New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: rock music

A Gorgeously Jangly New Album by the Corner Laughers

The Corner Laughers play a sharply lyrical, catchy blend of jangly psychedelia, to richly arranged folk-rock and Americana and several other styles from th enew wave era. Their latest album Temescal Telegraph – streaming at Bandcamp – has some of the most gorgeous guitar work of any rock record released in recent months: clanging twelve-string lines, burning distortion, jaunty 80s British riffage, purist Americana, you name it, this band can play it.

The first track is Calculating Boy, an emphatic new wave number with jangly twelve-string guitar – that’s KC Bowman and Khoi Huynh switching off on guitar, bass and piano behind frontwoman/ukulele player Karla Kane’s cool, inscrutable vocals. This could be an older Pulp song with a woman out front, with a pair of doomed narratives about what sometimes happens to nonconformists: “Ever since she was a child she often smiled, mind over matter,” Kane intones.

Changeling, a backbeat soul tune with gospel organ, could be a well-produced Grateful Dead studio track. In The Accepted Time, Kane traces an impending breakup, from hope against hope, to a graveyard gate, over a lush bed of jangling, clanging guitar multitracks,

The Lilac Line is a blithe janglepop song, 90s Hoboken transplanted to the Bay Area. Loma Alta, a slow, summery 6/8 tableau, has piano chiming through the mix: the Jayhawks at their late 90s/early zeros peak come to mind. Then the band pick up the pace over a soul-clap beat with the new wave-tinged Sirens of the Pollen.

Wren in the Rain has hints of a Kinks classic amid the distantly uneasy, lusciously jangly, watery guitar textures. The lone cover here is a cheery, Beatlesque take of Martin Newell’s Goodguy Sun, swaying along amiably over drummer Charlie Crabtree’s coy flurries.

Skylarks of Britain is a lavishly arranged take on 60s British psych-folk – Sandy Denny-era Strawbs on steroids, maybe – with a trippy lyric that could be an inside joke. The band stay in Britfolk-rock mode to close the album with Lord Richard.

Purist, Brilliantly Produced, Anthemic Tunesmithing From Petey & the True Mongrel Hearts

From the early zeros through the mid-teens, guitarist Pete Cenedella fronted an anthemic and fearlessly woke two-guitar band, American Ambulance, who blended Stones snarl with oldschool country twang. They made some great records and played their last Manhattan full-band gig in the fall of 2015 at the Treehouse at 2A. Since then, Cenedella has led Petey & the True Mongrel Hearts and has continued to write as prolifically as he did with his old band.

They’ve got a couple of singles out this year: Cenedella’s game plan is to put them all out on vinyl until there’s enough of them to fill a double album. If what he has out there now is any indication, it’s going to be a hell of a record. The first single is Turning of the Wheel, which with the twin keyboards of Charles Roth and Tom Lucas has more of a classic Born to Run Springsteen feel. Graham Norwood’s sizzling, spiraling guitar solos toward the end are the icing on this angst-fueled ballad of loss and desperation.

The b-side, Little Leeway is an acoustic country kiss-off anthem. The rhythm section of bassist Ed Iglewski and Dave Anthony is much more lithe here, Cenedella’s metaphors following a would-be gambler to where the deal goes down, hard.

The newest single is Home in the Wind, which has an Abbey Road Beatles vibe and otherworldly vocal harmonies from Lisa Zwier, Erica Smith and Rembert Block along with perfect George Harrison-style analog chorus box leads from Norwood. The b-side, Darkness of a Brand New Day is a stark acoustic duet between Cenedella and Zwier, the brightness of the melody contrasting with the song’s surreal carnival scenario. At a time when there’s never been more of a shortage of rock music being made in this city, there’s never been more of a need for bands like this. If all goes well, this could be the start of something great.

A Timely Reissue of a Punk Rock Cult Favorite From 1999 to Benefit Black Lives Matter

The New Bomb Turks couldn’t have picked a more appropriate time to reissue their 1999 album Nightmare Scenario. Since the incendiary original mixes were discovered in a digital audio tape archive at original engineer Jim Diamond’s studio, the band have decided to donate all proceeds from the record – streaming at Bandcamp – to benefit Black Lives Matter organizations in Columbus, Ohio..

This album captures the band at the peak of their power as the missing link between the Dead Boys, Radio Birdman and maybe the Dickies – it holds up alongside all those icons. The Birdman influence may seem obvious, since the group recorded the album in the wake of an Australian tour, further energized by the addition of drummer Sam Brown, who swings the hell ouf these tunes.

The New Bomb Turks always had the best puns for song titles, and this is no exception. Guitarist Jim Weber channels Cheetah Chrome in sarcastic faux Chuck Berry mode in the opening track, Point A to Point Blank. Spanish Fly By Night sounds like the UK Subs taking a stab at a Dead Boys tune circa 1978. And the raw, New York Dolls-ish take of Your Beaten Heart has frontman Eric Davidson’s vocals further out front than the rest of the tracks.

The remainder of the record stands up well too, with the sarcastic singalong Automatic Teller – a dis at a rich girl – and the slinky End of the Great Credibility Race, bassist Matt Reber going way up the scale. “Go as fast as you wanna go,” Davidson tells the band before the hardcore sprint Too Much.

Killer’s Kiss could be an especially loud Steve Wynn riff-rock number, while Continental Cats could be the Reducers – who just put out an archival live album – covering the Dolls. The classic cut here is The Roof, with Weber’s eerily tremoloing minor-key riffage.

If the Stooges did two-minute songs, Turning Tricks wouldn’t have been out of place on Raw Power. Weber repurposes vintage Stones for Wine and Depression; the original album ends with the 1979 CB’s-style Quarter to Four.

There’s also a previously unreleased bonus instrumental, Theme From Nightmare Scenario: you could call it their Night Theme. The New Bomb Turks went into the lockdown revitalized; reputedly, their Brooklyn shows at St. Vitus at the end of last year were as intense as everybody was hoping for. If you have a well-insulated basement or a party boat that can get out of range of the snitch patrol, these guys would be a good band to book.

Cello Rockers the Icebergs Take Their Dark, Distinctive Sound to the Next Level

It’s always validating to see a good band grow into a great one. Over the last few years, the Icebergs have distinguished themselves from the other acts in the cello-rock demimonde by way of Tom Abbs’ deep well of sounds, beyond that instrument’s usual sonic range, along with frontwoman/lyricist Jane LeCroy’s black humor and often searing metaphors.  O’Death drummer David Rogers-Berry completes the picture with his nimble, counterintuitive, coloristic style. On their new album Add Vice – streaming at Bandcamp – they take their dark, aphoristic, individualistic style to the next level: it’s one of the best records of the year. 

It opens with Fallen Creature, an escape anthem of sorts and the catchiest song the band have ever done. Abbs runs a Brubeck-esque riff over Rogers-Berry’s’s lithely tumbling drums, LeCroy contributing a typically telling lyric: “I am a fallen creature who knows my away around the grounds,,,I know silken threads, the stickiness of woven webs.”

The second track, Chelsea – a brief party scenario –  is a witchy one-chord jam as Lorraine Leckie might do it, with snarling guitar and organ, Abbs playing basslines behind guest Martin Philadelphy’s reverb guitar. Invictus keeps the menacing 60s ambience going; this could be Rasputina covering X. “Your days are numbered, so make them count,” LeCroy advises amidst the swirl.

Willa is a slow, death-obsessed ballad, Abbs’ stark upper-register lines subtly iced with reverb. The menace continues with the defiant, starkly bluesy Made It Rain  a trip-hop take on vintage Nina Simone.

The slinky Full Fathom 5 Ariel’s Song – a Shakespeare setting – has  ghostly call-and-response over funeral organ and the cello’s layers of distorted guitar voicings. They pick up the pace with the sarcastically blithe faux cha-cha Same Symptoms, then return to sinister mode with The Way They Wanted, a chillingly imagistic anti-conformist broadside. “The closer to truth, the bigger the joke,” LeCroy warns.

Motorcycle could be a brooding RZA Wu-Tang backing track as produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry. Bow Spirit is a brisk minor-key shuffle with similar dubwise tinges. The band follow that with Ocean Liner, a gleefully Halloweenish garage rock number (and an obvious choice for a band named the Icebergs).

Pareidolia has a slow, staggered sway behind LeCroy’s accusatory vocals. “What are you using to rip out your eyes so you don’t have to look?” she asks over a staggered, skeletal groove and Abbs’ pickslide slashes in the album’s title track – what an apt song for the year of the plandemic and the lockdown!

The tightly waltzing Little Lamb could be a parody of helicopter parenting, or about something even more troubling. The band wind up this hauntingly expansive album with A Line, LeCroy’s wry litany of metaphors reflecting her long background in the poetry underground. “Get out of line – a line is to cross,” she reminds. Powerful words for a year that may determine the fate of the earth. 

Lush, Elegant, Moodily Orchestrated Chamber Pop from Chanteuse Z Berg

Press releases usually can’t be trusted, especially when it comes to music. The one that came with the new album Get Z to a Nunnery, by a singer who goes by the name of Z Berg characterized the record as “a little bit Francoise Hardy…a little bit Dusty Springfield on drugs..” Intriguing, no? It’s streaming at Bandcamp – see for yourself.

While Berg’s lavishly orchestrated songs are totally retro 60s, her voice is very much in the here and now. There’s a big crack in it when she reaches for a crescendo, Amy Winehouse-style. In quieter moments, her mutedly husky musings bring to mind Americana chanteuses like Tift Merritt. And either the album cost a fortune to produce, or Berg has lots of conservatory-trained friends (or dad still has something left from the old days at the formerly big record label). Sweeping orchestration and classically-tinged piano pervade her moody narratives, full of artful chord changes, dynamic shifts and picturesque imagery. It’s more valium and vodka than Prozac.

The opening ballad, To Forget You sets the stage, floating along over lush strings and a gracefully swaying 6/8 rhythm. The theme of I Fall For the Same Face Every Time is that troubled birds of a feather flock together, set to elegantly arpeggiated piano and baroque harp cascades.

“We didn’t fear the things we did not know,” Berg asserts in another 6/8 number, Time Flies, a pretty generic pop song heavily camouflaged in layers of backward-masked guitar and symphonic gloss. She shifts to a straight-up waltz tempo for Into the Night, a more delicate number that could be Charming Disaster on opium.

A gentle foreboding pervades Calm Before the Storm, the gently fingerpicked guitar, 70s Nashville pop melody and Berg’s plainspoken lyrics bringing to mind Jenifer Jackson in Americana mode. Little Colonel is one of the more skeletal and haunting tracks here, rising to a low-key baroque pop arrangement:

Dear little colonel, one foot in the grave
Fighting the war with an unsteady aim
Is that the goal, to create a crusade
With nothing for no one, so no one is saved
Or safe

It was recorded before the lockdown, but it’s uncanny all the same.

Berg and I (that’s the title) is a doomed noir cabaret number gliding along with mutedly insistent piano, strings and backward masking. Charades, a duet, is more sardonic and ELO-ish, the piano receding behind fingerpicked guitar. “It was a scream when were young and dumb, acid on Topanga Beach, in my mind we’ll always be that free,” Berg recalls in The Bad List, an anguished holiday nightmare breakup scenario: it’s the album’s Fairytale of New York. There’s also a starry instrumental epilogue. This is a sleeper candidate for the shortlist of the best albums of 2020.

Obscure Heavy Psychedelia Rescued From Vietnam War-Era Obscurity – For the Tenth Time

The great thing about the Brown Acid compilations is that there are a ton of unbelievable rare treasures amid the obscure singles by marginally talented bands who did their best to imitate Cream, Led Zep, the MC5 or Uriah Heep. Yet while pretty much all these bands rescured from obscurity over the course of the series’ ten volumes sound high on one thing or another, ultimately they have one thing in common: they embraced freedom.

All but one of the songs on the new anthology Brown Acid: The Tenth Trip – streaming at Riding Easy Records – were made in the US during the Vietnam War. The privileged kids whose parents could afford to put them through college to escape the draft weren’t making music that sounded much like this. Acid rock was a working-class subculture, created by musicians who were in danger of being drafted into a war that virtually all of them opposed. There’s only one overtly political song on this record, but let’s not forget that songs which openly endorsed drug use identifed their makers as subversive. This music was more radical than most people today realize.

The first track, Tensions, is by Flint, Michigan band Sounds Synonymous. With slinky organ and fuzztone guitar, it’s basically a one-chord jam  til the chorus. The haphazard doublespeed outro is a classic 1969 stoner touch.

Instead of accelerating, Louisville’s Conception follow a similar pattern with their 1969 single Babylon, with cheap amps, a phaser and a slow blues jam that appears out of nowhere. California band Ralph Williams and the Wright Brothers’ Never Again is a hard blues recorded in mono – three years later.

Atlanta band Bitter Creek’s 1970 recording Plastic Thunder has MC5 snarl and ominous lyrics that reflect the turbulence of the era: it’s one of the album’s best songs. New Orleans group Rubber Memory’s All Together – a ramshackle Vietnam War plea for solidarity – is one of the longscale gems these anthologies are best know for, slinking along with fuzztone bass, wah-wah scratch guitar, and a bridge from nowhere to basically nowhere as well.

First State Bank put out the impressively multitracked, scampering riff-rocker Mr. Sun in that same year. The album’s lone novelty song, Brothers and One’s Hard On Me is a pretty obvious dirty joke (say the title slowly and you’ll get it).

Tucson’s Frozen Sun contribute a Hendrix ripoff with super-spacy lyrics, followed by the album’s most hilarious song, The Roach, a 1969 stoner classic by Alabama band the Brood. “Leave him around for when you begin to come down,” their singer rasps over wahs and organ and a weird white noise loop: is that supposed to be somebody toking hard?.

The album’s final cut is Tabernash’s Head Collect, a surreal 1969 mashup of the Beatles and mid-60s Pretty Things.

It’s unthinkable that any of the bands in the ten-album series could have made this music while wearing masks and standing six feet from each other. Folks, this lockdown bullshit is never going to end unless we put an end to it. It’s time to mobilize.

Sharply Lyrical, Smart Purist Rock Eclecticism From Spygenius

Canterbury, UK-based band Spygenius play densely lyrical, erudite rock that draws on sixty years of classic tunesmithing. Their new double gatefold vinyl album Man on the Sea – streaming at Bandcamp – is as ambitious as it is vast. Their ability to channel an amazing number of styles is breathtaking. New wave? Check. The Beatles? Doublecheck. 80s pop, 70s art-rock? Check and doublecheck. Clever puns and cynical humor notwithstanding, frontman/guitarist Peter Watts’ songs occasionally take themselves a bit too seriously. But when this band connect, they really hit it out of the park (gratuitous American baseball reference in a review of an English band, WTF?), and they do that a lot here.

The opening track, Another True Story is Rubber Soul Beatles as Squeeze might have done it, with a twelve-string guitar: Oxford group Dada Paradox come to mind. Likewise, Albion, a snide dismissal of icy British conformity, is a McCartneyesque ballad with hints of the tropics and an unexpected snarl as it goes on.

Propelled by Ruth Rogers’ bubbly, dancing bass and Alan Cannings’ tightly clustering drums,  If You Go A-Roving looks back to the chimepop of 80s bands like Happy Mondays, with a Celtic tinge: keyboardist Matt Byrne’s trebly carnival organ is a deft touch. They keep the jangle and clang going throughout Salaud Days, a sendup of hypocrites. The title is a pun: “salaud” is French for “bastard,” Watts using the word in the Sartrean sense of an individual who refuses or neglects to exercise his free choice.

Side one concludes with Tomorrowland, a very clever critique of wide-eyed, futuristic techie fantasies, Byrne’s piano leaping and bounding uneasily. Side two begins with the Kinks-ish Café Emery Hill, followed by the sobering Dolphinarium 1986, a moody Celtic folk-rock reflection on how nostalgia is the enemy of history.

New Street is a snarky mashup of organ-driven 60s psychedelia and mid-80s REM. The album’s high point is the metaphorically loaded seafaring ballad Man Overboard: this grimly detailed account of a mutiny wouldn’t be out of place in the Charming Disaster catalog if that band played eight-minute songs.

Green Eyed Monster opens side three amid wild sheets of noise and then an anthemic, minor-key sway like the Church circa 1985 or so. From there the group segue into In a Garden, Byrne’s phantasmagorically twinkling piano elevating it above REM ripoff level. “She can’t help being stupider than you,” Watts rails in the scampering, organ-fueled Don’t Blame It on Your Mother, a dis to somebody who’ll do anything to avoid facing up to responsibility – a recurrent theme here.

Midnight Bandola comes across as an Irish take on the Grateful Dead circa American Beauty.  Rogers sings Spite, its bright Manchester pop sheen masking her hilariously venomous portrait of a pompous twit. Watch Your Back rises slowly from unresolved Robyn Hitchcock jangle to a big payoff. Windy (an original, not the 60s pop hit) has its airy late Beatles ambience: it could be late-period Love Camp 7 with a keyboard. That’s where the album ought to end; the intro to the last track is torture. Back in the radio-and-records age, this band would have been huge.

The DriverX Soundtrack: A Crazily Diverse College Radio Style Playlist

, Lili Haydn and Marvin Etzioni‘s soundtrack to the 2018 film DriverX – streaming at youtube – is a long one, with a grand total of twenty tracks. Even for a film score, it’s especially eclectic, everything from soul to powerpop to uneasy set pieces. Etzioni plays mostly the good-cop role here, showing off his multistylistic erudition, while Haydn gets to be bad cop with her stark, troubled instrumentals.

Her brief main title theme is a surreal mashup of Central Asian folk and sinister oldtimey swing. Etzioni pulls a first-class oldschool soul band together for Oh Glory Be, sung with gospel passion by Helen Rose. The Model rip through a brief powerpop sprint; a little later, Etzioni plays a grimly amusing Dylan spoof on ukulele.

Talon Majors sings a turbulent, Amy Winehouse-ish neosoul tune. The Satellite Four prance through a long series of variations on a famous Shadows surf theme. Danny Peck takes over the mic on Haydn’s breathy, Orbisonesque Nashville noir ballad I’m Here, which she reprises at the end, Julee Cruise style.

Etzioni’s tense soul-blues epic Trouble Holding Back slowly rises to a jaggedly haphazard guitar solo; then he goes into low-key, flinty olschool C&W with Hard to Build a Home. He sticks with gloomy Americana in Miss This World.

Haydn’s other contributions include a brooding violin and acoustic guitar interlude; a hazy trip-hop tune; a bit of psychedelic baroque pop; a dubby, twinkling nocturne; some haunting instrumental folk-rock and a ridiculous descent into EDM.

More Radically Intuitive Reinventions From Marianne Dissard

We’ve reached the most disturbing time in the history of music. Musicians are being forced onto the dole, forced to take jobs in unfamiliar and often undesirable fields because the lockdowners are hell-bent on destroying the arts. While innumerable online collaborations have sprung up, most of them have turned out stiff and uninspired. While you can always improvise against what somebody has already recorded, it’s impossible to replicate the chemistry of being next to someone onstage or in a studio and engaging with them unless you’re actually there.

One of the few artists to successfully overcome those limitations, and create a lot of material during the lockdown, is French-born, Tucson-based songwriter Marianne Dissard. Maybe the fact that she’s a singer, that she’s used to doing a final vocal take over music that’s already been recorded, has empowered her. Whatever the case, she seems to be about halfway through creating the last album anyone would expect from her: a covers record, sung in English, no less.

The fact that she has exquisite taste in covers helps. She’s been releasing them as singles: the first one was an practically nine-minute, dirgey reinvention of Phil Ochs’ chilling lost-submarine epic The Scorpion Departs But Never Returns.

After that she put out “his” and “hers” version of the quietly vindictive Janis Ian folk-pop classic At Seventeen. This blog is partial to hers; it’s more orchestral, with elegantly mulitracked bass and cello by Thoger Lund from Giant Sand. Dissard changes the syncopation and sings it line by line, with vastly more angst than the sullen, deadpan original. When she reaches the point where “Smalltown eyes will gaze at you in dull surprise, when payment due exceeds accounts received,” it will give you chills.

The latest single is a considerably dirtier remake of Steely Dan’s Dirty Work. Dissard tweaks the gender references and also gives the song a lot more angst than the original (remember that the record label insisted on using studio crooner David Palmer instead of the grittier-voiced Donald Fagen on the 1972 single).

All this is streaming at Bandcamp an addition to a sepulchral, previously unreleased recording of Dissard singing Kath Bloom’s It’s So Hard To Come Home, backed by Calexico‘s Joey Burns on guitars and banjo!

A Promising Debut Release From the Catchy Forever Honey

Forever Honey play a watery, kinetic blend of 80s dreampop and digital-clean 21st century small-venue rock, with more catchy bounce than most bands in either of those two styles. Their debut ep Pre-Mortem High is streaming at Bandcamp.

The first track, Christian sets the stage: Aida Mekonnen’s icy chorus-box downstroke guitar, airy vocals from frontwoman Liv Price and bassist Jack McLoughlin’s dancing lines punching in as the verses peak out. Go For a Smoke is part Penny Lane Beatles and part drifting, echoing teens janglerock, Price reaching for a more sultry delivery.

The third cut, Twenty-Five has more of a produced, poppy feel: five years from the dreaded three-0, and Price is already feeling old. Impressively, the band could have gone in a generic corporate urban pop direction with the closing cut, Where We Are Sometimes, but opt instead for distantly Lynchian clanging/wafting contrast. “Careful what you wish for” is the mantra. It’s reason to hope for more from this group one of these days.