Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Serena Jost – Closer Than Far

A richly melodic, stylistically diverse masterpiece. Serena Jost (pronounced Yost) is a multi-instrumentalist who for quite a while played cello in Rasputina. On this album, her second, she also plays acoustic guitar and keyboards and sings in a truly beautiful, carefully modulated voice. What she does here falls under the nebulous umbrella of art-rock, although her tunes are uncommonly catchy, adding both classical and jazz influences. Jost’s lyrics are deliberately opaque, and like her music, they can be very playful: she clearly delights in paradoxes and contradictions, making her listeners think. This is a terrific ipod album. Here she’s backed by her band including Julian Maile on electric guitar, Brad Albetta (who also produced) on bass and keys, and Colin Brooks and Matt Johnson on drums along with strings and horns in places.

It opens, counterintuitively, with a cover, a stomping yet heartfelt take of Iris DeMent’s sad requiem Our Town: could this be a metaphor for New York? The next cut, Halfway There is a beautifully catchy, artsy pop song whose keys surprisingly end up in the hands of guest banjo player Jim Brunberg about halfway through, who drives it home with very rewarding results. The following cut Vertical World ought to be the hit single, opening all dramatic and coy with a faux-gospel intro:

No I’m not from Georgia, but you are on my mind
I swear I am from Georgia, ‘cause I like it when you take your time

From there it morphs into ridiculously catchy piano pop, on one level seemingly a view of New York through the eyes of an ingénue. But as in the rest of the songs here there are possibly several shades of meaning: taken as sarcasm, it’s a slap in the face of anyone in the permanent-tourist class with their 24/7 party lifestyle and fondness for chainstores like Krispy Kreme. After that, we get the inscrutable I Wait, with a long intro that eventually builds to a cello solo that Jost turns over to Maile, who responds by building something that could be Dick Dale in an unusually pensive moment. The next track, Almost Nothing, a lament, begins with stark classical guitar and features some nice background vocals from Alice Bierhorst and Greta Gertler. Speaking of the unexpected, Maile throws in a completely bombastic, Robin Trower-esque fuzztone guitar solo.

The following song Reasons and Lies reverts to a catchy art-pop feel, with a cello solo from Jost doubletracked with eerily reverberating vocalese. Jost likes to take the same kind of liberties with tempos that she pulls with melody and lyrics, and the next cut Awake in My Dreams gently jolts and prods the listener with echoey vocals and sudden tempo shifts. The next cut Jump is as eerie as it is playful: the production is pure 70s disco, utilizing cheesy period keyboard settings, but the darkness of the melody gives it away: “Down is not so far away,” intones Jost without divulging anything more. With its layers of fluttery acoustic guitars and cello, Falling Down reverts to a chiming pop feel. The album wraps up with In Time, featuring more tricky time changes, and then Stowaway, which perfectly sums up what Jost is all about:

I’m hoping for a shore I can seek
Where dusk and dawn always meet

Challenging, captivating, thought-provoking and very pretty. Time may judge this a classic. Serena Jost and band play the cd release show for Closer Than Far at Joe’s Pub on March 3 at 9:30 PM.

February 25, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Serena Jost, Brookland and Evan Schlansky at Pete’s Candy Store, Brooklyn NY 5/31/07

Serena Jost is a multi-instrumentalist whose main axe is the cello, and who spent awhile in the haunting, (formerly) all-female cello trio Rasputina. Accompanied by brilliant keyboardist Greta Gertler (who mostly played bells and a strange electronic contraption that looked like an autoharp but sounded like the full orchestra patch on a Fairlight synth) and drummer Alice Bierhorst, she played mostly acoustic guitar and impressed with the fluidity of her playing. As one of the editors here is quick to insist, if you know one stringed instrument well enough you can always pick up the others. Outside the little music room here, the crowd was loud and so was the music playing over the PA at the bar, which was a little disconcerting considering that this was a quiet, mostly acoustic show. But Jost won over the crowd with her impressive vocal range, the literate wit of her lyrics and brilliantly composed art-pop songs.

It is impossible not to like Brookland. Matt Singer is the guitarist, banjo player and low harmony singer who holds the unit to the rails. He makes the perfect foil for ebullient, radiant frontwoman Robin Aigner. Tonight she played mostly ukelele, singing lead on most of the songs. Their old-timey stuff – a mix of covers and originals – is contagiously fun and hard to resist singing along to. To their credit, two of their covers came from the most unlikely sources imaginable. Their Strokes cover revealed the awkward junior-high poetry of the original, but also redeemed the melody by giving it a catchy bounce. They then did a song by terminally constipated songwriter-du-jour Elvis Perkins (Tony’s kid), transforming it into a gypsyish number. Brookland have a thing for gypsy music, tackling two gypsy tunes and playing them perfectly. In many ways, they’re the quintessential Pete’s Candy Store act, with their harmonies, good cheer and acoustic instrumentation. Yet there is a complete absence of artifice, pretension or the sarcasm that the trendoids mistake for irony. They’re just plain fun.

Evan Schlansky was a good choice to headline, even if this time around he happened to be a last-minute replacement since Whisky Rebellion frontman Alex Battles had fallen victim to a booking mistake by the club. Schlansky comes across as someone who wouldn’t be likely to wake and bake unless there was a 9 AM meeting at his dayjob. He may be phoning it in with the suit-and-tie crowd, but he’s firing on all cylinders when it comes to life. A lot of his songs deal with bullshit: Schlansky has obviously seen a lot of it, doesn’t like it and calls it even when it might be his own. There’s no bullshit in his vocals either: along with his impressively dexterous, bluesy playing, he displayed a casual, twangy voice, without any phony accent or grungy slurring. He took requests from the crowd that was still in the house when he hit the stage with his sidekick, an impressively fluid lefty acoustic lead guitarist. Two of the highlights of his tantalizingly brief set were upbeat, major key, Dylanesque tunes: the ridiculously catchy Crocodile Tears, and the equally memorable I Took Your Plane Down, a metaphor-driven song that took on an unexpected and completely unintentional new meaning after 9/11 He ended the set with a song ostensibly about pot: “Maybe we should medicate them all,” he mused. But as with his other material, the song also raised the question of what life would be like without “medication.” Or, if, with “medication,” there is life at all. The terse simplicity of Schlansky’s melodies sometimes mask his songs’ lyrical depth, and this was a prime example. Audience members came and went as the night went on, but there was a considerable payoff for those with the time or the energy to sit through all three acts.

June 4, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment