Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Frankenpine’s Crooked Mountain Beckons Ominously

Grim, lurid and gorgeously tuneful, Frankenpine’s new album The Crooked Mountain is definitely the darkest album of the year so far – and it might be the best. We’ll sort that stuff out at the end of the year. In the meantime, the dozen Appalachian gothic songs here will give you goosebumps. A hundred years ago, when the music that inspired this album was the soundtrack to daily life, that life was short and hard and these songs reflect that, even though all but one of them (John the Revelator, reinvented as lush acoustic psychedelia) are originals. To her credit, frontwoman/guitarist Kim Chase doesn’t drawl or otherwise try to countrify the songs: her casual, plaintive unease is plenty bracing. Banjo player Matthew Chase teams up with bassist Colin DeHond, creating a fluid underpinning for Ned P. Rauch’s resonator guitar and mandolin, Liz Bisbee’s violin and Andy Mullen’s accordion.

Inspired by Clint Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales, the opening track, Texas Outlaw spins off the riff from the Stones’ Paint It Black, with some rich harmonies and tense, bluesy violin. One of the few lighthearted moments here, La Fee Verte is a tribute not to absinthe but to the kind of gypsy jazz hole-in-the-wall that might serve it. Prototypical undercover reporter Nellie Bly’s trip to a grisly 19th century New York insane asylum gets immortalized on the richly lyrical, absolutely macabre Blackwell Island, a song that wouldn’t be out of place in the Moonlighters’ catalog. And Faceless Weaver turns a catchy garage rock verse into bluegrass, with a starkly inscrutable lyric and some neat handoffs from one instrument to another.

Rauch sings the blistering, cynically resolute murder ballad Never Lie: “I’m gonna lie my way into heaven when I shoot my way to hell.” Over Your Bones paints a sad, ghostly wartime tableau that could be set in the south in 1864, or in Afghanistan right now. They follow the fiery minor-key instrumental Wolf at the Door with the rousing, Pogues-ish down-and-out chronicle Baltimore, and then Cold Water, which leaps abruptly from hypnotic ambience to rolling, rustic beauty. Convict Grade, a title track of sorts, has the kind of stoic optimism – or at least resolute conviction – that’s found throughout so many rustic tales of hard time. And the most gripping of all the tracks might be the eight-minute epic Eye of the Whale, a surreal, grisly seafaring narrative with a stunner of an ending. There are scores of Americana roots acts with great musical chops and harmonies, and plenty with good original songs and lyrics, but few who combine them with this kind of originality and singleminded intensity. O’Death fans will love this stuff. Frankenpine plays a “steam powered battle of the bands” at Theatre 80 St. Marks on Feb 19.

Advertisements

February 16, 2011 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Album of the Day 12/8/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #783:

Mark Sinnis – The Night’s Last Tomorrow

As the leader of dark, artsy Nashville gothic rockers Ninth House, Mark Sinnis and his ominous baritone have been a forceful presence in the New York music underground since the late 90s. Lately, he’s been devoting as much time to his solo acoustic project, most fully realized with this one, his third solo release, from early 2010. It’s an obscure treasure and it’s probably the best thing he’s ever recorded with any group. This one mixes brand new tracks with a couple of radically reworked Ninth House songs and classic covers. 15 Miles to Hell’s Gate, a not-so-thinly veiled requiem for a New York lost at least for the moment to gentrifiers and class tourists, is a stampeding rockabilly number just a little quieter than the Ninth House version. Likewise, the lyrically rich Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me (which made our Alltime Best 666 Songs list) doesn’t vary much from the original, although the Cure-inflected Quiet Change is….um, quite a change. With a new last verse, Sinnis’ version of Gloomy Sunday leaves no doubt that it’s a suicide song. Likewise, the cover of St. James Infirmary is definitely an obituary, although the Sisters of Mercy’s Nine While Nine is a lot more upbeat, a vividly brooding train station vignette. The catchy, rustically swaying Skeletons and the downright morbid, Johnny Cash-inspired In Harmony wind it up. This is one of those albums that’s too obscure to have made it to the usual share sites, although it is available at shows and at cdbaby.

December 8, 2010 Posted by | lists, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lorraine Leckie Haunts Banjo Jim’s

Lorraine Leckie’s songs have a stylish menace, but they’re more about menace than style. Calling her excellent backup band Her Demons completes the picture – her music mines a rich urban noir vein, equal parts powerpop, Americana and psychedelia, a throwback to a more dangerous era in New York both musically and otherwise. Last night at Banjo Jim’s she treated a packed house to a mix of well-worn crowd-pleasers as well as new material with a similar dark, gritty intensity. Her casual, unaffected vocals took on just the hint of a snarl in places, especially on the bitter 6/8 murder ballad, Hillbilly, where a Mississippi transplant moves into the neighborhood, steals the narrator’s man and ends up paying the ultimate price for it. An anti-trendoid song? Maybe. Although she originally hails from Ontario, Leckie’s Williamsburg roots go back a lot further than the recent infestation of trust-funded posers.

She opened with a swinging, bluesy, phantasmagorically-tinged number possibly titled Everything Goes Wrong, a song that would fit nicely in the Carol Lipnik catalog. Guitarist Hugh Pool – who played inspired, tunefully virtuosic, smartly thought-out fills and riffs all night – kicked off the ominously boogie-flavored party anthem Language of the Night with a train-whistle motif. Alyson Greenfield joined the band on piano on the catchy Ontario: “Drank my last shot of the Ontario sky,” Leckie sang wistfully (they have good whiskey up there). She dedicated a surprisingly upbeat, optimistic solo acoustic song about crackheads in love to filmmaker Clayton Patterson (who was in the audience). The swaying, catchy Paint the Town Red and the Werewolves of London-ish Rainbow ended the set on a high note: they encored with a sultry, noir blues and then an ecstatically resounding version of Nobody’s Girl, a gorgeous paisley underground rock anthem that could be the great lost track from the Dream Syndicate’s first album. Leckie has a new solo cd coming out next month, with a cd release show coming up at the big room at the Rockwood: watch this space.

August 8, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Whispering Tree Waits in the Shadows

Plaintive, moody and often downright haunting, the Whispering Tree’s new cd Go Call the Captain is a strong contender for best debut album of the year. Pianist/frontwoman Eleanor Kleiner’s wary, pensive, unadorned voice makes a potent vehicle for their gothic Americana songs. Many of them are in stately 6/8 time, spaciously and tersely arranged with keyboards, guitar and frequent orchestral flourishes. The title track starts out as a plaintive Applachian ballad but quickly grows to a towering art-rock anthem:

False prophets, liars and thieves rule the world…
Pull the veil down over our eyes
While we frantically follow behind
I’d rather be lost than led by the blind

And unlike a lot of the songs here, it ends on an upbeat note. “We can rule the world,” Kleiner asserts, if we overthrow these monsters. Claustrophobia pervades much of what’s here, both metaphorical and literal, on the fast, oldtimey swing shuffle So Many Things – which Kleiner would gladly toss out the window, to watch them smash on the street and destroy all the memories attached to them – and The Tallest, which laments being surrounded by “rooftops stretching as far as the eye can see.” The bitter ballad Las Vegas has Yoed Nir’s cello combining with Thad Debrock’s pedal steel and Elie Brangbour’s incisive guitar for a bracing, uneasy undercurrent, and maybe the most haunting honkytonk piano solo ever. “Those colored lights they hypnotize,” Kleiner warns.

The late-summer ominousness of Something Might Happen is visceral, crescendoing with a biting guitar solo. The angst reaches breaking point on Soon, the darkest and most intense track here, Kleiner going as high and distressed as she can, the band taking it down and then back up again with a searing, psychedelic interlude. There’s also a pensive, slow number spiced with Beth Meyers’ plaintive violin, a surprisingly jaunty mandolin tune and the apocalyptic closing track, Washed Ashore. Fans of the Handsome Family, Nick Cave, Liz Tormes and Mark Sinnis owe it to themselves to get to know the Whispering Tree.

August 4, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Tim Eriksen – Soul of the January Hills

This is definitely not folk music for the faint of heart, but it’s heaven for fans of gothic Americana. Tim Eriksen is one of the world’s more fearless performers: long admired as a singer, steeped in Americana and particularly the eerie northern New England tradition, the multi-instrumentalist is no stranger to singing a-cappella. What’s most impressive is how this album was made: Eriksen sang all fourteen songs solo with neither band nor instrumentation, in a single take, in a tower along the wall of the Benedictine Abbey in Jaroslaw, Poland. His slightly twangy baritone is a potent instrument, but he doesn’t overdo it: this is an album of interpretations, a voice alone setting and maintaining a mood with the lyrics. Yet it also doesn’t offer the impression that he’s holding anything in reserve, waiting til the end when he knows he can empty the tank and blow out his voice if he wants. And what technique! Eriksen is pitch-perfect, working those blue notes with a sorcerer’s subtlety. Tenacity in the face of hardship, mourning and even gruesomeness is the feeling that links most of the often centuries-old songs here: many of them, even a hymn like Son of God, are absolutely macabre. Most of them are in minor keys; and to Eriksen’s credit, he doesn’t sing them all in the same key. The tension lets up a little at the end of the English folk song Gallows Tree, where the prisoner at the end of the rope is finally rescued as the hangman is paid his bribe (for another, absolutely lights-out solo vocal performance of this song, check out the version on Robin O’Brien’s album The Apple in Man).

By contrast, Eriksen gives the narrator of Drowsy Sleeper – dying of food poisoning – a chance to make a forceful last stand. He works segues between several of the songs so seamlessly that it’s hard to tell when one ends and another begins. A couple of them are traditionally sung by women, but Eriksen pulls them off, notably the ominously gleeful A Soldier Traveling from the North, where the girl begs the traveling soldier not to leave (the implication is that she’s pregnant). Eriksen recasts Amazing Grace as rustic Appalachian folk, and finally lets the clouds dissipate with a rousing, revival camp-style version of Better Days Coming to end the album. This ought to appeal to a wide audience, from fans of groups like the Handsome Family to otherworldly Balkan-Applachian singers Æ.

June 18, 2010 Posted by | folk music, gospel music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Mark Sinnis – The Night’s Last Tomorrow

On the cover of his third solo album, Mark Sinnis, frontman of dark rockers Ninth House stands with his back to the camera, staring into a glaring New York sunset from a rooftop somewhere in Queens. The picture captures the subtext here far less subtly than Sinnis’ songs do: this is a requiem for lost time, lost hopes and by implication a lost time and place. It is a classic of gothic Americana. Richly and masterfully produced, electric guitars, strings, keyboards, lapsteel and accordion weave their way tersely into and out of the mix behind Sinnis’ remarkably nuanced baritone. Sinnis has been a good singer for a long time – he is an extraordinary one here, going down low for Leonard Cohen murk or reaching for Johnny Cash irony. If Ian Curtis had been an American, and he’d lived, he might sound like Sinnis does on this album.

The title track sets the tone for what’s to come, a slow, swaying, sad requiem, Sara Landeau’s sparse tremolo guitar mingling with Lenny Molotov’s lapsteel and Annette Kudrak’s plaintive accordion. It’s utterly hypnotic. The centerpiece of the album, or one of them anyway, is 15 Miles to Hell’s Gate, classic country done chamber goth style:

Fifteen miles to Hell’s Gate
And I’m a thousand miles from home
From New York City

The one that dragged me into a hole
I’m in my own purgatory
Where I pay for my sins each day
And I pay dearly
While my youth slowly slips away

He picks it up a little on the second verse. It’s gently and masterfully orchestrated.

Originally released on Ninth House’s 2000 album Swim in the Silence, the version of Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me [#290 on our 666 Best Songs of Alltime list – Ed.] recasts the song as slow, Leonard Cohen-esque country sway, Sinnis’ pitchblende vocals quite a change from his usual roar when Ninth House plays it live. Fallible Friend, a catalog of failure and deceit, goes for a dusky southwestern feel capped by Ninth House guitarist Keith Otten’s perfecly minimalist fills. An understatedly desperate account of a drunk driver just trying to get home in one piece, Follow the Line takes on a hallucinatory, wee hours feel with Kudrak’s swirling accordion front and center – when Sinnis finally cuts loose and belts on the second verse, she’s there to calm him down. The Fever (not the Peggy Lee standard) could be a John Lennon song, a bitter metaphorically charged tale of alienation and rebellion.

Of the other originals here, wobbling funeral parlor organ makes the perfect final touch on the brooding Skeletons. Scars is gospel as the Velvet Underground might have done it, Out of Reach transformed from its original electric menace to haunting death-chamber pop with Ninth House keyboardist Matt Dundas’ piano and stark cello from star New York string multistylist Susan Mitchell. There’s also the ghoulish country shuffle In Harmony, the uncharacteristically sunny Quiet Change, and the album’s last song, a death-fixated, quite possibly sarcastic gospel clapalong. The covers are also terrifically inventive: Nine While Nine captures the song’s grim grey tube train platform ambience far better than Sisters of Mercy ever did, Otten perfectly nailing the menace of the song’s simple hook; St. James Infirmary rips the deathmask off the song’s inner goth, lapsteel pairing off warily against tense piano; and Gloomy Sunday gets a new final verse from Sinnis, who leaves not the slightest doubt as to what that one’s about.

Sinnis’ first solo album Into an Unhidden Future was a treat for Ninth House fans, a diverse, often radically rearranged acoustic mix of hits and rarities. His second, A Southern Tale was more country-oriented and surprisingly more upbeat. This is the best of them, in fact arguably the best thing that Sinnis has ever recorded. Mark Sinnis plays Otto’s on May 16 at 11, with a date at Small Beast at the Delancey coming up in July.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Sound of the Blue Heart – Wind of Change

Most goth albums are pretty boring – once you’ve heard one Sisters of Mercy album, you’ve pretty much heard them all. Sound of the Blue Heart’s new album Wind of Change is aptly titled – it’s a chronicle of a breakup, with predictably disheartening results. Frontman Johnny Indovina sings in the doomed, I-could-kill-myself-at-any-minute baritone that’s everwhere in goth music (and reaches overkill awfully fast), but the music here transcends cliche. Spiked with incisive, imaginatively bluesy lead guitar over alternately lush and stark atmospherics, there are echoes of Pink Floyd as well as the Alan Parsons Project in their artsiest moments, along with the usual black-robed suspects. Some of this also evokes the quieter side of long-running New York Americana goth band Ninth House.

It’s a familiar story – the poor alienated protagonist tries to make it all by himself, but he can’t escape falling under The Spell, which is insistent but then gives way to a strikingly swoopy slide guitar on the break. By the second track he’s been poisoned for good, and as Indovina makes all too clear, “the poison stays.” This one is an interestingly funky minor-key song with big, catchy harmonies on the chorus, a meditation on the dichotomy of life and death. By the third track, he knows he should Run for Cover but he doesn’t – this pretty, organ-fueled backbeat ballad is essentially Memphis soul gone goth, a strange blend of soul warmth and gothic chill.

The title track – “Jealous of those with time to spend” – reverts to a goth-funk feel with electric piano and watery chorus-box guitar. As its ominous refrain reminds, hope is always elusive. The following track, Never is a dismissal/repudiation of a tortured past with echoes of Floyd: “Just close your door, I’ll go away.” By now, it’s obvious that none of this is going to end well. Violet’s Wish, a swinging, swaying blues ballad makes clear that the love interest here has one foot out the door: “She plays the song that takes her away.” The requiem begins with the ornate, 6/8 anthem Once Stood Love which with its fretless bass manages to maintain suspense despite an album’s worth of foreshadowing. And then everything comes crashing down with the vivid art-rock ballad The Arms of Yesterday, its mellotron wind arrangement evoking the Strawbs circa Grave New World, grief-stricken narrator losing himself in memories as the sun goes down. This is where the original songs on the album should end, although they don’t. The album winds up with a surprisingly good goth cover of Dylan’s It’s All Over Now Baby Blue – incongruous, maybe, with all that 1980s chorus-box guitar, but you can’t say it’s not original. For all we know – it’s been awhile since we made it out to Goth Night – this band could be huge with that crowd, and for that matter Sound of the Blue Heart ought to resonate with anyone who likes anthemic, artsy songcraft.

January 3, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 5/25/09

We do this every week. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Every link here will take you to each individual song.

 

1. The New Collisions – Beautiful and Numb

80s new wave updated with a savagely smart edge for the end of the zeros, a slap at GenY complacency. From their excellent new ep. Boston fans can see their cd release show on at TT Bear’s on 5/29.

 

2. Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear – Ayn Rand Sucks

Did you know the dead right-wing fag hag has her own facebook page? LOL taken to a new level.  “She’s just another Nazi skank.”

 

3. Barbez – Strange

Sounds just like Bee & Flower – slow dirge, quiet then loud again, with a big organ crescendo. They’re at le Poisson Rouge in August.

 

4. Laura MacLean – Prescription for Pain

Blue eyed soul siren leading a janglerock band – a particularly relevant update on Mother’s Little Helper for the zeros. She’s at Banjo Jim’s on 6/14 at 8.

 

5. Freylekh Jamboree – Kojak Cecek

Balkan brass from Japan – as ghetto as you could possibly be! As good as another excellent rousing version by the Stagger Back Brass Band.

 

6. The A Team – Girlfriend Like Big Papi

Funny funk song. Does this mean she’s suddenly lost her stroke…or that her wrist is still bothering her?  

 

7. School of Seven Bells – Cabal

Like the first Lush album – female-fronted dreampop with a hypnotic Indian edge. They’re at Bowery Ballroom on 6/12.  

 

8. Satoko Kajita – Summertime

Sanshin (3-stringed Okinawan lute) player. Lyrics in Japanese and English. Who says minimalists can’t swing!

 

9. Extra Golden – Thank You Very Quickly

Brisk guitar-driven Kenyan-American psychedelic dance-pop

 

10. Cady Wire – Crown Vic

Gothic Americana nocturne – slow, atmospheric, genuinely haunting.

May 26, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Erin Regan and Mark Sinnis at Spike Hill, Brooklyn NY 8/24/08

Playing solo acoustic, Erin Regan turned in a riveting set of stark, bleak, clear-eyed, tersely imagistic tales of life on the fringes. Suicide, divorce, poverty, alienation and despair figure heavily in her songs, delivered with a calm assurance over fluidly fingerpicked guitar. But she’s less Tom Waits than Barbara Ehrenreich, vividly evoking the desolate stripmall hell that lies beyond the yuppies in the exurbs, that the media pretends doesn’t exist. Her characters drive around aimlessly, contemplate petty crime, casually disrespect each other and seem mostly to have given up completely. But just when it seemed that this was her defining style, she flipped the script with a jaunty ragtime song that wouldn’t be out of place in the Moonlighters catalog, sung with a remarkably jazzy panache. Keep your eye on her: if word of her spreads among the kids she chronicles, she will be very popular. She’s playing Sidewalk on Sept 4 at 11.

 

Mark Sinnis’ long-running band Ninth House has been through several incarnations and is currently going through yet another: an educated guess has them mixing the artsy, Psychedelic Furs-ish, 80s vein they were mining about eight years ago with the guitar-stoked Nashville gothic material they’ve been playing lately. Playing solo, he’s invented his own genre: gothic country lounge. Casually fingerpicking his acoustic guitar and backed by Brunch of the Living Dead’s Sara Landeau playing eerie, reverberating, minimalist Twin Peaks lead guitar, Sinnis held the audience captive with a mix of new material and often drastically reworked versions of Ninth House songs. For a guy, he’s a terrific song stylist (why are women so much better singers than the men these days? Blame it on Nirvana?), especially when he doesn’t have to roar over a loud band. If he liked jazz, he’d be good at it. Among the highlights of the set: the opener, a haunting, Tom Waits-inflected minor-key blues perhaps titled There’s No Heaven, another darkly existential ballad on the same theme that appeared later on and a slowly unwinding version of the Ninth House country-goth ballad Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me. If Nick Cave is too pricy for you, Sinnis makes a good substitute.

August 25, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment