In Notes From Left of the Dial this week, Nooga.com spends time with new music from Acid Dad, Wons Phreely + The Horses, New York Electric Piano and Johnny Coull. What have you been listening to lately?
Acid Dad, “Bodies”
Brooklyn rockers Acid Dad haven’t been together for long, only a few years, but in that time, they’ve gained a loyal following for their ferocious live shows and the weight of their psych punk intensity. In the time since their debut EP, “Let’s Plan a Robbery,” was released last year, they’ve evolved their clanging aesthetic to the point where you would be forgiven for thinking they’ve been doing this for decades. The raucous rhythms they’ve refined stand out for their attention to detail and nuanced influences. They are currently gearing up for the release of their debut LP sometime next spring but have already given us a few new songs to tide us over.
On their new 7-inch single, which is due out today via Greenway Records, they offer two energetic indie rock songs spiked with a slow-burn punk noise and a casual classic rock temper. But it’s the second track, “Bodies,” that really hammers home both the Bruce Springsteen vibes and the band’s general ability to merge the past and the present. Guitars spin out of control while drums stomp and cascade, and Lou Reed’s ghost shows up to haunt the gritty New York skyline that the song evokes. The band has pushed back their harsher punk tendencies a bit, but their garage rock verve and theatricality are still very much intact.
Wons Phreely + The Horses, “The Night Has an Alibi”
Wons Phreely (AKA Justin Wonsly) grew up in Perth, Australia, but moved to Los Angeles in 2015 to pursue his dreams of becoming a musician. His hometown is almost completely isolated and tethers itself to a thriving local mining community. He managed to get a visa and caught a plane to America. Digging into the artificial soundscapes of ’80s pop, Phreely blends a vibrant, synth-laden sound that also borrows from artists like Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello. He recently announced that a new album with his backing band, The Horses, is in the works for 2018.
On his latest single, “The Night Has an Alibi,” he doesn’t exactly create a callback to the synthetic rhythms of the ’80s, although you’d be forgiven for thinking that the first few seconds belonged to some Springsteen song. The track looks at the wonder and excitement of the unknown, of wanting to move and discover the world around you. And it layers this search with wobbly synths, sax runs and an inescapable pop brilliance. Phreely knows how to present these sounds without appearing as though he were copying their structures according to some broad blueprint. He peels back their superficial coverings to get at the sugary center, all sticky melodies and ear-catching hooks ready to sink their teeth into your heart.
New York Electric Piano, “Mama Bear Love Army”
New York Electric Piano started in 2003 as a classic piano trio but eventually grew into an eight-piece ensemble before trimming the roster and returning to their original trio iteration. Currently, the band consists of singer-keyboardist Pat Daugherty; drummer Aaron Comess, who has worked with the Spin Doctors; and bassist Richard Hammond, who performed with the band for the Broadway hit “Hamilton.” Culling together a handful of genres, the band works through a collection of sounds that includes jazz, pop, hip-hop and rock. Their multifaceted approach to recording makes each of their songs feel as if it possesses an entirely different personality than any other song they’ve created.
On recent single “Mama Bear Love Army,” the band embraces the complexity of their unusual methods, building a song with connections to free jazz and lite-funk that also appeals to pop lovers. This track is actually the only song with vocals that appears on their new album. Daugherty initially wanted to use part of a speech given by Van Jones at the Womenʼs March in Washington but was never able to secure the rights, so he got his two sons to intone the words over a loping, partially improvisational series of sounds. The song is brilliantly constructed, a swirling mass of liquid melodies and jazz tonality that sits somewhere between direct influence and pure inspiration.
Johnny Coull, “The Orpheum”
Johnny Coull was raised in Montreal and surrounded by music at an early age. Among his notable accomplishments is the completion of the McGill Conservatory classical piano program when he was only 13. He had obtained his performer’s ARCT by the time he turned 20 and after attending the Toronto Royal Conservatory of Music. He became the music director for one of the McGill a capella groups while pursuing a master’s degree in physics. He began to build his own career with his debut record, “City on the Hill,” in 2013 and would go on to achieve acclaim for performances at the Montreal Fringe Fest and Folk Alliance Region Midwest. He recently announced the release of a new album, “A Long Obituary,” due out Jan. 19.
On his new single, “The Orpheum,” Coull channels the glorious piano pop of Elton John and Billy Joel but manages to retain its rhythmic individuality. It’s familiar, to be sure, but there’s also a mysterious melodic veil that keeps you from seeing what lies around the next corner. Buoyant but also possessing some darker impulses, the song ranges across a wide musical landscape, collecting genres like memories. The track bounces along, revealing a deep awareness of classic pop tropes and using them in service to its own skewed creativity. “The Orpheum” is filled with persuasive nostalgia but isn’t weighed down by its well-worn themes and heartfelt influences.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.