Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Spottiswoode’s Wild Goosechase Expedition: A Great Discovery

Spottiswoode & His Enemies’ new album Wild Goosechase Expedition is a throwback to those great art-rock concept albums of the 70s: Dark Side of the Moon, ELO’s Eldorado, the Strawbs’ Grave New World, to name a few. And it ranks right up there with them: if there is any posterity, posterity will view this as not only one of the best albums of 2011 but one of the best of the decade. Songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Spottiswoode calls this his Magical Mystery Tour. While the two albums follow a distantly parallel course in places, the music only gets Beatlesque in its trippiest moments. Ostensibly it follows the doomed course of a rock band on tour, a not-so-thinly veiled metaphor for the state of the world today. Most of this is playful, meticulously crafted, Britfolk-tinged psychedelic art-rock and chamber pop – the obvious comparison is Nick Cave, or Marty Willson-Piper. Fearlessly intense, all over the map stylistically, imbued with Spottiswoode’s signature sardonic wit, the spectre of war hangs over much of the album, yet there’s an irrepressible joie de vivre here too. His ambergris baritone inhabits the shadows somewhere between between Nick Cave and Ian Hunter, and the band is extraordinary: lead guitar genius Riley McMahon (also of Katie Elevitch’s band) alternates between rich, resonant textures and writhing anguish, alongside Candace DeBartolo on sax, John Young on bass and Konrad Meissner (of the Silos and, lately, the Oxygen Ponies) on drums.

As much lush exuberance as there is in the briskly strummed title track, Beautiful Monday, there’s a lingering apprehension: “Hoping that one day, we’ll be truly free,” muses Spottiswoode. It sets the tone for much that’s to come, including the next track, Happy Or Not, pensive and gospel-infused. Slowly cresendoing from languid and mysterious to anthemic, the Beatlesque Purple River Yellow Sun follows the metaphorically-charged trail of a wide-eyed crew of fossil hunters. The first real stunner here is All in the Past, a bitter but undeterred rake’s reminiscence shuffling along on the reverb-drenched waves of Spottiswoode’s Rhodes piano:

I was young not so long ago
But that was then and you’ll never know
Who I was, what I did
How we misbehaved
Who we killed
I’ll take that to the grave

The song goes out with a long, echoing scream as adrenalizing as anything Jello Biafra ever put on vinyl.

A bolero of sorts, Just a Word I Use is an invitation to seduction that paints a hypnotic, summery tableau with accordion and some sweet horn charts. A gospel piano tune that sits somewhere between Ray Charles and LJ Murphy, I’d Even Follow You To Philadelphia is deliciously aphoristic – although Philly fans might find it awfully blunt. The gorgeously jangly rocker Sometimes pairs off some searing McMahon slide guitar against a soaring horn chart, contrasting mightily with the plaintive Satie-esque piano intro of Chariot, a requiem that comes a little early for a soldier gone off to war. It’s as potent an antiwar song as has been written in recent years.

All Gone Wrong is a sardonic, two-and-a-half minute rocker that blasts along on a tricky, syncopated beat. The world has gone to completely to hell: “They got religion, we got religion, everything’s religion,” Spottiswoode snarls. Problem Child, with its blend of early 70s Pink Floyd and folk-rock, could be a sarcastic jab at a trust fund kid; Happy Where I Am, the most Beatlesque of all the tracks here vamps and then fades back in, I Am the Walrus style.

This is a long album. The title track (number twelve if you’re counting) might be an Iraq war parable, a creepy southwestern gothic waltz tracing the midnight ride of a crew who seem utterly befuddled but turn absolutely sinister as it progresses: it’s another real stunner, Meissner throwing in some martial drum rolls at the perfect moment. All My Brothers is a bluesy, cruelly sarcastic battlefield scenario: “Only the desert understands, all my brothers lie broken in the sand – freedom, freedom, freedom.” The satire reaches a peak with Wake Me Up When It’s Over: the narrator insists in turning his life over to his manager and his therapist. “Don’t forget to pay the rent…tell me who’s been killed, after all the blood’s been spilled,” its armchair general orders.

McMahon gets to take the intensity as far as it will go with The Rain Won’t Come, a fiery stomping guitar rocker that wouldn’t be out of place on Steve Wynn’s Here Come the Miracles. The album ends on an unexpectedly upbeat note with the one dud here and then the epic, nine-minute You Won’t Forget Your Dream, a platform for a vividly pensive trumpet solo from Kevin Cordt and then a marvelously rain-drenched one from pianist Tony Lauria. All together, these songs make the album a strong contender for best album of the year; you’ll see it on our best albums of 2011 list when we manage to pull it together, this year considerably earlier than December. It’s up now at Spottiswoode’s bandcamp site.

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April 26, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 3/9/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #692:

Patricia Vonne – Guitars and Castanets

Patricia Vonne is yet another great American songwriter who’s huge in Europe and lesser known here in the US (other than in her native state of Texas). With her signature full-throated wail, the Mexican-American rock siren has stood up for American Indian rights, immigrant rights and Amnesty International campaigns for the women who’ve disappeared in Juarez, Mexico. This 2005 album, her third full-length release, is characteristically diverse, with songs in both English and Spanish, a richly arranged, guitar-driven mix of rock anthems, ranchera ballads and Tex-Mex shuffles. Everything she’s ever released is excellent; we picked this one since it has her best song, the unselfconsciously wrenching, intense escape narrative Blood on the Tracks (a hubristic title, but Vonne has the muscle to back it up). Joe’s Gone Ridin’ is a tribute to Joe Ely; the clanging backbeat anthem Texas Burning was a big CMT video hit. The festive title track and Fiesta Sangria, along with the mournfully gripping norteno ballad Traeme Paz show off her grasp of traditional Mexican sounds; the anthemic Long Season sounds a lot like the BoDeans with a girl singer. There are also two stunningly catchy, deliciously layered guitar rockers, Lonesome Rider and Rebel Bride that sound like the Church transplanted to Austin. This one doesn’t seem to have made it to the sharelockers yet, but it’s still available at Vonne’s site.

March 9, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 2/4/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #725:

The BoDeans – Joe Dirt Car

Despite their occasional brushes with fame – the powerpop hit Closer to Free was the theme song to a 90s network tv sitcom – the BoDeans have always been colossally underrated. Gifted with not one but two first-rate songwriters, they foreshadowed the advent of alt-country by almost a decade. By the turn of the 90s, they’d moved on to a more anthemic straight-up rock style. This exhilarating 1995 double live album intersperses singer/rhythm guitarist Sam Llanas’ dark, cynical Americana songs among lead player/singer Kurt Neumann’s big rock anthems. The iconic classic here is Idaho, recorded on the spur of the moment at a soundcheck, a brutally sarcastic portait of rural redneck hell. The big hit is their 1985 debut single, the lusciously jangly revenge anthem She’s a Runaway. The scorching Stonesy rockers here are Fade Away, Still the Night, Say About Love and an absolutely volcanic Feed the Fire, alongside the starkly intense Ballad of Jenny Rae – another battered woman’s revenge tale – and Black White and Blood Red. Llanas mines a wry, wistful oldtime country vibe with I’m in Trouble Again and Looking for Me Somewhere; Neumann’s distant, alienated angst gets plenty of space on the jangly concert favorite Paradise and the bitter You Don’t Get Much and True Devotion. More than two dozen tracks here, virtually all of them first-rate and a handful of genuine classics. Almost thirty years after they started, Llanas and Neumann still tour with a revamped version of the band, continuing to pack stadiums throughout the Midwest. Here’s a random torrent.

February 4, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/30/11

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, in completely random order, all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #730:

Willie Nile – Streets of New York

Nobody writes a more potent rock anthem than Willie Nile. An iconic figure in the New York rock underground, he managed to catch the tail end of the Greenwich Village folk scene, made an early mark during the punk era, survived the the 80s and then the indie era before really taking off in the past decade – he’s huge in Europe. This one, his next-to-most recent studio album from 2006 captures a little bit of the best of all of them. We picked it over the ferocious Live From the Streets of New York album because the tracks are a wee bit stronger. It begins with the surreal Welcome to My Head, the backbeat powerpop of Asking Annie Out and then the snide shuffle Game of Fools, with the Wallflowers’ Ramee Jafee on organ. Nile’s machine-gun lyrics carry the bitter era-spanning travelogue Back Home; the understatedly snarling Irish ballad The Day I Saw Bo Diddley in Washington Square perfectly captures “the kind of scene politicians adore,” with “”hipsters and posers galore…a million people will say they were there.” The even more savage Best Friends Money Can Buy blends Who stomp with Byrds jangle, followed by the plaintively majestic Faded Flower of Broadway, a surreal, Beatlesque Rickenbacker guitar anthem. The centerpiece is the volcanic Cell Phones Ringing in the Pockets of the Dead, an evocation of the Madrid train bombings, lit up by Mellencamp guitarist Andy York’s pyrotechnics. Surprisingly, some sleuthing didn’t turn up any links for torrents; it’s still available at cdbaby and Nile’s home page (click the link in the title above).

January 30, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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

Brooklyn Art-Rockers Release a Maxi, Maxi New Single

The single is titled Flow. With a fast hypnotic 2/4 pulse, Brooklyn rockers My Pet Dragon’s new single sets a nocturnally exuberant lyric to a memorably uneasy chromatic melody, acoustic guitar over an insistent beat with judiciously swooping synthesized orchestration. For a band who don’t often evoke the 80s, it’s got a very mid 80s goth feel, although frontman Todd Michaelsen’s voice soars over the atmospherics with a casual joy that you’d never hear from, say, Clan of Xymox. This is the upbeat, pop side of MPD – live in concert, they give it a swirling majesty and gravitas to match the anthemic, often epic ferocity of their other material. An instrumental-only version of the song is also included, which works almost as well as the full-length track with vocals – you could even do karaoke to it (it would make a good workout – Michaelsen hits some high notes).

Since this is a maxi-single (a really ubermax one, actually an ep if you want to be precise about it), the B-side is an unrecognizable cover of Release, by an unmentionable 90s grunge band. For the sake of argument, this might as well be an original: it’s been reinvented as a slow, atmospheric 6/8 ballad that sounds kind of like a B-side by the Church, with new English-language lyrics – or at least in understandable English. And for those who like disco remixes, this one has not one but four, in various shades of electronicness (Karsh Kale is responsible for the first). All of this is available at MPD’s site. They’re playing the small room at the Rockwood on 11/20 at 11, as good a choice of a Saturday night show as you can find in town right now.

November 9, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Model Army Rock the Bell House

Imagine if the Clash never broke up and that Joe Strummer was still alive. That’s a fair if not completely accurate approximation of what New Model Army sounded like at the Bell House last night. They’re playing two sets again tonight starting at 9. Thirty years after the British rockers began, they roared through two hours of fiery, politically charged anthems, a mix of hits from the 80s and 90s alongside newer material which is just as relevant and memorable as their best-known songs. Frontman Justin Sullivan started the show playing acoustic, joined by lead guitarist Dean White, who often switched to organ on some of the early numbers and then stayed on keys for the second set. Twenty minutes into the first set, the rest of the band was up onstage, and they were on their game. Even the quieter, more folk-oriented numbers took on an anthemic grandeur, aloft on the roar of the guitars and the swooping organ. With its Atrocity Exhibition drum rumble, Drummy B became more of a funeral march than an elegy for a friendship gone sour. The 1987 Orwellian nightmare scenario Courage, and Fate, from the 1993 Love of Hopeless Causes album, were especially amped, as was a ferocious version of Today Is a Good Day, a sardonic response to the 2008 global market crash: “And the birds of prey love September, flying like the harbingers of the winter,” Sullivan snarled.

The second set concentrated on the hits. NMA’s game plan for their 30th anniversary tour has been to do two stands in each city, two sets a night, neither repeating any of the previous night’s material – which they can do since their back catalog is so vast – and so strong. They dedicated a roaring, punked-out version of 51st State (as in “51st state of America”) to Brooklyn, stomped through the hypnotic, swirling biotech-apocalypse scenario White Coats, a characteristically sarcastic take of the 1981 hit A Liberal Education and ferocious versions of Vengeance and White Light, with its nimble bass riffage. The biggest crowd-pleaser was a surprise, the wistful, folk-tinged Green and Grey: referring to the cities to the south that lure kids from their northern England homes, Sullivan changed the lyric to “the land of unemployment that beckons to us all.” As the second verse began, he turned the mic over to the audience, who by now were well-oiled, knew all the words and were only too glad to join in. Whether critiquing the wave of destruction unleashed by Margaret Thatcher and her cronies, the evils of globalization or just fondly remembering the woods and fields of his youth as he did with that song, Sullivan and the rest of the band had the packed house energized, and if only for a couple of hours, fused as one against the forces of evil. Even a somewhat comical little fender-bender outside the club – “Didn’t know there’d be three sets tonight,” said one bemused onlooker – couldn’t distract from the intensity onstage.

September 4, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/1/10

New NYC live music calendar for September and October coming later today! In the meantime, every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #881:

New Model Army – Raw Melody Men

The missing link between the Clash and Midnight Oil, British rockers New Model Army have built a thirty-year career on the fiery, uncompromising, anthemic, politically aware songwriting of frontman Justin Sullivan: they’ve literally never made a bad record. This 1992 double live album captures the band at the peak of their majestic art-rock fury (they’ve been through many different phases: currently, they’re just as likely to whip out a gentle acoustic folk-rock number as a straight-up punk stomp). The swirls of electric violin and occasional keyboards here add an eerie ambience above the din of the guitar. Sullivan doesn’t confine his razor-sharp critiques to globalization or the evils of monopoly capitalism: there are few more astute critics of the left, especially coming from a progressive point of view. This one has most of the band’s early 90s concert favorites: the anguished escape anthem Get Me Out; the eco-disaster atmospherics of White Coats; the spot-on examinations of leftwing cliquishness Purity and Better Than Them; and the towering, Middle Eastern inflected majesty of Lurhstaap, a warning in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall that “You can buy a crown/It doesn’t make you king/Beware the trinkets that we bring.” Over the years, a NMA “family” has sprung up, sort of a more conscious Deadhead crew whose common passions happen to be intransigence and defiance of rightwing authority rather than drugs. New Yorkers can look forward to New Model Army’s latest appearance at 8 PM at the Bell House in Brooklyn on September 3 and 4.

September 1, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Second Dan: Oasis for a New Generation

Second Dan sound like Oasis without the posturing – which means that if you like Oasis you’ll really like Second Dan. The Australian-American band write warmly catchy, anthemic songs that are easy to like, that linger in your mind. The production here is more terse, going for sort of a vintage pop vibe rather than the wall of guitars that the Gallagher Bros. relied on to disguise their weaknesses. Which testifies to the strength of the songwriting here. Frontman Dan Rosen plays guitar and keys, alongside smartly tuneful, eclectically skilled lead guitarist Adam Lerner and drummer Sonny Ratcliff (who also adds bass on some tracks).

The upbeat anthem Today sets the tone for the rest of the album with its gleaming powerpop chords. The swaying midtempo title track plays off a swoopy vintage synthesizer hook; Let It Go evokes the stomp of Definitely Maybe rather than the Beatlisms of What’s the Story Morning Glory. We Can is fast and optimistic in the midst of chaos: “We can, we can, we can start a revolution.”

Opening gentle and acoustic, More Than the End builds slowly with some tasty, mid-60s style soul guitar fills. Wake Up finally throws in some Beatles allusions: Paul’s hoarse vocals at the end of Hey Jude, the chorus of She Came In Through the Bathroom Window and a big drum explosion after the last chorus. The band switch it up at this point with Pretty, which is sarcastic and jangly like the Saints at their late 80s peak and follow that with a surprisingly understated, nocturnal soul/blues ballad, I Want It, I Need It. The last track, Advantage isn’t bad but after everything that came before, it’s pretty anticlimactic. If this album is any indication, Second Dan are probably even better onstage where they can unleash the guitars and stretch the songs out.

August 21, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 8/2/10

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 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. The Larch – Strawberry Coast

Brooklyn new wave revival – but smart new wave revival. This has Squeeze overtones – and big brother watching on the spycam. From the band’s best album, the brand-new Larix Americana.

2. The Notekillers – Papers

This was avant composer David First’s instrumental noise/surf/punk band, a proto Sonic Youth circa 1981. This is a twisted surf tune; the band is back together and reputedly as energized as ever.

3. Dark Dark Dark – Wild Go

Tersely haunting and Radiohead-esque, live on Minneapolis TV. Thanks to Jamie of the Brooklyn What for the link!

4. Tris McCall – Sugar Nobody Wants

Expert tunesmithing and wordsmithing – this one’s a tribute to trespassing, which is always fun especially if you live somewhere that’s really boring.

5. Wintersleep – Black Camera

The Auteurs as done by Sloan in 7/8 time.

6. Ocote Soul Sounds – Tu Fin, Mi Comienzo

Dub cumbia! Yum! Like Chicha Libre but trippier.

7. Not Waving But Drowning – The Drowned Man’s Ball

Menacing, dramatic noir cabaret, like the Dresden Dolls but better.

8. These New Puritans – ???

Scroll down to the “live on the BBC” clip – trancey percussion driven chamber rock with a woodwind section!

9. The Giving Tree Band – Early to Bed

Bluegrass/Americana with a message: night owls unite! Free download.

10. Low Society – Girls Puke For Free

German hardcore band singing what could be an anthem for the entire Lower East Side now that the tourists have taken over.

August 3, 2010 Posted by | country music, latin music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment