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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 6/13/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #596:

The Electric Prunes – Mass in F Minor

From 1968, this is one of the great stoner albums of all time, not bad considering that the band it’s credited to reputedly didn’t play on several of the tracks (history is fuzzy on this – a Canadian garage band, the Collectors, were reputedly brought in by composer David Axelrod to complete it when the Prunes basically broke up mid-session). It’s an attempt to make psychedelic rock out of imitation pre-baroque themes, and it’s successful beyond belief: with layers and layers of stinging reverb guitar, eerie organ and trebly, melodic bass, it’s a wild ride. The track everybody knows is Kyrie Eleison, which is on the Easy Rider soundtrack. All the song titles are in Latin, in the manner of a Catholic mass – Agnus Dei; Benedictus; Credo, Sanctus and Gloria – with occasional deadpan, monklike chanting amidst the chaos. Fuzz tones, feedback, all manner of cheap production tricks and some deliriously inspired (some would say sloppy) playing are everywhere. Here’s a random torrent.

June 13, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gypsy Treasures Unearth Some Buried Goods

Gypsy Treasures’ new album Buried Goods is one of those name-your-price deals up at bandcamp. It’s minutely layered, eerily reverberating psychedelic vamps that wouldn’t be out of place on an Electric Prunes album, or the Vampyros Lesbos soundtrack, and they’re absolutely hypnotic. Aria Jalali, otherwise known as Railcars, accidentally rediscovered the album’s basic tracks stashed away in his loop pedal on a recent European tour, and realizing how good they were, decided to finish the project, which he’d begun six or seven years ago. He gets extra props for tagging this as “sample-free” – looks like he knows that the audience for this is serious purist stoner music fans.

Because these instrumentals are all built from loops, the catchy, vaguely Indian hooks run over and over again as bizarrely oscillating washes of sound move into and then out of the mix. The first track, Stray Dogs of Wroclaw, sets surfy Chicha Libre guitar over a simple bass hook and a million swirling feedback and reverb effects – the Ventures as done by Scratch Perry, maybe?

The second track, Four Horsemen was ostensibly recorded live: its distant, minimalistic Middle Eastern tinged menace reminds of Savage Republic. Tadpole Walks Home, true to its name, is a slippery, slinky groove pulsing along on a swooping fuzz bass lick and creepy, tinny pitch-bending guitar sonics. The last cut, Of Moorish Towns blends watery chorus-box guitars and gamelanesque effects over an echoey Godspeed You Black Emperor style dirgey backdrop. Good to see that along with the digital download, an analog version of the original 4-track recording is also available on cassette from Not Not Fun.

March 19, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Comic Wow’s New Album is Pure Psychedelic Genius

A couple of weeks ago we invented a drink. We call it Drano. It’s very simple, Tropical Fantasy Blue Raspberry soda and vodka (hey, when there’s torrential rain outside, sometimes you have to make do with what you have in the fridge). It’s the perfect drink, both visually and tastewise, for the new Comic Wow album Music for Mysteries of Mind Space and Time. Playful, tongue-in-cheek, sometimes silly, often ridiculously psychedelic, it’s 1960s-flavored, cinematic rock instrumentals in the same vein as the Vampyros Lesbos soundtrack or XTC’s Dukes of Stratosphear project. And it’s pure genuius: it could be a stoner soundtrack to a long-lost low-budget 1968 Cypriot detective film. With an absurd collection of every rock effect from the era – wah-wah, reverb, echo, melodies sputttering up dubwise into the mix only to retreat seconds later, or panning across the speakers and then back – it works equally well as satire and homage to psychedelic excess, especially because the tunes are so catchy. With a museum’s worth of vintage keyboard patches, banjo (?!), guitar, bass and drums, it has the same kind of WTF, out-of-the-box creative quality as the Peruvian chicha music from the 70s we love so much.

The first track is typical: a distantly Pink Floyd-style melody but with honkytonk instrumentation that telegraphs the ornate art-rock majesty that will appear soon. The second track is also basically a country melody, starting out with banjo and then morphing into an oscillating electro keyb song and again. The unselfconsciously amusing, swinging Jazz Computer assembles an impossible series of electric piano layers, blippy, bouncy and reverberating – and is that an Omnichord? Another track sets woozily oscillating Dr. Dre synth over Penny Lane piano – it’s ridiculously catchy and ought to go on longer than it does.

The next one takes what you can do with a clavinova to its logical extreme and then suddenly morphs into a trippy late 90s style interlude – with a vocoder. After that, a spy theme emerges gradually from a clubby techno vamp with fake horns and Spike Jones effects, switches to a brief, off-kilter Beefheart guitar-and-drums interlude followed by an Alan Parsons Project sequencer-and-synth segment. A march titled Encore Electronics Flute Fax starts out just plain hilarious and then gets ominous and dramatic, then goes for even more laughs with a flute-driven early 70s style chase scene. Chimp on a Pew reaches for trippy menace a la the Electric Prunes, a feel they take to the next level on Minor Hexagons. The longest number is Water Music Treadmill, a one-chord jam that mines dark, thumping, hypnotic Black Angels ambience. The album closes with Meet the Vampeatles which is just plain sick, a tv theme as written by Jeff Lynne and done by the Bonzo Dog Band, maybe. It’s out now on Asthmatic Kitty.

November 1, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Gyan Riley and Chicha Libre at the New York Guitar Festival 2/4/10

Last night’s theme was film scores. The New York Guitar Festival is more avant garde than rock (WNYC’s John Schaefer emceed) – this particular Merkin Hall bill started out intensely and virtuosically with a rare artist who’s every bit as good as his famous father (Gyan Riley is the son of avant titan Terry Riley), then got more mainstream with an emotionally rich, frequently very amusing pair of Chaplin soundtracks just completed by Chicha Libre.

Composers have been doing new scores for old silent films for decades (some of the most intriguing recent ones include Phillip Johnston’s improvisations for Page of Madness, and the Trakwerx soundtracks for Tarzan and a delicious DVD of Melies shorts). Riley chose to add sound to a series of brief paint-on-celluloid creations by Harry Smith (yup, the anthology guy), which came across as primitive if technically innovative stoner psychedelia. Ostensibly Smith’s soundtrack of choice had been Dizzie Gillespie; later, his wife suggested the Beatles. Playing solo, Riley opened with his best piece of the night, an unabashedly anguished, reverb-drenched tableau built on vivid Steve Ulrich-esque chromatics. From there, Riley impressed with a diverse mix of ambient Frippertronic-style sonics along with some searing bluesy rock crescendos evoking both Jeff Beck aggression and towering David Gilmour angst. Most of the time, Riley would be looping his licks with split-second precision so they’d echo somewhere in the background while he’d be adding yet another texture or harmony, often bending notes Jim Campilongo style with his fretboard rather than with his fingers or a whammy bar.

With their psychedelic Peruvian cumbias, Chicha Libre might seem the least likely fit for a Chaplin film. But like its closest relative, surf music, chicha (the intoxicating early 70s Peruvian blend of latin, surf and 60s American psychedelia) can be silly one moment, poignant and even haunting the next. Olivier Conan, the band’s frontman and cuatro player remarked pointedly before the show how much Chaplin’s populism echoed in their music, a point that resonated powerfully throughout the two fascinating suites they’d written for Payday (1922) and The Idle Class (1921). The Payday score was the more diverse of the two, a series of reverberating, infectiously catchy miniatures in the same vein as Manfred Hubler’s Vampyros Lesbos soundtrack as well as the woozily careening Electric Prunes classic Mass in F Minor. While Chicha Libre’s lead instrument is Josh Camp’s eerie, vintage Hohner Electrovox organ, as befits a guitar festival, Telecaster player Vincent Douglas got several extended solo passages to show off his command of just about every twangy noir guitar style ever invented, from spaghetti western to New York soundtrack noir to southwestern gothic. When the time came, Camp was there with his typical swirling attack, often using a wah pedal for even more of a psychedelic effect. The band followed the film to a split-second with the occasional crash from the percussionists, right through the triumphant conclusion where Chaplin manages to sidestep his suspicious wife with her ever-present rolling pin and escape with at least a little of what he’d earned on a hilariously slapstick construction site.

The Idle Class, a similarly redemptive film, was given two alternating themes, the first being the most traditionally cinematic of the night, the second eerily bouncing from minor to major and back again with echoes of the Simpsons theme (which the show’s producers just hired Chicha Libre to record last month for the cartoon’s 25th anniversary episode). Chaplin plays the roles of both the rich guy (happy movie theme) and the tramp (spooky minor) in the film, and since there’s less bouncing from set to set in this one the band got the chance to vamp out and judiciously add or subtract an idea or texture or two for a few minutes at a clip and the result was mesmerizing. It was also very funny when it had to be. Bits and pieces of vaguely familiar tunes flashed across the screen: a schlocky pop song from the 80s; a classical theme (Ravel?); finally, an earlier Chicha Libre original (a reworking of a Vivaldi theme, actually), Primavera en la Selva. They built it up triumphantly at the end to wind up in a blaze of shimmering, clanging psychedelic glory where Chaplin’s tramp finally gets to give the rich guy’s sinisterly hulking father a swift kick in the pants. The crowd of what seemed older, jaded new-music types roared their approval: the buzz was still in the air as they exited. Chicha may be dance music (and stoner music), but Chicha Libre definitely have a future in film scores if they want it.

February 5, 2010 Posted by | concert, Film, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 1/24/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Saturday’s is #550:

The Dukes of Stratosphear – 25 O’Clock

This is XTC pseudonymously doing a loving, spot-on parody of 60s psychedelia (in particularly the Electric Prunes) while making great fun of stoners with what seems like a million tracks of backward masking, phased guitars, keyboards, echo and reverb effects. Listen to this high and the joke is on you. The title track from the band’s 1985 vinyl ep, it’s available wherever mp3s are.

January 24, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Lost Crusaders – Have You Heard about the World

Brothers and sisters, are you ready? I said ARE YOU READY? For the NEW gospel sound of the Lost Crusaders. This is the real deal, ecstatic, often exhilarating. It will redeem your soul whether you are a believer or you just like to dance. Fans of Rev. Vince Anderson will love this album. Some of the songs here blend 60s soul stylings with gospel, others are sort of gospel punk, with a handful of straight-ahead garage rock tunes. This is an incredible party record, something akin to what JSBX (or Blues Explosion, or whatever they’re calling themselves now) is to classic 60s garage rock. In case you might be suspicious, it’s not camp. It’s just a bunch of NYC garage rock types who love vintage 60s gospel and prove they can play it as well as any church group out there. Frontman Michael Chandler holds nothing back, his hoarse, gravelly vocals impassioned and inspired. As with all good gospel bands, this album has a very propulsive rhythm section, Brian McBride on bass and Joey Valentine on drums. Don’t let the religious nature of the lyrics scare you off: this is a celebration of the spirit in all of us, atheists and Christians alike. You can dance to this. The production, by Dean Rispler at Dead Verse Studios in Union City, NJ is impressively authentic, sounding almost like a vinyl record.

The album opens with the title track, a fast major key vamp that gleefully welcomes the apocalypse, with cool solos from Johnny Vignault’s guitar and ex-Fleshtone Steve Greenfield’s baritone sax. The next cut I Don’t Ask Why is even faster, call-and-response with the women in the choir, crunchy guitars spiced with Jerome Jackson’s tasty Hammond organ in the background and a nice solo out. I Wonder What Ever Happened has a killer 2-guitar intro, evoking Country Joe & the Fish in a particularly woozy moment at the end of their good period, 1970ish with a good long harp solo after the second chorus reminiscent of the late, great Knoxville Girls. The following cut, There Used to Be a River is an environmental cautionary tale – “it couldn’t outrun the hand of man” – garage gospel built on a descending progression on the bass. With a long, killer reverb guitar solo from the Fleshtones’ Keith Streng and Chandler’s ominous croak, it could be something from the recently reunited Electric Prunes.

After that, Wasted on the Wind is a Knoxville Girls or Gun Club soundalike with a great baritone guitar solo. Planted by the Water is a fast gospel vamp, piano and organ plus crunchy guitar and a fiery chromatic harp solo. Laura Cantrell’s sweet, soaring vocals channel Kitty Wells on the beautiful, slow Too Late, Matt Verta Ray’s lapsteel coming in and out like a string section.

Other standout cuts on the album include Whose Name Will I Call, with a Stagger Lee boogie kind of feel, and the fast, joyous Where Did It Go whose protagonist trades in his booze and drugs for the holy spirit, rejoicing in having found a new way to get high. Wow. What a great album. Five bagels. With a glass of communion wine. CDs are available at shows, online and in Europe on Everlasting Records.

April 15, 2008 Posted by | gospel music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

El Grupo del Verano 2008! Chicha Libre Finally Puts Out a CD

This is the cultural artifact of the summer of 2008. It’s the one album released this year that you want to put on if you’re having a party and you want to get everyone’s attention (or impress everybody with your brilliant and eclectic taste): you’ll get plenty of “who’s that?”s. Readers of this space already know plenty about Chicha Libre’s intoxicatingly good live performances at Barbes throughout the past year: now, the party is available for takeout. On their debut cd, Sonido Amazonico, America’s best (and only) chicha band have revived the amazingly danceable, hypnotic, psychedelic sound that was popular in the slums of the Peruvian Andes thirty-five years ago, while adding their own inimitable vision and wit.

Chicha is what resulted when Peruvian bands first heard American surf and psychedelic rock and then added electric instruments, rock arrangements and Caribbean rhythms to their own sound. What Antibalas did with driving, horn-driven African groove music, what Dengue Fever is doing with deliciously psychedelic Cambodian pop, Chicha Libre is doing with chicha. When frontman/cuatro player Olivier Conan first heard the style, he was hooked, to the point where he found himself traveling to South America to track down as many original recordings as he could get his hands on, as well as the elusive musicians who created it. The result was the fascinating anthology The Roots of Chicha, released last year on his label, Barbes Records.

Chicha Libre’s debut mixes instrumentals and vocal numbers, originals as well as deviously crafted cover songs. While in most surf music the guitars carry the melody, in Chicha Libre’s music it’s usually keyboardist Josh Camp’s vintage Hohner Electrovox (a relic from the 70s which is basically an electronic organ with settings that mimic the sound of an accordion) which serves as the lead instrument. In addition to Conan, the rest of the band includes two percussionists, acoustic bass and Barbes co-owner Vincent Douglas playing reverb-drenched, surfy guitar. The result can be haunting, triumphant, celebratory or absolutely mesmerizing, often all in the same song. While just as in surf music, there’s occasional cheese in places, Chicha Libre thankfully tones it down as much as possible. The vocal numbers (in both Spanish and French) are the most overtly humorous songs on the album.

There are so many great songs here. The title track, a hypnotic yet danceable one-chord vamp that builds to a nasty Douglas solo, and Tres Pasajeros, an ominous train-ride theme written by Camp. The amusing Hungry Song plays with the macho posturing found in a lot of latin music. Their cover of the obscure El Borrachito (The Little Drunk Guy) has the narrator asking plaintively in Spanish, “Why are you making fun of me?”

They take the famous Ravel Pavane and chichafy it, breaking it down into dub reggae at one point, then the band starts chanting “pavane, pavane, pavane,” quiet and deadpan in the background while the guitar solos. Indian Summer tips its hat to Serge Gainsbourg in a big way, Conan and las Rubias del Norte frontwoman Allyssa Lamb doing spot-on early 70s ye-ye harmonies over a slinky spy theme. They also cover Hot Butter’s silly synth instrumental hit Popcorn with a sarcastic, punk edge: the Electrovox is out of tune on the highest registers, and there’s a silly bass solo. And then the band adds their own lyrics, a tribute to corn whiskey and weed. The album ends with its best song, a cover of what is probably composer Erik Satie’s signature work, Gnossienne #1 (you’ll recognize it from a million movie soundtracks). As simple as it is macabre, it’s also extremely difficult to play on the piano because Satie deliberately omitted the time signature, leaving the rhythm completely up to whoever’s playing it. Chicha Libre give it a slightly staggered tango pulse, making it as sexy as it is dark. What else is there to say – this is a great album, a must-own if you like psychedelia, right up there with the Vampiros Lesbos soundtrack and Mass in F Minor by the Electric Prunes. Five maduros con queso. The cd is available at better record stores, online and at shows. Chicha Libre play the cd release tonight at Drom at 10; Las Rubias del Norte open the show at 9.

April 4, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment