Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Black Water’s Disasters Album Is Anything But

Catching up to all the albums that have been sitting around here for months is getting to be a lot of fun! We were sussed to this one via excellently uncategorizable indie chamberpop rockers Bern & the Brights. On their most recent album Disasters (available from their bandcamp as a free download), New Jersey band Black Water go for a somewhat retro 80s indie songwriting style but with vastly better production values and influences that run the gamut from ska and reggae to dreampop and the occasional anthemic 90s Britpop vibe. It’s a compelling and completely original blend of catchy and hypnotic.

The opening track sets a tone for the rest of the album, darkly reggae-tinged with a swirling My Bloody Valentine edge, noisy but also hook-driven. “At night, we take cover,” is the phrase they run over and over again. The second cut has more of a Britpop feel, like a slightly less herky-jerky Wire. Arizona is southwestern gothic ska with tastily intertwining guitar and bass. “I’d rather die than live one more day in fear,” the singer intones in a quavery voice that adds genuine apprehension. Black Water Song begins with a funky pulse but grows hypnotic and atmospheric, with an ominous bridge featuring distant sirens and outdoor ambience that builds to a cyclotron of guitars – and ends cold, as if the tape just ran out at some random point.

The theme continues where it left off on the next track, Keep Your Eyes Closed, which after awhile starts to sound like an absolutely unhinged version of Ceremony by New Order. The single best song here is the ridiculously memorable, darkly ska-inflected Drugstore Model, rich with layers of reverb guitar, like a faster and more skittish version of the Dream Syndicate. With its noisy, funky verse working up to chorus anthemics, Oh My God wouldn’t be out of place in the Botanica catalog, especially when it switches to a long ska vamp with layers of slamming guitar chords and wild tremolo-picking. The album winds up with the inventive dreampop/soul blend of 7 Years. Solid songs, all of them, not a single miss here: you don’t see that very often. Shame on us for not getting around to it sooner. Since releasing this one, the band has gone through some changes, with an additional vocalist, lead guitarist and a new, supposedly more pop-oriented album due early in 2011. If it bears any resemblance to this one, it’ll be great.

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December 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Album of the Day 11/5/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Since we’ll be making another quick out-of-town jaunt, here’s Friday’s album, #816, a little ahead of schedule:

The Slits – Cut

We’re trying to avoid duplicating the most obvious choices which have been featured on other popular best albums lists, but this characteristically weird, irreproducible moment from the peak of punk, 1979 deserves a place here: every so often, good things actually become popular and this is one of them. Quirky and often irresistible, the lone album by the original all-female Slits (drummer Palmolive quit before the band could record: the drums here are played with surprising dubwise groove by Budgie from Siouxsie & the Banshees) has been imitated a million times but never duplicated. It’s hard to imagine Bjork without this. What’s coolest about the album is how dubwise it is, smartly and tersely produced by noted reggae bassist/bandleader Dennis Bovell. Frontwoman Ari Up was seventeen when she recorded this – her hybrid German/Jamaican accent is a long WTF moment – and leads the band with an unselfconscious defiance through the sarcastic, minimalist reggae-pop of Spend Spend Spend, So Tough (a sendup of macho poseurs); the gleeful Shoplifting; the cynical anticonformist anthem Typical Girls; and the scurrying, ominously minor-key garage-punk Love und Romance. Their darker, louder, more punk side comes across with the overtly Siouxsie-esque Newtown and Adventures Close to Home. They’d reunite with a new drummer in 2007 and tour until Ari Up tragically died at 48 just a few weeks ago. RIP. Here’s a random torrent.

November 4, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 10/22/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #830:

Joe Jackson – Beat Crazy

Jackson’s worn many different hats: popster disguised as a punk, jazz guy, avant-garde composer, dentist-office pop songwriter. He only wore this hat once. It’s red, gold and green and has room for the dreadlocks Jackson never grew. This 1980 psychedelic gem isn’t straight-up reggae but it has a lot of rootsy grooves courtesy of bass monster Graham Maby, who turns in what might be the highlight of a brilliant career on the eleven tracks here. As schlocky as some of Jackson’s top 40 songs have been, once in awhile he validates all those Elvis Costello comparisons, never more than on this album. The big college radio hit was One to One, a better straight-up pop song than anything on Night and Day. The title track and Biology are fast, catchy reggae-pop; In Every Dream Home (A Nightmare) is sticky, green and dub-infused, with a shout-out to Roxy Music. Mad at You follows a similar pattern but at doublespeed; Crime Don’t Pay is buzzy new wave with a characteristically cynical lyric. The snarling ska of Pretty Boys and the nonconformist anthem Fit round it out. Jackson never hit this kind of a high note before or afterward, although his 1999 Night and Day II incorporates pretty much everything he excelled at except for cheesy elevator music, and the subsequent Joe Jackson Live reverts to the stripped-down energy of his late 70s style but with a better choice of songs. Here’s a random torrent.

October 22, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Cat Empire – Cinema

Back in the day they used to call this “good top 40.” Australian sensations the Cat Empire have a very 80s sound, but with values that go back another 20 years. With their anthemic songwriting, catchy chord changes, and high energy, unaffected vocals, they’re huge down under, now in the process of extending their fan base outside the Tropic of Capricorn. Interestingly, their lead instrument is Ollie McGill’s electric piano, incisive and bluesy like Rod Argent during his time with the Zombies. Frontman/percussionist Felix Riebl projects with a hoarse insistence that vividly evokes Peter Gabriel on his first solo albums. Drummer Will Hull-Brown gives the songs a big-room drama while the band’s turntablist Jamshid Khadiwala adds the occasional sample or scratch for a bit of a hip-hop/trip-hop tinge.

The album’s catchy opening track Waiting swings along with Zombies-esque electric piano. Trumpeter Harry Angus brings the hip-hop-inflected Falling up at the end with a big crescendo. The indomitable Feelings Gone sounds like Men at Work if that band had come out in the late 90s: “I think that I’m gonna wake up on your lawn,” announces Riebl, unperturbed. The best song on the album is the slinky, uneasy Only Light, building from a rousing gospel organ intro to a big roaring chorus. The next cut, All Hell pounds along, dark and Beatlesque, with an expansive and absolutely delicious organ solo. 

The Heart Is a Cannibal is the most overtly 80s of all the cuts here. Another standout track, Call Me Home is bouncy, ska-tinged and apprehensive: “Call me home, is there anybody there at all?” Riebl asks. On My Way follows that, reggae-tinged, with a blithe dixieland solo from Angus. Ballads don’t seem to be the band’s strong suit, but that’s not the point of the Cat Empire anyway. They sound like they’d be a lot of fun live (their most recent album, a live recording, went platinum in Australia). The Cat Empire play the Music Hall of Williamsburg on July 31 at 9.

July 1, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment