Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 9/25/09

Happy birthday Rama!

Through tomorrow, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown will get one step closer to #1. On Sunday, we’ll put up about two weeks’ worth of these songs all at once and then keep you in suspense until we return around the middle of October with more regular daily listings, reviews, controversy, hairsplitting, hair-tearing and so forth. For now, Friday’s song is #306:

American Ambulance – Ain’t Life Good

Hungover and unexpectedly transcendent Sunday morning tableau in the wake of a week of drudgery at some deadend dayjob unforgettably portrayed in these New York Americana rockers’ towering anthem. Nice soulful Erica Smith vocal cameo too. From the Streets of NYC cd, 2005.

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September 25, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/21/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Tuesday’s song is #463:

Absinthe – Still Alone

This bitterly and brutally evocative portrayal of life among the down-and-out and soon to be down-and-permanently-out is the centerpiece of the band’s one classic album, 1999’s A Good Day to Die, arguably BoDeans frontman Sam Llanas’ finest moment as a songwriter – and he has many.

April 20, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 3/31/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Tuesday’s song is #484:

Ward White – Hole in the Head

 

I need this job like a hole in the head

I need a hole in the head to keep this job

And I need a head for some reason that escapes me now

There’s no escaping you

 

Arguably the New York underground songwriter’s most lyrically pulverizing moment, a venomous swipe at corporate greed and selfcenteredness, more apt than ever in these early days of the depression. Beautiful, sparse melody too. From his brilliant 2006 cd Maybe But Probably Not, streaming at his site.

March 31, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , | 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: Balthrop, Alabama – Subway Songs and Cowboy Songs

Two brand-new eps from the multistylistic Brooklyn music mob. True to the band’s signature shtick (Balthrop, Alabama style themselves as a little Southern town relocated to the BK), a lot of people were involved with making these albums and in general they acquit themselves well. Perhaps because of the sheer number of contributors, the band’s ability to fluently channel a ridiculous number of styles from decades ago to the present day is uncanny, and spectacularly so. The first of the two, Subway Songs is delightfully gruesome, lushly and imaginatively produced with layers of vocals, horns, keys and a variety of rustic stringed instruments. It also doesn’t seem to have the slightest thing to do with subways. It opens with Subway Horns, theatrical gypsyish ska punk like World Inferno. Bride of Frankenstein, which follows, is southwestern gothic with some biting slide guitar in the style of Friends of Dean Martinez. Prom Story is an amusingly and musically spot-on spoof of early 60s girl group ghoul-pop; Ocean’s Arms adds a faux Irish tinge to an immigrant’s tale gone drastically awry.

 

Red Hook Pool is a fast, upbeat folk-rock number spiced with banjo, a dead ringer for a Phil Ochs pop hit from, say, Tape from California, 1967. It, too comes to a grisly conclusion after the rain starts, morphing strangely into a vintage style soul song after a long instrumental vamp. With its beautiful, soaring vocals, the 6/8 ballad My Way the Highway sounds like what Caithlin de Marrais might have done if she’d been alive in 1965. At least nobody seems to die in this one.

 

Cowboy Songs explores a satirical concept. Trouble is, between Ween’s Twelve Golden Country Greats album, the Inbreeds, and David Allan Coe, there isn’t much country music territory left  to parody, and this doesn’t exactly add anything to the canon. The musicianship here is all first-rate, and in fact some of these songs are so period-perfect that they could be from Nashville in the mid-60s – but as b-sides. Old Cowboy Queer sounds like a ripoff of I Thought I Was Country Til I Found I Was Queer by fellow Brooklynites the Illbillies (now Maynard and the Musties), which achieved some notoriety about ten years ago. There are also thoughtful attempts at crafting a slowly swinging romantic ballad and an oldschool Ray Price-style shuffle. And then they end it on a tongue-in-cheek apocalyptic note. Balthrop, Alabama plays the cd release for these two at the 92YTribeca on 3/13 on an excellent bill with the Ukuladies and the Moonlighters starting at about 9:30 PM.

March 9, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Wendy & Lisa – White Flags of Winter Chimneys

An unexpected treat. The duo’s first new studio effort in ten years finds them taking the quantum leap they’d always hinted they might have in them. Most of the new album White Flags of Winter Chimneys is moody, atmospheric, often dreampop-inflected anthems that give more than a nod and a wink to the Cure, layers of watery guitar and keys floating over slow hypnotic beats. With the 80s revival now seemingly a permanent part of the culture, Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman picked an auspicious time to release this.

 

The cd’s big, opening ballad, Balloon moves along resolutely on a variation of the big hook from Floyd’s Us and Them, matched to a ghostly choir of pensive vocals. Invisible, a ridiculously catchy, guitar-fueled rocker would be the big radio hit if anyone still listened to commercial hit radio: “The sun is gone, I made it disappear…Invisible, I will never be,” Melvoin sings defiantly. There are also a couple of overtly Radiohead-influenced numbers here, the somewhat minimalist Ever After and the album’s closing Sweet Suite, which is totally Kid A, building to a very big and very Thom Yorke crescendo complete with a shape-shifting rhythm and layers of echoey guitar.

 

Salt & Cherries is a playful come-on: “It’s a beautiful day to come over and play with you in the dark.” The pretty, downtempo pop Red Bike cleverly nicks one of the ancillary guitar licks from Stairway to Heaven. With its sparse guitar and vocals, You and I has the feel of a great long-lost track by the Lindsey Buckingham-era Fleetwood Mac if that band had had any self-awareness, with particularly beautiful vocals: “Darkness is only home for the night, and you and I are running out of time.”

 

Of all the bonus tracks currently available with this via the band’s site, only a 1992 demo, The Dream hints at anything substantial. With Lush defunct, Siouxsie and the Cure having become nostalgia acts, this will inevitably find its way into every goth night and onto every retro 80s-ist’s ipod. Good for them.

March 9, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Song of the Day 3/9/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Monday’s song is #506:

Ian Hunter – Rain

If you count everything in the guy’s prolific post-Mott the Hoople career, Hunter’s got a pretty impressive catalog of gloomy, Lou Reed-ish glamrock. This is a big, swirling, stately, elegaic anthem with towering, monumental post-Sandinista production by the Clash’s Mick Jones. Mp3s are kicking around; if you’re looking for vinyl, it’s on the Short Back and Sides lp from 1981 (link is to a choice of torrents).

March 9, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Julia Haltigan and the Hooligans

by Vanessa Lee Raymond

The self-titled Julia Haltigan and the Hooligans is yet another plume in the cap for the New York chanteuse and her impressively multistylistic Americana band. Their uniquely gritty, soulful sound, established in their rigorous NYC performance schedule and 2007 release, “When the Glow Starts to Go…” only gets more grimy and more sultry on this, their latest cd.

In this album Haltigan successfully presents a wide breadth of feelings and rhythms. “Knocking at the Door” boils at a tempo propelled by the clean trumpet lines of Joe Ancowitz, then slows to the speed of a swoon at the chorus. Songs like “Hole in My Heart” and “Heavy Cream” are a molasses of moodiness; “Where the Animals Used to Play” is a delicate confection; “Missed the Day” a campfire lullaby; and “A Mermaid’s Tail” a jaunt into the as-yet-unexplored territory of nautical jazz. Each composition reveals yet another facet of Haltigan’s peculiar musical gem. And lyrically, she couldn’t be better. Haltigan turns a great phrase in almost every single song. Some favorites in both phrase-coining and delivery include “My heart floats on a little lifeboat…”, “…the big broom has swept me clean”, and the euphemism in “…when her father has taken the long way home.”

It’s good to see Haltigan expanding the part played by the Hooligans, as well as orchestrating some stellar collaborations. She’s learning the value of her counterparts, a true skill. First and most notably, in this album the Hooligans sing! I love the sound of these men’s rough voices in chorus, especially in “Things” and “Lost at Sea”. In an era where masculinity is either steroidal (Flo-Rida, Chris Brown) or completely effeminized (the Jonas Brothers, Hugh Jackman at the Oscars) it is striking and exhilarating to hear masculinity harmonized like it is here. The vocal cameos by Nathaniel Broekman, Troy Campbell, and Emmet Haltigan in “Things” are at once hilarious and endearing, I find myself listening to those few seconds over and over.

 

Haltigan’s collaborations with guest artists prove very strong indeed. The contrast between Haltigan’s low husk and S. Johanssen’s breathy heights create an expansive sense of space while bridging seamlessly to the trumpet /accordion and slide guitar lines above. John Foti’s work on piano and accordion bring nuance to Haltigan’s sound, and he approaches brilliance on prepared piano in “Things.” The jaunty, rollicking feel he brings takes the song to a better place.

 

As far as the ensemble’s performances go, percussionist Troy Campbell earns his keep on a pared-down kit in songs like “Virus”. Rumor has it he’s playing his lap here, and other songs on the album feature an ingenious range of percussive miscellanea: a Saudi Medjool date box and the pizza box from a late lunch at the studio in addition to his standard bucket and suitcase repertoire. Matthew Kloss on bass drives the songs like a long haul trucker – he’s relentless, whether switching gears or deftly working the brakes. We hope to hear his Jersey twang singing on the next album. On harmonica Emmet Haltigan howls like an alley cat and yearns like a jail bird; his mandolin work on “Where the Animals Used to Play” makes the song. Joe Ancowitz is cleaner and fiercer than we’ve heard before and his strong musicianship is a huge asset here. Lastly, we hear the recording as Nathaniel Broekman’s baby – he definitely deserves recognition for crafting this seamless beauty. His guitar work and vocal interjections are no less noteworthy, but perhaps he stands in the shadows more than he should? Even his stellar improvisation to Haltigan’s vocals on “Heavy Cream” seem like a mere hint of his full range. Julia Haltigan and the Hooligans play 11th St. Bar every Tuesday in March at 9:30 PM.

March 4, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 3/4/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Wednesday’s song is #511:

Plan 9 – Man Bites Dog

These long-running Rhode Island garage/psychedelic revivalists’ claim to fame during their 80s heyday was their swirling, incandescent five-guitar live show, a high standard that their studio albums didn’t often live up to. This is an uncharacteristically terse, jangly and beautifully produced anthem with some sweet bass work from their otherwise mediocre 1987 lp Sea Hunt. The link above offers a choice of torrents.

March 4, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Top Ten Songs of the Week 3/2/09

Here’s this week’s hit parade! This is how we do every Tuesday: 

 

1. Jay Bennett – I’ll Decorate My Love

Opening salvo on the former Wilco multi-instrumentalist’s bitter, brooding new solo cd (available for free download here).

2. Edison Woods – Wind Song

A new one from the lush, atmospheric, often haunting chamber-rock group — minimalist, stark, haunting, with especially nice vocals from composer Julia Frodahl. Eventually this will be a part of a marvelous album called the Wishbook Singles.

3. Marissa Nadler – Mexican Summer

Ethereal noir shoegaze song from the haunting Boston chanteuse. She’s at Joe’s Pub on 3/4 at 9:30

4. Thalia Zedek – Hell Is In Hello

Another sweet intense guitar maelstrom from the former Come frontwoman.

5. The New Familiars – The Storm

Hypnotic delta blues gone grasscore – wild stuff. They’re at Public Assembly on 3/14.

6. The Mess Around – Drunken Words

“Bullshit I can’t? Bullshit, I care?” Whatever. Play this as loud as you can without going deaf or, if you’re at work, without getting fired. They’re at the Charleston on 3/20.

7. The Brooklyn What – Sunbeam Sunscreen

It wouldn’t be a Top Ten without a Brooklyn What song, would it. This is a tasty live version. They’re at Don Pedro’s on 3/5 at 10.

8. The Bombers – One Foot in the Grave

Sonic Youth meets Ted Leo.

9. Elextra – Afro Punk

Spooky surf dub en Espanol. They’re at Ace of Clubs on 3/11

10. Wet Coma – Song About Revenge

AC/DC parody, predictable but funny. They’re also at Ace of Clubs on 3/18 at 8.

March 3, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment