Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Carsie Blanton Brings Her Sultry Southern Sound to the Rockwood and Elsewhere

[republished from New York Music Daily]

Torchy New Orleans chanteuse Carsie Blanton is doing a different kind of American tour this year, inspired as much by her wildly popular blog as well as her music. She’s playing clubs, but she’s also appearing at sex toy shops. Here in New York, her first stop is at Babeland at 43 Mercer St. on July 12 from 3 to 5 PM. Then she’s playing the third stage at the Rockwood at 8 PM on July 13 for $10 plus a $10 drink minimum. Her aptly titled new album, Not Old, Not New is up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download: you should grab it.

Is the album about sex? It’s more about innuendo. Blanton’s pillowy voice may be seductive, but in a genuine rather than campy or over-the-top way. She’s got a great, purist jazz combo behind her: Neal Caine on bass, Joe Dyson on drums, Rex Gregory on sax and clarinets, Kevin Louis on trumpet, Shane Theriot on guitar and David Torkanowsky on piano. The opening track, Azaleas sets the mood immediately, Blanton musing how “nothing evil can assail ya” against a sunmery backdrop of resonant piano, terse bass, brushed drums and balmy, muted trumpet. Blanton matches sly wit with southern charm on the slow, slinky Laziest Gal in Town, enhanced by a gently smoky bass clarinet solo. Then she and the band pick up the pace with the ragtime-flavored Heavenly Thing, a vibe they maintain on Two Sleepy People, a portrait of two lovers in the wee hours who’ve run out of gas yet can’t bear to part. It’s more coy than Daria Grace‘s unforgettably endorphin-infused version.

Blanton’s slow, wounded take of You Don’t Know What Love Is has a vividly stripped-down arrangement that contrasts brooding piano against fluttery tenor sax. Then she romps through a brisk take of What Is This Thing Called Love, spiced with a spiky Jason Marsalis vibraphone solo.

They go back to slow, low-key ballad mode for the picturesque Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans. Blanton offers Sweet Lorraine from the perspective of a woman who’s getting gaymarried, with a slow, soulful piano-based arrangement that mirrors the album’s first song.

The funniest, most innuendo-fueled track here is the swinging hokum blues tune Don’t Come Too Soon. Blanton brings down the lights again with a slow, warmly wistful version of I’ll Be Seeing You and winds up the album with the title track, a miniature for just solo voice and acoustic guitar. Fans of oldtime Americana and swing jazz are in for a treat with this one.

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July 8, 2014 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gregory Spears’ Requiem: Beautiful Simplicity

It’s been a good year for requiems. The latest, by Gregory Spears, works permutations on a theme of the utmost simplicity, a series of spacious, allusively creepy intervals against a central note, creating a more surprisingly varied emotional palette than is usually found in somber works of this type. Yet overall, it is a serious, brooding, often considerably intense suite. The composer conducts a choir here which includes Ruth Cunningham and Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek of Anonymous 4, Ryland Angel, John Olund and Lawrence Lipnik, accompanied by Jacqueline Kerrod on pedal harp, tenor Christopher Williams on troubadour harp, bass Kurt-Owen Richards on chimes, Daniel Thomas Davis on electric organ and Elizabeth Weinfield on viola. The themes are actually quite surreal and divided into two parts, Swans and Witches. Perhaps most unexpectedly, the music here was originally commissioned for a dance project: while the tempos are slow, with frequent counterrythms, there’s an understated grace to this music.

The opening prelude sets the tone for the rest of the work. Recorded at New York’s Corpus Christi Church in August of last year, the sonics are marvelously suited to the music: the natural reverb on the two harps gives them the incisive presence of a piano, but muted just enough to enhance the murky ambience. The voices enter in counterpoint, with an unexpectedly agitated, clustering, seemingly argumentative crescendo, the last thing one would expect to hear in a “Requiem Aeternam:” it’s jarring, to say the least, and it packs a wallop. The music begins to take on the feel of a baroque-era European folk song, followed by the contrasting modernism of the hypnotic Agnus Dei passage, a stately harp processional eventually giving way to the womens’ ethereal, otherworldly voices against a high viola drone.

That’s the dead swan. As with the bird, the dead witches get a simple, jewel-like broken chord for the choir to expand on, which then moves in the other direction, lower, then speeds up and takes on a distantly imploring tone: other than the big dispute earlier, this is as harrowing as it gets here. Like many works of this type, it ends on a more hopeful, more warmly consonant note (the final movement is available as a free download). It’s out now on New Amsterdam Records.

November 12, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ripple Music’s First Anniversary Free Sampler – Get It While You Can

In this age of independent music, do we really need labels at all? If you want to sell more than downloads and unload physical product in a country where you don’t live, or probably won’t be visiting soon, a label can be useful. And good branding never hurts – Norton does garage rock; Tzadik does every shade of klezmer and sometimes the Middle East; and Ripple Music have carved themselves a niche as purveyors of tasty, retro 70s stoner rock. Considering how much great stuff these guys have put out over the last year, the answer’s yes, these guys actually fill a need, unlike the parasitic corporate labels.

Ripple Music went for cred right off the bat by signing Poobah, whose 1972 proto-metal classic Let Me In they reissued last year. And they wasted no time scoring midwestern acid rock cult favorites the JPT Scare Band, who just played their first gig in 35 years if you can believe it. In this age where virtually everything audible online is free, and most commercial radio stations won’t go near good original music, how does a label stay in business? Like a drug dealer. They turn you on to their product for free and then let you decide, heh heh. Their freebie right now is a first anniversary sampler available for free at their bandcamp site, featuring bands whose material they’ve released or reissued, often on vinyl as well as digitally, in the past year, along with previews of a couple of upcoming releases. It’s a cool mixtape for 7-11 parking lots.

As usual with this kind of stuff, the more fun the bands let themselves have, the better the music is (which applies to pretty much any style when you think about it). “70s rock preservationists” Stone Axe are a mighty good choice to open the album with Riders of the Night, a period-perfect, LOL Spinal Tap party scenario. They’re “busy blowing smoke rings around the midnight sun,” and the guitars do the same. Surprisingly, Mighty High, Brooklyn’s funniest self-described regressive rock act don’t go as hard for the comedy as they usually do, although their track, Don’t Panic – It’s Organic, is smoking. Imagine it’s 1973, Blue Oyster Cult is trying to channel Chuck Berry and kicking out the best guitar solos on the entire compilation, evil chromatic Deniz Tek style.

The JPT Scare Band’s contribution, It’s a Jungle, really is a time trip. It has the feel of a vinyl rip – that sidewinding, trebly, melodic bass and those Spooky Tooth metalfunk hooks are killer. And is that a qanun (Arabic hammered dulcimer) slapping the lo-fi synth upside the head? Surprisingly, Poobah is represented by one of the less ferocious tracks from Let Me In, although this one shows off the rhythm section: it’s not just Jim Gustafson guitar pyrotechnics. But Venomin James’ Bullet Juice delivers buckets of evil via a delicious Sabbath-style chromatic riff and a razorwire wah solo that leaves you wanting more. And Mos Generator’s moonshine-running anthem Stone County Line injects fresh blood into a bunch of hallowed 70s moves, with some blunt instrument Bill Ward-ish drums.

There are a couple of ringers here. Modern Day Moonshine offer a soulfully shuffling update on the Grateful Dead’s Cumberland Blues, while Bay Area songwriter Kevin Beadles’ Sharkskin sounds like a metal spoof done as bluesy, swinging, late 70s Rhodes piano pop. It wouldn’t be out of place on a Tubes album. There’s also Tripdavon’s By the River, which merges southern slide guitar rock and blues overtones; riff-heavy Scottish band Iron Claw, which would fit in fine with the Nazareth catalog; and Vancouver band Fen’s Queen of the Mountain, pensive and apprehensive with lots of dynamic shifts – these guys sound like they used to listen to grunge but left it behind. There are a couple of duds, but what do you expect for nothing? Get it while it’s still available.

July 26, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Dub Is A Weapon Vaporises the Competition

Dub Is a Weapon is another one of those great live bands that everybody takes for granted: like John Brown’s Body (just reviewed here), the road is where they excel. But they’re just as good in the studio.Want to get to know Dub Is a Weapon? This band knows how to get you hooked. Head on over to their music page and get four free downloads of their most popular songs. Then you can download the live shows up at archive.org. After all that, if reggae, or dub, or stoner music is your thing, you will probably want their latest album Vaporised, which is just out.

These guys really max out the possibilities you can get with reggae. Their instrumentals typically kick in with a catchy hook, feature a lot of gorgeous guitar/alto sax harmonies, and as much as you can get absolutely lost in a lot of this, it’s more straight-ahead and tuneful than all the dub acts who just vamp out on a single chord. If you know somebody who thinks dubstep is cool, turn them on to this – it’s the real deal. In fact, in a strangely woozy way, this album is one of the best of 2011.

These songs are long, six or seven minutes at a clip. The first one, Turbulence sets an eerie minor tune over a bubbly bassline and quickly goes down to just bass, percussion and wah guitar. Then the horns come in – it’s like classic Lee “Scratch” Perry but with more energy. They go spinning down to bass versus drums, then up to a sunbaked bluesmetal guitar solo that eventually pans your headphones. Finally, after about six minutes, it goes back to the hook and then sneaks out. It’s a good indication of what to expect as the album goes deeper.

Turmoil lets the aliens in the front door early. A balmy sax emerges and floats overhead, the bass goes up an octave, unexpectedly, the band cooks and then chills out again. Track three, Seven Doors starts out as ska before the rhythm goes completely haywire – is that 17/4 time? And then they do a really cool organ interlude, like dub Lonnie Smith. Asheville is not the bluegrass that its title might lead you to believe: it’s a launching pad for a long, thoughtful alto sax solo. The one vocal number here, Forwarding Home, is a sly, knowing Rasta repatriation anthem with a nice chromatic chorus and lots of snaky Middle Eastern-tinged guitar.

Persistence is another fast one with a sweet Balkan horn hook, a brisk drum/bass interlude and a lot of tongue-in-cheek scratchy guitar noise. A slinky minor-key groove, Curva Peligrosa has more of those nice guitar/sax harmonies, a slow, hypnotic guitar solo and a couple of echoey breakdowns. The best solo of all of them is from the guitar, on the devious, poppy Destiny – which is actually a one-chord jam if you think hard enough about it. The last cut, Insurrection keeps a suspenseful roots pulse going all the way from the trippy intro through some LOL swoopy stuff from a theremin, which the guitar finally nudges out of the picture, as if to say, enough. Then the theremin comes back in just to give the guitar the finger. Watch this space for NYC area shows.

April 27, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bliss Blood and Al Street’s Evanescent: One of the Year’s Best Albums

It’s always cool when a great artist decides to give away free tracks. When those tracks are among that artist’s best ever, it’s time to get busy downloading. Bliss Blood – New York’s reigning goddess of retro – decided to put the debut album by her new duo project Evanescent, with guitarist Al Street, up at reverbnation as a free download. Her Hawaiian swing crew the Moonlighters may be iconic among NYC artists, but they’re only her best-known group: in the last ten years, she’s also sung straight-up swing jazz, creepy cinematic noir songs, and barrelhouse blues (and S&M punk rock, if you count her teenage band the Pain Teens from the early 90s). But this flamenco-tinged unit with just ukulele, acoustic guitar, Blood’s lush, velvet vocals and a ton of reverb that amps up the lurid factor, may be her best yet. The joke here is that this music is actually the furthest thing from evanescent – it lingers and haunts. Blood has never sung better – the Moonlighters’ harmonies range from sensual to chirpy, but here Blood runs deep and dark with an unexpected gravitas and also a sultry allure that beats anything the Moonlighters have done – and they’re a great band.

The first track, Swallow the Dice, sets the stage, lowlit in red: it’s a menacing flamenco waltz, a defiantly metaphorical tribute to beating the system. Likewise, the steadily pulsing Liplock mines a series of double entendres, some of them ironic: play your cards too close to the vest and risk losing everything. Bulletproof is absolutely gorgeous, seductively bittersweet, all too aware of how invulnerability can be a double-edged sword:

Impervious to pain
I dream undaunted
Until I’m wanted and flaunted again
Bad bargain, maybe
I made it, unflinching
I keep it, bewitching
And blindly I see
It’s a barrier around me
Makes me bulletproof
Nothing can touch me
No one but you

The strongest track, lyrically at least, is Blackwater, a blistering broadside originally done by Blood’s “crime jazz” band Nightcall during the waning days of the Bush regime when mercenaries in Iraq were slaughering civilians left and right. Here it’s reinvented with a sarcastic rockabilly shuffle rhythm as Blood rails against the consciousless cynicism of the soldiers of fortune who think nothing of “blood spilled on the sand.” The sultriest track is The Palace of the Wind, its Dr. Zhivago ambience lush and pensive over Street’s agile broken chords. With just ukulele, bells and vocals for most of it, Butterfly Collector wouldn’t be out of place in an early 60s Henry Mancini soundtrack. There’s also the torchy, Freudian Legend of a Crime; the brisk, galloping Ella Es el Matador, the give-and-take of a hookup explained as a bullfight; the echoey, pillowy, sad guitar-and-vocalese instrumental Firefly, and the sly, reggae-tinged come-on Your Mayhem. One of the best albums of the year, for free. Evanescent play DBA at 113 N 7th St. (Berry/Wythe) in Williamsburg on 4/16; 4/22 they’re at Cin-M-Art Space, 43 Murray Street, (W. Broadway & Church).

April 12, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Soda Shop’s First Compilation Kicks Ass

If you’re wondering what the cool kids across the USA are listening to, chances are that some of it is right here. Last month our colleagues over at the Soda Shop put out a massive free compilation – the first in a series – that you should get your hands on if you like metal or the louder fringes of stoner music. The corporate media are trying as hard as they can to make you believe that anyone over age eight actually listens to Kesha, or that anyone actually enjoys Arcade Fire instead of merely pretending to because they don’t want to seem uncool in front of their trendoid friends. The reality is that metal is bigger than ever, and maybe better than ever, because the new wave of bands who play it have gone back to the source, the motherlode of it all, Black Sabbath. Tony Iommi should be proud of what he spawned here, yet while most of the bands here have the sludgy slow stoner groove, double and tripletracked solos and chromatic riffage, they aren’t ripoffs either. This is a LONG album, sixteen songs, most of them well over five minutes a clip and most of them various shades of excellent. A couple of them are spoofs, but most of them are straight up pure adrenaline.

Period-perfect early 70s style band Stone Axe open this up with riff-rock on the off beat. Is it a Sabbath homage? A parody? Maybe both. Meat Charger, by Boston’s Gozu, sets lazy drawling Skynyrd vocals over crunchy riffs, more artsy than their smoking Meth Cowboy/Mr. Riddle release from last year. Ohio band Lo-Pan’s Dragline works a long psychedelic 1-chord intro into brain-melting, galloping torrents of guitar triplets, while Brisbane band Shellfin get even more hypnotic, proving that you don’t even have to change chords at all, at least until the overtones are ringing so loud it sounds like a guitar orchestra. And when they do, it’s pretty macabre. Seattle power trio Mos Generator also keep it simple and smart, from the War Pigs echoes on the intro, a catchy bass solo and the ridiculously tuneful, too-brief guitar solo out.

Dayton, Ohio’s Blaxeed, “a heavy drinkin’ hard rockin’ no frills 4 man rock-n-roll band” are represented by the swaying, slightly funky Whiskey Warrior, and have the balls to quote the Beatles. Devil to Pay, from Indianapolis, offer the fuzztoned riffs and doomy lyrics of High Horse, with a juicy brief wah-wah solo to wind it up. The best of all of them may be Cleveland band Venomin James’ Cosmonaut, sounding like Pantera covering Sabbath, some cooly ominous backing vocals lurking toxically in the background and a ferociously charging, doublespeed bridge – if you like this, also check out the scorching live version of their song Abu Graib.

There are also some great songs here that don’t reference Sabbath at all. The funniest track here, Brooklyn band Strange Haze’s Straight Dope, is pure early 70s satire, complete with “soulful” blues harp. This band’s lyrics are off the hook – on this one, the singer wants to walk you “down to the marble garden with a buckskin bottle of wine – sometimes I get so drunk I can sing just like a child…” Luder (German for “little shit”) hail from Detroit, springing from the ashes of the band Slot, and add a dreampop/shoegaze vibe with bassist Sue Lott’s ethereal vocals over layers of crunch and echoey swirl. California trio Whores of Tijuana do a funny punk/metal-meets-ghoulabilly number. And another Detroit band, Chapstik, offers a punishing blast of mostly instrumental metal/hardcore a la the Bad Brains but more chromatic. The compilation starts to run low on gas toward the end, with some nu-metal and grungy stuff that stands out like a sore thumb. But the beauty of this compilation is that you can cherrypick the good stuff, and there’s plenty to choose from. Besides, it’s free. Spread the word and keep your eyes open for Volume 2.

March 18, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Adrift Off the Islets of Langerhans with Cousin Silas

This is a quiet, magical album – and its composer is generously giving it away as a free download. In his Yorkshire studio, ambient composer Cousin Silas has methodically been creating one fascinating series of soundscapes after another, a mix of desolate, chilly, Ballardian instrumentals and gently hovering, trance-inducing themes. Ironically, although his work is high-tech and heavily produced, the effect it creates is completely organic: he creates a vivid milieu and then sets you down there. His previous album Canaveral Dreams ranked high on our list of the best albums of 2010; this one drifts closer to pure ambience rather than the eerie keyboard themes that dominated that one. Although there is rhythm in his music, it tends to be glacial: the pace shifts so slowly that the changes creep up on you, an effect which is often psychedelic and sometimes…well, creepy.

The opening track sets the tone, a subtly shifting, echoey soundscape – in academic circles, this is known as horizontal music, whose changes occur in timbre and shading rather than with a melody that moves from one note to another and so forth. The one after that sets echoey, staccato, minimalist U2-style guitar rhythm (or what sounds like a guitar, anyway) against a drone. The Beauty of Loathing adds shifting ambience against more Edge guitar, which eventually builds to a catchy, galloping lick that runs over and over again.

The Lower Field on Ebbetts Farm and Tarnscape are studies on light/dark contrasts, the latter with tongue-in-cheek bird calls that pop in when least expected. The most ethereal composition here is the appropriately titled Empty Coastline, waves hitting the beach through a glass, darkly and distantly. Likewise, The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral creates an eerie, windswept atmosphere with distant mechanical allusions. Building from a murky drone to Pink Floyd-influenced loops, Upstream is the closest thing here to an actual rock-style melody. The album ends with The Loathing of Beauty, an actually quite pretty tone poem that sounds like a lute and harmonium in outer space, and the hypnotically repetitive title track – whales and a mellotron, maybe? As with everything he’s ever done, nothing is exactly as it seems with Cousin Silas. Download it while it lasts.

January 2, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 100 Best Albums of 2010

Since it was impossible to whittle this down to the original 50 we were shooting for, we went for 100 – so much for the canard that the album is dead. As with last year’s list, everything here is in pretty random order. Is Paula Carino’s wounded, lyrical janglerock (#1) any “better” than Bobby Avey’s intense piano jazz (#100)? Who cares? It’s all good. If you want single tracks, here’s our 100 Best Songs of 2010 list.

1. Paula Carino – Open on Sunday
This one tops the list this year because every single song on this moody, pensive, wickedly lyrical janglerock album is good – not a single miss here. It’s been a long time coming. As a lyricist and tunesmith, Carino ranks with Elvis Costello and Richard Thompson, a great wit, fearless nonconformist and unaffectedly compelling singer.

2. Ran Blake and Sara Serpa – Camera Obscura
Serpa, a sometimes chillingly intense third-stream composer and singer, is a protegee of Blake, the preeminent noir jazz pianist of the last fifty years. Their collaboration is fascinatingly unpredictable: when it comes to longing and angst, they don’t disappoint. 

3. Norden Bombsight – Pinto
Intense and often unhinged, the Brooklyn band’s darkly psychedelic art-rock blends 70s orchestrated rock influences with macabre goth tinges and the occasional Americana theme. Frontwoman/keyboardist/electric mandolinist Rachael Bell’s savage wail brings the intensity to redline.

4. Sarah Manning – Dandelion Clock
Haunting, intensely lyrical, sometimes anguished jazz concept album – about the fleeting nature of time – from this brilliant alto saxophonist/composer and her quartet with Art Hirahara, Linda Oh and Kyle Struve.

5. The NYFA Collection
A massive five-cd box set that aims to be a definitive history of edgy avant garde music and jazz in New York that succeeds amazingly well: it’s the new music equivalent of the Harry Smith albums. Too many artists here to list: see our review from November.

6. Redhooker – Vespers
Hypnotic, ambient soundscapes and pensive avant-chamber instrumentals from Stephen Griesgraber’s marvelously shapeshifting new music ensemble.

7. The Roots of Chicha 2 anthology
It’s the Rosetta Stone of classic psychedelic Peruvian cumbia-rock from the 70s and 80s, a wildly entertaining blend of instrumentals, dance songs, twangy guitar and rhythms from just about everywhere south of the border.

8. The Tivoli Trio’s first album
Jazz pianist Frank Carlberg’s phantasmagorical, carnivalesque, often macabre trio project.

9. Las Rubias del Norte – Ziguala
Surreal, otherworldly and mysterious with gorgeous harmonies and a global mix of songs with latin, Bollywood and Mexican influences, it’s the Brooklyn band’s best album – in a lot of ways, it’s the great album Chicha Libre didn’t put out this year, plus vocals.

10. The Snow – I Die Every Night
Intense, smartly lyrical, alternately lush and sensuous art-rock and chamber pop from Pierre de Gaillande and Hilary Downes’ eclectic New York band.

11. The New Collisions – The Optimist
The Boston new wavers’ dark, brilliantly lyrical shift into straight-ahead powerpop.

12. Mojo Mancini’s first album
Creepy, atmospheric, cinematic instrumentals with organ, guitar and sax from an A-list crew of NYC sidemen, picking up where Big Lazy left off.

13. Botanica – Who You Are
This era’s foremost art-rock band’s most diverse and ultimately most optimistic album, but where frontman/keyboardist Paul Wallfisch went further toward psychedelia and soul, guitarist John Andrews picked up with an ominous, reverb-drenched, Beatlesque roar.

14. Bad Reputation: Pierre de Gaillande Sings Georges Brassens
The first full-length English-language album of songs by legendary French songwriter Brassens is as potent and obscenely hilarious as his own work.  

15. Thomas Simon – Moncao
Another album of swirling cinematic soundscapes, these with more of a guitar-driven, apocalyptic goth menace.

16. The Larch – Larix Americana
Finally, the classic album these Brooklyn new wave throwbacks always hinted they had in them: an especially tuneful, gleefully sung, ferociously lyrical and funny one.

17. The Jack Grace Band – Drinking Songs for Lovers
A country concept album that needed to be written, and it’s a good thing this wry honkytonk baritone crooner and his oldschool 60s-style band were the ones to do it. Drinks for breakfast; birthday drinking; drinking at the racetrack, and drunk parents are just some of the topics covered on this crazed, hilarious album. There should be a Jack Grace Band drinking game.

18. Bassam Saba – Wonderful Land
A tribute to the multi-instrumentalist composer’s native Lebanon, it’s a characteristically lush, diverse album with influences that range from classic Egyptian anthems to western baroque composition.

19. Elvis Costello – National Ransom
This is the one album on this list that we didn’t review, because we figured you already knew about it. No? It’s a double album with his most recent band, Americana rockers The Sugarcanes, and it’s one of the best things he’s ever done.

20. The Marc Cary Focus Trio – Live 2009
Dark, magisterial, hypnotic and haunting, it captures one of the most powerfully melodic, interesting jazz pianists of this era at the top of his game.

21. Æ’s first album
Eva Salina Primack and Aurelia Shrenker’s austere, ghostly, starkly evocative, innovative blend of Appalachian and Balkan a-cappella songs.

22. Cousin Silas – Canaveral Dreams
Yorkshire’s most evocative soundscape composer offers an often terrifyingly allusive collection of electroacoustic tableaux here; his latest one Adrift Off the Isles of Langerhans promises to be just as good. 

23. Tris McCall – Let the Night Fall
Richly lyrical, uneasy New Jersey-themed concept album by the Overlord keyboardist: a vivid, understatedly angst-driven portrayal of stripmall hell by someone who’s lived it.

24. Ben Syversen’s Cracked Vessel’s first album
The highly sought-after Balkan trumpeter also leads this scorching, assaultive, aggressive trumpet-and-guitar noiserock/avant jazz band – it’s a wild ride.

25. Katzenjammer – Le Pop
Edgy, biting, satirical noir cabaret and new wave-inflected accordion rock from this wildly popular all-female Norwegian quartet.

26. Natacha Atlas – Mounqaliba
A biting, haunting, richly melodic look at the state of the world, another classic-style Levantine art-song masterpiece by one of this era’s most socially aware artists.

27. Under Byen – Alt Er Tabt
Stark, intense, moody chamber-rock from this ethereal Danish band.

28. Ted Hearne – Katrina Ballads
Sort of like the Dead Kennedys for chamber orchestra. It’s a cerebral, brutally honest, often brutally funny depiction of the early days of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, with songs incorporating art-rock, avant-garde chamber music and jazz.

29. Victoire – Cathedral City
Missy Mazzoli’s mesmerizing, ambient/atmospheric art-rock band’s debut is a lush, shadowy swirl of keyboards, strings and winds.

30. Patricia Vonne – Worth It
The Texas Americana rock chanteuse’s most diverse album blends anthemic, characteristically lyrical janglerock with a brooding southwestern gothic vibe.

31. My Education – Sunrise
Bracingly ambient, reverb-drenched guitar soundscapes in a Mogwai vein from this excellent Texas post-rock crew.

32. Gaida – Levantine Indulgence
Slinky ballads and instrumentals drawing on Syrian, Lebanese and Egyptian influences by the New York-based chanteuse and her excellent group.

33. Liz Tormes – Limelight
Smoldering, venomous, lyrical Nashville gothic songwriting by the New York noir songwriter with a great band behind her. If revenge songs are your thing, nobody writes them better than Liz Tormes.

34. Little Annie and Paul Wallfisch – Genderful
The noir cabaret legend and her reliable cohort, Botanica frontman Wallfisch team up for a characteristically haunting yet often very funny album, their best together.

35. Fernando Otero – Vital
Intense, dark solo piano compositions from the eclectic Argentinian composer.

36. Brooklyn Rider – Dominant Curve
The adventurous string quartet’s tribute to Debussy, including his string quartet along with pieces by Colin Jacobsen, Kojiro Umezaki, Dmitry Yanov-Yanovsky and Justin Messina.

37. Avi Fox-Rosen – Welcome to the Show
Smart, sardonically timely concept album for the new depression by the eclectic Brooklyn guitarist/songwriter and his funky, artsy, Steely Dan-ish band.

38. Either/Orchestra – Mood Music for Time Travellers
Witty, virtuosically cinematic Ethiopian-flavored big band jazz, the playful large ensemble’s first album in close to a decade.

39. The Rough Guide to Arabic Lounge compilation 
An eclectic mix of cutting-edge pop, classical and cabaret from around the Middle East…but no lounge music.

40. Bobtown’s first album
With their lush, beautiful four-part harmonies, stark, clever melodies that blend old time chain gang songs, bluegrass and blues and macabre sensibility, Bobtown established themselves as one of the most original bands in Americana.

41. The Mingus Big Band – Live at Jazz Standard
Allowing this album on this list is just plain unfair. It’s an ecstatic New Year’s Eve show by some of New York’s best jazz players, a wall-to-wall collection of Mingus classics, mostly from the late 50s Mingus Mingus Mingus era.

42. Newspeak – Sweet Light Crude
Potent and politically aware third-stream music that matches Lynchian ambience to depressed Michigan autoland and covers Missy Mazzoli with a vivid, hypnotic swirl.

43. The Universal Thump – First Spout
Art-rock composer/pianist Greta Gertler’s irrepressible, unpredictable sensibility has never been more potent or tunefully in effect than she is here – and the album isn’t even done yet.  

44. Annabouboula – Immortal Water
Slinky, psychedelic Greek rock with Greek, Turkish, reggae and trip-hop music.

45. Krista Detor – Chocolate Paper Suites
Some lists consider this a 2009 release (to be fair, we’ve snuck a few others from late in that year onto this list – hey, a good album is a good album). Either way, it’s a torrent of pensive lyrics delivered with Detor’s eerie calm and eclectic sense of melody.

46. Ninth House – 11 Cemetery & Western Classics
Eleven years after they began, who would have thought that New York-based Nashville gothic rockers’ best album would come out in 2010, after a flurry of lineup changes and stylistic shifts? It may be their loudest and most intense one yet.

47. Klezwoods’ first album
Ostensibly this is klezmer, but violinist Joe Kessler’s big band plays music from every corner of the former Ottoman Empire, with wit and intensity.

48. Khaira Arby – Timbuktu Tarab
An innovative, fearlessly feminist mix of desert blues, art-rock, afrobeat and psychedelia by the pioneering Malian desert blues diva.

49. Vieux Farka Toure – Live
About time the Malian guitar god (Ali Farka Toure’s oldest kid) made a live album – it’s sort of like an African Albert Collins record, all chilly sonics and lightning riffage but no wasted notes, just raw adrenaline.

50. Robin Aigner – Bandito
Aigner gets props for her sultry, soaring vocals, but she’s also a tremendously witty songwriter with a smart sense of history, a love for sly innuendo and purist taste in Americana and oldtimey songwriting.

51. John Sheppard: Media Vita – Stile Antico
A mammoth collection of otherworldly, death-obsessed Renaissance vocal works by the hardworking, wildly popular self-directed UK choral group.

52. Tarbaby – An End to Fear
One of the most unbelievably tuneful jazz albums of the year – and a powerfully socially aware one too. Pianist Orrin Evans is on the hook for a lot of this, along with
bassist Eric Revis, drummer Nasheet Waits plus the estimable JD Allen on tenor. They cover the Bad Brains and give a shout-out to the Jena Six.

53. Brass Menazeri – Vranjski San
Fiery Balkan brass dance tunes and anthems from this Bay Area crew.

54. Changing Modes – Here
Artsy, smartly lyrical somewhat retro 80s rock that ranges from snarling punk to creepy, goth-tinged songs: if this album came out 25 years ago, it would be regarded as a cult classic today.  

55. Kasey Anderson – Nowhere Nights
Snarling, Steve Earle-style lyrical Americana rock. Anderson’s forthcoming 2011 album Heart of a Dog goes in an even harder-rocking direction.

56. Abaji – Origine Orients
The multi-instrumentalist and instrument inventor’s latest eclectic collection draws on Middle Eastern, Greek, and gypsy music as well as Americana.

57. Marianne Dissard – Paris One Takes
A brilliant way to build a fan base: edgy,world-weary, amusingly lyrical French rocker Dissard offers this one as a free download. It’s one of the funnest albums of the year – even if you don’t speak French.

58. Copal – Into the Shadow Garden
Slinky, hypnotic, original Middle Eastern and gypsy-tinged violin-and-cello world music dancefloor vamps from the most original groove band on the planet.

59. The Spy from Cairo – Secretly Famous
Hypnotic, psychedelic dub-flavored Middle Eastern instrumentals, many with a trip-hop feel.

60. El Pueblo – Isla
Warmly hypnotic and psychedelic, this has to be the most diverse roots reggae album released in awhile – the Brooklyn band have more dubwise styles than you can count.

61. The One and Nines’ first album
Sultry oldschool Memphis style soul from these New Jersey revivalists: what Sharon Jones did for Harlem, these guys (and their fearless frontwoman Vera Sousa) are doing for a more southern soul sound.

62. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba – I Speak Fula
Hypnotic, diverse anthems and ballads from the Malian lute virtuoso and his desert blues-style band.

63. Fishtank Ensemble – Woman in Sin
Raucous original gypsy music taken to the next level with jazz and Middle Eastern influences, with a frontwoman whose vocal wail and theremin are hard to tell apart.

64. Benjamin Herman – Hypochristmastreefuzz (More Mengelberg)
Don’t let the silly title scare you away – this wild, psychedelic, surfy jazz album covers some of famous Dutch jazz composer Misha Mengelberg’s most memorable tracks.

65. The Rough Guide to Desert Blues anthology
At the risk of giving you too many of these, it was a good year for the Rough Guides: this has all the usual suspects (Etran Finatawa, Ali Farka Toure and Tinariwen) but also a ton of obscure brilliant cuts by Marien Hassan, Tartit, Malouma and Tamikrest.

66. The Sometime Boys – Any Day Now
The debut of the acoustic Americana side project by the brain trust from artsy, powerful rockers System Noise is funky, virtuosic and tuneful with some of frontwoman Sarah Mucho’s most compelling vocals ever.

67. Mostly Other People Do the Killing – Forty Fort
A clever, often hilarious whirlwind of postbop quotes and japes from these self-styled “bebop terrorists,” with some of the funniest liner notes ever courtesy of nonagenarian jazz know-it-all “Leonardo Featherweight.”

68. The Dither Guitar Quartet’s first album
Swirling psychedelic avant garde dreampop instrumentals by five cutting-edge composers: layers and layers and layers of screaming, atmospheric, reverb-toned menace and whisper.

69. The Cookers – Warriors
Deliciously tuneful, inspired 1960s style postbop jazz from a bunch of vets: Billy Harper, Craig Handy, Cecil McBee, George Cables, Billy Hart, Eddie Henderson and David Weiss.

70. The Debutante Hour – The Birth and Death of Meaning
Quirky, fun, harmonically beautiful oldtimey sounds with cleverly amusing lyrics from this sultry all-female Brooklyn trio.

71. Mark Sinnis – The Night’s Last Tomorrow
Arguably the finest and most diverse effort to date from the ominous baritone frontman of Nashville gothic rockers Ninth House, ranging from noir cabaret to dark blues to country. He’s the guy that Voltaire ripped off.

72. Bryan and the Haggards – Pretend It’s the End of the World
Outsider or mostly outside jazz guys (Bryan Murray, Jon Irabagon, Jon Lundbom, Moppa Elliott, Danny Fischer) cover Merle Haggard. As absurd and cruelly funny as you would expect.

73. The City Champs – The Set-Up
Like a more diverse, cinematic, noir Booker T & the MGs, the Memphis organ instrumental trio offer a psychedelic yet danceable collection of grooves.

74. Carolann Solebello – Glass of Desire
The Red Molly multi-instrumentalist/singer’s diverse, soaringly intense new solo album of Americana and folk-rock.

75. Black 47 – Bankers and Gangsters
Larry Kirwan never runs out of ideas, never gets stale. We ranked these Irish-American legends’ 2008 album Iraq as that year’s best; this depression-themed one is just as tuneful, wittily perceptive and anthemic.

76. Ken Fowser & Behn Gillece – Little Echo
Torchy, period-perfect late 50s style vibraphone jazz. It ought to be the soundtrack for Mad Men’s next few seasons, if the show lasts that long. Unselfconsciously sexy stuff.

77. The Pre-War Ponies – Introducing the Pre-War Ponies
Daria Grace, their frontwoman and baritone uke player, is one of the most casually compelling, sultry voices in oldtimey and Americana music. This is her charming, unselfconsciously romantic 20s/30s project where she covers all kinds of great obscure period pieces.

78. Gato Libre – Shiro
Quietly tuneful Japanese gypsy jazz-flavored tunes from pianist Satoko Fujii’s obscure accordion project – like one of those great bands that only plays Barbes once every couple of months.

79. Thunderball – 12 Mile High
Spinning with layers of dub-inspired keys, guitars and effects, their cinematic instrumentals are trippy beyond belief, and funny too.

80. Comic Wow – Music for Mysteries of Mind Space and Time
We’re sticking all the psychedelic stuff here for lack of a better place to put it. Some of this you might call dubstep, some is cinematic, some is funky, some is disco. Either way it’s insanely layered, insanely good stoner music.

81. The Smiles and Frowns’ first album
Period-perfect: these guys sound like they stepped out of a Top of the Pops performance alongside the Pretty Things and Electric Prunes, 1968. Whatever they’re smoking out in Arizona where this band is from seems to be working just fine.

82. Jeremy Messersmith – The Reluctant Graveyard
File this under psychedelic pop, with a goth touch – it’s nothing if not original. Clever lyricist, solid powerpop tunes, a 60s fascination that’s not cheesy – he saved that for his Star Wars song.

83. Flugente – Flugente 2
A guy after our own heart: the once-and-future Blam frontman hates gentrification, despises yuppies and trendoids and has the lyrical chops to give his somewhat Leonard Cohen-esque acoustic rants an original, witheringly funny edge. 

84. Jim Guttmann – Bessarabian Breakdown
Joyously and often darkly eclectic klezmer themes and dances from the Klezmer Conservatory Band’s bassist.

85. Very Be Careful – Escape Room
We don’t usually pay attention to bloggers who can’t write, but one of them actually complained about how loud the accordion on these wild LA cumbia punks’ album is. Reason enough for us to put it on the list.

86. The Ellen Rowe Quartet – Wishing Well
Lush, plaintive, beautifully lyrical jazz from the pianist/composer and her inspired band including several memorable Ingrid Jensen cameos.

87. The Whispering Tree – Go Call the Captain
These folks really love 6/8 time, and it works for them, through an uncommonly smart mix of uneasy acoustic Nashville gothic and Appalachian-tinged ballads.

88. Razia – Zebu Nation
Eclectic rock, Afrobeat, jazz-tinged ballads and Mediterranean-style songwriting from the Malagasy chanteuse and her band.

89. Phil Sargent – A New Day
We love albums like this, that transcend boundaries and push the envelope. Guitarist Sargent, backed by a rhythm section and Aubrey Johnson supplying vocalese, runs from motorway ambience to roaring metal/art-rock and pensive jazz instrumentals. 

90. Bern & the Brights – Swing Shift Maisies
Lush yet austere: art-rock with indie production values, but which actually enhance the violin-fueled bite of the surprisingly complex, counterintuitive songs.

91. Jacam Manricks – Trigonometry
Bad title, great album. The alto saxophonist’s previous album was all about lush, gorgeous charts and tunes; this one’s about great playing – with more of those tunes, albeit somewhat more stripped down.

92. Alma Afrobeat Ensemble – Toubab Soul
This is one of the most amazingly melodic, memorable albums of the year even though most of these instrumentals are basically one-chord jams! Lush, hypnotic, often fiery Ethiopian-influenced grooves from this smart Barcelona-based group.

93. Jay Banerjee – “Ban-er-jee,” Just Like It’s Spelled
Like a lo-fi Byrds, the impresario behind NYC’s best rock event, Hipster Demolition Night airs out his bag of catchy, retro 60s Rickenbacker 12-string janglerock licks and savagely satirical lyrics.

94. Debo Band – Flamingoh (Pink Bird Dawn)
The Boston-based Ethiopian dance band’s debut ep – a deliriously fun live recording made on tour in Africa – would be further up this list if it was longer. Which it will be soon – watch this space.

95. Spanglish Fly – Latin Soul y Bugalú
Their debut ep is a throwback to Spanish Harlem circa 1965 or 1966, a blend of oldschool retro soul and oldschool retro salsa – think Joe Cuba but with better production values. Plus you can dance to this like crazy.

96. Jason Robinson and Anthony Davis – Cerulean Landscape
This is about as bluesy as Shostakovich, but it’s gorgeously melodic, with all kinds of interplay between the adventurous, eclectic saxophonist (who stays within himself pretty much here) and the glimmering third-stream piano titan.

97. Denis Matsuev/Valery Gergiev/Mariinsky Orchestra – Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.3./Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
How do you resist putting a recording this robust of two of the iconic late Romantic masterpieces on a Best Albums list? Answer: you don’t.

98. Magnifico – Magnification
Stagy, wry, tongue-in-cheek, sometimes over-the-top Balkan dancefloor madness. He satirizes dumb American culture, and fascist Balkan dictator types, and gets away with it because everybody loves it and it’s so psychedelically tuneful.

99. The Joel Yennior Trio – Big City Circus
Either/Orchestra’s trombone guy’s alternately retro and rather chillingly noir small-combo debut – check out the righteously wrathful suite Justice Lost. 

100. The Bobby Avey Trio – A New Face
On one level, it kills us to put such a great album – magisterial, frequently murky modal jazz piano from one of the best up-and-coming players out there – at #100. Then again, a lot of people scroll all the way to the bottom. And he doesn’t need the press from us anyway.

December 27, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, experimental music, folk music, gypsy music, jazz, latin music, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, reggae music, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Black Water’s Disasters Album Is Anything But

Catching up to all the albums that have been sitting around here for months is getting to be a lot of fun! We were sussed to this one via excellently uncategorizable indie chamberpop rockers Bern & the Brights. On their most recent album Disasters (available from their bandcamp as a free download), New Jersey band Black Water go for a somewhat retro 80s indie songwriting style but with vastly better production values and influences that run the gamut from ska and reggae to dreampop and the occasional anthemic 90s Britpop vibe. It’s a compelling and completely original blend of catchy and hypnotic.

The opening track sets a tone for the rest of the album, darkly reggae-tinged with a swirling My Bloody Valentine edge, noisy but also hook-driven. “At night, we take cover,” is the phrase they run over and over again. The second cut has more of a Britpop feel, like a slightly less herky-jerky Wire. Arizona is southwestern gothic ska with tastily intertwining guitar and bass. “I’d rather die than live one more day in fear,” the singer intones in a quavery voice that adds genuine apprehension. Black Water Song begins with a funky pulse but grows hypnotic and atmospheric, with an ominous bridge featuring distant sirens and outdoor ambience that builds to a cyclotron of guitars – and ends cold, as if the tape just ran out at some random point.

The theme continues where it left off on the next track, Keep Your Eyes Closed, which after awhile starts to sound like an absolutely unhinged version of Ceremony by New Order. The single best song here is the ridiculously memorable, darkly ska-inflected Drugstore Model, rich with layers of reverb guitar, like a faster and more skittish version of the Dream Syndicate. With its noisy, funky verse working up to chorus anthemics, Oh My God wouldn’t be out of place in the Botanica catalog, especially when it switches to a long ska vamp with layers of slamming guitar chords and wild tremolo-picking. The album winds up with the inventive dreampop/soul blend of 7 Years. Solid songs, all of them, not a single miss here: you don’t see that very often. Shame on us for not getting around to it sooner. Since releasing this one, the band has gone through some changes, with an additional vocalist, lead guitarist and a new, supposedly more pop-oriented album due early in 2011. If it bears any resemblance to this one, it’ll be great.

December 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Bush Years Remembered Vividly and Bitterly

Dave Wechsler is the founder and accordionist of the marvelously smart, lush Brooklyn “historical orchestrette” Pinataland. As The Tyranny of Dave (a tongue-in-cheek comment by poet Genya Turovskaya that he ended up adopting for his solo projects), he released a marvelously brooding travelogue of an album, Vacations, in 2007. His new one The Decline of America, Part One: The Bush Years is a personal rather than a political statement, although the sardonic, occasionally bitter tone of these songs echoes that era’s sadness. Much of this is pretty morose, with a sort of Elliott Smith quality, characteristically melodic chamberpop with a few surprises that come as an unexpected and very welcome jolt of adrenaline. Here Wechsler is joined by his Chicago band – bassist Aaron Zemelko, Cameroonian guitarist Didi Afana, and drummer Ben Gray – along with cameos from cellist Serena Jost, chanteuses Robin Aigner and Anna Soltys and guitarist Ross Bonadonna. What’s best is that Wechsler is offering it as a free download at his bandcamp site.

Months after he wrote the pensive, dynamically shifting 6/8 chamber pop ballad America’s Oldest Home, which opens the album, Wechsler decided it was about 9/11: you decide whether or not he was one of those who knew what was coming before it happened. The second track, Greatest Generation has a blithe, Summerteeth-era Wilco swing – it’s a subtle examination of the personal as political in the wake of 9/11, with a lively choir featuring Codapendency’s Tara Shenoy and Athanasia Sawicz along with Carla Budesinsky, Brittany Petersen and Kate Nylander (ex-Wildcats Marching Band), and trumpeter Megan Beugger.

The 6/8 ballad Abraham Man slowly makes its way to a swirling, off-center cauldron of strings and keyboards; the bouncy Too Late offers a tongue-in-cheek yet resonant look at the consequences of the current depression. The similarly upbeat Chicago River Song, sort of an uncredited Pinataland number, features characteristically incisive, nebulously bluesy lead guitar work from Afana plus vivid violin by Claudia Chopek. Every Damn Light, a Hurricane Katrina narrative, ups the ante with more bluesy, echoey guitar and the ex-Wildcats horn section. The real shocker, and the best number here is When All the Stores are Closed, a swinging early 70s psychedelic blues-rock number unlike anything Wechsler’s ever done before, quite a contrast with the next cut, the ornate chamber pop of Fire Drill, which evokes the elegaic understatement of REM’s Find the River.

The fast, blippy keyboard pop of Raise a Glass camouflages its bitter, sardonic edge. Remember the Maine, an Iraq war parable, sways with minor-key bite and some gorgeously plaintive harmonies from Aigner: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Pierre de Gaillande catalog. The album winds up with the ghostly, organ-fueled Call of the Waters and the similarly regret-tinged oldtimey-flavored Americana ballad Wake Up in Brooklyn. Fans of lyrical, smartly melodic rock from Elvis Costello to the aforementioned Elliott Smith will find plenty to enjoy here: if this is any indication, Tyranny of Dave’s planned volume two is something to look forward to.

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