Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Nightcrawling 3/3/11

There’s been a wave of buzz lately about Americana songwriter Kelley Swindall, who’ll be on southern tour with Lorraine Leckie in the not-so-distant future. And it would have been nice to have been able to catch her whole set at Banjo Jim’s Thursday night. By almost eight, she was wrapping up it up with a couple of low-key, tuneful country-pop numbers that sounded like Sheryl Crow with a college degree. It’ll be interesting to catch more of her songs somewhere down the road.

Israeli-American rocker Rony Corcos was next. She’s a raw talent, somebody worth keeping your eye on. Watching her run her beautiful Les Paul through a series of pedals was something you rarely see at Banjo Jim’s, and what was obvious right off the bat was how good she’d sound if she had bass and drums behind her: she’s clearly a rocker, somebody who knows her way around the fretboard and has real command of a surprisingly diverse number of styles. PJ Harvey is the obvious influence, and that really made itself known when she did an understatedly intense cover of The Piano late in the show, delivering it with an only slightly restrained, compelling wail. Her other cover was a raw, vivid version of Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine, a launching pad for some poignantly soulful, incisive, amazingly precise blues runs. Her originals, some of them so new they didn’t have titles yet, put a harder-rocking spin on inventively jazz-tinged, late 70s Joni Mitchell stylings, along with a big, crunchy, hypnotic rock anthem that she artfully assembled layering one loop on top of another and then singing and soloing over it. What was too bad was that as intelligent and diverse as most of her playing is, sometimes she falls back on the stupid moveable chords (think Pearl Jam, Dashboard Confessional or just about any dumb indie guitar band) that have defined indie music pretty much since the 80s. It would be nice if this was just a part of a learning curve (the last musician we criticized for that kind of lazy playing made one of the best albums of the following year – here’s hoping lightning strikes twice).

At Pete’s Candy Store about an hour later, Whiting Tennis, former leader of popular lower East Side band the Scholars, took the stage and played a potently captivating set, also solo on electric guitar, to a full house. Where Corcos is exploring a whole slew of styles while she finds her own voice, Tennis’ music has the same penetrating consistency of vision as his visual art – at this point in his career, he’s best known as a painter and sculptor with a eerily impactful, rustic Pacific Northwest gothic sensibility. Musically, growling peak-era Neil Young and Crazy Horse are the obvious influences, although as he told the crowd late in the set, his quietly blistering kiss-off song Heart of Soap grew out of a line he misheard from a Smog song, which makes sense in that he’d make a good doublebill with Bill Callahan. Other than a simmering bluesy shuffle toward the end of the show, everything he played was slow-to-midtempo. His pensive, sardonic, sometimes brutally sarcastic lyrics are excellent. And as stylistically, and sonically similar as his songs are (he stuck with his signature gritty, distorted guitar tone all night), a close listen revealed how diverse the tunes are. Bad Checks – “Was a time when you’d write a check,” he grinned nostalgically – sounded like As Tears Go By as done by Neil Young. Another had the feel of Crazy Horse tackling Wish You Were Here: “Save us from these Christian men,” he intoned sarcastically. The night’s funniest moment came when he recalled a nightmare family scenario – his father’s a minister, and there was an argument over whether tap water or river water were more appropriate for a baptism. “Hit a deer broadside on the highway…as I dragged it across the road it felt like I was dragging the whole world on a blanket,” he sang nonchalantly on the chorus, a rapid return to brooding, intense mode. He wrapped up his hour onstage with a bitter evocation of John Brown’s execution. Tennis makes the occasional return trip to his old hometown when he’s not in Seattle; his 2006 album Three Leaf Clover is one of the underrated gems of the last decade.

March 7, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Kris Sour – Desert Whale Ghosts

Thanks to the inimitable, charismatic Katie Elevitch for the heads-up about this

Acoustic songwriter Kris Sour had an avid cult following in New York back in the early zeros, managing to open for both Jeff Buckley and Patti Smith here before relocating to Tucson. His songs are tersely melodic and richly lyrical. His imagery is subtle yet vivid – like the best horror novelists, he takes the most mundane images and makes them menacing, especially when he gets surreal, which is a lot of the time. His nonchalant, often eerily deadpan vocals are backed by sometimes simple, sometimes lushly arranged acoustic and electric guitar with occasional trumpet and percussion. Some of the more tuneful songs here evoke the Eels; others remind of Bill Callahan back when he went by Smog.

The opening track LA Makeover is a deliciously subtle, catchy account of a New Yorker’s El Lay culture shock. The Day They Took Away The Breeze offers a haunting, minor-key, alternate view of global warming: in Sour’s version, the proliferation of windmills take all the wind, leaving the rest of the world without any. Panic ensues.

The tongue-in-cheek Yo Yoga Yoga toys with aging Gen Xers and their addictions. “I’m gonna miss me when you’re gone,” he relates matter-of-factly in the brief fragment Sunny AZ; Dry, which follows, surreal and hypnotic, makes it clear that his present location is less than optimal: “If I could take it all backwards I would.” There’s also the tongue-in-cheek tale of a novice contemplating whether or not to put the moves on a girl with a cleft lip: “I didn’t want to kiss her more than I did,” as well as New Salutation, chronicling some innovative if completely inappropriate ways to strike up a conversation; the funky, understated Apocalypse Now and the neighborhood psycho vignette Bertha. The songs give you pause, make you think and play in your mind (and with your mind) when you least expect it. Everything here is streaming at Sour’s myspace, but no doubt you’ll want to be able to enjoy the songs without being tethered to an internet connection.

August 12, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: C. Depp – Belle Epine

His tour de force. At this particular moment, Invisible Friend frontman/guitarist C. Depp has a franchise on quietly creepy, minimalist rock, foreshadowed on his band’s excellent 2006 release, Precinct 9. This, his latest solo album also includes his bandmates Andrew Malenda and Lispector on guitars, keys and assorted electronic blips and bleeps. Stylistically, there are hints of Smog, Mark E.’s solo work after the Eels, and late 80s Pulp during their Little Girl With Blue Eyes phase. Depp’s deadpan delivery heightens the strange, ominous mood, leaving the listener unsure if he’s just kidding around or dead serious. The title is apt – “belle epine” translates from the French as “beautiful thorn”. This is a beguiling and very unsettling album.

Depp wastes no time getting started: traffic passes by, and a siren wails ominously in the distance on the intro to the cd’s first song, Wolf Whistle:

Sister I need you
To answer a few questions
I don’t want you to cry
But I need you to help me
Some bad folks got out
And hurt some innocent people
…we will protect you, protect you, protect you,

Depp intones casually over a catchy, backbeat-driven janglepop melody. The cd’s following cut, Central Parc features attractively jangly electric guitar tracks and what sounds like guy/girl harmony vocals. But you can never be sure with this guy: that’s the beauty of this album. After that, The Where & the When sets eerie, tinkly electric piano atop atmospheric washes of string synth. The cd’s scariest cut is the all-too-brief Shyshy: “I’m shy,” Depp sings in almost a whisper, layers of vocals doubled and recorded just out of sync enough to give the listener pause. “If you really knew about me you won’t ask why.”

Other impressive cuts on the album include the skeletal, reverbed-out A Prayer for Hope for Forgiveness, sounding like one of the minimalist tracks on Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. The brief Fate Will Free Will imaginatively plays two separate vocal tracks with different lyrics against each other. The Mancunian dirge Ghost Self wouldn’t be out of place on New Order’s first album. And, Why We So Far Apart, Lover? – simply vocals and guitar – displays tinges of French varietes music. Depp is a big Cat Power fan and although this album doesn’t sound much like her, he sometimes indulges in painful, honest revelations, although more elliptically than she does.

Malenda’s production is amazing: with ample but judicious applications of reverb, he gets these bare-bones narratives to sound like they have something approximating a full band behind them without overproducing or sinking into slickness. Depp is nothing if not prolific, and Invisible Friend promises to begin playing out again since Depp has returned from a brief sojourn in Paris. Surprisingly, he can be a very funny onstage. The cd is available online and at shows. C. Depp plays the Creek and the Cave in Long Island City on May 25 at 9 PM.

May 15, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment