New York Music Daily

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Tag: power pop

Powerpop and Janglerock Cult Heroes the Flamin’ Groovies Make Their Williamsburg Debut Sunday Night

How many bands from the sixties are still left, let alone worth seeing? The Stones may be a pale shadow of their former glory, but the Flamin’ Groovies are still out there and still reputedly ripping it up. As far as legendary twinbills are concerned, it’s hard to imagine anything much more adrenalizing than when they teamed up with the original version of Aussie garage-psych legends Radio Birdman for that band’s one and only European tour in 1979. Hundreds, maybe thousands of shows later, the Flamin’ Groovies are making their Williamsburg debut this Sunday, November 22 at 10 PM at Baby’s All Right. Cover is $20, and you might want to show up early just to make sure you get in since this is a small place, maybe the smallest venue the band has played in decades. You can expect to see Cyril Jordan, Chris Wilson and George Alexander from the classic 1971-80 lineup, bolstered by Victor Penalosa on drums,

Their latest release is Groovies’ Greatest Grooves, streaming at Spotify, a delicious and definitive 24-song playlist that would get a smile out of the most curmudgeonly, critical pop purist. There’s Shake Some Action, the iconic powerpop tune with the hook that every guitarist worth his or her salt has messed around with (and possibly stolen); the new single End of the World, echoing Blue Oyster Cult or possibly the Frank Flight Band; Teenage Head, the snotty, ghoulishly galloping number that at least one band named themselves after; the trippy, woundedly gorgeous twelve-string chamber pop classic I Saw Her; Slow Death; which prefigures both the Move and Big Star; the wickedly catchy yet counterintuitive Jumpin’ in the Night; and the proto-glam Tallahassee Lassie.

These guys were so far ahead of their time it’s not funny. The list of bands they’ve influenced, in punk, powerpop and garage rock, goes on for miles. You can hear electric T-Rex in Yeah My Baby (meanwhile, the Groovies are mashing up the Velvets with the Beatles). Their stripped-down cover of Don’t Lie to Me has been a prototype for bar bands covering Chuck Berry for decades. There’s First Plane Home, awash in glistening Rickenbacker chime and clang. Uneasy major-to-minor-and-back changes permeate the briskly pulsing shuffle Please Please Girl, while it’s the dancing, minimalist lead guitar lines that make I Can’t Hide so cool. There are also deeper tracks here like Yes It’s True and You Tore Me Down, with their heartbreakingly jangly, watery mashup of Byrds folk-rock and early Beatles pop; Between the Lines, which could be a proto-Cheap Trick covering Dylan: and Don’t Put Me On, a defiant stoner look forward to new wave.

There’s also Teenage Confidential, which sounds like the early Who taking a stab at Phil Spector; amped up early Pretty Things-style R&B like Down Down Down; I’ll Cry Alone, beefed-up acoustic-electric Fab Four; the fuzztone-tinged Byrds of Yes I Am; and the bizarre bluegrass-Beatles hybrid All I Wanted. There’s going to be a clinic in sharp, catchy tunesmithing Sunday night a few blocks from the Marcy Avenue stop on the J and M train and you can be there to witness it.

George Usher and Lisa Burns Channel 50 Years of Gorgeously Erudite Rock Songcraft on Their New Album

Some artists get overlooked if they aren’t playing shows regularly, an unfair disadvantage to say the least. George Usher and Lisa Burns earned their cred playing all over New York beginning as far back as the 80s. There’s a harrowing backstory and a happy ending, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, behind their album The Last Day of Winter (streaming at Spotify).

Usher earned iconic status as a powerpop songwriter and bandleader with House of Usher, Beat Rodeo and other groups dating from the CBGB days (and wrote the title track of Laura Cantrell‘s classic 2000 debut album, Not the Tremblin’ Kind). Burns also enjoys an avid cult following as an innovative crafter and reinterpreter of classic soul, powerpop and occasionally psychedelic sounds. While making a successful recovery from cancer, Usher decided to reinvent himself as a lyricist since he was too debilitated to play, and Burns set those lyrics to music. The result is a pensive, often plantive, richly arranged blend of janglerock, powerpop, Americana and new wave, one of the best albums of 2015.

Happily, Usher’s back to playing his guitar, and also piano on this album. The opening track, Wake Me When Tomorrow’s Here has the soaring crescendos of the Church, Burns’ soulful, vibrato-heavy harmonies mingling with Usher’s understatedly triumphant vocals: he’s been through a lot. Burns widens that vibrato all the way in the vintage C&W-tinged ballad Depression Glass, a vividly downcast Flyover America tableau. More Than That I Cannot Say amps up the late 60s folk-rock that Burns does so well.

Lost in Translation has a slow, hazy sway that’s part Beatles, part pastoral Pink Floyd, spiced with Usher’s spiky, minimalist piano accents. The wrly shuffling My Precious Wisdom gives Usher a platform to stay at the keys and ripple through some ragtime. If It Ever Comes to Pass is the album’s best track, a snarling minor-key, darkly new wave-tinged gem fueled by Mark Sidgwick’s lead guitar. The guy/girl harmonies bring to mind legendary late 90s/early zeros New York band DollHouse.

Usher airs out an unexpectedly powerful upper register on another real gem, the brooding, metaphorically charged honkytonk ballad Dark Blue Room, lowlit by Jonathan Gregg’s high lonesome pedal steel. Then Usher returns to the 88s as Burns sings the angst-fueled Wasn’t Born to Belong: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Matt Keating catalog.

Drummer Wylie Wirth’s elegant brushwork pushes the gorgeous, ominously bittersweet Never Ever Land while Usher handles its big, restless acoustic guitar chords: “It’s a cloudy dream and a slow return when the fire has nowhere to burn,” Usher and Burns warn. Then they go back to channeling the Church in 80s folk-rock mode in the understatedly savage kiss-off anthem The World That Rested on Your Word. The album’s creepiest track is The Ferryman’s Name, evoking both the Fab Four and CSNY with its harmonies and surreallistic death imagery. The album winds up with its magnificently saturnine – and ultimately hopeful – title track, Jeff Hermanson’s horn sailing over Claudia Chopek’s stark string arrangement.

Musically speaking, this is arguably the strongest collection of tunes Burns has ever written, pretty impressive for someone who’s been at it as long as she has. Usher himself has been recording since the 60s, beginning as a pop prodigy in his native Cleveland. Fun factoid: as a kid, he was known to take credit – or at least not deny credit – for Gary Puckett’s hits, since they were credited to one G. Usher (the unrelated producer Gary Usher). But he’s a generation younger than McCartney and Jagger and the rest of the guys from that era. His voice may have weathered a smidge, but it’s still strong. Long may it resonate.

Singles for the End of August

You notice that today’s piece doesn’t say “the end of summer,” right? Uh uh. In the global warming era, summer goes on forever. To soothe the burn, here’s a self-directed playlist, about 40 minutes of music to lift your spirits in this depressingly hot week.

Guitarslinger Allen Devine plays a clinic in smart, tasteful noir-tinged Elvis Costello-ish new wave rock on his Berlin-based band the Inside Tracks‘ single Ordinary Girl. The flipside, Your Baby has a snarling, period-perfect, all-too-brief early 80s style guitar solo. That’s Matt Keating channeling Steve Nieve on Farfisa! Listen on Soundcloud

Son of Skooshny‘s two latest singles are both gems. Frontman/rhythm guitarist Mark Breyer may be revered in powerpop circles, but he should still be better known than he is. Check out Cloud Cover, a wistful, dreamily uneasy transcontinental flight scenario. And his latest release, Just a Test is even better, a backbeat stomp that’s one of the funniest songs Breyer’s ever written…and then it gets dark. Multi-instrumentalist/producer Steve Refling turns in some of his finest work as a one-man version of the Church. Listen on Bandcamp

Coney Island Russian rock band Newborn‘s Runaround is sort of Gogol Bordello meets roaring vintage 90s LES rock. Opening with that wicked bassline was smart – and you gotta love the visuals, the sight gag is priceless. Have a laugh via youtube.

Don’t let the primitive drum machine intro to Iva Dawn’s Officer scare you off – it turns out to be a solidly good Lynchian bossa-pop number, tasty reverb guitar paired against her smoky organ. Listen on Soundcloud

Chirpy-voiced oldschool soul songstress Rebecca Jordan‘s Remember When is creepy, torchy bossa noir worthy of Clairy Browne. Click the music player button at Jordan’s site and fast-forward to track 4.

Growling fuzztone bass and catchy, skittish garage guitar propel Bad Bad Hats’ Shame, a Minneapolis/Australia mashup. Watch it on youtube

And speaking of catchy and new wave-ish, Motobunny’s Thinkin’ Bout Me ought to be on the same youtube page.

Ike Reilly Brings His Down-to-Earth, High-Energy Lyrical Rock to the Mercury

Ike Reilly is sort of the Midwestern Willie Nile. Their big four-on-the-floor rock anthems have a lot in common: catchy riffs, purist arrangements, first-class playing and heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics. Like Nile, Reilly looks back to Highway 61-era Dylan a lot, but also draws on the most dramatic side of Celtic balladry. He and his excellent band the Ike Reilly Assassination are in the midst of their summer tour, with a couple of Mercury Lounge gigs coming up. On July 16 they’re playing at 7 PM, and then at 10:30 PM on the 17th. General admission is $15.

Reilly’s latest album, Born on Fire, is streaming at Spotify. The opening, title track sets the stage with its meat-and-potatoes Irish rock tinges, hitting a jaunty, dancing 70s Springsteen groove fueled by Adam Krier’s piano and organ and the tersely intertwining, soul-infused guitars of Phil Karnats and Tommy O’Donnell. Job Like That (Lasalle and Grand) blends Blonde on Blonde sway with arena-soul bombast, a characteristic blend of sardonic humor and irrepressible blue-collar charm.

Underneath the Moon gives Reilly a ragtime-inflected launching pad for him to work a rakishly surrealist come-on with some unnamed girl. Do the Death Slide! is a goodnatured, riff-driven spoof of 60s soul dance numbers, infused with bluesy harmonica and sax. With its torrents of aphorisms and subtle political subtext, the folk-rock anthem Am I Still the One for You brings to mind Fred Gillen Jr. at his wordiest and most Dylanesque. Likewise, 2 Weeks of Work, 1 Night of Love builds a bleak teens New Depression milieu, with more of that honking blues harp:

Work clothes, party clothes, funeral suit
Got nowhere to, got nothing to wear them to
I think I’ll put on my father’s shirt
And think of the days I used to have work
I don’t need no mercy
From your heaven above…

Hanging Around is one of the album’s best tracks, making organ-driven garage-psych rock out of what’s essentially Merle Travis’ Sixteen Tons, a snide tale of a rank-and-file guy trying to seduce a devil in disguise from human resources. Notes from Denver International Airport sets a harried, harrassed post-9/11, pre-flight narrative to bluesy Highway 61 rock, with a droll faux-gospel interlude.

The album’s garagiest number is Black Kat, springboarding a feral solo from one of the guitarists. Let’s Live Like We’re Dying kicks off with a darkly oldtimey New Orleans blues sway, then takes on a Thirteenth Floor Elevators slink and rises to a mighty gospel crescendo. Upper Mississippi River Valley Girl segues out of it, a vividly twisted Midwestern carnival tableau. The album’s most noir moment is another subtly political number, Good Looking Boy, bookended around a searing fuzztone guitar solo. The album winds up with wryly amusing character study Paradise Lane, with whiplash guitar from Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello. If a clever turn of phrase set to a catchy hook is your thing, go see this guy.

Tamara Hey Represents for Real New Yorkers at the Slipper Room

The dichotomy that runs through Tamara Hey‘s music is edgy, funny, picturesque New York-centric lyrics set to catchy, upbeat tunes with a purist pop sensibliity. Likewise, she balances the crystalline, unselfconscious charm of her vocals with what can be devastatingly amusing, deadpan between-song commentary. Her music has special resonance for those who consider themselves oldschool New Yorkers: Hey is sort of a songwriting Woody Allen of the Lower East Side…minus the celebrity and the ugly backstory. She’s playing the Slipper Room (Orchard and Stanton, upstairs over the big tourist restaurant) on July 1 at 7:30 PM; cover is $10.

And because there’s always an element of surprise when she plays live, she’s worth seeing more than once: this blog managed to catch a grand total of three of her shows over the past year at the Rockwood. One was a solo gig; two were with melodic bassist Richard Hammond, who managed to do double duty as rhythmic center and lead player, no easy feat. And the songs ran the gamut. One of the most charming numbers was Oscar & Bud, a vivid, minutely detailed portrait of a retired ex-showbiz couple who happen to be the narrator’s key people (i.e. they’ve got her spare keys – it’s a New York thing). That song looked back to vintatge Tin Pan Alley.

But Hey likes to mix it up. Drive, with its soaring chorus, 9/11 reference and get-me-the-hell-out-of-here theme, looked back to new wave, as did Miserably Happy (title track to her cult classic powerpop album), which evoked Blondie’s Dreaming. The rambunctiously pulsing, doo-wop tinged Alphabet City, a shout-out to familiar LES haunts which have lately been disappearing one after the other, took on a bittersweet quality. Likewise, We Lean on Cars, a snapshot of middle-school North Bronx anomie circa the early 90s. Hey and Hammond also ran through some more wrly entertaning snapshots of city life: David #3, weighing whether or not to succumb to the allure of a Mr. Wrong, who happens to be a Red Sox fan; Mexico Money, a droll tale of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat; and You Wear Me Out, a clever number about how macho guys sometimes turn out to be the most insecure ones. The C-Note may be long gone, Lakeside Lounge too, and Cafe Pick-Me-Up is moving to East 7th Street, but Tamara Hey still represents for the neighborhood.

And when she’s not playing gigs, she’s busy running Alphabet City Music, who offer economical and informative courses in guitar and applied music theory for players of all levels. This blog covered her introductory music theory course last year and found it both immensely challenging and also immensely useful. By the way, just in case anyone might assume ulterior motives, i.e. sucking up to the prof, to explain why this blog has been at so many of her recent shows, let’s set that record straight. The course was offered during the summer; two of those shows were in the fall and one was this past January.

Matt Keating and Band Put On a Clinic in Purposeful Janglerock

Last night Matt Keating put on a fiery, jangly, two-guitar full-band show. Beyond the catchiness of the tunes and the cleverness – and frequent ferocity – of the lyrics, it was a consummate display of musicianship. Keating is a perfectly good lead guitarist in his own right, but he’d chosen this time to give that job to Steve Mayone, who put on a clinic in good taste and judicious use of as few notes as possible. Rare in a guitarist, rarer still in a lead player. Mayone’s first solo was a blue-flame scorcher that ended in a flurry of tremolo-picking, so it seemed that he’d take it even higher after that. Nope. As it turned out, he stayed on the counterintuitive tip, first choosing his spots through a series of short, bluesy, single-note leads, often using a vintage analog chorus pedal for a deliciously watery, ominous tone. As the show went on, he switched on and off between that and more of a biting, distorted timbre, finally cutting loose and blazing his way to the top of the fretboard on one of the closing numbers.

Meanwhile, bassist Jason Mercer filled the role of second lead guitarist with his lithe slides, slithery upward runs and stairstepping moves toward the looming, foggy bottom of his hollowbody Danelectro SG copy. Like Mayone, drummer and longtime Jenifer Jackson collaborator Greg Wieczorek was all about counterintuitivity, throwing elbows and unexpected accents when a space would open up. To max out the textures, he cushioned his snare with a cloth on one of the early numbers and varied his attack from song to song: sometimes he’d be hitting the snare with a stick and the rest of the kit with a bundle, or with brushes, or he’d switch from mallets to sticks as a song would rise from misterioso to anthemic. Keating began on acoustic and then switched to Strat for couple of the harder-rocking, more Stonesy songs, although he saved his most intense wailing for the acoustic on the loudest number of the night, an unhinged, practically brutal version of They’ve Thrown You Away. It’s classic Keating, a searingly imagistic Flyover America narrative that ponders a lot of things, not the least whether or not the guy with designs on the damaged woman at the center of the narrative can drive her home from her job at the roadside corporate chain since he might have gotten his license revoked for giving a cop the finger.

And where did the band decide to show off all this artistry? The Beacon? City Winery? Nope. Hifi Bar in the East Village, in the old Brownies space where Keating had played, probably more than once, twenty years ago. If that isn’t keeping it real, you figure out what is. The songs ran the gamut from some of the catchiest material on Keating’s characteristically dark new album, This Perfect Crime, to a pair of jangly powerpop set pieces – Saint Cloud and Louisiana – from his brilliant 2008 double cd, Quixotic – to the ghostly Coney Island 1910, to a slowly crescendoing take of the old crowd-pleaser Lonely Blue, on which Wieczorek started out by transforming it into trip-hop before picking up with a stadium-rock drive as the band reached for the rafters. Watch this space for upcoming hometown shows from this killer group.

No Ricolas for John Mellencamp

One of the fringe benefits of going to Carnegie Hall is the baskets of Ricolas they have outside the exits to the various spaces there. If you’re, say, a budget-conscious college kid, you can make enough of a haul of those things to get through a couple days’ worth of a nasty cold. For John Mellencamp‘s show there tonight, there were no Ricolas in sight. Although the gravelly-voiced arena rocker could have used a handful.

Busy ushers were quick to tell ticketholders that “John doesn’t like cellphones,” and that flash photography during the show would be verboten. Looking up from the orchestra level, it seemed that barely half the seats in the hall were taken. But all those people, or most of them anyway, were down on the floor, on their feet. And though it happened to be 4/20, the smell on everybody’s breath, it seemed, was booze rather than weed.

If the accents in the crowd were any indication, the former Johnny Cougar is more popular on Long Island than he is in New Jersey. It was a blue-collar demographic whose lives had gone on long after the thrill of living was gone. And a smart piece of booking for the venue, considering that few if any of those in attendance had ever been there. “There isn’t a bad seat in the house,” was a familiar refrain in between selfies against a backdrop from a previous era of robber barons in Manhattan.

Mellencamp played that song solo acoustic, reinventing it as he did many of the other radio hits, an unexpected and rather impressive move considering that he and the band could have phoned them in and probably no one would have complained.  Is that song actually sarcastic, a clever dig at the white trash Mellencamp grew up with? Probably not, but the snide Reagan recession anthem Little Pink Houses definitely is…and just like Springsteen’s Born in the USA, went over everybody’s head, at least as far as this crowd was concerned.

Much as Mellencamp has been tagged as a poor person’s Bruce, he’s actually been through several phases. It would have been cool to see him revisit his Ain’t Even Done with the Night days as a powerpop guy, but he didn’t go there. But he left no doubt that he’s a formidable bluesman, with an impassioned take of Robert Johnson’s Stones in My Passway, lead guitarist Andy York playing with his usual counterintuitive verve with a slide on a hybrid electric National steel model. Mellencamp also roared and wailed his way through some newer, similarly bluesy, gospel-tinged fire-and-brimstone Midwestern gothic anthems.

And much as this was a nostalgia trip for the crowd, Mellencamp’s still putting out new material, mostly competent if formulaic highway rock that rises to a vamping two-chord chorus with a singalong tagline. You gotta admire the guy for what he does: he’s a consummate pro. And there were moments that reminded that when he puts his mind to it, he can write a damn good song. The roar of the band’s three guitars subsumed the annoying violin-and-accordion hook on the late 80s hit Paper in Fire, an unanticipated breath of fresh air. The minor-key Human Wheels, with the night’s one interesting bassline slithering out of the chorus, was another. Too bad their version of Rain on the Scarecrow, on record one of the most excoriating Reagan-era populist broadsides, was so rote: York waited til the very end to fire off that searing, aching hook that made the single so powerful.

By the end of the show, Mellencamp had also run through some faux Waits, some secondhand Stones, a halfhearted detour into Land of a Thousand Dances and a boisterously bluesy cover that the Del-Lords did better back in the 80s. That being said, he probably could have retired a decade ago, and here he is, still out there doing what he’s always done, and finding ways to keep it from getting stale. May we all be that inspired when we hit sixty.

Ward White Plays an Enticingly Quiet, Lyrically Rich Show at the Rockwood

Ward White is New York’s preeminent literate tunesmith. His songs come across as a sort of catchy, anthemic, current-day update on Hermann Hesse’s Glass Bead Game. They bristle with references to novels, film, theate, art, history…and sometimes silly current events. For all the doomed imagery, savagery and relentless cynicism on his latest album Ward White Is the Matador, those songs can be hilarious. His stage show is the same way. It would have been fun to have been able to catch him playing a relatively rare solo acoustic set – the kind where you can really listen, and get into those lyrics, and try to figure out what the hell all those twisted stories are about – at Pete’s Candy Store a couple of weeks back. But the L wasn’t running. For those who missed that show – or White’s searing electric show with his band at the big room at the Rockwood last month – he’s making another semi-rare acoustic appearance at the small room there at 9 PM on March 31. It’s a good segue, actually, because White’s a criminally good guitarist and he’s followed on the bill at 10 PM by another mean picker, bluegrass maven Michael Daves, who’s playing his weekly Rockwood residency.

That February show there was much like White’s fiery Bowery Electric album release show late last year. Violinist Claudia Chopek fueled the centerpiece of both the show and the album, Bikini – a reference to the radioactive South Pacific bombsite rather than beachwear – with her knifes-edge, shivery crescendos. Bassist Bryan Smith fired off boomy, muscular low-register chords coupled to nimbly catchy hooks further up the fretboard. While it’s not like White – who alternated between punchy glamrock hooks, resonant jangle and soaring leads all night – really needs a lead guitarist, Smith filled that role when the music got quieter. Visually, the star of the show was harmony singer Victoria Liedtke, who balanced a stoic Lynch girl presence with some pricelesss cat-ate-the-canary expressions in response to White’s banter, which were every bit as as funny as the songs’ double entendres and references to things like mylar balloons.

That’s what one of the night’s best songs was centered around, an offhandedly chilling hospital scene set to a allusively balmy ballad backdrop – mylar balloons are those shiny things you can get in any hospital gift shop, White explained. The understatedly creepy, retro 60s pop of Dolores on the Dotted Line was as suspenseful and offhandedly apt a portrait of control-freak sadism as it is on album. The album’s pulsing opening number, Sabbath, was as amusing as it was ineluctably bleak. In between, White cracked up the crowd with the S&M Bacharach bossa nova of Alphabet of Pain as well as plenty of sardonic between-song one-liners, but he didn’t do much explaining when it came to the songs. Although he did allude to references to both an unnamed Kurosawa film and a David Foster Wallace novel in one of the set’s later numbers. Go to the Tuesday night show and find out what else you missed.

The Irrepressible Deena Shoshkes Opens a Night of Cult Favorites This Friday in Park Slope

Some music you can listen to pretty much anytime. Deena Shoshkes‘ music is what you might want to hear when you DON’T want to hear noiserock…or eardrum-smashing jazz improvisation…or doom metal. It’s upbeat and fun and cheery without being bland. For the longest time, Shoshkes fronted the Cucumbers, one of the defining Hoboken bands of the 80s and 90s. Her chirpy high soprano and irrepressible charm won the group an avid cult following, as well as earning a curmudgeonly backlash from a faction who found the band terminally cute. In the years since, Shoshkes has gotten more in touch with her lower register, has added a tinge of smoke and plenty of welcome nuance to her vocals. She’s opening a historically rich triplebill of cult favorites with her band the Laughing Boys at Union Hall in Park Slope this Friday night, March 20 at 8:30 PM followed by downtown NYC postpunk supergroup Heroes of Toolik and then Hoboken janglerock vets Speed the Plow at around 10:30. Cover is $10.

Shoshkes’ latest album Rock River is streaming at Spotify. Her calling cards are craft and a sense of humor. On one level, she takes what does does completely seriously, but she doesn’t seem to take herself seriously at all, and the result is infectious. After awhile, it’s hard to be curmudgeonly, you just start bobbing your head and humming along. A droll spin of the maracas here; a lush waterfall of twelve-string jangle there; a little silly P-Funk portamento synth; references to Brill Building pop, vintage C&W, the majestic clang of the Church in the 80s, even 90s trip-hop in the spirit of edgier bands like Madder Rose.

Her longtime fellow Cucumber Jon Fried adds southern-fried [resisting the urge to say cucumber!} flavor to the punchy opening track, My Own Advice. Longtime Hoboken (ok, ex-Hoboken) luminaries Rebecca Turner and Elena Skye make a Spectoresque chorus on All She Wrote, which sounds like a L’il Mo country crowdpleaser. There are a couple of pensively swaying ventures into Tex-Mex balladry. There’s a soaring country anthem spiced with Jonathan Gregg’s washes of pedal steel that wouldn’t be out of place in the Amy Allison songbook. There’s a saucy organ-and-horn-driven soul groove. Other tracks channels watery new wave and wistful chamber pop. And just when Shoshkes has you thinking that all this is about the hooks and the arrangements, she zings you with a line like “Lost a lot a long time ago in the backdrop of her eyes.”

You aren’t going to hear her sing about how the remains of the Fukushima reactors keep leaking into the Pacific, and that it’s going to kill every living thing on the planet if we don’t stop the deluge. Expecting her to do a song about the Pentagon trying to engineer regime change in Russia – and inciting a global nuclear holocaust – would be a bit of a stretch. Shoshkes seems more content working the corners of a song, intricately and thoughtfully, and having so much fun with it that it makes you jealous. You can get that kind of jealous this Friday in Brooklyn.

Paula Carino’s Edgy, Lyrical Original Band Makes a Brilliant Return

Paula Carino is one of the half-dozen smartest rock songwriters of the past twenty years. She hasn’t been as prolific as, say, Richard Thompson or Elvis Costello, and she came up a couple of generations after them, but she’s just as clever a wordsmith and as catchy a tunesmith. It’s impossible to imagine a better album released in 2010 than her bittersweet Open on Sunday, or for that matter, a more richly tuneful, lyrical 2002 release than the somewhat more powerpop-flavored Aquacade. Most recently, Carino has resurrected her original band, Regular Einstein, who had been dormant since the mid-zeros. They’ve got a characteristically melodic, lyrically rich new album, Chimp Haven, streaming at Bandcamp and an album release show at 10 PM on March 20 at Rock Shop in Gowanus. It’s a great twinbill, with the similarly smart, intense Lazy Lions also playing the album release show for their excellent new one and headlining at 11. Cover is $10.

Regular Einstein’s new record opens with Mayor Beam: it’s an unexpected departure toward insistent, downstroke-driven postpunk, with some dreampop swirl in there as well. The lyrics mirror the enigmatic melody. Carino’s cool, resonant vocals channel a relentless unease:

We wanna stop the bad guys
We wanna yank the thread
And then end up pulling wool over our own heads
But far away a flare is fired into the freezing air…
Mayor Beam is always hiding, guiding us

Those outside New York might miss the pun in the title: Abraham Beame was the New York City mayor in office during the “Bronx is burning” era in the 70s and the city’s plunge toward bankruptcy.

Jimmyville is a triumphant escape anthem fueled by drummer Nancy Polstein’s artful, hard-hitting drive and lead guitarist Dave Benjoya’s raga-ish licks. The punchy Three-Legged Race, a sardonic breakup anthem, recalls the early Kinks, Benjoya adding swirly organ and honking harmonica. Carino, always a tremendously good singer with her cool, crystalline alto voice, has never sung with more velvety nuance than she does here: “I’ll watch your back ’cause there’s nothing left to see,” she intones.

Bassist Andy Mattina’s dancing lines propel the paisley underground-tinged Hydrangea, a love song that seems hopeful at first and then predictably hits a bump in the road. Bad Actor is pretty straight-up punk rock: “I’m an amateur production of A Streetcar Named Desire,” Carino broods, “When you start that smooth talk I’m Madonna in Shanghai Surprise.” Evolution welds Benjoya’s dixie-fried lines to Carino’s scratchy postpunk rhythm over a waltz beat, a wry look at what it truly might mean to be evolving.

Another snarling, punk-infused number, Queens Tornado has Carino riffing on a completely unexpected, metaphorically-charged storm that leaves carnage across the whole borough, “from Forest Hills to Jamaica Bay, Flushing our Sunnyside away.” Polstein’s jungly tom-toms give the album’s Link Wray-tinged title track an uneasy undercurrent,

At this point, the band sticks with a punky psychedelic tangent throughout Old People, a funny, older song and a big audience favorite: “They’re a living affront to the sexual hunt…old people must go, set them all on an ice floe,” Carino deadpans. Never Saw It Coming has a catchiness that contrasts with its grim lyrics: it marks the first point on the album where Carino indulges her love for odd meters.

The Good Times is the albun’s most unexpectedly savage and arguably best track, a noirish 6/8 soul anthem that reaches haphazardly toward some better future that doesn’t exactly seem to be on the way. The album winds up with the deliriously catchy, upbeat Coming to My Senses and its delicious bed of alternately watery and skittish guitar multitracks. It’s classic Carino with a little more guitar energy: Dann Baker‘s production aptly captures the buzz and roar without muting it. Watch for this on the best albums of 2015 page here at the end of the year if we’re all still here.

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