Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Piñataland Release Their Best Album This August 26

Over the years, Brooklyn “historical orchestrette” Piñataland has staked out an elegantly manicured piece of turf as purveyors of an inimitable brand of historically aware, hyper-literate chamber pop. Their new album Hymns for the Dreadful Night – streaming in its entirety online – is their hardest-rocking effort to date, their least opaque and by far their best. Their previous one Songs for a Forgotten Future, Vol. 2 contemplated a Manhattan without humans, and the still-smoldering ghost town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, among other places. This one skips in a heartbeat from the American Revolution (a recurrent milieu) to various eras of New York, across the country and back again. The driving rhythm section of Ross Bonadonna on bass and Bill Gerstel on drums give the louder songs here a mighty majesty – there are plenty of warmly inviting string-driven pop bands out there, nobody who attacks those songs with as much verve as Piñataland. Violinist Deni Bonet is a one-woman orchestra, showing off sizzling Balkan, country and classical chops, frequently contrasting with Dave Wechsler’s pensive, rain-drenched piano and organ.

The title track, which opens the album, is exactly as advertised, a gospel prelude of sorts. From there they leap into Island of Godless Men, a bouncy fiddle-driven Irish rock tune a la Black 47 with a clever trick ending and then a delirious reel to finish it off. An American Man is like Mumford & Sons on steroids, a rousing homage to Thomas Paine delivered via a team of archeologists (or graverobbers?) gone out into the darkness to find his grave.

A violin-fueled anger drives The Death of Silas Deane, which commemorates the Continental Congress’ first ambassador to France, later brought down (and possibly murdered) in the wake of an embezzlement scandal of which he was quite possibly innocent (and was officially exonerated, forty years after his death). “Let my reputation crawl through the mud of this unforgiving land,” the onetime Revolutionary hero rails at the end. The real classic here is a country song, Oppie Struck a Match, which recasts the detonation of the first atom bomb as the creepy tale of a rainmaker in a small town fifty years previously. Gerald Menke’s dobro ripples blithely as singer Doug Stone recalls the dreadful moment where Robert Oppenheimer, the “master from the other side” gave the order: “Will he open a cage to a heavenly age or set the skies onfire?”

The rest of the album is more allusive. Robin Aigner, who lights up many of these songs with her harmonies, knocks one out of the park with her lead vocal on the lush countrypolitan shuffle Border Guard, and plays her cameos to the hilt against Menke’s big-sky pedal steel whine on Hiawatha, a surreal, theatrical cross-country radio dial epic. The most chilling song on the album, musically at least, is The Oldest Band in Town, a bitter, Balkan-flavored requiem set in a Lower Bowery of the mind. The album closes with the towering, bittersweet, death-fixated anthem Cemetery Mink. Pinataland play the album release for this one this Friday the 26th at Barbes at 11; another first-class tunesmith, Greta Gertler kicks things off at 10.

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August 24, 2011 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Bush Years Remembered Vividly and Bitterly

Dave Wechsler is the founder and accordionist of the marvelously smart, lush Brooklyn “historical orchestrette” Pinataland. As The Tyranny of Dave (a tongue-in-cheek comment by poet Genya Turovskaya that he ended up adopting for his solo projects), he released a marvelously brooding travelogue of an album, Vacations, in 2007. His new one The Decline of America, Part One: The Bush Years is a personal rather than a political statement, although the sardonic, occasionally bitter tone of these songs echoes that era’s sadness. Much of this is pretty morose, with a sort of Elliott Smith quality, characteristically melodic chamberpop with a few surprises that come as an unexpected and very welcome jolt of adrenaline. Here Wechsler is joined by his Chicago band – bassist Aaron Zemelko, Cameroonian guitarist Didi Afana, and drummer Ben Gray – along with cameos from cellist Serena Jost, chanteuses Robin Aigner and Anna Soltys and guitarist Ross Bonadonna. What’s best is that Wechsler is offering it as a free download at his bandcamp site.

Months after he wrote the pensive, dynamically shifting 6/8 chamber pop ballad America’s Oldest Home, which opens the album, Wechsler decided it was about 9/11: you decide whether or not he was one of those who knew what was coming before it happened. The second track, Greatest Generation has a blithe, Summerteeth-era Wilco swing – it’s a subtle examination of the personal as political in the wake of 9/11, with a lively choir featuring Codapendency’s Tara Shenoy and Athanasia Sawicz along with Carla Budesinsky, Brittany Petersen and Kate Nylander (ex-Wildcats Marching Band), and trumpeter Megan Beugger.

The 6/8 ballad Abraham Man slowly makes its way to a swirling, off-center cauldron of strings and keyboards; the bouncy Too Late offers a tongue-in-cheek yet resonant look at the consequences of the current depression. The similarly upbeat Chicago River Song, sort of an uncredited Pinataland number, features characteristically incisive, nebulously bluesy lead guitar work from Afana plus vivid violin by Claudia Chopek. Every Damn Light, a Hurricane Katrina narrative, ups the ante with more bluesy, echoey guitar and the ex-Wildcats horn section. The real shocker, and the best number here is When All the Stores are Closed, a swinging early 70s psychedelic blues-rock number unlike anything Wechsler’s ever done before, quite a contrast with the next cut, the ornate chamber pop of Fire Drill, which evokes the elegaic understatement of REM’s Find the River.

The fast, blippy keyboard pop of Raise a Glass camouflages its bitter, sardonic edge. Remember the Maine, an Iraq war parable, sways with minor-key bite and some gorgeously plaintive harmonies from Aigner: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Pierre de Gaillande catalog. The album winds up with the ghostly, organ-fueled Call of the Waters and the similarly regret-tinged oldtimey-flavored Americana ballad Wake Up in Brooklyn. Fans of lyrical, smartly melodic rock from Elvis Costello to the aforementioned Elliott Smith will find plenty to enjoy here: if this is any indication, Tyranny of Dave’s planned volume two is something to look forward to.

August 22, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Larch Finally Make a Classic Album

For over ten years, long before 80s music was all the rage again, Brooklyn rockers the Larch have been making solidly good, cleverly lyrical albums that draw deeply on British new wave. Their latest one, Larix Americana is a bonafide classic, one of the best albums of 2010. It’s sort of the missing link between Squeeze and the Auteurs: edgy, politically charged, fearlessly and sometimes caustically cynical yet warmly catchy. Frontman/guitarist Ian Roure has never sung better, projecting with more than a hint of a grin or even a leer; surprisingly, he keeps his fret-burning to a minimum, maybe a half a verse or a chorus of a sizzling, Richard Lloyd-inspired wah-wah solo at a time. He’s the rare lead player who leaves you wanting more. Keyboardist Liza Garelik Roure (frontwoman of the equally excellent, somewhat more psychedelic Liza & the WonderWheels) adds clever synthesizer and organ along with her trademark sultry vocals.

The wickedly catchy opening cut, Sub-Orbital Getaway is paisley underground disguised as new wave, the guitar hook on the intro referencing PiL’s Poptones. It’s an escape anthem, albeit one with “privatization engines to take us up.” The question here is whether “suborbital” means earthbound, or refers to an area of the skull: expressway from your mind? With Love from Region One (a DVD reference) is a bittersweet tribute to all good things American from Roure’s perspective as a first-generation expatriate Brit: “We’ve taken root where you live, delicious and inedible,” he winks. And is that vamp a reference to Eddie Money’s Two Tickets to Paradise?

Tracking Tina might be the best song of the year. Roure has always been a spot-on social critic, and this is his best yet, a caustic look at cluelessly hypervigilant yuppie parents who “only want what’s best for our baby:” they won’t let her out of their sight whether they’re there or not. Likewise, the offhandedly gorgeous travel narrative Strawberry Coast has an ominous undercurrent. Behind the chalet, the holiday’s complete: “Smile ’cause you’re on cctv as you’re walking home.” Roure brings it all the way up with yet another one of his trademark wah solos. In the Name Of…, a slam at religious zealots, has bassist Ross Bonadonna enhancing its Moods for Moderns vibe with his perfectly crescendoing Bruce Thomas impression. Inside Hugh mines more familiar territory for this band, in this case a dayjob from hell. Queues Likely is equally caustic, imagining no respite from a wait “from bumper to brakelight.” And Space Vacation is a clever, tongue-in-cheek update on the faux reggae of the Boomtown Rats’ House on Fire. The album ends with The Long Tail, an aptly sardonic sendup of corporate groupthink. As good as this is, the band’s sizeable back catalog is also worth getting to know, particularly their previous one Gravity Rocks. Watch this space for upcoming NYC dates.

July 2, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Tom Warnick & the World’s Fair – The Great Escape

This album is a triumph on all possible levels. Tom Warnick is a great tunesmith, equally informed by classic 60s soul and gospel as he is by clever Elvis Costello-style songcraft, with a frequently disquieting, carnivalesque sensibility. He’s also a first-class lyricist, his genuinely Joycean stream-of-consciousness wit coupled to a blackly humorous streak. Which makes sense – four years ago, it wasn’t clear that Warnick was going to be around to make another album. A stroke following surgery for a brain tumor had put his guitar skills on the shelf, but Warnick wouldn’t be deterred: he moved to keyboards instead. Here he’s joined by guitarist to the stars of the underground Ross Bonadonna along with Dave Dorbin on bass and Peter Monica on drums. Warnick’s never sung better – there’s a gleeful defiance in his voice, as you might expect from a bon vivant joyously and somewhat unexpectedly returned to the land of the living.

“I’m gonna bust this ice cream headache,” he remarks nonchalantly on the catchy opening cut, Absorbing Man. The boxing parable Gravity Always Wins establishes what will be a recurrent theme here, beating the odds (or trying to, anyway). An indomitable pop gem, A Couple of Wrecks paints a pricelessly surreal post-sunup drunken scenario: “They stepped outside this morning and saw the setting sun.” And that was just the beginning. The Great Calamity kicks off with funeral-parlor organ, a grim but tongue-in-cheek look at disaster, Warnick sticking to his guns despite all odds: “We’re going to give just as good as we get.” A vintage soul vibe runs through several of the songs: the understatedly defiant We Win (Again), the ballad She’s Shining, and Bad Old World, where a Doomsday Book’s worth of apocalyptic omens all prove false.

The best song here is the lurid, creepy No Longer Gage, recounting the tale of Vermont railroad foreman Phineas Gage, who took an iron tamping rod from a blasting site through the head but survived, albeit with a completely different personality style (he turned surly and mean – who could blame him?). The album wraps up with a couple of psychedelically bluesy, Doorsy tracks, the title cut and then Keep Me Movin’, featuring an ecstatic gospel choir of Paula Carino, Neil Danziger, Lucy Foley, Dan Kilian, John Sharples and Erica Smith. Warnick and his band play the cd release show for this album – one of the best of 2010 – on June 26 at 10 PM at the Parkside, preceded at 9  by the excellent, new wave and ska-inspired Fumes.

June 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Paula Carino and the Larch at Parkside, NYC 5/22/10

Paula Carino didn’t waste any time dedicating her set to Love Camp 7 and Erica Smith drummer Dave Campbell, whose unexpected death last Wednesday stunned the New York music scene – especially the crew who had come out to the Parkside fresh from a whiskey-fueled memorial get-together a few blocks away. Trying to play a show under these kind of circumstances can be a recipe for disaster – like pretty much everybody else, Carino was a friend of Campbell’s – yet she pulled herself together, delivering a calm, reassuring presence which by the end of her set had brought most of the crowd out of their shells. Which is something the gregarious Campbell would have wanted, being a fan of Carino’s catchy, lyrically dazzling janglerock songs.

Mixing cuts from her devastatingly good new album Open on Sunday with a handful of crowd-pleasers from years past, the high point of the set was the well-chosen Great Depression, a minefield of metaphors set to a characteristically propulsive, apprehensive minor-key melody anchored by a nasty descending progression from lead guitarist Ross Bonadonna. She resurrected a casually snarling old one from the 90s: “I’ve got nine mile legs to get away from you.” Another oldie, Discovering Fire was as tricky and vertiginous as always; on a warm, soaring version of Paleoclimatology, another metaphor-fest, she seemed to make up a new vocal line as she went along. She also did an unfamiliar but ridiculously catchy one that sounded straight out of the Liza Garelik Roure catalog and a brand-new riff-rocker pushed along with gusto from bassist Andy Mattina and drummer Tom Pope.

The Larch were celebrating the release of their latest album Larix Americana, which if this set is any indication, is also one of the year’s best. This clever, witty, 80s-inspired quartet has been a good band for a long time – they are a great one now. Frontman/lead guitarist Ian Roure was on fire, blasting through one supersonic yet remarkably terse solo after another. He’d give it maybe half a verse and then back away, leaving the crowd – particularly the guys on the bleachers in the back – hungry for more. With his wife Liza providing sultry harmonies along with alternately chirpy and atmospheric keyboards, Bonadonna on melodic and propulsive bass and Pope up there for another go-round behind the kit, they blasted through one psychedelic new wave rocker after another. The strikingly assaultive In the Name Of…, with its reverb-drenched acid wash of an outro, might have been the most arresting performance of the entire evening. The funnier, more sardonic numbers – a couple of them about “bad dayjobs,” as Roure put it – hit the spot, particularly the Elvis Costello-inflected Logical Enough, as well as the tongue-in-cheek Inside Hugh, another track from the new album. The rest of the set accentuated the diversity this band is capable of, from the ridiculously hummable, instant hitworthiness of The Strawberry Coast – a summer vacation classic if there ever was one – to the understated scorch of With Love from Region One (a DVD reference and a somewhat sideways but spot-on tribute to all good things American). Speaking of DVDs, somebody videoed this show – the band ought to make one out of it.

May 25, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment