Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Andy Akiho: Topnotch Pop Tunesmith In Disguise

Andy Akiho may be most closely associated with indie classical music, but underneath the cleverly shapeshifting arrangements on his new album No One to Know One beats the heart of a great pop tunesmith. Atonality may be all the rage (when, since about 1918, has it NOT been all the rage?) but this guy is all about melody. He has a long career in film scores staring him in the face if he wants it. The span from style to style on this record is a long and constantly unexpected one: bits of Middle Eastern music, reggae, noir jazz, Japanese folk songs and brooding 80s pop along with the bright, ringing soca tonalities you would expect from a composer whose axe is the steel pan. It’s a triumphant blend of cutting-edge creativity and accessibility.

The first six tracks here are from his Synesthesia Suite, and are color-coded (Akiho experiences specific pitches as colors). Hadairo (Beige) is the LAST thing you would expect beige to be – it inspired a bright, rhythmic, Balkan-tinged dance with a pointillistic bass solo, a potently dark interlude where the string section mimics the pans and then launches into a series of clever false endings (Akiho has a great wit and employs it generously here). Kiiro (Yellow) begins with a suspenseful music-box vibe enhanced by Maura Valenti’s harp, builds to carnivalesquely orchestrated atonalities and then a creepy waltz that takes on some jarring polyrhythms. Murasaki (Purple) alternates brooding reggae with shimmery glissandos from the harp and pans; Aka (Red) is the weak link here, although it could have been a massive pop hit back in the 80s – think Lisa Lisa or the”La-da-dee, La-da-da” song. Karakurenai (Crimson), a piece for solo prepared steel pan (with certain areas magnetized to shift the pitch downward) half-conceals what sounds like an old Japanese folk song amidst loopy atmospherics and accelerating polyrhythms. The last of the colors here is Daidai Iro (Orange), a trio piece for Akiho with bassist Samuel Adams and drummer Kenneth Salters, revisiting the pop undertone of Red but without the cloying 80s vibe.

The centerpiece here is to wALk Or ruN in wEst harlem (read the toggle for subtext), a richly cinematic noir suite complete with simulated sirens and several chase scenes. It’s literally a movie for the ears: furtive polyrhythms, temporary respite at a safe house, strings rising and then screeching apprehensively and flurries of high woodwinds balanced against a relentless march and an ending which is pure menace. It was the hit of the Bang on a Can Marathon in 2008 and is just as much a showstopper here.

By contrast, The Ray’s End, a trio piece for pan, trumpet and violin juxtaposes a wary chromatic vamp with hypnotic ambience punctuated by Akiho’s judiciously spacious pan accents. NO one To kNOW one (read the toggle again) is another suspense movie, this one set in a disco invaded by Ian Rosenbaum’s vibraphone assault (he plays this one with chopsticks) and later an apprehensive, Middle Eastern-flavored dialogue between Akiho and Mariel Roberts’ cello. There’s a LOL-funny Beatles quote a little later on that’s too good to give away here. The album ends with 21, just pan and cello building loops that venture tensely into a thicket of interwoven melody and textural contrasts. These are just the highlights: to really enjoy all the entertainment this album has to offer, you need headphones and time alone. It’s out now on Innova.

December 6, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Robin O’Brien’s The Empty Bowl: Full of Treasures

Robin O’Brien is best known is one of this era’s most electrifying singers, someone whose finessse matches her fiery, soulful wail. As compelling and original a singer as she is, she’s also an eclectic songwriter, as much at home in 60s-style psychedelic pop as hypnotic 90s trip-hop, British folk or garage rock. Over the last couple of years, insurgent Chicago label Luxotone Records has issued two intense, riveting albums of her songs, Eye and Storm and The Apple in Man, label head George Reisch mixing her voice and serving as a one-man orchestra in the same vein as Jon Brion’s work with Aimee Mann. Her latest release, The Empty Bowl – “a song cycle about romantic hunger” – is her first collection of brand-new material in over a decade, and it was worth the wait. She’s never sung better: ironically, on this album, she reaches up the scale less frequently for the spine-tingling crescendos she’s best known for, instead using the subtleties of her lower register throughout a characteristically diverse collection of songs. Reisch’s orchestrations are gorgeous – typically beginning with a wary, stately riff and simple rhythm and build to a lush, rich blend of organic, analog-style textures.

Some of these songs rock surprisingly hard. The most bone-chilling, poweful one is There’s Somebody Else in My Soul, a psychedelic folk-rock song that wouldn’t be out of place on one of Judy Henske’s late 60s albums. Like Henske, O’Brien cuts loose with an unearthly wail in this eerie, minor-key tale of emotional displacement, driven by eerie, reverberating electric harpsichord. Likewise, on the hypnotically insistent, aptly titled Suffering, O’Brien veers back and forth between an evocation of raw madness and treasured seconds of clarity. And Sad Songs, a slowly uncoiling anthem packed with regret and longing, evokes Amy Rigby at her loudest and most intense.

The most suspensefully captivating song here is Lavendar Sky. Reisch opens it with a ringing, funereal riff that brings to mind Joy Division’s The Eternal. An anguished account of hope against hope, it builds with richly interwoven guitars, jangling, clanging, ringing low and ominous and then takes a completely unexpected detour in a practically hip-hop direction. Other songs here build from stately, melancholy Britfolk themes, notably Gold, a haunting, metaphorically loaded traveler’s tale similar to Penelope Houston’s efforts in that vein. There’s also Stranger, which rises from a tense simplicity to a swirl of darkly nebulous, otherworldly vocal harmonies; The Weave, a brooding, cello-driven tone poem; and the closing track, Foolsgold, another traveler’s tale, Reisch’s piano plaintive against the strings ascending beneath O’Brien’s apprehensive river of loaded imagery.

Kathy starts out funky and builds to a menacing garage rock shuffle: it could be a song about revenge, or maybe about revenge on an unreliable alter ego. The rest of the material isn’t anywhere near as bleak: the opening track, Deep Blue, sways with a Joni Mitchell-esque soul vibe, some marvelously nuanced vocals and a tersely beautiful arrangement that slowly adds guitar and keyboard textures until the picture is complete. Anime builds gracefully from a circling folk guitar motif, with a dreamy ambience; and Water Street, a hopeful California coast tableau, sets O’Brien’s Laura Nyro-style inflections against sweeping, richly intricate orchestration. It’s nice to see O’Brien at the absolute peak of her powers both as a songwriter and a song stylist, fifteen years after the big record labels’ flirtation with her.

November 14, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/27/11

As we usually do every day – but didn’t do over the previous very, very lost weekend – our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album was #461:

Rasputina – Oh Perilous World

The original cello rockers, Rasputina have been putting out great albums for almost 20 years, frontwoman Melora Creager backed by an increasingly shifting cast of characters. This is her finest hour, from 2007: she’s always been a great lyricist as well as a composer, but she really took it to the next level with these torrentially metaphorical songs that deliver a very subtle but absolutely brutal critique of the Bush regime’s reign of terror and the paranoia they spread in the wake of 9/11. All this takes place against a backdrop of global warming (1816 the Year Without a Summer), basic human rights taking a beating (Choose Me for a Champion), and anthrax scares engineered from inside the government (Incident in a Medical Clinic). Only in Draconian Crackdown does she let down her guard and blast the traitors of 9/11 for their cowardice. Otherwise, the journey from Child Soldier Rebellion to Bring Back the Egg Unbroken to Old Yellowcake (weapons of mass destruction – get it?) is a treacherous and grotesquely graphic one, and Creager leaves no stone unturned. A courageous and mighty blow for democracy whose time may not have come yet. Here’s a random torrent.

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

Album of the Day 10/22/11

As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #466:

Message – From Books and Dreams

A cynic would call this 1973 album a Nektar ripoff – and with the galloping tempos, trippy orchestration and soaring, growling, melodic bass, that influence is definitely there. But this German stoner art-rock/metal band with a Scottish singer is a lot more diverse than that here. And a lot darker too: the skull on the cover pretty much gives it away. Some of this is sludgy and Sabbath-y; other times it goes in a jazz direction, with alto sax far more interesting than you’d typically hear from bands like this. It’s a suite, if not a fully realized concept album, beginning ambient and creepy like ELO’s Eldorado Overture, then blasting into the first multi-part segment, Dreams, followed by the sax/metal guitar instrumental Turn Over (which has a hilarious ending). Side two is a quieter but just as macabre continuation titled Sigh, followed by the long, ominously crescendoing Nightmares and its absolutely chilling ending. Now that youtube allows for long tracks, there’s a stream of the whole album here; here’s a random torrent via Fantasy 0807.

October 22, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/14/11

As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album was #474:

The New Trolls – Concerto Grosso

The New Trolls are sort of the Italian Genesis. This 1971 suite is something of a Mediterranean counterpart to Peter Gabriel’s playful, dramatic early Genesis, juxtaposing classical themes with catchy, surreal, Beatlesque art-rock that foreshadowed what ELO would be doing by the end of the decade. They kick it off with a lively, baroque tinged theme, rip off their fellow countryman Albinoni on the stately, stoic Adagio, go into potently chilling Vivaldi territory with the Cadenza – Andante and then the real classic, the darkly pensive Shadows. Side two is ostensibly a jam, although its endlessly shifting permutations, from Grateful Dead-style garage-rock vamps, to Blues Magoos stomps, to spacy drum-circle ambience, leads you to believe that it was all planned in advance. The band has been through a million different incarnations but are still around and still playing fascinatingly elaborate music. Here’s a random torrent via Prog Possession.

October 16, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/29/11

Pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album was #489:

Bee & Flower – What’s Mine Is Yours

The New York/Berlin band’s 2004 debut is a stark, often haunting mix of stately, slow-to-midtempo art-rock songs: some of them dirges, some more atmospheric, with slight variations on frontwoman/bassist Dana Schechter’s various shades of grey. The catchy, relentless opening track I Know Your Name sets the tone, followed by the aptly titled, glimmering Twin Stars and the menacing funeral processional Wounded Walking. The pastoral Carpenter’s Fern is as light as it gets here; On the Mouth the most upbeat, which is not really a lot. There’s also the sardonic Let It Shine and then anthemic, Joy Division-tinged closing cut, This Time. Everything else the band has released since then is worth a listen; here’s a random torrent via My Melomania. The album is still available from the band.

September 30, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/23/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Today we’re playing catchup. Tuesday’s album was #525:

Melomane – Glaciers

This eclectic 2007 release captures the lushly lyrical New York art-rockers at the top of their game. It opens with the blackly amusing Hilarious, a breezy Crowded House-ish art-pop tune, frontman/guitarist Pierre de Gaillande blithely chatting up a girl while the climate and the arms race heat up on all sides. Unfriendly Skies is Elvis Costello’s Radio Radio for the millennial generation, followed by the darkly romantic Open Invitation and then Nobody, which takes a turn into tropicalia with its bossa rhythm, trumpet and strings. The real classic here is The Ballot Is the Bullet, a quietly ferocious, stately funeral march in advance for the Bush regime. There’s also the defiantly populist, catchy Little Man’s Castles; the quirky, psychedelic mini-suite This Is Skyhorse; the clever satirical, Gruppo Sportivo-esque Pistolla di Colla (Italian for “glue gun”) and the pensive Thin Ice. The whole thing is streaming at myspace, of all places; strangely missing from the usual sources for free music, it’s still available from Melomane’s site. In the years since this came out, De Gaillande has gone on to equally gripping projects including the Snow (see #890 on this list) and his Bad Reputation project, which plays witty English translations of classic Georges Brassens songs.

August 27, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Piñataland Release Their Best Album This August 26

Over the years, Brooklyn “historical orchestrette” Piñataland has staked out an elegantly manicured piece of turf as purveyors of an inimitable brand of historically aware, hyper-literate chamber pop. Their new album Hymns for the Dreadful Night – streaming in its entirety online – is their hardest-rocking effort to date, their least opaque and by far their best. Their previous one Songs for a Forgotten Future, Vol. 2 contemplated a Manhattan without humans, and the still-smoldering ghost town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, among other places. This one skips in a heartbeat from the American Revolution (a recurrent milieu) to various eras of New York, across the country and back again. The driving rhythm section of Ross Bonadonna on bass and Bill Gerstel on drums give the louder songs here a mighty majesty – there are plenty of warmly inviting string-driven pop bands out there, nobody who attacks those songs with as much verve as Piñataland. Violinist Deni Bonet is a one-woman orchestra, showing off sizzling Balkan, country and classical chops, frequently contrasting with Dave Wechsler’s pensive, rain-drenched piano and organ.

The title track, which opens the album, is exactly as advertised, a gospel prelude of sorts. From there they leap into Island of Godless Men, a bouncy fiddle-driven Irish rock tune a la Black 47 with a clever trick ending and then a delirious reel to finish it off. An American Man is like Mumford & Sons on steroids, a rousing homage to Thomas Paine delivered via a team of archeologists (or graverobbers?) gone out into the darkness to find his grave.

A violin-fueled anger drives The Death of Silas Deane, which commemorates the Continental Congress’ first ambassador to France, later brought down (and possibly murdered) in the wake of an embezzlement scandal of which he was quite possibly innocent (and was officially exonerated, forty years after his death). “Let my reputation crawl through the mud of this unforgiving land,” the onetime Revolutionary hero rails at the end. The real classic here is a country song, Oppie Struck a Match, which recasts the detonation of the first atom bomb as the creepy tale of a rainmaker in a small town fifty years previously. Gerald Menke’s dobro ripples blithely as singer Doug Stone recalls the dreadful moment where Robert Oppenheimer, the “master from the other side” gave the order: “Will he open a cage to a heavenly age or set the skies onfire?”

The rest of the album is more allusive. Robin Aigner, who lights up many of these songs with her harmonies, knocks one out of the park with her lead vocal on the lush countrypolitan shuffle Border Guard, and plays her cameos to the hilt against Menke’s big-sky pedal steel whine on Hiawatha, a surreal, theatrical cross-country radio dial epic. The most chilling song on the album, musically at least, is The Oldest Band in Town, a bitter, Balkan-flavored requiem set in a Lower Bowery of the mind. The album closes with the towering, bittersweet, death-fixated anthem Cemetery Mink. Pinataland play the album release for this one this Friday the 26th at Barbes at 11; another first-class tunesmith, Greta Gertler kicks things off at 10.

August 24, 2011 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/10/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #538:

Bobby Vacant and the Weary – Tear Back the Night

We picked this as one of the best albums of 2009. It’s as much a masterpiece of simple, potently imagistic wordsmithing as it is musically, multi-instrumentalist George Reisch a.k.a. The Weary giving these haunted, alienated songs the gravitas they deserve with some stunningly eclectic arrangements. Stand in Time gets an elegaic, vintage Moody Blues chamber pop treatment, while the surprisingly witty Waveflowers paints a portrait of slipping away in the night against a vividly nocturnal mid-period Pink Floyd style backdrop. Bobby Vacant opens the album by cautioning everybody to stay away; by the end, he’s willing to open the door a crack. In between, he chronicles acid casualties, sold-out ex-idealists and the down-and-out on the Arthur Lee-esque Clark Street and the snide country-rock romp Dylan’s Dead. The death obsession goes front and center on the dirge Some Walk; the most powerful songs here are the title track, a creepy post-party scenario, and Never Looking Back, a bitter, morbid escape anthem set to a triumphant janglerock tune that will resonate with anyone who ever felt surrounded and threatened by people who just don’t get it. Too obscure to make it to the sharelockers, it’s still available from the excellent Chicago label Luxotone, where you can hear the whole thing. Bobby Vacant continues as a solo artist while running another excellent upstart label, Switzerland’s Weak Records.

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

Sweepingly Gorgeous Neo-Psychedelia from Beaulieu Porch

If you like psychedelic rock, you may already know about this: if not, you’re in for a treat. Beaulieu Porch’s debut single, The Colour 55 is lush, dreamy, mellotron-fueled psychedelic chamber pop created by Salisbury, UK one-man band Simon Berry. It’s everything that’s good about this style of music: crescendoing verse, catchy chorus, soaring string section, gracefully meandering lead guitar. Don’t walk away, Renee, go to the Peppermint Hill bandcamp page where you can get this practically six-minute gem on 7″ vinyl or as a download.

The B-side, Navy Blue, is just as good. Opening with wickedly catchy, distantly ominous acoustic guitar and echoey synth, it goes a little late-Beatlesque with some deliciously creepy funeral organ. In case you might be interested, the folks who put this out also released the Smiles and Frowns’ fantastic psychedelic debut album last year.

July 29, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments