Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Not Waving but Drowning’s New Album Is a Trip

Tuneful and trippy to the extreme, Brooklyn band Not Waving but Drowning’s new theatrical rock album Processional is in some ways a more adventurous take on the Dresden Dolls. It makes a good companion piece with Aunt Ange’s recent psychedelic masterpiece. Where that one’s downright menacing, this one’s more lightheartedly surreal, although not without its disquieting moments. Where Aunt Ange goes out on the gypsy rock tip, Not Waving but Drowning reach back to the sly surrealistic humor of 60s psychedelia. Like that era’s great psychedelic bands, they draw on a kitchen sink’s worth of influences: folk music from literally around the globe, vaudeville, cabaret and garage rock. What’s it all about, other than the shambling procession through an endless succession of surreal images that the title foreshadows? After hearing it several times, it’s hard to tell, although it gets more interesting every time around. To say that there’s a lot going on here is an understatement.

The opening track, Sleep Before I Wake, is basically a mashup of the bluegrass standards Seven Bridges Road and Shady Grove, done Appalachian gothic style with psychedelic, reverb-toned lead guitar and guy/girl vocals, like a more surreal version of the Walkabouts circa 1990. The next track, November 3rd weaves a magical web of bass, banjo, guitar and violin and a lyric about a honeybee. If he’s made it to November 3, either he’s a very lucky guy, or a not so lucky one. Which isn’t clear. Is he running for office? A question worth asking. Tabor Island is a gleefully brisk shuffle over an Indian-flavored drone: “We shall all be made free again on Tabor Island.” A Jules Verne reference? Maybe.

Like a track from Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, Thanks a Lot Lancelot is a funny, sarcastic garage-pop song. “Sometimes love won’t do and you knew that from the start,” the singer reminds the poor knight. They follow that with a banjo tune, Windowsill, giving it a gentle evening ambience with trumpet and flute, and then pick up the pace with the scurrying, carnivalesque Station Light. A twisted casino scene of sorts, it’s the most theatrical number here. By the end, they’re not taking any bets – figure that one out.

The funniest song here is Sing to Me, a bumbling attempt at seduction that gets squashed fast, with a pretty hilarious quote from an awful 60s pop hit and an equally amusing outro. The Mission, with its 5/4 rhythm, offcenter violin and piano, is just plain inscrutable; they follow that with the album’s best song, Tiger Hunting, a creepy, slinky chromatic tune with an apocalyptic edge that hints at an old Talking Heads theme. Long Short Walk sounds like a cut from Nico’s Chelsea Girl album, but with better vocals and more interesting rhythm;Willow Garden evokes Country Joe & the Fish at their most reflective and acoustic. The album winds up with the title track, a twisted, swaying waltz that builds to a crescendo of delirious harmonies – it seems to be sort of an acoustic version of what Pink Floyd was going for with Waiting for the Worms. A pleasantly uneasy note on which to end this very entertaining journey. Not Waving but Drowning are at le Poisson Rouge on May 24.

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May 13, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vespertina Kills the Lights on the Bowery

In their New York debut at Bowery Poetry Club last night, Vespertina took the stage late. Was there an equipment malfunction? No, their string quartet were busy putting on their masks: evil, feline, woodland sprite faces. Frontwoman Lorrie Doriza went without one, as did her collaborator, a producer who goes by the name of Stoupe (from brilliant, socially aware hip-hop group Jedi Mind Tricks), standing to her left running ominous, lushly orchestrated backing tracks that sounded like something off a Wu-tang record circa 1996. There is no band in the world who sound anything like them, nor was there any respite from the intensity in their 45 minutes onstage. Doriza has one of those voices that comes along every ten years or so: from the point of view of someone who saw Neko Case in 1999 and Amanda Palmer a year later, she’s in the same league. There are other singers who have an equally impressive range, or an upper register just as powerful, but the most impressive thing about what she did is that she didn’t lapse into a single cliche all night. As the strings and the loops blended into a horror-film backdrop, the gleeful menace, and wounded angst, and rage, and sultriness in Doriza’s voice was so real it was scary. If those are characters she plays, she owns them.

Those girls are tortured. They want one thing, and that’s escape, beginning with the Girl in the Basement, the twisted waltz (and first single off the band’s new album The Waiting Wolf) that opened the show. That set the stage for the rest of the set. The only respite from the macabre was the closing number, a lushly arranged goodnight song that wouldn’t be out of place in the Abby Travis catalog, which relented just a little. Otherwise, the minor-key menace would not let up, and they managed to maintain the suspense because Doriza wouldn’t go completely over the top. When finally, finally, she let out a scream, it was a little one. Of course the laptop guy looped it and sent it back into the mix, echoing over and over – but in the distance, which made it all the more disturbing. One of the early songs in the set began like an aria, but quickly backed off. “Take me out,” Doriza implored – not on a date, one assumes. “She’ll be knocking down your door, burning down your home…nothing like a woman scorned,” she sang coldbloodedly on a tango-tinged song a bit later on.

The next number – like most of them, set to a prerecorded trip-hop beat – began with “You’ve been having trouble sleeping” and by the second verse it was “You’re having trouble breathing.” After that, the band got all atmospheric and trippy, slowly emerging from the abyss into a stately 6/8 anthem: “I’m not stupid – I just don’t care,” Doriza sang, desperate yet nonchalant. “You can’t escape me,” was the next song’s mantra, followed by “I’m running out of patience.” During the early part of the show, the string arrangements were too low in the mix; when they came up about a third of the way into the show, it was obvious how they’d been assembled to provide an artful lead track of sorts over the stuff that was in the can, which the ensemble delivered seamlessly yet emphatically beneath Doriza’s wounded wail. Count this as one of the best concerts of 2011, hands down – if the album is anything like this, it must be amazing. They’re playing the one town on Long Island that suits them best – Amityville – on May 29 at a place called Ollie’s Point.

May 12, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 2/9/10

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #720:

Abby Travis – Glittermouth

Abby Travis is one of the greatest bass players in rock. She’s also a terrific songwriter, in a sultry, sinister noir art-pop vein: she beat the Dresden Dolls to it by ten years. Her solo debut, Cutthroat Standards and Black Pop, from 2000, is the critic’s choice. To be stubborn, we went with this one from six years later. It’s more diverse, and beneath the shiny veneer, just as menacing. The big stunner is Now Was, a towering, Jeff Lynne style art-pop ballad that makes a potent showcase for her breathy unease. There’s a lot of trip-hop here, like Portishead at their creepiest, along with the noir cabaret of Hunger, the gently ominous psychedelic downtempo pop of Chase Me, the big 6/8 anthem Roberto – a goth response to the Tubes’ Don’t Touch Me There? – and the off-center, surprisingly upbeat little goth waltz Shoot for the Stars: “Shoot for the stars, you might land on the moon.” Travis is sister to filmmaker Dave Travis, who has a very auspicious new documentary A History Lesson, about the California punk scene coming out. The album hasn’t made it to rapidshare or mediafire yet as far as we can tell but it’s still up at cdbaby.

February 9, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fall 2010 Dresden Dolls Tour Dates

Nice to see the Dresden Dolls back together and on the road again after Amanda Palmer’s diverting diversion with Jason Webley in Evelyn Evelyn. They open the tour on Halloween at Irving Plaza in New York after Palmer wraps up her Broadway gig as the Emcee in the latest revival of Cabaret. Upcoming concert dates are:

Oct 31 – NEW YORK, NY- Irving Plaza

Nov 12 – NEW ORLEANS, LA- Tipitina’s (with Jason Webley)

Nov 13 – ATLANTA, GA- The Buckhead Theatre

Nov 14 – LEXINGTON, KY- Buster’s Billiards & Backroom

Nov 16 – ST. LOUIS, MO- The Pageant

Nov 17 – CHICAGO, IL- The Vic Theatre (with the excellent, horn-driven Mucca Pazza)

Nov 19th – DALLAS, TX- Granada Theatre

Nov 20 – HOUSTON, TX- Fitzgerald’s

Nov 21 – AUSTIN, TX- La Zona Rosa

September 9, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/22/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #891:

Nico – Chelsea Girl

Bet you thought you’d see the Marble Index here instead, huh? Nope. That one’s the definitive teutonic druggie dirge album, something you should definitely check out if you haven’t already, if that’s your thing. This one’s maybe the ultimate prototypical chamber pop album, ahead of the Pretty Things’ Emotions. Which is ironic to the extreme because Nico hated the string arrangements that were overdubbed onto this afterward. You could even call this the best Jackson Browne album ever: did he ever do another album with three good songs on it? Probably not. Nico could never sing worth a damn, we all know that – but what an atmosphere she and everybody else created here despite themselves. Browne’s The Fairest of the Seasons sets the stage for the understated high drama of the rest of the album. Despite all the flat notes, she gives a genuine angst to another Browne ballad These Days, and the brooding, languid strings help; and she takes Somewhere There’s a Feather from folkie naivete to Marlene Dietrich world-weariness. The best song here is the poignant, organ-infused ballad Little Sister (an obvious Velvets outtake). The stark Weimar blues echoes in John Cale’s Winter Song still resonate today in a million noir cabaret bands from the Dresden Dolls to World Inferno. There’s also the iconic title track, a version of Dylan’s I’ll Keep It With Mine that in its own fractured way rivals Sandy Denny’s version with Fairport Convention, and the gently epic, 9/4 Velvets outtake Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams. Here’s a random torrent.

August 22, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 8/2/10

Here’s this week’s version of what Billboard should be paying attention to: we try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone, sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. If you don’t like one of these, you can always go on to the next one. Every link here will take you to each individual song. As always, the #1 song here will appear on our Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of the year.

1. The Larch – Strawberry Coast

Brooklyn new wave revival – but smart new wave revival. This has Squeeze overtones – and big brother watching on the spycam. From the band’s best album, the brand-new Larix Americana.

2. The Notekillers – Papers

This was avant composer David First’s instrumental noise/surf/punk band, a proto Sonic Youth circa 1981. This is a twisted surf tune; the band is back together and reputedly as energized as ever.

3. Dark Dark Dark – Wild Go

Tersely haunting and Radiohead-esque, live on Minneapolis TV. Thanks to Jamie of the Brooklyn What for the link!

4. Tris McCall – Sugar Nobody Wants

Expert tunesmithing and wordsmithing – this one’s a tribute to trespassing, which is always fun especially if you live somewhere that’s really boring.

5. Wintersleep – Black Camera

The Auteurs as done by Sloan in 7/8 time.

6. Ocote Soul Sounds – Tu Fin, Mi Comienzo

Dub cumbia! Yum! Like Chicha Libre but trippier.

7. Not Waving But Drowning – The Drowned Man’s Ball

Menacing, dramatic noir cabaret, like the Dresden Dolls but better.

8. These New Puritans – ???

Scroll down to the “live on the BBC” clip – trancey percussion driven chamber rock with a woodwind section!

9. The Giving Tree Band – Early to Bed

Bluegrass/Americana with a message: night owls unite! Free download.

10. Low Society – Girls Puke For Free

German hardcore band singing what could be an anthem for the entire Lower East Side now that the tourists have taken over.

August 3, 2010 Posted by | country music, latin music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Martin Bisi, Humanwine and Marissa Nadler at Union Pool, Brooklyn NY 7/2/10

It’s hard to think of a better dark rock triplebill anywhere else in New York this year. Martin Bisi came in with a blast of psychedelic guitar fury and ended quiet and creepy: in the middle, he and his band energized the crowd, leading them into a couple of bars of pure pandemonium during the break on the clever, satirical Goth Chick ’98 and getting them dancing to the pounding riff-rock of Mile High – Formaldehyde. Likewise, a new song, Fine Line (soon to be released as a split 7″ from Post Consumer Records with a Bisi remix of a Serena Maneesh track) mixed slinky Steve Wynn style noir rock with gypsy tinges, and a screaming crescendo at the end. Bisi’s bullshit detector is set to stun: introducing a pretty unhinged version of the trippy gothic anthem Rise Up Cowboy, he remarked how its cynical use-and-be-used ethos could be playing itself out anywhere in Williamsburg at that particular moment. He explained how the metaphorically charged sprawl of Sirens of the Apocalypse (title track from his excellent 2008 album) plays off gender-based stereotypes – bad men, like Hades, who abducts Persephone from a playground, and on the other side  the familiar Sirens: “It feels like home,” he commented dryly, adding that since he’d just invited Flaming Fire’s Justina Heckard onstage, the band now had a siren up there with them. She contributed vocals along with all kinds of acrobatics using an illuminated hula hoop.

Boston-area rockers Humanwine absolutely and colossally kicked ass. The noir cabaret crew’s frontwoman Holly Brewer is a dramatic, compelling presence – she was impossible to turn away from. With a sinister grace, she kept time by signalling along with the lyrics on many of the songs – sign language, maybe? Many of them seem to be set in an imaginary, pre-apocalyptic fascist state called Vinland, which is essentially America under the Bush regime. “Support your right to report…get it on tape!” she intoned sarcastically on their opening number – although that might have been an encouragement to watch the watchers. It built to a magnificent stomp out of a stately waltz rhythm. She and the band drove the point home, song after song, throughout a dusky southwestern gothic-tinged anthem and a tricky gypsy-ish number: they do not like living under a police state. “Cameras watching!” Brewer reminded yet again, following with a pregnant pause for anyone who might not have been paying attention. “It takes every one of us to bring them to their knees,” she insisted on a warmly wistful folk-tinged number. A Nashville gothic song emphasized the “paranoia rushing through your hands…can’t you feel the lockdown?” They wound up the set on with the deliriously triumphant bounce of a gypsy-rock anthem, sort of like the Dresden Dolls but done with Vera Beren-class menace. The audience reaction was explosive – now if only they’ll take those ideas home with them.

Confidently fingerpicking her acoustic guitar and laying down the occasional loop for an extra layer of melody, Marissa Nadler made as compelling a figure as Brewer did, but went at it the opposite way – she drew the audience in, warmly casual and conversational, sometimes in understatedly stark contrast to the anguished intensity of her songs. Many of her songs were new, and all of them were excellent – she’s on a roll. She’s also a lot more diverse than she used to be: there’s green and grey alongside the pitch black in her sonic palette now. Linda Draper is the obvious comparison: fast fingers, striking imagery and trouble around every corner. “Inside a room a cold wind blows; there are two of us in there.” The nonchalance was chilling. “The ghost has dreams, wants to leave – wind her up to speak,” Nadler sang gently on the next number. She switched guitars frequently, playing a twelve-string on a stately, brooding lament. A cover of Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat was as casually intense as the original; she closed the set on an insistent note. “Someone once called us a dying breed,” she mused, quietly but formidably unwilling to accept it.

July 6, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Katzenjammer – Le Pop

Katzenjammer’s new album Le Pop is pretty amazing, a strong contender for best of 2010. With their gorgeous harmonies, old-fashioned instrumentation and frequently lush production, the accordion-driven all-female Oslo quartet sound like the Dresden Dolls but better (more energetic, less cutesy and a whole lot darker as well). The self-styled “queens of sultry sound” balance an eerily rustic noir edge with tongue-in-cheek humor, and lyrics in English. On the new cd, multi-instrumentalist Solveig Heilo, accordionists Anne Marit Bergheim and Marianne Sveen and bassist Turid Jørgensen – who plays the largest four-string instrument in all of rock – bounce, scamper and blast their way through a mix of tempos and styles that evoke such diverse acts as the B-52s, Gruppo Sportivo and Gogol Bordello.

The album opens on a surprisingly pensive note with an instrumental “overture,” followed by the scurrying Keystone Kops vibe of A Bar in Amsterdam, which amusingly morphs into a Pat Benetar-style power ballad on the chorus. With its jaunty gypsy swing, Demon Kitty Rag evokes satirical New York trio the Debutante Hour. Tea with Cinnamon is an absolute delight, a vintage Toots and the Maytals-style rocksteady number with accordion and a surprisingly wistful lyric. The title track, a snidely exuberant Gruppo Sportivo-style satire of American corporate music is great fun, and the outro is absolutely priceless.

The darker material here is just as captivating. Hey Ho on the Devil’s Back sets charming harmonies and barrelhouse piano to a Nashville gothic arrangement with a funny but disquieting edge, and a series of trick endings. The big, anguished crescendo on the lushly orchestrated suicide anthem Wading in Deeper packs a visceral punch; the violin-driven To the Sea showcases the band’s harmonies at their most otherworldly, with an off-center, Icelandic vibe. There’s also the sternly tongue-in-cheek Mother Superior, with its eerie carnival organ; Der Kapitan, a macabre-tinged surf instrumental done oompah style; the coy country bounce of Play, My Darling; Ain’t No Thang, an oldtimey banjo tune; and Virginia Clemm, a sad, eerily atmospheric waltz. The depth and intelligence of the songs matches their good-time appeal: it’s been a long time since we discovered a band who could do that as consistently as Katzenjammer do. The group are currently on US tour (at Milwaukee’s Summerfest on July 3 and 4, opening for Elvis Costello), with a date at the Mercury Lounge on July 6.

June 29, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: The Debutante Hour – The Birth and Death of Meaning

The Debutante Hour play oldtimey-flavored existentialist pop music. Clever and quirky but with an understated angst that sometimes goes straight down into the abyss, their soaring, soulful three-part harmonies deliver deadpan humor that’s sometimes completely black, other times totally absurdist and often hilarious. Their torchier songs remind a lot of Nellie McKay; their darker, more rustic stuff evokes the Dresden Dolls (whose drummer, Brian Viglione, guests here) as well as New York oldtimey stars Bobtown; World Inferno’s Franz Nicolay produced the album, squeezing every ounce of plaintiveness out of the songs. Pianist/accordionist Maria Sonevytsky and cellist Mia Pixley previously played together in indie harmony-pop band the Baby Pool, joined here by songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Susan Hwang. The trio romp, shuffle and sometimes tiptoe through an impressively diverse collection of styles.

There’s a couple of accordion oompah tunes, one a gentle kiss-off to somebody who takes himself a little too seriously, the other titled Watching Carrie Eat. The blackly funny Miracle Birth pokes fun at an impressive display of “origin stories” from around the globe, like the Roulette Sisters with an accordion, and a neat cello solo that leads nicely into guest Jonathan Vincent’s barrelhouse piano. Galax is an ominously chirpy oldtimey Nashville gothic swing tune about a couple on a doomed camping trip – and is that a theremin at the end? Sunday in the Trailer follows in the same vein, but even more creepy and more stream-of-consciousness:

As you pressed my shoulders
I thought of the claws of my feet.
I tried to hide them, but you found them eventually

What’s up with that?

Croak Hiss and Sputter, a swirling New Orleans reel, recounts a surreal road trip:

Wax dripped off the cylinders, frogs chirped like birds
The archive dust got windexed off by archive nerds

A tango, Organizing My Planner For Next Week transcends the mundane with the philosophical:

Can you plan surprises, like hope or skirting inevitable dread
The dread that killed your father, and all your mother’s regrets
That you swore would never get to you because you’re different from them

Other songs here tackle the zen of zombies as well as subatomic theory, along with a country waltz as Kurt Vonnegut might have done it; Scheherezade, which recasts the storytelling girl as a real schmoozer; and the chirpily sardonic Be Yourself:

So even if they assume you’re an Alyssa Milano
And you know you’re more like Jennifer Jason Leigh
Don’t let it affect what you do tomorrow

As much fun as this album is, it’s a likely bet that the band is just as fun live. The Debutante Hour play the Jalopy on June 15 at 8:45 PM, sandwiched between two other first-rate acts, ferocious New Orleans art-rock pianist Lady Baby Miss who kicks off the night at 8 and then irresistibly charismatic, deviously lyrical oldtimey siren Kelli Rae Powell at 9:30.

June 11, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 5/29/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Saturday’s song is #61:

Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart

Everybody involved swears that Ian Curtis took a Sinatra album or two home and listened to them all night before recording this – and playing guitar on it (it’s in the video!). And as sad as this is, what a fun song to play – check out the covers by all-female accordion ensemble the Main Squeeze Orchestra – or Dresden Dolls spinoff Evelyn Evelyn.

May 29, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment