nyc

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)

   

Son Lux comes out with "Tomorrows II"

It’s not easy to make a synthesizer or a sampler weep, or to make programmed/processed drums shudder in fright, but Son Lux has mastered these tricks alongside others--able to make their machines and their instruments breath and gasp and pant and sob. To be sure they also coax ecstasy, calm, and even hope (see "Prophesy" below) out of their gear, both electronic and organic, and from Ryan Lott’s choked-with-emotion voice. Son Lux may tend towards the melancholic but just as often these and other emotional colors are blended together to create new unnamed hues.

Maybe here it would help to consider the etymology of the word “emotion” (just nod along!) which is a combination of the Latin for “to move” and the Latin for “out.” Put these syllables together and it refers to “moving outside” or “going beyond” one’s normal boundaries, that is, transcendence. In the musical realm what better way to transcend this plane of existence and to "move beyond" than by entering a synthesized reality--a world we can more readily control (in theory, anyhow) and shape to mirror our own interior landscapes. One must wonder then where the popular notion comes from that regards electronic music as being automatically robotic, anti-human, and anti-emotional? Maybe Ted Nugent?

All the ways that Son Lux finds to weave together electronic and organic sounds--bringing distinctly human rhythms to the former, while frequently making the latter sound foreign in the true sense of the word--harkens back to what was arguably a golden age for these kinds of organic/synthetic synthesis as developed in the late 20th/early 21st century by artists like Bjork, Massive Attack and Radiohead.

Around a decade ago Son Lux took up this torch, or one of the torches at least, and hasn't dropped it since. Currently they're in the midst of releasing their most ambitious work to date: a trilogy of works starting with Tomorrows I put out earlier this year; continuing with Tomorrows II released a few days ago; and continuing soon with Tomorrows III. Or at least I assume that'll be the title unless there’s a serious misdirection at work here. Below you can check out a couple of more tracks from Tomorrows II, just try not to get too emotional. (Jason Lee)

photo credit: Lisa Wassmann

   

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.

   

Alt Rock

Time: 
01:00
Band name: 
White Cliffs
FULL Artist Facebook address (http://...): 
https://www.facebook.com/whitecliffsjams
Venue name: 
Live Stream
Band email: 
   

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)