Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: The Smiles and Frowns

Wow- these Arizona guys really know their 1960s British style psychedelia. The Smiles and Frowns set gentle, understated vocals over vintage guitar and keyboard sounds – as with the early bands of that era, this new album is basically tripped-out pop songs clocking in at three minutes or less. American hippie bands were more jam-oriented; the Brits added a surreal, often theatrical lyrical feel. The songs here are period-perfect: many of them would be perfectly at home on albums by the Pretty Things, the early Move, the Kinks, the Kaleidoscope, the Idle Race…the list goes on and on, getting more obscure and trippier the further out you go. Like so many artifacts of the time, this could be construed as the soundtrack to a short but intense trip…or maybe a long one. Time distorts under the influence of that stuff, as this album reminds.

Things get surreal right off the bat with the first two numbers. Sam, its vocals perfectly enunciated and tongue-in-cheek in the style of the day, is about a bird (symbolism anybody?). He drinks cappucino and “ripped off everyone…everyone was so psyched that he was so sincere.” Cornelius, for his part, is a pied piper character – is that a mellotron in the background? The Memory Man, train approaching as the song begins, is LSD personified. This one introduces a slightly more ominous feel to its steady, harmonica-laced piano pop.

The next cut, Huevos Rancheros sounds like the Kinks enjoying a harry rag with the Beatles in the Abbey Road parking lot during the Sgt. Pepper sessions. The instrumental March of the Phantom Faces is woozy and darkly carnivalesque with autoharp, Vox organ and a crazyquilt of methodically layered reverb keyb textures. By the time the big Beatlesque mellotron ballad When the Time Should Come kicks in, so has the acid. It’s a deadpan, defiant ode to idleness even as the time flashes by. The high point of the album – no pun intended – is the long outsider anthem Mechanical Songs, opening with a swirling Jeff Lynne style keyboard intro. It winds up with The Echoes of Time echoing the Moody Blues, its wistful lyric set to a blithe jugband tune with bells and eventually that mellotron again. Alice – how did we get here and how do we get back? Where the hell are you?

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February 18, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Canteca de Macao at Highline Ballroom, NYC 2/17/10

An eclectic choice for this year’s New York Flamenco Festival, popular Spanish rockers Canteca de Macao played a deceptively sophisticated, dizzyingly multistylistic show that was impossible to resist. America doesn’t have anything like these guys: their closest relative, and obvious precursor is the theatrical Mexican band El Tri. Ana, their frontwoman shifted effortlessly between a powerful, dramatic, slightly smoky contralto and a more lighthearted delivery that she used when the intensity level dipped a little. With a rhythm section that included two percussionists (on timbales, congas or cajon) it was obvious from the git-go that Canteca de Macao are first and foremost a party band – within a minute from the time they took the stage, the front rows were bouncing. Most of the upbeat numbers had a gypsy rock feel, spiced with a lot of playful tug-of-war between flute and lead guitar. Chiki, their acoustic guitarist – who also took lead vocals on several cuts – got to take all of one solo all night long, on one of the more overtly flamencoish numbers, and it turned out to be the best one of the evening.

It was a carnival ride of shifting tempos, slowing down into reggae or speeding up into ska, as they did on a number that lept from merengue into a brisk one-drop rhythm, sung by Juancho, their conguero. He may be a small guy, but as it turns out he’s also a babe magnet – and he knows it, as he told the crowd. Another gypsy rock tune bounced along on a bachata basssline that took a crescendoing swoop to the upper registers on the turnaround out of the verse. They worked brief rap interludes into a few songs, including a rapidfire kazoo-fueled anthem for fashion misfits everywhere. As good and diverse as their musicianship is, they don’t take themselves particularly seriously in the lyric department: “It doesn’t matter,” Ana and the rest of the band hollered defiantly on one of the best-received dance numbers. The first of the encores featured a smartly terse, flamenco-flavored bass solo; as they wound up the show, they broke songs down into halftime, sped them up again and threw out a handful of false endings until that device had been used to death. The crowd – a pleasantly surprising mix of nationalities and demographics, kids and others old enough to be their parents – didn’t want to let them go. It was something like a Gogol Bordello show in Spanish – a lot of the same tonalities, a brighter, more carefree vibe but the same kind of energy.

And while we’re at it, let’s big up the sound guys: the Highline is a great-sounding room to begin with, but you had a tough mix to deal with, all those mics onstage, and you delivered.

February 18, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 2/18/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Thursday’s song is #161:

String Driven Thing – Suicide

Just so you know, we deleted Decades by Joy Division to make room for this somewhat more direct, fiery blues-rock song by the cult band responsible for the 1972 The Machine That Cried album. This one’s from the band’s 1992 Live in Manchester reunion tour cd, a bitter rocker’s graveside tableau:

The T in contract

The I in impasse

The M in muzak

The E in Ex-lax

The S in suicide

The long, Dave Swarbrick style violin solo winds this up ferociously.

February 18, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment