Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Classic From the 80s – Or From Right Now?

If this band had been around in the 80s and had recorded this album then – an era it easily could date from, had the band members not been in diapers or not yet born – it would be a cult classic today, and they would be packing clubs full of kids younger than they are now. On their fourth cd, Here, New York art-rockers Changing Modes leap from one radically dissimilar style to another with gusto, guile and a tunefulness that won’t quit. Blending classical flourishes, punk energy, playful and clever lyrics that draw on 80s new wave and a ubiquitous element of surprise, every time you think you’ve got them figured out, they drop something new on you. They have two first-rate lead singers and one of them plays the theremin – in a way that’s not cheesy or precious. The songs here, most of them clocking in at barely three minutes apiece, evoke such diverse acts as Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Adverts, Captain Beefheart, Pamelia Kurstin and the Go-Go’s.

Ironically, the simplest song on the album is the best – and it might be the best song any band has released this year. Moles, about the “mole people” living deep in the bowels of the New York City subway, is a scampering, ridiculously catchy, jaggedly sinister punk/new wave hit: “Your life underground is not what it seems, it’s worse than your strangest nightmares and better than your wildest dreams.” It goes out on Yuzuru Sadashige’s screaming, off-kilter reverb guitar crescendo, straight out of the Doctors of Madness playbook. The Great Beyond takes a pensive pop ballad and sends it tumbling into the abyss with some ominous Bernard Herrmann atmospherics, while the title track evokes Siouxsie with its eerie, lo-fi organ and skronky guitar – and a stark, classically-tinged piano bridge that comes out of nowhere but makes a perfect fit.

Bookended with a handful of lolcat string synth flourishes, Louise is singer/keyboardist Wendy Griffiths’ stomping powerpop tribute to a furry friend: love ultimately conquers all. Scratchy new wave/punk-pop, like the Cars with a college degree, Cell to Cell features a bizarre, noisy guitar solo from Sadashige, Beefheart as played by PiL’s Keith Levene, maybe. The rest of the album includes an uneasy, ornate ballad sung with effortless, soaring abandon by theremin player Jen Rondeau; a blistering ska-punk number; a playful new wave pop tune with a theremin solo, and a couple of jaunty vaudevillian numbers, one possibly about the evils of gentrification, the other a sarcastic sendup of catty drama queens. Count this among the half-dozen or so best albums of 2010 so far. Changing Modes play Ella (the latin club adjacent to Nice Guy Eddie’s on Ave. A just north of Houston) at 9 PM on June 8.

June 6, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Thomas Truax, Paul Wallfisch and Little Annie, and David J Survive CMJ at the Delancey, NYC 10/22/09

It wasn’t as bad as that: actually, it was transcendent. It’s hard to imagine a better bill in this year’s CMJ atrocity exhibition than Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch’s entrant, part of his weekly salon/extravaganza, Small Beast. Lots of talent on this bill: Pamelia Kurstin and Spottiswoode had played early in the evening. By ten, Thomas Truax had taken the stage, solo, accompanied by a couple of his Rube Goldberg-esque inventions, the Hornicator and something else whose name is lost to memory. It was something of a triumphant homecoming for the songwriter, now based in London but once a denizen of the late, lamented Tonic scene and a popular attraction here. He has a new album of songs from David Lynch films out, and played a handful of these, often leaping from the stage with his acoustic guitar and darting through the audience, Reverend Vince Anderson style. The best was a haunting version of the Orbison classic In Dreams, swaying along on the pulse of the Hornicator and its primitive echo/reverb effect. For an encore, with Wallfisch on piano, he tossed off a viscerally evil, feedback-driven version of I Put a Spell on You. Let’s hope he brings his menace back sometime sooner rather than later.

Wallfisch, joined by erstwhile Big Lazy bassist Paul Dugan and Botanica violinist Heather Paauwe, then ran through an especially passionate set of new material, surprises and covers, beginning with a knowing, cautionary tale affirming that “nothing is still too much,” set to a crescendoing five-note descending progression. Their cover of the Leonard Cohen classic I’m Your Man channeled a sultry triumph; the centerpiece of Botanica’s forthcoming album Who You Are had a similar exalted feel, albeit infused with classic gospel in place of classic soul. The quasi-official Small Beast theme, Eleganza and Wines was nothing short of exhilarating, Wallfisch effortlessly kicking out a Chopinesque solo before leading the crowd in a brief lesson in 7/8 time. After an angst-fueled Because You’re Gone, he then invited his longtime noir cabaret cohort Little Annie – who wrote it – up to do it again, infusing it with even more gravitas. But then she flipped the script with a brief, characteristically bitingly funny take of her post-rehab narrative The Other Side of Heartache: “If I could have invented an original sin, I would have and shared it with all of you,” the punk rock Eartha Kitt confided to the crowd.

Then they brought up David J. Over the past 25 years, the Bauhaus bassist has built a rich, stylistically diverse body of work that overshadows what he did with his original band. Without his bass, he embraced the role of noir crooner, sinking his fangs into the songs with unabashed relish, imbuing them with equal parts ominous deviousness and offhandedly snarling wit (he can be very funny – a few years ago he did a hilarious cover of Madonna’s What It’s Like for a Girl). He turned an LCD Soundsystem number into Orbisonesque pop, evinced every bit of gleeful menace as he could from Tom Waits’ Dead and Lovely and turned St. James Infirmary into a carnival of dead souls. Boulevard of Broken Dreams was as old-world phantasmagorical as it could have been: at the end, he finally let the audience know that “Bela Lugoi’s dead,” as close as he would come to a Bauhaus song. His lone original of the night, a new one titled Bloodsucker Blues was a caustic dismissal of twelve-step idiocy; he closed with an almost sadistic stalker cover of New York Telephone Conversation, finding yet another level of meaning in what was already a completely tongue-in-cheek lyric. There were other bands on afterward – this was a CMJ event, after all – but by then it was one in the morning and time to find an alternative to the now-dormant F train (FYI – after midnight when the F stops running, the J and M from Delancey will connect you with other trains at both Canal and Fulton). Small Beast returns with Wallfisch and another equally haunting rocker, Randi Russo on November 2 at 9.

October 24, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment