Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Smoldering Ashes – Songs in the Key of Mountain Birds Blue

Ridiculously catchy, often haunting, sometimes dreamy and psychedelic, Smoldering Ashes’ new album blends a vintage 80s new wave feel with a little goth and an occasional off-center folk feel for considerably more diversity beyond the wary, watery sound the quartet of Veronica Ashe, Jeff Brenneman, Dirk Doucette and Tory Troutman mined on their previous album Nervous Constellations.

The album starts out auspiciously with a casually torchy noir cabaret tune done southwestern gothic style, followed by a catchy midtempo new wave hit like Blondie at their most off-kilter and interesting. The third track could be a standout cut on Siouxsie’s Kaleidoscope album, building from pounding, ominous minimalism to a stomping crescendo with growly bass chords and aggressive wah guitar solo. Nick Charles Crossing the Alps (an inside joke, maybe?) is similarly dark and chromatic, like a stripped-down second part with eerie twelve-string guitar.

Track five, Eye of the Phobia has Ashe sounding like a more pitchwise Debbie Harry singing a mid-80s janglerock hit by the Church, maybe something off the Seance album. Give Yourself a Push blends Siouxie-esque menace with gorgeously catchy art-pop, taking the volume up a notch at the end even as it drops down to just vocals and roaring distorted guitar. 9,000 Year Old Man sets a distant otherworldly choir against simple psychedelic folk, T Rex as done by Steve Kilbey; Shake an Etch-a-Sketch nicks the Joy Division classic No Love Lost, right down to the skittish drums and the way the bass swoops up at the end of a phrase. The funniest cut on the album is a cover of the old Harold Arlen vaudeville song Lydia the Tattooed Lady, ironically a thousand times more apropos now than when it was written. Ashe affects a deadpan British accent as the band whoops and hollers behind her –  Lydia, as it turns out, has festooned herself with the Battle of Waterloo,Washington Crossing the Delaware…and Alcatraz! The album winds up with a brief, off-kilter new wave fragment, the psychedelically shapeshifting Le Locataire Diabolique (a collaboration with keyboardist Hyesoo Joen) and a trippy, atmospheric number. We’re considerably late in picking up on this one – it may have come out last year (on Trakwerx) but you just might see this on our best albums of the year list this December. Who’s counting, anyway?

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April 17, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: 17 Pygmies – The Outlaw J.D. Ray

A cynical New Yorker might call this 17 Pygmies’ Pete’s Candy Store album (after the little Brooklyn bar that’s spawned a million quiet oldtime and roots bands since the mid-90s). 17 Pygmies date from the 80s, so they get cred for being both new wave and indie when actually what they’ve evolved into is a majestic art-rock band. And the grass isn’t growing under their feet. Hot on the heels of their lush, richly atmospheric, utterly macabre Celestina from last year (Lucid Culture ranked it one of the three best albums of 2008) comes this similarly quiet, spooky, mostly acoustic suite with even more of a minimalist feel. Built around simple, elliptically ominous lyrical riffs along with a main theme and variations, it’s sort of an acoustic Celestina. But by contrast with that album’s vengeful angst, this is a meditation on separation, longing and death.

It begins on a defiant note with Ain’t Gonna Work, a slow, swaying, pre-Civil war waltz with lush layers of acoustic guitar from founding member Jackson Del Rey along with bandmates Jeff Brenneman and Meg Maryatt (who also contributes accordion, mandolin, banjo and vocals). The waltz theme continues, hypnotically as a sense of dread quietly grows: by the fourth track, where the electric guitar finally tremolos its way in, it’s clear that this romance is doomed. A minor key is introduced, stately with slide guitar and mandolin trading sweet/harsh textures. Let It Rain the Blues, a gentle duet juxtaposes Del Rey’s resignation with Maryatt’s fetching, consoling tone – there’s a little Lisa Lost (of the late, great NYC noir rockers DollHouse) in the unaffected warmth of her phrasing.

Denouement arrives on the wings of a brisk bluegrass tune, but she’s not ready to give up on the guy, even if this means the next place she sees him is heaven. We never get to see if this actually happens or not, through a slow, elegiac return to the initial waltz theme, a banjo tune that sounds as if it’s sung from the point of view of the girl’s mother and then a swaying Mexican border ballad with some juicy Spanish guitar and mandolin phrasing. As you can imagine, this story doesn’t end well. Who would have thought that 17 Pygmies would have had a great Americana album in them? It’s just out on Trakwerx.

November 27, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment