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

Marianne Dissard’s L’Abandon Glimmers in the Shadows

French-American rocker Marianne Dissard’s Paris One Takes, from last year, was a bristling, deliciously tuneful record with hints of noir cabaret: it made our best albums of the year list. It’s also found a new life as the bonus disc with the recent and very captivating new Rough Guide to Paris Lounge anthology. Her latest album L’Abandon has been blowing up in Europe: it’s also a lot darker and deeper. You could call it the soundtrack to the long-lost Jim Jarmusch southwestern gothic movie. Dissard’s world-weary, breathy delivery enhances the songs’ dusky ambience without making it cheesy or over-the-top. She’s also an excellent lyricist. Singing in French and occasionally English, she intones her way through an endless series of surreal images, puns and double entendres, some of them amusing, some genuinely disturbing. Here she’s backed by a huge supporting cast that revolves around a central band with Christian Ravaglioli on keyboards and oboe, Connor Gallaher and Luke Doucet on guitars, Giant Sand’s Thoger Lund on bass and Arthur Vint on drums.

The opening track, La Peau Du Lait (Porcelain Skin) matches an insanely catchy Grateful Dead bounce to a snarling new wave lyric. Dissard’s view of the the media is as a battlefield and also a call to war: spot-on, in the wake of the Bush era. Fueled by reverberating Rhodes electric piano, Almas Perversas (Perverse Souls) sets a seedy Mexican underworld tableau over a creepy, carnivalesque ranchera waltz. The murderously slow, whispery, sunbaked anthem Un Gros Chat (A Big Cat) wouldn’t be out of place on Steve Wynn’s genre-defining classic Here Come the Miracles. Ecrivain Public (Writing in Public) starts out as a dark, chromatic blend of Botanica-esque gypsy rock, blues and tortured art-song with a crushingly ironic lyric, Dissard screaming back the promises to the guy who once shouted them to her off the top of a cliff, but who now bitches at her in public. It’s Edith Piaf updated for a darker, hotter century.

The most haunting track here, Eté Hiver (Summer Winter) paints a grim portrait of disollution and decay over brooding, creeping piano-rock atmospherics. Neige Romaine (Roman Snow), an understatedly bitter duet with Brian Lopez, quotes Pier Paolo Pasolini over the most overtly southwestern tune here, other than the next track, the galloping, rapidfire lost-weekend narrative L’Exilé (In Exile). Fugu is a literally venomous kiss-off anthem lit up with lurid tremolo-bar guitar and a big crescendo. The album winds up with the quietly memorable, swaying angst of Fondre (Melting) and The One and Only, Dissard’s homage to her adopted hometown, Tucson, now under siege from the usual suspects: real estate speculators and the trendoids and yuppies who fill the new “luxury” condos and drive all the cool people out to the fringes. There’s also a secret track and a bonus DVD with Dissard’s remake of Warhol’s 1968 western, shot in Tucson (she directs and also plays the Taylor Mead role). There literally isn’t a single substandard song here: count this among one of the best dark rock records in recent years.

May 10, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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

CD Review: Marianne Dissard – Paris One Takes

Sometimes the best albums are the hardest ones to explain. For example, Marianne Dissard’s new one, Paris One Takes (available as a free download here) has been in heavy rotation here at Lucid Culture HQ for over a month. Everybody loves it – for Dissard’s sultry, breathy, angst-laden vocals, the charm and bite of her French lyrics, and the exuberant intensity of the band. Stylistically, up-and-coming New York chanteuse/bandleader Kerry Kennedy is the obvious comparison. Recorded live in the studio, the album collects songs from Dissard’s acclaimed debut album L’Entredeux as well as from the forthcoming L’Abandon, scheduled for release late this year. It’s a very smart move on her part: not only does it win her new fans, it’s great PR. Guns & Roses sue anyone who leaked their album, but Dissard wants everyone to share her songs. That’s how you build a fan base these days.

Dissard’s best known as a French singer who specializes in southwestern gothic rock: she’s actually a Tucson resident who moved there to make a documentary film about Giant Sand. Although there’s a strong noir cabaret influence here, this is most definitely a rock record, a potent document in itself in that this is Dissard’s road band, tight and inspired, still buzzing from the energy of a European tour. They take the coy “choc-choc” bounce of La Peau Du Lait (Porcelain Skin) and thrash it, following with the creeping menace of Le Lendemain (The Day After), a co-write with longtime collaborator Joey Burns of Calexico (Dissard memorably sang the female vocal on Calexico’s cover of John Cale’s Ballad of Cable Hogue several years ago). The scurrying Les Draps Sourds (The Blinds) evokes Piaf at her most frantic, spiced with Olivier Samouillan’s bracing rai-flavored viola and Brian Lopez’ reverb guitar. Merci de Rien du Tout/Flashback (Thanks for Nothing) mines a catchy yet brooding Velvet Underground vein.

With a cynical, snarling guitar-fueled edge, Les Confettis (Confetti) reminds of Dylan’s When You Go Your Way and I Go Mine. Shifting and mixing styles, the band make ominously hallucinatory desert rock out of the anguished 6/8 cabaret ballad Indiana Song, and follow that with the stomping garage-rock abandon of Trop Exprès (Too Obvious). Sans-Façon, a beautiful lament, evokes the Jayhawks circa Sound of Lies, while It’s Love, written by drummer Sergio Mendoza, reminds of Botanica in a particularly pensive moment. Other tracks add echoes of Steve Wynn and electric Neil Young to Dissard and Burns’ brooding melodies. Definitely one of our favorite albums of 2010 and an auspicious sneak preview of Dissard’s next one. Sometimes the best things in life really are free.

June 24, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tandy Live at Lakeside Lounge, NYC 2/22/08

Tonight was a triumph for Tandy. It always feels good to see a band take it to the next level. These guys have come a long ways since their days as densely wordy mid-period Wilco soundalikes in the late 90s. Despite having suddenly lost their (and everybody else’s) lead guitarist Drew Glackin at a young age last month, they’ve regrouped and played an absolutely killer set, one gorgeous song after another. Tandy’s most recent material is their best: slow-to-midtempo, contemplative, lyrically-driven, jangly and richly melodic Americana rock with tinges of southwestern gothic at times. Frontman Mike Ferrio began the set on mandolin and harmonica before switching to acoustic guitar. The new guy they had sitting in on Telecaster provided vividly melodic, tastefully terse fills, Skip Ward played a rare gig on electric bass, and drummer Bruce Martin added some very pretty accordion textures while keeping time on the kick on one song.

Ferrio is an excellent lyricist, writing memorable, understated, image-filled narratives of blue-collar life, his vocals casual and laid-back. One of the early songs, seemingly an antiwar number, morphed into a long, crescendoing vamp on the chorus of the Emerson, Lake and Palmer pop hit Lucky Man. Later they did a couple of long, slow, hypnotically summery numbers that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Giant Sand album. The set was somewhat front-loaded – it seemed that they saved the older material for last for the sake of their fans. The Tandy website notes triumphantly that their latest cd is sold out: unsurprising for a band this good. They’re huge in Europe. If Americana or just plain thoughtful, smart, guitar-based rock is your thing, you owe it to yourself to discover Tandy.

February 25, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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