New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: squeeze band

Purist, Sharply Crafted Twin-Guitar Rock From Ratstar

The cover image of powerpop band Ratstar’s short album In the Kitchen – streaming at Bandcamp – displays an industrial-sized countertop that’s got to be twenty feet long. Next to the sink, there’s a blender overflowing with a suspicious grey substance that’s been blasted all over the floor. That’s truth in advertising. If searing layers of guitars and smart retro tunesmithing that brings to mind bands as diverse as the Stones, Squeeze, Cheap Trick and the British pub rock groups of the 70s are your thing, you should check them out.

The first track, Love You Again sets the stage for the rest of the record: Dave Hudson and Marty Collins’ tightly roaring guitars over a punchy, swaying beat that finally shifts toward reggae underneath a jagged solo. The bass uncurls to a slinky peak in the highest registers; these guys can really play.

The second cut, Stay a While starts out as a chugging, Stonesy tune, hits an unexpectedly lithe, funky groove from bassist Matt Collins and drummer Dean Mozian, then the band go back to It’s Only Rock n Roll territory. The band stay there for Unheavenly Dog, which is a little slower and brings to mind one of the great New York bands of the early zeros, the Sloe Guns.

The icing on the cake here, and the album’s punkest song, is No Encounter. Clustering drum breaks and high-tension lead lines rise to a spectacular exchange of solos between the guitars at the end, one of the best rock outros of the decade.

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.”

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.

A Typically Urbane, Incisively Lyrical New Album from the Larch

The Larch have been one of New York’s catchiest, most lyrically acerbic bands for a long time. Their 2012 album Days to the West blended new wave and psychedelia with a witheringly cynical Costelloesque lyrical edge. The one before that, Larix Americana – written mostly at the tail end of the Bush regime – set frontman/guitarist Ian Roure’s corrosive, politically charged commentary to hypnotic, guitar-fueled paisley underground rock. Lately the band seems to be on hiatus, but they have an excellent new ep, In Transit, picking up where the last album left off and streaming at Bandcamp.

The first track, Science & Charity – whose title the band nicked from a Picasso painting – assesses the pros and cons of space-age advances over keyboardist Liza Roure’s swooshy synth and Ross Bonadonna’s rising bassline, drummer Tom Pope negotiating its tricky syncopation. A jet-engine guitar solo takes it echoing out.

Welcome to the Institute alternates between hard funk and mid-80s Costello, a sardonic narrative told from the point of view of a pitchman for an online reputation repair service. Liza’s woozily processed backing vocals add an aptly tacky, techy touch, Bonadonna’s slithery lines echoing Bruce Thomas, the guitar again taking it out with a lickety-split, spiraling solo (Ian is the rare hotshot lead player who doesn’t waste notes).

Saturn’s in Transit, the catchiest and most Costelloesque tune here, seems to be one of those metaphorically charged workday anomie narratives that Ian writes so well. The jangliest track is the similarly metaphorical, nonchalantly ominous Mr. Winters, sort of a mashup of Squeeze and lyrical powerpop legends Skooshny – Ian’s voice often brings to mind that band’s frontman, Mark Breyer.

The backbeat Britpop tune Images of Xmas contemplates a deceptively comfortable litany of holiday gatherings and overindulgences. There’s also a hard-charging punk-pop bonus track. The Larch may be on the shelf for now, but the Roures continue with their duo project, Tracy Island, wherein they mix works in progress with favorites from the Larch and Liza and the Wonderwheels catalogs. They’re playing tomorrow, Oct 15, at 8 PM at Bowery Electric for an $8 cover and it’s a good bet some of these songs will be on the bill.

The Plastic Pals Put Their Edgy Spin on Classic New Wave Era Sounds

The Plastic Pals‘ name is a dead giveaway for their sound: ferocious, wickedly tuneful late 70s/early 80s-style new wave and garage-punk. If the Stockholm rockers had recorded their latest album Turn the Tide in 1979 and then had been forgottten, it would be regarded as a lost classic today. The whole thing is streaming at their Soundcloud page, along with their other excellent albums. Yet what they do isn’t purely retro: they add their own guitar-fueled edge and sardonic worldview to well-loved, edgy styles from the late 70s and early 80s. Frontman Håkan “Hawk” Soold sings in good English, with a dry sense of humor that often recalls a classic European band from the new wave era, Holland’s Gruppo Sportivo. Ex-Green on Red keyboardist Chris Cacavas’ production is purist and period-perfect: the growling guitars of Soold and Anders Sahlin in each channel, terse and catchy with no wasted notes, Bengt Alm’s bass and Olov Öqvist’s drums in back, vocals up front where they should be.

One thing that sets the Plastic Pals apart from most of the original new wave bands is that their songs are a lot longer. One of the album’s most spine-tingling tracks, A Couple of Minutes is a good example, a cruelly vengeful, wickedly catchy account of a battered wife. The album’s title track works a bouncy, soul-tinged vintage Elvis Costello vein, a cynical look at how the current global depression hits you between the eyes. Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea nicks the tune from the late 80s Tom Petty/Jeff Lynne hit Runinng Down a Dream and takes it to the next level, with some neat clean/dirty guitar contrasts and a wry Rolling Stones quote at the end. And they go into swaying 6/8 groove for the junkie blues ballad Caramel, She Said, with a hard-hitting, anthemic guitar solo midway through.

Cards sets a biting, bluesy lead over marching multitracked guitars: there are echoes of early Squeeze, the Larch and Radio Birdman in there. Leave It Til Tomorrow has a funky, Stonesy vibe: “Stuck in this tragic sitcom – hey, write me out of the script,” Soold asserts. Miracles follows a slowly ominous, jangly, psychedelic soul-tinged tangent that brings to mind Golden Earring at their most focused. The most memorable song here is the bittersweetly anthemic Providence: with its surreal, nocturnal storyline and blend of country and Memphis soul, it could be the great lost Wallflowers hit. Close behind it is the richly anthemic, soaringly triumphant yet apprehensive All the Way.

The Final Remedy works a late-70s powerpop radio vibe but with better production values. The Sweet Spot again brings to mind Gruppo Sportivo, with its tongue-in-cheek story of a clandestine hookup, half sarcastic, half dead-serious, with some seriously catchy major/minor changes. Traveling completely rips the Radio Birdman classic Man with Golden Helmet, but with its fiery, bluesy guitars and alienated lyrics, it’s a killer song anyway. And Wouldn’t Change a Thing brings to mind Willie Nile at his anthemic best, burning, blues-infused guitars fueling a creepy, phantasmagorical tale. It’s one of the best albums of the year and makes you wonder who else in Stockholm might be making music this good.

Earlier this fall, the Plastic Pals did a brief Dives of New York tour with their pals Band of Outsiders, so it’s not unrealistic to expect them back at some point: watch this space.