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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 4/10/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #660:

The Dream Syndicate – The Days of Wine and Roses

One of the most influential albums of all time, it’s hard to imagine much of indie rock – Yo La Tengo and innumerable noise-rock bands – or for that matter, much of dreampop and shoegaze, without this deliriously fun 1981 masterpiece. That the first full-length album that Steve Wynn would appear on would become so iconic, and would age so well, attests to his brilliance from day one. Here he builds the foundation for the cataclysmic guitar duelling, savagely direct, literate lyricism and potent tunesmithing that has defined his career, through his most recent success with the Baseball Project (despite going over to the dark side by rooting for the Evil Empire, Wynn remains one of the most articulate baseball writers on the planet). And for a noisy album, this one’s amazingly diverse: distorted janglerock with Tell Me When It’s Over; insanely catchy riff-rock with Definitely Clean and That’s What You Always Say; the blistering post-Velvets shuffle Then She Remembers; the gleefully allusive When You Smile; the vivid manic depression and insane crescendo of the title track; the creepy Until Lately; bassist Kendra Smith’s quietly deadpan, spot-on Too Little, Too Late, and lead guitarist Karl Precoda’s volcanic, macabre Halloween. Other songwriters have sold more albums; Wynn’s career, meticulously documented via youtube and archive.org, attests to his status as one of the best-loved rockers ever. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. Here’s a random torrent.

April 10, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Compared to Bee vs. Moth’s Acronyms, Most Other Bands Sound FUBAR

Part 27 of our ongoing, never-ending process of playing catch-up: Austin instrumentalists Bee vs. Moth’s album Acronyms came out last year. The fun factor is off the hook – they pin the needle in the red. They’re part jazz, part noise-rock, and part movie theme music. Their compositions are very clever, but there’s just as much improvisation going on and that’s just as clever. Yet any good jazz band has that: what sets these folks apart is their sense of humor and out-of-the-box mashup-style songwriting. For a point of comparison, it could be said that what Tribecastan is to the Red Sea, Bee vs. Moth is to Americana. Some of this you can even dance to. To give you an idea of how much is going on here, these are the notes our reviewer took while trying to get a basic idea of how to explain just the first song on the album: “Drum hammers out the ‘one’ – guitar comes in against the beat – a blast of fuzzy guitar feedback – down to just bass holding the beat, backward masking and glockenspiel, up with it then horns and the whole band, becomes an actual anthem – then it falls apart with disembodied voices, comes back with a distorted guitar rock interlude – simple fast 2/4 changes a la Joy Division – down to glockenspiel and trumpet again.” Something for just about everyone in 3 minutes, 50 seconds.

Interplay is everywhere throughout this album: instruments converse, argue, twirl each other across the floor, blow up in each others’ faces and then make up. Now More than Ever, whose focal point is a warped spaghetti western theme, has the trumpet, guitar and bass doing a neat call-and-response. Peter Benko, a blend of Chronic Town-era REM, Tuatara jazz nocturne and reggae, has the bass taking over for the guitar – which in this song plays a role usually reserved for a drummer. The fiery, hypnotic Afrobeat song Pennies from Hell (these guys are good at titles) has trumpet and baritone sax riffing off each other. And Ugly Is the New Black welds crazed noise-rock guitar to a vintage doo-wop theme.

The rest of the album is more cinematic. Tuesday in Tuskegee shifts from mournful gospel to joyous noise, with some intense guitar tremolo-picking, and then back down again. The Sky and the Dirt Earth is southwestern gothic teleported to Bali; Mexican Noise Soda warps out of horn-spiced metal to a nasty, satirical trumpet waltz. They prove especially amusing with marches. All Hail Freedom is scathingly sarcastic and bombastic, the band taking their time machinegunning the propagandistic theme to bits, while ICP on Parade has gleeful fun mocking a parade theme and I Listen to Coffee All Day add hayseed banjo and cowbell to raise the eyebrow factor. The most straight-up number here – straight-up being a relative term – is Gor’s Apparatus, a joyously crescendoing, noisy jaunt featuring a couple of tongue-in-cheek bass solos and some particularly satisfying drum work. Bee vs. Moth’s next gig appears to be on March 19 at Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse Ritz Theatre, where they’ll be doing their live original score for Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman as part of the Austin Film Festival.

February 12, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 2/3/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #726:

Bauhaus – Press the Eject and Give Me the Tape

Thirty years later, it’s easy to pigeonhole Bauhaus as the prototypical goth band, but at the time they came out they were nothing short of paradigm-shifting: they get too little credit for adding a noise-rock edge to the gleeful gloom. This 1982 live set captures them at their early creative peak: guitarist Daniel Ash can’t quite find what he’s looking for half the time, but it’s the search that’s impossible to turn away from. Meanwhile, the brothers in the rhythm section, bassist David J and drummer Kevin Haskins careen with a visceral chemistry behind Peter Murphy’s sepulchral croon. The iconic classic is the practically ten-minute version of Bela Lugosi’s Dead, with its funeral march bass and Holiday in Cambodia guitar sonics. In the Flat Field remains a concert favorite after all these years; The Man with X-Ray Eyes and Dancing are less energetically morbid than simply energetic. The Spy in the Cab and Kick in the Eye rock out while Hollow Hills and Stigmata Martyr mine darker corners. The 1988 cd reissue includes several bonus tracks from that era including an untight yet memorably Siouxsie-esque dirge cover of I’m Waiting for the Man featuring Nico on lead vocals. It would be one of her last moments on record. Here’s a random torrent.

February 3, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Will Steve Wynn Ever Stop Making Good Albums? Not This Year.

In case you were wondering, Steve Wynn has a new album out, Northern Aggression, his first studio album with his regular American touring band the Miracle 3 since 2006’s brilliantly multistylistic tick…tick….tick. It’s everything you would expect from the Carl Yastrzemski of rock. That baseball reference is deliberate: what’s most ironic about Wynn’s career is that despite a seemingly endless series of first-rate albums, not to mention his early years leading iconic, influential indie band the Dream Syndicate, millions know Wynn best as the main songwriter in the Baseball Project, whose songs are featured on broadcasts across the country during the long season. And as fun as that band is, this is better. As with pretty much everything he’s done, many of the songs here are constructed so that there’s plenty of room for a maelstrom of guitar dueling, although there’s understandably less here than there is at live shows where Wynn and his sparring partner Jason Victor go head to head and see how many dangerous new elements they can pull out of the air. One recent review called this Wynn’s most modern-sounding album, and that’s not true. The sound here is vintage, a straight line back to the Stooges, Neil Young, old R&B and soul music, filtered through the eerie fractals of Yo La Tengo and peak-era Sonic Youth (both bands that were influenced by Wynn, by the way, not the other way around).

The opening cut, Resolution, is the closest thing to dreampop he’s ever done, a slow crescendo of suspenseful, murkily cloudy guitar swirl that finds sudden focus in the chorus. The snidely triumpant No One Ever Drowns, an early pre-Dream Syndicate song, is done is pensive, distant new wave that hits another hypnotic peak that just keeps going and going. Consider the Source is a classic, menacing, midtempo, backbeat minor-key gem, all the more impressive that Wynn’s playing piano, Victor is on organ, and that virtually the whole track is an improvisation that came together magically in a single take. The best tracks here might be the allusively menacing, vintage funk-tinged We Don’t Talk About It, the deceptively blithe, equally allusive Cloud Splitter, and the unselfconsciously mournful, pedal steel-driven Americana dirge St. Millwood, which Wynn aptly considered calling Emotional Ambulance Chasers.

Wynn goes back in a dreampop direction with Colored Lights, a sureshot to be a live smash with its big crescendo out. The Death of Donny B is a cover of the theme from the 1969 Carl Fick short film (whose composer remains unknown), done much like the original as a brooding Bill Withers-style funk vamp. The remaining tracks include The Other Side, which wouldn’t have been out of place on Television’s Marquee Moon; On the Mend, another of Wynn’s recent two-part masterpieces, this one shifting from Layla-esque, anthemic pyrotechnics to straight-up riff-rock snarl; and the ridiculously catchy, warmly shufling Ribbons and Chains, which drummer Linda Pitmon – the most consistently interesting drummer in all of rock – absolutely owns. A shout-out to Yep Roc for having the good sense to get behind this. Put this in the Wynn pantheon somewhere between 1997’s Sweetness and Light and the landmark 2000 double album Here Come the Miracles (which was our pick for best album of the past decade).

January 15, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Black Water’s Disasters Album Is Anything But

Catching up to all the albums that have been sitting around here for months is getting to be a lot of fun! We were sussed to this one via excellently uncategorizable indie chamberpop rockers Bern & the Brights. On their most recent album Disasters (available from their bandcamp as a free download), New Jersey band Black Water go for a somewhat retro 80s indie songwriting style but with vastly better production values and influences that run the gamut from ska and reggae to dreampop and the occasional anthemic 90s Britpop vibe. It’s a compelling and completely original blend of catchy and hypnotic.

The opening track sets a tone for the rest of the album, darkly reggae-tinged with a swirling My Bloody Valentine edge, noisy but also hook-driven. “At night, we take cover,” is the phrase they run over and over again. The second cut has more of a Britpop feel, like a slightly less herky-jerky Wire. Arizona is southwestern gothic ska with tastily intertwining guitar and bass. “I’d rather die than live one more day in fear,” the singer intones in a quavery voice that adds genuine apprehension. Black Water Song begins with a funky pulse but grows hypnotic and atmospheric, with an ominous bridge featuring distant sirens and outdoor ambience that builds to a cyclotron of guitars – and ends cold, as if the tape just ran out at some random point.

The theme continues where it left off on the next track, Keep Your Eyes Closed, which after awhile starts to sound like an absolutely unhinged version of Ceremony by New Order. The single best song here is the ridiculously memorable, darkly ska-inflected Drugstore Model, rich with layers of reverb guitar, like a faster and more skittish version of the Dream Syndicate. With its noisy, funky verse working up to chorus anthemics, Oh My God wouldn’t be out of place in the Botanica catalog, especially when it switches to a long ska vamp with layers of slamming guitar chords and wild tremolo-picking. The album winds up with the inventive dreampop/soul blend of 7 Years. Solid songs, all of them, not a single miss here: you don’t see that very often. Shame on us for not getting around to it sooner. Since releasing this one, the band has gone through some changes, with an additional vocalist, lead guitarist and a new, supposedly more pop-oriented album due early in 2011. If it bears any resemblance to this one, it’ll be great.

December 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Noisy Intense Quadruple Bill Friday at Death by Audio

It was weird seeing a good crowd bouncing and hollering and having a general good time at Death by Audio Friday night. Maybe the newest arrivals in New York are sick of the whole trendoid thing, of being afraid to show any kind of emotion or passion for fear of not fitting in. If that’s true, that’s great and it’s been a long time coming, at least in Williamsburg. Has this place ever had four bands this good in a single night? Probably not.

The Sediment Club opened. One faction here can’t figure out why on earth anyone would want to subject themselves to their hideous sonic assault. The other faction (guess which one) thinks they should be everybody’s favorite band. They take ugliness to the next level. Their guitarist unleashed a chilly, Albert Collins-toned torrent of sonic sludge, wailing up and down on his tremolo bar as his strings went further and further out of tune while another slightly less assaultive wash of sound oozed from the wobbly, deliberately out-of-tune Casio. Yet in a perverse way they’re a very melodic band, the melody being carried by the growly, trebly bass. And a lot of their stuff you can dance to: some of the grooves had a funk beat, a couple of the songs shifting to a perfectly straight-up, poker-faced disco rhythm. The lyrics, screamed by the guitarist, went for the same assaultive vibe as the guitar, especially on a couple of occasions when the songs went hardcore speed.

Nice Face were next. They took their time setting up. Just when the wait between bands started to become really annoying, one of their guitarists fired off what sounded like the riff to Caught with the Meat in Your Mouth by the Dead Boys, which proved to be a good omen. In their own way, they were just as original as the Sediment Club, if a lot more tuneful, at least in a traditional sense. The two-guitar band blends a growling, dirty LES glampunk sound with a lot of different elements, plus a swishy, stagy lyrical vibe that reaches for some kind of menace, their frontman rasping his vocals through a trebly megaphone effect. They worked their way into the set slowly, first with a hypnotic, Black Angels-style vamp, then brought the energy up with a mix of stomping neo-garage rock bolstered with melodic, anthemic 90s-style Britrock changes. As with the Sediment Club, the trebly bass gave the songs extra propulsive boost.

 Woman were next. The  joke is that the band is all guys. They brought the intensity up yet another notch or ten. Like a more rhythmically interesting version of Clinic, they match overtone-laden dreampop swirl to a ballistic noiserock attack, bassist out in front slamming out his riffs while their two guitarists went berserk. The lefthanded guy spun and dipped wildly, cutting loose maniacal webs of acidic noise; the righthanded guy worked more of a purist, Ron Asheton style riff-rock style. Some of the songs blasted along with a hypnotic, repetitive insistence, like the Thirteenth Floor Elevators with better amps; others built off menacing chromatic hooks, the guitars a screaming vortex overhead. Like the bands before them, they take classic ideas – in this case, the Stooges and My Bloody Valentine – and find new, original ways of making them sound fresh and exciting again. They could have played for twice as long as they did – barely 40 minutes – and the crowd still would have wanted more.

The K-Holes headlined. The guys in the band play scorching guitar and caveman Cramps drums – just a kick and a single cymbal. The females handle the bass, vocals, and warily circling alto sax that with a tinge of reverb added some unexpectedly delicious textures. A quick assessment of the gear they were using – what looked like a vintage Music Man guitar amp, Danelectro lyre bass and a huge old Ampeg bass cab – looked auspicious, and they delivered. Like a late 70s version of Destroy All Monsters on really good acid, they fused a rumbling, eerie Link Wray groove with punk and garage rock and just plain good insane squall. Their first song was a long one-chord jam, a launching pad for some serious guitar torturing that contrasted mightily with the sax’s mysterioso chromatics. A hardcore punk tune seemed to be a dis of Williamsburg trendoids: if any band has earned a right to do that, it’s these guys, although the guitarist assured the crowd that they were just being sardonic. The rest of the set blended fiery jangle and clang with an ominous, funereal bassy thud that on occasion picked up into a murderous gallop, the frontwoman sticking her mic into her mouth, Lux Interior style at one point as she screamed. They closed with a “slow jam” that seemed to be in some impossibly complicated time signature but then straightened out into straight-up 4/4 hostility. By the time their too-brief set was over, it was about two in the morning, pretty much everybody had stuck around and after four exhausting if frequently exhilarating hours, still wanted more.

December 13, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Uncategorizably Fun Triplebill at Littlefield

Sunday night concerts are a bitch. The trains are still messed up from the weekend and most everybody who’s not unemployed yet is dreading the work week ahead. But clubs still book shows, antipating a handful of the brave souls who aren’t daunted the prospect of Monday’s exhaustion along with a probably larger crowd who don’t have that problem because their parents’ or their parents’ parents’ money has assured that they never will. From the looks of it, this triplebill drew the braver contingent.

With trombone, trumpet, bass clarinet and vocals, quartet Loadbang loosened up the crowd with a series of jokey little Nick Didkovsky pieces with a skronky free jazz flavor, a couple of improvisations and then a genuinely disconcerting, strung-out version of David Lang’s arrangment of I’m Waiting for My Man, their singer’s anxious vocals channeling the dread of a dope jones far more vividly than Lou Reed ever did.

Loud third-stream rock unit Kayo Dot followed, intelligently aggressive. With violin, alto and tenor sax, keys, bass or guitar (or with the enhancement of a pedal or two and a few tuning modifications, sometimes both) and drums, they shifted tempos and dynamics incessantly. Bandleader Toby Driver’s compositions changed shape dramatically from pounding, inexorably crescendoing passages, to still violin atmospherics. Textures shifted just as much as the dynamics, intricately woven lines passed from one instrument to another. One tricky, fusionesque groove coalesced and morphed into a festive if astringent dance with an Ethiopian feel. Until a plaintively swaying, rather majestic art-rock guitar song with an obvious Radiohead influence emerged, they’d avoided any kind of rock-oriented sense of resolution or hint of where a central tonality might be lurking. So when that moment arrived, it was on the heels of over a half hour of tension and it was a welcome respite. Their last piece seemed at first to be a series of dramatic endings, which went on past the point of overkill to where it started to make sense as a Groundhog Day of sorts, an endless series of calamities ending in some kind of blunt trauma. The crowd wanted more, but after that, there wasn’t anywhere higher the band could have gone.

Newspeak were celebrating the release of their potent new album Sweet Light Crude, an equally diverse mix of politically-charged music by an A-list of rising composers. Early on, they followed the album sequence. On the cd, the opening cut, B&E (with Aggravated Assault), by Oscar Bettison takes on a blustery, Mingus-esque tone; here, it swung mightily, stampeding percussively to the end in a cloud of dust. Stefan Wiseman’s I Would Prefer Not To contrasted plaintively, a subtle tribute to civil disobedience, cello and violin mingling with singer Mellissa Hughes’ vocalese. The title track, a cautionary tale about the perils of addiction (in this case to oil), emphasized volume and texture rather than the tongue-in-cheek disco pulse of the recorded version, amped to the point of crunchy rockness. Likewise, they took Missy Mazzoli’s In Spite of All This to a swirl of intricately inseparable counterthemes that grew from wounded and damaged to a dizzying series of crazed crescendos. The angst went up another level on Caleb Burhans’ requiem for the padlocked GM plant in his depressed hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, a sort of harder-rocking Twin Peaks theme driven by guitarist Taylor Levine’s twangy, ominous, reverb-toned southwestern gothic lines. Then they threw all caution aside, with a savagely punked-out cover of Taking Back Sunday’s If You See Something Say Something – a raised middle finger at gentrifier paranoia – and then a full-length, pretty much note-for-note cover of Black Sabbath’s War Pigs, Burhans’ violin delivering all Tony Iommi’s showiest fills with lightning precision as Hughes alternated between a sneer and a smirk. It was better than the original and probably more in touch with its molten-metal antiwar core.

November 19, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, concert, experimental music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/5/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #847:

The Electric Eels – The Eyeball of Hell

These guys invented no wave. In Cleveland. In 1972. Contemporaries of Rocket from the Tombs as well as the Raspberries (sounds absurd, but it’s true), in their brief three-year career they played three shows and released one album, reputedly because nobody in the band got along. Which makes sense once you hear it. This 1998 compilation contains pretty much everything from that along with almost another album’s worth of outtakes and rehearsal material. Frontman Dave E channels some seriously strung-out vibes over John Morton’s fingers-down-the-blackboard guitar, through a completely unhinged, screeching, feedback-enhanced, sometimes early 70s metal-flaked attack on songs with titles like Agitated, Cyclotron, You’re Full of Shit, Sewercide, and a hilarious spoof of free jazz, Jazz Is. They were also responsible for one of the alltime great punk covers (as a description, punk might be a little tame), a version of Dead Man’s Curve that beats Jan and Dean at the drag race of death. Not exactly easy listening, but as ugly, confrontational, uncompromising and in its own twisted way, disarmingly honest music, it has few equals. Here’s a random torrent.

October 5, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/15/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #867:

The Chrome Cranks – Live in Exile

The Chrome Cranks were New York’s best band for most of the 1990s before imploding late in the decade. Combining the assaultive, combative riff-driven charisma of the Stooges with the paint-peeling, feedback-riddled, blues-warped guitar of frontman Peter Aaron and lead player William G. Weber and propelled by the potent rhythm section of former Honeymoon Killer Jerry Teel on bass and ex-Sonic Youth drummer Bob Bert, their studio albums blew away the rest of the Lower East Side glampunk crowd but never quite captured the raw unhinged menace of their live shows. But this does. Recorded at the end of 1996 in Holland at the end of a European tour, the band are at the peak of their power. Much as most of their songs are about facing down the end with a sneer, a smirk, a snort or something, this one really has the air of desperation: they knew this wouldn’t last, but they wanted to capture it for those who came after. They open the show with their gleefully ugly signature cover, See That My Grave Is Kept Clean and after that, the song titles pretty much say it all. Lost Time Blues; Wrong Number; Dead Man’s Suit; We’re Going Down. Their practically nine-minute version of Pusherman surpasses even the Live Skull version for out-of-focus, fatalistic fury; the last of the encores is the self-explanatory Burn Baby Burn. Reinvigorated and apparently free of the demons that plagued them the first time around, the Cranks reunited in 2008 with a mighty series of shows in New York and Europe, with the promise of a new album sometime in the future.

September 15, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/12/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #870:

Lou Reed – The Blue Mask

Today we salute Lou for refusing to allow Susan Boyle to butcher A Perfect Day on some stupid reality tv show. This is his big comeback, from 1982, after a couple of real duds in the late 70s. Here he teams up with the late Robert Quine for an unhinged, double-barreled assault on the fretboard, a stripped-down, blistering return to something of a Velvets feel. Part of this is the most intense janglerock ever made; the rest is like a more tuneful, musically proficient White Light/White Heat. Or a more proficient Voidoids with better lyrics (remember, Quine was their guitarist). What’s coolest is that both guitarists run straight through their amps without any effects: it’s amazing how good you can get a Strat and a Fender Twin to sound just by adding a little (or a lot) of distortion. The high points are the viscerally intense Waves of Fear and the blistering noiserock of the title cut. There’s also the death-obsessed My House, a Delmore Schwartz tribute; the evocative, DT-inspired Underneath the Bottle; the ominous plaintiveness of The Gun; the understated requiem The Day John Kennedy Died and the surprisingly funny, tongue-in-cheek Average Guy. After all this, we can forgive him for the mawkish, maudlin love song at the end. Also worth hearing is the Live in Italy double album from 1983 with this same crew, who turn in phenomenally good, revitalized versions of Kill Your Sons, Satellite of Love and Walk on the Wild Side among others. Here’s a random torrent.

September 12, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment