New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: wire band

Fun with Anthemic 80s Rock on Thought Leaders’ New Album

See if you can pull on your boots under those skinny jeans. Tell your girl to smudge on an extra layer of eyeliner and stick a couple of wine coolers in her Coach bag. We’ll see if the Ford Fiesta still runs after the thrashing we gave it the other night.

For those who weren’t there, those are 80s references. Thought Leaders‘ new album In Wastelands – streaming at Bandcamp – is the great lost soundtrack to the chilly European road movie that Jim Jarmusch never made. This is stylized, legacy music, but done with a surprising balance of period-perfect detail and unhinged energy.

The opening number, Enigma 41 is a mashup of the Cult and early U2, guitarist Andrew Lund throwing in a little Happy Mondays jangle among his spare, lingering chorus-box arpeggios. The chorus-box textures get icier and the chords get more menacingly juicy, in an early Wire vein, in the next song, Come Even.

Bassist Tyler Cox introduces Burning Glass with a growl before Lund slashes his way in, Daniel Ash style, just as he does on the way out: it’s the best and most savage song on the album. The band tighten up over drummer Kirk Snedeker’s 2/4 new wave beat in the next track, Jane Doe’s Estate (presumably a reference to an inheritance, however small: lyrics and vocals don’t really figure into this band’s music).

They make a memorable mashup of the Cult and Wire in the album’s title track and follow with Shallows, Lund turning up the chorus for a deep-freeze John McGeoch-era Siouxsie chill before a big, cinematic, doublespeed stampede out.

Tumbling Joy Division drums and freezer-burn Bauhaus broken chords mingle over the synths in the background in Desire Reserve, There’s a little vintage PiL in Enemy Flies Above; the band wind up the record with the careening Saturday Night Leave.

First-Wave Punk Era Legends Wire Put Out Yet Another Timely Album

Imagine if the Clash were still going strong, still making smart, relevant records.

What if Ian Curtis had gone off his prescription for barbituates, quit drinking, got his epilepsy under control, and Joy Division were still together?

One of those two bands’ contemporaries, Wire, are still together, and even arguably better than when they were beginning to define what would come to be known as postpunk and new wave. By quirk of fate, they were also one of the last bands scheduled to play Brooklyn before the lockdown. Sadly, it doesn’t look likely that we’ll get amother American tour out of Wire this year, but they have a typically strong new album,10:20, a collection of first-class outtakes and new material  streaming at Spotify.

Their previous release, Mind Hive, was their most dystopic yet. This one is more allusive. As the album title implies, the lyrics are all about foreshadowing and the clock winding down, although the music is generally more upbeat. They open with the steady, hypnotic Boiling Boy, glistening with the group’s icy chorus-box guitars: “Lock up your house,” is the mantra as the chords change suddenly from major to minor. Bassist Graham Lewis’ subtly shifting lines pack a psychedelic wallop.

The big stadium guitar hooks that introduce the second cut, German Shepherds, seem to be a red herring (this band’s deadpan sense of humor is legendary). Likewise, the lyrics’ seemingly mundane imagery masks a grim scenario. The next track, He Knows has a slow dreampop sway and a very cool major-on-minor trick.

Underwater Experience has a lickety-split, practically hardcore punk drive: it could be an outtake from the Pink Flag sessions redone with digital production values. The Art of Persistence has eerie early 80s Cure jangle blended in with the album’s catchiest and yet most counterituitive changes – it involves a murder mystery and ends cold. Small Black Reptile also brings to mind the Cure, but in blithe mid-decade pop mode – which is almost certainly sarcastic.

Pulsing loops echo behind a seemingly easygoing post-Velvets sway in Wolf Collides. The album’s final cut is Over Their’s, marching toward the precipice and ending with a drone – or is that a flatline? Some hall-of-famers refuse to quit – and in Wire’s case, that’s a good thing.

New Wave-Era Legends Wire Play Their Most Intimate NYC Shows in Decades

On one hand, it’s a shock that new wave-era legends Wire are still together and making excellent albums. Considering how vast their influence has been, from the dreampop bands of the late 80s through indie rock, it’s also a shock to see that their next New York shows are at the smallest venue they’ve played here in decades. Their March 11-12, 8 PM two-night stand is not at, say, Bowery Ballroom, but the Music Hall of Williamsburg, for $30 general admission.

The biggest shock of all is that the shows aren’t sold out yet, although they probably will be soon. Since the club is no longer part of the Bowery Ballroom chain, you can try your luck with getting tickets at the box office, which is open on show nights. This being midweek, it’s also a good bet that the L train will still be running by the time the band are done; if not, the G at Lorimer isn’t so faraway. You could even walk down Bedford to the south side and catch the J or M at Marcy.

Wire have yet another album, Mind Hive – streaming at Spotify – to add to their immense back catalog. The production is on the big-room side, as it has been since the group reformed back in the mid-80s, guitars dense and icy with reverb as usual. It’s amazing how the band work their signature tropes – sometimes an insistent, downstroke guitar pulse, other times those deliciously creepy, Syd Barrett-ish minor-to-major changes – without repeating themselves. And for a band who made a name for themselves as Modernists, they’re pure Romantics at heart. They’re not the least bit optimistic about the future: this is their most dystopic album yet, often drifting into psychedelia.

The sarcastic opening track, Be Like Them blends that downstroke beat and those ominous changes, setting the tone for the rest of the record. Track two, Cactused is classic Wire: sardonically wide-eyed spoken-word lyrics on the perils of the datamining age, that steady pulse, a big crunchy chorus and spacious, reggae-tinged bass from Graham Lewis. Primed and Ready is only slightly less sardonic: it could be a three-quarterspeed, backbeat-driven version of a standout track from the band’s iconic 1977 debut, Pink Flag.

Off the Beach has a watery theme that looks back to the Cure’s first album, when those guys were a scruffy janglerock band. Unrepentant is an unexpectedly successful detour into trancey, Indian-tinged psychedelia, in a Black Angels vein. From there the band segue into Shadows, the album’s grimmest, most Orwellian scenario and best song,

Awash in creepy keyboards, the ominously galloping Oklahoma continues the macabre, futuristic narrative. The album’s big epic, Hung has a smoky, grey haze over a slow, pounding sway; “In a moment of doubt the damage was done” is the mantra. The group close the record with the elegaic, atmospheric Humming. Who would have thought that a band who debuted almost forty-five years ago would still be going so strong.

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.

Tantalizingly Short Songs From Punk Band Girl Tears

LA punk band Girl Tears‘ album Tension – streaming at Bandcamp – has the same spirit as Guided by Voices’ latest one, Cool Planet. The band teases you with songs that flash by in two minutes or considerably less, which could easily go on three or four times as long as they do without being boring. But just like the Dead Kennedys – a group they don’t resemble, for what it’s worth – they like short songs. They also like minor keys and uneasy, unpredictable postpunk chord changes, in the same vein as early Wire. Some of these fragmentary tunes – a lot of them with just a single verse and a blip of a chorus – sound like the Hussy without the weed. Others bring to mind Thee Oh Sees without all the noise and the lengthy intros and outros: you could pack most of this album into a long Oh Sees jam.

The opening track, Kill For Love, isn’t particularly murderous, a fuzzy downstroke punk guitar tune that’s over in barely two minutes. The barely minute-long Jinx sets the tone for wickedly catchy major-minor guitar changes: “I’m just shit” is the reverb-drenched vocal mantra. With its tumbling drumrolls, Lobotomy is the first Oh Sees soundalikes, albeit a lot more succinct. The band follows that with the steady, sarcastic Dream Baby, which wraps up in about a minute, followed by Candy Darling, which takes a classic, Lynchian noir pop tune and punks it out.

Alone packs an awful lot of cool, unexpected chord changes and hints of glamrock into just a verse and a chorus. Because brings back the noir punk vibe, followed by Suffocate (as in “I’ll hold you til you suffocate.”) There’s also a small handful of lickety-split hardcore numbers: Never Again, the kiss-off dis You’re Nothing, and the viciously chromatic title track, where the bass finally gets to emerge from the sonic morass for a second with the drums before disappearing again into the maelstrom. Because the album’s so short, it’s best appreciated as a whole. Blast it after a bad day at work or school and you’ll be better off. Oh yeah – it’s available on cassette!!!

Dark Tuneful Uncategorizable Indie Rock from the Martha’s Vineyard Ferries

The Martha’s Vineyard Ferries‘ debut album is titled Mass.Grave (you get it, right? Massachusetts supergroup-of-sorts?). Kahoots’ Elisha Wiesner plays guitar and sings with Shellac’s Bob Weston on bass and Chris Brokaw – who’s played with everyone from Steve Wynn, to Come, to Jennifer O’Connor (whose insurgent Kiam Records is putting this album out) – back behind the drums. As the title implies, this is unassumingly dark, thoughtful but very catchy stuff, unadorned without being threadbare. Most of the seven tracks here sound live; there don’t appear to be a lot of overdubs. You could call it postpunk, for lack of a better word.

Wiesner writes most of the songs. The first track, Wrist Full of Holes, works insistent, chromatically-charged guitar riffage over a loping beat. They bring in phasers on the chorus: cool touch! There are hints of Elliott Smith, another guy with a Massachusetts connection.

Track two, Parachute, sounds like an early 80s Boston band’s take on the Gang of Four, noisy but without any of the affections. It’s about an actual parachute jump,  or a metaphorical one, a pulsing, minimalist beat dropping out for a series of tradeoffs between the guitar and bass and then back up in a hurry. She’s a Fucking Angel (From Fucking Heaven), by Brokaw, adds layers of dreampop guitar and the kind of offcenter, noisy edge you might expect from a longtime Thalia Zedek collaborator. It’s also the funniest and most upbeat song here.

The best song here is Ramon and Sage. An insistent intro hands off to variations on an enigmatically clanging, resonant guitar phrase and then a deliciously catchy verse over Weston’s fuzz bass. It’s over in less than three minutes but could have gone on for twice that and wouldn’t be boring at all. Blonde on Red also begins with an insistent, rhythmic intro, evoking early Wire or Guided by Voices without the faux-British thing.

Weston’s Look Up, an anxious Boston-area motorway narrative, also has Wire echoes, that fuzz bass again and a sarcastic chorus: “Look up from the telephone, step off of the curb alone.” The last track, One White Swan is a post-Velvets slowcore dirge, Brokaw subtly coloring the funereal pulse with his fog-off-the-ocean cymbals as eerie vocal harmonies slowly rise to take centerstage over a minimialist guitar loop; this track also evokes Zedek in ultra-hypnotic mode. Safe to say that there is no other band alive who sound anything like them. It would be great to hear more from these guys; if this is the only album they ever make, it’s a gem, one of the best of 2013.

Guided By Voices’ Brilliant English Little League: The Other Blogs Got It All Wrong

You can never trust the indie music press: they screw everything up. For the past month, the blogosphere has been abuzz with the ostensibly bad news that Guided By Voices‘ fourth album (!!!!) in the past year, English Little League, is a dud. And that’s dead wrong.

It’s the best of the four, in fact, one of the best albums of the band’s celebrated career, even with the reinvigorated “classic” lineup of guitarists Tobin Sprout and Mitch Mitchell, bassist Greg Demos and drummer Kevin  Fennell. With their two-guitar attack, especially, there was always a hint that they were about to head in more of an art-rock direction, and this is the album where they finally do that. Which makes their ever-more anthemic sound even more intriguing, considering that none of the album’s sixteen songs go on for much more than two and a half minutes, if that. Frontman Robert Pollard is as inscrutable and sometimes frustrating as ever, but he’s still pretty unsurpassed as a surrealist visionary: among the unexpected lyrical gems here are a creepy recurrent theme of “friction in Japan,” a “fishtank with black sails” and a shout out to Zero Mostel, possibly the first ever in a rock song. Behind him, the band plays with fury and drollery and a rich, mentholated, reverb-toned resonance.

They get off on a good foot with the first single, Xeno Pariah, a post-Kinks romp with a tricky tempo and the gorgeous guitar sonics that will linger throughout all the other fully fleshed out songs here (impressively, most of them are). Know Me As Heavy works a solid backbeat drive, like Oasis with a sense of humor in lieu of insufferable attitude. Island (She Talks in Rainbows) rises from a hushed tiptoe to a killer four-chord hook, psychedelic 60s Britpop spun through Pollard’s wryly fractured lens. Trashcan Full of Nails pulses like mid-70s Who as it reaches for a tongue-in-cheek stadium rock swagger, while Send to Celeste (And the Cosmic Athletes) follows a trajectory up from elegant chamber rock, like the Church but with a smirk.

Quiet Game stomps along on a hypnotic riff in a gritty Steve Wynn garage rock way. Noble Insect is a dead ringer for apprehensive late 70s era Wire, except that it has a groove. The most nebulous, traditionally indie thing here is Crybaby 4 Star Hotel, which works because of the lyrics, followed by Flunky Minnows, which looks back to the Beatles and Kinks for a tune but gives the lead line to the bass.

Birds is dreampop as the Church (them again) would have done it if dreampop had existed in 1982. The Sudden Death of Epstein’s Ways is a Brian Epstein reference, given away by the gorgeously ornate Sgt. Pepper tune: what it means isn’t clear. The Fab Four are also referenced on Taciturn Caves, which is like Hey Jude with guitars, while the final track sounds like the Clash done as powerpop. Admittedly, there are a trio of what appear to be solo Pollard sketches featuring a disastrously out-of-tune piano that were unwisely included here. But that’s a small price to pay for tunesmithing this offhandedly brilliant. Count this among the best albums of 2013. To all the Bushwick and Wicker Park blogs who dissed this album: up yours.

Wire’s New Album: Change Becomes Them

If Wire’s new album Change Becomes Us sounds like the great lost follow-up to Chairs Missing, that’s because it sort of is. Many of its tracks are finished versions of sketches of songs from the band’s late 70s period, dating from their brilliant initial trio of albums: Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154. Much as these songs share a scruffy surrealism, bracingly dark tunefulness and Wire’s signature wry humor, the original postpunk band is not trying to recapture the past: they keep evolving, and the songs are in the here and now. Ironically, in an age where anybody can record an album with their phone, the kings of late 70s DIY have expanded their sonic palette further here than ever, giving the songs an often hypnotic lushness that sometimes evokes Australian art-rockers the Church.

Doubles & Trebles, a menacing spy story, immediately sets the tone, building from an eerie whole-tone guitar riff to a stalker insistence. With its offkilter vocal harmonies and watery dreampop clang, Keep Exhaling is primo vintage Wire with early 90s production values – and is that an I Am the Walrus quote? Likewise, Adore Your Island snidely references the Who’s Baba O’Reilly.

Re-Invent Your Second Wheel works a tricky tempo with more than a hint of theatrical Peter Gabriel-era Genesis amthemics. Stealth of a Stork builds layer upon layer over a straight-ahead punk stomp, while B W Silence works a suspenseful, watery dreampop vibe. Trippy flanged vocals and enveloping sonics give Time Lock Fog a feel like the Church circa 1993 or so. Magic Bullet, with its unexpected hints of reggae, would have been a standout track on Chairs Missing. Eels Sang reminds of early Gang of Four but with wetter guitars, while Love Bends is a more organic take on the dancefloor rock Wire was doing in the mid-80s: think Ultravox with heavy drums.

The album gets stronger as it goes along. As We Go has a catchy Outdoor Miner hookiness, but more ominously…until a droll singalong chorus that they run over and over again. & Much Besides segues out of it, a lush, balmy futuristic scenario that sounds suspiciously saracastic. The album winds up with Attractive Space, which grows from a Zarathustra-ish riff into a big spacerock anthem. In the time between when many of these songs were conceived and finally realized, Colin Newman and Graham Lewis’s voices have mellowed, Robert Grey’s beats have taken on an unexpected subtlety, with the band’s most recent member Matthew Simms adding textural lushness and diversity. Not a substandard track on the album, pretty impressive for a band that’s been around, more or less, since 1976. Also available: the latest in Wire’s series of “legal bootlegs,” a grab bag of live material culled from a 2000 Nottingham Social gig as well as radio sessions at WFMU and KEXP in 2011. Wire are at Bowery Ballroom in June and likely to sell out the venue; watch this space for onsale dates for tix.

Nashville’s Western Medication: Catchy Postpunk and Dreampop

Western Medication’s new 7″ ep, Painted World, leaves the impression that they’re a British band, right down to the declamatory, half-shouted vocals half-buried in the echoey wall-of-sound guitars. But the band is actually from Nashville. Frontman Justin Landis joins forces here with Adam Moult and Kevin Kilpatrick from noise-punks Bad Cop and Alycia Wahn of Useless Eaters for an original mix of old ideas. They’ve got the snide quirkiness and menacing post Syd Barrett chord changes of early Wire, and also the ringing walls of guitar that defined dreampop bands like My Bloody Valentine and Lush.

The first track, 50 Foot Dive sounds like Wire through the prism of mid-90s Blur, its catchy early 80s vibe fleshed out with plusher sonics, bassline rising over a briskly strolling beat. Track two, Big City sets G-L-O-R-I-A riffage to a hardcore beat and multitracks it into the stratosphere. If Roky Erickson was still alive he’d be into this.

The title track, the album’s longest and most hypnotic song, has the feel of New Order’s Ceremony done as a mashup of Clinic and MBV. It’s bookended by a couple of miniatures, the first with a languid, distantly apprehensive guitar line over a murky drone, the second a funky surf/garage groove with more of those shouted vox. It’s out now on the band’s own Jeffrey Drag Records.

Wave Sleep Wave Puts a New Spin on an Old Sound

If it’s absolutely necessary to pin a label on what Wave Sleep Wave does, you could call it dreampop. Reduced to its essentials, it’s a shimmering, glistening, swirling, jangly, misty vortex of guitar textures over steady drums. Frontman/guitarist Jerry Adler is a one-man orchestra, slowly and methodically building a web of textures, sometimes hypnotic, often symphonically ornate, like a late 80s British version of Jon Brion. Influence-wise, there are a million bands out there who ape the catchy, simple, major-key mid-80s sound that New Order and the Cure made so popular; here, Adler reverts back to a deeper, murkier 80s sound that also offers a nod to Wire and the Cocteau Twins. He first made a mark about ten years ago leading the Blam, the catchy but edgy indie pop band that should have been as popular as the Shins but wasn’t; a little later, he took a powerfully lyrical detour into Dylanesque acoustic rock with his Flugente project. What’s most impressive about this album is that it appears to be just guitars and drums, with no bass, yet the sonics have a gyroscopic balance. Drummer Yuval Lion – Adler’s cohort in the Blam – keeps things moving along tersely and briskly, for the most part. Fans of the dreampop canon from the Cocteau Twins, to Lush, to My Bloody Valentine, to more obscure bands like Downy Mildew, are going to love this record.

It’s best appreciated as an uninterrupted whole, considering that most of the tracks segue into each other. The opening cut, Rats starts out with edgy, percussive guitar accents against a wave of drone, then leaps into a swirling chorus, then back, with a characteristically juicy yet minimalist guitar solo midway through. Interestingly, while Adler is just as adept a wordsmith as a tunesmith, lyrics take a back seat to the guitars here. “We don’t know what’s wrong, we just know what’s right,” he intones, deadpan, on the second track, Laws, methodically crescendoing with echoes of Bauhaus and Pink Floyd as the guitar orchestra grows, and grows, and grows. Images of violence and discontent recur throughout the songs: it wouldn’t be a surprise to find out that this is a parable.

The hit single here is Hey…What, with its echoey guitar hook and dancefloor beat: “The pot is boiling with unbearable heat/The crowd turns violent and gets ready to blow/They’re tired of dancing with the devil they know,” Adler announces ominously as the song builds to a Railway Children-style chorus-box interlude with a seemingly endless wash of attractive, jazzy chords. Zip It artfully embellishes a catchy two-chord riff to a bell-like chorus and then echoey, choppy waves punctuated by buzzsaw lead lines, while Like Filings to Magnets is the most minimalist track here, juxtaposing a gentle, skeletal lead against a quietly oscillating drone. They evoke the artsy side of 17 Pygmies with the slowly swaying 1001 and then a sort of blend of Gang of Four and Cocteau Twins with Standard Fare, an apprehensive, allusive, nightmarish scenario. The album closes with Tongues, setting bloody imagery over a dark, offcenter backdrop that sounds like it might be playing at halfspeed, and then the anthemic How Low, which builds tension before finally resolving with a mighty “clang” on the chorus. As far as trippy, tuneful unease goes, albums don’t get much better than this. Wave Sleep Wave plays the album release show for this one at Bowery Electric on April 17 at 8 PM.