Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Botanica – Who You Are

Another year, another great album by Botanica. That the latest cd by the inimitably dark, gypsy-tinged art-rockers is their first American release in ten years says more about the state of the music industry than just about anything else. Consider: the 9/11-themed 2004 cd Botanica vs. the Truth Fish, the best single-disc rock album of the entire decade of the zeros, never saw an official US release (although like the rest of the Botanica catalog, it’s up at itunes). Fortuitously, the band will be celebrating this one at the Big Small Beast at the Angel Orensanz Center on Friday, May 21, a night that could be the single best rock show in New York this year, and which kicks off with an hour of free beer. This album will be available there not only as a cd but also on limited edition white vinyl.

Where does it fall in the Botanica pantheon? It’s one of their best, and it’s warmer than anything they’ve done before. There’s still layer upon layer of John Andrews’ otherworldly, echoing reverb guitar, Paul Wallfisch’s menacing, smoky organ, piano and vocals and uneasy, wide-awake worldview, but this one’s somewhat more inviting, less assaultive than their previous albums. One notable development is the inclusion of several outstanding songs by Andrews, who brings a highly individual, ornately Beatlesque, wryly lyrical sensibility. Another is the album’s more straight-ahead rhythmic feel. Previous incarnations of Botanica explored all sorts of tricky time signatures, but this one sticks pretty much with the 4/4 – and yet, the rhythm section, Dave Berger on drums and either Dana Schechter (of the majestically cinematic Bee & Flower) or Jason Binnick (of haunting noir Americana rocker Kerry Kennedy’s band) on bass is perhaps more subtle than this band’s ever seen.

The title cut opens the album. Underneath the stately sway of this beautiful, crescendoing anthem, the menace of the lyrics contrasts with the longing of the melody, for someone other than the gestapo to know exactly who you are and what you need. The second cut, Witness builds from noir Watching the Detectives-style reggae to a clenched-teeth gypsy dance with some savage tremolo-picking from Andrews. Cocktails on the Moon, by Andrews takes an artsy late Beatlesque melody and makes it sardonic and surreal – like several other tracks here, the band it most resembles is legendary Australian art-rockers the Church. By contrast, You Might Be the One is scorching and percussive, like the Church in a particularly violent moment, with lush vocals from co-writer Schechter. With its pensive Weimar cabaret sway, Anhalter Bahnof reflects on the reslience of the spirit in the midst of materialism. Xmas, a big psychedelic anthem, is an otherworldly cloudburst of guitars, strings and gorgeous vocal harmonies that float sepulchrally throughout the mix, followed by the much more straight-ahead Perfection, fast and scurrying with a rapidfire lyric: Elvis Costello in a gypsy disguise. The version of Because You’re Gone (also recorded by Wallfisch with Little Annie, who wrote the lyrics, on their new album Genderful) is all frenetic manic depression reverberating off the keys of the Wurlitzer. Then, turning on a dime again, Wallfisch offers what could be considered the centerpiece of the album, For Love, its hypnotic Moonlight Mile ambience gently crescendoing to an understatedly majestic soul ballad.

The understated epic grandeur continues with some soaring slide work from Andrews on Backlit (the title referring to the phone numbers of Wallfisch’s dead friends’ numbers on his crumbling old Nokia phone). “Don’t know what to do with the dead,” he rails. Whispers and Calls sets a 1950’s 6/8 doo-wop melody down in Beatle territory, toy piano carrying the tune out eerily at the end. The album ends with the ghostly and hypnotic yet defiant So Far from Childhood, which could be the great missing track from Heroes by Bowie. Best album of the year? Certainly one of them – and available on vinyl at the Big Small Beast.

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May 20, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Little Annie and Paul Wallfisch – Genderful

Little Annie AKA Annie Bandez embodies the definition of a cult artist. She’s been called “the white Eartha Kitt” and she does highly sought-after, colorfully trippy Frida Kahlo-influenced paintings. Something of a legend in New York’s underground music scene, she’s best known as a torchy noir cabaret singer whose smoky contralto and hilariously free-associative live shows have earned her an avid worldwide following, notably in Europe. She’s been making records since the 80s when she collaborated with everyone from famous dub producer Adrian Sherwood to ambient goth band This Mortal Coil. There’s nobody in the world better at September songs than Little Annie. This cd, her second collaboration with Botanica’s extraordinary keyboardist Paul Wallfisch is infused with characteristically dadaesque wit and a rich lyricism, and more luxuriant than her stage show. The duo used their the studio time to create a considerably lush, chamber-pop ambience, judiciously adding strings and brass in places along with frequently otherworldly layers of keyboards. It’s the best album of Annie’s shapeshifting career, and one of the best of this year.

The offhand classic here is Cutesy Bootsies, a savagely satirical anti-trendoid broadside set to a jaunty ragtime tune:

We do not read the papers because they are depressing
And they’re full of words we do not understand …
We’re not so much as boring, more like bland
And when we’re not spending money we’re running off to yoga

Talking loudly on our cellphones making plans…
Don’t hate us because we’re stunning, just because we’ve got you running
And your homes will now be ours to renovate
And it’s like it never happened, no tears will be shedding
As you’re quietly evicted to your fate

We’ll take Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island
Oh what the hell we’ll take Brooklyn too…
We squeal because we’re witty and we’re conquering your city
And we shake our Bootsy Collins in the sand

The elegaic feel rises to a crescendo on several of the songs, even as they’re imbued with a very dark humor. Set to a Wallfisch trip-hop guitar groove, Billy Martin Requiem eulogizes a better New York time and place where the Yankees won even as the Bronx burned, the boys partied along the Chelsea Piers like it would never end, and a star like Sylvester could be discovered riding the subway in his feathers and boa. Echoing with eerie Omnichord synthesizer, Tomorrow Will Be riffs on what we have to look forward to, whether it be t-cells going through the roof…or permanent summer, with no shade. The most intense of all of these, Because You’re Gone pulses with understated anguish on waves of austere strings, trumpet entering mournfully on the last verse. And the stately, soul-infused Carried Away memorializes someone who reached for the bottle instead of the stars.

The rest of the album is often devastatingly funny. Zexy Zen Zage, a live showstopper, comments on new age charlatanism (Annie can spot one a mile away – she’s also a minister). In the Bar Womb is all torchy wee-hours ambience through a bemused cabernet squint. And The God Song thanks a higher power for being “Teddy Pendergrass on a Friday night!” The cd is already out in Europe; the duo celebrate its US release at the Big Small Beast at the Angel Orensanz Foundation on Norfolk St. on the LES this Friday, May 21 – the show starts at 6:30 with an hour of free beer beginning at 7; Annie and Paul will probably hit the stage at around eight. But you should show up for the whole night.

May 19, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Mark Sinnis – The Night’s Last Tomorrow

On the cover of his third solo album, Mark Sinnis, frontman of dark rockers Ninth House stands with his back to the camera, staring into a glaring New York sunset from a rooftop somewhere in Queens. The picture captures the subtext here far less subtly than Sinnis’ songs do: this is a requiem for lost time, lost hopes and by implication a lost time and place. It is a classic of gothic Americana. Richly and masterfully produced, electric guitars, strings, keyboards, lapsteel and accordion weave their way tersely into and out of the mix behind Sinnis’ remarkably nuanced baritone. Sinnis has been a good singer for a long time – he is an extraordinary one here, going down low for Leonard Cohen murk or reaching for Johnny Cash irony. If Ian Curtis had been an American, and he’d lived, he might sound like Sinnis does on this album.

The title track sets the tone for what’s to come, a slow, swaying, sad requiem, Sara Landeau’s sparse tremolo guitar mingling with Lenny Molotov’s lapsteel and Annette Kudrak’s plaintive accordion. It’s utterly hypnotic. The centerpiece of the album, or one of them anyway, is 15 Miles to Hell’s Gate, classic country done chamber goth style:

Fifteen miles to Hell’s Gate
And I’m a thousand miles from home
From New York City

The one that dragged me into a hole
I’m in my own purgatory
Where I pay for my sins each day
And I pay dearly
While my youth slowly slips away

He picks it up a little on the second verse. It’s gently and masterfully orchestrated.

Originally released on Ninth House’s 2000 album Swim in the Silence, the version of Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me [#290 on our 666 Best Songs of Alltime list – Ed.] recasts the song as slow, Leonard Cohen-esque country sway, Sinnis’ pitchblende vocals quite a change from his usual roar when Ninth House plays it live. Fallible Friend, a catalog of failure and deceit, goes for a dusky southwestern feel capped by Ninth House guitarist Keith Otten’s perfecly minimalist fills. An understatedly desperate account of a drunk driver just trying to get home in one piece, Follow the Line takes on a hallucinatory, wee hours feel with Kudrak’s swirling accordion front and center – when Sinnis finally cuts loose and belts on the second verse, she’s there to calm him down. The Fever (not the Peggy Lee standard) could be a John Lennon song, a bitter metaphorically charged tale of alienation and rebellion.

Of the other originals here, wobbling funeral parlor organ makes the perfect final touch on the brooding Skeletons. Scars is gospel as the Velvet Underground might have done it, Out of Reach transformed from its original electric menace to haunting death-chamber pop with Ninth House keyboardist Matt Dundas’ piano and stark cello from star New York string multistylist Susan Mitchell. There’s also the ghoulish country shuffle In Harmony, the uncharacteristically sunny Quiet Change, and the album’s last song, a death-fixated, quite possibly sarcastic gospel clapalong. The covers are also terrifically inventive: Nine While Nine captures the song’s grim grey tube train platform ambience far better than Sisters of Mercy ever did, Otten perfectly nailing the menace of the song’s simple hook; St. James Infirmary rips the deathmask off the song’s inner goth, lapsteel pairing off warily against tense piano; and Gloomy Sunday gets a new final verse from Sinnis, who leaves not the slightest doubt as to what that one’s about.

Sinnis’ first solo album Into an Unhidden Future was a treat for Ninth House fans, a diverse, often radically rearranged acoustic mix of hits and rarities. His second, A Southern Tale was more country-oriented and surprisingly more upbeat. This is the best of them, in fact arguably the best thing that Sinnis has ever recorded. Mark Sinnis plays Otto’s on May 16 at 11, with a date at Small Beast at the Delancey coming up in July.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Norden Bombsight – Pinto

One of the challenges of writing about music is to be quick enough to spot a genuine classic when it appears. This is one of them. Raw yet ornate, ferocious yet intricate, Norden Bombsight’s debut album Pinto hails back to the early 70s but adds a snarling, desperate punk edge that’s uniquely their own. It’s sort of the missing link between Pink Floyd and Joy Division. It’s art-rock, but it’s not prog; it boils over with anguished intensity, but it’s not goth. The current band they most closely resemble is New York gypsy-punk-art-rockers Botanica. Guitarist David Marshall plays with a raw, vintage 70s tone that enhances his unhinged, fiery attack on the strings over the nimble, melodic, shapeshifting rhythm section of Jonathan Gundel on bass, Julian Morello on drums and Derrick Barnicoat on percussion, loops and processing. Frontwoman Rachael Bell holds down centerstage with a savagely beautiful, wounded wail, adding starkly eerie keyboard textures as well as incisive mandolin. Norden Bombsight’s lyrics match their music, fragmented, ominous and disquieting. This is an after-dark album, one that resonates best by the light of a distant streetlight, or no light at all.

Like a vinyl record, it has a side one and a side two, each of them a suite. Side one opens with a dark, stately three-chord progression, the backup alarm on a garbage truck screeching evil, mechanical and assaultive in the distance, building to a desperate gallop and eventually back again, evoking late 70s noir art-rock cult favorites the Doctors of Madness. The song segues into Four on the Lawn, a feedback loop fading up to Bell’s accusative, Siouxsie-esque vocals over a reverberating, swaying march, burning David Gilmour-esque guitar chords against upper-register piano. Another segue takes them to Help Desk, noir cabaret as Procol Harum might have done it, Bell’s organ and then electric piano holding gentle but firm against the stately punch of the guitars, which finally cut loose in a forest of wild tremolo picking at the end.

Side two begins with a pretty lullaby for solo electric guitar, followed by the towering, 6/8 anthem The Raven. “You won’t have my yellow hair/Lay me down to rest/You left me there,” Bell laments. “I’ll never get you back to the town of West Haven” –  whatever that means. Marshall’s reverb-drenched tremolo guitar climbs with an unleashed fury, and then back down again into Snakes, which with its staggered, tango-ish beat and southwestern gothic ambience reminds of the Walkabouts. The band brings it up, then down again, into the scorching Nektar-style stomp of Altercation, shifting time signatures unexpectedly into a wild, circular organ-and-guitar-fueled jam straight out of Remember the Future, and an unexpectedly funky outro. Catchy and resolutely swaying, Virgil evokes the Grateful Dead, but not so grateful now that they’re in Hades: “Virgil, you’re out of your jurisdiction, now you’re just another man with a gun,” snarls Marshall. The album ends with its most overtly Pink Floyd-influenced number, slide guitar blasting like an August sunset over blacktop. And then it stops cold.

As intense as this album is, Norden Bombsight are even better live. They play Matchless tonight at eleven; watch this space for future shows.

May 6, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Liz Tormes at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 5/3/10

Gently and methodically, Liz Tormes brought the lights down. She didn’t actually reach over to the wall and kill the switch, but she might as well have. Strumming her acoustic guitar with one hypnotic downstroke after another, she played a set that was as unaffectedly catchy and tuneful as it was disquieting. Keyboardist Glenn Patscha (of Ollabelle) provided a rich variety of textures, from echoey, spacy, upper-register synthesizer, to stark Supertramp-style electric art-rock piano, to matter-of-factly chordal acoustic piano work. The drummer mixed crafty jazz flourishes into his artful shuffles, at one point dampening the snare and one of the toms with towels to enhance a distantly ominous, boomy effect which worked perfectly with the songs’ frequent neo-Velvets vibe. The most affecting thing about Tormes’ voice is how casual it is: this show was as if she was humming to herself at your funeral – or somebody’s funeral, anyway. It’s a strikingly warm, atmospheric instrument, and while she’s capable of cutting loose if she feels like it, for her less is more and she works that like a charm, letting the songs and the lyrics go and find their mark, which they inevitably do. Like a lot of inevitable things.

Tormes hardly shies away from the darkness; on the contrary, she seems to embody it, whether in the back-to-back songs about death in the middle of the set – the second one dedicated to Kurt Vonnegut, a writer whose identity she’d encouraged the crowd to guess, but nobody could – or in the creepy little waltz based on a sinister tritone melody that she fingerpicked with grace and understatement. Most of the songs were unfamiliar. Tormes’ latest album Limelight is as good a contender for best-of-recent-months as any that’s come over the transom here, but she’s about to embark on a new one and if the concert was any indication it’ll be just as compelling. One featured a duet with Patscha; on several others, Tormes was joined by Fiona McBain (also of Ollabelle), who provided characteristically soaring high harmonies – the two have a sometime project called Fizz that specializes in murder ballads, “Because they’re beautiful,” Tormes deadpanned. The night’s most memorable number coldly immortalized Tormes’ old place on Second Ave. and Fourth St., a quietly caustic depiction of the parade of freaks who turn the neighborhood into fratboy hell after dark. She may have come here from Nashville, but Tormes spoke for an entire zip code with that one.

Afterward it was time to head over to Small Beast, Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch’s weekly salon/show/hangout, which we’ve been AWOL from for the last few weeks. Russian expat pianist/singer Mila Levine, backed by the extraordinary, ubiquitous and extraordinarily ubiquitous Susan Mitchell on viola, ran through a mix of noir-ish pop and rock tunes in both English and her native tongue. One had once appeared (radically rearranged, she took care to explain) in the Eurovision music contest and was actually not an embarrassment. Afterward, the reliably haunting and hypnotic Appalachian/Balkan vocal duo Æ (Eva Salina Primack and Aurelia Shrenker) delivered a set of otherworldly old songs from Georgia, Greece, the Carolinas and the Jewish diaspora, an alternately ecstatic and wrenchingly sad end to a night full of affecting voices.

And while we’re on the subject of Small Beast, don’t forget what might be the year’s best rock or-rock-oriented concert, the Big Beast at the Angel Orensanz Center on May 21 with Botanica, Bee and Flower, Barbez, Little AnnieBlack Sea Hotel, and free microbrew beer for an hour before the show.

May 4, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rap music, review, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: LJ Murphy at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 4/24/10

LJ Murphy’s set last night started out incisive and sometimes menacing, picked up the pace and ended on a defiantly ecstatic note, the crowd afterward murmuring bits and pieces of whatever song lingered most resonantly to them. Murphy’s signature style is a noir, literate blend of oldschool blues and soul with a punk rock edge, sometimes venturing into other shades of Americana as with the gorgeously sad, swaying country song Long Way to Lose. Audiences frequently mistake that one for a classic by Hank Williams or someone similar – this crowd didn’t because it was obviously all fans.

Like the old blues and jazz guys Murphy admires, he’s been playing with a rotating cast of musicians lately. This time out featured first-rate New Orleans pianist Willie Davis and a drummer supplying a mostly minimalist beat on kick drum and cymbal. They set the tone with the ominous Weimar march of Mad Within Reason, the surreal, apocalyptic title track to his classic 2005 cd, kept the cynical double entendres going with the fast soul shuffle of Imperfect Strangers and then went deep into vintage blues with a more recent one, Nothing Like Bliss, a bitter chronicle of seduction gone hopelessly wrong: “Now that your train’s left the station, you might as well go home,” he reflected. The high point of the evening, at least the early part was Fearful Town, a minor key East Village nightmare of tourists and trendoids displacing all the familiar haunts, Davis throwing off a casual trail of sparks with his solo as he’d do all night.

Happy Hour, a savage afterwork Wall Street chronicle of young Republicans getting their freak on, took the intensity up, then Murphy brought it down with a cover of Doc Pomus’ Lonely Avenue (he’d learned it from Ray Charles and Van Morrison, he said), then his biggest hit, the gorgeously brooding Saturday’s Down and then brought the volume up again with the ferocious bluespunk of Nowhere Now. He closed with a couple other equally ferocious blues numbers and encored with a singalong of Barbed Wire Playpen, yet another swipe at Wall Street, in this case a hedge fund type who visits his favorite dungeon one time too many. Murphy dedicated that one to Goldman Sachs. The worse the depression gets, the more relevant Murphy becomes – it’s hard to imagine a more catchy chronicler of life among those of us whose Christmas bonus is simply having any job at all.

April 25, 2010 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Rachelle Garniez and Mojo Mancini at the Canal Room, NYC 4/7/10

Rachelle Garniez was all business this time out. New York’s most individualist steampunk siren usually engages the audience much more than she did last night in a brief duo show, playing accordion with her longtime partner in crime Matt Munisteri on acoustic guitar and banjo. This was the greatest-hits set. She dedicated a swinging, metaphorically-charged version of Tourmaline (from her Melusine Years album, which topped our Best Albums of 2007 list) to an ancestor, Mary Delaney, who had sailed to New Orleans from Ireland in “one of those cast iron bathtubs.” The offhandedly menacing stream-of-consciousness polka punk of Pearls and Swine, said Garniez, sounds Mexican to Germans and vice versa. After a coy, brief take of the innuendo-laden, bluesy Medicine Man and a rather sweet version of Grasshopper, creatively reinterpreting an old Aesop theme, Munisteri got to take the best solo of the night, expansively and incisively through a whole verse and chorus of the torchy Swimming Pool Blue. The crowd wanted more; they didn’t get it.

Mojo Mancini played about an hour’s worth of deliciously creepy, mostly downtempo, cinematic groove instrumentals. Like a twisted hybrid of the Crusaders or early 70s Herbie Hancock and Tuatara, they’d find a haunting chromatic riff and linger on it for minutes on end, with judicious yet playful solos from everyone. Guitarist John Leventhal, Rosanne Cash’s husband and longtime musical director, seems to be in charge of keeping track of the changes in this unit as well. Drummer Sean Pelton and bassist Conrad Korsch locked into a groove which moved gracefully from slinky trip-hop to pounding funk and pretty much all points in between, anchored by either fluid Hammond organ or eerily reverberating Rhodes piano from Dylan sideman Brian Mitchell and spiced with both tenor and baritone sax from Rick DePofi. Mitchell used a vocoder to reach for the furthest level of hell on an unabashedly silly, funkified cover of the David Essex K-tel hit Rock On; other times, he’d mess with his portamento, sometimes in tandem with Leventhal for an out-of-focus, watery menace. They brought Garniez up for a purposeful, straight-up cover of the old jazz standard Comes Love – she chose her spots, alternating between a wondrous Blossom Dearie soprano and a brassy, brazen belt, feeling her way between one kind of over-the-top and another and whichever she’d switch into, it worked like a charm. The band also accompanied a sword swallower, who was impressive with all his super-long balloons and giant screwdriver, yet ultimately his presence onstage stole the spotlight during one of Mojo Mancini’s most interesting numbers, a quietly intense, suspenseful minor-key excursion.

The only drawback was the incessant drum machine. These guys are topnotch players: during a quiet intro, Leventhal and DePofi both had trouble connecting with the click, but when the volume picked up to the point where it was all but inaudible, they swung like crazy. Musicians this good don’t need a click track – why they had one is a mystery. Mojo Mancini’s new album is very much worth your time – watch this space for a review in the next couple of weeks.

April 8, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Norden Bombsight at the Delancey, NYC 3/22/10

Two days after declaring Electric Junkyard Gamelan to be the most original band in New York, we have another one for you: Norden Bombsight. Although they draw on plenty of well-known influences, there is no band in town who sound remotely like them. At this week’s Small Beast concert/salon at the Delancey, the five-piece group careened and pounded through a ferocious, frequently haunting 40-minute set that proved impossible to turn away from. They’re something of the missing link between Joy Division and Pink Floyd, like art-rock seen through the prism of punk, or punk rock with a noir, nineteenth century Romantic sensibility. You could call them goth, which would make sense considering how much they like ominous chromatic riffs, but their energy is pure punk – they seem to be dying to live a lot more than living to die.

With the combination of agile drummer Julian Morello (hmm…any relation to Joe?) and hypnotically intense percussionist Derrick Barnicoat (who did double duty quarterbacking their loops and sound effects), they have more stomp and clatter than most bands, which backfired during the first couple of songs as their guitar amps seemed to be misfiring. That actually worked out fine since bassist Jonathan Gundel’s snaky, bluesy lines, part Geezer Butler and part James Brown-era Bootsy, stood out and carried the melody while frontwoman Rachael Bell soared and snarled, clear and menacing above the din, moving between a tiny shortscale electric guitar and piano. The songs shifted shape constantly: early in the set, they launched into a funk groove that took an unexpected detour into a sneaky 5/4 interlude before crescendoing with a bass-driven early Sabbath feel. They were as messy as they were ornate, guitarist David Marshall building to a couple of fret-melting tremolo-picked noiserock solos that Barnicoat sent reeling off into the ozone (they used the same effect on Bell’s vocals in places for an extra eerie touch).

From the piano, Bell delivered a chilling 6/8 dirge strongly evocative of Botanica (whose frontman, Small Beast impresario Paul Wallfisch, had just returned from yet another European tour and was scheduled to play afterward), with a galloping, noisy instrumental break. A creepy Syd Barrett-inflected partita began with yet another catchy Gundel blues bass hook and morphed into a hypnotic, headlong Nektar-style stomp that went on for what seemed like ten minutes. They closed with a stately, elegaic 6/8 anthem which may be the only song ever written to memorialize West Haven, Connecticut (with the limitations of the space, it was hard to hear the vocals when the band cranked it up), complete with nasty white-noise explosion from the guitar, building to an outraged crescendo of voices. Definitely the best rock show we’ve seen this year, sonic issues and all. Norden Bombsight play Matchless in Williamsburg on May 6 at 10ish.

March 23, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

CD Review: Liz Tormes – Limelight

Long admired by New York’s songwriting elite, Liz Tormes has a new album, Limelight, that should help the rest of the world get to know what the Lower East Side has known for years. Intense, brooding, sultry and frequently wrathful, the power in Tormes’ casually wary voice resides in ellipses, the spaces between notes, the unsaid and conspicuous absences – she doesn’t raise it much, so when she does the effect packs a wallop, especially when she adds just the hint of a snarl at the end of a line. Her tersely crystallized lyrics are much the same: she says a lot with a little. Behind her, a tightly fiery Nashville gothic band swings, sways, clangs and roars its way through a mix of midtempo and slow, tuneful Americana rock. The arrangements are hypnotic, often psychedelic: if Aimee Mann had done with guitars what she did with keyboards on Fucking Smilers, it would have sounded a lot like this.

The album opens auspiciously with Read My Mind, a searing tale of disillusion and abandonment with a ferocious Jason Crigler slide guitar solo out, ending in a cloud of dust. It’s a classic of its kind. Without Truth has a hypnotic feel and characteristic understatement:

I know you can’t relate
But what I really want for you
Is to fly right and fly straight

With its echoey layers of guitar, the title track, a 6/8 ballad, sounds like Mazzy Star with balls. Maybe You Won’t follows, swaying trip-hop rhythm over simple muted guitar strums, backing vocals by Teddy Thompson – and no stupid drum machine. “Is it ever coming, have I been forsaken?” Tormes insists on an answer. She introduces a muse who provides bitter, metaphorically loaded solace on the matter-of-factly shuffling Don’t Love Back:

Take the wind and stay on track
Stop loving things that don’t love back
You can’t control the outcome all the time

And the garage-rock kiss-off ballad Sorry has the ring of sarcasm: “Paper posies and shiny things don’t make the earth rotate,” Tormes reminds, gloating not a little: “I’ll stay and play in the sunshine and vanish in the shadows.” There’s also a southwestern gothic, Steve Wynn-style number with Crigler’s layers of guitar blending ominously with echoey electric piano, a similarly guitar-fueled noir blues and a backbeat country hit whose upbeat melody make a sharp contrast with Tormes’ angst: “If I have better days let them come.”

With Bob Packwood’s insistent staccato piano bouncing off a wall of guitars, Fade Away closes the album on a driving yet vividly wounded note. This one’s been out since last year, so we’re a little late on the uptake which means that you’ll see it somewhere around the top of our best albums of 2010 list at the end of December. In the meantime Tormes promises a followup to this album sometime in the relatively near future.

March 18, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

CD Review: The Snow – I Die Every Night

Here we are in March with the first classic album of 2010 (this one actually came out in mid-January). The Snow’s debut album True Dirt was good: this is a lushly arranged, thoughtful, funny, richly lyrical art-rock masterpiece. Bandleader Pierre de Gaillande has been writing good, frequently great songs for several years, throughout his days with Melomane, Sea Foxx and numerous other side projects (like his English-language Georges Brassens cover band Bad Reputation), but this is the strongest effort he’s been a part of yet. Putting keyboardist/chanteuse Hilary Downes out in front of the group was a genius move, even if it was only logical. She’s a torch singer straight out of the Chris Connor/June Christy mold (or a darker Nellie McKay) with an alternately coy and murderous way of sliding up to a note and nailing it. She also contributes half of the songs on the album, alternating with Gaillande from track to track, with an additional number, a rueful tango, written by multi-reed virtuoso David Spinley. The rhythm section of Christian Bongers (ex-Botanica) on bass and Jeffrey Schaeffer on drums slink through the shadows as the clarinet or saxes soar above the swirl of layers and layers of keyboards and the occasional snarl and clang of the guitar. There are other bands who leap from genre to genre as avidly as the Snow do here, but few who have such obvious fun doing it.

The opening track is Albatross, an ironically straightforward, metaphorically loaded ballad by Downes that makes stately art-rock out of a Gaillande garage guitar riff. Handle Your Weapon, by Gaillande, throws out a lifeline to a possible would-be suicide miles from civilization in a symbolic middle of nowhere, swinging along on the pulse of Downes’ electric piano. By contrast, The Silent Parade – sort of a signature song for the band – delivers the understated, menacing majesty of the snowstorm to end all snowstorms, the last way anyone would expect the world to end at this point in history. The warmly torchy, soul-inflected Fool’s Gold could be a requiem for a relationship – or for the promise that indie rock seemed it might deliver on for a moment but never did.

Undertow is a tongue-in-cheek clinic in jazzy syncopation, a showcase for Downes’ darkly allusive lyrical wit, matched by Gaillande on the wryly swinging, Gainsbourg-esque Reptile, a hot-blooded creature’s lament. The most menacing cut on the album is the hypnotic, woozy 6/8 masquerade-ball themed Slow Orbit. The album winds up with Downes’ understatedly bitter, minor-key chamber-rock ballad Shadows and Ghosts and Gailllande’s hypnotic, aptly titled psychedelic anthem Life Is Long and Strange, far more subtle than it might seem. Live, the band surprisingly manage to capture most of the atmospherics of their studio work; watch this space for NYC dates.

March 4, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment