Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Jeremy Messersmith – The Reluctant Graveyard

Jeremy Messersmith’s third album of smart indie pop continues in the same vein he mined on his first two. This one plays down the death fixation in favor of an upbeat, wistfully tuneful 60s psychedelic pop feel. But unlike the rest of the slavish Beach Boys and Ellliot Smith imitators, Messersmith has established a voice of his own: there’s a depth and a thoughtfulness to his lyrics and a subtly clever wit throughout the tunes and the arrangements, an indication of how successfully he’s immersed himself in intelligent oldschool pop sounds.

The first song here is something of a cross between late 60s English dancehall-style Kinks and Elliott Smith, with some absolutely gorgeous piano/guitar textures on the chorus. The second track, Dillinger Eyes is Badfinger-esque powerpop, followed by the album’s best song, Organ Donor. With a dark, reggae-inflected Watching the Detectives vibe enhanced by brooding strings, it’s a vividly metaphorical look at how we fall apart: “Took my brain to the seminary, never seen again…left my spine at the wedding chapel…” John the Determinist works off a bracing, tense string arrangement that underscores the narrator’s obliviously stubborn OCD vibe. Knots blends an old PiL guitar riff with a string section straight out of the Moody Blues circa 1967, a feel that returns with the mellotron-driven sympathy-for-the-devil ballad Repo Man, all sad and alone since nobody cares that he’s dead and gone. The funniest track here is the lushly jangly Rickenbacker guitar anthem Deathbed Salesman, its protagonist trying to upscale a potential casket buyer:

You’ve got a reservation
But you don’t have to wait if you don’t want to
You won’t feel a thing
All your friends are there already
This is how it has to end…

Fans of the original stuff as well as 60s revivalists like the Essex Green and Love Camp 7 will love this. Jeremy Messersmith plays Joe’s Pub on May 28 at 7 PM. Memo to Messersmith’s publicist; email this anonymously to pitchfork and tell them it’s the long lost Beach Boys album. They won’t be able to tell the difference.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 3/1/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Monday’s song is #150:

McGinty & White – Rewrite

When he’s at the top of his game – and he usually is – there’s no better songwriter than Ward White. This is one of his more lyrically pyrotechnic efforts – breaking the fourth wall, loading on as many savage double entendres and puns as he can summon – from his excellent 2009 retro-60s psychedelic pop collaboration with keyboard genius Joe McGinty. The whole album is streaming at the link above.

March 1, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Dan Bryk – Pop Psychology

A strong candidate for best album of the year. Dan Bryk‘s new cd is a triumph of intelligence and wit, an oasis in a world full of idiots. It’s Costelloesque in the best possible way: lush layers of glimmering guitar and keys, song structures with a vintage 60s pop feel – catchy hooks and anthemic choruses  – and murderously smart, corrosive lyrics. Bryk delivers them calmly and casually, only cutting loose when he really needs to drive a point home. Otherwise, the songs speak for themelves. Bryk does not suffer fools gladly: he knows that American Idol is theatre of cruelty (and he’s not above cruelty himself, uh uh), he can feel the surrounding air reaching boiling point and he’s sussed the powers that be for who they are, a bunch of boring, greedy bastards. That’s a very prosaic description that doesn’t do justice to Bryk’s powers of observation or his gift for explaining them and making connections. The album title, like most of the lyrics here, is a pun: this is a probably semi-fictitious, corruscatingly bitter, Aimee Mann-style narrative about a rocker who never made it. Bryk has nothing but contempt for the music business and the entertainment-industrial complex as a whole, fueled by the knowledge that by all rights, the tuneful pop songs he writes deserve to be on the radio. And he knows they won’t be, on American commercial radio, at least, until Clear Channel goes bankrupt [memo to Bryk – dude, you’re Canadian – the CBC mandates mega airplay for homegrown artists – that’s a start…]. Additional venom is reserved for the “artists” who buy into the system: one of them Bryk wants to electricute, the others he’d merely bludgeon.

This album doesn’t waste time getting started with Treat of the Week, a caustic look at a wannabe corporate pop star’s pathetic fifteen minutes of fame. It’s just as deliciously brutal as the Room’s classic Jackpot Jack:

The kids are sitting down hanging off each tortured word

…falling from your lips like polished turds

And you’re thinking the kids are all right

I say crank up the houselights

You’ve got nothing much to say but you say it really well

With your sad tales of irony and the love gone sour to sell

Now the spotlight falls slowly on the kid from Soft Rock Town

It’s the next stop on the gold train to become…Jackson Browne

Next up is Discount Store, a happy, bouncy, deadpan vintage Britpop style number sung from the point of view of a kid quizzically watching the depression set in:

…The clock needs punching, the man is watching and the union is gone for good

With all this freedom how come there’s no more fun left in the neighborhood?

The Next Best Thing, with its slow-burning crescendo, looks at people who’re content to settle: “I know you wish I’d be more patient, cute and quirky and more complacent,” Bryk rails, and he can’t resist another slap at the record labels: ” I know it’s not a public service, supplying the freakshow to the circus.” Apologia is a hilarious solo piano ballad, a label exec’s disingenuous kiss-off to a troublesome rocker who dared to buck the system.

The best song on the album, and maybe the best song of the year, is City Of… If there’s anyone alive fifty years from now, they’ll refer to this deceptively soaring anthem as the definitive look at what music was like in 2009. Ruthlessly, Bryk pans around a Toronto of the mind, sometime after dark and then begins shooting, first the indie kids at the Constantines show, then the rest:

In the back of the legion hall the Goofs are playing faster

Turning up after every song til their heads are iced with plaster

The soundtrack of subjugation to to our friendly foreign masters

Downstairs in the bar the laptop kids are mashing

Some ungodly medley of Morbidox and Eria Fachin

If I didn’t think they’d love it I’d give them twenty lashes

Street Team is a spot-on, Orwellian analysis of how marketers attempt to Balkanize music audiences, set to a clever, decidedly un-Magical Mystery Tour theme perfect for the end of the zeros. My Alleged Career is sort of like Phil Ochs’ My Life. Its recurrent theme of “Please go away” is both a scream – “Can I get some time alone?” Bryk seems to say – as well as succinct distillation of how his music’s been received in the corporate world. The rest of the cd includes a beautifully orchestrated number with watery Leslie speaker guitar; a very funny, stubborn song whose interminable outro turns out to be a very good joke, and the ironically titled closing cut, Whatever, a bitter piano ballad. “Whatever doesn’t kill me can still make you cry, ” Bryk warns. Fans of all the best songwriters from throughout the ages – Elvis Costello, Bryk’s labelmate Amy Allison, LJ Murphy, Aimee Mann, Paula Carino, Steve Kilbey, ad infinitum – are in for a treat. Look for this one somewhere at the top of our Best Albums of 2009 list at the end of the year.

August 24, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 7/19/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Sunday’s song is #374:

The Lyres – The Only Thing

Uncharacteristically complex, anguished, completely noir 60s pop anthem with remarkably eerie Vox organ by the otherwise hellraising Boston second-wave garage revivalists. From Lyres Lyres, 1987; the link above is a torrent of the album.

July 19, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: McGinty & White Sing Selections from the McGinty & White Songbook

A marriage made in heaven. Songwriter Ward White’s decision to hook up with keyboard polymath Joe McGinty is a smashing success, an update on the classic late 60s psychedelic chamber pop sound mined by Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb and others. And lest you take the first few words here, or the deadpan cd cover photo, a “Great American Songbook” style parody of the artist and his young protege, on face value, McGinty & White are neither an item nor are they gay. The chemistry here is strictly musical, but it’s strong: White’s purist, richly historically aware, ferociously literate songwriting is a perfect match for former Psychedelic Fur McGinty’s seemingly limitless yet equally purist imagination. As a song stylist, this is White’s finest hour, exhibiting the kind of subtle inflection that Elvis Costello was going for circa All This Useless Beauty but never could nail. “You can’t outrun me, I’ll beat you home,” he almost whispers on the cd’s opening track, Everything Is Fine, the tension so thick you need a knife to cut through – and the unnamed antagonist won’t admit to herself that there possibly could be any trouble brewing. Then on McGinty’s Big Baby, a sort of Jimmy Webb homage, White gives the allusive seduction scene a steamy, downright sensual feel. And his exhausted, bled-white interpretation of I’m So Tired (a McGinty/White co-write) is equally visceral.

 

But the rest of the album is a snarling contrast, and that’s where it really takes off. One of the most adventurously literary lyricists out there, White smashes through the fourth wall and goes meta-ballistic with Rewrite, ruthlessly contemplating the shards of a relationship smashed completely to hell:

 

You can talk all you want,

I’ll just busy myself with revisions

God these things used to write themselves

You’re not wise to the wisdom of piss-poor decisions

The kiss that precedes the tell

We had it all worked out

Now it sounds so formulaic

What man would want it now

 

The menacingly organ-driven Knees is just as savage, perhaps the only song to ever memorialize CB’s Gallery as White snidely recalls an encounter with a younger woman:

 

Oddly nostalgic for a place I always hated…

When Blondie came over the box

First time I heard it in ’78 it was this record

That was before I was born she said…

You take it all you don’t negotiate

You take it all by inches and degrees

You can keep my heart, you bitch

Just give me back my knees

 

The Roxy Music quote at the end of the song is priceless and spot-on.

 

Break a Rule, a McGinty composition welds an odd and eerie early 80s synth feel to a haunting, George Harrisonesque ballad complete with watery, period-perfect Leslie speaker guitar. Stay In Love, by White gently and methodically uses the West Coast trip from (or to) hell as a metaphor for disollution over an unabashedly beautiful, sad Claudia Chopek string arrangement. The cd closes with a cover of Wichita Lineman, just White on vocals and McGinty on celeste, a characteristically out-of-the-box way to wrap up one of the smartest, most memorable albums of the past several months: look for this high on the list of the year’s best here in December. McGinty & White play the cd release for this one at Bowery Electric (the old Remote Lounge space) on May 21 at 11 PM.

May 19, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 5/18/09

We do this every week. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Every link here will take you to each individual song.

 

1. McGinty & White – Rewrite

Bitter, brutal and clever but not too clever by half, this collaboration between lyrical songwriter/crooner Ward White and cult fave keyboardist Joe McGinty puts a vicious spin on classic 60s psychedelic chamber pop. They’re doing the cd release show for their new one at Bowery Electric on 5/21 at 11.

 

2. Benny Profane – Skateboard to Oblivion

For anyone who wonders what happened after the late, great British band the Room broke up in 1985, singer Dave Jackson and bassist Becky Stringer started this noisier, more jangly, slightly Nashville gothic unit with similarly edgy, potent lyrics.

 

3. The Dead Cowboys – Dear John

Continuing the saga – an important part of the secret history of rock – when Benny Profane broke up, Jackson and Stringer went Nashville gothic all the way with this act, happily still active in the UK.

 

4. Grand Atlantic – She’s a Dreamer

Vintage Oasis is alive and well…in Australia! You like anthemic? You’ll love this.

 

5. Naissim Jalal – Horia

Parisian-Syrian ney flute virtuoso. This is a beautifully pensive instrumental.

 

6. Buffalo – The Grange

Beating O’Death at their own game.

 

7. The Mummies – Mummies Theme

Sinister lo-fi garage rock. They’re on the Maxwell’s/Southpaw shuttle in June but all three shows are sold out…awww.

 

8. Hope Diamond – Costume Drama

Nice catchy dreampop, Cocteau Twins without the valium.

 

9. The Hsu-Nami – Rising of the Sun ’09

OMG, a ferocious metal instrumental band led by a virtuoso erhu (Chinese fiddle) player doing Taiwanese-inflected stomps. They’re at the Passport 2 Taiwan festival at Union Square at 2 PM on 5/24.

 

10. The Ramblin Dogs – You Let Me Down

Blues band. Albert King, Stevie Ray, Freddie King, you can hear all those influences but no Clapton. Sweet. They’re at Kenny’s Castaways on 6/17.

May 19, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Hippiefest at Asser Levy Park, Brooklyn NY 7/26/07

Old hippies tend to skew hard in one of two directions, either totally inspiring or completely pathetic. Think back to the most recent antiwar protest you attended, and who was doing most of the heavy lifting, and who came out in full force: that segment of the demographic is clearly still firing on all cylinders, role models for all of us.

Then there’s the wrinkly, potbellied element lost in the ozone of whatever residual chemicals remain from all the groovy lids and trips they undoubtedly wish they could remember. If they only could remember what it’s like to remember. That element doesn’t come out much but usually trickles out for shows like this one. But not tonight. This free Thursday summertime outdoor concert series has a smalltown vibe, local merchants taking the stage to hawk their wares, the wide expanse of lawn taken up mostly by what’s left of the indigenous white blue-collar community here, local celebrity and longtime New York dj Cousin Brucie Morrow serving as master of ceremonies tonight.

We got there as former Wings guitarist Denny Laine, his voice shot, was wrapping up his set. He and his generic backing band phoned in Go Now (the single he sang with the Moody Blues before he left the band and they got really good), and the edited, single version of Band on the Run, complete with cheesy synthesizer. After what seemed an interminable break, Cousin Brucie going on and on about not much of anything, Melanie took the stage, backed by a young guitarist who may have been a family member: the vocals weren’t coming through very clearly at this point, so it was hard to understand what anyone, Cousin Brucie included, was saying.

While it obviously took Melanie considerable determination to drive down from Brooklin, Maine, past the Whitestone Bridge where she’d burst into tears (she’s from Queens: can you think of any other city, Paris included, that evokes such powerful nostalgia for returnees?), to play the longest set by anyone we saw here tonight, she really shouldn’t have been up there. Her voice is completely gone, and to make matters worse, she tried to hit all the high notes. Watching her struggle and miss the mark every time was viscerally painful. She’s a perfectly adequate acoustic guitarist: why she didn’t capo up her guitar and transpose the songs to a lower key is a mystery. When she did the obligatory version of Brand New Key, she made it abundantly clear that it was not what she wanted to be remembered for, telling the audience how she’d originally conceived of it as a roughhewn, Leon Redbone-style song, blaming her producer for making it fluffy: “Here I am, with silver hair and what am I doing? Cute!” she railed. Though she went out of her way to make it clear that she’d always seen herself as a socially conscious songwriter (which she was), tonight she did the hits, ending with Lay Down, which dissolved in a mess.

Country Joe McDonald was next, also solo acoustic, and got all of three songs. “Gimme an F,” he joked, then did some nice fingerpicking on an excerpt from the 1967 Country Joe & the Fish psychedelic classic Bass Strings. Then he launched into a fiery, sarcastic new song called Support the Troops. “Draft dodging chickenhawk son of a Bush,” he spat, and any preconceptions about this part of town being redneck Rudy Mussolini territory went out the window. The crowd loved it.  When McDonald hit the second chorus, “son of a Bush” became “sonofabitch,” undoubtedly the nastiest word ever to resound from the loudspeakers here, and the crowd was completely energized for the first time tonight. McDonald followed with another recent number,  a sea chantey about saving sea creatures. And then he was done. When Cousin Brucie returned to the stage, it turned out that he’s also against the Iraq war. And that Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz (a craven shill for luxury housing developers) wanted to hear Country Joe do the Fish Cheer! Cousin Brucie always came across as a man of the people, but Markowitz? A complete surprise.

Finally, the Zombies took the stage, just singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent left from the original band, joined by their very first bass player (who’d returned to the fold in 1969 in Argent’s self-titled project), along with a decent drummer who didn’t overplay and a heavy metal guitarist who unfortunately did. Though it was clear to everyone, Cousin Brucie included, that they were the act that everybody had come out to see, they got all of a half-hour onstage.

It wouldn’t be fair to expect Blunstone, now in his sixties, to have the pretty, airy voice of his youth, and he doesn’t, but he still hit the notes. One would, however, expect the musicians in the band to play the songs pretty much note-for-note with the records, especially considering how iconic their hits have become, but Argent didn’t, and his extemporizing didn’t add anything to the material. They opened with I Love You and followed with a bouncy, aptly bluesy I’ve Been Abused. Then they did Time of the Season, with a long, pointless keyboard jam at the end, followed by Argent’s lone, long top 40 hit, the forgettable stoner riff-rocker Hold Your Head Up.

Their best song of the night was Tell Her No, the chorus just as fresh and memorable as it was when the song was released over 40 (!) years ago. They closed with She’s Not There, the solo at the end unfortunately taken not by Argent but by the guitarist, who failed to ignite the crowd with a grotesquely self-indulgent, excruciatingly long heavy metal wank-a-thon. And then they were done. The Turtles and the Rascals – woops, Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals – were scheduled to play afterward, but even as brief as the Zombies’ performance was, most anything else would have been anticlimactic. So we went over to the beach to see why there’d been a police helicopter circling with its searchlight on during the show (a young girl had happily escaped the clutches of a predator, who’d managed to escape by the time the helicopter showed up).

By the way, if you haven’t been out to Coney Island lately, make sure you do. Developers are salivating over the beachfront, and not that there are enough rich Americans or Eurotrash to buy the whole strip of coastline, but the Russian beach bars, deep-fried bellybomb stands and surprisingly cheap Astroland with its $2 rides will undoubtedly not survive the onslaught. The Mets’ single-A minor league affiliate plays at the ballpark toward the end of the boardwalk, admission is $7 and there’s not a bad seat in the house. The Pakistani taxi driver joint on Ocean Ave. a couple blocks north of Surf Ave. is heaven for hot pepper addicts, and Mrs. Adler’s Knishes a block north of that is still open and delicious. Don’t take this place for granted: it won’t be here much longer, take a long walk along the sand before it’s patrolled by private security from Halliburton.

July 28, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments