Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Classic From the 80s – Or From Right Now?

If this band had been around in the 80s and had recorded this album then – an era it easily could date from, had the band members not been in diapers or not yet born – it would be a cult classic today, and they would be packing clubs full of kids younger than they are now. On their fourth cd, Here, New York art-rockers Changing Modes leap from one radically dissimilar style to another with gusto, guile and a tunefulness that won’t quit. Blending classical flourishes, punk energy, playful and clever lyrics that draw on 80s new wave and a ubiquitous element of surprise, every time you think you’ve got them figured out, they drop something new on you. They have two first-rate lead singers and one of them plays the theremin – in a way that’s not cheesy or precious. The songs here, most of them clocking in at barely three minutes apiece, evoke such diverse acts as Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Adverts, Captain Beefheart, Pamelia Kurstin and the Go-Go’s.

Ironically, the simplest song on the album is the best – and it might be the best song any band has released this year. Moles, about the “mole people” living deep in the bowels of the New York City subway, is a scampering, ridiculously catchy, jaggedly sinister punk/new wave hit: “Your life underground is not what it seems, it’s worse than your strangest nightmares and better than your wildest dreams.” It goes out on Yuzuru Sadashige’s screaming, off-kilter reverb guitar crescendo, straight out of the Doctors of Madness playbook. The Great Beyond takes a pensive pop ballad and sends it tumbling into the abyss with some ominous Bernard Herrmann atmospherics, while the title track evokes Siouxsie with its eerie, lo-fi organ and skronky guitar – and a stark, classically-tinged piano bridge that comes out of nowhere but makes a perfect fit.

Bookended with a handful of lolcat string synth flourishes, Louise is singer/keyboardist Wendy Griffiths’ stomping powerpop tribute to a furry friend: love ultimately conquers all. Scratchy new wave/punk-pop, like the Cars with a college degree, Cell to Cell features a bizarre, noisy guitar solo from Sadashige, Beefheart as played by PiL’s Keith Levene, maybe. The rest of the album includes an uneasy, ornate ballad sung with effortless, soaring abandon by theremin player Jen Rondeau; a blistering ska-punk number; a playful new wave pop tune with a theremin solo, and a couple of jaunty vaudevillian numbers, one possibly about the evils of gentrification, the other a sarcastic sendup of catty drama queens. Count this among the half-dozen or so best albums of 2010 so far. Changing Modes play Ella (the latin club adjacent to Nice Guy Eddie’s on Ave. A just north of Houston) at 9 PM on June 8.

June 6, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Norden Bombsight – Pinto

One of the challenges of writing about music is to be quick enough to spot a genuine classic when it appears. This is one of them. Raw yet ornate, ferocious yet intricate, Norden Bombsight’s debut album Pinto hails back to the early 70s but adds a snarling, desperate punk edge that’s uniquely their own. It’s sort of the missing link between Pink Floyd and Joy Division. It’s art-rock, but it’s not prog; it boils over with anguished intensity, but it’s not goth. The current band they most closely resemble is New York gypsy-punk-art-rockers Botanica. Guitarist David Marshall plays with a raw, vintage 70s tone that enhances his unhinged, fiery attack on the strings over the nimble, melodic, shapeshifting rhythm section of Jonathan Gundel on bass, Julian Morello on drums and Derrick Barnicoat on percussion, loops and processing. Frontwoman Rachael Bell holds down centerstage with a savagely beautiful, wounded wail, adding starkly eerie keyboard textures as well as incisive mandolin. Norden Bombsight’s lyrics match their music, fragmented, ominous and disquieting. This is an after-dark album, one that resonates best by the light of a distant streetlight, or no light at all.

Like a vinyl record, it has a side one and a side two, each of them a suite. Side one opens with a dark, stately three-chord progression, the backup alarm on a garbage truck screeching evil, mechanical and assaultive in the distance, building to a desperate gallop and eventually back again, evoking late 70s noir art-rock cult favorites the Doctors of Madness. The song segues into Four on the Lawn, a feedback loop fading up to Bell’s accusative, Siouxsie-esque vocals over a reverberating, swaying march, burning David Gilmour-esque guitar chords against upper-register piano. Another segue takes them to Help Desk, noir cabaret as Procol Harum might have done it, Bell’s organ and then electric piano holding gentle but firm against the stately punch of the guitars, which finally cut loose in a forest of wild tremolo picking at the end.

Side two begins with a pretty lullaby for solo electric guitar, followed by the towering, 6/8 anthem The Raven. “You won’t have my yellow hair/Lay me down to rest/You left me there,” Bell laments. “I’ll never get you back to the town of West Haven” –  whatever that means. Marshall’s reverb-drenched tremolo guitar climbs with an unleashed fury, and then back down again into Snakes, which with its staggered, tango-ish beat and southwestern gothic ambience reminds of the Walkabouts. The band brings it up, then down again, into the scorching Nektar-style stomp of Altercation, shifting time signatures unexpectedly into a wild, circular organ-and-guitar-fueled jam straight out of Remember the Future, and an unexpectedly funky outro. Catchy and resolutely swaying, Virgil evokes the Grateful Dead, but not so grateful now that they’re in Hades: “Virgil, you’re out of your jurisdiction, now you’re just another man with a gun,” snarls Marshall. The album ends with its most overtly Pink Floyd-influenced number, slide guitar blasting like an August sunset over blacktop. And then it stops cold.

As intense as this album is, Norden Bombsight are even better live. They play Matchless tonight at eleven; watch this space for future shows.

May 6, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Smoldering Ashes – Songs in the Key of Mountain Birds Blue

Ridiculously catchy, often haunting, sometimes dreamy and psychedelic, Smoldering Ashes’ new album blends a vintage 80s new wave feel with a little goth and an occasional off-center folk feel for considerably more diversity beyond the wary, watery sound the quartet of Veronica Ashe, Jeff Brenneman, Dirk Doucette and Tory Troutman mined on their previous album Nervous Constellations.

The album starts out auspiciously with a casually torchy noir cabaret tune done southwestern gothic style, followed by a catchy midtempo new wave hit like Blondie at their most off-kilter and interesting. The third track could be a standout cut on Siouxsie’s Kaleidoscope album, building from pounding, ominous minimalism to a stomping crescendo with growly bass chords and aggressive wah guitar solo. Nick Charles Crossing the Alps (an inside joke, maybe?) is similarly dark and chromatic, like a stripped-down second part with eerie twelve-string guitar.

Track five, Eye of the Phobia has Ashe sounding like a more pitchwise Debbie Harry singing a mid-80s janglerock hit by the Church, maybe something off the Seance album. Give Yourself a Push blends Siouxie-esque menace with gorgeously catchy art-pop, taking the volume up a notch at the end even as it drops down to just vocals and roaring distorted guitar. 9,000 Year Old Man sets a distant otherworldly choir against simple psychedelic folk, T Rex as done by Steve Kilbey; Shake an Etch-a-Sketch nicks the Joy Division classic No Love Lost, right down to the skittish drums and the way the bass swoops up at the end of a phrase. The funniest cut on the album is a cover of the old Harold Arlen vaudeville song Lydia the Tattooed Lady, ironically a thousand times more apropos now than when it was written. Ashe affects a deadpan British accent as the band whoops and hollers behind her –  Lydia, as it turns out, has festooned herself with the Battle of Waterloo,Washington Crossing the Delaware…and Alcatraz! The album winds up with a brief, off-kilter new wave fragment, the psychedelically shapeshifting Le Locataire Diabolique (a collaboration with keyboardist Hyesoo Joen) and a trippy, atmospheric number. We’re considerably late in picking up on this one – it may have come out last year (on Trakwerx) but you just might see this on our best albums of the year list this December. Who’s counting, anyway?

April 17, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Song of the Day 3/17/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. It would be just too bandwagonesque to put up something by, say, the Pogues today, so you’ll have to make do with a Brit. Here’s #134:

Siouxsie & the Banshees – Icons

The centerpiece of the band’s 1979 WWI-themed Join Hands album kicks off with the rumble of cannon fire behind a fiery wall of guitar. And then the bass comes in and they’re off. “Icons feed the fires, icons falling from the spires!”

March 17, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 3/15/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Monday’s song is #136:

Siouxsie & the Banshees – Nightshift

The version on the 1982 Juju album isn’t bad, but it’s the towering, macabre epic on the 1985 double live Nocturne album that’s the most horrific, Siouxsie at the peak of her powers as outraged witness, in this case a hooker who kills her prey. Steve Severin’s watery chorus-box bass chords underneath only enhance the ambience.

March 14, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment