Lucid Culture


Concert Review: Larkin Grimm and Martin Bisi at the Knitting Factory, Brooklyn NY 12/27/09

 Larkin Grimm’s solo show last spring at the Delancey was a dazzling display of imaginative vocal technique. This one was a lot more accessible, a mix of lush, smartly arranged, often rustic and unabashedly sexy songs. What Grimm does is closer to an update on folk-rock bands of the 70s like Fairport Convention, but more stark and sparse. Alternating between a miniature harp and acoustic guitar and backed by a concert harpist, two violinists (one of whom doubled on keys and then mandolin) and former David Bowie bassist (and producer to the stars) Tony Visconti playing some really excellent, interesting four-string work, Grimm was a strikingly down-to-earth presence even as her songs took off into artsy territory. The strings fluttered and flew off the beat as the harps’ lines interwined and Visconti moved from minimalist metronomic lines, to graceful slides, the occasional well-chosen boomy chord and even some harmonics. The songs ranged from the lush, dreamy, pastoral number that opened the show, to a sultry cabaret-inflected song about a hooker, a disquieting number inspired by “finding [your] inner child while fucking,” a one-chord Indian-style tune done with Visconti on recorder, another hypnotic song about waking up in a cornfield and having to dodge tractors, and an understatedly fiery retelling of a Greek myth about Apollo skinning some poor guy alive. That one Grimm wrote, she said, after she’d paid a visit to Dolllywood (she’d snuck in, too broke to pay for admission), thinking about her own disastrous experiences in the music business. She closed with a translation of a Hafez poem cast as a crescendoing anthem where a woman goes to bed with a guy, takes off her clothes and decapitates him. “But isn’t that…philosophy?” she asked, deadpan.

Martin Bisi played the first half-hour of his set as a suite, segueing from one part to another by frantically laying down one searing loop of guitar feedback on top of another.  This time Bisi’s band had lead guitar, bass, drums and a caped crusader wailing frantically on what sounded like a little Casio running through a million noisy effects, sharing the stage with a woman whose graceful miming quickly became the show’s focal point. In a strange twist of fate, Bisi, like Visconti, is best known for producing great albums for famous bands (Sonic Youth, Herbie Hancock, the Dresden Dolls, ad infinitum), but ultimately it’s his songwriting which is his strongest suit. This evening’s numbers had a distinctly early 80s, East Village feel, sort of Nick Cave as covered by Blue Oyster Cult, ornate and haunting but also with a sense of humor that ran from cynicism to unaffected amusement. About halfway into his suite he ran through the mythology-based Sirens of the Apocalypse (title track of his excellent 2008 album), barrelling through the lyrics without a pause to take a breath. A more recent track, Drink Your Wine came off with an irresistible sarcasm, a word of warning to a lightweight; a dedication to his daughter, far from being mawkish, was a dark garage rocker evocative of the Libertines but tighter. They finally closed their set with a big riff-rock anthem that threatened to burst into flame after it had finally gone out, but it didn’t. The audience wanted more but didn’t get it.

December 28, 2009 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Arborea – House of Sticks

From the Maine woods comes this beguiling, hypnotic, rustic album of dark, minimalist, ambient Americana. Arborea’s self-titled debut made a splash last year and drew accolades from NPR and the BBC, and has since sold out (it’s still available on itunes).  Their verdant, bracingly earthy follow-up album takes the listener even deeper into the forest. Singer/banjo player Shanti Curran has an ethereal, frequently otherworldly voice that reminds of Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval, but with considerably more gravitas and soul. As an instrumentalist, she makes every note count: her plaintive, thoughtfully spaced plucking fits well with her voice alongside her husband Buck Curran’s acoustic and electric guitar shading. Iron and Wine is an obvious comparison, although Arborea can be considerably darker, and have a broader sonic palette: this is not a band where you could say that after awhile, all their songs pretty much sound the same. And it’s not freak-folk, although fans of that genre will undoubtedly be taken with their sound as well.

The album’s opening track, River and Rapids blends dreampop and oldtime folk, banjo playing  a sparse, circular melody beneath somewhat disembodied vocals. The way the guitar gradually builds and then interpolates within the hypnotic banjo melody of Beirut is gorgeously intricate. On Alligator, insistent banjo functions as a bassline beneath Shanti Curran’s soul-inflected vocals and dreamlike layers of acoustic and slide guitar. With its guy/girl vocals, the long, pensive Dance, Sing, Fight echoes the Cure back when they were a goth band, concluding with a particularly apt Midnight Oil lyrical quote. Then it segues into the haunting Look Down Fair Moon, banjo playing a Middle Eastern-style oud taqsim line, but in the minor scale.

The gentle, Indian-inflected drone of the title track brings back the contemplative vibe of the first part of the album, its meticulously layered arrangement evocative of Brooklyn “porch techno” art-rockers the Quavers. Then the cd wraps up with the minimalist, reflective Onto the Shore, segueing into the final cut, In the Tall Grass, a warm, inviting lullaby with harmonium loops that grow to include the subtlest of slide guitar accents and vocalese after a long intro. It’s chillout music for smart people and it’s a clinic in how to say more with less. Arborea next play the Solidarity Center, 20 Ivers Street in Brewer, Maine on January 8 at 7 PM and then they’re off on European tour (check the link above for dates).

December 24, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment