New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: shoegaze

Moody, Goth-Tinged Duo the Smoke Fairies Play a Rare Free Show in Williamsburg

British duo the Smoke Fairies set unpretentious vocals with low-key harmonies to attractive, tersely constructed, subtly orchestrated keyboard melodies with a typically shadowy, nocturnal ambience. A lot of Jessica Davies and Katherine Blamire’s songs bring to mind Blonde Redhead at their most darkly shoegazy. The Smoke Fairies have a new self-titled album, their third, streaming at Spotify and a free, full-band show coming up on Sept 1 at Rough Trade in Williamsburg at 7 PM.

It’s a change of pace – is the heavy use of synths and piano this time around an attempt to replicate a mannered, campy Lana Del Rey faux-noir vibe? Happily, no. What most of these songs are is 90s-style trip-hop pop, very cleverly disguised and arranged. There’s more than a hint of classic 70s Britfolk in the vocals, and a nod to 80s goth-pop and darkwave in the background. The opening track, We’ve Seen Birds has the synth imitating a guitar tremolo – “Did you think we could exist like this?” the duo ask enigmatically. Eclipse Them All reaches toward a funeral parlor organ sound with the occasional lingering cry from the guitar – it’s a shot at seductively anthemic, Goldfrapp-style atmospherics.

Shadow Inversions works a more anthemically ghostly ambience, swirling over a simple, rising bassline with distorted, echoey guitars and drums. The slowly vamping Hope Is Religion builds to a hypnotic, Indian-flavored string ambience. Waiting for Something to Begin, a pulsing, angst-ridden escape anthem, blends distant Beatlisms into its nocturnal downtempo groove.

Your Own Silent Movie is another slow, angst-fueled anthem, sort of a mashup of 80s goth-pop and teens chamber pop, the dynamics rising and falling: “Each room of your house a drama you’ve been staging, but I will never let the curtains unfold,” the two insist.

Guest Andy Newmark’s tumbling, artsy drums raise the energy of Misty Versions above by-the-numbers folk noir, building to an icily seductive mix of crackling guitar noise and dreampop vocalese. Drinks and Dancing is hardly the bubbly pop song the title would suggest – instead, it’s a more hi-tech take on torchy, wounded Amanda Thorpe-style balladry. Likewise, Koto is not a Japanese folk song but a simple, tersely crescendoing two-chord trip-hop vamp.

Want It Forever takes an unexpected detour into garage rock, souped up with layers of keys and guitars. The Very Last Time ponders a torrid but impossible relationship that sounds like it was doomed from the start, set to what’s become an expectedly echoey, minor-key, hallucinatory backdrop. The album ends with the haunted, bitter, defeated Are You Crazy,opening as a regretful piano ballad and growing to a swaying, deep-space pulsar ambience. It’ll be interesting to see how much of all this orchestration and atmospheric hocus-pocus the band can replicate onstage.

A Catchy Update on Classic Dreampop with Butter the Children

Today’s free download is from Brooklyn guitar band Butter the Children. Cool name for a band, huh? Two perfectly innocuous ingredients combine for a creepy command. They have an interesting sound, one that looks back to the 80s, catchy but nebulous, part dreampop, part retro new wave.Their debut album came out last year and is up at their Bandcamp page as a free download.

With a bent-note scream or two, the retro Motown fuzz bass comes in, and then they’re off into Robyn Byrd with an insistent downstroke pulse. Frontwomoan Inna Mkrtycheva’s vocals are half-buried in the mix so it’s hard to tell how this relates to the legendary host of what all New Yorkers back in the 80s knew as “the naked talk show” on public access tv.

Earthbound puts a dreampop swirl on a very, very, very familiar mid-80s Cure riff with some attactively weird, tone-warping guitar EFX. Flesh Wound in Ithaca blends Guided by Voices catchiness via the bassline against a wall of shoegaze guitar opaqueness. Vermin $upreme kicks off with a stomping backbeat and a sly Stones allusion but quickly goes in more of a vintage Sonic Youth direction complete with cool bass chords.

Prognosis Negative is  over in less than two minutes, something this band does a lot: nothing here makes it to the three-minute mark. This one’s a chirpy pop song with a lead guitar line echoing PiL and vocals higher in the mix: “A temporary friend or a born-again, I should have known by now,” Mkrtycheva laments with a cold bitterness. Rochelle Rochelle takes Johnny Marr jangle and sandpapers it roughly, while Lupus, the final track adds layers of cool guitar sonics as it builds over another one of those fast downstroke beats. Butter the Children are even better live than on record; they’re at Big Snow Buffalo Lodge in Bushwick tonight, Saturday, March 9 at 11ish.

Dead Leaf Echo’s Debut Album: A Rainy Day Treat

Dead Leaf Echo plays the release show for their debut album Thought & Language on Feb 27 at 10:30 at the Mercury Lounge for $10. If this had come out on 4AD in 1989, it would be regarded as a classic of its kind today. The band name is well-chosen: their music has a vividly chilly autumnal feel as well as a reverberating, hypnotic ambience.  Wet, shimmery, frequently icy layers of guitar mist swirl and echo through simple, catchy hooks that often bring to mind bands like My Bloody Valentine and Lush in their early years. Call it shoegaze, or dreampop, or goth, it’s a mix of all three.

The album’s opening track, Conception, sets the tone, a rain-drenched soundscape morphing into an insistent, cyclical hook, riffs echoing dubwise throughout the mix. The second cut, Kingmaker opens bright and ringing like mid-80s Cure, echoey guitar screams fading into white noise a la the Church. That band is echoed even more vividly on Featherform, a mix of elegant jangle and nebulous shoegaze, its clangy lines rising insistently and then blending into a lushback drop for a baroque-tinged outro. It segues into Internal with its dreaminess juxtaposed against steady bass chords, once again building into an intricate, majestically enveloping web of sound.

Language of the Waves blends the catchy, chiming bounce of late 80s bands like the Mighty Lemon Drops with more ornate sonics. Memorytraces (a free download) is the album’s best and loudest song, a swaying, catchy anthem with a terse, incisive flange guitar solo and a lush, distantly jangling outro with biting harmonic flourishes. Like many of the tracks here, it segues into the next one, Birth, with it simple, direct bass pulse, pensive anthemicness and insistently crescendoing guy/girl vocals.

Child rises out of a hazy tone poem of sorts to a breathless pace, followed by the rising and receding waves of Thought, distantly majestic slide guitar moving through the mix. Dream of the Soft is sort of a gentler take on the blend of folk and new wave that the Railway Children began their career with, a New Order-ish bass hook rising and eventually pushing everything to the side.

The bouncy Heavensent is sort ofa  hybrid of the Cure, Lush and the Coctean Twins, period-perfect wthout being cheesy or a ripoff. By contrast, the slowly atmospheric Gesture reverts to early 90s Church sonics and dramatic heft. She Breathes goes for more of a late 80s pop feel amidst the grey-sky ambience, while Birthright brings in a marching goth vibe.

Flowerspeak, with its bass hook anchoring the spacious, minimalist melody, could be the Police if they’d stuck around after Synchronicity. The album ends with Language and its contrasting high/low, light/dark textures and echoey raindroplet guitar awash in banks of reverb. It’s music to get lost in, a treat for fans of dark, pensive, rainy-day music. One thing on this album that would be good to hear more of is guitarist Ana B.’s voice: she nails the moody uncertainty of the era the band has embraced. It’s tempting to say that they’ve coldly embraced it, but that be an extreme for a band whose sense of the understated and the enigmatic is their greatest asset.

Mighty, Majestic 19th Century Rock Songs from Elisa Flynn

Elisa Flynn’s 2009 album Songs About Birds and Ghosts was a stark, moody collection of literate rock songs. The production went for a scruffy, jangly acoustic-electric feel, but the tunes sometimes reached toward a towering majesty, particularly the opening cut, Timber, a genuine 21st century classic (watch the video, a wry Blair Witch parody, here). So the question that screamed out was what if Flynn decided to go all the way and give her songs an epic grandeur rather than simply hinting at it? That’s exactly what she’s done with her latest release, 19th Century Songs, and that’s why it might be the best rock album of the year.

Flynn is a one-woman orchestra, playing all the guitars and keys, backed by an alternately mighty and elegant rhythm section of Mark Ospovat (who also produced) on bass and Anders Griffen on drums. Sometimes she unleashes a swirling dreampop cyclotron, other times a savage roar, often both at once: some of this music is the bastard genius child of My Bloody Valentine and the Throwing Muses. Flynn’s vocals on Songs About Birds and Ghosts were gripping – here they are exquisite. She’s always been a good singer – she’s a student of Shara Worden, something that pretty much gives her instant cred – but at this point Flynn has reached the point where she may have surpassed her teacher. And that’s not to disrespect My Brightest Diamond’s frontwoman, a powerful and dynamic presence, but simply to say that Flynn can pack more wallop into a single, wounded bent note than most people can with an entire album.

The lyrics explore historical themes, allusively: they’re sung from an eyewitness point of view, often without directly referencing a particular incident or time period, which makes them all the more interesting. The opening track, Close Your Eyes, once again is the real stunner here, pairing off the drama and intensity of the verse against a gentler, watery chorus straight out of the Lush playbook from around 1989. Is this song about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair murders by serial killer H. H. Holmes?  Maybe. 19th Century Breakup Song follows a more predictable trajectory, building up to the chorus, like the Walkabouts if they’d been from Brooklyn instead of Seattle. Flynn’s wary, nuanced voice contrasts with the raw power of the guitars: on an all-too-brief solo, she fires off a series of biting octaves while Ospovat slinks behind her in the shadows.

The third track, Eliza Donner, evokes Siouxsie & the Banshees, ominous guitar rising and falling above Griffen’s menacing, funereal drums. “Does He watch us like we’re figures in a snow globe?” the doomed woman asks, hope slowly turning to dread. “I can’t hear you talking but I hear the wind laughing at me.” The next song, Fram, seems to be a seafaring epic, a surreal torrent of sinister imagery, its narrator “cutting into ice for weeks and months” over a backdrop of intricate fingerpicking. Flynn goes back to Siouxsie-esque with Poor Little Lamb, the most exhilarating song here, carnivalesque organ fluttering behind the wall of guitars for extra menace. Midway through, when a completely evil dreampop bridge leaps out from behind the central riff, the effect is literally breathtaking. The album closes with the pensive, gothic folk tune William Tecumseh Sherman, a soldiers-eye view of the Civil War where “the blackest days have shown themselves” and southerners (or is it all the soldiers?) “lay down their lives for twisted dreams of older men.” The CD comes with a “lovely hand-crafted cover, 3 prints, and a 1″ pin,” for six bucks at Flynn’s bandcamp, where you can hear and also download the whole thing.

Download Caveman’s New Single for Free

Would you be willing to visit a lame site like the Fader if you knew they had a song that was really good? Hang with this one by Brooklyn band Caveman until the chorus kicks in and then you won’t be able to resist. It’s chimy, shoegazy stuff with some classic Britpop chord changes. The vocals aren’t much but the layers and layers of guitars are luscious. The band’s new album Coco Beware (attention Mme. Chanel!) is out 9/13. Download it free here.

Thad Debrock Makes a Mark at the Rockwood

Last night at the Rockwood Thad Debrock put on a guitar clinic. It was as much a clinic for the ears as the fingers. Debrock is a professional musician – he’s played in pit bands for musicals and is highly sought after as a sideman. He’s also a refreshing exception to the rule that the best sidemen often aren’t so good at coming up with their own material. There are plenty of players who can mimic one iconic style or another, but Debrock takes it to the next level. Not only did he evoke a little Chet Atkins, and Wes Montgomery, and John Leventhal (the cerebral, eclectic guitarist from Mojo Mancini and Rosanne Cash’s band), and a lot of Hendrix: he incorporated those ideas, and a whole lot more, into a style that’s all his own.

Debrock plays with great nuance, sharp precision and has blistering speed when he wants to use it, but he didn’t go past midtempo until late in the set. Instead, he shifted imaginatively through one texture after another: judicious jangle, a little distorted skronk, blithe jazzy octaves, twangy noir, graceful Nashville lines, boisterous Bakersfield and finally some screaming Dick Dale tremolo-picking late in the set. Like Marc Ribot, he can play pretty much anything, but where Ribot goes for creepy and sometimes noisy, Debrock tends to go for contemplatively incisive and atmospheric. He sang a couple of terse pop tunes early on and used his loop pedal to add hypnotic background. A bit later, a “tribute to Hendrix” was the furthest thing from what that idea generally conjures up: instead, Debrock went from Wes, to a couple of methodically bluesy verses of Summertime, to where he timewarped a famous Jimi riff and ended up in otherworldly Bill Frisell big-sky territory. Wow!

Another highlight of the show was a romp through a Buck Owens instrumental (doesn’t it kill you when the name of the tune is on the tip of your tongue, you plug in, call your surf music maven friend, play the hook into the phone and still end up without a title?). But instead of doing it straight-up country, Debrock did it with a biting, staccato, jazzy Chet Atkins edge. Then he hit his distortion pedal and launched into a biting salsa-flavored tune that pinned the intensity meter in the red when he started chopping at his chords furiously. Debrock’s rhythm section was tremendous as well. The bassist played with what looked like a gorgeous hollowbody Les Paul copy that provided a darkly snapping, trebly bite, and a drummer whose artful brush and mallet work included probably everything you can do with a pair of cymbals other than saw on them: the whooshy sonics, elegant boom of the toms and devious fills in some of the many spaces that Debrock left open were as fun to watch as they were to hear. There was a lull when a corporate singer-songwriter with one of those generically cheesy, hoarse, phony-sensitive vocal styles took a brief turn behind the mic, but even then Debrock stayed on task, adding a gorgeous country-flavored turnaround to the first song that wasn’t enough to rescue it, but at least it gave it a gentle splashdown instead of an awkward crash-landing. He’s been doing a Wednesday residency here on and off for several months now: if guitar is your thing, he’ll inspire you.