Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Mast’s New Album Wild Poppies Is Unselfconsciously Intense

New York rock duo the Mast’s latest album Wild Poppies blends elements of minimalism, dark 80s rock, goth and trip-hop into a pensive, completely original sound. Frontwoman/multi-instrumentalist Haale writes darkly psychedelic, briskly rhythmic rock songs, backed by one-man percussion orchestra Matt Kilmer. In her previous work, Haale has explored classical Iranian melodies as well scorching, hypnotic, frequently exhilarating Jimi Hendrix-inspired jams. This time, while she pulls back on the volume, the songs are often just as intense and eclectic.

The album’s title track sets a bracingly catchy progression over rolling, rippling percussion and a characteristically surreal, imagistic lyric. The second cut, the sardonically titled Trump, is something of a dreampop take on Joy Division, or like early 90s Lush but with a more gritty, earthy vibe. Most of these songs use a lot of nature imagery: this one’s the most intense. “Oh some pockets run so deep, the rest are struggling for a piece of a fast-turning pie…the waters while we sleep are being bought up by a thief with paper bills for eyes,” Haale sings apprehensively.

EOA [End of Anxiety] shuffles eerily and minimalistically, like an analog version of Radiohead, its mantra-like hook shifting between major and minor modes. My All is hypnotic, minimalist trip-hop with a majestic post-Velvets processional pulse; Prize, a warped, syncopated one-chord boogie, winds down plaintively and hauntingly on the chorus. With its repetitive central riff and insistent 80s-style bass, The Lake builds to a potent crescendo with guitars slamming over a whirlwind of beats. Setting lush, ethereal vocals over yet another catchy, simple guitar riff and a stately shuffle beat (sounds like an oxymoron, but Kilmer pulls it off elegantly), Definitions wouldn’t be out of place on a Randi Russo album from about five years ago.

Hummingbird picks up the pace with fuzz bass and the vocals fading in and out, dreampop style, Kilmer rattling and then hitting some swirling cymbal crashes early on. Lucid Dream, a minimalist, moody early 90s style anthem, builds to a big, intense, anthemic outro. Carefully and tersely crafted, the album grows on you and carries even more of an impact with repeated listening: count this as one of 2011’s best. The whole thing is streaming at the band’s site. The Mast are great live: they’re at Bar 4 in Park Slope at 9 on 7/28.

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

Bad Weekend at the Blog

One of the few downsides of running a music blog is that concerts become less of a social event: if you’re going to write about them, you need to pay attention. Another downside is that your favorite bands get squeezed out. The freedom to go up to Rodeo Bar on the spur of the moment to see Demolition String Band quickly disappears as the calendar fills up. There’s no shortage of good music in this city, the corporate media couldn’t care less and most of the blogs as well – somebody ought to be paying attention, and that’s where we come in. It’s a big job, and somebody’s got to do it, or at least try to, because that’s where our roots are. We spent our first year chronicling great New York rock bands who were far too scary and intelligent for the bland, conformist Bushwick blogs and the corporate media they imitate. But, predictably, this blog didn’t really take off until we expanded our base and started covering other worthwhile artists who’d built a larger following than the obscure local acts we love so much. However, it’s always a bad thing to forget your roots: humble as ours are, we’re proud of them, and we made it a point to revisit them this past weekend. Big mistake.

Mistake #1 was going to Astoria on a Friday night. It didn’t seem that way in the beginning. Ninth House (whose frontman Mark Sinnis has a ghoulish new acoustic album out and a cd release show Saturday night at Duff’s) were in rare form in the middle of a sleepy residential block at an opulent Greek bar that seems…um…to have an alternate source of income, considering that the only people in the place were the 25 remaining goths in Queens (it was goth night). It’s no secret that this band’s days are numbered: since Sinnis’ solo career has taken off, the band has become more of a side project. They’re not playing any more gigs until the Coney Island rockabilly festival around Labor Day, and then that might be it for them. If so, they had a great run. This show mixed old classics like the swaying, Nashville gothic Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me with a tremendously poignant, restrained version of the big escape anthem Long Stray Whim and newer material like the cynical Fallible Friend, a showcase for guitarist Keith Otten’s surreal, maniacal post-Jimmy Page attack. Never mind that the sound was far from perfect and it was a slow night: they gave 200%, closing with an uncharacteristically lighthearted country drinking song from the new Sinnis solo record that got the crowd singing along (think for a minute about how hard it is to get goths to do anything in unison, let alone raise their voices).

By one in the morning, the place wasn’t exactly hopping, and it was time to head out. And there were no Manhattan-bound trains, which meant a 45-minute trip deep into Queens. Not so bad if you live there, but if it means having to turn around and go back to Manhattan, with two out of three subway lines out of service at this particular station, that’s a dealbreaker. Will we be back? Maybe, but not if it means a three-hour subway ride. Could something as mundane as bad subway service destroy what’s left of good live rock music in New York? You figure it out.

Saturday’s debacle was a different kind of scenario. If you’re in the right mood, Tompkins Square Park is a great place to be on a Saturday, whether for a punk show, or the Charlie Parker Festival. This past Saturday was the Howl Festival, a longrunning annual event in homage to Allen Ginsberg that ignores his NAMBLA affiliation. It’s basically amateur hour. There’s nothing wrong with setting up a neighborhood stage so that friends and neighbors can share songs, but it’s usually not something you would want to see unless you happened to be playing yourself, or have a friend who is. So it was a lot of fun to show up around three and discover a tuneful, hypnotic, psychedelic Afrobeat band onstage who call themselves Timbila (after the Zimbabwean proto-vibraphone that frontwoman Nora Balaban played nimbly and energetically). Singer Louisa Bradshaw joined voices with her for some often otherwordly harmonies, singing in Shona, while guitarist Banning Eyre jangled and tossed off one incisive riff after another over the trancey groove of bassist Dirck Westervelt and drummer Ed Klinger. On one long number, Balaban switched to a mbira (thumb piano) that she’d hooked up to an amp: because it’s tuned to a microtonal scale, the dissonances with the guitar made for some blissfully strange timbres and textures.

Eventually, a couple of neighborhood guys did low-key but inspired versions of an old Fugs song, and a William Blake poem set to a pensive minor-key guitar tune. LJ Murphy was next on the bill. He’s been on our radar since his long-running weekly residency at the old C-Note a couple of blocks east of the park about ten years ago. He’s amazingly charismatic: give this guy an audience, and he delivers. What mot juste would he pull out of his hat in front of this crowd? Nothing, as it turned out. His set was cut back to two songs, the second, Barbwire Playpen a ferociously pun-infused tale of a Wall Street swindler who can’t resist the lure of the dungeoness, “begging to be punished while he’s dancing like a jester,” as the song goes. And then he was off the stage. Their loss.

At least Randi Russo’s show at Matchless the weekend before last was problem-free. One of us first saw her play a songwriters-in-the-round type thing way back in 2000 and was intrigued by her lefthanded guitar style. Seeing her with a band for the first time at the old Luna Lounge that same year, we were absolutely blown away. Since then she’s become one of the endless succession of New York rock acts who’s popular in Europe (her new album Fragile Animal, which we’ve ranked #1 for 2011 ought to go over well there) but plays it pretty low-key here in town, probably because she never fit in with the zeros’ trendoid esthetic (they only like other boys) or with this decade’s doucheoisie invasion (she sounds nothing like Bon Jovi). And the average, intelligent rock music fan thinks to himself or herself: Williamsburg on a Sunday? Trains aren’t running, are they?

But they were running, and she made it worth the effort. From show to show, she thrives on the unexpected: her last show featured a full band, keyboards and two drummers, while this one was just Russo methodically strumming her Gibson SG, and drums. Behind the kit, Josh Fleischmann was just as interesting as she was: watching him build the songs, following and enhancing Russo’s lyrics, crescendos and quieter passages literally phrase by phrase was something you don’t expect to see from a rock drummer (this guy’s very diverse, it turns out). He gave the towering, angst-driven anthem Wonderland a lush bed of cymbals, brought out every bit of the funk in the biting, bitter workingwoman’s anthem Battle on the Periphery and then negotiated the endless tricky time changes of the playful, funky shuffle Parasitic People and made it look easy. And made it easy to forget that the act who’d preceded them was an American Idol wannabe.

And the next band, Bugs in the Dark were great too! Two singers, two guitars and drums. The first song sounded like a haunted Middle Eastern version of Sonic Youth crossed with My Bloody Valentine, with defiant, pissed-off vocals, scorched-earth guitars and gargantuan drums. The second song was more of a dreampop stomp. What a fun discovery they were: so many good bands, so little time to see them all.

June 9, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trio Joubran’s AsFar – Best Album of 2011?

Towering, intense and haunting, Trio Joubran’s new album AsFar is a suite of interconnected instrumentals that draw on the ensemble’s Palestinian heritage while also incorporating tinges of gypsy and flamenco music. Gorgeously produced, with just the perfect amount of reverb on the ouds played by the three Joubran brothers – Samir, Wissam and Adnan – they sound like an oud orchestra, bolstered even further by Youssef Hbeisch’s distantly boomy, terse, almost minimalist percussion. Rich with eerie, austerely chromatic melodies and almost relentless angst, it’s arguably the most gripping album of the year.

The first two tracks shift apprehensively from energetic to brooding: the opening cut with flamenco tinges, the second featuring Dhafer Youseff’s long, drawn-out, wordless flamenco-flavored wails punctuating a hypnotic melody that moves from scurrying and furtive to low and pensive, and back again. A stately, apprehensive waltz, Dawwar El Shams follows the suspenseful percussion, building to a staggering sprint that finally explodes with a watery crash of cymbals. The fourth track, a dirge, sets low, somewhat imploring vocalese against chilly, austere percussion and a bitter, minimalist oud melody that wouldn’t be out of place in Shostakovich. Sama Cordoba, the following cut, develops that melody, methodically building to a series of viscerally intense crescendos with some lickety-split tremolo-picking over hypnotic, syncopated clip-clop flamenco rhythm. A nimble, wary oud taqsim (improvisation) takes it out on a disturbingly ambiguous note, setting the stage for the majestic, epic, pitch-black fifteen-minute title track, its crushingly portentous melody announcing the gathering storm with a bitter, depleted anguish. The ouds flutter distantly, taking on almost a cello tone, Hbeisch adding even more gravitas with his judicious, muffled accents, a long, slow journey through a darkness that will not let up. The storm moves in and the ouds build to a mesh of cold, windswept metal fences as the percussion picks up with a trip-hop beat, then slowly subsiding with wounded resignation. It’s by far the most powerful song in any style of music that’s come over the transom here this year. The album closes darkly with Masana, opens with a long, energetic solo taqsim that hints at a brighter future before reverting to the earlier dirge theme. Back in March, we picked a rock album, Randi Russo’s Fragile Animal as best of the year. Considering this one, that pick might have been premature: you’ll see this somewhere at the top of our best albums list at the end of the year. It’s out now on World Village Music.

June 8, 2011 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Oxygen Ponies’ Exit Wounds Leaves a Mark

The Oxygen Ponies’ 2009 album Harmony Handgrenade was a ferocious, lyrical art-rock masterpiece, one of the best releases of recent years: you can find it on our Best Albums of All Time list. Written during the waning days of the Bush regime, it’s a chronicle of love under an occupation. On the band’s new album Exit Wounds, frontman Paul Megna revisits similarly tortured terrain, this time more personal than political. For the most part, this is an album of snarling kiss-off songs, with psychedelic, anguished epic grandeur juxtaposed against stark Leonard Cohen-esque passages. The band this most closely resembles is Australian art-rock legends the Church, both in terms of the stunningly catchy simplicity of Megna’s melodies, the hypnotic sweep of the production and the clever, literate savagery of his lyrics.

“The velvet rope around your neck pulled you away,” he intones in his signature rasp in the opening track, Hollywood, as the band pulses with a trancey post-Velvets sway behind him. “Did you sell your face so you could buy the farm out at Maggie’s place?” he asks. But this isn’t merely an indictment of a starstruck, clueless girl: it indicts an entire generation. As Megna reaffirms later on with the amusing I Don’t Want Yr Love: after a pretty hilarious Lou Reed quote, he makes it clear that he doesn’t “want to be anywhere you are ’cause all the people there are blinded by the stars.” The outgoing mantra of “nobody loves you anymore” is just plain brutal: it makes a great outgoing message for anyone in need of some post-breakup vengeance. And the cello-driven This Disaster offers a more expansive view of the wreckage leading up to the big dramatic rift, Megna musing that “If all we have left is one technicolor kiss, I’d rather be the standin than the star.”

Hope and Pray is pure schadenfreude – it could be the great missing track from the Jesus & Mary Chain’s Darklands, but with better production values. “Hope the further down you go, the higher is the climb,” Megna snarls. He follows that with the bitter lament Good Thing, crescendoing out of spare, plaintive folk-pop with a cynical fury:

This is a call to everyone
Wake your daughters, rouse your sons
Take your aim and shoot to kill
So your friends don’t hurt you
‘Cause others will

Hornet, a dead ringer for a Steve Kilbey song, offers a backhanded compliment to a femme fatale, “Dancing around like a flame in the fire/As hot as it gets you don’t have to perspire.” They revert to Jesus & Mary Chain mode for Wild Animals, a more subtle putdown: “You think you’re smart, that each work of art ended up a failure,” Megna taunts. The indomitable Drink Myself Alive packs a punch, its undeterred narrator only willing to change his wicked ways if the girl who’s bedeviled him will do the same. With a distantly Beatlesque swing, Land That Time Forgot wouldn’t be out of place in the Spottiswoode catalog: it works both as a tribute to an individualist and a nasty slap at trendy conformists: “You’re walking around ahead of the crowd, such happiness is never allowed,” Megna sneers. He reprises that theme on the sparse, more gentle Jellybean with its torrents of lyrics:

Everyone around me is just sharing the same brain…
I guess they find it’s easier to be part of the whole
Searching for a reason why they buy the shit they’re sold.

The album ends on a completely unexpected note with the pretty, backbeat pop hit Christmas Every Morning. The album is out now on insurgent Brooklyn label Hidden Target Records, the same folks who put out Randi Russo’s brilliant new Fragile Animal a couple months ago. This one’s in the same league: it’s hard to imagine a better album than this coming out any time this year. Watch this space for upcoming NYC dates.

May 17, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Best Triplebill of the Year

We move from the year’s best doublebill to the best triplebill of 2011 so far: Caithlin De Marrais, the Oxygen Ponies and Randi Russo at the Mercury on Sunday night, where Russo was playing the cd release show for her new one Fragile Animal (our pick for best of the year, maybe not so coincidentally). Each act was different, and yet the same (other than the fact that each one was playing with two drummers, Ray Rizzo and Konrad Meissner, whose interlocking, earthy groove was an unexpected treat). Tuneful, intense rock doesn’t get any better than this.

Caithlin De Marrais’ 2008 album My Magic City had a gorgeous rainy-day atmosphere: this was her fun set, material from an auspicious forthcoming album now being mixed. The former Rainer Maria bass player chose her spots and made her riffs count: few bassists get so much mileage out of such simple ideas. Often the bass carried the melody above Josh Kaufman’s ringing, jangly guitar. A few times, De Marrais would run a riff for a bar or two before launching into the next song: “You’ve got to watch, they catch up with you,” she grinned, “Not that you have watch your back in this town anymore.” As someone who was here before there was a “luxury” condo project on every ghetto block, she knows what she’s talking about. Kaufman made his ideas count for just as much, firing off suspenseful volleys of reverb-infused Sputnik staccato, or throwing shards of jangly chords into the mix. De Marrais is best known for plaintiveness and poignancy, and with characteristic nuance she added a more upbeat tinge to her vocals. Half the bands in Bushwick rip off New Order, but what De Marrais does with simple, catchy 80s hooks takes the idea to the next level. One of the new ones, maybe titled Cocoon, had a moody bounce; another new one, Rose Wallpaper, added carefree ba-ba-ba pop flourishes; still another paired off a bass riff straight out of Joy Division’s Ceremony with Kaufman’s pointillistic punch. The end of the set gave De Marrais the chance to cut loose and belt with impressive power, particularly a stomping, garage rock-tinged number with some ferocious guitar chord-chopping at the end, and a dead ringer for Scout that fell and then rose, apprehensive yet hopeful. “Just a dreamer after all…but let’s try,” De Marrais cajoled.

Where her vocals were all unselfconscious beauty, the Oxygen Ponies’ frontman Paul Megna doesn’t shy away from ugliness, or outright rage. And yet, when his vocals were up high enough in the mix, he was also all about nuance, adding more than the hint of a snarl to drive a particularly corrosive lyric home. This particular version of the OxPos (a revolving cast of characters) featured the drummers along with Don Piper on lead guitar, Devin Greenwood on keys and Chris Buckridge on bass. Their first song kept the New Order vibe going, followed by the cruelly sarcastic psychedelic pop of Fevered Cyclones, from their 2009 Harmony Handgrenade album. A hypnotic dirge from their highly anticipated forthcoming one sounded like the Church, with eerie, echoey guitar from Piper, building to a soaring anthem. The brooding, bitter Get Over Yrself gave Piper the chance to add his own corrosive noiserock edge; a more hopeful new anthem rose to a big swell fueled by Ray Sapirstein’s trumpet. They wrapped up the set with a gleefully ferocious, bouncy version of the Bush-era The War Is Over, followed by a pensive, Velvets-flavored anthem and then another new one that brought the garage-psych intensity all the way up with the two drummers going full steam.

Russo got the two drummers, JD Wood on bass, plus Piper, plus Megna on keyboards, plus Lenny Molotov on lead guitar and lapsteel. Resolute and velvety, she sang over the mini-orchestra behind her with a visceral sense of triumph. The album took longer to finish than anyone anticipated, but it was worth it and Russo drove that point home, opening with an especially amped version of Invisible. Speaking for every alienated individualist in the room, she grabbed victory from the jaws of defeat: “I am, I am invisible/I feel, I feel invincible.” With the three guitars going, The Invitation was exuberantly Beatlesque; the self-explanatory Alienation was another launching pad for some volcanic noiserock from Piper. Molotov’s falcon swoops on lapsteel added a menacing edge to the gorgeous, somewhat wistful Get Me Over, while Megna’s swirling keys gave the blistering kiss-off song Venus on Saturn a hypnotic ambience. Piper switched to harmonium for a fast, unusually short version of the Doorsy Restless Raga, Molotov’s solar flares bursting out of the murky mantra pulse. After a couple more hypnotically pounding numbers, she closed the show with the defiant Head High – Patti Smith as backed by Led Zep, maybe – and a counterintuitive choice, Swallow, a study in survival in the midst of being hit from all sides. It took some nerve to close on a down note with that one, and it worked.

And a shout out to Sergio Paterno, who earlier in the evening was playing gypsy and flamenco-flavored instrumentals on his guitar by tapping on the frets, using a lot of piano voicings, on the L train platform at 14th Street. It would have been fun to have heard more of what he was doing before the Mercury show.

April 21, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Randi Russo Releases the Best Album of 2011, So Far

For over a decade Randi Russo has lurked amongst the elite of New York’s rock underground. Her 2001 album Solar Bipolar, a cauldron of screaming, whirling guitars and anthemic lyrical intensity, achieved cult status among devotees of noise-rock. Since that time, her prolific catalog has grown to include skeletal, sepulchral folk-rock, janglerock, punk and most recently, psychedelia. Her latest album Fragile Animal is logical extension of the psychedelic direction she first began gravitating toward in the mid-zeros before breaking up her band and then slowly regrouping. This packs as much of a wallop as anything she’s done before, yet sometimes that wallop is a playful one. The one aspect of Russo’s songwriting that hasn’t always come through as clearly as her defiant, resolute individualism is her sense of humor, but it does here. Co-produced by Russo and the Oxygen Ponies’ Paul Megna and released on the insurgent Hidden Target label, this is a lush, swirling mix of guitar and keyboard textures, Russo’s velvet voice steady above the maelstrom. While it’s never wise to assume that an album released so early in the year will beat out everything else that appears between now and December, it’s going to take a miracle to surpass this one. Welcome to the best album of 2011, so far.

The first track is Get Me Over, setting the stage for what’s to come, Russo’s quiet desperation and need to escape muted by the whirling sonics, backward masking and unselfconscious backbeat beauty of the melody. Venus on Saturn is hypnotic, insistent post-Velvets rock, a scathingly funny slap upside the head of a drama queen: “Without it she’d be boring, and no one would care to listen; now, she’s just annoying – yet she’s getting all the attention.” With guitarist Don Piper’s crazed leads fueling its stampeding Helter Skelter stomp, Alienation is a study in paradoxes, the push and pull of the need to connect versus the fear of scaring people off by confronting them with reality.

Invisible is her September Gurls – hidden beneath its ethereal layers of vocals and multiple-tracked guitars is a classic pop song. In a way, it’s the ultimate outsider anthem: she may be invisible, but she’s also bulletproof. “No one can touch me now, no one can bring me down,” Russo asserts with a gentle steeliness. It contrasts with the hypnotic, Steve Kilbey-esque mood piece I Am Real, anchored by Piper’s harmonium, which contrasts in turn with the wryly cheery Beatlisms of Invitation, which follows.

Russo’s voice finally cuts loose on Swallow, a soaring, crescendoing portrait that will resonate with anyone who’s had to swallow their dreams as they run to catch the train to some dead-end destination or dayjob. With its mechanical drums balanced by simmering layers of guitar feedback and a mammoth crescendo out that’s part Led Zep and part Egyptian funeral procession, Head High offers a more optimistic outlook for would-be killer bees stuck in a deathly routine. True to its title, the dreamy Hurt Me Now is more sad lament than kiss-off anthem, lit up by Lenny Molotov’s vivid lapsteel leads. The album winds up with the haunting, relentless epic Restless Raga, twisting a Grateful Dead reference into an escape which could be completely liberating…or it could be death:

Heart’s all empty and I don’t care
‘Cause I can steal yours with my stare
And I’m gonna ride that final wave
Of excitement to my grave

The album is available exclusively for a week starting today at Russo’s bandcamp site (which is preferable to the other usual sites, where it will be in about a week, since bandcamp’s downloads are more artist-friendly, not to mention sonically superior). Randi Russo plays the cd release show for Fragile Animal on April 17 at 9 PM at the Mercury Lounge with another first-rate, lyrical Hidden Target band, the Oxygen Ponies.

March 23, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/23/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #829:

Randi Russo – Live at CB’s 313 Gallery

We’ve included this limited-edition ep on this list because A) it’s transcendentally good and B) although it’s officially out of print, copies are frequently found in New York used record stores. It was the lefthanded guitar goddess/rock siren’s first multiple-track release, a boomy, off-the-cuff soundboard recording from September, 2000 at the late, lamented CB’s Gallery next door to CBGB. Any sonic deficiency here is more than made up for by the stunning spontaneity and ferocity of the playing and the quality of the songs. Russo’s growling Gibson SG guitar sets the tone on a careening version of the chromatically charged, overtone-laden, Siouxsie-esque Adored, followed by an even more otherworldly version of the haunting, flamenco-tinged epic So It Must Be True. Lead guitarist Spencer Chakedis – who would go on to play in the popular, aptly titled jam band Doofus – throws off one shower of sparks after another behind Russo’s velvet vocals and defiantly individualist lyrics. The version of One Track Mind here – the only one that’s been released to date – has an irrepressible Velvets stomp, followed by the catchy, 6/8 ballad Push-Pull, a concert favorite. They end with a sepulchral version of the suspenseful, minimalist Tenafly, the ultimate New Jersey deathtrap song. Russo has gone on to release four excellent, subsequent albums, with the highly anticipated, ferociously guitar-driven Fragile Animal due out any month now. Not to spoil the plot, but you might just see her again on this list a little closer to #1.

October 23, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 10/18/10

This is sort of our weekly, Kasey Kasem-inspired luddite DIY version of a podcast. Every week, we try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone: sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. We’ve designed this as something you can do on your lunch break if you work at a computer (and you have headphones – your boss won’t approve of a lot of this stuff). If you don’t like one of these songs, you can always go on to the next one: every link here will take you to each individual song. As always, the #1 song here will appear on our Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of the year.

1. Norden Bombsight – Altercation

Nightmarish, twisting, turning art-rock anthem, another killer cut from their Pinto cd.

2. Randi Russo – Battle on the Periphery

A 2006 classic, newly streaming on hew new bandcamp site, where you can hear 25 more of the intense rock siren’s songs. Her forthcoming album Fragile Animal promises to be as wild and intense as her 2002 classic Solar Bipolar.

3. LJ Murphy – Another Lesson I Never Learned

Radically yet subtly reworked version of one of the literate, NYC noir rockers’ songs that topped the charts here in 2007. Scroll down for the video

4. Victoire – Cathedral City

Lush, swirling, psychedelic, atmospheric title track to Missy Mazzoli’s art-rock band’s deliriously enjoyable new album.

5. Los Shapis – El Aguajal

Classic surfy Peruvian chicha rock number from the early 70s, re-released on the Roots of Chicha 2 compilation.

6. The Moonlighters – I’m Still in Love with You

Charming, romantic oldtimey harmony swing: cool video by Nina Paley of Mimi & Eunice fame.

7. Benjamin Verdery plays Couperin’s Mysterious Barricades.

The pianist has a Carnegie Hall gig coming up and this is typical.

8. The Mast – Wild Poppies

Smart, edgy, jangly, minimal Randi Russo style literate rock from rocker Haale’s band.

9. Spectrals – Peppermint

The Smiths gone noir – the swishy singer is kind of annoying but the surfy guitar is delicious.

10. The Giving Tree Band – Red Leaves

More tasty retro acoustic Americana from these guys.

October 19, 2010 Posted by | classical music, latin music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review from the Archives: The John Kerry Fundraiser at Sin-e, 8/26/04

[Editor’s note – we’re still on vacation and raiding the archive for some fond memories. This is a particularly bittersweet one, from the days when every New York band, outside of Williamsburg, at least, was desperate to vote the Bush regime out of office…and for awhile it looked like it really would happen in 2004]

Randi Russo had organized this fundraiser for the John Kerry campaign, unsurprisingly drawing an A-list of New York rock talent who connected electrically with the audience: they may have been preaching to the converted, but this show left no doubt that New York is still a Democratic town. Literate songwriter Erika Simonian opened. Nuance is her defining characteristic, along with a deadpan, cynical sense of humor. The highlight of her set, for that matter probably the highlight of the night – at least from the crowd’s delirious reaction – was I’ve Got a Song (as in, “I’ve got a song, it goes FUCK YOU”), a kiss-off anthem that this time out took on extra significance when she dedicated it to Bush. Her band was tight, accordionist Paul Brady was incisive and captivating as always but the muddy sound mix sometimes deadened her vocals – the sound guy was obviously trying to fix it, with minimal results.

Paul Wallfisch of Botanica did three songs solo on his trust old Wurlitzer electric piano, one of them a Jacques Brel cover, before the rest of his band joined him for a spot-on, passionate version of The Flag (“When I stand and face the flag/I see my country wrapped in rags”), from their 9/11-themed album Botanica vs. the Truth Fish. They eventually did a stripped-down, careening version of the gypsy-punk title track from that album plus some more straight-ahead, rock-oriented new material. Guitarist Pete Min ably channeled their former axeman John Andrews’ reverb-laden parts and their new drummer locked with bassist Christian Bongers’ spiraling, melodic lines.

Interestingly, Melora Creager, frontwoman and first-chair cellist of goth-tinged chamber rock band Rasputina was the big draw of the early part of the night: the goth girls shrieked when she hit the stage, then exited en masse when she was done. Seeing her play solo for over 40 minutes was even more impressive than watching her with the band. She plays most of the leads herself and didn’t miss a beat while singing in her signature deadpan, vibrato-laden, oldtimey delivery. She went into character and stayed there, cracking everybody up: too many jokes to remember. The highlight of the set was her closer, A Quitter, an uncharacteristically direct account of teen suicide.

Russo would later release her set as the Live at Sin-e album (still streaming in its entirety at deezer after all these years). Happily, that recording minimizes the boominess that plagued her set. They opened with a bouncy, funky League of the Brigands, followed with a swinging cover of Merle Travis’ Sixteen Tons, a marauding blast through the Middle Eastern-tinged antiwar anthem Live Bait and a gently mysterious, warmly swinging version of the janglerock hit Get Me Over. A rapidfire, scurrying version of Parasitic People contrasted with the hypnotic, Smog-like ambience of Shout Like a Lady (title track to her 2006 studio album), a snarling version of the embattled workingwoman’s anthem Battle on the Periphery and a clattering take of the usually hypnotic, strikingly optimistic Ceiling Fire to close the set on a high note.

Tammy Faye Starlite headlined. Backed by just an acoustic guitarist, the fearless satirist/actress/comedienne ran through a pointed, typically hilarious mix of songs and spontaneous riffage on the Bush regime. She’s a potent voice for the Democrats this time around (if they can stomach her genuine punk rock attitude and take-no-prisoners commentary). The big showstopper this time out was I Shaved My Vagina for This, one of the most amusingly feminist numbers from her country-flavored first album. Matching the ferocity of Amy Rigby to the uninhibited, stream-of-consciousness hilariousness of Lenny Bruce, it was a girl-power anthem that anyone could sing along to if they stopped laughing long enough.

August 26, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Coney Island Today and Tomorrow

Last night we went to see Taylor Swift at the Viagra Arena at Coney Island. Since they’ve shut down the subway and replaced it with the VIP shuttle from the Brooklyn, Brooklyn casino in the middle of Prospect Park, we all crammed into a friend’s battered Greatwall Gwperi, dodging sinkholes and potholes, finally finding a spot in the Russian mob parking lot by the water at the edge of the former Floyd Bennett Field. In the old days there would have been a city bus, or we could have walked, but it’s too dangerous now, so we had to wait in line for a cab. Because there wasn’t enough room in the rickshaw for all of us, a couple of us had to ride on top of the rickety canopy, clinging to the torn canvas as the contraption bounced along through the mudpuddles in what’s left of the tarmac from the days when there was a public infrastructure budget.

Outside the arena, Halliburton security were selling meth and ecstasy when they weren’t zealously feeling up tired ticketholders. After six additional security checkpoints, retina scan, DNA analysis, fingerprinting and a full-body search, we finally made it through to our seats, which had already been taken by a sinister-looking crew of crudely tattooed bodybuilders. So despite having paid three trillion renminbi per person, plus inconvenience charges, for our tickets, we had to head up to the nosebleed seats, hoping that another crew of bulked-up ex-cons wouldn’t show up and take those from us as well. After an hour of earsplitting, nonstop big-screen commercials for Lucky Oncology Centers, Finest Face Masks, Bedbug Busters, and of course Viagra, Swift finally was ushered onstage by a doddering, mumbling, ninety-year-old Marty Markowitz. Fully nude, for about ten minutes she gyrated and lipsynched to a medley of old Journey songs with a new, fully computerized arrangement. From the view on the big screen, it’s obvious that all the plastic surgery, and the already sagging boob job, make her look twenty years older than she is – and she’s not even thirty yet.

Oh yeah, all that was just a dream. Must have been reading too much Gary Shteyngart. Yesterday at Coney Island perfectly captured what this city stands to lose if or when the carnival atmosphere is replaced with a corporate one. It’s not a done deal: notorious landgrabber Joseph Shitt’s Thor Equities are demolishing buildings that in the pre-Guiliani era were on the fast track to landmark status, but when they’re reduced to rubble there’s no guarantee that anyone’s going to pay top dollar for the vacant lots where the Bank of Coney Island and similarly faded, once glorious buildings used to stand. In the meantime, there are fewer rides at the amusement park, but it’s still there, as are the grimy boardwalk bars, dodgy hamburger stands, Shoot the Freak, the Coney Island Museum and the ever-shrinking vestiges of the individuality that has made this neighborhood world-famous.

And appropriately, there was surf music on the boardwalk out behind the Wonder Wheel: Deb Noble of Blue Stingraye Productions emceed a whole afternoon worth of first-class bands assembled by Bill and Julie Rozar, creators of the Alien Surfer Babes (who headlined). The game plan was to get there in time to catch surf rockers Reverb Galaxy, but a two-hour subway ride from Manhattan nixed that. The second act, Sean Kershaw’s baritone voice still resonated all the way to the tables outside Ruby’s Bar and Grill: the Coney Island Cowboy was in his element and loving every minute of it. From a distance, he and the band sounded a lot like Ninth House, particularly on the darker numbers among Kershaw’s signature, surreal, carnivalesquely witty Americana songs.

Strange But Surf were next and were a breath of fresh air, just like the breeze that began whipping in from the water. The two-guitar instrumental band bring a tongue-in-cheek punk edge to surf music, and they mixed it up. A number possibly titled Beached Fish sounded like their version of California Sun; they turned Pipeline into a long, shuffling jam with fiery guitar solos and a Paint It Black quote at the end that got everybody smiling, even the band. Hey-Ho, a Ramones-ish stomp was “about my girlfriend,” grinned one of the guitarists. He and the drummer switched on a couple of tunes, including an amusing Link Wray-inspired number, The Martians Are Pissed. They wound up their long set with inspired, punk-flavored versions of the Bar-Kays’ Soul Seeker, the Addams Family theme, the Ventures’ Out of Limits and a really splendid, extended version of the Byrds’ Eight Miles High.

The Octomen appeared to be missing five of the guys, if there are in fact eight of them. If not, they still sounded good even though they could have used a rhythm guitarist to fill out the sound when the one guitar player they’d brought along was soloing. Because he was good, and left a lot of space rather than playing loud and mindlessly. A lot of their originals add eerie chromatic passages amidst all the twangy, upbeat good cheer. He used a flange on a couple of tunes, Link Wray’s The Rumble included, for a sort of 80s chorus-box feel. By halfway through the set, he was taking longer solos and really getting the pyrotechnics going with some long, blazing, sometimes bluesy, sometimes country-tinged excursions, particularly on a ghoulabilly-flavored song and then a 60s go-go instrumental with some ferocious blues playing.

In hindsight, it would have made sense to stick around for the rest of the surf bands continuing into the night. Randi Russo’s solo performance at a private party later in the evening was terrifically gripping and intense. But trading beautifully polyglot Coney Island – where latino and Asian kids swayed side by side with the older, mostly blue-collar white crowd who’d come out for the bands – for the uptight, privileged whites-only section of ever-more-hideously segregated Williamsburg, was a disaster waiting to happen, a sad reminder of where this city’s going if we don’t put a stop to it.

August 22, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment