Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN

Song of the Day 3/3/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Wednesday’s song is #148:

Elisa FlynnTimber

Bleak, metaphorically loaded yet wry lyric set to a big, towering 6/8 minor-key anthem with wrenchingly beautiful vocals from the New York indie rock siren. From her breakout 2009 album Songs About Birds and Ghosts. The link in the title above is the video, an amusing Blair Witch parody.

March 3, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Small Beast 1/18/10

The whole town seemed to be partied out from the long weekend, so this Small Beast was a particularly intimate one. Monday was comfort night, comfort in darkness, in raw intensity and intelligence with a diverse quartet of acts who share the ability to bring all that for hours on end. Playing solo on acoustic, Elisa Flynn opened the night and immediately delivered chills with her plaintive, austere, broodingly nuanced vocals coupled to imaginatively scruffy guitar playing. She loves 6/8 time, and she knows how to use it, whether on an insistent, hypnotic tune about earth artist Robert Smithson (possibly the only song anyone’s ever written about the guy, she mused), a pensive sleeping-under-the-stars scenario, or a dark wintertime shipwreck tableau. And the single best song of the night, Timber. Others less subtle might be tempted to turn the towering, haunting yet wry ballad into grand guignol, but Flynn didn’t, holding back just a little on the pauses between verse and chorus to drive them home for all they were worth, tossing off a dirty, distorted solo, then hitting her pedalboard to crank up a sweet swoopy slide on her low E string. She closed with a gorgeously intense cover of Silver Rider by Low, wailing on the downstrokes.

Botanica keyboardist/frontman Paul Wallfisch – who as you probably know by now books Small Beast – quickly figured out that trying to outshadow Flynn would be a bad idea. So he played the fun set: a devious, sarcastic cover of Mack the Knife, musing on who the hell all those oddly named characters really are; an otherworldly version of Nature Boy retitled Nature Girl, which totally changed the song; a couple of soul-inflected new ones, Here I Am (with a lyric by Paul Bowles) and Hard to Cross; a hushed Marlene Dietrich homage, and a Vic Chestnutt cover that rhymes “paragon” with “Louis Farrakhan.” Wallfisch thought that particularly appropriate and wondered aloud what Farrakhan’s violin might sound like alongside Richard Nixon’s piano – paragons, both of them.

Inimitable art-rock songwriter/pianist Greta Gertler has a new kitten, who’d taken a swipe at one of her fingers: “Does anyone have a tampon at least?” she grinned. She’s got a new album, The Universal Thump, coming out. If you’re interested in getting in on the ground floor with it and whatever benefits come with being one of its sponsors, there’s still time: the cast of characters continues to expand. Her too-brief set offered an auspicious look inside, beginning with the bright, percussive, Kate Bush-inflected pop of Swimming with its murky, reverberating instrumental break; the resonant, sad 6/8 ballad Grasshoppers; a darkly dramatic take on the bustling title track to her previous album Edible Restaurant; the pretty yet uneasy, aptly titled Darkened Skies, and her best song, the richly melodic, crescendoing Teacher. When she took the vocals way, way up to the top of her range, i.e. the stratosphere, she pulled off the mic; likewise, she played it casually, letting the power of the chords speak for themselves. Then Wallfisch joined her for a couple of impromptu four-hands numbers, adding incisive upper-register rivulets and staccato over her catchy changes.

Kings County Queens were unfortunately missing baritone ukelele player/singer Daria Grace, but their two women – on piano and accordion – compensated well. Smartly, the band pulled out their dark set, frontman Chris Bowers in particularly bristly, quietly affronted mode. He even took a pointed southwestern gothic solo in the surprisingly bitter, tango-inflected opening number, and another later on, sailing plaintively over drummer Johny Rock’s hypnotic malletwork on a slow, catchy, nocturnal ballad. KCQ earned themselves plenty of cred around the turn of the zeros as one of the originators of the Pete’s Candy Store sound, i.e. urbanites playing low-key, harmony-driven country and Americana and they also provided plenty of that, notably the wistful waltz Magnolias. The warm, gentle insistence of the melody of that one and several similar numbers made for a perfect segue out of a long, crazy weekend into the sobering reality ahead.

Next week’s Small Beast on the 25th turns the lights way, way, way down. You want darkness? Besides Wallfisch, you get Kerry Kennedy, Marni Rice and Mark Steiner’s cd release show. Wow.

January 19, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The 50 Best Albums of 2009

You’ll notice that aside from the #1 spot here, these aren’t ranked in any kind of order: the difference, quality-wise between #1 and #50 is so slight as to make the idea of trying to sort out which might be “better” an exercise in futility. If you’re interested, here’s our 100 Best Songs of 2009 list.

1. The Brooklyn What – The Brooklyn What for Borough President

Like London Calling, it’s a diverse yet consistently ferocious, sometimes hilarious mix of styles imbued with punk energy and an edgy, quintessentially New York intensity. Time will probably judge this a classic.

2. Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear – The Ghost of Rock n Roll

The former Hangdogs frontman’s finest, funniest, most spot-on moment as a fearless, politically aware Americana rocker.

3. The Oxygen Ponies – Harmony Handgrenade

Dating from the waning days of the Bush regime, this is a murderously angry album about living under an enemy occupation: love in a time of choler?

4. The Beefstock Recipes anthology

A rich double album of some of New York’s best bands, with standout tracks from the Secrets, Paula Carino, Erica Smith, Skelter, Rebecca Turner and many more.

5. Dan Bryk - Pop Psychology

Arguably the most insightful – and most brutally funny – album ever written about the music industry. The tunes are great too.

6. Balthrop, Alabama - Subway Songs

The sprawling Brooklyn band go deep into 60s noir with this brilliantly morbid, phantasmagorical ep.

7. Bobby Vacant & the Weary - Tear Back the Night

In the spirit of Dark Side of the  Moon and Closer, this is a masterpiece of artsy existentialist rock. You’ll find several tracks on our Best Songs of 2009 list, including our #1 pick, Never Looking Back.

8. Botanica – americanundone

All the fearless fury and rage of a Botanica live show successfully captured at a show in Germany late last year.

9. Kelli Rae Powell - New Words for Old Lullabies

The amazingly lyrical oldtimey chanteuse alternates between sultry, devious romantic stylings and sheer unhinged anger.

10. McGinty & White Sing Selections from the McGinty & White Songbook

Ward White and Joe McGinty’s wickedly lyrical collaboration puts a fresh spin on retro 60s psychedelic pop.

11. The Church - Untitled #23

The Australian art-rock legends’ latest is yet another triumph of swirling atmospherics and intense lyricism.

12. Amy Allison – Sheffield Streets

Her best album – the New York song stylist has never been funnier or more acerbic. Includes a charming duet with Elvis Costello.

13. Steve Wynn and the Dragon Bridge Orchestra – Live in Brussels

A lush, majestic effort recorded with the stellar crew who played on his most recent studio album Crossing Dragon Bridge.

14. Elisa Flynn - Songs About Birds & Ghosts

Haunting and poignant but also cleverly amusing, the New York rocker has never written better or sung more affectingly.

15. The Jazz Funeral - s/t – free download

The best band ever to come out of Staten Island, New York, these janglerockers write excellent lyrics and have some very catchy Americana-inflected tunes.

16. Jay Bennett - Whatever Happened, I Apologize – free download

The last album the great Americana songwriter ever recorded, a harrowing chronicle of dissolution and despair.

17. Marty Willson-Piper – Nightjar

The Church’s iconic twelve-string guitarist’s finest work ever, a sweeping, majestic, multistylistic masterpiece.

18. Black Sea Hotel - s/t

New York’s own Bulgarian vocal choir’s debut is otherworldly, gorgeous and strikingly innovative.

19. Rupa & the April Fishes – Este Mundo

Latin meets noir cabaret meets acoustic gypsy punk on the Bay Area band’s sensational second album.

20. The JD Allen Trio - Shine!

The tenor saxophonist/composer goes straight for wherever the melody is, usually in four minutes or less, with one of the world’s great rhythm sections, Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. Time may also judge this a classic.

21. The New Collisions – s/t

All the fun and edgy intensity of vintage 80s new wave reinvented for the next decade by platinum-haired frontwoman Sarah Guild and her killer backing band.

22. Ten Pound Heads – s/t

The great long lost Blue Oyster Cult album: relentlessly dark, edgy, occasionally noir art-rock songs with layers of great guitar.

23. Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band

A hilariously woozy, fun romp through the songs from Sergeant Pepper, by the allstar NYC reggae crew who brought us Dub Side of the Moon and Radiodread.

24. Jeff Zentner - The Dying Days of Summer

Intense, memorable Nashville gothic songwriting from one of its finest practitioners.

25. Chris Eminizer - Twice the Animal

Cleverly lyrical art-rock songwriting with tinges of vintage Peter Gabriel from this first-rate New York rocker.

26. Tinariwen – Imidiwan: Companions

The Tuareg rockers’ most diverse, accessible album, as memorable as it is hypnotic.

27. Monika Jalili - Elan

Classic songs from Iran from the 60s and 70s, fondly and hauntingly delivered by the Iranian-American siren and her amazing backup band.

28. Ivo Papasov – Dance of the Falcon

The iconic Bulgarian clarinetist delivers maybe his most adrenalizing, intense album of gypsy music ever.

29. The Stagger Back Brass Band – s/t

The Spinal Tap of brass bands are as virtuosic and melodic as they are funny – which is a lot.

30. Eric Vloeimans‘ Fugimundi – Live at Yoshi’s

The Dutch trumpeter leads a trio through a particularly poignant, affecting mix of classically-tinged jazz.

31. The Asylum Street Spankers – What? And Give Up Show Business?

Recorded at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York last year, this is a boisterous, furious mix of hilarious skits and songs by the Dead Kennedys of the oldtimey scene.

32. Salaam – s/t

Sister-and-brother Dena and Amir El Saffar’s richly memorable, haunting seventh album of Middle Eastern instrumentals and ballads.

33. Fishtank Ensemble – Samurai over Serbia

Their shtick is that they add an Asian tinge to gypsy music, giving it an especially wild edge. The singing saw work on the album is pretty amazing too.

34. Charles Evans/Neil Shah – Live at Saint Stephens

An eerily glimmering, suspensefully minimalist masterpiece by the baritone sax player and pianist, recorded in a sonically exquisite old church earlier this year.

35. The Silk Road Ensemble – Off the Map

Their first one without Yo-yo Ma is also their most adventurous mix of Asian and Middle Eastern-themed compositions (by Osvaldo Golijov, Angel Lam, Evan Ziporyn and others), played by an allstar cast including Kayhan Kalhor, string quartet Brooklyn Rider, pipa pioneer Wu Man and a cast of dozens.

36. Linda Draper - Bridge and Tunnel

The NYC songwriter’s most straightforward, catchy yet also maybe her most lyrically edgy album yet – and she has several.

37. Darren Gaines and the Key Party – My Blacks Don’t Match

Wry, Tom Waits-inflected noir songs by this excellent NYC crew.

38. Love Camp 7 - Union Garage

A deliciously jangly followup to their classic 2007 album Sometimes Always Never.

39. The Komeda Project – Requiem

The New York jazz crew’s second collection of works by the Roman Polanski collaborator who died tragically in the 1960s is brooding, morbid, cinematic and Mingus-esque.  

40. Si Para Usted Vol. 2 – The Funky Beats of Revolutionary Cuba

Like the Roots of Chicha series, Waxing Deep’s second devious, danceable collection of genre-hopping obscure Latin funk from 1970s Cuba onward is packed with obscure gems.

41. Huun Huur Tu and Carmen Rizzo - Eternal

Ominous, windswept, atmospheric North Asian ambience produced with stately, understated power.

42. The Moonlighters - Enchanted

Another great album: gorgeous harmonies from Bliss Blood and Cindy Ball, charming retro 20s songwriting and incisive steel guitar from NYC’s best oldtimey band.

43. Minamo – Kuroi Kawa/Black River

Pianist Satoko Fujii and violinist Carla Kihlstedt share a telepathic chemistry in duo soundscapes ranging from clever and playful to downright macabre.

44. Robin O’Brien – The Apple in Man

The multistylistic chanteuse, legendary in the cassette underground, gets her haunting, intense, otherworldly vocals set to smart, terse new arrangements from dreampop to 70s style Britfolk to trance.

45. Devi – Get Free

Ferociously smart pychedelic power trio rock with one of the most interesting lead guitarists out there right now.

46. Obits – I Blame You

Dark, catchy, propulsive retro 60s garage rock with echoes of the Stooges and early Pink Floyd by this inspired Brooklyn band.

47. HuDost – Trapeze

Sweeping, sometimes hypnotic, artsy songs that move from Americana to gypsy to goth, with frontwoman Moksha Sommer’s graceful vocals.

48. Lenny Molotov - Illuminated Blues

Hauntingly visionary, provocative, politically aware songs set to gorgeously rustic, late 1920s blues, swing and hillbilly arrangements by the great Americana guitarist.

49. Chang Jui-Chuan – Exodus: Retrospective and Prospective 1999-2009

Fearless conscious bilingual hip-hop (in Taiwanese and English) from this international star.

50. Les Triaboliques – rivermudtwilight

A trio of old British punks – Justin Adams, Ben Mandelson and Lu Edmonds – combine to create a masterpiece of desert-inspired duskcore.

September 17, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, James Ross and Joe Benzola, Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble and Elisa Flynn at the Delancey, NYC 6/29/09

Small Beast has taken to Mondays like a vulture on a carcass. The beef carcasses, i.e. hamburgers and hotdogs at the upstairs barbecue now carry a $5 pricetag, although it’s a fill-your-plate type deal (and the totally El Lay crowd up there looks like they can afford it). Botanica pianist Paul Wallfisch, opened the night in the cool, darkened ground-level space as he always does, solo on piano. Since Small Beast is his event, he’s gotten a ton of ink here. Suffice it to say that if dark, virtuosic, unaffectedly intense piano with a gypsy tinge is something you might like, run don’t walk to this Monday night extravaganza. Although last night it wasn’t, it’s usually over before Rev. Vince Anderson gets going across the river, so if you’re really adventurous you can hit both shows. This time out Wallfisch ran through a rather touching Paul Bowles song about a fugitive, in French; a lickety-split version of a noir cabaret tune by his longtime collaborator, chanteuse/personality Little Annie; a Crystal Gayle cover done very noir, and Shira and Sofia, a Botanica tune about the original Joy Division, a couple of WWII era whores. Make love, not war is what the two are encouraging in their own completely over-the-top way, and a few in the audience did a doubletake when Wallfisch got to the chorus.

Multi-instrumentalist James Ross and percussionist Joe Benzola were next, playing hypnotic instrumentals that sounded something akin to the Dead jamming Space with Electric Junkyard Gamelan, with Benzola using a multitude of instruments including wooden flute, recorder, kazoo, and a small series of gongs in addition to his drum kit and then layering one loop on top of another for a Silk Road feel. They took awhile to get going, Ross playing a zhongruan, a Chinese lute with a biting tone like a higher-pitched oud. This was an improvisation, and when they hit their stride the crowd was very into it – avante garde though it was, there was a repetitive catchiness to it too. Ross eventually switched to electric guitar, winding up their brief set with a trancelike, drony number where he built a small wall of feedback as if to hold off the relentless procession of beats.

Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble then grabbed the crowd by the back of the neck and spun them in the opposite direction with a ferocity that was even more striking in contrast to the previous act’s quiet psychedelica. To find a worthy comparison to Beren, the former Die Hausfrauen frontwoman, you have to go into the icon section: Iggy Pop, Aretha, Umm Kalthum or Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello are a few who can match the raven-haired contralto siren’s unleashed, menacing intensity. Backed by two lead guitarists, a trombonist who doubled on keys and a pummeling rhythm section, Beren opened the set with anguished vocalese, part scream and part very reluctant acquiescence. There was no turning back after that. The band name is apt in that their grand guignol attack can be bluesily hypnotic, tinged with classical motifs (Beren played macabre piano on a couple of numbers) and if you take it to its extreme (this is very extreme music), there’s nobody more goth than this crew. But these goths don’t put on batwings and hug the wall, they come to pillage and avenge. A couple of their heavier, stomping numbers bore a little resemblance to Blue Oyster Cult, but Beren’s writing is more complex and cerebral, expertly switching between tempos, building inexorably to a roar of horror. Their last song grew ominously with a whoosh of cymbals and some beautifully boomy chord work on the intro by bassist Greg Garing into a careening, crashing gallop that ended with a noise jam, Garing throwing off a nasty blast of feedback.

That Elisa Flynn wasn’t anticlimactic playing in the wake of Hurricane Vera speaks for itself. In her own moody, pensive and equally dark way, she proved a match for Beren, in subtlety if not sheer volume. Flynn’s new cd Songs About Birds and Ghosts is one of the year’s best, and that comprised most of what she sang, playing solo on guitar, expertly working the corners of a compelling, wounded delivery that she’d occasionally turn up to a fullscale wail when she needed to drive a point home. Her guitar playing proved as smartly matched to the songs’ emotion as her vocals, alternating between hammering chords and stark fingerpicking, sometimes building an eerie undercurrent of overtones using her open strings. Her songs have considerable bitterness but also a wry wit, as well as a frequently majestic, anthemic feel that comes to the forefront when she uses 6/8 time (which is a lot). I’m Afraid of the Way I Go Off Sometimes, she said, took its title from an email she’d received from a friend a week before he went into rehab. She warned that a cover of The Pyramid Song by Radiohead might be awkward, but it was anything but, in fact even more haunting than the original with something of a Syd Barrett feel. A brand-new one called Shiver was potently angry, building to a tastily macabre chorus. She followed that with an understated version of the opening cut on the new album, Timber, a towering anthem (with a cool Blair Witch video up on youtube). She closed with No Diamond, something of a lullaby “to send you off to sleep,” she said, another pensive number in 6/8. By now, it was approaching one in the morning; had she kept playing, no doubt the crowd would have kept listening.

Small Beast continues next Monday, July 6 with Wallfisch, Spottiswoode and Pete Galub; Beren plays goth night at the Slipper Room on September 20; Flynn is at Sidewalk on July 14 at 8.

June 30, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 3/30/09

We do this every Tuesday, in the spirit of Kasey Kasem. Each of the links here will take you to the individual song, a mix of stuff we’ve either stumbled upon or have playing in heavy rotation here in Lucid Culture-land. Some of these songs will end up on our Best Songs of 2009 list the last week of December, stay tuned…

 

1. Elisa Flynn - Timber

Big, towering, haunting yet blackly amusing anthem, first cut on her absolutely killer new cd Songs About Birds and Ghosts. She’s at Sidewalk on 4/8 at 9. This is the video.

 

2. La Sovietika – Aladino

Completely unique: “the Caribbean Dance Rock Sound,” as the band puts it, funk meets 1970s Fania meets soukous, like what Vampire Weekend might sound like if they could swing and had soul.  

 

3. Jah Roots - Spliff and My Lady

In case you didn’t already guess, this is reggae. Great tune, similar to Payday by Israel Vibration.

 

4. Jessie Kilguss - Gristmill

Menacing, brooding noir cabaret. She’s at Trash on 4/22

 

5. The Hsu-nami - Snake Skin Shuffle

Artsy metal instrumental like Iron Maiden with an erhu (Chinese fiddle)! They’re at the Passport to Taiwan Festival at Union Square on 5/24.

 

6. The Parkington Sisters - Let Go

Minimalist countrypolitan chamber pop with sweet harmonies – absolutely unique.  

 

7. Des Roar - Not Over for Me

Oldschool R&B song like the Pretty Things except with powerful modern amps.

 

8. The Moody Blues - Driftwood

Live version, early 80s vintage. In case you weren’t aware how good a guitarist Justin Hayward is.

 

9. No More Tears – Keep It Real

Hip-hop from the Dirty Jerz: “Keep it real girl, what do you want, I got liquor, I got blunts.” The least subtle pickup lines ever rapped. Beyond funny.

 

10. Cudzoo & the Faggettes – 14K Fetus

Completely sick faux oldtimey harmony from the self-styled “prettiest girls with the filthiest mouths.”

March 31, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Elisa Flynn – Songs About Birds & Ghosts

Listening to this cd – Flynn’s second solo effort – the first thing that hits you is what a damn good singer she is. The phrase “indie rock song stylist” may sound like an oxymoron, but that’s what Elisa Flynn is. Confident and matter-of-fact on the big rockers, she brings it down to a wounded mezzo-soprano on the quieter songs, with a casual vibrato that trails off effortlessly. Flynn’s thoughtful, frequently dark songwriting gives that voice plenty of opportunity to soar and glimmer throughout a mix of scruffily clanging, upbeat guitar-driven fare and slower, more sparse material, often in 6/8 time and minor keys. Lyrically, she balances wry, smartly literate, frequently sardonic humor with an undercurrent of unease. This is the kind of album you want to put on the ipod and let it grow on you as its layers fold back and reveal themselves. There’s a lot to get to know here.

 

The cd kicks off with Timber. It’s a big, bounding, characteristically wary anthem that builds on from Flynn’s sharp, incisive choral work to a fiery crescendo on the chorus, drummer Anders Griffen getting the next salvo started with an evil cymbal crash. “The house has fallen down around our ears but I still live here…I’m not afraid of the crashing sound,” Flynn resolutely insists. The album’s second cut, Normal is a requiem, its ghost skipping across the room along with the song on the record that plays in the background, Flynn explains. With its skittish rhythm and early REM-ish guitar, Kathleen is another ghostly tale, this one decidedly more playful.

 

I’m Afraid of the Way I Go Off Sometimes is actually a lot more direct, less tongue-in-cheek than the title would indicate. Big Sky follows, wistful and pensive with Jose Delhart’s minimalist banjo over a muted, twilit rhythm section and an absolutely gorgeous, optimistic vocal. The most striking song of the cd’s ten tracks is an Egon Schiele homage, a 6/8 noir cabaret number flavored with spooky, terse piano and bells. The plaintive ballad Lost at Sea gives Flynn a chance to cut loose and wail, and she makes the most of the opportunity. The cd wraps up with the beautiful harmonies of the aptly titled Shine, maybe the only song to namecheck Fourth Avenue in Manhattan (or is it the one in Brooklyn?). Songs About Birds & Ghosts ought to resonate with fans of the A-list of smart indie rock women: Feist back when she was a cool guitar player, Thalia Zedek, Jennifer O’Connor et al. Look for it on our 50 Best CDs of 2009 list at the end of the year. Elisa Flynn’s next NYC show seems to be Sidewalk on April 8 at 9 PM.

February 23, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Elisa Flynn at Union Hall, Brooklyn NY 12/17/07

[Editor's note - Elisa Flynn was good in 2007 when we reviewed this particular show. In the time since then she's grown into one of the most eerily compelling, haunting singers, and songwriters, in all of New York. Her 2009 album Songs About Birds and Ghosts landed high on the Lucid Culture 50 best albums list that year. It's always especially rewarding to be able to look back and say, "told you so!"]

The trendoid with the carefully coiffed, $300 bedhead haircut who preceded her onstage was a howl: “Ah learned ever-thang from television,” he yowled in ludicrous faux-ebonics, strumming his totally out-of-tune guitar, the hired-gun rhythm section behind him clearly in a hurry to get off the stage, grab their portions of the cash advance the guy had pulled off his parents’ credit card at the ATM, and go home. After he was finally done, the club played KT Tunstall’s cutesy powerpop over the PA, a respite akin to coming into a 40-degree room from subzero weather: in about a minute, it was cold again.

The songs on Elisa Flynn’s myspace page throw off some sparks, which was what brought us here in the first place. Backed only by musically diverse drummer Anders Griffen, Flynn sputtered and then caught fire, doing an impressive job under adverse circumstances. Nursing a cold with a pint of Guinness, she still sang terrifically well, casually, without a hint of affectation, which was even more impressive considering that for some inexplicable reason the drums in the small downstairs room here are miked into the sound mix. Even though Griffen clearly had a feel for the room and played with a considerable subtlety, there were times when he drowned her out. Obviously, it wasn’t his fault.

Flynn at her best has a great sense of melody along with a fondness for minor keys. Most of her songs are lyrically-driven, pensive and darkly reflective, yet rock with a guitar-driven bite. They’d probably have sounded more fully realized if she’d been playing electric instead of acoustic tonight. She may play under her own name, but she’s definitely a rocker. Her tunes match the mood of her lyrics. On more than one occasion tonight she proved how effectively she could turn a minute change in the melody into a pivotal moment. Unlike a lot of indie types, she likes dynamics and knows how to use them: no jarring barrages of noise during quiet moments, or vice versa. The mood of the songs varied from the somewhat bizarrely amusing Turtle King to the thoughtfully rustic Big Sky. Her best number was a burning, staccato rocker that unexpectedly turned the verse/chorus dynamic on its head, the anthemic verse going down into a quieter refrain and then back again.

But Flynn needs a séance. Like so many artists categorized as indie rock, she sometimes falls under the curse of the moveable chord, and it’s high time somebody lifted that curse. For the uninitiated, moveable chords are a lazy guitar-playing device, where the guitarist plays a major or minor chord and then changes chords by moving his or her hand a single fret, or two or three, in one direction or another without changing the fingering of the original chord. With a few exceptions (Flynn has discovered two of the really nice permutations that you can make with a D major chord), what results is either atonal or dissonant and usually throws whatever melody you have going off the rails. Moveable chords are the reason why most of the melody in grunge, emo and recent indie rock is played not by the guitar but by the bass. A lot of people who’d like to be musicians, but for one reason or another can’t pull it off, live and die by moveable chords and it’s strange that Flynn would employ them as much as she does since she’s a fluent player with a good ear for a catchy hook. Whether she continues to use them or continues to grow as a musician will determine whether in ten years’ time she takes it to the next level and gets some well-deserved props, or remains a relic of the zeros. See her next time out and you will probably be in for as beguiling and promising a show as she played tonight.

December 18, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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