Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Bern & the Brights – Swing Shift Maisies

Bern & the Brights are a breath of fresh air. Their sound is absolutely original: they’re impossible to pigeonhole, creating a violin-and-guitar-driven swirl of artsy new wave, chamber pop, art-rock and indie rock, with a raw, plaintive, emotionally resonant edge. Their song structures are counterintuitive: this band refuses to be contained by a simple verse/chorus/verse pattern. The title of their new album, Swing Shift Maisies refers to the all-female bands that sprung up during World War I: Rosie the Rocker instead of Rosie the Riveter. The term was actually a slur, the band using it here sarcastically – they’re all first-rate musicians. Frontwoman/guitarist Bernadette Malavarca has playful command of an impressively wide range of styles, and she’s full of surprises: she’ll punch out a staccato new wave phrase and and suddenly toss off a tongue-in-cheek country riff – or stick out her tongue with a comical Jimmy Page lick. Acoustic guitarist Catherine McGowan – who also sings – holds the songs to the rails along with the nimble rhythm section of Shawn Fafara on bass and Jose Ulloa on drums. The band’s not-so-secret weapon is violinist Nicole Scorsone, overdubbed here to the point that she’s a one-woman orchestra. For those who’ve never seen them live, this four-song ep makes an auspicious introduction: it may be short but it’s one of this year’s best so far.

The first track, Boo features characteristically plaintive violin over jangly guitar, with distant tango echoes. “Been so long since I’ve been myself,” Malavarca muses; the band works a catchy minor key guitar vamp that builds lushly with the strings, a suspenseful drum shuffle and a majestic, sweeping outro. The brisk Sangria Peaches kicks off with a tricky rhythm into a fast eight-note new wave groove with staccato violin, swirling strings and a coy break with castanets. McGowan sings Sleepless Aristotle – a live showstopper – with a chipper chirp: it’s a fast, swaying amalgam of chamber pop and vintage new wave, and a playful percussion breakdown. The last song here, It Goes Like That sounds like the Velvets jamming with the New Pornographers at Juilliard summer camp.

As a singer, Malavarca’s still finding her voice. It’s a powerful, versatile instrument with eye-popping range – when she’s projecting with an insistence that vividly recalls Martha Davis of the Motels (a little higher up the scale), she’s tremendously affecting. When she lapses into a drawl (which happily only happens every now and then), it’s an affectation that sticks out like a sore thumb in a band so original and so cliche-free. But given the quality and the imagination of the songs here, that’s a minor quibble. As good as the recordings are, the band is even better live: Bern & the Brights play the cd release for this album at Maxwell’s on July 17 at 8:30. Now’s your chance to enjoy them up close before it costs you twice as much at venues twice as big.

July 12, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Boro 6 Music Festival 2010 – Worth a Trip to Montclair, NJ

Like just about everything here, we’re a little late in getting to this, but last year’s Boro 6 Music Festival included just about every good rock and rock-related style happening outside of NYC. In covering the scene here, we often lose sight of all the other vital scenes outside the five boroughs – based on last year’s festival and this year’s, Montclair is definitely one of them. This year’s festival is four concerts in three days at two venues, starting Fri June 11 at Tierney’s Tavern, 136 Valley Road in Montclair and Asana House, down the block at 127 Valley Road where there will be an all-ages show on Sat, June 12 (Tierney’s is 21+).

Friday’s headliners the Defending Champions are a first-class, high-energy third-wave ska band. Also on the bill; Black Water (feat. former members of the skronky, atonal, amusing Meltdowns) and hypnotically echoey, reverb-drenched Mogwai-ish dreampop/noiserockers the Invisible Lines.

The good stuff starts around nine on Saturday at Tierney’s with up-and-coming retro soul band the One and Nines, fronted by charismatic siren Vera Sousa, with an equally captivating if far darker choice of headliners, the alternately austere and intense guitar-and-violin-driven indie rockers Bern & the Brights. The all-ages show at Asana House kicks off with anthemic veteran powerpop guy Gerry Perlinsky plus the clever, Beatlesque Terry McCarthy, tuneful and fun janglerockers the Sirs (who do a song about a Jean-Paul Sartre play, and another about being goth in high school) and Celtic folk troubadour Niall Connolly.

Sunday’s show opens with the tongue-in-cheek retro 80s Frozen Gentlemen, followed by Copesetic – whose tunefully psychedelic debut last year was a singer short of greatness – then the funky hip-hop groove of Tip Canary, the Porchistas’ fun, country-inflected powerpop (plus they’re bringing free rice and beans for everyone, yum), the similarly Americana-driven but louder McMickle Bros. and then fiery gypsy rockers Kagero to wind up the night on an exhaustingly fun note. Definitely enough good stuff here to make it worth the ride there and back.

June 9, 2010 Posted by | concert, irish music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, rap music, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Concert Review: Bern & the Brights at Spikehill, Brooklyn NY 7/18/09

An auspicious Brooklyn show by one of the finest, most intelligent and original exports from the impressively fertile music scene scattered around Montclair, New Jersey. This show was yet further proof that the best new rock music out there bears absolutely no resemblance to anything coming out of Williamsburg. Bern & the Brights’ sound is raw, plaintive and lush in an artsy vein somewhat evocative of New York cello rockers Pearl & the Beard. They don’t waste notes, they vary their tempos and their two women singers deliver a potent emotional impact: this band does not sound like they go gently into their parents’ luxury condo at the end of the night. Bandleader/Telecaster player Bernadette Malavarca sings with a big, powerful, wounded wail, a soulful delivery shared with just a tinge less projectile force by acoustic guitarist Catherine McGowan. Violinist Nicole Scorsone plays vividly and tersely, adding considerable poignancy to the band’s sound. Their sub bass player locked in impressively with the drums.  Their first song was an apprehensive minor-key number: “So long since I’ve been myself,” mused Malavarca. My Black Cat, sung by McGowan had a rustic Nashville gothic feel: toward the end of the song, the cat dies, and it’s not pretty. As the song wound up, Malavarca moved to the standup drum kit they’d set up to the side of the stage.

Another song was fast and fiery, punctuated with staccato violin and a swaying rhythm that grew funkier toward the end. Built around a catchy, insistent two-chord riff, When It’s Real was captivatingly perturbed, Malavarca’s soulful vocals effectively capturing a feeling of being pushed past the limit of willingly putting up with someone’s bullshit. The show wound up with a fast, Paisley Underground inflected stomp, a swaying, stark anthem possibly titled Irish Moss, and the somewhat epic Sleepless Aristotle which wound up as a delirious percussion jam, the whole band (and a friend of the band) joining in the pandemonium, banging on whatever was nearby and would resonate. This is a band that’s still growing – in places, some of the songs fall into the kind of lazy atonality that makes so much of indie rock so lame, i.e. the tendency to move a single note in a chord up or down a half step instead of shifting hand position to the real major or minor chord that would resolve the phrase more memorably and melodically. But most of the songs don’t have that problem. And indie rock types wouldn’t know the difference anyway. Watch this space for upcoming NYC area live dates.

July 21, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Boro 6 Music Festival Coming to Montclair, NJ June 18-21

One ongoing problem here (we have many) is that being so immersed in the New York scene, it’s awfully easy to forget that there are plenty of other vital music scenes all over the country. Case in point: Montclair, New Jersey, home not to any one particular style but the focal point for a large, diverse handful of smart, impressively competent bands. The upcoming Boro 6 Music Festival runs June 18-21, with lots of bands on the bill. The McMickle Bros. serve up vaguely Neil Young-inflected clang and twang with unusual verve, at the top of their game sounding a little like the Dream Syndicate. The three women and two guys in Bern & the Brights deliver stark, passionate shoegaze-inflected minor-key anthems, while the two guys in Tip Canary offer funny, laid-back raps over lazy guitar funk grooves. Deivito play rousing acoustic Latin music fused with Mexican folk that actually sounds more like ancient Dominican bachata than anything else

Highlights of day one are the Defending Champions, who play tasty third-wave ska with clinky guitars, a horn section and a sense of humor, and gentle but funny cello/guitar indie pop band Waking Lights. Day two features New York gypsy-Japanese party band Kagero as well as the Frozen Gentlemen, who play funny, tongue-in-cheek early 80s new wave and ska-flavored pop. On the third day, there’ll be the scruffy, moody, restless indie trio the All New Cheap Moves along with blue-eyed soul/funk siren Stephanie White & the Philth Harmonic. Day four has a killer lineup with the Porchistas’ fun, country-inflected powerpop, the McMickle Bros., Bern & the Brights and Stu Klinger’s excellent Pogues cover band Streams of Whiskey. The final night includes the brilliant New York Americana chanteuse Julia Haltigan and her killer band the Hooligans along with the tuneful, anthemic, funky rock of Copesetic and perhaps the best act of the entire festival, the One & Nines who are an amazing time machine, playing the kind of slightly psychedelic late 60s soul that Smokey Robinson and the rest of the A-list were doing right before Woodstock. The entire festival calendar is here.

May 12, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Top Ten Songs of the Week 5/11/09

We do this every week. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Every link here will take you to the song.

 

1. McGinty & White – Knees

Savagely lyrical kiss-off anthem from the duo’s excellent debut cd, possibly the only song ever written that fondly (sort of) eulogizes CB’s Gallery. Gotta love that Love Is the Drug outro. They’re at Bowery Electric on 5/21 at 11.

 

2. Overlord – The Daily Oblivion

Better than the New Pornographers – plus they have Kerry Kennedy in the band!

 

3. David Bridie – Going Out with the Enemy

Smart Aussie rock songwriter – this one sounds a bit like Midnight Oil.

 

4. Sr. Misterio – El Comienzo

Mexican surf rock is the best!

 

5. Stuffed Cupcake – Better at Rejection

“NJ’s premier dessert punk band.” Here’s an even funnier acoustic version.

 

6. Bern & the Brights – May in New York

22 degrees? Vigil at Union Square? When was this? Good song, though, dark and propulsive.

 

7. Tip Canary – Tough to Find One (Broke A$S Game)

Funny hip-hop-funk tune about dating a rich bitch

 

9. Waking Lights – Ice Cream & Vicodin

Enjoy, just don’t choke!

 

10. The Frozen Gentlemen – Peen

Deadpan retro 80s new wave. Is this about what it seems to be about?

May 12, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment