Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Bern & the Brights – Swing Shift Maisies

Bern & the Brights are a breath of fresh air. Their sound is absolutely original: they’re impossible to pigeonhole, creating a violin-and-guitar-driven swirl of artsy new wave, chamber pop, art-rock and indie rock, with a raw, plaintive, emotionally resonant edge. Their song structures are counterintuitive: this band refuses to be contained by a simple verse/chorus/verse pattern. The title of their new album, Swing Shift Maisies refers to the all-female bands that sprung up during World War I: Rosie the Rocker instead of Rosie the Riveter. The term was actually a slur, the band using it here sarcastically – they’re all first-rate musicians. Frontwoman/guitarist Bernadette Malavarca has playful command of an impressively wide range of styles, and she’s full of surprises: she’ll punch out a staccato new wave phrase and and suddenly toss off a tongue-in-cheek country riff – or stick out her tongue with a comical Jimmy Page lick. Acoustic guitarist Catherine McGowan – who also sings – holds the songs to the rails along with the nimble rhythm section of Shawn Fafara on bass and Jose Ulloa on drums. The band’s not-so-secret weapon is violinist Nicole Scorsone, overdubbed here to the point that she’s a one-woman orchestra. For those who’ve never seen them live, this four-song ep makes an auspicious introduction: it may be short but it’s one of this year’s best so far.

The first track, Boo features characteristically plaintive violin over jangly guitar, with distant tango echoes. “Been so long since I’ve been myself,” Malavarca muses; the band works a catchy minor key guitar vamp that builds lushly with the strings, a suspenseful drum shuffle and a majestic, sweeping outro. The brisk Sangria Peaches kicks off with a tricky rhythm into a fast eight-note new wave groove with staccato violin, swirling strings and a coy break with castanets. McGowan sings Sleepless Aristotle – a live showstopper – with a chipper chirp: it’s a fast, swaying amalgam of chamber pop and vintage new wave, and a playful percussion breakdown. The last song here, It Goes Like That sounds like the Velvets jamming with the New Pornographers at Juilliard summer camp.

As a singer, Malavarca’s still finding her voice. It’s a powerful, versatile instrument with eye-popping range – when she’s projecting with an insistence that vividly recalls Martha Davis of the Motels (a little higher up the scale), she’s tremendously affecting. When she lapses into a drawl (which happily only happens every now and then), it’s an affectation that sticks out like a sore thumb in a band so original and so cliche-free. But given the quality and the imagination of the songs here, that’s a minor quibble. As good as the recordings are, the band is even better live: Bern & the Brights play the cd release for this album at Maxwell’s on July 17 at 8:30. Now’s your chance to enjoy them up close before it costs you twice as much at venues twice as big.

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July 12, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Boro 6 Music Festival 2010 – Worth a Trip to Montclair, NJ

Like just about everything here, we’re a little late in getting to this, but last year’s Boro 6 Music Festival included just about every good rock and rock-related style happening outside of NYC. In covering the scene here, we often lose sight of all the other vital scenes outside the five boroughs – based on last year’s festival and this year’s, Montclair is definitely one of them. This year’s festival is four concerts in three days at two venues, starting Fri June 11 at Tierney’s Tavern, 136 Valley Road in Montclair and Asana House, down the block at 127 Valley Road where there will be an all-ages show on Sat, June 12 (Tierney’s is 21+).

Friday’s headliners the Defending Champions are a first-class, high-energy third-wave ska band. Also on the bill; Black Water (feat. former members of the skronky, atonal, amusing Meltdowns) and hypnotically echoey, reverb-drenched Mogwai-ish dreampop/noiserockers the Invisible Lines.

The good stuff starts around nine on Saturday at Tierney’s with up-and-coming retro soul band the One and Nines, fronted by charismatic siren Vera Sousa, with an equally captivating if far darker choice of headliners, the alternately austere and intense guitar-and-violin-driven indie rockers Bern & the Brights. The all-ages show at Asana House kicks off with anthemic veteran powerpop guy Gerry Perlinsky plus the clever, Beatlesque Terry McCarthy, tuneful and fun janglerockers the Sirs (who do a song about a Jean-Paul Sartre play, and another about being goth in high school) and Celtic folk troubadour Niall Connolly.

Sunday’s show opens with the tongue-in-cheek retro 80s Frozen Gentlemen, followed by Copesetic – whose tunefully psychedelic debut last year was a singer short of greatness – then the funky hip-hop groove of Tip Canary, the Porchistas’ fun, country-inflected powerpop (plus they’re bringing free rice and beans for everyone, yum), the similarly Americana-driven but louder McMickle Bros. and then fiery gypsy rockers Kagero to wind up the night on an exhaustingly fun note. Definitely enough good stuff here to make it worth the ride there and back.

June 9, 2010 Posted by | concert, irish music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, rap music, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

CD Review: Kiwi – Mischief Reigns

You just gotta love it – a Brazilian-inflected dub reggae cd by a band named after New Zealand’s tasty green version of the blueberry. True to their name, Kiwi have made a tasty album, warm, summery and hypnotic like all the best roots reggae is. This is the group that big up-and-coming retro soul buzz band the One and Nines spun off of. The two bands share a vocalist, the irresistibly soaring Vera Sousa, a guitarist (the smartly incisive Jeff Marino), a tenor sax player (Barami Waspe) and a keyboardist. On this album Sousa shares vocal duties with Alex Tyshkov, who distinguishes himself on bass, guitars, keys, percussion and more. The rest of the laid-back horn section comprises Kasey Lockwood on trumpet and Matt Ryan on trombone, with Will Hansen on keys, David Delgado on drums and G.D. Hemmings on percussion. The bass is always way up in the mix, guaranteeing that it’ll sound fat even if you’re playing it on a lo-fi system. Like the One and Nines, a band who completely nail the ambience, arrangements and spirit of 60s Memphis soul music, Kiwi’s sound is straight out of Kingston, 1977 but with sonically improved production values.

The album opens with a tantalizing bass-driven interlude with organ, giving way to No One Else featuring Sousa doing one of her irresistible, wise, slinky vocals. Most of these songs segue into each other, often separated by little interludes, mostly brief, introspective guitar instrumentals except for a completely unexpected, rippling, gamelanesque passage toward the end. The third track, Lemon has reverb organ and fat bass with a stripped-down John Brown’s Body vibe, a feeling that returns on the sixth track, Against the Wall and later on the catchy midtempo pulse of And You.

After a tense, mostly solo guitar meditation, the fifth track reminds of Bob Marley around the time of the Kaya album, when he was blending an American R&B/soul influence into his songwriting. Track eight, Return is fat, dubwise and kind of morbid; the title cut is understatedly hypnotic – they don’t waste a note – and Sousa’s wary voice on harmonies in the background is arrestingly exquisite. She also gets to slide and shine, in both English and Portuguese, on Aprendiz, a duet with Tyshkov. The album winds up with its most psychedelic track, Cherry Tree, and then a cut that has the feel of being a catchy One and Nines groove rearranged as reggae. This is one of those rare albums that doesn’t have a single lame track, not even those little interludes. Watch this space for NYC area shows.

June 9, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Tris McCall – Let the Night Fall

As a tunesmith, keyboardist/songwriter Tris McCall (who also plays with Kerry Kennedy in indie powerpop supergroup Overlord) knows a catchy hook when he hears one. As a wordsmith, he is unsurpassed, on the same level as Elvis Costello, Aimee Mann or Paula Carino. If there’s anybody who knows the difference between sarcasm and irony, it’s this guy. There are loads of both here. His previous album was a refreshingly jaundiced excursion through trendoid indie Williamsburg; this time out, McCall turns an unsparing yet sometimes wistful gaze on the place he knows best, the state that actually once spawned a movement to make Born to Run its official anthem (death trap, suicide rap, we gotta get out, etc. – it happened). Springsteen hovers at the edge of the parking lot here, a distantly anthemic presence. Otherwise, the songs evoke Fountains of Wayne but with balls (hard to imagine, but try it), a defiant populism and much better tunes, McCall’s vocals casual, unaffected, often surprisingly cheery considering the underlying grimness.

The opening cut, WFMU builds from catchy trip-hop to a blazing chorus metaphorically loaded with unease, one rapidfire mot juste or double entendre after another. “The radio’s damnable when it’s programmable” is the keystone. At the end, McCall sends out friendly shout-outs not only to the long-running independent New Jersey station but also to WSOU (who knew?), WBGO, WFUV and even distant WPRN, halfway to Cape May. The Throwaway – “cut my neck and I bleed gasoline” – wonders why the neighborhood emo kids won’t accept him as one of their own, considering that all of them should have had the sense to get out, while The Ballad of Frank Vinieri harrowingly memorializes an up-and-coming populist ground down by the gentrifiers of Jungleland. Sugar Nobody Wants, an atmospheric nocturne, pays homage to the age-old anomie-driven sport of trespassing. The title track, an 80s-inflected powerpop stomp, paints a snide Fourth of July tableau set “where minutemen jump back and feign surprise when they get the tax bill.”

The centerpiece of the album, First World, Third Rate is a majestic, metaphorically charged kiss-off from a mallrat stuck working some ineffable fast-food salad bar. The poor kid’s life has been so barren that the best things he’s managed to live to eulogize are a Thomas Wolfe-esque litany of scuzzy chain restaurants – as the faux-Meatloaf arrangement grows more and more bombastic, an exuberant choir yells out their names in perfect time. It makes even more sense in the context of the next cut, You’re Dead After School, a creepy new wave-ish reminiscence of close encounters with pedophiles. Midnight (Now Approaching) follows with its guitars blasting, sort of a Meeting Across the River in reverse (this one’s actually set on the Staten Island Ferry), electric with both excitement and maybe imminent doom.

A gentle country song on the surface, Mountainside has the hometown folks contemplating a prodigal son’s return with bated breath – and cemetery plot ready, while We Could Be Killers layers one vintage synth patch over another in a big Pulp-style pop end-of-the-world epic. The album closes, coming full circle, with a hallucinatory early-morning roadside tableau. This one’s going to show up on a lot of best-of lists at the end of the year, including here. Tris McCall plays the Rockwood at 7 PM solo on piano on March 30, a good place for him to run through the album’s lone instrumental, a clever baroque-rock interlude.

March 25, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Bern & the Brights at Spikehill, Brooklyn NY 7/18/09

An auspicious Brooklyn show by one of the finest, most intelligent and original exports from the impressively fertile music scene scattered around Montclair, New Jersey. This show was yet further proof that the best new rock music out there bears absolutely no resemblance to anything coming out of Williamsburg. Bern & the Brights’ sound is raw, plaintive and lush in an artsy vein somewhat evocative of New York cello rockers Pearl & the Beard. They don’t waste notes, they vary their tempos and their two women singers deliver a potent emotional impact: this band does not sound like they go gently into their parents’ luxury condo at the end of the night. Bandleader/Telecaster player Bernadette Malavarca sings with a big, powerful, wounded wail, a soulful delivery shared with just a tinge less projectile force by acoustic guitarist Catherine McGowan. Violinist Nicole Scorsone plays vividly and tersely, adding considerable poignancy to the band’s sound. Their sub bass player locked in impressively with the drums.  Their first song was an apprehensive minor-key number: “So long since I’ve been myself,” mused Malavarca. My Black Cat, sung by McGowan had a rustic Nashville gothic feel: toward the end of the song, the cat dies, and it’s not pretty. As the song wound up, Malavarca moved to the standup drum kit they’d set up to the side of the stage.

Another song was fast and fiery, punctuated with staccato violin and a swaying rhythm that grew funkier toward the end. Built around a catchy, insistent two-chord riff, When It’s Real was captivatingly perturbed, Malavarca’s soulful vocals effectively capturing a feeling of being pushed past the limit of willingly putting up with someone’s bullshit. The show wound up with a fast, Paisley Underground inflected stomp, a swaying, stark anthem possibly titled Irish Moss, and the somewhat epic Sleepless Aristotle which wound up as a delirious percussion jam, the whole band (and a friend of the band) joining in the pandemonium, banging on whatever was nearby and would resonate. This is a band that’s still growing – in places, some of the songs fall into the kind of lazy atonality that makes so much of indie rock so lame, i.e. the tendency to move a single note in a chord up or down a half step instead of shifting hand position to the real major or minor chord that would resolve the phrase more memorably and melodically. But most of the songs don’t have that problem. And indie rock types wouldn’t know the difference anyway. Watch this space for upcoming NYC area live dates.

July 21, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Copesetic – The Keys EP

Utterly impossible to pigeonhole artsy, tuneful rockers Copesetic – they’re nothing if not original and that’s a good thing. With plenty of hooks, harmonies and a groove that lends itself to sprawling out, they’d go over big on the jam band circuit. The opening track for some reason is called The Pickle Ditty, slide guitar over sparse acoustic with almost operatic vocals, then it gets funky, morphs into a big stomp and then into bouncy, cheery almost Penny Lane pop. Anytime also kicks off funky, blending late-period Beatlesque pop with a big grandiose 6/8 classic rock ballad feel, layers of jangly and crunchy guitar with sweeping organ behind them. The next cut, Veritas is another big but brief 6/8 anthem with the frontman howling through a bullhorn effect: imagine a straight Freddie Mercury.

Keys, which seems to be a title track of sorts builds from a thoughtful acoustic funk/jazz vibe with a latin beat, crunchy guitars finally kicking in with a gleeful “yeah!” Last cut on the cd is Be Here Now, yet another one in 6/8, which is actually pretty cool, starting out pensive and pastoral with a slightly jazzy tinge in the spirit of early 70s British art-rock bands like Nektar, building to a wildly beautiful, guitar-stoked crescendo.

If there anything to criticize here, it’s the vocals which are sometimes completely over the top, staggering from grungy slur to lazy Allmans drawl in places. Nothing wrong with New Jersey, dudes: you guys went for Obama last time out. This is a fun, summery record: Copesetic sound like they could be even more fun live. They’re at the Boro 6 Music Festival in Montclair, NJ on June 21.

May 19, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Boro 6 Music Festival Coming to Montclair, NJ June 18-21

One ongoing problem here (we have many) is that being so immersed in the New York scene, it’s awfully easy to forget that there are plenty of other vital music scenes all over the country. Case in point: Montclair, New Jersey, home not to any one particular style but the focal point for a large, diverse handful of smart, impressively competent bands. The upcoming Boro 6 Music Festival runs June 18-21, with lots of bands on the bill. The McMickle Bros. serve up vaguely Neil Young-inflected clang and twang with unusual verve, at the top of their game sounding a little like the Dream Syndicate. The three women and two guys in Bern & the Brights deliver stark, passionate shoegaze-inflected minor-key anthems, while the two guys in Tip Canary offer funny, laid-back raps over lazy guitar funk grooves. Deivito play rousing acoustic Latin music fused with Mexican folk that actually sounds more like ancient Dominican bachata than anything else

Highlights of day one are the Defending Champions, who play tasty third-wave ska with clinky guitars, a horn section and a sense of humor, and gentle but funny cello/guitar indie pop band Waking Lights. Day two features New York gypsy-Japanese party band Kagero as well as the Frozen Gentlemen, who play funny, tongue-in-cheek early 80s new wave and ska-flavored pop. On the third day, there’ll be the scruffy, moody, restless indie trio the All New Cheap Moves along with blue-eyed soul/funk siren Stephanie White & the Philth Harmonic. Day four has a killer lineup with the Porchistas’ fun, country-inflected powerpop, the McMickle Bros., Bern & the Brights and Stu Klinger’s excellent Pogues cover band Streams of Whiskey. The final night includes the brilliant New York Americana chanteuse Julia Haltigan and her killer band the Hooligans along with the tuneful, anthemic, funky rock of Copesetic and perhaps the best act of the entire festival, the One & Nines who are an amazing time machine, playing the kind of slightly psychedelic late 60s soul that Smokey Robinson and the rest of the A-list were doing right before Woodstock. The entire festival calendar is here.

May 12, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments