New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Tag: powerpop

Catchy Powerpop and Dark Female-Fronted Punk Sounds in Astoria This Friday Night

Giftshop have been one of New York’s most distinctively catchy bands for more than a decade. Under the best circumstances, that kind of tenacity is rare. At this point in history, it’s even more of an achievement that the punk/powerpop quartet not only survived the lockdown but managed to put out some great singles over the last several months. Frontwoman Meghan Taylor is bringing the band, her powerful pipes and simmering, sardonic songs to a gig on May 20 at 9 PM at the Shillelagh Tavern, 47-22 30th Ave. in Astoria; take the N/R to 46th St.

Giftshop are also the rare band who have figured out the marketing value in putting their studio work out as free downloads: truth in advertising. Their most recent album, Biginastoria, does not seem to be the least bit sarcastically titled. A previous release, Tourist Trap goes back to 2013, has a louder punk rock crunch.

The opening track, Left Right would have ruled the college airwaves if the band had existed thirty years earlier. It’s a snide antiauthoritarian blend of skittish late 70s XTC new wave with a harder-edged, syncopated New York stomp.

Shine is not the Psychedelic Furs classic but a catchy, slurry riff-rock anthem. Anything Anything is a throwback to Garbage (or Missing Persons, ten years before that), with a surprise bass solo.

Taylor sends a ridiculously funny shout-out to a distinctly New England breed of dirtbag party animal in Parking Lot Astronaut, then the band blast through You Can’t Make Me at practically hardcore speed. They wind up the record with C’mon, which seems designed for audience participation. This is a fun look back to a time when the group wasn’t quite so dark or complex; then again, that could be said for the world in general.

Charismatic Road Warriors Frenchy & the Punk Bring Their High Energy Show to Queens This Evening

Before the lockdown, Frenchy & the Punk were one of the hardest-working bands touring the world. The duo of singer/dancer Samantha Stephenson and guitarist Scott Helland got their start when steampunk was all the rage and have since taken a turn in a harder-rocking direction than their original mix of noir cabaret and circus rock. The good news is that they’re playing again, with a show tonight, May 8 at 5 PM on the trailer in the back of the parking lot at Culture Lab in Long Island City.

Their most recent single, The Storm Is a Call For Rebuilding, is a rousing, Celtic-tinged protest song from the desperate days of August, 2020:

Watch who the leaders trample on
You might be next if in the way of their throne
Hear their words but judge on what they’ve done
It’s too easy to sway the unguarded
Oh, dance in the rain but see beyond the fog…

The single before that was a biting acoustic-electric cover of the Nerves’ Hanging on the Telephone, which beats the more famous Blondie version.

The band’s most recent album is Hooray Beret, which came out in 2019. They really mix it up on this one. The opening number is an unexpectedly successful detour into funk. From there they go into a lot of riffy powerpop in a more acoustic Joan Jett vein, Stephenson’s throaty wail over Helland’s punchy guitar and bass multitracks.

In the middle of all that, there’s Sing, bouncy cautionary tale that’s the band’s equivalent of Pink Floyd’s Time. There’s Monsters, a brisk but ominously pulsing take on the acoustic goth pop Siouxsie took with Christine. “They’ve disguised themselves as shepherds….it’s up to us to break the cycle,” Stephenson insists.

Stephenson switches to her native French for Oo La La, a catchy blend of vintage Squeeze and All Along the Watchtower. Onstage, Helland plays with a loop pedal, giving the duo a louder, lusher sound than most two-piece acts. Fun fact: Helland’s solo work is 180 degrees from his high-energy attack in this project. His instrumental loopmusic albums are fantastic if you like ambient, ethereal sounds.

Giftshop Bring Their Catchy, Powerful Tunesmithing to a Benefit for Ukraine on the 30th

Giftshop are a throwback to an era when loud guitar-driven three-minute songs were an art form. This blog has called the band the missing link between Blondie and the Distillers. At this point in their career, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that they’re a crunchier version of the Go-Go’s. Their worldview is sharp, their songwriting is wickedly catchy and retro in a classic late 70s CBGB-style powerpop vein, and frontwoman Meghan Taylor has one of the most memorable, powerful wails of any singer in New York They’re headlining a benefit for Ukraine this weekend at Otto’s at around 9 PM on April 30. It’s a pass-the-bucket situation with all proceeds going to Razom for Ukraine. The Sloe Guns, who have been one of New York’s smartest Americana bands for going on two decades, play before at around 8.

Giftshop also know know something about marketing: practically their entire output since 2012 is up at their music page as a free download, and all of it is worth owning. This is the giftshop that keeps on giving! Their most recent singles are particularly choice. The newest and best one is More Than That, a searing reminiscence of the “wasted time and wasted years” since March of 2020, referencing Big Pharma fearmongering and “weaponized hugs.” It could be the best song of the year so far.

Another good one is Kewl With Me, a pulsing, riff-driven early new wave era-style number and showcase for Taylor’s powerful pipes. Matt Santoro varies his guitar textures from jangle to roar over Damian Eckstein’s buzzy bass and Jordan Kramer’s drums in Stylish Junkie, a snarling, sarcastic slap upside of the head of a girl who puts “the under in underwear.”

Their most recent album, Biginastoria came out in 2019. It’s one catchy, tantalizingly brief nonconformist anthem after another, They open it with We Want You, a sarcastically marching, synthy new wave tune, then Taylor takes aim at narcissistic trendoid groupthink in Same: “The rest of us just don’t buy in,” is the mantra.

They reach an early X-style punk stomp in Stacked, a dig at phony rebels, and then hit a hardcore sprint in Things I Feel, over in less than a minute and a half. They close with a deliciously rampaging cover of the Motorhead classic Ace of Spades – it ranks with the Avengers’ version of Paint It Black.

A Strong Guitar-Fueled Quadruplebill in Bushwick on the 14th

Since the more financially sensible New York venues have been dropping apartheid restrictions on entry, is there anything left of the rock scene here? Happily, yes, and it looks like Our Wicked Lady in Bushwick is leading the way. There’s an excellent punk and punk-adjacent bill coming up on April 14 starting at around 8 with catchy female-fronted powerpop/janglerock band the Rizzos, then cynical punks Duke of Vandals, the fearlessly pro-immigrant, all-female Frida Kill and kinetic no-wavers Weeping Icon topping the bill at around 11. The club webpage says cover is $11.33 which realistically translates to twelve bucks at the door.

The Rizzos go back awhile: they’ve been around at least since contributing the best song on a 2014 King Pizza holiday compilation, a sludgy powerpop number where frontwoman/guitarist Megan Mancini announces that “Everyone’s excited for Christmas except for me.” They released their limited-edition cassette How It Was at the end of last year, and it’s still available and streaming at Bandcamp.

Mancini is a down-to-earth, unselfconsciously strong singer and a catchy tunesmith, joining forces with six-stringer Joshua Park for a tasty, beefy blend of distorted guitar. Drummer Bettina Warshaw grounds the band’s roaring powerpop songs with the heavy foot they deserve. They open the record with Lost Boys, an amped-up, stomping take on Brian Jonestown Massacre-style post-Velvets rock.

Bassist Justin Ferraro soars up the fretboard behind the roar of the catchy chords in the second track, Way Out. Other cuts which stand out are Breslin, which is a cut above your standard-issue skittish Velvets rock; the bittersweet Nowhere in Particular; Heavy Song, a richly textured, anthemic ballad; and the album’s most retro and arguably catchiest track, Crybaby.

It’s reassuring to know that there are still bands this good who’ve survived the past two years of hell. For those who might be thinking about this show but put off by the location – “Ewwww, Bushwick!” – consider that much of the crowd who invaded over the past several years have since gone home to mommy.

Singles for the Last Week of March

Gonna keep the playlist short and sweet today. Some funny stuff, some dark stuff: same old. Click on artist names for their webpages, click on titles for audio or video.

Since June of 2020, Media Bear has put out a barrage of protest songs set to tunes from across the ages, starting with spoofs of 80s pop and moving forward. All of them, and the videos as well, are pretty hilarious. The most obvious and maybe most ridiculously funny one is Because I Complied. Just so you get the joke, the chorus is “Because I complied, because I complied, because I complied.”

Here’s a snarky new 90-second Peggy Hall comedy clip: she considers what your doctor would have said to you in, say, 2019, if you walked in and asked them to test you for something twice a week.

Disturbed’s dirgey art-rock cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence has a killer video by Sage Hana. The song itself isn’t quite is good as the Move’s version but it still packs a punch.

To 10 (as in turn it up to 10) by guitarist Sylvia Rose Novak is catchy powerpop with an early 90s angularity. You wouldn’t think it works but it does – and no autotune on the vocals either

Love’s Sudden Death, by Darkher is a gritty melange of doom metal, Renaissance fair folk and 90s trip-hop, in a dark Portishead vein

Let’s end this on a fun, high energy note with New Stamp (that’s Australian slang – you figure it out), by Andy Golledge. It’s a mashup of Legendary Shack Shakers hillbilly noir and Oasis. Thanks to Micky C. – always on top of what’s happening down under – for the heads-up on this one.

Some Catchy Songs and a Real Heartbreaking One

Been awhile since there’s been a playlist on this page. Four songs in twelve minutes for your listening pleasure. Click on the song title for audio, click on the artist name for their webpage.

Night Palace‘s Jessica Mystic is a drifty, wistful Lynchian jangle-and-keys pop song with a ska-tinged alto sax solo. It all works: go figure.

Churchyard. by Ex-Void is a blast of female-fronted powerpop that’s over in a minute 58. The chorus is “I get so bored.” But not by this song.

Joydah Mae gives us Hands Off Our Children, a big acoustic singalong anthem for our time: “Which side of history will you participate in?”

Warning: this last one will bring tears to your eyes. Teenage songwriter Julie Elizabeth couldn’t record her song Silence because she took the kill shot, “Thinking this would save me, I did what you asked me to…I was loyal to the fight, I lined right up to do what’s right.” And now this up-and-coming performer is too badly crippled to perform. Her friend April recorded it – and sang truth to power over a backing track at the freedom rally at the Lincoln Memorial last Sunday.

Two Finnish Femmes Fatales Join Voices in Big Anthems with Loud Guitars

Finland is free again! So the time has come to celebrate a Finnish metal siren summit. On their new album The Reckoning- streaming at SpotifySmackbound lead singer Netta Laurenne joins forces with Battle Beast frontwoman Noora Louhimo. The two complement each other: if anything, Louhimo gets Laurenne to air out her gritty lower register, while Laurenne pushes her bandmate further toward operatics. It’s not a stretch for either singer, but it’s fun to hear the role reversal.

The band – Samy Elbanna on lead guitar, Nino Laurenne on rhythm guitar, Pasi Heikkilä on bass, Vili Itäpelto on keys and Sampo Haapaniemi on drums – make their way through a symphonic series of tempo changes in Time to Kill the Night, a warmly determined ballad. Elbanna kicks off his solo with some machete tremolo-picking; “I have been holding onto promises too long,” the two women harmonize.

The Reckoning, a catchy, stomping powerpop dig-in-and-fight anthem, is followed by Tongue of Dirt, more of a pop song at heart. The drama rises toward stormy classical territory in Striking Like a Thunder (hey, these women are Finns, cut them some slack).

Bitch Fire – yeah, that language thing again, perkele!– is a rapidfire, gleefully venomous riff-rocker, followed by the slow, swaying piano ballad Hurricane Love, Louhimo rising out of a subdued, solemn intro.

The two women go back to defiant backbeat anthem territory in the next track, To the Wall. Remember when just a couple of years ago, choruses like “We’re gonna fight til we all are free, it’s time to be who we’re born to be” were considered cheesy?

Laurenne raises the angst factor in Viper’s Kiss, awash in clouds of distorted guitars and 80s keyboards. Louhimo brings a throaty intensity over alternately thrashy and lingering guitars in Walk Through Fire. The duo save the album’s real stunner, Dancers of Truth, for last, taking a mysterious late 60s style latin soul tune into the here and now, with extra crunch and sizzle.

Battle Beast’s next gig on their home turf is Dec 1 at around 10 PM at Keruti in Joensuu, Finland; cover is €32,50.

Another Allusively Menacing, Lyrical Masterpiece From Ward White

Ward White is the Elvis Costello of the 21st century. Nobody does deviously whirlwind literary wordplay and catchy tunesmithing better. Like Costello, White is prolific – thirteen albums, including his latest, The Tender Age, streaming at Bandcamp. His influences are vast, he thinks outside the box, but he’s had the good sense to resist getting in over his head (Elvis C turned out to be great at string quartets but was, um, less successful with opera buffo and hip-hop). And White is arguably even darker than the past century’s greatest songwriter.

And he’s a hell of a lead guitarist, and a damn good bass player too. The new album features his longtime collaborators Tyler Chester on keys and the Wallflowers’ Mark Stepro on drums. This is their best album together: they’ve become White’s Attractions. Tenacious D bassist John Spiker engineered with his usual retro purism and flair.

Allusive violence and an ever-present menace have come to permeate most of White’s most recent material. The first track, Dirty Clouds, is a slow, funk-tinged number, Chester’s echoey Wurlitzer percolating beneath White’s dissociatively grim imagery. Check out the hilarious video – is this a metaphor for media terrormongering? Maybe a little bit. There are innumerable levels of meaning in White’s songs: they don’t just stand up to repeated listening, they require it. Catchy as his catalog is, it’s not for people with short attention spans or the faint of heart.

Track two, Easy Meat is one of White’s more sinisterly evocative narratives, vintage 80s powerpop pulsing along on a tense new wave beat, with a spacerock guitar solo at the center. Reduced to lowest terms, it’s about acting on impulses that would be unthinkable to anyone outside, say, the Gates Foundation or the California governor’s office.

Rhyme schemes, metaphors and reflections on anomie fly fast and furious in the Bowie-tinged Let’s Don’t Die At the Stoplight – like the gunfire White once found himself caught in while waiting at an intersection:

It’s not what he expects
But how he expects it
So quick to arrive
So grisly an exit
The eye takes an eye
And the windshield reflects it
You can put it into gear again….

White imagines Chet Baker in the afterlife, trying to pull himself together in Dentures, a mashup of piano-fueled Bowie balladry and Richard Thompson ghoulishness:

You’re either making art or getting paid
And the angel licked his nails and thought,
“All the really good ones die afraid.”
Put down your horn, you won’t need it
The day you’re born, you’re defeated…

Chester’s enigmatic organ solo is spot-on beyond belief.

On Foot, a brisk new wave/powerpop burner, is a murder ballad: the cruellest joke is musical rather than lyrical. The most Bowie-inspired song here is the album’s bittersweetly catchy title track, White channeling Mick Ronson with his solo in a surreal tale of a LA cop casually making a shocking existential choice.

One of White’s recurrent themes is the question of where everyday mishegas crosses the line, whether that might endanger merely the crazy person or everyone around them. Gail, Where’s Your Shoes is a prime example, complete with tantalizingly woozy guitar solo. Is this a thinly veiled portrait of a woman pouring herself out of a cab on a Williamsburg avenue in the fall of 2006? Hmm…..

White builds a more overtly cynical, vengeful narrative over Stonesy sarcasm in Wasn’t It Here: as he does throughout the album, Stepro’s casual flurries drive the murderous point home. White hits his chorus pedal for icy 80s gloss in Heavy Lifting, the album’s funniest number.

“Suicide rates are an urban myth if you look into it,” White’s titular Karate Dentist relates over a backdrop that could be Steely Dan at their most rocking, White closes the album with Monrovia, a distantly Turkish (or Smiths) tinged kiss-off anthem, and the only place where he stops trying to conceal the snarl beneath the surface. He’s no stranger to best-albums-of-the-year list here: his 2013 album Bob and his 2020 release Leonard at the Audit both topped the full-length charts here, and this may end up at the top of the crop of 2021 as well.

Patti Smith Plays Prophetic Powerpop in Central Park

Have you seen the anti-discrimination signs? They’re popping up in the windows of small businesses all over town. Even on the conformist-AF Upper West Side.

“We shall live again,” Patti Smith intoned to start her Central Park show last night. And encored with People Have the Power. There’s a sea change going on.

Smith’s show had been moved abruptly from the expansive Rumsey Playfield lawn to the much smaller Summerstage arena space. Set time had also been changed: she hit the stage sometime after 8. Likewise, if Antibalas played the park on Saturday, the time and venue had been changed as well. Apologies to readers of the live music calendar here who might have been led astray – some of those listings date back to when those shows were first announced.

Constantly flipping the script is a hallmark of abusive relationships, whether between a couple, parents and children, or on a societal scale. You do the math.

There was another odd kind of arithmetic at play here. Before the lockdown, Smith would routinely sell out a weeklong year-end stand at Bowery Ballroom, at outrageous prices. This show was free. Yet the arena never reached capacity. What’s more, a steady trickle of concertgoers slowly – s l o w l y – being let in by security was matched by twice as many people traipsing out, beginning at the start of the show. And although the party on the slope out behind the space was much more lively, much of Smith’s diehard fanbase had clearly stayed away.

That’s because proof of being part of a lethal injection campaign, which completely stalled out several weeks ago, was required for entry. Europeans come out in the millions to protest fascist takeovers. Australians bust through police barricades. Americans just stand firm and wait it out.

Smith’s set went on for short of an hour. Opening with Ghost Dance was characteristic of this ageless sage, who shows no sign of slowing down. This was the powerpop set: rather than pouncing on the syncopation on the chorus of Pissing in a River, she and the band motored through the changes with a lingering burn.

Although there were quiet moments – it was impossible to hear any of Smith’s poetry, or her remarks to the crowd from outside the space – most of the material was backbeat rock hits, starting with Dancing Barefoot and continuing with Because the Night. Lenny Kaye limited his lead guitar pyrotechnics to a couple of blue-flame solos, moving around edgily against a resonating string, raga style. Speaking of ragas, the night’s longest interlude was a mostly acoustic, Indian-flavored jam which ended with Smith roaring that “The future is NOW!”

Bassist Tony Shanahan’s soaring, melodic lines were serendipitously high in the mix, most enjoyably in his reggae leads in Ain’t It Strange. From there on, it was all rock, beginning with a stripped-down cover of the Stones’ I’m Free wrapped around a verse of Take a Walk on the Wild Side – subtext, anyone? An assertive bit of Horses set up a steady, resolute G-l-o-r-i-a. And soon afterward, it was over. “Patti Smith! A full moon!” a pretty blonde woman enthused to a bearded man on the hill behind the space. “She picked the right night!” he grinned back. Both were off by a day – the full moon is tonight.

A Searingly Catchy, Relevant New Album From Powerpop Icon Willie Nile

Willie Nile needs no introduction to fans of catchy powerpop anthems: he’s been one of the great practitioners of the art since the late 70s. He’s always had a populist streak, but his new album The Day the Earth Stood Still – streaming at Bandcamp – is his most fearlessly political album ever. It’s also one of his three or four best, right up there with Beautiful Wreck of the World and the sizzling Live at Mercury Lounge. Not bad for a guy who could have hung it up years ago and still would have been a first-ballot hall of famer.

Is this a lockdown parable? It could be – or maybe it’s simply a narrative of greed, deceit and ultimately, karmic payback. He doesn’t waste any time launching into the title track. By ten seconds in, all the nuts and bolts in Nile’s toolkit are in place: a solid four-on-the-floor beat, layers of guitar jangle and clang and roar, steady bass and torrential organ. The production is luscious, and Nile’s signature blend of lyrical surrealism and slash is as potent as ever, in this momentary, apocalyptic cautionary tale:

When the ABC’s of logic
Meet the CEO’s of greed
And the SRO’s of loneliness
Cry out and start to bleed
There comes a time for judgment
A time to pay the bill
And that is just the way it was
The day the earth stood still….
I saw grown men crying, making out their will
The day the earth stood still…

Nile channels a new wave stadium-rock catchiness in Sanctuary, which doesn’t have any political content. Where There’s a Willie There’s a Way is a song that needed to be written – and it’s good this guy wrote it, a defiant, punchy update on Buddy Holly.

Steve Earle guests on the stomping, venomous Blood on Your Hands, a shot across the bow at oligarchs everywhere:

Well you can dance with the devil
And you can run with the lord
And you can buy all the glory
That your conscience can afford
But there will come a day
When the pony gets played
When the goose gets cooked
When the piper gets paid
Blood on your hands, blood on your hands
There’s cracks in the walls of your best-laid plans
Blood on your hands, blood on your feet
There’s bodies piled up down on Blueblood Street

Nile moves to piano for The Justice Bell, a slow but resolute number dedicated to Civil Rights crusader and congressman John Lewis.

Fueled by a slinky, loopy minor-key bass, Expect Change is a creepy, unsettled psychedelic disco song and possibly the key to the album:

Hear the call
Hear the drumming
Say a mantra, say a prayer
Idols falling everywhere
Difference melting in the snow
Can you feel the wild wind blow

I Don’t Remember You begins as the most rustic, folky song Nile’s ever recorded: there’s wry sarcasm in that title. If you think that Off My Medication is just another bizarrely funny, free-associative, garage-rocking Nile narrative, wait til you get to the second verse. Then he slows down for I Will Stand, a gentle, richly textured, crescendoing ballad.

There’s more psychedelic disco-funk with Time to Be Great, an optimistic strut with one of the album’s best guitar solos. Nile winds up the album with Way of the Heart, which sounds a lot like the Jayhawks’ recent material and also has some sizzling guitar breaks. It may be one of the slowest years on record for rock albums, but this one’s on the shortlist for best of 2021.