Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 12/28/10

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues as it does every day, all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #763:

David J – Urban Urbane

No disrespect to Peter Murphy or Daniel Ash, but the member of Bauhaus who would go on to do the greatest things was bass player David J. Over a prolific solo career that spans more than 25 years, his diverse catalog spans the worlds of noir cabaret, catchy Britpop, lush art-rock, austere minimalism and Americana: literally everything he’s recorded is worth owning, even his silly, sarcastic cover of Madonna’s What It Feels Like for a Girl. This one, his 1992 major label debut, pretty much sank without a trace outside of his cult following: we picked it because it’s his most diverse effort. Jazz Butcher guitarist Max Eiger delivers some of his most memorable work throughout it, particularly on the bitterly ecstatic Bouquets, Wreaths and Laurels. The songwriter’s powerfully lyrical side is also represented by the snarling, sardonic Tinseltown (where “your biggest dream is made small”), the surreal Pilgrims, Martyrs and Saints and Hoagy Carmichael Never Went to New Orleans. The goth songs here are classics: the macabre Smashed Princess and Ten Little Beauty Queens, and the S&M-gone-wrong tale Candy on the Cross. There’s also the surprisingly funky opening track, Some Big City; the hypnotic, Velvets-inflected Man of Influential Taste, Space Cowboy and Serial Killer Blues. Here’s a random torrent.

December 28, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Thomas Simon – Moncao

Haunting and hypnotic, Thomas Simon’s new album is a suite of eerie, mostly instrumental soundscapes evoking both Syd Barrett and David Gilmour-era Pink Floyd as well as Bauhaus and, when the ghostly melody begins to take a recognizable shape, Australian psychedelic legends the Church. Incorporating elements of minimalism, sci-fi and horror film scores as well as goth music and oldschool art-rock, it’s an ominous treat for the ears. Over a murky wash of drones, Thomas’ guitar rings, clangs and occasionally roars, moving in and through and then out of a swirling sonic whirlpool, frequently churning with both live and looped percussion. The reliably brilliant Dave Eggar adds layers of cello in the same vein: a flourish here and there and tantalizing snatches of melody that inevitably give way to dark atmospherics.

The title track is much like what Pink Floyd was going for on One of These Days – a staggered, swaying drumbeat, a series of low drones swooping and out of the mix and a forest of minimalist reverb guitar accents. Simon will pull off a hammer-on quickly, or add a silvery flash of vibrato a la David Gilmour – and then send the lick whirling over and over again into the abyss. The second movement, In the Middle of Nowhere, sets a distantly nightmarish scene – a tritone echoes in the background, fading up and back down as the guitar moves ominously and modally around the tonic – and then the cello leads the drums in, and the headless horsemen are off with a gallop. They bring it down to that macabre tritone hook, then bring it up, then back down again for over fifteen minutes.

The third movement works a simple descending hook over a trip-hop loop, sparse piano over washes of guitar noise. Up Against the Wall is a maze of backward masking and disembodied textures, sort of a synthesis of tracks one and three. They take it down and then out with stately yet raw guitar. The closest thing to a coherent song here, Altered Planet evokes the Church with its washes of cello and guitar: “Where we going, we need somewhere to hide” becomes “Where are you going, there’s nowhere to hide,” sirens appearing and then fading out before the guitar finally takes it up in a blaze of distortion. Somewhere there is an epic, dystopic film that needs this for its score. Maybe it hasn’t been made yet. Simon’s sonic palette is actually far more diverse than this album might indicate – his live shows can be very lively. Thomas Simon plays Small Beast upstairs at the Delancey on June 14 at around 9.

May 27, 2010 Posted by | experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Thomas Truax, Paul Wallfisch and Little Annie, and David J Survive CMJ at the Delancey, NYC 10/22/09

It wasn’t as bad as that: actually, it was transcendent. It’s hard to imagine a better bill in this year’s CMJ atrocity exhibition than Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch’s entrant, part of his weekly salon/extravaganza, Small Beast. Lots of talent on this bill: Pamelia Kurstin and Spottiswoode had played early in the evening. By ten, Thomas Truax had taken the stage, solo, accompanied by a couple of his Rube Goldberg-esque inventions, the Hornicator and something else whose name is lost to memory. It was something of a triumphant homecoming for the songwriter, now based in London but once a denizen of the late, lamented Tonic scene and a popular attraction here. He has a new album of songs from David Lynch films out, and played a handful of these, often leaping from the stage with his acoustic guitar and darting through the audience, Reverend Vince Anderson style. The best was a haunting version of the Orbison classic In Dreams, swaying along on the pulse of the Hornicator and its primitive echo/reverb effect. For an encore, with Wallfisch on piano, he tossed off a viscerally evil, feedback-driven version of I Put a Spell on You. Let’s hope he brings his menace back sometime sooner rather than later.

Wallfisch, joined by erstwhile Big Lazy bassist Paul Dugan and Botanica violinist Heather Paauwe, then ran through an especially passionate set of new material, surprises and covers, beginning with a knowing, cautionary tale affirming that “nothing is still too much,” set to a crescendoing five-note descending progression. Their cover of the Leonard Cohen classic I’m Your Man channeled a sultry triumph; the centerpiece of Botanica’s forthcoming album Who You Are had a similar exalted feel, albeit infused with classic gospel in place of classic soul. The quasi-official Small Beast theme, Eleganza and Wines was nothing short of exhilarating, Wallfisch effortlessly kicking out a Chopinesque solo before leading the crowd in a brief lesson in 7/8 time. After an angst-fueled Because You’re Gone, he then invited his longtime noir cabaret cohort Little Annie – who wrote it – up to do it again, infusing it with even more gravitas. But then she flipped the script with a brief, characteristically bitingly funny take of her post-rehab narrative The Other Side of Heartache: “If I could have invented an original sin, I would have and shared it with all of you,” the punk rock Eartha Kitt confided to the crowd.

Then they brought up David J. Over the past 25 years, the Bauhaus bassist has built a rich, stylistically diverse body of work that overshadows what he did with his original band. Without his bass, he embraced the role of noir crooner, sinking his fangs into the songs with unabashed relish, imbuing them with equal parts ominous deviousness and offhandedly snarling wit (he can be very funny – a few years ago he did a hilarious cover of Madonna’s What It’s Like for a Girl). He turned an LCD Soundsystem number into Orbisonesque pop, evinced every bit of gleeful menace as he could from Tom Waits’ Dead and Lovely and turned St. James Infirmary into a carnival of dead souls. Boulevard of Broken Dreams was as old-world phantasmagorical as it could have been: at the end, he finally let the audience know that “Bela Lugoi’s dead,” as close as he would come to a Bauhaus song. His lone original of the night, a new one titled Bloodsucker Blues was a caustic dismissal of twelve-step idiocy; he closed with an almost sadistic stalker cover of New York Telephone Conversation, finding yet another level of meaning in what was already a completely tongue-in-cheek lyric. There were other bands on afterward – this was a CMJ event, after all – but by then it was one in the morning and time to find an alternative to the now-dormant F train (FYI – after midnight when the F stops running, the J and M from Delancey will connect you with other trains at both Canal and Fulton). Small Beast returns with Wallfisch and another equally haunting rocker, Randi Russo on November 2 at 9.

October 24, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, Nathan Halpern and Thomas Simon at the Delancey, NYC 7/13/09

Why do we love Small Beast? Because we’re lazy. Small Beast will be happening every Monday at the Delancey until October, when it moves back to its original Thursday. Which from a music blogger’s perspective is good for so many reasons, particularly since there are almost always three or four first-rate acts on the bill who’ve never been profiled here before. So Lucid Culture gets four night’s worth of work done in a single Monday evening when there are  no conflicts with other shows. And Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch always opens the night solo on piano. Imagine if you’d been able to see Bud Powell every week for free, in 1953 – completely different idiom, same vibe. It’s all about passion.

Since Wallfisch gets a good review here pretty much every week, suffice it to say that last night’s set was characteristically rich and multistylistic. He’d played a money gig earlier in the day, so he was all warmed up and got even warmer very quickly. He did lots of new material including some songs from the next Botanica album and some even newer than that – a soaring, classically-inflected ballad, a pretty, vivid pop song and counterintuitive covers of songs by Baby Dee, Little Annie, Aimee Mann and the Stones (Faraway Eyes done hilariously with faux-gospel piano).

Nathan Halpern really opened some eyes after that. The lead guitarist from Kerry Kennedy’s paisley underground noir band proved to be a first-rate songwriter as well, sort of Orbison seen through the warped prism of Pulp. Halpern is a crooner, likes a counterintuitive, sardonically literate lyric and a big countrypolitan sound gone somewhat apprehensively askew. As he does in Kennedy’s band, he’d build a crescendo to an unhinged tremolo-picking break, wailing up and down on the strings with a Black Angel’s Death Song style savagery. Backed by Andrew Platt alternating between piano, guitar and bass and drummer Heather Wagner adding marvelously subtle shades, Halpern made his way through a mix of big 6/8 anthems, a couple of jaunty, more overtly country-inflected numbers and closed with a towering, knowingly rueful number perhaps titled Darling When.

Viennese expat Thomas Simon closed the night on a frequently mesmerizing note with a long, practically seamless, improvisational set, something akin to Bauhaus doing a sidelong Abbey Road-style suite, fragments of songs segueing into each other while he and his extraordinarily good djembe player dug a murky sonic pit that swirled deeper and darker as the night went on with layers and layers of loops reverberating and pulsing throughout the mix. Simon’s guitar playing is very Daniel Ash – like the Bauhaus guitarist, he really has a handle how to build eerie tonalities using open strings. Frequently he’d start a segue with a single low, resonant bass note just as David J did on Bela Lugosi’s Dead. Simon moved to piano for a couple of interludes, using the same chordal voicings he’d been playing on the guitar for an intriguing textural contrast. At the end, they picked up the pace with an insistent, percussively hypnotic rhythm, then they took the drums completely out of the mix and Simon took all the effects off his guitar, letting the melody’s ominous, Syd Barrett-esque inflections speak for itself.

July 14, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Ray – Death in Fiction

Sweepingly majestic and savagely beautiful, a serious contender for best rock album of 2008. This cd ought to establish British rock quartet Ray as frontrunners for this year’s Mercury Prize (at least that’s how it looks from five thousand feet). With a big, anthemic sound that manages to be accessible without sacrificing intelligence or intensity, both in abundance here, Ray draws deeply from just about the darkest possible well of 80s influences. Their sound could be described as a mix of Bauhaus minus the, you know, “Alone, in a darkened room, The Count!!!” along with the big, potent anthemic sensibility of vintage, early 90s New Model Army and perhaps Madrugada albeit without that band’s Hollywoodisms or Stooges obsession. Death in Fiction is a concept album of sorts about dissolution, despair and missed opportunities. Frontman Nev Bradford has the baritone delivery that’s all the rage, but like his forerunners Peter Murphy and Nick Cave, he’s confident, completely unaffected, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the uptight, constipated posers of the National or Interpol. There is nothing whatsoever cold or detached about Ray’s music: John Rivers’ magnificent, epic production only serves to elevate these songs’ passion, tension and resolution, the clash of hope up against the cruel barbwire of reality. The trendoid crowd over here on this side of the pond will not get this band (although the cool kids will).

The album kicks off with a ferocious blast of sound on the opening hook to the catchy Five Times Cursed, what quickly becomes characteristically howling, anguished lead guitar over a lush, roaring, pounding wash of sound echoing and glistening with reverb and digital delay. The following cut Days to Come nicks the bass lick from the Alarm Clocks’ 60s garage rock classic No Reason to Complain, although they take it completely in the opposite direction. Lead guitarist Mark Bradford plays with an extraordinarily terse ferocity, like Peter Koppes of the Church in his most dramatic moments while the rhythm section of Martin Tisdall on bass and Chris Lowe on drums holds this relentless juggernaut to the rails.

The title track methodically builds to a crescendo over a propulsive Sister Ray groove: “This is the price you pay for believing that/A death in fiction would be fine.” After that, Roulette Sun raises a glass of absinthe to Pink Floyd’s iconic Time, Mark Bradford’s anguished lead lines painted stark against a somber Hammond organ background. The tense, desperate minimalism of Little Joy (“For a little joy…to call your own, what would you do?”) evokes nothing less than Joy Division at their most guitarish, again punctuated by another deliciously screaming, reverberating solo.

Next, Great Strange Dream is a meticulously arranged anthem that once again sounds a lot like the Church. Sound of the End is a snarling, slowly crescendoing broadside at conformists and their entertainment-industrial complex, building to a heartbreakingly beautiful, recurring hook, only to slip away gracefully at the end. Begging Like a Dog rages out at mindless consumption:

They have a lot of ways of placing
A godless advert on your shrine
They have a lot of ways of thieving
What was yours and what was mine
They have you begging like a dog

The album ends with the majestic Cut Out, both cautionary tale and a sort of requiem for a dream unfulfilled. All things considered, this a terrific ipod album, although its lush sonics benefit greatly from loud volume and big speakers. For readers in London, Ray next plays Sat June 21 at 8 PM at the ULU Duck and Dive Bar, 1st Floor, University of London Union, Malet Street London WC1E 7HY, five quid / £3 for students.

June 12, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment