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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 9/23/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #859:

The Damned – Mindless Directionless Energy

The All Music Guide said horrible things about this one: goes to show, who can you trust? We chose this over the rest of their catalog since it has so many inspired versions of some of their best and best-known songs. Recorded live at the Lyceum in London in 1981 and widely bootlegged, to the point where the band finally released it six years later, this captures the band hanging onto their punk sound even in the wake of their first dive into goth music, the Black Album. As befits a bootleg from that era, the sonics manage to be both boomy and trebly – midrange is mostly nonexistent – but the spontaneous intensity of the performances is irresistible. Frontman Dave Vanian sounds like he’s been drinking about his baby and the band are just loose enough to be dangerous, stampeding through the riff-rocking punk of I Fall and New Rose, a blistering hardcore version of Love Song, the wickedly catchy guitar-and-organ punk-pop of Smash It Up and I Just Can’t Be Happy Today, a feedback-infested blast through a medley of the MC5’s Looking At You and the Stooges’ 1970 and a murderously careening version of their most haunting if lyrically mystifying song, Plan 9 Channel 7. The only miss is a completely useless cover of the Sweet’s annoying Ballroom Blitz. Most of the Damned’s albums – from the almost equally trebly, garage-style stomp of their 1977 debut Damned Damned Damned through the goth-infused Strawberries, from 1982 – are worth investigating. Here’s a random torrent.

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September 23, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Norden Bombsight – Pinto

One of the challenges of writing about music is to be quick enough to spot a genuine classic when it appears. This is one of them. Raw yet ornate, ferocious yet intricate, Norden Bombsight’s debut album Pinto hails back to the early 70s but adds a snarling, desperate punk edge that’s uniquely their own. It’s sort of the missing link between Pink Floyd and Joy Division. It’s art-rock, but it’s not prog; it boils over with anguished intensity, but it’s not goth. The current band they most closely resemble is New York gypsy-punk-art-rockers Botanica. Guitarist David Marshall plays with a raw, vintage 70s tone that enhances his unhinged, fiery attack on the strings over the nimble, melodic, shapeshifting rhythm section of Jonathan Gundel on bass, Julian Morello on drums and Derrick Barnicoat on percussion, loops and processing. Frontwoman Rachael Bell holds down centerstage with a savagely beautiful, wounded wail, adding starkly eerie keyboard textures as well as incisive mandolin. Norden Bombsight’s lyrics match their music, fragmented, ominous and disquieting. This is an after-dark album, one that resonates best by the light of a distant streetlight, or no light at all.

Like a vinyl record, it has a side one and a side two, each of them a suite. Side one opens with a dark, stately three-chord progression, the backup alarm on a garbage truck screeching evil, mechanical and assaultive in the distance, building to a desperate gallop and eventually back again, evoking late 70s noir art-rock cult favorites the Doctors of Madness. The song segues into Four on the Lawn, a feedback loop fading up to Bell’s accusative, Siouxsie-esque vocals over a reverberating, swaying march, burning David Gilmour-esque guitar chords against upper-register piano. Another segue takes them to Help Desk, noir cabaret as Procol Harum might have done it, Bell’s organ and then electric piano holding gentle but firm against the stately punch of the guitars, which finally cut loose in a forest of wild tremolo picking at the end.

Side two begins with a pretty lullaby for solo electric guitar, followed by the towering, 6/8 anthem The Raven. “You won’t have my yellow hair/Lay me down to rest/You left me there,” Bell laments. “I’ll never get you back to the town of West Haven” –  whatever that means. Marshall’s reverb-drenched tremolo guitar climbs with an unleashed fury, and then back down again into Snakes, which with its staggered, tango-ish beat and southwestern gothic ambience reminds of the Walkabouts. The band brings it up, then down again, into the scorching Nektar-style stomp of Altercation, shifting time signatures unexpectedly into a wild, circular organ-and-guitar-fueled jam straight out of Remember the Future, and an unexpectedly funky outro. Catchy and resolutely swaying, Virgil evokes the Grateful Dead, but not so grateful now that they’re in Hades: “Virgil, you’re out of your jurisdiction, now you’re just another man with a gun,” snarls Marshall. The album ends with its most overtly Pink Floyd-influenced number, slide guitar blasting like an August sunset over blacktop. And then it stops cold.

As intense as this album is, Norden Bombsight are even better live. They play Matchless tonight at eleven; watch this space for future shows.

May 6, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Les Triaboliques – rivermudtwilight

This is one of those rare albums whose title perfectly describes it. With an earthy, after-the-rain feel, it’s the brainchild of a trio of old British punks. Justin Adams is the least punk of the three – lead guitarist in Jah Wobble‘s band, collaborator with Tinariwen and Juldeh Camara (and recently with that has-been 70s rock guy), he’s one of the world’s foremost desert blues players. Lu Edmonds was in the Damned and then the Mekons, eventually took the same route Joe Strummer and dozens of his contemporaries would take into world music and is adept at a museum’s worth of stringed instruments. Ben Mandelson was in Magazine and would go on to found Globe Style Records, home to such diverse acts as Varttina and the Klezmatics. The debut collaboration between the three is a frequently  mesmerizing, otherworldly blend of desert blues, Balkan songs, vintage Americana, Britfolk and a gypsy caravan of styles from around the globe. It’s one of the best releases of the year in any style of music.

The first and last tracks are the most hypnotic, the former clanging like a stripped-down Tinariwen until a catchy, elliptical theme finally emerges, the latter a breathtaking amalgam of styles from Middle Eastern improvisation (played as a guitar taqsim by Adams) leading into a big blue-sky theme similar to early Pat Metheny. Spiced with guest Salah Dawson Miller’s guiro, Gulaguajira sets a vivid Russian prisoner’s lament atop a latin groove. The lush mesh of a phalanx of jangling, clanking, plinking, thumping stringed instruments – guitar, mandolin, saz and cumbus (Turkish lutes) and others is rich with suspenseful overtones, particularly on the tricky, sidestepping Afsaduni (I Have Been Corrupted). The single best song here is the eerie, atmospheric nocturne Shine a Light, an antiwar vocal number intoned ominously by Adams.

Heavy metal disguised as dusk-core, as the label calls it, the title track is surprisingly effective and psychedelic even if it kicks the hypnotic vibe to the curb. There’s also a stark Balkan lament, an even sparser one-chord jam on the old folksong Jack O’Diamonds (no relation to the Fairport Convention version), and a delightful John Lee Hooker style boogie flavored with exotic instruments (only the British would come up with some thing like that). The only misstep is a pointless cover of Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood which owes more to the odious Santa Esmeralda than to the Animals. This is one of those albums that’s as fun to hear as it must have been to record. If you can’t wait til Tinariwen’s new one comes out, this will do just fine.

September 8, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album Review: Martin Bisi – Son of a Gun

Martin Bisi’s indie cred is without question: his resume as a producer includes the Dresden Dolls, Sonic Youth, Live Skull and Black Fortress of Opium, to name just a few of the best. Yet his greatest achievements have been not behind the board but as a songwriter and bandleader. This download-only ep (it’s up at itunes and Contraphonic’s very easily negotiable site) impressively captures the freewheeling noir intensity, out-of-the-box imagination and counterintuitivity that come out so strongly at his live shows. The album features welcome contributions from a like-minded cast of characters, Bisi’s old 80s pal Bill Laswell as well as members of the Dresden Dolls, Balkan Beat Box, World Inferno and drummer Bob D’amico of the Fiery Furnaces.

The opening cut Drink Your Wine is basically punk Motown in the same vein as the Clash’s Hitsville UK with layers of the guy/girl vocals that have come to typify Bisi’s recent work along with a characteristically sardonic lyrical sensibility: “Drink your wine and don’t be silly,” Bisi admonishes: he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Building from a dusky noir intro, disembodied vocals rising over bass chords, Rise Up Cowboy explodes into a pounding art-rock anthem laden with dynamic shifts, layers of evil psychedelic guitar glimmering in the background, Bisi doing an impressive job as Peter Murphy-style frontman. The Damned only wish they could have sounded this apprehensive and ominous.

Mile High – Formaldehyde blends early 90s style Lower East Side noir blues with careening Firewater/Botanica style gypsy punk, propelled by the Dresden Doll’s Brian Viglione on drums. Its companion track Mile High – Apple of My Eye, with Laswell on bass, is a study in contrast, sultry and pulsing, something akin to New Order as done by early Ministry. It’s a vividly sisterly approximation of the previous cut’s menace, which is particularly appropriate in that it was inspired by Bisi’s daughter. With its clever layers of vocals, the final cut, the title track recalls the off-the-rails psychedelic eeriness of Bisi’s previous album Sirens of the Apocalyse (very favorably reviewed here). Essential listening for fans of dark imaginative rock: Bisi has several midwest and New England live dates coming up. You’ll see this on our Best Albums of 2009 list at the end of the year – not bad for a little five-song ep.

July 3, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, James Ross and Joe Benzola, Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble and Elisa Flynn at the Delancey, NYC 6/29/09

Small Beast has taken to Mondays like a vulture on a carcass. The beef carcasses, i.e. hamburgers and hotdogs at the upstairs barbecue now carry a $5 pricetag, although it’s a fill-your-plate type deal (and the totally El Lay crowd up there looks like they can afford it). Botanica pianist Paul Wallfisch, opened the night in the cool, darkened ground-level space as he always does, solo on piano. Since Small Beast is his event, he’s gotten a ton of ink here. Suffice it to say that if dark, virtuosic, unaffectedly intense piano with a gypsy tinge is something you might like, run don’t walk to this Monday night extravaganza. Although last night it wasn’t, it’s usually over before Rev. Vince Anderson gets going across the river, so if you’re really adventurous you can hit both shows. This time out Wallfisch ran through a rather touching Paul Bowles song about a fugitive, in French; a lickety-split version of a noir cabaret tune by his longtime collaborator, chanteuse/personality Little Annie; a Crystal Gayle cover done very noir, and Shira and Sofia, a Botanica tune about the original Joy Division, a couple of WWII era whores. Make love, not war is what the two are encouraging in their own completely over-the-top way, and a few in the audience did a doubletake when Wallfisch got to the chorus.

Multi-instrumentalist James Ross and percussionist Joe Benzola were next, playing hypnotic instrumentals that sounded something akin to the Dead jamming Space with Electric Junkyard Gamelan, with Benzola using a multitude of instruments including wooden flute, recorder, kazoo, and a small series of gongs in addition to his drum kit and then layering one loop on top of another for a Silk Road feel. They took awhile to get going, Ross playing a zhongruan, a Chinese lute with a biting tone like a higher-pitched oud. This was an improvisation, and when they hit their stride the crowd was very into it – avante garde though it was, there was a repetitive catchiness to it too. Ross eventually switched to electric guitar, winding up their brief set with a trancelike, drony number where he built a small wall of feedback as if to hold off the relentless procession of beats.

Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble then grabbed the crowd by the back of the neck and spun them in the opposite direction with a ferocity that was even more striking in contrast to the previous act’s quiet psychedelica. To find a worthy comparison to Beren, the former Die Hausfrauen frontwoman, you have to go into the icon section: Iggy Pop, Aretha, Umm Kalthum or Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello are a few who can match the raven-haired contralto siren’s unleashed, menacing intensity. Backed by two lead guitarists, a trombonist who doubled on keys and a pummeling rhythm section, Beren opened the set with anguished vocalese, part scream and part very reluctant acquiescence. There was no turning back after that. The band name is apt in that their grand guignol attack can be bluesily hypnotic, tinged with classical motifs (Beren played macabre piano on a couple of numbers) and if you take it to its extreme (this is very extreme music), there’s nobody more goth than this crew. But these goths don’t put on batwings and hug the wall, they come to pillage and avenge. A couple of their heavier, stomping numbers bore a little resemblance to Blue Oyster Cult, but Beren’s writing is more complex and cerebral, expertly switching between tempos, building inexorably to a roar of horror. Their last song grew ominously with a whoosh of cymbals and some beautifully boomy chord work on the intro by bassist Greg Garing into a careening, crashing gallop that ended with a noise jam, Garing throwing off a nasty blast of feedback.

That Elisa Flynn wasn’t anticlimactic playing in the wake of Hurricane Vera speaks for itself. In her own moody, pensive and equally dark way, she proved a match for Beren, in subtlety if not sheer volume. Flynn’s new cd Songs About Birds and Ghosts is one of the year’s best, and that comprised most of what she sang, playing solo on guitar, expertly working the corners of a compelling, wounded delivery that she’d occasionally turn up to a fullscale wail when she needed to drive a point home. Her guitar playing proved as smartly matched to the songs’ emotion as her vocals, alternating between hammering chords and stark fingerpicking, sometimes building an eerie undercurrent of overtones using her open strings. Her songs have considerable bitterness but also a wry wit, as well as a frequently majestic, anthemic feel that comes to the forefront when she uses 6/8 time (which is a lot). I’m Afraid of the Way I Go Off Sometimes, she said, took its title from an email she’d received from a friend a week before he went into rehab. She warned that a cover of The Pyramid Song by Radiohead might be awkward, but it was anything but, in fact even more haunting than the original with something of a Syd Barrett feel. A brand-new one called Shiver was potently angry, building to a tastily macabre chorus. She followed that with an understated version of the opening cut on the new album, Timber, a towering anthem (with a cool Blair Witch video up on youtube). She closed with No Diamond, something of a lullaby “to send you off to sleep,” she said, another pensive number in 6/8. By now, it was approaching one in the morning; had she kept playing, no doubt the crowd would have kept listening.

Small Beast continues next Monday, July 6 with Wallfisch, Spottiswoode and Pete Galub; Beren plays goth night at the Slipper Room on September 20; Flynn is at Sidewalk on July 14 at 8.

June 30, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Botanica – Berlin Hi-Fi

What do you do when your last album was arguably the best single-disc cd of the decade so far? Maybe you flip the script. Maybe you do something radically different, that no one can compare to your most recent effort. Maybe, you make a pop album – or part of one, anyway. That’s what Botanica has done with their latest masterpiece (their trademark epic grandeur and snarling ferocity roars back and takes over on the rest of the songs). It’s an unabashedly romantic (and Romantic) achievement, lush and orchestrated, eerie yet sexy as hell. Put this on the night table beside the Al Green and the Moonlighters: it’s bedroom music for cold starless nights.

Botanica’s trademark sound welds their towering, passionate, keyboard-driven melodicism to a dark, savage reverb guitar attack, blending elements of gypsy punk, classical music and goth into a powerful, potently cerebral cocktail. On this one, they don’t even start a song in 4/4 until the album’s fourth song. The album opens with the stately Eleganza and Wines, a beautiful, rueful lament for a time and place lost forever, played in slinky 7/8 meter. As is so typical with Botanica’s songs, it builds to a towering crescendo and then fades to its central hook. (And Then) Palermo maintains the feeling of regret, a gorgeously romantic pop song in 6/8. The cd’s following cut, its title track is the most overtly 90’s style indie rock song they’ve done to date, a little out of character, but it works: a joyous shout-out to Berlin, where they’ve built up a substantial following, and it’s obvious that the appreciation is mutual. Remember the last time you left the country, how good you felt, how absolutely liberated? If so, this is your anthem. Next song: Concrete Shoes. Classic Botanica, haunting and desperate. “Save me now/Tie the rope around my neck and pull me up.” The footfalls of Christian Bongers’ bass quickly creep along as the guitar and organ roar, building inexorable momentum. On the following cut, I’m Lifting, the tension recedes to the background, but just a little bit: the rest of the band plays over and around frontman/keyboardist Paul Wallfisch’s central, haunting electric piano arpeggio.

Next up is A Freestyle Kiss to Hedy Lamarr (whose image graces the cover of the album), laden with sadness, melodies pouring in and overflowing the carafe, staining the tablecloth shiraz red. Then we get the frenetic concert favorite Someone Else Again, with its ascending bassline and Hollywood noir feel: David Lynch could use this for his next movie if it’s anything like Mulholland Drive.

The scorching antiwar song Waking Up clocks in at barely a minute and a half, a throwback to the furious politically charged power of Botanica’s career-defining previous album, Botanica vs. the Truth Fish. The album’s next tune, I Desire perfectly encapsulizes where Botanica is now. John Andrews’ scary reverb guitar plays the song’s central arpeggio as Wallfisch’s funereal electric piano tones reverberate against it and build to a firestorm of emotion.

The album’s most likely radio hit – and there are many to choose from – is its next track, Not a Bear: “more ambitious than your average bear,” as the lyric goes. “Why sleep when you could be wide awake?” It’s a curious question, with Andrews’ menacing guitar and Wallfisch’s organ lurking in the background, and it might be rhetorical. The alternative could be fatal.

More political gypsy punk (and a wildly frenetic, deliciously climactic violin solo) with How, which the band frequently uses as an aptly furious concert encore. Then the sarcastic, Nick Cave-inflected Fame, a savage blast back at the entertainment-industrial complex and all the rockstar wannabes who buy into it.

Then a return to the same reflective tone the album began on, with This Perfect Spot. The cd’s secret track is Eleganza and Wines rearranged for string quartet and it’s absolutely beautiful, a spot-on way to close this gorgeous, meticulously arranged and fearlessly intense album. This is not your neighbor’s whiny, tuneless indie rock. It’s not your father’s bloated, bombastic prog rock. It’s the soundtrack to your life at top speed, full volume, every synapse at full power. Why sleep when you could be wide awake. Albums are available in better record stores, at shows and online.

Frontman Paul Wallfisch is on tour right now with the “coalmine canary,” noir chanteuse Little Annie but we should expect at least one NYC area show this summer after they return.

May 14, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: The Dirty Novels – Stealing Kisses

Word is that they don’t make kick-ass rock like this anymore – except they do. These raucous, stomping New Mexico garage rock hoodlums pump out a glorious blast of noise that blends the sound of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators with the early Damned, along with plenty of influence from the Stooges, Ramones, Seeds and Lyres, among others.

 

The album’s second song Slow It Down sounds like vintage Elevators, all nasty riffs over a jangly groove. Don’t Fit In (track four) sounds like a Stones song from Aftermath rearranged for one of their post-Blonde on Blonde albums like Between the Buttons. The following cut Candy Can’t Wait is uncharacteristically downbeat and creepy, shades of Steve Wynn at his most retro. Can’t Get Over You (track six) evokes the Damned circa Machine Gun Etiquette with its dark minor chord permutations. Stars Won’t Shine for You (track eight) starts out sounding practically like a dead ringer for the Damned classic Fan Club before taking a short detour down into la-la pop.  My Love Is Electric (track nine) launches on an evil Stoogoid riff, evoking nothing less than the great and recently reunited Radio Birdman. The album concludes with what sounds like a Stooges tribute, the TV Eye riff adapted just enough to beat a copyright suit. And it’s a worthy one: Asheton & co. would probably approve.

 

There are no deep lyrical concepts here, no shades of meaning. All these guys want to do is rock. There isn’t much about this album that’s original but that’s not the point. What the Dirty Novels want to do is kick your ass over and over and they do that exceptionally well. These guys are purists. They really know their stuff and obviously get a lot of pleasure bludgeoning your eardrums. Their live act is everything you would hope for after hearing the album. It all boils down to this: if you love unpretentious, catchy, balls-to-the-wall garage rock that you can get up and dance to, get this album and go see the Dirty Novels when they come to your town. All they need is somebody to hook them up with Little Steven and have them play a couple of his garage-a-thons and they’ll be packing ‘em in at dingy rock clubs from coast to coast. The cd is available online and at shows.

April 23, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment