It might be going too far to call the New Year tantric, but it's certainly true that the band's specialty is not release. Monday night at the Black Cat, the Texas quintet played coiling, static music that assiduously avoided the big payoff. The mid-tempo vamps shifted and expanded as the low-key central melodies were accented by finger-picked riffs or feedback figures so rich and tightly controlled that they resembled electric organ. Yet even the most emphatic moments never ruffled the serenity of "Chinese Handcuffs."
The hour-long set began with all five musicians playing electric guitars, and the overall sound didn't change substantially when, beginning with the second song, Chris Brokaw switched to drums. In the club's small "backstage" space, the drum kit was often the loudest instrument, yet it was the guitars that dominated. Matt Kadane, who sang most of the tunes, burrowed his vocals into the massed-guitar sound, so that they were even less prominent than on the band's new album, "The End Is Near."
The vocal melodies were a bit countryish, hinting at the group's Texas origins, although they also suggested such "slowcore" precursors as Boston's Galaxie 500. Whether the New Year's songs are better described as laments or meditations, they are a stunning union of noise and calm. Even the guitar rave-ups that ended both the main set and the encores were glacial rather than explosive.
-- Mark Jenkins