Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Top Ten Songs of the Week 9/7/09

We do this every Tuesday except for when we don’t – for all you Tuesday peeps, we’ll try to get back on schedule next week. As always, you’ll see this week’s #1 song on our 100 Best 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 except #1 and #3, which are unreleased, will take you to each individual song.

1. Liza & the WonderWheels – Cold Wind

Haunting, shapeshifting, Penelope Houston-esque anthem from the NYC new wave/psychedelic crew. Brand new and unreleased – you’ll have to go see this live.

2. Woman – When the Wheel’s Red

Noiserock from their delicious new cd.

3. Mark Sinnis – Gloomy Sunday

The Ninth House frontman has revived the original version of the “Hungarian suicide song,” deleting the fake last verse added to the Billie Holiday cover and substituted  a macabre one of his own. From his upcoming third solo cd due out next year.

4. Mary Lorson & the Soubrettes – Anything Can Happen

The former Madder Rose frontwoman and pianist sounds better than ever.

5. Air Waves – Knock Out

Slightly off-key, lo-fi janglepop, fetching and catchy.

6. Emily Wells – Symphony 6: Fair Thee Well and the Requeim Mix

Cool, trippy string-driven triphop anthem.

7. Clare & the Reasons – Ooh You Hurt Me So

Catchy Motown-inflected pop. They’re at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on 10/27.

8. The Red Channels – Waltz

Weird kinda creepy lo-fi synth stuff like a more melodic version of the Residents. Is this cool or complete BS? You decide.

9. The Zac Brown Band – Toes

A total Magaritaville ripoff, from the opposite point of view. Is this a soundtrack for assholism or just alcoholism?

10. The French Exit – Your God

We’re just going to keep hitting you over the head about how good this ferocious female-fronted NYC noir band is until they’re huge. They’re at Local 269 on 9/17 at 8.

September 11, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 8/31/09

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

Speaking of which…this is the album version with Randi Russo on harmonies. This is a psychedelic live version.

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.

September 1, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 7/26/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Sunday’s song is #367:

Ninth House Long Stray Whim

Opening with a massive blast of distorted guitar (an update on an old Stone Roses riff), the NYC art-rock/Nashville gothic band’s escape anthem takes anguish and makes exhilaration out of it. What if you questioned your banal everyday existence and discovered you couldn’t live with it anymore? “It’s like all those times you don’t ask why…turn it on to something new, this day comes true!” The best version the band released is an early live take with Dave Cavaliere on guitar, from the sadly out-of-print Aerosol cd; there’s a far slicker version on the 2007 Realize And It’s Gone cd. A fan favorite, the band still frequently opens their shows with it. You decide what’s best, the album version in the title above or this scorching live take.

July 26, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 6/15/09

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

Van Halen cover. Jack Grace (of our own sick/funny VH cover band Van Hayride) would approve.

June 16, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Mark Sinnis at Pete’s Candy Store, Brooklyn NY 5/31/09

Nashville gothic from one of its finest exponents. When Mark Sinnis isn’t playing bass and fronting dark, ferocious rockers Ninth House, he does this scaled-down acoustic project, sometimes backed by revolving cast of A-list characters from the New York underground scene. This time out it was just the powerful baritone singer on acoustic guitar, backed by Ninth House keyboardist Matt Dundas. Since the Social Distortion-inflected Aerosol and the intro to the Cure-influenced Quiet Change both start as blazing rockers when he plays them with Ninth House, Sinnis backed off the mic to maintain the intimate vibe rather than assaulting everyone with punk rock in a small space.

The rest of the show was a clinic in subtle inflection. Sinnis may be a big belter in his own band, but in a quiet setting he shows off the kind of phrasing that you usually only see in jazz singers. Or in Johnny Cash, an obvious influence. An audience member who’d been at Ninth House’s previous show a couple of weeks ago at Don Pedro’s remarked that hearing his vocals there, “to a woman, was like an hour of chocolate.” This was more like Grand Marnier. The new, minor-key Fifteen Miles to Hell’s Gate, a parable about the death of New York by gentrification, was all barely restrained wrath; the love song A Southern Tale (title track to his new album, recently reviewed here) was exactly the opposite. In between the two extremes the two players did a new Louvin Brothers style country gospel number possible titled Death’s Your Friend that met with considerable nervous laughter, an organ-fueled take of St. James Infirmary and closed with a stripped-down cover of Ghost Riders in the Sky, Sinnis’s voice sailing over funereal organ again. The crowd wouldn’t let them get away without an encore, so they played a terse version of the big Ninth House drunk-driving anthem Follow the Line. Ninth House play Hank’s on June 12 at 11; Sinnis’ next acoustic show is July 12 at Sidewalk at 9.

June 3, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Jeff Zentner – The Dying Days of Summer

Absolutely first-class, richly lyrical Nashville gothic from Asheville, North Carolina tunesmith Jeff Zentner. The instrumentation is mostly acoustic, very rustic in places but the lyrical vision is completely in the here and now. The often white-knuckle intensity in the songs and Zentner’s sometimes breathy voice remind a lot of Matt Keating, particularly his Summer Tonight album from a couple of years ago; musically, it’s a lot closer to the nocturnal sound of Ninth House frontman Mark Sinnis’ haunting solo work. Zentner plays pretty much all the instruments here except the piano and harmonium, sparsely and elegantly arranged. The production is particularly smart, the music perfectly matching the brooding feel of the lyrics, an intricate web of stringed instruments awash in eerie, echoey reverb, pedal steel soaring mournfully overhead.

The songs span from vivid narratives, a few sad waltzes and a couple of hypnotic, atmospheric soundscapes, notably Where We Fall We’ll Lie, the most overtly gothic song here with insistent, incisive guitars and hushed, haunted male/female vocals in the same vein as Black Fortress of Opium. With its echoey vocals over acoustic guitar and spiky banjo, the vividly metaphorical, bluegrass-inflected Burning Season may be the strongest track here:

It’s burning season again…

Lays waste to all that we knew

Smoke from the fire rises from the desolate fields

I see the ghosts like a daze…

I did not survive your burning season

I was not the only one

I may be the only person who rises from the ashes…

Slide guitar soaring in the background, Somewhere South of Here is heavy with longing for escape from” this place of trailer parks and auto parts stores,” to “cities built to forget, some great distance south of here.” Night Jasmine is absolutely gorgeous, something of an elegy for the people of the night where he’s from, cello playing off the banjo for some exquisite textures, cigarette smoke hanging in the air as the cicadas drown out the band:

This became a ruin

It can’t survive the morning

Like so many people I know

The Weight of Memory echoes David Bowie’s Five Years:

The good ones weigh more…

The ghosts that in me dwell

They won’t let me sleep

They hurt me so much now

And I’m still a young man

How will I grow old

I have no room inside

The rest of the album mixes wary, doom-obsessed ballads like the pedal steel-driven To Speak Above the Rain with pensive laments, ending with a mix of optimism and dread with the stately waltz If This Is To Be Goodbye:

Let me believe that love’s nature is such

That you’d rather leave me than tell me a lie

Darker than Iron & Wine, more deeply steeped in Americana than Nick Cave, this nonetheless ought to appeal to both camps. Right now Zentner is offering a special, copies of his first album Hymns to the Darkness plus the new one both for $23, email for info. Watch for this on our best 50 albums list of 2009 at the end of the year.

May 13, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Mark Sinnis – A Southern Tale

The baritone Ninth House frontman’s second sparsely produced, mostly acoustic solo cd is much like his first, but more fully realized and thematic. As with last year’s Into an Unhidden Future, the production is straight out of late-period, Rick Rubin-era Johnny Cash, minimalist fingerpicked acoustic guitar choicely and often beautifully embellished with piano, strings and Lenny Molotov’s characteristically incisive lapsteel work. Sinnis’ songwriting, and his choice of covers, is more diverse than ever. The latest edition of Ninth House harks back to the band’s haunting, ornate, classically-inflected early zeros sound, so it’s no surprise that Sinnis would mine a more overtly Romantic vein here as well (there’s even a ballad that makes use of the theme from Beethoven’s Pathetique). 

 

 

 

The cd begins and ends on the same somber, death-obsessed note, the opening cut It’s The End, But There’s No Heaven as sepulchral as humanly possible with Molotov and violinist Susan Mitchell trading off ghostly trails of sound. As with Sinnis’ first cd, there are some remakes of old Ninth House songs here as well. Down Beneath, from 2000’s Swim in the Silence, is a dead ringer for the Cure; here, it’s transformed into a swaying country lullaby with rustic violin and terse piano from Matthew Dundas. Mind Melt, from the 2004 Aerosol collection of outtakes and live cuts likewise gets a warmly nocturnal treatment, as does the brand-new ballad Turn Another Page.

 

Freed (temporarily) from the confines of having to belt over a furious electric band, Sinnis has never sung with more casual menace – or casual soulfulness – than he does here. Covering I Still Miss Someone could all too easily go in the direction of parody or pointlessness, but Sinnis keeps it simple and acquits himself well. There’s also a low-key Broadway song (Lerner and Lowe’s Follow Me), a gothic rewrite of a Xmas carol, a couple of straight-up romantic ballads and the offhandedly scary existentialist lament There’s No Rhyme or Reason that winds up the cd. Fans of all the dark haunting guys: Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Ian Curtis and Johnny Cash as well ought to get to know Mark Sinnis. You’ll see this one on our Top 50 CDs of 2009 list at the end of the year. Ninth House’s next show is at Hank’s on Feb 28 at 11.

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

CD Review: Mark Sinnis – Into an Unhidden Future

The debut solo album from ominous Ninth House singer/bassist Mark Sinnis is a remarkably stark, terse collection of mostly acoustic songs including a small handful he’s played with the band. Sinnis proves he’s one of this era’s great Americana song stylists: he can croon with anyone. Vocally, this is an unabashedly romantic album, even given the bitter intensity of many of the songs. Most of them are simply Sinnis’ acoustic guitar and vocals, sometimes sparsely embellished with simple, eerily reverberating electric guitar lines from Brunch of the Living Dead’s Sara Landeau as well as gospel-tinged piano by Ninth House keyboardist Matt Dundas, violin from Susan Mitchell and lapsteel by Lenny Molotov. This is a kinder, gentler Mark Sinnis, a worthy substitute for anyone who misses Nick Cave since he went off to do his hard rock thing with Grinderman.

Sinnis’ dark, rich baritone is a potent instrument, whether roaring over the tumult of Ninth House or delivering with considerably more subtlety as he does here. Johnny Cash is the obvious influence, but there are also tinges of Roy Orbison on the understatedly bitter That’s Why I Won’t Love You, and even Elvis Presley circa His Hand in Mine on the austere ballad The Choice I Found in Fate. Sinnis’ lyrics are crystalline and polished: he doesn’t waste words; his melodies are deceptively simple and run through your head when you least expect them. Some highlights from the nineteen (!) songs on the cd: the haunting Five Days, a bitter look at how the hours are wasted on dayjob drudgery; the Carl Perkins-inflected It Takes Me Home, a long, slow, death-obsessed ride; the rousing Passing Time, a warning to anyone not aware that they should seize the day while it lasts; the Nashville gothic The Room Filled Beyond Your Door, featuring some impressively countrystyle guitar from Ninth House lead player Anti Dave; and a stripped-down version of the anguished Ninth House classic, Put a Stake Right Through It featuring some truly scary playing by Molotov. The production is beautifully uncluttered, obviously influenced by Cash’s Rick Rubin albums. This cd works on so many levels: as singer-songwriter album, as sultry country crooner album (get this for your girlfriend, or someone you would like to be your girlfriend), as well as a fascinating look at an unexpected side of one of today’s finest songwriters. CDs are available in better records stores, online and at shows. Mark Sinnis plays the cd release show for this album at the Slipper Room on March 16 at 10 PM.

February 25, 2008 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Ninth House at Hank’s, Brooklyn NY 11/8/08

LJ Murphy wasn’t the only one making a triumphant return to the New York stage Saturday night. Long-running rockers Ninth House’s first show in a few months was one of their best in recent memory, maybe their best since around 2002. Now on their sixth guitarist in ten years (two came and went in less than a year), their latest is former Gotham 4 frontman Keith Otten. One of the finest relatively unheralded players around, he’s a keeper, and the crowd picked up on that from the first fiery chords of the band’s usual opening number, Long Stray Whim. The title is somewhat misleading: there’s absolutely nothing whimsical about this scorching escape anthem, and Otten rose to the occasion. Like East Bay Ray of the Dead Kennedys, Otten’s playing often takes on a disdainful, sarcastic edge, which fits perfectly into many of frontman/bassist Mark Sinnis’ punk-inspired anthems. When it came time for the solo, he pretty much replicated the noisily sardonic one that Dave Cavaliere tossed off in the original. Likewise, Otten brought a majestic grandeur to the catchy Nashville gothic anthem Your Past May Come Back to Me, much as the band’s guitarist of the time (Kurt Leege, now with the sensational System Noise) would do. Switching furiously between pedals and his tone controls between each song, he gave each a nuance and individuality that’s been missing from this band for more than a few years.

 

The band – now a trio with just Sinnis and his brother Francis on drums – have also taken it to the next level. They transformed their song Skeletons from a wannabe Cure hit to a dark, pulsing blues, and followed Otten’s lead when he lent an eerie Bauhaus edge to the bitter country-inflected ballad Mistaken for Love: “She was my fucking enemy, I shouldn’t have  fallen for her!” Sinnis snarled. They closed with a cover of Blue Train by Johnny Cash, transforming that one into a Social Distortion-esque stomp. Nice to see this crew back with considerably more than their usual vengeance. Sinnis plays a solo show at midnight at Teneleven on Sun Nov 15.

November 11, 2007 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Some Usual Suspects You Might Have Missed

We don’t review every show we see. Some of them suck. Or sometimes a good performer has a off night, and since we’d rather report good news than bad – believe it or not – we hold back til we have something worth recommending. And we don’t want to get pegged as a fansite that goes on and on about the same stale faces. There’s a lot going on in this town and we try to make Lucid Culture a reflection of that.

 

But this week was one of familiar faces, none of them the least bit stale. Went to the Roulette Sisters a week ago at Barbes. Unsurprisingly the place was packed: this band has a huge following, and there was no way that all their fans were going to be able to squish themselves, sardine-like into the little back room here. They did their usual mix of innuendo-laden old blues covers along with a completely over-the-top original in that vein, and another called Border Radio, a tribute to the Carter Family that the band recorded on an Edison cylinder last summer as part of a as-yet unissued compilation album. The band’s four-part harmonies, the lead guitar, National steel guitar, washboard and viola have never sounded better. They also covered a song by Uncle Leon and the Alibis. Uncle Leon apparently wrote a song about some product and is now off on tour playing that song, courtesy of the manufacturer (whoever they are – doesn’t really matter, does it?). Speaking of which, considering that artists can’t really make that much money off cd sales anymore, we don’t have any problem with musicians licensing their songs to commercials and such. Whether the song is any good or not, if there is anyone left alive twenty years from now, nobody is going to remember if a song was used to hawk product X or Y a generation before. Nobody listens to commercials anyway: everybody mutes or Tivos them. That the corporations haven’t realized this and are still wasting fifteen percent of earnings on advertising is a mystery we don’t have an answer to.

Then on Wednesday we ended up at Luna where Ninth House were playing an uncharacteristically early, midweek show. Luna is a big space, and in order to pay the rent they put a lot of bands on the bill here, starting early. The opening act tonight was the Duelists. We don’t usually do bad reviews, but these guys were something worse than awful. Completely beyond the pale: Uncle Pumpkin, whom we excoriated a few weeks ago, are delightful by comparison. This unit is essentially a dorky, flannel-shirted white guy who can’t sing a lick, accompanied by his Asian girlfriend who shares his inability to sing on key and who also proved that she can’t dance in time with the music. We calculated that the backing band behind them – a rhythm section, lead guitarist, keyboardist and two horns – probably cost the couple at least $700 for this show and maybe a rehearsal or two. It’s impossible to imagine the musicians doing this gig for anything other than money, because the squeaky-clean, G-rated, wide-eyed Up with People-style straight-to-the-Disney-Channel pop they played was arguably the worst set we’ve seen all year. You could say that their songs are anthems for the kind of kids who stay virgins until they get married, except that the songs aren’t anthemic: there’s no melody to remember. And their lyrics sound like something their frontboy lifted  directly from some random page of a Tony Robbins self-help paperback: “I just want to be myself but I can’t!” he exclaimed tunelessly, over and over again while his galpal jumped joyously if clumsily in front of her mic. Their ineffably white, pep-rally enthusiasm wouldn’t have been out of place at a Klan rally. Who were those Pennsylvania twins who about a year ago were doing white supremacist Madonna-style pop? The Duelists should hook up with them. “We have one more for you,” dorkboy finally told the crowd. “No more!” bellowed a Ninth House fan, a sentiment echoed by the crowd, who’d come out probably expecting a potentially bad segue, but nothing remotely this awful. What were the Duelists thinking? That their neighbors and co-workers from suburban New Jersey – or wherever they hail from – would shlep all the way out to Williamsburg to see them? They didn’t. Hopefully they’ll go back to the strip mall land that spawned them and stay there.

Ninth House’s newfound taste for improvisation seems to have reached its outer limits, limited strictly to intros, outros and the extra verse or chorus here and there. As much as the idea of improvisational art rock might seem off-putting, this is a band you should see. Everybody in the band is listening to everyone else. With the addition of the new guitarist and violinist, they’ve discovered interplay, and the effect can be delicious. On the potent Nashville gothic kiss-off anthem Mistaken for Love, the violin gave it a cajun flavor, further spiced up with biting, bluesy guitar. Then they took an extra verse right before the end of the song, and the guitarist took it into Ziggy Stardust glam territory: unexpected, to say the least, and potentially ugly, but it worked perfectly. And then they ended it cold. Their version of the old Sisters of Mercy goth hit Nine While Nine is perfect for what they’re doing now: it’s only two chords, giving everybody a lot of latitude to stretch out. Bands like Phish and the Moe may have given jamming a bad name, but it’s been an important part of rock since before rock was rock: they don’t call it a bluegrass jam for nothing. When a band gets really good at improvising, it adds a completely new dimension to their live show: you’ll never see them play the same song the same way twice. Which gives the audience a whole new reason to come to shows. Props to Ninth House for taking the road less traveled, especially at this relatively late stage of their career.

November 10, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments