Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 6/4/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Thursday’s song is #419:

BotanicaGood

Our predecessor e-zine’s pick for best song of 2004 was this towering, anguished 6/8 anthem, the centerpiece of the New York noir art-rockers’ classic 9/11-themed album Botanica vs. the Truth Fish, frontman Paul Wallfisch’s organ roaring in tandem with John Andrews’ reverb-drenched guitar. “I need a respite, just a moment of respite, I thought I caught it but now it is gone…” The link in the title above is the last.fm stream of the complete song. Wallfisch plays songs from the latest forthcoming Botanica studio album tonight at the Delancey at 8:30 PM.

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June 4, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/24/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Friday’s song is #460:

Botanica The Truth Fish

The title track to the NYC noir art-rockers’ classic 2004 cd Botanica vs. the Truth Fish – the only album by an American band not named Rasputina to thoroughly condemn the Bush regime for 9/11 – it’s a scathing broadside addressing the “code orange bullshit of Machiavellian ordeals” of the ensuing months and years, a fiery gypsy dance mutating into a phantasmagorically swinging cabaret tune and then back again. The link in the title above is a ferocious live clip from a recent European tour. If you want to see this live, Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch frequently plays it at his weekly Thursday Small Beast residency/salon/show at the Delancey starting around nine. 

April 24, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Botanica at Joe’s Pub, NYC 3/21/09

Like Joy Division or Nina Simone, Botanica enjoy a cult appeal with a taste-defining sensibility, a still-necessary antithesis and antidote to so-called “hipster irony.” Passionately lyrical, as informed by classical and gypsy music as rock, internationalist in viewpoint, engaged in the world and intensely charismatic onstage, even conformists resist the urge to dismiss them if only because their mongrel hordes are everywhere. Saturday night, this proper and respectable venue hadn’t seen such wild, unleashed mayhem since the days of Gogol Bordello, as one concertgoer put it, maybe even since one particularly blistering set by a pre-crack Gil Scott-Heron in its earliest days way back in the 90s. Botanica were fresh off European tour and weren’t ready to wind down yet, the result being a 180 degree contrast with the placid and predictable if pretty stream of cliches strung together by the opening act. Botanica have a rep for intense live shows – anybody who’s seen their frontman Paul Wallfish do his solo thing at the weekly Small Beast show on Thursday evenings at the Delancey knows this – but Friday night’s sonic onslaught caught the crowd like a low-flying jetliner.

 

Guitarist John Andrews, in particular, got a workout – there hasn’t been as much savage tremolo-picking onstage anywhere in New York since Dick Dale last passed through. Playing through a dense, metallic wall of reverb, he wailed for minutes on end as the band methodically made their way through The Flag, the bitter, elegaic anthem to another America perhaps gone forever (“When I stand and face the flag/I see my country wrapped in rags”) from the classic 9/11-themed 2004 cd Botanica vs. the Truth Fish. Wallfisch was in typically menacing yet compelling form, whether anchoring the songs with brooding organ or eerily echoey Wurlitzer piano, brandishing his trusty bullhorn or taking one of several variously successful acrobatic excursions into the crowd. The new rhythm section of Jason Binnick (from Kerry Kennedy’s band) on bass and Dave Berger on drums is equal to any other unit this band ever had (Berger, in particular, lending a counterintuitively playful yet restrained touch to several of the more pounding, straightforward songs), and the violinist who’d been flown in from somewhere in Europe (Vienna, maybe?) was superb as well.

 

Someone Else Again, from their previous US release Berlin Hi-Fi, scurrried and swung nimbly. And Then Palermo, from the same album, was raised from wistfulness to unrestrained anguish, particularly when Andrews cut loose with a bloodcurdling, screaming, reverb-drenched solo on his Jazzmaster. In striking contrast, a more recent track, Who You Are, was all lush, exultant beauty with a particularly inspired vocal: “Imagine…perfection,” encouraged Wallfisch, responding to the technical glitches that had derailed the start of the show by a minute or two. As usual, Wallfisch used the stately, haunting lost-time masterpiece Eleganza and Wines as an excuse to teach the crowd 7/8 time, taking his message as far as he could along the railing separating bar area from tables and managing not to lose his balance.

 

“Five minutes, Paul,” the sound guy said, clearly audible over the club PA. So naturally the band played for another twenty. The highlight, perhaps predictably, was The Truth Fish, this time with its crazed, desperate gypsy outro careening at a ridiculous clip, the band nonetheless keeping up with the tempo until the end where Wallfisch intoned his complete disgust with those who, in the weeks and months after 9/11, would not extinguish those “Fires. No. One. Cares. To. Put. Out. Out. Out!” And they followed that with more gypsy wildness, the similarly politically-fueled How, Wallfisch holding the band back so all the lickety-split lyrics could resonate. “How many idiots on the head of a pin?” After the show, the crowd lined up to get copies of their new live cd americanundone, which’ll be available at later gigs as well. In the meantime, here’s a free download of one of the cd’s tracks, Billboard Jesus.

March 25, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Botanica – Berlin Hi-Fi

What do you do when your last album was arguably the best single-disc cd of the decade so far? Maybe you flip the script. Maybe you do something radically different, that no one can compare to your most recent effort. Maybe, you make a pop album – or part of one, anyway. That’s what Botanica has done with their latest masterpiece (their trademark epic grandeur and snarling ferocity roars back and takes over on the rest of the songs). It’s an unabashedly romantic (and Romantic) achievement, lush and orchestrated, eerie yet sexy as hell. Put this on the night table beside the Al Green and the Moonlighters: it’s bedroom music for cold starless nights.

Botanica’s trademark sound welds their towering, passionate, keyboard-driven melodicism to a dark, savage reverb guitar attack, blending elements of gypsy punk, classical music and goth into a powerful, potently cerebral cocktail. On this one, they don’t even start a song in 4/4 until the album’s fourth song. The album opens with the stately Eleganza and Wines, a beautiful, rueful lament for a time and place lost forever, played in slinky 7/8 meter. As is so typical with Botanica’s songs, it builds to a towering crescendo and then fades to its central hook. (And Then) Palermo maintains the feeling of regret, a gorgeously romantic pop song in 6/8. The cd’s following cut, its title track is the most overtly 90’s style indie rock song they’ve done to date, a little out of character, but it works: a joyous shout-out to Berlin, where they’ve built up a substantial following, and it’s obvious that the appreciation is mutual. Remember the last time you left the country, how good you felt, how absolutely liberated? If so, this is your anthem. Next song: Concrete Shoes. Classic Botanica, haunting and desperate. “Save me now/Tie the rope around my neck and pull me up.” The footfalls of Christian Bongers’ bass quickly creep along as the guitar and organ roar, building inexorable momentum. On the following cut, I’m Lifting, the tension recedes to the background, but just a little bit: the rest of the band plays over and around frontman/keyboardist Paul Wallfisch’s central, haunting electric piano arpeggio.

Next up is A Freestyle Kiss to Hedy Lamarr (whose image graces the cover of the album), laden with sadness, melodies pouring in and overflowing the carafe, staining the tablecloth shiraz red. Then we get the frenetic concert favorite Someone Else Again, with its ascending bassline and Hollywood noir feel: David Lynch could use this for his next movie if it’s anything like Mulholland Drive.

The scorching antiwar song Waking Up clocks in at barely a minute and a half, a throwback to the furious politically charged power of Botanica’s career-defining previous album, Botanica vs. the Truth Fish. The album’s next tune, I Desire perfectly encapsulizes where Botanica is now. John Andrews’ scary reverb guitar plays the song’s central arpeggio as Wallfisch’s funereal electric piano tones reverberate against it and build to a firestorm of emotion.

The album’s most likely radio hit – and there are many to choose from – is its next track, Not a Bear: “more ambitious than your average bear,” as the lyric goes. “Why sleep when you could be wide awake?” It’s a curious question, with Andrews’ menacing guitar and Wallfisch’s organ lurking in the background, and it might be rhetorical. The alternative could be fatal.

More political gypsy punk (and a wildly frenetic, deliciously climactic violin solo) with How, which the band frequently uses as an aptly furious concert encore. Then the sarcastic, Nick Cave-inflected Fame, a savage blast back at the entertainment-industrial complex and all the rockstar wannabes who buy into it.

Then a return to the same reflective tone the album began on, with This Perfect Spot. The cd’s secret track is Eleganza and Wines rearranged for string quartet and it’s absolutely beautiful, a spot-on way to close this gorgeous, meticulously arranged and fearlessly intense album. This is not your neighbor’s whiny, tuneless indie rock. It’s not your father’s bloated, bombastic prog rock. It’s the soundtrack to your life at top speed, full volume, every synapse at full power. Why sleep when you could be wide awake. Albums are available in better record stores, at shows and online.

Frontman Paul Wallfisch is on tour right now with the “coalmine canary,” noir chanteuse Little Annie but we should expect at least one NYC area show this summer after they return.

May 14, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments