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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 10/22/11

As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #466:

Message – From Books and Dreams

A cynic would call this 1973 album a Nektar ripoff – and with the galloping tempos, trippy orchestration and soaring, growling, melodic bass, that influence is definitely there. But this German stoner art-rock/metal band with a Scottish singer is a lot more diverse than that here. And a lot darker too: the skull on the cover pretty much gives it away. Some of this is sludgy and Sabbath-y; other times it goes in a jazz direction, with alto sax far more interesting than you’d typically hear from bands like this. It’s a suite, if not a fully realized concept album, beginning ambient and creepy like ELO’s Eldorado Overture, then blasting into the first multi-part segment, Dreams, followed by the sax/metal guitar instrumental Turn Over (which has a hilarious ending). Side two is a quieter but just as macabre continuation titled Sigh, followed by the long, ominously crescendoing Nightmares and its absolutely chilling ending. Now that youtube allows for long tracks, there’s a stream of the whole album here; here’s a random torrent via Fantasy 0807.

October 22, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/9/11

As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album was #479:

Flower Travellin’ Band – Satori

This one’s for the smoking section. By the time these Japanese stoners came out with this sludgy, creepy 1971 five-part suite, they were arguably heavier than Sabbath. Some of you may find this ugly and heavyhanded; the band alternates between bludgeoning blues and morbid, funereal dirges. The lyrics are in Japanese. Part one of the suite sets the stage for the slightly more Hendrix-inspired part two. Part three might be the high point, doom rock with Asian motifs; part four blends funk and even jazz touches into the murk; the concluding movement foreshadows where King Crimson would be in five years. Call it metal, or art-rock, or proto-goth, either way it’s pretty amazing. Here’s a random torrent via Lysergia.

October 11, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ripple Music’s First Anniversary Free Sampler – Get It While You Can

In this age of independent music, do we really need labels at all? If you want to sell more than downloads and unload physical product in a country where you don’t live, or probably won’t be visiting soon, a label can be useful. And good branding never hurts – Norton does garage rock; Tzadik does every shade of klezmer and sometimes the Middle East; and Ripple Music have carved themselves a niche as purveyors of tasty, retro 70s stoner rock. Considering how much great stuff these guys have put out over the last year, the answer’s yes, these guys actually fill a need, unlike the parasitic corporate labels.

Ripple Music went for cred right off the bat by signing Poobah, whose 1972 proto-metal classic Let Me In they reissued last year. And they wasted no time scoring midwestern acid rock cult favorites the JPT Scare Band, who just played their first gig in 35 years if you can believe it. In this age where virtually everything audible online is free, and most commercial radio stations won’t go near good original music, how does a label stay in business? Like a drug dealer. They turn you on to their product for free and then let you decide, heh heh. Their freebie right now is a first anniversary sampler available for free at their bandcamp site, featuring bands whose material they’ve released or reissued, often on vinyl as well as digitally, in the past year, along with previews of a couple of upcoming releases. It’s a cool mixtape for 7-11 parking lots.

As usual with this kind of stuff, the more fun the bands let themselves have, the better the music is (which applies to pretty much any style when you think about it). “70s rock preservationists” Stone Axe are a mighty good choice to open the album with Riders of the Night, a period-perfect, LOL Spinal Tap party scenario. They’re “busy blowing smoke rings around the midnight sun,” and the guitars do the same. Surprisingly, Mighty High, Brooklyn’s funniest self-described regressive rock act don’t go as hard for the comedy as they usually do, although their track, Don’t Panic – It’s Organic, is smoking. Imagine it’s 1973, Blue Oyster Cult is trying to channel Chuck Berry and kicking out the best guitar solos on the entire compilation, evil chromatic Deniz Tek style.

The JPT Scare Band’s contribution, It’s a Jungle, really is a time trip. It has the feel of a vinyl rip – that sidewinding, trebly, melodic bass and those Spooky Tooth metalfunk hooks are killer. And is that a qanun (Arabic hammered dulcimer) slapping the lo-fi synth upside the head? Surprisingly, Poobah is represented by one of the less ferocious tracks from Let Me In, although this one shows off the rhythm section: it’s not just Jim Gustafson guitar pyrotechnics. But Venomin James’ Bullet Juice delivers buckets of evil via a delicious Sabbath-style chromatic riff and a razorwire wah solo that leaves you wanting more. And Mos Generator’s moonshine-running anthem Stone County Line injects fresh blood into a bunch of hallowed 70s moves, with some blunt instrument Bill Ward-ish drums.

There are a couple of ringers here. Modern Day Moonshine offer a soulfully shuffling update on the Grateful Dead’s Cumberland Blues, while Bay Area songwriter Kevin Beadles’ Sharkskin sounds like a metal spoof done as bluesy, swinging, late 70s Rhodes piano pop. It wouldn’t be out of place on a Tubes album. There’s also Tripdavon’s By the River, which merges southern slide guitar rock and blues overtones; riff-heavy Scottish band Iron Claw, which would fit in fine with the Nazareth catalog; and Vancouver band Fen’s Queen of the Mountain, pensive and apprehensive with lots of dynamic shifts – these guys sound like they used to listen to grunge but left it behind. There are a couple of duds, but what do you expect for nothing? Get it while it’s still available.

July 26, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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

Album of the Day 7/2/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #577:

The 13th Floor Elevators – The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators

45 years later, the 1966 debut of this legendary, creepy Texas acid garage band – with an amplified jug that sounded a little like a tabla – is still the standard for pretty much every other psychedelic garage band. Setting Roky Erikson’s reverb-drenched, deadpan nasal snarl and nonstop barrage of surreal imagery against tinny, clanging riff-rock that frequently ventures into R&B and funk, it’s a trip, in every sense of the word. The iconic song here is You’re Gonna Miss Me, famously covered by Radio Birdman and a million others; the b-side, Tried to Hide, isn’t bad either. Roller Coaster introduces a macabre riff that would resurface in the Cramps; Through the Rhythm invents a new genre, apocalyptic soul music. There’s also Monkey Island, whose theme the J. Geils Band would echo ten years later, and the more ornate Kingdom of Heaven, You Don’t Know How Young You Are and Splash 1 (Now I’m Coming Home) along with the proto-punk Don’t Fall Down and Fire Engine. Here’s a random torrent.

July 2, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 6/13/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #596:

The Electric Prunes – Mass in F Minor

From 1968, this is one of the great stoner albums of all time, not bad considering that the band it’s credited to reputedly didn’t play on several of the tracks (history is fuzzy on this – a Canadian garage band, the Collectors, were reputedly brought in by composer David Axelrod to complete it when the Prunes basically broke up mid-session). It’s an attempt to make psychedelic rock out of imitation pre-baroque themes, and it’s successful beyond belief: with layers and layers of stinging reverb guitar, eerie organ and trebly, melodic bass, it’s a wild ride. The track everybody knows is Kyrie Eleison, which is on the Easy Rider soundtrack. All the song titles are in Latin, in the manner of a Catholic mass – Agnus Dei; Benedictus; Credo, Sanctus and Gloria – with occasional deadpan, monklike chanting amidst the chaos. Fuzz tones, feedback, all manner of cheap production tricks and some deliriously inspired (some would say sloppy) playing are everywhere. Here’s a random torrent.

June 13, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, 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

Album of the Day 4/3/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album was #667:

Jefferson Airplane – After Bathing at Baxter’s

The bass player owns this album. Jack Casady’s growling, spiraling climbs, slinking funky rhythm and burning chords defined the Airplane at peak altitude, 1968. Add to that Paul Kantner’s stinging rhythm, Jorma Kaukonen’s crazed, jagged twelve-string leads, Spencer Dryden’s jazz-influenced drumming and Grace Slick’s presence (on the wane at this point) and you have a psychedelic rock classic. Kaukonen’s anxious ballad The Last Wall of the Castle, Slick’s darkly hypnotic James Joyce homage, Rejoyce and Kantner’s ferociously incisive Young Girl Sunday Blues are all great cuts. So is Two Heads, pulsing along on Casady’s bass chords. Watch Her Ride and Wild Tyme are slamming upbeat numbers; The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil a big crowd-pleaser and Won’t You Try/Saturday Afternoon a reversion to the folk-rock of Surrealistic Pillow. There’s also the woozy instrumental Spare Chaynge, which sounds like Jorma and Jack jamming out after way too much ganja, forgetting that the tape was rolling. It was also the last good studio album the band did. Here’s a random torrent.

April 4, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

La Femme Reaches the Beach, Sans Culottes

The more you find out about French rockers La Femme, the more you like them. Their bandcamp page – where their strangely stylish, noir surf/garage rock ep Podium #1 is selling for four bucks – is tagged “80 french lo-fi surf tropical wave Paris.” The cd cover – a nude woman on her back, flashing the camera – is blacked out “because it got censured.” And they sound like an updated teens edition of Plastic Bertrand through a pitchblende prism. In places, it’s hard to tell whether one particular twangy riff or reverberating chord is a guitar running through a reverb tank, or some impossibly weird patch on some long out-of-production analog synthesizer from the 70s. And everything here is ridiculously psychedelic: although the band has been described as lo-fi, the opposite is true: they make a good segue with similarly swirling, trippily cinematic projects like Thunderball or Comic Wow.

The first song motors along with an eerie minor key blues progression done garage rock style: a woman sings. The second cut is basically a hypnotic, ominous two-chord vamp titled Telegraphe, kicking off with just synth and drum machine and turning creepy real fast, all the way to a suspenseful snakecharmer flute interlude. La Femme Ressort plays minimal noir bass against a darkly repeating guitar figure and builds sarcastically to a tradeoff between swoopy upper-register synth and what sounds like an electric harpsichord. If this reminds you of Manfred Hubler’s immortal Vampyros Lesbos soundtrack, you’re on the right track. The ep winds up with Francoise, somewhat evocative of the more menacing, goth-tinged stuff that Blonde Redhead did back in the 90s: off-center, wobbly pitch-bending intro, muffled bass carrying the melody, a Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds-ish bridge that turns cruelly silly and sarcastic. Lyrics mostly in French: a deliciously ominous way to get the new year started.

January 15, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Aunt Ange Releases a Psychedelic Rock Classic

This one makes a good segue with today’s album by the Pretty Things: it’s a creepy masterpiece of current-day psychedelic rock. Incorporating elements of art-rock, gypsy punk and noir cabaret, Brooklyn band Aunt Ange’s new album Olga Walks Away is trippy, and strange, and memorably tuneful. It seems to be a chronicle of an acid trip, but it might be something else entirely: there’s obviously a lot of symbolism in the lyrics. Sometimes these are sharp and literate; other times they seem to be going for a more stereotypical mid-60s surrealism. Likewise, the music draws heavily on 60s psychedelia, with layers of reverb guitar, melodic basslines, sweeping keyboards, but also accordion, occasional horns, and a carnivalesque feel that at its most frenetic brings to mind World Inferno or Botanica.

With a blithely macabre sway, the opening track, Black Funeral Dress, sets the tone for what’s to come, bouncing along “like funeral drums.” After a clip-clop trip-hop dub version of the opening theme, they stick with the trip-hop with To the Sun and Die (try that one on for symbolism!). Loaded with dynamics, plinking along with Casio organ and electric harpsichord, it builds to a big, martial bridge – and then like many of the following tracks, it subsides. Pumpkins and Patches layers soaring slide guitar over an ominous chamber pop backdrop.

A couple of the tracks here have a more obviously contemporary feel: the Radiohead-inflected Monks and the big, crunchy powerpop stomp Crucify the Blackbird – which when least expected drops down to a long, quiet accordion vamp. At this point it makes sense to mention that at least on this album, the band has a food fixation, which comes to the forefront on the genuinely macabre 6/8 epic Lady by the Window: “26 birthdays, not one funeral, five star smoked salmon…down comes the rain from the aspartame cloud/Up grow sweet nothings from the cellophane ground.” Meanwhile, the backing vocals invoke a refrain of “cheesy cheese” in the background – which is anything but cheesy here.

After a sitar intro, the storm gathers with screaming reverb guitar on Down the Rabbit Hole: “One must travel through hell to get to heaven.” The most phantasmagorical song here, King of the Damned swirls with ominous layers of vocals, followed by the bizarrely haunting title track, Olga – a fleeting character throughout this journey – exhaustedly trying to resist the lure of “the one and lonely Charlie Tree,” a Hades character of sorts. It appears that Olga eventually does manage to walk away, but not unscathed: “Once you start you just can’t stop,” as the dynamically-charged epic Butternut Sunshine explains. The album winds up with Velvet Sidewalks, which starts out as a country ballad and winds up as a chilling circus song, an audience roaring for something – blood, maybe? – as it ends. Without any drugs, it’s a wild ride – we’ll leave that part to more adventurous listeners. Either way, it’s one of the best albums to come over the transom (or through the looking glass) here in a long time.

January 5, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment