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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 6/26/11

Today is Day Two of the Montreal Jazz Festival and the core crew here is taking it in: details soon. In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #583:

Marty Willson-Piper – Nightjar

The preeminent twelve-string guitarist of our time, Marty Willson-Piper is also a powerful and eclectic lyrical rock songwriter, much like Steve Kilbey, his bandmate in legendary Australian art-rockers the Church. This 2009 masterpiece is every bit as good as any of his albums with that band. Willson-Piper proves as adept at period-perfect mid-60s Bakersfield country (the wistful A Game for Losers and the stern The Love You Never Had) as he is at towering, intense, swirlingly orchestrated anthems like No One There. The album’s centerpiece, The Sniper, is one of the latter, a bitter contemplation of whether murder is ever justifiable (in this case, there’s a tyrant in the crosshairs). There’s also the early 70s style Britfolk of Lullaby for the Lonely; the casually and savagely hilarious eco-anthem More Is Less; the even more brutally funny Feed Your Mind; the blistering, sardonic rocker High Down Below;and the vividly elegaic Song for Victor Jara. Here’s a random torrent; the cd is still available from Second Motion.

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June 26, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/28/11

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #732:

The Church – Of Skins and Heart

Who would have known that when the Australian rockers came out with this one in 1981 that they’d still be going, absolutely undiminished, thirty years later (with New York shows at the Highline on Feb 16 and at B.B. King’s the next day). Blending the epic grandeur of Pink Floyd, David Bowie surrealism and the luscious jangle and clang of the Byrds, Steve Kilbey’s warily allusive lyricism here distantly foreshadows the visionary, apocalyptic turn he’d take later in the decade. The Unguarded Moment (a cover, actually, written by a friend of Kilbey’s at the time) is the iconic hit, sort of the Australian equivalent of Freebird. Opening with a blast of guitar fury, For a Moment We’re Strangers strips a cheap hookup to its sordid bones, while the ghostly, gorgeous Bel-Air hints at the otherworldly side they’d mine on albums like Priest=Aura. Other standout tracks include the roaring epic Is This Where You Live; the glimmering country slide guitar ballad Don’t Open the Door to Strangers; the Kinks-inflected Tear It All Away, and the hook-driven janglerock smash Too Fast for You. Even the straight-up powerpop like Fighter Pilot/Korean War, Chrome Injury (a new wave take on Iron Man), the proto-U2 Memories in Future Tense and the riff-rocking She Never Said all have their moments. Here’s a random torrent; a cd worth getting is the brand-new reissue that combines both the Australian and self-titled American release’s tracks along with extensive liner notes from twelve-string guitar genius Marty Willson-Piper.

January 28, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hipster Demolition Night Still Rules

Thursday night was Hipster Demolition Night at Public Assembly. Last time we caught one of these, it was at Glasslands in the dead of summer, 120 degrees inside the club on a night where four excellent bands met the challenge head on but we didn’t. We left in the middle of a literally scorching set by Muck and the Mires, which pretty much speaks for itself. Since then, Hipster Demolition Night has moved to Public Assembly, whose larger back room is an improvement on every conceivable level. The Demands opened this show. They’re what the White Stripes ought to wish they were. The three-piece band’s frontwoman plays simple, catchy bass riffs that lock tight with the garage-rock drumbeat. Much of the time their guitarist would punch out chords on the beat but there were also a lot of places where he’d go out on a limb and explore, adding an unexpectedly psychedelic element. The operative question was whether he was going to go out too far and fall off – nope. Even with those diversions, they kept it tight, and with the vocals’ sarcastic, playfully confrontational edge, it was a fun set.

Jay Banerjee & the Heartthrobs were next. Between songs, Banerjee chugged from a Cloraseptic bottle and complained about his health. But whatever was in there – hey, cold medicine works fine for L’il Wayne – gave him a noticeable boost. Meanwhile, Vinnie, the drummer was bleeding all over his kit. If that isn’t rock and roll, then Williamsburg is cool. And just when we had them pegged as a band who write songs for guys, they get a woman to play 12-string lead guitar. She’s brilliant. She ended one of the songs with a casually stinging charge down the scale that evoked nothing less than 12-string titan Marty Willson-Piper of the Church. They opened with a blistering version of the deliciously catchy Long Way Home, an amusingly brutal account of a gentrifier girl being brought down to reality: OMG, she might actually have to get a job to pay the rent on her newly renovated $5000-a-month Bushwick loft! With a snort or two, Banerjee and the band did her justice. Maybe desperate to get the show over with, they ripped through the rest of the set: a Byrdsy janglerock song with cynical la-la’s, a guy assuring his girlfriend that he’ll stick around “because I’m too lazy to look for someone else,” a couple with an ecstatic early Beatles feel, another fueled by a catchy, melodic bassline that sounded like the Jam without the distortion and finally an equally ecstatic cover of I Can’t Stand up for Falling Down, reinventing it as a powerpop smash in the same way that Elvis Costello reinvented What’s So Funny About Peace Love & Understanding. If Banerjee was really feeling as miserable as he insisted he was, no one would have known if he hadn’t mentioned it.

Garage rockers Whooping Crane were scheduled to headline afterward, but there were places to go (the train) and things to do (kill self-absorbed, nerdy boys in skinny jeans standing in the middle of the sidewalk and texting – just kidding). Hipster Demolition Night returns to Public Assembly next month, watch this space.

December 12, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 11/25/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #796:

The Church – The Blurred Crusade

Since the American Thanksgiving holiday is one of our famously high-traffic days, we wish a happy one to those who celebrate it with a band you might just see again on this page. This 1982 classic is the legendary Australian art-rockers’ jangliest album, if not their most lyrically rich – on all but the gorgeously ghostly Field of Mars (named after a cemetery in Sydney), it sounds as if frontman Steve Kilbey wrote them in a rush on the way to the studio. But the melodies are sublime, a lush, rich wash of clanging, overtone-drenched Rickenbacker guitar textures. Almost with You features a beautiful flamenco-inflected acoustic guitar solo from Peter Koppes; When You Were Mine, An Interlude and You Took are big anthems and concert favorites. Just for You and To Be in Your Eyes are among the band’s Byrdsiest songs. Each of the album sides ends with a beautiful, barely two-minute miniature: Secret Corners and Don’t Look Back. Because we’ve carefully considered all the feedback we’ve received from you people out there, we’re generally trying to limit this list to one album per band. We just might make an exception for these guys. Here’s a random torrent; there’s also a brand-new cd reissue out with extensive new liner notes by guitarist Marty Willson-Piper.

November 25, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Patricia Vonne’s New Album Is Worth It and Then Some

Proof that sometimes good things happen to good songwriters. Here in most of the US, Patricia Vonne is ironically best known as an actress who’s made frequent appearances in her brother Roberto Rodriguez’s films. But in Europe and her native Texas, she’s a bonafide star. Her latest and fourth cd Worth It should help spread the word to those not already in the know. Her unaffectedly throaty wail soars intensely and passionately over rich, lushly interwoven layers of guitars that often evoke great Australian art-rockers the Church, but with a disquieting, often hallucinatory southwestern edge. This album is a showcase not only for Vonne’s voice but for Robert LaRoche’s terrifically anthemic, vibrant rhythm and lead guitar- he’s sort of a border-rock version of Keith Richards – along with Rick Del Castillo on guitars, Scott Garber on bass, Dony Wynn on drums and cameos from Rosie Flores, Joe Ely and songwriter Darin Murphy.

The title track opens the album, an edgy, swinging backbeat janglerock anthem that lends a sympathetic ear to the tormented visions of a homeless drug addict. It’s something akin to what the early Pretenders might have sounded like if Chrissie Hynde had grown up in Austin rather than Akron. The no-nonsense, blues-tinged Cut from the Same Cloth is a co-write with Flores, a similarly-minded, edgy Tejana. A gothic flamenco rock en Español shuffle, Fuente Vaqueros evokes the region in Grenada, Spain where Frederico Garcia Lorca famously first saw the light of day.

Vonne maintains the drama and suspense with Castle Walls, muting the flamenco intensity a little by turning  it over to the drums, and then to an incisively bluesy Joe Reyes guitar solo. A new spin on an old myth, El Marinero y La Sirena has Del Castillo’s pointillistic nylon-string guitar mingling hypnotically and eerily with Carl Thiel’s insistent piano. The big concert favorite Love Is a Bounty hitches a swaying country beat and lonesome, bucolic Murphy harmonica to biting, bluesy rock; La Lomita de Santa Cruz, just Vonne’s voice and LaRoche’s reverb-drenched guitar, is a bitter tale of drought and doom.

There’s also a couple of big, terse, tension-driven janglerock anthems along with Cowskulls and Ghosttowns, a blazing Georgia Satellites-style musclecar rocker gone goth, and the wry, cynically amusing backbeat rock anthem Gin and Platonic with her old New York band featuring Kirk Brewster on lead guitar, Scott Yoder on bass and Eddie Zweiback on drums. Yet another great album by one of this era’s finest and most original songwriters in Americana and rock en Español.

August 18, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Best Song of Alltime

Our daily best 666 songs of alltime countdown is officially over: almost two years from the date we started counting these down, here’s the best song ever:

The Church – Destination

Why did we pick this one? Because it so tersely and succinctly captures our era. Great art is timeless: this macabre rock epic hasn’t aged a bit since 1988, when released as the first track on the classic, platinum Starfish album. It starts suspensefully, Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper’s guitars playing a fifth interval, neither major nor minor. Then Marty bends a string, an eerie minor third and the procession is underway:

Our instruments have no way of measuring this feeling
Can never cut below the floor, or penetrate the ceiling

All we can ever know is what we perceive: trapped within our senses, there is no exit:

In the space between our houses, some bones have been discovered
The whole procession lurches on, as if we have recovered…

All is not well: an understatement. Yet we pay no mind:

Draconian winter unforetold
One solar day, suddenly you’re old
That little envelope just leaves me cold
Makes destination start to unfold

The “Draconian winter” is the one line that dates this song: global warming hadn’t yet rendered that phrase obsolete. Yet it still works on a metaphorical leve. “One solar day,” a phrase from Indian mysticism, meaning an eon. And the drugs don’t work anymore – in fact they might kill you instead.

Our documents are useless, all forged beyond believing
Page 47 isn’t signed, I need it by this evening
In the space between our cities, a storm is slowly forming
Something eating up our days, I feel it every morning…

A reference to a recording contract? Probably – Steve Kilbey’s written some of the best diatribes about the music business. But maybe also a passport, a visa? Which means nothing to the corrupt officials or the Halliburton subcontractors at the border.

It’s not a religion, it’s just a technique
It’s just a way of making you speak
And distance and speed have left us too weak
And Destination looks kind of bleak

That’s a reference to the band themselves. But it could also be a lot of other things – including torture.

Our elements are burnt out, our beasts have been mistreated
I tell you it’s the only way we’ll get this road completed
In the space between our bodies, the air has grown small fingers
Just one caress, you’re powerless…Destination…

And we’re left incapable of changing course. Of course, we aren’t really: apocalyptic art is cautionary, it reminds us that this will happen if we don’t heed the warning. It’s in our hands now.

Tomorrow we start counting down the 1000 best albums of alltime.

July 28, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Song of the Day 7/6/10

Lots of new stuff coming up in the wake of the long weekend – check back later today, or later in the week. In the meantime, our best 666 songs of alltime countdown will reach #1 in just over three weeks.  Tuesday’s song is #23:

The Church – Disenchanted

Janglerock guitar doesn’t get any more exquisitely beautiful than this, Marty Willson-Piper’s twelve-string Rickenbacker meshing with Peter Koppes’ Strat. And Steve Kilbey’s excoriating, cynical lyric about the pitfalls of celebrity is one of his best. From the Heyday album, 1986.

July 6, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Fred Gillen Jr. – Match Against a New Moon

Arguably his best album. As the title suggests, this is something of a calm after the storm for Fred Gillen Jr. Most musicians waited out the Bush regime uneasily; many, like Gillen, railed against the occupation, notably on his landmark 2008 collaboration with Matt Turk, Backs Against the Wall. Battered but optimistic, Gillen’s latest, Match Against a New Moon is his most memorably tuneful album. Ironically, the spot-on social commentary he’s best known for (this is a guy who appropriated Woody Guthrie’s “This guitar kills fascists” for his own six-string) is largely absent here. This cd goes more for a universal, philosophical outlook. At this point in his career, the songwriter Gillen most closely resembles is the WallflowersJakob Dylan: he’s got a laserlike feel for a catchy janglerock hook, a killer chorus, a striking image and a clever double entendre.

The expansive, smartly assembled janglerock anthem that opens the album, Come and See Me, wouldn’t be out of place in the Marty Willson-Piper catalog. It sets the tone for the rest of the cd:

When all your relations are in prison or the grave
And you can’t remember what they took, only what you gave
And you are grateful that they’re gone ’cause they can’t hurt you anymore
Come and see me

With its big, anthemic chorus, The Devil’s Last Word takes the point of view of a guy whose favorite hangout spot is the train tracks: he likes living on the edge. The catchiest track here, a monster hit in an alternate universe where commercial radio plays good songs, is the Wallflowers-ish Don’t Give up the Ghost. It ponders a way out of the shadows of a difficult past, a quest for “some kind of answers or at least some questions finally worth asking.” An image-drenched carpe diem anthem for a troubled girl, Flicker gently points a way out: “We only get a moment to flicker in the night, a match against a new moon.”

The metaphorically-charged Americana rock shuffle Land of Hope could a Matt Keating song. Lay Me Down has the raw feel of a lo-fi acoustic demo that probably wasn’t meant to be on the album, but it made the cut because of the magic it captures, exhausted yet immutably optimistic. Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah has been done to death by scores of inferior singers, but Gillen’s strikingly understated, conversational version is nothing short of souful. He follows it with a couple of dark rock narratives: the crescendoing junkie anthem Light of Nothing, which sounds like a sober mid-70s Lou Reed – if that makes any sense – and the vivid slum narrative Primitive Angels, which could be vintage, i.e. Darkness on the Edge of Town-era Springsteen. The album closes on an upbeat note with the hopeful You May Be Down. Gillen, who plays most of the instruments here, doesn’t waste a note, whether on guitars, bass, harmonica or even drums; Paul Silverman’s organ and Eric Puente’s drums contribute with similar terseness and intelligence, along with vocals from Catherine Miles and Laurie MacAllister, and Abbie Gardner contributing lapsteel and harmonies on Hallelujah. Gillen still plays frequent NYC area shows; watch this space.

June 30, 2010 Posted by | folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 5/23/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Sunday’s song is #67:

The Church – Grind

Lushly jangly, clanging art-rock masterpiece, the concluding cut on the underrated 1990 Gold Afternoon Fix album, an exhausted, embittered view of a band disintegrating. Fortunately, twenty years later, the psychedelic Australian crew remain as vital as ever. The link above is a live cut from 1992

May 23, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Oxygen Ponies at the Bell House, Brooklyn NY 4/21/10

The Truck America Festival crosses the channel for the first time, taking place at the Full Moon Resort in the Catskills this coming April 30-May 1. The Oxygen Ponies will be featured among over two dozen acts including Gary Louris of the Jayhawks, Randi Russo, Tim Easton, the Sadies and Dusty and the Dreaming Spires, on three stages over a two-night, three-day span – tickets are $120 including camping, available in New York at Beacon’s Closet locations. If Wednesday’s show at the Bell House is any indication, it should be a lot of fun (the Full Moon recently played host to Beefstock, covered in detail here, and the main stage there rivals the Bell House for quality sound). As he will upstate, frontman Paul Megna brought the whole band along for this show – Don Piper doing a first-class Marty Willson-Piper impression on lead guitar along with a nimble keyboardist, drums and a girl singing high harmonies. Megna’s growling, semi-assaultive vocals matched his guitar playing, swiping at the strings disdainfully without a thought to how much damage he could do to the instrument – or himself – if he hit any harder. The Oxygen Ponies’ most recent album Harmony Handgrenade ranked high on our best albums of 09 list – this set mixed in several choice cuts along with some new material that reminds even more of the band they most closely resemble, Australian art-rockers The Church.

Megna started the show solo, savaging the past via slow, methodical post-Velvets sway: “Looking back to yesterday is worse than giving up,” Ray Sapirstein’s trumpet a eulogy in the distance. The band came up and launched into a pulsing, crescendoing anthem replete with Megna’s trademark cynicism: “Twice is once too much,” he snarled. A brisk version of the even more cynical Fevered Cyclones mocked conspicuous consumptives from the suburbs, followed by a corrosive anti-trendoid anthem. Megna threw down the gauntlet: “Let’s take off those gloves.” They took it out on a soaring, ornately atmospheric note with their most Church-like number of the night, Piper’s washes of guitar against Megna’s voice adding a hypnotic magnetism, a call to kill as much as a challenge to individualists everywhere to stand up for themselves.

April 24, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment