Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Pistolera’s New Album: Catchy Yet Deep

Simple and catchy yet often profoundly poetic, New York janglerock-en-Español band Pistolera’s new album El Desierto y La Ciudad is divided up into an A-side and B-side. Without being polemical, frontwoman/guitarist Sandra Lilia Velasquez contemplates the situation facing immigrants in America, first literally tracing their steps in the desert, then their struggles (and their joy) in New York. Her viewpoint may be Mexican-American, but her songs are universal. The terse, edgy band alongside her includes Maria Elena on accordion and piano, Inca B. Satz on bass and Sebastian Guerrero on drums, with Cordero’s Ani Cordero taking over behind the kit on the hardest-rocking songs.

An often unspoken irony abounds here. It’s front and center on the album’s most confrontational number, the catchy reggaeton-influenced singalong Escucha (Listen). Who’s illegal, Velasquez wants to know. You, me and everybody else, it seems. “Who takes care of your kids? Who cooks your food?…The hypocrisy is killing me,” she sings, in Spanish. The fieriest song here, Todo Se Cae (Everything Falls Down) alludes to the 2008 economic collapse and the current depression; it’s a cautionary tale to seize the moment, hold onto what you have as the foundations are shaking. The bustling subway anthem Laberinto (Labyrinth) projects an unspoken unease – “welcome to the underground life” – but also celebrates a city where there are parks and beaches everywhere, and a train to take you there. And the swaying, reggae-tinged Ponle Frenos (Put on the Brakes) ponders when a hardworking woman, or man, can get some time alone – with an incessant “beep beep beep” chorus.

The “desert side” of the album sets up all this drama artfully: the pensive, syncopated ranchera-rock of Polvo, apprehensively evoking the vastness of the desert and all that it represents; the imaginatively dub-flavored title track, and the mournful diptych that winds up memorably with David Bailis’ potently elegaic, ringing lead guitar, the immigrant knowing that it’s time to leave, that everything good comes to an end. The albums ends with Floating, a pretty, ethereal acoustic anthem and the only English-language track here. With a hallucinatory, dusky vibe, it echoes the Julee Cruise song : “I could walk a hundred miles and still not get there,” Velasquez muses. Not only is this a great listen, this album ought to be mandatory in Spanish classes in American schools. Velasquez’s crystalline, subtly nuanced vocals are easy to understand, the tunes are fun to sing along to – and her lyrics pack a wallop. No doubt you’ll be seeing this on a lot of “best albums of the year” lists by the end of 2011. Pistolera plays the cd release show for this one on July 29 at around 9 at Drom, with excellent country/Brazilian band Nation Beat opening the night at 8. Tickets are ridiculously cheap at $10.

July 17, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

See-I’s New Album Puts a Trippy Spin on Roots Reggae

See-I is the roots reggae project of two musicians, Arthur and Archie Steele (who go by Rootz and Zeebo, respectively), masterminds of a Washington, DC reggae scene. On their debut album, they’re joined by a diverse cast of musicians from Chuck Brown’s band along with others who’ve toured with them backing Thievery Corporation. Their debut release is a clever, entertaining party mix, a smooth digital production that blends an early 90s Jamaican feel (boomy bass and synthesized brass) with neoretro psychedelic elements: wah-wah, vintage organ patches and every noodly keyboard texture available. Which comes as no surprise, considering that Rob Myers of hilariously entertaining psychedelic chillout instrumentalists Thunderball is involved with the production.

The slinky, midtempo opening cut Dangerous sets the stage for what’s to come, with plenty of dub tinges. They follow that with Haterz 24/7, vintage Buju Banton-style dancehall patois over a fluid roots groove. Dub Revolution is driven by a catchy minor-key bass hook as squiggly synth and creepy, upper register electric piano textures filter in and out of the mix. They segue out of it into Soul Hit Man, transforming the groove into a jaunty bounce with a retro 70s soul vibe. Talking About the Peace shifts back to an oldschool 90s dancehall flavor, while Homegrown 2011 is funk/reggae with some unexpected bluesmetal guitar. Blow Up is the most hypnotic, dubwise track here, with some creepily bizarre electric sitar.

The most upbeat cut here, How We Do, features a ton of wah textures beneath the deadpan dancehall chatter. It deserves its own dub version – and it segues into one, yeah mon! Soul Universe is a sleepy stoner soul vamp with a George Clinton-esque rap; they close the album with a couple of woozy trip-hop vamps and what seems like an obligatory nod to hip-hop. To fully appreciate this album, something better than an ipod is required, preferably a system that can handle all the bass here. Mi a seh it a good ting!

July 17, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Black Angels Bring Down the Sun At South Street Seaport

The question last night at South Street Seaport was how would the Black Angels respond to playing in broad daylight? Answer: as well as they always do, which means excellently. The way to experience a Black Angels show is to imagine the entire performance as a single song. The band made that easy, barely talking to the crowd, frequently segueing from one otherworldly, reverb-drenched, echoey vamp to the next. As they moved from one to another, they’d let a reverb pedal, or a repeater effect, or an organ chord ring out, blurring the line between transitions even further. Frontman Alex Maas recently went on record (in the weekly newspaper whose going-out-of-business party this show seemed to be) as being in favor of shorter, more easily digestible morsels in lieu of deliciously suspenseful, drony jams, but that didn’t stop them from delivering one long creepily swaying processional after another. Slowly, eerily, even inevitably, they brought down the sun.

Since they take their name from a Velvet Underground song, that band’s influence can definitely be felt, but they’re far from a ripoff. Adding ringing, post-Syd Barrett chords and chromatics and an ocean of overtones that built to riptide proportions and then gracefully slipped away, the majority of the set was the band’s signature blend of Banana Album psychedelic dreampop. There also was a lot of new material in the set, much of it a slower take on the warped, swampy glam/blues of 90s New York bands like the Chrome Cranks and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. What was most fascinating, and enjoyable was how subtly and artfully the band would play against a central, droning chord, trading microtones and the occasional macabre chromatic clang against the glimmering wash of sound. Maas’ reedy, Neil Young-ish voice left centerstage to the guitars, the band’s vocal harmonies adding yet another nonchalant layer of apprehension high in the sonic prism. Drummer Stephanie Bailey kept the procession going with a deceptively simple, subtly rolling groove, sometimes backing off even further and using brushes. Occasionally the sound engineer would give her snare a wicked “snap,” a potently effective move that pulled the dreamy ambience back from morass to reality.

Throughout the show, they employed a small museum’s worth of guitars: Fenders, a Rickenbacker, a twelve-string and also a couple of keyboards, band members shifting between them. Likewise, basslines became a community effort. About three-quarters of the way through the set, the band hit a dead spot. As some of the crowd thinned out, the ganja smoke thickened, and the band rewarded everyone who stayed with a two-song encore that mined the deepest pitchblende in their catalog. If their new album Phosphene Dream is anything like this, it must be amazing.

July 17, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brother Joscephus’ Live Album Reaches for the Rafters

Whatever you think of Brother Joscephus and his band the Love Revival Revolution Orchestra, you can’t argue with their work ethic: they always give 200% live. Their latest album, recorded live at the Brooklyn Bowl last year with a total of 21 players, is both an accurate representation of their ecstatic live show, and a tremendously good idea. It’s something more bands should do: live albums make great merchandise. These guys probably sell a ton of them at shows, not only because a lot of the crowd is drunk: this massive New Orleans-style soul/funk band is great fun. They’re strictly oldschool – a phat beat for these guys means a hit on the kick drum, not something that comes out of a laptop. The horn section rises and falls, the organ swells, the bass is fat and funky and Brother Joscephus’ gravelly voice and sly stage presence is hard to resist. What’s most obvious here is that their show is designed first and foremost to be a dance party – these songs are long, several of them going on for almost ten minutes at a clip.

After a long, James Brown-style intro, they launch into a lickety-split, shuffling version of the gospel standard A Child Shall Lead. The band’s signature song Revolution of Love gets a swaying 1970s style southern soul treatment, with a hint of Steely Dan, a big choir of backing vocals and a nimbly scrambling, jazzy guitar solo. They get funky on Making Love to Your Woman, lit up by the Right Reverend Dean Dawg’s swirling soul organ solo and a big crescendo with Morgan “Holy Cassanova” Price’s baritone sax. Whiskeydick Blues is a surprisingly PG-rated, coy look at a common late-night illness; this particular case has an unexpectedly happy ending. And their version of When the Saints Go Marching In is surprisingly fresh: they give it a brief, shuffling vintage soul intro before kicking it off with a soaring second-line vibe.

The best song on the album is Shine On, an original that clocks in at practically ten minutes. It’s got the best guitar solo released on any album this year. What makes it so good is that while it’s a long one, guitarist Joey “G-Note” Hundertmark doesn’t actually play a lot of notes – the way he builds tension, careening away from the center and back again, is magnetic, and genuinely breathtaking. Likewise, they kick off the ballad I Still Love You with a simple, catchy hook and build it until it reaches epic proportions – and then take it out with a trick ending. They wind up the album with the unstoppable optimism of Mighty Mighty Chain of Love (Pass It On).

Not everything here is as good as all this. Their brave attempt to make real soul music out of a campy top 40 hit by Queen falls flat: garbage in, garbage out. Their Creedence cover isn’t awful but it’s also pretty pointless – why a band whose originals are so strong would look elsewhere for material is a mystery that this album doesn’t answer. And there are some Branson moments that should have been left on the cutting room floor – the album’s practically 75 minutes could easily have been cut back to a solid hour. Still, how many bands can you name who can play a solid hour of music this good? Not many. The band is currently on East Coast tour; watch this space for upcoming NYC dates.

July 17, 2011 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment