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: Beefstock Recipes

Every few years, somebody tries to put out an anthology that captures a time and place in New York rock history. Too bad it never seems to work. The two Live at CBGB albums (which now sell for hundreds of dollars apiece) were perfect examples, forgettable songs by forgotten bands whose only claim to fame was playing a club that pretty much everybody else was playing too. While a definitive anthology of the best current New York bands would require a hefty, unwieldy box set, we finally have a collection, the improbably titled Beefstock Recipes, which succeeds brilliantly at capturing some of the most original and exciting New York bands of the here-and-now. All the artists represented on the cd have played the annual upstate Beefstock music festival at one time or another, many on multiple occasions. Originally conceived as a one-off memorial concert for bassist Darren Bohan, who was murdered when the Twin Towers were detonated on 9/11, the first show (put together by Brooklyn jam band Plastic Beef, hence the name), was so successful that they did another one the next year, and the next, and…voila. Beefstock Nine is scheduled for sometime in early spring 2010.

 

In the Beefstock tradition, the album is divided into two cds, titled Afternoon and Evening – typically, the quieter, acoustic acts and singer-songwriters play the festival during daylight hours, followed by the rock bands at night. It opens on an auspicious note with Brooklyn Is (So Big), Americana songwriter Rebecca Turner’s lilting tribute to the borough that spawned most of the bands here: “Brooklyn is so big, because it has to hold a lot of beautiful songs.” There’s a rare version of the Erica Smith classic The World Is Full of Pretty Girls with the chanteuse backed by Plastic Beef, doing it as straight-up country by comparison to the lush American Beauty-style take on her Snowblind album. Spindale contribute a catchy, fun dreampop number, followed by a rare, bizarre eco-anthem set to the tune of an old Lutheran hymn by 60s cult artist Brute Force.

 

Kirsten Williams, a rare American songwriter who’s equally capable of writing and singing in French, contributes the vividly wary, characteristically terse Arsenal. The most current of the cuts here, Paranoid Larry’s Stimulate THIS is an amusingly spot-on interpretation of Obama’s stimulus package: “They’re sitting in their castles while we’re rotting in debtors’ prison.” There’s also You-Shaped Hole in the Universe, Livia Hoffman’s haunting tribute to Bohan, her bandmate and close friend, and the aptly environmentalist Sunset by solar-powered band Solar Punch, winding up the first cd with some richly melodic work by bassist Andy Mattina.

 

But it’s disc two where things really heat up. The John Sharples Band’s ecstatic anthem Brooklyn sets it up for the Gun Club/Cramps-style noir garage intensity of Tom Warnick & World’s Fair’s Skull and Crossbones. Black Death’s Abandoned Cemetery is a rousing death-metal spoof; Liza & the WonderWheels’ Where’s My Robot Maid continues in a similar tongue-in-cheek vein, frontwoman Liza Garelik wondering in lush, rich tones about when her household deus ex machina is going to arrive. Skelter’s Dawn Marie is one of the most deliciously vengeful kiss-off anthems ever written, a mighty smack upside the memory of a treacherous girl who sprinkles her Apple Jacks with cocaine (?!?!?) and screws around. Road to Hell is a characteristically metaphorical, amusing number from jangerock siren Paula Carino, followed by Cell Phone or Schizo, a song that needed to be written and it’s a good thing that it’s new wave revivalists the Larch who’re responsible. The best cut on the entire album is the sadly defunct Secrets‘ obscure classic How to Be Good, a gorgeous, darkly downcast, jangly anthem set in a shadowy milieu that could only be New York. There’s also a smoldering powerpop gem by the Actual Facts and Love Camp 7’s Start from Nothing (a song covered better by its writer, playing on Erica Smith’s Snowblind). 

 

Both cds tail off about three-quarters of the way through, but Evening ends on an inspiring note with the “Tom Tom Warnick Club” i.e. a Tom Warnick & World’s Fair tribute band with vocal cameos from Paula Carino and others here doing a rousing take on one of his more straightforward songs, the soul-fueled My Troubles All Fall Apart. The official cd release show is June 13 at Freddy’s featuring Plastic Beef along with Warnick, Sharples, Liza Garelik and Ian Roure of the WonderWheels and the Larch and Baby Daddy. In the meantime, information on how to obtain one of these beautiful rarities can be found here.

April 22, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 4/7/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Tuesday’s song is #477:

The Secrets – How to Be Good

A legend in the making: dark New York rock at its purest and catchiest, a downcast, fatalistic anthem built around an irresistible minor-key hook, frontman Brian Stabile chronicling the story of a guy who somewhat defiantly refuses to resist temptation. True to their name, the band rarely played out and didn’t leave much in the way of recordings other than this track from the just-released, gloriously good NYC underground rock compilation titled Beefstock Recipes. It’s also on their myspace along with more intriguingly good stuff.

April 7, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Beefstock 2009

In many respects, the two-day festival was a snapshot of the future of live music, not just in terms of cutting-edge talent but also the way it was presented. Beefstock began simply as a tribute concert to Darren Bohan, bass player in Livia Hoffman’s band, killed on 9/11 when the Twin Towers were detonated. Held upstate at the Full Moon Resort in Big Indian, NY because of the site’s proximity to Bohan’s hometown, the initial concert was so successful that the festival’s founder, veteran Brooklyn drummer Joe Filosa decided to do another one the following year. Playfully called Beefstock by the first couple of years’ crowd (it’s in the Catskills, near Woodstock, and always features a closing jam by Filosa’s band Plastic Beef), the name quickly became official. This year’s show was Beefstock 8. A straw poll of the crowd returned a unanimous verdict: without question, this was the best ever.

 

Beefstock is best appreciated as a festival, a vacation in the same vein as Coachella or Reggae on the River: for roughly $140 per person, you get two nights of comfortable lodging, parking, four big meals and concert admission (drinks in the bar in the lodge with the stage are extra). The most striking difference is the vibe. Since Beefstock is so comparatively small-scale, all the big-festival hassles – the traffic, the endless list of Nazi rules and regulations, the exorbitant drink prices, the ubiquitous rent-a-pigs, the crowds, the lines at the porta-potties – are all conspicuously absent. As the depression tightens its grip, Beefstock could be the template for a new kind of event, as TicketBastard and Live Nation go belly-up by pricing themselves beyond the reach of ordinary citizens.

 

Because of the sheer quantity of bands on the bill (no stupid “second stages” and Hobson’s choices of who to see), bands were typically limited to no more than forty minutes onstage, sometimes considerably less. But the quality was extraordinary. Friday night kicked off with a jam and then a reputedly excellent set by new wave revivalists the Larch (caveat: leave your bottle opener at home, go hunting for one at the hotel and you miss a whole set). The Actual Facts ran through a fiery set of brand-new, unreleased reverb-drenched, Wire-inflected Britrock, long pounding hypnotic drones paired off with post-Velvets stomp and even one funky number, Gang of Four without the affectations.

 

Black Death roared through a tuneful set of riff-driven, amusing punk rock, followed by the night’s first real surprise, Girl to Gorilla. With their two guitars, viola and rhythm section, they added a roaring, anthemic Irish edge to their janglerock, the viola in particular a plus, bringing an unexpectedly eerie edge to the upbeat catchiness of the songs. A darkly backbeat-driven number titled Next Weekend was an early highlight.

 

By the time Friday’s headline act, Livia Hoffman, took the stage, it was past one in the morning. Playing solo on the Actual Facts’ Tim Simmonds’ Telecaster, running through a dense, chilly wall of reverb, she turned the chatty crowd silent in a split second with a relentlessly intense, haunting performance. Live shows by Hoffman have become increasingly rare in recent years, but this one revealed the songwriter at the top of her game, showing off some ferociously good new material including the pun-laden, sardonically bitter All My Imaginary Children. Part of the song is a long and very funny litany of these twisted kids’ personalities, set to an anthemic tune lifted from an Angelic Upstarts song (Hoffman’s songs are not often loud but she knows her punk). The big abandonment anthem Infinite Jest (absent any other David Foster Wallace reference) didn’t let up, all the way through the fiery outro where Hoffman alternated the main vocals with the backing line: “Back in five minutes/Don’t you lie!” And then her voice went out on her, but the effect made the Bohan tribute You-Shaped Hole in the Universe especially heartwrenching. She also did another sad requiem – this time for a cat – and wound up the set with the fiery, accusatory Sorry (as in “sorry’s what you are”).

 

Saturday started early in the afternoon with a series of films curated by documentarian James Dean Conklin, followed eventually by a catchy set of Americana-inflected rock by frequent Brute Force collaborator Peter Pierce. The haunting ballad Party’s Over quickly became the high point of the early part of the show. Americana chanteuse Rebecca Turner was next, turning in a characteristically melodic, lilting set shared with brilliant guitarist Josh Roy Brown, who contributed a couple of stark, stinging tunes from his own cd, notably the oldschool LES anthem Back in the Old Days (later covered by John Pinamonti).

 

Another Americana chanteuse, Erica Smith started out backed only by the bassist from her band the 99 Cent Dreams, working the low-key format for all it was worth, drawing in the crowd with the crystalline, bittersweet clarity of her voice and her haunting lyrics while the bassist grappled with the sound system and lost, badly. Then Smith’s main man John Sharples joined them onstage as did the Larch’s Ian Roure, providing sizzling slide guitar on a spiritedly psychedelic cover of the old sea chantey Johnny Come Down to Hilo.

 

Sharples and his band were next. His shtick is covering songs by all his friends, and he obviously has good taste: included  in the set were a fiery new wave rocker by the late, lamented Blow This Nightclub; Erica Smith’s Secrets, rearranged as straight-up country; a fiery, unreleased Matt Keating anthem; a punk stomp by Box of Crayons and finally the Beatles I’ve Got a Feeling (it’s unknown whether Sharples was ever friends with Lennon, but it’s not inconceivable), Smith taking the mic and belting it out of the park as usual.

 

Best band name of the night was Paula Carino and Walking Wikipedia – they’ve been through a few, but that’s a keeper – who scorched through an incandescently jangly set of her lyrically rich, playfully counterintutive two-guitar hits, among them the bouncy Road to Hell, the strikingly wistful Summer’s Over and a ferocious version of a song by her previous band Regular Einstein titled For the Modern Day. Carino was the hands-down star of last year’s Beefstock, and with her casual, clear vocals, swaying stage presence and endless barrage of hooks staked a claim to this year’s as well.

 

Tom Warnick and World’s Fair took the energy level even higher. He may look a lot like Josh Beckett but his songwriter is a lot closer to Samuel, in particularly incisively entertaining mode. The sky is always falling, but the surreal, carnivalesque cast of characters in Warnick’s songs battle it out against all odds and usually win. At least they did in the fiery, Doors-y Keep Moving – “I go to restaurants past the dead and the dying,” he intoned in his casually ominous baritone, guitarist Ross Bonnadonna (who’d just played with Carino) burning Robbie Krieger-style against Warnick’s eerie organ. Referencing both ice cream headache and the former New Hampshire rock formation the Old Man in the Mountain, stomping minimistically and suspensefully through the tongue-in-cheek Gravity Always Wins and then the gleefully off-kilter City of Women, he was a force of nature. Not bad for a guy whose brush with death a couple of years ago – along with his subsequent and continuing recovery – are something of a legend in New York rock circles.

 

By the time Warnick and crew were done, half the crowd were wearing glowsticks passed out by one of the organizers. The revelation of the evening was Gillen and Turk. To say that their whole is greater than the sum of the parts is in their case an actual compliment, Fred Gillen Jr.’s fiery lyricism and oldschool Americana folk songwriting a perfect complement to Matt Turk’s soulfully virtuosic acoustic guitar and mandolin work. The best song of the whole festival was a new number possibly titled Dear Mr. President, an absolutely spot-on critique. “Dear Mr. Governor, did you really call on her to comfort you in your hour of need?” Gillen asked the crowd, to considerable laughter. The song’s last verse celebrated that “it’s really great, the votes were really counted in 2008!” The duo also held the increasingly celebratory crowd hushed through the dark 9/11 blowback ballad We All Fall Down, then an oldtimey number where Turk mimed a muted trumpet and got the audience going with an increasingly complicated call-and-response, and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah that had some of the audience in tears.

 

Liza & the WonderWheels brought the party vibe back in a hurry, although frontwoman Liza Garelik wanted to keep things from completely boiling over: “Settle down, Joe,” she admonished Filosa, her imperturbable drummer, before a catchy, somewhat hypnotic new song with a slyly boisterous B-52s feel. Then she opened a musical greeting card and held it up to the mic. They cut their set a bit short with the snarling faux football cheer song Petroleum – “Let’s go, oil barons, let’s go!” – and then a gorgeously catchy, jangly song driven by a vintage 1960s Britrock riff, possibly titled What You Want.

 

The rest of the evening kept the party going. Skelter – another real eye-opener – roaring through a ferocious set of post-Oasis anthems as well as fast, sizzling covers of the Pistols’ Pretty Vacant and the Pink Floyd classic Lucifer Sam. The recently revamped Plastic Beef proved as adept at terse, three-minute pop songs as they’ve always been with their typical jams, although they did their signature song The Pyramid Club featuring bassist Andy Mattina in particularly melodic, virtuosic Phil Lesh mode.

 

Circus Guy offered spot-on, perfectly ornate covers of Blue Oyster Cult classics including a note-for-note version of Astronomy, departing bassist Greg Ross doing a killer job with those beautifully melodic Joe Bouchard lines. Progressive Dementia delivered a set of prog-rock parodies, alternately subtly satirical or completely over-the-top, followed by Baby Daddy, tight beyond belief and virtuosic with a terse mix of funk, bluesy grooves and their signature song, the predictably amusing (and very well-timed) 700 Beers. And then the festival’s closing jam, where the musicians demonstrated considerably more staying power than the crowd.

 

Watch this space for a review of the Beefstock Recipes compilation cd, a mix of past and present Beefstock performers. In the meantime, some observations and performer photos. Update – more photos/commentary…   

April 6, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments