Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Larch Finally Make a Classic Album

For over ten years, long before 80s music was all the rage again, Brooklyn rockers the Larch have been making solidly good, cleverly lyrical albums that draw deeply on British new wave. Their latest one, Larix Americana is a bonafide classic, one of the best albums of 2010. It’s sort of the missing link between Squeeze and the Auteurs: edgy, politically charged, fearlessly and sometimes caustically cynical yet warmly catchy. Frontman/guitarist Ian Roure has never sung better, projecting with more than a hint of a grin or even a leer; surprisingly, he keeps his fret-burning to a minimum, maybe a half a verse or a chorus of a sizzling, Richard Lloyd-inspired wah-wah solo at a time. He’s the rare lead player who leaves you wanting more. Keyboardist Liza Garelik Roure (frontwoman of the equally excellent, somewhat more psychedelic Liza & the WonderWheels) adds clever synthesizer and organ along with her trademark sultry vocals.

The wickedly catchy opening cut, Sub-Orbital Getaway is paisley underground disguised as new wave, the guitar hook on the intro referencing PiL’s Poptones. It’s an escape anthem, albeit one with “privatization engines to take us up.” The question here is whether “suborbital” means earthbound, or refers to an area of the skull: expressway from your mind? With Love from Region One (a DVD reference) is a bittersweet tribute to all good things American from Roure’s perspective as a first-generation expatriate Brit: “We’ve taken root where you live, delicious and inedible,” he winks. And is that vamp a reference to Eddie Money’s Two Tickets to Paradise?

Tracking Tina might be the best song of the year. Roure has always been a spot-on social critic, and this is his best yet, a caustic look at cluelessly hypervigilant yuppie parents who “only want what’s best for our baby:” they won’t let her out of their sight whether they’re there or not. Likewise, the offhandedly gorgeous travel narrative Strawberry Coast has an ominous undercurrent. Behind the chalet, the holiday’s complete: “Smile ’cause you’re on cctv as you’re walking home.” Roure brings it all the way up with yet another one of his trademark wah solos. In the Name Of…, a slam at religious zealots, has bassist Ross Bonadonna enhancing its Moods for Moderns vibe with his perfectly crescendoing Bruce Thomas impression. Inside Hugh mines more familiar territory for this band, in this case a dayjob from hell. Queues Likely is equally caustic, imagining no respite from a wait “from bumper to brakelight.” And Space Vacation is a clever, tongue-in-cheek update on the faux reggae of the Boomtown Rats’ House on Fire. The album ends with The Long Tail, an aptly sardonic sendup of corporate groupthink. As good as this is, the band’s sizeable back catalog is also worth getting to know, particularly their previous one Gravity Rocks. Watch this space for upcoming NYC dates.

Advertisements

July 2, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The New Collisions at Arlene’s, 7/1/10

The New Collisions are Boston’s best band; from the small crowd lingering at Arlene’s, you wouldn’t know it. Although what’s obvious from the first few notes is how tight they are. In a classy black dress, midriff jacket and heels, platinum blonde frontwoman Sarah Guild is wiry, intense and inscrutable. She hardly talks to the crowd – mystery seems to be her thing, and she works it. The rest of the band is anything but. Bass player Alex Stern does most of the talking – he’s in a good mood. He ought to be. This is a dream gig for a bass player. Most of their songs motor along with fast eight-note basslines which he plays with a pick and a trebly, Bruce Foxton-esque tone, so he’s always way up in the mix and gets to take a few bubbly, ska-inflected solos as well (no surprise – his other gig is with the Void Union). A year ago this band was mining a totally 80s vibe; the new songs in the set tonight evade referencing any particular time period. They’re just catchy, with a powerpop feel that’s considerably warmer, somewhat gentler than the edgy intensity of their 2009 debut ep. The keys have shifted from minor to major – one of the new songs could have been a hit for the Motels in 1983, with its skeletal verse building to a big, crescendoing chorus.

Guitarist Scott Guild pogos around the stage – he can’t stand still. But playing this kind of music, that would be hard. Firing off his chords with a casual dexterity, by the fourth song he’s lost his glasses, something that seems to happen at every show. There’s an optician in Cambridge or Somerville who owes his livelihood to this guy. Casey Gruttadauria works his keyboards methodically, adding soulful organ swells on the newer songs in place of the blippy, oscillating 80s patches that he’s so adept at. Drummer Zak Kahn hints at a fullscale stomp but doesn’t go there – he feels the room, feels the music for what it is, knowing that if he went over the top some of it would be camp.

Sarah Guild holds something in reserve tonight – she isn’t belting at full volume, at least early on. “This one you know,” she tells the crowd, with just the hint of a smile. It’s a vaguely familiar melody – Missing Persons, maybe? – oh wait, this is Give Me Back My Man by the B-52’s! And they’re doing it completely straight, completely deadpan. And Sarah actually sells the lyric. “I’ll give you fish, I’ll give you candy.” She makes it seem normal to wonder what it would be like if she flipped you a sardine and a box of Mike and Ikes.

The band is on a roll. They segue from one song into another: the tersely scurrying outsider anthem In a Shadow, followed by a couple of new ones, one of them with a This Year’s Model-era Elvis Costello feel. The forthcoming album is titled Optimism, which makes sense. Another new one has bass and guitar locking in sync like a smarter version of the Buzzcocks’ I Believe – and then they do a hailstorm of a twin solo after the chorus. And follow that with an uncharacteristically slow ballad.

Sarah finally takes off her coat. She’s been wailing pretty much full-throttle for over a half an hour now, dealing with one bad mic after another and she looks drained, emotionally depleted. But she rallies, ending the next song cold with a caustic “Shut up!” And then Scott launches into a staccato, Friday on My Mind-style intro and the band joins him on their best song, The Beautiful and Numb. Outside the club, the streets are littered with overdressed tourists talking loudly about nothing to no one – or maybe to their phones. They spill out of bars, still yelling even when they’ve stepped beyond the roar of the crowd. Inside Arlene’s, the New Collisions have an anthem for the night, and it’s about the apocalypse. “We’re in denial, but we’ve got style…we’re in denial, and I’m overcome,” Sarah rails, her voice suddenly lower, taking on a darker nuance. “Isn’t it ironic, this is how the world ends…we are the Beautiful and Numb.” The band fakes an ending, picks it up and then takes it out with a booming crash, everything falling apart, Scott losing his footing, going down with his guitar in the middle of the stage while the world collapses around him. Tonight the New Collisions seized the moment and had the perfect song for it. The kind that rattles around your brain all the way to the train, throughout the train ride and then finally up the steps out of the subway into the temporary beauty of the cool night air.

July 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Vieux Farka Toure – Live

A characteristically intense, often exhilarating album by one of the great guitarists of our time. Vieux Farka Toure’s dad Ali Farka Toure was one of the inventors of duskcore, the patiently meandering, hypnotic desert blues. Unlike his dad, Vieux Farka Toure is not exactly a patient player, but in the family tradition he’s also invented his own style of music. Whether it’s blues, or an electrified and electrifying version of Malian folk music is beside the point. He may be playing in a completely different idiom, but Vieux Farka Toure’s approach is essentially the same as Charlie Parker’s, creating mini-symphonies out of seemingly endless, wild volleys of notes within a very simple chord structure. Bird played the blues; sometimes Toure does. Other times he just jams on a single chord. Whatever the case, Toure is the rare fret-burner who still manages to make his notes count for something: this album isn’t just mindless Buckethead or Steve Vai-style shredding. The obvious comparison (and one which invites a lot of chicken-or-the-egg questions, which may be academic) is to hypnotic Mississippi hill country bluesmen like Junior Kimbrough and Will Scott.

Toure’s attack is fluid and precise, utilizing lightning-fast hammer-ons whether he’s sticking to the blues scale, or working subtle shifts in timbre and rhythm during the songs’ quieter passages. He plays with a cool, watery, chorus-box tone very reminiscent of Albert Collins. Here he’s backed by an acoustic rhythm guitarist who holds it down with smooth yet prickly repetitive riffs, along with percussion, sometimes bass and a guest guitarist or two (Australian slide player Jeff Lang converses and eventually duels with him memorably on one track). The album collects several of the hottest moments of a 2009 European and Australian tour.

The midtempo opening number is a teaser, only hinting at the kind of speed Toure is capable of. As with several of the other numbers here, call-and-response is involved, this time with band members (later on he tries to get the audience to talk back to him in his own vernacular, with particularly mystified results). The slow jam that serves as the second track here is a study in dynamics and tension-building up to the ecstatic wail of the next cut.

A couple of songs here work a boisterous, reggae-tinged groove; another echoes the thoughtful, Castles Made of Sand side of Hendrix. When Toure’s taken the energy as high as anyone possibly could, sometimes he’ll stop cold and end the song there rather than doing something anticlimactic. He winds up the album with a big blazing boogie with a trick ending and then a stomp featuring a couple of characteristically paint-peeling solos along with a breakdown where the band takes it low and suspenseful until Toure is ready to wail again. If lead guitar is your thing, this is somebody you need to know – and somebody you really ought to see live. Like most of the great lead guitarists, Toure pretty much lives on the road – his next NYC gig is at Metrotech Park in Brooklyn at noon on July 29.

July 2, 2010 Posted by | blues music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment