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: 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

The Lucid Culture Interview: The New Collisions

One of the first things you notice about the New Collisions is how catchy their songs are. How your head starts bobbing to that fast retro 80s dance beat. How they sound like some great new wave band that’s just about to be rediscovered. But there are a zillion retro bands out there. What distinguishes the New Collisions from the rest of the pack is how smart their songs are. “The world’s onfire? Not our problem,” platinum blonde frontwoman Sarah Guild sarcastically chirps on Beautiful and Numb, the centerpiece of their killer new ep (full review here due soon – watch this space). With a potential national breakout gig upcoming at Gillette Stadium (home of the New England Patriots) the Boston band’s on the verge of leaving small club gigs behind. The band’s brain trust, Scott and Sarah Guild (guitar and vocals, respectively) took some time out of their insane schedule, recording with former Cars keyboardist Greg Hawkes, to answer a few questions:

 

Lucid Culture: What happened to the Collisions? Or was it the Old Collisions?

 

Sarah Guild: This is actually a funny story. We’ve lived in Boston for a year and launched the New Collisions about six months ago, so we weren’t too familiar with the Boston scene. There had, apparently, been a successful local band called the Collisions, which broke up a few years ago. When we started to pick up steam, people assumed it was members of the Collisions resurrecting the project. But no press is bad press; there are actually lemmingtrail threads on this [laughs].

 

Scott Guild: Contrary to public opinion, however, we actually wanted to be called the New Collisions. The music is about history, culture, religion, human connection, and all their strange permutations in this era. The collisions are “new” because they are the changes and the tensions that are happening right now, shaping the identity of this generation.

 

LC:  You weren’t even born yet when the bands you resemble were in their heyday. And don’t tell me you grew up listening to classic new wave hits…or did you?

 

Sarah: Yes and no. We were always eclectic, so we grew up listening to everything. When the time came to pick a definite direction for the band, it was the great melodic pop of the 60s and 80s that grabbed us. We love many many kinds of music, but there’s something timeless about Blondie, the Beach Boys, the Kinks, the Cars–we’re trying to make that same kind of musical statement.

 

LC:  I’m curious to know Sarah’s musical background. You belt, you wail, you chirp sometimes. You probably have more stuff up your sleeve than I know about. Is this style you’re using now something you’ve adapted from listening to Missing Persons, or Cindy Lauper, or is it just how you’ve evolved, or what?

 

Sarah: Well, I have a background in classical and choral music, and have sung every type of music on the planet in my brief time on this planet. I’m such an avid fan of so many bands that I imagine you can hear everything from Billie Holiday to Ray Davies in my delivery. But yes, Dale Bozzio especially is a huge influence. Funnily enough, when I started listening to Missing Persons, I was amazed to hear a few vocal tricks that I had been doing for a long time. In any case, it really starts new with every song, trying to find the vocal approach that will fit the melody, the message, the overall feel.

 

LC:  Is there a neat backstory to the band, I mean, something like Scott saw Sarah on the T, looked over her shoulder at her ipod and saw she had Blondie on it…something like that?

 

Scott: Well…we met at college, dropped out together, and then lived in many many places over a few years–England, the south, all over the northeast. Finally we decided to move to Boston and form the New Collisions. The musical direction came from taking our favorite influences and then trying to merge them into something new and unique.

 

LC:  What’s up with the drummer situation, you guys have been like Spinal Tap except that all those drummers are still alive. I’m guessing anyway…

 

Scott: We had a few fill-in players for New York shows, as you rightly discerned. Really it was a search for the right person, which took a few months, but we were too impatient and started gigging anyway! When Zak came along, we knew within the first thirty seconds of the audition.

 

LC:  Whose vintage synthesizer is that, and is the use of all those weird, oscillating settings a deliberate attempt to get an 80s sound? Or do you just genuinely like that vibe?

 

Sarah: Actually, our keyboard player has no background with this kind of music. He somehow has almost the exact musical aesthetic of Greg Hawkes, but he had no knowledge of the man when he wrote most of these lines. Casey brought in his stuff, started messing around, and it all fell into place. Spooky.

 

LC:  For a band with some pretty poppy songs, they’re awfully dark sometimes. I don’t want to open any old wounds, but to what extent do your lyrics draw from personal experience?

 

Scott: Almost none of the lyrics, actually, are about our personal experiences as such. We try to write about the condition-slash-struggles of people our age at this point in history. They’re deeply personal, but not about our personal lives per se.

 

LC:  Were you guys teenage delinquents? The Ones to Wander? Is that what that song’s about?

 

Scott: Ones to Wander is more personal than most. We’ve always been restless, and spent a few years roaming about before settling in Boston to form the New Collisions. Even in high-school, we were always going on odd adventures, getting into trouble, and so forth. When you have that kind of wanderlust, you’re always in tension with people who are living normal, relatively peaceful lives – there’s a huge gap between you. So that song is about having this endless yearning, and trying to survive in a society that doesn’t support it at all. “I don’t know how the rest survive/But oh my eyes, oh my eyes.”

 

LC:  Can you explain Parachutes on the Dance Floor?

 

Scott: This lyric, apparently, is quite obscure I guess [laughs] A parachute catches you when you’re falling. So parachutes on the dancefloor is about living a totally empty, vapid life, based around some mindless job, then finding relief and meaning in music, art, expression, etc. “The world had betrayed me/My parachute’s on the dancefloor.” In our own lives, music has been the saving grace.

 

LC:  You have a big following in Boston, you get great gigs and have a lot of media buzz going there. How has it been you outside your home turf?

 

Sarah: We seem to go over well everywhere–I think it’s that the music is fun and melodic. That being said, it’s hard for a new band to immediately get buzz in a huge city like New York, where none of us live or have lived previously. Also, our first real recordings have been out for less than a month. To answer your question, it’s been great, but we’re excited to see it grow even more.

 

LC:  I’ve always believed that pop music can be smart and accessible at the same time, is that something that factors into what you’re doing or is it just more of an unconscious thing?

 

Sarah: That’s definitely a factor. Our goal is to make fun catchy music that is also about something. We’re trying to have the best of both worlds – Blondie on one hand and Leonard Cohen on the other – serious fun and serious poetry. Hopefully it works!

 

LC:  Here in New York – and I’m seeing elsewhere – there’s been a big backlash against indie rock, musicians and audiences both getting into styles that are more fun. Is fun back in style? Or is the whole indie world full of shit, fun never really ever went away in the first place?

 

Scott: I think fun is definitely coming back into style. It’s kind of a paradox, but I think standing around and sulking is less in vogue when everyone’s broke. When you’re dirt poor and have a horrible job, you want to have some fun with your small amount of money. We’re all paupers and peasants these days.

 

LC:  Unlike a lot of new bands, you draw a remarkably diverse crowd. You even seem to get some of the people who listened to that stuff the first time around in the 80s out of the house. Does that offer some validation of what you’re doing?

 

Sarah: Sure, we want everyone to love us! A good melody, whether it’s Elvis, or the Velvet Underground, or ABBA, or Pat Benatar, is essentially timeless and can connect to everyone. We work hard on the lyrics, but I think we’ll go as far as our melodies can take us. 

 

LC:  What’s the sickest thing that’s ever happened to you at a live show?

 

Scott: Sick as in gross? Or sick as in, “Dude, that was sick!” Hmm…we played a strange show once at the upstairs of this bar, and they put us on this slippery linoleum floor with no carpet for the drums. We were all falling and moving positions, a cymbal stand went flying past Sarah in the middle of one song…it was a gig on a slip-and-slide. Fun, but we would never ever do it again.

 

LC:  OK, now what’s the best thing?

 

Sarah: Well, we had Greg Hawkes from The Cars sit in with us for three songs at our ep release show last month [TT Bears in Boston]. That was an amazing experience and privilege. Performing “You Might Think” with him at the helm, to an absolutely packed house, was probably the high point of our lives as performers. 

 

LC:  Any breaking news about the band we should share? Like, you just got a song on the L Word – oh yeah, that’s off the air. But seriously – you know what I mean…

 

Sarah: Well, we’re headed back into the studio to do two new singles in July, and we’ll also be filming 2-3 music videos. A bunch of really excellent people found out about us and were excited to be involved with the project, so we’re making it happen. There’s going to be a ton of new stuff, and we’ll probably book a tour around releasing it come late summer or early fall.

 

LC:  Any shout-outs you wanna give to good Boston bands? Here’s your chance…

 

Sarah: Yes, yes, and yes. Everyone should check out, in no particular order, the Sterns, the Motion Sick, Freezepop, Passion Pit, and the Luxury.

 

LC: There’s the Boston Phoenix poll too: fans of the band can vote for the New Collisions as Best New Act of 2009.

June 30, 2009 Posted by | interview, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment