Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Martin Bisi – Sirens of the Apocalypse

In over 20 years of producing, playing and recording, Martin Bisi has become known as something akin to a nice Steve Albini. Perhaps best known for his work producing Sonic Youth, his arguably greatest achievement was transforming legendary New York noise rockers Live Skull from a second-rate PiL imitation into the magnificently dirty, evil band that they were in the latter half of the 80s. More recently, he was responsible for Black Fortress of Opium’s gorgeously lush yet scorchingly potent debut album. A master of the high midrange, Bisi’s work is informed as much by a classical sensibility as his days as a teenage delinquent and graffiti artist during the early years of punk in New York City. This album has the same kind of dark, confrontational yet artsy noir sensibility shared by the best of the NYC noir underground: Botanica, Elysian Fields, the Vanity Set, or the Bellmer Dolls, albeit more carnivalesque and chaotic. And it’s far funnier, and less self-conscious, than you would ever imagine: an East Coast El Radio Fantastique, perhaps?

 

The album’s opening cut, the title track, starts out ominous and surreal like the intro to Bowie’s Diamond Dogs. Cut two, Mary Maudlin (a Mary Magalene pun) is loaded with Bisi’s characteristic sarcasm: “I want a rocking guy!” exclaims a cheerleader type in one of the album’s many amusing, sampled moments before the song’s ominous organ kicks in. If singles were still being released today, the obvious choice would be the next track, the delightfully satirical Goth Chick ’98: as a bonus, the cd also includes the amusing, totally retro 80s video for the song. Over a mishmash of voices and what sounds like eerie toy instruments, Bisi intones the lyrics in a voice evocative of Lou Reed or Botanica’s Paul Wallfisch in a particularly menacing moment.

 

The cd continues with La Vie S’Enfuie (Life Runs Away), the dark, suspenseful organ ballad Felicity Ann McGuire and then a funny, true late-night bar story followed by the completely over-the-top Rock Mona Lisa, which morphs into more carnival rock at the end. Buddhist Girl is pure punk humor set to a dizzying psychedelic melody flavored with electric sitar. Parsippany, NJ reverts to a sprawling, anthemic art-rock feel. The Silver Balloon is the album’s centerpiece, a careening road trip through a twilit underworld of the mind that just manages not to fall apart. The album wraps up with the noir-rap number My American Way – how’s that for genre-bending? – as bassist Christian Bongers nicks a Lou Reed lick for all it’s worth. And then Bisi ends it with another stolen lick, a familiar one that will nonetheless induce a lot of smiles. 

 

Like much of Bisi’s work, this cd is best enjoyed on headphones; it’s a great ipod album for nostalgic late-night train rides through neighborhoods that used to be dangerous and someday will be again after all the luxury condos there fall apart and the rats come out of the walls into the night air.

August 5, 2008 - Posted by | Music, Reviews

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