Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The New Collisions’ Optimistic Full-Length Debut

Track for track, this could be the best rock album of 2010. The New Collisions burst out of Boston last year with an ep that blended coy, quirky retro 80s new wave pop with a dark, literate lyrical edge. Their new full-length debut The Optimist is a lot more serious and more intense: the title is sarcastic to the extreme. It’s a concept album of sorts about a society in collapse. Musically, it’s a turn in a much louder direction, with more of a fiery powerpop edge, guitarist Scott Guild adding layer after layer of roar, jangle and clang. Casey Gruttadauria’s woozily oscillating vintage synthesizer is further back in the mix this time out alongside Alex Stern’s percussive, insistent, melodic bass and Zak Kahn’s drums. Maybe what’s most impressive of all is how much more of her range frontwoman Sarah Guild is using, wary and serious in the lower registers when she’s not soaring above the roar with the chirpy wail she utilized so effectively on the band’s early material. She sings in character – whether sarcastic, defiant or simply exhausted, she draws you in and makes these narratives hard to turn away from. She brings some of the outraged witness that Siouxsie Sioux played so well for so long to these songs.

The single is Dying Alone, impossibly catchy yet bitter and cynical to the extreme. “God knows you hate the quiet, when you’re dying, dying alone,” Sarah reminds with an understated angst. Swift Destruction is a fast new wave powerpop smash, a final concession to what sounds like the inevitable: “I’d like to order up a swift destruction…standing in the shadows of my pride,” she announces. The most memorable cut on the entire album is Over, an exasperated, uncharacteristically intimate kiss-off anthem (like the best punk performers, Sarah typically keeps the listener at a safe distance). They go back to the roaring powerpop vibe with Seven Generations, a chronicle of decay: “Are we happy yet?” Sarah asks sarcastically. The sarcasm reaches boiling point with Ne’er Do Well, the album’s lyrical high point, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Squeeze catalog from around 1979. Over a lush guitar-and-keyboard attack, Sarah savagely details the dissolute life of someone who just won’t grow up:

Bring me all your ablebodied men
So I don’t have to take on the chin
And I don’t have a confrontation with what might have been
I’ve got my suitcase in back to cushion the impact
Better not to have tried at all
Rules are beaten, I haven’t eaten and I want to be alone

Coattail Rider is sort of a smoother I Don’t Want to Got to Chelsea, with a big explosive chorus, Sarah’s absolutely nailing the lyric with a coy disingenuousness. The lone previously released track here, the dead-end anomine anthem In a Shadow benefits from bigger production than the version on last year’s ep (and a really funny quote from the 70s cheeseball hit Funkytown). They wind up the album with an almost unrecognizable, Joy Division-flavored cover of the B-52’s Give Me Back My Man and then the most overtly pop-oriented track here, Lazy, with its oscillating layers of synth and repetitive chorus hook. The New Collisions play the cd release show for this one at Great Scott in Allston, Massachusetts on October 6.

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October 5, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Katzenjammer – Le Pop

Katzenjammer’s new album Le Pop is pretty amazing, a strong contender for best of 2010. With their gorgeous harmonies, old-fashioned instrumentation and frequently lush production, the accordion-driven all-female Oslo quartet sound like the Dresden Dolls but better (more energetic, less cutesy and a whole lot darker as well). The self-styled “queens of sultry sound” balance an eerily rustic noir edge with tongue-in-cheek humor, and lyrics in English. On the new cd, multi-instrumentalist Solveig Heilo, accordionists Anne Marit Bergheim and Marianne Sveen and bassist Turid Jørgensen – who plays the largest four-string instrument in all of rock – bounce, scamper and blast their way through a mix of tempos and styles that evoke such diverse acts as the B-52s, Gruppo Sportivo and Gogol Bordello.

The album opens on a surprisingly pensive note with an instrumental “overture,” followed by the scurrying Keystone Kops vibe of A Bar in Amsterdam, which amusingly morphs into a Pat Benetar-style power ballad on the chorus. With its jaunty gypsy swing, Demon Kitty Rag evokes satirical New York trio the Debutante Hour. Tea with Cinnamon is an absolute delight, a vintage Toots and the Maytals-style rocksteady number with accordion and a surprisingly wistful lyric. The title track, a snidely exuberant Gruppo Sportivo-style satire of American corporate music is great fun, and the outro is absolutely priceless.

The darker material here is just as captivating. Hey Ho on the Devil’s Back sets charming harmonies and barrelhouse piano to a Nashville gothic arrangement with a funny but disquieting edge, and a series of trick endings. The big, anguished crescendo on the lushly orchestrated suicide anthem Wading in Deeper packs a visceral punch; the violin-driven To the Sea showcases the band’s harmonies at their most otherworldly, with an off-center, Icelandic vibe. There’s also the sternly tongue-in-cheek Mother Superior, with its eerie carnival organ; Der Kapitan, a macabre-tinged surf instrumental done oompah style; the coy country bounce of Play, My Darling; Ain’t No Thang, an oldtimey banjo tune; and Virginia Clemm, a sad, eerily atmospheric waltz. The depth and intelligence of the songs matches their good-time appeal: it’s been a long time since we discovered a band who could do that as consistently as Katzenjammer do. The group are currently on US tour (at Milwaukee’s Summerfest on July 3 and 4, opening for Elvis Costello), with a date at the Mercury Lounge on July 6.

June 29, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Two Generations of New Wave Collide on Tour

New wave legends the B-52’s are on the road again promoting their latest album Funplex. Opening on the first leg of the tour are up-and-coming Boston new wave throwbacks the New Collisions, driven by frontwoman Sarah Guild’s chirpy, devious lyrics backed by playfully oscillating vintage 80s synth, snarling guitar and an infectious dance beat.

Upcoming shows include Saturday August 1 at the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis, MA; Sunday, August 2 at the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset, MA and Saturday, August 8 at the Filene Center At Wolf Trap in Vienna, VA, August 12 at Innsbrook Pavillion in Glen Allen, VA; August 16 at Sunrise Theatre in Ft. Pierce, FL; and August 20 at DTE Energy Music Theatre in Clarkson, MI. In between they’re squeezing in a show opening for Blondie on August 10 at the Community Theatre in Morristown, NJ.

Watch this space for additional dates.

July 31, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The B-52’s at Asser Levy Park, Brooklyn NY 8/9/07

Tonight was full of surprises. The sky was a late-period Turner painting, wave after wave of thunderclouds galloping in from the ocean, rolling out toward central Brooklyn. Of course, we’d brought a picnic. The park was crawling with cops. Mathematically speaking, there had to be at least a small handful who hadn’t yet met their monthly quota of “quality of life” arrests, i.e. people pissing in the bushes, shagging in the grass or, perish the thought, drinking in public. These quotas officially don’t exist and are probably illegal, but as any New York cop will tell you, you’ll never get promoted unless you write the kind of tickets the top brass wants. Rudy Mussolini may be off running for President, but his stench remains. Yet nobody showed any interest in the suspicious little plastic cups into which we poured the beaujolais we’d brought in an equally suspicious clear plastic container. Maybe they weren’t paying any attention because they, too had come for the music. Maybe some of them actually were B-52’s fans. Not implausible.

 

Just like it would have been if this was 1979 and it was the band’s first tour, this was a gathering of the most unlikely people, like the off-duty firefighter in front of us hollering for the band to play Planet Claire. It definitely wasn’t the usual crowd that comes out to shows here: by the looks of it, the overwhelmingly white, local blue-collar contingent had been scared off by the impending monsoon. This time, the lawn was packed with kids who had come from all over New York to see “the world’s #1 party band.” It definitely wasn’t a nostalgia trip: they’d come expecting a good time, and maybe even because in a weird way, the B-52’s are actually kind of important. The band would probably laugh at that, but it’s true.

 

Considering that the nucleus of the group has basically been playing the same songs over and over and over again for practically thirty years, it’s hard to believe that they can inject any enthusiasm into their set. Yet somehow they do.  In the decades since their first album, Cindy Wilson, believe it or not, has become a hell of a singer. Kate Pierson has not. Fred Schneider is still a one-trick pony, and Keith Strickland has switched from drums to guitar. The other musicians are competent, if they don’t seem to be in on the joke that the original B-52’s still seem to find at least mildly entertaining after all these years. They ran through all the hits: Private Idaho, Strobe Light, Give Me Back My Man, Roam, and Love Shack (reinvented as funk, a genre this band should avoid at any cost). They also did three new numbers, a couple of garage songs and something of a midtempo ballad sung by Pierson. The new material is pretty generic: the silly spontaneity of their first couple of albums is completely absent. Played through concert-quality amps and bolstered by a bass player with studio chops, the old songs sound oddly focused but not rote: Schneider still barks and preens like in the old days, the womens’ vocals are still flat and ultimately, the music’s blatantly derivative but inimitably dadaesque sense of fun prevails. Say what you want about how original this band was (they weren’t), what good musicians they were (they weren’t) or what they had to say (not much), but they’re definitely in the Secret Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. A lot of the second-generation 60s garage-meets-new-wave songs they played tonight have become standards. Who ever would have thought in 1978 that almost thirty years later, Joe Strummer would be dead, but the B-52’s would still be together and playing stadiums.

 

On the minus side, the B-52’s brought camp to the masses. Not such a good thing, considering that the affectations of camp, along with the sarcasm that’s commonly mistaken for irony, have become the defining characteristics of the trendoid esthetic. But that crowd wasn’t here tonight, obviously: this band is all about fun, and they don’t have that in Williamsburg.

 

The firefighter in front of us roared and leaped with delight when they launched into the bassline from the Peter Gunn Theme, Pierson sang along with the synthesizer and Schneider began to intone, “She came from Planet Claire.” They saved Rock Lobster for last and did it note for note with the record. Nobody went “down, down, down” and did the crabwalk, but that was to be expected, as the first few raindrops were just starting to hit.

 

The show had started inexplicably early, causing a large portion of the crowd to show up halfway through the band’s set, or even later. Perhaps the promoters wanted them to get the show in before the rains came, figuring that nobody would bother to stick around for the other scheduled act, Patty Smyth and Scandal. If that was their hunch, they were right.

 

From there, we went to Banjo Jim’s, which has become an after-concert ritual lately. The former 9C is a nice, cozy place, a generally reliable reminder of what the East Village used to be. It wasn’t tonight. A balding, fortyish folksinger was playing loud acoustic guitar, badly, and going on and on about how we should just turn everything over to the Dalai Lama and everything will be ok. And what a sensitive guy he is and how he can’t wait to get back to California. I say, get this guy a ticket on the first plane out. I think his name was Ellie Elliott – can’t remember, considering how hard I was trying to tune him out. One of my accomplices spent most of her time outside the bar smoking, waiting for him to finish up and leave. And when she wasn’t outside, she was wishing she was. Banjo Jim’s, please do us all a favor and don’t bring this loser back, whatever his name was. 

August 10, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment