Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Top Ten Songs of the Week 8/10/09

We do this every Tuesday, even today as we lie low in the heat. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Pretty much every link here will take you to each individual song.

1. The Oxygen Ponies – The War Is Over

Noir 60s pop redone as ferocious Bush-era antifascist rant. From their killer new cd Harmony Handgrenade.

2. Norden Bombsight – Snakes

Big dark noir rock tune like a lo-fo Botanica – magnificent stuff. They’re at Small Beast at the Delancey on 9/9.

3. Pray for Polanski – It’s a Lie

Scurrying noir blues, good stuff. They’re at Trash on 8/15 at 8.

4. Animus – Turkiko

AMAZING Greek/gypsy/Middle Eastern band. They will blow you away. They’re at Trash on 8/16 at 11.

5. Jesse Alexander & the Big Fatt – Pretty Promises

Boisterous, slightly Waits-ish oldtimey ska/ragtime inflected band w/horns and strings. “You’ll feel like you’re on drugs but in a good way.” At Trash on 8/15 at 11.

6. Kris Sour – LA Makeover

New Yorker shellshocked in El Lay – spot-on and catchy too!

7. Shonen Knife – Super Group

They’re back with a new bassist and sound exactly like they did ten years ago. And the song modulates! They’re coming to the Brooklyn Bowl in November.

8. Brother Joscephus & the Love Revival Revolution Orchestra – I Won’t Be That Man

Deliciously dark vintage 60s sounding New Orleans soul. They’re at Sullivan Hall on 8/14 at 10 opening for the Rebirth Brass Band

9. The DarlingsI’m Not Going

Sure, it’s a Jesus & Mary Chain ripoff, but it’s a lot of fun. They’re at Death by Audio on 8/14 at 11ish.

10. Willie Nile – House of 1000 Guitars

Sort of the NYC version of Leonard Cohen’s Tower of Song, title track from the killer new album.

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August 11, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Randi Russo and the Oxygen Ponies at the Saltmines, Brooklyn NY 7/10/09

Randi Russo has gotten a ton of ink here, and deservedly so: she’s simply one of the most powerful songwriters in rock, and a casually compelling live performer as well. In an invite-only show Friday night in a comfortable Dumbo rehearsal space, she treated a crowd of avid fans and friends to a set of mostly fan favorites, many of which will probably someday be regarded as classics. Characteristically resolute, quietly fearless, playing electric nylon-string guitar and accompanied by her longtime lead guitarist Lenny Molotov on acoustic, she got into a zone early on and stayed there, from the opening notes of Venus on Saturn – a corrosive dismissal of a drama queen – to the pretty, pastoral outro of the atmospheric, optimistic Ceiling Fire.

In between she did the ridiculously catchy nonconformist anthem Invisible, the big, anthemic crowd-pleaser Push-Pull, the towering, fiery, flamenco-inflected So It Must Be True (“Everything that’s good for them ain’t always good for you,” she reminded calmly), a fascinating, stripped-down version of the Middle Eastern-inflected stomp Head High While You Lie Low and the hypnotic Hurt Me Now. She picked up the pace again with a particularly biting version of the sarcastic pink-collar anthem Battle on the Periphery and finally cut loose with a wail on the relatively new Swallow, a vivid evocation of the pain of choking on thwarted ambitions and dreams. A playful version of the fast, scurrying Parasitic People provided a little, but not a lot, of comic relief.

Russo was doing double duty, next joining Oxygen Ponies frontman Paul Megna on percussion for an equally intense duo show. The Oxygen Ponies are off on their UK tour about a week from now and audiences there are in for a treat. Megna was every bit as much on top of his game as Russo, the two swaying through a mix of old and new material and the same two covers they played at their show here last week (a devious yet plaintive Cars song and a dexterously fingerpicked, hypnotic cover of Love Vigilantes by New Order, playing up the song’s antiwar theme much in the same vein as Laura Cantrell’s version). As strong as the songs from the OxPos’ new cd Harmony Handgrenade (a strong contender for best album of 2009) were, the older material had just as much snarl and passion, even a couple of vivid portayals of clinical depression, The Truest Thing and Chainsmoking. Of the newer songs, Megna and Russo brought out every ounce of blithe sarcasm in the suburban satire Fevered Cyclones along with characteristic fire in the anguished Love Yr Way and a roaring, crescendoing take of the biting garage rock anthem The War Is Over. Then it was back to the older material with a practically confrontational version of the angst ballad Brooklyn Bridge. At the end of the year, Lucid Culture always puts up a Best NYC Live Shows list and while there’s no way that it could ever be so comprehensive as to be remotely authoritative, you’ll probably see this one there.  

Afterward, there was a break to watch the end of Jonathan Sanchez’ no-hitter against the Padres and then a long jam where an audience member named Oliver took over handling the percussion and proved himself a perfectly competent timekeeper, in fact considerably better than the drunken bass player.

July 12, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Lenny Molotov and the Oxygen Ponies at the Saltmines, Brooklyn NY 7/3/09

Three hundred years ago, most low-key musical performances took place in private homes rather than on any kind of public stage. In yet another indication of how the future is reprising the past, there’s been a new and somewhat welcome trend in New York music circles, taking the old loft show idea to the next level: friends and fans of the band only, no advertising, strictly word of mouth. This was one of those shows. Opening act Lenny Molotov has gotten a tremendous amount of ink here, by virtue of his own oldtimey Americana songwriting as well as his longtime association with Randi Russo, whether playing bass or guitar in her band. Suffice it to say that Friday’s show with Ray Sapirstein on trumpet was as richly virtuosic as always. On the newer songs, it was like an oldschool jazz or blues session: Molotov would call out the key and Sapirstein would invariably find something interesting or appropriate to add. They did two songs about boxing (Randi Russo deviously adding synth flourishes to one of them), a rousing hobo song, a Lightning Hopkins blues and a couple of ragtime-inflected numbers.

The Oxygen Ponies followed with a characteristically brilliant, lyrical show, this time around just frontman/guitarist Paul Megna on a beautiful Danelectro hollowbody and Russo alternating between keys, percussion and backing vocals. The band’s latest cd Harmony Handgrenade (very favorably reviewed here) has been blowing up recently, and they’re capitalizing with a UK tour toward the end of the month. This set mixed new material with older and unreleased stuff plus a couple of devious covers: the Cars’ It’s All I Can Do was given the total noir treatment, while New Order’s Love Vigilantes became a stark antiwar dirge remarkably similar to the Laura Cantrell cover. The defiant soul-inflected anthem Grab Yr Gun was as sarcastic as the recorded version, with Russo’s deadpan harmonies; The War Is Over, a fiery, 60s-ish garage rock stomp on the album, was recast as ominous folk-rock. A new song, The Saddest Thing I’ve Ever Seen maintained the defiant feel: “When the angels come for me/I will not go comfortably,” Megna intoned. Another new number, said Megna was directed at someone “who won’t talk to me anymore since they became a movie star.” “I can’t save you…I always listened when you talked about yourself,” he railed. They closed with a couple of numbers from their first album, notably the hypnotic, antagonistic, Velvets-inflected Brooklyn Bridge. The UK is definitely in for a treat here.

The Oxygen Ponies play two other secret shows in the next couple of weeks, email for password/location/time.

July 7, 2009 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: The Oxygen Ponies – Harmony Handgrenade

Call the Oxygen Ponies’ second album Love in a Time of Choler. Recorded during the last months of the Bush regime, it’s an attempt to reconcile the search for some sort of transcendence with the need to overthrow an enemy occupation. It’s also a strong contender for best album of 2009 (stay tuned!). Savagely lyrical, swirling and psychedelic, the obvious comparison is to the great Australian rockers the Church, although sonically and texturally a lot of it is gentler and sometimes more overtly 60s-influenced. Lots of dynamics here, organ and piano floating in and out, backing vocals sometimes adding a gospel choir flavor: it’s a triumph for producer Don Piper. Many of the tracks feature indie rock siren Randi Russo’s velvet vocals adding subtlety and menace. Frontman Paul Megna has always been a formidable lyricist, but here he vaults into the uppermost echelon. The cd’s opening track Love Yr Way begins skeletal, almost Leonard Cohen-esque, before leaping to an ecstatic crescendo at the end:

 

They broke my itchy trigger finger

Scratched an X upon my door

When they hang this message bringer

Blood will rain down through the floor

 

The insistent, midtempo Fevered Cyclones pans to a less-than-idyllic outer-borough hell:

 

We live like clones in our suburban homes

Substituting plastic to get by

You got the best, you want the rest

And you don’t think you’re living a lie

 

The War Is Over, a percussive garage rock stomp, throws another elbow at someone a little too perfect to believe:

 

The war is over, the bastards won

Don’t leave home without your lungs

They’ll shoot your mouth off without a pause

Every body has its flaws

But not you…

The war is over

The heroes lost

Cauterize the permafrost

 

The title track somewhat woozily chronicles two curiously named, possibly fictional, possibly pseudonymous women, Harmony Handgrenade and Melody Marzipan and the nasty repercussions their nonconformity brings them. Yet, it ends on a hopeful note. Grab Yr Gun begins slow and pensive, building to a catchy garage-pop chorus and then goes gospel, and satirically so: “Let your gun be your guide.” A big, scorching rocker, Finger Trigger evokes the loudest stuff on the Church’s Priest = Aura album, desperately flailing for some kind of hope, “Anything to dissipate the grey skies falling.” But it’s too late:

 

You and I and everyone waiting for a brighter sun to shine

We’re wasting time…

I can feel the terrorist inside of me

Choking on the apple of your eye

Hurry up, don’t be late, they’re gonna kill you where you sleep

Shut your mouth, shut your eyes and count the bombs in your heartbeat

 

The most indelibly Bush-era cut is the pensive, hypnotic, yet absolutely defiant, Steve Kilbey-esque Villains:

 

All you mystic gurus

Liars thieves and whores

A plague upon your houses

And all your holy wars

All you self defeatists

I call you all to arms

If we stop medicating

Then who will buy the farm

The fuckers in the White House

Hate your family…

We’ve got a long drive home

 

Defiance reaches a peak on the swinging, macabre ragtime tune Smile, shades of the late, great Douce Gimlet. The cd winds up on a somewhat subdued, sardonic note with A Bottle Marked the Enemy: “They’re gonna come for you, when they comfort you.” Like Simone de Beauvoir’s The Mandarins or the Dead Kennedys’ Frankenchrist, this album perfectly captures a time and place, if one that 5.9 billion people would rather forget. There’s undoubtedly a post-Bush era indie film out there that could match up with this much like Garden State did with the Shins. Maybe more than anything else, this is a cautionary tale, a vivid reminder of where complacency got us the last time around.

May 18, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 3/9/09

We do this every Tuesday, in the tradition of Kasey Kasem for the acts we’ll probably never see, or didn’t get the chance to review when they were in town, or just discovered somewhere because they’re cool or they’re funny, or just reviewed and can’t stop listening to them. Enjoy. All the links below will either take you to the song or to the band’s site.

 

1. The Oxygen Ponies – Love Yr Way

 

I sold my soul for education

Every day I pay the debt

My entire generation

Better find a tourniquet…

When they hang this message bringer

Blood will rain down through the floor

 

Opening cut on the long-awaited Harmony Handgrenade album, coming in May.

 

2. Escarioka – La Nueva Era

Fast, furious, spooky ska en Espanol sounds like Maldita circa 1995! They’re doing a benefit on 3/21 at 7 PM at Revolution Books 146 W. 26th between 6th and 7th Ave.

 

3. Lorrie Doriza – Girl in the Basement

Noir cabaret with a touch of Kate Bush and a little gospel in the voice.

 

4. Graham Bonnet – Whisper in the Night

This histrionic bellower used to front wanky late 70s metal acts like Rainbow and the Michael Schenker Group. Believe it or not, this is a youtube clip of an actually serviceable cover of the classic, haunting Roy Wood song from ELO’s first album. Who knew he had it in him.

 

5. The War on Drugs – A Needle in Your Eye 16

Philly band. This song has an anthemic nuevo Dylan/Byrds feel – imagine if Simon Joyner could sing. They’re at Union Hall on 3/30.

 

6. Jonathan Coulton – Tom Cruise Crazy

A song that needed to be written. He’s at Symphony Space on 3/27 at 9ish. 

 

7. Mames Babaganush – Kojak Cecek

The Copenhagen klezmer rockers’ motto is “klezmer killed the radio star.” This wild Balkan instrumental has a delirious Gogol Bordello feel to it.

 

8. Wheeler’s Cloud – It’s a Fact Jack

Steely Dan ripoff – funny – right down to the percussion.

 

9. I’ll Be John Brown – Cover Song

This is sort of Golden Shower of Hits for country bands. They’re at Ace of Clubs on 3/26.

 

10. Des RoarThe Watchers

They nick the classic blues Baby Please Don’t Go and turn it into evil garage rock. And here’s a sweet live clip for their classic Ted Bundy Was a Ladies Man. The band is at Vanishing Point on 5/2.

March 10, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Memoriam: Drew Glackin

Multi-instrumentalist Drew Glackin, one of New York’s greatest, most sought-after and best-loved musicians died yesterday of cardiac arrest after collapsing in a hospital emergency room on January 3.

Glackin played virtually every fretted instrument ever invented, and also played keyboards. He could channel any emotion a song called for with fluency, fire and soul, serving as the bass player in the Silos and also as the lapsteel player in the Jack Grace Band. In between those two demanding gigs, he somehow found time to play or record with innumerable other bands and artists including Tandy, Susan Tedeschi, Graham Parker, the Hold Steady, Maynard & the Musties, the Oxygen Ponies, Willard Grant Conspiracy, Mary McBride, the Crash Test Dummies and countless others.

As a bassist, Glackin propelled the Silos and others with a fat groove and uncommonly melodic style. As a guitarist, dobro, steel and mandolin player, he matched passion with restraint. Although gifted with blazing speed and exceptional technique, he never wasted notes. For that reason, he was constantly in demand. Offstage, his dry wit and down-to-earth personality earned him as many friends as his playing did. The New York music scene has suffered a great loss.

January 6, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, New York City, obituary, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Concert Review: Amanda Thorpe/Randi Russo/Ninth House at Hank’s Saloon, Brooklyn NY 8/25/07

Amanda Thorpe has made a career out of joining bands that are ok and making them suddenly great. She did that with the Wirebirds, and recently with the Bedsit Poets. Tonight she showed how, with just her voice, her songs and her new Christian guitar (it’s a gospel model that New York musicians apparently love to play in the guitar store until they notice the big white cross on the headstock). She opened with a Richard Thompson song, a-capella.“That’s as close to Linda Thompson as I can get,” Thorpe sheepishly told the crowd, but what could have been pure hubris wasn’t. As a singer, British expat Thorpe is in the same league, with a similarly haunting, resigned delivery. But she can also belt and wail and has a very playful, jazzy side that she showed off tonight. If and when Norah Jones falls off the radar – not that she should – Thorpe could very well take her place.

She played a lot of material from her forthcoming cd Union Square, including its understatedly wistful, beautifully melancholy title track. Her Bedsit Poets bandmate Edward Rogers joined her onstage for a duet on the sad, knowing The Highs Can’t Beat the Lows. A couple of times, she tried to engage the audience in a singalong, but this fell flat: everybody was too busy listening. The crowd here drinks and gabs: that she got them to shut up pretty much says it all. Her best songs were an unreleased number called the River Song, a bitter tale of rejection and betrayal, and the morbid, 6/8 Bedsit Poets sea chantey Around and Around. She also did a marvelously nuanced version of Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire, jazzed up the Mama Cass hit Dream a Little Dream of Me and closed with a breathtakingly powerful version of the Steve Wynn classic For All I Care, bringing out every ounce of the lyrics’ suicidal wrath.

The only complaint about Randi Russo’s show was that it was too quiet. Otherwise, she and her trio (minus her lead guitarist Lenny Molotov, who was out of town) played a set of some of her most powerful songs, including the hypnotic, pounding, Velvets-inflected One Track Mind (from her obscure Live at CB’s Gallery ep), the eerie, chromatic Adored, the towering, 6/8 alienation anthem Prey and the scathing minor-key dayjob-from-hell number Battle on the Periphery. She’s been playing lead guitar in the Oxygen Ponies lately, and the careening, noisy solo she took toward the end of the unreleased Hurt Me Now turned the atmospheric, melancholy song into a blazing rocker as the rhythm section channeled Joy Division. Tonight, for some reason, all the bands were quiet: at least this put her cutting lyrics and velvety vocals out front and center.

Ninth House frontman Mark Sinnis was celebrating his birthday, and they predictably packed the place. They’ve shuffled their lineup yet again, with a new guitarist. Despite not having had the chance to do much rehearsing, the Anti-Dave, as he calls himself attacked the songs with passion and imagination. Until very recently Ninth House had a very 80s dark anthemic feel, and while the majesty of the songs remains, there’s a newly bluesy, somewhat improvisatory feel to the music, particularly in the interplay between the keyboards and the guitar: an unexpected and very promising development. They burned their way through the swinging, country-inflected When the Sun Bows to the Moon and Mistaken for Love, found some new, bluesy energy in Injury Home (from their second cd Swim in the Silence) and closed with a blistering cover of Ghost Riders in the Sky.

We went to Superfine afterward and were reassured to find this place as good a choice of late-night hang as it’s always been: all the yuppies go home by 1 AM, and the crowd that remains is pretty much like any other crowd you’d find in what used to be New York, a motley crew that keeps to themselves and doesn’t annoy.

August 26, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

CD Review: The Debut Album by the Oxygen Ponies

The great lost Luna album – at least most of it. Darkly glimmering second-generation Velvets rock hasn’t been done so well since Dean Wareham and crew, about 15 years ago. “Get me out!” is the theme that recurs again and again here. The Oxygen Ponies’ debut release is a not a happy album, and it doesn’t end well. It’s a concept record about a breakup and its aftermath, a pungee trap that’s left a thousand songwriters impaled on the sharp bamboo sticks of self-pity and bloated ego. Credit frontman/songwriter Paul Megna for getting through this one with just a few scratches, his morbid sense of humor and withering cynicism solidly intact.

It begins quiet and acoustic with the downcast It’s Yr Life, a theme that will recur later. The next cut, Devotion begins with a 6/8 nice piano intro that comes back in at the end (themes both lyrical and musical abound on this album). “God I hate asking for favors, just get me out of this mess,” complains Megna as dirty, dirgy wall of guitar like Luna or the Jesus & Mary Chain circa their late 80s peak kicks in. After that, Brooklyn Bridge sets the stage for what’s to follow:

Heard you been talking shit my friend
Well you can talk talk all you want
If she gets fuckin’ hit again
It’s the asphalt you will haunt
‘Cause I have known a lot of girls
In that swimming pool called romance
Where simple oysters crush the pearls
With a steel toe’s swift advance
Washington, Washington, god I miss the Brooklyn Bridge
Get me out of Washington, take me where she lives

The next track The Truest Thing begins with tasty, reverberating Wurlitzer electric piano and what sounds like standup bass:

I get up 6 AM
Coffee, paper, back to bed again
Cause the news is never good
I only read the parts I think I should
Think I should write the perfect song
But everything is wanting since you’re gone
I’m up again, 12:15
My body yearns for more caffeine
The coffee burned to the pot
I thought I turned it off
But I forgot

It’s one of the most evocative portrayals of clinical depression ever set to music. It’s followed by Chainsmoking, the big breakup song, with more Wurly and nice layers of guitar on the chorus, evoking the Church at their most atmospheric. There’s a delicious lapsteel solo straight out of the Jon Brion/Aimee Mann school of arranging.

The second side of the album (the cd is divided into two sections, pre-and post-breakup) starts out with the slowly, sadly swinging, slightly jazzy Umbrellas in the Rain with its buoyant, muted horns:

She thinks I’m having a party
She thinks I’m baking a cake
She thinks I’m celebrating
Great

Then the guitars – all jangle, clang and feedback – kick in on Have You Forgotten. Here’s where the Luna/J&MC comparisons are most apt. It’s even more apparent on the next cut I Don’t Know Why, with its insistent rhythm underneath a soaring steel guitar melody. The accusatory Happy Where U R follows, a dead ringer for the J&MC tune Happy When It Rains. If this is intentional, the irony is very clever; if not, it’s a fortuitous coincidence because it works so well.

The slow woozy waves of depression return with Get Over Yrself, turning to mania on Starshine, a glimmering, growling hit waiting to happen. The album winds up with the epic The Quickest Way to Happiness – which leads you straight to hell. “I’ll survive,” intones Megna as the song builds to a majestic, orchestral chorus, but one has to wonder how much he means it.

Don Piper’s pristine production deserves major props for making this cd sound like a vinyl record, drums back in the mix where they should be, vocals slightly out front, guitars always cutting through. Fans of the gutter-poet school of songwriting: Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Shane MacGowan et al. will love this just as much as the guitar aficionados who will revel in the album’s textures. One of the better efforts we’ve heard this year.

June 28, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment