Indie Rock

Seasonal record roundup: The Heart Attack-Acks drop a "Love Bomb" and an Xmas banger

On “Love Bomb,” the debut single by The Heart Attack-Acks, the Queens-based duo of Candice and Cody bring an energy and dynamism to the disco-new-wave number that the world hasn't witnessed since Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley danced around awkwardly in front of a car repair shop circa 1983a car repair shop that just happened to employ a small crew of line-dancing mechanics plus a couple crop-top-wearing-popping-and-locking breakdancers—and by the way this is the second song called “Love Bomb” to be reviewed on this blog in the past several months so please no confused letters to the editor!

And if this seems like a pretty random comparison to draw just check out the Heart Attack-Acks press photo above and tell me there's not a downtown-guy-uptown-girl dynamic at work there–except since they’re from Queens it means Cody must live in Glendale, or maybe Ridgewood, whereas Candice must live up in fancy-pants Astoria Heights. And oh yeah there’s the matter of the band’s name too.

As far as “Love Bomb” goes, well, it doesn’t sound a whole heckuva lot like “Movin’ Out” that's true. But it’s clearly indebted to the music Billy J. was likely vibing to that same year (1977) on nights when he’d put on the ol' Groucho Marx disguise and drive from Long Island to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn to hit the 2001 Odyssey discotheque with Tony and the boys. And also on nights when he’d drive into Manhattan to hear some next phase new wave down on the Bowery. Which is all just a way of saying that “Love Bomb” is a twitchily danceable mutant punky-disco-party-tune. And since there’s nothing more inherently New Yawk in musical terms than a twitchily danceable mutant punky-disco-party-tune it’s really quite a smart career on the part of T.H.A.A. to pay homage to their hometown musical heritage right out of the gate. 

Not to mention “Love Bomb” is a great kiss off song and that's very NYC toobut one that’s not so much about “creeps in the street” (see above) as it's about the creeps we all carry around in our pocket these days, like pick-up-artist wannabees who bombard potential victims with digital bum crumbs of approval and affection until suddenly withdrawing if-and-when the conquest is achieved (“first off, you blow up my phone / but in a month, you’ll leave me all alone”).

But the song’s narrator is clearly too astute to fall for such cheap tactics (unlike over at @thedelimag where we gladly accept transactional praise!) and instead turns the tables on her love bomber (“so in the meantime, I’ll take what you can give / train you like you’d do me, if I gave in”) which is clever (love bomber, bomb thyself!) and also clever because the majestically-adenoidal NYC-accented call-and-response overdubs make for a nice callback to classic empowered ‘60s girl group anthems except updated for the iPhone Generation. 



And speaking of updating, the Heart Attack-Acks also have a new Christmas single out called “No Sleigh Bells Tonight” and yes I know I know Christmas is over already but hey you’re well within your rights to play Christmas music up 'til New Year’s Day at least just like people keep their trees for that long so why not. And the song itself will get you back in that Santa spirit from the moment it hits you with a Motown-style bass line and some sleigh bells too in the intro (see what they did there!) soon going on to evoke a Phil Spector Christmas Album kinda vibe (peep that “Be My Baby” beat!) while lyrically dispensing with all this “Birth of the Messiah” business and instead rightfully focusing on the true meaning of Christmas just as God intended, which involves a mixture of devastating bone-chilling loneliness, forlorn romantic pining, and, quite possibly, murder (ok I’m inferring the latter, but Phil Spector!) all set to a jaunty sleigh-worthy beat. (Jason Lee)

   

Track-by-track: Ok Cowgirl's "Not My First Rodeo"

When I first heard the band name "OK Cowgirl" it made me think oh cool sounds like if you crossed Patsy Cline (the O.G. Cowgirl and Queen of Country Heartbreak) with Thom Yorke and Radiohead (because “OK Computer” natch) but really what are the odds of this actually being the case?

As it turns out, pretty darn good. Because “Patsy Cline meets Radiohead” isn’t the worst description for OK Cowgirl’s music—given how well lead singer/lyricist/guitarist Leah Lavigne excels at writing songs about romantic longing and heartbreak, and from the perspective of a queer-identifying person to boot (worth noting here: in the years since her passing, Patsy Cline has gained a major LGBTQ+ following setting the course for “queer country” artists like k.d. lang and the Reclines) and with a voice capturing a similar mix of raw vulnerability and raw power. And then on the Radiohead side of things, the band’s music (Leah is joined by Jase, Jake, and Matt on record and on stage) spans the indie rock spectrum with a strong knack for chiming yearning melodies, not to mention that Leah knows her way around a keening falsetto and is prone to existential musings in the lyrical department.

Which is all brought to bear on OK Cowgirl’s new record (it's called Not My First Rodeo but it *is* their first EP) and as a public service, dear reader, I’ve provided an off-the-cuff Hot Take™ track-by-track listening guide below, keeping it relatively brief because hot takes don’t stay hot for too long.

TRACK ONE: “Unlost” starts off quiet and intense but soon builds to a pleasant mid-tempo chug with lyrics describing what it’s like to unexpectedly find the person who centers you (“I stopped rowing and the river disappeared”) a pleasant sensation that really comes across during the song’s extended outro which floats off in a dreamlike haze with a swirling emotive undertow and a wordless celestial falsetto but then it all kinda implodes at the end which is maybe a sign of things to come.

TRACK TWO: “Her Eyes” strikes me as the “I Fall To Pieces” of this EP, a straight up adoring ode to, well, her eyes and to the potential they hold for banishing loneliness. 

TRACK THREE: “Across the Room” is where things finally go romantically right for our narrator, and then just as suddenly go horribly wrong, all in the space of about half of a verse (“it was only a few months / ‘til we ended so suddenly”) which for my money is simply good songwriting technique because nothing kills a listener’s buzz like a dull descriptions of domestic bliss with most-likely dull music to match. (note to songwriters: contentment kills!) Instead, we get a song describing the awkward moment where you spot a recent ex across the room at a party, which leads to Leah repeating the phrase “sit and think” a dozen times or so in an ever-more ragged voice, pretty accurately conveying the self-contained-circling-the-drain mental-cul-de-sac headspace of the recently jilted (who hasn't been there ammirite?!?) all reflected by the intensifying musical backing as the song progresses, ending with a neat little off-kilter country-ish guitar lick.

TRACK FOUR: “Deer in the Headlights” opens with the lines “I’ve been going to the bar alone / order myself a well whiskey and Coke” so clearly we're back in Patsy Cline-ish territory here. Or maybe more like Sharon Von Etten-ish territory but you get the idea. And just listen to how Leah sings the phrase deer in the headlights and the entire chorus really, and how she bounces back-and-forth between normal vocal range and falsetto range which is something like yodeling in slow motion, which really captures the state of disorientation that an actual deer in the headlights must feel (or so I'd guess I've never been in the head of a deer) not to mention there’s something inherently queer about this approach to singing (in the best sense) in refusing to adhere to any one single vocal range or pre-conceived category of being. 

TRACK FIVE: OK Cowgirl ain't gonna just leave you hanging, satnding out there in the middle of the road staring blankly ahead like a doomed deer in the headlights, so instead they conclude the EP by taking you on a "Roadtrip (Till the End of Time)" which is a lovely redemptive number (though bittersweet natch) with the sweet parting thought (though bittersweet natch) that they'd gladly "give it up in a heartbeat all for you." (Jason Lee)

   

Frank Okay "Vacation Forever"

Multimedia artist Frank Okay has released a series of singles over the last few months, but the stand out is the instant earworm "Vacation Forever".

The single is accompanied by the highly stylized video below.

   

Hot tracks/Hot takes: The Down & Outs

HOT TRACKS/HOT TAKES: The Down & Outs released three singles in 2021, a triptych that pretty well summed up the experience of living through 2021 or they did for me at least (see "Free Assocation" section below). These three songs, self-described as the beginning, middle, and end of D&O Chapter Two, mark a transitional, exploratory phase for the post-punky power trio—and who doesn’t identify with the whole “transitional phase” thing these days ammirite?—a triptych which taken together makes for an attractive mantelpiece display or stocking stuffer for Grandma!

FREE ASSOCIATION: The sound of pent-up energy released. Then pent-up again. Then dissected and stitched back together Ed Gein style. Then revivified via electrical-current Bride of Frankenstein style. (“She’s alive! She’s alive!”) White knuckle fight-or-flight response. Frantic. Volcanic. A danceable panic attack. Built up by deconstruction. Minimalist maximalism. Intimacy from a distance. A remote Zoom call broadcast from the inside of someone’s skull to the inside of your skull. (see Brainstorm trailer below)

SONG ONE: “Last Party On Duke Street”
Release date: 16 April 2021
Duration: 2:58
Lead-in: the sound of muted guitar string scraping like someone trying to dig out of a Turkish prison cell
Groove: mid-tempo strut
Freak out begins at: 0:41
Breakdown and/or breakthrough section begins at: 1:57
Lyrical daily affirmation: “You’re so cool and everybody loves you / loves the way you make the feel”

SONG TWO: “Jealous//Unreal”
Release date: 10 September 2021
Duration: 5:57
Lead-in: the sound of New Order’s drum machine after a rough night out
Groove: looping loping Krautrock
Freak out begins at: 0:39
Breakdown and/or breakthrough section begins at: 1:54
Lyrical daily affirmation: “If you love me so / why don’t you show it?”

SONG THREE: “White Hot Heat”
Release date: 12 November 2021
Duration: 2:43
Lead-in: Jimi Hendrix joins Death Grips
Groove: Jah Wobble circa PiL
Freak out begins at: 0:01
Breakdown and/or breakthrough section begins at: 1:34
Lyrical daily affirmation: “No thoughts, no pain, no dreams in here”

FiNAL PRESCRIPTION: Take two (or all three!) songs on an empty stomach, washed down with a shot or two of ouzo, and don’t call me in the morning. Because you’ll be out cold for most of the day, most likely dreaming about Christopher Walken crawing inside of your mind, which is really just exactly what you need innit? (Jason Lee)

   

Josh Caterer "At Last"

Josh Caterer (Smoking Popes) has released a live album he recorded earlier this month at The SPACE via Pravada Records. The setlist that night included an array of standards including the Bee Gee's "I Started A Joke" and the Frank & Nancy Sinatra song “Somethin’ Stupid” which finds Josh teaming up with his daughter Phoebe. For this set Caterer performed with John San Juan (Hushdrops) on bass, drummer John Perrin (NRBQ) and Total Pro Horns, Max Crawford, Paul Von Mertens, Henry Carpender.

The album's lead single is the fantastic arrangement of the Etta James classic "At Last". This album is the follow-up to The Hideout Sessions which was released back in March.