Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 8/4/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #544:

Pulp – Separations

The best British band of the 90s made a bunch of great albums. This one, from 1992, is their most theatrical. There’s a distinct A-side and a B-side, the first an update on noir 60s American pop, the second a cruelly deadpan parody of the era’s computerized disco music. Love Is Blind and Don’t You Want Me Anymore are Jarvis Cocker at his most glammy and sarcastic; She’s Dead, the title track and the absolutely creepy Down by the River aren’t particularly subtle, but they’re troubling nonetheless (Cocker has always dealt with death and tragedy by exposing others’ callousness and obliviousness to it, and these are prime examples). Side 2 is just plain funny, even if the joke starts to get old by the time they reach the end, with eight mindlessly throbbing minutes of This House Is Condemned. Leading up to it are the moronically repetitive Countdown, the catchy synth-pop of My Legendary Girlfriend and Death II, which revisits the morbid vibe of side one. Here’s a random torrent.

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

The Mattson 2 Invent a New Genre: Their Own

If you like 80s music, jazz, and/or watery guitar with the occasional touch of twang and reverb, this is for you. The Mattson 2’s latest album Feeling Hands blends elements of 80s Britpop, classic jazz guitar and surf music into a coolly energetic instrumental rock style that’s uniquely their own. Guitarist/bassist Jared Mattson sometimes evokes the frenetic, jazzy virtuosity of Paul Cavanagh, of 80s cult heros The Room; drummer Jonathan Mattson shifts effortlessly from surf rumble to 80s bounce to more intricate, cerebral patterns.

The album opens with Pleasure Point, a twangy sci-fi instrumental that adds an 80s edge to classic Shadows-style surf. With its simple, catchy chorus-box guitar hooks, Black Rain wouldn’t be out of place on a New Order album circa 1985. Ode to Lou (Lou Donaldson, maybe?) matches blithe Wes Montgomery-ish guitar to David Boyce’s fluttery but balmy tenor sax. They take a spacious, almost rubato Bill Frisell style noir Americana theme and follow it with a clangy variation that goes in a jazzy mid-80s Britpop direction… with a 70s soul string chart!

Mexican Synth is not particularly Mexican: it’s more like George Benson goes to Manchester. Guest Ray Barbee delivers a long, absolutely sensational, casually savage guitar solo on Chi Nine, Jared Mattson’s furious righthand attack shadowing him. When the strings come in, it’s something of a relief from all the wild intensity. Give Inski’s (what’s up with these titles, huh?) vamps on the opening chords of the Police’s Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic: essentially, it’s a funk tune done in straight-up 4/4. There’s also the surf jazz number Obvious Crutch, judicious verse alternating with intense chorus, and Man from Anamnensis, opening with a minimalist, early 80s style new wave hook and builds from there, like the Mighty Lemon Drops gone to the Newport Festival. Fans of all the aforementioned artists ought to check this out. It’s out now from Galaxia.

July 29, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, 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

Album of the Day 3/22/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #679:

Echobelly – On

Ferocious, fearless, sultry UK punk-pop from 1993. One of the most stunningly powerful voices in recent decades, Echobelly frontwoman Sonya Aurora Madan belts and wails over the roar and crunch of Glen Johansson and Debbie Smith’s guitars, through a mix of mostly upbeat, catchy songs lit up by the occasional George Harrisonesque lead line. Defiantly alluring, Madan romps through the irresistibly catchy, scorching Car Fiction, the similarly stomping King of the Kerb – a cynical tale of a pimp and his hookers – the unstoppable optimism of Great Things, the dismissive Go Away, the feminist-stoked Natural Animal and Pantyhose and Roses, and the sarcastic but swoony Something Hot in a Cold Country. Four Letter Word nicks an idea from the Sonic Youth playbook; the absolute classic here is the slowly simmering, psychedelic nocturne Dark Therapy, which winds up with an unreal crescendo delivered by steel guitarist BJ Cole, in what might be his best-ever cameo. There’s also the distantly X-influenced Nobody Like You and In the Year as well as the morbidly quiet, mostly acoustic closing cut. The band’s 1991 debut is also worth a spin. Here’s a random torrent.

March 22, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 3/17/11

Like everyone else around the world with an internet connection, we’ve been glued to the web trying to figure out what’s happening in Japan. If you are there, our thoughts are with you, and please get out if there is any conceivable way that you can: in case you haven’t been keeping up, there’s been a slow meltdown going on in three reactors there, possibly for the past three days. In the meantime, we’ll be continuing all our regular features on this blog as we typically do unless we are no longer able to on this side of the world. So, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #684:

Blur – The Great Escape

We were going to go with something festive in honor of St. Paddy’s day, but we’ve already done the Pogues, and besides, it’s pretty much impossible to be very festive right now. So instead we give you this ruthless, brutally sarcastic 1997 art-rock concept album that mocks the shallowness and vapidity of Tony Blair/Bill Clinton era yuppies – it was a similar kind of greed, after all, that built those Japanese reactors. Damon Albarn wastes no time getting going with Stereotypes, followed by the even harsher Country House, the sardonic Best Days and brutal Charmless Man. The blandness of yuppie status-grubbing gets excoriated in Fade Away, Mr. Robinson’s Quango and He Thought of Cars; the deathlike boredom in Ernold Same and It Could Be You; the fascism in Top Man and ultimately, death, personified in the lush, towering, epic The Universal. Blur made catchier albums – Modern Life Is Rubbish and Parklife are both full of killer tunes – but both of them also include a bunch of duds. Download this before the US military shuts down blogspot and wordpress (and maybe mediafire too; after all, you can upload videos of horror in Japan to that site too); here’s a random torrent.

March 17, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/16/11

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Sunday’s is #744:

The Auteurs – After Murder Park

Vintage violence from 1996. One of the most underrated rock songwriters ever, Auteurs frontman/guitarist Luke Haines wrote most of this album after an unsuccessful stagedive that might well have killed him had he not been so wasted when he took it. This murky, slashing, often murderously psychedelic album is the menacing masterpiece that John Cale should have made in the 70s but didn’t. Haines sets lurid disassociative images of death, depravity and desperation to jagged, lo-fi distorted guitar, roaring organ, stark cello and a pounding rhythm section. The high point, ironically, is the blithe, deadpan Beatlesque pop of Unsolved Child Murder, which echoes potently in the title cut that closes the album. There’s also the snarling powerpop gem Light Aircraft on Fire, the savagely ornate Child Brides, Everything You Say Will Destroy You, Dead Sea Navigators and Fear of Flying. Buddha draws on no wave, Fear of Flying on Led Zep; New Brat in Town and Married to a Lazy Lover foreshadow the even crueler heights Haines would reach as a social critic in Black Box Recorder. The band broke up shortly after the album came out, reuniting three years later for the equally brilliant if considerably more terse How I Learned to Love the Bootboys. Haines continues to play and record under his own name. Here’s a torrent via shouldabeenhuge – thanks for this.

January 16, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Black Water’s Disasters Album Is Anything But

Catching up to all the albums that have been sitting around here for months is getting to be a lot of fun! We were sussed to this one via excellently uncategorizable indie chamberpop rockers Bern & the Brights. On their most recent album Disasters (available from their bandcamp as a free download), New Jersey band Black Water go for a somewhat retro 80s indie songwriting style but with vastly better production values and influences that run the gamut from ska and reggae to dreampop and the occasional anthemic 90s Britpop vibe. It’s a compelling and completely original blend of catchy and hypnotic.

The opening track sets a tone for the rest of the album, darkly reggae-tinged with a swirling My Bloody Valentine edge, noisy but also hook-driven. “At night, we take cover,” is the phrase they run over and over again. The second cut has more of a Britpop feel, like a slightly less herky-jerky Wire. Arizona is southwestern gothic ska with tastily intertwining guitar and bass. “I’d rather die than live one more day in fear,” the singer intones in a quavery voice that adds genuine apprehension. Black Water Song begins with a funky pulse but grows hypnotic and atmospheric, with an ominous bridge featuring distant sirens and outdoor ambience that builds to a cyclotron of guitars – and ends cold, as if the tape just ran out at some random point.

The theme continues where it left off on the next track, Keep Your Eyes Closed, which after awhile starts to sound like an absolutely unhinged version of Ceremony by New Order. The single best song here is the ridiculously memorable, darkly ska-inflected Drugstore Model, rich with layers of reverb guitar, like a faster and more skittish version of the Dream Syndicate. With its noisy, funky verse working up to chorus anthemics, Oh My God wouldn’t be out of place in the Botanica catalog, especially when it switches to a long ska vamp with layers of slamming guitar chords and wild tremolo-picking. The album winds up with the inventive dreampop/soul blend of 7 Years. Solid songs, all of them, not a single miss here: you don’t see that very often. Shame on us for not getting around to it sooner. Since releasing this one, the band has gone through some changes, with an additional vocalist, lead guitarist and a new, supposedly more pop-oriented album due early in 2011. If it bears any resemblance to this one, it’ll be great.

December 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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 8/18/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #895:

Lush – Split

Their sound defined the end of an era. Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson wrote dark, richly melodic rock songs with layers of watery, chorus-box guitar and ethereal vocals. This is their third album, from 1994, and it’s their best, a blend of every style they did so well: Kiss Chase, with its tricky time signature and murky, chilly Siouxsie guitar; the punk stomp of Blackout; the buzzy goth pop of Hypocrite and The Invisible Man; the Cure-inflected, bassy sway of Lovelife; the somber Joy Division tones of Desire Lines, Undertow and Never-Never; the straight-up dreampop of Lit Up and Starlust and the understatedly elegaic When I Die. The press tagged them as sort of the Go-Go’s of dreampop, and went nuts over their first album, which actually isn’t all that great: after a couple of songs, they all sound the same. But Spooky, their second album, from 1992, is very worth getting to know, as is their final one, Lovelife, from 1996, which although it went more in a punk-pop direction also varied their sonic palette considerably, allowing both more aggressive guitar and an unexpected sense of humor to creep in. The band broke up shortly thereafter in the wake of drummer Chris Acland’s suicide. Here’s a torrent for all of them.

August 18, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Dan Bryk – Pop Psychology

A strong candidate for best album of the year. Dan Bryk‘s new cd is a triumph of intelligence and wit, an oasis in a world full of idiots. It’s Costelloesque in the best possible way: lush layers of glimmering guitar and keys, song structures with a vintage 60s pop feel – catchy hooks and anthemic choruses  – and murderously smart, corrosive lyrics. Bryk delivers them calmly and casually, only cutting loose when he really needs to drive a point home. Otherwise, the songs speak for themelves. Bryk does not suffer fools gladly: he knows that American Idol is theatre of cruelty (and he’s not above cruelty himself, uh uh), he can feel the surrounding air reaching boiling point and he’s sussed the powers that be for who they are, a bunch of boring, greedy bastards. That’s a very prosaic description that doesn’t do justice to Bryk’s powers of observation or his gift for explaining them and making connections. The album title, like most of the lyrics here, is a pun: this is a probably semi-fictitious, corruscatingly bitter, Aimee Mann-style narrative about a rocker who never made it. Bryk has nothing but contempt for the music business and the entertainment-industrial complex as a whole, fueled by the knowledge that by all rights, the tuneful pop songs he writes deserve to be on the radio. And he knows they won’t be, on American commercial radio, at least, until Clear Channel goes bankrupt [memo to Bryk – dude, you’re Canadian – the CBC mandates mega airplay for homegrown artists – that’s a start…]. Additional venom is reserved for the “artists” who buy into the system: one of them Bryk wants to electricute, the others he’d merely bludgeon.

This album doesn’t waste time getting started with Treat of the Week, a caustic look at a wannabe corporate pop star’s pathetic fifteen minutes of fame. It’s just as deliciously brutal as the Room’s classic Jackpot Jack:

The kids are sitting down hanging off each tortured word

…falling from your lips like polished turds

And you’re thinking the kids are all right

I say crank up the houselights

You’ve got nothing much to say but you say it really well

With your sad tales of irony and the love gone sour to sell

Now the spotlight falls slowly on the kid from Soft Rock Town

It’s the next stop on the gold train to become…Jackson Browne

Next up is Discount Store, a happy, bouncy, deadpan vintage Britpop style number sung from the point of view of a kid quizzically watching the depression set in:

…The clock needs punching, the man is watching and the union is gone for good

With all this freedom how come there’s no more fun left in the neighborhood?

The Next Best Thing, with its slow-burning crescendo, looks at people who’re content to settle: “I know you wish I’d be more patient, cute and quirky and more complacent,” Bryk rails, and he can’t resist another slap at the record labels: ” I know it’s not a public service, supplying the freakshow to the circus.” Apologia is a hilarious solo piano ballad, a label exec’s disingenuous kiss-off to a troublesome rocker who dared to buck the system.

The best song on the album, and maybe the best song of the year, is City Of… If there’s anyone alive fifty years from now, they’ll refer to this deceptively soaring anthem as the definitive look at what music was like in 2009. Ruthlessly, Bryk pans around a Toronto of the mind, sometime after dark and then begins shooting, first the indie kids at the Constantines show, then the rest:

In the back of the legion hall the Goofs are playing faster

Turning up after every song til their heads are iced with plaster

The soundtrack of subjugation to to our friendly foreign masters

Downstairs in the bar the laptop kids are mashing

Some ungodly medley of Morbidox and Eria Fachin

If I didn’t think they’d love it I’d give them twenty lashes

Street Team is a spot-on, Orwellian analysis of how marketers attempt to Balkanize music audiences, set to a clever, decidedly un-Magical Mystery Tour theme perfect for the end of the zeros. My Alleged Career is sort of like Phil Ochs’ My Life. Its recurrent theme of “Please go away” is both a scream – “Can I get some time alone?” Bryk seems to say – as well as succinct distillation of how his music’s been received in the corporate world. The rest of the cd includes a beautifully orchestrated number with watery Leslie speaker guitar; a very funny, stubborn song whose interminable outro turns out to be a very good joke, and the ironically titled closing cut, Whatever, a bitter piano ballad. “Whatever doesn’t kill me can still make you cry, ” Bryk warns. Fans of all the best songwriters from throughout the ages – Elvis Costello, Bryk’s labelmate Amy Allison, LJ Murphy, Aimee Mann, Paula Carino, Steve Kilbey, ad infinitum – are in for a treat. Look for this one somewhere at the top of our Best Albums of 2009 list at the end of the year.

August 24, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment