Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Bliss Blood and Al Street’s Evanescent: One of the Year’s Best Albums

It’s always cool when a great artist decides to give away free tracks. When those tracks are among that artist’s best ever, it’s time to get busy downloading. Bliss Blood – New York’s reigning goddess of retro – decided to put the debut album by her new duo project Evanescent, with guitarist Al Street, up at reverbnation as a free download. Her Hawaiian swing crew the Moonlighters may be iconic among NYC artists, but they’re only her best-known group: in the last ten years, she’s also sung straight-up swing jazz, creepy cinematic noir songs, and barrelhouse blues (and S&M punk rock, if you count her teenage band the Pain Teens from the early 90s). But this flamenco-tinged unit with just ukulele, acoustic guitar, Blood’s lush, velvet vocals and a ton of reverb that amps up the lurid factor, may be her best yet. The joke here is that this music is actually the furthest thing from evanescent – it lingers and haunts. Blood has never sung better – the Moonlighters’ harmonies range from sensual to chirpy, but here Blood runs deep and dark with an unexpected gravitas and also a sultry allure that beats anything the Moonlighters have done – and they’re a great band.

The first track, Swallow the Dice, sets the stage, lowlit in red: it’s a menacing flamenco waltz, a defiantly metaphorical tribute to beating the system. Likewise, the steadily pulsing Liplock mines a series of double entendres, some of them ironic: play your cards too close to the vest and risk losing everything. Bulletproof is absolutely gorgeous, seductively bittersweet, all too aware of how invulnerability can be a double-edged sword:

Impervious to pain
I dream undaunted
Until I’m wanted and flaunted again
Bad bargain, maybe
I made it, unflinching
I keep it, bewitching
And blindly I see
It’s a barrier around me
Makes me bulletproof
Nothing can touch me
No one but you

The strongest track, lyrically at least, is Blackwater, a blistering broadside originally done by Blood’s “crime jazz” band Nightcall during the waning days of the Bush regime when mercenaries in Iraq were slaughering civilians left and right. Here it’s reinvented with a sarcastic rockabilly shuffle rhythm as Blood rails against the consciousless cynicism of the soldiers of fortune who think nothing of “blood spilled on the sand.” The sultriest track is The Palace of the Wind, its Dr. Zhivago ambience lush and pensive over Street’s agile broken chords. With just ukulele, bells and vocals for most of it, Butterfly Collector wouldn’t be out of place in an early 60s Henry Mancini soundtrack. There’s also the torchy, Freudian Legend of a Crime; the brisk, galloping Ella Es el Matador, the give-and-take of a hookup explained as a bullfight; the echoey, pillowy, sad guitar-and-vocalese instrumental Firefly, and the sly, reggae-tinged come-on Your Mayhem. One of the best albums of the year, for free. Evanescent play DBA at 113 N 7th St. (Berry/Wythe) in Williamsburg on 4/16; 4/22 they’re at Cin-M-Art Space, 43 Murray Street, (W. Broadway & Church).

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April 12, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Compared to Bee vs. Moth’s Acronyms, Most Other Bands Sound FUBAR

Part 27 of our ongoing, never-ending process of playing catch-up: Austin instrumentalists Bee vs. Moth’s album Acronyms came out last year. The fun factor is off the hook – they pin the needle in the red. They’re part jazz, part noise-rock, and part movie theme music. Their compositions are very clever, but there’s just as much improvisation going on and that’s just as clever. Yet any good jazz band has that: what sets these folks apart is their sense of humor and out-of-the-box mashup-style songwriting. For a point of comparison, it could be said that what Tribecastan is to the Red Sea, Bee vs. Moth is to Americana. Some of this you can even dance to. To give you an idea of how much is going on here, these are the notes our reviewer took while trying to get a basic idea of how to explain just the first song on the album: “Drum hammers out the ‘one’ – guitar comes in against the beat – a blast of fuzzy guitar feedback – down to just bass holding the beat, backward masking and glockenspiel, up with it then horns and the whole band, becomes an actual anthem – then it falls apart with disembodied voices, comes back with a distorted guitar rock interlude – simple fast 2/4 changes a la Joy Division – down to glockenspiel and trumpet again.” Something for just about everyone in 3 minutes, 50 seconds.

Interplay is everywhere throughout this album: instruments converse, argue, twirl each other across the floor, blow up in each others’ faces and then make up. Now More than Ever, whose focal point is a warped spaghetti western theme, has the trumpet, guitar and bass doing a neat call-and-response. Peter Benko, a blend of Chronic Town-era REM, Tuatara jazz nocturne and reggae, has the bass taking over for the guitar – which in this song plays a role usually reserved for a drummer. The fiery, hypnotic Afrobeat song Pennies from Hell (these guys are good at titles) has trumpet and baritone sax riffing off each other. And Ugly Is the New Black welds crazed noise-rock guitar to a vintage doo-wop theme.

The rest of the album is more cinematic. Tuesday in Tuskegee shifts from mournful gospel to joyous noise, with some intense guitar tremolo-picking, and then back down again. The Sky and the Dirt Earth is southwestern gothic teleported to Bali; Mexican Noise Soda warps out of horn-spiced metal to a nasty, satirical trumpet waltz. They prove especially amusing with marches. All Hail Freedom is scathingly sarcastic and bombastic, the band taking their time machinegunning the propagandistic theme to bits, while ICP on Parade has gleeful fun mocking a parade theme and I Listen to Coffee All Day add hayseed banjo and cowbell to raise the eyebrow factor. The most straight-up number here – straight-up being a relative term – is Gor’s Apparatus, a joyously crescendoing, noisy jaunt featuring a couple of tongue-in-cheek bass solos and some particularly satisfying drum work. Bee vs. Moth’s next gig appears to be on March 19 at Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse Ritz Theatre, where they’ll be doing their live original score for Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman as part of the Austin Film Festival.

February 12, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/13/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #900:

Laika & the Cosmonauts – Laika Sex Machine Live

Incredibly eclectic surf and instrumental rock from Finland, 1999. These guys did it all: pounding Dick Dale chromatic stomps, spacy sci-fi themes, rapidfire chase scenes, twangy bucolic vignettes and dozens of catchy, two-and-a-half minute hits that are every bit as iconic in Europe as the Ventures are here. Laika & the Cosmonauts’ sound frequently uses keyboards as well as guitars, often in the same song, further diversifying their textures. This is a greatest-hits album of sorts recorded before ecstatic crowds in Germany and Finland: happily, we don’t have to suffer through any of their applause until the very end. As with so many of the great surf bands to come out of the Nordic regions, the band uses a lot of moody minor-key and chromatic passages, sometimes bordering on the macabre. Several others are satirical and quite funny. This collection includes the late 60s psychedelia of The Hypno-Wheel; the utterly gorgeous Turquoise; Disconnected, a surfy spoof of disco music, the bitter chromatics of Sycophant and Boris the Conductor (a bombastic sendup of Boris Yeltsin) as well as the themes from the Avengers, Get Carter and a pastiche of the Psycho and Vertigo themes. 26 songs in all, a terrific representation of one of the world’s great instrumental bands, one that literally never made a bad album. Their surprisingly traditional sounding first album, C’Mon Do the Laika and the psychedelically-tinged tour de force Absurdistan are especially worth seeking out. Be careful looking for torrents for this one: because of the title, attack sites disguised as porn have it listed, as do several dubious-looking sites located in Russia (where surf music is as huge as it is in the US).

August 13, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

3 Leg Torso Do the Time Warp Again

Animals and Cannibals, the all-instrumental fifth album by Portland, Oregon’s 3 Leg Torso is of the year’s most enjoyably eclectic releases. Playfully, often psychedelically and amusingly blending elements of gypsy music, Belgian barroom songs, the baroque and jazz, the group is anchored by acclaimed violinist Bela R. Balogh and accordionist Courtney Von Drehle. T.J. Arko, Kyle MacLowry and drummer Gary Irvine take turns on the vibraphone, along with bass, tuba, weissenborn, piano and French horn. As the individual song titles indicate, they don’t take themselves particularly seriously (although they do the music): some of these pieces veer off into parody. Although the juxtaposition of the medieval and the modern here might seem jarring, it isn’t: this crew somehow makes it work.

The album opens with a swaying, 6/8 accordion tune with a lush string and vibraphone arrangement, a scurrying Balogh solo and a trick ending (a device that will recur here often). The tango standard Csardas, by Vittorio Monti is a joyous exercise in tempo shifts and doubletime. The cinematic, Brueghelesque The Life and Times and Good Deeds of St. Penguin – yup, that’s the title – works variations on a plaintive waltz with a tricky turnaround. Moving from a tv theme-style bounce to more complex, jazzy passages with incisive accordion and bluesy vibraphone, Toothless Cannibal winds up on the wings of another wailing Balogh solo. Driving Along with My Cow in My Volga could be a Spike Jones backing track, including a rustic Russian dirge, a blithe, tongue-in-cheek gypsy dance, and a bucolic waltz. And Von Drehle’s According to Chagall sounds suspiciously like a cumbia-tinged version of the Twin Peaks theme arranged for string band – it would make a great addition to the Chicha Libre catalog.

The mini-epic Bus Stop to Oblivion builds from rustic sentimentality to a wildly fusionesque stomp, violin blasting through a distortion pedal as the band roar their way out at the end. An original, Frailach #1 is a bracing klezmer raveup with a woozy bass solo and a deliciously long crescendo out of it. The album winds up on a pensive note with the cinematic theme The Last Dream. Somewhere there’s a contemporary black comedy set in a rainy Balkan milieu that needs this album for its soundtrack.

August 10, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 7/25/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Saturday’s song is #368:

Public Image Ltd. – The Order of Death

Brooding Italian movie theme from 1983 with layers of synth over a drum loop, John Lydon intoning the mantra “This is what you want, this is what you get,’ which ended up serving as the album title after guitarist Keith Levene either quit the band or was fired depending who you believe. Some fans prefer the more poignant but less ominous acoustic guitar version from the Commercial Zone lp released by Levene as retaliation in 1985.

July 24, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment