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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. 

New York’s Most Ubiquitous Cello Rockers Play a Favorite Williamsburg Haunt

The Icebergs are New York’s hardest-working cello rock band. They’re at Pete’s Candy Store just about every month – where they’ll be on Feb 25 at 8:30 – and they play a lot of random places in Bushwick as well. There’s no other band around who sound like them. Cellist Tom Abbs plays with his axe slung over his shoulder like a guitar. Mixing catchy basslines, slithery single-note riffs and boomy low-register chords, he’s sort of the Lemmy of the cello – on steroids.

Frontwoman Jane LeCroy comes out of the punk poetry scene and has been published all over the place, so her lyrics have a sharp focus that’s sometimes playful, sometimes witheringly cynical, with a fierce political undercurrent. Most of the time she sings, sometimes she speaks: either way, the drama is usually understated.

In hindsight, drummer Dave Treut was the obvious choice to fill the big shoes left behind when David Rogers-Berry left the band, and the switch turned out to be a fair trade. Treut is more chill in this band than in other projects including his own, but he still brings the psychedelic textures and ghostly flickers.

This blog was in the house for the better part of two shows at the trio’s usual Williamsburg haunt, in the spring of last year, and about a year before then as well. What was most obvious was how much more material the band have beyond what’s available on their catchy, clever 2017 debut album, Eldorado. It’s a cynical title. In case you’re wondering, there are no ELO covers on it (it’s impossible to imagine that a cello rock band would be unaware of the magnum opus by the group who paved the way). Assuming the Pete’s show starts on time, there’s still a window to get home on the L train before the nightly L-pocalypse begins.

Hungry March Band Make a Classy, Brassy New Record

Brass monsters Hungry March Band are the only group ever to play both Madison Square Garden and the Women’s March on Washington. And also on Essex Street – in the street itself, marching north across Houston to parts unknown late in the summer of 1999. That was typical of the band back then.

The Garden gig happened five years later, as part of a Ralph Nader benefit. By then, as one former member put it, they’d decided to “shake out the musicians from the Burning Man people.” And suddenly this ramshackle, rotating Lower East Side and Williamsburg crew, who could barely keep time, transformed themselves into a blazing, Balkan-inspired beast.

In the years since, there’s been some turnover among what’s always been a rotating cast of players. Their latest album, streaming at Bandcamp, is surprisingly title Running Through with the Sadness. Hungry March Band have a thing for edgy chromatics and minor keys, but they aren’t exactly known for depressing music. How melancholy is this record? It’s not. The songs are on the fast side, and the band will be playing some of those tunes at one of their annual rituals on July 15 at 3 PM at the corner of Lexington Ave. and 60th St. as part of this year’s Bastille Day festival.

The album also manages to be the most polished thing the band’s ever done, without being slick. The catchy opening track, Ghost Puppy, pulses along on a loopy sousaphone riff – that’s either Tom Abbs or Ben Fausch. There’s also some neat call-and-response and a weirdly oscillating trumpet solo played through a flange, something you’d hardly expect from this analog AF group.

Tenor saxophonist Tove Langhof’s edgy, spiraling, JD Allen-esque solo kicks off Mali Mali – a briskly shuffling, Afrobeat-tinged shout-out to the late Coumba Sidibe. Baritone saxophonist and producer Jason Candler adds good-natured, smoky riffs and bursts over a streamlined pulse.

At least half of the band’s seven-person percussion section join in the intro to Shimmy, a mambo-tinged New Orleans strut packed with the droll pregnant pauses the band love so much, along with a neat alto sax conversation. mighty swells and flanged drums.

Big, bright, cinematic brass juxtaposes with droll, barking sousaphone in Zombie Dog,  a wave of terror rising through the band midway through. Whichawhicha is a wickedly anthemic ska tune with early Skatalites flair, a punchy, gruff Candler baritone solo and an even tastier one from one of the trumpeters (who include John Heyenga, Jeremy Mushlin, John Waters and Jennifer Harder).

Eclipso Calypso is another direct, catchy Caribbean joint – it’s the balmiest track on the album, with carefree solo for trombone (that’s either Sebastian Isler, Cecil Scheib or Kevin Virgilio), trumpet and saxes. The rest of that section of the band includes Emily Fairey and Phillippe Boyer on tenor, Okkon Tomohiko Yokoyama on alto and Sasha Sumner on soprano.

With its funky blend of New Orleans and Puerto Rican flavors. the album’s best track is the brisk, bustling, bluesy Off the Hook. The fiery title cut, a lickety-split merengue, is another monster – the tightness of those rat-a-tat lines will come as a shock to anybody who saw this band in the early days.

After that sprint, it only makes sense for the band to slow down with Swirling Spaceman, if only for the dubwise intro that morphs into a skanking ska groove. There’s also an expansive bonus track, Ataraxia, meaning “calm.” For this crew it might be calm, but for anybody else it would be an epic coda, a warmly anthemic, altered cha-cha with sweet, triangulated riffage, a soulful trombone solo and a clattering percussion break. 

For the record, the percussionists on the album include Kris Anton, Anders Nelson, David Rogers-Berry, Samantha Tsistinas, Adam Loudermilk, Sara Valentine and Theresa Westerdahl. Let’s also not forget the costumed, twirling “HMB Pleasure Society:” Valentine, Despina Stamos, Sarah King, Libby Sentz and Jill Woodward, in charge of motivating the crowd in case the music hasn’t already taken care of that. 

An Edgy Debut Album and a Williamsburg Show by Intense Cello Rockers the Icebergs

The Icebergs are New York’s hardest-working cello band. No disrespect to the great Serena Jost, but the Icebergs maintain a punishing late-night gig schedule. If there’s any midnight band in New York, it’s the trio of frontwoman Jane LeCroy, cellist Tom Abbs and O’Death drummer David Rogers-Berry. That’s even more impressive when you consider that LeCroy also fronts the similarly intense, politically fearless avant garde duo Ohmslice with multi-instrumentalist Brandon Ross. The Icebergs have an edgy debut album, Eldorado, streaming at Bandcamp and Ohmslice have a show this Friday night at 8:30 PM at Pete’s.

If you can forgive the appropriation of an iconic album title (ELO’s epic, symphonic 1974 masterpiece is arguably the greatest rock record ever made), this is an edgy, lyrical treat. The opening track, Needleworker is about piecing things back together, literally and metaphorically, LeCroy’s soulful, blues-infused voice channeling 19th century African-American gospel starkness as she chronicles everything she’s got to stitch up over a brisk groove spiced with all sorts of tasty low-midrange riffs from Abbs. This gist of it is that this century’s American culture is hardly woman-friendly.

Sonnets 57 & 58 is a propulsive, echoingly uneasy 6/8 art-rock shuffle, Abbs’ terse overdubs and distant washes of sound over Rogers-Berry’s savagely ornate attack, a cynical, Shakespearean-inspired cautionary tale about women subjugating themselves. The catchy, witchy, hard-hitting Similitude could be a particularly energetic track from Rasputina’s first album

Then the band slows down with Proves My Love, a spare, darkly bluesy, imagistic account of less-than blissful domesticity: “Prison keeps you away from me, I visit you eternally,” LeCroy intones matter-of-factly .

Abbs rattles around a tasty reggae bass riff, Rogers-Berry answering back as Broken Heart vamps along: “I’ll take all your pieces put them together then smash your crown,” Le Croy announces. Swear looks back to an iconic, bluesy Stooges classic, Abbs overdubbing shivery, evil guitar licks way up the fingerboard over the drums’ fluttery accents.

“I’m a different ghost every day,” LeCroy muses in Gold, over a Siouxsie-esque vintage new wave pulse and Abbs’ gritty, distorted multitracks. Borders mingles Raw Power-era Stooges blues with Slits minimalism – it’s as vivid a menacing late-night-urban tableau as it is a defiant Trump-era anthem.

“I can’t find my Eldorado,” LeCroy laments over Abbs’ slinky, bouncing, gnawa-tinged bassline in Bad Map; then she takes her Kafkaesque search further toward hip-hop. As Abbs does throughout many of these songs, he works a lingering/rhythmic dichotomy for all it’s worth in Draw Me. Over an anguished whirl obscuring the song’s ominously bluesy undercurrent, LeCroy offers a catalog of doomed imagery in the album’s most intense track, Gun:

Everything tries
Everything fails
This life is a cross
And a bunch of nails

An echoey mashup of dub reggae and cello metal, Dear Lifeguard is a similarly gloomy oceanside tableau. The album winds up on a similar note with the surreal Decode. In a city oversaturated with vapid indie conformity, it’s good to see these three keeping the spirit of smart, individualistic, fearlessly relevant downtown New York rock alive.