Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

It’s Never Too Late for The Blam

File the “new” album Blow Wind Blow by the Blam under great rediscoveries. Why did the Shins get so popular and not the Blam? The Blam’s hooks were just as catchy, their guitars just as jangly, their vocals just as pleasantly pensive. And they never got to the point where they started imitating the Smiths and sucking at it, either. If you’re wondering why all this is in the past tense, that’s because the Blam is finished. Other than a rare reunion show, they’ve been history since the early zeros. But just like the Beatles, a band the Blam closely resembled, they still had some songs left in the can after the breakup. Their third album, unreleased until this year, is a breath of fresh air, one casually sunny, smartly tuneful three-minute hit after another. Maybe, rather than counting this among the best albums of 2011, we should go back to 2004 and see where this one falls…hmmm…maybe somewhere between Elliott Smith’s From a Basement on the Hill and Neil Finn’s One All?

The title track plays off a briskly shuffling, casually biting, lush acoustic guitar riff, balmy vocals “coming in out of the ill wind…thought you’d hit me with the rough stuff….” It’s kind of like the Shins with balls. The catchiest songs here go straight back to the Fab Four: the gently swaying, all-acoustic I Don’t Know, with its gorgeously terse twelve-string guitar leads; That Girl, sarcastically bouncing up the stairs and leaving the poor guy wanting more; No Surprise, which with its cool repeaterbox guitar wouldn’t be out of place on a late Elliott Smith album; and Careful Measured Careful Plain, its vocals matching the slow-burning guitars, Itmar Ziegler’s bass rising casual and McCartneyesque, the perfect blend of Beatlesque and shoegaze. There’s also See the Monkeys, whispery bossa-tinged Zombies-esque pop with a recurrent ominousness; One Good Blow, which evokes Crowded House at their loudest and most guitarish; and Now Entering Sandwich, an allusively apprehensive, Dylanesque folk-rock number that foreshadows Mumford and Sons (and also the direction frontman Jerry Adler would take with his subsequent solo project, Flugente, whose two often brilliantly lyrical albums have just been remastered and reissued as well). The album ends with the tensely tuneful Will Still Kill, just acoustic guitars, harmonica and vocals, more kiss-off than lament:

You might get soiled on the way
Or encounter quite a dry spell
Your heart’s million miles away
Breaking like the Liberty Bell

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October 13, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Flugente – Flugente 2

Angry, wryly insightful and often very funny, once-and-future Blam frontman Jerry Adler AKA Flugente takes his game up a step on his second solo, mostly acoustic cd. His first one, a metaphorically charged account of a European road trip, made the top twenty on our Best Albums of 2007 list and this one, an even more ambitious look at the current state of America, might well do that too. It’s awfully early in the year to say that, but this is a hell of an album. With distant echoes of Leonard Cohen and closer ones of vintage Dylan, Adler is quick with a clever, daggerlike lyrical twist, setting his rhymes and rants to catchy, sixties-inflected folk and blues tunes. Adler may have his issues with this country, but he’s nothing if not fair-minded, and he doesn’t want to break off the relationship: “C’mon, apple, tempt me.”

Slide guitar blazing beneath a tersely strummed acoustic, the cd’s opening track is a road song, “Looking for America, the country or the dream,” its hungry narrator nonplussed by the “stretched-tight faces over sables yawning underneath their playbills” that he meets along the way – you know that this guy is a populist from day one. The second track is a fast fingerpicked indie blues tune, somewhat evocative of David J’s solo work. I Have Turned Down Gifts and Prizes recalls a poorly received gig in his native country: “That’s not entertainment, what are you doing?” someone asks. “I’m not doing this for you, I’m doing it for me…it’s important just to say it,” he asserts, a shot in the arm for serious songwriters everywhere.

People Come from All Around is a genuine New York classic, a deliciously evocative anti-trendoid rant. The idle rich and their idler children may make easy targets, but this is the lyrical equivalent of pulling out an Uzi in a crowd at a Dan Deacon appearance. And the yuppies don’t get off any easier:

The Wall Street men on their way downtown from college, their bits are chafing
Fill their bags and take the subway home, their wives are waiting
With their temperatures taken upside down and ovulating
Yeah people come from all around to make a life in my hometown
But it’s not what it used to be, only the crumbs are left for me now
 
A fingerpicked blues a la early Dylan but with better guitar, Which Side Am I On? reminds that choosing sides isn’t really an issue when the issue isn’t black-and-white. Any Time Now is an update on the theme that Leonard Cohen mined with similar success on Who By Fire .There’s also a brutally amusing, cynical number about jury duty and a new version of America the Beautiful which redefines that anthem much in the same way the Clash redid When Johnny Comes Marching Home. The album winds up with a straight-up cover of the Kinks’ Apeman, Adler raising his voice to a rare snarl when he gets to the part about how “the air pollution is fucking up my eyes.” For fans of the best of the new wave of great lyricists: Joe Pug, Jennifer O’Connor, Paula Carino and LJ Murphy as well as fans of the first-wave classics that Flugente’s songs more closely resemble.

January 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Flugente

A quietly brilliant debut solo album from Jerry Adler, frontman of highly regarded indie rockers the Blam. Just him, his acoustic guitar and casually unpretentious voice. Adler describes his music as “expatriate songs.” This is a probably mostly autobiographical concept album, written over the course of a European trip from the point of view of someone who’s reached the end of his rope and needs to get away for awhile so he can pull his shit together. The trip comes across as totally ghetto, all house-sitting, roughing it and fretting about money, and it’s obvious that he didn’t have a very good time. But the return to New York looms even more dreadful.

“It’s ok, it’s ok” whispers Adler at the end of the initial song, Animals, after he’s worked himself into a frenzy, clearly fed up with the same old rut. Memo to self: chill out before you hurt yourself or someone else. The next cut finds him in Spain on his 38th birthday, all by himself and slowly losing it:

Yeah I’m lying in the bed of a famous artist
But the artist isn’t me
We’re just apartment-sitting
And I can do that successfully

The following track is a flashback to night in New York. The wee hours. The narrator jolted from his sleep by the earsplitting screech of a garbage truck’s reverse-gear alarm. Homicide is an option, contemplated but eventually abandoned. He ends up waking up late in a room with walls stained by “blood from other evenings.”

Jump cut to Europe again on track four, Reflections in France on the Subject of Sleeping in the Rain. One of the creepiest vocals ever recorded, Adler’s gleeful grin only underscoring the barely restrained rage of a man who’s reached his limit and might just do the unspeakable: “I guess this is not my day of reckoning,” he intones.

Eventually the trip takes an encouraging turn, on Reflections in Italy on the Subject of Speaking Again. Then another rainstorm (lots of rain on this album, almost Dostoyevskyan), with Standing Pissing on the Pebbles. But the rage has congealed, the inspiration concretized, and he’s reinvigorated, not ready to give in. This comes to a spectacular crescendo on the next track, It’s a Modern World. “Death to all hipsters!” rails Adler in this furious broadside against the corruption of Bushite apocalypse-mongers and the effeteness of the privileged classes. It’s mostly a rap, the guitar kicking in only when the song’s almost,over, and it’s a genuine classic. “The world needs people singing these songs and at least I can say I’m singing one,” he concludes. Live in concert, watching the audience at a Flugente show during this song is an experience to die for: slack jaws drop even lower, glazed eyes begin to focus from behind carefully coiffed mops of greasy hair and the occasional muttered curse word can even be heard.

After that, in From a Hilltop Cabin, he ends up in Switzerland looking down on the “belly of the beast” and not looking forward to going home. While his father came to this bastion of Nazi collaboration to kill, Adler realizes that he’s here for a completely opposite reason. Hope has returned, even in the presence of six million ghosts.

On the cd’s concluding cut, I’m Thinking about Going Home, Adler returns from the trip liberated, not particularly happy to be back but ready to embrace all that makes this city beautiful, in its uniquely twisted way. The secret? What he probably was doing before slipping into the chasm: getting off the couch, away from the tv and going out. Seeing people instead of just talking to them on the phone. Living as intensely as we can do only here. All this may seem obvious, but to so many of us, scattered across the five boroughs, working way too many hours, getting too little sleep and maybe polluting ourselves with things almost as toxic as what we have to deal with on the job, it’s a welcome reminder.

This album speaks with a universality to anyone who has lived here and loved this town. Adler is New York to the core: tough, urbane, full of self-effacing black humor. He’s a master of understatement and ellipsis: violence is always alluded to, never oncamera, but never far away. Things are defined by antithesis, shadows, what they’re not supposed to be. Melodically, Dylan and Leonard Cohen are obvious reference points, but through a glass, darkly. Or imagine Evan Schlansky in a particularly black mood. But ultimately Adler AKA Flugente is his own man. This is a killer 3 AM album, the musical equivalent of The Sun Also Rises for a new generation – hell, for ageneration that’s alive. Get this if you have any affection for or fond memories of this dear, rapidlydying city.

Flugente is terrific live;  CDs are available at shows. Flugente plays Pete’s Candy Store on Fri Apr 20 at 10 PM.

April 19, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments