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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 2/22/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #707:

Lloyd Cole – Easy Pieces

The British janglerock songwriter made a splash in 1985 with his catchy Rickenbacker guitar-stoked debut, Rattlesnakes. Following up with this one a year later, just as Elvis Costello – the guy he most resembled at the time – had hit a barren period, it looked like the world of lyrical rock might have a new guy at the top. It never happened. Although Cole wrote some nice tunes after this one, he pretty much gave up on lyrics, which is too bad because these are ferociously smart and match the bite of the music. Rich, the stomping opening track, savages an old corporate type withering away in retirement; Pretty Gone takes no prisoners as far as lovelorn guys are concerned. Brand New Friend nicks a line from Jim Morrison and gives it some genuine intensity; there’s also the beautifully clanging Grace and Minor Character; the big college radio hit Cut Me Down, the morose and pretty spot-on Why I Love Country Music along with the chamber pop James and Perfect Blue, foreshadowing the direction he’d take later in the decade. If you like what you hear here, Rattlesnakes and 1989’s lushly orchestrated Don’t Get Weird on Me, Babe are also worth a spin. Here’s a random torrent.

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February 22, 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

Walter Ego Defies the Snowstorm at Banjo Jim’s

Tuesday night the snow was swirling but Banjo Jim’s was packed and Walter Ego was onstage. This was the New York Walter Ego, not the cover band from the Isle of Man, the Dutch rapper or the disco guy from the 90s. Ironically, though this Walter Ego is arguably the most technologically savvy one of the whole crew, he’s also the one who doesn’t have a web presence: then again, there’s cachet in flying so far under the radar. With his icily sardonic vocals, pun-drenched lyrics and catchy, artsy pop melodies, he delivered a characteristically theatrical set that was all too brief. There’s a lot of surrealism in his lyrics, and that translates to his stage show. Just like last time here, he brought along an inflatable octopus, who’d had the wind knocked out of him, but one of the musicians in the bar “brought him back to life by blowing him,” as he explained. He also had a vintage die-cast model of the Beatles Yellow Submarine, although Ringo was stuck in “up” position. All these crazy props have a function: where Sybarite5 let their ipod shuffle choose what will be in the set, Walter Ego lets the props do it oldschool style by literally pulling the songs out of a hat: no two sets with this guy are ever the same.

This was a particularly good one. His opening song combined a country sway with a somewhat majestic Jeff Lynne style post-Beatles melody, about a “magician who makes magic disappear.” This particular killjoy can’t resist the urge to reduce everything to its lowest terms, literally – where somebody else hears a tune, he hears arithmetic. The theme echoed in the bluesy snarl of Don’t Take Advice from Me – “What use is one more yeasayer to boost your self-esteem when I can tell you the ugly truth that wakes you from your dream.” The high point was a rivetingly suspenseful version of the metaphorically charged I Am the Glass, the cruelly vengeful tale of an egotist who smashes everything around him, only to come face to face with the windshield in the last verse. The next song was the genuinely hilarious, Phil Ochs-ish Adventures of Ethical Man, a sanctimonious superhero who is either either “a saint or an idiot,” never missing an opportunity to show the world what a good guy he is…unless it takes too much effort.

“It costs a lot of money to make these props. I have to repurpose them when I can,” Walter Ego explained, bringing back the octopus to keep the set going with a sarcastic, bluesy number that quietly but forcefully mocked racism and extremism, in a vein that evoked LJ Murphy (which shouldn’t come as a surprise: Walter Ego served as Murphy’s bass player for a time a few years ago). He closed with The Immorality Detection Machine, which managed to be as Beatlesque as it was Orwellian. As funny and provocative as his songs are, this guy’s shtick would go over just as well at something like the Fringe Festival. Mystie Chamberlin, another songwriter with a considerable sense of humor, was next, but it was time to race for the M14C bus at 10th St. because even in a snowstorm, it’s a lot quicker than walking to the train at Union Square. Watch this space for upcoming Walter Ego showdates because it’s the only place on the web you’ll see them, at least for now.

January 14, 2011 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/6/11

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Thursday’s is #754:

Ellen Foley – Spirit of St. Louis

Often referred to as the “lost Clash album,” this 1981 obscurity features the band plus several of the sidemen who made Sandinista such a masterpiece backing Foley – already a bonafide pop star at the time in Europe (she had a #1 hit in Holland), who was dating Mick Jones at the time. You could call this the Clash’s art-rock album. It’s a mix of Strummer/Jones originals plus a handful of covers, and Foley’s own sweeping, evocatively riff-driven Phases of Travel. Her lovers-on-the-run pop duet with Jones on Torchlight is still fetching after all these years; her cover of Edith Piaf’s My Legionnaire is decent but nothing special. The two gems here are violinist Tymon Dogg’s wrenching, haunting ballad Indestructible, and the dramatic flamenco-rock anthem In the Killing Hour, a pregnant woman pleading for the life of her wrongfully convicted man as he’s led away to his execution. Otherwise, there’s the lush art-pop of The Shuttered Palace; Dogg’s eerie, surreal The Death of the Psychoanalyst of Salvador Dali and the minimalistic, reggae-tinged Theatre of Cruelty; the resolute feminist anthem Game of a Man; a big powerpop number and a couple of love songs. Foley followed this up with a forgettable new wave pop record; these days, she sings wry, clever Americana songs and can be found frequently on weekends playing New York’s Lakeside Lounge with her band. Oh yeah, she was also the girl on the Meatloaf monstrosity Paradise by the Dashboard Light. Here’s a random torrent.

January 6, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/4/11

Tons of new stuff in the pipeline here: the new NYC live music calendar for this month and February is up but still needs a few additions. In the meantime, every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Tuesday’s is #756:

Split Enz – Waiata

A period piece from 1981 that’s aged extraordinarily well. Go ahead and criticize the tinny, trebly production – it’s a wonder that producer David Tickle didn’t put a watery chorus effect on the drums along with everything else. While there are aspects of this that are soooooo 80s, the inspired fun and purism of the songwriting transcends just about anything you could possibly do to it. The classic pop hit is the defiant kiss-off anthem History Never Repeats, driven by one of the alltime great rock guitar riffs. Hard Act to Follow takes the kind of pop direction Genesis should have followed but didn’t; One Step Ahead, Ships, and the ethereal Ghost Girl mine a more mysterious vein. I Don’t Wanna Dance, Clumsy and Walking Through the Ruins hark back to the artsy post-Skyhooks surrealism of the band’s early years; keyboardist Eddie Rayner also contributes an abrasive noise-rock raveup and the balmy, cinematic theme Albert of India. In the band’s native New Zealand, the album was titled Corroboree (Maori for “party”); the tracks are the same. Guitarist Neil Finn would carry on in another first-rate artsy pop band, Crowded House, joined by his brother Tim off and on over the years (notably on the excellent, one-off Finn Bros. album). Here’s a random torrent.

January 4, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Toneballs Bounce Around the Parkside

For those who’re going to miss out on Elvis Costello’s November 1 show at the Greene Space – most likely a whole lot of people – the Toneballs’ show Friday night to a packed house at the Parkside made a suitable substitute. Frontman Dan Sallitt is somewhat younger but shares a similarly cynical worldview and a love for double entendres. Where Costello draws on American soul and the Beatles, Sallitt looks back to Richard Thompson, Big Star and lot of powerpop. This time out the band – Sallitt on acoustic guitar and vocals; Love Camp 7’s Dann Baker on bass; Paul McKenzie on lead guitar and Beefstock mastermind Joe Filosa, king of the rock backbeat, behind the kit – mixed several slow, hypnotic ballads in with the ridiculously catchy, tension-laden, new wave style hits. They opened with Fran Goes to School, a tongue-in-cheek look at a recluse slowly making her way into the world. Mr. Insensitive, unlike what the title implies, is sarcastic, a stunner of a kiss-off song and one of Sallitt’s previous band Blow This Nightclub’s best-remembered moments: “Hoping for a revelation, settling for a change…a figment of my alcoholic brain, til then I remain, Mr. Insensitive.”

A newer one, Chelsea Clinton Knows, brought the savagery to boiling point: she knows people are bad, so all she has to do is make sure daddy turns up the sanctions. And if she has a kid she hopes it’s a boy. They followed that with a slow, noirish, suspenseful 6/8 number with McKenzie on lapsteel. One of Sallitt’s most effective devices is to hint at a resolution and then turn away at the last second, something the chord changes did all the way through another old Blow This Nightclub number, a sardonic one that looks forward to the future “because it will be fun, not like now.” Their obligatory Richard Thompson cover – they debut a new one at every show – was Hand of Kindness, complete with absolutely perfect, rivetingly intense lead guitar breaks from McKenzie. He didn’t turn a newer one, the fiery, chromatic Max Planck’s Day, into as much of a guitar workout as he did last time around, but it still resonated, a sardonic mix of physics and unrequited love. They closed on a more playful note with a Hawaiian-themed co-write between Sallitt and Baker, whose melodic four-string lines had soared and simmered all night long and were just as compelling as McKenzie’s pyrotechnics.

October 26, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/22/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #830:

Joe Jackson – Beat Crazy

Jackson’s worn many different hats: popster disguised as a punk, jazz guy, avant-garde composer, dentist-office pop songwriter. He only wore this hat once. It’s red, gold and green and has room for the dreadlocks Jackson never grew. This 1980 psychedelic gem isn’t straight-up reggae but it has a lot of rootsy grooves courtesy of bass monster Graham Maby, who turns in what might be the highlight of a brilliant career on the eleven tracks here. As schlocky as some of Jackson’s top 40 songs have been, once in awhile he validates all those Elvis Costello comparisons, never more than on this album. The big college radio hit was One to One, a better straight-up pop song than anything on Night and Day. The title track and Biology are fast, catchy reggae-pop; In Every Dream Home (A Nightmare) is sticky, green and dub-infused, with a shout-out to Roxy Music. Mad at You follows a similar pattern but at doublespeed; Crime Don’t Pay is buzzy new wave with a characteristically cynical lyric. The snarling ska of Pretty Boys and the nonconformist anthem Fit round it out. Jackson never hit this kind of a high note before or afterward, although his 1999 Night and Day II incorporates pretty much everything he excelled at except for cheesy elevator music, and the subsequent Joe Jackson Live reverts to the stripped-down energy of his late 70s style but with a better choice of songs. Here’s a random torrent.

October 22, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/16/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #836:

Wire – Chairs Missing

The fan favorite is Pink Flag: no disrespect to that. It’s as fun, and still practically as unique now as it was when these defiantly artsy British punks released it in 1977, despite Elastica and all those Williamsburg bands who stood behind Justine Frischmann in the plagiarism queue. This is Wire’s second album, from 1978, emphasis on the art rather than the punk, but the songs are arguably stronger this time out. As with Pink Flag, there are plenty of anthemic, staccato, chromatically charged, reverb-drenched Syd Barrett-ish vignettes like Practice Makes Perfect and the gleefully insistent anthem I Am the Fly (as in “I am the fly in the ointment”). The best song here is the surprisingly poppy, insanely catchy, genuinely beautiful Outdoor Miner, which a million lame indie bands claim as inspiration they’ll never be able to live up to. Side one also has the distantly off-kilter I Feel Mysterious Today; the Twilight Zone punk of French Film Blurred; the weirdly catchy Men 2nd; the macabre-tinged Marooned; the hypnotic Sand in My Joints and Being Sucked In Again. Side two’s highlights include the unselfconsciously funny From the Nursery, the woozily ominous Used To and the more-or-less straight-up punk Too Late. Colin Newman’s deadpan monotone vocals are not an affectation but a disguise: a lot of the band’s lyrics have a tightlipped, verrrry British absurdist humor. The 1994 reissue has four bonus tracks, which are worth hunting down if you’re a rabid fan. Wire’s frequently interrupted career arguably peaked in the 70s (their 1979 album 154 is also worth hearing), although their recent material is also choice, if a little closer to dreampop than punk. Here’s a random torrent.

October 16, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The New Collisions’ Optimistic Full-Length Debut

Track for track, this could be the best rock album of 2010. The New Collisions burst out of Boston last year with an ep that blended coy, quirky retro 80s new wave pop with a dark, literate lyrical edge. Their new full-length debut The Optimist is a lot more serious and more intense: the title is sarcastic to the extreme. It’s a concept album of sorts about a society in collapse. Musically, it’s a turn in a much louder direction, with more of a fiery powerpop edge, guitarist Scott Guild adding layer after layer of roar, jangle and clang. Casey Gruttadauria’s woozily oscillating vintage synthesizer is further back in the mix this time out alongside Alex Stern’s percussive, insistent, melodic bass and Zak Kahn’s drums. Maybe what’s most impressive of all is how much more of her range frontwoman Sarah Guild is using, wary and serious in the lower registers when she’s not soaring above the roar with the chirpy wail she utilized so effectively on the band’s early material. She sings in character – whether sarcastic, defiant or simply exhausted, she draws you in and makes these narratives hard to turn away from. She brings some of the outraged witness that Siouxsie Sioux played so well for so long to these songs.

The single is Dying Alone, impossibly catchy yet bitter and cynical to the extreme. “God knows you hate the quiet, when you’re dying, dying alone,” Sarah reminds with an understated angst. Swift Destruction is a fast new wave powerpop smash, a final concession to what sounds like the inevitable: “I’d like to order up a swift destruction…standing in the shadows of my pride,” she announces. The most memorable cut on the entire album is Over, an exasperated, uncharacteristically intimate kiss-off anthem (like the best punk performers, Sarah typically keeps the listener at a safe distance). They go back to the roaring powerpop vibe with Seven Generations, a chronicle of decay: “Are we happy yet?” Sarah asks sarcastically. The sarcasm reaches boiling point with Ne’er Do Well, the album’s lyrical high point, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Squeeze catalog from around 1979. Over a lush guitar-and-keyboard attack, Sarah savagely details the dissolute life of someone who just won’t grow up:

Bring me all your ablebodied men
So I don’t have to take on the chin
And I don’t have a confrontation with what might have been
I’ve got my suitcase in back to cushion the impact
Better not to have tried at all
Rules are beaten, I haven’t eaten and I want to be alone

Coattail Rider is sort of a smoother I Don’t Want to Got to Chelsea, with a big explosive chorus, Sarah’s absolutely nailing the lyric with a coy disingenuousness. The lone previously released track here, the dead-end anomine anthem In a Shadow benefits from bigger production than the version on last year’s ep (and a really funny quote from the 70s cheeseball hit Funkytown). They wind up the album with an almost unrecognizable, Joy Division-flavored cover of the B-52’s Give Me Back My Man and then the most overtly pop-oriented track here, Lazy, with its oscillating layers of synth and repetitive chorus hook. The New Collisions play the cd release show for this one at Great Scott in Allston, Massachusetts on October 6.

October 5, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/10/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #872:

The Patti Smith Group – Radio Ethiopia

This is the great Patti Smith album that everybody sleeps on. It’s her hardest-rocking, most musically interesting, least lyrical, and least accessible one. But a close listen really pays off. As usual, there’s plenty of defiant, tuneful powerpop: Ask the Angels; Pumping My Heart; the reggae-tinged Ain’t It Strange, and Distant Fingers, a co-write with Smith’s then-boyfriend Allen Lanier of Blue Oyster Cult. There’s also the absolutely gorgeous, plaintive, seven-minute Richard Sohl piano ballad Pissing in a River. But the best part is the epic twelve minutes that closes the album, wherein lead guitarist Lenny Kaye – one of the world’s most reliably melodic players – flipped the script and pretty much singlehandedly invented noise-rock. A murky cauldron of swirling, overtone-laden textures, it’s one of the high points of 70s music, and it shifted the paradigm a little further outside. It’s hard to imagine Public Image Ltd., the Dream Syndicate, or for that matter Sonic Youth, without it. Here’s a random torrent.

September 10, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment