Lucid Culture


CD Review: Bern & the Brights – Swing Shift Maisies

Bern & the Brights are a breath of fresh air. Their sound is absolutely original: they’re impossible to pigeonhole, creating a violin-and-guitar-driven swirl of artsy new wave, chamber pop, art-rock and indie rock, with a raw, plaintive, emotionally resonant edge. Their song structures are counterintuitive: this band refuses to be contained by a simple verse/chorus/verse pattern. The title of their new album, Swing Shift Maisies refers to the all-female bands that sprung up during World War I: Rosie the Rocker instead of Rosie the Riveter. The term was actually a slur, the band using it here sarcastically – they’re all first-rate musicians. Frontwoman/guitarist Bernadette Malavarca has playful command of an impressively wide range of styles, and she’s full of surprises: she’ll punch out a staccato new wave phrase and and suddenly toss off a tongue-in-cheek country riff – or stick out her tongue with a comical Jimmy Page lick. Acoustic guitarist Catherine McGowan – who also sings – holds the songs to the rails along with the nimble rhythm section of Shawn Fafara on bass and Jose Ulloa on drums. The band’s not-so-secret weapon is violinist Nicole Scorsone, overdubbed here to the point that she’s a one-woman orchestra. For those who’ve never seen them live, this four-song ep makes an auspicious introduction: it may be short but it’s one of this year’s best so far.

The first track, Boo features characteristically plaintive violin over jangly guitar, with distant tango echoes. “Been so long since I’ve been myself,” Malavarca muses; the band works a catchy minor key guitar vamp that builds lushly with the strings, a suspenseful drum shuffle and a majestic, sweeping outro. The brisk Sangria Peaches kicks off with a tricky rhythm into a fast eight-note new wave groove with staccato violin, swirling strings and a coy break with castanets. McGowan sings Sleepless Aristotle – a live showstopper – with a chipper chirp: it’s a fast, swaying amalgam of chamber pop and vintage new wave, and a playful percussion breakdown. The last song here, It Goes Like That sounds like the Velvets jamming with the New Pornographers at Juilliard summer camp.

As a singer, Malavarca’s still finding her voice. It’s a powerful, versatile instrument with eye-popping range – when she’s projecting with an insistence that vividly recalls Martha Davis of the Motels (a little higher up the scale), she’s tremendously affecting. When she lapses into a drawl (which happily only happens every now and then), it’s an affectation that sticks out like a sore thumb in a band so original and so cliche-free. But given the quality and the imagination of the songs here, that’s a minor quibble. As good as the recordings are, the band is even better live: Bern & the Brights play the cd release for this album at Maxwell’s on July 17 at 8:30. Now’s your chance to enjoy them up close before it costs you twice as much at venues twice as big.

July 12, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The New Collisions at Arlene Grocery, NYC 4/23/09

The night began auspiciously. Boston new wave revivalists the New Collisions just get better and better. In the studio, platinum-haired frontwoman Sarah Guild sings with a provocative chirp but in concert she turns on the big, ferocious, Martha Davis-style wail. If their upcoming cd is anything like their live show, it’s going to be amazing. Seven PM being an uncharacteristically early hour for them, they made it seem like it was midnight, burning through one sharply danceable, catchy song to the next, many of them segues that took the crowd by surprise. With their busy basslines, swooping 80s-style synth, guitarist Scott Guild’s slashing, trebly chordal style, they’re something akin to Missing Persons with a college degree and an ever-present sense of unease – almost all of their three-minute dance songs have a dark side. The persistent restlessness in the lyrics is anything but a pose: it’s almost as if this band is offering a new look at the real side of the 80s, the one that John Hughes never would have. Even though the band looks like they weren’t even born until late in the decade.


From the first notes of the calypso-inflected intro to No Free Ride, Scott Guild was pogoing. They segued from that one into the lost-kids anthem In a Shadow, Sarah Guild belting wildly into the chorus: “In a shadow is all I know.” On Caged Us Kids, she finally took off her leather coat, revealing an irridescent red dress. “They caged us kids and stole from us,” she wailed over the song’s catchy four-chord, darkly minor-key hook. And then segued into a particularly ferocious version of their nonconformist anthem Ones to Wander: “We were the ones to wander, not like you…between the lights, oh my eyes!” It was transcendent, powerpop heaven, like being at a CBGB of the mind, 1976.


Beautiful and Numb began as an uncharacteristically warm, atmospheric ballad, with synth washes building to a stinging, anthemic chorus: “Isn’t it true, this is how the world ends…they took away the danger and they taught us how to sing,” Sarah Guild lamented, a stark contrast with the American Idol types she was disparaging. Then the keyboardist took a nimble electric piano solo that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Radio Birdman song.


“I could not escape what was mine…in the night there is no silence,” went the verse on a the new, somewhat New Order-tinged ballad Constellations. They closed the set with a ferocious new one building from a stark piano outro, Sarah Guild’s outraged wail telling how, “somehow when I sleep we were maimed, we were changed.” Since the band has been rehearsing with two drummers, they’d depleted all the songs the guy they brought along with them knew (this guy is a keeper!) so they did Caged Us Kids again as an encore. Next time around the club ought to put them on later: a lot of their fan base were AWOL, no doubt still at work or on the way home. They’re back in NYC at the Delancey on May 21 at 9.

April 25, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The New Collisions at Public Assembly, Brooklyn NY 3/20/09

The 80s get no respect. Sure, there were the Cheesy 80s: Reagan, and Bon Jovi, and Beverly Hills 90210. But there were also Cool 80s: the Dead Kennedys,  the Dream Syndicate, and new wave. Unlike how VH1 and the rest of the corporate media would like you to think – if they want you to think at all, that is – new wave didn’t start out as top 40. It was people doing new and unique and fun things with catchy pop songs, and that became top 40 because it was so much fun. In the spirit of those first new wave bands of the late 70s and the early 80s come the New Collisions. It’s a very encouraging story: in less than a year, they’ve gained critical mass in their native Boston and now they’re working on New York. Their show at Public Assembly on Friday added more than a few believers to the posse: there is without a doubt a film or five in development that could use their ridiculously hummable, biting, casually intense songs.


Indelible moment: platinum-haired frontwoman Sarah Guild spins away from the mic, look of disdain on her face, strolls back to the drums and then, back to the audience, raises her left hand in a tightly clenched fist. Nothing stagy or contrived about it, that’s just how she felt in that one moment. One look at this band’s song titles reveals a considerable edge: No Free Ride. Parachutes on the Dance Floor. In a Shadow. Caged Us Kids, one of the best songs of the night. In guitarist Scott Guild’s fiery, upper-register chords, the band’s fast 4/4 dance beat, soaring melodic bass and devious vintage synthesizer lines, there’s a sense of exasperation, of just dying to get out, to have some real fun for once in their lives. Which speaks for pretty much all of us these days.


It was a methodical yet inspired set, the band roaring from one memorable number to the next without much fanfare. Sarah Guild has a chirpy insouciance that reminds of Poly Styrene from X-Ray Spex, but also a big formidable wail with echoes of the Motels’ Martha Davis, and she uses both expertly. Scott Guild goes for a staccato, slashing style that pairs well against the fast, climbing bass and the meandering synth lines. Ones to Wander featured some marvelously tight, accusatory harmonies. The snide, darkly captivating Underground had an eerie organ solo that sounded straight out of the Radio Birdman songbook. Losing Ground built off a melodic, crescendoing bassline, reaching a peak as the chorus kicked in with its “uh-oh” vocalese. Their last song of the night, Escape began slowly with eerie electric piano and broken guitar chords, building to a searing anthem, evoking images of after-dark mall parking lots scattered with kids on car hoods drinking beer out of paper bags, leaning up against utility poles, somebody’s ipod rigged up to the car stereo speakers, who’re only there because it’s all they have. The New Collisions are the Kids in America. They’re back here at Arlene’s on April 23 and then at one of their usual haunts, TT Bear’s in Boston on April 28.

March 23, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments