Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Botanica – Who You Are

Another year, another great album by Botanica. That the latest cd by the inimitably dark, gypsy-tinged art-rockers is their first American release in ten years says more about the state of the music industry than just about anything else. Consider: the 9/11-themed 2004 cd Botanica vs. the Truth Fish, the best single-disc rock album of the entire decade of the zeros, never saw an official US release (although like the rest of the Botanica catalog, it’s up at itunes). Fortuitously, the band will be celebrating this one at the Big Small Beast at the Angel Orensanz Center on Friday, May 21, a night that could be the single best rock show in New York this year, and which kicks off with an hour of free beer. This album will be available there not only as a cd but also on limited edition white vinyl.

Where does it fall in the Botanica pantheon? It’s one of their best, and it’s warmer than anything they’ve done before. There’s still layer upon layer of John Andrews’ otherworldly, echoing reverb guitar, Paul Wallfisch’s menacing, smoky organ, piano and vocals and uneasy, wide-awake worldview, but this one’s somewhat more inviting, less assaultive than their previous albums. One notable development is the inclusion of several outstanding songs by Andrews, who brings a highly individual, ornately Beatlesque, wryly lyrical sensibility. Another is the album’s more straight-ahead rhythmic feel. Previous incarnations of Botanica explored all sorts of tricky time signatures, but this one sticks pretty much with the 4/4 – and yet, the rhythm section, Dave Berger on drums and either Dana Schechter (of the majestically cinematic Bee & Flower) or Jason Binnick (of haunting noir Americana rocker Kerry Kennedy’s band) on bass is perhaps more subtle than this band’s ever seen.

The title cut opens the album. Underneath the stately sway of this beautiful, crescendoing anthem, the menace of the lyrics contrasts with the longing of the melody, for someone other than the gestapo to know exactly who you are and what you need. The second cut, Witness builds from noir Watching the Detectives-style reggae to a clenched-teeth gypsy dance with some savage tremolo-picking from Andrews. Cocktails on the Moon, by Andrews takes an artsy late Beatlesque melody and makes it sardonic and surreal – like several other tracks here, the band it most resembles is legendary Australian art-rockers the Church. By contrast, You Might Be the One is scorching and percussive, like the Church in a particularly violent moment, with lush vocals from co-writer Schechter. With its pensive Weimar cabaret sway, Anhalter Bahnof reflects on the reslience of the spirit in the midst of materialism. Xmas, a big psychedelic anthem, is an otherworldly cloudburst of guitars, strings and gorgeous vocal harmonies that float sepulchrally throughout the mix, followed by the much more straight-ahead Perfection, fast and scurrying with a rapidfire lyric: Elvis Costello in a gypsy disguise. The version of Because You’re Gone (also recorded by Wallfisch with Little Annie, who wrote the lyrics, on their new album Genderful) is all frenetic manic depression reverberating off the keys of the Wurlitzer. Then, turning on a dime again, Wallfisch offers what could be considered the centerpiece of the album, For Love, its hypnotic Moonlight Mile ambience gently crescendoing to an understatedly majestic soul ballad.

The understated epic grandeur continues with some soaring slide work from Andrews on Backlit (the title referring to the phone numbers of Wallfisch’s dead friends’ numbers on his crumbling old Nokia phone). “Don’t know what to do with the dead,” he rails. Whispers and Calls sets a 1950’s 6/8 doo-wop melody down in Beatle territory, toy piano carrying the tune out eerily at the end. The album ends with the ghostly and hypnotic yet defiant So Far from Childhood, which could be the great missing track from Heroes by Bowie. Best album of the year? Certainly one of them – and available on vinyl at the Big Small Beast.

Advertisements

May 20, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Botanica at the Knitting Factory, Brooklyn NY 2/12/10

Botanica are off on European tour starting February 16 (their myspace has the complete list of dates). Friday night’s show at the Knitting Factory went from incandescent to pyrotechnic, transcending a wretchedly muddy sound mix, leaving no doubt that they are still New York’s best band, possibly the best band in America right now. EU audiences are in for a richly melodic, menacingly hypnotic treat over the next couple of months.

Along with frontman/keyboardist Paul Wallfisch (heavily duct-taped since he’d ripped his trousers earlier during the day doing only god knows what) were longtime guitarist John Andrews – equal parts Daniel Ash and Dick Dale – along with bassist Jason Binnick (of Kerry Kennedy’s band) and Dresden Dolls drummer Brian Viglione propelling the juggernaut with a joyous, careening Tamir Muskat-esque intensity. Bee & Flower’s Dana Schechter lent her soaring wail to a mercilessly pummeling, murderously reverberating version of a new Andrews song, You Might Be the One. The title track from the new album Who You Are, a defiantly unfashionable, insistently soulful defense of all things passionate got an especially energetic treatment, keys and guitar refracting a pointillistic metal-in-the-microwave Moonlight Mile vibe on a long, extended outro.

Andrews turned into Mr. Moto, tremolo-picking the opening bars of their first number, What You Need with a casually macabre reverb-fueled menace that turned warm and soulful on the chorus, only to revert to haunting, cautionary mode seconds later. This is the most diverse – and inclusionary – version of the band so far, with songwriting contributions beyond the constantly deepening Wallfisch catalog: the Binnick song they played was a strikingly warm, upbeat 6/8 ballad imbued with a vintage sixties soul feel. But the old classics still resonated: the stately, anguished requiem for lost time And Then Palermo; the furiously scurrying, savagely lyrical gypsy rock hit How, and the towering noir cabaret blues anthem The Truth Fish, one of the few 9/11 elegies to effectively capture the outrage and horror that swept through New York in the weeks afterward. Kinetic behind his battered Wurlitzer, Wallfisch railed against the dying of the light, the absence of missing people and places and “the code orange bullshit of Machiavellian ideals” of the Bush years. Zef Noise guested on violin along with a trumpeter who, though they clearly were giving it their all, simply weren’t given the chance to cut through the sound mix. Knowing European sound guys for who they are, they’ll get it right in Bratislava and Berlin.

February 15, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments