Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Soda Shop’s First Compilation Kicks Ass

If you’re wondering what the cool kids across the USA are listening to, chances are that some of it is right here. Last month our colleagues over at the Soda Shop put out a massive free compilation – the first in a series – that you should get your hands on if you like metal or the louder fringes of stoner music. The corporate media are trying as hard as they can to make you believe that anyone over age eight actually listens to Kesha, or that anyone actually enjoys Arcade Fire instead of merely pretending to because they don’t want to seem uncool in front of their trendoid friends. The reality is that metal is bigger than ever, and maybe better than ever, because the new wave of bands who play it have gone back to the source, the motherlode of it all, Black Sabbath. Tony Iommi should be proud of what he spawned here, yet while most of the bands here have the sludgy slow stoner groove, double and tripletracked solos and chromatic riffage, they aren’t ripoffs either. This is a LONG album, sixteen songs, most of them well over five minutes a clip and most of them various shades of excellent. A couple of them are spoofs, but most of them are straight up pure adrenaline.

Period-perfect early 70s style band Stone Axe open this up with riff-rock on the off beat. Is it a Sabbath homage? A parody? Maybe both. Meat Charger, by Boston’s Gozu, sets lazy drawling Skynyrd vocals over crunchy riffs, more artsy than their smoking Meth Cowboy/Mr. Riddle release from last year. Ohio band Lo-Pan’s Dragline works a long psychedelic 1-chord intro into brain-melting, galloping torrents of guitar triplets, while Brisbane band Shellfin get even more hypnotic, proving that you don’t even have to change chords at all, at least until the overtones are ringing so loud it sounds like a guitar orchestra. And when they do, it’s pretty macabre. Seattle power trio Mos Generator also keep it simple and smart, from the War Pigs echoes on the intro, a catchy bass solo and the ridiculously tuneful, too-brief guitar solo out.

Dayton, Ohio’s Blaxeed, “a heavy drinkin’ hard rockin’ no frills 4 man rock-n-roll band” are represented by the swaying, slightly funky Whiskey Warrior, and have the balls to quote the Beatles. Devil to Pay, from Indianapolis, offer the fuzztoned riffs and doomy lyrics of High Horse, with a juicy brief wah-wah solo to wind it up. The best of all of them may be Cleveland band Venomin James’ Cosmonaut, sounding like Pantera covering Sabbath, some cooly ominous backing vocals lurking toxically in the background and a ferociously charging, doublespeed bridge – if you like this, also check out the scorching live version of their song Abu Graib.

There are also some great songs here that don’t reference Sabbath at all. The funniest track here, Brooklyn band Strange Haze’s Straight Dope, is pure early 70s satire, complete with “soulful” blues harp. This band’s lyrics are off the hook – on this one, the singer wants to walk you “down to the marble garden with a buckskin bottle of wine – sometimes I get so drunk I can sing just like a child…” Luder (German for “little shit”) hail from Detroit, springing from the ashes of the band Slot, and add a dreampop/shoegaze vibe with bassist Sue Lott’s ethereal vocals over layers of crunch and echoey swirl. California trio Whores of Tijuana do a funny punk/metal-meets-ghoulabilly number. And another Detroit band, Chapstik, offers a punishing blast of mostly instrumental metal/hardcore a la the Bad Brains but more chromatic. The compilation starts to run low on gas toward the end, with some nu-metal and grungy stuff that stands out like a sore thumb. But the beauty of this compilation is that you can cherrypick the good stuff, and there’s plenty to choose from. Besides, it’s free. Spread the word and keep your eyes open for Volume 2.

March 18, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Album of the Day 2/24/11

Today we’ll be completely out of commission until early evening, at which point we’ll do our best to get back to business and open up the floodgates. In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #705:

The MC5 – Kick Out the Jams

Here’s one you know. We’re trying to steer clear of the stuff on the web’s two most popular “best albums” lists, but this one pretty much everybody agrees on. It works whether you consider this metal, proto-punk, garage rock or the avant garde (it’s a bit of all of them). The MC5’s 1968 debut kicks off with frontman Rob Tyner screaming “Motherfuckers!” and ends with the drony proto-noiserock epic Starship. In between we get a practically punk version of an old folk song and then the title track – an urgent message to self-indulgent hippie musicians to keep things tight – as well as the completely nonsensical but deliriously fun Rocket Reducer No. 62, the lumpen, proletarian Come Together and Borderline, the searing bluesmetal anthem Motor City Is Burning (which nicks a page from fellow Detroiter John Lee Hooker’s book) and I Want You Right Now, one of the first attempts to blend metal and funk. Guitarists Fred “Sonic” Smith and Wayne Kramer kick up a cataclysm while Dennis Thompson, one of the most exhilarating rock drummers ever, adds extra firepower to the river of molten sludge. Here’s a random torrent.

February 24, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Formerly Whooping Crane, Now Strange Haze, Same Great Album

“You have to be stoned to listen to this” is usually an insult. We don’t ordinarily advocate for or against the use of one substance or another – that should be an individual choice, and a legal one. But if the phrase “strange haze” has any kind of special meaning for you, Strange Haze’s album Riffin’ for Rent is the kind that you really ought to hear after indulging. If your dad still gets stoned, smoke him up and then try to convince him that this band was around when he was doing it all the time. He just might believe you.

Strange Haze (formerly known as Whooping Crane) should have been the band in Almost Famous. Hilariously satirical, sometimes cruelly, sometimes fondly, the Brooklyn rockers’ stoner shtick works as well as it does because they’re such excellent musicians. When’s the last time you heard a metal band with a drummer who can swing like crazy? Everybody knows that you have to have chops to play metal really well, but these guys don’t just know their early 70s stoner music, they know soul, and Stones, and Sabbath, and Skynyrd, and probably a bunch of bands from that era who were quickly forgotten because they weren’t as good. That’s what Strange Haze sound like. They’ll riff on a single chord for what seems minutes on end, and yet there’s something fresh and unselfconsciously fun about it. They know every cliche in the book and aren’t afraid to employ them wherever they’d be the most ridiculous. Likewise, their lyrics, delivered in a deadpan, period perfect faux-bluesy drawl, are beyond hilarious.

The opening track is She’s a Knockout, which sounds like the MC5 as done by Grand Funk Railroad. It’s about a girl “who was born in the heart of the whooping crane,” with an irresistible multiple-tracked bluesmetal solo out. Track two, Tomm Tapp starts out as sludgy but swinging riff-metal in the Poobah vein and adds honking harmonica for, you know, that authentic bluesy feeling – and suddenly goes all starlit and rapt for a second before the bludgeoning begins again. “Can you see the fork in the road? Close your eyes before they explode!” They follow that with Hang Loose, six minutes of wah funk, Sabbath style with some woozy southern overtones: “Summer of love don’t tell no lies ’cause we’re underneath the firefly…smoking the kingsized ultralights, still looking kinda tight.”

One Hit Sally is a tribute to a girl convinced that her smoke-filled room is more interesting than anything that could possibly exist outside it, pulsing along on a Stax/Volt bass groove with grand guignol art-rock guitar flourishes. The perfectly titled Voomp! keeps the funky groove going (if you remember early 70s Texas “hard rock” band Bloodrock, this is that kind of thing). The funniest song on the album is Straight Dope, playfully taking a 60s soul riff, adding more of that honking harmonica and a priceless lyric:

Walked down to the marble garden with a buckskin bottle of wine
Sometimes I get so drunk I can sing just like a child

The bonus track that you can get from their bandcamp site is That’s More Like It, working both sides of the Atlantic for a riff-loaded hash buzz, then a skunkweed heartland metal vibe: “Make you crawl like an armadillo, armageddon in an armchair!” In addition to this one, Strange Haze will be on the Soda Shop’s upcoming free compilation coming out Feb 22.

February 16, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 1/9/11

OK, mini-vacation is over, we’re firing up the engines again. To get things started, as we do every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Sunday’s is #751:

Blue Oyster Cult – Tyranny and Mutation

The artsiest and most ornate metal band, at least until the new wave of British metal of the late 70s/early 80s, Blue Oyster Cult blended elegant classical flourishes and epic grandeur into their riff-rocking roar and stomp. Sarcastic, vicious and sometimes satirical, they collaborated with Patti Smith and were a considerable influence on punk, new wave and goth music, covered both by Radio Birdman and the Minutemen. This is their best studio album, from 1973. It kicks off with the split-second precise tripletracked riffage of The Red and the Black, followed by the gorgeously crescendoing O.D.’d on Life Itself. Hot Rails to Hell, Baby Ice Dog and Teen Archer are the heavy tracks here; 7 Screaming Diz-Busters is something of an epic, with a deliciously evil siren of an outro. Mistress of the Salmon Salt is catchy and matter-of-factly macabre; the best song here is the ghoulishly watery Wings Wetted Down, punctuated by a beautifully dark chorus-pedal solo by lead guitarist Buck Dharma. Everything the band released  through the live On Your Feet or On Your Knees album is worth hearing; forty years after they started, they’re still touring with a slightly revamped lineup and can still put on a good show. Here’s a random torrent.

January 9, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Uncategorizably Fun Triplebill at Littlefield

Sunday night concerts are a bitch. The trains are still messed up from the weekend and most everybody who’s not unemployed yet is dreading the work week ahead. But clubs still book shows, antipating a handful of the brave souls who aren’t daunted the prospect of Monday’s exhaustion along with a probably larger crowd who don’t have that problem because their parents’ or their parents’ parents’ money has assured that they never will. From the looks of it, this triplebill drew the braver contingent.

With trombone, trumpet, bass clarinet and vocals, quartet Loadbang loosened up the crowd with a series of jokey little Nick Didkovsky pieces with a skronky free jazz flavor, a couple of improvisations and then a genuinely disconcerting, strung-out version of David Lang’s arrangment of I’m Waiting for My Man, their singer’s anxious vocals channeling the dread of a dope jones far more vividly than Lou Reed ever did.

Loud third-stream rock unit Kayo Dot followed, intelligently aggressive. With violin, alto and tenor sax, keys, bass or guitar (or with the enhancement of a pedal or two and a few tuning modifications, sometimes both) and drums, they shifted tempos and dynamics incessantly. Bandleader Toby Driver’s compositions changed shape dramatically from pounding, inexorably crescendoing passages, to still violin atmospherics. Textures shifted just as much as the dynamics, intricately woven lines passed from one instrument to another. One tricky, fusionesque groove coalesced and morphed into a festive if astringent dance with an Ethiopian feel. Until a plaintively swaying, rather majestic art-rock guitar song with an obvious Radiohead influence emerged, they’d avoided any kind of rock-oriented sense of resolution or hint of where a central tonality might be lurking. So when that moment arrived, it was on the heels of over a half hour of tension and it was a welcome respite. Their last piece seemed at first to be a series of dramatic endings, which went on past the point of overkill to where it started to make sense as a Groundhog Day of sorts, an endless series of calamities ending in some kind of blunt trauma. The crowd wanted more, but after that, there wasn’t anywhere higher the band could have gone.

Newspeak were celebrating the release of their potent new album Sweet Light Crude, an equally diverse mix of politically-charged music by an A-list of rising composers. Early on, they followed the album sequence. On the cd, the opening cut, B&E (with Aggravated Assault), by Oscar Bettison takes on a blustery, Mingus-esque tone; here, it swung mightily, stampeding percussively to the end in a cloud of dust. Stefan Wiseman’s I Would Prefer Not To contrasted plaintively, a subtle tribute to civil disobedience, cello and violin mingling with singer Mellissa Hughes’ vocalese. The title track, a cautionary tale about the perils of addiction (in this case to oil), emphasized volume and texture rather than the tongue-in-cheek disco pulse of the recorded version, amped to the point of crunchy rockness. Likewise, they took Missy Mazzoli’s In Spite of All This to a swirl of intricately inseparable counterthemes that grew from wounded and damaged to a dizzying series of crazed crescendos. The angst went up another level on Caleb Burhans’ requiem for the padlocked GM plant in his depressed hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, a sort of harder-rocking Twin Peaks theme driven by guitarist Taylor Levine’s twangy, ominous, reverb-toned southwestern gothic lines. Then they threw all caution aside, with a savagely punked-out cover of Taking Back Sunday’s If You See Something Say Something – a raised middle finger at gentrifier paranoia – and then a full-length, pretty much note-for-note cover of Black Sabbath’s War Pigs, Burhans’ violin delivering all Tony Iommi’s showiest fills with lightning precision as Hughes alternated between a sneer and a smirk. It was better than the original and probably more in touch with its molten-metal antiwar core.

November 19, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, experimental music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Poobah’s Classic 1972 Stoner-Metal Debut Is Back in Print

In 1972, Poobah, a high school rock band from Youngstown, Ohio recorded Let Me In, a fuzzed-out stoner metal album that became a cult classic: copies of the original vinyl go for hundreds of dollars on the collector market. Little did teenage guitarist Jim Gustafson, bassist Phil Jones and drummer Glenn Wiseman know that they’d created a psychedelic, proto-metal masterpiece. Originally reissued in 1994 on a small, now defunct label, Ripple Music’s newly remastered re-release contains the original album’s seven tracks as well as twelve bonus cuts featuring additional band members (ten of the songs included on a limited-edition double gatefold black-and-white vinyl album). The obvious influence is Black Sabbath, right down to the catchy simplicity of the hooks, the way they’ll hang on a single chord for minutes on end, the heavy echo on the vocals, the fat midrange tone of the bass and Wiseman’s busy but absolutely brilliant drumming. Gustafson’s sunbaked, bluesy playing is shockingly terse, especially for this kind of music. As long and convoluted as some of these songs are, he doesn’t waste notes, tossing off one brief, incisive riff after another with a heavylidded leer.

The band’s signature song, Mr. Destroyer motors along on an unstoppable midtempo groove, Gustafson’s doubletracked solo phasing back and forth between channels, and a conga break with screams echoing in the background: Spinal Tap central! It’s quite a contrast with what follows it, the surprisingly gentle, folk-tinged ballad Enjoy What You Have, Wiseman’s amazing drums picking it up little by little. The slow ba-bump boogie Live to Work is a workingman’s anthem: “You know I can’t stand this hell.” Bowleen, the eeriest number here, has a Syd Barrett feel, the sample at the end providing an irresistibly funny answer to the question of what it’s about. The fifth track, Rock n Roll is unhinged Chuck Berry rock as Uriah Heep might have done it, except with better drums; the title cut is a 7-11 parking lot riff-rocker with a long In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida drum solo – all that’s missing is the crowd noise! – and a gleeful solo guitar break.

Most of the bonus tracks are strong as well. Make a Man Outta You, one of the few here that was previously issued, layers one delicious, reverb-drenched sheet of wild tremolo-picking on top of another. A one-chord stoner jam, Upside Down Highway has Gustafson’s guitar echoing around a catchy, circling bass riff, finally delivering a long, wild, Tony Iommi-style wah solo. The closest thing to Sabbath here is the hilarious Walk of the Bug: “When you’re asleep in your bed you’ll feel his legs on your head.” The bass walks on your face, the guitar injects the venom and it’s over. There’s also a couple of tasty bluesmetal instrumentals, a late MC5 style metal-pop number manufactured specifically for a car radio audience, and a lone attempt to weld funk to a blotto metal groove. The whole thing ranks with Flower Marching Band, the original Iron Maiden and Sir Lord Baltimore as one of the classics of early metal. And if you like these guys, you might want to check out their labelmates and early 70s contemporaries the JPT Scare Band, a Kansas City outfit who split their time between skin-peeling acid-metal and a more commercial Allman Bros.-style sound.

October 12, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Hoodless Put Their Original Stamp on Classic Metal

Jersey City rockers Hoodless pride themselves that they can replicate 99% of their new album Music for Jerks live, and a lot of it actually sounds like it could be live in the studio. If you like metal but can’t stand the tunelessness and unoriginality of all the post-grunge corporate metal acts of the last ten years, Hoodless are for you. The one band they evoke, again and again, if from a distance, are Van Halen, but without the over-the-top ridiculousness (just imagine how awesome VH would have been if, say, Mark Anthony, or anybody BUT David Lee or Sammy was the singer…). Some of the songs here follow the grunge formula of quiet verse/loud chorus, but they’re not grunge – the vocals aren’t slurred or stupid and the twin guitars of Paul Allan and Finn are definitely metal, dry 80s style Charvel-through-a-Peavey grit. Most of the songs are short (three or four minutes, tops) and riff-oriented: there isn’t a lot of soloing, but when they cut loose the playing is choice.

The first cut, Touch and Cry is simple and characteristically catchy: it goes doublespeed after the verses are over, Van Halen meets Pantera without buffoonery of either one. Waiting and then Innocent do the soft/loud contrast effectively, the first with repeater-pedal guitar, the second with an eerie, echoey PiL vibe on the verse. Down, a darkly majestic 6/8 ballad, follows the same pattern, with echoes of Black Angel by the Cult. GAPO, whatever that stands for, has a spacious, early 70s style stoner metal feel, with a memorable descending progression, a trick ending and solid bootkick Bill Ward style drums. The sixth track, Say It Loud juxtaposes thrash with new wave, hair metal as done by Anthrax, maybe, and finally a nice NWOBHM blues-tinged solo. Run Away works a catchy twin guitar chorus hook, some tasty chromatic riffage and something about how “the cannibal masses can’t run away.” Be My Whore is memorably abrasive and as funny as you would think, with “my fingers down your throat.” ?!?!? Underground reaches for a majestic, rhythmically tricky British metal majesty and nails it in four minutes or less; the concluding track, Why So Serious runs variations on a classic Led Zep style hook. Make the sign of the horns and raise your lighter.

September 30, 2010 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

Cutting-Edge Contrasts in Brooklyn Heights

Guitar quartet Dither perched themselves high in the organ loft at Brooklyn Heights’ First Presbyterian Church last night. It was a dramatic move and it made perfect sense sonically, as loud as they got at times. Strikingly, they played a raw, stripped-down show rich with dynamic shifts. While everyone in the group brought his pedalboard, they didn’t often reach for the cyclotron swirl of their recently released debut album. Appropriately, they opened with an Arvo Part organ piece, an austere, minimalistically chilly four-bar phrase that repeated over and over again. Their tic-tac-toe arrangement was perfectly paced; it sounded like a miniature from an early Cure album, and it went on long beyond where it could have made any additional impact. Strat player James Moore switched to bass for a Ches Smith composition which they turned into round-robin music-box skronk, a showcase for Taylor Levine’s jaggedly incisive riffage, building to an assaultive, Kowalski/Einsturzende Neubauten crescendo of industrial crunch and then a surprisingly catchy, circular concluding riff.

A composition by guitarist Joshua Lopes was next, a brightly proggy dance with echoes of English folk, Steve Hackett and Weather Report. Their other Strat player, David Linaburg took it down and out elegantly with phrasing that reminded of Jerry Garcia (in “on” mode). Lisa R. Coons’ Cross-Sections, a cut from the new album, was stripped to its inner dread, jarring twin ascending progressions using adjacent notes and a concluding section where the guitars took on a staccato cello attack to maximize its disquiet. The last number, Telegraph, by First Presbyterian impresario and organist Wil Smith, was the icing on the cake, Lopes switching to bass this time. Opening with an echoey, staccato, U2 style pulse, it grew to majestic, otherworldly, Messiaenic proportions, atmospherics punctuated by percussive punches and eventually a magnificent, anguished noiserock gallop, Iron Maiden as played by Mogwai, maybe. It was stunning, and impossible to turn away from.

Accompanied by an eight-piece ensemble including four violins, two trumpets, bowed bass and bassoon, Canadian composer Kyle Bobby Dunn led them on guitar and keyboards (and echoey effects) from the lectern at the back of the church with the lights down low. Beginning with the long, hypnotic drone that would continue almost nonstop throughout the practically hourlong, horizontal work, the nocturne shifted shape almost imperceptibly, with trumpet, violin or the guitar/keys (it became next to impossible to tell which was which) moving a note or five, at the most, from the center. When Dunn added a throbbing pulse to the drone about fifteen minutes in, it was something akin to a long night ride through a Saskatchewan of the mind in an old Cadillac with a bad muffler, sinking comfortably into one of its big, cozy seats, the big shocks of the old gas-guzzler cushioning every impact the road might deliver, V8 rumbling low, warm and irresistibly soothing somewhere outside. Yet it was anything but a trip back to the womb; its judicious shifts in timbre and pitch, and its slow crescendos, evoked a distant anguish. A cautionary tale about the perils of complacency? Maybe. It concluded with what seemed to be a random scan of the radio dial: snippets of a baroque piece, a lush, sleepy wash of strings from a symphonic work (which the violins played along with, gently) and then the intro from She Sells Sanctuary by the Cult, cut off abruptly. In its own deliberate, understated way, it was every bit as intense and gripping as the withering, assaultive conclusion delivered by Dither.

The monthly series of cutting-edge concerts at First Presbyterian Church continues on October 8 at 8 PM with Eleonore Oppenheim.

September 11, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, experimental music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment