New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: rock music

Frank London’s Latest Soulful Epic Commemorates Ghettoes Around the World

Frank London may be the foremost trumpeter in all of klezmer music. He’s without a doubt the most ambitious. His epic new album Ghetto Songs – streaming at Spotify – is just out today, the anniversary of the murderous Nazi invasion of the Warsaw ghetto. The album also commemorates the five hundredth anniversary of the founding of the first Jewish ghetto, in Venice in 1516. It’s a mix of familiar material, some of it reinvented, along with more obscure tunes.

As London acknowledges, ghettoes are complex institutions. They can be places of refuge, but historically have also mirrored the repression of the societies around them: after all, in an enlightened world, there is no need for ghettoes to exist.

Ghettoes can serve as centers of cultural continuity, but often at the price of losing contact with developments beyond their walls. This vast project underscores the kind of musical alchemy that can result when sounds from ghettoes around the world, from Eastern Europe, to South Africa, to South Central Los Angeles, are open to everyone.

Obviously, cultural cross-pollination like this flies in the face of the lockdowner divide-and-conquer agenda. The purpose of surveillance-based “health passports,” for example, is not only to kill off entire populations with the needle of death: it’s also meant to prevent those smart enough not to take it from escaping to free countries or states. Under the lockdown, the world truly is a ghetto.

That classic War hit is one of the songs on the album, reinvented with a Pink Floyd digital chill beneath London’s soulful one-man brass section and slinky organ work. He opens the record with a brief, carnivalesque, strutting take of the Italian folk tune Amore An, sung with coy glee by Karim Sulayman over the tongue-in-cheek pulse of bassist Gregg August and drummer Kenny Wollesen.

Accordionist Ilya Shneyveys and cellist Marika Hughes join as Sulayman and Sveta Kundish exchange Renaissance counterpoint in a stately madrigal by Venetian-Jewish composer Salomone Rossi. Then Kundish takes over the mic in Mordechai Gebirtig’s elegantly pulsing klezmer classic Minutn Fun Bitokn, London cutting loose with one of his signature, chromatically simmering solos.

Cantor Yanky Lemmer turns in a spine-tingling, dynamic take of the antiwar anthem Oseh Shalom over stately piano-based art-rock. Kundish brings an optimistic calm to an Indian carnatic theme, then Sulayman brings back the operatic drama over a somber backdrop in La Barcheta.

Sulayman and Kundish return to duet on the angst-fueled ballad Ve’etah El Shaddai. Shneyveys leads the charge in the lighthearted South African romp Accordion Jive. Then Sulayman and Kundish keep the party going in the flamenco-tinged dance tune Tahi Taha.

London’s pensive, sustained lines anchor Lemmer’s impassioned intensity in Retsey, the album’s biggest, most enveloping epic. Sulayman and Kundish close the album with with a benedictory duet on the Hanukah hymn Ma’Oz Tzur. As eclectically captivating as much of this is, nothing beats Sir Fank London in concert. Maybe there’s somewhere in Brooklyn’s Satmar community – who helped kickstart his lifelong plunge into global Jewish sounds – where we can see him play this summer.

Fun fact: Sir Frank London was knighted by the government of Hungary.

Funny and Troubling Songs For a Funny and Troubling Time

Good things come in fours today: here’s a mini-playlist of videos and streams to get your synapses firing on all cylinders

The woman who brought you the devious Tina Turner parody What’s Math Got to Do With It, singer/sax player Stephanie Chou has a provocatively philosophical new single, Continuum Hypothesis. It’s sort of art-rock, sort of jazz – a catchy, dancing, anthemic duo with pianist Jason Yeager, dedicated to mathematician Paul Cohen. According to this hypothesis, there is no set whose cardinality is strictly between that of the integers and the real numbers. This seems self-evident, but, based on Cohen’s work in set theory, Chou sees it as essentially unknowable, at least with what we know now. Snag a free download at Lions with Wings’ Bandcamp page while you can.

Here’s Erik Della Penna – the guitar half of erudite, lyrical superduo Kill Henry Sugar with drummer Dean Sharenow – doing a very, very subtle, rustically shuffling, Dylanesque acoustic protest song, Change the Weather:

I’m gonna make predictions
I’m gonna make it rain
I’m gonna put restrictions
On hearing you complain…
I’m gonna change the language
To make you change your mind
I’m gonna make predictions
That you can get behind

Swedish songwriter Moneira a.k.a. Daniela Dahl has a new single, The Bird (Interesting to See) It’s almost eight minutes of minimalist, anthemic art-rock piano and mellotron vibes, an oblique memoir of a troubled childhood, “a bird trapped in an open cage.” Sound familiar?

Natalia Lafourcade sings a slow, plush, epic take of the brooding Argentine suicide ballad Alfonsina y El Mar with Ljova orchestrating himself as a one-man string ensemble with his fadolin multitracks. You’d never know it was just one guy.

Violinist Sana Nagano Releases a Pyrotechnic, Savagely Relevant New Album

Violinist Sana Nagano’s new album Smashing Humans – streaming at Bandcamp – is a feral, grimly picturesque suite inspired by Michael Ende’s 1973 dystopic sci-fi novel, Momo. Nagano’s narrative mashup is an incredibly timely parable. As she explains, “The Orange Monster and the Humans in Grey are taking over the Paradise Planet where Smashing Humans and Bunnies, Poops and Polyrhythmic Santa Clauses co-exist in a euphoric way.” This will resonate with fans of doom metal and the darkest side of art-rock as well as the jazz crowd.

The ringleader of this evil enterprise is the Orange Monster, a Bill Gates type who grew up in the wrong place at the wrong time. “His apple parents named him Orange for obvious reasons and told him he is ugly and they wished he was an apple. At school he was bullied for being the only orange in the entire planet. The universal criminal organization Timesaving Bank scouted him for his skillful negativity, which led him to sell his soul to the shadow side in return for a sense of belonging.”

Nagano gives him a whole track to himself toward the end of the record. She opens with a battle theme, Strings & Figures. The group – also including Peter Apfelbaum on sax, Keisuke Matsuno on guitar, Ken Filiano on bass and Joe Hertenstein on drums – march in cynical lockstep up to a searing, sirening guitar/sax/violin conflagration, Filiano maintaining a deadpan cartoon bounce. From there they coalesce with a jagged, vintage 70s King Crimson intensity. It’s amazing how tight this band remain despite the polyrhythmic complexity and relentlessly searing attack of so much of this music.

Track two, Loud Dinner Wanted pictures the Orange Monster about to enjoy his prey as an aspic. Insistent, hammering riffs and eerily dancing tritones give way to a horror interlude anchored by Filiano’s booming chords and Hertenstein’s minimalist stomp while the rest of the crew shrieks and struggles. Nagano glides uneasily as the dancing pulse returns; Apfelbaum flutters as Matsuno bends, clanks and wails.

Nagano loops a creepy chromatic riff while the rest of the band throw off dissociative shards and flickers to begin Dark Waw, a mini-suite depicting a shadow universe. Peevishly persistent skronk fades down into haggardly divergent, trilling voices and then some creepy math-metal.

Nagano and Apfelbaum introduce the Humans in Grey with a menacingly simple insectile theme: these cold figures immediately join in a macabre march. As a parable of consumerism – or as just an evil, loopy, noisy theme – it packs a wallop. The rhythm drops out; the group shiver around in an increasingly poltergeist-like atmosphere, Nagano leading them back up into an increasingly bellicose vortex.

She reflects on the concept of a shadow self in The Other Seven, the rhythm growing more lithe and then ceding to deep-space menace, Matsuno’s death star twinkling and then resonating morosely in the distance. Hertenstein’s terse, playful solo introduces Chance Music, which grows to a pulsing Butch Morris/AACM type massed theme. This is a pivotal moment in the narrative, so no spoilers.

The Orange Monster portrait is titled Heavenly Evil Devil. It seems he learns to jump through increasingly complicated, distantly Balkan-flavored hoops, but, be careful when you fight with monsters, etc. It would be a spoiler to give away the ending, which is fantastic: let’s just say that this might be the best album of 2021.

Revisiting the Dark Side of the 80s with Liela Moss

Liela Moss loves the 80s. Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, Siouxsie, a blue Boss chorus pedal, layers and layers of chilly synths and short, concise, anthemic songs. Her album Who the Power is streaming at Bandcamp and will resonate with anyone else with a thing for the decade that brought us the goth subculture, the compact disc, wine coolers…and the ugly Reaganite and Thatcherite roots of the lockdown.

Brassy, echoey vintage synths, loud drums and a brisk 2/4 new wave beat propel the album’s opening track, Turn Your Back Around. It’s a cautionary tale: “Here begins an endless fall from rule,” Moss intones, “Everything we saw will go unknown.”

There’s more than a little stern, angst-fueled Marianne Faithfull in Moss’ voice in Watching the Wolf, a cynical, pissed-off, goth-tinged synth anthem. With its icily pulsing chorus-box bass and chorus nicked straight from Prince, Atoms At Me keeps the vengeful vibe going.

“Now I feel unstoppable as the sun drums down on my door,” Moss belts in Always Sliding, soaring triumphantly over echoey synth layers. Hypnotically stormy synths and Siouxsie-esque vocal harmonies pervade The Individual, while White Feather wouldn’t be out of place on one Siouxsie’s innumerable mid-80s ep’s.

Twinkle and fuzz from the keyboards contrast in Battlefield, the album’s most sophisticated, Siouxsie-esque track. “If the wind blows, do you spin like a leaf and lie to make the rules?” Moss demands in Nummah, the most kinetically pulsing, poppiest tune here.

Suako is a mashup of PiL’s attempts at funk and Sisters of Mercy, maybe. Moss closes the album with Stolen Careful, a wistful ballad awash in echo and loops. Uncap that black eyeliner and take a sip of Michelob – do they still make that stuff?

Get a Killer Heavy Playlist, Save an Iconic London Venue

[Editor’s note: stranger things than an album mysteriously disappearing from the web have happened over the past year. But isn’t it suspicious that a charity compilation whose proceeds benefit a UK live music venue would suddenly vanish without a trace? Such a campaign, after all, goes completely against the lockdowners’ interests. In the New Abnormal, the arts are illegal, and the only entertainment is online, where it can be surveilled. If and when this returns to the web, this page will be linked to the audio]

The Black Heart is a beloved, intimate music venue located in London’s Camden Town, and home base for the wildly popular, annual Desertfest. It’s also one of the city’s top spots for heavy music. And since the Boris Johnson regime turned the UK into North Korea, the Black Heart has been cold and dead. There’s a crowdfunding campaign going to keep the venue from shutting its doors forever, and an incredibly diverse, mind-opening 38-track compilation, Countershock, streaming at Bandcamp [but now conspicuously missing] and available as a name-your-price download with all proceeds going to help the club.

It’s an amazingly eclectic playlist, something for everyone: many different extremes of heavy psychedelia, plenty of doom metal, stoner boogie, thrash, a little death metal and postrock too. Cool as it is that so many well-known touring bands have come out in support of the club, this is also a great way to discover some of the UK and Europe’s best undeservedly obscure talent while helping a good cause.

The obvious stuff is as good as you would hope: none of these bands phoned in their contributions. Year of the Cobra‘s chromatic dirge The Battle Of White Mountain is a prime example, especially when the bass rises and circles behind an oscillating guitar break about five minutes in. Most of these songs are long: the shortest one is Sasquatch’s My World, but it’s a galloping, fuzztone riff-rock gem. And Chingus, by ZED, makes a great segue.

Heavenly Manna, by Salem’s Bend is another killer cut, a mix of sledgehammer riffs and ominous, enveloping, lingering calm, with an incisive wah guitar duel over an unexpectedly lithe pulse. Also on the heavy psych tip, Ritual King‘s Dead Roads has twin fuzztone bass/guitar leads, unexpected tempo shifts and tantalizingly short guitar and bass solos.

So many of the more obscure tracks are just as relentlessly strong. Skraeckoedlan contribute Universum, shuffling heavy biker-ish rock in the R.I.P. vein with tasty downtuned chordal bass and a new dawn fade of a bridge. Miss Lava‘s shapeshifting, funereal The Wait also has more than a hint of Joy Division, especially as the bass pierces the gloom. And the way Morag Tong‘s We Answer slowly closes in on the abyss is one of the album’s most mesmerizing moments.

You want great drums? Try Possessor’s unexpectedly nimble Coffin Fit. Heavy, heavy funk? Mount Kong, by Purple Kong goes off the scale. Carnatically-inspired wailing over bludgeoning riffage? Ashurbanipal’s Request, by Lowen is for you. The Lunar Effect reward your perseverance with the most obvious and hilarious Sabbath homage as the next-to-last track here. It’s impossible to think of a better payoff than the screaming solo that winds up Butcher in the Fog‘s Electric Van Gogh to close the mix on a high note. Once we overthrow the lockdown – which we’re going to have to do, otherwise it’s New Abnormal forever – these bands make a good bucket list to check out when we get unrestricted, unsurveilled concerts going again.

Theme From a Twisted Summer Place

Irene Pena‘s new single The Summer Place – streaming at Big Stir Records – is a venomously hilarious powerpop gem, the missing link between LJ Murphy’s Pretty For the Parlor and that famous Squeeze song. Behind the chalet, this holiday is never complete with some sick drama.. If JD Salinger had been a janglerock guy, he would have written this. “Injuries fade but the memories last a lifetime.”

Wildly Popular New York Cult Artist Releases a Dark New Single

Singer/personality Anna Copa Cabanna had a big hit with a monthly punk cabaret residency at Joe’s Pub that lasted for years. She was a familiar presence at the legendary first incarnation of Freddy’s Bar before it was razed illegally to built that hideous, already-rusting Brooklyn arena. Most recently, she’s become the frontwoman of Big Balls, the hilarious AC/DC cover band.

Her new single is We Don’t Sleep, an expansive departure into lingering noir pop.

Grimly Lyrical, Darkly Jangly Americana Rock Tunesmithing From Janet Simpson

The ramshackle, embroidered cover art for Janet Simpson‘s new album Safe Distance – streaming at Bandcamp – is pure American gothic, a cowboy trying to lasso a snake. That speaks volumes for Simpson’s worldview and irreverent outsider persona. Her songs draw a straight line back to the glory days of the so-called “paisley underground” rock of the 80s: Americana twang, punk spirit, psychedelic ambience. Simpson’s tales of hard times on the forgotten fringes are starkly lyrical and often chilling. She plays guitars and keys and has a great band behind her: Will Stewart on guitars, Robert Wason on bass and Tyler McGuire on drums. This is one of the best rock records of the year.

The opening track, Nashville Girls sounds like the Dream Syndicate with a woman out front, a clanging, vampy, wickedly catchy, caustically picturesque sendup of the kind of clueless trust fund kids you see in any gentrified neighborhood. Stewart’s uneasy chorus-box guitar solo wafts in, a fresh breeze straight ouf of the 80s; Simpson overdubs some whooshy synth on the way out. It’s a hard act to follow, but the rest of the record holds up.

The blend of jangle and clang in the second cut, Slip, is just as delicious: it could be the Gun Club at their most focused mid-80s peak, taking a stab at a hypnotic, nocturnal waltz. Alcohol permeates these songs like George Jones’ breath: Simpson’s battlescarred narrators medicate 24/7. Case in point: Reno, a pulsing, honkyonk-flavored tale that turns far much darker than you would ever think.

Simpson layers hazy keys and spare guitars for suspenseful, nocturnal ambience in Awe & Wonder, a brooding, completely ambiguous look at trying to rekindle what seems to be a pretty dead romance.

She wails to the top of her range over a steady, tense backbeat iu I’m Wrong: “I wander off sometimes it’s so easy to let myself fall through the cracks,” she muses. The baritone guitar solo out is an unexpected treat.

As an offhand portrait of despondency while everybody’s out having fun, Aiu’t Nobody Looking packs a calm wallop: and that fretless bass is a trip. The album’s title track is not a snide lockdown reference but a sobering account of a blackout hookup set to a marching waltz beat:

Dancing the line as if it was straight
A callous ballet, the border so fine
On the border so fine between two awful states

Simpson goes back to portraits of terminal depression in the spare, fingerpicked Black Turns Blue:

I’ve been drinking all my feelins it’s so much easier than dealing
The world’s so pretty when I’m reeling I’d rather stay where I can’t see

The album’s most hauntingly allusive song is Double Lines, a Nashville gothic drinking-and-driving tale right up there with Ninth House’s Follow the Line. Simpson offers up the spare, mostly acoustic Silverman as a mea culpa to someone who could have been a safe harbor.

Mountain, a Memphis soul tune, is an unexpectedly optimistic scenario. The album’s final cut is Wrecked, a subdued but defiant, distantly Tex-Mex flavored tune:

Maybe I’m barely hanging on
Maybe I’m wrecked, but I’m not too far gone
Maybe the edge is right where I belong
I’m not a fighter but I’m a dancer
And it might be a grave I’m dancing on

Unmasking One of the Most Deviously Brilliant Rock Hoaxes Ever

Working over the web last year, the Armoires decided to release a whole slew of singles under a bunch of assumed names (you bastards, you snagged October Surprise, the best bandname ever!). Despite widespread interest online and on radio, nobody ever got wise to the fact that it was really them. Finally, the muzzle is off, and this alternately hilarious and poignant, erudite mix of originals and covers – inspired by the Dukes of Stratosphear‘s immortal parodies of 60s psychedelic rock excess – has been released as an official Armoires record, Incognito, streaming at Bandcamp.

Based in California, the harmony-rock band found themselves stymied in attempts to pull the whole group together under dictator Gavin Nuisance’s fascist lockdowner restrictions. Fortuitously, the core of the band, keyboardist Christina Bulbenko and multi-instrumentalist Rex Broome, also run a very popular specialty label, Big Stir Records, so they have access to a global talent base. Drawing on a rotating cast of guitarists and drummers, the result is the most eclectically delicious album of the year so far.

The Armoires are more likely to slyly quote from late 70s powerpop than 60s psychedelia, although pretty much every rock style since then is fair game for their sometimes loving, sometimes witheringly cynical satire. What differentiates this album from the Dukes of Stratosphear’s (a.k.a. XTC’s) mashups is the cleverness of the lyrics.

Say what you want that “October Surprise” turn John Cale’s iconic proto-goth Paris 1919 into bouncy Penny Lane Beatles: that’s the spirit of punk, right? The B-side, Just Can’t See the Attraction, is an acidic original immersed in schadenfreude and driven by Larysa Bulbenko’s violin. “She was maybe too much, too demanding/She was surely too much in demand,” and the haters abound.

As D.F.E., the band give themselves several fictitious shout-outs in their A-side, I Say We Take Off and Nuke This Site From Orbit, a seethingly Beatlesque critique of social media. The quote at the end of the song is too good to give away. But the B-side is sobering, a lively, deadpan cover of Zager and Evans Hall of Famers Christie’s 1970 pentatonic folk-rock hit Yellow River, a post-Vietnam War anthem told from the winning side of that pyrrhic victory.

Bagfoot Run, the A-side of the single by “The Chessie System” is an irresistibly funny bluegrass escape anthem. You’d think that somebody would have figured out the joke from the subtly venomous anti-lockdown flip side, Homebound, a Louvin Brothers sendup, but nobody did.

As The Yes It Is, their jangly, anthemic cover of new wave band 20/20’s The Night I Heard a Scream, a portrait of an unsolved hit-and-run is infinitely more chilling. The cover of XTC’s Senses Working Overtime blows away the original, raising the Orwellian ambience several notches with piano and violin. Likewise, the line about “we’ll give it pause to breathe the air” in the triumphantly jangly, unlikely cover of the Andy Gibb rarity Words and Music.

Jackrabbit Protector, released under the name Zed Cats, is part Nancy Sinatra Vegas noir parody, part metaphorically-loaded populist throwdown. “I can count my friends on the palm of my hand,” Broome laments in the Beatlesque Walking Distance, awash in searing guitar multitracks. The lyrically torrential Sergeant Pepper-esque stroll, Ohma, Bring Your Light Into This Place, by the “Ceramic Age,” follows in the same vein: it could be a parable. Their B-side is Magenta Moon, a gorgeous, lushly swaying kiss-off anthem and cautionary tale (and maybe a Nick Drake shout-out). This eerie orb is “My one and true companion in the way you never were,” as Bulbenko relates in her simmering, mentholated mezzo-soprano.

Great Distances, by “Gospel Swamps” will rip your face off: over a tense twelve-string janglerock pulse, the band salute a time, and a person, lost to transcontinental barriers. It’s the great lost track from the Jayhawks’ Sound of Lies record. The concluding cut, Awkward City Limits makes an apt segue, an irresistible, metaphorically-loaded road narrative set to simmering backbeat roadhouse rock, the New Pornographers mashed up with early ELO.

But wait! There’s more! There are bonus tracks including a hilarious Lou Reed reference; Nashville gothic gloom transposed to early Trump-era lockdown; and Babyshambles retro garage rock recast as Burroughs cut-and-paste novelette in New Abnormal hell. Was it worth risking being unmasked as pretenders throughout these wild adventures into the furthest reaches of the band’s creativity? “We’ve always believed that art without risk isn’t worth doing,” is their response in the liner notes.

Catchy Retro 90s Americana from Kelly McFarling

“Am I the last of my kind…standing on the edge of past my prime?” songwriter Kelly McFarling asks in the fifth track of her new album Deep the Habit, streaming at Bandcamp. These confidently arranged Americana rock songs, orchestrated in crystalline digital chill, big-room studio style, look straight back to the 90s. Back then people listened to radio to discover this kind of stuff…and flocked to roadhouses to see it live. In 2021, are there enough places to play, and enough of a potential fan base, to sustain a career built around the Florida, Texas, and northern plains circuits? When are the voices of sanity going to reach critical mass so we can get the rest of the country back to normal?

The album’s first track is Delicate, a brisk, robust four-chord anthem straight out of the BoDeans playbook. Tim Marcus’ pedal steel seeps through the highs over Oscar Westesson’s catchy, loopy bassline and Nick Cobbett’s propulsive drums. The point of the song is that words have resonance: “Be careful what you say, they’re gonna follow us around,” McFarling cautions. There may be subtext here.

Follow Me Down has a more muted backbeat: Fleetwood Mac with a pedal steel. The band stick with that style again in Birds as they pick up the pace, guitarist Andrew Brennan slowly building the sound up from starkness.

North Decatur turns out to be an airy vehicle for Brennan’s feathery mandolin playing. Flangey guitar mingles with the steel behind McFarling’s airy, uncluttered voice in the next track, Century, an allusive workingperson’s Dead anthem. In a year where fear programming has atomized such a disturbing percentage of the population, that resolute, insistent, chorus about going outside has taken on unexpected poignancy. If you want to remember what normalcy really is, this it it.

Brennan sticks with his Jerry Garcia envelope-pedal pulse in the bluesy Now We Know. Just How Small is the album’s catchiest number, looking back to late 60s countrypolitan through every delicious texture, from watery analog chorus to flange, in Brennan’s pedalboard.

McFarling follows with Relevant, a slow, pensive, lingering number and closes the record with Easy As I, as in “I want to let things go as easy as I pick them up;” it’s the key to the album.