New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: x band

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. 

Girls on Grass Bring Their Deliciously Edgy Jangle and Clang to an Excellent Park Slope Triplebill Tonight

Girls on Grass play a deliciously jangly mashup of Americana rock and serpentine, guitar-fueled psychedelia, with a dash of punk. At their most epic, they sound like the Dream Syndicate with a better singer out front. Which is not to dis Steve Wynn, who’s been a hell of a singer for a long time, it’s just that there’s no way he can hit the high notes that Girls on Grass frontwoman Barbara Endes does. She and the band are headlining a rare, excellent triplebill at Union Hall in Park Slope tonight, Augusr 5 at 10 PM. Creepy Nashville gothic band Karen & the Sorrows open the show at 8, followed by first-class honkytonk and outlaw country crooner/bandleader Cliff Westfall; cover is $10. Then Girls on Grass are at Bowery Electric on the 15th at 8:45 for the same price.

The one time this blog was in the house at a Girls on Grass show was way back in March at Halyards in Gowanus. The interplay and tradeoffs between the two guitarists was breathtaking, Luna’s Sean Eden playing bad cop with his noisy, bluesy, head-on riffage against Endes’ slithery cascades and eerie passing tones, when she wasn’t flinging bits and pieces of chords against the wall or clanging her way up to a big, resounding chorus. Bassist Dave Mandl swooped and dove way up the strings, more haphazardly than anyone else in the band while drummer Nancy Polstein swung the tunes, hard, and contributed soaring vocal harmonies as well.

What was coolest to see was how much material the band has that’s not on their gorgeously tuneful 2016 debut album Trouble I Wrought. They played that janglefest, but they also did a bunch of louder material, leading up to a paisley underground cover of X’s The Once Over Twice. If memory serves right, the most menacing number was the riff-rocking Street Fight, a spot-on oldschool Brooklyn scenario; the most psychedelic, shapeshifting, longest song in the set was Return to Earth, which veered from  post-Neil Young highway rock to slithery psychedelia and back. It’s a fair guess they’ll rock out pretty hard at Union Hall’s recently reopened downstairs room too. While neither opening act is as loud, they’re both worth seeing too.

The Searing, Psychedelic Space Merchants Headline an Eclectic Show for a Good Cause in Park Slope

With their edgy guitar riffage, ominous organ and tight rhythmic assault, the Space Merchants are sort of the missing link between the Stooges and X, with frequent detours into stoner riff-rock and long, hypnotic, vortical jams in the same vein as the Brian Jonestown Massacre or Black Angels. They’re headlining a benefit for Planned Parenthood on March 4 at 10:30 PM at Union Hall; first-rate honkytonk songwriter Cliff Westfall opens the night at 8:30, followed by Tatters and Rags, who veer between plaintive Jayhawks Americana, honkytonk and cowpunk. Cover is $10.

The last time this blog and the Space Merchants were in the same place, it was in early November at St. Vitus. They opened with a low-key, purposeful stoner 70s riff-rocker that they suddenly took doublespeed, with a hypnotically pounding jam, like the Black Angels at their ballsiest.

Their second number had a fast backbeat from drummer Carter Logan, uneasy close harmonies from guitarist Michael Guggino and keyboardist Ani Monteleone; it was as if John Doe and Exene teamed up with the Stooges right at the point where Iggy went AWOL and checked into rehab. Guggino’s biting bluesmetal interspersed with bassist Aileen Brophy’s catchy, serpentine riffs against Monteleone’s tornado-on-the-horizon organ.

The next song was the reverse image of that, opening with a stomping swing that Guggino took halfspeed with a simmering, slide-fueled southern vibe. The band brought back the X harmonies on the song afterward, a stomping, swaying anthem, part Paperback Writer Beatles, part Deep Purple, Guggino playing through a repeaterbox patch, then hitting his wah pedal for a long raga solo as the organ rose to a flood warning behind him. Monteleone took over lead vocals as the song lurched toward heavy MC5 territory,Guggino veering between unhinged blues, wry hammer-ons and some murderous tremolo-picking.

From there they mashed up Steppenwolf and early Destroy All Monsters, hit a brief bass-and-drums interlude and segued into a burning, swaying midtempo song akin to Sonics Rendezvous Band covering one of the more cowpunk-flavored tunes on X’s Wild Gift album. They took it out with shimmering sheets of feedback.

The night’s last song brought to mind the Stooges’ Johanna with a woman out in front of the band; then they took it in a macabre Blue Oyster Cult direction. All night long, Guggino had been generating some of the most delicious low-midrange sounds heard at any rock show in town: was he splitting his signal between a Fender Twin and an ancient, unidentifiable, vintage sandstone-colored amp behind him? It was impossible to tell – St. Vitus always has great sound, anyway. The Union Hall show should be even more intense since the basement room there is a lot smaller.

Castle Black’s New Album: A Tower of Power

A year ago, power trio Castle Black had relentless energy, tons of promise and some good tunes that they were thrashing into shape through constant gigging, all the while trying to get off the Dives of New York treadmill. You know the dril: the Bitter End, Leftfield, Desmond’s, ad nauseum. Fast foward to now: they’ve got two excellent ep’s out, along with a killer video shot at Fort Tilden. The group – guitarist Leigh Celent, bassist Lisa Low and drummer Matt Bronner – are all decked out in post-apocalyptic camo, trudging with characteristic menace through the underbrush, finally emerging…no spoilers here! It’s the rare video that holds your attention all the way through to see what finally happens, a mystery story in images with a ferocious soundtrack. As usual, the trio have a couple of gigs coming up: tomorrow night, Nov 8 at 10 PM they’re playing Shrine in Harlem, followed at 11 by the intriguing Unknown Nobodies, who have both a punk side and another that veers closer to paisley underground psychedelia. Then the two bands are at the Parkside starting at 10 on Nov 18.

The new ep, Losing Forever, is streaming at their webpage. The title is typically enigmatic: is it apocalyptic, or just self-effacingly sarcastic? This group keeps you guessing. The opening track, Sabotage has a mighty oldschool Britpunk feel, it’s catchy, and anthemic, and pissed off, and like a lot of this band’s songs, is packed with unexpected tempo shifts, counterintuitive major/minor changes and catchy hooks. Premonition, by contrast, is a lot more straightforward, a bitter, vivid late-summer reminiscence. The jangle/crunch dichotomy in Celent’s gutar overdubs brings to mind the Distillers.

Bronner’s menacing rumble undpins the wickedly catchy, minor-key Secret Hideaway, part dark garage rock, part X, part Thalia Zedek. “We’ll be ok on a private holiday, wish for nevermore,” Celent intones enigmatically: a suicide pact, maybe?

Leave It kicks off like a swaying, midtempo Buzzcocks ballad and then hits a burning doublespeed punk drive, like peak-era Sleater-Kinney but with better vocals. The album winds up with its best song, the hauntingly epic, doomed Dark Light, built around Celent’s menacing, opening cliffhanger riff: it’s this band’s Last Rockers. There will be a Best Albums of 2016 page here at the end of the year and this one will be on it.

Real NYC Punk Rock and a Grand Victory Show on Saturday by Scrapers

Scrapers play real punk rock. Not emo posing as punk rock. Not phony circus rock with loud guitars. Their album Dark Places – a free download at Bandcamp – is the kind of stuff you would have heard at the top of a good bill at CBGB around 1981. They’re playing Grand Victory at two in the afternoon on March 7 to kick off what’s more or less a hardcore matinee there; cover is ten bucks.

It’s a good bet they’ll be playing more than what’s on the album, considering that it’s about fifteen minutes long. By the time it’s over, if classic punk is your thing, you’re left wishing it was twice as long. And nobody would be complaining if the songs went on longer: most of them max out at less than two minutes. If anybody understands the concept about always leaving audiences wahting more, it’s these guys. Bee Wiseman fronts the band; Brian Darwas, formerly of Roger Miret & the Disasters, plays bass; Sol Keller and Dodi Wiemuth are the rest of the crew. The first track on the album seems to be sort of a theme song: these guys are just managing to scrape by, the guitars screaming over a practically oi-punk scramble: “You wanna see a dead body?” Wiseman leers at the end.

Gravity is a catchy number: it’s got those muted downstrokes and then big scorching chords and the hint of a big solo. And then it’s over. White Boys is half noisy intro and half murderous oldschool punk menace. Forget the catchy intro: Kids Will Kill has the same kind of head-on assault, the kind that makes you wonder whether you should highfive the band after the show or leave them the hell alone.

Bad Blood is over in less than a minute, a blast of searing chromatic fury like the album’s runaway express-train title cut. Shot Out has a few bass rumbles seeping out from under the pitchblende attack. Missing Person could be the Avengers with one of the guys out in front of the band; the album winds up with World War 4, a minute four seconds of what could be vintage X as played by the Ramones. This band is tight as a drum of toxic waste, loud as hell, and catchier than they probably want to admit. So many bands make complete fools of themselves trying to sound dark and desperate: these guys sound like they can’t help it. Get the album, blast it in your headphones and remember how it feels to be totally alive if not necessarily happy about it.

In Memoriam – Ray Manzarek

Ray Manzarek, the iconic keyboardist and bassist for the Doors, died yesterday at a medical clinic in Germany after a long battle with stomach cancer. He was 74.

One of the originators of art-rock, Manzarek was one of the first to bring elements of classical music and jazz into rock, as influenced by Chopin as he was by Miles Davis, John Coltrane and the blues. A technically gifted performer, during his time in the Doors he juxtaposed ornate, intricate, rapidfire righthand melodies against simple lefthand riffs that he played on a keyboard bass.

In the band’s late 60s heyday, a writer once called Manzarek’s keyboard work “Balkan funeral music.” Manzarek liked the description so much that he adopted it. Although his playing often had a puckish wit – best exemplified by the droll classical and jazz quotes in the long solo in Light My Fire – his most memorable moments were his darkest. His coiling organ lines in The End and raw, feral blasts in When the Music’s Over, his saturnine piano in The Crystal Ship and misty, nocturnal Fender Rhodes introduction to Riders on the Storm long ago became standard repertoire. It’s hard to think of a rock keyboardist who hasn’t been influenced by Manzarek in some way.

Although his 1981 art-rock version of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana was arguably the high point of his solo career, Manzarek didn’t limit himself to that genre. Before joining the Doors, he played blues, jazz and surf music. After the Doors broke up, he explored soul music and jazz, produced four albums by Los Angeles punk rock band X and played piano and organ on their recordings, most notably the macabre organ on Nausea, from their 1981 debut Los Angeles. In his later years, he turned his focus to electronica.

Manzarek was complicated. Fiercely proud of his legacy, he didn’t suffer fools gladly. He had a short fuse, yet was generous to a fault. A dedicated stoner, he had a youthful enthusiasm and a boundless, almost childlike sense of wonder. Part Eastern mystic, part hard-bitten blue-collar Chicago kid, part ageless hippie, he had a voracious appetite for what interested him, from philosophy, to painting, to literature (he wrote two memoirs as well as a novel, The Poet in Exile). An articulate raconteur, he would inevitably find himself having to correct misconceptions about his Doors bandmate Jim Morrison, whom he remembered fondly not as an incorrigible drunk but as a gentle, sensitive soul. “We were hippies: we laughed a lot,” he often said.

Spanking Charlene Kicks Ass

Spanking Charlene are sort of a New York counterpart to X: for punk rock, they’re very diverse musically. Substitute a distinctively New York snarl for the LA band’s DIY gutter-poetry vibe, bring the vocals up a lot higher and put producer Eric “Roscoe” Ambel in the Ray Manzarek role and you get an idea of what they sound like. Like X (at least in the old days), they’re fronted by a couple, Charlene McPherson on vocals and Mo Goldner on guitar. Like Exene, McPherson takes an unapologetic feminist-hedonist stance, deploring the kind of shit women let guys get away with (and on the gentlest song here, My Girl, offering a warm shoulder for any woman with the nerve to stick up for herself). But where Exene is a distinctive singer, McPherson is a phenomenal one: an outraged, wounded wail like hers only comes around every few years. And the band can be very funny, and pretty amazing live. Besides producing their latest album Where Are the Freaks, Ambel plays a Fifth Beatle role, adding his trademark surreal wit with both lead guitar and piano.

The best songs here are the angry ones. You Suck is just plain great: as the band runs the riff from Pil’s This Is Not a Love Song, McPherson cuts loose on a guy who’s an emotional leech – and is she singing “fill me up” or “feel me up?” Stupid Me is even more intense – and as good as the vocals are here, McPherson always turns this into a showstopper onstage. And as much as she’s berating herself for falling for some loser, it’s the loser she fell for who’s even stupider. Tie Me Up sarcastically juxtaposes everything a girl wants – the flowers, a guy who takes care of her every need and more – with a crushing chorus:

Tie me up
Make me beg,
Pin my hands against the bed
Bite my lip
Taste my sweat
Tell me it’s not ready yet

Then there’s the title track, an exasperated shout out to anybody with a sense of fun who might have survived the blitzkrieg of gentrification that’s destroyed so much of New York (and major cities around the world). Stuck at a lame yuppie party and feeling sullen, McPherson longs for the kind of people who used to make neighborhoods like the East Village so much fun before they were driven out by the heirloom artisanal lardons-and-nori martini crowd.

The rest of the album covers a lot of ground. The opening cut, Secrets, lumbers along with some AC/DC style riffage, while Rev It Up goes into punkabilly, Cry Baby works a slow, Stoogey wah guitar feel and Booze and Pills – which really nails that particular vibe – is the closest thing to X here. There’s also the sarcastic The Other Girl and I Like You As a Friend, a woman’s perspective on the one line that every guy dreads most. The final two tracks here were originally released as singles on Little Steven Van Zandt’s label: a beefed-up version of Dismissed with a Kiss (the title track from their 2007 debut) and the edgy Canarsie, a catchy, Stonesy look at the band’s love-hate relationship with the distant Brooklyn neighborhood that McPherson and Goldner call home. What else is there to say – great band, great album, a lock for one of 2012’s best. We need more smart, assaultively fun, funny records like this, with raw but rich production values all the way through and solid playing from the rhythm section which includes Alison Jones on bass and either Eric Seftel or Phil Cimino on drums. Spanking Charlene’s home base is Lakeside Lounge, where they’ll be on Feb 18 at 11.