Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

MotherMoon Turns Down the Lights

Don’t let MotherMoon frontwoman Ashley Selett’s vocal resemblance to Norah Jones scare you off – their new album Writing in the Sky is hardly elevator music. Selett’s torchy yet nuanced, soul-infused delivery understates the dark intensity of her songwriting. The songs here are remarkably intelligently and counterintuitively assembled: dynamics rise and fall, tempos shift in a split second, go doublespeed and then back again. Selett’s a terrific wordsmith as well. Pensive, brooding and metaphorically charged, her lyrics don’t shy away from the dark side.

The album opens with a pleasant, accessible, guitar-and-organ rock tune with clever psychedelic touches that contrast with the beaten-down anguish of the lyrics:

Although we fall down to the ground
Maybe it’s not what we wanted
Maybe the sun maybe the time
Was too unwarranted
…I guess just bring the hearse
In the heat of the night

The album’s second cut (essentially its title track) is a fragmentary, brooding Cat Power-ish minimalist number with a catchy chorus: “Why’s everybody looking at me like sadness is faux pas?” Selett wants to know. A simple soul guitar riff carries the captivating Quicker Quitter – it’s hard to tell if Selett is being cynical, or offering a warning to get out before everything falls apart.

Spilt Blood couples a 1920s-style hot swing tune to a fast swaying rock arrangement – here Selett reaches back for a post-Billie Holiday delivery more than she does anywhere else, delivering her vivid, imagistic, wounded lyric with a depleted, affectless weariness. The album winds up with a new wave rock tune with woozy, oscillating Dr. Dre synth. It’s an auspicious debut that leaves you wanting more. Selett’s current band includes brilliant Americana guitarist Myles Turney along with Joseph Colmenero on bass and Joel Arnow on percussion. MotherMoon play the cd release show for this one at Spike Hill on August 6 at 11 PM.

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July 31, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: AK Healey at Luna Lounge, Brooklyn NY 12/5/07

Always leave them wanting more, the saying goes, and tonight AK Healey did just that. In a classy (and savvy) piece of booking by the Luna people, Healey was handed a captive audience, the big room filled with oldsters from out of town who’d come to see headliner Steve Forbert. An odd segue, perhaps, the once-and-future Scout frontwoman followed by a folksinger from the 70s. But his crowd’s a lot more likely to actually buy cds instead of downloading all their music for nothing. That there were a gaggle of kids in the back by the bar who’d actually come out and paid the $20 cover to see her play for barely a half an hour says something about the loyalty of her fan base. Playing the vintage red Gibson she used in her old band and accompanied by just a guitarist singing harmonies and playing the same kind of minimalist melodic lines you’d find in Scout songs, it was more apparent than ever that Scout basically was Healey. She’s never sung better, her clear, unaffected alto cutting through without having to fight the din of a band behind her, once in awhile pushing just to where her voice would start to break up into grit, like an overdriven amp, when she needed to make a point. She was also remarkably at ease with the audience despite the intimate, stripped-down setting – there were rows of chairs set up for this show. At Luna Lounge, imagine that.

Healey’s rain-streaked, thoughtfully melancholy songs are like a windbreaker on a brisk, late fall morning: you’ll survive without them, but you might be miserable. Tonight it was triumphantly clear that Healey’s vision is undiminished: she’s nothing if not consistent. If you like Cat Power, Girl Friday, or Randi Russo’s quieter songs, you’ll love AK Healey. No notes are wasted, catchy hooks casually insinuated everywhere rather than being thrust in your face. Healey’s music falls under the vast, shaky tent that people call indie rock for lack of a better word, but her melodic sensibility is classic pop, if through the bottom of a glass, darkly. A lot of her songs utilize those moveable guitar chords that are both the backbone and the bane of indie rock, but she doesn’t rely exclusively on them: she has the technique to play whatever she needs to get the job done. Tonight she used a beatbox on a couple of them, which got a few chuckles. Her brief set included only one song dating from the Scout days, the big audience hit I’ve Got a Secret. On one of the later numbers, the lead player put down his beautiful two-tone Gibson Firebird and added organ tones with an Omnichord, a 70s artifact that looks like a miniature UFO and works something like an electrified autoharp. Healey’s best songs were the ones she used to open and close the show. The opener, Songs to Strangers (as in, “when you sing songs to strangers”) began darkly in a minor key; the closing number, with its insistent, harmony-laden chorus of “everything’s the same,” was as wistful as it was anthemic, two qualities that might seem at odds with each other, but Healey made it work. That these songs would stand up on their own without a band and just bare-bones arrangements testifies to how well Healey’s writing right now: she’s at the top of her game.

[postscript – AK Healey would go on to join popular, hypnotic, artsy rockers Hurricane Bells, the latest project from former Longwave and Scout guitarist Steve Schiltz]

December 6, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cabaret Review: Sarah Mucho in Subterranean Circus at the Duplex, NYC 12/3/07

This was a triumphant return for Sarah Mucho. Although she’s best known as the frontwoman for the ferocious, artsy rock band System Noise, her roots are in the cabaret scene. Her Ziggy Stardust shows at Mama Rose’s and other rooms a couple of years ago earned her rave reviews in the theatre press and a MAC Award, but since then she’s been busy with the band. Subterranean Circus, as this show is billed, is a futuristic cautionary tale blending surreal, often sacrilegious humor with a haunting, apocalyptic vibe, with echoes of early 80s punk rock performance art. There’s not much of a book, aside from between-song jokes (which are hysterical). The songs are mostly rock, other than a heart-stopping version of Nature Boy, where Mucho, backed only by superb accordionist Annette Kudrak, gets to show off and belt at the very top of her spectacular range. Otherwise, over the course of a little less than an hour, Mucho and her band ran through an impressively imaginative reworking of material ranging from Bjork (Human Behavior, rearranged as acoustic, piano-based funk), to Johnny Cash (Man in Black, augmented with a very funny sermon mid-song and ending with the outro to Stairway to Heaven), to an absolutely wrenching take of Cat Power’s Werewolf, rearranged for just accordion and bass and played with the lights almost all the way down.

Mucho does two Kinks covers, Apeman and Lola, taking an irresistibly silly turn on harmonica on the former. The latter, recast as noir jazz driven by a steady, walking bassline has the phenomenally talented Bobby Peaco coming out from behind the piano to deliver a very amusing turn on vocals. Other highlights include Simon and Garfunkel’s Most Peculiar Man, with horror-movie music-box piano from Peaco, an equally macabre cover of a Blonde Redhead song and a powerhouse rendition of Dress by PJ Harvey.

There’s also a surprise ending (much of which may not have been scripted) that wouldn’t be fair to give away. And then there’s Mucho’s voice. One of the maybe half-dozen most compelling singers in all of rock, (think Mary Lee Kortes intensity and strength throughout her entire range, and Neko Case for all-stops-out sultriness and stylistic diversity), she’s never sung better than she did tonight.

Mucho’s supporting cast gets pretty much everything right. The diversity and authenticity of Peaco’s arrangements are amazing: the guy can literally play anything, from gospel to honkytonk to classical. Director Kristine Zbornik has everything timed so perfectly tight the audience doesn’t even have time to finish laughing before Mucho’s next emotion-tugging move is on them, equally effective in inducing chuckles as well as awestruck silence. The show continues this Friday Dec 7 at 9:30 PM and as of this writing reservations (required: the first show sold out quickly) are available, call (212) 255-5438.

December 4, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

CD Review: C. Depp – Belle Epine

His tour de force. At this particular moment, Invisible Friend frontman/guitarist C. Depp has a franchise on quietly creepy, minimalist rock, foreshadowed on his band’s excellent 2006 release, Precinct 9. This, his latest solo album also includes his bandmates Andrew Malenda and Lispector on guitars, keys and assorted electronic blips and bleeps. Stylistically, there are hints of Smog, Mark E.’s solo work after the Eels, and late 80s Pulp during their Little Girl With Blue Eyes phase. Depp’s deadpan delivery heightens the strange, ominous mood, leaving the listener unsure if he’s just kidding around or dead serious. The title is apt – “belle epine” translates from the French as “beautiful thorn”. This is a beguiling and very unsettling album.

Depp wastes no time getting started: traffic passes by, and a siren wails ominously in the distance on the intro to the cd’s first song, Wolf Whistle:

Sister I need you
To answer a few questions
I don’t want you to cry
But I need you to help me
Some bad folks got out
And hurt some innocent people
…we will protect you, protect you, protect you,

Depp intones casually over a catchy, backbeat-driven janglepop melody. The cd’s following cut, Central Parc features attractively jangly electric guitar tracks and what sounds like guy/girl harmony vocals. But you can never be sure with this guy: that’s the beauty of this album. After that, The Where & the When sets eerie, tinkly electric piano atop atmospheric washes of string synth. The cd’s scariest cut is the all-too-brief Shyshy: “I’m shy,” Depp sings in almost a whisper, layers of vocals doubled and recorded just out of sync enough to give the listener pause. “If you really knew about me you won’t ask why.”

Other impressive cuts on the album include the skeletal, reverbed-out A Prayer for Hope for Forgiveness, sounding like one of the minimalist tracks on Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. The brief Fate Will Free Will imaginatively plays two separate vocal tracks with different lyrics against each other. The Mancunian dirge Ghost Self wouldn’t be out of place on New Order’s first album. And, Why We So Far Apart, Lover? – simply vocals and guitar – displays tinges of French varietes music. Depp is a big Cat Power fan and although this album doesn’t sound much like her, he sometimes indulges in painful, honest revelations, although more elliptically than she does.

Malenda’s production is amazing: with ample but judicious applications of reverb, he gets these bare-bones narratives to sound like they have something approximating a full band behind them without overproducing or sinking into slickness. Depp is nothing if not prolific, and Invisible Friend promises to begin playing out again since Depp has returned from a brief sojourn in Paris. Surprisingly, he can be a very funny onstage. The cd is available online and at shows. C. Depp plays the Creek and the Cave in Long Island City on May 25 at 9 PM.

May 15, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment