Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Reverend Screaming Fingers’ Music for Driving and Film Is Exactly That

The Brooklyn-based composer/guitarist who goes by the name of Reverend Screaming Fingers writes movies for the ears. He’s got a collection of elegant, memorable instrumentals, simply titled Music for Driving and Film up at his site for free download. Smart move – it’s going to get him some film work. Like a good demo reel, it showcases his diversity as a tunesmith, yet the quality of the pieces here is vastly better than most demos. As a whole, it makes a great late-night album. The twangy reverb guitar gives many of these tunes a noir feel; others reach for a distantly menacing spaghetti western ambience. Most of them have a straight-up guitar/bass/drums setup, often with organ. Many of these works stem from the composer’s work with the west coast film/music group the Overdub Club.

The opening track, Highway Song sets the stage with baritone guitar and organ – it’s like Booker T. gone to Kansas. The most haunting cut here, Sort It Out has a slow, sunbaked menace, sort of a spaghetti western set in Riyadh. The guitar meanders ominously and then hits a chilly, bone-rattling tremolo-picked interlude – it’s as psychedelic as it is creepy. Repeat Performance is a two-chord vamp that rises and falls hypnotically, followed by East Meets West, an atmospheric tone poem a la Friends of Dean Martinez, building to a motoring beat that contrasts with the hazy sonics. OD Loop continues in a similarly southwestern gothic vein: it’s the scene where the band of thugs make their way across the desert. Suki O’Kane on drums does a marvelous job of hanging back and not letting the whole gang break loose.

Taking its name from an adopted manatee, Boomer’s Groove has a twangy, nocturnal Jim Campilongo/Mojo Mancini vibe, following a deliciously suspenseful trajectory that hits a sweetly apprehensive peak as the bass shifts just a little higher and the guitars all follow. Caterina begins as a simple two-chord vamp dedicated to a little girl who died young, building to a tense grandeur with casual tremolo-picked melody sailing beneath the roar and crash, finally reaching a scream with umpteen layers of guitar roaring in their separate corners. There’s also a couple of brief vignettes: one with Jonathan Segel on violin pairing off against Laurie Amat’s stately Middle Eastern inflected vocalese, and Through the Portal, a surreal party scene employing Rebecca Seeman’s eerie, upper-register swirls on her own invention, the wine glass organ. The album ends with a static, hypnotic piece that sounds like Stereolab doing an extended version of the intro to Blue Jay Way. Recommended for fans of Giant Sand, Big Lazy, Mogwai and Black Heart Procession.

June 9, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 10/14/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #838:

The Friends of Dean Martinez – The Shadow of Your Smile

Dilemma of the day: what’s these guys’ best album? Or is everything equal in the shadows off the desert highway where their cinematic, spaghetti western-flavored instrumentals all seem to take place? Literally everything the Friends of Dean Martinez have recorded is worth owning. We picked this one, their 1995 Sub Pop debut, because it has a typical first-album excitement, because of the diversity of the songs and because it’s as good as any example of their richly evocative, often exhilarating catalog. Joey Burns of Calexico gets credit or co-credit for writing six of these and his bandmate John Convertino gets another, which gives them instant southwestern gothic cred; pedal steel genius Bill Elm, their lead instrumentalist, would take a more prominent role in the songwriting as their career went on. The opening track, All the Pretty Horses signals that immediately; I Wish You Love is done with a Bob Wills western swing flair. The drummer’s contribution is the amusingly off-kilter House of Pies, followed by the noir highway theme Chunder, foreshadowing Big Lazy but with steel guitar. These songs all evoke a specific milieu, notably the distant suburban unease of Armory Park/Dwell and the blithe bossa nova instrumental Swamp Cooler which goes deep into the shadows of the favela before you can tell what hit you. The best song here is Burns’ gorgeously noir El Tiradito, Roy Orbison gone to Buenos Aires. There’s also another tango-flavored one, a countrypolitan ballad, a straight-up vibraphone jazz tune, the orchestrated title track and Convertino’s Per Siempre, done as a careening Balkan dirge. Here’s a random torrent.

October 14, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/1/10

Every day, we count down the best albums of all time all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #912:

The Mofos – Supercharged on Alcohol

Guitarist Gary Siperko (now with the Whiskey Daredevils) fronted this snarling, amphetamine noir surf band circa 2002. Their lone cd is simply one of the most exhilarating albums ever made, a blend of reverb-drenched horror surf, noir soundtrack and Link Wray-style stomps. Siperko is a master of vicious, macabre chromatic surf guitar, all reverb-drenched intensity. The textures here are to die for – layers and layers and layers of distortion and twang and blazing fury – and the tunes are worthy of Big Lazy or Friends of Dean Martinez. Adrenaline usually gets the upper hand here, as on the aptly titled Satan A-Go-Go or the surprisingly poignant, funereal Drag City. The offhandedly titled Dune Buggy War at Pismo Beach is a masterpiece of wild guitar fury; there’s also a punk spaghetti western number, a punk flamenco song and the vicious, chromatically-charged Fuck Art, Let’s Make Money. No song has ever been more ironically titled. And 2 Minutes to Live is one of the few songs we blinked on when we did our Best 666 songs of All Time list – it’s a virtual line of cocaine, one that won’t kill you. These guys probably never made a dime from this but their brilliance will last forever. The album is still available at cdbaby.

July 31, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: My Education – Sunrise

The Dirty Three meets Friends of Dean Martinez meets Brooklyn Rider meets My Bloody Valentine – that’s what the absolutely killer, hypnotic new album by cinematic, psychedelic Austin instrumentalists My Education sounds like. Just as Steve Nieve did with F.W. Murnau’s The Last Laugh and Chicha Libre have recently done with Chaplin films, My Education chose to compose a new soundtrack for Murnau’s Oscar-winning 1927 silent film Sunrise. Weaving elements of dreampop, art-rock and baroque music into lush, densely shimmering soundscapes, the album transcends any kind of label that might be conveniently stamped on a film soundtrack.

The opening track is a pretty, wistful circular fugue theme with strings, in the same vein as Brooklyn Rider’s recent work, or a louder Redhooker. The second segment, City Woman Theme offers a tip of the hat to Pink Floyd’s Breathe, building to a swirling, dense cloud of dreampop reverb guitar. With an ominous, David Lynchian feel, Lust layers strings and stately guitar accents over a slow swaying beat, swirling and blending hypnotically down to just a texturally beautiful thicket of acoustic guitars over drums. Then they bring it up again.

The tense tone poem Heave Oars has staccato guitar echoes winding their way through a wash of eerie noise. Howling overtones and finally the drums come pounding along, with a fierce martial riff straight out of something the Church might have done on Priest = Aura, a volcanic ocean of roaring guitars that finally fades away unexpectedly in the span of a few seconds. The next track, Peasant Dance alternates between a fast, rustic shuffle with vibraphone and viola, and majestic gypsy-flavored metal. The album wraps up with the apprehensive, tensely cloudy tone poem A Man Alone and then the title track, its theme baroquely working variations on a simple hook cleverly spiced with slide guitar, Scarlatti as played by Floyd circa Dark Side. It’s all absolutely hypnotic and psychedelic. The album is just out on Strange Attractors; the band will be on summer tour, with a full schedule of dates here.

May 9, 2010 Posted by | experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Gabriel Sullivan – By the Dirt

Gabriel Sullivan knows a lot of styles and he’s adept at them. More specifically, his new cd By the Dirt runs through a whole bunch of stylized genres, pretty successfully – the playing is generally good, he’s got a good sense of melody and a feel for vintage Americana styles. Mixed by Craig Schumacher of Calexico and Friends of Dean Martinez renown, Sullivan’s going for a dusky southwestern gothic feel (a concept made clear by the cd cover, the songwriter posed sullenly against a photoshopped backdrop of a battered piano in the sagebrush), although the sound is more straight-up southern in a lot of places.

The album’s opening number reminds of Reid Paley, kind of a stripped-down ghoulabilly blues with banjo and harp. The title track is a swinging, memorable, Waitsh-ish tune: “We all live and die by the dirt,” Sullivan reminds ominously. Track three, the snide, defiant Life Is Fine has Sullivan affirming that “You ain’t never gonna see me die.”

How to Treat a Man reminds of Steve Wynn’s legendary Dream Syndicate with its slide guitar-driven, bluesy stomp. By contrast, Me & the Dog is ghostly, lowlit by some sweetly phosphorescent singing saw work. Of the country songs here, by far the most interesting and original is the metaphor-laden, nocturnal ballad The Gardens, its protagonist aching for some peace. There’s also a clanking noir blues, a Waits-style outlaw ballad and then more and more Waits, it seems – by this point, Sullivan seems to have run out of ideas of his own, and the overlong, pointless guitar solo out of the last number does nothing to change that. In terms of the three stages of artistry – imitation, emulation and originality – Sullivan’s passed the first and has command of the second – and there’s nothing wrong with having the ability to synthesize or move smoothly from one oldtime style to another, as he does effortlessly here. It’ll be interesting to see how his writing develops as he grows as a songwriter. In the meantime, fans of dark Americana rock and all the other retro styles he tackles here will enjoy most of this. Keep your eye on this guy – he knows what he’s doing, even if he could be confused with a whole lot of other people on some of the tracks here.

November 9, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Depedro

Spanish rocker Jairo Zavala has been cutting across genres since his days with Amparanoia back in the 90s. On this solo disc, the debut release for the new label Nat Geo Music, he takes the name Depedro with the intention of  blending latin and Mediterranean influences. What he essentially achieves here is to take a bunch of different styles and make southwestern gothic out of them, and considering he’s working with two of the foremost SW goth stylists in the business, Joey Burns and John Convertino of Calexico, the album is enormously successful. Dusky, glimmering, otherworldly and drenched in reverb, with mostly Spanish-language lyrics that range from the thoughtful and aphroristic to the neither-here-nor-there, the songs jangle, clang and often linger with a haunting intensity.

The opening track, Como el Viento (Like the Wind), takes an old Amparanoia tune and gives it a swinging, Caifanes-esque Mexican sundown rock feel. The single best cut on the album is Don’t Leave Me Now, its ominous horns evoking a ghostly bordertown of the mind circa 1940. La Memoria, which follows is a feast of spiky string textures, banjo and acoustic guitar backed by the eerie, watery strains of a guitar phased through a Leslie organ speaker. Otherwise, Zavala takes Weimar blues to Santa Fe, adds Norteno agression to a darkly lilting border ballad, takes a couple of detours into latin funk (one such an evocation of War that it’s practically camp) and then Mexicanizes a big 90s style guitar rock anthem. Burns and especially Convertino add the requisite, deliciously ringing, clanging, reverberating guitar and bass effects (the latter often played with a bow for a dark cello tone), and Zavala does a marvelously soaring evocation of the Friends of Dean Martinez‘ Bill Elm on lapsteel on one of the cuts. If southwestern gothic, David Lynch soundtracks, Chris Isaak, Steve Wynn, Calexico or just about any recent rock en Espanol is your thing, get this album, it’s a stylized masterpiece. New York listeners can see Depedro tonight, October 28 at SOB’s in the West Village at 8 on an intriguing doublebill opening for Argentinian tango nuevo star Federico Aubele.

October 28, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: 900X – Music For Lubbock, 1980

If you can get past the absurdity that laid-back, dub-inspired synthesizer instrumentals might have the faintest relevance to Lubbock, Texas, whether in 1980, before or afterward, this album of playful chillout soundscapes might make you smile. The obvious question is why the party/parties responsible for these nebulous, sometimes western-themed tunes didn’t pull a band together to play them. They’d sound good with tremolo guitar, accordion, and pedal steel maybe, and of course a real rhythm section. But you know how much more it costs to record a real band, especially with the drums. And obviously that’s not the point of all this –  its quirkiness would be lost along with the occasional LOL little tweak that hits you just to see if you’re paying attention. At first listen, this could be some trendoid thinking that a bunch of loops and basic programmed beats could be a substitute for the real thing – Friends of Dean Martinez it’s not – but a closer listen reveals it as more likely the result of several wee-hours bedroom sessions with a little herb, a laptop and a sense of melody matched by a sense of humor. Obviously, this was made for an indie audience, i.e.  the Black Moth Super Rainbow crowd, but could also extend to a more diverse, less rigid listener base.

A couple of tracks set blippy little Casio tunes over moody, swooping organ. A couple others introduce a dub feel, one with an actually effective, trippy electronic drum breakdown, the other, the aptly titled Sunscape doing it with an echoey electric piano loop. The cinematic Everything Feels Temporary works its way up from blue-sky southwest to a soul vamp with oh-oh vocals, funky guitar and bass patches. The next track layers an amusingly awful, cheesy 80s fake brass sound over atmospheric string synth. The closest thing to rock here is the utterly psychedelic 101805 with its various layers peeking around the corners of the mix. Pass out to this with your headphones on. It’s out now on Asthmatic Kitty.

September 14, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Balthrop, Alabama – Subway Songs and Cowboy Songs

Two brand-new eps from the multistylistic Brooklyn music mob. True to the band’s signature shtick (Balthrop, Alabama style themselves as a little Southern town relocated to the BK), a lot of people were involved with making these albums and in general they acquit themselves well. Perhaps because of the sheer number of contributors, the band’s ability to fluently channel a ridiculous number of styles from decades ago to the present day is uncanny, and spectacularly so. The first of the two, Subway Songs is delightfully gruesome, lushly and imaginatively produced with layers of vocals, horns, keys and a variety of rustic stringed instruments. It also doesn’t seem to have the slightest thing to do with subways. It opens with Subway Horns, theatrical gypsyish ska punk like World Inferno. Bride of Frankenstein, which follows, is southwestern gothic with some biting slide guitar in the style of Friends of Dean Martinez. Prom Story is an amusingly and musically spot-on spoof of early 60s girl group ghoul-pop; Ocean’s Arms adds a faux Irish tinge to an immigrant’s tale gone drastically awry.

 

Red Hook Pool is a fast, upbeat folk-rock number spiced with banjo, a dead ringer for a Phil Ochs pop hit from, say, Tape from California, 1967. It, too comes to a grisly conclusion after the rain starts, morphing strangely into a vintage style soul song after a long instrumental vamp. With its beautiful, soaring vocals, the 6/8 ballad My Way the Highway sounds like what Caithlin de Marrais might have done if she’d been alive in 1965. At least nobody seems to die in this one.

 

Cowboy Songs explores a satirical concept. Trouble is, between Ween’s Twelve Golden Country Greats album, the Inbreeds, and David Allan Coe, there isn’t much country music territory left  to parody, and this doesn’t exactly add anything to the canon. The musicianship here is all first-rate, and in fact some of these songs are so period-perfect that they could be from Nashville in the mid-60s – but as b-sides. Old Cowboy Queer sounds like a ripoff of I Thought I Was Country Til I Found I Was Queer by fellow Brooklynites the Illbillies (now Maynard and the Musties), which achieved some notoriety about ten years ago. There are also thoughtful attempts at crafting a slowly swinging romantic ballad and an oldschool Ray Price-style shuffle. And then they end it on a tongue-in-cheek apocalyptic note. Balthrop, Alabama plays the cd release for these two at the 92YTribeca on 3/13 on an excellent bill with the Ukuladies and the Moonlighters starting at about 9:30 PM.

March 9, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: James Apollo at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 12/20/07

“They should do at least one song in Spanish,” remarked one of our crew. What a great discovery. James Apollo and his terrific band sound exactly like the late, great NY band Industrial Tepee in their more subtle moments. They do one thing and one thing only, and they absolutely nail it. They’re Southwestern gothic, with haunting, mariachi-inflected melodies, the occasional tango beat and a quietly dusky, otherworldly feel. We’d stopped in for a drink, still flying from another concert we’d just seen, feeling cynical to the point that we were all dreading whoever might be playing here tonight. Although Banjo Jim’s has had a good run lately – they’re picking up a lot of the spillover from the songwriters who are leaving the Living Room in droves – their stock in trade is still generally the kind of generic lite FM songwriters you hear piped over the PA in shopping malls.

Apollo sang and played acoustic, backed by an excellent lead player who played lush washes of sound on lapsteel, and occasionally on a Telecaster, using an ebow for sustain. From time to time, he’d flick on a percussion device that looked like a kick pedal but sounded like a rattle. Apollo’s rhythm section didn’t waste a single beat all night. His upright bassist delivered a pulsing, propulsive groove and his drummer, playing with metal brushes, set the haunting, hushed tone from which they never strayed. Every now and then he’d throw in a couple of judiciously placed thumps on the kick and the snare, or a rimshot or two, to keep things interesting, and he made them all count. Tonight was a great example of the best that can happen when guys with jazz chops decide to play rock: it was a clinic in subtlety and counterintuitive, smart musicianship.

With admirable restraint, they resisted the urge to turn one of the songs they played mid-set into straight-up rockabilly. The following cut, I’ve Got It Easy, from Apollo’s latest album Hide Your Heart in a Hive could have been early Calexico, or Friends of Dean Martinez with a vocal track, all sunburnt and slightly hallucinatory. They wrapped up the set – ten songs, all of them good – with a couple of numbers with a somewhat Tom Waits-ish, bluesy feel. Check out this band and share our delight in running into them, completely by accident.

[postscript: Banjo Jim’s happily grew edgier in the time since this review appeared, the Lite FM singer-songwriter types apparently staying home in Long Island or going back to the Living Room. We rated Banjo Jim’s Best Manhattan Venue in 2010]

December 22, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Big Lazy – Postcards from X

Their most cinematic album, on which the most mesmerizing instrumental band on the planet broaden their sonic palette from the usual charcoal and grey to include, perhaps, burnt ochre and dark olive. The album cover looks like a poster for a 60s spy film, with the shadow of a woman running with a briefcase. The case opens to show the woman’s ankle and the briefcase, but it’s not clear if she’s running alongside a wall covered with dying ivy…or if she’s lying on a path in the woods. The visuals couldn’t be more appropriate.

Big Lazy’s first two releases were all menace and suspense, conjuring up images of black-clad figures slipping in and out of the shadows in a 4 AM industrial wasteland, the pavement cold and luminous with late autumn rain. This one, their fourth, is much more diverse. Big Lazy unsurprisingly get a lot of film soundtrack work, and the songs on this album may well be destined for Sundance or Hollywood. Several of them begin menacingly and end on a sunny note, or vice versa, with innumerable twists and turns in between. The album opens with Thy Name Is Woman, virtuoso guitarist Steve Ulrich playing with distortion instead of his usual oceans of reverb. Essentially, it’s a 6/8 blues, propelled by brilliant bassist Paul Dugan’s staccato arpeggios. The next cut, by Dugan, is Walk It Off, opening with bowed bass playing the ominous melody as Ulrich plays the bassline on guitar. All of a sudden, on the second verse, Ulrich launches into some noir jazz as guest keyboardist Ed Pastorini’s Hammond organ kicks in. It’s very 60s. The following cut Glitter Gulch begins with a sexy bassline, like The Fever, with dark, quietly booming drum flourishes and eerie organ. Then it morphs into a Morricone-esque spaghetti western theme. After that, Ulrich returns with more guitar distortion on the brief, skronky Drug Czar.

The cd’s next track, France, is a very funny song, something akin to how Serge Gainsbourg’s 60s backing band might have covered Big Lazy. It’s an uncharacteristically bouncy number with just enough moments of incisive reverb guitar to give the listener pause. Drummer Tamir Muskat (ex-Gogol Bordello) spices the following cut, His Brother’s Wife, with all kinds of metallic percussive effects, with Ulrich and Dugan reverting to the dark, New York noir sound of their previous work until a country-inflected chorus with soaring lapsteel. After that, on Postcard from X, bowed bass carries the melody over plinky, ragtimish guitar. It’s an unusually wistful, pretty song, evocative of the great Southwestern gothic band Friends of Dean Martinez as the lapsteel flies in at the end of the song.

The best song on the album is the lickety-split, minor-key punkabilly theme To Hell in a Handbasket, another Dugan composition. Los Straitjackets or Rev. Horton Heat only wish they wrote something this adrenalizing. After Dugan and Ulrich play their fingers off for a couple of minutes, there’s a brief bass solo and then a gently happy ending. The lone cover on the album is an Astor Piazzolla classic, Pulsacion #4, which most closely resembles Big Lazy’s early work, all macabre chromatics and scary reverb. The cd’s next tune Naked begins with Dugan pedaling a single note over a suspenseful, steady beat, evoking a movie scene where the hero may be having second thoughts. You want to tell him (or her), don’t go back in the house, don’t get in the car with that guy and whatever you do, stay inside the tent. But they don’t, and all hell breaks loose. The album concludes with The Confidence Man, a total 60s spy movie theme, jazzy with staccato bass and tinny organ, its menace building gently at the end of the verse, then breaking through the door when the chorus kicks in.

If this album can reach the people who blast the Vampiros Lesbos soundtrack at parties, that’s where it needs to be. Inevitably, it’ll be a cult classic for decades to come. Be the first person on your block or in your dorm room to turn your friends on to this amazing band. And if you think the occasional lightheartedness of this album might mean that Big Lazy has lost any of the white-knuckle intensity of their live shows, not to worry: check our reviews page for a glimpse of the best show we’ve seen this year, Big Lazy’s cd release at Luna Lounge last month. Classic album, an instant contender (along with Jenifer Jackson’s new one) for best of the year. Five bagels. Pumpernickel (because that’s the darkest kind available).

June 6, 2007 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments