Sometimes the best albums are the hardest ones to explain. For example, Marianne Dissard’s new one, Paris One Takes (available as a free download here) has been in heavy rotation here at Lucid Culture HQ for over a month. Everybody loves it – for Dissard’s sultry, breathy, angst-laden vocals, the charm and bite of her French lyrics, and the exuberant intensity of the band. Stylistically, up-and-coming New York chanteuse/bandleader Kerry Kennedy is the obvious comparison. Recorded live in the studio, the album collects songs from Dissard’s acclaimed debut album L’Entredeux as well as from the forthcoming L’Abandon, scheduled for release late this year. It’s a very smart move on her part: not only does it win her new fans, it’s great PR. Guns & Roses sue anyone who leaked their album, but Dissard wants everyone to share her songs. That’s how you build a fan base these days.
Dissard’s best known as a French singer who specializes in southwestern gothic rock: she’s actually a Tucson resident who moved there to make a documentary film about Giant Sand. Although there’s a strong noir cabaret influence here, this is most definitely a rock record, a potent document in itself in that this is Dissard’s road band, tight and inspired, still buzzing from the energy of a European tour. They take the coy “choc-choc” bounce of La Peau Du Lait (Porcelain Skin) and thrash it, following with the creeping menace of Le Lendemain (The Day After), a co-write with longtime collaborator Joey Burns of Calexico (Dissard memorably sang the female vocal on Calexico’s cover of John Cale’s Ballad of Cable Hogue several years ago). The scurrying Les Draps Sourds (The Blinds) evokes Piaf at her most frantic, spiced with Olivier Samouillan’s bracing rai-flavored viola and Brian Lopez’ reverb guitar. Merci de Rien du Tout/Flashback (Thanks for Nothing) mines a catchy yet brooding Velvet Underground vein.
With a cynical, snarling guitar-fueled edge, Les Confettis (Confetti) reminds of Dylan’s When You Go Your Way and I Go Mine. Shifting and mixing styles, the band make ominously hallucinatory desert rock out of the anguished 6/8 cabaret ballad Indiana Song, and follow that with the stomping garage-rock abandon of Trop Exprès (Too Obvious). Sans-Façon, a beautiful lament, evokes the Jayhawks circa Sound of Lies, while It’s Love, written by drummer Sergio Mendoza, reminds of Botanica in a particularly pensive moment. Other tracks add echoes of Steve Wynn and electric Neil Young to Dissard and Burns’ brooding melodies. Definitely one of our favorite albums of 2010 and an auspicious sneak preview of Dissard’s next one. Sometimes the best things in life really are free.
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.
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.
We do this every Tuesday (usually – remember a couple of weeks ago?). You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Pretty much every link here will take you to each individual song.
1. The Oxygen Ponies – Villains
Quiet yet venomous rock anthem dating from the waning days of the Bush regime. From their amazing new cd Harmony Handgrenade.
2. Christabel & the Jons – Florida
Dark, quirky, fun oldtimey swing tune in the Jolie Holland mode. They’re at the Jalopy Theatre on 10/1.
3. Taxi Amarillo – Donde Has Estando
Jangly rock en Espanol anthem. They’re at BB King’s on 9/7
4. Kofre – El Muerto
Ska en Espanol. Also at BB King’s on 9/7.
5. The Scratches – I Take the Shape of My Container
BOAC style pop – funny.
6. Mark Sinnis – That’s Why I Won’t Love You
Quietly snarling, gospel-flavored kissoff anthem recorded live at Pete’s. From his forthcoming 2010 cd.
7. Ninth House – Jealousy
8. Kerry Kennedy – Golden Calves
Beautiful as-yet unreleased atmospherics from the NYC southwestern gothic chanteuse. She’s at Small Beast at the Delancey on 9/14.
9. Telephone – In Paris
A funny anti-tourist rant, in English, by the iconic punk-era French rockers. “In Paris we piss in the street.”
10. Smoothe Moose – War Pigs (remix)
Woozy electronicized cover, you can’t help but smile. Various members of the Tortoise-esque collective play the release show for their latest mixtape at Public Assembly on 9/3 at 9.
Faced with a laughably absurd amount of work catching up here in the wake of last week’s computer meltdown, Kerry Kennedy’s gig Monday night at Small Beast at the Delancey wasn’t the most disciplined choice of show to go see and write about afterward. She’s been reviewed here very favorably before, and given how ecstatic a response a shockingly big Monday night crowd gave her, she probably doesn’t need any more press. But this was transcendent. In the same spirit if not quite the same style as Neko Case, she’s taken a very stylized genre – twangy, noir, David Lynchian southwestern gothic rock- and puts a uniquely intense yet completely unselfconscious stamp on it. A lesser artist would put his or her personality centerstage; not Kennedy.
She’s a young woman with an old voice. But it’s her voice, not Nina Simone’s or Marlene Dietrich’s, two artists whose worn-down yet electric charisma resemble hers so closely. Kennedy has the added advantage of not only being a first-class songwriter but also a collector of great songs – in her case, she’s been going deep into the James Jackson Toth catalog with astonishingly powerful results. The towering, anguished 6/8 anthem More From the Mountain (see the top of Kennedy’s myspace page) grew with Walkabouts-class power to landslide-inducing volume, lead guitarist Nathan Halpern hacking volcanic torrents of sound from the chords and hurling them down the slope. By contast, the pensive ballad Sons of Sons took a melody very reminiscent of the Jesus & Mary Chain’s Happy When It Rains deep into noir territory, stalking along on a suspenseful, staggered beat. Singing with her eyes closed and backed by Small Beast impresario and Botanica mastermind Paul Wallfisch on piano, she took the Little Annie noir cabaret angsthem Because You’re Gone pitch black, quietly, drummer Heather Wagner driving the dirge with the subtlest, wispiest accents.
The rest of the show ranged from a fast, eventually explosive rocker built around a catchy two-chord riff, a swinging, swaying, apprehensive version of the big audience hit Wishing Well, a mighty, Orbisonesque ballad and a co-write with Toth, Dive, a bitter and brutal kiss-off ballad that only gets better every time she plays it. Throughout the set, Kennedy struck a casual, resolute stance, swaying slowly, expertly working the darkest corners of the lyrics with a breathy delivery that ranged from exasperation to exhaustion to inextinguishable rage, all the while staying in a zone. At times it seemed like she’d almost gone into a trance, taking the audience with her – after she’d end a song, there would be silence for a few seconds before the crowd would start to burst into applause. Here in the blogosphere, it’s considered gauche to review the same artist again and again, but there’s simply no denying how good this show was. Every year, we put up a Top 20 NYC shows of the year list and while there’s no way we’ll be able to call this year’s anything remotely definitive, this one will be on it.
Why do we love Small Beast? Because we’re lazy. Small Beast will be happening every Monday at the Delancey until October, when it moves back to its original Thursday. Which from a music blogger’s perspective is good for so many reasons, particularly since there are almost always three or four first-rate acts on the bill who’ve never been profiled here before. So Lucid Culture gets four night’s worth of work done in a single Monday evening when there are no conflicts with other shows. And Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch always opens the night solo on piano. Imagine if you’d been able to see Bud Powell every week for free, in 1953 – completely different idiom, same vibe. It’s all about passion.
Since Wallfisch gets a good review here pretty much every week, suffice it to say that last night’s set was characteristically rich and multistylistic. He’d played a money gig earlier in the day, so he was all warmed up and got even warmer very quickly. He did lots of new material including some songs from the next Botanica album and some even newer than that – a soaring, classically-inflected ballad, a pretty, vivid pop song and counterintuitive covers of songs by Baby Dee, Little Annie, Aimee Mann and the Stones (Faraway Eyes done hilariously with faux-gospel piano).
Nathan Halpern really opened some eyes after that. The lead guitarist from Kerry Kennedy’s paisley underground noir band proved to be a first-rate songwriter as well, sort of Orbison seen through the warped prism of Pulp. Halpern is a crooner, likes a counterintuitive, sardonically literate lyric and a big countrypolitan sound gone somewhat apprehensively askew. As he does in Kennedy’s band, he’d build a crescendo to an unhinged tremolo-picking break, wailing up and down on the strings with a Black Angel’s Death Song style savagery. Backed by Andrew Platt alternating between piano, guitar and bass and drummer Heather Wagner adding marvelously subtle shades, Halpern made his way through a mix of big 6/8 anthems, a couple of jaunty, more overtly country-inflected numbers and closed with a towering, knowingly rueful number perhaps titled Darling When.
Viennese expat Thomas Simon closed the night on a frequently mesmerizing note with a long, practically seamless, improvisational set, something akin to Bauhaus doing a sidelong Abbey Road-style suite, fragments of songs segueing into each other while he and his extraordinarily good djembe player dug a murky sonic pit that swirled deeper and darker as the night went on with layers and layers of loops reverberating and pulsing throughout the mix. Simon’s guitar playing is very Daniel Ash – like the Bauhaus guitarist, he really has a handle how to build eerie tonalities using open strings. Frequently he’d start a segue with a single low, resonant bass note just as David J did on Bela Lugosi’s Dead. Simon moved to piano for a couple of interludes, using the same chordal voicings he’d been playing on the guitar for an intriguing textural contrast. At the end, they picked up the pace with an insistent, percussively hypnotic rhythm, then they took the drums completely out of the mix and Simon took all the effects off his guitar, letting the melody’s ominous, Syd Barrett-esque inflections speak for itself.
We do this every Tuesday. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Just about every link here will take you to each individual song.
1. Steve Kilbey – Forever Last for Nothing
Gorgeously terse call to arms and cautionary tale from the Church’s frontman’s excellent latest album. They’re at Irving Plaza on 7/8.
2. The French Exit – To Term
New song, characteristically intense. “Will I be ok…I just want to be left alone,” snarls frontwoman Mia Wilson in this fiery noir dirge. They’re at Local 269 at 269 E Houston on 6/17 at 9.
3. Silver Dollar – Showdown
Killer, bouncy, hypnotic oldschool ska.
4. Kerry Kennedy – As You Are
Big soul ballad in 6/8 with David Lynch unease by the up-and-coming New York noir chanteuse. Unreleased – see her now before she’s famous.
5. Ninth House – Fifteen Miles to Hell’s Gate
Characteristically furious lament about the death of New York by gentrification by the long-running Nashville gothic rockers. Frontman Mark Sinnis is at Sidewalk at 9 on 7/12.
6. La Res – Masters of War
Ominous cover of the Dylan classic by this fiery, artsy soul/metal trio with a powerful frontman.
7. Num & Nu Afrika – New Orleans
Resonant, politically conscious roots reggae. They’re playing Make Music NY on 6/21 at 3 at DRastadub Studio, 58 West 127th St., Harlem.
8. Bato the Yugo – My Mountainous Mind
Pensive Balkan jazz for solo piano. Usually a guitarist, he’s at Nublu on 6/21 at 11.
9. Cumbiagra – Dejame en Paz
They’ve taken over Monday nights at Barbes, replacing Chicha Libre, but the danceable vibe is undiminished.
10. Rock Plaza Central – Panama
Concert Review: Kerry Kennedy, Alina Simone, Martin Bisi and King’s Crescent at Spikehill, Brooklyn NY 6/14/09
Word on the street is that other than this show and the Smog AKA Bill Callahan/Sir Richard Bishop bill at the former Northsix, the just-completed Northside Festival was a wash. No surprise – only cops like badges. Sunday night at Spikehill was the best of the bunch, not much of a surprise since it was put together by Martin Bisi. Kerry Kennedy was given the choice of opening or headlining, and considering that this was a work night, she chose wisely. In her first-ever solo performance, the noir chanteuse with her 1961 Fender Jazzmaster treated the assembling multitudes to a richly auspicious, all-too-brief set of songs from her forthcoming album with her band. Over melodies steeped in Americana, whether the gothic side of Nashville or further west, she delivered her ominous double and triple entendres in a voice considerably older than she is. It’s an extraordinarily haunting vehicle for her songs, worn with disappointment and regret, understated yet inextinguishably passionate. When she did Wishing Well – which is on her myspace – and went up the scale with “How long into the night will you wait for me?” the effect was viscerally chilling. She ended with a casually menacing ballad, Dive. “Now go and be faithful to your new tragic whore/I’ll see that your grave is kept clean in my yard,” she sang, just this short of a hiss. Kennedy is someone worth discovering now: she could be for New York what Neko Case was for Tacoma.
Alina Simone had a hard act to follow and to her credit, she held up her end. Her shtick is covering songs by Russian cult artist Yanka Dyagileva, the gloomy, defiant Russian underground songwriter who drowned at age 24 under mysterious circumstances and whose collected works were only just released in Russia last year. Playing acoustic guitar and backed by Bisi’s bassist on lead guitar, she sang several of these in the original Russian, including the anthemic dirges From Great Knowledge and Half My Kingdom along with some slightly less ominous originals with a strong Cat Power influence. Toward the end of the set, she switched to tar (a thin-bodied lute popular in Turkey and the Caucasus) and let loose with an impressive, full-bodied wail.
With a five-piece band behind him- including Ajda from the haunting Black Fortress of Opium on harmonies and a keyboardist in hazmat suit, mask and baseball hat – Martin Bisi’s first song went on for about fifteen minutes. For those unfamiliar with Bisi’s songs, they were the last thing anyone would ever expect from the terse, purist craftsman producer and indie legend who sculpted Sonic Youth and Live Skull out of no wave anomie into tight guitar bands. What he did last night was something akin to what early Pink Floyd was like in concert, but better. Laying down one eerily spiraling guitar loop after another from his black Gibson SG, keyboards swirling behind him, Bisi launched into a completely psychedelic groove which then morphed into a country anthem, a cacaphonic forest of pitch-bending, a darkly carnivalesque section and then an intensely melodic art-rock anthem set ablaze with some fiercely Gilmouresque slide work by the lead guitarist. In sharp contrast, Bisi’s second number, a snide tale “about being stuck in the city and drinking the wine of…dejection,” flashed by seemingly almost before it was done.
A sea chantey-inflected art-rock number illustrating the Persephone myth and a gorgeous, classically tinged dirge brought back the lush feel of the set’s opening number. They closed with a long, Lou Reed-ish anthem that began with a hypnotic series of guitar loops. Bisi goes off on tour tomorrow, with a cast of characters that vary from city to city (considering the depth of his rolodex after all these years, the crew should be choice). And he’s got a new album out – watch this space.
Anything afterward was bound to be anticlimactic – but it wasn’t, as King’s Crescent – including two members of Fiery Furnaces on drums and organ – flipped the script and played a joyous, virtuosic, completely in-the-pocket set of vintage Meters covers. The act after them, Susu, flipped the script again with some intriguing, minimalistic, reverb-infused shoegaze tunes, but by then it was midnight and time to concede to the week ahead.
We do this every week. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Every link here will take you to the song.
1. McGinty & White – Knees
Savagely lyrical kiss-off anthem from the duo’s excellent debut cd, possibly the only song ever written that fondly (sort of) eulogizes CB’s Gallery. Gotta love that Love Is the Drug outro. They’re at Bowery Electric on 5/21 at 11.
2. Overlord – The Daily Oblivion
Better than the New Pornographers – plus they have Kerry Kennedy in the band!
3. David Bridie – Going Out with the Enemy
Smart Aussie rock songwriter – this one sounds a bit like Midnight Oil.
4. Sr. Misterio – El Comienzo
Mexican surf rock is the best!
5. Stuffed Cupcake – Better at Rejection
“NJ’s premier dessert punk band.” Here’s an even funnier acoustic version.
6. Bern & the Brights – May in New York
22 degrees? Vigil at Union Square? When was this? Good song, though, dark and propulsive.
7. Tip Canary – Tough to Find One (Broke A$S Game)
Funny hip-hop-funk tune about dating a rich bitch
9. Waking Lights – Ice Cream & Vicodin
Enjoy, just don’t choke!
10. The Frozen Gentlemen – Peen
Deadpan retro 80s new wave. Is this about what it seems to be about?