Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Jay Banerjee’s New Album Slashes and Clangs

Cynical janglerock heaven. Jay Banerjee may be best known at the moment as the creator of Hipster Demolition Night, arguably New York’s best monthly rock event, but he’s also a great tunesmith. On his new album “Ban-er-jee,” Just Like It’s Spelled, he plays all the instruments, Elliott Smith style (aside from a couple of a couple of harmonica and keyboard cameos, anyway). Drawing deeply on the Byrds, the Beatles, the first British invasion and 60s soul music, Banerjee offers a slightly more pop, more straightfoward take on what Elvis Costello has done so well for so long, crafting a series of three-minute gems with a biting lyrical edge. The obvious influence, both guitar- and song-wise, is the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn – like McGuinn, Banerjee plays a Rickenbacker. The tunes here are brisk, with an impatient, scurrying pulse like the Dave Clark Five, with layers of guitar that ring, jangle and chime, throwing off fluorescent washes of magically glimmering overtones as only a Rickenbacker can do.

Lyrically, Banerjee goes for the jugular, sometimes with tongue in cheek but generally not. These are songs for guys. Banerjee’s characters, if they are in fact characters, have no stomach for drama, no patience for indecisive girls holding out for men they’ll never be able to measure up to. And these women don’t get off easy. The funniest and most spot-on cut here is Long Way Home: what the Stooges’ Rich Bitch was to Detroit, 1976, this one is to Brooklyn, 2010, a brutal dismissal of a “dress up doll with a goofy drawl” who finds that she’s no match for New York heartlessness. By contrast, Just Another Day (not the McCartney hit, in case you’re wondering) is equally vicious but far more subtle. Banerjee lets the gentrifier girl’s aimless daily routine slowly unwind: finally awake by noon, “She tells herself if life’s a game, it isn’t hard to play/’Cause all you lose is just another day.”

A handful of the other tracks have obviously pseudonymous womens’ names. Dear Donna, the opening cut, sarcastically rejoices in pissing off the girl’s mother – via suicide note. Kate is rewarded for having “too many feelings” with a memorable Byrds/Beatles amalgam. Lindsay won’t be swayed by any overtures, and her shallow friends may be partially at fault: “They said you pray that I just find someone desperate/Lindsay, all that they say, already I could have guessed it.” Another cut manages to weld the artsy jangle of the Church to a Chuck Berry boogie, with surprisingly effective results. There’s also the early 60s, Roy Orbison-inflected noir pop of Leave Me Alone; See Her Face, the Byrdsiest moment here; and the clanging 60s soul/rock of No Way Girl. Fans of both classic pop and edgy, wounded rock songwriters like Stiv Bators have plenty to sink their teeth into here.

With his band the Heartthrobs, Banerjee rocks a lot harder than he does here: your next chance to see them is the next Hipster Demolition Night at Public Assembly on December 9, starting at 8 with the garage rocking Demands, then Banerjee at 9 followed at 10 by psychedelic rockers Whooping Crane and then oldschool soul stylists the Solid Set. Cover is seven bucks which comes out to less than $2 per act: did we just say that this might be New York’s best monthly rock night, or what?

By the way, for anyone lucky enough to own a turntable, the album’s also available on vinyl.

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December 1, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hipster Demolition Night II at Glasslands

This would have been the best rock show of the year if it hadn’t been so physically taxing. Thursday night, an atrocious sound mix and hundred-ten degree heat (the club has no air conditioning) couldn’t stop four excellent bands. Hipster Demolition Night III moves to Public Assembly in August, which has both air conditioning and much better sonics, an auspicious move for both musicians and fans, especially those who stuck around in the sweatbox this time out. The Anabolics opened. This band just gets better and better with every gig, it seems. Frontwoman/guitarist Anna Anabolic ran her Gibson through a vintage Vox amp for some of the most delicious natural distortion you can possibly imagine: in their finest moments, they sounded like the Dead Boys. Other times they resembled another first-rate female-fronted garage band, the Friggs (whose frontwoman Palmyra Delran happened to be playing Maxwell’s the same night). Anna’s chirpy vocals were buried in the mix most of the time, as were the bass player’s agile, fluid Rickenbacker lines. The drummer took a few vocals but never got the chance to cut through either. At least the songs were good: the ferocious Dead Boys-ish anthem they played early in the set, the Go Go’s-style girl-group punk song Bad Habit and the ghoulish Kill for Thrills that they closed with. They’re at Bruar Falls on August 1.

Jay Banerjee & the Heartthrobs were next. Banerjee is the creator of Hipster Demolition Night and really knows his way around a retro janglerock song. They have two Rickenbacker guitars in the band, which usually means a feast of ringing overtones; this show only hinted how good they’d sound with in a club with a competent sound engineer. Lead player Jason Szutek was obviously working hard, but most of what he played got lost in the sonic sludge. With the guitars abetted by some neat upper-register, melodic bass work, the band battled through a couple of powerpop numbers that could have been the Raspberries if those guys had been born right around the time they were making records. Several more echoed the way the Jam would amp up old R&B hits; a couple of tasty, jangly ballads had more than a few echoes of the Byrds. They closed with an ecstatically fun cover of the Beatles’ You Can’t Do That.

If the Gaslight Anthem could actually write a song, they might sound something like Wormburner. The anthemic New Jersey five-piece powerpop band blasted through one fiery, smartly lyrically-driven anthem after another. Escape is a constant theme with them (any surprise, considering where they’re from?). Early in the set, one of their janglier numbers, Peekskill, chronicled an aimless trip up and down (mostly down) along the Hudson, from one dead-end town to another, through power outages and worse. A cover of Guided By Voices’ Teenage FBI perfectly evoked its contempt and frustration at pressure to conform; their closing version of the Undertones’ Teenage Kicks was tighter and ballsier than the original. In between they threw in a catchy ba-ba-ba pop song, but done as the mid-80s Ramones might have done it, a couple of big midtempo stomps, and a long, drawn-out version of Interstate, their towering, distantly Springsteenish highway alienation anthem, their lead guitarist switching to bass and doing some tremendously interesting, melodic work with it (it was hard to hear much of anything else in the din, let alone their charismatic frontman’s lyrics). Interestingly, they also contributed the night’s lone, caustic anti-trendoid moment [From day one, we were pioneers here in refusing to use the h-word, even though Banerjee thinks that’s a mistake. He thinks that the more overtly hostile slur, “trendoid” plays into their “esthetic,” if you can call it that, because the word’s robotic connotation mirrors what they’d most like to be. He’s probably right.] Wormburner once shared a rehearsal space with the Rapture, and when they moved out they liberated one of the Rapture’s keyboard stands. That this stand was being used to support a keyboard being played by an actual human being (the rhythm guitarist) was a point that resonated with the crowd.

Muck & the Mires headlined. The moptopped, redshirted heirs to the throne occupied for decades by the Lyres and the Fleshtones, this era’s kings of garage rock were as fun as always. They mixed up a bunch of songs from their most recent album, Hypnotic one along with some older crowd-pleasers. Drummer Jessie Best and bassist John Quincy Mire kicked out a boisterously slinky British Invasion beat while frontman/rhythm guitarist “Muck” Shore and lead player Brian Mire punched and clanged over it with just enough vintage tube amp distortion to add a tinge of danger: considering how hot it must have been onstage by the time they went on, it’s surprising that nothing caught fire, at least in a literal sense.

Shore alluded to having Kim Fowley in the merch booth, which may or may not have been true, although Fowley did produce the new record. A couple of songs had a Jeff Beck-era Yardbirds rattle and clatter; the rest of the set smartly mixed up punch riff-rockers, jangly midtempo tunes and a couple with a ghoulabilly feel. The best song of the night was one of the set’s early ones, Do It All Over Again, a dead ringer for a Lyres classic circa 1981 with its snarling, insanely catchy chorus. By the time they finally called it a night, most of the crowd, withered by the heat, had escaped into the relative cool of Kent Avenue. Public Assembly in August has never looked so good.

July 18, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 3/5/10

If you’re in New York tonight, you’re invited to come out and join us at the Parkskide (way east on Houston at Attorney St.) for the big Erica Smith/John Sharples/Tom Warnick triplebill, show starts at 8 sharp. Or you can just stay home and spend all night reading this blog – in that case the best we can do this evening is to continue the ongoing best 666 songs of alltime countdown with #146:

Elvis Costello – You Bowed Down

The Byrdsiest thing Costello ever did, a savage slam at an unnamed music business type, from All This Useless Beauty, 1998. That’s Roger McGuinn on twelve-string. The link above is live with McGuinn.

March 5, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Rebecca Turner at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 2/9/10

Tuesday night Banjo Jim’s still didn’t have its liquor license back (it does now), but the bar was covered in homemade goodies. Lemon snickerdoodles, chocolate cayenne cookies and a peanut butter cheesecake induced an instant sugar buzz. And there was also Rebecca Turner, a whole lot of catchy Americana songs, an excellent band and her exquisite voice. There are tens of thousands of women with good voices out there: Turner’s is something special, warm and crystalline without being saccharine, moving toward and then away from a Nashville twang depending on how hard the song rocked. With Skip Krevens on pedal steel, John Pinamonti on twelve-string guitar, Scott Anthony on bass, a new drummer and Sue Raffman soaring on harmony vocals for about half the set, she held a tough crowd (most of them actually big fans) silent and bordering on spellbound for the better part of an hour.

She stayed pretty much in major keys, playing mostly newer material from her most recent album Slowpokes. Turner’s turns of phrase are subtle and understated, sometimes wryly funny, often vividly aphoristic. Her hooks are just the opposite: the tunes get in your face, linger in your mind, notably the insanely catchy, metaphorically Tough Crowd with its delicious, syncopated riffs that slammed out into one of her most memorable choruses. It’s a good song on record; it’s amazing live. She’d opened with Listen, a contemplatively jangly country-pop number about intuition (Turner is a reliable source) that would be perfectly at home in the Laura Cantrell songbook, right down to the hushed, gently twangy nuance of the vocals. The Way She Is Now picked up the pace, a swinging, upbeat country-rock song sweetened with swells from the pedal steel. The Byrds-inflected Insane Moon gave Pinamonti the spotlight – his chiming twelve-string style is competely original, more of a incisive lead guitar approach (think Roger McGuinn on Eight Miles High instead of Turn Turn Turn).

Then she did Brooklyn. It’s one of the great Gotham songs, not just because it’s catchy but because it has so much depth. To paraphrase Turner, Brooklyn is so big because it has to deal with so much bullshit and yet so much transcendence: credit goes to the people who live there. She wrapped up the set with Baby You’ve Been on My Mind, the opening cut on Linda Ronstadt’s first album, where she admitted to finding out only later that Dylan had written it. With a gentle insistence, she made it her own, matter-of-factly warm rather than straight-up come-on. She’s back at Banjo Jim’s on 2/21 at 8:30 as part of ex-Monicat Monica “L’il Mo” Passin’s reliably good Americana night.

Erica Smith and the 99 Cent Dreams followed on the bill with their first New York show in awhile, a relatively brief set of jazz standards. Smith’s equally nuanced stylings moved from Julie London somber (Cry Me a River) to unselfconscious Ella Fitzgerald joy (Everything I’ve Got) to a deadpan version of One for My Baby, lead guitarist Dann Baker going back in time for a vintage 50s vibe while drummer Dave Campbell swung casually with the occasional Elvin Jones flourish or Brazilian riff.

February 12, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 8/3/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Typically we do a lot more than this here – we’re currently working feverishly updating this month’s  NYC concert calendar. In the meantime, Monday’s song is #359:

The Byrds – The Times They Are a-Changing

Just imagine for a second how much more amazing Dylan would have been if instead of the Band, he’d had the Byrds playing behind him. “Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.” No, they weren’t, actually – many of them would grow up to vote for people like Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney. Still, you gotta love the sentiment. The best album you’ll find this on is The Byrds Play Dylan reissue compilation from 1999.

August 3, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Melomane – Glaciers

Their best album. New York art-rockers Melomane have made the quantum leap from being a good band to being one of the best bands around. Their sound is lush, orchestrated and somewhat Mediterranean-inflected with meticulously arranged layers of guitars, strings, horns and keyboards. If you wish the Shins had some substance, if you’re wistful for Pulp at their mid-90s peak – or Roxy Music circa Avalon – this is for you. And while it’s a truism that this era’s musicians stand in opposition to the Cheney/Halliburton regime, Melomane have never shied away from taking a stand, as they do here more passionately and courageously than just about anyone else out there.

The cd opens with the blackly amusing Hilarious, a breezy art-pop song that evokes Crowded House. Frontman/guitarist Pierre de Gaillande blithely comes on to a girl while the climate and the arms race heat up on all sides. The next cut Unfriendly Skies has to be the best anti-entertainment industrial complex song written since Elvis Costello did Radio Radio almost thirty years ago. It’s a driving song, set to an ominous, driving beat, a fiery shot across the bow of corporate radio:

From unfriendly skies comes a dull monotony
To conquer and divide, entertainmentopoly
We drive so fast, we get so lost

I’ll turn it off
The channel’s clear, it gives me no alternative
One day soon I know

We will break the stranglehold
Hack apart the snake and
Take back what they stole

The cd continues with the darkly romantic Open Invitation and then Nobody, which takes a turn into tropicalia with its bossa rhythm, trumpet and strings. The next track, The Little Man’s Castles – a big hit at live shows – opens with a gorgeous, Byrds-style lick into a propulsive, backbeat-driven verse with trumpet and keys. There’s a nice bridge right before the outro featuring an all-too-brief, tersely melodic bass solo from Daria Grace (who also plays in her husband Jack Grace’s country band, and leads a charming old-timey outfit called the Prewar Ponies). The following cut This Is Skyhorse starts out totally early 80s new wave, with an acoustic intro into something that sounds like Turning Japanese by the Vapors, then bass and percussion, then back to the lick with distorted, processed vocals. And then it morphs into a bluesy 70s rock song. It’s a weird series of permutations that would do the Skyhooks proud. Could the song title be a cleverly veiled reference?

The high point of the cd, and instant candidate for best song of the year, no contest, is The Ballot Is the Bullet, a quietly ferocious, 6/8 rallying cry to any one of us who might find the courage to stand up to the traitors and thugs who brought us Guantanamo Bay and the Patriot Act:

You’re fodder and you’re grist
I think you get my gist
And you know these people don’t like you
They walk without souls

They’re turning our green world into a black hole
They’re out of their minds
We’ve run out of time
In the occident and the orient

Please assassinate the precedent

“Precedent” is what the lyric sheet says, anyway. Major props to Melomane for articulating what most of us never dare to speak. Out of the second chorus, the song builds majestically with a starkly powerful minor-key climb from Gaillande’s guitar, then the organ kicks in with a desperate, furious crescendo. The song then takes a bitter, depressed climb down to the intro and ends on the somber note where it began. And while Gaillande makes it clear that “We’re in love with love/That’s why we’re singing this,” it’s clear that this song is not about turning the other cheek.

Welcome comic relief arrives eventually with the pun-laden, tongue-in-cheek, Pistolla di Colla (Italian for “glue gun”). It’s a clever postmorten for the end of a relationship, evoking nothing less than artsy 70s Dutch satirists Gruppo Sportivo:

Some Roman gallivanter gifted in soothing banter
He’s cooing his sticky catchphrases while life decays in phases
She washed her hands and toes beneath the Caesar’s frescoes
With who, God only knows

Then they segue into a theme which will remain nameless here: you have to hear it to fully appreciate the joke. The following cut Thin Ice is a ballad: mournful harmonies fly over the quiet, reflective verse:

Plumbing the depths of the sadness that springs from confusion
And skating on thin ice

The album’s last song is anticlimactic to the extreme, but they saved it til the end so you can just stop there if that’s your preference.

Throughout the cd, Gaillande’s writing is more direct and hits harder than ever, and his voice has deepened, revealing a welcome, newfound gravitas. This is a terrific headphone album, a great road album and a shot of adrenaline for any disheartened freedom fighter. Five bagels. With arugula, prosciutto di Parma and capers. [postscript – after a hiatus that took up much of 2008 and 2009 as Gaillande busied himself with other projects, namely the Snow and Bad Reputation, Melomane seem to be at least a part-time project again, a welcome development]

June 3, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments