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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 10/13/11

As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album was #475:

The Peanut Butter Conspiracy Is Spreading

The 1967 debut by this vastly underrated, eclectic psychedelic pop band combines the surreal folk-pop of early Jefferson Airplane with snarling garage rock and ornate chamber pop. Frontwoman Sandi Robinson’s vox are sort of a cross between Judy Collins and Grace Slick; the song arrangements are complex and sometimes haunting. The big innuendo-driven stoner-pop hits are Why Did I Get So High and You Took Too Much, both ostensibly love songs – back then, you couldn’t get on the radio if you sang about getting high on anything other than booze. There’s also the gorgeous chamber-rock of Then Came Love; the acid folk hit It’s a Happening Thing; the fuzztone-driven Twice Is Life; the punchy You Can’t Be Found, with its Leslie speaker guitar; and the intense, scampering Dark on You Now among the eleven tracks here. Here’s a random torrent via Hippy DJ Kit. The album was reissued in the early zeros as a twofer with the band’s second, more erratic one The Great Conspiracy, which you can get via Acid at Home.

October 16, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, 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

Minerva Lions Put a Unique Spin on Classic Americana Rock Styles

With laid-back vocals and smartly catchy tunes, Minerva Lions’  new album puts a uniquely psychedelic spin on Mumford & Sons-style Americana as well as other retro styles. They’ve got a new ep out that many fans of folk-rock and the mellower side of psychedelia will enjoy. As much as this music looks back, it’s full of surprises and originality. The opening track, For R. A. is a very smart arrangement of a lazy, hypnotic 70s-style British psych-folk tune, with all kinds of neat flourishes from the organ, tersely soaring steel guitar, baritone guitar and a cool solo where the organ and the acoustic guitar join forces as one. The second cut, Megrims, works a lushly apprehensive acoustic guitar hook into a casual, backbeat sway, steel guitar sailing warily, all the guitars kicking in with a vengeance as it winds out.

Protection Ave reminds of mid-period Wilco, with a sweet, oldschool Nashville pedal steel intro and some of the swirliness that Jeff Tweedy likes so much. Black Mind Decides is a catchy, slightly less glam-oriented Oasis-style electric piano-and-guitar ballad, its unexpectely noisy, practically satirical off-kilter guitars leading to a neat trick ending. Ascension Day offers a more bouncy take on a bluesy 1970 style minor-key soul vamp with organ and smoldering layers of guitars. The album ends with a pointless trip-hop remix of the opening track that strips it of most of its originality and replaces those ideas with cliches: that’s what happens when you take a good song and give it to a nonmusician who’s all about doing what he thinks will please a crowd rather than creating something interesting and original. Lyrically, this stuff is neither here nor there: rather than making any kind of statement, it’s all about hooks and melody. Much of the album is streaming at the band’s site; they’re at Rock Shop in Gowanus tonight (July 22) at 9.

July 22, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Not Waving but Drowning’s New Album Is a Trip

Tuneful and trippy to the extreme, Brooklyn band Not Waving but Drowning’s new theatrical rock album Processional is in some ways a more adventurous take on the Dresden Dolls. It makes a good companion piece with Aunt Ange’s recent psychedelic masterpiece. Where that one’s downright menacing, this one’s more lightheartedly surreal, although not without its disquieting moments. Where Aunt Ange goes out on the gypsy rock tip, Not Waving but Drowning reach back to the sly surrealistic humor of 60s psychedelia. Like that era’s great psychedelic bands, they draw on a kitchen sink’s worth of influences: folk music from literally around the globe, vaudeville, cabaret and garage rock. What’s it all about, other than the shambling procession through an endless succession of surreal images that the title foreshadows? After hearing it several times, it’s hard to tell, although it gets more interesting every time around. To say that there’s a lot going on here is an understatement.

The opening track, Sleep Before I Wake, is basically a mashup of the bluegrass standards Seven Bridges Road and Shady Grove, done Appalachian gothic style with psychedelic, reverb-toned lead guitar and guy/girl vocals, like a more surreal version of the Walkabouts circa 1990. The next track, November 3rd weaves a magical web of bass, banjo, guitar and violin and a lyric about a honeybee. If he’s made it to November 3, either he’s a very lucky guy, or a not so lucky one. Which isn’t clear. Is he running for office? A question worth asking. Tabor Island is a gleefully brisk shuffle over an Indian-flavored drone: “We shall all be made free again on Tabor Island.” A Jules Verne reference? Maybe.

Like a track from Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, Thanks a Lot Lancelot is a funny, sarcastic garage-pop song. “Sometimes love won’t do and you knew that from the start,” the singer reminds the poor knight. They follow that with a banjo tune, Windowsill, giving it a gentle evening ambience with trumpet and flute, and then pick up the pace with the scurrying, carnivalesque Station Light. A twisted casino scene of sorts, it’s the most theatrical number here. By the end, they’re not taking any bets – figure that one out.

The funniest song here is Sing to Me, a bumbling attempt at seduction that gets squashed fast, with a pretty hilarious quote from an awful 60s pop hit and an equally amusing outro. The Mission, with its 5/4 rhythm, offcenter violin and piano, is just plain inscrutable; they follow that with the album’s best song, Tiger Hunting, a creepy, slinky chromatic tune with an apocalyptic edge that hints at an old Talking Heads theme. Long Short Walk sounds like a cut from Nico’s Chelsea Girl album, but with better vocals and more interesting rhythm;Willow Garden evokes Country Joe & the Fish at their most reflective and acoustic. The album winds up with the title track, a twisted, swaying waltz that builds to a crescendo of delirious harmonies – it seems to be sort of an acoustic version of what Pink Floyd was going for with Waiting for the Worms. A pleasantly uneasy note on which to end this very entertaining journey. Not Waving but Drowning are at le Poisson Rouge on May 24.

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

CD Review: Paban Das Baul – Music of the Honey Gatherers

South Indian singer Paban Das Baul has collaborated extensively with a number of western musicians and disco producers. This new album is a return to his roots, a collection of both original and centuries-old Baul music, a tradition he was initiated into at age fourteen. The Bauls are wandering minstrels with a mystical streak. Traveling the Ganges plains, they perform a spiritual purification ritual known as “honey gathering:” they play, the villagers’ spirits are raised, the musicians are given rice and beans. “Baul” is Bengali for “crazy” or “possessed,” but from the music, it’s clear that if there any spirits at work here, they are gentle and benign ones. As befits a tribe given to heavy ganja smoking, these songs go on for minutes on end. Western songwriters from Nick Drake to Devendra Banhart have drawn on elements of this stuff – you could say that it’s the original freak-folk. Paban Das Baul sings with a kindly, reflective delivery, more introspective than ecstatic, which makes sense in that he’s often encouraging the listener to look within.

The songs share a languid, swaying rhythm, the melody carried by the vocals, dotara (a five-string lute) and sometimes jews harp; often the lute doubles the vocal line. The lute playing is repetitive and ruminative with subtle changes, occasionally picking up with an incisive phrase: late 60s Jerry Garcia in paticularly pensive mode comes to mind. When the melody goes into the upper registers, the instrument resembles a mandolin. There are subtle modal shifts, but no chord changes per se. The percussion rattles along, sometimes minimalistically, once in awhile insistent. The music doesn’t seem to make any attempt to mirror the lyrics, in the case of either sadness (a breakup song), weariness (a traveler’s tale) or joy (a tribute to wanderlust and all its metaphorical implications). It’s pretty much what you would expect in late summer on the outskirts of Calcutta, heavy-lidded and absolutely hypnotic. It’s out now from World Music Network.

June 24, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Shivering in the Moon: After 36 Years, Mark Fry Makes Another Album

Mark Fry is the latest British folkie on the comeback trail. His new cd, Shooting the Moon is only his second recording. Thirty-six years have come and gone since RCA Italy released his only other album, Dreaming with Alice in 1972. Out of print for decades (although recently reissued on cd by Sunbeam), it’s a strange yet compelling blend of British folk and psychedelia, perhaps a British counterpart to Judy Henske and Jerry Yester’s utterly bizarre yet sometimes entrancing Farewell Aldebaran. In the years that passed, Fry never abandoned music, though his public performances became very infrequent while he pursued what would become a far more successful career as a painter, with several solo exibitions in the UK over the past few years.

This album, while hardly a follow-up, reveals that Fry hasn’t lost his utterly unique and somewhat disquieting vision. This album has a striking and also somewhat baffling resemblance to David J’s solo work, musically at least, right down to the darkly attractive, major-key chordal work, vocal phrasing, guitar tunings and sparse arrangements typical of the Bauhaus bassist’s quieter, more stark, late 80s/early 90s songs. But one can only wonder if the two even know each other exist. In any event, they’d make a great double bill! Fry’s acoustic guitar and casually bright vocals are backed in places by tasteful pedal steel, piano, violin and occasionally a rhythm section: it’s all very pretty and best when it takes on a nocturnal feel, which is often. The songwriting here is saturnine and somewhat woozy from time to time, precisely what one would expect from someone who lived through the sixties (insert amnesiac punchline here). The album’s opening track, Under the Milky Way (NOT the Church’s 1988 cocaine anthem) has the narrator perplexed, thinking the sky’s about to fall on him. As it turns out, it’s only the clouds messing around. One can only wonder what prompted that observation (definitely not cocaine). The same rings true for many of the other songs, like the following track, Big Silver Jet:

It’s slipping through my fingers
Like the rays of the sunset
It’s slipping through my radar
Like a big silver jet

As with the rest of the instruments, Fry’s fingerstyle acoustic and electric guitar work is understated but fluid, particularly the warm, lushly overdubbed You Make It Easy. But on the rest of the album, there’s a chill in the air, regrets over not having done one thing or another, and a pervasive sense of unease everywhere. “You’re like a box of chocolates that melts in the sun,” Fry wryly tells a lover.

The album’s most memorable – and concluding – cut, the brief, upbeat, gently swaying title track, is set in a junkyard, its residents raising a quiet racket by the light of the moon:

You can hear them dancing like soldiers
To their lost parade
Dancing to the junkyard serenade
We’re all shooting the moon tonight

But if you’re not paying attention, it sounds like Fry is singing “we’re all shivering in the moon tonight,” which probably isn’t intentional but perfectly capsulizes what he’s done here. For fans of eerie singer-songwriters everywhere, from Nick Drake to the aforementioned David J or even Syd Barrett.

March 28, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment