Posts Tagged ‘New Wave’

Weak Signal – “What’s A Girl To Do”

Weak Signal prove fruitful with another surprise offering for the new year. The band let loose a solid album alongside a split single with Endless Boogie last year and this EP starts the year off with a nice reminder of their heft. The EP boasts a mix of covers and originals, barreling out of the gate with a gritty reimagining of an ‘80s new wave sprinter “What’s A Girl To Do” by Christina. The original is a turquoise and pink splatter of mall pop with an endearing aloofness. Weak Signal give it a dirt bath, supplanting the synths with fuzz dusted guitars, but the song’s thrust remains alongside its indelible hook. The trio revamps this lost nugget for a new age and its hard to argue with the results of a of grunge-pop glow-up. The rest of the EP finds Weak Signal in reflective mode, bittersweet and melancholy as they slide through calmer waters than they churned on Bianca. Add in a cover of Neil’s “Cortez The Killer” and a cameo from Brian Degraw and Look See is a solid Bandcamp grab for the start of ’21.



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Styrofoam Winos – “Stuck In A Museum”

Despite forming in 2016 and gigging extensively through their native Nashville music scene, 2021 marks the debut from Styrofoam Winos. The band’s an egalitarian collective of music minds that bounce around the indie spectrum with chameleonic glee. On the first taste of the eponymous player, due out in February from Sophomore Lounge, the band is in full tilt New Wave jangle, wrapping their strums in some synth frizzle and lobbing vocals between members with ease. “Stuck In A Museum” is swerving the pavement with an itching engine of nail-bitten guitars that are soothed by the sweet sweat of vocal harmonies. Real glad this one is on the horizon for the new year. Keep this high atop the anticipated queue.




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Pete Nolan on No Strange – L’Universo

Seems like as long as Raven has been around there’s been a band with Pete Nolan tearing up the speakers. From GHQ and Spectre Folk to Magik Markers, among countless others Nolan’s been involved in some of the best noise-psych rippers of the past fifteen years. With the triumphant return of the Markers this year, Nolan and his band picked up right where they left off, delivering a varied record that was much needed in 2020. I asked Pete to queue up a pick for the Hidden Gems series and he delivered an unexpected treasure. Find out how No Strange came into Pete’s life and the impact that it’s had.

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Latitude

San Francisco never ceases to throw the pop gauntlet. Whether its jangle-pop, garage sneer, or something less brittle, the town’s weathering their seismic changes, at least in the music sector. The sophomore LP from Latitude works its way into the bloodstream more easily than some of their adjacent compatriots. With a release on Emotional Response, the LP wraps a waft of jangle around ‘80s synth-pop and ‘70s disco hangover. Amy Fowler’s vocals have drawn some larger than life comparisons — with her deep, imploring delivery falling between Stevie and Debbie, though for me it lands in even company with indie mainstay Meredith Metcalf (Music Go Music, Bodies of Water). The songs on Mystic Hotline explore some similar territory with MGM, mopping up the post-disco hangover that the band found so verdant and marrying it with a bit of a post-punk vibrancy that’s rubbery, but rife with the thick, neon glint of keys.

There’s a bucolic restlessness to the album, lounged, yet dreaming of a more conflicted life. The album’s perch between post-punk’s urgency and new wave’s radiant smear gives the album a light tension. The band clearly wants to push towards the rhythmic pulse and angular angst, but they’re not quite as lean and hungry as the genre requires and as such they bleed over into the smudged romanticism of the New Wave queens quite often. The urge to dance is always bubbling below the surface, if not overtly taking the reigns and the thrum snaps Latitude out of complacency. While the band would love to languish in the shadows it’s hard to resist the pull of a propulsive beat and the heat of bodies near one another in thrall to the pulse. The band’s at their best, though, when the slightly nerdy needs of ‘80s pop take over and the synths skew towards arpeggiation and the neon glow squiggles into a discordant shimmy. There’s a gloss here that’s hard to shake, but when the band lets their makeup fade, they’re found out for the endearing pop academics they are.




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Kelley Stoltz

There’s no time for stagnation it seems in the Kelley Stoltz catalog. The last two years alone have seen four albums and Stoltz’ quality never slips from view. Ah! (etc) marks the second LP for 2020 and the pair alone are an impressive feat of duality within his songwriting prowess. Hard Feelings embraced a low-slung vision of power pop — an almost quick and dirty album that let a blast of cold air jolt it with life. The record wasn’t too far removed from the fertile garden of hooks and humility that mark Stoltz output, but with its inspiration laid in a cheap guitar and a cheeky pseudonymous side project from Jedediah Smith (My Teenage Stride, Jeanines), it marked a bit of a departure from the darker strains of his pop universe. The schism pinned Hard Feelings as both an outlier and also one of his best offerings. The album was immediate and unfussed. His second wind in 2020 sees Stoltz slot back into his former hallmarks nicely, with the layered pop taking the reins once again and the clouds forming once again over the studio.

While it doesn’t benefit from the same sharp slap of Hard Feelings, the new LP boasts a new wave wash and a cameo from Echo and The Bunnymen’s Will Sergeant. The record pulls the curtains against the sun and sulks a bit, but does so with a flair that can hardly be accused of being dour. Stoltz brings out the synth sway, a strum and crunch in the guitar game and his bittersweet hooks that can’t help but let sighs build up underneath the glossy veneer. In a way this is a continuation of what was built on My Regime — a pliable, chameleonic pop animal that’s trying on new wave and melancholic pop skins and burrowing into the brain with hooks that are subtle, yet endlessly effective. If given an ultimatum to choose one Stoltz LP you need in 2020, I’d have to say that Hard Feelings edges the win, but there’s a lot to love on Ah! (etc).

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Powerplant – “A Spine / Evidence”

London label Static Shock has been a solid bet over the past few years, culling in some of the best punk and post-punk from fields afar and corralling them all under the SS umbrella. They nab London via Ukraine new wave miscreants Powerplant for a new EP that finds the band both tucking into their Screamers / Devo / Units foxhole and grasping outside of it. They employ tweaked, frantic synth/guitar grappling that begs to be bagged in plastic and freeze-dried to a flaky crisp. Yet on the opener there’s a loose and limber bout of post-punk at play. The bass line lassos and grabs, with expectations high for a nasal wormhole of wobble on the vocals, but instead the band swerves to an almost cartoonish croon. It almost sounds like the band is playing at one speed and the vox at another, but somehow it works. As they careen into the rest of the EP the pace picks up and the rubber grooves get traded for some frantic scratch, passing their new wave wavelength through an MX-80 torque and letting it sizzle and smoke. Most of the songs here barely let the band take a breath, but the invigoration feels vital and vibrant. Recommend throwing this on the table and turning the volume ’til it snaps.




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Romy Vager on Psychedelic Furs – Forever Now

Still plenty of essentials on the way in this strange timeline we’re on and RVG’s sophomore LP is pretty high on that list. The band’s debut was an emotionally fraught, tumultuous record that stood high with ‘80s classics from Echo and the Bunnymen, The Go-Betweens, or Siousxie Sioux. The band has only refined and expanded on that sound with their follow-up, out soon on Fire Records and Feral aims to be one of the best of the year. Naturally, that put the band’s songwriter and driving force Romy Vager high atop the list of inquiries for a Hidden Gems, and she digs further into that ‘80s influence with a spotlight on Psychedelic Furs’ mid-period gem Forever Now. While its predecessor may have gotten all the acclaim for the John Hughes tie-in, this one begs further exploration and Vager explains how it came into her life and the impact its had on her own writing.

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RVG – “I Used To Love You”

Couldn’t be more excited for this one. Aussies RVG released an instant classic LP in 2017 – a record that was draped in emotional weight almost to the point of breaking, but so steadfastly resilient that it seemed like a life preserver flung into a sea of sadness. As is fitting, others responded to the sweeping grandiosity and laid bare honesty of Romy Vager and her band and they shot from the small scale to larger avenues. With a new LP on the way from Fire Records, produced by Victor Van Vught (PJ Harvey, Nick Cave) the band follows up one of their most crushing singles, “Alexandra,” (also on the album) with a taste of what’s to come.

While it’s hard to top the heart wrenching “can’t go home again” anguish of “Alexandra,” RVG still come to stun with the quiet composure of “I Used To Love You.” The song doesn’t crack into the emotional dam break that some of their past singles have, instead opting to operate as if holding back tears, not giving the subject of the song the satisfaction of seeing them suffer. There’s the feeling that after the dying notes of the song at least a few tears are shed for self-preservation, but the rest is a brave face cushioned in the resolve to move on to better things. The new LP is out April 24th.



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Peter Ivers – Becoming Peter Ivers

There’s every chance that, even if you’re a fan of New Wave and punk, the name Peter Ivers has never crossed your lips. Even if you’re a David Lynch fan, Ivers’ involvement in Eraserhead may have escaped your attention. Ivers was more often known as a proponent of music than a writer of music. He had, in fact, recorded several albums – 1976’s Knight of the Blue Communion, 1974’s Terminal Love and 1976’s eponymous affair. Despite this, he was best known as a TV host, presenting the utterly essential cult classic New Wave Theater until his tragic death in 1983. The first album bears little resemblance to the songs on Becoming Peter Ivers. His first outing was threaded with jazz and blues, building to something more idiosyncratic in the future. Those other two albums were headed toward the New Wave he championed through a valley of singer-songwriterdom that was rumpled in the vein of Moon Martin or Warren Zevon.

Many of the songs here would wind up on those latter two albums, but here they’re stripped of any gloss. Demos seems a crude label, because it gives the impression that they weren’t up to snuff, but if anything the version of the songs on Becoming prove that even in private and without the intention of these versions finding their way to the audience, Ivers was still an undeniable charmer. Given his predilection for more outre visions on his show, its always been a bit at odds that Ivers’ own records were more in a lounge singer vibe, but he gives that genre a proper Lynchian feeling – the singer wrapped in plastic, alone at the piano, while a cadre of regulars ignore the emotional exfoliation going on upon the stage. The moments here feel private, like we’ve wandered into a closed session with Ivers. Its almost conceivable that we’re all intruding, until Ivers whirls around and gives a wink, letting us all in on the voyeurism for hire that he’s peddling.

Ivers was a singular entity, part Lou Reed, part Max Headroom. This era of music has been scoured and repackaged, but somehow there’s still a hole where Ivers once stood. His musical voice is a worthwhile addition to the strange bedfellows made of punk, pop, post-punk and ultimately new wave boiling under Los Angeles’ sanded soul. I’m eternally grateful that RVNG has made this available. Now someone issue New Wave Theater in its entirety for a viewing audience in need of a licorice strip search.



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The Hecks

Chicago art-punk experience The Hecks have been laying down a solid revue since 2012, stepping up to the long player party with their 2016 eponymous record for Trouble in Mind. While that was a solid shot at shoving pop on its ass, the band finds their full groove on this month’s My Star. Wedding the pocket pop reactions of new wave and post-punk to the prog that preceded it, the band invigorates the past by folding fractured glass sounds onto themselves – letting their torqued hooks repeat like Krautrock gone glycerin and snap steadily in plastic precision. They capture that moment when the collection of sounds seeping into post-punk felt fresh. The Hecks bend the freakishness and experimentation of the early ‘80s into a whirlwind of light and sound and we all come out better off for it.

Standouts like “Flash” stretch and contort their sound through cracked mirror caverns, taking the normal pop song into a headier direction. They’re quick to compact it back into a plush and prim box when needed, though. They run a Prince flexidisc through the hot n’ warbled presses on “So 4 Real,” going for full sweat cycle and making it sound easy. Like fellow Trouble albums Omni they know how powerful tone can be, and the band nails the core of their sound to guitars that oscillate from metallic to plasticine, keys that shimmer and shine like mall lights off of plexi displays and drums so crisp they threaten to shatter if pushed any further. The record walks the line of nostalgia forward – there’s so much familiar about what The Hecks are doing but it’s all been jumbled and shuffled to obscure their source material. It’s disorienting and thrilling, making for one of the year’s more compelling pop pieces.



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