New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

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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.

Ashjesus Can’t Live in Bushwick But They’re Willing to Play There

“I can’t live in Bushwick, those people make me sick,” Ashjesus frontwoman Em Ashenden intones, before the screaming guitar and drums kick in on the first track of the 80s throwbacks’ so-called “demos” collection that’s up at Bandcamp as a free download. As the band churn up an acidic storm,like an early Bauhaus, she admits that she tried to get into Bed-Stuy…but insists she’s found nirvana in Ridgewood. Obvious, maybe, but this is one of those songs that needed to be written

It’s rare that you find a good band playing on a Saturday night in the ‘Shweck, but Ashjesus have a gig a the Broadway (the old Gateway space) on Jan 18 at around 11. Kaheim Rivera does his woozy, weedheaded raps beforehand at 10. Neither of the acts on the bill nor the venue have webpages of their own, so it’s anybody’s guess how much cover is, or if there is one – the Gateway was a pass-the-hat situation.

The rest of Ashjesus’ album keeps the early 80s noise-goth vibe going. Room – as in “I need a room” – has more of the loud, watery chorus-box guitar and bass that define this group’s retro sound. The implication is that a friend with a couch is a friend indeed: “Get one for yourself too,” Ashenden encourages.

Soda Bitters sounds like a lo-budget Joy Division. “I don’t need to take a cab, I can drive to rehab, how cool is that?” she wants to know. The poppiest song here, How Do You Feel Special says a lot in a few words, one of this band’s specialities – it’s a dis to a controlling boyfriend. With its quasi-reggae bassline and icy guitars, the last song, Tour, could be XTC or PiL, or the bastard child of the early Police and Bauhaus. Grab this haphazardly spot-on, period-perfect morsel while it lasts.

Haunting Reverbtoned Psychedelia From Galanos

“Loneliest of men at the bottom of the world,” Galanos’ Netochka Nezvanova and Gregory D. Jaw intone, low and hushed over his lingering, reverb-iced guitar, building to a stomping, echoing buzzsaw attack on the opening track of their debut album Deceiver Receiver. It’s streaming at Bandcamp and it’s today’s luscious installment in this month’s series of Halloweenish daily treats for you.

Let’s cut to the chase: this is one of the best albums of the year. There’s a gutter blues influence, some Thee Oh Sees dark garage-psych and some Black Angels ambience here as well, but they evoke more menace than either of those groups. With the guy/girl vocals, they’re sort of the X of dark 21st century rock.

Nezvanova’s voice rises calm and elegaic over a catchy clangrock melody anchored by Joe Puglsey’s fuzz bass in the second track, Padre Song, a poison underground spring of a guitar solo at the center. Flashbomb mashes up a hailstorm of noisy PiL reverb over steady new wave bass and John Steele’s Atrocity Exhiibition drums beneath Jaw’s alienated beat-poet recitation.

“Recognize it’s transitory, life is fleeting,” Nezvanova intones as Mariana Trench vamps along, a Lynchian roadhouse boogie. Eerie Syd Barrett chords ring over carpetbombing reverb-tank pings and echoes in the brief instrumental dirge Letters From Home. Then the band pick it up again with Stunner, a mashup of growling new wave and chimey surf rock, and do the same with Mr. Friend, but with more of a minimalist Joy Division feel.

The album’s catchiest track, Dead Leaves has an ominous retro Laurel Canyon psych feel, like the Allah-La’s with the amps turned up all the way. Bleak, stygian atmospherics punctuated by the occasional ghost of a surf riff filter through the final cut, Feel Good, the album’s druggiest, most macabre track. Dare you to make this the last thing you listen to tonight.

Brandon Seabrook Will See You on the Dark Side of the Drum

Brandon Seabrook is one of New York’s great musical individualists. He made his name as a shredder – anybody who’s witnessed his neutron-beam attack on guitar or banjo can vouch for how accurately the bandname Seabrook Power Plant reflects his sound. Yet anyone who’s ever seen him play guitar in magically nuanced singer Eva Salina’s electric Balkan group knows how gorgeously lyrical and restrained his playing can be. Seabrook’s latest album, Die Trommel Fatale, is streaming at Bandcamp . As drummer Dave Treut, who’s played with Seabrook for longer than most anyone else, observed over drinks the other night at Barbes, it pretty well capsulizes Seabrook’s career so far.  He’s likely to become the loudest, most assaultive guitarist ever to play Joe’s Pub when he and the band show up for the album release show this June 8 at  9:30 PM. Cover is $15.

The premise of the album is what can happen when you anchor the music with two drummers, without cymbals. The result turns out to be less funereal than simply monstrous. Treut and Sam Ospovat rumble and crush behind those stripped-down kits, with Marika Hughes on cello, Eivind Opsvik on bass and Chuck Bettis doing the Odin deathmetal thing on the mic.

The album opens with Emotional Cleavage, which could be very sad or completely the opposite, depending on how you interpret the title. This one’s a mashup of free jazz, death metal and 70s King Crimson: squirrelly franticness side by side with lingering, Messianic unease. Clangorous Vistas begin with a wry car horn allusion, a high drone, then sudden insectile scampering into a dancing skronk that eventually catapults Seabrook into one of his usual feral, tremolo-picked assaults

Jungly electronics, eerily resonant jangle and warped, machinegunning squall alternate throughout Abccessed Pettifogger (gotta love those titles, huh?) Shamans Never R.S.V.P. is a real creeper, waves of stark strings underpinning Seabrook’s elegantly skeletal, upper-register stroll: it sounds like Hildegarde von Bingen on acid, and it’s one of the few places on the album where the percussion gets as ominous as the rest of the band. And then everybody goes skronking and squalling, with a tumbling duel between Treut and Ospovat. From there, the similarly shrieky Litany of Turncoats makes a good segue.

The Greatest Bile, a diptych, builds out of crackling, circling riffage to the most twisted march released this year, Seabrook radiating evil Keith Levene-esque overtones when he’s not torturing the strings with volley after volley of tremolo-picking. Opsvik’s calmly pulsing solo, and then Hughes’ far more grim one, reach down for something approaching a respite from the firestorm. The second part is just as dirty if a little less unhinged, like a drony Martin Bisi noisescape with the strings and drums hovering on the periphery. 

The sandy-paintbrush drum brushing of the atmospheric Rhizomatic comes as a welcome surprise, then the band goes back to Quickstep Grotesquerie (the next number, which would be an apt secondary album title). The final cut is a chaotic, cauldron sarcastically titled Beautiful Flowers. This isn’t exactly easy listening, but in its own extremely twisted way, it’s a party in a box. Lights out on the floor with headphones on! 

The Wytches Burn Their Way Through New York

It’s a good week to see dark rock bands from out of town. Umpteen acts may reach for a menacing vibe, but British trio the Wytches actually nail theirs. The punk-inspired, dead-end desperation in frontman/guitarist Kristian Bell’s voice is so raw that it at least sounds like the real thing. And their narratives are all the more believable for being free of any kind of goth/ghoul cliche. They’ve got a savagely brilliant new album, Annabel Dream Reader – streaming at Spotify – and a clusterfuck of CMJ shows coming up. If assaultively doomy punk, horror surf or Lynchian sounds in general are your thing, you’ve got six chances to see this band in the next few days. Tomorrow, Oct 22 they’ll be at Glasslands at 9; on Oct 23 at Rough Trade at 3 in the afternoon and then at Baby’s All Right at 11 at night. They return to Baby’s All Right at one in the afternoon on Oct 24, then they’ll be at that free show at the Knitting Factory at four the same day (beware because the rsvp means you’ll get spammed). But you won’t have to get spammed in order to catch them when they return to Rough Trade at 7 on Oct 25.

The album’s opening track, Digsaw builds out of a squalling intro to an horror surf-tinged verse and then a screaming chorus over bassist Daniel Rumsey’s growling, trebly lines: you can hear some Jesus & Mary Chain, and Stranglers, and maybe Coffin Daggers, but more stripped-down than any of those acts.Wide at Midnight follows a creepy, Lynchian wammy-bar sway dripping with reverb; then the band makes horror surf out of a familiar Ventures theme.

Gravedweller is the best song here, a macabre zombie scenario with a reverb-tank menace that brings to mind Wooden Indian Burial Ground. Fragile Male for Sale blends the wet, poisonous reverb-tank echo with darkly distorted 60s psych riffage, while Burn out the Bruise has a snidely echoing sway until its desperate, screaming chorus kicks in.

“She shines a light from side to side, in my eyes it reflects from the corner,” frontman/guitarist Kristian Bell intones as the growly Transylvanian gothic anthem Wire Frame Mattress gets underway – and then the band makes surf rock out of it. Beehive Queen hits a slashingly sarcastic, slightly skronk-infused spaghetti western gallop, then they bring it down with Weights and Ties, a slow waltz with a little vintage PiL cached in its amped-up wee-hours Lynchian ambience.

The disarmingly catchy Part Time Model paints a disquieting tableau of what might be a S&M brothel – or the set of a snuff film, punctuated by the occasional muted gunshot burst from Bell’s reverb tank. The album’s longest track, Summer Again, another waltz, is all the more crushing for offering a hint of hope.

Robe for Juda builds a catchy garage rock tune out of a wicked chromatic riff and then hits an explosive, metalish crescendo. Crying Clown blends Orbison noir with an unhinged, doomed tableau straight out of the Doctors of Madness catalog. The album ends with a brief folk noir ballad simply titled Track 13. In a year that’s seen amazing albums by Karla Moheno and Marissa Nadler, and with Big Lazy‘s haunting new one still not out yet, this might be the best of them all. Miss these guys at your peril.

Jah Wobble and Keith Levene Revisit New Wave History with Their First Full-Length Album Together Since 1979

The musical core of classic-era Public Image Ltd., bassist Jah Wobble and guitarist Keith Levene, reunited memorably last year, touring and then releasing then their Metal Box in Dub ep. Today marks the release of Yin & Yang, Levene’s triumphant full-length comeback album with Wobble, drummer Marc Layton-Bennett, trumpeter Sean Corby and a handful of guests. As a paradigm-shifter, Levene’s influence cannot be underestimated: echoes of his overtone-drenched style extend from the noiserock of the 80s through dreampop. It is impossible to imagine Sonic Youth, or for that matter, My Bloody Valentine, existing without him. This new album is a mixed bag – not all the songs stand up to repeated listening – but those that do are a fond reminder that Wobble and Levene can still conjure up the magic and menace of their corruscatingly iconic work together thirty-plus years ago.

Wobble remains one of the most brilliant, incisive, adventurous bassists around: here he leaves the Middle Eastern and Asian sounds he’s become so adept at in exchange for a tersely murky pulse over brontosaurus drums. As with the songs on the iconic 1979 PiL Metal Box album, most of the new tunes are long and slow, Wobble’s deep dub drive anchoring Levene’s paint-peeling, incendiary, achingly acidic washes of sustain, distortion and overtones. He’s the rare guitar god who relies more on space than speed, minute timbral shifts more than rapidfire riffage. And yet, his sonic assault remains one of the most brutal in any style of music.

It’s ironic that for all its bleeding upper midrange guitar and some wry quotes from PiL’s Memories, the title track – a one-chord jam, basically – evokes the stadium-rock PiL as much as it does that band’s classic new wave era incarnation. Over a dirty, distorted reggae bassline, Strut layers Levene in terse acoustic mode, adding darkly Brazilian-tinged lines, muted strings radiating feedback – this guy basically invented skronk. A long and completely unsarcastic tribute to British racing green, Jags and Staffs has the feel of a good outtake from Metal Box or Commercial Zone with swirly dub production, Levene unleashing poisonous, rising and falling waves of sound behind Wobble’s geezer-rap vocals.

Until the song’s almost over, you’d never know that Mississippi was these guys – the vintage soul-infused southern travelogue could be the great lost sarcastic track from White Light/White Heat until Levene finally starts squeaking and skronking over a shuffling vamp. They brilliantly reinvent the Beatles’ Within You Without You as twisted raga rock in 7/4 time, Wobble wryly referencing And Your Bird Can Sing on the bass as Levene eases his way in and then careens around with the drums. The album’s most intense track is Back on the Block, a slow, tense, impatient, distantly menacing reggae groove that owes as much to Angelo Badalamenti soundtrack noir as it does early 80s Jamaican dubsters like Niney the Observer, Levene’s wailing, spark-shedding riffage contrasting with swoopy synth ambience.

The heavy-handed fake funk of Fluid reaches for an electric Miles Davis vibe, unconvincingly, followed by Vampires, a brief dub interlude featuring a marvelously deadpan vocal cameo from noir cabaret legend/dub diva Little Annie. The album ends with the Metal Box reggae of Understand, with a lame vocal cameo from one of the guests; the dub version, which closes the album, is far more enjoyable, if closer to one of the dubs from the Clash’s Sandinista than anything that ever came out of Jamaica. The album’s out from Cherry Red in the UK.