Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Amy Bezunartea Dishes on Restaurants and Bars

If you’ve followed this space at all, you’ve probably noticed that we very seldom cover singer-songwriters. There’s a reason for that. Your typical singer-songwriter plays one song over and over again. The melody, the beat or the lyrics may change, but it basically goes something like this: “I’m mad at you because you don’t pay attention to me.” And did you ever wonder why most folkie clubs have such an annoyingly uptight vibe? Because they’re filled with people who actually relate to songs like that. What those people don’t realize is that if they all got together and united, other people would pay attention to them. But they’re too narcissistic to do that.

In the far left corner of that field, or more likely behind the bar, is Brooklyn songwriter Amy Bezunartea. Although her music is typically gentle, acoustic-based and lyrically-driven, it doesn’t fit the typical singer-songwriter mold: if you have to put a label on her, acoustic rocker makes the most sense. Her new album Restaurants and Bars is just out on Jennifer O’Connor’s Kiam Records label and it’s excellent. Beautifully and warmly produced, Bezunartea’s unselfconsciously attractive, high soprano vocals shimmer with layers of harmonies that are often otherworldly. Her simple, tersely crystallized lyrics reflect the urban milieu of someone who’s supported herself working in the restaurants and bars of the title – and in the title track, she cynically wonders why no relationship that ever began in a place like that ever lasts. “But I long to believe you, I long to believe, too,” she affirms. Hope eludes the characters in her songs: maintaining faith in themselves is an everyday struggle. “I’m resigned to the turning of tables and waiting in line,” she sings on the album’s fastest, hardest-rocking track, I Lie Awake At Night (But That’s All Right). And on Doubles, a plaintive workingwoman’s ballad, she laments a loved one’s fading dreams:

Some girls they glow in darkness
But by our standards that’s not much
Some girls they’d like to win
But instead they’ll serve you lunch

The theme recurs just as vividly on the plaintive piano piece Mostly I’m Just Scared: “Mostly it’s the part of me that isn’t that I’m trying to get back,” the worn-down protagonist insists. The Light, starkly fingerpicked with a disarmingly beautiful mandolin break, longs for lost hope, “Many places to hide, further away away every time.” And the album’s concluding track, a live take of a strikingly jaunty oldtimey-flavored banjo tune, paints a similarly bleak picture: “People die younger and younger it seems, guys like you and girls like me…I hold you tight like a rope in the sky.”

There are more hopeful moments here as well. With its dreamy harmonies and harmonica atmospherics, Amy’s Spring Tune is striking and bittersweet:

Green leaves on your treelined streets
Fill me with such relief
Gather all the dark in me
And cast it off officially
Darkness in the afternoon
Holds the lights that filled this room
There are no brighter visions
No good conditions
Make the best of the decisions…

Bridges works both as a cityscape, and a metaphor for finding some kind of emotional footing. And the album’s opening track, All the Things We Were Supposed to Be, a shadowy, reverb-tinged solo piano piece, quietly and matter-of-factly dismisses the pressures of trying to conform to someone else’s standards: “Just brush them aside, each and everyone…not to compete is such a relief.” Words of wisdom from someone who’s been there: it’s one of many subtle gems here.

December 14, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 12/7/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #784:

Come – Gently Down the Stream

One of the small handful of truly great indie rock bands from the 90s, Come’s two-guitar frontline of Thalia Zedek and Chris Brokaw were that era’s Keith Richards and Mick Taylor, combining for a ferocious, intuitive maelstrom of growling, roaring, reverb-drenched, evilly smoldering noise. This is their last album, from 1999, and it’s their best. The songs are longer, more ornate and complex, foreshadowing the art-rock direction Zedek would take in the years following the demise of the band. There’s no other group that sound remotely like them: while Zedek would borrow a little of the noiserock she’d been drenched in as frontwoman of legendary New York rockers Live Skull in the late 80s, ultimately she’s more of a Stonesy rock purist. Brokaw invents new elements with his trademark leads, expertly negotiating an underworldly labyrinth of passing tones. The album opens with the epic One Piece, continues in that vein with Recidivist before going more punk with the slightly shorter Stomp and then eventually the loudest track here, the screaming, riff-rocking Saints Around My Neck. The most magnificent track is the kiss-off anthem New Coat, another scorching dirge. After the band broke up, Brokaw would go on to even greater heights as the lead guitarist in the original incarnation of Steve Wynn and the Miracle Three as well as a noteworthy career as a solo act as well as with first-class indie songwriter Jennifer O’Connor. Here’s a random torrent.

December 7, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 9/20/10

This is sort of our weekly, Kasey Kasem-inspired luddite DIY version of a podcast. Every week, we try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone: sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. We’ve designed this as something you can do on your lunch break if you work at a computer (and you have headphones – your boss won’t approve of a lot of this stuff). If you don’t like one of these songs, you can always go on to the next one: every link here (except for #1 this week) will take you to each individual song. As always, the #1 song here will appear on our Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of the year.

1. Klezwoods – Cuperlika

Centerpiece of the Balkan/klezmer/Middle Eastern band’s titanicallly good new cd Oy Yeah. Put it up on the web somewhere guys, you’ll sell a lot more records!

2. Serena Jost – Stay

Characteristically stark and compelling solo cello art-rock song from her forthcoming cd.

3. Band of Outsiders – Graveyard

Absolutely off the hook post-Velvets guitar madness, live at the Parkside this year. They’re at Bowery Electric on 9/23 at 10 opening for Richard Lloyd.

4. Ninth House – Down Beneath

Frontman Mark Sinnis was making this video in a cemetery in upstate New York when he noticed that the seemingly random grave he’d chosen to lie on belonged to one Mary Ann Larson, who died on Sinnis’ birthday in 1853. Coincidence? The band play the cd release show for their new one on 9/24 at at UC 87 Lounge, 87 Ludlow St. at 11.

5. Amy Bezunartea – Doubles

Hang with this – it’s worth your 3 minutes. Not your average girl with acoustic guitar, described by her label (Jennifer O’Connor’s project Kiam) as “kind of Joni meets Magnetic Fields” but better. Free download.

6. Zikrayat – Ish-Showq Mihayyarni

Classic obscure 50s Egyptian film music from the movie ‘Aziza’ starring Naima Akif, live at Galapagos last year. The song starts about 1:20 into the clip. They’re at Moustache (Lex and 102nd) at 8 PM on 9/24.

7. The Poludaktulos Orchestra – Rajkos

Brass band intensity – the missing link between Greece and Serbia, with Klezwoods’ amazing guitarist.

8. Gertrude Michael – Sweet Marijuana

Via night of the purple moon – precode movie music from 1934.

9. Amanda Thorpe – River Song

The dodgy sound reflects the crappy venue this was recorded at, but Thorpe’s voice transcends it – a classic that sounds as good as it did a couple of years ago.

10. Los Incas Modernos – Terremoto

An early Peruvian surf band – you can get lost in this stuff on youtube.

September 21, 2010 Posted by | funk music, latin music, lists, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Serena Jost and Jennifer O’Connor at the Delancey, NYC 3/5/09

A clinic in good songwriting from two of the best. Serena Jost has gotten a lot of ink here since Lucid Culture’s inception, and deservedly so. A virtuoso cellist who did time in Rasputina, her artsy, classically-inflected songs are often imbued with an old-world stateliness that takes on an even greater poignancy when she sings, in a cautious, wary, highly nuanced delivery. Yet she’s just as likely to break the mold and launch into a playful pop song that suddenly and unexpectedly morphs into something else – think rustic, early ELO-era Jeff Lynne. Both styles were in abundance last night. Starting out on guitar and accompanied by her longtime lead guitarist Julian Maile, the two ran through a swirling, catchy janglepop song and then the noirish, 6/8 ballad Falling Down. Switching to cello, she tackled another 6/8 ballad, the brand-new Blue Flowers with its surprise-laden Moonlight Sonata-ish broken chords. Almost Nothing, from her excellent, most recent cd Closer Than Far featured some eerily dexterous tremolo-picking from Maile, more Daniel Ash than Dick Dale. They closed with the ridiculously catchy, multi-part Reasons and Lies, Maile’s trebly twang interpolated beautifully amidst Jost’s stark cello textures.

 

Believe everything good you’ve ever heard about Jennifer O’Connor. Though signed to Matador, there’s nothing remotely indie about her. Setting brooding, gemlike, angst-ridden lyrics to tersely melodic, occasionally Americana-inflected rock tunes, she delivered a seemingly effortless, forty-minute set backed by just an excellent bassist and a woman singing harmonies (and playing soulful harmonica on one song), validating pretty much any claim that’s been made about her. From a listener’s point of view, it was a tantalizing glimpse of what it would be like to see O’Connor leading a good electric band, with her on lead guitar.

 

This being the Delancey’s weekly Thursday Small Beast extravaganza, there was the usual A-list of New York musicians in the house. When asked whose music she thought O’Connor’s resembles, one of the great songwriters of our time weighed the question. “Barbara Brousal,” she replied, which makes sense if you subtract the Brooklyn chanteuse’s tropicalia fixation: Brousal can really rock out when she’s in the mood, as does O’Connor. Someone else mentioned Steve Wynn, a particularly apt comparison during the best parts of the show where O’Connor resolutely swung her way through two deliriously catchy, darkly garage-inflected songs. There’s a striking, offhand strength and intensity to both her playing and her vocals, her big, often counterintuitive chords rich and sustained as she reflected on relationships gone wrong or hopelessly doomed. She’s spent a lot of time on the road lately, and the night’s best song (one of the Steve Wynn-esque numbers) seemed to echo that: “When I close my eyes, I see the highway/When I go, I go to sleep.”

 

The next song maintained a sense of longing despite the hopeful tone of the lyrics: “It will be easy for me,” she sang uneasily, wailing up and down on her acoustic to end the song on a fiery note. Another number saw her projecting in a powerful contralto for an entire verse before sailing to the upper ranges for the second, immediately bringing the intensity to redline. By contrast, the title track to her new cd Here with Me revealed itself as a surprisingly gentle, optimistic song with a catchy 60s pop feel. She closed the set returning to plaintive, haunting mode with a midtempo tune that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Matt Keating songbook: “I have a hard time of hiding everything,” she lamented.

 

Jennifer O’Connor’s next New York gig is April 3 at Cake Shop; Serena Jost and her full band play an auspiciously long 90-minute set at Barbes on Mar 12 at 8.

March 6, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Elisa Flynn – Songs About Birds & Ghosts

Listening to this cd – Flynn’s second solo effort – the first thing that hits you is what a damn good singer she is. The phrase “indie rock song stylist” may sound like an oxymoron, but that’s what Elisa Flynn is. Confident and matter-of-fact on the big rockers, she brings it down to a wounded mezzo-soprano on the quieter songs, with a casual vibrato that trails off effortlessly. Flynn’s thoughtful, frequently dark songwriting gives that voice plenty of opportunity to soar and glimmer throughout a mix of scruffily clanging, upbeat guitar-driven fare and slower, more sparse material, often in 6/8 time and minor keys. Lyrically, she balances wry, smartly literate, frequently sardonic humor with an undercurrent of unease. This is the kind of album you want to put on the ipod and let it grow on you as its layers fold back and reveal themselves. There’s a lot to get to know here.

 

The cd kicks off with Timber. It’s a big, bounding, characteristically wary anthem that builds on from Flynn’s sharp, incisive choral work to a fiery crescendo on the chorus, drummer Anders Griffen getting the next salvo started with an evil cymbal crash. “The house has fallen down around our ears but I still live here…I’m not afraid of the crashing sound,” Flynn resolutely insists. The album’s second cut, Normal is a requiem, its ghost skipping across the room along with the song on the record that plays in the background, Flynn explains. With its skittish rhythm and early REM-ish guitar, Kathleen is another ghostly tale, this one decidedly more playful.

 

I’m Afraid of the Way I Go Off Sometimes is actually a lot more direct, less tongue-in-cheek than the title would indicate. Big Sky follows, wistful and pensive with Jose Delhart’s minimalist banjo over a muted, twilit rhythm section and an absolutely gorgeous, optimistic vocal. The most striking song of the cd’s ten tracks is an Egon Schiele homage, a 6/8 noir cabaret number flavored with spooky, terse piano and bells. The plaintive ballad Lost at Sea gives Flynn a chance to cut loose and wail, and she makes the most of the opportunity. The cd wraps up with the beautiful harmonies of the aptly titled Shine, maybe the only song to namecheck Fourth Avenue in Manhattan (or is it the one in Brooklyn?). Songs About Birds & Ghosts ought to resonate with fans of the A-list of smart indie rock women: Feist back when she was a cool guitar player, Thalia Zedek, Jennifer O’Connor et al. Look for it on our 50 Best CDs of 2009 list at the end of the year. Elisa Flynn’s next NYC show seems to be Sidewalk on April 8 at 9 PM.

February 23, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment