist Graham Lewis’ subtly shifting lines pack a psychedelic wallop.

The big stadium guitar hooks that introduce the second cut, German Shepherds, seem to be a red herring (this band’s deadpan sense of humor is legendary). Likewise, the lyrics’ seemingly mundane imagery masks a grim scenario. The next track, He Knows has a slow dreampop sway and a very cool major-on-minor trick.

Underwater Experience has a lickety-split, practically hardcore punk drive: it could be an outtake from the Pink Flag sessions redone with digital production values. The Art of Persistence has eerie early 80s Cure jangle blended in with the album’s catchiest and yet most counterituitive changes – it involves a murder mystery and ends cold. Small Black Reptile also brings to mind the Cure, but in blithe mid-decade pop mode – which is almost certainly sarcastic.

Pulsing loops echo behind a seemingly easygoing post-Velvets sway in Wolf Collides. The album’s final cut is Over Their’s, marching toward the precipice and ending with a drone – or is that a flatline? Some hall-of-famers refuse to quit – and in Wire’s case, that’s a good thing.

The Plaster Cramp Bring Their Distant Menace to a Halloween Eve Bushwick Gig

Today’s Halloween installment is the Plaster Cramp’s debut album – streaming at Bandcamp – which came out back in 2016. The band’s cynical surrealism looks back to the downtown postpunk scene of the early 80s, with occasional tinges of psychedelia and latin music. They like sprawling Velvets vamps with jagged guitar spilling over the edges; the darkness in the songs’ lyrics is allusive, and it draws you in. They’re playing Alphaville on Oct 30 at 10 PM; cover is $11.

The album opens with The Ghost of Great Jones. Aside from a little Daniel Ash-style string-torturing from guitarist/frontman John Frazier, there isn’t anything particularly dark about this slinky, Talking Heads-ish one-chord jam.

In the Stacks is a throwback to the Velvets’ first album, complete with the hammering piano, just a hair out of tune. Dracula is a phony bossa tune that coalesces out of atonal weirdness, multitracked vocals half-buried in the mix.

A dancing bassline propels Pinball Safari, a latin-flavored funk tune. The group go back to vintage Velvets stomp for Change It, “While the moon above weeps above the drying poplar trees,”Frazier speaks, calmly. “Do you like what you see?”

The group mash up Talking Heads and the Velvets in Impatient Knives, then bring the lights down with the album’s best and most implicitly grisly song, Apartment 23. It sounds like a more fleet-footed Botanica:

His car sat on the wrong side of the streeet
The phone just rang and rang in apartment 23
Nobody expects to discover anything
He had hidden himself
An ordinary man, no next of kin
No one to notice…
Lost in a city of pinstripes and grey suits
How they go together holy jesus

Cherry Dark is the Plaster Cramp’s What Goes On, a catchy, tastily twisted 4 AM Lower East Side scenario. The guardedly optimistic Fingers Crossed sounds like the Velvets playing New Order: the anachronism is actually very funny. The album closes with the starry nocturne Downstream, a dead ringer for vintage Brian Jonestown Massacre. The group have been playing more frequently over the last few months, a good sign, even if very few of the venues they’ve been at do anything to promote the bands who play there.

Yet Another Enigmatic, Unpredictable Short Album and a Bushwick Show From Power Trio Castle Black

Marauding power trio Castle Black are a rare feel-good story amidst the wreckage of what was once a thriving New York rock scene. They tour relentlessly and put out one scorching short album after another. Their latest release, The Gods That Adored You – streaming at Bandcamp – picks up where their magnificent Trapped Under All You Know left off, yet it’s a lot more minimalist and straightforward. Their next hometown gig is on Jan 17 at 8 PM at Gold Sounds in Bushwick. Cover is $10, and since we’ve been granted a gubernatorial reprieve from the dreaded L train shutdown, it looks like there will be subway service in that part of Brooklyn.

The album has five tracks, divided up into Part A: Fucked and Part B: Adored. The Fucked diptych opens with Man on a Train, its endless exchange of unexpected chord changes like a New York take on first-wave Bay Area punk legends the Avengers. The bassline that opens the second part, River, hints at disco before frontwoman Leigh Celent’s distorted guitar chords and drummer Matt Bronner’s galloping clusters kick in. Celent keeps getting more and more ambitious as an instrumentalist: this time, she adds layers of feedback and some strange, spacy textures.

Part B begins with Sierra, an echoey, hypnotically pulsing murder narrative awash in icy chorus-box guitar…until the distorted burn of the guitars and the drums kicks in, anyway. A Cigarette, Saved alternates between spare, chilly echoes of Joy Division and punchy punk insistence: the mantra is “I’m in love with the way you think.”

Celent’s distantly anguished vocals over delicious, grimly catchy chords blend with bass swoops and a galloping art-rock interlude in the album’s most ornately gorgeous song, Linen. Castle Black aren’t particularly retro, but songs like these remind how musically talented and outside the box those first-wave punk bands were. In that sense, Castle Black do justice to their ancestors without imitating them.

Castle Black Bring Their Towering, Magnificently Dark Roar to Arlene’s This Saturday Night

If you run a music blog, it’s especially validating to watch an artist or an act deliver on the promise of their early days.  A couple of years ago, power trio Castle Black weren’t all that tight, and they were still getting the hang of their instruments. But it was obvious they had something that most rock acts in this city don’t have: fearlessness. For one, they don’t fall back on all the lazy indie rock guitar cliches – the moveable chords, the open chords, the pilfered New Order and Cure licks – that all the richkid Bushwick bands use. Do Castle Black even know what a cliche is? OK, last Friday night at the Well, there were a couple of choruses during the band’s blistering, careeningly triumphant release show there for their latest short album Trapped Under All You Know that were pretty Ramonsey. But all punk bands do that.

Otherwise, it was impossible to tell was coming next, except that it was bound to be loud and hard and intense – and catchy. At the release show at Matchless this past winter for their video Dark Light, guitarist Leigh Celent was starting to really flex her chops as the savage lead player she’s always wanted to be. This time out, she was that person – and bassist Lisa Low is flexing too, with a lot of riffs instead of just a booming low resonance. Drummer Matt Bronner, who was the best musician in the band when they first started, now finds himself propelling one of the most powerful and interesting bands in town.

Celent is really cutting loose on the mic now too. She finally unleashed that wounded wail in all its vengeful glory in the night’s best song, in fact one of the year’s best songs, Broken Bright Star, through all sorts of permutations. finally bringing it full circle to the haggard, elegaic blown-tube opening riff. Watching as the band built steam from from there, through the bitterly anthemic Sabotage, the serpentine, jaggedly noisy Dark Light and then Next Thing, echoing 70s Patti Smith, was just as much fun.

A new number, Man on a Train followed an unpredictable path of doomed late-night imagery. Low’s suspenseful epic-Buzzcocks rumble as Rise slowly got underway gave Celent a long launching pad to burn out of. They ended the show with some of their catchiest numbers: Blind Curtain, which sounded like powerpop Blondie on steroids; Seeing in Blue, the new album’s opening track, smoldering with Fender Twin amp roar and machete postpunk riffage; and the sardonically funny classic punk encore, One Track Mind. Castle Black will probably do a lot of this at their next Manhattan gig this Saturday night, September 2 at 10 PM at Arlene’s. Cover is $10.

Castle Black’s New Album: A Tower of Power

A year ago, power trio Castle Black had relentless energy, tons of promise and some good tunes that they were thrashing into shape through constant gigging, all the while trying to get off the Dives of New York treadmill. You know the dril: the Bitter End, Leftfield, Desmond’s, ad nauseum. Fast foward to now: they’ve got two excellent ep’s out, along with a killer video shot at Fort Tilden. The group – guitarist Leigh Celent, bassist Lisa Low and drummer Matt Bronner – are all decked out in post-apocalyptic camo, trudging with characteristic menace through the underbrush, finally emerging…no spoilers here! It’s the rare video that holds your attention all the way through to see what finally happens, a mystery story in images with a ferocious soundtrack. As usual, the trio have a couple of gigs coming up: tomorrow night, Nov 8 at 10 PM they’re playing Shrine in Harlem, followed at 11 by the intriguing Unknown Nobodies, who have both a punk side and another that veers closer to paisley underground psychedelia. Then the two bands are at the Parkside starting at 10 on Nov 18.

The new ep, Losing Forever, is streaming at their webpage. The title is typically enigmatic: is it apocalyptic, or just self-effacingly sarcastic? This group keeps you guessing. The opening track, Sabotage has a mighty oldschool Britpunk feel, it’s catchy, and anthemic, and pissed off, and like a lot of this band’s songs, is packed with unexpected tempo shifts, counterintuitive major/minor changes and catchy hooks. Premonition, by contrast, is a lot more straightforward, a bitter, vivid late-summer reminiscence. The jangle/crunch dichotomy in Celent’s gutar overdubs brings to mind the Distillers.

Bronner’s menacing rumble undpins the wickedly catchy, minor-key Secret Hideaway, part dark garage rock, part X, part Thalia Zedek. “We’ll be ok on a private holiday, wish for nevermore,” Celent intones enigmatically: a suicide pact, maybe?

Leave It kicks off like a swaying, midtempo Buzzcocks ballad and then hits a burning doublespeed punk drive, like peak-era Sleater-Kinney but with better vocals. The album winds up with its best song, the hauntingly epic, doomed Dark Light, built around Celent’s menacing, opening cliffhanger riff: it’s this band’s Last Rockers. There will be a Best Albums of 2016 page here at the end of the year and this one will be on it.

Enigmatic, Psychedelic Postpunk from Supergroup Heroes of Toolik

Heroes of Toolik are as close to a supergroup as NYC has right now. Frontman/guitarist Arad Evans plays in avant garde legend Glenn Branca‘s ensemble. Bassist Ernie Brooks was in the Modern Lovers, and Billy Ficca held down the drum chair in Television. Violinist/singer Jennifer Coates rounds out the lineup with trombonists Peter Zummo (ex-Lounge Lizards) and John Speck. Together, they offer potently tuneful reinforcement to the argument that cerebral music can be just as catchy.

Their sound blends riff-driven postpunk, psychedelia and minimalism, with the occasional jazzy flourish. They’re playing a rare stripped-down duo show at around 9 at Troost in Greenpoint on Sept 28. Then they’re back in Greenpoint on Oct 12 at St. Vitus at around 11, playing the album release show for their new one, Like Night.  Cover is $10. The album hasn’t hit Spotify yet, but there are some tracks up at the band’s soundcloud page.

The opening track, Perfect builds quickly out of a pensively jangly guitar hook with a looming brass chart: “Pay your respects to the great unraveled…between the flash and lightning’s echo, that moment waiting is where you live,” Evans intones. Coates’ violin joins the intricate weave between the horns as the song winds out.

It’s good to hear her assertive, crystalline voice front and center on several of these tracks, beginning with Miles, which builds into an ominous march with alternating, minimalist clang and squall. Coates’ disembodied vocals add to the sepulchral ambience, the long psychedelic outro echoing the Branca symphonies that Evans is used to playing.

The surreal, distantly mambo-tinged Something Like Night sways along, terse trombone contrasting with spiky koto and a circular, pulsing guitar hook. The epic instrumental Warm follows the same pattern, guitar and violin exchanging loopy phrases, gradually building momentum as the drums and trombone add polyrhythms – it’s the closest thing to jazz here.

The briskly strolling Blind Man builds a vividly nocturnal tableau – it sounds like the kind of obscure, jangly 80s indie bands that influenced Sonic Youth, bluesy violin and spare trombone adding melody and texture. Say Virginia bounces along with a wry rondo of individual instrumental voices, a gruff trombone solo taking the tune out. The enigmatic, allusively phantasmagorical waltz Again sets Coates’ crystalline vocals over an increasingly ornate backdrop.

The band keeps the distant menace going through the noirish stroll Crazy Doll, a slowly unwinding, allusive northern New England mystery tale. Coates sings the album’s closing cut, You Will Not Follow, a creepily inscrutable nursery rhyme-inflected number that suddenly hits a growling, unhinged guitar-fueled sway, shades of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. It’s an aptly ambitious way to wind up this strange and compelling mix of songs.