best-emerging-bands-artists

Shadow Monster livestream from Our Wicked Lady

Duo acts carry a certain mystique to this day. At all times just a single city bus mishap away from solodom, they’re like the two-piece-chicken meal deals of rock ‘n’ roll (sure it’s a meal but it's sure to be on the value menu). Rock ‘n’ roll duo acts tend to adhere to a certain minimalist aesthetic by design but often follow a brutalist aesthetic as well by showcasing BIG drums and BIG guitars--the “value” part of the meal--or even BIG keyboards like in Quasi or Matt & Kim to take two very different examples. And also if you’re brave enough to play in such a stripped down format you’d better have some BIG hooks and BIG stompin’ and rockin’ rhythms to keep your listeners engaged--we’re talking about the special herbs and spices here.

The group that’s most often credited with pioneering the two-piece "rock ‘n’ roll value meal" format--by the way there’s a guy whose name rhymes with “Frack Site” who cites them as a major influence--is a little group called the Flat Duo Jets. On the band’s 1985 demo cassette (In Stereo) and 1990 self-titled debut album, Dexter Romweber (guitar/vox) and Chris “Crow” Smith (drums) kick up a cloud of Southern-fried psychobilly psychosis that’s hard to resist or serve with a cease and desist.



And now to the subject at hand, Shadow Monster is a two-piece rock combo from Bushwick, Brooklyn that’s taken up this baton of late and they wield it admirably. Unlike a number of high profile acts in Musical Duos-ville who spice up their sound with programmed drums and sequenced keyboard parts (we love ya Ravonettes, Kills, et al.) Shadow Monster do without these musical equivalents of coleslaw and curly fries. No side dishes, here’s your chicken and biscuit thank you and come again!

With a sound that recalls classic mid-90’s shiz--not the Jonah Hill flick tho’ that was cool, I’m talking stuff like Juliana Hatfield’s Only Everything or Sebadoh’s Bakesale--Shadow Monster relies less on overwhelming force and more on well-constructed tunes and songwriting. For instance their 2019 album Punching Bag opens with a hook-laden eponymous song that’s a swaying mid-tempo jammer about “rolling with the punches” and the masochism implied by the phrase that builds to a climax with Gillian Visco’s vox and guitar spinning into the ether with the support of John Swanson’s gallivanting drum fills.

Next comes a more upbeat number called “Temporary Love” that starts with some quick-strummed acoustic guitar but which turns out to be one of those it-sounds-happy-but-it’s-about-darkness-and-doubt-and-romantic-dysfunction songs which is always a good combo. Over the full course of the seven songs on the rekkid you continue to get a decent range of moods and styles but with some consistent lyrical themes such as (according to their official bio) “themes of loss, depression, and isolation.” Hey, I feel seen! No surprise then that track six titled “Lovegun” isn’t a Kiss cover. But it should be obvious anyway--for one thing the title’s written as one word and also it’s not about Paul Stanley’s c*ck. But instead it’s more of a wistful lighter-waving song which it's always good to have one of those and so it's more like their "Beth" except the drummer doesn't sing this one.

Shadow Monster perform live tonight at beloved BK hot spot Our Wicked Lady meaning they have portable heaters on their rooftop bar. If you're in the vicinity you may want to consider making a reservation to watch the band from the club’s aforementioned heated rooftop where you can order drinks while the band rocks away downstairs and watch it on video feed. Masks and social distancing required you know the drill. Or alternately, and more easily, you can catch them livestreaming on the club’s Youtube, Facebook and Instagram channels or give Friendster a try cuz you never know. (Jason Lee)

   

Pom Pom Squad's "Last Christmas"

Pom Pom Squad’s cover of Wham’s “Last Christmas” is the best version of the Eighties seasonal perennial at least since the one Crazy Frog did (Ariana Grande pffft) but did Crazy Frog add a dramatic soliloquy to the George Michael composition or curse out the song’s errant lover-to-never-be at its conclusion? I think not. The CGI amphibian went top-ten in both Sweden and Belgium with the song in 2006 which makes me think PPS should be a lock for a top-five chart placing at minimum.

Band frontperson & Orlando-to-Brooklyn refugee Mia Berrin (pictured) heightens both the wistful melancholia and the implied tension of the original version and plus the Pom Pom’s update advocates staying at home for the holidays so win-win. And while you’re at home you can pop in the new “Simply Having A Wonderful Compilation” compilation (released last friday) into your virtual CD changer alongside Tiny Tim’s Christmas Album and that Hanukkah record from last year with Haim and Flaming Lips and Jack Black and Yo La Tengo and have yourself a grand ol’ time.

“Wonderful Compilation” featues Pom Pom Squad alongside a full slate of indie small-stars all wishing you a dream-poppy, grungy holiday (sample title: “Santa Is A Neocon”) but with the occassional foray into 16th-century caroling which all makes sense since it’s a co-production of indie mainstay Father/Daughter Records alongside Wax Nine, the latter of which being both a sister label to D.C.’s Carpark Records and a friggin poetry journal which is the brainchild of Sadie Depuis of Speedy Ortiz and Sad13, the latter of which having been discussed in the post right before this one so you see how everything in the universe is connected.

But before closing just two last words about Pom Pom Squad. And those two words are "Heavy Heavy" for they are both of those things.

   

Sad13 "Haunted Painting" and poetry on the beach

Listening to Sad13’s second full-length album called Haunted Painting takes me back to my six-or-seven-year-old self and a trip to visit my aunt and juvenile delinquent high school cousin in the Spray Tan State and in particular our trip to the Disneyworld Industrial Complex widely known as the home of animatronic dead presidents and Johnny Depp singing “Yo Ho” to all the ladies. 

Of course it’s also home to the Haunted Mansion and all those paintings in the entrance hallway where when you look at them at first it’s like some baroness or something stretched out on her fainting couch but then before your very eyes she transforms into a spooky apparition like Medusa with snakes sprouting out her head or who knows what but some or other creepy character for sure and then you blink and it’s back to the baroness. Then before you know it you’re riding along in your bumper car and you look up into the mirror on the opposing wall and there’s a goddamn hitch-hiking ghost sitting on your head. That sh*t blew my six-or-seven-year-old mind.

 

Haunting Painting reminds me of all this. Band frontlady Sadie Dupuis--good name for a baroness, she also belongs to a band called Speedy Ortiz--pulls out all the stops and the starts on this album. What I mean by that is that many of the songs start off as one thing and then go around a corner and suddenly transform into another sonic apparition entirely. Like the single “Ghost (Of A Good Time)” that starts as a synth-based new-wavey “slappin’ bop” (sorry for the technical terminology there) but then a couple minutes later the groove suddenly drops away and a brief berserker guitar part swells up and ushers us into what sounds like a waltz for a haunted ballroom and soon there’s some beautiful harmonies and counter-melodies building layer upon layer before if finally goes back to the first section like nothing ever happened. You see what I mean about the portraits.

 Pull-quote: Sad13’s Haunted Painting is a pandemic Pet Sounds for shut-ins. The future’s looking febrile, indeed!

All in all even with all the charming pop elements this is a real headtrip album--headphones strongly recommended--there’s so many little ornate curly-cue details on the record that it rewards repeat listens. Ms. Dupuis & Co. reportedly recorded this album across roughly a half-a-dozen-or-so studios and they picked up whatever odd junk store odds ‘n’ ends they could wherever they went and that’s why you hear things like glockenspiels and pennywhistles (disclaimer: you may hear neither of these) which together with all the asymmetric twisty melodies and time-signature changes creates a cool funhouse mirror vibe. Relevant note: Sadie made it a point to work exclusively with female sound engineers on all the tracks which is a role that’s still a male-dominated enclave of the recording industry today so yea!

Be forewarned going in that, much like your average nominal “fun” house, there’s some scary stuff lurking in the dark even if all the shiny surfaces and candy-coated textures may distract you from the stuff. Except for when the dark stuff occasionally bubbles up to the surface like near the end of “Ruby Wand” which is mostly a straight-up Baroque electropop number until towards when it goes all haywire for a minute. Oh, and don’t listen to or read the lyrics if you don’t like the dark stuff. 

It’s all somehow insular and mind-expanding all at once. The whole aesthetic applies equally to the videos released alongside the album which are equal parts silly and creepy and strange and ornate. To give a couple examples on “Ghost” Sadie Dupuis goes all Cindy Sherman with the multiple personas who look right into your soul both seductively and ominously, and the video for “Hysterical” that riffs on the whole entire-movie-taking-place-on-a-computer-screen premise of 2014 social media horror flick “Unfriended” but updated here for the Zoom age. Also, Sadie essentially admits over the course of the video that she’s been stalking Wallace Shawn for ages so we’ve got some incriminating evidence for when Wallace goes missing.

Finally, I should mention that our fearless bandleader is based in Philadelphia and not New York City. But that’s ok I’m just going to go ahead and claim her as ours because Sadie’s life-altering turning point was self-reportedly when she transferred colleges from M.I.T. to Barnard, and changed her major from mathematics to poetry in the process, which led directly to her songwriting career. Yea Barnard University!

And finally finally the other reason to write about Sad13 at this very moment is that they’ll be appearing tonight as part of the No Bummer All Summer “Virtual” Beach Party with Sadie doing a “beach read” of her poetry--Could that be a Zoom background or the real thing? You be the judge!--as part of the evening’s lineup of performances, activities, and specials organized by Montreal shoegazers No Joy which all starts at 8PM EST. Check out details and get your tickets here. (Jason Lee)

 

   

Jordan Suaste ascends past heartbreak in new single "Patience"

Jordan Suaste is both the creator and spectator of the brilliant sonic rivers of romance that flow in his latest single, “Patience.” Where some would fear allowing their emotions to flow, Suaste does not as he flexes his vocal prowess to posh instrumentation comprised of cute piano leads and sway-inducing beats sprinkled with the sweetness of R&B. Suaste debuts in “Patience” a glossy heartbreak track that serves both as a winter warmer and a shinny treat you can’t help show your friends. As Suaste ascends vocally in the song’s bridge, you cannot help think he is a young man that knows where he is headed, and it is up there; take a moment to stream the new music video for “Patience” below. - René Cobar

   

Kate Davis pays tribute to Daniel Johnston

The Deli isn’t sure how many résumés include qualifications like “adolescent jazz prodigy who shreds on double bass and who holds a degree from the Manhattan School of Music”, “live gig played with Jeff Goldblum", “appearance on a U. of Miami musicology panel alongside Ben Folds”, “taking a left turn into indie rockdom with a widely-praised debut LP in the format”, and finally, “co-writing a hit song with Ms. Sharon Van Etten”. Based on these credentials, if you're ever competing with Kate Davis for a job whatever it may be, we'll just go ahead and wish you better luck next time. 

In case you’ve not seen nor heard the music video for the Von Etten/Kate Davis collab the song is a lovely aching ode to adolescence (Rachel Trachtenburg plays Sharon’s younger doppelganger in the video) and on the visual side it's a lovely aching ode to NYC independent music venues--past and present, living and deceased--with full knowledge that the city plows on as always steamrolling its past and building who knows what in its place.

Back to Kate Davis. Her latest release dropped yesterday--a sneak preview single from her upcoming full-album tribute to Daniel Johnston (1961-2019) who was an OG of what some people call “outsider music." Johnston launched his music career by handing out cassettes of his homemade music at the McDonald's where he worked in Austin, Texas ("would you like some fries with your free copy of Songs of Pain?") and then crashing the stage when MTV was in the city filming a special on "The New Sincerity" which hardly anyone remembers anymore. Now that’s DIY. Also those photos you've seen of Kurt Cobain wearing a t-shirt that says “Hi, How Are You” that’s Daniel Johnston

Back to Kate Davis, really this time. Kate says "when I first heard Daniel Johnston I was struck by the directness and clarity in his writing. I wanted to gain perspective into that directness." See below for her stirring rendition of “Oh No” and see below that for Ms. Davis discussing the bond she feels with Daniel Johnston--his unique gift for songwriting and his lifelong struggle with mental health issues.

Strange Boy: Daniel Johnston 'Retired Boxer' Cover Album is being released in conjunction with the Hi, How Are You Project, an NPO formed by Daniel Johnston’s family to raise awareness around and remove stigma from mental illness. You can pre-order it on blue vinyl whoooooa like how much more blue, none more blue! But before the album drops in early 2021 you'd be advised to check out her already-existing one called Trophy. Kate's music casts an intimate glow but it can be muscular too case in point being the title track. This song has what we in the industry refer to as an arc. At first it sounds like it just needs a hug but by the middle it’s trying to seduce you and then by the end it’s ready to throttle you but consensually no doubt. (Jason Lee)

photo up top by Erica Synder