Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Best Triplebill of the Year

We move from the year’s best doublebill to the best triplebill of 2011 so far: Caithlin De Marrais, the Oxygen Ponies and Randi Russo at the Mercury on Sunday night, where Russo was playing the cd release show for her new one Fragile Animal (our pick for best of the year, maybe not so coincidentally). Each act was different, and yet the same (other than the fact that each one was playing with two drummers, Ray Rizzo and Konrad Meissner, whose interlocking, earthy groove was an unexpected treat). Tuneful, intense rock doesn’t get any better than this.

Caithlin De Marrais’ 2008 album My Magic City had a gorgeous rainy-day atmosphere: this was her fun set, material from an auspicious forthcoming album now being mixed. The former Rainer Maria bass player chose her spots and made her riffs count: few bassists get so much mileage out of such simple ideas. Often the bass carried the melody above Josh Kaufman’s ringing, jangly guitar. A few times, De Marrais would run a riff for a bar or two before launching into the next song: “You’ve got to watch, they catch up with you,” she grinned, “Not that you have watch your back in this town anymore.” As someone who was here before there was a “luxury” condo project on every ghetto block, she knows what she’s talking about. Kaufman made his ideas count for just as much, firing off suspenseful volleys of reverb-infused Sputnik staccato, or throwing shards of jangly chords into the mix. De Marrais is best known for plaintiveness and poignancy, and with characteristic nuance she added a more upbeat tinge to her vocals. Half the bands in Bushwick rip off New Order, but what De Marrais does with simple, catchy 80s hooks takes the idea to the next level. One of the new ones, maybe titled Cocoon, had a moody bounce; another new one, Rose Wallpaper, added carefree ba-ba-ba pop flourishes; still another paired off a bass riff straight out of Joy Division’s Ceremony with Kaufman’s pointillistic punch. The end of the set gave De Marrais the chance to cut loose and belt with impressive power, particularly a stomping, garage rock-tinged number with some ferocious guitar chord-chopping at the end, and a dead ringer for Scout that fell and then rose, apprehensive yet hopeful. “Just a dreamer after all…but let’s try,” De Marrais cajoled.

Where her vocals were all unselfconscious beauty, the Oxygen Ponies’ frontman Paul Megna doesn’t shy away from ugliness, or outright rage. And yet, when his vocals were up high enough in the mix, he was also all about nuance, adding more than the hint of a snarl to drive a particularly corrosive lyric home. This particular version of the OxPos (a revolving cast of characters) featured the drummers along with Don Piper on lead guitar, Devin Greenwood on keys and Chris Buckridge on bass. Their first song kept the New Order vibe going, followed by the cruelly sarcastic psychedelic pop of Fevered Cyclones, from their 2009 Harmony Handgrenade album. A hypnotic dirge from their highly anticipated forthcoming one sounded like the Church, with eerie, echoey guitar from Piper, building to a soaring anthem. The brooding, bitter Get Over Yrself gave Piper the chance to add his own corrosive noiserock edge; a more hopeful new anthem rose to a big swell fueled by Ray Sapirstein’s trumpet. They wrapped up the set with a gleefully ferocious, bouncy version of the Bush-era The War Is Over, followed by a pensive, Velvets-flavored anthem and then another new one that brought the garage-psych intensity all the way up with the two drummers going full steam.

Russo got the two drummers, JD Wood on bass, plus Piper, plus Megna on keyboards, plus Lenny Molotov on lead guitar and lapsteel. Resolute and velvety, she sang over the mini-orchestra behind her with a visceral sense of triumph. The album took longer to finish than anyone anticipated, but it was worth it and Russo drove that point home, opening with an especially amped version of Invisible. Speaking for every alienated individualist in the room, she grabbed victory from the jaws of defeat: “I am, I am invisible/I feel, I feel invincible.” With the three guitars going, The Invitation was exuberantly Beatlesque; the self-explanatory Alienation was another launching pad for some volcanic noiserock from Piper. Molotov’s falcon swoops on lapsteel added a menacing edge to the gorgeous, somewhat wistful Get Me Over, while Megna’s swirling keys gave the blistering kiss-off song Venus on Saturn a hypnotic ambience. Piper switched to harmonium for a fast, unusually short version of the Doorsy Restless Raga, Molotov’s solar flares bursting out of the murky mantra pulse. After a couple more hypnotically pounding numbers, she closed the show with the defiant Head High – Patti Smith as backed by Led Zep, maybe – and a counterintuitive choice, Swallow, a study in survival in the midst of being hit from all sides. It took some nerve to close on a down note with that one, and it worked.

And a shout out to Sergio Paterno, who earlier in the evening was playing gypsy and flamenco-flavored instrumentals on his guitar by tapping on the frets, using a lot of piano voicings, on the L train platform at 14th Street. It would have been fun to have heard more of what he was doing before the Mercury show.

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April 21, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Balthrop, Alabama – Subway Songs and Cowboy Songs

Two brand-new eps from the multistylistic Brooklyn music mob. True to the band’s signature shtick (Balthrop, Alabama style themselves as a little Southern town relocated to the BK), a lot of people were involved with making these albums and in general they acquit themselves well. Perhaps because of the sheer number of contributors, the band’s ability to fluently channel a ridiculous number of styles from decades ago to the present day is uncanny, and spectacularly so. The first of the two, Subway Songs is delightfully gruesome, lushly and imaginatively produced with layers of vocals, horns, keys and a variety of rustic stringed instruments. It also doesn’t seem to have the slightest thing to do with subways. It opens with Subway Horns, theatrical gypsyish ska punk like World Inferno. Bride of Frankenstein, which follows, is southwestern gothic with some biting slide guitar in the style of Friends of Dean Martinez. Prom Story is an amusingly and musically spot-on spoof of early 60s girl group ghoul-pop; Ocean’s Arms adds a faux Irish tinge to an immigrant’s tale gone drastically awry.

 

Red Hook Pool is a fast, upbeat folk-rock number spiced with banjo, a dead ringer for a Phil Ochs pop hit from, say, Tape from California, 1967. It, too comes to a grisly conclusion after the rain starts, morphing strangely into a vintage style soul song after a long instrumental vamp. With its beautiful, soaring vocals, the 6/8 ballad My Way the Highway sounds like what Caithlin de Marrais might have done if she’d been alive in 1965. At least nobody seems to die in this one.

 

Cowboy Songs explores a satirical concept. Trouble is, between Ween’s Twelve Golden Country Greats album, the Inbreeds, and David Allan Coe, there isn’t much country music territory left  to parody, and this doesn’t exactly add anything to the canon. The musicianship here is all first-rate, and in fact some of these songs are so period-perfect that they could be from Nashville in the mid-60s – but as b-sides. Old Cowboy Queer sounds like a ripoff of I Thought I Was Country Til I Found I Was Queer by fellow Brooklynites the Illbillies (now Maynard and the Musties), which achieved some notoriety about ten years ago. There are also thoughtful attempts at crafting a slowly swinging romantic ballad and an oldschool Ray Price-style shuffle. And then they end it on a tongue-in-cheek apocalyptic note. Balthrop, Alabama plays the cd release for these two at the 92YTribeca on 3/13 on an excellent bill with the Ukuladies and the Moonlighters starting at about 9:30 PM.

March 9, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Caithlin De Marrais – My Magic City

This is a wonderfully greycast autumn album:  glistening, pensive, apprehensive, tersely and evocatively detailed. Caithlin De Marrias was/is Rainer Maria’s bassist and frontwoman and while that band was one of the better indie acts of the 90s, it’s awfully nice to see her reach for new heights here and grab them with an understated grace. Her vocals are casual and confident with just a tinge of breathiness, often with nice harmonies. The cd, deliberately recorded with little rehearsal so as to get the most inspired work out of a stellar supporting cast, achieves a darkly luminous feel. The obvious comparison is Nina Nastasia, but less stylized, with distant echoes of Aimee Mann or maybe Mascott’s recent, excellent work. The backing band share De Marrais’ obvious preference for the spare and stark, particularly drummer Konrad Meissner, electric guitarists Bob Buckridge and Rainer Maria’s Kyle Fischer as well as Lauren Balthrop (of Balthrop, Alabama) on acoustic.

 

The opening cut, Voicemail, sets a tone of disquiet over a staggered beat spiked with piano and subtle reverb guitar. The next track, Outer Space Is Still Sexy, is the best one on the cd, rich with unease and a longing to escape. De Marrais paints an evocative afterwork bar scene (Pete’s Candy Store, maybe?), sardonically noting the “building all over the neighborhood…building a wall just to keep your stray dogs away.” The band wrote the next cut, The Cottage, on the spot in the studio, improvising as they went along, De Marrais included:

 

Banknotes and beach chairs

Here come the movers

Great men with iron in their arms

Pack me up and put me on the shelf

OK, the wheels are set to turn

 

As the song moves along, De Marrais toys with the lyrics with the same playful approach that her backing band takes with the tune. If not for its minimalist arrangement, the direct, plainspoken Play Fair could be a Laura Cantrell song, an accusatory swipe at someone who’s just walked out of her life without a word, accentuated with pretty electric guitar arpeggios. After that, there’s Sparrow, with its echoey, disembodied vocals and slow acoustic trip-hop beat.

 

Animals swings along on a backbeat, a little torchy but still wary, acoustic guitar flavored with piano:

 

I see animals in your eyes

Strange and dangerous we collide

The weight of the world no longer stands between

A beautiful girl and her dream

 

The stately 6/8 ballad The Fire layers slow, insistent broken piano chords over a simple tom-tom beat, maintaining the suspense: “Bells ring out in the distance, are they for us? No they’re not…”

 

Alexandria is a country shuffle about a wonderful summer that didn’t go as planned, more upbeat musically than anything else here. “How was I to know that I would wait so awfully long?” De Marrais laments at the end as an accusative choir of voices echoes her resentment, Meissner winding it up with a big cymbal crash. After that, the bouncy Around the Serpentine echoes the summer-that-wasn’t feel. The cd ends with the comforting, resolute April You Changed Your Mind, De Marrais reaching out to a troubled friend:

 

You’re staying here with us tonight…

If you ever feel alone again just call me

I’ll walk you home…

Take a song, learn the lines and sing it sweetly

 

Like so much on this cd, the song has a knowing feel: it could well be a chronicle of actual events from the recording session. The whole album is best enjoyed on headphones, late at night. For a revealing glimpse of how it was created, Caithlin De Marrais plays the Mercury Lounge on Dec 6 at 7:30 PM on an excellent bill with El May at 8:30 and eventually Shelley Nicole’s Blakbushe at 11.

December 2, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments