New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: velvet underground

An Allusively Haunting New Album and a Low-Key Neighborhood Gig by Dark Songwriter Jaye Bartell

Gothic Americana crooner Jaye Bartell sings in a deadpan but rather guarded baritone. He plays with a ton of reverb on his guitar, whether with a steady clang or more sparsely. His songs don’t typically follow any kind of predictable verse/chorus pattern. On his latest album, In a Time of Trouble, a Wild Exultation – streaming at Bandcamp – he often just vamps along on a couple of major chords, vintage Velvets style. Which has a lulling effect…until he gets to the punchline, or the suspense in his hauntingly imagistic narratives builds to breaking point. Bartell is off on a long European tour next month; fans of dark lyrical rock in his adopted Greenpoint neighborhood can catch him Friday night, Dec 28 at around 9 at Troost.

Throughout Bartell’s work, the devil is in the details. “Think I picked a bad time to have a good time, hanging upside down,” he muses in the album’s opening track. “My confetti is stuck in the garden…the water’s coming higher than the edges.” Definitely not a wild exultation,

“Come walk in the dead grass,” Bartell instructs, “I have come to ruin you; I have come to room with you,” he announces, somewhat hesitatingly, in CawCawCaw. He leaves the monologue without a response: is he that heavily symbolic bird, or talking to the bird, or somebody else? That sensibility is what draws you into his songs. And he keeps you guessing – even as an image jumps out at you, it could be a red herring.

Angel Olsen sings calm harmonies in Give Erin a Compliment (So Kind). Both the vocals and the song’s country stroll bring to mind the late, great Joe Ben Plummer and his band, downtown New York cult favorites Douce Gimlet. The sparse arrangement of Wilderness – just a couple of jangly guitar tracks, lightly brushed drums and simple bass – is much the same. Like everything Bartell does, it works on many levels. Somewhere out there in the woods, “There must be somebody warm enough to mistake for love, somebody cold enough to just take some.”

The album’s most chilling number is Swim Colleen. Shifting back and forth between waltz time, Bartell keeps the suspense going most of the way through. On the surface, it’s a beach tableau, but of course there are unexpected depths:

Scream at the waves
The waves scream back
There’s no ship coming in
There never has been
Swim, Colleen, swim

Army of One is Bartell at his most self-effacingly wry  – does General Superego have it in for loafing Private Ego?  Contrastingly, Mercy seems to be pretty straightforward – it’s akin to Jonathan Richman, or Lee Feldman at his most faux-naive. Bartell builds another brooding waterside scenario in the otherwise gentle Ferry Boat: it’s easy to imagine Nico singing it on Chelsea Girl.  

“I can’t think of anyone else with whom I’d ever go out of doors,” Bartell insists in  Out of Doors – but who wants to date an agoraphobic, right? The methodically swaying, Laurel Canyon psych-tinged Feeling Better Pilgrim is much the same – this guy may be ok, but a lot of people (water imagery alert!) aren’t. The final cut is If I Am Only For Myself Then What Am I, which, with delicate glockenspiel in the background, offers a sliver of hope. E

Earlier in the fall, at Bartell’s most recent gig at Troost – his home base between tours – he sang much more powerfully, even dramatically, than he does in the studio. This acoustic set mixed up some of the more low-key numbers from this album and a couple of sepulchral tales from his fantastic 2016 release, Loyalty. But the high point might have been an absolutely chilling take of the Brecht/Weill classic September Song, reinvented with more than a hint of noir bolero. “That was magic,” one spectator in the crowd murmured afterward. 

Advertisements

A Rare Chance to Hear Japanese Psychedelic Band Kikagaku Moyo This Weekend

Japanese band Kikagaku Moyo distill some of the best psychedelic influences of the past half-century. Their songs are long, expansive and shift between eras and genres with a hypnotic elegance. Their latest album House in the Tall Grass is streaming at Spotify. They’re hitting New York this weekend for a couple of shows; tonight, Sept 30 they’ll be at Sunnyvale at 10:30 PM for $15. Tomorrow night, Oct 1 they’ll be at Berlin at 9ish for three bucks less.

The album’s opening cut, Green Sugar kicks off with a dramatic, savagely meticulous flurry of tremolo-picking, then hits a strutting groove, an echoey web of Tomo Katsurada and Daoud Popal’s guitars and Ryu Kurosawa’s sitar over bassist Kotsuguy’s catchy, upper-register bass hook, like a gentler Brian Jonestown Massacre. Spare, twinkling bells and chimes add to the surreallistic, nocturnal ambience until suddenly the guitars take the song down toward metal.

Drummer Go Kurosawa’s careful, precise rimshots propel the jangly Kogarashi, a mashup of electrified Indian folk and Malian duskcore. Spare icicle piano drips between the reverb-drenched acoustic guitar mesh of Old Snow, White Sun. The band builds a sparsely lingering, slow post-Velvets ultraviolet ambience in the one-chord instrumental jam Melted Crystal, then picks up the pace with Dune, a catchy, upbeat Japanese folk theme, resonant Pink Floyd grandeur over a jaunty surf-tinged groove.

Pastorally trippy echoes of the Church, Jenifer Jackson, Sergeant Pepper-era Beatles and late 60s Grateful Dead filter throughout the album’s most epic track, Silver Owl, up to a surprise doom-metal crescendo. The group follows that with the swirly spacerock interlude Fata Morgana.

The tricky rhythms and surfy guitar of Trad offer no hint that the band’s about to take its Japanese folk melody into majestic Pink Floyd territory, then rise to White Light/White Heat freakout. The album closes with the gentle, fingerpicked folk-rock Cardigan Song. If there’s any band out there who sound like they could pull off a double live album, it’s these guys.

More Delicious Retro 60s Psychedelia From the Allah-Las

The Allah-Las  – frontman/guitarist Miles Michaud, lead guitarist Pedrum Siadatian, bassist Spencer Dunham and drummer Matthew Correia – are one of the most tuneful and best-appreciated bands in a crowded field of psychedelic retroists including the Mystic Braves, Mystery Lights, Night Beats and a whole lot of other reverbtoned janglers and clangers. The California quartet’s latest album Calico Review is due out momentarily, meaning that it ought to be streaming at Bandcamp in a week or so. Testament to their popularity, their two-night stand this weekend at Baby’s All Right is sold out; fans in other cities on their current tour should take that into consideration in the case where advance tickets are available.

As usual, most of the songs on the new record clock in at around the three-minute mark. The lyrics channel a persistent unease, but ultimately this band is more about wicked hooks than words. This is their most overtly retro, Beatlesque release to date. It opens with the enigmatically sunny Strange Heat, driven by Siadatian’s spare, flickering mosquito leads over a muted backdrop: it’s the most Odessey and Oracle the band’s done so far in their career. They follow that with Satisfied, a very clever, rhythmically dizzying update on Taxman-era Beatles with a deliciously icy vintage chorus-box solo midway through. Then the band takes the energy up a notch with the late Velvets ringer Could Be You.

The band keeps the Velvets vibe going, but in a more delicate folk-rock vein, with High and Dry: the blend of acoustic and electric six- and twelve-string textures beats anything Lou Reed came up with in 1969. Tricky tempos and lingering twelve-string lines return in Mausoleum, which wouldn’t be out of place on a Church album from the mid-80s. Then Roadside Memorial mashes up early Yardbirds/Blues Magoos riff-rock with hints of vintage funk

The shapeshifting Autumn Dawn kicks off with a wry allusions to the most famous acid-pop riff ever, then struts along with echoes of mid-60s Pretty Things. Plaintive strings and misty mellotron add gravitas to the wryly acerbic, Magical Mystery Tour-tinged Famous Phone Figure: “What’s she got but a pretty face in real estate?” Michaud wants to know.

200 South La Brea – site of a casting agency – has a similarly sardonic feel, a return to What Goes On Velvets. The intro to Warmed Kippers hints that the song will go in a warped, noisy indie direction, then straightens out, straight back to the Fab Four. The group springboards off an iconic Dave Brubeck riff for the southwestern gothic of Terra Ignota; the album winds up with the sunny, summery, swinging Place in the Sun. The only thing about this album that’s not retro is the mention of a cellphone, a touch of funny surrealism amidst the period-perfect Vox-amped 1967 sonics.

Avers Bring Their Catchy, Psychedelically-Tinged New Album to the Mercury

To what degree does allusiveness and indirectness describe Richmond band Avers‘ sound? Pretty well. Beyond having not one but four songwriters, they distinguish themselves with their sense of humor, exuberantly referencing and mashing up styles that date back as far as the 70s. Adrian Olsen, Alexandra Spalding, James Mason, and JL Hodges share vocals as well as their songs, with multi-instrumentalist Charlie Glenn pitching in on keys and guitar. They’re playing the album release show for their new one, Omega Whatever – soon to be streaming at Bandcamp – on August 4 at 10:30 PM at the Mercury; adv tix are $10.

The wrly shuffling opening track, Vampire alludes to both Lou Reed and a cheeseball 80s goth hit, stadium rock spun through the warped prism of second-wave dreampop. Spalding sings the glam-tinged second cut, Everything Hz – damn, another great title just got taken, huh? – with an icy calm: “Take a pill, sleep it off, let it in…these are the days that everything Hz, these are the days in reverse.” If Spacehog weren’t so over-the-top, they would have sounded something like this.

With its catchy, Beatlesque blend of six and twelve-string guitars, Tongues is a dead ringer for Oasis circa 1996, but with better vocals. Insects is a lot simpler, and kind of a throwaway: the backward-masked guitar solo is the high point. Spalding returns to the mic for Low, another post-Velvets shuffle, looking back on “Flowers sent to my door…fancy bottles of shit you no longer can afford.” Then the band goes back toward swaying, midtempo Oasis territory for All You Are.

The fuzztone stomp of Holding On brings to mind vintage Brian Jonestown Massacre. The band blends that with a brightly clanging Oasis drive in Santa Anna. With its moody, wavery chorus-box guitars, Don’t Care looks back to the 80s, over the shoulder of Deer Tick. Then the band synthesizes every style they’ve mined up to this point – hypnotic post-Velvets psychedelia, towering 90s Britrock and a little uneasy 80s jangle – in My Mistakes. The album should stop there, but it doesn’t; the long, unfocused concluding track doesn’t add anything. And one of the guys in the group hasn’t outgrown the emo of his gradeschool years: that singsongey dorkiness pops up annoyingly once in awhile. Maybe he’s the weak link who could be replaced. Otherwise, Avers are proof that accessibility and intelligence don’t have to be incompatible.

The Night Beats Bring Their Acid-Warped Soul and Garage Rock Vamps to Williamsburg

Has there been any album awash in and radiating as much reverb as the Night Beats‘ Who Sold My Generation released in the past…um…couple of decades? They put reverb on everything, except the growly bass. Otherwise, every other element in the mix, from the guitars to the drums to the vocals, takes about an extra second to filter out. The result is as trippy as the band’s songs are catchy, a throwback to the gonzo early days of mid-60s acid rock, equally informed by classic soul and garage sounds. And audiences have responded: if there’s ever been an example of how much filthy lucre there is in great music, consider the Night Beats’ success. They play good venues coast to coast, and are headlining a solid psychedelic twinbill on July 16 at 10ish at Rough Trade, with neo-Stooges rockers Acid Dad opening at 9. General admission is $12.

The album’s opening track, Celebration kicks off with frontman Danny Lee Blackwell’s multitracked guitars panning the speakers, and funny samples of some British guy commenting on how the tape recorder is a toy to be cast away with funny hats after the party. A searing, bluesy guitar solo builds behind the washes of fuzz and reverb, then segues into the strutting Power Child, a one-chord jam that explodes in a flurry of drummer James Traeger’s cymbals and reverb on the chorus, a shrieking wah guitar lead blasting over Jakob Bowden’s catchy, funky bass.

The band leaves the vamps behind for the hooky Right Wrong, a booze-soaked lost-love scenario that builds to an anthemically burning Brian Jonestown Massacre-style groove, up to the guitar solo out. Likewise, No Cops follows a pounding one-chord neo-Velvets pulse, a more ornate take on what the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion made their mark with twenty years ago. Porque Manana works a similar vamp with latin soul tinges and another rippling, purposeful guitar solo. And Sunday Mourning differentiates itself from the Velvets classic not only with a slight title change but also its anthemically crescendoing, bluesily shuffling drive and searing, sunbaked wah guitars.

Shangri Lah veers on and off a fiery spaghetti western gallop, pretty much a dead ringer for something from the Love catalog circa the Da Capo album. Burn to Breathe pairs unhinged Country Joe & the Fish guitars over a midtempo sway as the drums cluster and rumble: “You stare at the wall and your heart stops,” Blackwell intones nonchalantly. The band add punchy brass to Bad Love, an ominous soul-clap number with Tex-Mex touches.

Last Train to Jordan follows an endlessly echoey psychedelic strut tangent beneath toxic exhaust trails of guitar, while Turn the Lights picks up the pace with echoes of gutter blues. The album winds up on a high note with the pouncing, Middle Eastern-tinged Egypt Berry, a twisted mashup of Monkees and Paint It Black era Stones. Take a trip and never leave Williamsburg with these guys this Saturday night.

A Tortured Lyrical Masterpiece and a Friday Night Album Release Show by Jagged Leaves

Back in 2004, hauntingly lyrical punk/metal group the Larval Organs were one of New York’s hottest bands. They’d just released their second brilliant ep and frontman Dan Penta – who seemed to change his stage name every month or so – was at the top of his unhinged game as avatar for a million alienated, tortured souls. Then the band’s lead guitarist moved away. After that, they played a few shows and then pretty much disintegrated. Since that time, Penta has become more and more elusive a presence here but has remained one of the world’s most criminally underappreciated songwriters. No one mines the darkest corners of the human psyche with more insight, and gallows humor, and surrealistic expertise.

After the Larval Organs, he led an austerely elegant chamber pop unit called Hearth, when he wasn’t playing solo as Cockroach Bernstein or collaborating with his wife Erin Regan, who shares an avid cult following for her similarly brilliant, troubled songs. Happily, Penta has a new band, Jagged Leaves, and a new album, Nightmare Afternoon – streaming online – sort of a greatest hits collection from the past fifteen years or so. In a real stroke of serendipity, it reprises all but one of the tracks from that long out-of-print Larval Organs ep, although the best one, Mansion of Your Skull, is conspicuously absent. The band play the album release show on a rare good twinbill at Sidewalk on February 26 at around 9:30. Darkly gritty guitarist/singer Mallory Feuer’s power trio, the Grasping Straws, open the night beforehand at around 8:30.

Penta’s voice has deepened over the years, but he still basically just puts it out there, a caterwauling assault that draws a line straight back to grunge – expect honesty rather than polish here. The music here is acoustic-electric, a synthesis of pretty much everywhere he’s been. The album’s opening track is Low and Wet, Penta’s steady strums over a lush bed of strings; Regan’s high harmonies add subtlety and poignancy. They bring in a tremoloing funeral organ on the second chorus, setting the stage for the rest of the record.

City Parks, with its stark cello and Americana tinges, works familiar terrain: solitude and despondency in an urban milieu akin to “Grey skin like the hue of rotting meat that is cooking itself in the heat of its disease…I know that love is not some sort of prize, and that I am all alone on this ride…”

“Pack the ornaments and unstring the lights, we’ll be hanging ourselves from the tree tonight.” Penta wails in the broodingly waltzing Moth in the Sand – formerly titled Ziploc Torso. The cynicism is crushing in Sewn in the Seam, built around a Shoah metaphor: “In this winter holocaust, we warm ourselves around a burning cross…” The careening, horn-spiced Wizard Gardenia takes its title from a brand of air freshener:

With a Bible belt he stole her grace
That a rusted truckbed won’t erase
But drives the witches out of town
And they won’t come back to the judge’s crown…
If I never woke up for a thousand years
Would you still be blowing those Pyrex tears?

The centerpiece here is John Brown’s Grave. It’s one of the most harrowing rock songs ever written, end of story. The organ looms ominously under Penta’s drugged-out despondency

I want to break myself into my room
Pretend the lighting fixture is the moon
Pretend that we are not sketched on a page…
So let’s sleep late and drive all night
Into the diffused grey light
The pain inside, the scorching heat
I’m on the outside and I’ve been beat
And we go on to John Brown’s Grave
I’ve got a heartache the size of a Great Lake
She’s so faraway
I’m on the outside either way.

Fueled by a searing slide guitar hook, Devil Come Madness, the final Larval Organs track here, opens with twisted images of a psych ward:

In the padded room where I was born
With a million thorns to a black-eyed boy
From a cotton amnion with a cheap vinyl lining
How could I compete with the ancient gloom?
The choir shrieks, “Motherfucker, shoot!”
I did
They locked me up for being crazy

Images of disease, drunken sickness and sorcery gone awry flit through Never Been Born, the most Nirvana-influenced track here. The reverb guitar bounce of Home thinly masks Penta’s usual cynicism,. He shifts the hopeless wish-I’d-never-been-born point of view to an only slightly depressed fling from younger days over the hypnotic ambience of Powderkeg. And they reinvent the stomping Larval Organs tune Calm Me Down Penta intoning his grisly images over a Jesus & Mary Chain-style fuzztone waltz. The final cut, Death Is a Charm seems to be a stab at something approaching optimism. Much as the idea of a single best album of the year isn’t meant to imply that there’s any kind of competition between artists, or that there should be, there hasn’t been any collection of songs this good released this year. While it’s still early in the year, it looks like this is the cult classic of 2016. For Penta, it’s about time.

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.

Catchy Postpunk Tunefulness and Joyous Noise in Williamsburg Last Night

Melody and noise are two sides of the same coin. Martin Bisi and his band, and Parlor Walls know that, and work that dichotomy for all it’s worth. So did Guerilla Toss guitarist Arian Shafiee, who opened a vastly enjoyable bill featuring both those acts at Aviv in Williamsburg last night. His single, long, droning, pitchblende intro – “Like an invocation,” Parlor Walls frontwoman/guitarist Alyse Lamb beamed afterward – built a warm, welcoming ambience in the lowlit space, all the more resonant for Shafiee dedicating it to David Bowie.

Bisi and his three-piece European touring band kept the ultraviolet gleam going with a set that alternated between kinetic drive and a vortex of ominous low register sonics. The secret to this band’s sound, other than Bisi’s umpteen pedals, disembodied vocal loops and occasional whoops, is Diego Ferri’s baritone guitar. Sometimes he’d play straight-up basslines but other times went into trebly Peter Hook territory, then washes and bursts of chords to match the bandleader’s swirling menace. Rather than letting any song end cold, Bisi would let a chord linger, filter through the mix and then pulled out of the chaos toward another. Toweringly anthemic post-Velvets hooks swayed and punched side by side with shimmering pools of noise, muted Syd Barrett-ish motives and creepy chromatics ramped up a notch by Genevieve Kammel Morris’ ragingly insistent viola and washes of organ. Dummer Oliver Rivera Drew negotiated the thicket with a nimble pulse and drive: oldschool punk energy, newschool psychedelic atmosphere.

Parlor Walls drummer/organist Chris Mulligan chose to keep that murky river flowing. The segue between bands was so seamless that it was almost as if it was the same group onstage, if with completely different personalities. Parlor Walls never play a set or a song the same way twice: this was. an enveloping blanket of dreampop-laced, no wave-referencing postpunk. Alto saxophonist Kate Monahty was motionless, a human statue firing off slithery Coltrane gliesandos, coyly minnmalistic rhythmic bursts and squawks and austerely shifting sheets of sound. Lamb’s vocals bent and swayed with the music; likewise, the band would let the organ and guitar siren and shimmer, Lamb firing off a jagged phrase and then swooping to her pedalboard to sculpt an edge or extend the envelope. On their latest album, Cut, the opening track is a sort of mashup of indie classical circularity and droll faux “R&B” – onstage this time, they reinvented it as skittish postpunk. Likewise, they extended the stampeding miniature The Key into a fullscale gallop across a postapocalyptic plain.

Zs drummer Greg Fox closed the night with his Guardian Alien duo project with Eartheater’s Alex Drewchin. Swaying and bending, she intoned her vocals low over a rippling electroacoustic backdrop, shaping its edges via a mixer/keyboard as Fox clustered and circled with an elegance that brought to mind Lukas Ligeti’s more kinetic adventures in indie classical music. But by the end of the relatively brief (half-hour) set, Fox was machinegunning and volleying, at one point in 15/8 time. As precise and purposeful as the drums were, the pulsing, pointillistic electronic backdrop and the vocals were uneasy and messy, a long way from contentment. It ended the night on an aptly energetic yet enigmatic and restless note.

Parlor Walls are at the Citizen, 332 2nd St, about six blocks from the Grove St. Path station in Jersey City at around 10 on January 28, then they’re back with a couple of February shows at Shea Stadium and Trans-Pecos.

A Rare Show and a Rare Gem of an Album by Shanghai Love Motel

Even in an era when obscurity has become a badge of honor, New York band Shanghai Love Motel are almost apocryphal. They don’t play a lot of gigs, so when they do, it’s a pretty major event. They basically play two styles of music, both of them looking back to the dark guitar-fueled underside of the 80s: stomping, growling paisley underground psychedelic rock, as well as more artsy, low-key, sometimes jazz-tinged new wave guitar pop. What distinguishes them more than their catchy hooks and biting guitars is their savage, literate lyrics: bands who can be this loud seldom have words as good as the music. Their lone album so far, Thrum, is streaming online – and to further intrigue you, their lyrics are all up online as well. They’re playing a rare NYC date at the Parkside on July 10 at 10, where they’ll be rejoined by their longtime guitarist Adam Russell ; cover is $5.

The band’s two main songwriters, guitarist Bryan Brown and bassist Bill Millard, each have their signature styles. Brown goes more for the hypnotically growling, understatedly menacing post-Velvets/Neil Young sway that the Dream Syndicate immortalized. Millard’s songs tend to be somewhat more low-key but no less sinister. The album’s opening track, by Brown, is King of Memory, a dead ringer for an early Steve Wynn number, its narrator a metaphorical monarch who has “lost more than you have purported to know” circling the wagons over a classic early 80s groove. Millard’s Snapshots from the Sinister Cathedral blends elegant jazz-tinged phrasing from Brown and keyboardist David Smith:

Meet me at four in the morning
At the Cathedral of John the Mundane
Assuming old Johnny’s in shape to get out of the rain
We’d better bring plenty of coffee
And pictures of places we like
And jokes we can aim at whoever is hogging the mic

Brown’s Too Good Too Soon sets a surrealistically smart-ass kiss-off lyric to Stratocaster-stung Tex-Mex soul: it’s the kind of song that John Sharples would cover. Another Brown tune, Almost Gone stomps uneasily between major and minor keys, its angst-fueled theme bringing to mind Matt Keating in hard-rocking mode, lit up by a couple of jaggedly sunsplashed guitar solos. As period-perfect paisley underground rock goes, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Millard’s almost imperceptibly crescendoing I Was the Dog opens with a verse that Elvis Costello would be proud to call his own and just gets more savage from there:

With all due respect, I don’t believe respect is due
They know now what the world spins ’round.
Somebody figured out that it ain’t you
The only truth that you know is that you’ll never know the truth
Another stoner paradox for terminally gullible youth…

Millard and Brown co-wrote Burning Bush, an enigmatic, ominous glimpse of a metaphorically-charged postapocalyptic landscape spiced by spiky mandolin and watery chorus-box guitar: is this an obit for the evil of the Bush/Cheney years, maybe?

Drummer Mark Hennessy pushes Millard’s Flip in Style with a vintage 60s Stones gorove, toward Replacements territory. Brown’s Strong Silent Type is the most low-key, nocturnal track here. The album’s most searing, torrentially lyrical number is The Universal Skeptical Anthem, a tour de force rant by Millard:

Spare me the line about machines for going back in time
And all the crying over moral turpentine
I get a whiff about a couple of state lines away;
That’s enough for maybe 90 billion days
Spare me the flag-wagging huckleberry knuckleheads
That can’t tell who’s the monster and who’s Frankenstein…

After the unhinged octaves of a guitar solo, the band segues into Brown’s Ruined Man, a sardonically syncopated look at world where “They resell mystery in burial mounds, with lots marked Resigned or Content.” The album comes full circle with How’s Dr. Ving, by Millard, a mashup of Elvis Costello and the Dream Syndicate. If this is the only album the band ever does, they’ve got themselves a cult classic – but we can always hope for more. See what they have in store for the future at the Parkside.

Manchester’s Pins Headline at Rough Trade Tonight

At a CMJ show last October at Arlene’s, Pins had the misfortune of taking the stage on the heels of a searing, politically-charged performance by the brilliant and charismatic Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires. To their credit, the women in the Manchester, UK band – who come across as something akin to the bastard child of the early Go Go’s and Wire – held their own and managed not to be anticlimactic. The cheap advance tix for their midnight show tonight at Rough Trade are all gone, but it’s not sold out, general admission is a reasonable $12 and the L train is running, so you can get home afterward if you don’t live in Williamsburg. And who among us is still in that hideously gentrified part of town, anyway?

Pins’ new album, Wild Nights – streaming at Spotify – is considerably more polished than their stage show. Then again, they’re a lot more likely to strip the songs down and rock them out live than try to match the heft and bulk of the production. The opening track, Baby Bhangs takes a downtown NYC gutter blues riff and works around it, propelled by drummer Sophie Galpin’s artful blend of swing and stomp. “We’re not trying to be great, we don’t wanna be saved,”  guitarist/frontwoman Faith Vern intones matter-of-factly in Young Girls. But she’s nothing if not optimistic: “What will we do when our dreams come true?” she asks, over a chugging one-chord post-Velvets groove.

Bassist Lois Macdonald’s terse lead lines cut through the jangly nocturnal mist of Curse These Dreams. The album’s longest track, Oh Lord nicks a familiar Joy Division riff and builds a similarly hypnotic ambience, the guitars of Vern and Anna Donigan building a reverbtoned resonance. Likewise, Dazed By You sets a skittishly jangly early Go Go’s-style tune to a She’s Lost Control beat – and a really cool, surprisie ending. And the catchy, crescendoing House of Love works a minimalist, watery/gritty Unknown Pleasures dichotomy.

Got It Bad builds an echoey, repeaterbox-driven Lynchian soul ballad vibe: it wouldn’t be out of place in the catalog of fellow Brit Gemma Ray. Too Little Too Late, described by the band as “a middle-finger-to-the-world kind of song,” is a kiss-off number, a wall of distorted guitars and organ behind Macdonald’s catchy basslines, up to another trick ending.

If Only brings back the Lynchian pop sonics, post doo-wop melody lit up by blue-neon reverb guitar. Molly – a coy shout-out to the drug – sways along in a Black Angels-style garage-psych vein: “You look so good when you’re sad,” is the mantra. The album winds up with the mutedly brooding Everyone Says. Critical reaction to this album has been mixed – some have said that it lacks the punk spontaneity of their debut. But for all that defiant energy, at that point they could barely write or play their instruments: this is a strong step forward and a good late-night listen.