Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: The Oxygen Ponies – Harmony Handgrenade

Call the Oxygen Ponies’ second album Love in a Time of Choler. Recorded during the last months of the Bush regime, it’s an attempt to reconcile the search for some sort of transcendence with the need to overthrow an enemy occupation. It’s also a strong contender for best album of 2009 (stay tuned!). Savagely lyrical, swirling and psychedelic, the obvious comparison is to the great Australian rockers the Church, although sonically and texturally a lot of it is gentler and sometimes more overtly 60s-influenced. Lots of dynamics here, organ and piano floating in and out, backing vocals sometimes adding a gospel choir flavor: it’s a triumph for producer Don Piper. Many of the tracks feature indie rock siren Randi Russo’s velvet vocals adding subtlety and menace. Frontman Paul Megna has always been a formidable lyricist, but here he vaults into the uppermost echelon. The cd’s opening track Love Yr Way begins skeletal, almost Leonard Cohen-esque, before leaping to an ecstatic crescendo at the end:

 

They broke my itchy trigger finger

Scratched an X upon my door

When they hang this message bringer

Blood will rain down through the floor

 

The insistent, midtempo Fevered Cyclones pans to a less-than-idyllic outer-borough hell:

 

We live like clones in our suburban homes

Substituting plastic to get by

You got the best, you want the rest

And you don’t think you’re living a lie

 

The War Is Over, a percussive garage rock stomp, throws another elbow at someone a little too perfect to believe:

 

The war is over, the bastards won

Don’t leave home without your lungs

They’ll shoot your mouth off without a pause

Every body has its flaws

But not you…

The war is over

The heroes lost

Cauterize the permafrost

 

The title track somewhat woozily chronicles two curiously named, possibly fictional, possibly pseudonymous women, Harmony Handgrenade and Melody Marzipan and the nasty repercussions their nonconformity brings them. Yet, it ends on a hopeful note. Grab Yr Gun begins slow and pensive, building to a catchy garage-pop chorus and then goes gospel, and satirically so: “Let your gun be your guide.” A big, scorching rocker, Finger Trigger evokes the loudest stuff on the Church’s Priest = Aura album, desperately flailing for some kind of hope, “Anything to dissipate the grey skies falling.” But it’s too late:

 

You and I and everyone waiting for a brighter sun to shine

We’re wasting time…

I can feel the terrorist inside of me

Choking on the apple of your eye

Hurry up, don’t be late, they’re gonna kill you where you sleep

Shut your mouth, shut your eyes and count the bombs in your heartbeat

 

The most indelibly Bush-era cut is the pensive, hypnotic, yet absolutely defiant, Steve Kilbey-esque Villains:

 

All you mystic gurus

Liars thieves and whores

A plague upon your houses

And all your holy wars

All you self defeatists

I call you all to arms

If we stop medicating

Then who will buy the farm

The fuckers in the White House

Hate your family…

We’ve got a long drive home

 

Defiance reaches a peak on the swinging, macabre ragtime tune Smile, shades of the late, great Douce Gimlet. The cd winds up on a somewhat subdued, sardonic note with A Bottle Marked the Enemy: “They’re gonna come for you, when they comfort you.” Like Simone de Beauvoir’s The Mandarins or the Dead Kennedys’ Frankenchrist, this album perfectly captures a time and place, if one that 5.9 billion people would rather forget. There’s undoubtedly a post-Bush era indie film out there that could match up with this much like Garden State did with the Shins. Maybe more than anything else, this is a cautionary tale, a vivid reminder of where complacency got us the last time around.

Advertisements

May 18, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Asylum Street Spankers – What? And Give Up Show Business?

In case you don’t get the reference, the album title is the punchline of an old vaudeville joke: the guy shovels shit, gets the short end of the stick every time, really has nothing to do with what’s happening onstage, but he just can’t quit the job. This sequence of tracks taken from their stagy, vaudevillian series of shows last year at the Barrow Street Theatre captures the band at the absolute peak of their consistently hilarious, raucous, virtuosic powers. In a lot of ways the Asylum Street Spankers are sort of the Dead Kennedys of oldtimey music, fearlessly aware, politically spot-on and funny as hell, especially in a live setting. This sprawling two-cd set intersperses several skits among a grand total of 25 songs. Smoking pot figures heavily in a number of them; sex is abundant, and there’s also one about beer. In other words, this is a party album guaranteed to clear the room of tight-assed yuppies and young Republicans in seconds flat.

Trying to choose which song is funniest is not easy. Everybody will get a kick out of their acoustic cover of the Black Flag hardcore classic TV Party, updated with contemporary references to emphasize the fact that the trendoids vegging out to Adult Swim or the Daily Show are no cooler than the bozos in the original, glued to Hill Street Blues. My Baby in the CIA is blackly funny, offhandedly managing to mention every CIA-sponsored coup against a democratically elected government around the world over the past half-century. The Medley of Burned-Out Songs, designed to placate rabid fans who can’t wait til the band plays their favorite, overplayed number is something that more bands should do. There’s also Christina Marrs’ deadpan Hawaiian swing number Pakalolo Baby, sounding something like the Moonlighters on good weed (or Pakalolo, for all the Hawaiian speakers out there). Winning the War on Drugs takes a quizzical, red-eyed view of prohibition, posing the logical question of why, if there’s a war on, are drugs so easy to find (My Baby in the CIA has the answer). The most technically dazzling number of them all is the medley My Favorite Records, kicking off with an absolutely perfect acoustic evocation of Black Sabbath, moving to Zep, Marrs eventually bringing down the house with her choice. And then they work a complicated contrapuntal vocal vamp to a crescendo where they replicate the sound of a stuck record without missing a beat.

Most of the skits are also funny, especially the Gig from Hell which any musician who’s spent any time on the road can relate to: not enough inputs for all the vocals, a stage that smells like vomit, the house manager trying to rip off the band like he did the one before…the list goes on and on. There’s also some remarkably straight-up and soulful blues and ragtime here too. The show finally ends with a full-length version of one of the heretofore Burned-Out Songs, the well-loved Stick Magnetic Ribbons on Your SUV (this having been recorded during the waning days of the Bush regime, there’s an undercurrent of righteous wrath just fractions of an inch below many of the jokes). The Asylum Street Spankers play the Bell House on May 19 with oldtimey/delta blues siren Mamie Minch opening the night auspiciously at 8:30 or so.

May 18, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Marty Willson-Piper – Nightjar

His best album. Marty Willson-Piper is the preeminent twelve-string guitarist of our time, whether creating rich layers of atmosphere as one of the two lead guitarists in legendary Australian art-rockers the Church, or building a ferocious, bluesy blaze moonlighting in the latest incarnation of the Saints. He’s also as good as songwriter as he is a guitarist. This cd, his first studio effort since 2000 is every bit the match for pretty much everything his main band has ever done. The production manages to be ornate yet terse, with judiciously arranged guitars, keys and occasional strings  (by the alluring Australian quartet the Mood Maidens) and harmony vocals by cult siren Tiare Helberg. Willson-Piper leads the band with a somewhat airy delivery (imagine Rob Younger of Radio Birdman today, in a relaxed, thoughtful moment, if that’s possible). The songs are mostly slow-to-midtempo anthems, and Willson-Piper also, somewhat surprisingly, proves particularly adept at mid-60s style country on the sardonic, pedal steel-driven Game for Losers and the unforgiving, stern The Love You Never Had.

The opening track, No One There sounds, unsurprisingly, towering and majestic just like the Church, right down to Willson-Piper’s trademark echoey, ominous, portentous bent-note phrases, a pensive study in alienation and, more importantly, disalienation. Willson-Piper does not suffer fools gladly, and though he’s often very funny about it, much of this album is a surgical strike against complacency. The theme echoes, amusing yet spot-on, in the thoughtful, eco-friendly More Is Less:

 

I heard that god was coming back

I didn’t know that he’d been here…

Even the angels enjoy a good cigar

They say, tone-deaf drunks sing sweet songs

 

The cd’s centerpiece The Sniper, is a similarly thoughtful, methodical track, an eerily calm, rational assessment of whether or not to assassinate an unnamed, crooked politician (this album being recorded during the waning days of the Bush regime, Dick Cheney is the obvious suspected victim). The world goes to hell, and we all let it happen, Willson-Piper calmly intones. What if we didn’t? What is the price, and what are the philosophical consequences of heroism, he ponders?

The rousing, countryfied Feed Your Mind is laugh-out-loud hilarious, a savagely lyrical anti-tourist tirade that begins almost inscrutably but gets less and less subtle as it goes on, ending on the same note as the Room’s classic Jackpot Jack. High Down Below is the requisite big rocker, its narrator retreating to a place of sanity to make sense of the idiocy all around. The most poignant of all the tracks here is the vivid, haunting Song for Victor Jara, commemorating the great Chilean songwriter and poet murdered in 1973 in the wake of a CIA-backed coup. Ferociously intelligent and richly melodic, this makes an ideal late-night headphone album: look for this at the end of the year high on our best albums of 2009 list in December. The Church are on tour this summer (they’re at Irving Plaza in New York on July 8th) and hopefully Willson-Piper will be able to do a few solo dates as well.

May 18, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment