As we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #614:
Live Skull – Snuffer
The best New York band of the 80s wasn’t Sonic Youth. It was Live Skull. They shared a producer, Martin Bisi, whose ears for the most delicious sonics in a guitar’s high midrange did far more to refine both bands’ sound than he ever got credit for. As noisy as this band was, they also had an ear for hooks: noise-rock has never been more listenable. By the time they recorded this one, guitarists Tom Paine and Mark C., fretless bassist Marnie Greenholz and drummer Rich Hutchins had brought in future Come frontwoman Thalia Zedek, but on vocals rather than guitar. It’s a ferociously abrasive yet surprisingly catchy six-song suite of sorts, Zedek’s assaultive rants mostly buried beneath the volcanic swirl of the guitars and the pummeling rhythm section. By the time they get to Step, the first song of side two, they’ve hit a groove that winds up with furious majesty on the final cut, Straw. Like Sonic Youth, their lyrics are neither-here-nor-there; unlike that band, they had the good sense to bury them in the mix most of the time. Very influential in their time, it’s hard to imagine Yo La Tengo and many others without them. Here’s a random torrent via Rare Punk.
End of the month for us means a brand new NYC live music calendar. Fukushima be damned, we’re working on a new one, which will be up by Friday. In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #671:
Tom Warnick & the World’s Fair – May I See Some ID
The Raymond Chandler of indie rock, as he’s been called, played a characteristically devious, psychedelic set with his band at the Parkside on Saturday night, actually not drawing much from this 2006 album, generally regarded as his best – although everything the wry, cleverly lyrical, noir-tinged songwriter’s ever done is worth a spin. This one is most notable for the classic 40 People, a vicious swipe at greedy club owners and promoters told from the disheartened point of view of an obscure rocker trying to get a better slot than eleven on a Monday night. It’s also got the Orbisonesque janglerock of Whose Heart Are You Gonna Break Now; the spaghetti western sway of The Wild Bunch; the offhand menace of A Little Space, and the surreal shuffle of the title track, lit up by one of lead guitarist Ross Bonadonna’s trademark, incisive solos. There’s also the obvious but irresistible The Sky Is In Love With You; the eerie, off-kilter gothic stomp One of Us and the potently sarcastic Kissing Stand. It hasn’t made it to the sharelockers yet, but most of it is still streaming at myspace, and it’s up at the usual merchants and cdbaby.
Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #672:
The Dog Show – “Hello, Yes”
Ferociously literate oldschool R&B flavored mod punk rock from this Lower East Side New York supergroup, 2004. Everything the Dog Show – who were sort of New York’s answer to the Jam – put out is worth hearing, if you can find it, including their debut, simply titled “demo,” along with several delicious limited edition ep’s. Frontman Jerome O’Brien and Keith Moon-influenced southpaw drummer Josh Belknap played important roles in legendary kitchen-sink rockers Douce Gimlet; Belknap and melodic bassist Andrew Plonsky were also LJ Murphy’s rhythm section around the time this came out. And explosive lead guitarist Dave Popeck fronted his own “heavy pop” trio, Twin Turbine. O’Brien’s songwriting here runs the gamut from the unrestrained rage of Hold Me Down, the sarcasm of Every Baby Boy, the gorgeous oldschool East Village memoir Halcyon Days – which just sounds better with every passing year – and the tongue-in-cheek, shuffling Everything That You Said. Diamonds and Broken Glass is a snarling, practically epic, bluesy kiss-off; White Continental offers a blistering, early 70s Stonesy let’s-get-out-of-here theme. Too obscure to make it to the sharelockers yet, the whole album is still streaming at myspace.
The corporate media wants you to believe that New York is all master mixologists mixing $26 heirloom lobster cilantro mochatinis, with celebrity djs pumping up the bass while Shtuppi, Blandie, Faylor and the rest of the cast of The Real Housewives of LoHo poledance for the camera. That element does exist, and in greater numbers with every passing tax break for the ultra-rich, but those people don’t represent New York. They’re not even from here. And while we wait, and wait, and wait, for a high-profile murder or two to send them scrambling for the next charter flight back to Malibu or Lake Wayzata, the Brooklyn What write songs for the rest of us. Like the Clash, they use punk as a stepping-off point for a range of styles that span the history of rock, from the 50s to the indie era. This may be old news for those who’ve seen them live, but they’re not just playing crazed punk music anymore: they’re become a truly great rock band. They have five newly recorded singles out: the songs are complex, psychedelic, and socially aware without losing the in-your-face edge that made the band so compelling from the start.
I Want You on a Saturday Night has been a big concert hit for them for awhile. It’s punked out doo-wop, a Weegee snapshot of a random night out. Guy’s at the bar, got only half a buzz, annoyed by the annoying crowd, trying to drown them out with Johnny Cash on the jukebox. He could go to Williamsburg, or to the Village where he’d meet some people and “want to kill them,” or stay home, get stoned and listen to Springsteen. But he wants out. And like the Uncle Sam poster, he wants you.
Punk Rock Loneliness is the shadow side of that picture. The guitars weave a staggered tango beat, distantly echoing the Dead Boys but more funky. Jamie Frey’s lyric sets the stage: “Rain through your canvas sneakers, nervous breakdown in your speakers…” Who hasn’t been there? Down at the corner of Bleecker and Bowery, where CBGB’s used to be, he thinks back on the girl who’s gone now. “All the things you had to give her, first your heart then your liver, drowned in the East River.” And the world couldn’t care less: there’s no more Johnny, or Joey, or Dee Dee with a song that would dull the pain, and the club they made famous is just another stupid shi-shi boutique now. A classic New York moment early in the decade of the teens.
Come to Me is like punked-out Sam Cooke. It’s sly and it’s irresistible – the singer understands that the girl’s been working a twelve-hour shift, she has to smile when her heart’s a frown, but he’ll make her forget about the long day and how light her purse feels at the end of it. The brief doubletracked guitar solo at the end is pure psychedelia: Evan O’Donnell and John-Severin Napolillo make the best one-two guitar punch this town’s seen in decades. A more rocking take on early 70s psychedelic funk/soul a la Curtis Mayfield, Tomorrow Night is more abstract, floating in on a catchy yet apprehensive slide guitar hook, winding out with another nimble, incisive solo. The fifth song, Status Quo, evokes Black Flag with its furious vocal tradeoffs, then goes for an anthemic garage punk Stooges/Radio Birdman knockout punch on the chorus. “I’m so bored with the status quo/Everything here has got to go,” the band roar. “You get all your sense of humor from reality shows,” Frey taunts the latest wave of gentrifiers. At the end, they finally let it fly completely off the hinges. The Brooklyn What also have a monthly residency at Trash Bar, a Saturday night where they play alongside some of the best of their colleagues in the Brooklyn underground scene. This month’s show is this Saturday, December 18 starting at 8 with power trio New Atlantic Youth, the Proud Humans (ex-Warm Hats), the Highway Gimps (the missing link between My Bloody Valentine and Motorhead), the Brooklyn What, postpunk rockers Mussles and finally the new Pistols 40 Paces at midnight. Check with the band for these songs as well as their classic 2009 album The Brooklyn What for Borough President.
The single is titled Flow. With a fast hypnotic 2/4 pulse, Brooklyn rockers My Pet Dragon’s new single sets a nocturnally exuberant lyric to a memorably uneasy chromatic melody, acoustic guitar over an insistent beat with judiciously swooping synthesized orchestration. For a band who don’t often evoke the 80s, it’s got a very mid 80s goth feel, although frontman Todd Michaelsen’s voice soars over the atmospherics with a casual joy that you’d never hear from, say, Clan of Xymox. This is the upbeat, pop side of MPD – live in concert, they give it a swirling majesty and gravitas to match the anthemic, often epic ferocity of their other material. An instrumental-only version of the song is also included, which works almost as well as the full-length track with vocals – you could even do karaoke to it (it would make a good workout – Michaelsen hits some high notes).
Since this is a maxi-single (a really ubermax one, actually an ep if you want to be precise about it), the B-side is an unrecognizable cover of Release, by an unmentionable 90s grunge band. For the sake of argument, this might as well be an original: it’s been reinvented as a slow, atmospheric 6/8 ballad that sounds kind of like a B-side by the Church, with new English-language lyrics – or at least in understandable English. And for those who like disco remixes, this one has not one but four, in various shades of electronicness (Karsh Kale is responsible for the first). All of this is available at MPD’s site. They’re playing the small room at the Rockwood on 11/20 at 11, as good a choice of a Saturday night show as you can find in town right now.
Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #867:
The Chrome Cranks – Live in Exile
The Chrome Cranks were New York’s best band for most of the 1990s before imploding late in the decade. Combining the assaultive, combative riff-driven charisma of the Stooges with the paint-peeling, feedback-riddled, blues-warped guitar of frontman Peter Aaron and lead player William G. Weber and propelled by the potent rhythm section of former Honeymoon Killer Jerry Teel on bass and ex-Sonic Youth drummer Bob Bert, their studio albums blew away the rest of the Lower East Side glampunk crowd but never quite captured the raw unhinged menace of their live shows. But this does. Recorded at the end of 1996 in Holland at the end of a European tour, the band are at the peak of their power. Much as most of their songs are about facing down the end with a sneer, a smirk, a snort or something, this one really has the air of desperation: they knew this wouldn’t last, but they wanted to capture it for those who came after. They open the show with their gleefully ugly signature cover, See That My Grave Is Kept Clean and after that, the song titles pretty much say it all. Lost Time Blues; Wrong Number; Dead Man’s Suit; We’re Going Down. Their practically nine-minute version of Pusherman surpasses even the Live Skull version for out-of-focus, fatalistic fury; the last of the encores is the self-explanatory Burn Baby Burn. Reinvigorated and apparently free of the demons that plagued them the first time around, the Cranks reunited in 2008 with a mighty series of shows in New York and Europe, with the promise of a new album sometime in the future.
Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1.Wednesday’s album is #909:
Nina Nastasia – The Blackened Air
This album was recorded before 9/11, but released shortly thereafter, it made a potent soundtrack for a city, and an era, reeling from the impact and braced for the worst. Conventional wisdom is that Nastasia’s classic album is her 2000 debut, Dogs, and while its songs are wrenchingly vivid, this one’s the counterintuitive choice. Nastasia’s lyrics on Dogs were like a Weegee lens, sardonic portraits of dissolution, disillusion and sometimes despair, perfectly suited to her matter-of-factly plaintive, sometimes biting vocals. Here they tend to observe from a few hundred feet, often achieving a towering angst equal to Pink Floyd or the other great art-rockers. Backed by a brilliant band including Bowie collaborator Gerry Leonard on guitar, Dylan Willemsa on viola, Stephen Day on cello, Joshua Carlebach on accordion and Jay Bellerose on drums, Nastasia alternates between starkly bucolic minimalism, eerie miniatures and hypnotic pitchblende atmospherics. She’s never made a bad record: her other albums Run to Ruin and You Follow Me (a 2007 collaboration with Jim White of the Dirty Three) are closer to the vibe of Dogs and very much worth getting to know – ideally with the lights out.
Our daily best 666 songs of alltime countdown is working its way through the top ten: just five days left before we reach the greatest song ever. Saturday’s song is #5:
Erica Smith & the 99 Cent Dreams – All the King’s Horses
“Until one among you burns to tell this tale, I’ll hear a lie in every word you utter,” the New York Americana chanteuse sings stoically and hauntingly over a lush, jangly bed of guitars in this nine-minute epic. Sean Dolan’s lyric casts a medieval travelogue as Orwellian nightmare:
Way down here the high sheriff
Keeps a list of names
And next to every one
Is the reason for their shame
Some were unwed mothers
Some were partners in crime
Some sold transport papers from paradise
Others just stayed high all the time
Some people get more than they need
Some people ain’t got enough
Some call it good fortune, some call it greed
Some call the sheriff when things get rough
Goddamn the hangman…
The procession marches on, through the shadows, as the atrocities mount. And how little has changed over the centuries:
Thirty pieces of silver is a paltry sum
For those who live inside the gates
Who still make their fortunes in slaves and rum
Precious metals and interest rates
And it ends in a refugee camp:
When the battles are over the father weeps
For children and mothers all alone
Do you have enough hours left to bury your dead
Or enough days in which to atone?
It’s the centerpiece of an unreleased ep. There are also a few live bootlegs kicking around – it was a showstopper during the days of the 99 Cent Dreams, the late Dave Campbell steering the juggernaut with characteristic agility behind the drum kit.
You may think we have been idle, but there’s a lot going on behind the scenes. Stay tuned. In the meantime our best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues all the way to #1…and then we start with the 1000 best albums of alltime. Saturday’s song is #19:
The Dead Boys – Not Anymore
Zillions of songs have been written about the plight of the homeless. Guitarist Jimmy Zero’s scorching, titanic two-guitar anthem tells it like it is. “Afraid of sleeping and I’m freezing to death, I gotta keep me awake.” Cheetah Chrome’s watery chorus-box solo is his finest moment in the band. From Young, Loud and Snotty, 1977. There are also numerous live versions, like the scorching one from CBGB that year in the link above, kicking around: do some exploring.
If this band had been around in the 80s and had recorded this album then – an era it easily could date from, had the band members not been in diapers or not yet born – it would be a cult classic today, and they would be packing clubs full of kids younger than they are now. On their fourth cd, Here, New York art-rockers Changing Modes leap from one radically dissimilar style to another with gusto, guile and a tunefulness that won’t quit. Blending classical flourishes, punk energy, playful and clever lyrics that draw on 80s new wave and a ubiquitous element of surprise, every time you think you’ve got them figured out, they drop something new on you. They have two first-rate lead singers and one of them plays the theremin – in a way that’s not cheesy or precious. The songs here, most of them clocking in at barely three minutes apiece, evoke such diverse acts as Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Adverts, Captain Beefheart, Pamelia Kurstin and the Go-Go’s.
Ironically, the simplest song on the album is the best – and it might be the best song any band has released this year. Moles, about the “mole people” living deep in the bowels of the New York City subway, is a scampering, ridiculously catchy, jaggedly sinister punk/new wave hit: “Your life underground is not what it seems, it’s worse than your strangest nightmares and better than your wildest dreams.” It goes out on Yuzuru Sadashige’s screaming, off-kilter reverb guitar crescendo, straight out of the Doctors of Madness playbook. The Great Beyond takes a pensive pop ballad and sends it tumbling into the abyss with some ominous Bernard Herrmann atmospherics, while the title track evokes Siouxsie with its eerie, lo-fi organ and skronky guitar – and a stark, classically-tinged piano bridge that comes out of nowhere but makes a perfect fit.
Bookended with a handful of lolcat string synth flourishes, Louise is singer/keyboardist Wendy Griffiths’ stomping powerpop tribute to a furry friend: love ultimately conquers all. Scratchy new wave/punk-pop, like the Cars with a college degree, Cell to Cell features a bizarre, noisy guitar solo from Sadashige, Beefheart as played by PiL’s Keith Levene, maybe. The rest of the album includes an uneasy, ornate ballad sung with effortless, soaring abandon by theremin player Jen Rondeau; a blistering ska-punk number; a playful new wave pop tune with a theremin solo, and a couple of jaunty vaudevillian numbers, one possibly about the evils of gentrification, the other a sarcastic sendup of catty drama queens. Count this among the half-dozen or so best albums of 2010 so far. Changing Modes play Ella (the latin club adjacent to Nice Guy Eddie’s on Ave. A just north of Houston) at 9 PM on June 8.