Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Piñataland Release Their Best Album This August 26

Over the years, Brooklyn “historical orchestrette” Piñataland has staked out an elegantly manicured piece of turf as purveyors of an inimitable brand of historically aware, hyper-literate chamber pop. Their new album Hymns for the Dreadful Night – streaming in its entirety online – is their hardest-rocking effort to date, their least opaque and by far their best. Their previous one Songs for a Forgotten Future, Vol. 2 contemplated a Manhattan without humans, and the still-smoldering ghost town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, among other places. This one skips in a heartbeat from the American Revolution (a recurrent milieu) to various eras of New York, across the country and back again. The driving rhythm section of Ross Bonadonna on bass and Bill Gerstel on drums give the louder songs here a mighty majesty – there are plenty of warmly inviting string-driven pop bands out there, nobody who attacks those songs with as much verve as Piñataland. Violinist Deni Bonet is a one-woman orchestra, showing off sizzling Balkan, country and classical chops, frequently contrasting with Dave Wechsler’s pensive, rain-drenched piano and organ.

The title track, which opens the album, is exactly as advertised, a gospel prelude of sorts. From there they leap into Island of Godless Men, a bouncy fiddle-driven Irish rock tune a la Black 47 with a clever trick ending and then a delirious reel to finish it off. An American Man is like Mumford & Sons on steroids, a rousing homage to Thomas Paine delivered via a team of archeologists (or graverobbers?) gone out into the darkness to find his grave.

A violin-fueled anger drives The Death of Silas Deane, which commemorates the Continental Congress’ first ambassador to France, later brought down (and possibly murdered) in the wake of an embezzlement scandal of which he was quite possibly innocent (and was officially exonerated, forty years after his death). “Let my reputation crawl through the mud of this unforgiving land,” the onetime Revolutionary hero rails at the end. The real classic here is a country song, Oppie Struck a Match, which recasts the detonation of the first atom bomb as the creepy tale of a rainmaker in a small town fifty years previously. Gerald Menke’s dobro ripples blithely as singer Doug Stone recalls the dreadful moment where Robert Oppenheimer, the “master from the other side” gave the order: “Will he open a cage to a heavenly age or set the skies onfire?”

The rest of the album is more allusive. Robin Aigner, who lights up many of these songs with her harmonies, knocks one out of the park with her lead vocal on the lush countrypolitan shuffle Border Guard, and plays her cameos to the hilt against Menke’s big-sky pedal steel whine on Hiawatha, a surreal, theatrical cross-country radio dial epic. The most chilling song on the album, musically at least, is The Oldest Band in Town, a bitter, Balkan-flavored requiem set in a Lower Bowery of the mind. The album closes with the towering, bittersweet, death-fixated anthem Cemetery Mink. Pinataland play the album release for this one this Friday the 26th at Barbes at 11; another first-class tunesmith, Greta Gertler kicks things off at 10.

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August 24, 2011 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Universal Thump Get One Step Closer to a Classic

One segment at a time, art-rock keyboardist/songwriter Greta Gertler’s latest project, the Universal Thump has been releasing their lush, gorgeous debut album. The first installment featured epic, sweepingly orchestrated ballads along with a droll cover of the Australian Crawl hit Reckless and the bouncy Martin’s Big Night Out, one of Gertler’s older songs. This latest installment, Chapter Two continues the blend of fun and finesse.

The first track, Honey Beat, is a richly orchestrated janglerock hit, sort of like an anatomically correct version of something from REM’s Reveal album. Gertler has never sung better – her nonchalantly sultry high soprano is impossible to turn away from. And the guitar solo into violin solo back into the guitar solo is irresistible, like the Church doing ELO.

To the Border (Wild Raspberries) alternates a stately, somewhat solemn anthem with a playful, coyly vivid motif first carried by the string section and later the woodwinds; it’s a sexy allusion. ELO is even more vividly referenced on the absolutely delightful Opening Night, which could be the long lost sequel to The Way Life’s Meant To Be, complete with baritone guitar solo and tongue-in-cheek, carnivalesque keyboard patches and sound effects. And is that a sample of whale song at the end of the long, psychedelic outro? This section of the album winds up with The Last Time, a slow stately piano/organ march, Kate Bush as done by Procol Harum. If the rest of the album is anything like this, you’ll see the whole thing on our 1000 Best Albums of All Time list. It’s available at the Universal Thump’s bandcamp site.

March 7, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 20 Best New York Area Concerts of 2010

This is the list we like best for so many reasons. When we founded this blog in 2007, live music was our raison d’etre, and after all that time it’s still the biggest part of the picture here. While along with just about everyone else, our 100 Best Albums of 2010 and 100 Best Songs of 2010 lists have strayed further and further from what the corporate media and their imitators consider the “mainstream,” this is still our most personal list. As the year blusters to a close, between all of us here, we’ve seen around 250 concerts – the equivalent of maybe 25% of the shows on a single night here in New York. And the ones we saw are vastly outnumbered by the ones we wanted to see but didn’t. The Undead Jazz Festival, where all the cheesy Bleecker Street clubs suddenly became home to a horde of jazz legends and legends-to-be? We were out of town. We also missed this year’s Gypsy Tabor Festival way out in Gerritsen Beach, choosing to spend that weekend a little closer to home covering punk rock on the Lower East, latin music at Lincoln Center and oldschool soul in Williamsburg. We worked hard to cast a wide net for all the amazing shows that happened this year. But there’s no way this list could be anything close to definitive. Instead, consider this a sounding, a snapshot of some of the year’s best moments in live music, if not all of them. Because it’s impossible to rank these shows in any kind of order, they’re listed chronologically:

The Disclaimers at Spike Hill, 1/2/10 – that such a potently good band, with two charismatic frontwomen and so many catchy, dynamic soul-rock songs, could be so ignored by the rest of the New York media and blogs speaks for itself. On one of the coldest nights of the year, they turned in one of the hottests sets.

Jenifer Jackson at Banjo Jim’s, 1/21/10 – on a welcome if temporary stay from her native Austin, the incomparably eclectic, warmly cerebral tunesmith assembled a killer trio band and ripped joyously through a diverse set of Beatlesque pop, Americana and soul songs from throughout her career.

Gyan Riley and Chicha Libre at Merkin Concert Hall, 2/4/10 – Terry Riley’s guitarist kid opened with ambient, sometimes macabre soundscapes, followed by the world’s most entertaining retro 70s Peruvian surf band synching up amusingly and plaintively with two Charlie Chaplin films. Silent movie music has never been so fun or so psychedelic.

The New York Scandia String Symphony at Victor Borge Hall, 2/11/10 – the Scandia’s mission is to expose American audiences to obscure classical music from Scandinavia, a cause which is right up our alley. On a bitter, raw winter evening, their chamber orchestra sold out the house and turned in a frenetically intense version of Anders Koppel’s new Concerto Piccolo featuring hotshot accordionist Bjarke Mogensen, a deviously entertaining version of Frank Foerster’s Suite for Scandinavian Folk Tunes, and more obscure but equally enlightening pieces.

Masters of Persian Music at the Skirball Center, 2/18/10 – Kayhan Kalhor, Hossein Alizadeh and their ensemble improvised their way through an often wrenchingly powerful, climactic show that went on for almost three hours.

The Greenwich Village Orchestra playing Prokofiev and Shostakovich, 2/21/10 – like the Scandia, this well-loved yet underexposed ensemble plays some of the best classical concerts in New York, year after year. This was typical: a playful obscurity by Rienhold Gliere, and subtle, intuitive, deeply felt versions of Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto along with Shostakovich’s dread-filled Fifth Symphony.

Charles Evans and Neil Shah at the Hudson View Lounge, 2/28/10 – February was a great month for us for some reason. Way uptown, baritone saxophonist Evans and pianist Shah turned in a relentlessly haunting, powerful duo performance of brooding, defly improvisational third-stream jazz.

AE at the Delancey, 3/8/10 – pronounced “ash,” Eva Salina Primack and Aurelia Shrenker’s innovative duo vocal project interpolates Balkan folk music with traditional Appalachian songs, creating all kinds of unexpectedly powerful connections between two seemingly disparate styles. They went in and found every bit of longing, intensity and exquisite joy hidden away in the songs’ austere harmonies and secret corners.

Electric Junkyard Gamelan at Barbes, 3/20/10 – most psychedelic show of the year, bar none. Terry Dame’s hypnotic group play homemade instruments made out of old dryer racks, rubber bands of all sizes, trash cans and more – in a marathon show that went almost two hours, they moved from gamelan trip-hop to rap to mesmerizing funk.

Peter Pierce, Erica Smith, Rebecca Turner, Paula Carino, the Larch, Solar Punch, Brute Force, Tom Warnick & the World’s Fair, the John Sharples Band, the Nopar King and Out of Order at the Full Moon Resort in Big Indian, NY, 4/10/10 – this one’s the ringer on the list. We actually listed a total of 21 concerts on this page because even though this one was outside of New York City, it’s as good a choice as any for best show of the year, anywhere. In order of appearance: janglerock; haunting solo acoustic Americana; country soul; more janglerock; lyrical retro new wave; jamband music; a theatrical 60s survivor and writer of novelty songs; a catchy, charismatic noir rocker; a band that specializes in obscure rock covers; soul/funk, and an amazing all-female noiserock/punk trio to wind up twelve hours of music. And that was just one night of the festival.

Rev. Billy & the Life After Shopping Gospel Choir at Highline Ballroom, 4/18/10 – an ecstatic, socially conscious 25-piece choir, soul band and a hilarious frontman who puts his life on the line every time out protesting attacks on our liberty. This time out the cause was to preserve mountaintop ecosystems, and the people around them, in the wake of ecologically dangerous stripmining.

The Big Small Beast: Spottiswoode, Barbez, Little Annie and Paul Wallfisch, Bee & Flower and Botanica at the Orensanz Center, 5/21/10 – this was Small Beast taken to its logical extreme. In the weeks before he abandoned this town for Dortmund, Germany, Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch – creator of the Monday night Small Beast dark rock night at the Delancey – assembled the best dark rock night of the year with a mini-set from lyrical rocker Spottiswoode, followed by amazingly intricate gypsy-tinged instrumentals, Little Annie’s hilarious poignancy, and smoldering, intense sets from Bee & Flower and his own band.

The Grneta Duo+ at Bechstein Hall, 5/27/10 – Balkan clarinet titans Vasko Dukovski and Ismail Lumanovski joined with adrenalinista pianist Alexandra Joan for a gripping, fascinating performance of Bartok, Sarasate, Mohammed Fairouz and a clarinet duel that stunned the crowd.

The Brooklyn What at Trash, 5/28/10 – New York’s most charismatically entertaining rock band, whose monthly Saturday show here is a must-see, roared through a characteristically snarling, snidely funny set of mostly new material – followed by Tri-State Conspiracy, the popular, noirish ska band whose first few minutes were amazing. Too bad we had to leave and take a drunk person home at that point.

The New Collisions at Arlene’s, 7/1/10 – Boston’s best rock band unveiled a darker, more powerpop side, segueing into one killer song after another just a couple of months prior to releasing their stupendously good second album, The Optimist.

Martin Bisi, Humanwine and Marissa Nadler at Union Pool, 7/2/10 – darkly psychedelic bandleader Bisi spun a swirling, hypnotic, roaring set, followed by Humanwine’s savagely tuneful attack on post-9/11 paranoia and then Nadler’s pensively captivating solo acoustic atmospherics.

Maynard & the Musties, Me Before You, the Dixons and the Newton Gang at Urban Meadow in Red Hook, 7/10/10 – the one Brooklyn County Fair show we managed to catch this year was outdoors, the sky over the waterfront a venomous black. We lasted through a spirited attempt by the opening band to overcome some technical difficulties, followed by rousing bluegrass from Me Before You, the twangy, period-perfect 1964 Bakersfield songwriting and playing of the Dixons and the ferocious paisley underground Americana rock of the Newton Gang before the rains hit and everybody who stayed had to go indoors to the Jalopy to see Alana Amram & the Rough Gems and others.

The Universal Thump at Barbes, 7/16/10 – amazingly eclectic pianist Greta Gertler and her new chamber pop band, accompanied by a string quartet, played a lushly gorgeous set of unpredictable, richly tuneful art-rock.

Etran Finatawa, los Straitjackets and the Asylum Street Spankers at Lincoln Center, 8/1/10 – bad segues, great show, a perfect way to slowly return to reality from the previous night’s overindulgence. Niger’s premier desert blues band, the world’s most popular second-generation surf rockers and then the incomparably funny, oldtimey Spankers – playing what everybody thought would be their final New York concert – made it a Sunday to remember.

Elvis Costello at the Greene Space, 11/1/10 – as far as NYC shows went, this was the best one we saw, no question – along with maybe 150-200 other people, max. Backed by his most recent band the Sugarcanes, Costello fielded questions from interviewer Leonard Lopate with a gleeful defiance and played a ferociously lyrical, assaultively catchy set of songs from his latest classic album, National Ransom

Zikrayat, Raquy & the Cavemen and Copal at Drom, 11/4/10 – slinky, plaintive Levantine anthems and Mohammed Abdel Wahab classics from Egyptian film music revivalists Zikrayat, amazingly original, potent Turkish-flavored rock and percussion music from Raquy & the Cavemen and then Copal’s trance-inducing string band dancefloor grooves.

December 27, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, country music, folk music, gospel music, gypsy music, latin music, lists, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elizabeth and the Catapult Make Smart Popular Again

In case you need even further evidence that there’s a mass audience for pop music that’s not stupid, the response to this album is proof. Elizabeth and the Catapult’s new album The Other Side of Zero didn’t just happen to make the itunes singer/songwriter chart last week: it debuted at #1. But don’t let the category fool you – frontwoman/keyboardist Elizabeth Ziman’s defiantly lyrical, artsy chamber-pop songs haven’t the faintest resemblance to the dentist-office pop of, say, James Blunt or Taylor Swift. Aimee Mann is the most strikingly obvious influence here, right down to the George Harrison-esque major/minor chord changes, the uneasy lyricism and cynical worldview. There’s also a quirky counterintuitivity in the same vein as Greta Gertler, and a purist pop sensibility that evokes Sharon Goldman – both somewhat lesser-known but equally formidable writers. Which is no surprise. Just as we predicted, the playing field is shifting. Watching bands like Elizabeth and the Catapult take over centerstage is as heartwarming as it is sweet revenge: we’ve got a renaissance on our hands, folks. If you’re a corporate A&R guy and you still think that Taylor Swift has lasting power, you might want to think about changing careers right about now.

The group’s previous album Taller Children was more lyrically-oriented; this one is musically stronger, and more diverse. As with Aimee Mann’s work, the production on all but one of the songs here is purist and often surprisingly imaginative, Ziman’s piano and occasional electronic keyboards out in front of a lush bed of acoustic and electric guitars and frequently rich orchestration, no autotune or drum machine in sight. The opening track sets the tone, swaying and distantly Beatlesque: “Take us to a wishing well, throw us in and sink us down,” Ziman suggest with characteristic brooding intensity. The next track is Aimee Mann-inflected powerpop with staccato strings; after that, they go in a more psychedelic 1960s pop direction with the insistent Julian, Darling. The understatedly snarling, orchestrated Thank You for Nothing is a study in dichotomies, a bitterly triumphant kiss-off song: “Thank you for laughing out loud even when you don’t mean it…they say hurting is growing if you believe when you say it…” It’s a typical moment on this album: Ziman won’t be defeated even in the darkest hours.

One of the strongest tracks here, The Horse and the Missing Cart is a fervent 6/8 ballad, words of wisdom to a generation who’ve turned yuppie and conservative before their time. Open Book is part plaintive art-rock ballad, part sultry come-on; the wary, sardonic, oldtimey-flavored torch ballad Worn Out Tune builds to a soaring, orchestrated Aimee Mann-style chorus, ominous minor key reverb guitar trading off with a blippy melodic bassline: “All the saddest songs we sing are the ones we can’t get enough of.” The title cut, another big 6/8 ballad features Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings on harmony vocals, taking on a pensive countrypolitan feel with pedal steel after the first chorus. The album winds up with an electric piano-driven indie pop song in the same vein as Mattison or the Secret History, banjo and mandolin adding some unexpectedly sweet textures, and the gospel-inflected, intensely crescendoing Do Not Hang Your Head. The only miss here sounds like an outtake from some other band’s demo session gone horribly wrong, a completely misguided, dated detour into 90s-style trip-hop. Elizabeth & the Catapult are on national tour through the end of the month, teaming up with Tift Merritt on a series of west coast dates; check their tour calendar for cities and details.

November 1, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Universal Thump Makes a Big Splash

Pianist/composer Greta Gertler’s new band the Universal Thump play art-rock at its most richly, lushly beautiful. She’s no stranger to the style: her 2005 album Nervous Breakthroughs is a genuine classic of the genre. Their new album First Spout, available exclusively at the band’s bandcamp site, is a triumphant return to a warmly familiar sonic milieu following her unexpected but rousingly successful detour into an oldtimey/ragtime vein on her previous album Edible Restaurant. This is also work in progress, the first of three eps scheduled for release throughout 2010 and 2011 – where bands used to release singles one at a time, the Universal Thump are generously offering big slices of what looks right now to have the makings of an iconic full-length effort.

The opening track (available as a free download) is an absolute tour de force, an artsy pop epic with bouncy, staccato piano and horns, a baroque-inflected rondo between the string section and bassoon on the second verse, and a long, murky, absolutely psychedelic break midway through. The big 6/8 ballad Grasshoppers manages to be wary yet sultry, Gretler’s festive piano glissandos throwing the windows wide for the strings to sweep through, slowly and gracefully winding down and eventually fading out. Gertler has never sung better – as much as she still likes to go to the top of her practically supersonic range, Kate Bush style, she’s using her lower register more, a delightful new development.

They follow it with an austere, atmospheric, horizontally-inclined tone poem for strings. The two additional tracks mine a classic pop vein: a Jeff Lynne-style cover of the iconic new wave hit Reckless, by the Australian Crawl, complete with a devious portamento synth solo which actually manages not to be cheesy, which is quite an achievement. They wind it up with a new, bassoon-propelled, stripped down version of the bouncy, Elvis Costello-tinged pop hit Martin’s Big Night Out, from Nervous Breakthroughs. Although completely self-produced, it’s packed with the kind of subtle and playful symphonic touches more typically found on big-room productions from the 70s. Count this among the best albums of 2010, as is – not bad for a work that’s a long way from completion.

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

Concert Review: The Universal Thump at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 7/16/10

Keyboardist/singer Greta Gertler’s new band the Universal Thump were something beyond amazing Friday night. The orchestrated rock bands of the 70s may have gone the way of the dinosaurs (except for the Moody Blues) but this was like being in the front row at an ELO or Procol Harum show at the Royal Albert Hall. Except with better vocals. Gertler’s sometimes stratospheric high soprano fits this band well: she went up so far that there was no competing sonically with the lush, rich atmospherics of the Thumpettes, a.k.a. the Osso String Quartet, whose presence made all the difference. With Adam D. Gold terse yet sometimes surprising behind the drum kit, equally terse bass from Groove Collective’s Jonathan Maron, fiery powerpop guitar god Pete Galub on lead and Gertler at the piano, they segued seamlessly from one richly melodic, Romantically-tinged, counterintuitively structured song to the next.

Gertler’s been writing songs like that since she was in her teens: one Aimee Mann-inflected number in stately 6/8 time dated from 1993. Otherwise, the set was mostly all new material from the Universal Thump’s ongoing album (now an ep, with a kickstarter campaign in case you have money to burn). The opening number worked a wistful post-baroque melody down to a piano cascade where Gertler rumbled around in the low registers for awhile, then the strings took it up again. The wistful vibe kept going, an uneasy, brooding lyric soaring over an austere minor-key melody, with a terse viola solo out. Damien, from Gertler’s now-classic 2004 album The Baby That Brought Bad Weather was all understated longing, cached in the mighty swells of the strings.

Galub used the next song’s Penny Lane bounce as the launching pad for an unabashedly vicious, percussively crescendoing guitar solo, something he’d repeat a couple more times – even by his standards, he was especially energized. The best song of the evening, possible titled Closing Night began with a matter-of-factly dramatic series of piano chords, worked its way into a lush backbeat anthem with another one of those Galub slasher solos, and gracefully faded out. Gertler explained that her closing number had been appropriated (and turned into a sizeable hit) by an unnamed Australian band, who’d transformed it into a song about playing the lottery. As it rose to a ridiculously catchy chorus out of just vocals and strings, its hitworthiness struck home, hard. The audience wouldn’t let them go: the band encored with a majestically fluid version of Everybody Wants to Adore You, another smash of a pop song from The Baby That Brought Bad Weather. We do our own individual list of the best New York concerts of the year in December, and you can bet that this one will be on it. This was it for the Universal Thump’s shows this summer – adding yet another reason to look forward to fall, which at this point couldn’t come too soon.

July 19, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Small Beast 1/18/10

The whole town seemed to be partied out from the long weekend, so this Small Beast was a particularly intimate one. Monday was comfort night, comfort in darkness, in raw intensity and intelligence with a diverse quartet of acts who share the ability to bring all that for hours on end. Playing solo on acoustic, Elisa Flynn opened the night and immediately delivered chills with her plaintive, austere, broodingly nuanced vocals coupled to imaginatively scruffy guitar playing. She loves 6/8 time, and she knows how to use it, whether on an insistent, hypnotic tune about earth artist Robert Smithson (possibly the only song anyone’s ever written about the guy, she mused), a pensive sleeping-under-the-stars scenario, or a dark wintertime shipwreck tableau. And the single best song of the night, Timber. Others less subtle might be tempted to turn the towering, haunting yet wry ballad into grand guignol, but Flynn didn’t, holding back just a little on the pauses between verse and chorus to drive them home for all they were worth, tossing off a dirty, distorted solo, then hitting her pedalboard to crank up a sweet swoopy slide on her low E string. She closed with a gorgeously intense cover of Silver Rider by Low, wailing on the downstrokes.

Botanica keyboardist/frontman Paul Wallfisch – who as you probably know by now books Small Beast – quickly figured out that trying to outshadow Flynn would be a bad idea. So he played the fun set: a devious, sarcastic cover of Mack the Knife, musing on who the hell all those oddly named characters really are; an otherworldly version of Nature Boy retitled Nature Girl, which totally changed the song; a couple of soul-inflected new ones, Here I Am (with a lyric by Paul Bowles) and Hard to Cross; a hushed Marlene Dietrich homage, and a Vic Chestnutt cover that rhymes “paragon” with “Louis Farrakhan.” Wallfisch thought that particularly appropriate and wondered aloud what Farrakhan’s violin might sound like alongside Richard Nixon’s piano – paragons, both of them.

Inimitable art-rock songwriter/pianist Greta Gertler has a new kitten, who’d taken a swipe at one of her fingers: “Does anyone have a tampon at least?” she grinned. She’s got a new album, The Universal Thump, coming out. If you’re interested in getting in on the ground floor with it and whatever benefits come with being one of its sponsors, there’s still time: the cast of characters continues to expand. Her too-brief set offered an auspicious look inside, beginning with the bright, percussive, Kate Bush-inflected pop of Swimming with its murky, reverberating instrumental break; the resonant, sad 6/8 ballad Grasshoppers; a darkly dramatic take on the bustling title track to her previous album Edible Restaurant; the pretty yet uneasy, aptly titled Darkened Skies, and her best song, the richly melodic, crescendoing Teacher. When she took the vocals way, way up to the top of her range, i.e. the stratosphere, she pulled off the mic; likewise, she played it casually, letting the power of the chords speak for themselves. Then Wallfisch joined her for a couple of impromptu four-hands numbers, adding incisive upper-register rivulets and staccato over her catchy changes.

Kings County Queens were unfortunately missing baritone ukelele player/singer Daria Grace, but their two women – on piano and accordion – compensated well. Smartly, the band pulled out their dark set, frontman Chris Bowers in particularly bristly, quietly affronted mode. He even took a pointed southwestern gothic solo in the surprisingly bitter, tango-inflected opening number, and another later on, sailing plaintively over drummer Johny Rock’s hypnotic malletwork on a slow, catchy, nocturnal ballad. KCQ earned themselves plenty of cred around the turn of the zeros as one of the originators of the Pete’s Candy Store sound, i.e. urbanites playing low-key, harmony-driven country and Americana and they also provided plenty of that, notably the wistful waltz Magnolias. The warm, gentle insistence of the melody of that one and several similar numbers made for a perfect segue out of a long, crazy weekend into the sobering reality ahead.

Next week’s Small Beast on the 25th turns the lights way, way, way down. You want darkness? Besides Wallfisch, you get Kerry Kennedy, Marni Rice and Mark Steiner’s cd release show. Wow.

January 19, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: The Scratches – Screaming Softly

This is an album with more than a few “did you just hear that” moments. “I take the shape of my container,” the Scratches‘ pink-haired frontwoman/cellist Ariana sings nonchalantly (that’s the song title – it’s a water metaphor). “Some things taste better standing up” – that’s another song title, maybe not a song that screamed out to be written, but it’s a good thing this band did it instead of someone else. Their second cd Screaming Softly makes a good rainy day album for people too hungover to go out to the deli, or for winding down if you aren’t yet planning on falling asleep. The Scratches weld classical influences to skewed, sometimes brooding piano-based pop songs – imagine a quirky version of early ELO with a better sense of humor. Piano, violin and cello serve as the main instruments along with occasional percussion, acoustic guitar and mandolin. Ariana has the dramatic, full-voiced delivery of someone with a lot of classical training but she comes across as too imaginative and restless to be satisfied with just one style of music.

Many of the songs are strung together with little miniature instrumentals, the kind of interludes that art-rock bands in the 70s would use to facilitate segues between larger pieces (or just never finished by the time they went into the studio). The best of these is All the Machines Are Screaming, which sets bracing, staccato cello over ambient violin with mandolin and piano. This Begins With Mumbling And Piano explains precisely how the cd starts off, like a live recording with the crowd waiting for the band to take the stage. It’s an eerie, percussive little number that pounds along with piano and strings. “Can you live all your dreams without me?” Ariana asks nonchalantly. I Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get There Now is a catchy, artsy, breathless minor-key piano pop song in somewhat of a Greta Gertler vein. The group sings as a choir, somewhat sheepishly on the piquantly titled In the Afternoon I Smell The Pigments Changing.

The most memorable track here is Pack Up Your Box of Crayons, a noir cabaret number with roughhewn strings and a neat little acoustic guitar solo. “We don’t like to worry,” Ariana advises, although it’s hard to tell if she’s being sarcastic. The cd ends with a practically ten-minute, hypnotically effective exercise in minimalism, Gamble and You’ll Get Bombed. Not everything here is as it seems – there’s a lot going on below the surface and to the Scratches’ credit they do it simply and tersely. And have a lot of fun in the process.

September 4, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 7/27/09

We do this every Tuesday. 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 except for #1 will take you to each individual song.

1. Livia Hoffman – Friday

This is one of those great “finally the weekend’s here” numbers that manages not to be trite. Watch this space for upcoming live dates – this one’s unreleased.

2. Curtis Eller – Sugar in My Coffin

One of the great NYC rockers of this era – it just happens that the banjo is his axe. “The drinks are getting weaker with every round they serve.” He’s at Banjo Jim’s on 7/30 at 10

3. The French Exit – Bones & Matches

Typically haunting, wrenching, eventually explosive lament from NYC’s best noir rock crew. They’re at Local 269, 269 E Houston at 9 on 7/29

4. The Brooklyn What – For the Best

Characteristically snarling, smart punkish song from their first album (their new ep Gentrification Rock is killer too).  They’re at Don Pedro’s on 8/7 on an amazing bill with Escarioka, Palmyra Delran and others.

5. Rescue Bird – Montauk

Catchy, artsy country tune with an autoharp and glockenspiel! They’re at Spikehill on 7/30 at 8.

6. Carrie Clark – Josephine

Smartly soaring, Rachelle Garniez-esque oldtimey cabaret song. She’s at Spikehill on 7/30 at 9

7. Andrea Wittgens – Everything Is Relative to You

Clever, catchy, Greta Gertler-ish artsy piano pop tune. She’s at Spikehill on 7/30 at 11

8. Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens – What Have You Done

Killer minor-key oldschool gospel tune. They’re at Prospect Park Bandshell on 7/30 at 7:30 opening for Burning Spear

9. Rev. Vince Anderson – Don’t Think Jesus

Country music as liberation theology dating from the waning days of the Bush regime. He’s at at 55 Bar on 7/31 at 10.

10. Ansambl Mastika – Gde si Bre

Characteristicaly wild horn-diven Balkan dance. They’re at Mehanata on 7/30 at 9.

July 28, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 7/13/09

We do this every Tuesday. 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. Pretty much every link here will take you to each individual song.

 

1. Ian Hunter – Man Overboard

At age 70, he’s the oldest guy to ever top the “charts” here – and this may be the best song he’s ever written! The fiery, anguished 6/8 anthem is the title track to his brand-new cd.

 

2. We Intersect – Let’s Gentrificate

Fast 2/4 Interpol-ish stuff but with bite and venom. They’re at Small Beast at the Delancey on 8/24.  

 

3. Andrea Wittgens – Cardboard Cutouts

Very smart songwriter/keyboardist in the Greta Gertler vein. She’s at Spikehill on 7/30 at 11

 

4. Chronikill – Drinking on a Tuesday

This hip-hop trio claim to “put the funk back in functional alcoholic.” Self-explanatory and funny. They’re at Bowery Poetry Club at 10 on Oct 9

 

5. Sophie Auster – Away

Noir janglerock from this artsy chanteuse with a big dramatic voice. She’s at Caffe Vivaldi on 7/31 at 8.

 

6. The Erotics – Gas Chamber Barbie Doll

NY Dolls style glam punk, self-explanatory. They’re at Trash Bar on 7/31 at 9.

 

7. The Bombshell Betties – Cherry Lips

Sassy punk pop from this promising all-girl Staten Island group.

 

8. Katie Ballou – Save My Children

Rustic Appalachian-style antiwar anthem. She’s one of the guitarists in the Bombshell Betties.

 

9. John Batdorf – What’d Ya Got

Kinda folkie, but hang in there with this one – the very contemporary lyrics pack a James McMurtry-class wallop

 

10. Crowds and Power – The Viscount of Discount

Cleverly lyrical Britpop.

July 14, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment