New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Tag: psychedelic pop

Playful Cosmopolitan Songs and a Falafel Hill Album Release Show From Eclectic Chanteuse Ourida

Algerian-French-American singer Ourida was making tracks in the small-club scene in New York before the 2020 lockdown crushed the arts here. The good news is that this irrepressible, genre-defying songwriter is back in action, with a new album, Wings, which hasn’t hit her Bandcamp page yet. She’s playing the album release show on June 21 at 7:30 at a new venue, Atlantic Brooklyn at 333 Atlantic Ave. just off Hoyt. Cover is $15; it’s about equidistant from the Atlantic Ave. station and the F at Bergen St.

On the album, she sings in expressive English and French, and plays both keys and ukulele, joined by Jonathan Levy on guitar and bass, Eli Crews (who also produced) on EWI, theremin and optigon, and Joe Hertenstein on drums.

The first song, simply titled Blues, is a more psychedelic, dubwise take on dark Amy Winehouse soul that draws a line straight back to Nina Simone. Ourida and band go for a cheerily minimalist trip-hop vibe in the second track, Don’t Talk. She sticks to a similar 90s groove, switching to French for track three, Deux Guitares, lightly spiced with violin from Ernesto Llorens.

Kane Mathis adds warily spare oud in Berlin, a surreal, shadowy rai-cabaret number with an unexpectedly towering, intense coda. Ourida returns to the piano for the hypnotically vampy Bees and follows that with G Train, a catchy, stomping uke-rock salute to the lure of deep-Brooklyn nightlife.

Siren Song, a coyly swaying nocturne, has two basses on it: that’s Panagiotis Andreou on electric and Or Bareket on acoustic. Levy’s film-noir reverb guitar trades off eerily with Mathis’ oud in Porte de la Chapelle, a shout-out to the Paris neighborhood. She stays in broodingly catchy North African/Parisian mode for the next track, Joker.

Ourida and the band rise from a brisk hip-hop groove to a whirling circus rock atmosphere in L’emeute (“Uprising”). The longest and trippiest number here is a mysteriously cut-and-pasted, dubby take of Leonard Cohen’s Dance Me to the End of Love. The album’s final cut is Home. a benedictory gospel tune that wouldn’t be out of place in the Rachelle Garniez catalog. This record grows on you: the arrangements are stark and imaginative and Ourida’s joie de vivre is infectious.

Bounce Away into the Ether with Night Palace

Night Palace play catchy, dreamy singalong tunes. Frontwoman/keyboardist Avery Leigh Draut’s songcraft is an individualistic blend of early zeros stadium rock and clever, bouncy, often psychedelic 60s pop with jaunty classical flourishes. Their debut album Diving Rings is streaming at Bandcamp.

The first track, one of a handful of diptychs, is Into the Wake/Mystified, a swooshy stadium-dance tune with some neat touches like a jagged reverb-guitar break and a ELO-pop chorus. That dynamic sets the stage for much of the rest of the record, starting with the second cut, Strange Powers, with an enveloping/biting contrast between Draut’s string synth, Zack Milster’s snappy bass and Dillon McCabe’s surreal, warpy guitar.

Enjoy the Moon is aptly titled, with Draut’s lush, bright, nocturnal sheets of keys and fluttery clarinet over drummer William Kissane’s skittish beat:

When the room is full of men in hats
Cardboard conversations
I talk to the cat

The band bail on what’s rapidly developing into a catchy, swaying anthem in the next track, Sleeptalk Interlude, then segue into Jessica Mystic, a bittersweet sunshine pop song which with more retro production would have been a big hit if this was 1978. They go back to drifting, spacy chamber pop for Fig Dream, awash in cleverly arranged baroque synth-and-clarinet orchestration.

They open Nightshade with a loopy, Vivaldiesque intro, then McCabe kicks off Nightshade with his tasty, reverbtoned, surfy lines before Draut brings in a balmy, bittersweet theme spiced with bright clarinet work. The album’s dreamiest track is Titania, floating on a cloud of alternately spacy and twinkly synth and spiky guitar fingerpicking.

They close the record with a final diptych: the brief music-box theme Fig Dream and then Silken Ilk, akin to a mashup of Chicano Batman and Sean Lennon, with a woman out front. Close your eyes, feel the warm twilight breeze and the stars smiling down on this comfortable, secluded sonic cove.

Quirky, Individualistic, Shapeshifting Catalan Songwriting From Singer Magali Sare

You have to have a sense of humor to call your album “Sponge.” Catalan singer Magali Sare‘s new release, Eponja – streaming at Spotify – is playful and a lot of fun, although there’s a recurrent dark undercurrent. That’s no surprise, considering that it’s a coming-of-age record . Sare is a very eclectic singer and can reach spectacular heights. She comes out of a classical background, but here she shifts mostly between carefree trip-hop, sprightly chamber pop and more techy sounds, along with upbeat Catalan folk. If Bjork was Catalan, she might sound something like this. Sare’s inspired, purposeful band includes pianist Marta Pons, guitarist Sebastià Gris, bassist Vic Moliner and drummer Dídak Fernàndez along with occasional strings.

The lilting opening lullaby is aptly titled Hola, Sare’s voice trailing off with a little brittle vibrato at the end of a phrase. She follows with Mañana, a coy, fingersnapping mashup of trip-hop and tango: as Sare observes, love and freedom are one and the same.

Crooner Salvador Sobral joins in a rousing duet on Sempre Vens Assim (roughly translated: Your Usual Steez), rising to a mighty peak with a choir of voices and a little jaunty salsa piano. Sare reaches from a pensively fingerpicked verse to soaring choruses, toward the top of her register, in the album’s title track. It’s a somewhat more sobering look back on how children develop an ethical sensibility (the song is a lot more fun than such an explanation would imply).

Sare packs torrents of lyrics into a quirky but pensive trip-hop cabaret tune in Malifetes (Mischief), an account of a conflicted adolescence. The key line, roughly translated, is “I was emotionally blackmailed.” The deliriously crescendoing love song ETC features flamenco band Las Migas: lively verse, swoony chorus.

The narrative hits a bump in the road with No Se, circling piano phrases anchoring Sare’s metaphorically loaded account of literally being left out in the cold. A spoken-word piece set to a trippy, echoey backdrop, No Se Cantar is an amusing catalog of reasons to sing (including simply to shake people up a little).

Inframon (Underworld) is a brightly resonant tableau in contrast with Sare’s lyrics about dealing with the dark side: “You just know you’ve been there once you’re out and you aren’t afraid of falling in,” essentially. She reverts to a twinkly trip-hop ambience in M’ai Vist Mai Plorar (I’ve Never Seen You Cry): “Watch the wind lift the broken veil,” Sare muses.

She follows with the Mediterranean-tinged, elegantly fingerpicked seduction scenario No Te Edat (rough translation: Timeless), and then Niña Mujer (Womanchild), a pensive psychedelic pop study in contradictions. She closes the album with its lone classical interlude, a stately, energetic canon. You don’t have to speak Catalan to enjoy this smartly individualistic, constantly shapeshifting collection.

Sami Stevens Brings Her Blue-Flame Soul Intensity to the Lower East Side

Sami Stevens was sixteen when she sang the national anthem at Fenway Park. That’s a gig that’s just as difficult to get as it is to pull off. If there’s video evidence, it’s well hidden, which is too bad. It’s a fair bet that she hit it out of the park, sometime around the tail end of the Tito Francona era, in the years when the Red Sox were struggling to sustain the level they’d reached after their 2007 world championship.

More recently, Stevens has become one of the most electrifying singers in New York. She’s the not-so-secret weapon in faux-Italian psychedelic soundtrack band Tredici Bacci, and before the lockdown held down a popular residency at the Parkside in Ditmas Park. She’s back at an old haunt, the small room at the Rockwood in a couple of days, at 8 PM on April 28.

Stevens put out the full-length album And I’m Right in 2017 with her band And the Man I Love, which is still up at Bandcamp. The production is refreshingly oldschool, organic and features a full band with horns, shades of early Lake Street Dive. Stevens’ songwriting isn’t constrained to four minutes or less, and her songs are spiced with thoughtful sax solos and keyboard work (Stevens plays piano; it’s not clear if that’s her on the record). The title track to that one is a good indication of the kind of simmering intensity she channels onstage, a big, wounded, gospel-tinged struggler’s anthem in 6/8 time.

Stevens works a slinky/slashing dichotomy in Over and Over, another catchy, expansive ballad. She takes a more breathily expressive approach to Baby Blue, a retro Bill Withers-style tune, then follows a simmering, gospel-fueled upward trajectory in Where Will I Find My Best Friend. Then she picks up the pace with A Child They Said Was Mine, a parable of urban disquiet that rings just as true now

There’s also the catchy, steady self-empowerment strut Learn to Love, with its fluttery horns and starry keys; She Is God, a spine-tingling, impassioned shout-out to everyday female determination; and a slightly truncated single version of the title cut. If you missed this the first time around, it’s one of the most imaginative, purist albums of soul music released in the past several years.

Stevens’ most recent release is a short album, Make Your Mind, which she put out in the fall of 2020 and is also up at Bandcamp. In general, it’s more low-key, trippy and neosoul-oriented.

Eclectic Soul, Jazz and Funk Tunesmithing From Saxophonist Alison Shearer

Alto saxophonist Alison Shearer comes out of a jazz background but also writes genre-busting songs that bridge the worlds of soul, psychedelia and funk. Her debut album View From Above is streaming at Bandcamp. Her attack is nimble, purposeful, and her songs tend to be on the bright side. Shearer’s not-so-secret weapon here is keyboardist Kevin Bernstein, who fleshes out the material with layers of organ, Bernie Worrell-ish synth patches, electric and acoustic piano.

The first track is On Awakening, a cheery, kinetically loopy interweave of Shearer’s dancing sax and Marty Kenney’s blippy bass over Bernstein’s woozy P-Funk-ish keyboard layers, drummer Horace Phillips providing a solid footing. Shearer builds her mistily propulsive solo to a triumphantly emphatic series of closing riffs

Celestial has brightly circling sax hooks over a well-worn singer-songwriter progression that Bernstein quickly expands with his pointillistic piano, shreddy guitar voicings on the synth kicking off a cheery, singalong Shearer solo. The next tune, Cycles is a lithely dancing Hollywood Hills boudoir soul tune balanced with some neat triangulations between electric piano, sax and Wayne Tucker’s trumpet

Miranda Joan sings Breathe Again, a crescendoing, occasionally gospel-tinged soul-jazz ballad reflecting a hope to emerge into renewed freedom and optimism.

Shearer uses the vampy. swaying Toni’s Tune as a launching pad for catchy, misty soloing, bookeneded around a doublespeed bridge. “Art is dangerous,” a voiceover reminds, “Because dictators, and people in office, and people who want to control and deceive know exactly the people who will disturb their planning.” Take that, Klaus Schwab!

Tucker returns for tightly syncopated. bittersweet harmonies in Three Flights Up, anchored by Bernstein’s twinkling, resonant Rhodes. Jonathan Hoard, Vuyo Sotashe and Chauncey Matthews interchange on vocals in Big Kids; Bernstein plays somber neoromantic piano and Susan Mandel provides shivery cello behind a sobering sample of Martin Luther King commenting on police brutality.

Hattie Simon’s cut-and-pasted vocals float over a gentle, wistful, spare soul backdrop in Purple Flowers. The best song on the album is Dawn to Dusk, Shearer shifting from a stark, loopy Ethiopiques theme to swirly psych-funk and back. She winds up the album with Gentle Traveler, a warmly catchy song without words: the contrast between carefree sax and pensive cello is a neat touch.

Shearer doesn’t have any unrestricted gigs coming up, but Tucker is leading a quintet at Smalls tonight, March 17 at 7:30 PM. The trumpeter has a fiery side but is just as much at home in balmy Afrobeat-flavored sounds, and he likes to croon. The club is open again with no restrictions; cover is $25 at the door.

A Welcome, Long Overdue Return For Oliver Future

“A year at home has left our hands too weak, to grasp at what was coming next,” frontman Josh Lit sings in Phases of the Moon, the opening track on Oliver Future‘s first album in fourteen years, streaming at Bandcamp. “A year at home has left my eyes too dim to see the shadows on the wall.” How appropriate for a band named Oliver Future (say it slowly).

Meanwhile, his brother Noah plays sinuous, keening leads over a stately. late Beatlesque sway, up to a point where all hell breaks loose.

What’s happening here, and with more and more music that’s starting to trickle out, is that artists are wise to the 2020 totalitarian takeover and they’re not happy about it. Like so many albums of recent months, the group recorded this one by exchanging files over the web. Prediction: that meme’s going to be over soon, and we’re going to see bands and artists head back to the studio and the stage with a vengeance. Producer Adam Lasus deserves immense credit for making the record sound as contiguous as it does.

The second track is Flattened, which wouldn’t be out of place on a mid-80s Kinks album, bright guitars over techy new wave keys. “It still feels like the end of days…breathe in, cash out, such a precious thing to waste,” Josh muses.

Bassist Jesse Ingalls’ incisive piano punches over a brisk, tensely pulsing new wave beat in I Can’t Take It, The Great Conjunction – a reference to the epic astrology that began in the fall of 2020 and subsequently? – is the album’s most epic track. With the ensuing loopiness and squall, it’s akin to what Genesis might have sounded like if Peter Gabriel had stayed in that band into the 80s.

With its brooding litany of loaded imagery, Short On Miracles is a psych-folk shuffle in a plastic costume. A rich web of chiming guitars – Noah Lit and Sam Raver – fuels Race to the Moon Again. rising to a funky intensity and back. “Dark as the times that we’re trapped in, over to soon, long live the worst in us all, race to the moon.”

They reprise the theme over a reggae-tinged beat with Race to the Moon Again, Again: “Exhausted probability, is there anybody out there?” Lit wants to know. A jagged approximation of poppy 80s Bowie, All We’ve Lost is a sobering look at where we are now, “Knowing that normal will never be the same.” The hope, obviously, is that the new society we’re working on won’t be a place where “they shut down all the bars, quiet crept in louder than the wind.”

The album’s final cut is Open Ended Spring: “We knows the rules of the day, keeping the wolves at bay,” Lit asserts over steady fingerpicked acoustic guitar before the dystopian vocoder chorus kicks in. He knows this ordeal probably isn’t over yet. Crank this up and get some long overdue validation: in its relentlessly catchy, smartly provocative and quirky way, this is one of the best albums of 2022 so far.

Laura Guarch’s Thoughtful, Optimistic Songcraft Seeks to Inspire Us Through Tough Times

Singer Laura Guarch has a hazy, often tender, soul-influenced voice, echoed in her enveloping, lush songwriting. You could call her music psychedelic pop, art-pop, neosoul or avant garde and you wouldn’t be off the mark, Her debut album Krëodylia is streaming at Spotify.

Guarch comes across as a defiant optimist: themes of empowerment for both self and society permeate her songs’ alternately spare and lavish arrangements. The opening number begins as a playful, quirky Sophia Rei-style vocalese pastiche and quickly expands into a spare, warmly triumphant waltz, Guarch switching between Catalan and English. “Reclaim yourself” is the message.

The second track is Body in Pain, a surprisingly bubbly, anthemic number. It’s an exploration of empathy: the injured parties here await what seems to be certain rescue. That resolute hope for the future carries over even as Guarch’s voice rises to shivery heights in Circulo Lunar, an aptly starry sonic ritual.

Posi-Truth is a vividly metaphorical narrative of societal upheaval that reaches an explosive peak. “Drain the lake so there’s no place to hide,” is the chorus. The atmosphere calms with Boira (Fog), Guarch’s voice atop spare, echoey piano awash in drifting electronics.

With its stately cadences, Fleeting Light is about catching those rays rather than letting them disappear. Naufrags (Shipwreck) begins delicate and wary, then rises and falls with spare, purposeful piano and a full band. This imagistic portrait of a world sent spiraling to the bottom in the 2020 plandemic is the most album’s most striking number.

Guarch’s plainspoken lyric about reconnecting with compassion resonates over a lattice of trippy, distantly Beatlesque licks in A Loving Sound. Guarch multitracks herself as a one-woman choir in Sediments, rippling piano contrasting with drifty atmospherics. The final cut is Spring With Me, a cheery entreatment to embrace the promise of a new season. Let’s hope we hear more from this thoughtful, inspiring new artist.

Eclectic, Imaginatively Arranged Soul Stylings From Lunar Noon

On her new album Symbolic Creature – streaming at Bandcamp – multi-keyboardist/songwriter Michelle Zheng a.k.a. Lunar Noon contemplates the empowerment that the act of questioning triggers, and how we assign meaning to otherwise completely random objects and events. The takeaway, she seems to say, is up to us.

Many but not all of the tracks could be classified as soul music. Zheng likes textures, a mix of the organic and the icily techy, plus layers of vocals, recorded over the web with a rotating cast of players in the summer of 2021. She cites Susanne Sundfor as a major influence, reflected by the wide range of styles covered here. Flickers of Chinese folk music sometimes bubble to the surface, whether melodically or in the choice of instrumentation. Some of the song titles reflect a Japan trip Zheng took which seems to have ended badly.

In the album’s brief opening number, Rabbits, as she sees them, are gospel creatures, in a slow waltz awash in strings The second track is Ginkgo, a trip-hop number with stark cello, koto, and operatic backing vocals, a more ornate take on what Fiona Apple was doing in the mid-zeros.

Blippy keys contrast with washes and pulses of sound in track three, Peregrine; then, picturesque percussion and harp percolate through The Rain, which becomes more of a soul-infused rain dance.

Anywhere, a jaunty soul strut, has artfully assembled layers of starry electronic keys. Provenance has an elegant sweep beneath Zheng’s achingly soaring vocals; Ash gets more of a robotic, psychedelic atmosphere.

Cold cyborg vocals contrast with the lushness of Suspension. Zheng shifts gears with Meteor, its spare, shuffling beat anchoring a tune that hints at warmly enveloping soul balladry. The same spareness persists in Alchemist, up to a catchy, determined lead vocal and a big, driving piano solo: it’s the album’s most forceful song.

Another strong track is Yellow House, a chamber-pop waltz with classically-inspired piano. The best and catchiest song is Daylight, a big art-rock anthem where Zheng switches between lingering bittersweetness and an energetic sway. Hypnotic cell-like piano riffs permeate the closing cut, Gold, which brings to mind early My Brighest Diamond. It will be interesting to see which of these many directions Zheng decides to follow in the coming months or years.

Chris Farren’s Death Don’t Wait Soundtrack Salutes and Savages Decades of Movie Scores

Chris Farren‘s original soundtrack to the film Death Don’t Wait – streaming at Spotify – is a party in a box. It’s a loving homage to, and sometimes a parody of film music from the 60s and 70s. Farren has really done his homework. drawing on both Sean Connery and Roger Moore-era Bond themes, 60s detective flicks and maybe Manfred Hubler’s Vampyros Lesbos soundtrack, If this score is any indication, the movie is packed with action and suspense…and just as much snark. Farren pulled a great band together for this project: Jeff Rosenstock, Jimmy Montague on keys, Frankie Impastato on drums, and Mark Glick on cello, plus a horn section.

The main title song is a gorgeous update on mid-60s Henry Mancini Vegas noir, lit up top to bottom with Farren’s 12-string Rickenbacker and fuzztone guitars. “Life is just a dream we suffer through,” Laura Stevenson intones, tenderly, “It’s your turn to lose.”

The first of the instrumentals is Attacked By Dogs, a fast-paced, brassy, punchy chase scene that leaps from mid-60s Bond ambience to the teens, on the warpy wings of some weird synth patch. Red Wire Blue Wire is Shaft as George Clinton might have envisioned him about ten years after the fact.

Chris Farren Noir – that’s the title of the interlude – turns out to be a minor-key soul groove that wouldn’t be out of place in the Menahan Street Band repertoire. Helicopter Shuffle is the Peter Gunne theme on a diet, with a wry, icy Ventures reverb-ping guitar solo and a brass crescendo.

Crime Party is a straight-up surf tune with roller-rink organ and smoky baritone sax: it’s over in less than two minutes. Farren goes back to psychedelic funk for Cash Is Heavy and follows that with Car Chase! It’s ridiculously funny: more Peter Gunne, galloping baritone guitar, the works. Farren has outdone himself here.

To his credit, he doesn’t go for the obvious punchline in Night Walk, which is not as self-explanatory as it could be. If Francoise Hardy’s backing band did Bond themes, Here’s Your Disguise would be one of them, although Farren doesn’t limit himself to tinny vintage amps or bittersweet major/minor changes.

The two final tracks are Hot Pursuit and Cold Pursuit: the former would work fine in a good vintage Bollywood crime flick, while the latter, a morose waltz, is the most recognizably noir set piece here. If this isn’t the best album of the year so far, it’s definitely the funnest.

Catchy Dystopic Psychedelia and Powerpop From the Speed of Sound

“We were offered Star Trek, but they fed us Soylent Green,” guitarist Ann-Marie Crowley sings to open Tomorrow’s World, the first track on the Speed of Sound‘s new vinyl album The Museum Of Tomorrow, streaming at Big Stir Records:

There is no escape from the all-seeing eye
It records every word we mistype
This is not our future dream anymore
This is a futurescape to endure

As a whole, this is a characteristically cynical, dystopic, colorfully lyrical mix of jangly psychedelic pop tunes. Contemporaries of catchy neo-psychedelic bands like the Jigsaw Seen and Speed the Plough, the Manchester group been around since the late 80s. Frontman John Armstrong’s deadpan sense of humor and shiny melodies often conceal a much more troubled and insightful worldview. Lots of levels at work here: this is definitely a record for our time.

The second track is Opium Eyes, a late 60s style flange-rock anthem and antidepressant cautionary tale that bursts in and is gone in a minute forty five. Likewise, the cheery la-la’s in Smokescreen serve as exactly that, bassist Kevin Roache and drummer John Broadhurst supplying the deceptively lithe pulse.

The music darkens to match the narrative in Zombie Century, an appropriately marching portrait of a rudderless world on the express track to destruction, where the heretics who could save us are pushed out of the picture.

Henry Armstrong’s keyboards blend with the lush vocal harmonies and resonant guitars to lowlight the clueless neverland of Virtual Reality (Pt. 2). The band break out the twelve-string guitars and then the blippy spacerock keys for the gorgeously chiming, dissociatively wary Shadow Factory, John Armstrong twisting through a slithery solo.

Impossible Past wouldn’t be out of place in the Dada Paradox catalog, a knowing chronicle of revisionist history:

The golden time was never so sunny
Bleakly like a taste of honey
Duck-and-cover A-bomb drills
Among dark satanic mills

Set to a vampy retro 60s go-go tune, Leaf Blower is a metaphor for any kind of machine that blows hot air. Blood Sweat and Tears is not a shout-out to horrible 60s hitmakers but a scrambling workingman’s lament, stuck on a treadmill in a race to the bottom. Charlotte – a Jane Eyre-inspired anthem – has coy echoes of another veteran, jangly British band’s song by almost the same name.

The band reach their most epic sweep in the global warming apocalypse anthem The Day the Earth Caught Fire.  With the album’s final cut, Last Orders – a pouncing, late 60s Kinks-ish last-call scenario – this story doesn’t end optimistically. If smart lyricism and bright tunesmithing in a New Pornographers vein is your thing, this is your jam.