Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Krista Detor’s Chocolate Paper Suites Are Dark and Delicious

Krista Detor’s album Chocolate Paper Suites has been out for awhile this year – but who’s counting. It’s a dark lyrical feast. Images and symbols rain down in a phantasmagorical torrent and then reappear when least expected – and the pictures they paint pack a wallop. This is first and foremost a headphone album: casual listening will get you nowhere with her. Detor’s carefully modulated alto vocals land somewhere between Aimee Mann and Paula Carino over a bed of tastefully artsy piano-based midtempo rock/pop that downplays the lyrics’ frequent offhand menace. While Detor sings in character, a bitterness and a weariness connects the dots between the album’s five three-song suites. Allusion is everything; most of the action is off-camera and every image that makes it into the picture is loaded. Not exactly bland adult contemporary fare.

The first suite is Oranges Fall Like Rain. The opening track swirls hypnotic and Beatlesque, essentially a one-chord backbeat vamp in the same vein as the Church. Detor’s heavy symbolism sets the stage: a green umbrella, the rich guy in the title pulling out a knife to cut the orange, a desire for a “white car driving up to the sun.” Its second part, Lorca in Barcelona mingles surreal, death-fixated imagery with a dark, tango-tinged chorus. Its conclusion is savage, a rail against not only the dying of the light but any death of intelligence:

Poetry is dead, Delilah said,
Maybe in a pocket somewhere in Prague
That’s all that’s left of it
Are you a good dog?

The Night Light triptych puts a relationship’s last painful days on the autopsy table. Its first segment, Night Light – Dazzling is an Aimee Mann ripoff but a very good one, its slowly swinging acoustic guitar shuffle painting an offhandedly scathing portrait, a snide party scene where the entitled antagonist acts out to the point where the fire department comes. What they’re doing there, of course, is never stated. Night Light – All to Do with the Moon is a stargazer’s lament, all loaded imagery: “It’s the synchronous orbit that blinds my view.” It ends with the slow, embittered, oldtimey shades of Teeter-Totter on a Star, Mama Cass as done by Lianne Smith, maybe. The Madness of Love trio aims for a sultry acoustic funk vibe, with mixed results. Its high point is the concluding segment, gospel as seen though a minimalistic lens, the narrator regretting her caustic I-told-you-so to her heartbroken pal, even though she knows she’s right.

By Any Other Name opens with a pensive reflection on time forever lost, Joni Mitchell meets noir 60s folk-pop; set to a plaintive violin-and-piano arrangement, its second segment is another killer mystery track, a couple out on a romantic two-seater bicycle ride with some unexpected distractions. The final suite was written as part of the Darwin Songhouse, a series of songs on themes related to Charles Darwin: a very funny if somewhat macabre-tinged oldtimey swing number told from the point of view of an unreconstructed creationist; a live concert version of a long Irish-flavored ballad that quietly and matter-of-factly casts the idea of divine predestination as diabolical hell, and a lullaby. New Yorkers can experience Detor’s unique craftsmanship and understatedly beautiful voice live at City Winery on October 18.

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September 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

MotherMoon Turns Down the Lights

Don’t let MotherMoon frontwoman Ashley Selett’s vocal resemblance to Norah Jones scare you off – their new album Writing in the Sky is hardly elevator music. Selett’s torchy yet nuanced, soul-infused delivery understates the dark intensity of her songwriting. The songs here are remarkably intelligently and counterintuitively assembled: dynamics rise and fall, tempos shift in a split second, go doublespeed and then back again. Selett’s a terrific wordsmith as well. Pensive, brooding and metaphorically charged, her lyrics don’t shy away from the dark side.

The album opens with a pleasant, accessible, guitar-and-organ rock tune with clever psychedelic touches that contrast with the beaten-down anguish of the lyrics:

Although we fall down to the ground
Maybe it’s not what we wanted
Maybe the sun maybe the time
Was too unwarranted
…I guess just bring the hearse
In the heat of the night

The album’s second cut (essentially its title track) is a fragmentary, brooding Cat Power-ish minimalist number with a catchy chorus: “Why’s everybody looking at me like sadness is faux pas?” Selett wants to know. A simple soul guitar riff carries the captivating Quicker Quitter – it’s hard to tell if Selett is being cynical, or offering a warning to get out before everything falls apart.

Spilt Blood couples a 1920s-style hot swing tune to a fast swaying rock arrangement – here Selett reaches back for a post-Billie Holiday delivery more than she does anywhere else, delivering her vivid, imagistic, wounded lyric with a depleted, affectless weariness. The album winds up with a new wave rock tune with woozy, oscillating Dr. Dre synth. It’s an auspicious debut that leaves you wanting more. Selett’s current band includes brilliant Americana guitarist Myles Turney along with Joseph Colmenero on bass and Joel Arnow on percussion. MotherMoon play the cd release show for this one at Spike Hill on August 6 at 11 PM.

July 31, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 7/19/10

Our best 666 songs of alltime countdown has reached the alltime top ten. When we started this countdown, in the fall of 2008, we had no idea that we’d last long enough to get this far! Here’s #10:

Elvis Costello – Man out of Time

Sympathy for the devil – one of Costello’s greatest achievements is how he can both demonize and humanize at the same time, as he does with the utterly evil character in question here. The best version we know of is on the long out-of-print three-cd live box set Costello & Nieve, from 1996; here’s one from before the original album version (on Imperial Bedroom) came out, 1982.

July 19, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 7/18/10

Just eleven 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 Sunday’s song:

Elvis Costello – Brilliant Mistake

Ironically, this lyrical masterpiece – a continuation of the scathing anti-conformist kiss-off theme he first honed to perfection on New Amsterdam – is the only remotely interesting track on the otherwise forgettable King of America album from 1986. The link above is a live take from Milwaukee’s Summerfest some 23 years later.

July 18, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 7/14/10

Just about two weeks til our best 666 songs of alltime countdown reaches #1…and then we start with the 1000 best albums of alltime. Wednesday’s song is #15:

Phil Ochs – Doesn’t Lenny Live Here Anymore

While the Lenny of the title was inspired by the great Lenny Bruce, this isn’t exactly a funny song. As Lincoln Mayorga’s organ weaves around, Ochs paints an unforgettably seedy tableau where a “haggard ex-lover of a longtime loser” searches for him in vain. At the end, in an evocation of the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention riots, “the shoulders charge, the boards of the barricade are splintered,” but it’s too late. From Rehearsals for Retirement, 1969.

July 14, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 3/26/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Friday’s song is #125:

Elvis Costello – Pills and Soap

Savagely astute commentary on the distinctions that the haves make between themselves and the have-nots, and the logically deadly consequences, over Steve Nieve’s minimalist faux-martial piano. From Punch the Clock, 1983.

March 26, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 2/21/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Sunday’s song is #158:

Richard Buckner – Lil Wallet Picture

She backs up the U-Haul and within minutes he’s gone out on Route 95:

That takes so many lives
One of them was mine
Hand me that little wallet picture from 1985
One more time

The indie songwriter’s best song, from the Devotion and Doubt album, 1997.

February 21, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 2/10/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Wednesday’s song is #169:

Elvis Costello – The Other Side of Summer

The one standout track on the otherwise forgettable Mighty Like a Rose album, 1991, this gorgeous janglerock gem is a richly sarcastic swipe at sunniness in all its forms. Believe it or not, it was once used in an episode of Beverly Hills 90210.

February 10, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Pal Shazar in NYC 1/28/10

Legions of musicians and artists struggle to acquire some nebulous quasi-version of “downtown New York cool.” Last night Pal Shazar reaffirmed that she’s always had it, and did so effortlessly. In the front room of an after-hours Lower East Side beauty salon, of all places, she treated the crowd of mostly friends and diehard fans who’d shlepped down to Broome Street in the cold to a tantalizingly brief set of her trademark edgy, sharply literate rock songs. She didn’t even use a mic. Backed by a single guitarist playing tight, terse janglerock on his Telecaster, Shazar displayed a carefree energy, bouncing around and getting the lone underage kid in the crowd – he looked about two – to show off his own equally carefree moves. Shazar’s songwriting is something akin to the missing link between Patti Smith and Patti Rothberg: the melodies glisten and ring out while the lyrics deliver an indelibly urban, often metaphorically charged tableau. This was best exemplified by the defiant anthem People Talk (from her most recent cd The Morning After), which closed the set: “People talk, just keep walking, they don’t know how you feel.” Shazar’s husband Jules Shear joined her on that one, adding casually perfect harmonies.

Other songs held up strongly, stripped down to just the basics. A gritty, rapidfire Lou Reed-inflected pop song reflected on how to carry on a relationship with someone inclined to take himself too seriously: “Life is not serious at all!” she exclaimed, almost out of breath. There was irony in that, but there was also fun. The opening number, a vivid chronicle of down-and-out survival called out for someone to “help me off my knees,” welcoming any new scenario “as long as it’s no place like home.” Other songs matched breezy, upbeat pop melodies to more introspective lyrics.

Shazar is also a painter (she’s got an intriguing coffee table book out, Pal Shazar: The Illustrated Lyrics) and had numerous works on display. Eyes are the thing with her: even her animals (a lion, especially) have them, whether wary or brutalized, rendering them instantly and potently anthropomorphized. Most of the others were portraits, seemingly in a series contrasting an arresting yellow-ochre with gentler pastel tones. The first of the two strongest of these posed a woman clutching herself under a white dress, which may be torn, or it might just be askew enough to reveal a leg – if looks could kill, that painting would have. The other was equally striking in its sadness, a woman with her back to the sea, clutching what could either be a child or maybe a smaller, younger version of herself. As with her music, Shazar’s art gives you a lot to think about.

January 29, 2010 Posted by | Art, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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