Monday, April 26, 2010

The Blanche Hudson Weekend

From the ashes of one band's demise, there frequently rises another.

Such is the case with The Blanche Hudson Weekend

I originally got to know and became friendly with their members two years ago, when they came to New York performing as their previous band The Manhattan Love Suicides. Between then and now I have written extensively about their musical output both with that band as well as their side projects.

Guitarist Darren Lockwood and vocalist Caroline McChrystal (both songwriters) dissolved that group (allowing other members to pursue their own musical visions) and quickly created their latest group The Blanche Hudson Weekend.

For those curious about the name, Blanche Hudson is the character played by Joan Crawford in the classic film Whatever Happened To Baby Jane.

In addition to the appealing rock music they make, Darren and Caroline have always had a unique and creative visual side to their records. With The Blanche Hudson Weekend, they have continued this tradition and have taken it to an even more combined amusing and macabre level.

On their initial 3 song 7 inch output, The cover shot on the Letters To Daddy 7" EP is a publicity still of Joan Crawford taken in the 1920's or early 1930s when she was a brand new young actress.

The pic on the back of that same single is Bette Davis (as Baby Jane Hudson) dragging Joan Crawford (as Blanche Hudson) across the bedroom floor after kicking her repeatedly in the head. It's edgy, twisted, definitely cool stuff - Darren and Caroline's appreciation for vintage movies clearly on display.

But what about the music, you ask?

On the lead track "Crying Shame" Darren's reverberated single guitar lines are alive and well. Positioned against the eternal Ronnettes-style "Be My Baby" drum beat, Caroline sings in a breathy vocal about how "you got me going crazy, you got me on the run." Which ultimately leads to how she has "got to pin you down and kick you right in the head!" And that's just the first verse. The chorus is a lovely affair with the title line repeated against a wonderful backdrop. Caroline's vocals are lovingly bathed in just the right amount of echo as Darren's guitar chords ring straight and true. With each successive pass through of the progression more depth can be heard. It's on the change at the 2:08 mark that I'm reminded of how much I love what these two do. This 50's-meets-present times dips into The Raveonettes playbook no doubt, which in itself is a move away from what The Manhattan Love Suicides somewhat harsher and noisier sound was all about. The end-out is beautiful with it's additional glockenspiel melody enhancement and Brian-Eno-Here-Come-The-Warm-Jets fade to infinity. Just my speed.

Side "AA" of the disc (no "b side" here) opens with "The Last Ride," a full on fuzz-bomb affair that points as much to The Velvet Underground's lo-fi noisy lineage as well as their Manhattan Love Suicide past. With a gorgeous rising melody line pushed through overdriven guitar distortion, Caroline uses the metaphor of being up on the executioners "scaffolds" to describe the tender balance of a friendship (or musical partnership?) that needs to end. How "the balance has always been broken" and now just needing "someone to pull the chord" to end it. Even "looking back at old photos, shows them what they already know."

The chorus is a perfect blend of melody and questioning lyrics, stating "how did it come to this, where id did it all go wrong? You could have walked away, not let it go on so long."

On the final coda, the writer goes somewhat philosphical on it all, stating that "we're all living in the shadow of the gallows," and how ultimately "we're all dying in the shadow of the gallows." It's insightful, common sense intelligence - but what's even greater is the sound of this song. Magnificent bliss of guitar walls cutting a swath through everything in it's path.

The second "AA" side track, "Noise and Fury" continues the early Velvet Underground feel with Darren filling all the behind-vocal-spaces with washes of blurry guitar. Continuing a stylistic theme from their Manhattan Love Suicides days, Caroline's "doo, doo, doo's" pay homage to The Jesus & Mary Chain's "Happy When It Rains" period.

The song is quick and forward moving. Perfect for a fast drive in your car with the widows wide open. Don't ask Caroline to apologize, 'cause she won't do it. "Don't try and call me on the phone. Forget it all, leave me alone."

For their follow-up EP, the BHW's visual theme is continued.

The Rats In The Cellar 7" EP front cover shot is Joan Crawford again in another publicity still taken from the 1920's /early 1930s.

The pics on the back are Joan Crawford again. It's uncertain what movie the picture with the 2 guns is from, but the one with the axe comes from the movie Strait Jacket.

The text about "Mad Creatures Of The Night...."etc comes from the movie poster of an obscure movie called The Ghastly Ones from the 1960s. Directed by New York exploitation/grindhouse master Andy Milligan.

As for the songs, they are magnificent.

Side A opens with "Grip Of Fear" - which lays out a tale of introspection, questioning and possibly paranoia. “They keep telling me its cold outside. I should stay indoors ‘cause the streets are mean,” Caroline begins. However, she reveals that “it can never be as dark out there as it is in me.”

With the addition of longtime production collaborator Matt Robson on drums, a subtle yet noticeable rhythmic swing now anchors Darren and Caroline’s sound. The guitar lines are (as always) distinct and melodic.

“What keeps me awake at night? Who’s behind the door?” It’s a dread many have felt at one time or another. Robert Smith of The Cure also once similarly wondered if “the head on the door” was only “a dream.” Is it real, or simply your imagination running away with you? Caroline’s vocal sound is tracked to just the right degree on the verses, with a slight chorusing providing an ear-pleasing depth.

The overall progression to the song echoes the best that a band like The Jesus & Mary Chain ever had to offer. Darren has mastered this like few others and you can really hear the care attention to detail he puts into these recordings. In addition to the clear melody line on top, there are additional rhythm guitar chords providing a slight displacement to the dominant rhythmic accent.
The song continues to build until it reaches its first peak – a beautiful rising chorus complete with angelic “ah, ah, ah” vocals from Caroline. This is immediately followed by another strong melodic guitar line that brings to mind the tonal qualities of the very best from Echo & The Bunnymen. Caroline returns to the opening vocal line and Darren plays out a single note guitar passage. But the song is far from over and takes you even higher with one more spin through the chorus – huge and triumphant. The song has reached its sonic emotional peak and the band drives a bit looser throughout this coda, leading up to an eventual string scraping fadeout.

Following that is the song "Sharks"- underscoring, once again, Caroline’s poetic lyrical touch, and Darren’s ability to harness a tragically heroic melody. Opening with a chiming, near twangy two-chord motion, one could imagine Hope Sandoval approving of this overall mood. However, Caroline eschews any Mazzy Star-like lethargic vocal styling for a more urgent, near falsetto delivery. “They made us swim in the shallow water, but the sharks just came to the shores,” she sings. The perfect blend of vocals and ever-building dense layers of sonics demonstrates recorded songcraft at its finest. Clocking in at an emphatically concise two minutes, this aural stepchild of VU’s “Heroin” and JAMC’s “Some Candy Talking” leaves you wanting for more.

Side "AA" contains a single song titled "Only Snow." It opens rather gently, with Darren playing the guitar chords arpeggio style. “Stitch up the pieces, of my black heart,” Caroline sings in a soft, breathy vocal. “The cold blade cuts it up again,” she continues. “To walk alone, I die once more.” Which leads to the ultimate conclusion that “it’s never summer – there’s only snow.” Strategic use of bass guitar adds to the building tension, as the guitar arpeggios play on. The layers of sound become denser, more forceful. It sounds like violins or violas are entered into the mix.

Darren’s creative approach on the songs center section finds him coaxing a sound out of the guitar strings that would not be out of place along side John Cale’s uneasy ambience.

Mo Tucker-like tom tom drumming now rises into the mix, as Caroline repeats the opening phrase. The drumming evolves into additional sonic palettes (adding snare) while a bass line suddenly drives an unanticipated counter-melody. This lengthy instrumental passage rises to a dissonant crescendo, and then slowly dissipates to rumbling tom tom drums, the initial guitar arpeggios and a singular atonal string sound.

In summation, I have to say I am loving the direction this band is now heading. Within the traditional structures of “rock music” there is a clear sense of intelligence and a desire to take chances going on here. I can’t wait to hear what they come up with next.

Listen to this music and find out how to get these records yourself, at these links below:
Additionally, read my previous reviews of their works (with additional direction to audio links), here:

Monday, April 12, 2010

Depreciation Guild / Serena Maneesh live at (Le) Poisson Rouge

When two of my recent fave bands are touring together and bringing their show almost right to my doorstep (well, the East Village of New York City), then I have to attend.

So it was with Brooklyn's The Depreciation Guild and Oslo, Norway's Serena Maneesh - playing the final night of their cross-country US tour at (Le) Poisson Rouge on April 8, 2010.

As it turned out, a large percentage of my "music friends" felt the same way as well, and were in attendance too. In fact, in the venue for this night was a veritable who's who of indie rock and modern dream pop/shoegaze music makers.

In no particular order, various members of the bands The Ravonettes, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, The Vandelles, Zaza, Soundpool and The Telenovelas could be spotted.

And why not? Both The Depreciation Guild and Serena Maneesh have just released brand new albums to both critical praise and much deserved fan accolades.

Opening the show was the never disappointing Depreciation Guild. With their latest album titled "Spirit Youth" providing a wealth of new material for the band to choose from, they kicked off the show with the opening track, "My Chariot"

Listen here to this shows performance:

Twin brothers Christophe and Anton Hochheim deliver guitar and drum power to their material.

Lead vocalist, guitarist and principal song writer Kurt Feldman brings his vision to life with each show and recording.

The Brothers Hochheim are as visually animated as they are accomplished musicians.

Kurt is the picture of etherial frontman, as this photo surely illustrates

Anton's live drumming provides a looser feel to the songs, that might otherwise sound somewhat rigid, given the necessity of laptop driven bass guitar and keyboard assistance.

Much has already been written and discussed about The Depreciation Guild's tones-generated-by-famicon roots. The majority of that process has now been migrated over a more reliable laptop. This now allows Kurt the freedom to pour even more emotion and feeling into his songs, via impassioned vocals and intricate guitarwork.

The band's "live" chops were never more on display than in this redition of the final song off their debut album (In Her Gentle Jaws) and "Heavy Eyes"

See and hear:

For their final song of the night, the band invited up now good friend and keyboardist of fellow tourmate band, Adne Meisfjord of Serena Maneesh to add live keyboards. It was an interesting and unique rendition of the band's brilliant "Dream About Me" which is also prominently featured on their latest album.

Go out and get "Spirit Youth"

Find it in all of these places:


After a short break, it was time for tourmates and headliners Serena Maneesh to take the stage.

Having seen them twice in successive nights back in January (at The Mercury Lounge with The Vandelles and at Littlfield in Brooklyn with Zaza) I have become somewhat familiar with their live show.

Fronted by guitarist and vocalist Emile Nikolaisen, the band plays a particularly unique brand of jammy, spaced-0ut stoner rock.

The opened the show with the lead cut off of their latest album (S-M 2: Abyss In B Minor)

Of which I recorded merely a portion of, here:

It's an amazing album track, full of wonderful sonic elements (side to side panning, perfect for headphone listening, lots of sounds quickly dropped in and out).

Live, it's a somewhat different animal. Although still very bass guitar driven, the keyboards and guitars are allowed to roam freely over top, creating an ever pulsating cacophony of sound, while Tommy's drums sizzle forward, in almost jazz-like patterns.

Emile strikes a dashing figure in glittering headband and fringed robe.

Filling in on bass for the final east coast shows of the tour was Jennifer Fraser, who plays in her own band Zaza. Jenny has an impressive resume of notable bands she has played with already, and I'm not surprised at all that her name was called when Serena Maneesh needed a temporary replacement for their regular long time bassist Hilma

As I was saying, as good as their latest album is (and it is) their live show is someone of another animal. Here they let loose with a jam-and-noise feel that is part Sonic Youth, part My Bloody Valentine and something reminiscent of the crazed jams that went down at The Woodstock Festival in the 1960's .

"You love that sugar," Emil sings in the hauntingly emotive "Melody For Jaama"

Jenny fit right in with the bands partly structured/partly improvisational approach.

Second guitarist Øystein Sandsdalen brings a lot of the Thurston Moore/Lee Ranaldo feel to the band.

Blissed out fans couldn't get enough of the show.

Catching up with Emile afterwards.

Final out all about Serena Maneesh and how to get their record, here:


Monday, April 5, 2010

Dum Dum Girls - Live at Webster Hall

I first became aware of The Dum Dum Girls when I saw photos from their performance at this years just recently completed SXSW festival. I've always been a sucker for pretty girls with guitars so naturally I was intrigued. Making a mental note to "check them out" at some point I returned to my seemingly obsessive pursuit of music that is at times, hazy, harsh, melodic, noisy, harmonious, tuneful, edgy, long-windedly jammy, intense - basically anything that speaks to my emotional inner self. It just so happens that, these days - it's more noisy and dark music that does it for me. Well, it was that way in the early 1990's too. Which is why I'm always trying to find that particular lightning.

So, it was in casual email conversation that I discovered the band The Dum Dum Girls were coming to New York and I found myself presented with an opportunity to, in fact check them out in a live setting.

Off to Webster Hall - my fave New York City venue - on Saturday, April 3 to see what all the fuss was about.

The first thing I noticed was that great visual presentation which initially struck me.

In the classic band look tradition, all four members had complimentary, yet slightly different stylings. All with dark hair, except for the bass player, who was red (or ginger, if you will). Even the guitars appeared to be color coordinated.

However it was their vocal sound that made even more of an impression on me. They opened the show with a cover of the classic Rolling Stones song "Play With Fire". In the cathedral-like big room at Webster Hall, it sounded absolutely amazing.

Have a listen right here:

The various band pages dedicated to them list the members as Dee Dee on lead vocals and guitar (who is positioned center of the stage); Jules on guitar and vocals (left side of stage with stylish blunt bangs haircut); Bambi on bass (I'm beginning to suspect whether some of these are not their actual names) and Frankie Rose on drums. Now that name sounds a bit more familiar.

It was a sold out show at Webster, as the DDG's were supporting another band simply named Girls who have cultivated a sizeable following of their own. So there was certainly packed-house electricity in the air.

Making the most of this opportunity, The Dum Dum Girls proceeded to deliver an impressive set.

Have a listen to their song about "sins of my own" cleverly titled "Catholicked"

Soundwise, this song is particularly appealing in it's hybrid of west coast surf music and Ramones-style punk urgency. However, Dee Dee's vocals are far more musical than any "punk" record and I like the way she'll use vibrato in her voice at the end of certain sentences.

It really is their vocal sound that is the most impressive element. On the aforementioned "Play With Fire" they transform this classic into an even darker, slower more moody burner. The vocal harmonies and interplay between Dee Dee, Jules and whomever was on drums was a thing of beauty. Though I provide a clip that gives something of an impression, actually being there in the big, spacious and impeccably sounding Webster Hall (much credit to the soundpeople who, to my ears do an impressive job everytime I am there) cannot really be replicated on YouTube. Though after the show, that's all we're left with - so thank goodness for it.

Frontperson Dee Dee does this attractive body movement sort of dance in place as she plays and sings. Moving back and forth in time with the music she pushes one leg forward then the other. Its almost hypnotic. It appears a natural, uncalculated reaction - something to help her lock into the song. What does appear "calculated" is the bands overall look. Having seen images from more than a few shows now, the ornate stockings the girls wear appear to be their signature look. Almost a "uniform." This puts a visual emphasis on their legs - which isn't a bad thing by any means, but certainly in a review of their live performance, bears mentioning.

Moving efficiently through their set, next up was a song called "Don't Talk To Me" that had a breezy 1960's feel to it (parts Jefferson Airplane and Swingle Singers)

Listen for yourself, here:

Live music is best when you feel it as well as hear it. Feel it not just emotionally, but by having the music overtake the surrounding space you are in, and wash all over you. With lots of layers that can drift in and out of focus. There are a number of great bands that do this with their instrumental sonic assaults. The Dum Dum Girls accomplished this with their layered vocal approach combined with Webster Hall's superior sound system.

Dee Dee and Bambi provide quick rhythm and bass guitar grooves

Jules is a perfect vocal compliment for Dee Dee. Additionally her guitar textures added the necessary punch when needed.

It's nice when you can get one of these.

It frequently leads to meet ups with people like Sune Rose Wagner of The Ravonettes

As well as legendary record producer Richard Gottehrer.

Actually, it was no accidental coincidence that Sune and Richard were there as Richard has produced The Dum Dum Girls just released full length album, and Sune is providing musicial guidance to the band.
Their debut album is titled I Will Be and I certainly recommend it.

For their final song of the night (which they publicly dedicated to Richard and Sune) they played a standout track from the album titled "Rest of Our Lives"

Check out this wonderful performance here:

This song contains so many great elements that appeal directly to me. The verses sawing between two chords like the best Jesus & Mary Chain song. Dee Dee's voice pitched low and sensuous. A song about true love lasting. What's not to like?
You can find out more about the band and their latest album via the below links: