Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Wednesday’s song is #392;
Telephone – Cendrillon
The title is French for “Cinderella.” This uncharacteristically quiet ballad from the 1982 Dure Limite lp was a huge hit for the French rockers, electric piano glimmering evilly behind Louis Bertignac’s elegaic lead guitar as frontman Jean-Louis Aubert matter-of-factly narrates her descent into drug abuse and death in the back of an ambulance. The link in the title above is the album version; here’s a tasty live take.
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.
One of the first things you notice about the New Collisions is how catchy their songs are. How your head starts bobbing to that fast retro 80s dance beat. How they sound like some great new wave band that’s just about to be rediscovered. But there are a zillion retro bands out there. What distinguishes the New Collisions from the rest of the pack is how smart their songs are. “The world’s onfire? Not our problem,” platinum blonde frontwoman Sarah Guild sarcastically chirps on Beautiful and Numb, the centerpiece of their killer new ep (full review here due soon – watch this space). With a potential national breakout gig upcoming at Gillette Stadium (home of the New England Patriots) the Boston band’s on the verge of leaving small club gigs behind. The band’s brain trust, Scott and Sarah Guild (guitar and vocals, respectively) took some time out of their insane schedule, recording with former Cars keyboardist Greg Hawkes, to answer a few questions:
Lucid Culture: What happened to the Collisions? Or was it the Old Collisions?
Sarah Guild: This is actually a funny story. We’ve lived in Boston for a year and launched the New Collisions about six months ago, so we weren’t too familiar with the Boston scene. There had, apparently, been a successful local band called the Collisions, which broke up a few years ago. When we started to pick up steam, people assumed it was members of the Collisions resurrecting the project. But no press is bad press; there are actually lemmingtrail threads on this [laughs].
Scott Guild: Contrary to public opinion, however, we actually wanted to be called the New Collisions. The music is about history, culture, religion, human connection, and all their strange permutations in this era. The collisions are “new” because they are the changes and the tensions that are happening right now, shaping the identity of this generation.
LC: You weren’t even born yet when the bands you resemble were in their heyday. And don’t tell me you grew up listening to classic new wave hits…or did you?
Sarah: Yes and no. We were always eclectic, so we grew up listening to everything. When the time came to pick a definite direction for the band, it was the great melodic pop of the 60s and 80s that grabbed us. We love many many kinds of music, but there’s something timeless about Blondie, the Beach Boys, the Kinks, the Cars–we’re trying to make that same kind of musical statement.
LC: I’m curious to know Sarah’s musical background. You belt, you wail, you chirp sometimes. You probably have more stuff up your sleeve than I know about. Is this style you’re using now something you’ve adapted from listening to Missing Persons, or Cindy Lauper, or is it just how you’ve evolved, or what?
Sarah: Well, I have a background in classical and choral music, and have sung every type of music on the planet in my brief time on this planet. I’m such an avid fan of so many bands that I imagine you can hear everything from Billie Holiday to Ray Davies in my delivery. But yes, Dale Bozzio especially is a huge influence. Funnily enough, when I started listening to Missing Persons, I was amazed to hear a few vocal tricks that I had been doing for a long time. In any case, it really starts new with every song, trying to find the vocal approach that will fit the melody, the message, the overall feel.
LC: Is there a neat backstory to the band, I mean, something like Scott saw Sarah on the T, looked over her shoulder at her ipod and saw she had Blondie on it…something like that?
Scott: Well…we met at college, dropped out together, and then lived in many many places over a few years–England, the south, all over the northeast. Finally we decided to move to Boston and form the New Collisions. The musical direction came from taking our favorite influences and then trying to merge them into something new and unique.
LC: What’s up with the drummer situation, you guys have been like Spinal Tap except that all those drummers are still alive. I’m guessing anyway…
Scott: We had a few fill-in players for New York shows, as you rightly discerned. Really it was a search for the right person, which took a few months, but we were too impatient and started gigging anyway! When Zak came along, we knew within the first thirty seconds of the audition.
LC: Whose vintage synthesizer is that, and is the use of all those weird, oscillating settings a deliberate attempt to get an 80s sound? Or do you just genuinely like that vibe?
Sarah: Actually, our keyboard player has no background with this kind of music. He somehow has almost the exact musical aesthetic of Greg Hawkes, but he had no knowledge of the man when he wrote most of these lines. Casey brought in his stuff, started messing around, and it all fell into place. Spooky.
LC: For a band with some pretty poppy songs, they’re awfully dark sometimes. I don’t want to open any old wounds, but to what extent do your lyrics draw from personal experience?
Scott: Almost none of the lyrics, actually, are about our personal experiences as such. We try to write about the condition-slash-struggles of people our age at this point in history. They’re deeply personal, but not about our personal lives per se.
LC: Were you guys teenage delinquents? The Ones to Wander? Is that what that song’s about?
Scott: Ones to Wander is more personal than most. We’ve always been restless, and spent a few years roaming about before settling in Boston to form the New Collisions. Even in high-school, we were always going on odd adventures, getting into trouble, and so forth. When you have that kind of wanderlust, you’re always in tension with people who are living normal, relatively peaceful lives – there’s a huge gap between you. So that song is about having this endless yearning, and trying to survive in a society that doesn’t support it at all. “I don’t know how the rest survive/But oh my eyes, oh my eyes.”
LC: Can you explain Parachutes on the Dance Floor?
Scott: This lyric, apparently, is quite obscure I guess [laughs] A parachute catches you when you’re falling. So parachutes on the dancefloor is about living a totally empty, vapid life, based around some mindless job, then finding relief and meaning in music, art, expression, etc. “The world had betrayed me/My parachute’s on the dancefloor.” In our own lives, music has been the saving grace.
LC: You have a big following in Boston, you get great gigs and have a lot of media buzz going there. How has it been you outside your home turf?
Sarah: We seem to go over well everywhere–I think it’s that the music is fun and melodic. That being said, it’s hard for a new band to immediately get buzz in a huge city like New York, where none of us live or have lived previously. Also, our first real recordings have been out for less than a month. To answer your question, it’s been great, but we’re excited to see it grow even more.
LC: I’ve always believed that pop music can be smart and accessible at the same time, is that something that factors into what you’re doing or is it just more of an unconscious thing?
Sarah: That’s definitely a factor. Our goal is to make fun catchy music that is also about something. We’re trying to have the best of both worlds – Blondie on one hand and Leonard Cohen on the other – serious fun and serious poetry. Hopefully it works!
LC: Here in New York – and I’m seeing elsewhere – there’s been a big backlash against indie rock, musicians and audiences both getting into styles that are more fun. Is fun back in style? Or is the whole indie world full of shit, fun never really ever went away in the first place?
Scott: I think fun is definitely coming back into style. It’s kind of a paradox, but I think standing around and sulking is less in vogue when everyone’s broke. When you’re dirt poor and have a horrible job, you want to have some fun with your small amount of money. We’re all paupers and peasants these days.
LC: Unlike a lot of new bands, you draw a remarkably diverse crowd. You even seem to get some of the people who listened to that stuff the first time around in the 80s out of the house. Does that offer some validation of what you’re doing?
Sarah: Sure, we want everyone to love us! A good melody, whether it’s Elvis, or the Velvet Underground, or ABBA, or Pat Benatar, is essentially timeless and can connect to everyone. We work hard on the lyrics, but I think we’ll go as far as our melodies can take us.
LC: What’s the sickest thing that’s ever happened to you at a live show?
Scott: Sick as in gross? Or sick as in, “Dude, that was sick!” Hmm…we played a strange show once at the upstairs of this bar, and they put us on this slippery linoleum floor with no carpet for the drums. We were all falling and moving positions, a cymbal stand went flying past Sarah in the middle of one song…it was a gig on a slip-and-slide. Fun, but we would never ever do it again.
LC: OK, now what’s the best thing?
Sarah: Well, we had Greg Hawkes from The Cars sit in with us for three songs at our ep release show last month [TT Bears in Boston]. That was an amazing experience and privilege. Performing “You Might Think” with him at the helm, to an absolutely packed house, was probably the high point of our lives as performers.
LC: Any breaking news about the band we should share? Like, you just got a song on the L Word – oh yeah, that’s off the air. But seriously – you know what I mean…
Sarah: Well, we’re headed back into the studio to do two new singles in July, and we’ll also be filming 2-3 music videos. A bunch of really excellent people found out about us and were excited to be involved with the project, so we’re making it happen. There’s going to be a ton of new stuff, and we’ll probably book a tour around releasing it come late summer or early fall.
LC: Any shout-outs you wanna give to good Boston bands? Here’s your chance…
LC: There’s the Boston Phoenix poll too: fans of the band can vote for the New Collisions as Best New Act of 2009.
We do this every Tuesday. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Pretty much every link here will take you to each individual song.
1. Marty Willson-Piper – Feed Your Mind
2. Pajtasi – Untitled
Slovak cimbalom band playing a string-driven haunting dance number. They’re at Radegast Hall & Biergarten on N 3rd in Wburg on 7/2 at 9.
3. The Luxury – Rockets & Wrecking Balls
Power ballad – but a good one – and the frontman can really sing
4. The Motion Sick – Jean-Paul
Swirling dark garage pop from Boston
5. The Sterns – Supreme Girl
Like vintage XTC but catchier with a little ska feel
6. Shilpa Ray – Shine in Exile
Noir harmonium and vocals – scroll down on the page to find it
7. Elizabeth Devlin – Gatsby’s Song
Spot-on oldtimey song, solo autoharp!
8. The Weeds – What Was It
Sad and pretty
9. Dalis Elvis – Beating Dead Horses
Southwestern gothic punk
10. Notorious MSG – Chinatown Hustler
First-generation Chinatown gangsta rap/punk rock. Someday other Chinese rappers will refer to this as the golden age.
Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Tuesday’s song is #393:
The Electric Light Orchestra – Dreaming of 4000
As with A Day in the Life, the drummer owns this one. In this case it’s Bev Bevan (who later played with a version of Black Sabbath!) who’s taking this raw, starkly haunting epic to the next level, his matter-of-factly evil cymbal work driving the outro. From the strangely beautiful On the Third Day lp, 1973, surprisingly often found in the cheapo bins. Mp3s are all over too, but the vinyl – as it always does – sounds best. The link above is an outtake that differs very slightly from the album version; there are also some cool live tracks floating around.
Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Monday’s song is #394:
Mary Lee’s Corvette – Redemption Day
The dark, sparse, haunting version released on the NYC Americana rockers’ 2004 cd 700 Miles is excellent, but it’s the ferocious riff-rock version that the band – then featuring Mellencamp lead guitar god Andy York – was doing circa 2000-01 that’s the best, blasting out of the gates with a massing Ziggy Stardust-style hook and frontwoman Mary Lee Kortes’ literally redemptive lyrics. Look around – bootlegs exist.
As concerts in New York go, this was something of a landmark, representing both the vanguard and the old guard of cutting-edge Turkish music, something that according to people involved with the project would have been far less likely to have taken place on Turkish soil. Istanbulive AKA the Turkish Woodstock was a quick sellout (or the equivalent – the Summerstage arena was filled to capacity minutes after the opening act, the NY Gypsy All-Stars took the stage). This time around, acclaimed Turkish clarinetist Husnu Senlendirici stood in for the mostly instrumental group’s usual reed man Ismail Lumanovski, taking the music in a surprisingly but effectively murky, pensive direction. In Turkey, the clarinet carries the same connotation as the sax does here, frequently the instrument of choice for bandleaders and for party music in general. Where Lumanovski is a ferociously intense player, someone who typically goes straight for the jugular, Senlendirici took a characteristically more spacious and contemplative approach, an apt fit for several of the ballads in the set. With a rhythm section including electronic keyboards along with guitar and kanun, they alternated between tricky, rousing dances and quieter fare, some simply instrumental versions of Turkish pop hits which became mass karaoke for the high-spirited audience. One of them sounded like the old Burt Bacharach standard Never Gonna Fall in Love Again set to a more complex rhythm. Their best number featured a guest chanteuse doing a wistful, homesick Armenian folk song backed by just keys and clarinet.
The unannounced Brooklyn Funk Essentials followed with a brief, entertaining mini-set with Senlendirici out front (their 1998 album with him is a major moment in American/Middle Eastern fusion), working a dark reggaeish vibe on the first tune, following with a straight-up funk number that lept doublespeed into ska. They then did a funny ska version of the Mozart Rondo a la Turk, and were out of there – a quick rehearsal for their show later at City Winery maybe?
Painted on Water maintained the cutting-edge vibe, delivering the afternoon’s most electrifying moments. Frontwoman Sertab Erener is a star in her home country, and this mostly English-language project – her vocals and accent are flawless – ought to expand her audience exponentially. Kicking off the set with a long, passionate, intense vocalese intro, it was clear that she had come to conquer. Like Siouxsie Sioux without the microtones, she showed off a forceful, defiant wail that on the next-to-last song of the set she unleashed with unrestrained fury, a stunning crescendo that seemed to defy the laws of physics. That such a relatively small, lithe frame could cut loose such a powerful blast of sound was a wonder to behold. Then she did it again.
They built up to that with an intriguingly cross-pollinated blend of tastefully jazzy, guitar-driven, blues and Turkish-inflected rock songs. Guitarist Demir Demirkan came across as something of a warmer Andy Summers, casually tossing off artfully precise flourishes in a multitude of styles, sticking with a clean, trebly tone. The anthemic 1000 Faced Man, from the group’s brand-new debut cd packed a funereal, Doorsy wallop, courtesy of some totally Manzarek-esque organ from the keyboardist. On the next number Demirkan matched Erener note for note, his lines thick with vibrato and apprehension, as she went off with more vocalese. The catchy, swaying, syncopated Shut up and Dance brought back the psychedelic vibe with another long, haunting organ solo. On one of the tables in the seating area to the right of the stage, a little girl methodically built an impressive pyramid out of the plastic wine goblets they were using back there, which stood resolute until blown over by a gust of wind. It made a good visual counterpart to the steadfastly wary, purist intensity of Demirkan’s playing.
Legendary Turkish rockers Mazhar Fuat Ozkan turned the vibe back to haunting, at least for awhile. Because of their three-part harmonies, the comparison they always get is CSNY and that’s completely wrong because they’re far darker – their closest western counterpart would probably be early, Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, or perhaps Barclay James Harvest before they turned into the poor man’s Moody Blues, with more than a few echoes of Pink Floyd. Their mostly slow-to-midtempo anthems mixed lush, sometimes elegaic layers of guitar over stately descending progressions that owe more to western classical music than to either rock or traditional Turkish melodies, and these were potently effective. As with many of their contemporaries who date back to the early 70s, their attempts to incorporate slicker, funkier, more commercial sounds were less successful (artistically, at least, though the crowd loved them), taking on a derivative feel that the lead player’s metalish guitar licks only aggravated. As Kerouac said, first thought, best thought – stick to what you do best and you can’t go wrong.
Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Sunday’s song is #395:
Auntie Christ – Bad Trip
This punk trio fronted by X’s Exene Cervenka (who also played guitar) and Matt Freeman from 90s faux punks Rancid released one classic cd, 1997’s Life Could Be a Dream. This is its best track, a typically metaphorical road trip through hell.
Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Saturday’s song is #396:
The Vapors – Letter from Hiro
Best known for the inscrutable new wave hit Turning Japanese (a song you won’t find on this list), the British band actually put out two brilliant albums of fiery, artsy, Clash-style punk rock. This majestic, epic antiwar anthem from 1979’s New Clear Days is told from the point of view of a WWII-era Japanese kid saved from kamikaze duty by freak chance.
Seemingly a low-key warmup gig for the JD Allen Trio’s upcoming weeklong stand at the Vanguard this coming August 11-16, they were practically jumping out of their shoes to be playing together again after a break of almost a month. Tenor saxophonist JD Allen’s compositions and sense of melody are so strong that he doesn’t have to be ostentatious, and he wasn’t. Allen has concretized his style: he’s exactly the same as a bandleader and composer as he is a sideman, always finding the melody, always finding the most elegant, terse way to make his point – and his songs all make one, often very vividly. This group works perfectly as a trio because there isn’t room for anybody else, the rhythm section being as ferocious as it is. Allen’s articulacy as a player matches his writing. He spent the duration of the set tossing off crystalline eighth-note runs and edgily precise, minor-key motifs loaded with implied melody while the rhythm section ran amok. Rudy Royston has to be the most exciting drummer in jazz right now (no disrespect to any of the other good ones, you know who you are, we’ll be reviewing one of you next week). Puppets is a small room, and Royston felt it, leaving the intensity just a notch below pain level. Where Allen speaks in phrases, Royston speaks in chapters – but they’re meaningful chapters, and bassist Gregg August seemed only too glad to jump in and go along for what became a wild ride from the first few rolls across the toms. August is also a first-rate composer with an ear for a memorable narrative, which makes him a particularly good fit for Allen, but this time out it didn’t take long before he went unhinged in tandem with Royston while Allen struck a striking stance in the unlikely role as melodic leader also charged with carrying the rhythm and organizing the songs’ architecture. Backwards, no doubt, but that’s part of what made the show so fascinating to watch.
The trio mixed songs from their two brilliant albums, last year’s I Am I Am and the just-released, equally melodic Shine! On the records, most of them are brief, barely four minutes long, but the group elongated their shadows so they almost disappeared and then spun back in a split second, looming large and ominous. I Am I Am is a theme and variations, and Allen worked its impatient, angry insistence for all it was worth, using the central hook as an anchor to keep the low-register rumble from lurching and destroying everything in its path. Royston didn’t steal the show – he was the show, introducing not one but two unexpected, instant crescendos with press rolls. He worked his snare not with a snap but a boom, at one point during a solo building a defiant nine-note phrase artfully as a horn line. August has a great feel for latin rhythms, which in tandem with Royston’s reckless yet judicious rides across the cymbal heads added luminosity to some of the growlier I Am I Am passages. At the end, they swung, August running scales madly while Royston careened through the underbrush, Allen to the side, surgically incisive – and then bringing his cohorts back up and onto the road with similar precision. If jazz is your thing, you’re out of your mind if you’re in town and you don’t catch these guys while they’re at the Vanguard this August.