Monday, December 17, 2018

Best Of 2018: Beechwood, Spirits of Leo, Death By Piano, Heaven, Ronains, Language, Navy Gangs, Bebe Buell, Plastic Waves, Vandelles, No Swoon, Sofas, SuneRose, LHCs, Gamblers, Mevius, Isla Invisible, Fat Heaven, Public Memory, Devon Church

The final month of every year serves as a time for reflection by many on events deemed noteworthy. For a music site, annual “Best Of” lists point to the most significant artists written about since the beginning of the year they were featured in. 2018 served to be another productive year in that regard, with exclusive coverage here sharing space with reviews initially published at The Deli Mag. A loose chronological date order of when the features first posted is adhered to this time, for the “DaveCromwellWrites Best Of 2018.”

NYC psychedelic glam-punk rockers Beechwood released their record “Songs From the Land of Nod” on the glorious date of January 26th via Alive Naturalsound. Building a reputation for reckless and disorderly behavior (which covers the punk label well), their sound draws equally from the psych and glam rock realms.

Elements of both Marc Bolan and Daniel Ash's soft vocal style can be heard in many of the tracks. Thickly layered background voices juxtapose sweetly against garage drums and guitars, leading to frequent psych-out jams by songs end.

Top track “C F” (streaming below) makes full use of all these aspects while adding slide guitar and keyboards into the mix. It's overall easy vibe looseness ultimately rises to crescendo, pointing to Velvet Underground devotion with modern artists like Tame Impala and Foxygen as potential influences.

The band has played a number of celebrated shows over the year, including opening for NY Dolls legend David Johansen and on bills including popular like-minded rockers Baby Shakes and celebrated DJ Jonathan Toubin.

Catch them live in the new year at Bowery Electric on 1/24/19 headlining a show that will also include kindred spirit rockers NY Junk.

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On March 23rd Brooklyn's Spirits of Leo released their epic 16 track album “Equinox.”

Focusing on stand-out track “Eden,” its reference to a biblical paradise without sin creates a dreampop impression of that mythical earthly temptation garden. Having relocated to Brooklyn from California, band creative force Ryan Santos Phillips weaves in a nod to Steinbeck's “East of Eden” as well.

However, much like the human struggles in that literary tale, the prevailing focus here is of a paradise lost. Built around a driving bass line, melodic guitar riffs and clearly defined percussion, the vocals cascade in layers that create an atmospheric motion. “I wonder where we're going again” serves as the songs catchiest repeated lyrical refrain providing a glimmer of hope for another chance at paradise.

You can listen to that track (and all the others) and order the album in multiple formats here.

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There is a slow burn soul that runs throughout the synth-pop created by Brooklyn duo Death By Piano. The six songs on their debut EP “Countdown” emerge at a measured pace with singer/keyboardist Kalen Lister and producer/instrumentalist Greywolf crafting a deliberate, moody feel.

On the title track deep bass synths and electronic beats create a pulsating groove leading to the vocal hook “please – please (sung -plee – eee – heese) don't turn the lights out - give me space to shake off the in crowd.” A spacious ambience emerges at the midpoint, where beatless waves of sound pulse behind Kalen's emotive vocals. With the beats returning, the ultimate declaration is to “look the wolf in the eye, don't back down.”

The band has two live shows coming up:


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The March DCW featured a number of significant musical entries, mostly focused on live shows. Portland legends The Dandy Warhols brought their own unique magic to New York City. Supporting one of their bigger shows was DCW faves Uni.  Perennial “Best Of” best buds American Darlings played their own show on a bill with featured Deli Interview rockers Looms.  Rounding out the big March feature were live sets from punk-poppers Giftshop, NYC glam-rockers Baby Shakes and another Deli Interview with psych-jammers Of Clocks and Clouds.

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Long time friends of this site Heaven released their second full-length album “All Love is Blue” earlier this year, and was given a deep dive track-by-track review.  Touring Scottish rockers The Ronains played their debut NYC show and received a similarly detailed review of their current record "Love, Drugs and on the Dole."  Equal measure was also applied to the live shows and recorded works of Mevius, a place both wonderful and strange, The Cold Seas and Panophonic.

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After honing their skills via two self-released EPs, Brooklyn trio Language released their latest recording "Plymouth" via Good Eye Records on May 18th. The five tracks show the band developing a hybrid sound falling in a space between prog and industrial.

“Where To” is a short burst, under minute and a half instrumental displaying the bands impressive chops. Angular rhythms and sharp cuts emerge from precise placement of drums, bass and guitar . “Game Piece” ramps up the tempo adding shouted punk style vocals over the shifting progression underneath. Title track “Plymouth” emerges out of jagged guitar textures that lead to a softer lyrcial center followed by a Zappa-esque extended psych-out coda. “Into and Out Of” pairs emergency broadcast signals with triple-time high-hat flutters before the full band throttle explodes into a throbbing onslaught. Final track “Square Winds” bring vocals back over an equally hyperactive rhythmic undercurrent.

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On April 29th Bebe Buell once again brought her "Baring It All" show to New York City at the storied Public Theater venue Joe's Pub. Accompanied by her outstanding band of Nashville musicians, the event served as the official NYC record release show for her latest album Baring It All: Greetings From Nashbury Park. Check out that record on Spotify (and read the track-by-track review linked below).

Also included there are live show and record reviews of The Naturals, Dany Laj and The Looks, Low Doses and The Hell Yeah Babies.

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Brooklyn-based indie rockers Navy Gangs released their debut album "Poach" via Modern Sky Entertainment this past summer. Having previously garnered interest via their 2016 released self-titled four song EP, the full-length includes an ambitious 14 tracks.

Mixed and mastered by Delicate Steve Marion, the albums guitar work benefits from this added dimension. Lead single “Housekeeping” is a prime example of this, with it's brightly buzzing riffs and distorted jungle rhythm. The easy-going slacker rock groove is accompanied by a tale of new roommate remodeling. “You’ve really made yourself at home” begins a conversational story capped by the ultimate compliment “it's your own feng shui.” The closest thing to a chorus comes by way of the repeated line “I really love what you’ve done with the place,” capably serving as hook and emotional center.

The band has shows coming up at Market Hotel in Brooklyn on 12/29/18 and at Pianos in NYC on 1/3/19.

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The month of June saw Beechwood getting recognized once again in The Deli Magazine's Spring Print Issue.

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Returning after a lengthy hiatus, nyc surf-rockers The Vandelles released a new single “Techromancer” on the (also) glorious day of July 6th.  Working on other projects during the break did nothing to temper the bands penchant for twangy guitars and California beach vibrations.

The rhythm section comes on even harder this time around with a circular throbbing bass line and aggressive thrashing percussion. Creating a new word for the songs title by combining modern video gameplay (Technomancer) with William Gibson's groundbreaking sci-fi cyberpunk classic novel title Neuromancer is intriguing on a number of levels. “I'd rather be dead than you, I'd rather be black and blue, I'll greet the darkness when it comes” sets the initial lyrical tone. Those quieter moments set up an explosive chorus that goes “so come and get it, come and get it from me – I 'm always ready,” accompanied by slashing power chords over pounding drums and bass.

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After making the move to Brooklyn from New England, Plastic Waves released the single “Drift” on August 1st.  Relying purely on electronic instruments, the verses come supported by modulating synths and slap-back percussion. While an initial impression might elicit comparisons to the 80's and 90's sound of bands like Depeche Mode, OMD or even Gary Numan, a soulful, fall-in-love romantic feel emerges within the bridge and chorus.

I don't want to fight it, but don't get excited if you feel it too” leads into a lush cascade of melding voices and synths. The chorus takes it one step further with buzzing, elevating melody lines between the vocal refrain “can't seem to find another - cause I won't take any others - you pull me right back into it - and I don't know how you do it.”

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After showcasing their impressive live show at this years Northside Fest (fully covered on this site here), noisy dream-gazers No Swoon released the track “Blame The Messenger” on August 7th. Establishing its soaring melody from the very first note, a triumphant swirl of guitar and keyboards float above deep thudding drums.

Vocalist (and guitarist) Tasha Abbott sings in a sultry and elongated style that references Liz Fraser with The Cocteau Twins. “Blame the messenger, and dusty words,” she sings (extended out as “wo-o-o-ords”) against the band's momentary angular accents. “Tongue's all wet ( pronounced “way-a-yet”), flooding the curb” points towards a theme of desire and apprehension. With nearly (if not all) the bass coming from keyboards, the tracks underpinnings are buzzier and less note driven.  A central ambient interlude ultimately leads to one more lengthy instrumental break, complete with elevated vocal outro.

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Emerging out of NYC's psych and noise rock scene, The Sofas released their single “Keep Pass Turn Again” in early August.   With it's explosive wall of buzzing bees guitars and heavy snare drum time-keeping, a softer, dreamier approach is taken on the vocals. “It is strong – but I feel it when you're not around” gets delivered with the cool detachment of J. Mascis on early Dinosaur Jr. records.

Sonic breaks between central vocal phrase “burning out” include momentary bursts of chaos along with a well-placed minor chord. “Is this not enough? Enough to keep you waiting?” ushers in a pitch-bendy change, aligning more closely with fellow gazey rockers like Ringo Deathstarr.  Extending this segment out to end allows the blending of guitars and vocals to provide an ultimately uplifting warmth.  Along with this track, their full album “Chop Water” was mixed by Bill Skibbe (Protomartyr, The Kills, Blonde Redhead) and received its full release on Jurrasic Pop Records the following month.

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It had been over four years since Like Herding Cats put out proper studio recordings of new material. With the recent release of their“Curious Faces” EP, the band comes through with five creatively stimulating, impeccably recorded tracks. Along with the record comes the accompanying music video for their single “Affliction.”

Employing his own Carousel Media House video production company, frontman Dom P produced and directed this visually striking achievement. Filmed in a historic Catskills home, the imagery depicts a stylish but troubled woman in precise quick cuts and focused details. The song itself is a brilliant update on the very best elements of mid-80's-to-early-90's alternative pop. From the opening three snare drum shots, warm keyboard pads, quick pulsing bass guitar and distinctive repeated sonic hook (echoed by overlaying guitar licks) every note has it's place and purpose.

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August proved to be a most productive month as I also conducted an exclusive face-to-face interview with multi-talented artist Sune Rose.

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A compelling live show went down in early September with frequent DCW favorites Mevius playing a featured support slot at Long Island's Revolution Bar and Music Hall.

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After honing their skills through a variety of production work and live show appearances, Brooklyn indie pop rockers Gamblers released their debut EP “Corinthian Order.” The title track makes use of retro keyboard pads, more substantial piano enhancements and unadorned guitar plinks as a softly sung tale of breakup builds towards it do-do-do denouement.

We're Bound To Be Together” masquerades outwardly as a buoyant uptempo rocker with Strokes-style churning guitars and Beatles-eque harmonies. A dichotomy is revealed as those words of love are meant to reflect an addict's blissful state while on drugs. “Heavenly Mouse Routine” leans on it's forward march beat, buzzy synth texture and staccato plucked guitar to approximate the frequently repetitive existence people are subject to. Clever vocal interplay is further enhanced by momentary bursts of acoustic guitar,tambourine percussion and electric guitar.

There Was A Window” builds off the bands hip-hop production roots with it's percussive underpinnings serving an otherwise traditional rock approach. Alternating play between varied textures of pianos, guitars and vocals are woven throughout this charmingly quirky composition. Closing track “The Selfish Bell” initially rocks harder through it's chunky drum beat, distorted electric guitars and snaking bass line. Falsetto vocals depict scenarios of self-imposed limitations against an expanding, near prog-rock-like composition.

The EP is available for ordering via itunes as well as streaming on spotify.

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Dreampop is never out of fashion it seems, with each new generation embracing that classic 1990's sound. NYC trio Isla Invisible have accurately captured the mood of this era on their recently released debut EP1 via Velvet Blue Music. With obvious (and admitted) influences such as Slowdive, Cocteau Twins and next decade practioners The xx on display, additional elements such as the 1-2-3 cadence and pace of Mazzy Star's “Fade Into You” can also be felt.

Featured single “Pillow” lulls you into a hypnagogic state where melody ultimately merges with an overwhelming cathedral of synths and guitars. It's a potent formula, eliciting waves of emotional responses and feelings while immersed in this ethereal world. Second track “Outward” impeccably captures the male-female tandem vocals of Slowdive's Neil and Rachel, emphasizing similarly styled minor key harmonies. Those harmonies go even further on third song “Frail Device” where soft feminine voices swirl around and complement the centrally placed male vocal line.

The 7” vinyl can be ordered here, and accompanying download card comes with 2 bonus tracks.

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Punk rock has taken on a number of forms since it's emergence in the late 70's. While some have celebrated its more abrasive aspects, many others embraced the speed and energy while adding a pop song qualities. Brooklyn's Fat Heaven fall into the later category with the release of their four song “Crybaby” EP. The power and punch of aggressive three-piece guitar-bass-drums coupled with barely two minute songs fall clearly within the genre. However, the bands penchant for easy to understand vocals leans closer to pop acts like Jimmy Eat World and Green Day.

That said, there's certainly enough edge on lead song “Crybaby” to fuel a mosh pit. Lyrics included on each of the four videos indicate thought behind the rhymes. “Suburban Nightmare” doubles-down on that approach with a high-powered lament on the working life. “Never Needed You” provides the perfect break-up song for those who've been in (and then out of) a relationship. Final cut “Fashionista” adds a 50's feel to the progression while calling out style appropriation when it's merely a pose.

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Having spent the month of November touring numerous west coast cities, Felte Records recording artist Public Memory celebrated the release of their second full-length album “Demolition” with a hometown show at Alphaville on 11/30. Having previously written about Robert Toher's ever-evolving musical projects on The Deli and DCW here (both with Public Memory and ERAAS) a new record was most welcome.

Lead single “The Line” has made an immediate impression. Embracing a hypnotic trip-hop beat, layers of synths and samples create dark and mysterious melodies. Vocals soon emerge within deeper padding textures as space is cleared for additional live drums. As the track continues to progress, elements of sampled voices materialize, adding one more element to its otherworldly nature. A hypnotic pulsating rhythm permeates “Red Rainbow” with dominant shaker percussion moving out front of Robert's measured cadence and unmistakably unique vocal timbre. There's something eerie and unsettling about that voice, as if possessed by mystical influences from darker layers of a multi-dimensional existence. “Mercy” quickens the pace somewhat, before creating a sparser space for Toher to deliver his chilling theme. The percussion gets busier as it bubbles up from underneath, while bassy synth lines snake through the center.

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Former Exitmusic member Devon Church (whom I previously interviewed and covered live here on DCW) has also released a new album “We Are Inextricable” on Felte Records, debuting as a solo artist. While holding on to many of the dream-like qualities of his previous band, a more intimate and introspective style of writing has emerged. His voice is slightly rougher now, with a world-weary singer-songwriter, storytelling approach now evident. “Draw the knife of your beauty one more night – cut these fibers now that tie me to your bed” Church sings on the title track.

Chamomile” emerges from a cloud of vintage distortion, sounding like an old 78 rpm record being played on a Victrola. A quick-time 1-2-3- waltz pattern follows, setting up sparser surroundings for the story of suicide attempt being told. “Eggshell white – bathroom door – opens like a cold sore. Razor straight – chilled vodka – Klonopin – hot water. Life is for the living and you're meant to be free.”

Curses” builds around a four chord pattern that merges a divide between simplicity and majestic. “I live with a Japanese ghost. I live with an actor out of work. I live with a teenage poet. And I live with this curse – the curse of your beauty” - and later on – “the curse of your brilliance.” While verses come solo and gravelly, the chorus is lushly filled in with synths and female backing vocals. “I've been a lonely boy, and you've been a lonely girl too.”

At a full five minutes in length, “Pass Through My Heart” serves as the longest track on the album. Distant sounds of rural night times and possible passing trains are woven in with synthetic flutes, creating mysterious atmospheres. Whispered voices float above before a steady percussive beat and bass-line emerges. When full vocals begin, Devon soon asks “is your light inside my heart?” As wings flutter and beat down in this spiritual metaphor, lyrics “like a light ray through a prism, you pass through me” breaks the solemn tone towards something more explosive.

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