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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 9/17/11

Pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #500:

Twin Turbine – Jolly Green Giant

The second album from these New York underground rock legends blends the surreal guitar assault of Guided by Voices with more straightforwardly melodic British Invasion and punk sounds. It’s got creepy, intense stuff like Fade For Sunday – frontman/guitarist Dave Popeck sounding like Roger Waters doing his best Darth Vader imitation – along with the scathing Made for TV Murder, a Jon-Benet Ramsey narrative. Downsizer, the single, is even more timely in these depression days, with its bitter lyrics and catchy Stiff Little Fingers-inflected tune. The best of all of these is Susquehanna, a gorgeous, vengefully hallucinatory anthem setting layers of guitars over a swaying country backbeat. There’s also the squalling Love Rock & Roll, the Stoogoid Stop This Thing and Womankind, and Both Kinds, which sets an old 60s garage rock riff to 90s GBV crunch. A cult classic from 2005, it’s AWOL from the usual sources for free music – even Spotify doesn’t have it – but it’s still available from the band.

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September 17, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/22/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album was #526:

The JPT Scare Band – Past Is Prologue

Legendary in the midwest, the Kansas City power trio of drummer Jeff Littrell, bassist Paul Grigsby and guitarist Terry Swope recorded most of this between 1973 and 1975. While none of these tracks were officially released until 2001, the band was a cult favorite of the “cassette underground” for years. The opening track here, Burn In Hell, a forest of tense, flanged minor chords, was actually recorded that year and shows that the band was keeping up with the times. But it’s the old stuff that’s the most riveting: Sleeping Sickness, practically fourteen minutes of virtuoso Texas blues with metal flourishes, ten years before Stevie Ray Vaughan mastered the art; the wildly Hendrix-inspired proto-noiserock of I’ve Been Waiting and Time to Cry (which clocks in at a modest 12:59); Jerry’s Blues, which sounds a lot more like Jimi than the Dead; and the riff-rocking psychedelia of Titan’s Sirens. Recently reunited, the band played their first show in thirty years earlier this summer and are reputedly as scary as ever. Most of the tracks are streaming at myspace (without ads, happily); here’s a random torrent via Cavites Pride. The album, along with the equally good, bizarrely titled Acid Blues Is the White Man’s Burden, is also still available from Ripple Music.

August 23, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/18/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #530:

Devi – Get Free

The 2009 debut release by this Hoboken, New Jersey psychedelic powerpop trio is a feast of good guitar and solid tunesmithing. But Debra, the band’s frontwoman, doesn’t let her virtuoso chops clutter the songs: instead, she goes for intricate layers and textures, with the occasional long, exhilarating, blues-infused solo. The genuine classic here is Welcome to the Boneyard, a haunted 9/11 memoir told from the point of a ghost in the rubble, drenched in watery riffs played through a Leslie organ speaker. When It Comes Down and the title track are the big concert favorites, all rises and falls and scorching solos. There’s also the wickedly catchy, gritty Howl at the Moon; Another Day (which could be the Runaways if they’d had better chops); Demon in the Sack, which pokes fun at gender stereotypes and sexual politics; Love That Lasts, which finally crosses the bridge over into exuberant metal; and a richly textured cover of Neil Young’s The Needle and the Damage Done. The album is streaming in its entirety at bandcamp and available as a free download at the band’s site.

August 18, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ron Asheton Lives On In Death

For fans of long-running New England roots reggae band Lambsbread, seeing three of the members onstage at Damrosch Park out back of Lincoln Center Saturday night playing terse, period-perfect, occasionally savage mid-70s Detroit-style rock must have come as a shock – for those who didn’t know the backstory. It’s well-known now: three Detroit brothers start a soul-funk band, discover the MC5 and Stooges, Dennis Thompson rhythm and Ron Asheton guitar snarl, and a new band is born. They called themselves Death, before any heavy metal band could; signed to Columbia Records in 1975, they were unceremoniously dropped when Clive Davis couldn’t persuade them to change their name. The band themselves released a single, then eventually moved to Vermont where they would  turn in a direction about as far from proto-punk as you can get. Nine years after guitarist David Hackney died, Drag City finally released a seven-track cd, For the Whole World to See, last year. And the surviving members, bassist Bobby and drummer Dannis Hackney, enlisted their Lambsbread bandmate, guitarist Bobby Duncan (who as a child was given his first guitar by David). The result: a time trip back to a Detroit of the mind, the Stooges at the peak of their woozy, raw power. Forget for a minute that all three of these men are black – this was yet more enduring testament to how music transcends any racial or ethnic differences.

What was most revealing about this show was what a smart band these guys were – and remain. Introducing the ornately scurrying, utterly psychedelic Politicians in My Eyes (the A-side of their prized 1975 single), Bobby Hackney explained that he’d written it in protest of the Vietnam War, watching his friends and neighbors getting drafted left and right. When the band launched into the funereal four-chord progression on the song’s bridge, it was unaffectedly intense. The band’s riff-rock songs – notably the brief Rock N Roll Victim, which could have been early Joy Division, or a cut from the Stooges’ Kill City period – are very simple and catchy. Yet like the Stooges, they didn’t limit themselves to three-minute gems.

And the ghost of Ron Asheton was everywhere. David Hackney internalized Asheton’s bluesy wail and careening riffage as well any other guitarist ever did, and so does Duncan, if with considerably more focus and precision, often tossing off a brief, perfectly executed, barely two-bar lead at the end of a phrase. This version of the band makes every note count, often leaving a lot of space in between guitar fills. Duncan was playing without any effects, which combined with the park’s dodgy sonics to limit his sustain. As a result, a lot of the songs took on a skeletal feel that isn’t present on the album, or in the various live versions scattered around the web. This didn’t pose a problem during the slow, bluesy epic Let the World Turn, with its tricky 7/4 interlude, but it sapped the energy during the chromatically charged You’re a Prisoner and the band’s ridiculously catchy encore, possibly titled Blood on the Highway, to be released by Drag City sometimes this Fall. Like the great Detroit bands who preceded them, Death undoubtedly sound best the closer you are to them. Ron Asheton would approve.

August 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 7/26/10

OK, we’re a little behind with this but we have not been idle: new NYC concert calendar coming August 1, the 1000 best albums of all time, not to mention 72 albums and two concerts to review. At least. In the meantime here’s this week’s version of what Billboard should be paying attention to: we try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone, sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. If you don’t like one of these, you can always go on to the next one. Every link here will take you to the song. As always, the #1 song of the week is guaranteed a spot on this year’s best 100 songs list at the end of December.

1. The Larch – Sub-Orbital Getaway

A masterpiece of catchy paisley underground rock dressed up in a skinny tie and striped suit. From the Brooklyn band’s best album, the brand-new Larix Americana.

2. Devi – When It Comes Down

The psychedelic rockers are giving away this live showstopper as a free download. Doesn’t get any more generous than this!

3. People You Know – Glamour in the Hearts of Many

Go Gos soundalike from the fun, quirky Toronto trio.

4. Wormburner – The Interstate

Long, literate highway epic: it’s all about escape. What you’d expect from a good band from New Jersey (they tore up Hipster Demolition Night this month).

5. The Fumes – Cuddle Up the Devil

Not the Queens ska-rock crew but an Australian band very good at hypnotic pounding Mississippi hill country blues a la RL Burnside or Will Scott. They’re at the Rockwood 8/26-27

6. The Alpha Rays – Guide to Androids

Ziggy-era Bowie epic warped into an early 80s artpop vein from these lyrical London rockers.

7. Fela Original Cast – Water No Get Enemy

A Fela classic redone brilliantly, from the Broadway show soundtrack – then again, it’s what you’d expect from Antibalas.

8. Iron Maiden – God of Darkness

This is the first Iron Maiden – bluesy British metal from 1969!

9. Darker My Love – Dear Author

Faux psychedelic Beatles – funny in a Dukes of Stratosphear vein. Free download.

10. Megan McCullough Li – Blood in the Water

Solo harp and vocals – creepy!

July 29, 2010 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review – Devi at Mercury Lounge, NYC 3/22/09

It’s hard to think of another band quite like Devi, blending the cleverness and intricacy of a good jam band with the catchiness of vintage powerpop, the awareness and relevance of punk and the occasional smirking metal flourish. The Hoboken, New Jersey power trio have been riding a wave of buzz in the wake of their popular new cd Get Free, and this show found them edging ever closer to the wild, psychedelic jam band inside them, threatening to break out of its shell at any second. As much as this was a song set, there were plenty of opportunities for everybody in the band to cut loose or play off each other and they used all of them. Fighting gamely through a seemingly endless parade of technical glitches, they’d brought a couple of special guests, adventurous keyboardist Rob Clores and also Carmen Sclafani, frontman of Grand Funk-style NJ 70s revivalists Wiser Time to sing harmonies. For significant portions of the show, neither were audible, which was too bad because when Clores was up enough in the mix to be heard, he was always adding something interesting, whether atmospheric washes of synth, ominous organ or tastefully funky Rhodes piano.

 

They opened with the catchy, upbeat rocker Another Day, then immediately launched into the concert favorite When It Comes Down. It’s a brooding, pensive number that practically screams out to be stretched out, and this time the group went out on a limb, frontwoman/guitarist Debra tossing out echoey waves of blues against Klores’ sheets of melody, finally bringing it down to just the rhythm section, all minimalist and mysterious before the guitar kicked in with a wild, psychedelic 70s feel. And then they were back off and running.

 

The group’s new bassist caught the vibe and channeled it perfectly, trading off the occasional lick with the guitar or leading the charge as the drums built to yet another crescendo. Not to be denied, the band ran through a particularly elegaic version of the slow, anthemic title track from the new cd, a charging version of the powerpop hit All That I Need and then a characteristically haunting version of the 9/11 remembrance Welcome to the Boneyard featuring a soaring, haunting lead vocal, the band taking it down to just drums and keys as the last verse came around.

 

Opening act NYC Smoke revealed a fondness for nonsequiturs as well as cheesy 80s albums by the Replacements and the Cure.

March 26, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Devi – Get Free

The debut cd by this Hoboken, NJ power trio is a throwback to the 80s when the major labels were still signing good bands. This album has pretty much everything a band ought to deliver: catchy, melodic songs, gorgeously soaring vocals from Debra their frontwoman/guitarist, killer musicianship and a centerpiece that’s a genuine classic. But first and foremost this is a feast of good guitar: incisive, wickedly smart solos, contrasting textures, and dynamic shifts that run the gamut from slyly amusing to harrowingly beautiful. While the rhythm section clearly has a fondness for prog-rock, they keep things tight and terse

 

The cd kicks off with Another Day, replete with Runaways-style bad-girl sensuality. The second cut, When it Comes Down, a concert favorite, starts pensive and apprehensive, slowly crescendoing to a long, thoughtful, bluesy solo reminiscent of Robin Trower when he was good way back in his Procol Harum years. It ends with a hook that sounds straight out of a Nektar art-rock suite, but is actually original to the song. In case you might assume that the cover of Runaway here is a throwaway, don’t – it’s got the one of the best solos on the cd. Howl at the Moon, which follows, has the feel of a hit single, its catchy minor-to-major melody spiced with tasteful acoustic slide guitar against washes of organ.

 

The next song, whose title is the chemical formula for heroin, builds from pensive to crunchy and metalish riff-rock capped by long solo that starts out thoughtful and takes its time getting ferocious before ending gentle and acoustic. By contrast, Demon in the Sack starts out fierce and hardcore before its riff-rock chorus, poking fun at gender stereotypes and sexual politics. The high point of the cd is Welcome to the Boneyard, a wrenchingly beautiful ballad sung from the point of view of a ghost whose body lies buried in the smoking pile of rubble at Ground Zero after 9/11, vocals soaring against gorgeously watery guitar chords.

 

The cd’s title track echoes the brooding feel of When It Comes Down, with strikingly textured acoustic and electric guitars. All That I Need is a showcase for sweet slide guitar plus some nifty electric piano to change up the mood a bit. Love That Lasts begins sad and bluesy with clarinet from jazz great Perry Robinson and finally turns into something like a reprieve for the band: forced to behave like purists for almost the entire duration of the album, there’s a long, relaxed blues/metal guitar solo and finally the drums go totally apeshit, John Bonham style. And then it ends with a neatly melodic Steve Harris-like hook from the bass. The cd closes with a richly guitarish cover of The Needle and the Damage Done, its long outro layered hypnotically with multiple guitar tracks, as captivating as what the Church did on The Maven. This is a deceptively intelligent cd: as accessible as the melodies, the vocals and the songs are, at heart it’s a kick-ass rock cd that screams out for high volume and headphones. Although it promises to captivate just as many singer/songwriter fans as headbangers. Definitely one of the year’s very best, and available for the pittance of $5, DRM-free at cdbaby. Watch this space for a cd release show.

 

October 24, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 10/17/08

Counting ‘em down from #666 all the way to the best one ever. The full list, growing at the rate of one a day, is at the top of the page. Today’s song is #648:

Debra DeSalvo – Welcome to the Boneyard

The great guitarslinger sings this wrenchingly beautiful ballad from the point of view of a ghost whose body lies in the smoking hole at Ground Zero after 9/11:

 

Welcome to the boneyard

Welcome to the place where they look for me

You can try to find me

All you’ll find are the pieces of a broken dream

 

But the ghost can’t find her way to the loved ones who wait, hoping against hope. A characteristically intense version is on DeSalvo’s Hoboken Demos ep; her power trio Devi is scheduled to release another this fall on their debut cd.

October 16, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Mafrika Festival Review: The Superpowers, Pink Noise, the Brown Rice Family, Devi, Konny and Funkface at Marcus Garvey Park, NYC 6/1/08

It’s hard to recall a better outdoor music festival in New York in recent years than this one was. Forget Central Park Summerstage: not that the rent-a-pigs there would ever let you in anyway, in 2008. That Coney Island thing that the Village Voice does every summer? Snooze. Today’s all-day outdoor show at the bandshell in the northwest corner of Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem harkened back to the days of the old First Street festival about ten years ago, where you could sit on the sidewalk, surreptitiously drink beer and see one good band after another. For one reason or another, this one started late, with sets getting shorter as the day went on, the promoters obviously wanting to get everyone onstage and then off for the following band. This year, they really outdid themselves: six good, frequently brilliant bands in just under five hours, from time to time augmented by random rappers, dancers and even a fashion designer who paraded two of her models around the stage to considerable applause.

The Superpowers, an eight-piece reggae-jazz band with a four-piece horn section opened, auspiciously. They don’t sound much like Antibalas but they’re just as good. Best song title of the afternoon belonged to them: American Exceptionalism, the Reason Behind All Good Songwriting, or something to that effect (they were kidding, obviously). Often led by their organist or one of the sax players, they’d go off on a long exploring mission and then come back to a catchy, anthemic roots reggae chorus evocative of greats like Burning Spear. They could have gone on for twice as long as they did and nobody in the audience would have complained.

Next up were Israeli/American indie rock quartet Pink Noise. Like all the other half-million or so sons and daughters of Sonic Youth, they’re all about the guitars, and when they’d gotten both of them roaring and ringing with all kinds of eerie overtones, the effect was very captivating. When they’d go off on some dorky, herky-jerky math-rock tangent, it was vastly less so. They also could have done without any vocals or lyrics and been considerably better off for it. Memo to the frontwoman: when you sing “I’m so unattractive,” over and over again, that’s what you become.

The following act, a Coachella-style, sunny, cheery, Asian roots reggae band went by the name of the Brown Rice Family. Basmati, yes; jasmine, yes yes; Canadian wild rice, yes yes YES. But that awful glutinous stuff served in health food restaurants? Maybe where these guys come from, brown rice means something different than what it is over here. The world’s only reggae band with a ukulele (played by one of the two lead singers) likes happy uptempo tunes so fast that they’re almost ska. Otherwise, they don’t break any new ground. But that’s ok. It dread in a Babylon, music is the universal language, let’s all get up and dance, ad infinitum, we all know that. It never hurts to be reminded.

Psychedelic guitar-driven power trio Devi (whom both of the emcees onstage introduced incorrectly as “Devirock”) had their second chance in as many days to wrestle with an inadequate sound system. This time around they didn’t even get a linecheck, let alone a soundcheck: when they hit the stage, it was plug in and play. But frontwoman Debra DeSalvo knows a thing or two about DIY from her punk rock days with the False Prophets, and the rest of the crew followed her lead. And she finally got the lethargic crowd out of the shadows and paying attention. If the previous night’s set was the band’s attempt at being quiet, this was the party set: a searing, almost ten-minute When It Comes Down, an equally boisterous cover of Dell Shannon’s Runaway and eventually, after DeSalvo had to put up something of a fight to keep the band onstage for a final number, the potently catchy powerpop hit Howl at the Moon. Many of these songs will appear on the band’s debut cd due out this year, something to look forward to.

The festival’s organizers billed the next act, expat Burkina Faso roots reggae singer Koony as someone on the same level as Tiken Jah Fakoly or Alpha Blondy, a claim that seemed laughable. Believe the hype. Koony is that good, and so is his sensational band, his organist inducing more than a few smiles with some amusingly over-the-top Dr. Dre-style synth fills, his superb guitarist, rhythm section and percussionists laying down a groove that was a bulletproof as it was rubbery. Singing in French in a somewhat thin, raspy voice, he also proved to be an excellent lyricist. The high point of his set was the determined, defiant Sept Fois (a pun – it means both “seven times” and “this time” in French). If reggae is your thing, get to know this guy before it costs you $100 to see him at Madison Square Garden.

Funky uptown heavy metal band Funkface got all of three songs but made the most of them: it would have been nice to have heard more from them, which is a compliment. Their first song was totally riff-metal, but their two guitarists share a remarkable self-awareness and sense of humor (in metal, humor is often 99% of it). Their next one revealed them equally good at ska-punk; the last saw them bringing up a couple of enthusiastic gradeschool girls from the audience (someone in the band’s kids?) to get the crowd going on a call-and-response, and this finally got the massive to respond, massively. Their album is titled Your Politics Suck: no doubt the crowd would have been into it.

By now, the clouds that had obscured the sun for most of the afternoon were gone, and both sides of the bleachers, in the shade, were full. A trio of trendoids took the stage and took forever to set up, the guitarist apparently too effete to figure out how to work his guitar. And when the band, the Octagon, finally got going, it was with an attempt at a surf instrumental. For about five seconds, this seemed like a good thing but quickly proved that A) they have an excellent drummer and B) the guitarist doesn’t have a clue. After that, their silly, off-key falsetto vocals and clueless attempts at songwriting gave them away for what they are, imitators of some lame-ass, popular indie band or another: the Flaming Lips, maybe? It’s bands like this that drive the audience out of the house. It would have been nice to be able to stick around to hear the always entertaining, self-described “sonic slayers” Apollo Heights, but they’re on some label, they’re well-known and they’re playing Central Park in July. You probably know them already. Or maybe you will, someday.

June 1, 2008 Posted by | concert, funk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, reggae music, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Girl Friday at Lakeside Lounge, NYC 6/25/07

This band is creeper. Their songs sneak up on you when you least expect them. Sonically, Girl Friday are your basic indie rock: guitar with a dirty, unprocessed sound, bass and drums. But the songs are not. They’re very intelligent, very crystallized and when you think about it, very catchy, with something of a minimalist sensibility. They seem to be written deliberately for repeated listening. If that’s the band’s intent, they succeed. The hooks often appear unexpectedly, in places other than the front of the chorus, the turnaround or the opening of the song. Sometimes they flare up and then disappear. But they’re all over the place, and there are so many of them it’s hard to count.

Singer/guitarist Amanda Dora didn’t waste a note all night. Her vocals were casual, conversational and completely unaffected. The songs themselves remind very strongly of the late, great Scout, at the very end when they were off their brief garage rock tangent. Girl Friday evokes the same nebulous melancholia, but without the occasional Beatlisms. And they also pick up the pace with riff-driven, punchy garage rock to liven things up. Dora plays mostly with downstrokes, adding to the percussive flavor of much of their material. On one song, the bass player began the song with a reflective stroll which he took using a slide, playing through a reverb box, and continued to carry the melody through to the end. On another, Dora began with an incisive, midtempo staccato hook on the verse, but when the chorus kicked in, the band went to 6/8 time, cranked it up to a crescendo and suddenly they had an anthem.

Girl Friday were completing a Monday residency here and invited a couple of special guests up to join them toward the end of the set. Briana Winter impressed the most with a ridiculously catchy 4-chord pop song that she delivered passionately and effortlessly while the band wailed behind her.

Props to Lakeside for giving them the residency and a chance to play for a crowd who would probably never see them on the Ludlow Street strip. While they’re pretty far removed from the usual Lakeside twang (Girl Friday clang and crunch instead), they share an intelligence and dedication to craftsmanship with the best of the crowd who play here. If their forthcoming album is anything like what they sounded like tonight, it should be killer.

June 26, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments