New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Marc Ribot’s Young Philadelphians Bring Their Twisted Take on Philly Soul and Disco to Bowery Ballroom

To say that guitarist Marc Ribot doesn’t let the grass grow under his feet is a something of an understatement; where this guy treads turns into Carthage. To take that to its logical extreme; whatever he touches, he destroys – in the best possible sense of the word. The irrepressible downtown polymath’s career high point may be his shadowy, noir 2010 Silent Movies album, but his latest release, Live in Tokyo, with his group the Young Philadelphians – guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Jamaladeen Tacuma and drummer G. Calvin Weston – might be the best album of 2016. It’s a volcanic punk-funk record – most of it streaming at the band’s music page -with the same noisy, clenched-teeth exhilaration as Ribot’s 2014 Live at the Village Vanguard set. The premise of this one is typically ambitious: to connect the dots between Ornette Coleman’s 70s/80s Prime Time band and the plush Philly soul which served as a backdrop if not an immediate touchstone. AND to do it with two guitars instead of a horn band. Wild stuff. They’re bringing their careening intensity to a gig this Thursday, July 28 at 11 PM at Bowery Ballroom, a rare appearance by a jazz band at Manhattan’s best-sounding midsize venue. Advance tix are $20, half of what you’d spend if you saw Ribot in any number of jazz clubs. Chris Cochrane subs for Halvorson on the band’s current US tour.

The intro to the album’s opening track, Love Epidemic, is worth the price of admission alone: Ribot blazes through a classic funk riff, then Halvorson comes in with an artery-slashing pickslide, a pickup Japanese string section swirling animatedly overhead. Tacuma anchors all this with his bubbly, purposeful vintage disco lines in tandem with Weston’s straight-up dancefloor pulse. Both guitarists switch on a dime between hard funk and irresistibly jubilant blasts of distorted punk rock. It’s fun to just think about this, let alone hear it or try to play it.

By contrast, the two guitarists’ droll wide-angle tremolo approach on the ballad Love TKO brings to mind Isaac Hayes at his most soulfully hot and buttered. Tacuma and Weston draw on their time with both Coleman and James Blood Ulmer, the bassist strutting and slipsliding, drums moving effortlessly from chill to crush. Ribot builds with fiery deliberation from shivery acid blues to skronk to cap it off.

The group twists Fly, Robin, Fly – a cheesy 1975 hit by German one-hit wonders Silver Convention – into a sick mashup of Bush Tetras and late-period ELO – and then takes it toward saturnine Sun Ra territory. TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia) is just plain hilarious, Weston and the strings opening it as a bombastic Olympic theme over the guitars’ jagged, sandpapery attack, then they hit the groove with a snarky thump. They get a lot looser on an even more sardonic, wah-infused take of the Ohio Players’ Love Rollercoaster, Halvorson having a ball anchoring Ribot and Tacuma’s stoner funk with her cumulo-nimbus ambience and woozy textures.

Do Anything You Want is closer to classic P-Funk than anything else here, and a springboard for both Halvorson’s and Tacuma’s most incendiary playing. The group winds up the set logically with the funniest number of all, The Hustle. Ribot’s incessant quoting from an iconic anthem from a completely different idiom is as cruel as it is hilarious, finally getting his revenge for having to play the song on a wedding gig decades ago.

On the vocal numbers, it sounds like everybody sings, or at least vocalizes – not that there’s a lot in the way of lyrics, but it adds an extra dimension of fun. Since releasing the album, Ribot explains that the band is now stretching this material out even further, slicing and dicing the big hooks as springboards for even crazier improvisation. That’s an auspicious move since Halvorson’s own legendary ferocity is held in check somewhat here (she plays in the left channel, Ribot in the right).

And in case you haven’t already guessed, the Bowery gig may have something to do with the material on the bill, in addition to the artists. Can’t you see it: two dudes texting back and forth on Okcupid, “Let’s go to this, it’ll be so ironic.” To pronounce that final word correctly you have to hold your nose and say it in as flat and loud a voice as you can while trying to photobomb the selfie being taken by the gentrifier next to you. Steve Wynn put out a couple of dozen brilliant albums before he realized that he needed to write songs about baseball in order to reach a mass audience. Maybe Ribot has to be the leader of the world’s funnest and funniest disco cover band to do the same.

A Rare Midtown Show by Americana Songwriting Icon Joe Ely

Joe Ely may be iconic in Americana music circles, but he’s hardly resting on his laurels these days. Joe Strummer’s favorite country singer has seen the cult favorite debut album by his early 70s supergroup the Flatlanders reissued, along with his hard-to-find 1983 solo record B484, one of the first releases to utilize what was then state-of-the-art computer technology. Earlier this year, a previously unreleased duet by Ely and Linda Ronstadt was rescued from the vaults. His thinly veiled autobiographical novel Reverb: An Odyssey is out, and is as brilliant and understatedly surreal as you would expect from an eloquent pioneer of what would become known as alt-country back in the late 80s and throughout the 90s. If that isn’t enough, Ely is the Texas State Musician of 2016. And his latest darkly relevant, immigrant-themed album, Panhandle Rambler – streaming at Spotify – employs a wide and distinguished group of talent from his Austin circle. It might be the best solo album he’s ever done. His most recent gig here was with the Flatlanders at Carnegie Hall several months back, but he’s making a rare return to NYC with a gig on July 27 at 8 PM at B.B. King’s. Advance tix are $27.50.

The album’s first cut, Wounded Creek builds from an ominous thicket of acoustic guitars and bass into a darkly bluesy southwestern gothic ballad, Ely at the top of his game as purposefully imagistic storyteller. The similarly uneasy, tiptoeing Magdalene also works an allusive, haunted storyline, an outlaw couple on the run. “I don’t know what comes next,” Ely confides, “Your guess is as good as mine,” Joel Guzman’s accordion wafting in the distance. Coyotes Are Howling keeps the border-rock suspense going, a gloomy American narcocorrida of sorts:

Bright lights are flashing
Both red and blue
It’s nowhere near Christmas
But it’s long overdue

When the Nights Are Cold sardonically nicks a famous Pink Floyd riff for a somber portrait of illegal immigrant angst. Early in the Mornin’ follows a similar, more enigmatic tangent, blending elegant Mexican folk touches into late 70s outlaw honkytonk. Southern Eyes works a sarcastically shuffling western swing groove, followed by the folk noir hobo tale Four Ol’ Brokes.

Wonderin’ Where is a bittersweetly nostalgic William Carlos Williams-ish tale with Memphis soul tinges. Ely goes back to outlaw balladry with the brooding, ghostly Burden of Your Load, arguably the album’s best song:

State prison? Don’t get distracted
Keep your eyes on the road
The weight will be subtracted
From the burden of your load

Then the band picks up the pace with Here’s to the Weary, a populist anthem referencing Woody Guthrie, Bob Wills and George Jones. Jim Hoke’s ghostly steel keens icily in Cold Black Hammer, a darkly wry, Tom Waits-style story of a real femme fatale. The final cut is the unexpectedly hard-rocking You Saved Me, drawing a straight line back to Buddy Holly. Throughout the album, there’s all kinds of tasteful, often Spanish-tinged picking, contrasting with Guzman’s echoey, 80s-style synth lines, in the same vein as the Highwaymen records. Ely’s voice is a little more flinty now, which suits him fine since subtlety and stories have always been his thing. It’s another release that really should have been on last year’s list of best albums here.

Mariachi Flor de Toloache and Patti Smith Play an Unforgettable Opening to This Year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival

What was most miraculous about Patti Smith’s performance yesterday evening, opening this year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival, was that everybody who wanted to get in to see her was able to. That may seem bizarre, considering how far the line snaked around Damrosch Park and down Columbus Avenue before the gates opened at six, but by the end of the night, everybody was in, there was plenty of room and if everybody wasn’t listening attentively – most were – at least the crowd seemed contented. Prospective concertgoers should be aware that this year, in the wake of the tragedies in Paris and Nice, the security staff here are checking everybody’s bags. But they did that quickly and efficiently, and even courteously, something that should be the case everywhere but is not. Getting practically strip-searched by the sadistic door crew at Brooklyn Bowl Tuesday night was beyond the pale: that venue most assuredly won’t ever get any coverage at this blog again.

But Lincoln Center Out of Doors will, because even by cynical New York standards, this concert was transcendent, and there are several on this year’s slate that are equally enticing – the full schedule is here. The all-female Mariachi Flor de Toloache opened the night auspiciously with a tantalizingly brief set that ran short of forty minutes. Frontwoman Mireya Ramos dazzled the crowd with her soaring vocal range and her lightning chops on the violin, backed by her bandmates on bajo sexto, guitars and percussion. Ramos’ originals ran the gamut from plaintively waltzing to bouncy quasi-schoolyard rhymes, with a couple of playful detours into Led Zep and a less successful grunge remake. While the group – who take their name from the moonflower, which is reputedly an aphrodisiac – have a thing for the stately, dramatic strains of classic mariachi music, they transcend that genre. They closed with an irrepressibly jaunty, snazzily harmonized, Andrews Sisters-inspired arrangement of the jazz standard Blue Skies, a hint that this group has even more up their collective sleeves.

Smith told the crowd that she’d been asked to read a lot, in lieu of playing, but then added that she didn’t always do what she’s told. And drew lots of applause for a couple of poignant reminiscences of her Chelsea Hotel days with Robert Mapplethorpe, from her wildly popular memoir Just Kids. Then she led the band – her daughter Jesse Paris Smith on keys and longtime supporting cast Lenny Kaye on lead guitar, Tony Shanahan on bass and J.D. Daugherty on drums – through a mix of crowd-pleasers and unexpected treats. They opened with a delicate, slowly waltzing version of Wing, then picked up the pace immediately with a bristling Dancing Barefoot, the prototype for a million janglerock hits or would-be hits. Pouncing, intense versions of Summer Cannibals and Ghost Dance followed: Smith was on a roll and building to something that would prove to as unforgettable and impossible to turn away from as it was characteristically relevant.

A toweringly elegaic, organ-fueled take of This Is the Girl brought down the volume but raised the intensity. Introducing a tensely waltzing take of Break It Up, the bandleader explained how the song was based on Jim Morrison appearing to her in a dream as a marble statue in chains, finally breaking free and flying off to “his next adventure,” as Smith put it. The highlight of the show, musically at least, was a searing if relatively brief and almost unrecotnizable take of Radio Ethiopia, opening with a misty, hypnotic wash of acoustic guitar and building to a firestorm where Smith lashed out at the Donald Trump camp for calling for Hillary Clinton’s execution. In a long, heated address to the crowd, Smith reasserted that “This isn’t the American way,” and railed at the media for being lapdogs to the Trump crowd. Ultimately, Smith’s message is what it’s always been: “We want peace, we want love, we want to be fucking free!”

From there, the dynamic sweep of the rest of the show ranged from a soft electric piano-driven easy-listening radio take of of Peaceable Kingdom, matched by a cover of Prince’s When Doves Cry, to the garage-rock energy of  the Stones’ The Last Time. From there they made a familiar run-through of Because the Night and then hit an apt coda with People Have the Power. And then segued into the Who’s My Generation, complete with Shanahan doing a spot-on John Entwistle impersonation on the bass breaks, his treble turned all the way up. As the rhythm disintegrated and the band descended into a cauldron of noise, Smith alluded to the righteous wrath of Rock & Roll Nigger, but never ended up going there as the group left their instruments to feed into the amps. As she’d been doing all night, Smith chose a moment and let it speak for itself.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors may not have anything this politically charged coming up, but the rest of the festival is as excellent and eclectic as past years have been. Tonight features gospel and jazz; tomorrow there’s a concerto and a symphony by Mozart; Sunday has haunting psychedelic bolero band Miramar opening for salsa dura legends Richie Ray & Bobby Cruz. And that’s just this weekend. The secret to getting in seems to be not to wait for hours in the blasting heat before he gates open, but to show up about 45 minutes early, i.e. around 6:45 when the diehards are already seated.

 

Funk Pterodactyl Air Out Their Trippy, Danceable New Album at One of Brooklyn’s Best Outdoor Concert Series

There’s an awesome free monthly concert series this summer at the People’s Garden at the corner of Broadway and Greene in Bushwick, run by the folks behind deliciously slinky psychedelic cumbia band Consumata Sonidera. This month’s installment kicks off at around 3 or so this Saturday afternoon, July 23 and features both salsa dura band Grupo Descarrilao and the psychedelically cinematic Funk Pterodactyl. It’s not clear who’s playing first, but both bands are good.The closest train is the J to Kosciusko St., there’ll be food trucks and delicious vegetarian tamales available, and all-you-can-drink keg beer for $10. What a party, right?

Funk Pterodactyl have a brand-new album, Heights, streaming at Bandcamp and available as a name-your-price download. The opening cut, Starlit, kicks off a distantly uneasy, airconditioned Mulholland Drive noir nocturne, the theme moving to the background with Wesley Maples’ sax airy and calm behind frontman/lyricist Yahzeed Divine’s positivity-charged rap. When the lyrics drop out, Maples keeps the enigmatic, misty ambience going. By contrast, Super Funky is true to its title, with a tightly wound, pouncing oldschool groove from Alejandro Chapa’s bass and Ian Barnet’s drums, Eitan Akman’s chicken-scratch guitar contrasting with Cale Hawkins’ bubbly keys.

Without Dreaming is a psychedelic blend of the first two tracks’ styles, with pillowy vocals from Sarah Mount – listen real close to the bassline and you’ll hear a classic Ian Dury party anthem. Yahzeed Divine’s rapidfire Raekwon-ish wordplay adds a devious element to Glowing Eyes, a mashup of twinkling boudoir soul and straight-up, no-nonsense funk. As far as the final cut, Icarus , you know what that one’s about, right? The band builds it artfully, slowly shifting out of a simple, atmospheric, trickily rhythmic theme and then back, a soft landing for a high flyer. There will be plenty of highs like that at Saturday’s show in the park. 

A Free Saturday Night Brooklyn Show by Psychedelic Desert Rock Guitarslinger Bombino

Fiery Tuareg jamband leader and lead guitar wizard Omara “Bombino” Moctar lives on the road. Over the years, he’s also been able to put out a surprisingly diverse series of albums that continue to push the envelope and change the face of Saharan psychedelic guitar music. His latest album, Azel – meaning “roots” in his native Tamasheq and streaming at his music page – is a lot more terse and crystallized than you migiht expect from a master of the recently resurgent art of lead guitar. He and his five-piece band are playing a free show at 7:30 PM this Saturday night, July 23 at 7:30 PM at Prospect Park Bandshell. Femi Kuti – Fela’s kid – leads his Afrobeat band afterward sometime around 9.

Recorded by Dirty Projectors’ David Longstreth over a ten-day period in Woodstock, the album’s production thankfully doesn’t gloss over Bombino’s signature edge and bite. If anything, the sound is enhanced by increased bass  presence along with crystalline percussion balanced in the corners of the mix. Although Bombino has made it clear that this album is heavily influenced by classic roots reggae, that doesn’t come through as clearly as it could. The songs here, many of them familiar from concerts over the past couple of years, are a lot more dynamic than your typical rootsy two-chord jam, typically keeping things closer to the ground than the long improvisational firestorms that Bombino is known for onstage.

The opening track, Akhar Zaman (This Moment) is a typical blend of catchy and hypnotic, although Bombino’s Tamasheq lyrics address the harsh toll cultural imperialism has taken on his native land’s arts and culture. Iwaranagh (We Must) is even catchier, centered around Bombino’s penchant for playing desert riffs within the structure of American rock chord changes and hooks. The third track, the all-acoustic Inar (If You Know tHow Much I Love You) benefits from Longstreth’s beefed-up production.

Tamiditine Tarhanam (I Tell You,My Love) returns to blazing, distortion-fueled desert rock, the bandleader’s rapidfire hammer-on riffage bringing to mind Vieux Farka Toure. Timtar (Memories)  sounds like that same song capoed up the guitar neck, its call-and-response lyrics contemplating a relationship on the rocks.

From its ominous, distantly Sabbath-inflected solo guitar intro to its jagged, similarly dark reggae groove and long, grim sprint to the finish line (or the grave), Iyat Ninhay/Jaguar (A Great Desert I Saw) reflects the imminent danger of getting lost in the Sahara’s endless expanse. The gently exploratory, acoustic Igmayagh Dum (My Lover) makes a striking contrast. The hushed acoustic ambience grows even duskier with the understatedly elegaic Ashuhada (Martyrs of the First Rebellion), the album’s most trad track.

Bombino plugs in again, seamlessly blending his tube-amped, distorted multitracks in the hard-hitting, anthemic Timidiwa (Friendship). The album winds up with the mutedly hypnotic, acoustic Naqqim Dagh Timshar (We Are Left in This Abandoned Place). If Tinariwen are the Grateful Dead of desert rock (musically at least), then Bombino is the style’s Jefferson Airplane – or, as far as cross-pollination is concerned, its Ravi Shankar. Psychedelic music fans in New York would be crazy to miss Saturday night’s show, especially since lately there always seems to be plenty of room in the arena. And, oh yeah, the concert is free.

Sean Noonan Brings His Twisted Phantasmagoria to Joe’s Pub

Drummer-composers seldom write as intricate, elaborate, or haunting music as Sean Noonan does. The powerhouse drummer draws equally on Bartok, early Can, jazz, Balkan and avant garde theatre music. Thematically, he’s drawn to mythology and in particular the archetypal imagery of his Celtic heritage. His latest album, Memorable Sticks – streaming at Bandcamp – is a twisted, phantasmagorical trio suite with Alex Marcelo on piano and Peter Bitenc on bass, the composer himself often adding surrealistic spoken-word or sung interludes. The storyline involves a treasure buried deep in an Eastern European salt mine, a magic wand channeled by the drummer’s sticks, and a seemingly happy ending brought about by an African teleportation rescue mission. He and the band are playing the album release show tomorrow night, July 20 at 7:30 PM at Joe’s Pub. General admission is $15.

The opening track, Miala Baba stalks along with carnivalesque variations on an emphatic chromatic riff, then goes out into the stratosphere, Noonan’s breathless spoken-word interlude adding surreal menace. It wouldn’t be out of place on pianist Frank Carlberg’s marvelously creepy Tivoli Trio album. The second number, Hidden Treasures, works off an uneasily coy, Errol Garner-like riff into chugging postbop, then clenched-teeth circularity, up to a macabre, drum-fueled peak.

The title track edges toward a Monk-like stroll out of horror-film music-box harmonies, awash in Noonan’s coloristic cymbals and jagged bass drum attack, shifting in and our of focus, up to a funhour-mirror playground jump-rope theme of sorts. With its carefully waltzing groove, White Lady Bieliczka is more delicate, a blend of elegant bluesy phrasing and otherworldly chromatic vamps, Tolkien’s Galadriel in Jason’s hockey mask. The trio pick up the pace with the briskly shuffling Zabka, Bitenc adding the occasional blackly amusing phrase as the piano circles and stabs in an elegant duel with the drums – with a brooding art-rock interlude straight out of Procol Harum.

Marcelo switches to Rhodes electric piano for Nangadef, a detour into psychedelic soul, like Roy Ayers at his most darkly cinematic.“No reverb to that nation,” Noonan intones drolly at one point. “How are you? I’m partially free.” They wind up the suite with Shaka, winding in and out of altered latin funk. What’s most impressive, and enjoyable about this album is that as far outside as some of the trio’s improvisations go, nobody in the band overplays. The commitment to overall ambience, and mystery, and dark intensity is unwavering. Has there been an album so nonchalantly creepy released this year? That would be hard to imagine.

Breanna Barbara Brings Her Haunting, Intense, Enveloping Psychedelic Blues to Berlin

Blues guitarist/songwriter Breanna Barbara’s debut album Mirage Dreams – due out this Friday, and soon to be streaming at Bandcamp – blends the otherwordly, hypnotic tumbles and rolls of Mississippi hill country icons R.L. Burnside and T-Model Ford with the raw desperation of early 90s gutter rock bands like the Chrome Cranks and the lysergic menace of the 13th Floor Elevators. As relentlessly dark as her music is, there’s actually a happy backstory to how the album came to be. It’s a triumph of good ears and a throwback to an earlier era when there was much more of a music industry.

Back in 2014, she recorded a bunch of songs on her phone and slapped them up on Bandcamp. Then she sent those files to Andrija Tokic, who produced both the Alabama Shakes and Hurray for the Riff Raff. Tokic, being a purist, was taken by the raw intensity of Breanna Barbara’s music, and decided to make an oldfashioned, big-room studio album with her. They assembled a crack Nashville band including most of Clear Plastic Masks (Matt Menold on lead guitar and organ, Charles Garmendia on drums, and Eduardo DuQuesne on bass), plus Ben Trimble of Fly Golden Eagle on keys; Jon Etes on upright bass, pedal steel and keys, and David Grant sharing drum duties, The result is one of the most stunningly, darkly individualistic releases of 2016. Breanna Barbara is playing the album release show at around 10 PM on July 22 at Berlin, under 2A.

The album’s careening opening track is Sailin’, Sailin’, its chilling Requiem for a Dream-influenced imagery awash in a sea of guitars and garage-rock organ. And then it’s suddenly over. Who Are You, a defiant individualist’s anthem, is your classic one-chord jam, lit up with DuQuesne’s high-register bass riffs and more of that creepy organ in the background. The Race has an echoey ominousness to match Breanna Barbara’s airy, wary vocals and the lyrics’ grim undercurrent: it reminds of the Bright Smoke in their earliest, bluesiest moments. Menold’s creepy chromatic multitracks complete the picture.

She lets her vocals cut loose on the slowly marauding, dynamically shifting, metaphorically-charged Nothin’ But Your Lovin’, bringing to mind Molly Ruth’s most recent electric work. The band builds a delicious Carnival of Souls ambience with boomy drums, a web of tremolo guitars and phantasmagorical keys in Baby Where You Are. The story draws on a funny incident where Breanna Barbara lent her phone to a stranger who needed to get in touch with his girlfriend – as it turned out, he’d been just been sprung from jail after getting caught jumping a subway turnstile..

The album’s title track is also its most psychedelic, the bandleader’s hypnotically tremolo-picked Telecaster contrasting with her howling vocals. She follows that with the album’s lone cover, reinventing Melanie’s Some Say (I Got Devil) with equal parts gothic menace and punk fury. By contrast, the spare, lingering I’m All Right – the oldest original on the album – brings to mind something from the first Hole album reduced to lowest terms.

The sardonic Jessie Mae Hemphill-influenced Where’s My Baby has an epic, trippy sweep, the whole band – bass, drums, organ and a tsunami of guitars – all on overdrive. The vengefully crescendoing Go Back blends all sorts of cool reverb and icy vintage chorus-box guitar textures. The album’s most harrowing number, Daddy Dear, rises and falls in waves of spare reverb guitar and deep-space elecric piano, tracing the grim trajectory of a deadly drug overdose. The final cut is the stark, death-obsessed Wood Demon. Whether you consider this psychedelia or blues – and it’s both – it’s one of the best albums of the year. And this band is amazing live – their opening set at this past Saturday’s festival at Pier 97 over on the west side raised the bar impossibly high for the rest of the night.

Revisiting a Rare Gem by Jen Starsinic

Talk about working up a sweat: Jen Starsinic recorded her debut album, The Flood & the Fire (streaming at her music page) in hundred-degree Boston heat, with neither air conditioning nor fan, in the summer of 2013. The Nashville-based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist is hardly unknown – she toured extensively with David Mayfield, and is a staple on the folk festival circuit – but she deserves a wider audience. Vocally, she brings to mind the unselfconscious, plaintive depth and nuance of a young Erica Smith. Likewise, her songs run the gamut of Americana both old and new, from newgrass, to oldschool honkytonk, to more psychedelic pastoral sounds.

The album’s opening track, Time to Lose, an upbeat blend of newgrass and ethereal Americana pop, has a disarmingly down-to-earth bitttersweetness: ”Bones regrow but our heart doesn’t heal,” Starsinic explains, with just a millisecond of hesitation that packs a wallop. Ultimately, her message is  that there’s no shame in doing a second take if the first one doesn’t come out the way you want it. Likewise, the fiddle-fueled indian summer ballad Stay, a gentle nudge at a restless spirit who might just be happier in a relationship than in her “long years chasing boys around the block.”

The Only One Who Can Break a Heart is a morose vintage C&W ballad worthy of Laura Cantrell: “I’m damned if I stay, I’m damned if I try to leave you where you belong,” Starsinic laments. Oh My Darling‘s Allison de Groot lends her banjo to the low-key, John Prine-esque surrealism of Six Foot Three, while Molly Tuttle, of the Tuttles with AJ Lee, flatpicks on the intricately bristling, trickily syncopated Ragdolls.

With its stark blend of Starsinic’s fiddle and Eric Law’s cello, the understated escape anthem It’s a Foreign Thing puts a lushly textural spin on an antique Appalachian style. Mining its canary imagery for all it’s worth, Birdie in a Cage is just as allusive, and absolutely chilling despite the tune’s bluegrass warmth. The reverb on Starsinic’s voice in the lingering, woundedly pensive waltz Move in Time with Me matches the tremolo on her guitar.

Dive a Little Deeper sets Starsinic’s charmingly aphoristic yet characteristically brooding oceanic metaphors to an oldschool bluegrass stroll: “You can wait like a fool all sticky with sand for the water to wash your limbs, or you can wait like a fool all night and all day instead of wading deeper in.’

Charlie Rose’s atmospheric pedal steel hangs in the back throughout the even more disquieting Wildfire and its calm tale of a forest fire gone out of control. The gently but purposefully swaying Since You’ve Come Around winds up the album on a quietly shattering note, Starsinic pondering where the good times went “When it was dangerous you and cynical me.” Such a strong debut effort portends even better things for Starsinic: she’s somebody to keep an eye on.

Relentlessly Haunting 60s-Influenced French Noir from Juniore

If the French didn’t invent noir, they deserve at least half credit since it’s their word. And much as the concept of existential angst may not be a French construct (for those of you who weren’t phil majors, meaning probably all of you, its roots are German), it’s safe to say that it wouldn’t have become so much a part of our collective consciousness if not for Jean-Paul Sartre. French singer Anna Jean’s band Juniore’s debut full-length album – streaming at Bandcamp – channels that restless, relentless solitude, putting a shadowy spin on bouncy Françoise Hardy-style 60s ye-ye pop. It’s one of the darkest and best albums of the year and it might well be the very best of all of them: hard to say, as we’re only in the beginning stages of another été meurtrier.

The opening track, Christine  sets the stage: the guitars building a mix of 60s fuzztone and icy 80s wash over trebly, snappy bass and skittish drums. The song is a period-perfect take on the peppy garage-pop that was all the rage in France in the late 60s, but with a brooding, noir edge. Jean sings with a snippy impatience on this one. Dans le Noir is 180 degrees from that, vocally, a warmly swirling, bittersweetly nocturnal tableau – but by the end, Jean hardly sounds like she’s looking forward to dancing in the dark, like she says. Similarly, La Fin Du Monde, with its blend of psychedelic grit, swooshy cinematics and Jean’s cleverly intricate rhyme scheme, isn’t as quite apocalyptic as its title would imply.

Jean follows a vivid, doomed narrative over a Ghost Riders in the Sky gallop in Marche, lit up with some creepy chorus-box guitar cadenzas midway through. She works the road metaphor implicit in the pouncing, persistent horror-garage hit La Route for all it’s worth – thematically if not musically, it’s her take on Iggy Pop’s The Passenger. Then she opens the skeletally dancing Mon Autre with a scream – finally, six tracks in, she can’t avoid a comparison to French obsessions the Cure, but with surreal deep-space keyb tinges.

The band goes back toward creepy new wave-ish border rock with Cavalier Solitaire (Lone Rider), bringing to mind the similarly brisk but persistent unease of Jean’s colleague Marianne Dissard‘s early work. The best song on the album, Je Fais Le Mort (I Play Dead) might also be the best song of the year, comparable to this year’s early frontrunner, Karla Rose & the ThornsBattery Park. That one’s a bolero of sorts; this is a toweringly sad, phantasmagorical lament in in 6/8 time. Over and over again, Jean underscores how this metaphorical killing wasn’t worth the time it took – along with plenty of other implications.

Even the bounciest and most retro number here, Marabout, a single from last year, has a dark undercurrent: this ladykiller will get you on your knees. And A La Plage might be the most melancholy beach song released in recent years, part Stranglers, part dark 60s Phil Spector, with hints of dub reggae. The album winds up with Animal, a coyly menacing number that reminds of Fabienne Delsol. While there’s no need to speak French to appreciate this on a musical level, Jean’s lyrics are superb, packed with double entendres and clever, sometimes Rachelle Garniez-class wordplay. You’ll see this high on the list of best albums of 2016 if the screen you’re watching doesn’t go completely noir by then.

Gato Loco Bring Their Creepy Latin Cinematics to Williamsburg

Probably the best way to describe how Gato Loco has evolved is to call them a noir jamband. Which on one level might seem ludicrous: jambands tend to play upbeat, goodtime psychedelic music. Gato Loco, on the other hand, play slow, slinky latin themes that suddenly become bustling and frantic, stalkers on the run from the cops and maybe vice versa. They spent a lot of time developing that suspenseful dynamic at their show last month at Barbes. Frontman/saxophonist Stefan Zeniuk first conceived of the group as an all low-register combo playing 1920s era Afro-Cuban classics. Then they started writing period-perfect originals, then branched further out into cinematic territory. Much as the first version of the band was an awful lot of fun, this is the best edition yet. They’re headlining a somewhat unlikely but solid twinbill on July 19 at around 9:30 at Brooklyn Bowl, with the considerably sunnier but similarly eclectic Tuelo & Her Cousins, who mash up jangly guitar pop with retro soul, opening at 8 PM. Cover is $8, which is two bucks cheaper than the ten bucks for the Barbes tip jar: two bands this good, what a deal!

Zeniuk has never written better or more murderously. The highlight of their set in Park Slope turned out to be Liar, a slowly crescendoing, boleroish noir cabaret theme, like Beninghove’s Hangmen at their most epically focused, or Big Lazy about fifteen years ago, when they were more likely to cut loose with a longscale jam. To compare this band to those two cult favorites isn’t overhyping them: Gato Loco have always been a lot of fun, but they’ve never been this fun before.

Gato Loco’s belated album release show for their mighty Enchanted Messa (a reimagining of the Verdi Requiem), at Joe’s Pub back in January, was more of a dark carnival, with a guerrilla team of baritone saxophonists leaping out of the audience to bolster the group’s low-register sound at optimum moments. The Barbes set, by contrast, was more creepily cinematic, awash in long tangents rising out of ominously catchy themes. “Tuba Joe” Exley held down the low end while Zeniuk switched between bass and tenor saxes, leading the horns through tightly biting minor-key mambo and bolero riffage, trombonist Tim Vaughan wailing with a majestically bluesy intensity while drummer Kevin Garcia added all kinds of evil rattletrap accents. Guitarist Lily Maase ranged from terse, acidic jangle, to some straight-up hard funk, to a Hendrixian tsunami of noise and meticulously rapidfire volleys of notes. Having her and Vaughan out in front of the band have really transformed this group’s sound: if darkly energetic cinematics are your thing, miss this show at your peril.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 222 other followers