New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: rock anthem

Avers Bring Their Catchy, Psychedelically-Tinged New Album to the Mercury

To what degree does allusiveness and indirectness describe Richmond band Avers‘ sound? Pretty well. Beyond having not one but four songwriters, they distinguish themselves with their sense of humor, exuberantly referencing and mashing up styles that date back as far as the 70s. Adrian Olsen, Alexandra Spalding, James Mason, and JL Hodges share vocals as well as their songs, with multi-instrumentalist Charlie Glenn pitching in on keys and guitar. They’re playing the album release show for their new one, Omega Whatever – soon to be streaming at Bandcamp – on August 4 at 10:30 PM at the Mercury; adv tix are $10.

The wrly shuffling opening track, Vampire alludes to both Lou Reed and a cheeseball 80s goth hit, stadium rock spun through the warped prism of second-wave dreampop. Spalding sings the glam-tinged second cut, Everything Hz – damn, another great title just got taken, huh? – with an icy calm: “Take a pill, sleep it off, let it in…these are the days that everything Hz, these are the days in reverse.” If Spacehog weren’t so over-the-top, they would have sounded something like this.

With its catchy, Beatlesque blend of six and twelve-string guitars, Tongues is a dead ringer for Oasis circa 1996, but with better vocals. Insects is a lot simpler, and kind of a throwaway: the backward-masked guitar solo is the high point. Spalding returns to the mic for Low, another post-Velvets shuffle, looking back on “Flowers sent to my door…fancy bottles of shit you no longer can afford.” Then the band goes back toward swaying, midtempo Oasis territory for All You Are.

The fuzztone stomp of Holding On brings to mind vintage Brian Jonestown Massacre. The band blends that with a brightly clanging Oasis drive in Santa Anna. With its moody, wavery chorus-box guitars, Don’t Care looks back to the 80s, over the shoulder of Deer Tick. Then the band synthesizes every style they’ve mined up to this point – hypnotic post-Velvets psychedelia, towering 90s Britrock and a little uneasy 80s jangle – in My Mistakes. The album should stop there, but it doesn’t; the long, unfocused concluding track doesn’t add anything. And one of the guys in the group hasn’t outgrown the emo of his gradeschool years: that singsongey dorkiness pops up annoyingly once in awhile. Maybe he’s the weak link who could be replaced. Otherwise, Avers are proof that accessibility and intelligence don’t have to be incompatible.

A Soaringly Original, Artsy Debut Album and a Rockwood Show by Individualistic Singer Jennifer Hall

Chicago singer/bandleader Jennifer Hall‘s absolutely brilliant ep is streaming at Spotify. Part art-rock, part oldschool soul, it’s like nothing that’s been released in recent months. Here and there, Abby Travis comes to mind, but Hall is more influenced by vintage soul music, and where Travis gets balmy and Lynchian, Hall goes for gale-force impact. She’s at the big room at the Rockwood tonight, July 30 at 7 PM.

The ep opens with the dynamically rich Would You Walk Away, veering between airy minimalism and a soaring soul ballad as Jeff Lynne might have orchestrated it, with elegant instrumentation from Noam Wallenberg on guitars, Ben Joseph on keys and bass and Mat Roberts on drums. When Hall wails “I will be fading below the lamplight,” it’ll give you chills. The glimmering, propulsive ELO anthemics continue on the gorgeously arranged Beverly Road – as Hall explains, it’s a locale of the mind rather than either the one in Brooklyn (with the extra E) or the one in her hometown.

Time of Death opens as an enigmatic, psychedelically-tinged trip-hop tune and turns into a launching pad for some of Hall’s most intense, emphatic vocal pyrotechnics here. When I Went Falling has the synth (or is that a guitar effect?) doing a pizzicato string arrangement, working a spiky/lush dichotomy as Hall’s voice dances overhead. Make It Out Alive has a dramatic post-new wave pulse in the same vein as the Motels: the title is the mantra. The final track is Waking Hour, a surreallistically crescendoing breakup tableau that sounds the alarm about “Buckets full of fickle warning, of fallen victims of that fire.” What a great discovery, and what a breath of fresh air Hall is. There are a gazillion women out there singing music influenced by oldschool soul sounds, some of them very good, but no one more original than Hall. Let’s hope she comes to town more often.

Keith Otten’s Big Acoustic Anthems Defy the Odds in Williamsburg

Can you imagine Nick Drake playing a weekend gig at a pub? Pressured by his record label, he did more than one. And he hated every minute of them: no wonder he retired from live performance after that. Bar gigs are tough under any circumstances, but it’s a whole lot easier to compete with the drunks if you can blast back at them through a big guitar amp. Keith Otten, on the other hand, does it the hard way, the old-fashioned way, with just vocals and acoustic guitar. And he does it every week, and he manages to get random people to listen.

Which might sound more impressive than it actually is. Otten’s one of the great unsung heroes of lead guitar. He first made an impact here in New York with Feed, his legendary/obscure project with Tim Butler of the Psychedelic Furs. Over the last few years, he’s provided the scorch and burn in long-running, artsy Nashville gothic band Ninth House. Before that he led the twin guitar-fueled Gotham 4, a vehicle for his towering, anthemic, Britrock-inspired songwriting. Since early this winter, he’s been playing Tuesday nights starting at around 7 PM at Craic Bar, downstairs in the new building at 488 Driggs Ave. between 9th and 10th St. in Williamsburg, and damned if he doesn’t draw people in.

And he mixes it up. While his choice of covers reveals a lot about where his own songs come from, he throws some surprises in. Much as Otten can go way out on a limb with machinegunning volleys of notes when he’s playing electric, he doesn’t waste them. So a couple of weeks ago right after the big snowstorm, it was interesting to hear him do not only one but two acoustic Grateful Dead covers (Morning Dew and Samson & Delilah), the second wrapped around a tight take of Dylan’s It’s All Over Now Baby Blue, just as Jerry might have done it in the late 80s. Except that Otten sang those songs infinitely better than either of the guys who did them the first time around.

And he also did the Yardbirds’ Mister You’re a Better Man Than I, and paired Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust with Suffragette City, and managed to mix those numbers’ big riffs into his chords without getting all skeletal, like acoustic versions of big rock songs can become in the hands of less experienced players. But it was the originals that were the most fun to hear. Like the covers, Otten’s rearranged them so that they pretty much maintain the epic quality of the original electric versions. From the circling chords of Long Enough, from Otten’s first solo album back in the 90s, through the sardonically catchy Reunion (a snide tale about blowing off a bunch of aging blowhards at a school reunion) and then the unexpectedly upbeat Special, both tracks from his latest album Trickle, he kept the crew huddled over the pool table pretty attentive. Sure, there was a yuppie in the corner hell-bent on letting the entire bar know that he had designs on the girl he’d coaxed into meeting him there, but there’s always a guy like that when you least want him around.

In two long sets, Otten’s songs ran the gamut from the subtly minimalistic, post-U2 Already Knows, to the pensive Only Time and the majestic, wryly regretful Friend’s Girlfriend. He wound up the second set with the most epic song of the night, the gorgeous, flamenco-inflected 3001, equal parts ornate acoustic Led Zep and 90s spacerock, but in a stripped-down context that revealed how poignantly gorgeous the song is even without the searingly layered multitracks on the album version. If you’re in the neighborhood and on the way home from work, this guy’s weekly show is a great way to lift your spirits: his next one is March 10.

An Epic, Oceanic Album Release Show by Sky Picnic Followed by Some Surf Rock

Wednesday night at Rock Shop in Gowanus, Sky Picnic played a mighty, majestic album release show for their new one, Her Dawn Wardrobe, streaming at Bandcamp and available on delicious colored vinyl in addition to the usual digital formats. The sweep of the band’s epic spacerock songs made it hard to believe that such a vast, oceanic sound was being created by just three people. Guitarist/frontman Chris Sherman played lingering, sustained lines awash in echo and reverb and took the same approach to his vocals, holding the notes, letting them sink in over the midtempo-to-slow dynamics driven by bassist Leah Cinnamon and drummer Pete Meriwether. Meriwether quickly turned out to be the band’s not-so-secret weapon, fueling most of the towering crescendos, the band building to mighty peaks where he’d fire off clusterbombs of tom-tom and kickdrum riffage. Cinnamon has a distinctive and very interesting style: she likes to slide up to a note, coloring her catchy, sometimes hypnotically circling phrases with hammer-ons and the occasional nimble, bluesy phrase.

They opened with a couple of big, swaying, uneasily echoing anthems driven by resonant guitar lines that reminded of Peter Koppes’ work with the Church  – who are coming to town in March, by the way – in their most straightforward moments. Likewise, the downwardly circling hook that opened the night’s third consecutive big-stadium number. From there the trio hit a tricky tempo (13/4?), a strutting, matter-of-factly rising mashup of dreampop and mathrock followed by a dissociative jam that Meriwether pulled together with another methodically explosive crescendo.

Interestingly, the album’s catchy, moody title track was mostly just guitar and vocals, Meriwether adding just a mist of cymbals against Cinnamon’s looming, mimimalist resonance. Then they picked up the pace with a galloping number where Cinnamon fired off big leaps on her bass against Meriwether’s animated attack as Sherman took his time, choosing his spots. The guy’s got a genius for simple, memorable hooks…then he makes them last with all that reverb and delay. The rest of the set featured Meriwether firing off endless, machinegunning volleys of sixteenth notes, then a bit later the band rose out of a a dizzyingly rhythmic instrumental intro into to a richly clanging, brooding minor-key anthem, Neil Young and Crazy Horse adrift in some other galaxy. They encored with a high-voltage, treble-toned, practically new wave cover of Pink Floyd’s Astronomy Domine. Sky Picnic’s next gig is Feb 20 at 9 PM at Matchless.

After that, it was fun to watch New Jersey surf rock trio the Black Flamingos make their New York debut. They’re definitely a party band, and drew chuckles from the crowd with their half-baked, semi-choreographed stage antics, guitarist Robert Butkowski and bassist Declan O’Connell stalking each other, sparring and pushing each other to the edge of the stage. Butkowski is a walking encyclopedia of classic and obscure surf and twang licks: bits and pieces of Dick Dale, the Ventures, the Shadows, Buck Owens and Lee Hazlewood songs bobbed to the surface throughout the band’s roughly 45 minutes onstage. Butkowski’s most sizzling moments were when he went deepest toward the noir, with an ornate, richly chordal, jazz-tinged number early in the set. The musically most impressive moment of the entire night was a spot-on, pummeling cover of the Ventures’ version of Swan Lake. Playing Tschaikovsky on bass and guitar in perfect precision is not easy, but the two guys nailed it, drummer Vincent Minervino capping it off with a cool trick ending.

And it was too bad to miss seeing Sun Voyager open the night: their stoner garage assault is a lot of fun.

Former BoDeans Frontman Sam Llanas Returns with a Vengeance to Fiery Electric Rock

There’s no small irony in the fact that when the BoDeans broke up in the mid-zeros, guitarist Kurt Neumann brought in four new members to replace co-founder Sam Llanas. While Neumann continued touring the band with more of an emphasis on cajun and C&W sounds, Llanas concentrated on brooding, mostly acoustic songwriting. But now Llanas is back with a vengeance, with the best BoDeans album since the 90s…except that it’s not a BoDeans record, it’s a Llanas solo album. On the brand-new The Whole Night Thru –  streaming at Spotify – he’s assembled a smoldering electric band: Sean Williamson on guitar, Matt Turner on bass and Ryan Schiedermayer on drums, with Gary Tanin on keys. The result is the best studio project anybody associated with the BoDeans has probably done since before the band’s iconic double live album, Joe Dirt Car back in 1995.

And it’s got everything that made the group a stadium rock favorite across the country for so long; big singalong anthems, volcanic guitar sonics and the same burning, impassioned vocals that made songs like Feed the Fire and Still the Night such audience favorites. This is definitely one for the diehards, and ought to draw in a new generation of fans who missed Llanas in his previous incarnation.

The opening track, Deja Vu, like many of the songs here, opens with suspenseful atmospherics and builds to a classic, anthemic Llanas chorus. It’s a lurid song: Llanas references Edgar Allen Poe and might or might not be addressing the breakup of his old band with the line about the “vultures waiting for your body to fall.” Williamson adds an all-too-brief solo, playing searing lines against a single resonating string.

The swaying, catchy, shuffling Cold n’ Clean will be familiar to those who’ve followed Llanas’ solo performances: with its wishing well imagery, it manages to be sardonic and poignant at the same time. Everywhere But Here brings back the noir of the opening track, addressing a mystery New York girl against an ominous, 80s-tinged gothic rock backdrop: “I’ve been chasing your ghost around Miltown,” Llanas laments, “You’re everywhere but here.” Again, Williamson’s guitar takes the intensity to redline.

With its layers of guitars and shifting vocals, Dangerous Love ponders what kind of price a femme fatale’s going to extract. By contrast, I’m Still Alive paints a somber portrait of a hurricane survivor facing hard times, alone and alienated. Then the band picks it up with Somethin’ Comin’ as the song rises from a simmering intro to roaring, slide guitar-fueled anthem: it’s one of the loudest numbers Llanas has ever recorded, and he makes it worth the effort.

Addicted to the Cure returns to Llanas’ familiar theme of whether or not to resist the advances of a woman who’s obviously got an agenda. The Best I Can gives the chance to work Llanas’ signature catchy chord changes dynamically, back and forth against a roaring blend of distorted guitar textures. The elegant, regret-laden final cut, To Where You Go paints an achingly vivid picture of the solitude of a cross-country night drive. It’s everything a fan of Llanas’ old band could possibly want. Four-on-the-floor rock records don’t get any more satisfying than this.

Good Stuff from Alfonzo Velez and King Porter Stomp

Endorsements from other musicians are usually BS: it’s usually some quid-pro-quo thing, pretty much bought and paid for. But when noir piano titan Fernando Otero says something good about somebody, you just have to pay attention and Otero is right: Alfonso Velez is the real deal. He has a couple of tracks up at his bandcamp that sound like The Verve for the heroes down at Ground Zero – in Zucotti Park, that is. It’s a classic mix of accessible anthemic sweep and moody intensity.

Meanwhile, Brighton, UK’s King Porter Stomp are doing a deliciously original mix of oldschool analog Afrobeat, rocksteady and hip-hop. Here’s Let It All Out, a big kick-ass new anthem from an ep scheduled to come out early next year.

Edward Rogers’ Porcelain Hits Hard and Pure

Edward Rogers has made a name for himself as someone who can write expertly in any retro rock style he wants, whether solo or with the artsy, jangly Bedsit Poets. The Birmingham, UK expat’s new album Porcelain is his hardest-rocking effort so far, and not only is it his best, it’s also one of best straight-up rock records of the last couple of years. Maybe it’s because he’s been so closely involved with the Losers Lounge scene, or maybe it’s just because he writes such good songs, but either way he always has an A-list band behind him. This time around the rhythm section features members of Cracker, Nada Surf or Graham Parker’s band, alongside Ian Hunter’s guitarist and a whole slew of other NYC talent. Rogers’ vocals are typically understated: he’ll snarl but he doesn’t usually scream. Rogers looks back fondly, sometimes bitterly; he looks to the future with extreme apprehension. The songs here range from blistering rockers to delicate chamber-pop laments.

The title track takes garage rock snarl, subdues it a little and turns it into insistent, propulsive new wave in the same vein as the Church, at least in that band’s early years, leaving its troubled intensity just below the surface to leap up when least expected. Likewise, the best track on the album, Topping the World, has the same fast 2/4 beat, a forest of burning, psychedelic guitar layers, and lyrics that capture a moment when the banks have repossessed everything, the temperature keeps climbing but still nobody questions the magic of the marketplace. “Chaos rules your destiny,” Rogers reminds over and over as it winds out.

Nothing Too Clever is gentle chamber-pop – it’s Kooks by David Bowie updated for the teens, with a stunning Claudia Chopek orchestral arrangement featuring Tim Dutemple’s oboe and Eleanor Norton on cello. Love with the World, a sarcastic eco-catastrope anthem, goes even more deeply into Thin White Duke territory, with some brightly wry Mick Ronson-esque slide guitar from James Mastro.

The opening track, a reminiscence about a hellraising bar crowd, is Irish-flavored glamrock that wouldn’t be out of place in the Black 47 reel book. Diamond Amour also has an Irish rock vibe and a ridiculously catchy, singalong chorus straight out of the Willie Nile catalog. “The world is changing from grey to black-and-white,” Rogers intones on the pensive ballad Link to the Chain – it’s the personal as political taken to its vividly logical extreme. Separate Walls is like Oasis with a Ph. D., a pummeling rocker with some memorable dueling between Don Fleming’s machete guitar and Chopek’s stiletto violin. Silent Singer also potently features those two contrasting savage/incisive attacks. The album closes with a hallucinatory, nightmarish psychedelic tone poem of sorts, Fleming’s axe-murderer guitar cutting its way through a hellish Lower East Side milieu that bears little resemblance to the once edgy, working-class neighborhood that Rogers has called home for years. “Take the train to Fancyland/My magazine well in hand,” he sneers at the fulltime tourists who’ve transformed his old stomping ground from a fertile incubator for bands into a Bernie Madoff style Florida shopping mall. Other bands – notably the Brooklyn What – have chronicled the destruction of New York by gentrification over the past ten years, few as memorably as Rogers. For people who like a good tune, this album’s a lot of fun – for New Yorkers, it’s also an important piece of history. The album officially releases next month; watch this space for news of the release show, most likely at Bowery Electric.