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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 7/21/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #558:

The Moody Blues – Long Distance Voyager

Did the Moody Blues invent art-rock…or at least chamber pop? Maybe. Fans of the tuneful, philosophically inclined psychedelic pop band are probably mystified why we chose this 1981 reunion album of sorts over well-loved 60s releases like In Search of the Lost Chord or On the Threshold of a Dream. Answer: all of those albums have some great tunes, but also a bunch of real clunkers as well. This, on the other hand is solid virtually all the way through, and the songwriting is arguably the band’s strongest. The production manages to be ornate and genuinely majestic despite the heavy synthesizers. The big, brisk top 40 hit was The Voice, followed closely by the artsy, ELOish, disco-tinged Gemini Dream (a great song to cover if you played it loud and fast like a lot of bands of the era did). The irresistible Talking out of Turn is a seven-minute pop song that actually works. Guitarist Justin Hayward’s lush kiss-off anthem Meanwhile is genuinely poignant, as is bassist John Lodge’s sweeping, understatedly anguished art-pop ballad Nervous. There’s also the morbid 22,000 Days, the twisted cabaret of Painted Smile and the even more twisted Veteran Cosmic Rocker, a surprisingly snarling satire of aging hippie rockers by a band who knew a little something about being one. Here’s a random torrent.

July 21, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 6/18/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #591:

Black Box Recorder – Passionoia

Possibly the most witheringly cynical album ever recorded. Bandleader Luke Haines (also of the Auteurs – see #744 on this list) has said innocuously that this 1999 release was his adventure in exploring keyboard textures, but it sounds suspiciously like a parody of 90s British dance-pop, albeit with better tunes and artsy flourishes. Frontwoman Sarah Nixey delivers Haines’ corrosive lyrics in an ice-goddess whisper over the glossy sheen. The School Song does double duty as Eurovision satire (a moment that will return again with a vengeance on When Britain Refused to Sing) and knowing chronicle of the kind of torture schoolkids have to endure. GSOH QED is an early satire of internet dating; British Racing Green quietly and cruelly alludes to Britain’s fall from first world power to third world irrelevance. Although much of this is a period piece, the songs stand the test of time – The New Diana mocks the Princess Diana cult, but it’s a brutally insightful look at the cult of celebrity, as is Andrew Ridgeley, the funniest song here, a reference to the guy in Wham who wasn’t George Michael. Being Number One, These Are the Things and Girls Guide for the Modern Diva are savage sendups of yuppie narcissism. The album ends on a surprisingly poignant, haunting note with I Ran All the Way Home, a gorgeously apprehensive omnichord-driven art-pop song straight out of the ELO catalog, told from the point of view of an abused little girl. All the songs are streamable at myspace, but wait fifteen seconds before you put your earphones on, AND refresh the page after each listen or else you’ll be assaulted by a loud audio ad. Won’t it be a good day when myspace finally dies? Otherwise, here’s a random torrent.

June 18, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Universal Thump Get One Step Closer to a Classic

One segment at a time, art-rock keyboardist/songwriter Greta Gertler’s latest project, the Universal Thump has been releasing their lush, gorgeous debut album. The first installment featured epic, sweepingly orchestrated ballads along with a droll cover of the Australian Crawl hit Reckless and the bouncy Martin’s Big Night Out, one of Gertler’s older songs. This latest installment, Chapter Two continues the blend of fun and finesse.

The first track, Honey Beat, is a richly orchestrated janglerock hit, sort of like an anatomically correct version of something from REM’s Reveal album. Gertler has never sung better – her nonchalantly sultry high soprano is impossible to turn away from. And the guitar solo into violin solo back into the guitar solo is irresistible, like the Church doing ELO.

To the Border (Wild Raspberries) alternates a stately, somewhat solemn anthem with a playful, coyly vivid motif first carried by the string section and later the woodwinds; it’s a sexy allusion. ELO is even more vividly referenced on the absolutely delightful Opening Night, which could be the long lost sequel to The Way Life’s Meant To Be, complete with baritone guitar solo and tongue-in-cheek, carnivalesque keyboard patches and sound effects. And is that a sample of whale song at the end of the long, psychedelic outro? This section of the album winds up with The Last Time, a slow stately piano/organ march, Kate Bush as done by Procol Harum. If the rest of the album is anything like this, you’ll see the whole thing on our 1000 Best Albums of All Time list. It’s available at the Universal Thump’s bandcamp site.

March 7, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 2/9/10

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #720:

Abby Travis – Glittermouth

Abby Travis is one of the greatest bass players in rock. She’s also a terrific songwriter, in a sultry, sinister noir art-pop vein: she beat the Dresden Dolls to it by ten years. Her solo debut, Cutthroat Standards and Black Pop, from 2000, is the critic’s choice. To be stubborn, we went with this one from six years later. It’s more diverse, and beneath the shiny veneer, just as menacing. The big stunner is Now Was, a towering, Jeff Lynne style art-pop ballad that makes a potent showcase for her breathy unease. There’s a lot of trip-hop here, like Portishead at their creepiest, along with the noir cabaret of Hunger, the gently ominous psychedelic downtempo pop of Chase Me, the big 6/8 anthem Roberto – a goth response to the Tubes’ Don’t Touch Me There? – and the off-center, surprisingly upbeat little goth waltz Shoot for the Stars: “Shoot for the stars, you might land on the moon.” Travis is sister to filmmaker Dave Travis, who has a very auspicious new documentary A History Lesson, about the California punk scene coming out. The album hasn’t made it to rapidshare or mediafire yet as far as we can tell but it’s still up at cdbaby.

February 9, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/4/11

Tons of new stuff in the pipeline here: the new NYC live music calendar for this month and February is up but still needs a few additions. In the meantime, every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Tuesday’s is #756:

Split Enz – Waiata

A period piece from 1981 that’s aged extraordinarily well. Go ahead and criticize the tinny, trebly production – it’s a wonder that producer David Tickle didn’t put a watery chorus effect on the drums along with everything else. While there are aspects of this that are soooooo 80s, the inspired fun and purism of the songwriting transcends just about anything you could possibly do to it. The classic pop hit is the defiant kiss-off anthem History Never Repeats, driven by one of the alltime great rock guitar riffs. Hard Act to Follow takes the kind of pop direction Genesis should have followed but didn’t; One Step Ahead, Ships, and the ethereal Ghost Girl mine a more mysterious vein. I Don’t Wanna Dance, Clumsy and Walking Through the Ruins hark back to the artsy post-Skyhooks surrealism of the band’s early years; keyboardist Eddie Rayner also contributes an abrasive noise-rock raveup and the balmy, cinematic theme Albert of India. In the band’s native New Zealand, the album was titled Corroboree (Maori for “party”); the tracks are the same. Guitarist Neil Finn would carry on in another first-rate artsy pop band, Crowded House, joined by his brother Tim off and on over the years (notably on the excellent, one-off Finn Bros. album). Here’s a random torrent.

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

A Powerpop Trifecta at Bowery Electric

Wednesday night at Bowery Electric, Don Piper and his group opened the evening with a richly melodic, often hypnotic set. Piper’s primary gig these days is producing great albums – the Oxygen Ponies’ lushly layered, darkly psychedelic classic Harmony Handgrenade is one of his credits – but he’s also a bandleader. This time out he alternated between slowly swirling, atmospheric, artsy rock and a vintage Memphis soul sound, backed by a large, spirited crew including keyboards, a two-piece horn section (with Ray Sapirstein from Lenny Molotov’s band on cornet), bass and the Silos’ Konrad Meissner on drums (doing double duty tonight, as would many of the other musicians). Midway through the set Briana Winter took over centerstage and held the crowd silent with her wary, austerely intense, Linda Thompson-esque voice on a couple of midtempo ballads. They closed with a long, 1960s style soul number, Piper and Winter joining in a big crescendo as the band slowly circled behind them.

Edward Rogers followed, backed by much of the same band including Piper, Meissner, Claudia Chopek on violin and Ward White playing bass. A British expat, Rogers’ wry, lyrical songs draw on pretty much every good British pop style through the mid-70s. The most modern-sounding song, a pounding, insistent number, evoked the Psychedelic Furs, White throwing in some Ventures-style tremolo-picking on his bass at a point where nobody seemed to be looking. Whatever You’ve Been Told, from Rogers’ latest album Sparkle Lane, held an impassioned, uneasy ambience that brought to mind early David Bowie. A pensive, midtempo backbeat tune with a refrain about the “seventh string on your guitar, the one you never use” reminded of the Move (like Roy Wood, Rogers hails from Birmingham), as did a bracingly dark new one, Porcelain, highlighted by some striking, acidic violin from Chopek. And a pair of Beatles homages wouldn’t have been out of place on the Rutles albums – or George’s later work with Jeff Lynne. But the best songs were the most original ones. The most stunning moment of the night came on the understatedly bitter Passing the Sunshine, a Moody Blues-inflected requiem for an edgy downtown New York destroyed by greedy developers, gentrifiers and the permanent-tourist class: “This’ll be the last time you steal with your lies,” Rogers insisted, over and over again. In its gentle, resolute way, it was as powerful as punk. They wound up the show with a surprisingly bouncy psychedelic pop tune and then the new album’s droll, swaying title track.

Seeing headliner Maura Kennedy onstage with a bright red Les Paul slung from her shoulder was a surprise, as it was to see her guitar genius husband Pete Kennedy in the back with the drums, leaving most of the solos to his wife. But as fans of their acoustic project the Kennedys know, she’s an excellent player – and also one of the most unselfconsciously soulful voices in rock, or folk, if you want to call them that. This was her powerpop set, many of the songs adding a subtly Beatlesque or Americana edge to fast new wave guitar pop. The best songs were the darker ones, including the bitterly pulsing 1960s style psych/pop hit Just the Rain. Sun Burns Gold swayed hauntingly and plaintively, leaving just a crack for the light to get in; another minor-key number, Chains was absolutely gorgeous in a jangly Dancing Barefoot garage-pop vein, and she used that as a springboard for one of several sharply staccato, chordally charged solos. “I wrap myself in melancholy comfort of the waiting game,” she sang on a brooding ballad that evoked Richard and Linda Thompson. But there were just as many upbeat moments. White, who was doing double duty despite being under the weather, took an unexpected and welcome bass solo on a funkily hypnotic number toward the end of the set; they wound it up with the first song she’d written, she said, the country-pop ballad Summer Coulda Lasted Forever. The rest of the musicians joined them for an amazingly tight, completely deadpan cover of A Day in the Life, Maura leading her little orchestra with split-second precision all the way through the two long, interminable crescendos, a wry vocal from her husband on Paul’s verse, and then up and up and up some more and then finally out. It was an apt way to end a night of similarly expert craftsmanship.

December 10, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 10/15/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #837:

Everything But the Girl – Baby the Stars Shine Bright Tonight

Tracy Thorn and Ben Watt were stars in the UK ten years before the bastardized disco remix of Missing topped the US pop charts in 1994. Their torchy, jazzy 1983 debut was a big hit across the pond: this is their third album, from 1986, a lush, lavishly orchestrated collection of retro ballads, a perfect vehicle for Thorn’s anxious, wounded alto voice. She’s all longing and anticipation on the big 6/8 opening cut Come On Home, the irrepressibly swinging Don’t Leave Me Behind and the ethereal A Country Mile. Don’t Let the Teardrops Rust Your Shining Heart is a pretty successful stab at countrypolitan, as is Come Hell or High Water. Careless and Sugar Finney revert to a soaring, majestic jazz-pop vibe. The knockout punch here is Little Hitler, an understatedly towering 6/8 anthem written by Thorn: “Little Hitlers grow up to be big Hitlers,” she warns over the swell of the strings: “Every woman loves a fascist.” Part of that observation is sarcastic but part is not. If you like this one, their first two albums along with the mostly acoustic Amplified Heart and the charming acoustic ep (look for the red heart on a blue background) are also highly recommended; on the other hand, their explorations of trip-hop and proto-Portishead electronic pop are tepid and boring. Here’s a random torrent.

October 15, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Revolver’s New Album: Chamber Pop with a Bullet

French trio Revolver’s new album Music for a While sounds like something straight out of the Rive Gauche, 1969 but with smoother, digital production, heavily accented English and period-perfect psychedelic pop songwriting and arrangements. But it’s anything but cheesy. Guitarists Ambroise Willaume and Christophe Musset and cellist Jérémie Arcache play pensive, catchy chamber-pop and folk-pop songs with occasional Beatlisms and blithe harmonies that conceal a frequently dark undercurrent. Don’t confuse this with Belle and Sebastian.

The opening track, Birds in D Minor sets the tone with its brooding folk-pop melody and doomed, crescendoing chorus with Velvets strings: “Birds in my mind, guns to your head, that is how I want to play.” The swaying kiss-off anthem Leave Me Alone maintains the tone, followed by the familiar minor-key ba-ba-ba pop of Balulalow, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Bedsit Poets catalog. Back to You is McCartneyesque with its tricky rhythm, its theme shifting agilely from guitar to piano. The blistering garage rock swing of the simply titled Untitled 1 evokes the great French-American art-rockers Melomane.

Do You Have a Gun is Jimmy Webb meets Donovan meets Jarvis Cocker, a wryly deadpan, mellotron-infused account of a pickup scenario gone down the chute. The carefree, country-tinged Luke Mike and John ups the satirical ante, a scathing travelogue whose crew of spoiled brats on the road hope to find “the dharma way of life.” A Song She Wrote shuffles stiffly on a faux-New Order indie beat until a very funny interlude; Get Around Town is a jaunty, biting minor-key garage rock number, possibly alluding to police brutality. The album winds up with the morosely bopping piano pop of Untitled 2 and the regret-tinged, cynically swinging It’s All Right. This one’s for both fans of the classics (the Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle) and the obscure (Damian Quinones).

September 16, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Universal Thump Makes a Big Splash

Pianist/composer Greta Gertler’s new band the Universal Thump play art-rock at its most richly, lushly beautiful. She’s no stranger to the style: her 2005 album Nervous Breakthroughs is a genuine classic of the genre. Their new album First Spout, available exclusively at the band’s bandcamp site, is a triumphant return to a warmly familiar sonic milieu following her unexpected but rousingly successful detour into an oldtimey/ragtime vein on her previous album Edible Restaurant. This is also work in progress, the first of three eps scheduled for release throughout 2010 and 2011 – where bands used to release singles one at a time, the Universal Thump are generously offering big slices of what looks right now to have the makings of an iconic full-length effort.

The opening track (available as a free download) is an absolute tour de force, an artsy pop epic with bouncy, staccato piano and horns, a baroque-inflected rondo between the string section and bassoon on the second verse, and a long, murky, absolutely psychedelic break midway through. The big 6/8 ballad Grasshoppers manages to be wary yet sultry, Gretler’s festive piano glissandos throwing the windows wide for the strings to sweep through, slowly and gracefully winding down and eventually fading out. Gertler has never sung better – as much as she still likes to go to the top of her practically supersonic range, Kate Bush style, she’s using her lower register more, a delightful new development.

They follow it with an austere, atmospheric, horizontally-inclined tone poem for strings. The two additional tracks mine a classic pop vein: a Jeff Lynne-style cover of the iconic new wave hit Reckless, by the Australian Crawl, complete with a devious portamento synth solo which actually manages not to be cheesy, which is quite an achievement. They wind it up with a new, bassoon-propelled, stripped down version of the bouncy, Elvis Costello-tinged pop hit Martin’s Big Night Out, from Nervous Breakthroughs. Although completely self-produced, it’s packed with the kind of subtle and playful symphonic touches more typically found on big-room productions from the 70s. Count this among the best albums of 2010, as is – not bad for a work that’s a long way from completion.

August 9, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Universal Thump at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 7/16/10

Keyboardist/singer Greta Gertler’s new band the Universal Thump were something beyond amazing Friday night. The orchestrated rock bands of the 70s may have gone the way of the dinosaurs (except for the Moody Blues) but this was like being in the front row at an ELO or Procol Harum show at the Royal Albert Hall. Except with better vocals. Gertler’s sometimes stratospheric high soprano fits this band well: she went up so far that there was no competing sonically with the lush, rich atmospherics of the Thumpettes, a.k.a. the Osso String Quartet, whose presence made all the difference. With Adam D. Gold terse yet sometimes surprising behind the drum kit, equally terse bass from Groove Collective’s Jonathan Maron, fiery powerpop guitar god Pete Galub on lead and Gertler at the piano, they segued seamlessly from one richly melodic, Romantically-tinged, counterintuitively structured song to the next.

Gertler’s been writing songs like that since she was in her teens: one Aimee Mann-inflected number in stately 6/8 time dated from 1993. Otherwise, the set was mostly all new material from the Universal Thump’s ongoing album (now an ep, with a kickstarter campaign in case you have money to burn). The opening number worked a wistful post-baroque melody down to a piano cascade where Gertler rumbled around in the low registers for awhile, then the strings took it up again. The wistful vibe kept going, an uneasy, brooding lyric soaring over an austere minor-key melody, with a terse viola solo out. Damien, from Gertler’s now-classic 2004 album The Baby That Brought Bad Weather was all understated longing, cached in the mighty swells of the strings.

Galub used the next song’s Penny Lane bounce as the launching pad for an unabashedly vicious, percussively crescendoing guitar solo, something he’d repeat a couple more times – even by his standards, he was especially energized. The best song of the evening, possible titled Closing Night began with a matter-of-factly dramatic series of piano chords, worked its way into a lush backbeat anthem with another one of those Galub slasher solos, and gracefully faded out. Gertler explained that her closing number had been appropriated (and turned into a sizeable hit) by an unnamed Australian band, who’d transformed it into a song about playing the lottery. As it rose to a ridiculously catchy chorus out of just vocals and strings, its hitworthiness struck home, hard. The audience wouldn’t let them go: the band encored with a majestically fluid version of Everybody Wants to Adore You, another smash of a pop song from The Baby That Brought Bad Weather. We do our own individual list of the best New York concerts of the year in December, and you can bet that this one will be on it. This was it for the Universal Thump’s shows this summer – adding yet another reason to look forward to fall, which at this point couldn’t come too soon.

July 19, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment