Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

It’s Never Too Late for The Blam

File the “new” album Blow Wind Blow by the Blam under great rediscoveries. Why did the Shins get so popular and not the Blam? The Blam’s hooks were just as catchy, their guitars just as jangly, their vocals just as pleasantly pensive. And they never got to the point where they started imitating the Smiths and sucking at it, either. If you’re wondering why all this is in the past tense, that’s because the Blam is finished. Other than a rare reunion show, they’ve been history since the early zeros. But just like the Beatles, a band the Blam closely resembled, they still had some songs left in the can after the breakup. Their third album, unreleased until this year, is a breath of fresh air, one casually sunny, smartly tuneful three-minute hit after another. Maybe, rather than counting this among the best albums of 2011, we should go back to 2004 and see where this one falls…hmmm…maybe somewhere between Elliott Smith’s From a Basement on the Hill and Neil Finn’s One All?

The title track plays off a briskly shuffling, casually biting, lush acoustic guitar riff, balmy vocals “coming in out of the ill wind…thought you’d hit me with the rough stuff….” It’s kind of like the Shins with balls. The catchiest songs here go straight back to the Fab Four: the gently swaying, all-acoustic I Don’t Know, with its gorgeously terse twelve-string guitar leads; That Girl, sarcastically bouncing up the stairs and leaving the poor guy wanting more; No Surprise, which with its cool repeaterbox guitar wouldn’t be out of place on a late Elliott Smith album; and Careful Measured Careful Plain, its vocals matching the slow-burning guitars, Itmar Ziegler’s bass rising casual and McCartneyesque, the perfect blend of Beatlesque and shoegaze. There’s also See the Monkeys, whispery bossa-tinged Zombies-esque pop with a recurrent ominousness; One Good Blow, which evokes Crowded House at their loudest and most guitarish; and Now Entering Sandwich, an allusively apprehensive, Dylanesque folk-rock number that foreshadows Mumford and Sons (and also the direction frontman Jerry Adler would take with his subsequent solo project, Flugente, whose two often brilliantly lyrical albums have just been remastered and reissued as well). The album ends with the tensely tuneful Will Still Kill, just acoustic guitars, harmonica and vocals, more kiss-off than lament:

You might get soiled on the way
Or encounter quite a dry spell
Your heart’s million miles away
Breaking like the Liberty Bell

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October 13, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Dadi – Bem Aqui

Who’s your Dadi? If you’re Brazilian, it’s probably Eduardo Magalhaes de Carvalho. Over the course of a long and eclectic career as a sideman, he’s worked with everybody from Marisa Monte to Caetano Veloso to Mick Jagger. This new album, his second as a bandleader is recently out on Sunnyside, and unlike what you might expect from that label it’s not a jazz release but instead a tersely arranged, irrepressibly sunny, indelibly Beatlesque collection of sixties-flavored three-minute pop songs. For those who were smitten by Os Mutantes, whether the first time around or later, this is considerably more direct yet equally cheery and captivating. Carvalho sings in Portuguese with a casual, thoughtful understatement.

The album kicks off with a Stax/Volt style shuffle transported to even balmier surroundings, followed by a fetching duet with Monte over swaying, vintage 70s style janglepop  driven by tasteful electric guitar and organ. The title track is sparse nocturnal bossa-pop with acoustic guitar, piano and cello; likewise, Passando echoes hypnotically with distant piano in a Jenifer Jackson vein. Nao Tente Comprender (You Don’t Get It) nicks the chords from the Beatles’ You Won’t See Me; the strikingly minimalist, swaying 6/8 rock ballad Quando Voce Me Abraca (When You Embrace Me) blends tropicalia with deliciously glimmering layers of guitars and piano.

There’s also an ominously swinging, 6/8 Os Mutantes-inflected psychedelic number capped by fat blues guitar solo; another Beatlesque tune that could have been a Brazilian version of a top 40 hit from Let It Be, right down to the watery, George Harrison-esque chorus box guitar; and another Harrison-inflected song, the gorgeous, slowly crescendoing  jazz-pop anthem Por Que Nao (Why Not). The album ends on a surprisingly dark note with a fiery, bluesy, early Santana-esque one-chord rock jam, hinting that this guy may rock harder than he lets on here. If Dadi’s lyrics were in English, he’d be huge with the American indie pop crowd, the Shins et al. As it is, it’s a breezy, fun album, the kind you find yourself humming and wonder what that tune could have come from.

February 24, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Champagne Francis – I Start to Daydream

Champagne Francis’ debut full-length cd came out last year and it’s stood the test of time: in fact, it’s one of the best albums of the decade, a gorgeous blend of catchy, jangly guitar, bass and drums. There’s literally not a bad song on this record. It’s ostensibly indie rock, but guitarist/frontman Brian Silverman’s playing is light-years ahead of most of his contemporaries. Armed with an ironclad sense of melody and a total inability to waste a single note, the songs here are finely crafted gems that will rattle around your mind when you least expect them. Imagine Guided by Voices at their most melodic, or the Lemonheads if they’d paid attention in college and actually learned something instead of posing for paparazzi.

The album opens auspiciously with Old Vampires, its supremely memorable break bursting out of the verse. The next track Waterskis is killer, with its inscrutable lyric about somebody who “can’t get out of the water.” This is the only song here where Silverman shows off his phenomenally fast guitar chops, and the result is a hilarious parody of a Steve Vai-style shredding solo.

Done So Secretly follows, with its percussive, fast 8th note new wave-ish bassline: Silverman adds a layer of distorted guitar after the second chorus. The title track continues in the same vein, building to another great chorus. The best cut on the cd is Burned to the Ground. Silverman’s deviously opaque lyrics are effective both in setting a mood and leaving you guessing and this is a prime example, told from the point of view of somebody watching the remains of a party from across the street:

Pissing in the bushes, passed out on the lawn
Cops showed up and busted anyone they could see
Burned to the ground, drunk and hanging round
Turned into stone, end of the day

There are layers and layers of textured overdubs on the break rather than an actual guitar solo: it’s one of the most memorable, hooky melodies of recent years.

Of the other tracks, Prize is more indie rock than anything else on the album, with lots of open chords which are usually the curse of the genre. But the vocal melody carries it here – and is that the solo from Two Tickets to Paradise?!? Photos of You picks up the pace with its sweet bent note intro. Once Only is fast and growly with insistent drums like early Versus. High Comedy is the loudest tune here, layers of distorted Fender guitars, wickedly catchy verse crescendoing into a chorus that’s just as good. Walter doesn’t get going til the chorus but then it’s brilliant, like the great lost pop song by the Church. Our Parents Had Money is a gently scathing tale of trendoids and the soft fate that awaits them:

Shopped in used clothes stores, favorite one’s the Salvation Army
We were the best dressed kids on our block down on Bedford St.[sic]
Everyone got this cause our parents had money

After they get sick of Williamsburg, they take their lame act out to the suburbs. This has to be one of the funniest and most apt New York songs in recent memory.

The rhythm section of Connie on bass and backing vocals and Nigel Rawles (of Scout and Rawles Balls fame) on drums is supertight and rolls this thing along like a motorcycle weaving effortlessly between rows of cars stalled on the interstate at rush hour. Silverman is a pro who teaches guitar and gets paid for playing, i.e. musicals and such, so this project has been pretty much on hiatus for awhile: we’ll keep you posted on any live shows, which are predictably terrific.

July 18, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Melomane – Glaciers

Their best album. New York art-rockers Melomane have made the quantum leap from being a good band to being one of the best bands around. Their sound is lush, orchestrated and somewhat Mediterranean-inflected with meticulously arranged layers of guitars, strings, horns and keyboards. If you wish the Shins had some substance, if you’re wistful for Pulp at their mid-90s peak – or Roxy Music circa Avalon – this is for you. And while it’s a truism that this era’s musicians stand in opposition to the Cheney/Halliburton regime, Melomane have never shied away from taking a stand, as they do here more passionately and courageously than just about anyone else out there.

The cd opens with the blackly amusing Hilarious, a breezy art-pop song that evokes Crowded House. Frontman/guitarist Pierre de Gaillande blithely comes on to a girl while the climate and the arms race heat up on all sides. The next cut Unfriendly Skies has to be the best anti-entertainment industrial complex song written since Elvis Costello did Radio Radio almost thirty years ago. It’s a driving song, set to an ominous, driving beat, a fiery shot across the bow of corporate radio:

From unfriendly skies comes a dull monotony
To conquer and divide, entertainmentopoly
We drive so fast, we get so lost

I’ll turn it off
The channel’s clear, it gives me no alternative
One day soon I know

We will break the stranglehold
Hack apart the snake and
Take back what they stole

The cd continues with the darkly romantic Open Invitation and then Nobody, which takes a turn into tropicalia with its bossa rhythm, trumpet and strings. The next track, The Little Man’s Castles – a big hit at live shows – opens with a gorgeous, Byrds-style lick into a propulsive, backbeat-driven verse with trumpet and keys. There’s a nice bridge right before the outro featuring an all-too-brief, tersely melodic bass solo from Daria Grace (who also plays in her husband Jack Grace’s country band, and leads a charming old-timey outfit called the Prewar Ponies). The following cut This Is Skyhorse starts out totally early 80s new wave, with an acoustic intro into something that sounds like Turning Japanese by the Vapors, then bass and percussion, then back to the lick with distorted, processed vocals. And then it morphs into a bluesy 70s rock song. It’s a weird series of permutations that would do the Skyhooks proud. Could the song title be a cleverly veiled reference?

The high point of the cd, and instant candidate for best song of the year, no contest, is The Ballot Is the Bullet, a quietly ferocious, 6/8 rallying cry to any one of us who might find the courage to stand up to the traitors and thugs who brought us Guantanamo Bay and the Patriot Act:

You’re fodder and you’re grist
I think you get my gist
And you know these people don’t like you
They walk without souls

They’re turning our green world into a black hole
They’re out of their minds
We’ve run out of time
In the occident and the orient

Please assassinate the precedent

“Precedent” is what the lyric sheet says, anyway. Major props to Melomane for articulating what most of us never dare to speak. Out of the second chorus, the song builds majestically with a starkly powerful minor-key climb from Gaillande’s guitar, then the organ kicks in with a desperate, furious crescendo. The song then takes a bitter, depressed climb down to the intro and ends on the somber note where it began. And while Gaillande makes it clear that “We’re in love with love/That’s why we’re singing this,” it’s clear that this song is not about turning the other cheek.

Welcome comic relief arrives eventually with the pun-laden, tongue-in-cheek, Pistolla di Colla (Italian for “glue gun”). It’s a clever postmorten for the end of a relationship, evoking nothing less than artsy 70s Dutch satirists Gruppo Sportivo:

Some Roman gallivanter gifted in soothing banter
He’s cooing his sticky catchphrases while life decays in phases
She washed her hands and toes beneath the Caesar’s frescoes
With who, God only knows

Then they segue into a theme which will remain nameless here: you have to hear it to fully appreciate the joke. The following cut Thin Ice is a ballad: mournful harmonies fly over the quiet, reflective verse:

Plumbing the depths of the sadness that springs from confusion
And skating on thin ice

The album’s last song is anticlimactic to the extreme, but they saved it til the end so you can just stop there if that’s your preference.

Throughout the cd, Gaillande’s writing is more direct and hits harder than ever, and his voice has deepened, revealing a welcome, newfound gravitas. This is a terrific headphone album, a great road album and a shot of adrenaline for any disheartened freedom fighter. Five bagels. With arugula, prosciutto di Parma and capers. [postscript – after a hiatus that took up much of 2008 and 2009 as Gaillande busied himself with other projects, namely the Snow and Bad Reputation, Melomane seem to be at least a part-time project again, a welcome development]

June 3, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments