Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Dastardly Represents the Silent Minority

Dastardly play vaudevillian, theatrical, often darkly cynical indie rock disguised as Americana. Their latest album May You Never presents them as sort of a Chicago counterpart to Balthrop, Alabama. Like that band, they like big crescendos that jump out of nowhere, lush harmonies and a sometimes stagy sensibility. But their sound is unique. Lately there’s been an explosion of bands doing lame imitations of New Order (or even worse, Arcade Fire) with acoustic instruments, but Dastardly isn’t one of them.

The instant classic here is Middleground, a bouncy, scurrying country song that makes a great anthem for every self-doubting cool kid. The singer can’t deal with his lame local scene where he takes the stage while “these guys in tight jeans to the right are making weird noises incoherently, the crowd loves them – they don’t love me.” And the big guy in town who gets written up by all the papers and the blogs “just put out a song that’s about how much I suck..I’m not pretty enough for the mainstream/I’m not weird enough for the underground/Why isn’t my face on your video screen/I’m caught in the cracks and I can’t get out.”

They also have a surreal side. The opening cut, with its ominously sweet guy/girl harmonies, has the guy pondering whether or not he should save her from the oncoming train. Traffic explores the twisted world of someone who claims to have been born in traffic and therefore has an attraction to “slow-moving obstacles, empty bottles and prophylactics.” The band’s darker side comes through vividly on Creepy, an evilly nonchalant waltz that makes another solid outsider anthem: “I’m in the shadows so no one sees me, but I see them, they don’t even know that I’m even alive, that I kill to survive.” Like many of the other tracks here, this one gets a big bridge with noisy, distant reverb guitar and a big choir of voices. There’s also the slow Morning Blue, the most traditional number here – although the trick ending completely switches that up – and Exercises in Self Loathing, a pop song set to a brisk country beat. With their unpredictable arrangements and sense of humor, Dastardly sound like they’d be a lot of fun live. They’ll be at South by Southwest at March 19 at the Jackalope in Austin.

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March 9, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Afrobeat Orchestra Chopteeth Makes an Amazing Live Album

More bands should make live albums. They sound better than protools bedroom recordings, it’s infinitely cheaper to make one onstage than in the studio, and for the kinds of bands whose energy level jumps when they hit the stage, it’s ideal. That’s what Washington DC-based 14-piece Afrofunk orchestra Chopteeth did, and they couldn’t have made a better choice. They’re huge in their hometown, having won a Wammie (Washington Music Award) for the last two years; this should suss the rest of the world to the head-bopping power of their dancefloor grooves. What makes their sound unique is that they spice their hypnotic Afrobeat vamps with  latin sounds along with the occasional detour into soca or hip-hop.

The opening track, JJD (meaning Johnny Just Dropped – worn out from dancing maybe?) is typical. Basically, it’s a bracing, minor-key two-chord jam that builds up with catchy baritone sax, some wild trombone and then a mind-warping acid-rock guitar solo, drenched in reverb, kicking in the dance vibe with the wah-wah until the vocals finally come in about five minutes in. They keep the bounce going with another long vamp, Festival, with breaks for intense alto sax, thoughtful trumpet and a hypnotically echoing, blippy guitar solo. Didjeridoo does not include that particular instrument: it’s a slinky, swaying Afrobeat take on early 70s stoner funk with an absolutely delicious, psychedelic distorted reverb organ solo followed by sultry bari sax.

With its snaky guaguanco beat and salsa-jazz vibe, Jiin Ma Jiin Ma goes straight to the roots of Afro-Cuban music. There’s also what’s essentially a warm, upbeat reggae tune set to an Afrobeat rhythm; a long funk vamp that reminds of the Doors’ Peace Frog, of all things (it’s great!); a tasty Puerto Rican plena dance; a fiery Fela cover with crazed blustery trumpet matched to growling sax; and the closing number, Traitors of Africa, which hits a peak with a wildly distorted electric piano solo that some bands might have edited out, but these guys kept because the energy is so high. If you can’t dance to this then you need to check your pulse. Chopteeth are on tour later this year, hopefully coming to a town near you.

March 9, 2011 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 3/9/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #692:

Patricia Vonne – Guitars and Castanets

Patricia Vonne is yet another great American songwriter who’s huge in Europe and lesser known here in the US (other than in her native state of Texas). With her signature full-throated wail, the Mexican-American rock siren has stood up for American Indian rights, immigrant rights and Amnesty International campaigns for the women who’ve disappeared in Juarez, Mexico. This 2005 album, her third full-length release, is characteristically diverse, with songs in both English and Spanish, a richly arranged, guitar-driven mix of rock anthems, ranchera ballads and Tex-Mex shuffles. Everything she’s ever released is excellent; we picked this one since it has her best song, the unselfconsciously wrenching, intense escape narrative Blood on the Tracks (a hubristic title, but Vonne has the muscle to back it up). Joe’s Gone Ridin’ is a tribute to Joe Ely; the clanging backbeat anthem Texas Burning was a big CMT video hit. The festive title track and Fiesta Sangria, along with the mournfully gripping norteno ballad Traeme Paz show off her grasp of traditional Mexican sounds; the anthemic Long Season sounds a lot like the BoDeans with a girl singer. There are also two stunningly catchy, deliciously layered guitar rockers, Lonesome Rider and Rebel Bride that sound like the Church transplanted to Austin. This one doesn’t seem to have made it to the sharelockers yet, but it’s still available at Vonne’s site.

March 9, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Quality Overcomes Schlock at This Year’s NYC Fountain Art Fair

The good stuff at this year’s Fountain Art Fair made the trip all the way over to the Chelsea Piers worthwhile many times over. Outdoors, the contrast between the captivating and the boring was much the same as it was inside. Past the gangway to the Frying Pan lightship, mimes stood motionless and a couple of women knitted a sinister seine while a masked trio writhed on the ground and banged on a toy piano. Beyond the performers, a raft to the fore of the ship carried a Pompeii-esque series of uncredited lifesize, silver-painted, featureless sculptures: quadrupeds – dogs? bears? – and a sad, defeated creature – an alien? knight in armor? mummy? – its head lowered dejectedly, half its helmet carved out and concave, leaving a black hole.

Inside, a straw poll of many of the artists on display delivered the unanimous verdict that Greg Haberny was the star of this one, hands down. He’s hilarious, fearlessly profane, insightful and historically aware. A trio of mixed-media pieces matched scrawled bathroom graffiti-style captions to iconic imagery. In Haberny’s eyes, via a twisted take on FBI most-wanted posters, Santa breaks into your house and leaves all kind of shit nobody wants; the Easter Bunny delivers pot; and Jesus turns water into Colt .45 malt liquor, among other feats. Jesus appears again in a can of Rust-Oleum and an Ex-Lax box. From a New Yorker’s perspective, the funniest of them all might have been a parody of the Warhol soup can that sits in a box on the wall of the Gershwin Hotel with a letter of authenticity: Haberny’s version was stolen from Christie’s and is available for a song. When he’s not mocking religious nuts or the cluelessness of the art world, Haberny’s paintings, billboards and mixed media raise a defiant middle finger to the fearmongering that the ruling classes have been dishing out via the corporate media since long before 9/11 (Vietnam references, for example, recur again and again). There was also a letter from a Cash4gold spokesman to Haberny, seemingly oblivious to the stunt factor in Haberny sending them a box of gold-painted rocks along with a request for the late Ed McMahon (their pitchman at the end of his life) to host his birthday party. Even the obvious stuff resonated: the BP logo with a sawed-off shotgun; the Supreme Court as the Seven Dwarves, and a 1968 prisoner of war depicted not as an American soldier, but a hippie wearing a gas mask. Haberny’s composition is meticulous. The heavily weathered “found look”of his larger works is actually achieved via an intricate process of layering, sanding and controlled damage. Haberny had a whole corner of the ship to himself and he deserved it: best to investigate this subversive guy yourself.

Downstairs the fun continued. Sergio Coyote is totally punk, just as fearless and funny. Some of his items on display included a trio of blurry, enlarged face shots of Elvis at his last-ever gig, puffy, wasted and sweating hard, along with an oil painting setting a little latin guy in silhouette, face to an enormous wave. Coyote also has fun with album covers: a series of bloodspattered Christian albums, a Kraftwerk record with Hitler moustaches and a concert album by Korean orphans in Austin, Texas that was so surreal that it really didn’t need alteration. And Rob Servo – a musician who also leads expansive, sprawling jam band Homespun Vector – brought along an irresistibly witty series of surrealist oils, including a brownstone building turned into a wobbly spider and a cleverly layered thought piece inspired by a trip to Pompeii.

Back upstairs, there was plenty of amateurish Bushwick garbage – pseudo-porn, day-glo and kitsch galore. But there was plenty of food for thought as well. Mark Demos (not to be confused with the New Jersey landscape watercolorist Mark DeMos) was represented by several meticulously layered tableaux a la early Arthur Robins, textured acrylic on glass creating a nocturnal volcanic effect, some of it extremely gripping. Jonathan Levitt’s color photo studies in decomposition – a dog carcass, a pig that might or might not have been dead, a freshly bloody deerskin – were stomach-turning but impossible to turn away from. There were a handful of Ray Sell antique-magazine collages playfully mocking kitschy retro iconography, the best of these a stuffed bear coming off the wall to swat at a group of oblivious hunters gathered around a country club table. Andrew Rigby had several playful yet wary studies in geometrics and olive drab; “pop surrealist” Mab Graves’ stylized Addams Family-meets-Emily the Strange style portraits stood out as well.

Someone who calls him/herself Radical! displayed a series of stylized 60s psychedelic illustrations: everything with a head that’s someone or something else’s; dogs armed with syringes chasing a cat, and chicken-headed girls in bikinis (yup – had to smile at that one). On the way out, a wall held a menagerie of Dickchicken cartoon characters with penises coming out of their heads, or where their noses should be. If you used to draw that kind of thing in middle school, be advised that there’s a market for it – or at least a desire to show it. And why not – in its own predictably twisted way, it fit in.

March 9, 2011 Posted by | Art, New York City, photography, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment