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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 5/26/11

As we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #614:

Live Skull – Snuffer

The best New York band of the 80s wasn’t Sonic Youth. It was Live Skull. They shared a producer, Martin Bisi, whose ears for the most delicious sonics in a guitar’s high midrange did far more to refine both bands’ sound than he ever got credit for. As noisy as this band was, they also had an ear for hooks: noise-rock has never been more listenable. By the time they recorded this one, guitarists Tom Paine and Mark C., fretless bassist Marnie Greenholz and drummer Rich Hutchins had brought in future Come frontwoman Thalia Zedek, but on vocals rather than guitar. It’s a ferociously abrasive yet surprisingly catchy six-song suite of sorts, Zedek’s assaultive rants mostly buried beneath the volcanic swirl of the guitars and the pummeling rhythm section. By the time they get to Step, the first song of side two, they’ve hit a groove that winds up with furious majesty on the final cut, Straw. Like Sonic Youth, their lyrics are neither-here-nor-there; unlike that band, they had the good sense to bury them in the mix most of the time. Very influential in their time, it’s hard to imagine Yo La Tengo and many others without them. Here’s a random torrent via Rare Punk.

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May 26, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 4/4/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #666:

The Brooklyn What – The Brooklyn What for Borough President

“If this is the only album the band ever does, at worst it’ll be a cult classic,” we said here in 2009, choosing it as best album of the year. Happily, the band is not only still together but still recording, with a ferocious series of singles coming out. What the Clash were to the UK in the late 70s/early 80s, the Brooklyn What are to New York thirty years later: fearless, funny, good at everything they do, eclectic beyond belief and armed with a social conscience. Where the Clash wanted global revolution, Brooklyn’s finest band at the moment would settle for an end to the gentrification that’s destroyed so much of the city over the last ten years. The acknowledged classic here is I Don’t Wanna Go to Williamsburg, a hilarious anti-trendoid rant that namechecks every silly indie fad and fashion circa 2004. No Chords echoes the anti-trendoid sentiment with a quite, satirical savagery; The In-Crowd mocks them again, much more loudly. The most intense point, musically is frontman Jamie Frey’s Planet’s So Lonely, a haunting, 6/8 blues with some screaming, intense lead guitar from Evan O’Donnell. There’s also the soul/punk We Are the Only Ones, an anthem for a new generation; the late Billy Cohen’s snarling, surreal Soviet Guns and Sunbeam Sunscream; the brooding For the Best; the Ramones-y She Gives Me Spasms, and a fiery tribute to Guided by Voices. Impossible to find at the sharelockers, but it’s still up at cdbaby and all the usual download merchants. The Brooklyn What are at Trash on April 16 at 9ish, as part of their monthly residency.

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

Album of the Day 3/29/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #672:

The Dog Show – “Hello, Yes”

Ferociously literate oldschool R&B flavored mod punk rock from this Lower East Side New York supergroup, 2004. Everything the Dog Show – who were sort of New York’s answer to the Jam – put out is worth hearing, if you can find it, including their debut, simply titled “demo,” along with several delicious limited edition ep’s. Frontman Jerome O’Brien and Keith Moon-influenced southpaw drummer Josh Belknap played important roles in legendary kitchen-sink rockers Douce Gimlet; Belknap and melodic bassist Andrew Plonsky were also LJ Murphy’s rhythm section around the time this came out. And explosive lead guitarist Dave Popeck fronted his own “heavy pop” trio, Twin Turbine. O’Brien’s songwriting here runs the gamut from the unrestrained rage of Hold Me Down, the sarcasm of Every Baby Boy, the gorgeous oldschool East Village memoir Halcyon Days – which just sounds better with every passing year – and the tongue-in-cheek, shuffling Everything That You Said. Diamonds and Broken Glass is a snarling, practically epic, bluesy kiss-off; White Continental offers a blistering, early 70s Stonesy let’s-get-out-of-here theme. Too obscure to make it to the sharelockers yet, the whole album is still streaming at myspace.

March 29, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Brooklyn What Are the New York Equivalent of the Clash

The corporate media wants you to believe that New York is all master mixologists mixing $26 heirloom lobster cilantro mochatinis, with celebrity djs pumping up the bass while Shtuppi, Blandie, Faylor and the rest of the cast of The Real Housewives of LoHo poledance for the camera. That element does exist, and in greater numbers with every passing tax break for the ultra-rich, but those people don’t represent New York. They’re not even from here. And while we wait, and wait, and wait, for a high-profile murder or two to send them scrambling for the next charter flight back to Malibu or Lake Wayzata, the Brooklyn What write songs for the rest of us. Like the Clash, they use punk as a stepping-off point for a range of styles that span the history of rock, from the 50s to the indie era. This may be old news for those who’ve seen them live, but they’re not just playing crazed punk music anymore: they’re become a truly great rock band. They have five newly recorded singles out: the songs are complex, psychedelic, and socially aware without losing the in-your-face edge that made the band so compelling from the start.

I Want You on a Saturday Night has been a big concert hit for them for awhile. It’s punked out doo-wop, a Weegee snapshot of a random night out. Guy’s at the bar, got only half a buzz, annoyed by the annoying crowd, trying to drown them out with Johnny Cash on the jukebox. He could go to Williamsburg, or to the Village where he’d meet some people and “want to kill them,” or stay home, get stoned and listen to Springsteen. But he wants out. And like the Uncle Sam poster, he wants you.

Punk Rock Loneliness is the shadow side of that picture. The guitars weave a staggered tango beat, distantly echoing the Dead Boys but more funky. Jamie Frey’s lyric sets the stage: “Rain through your canvas sneakers, nervous breakdown in your speakers…” Who hasn’t been there? Down at the corner of Bleecker and Bowery, where CBGB’s used to be, he thinks back on the girl who’s gone now. “All the things you had to give her, first your heart then your liver, drowned in the East River.” And the world couldn’t care less: there’s no more Johnny, or Joey, or Dee Dee with a song that would dull the pain, and the club they made famous is just another stupid shi-shi boutique now. A classic New York moment early in the decade of the teens.

Come to Me is like punked-out Sam Cooke. It’s sly and it’s irresistible – the singer understands that the girl’s been working a twelve-hour shift, she has to smile when her heart’s a frown, but he’ll make her forget about the long day and how light her purse feels at the end of it. The brief doubletracked guitar solo at the end is pure psychedelia: Evan O’Donnell and John-Severin Napolillo make the best one-two guitar punch this town’s seen in decades. A more rocking take on early 70s psychedelic funk/soul a la Curtis Mayfield, Tomorrow Night is more abstract, floating in on a catchy yet apprehensive slide guitar hook, winding out with another nimble, incisive solo. The fifth song, Status Quo, evokes Black Flag with its furious vocal tradeoffs, then goes for an anthemic garage punk Stooges/Radio Birdman knockout punch on the chorus. “I’m so bored with the status quo/Everything here has got to go,” the band roar. “You get all your sense of humor from reality shows,” Frey taunts the latest wave of gentrifiers. At the end, they finally let it fly completely off the hinges. The Brooklyn What also have a monthly residency at Trash Bar, a Saturday night where they play alongside some of the best of their colleagues in the Brooklyn underground scene. This month’s show is this Saturday, December 18 starting at 8 with power trio New Atlantic Youth, the Proud Humans (ex-Warm Hats), the Highway Gimps (the missing link between My Bloody Valentine and Motorhead), the Brooklyn What, postpunk rockers Mussles and finally the new Pistols 40 Paces at midnight. Check with the band for these songs as well as their classic 2009 album The Brooklyn What for Borough President.

December 16, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/24/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #858:

Paula Carino – Aquacade

Seven years after her solo debut came out, the former frontwoman of popular indie rockers Regular Einstein remains a titan among New York rock songwriters. With her cool, nuanced voice like a spun silk umbrella on a windswept beach, her catchy, distantly Pretenders-inflected janglerock melodies and fiercely witty, literate lyrics, Carino ranks with Richard Thompson, Aimee Mann and Elvis Costello as one of the world’s great lyrical tunesmiths. She never met a pun or a double entendre she could resist, has a thing for odd time signatures and wields a stun-gun bullshit detector. This was one of the great albums of 2003 and it remains a classic. Pensive, watery miniatures like the title track lurk side by side with the mordantly metric cautionary tale Discovering Fire, the offhandedly savage Stockholm Syndrome and Guru Glut and the wistful, richly evocative sound-movie Summer’s Over. The symbolism goes deep and icy on the deceptively upbeat Tip of the Iceberg; Venus Records immortalizes a legendary New York used record store and remains the most charming love song to a prized vinyl album ever (that one’s loaded with symbolism too). The high point of the cd  is Paleoclimatology, a resolutely clanging masterpiece that will resonate with anyone longing to escape a past buried beneath “ancient snow that wrecked tyrannosaurus.” Carino’s 2010 album Open on Sunday is far darker yet still imbued with a similar wit: look for it high on our Best Albums of 2010 list at the end of the year. This one long since sold out its run of physical copies, although it’s still available online at emusic and all the other mp3 spots.

September 23, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Larch Finally Make a Classic Album

For over ten years, long before 80s music was all the rage again, Brooklyn rockers the Larch have been making solidly good, cleverly lyrical albums that draw deeply on British new wave. Their latest one, Larix Americana is a bonafide classic, one of the best albums of 2010. It’s sort of the missing link between Squeeze and the Auteurs: edgy, politically charged, fearlessly and sometimes caustically cynical yet warmly catchy. Frontman/guitarist Ian Roure has never sung better, projecting with more than a hint of a grin or even a leer; surprisingly, he keeps his fret-burning to a minimum, maybe a half a verse or a chorus of a sizzling, Richard Lloyd-inspired wah-wah solo at a time. He’s the rare lead player who leaves you wanting more. Keyboardist Liza Garelik Roure (frontwoman of the equally excellent, somewhat more psychedelic Liza & the WonderWheels) adds clever synthesizer and organ along with her trademark sultry vocals.

The wickedly catchy opening cut, Sub-Orbital Getaway is paisley underground disguised as new wave, the guitar hook on the intro referencing PiL’s Poptones. It’s an escape anthem, albeit one with “privatization engines to take us up.” The question here is whether “suborbital” means earthbound, or refers to an area of the skull: expressway from your mind? With Love from Region One (a DVD reference) is a bittersweet tribute to all good things American from Roure’s perspective as a first-generation expatriate Brit: “We’ve taken root where you live, delicious and inedible,” he winks. And is that vamp a reference to Eddie Money’s Two Tickets to Paradise?

Tracking Tina might be the best song of the year. Roure has always been a spot-on social critic, and this is his best yet, a caustic look at cluelessly hypervigilant yuppie parents who “only want what’s best for our baby:” they won’t let her out of their sight whether they’re there or not. Likewise, the offhandedly gorgeous travel narrative Strawberry Coast has an ominous undercurrent. Behind the chalet, the holiday’s complete: “Smile ’cause you’re on cctv as you’re walking home.” Roure brings it all the way up with yet another one of his trademark wah solos. In the Name Of…, a slam at religious zealots, has bassist Ross Bonadonna enhancing its Moods for Moderns vibe with his perfectly crescendoing Bruce Thomas impression. Inside Hugh mines more familiar territory for this band, in this case a dayjob from hell. Queues Likely is equally caustic, imagining no respite from a wait “from bumper to brakelight.” And Space Vacation is a clever, tongue-in-cheek update on the faux reggae of the Boomtown Rats’ House on Fire. The album ends with The Long Tail, an aptly sardonic sendup of corporate groupthink. As good as this is, the band’s sizeable back catalog is also worth getting to know, particularly their previous one Gravity Rocks. Watch this space for upcoming NYC dates.

July 2, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Creepy and Dreamy with Mojo Mancini

New York noir doesn’t get any better than this. With Big Lazy on the shelf, Mojo Mancini has moved in to take over the role of New York’s most deliciously creepy instrumental group. With allusions to the Doors and Henry Mancini, they’re aptly named, blending a stylish dark rock vibe with equally dark Hollywood atmospherics. Their album is sort of an accident: tenor sax player Rick DePofi, Rosanne Cash bandleader/guitarist John Leventhal, drummer Shawn Pelton, Bob Dylan keyboardist Brian Mitchell and bassist Conrad Korsch would get together and jam just for fun, or to blow off steam between gigs and/or recording dates. Happily, they had the good sense to record these jams, realizing that they had genuine magic on their hands. The arduous task of sifting through the tapes fell to DePofi, a professional recording engineer. This is the result. At one point or another, all the songs here sway to a trip-hop beat – and as dark as a lot of them are, there are also several which are irresistibly funny.

The album opens with a characteristically eerie, David Lynch style wee-hours scenario, Leventhal playing terse, tense jazz lines against Mitchell’s organ swells. Gansevoort, named after the street just off the Westside Highway where the album was recorded (and where bodies were once dumped with regularity) is an echoey trip-hop organ funk groove, part early 70s Herbie Hancock score, part sleek stainless steel club music, part Jimmy McGriff. Just Sit, featuring a sample of poet/activist Jack Hirschman, welds watery 1970-era David Gilmour chorus-box guitar to balmy sax over a laid-back funk groove.

Leventhal turns an expansive, sunbaked guitar solo over to DePofi’s tenor on the pensive Clear Fluids, which then winds it up to a big crescendo. The dub-inflected Peace Plan moves from spacy Rhodes piano to a sparse, Steve Ulrich-style guitar hook. The most Steve Ulrich-inflected number here is Let Us Pray, with its Twilight Zone organ, David Gilmour noir guitar lines and a couple of playfully sacrilegious Lawrence Ferlinghetti samples. There’s also a big sky theme, its disquieting undercurrent evoking Bill Frisell; a cinematic mini-suite with smoky sax that evokes mid-90s REM side project Tuatara; the banjo trip-hop of Long Neck, and the echoey, dubwise Slipper Room with its maze of keyboards and a rousing organ crescendo that segues into the next tune. Play loud, play after dark for best results.

May 30, 2010 Posted by | 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

Song of the Day 4/22/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Thursday’s song is #98:

LJ Murphy – Happy Hour

Down in the wicked industries
That are so celebrated now
There’s a forever-smiling face
To which you must scrape and bow
Because you’re just one of many
In a parade of useless warts
With one eye on the secretary
And the other on the quarterly report

His best, most scathing song, and he has many. The New York noir rocker’s done this one a million different ways: as straight-up janglerock, as pulsing post-Velvets stomp, as a blues. We liked it best the first way. To date, it’s never been released, but frequently bootlegged especially circa 1999-2000.

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

Concert Review: New Madrid at Crash Mansion, NYC 4/3/10

New Madrid have really taken their live show to the next level. Entering to the thundering strains of a cd of Also Sprach Zarathustra, they hit a jarring chord in a completely unrelated key and then proceeded to pummel the audience with one darkly catchy, stomping anthem after another. There is no other New York band who sound like them which is probably because A) being a bilingual/rock-en-Espanol band, they’re the furthest thing from “indie” and B) they seem to draw more on European or Mexican influences. Their shtick is that their drummer stands and sings, and he welcomes the chance to come out from behind the kit. This time around he’d shut the band down for a pregnant pause, sticks between his teeth, waiting for a reaction (something he could do a little less frequently – or else this time he was just in a particularly boisterous mood). He’s a good player, too, going four on three during two jarring, extended crescendos during one of the set’s last songs. The guitarist is eerie and noisy, like Daniel Ash but with better chops, at one point taking a solo that sounded like Saul Hernandez trying to channel Beefheart. Their bassist has a tough job, as much a part of holding the runaway train to the rails as the drums, and he delivered, at one point carrying the song with boomy intensity while the drummer took an eerie suspense-film solo on the toms.

Most of the material in the set seemed new, other than the tensely staccato anthem Soberano (Sovereign). The best song of the night saw the guitarist employing the most macabre, watery effect you could imagine: on top of that, he’d bend the notes at the end of a phrase with his tremolo bar for even more sepulchral quaver and goosebumps. The big audience hit seemed to be a fairly simple, somewhat glamrock number entitled Kill; another new one, possibly titled Crazy Lady was aptly menacing, with a grittily noisy, offhandedly intense guitar solo out.

Another way to tell that New Madrid is on to something good is how they managed to clear the fratboys out of the room. Almost imperceptibly, a much more intelligent-looking, diverse and considerably less obvious crowd gathered at the front of the room as the khaki-and-poloshirt contingent stumbled back toward the bar. The only drawback about the show was that the club put them on over an hour and a half late. While the idea of putting rapper/accordionist Julz A and his guitarist pal on a second stage in the back was imaginative, and their songs were enjoyable, it didn’t help New Madrid or their crowd to be standing around aimlessly for minutes on end waiting for the signal to start.

April 4, 2010 Posted by | concert, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments