Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Winter Garden’s Dreamy Atmospherics

In most cases, music that’s billed as relaxing is better described as soporific. Which isn’t always a bad thing: sometimes it’s hard to fall asleep! The true test of sleepy music is how well it holds up during waking hours. Winter Garden, a collaboration between poet/pianist Harold Budd, Cocteau Twins guitarist Robin Guthrie and producer Eraldo Bernocchi is a rare example of an album that successfully works both sides of the line between dreams and reality. Although there are a couple of tracks that Guthrie propels with a steady bassline, there isn’t much rhythm here: as with Budd’s previous work with Brian Eno, textures fade in and fade out of the mix, with gentle tectonic shifts, cloudy banks of atmospherics and a minimalist melodic sensibility that orchestrates gently echoing piano and guitar motifs with a watery iciness. It’s tempting to say that this is simply music to get lost in, to escape into after a hard day without trying to make sense of what the musicians are doing. And while it’s often hard to tell who’s playing what, or whether it might be the guitar or the piano that just hit a particular, endlessly echoing note, it’s also a lot of fun to listen to closely (although if you are fatigued, it might send you straight to dreamland).

Guthrie’s signature moody, sostenuto guitar is instantly identifiable, although it’s not obvious what else he does here. Nor is Bernocchi’s role clear – but maybe that’s the point of all this. Budd’s simple, elegant piano lines occasionally offer a nod to Erik Satie or even Bernard Albrecht. The opening track, Don’t Go Where I Can’t Find You is hypnotic to the extreme, simple piano processed to add the effect of a succession of cloudy waves. Losing My Breath features Guthrie’s trademark major sixth chords and simple, thoughtful motifs processed with chilly, cloudy ambience alongside minimal processed piano. As many of these tracks do, it segues into the title cut, which alludes to an anthemic theme.

With its steady bass pulse, Entangled offers pensive echoes of The Eternal by Joy Division, which come to the forefront on the next track, Harmony and the Play of Light, so much that you may find yourself expecting Ian Curtis’ doomed voice to appear over the starkly echoing, trebly-toned midrange electric piano licks. Heavy Heart Some More completes the trilogy, intermingling spacious, minimalist bass chords and piano with Guthrie’s atmospheric guitar for what sounds like a halfspeed (or quarterspeed or even slower) variation on the theme. They follow that with White Ceramic, a miniature juxtaposing echoey piano waves with drony textures underneath.

The rest of the album manages to be eclectic without breaking the spell. Stay with Me builds from low drones to a Lynchian (and unexpectedly funky) suspense theme, while the most epic track here, South of Heaven contrasts rapt, shimmery ambience with gently incisive piano and more of Guthrie’s trademark pensive swooshes. The final cut, Dream On is not an Aerosmith cover but a minimalist piano lullaby. Youarefallingasleepyouarefallingasleepyouarefallingasleep…just kidding. Turn on, tune in, you know the rest. It’s out now on Rare Noise Records.

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April 6, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Mast’s New Album Wild Poppies Is Unselfconsciously Intense

New York rock duo the Mast’s latest album Wild Poppies blends elements of minimalism, dark 80s rock, goth and trip-hop into a pensive, completely original sound. Frontwoman/multi-instrumentalist Haale writes darkly psychedelic, briskly rhythmic rock songs, backed by one-man percussion orchestra Matt Kilmer. In her previous work, Haale has explored classical Iranian melodies as well scorching, hypnotic, frequently exhilarating Jimi Hendrix-inspired jams. This time, while she pulls back on the volume, the songs are often just as intense and eclectic.

The album’s title track sets a bracingly catchy progression over rolling, rippling percussion and a characteristically surreal, imagistic lyric. The second cut, the sardonically titled Trump, is something of a dreampop take on Joy Division, or like early 90s Lush but with a more gritty, earthy vibe. Most of these songs use a lot of nature imagery: this one’s the most intense. “Oh some pockets run so deep, the rest are struggling for a piece of a fast-turning pie…the waters while we sleep are being bought up by a thief with paper bills for eyes,” Haale sings apprehensively.

EOA [End of Anxiety] shuffles eerily and minimalistically, like an analog version of Radiohead, its mantra-like hook shifting between major and minor modes. My All is hypnotic, minimalist trip-hop with a majestic post-Velvets processional pulse; Prize, a warped, syncopated one-chord boogie, winds down plaintively and hauntingly on the chorus. With its repetitive central riff and insistent 80s-style bass, The Lake builds to a potent crescendo with guitars slamming over a whirlwind of beats. Setting lush, ethereal vocals over yet another catchy, simple guitar riff and a stately shuffle beat (sounds like an oxymoron, but Kilmer pulls it off elegantly), Definitions wouldn’t be out of place on a Randi Russo album from about five years ago.

Hummingbird picks up the pace with fuzz bass and the vocals fading in and out, dreampop style, Kilmer rattling and then hitting some swirling cymbal crashes early on. Lucid Dream, a minimalist, moody early 90s style anthem, builds to a big, intense, anthemic outro. Carefully and tersely crafted, the album grows on you and carries even more of an impact with repeated listening: count this as one of 2011’s best. The whole thing is streaming at the band’s site. The Mast are great live: they’re at Bar 4 in Park Slope at 9 on 7/28.

July 22, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 4/5/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #665:

The Psychedelic Furs – Book of Days

Over the years, countless bands, from A Flock of Seagulls to the Editors, have tried to imitate Joy Division. All have failed, pathetically. Stylewise, it was probably only a matter of time before the Furs took their sarcasm to its logical, bleak extreme: this 1989 album remains the only one to ever reach the same extremes of existential angst that Ian Curtis evoked so well. It gets off to a false start with the pretty 6/8 ballad Shine before the title track, a chilling, atmospheric dirge that offers absolutely no escape. The shuffling acoustic requiem Torch maintains the funereal atmosphere, which lifts on side two, if only a little, with the manic depressive stomp of Shake This House. “This day is not my life,” frontman Richard Butler insists. There’s also the Jesus & Mary Chain-esque Should God Forget; the mystifying but catchy riff-rocker Mother-Son; the swirling Wedding, and Parade, evocative of the band’s early years; the sarcastic Entertain Me, and the noisy, thrashing, death-obsessed I Don’t Mine that drives the final nail in the coffin. Listen to this with the lights out. Here’s a random torrent.

April 5, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The New Collisions’ Optimistic Full-Length Debut

Track for track, this could be the best rock album of 2010. The New Collisions burst out of Boston last year with an ep that blended coy, quirky retro 80s new wave pop with a dark, literate lyrical edge. Their new full-length debut The Optimist is a lot more serious and more intense: the title is sarcastic to the extreme. It’s a concept album of sorts about a society in collapse. Musically, it’s a turn in a much louder direction, with more of a fiery powerpop edge, guitarist Scott Guild adding layer after layer of roar, jangle and clang. Casey Gruttadauria’s woozily oscillating vintage synthesizer is further back in the mix this time out alongside Alex Stern’s percussive, insistent, melodic bass and Zak Kahn’s drums. Maybe what’s most impressive of all is how much more of her range frontwoman Sarah Guild is using, wary and serious in the lower registers when she’s not soaring above the roar with the chirpy wail she utilized so effectively on the band’s early material. She sings in character – whether sarcastic, defiant or simply exhausted, she draws you in and makes these narratives hard to turn away from. She brings some of the outraged witness that Siouxsie Sioux played so well for so long to these songs.

The single is Dying Alone, impossibly catchy yet bitter and cynical to the extreme. “God knows you hate the quiet, when you’re dying, dying alone,” Sarah reminds with an understated angst. Swift Destruction is a fast new wave powerpop smash, a final concession to what sounds like the inevitable: “I’d like to order up a swift destruction…standing in the shadows of my pride,” she announces. The most memorable cut on the entire album is Over, an exasperated, uncharacteristically intimate kiss-off anthem (like the best punk performers, Sarah typically keeps the listener at a safe distance). They go back to the roaring powerpop vibe with Seven Generations, a chronicle of decay: “Are we happy yet?” Sarah asks sarcastically. The sarcasm reaches boiling point with Ne’er Do Well, the album’s lyrical high point, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Squeeze catalog from around 1979. Over a lush guitar-and-keyboard attack, Sarah savagely details the dissolute life of someone who just won’t grow up:

Bring me all your ablebodied men
So I don’t have to take on the chin
And I don’t have a confrontation with what might have been
I’ve got my suitcase in back to cushion the impact
Better not to have tried at all
Rules are beaten, I haven’t eaten and I want to be alone

Coattail Rider is sort of a smoother I Don’t Want to Got to Chelsea, with a big explosive chorus, Sarah’s absolutely nailing the lyric with a coy disingenuousness. The lone previously released track here, the dead-end anomine anthem In a Shadow benefits from bigger production than the version on last year’s ep (and a really funny quote from the 70s cheeseball hit Funkytown). They wind up the album with an almost unrecognizable, Joy Division-flavored cover of the B-52’s Give Me Back My Man and then the most overtly pop-oriented track here, Lazy, with its oscillating layers of synth and repetitive chorus hook. The New Collisions play the cd release show for this one at Great Scott in Allston, Massachusetts on October 6.

October 5, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/13/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #869:

Can – Monster Movie

The cult favorite is the German band’s 1971 Tago Mago album, with its hypnotic grooves and assaultive avant freakouts. This is Can’s rock record, a memorably twisted piece of post-Beatles psychedelia from 1969. As with the rest of the band’s output, drummer Jaki Liebezeit absolutely owns this. With his inimitable, hypnotic rattle and pulse, it’s already obvious where he’s going to take this band’s music for most of the next decade. Side one begins with Father Cannot Yell, its weird lyrics, melodic bass, proto-Robert Fripp guitar and motorik rhythm evoking a bizarre cross between the Velvets and Terry Riley (who was a big influence, along with Karlheinz Stockhausen, who served as teacher to both bassist Holger Czukay and organist Irmin Schmidt). Mary, Mary So Contrary is a fractured folk-rock dirge, followed by Outside My Door, an Astronomy Domine ripoff but a good one. The second side is a twenty-minute stoner jam (streaming in three parts, here, here and here), sort of a teutonic In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida edited down from what was reputedly a marathon six-hour studio session. With minimal reverb guitar, trebly bass, creepy Farfisa and Liebezeit’s epic funeral drums, they establish their signature trancey sound after it gets going, particularly when they bring it down to just the bass and the drums and leave it there for what seems forever (you can practically smell the pot smoke drifting in from the other room). Joy Division’s Dead Souls owes its drum riff to this one. Here’s a random torrent.

September 12, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 7/31/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time, all the way to #1. Saturday’s is #913:

Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures

We should have included this on the obvious picks page to begin with – this is a real iconic one. Originally recorded for RCA in 1978, the band and label had a falling out, the band finally forced to delay releasing it for a year until they (with some help from future Factory Records impresario Tony Wilson) could afford to buy back their master tapes. It was worth it. The prototypical goth band mix it up here: the majestic anthem New Dawn Fades, the fiery dirge Day of the Lords, the skittish punk fury of Interzone and the manic depressive stomp of Shadowplay mingle amongst eerie minimalist sketches like Candidate, Wilderness and Insight. The 2007 cd reissue includes a bonus cd with a surprisingly good quality recording of the famous Russell Club concert from July of 1979 featuring especially choice live takes of Dead Souls and Shadowplay. All of this is very easy to find and download; vinyl copies, on the other hand, tend to be expensive, especially on the Factory label.

July 31, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 7/17/10

Just twelve more days til our best 666 songs of alltime countdown reaches #1…and then we start with the 1000 best albums of alltime. Here’s Saturday’s song:

Joy Division – 24 Hours

As good a candidate as any for best bassline ever – Peter Hook’s octaves and chords perfectly channel the song’s breathless, manic angst. From Closer, 1981.

July 17, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 7/13/10

Just a little over two weeks til our best 666 songs of alltime countdown reaches #1…and then we start with the 1000 best albums of alltime. Tuesday’s song is #16:

Joy Division – The Eternal

Complete emotional depletion has never been so accurately depicted as in this Mellotron dirge from Closer, 1981. “With children my time is so wastefully spent.” Which raises the obvious question – if Ian Curtis’ doctor hadn’t prescribed him barbituates for his epilepsy, would he still be alive?

July 12, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 7/12/10

Just a little more than two weeks til our best 666 songs of alltime countdown reaches #1…and then we start with the 1000 best albums of alltime. Monday’s song is #17:

The Psychedelic Furs – Book of Days

Innumerable bands have imitated Joy Division over the years; the Furs’ 1989 album Book of Days is the only one that ever succeeded in capturing that band’s towering anguish. This brooding dirge is the album’s centerpiece, a requiem for lost time and lost hopes. If you’re going to listen to it, click the link above and don’t try to multitask – you’ll miss the full impact.

July 11, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 7/5/10

Less than a month til our best 666 songs of alltime countdown reaches #1! Monday’s song is #24:

Joy Division – Day of the Lords

Three JD cuts in a row – and there are more to come. This is just about their loudest, most scorching anthem. “Where will it end, WHERE WILL IT END????” From Unknown Pleasures, 1979.

July 5, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment