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

Loga Ramin Torkian’s Mehraab Puts a New Spin on Classical Persian Music

Mehraab, the title of Iranian composer/multi-instrumentalist Loga Ramin Torkian’s new album, means “shrine” in Persian. It’s an enormously successful attempt to play classical Iranian instrumental music through the swirling, hypnotic prism of dreampop and shoegaze rock. Musically, this most closely resembles Copal’s haunting Middle Eastern string-band dancefloor instrumentals; sonically, it’s remarkably similar to Huun Huur Tu’s landmark 2008 electroacoustic Eternal collaboration with producer Carmen Rizzo. Torkian takes care to mention in the liner notes that the electronics here are limited to how the instruments are processed, without any computerized backing tracks. Since all the instruments here are acoustic, the efx add welcome layers of sustain and reverb. Sometimes a riff becomes a loop; occasionally, the timbres are processed to oscillate or change shape as they move through the mix, dub style. Torkian plays a museum’s worth of stringed instruments, including but not limited to guitar, sax, baglama, viola da gamba and rabab, accompanied by Khosro Ansari on vocals (singing in Farsi) and a small army of percussionists including Omer Avci, Zia Tabassian, Mohammed Mohsen Zadeh, Azam Ali and her bandmate Andre Harutounyan.

The songs are dreamy, windswept and often haunting. The opening instrumental, Gaven (The Wild Deer) works an apprehensive descending progression in the Arabic hijaz mode, lutes and strings over reverberating layers of percussion and an astringent viola da gamba passage. Az Pardeh (Through the Wall) contrasts a matter-of-fact lead vocal with a somewhat anguished, hypnotic drone playing tensely against a central note, in a stately 6/8 rhythm. Golzare Ashegh (Garden of Love) establishes a sense of longing with its austere arrangement and dreamlike ambience; Chashme Jadu (Your Bewitching Eyes) is absolutely bewitching, in a creepy way, ominous astringent atmospherics over echoey clip-clop percussion.

With its subtle oscillations working against a distant, reverberating loop, the title track brings to mind a Daniel Lanois production, a simple, memorable, ringing motif circling through the mix. It’s the first part of what’s essentially a suite, segueing into Parva (Compassion) with its dub echoes and trancelike flute. Souz-El-Del (The Burning Heart) is the most rhythmically tricky piece here, a forest of lutes and what sounds like a kamancheh (spiked fiddle) doubling the dark levantine melody – it’s an absolutely gorgeous, sweepingly majestic, haunting song. They go out with a tersely wary, cello-like string theme. Simply one of the year’s most captivating and haunting albums.

June 19, 2011 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Mystery Girl Strikes Again

One of the most highly anticipated albums so far this year, Marissa Nadler’s magical new self-titled one exceeds all expectations: it’s arguably her best, not bad for someone who’s quietly and methodically been making great records since the mid-zeros. It’s always interesting to see how artists perceive themselves: Nadler’s bandcamp site is modestly tagged “Americana country dreampop folk shoegaze Boston.” All of that is true. Add to that “mysterious, allusive and unselfconsciously haunting” and you get a good idea of what Nadler is all about. This album’s considerably more country-flavored, more direct than opaque, less goth (although she still wants to be someone’s Alabaster Queen – that’s track number two), and a lot more emotionally diverse than her previous work: her dark vision allows for a little more sunlight this time out.

Her voice is as inimitable as always: stately and distantly wary, the perfect vehicle for the casual menace and macabre in her richly imagistic narratives. She doesn’t waste words, or notes, or ideas, leaving a lot open to interpretation as she always does, which is her strongest suit. Her songs draw you in, make you wonder what happened to the bear in his lair (track one, nimbly fingerpicked acoustic guitar mingling with reverb-drenched electric guitar echoes and a hypnotic whoosh of cymbals), or who the hell Marie and Justin are in the inscrutably bitter Mr. John Lee Revisited, and why he should care that Marie has a daughter now in another city and Justin is somewhere else.

The centerpiece here is the strikingly ornate, lush anthem Baby I Will Leave You in the Morning, countrypolitan as seen through the prism of ELO, maybe. “When I return promise I will hold you in my palm…sing this song and keep you like a bomb,” Nadler promises. Cali doesn’t do it for her, New York either – and then she she realizes she’s made a mistake. Nadler reprises that artsy country sound even more powerfully a bit later on, with the sad ballad In a Magazine, a requiem of sorts for a fallen idol lowlit with what sounds like an Omnichord synthesizer. The darkest song here is Wind Up Doll, an eerily metaphorical folk-rock shuffle about a war widow – or maybe her ghost. Puppet Master, which precedes it, is much the same musically and considerably more surreal, the girl/puppet wishing fervently for the guy who pulled her strings to return.

The most ethereal of the tracks is Wedding, a 6/8 country song that’s more of a wake than a celebration. Driven by terse gospel piano and soaring steel guitar, the most country-flavored song here is The Sun Always Reminds Me of You, its elegaic lyric contrasting with the warmly bucolic arrangement. Little King is a metaphorically-charged gem, chronicling what seems to be the would-be seduction of a young tyrant. The album closes with its most haunting track, Daisy Where Did You Go. “With my phantom limb and my eerie hymns, there are two of us here I know,” Nadler intones, a ghost in search of another who might have made it to a place somewhat better than limbo. You’ll see this one high up on our best albums of the year list in December. Marissa Nadler plays the Mercury on July 27.

June 16, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hypnotic Textures from Teletextile

Brooklyn band Teletextile’s latest ep, Reflector, makes a good segue with Damian Quinones (just reviewed here), although it draws on completely different influences, in this case late 80s dreampop and 90s trip-hop. Frontwoman/keyboardist/harpist Pamela Martinez writes simple, memorable hooks that slowly build into big anthems, backed by Caitlin Gray on bass and guitars, Luke Schnieders on drums and a posse of special guests. As a singer, Martinez is just as interesting when she’s quiet and pensive as when she belts – and she saves the volume for when she really needs it. The album’s first song, I Don’t Know How to Act Here sets the stage for everything that follows it, a dreamy intro morphing into quirky trip-hop with disquieting, bell-like keyboards and a big anthemic guitar crescendo. “Endless, endless, endless,” is the uneasy closing mantra.

What If I sets atmospheric vocals over tricky insectile percussion with layers of keys and guitars that come in waves, slowly up, and then suddenly back down: the song winds out with a wary vocal line over hypnotic ooh-ahs. John, a big rock ballad in disguise, slowly brings in big ringing reverb guitar chords and a long dreampop/shoegaze interlude before going out as quietly as it came in. The last song, What if You, a companion piece to What If I, is the loudest track here, lush and majestic like the Church or the Cure, right down to the bass playing the lead line, whether with a fuzztone or with a watery chorus-box effect. It’s good headphone music; like Quinones, it’s proof that accessible rock doesn’t necessarily have to be stupid.

March 14, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 9/27/10

This is sort of our weekly, Kasey Kasem-inspired luddite DIY version of a podcast. Every week, we try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone: sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. We’ve designed this as something you can do on your lunch break if you work at a computer (and you have headphones – your boss won’t approve of a lot of this stuff). If you don’t like one of these songs, 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. Norden Bombsight – Raven

Macabre art-rock menace from the Brooklyn band’s brilliant album Pinto – the possibly only song ever to immortalize West Haven, Connecticut.

2. Ana Popovic – You Complete Me

Balkan blues guitar genius. Can’t believe she isn’t better known in the US – amazing stuff

3. Hot Rize – Diamond Joe

The bluegrass classic – the band are back together with a new guitarist after a ten year hiatus

4. The Thrift Store Cowboys – 7s and 9s

Southwestern gothic, Wilco meets the Walkabouts.

5. Open Ocean – Daydreaming

The Cocteau Twins visit Twin Peaks, Washington. They’re at the Convent of St. Cecilia’s, 21 Monitor St. in Greenpoint sometime on 10/23.

6. Jessica Pavone – I Must Have Done Something Karmically to Deserve This

Catchy/abrasive/ethereal violin rock groove – dynamics central.

7. Kyle Eastwood – Andalucia

Clint’s jazz bassist kid – music runs in the family. That’s Jim Rotondi on trumpet.

8. The Salesmen – She’s So Punctual

Funny retro new wave hit by these subversive, theatrical Pac NW rockers.

9. Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds – Just My Eyes

Country swing with a Memphis soul tinge. They’re at the big room at the Rockwood on 10/23.

10. Darker My Love – Backseat

Perfect Rutles-esque Beatles ripoff.

September 27, 2010 Posted by | blues music, country music, jazz, lists, Music, music, concert, 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

Top Ten Songs of the Week 6/28/10

We very reluctantly suspended this popular weekly Tuesday feature about nine months ago when we went semi-dormant and didn’t tell a soul. It’s about time we brought it back. When we debuted our weekly Top Ten, we figured it made about as much sense as Billboard’s (it doesn’t). Like the corporate hit parade, this is totally random – it has absolutely nothing to do with sales or airplay. It’s our way of casting a wider net, spreading the word about artists that you might see on our live music calendar or in our album reviews, but more likely that you wouldn’t,  maybe because they don’t have albums out or they’re not playing New York anytime soon. We’ve designed this as a self-guided tour of sorts, something where you can click the links here randomly, or one by one on your lunch break at work or school, chill out and discover something new. We try hard to put up something for everyone here, some loud stuff and some quieter stuff too; if you don’t like one of the tracks, you can always move on to another.

1. Kasey Anderson – Torn Apart

Anderson, being a very smart songwriter, is offering a free digital audio sampler of any four of his songs. So if you wanted, you could get this potent Americana janglerock escape anthem from his killer new album Nowhere Nights for nothing: send an email with the subject line “Sampler” to nowherenights[at]gmail.com, and include your four choices in the body of the email. It’s a trick other artists should use.

2. Loyola – Cage

Pensive acoustic pop song about the aftereffects of a military coup. Not often you see something this smart in a style like this.

3. My Favourite Things – Summer of ’91

Majestic anthem through a reverberating prism of shoegaze guitar – like the Church with the singer from Lush.

4. The Human Hearts – Pilot Light

Smartly detailed, evocative down-and-out scenario from the pen of the occasional Village Voice music writer. Better than you would think.

5. Hurricane Bells – The Winters in New York

Moody, jangly, vaguely Elliott Smith-esque stuff from former Longwave singer Steve Schiltz.

6. The Inner Banks – For the Turnstiles

Atmospheric slide guitar-driven, noirish Americana.

7. The Mikal Evans Band – To All the King Kongs

Edgy, crescendoing janglerock. This band plays Spike Hill a lot.

8. Carrie Erving – The Rains

Pensive rustic acoustic ballad that turns electric and nasty.

9. Evelyn Evelyn – Campaign of Shock and Awe

Hilarious stuff from the Dresden Dolls’ Amanda Palmer with Jason Webley.

10. You Scream I Scream – Dog

Funny faux hip-hop – like Garbage but not quite as dumb.

June 29, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 5/6/10

Working feverishly on getting the May-June concert calendar  here up to snuff – have you noticed what a kick-ass summer we New Yorkers have to look forward to? Other stuff coming soon, in the meantime, the best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Thursday’s song is #84:

The Church – The Disillusionist

Centerpiece of the iconic 1992 Priest = Aura album, it’s a macabrely metaphorical examination of the charismatic appeal of fascism, surreal Kinks-style vaudeville rock through the misty, reverb-spotted prism of dreampop. “They say that he’s famous from the waist down, but the top half of his body is a corpse.”

May 5, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/28/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Wednesday’s song is #92:

The Church – Lost My Touch

Frontman Steve Kilbey’s first and only attempt at rap was successful beyond anyone’s dreams. In this case, it’s a snide anti-record label rant. It’s on the vastly underrated 1994 double album Sometime Anywhere.

April 28, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rap music, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/25/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Sunday’s song is #95:

The Church – Kings

Grimly hypnotic, apocalyptic anthem from the legendary psychedelic janglerockers’ visionary Priest=Aura album, 1992.

Software hums and hardware hears
We’re destined, babe, to live these years

The link above is a torrent of the whole album.

April 25, 2010 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment