Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Halloween Makes an Early Appearance at Merkin Concert Hall

Last night at Merkin Concert Hall was a gleefully fun and surprisingly nuanced concert of Halloweenish orchestral works that transcended being pigeonholed as such. Sure, it was impossible not be drawn into the fun as conductor/composer Charles Coleman scrunched his face into a triumphant, “yessssss!” expression as he signaled a series of macabre, pulsing tritones from the violins as the world premiere of his symphonic poem Carmilla for String Orchestra got underway. But there was plenty of subtlety and sophistication that tends to get trampled in this kind of music: while there was an abundance of menace on the program, it never really went over the edge into grand guignol.

Anchored by heavy washes of bass and cello, the piece quickly shifted into more plaintively neoromantic territory before hitting a hypnotic, rhythmically minimalist coda that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Julia Wolfe catalog. The full orchestra followed with William Maselli‘s deliciously fun Visions of Sabbath, a mashup of classic Black Sabbath themes. How familiar the ensemble members were with the source material became obvious in an instant, from who was dealing with it like any other task, and who couldn’t resist a grin. One of the bassists and a violist in particular were having a ball with the artful interweave of motives: the signature chromatic theme that opens the band’s first album; riffs galore from Electric Funeral and War Pigs,and a playfully blustery arrangement of the verse from Iron Man, to name a few. And when they reached the point where one of the clarinets voiced a couple of Ozzy lines from The Wizard, pretty much everybody was cracking up. “This initial effort may well be expanded on in the future,” the program notes hinted. Bring it on!

The final work was Maselli’s two-act opera Draculette. It’s a highly thought out piece of music, and it was well executed. Bloodily surreal as the storyline is, there was less bombast than expected. Maselli’s main themes developed out of a cinematic progression of the utmost simplicity that rose and fell with a Moussorgsky-esque unease, punctuated by several more bittersweet interludes, a couple veering into lively, carefree Italianate operatic territory, others with a vividly anthemic art-song quality that reminded of Elvis Costello at his most ornate. Did Maselli immerse himself in a Prokofiev opera before tackling this? That wouldn’t be a surprise.

Coloratura soprano Olga Zhuravel sang the lead role, holding the center with a fang-baring luridness. High soprano Micaela Oeste got less time in the spotlight but made the most of it: one particular spine-tingling, stratospheric, chromatic phrase of hers was worth the price of admission alone. The guys – baritones Brad Cresswell and Kevin Glavin, and tenor John Bellemer – were given goofier roles and thus less opportunity to explore as much emotional terrain as the women. Which made sense considering the storyline: unsympathetic characters are easier to kill off. In the spaces between, brief solos made their way cleverly and purposefully throughout the orchestra: Tomina Parvanova’s harp, BJ Karpen’s oboe and Allyson Clare’s viola in particular were standouts. Meanwhile, a series of microphones hung overhead: if the engineers soundchecked this right, the orchestra and singers got a dandy live recording out of it.

Advertisements

October 5, 2014 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/29/11

Pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album was #489:

Bee & Flower – What’s Mine Is Yours

The New York/Berlin band’s 2004 debut is a stark, often haunting mix of stately, slow-to-midtempo art-rock songs: some of them dirges, some more atmospheric, with slight variations on frontwoman/bassist Dana Schechter’s various shades of grey. The catchy, relentless opening track I Know Your Name sets the tone, followed by the aptly titled, glimmering Twin Stars and the menacing funeral processional Wounded Walking. The pastoral Carpenter’s Fern is as light as it gets here; On the Mouth the most upbeat, which is not really a lot. There’s also the sardonic Let It Shine and then anthemic, Joy Division-tinged closing cut, This Time. Everything else the band has released since then is worth a listen; here’s a random torrent via My Melomania. The album is still available from the band.

September 30, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/12/11

Every day with rare exceptions (like yesterday), our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #505:

The Very Best Of Marlene Dietrich

42 tracks from the prototypical world-weary chanteuse, goth girl and lesbian icon, 1930 through the late 50s. As you would expect, there are a million Dietrich anthologies out there, and pretty much anything she did in German before 1940 is worth a listen. We chose this one because A) it’s downloadable and B) it’s a good mix of both the teutonic and the American stuff. It wouldn’t be here if it didn’t have Lili Marlene and My Blue Heaven; it’s also got Ich bin die fesche Lola, and its American translation; Nimm dich in acht vor blonden Frauen (and Blonde Women); Das Lied is aus; the amusing German version of Miss Otis Regrets, Mein Mann ist verhindert; along with risque American dancehall stuff like The Boys in the Back Room, Makin’ Whoopee and You’re the Cream in My Coffee. If you think this is all camp, give a listen: it’s actually pretty creepy. Nico couldn’t have existed without her. Here’s a random torrent.

September 12, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/24/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown is supposed to continue all the way to #1. We should be caught up by the end of today; after all, when a terrible, apocalyptic hurricane strikes, there’s nothing else to do but blog, right?  Wednesday’s album was #524:

Black Fortress of Opium’s first album

Led by a charismatic multi-instrumentalist who goes by Ajda the Turkish Queen, the Boston noir rockers’ 2008 debut alternates between assaultive, noir anthems and more hypnotic but equally dark stuff. Martin Bisi’s raw yet rich production blends layer upon layer of reverb guitar in with Ajda’s mandolin, banjo, wind instruments and “field recordings,” creating an irresistible sonic tar pit. The gothic-titled House of Edward Devotion sets the stage for what’s to come with its eerie overtones, the melody only baring its fangs in the quietest moments, followed by the savage Black Rope Burns. The most stunning moment here is the seven-minute Ari (dedicated to the son Nico had with Alain Delon) with its ferocious sheets of distorted slide guitar and an earth-shattering plummet into the abyss at the end. There’s also the wistful Crack + Pool and its reprise; the Nina Nastasia-esque Twelve Gross; the jarringly percussive Your Past; the sad, sarcastic lament Model Café; the sultry, bluesy soul ballad From a Woman to a Man and the trance-inducing, ominous, nine-minute Dulcet TV. Most of this is streaming at the band’s myspace; AWOL from the sharelockers, it’s still available at cdbaby.

August 27, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 7/19/11

Off our home turf again, back on the road: but this time it’s all business. Lots of new stuff coming tomorrow. In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #560:

Siouxsie & the Banshees – Join Hands

Over the course of their long career, Siouxsie & the Banshees have pushed the envelope with punk rock, goth, psychedelia and gamelan-inspired experimental sounds. This 1979 album, their second, is where Siouxsie Sioux crystallized her inimitable microtonal vocal style, along with her outraged-witness persona. Side one of this album follows a loosely thematic World War I theme, beginning with the acidic, atonal Poppy Day (sort of a punk version of the famous antiwar poem In Flanders Field). Guitarist John McKay hits his chords like he’s swinging a machete, through the scorching Regal Zone and Placebo Effect, while bassist Steven Severin’s minimalist chords fuel the fires in the savagely menacing Icon (which kicks off with the distant rumble of cannon fire). Premature Burial is as morbidly memorable as the band ever got; Playground Twist a vivid look at the cruelty children inflict on each other; Mother, a horror-movie music-box theme. The album ends with the eleven-minute, dadaist sacrilege of The Lord’s Prayer, originally done by Sid Vicious’ first band the Flowers of Romance. It’s most likely the only instance ever where anyone called Muhammad Ali a “fucking dick” on vinyl. Here’s a random torrent.

July 19, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 7/11/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #568:

Sally Norvell – Choking Victim

Recorded in an old church in Northhampton, Massachusetts, this 2002 noir classic pairs off cult heroine Norvell’s icy/sultry vocals with Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch’s plaintive, haunting, reverb-drenched piano. The pitch-black intensity never lets up, through the Marlene Dietrich-ish gothic waltz Blake in the Cake; the seductive Brecht/Weill-tinged One Gentle Thing; Big Louise, a sad ballad for an aging party animal; the blackly sardonic AIDS-era memoir November; the self-explanatory Goodbye Song; the gleefully opiated wee-hours madness of Murder, as well as a hypnotic setting of a Paul Bowles poem, Tom Waits’ Please Call Me, Baby done as noir cabaret, and the Appalachian gothic ballad Forgotten and Abandoned done as straight-up, creepy neoclassical. Surprisingly, it ends on a very funny note (alluded to by the album cover), complete with a deadpan, amusing cameo from Norvell’s old bandmate Kid Congo Powers, with whom she recorded more rock-oriented versions of some of these songs. This one’s very hard to find. The sharelockers have nothing; once in awhile copies will turn up in the used bins – check your local used record store, if one still exists.

July 11, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Mystery Girl Strikes Again

One of the most highly anticipated albums so far this year, Marissa Nadler’s magical new self-titled one exceeds all expectations: it’s arguably her best, not bad for someone who’s quietly and methodically been making great records since the mid-zeros. It’s always interesting to see how artists perceive themselves: Nadler’s bandcamp site is modestly tagged “Americana country dreampop folk shoegaze Boston.” All of that is true. Add to that “mysterious, allusive and unselfconsciously haunting” and you get a good idea of what Nadler is all about. This album’s considerably more country-flavored, more direct than opaque, less goth (although she still wants to be someone’s Alabaster Queen – that’s track number two), and a lot more emotionally diverse than her previous work: her dark vision allows for a little more sunlight this time out.

Her voice is as inimitable as always: stately and distantly wary, the perfect vehicle for the casual menace and macabre in her richly imagistic narratives. She doesn’t waste words, or notes, or ideas, leaving a lot open to interpretation as she always does, which is her strongest suit. Her songs draw you in, make you wonder what happened to the bear in his lair (track one, nimbly fingerpicked acoustic guitar mingling with reverb-drenched electric guitar echoes and a hypnotic whoosh of cymbals), or who the hell Marie and Justin are in the inscrutably bitter Mr. John Lee Revisited, and why he should care that Marie has a daughter now in another city and Justin is somewhere else.

The centerpiece here is the strikingly ornate, lush anthem Baby I Will Leave You in the Morning, countrypolitan as seen through the prism of ELO, maybe. “When I return promise I will hold you in my palm…sing this song and keep you like a bomb,” Nadler promises. Cali doesn’t do it for her, New York either – and then she she realizes she’s made a mistake. Nadler reprises that artsy country sound even more powerfully a bit later on, with the sad ballad In a Magazine, a requiem of sorts for a fallen idol lowlit with what sounds like an Omnichord synthesizer. The darkest song here is Wind Up Doll, an eerily metaphorical folk-rock shuffle about a war widow – or maybe her ghost. Puppet Master, which precedes it, is much the same musically and considerably more surreal, the girl/puppet wishing fervently for the guy who pulled her strings to return.

The most ethereal of the tracks is Wedding, a 6/8 country song that’s more of a wake than a celebration. Driven by terse gospel piano and soaring steel guitar, the most country-flavored song here is The Sun Always Reminds Me of You, its elegaic lyric contrasting with the warmly bucolic arrangement. Little King is a metaphorically-charged gem, chronicling what seems to be the would-be seduction of a young tyrant. The album closes with its most haunting track, Daisy Where Did You Go. “With my phantom limb and my eerie hymns, there are two of us here I know,” Nadler intones, a ghost in search of another who might have made it to a place somewhat better than limbo. You’ll see this one high up on our best albums of the year list in December. Marissa Nadler plays the Mercury on July 27.

June 16, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vespertina Kills the Lights on the Bowery

In their New York debut at Bowery Poetry Club last night, Vespertina took the stage late. Was there an equipment malfunction? No, their string quartet were busy putting on their masks: evil, feline, woodland sprite faces. Frontwoman Lorrie Doriza went without one, as did her collaborator, a producer who goes by the name of Stoupe (from brilliant, socially aware hip-hop group Jedi Mind Tricks), standing to her left running ominous, lushly orchestrated backing tracks that sounded like something off a Wu-tang record circa 1996. There is no band in the world who sound anything like them, nor was there any respite from the intensity in their 45 minutes onstage. Doriza has one of those voices that comes along every ten years or so: from the point of view of someone who saw Neko Case in 1999 and Amanda Palmer a year later, she’s in the same league. There are other singers who have an equally impressive range, or an upper register just as powerful, but the most impressive thing about what she did is that she didn’t lapse into a single cliche all night. As the strings and the loops blended into a horror-film backdrop, the gleeful menace, and wounded angst, and rage, and sultriness in Doriza’s voice was so real it was scary. If those are characters she plays, she owns them.

Those girls are tortured. They want one thing, and that’s escape, beginning with the Girl in the Basement, the twisted waltz (and first single off the band’s new album The Waiting Wolf) that opened the show. That set the stage for the rest of the set. The only respite from the macabre was the closing number, a lushly arranged goodnight song that wouldn’t be out of place in the Abby Travis catalog, which relented just a little. Otherwise, the minor-key menace would not let up, and they managed to maintain the suspense because Doriza wouldn’t go completely over the top. When finally, finally, she let out a scream, it was a little one. Of course the laptop guy looped it and sent it back into the mix, echoing over and over – but in the distance, which made it all the more disturbing. One of the early songs in the set began like an aria, but quickly backed off. “Take me out,” Doriza implored – not on a date, one assumes. “She’ll be knocking down your door, burning down your home…nothing like a woman scorned,” she sang coldbloodedly on a tango-tinged song a bit later on.

The next number – like most of them, set to a prerecorded trip-hop beat – began with “You’ve been having trouble sleeping” and by the second verse it was “You’re having trouble breathing.” After that, the band got all atmospheric and trippy, slowly emerging from the abyss into a stately 6/8 anthem: “I’m not stupid – I just don’t care,” Doriza sang, desperate yet nonchalant. “You can’t escape me,” was the next song’s mantra, followed by “I’m running out of patience.” During the early part of the show, the string arrangements were too low in the mix; when they came up about a third of the way into the show, it was obvious how they’d been assembled to provide an artful lead track of sorts over the stuff that was in the can, which the ensemble delivered seamlessly yet emphatically beneath Doriza’s wounded wail. Count this as one of the best concerts of 2011, hands down – if the album is anything like this, it must be amazing. They’re playing the one town on Long Island that suits them best – Amityville – on May 29 at a place called Ollie’s Point.

May 12, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Clara Engel’s Madagascar EP Is Dark and Intense

Canadian songwriter Clara Engel has a new ep out on Vox Humana, on vinyl, one of the best small-size collections to come over the transom here in recent months. You can also stream the tracks or download at their bandcamp site. The first cut, Blind Me begins with a moody stark minor-key guitar intro and becomes a darkly swaying folk pop anthem in 6/8 time, in a Marissa Nadler vein. Engel’s voice is sort of a cross between Penelope Houston and Patti Smith, with a pure, unaffected clarity that’s scary by itself, never mind the lyrics. The song gently picks up with smoldering, terse electric guitar and an ethereal choir. There’s a recurrent theme of “bloody echoes from the walls of this prison” – offhandedly lurid and compelling. The lurid factor picks up on the second track, Madagascar, seductive yet menacing, drummer Paul Kolinski building the ambience with some marvelous mallet work, Nicholas Buligan’s trumpet fluttering in occasionally as Engel’s guitar adds intensity. The third track, Accompanied by Dreams, from Engel’s album The Bethlehem Tapes, is just guitar, voice and Taylor Galassi’s cello, an imploring mini-epic that wouldn’t have been out of place on one of those great Penelope Houston albums from the early 90s. “Do I have to wait for another lifetime?” Engel asks plaintively. She’s also offering an excellent free download: Lick My Fins is noir cabaret with a stark, Creatures-style arrangement heavy on the drums, light on the shadowy orchestration. All of this is good stuff, reason to look forward to more in the future

May 9, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 5/4/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #636:

The Jesus & Mary Chain – Darklands

Angst-ridden atheist post-Velvets powerpop from 1986. It’s the only really solid album the band ever did, a template they tried to fit into many times afterward without nearly as much success. Much as the idea of putting an album by a rock band propelled by a drum machine on this list is pretty abhorrent, it’s hard to argue with the catchy death-obsessed title track, or the stark, gorgeously bitter defiance of Deep One Perfect Morning, the strongest song here. There’s also the hook-driven, overcast goth-pop of Happy When It Rains and April Skies; the brisk, stomping Down on Me; the Stoogoid garage-punk of Fall; the poppiest number here, Cherry Came Too and a couple of impressively successful attempts at ethereal grandeur, Nine Million Rainy Days and About You. Here’s a random torrent.

May 4, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment