Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Classic From the 80s – Or From Right Now?

If this band had been around in the 80s and had recorded this album then – an era it easily could date from, had the band members not been in diapers or not yet born – it would be a cult classic today, and they would be packing clubs full of kids younger than they are now. On their fourth cd, Here, New York art-rockers Changing Modes leap from one radically dissimilar style to another with gusto, guile and a tunefulness that won’t quit. Blending classical flourishes, punk energy, playful and clever lyrics that draw on 80s new wave and a ubiquitous element of surprise, every time you think you’ve got them figured out, they drop something new on you. They have two first-rate lead singers and one of them plays the theremin – in a way that’s not cheesy or precious. The songs here, most of them clocking in at barely three minutes apiece, evoke such diverse acts as Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Adverts, Captain Beefheart, Pamelia Kurstin and the Go-Go’s.

Ironically, the simplest song on the album is the best – and it might be the best song any band has released this year. Moles, about the “mole people” living deep in the bowels of the New York City subway, is a scampering, ridiculously catchy, jaggedly sinister punk/new wave hit: “Your life underground is not what it seems, it’s worse than your strangest nightmares and better than your wildest dreams.” It goes out on Yuzuru Sadashige’s screaming, off-kilter reverb guitar crescendo, straight out of the Doctors of Madness playbook. The Great Beyond takes a pensive pop ballad and sends it tumbling into the abyss with some ominous Bernard Herrmann atmospherics, while the title track evokes Siouxsie with its eerie, lo-fi organ and skronky guitar – and a stark, classically-tinged piano bridge that comes out of nowhere but makes a perfect fit.

Bookended with a handful of lolcat string synth flourishes, Louise is singer/keyboardist Wendy Griffiths’ stomping powerpop tribute to a furry friend: love ultimately conquers all. Scratchy new wave/punk-pop, like the Cars with a college degree, Cell to Cell features a bizarre, noisy guitar solo from Sadashige, Beefheart as played by PiL’s Keith Levene, maybe. The rest of the album includes an uneasy, ornate ballad sung with effortless, soaring abandon by theremin player Jen Rondeau; a blistering ska-punk number; a playful new wave pop tune with a theremin solo, and a couple of jaunty vaudevillian numbers, one possibly about the evils of gentrification, the other a sarcastic sendup of catty drama queens. Count this among the half-dozen or so best albums of 2010 so far. Changing Modes play Ella (the latin club adjacent to Nice Guy Eddie’s on Ave. A just north of Houston) at 9 PM on June 8.

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

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

Song of the Day 8/26/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Wednesday’s song is #336:

The Doctors of Madness – Noises of the Evening

Scorching, angsted, guitar-and-violin-fueled druggy art-rock epic from these glam-ish mid 70s art-rockers, a UK sensation but virtually unknown here. The long crescendo at the end is amazing. From the band’s second album, a self-titled double lp, part rehab concept album – pretty ahead of its time for 1978, huh? Frontman/lyricist Richard Strange would subsequently pursue a solo career as a cult artist in the 80s.

August 26, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Steve Wynn and the Dragon Bridge Orchestra: Live in Brussels

For a lot of artists, a show like this would be the high point of a career. For Steve Wynn, it’s just another night on the road. This lush, richly beautiful live album is notable for the fact that the noir rock legend plays it not with his usual backing band the Miracle 3 but instead with much of the crew on his most recent studio cd Crossing Dragon Bridge: Chris Eckman from iconic art-rockers the Walkabouts on guitar (who makes a formidably terse sparring partner with Wynn on several noise jams), former Green on Red keyboardist Chris Cacavas, bassist Eric Van Loo, the irreplaceable, Keith Moon-inspired Linda Pitmon on drums and violinist Rodrigo D’Erasmo, who does a mighty job standing in for the full orchestra behind Wynn on much of the cd. After practically thirty years playing ferocious guitar-driven rock, he went deep into ornate art-rock, and this maintains that feel.

Ornate though it may be, it rocks almost as hard as his hardest stuff: the stark violin tones of the intro, Slovenian Rhapsody Pt. 1 something of a false start, though it sets an ominous tone very effectively. Then everything picks up with a particularly menacing version of the SoCal car cruising anthem Bring the Magic, the Beach Boys through a twisted minor-key funhouse mirror. He gets even more menacing with an almost tongue-in-cheek version of the come-on God Doesn’t Like It, then insistent and down-to-earth with the wise existentialist ballad Here on Earth As Well. With D’Erasmo’s violin leading the way, Tears Won’t Help (opening cut on Wynn’s first full-length album, Kerosene Man) takes on a gorgeously rustic country flavor. The best song on the cd is the one we rated as best song of 2008, the anguished, bitter I Don’t Deserve This. This time, the band does it as a whirling, psychedelic dirge including a screaming noise rock solo from Wynn into the bridge, where suddenly he has an epiphany and then it winds up with another swirling cauldron of noise.

From there, the album could be anticlimactic, but it’s not, testament to the depth of Wynn’s catalog. Punching Holes in the Sky is just Wynn on acoustic and the violin, riveting and intense. “Some things just get better and better/Some things don’t – whatever!” the stalker disingenuously grins to the clueless chick he’s trying to pick up on the ragtime-inflected Wait Until You Get to Know Me. Among the best of the other cuts here – there are too many to enumerate – are a suspenseful solo acoustic version of the classic Silence Is Your Only Friend, a rare version of the blistering anthem 405 with a brutal duel between Wynn and Eckman and the last of the encores, Amphetamine, reinvented as less of a noise jam than full-on orchestral maelstrom, something akin to the Doctors of Madness on…um…take a guess. What else is there to say – put this one in the pantheon and look for it on our Best Albums of 2009 list at the end of the year. Until Wynn decides to bring the equally extraordinary but completely different Live Tick cd from 2006 back into print, this one will do just fine.

June 19, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment