Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 7/21/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #558:

The Moody Blues – Long Distance Voyager

Did the Moody Blues invent art-rock…or at least chamber pop? Maybe. Fans of the tuneful, philosophically inclined psychedelic pop band are probably mystified why we chose this 1981 reunion album of sorts over well-loved 60s releases like In Search of the Lost Chord or On the Threshold of a Dream. Answer: all of those albums have some great tunes, but also a bunch of real clunkers as well. This, on the other hand is solid virtually all the way through, and the songwriting is arguably the band’s strongest. The production manages to be ornate and genuinely majestic despite the heavy synthesizers. The big, brisk top 40 hit was The Voice, followed closely by the artsy, ELOish, disco-tinged Gemini Dream (a great song to cover if you played it loud and fast like a lot of bands of the era did). The irresistible Talking out of Turn is a seven-minute pop song that actually works. Guitarist Justin Hayward’s lush kiss-off anthem Meanwhile is genuinely poignant, as is bassist John Lodge’s sweeping, understatedly anguished art-pop ballad Nervous. There’s also the morbid 22,000 Days, the twisted cabaret of Painted Smile and the even more twisted Veteran Cosmic Rocker, a surprisingly snarling satire of aging hippie rockers by a band who knew a little something about being one. Here’s a random torrent.

July 21, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Powerpop Trifecta at Bowery Electric

Wednesday night at Bowery Electric, Don Piper and his group opened the evening with a richly melodic, often hypnotic set. Piper’s primary gig these days is producing great albums – the Oxygen Ponies’ lushly layered, darkly psychedelic classic Harmony Handgrenade is one of his credits – but he’s also a bandleader. This time out he alternated between slowly swirling, atmospheric, artsy rock and a vintage Memphis soul sound, backed by a large, spirited crew including keyboards, a two-piece horn section (with Ray Sapirstein from Lenny Molotov’s band on cornet), bass and the Silos’ Konrad Meissner on drums (doing double duty tonight, as would many of the other musicians). Midway through the set Briana Winter took over centerstage and held the crowd silent with her wary, austerely intense, Linda Thompson-esque voice on a couple of midtempo ballads. They closed with a long, 1960s style soul number, Piper and Winter joining in a big crescendo as the band slowly circled behind them.

Edward Rogers followed, backed by much of the same band including Piper, Meissner, Claudia Chopek on violin and Ward White playing bass. A British expat, Rogers’ wry, lyrical songs draw on pretty much every good British pop style through the mid-70s. The most modern-sounding song, a pounding, insistent number, evoked the Psychedelic Furs, White throwing in some Ventures-style tremolo-picking on his bass at a point where nobody seemed to be looking. Whatever You’ve Been Told, from Rogers’ latest album Sparkle Lane, held an impassioned, uneasy ambience that brought to mind early David Bowie. A pensive, midtempo backbeat tune with a refrain about the “seventh string on your guitar, the one you never use” reminded of the Move (like Roy Wood, Rogers hails from Birmingham), as did a bracingly dark new one, Porcelain, highlighted by some striking, acidic violin from Chopek. And a pair of Beatles homages wouldn’t have been out of place on the Rutles albums – or George’s later work with Jeff Lynne. But the best songs were the most original ones. The most stunning moment of the night came on the understatedly bitter Passing the Sunshine, a Moody Blues-inflected requiem for an edgy downtown New York destroyed by greedy developers, gentrifiers and the permanent-tourist class: “This’ll be the last time you steal with your lies,” Rogers insisted, over and over again. In its gentle, resolute way, it was as powerful as punk. They wound up the show with a surprisingly bouncy psychedelic pop tune and then the new album’s droll, swaying title track.

Seeing headliner Maura Kennedy onstage with a bright red Les Paul slung from her shoulder was a surprise, as it was to see her guitar genius husband Pete Kennedy in the back with the drums, leaving most of the solos to his wife. But as fans of their acoustic project the Kennedys know, she’s an excellent player – and also one of the most unselfconsciously soulful voices in rock, or folk, if you want to call them that. This was her powerpop set, many of the songs adding a subtly Beatlesque or Americana edge to fast new wave guitar pop. The best songs were the darker ones, including the bitterly pulsing 1960s style psych/pop hit Just the Rain. Sun Burns Gold swayed hauntingly and plaintively, leaving just a crack for the light to get in; another minor-key number, Chains was absolutely gorgeous in a jangly Dancing Barefoot garage-pop vein, and she used that as a springboard for one of several sharply staccato, chordally charged solos. “I wrap myself in melancholy comfort of the waiting game,” she sang on a brooding ballad that evoked Richard and Linda Thompson. But there were just as many upbeat moments. White, who was doing double duty despite being under the weather, took an unexpected and welcome bass solo on a funkily hypnotic number toward the end of the set; they wound it up with the first song she’d written, she said, the country-pop ballad Summer Coulda Lasted Forever. The rest of the musicians joined them for an amazingly tight, completely deadpan cover of A Day in the Life, Maura leading her little orchestra with split-second precision all the way through the two long, interminable crescendos, a wry vocal from her husband on Paul’s verse, and then up and up and up some more and then finally out. It was an apt way to end a night of similarly expert craftsmanship.

December 10, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The Universal Thump at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 7/16/10

Keyboardist/singer Greta Gertler’s new band the Universal Thump were something beyond amazing Friday night. The orchestrated rock bands of the 70s may have gone the way of the dinosaurs (except for the Moody Blues) but this was like being in the front row at an ELO or Procol Harum show at the Royal Albert Hall. Except with better vocals. Gertler’s sometimes stratospheric high soprano fits this band well: she went up so far that there was no competing sonically with the lush, rich atmospherics of the Thumpettes, a.k.a. the Osso String Quartet, whose presence made all the difference. With Adam D. Gold terse yet sometimes surprising behind the drum kit, equally terse bass from Groove Collective’s Jonathan Maron, fiery powerpop guitar god Pete Galub on lead and Gertler at the piano, they segued seamlessly from one richly melodic, Romantically-tinged, counterintuitively structured song to the next.

Gertler’s been writing songs like that since she was in her teens: one Aimee Mann-inflected number in stately 6/8 time dated from 1993. Otherwise, the set was mostly all new material from the Universal Thump’s ongoing album (now an ep, with a kickstarter campaign in case you have money to burn). The opening number worked a wistful post-baroque melody down to a piano cascade where Gertler rumbled around in the low registers for awhile, then the strings took it up again. The wistful vibe kept going, an uneasy, brooding lyric soaring over an austere minor-key melody, with a terse viola solo out. Damien, from Gertler’s now-classic 2004 album The Baby That Brought Bad Weather was all understated longing, cached in the mighty swells of the strings.

Galub used the next song’s Penny Lane bounce as the launching pad for an unabashedly vicious, percussively crescendoing guitar solo, something he’d repeat a couple more times – even by his standards, he was especially energized. The best song of the evening, possible titled Closing Night began with a matter-of-factly dramatic series of piano chords, worked its way into a lush backbeat anthem with another one of those Galub slasher solos, and gracefully faded out. Gertler explained that her closing number had been appropriated (and turned into a sizeable hit) by an unnamed Australian band, who’d transformed it into a song about playing the lottery. As it rose to a ridiculously catchy chorus out of just vocals and strings, its hitworthiness struck home, hard. The audience wouldn’t let them go: the band encored with a majestically fluid version of Everybody Wants to Adore You, another smash of a pop song from The Baby That Brought Bad Weather. We do our own individual list of the best New York concerts of the year in December, and you can bet that this one will be on it. This was it for the Universal Thump’s shows this summer – adding yet another reason to look forward to fall, which at this point couldn’t come too soon.

July 19, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Jeremy Messersmith – The Reluctant Graveyard

Jeremy Messersmith’s third album of smart indie pop continues in the same vein he mined on his first two. This one plays down the death fixation in favor of an upbeat, wistfully tuneful 60s psychedelic pop feel. But unlike the rest of the slavish Beach Boys and Ellliot Smith imitators, Messersmith has established a voice of his own: there’s a depth and a thoughtfulness to his lyrics and a subtly clever wit throughout the tunes and the arrangements, an indication of how successfully he’s immersed himself in intelligent oldschool pop sounds.

The first song here is something of a cross between late 60s English dancehall-style Kinks and Elliott Smith, with some absolutely gorgeous piano/guitar textures on the chorus. The second track, Dillinger Eyes is Badfinger-esque powerpop, followed by the album’s best song, Organ Donor. With a dark, reggae-inflected Watching the Detectives vibe enhanced by brooding strings, it’s a vividly metaphorical look at how we fall apart: “Took my brain to the seminary, never seen again…left my spine at the wedding chapel…” John the Determinist works off a bracing, tense string arrangement that underscores the narrator’s obliviously stubborn OCD vibe. Knots blends an old PiL guitar riff with a string section straight out of the Moody Blues circa 1967, a feel that returns with the mellotron-driven sympathy-for-the-devil ballad Repo Man, all sad and alone since nobody cares that he’s dead and gone. The funniest track here is the lushly jangly Rickenbacker guitar anthem Deathbed Salesman, its protagonist trying to upscale a potential casket buyer:

You’ve got a reservation
But you don’t have to wait if you don’t want to
You won’t feel a thing
All your friends are there already
This is how it has to end…

Fans of the original stuff as well as 60s revivalists like the Essex Green and Love Camp 7 will love this. Jeremy Messersmith plays Joe’s Pub on May 28 at 7 PM. Memo to Messersmith’s publicist; email this anonymously to pitchfork and tell them it’s the long lost Beach Boys album. They won’t be able to tell the difference.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Smiles and Frowns

Wow- these Arizona guys really know their 1960s British style psychedelia. The Smiles and Frowns set gentle, understated vocals over vintage guitar and keyboard sounds – as with the early bands of that era, this new album is basically tripped-out pop songs clocking in at three minutes or less. American hippie bands were more jam-oriented; the Brits added a surreal, often theatrical lyrical feel. The songs here are period-perfect: many of them would be perfectly at home on albums by the Pretty Things, the early Move, the Kinks, the Kaleidoscope, the Idle Race…the list goes on and on, getting more obscure and trippier the further out you go. Like so many artifacts of the time, this could be construed as the soundtrack to a short but intense trip…or maybe a long one. Time distorts under the influence of that stuff, as this album reminds.

Things get surreal right off the bat with the first two numbers. Sam, its vocals perfectly enunciated and tongue-in-cheek in the style of the day, is about a bird (symbolism anybody?). He drinks cappucino and “ripped off everyone…everyone was so psyched that he was so sincere.” Cornelius, for his part, is a pied piper character – is that a mellotron in the background? The Memory Man, train approaching as the song begins, is LSD personified. This one introduces a slightly more ominous feel to its steady, harmonica-laced piano pop.

The next cut, Huevos Rancheros sounds like the Kinks enjoying a harry rag with the Beatles in the Abbey Road parking lot during the Sgt. Pepper sessions. The instrumental March of the Phantom Faces is woozy and darkly carnivalesque with autoharp, Vox organ and a crazyquilt of methodically layered reverb keyb textures. By the time the big Beatlesque mellotron ballad When the Time Should Come kicks in, so has the acid. It’s a deadpan, defiant ode to idleness even as the time flashes by. The high point of the album – no pun intended – is the long outsider anthem Mechanical Songs, opening with a swirling Jeff Lynne style keyboard intro. It winds up with The Echoes of Time echoing the Moody Blues, its wistful lyric set to a blithe jugband tune with bells and eventually that mellotron again. Alice – how did we get here and how do we get back? Where the hell are you?

February 18, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Bobby Vacant & the Weary – Tear Back the Night

This is one of those rare works of art where every element strengthens and reinforces the other. Consider the cd package: the wraparound cover photo shows a house at night from the shadows, beckoning yet unreachable like Kafka’s castle. Inside under the cd, another photo, a weatherbeaten wooden shack behind a picket fence, decrepit lounge chair rotting in front of a half-furled plastic canopy. Truth in advertising.

Roger Waters once said that he crafted the lyrics to Dark Side of the Moon to read as simply as possible to make sure he got his point across and the same applies to singer/songwriter Bobby Vacant. His words are plainspoken yet potently metaphorical: there’s always another level of meaning lurking underneath, and it’s not pretty. It would not be an overstatement to call the new album by Bobby Vacant & the Weary a classic of dark existentialist rock, right up there with Closer by Joy Division and anything Pink Floyd ever recorded. Vacant sings in the thin, worn-down voice of a middleaged man. Homelessness and addiction are not merely alluded to but addressed directly with a disconcerting offhandedness: there’s a ring of authenticity here. Yet as bleak  as much of this is, Bobby Vacant maintains a vise grip. “Don’t look to tomorrow, just get through the day…don’t go gently, just leave the sky aflame,” he encourages in the nocturnally atmospheric Some Walk. From time to time, he imbues the songs with a gallows humor, as in the hypnotic seafaring ballad Waveflowers, where he can’t resist pulling up anchors and slipping off unseen into the night: “And if they ask/What the hell is the past/Just tell ’em it’s deep down below.” Or on the vitriolic Dylan’s Dead, a Nietzschean slap upside the head of boomer complacency:

You’re the one said Dylan’s dead

Flew a jet right through his head

Once again we killed the dream

Onward marching soldiers sing

The Weary (AKA George Reisch, mastermind of Chicago’s Luxotone label, one of this era’s most acerbic, accessible writers on philosophy and editor of Pink Floyd and Philosophy and other titles in the series) takes Vacant’s simple, catchy songs and orchestrates them with the gravitas of Floyd yet also with the terseness of Joy Division: as with pretty much everything else Reisch has ever recorded, there are no wasted notes here. A bell tolls in the distance, just twice, as Some Walk builds to a close. The title track works up an understated feast of jangly guitars worthy of the Byrds. The marvelously textured crescendo of guitars on Dylan’s Dead takes a blithe Forever Changes mood into surreal, distantly reverberating Sandinista territory; the stark twelve-string on Waveflowers evokes Marty Willson-Piper of the Church. There’s also a beautifully wistful interlude straight out of the Moody Blues circa 1967, and the even more lushly, vividly plaintive crescendo that closes the album.

Vacant vacillates between embracing the darkness and the occasional grasp backwards at a doomed relationship. The opening track, Don’t Love Me Anymore cautions that he won’t be around much longer: “All my years just wasted smears, wings too wet to fly.” The title track, on a literal level a snide after-the-party tableau, gleefully announces that “The night is kind, the night is warm, the night is calling your name.” The best song on the album is Never Looking Back, an anthem for anyone with a checkered past. “Here we go. Stand back. It’s a road. It’s black,” Vacant sings with not a little triumph in his voice: he knows that this isn’t merely where we all end up – it’s where we’ve been all along, and he’s finally been vindicated. “Went to the town, went to the school, went to the park with the lonely fool, uh huh,” he relates: the story of our lives, isn’t it?

Not much is known about Bobby Vacant. His real name is Tom Derungs, he lives in Switzerland, records vocals and guitar tracks in his home studio and sends the product to Luxtone for overdubs, mixing and pressing. He also plays the occasional acoustic gig (the next one is in Lausanne on August 14) and contributes to the blog Library of Inspiration. One hopes this cd – as strong a contender as any for best album of 2009 – will not be his last.

July 29, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Song of the Day 6/25/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Thursday’s song is #398:

The Dickies – Nights in White Satin

The comedic California band first saw light as a punk parody (their logo was the silhouette of a flaccid penis), but quickly became one of the late 70s/early 80s’ most ferocious live acts. This one, from the 1980 lp Dawn of the Dickies is one of the alltime classic punk covers, ripping the old Moody Blues hit to shreds. A regrouped version of the band fronted by original singer/keyboardist Leonard Graves Phillips still tours occasionally.

June 25, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 3/30/09

We do this every Tuesday, in the spirit of Kasey Kasem. Each of the links here will take you to the individual song, a mix of stuff we’ve either stumbled upon or have playing in heavy rotation here in Lucid Culture-land. Some of these songs will end up on our Best Songs of 2009 list the last week of December, stay tuned…

 

1. Elisa Flynn – Timber

Big, towering, haunting yet blackly amusing anthem, first cut on her absolutely killer new cd Songs About Birds and Ghosts. She’s at Sidewalk on 4/8 at 9. This is the video.

 

2. La Sovietika – Aladino

Completely unique: “the Caribbean Dance Rock Sound,” as the band puts it, funk meets 1970s Fania meets soukous, like what Vampire Weekend might sound like if they could swing and had soul.  

 

3. Jah Roots – Spliff and My Lady

In case you didn’t already guess, this is reggae. Great tune, similar to Payday by Israel Vibration.

 

4. Jessie Kilguss – Gristmill

Menacing, brooding noir cabaret. She’s at Trash on 4/22

 

5. The Hsu-nami – Snake Skin Shuffle

Artsy metal instrumental like Iron Maiden with an erhu (Chinese fiddle)! They’re at the Passport to Taiwan Festival at Union Square on 5/24.

 

6. The Parkington Sisters – Let Go

Minimalist countrypolitan chamber pop with sweet harmonies – absolutely unique.  

 

7. Des Roar – Not Over for Me

Oldschool R&B song like the Pretty Things except with powerful modern amps.

 

8. The Moody Blues – Driftwood

Live version, early 80s vintage. In case you weren’t aware how good a guitarist Justin Hayward is.

 

9. No More Tears – Keep It Real

Hip-hop from the Dirty Jerz: “Keep it real girl, what do you want, I got liquor, I got blunts.” The least subtle pickup lines ever rapped. Beyond funny.

 

10. Cudzoo & the Faggettes – 14K Fetus

Completely sick faux oldtimey harmony from the self-styled “prettiest girls with the filthiest mouths.”

March 31, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 3/2/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Monday’s song is #513:

The Moody Blues – Peak Hour

An uncharacteristically hard-rocking, deliciously scurrying evocation of midday business-district madness driven by bassist John Lodge’s furious flights, keyboardist Michael Pinder ending it mischievously on his Mellotron with the last four chords from the famous Bach Toccata in D. MP3s everywhere; if you’re looking for vinyl, it’s on the 1967 lp Days of Future Passed, frequently found in the dollar bins. The link above is a youtube clip with about two minutes of the mediocre movie soundtrack-style orchestration that segues into the song.

March 2, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment