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

Concert Review: The New Collisions at Arlene’s, 7/1/10

The New Collisions are Boston’s best band; from the small crowd lingering at Arlene’s, you wouldn’t know it. Although what’s obvious from the first few notes is how tight they are. In a classy black dress, midriff jacket and heels, platinum blonde frontwoman Sarah Guild is wiry, intense and inscrutable. She hardly talks to the crowd – mystery seems to be her thing, and she works it. The rest of the band is anything but. Bass player Alex Stern does most of the talking – he’s in a good mood. He ought to be. This is a dream gig for a bass player. Most of their songs motor along with fast eight-note basslines which he plays with a pick and a trebly, Bruce Foxton-esque tone, so he’s always way up in the mix and gets to take a few bubbly, ska-inflected solos as well (no surprise – his other gig is with the Void Union). A year ago this band was mining a totally 80s vibe; the new songs in the set tonight evade referencing any particular time period. They’re just catchy, with a powerpop feel that’s considerably warmer, somewhat gentler than the edgy intensity of their 2009 debut ep. The keys have shifted from minor to major – one of the new songs could have been a hit for the Motels in 1983, with its skeletal verse building to a big, crescendoing chorus.

Guitarist Scott Guild pogos around the stage – he can’t stand still. But playing this kind of music, that would be hard. Firing off his chords with a casual dexterity, by the fourth song he’s lost his glasses, something that seems to happen at every show. There’s an optician in Cambridge or Somerville who owes his livelihood to this guy. Casey Gruttadauria works his keyboards methodically, adding soulful organ swells on the newer songs in place of the blippy, oscillating 80s patches that he’s so adept at. Drummer Zak Kahn hints at a fullscale stomp but doesn’t go there – he feels the room, feels the music for what it is, knowing that if he went over the top some of it would be camp.

Sarah Guild holds something in reserve tonight – she isn’t belting at full volume, at least early on. “This one you know,” she tells the crowd, with just the hint of a smile. It’s a vaguely familiar melody – Missing Persons, maybe? – oh wait, this is Give Me Back My Man by the B-52’s! And they’re doing it completely straight, completely deadpan. And Sarah actually sells the lyric. “I’ll give you fish, I’ll give you candy.” She makes it seem normal to wonder what it would be like if she flipped you a sardine and a box of Mike and Ikes.

The band is on a roll. They segue from one song into another: the tersely scurrying outsider anthem In a Shadow, followed by a couple of new ones, one of them with a This Year’s Model-era Elvis Costello feel. The forthcoming album is titled Optimism, which makes sense. Another new one has bass and guitar locking in sync like a smarter version of the Buzzcocks’ I Believe – and then they do a hailstorm of a twin solo after the chorus. And follow that with an uncharacteristically slow ballad.

Sarah finally takes off her coat. She’s been wailing pretty much full-throttle for over a half an hour now, dealing with one bad mic after another and she looks drained, emotionally depleted. But she rallies, ending the next song cold with a caustic “Shut up!” And then Scott launches into a staccato, Friday on My Mind-style intro and the band joins him on their best song, The Beautiful and Numb. Outside the club, the streets are littered with overdressed tourists talking loudly about nothing to no one – or maybe to their phones. They spill out of bars, still yelling even when they’ve stepped beyond the roar of the crowd. Inside Arlene’s, the New Collisions have an anthem for the night, and it’s about the apocalypse. “We’re in denial, but we’ve got style…we’re in denial, and I’m overcome,” Sarah rails, her voice suddenly lower, taking on a darker nuance. “Isn’t it ironic, this is how the world ends…we are the Beautiful and Numb.” The band fakes an ending, picks it up and then takes it out with a booming crash, everything falling apart, Scott losing his footing, going down with his guitar in the middle of the stage while the world collapses around him. Tonight the New Collisions seized the moment and had the perfect song for it. The kind that rattles around your brain all the way to the train, throughout the train ride and then finally up the steps out of the subway into the temporary beauty of the cool night air.

July 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The New Collisions – Their Debut EP

That a five-song ep (four-song if you count the brief instrumental that segues between the third and fifth tracks) could rank among the best albums of 2009 so far speaks for itself. Boston band the New Collisions have been blowing up lately and this helps explain why. Their shtick is taking a classic 80s new wave pop sound and adding an indelibly original, contemporary bite. This may be the most intelligent, edgy dance music out there right now. Sarah Guild’s vocals are often chirpy in the same vein as Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex, early Cindy Lauper or Dale Bozzio of Missing Persons, but she’s no one-trick pony. Scott Guild’s guitar cuts and burns while keyboardist Casey Gruttadauria adds layer after layer of playfully oscillating vintage new wave synth over Alex Stern’s fiery, crescendoing, snappy bass. And the lyrics pack a punch, apprehensive and all too aware of the here-and-now.

The first track is No Free Ride, nicking the opening lick from the Vapors’ hit Turning Japanese. “There’s no free ride for being pretty on the inside,” Sarah Guild wails – although she has a platinum-tressed look that could easily make her a fashion icon, it’s clear that substance is what she and this band are all about. “Get. Me. Out!” she insists defiantly at the end. The best cut here is The Beautiful and Numb, opening with a staccato riff evocative of the Easybeats classic Friday on My Mind. It’s a savage slap at Gen Y complacency. “We’re in denial, but we’ve got style/We’re in denial, but I’m overcome/The world’s on fire, uh oh/Not our problem,” Sarah Guild rails.

The big hit is Parachutes on the Dance Floor, stark and minimal with a head-bopping beat into a ridiculously catchy chorus, evocatively catching the dead-end desperation of what it means to be young and broke in the early days of a depression, “caught between amusement and despair.” After an atmospheric instrumental, Sarah Guild gets to air out her powerful pipes with the towering, Kate Bush-inflected ballad Fireflies, surprisingly ornate, majestically beautiful and ultimately optimistic. It reminds very much of the more epic side of the late, great New York band DollHouse. If this ep is any indication, the band is going to be huge. Having just reviewed another accessible yet very intelligent act, Tift Merritt here, it becomes clearer and clearer that the future of American pop music rests in the hands of talented legions who’ve bailed out of major label dreams, parachutes on the dance floor, bringing everybody out to join the celebration. The New Collisions’ next gig is on July 16 at the Midnight Madness Festival in Bennington, Vermont on followed eventually by a show at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts on September 5. They’re here in New York on August 22 at 11 at the Bitter End.

July 2, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment