New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Tag: smiths band

The Ocean Blue Prove That There’s Life After Goth

“Suddenly, I feel that the world could end in a flash,” frontman David Schelzel muses early on in the opening track on the Ocean Blue‘s latest album Kings and Queens, Knaves and Thieves, streaming at Bandcamp. It could be the Smiths without the camp – hard to imagine, but just try. The point of the song echoes an old Roger Waters theme, that if we blow up the world, everybody’s equal in the end. If anything, the new record is more eclectic, more energetic and possibly even better than these veterans’ more overtly gothic, vintage 4AD-style back catalog. The Ocean Blue had an avid cult fanbase back at their late 80s/90s peak, who will no doubt come out in full force for their show at the Bell House on Feb 28 at 8:30 PM; general admission is $20.

The album’s bouncy second track, It Takes So Long could be Happy Mondays without the ditziness – how’s that for being iconoclastic with your contemporaries’ signature sounds? Love Doesn’t Make It Easy on Us has the band’s usual, watery, Cure-style guitars and contrasting synth textures, and just as much of a bounce.

Icy synths and tinkly guitar sonics echo over a steady new wave beat in All the Way Blue. Bobby Mittan’s rubberband bassline anchors Paraguay My Love, a bizarre mashup of 80s British goth and American bluegrass. F Major 7 – hey, back when this band was big, you had to actually know how to play your instrument – is a nifty, characteristically vamping little acoustic/electric instrumental, followed by the pouncingly catchy kiss-off anthem The Limit, with Scott Stouffer’s coy ska drums.

The resolutely swaying midtempo ballad Therein Lies the Problem (with My Life) could be Morrissey…or American powerpop legends Skooshny in a low-key moment. The steady, brooding nocturnal tableau 9 PM Direction is the album’s most vivid and strongest track, bringing to mind an even more legendary band, the Room.

Step into the Night blends the catchiness of the Cure at their most new-wavey and the Smiths at their most optimistic. The album ends with Frozen, a throwback to the group’s 4AD heyday. Some people will hear this and say here we go again, the damn 80s, can’t we just say goodbye for good to that awful decade, its pervasive Reagan/Thatcher fascism, cliched subcultures, beyond-ridiculous haircuts and lame synthesizers? On the other hand, for the Ocean Blue, old goths don’t die: they just find something to live for.

Sloan Bring Their Perennially Catchy Powerpop and Psychedelia to Bowery Ballroom

You remember Sloan, right? The Canadian Guided By Voices? They’ve got a characteristically burning, catchy, anthemic new album, simply titled 12 (since it’s their twelfth) streaming at Bandcamp, and a Bowery Ballroom gig tomorrow night, May 10 at 9 PM. General admission is $25.

The opening track, Spin Our Wheels has everything that made the band so popular back in the day: insistent downstroke guitars and a big stadium rock chorus, part Big Star, part Cheap Trick. “Watch how far we spin our wheels,” lead guitarist Patrick Pentland intones with sarcastic cheer.

The band build All of the Voices from spare, fresh-faced 60s Britpop to big-studio crunch, with a deliciously icy Pentland chorus-box guitar solo. “All of the choices you made are killing me,” is the refrain.

“The sun shadows the cool chalet,” bassist Chris Murphy sings in Right to Roam, a tongue-in-cheek 60s psych-pop travel narrative that wouldn’t be out of place in the Jigsaw Seen catalog. Murphy’s bass dances out of the mud, drummer Andrew Scott builds from spare and spacious to a steady shuffle, and the guitars build a folk-rock web in the Grateful Dead-inflected Gone for Good.

Rhythm guitarist Jay Ferguson’s gritty, distorted chords anchor The Day Will Be Mine, a relentless, vintage Cheap Trick-style anthem with a big Mick Ronson-esque solo from Pentland.

Essential Services is the band’s surreal, insistently pulsing Mr. Blue Sky:

Is everyone a soldier and there’s no end in sight?
And the ones that do the running exercise their right
To police tomorrow ‘cause they must be moving on
So much for the frontline, win the marathon

Don’t Stop (If It Feels Good Do It) is Sloan at their cynical, sarcastic, faux Chuck Berry best:

You’re site-specific, Mac
I’m under attack
The only time you cross the line
Is when you cross it back…
If I said your behavior suffocates, would you care?

Year Zero is a delicious blend of enigmatic 60s Laurel Canyon jangle and powerpop from ten years later. The band gets even more retro with Have Faith, a garage-rock nugget that could be the Flamin’ Groovies.

The Lion’s Share has a sparkly shine and a cynical singalong melody, part Smiths, part New Pornographers. By contrast, Wish Upon a Satellite has Quadrophenia-level Who bombast. The album winds up with 44 Teenagers, a broodingly swaying Beatlesque anthem, sort of a mashup of Paperback Writer and I Am the Walrus. Raise your lighters and sing along.

Ultan Conlon Hits New York With His Broodingly Lyrical, Vivid Grey-Sky Chamber Pop

Irish crooner Ultan Conlon sings with the same kind of hesitancy at the end of a phrase that Morrissey worked for so long – and for all we know, still is working. But Conlon can also sail up high like Orbison and belt like Pierce Turner when he feels like it. His latest album, Songs of Love So Cruel – streaming at Spotify – is a gloomy cycle told from the point of view of an old man looking back on his marriage with all sorts of angst and regret. Right now Conlon’s in town, with a Dives of New York tour in the works. Tonight, August 27 at around 8:30 PM, he’s at Hifi Bar, with the lyrically brilliant, increasingly harder-rocking Linda Draper opening at 7:30. Then tomorrow, August 28 at 8 PM he’s at 12th Street Bar & Grill in Park Slope; on the 29th at one in the afternoon, he’s at Little Water Radio in South Street Seaport.

Conlon’s site doesn’t credit the musicians on the record, and that’s a pity, because the arrangements and playing are first-rate, purist and inspired: a lot of work went into this. It opens with In the Mad, a brisk janglerock anthem with a lush string section that kicks in on the second chorus. Trouble’s brewing right from the start: “It’s wild and desolate in this snow-cold land,” Conlon grouses. He follows with The Golden Sands, a backbeat janglerocker. Conlon’s narrator longs to be swept off his feet, and “You wait for the day but it’s not coming round.”

The Lumberjack, You and Me, the first of the Americana numbers here, is an elegant waltz:

On the way to the Galway railway station
With your brother there so I can’t say what I’m thinking…
A wry smile, we will meet in September
All political lives end in failure…
I don’t grow, I just cling to the vine

“There’s a trail we wore down across the years,” the protagonist laments in the elegaically shuffling, slide guitar-fueled Dance to Paper Roses. Bristlecone Pines is even more wintry and morose, contemplating what hell must be like: “My limbs will mend but there are cracks, and those ones won’t.” Then the band returns to a shuffle groove with Lonely Avenues, the closest thing to the Smiths here, Conlon reaching for the rafters.

The lush art-rock ballad Eternally evokes Pink Floyd, especially when the slide guitar enters: “Oh how my eyes deceive me now, looking out on this minefield…like seeds waiting to explode, to go up in flames.”

Conlon follows the vampy stadium-rock anthem Place Of Sanctuary with the lush, gorgeously bittersweet art-folk ballad The River Flows and The Woods Creep, a duet with Sabrina Dinan. By the time the album closes with the spare, harp-speckled When I Fell in Love With You, it’s clear that this relationship is now one for the ages. Fans of the sad side of chamber pop will have a field day with this.

Brooding Folk Noir and Lynchian Janglerock from Jaye Bartell

Jaye Bartell plays spare, Lynchian folk rock. His album Loyalty – streaming at Noisetrade – poses more questions than it answers. Bartell sings in a clear baritone with a bit of a wounded edge, amplifying his enigmatic lyrics. He invites you into his brooding, allusive narratives, throws a series of images at you and lets you figure out what kind of trouble is going down, or went down ago; who’s dying, or maybe who’s already died. The songs trace the narrative of a doomed relationship, although not all of them may relate to that. What is clear is that all things dear die here.

There’s a lot of tremolo and reverb on Bartell’s simple, straightforwardly layered acoustic and electric guitar tracks; bass and drums are spare and minimal, enhancing what is often a bedroom folk-noir feel. Bartell really has his way with a catchy hook: the melodies look back equally to pensive 60s Laurel Canyon psych-folk as well as to 80s goth. Both the Velvet Underground ande the Smiths are obvious influences, but melodically rather than as an affectation.

The ominously twangy opening track, Lilly, situates Bartell’s narrator in a metaphorical cave:

It’s the best place for a bird
Who wouldn’t know what a home was
Even if you built him a birdhouse and filled it with string…
Miles of tissue and stitches
Which you can use on the days when I fell to the base of the cave
Lilly
I woke up screaming
Fuck ’em
I’ve got nothing
But I’ve got guts

The more enticing second track, Come See takes a classic 60s Jamaican rocksteady melody and makes Orbisonesque acoustic-electric rock out of it. The accusatory Dance with Me starts slow and then picks uip, then picks up – New York underground legend Dan Penta comes to mind. “Dance with me, so that all of the people see the bane and blame and reeling, dance with me,” Bartell taunts, quietly.

With its uneasily homey metaphors, The Face Was Mine could refer to a dissolved marriage, or possibly the death of parent, or a parent figure: like everything ehse here, the answer unclear. Bartell continues the theme with He Can’t Rise, slowly building out of hypnotic, echoey minimalism to an anthemic Jesus & Marcy Chain-ish chorus.

The Papers starts out as a noir strut and then swing, with a Tom Waits bluesiness – it’s another accusatory number:

You think that you feel bad because he is around
But you feel bad because you feel bad
He always took off his shoes when he walked on the grass
You feel bad because you feel bad

The album’s title track is its jangliest, most 80s-influenced moment. “To know the weight and length of snakes won’t bring sleep to a troubled evening,” Bartell observes. Your Eyelashes is where the story comes together; it’s both the most stark and angriest cut. Which contrasts with the album’s most ornate and anthemic, J&MC-like track, Oldest Friend, closing the album on a gospel-tinged, elegaic note. Put this on your phone and walk the perimeter of McGoldrick Park in Greenpoint some gloomy Sunday, where Bartell reputedly comes up with some of this stuff.

Flowers Glisten and Jangle and Clang and Have a Lot of Shows Coming Up

British band Flowers sound like Britfolk rock legend Amanda Thorpe backed by the Smiths – but not in a florid, campy Beirut way. And in a more trebly, considerably more stripped-down way, too. None of the full-band songs on their latest album, Do What You Want to, It’s What You Should Do – streaming at Spotify – have bass on them, and drummer Jordan Hockley sometimes pounds out a dancing beat with just a single tom-tom. Frontwoman Rachel Kenedy doesn’t have quite the torchy, belting power that Thorpe does, but she’s a soaring, compelling singer in her own right. For those who feel like ditching work, they’re at Cake Shop at about one in the afternoon on Oct 21; at the Delancey at 8, the following night, Oct 22; at the Knitting Factory on Oct 23 at around 2 in the afternoon, followed by psychedelic rockers Gringo Star (free with rsvp  although you will get spammed if you sign up) ; back at Cake Shop on Oct 24 at three in the afternoon, and then later that night at the Brooklyn Night Bazaar, time tba. You definitely won’t run the risk of getting spammed for those shows.

Kenedy sing with a full, round, chorister’s tone on the album’s opening track, Young, bringing to mind Linda Draper‘s adventures in janglerock a few years back. Forget the Fall starts out with a skeletal sway before guitarist Sam Ayres adds brightly clanging layers of chords. Drag Me Down is the closest thing here to a Thorpe/Smiths mashup, while Worn Out Shoes hitches a doo wop-inflected verse to a big anthemic chorus

Lonely is a return to straight up catchy janglerock, Joanna a Smiths-ish launching pad for some spectacular vocal leaps and bounds from Kenedy. They strip it down to just the guitar and vocals for If I Tell You, then return to anthemic mode – with jaunty splashes of cymbals, would you believe – with Comfort.

I Love You blends some midsummer folk ambience into its bouncy sweep. All Over Again is one of the most irresistibly catchy numbers here; by contrast, Anna goes for more of a gently pastoral neo-Velvets feel, with a couple of the trick endings this band likes so much. Be With You is the most low-key song here, followed by the unexpectedly cynical Plastic Jane. Kenedy winds up the album with a brief solo number, just vocals and bass.

This band is all about setting a mood and keeping it going. Their lyrics don’t cover a lot of ground – angst-tinged romantic longing is pretty much it for Kenedy – and there isn’t much variation among all the brightly ringing tunes. But if catchy, smartly assembled, sunshiney three-minute janglerock songs are your thing, these guys deliver 24/7.

Half Day Mix Up 80s Styles for a Sardonically Original Postpunk Sound

Most of the propulsive, sometimes frantic tunes on Brooklyn postpunk band Half Day‘s album In Public – streaming at their Bandcamp page – clock in at around two minutes, often less. They don’t waste notes, they get to the point and then get out, fast. Frontman Christopher Sullivan doesn’t sing as much as he intones, snide and sarcastic. Running his axe through his amp with just a rattle of natural distortion, guitarist Owen Nachtigal veers nimbly between the edge of chaos and singalong Johnny Marr catchiness over the tight rhythm section of Leslie Hong’s growly bass and Kieran Gannon’s jabbing, stabbing drums.

Many of the songs blend growly Wire terseness with a sardonic Smiths tunefulness. The opening track, Give Up sets the tone, guitar and bass in tandem through a catchy verse up to a chorus that’s part Celtic, part nebulously indie. It seems to be a wee-hours fuck-everything party scenario.

Saturday is a brisk punk tune that seems to be about a girl who ought to be missing a guy but isn’t. Trader Jacks is a scruffier take on the Smiths doing a latin-inspired groove. Shiner adds sarcastic flourishes like ah-ah backing vocals and faux funk guitar into a defeated fistfighter’s lament. Likewise, Destroy Me paints a fragmented, frustrated party-gone-to-hell scenario over uneasy tempo shifts.

Madison reaches for a more head-on Smiths ambience, with frenetic major/minor changes and a sardonic narrative about a gold-digging girl. Gators finds the band reaching for a noir blues ambience, an indie take on scampering oldtimey swing. Watches, the album’s longest song at just over three minutes, blends allusions to funk and cleverly multitracked guitars, from buzzy to distorted to jangly and clean. Wait Around blasts through less than two minutes of postpunk; the album ends up with Wild Card with its torrents of lyrics and bits and pieces of Celtic anthemicness and ska-punk. Much as Half Day draw on a whole bunch of well-worn retro styles, what they make with them is uniquely their own, and a lot of fun.

Bluegrass Bass Star Missy Raines Puts Out an Intriguing, Original Rock Album

Bassist Missy Raines is a star in the bluegrass world, but her album New Frontier with her band the New Hip is an electric rock record. Much of it is 80s rock. Those songs sounds a lot like the Smiths, but with an emphasis on Johnny Marr guitar (Ethan Ballinger’s lingering, unresolved chords, surf allusions and distant angst) rather than what the Bushwick blog-pop groups steal from that band (cross your legs daintily and repeat with the proper affectation: “Oh, Bryce darling, it was nothing!”). The rest of the album is more straight-up janglerock than it is Americana-flavored. It turns out that Raines is not only a superb bassist but also an excellent singer, with a matter-of-fact, low-key delivery that’s sometimes hushed, sometimes seductive, sometimes channeling a simmering unease.

The opening track, Learn, shifts from a catchy, swaying verse with a hint of a trip-hop beat to an echoing, broodingly anthemic late 80s Britrock chorus. Raines follows that with Blackest Crow, a methodically swaying, understatedly ominous goodbye anthem, like Liz Tormes fronting the Room. The album’s title track works a ringing two-chord vamp that reminds of the Railway Children, Jarrod Walker’s mandolin and Ballinger’s guitar trading off elegantly. Nightingale traces a night ride through Florida with an Angel from Montgomery type hook that grows more mysterious and seductively lush on the chorus – it would be a standout Sheryl Crow song.

Long Way Back Home uneasily contemplates the temptations of fame and everything that comes with it – maybe you don’t become what you dream of being after all. Where You Found Me ramps up the ominousness with its resonant pools of guitar, like Lush with a gently resolute American accent, and Raines’ opaque lyrics: is this a story being told from beyond the grave? Likewise, Kites, a slow, brooding ballad, like a harder-edged Mazzy Star.

When the Day Is Done works a slowly swaying, moody blend of Americana and 80s Britrock. What’s the Callin’ For begins with a hint of bluegrass but then becomes a growling highway rock tune lit up by a searing guitar solo, part country and part dreampop: it’s a neat touch. The album ends with American Crow, a somber, metaphorically-charged bird-on-a-wire tableau. It’s quite a change of pace for Raines, but like all good musicians, she’s obviously listened and played far outside her regular style: she could be a fish out of water here, but she’s not.