Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Smoldering Ashes – Nervous Constellations

Much of this cd is the great album the Cure should have made between Faith and Seventeen Seconds but didn’t. Same watery guitar, same dark pensive sensibility, but none of the affectations. This collaboration between Oklahoma musicians Veronica Ashe and Troy Troutman and 17 Pygmies guitarist Jeff Brennman and drummer Dirk Doucette bridges the gap between 80s goth like This Mortal Coil and Dead Can Dance and nouveau psychedelia in the sense that its ambience is warm and draws you in. Ashe’s voice has an offhand beauty not unlike indie acoustic siren Linda Draper, and the two share a terse, imaginatively playful lyricism (do they know each other?).

 

After a brief, pensive opening track spiced with some raw harmonica playing, there’s the marvelous A Comedy of Arrows. Bouncing along on a deliciously watery chorus-box bassline straight out of the Laurence Tolhurst playbook, packed with big boomy chords, it’s catchy beyond words. The following two cuts, Shenfinity and Sea Blue are a study in contrasts, the first a beautiful 6/8 reflection, the second reverting to Robert Smith style new wave pop. The next track, 1000 Birds Scatter is slow and ambient with bluesy lead guitar and a striking tempo shift on the bridge. Other standout tracks on the cd include Duct Tape and Superhero Love, a dead ringer for legendary Australian art-rockers the Church with its lush, echoey layers of guitar; The City Electric, which gets totally psychedelic with a water-droplet effect (echoes of Country Joe and the Fish, maybe?); and the beautifully deliberate, tastefully orchestrated Temporary Archive. “I believe in chaos, a chance on a mystery bus tour,” Ashe announces matter-of-factly. The cd concludes with the brief, evocatively carnivalesque Kite:

 

The carnival’s come and it’s time to say

Goodbye, cruel world…

Hello to spring, take off the mask

Put on your face

So long, string

Time to see you you fly

 

An aptly optimistic note on which to close this marvelously captivating cd, best experienced on earphones late at night.

November 18, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Cementhead – Dementia

Their career-defining moment. Hindsight being 20/20, Cementhead’s previous cd February Girls foreshadowed this: New One for Sale, from that album, is a genuine classic. Even so, it’s always good to see a band really taking it to the next level and fulfilling their potential. Most of the songs here are short and fiery: much of this cd is the ballsy guitar album that REM seems to have always wanted to make but didn’t. The cd’s overall feel is frustration boiling over into exasperation. Frontman/guitarist Gordon Smethurst’s lyrics are fragmentary: sometimes they make sense, sometimes not, but the energy level is consistently high, with a sometimes biting cynicism.

 

The cd kicks off with a cut that could be Social Distortion if not for Cementhead’s trademark counterintuitive harmonies. Exene is the only other songwriter who writes high harmony lines like the ones here: the high notes are never what you’d expect. The second track, I Should Go builds from a 80s post new wave melody – and is that a synthesizer in the background? Track three, Lay Low is one of the best here, REMish as it builds from a mostly acoustic verse flavored with sparse electric accents, Smethurst using a vintage repeater box for something of a psychedelic effect.

 

The cd’s title track begins with the bass playing a melody suspiciously evocative of the Kinks classic David Watts, layers of watery chorus-box guitar on the chorus. Track five, Attached is fast and slashing with those eerie harmonies again: “Let me know when you’re ready to go, all fucked up on vodka tonic,” Smethurst snarls. The song after that, Shaker works off a catching descending progression straight out of the Wire classic Outdoor Miner. The following track, You and I is killer, a wicked minor-key garage rock number with one of Smethurst’s trademark raga-esque solos, tossing a melody off a reverberating open string and closing with a cute false ending.

 

The best song on the cd is Elevator, a cleverly constructed, REM-ish number with the same dark garage rock feel and more harmonies. Exquisite and then Graduate, which follow, rule via their choruses. The cd ends on a strange unresolved note with the mostly acoustic Weak Hotel, the most overtly indie of all the songs here. “Leave your laundry down by the old limousines,” Smethurst instructs [???]. With the snarl of vintage 90s indie bands like Versus but the tunefulness of sixties rock, there’s plenty for everybody here. Cementhead, predictably, are also great live: watch this space for upcoming dates.

November 18, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 11/18/08

The top 666 songs of alltime countdown continues, one day at a time all the way to #1. Today’s is #616:

Les Thugs – Bulgarian Blues

These adventurous, artsy, sometimes minimalist French punk rockers hit their peak in the late 80s. Their English lyrics are not their strong suit, but at their best they wrote assaultive, frequently hypnotic songs with layers and layers of roaring reverb guitar. This one from 1988 is their best, with a long, incendiary instrumental outro that goes on and on. Both the superior studio version as well as some intriguing but sonically dodgy live takes are available at the usual mp3 sites.

November 18, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , | Leave a comment