Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Mostly Other People Do the Killing Are At It Again

Humor is supposely based on cruelty 90% of the time, right? If that’s the case, New York supergroup Mostly Other People Do the Killing are the world’s cruelest jazz band. Since the early zeros they’ve skewered just about every jazz trope: they’re sort of the Spinal Tap of the genre. Ostensibly, their new album Slippery Rock, out on their Hot Cup label on Jan 22,  is a parody of 70s and 80s elevator jazz. There are places where the satire is obvious but just as many when it’s not, which is partly because the band stick to their acoustic sax/trumpet/bass/drums format rather than employing synthesizers and drum machines, and partly since there are interludes where the band find themselves shuffling along with an amiable, brightly second-line-tinged flavor, unselfconsciously attractive despite themselves. When the jokes are most vivid, it’s most often when Peter Evans’ trumpet and Jon Irabagon’s alto sax join together for a simpering, cloying hook, fall away from it, turn back on it and then take swipes or rip it to shreds. Bassist Moppa Elliott and drummer Kevin Shea’s satire here is more subtle – no grooves, especially the smooth ones, are safe from parody. The dumber and simpler they are, the dumber and simpler they make them.

The operative question is how many other jokes are here – probably a lot – and who is going to get them. For better or worse, this album is kind of like making fun of wallpaper. People who make it and sell it (and maybe who rip it off the walls and trash it) might get the jokes, but who else? These guys have obviously done their homework, but ask yourself, would someone who claims to like Kenny G actually be able to name song titles, let alone hum you a tune or two?

Be that what it may, there’s still a lot of fun here. The opening track spoofs funk-jazz grooves and romantic slow-jam ambience with a quote that’s too funny to give away. Can’t Tell Shipp from Shohola (a reference to Elliott’s beloved  native Pennsylvania) works familiar MOPDtK territory, hinting at an easygoing triplet vamp that nobody’s willing to officially admit exists. Sayre (another Keystone State shout-out) layers bop over a ridiculous bump-BUMP rhythm that hints at reggae, the horns eventually finding it too hard to resist hamming it up.

Irabagon pillories cluelessly ostentatious sax breaks on President Polk; Evans’ nervously rapidfire cameo on Yo, Yeo, Yeough and its altered disco beat is just as funny. Dexter, Wayne and Mobley, a parody of homages, is pretty priceless, its pastiche making no sense whatsoever. Jazzy tv themes get their due on the mealymouthed, chattering Jersey Shore, while Paul’s Journey to Opp reverts to the generalized messing it up of the band’s prior catalog, having fun with dissecting a too-bright-to-be-true vamp. The album closes with Is Granny Spry?, Irabagon and Evans quoting from both the classics and tv over a groove that’s so absurdly artless that it’s impossible not to laugh.

To fully appreciate how entertainingly vicious this band can be, get their 2009 album This Is Our Moosic – although ageless jazz critic Leonardo Featherweight’s liner notes on this one are especially LMFAO, enough to justify the price of a cd. The band are on European tour in February, with a return to New York on Feb 28 at the Cornelia St. Cafe.

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January 18, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 5/21/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. In honor of the doomsday that never was, we celebrate with a funny album. Saturday’s is #619:

Richard Cheese – Lounge Against the Machine

What Weird Al was to the 80s, Richard Cheese was around the turn of the century – and he’s still going strong, making fun of the suckiest songs you’ve ever heard. And he’s more than just a one-trick pony – his parodies make fun of lounge music just as much as they skewer the lamest corporate rock songs of the last 20 years. Caveat: if you weren’t tortured by a younger sibling (or, even worse, an older sibling) with bad taste in music back in the 90s, you may not know a lot of these songs. Ironically, the most popular track on his 2000 debut is the best one, the Dead Kennedys’ Holiday in Cambodia, which when you think about it is even more punk than the original. Creep, by Radiohead, another good song, is also better – and creepier – than the original. Otherwise, the satire is  brutal: with his cover of Guerrilla Radio, the lounge lizard exposes Rage Against the Machine for the limousine liberals they were. He gets gleefully cruel with the fratboy standards Closer (“I wanna fuck you like an animal”) by Nine Inch Nails, the Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up and the ultimate frathouse atrocity, the Beastie Boys’ Fight For Your Right to Party. Anybody remember Papa Roach? They get turned into noir cabaret here. And Fatboy Slim – remember him? – is transformed into more of a spoof of lounge music than of whatever he was (if you missed him, you don’t want to know). Here’s a random torrent.

May 21, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Debutante Hour Cover Up For Once

Musicians know that if you really want to keep an audience’s attention with a cover song, you have to find a way to make it different from the original. Usually the more you change it, the funnier it gets. The Debutante Hour’s new album Follow Me is all cover songs: hip-hop, new wave pop, bluegrass, Phil Spector and indie rock done oldtimey style with accordion, cello and percussion. Is the band being silly? Sarcastic? Serious? With the Debutante Hour, you never know. Accordionist Maria Sonevytsky, cellist Mia Pixley and multi-instrumentalist Susan Hwang’s stagewear may not leave much to the imagination, but their songs do the opposite: their deadpan surrealism isn’t always easy to figure out. Which is what makes them so appealing – aside from their perfectly charming three-part harmonies. And the outfits of course. They definitely were serious about putting the album together, with crystalline production from World Inferno’s Franz Nicolay.

The first song is No Scrubs, originally done by TLC, recast here as a ukelele shuffle. The original was mildly funny and this is funnier (live, it’s absolutely hilarious). When it comes time for the bridge, Baltimore hip-hop diva TK Wonder reminds that girl in the song isn’t a gold digger, she’s just sick of getting hit on by scuzzy guys – beeyatch!

Just What I Needed by the Cars is a horrible song, one cliche after another, absolutely unredeemable unless maybe as death metal or industrial. Here it’s reinvented as a tongue-in-cheek accordion tune, as the Main Squeeze Orchestra might have done it. When Nicolay comes in with his banjo, that’s when it gets really funny.

The third track is an acoustic hip-hop hit by popular Ukrainian duo 5’Nizza (whose name is a Russian pun, meaning “Friday”). It seems to be a come-on (the hook seems to mean something along the lines of “I’m not like that”). To a non-Ukrainian speaker, it comes across as catchy, innocuous trip-hop. The first serious song here is an unselfconsciously beautiful version of the Stanley Bros.’ If That’s the Way You Feel, evocative of the Roulette Sisters. Another serious one is Be My Baby, where they take the generic white doo-wop hit burned out by oldies radio decades ago and make it downright sultry. They close with the Flaming Lips’ Do You Realize. If you missed the original, it’s Brian Jonestown Massacre-style nouveau psychedelia, in this case a third-rate John Lennon imitation with really awful (and kind of morbid) lyrics. The Debutante Hour’s version plays down the death fixation and plays up the pretty tune. They’re at Joe’s Pub on 3/25 at 7 PM.

Since now we know that the Debutante Hour’s covers are as fun and interesting as their originals, here’s some other cover ideas: John Sheppard or Thomas Tallis’ death-fixated sixteenth-century plainchant with intricate harmonies that scream out gothically for a reinterpretation by the Debutante Hour! How about Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, which is so idiotic that it wouldn’t be hard to have a little fun with – maybe bring back TK Wonder for that one? Gogol Bordello’s Start Wearing Purple, which pretty much everybody knows, and could use some harmonies? Camay by Ghostface Killah? The Girl’s Guide to the Modern Diva by Black Box Recorder? Vladimir Vysotksky’s acoustic gypsy-punk revolutionary anthem Okhata Na Volkov (The Wolf Hunt)? Just brainstorming here…

March 13, 2011 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 2/25/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #704:

The Nig-Heist Album

We’ve previously featured some pretty raunchy comedy albums by 2 Live Crew, Blowfly and Millie Jackson here. But all that is G-rated compared to the Nig-Heist. The creation of Steve “Mugger” Corbin, a roadie for Black Flag, the band put out a single album in 1984 that remains one of the most obscenely funny (some would say absolutely tasteless) records ever made. Backed by a rotating cast of musicians he toured with, he’d typically take the stage dressed in drag, bait the audience and then spew one twisted, sexually explicit song after another. Most of them have less to do with actual sex than masturbation or simply getting drunk; none of this was meant to be taken the least bit seriously. The titles pretty much speak for themselves: Love in Your Mouth; Tight Little Pussy; Hot Muff; Slurp a Delic; Balls on Fire; and a deadpan Velvets cover retitled If She Ever Comes. The album was reissued as a double cd in 1998 along with a collection of dodgily recorded live stuff that’s more notable for the between-song banter than the songs themselves. Meanwhile, Corbin worked his way up from roadie to label co-owner and then went into the computer business, where he made millions during the late 90s dotcom boom. Here’s a random torrent via the excellent punknotprofit.

February 25, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Roulette Sisters’ New Album Is a Winner

Oldtimey harmony hellraisers the Roulette Sisters burst on the New York scene in the mid-zeros. They were one of the first groups to have a Saturday night residency at Barbes, put out a wickedly fun debut album, Nerve Medicine (which made our 1000 Best Albums of All Time list), and then went their separate ways for awhile. Resonator guitarist Mamie Minch made a career for herself as a solo artist, releasing her defiant solo debut, Razorburn Blues in 2008. Meanwhile, electric guitarist/banjo uke player Meg Reichardt joined forces with Kurt Hoffman in charming French chanson revivalists Les Chauds Lapins, washboard player Megan Burleyson kept busy in New York’s “hottest washboard swing ensemble,” the 4th St. Nite Owls, and violist Karen Waltuch maintained a career as a player and composer encompassing everything from klezmer, to country, to the avant garde. They reunited last year, and they’ve got a new album out, Introducing the Roulette Sisters, whose title makes sense in that this is Waltuch’s first full-length recording with the group

They open and close the album with lushly beautiful harmony-driven songs; a viscerally plaintive cover of A. P. Carter’s The Birds Were Singing of You, with a poignant guitar solo from Reichardt and lead vocal from Minch, and at the end a winsome version of Baby Please Loan Me Your Heart by Papa Charlie Jackson. Likewise, they take It Could’ve Been Sweet, by Leon Chase – of hilarious cowpunk band Uncle Leon & the Alibis – rearranging it into a shuffle that becomes a sad waltz on the chorus: “I’m not looking for a twenty year loan, just a little something extra to get me home.” The rest of the album is the innuendo-laden fun stuff that they’re best known for.

Your Biscuits Are Big Enough for Me, the Bo Carter novelty song, gets a female perspective. A Reichardt original, In the Shade of the Magnolia Tree, is an outdoor boudoir tune in a balmy Carolina setting. Burleyson does a pitch-perfect hot 20s bluesmama evocation on Hattie Hart’s I Let My Daddy Do That – as in getting her ashes hauled, i.e. opening the door to the coal chute. As funny as the vocals are, it’s one of the most musically rich moments here, a lush interweave of acoustic and electric guitars and viola – Waltuch’s pizzicato solo, like a koto playing the blues, is as much a showstopper as it is in concert.

Their version of Do Da Lee Do takes an old western swing standard and adds lyrics out of Reichardt’s collection of bawdy songs from over the years: “Roses are red and ready for plucking, I’m sixteen and ready for high school,” for example. Scuddling, by Frankie Half Pint Jaxon, is a “dance” you can do by yourself – which you could also do with someone else if they were willing – but definitely not in public. And Al Duvall’s Jake Leg Blues explores the legacy of Jamaica ginger, a Prohibition-era concoction whose side effects produced a whole lot of Eves without Adams: “In the garden I hang my head, I’m grabbing for apples now the snake is dead,” Minch snorts authoritatively. The album comes in a charming, old-fashioned sleeve handmade on an antique letterpress. There are hundreds of bands who mine the treasures of oldtime blues and Americana, few with the fearlessness and sass of the Roulette Sisters. As fun as it is to see them in small clubs in Brooklyn, where they really deserve to be is Lincoln Center, doing their vastly more entertaining version of a great American songbook.

January 19, 2011 Posted by | blues music, country music, folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 1/10/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Monday’s is #750:

Blotto – Collected Works

It makes sense that we’d follow Blue Oyster Cult with these Albany, New York pranksters, frequent tourmates in the early 80s and one of the funniest bands ever to go into the studio. Like a louder Weird Al Yankovic, their parodies extended beyond radio pop. Their early MTV hit was I Wanna Be a Lifeguard, a Beach Boys spoof, and the flip side of the single was appropriately titled The B-Side: the single has the hit, but the poor b-side “ain’t got nothing.” Goodbye Mr. Bond is an epic satire of James Bond movies, and Henry Mancini; She’s Got a Big Boyfriend and Gimme the Girl are more straight-up comedy with a beat. The classic moments here are We Are the Nowtones, a brutal sendup of bar bands (someone in the crowd hollers “Play something good!”); Metalhead (a live tour de force that bludgeons every heavy metal cliche ever invented) and My Baby’s the Star of a Driver’s Ed Movie, a spoof of death-on-the-highway pop: after the accident, the dead girl’s boyfriend wants everybody to remember that her underwear was clean. During their heyday, the band put out just a single album and a few ep’s; this independent reissue from the early zeros includes pretty much everything. Here’s a random torrent; the cd is up on cdbaby. The surviving band members reunite frequently for live dates in upstate New York and are as amusing as ever.

January 10, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 12/26/10

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues as it does every day, all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #765:

Songs by Tom Lehrer

“What I like to do is to take some of the songs that we know and presumably love [pause for audience snickering] and get them when they’re down, and kick them.” From the time he debuted with this 1953 independently released, lo-fi solo piano album, Tom Lehrer understood that 90% of humor is based on cruelty. The prototypical funny guy with the piano was still at Harvard when he pressed a few dozen copies for his friends and classmates who’d seen his shtick in the student lounge. If he came out with this kind of stuff today, no doubt he’d have billions of youtube hits. Hostile, sarcastic and fearless, his satire is spot-on and strikingly timeless, despite the fact that it relies exclusively on innuendo and is therefore G-rated. One by one, he skewers dumb college football songs (Fight Fiercely, Harvard); hillbilly music (I Wanna Go Back to Dixie); cowboy songs (The Wild West Is Where I Want to Be); ghoulish Irish ballads; Stephen Foster-style schmaltz (My Home Town); and Strauss waltzes (The Weiner Schnitzel Waltz). He also includes an early stoner anthem (The Old Dope Peddler), a klezmer parody (Lobachevsky) that does double duty as a satire of academia, I Hold Your Hand in Mine (which predates the Addams Family) and When You Are Old and Grey, a snide and equally ghoulish sendup of old people. While it doesn’t have the Vatican Rag, I Got It from Agnes, Pollution or Poisoning Pigeons in the Park, it’s the most consistently excellent Lehrer collection out there. If you like this stuff you’ll also probably like his 1959 live album An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer. He retired from music early in the 1960s and went on to a slightly less acclaimed but ostensibly just as rewarding career as a Harvard math professor. Here’s a random torrent.

December 25, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 12/17/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #774:

The Viper Mad Blues anthology

This compilation features old songs from the late 20s through the 40s about smoking pot, and occasionally, snorting coke. This old jazz and country shizzit is more punk than the Ramones and more gangsta than L’il Wayne ever dreamed of, and although it was banned from the radio it was wildly popular in its day. The coolest thing about the 25 tracks here is that only two of them, Cab Calloway’s 1935 hit Kicking the Gong Around (which is actually about smoking opium), and a gleefully adrenalized version of Leadbelly’s coke anthem Take a Whiff on Me, are really obvious. The others have proliferated thanks to youtube and file sharing, but when the compilation came out in 1989, it was a tremendous achievement…for those who like funny songs about drugs, at least. If ragtime guitar star Luke Jordan’s Cocaine Blues (not the version you’re thinking of) is to be believed, that stuff was a staple of hillbilly life back in 1927. Some other highlights: Larry Adler’s hilarious 1938 hit Smoking Reefers; Cleo Brown’s deadpan The Stuff Is Here and It’s Mellow; Champion Jack Dupree’s Junker’s Blues, a kick-ass piano boogie from 1944; Baron Lee & the Blue Rhythm Band’s 1935 tribute to their dealer, Reefer Man; and Fats Waller’s Reefer Song: “Hey, cat, it’s 4 o’clock in the morning, here we are in Harlem, everybody’s here but the police and they’ll be here in a minute. It’s high time, so here it is…” Here’s a random torrent.

December 17, 2010 Posted by | country music, jazz, lists | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Boston Band Unearths Long-Lost Esquivel Big Band Charts: Why?

Now we go from the sublime to the ridiculous. Back in Mexico in the 1950s, Juan Garcia Esquivel must have been smoking some seriously generalissimo-grade pot. Like him or not, there’s no denying the psychedelic aspect of his music. The question is, was it any good? Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica – an Either/Orchestra spinoff – offers one possible answer. On their new, period-perfect The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel, a collection of newly rediscovered big-band arrangements by the crazed, vaudevillian Mad Men era bandleader, they’re obviously having a great time. Which on one level is understandable: from a musician’s point of view, any time you get to use a bass marimba, or punctuate a big band chart with a pedal steel cadenza, it’s nothing if not a jolt to the senses. But some of this is so cheesy that it calls into question whether or not Esquivel actually liked these songs – or if he even liked jazz, or music, at all.

It’s important not to confuse an artist or their work with their fan base. It makes no more sense to associate Esquivel with the first-wave trendoids who fueled his blip of a resurgence in the early 90s than it does to blame Radiohead for the pitchfork/stereogum contingent who worship them. Yet it makes sense that trendoids would fall in love with Esquivel’s “bachelor pad” stylings. Much as Esquivel’s production was cutting-edge, with all those crazy sound effects, all too often it’s style over substance, something that dovetails perfectly with a trendoid esthetic (if you buy the argument that the words “trendoid” and “esthetic” belong in the same sentence). There are moments here that are painfully kitschy – again, the hallmark of a trendoid being an embrace of all things shallow and stupid. But lurking beneath these songs’ whizbang, Keystone Kops vibe is a snotty cynicism that borders on punk. Esquivel’s arrangements are such complete bastardizations that they’re practically hostile. Would Esquivel have preferred ranchera ballads, or norteno accordion music? Or anything other than popular 50s jazz themes? At times, it would seem so. Taken as satire, much of this is irresistibly funny.

Andalucia barrels along at a breakneck pace with snarky little piano glissandos and a kettledrum roll out. Night and Day features a brief fugue between blazing brass and the steel guitar of Tim Obetz, with random bits of lyrics that predate Lee “Scratch” Perry and dub by twenty years. The barely two-minute version of Take the A Train, like much else here, owes a debt to Spike Jones with its tribal percussion and barking horns that winds down into jungly ambience fueled by Rusty Scott’s organ. Boulevard of Broken Dreams is reinvented as a cartoonish cha-cha, slinking along with the scrape of a guacharaca, doot-doot-doot vocals and finally an exuberant Yaure Muniz trumpet solo followed by a surprisingly subdued one on piano by Mr. Ho himself. With its absurdly garish horn chart, Music Makers has gruff baritone sax trading riffs impishly with the steel. And the girlie chorus on Frenesi are clearly unable to keep a straight face as they doot-doot-doot amidst the crazed doublestops of the high brass.

The rest of the album is a mixed bag. Sentimental Journey is simply unlistenable, and Mini Skirt, a familiar theme for surf music fans, hasn’t aged well – in the Cee-Lo Green era, those wolf-whistles are annoyingly cutesy. The three remaining tracks, Let’s Dance, Dancing in the Dark and the surprisingly straight-up, genially bluesy Street Scene are more good-naturedly amusing: lose the steel guitar, the funeral parlor organ and those ridiculous, blaring brass crescendos and what you’d be left with is just plain good big band jazz. Whether the rest of this is jazz, or what it is, is up to you to figure out. Maybe it’s best not to: like Sartre said, once you name something, you kill it.

December 5, 2010 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 11/22/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #799:

Millie Jackson – Live and Uncensored

The funniest woman in soul music, Millie Jackson got her start singing gospel, but by the mid-70s she’d gone from the sacred to the profane and stayed there, taking Bessie Smith innuendo to its logical, smutty extreme. L’il Kim and Foxy Brown have nothing on this woman. Her studio albums were popular for obvious reasons, but her live shows were beyond hilarious. This double live lp from 1979 doesn’t have the classic Lick It Before You Stick It, but it’s got most of her funniest songs, recorded in front of a well-oiled, extremely responsive crowd – as much as she plays the role of a woman who’s been dissed too many times and isn’t going to let a guy do that to her again, the guys love her. She does the innuendo thing with Logs and Thangs, Put Something Down on It and the deviously juvenile Never Change Lovers in the Middle of the Night. The big over-the-top hit – a Beethoven spoof – is the Fuck You Symphony. Much of the time, the band launches into a funk vamp for her to rap over: the best one of these is a particularly venomous, obscene diatribe directed at soap operas and those who watch them (she’s not a fan – she thinks they’re racist and they rot your mind). When she’s on top of her game, her covers, like Sweet Music Man and If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want To Be Right) are viciously satirical – this may be soul music, but the vibe is pure punk rock. This one was reissued sometime in the 90s as a twofer with the equally raunchy 1982 album Live and Outrageous. Now in her sixties, Jackson has toned it down a bit, most recently as the afternoon drive dj on an Atlanta radio station. Here’s a random torrent.

November 22, 2010 Posted by | funk music, lists, Music, music, concert, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment