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.