Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Robin Hoffman: Artist to the Stars of the Brooklyn Underground

Robin Hoffman describes herself as “Brooklyn artist, mom, former ballet soloist and hanger-out at Jalopy.” With her second coffee-table book, Ukulele Chicken Sketchbook: Jalopy Bands, she continues the series of portraits begun in last year’s Live From the Audience: A Year of Drawing at the Jalopy. Perhaps inadvertently, she’s created a niche for herself as the documentarian of one of New York’s most vital music scenes, capturing the essentials of innumerable Americana roots artists in the span of a few lines and angles. Picture after picture, Hoffman gets it: the growling gravitas of the Little Brothers; the sprawl of the M Shanghai String Band; the Ukuladies with their Mona Lisa smiles; the Sweetback Sisters’ effortless competence and charm; the scruffy Brotherhood of the Jug Band Blues; the unselfconscious joy of the Calamity Janes, and Balkan brass band Veveritse’s spring-loaded swirl. With her band the Hot Mess, Jessy Carolina is portrayed as a flapper. Kelli Rae Powell looks like Liza Minelli (she’d love that, no doubt), and especially tiny next to her rugged bassist husband. And Hoffman absolutely nails Maybelles frontwoman Jan Bell’s plaintive soul with just a few decisive strokes. Hoffman celebrates the release of the book with a party on February 11 at 6 PM at – where else – the Jalopy, 315 Columbia St. in Red Hook, very easy to get to via the F to Carroll St. She recently took some time out of an obviously busy schedule to answer some questions:

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: When did you discover the Jalopy?

Robin Hoffman: I live in the neighborhood, and I found Jalopy in the summer of 2008. My husband and I began going out late in the evening to stroll our baby to sleep, and we discovered that Columbia Street had a whole night life going on that hadn’t been there before we had the baby. Then I found out that Doug Skinner was teaching ukulele there, and that was that.

LCC: How do you find the time to spend so much time there? Frankly, I’m jealous…

RH: It’s my dumb good luck to live relatively close by. The show usually begins at 9, and my son usually goes to sleep around 8:30. My husband, Ben, likes that time to write, so I grab my sketchbook and head over.

LCC: When did you start drawing there?

RH: The first show I attended and drew was September 25, 2008. The audience was very sparse, and the late Bob Guida was on stage. Here was this huge man, playing a huge electric guitar and singing like a great big fat angel. He was just wonderful. The second show I went to, Ernie Vega was playing. And he was great, and again the house was inexplicably sparse. Ben and I looked at each other and said, is it always like this? Jalopy is quite a welcoming, friendly place, so I soon felt fine about going there alone.

LCC: Does this relate to a career in commercial art for you?

RH: I studied Illustration and Cartooning at School of Visual Arts here in New York. I like illustrating performing arts particularly, because of my long background in dance. I’ve done a small amount of editorial illustrating, and I do a little other commercial illustration. Mostly, I seem to sell my pictures and reproductions to individual customers.

LCC: Why do you do this? It’s not like this is ever going to get any space at brooklynvegan or stereogum…

RH: For me it’s an active interaction with the music, like I am still dancing. I think that’s probably the hit! I love the way bodies arrange themselves in order to make music. I love to enjoy good music. The Jalopy Theatre itself is a muse for me – I’m fascinated with the way it works as an experience for performer and audience. There’s a proscenium, and enough separation, but also a close proximity. It’s kind of a perfect blend of formality and intimacy.

LCC: At what point did you realize that you had something here, that this was a scene that really deserved to be documented?

RH: By the time I’d filled the first sketchbook, I knew I was witnessing a special moment in a special place. Seats were filling up; talented, dedicated people were in the audience and on the stage, also hanging out and having dialogue, musical and otherwise. The Jalopy is really a pillar of my neighborhood and has a fantastic energy. It’s fun to be there. I’ve filled up some sixteen sketchbooks now almost entirely at Jalopy.

LCC: Action shots are tough. What Bob Gruen and Mick Rock and all those photographers from the 70s did is great, capturing the stars of the era and of the underground, but when you look at them, half of the people in the photos are passed out in the CBGB bathroom. That’s not a hard shot to take. You, on the other hand, draw what appear to be exclusively live action portraits – even your sketch of the Jalopy’s owners, Geoff and Lynette Wiley, shows her behind the bar, and him checking the sound on a crowded weekend night, from the looks of it. There’s so much activity in these portraits – and what appears to be very quick pencil strokes on your part. Are you one of those super fast artists? Is it a matter of catching what’s in the frame before it fades?

RH: At first I considered taking photos for reference, but I abandoned that idea pretty quickly. I’m not capturing a literal instant in time. I’ve learned to have the patience to wait for a gesture to happen again, and to invest in what might seem to be mundane details. Those details can ironically be what draws your eye through the picture. As I practiced patience I developed speed.

LCC: These portraits are incredibly kinetic – to what degree, if at all, does your dance background inform your art?

RH: My dance background definitely informs the way I observe. In that first sketch of Bob Guida, for instance: he was sitting quite still but he had this inner spark going on that was very, very active. Then, look at a band such as the M. Shanghai String Band, which sometimes has twelve or thirteen players moving in a complex dance around one another and the mics. That dance has a rhythm that I depend upon to decide where to place everyone in the picture. As a former performer of a very physical art I understand these things and they interest me, and then I have to credit my illustration training with helping me understand how to put it on paper.

LCC: You play ukulele also – are you in a band? Performing these days?

RH: I love playing ukulele and I play every day, but I’m only just getting confident enough to join in jams. Learning to play music has been another rich part of this adventure.

LCC: Who’s the guy in the lower left corner in a lot of these?

RH: That is a wonderfully campy bust of Thomas Jefferson that is always stationed downstage right – on the the audience’s left – on the Jalopy stage, appearing to be looking at the performers. He is part of the decor – I love putting him in the picture. I believe Geoff said he got it at a garage sale.

February 2, 2011 Posted by | Art, blues music, country music, folk music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Aunt Ange Releases a Psychedelic Rock Classic

This one makes a good segue with today’s album by the Pretty Things: it’s a creepy masterpiece of current-day psychedelic rock. Incorporating elements of art-rock, gypsy punk and noir cabaret, Brooklyn band Aunt Ange’s new album Olga Walks Away is trippy, and strange, and memorably tuneful. It seems to be a chronicle of an acid trip, but it might be something else entirely: there’s obviously a lot of symbolism in the lyrics. Sometimes these are sharp and literate; other times they seem to be going for a more stereotypical mid-60s surrealism. Likewise, the music draws heavily on 60s psychedelia, with layers of reverb guitar, melodic basslines, sweeping keyboards, but also accordion, occasional horns, and a carnivalesque feel that at its most frenetic brings to mind World Inferno or Botanica.

With a blithely macabre sway, the opening track, Black Funeral Dress, sets the tone for what’s to come, bouncing along “like funeral drums.” After a clip-clop trip-hop dub version of the opening theme, they stick with the trip-hop with To the Sun and Die (try that one on for symbolism!). Loaded with dynamics, plinking along with Casio organ and electric harpsichord, it builds to a big, martial bridge – and then like many of the following tracks, it subsides. Pumpkins and Patches layers soaring slide guitar over an ominous chamber pop backdrop.

A couple of the tracks here have a more obviously contemporary feel: the Radiohead-inflected Monks and the big, crunchy powerpop stomp Crucify the Blackbird – which when least expected drops down to a long, quiet accordion vamp. At this point it makes sense to mention that at least on this album, the band has a food fixation, which comes to the forefront on the genuinely macabre 6/8 epic Lady by the Window: “26 birthdays, not one funeral, five star smoked salmon…down comes the rain from the aspartame cloud/Up grow sweet nothings from the cellophane ground.” Meanwhile, the backing vocals invoke a refrain of “cheesy cheese” in the background – which is anything but cheesy here.

After a sitar intro, the storm gathers with screaming reverb guitar on Down the Rabbit Hole: “One must travel through hell to get to heaven.” The most phantasmagorical song here, King of the Damned swirls with ominous layers of vocals, followed by the bizarrely haunting title track, Olga – a fleeting character throughout this journey – exhaustedly trying to resist the lure of “the one and lonely Charlie Tree,” a Hades character of sorts. It appears that Olga eventually does manage to walk away, but not unscathed: “Once you start you just can’t stop,” as the dynamically-charged epic Butternut Sunshine explains. The album winds up with Velvet Sidewalks, which starts out as a country ballad and winds up as a chilling circus song, an audience roaring for something – blood, maybe? – as it ends. Without any drugs, it’s a wild ride – we’ll leave that part to more adventurous listeners. Either way, it’s one of the best albums to come over the transom (or through the looking glass) here in a long time.

January 5, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Brooklyn Art-Rockers Release a Maxi, Maxi New Single

The single is titled Flow. With a fast hypnotic 2/4 pulse, Brooklyn rockers My Pet Dragon’s new single sets a nocturnally exuberant lyric to a memorably uneasy chromatic melody, acoustic guitar over an insistent beat with judiciously swooping synthesized orchestration. For a band who don’t often evoke the 80s, it’s got a very mid 80s goth feel, although frontman Todd Michaelsen’s voice soars over the atmospherics with a casual joy that you’d never hear from, say, Clan of Xymox. This is the upbeat, pop side of MPD – live in concert, they give it a swirling majesty and gravitas to match the anthemic, often epic ferocity of their other material. An instrumental-only version of the song is also included, which works almost as well as the full-length track with vocals – you could even do karaoke to it (it would make a good workout – Michaelsen hits some high notes).

Since this is a maxi-single (a really ubermax one, actually an ep if you want to be precise about it), the B-side is an unrecognizable cover of Release, by an unmentionable 90s grunge band. For the sake of argument, this might as well be an original: it’s been reinvented as a slow, atmospheric 6/8 ballad that sounds kind of like a B-side by the Church, with new English-language lyrics – or at least in understandable English. And for those who like disco remixes, this one has not one but four, in various shades of electronicness (Karsh Kale is responsible for the first). All of this is available at MPD’s site. They’re playing the small room at the Rockwood on 11/20 at 11, as good a choice of a Saturday night show as you can find in town right now.

November 9, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Memoriam – Billy Cohen

One of New York’s most talented emerging musicians, guitarist and composer Billy Cohen died this past June 29 after a long battle with cancer. He was 23. A founding member of the charismatic rock band the Brooklyn What, Cohen was an integral part of their original three-guitar sonic cauldron, and also served as one of the group’s main songwriters. Both his guitar work and his compositions on the band’s landmark first album, The Brooklyn What for Borough President, offer a cruelly tantalizing glimpse of an already formidable talent that would have only grown, had he lived.

As a guitarist in the band, Cohen played with an edgy, brash intensity that both meshed and contrasted with John-Severin Napolillo’s purposeful powerpop sensibility and Evan O’Donnell’s slashing lead lines. Cohen was extremely adept at abrasive noise, yet was gifted with an uncanny sense of melody that he’d often employ when least expected, as demonstrated by his purist lead work on The In-Crowd and We Are the Only Ones. The shapeshifting, focus-warping song Soviet Guns illustrates another, more abstract side of his compositional skill. Cohen was also responsible for the delectably unhinged scream on the song Sunbeam Sunscream.

A musician’s musician, Cohen listened adventurously and widely throughout his life, immersing himself in styles ranging from garage rock to contemporary classical music, cinematic soundscapes and tongue-in-cheek mashups. At Brooklyn’s Edward R. Murrow High School, Cohen played guitar in the jazz band as well as in the Brooklyn rock band Ellipsis; afterward, he attended the State University of New York at New Paltz, where he majored in Music Therapy and Music Composition. A song from his Ellipsis days as well as two atmospheric keyboard pieces, and a couple of clever, satirical mashup videos – including a direct and very funny one featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger – are all up on his myspace page.

Cohen’s uncompromising originality, creativity, absurdist humor, fondness for the Kinks (he picked out the band’s signature cover song, I’m Not Like Everybody Else) and devotion to his beloved New York Mets lifted the spirits of his bandmates and friends and left an indelible mark. The surviving members of the Brooklyn What are playing a memorial show for Cohen at Bowery Poetry Club on August 13.

July 21, 2010 Posted by | music, concert, New York City, obituary, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Mancie Proves That Real Rock & Roll Still Exists in Williamsburg

Good old-fashioned garage-punk rock from…Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Proof that good things sometimes rear their heads in the most unlikely places. The titles of the songs on Mancie’s new ep reflect how they’re written – they keep ’em simple and nasty. Singer/guitarist Andrea Montgomery delivers them with an uneasy, impassioned voice: it’s clear that she means business, all the more so because she doesn’t go completely over the top. What she holds in reserve is the scary part. The first song, the riff-rocking So Well blends tasty layers of guitar, mixing distortion and wah tones. Track two, Say Say works off a growling four-note riff a la the Detroit Cobras, with a sweet, noisy guitar breakdown mid-song: “I want to say (SAY!) we’re going nowhere,” Montgomery sardonically reminds.

Don’t Even Try starts off with a trip-hop beat, which seems strikingly out of place here, like somebody was trying to make a pop song out of it – but the song resists, and when the guitars kick in, hard, it’s worth the wait. The last cut, Second Best, a swaying backbeat ballad hints that it might also go in a pop direction but once again, when the guitars attack – janglier, this time – it’s clear that this crew aren’t interested in selling out. The quavery wah solo straight out of the Ron Asheton playbook, 1969, is priceless. Mancie sound like they’d be a lot of fun live: they’re wrapping up their monthlong Monday July residency at Arlene’s tonight, the 19th and a week from today, the 26th at 9 PM.

July 19, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Top 10 Songs of the Week 7/12/10

OK, OK, we’re a day late. But who’s counting. This is just another way we try to spread the word about all the good music out there. As you’ll notice, every song that reaches the #1 spot on this list will also appear on our 100 Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of December. We try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone: sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. If you don’t like one of these, you can always go on to the next one. The only one here that doesn’t have a link to the track is #1 and that’s because it’s so new.

1. The Brooklyn What – Punk Rock Loneliness

About time Brooklyn’s most charismatic, intense, funny rockers returned to the top spot here. This one has a Dead Boys influence, with the two smoldering guitars and frontman Jamie Frey’s menacing lyric aimed at the gawkers who pass by what used to be CBGB. “You wanna be a dead boy?” Let’s get the Brooklyn What on Hipster Demolition Night!

2. Ernie Vega – Cocaine Blues

Not the one you’re thinking of – this one’s a lot more rustic and it’s hilarious, like something you’d hear on a Smithsonian recording from the 1920s.

3. Under Byen -Alt Er Tabt

A Danish version of the Creatures: catchy, atmospheric vocal overdubs, terse accordion and strings over a clattering Atrocity Exhibition rhythm.

4. Golden Triangle – Neon Noose

X as played by late 80s Jesus & Mary Chain – they’re at South St. Seaport on 7/16 at 6

5. Loose Limbs – Underdog

Lo-fi garage rock with soul/gospel vocals – if you like the Detroit Cobras you’ll like Loose Limbs. They’re at South St. Seaport on 7/23 at 6

6. Jeff Lang – Home to You

Wild insane steel guitar blues by the innovative Aussie guitarist.

7. Mike Rimbaud – Dirty Little Bomb

Classic new wave songwriting by a survivor from the very end of the era, still going strong twenty years later.

8. Costanza – Just Another Alien

The lyrics are the text from a US Immigration form. Eerie and apropos.

9. J-Ron – Weed Song

Texas faux “R&B.”

10. Amy Coleman – Goodbye New York

This is such a blast from the past, it’s kinda funny: the bastard child of DollHouse and Pet Benetar. Suddenly it’s 1979 again. Except it’s not.

July 13, 2010 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hipster Demolition Night Comes to Williamsburg and We Can’t Wait

Jay Banerjee is the impresario behind the Hipster Demolition Night scene and leads a tremendously tuneful janglerock band, Jay Banerjee & the Heartthrobs. The next one is on Thursday, July 15 at Glasslands. Lucid Culture convinced him to go on record about his thoughts concerning the great unwashed masses of Williamsburg and whether there’s actually an audience in New York for fun, entertaining rock music anymore.

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: Would you mind if I started out by playing devil’s advocate?

Jay Banerjee: Well, I’ve never heard of them, but they can’t be any worse than Bear in Heaven.

LCC: Isn’t “Hipster Demolition Night” kind of flogging a dead horse, I mean a dead trendoid? For example, look how popular stuffwhitepeoplelike is. We outnumber the trendoids a hundred to one, and they’re universally despised except within their own tiny little clique. Isn’t this kind of like picking on the retard in fourth grade?

JB: No, because most retarded people shower.

OK, OK, really now…my problem with hipsters isn’t the suspect hygiene, the asphyxiating jeans, the tumbleweed facial hair, the neon, the keffiyeh, or the 1980s. Those things are evil, of course, but the only thing about hipsters that I would classify as worthy of all-caps HATE is the music, or rather the “music”. Guitar feedback grafted onto a Casio demo beat is not music. Caterwauling your AP English compositions into a microphone while your kid sister flails at the drums with her eyes closed is not music.

While I find other elements of their culture – do I have to call it that? – distasteful, it’s secondary to and mostly an extension of my intense distaste for Bedfordbeat. Williamsbeat?

Maybe I’m just a stuffy little square, but I think all music – good music – has to have some kind of structure. There needs to be a concept beyond “Hey guys, let’s make noise!” because otherwise, noise is exactly what you’ll get. And noise is exactly what we’ve been getting. And that’s the problem. As widely as hipsters are mocked, they’ve had a stranglehold on the underground rock scene for the last decade. This is what I’m trying to demolish.

LCC: It’s 2010. You write these gorgeous, jangly twelve-string guitar pop songs that sound just like the fucking BYRDS. Roger McGuinn is, like, your grandfather’s age now. What on earth makes you think that there’s an audience for music with real melody, real guitars, real emotion these days? I mean, look at how popular Lady Gag is. You don’t have a prayer! Or do you?

JB: Thank you very much, first of all. The thing is, Clear Channel ain’t part of the battleground here. I could dumb down the lyrics, spit-shine the production, spring for voice lessons and cosmetic surgery, and maybe I’d have a shot at widespread appeal, but I don’t want to do any of those things. That said, I’m confident the indie world is more than ready for a change after spending the last ten-plus years trying to figure out if the stereo’s broken or if that’s really the song.

It’s time the scene saw a revolution, which is exactly what I hope to spark – or at least fuel – with Hipster Demolition Night. Maybe that sounds megalomaniacal, but I’ve been very pleased to discover that I’m not the only one who wants to go back to real songs. So, not only do I have a prayer, but the congregation’s growing every day.

As for the influences, yes, The Byrds are a byg one. I’m proud of my musical roots – and I love it when people get them right – but I do try to take my own musical and lyrical approach to things. I don’t think it’s pure revivalism…but even if it is, it’s still better than whoever’s playing at Bruar Falls tonight.

LCC: This is the second Hipster Demolition Night, I believe? It’s July 15, 8 PM at Glasslands.

JB: Right. The first was at Southpaw in May.

LCC: I know the girls who run Glasslands are nice and all, but you’re playing Trendoid Ground Zero! Do you really expect anybody from that neighborhood to come to the show?

JB: Oh, I’m sure some will stagger in after downing a few half-priced PBRs elsewhere.

There’s no point in hosting Hipster Demolition Night where there are no hipsters. You can’t demolish things from across a river. Given their usual fare, though, I’m aware that Glasslands is a particularly ironic choice. I’ve told this joke before, but it reminds me of Ozzy Osbourne hosting a PETA rally. And I’ve told this joke before, too, but it’s not as if Williamsburg is any stranger to irony.

LCC: I know what you’re saying but let me interject that the Williamsbeat crowd that we all know and despise has no idea what irony is. They misuse the term. What they really mean is sarcasm.

JB: Seriously, though, how cool was it for the Glasslands team to book this sort of thing on a high-demand night? Thanks, guys!

While I know that most of the audience will be committed fans of power-pop and garage-rock, I absolutely want hipsters to attend. If I can make just one of them realize, “Say, song structure and tight popcraft are actually not so bad after all!”, then the evening will be a success.

LCC: On the bill July 15 – that’s this coming Thursday – you have four excellent live bands – retro garage rock with the Anabolics and Muck & the Mires, plus your band Jay Banerjee & the Heartthrobs, plus Wormburner, who also have a smart, jangly, lyrical powerpop thing going on. Other than Muck & the Mires, a band that pretty much everybody knows – everybody who’s not a trendoid, that is – how did you find them? I’m always curious…

JB: I don’t like calling hipsters “trendoids”. That makes them seem like robots, which is what they want.

Yes, Muck & The Mires are one of the biggest names in the international garage-rock scene – they have a Wikipedia entry, and isn’t that the gold standard of notability? They’re very well known for winning Little Steven’s Underground Garage Battle of the Bands a few years back, and they deserved it, because they have first-class tunes.

Evan “Muck” Shore and I had been in touch via Myspace a few times. Once I secured the Southpaw gig, I asked him if they wanted to come down from Boston to play it. Unfortunately, they couldn’t, but not too long afterwards, Evan sent me a message asking if I could set something up on Thursday, July 15th. So, tah-dah! Hipster Demolition Night II.

As for Wormburner, I met their frontman, Steve “Hank” Henry, a few months back through my friends in a terrific band called the Neutron Drivers. Hank is a world-class lyricist, not that he has much competition these days. We talked via e-mail; Glasslands fell into place; I invited the band onto the bill; they accepted. If only it were always that easy. I’d originally scheduled my band to go on after them, but then I saw them pack the Bowery Ballroom – ! – back in June, and I’m not that megalomaniacal.

I’ve known The Anabolics for a couple years. Cute girls, good songs. Not a hard band to like unless you’re both deaf and blind. Or a hipster. They’re mainstays on the Brooklyn garage-pop scene, and we played gigs together back when I played drums for a band called the Anything People.

Let me get in a word for the Anything People, because they were a terrific group. I was kind of the odd duck in the band – as if I’m not the odd duck everywhere else – since the other three guys are a bit older than I am, and since they’d been playing together for a few years before I joined. They wrote songs for the Anything People; I happily bashed away at the drums while writing and recording my compositions on my own. Well, not quite on my own. My Anything People bandmate Michael Lynch engineered and co-produced them.

The three songs you hear on the Facebook page are just a start, by the way. I have a full album ready, but more on that some other time, because I think this answer’s going to cross the browser-crashing threshold if I don’t end it here.

LCC: Can I ask, who actually comes to your shows?

JB: Passionate rock & roll die-hards who are fighting for a change in the music scene just as fervently as I am. And my mom.

LCC: Is it possible that there’s an audience for real rock & roll right here in New York, one that’s completely shut out of the corporate media and the trendoids at stereogum, flavorpill and pitchfork, etcetera?

JB: There absolutely is an audience for real rock & roll in New York. The trick is to harness it. That means playing on a respectable bill on a respectable night at a respectable hour on a respectable stage. This is why I started putting my own shows together, so that I could make sure we tap into the audience every time and get the exposure I feel we deserve.

The emphasis is definitely on “we.” I did things backwards as ever by forming the band after recording the tunes, alone, but the live line-up is in many ways a separate project. The Heartthrobs come in with their own perspectives on how the music should be played, and they take the songs to places I never thought they’d go. Let’s hear it for the boys who actually make me sound talented: Vinny Giangola on drums, John McNamara on bass, and newcomer Jason Szkutek on lead guitar. “Skinny Vinny” has a solo project of his own, and Jason fronts one of my very favorite local acts, the Naturals, who sound sort of like what I would if only I could sing and play guitar.

LCC: If somebody can’t make it to the Thursday show at Glasslands, I understand that you have another Hipster Demolition Night in the works. When and where, and who’s on the bill?

JB: Starting in late August, the night is becoming a monthly residency at Public Assembly. The first line-up there is going to be a special surprise for everyone. By which I mean it’s not finalized yet.

LCC: Anything else we should know about?

Because some people don’t seem to get the joke, I should make one thing clear: As much as I really, really, really, really hate their music, I don’t seriously advocate violence against hipsters. I’ve even met a few who are quite nice. Along these lines, Mike Conlin (The L’s music editor) and I had a little internet spat a while back about the concept behind Hipster Demolition Night, but we ended up with mutual respect for each other.

In other words, smash the records, but spare the skulls.

July 10, 2010 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Liza & the WonderWheels – Pavlov’s Garage

Their best album. Liza and the WonderWheels spun off of New York new wave/80s revivalists the Larch (who also have a career-defining new album out), and to a certain extent they mine a similar vibe: the songs here would have been huge hits in the 80s. Most of the numbers here work riffs and variations on those riffs – they’re singalongs, with an understated social awareness that hits you upside the head just like the melodies. Liza Garelik Roure (who also plays keys in the Larch with her husband, lead guitarist Ian Roure) leads this band on guitar, keys and vocals, anchored by the Plastic Beef rhythm section, Andy Mattina on bass and Joe Filosa on drums, who combine to create a sort of New York rock counterpart to Motown Records’ Funk Brothers. Liza’s always had ferocious vocal chops, but this is the first album they’ve done which fully utilizes them.

The opening cut After Last Night perfectly captures the vibe of being stuck at the dayjob but still resonating from the fun of the previous evening, a Standells stomp recast as sly new wave with a blazing guitar solo that quotes blithely from Reeling in the Years by Steely Dan. The catchy, riff-driven Where’s My Robot Maid sarcastically pokes fun at blind faith in technology, at a world where “Science will all make sense as we all eat such healthy foods.” Learning Lessons, a pounding girl-power anthem comes on like an edgier version of the Motels without all the drama – which is ironic because that’s what the song’s about. The backbeat anthem Straight to the Body evokes the Go Go’s with its snide lyric about gutless guys who won’t make a move on a girl, flying along on the wings of Mattina’s scurrying bass.

The two big live hits here are the ferociously sarcastic Petroleum: “Let’s go, oil barons, let’s go!” with Mattina leading the charge again, and No Exceptions, which rips the melody from Franklin’s Tower by the Grateful Dead for a subtly snarling anti-authoritarian anthem:

Your definitions should be doublechecked for accuracy…
Sometimes I feel our day has yet to dawn
To the end of the night we must journey on

There’s also The Hats, a scampering rocker that seems to be about a Chicago band that may or may not exist (although there is a British funk/blues act who go by that name); Smug Ugly which shifts the time back another ten years to the early 70s with a darkly psychedelic bluesy vibe, a strikingly thoughtful response to the too-cool-for-school affectations all the rage in New York music circles; and Take Us to the Stars, the only rock song to celebrate climbing Mount Rainier (although that could be purely metaphorical), a creepy, breathtaking art-rock epic driven by Ian’s magisterial, otherworldly bluesy guitar, and a showcase for Liza’s dramatic, operatic range. Count this among the best and most satisfying releases of 2010.

June 5, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Las Rubias del Norte – Ziguala

The new cd by las Rubias del Norte would make a great Bunuel soundtrack. Otherworldly, surreal and frequently haunting bordering on macabre, it’s a characteristically eclectic, syncretic mix of old songs from around the world done as Veracruz’s best musicians might have imagined them circa 1964. Most of the melodies are in minor keys, the perfect backdrop for the sepulchrally soaring harmonies of the band’s two frontwomen, Allyssa Lamb (who’s also the band’s keyboardist) and Emily Hurst. Lamb and Hurst are a lot closer to Stile Antico than Shakira (or Jeanette, who sang the 1976 latin pop classic Porque Te Vas that the band turn into ghostly, organ-driven reggae to open the album). Which the two ought to be, considering that they met as members of the New York Choral Society. As the band’s website aptly points out, the album is more psychedelic rock than latin, “the opposite of Rock en Espanol,” even though most of the lyrics are in perfectly enunciated Spanish.

The title track is a Greek rembetika song with a bluesy, oldtimey gospel verse that gives way to a latinized chorus, followed by a clip-clop clave number a la Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, shuffling along with the muted strokes of Olivier Conan’s cuatro. A slyly levantine-inflected S.D. Burman Bollywood number lights up with Lamb’s eerily twinkling piano and the lushly brisk atmospherics of the Parker String Quartet, while a Brecht-Weill song gets an oversize margarita, a big sombrero and a balmy, slightly Jerry Garcia-ish electric guitar solo from Giancarlo Vulcano.

The rest of the album alternates psychedelia with stately, period-perfect angst and longing. A couple of the songs are dead ringers for Chicha Libre (with whom this band shares two members, Conan and percussionist Timothy Quigley). Navidad Negra turns a Caribbean big band number into cumbia noir, Lamb’s sultry organ passing the torch to Vulcano, who takes a surprisingly biting turn, while the traditional Viva La Fiesta becomes the theme to the saddest party ever. They close with hypnotic, classically inflected tropicalia that throws some welcome shade on the pitch-perfect brightness of the vocals, a Bizet cover bubbling with Lamb and Hurst’s contrapuntal sorcery and a downcast ballad, restrained melancholy over funeral-parlor organ. It’s gentle, scary and beautiful like just about everything else here. Look for this one high on our best albums of 2010 list at the end of December. Las Rubias del Norte play the cd release show for the album this Friday, March 12 at 7:30 PM at Joe’s Pub followed by a midwest tour.

March 10, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Snow – I Die Every Night

Here we are in March with the first classic album of 2010 (this one actually came out in mid-January). The Snow’s debut album True Dirt was good: this is a lushly arranged, thoughtful, funny, richly lyrical art-rock masterpiece. Bandleader Pierre de Gaillande has been writing good, frequently great songs for several years, throughout his days with Melomane, Sea Foxx and numerous other side projects (like his English-language Georges Brassens cover band Bad Reputation), but this is the strongest effort he’s been a part of yet. Putting keyboardist/chanteuse Hilary Downes out in front of the group was a genius move, even if it was only logical. She’s a torch singer straight out of the Chris Connor/June Christy mold (or a darker Nellie McKay) with an alternately coy and murderous way of sliding up to a note and nailing it. She also contributes half of the songs on the album, alternating with Gaillande from track to track, with an additional number, a rueful tango, written by multi-reed virtuoso David Spinley. The rhythm section of Christian Bongers (ex-Botanica) on bass and Jeffrey Schaeffer on drums slink through the shadows as the clarinet or saxes soar above the swirl of layers and layers of keyboards and the occasional snarl and clang of the guitar. There are other bands who leap from genre to genre as avidly as the Snow do here, but few who have such obvious fun doing it.

The opening track is Albatross, an ironically straightforward, metaphorically loaded ballad by Downes that makes stately art-rock out of a Gaillande garage guitar riff. Handle Your Weapon, by Gaillande, throws out a lifeline to a possible would-be suicide miles from civilization in a symbolic middle of nowhere, swinging along on the pulse of Downes’ electric piano. By contrast, The Silent Parade – sort of a signature song for the band – delivers the understated, menacing majesty of the snowstorm to end all snowstorms, the last way anyone would expect the world to end at this point in history. The warmly torchy, soul-inflected Fool’s Gold could be a requiem for a relationship – or for the promise that indie rock seemed it might deliver on for a moment but never did.

Undertow is a tongue-in-cheek clinic in jazzy syncopation, a showcase for Downes’ darkly allusive lyrical wit, matched by Gaillande on the wryly swinging, Gainsbourg-esque Reptile, a hot-blooded creature’s lament. The most menacing cut on the album is the hypnotic, woozy 6/8 masquerade-ball themed Slow Orbit. The album winds up with Downes’ understatedly bitter, minor-key chamber-rock ballad Shadows and Ghosts and Gailllande’s hypnotic, aptly titled psychedelic anthem Life Is Long and Strange, far more subtle than it might seem. Live, the band surprisingly manage to capture most of the atmospherics of their studio work; watch this space for NYC dates.

March 4, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment