Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: The Scratches – Screaming Softly

This is an album with more than a few “did you just hear that” moments. “I take the shape of my container,” the Scratches‘ pink-haired frontwoman/cellist Ariana sings nonchalantly (that’s the song title – it’s a water metaphor). “Some things taste better standing up” – that’s another song title, maybe not a song that screamed out to be written, but it’s a good thing this band did it instead of someone else. Their second cd Screaming Softly makes a good rainy day album for people too hungover to go out to the deli, or for winding down if you aren’t yet planning on falling asleep. The Scratches weld classical influences to skewed, sometimes brooding piano-based pop songs – imagine a quirky version of early ELO with a better sense of humor. Piano, violin and cello serve as the main instruments along with occasional percussion, acoustic guitar and mandolin. Ariana has the dramatic, full-voiced delivery of someone with a lot of classical training but she comes across as too imaginative and restless to be satisfied with just one style of music.

Many of the songs are strung together with little miniature instrumentals, the kind of interludes that art-rock bands in the 70s would use to facilitate segues between larger pieces (or just never finished by the time they went into the studio). The best of these is All the Machines Are Screaming, which sets bracing, staccato cello over ambient violin with mandolin and piano. This Begins With Mumbling And Piano explains precisely how the cd starts off, like a live recording with the crowd waiting for the band to take the stage. It’s an eerie, percussive little number that pounds along with piano and strings. “Can you live all your dreams without me?” Ariana asks nonchalantly. I Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get There Now is a catchy, artsy, breathless minor-key piano pop song in somewhat of a Greta Gertler vein. The group sings as a choir, somewhat sheepishly on the piquantly titled In the Afternoon I Smell The Pigments Changing.

The most memorable track here is Pack Up Your Box of Crayons, a noir cabaret number with roughhewn strings and a neat little acoustic guitar solo. “We don’t like to worry,” Ariana advises, although it’s hard to tell if she’s being sarcastic. The cd ends with a practically ten-minute, hypnotically effective exercise in minimalism, Gamble and You’ll Get Bombed. Not everything here is as it seems – there’s a lot going on below the surface and to the Scratches’ credit they do it simply and tersely. And have a lot of fun in the process.

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September 4, 2009 - Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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