Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Dream Zoo Lives Up to Its Name

Dream Zoo’s new album – streaming in its entirety at bandcamp – is crazy fun. Surreal, trippy and eclectic to an extreme, frontwoman/cellist Valerie Kuehne’s stream-of-consciousness narratives leap genres in a split second. The band also includes Lucio Menegon on guitar, Jeff Young on violin and Sean Ali on bass and percussion. Much of this is similar to the work of Amy X Neuburg. For example, consider the album’s most interesting track, The Spell. In almost nine minutes, there’s a nicely apprehensive, atmospheric intro; trippy, theatrical vocals over pizzicato cello and what sounds like sandpaper on the strings; a pensive, minimalist solo cello passage that builds with layers of overtones to a quiet cacaphony, then winds down, then back up again, a chorus of voices growing more and more anguished: “Forget about geometry!” is their mantra. What does it mean? Does it mean anything? Who knows.

Kuehne matches her vocals to the lyrics: it’s an acting job, and she pulls it off, especially on The Flight Crew Was Rude, the surrealistically entertaining Paris-Berlin flight narrative that opens the album. Like a lot of the compositions here, it’s mini-suite of sorts, bracing pizzicato cello switching over to jarring astringencies and then to warmly consonant atmospherics which eventually go completely nuts. The bizarre, disjointed Architecture eventually coalesces as a stately, somewhat menacing, insistent art-rock theme (with a chase scene involving a chicken in a kitchen). Likewise, Plane Crash No. 2 alludes to and then finally comes together as artsy folk-rock, with a playfully swoopy guitar outro. Kicking off with baroque echoes, The Chase could be a spoof of classical music for strings. The most “outside” piece here is The Train, a strange pastiche that suddenly becomes claustrophobic and then morphs into variations on a Rasputina-esque cello rock vamp.

In addition to her work as a musician and composer, Kuehne is also an impresario: she books the Super Coda concert series at Bushwick’s Cafe Orwell, an edgy, eclectic, improvisationally-oriented mix of indie classical, jazz, world music and styles that defy categorization.

July 25, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Amy X Neuburg & the Cello ChiXtet – The Secret Life of Subways

Bay area avant chanteuse Amy X Neuburg’s new album the Secret Life of Subways (picked up by the boundary-busting Starkland label for distribution) is disjointed, it’s rhythmically pretty much impossible to follow and for that matter pretty much impossible to follow at all unless you have headphones on. It’s also funny, and it tells a story. It’s a very ambitious, dizzying ride with a distinctly 80s feel, evocative of the first years when the avant garde was trying on a punk ethos and the line between new wave and experimental got fuzzier and fuzzier. “I’m a Vaseline lens girl,” Neuburg announces, and she’s not kidding. She may sing with a dramatic, operatic delivery but it’s never clear where she’s going – which is part of the fun.  Backed by the Cello ChiXtet – Jessica Ivry, Elaine Kreston and Elizabeth Vandervennet – she creates a loosely thematic series of surreal, theatrical, Bowie-esque vignettes and epics, some harsh and aggressive, others ambient and atmospheric to the point of wooziness.The music matches the lyrics, often in an extreme fashion, accentuating the weirdness or unease of the storyline – although just as frequently it can be comedic.

“I can’t spill this one because everybody would drown,” Neuburg states emphatically as the story begins, alternately ambient and insistently staccato. “Do not lean on the doors or you might lose your focus,” which more than telegraphs the plot, if you’re paying attention. “Too many brokers in here, too many deals on the line.” The cellos grow menacing, and Neuburg hits her octave pedal for a horror movie effect.

“Everyone knows that beautiful is the opposite of smart,” she rails cynically as the strings rise to meet her on the third track, the understatedly titled, Kate Bush-inflected Difficult. The story continues with the apprehensively scurrying, disassociative Someone Else’s Sleep and then follows a crescendo to a catchy, somewhat haunting circular theme on The Gooseneck, a series of cynical stream-of-consciousness observations on conspicuous consumption. She hits a stunning faux-Broadway vocal coda on This Loud, brings things down for the baroque-themed Be Careful and then carefully enunciates the menace and exasperation of Body Parts, a requiem that works on several levels. The somewhat self-explanatory Dada Exhibit is actually more coherent than it would seem, a study in sudden rhythmic shifts with a vividly cinematic string interlude and a funny pun at the end. The cd closes with its centerpiece, Shrapnel, a deliberately out-of-focus eulogy for a dead relationship floating on layers of vocals and an eerie choir of processed, disembodied voices at the end. There’s a sort of bonus track here, an imaginative, absolutely spot-on cover of Back in NYC by Genesis which while it resembles Rasputina far more than Peter Gabriel, maintains and even heightens the nonplussed, confrontational vibe of the original. It’s an apt choice, because fans of prime-era art-rock like The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway ought to go for this album as much as the Bang on a Can crowd will. Watch this space for NYC dates.

December 22, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment