Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The 50 Best Albums of 2009

You’ll notice that aside from the #1 spot here, these aren’t ranked in any kind of order: the difference, quality-wise between #1 and #50 is so slight as to make the idea of trying to sort out which might be “better” an exercise in futility. If you’re interested, here’s our 100 Best Songs of 2009 list.

1. The Brooklyn What – The Brooklyn What for Borough President

Like London Calling, it’s a diverse yet consistently ferocious, sometimes hilarious mix of styles imbued with punk energy and an edgy, quintessentially New York intensity. Time will probably judge this a classic.

2. Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear – The Ghost of Rock n Roll

The former Hangdogs frontman’s finest, funniest, most spot-on moment as a fearless, politically aware Americana rocker.

3. The Oxygen Ponies – Harmony Handgrenade

Dating from the waning days of the Bush regime, this is a murderously angry album about living under an enemy occupation: love in a time of choler?

4. The Beefstock Recipes anthology

A rich double album of some of New York’s best bands, with standout tracks from the Secrets, Paula Carino, Erica Smith, Skelter, Rebecca Turner and many more.

5. Dan Bryk – Pop Psychology

Arguably the most insightful – and most brutally funny – album ever written about the music industry. The tunes are great too.

6. Balthrop, Alabama – Subway Songs

The sprawling Brooklyn band go deep into 60s noir with this brilliantly morbid, phantasmagorical ep.

7. Bobby Vacant & the Weary – Tear Back the Night

In the spirit of Dark Side of the  Moon and Closer, this is a masterpiece of artsy existentialist rock. You’ll find several tracks on our Best Songs of 2009 list, including our #1 pick, Never Looking Back.

8. Botanica – americanundone

All the fearless fury and rage of a Botanica live show successfully captured at a show in Germany late last year.

9. Kelli Rae Powell – New Words for Old Lullabies

The amazingly lyrical oldtimey chanteuse alternates between sultry, devious romantic stylings and sheer unhinged anger.

10. McGinty & White Sing Selections from the McGinty & White Songbook

Ward White and Joe McGinty’s wickedly lyrical collaboration puts a fresh spin on retro 60s psychedelic pop.

11. The Church – Untitled #23

The Australian art-rock legends’ latest is yet another triumph of swirling atmospherics and intense lyricism.

12. Amy Allison – Sheffield Streets

Her best album – the New York song stylist has never been funnier or more acerbic. Includes a charming duet with Elvis Costello.

13. Steve Wynn and the Dragon Bridge Orchestra – Live in Brussels

A lush, majestic effort recorded with the stellar crew who played on his most recent studio album Crossing Dragon Bridge.

14. Elisa Flynn – Songs About Birds & Ghosts

Haunting and poignant but also cleverly amusing, the New York rocker has never written better or sung more affectingly.

15. The Jazz Funeral – s/t – free download

The best band ever to come out of Staten Island, New York, these janglerockers write excellent lyrics and have some very catchy Americana-inflected tunes.

16. Jay Bennett – Whatever Happened, I Apologize – free download

The last album the great Americana songwriter ever recorded, a harrowing chronicle of dissolution and despair.

17. Marty Willson-Piper – Nightjar

The Church’s iconic twelve-string guitarist’s finest work ever, a sweeping, majestic, multistylistic masterpiece.

18. Black Sea Hotel – s/t

New York’s own Bulgarian vocal choir’s debut is otherworldly, gorgeous and strikingly innovative.

19. Rupa & the April Fishes – Este Mundo

Latin meets noir cabaret meets acoustic gypsy punk on the Bay Area band’s sensational second album.

20. The JD Allen Trio – Shine!

The tenor saxophonist/composer goes straight for wherever the melody is, usually in four minutes or less, with one of the world’s great rhythm sections, Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. Time may also judge this a classic.

21. The New Collisions – s/t

All the fun and edgy intensity of vintage 80s new wave reinvented for the next decade by platinum-haired frontwoman Sarah Guild and her killer backing band.

22. Ten Pound Heads – s/t

The great long lost Blue Oyster Cult album: relentlessly dark, edgy, occasionally noir art-rock songs with layers of great guitar.

23. Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band

A hilariously woozy, fun romp through the songs from Sergeant Pepper, by the allstar NYC reggae crew who brought us Dub Side of the Moon and Radiodread.

24. Jeff Zentner – The Dying Days of Summer

Intense, memorable Nashville gothic songwriting from one of its finest practitioners.

25. Chris Eminizer – Twice the Animal

Cleverly lyrical art-rock songwriting with tinges of vintage Peter Gabriel from this first-rate New York rocker.

26. Tinariwen – Imidiwan: Companions

The Tuareg rockers’ most diverse, accessible album, as memorable as it is hypnotic.

27. Monika Jalili – Elan

Classic songs from Iran from the 60s and 70s, fondly and hauntingly delivered by the Iranian-American siren and her amazing backup band.

28. Ivo Papasov – Dance of the Falcon

The iconic Bulgarian clarinetist delivers maybe his most adrenalizing, intense album of gypsy music ever.

29. The Stagger Back Brass Band – s/t

The Spinal Tap of brass bands are as virtuosic and melodic as they are funny – which is a lot.

30. Eric Vloeimans‘ Fugimundi – Live at Yoshi’s

The Dutch trumpeter leads a trio through a particularly poignant, affecting mix of classically-tinged jazz.

31. The Asylum Street Spankers – What? And Give Up Show Business?

Recorded at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York last year, this is a boisterous, furious mix of hilarious skits and songs by the Dead Kennedys of the oldtimey scene.

32. Salaam – s/t

Sister-and-brother Dena and Amir El Saffar’s richly memorable, haunting seventh album of Middle Eastern instrumentals and ballads.

33. Fishtank Ensemble – Samurai over Serbia

Their shtick is that they add an Asian tinge to gypsy music, giving it an especially wild edge. The singing saw work on the album is pretty amazing too.

34. Charles Evans/Neil Shah – Live at Saint Stephens

An eerily glimmering, suspensefully minimalist masterpiece by the baritone sax player and pianist, recorded in a sonically exquisite old church earlier this year.

35. The Silk Road Ensemble – Off the Map

Their first one without Yo-yo Ma is also their most adventurous mix of Asian and Middle Eastern-themed compositions (by Osvaldo Golijov, Angel Lam, Evan Ziporyn and others), played by an allstar cast including Kayhan Kalhor, string quartet Brooklyn Rider, pipa pioneer Wu Man and a cast of dozens.

36. Linda Draper – Bridge and Tunnel

The NYC songwriter’s most straightforward, catchy yet also maybe her most lyrically edgy album yet – and she has several.

37. Darren Gaines and the Key Party – My Blacks Don’t Match

Wry, Tom Waits-inflected noir songs by this excellent NYC crew.

38. Love Camp 7 – Union Garage

A deliciously jangly followup to their classic 2007 album Sometimes Always Never.

39. The Komeda Project – Requiem

The New York jazz crew’s second collection of works by the Roman Polanski collaborator who died tragically in the 1960s is brooding, morbid, cinematic and Mingus-esque.  

40. Si Para Usted Vol. 2 – The Funky Beats of Revolutionary Cuba

Like the Roots of Chicha series, Waxing Deep’s second devious, danceable collection of genre-hopping obscure Latin funk from 1970s Cuba onward is packed with obscure gems.

41. Huun Huur Tu and Carmen Rizzo – Eternal

Ominous, windswept, atmospheric North Asian ambience produced with stately, understated power.

42. The Moonlighters – Enchanted

Another great album: gorgeous harmonies from Bliss Blood and Cindy Ball, charming retro 20s songwriting and incisive steel guitar from NYC’s best oldtimey band.

43. Minamo – Kuroi Kawa/Black River

Pianist Satoko Fujii and violinist Carla Kihlstedt share a telepathic chemistry in duo soundscapes ranging from clever and playful to downright macabre.

44. Robin O’Brien – The Apple in Man

The multistylistic chanteuse, legendary in the cassette underground, gets her haunting, intense, otherworldly vocals set to smart, terse new arrangements from dreampop to 70s style Britfolk to trance.

45. Devi – Get Free

Ferociously smart pychedelic power trio rock with one of the most interesting lead guitarists out there right now.

46. Obits – I Blame You

Dark, catchy, propulsive retro 60s garage rock with echoes of the Stooges and early Pink Floyd by this inspired Brooklyn band.

47. HuDost – Trapeze

Sweeping, sometimes hypnotic, artsy songs that move from Americana to gypsy to goth, with frontwoman Moksha Sommer’s graceful vocals.

48. Lenny Molotov – Illuminated Blues

Hauntingly visionary, provocative, politically aware songs set to gorgeously rustic, late 1920s blues, swing and hillbilly arrangements by the great Americana guitarist.

49. Chang Jui-Chuan – Exodus: Retrospective and Prospective 1999-2009

Fearless conscious bilingual hip-hop (in Taiwanese and English) from this international star.

50. Les Triaboliques – rivermudtwilight

A trio of old British punks – Justin Adams, Ben Mandelson and Lu Edmonds – combine to create a masterpiece of desert-inspired duskcore.

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September 17, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

CD Review: Botanica – americanundone

Their wildest album. What the Stones were to the 60s, what Pink Floyd was to the 70s, what the Church were to the 80s, what – good grief, who? maybe Pulp? were to the 90s – Botanica has been to this decade, simply the definitive rock band of our era. In their uncompromisingly lyrical, fiery, gypsy-flavored anthems, there’s a defiance against fascism, a raised middle finger at mindless conformity and the same unextinguishable passion shared by all the aforementioned bands. And as good as their studio albums are (look for more than one on our upcoming Best Albums of the Decade list), nothing beats a Botanica live show. Finally, here’s one you can take with you. Last and final comparison: as live albums go, this ranks with the best of them, right up there with Procol Harum Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, Night of the Living Dead Boys, and Metallic KO by the Stooges.

Frontman/keyboardist Paul Wallfisch’s supporting cast this time out includes the equally powerful, melodic bassist Dana Schechter (of Bee and Flower), reverb guitar monster John Andrews, Mark Stepro on drums and Anne deWolff on violin. Unsurprisingly, this is Botanica’s loudest, most guitar-oriented album, Andrews in particularly savage mode from start to finish: even on the quieter numbers, he’s a threat to cut loose. The songs are a well-chosen mix of stomping crowd-pleasers and stately, ornate art-rock anthems. They’re off and running from the start with a particularly bruising version of Billboard Jesus, from their 2004 post-9/11 masterpiece Botanica vs. the Truth Fish. Concrete Shoes, anguished and stalking on the Berlin Hi-Fi cd, is transformed into a nightmare vision in a reverb tunnel. La Valse Magnetique, title track to the band’s most recent studio effort (currently unreleased in the US) sets gentle violin and organ over a rhythm section that carries it away into scurrying, swinging gypsy punk straight out of the Gogol Bordello songbook. Wallfisch takes a glimmering cascade of Wurlitzer piano down to pregnant pause, a slow interlude and a startling cold ending. “Il nous reste que la fierte.” Pas de question.

Shira and Sofia is noir cabaret swing with a brutallly dismissive vocal cameo by Schechter and an evil slide guitar solo. The caustic Sex Offender takes the band to the edge of metal, daring to question the age of consent: “As long as she’s the girl next door and I’m the guy in college reading Schopenhauer. Sweet sixteen? She’s a sex offender. Hallelujah!” Wallfisch croons at the end in tribute to the flock who do such a good job saving us from ourselves.

The best tracks here are a study in contrasts, and they’re both from Botanica vs. the Truth Fish. Swimming in the Ocean at Night is more evocatively, gleefully macabre than ever, shimmering with organ and reverb guitar, toy piano just enough out of tune to bring the menace to redline. The Truth Fish, Wallfisch’s ballistic response to the powers that be who let Ground Zero smolder for months on end, pulls out all the stops, building from noir bluesy stomp to whirling, apocalyptic gypsy dance ending with a wall of guitar feedback and then the outro that’s still pure redemption for anyone who lived and breathed through those  horrible days: “Fires. No. One. Cares. To. Put. Out [pregnant pause] OOOOOOUT! ” The show ends on an equally relevant note with How, another fast gypsy rock number sarcastically contemplating the reasons why some people simply refuse to get it, complete with wild, swirling violin, a long Middle Eastern interlude and a violent, crashing conclusion. Don’t take our word for it: in a remarkable stroke of generosity, the album is streaming at Botanica’s site. Physical copies only seem to be available at shows, but all the tracks are up on itunes. Watch this space for live dates: in addition, Wallfisch plays at around 9 every week at his ongoing Small Beast salon/performance at the Delancey.

May 8, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Botanica at Joe’s Pub, NYC 3/21/09

Like Joy Division or Nina Simone, Botanica enjoy a cult appeal with a taste-defining sensibility, a still-necessary antithesis and antidote to so-called “hipster irony.” Passionately lyrical, as informed by classical and gypsy music as rock, internationalist in viewpoint, engaged in the world and intensely charismatic onstage, even conformists resist the urge to dismiss them if only because their mongrel hordes are everywhere. Saturday night, this proper and respectable venue hadn’t seen such wild, unleashed mayhem since the days of Gogol Bordello, as one concertgoer put it, maybe even since one particularly blistering set by a pre-crack Gil Scott-Heron in its earliest days way back in the 90s. Botanica were fresh off European tour and weren’t ready to wind down yet, the result being a 180 degree contrast with the placid and predictable if pretty stream of cliches strung together by the opening act. Botanica have a rep for intense live shows – anybody who’s seen their frontman Paul Wallfish do his solo thing at the weekly Small Beast show on Thursday evenings at the Delancey knows this – but Friday night’s sonic onslaught caught the crowd like a low-flying jetliner.

 

Guitarist John Andrews, in particular, got a workout – there hasn’t been as much savage tremolo-picking onstage anywhere in New York since Dick Dale last passed through. Playing through a dense, metallic wall of reverb, he wailed for minutes on end as the band methodically made their way through The Flag, the bitter, elegaic anthem to another America perhaps gone forever (“When I stand and face the flag/I see my country wrapped in rags”) from the classic 9/11-themed 2004 cd Botanica vs. the Truth Fish. Wallfisch was in typically menacing yet compelling form, whether anchoring the songs with brooding organ or eerily echoey Wurlitzer piano, brandishing his trusty bullhorn or taking one of several variously successful acrobatic excursions into the crowd. The new rhythm section of Jason Binnick (from Kerry Kennedy’s band) on bass and Dave Berger on drums is equal to any other unit this band ever had (Berger, in particular, lending a counterintuitively playful yet restrained touch to several of the more pounding, straightforward songs), and the violinist who’d been flown in from somewhere in Europe (Vienna, maybe?) was superb as well.

 

Someone Else Again, from their previous US release Berlin Hi-Fi, scurrried and swung nimbly. And Then Palermo, from the same album, was raised from wistfulness to unrestrained anguish, particularly when Andrews cut loose with a bloodcurdling, screaming, reverb-drenched solo on his Jazzmaster. In striking contrast, a more recent track, Who You Are, was all lush, exultant beauty with a particularly inspired vocal: “Imagine…perfection,” encouraged Wallfisch, responding to the technical glitches that had derailed the start of the show by a minute or two. As usual, Wallfisch used the stately, haunting lost-time masterpiece Eleganza and Wines as an excuse to teach the crowd 7/8 time, taking his message as far as he could along the railing separating bar area from tables and managing not to lose his balance.

 

“Five minutes, Paul,” the sound guy said, clearly audible over the club PA. So naturally the band played for another twenty. The highlight, perhaps predictably, was The Truth Fish, this time with its crazed, desperate gypsy outro careening at a ridiculous clip, the band nonetheless keeping up with the tempo until the end where Wallfisch intoned his complete disgust with those who, in the weeks and months after 9/11, would not extinguish those “Fires. No. One. Cares. To. Put. Out. Out. Out!” And they followed that with more gypsy wildness, the similarly politically-fueled How, Wallfisch holding the band back so all the lickety-split lyrics could resonate. “How many idiots on the head of a pin?” After the show, the crowd lined up to get copies of their new live cd americanundone, which’ll be available at later gigs as well. In the meantime, here’s a free download of one of the cd’s tracks, Billboard Jesus.

March 25, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment