Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Empty Space Orchestra Rock The Amps, Not the Mic

From Bend, Oregon comes Empty Space Orchestra: part spacy post-rock, part shapeshifting, Mars Volta inspired math-rock, with a frequently dramatic, cinematic edge and an unexpected sense of humor. Fun may not be something you equate with the Mars Volta, but it’s definitely part of the blueprint for Empty Space Orchestra. The songs on their new, self-titled, all-instrumental album often have a mocking, satirical bite that’s completely out of character in this genre. How cool is it to finally find a proggy-sounding band that doesn’t take itself seriously?

The ornateness of the arrangements attests to the band’s classical background. Guitarist Shane Thomas and bassist Patrick Pearsall are riffmeisters, often working in tandem. Keyboardist Keith O’Dell brings the drama with stately classical flourishes; multi-instrumentalist Graham Jacobs (reeds and keys) seems to be in charge of atmospherics. Drummer Lindsey Elias propels the behemoth with a power and precision worthy of Bill Bruford. The most comedic song here is Get Some, a stomping faux-Vegas stripper theme that opens with a cheesy faux-brass keyboard patch and then brings in creepy yet funky funeral organ. Eventually, the guitar takes over, with a metal edge, sax alternating between robotic and robust. The rest of it is a characteristic mix of wit and wrath: a silly synth solo followed by a tersely dramatic, emphatic guitar solo that eventually smolders and bursts into flame as the whole band heats up.

The single best song here might be Tiger Puss, a slowly stomping, hypnotic tableau that hints at dub, with some truly bizarre, slurpy noises in the background. Up with ringing reverb guitar, it goes warpspeed a la the Bad Brains for a bit and then hits a pounding metal interlude. From there it slowly grinds to a halt, switching from sarcasm to genuine plaintiveness as it winds out. El Viento builds slowly to a psychedelic southwestern gothic melody and without warning morphs into a bright, wide-eyed adventure theme (in 10/4 time for those of you who like to count), that finally starts coming apart at the seams as the guitar hisses and sputters. And Intergalactic Battle Cruiser offers an update on the Ventures for the 21st century, with twin riffage from bass and guitar and a vividly intense, tremolo-picked guitar solo while the drums manage to simultaneously blend pure insanity and perfect precision.

There are a couple of short ones here that are also a lot of fun. Tennessee Red offes less than two minutes of searing, chromatic metal, with a potently simple slide guitar solo; The Hangar is an Allen Lanier-style piano interlude that grows epic for a second before gracefully returning home. The rest of the album mixes the comical with the cerebral. Exit Strategy sounds like Rush as done by Queen, with a chorus by Loverboy. The opening track, Brainjar, moves artfully from 80s style adventure movie calisthenics to an ominous Peter Hook bass figure and then back again; the closing track does the same but with a Beatlesque interlude. There’s a lot going on here and it’s a lot of fun.

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May 13, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Not Waving but Drowning’s New Album Is a Trip

Tuneful and trippy to the extreme, Brooklyn band Not Waving but Drowning’s new theatrical rock album Processional is in some ways a more adventurous take on the Dresden Dolls. It makes a good companion piece with Aunt Ange’s recent psychedelic masterpiece. Where that one’s downright menacing, this one’s more lightheartedly surreal, although not without its disquieting moments. Where Aunt Ange goes out on the gypsy rock tip, Not Waving but Drowning reach back to the sly surrealistic humor of 60s psychedelia. Like that era’s great psychedelic bands, they draw on a kitchen sink’s worth of influences: folk music from literally around the globe, vaudeville, cabaret and garage rock. What’s it all about, other than the shambling procession through an endless succession of surreal images that the title foreshadows? After hearing it several times, it’s hard to tell, although it gets more interesting every time around. To say that there’s a lot going on here is an understatement.

The opening track, Sleep Before I Wake, is basically a mashup of the bluegrass standards Seven Bridges Road and Shady Grove, done Appalachian gothic style with psychedelic, reverb-toned lead guitar and guy/girl vocals, like a more surreal version of the Walkabouts circa 1990. The next track, November 3rd weaves a magical web of bass, banjo, guitar and violin and a lyric about a honeybee. If he’s made it to November 3, either he’s a very lucky guy, or a not so lucky one. Which isn’t clear. Is he running for office? A question worth asking. Tabor Island is a gleefully brisk shuffle over an Indian-flavored drone: “We shall all be made free again on Tabor Island.” A Jules Verne reference? Maybe.

Like a track from Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, Thanks a Lot Lancelot is a funny, sarcastic garage-pop song. “Sometimes love won’t do and you knew that from the start,” the singer reminds the poor knight. They follow that with a banjo tune, Windowsill, giving it a gentle evening ambience with trumpet and flute, and then pick up the pace with the scurrying, carnivalesque Station Light. A twisted casino scene of sorts, it’s the most theatrical number here. By the end, they’re not taking any bets – figure that one out.

The funniest song here is Sing to Me, a bumbling attempt at seduction that gets squashed fast, with a pretty hilarious quote from an awful 60s pop hit and an equally amusing outro. The Mission, with its 5/4 rhythm, offcenter violin and piano, is just plain inscrutable; they follow that with the album’s best song, Tiger Hunting, a creepy, slinky chromatic tune with an apocalyptic edge that hints at an old Talking Heads theme. Long Short Walk sounds like a cut from Nico’s Chelsea Girl album, but with better vocals and more interesting rhythm;Willow Garden evokes Country Joe & the Fish at their most reflective and acoustic. The album winds up with the title track, a twisted, swaying waltz that builds to a crescendo of delirious harmonies – it seems to be sort of an acoustic version of what Pink Floyd was going for with Waiting for the Worms. A pleasantly uneasy note on which to end this very entertaining journey. Not Waving but Drowning are at le Poisson Rouge on May 24.

May 13, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment