Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The 100 Best Albums of 2010

Since it was impossible to whittle this down to the original 50 we were shooting for, we went for 100 – so much for the canard that the album is dead. As with last year’s list, everything here is in pretty random order. Is Paula Carino’s wounded, lyrical janglerock (#1) any “better” than Bobby Avey’s intense piano jazz (#100)? Who cares? It’s all good. If you want single tracks, here’s our 100 Best Songs of 2010 list.

1. Paula Carino – Open on Sunday
This one tops the list this year because every single song on this moody, pensive, wickedly lyrical janglerock album is good – not a single miss here. It’s been a long time coming. As a lyricist and tunesmith, Carino ranks with Elvis Costello and Richard Thompson, a great wit, fearless nonconformist and unaffectedly compelling singer.

2. Ran Blake and Sara Serpa – Camera Obscura
Serpa, a sometimes chillingly intense third-stream composer and singer, is a protegee of Blake, the preeminent noir jazz pianist of the last fifty years. Their collaboration is fascinatingly unpredictable: when it comes to longing and angst, they don’t disappoint. 

3. Norden Bombsight – Pinto
Intense and often unhinged, the Brooklyn band’s darkly psychedelic art-rock blends 70s orchestrated rock influences with macabre goth tinges and the occasional Americana theme. Frontwoman/keyboardist/electric mandolinist Rachael Bell’s savage wail brings the intensity to redline.

4. Sarah Manning – Dandelion Clock
Haunting, intensely lyrical, sometimes anguished jazz concept album – about the fleeting nature of time – from this brilliant alto saxophonist/composer and her quartet with Art Hirahara, Linda Oh and Kyle Struve.

5. The NYFA Collection
A massive five-cd box set that aims to be a definitive history of edgy avant garde music and jazz in New York that succeeds amazingly well: it’s the new music equivalent of the Harry Smith albums. Too many artists here to list: see our review from November.

6. Redhooker – Vespers
Hypnotic, ambient soundscapes and pensive avant-chamber instrumentals from Stephen Griesgraber’s marvelously shapeshifting new music ensemble.

7. The Roots of Chicha 2 anthology
It’s the Rosetta Stone of classic psychedelic Peruvian cumbia-rock from the 70s and 80s, a wildly entertaining blend of instrumentals, dance songs, twangy guitar and rhythms from just about everywhere south of the border.

8. The Tivoli Trio’s first album
Jazz pianist Frank Carlberg’s phantasmagorical, carnivalesque, often macabre trio project.

9. Las Rubias del Norte – Ziguala
Surreal, otherworldly and mysterious with gorgeous harmonies and a global mix of songs with latin, Bollywood and Mexican influences, it’s the Brooklyn band’s best album – in a lot of ways, it’s the great album Chicha Libre didn’t put out this year, plus vocals.

10. The Snow – I Die Every Night
Intense, smartly lyrical, alternately lush and sensuous art-rock and chamber pop from Pierre de Gaillande and Hilary Downes’ eclectic New York band.

11. The New Collisions – The Optimist
The Boston new wavers’ dark, brilliantly lyrical shift into straight-ahead powerpop.

12. Mojo Mancini’s first album
Creepy, atmospheric, cinematic instrumentals with organ, guitar and sax from an A-list crew of NYC sidemen, picking up where Big Lazy left off.

13. Botanica – Who You Are
This era’s foremost art-rock band’s most diverse and ultimately most optimistic album, but where frontman/keyboardist Paul Wallfisch went further toward psychedelia and soul, guitarist John Andrews picked up with an ominous, reverb-drenched, Beatlesque roar.

14. Bad Reputation: Pierre de Gaillande Sings Georges Brassens
The first full-length English-language album of songs by legendary French songwriter Brassens is as potent and obscenely hilarious as his own work.  

15. Thomas Simon – Moncao
Another album of swirling cinematic soundscapes, these with more of a guitar-driven, apocalyptic goth menace.

16. The Larch – Larix Americana
Finally, the classic album these Brooklyn new wave throwbacks always hinted they had in them: an especially tuneful, gleefully sung, ferociously lyrical and funny one.

17. The Jack Grace Band – Drinking Songs for Lovers
A country concept album that needed to be written, and it’s a good thing this wry honkytonk baritone crooner and his oldschool 60s-style band were the ones to do it. Drinks for breakfast; birthday drinking; drinking at the racetrack, and drunk parents are just some of the topics covered on this crazed, hilarious album. There should be a Jack Grace Band drinking game.

18. Bassam Saba – Wonderful Land
A tribute to the multi-instrumentalist composer’s native Lebanon, it’s a characteristically lush, diverse album with influences that range from classic Egyptian anthems to western baroque composition.

19. Elvis Costello – National Ransom
This is the one album on this list that we didn’t review, because we figured you already knew about it. No? It’s a double album with his most recent band, Americana rockers The Sugarcanes, and it’s one of the best things he’s ever done.

20. The Marc Cary Focus Trio – Live 2009
Dark, magisterial, hypnotic and haunting, it captures one of the most powerfully melodic, interesting jazz pianists of this era at the top of his game.

21. Æ’s first album
Eva Salina Primack and Aurelia Shrenker’s austere, ghostly, starkly evocative, innovative blend of Appalachian and Balkan a-cappella songs.

22. Cousin Silas – Canaveral Dreams
Yorkshire’s most evocative soundscape composer offers an often terrifyingly allusive collection of electroacoustic tableaux here; his latest one Adrift Off the Isles of Langerhans promises to be just as good. 

23. Tris McCall – Let the Night Fall
Richly lyrical, uneasy New Jersey-themed concept album by the Overlord keyboardist: a vivid, understatedly angst-driven portrayal of stripmall hell by someone who’s lived it.

24. Ben Syversen’s Cracked Vessel’s first album
The highly sought-after Balkan trumpeter also leads this scorching, assaultive, aggressive trumpet-and-guitar noiserock/avant jazz band – it’s a wild ride.

25. Katzenjammer – Le Pop
Edgy, biting, satirical noir cabaret and new wave-inflected accordion rock from this wildly popular all-female Norwegian quartet.

26. Natacha Atlas – Mounqaliba
A biting, haunting, richly melodic look at the state of the world, another classic-style Levantine art-song masterpiece by one of this era’s most socially aware artists.

27. Under Byen – Alt Er Tabt
Stark, intense, moody chamber-rock from this ethereal Danish band.

28. Ted Hearne – Katrina Ballads
Sort of like the Dead Kennedys for chamber orchestra. It’s a cerebral, brutally honest, often brutally funny depiction of the early days of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, with songs incorporating art-rock, avant-garde chamber music and jazz.

29. Victoire – Cathedral City
Missy Mazzoli’s mesmerizing, ambient/atmospheric art-rock band’s debut is a lush, shadowy swirl of keyboards, strings and winds.

30. Patricia Vonne – Worth It
The Texas Americana rock chanteuse’s most diverse album blends anthemic, characteristically lyrical janglerock with a brooding southwestern gothic vibe.

31. My Education – Sunrise
Bracingly ambient, reverb-drenched guitar soundscapes in a Mogwai vein from this excellent Texas post-rock crew.

32. Gaida – Levantine Indulgence
Slinky ballads and instrumentals drawing on Syrian, Lebanese and Egyptian influences by the New York-based chanteuse and her excellent group.

33. Liz Tormes – Limelight
Smoldering, venomous, lyrical Nashville gothic songwriting by the New York noir songwriter with a great band behind her. If revenge songs are your thing, nobody writes them better than Liz Tormes.

34. Little Annie and Paul Wallfisch – Genderful
The noir cabaret legend and her reliable cohort, Botanica frontman Wallfisch team up for a characteristically haunting yet often very funny album, their best together.

35. Fernando Otero – Vital
Intense, dark solo piano compositions from the eclectic Argentinian composer.

36. Brooklyn Rider – Dominant Curve
The adventurous string quartet’s tribute to Debussy, including his string quartet along with pieces by Colin Jacobsen, Kojiro Umezaki, Dmitry Yanov-Yanovsky and Justin Messina.

37. Avi Fox-Rosen – Welcome to the Show
Smart, sardonically timely concept album for the new depression by the eclectic Brooklyn guitarist/songwriter and his funky, artsy, Steely Dan-ish band.

38. Either/Orchestra – Mood Music for Time Travellers
Witty, virtuosically cinematic Ethiopian-flavored big band jazz, the playful large ensemble’s first album in close to a decade.

39. The Rough Guide to Arabic Lounge compilation 
An eclectic mix of cutting-edge pop, classical and cabaret from around the Middle East…but no lounge music.

40. Bobtown’s first album
With their lush, beautiful four-part harmonies, stark, clever melodies that blend old time chain gang songs, bluegrass and blues and macabre sensibility, Bobtown established themselves as one of the most original bands in Americana.

41. The Mingus Big Band – Live at Jazz Standard
Allowing this album on this list is just plain unfair. It’s an ecstatic New Year’s Eve show by some of New York’s best jazz players, a wall-to-wall collection of Mingus classics, mostly from the late 50s Mingus Mingus Mingus era.

42. Newspeak – Sweet Light Crude
Potent and politically aware third-stream music that matches Lynchian ambience to depressed Michigan autoland and covers Missy Mazzoli with a vivid, hypnotic swirl.

43. The Universal Thump – First Spout
Art-rock composer/pianist Greta Gertler’s irrepressible, unpredictable sensibility has never been more potent or tunefully in effect than she is here – and the album isn’t even done yet.  

44. Annabouboula – Immortal Water
Slinky, psychedelic Greek rock with Greek, Turkish, reggae and trip-hop music.

45. Krista Detor – Chocolate Paper Suites
Some lists consider this a 2009 release (to be fair, we’ve snuck a few others from late in that year onto this list – hey, a good album is a good album). Either way, it’s a torrent of pensive lyrics delivered with Detor’s eerie calm and eclectic sense of melody.

46. Ninth House – 11 Cemetery & Western Classics
Eleven years after they began, who would have thought that New York-based Nashville gothic rockers’ best album would come out in 2010, after a flurry of lineup changes and stylistic shifts? It may be their loudest and most intense one yet.

47. Klezwoods’ first album
Ostensibly this is klezmer, but violinist Joe Kessler’s big band plays music from every corner of the former Ottoman Empire, with wit and intensity.

48. Khaira Arby – Timbuktu Tarab
An innovative, fearlessly feminist mix of desert blues, art-rock, afrobeat and psychedelia by the pioneering Malian desert blues diva.

49. Vieux Farka Toure – Live
About time the Malian guitar god (Ali Farka Toure’s oldest kid) made a live album – it’s sort of like an African Albert Collins record, all chilly sonics and lightning riffage but no wasted notes, just raw adrenaline.

50. Robin Aigner – Bandito
Aigner gets props for her sultry, soaring vocals, but she’s also a tremendously witty songwriter with a smart sense of history, a love for sly innuendo and purist taste in Americana and oldtimey songwriting.

51. John Sheppard: Media Vita – Stile Antico
A mammoth collection of otherworldly, death-obsessed Renaissance vocal works by the hardworking, wildly popular self-directed UK choral group.

52. Tarbaby – An End to Fear
One of the most unbelievably tuneful jazz albums of the year – and a powerfully socially aware one too. Pianist Orrin Evans is on the hook for a lot of this, along with
bassist Eric Revis, drummer Nasheet Waits plus the estimable JD Allen on tenor. They cover the Bad Brains and give a shout-out to the Jena Six.

53. Brass Menazeri – Vranjski San
Fiery Balkan brass dance tunes and anthems from this Bay Area crew.

54. Changing Modes – Here
Artsy, smartly lyrical somewhat retro 80s rock that ranges from snarling punk to creepy, goth-tinged songs: if this album came out 25 years ago, it would be regarded as a cult classic today.  

55. Kasey Anderson – Nowhere Nights
Snarling, Steve Earle-style lyrical Americana rock. Anderson’s forthcoming 2011 album Heart of a Dog goes in an even harder-rocking direction.

56. Abaji – Origine Orients
The multi-instrumentalist and instrument inventor’s latest eclectic collection draws on Middle Eastern, Greek, and gypsy music as well as Americana.

57. Marianne Dissard – Paris One Takes
A brilliant way to build a fan base: edgy,world-weary, amusingly lyrical French rocker Dissard offers this one as a free download. It’s one of the funnest albums of the year – even if you don’t speak French.

58. Copal – Into the Shadow Garden
Slinky, hypnotic, original Middle Eastern and gypsy-tinged violin-and-cello world music dancefloor vamps from the most original groove band on the planet.

59. The Spy from Cairo – Secretly Famous
Hypnotic, psychedelic dub-flavored Middle Eastern instrumentals, many with a trip-hop feel.

60. El Pueblo – Isla
Warmly hypnotic and psychedelic, this has to be the most diverse roots reggae album released in awhile – the Brooklyn band have more dubwise styles than you can count.

61. The One and Nines’ first album
Sultry oldschool Memphis style soul from these New Jersey revivalists: what Sharon Jones did for Harlem, these guys (and their fearless frontwoman Vera Sousa) are doing for a more southern soul sound.

62. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba – I Speak Fula
Hypnotic, diverse anthems and ballads from the Malian lute virtuoso and his desert blues-style band.

63. Fishtank Ensemble – Woman in Sin
Raucous original gypsy music taken to the next level with jazz and Middle Eastern influences, with a frontwoman whose vocal wail and theremin are hard to tell apart.

64. Benjamin Herman – Hypochristmastreefuzz (More Mengelberg)
Don’t let the silly title scare you away – this wild, psychedelic, surfy jazz album covers some of famous Dutch jazz composer Misha Mengelberg’s most memorable tracks.

65. The Rough Guide to Desert Blues anthology
At the risk of giving you too many of these, it was a good year for the Rough Guides: this has all the usual suspects (Etran Finatawa, Ali Farka Toure and Tinariwen) but also a ton of obscure brilliant cuts by Marien Hassan, Tartit, Malouma and Tamikrest.

66. The Sometime Boys – Any Day Now
The debut of the acoustic Americana side project by the brain trust from artsy, powerful rockers System Noise is funky, virtuosic and tuneful with some of frontwoman Sarah Mucho’s most compelling vocals ever.

67. Mostly Other People Do the Killing – Forty Fort
A clever, often hilarious whirlwind of postbop quotes and japes from these self-styled “bebop terrorists,” with some of the funniest liner notes ever courtesy of nonagenarian jazz know-it-all “Leonardo Featherweight.”

68. The Dither Guitar Quartet’s first album
Swirling psychedelic avant garde dreampop instrumentals by five cutting-edge composers: layers and layers and layers of screaming, atmospheric, reverb-toned menace and whisper.

69. The Cookers – Warriors
Deliciously tuneful, inspired 1960s style postbop jazz from a bunch of vets: Billy Harper, Craig Handy, Cecil McBee, George Cables, Billy Hart, Eddie Henderson and David Weiss.

70. The Debutante Hour – The Birth and Death of Meaning
Quirky, fun, harmonically beautiful oldtimey sounds with cleverly amusing lyrics from this sultry all-female Brooklyn trio.

71. Mark Sinnis – The Night’s Last Tomorrow
Arguably the finest and most diverse effort to date from the ominous baritone frontman of Nashville gothic rockers Ninth House, ranging from noir cabaret to dark blues to country. He’s the guy that Voltaire ripped off.

72. Bryan and the Haggards – Pretend It’s the End of the World
Outsider or mostly outside jazz guys (Bryan Murray, Jon Irabagon, Jon Lundbom, Moppa Elliott, Danny Fischer) cover Merle Haggard. As absurd and cruelly funny as you would expect.

73. The City Champs – The Set-Up
Like a more diverse, cinematic, noir Booker T & the MGs, the Memphis organ instrumental trio offer a psychedelic yet danceable collection of grooves.

74. Carolann Solebello – Glass of Desire
The Red Molly multi-instrumentalist/singer’s diverse, soaringly intense new solo album of Americana and folk-rock.

75. Black 47 – Bankers and Gangsters
Larry Kirwan never runs out of ideas, never gets stale. We ranked these Irish-American legends’ 2008 album Iraq as that year’s best; this depression-themed one is just as tuneful, wittily perceptive and anthemic.

76. Ken Fowser & Behn Gillece – Little Echo
Torchy, period-perfect late 50s style vibraphone jazz. It ought to be the soundtrack for Mad Men’s next few seasons, if the show lasts that long. Unselfconsciously sexy stuff.

77. The Pre-War Ponies – Introducing the Pre-War Ponies
Daria Grace, their frontwoman and baritone uke player, is one of the most casually compelling, sultry voices in oldtimey and Americana music. This is her charming, unselfconsciously romantic 20s/30s project where she covers all kinds of great obscure period pieces.

78. Gato Libre – Shiro
Quietly tuneful Japanese gypsy jazz-flavored tunes from pianist Satoko Fujii’s obscure accordion project – like one of those great bands that only plays Barbes once every couple of months.

79. Thunderball – 12 Mile High
Spinning with layers of dub-inspired keys, guitars and effects, their cinematic instrumentals are trippy beyond belief, and funny too.

80. Comic Wow – Music for Mysteries of Mind Space and Time
We’re sticking all the psychedelic stuff here for lack of a better place to put it. Some of this you might call dubstep, some is cinematic, some is funky, some is disco. Either way it’s insanely layered, insanely good stoner music.

81. The Smiles and Frowns’ first album
Period-perfect: these guys sound like they stepped out of a Top of the Pops performance alongside the Pretty Things and Electric Prunes, 1968. Whatever they’re smoking out in Arizona where this band is from seems to be working just fine.

82. Jeremy Messersmith – The Reluctant Graveyard
File this under psychedelic pop, with a goth touch – it’s nothing if not original. Clever lyricist, solid powerpop tunes, a 60s fascination that’s not cheesy – he saved that for his Star Wars song.

83. Flugente – Flugente 2
A guy after our own heart: the once-and-future Blam frontman hates gentrification, despises yuppies and trendoids and has the lyrical chops to give his somewhat Leonard Cohen-esque acoustic rants an original, witheringly funny edge. 

84. Jim Guttmann – Bessarabian Breakdown
Joyously and often darkly eclectic klezmer themes and dances from the Klezmer Conservatory Band’s bassist.

85. Very Be Careful – Escape Room
We don’t usually pay attention to bloggers who can’t write, but one of them actually complained about how loud the accordion on these wild LA cumbia punks’ album is. Reason enough for us to put it on the list.

86. The Ellen Rowe Quartet – Wishing Well
Lush, plaintive, beautifully lyrical jazz from the pianist/composer and her inspired band including several memorable Ingrid Jensen cameos.

87. The Whispering Tree – Go Call the Captain
These folks really love 6/8 time, and it works for them, through an uncommonly smart mix of uneasy acoustic Nashville gothic and Appalachian-tinged ballads.

88. Razia – Zebu Nation
Eclectic rock, Afrobeat, jazz-tinged ballads and Mediterranean-style songwriting from the Malagasy chanteuse and her band.

89. Phil Sargent – A New Day
We love albums like this, that transcend boundaries and push the envelope. Guitarist Sargent, backed by a rhythm section and Aubrey Johnson supplying vocalese, runs from motorway ambience to roaring metal/art-rock and pensive jazz instrumentals. 

90. Bern & the Brights – Swing Shift Maisies
Lush yet austere: art-rock with indie production values, but which actually enhance the violin-fueled bite of the surprisingly complex, counterintuitive songs.

91. Jacam Manricks – Trigonometry
Bad title, great album. The alto saxophonist’s previous album was all about lush, gorgeous charts and tunes; this one’s about great playing – with more of those tunes, albeit somewhat more stripped down.

92. Alma Afrobeat Ensemble – Toubab Soul
This is one of the most amazingly melodic, memorable albums of the year even though most of these instrumentals are basically one-chord jams! Lush, hypnotic, often fiery Ethiopian-influenced grooves from this smart Barcelona-based group.

93. Jay Banerjee – “Ban-er-jee,” Just Like It’s Spelled
Like a lo-fi Byrds, the impresario behind NYC’s best rock event, Hipster Demolition Night airs out his bag of catchy, retro 60s Rickenbacker 12-string janglerock licks and savagely satirical lyrics.

94. Debo Band – Flamingoh (Pink Bird Dawn)
The Boston-based Ethiopian dance band’s debut ep – a deliriously fun live recording made on tour in Africa – would be further up this list if it was longer. Which it will be soon – watch this space.

95. Spanglish Fly – Latin Soul y Bugalú
Their debut ep is a throwback to Spanish Harlem circa 1965 or 1966, a blend of oldschool retro soul and oldschool retro salsa – think Joe Cuba but with better production values. Plus you can dance to this like crazy.

96. Jason Robinson and Anthony Davis – Cerulean Landscape
This is about as bluesy as Shostakovich, but it’s gorgeously melodic, with all kinds of interplay between the adventurous, eclectic saxophonist (who stays within himself pretty much here) and the glimmering third-stream piano titan.

97. Denis Matsuev/Valery Gergiev/Mariinsky Orchestra – Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.3./Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
How do you resist putting a recording this robust of two of the iconic late Romantic masterpieces on a Best Albums list? Answer: you don’t.

98. Magnifico – Magnification
Stagy, wry, tongue-in-cheek, sometimes over-the-top Balkan dancefloor madness. He satirizes dumb American culture, and fascist Balkan dictator types, and gets away with it because everybody loves it and it’s so psychedelically tuneful.

99. The Joel Yennior Trio – Big City Circus
Either/Orchestra’s trombone guy’s alternately retro and rather chillingly noir small-combo debut – check out the righteously wrathful suite Justice Lost. 

100. The Bobby Avey Trio – A New Face
On one level, it kills us to put such a great album – magisterial, frequently murky modal jazz piano from one of the best up-and-coming players out there – at #100. Then again, a lot of people scroll all the way to the bottom. And he doesn’t need the press from us anyway.

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December 27, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, experimental music, folk music, gypsy music, jazz, latin music, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, reggae music, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Album of the Day 10/1/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #851:

The Oxygen Ponies – Harmony Handgrenade

This album is about love under an occupation. Recorded during the last months of the Bush regime, it’s an attempt to reconcile the search for some sort of transcendence with the need to overthrow the enemy. Savagely lyrical, swirling and psychedelic, the New York art-rockers’ second cd was one of the great albums of 2009. Frontman Paul Megna offers Leonard Cohen-inflected menace through the eyes of a metaphorical, suicidal messenger on the skeletally crescendoing Love Yr Way; savages suburban smugness with the garage rock of Fevered Cyclones and the backhanded, sarcastic The War Is Over, and evokes the great Australian art-rockers the Church on the desperate, titanic anthem Finger Trigger: “Anything to dissipate the grey skies falling.” A vivid portrayal of a time and place that nobody who lived through it wants to remember. What is it that happens to those who can’t remember the past? So far this one hasn’t made it to the share sites; it’s still available from the band, whose follow-up is due out in a few months and reputedly maintains the power of this one.

October 1, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Oxygen Ponies at the Bell House, Brooklyn NY 4/21/10

The Truck America Festival crosses the channel for the first time, taking place at the Full Moon Resort in the Catskills this coming April 30-May 1. The Oxygen Ponies will be featured among over two dozen acts including Gary Louris of the Jayhawks, Randi Russo, Tim Easton, the Sadies and Dusty and the Dreaming Spires, on three stages over a two-night, three-day span – tickets are $120 including camping, available in New York at Beacon’s Closet locations. If Wednesday’s show at the Bell House is any indication, it should be a lot of fun (the Full Moon recently played host to Beefstock, covered in detail here, and the main stage there rivals the Bell House for quality sound). As he will upstate, frontman Paul Megna brought the whole band along for this show – Don Piper doing a first-class Marty Willson-Piper impression on lead guitar along with a nimble keyboardist, drums and a girl singing high harmonies. Megna’s growling, semi-assaultive vocals matched his guitar playing, swiping at the strings disdainfully without a thought to how much damage he could do to the instrument – or himself – if he hit any harder. The Oxygen Ponies’ most recent album Harmony Handgrenade ranked high on our best albums of 09 list – this set mixed in several choice cuts along with some new material that reminds even more of the band they most closely resemble, Australian art-rockers The Church.

Megna started the show solo, savaging the past via slow, methodical post-Velvets sway: “Looking back to yesterday is worse than giving up,” Ray Sapirstein’s trumpet a eulogy in the distance. The band came up and launched into a pulsing, crescendoing anthem replete with Megna’s trademark cynicism: “Twice is once too much,” he snarled. A brisk version of the even more cynical Fevered Cyclones mocked conspicuous consumptives from the suburbs, followed by a corrosive anti-trendoid anthem. Megna threw down the gauntlet: “Let’s take off those gloves.” They took it out on a soaring, ornately atmospheric note with their most Church-like number of the night, Piper’s washes of guitar against Megna’s voice adding a hypnotic magnetism, a call to kill as much as a challenge to individualists everywhere to stand up for themselves.

April 24, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 50 Best Albums of 2009

You’ll notice that aside from the #1 spot here, these aren’t ranked in any kind of order: the difference, quality-wise between #1 and #50 is so slight as to make the idea of trying to sort out which might be “better” an exercise in futility. If you’re interested, here’s our 100 Best Songs of 2009 list.

1. The Brooklyn What – The Brooklyn What for Borough President

Like London Calling, it’s a diverse yet consistently ferocious, sometimes hilarious mix of styles imbued with punk energy and an edgy, quintessentially New York intensity. Time will probably judge this a classic.

2. Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear – The Ghost of Rock n Roll

The former Hangdogs frontman’s finest, funniest, most spot-on moment as a fearless, politically aware Americana rocker.

3. The Oxygen Ponies – Harmony Handgrenade

Dating from the waning days of the Bush regime, this is a murderously angry album about living under an enemy occupation: love in a time of choler?

4. The Beefstock Recipes anthology

A rich double album of some of New York’s best bands, with standout tracks from the Secrets, Paula Carino, Erica Smith, Skelter, Rebecca Turner and many more.

5. Dan Bryk – Pop Psychology

Arguably the most insightful – and most brutally funny – album ever written about the music industry. The tunes are great too.

6. Balthrop, Alabama – Subway Songs

The sprawling Brooklyn band go deep into 60s noir with this brilliantly morbid, phantasmagorical ep.

7. Bobby Vacant & the Weary – Tear Back the Night

In the spirit of Dark Side of the  Moon and Closer, this is a masterpiece of artsy existentialist rock. You’ll find several tracks on our Best Songs of 2009 list, including our #1 pick, Never Looking Back.

8. Botanica – americanundone

All the fearless fury and rage of a Botanica live show successfully captured at a show in Germany late last year.

9. Kelli Rae Powell – New Words for Old Lullabies

The amazingly lyrical oldtimey chanteuse alternates between sultry, devious romantic stylings and sheer unhinged anger.

10. McGinty & White Sing Selections from the McGinty & White Songbook

Ward White and Joe McGinty’s wickedly lyrical collaboration puts a fresh spin on retro 60s psychedelic pop.

11. The Church – Untitled #23

The Australian art-rock legends’ latest is yet another triumph of swirling atmospherics and intense lyricism.

12. Amy Allison – Sheffield Streets

Her best album – the New York song stylist has never been funnier or more acerbic. Includes a charming duet with Elvis Costello.

13. Steve Wynn and the Dragon Bridge Orchestra – Live in Brussels

A lush, majestic effort recorded with the stellar crew who played on his most recent studio album Crossing Dragon Bridge.

14. Elisa Flynn – Songs About Birds & Ghosts

Haunting and poignant but also cleverly amusing, the New York rocker has never written better or sung more affectingly.

15. The Jazz Funeral – s/t – free download

The best band ever to come out of Staten Island, New York, these janglerockers write excellent lyrics and have some very catchy Americana-inflected tunes.

16. Jay Bennett – Whatever Happened, I Apologize – free download

The last album the great Americana songwriter ever recorded, a harrowing chronicle of dissolution and despair.

17. Marty Willson-Piper – Nightjar

The Church’s iconic twelve-string guitarist’s finest work ever, a sweeping, majestic, multistylistic masterpiece.

18. Black Sea Hotel – s/t

New York’s own Bulgarian vocal choir’s debut is otherworldly, gorgeous and strikingly innovative.

19. Rupa & the April Fishes – Este Mundo

Latin meets noir cabaret meets acoustic gypsy punk on the Bay Area band’s sensational second album.

20. The JD Allen Trio – Shine!

The tenor saxophonist/composer goes straight for wherever the melody is, usually in four minutes or less, with one of the world’s great rhythm sections, Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. Time may also judge this a classic.

21. The New Collisions – s/t

All the fun and edgy intensity of vintage 80s new wave reinvented for the next decade by platinum-haired frontwoman Sarah Guild and her killer backing band.

22. Ten Pound Heads – s/t

The great long lost Blue Oyster Cult album: relentlessly dark, edgy, occasionally noir art-rock songs with layers of great guitar.

23. Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band

A hilariously woozy, fun romp through the songs from Sergeant Pepper, by the allstar NYC reggae crew who brought us Dub Side of the Moon and Radiodread.

24. Jeff Zentner – The Dying Days of Summer

Intense, memorable Nashville gothic songwriting from one of its finest practitioners.

25. Chris Eminizer – Twice the Animal

Cleverly lyrical art-rock songwriting with tinges of vintage Peter Gabriel from this first-rate New York rocker.

26. Tinariwen – Imidiwan: Companions

The Tuareg rockers’ most diverse, accessible album, as memorable as it is hypnotic.

27. Monika Jalili – Elan

Classic songs from Iran from the 60s and 70s, fondly and hauntingly delivered by the Iranian-American siren and her amazing backup band.

28. Ivo Papasov – Dance of the Falcon

The iconic Bulgarian clarinetist delivers maybe his most adrenalizing, intense album of gypsy music ever.

29. The Stagger Back Brass Band – s/t

The Spinal Tap of brass bands are as virtuosic and melodic as they are funny – which is a lot.

30. Eric Vloeimans‘ Fugimundi – Live at Yoshi’s

The Dutch trumpeter leads a trio through a particularly poignant, affecting mix of classically-tinged jazz.

31. The Asylum Street Spankers – What? And Give Up Show Business?

Recorded at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York last year, this is a boisterous, furious mix of hilarious skits and songs by the Dead Kennedys of the oldtimey scene.

32. Salaam – s/t

Sister-and-brother Dena and Amir El Saffar’s richly memorable, haunting seventh album of Middle Eastern instrumentals and ballads.

33. Fishtank Ensemble – Samurai over Serbia

Their shtick is that they add an Asian tinge to gypsy music, giving it an especially wild edge. The singing saw work on the album is pretty amazing too.

34. Charles Evans/Neil Shah – Live at Saint Stephens

An eerily glimmering, suspensefully minimalist masterpiece by the baritone sax player and pianist, recorded in a sonically exquisite old church earlier this year.

35. The Silk Road Ensemble – Off the Map

Their first one without Yo-yo Ma is also their most adventurous mix of Asian and Middle Eastern-themed compositions (by Osvaldo Golijov, Angel Lam, Evan Ziporyn and others), played by an allstar cast including Kayhan Kalhor, string quartet Brooklyn Rider, pipa pioneer Wu Man and a cast of dozens.

36. Linda Draper – Bridge and Tunnel

The NYC songwriter’s most straightforward, catchy yet also maybe her most lyrically edgy album yet – and she has several.

37. Darren Gaines and the Key Party – My Blacks Don’t Match

Wry, Tom Waits-inflected noir songs by this excellent NYC crew.

38. Love Camp 7 – Union Garage

A deliciously jangly followup to their classic 2007 album Sometimes Always Never.

39. The Komeda Project – Requiem

The New York jazz crew’s second collection of works by the Roman Polanski collaborator who died tragically in the 1960s is brooding, morbid, cinematic and Mingus-esque.  

40. Si Para Usted Vol. 2 – The Funky Beats of Revolutionary Cuba

Like the Roots of Chicha series, Waxing Deep’s second devious, danceable collection of genre-hopping obscure Latin funk from 1970s Cuba onward is packed with obscure gems.

41. Huun Huur Tu and Carmen Rizzo – Eternal

Ominous, windswept, atmospheric North Asian ambience produced with stately, understated power.

42. The Moonlighters – Enchanted

Another great album: gorgeous harmonies from Bliss Blood and Cindy Ball, charming retro 20s songwriting and incisive steel guitar from NYC’s best oldtimey band.

43. Minamo – Kuroi Kawa/Black River

Pianist Satoko Fujii and violinist Carla Kihlstedt share a telepathic chemistry in duo soundscapes ranging from clever and playful to downright macabre.

44. Robin O’Brien – The Apple in Man

The multistylistic chanteuse, legendary in the cassette underground, gets her haunting, intense, otherworldly vocals set to smart, terse new arrangements from dreampop to 70s style Britfolk to trance.

45. Devi – Get Free

Ferociously smart pychedelic power trio rock with one of the most interesting lead guitarists out there right now.

46. Obits – I Blame You

Dark, catchy, propulsive retro 60s garage rock with echoes of the Stooges and early Pink Floyd by this inspired Brooklyn band.

47. HuDost – Trapeze

Sweeping, sometimes hypnotic, artsy songs that move from Americana to gypsy to goth, with frontwoman Moksha Sommer’s graceful vocals.

48. Lenny Molotov – Illuminated Blues

Hauntingly visionary, provocative, politically aware songs set to gorgeously rustic, late 1920s blues, swing and hillbilly arrangements by the great Americana guitarist.

49. Chang Jui-Chuan – Exodus: Retrospective and Prospective 1999-2009

Fearless conscious bilingual hip-hop (in Taiwanese and English) from this international star.

50. Les Triaboliques – rivermudtwilight

A trio of old British punks – Justin Adams, Ben Mandelson and Lu Edmonds – combine to create a masterpiece of desert-inspired duskcore.

September 17, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Top Ten Songs of the Week 8/31/09

We do this every Tuesday (usually – remember a couple of weeks ago?). 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. The Oxygen Ponies – Villains

Quiet yet venomous rock anthem dating from the waning days of the Bush regime. From their amazing new cd Harmony Handgrenade.

2. Christabel & the Jons – Florida

Dark, quirky, fun oldtimey swing tune in the Jolie Holland mode. They’re at the Jalopy Theatre on 10/1.

3. Taxi Amarillo – Donde Has Estando

Jangly rock en Espanol anthem. They’re at BB King’s on 9/7

4. Kofre – El Muerto

Ska en Espanol. Also at BB King’s on 9/7.

5. The Scratches – I Take the Shape of My Container

BOAC style pop – funny.

6. Mark Sinnis – That’s Why I Won’t Love You

Quietly snarling, gospel-flavored kissoff anthem recorded live at Pete’s. From his forthcoming 2010 cd.

7. Ninth House – Jealousy

Speaking of which…this is the album version with Randi Russo on harmonies. This is a psychedelic live version.

8. Kerry Kennedy – Golden Calves

Beautiful as-yet unreleased atmospherics from the NYC southwestern gothic chanteuse. She’s at Small Beast at the Delancey on 9/14.

9. Telephone – In Paris

A funny anti-tourist rant, in English, by the iconic punk-era French rockers. “In Paris we piss in the street.”

10. Smoothe Moose – War Pigs (remix)

Woozy electronicized cover, you can’t help but smile. Various members of the Tortoise-esque collective play the release show for their latest mixtape at Public Assembly on 9/3 at 9.

September 1, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 8/24/09

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. The Oxygen Ponies – Finger Trigger

Big scorching venomous rock anthem written at the nadir of the Bush regime. From their amazing new Randi Russo-designed cd Harmony Handgrenade

2. Sad Little Stars – I’m Going to Paris

Hilarious deadpan anti-trendoid broadside

3. Zebu – You Can’t Polish Shit

Noise rock. Self-explanatory. They’re at Mehanata on Aug 29 with the Brooklyn What and Escarioka.

4. Edward Rogers – You Haven’t Been Where I’ve Been

The expat Manchester rock crooner live at the NME awards doing the ELO thing – title track to his latest excellent album.

5. Basia Bulat – Snakes & Ladders

Orchestrated piano/orchestra ballad by this usually lo-fi Canadian songstress. Is this an anomaly? She’s at the Bell House on 10/7 at 8:30.

6. The French Exit – 3 & 12

We’re just going to hit you over the head again and again until everybody realizes what an amazing band these New York noir rockers are. They’re at Local 269 on 9/17 at 8.

7. Escarioka – Algun Dia Llegara

Every single song the Brooklyn What have ever played has probably been included in this list this year at some point, but we haven’t yet done the same with rock/ska en Espanol hellraisers Escarioka, who are also on the bill on 8/29 at Mehanata. This is a surprisingly gentle number but they’ll no doubt rip it to shreds live.

8. Her Vanished Grace – Sirens

They call what they play “power dreampop” which isn’t a bad way to describe it. They’re at Trash on 9/16 at 9:30.

9. The Anabolics – Je Ne Sais Quoi

Wicked garage punk. They’re at Union Pool on 10 on 9/4.

10. Rebecca Turner – Tough Crowd

Ridiculously catchy Americana rock song from the gorgeous-voiced chanteuse. She’s at Banjo Jim’s on 9/2 at 8.

August 25, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Randi Russo and the Oxygen Ponies at the Saltmines, Brooklyn NY 7/10/09

Randi Russo has gotten a ton of ink here, and deservedly so: she’s simply one of the most powerful songwriters in rock, and a casually compelling live performer as well. In an invite-only show Friday night in a comfortable Dumbo rehearsal space, she treated a crowd of avid fans and friends to a set of mostly fan favorites, many of which will probably someday be regarded as classics. Characteristically resolute, quietly fearless, playing electric nylon-string guitar and accompanied by her longtime lead guitarist Lenny Molotov on acoustic, she got into a zone early on and stayed there, from the opening notes of Venus on Saturn – a corrosive dismissal of a drama queen – to the pretty, pastoral outro of the atmospheric, optimistic Ceiling Fire.

In between she did the ridiculously catchy nonconformist anthem Invisible, the big, anthemic crowd-pleaser Push-Pull, the towering, fiery, flamenco-inflected So It Must Be True (“Everything that’s good for them ain’t always good for you,” she reminded calmly), a fascinating, stripped-down version of the Middle Eastern-inflected stomp Head High While You Lie Low and the hypnotic Hurt Me Now. She picked up the pace again with a particularly biting version of the sarcastic pink-collar anthem Battle on the Periphery and finally cut loose with a wail on the relatively new Swallow, a vivid evocation of the pain of choking on thwarted ambitions and dreams. A playful version of the fast, scurrying Parasitic People provided a little, but not a lot, of comic relief.

Russo was doing double duty, next joining Oxygen Ponies frontman Paul Megna on percussion for an equally intense duo show. The Oxygen Ponies are off on their UK tour about a week from now and audiences there are in for a treat. Megna was every bit as much on top of his game as Russo, the two swaying through a mix of old and new material and the same two covers they played at their show here last week (a devious yet plaintive Cars song and a dexterously fingerpicked, hypnotic cover of Love Vigilantes by New Order, playing up the song’s antiwar theme much in the same vein as Laura Cantrell’s version). As strong as the songs from the OxPos’ new cd Harmony Handgrenade (a strong contender for best album of 2009) were, the older material had just as much snarl and passion, even a couple of vivid portayals of clinical depression, The Truest Thing and Chainsmoking. Of the newer songs, Megna and Russo brought out every ounce of blithe sarcasm in the suburban satire Fevered Cyclones along with characteristic fire in the anguished Love Yr Way and a roaring, crescendoing take of the biting garage rock anthem The War Is Over. Then it was back to the older material with a practically confrontational version of the angst ballad Brooklyn Bridge. At the end of the year, Lucid Culture always puts up a Best NYC Live Shows list and while there’s no way that it could ever be so comprehensive as to be remotely authoritative, you’ll probably see this one there.  

Afterward, there was a break to watch the end of Jonathan Sanchez’ no-hitter against the Padres and then a long jam where an audience member named Oliver took over handling the percussion and proved himself a perfectly competent timekeeper, in fact considerably better than the drunken bass player.

July 12, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Oxygen Ponies – Harmony Handgrenade

Call the Oxygen Ponies’ second album Love in a Time of Choler. Recorded during the last months of the Bush regime, it’s an attempt to reconcile the search for some sort of transcendence with the need to overthrow an enemy occupation. It’s also a strong contender for best album of 2009 (stay tuned!). Savagely lyrical, swirling and psychedelic, the obvious comparison is to the great Australian rockers the Church, although sonically and texturally a lot of it is gentler and sometimes more overtly 60s-influenced. Lots of dynamics here, organ and piano floating in and out, backing vocals sometimes adding a gospel choir flavor: it’s a triumph for producer Don Piper. Many of the tracks feature indie rock siren Randi Russo’s velvet vocals adding subtlety and menace. Frontman Paul Megna has always been a formidable lyricist, but here he vaults into the uppermost echelon. The cd’s opening track Love Yr Way begins skeletal, almost Leonard Cohen-esque, before leaping to an ecstatic crescendo at the end:

 

They broke my itchy trigger finger

Scratched an X upon my door

When they hang this message bringer

Blood will rain down through the floor

 

The insistent, midtempo Fevered Cyclones pans to a less-than-idyllic outer-borough hell:

 

We live like clones in our suburban homes

Substituting plastic to get by

You got the best, you want the rest

And you don’t think you’re living a lie

 

The War Is Over, a percussive garage rock stomp, throws another elbow at someone a little too perfect to believe:

 

The war is over, the bastards won

Don’t leave home without your lungs

They’ll shoot your mouth off without a pause

Every body has its flaws

But not you…

The war is over

The heroes lost

Cauterize the permafrost

 

The title track somewhat woozily chronicles two curiously named, possibly fictional, possibly pseudonymous women, Harmony Handgrenade and Melody Marzipan and the nasty repercussions their nonconformity brings them. Yet, it ends on a hopeful note. Grab Yr Gun begins slow and pensive, building to a catchy garage-pop chorus and then goes gospel, and satirically so: “Let your gun be your guide.” A big, scorching rocker, Finger Trigger evokes the loudest stuff on the Church’s Priest = Aura album, desperately flailing for some kind of hope, “Anything to dissipate the grey skies falling.” But it’s too late:

 

You and I and everyone waiting for a brighter sun to shine

We’re wasting time…

I can feel the terrorist inside of me

Choking on the apple of your eye

Hurry up, don’t be late, they’re gonna kill you where you sleep

Shut your mouth, shut your eyes and count the bombs in your heartbeat

 

The most indelibly Bush-era cut is the pensive, hypnotic, yet absolutely defiant, Steve Kilbey-esque Villains:

 

All you mystic gurus

Liars thieves and whores

A plague upon your houses

And all your holy wars

All you self defeatists

I call you all to arms

If we stop medicating

Then who will buy the farm

The fuckers in the White House

Hate your family…

We’ve got a long drive home

 

Defiance reaches a peak on the swinging, macabre ragtime tune Smile, shades of the late, great Douce Gimlet. The cd winds up on a somewhat subdued, sardonic note with A Bottle Marked the Enemy: “They’re gonna come for you, when they comfort you.” Like Simone de Beauvoir’s The Mandarins or the Dead Kennedys’ Frankenchrist, this album perfectly captures a time and place, if one that 5.9 billion people would rather forget. There’s undoubtedly a post-Bush era indie film out there that could match up with this much like Garden State did with the Shins. Maybe more than anything else, this is a cautionary tale, a vivid reminder of where complacency got us the last time around.

May 18, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment