Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Gypsy Treasures Unearth Some Buried Goods

Gypsy Treasures’ new album Buried Goods is one of those name-your-price deals up at bandcamp. It’s minutely layered, eerily reverberating psychedelic vamps that wouldn’t be out of place on an Electric Prunes album, or the Vampyros Lesbos soundtrack, and they’re absolutely hypnotic. Aria Jalali, otherwise known as Railcars, accidentally rediscovered the album’s basic tracks stashed away in his loop pedal on a recent European tour, and realizing how good they were, decided to finish the project, which he’d begun six or seven years ago. He gets extra props for tagging this as “sample-free” – looks like he knows that the audience for this is serious purist stoner music fans.

Because these instrumentals are all built from loops, the catchy, vaguely Indian hooks run over and over again as bizarrely oscillating washes of sound move into and then out of the mix. The first track, Stray Dogs of Wroclaw, sets surfy Chicha Libre guitar over a simple bass hook and a million swirling feedback and reverb effects – the Ventures as done by Scratch Perry, maybe?

The second track, Four Horsemen was ostensibly recorded live: its distant, minimalistic Middle Eastern tinged menace reminds of Savage Republic. Tadpole Walks Home, true to its name, is a slippery, slinky groove pulsing along on a swooping fuzz bass lick and creepy, tinny pitch-bending guitar sonics. The last cut, Of Moorish Towns blends watery chorus-box guitars and gamelanesque effects over an echoey Godspeed You Black Emperor style dirgey backdrop. Good to see that along with the digital download, an analog version of the original 4-track recording is also available on cassette from Not Not Fun.

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March 19, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/24/10

We’re officially on vacation, so this week’s additions to the 1000 best albums of all time are ones previously featured in our three years’ existence. Over that time, we’ve found out that discovering a classic album is 10% being able to spot it for what it is, and 90% simply the dumb luck of knowing that it exists at all. Tuesday’s album is a prime example:

889. 17 PygmiesCelestina

In their practically thirty-year existence, 17 Pygmies have played quirky new wave, postpunk, ambient soundscapes and artsy, Fairport Convention style folk-rock. This is their masterpiece, an eleven-part symphonic rock suite about love and betrayal in space based on a short story written by bandleader/guitarist Jackson Del Rey. A theme and variations, its rich, icy layers of guitars and synthesized orchestration fade in and out of the mix, alternately hypnotic and jarring, with echoes of Pink Floyd, the Church, the Cocteau Twins, and echoing in the distance, Del Rey’s pioneering noise-instrumental band Savage Republic. Its centerpiece is a menacing, droning twelve-minute feedback instrumental punctuated by bassist Meg Maryatt’s gorgeously melodic, ruthless riffage. A major rediscovery waiting to happen: released on Trakwerx in 2008, it’s still available.

August 24, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Big Small Beast

The big show happened at the Orensanz Center Friday night. Because the night had to end before midnight, it was like the Rolling Stones Revue, 2010 style: everybody got short sets but made the most of them. Spottiswoode opened, solo on piano. He’s never sounded better. He has a musical theatre production coming up in the fall and if the trio of brand-new songs he played are any indication, it ought to be good. Intense and pensive, he began with a gospel flavored number, following with one of the best songs of the whole night, a bitter, brooding wee-hours tableau possibly titled Wall of Shame. He then dedicated a passionate ballad to a pretty, short-haired brunette in the crowd named Nicole: “I would follow you to Philadelphia,” he intoned.

Barbez have never sounded better either – their set was amazing, maybe the best of the entire night, an offhanded reminder of how brilliant this band is. Even more impressive, when you consider that their van had just been broken into the previous night, most of their gear stolen (Williamsburg bands beware – this is the second one in two days). This was their instrumental set, all minor keys, erasing all cross-country and cross-genre borders with perfect effortlessness. Guitarist Dan Kaufman led the band into a Balkan surf groove in 7/8 time, building to a squall with the clarinet going full blast, down to a masterfully nuanced passage featuring the marimba, then bringing it up again and ending it cold. The next one had a tango flavor, more prominent marimba and tricky rhythms. After that, they worked down from a furious gallop to atmospherics and then more tango, then started the next one with an ominously funereal, minimalist rumble that picked up in a rawtoned Savage Republic vein, ending with a creepy, carnivalesque waltz.

Since Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch had booked the night, he was pulling triple duty onstage, his first set of the night being with his longtime sparring partner Little Annie Bandez. This was the cd release show for their new one, Genderful, arguably the high point of their career together up to now. The crowd was silent, rapt, amazed – as a raconteur, Bandez has no equal, but since time was tight she kept the songs tight and terse and absolutely haunting, beginning with Wallfisch on guitar and backed by the full band on a wistful, sad version of Billy Martin Requiem, a tribute not only to the fallen Yankee skipper but also that era’s AIDS casualties. “Thirty years in business to learn a word like ‘monitor,'” she joked as soundman Marco, on loan from the Delancey, made some expert adjustments (big up to Marco by the way – the sound was outstanding all night). The wee-hours lament Suitcase Full of Secrets was poignant and loaded with understatement, on the wings of Heather Pauuwe’s violin; they closed with a brand-new song, Dear John, a requiem for a suicide. Bandez looked up, then around at the majestic synagogue facade behind the stage and did a slow, thoughtful 360, leading the crowd’s eyes just as she’d led their ears.

Bee and Flower have been conspicuously absent from the New York stage, but they haven’t lost a step. Frontwoman/bassist Dana Schechter began their all-too-brief set as chanteuse, swaying and playing shakers on a particularly haunting version of the slowly sweeping, characteristically cinematic minor-key 6/8 anthem Homeland. They picked up the pace briefly with a bouncy number that saw lead guitarist Lynn Wright (leader of the amazing And the Wiremen) swooping on his low E string to provide a second bassline against Schechter’s slinky groove. Switching pensively from tango inflections to starlit wonder to a pounding, hypnotically intense version of Twin Stars, a standout track from their first album, the only thing missing was the epic suspense film for which the songs would have made the perfect score.

The crowd peaked for Botanica, who were serenaded on and then offstage, from the balcony overhead, with the exquisive and otherworldly Balkan vocals of two completely unamplified singers, Black Sea Hotel’s Corinna Snyder and her equally haunting pal Kelly. Wallfisch had just played keys for Bee and Flower, so he switched to his battered Wurlitzer-and-organ combo and then went into a zone. Guitarist John Andrews blasted out wild Dick Dale-style tremolo-picked passages, playing through a skin-peeling cloud of reverb and delay. He also sang what might have been the best song of the whole night, the menacing art-rock epic Xmas, opening with just guitar and vocals for a Beatlesque verse, finally exploding with a crash on the second chorus. Their opener, the title track to their new album Who You Are (whose release was also being celebrated this evening) moved from stately menace to unaffected, longing angst; La Valse Magnetique, sort of the title track to their previous studio cd, featured more insane surf guitar and a very pregnant pause. Monster surf met Elvis Costello on a pointed, relentless version of the gypsy-punk Witness. There were other acts on the bill, but after a set like this, anything that followed it would have been anticlimactic – after five bands, maybe more (this is just the highlights), it was time to take a break and enjoy what was left of the early summer evening outside.

So sold as we were on this show (in case you were away, we plugged it shamelessly for a week), it pretty much delivered on its promise. The weekly Small Beast concert upstairs at the Delancey – from which this sprang – is the closest thing we have these days in New York to what CBGB was in the 70s, or what Tonic was from 1995 to 2005: the most fertile, fearlessly imaginative rock and rock-oriented scene in town. And from a blogger’s perspective, it’s a dream come true – for the price of a few hours worth of an otherwise fairly useless Monday, it’s an absurdly easy way to keep in touch with some of the world’s most vital rock and rock-oriented acts. Shame on the other Manhattan venues for not doing something like this on a Saturday and promoting it to a wider audience.

May 24, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: 17 Pygmies – 13 Blackbirds

17 Pygmies is the name of the band. Former Savage Republic-an Jackson Del Rey and Louise Bialik’s long-running West Coast outfit started out as a skewed new wave/pop band but has gravitated toward art-rock since. This new cd has been a long time coming, and it’s been worth the wait. It’s a beautifully rustic, mostly acoustic record with vocals by Bialik, austere fingerpicked guitar, autumnal melodies and light percussion in places. Think of it as the thinking person’s alternative to Hem. It picks up steam as it goes along.

The understatedly memorable opening theme, Heavenly Intro is reprised at the end of the initial tracks as Heavenly Creatures. In between, we get the pretty title cut and the absolutely gorgeous Tree of Life (if this is about pot, it must be seriously hydroponic). After that, the stately waltz Get Out!, the haunting 6/8 ballad Water Carry Me with its pastoral blend of guitar, piano and violin and then truth in advertising with A Brief Interlude – more 6/8 time with beautiful fingerpicked classical guitar, sounding like a good baroque classical piece. The next song, 125 History has ghostly vocals set to stark strings; Lila Paosa, which follows, is another quiet pretty song with ringing overtones from the guitars and organ adding just a tinge of disquieting dissonance. Strings come in toward the end and build to a crescendo. Ubi Sunt (Latin for “where are then”) and Heavenly Creatures feature both piano, voice and strings. There are three bonus tracks on the first cd – quite possibly left over from a previous project – which make a good triptych in 6/8: an instrumental with piano and strings, an original song, and a cover of the McCartney chestnut from the White Album followed by a piano instrumental to close it.

This is a double cd: the second one is called 13 Lotus which (seems to be) 13 remixes of the song from 13 Blackbirds. It’s pretty much all hypnotic, sleepy, downtempo, mostly instrumental trip-hop variations except for a rather disturbing version with sirens phasing from speaker to speaker which will quickly have listeners rushing to the window and then wondering where all the emergency vehicles are. It’s all well worth owning and comes in a charmingly illustrated, Edward Gorey-esque double cardboard sleeve.

November 12, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: 17 Pygmies at PA’s Lounge, Somerville, MA 5/25/07

Following Randi Russo and her band is never easy, but long-running California act 17 Pygmies proved more than worthy of the task. The band setup for the current tour includes three guitarists, including Jackson Del Rey (ex-Savage Republic) on Strat as well as a 12-string acoustic player and their frontwoman switching back and forth between acoustic guitar and accordion. If it’s possible for a sometimes quirky, often transcendentally beautiful art-rock band to slay, 17 Pygmies slayed.

They opened with a couple of tunes set to a pummeling surf beat, the second with a ridiculously long title (edited version: Sammy Hagar Saves Los Angeles from Godzilla). It didn’t sound anything like the Hag or Godzilla – in fact, it was a dead ringer for Misirlou up until the chorus – but it was the perfect opportunity for Del Rey to show off his devious wit. Then they got serious.

The rest of the set was mostly new material from their new album 13 Blackbirds (their first release since the 80s), as well as some unreleased songs. 17 Pygmies alternated lush, ornately arranged art-rock anthems with quieter, introspective, pastoral fare featuring a lot of fingerpicked classical guitar. With the clang and chime of the 12-string carrying the melody and Del Rey’s nimble, sometimes minimalist leads and fills hovering and circling around, they brought to mind other great, artsy jangle bands like the Church, the Byrds, Fairport Convention or the late, great Wirebirds. Mixing major and minor chords, verses that built slowly to towering refrains and then subsided again, the band held the small but attentive audience spellbound. If the live show is any indication, the new album must be amazing. This is a band you should get to know.

They ended their hourlong set with a psychedelic Kinks cover and then a suitably volcanic, seven-minute take on the Neil Young classic Cortez the Killer which Del Rey attacked with appropriate frenzy when it came time to solo, chopping at the fretboard with a fury that would make Old Neil proud, using his effects pedal to get a watery, chorus effect that effectively set this version apart from the millions of others.

May 27, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments