Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Mast’s New Album Wild Poppies Is Unselfconsciously Intense

New York rock duo the Mast’s latest album Wild Poppies blends elements of minimalism, dark 80s rock, goth and trip-hop into a pensive, completely original sound. Frontwoman/multi-instrumentalist Haale writes darkly psychedelic, briskly rhythmic rock songs, backed by one-man percussion orchestra Matt Kilmer. In her previous work, Haale has explored classical Iranian melodies as well scorching, hypnotic, frequently exhilarating Jimi Hendrix-inspired jams. This time, while she pulls back on the volume, the songs are often just as intense and eclectic.

The album’s title track sets a bracingly catchy progression over rolling, rippling percussion and a characteristically surreal, imagistic lyric. The second cut, the sardonically titled Trump, is something of a dreampop take on Joy Division, or like early 90s Lush but with a more gritty, earthy vibe. Most of these songs use a lot of nature imagery: this one’s the most intense. “Oh some pockets run so deep, the rest are struggling for a piece of a fast-turning pie…the waters while we sleep are being bought up by a thief with paper bills for eyes,” Haale sings apprehensively.

EOA [End of Anxiety] shuffles eerily and minimalistically, like an analog version of Radiohead, its mantra-like hook shifting between major and minor modes. My All is hypnotic, minimalist trip-hop with a majestic post-Velvets processional pulse; Prize, a warped, syncopated one-chord boogie, winds down plaintively and hauntingly on the chorus. With its repetitive central riff and insistent 80s-style bass, The Lake builds to a potent crescendo with guitars slamming over a whirlwind of beats. Setting lush, ethereal vocals over yet another catchy, simple guitar riff and a stately shuffle beat (sounds like an oxymoron, but Kilmer pulls it off elegantly), Definitions wouldn’t be out of place on a Randi Russo album from about five years ago.

Hummingbird picks up the pace with fuzz bass and the vocals fading in and out, dreampop style, Kilmer rattling and then hitting some swirling cymbal crashes early on. Lucid Dream, a minimalist, moody early 90s style anthem, builds to a big, intense, anthemic outro. Carefully and tersely crafted, the album grows on you and carries even more of an impact with repeated listening: count this as one of 2011’s best. The whole thing is streaming at the band’s site. The Mast are great live: they’re at Bar 4 in Park Slope at 9 on 7/28.

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July 22, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Bowls Project Summons the Spirits

It’s hard to resist a group who feature a bass clarinet as prominently as Charming Hostess do. Their album The Bowls Project is the brainchild of frontwoman Jewlia Eisenberg. Stagy, intense and eclectic, it’s part performance art and part what you might call Middle Eastern gothic, with noir cabaret, punk and metal edges. It’s best appreciated as a whole and may be a lot more interesting with a visual element (these related videos offer evidence that it is). In the meantime, the album is out on Tzadik. Eisenberg is not a natural singer, but she rises to the challenge of these unpredictable, narrative songs with a relentless brassiness and punk energy. The themes explore the ceremonial and ritual use of household bowls in ancient Jewish culture in the Holy Land, for fertility, protection from evil spirits, health and good luck. The band is sensational: Jenny Scheinman and Megan Weeder on violins; Jessica Troy on viola; Marika Hughes on cello; Shahzad Ismaily on guitar, Jason Ditzian on that bass clarinet in place of a bass and Ches Smith on drums.

The first couple of numbers are dramatic, exploding into grand guignol, much in the vein of Vera Beren’s recent work; with its screechy strings, the second seems to be an exorcism of some sorts. Ismaily interpolates skronk with rockabilly on the third cut; Malakha, which follows, begins as an uneasy lullaby before the fireworks begin. They take a cue from Led Zep on their version of the old English folksong Gallows Pole, move after that to a proggy dance, a slowly crescendoing funeral march that evokes Persian-American art-rocker Haale, and then the gothic partita O Barren One: “For once the angel of death must flee,” Eisenberg announces at the end. The rest of the album includes a really gorgeous, 1960s soul song, Ismaily doing a sweet Steve Cropper imitation; a couple of minimalist, Siouxsie-esque numbers with a lot of chanting; a darkly Bollywood-flavored anthem and a noirish Tom Waitsy blues with surfy baritone guitar. You want something that covers the stylistic map? It’s hard to imagine anyone doing that more than this group does here.

September 15, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Haale at Drom, NYC 10/25/08

This was the drums-and-cello set: that Bronx-born Persian-American rocker Haale Gafori and her band could still be as rivertingly powerful as they were under the circumstances speaks volumes. Drom is typically one of New York’s best-sounding rooms, and throughout their Saturday night show, Haale’s vocals, Brent Arnold’s cello and Matt Kilmer’s percussion were crystal-clear in the mix. Trouble was, her guitar was almost totally inaudible. Haale’s music makes frequent use of open tunings and big washes of sound that ring out for what feels like minutes on end, with many of the songs building to ecstatic crescendos. Good thing the cello was so high in the mix, in fact so loud that there were overtones flying from the strings, otherwise this would have been for all intents and purposes a hip-hop show.

 

But the material and Haale’s voice simply refused to be denied. The sound was dark, saturnine and all-enveloping, something akin to an amalgam of smoldering, early PJ Harvey, fiery electric Randi Russo, and Iranian traditional song. “We just spent a week in Brazil,” she told the crowd. “It was like silk…I’ve never heard such a tapestry of birds and insects.” Beginning in Persian, switching to English and then back again, she was a fearless force, her soulful alto soaring over Arnold’s dark, atmospheric washes as Kilmer played a neat three-on-four beat. The band came out swinging with two big anthems from their new, aptly titled cd No Ceiling, eventually bringing it down a bit with the tongue-in-cheek yet similarly eerie Off-Duty Fortune Teller. Haale then introduced the trance-rocker Paratrooper by explaining that when Jimi Hendrix was in the Army, he’d listen to the drone of the airplane engine, vowing to figure out how to get that same sound out of his guitar.

 

Of the other songs in the set, Home Again and the title track to the new cd had the most straightforward rock feel, by contrast to the hypnotic slow burn of the rest of the material. The trio closed with the fiery epic Ay Dar Shekasteh, Kilmer capping the crescendos with a massive splash on the gong that coiled serpent-like above his kit.

 

It would have been nice to stick around to hear Iranian hip-hop artist Yas and then Brooklyn reggae/dancehall outfit Jah Dan & Noble Society, but they had a hard act to follow, and there was another stop on the night’s agenda.

 

 

 

October 27, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Persian Passion: Haale at BAM Cafe , Brooklyn NY 3/22/08

A mesmerizing, passionate, intoxicatingly good performance by the Bronx-born, second-generation Iranian-American psychedelic rocker and her four-piece band. Haale – as in jalapeno – treated the crowd to a hypnotic, pulsing blend of indie rock and classical Persian music. Her backing unit featured violin, cello and two percussionists, one of whom had a spiral gong that he waited til almost the end of the show to make a massive, magnificent splash with. Most of the solos were taken by the violinist, who showed off a spectacularly eerie, gypsy side; the cellist often played dark chords low on the register, frequently evoking another superb New York band, Rasputina. Haale frequently utilizes open guitar tunings that lend themselves especially well to the trancelike feel of much of her music. Vocally, she goes for a drawling, soul-inflected style, but somehow she manages to make it sound completely unaffected, perhaps because it fits her lyrics and her vision so well: this artist is all about adrenaline, exhilaration and transcendence, the soaring exuberance of her voice contrasting with the frequently haunting chromatics of the music.

Speaking in Persian, she rattled off a poem with an obviously impressive, intricate rhythm and rhyme scheme. “That was written eight hundred years ago, in Iran,” she told the audience. “That’s hip-hop!” she exclaimed. And the beat her band was using was pure trip-hop, even if it dates back centuries. Much of the set was new songs from her just-released full-length debut cd, No Ceiling, including the tongue-in-cheek yet plaintive Off Duty Fortune Teller. She told the audience of how Jimi Hendrix, during his brief time as an Army paratrooper, resolved to find a way to make his guitar produce the droning rumble of an airplane engine, then played an evocative new song inspired by that revelation. The set built a crescendo to a wild, swirling finish; Haale saved her best songs for last. The crowd – an impressively diverse crew – wanted more, but it was almost closing time. If this show is any indication, the new album is amazing.

March 24, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment