New York Music Daily

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A New Vinyl Box Set For Lovers of 70s Psychedelia, Mystical Indian and Middle Eastern Sounds

It may seem strange that an Indian-influenced German jamband would name themselves after a Mayan creation myth. But Popol Vuh’s influences, and the scope of their music, were vast. Bandleader and keyboardist Florian Fricke came out of the minimalist side of the German avant garde, but by the time the band were through, they’d taken successful plunges into ornate, High Romantic orchestral rock, psychedelia, ambient music and movie scores. Much of it is unselfconsciously beautiful.

Werner Herzog asserts that without Popul Vuh’s soundtracks, several of his best films never would have existed: endorsements don’t get better than that. This year saw the reissue of four of the band’s best-loved albums – 1973’s Seligpreisung, 1979’s Coeur de Verre, 1983’s Agape-Agape Love-Love and the 1987 score to Herzog’s film Cobra Verde – as a lavish vinyl box set complete with original artwork, posters and expanded liner notes. Considering that Popul Vuh’s albums were European imports, expensive to begin with and now command daunting prices on the collector market, this is a goldmine for 70s art-rock fans. Each of the records is streaming at Spotify (click the links in the titles below).

There’s a verdant Moody Blues Romanticism to much of Seligpreisung, fueled by Robert Eliscu’s soaring, expressive oboe over Fricke’s bright but often hypnotic, mantra-like piano and synth work. With the addition of guitarists Conny Veit and Amon Düül II’s Daniel Fichelscher, this was the group’s first real rock record, veering suddenly from moody Pink Floyd interludes to the careening Grateful Dead-influenced jams that would pervade much of the rest of their rock material. Selig sind die, die da hungem (Blessed Are Those Who Are Hungry), with a long, bluesy, Gilmouresque guitar solo from Fichelscher, perfectly encapsulates all that. As with all these records, there’s a bonus track, in this case the rare single Be in Love, a sunny chamber pop ballad.

Fricke and Fichelscher switch out the second guitar for Al Gromer’s sitar, adding both lush texture and curlicuing mystery to the Coeur de Verre soundtrack, incorporating more of the incantatory instrumental raga-rock sound of the band’s 1973 Hosianna Mantra album. Blatter aus dem Buch der Kuhnheit (Pages From the Book of Fearlessness) sounds like the Dead taking on a Scottish air with Indian tinges, while Der Ruf (The Call) comes across as a soaring, loopy three-man Dead jam. Rising from anxious minimalism to a crescendoing, clanging triumph, the big epic here is Engel de Gegenwart (Today’s Angel). There’s also a deliciously dark, chromatic interlude, Huter der Schwelle (Guardian of the Threshold). The bonus track is Earth View, a spare, sober 1977 Fricke solo piano piece.

Veit’s guitar returns on the harder-rocking Agape-Agape Love-Love, which foreshadows King Gizzard’s uneasy, chromatic Turkish trance-rock by almost forty years. Singer Renate Knaup’s crystalline, sepulchral vocalese sails over a similarly haunting Middle Eastern-inflected backdrop in the Rumi-inspired Behold, the Drover Summons. Circledance, the bonus track, fades up and eventually out like a second-set interlude by the Dead, who were arguably at their peak as a live band at the time Popul Vuh recorded this. Interestingly, the only piano-driven track is the starry closing nocturne Why Do I Sleep.

The Cobra Verde soundtrack is even more Indian-inflected and lushly symphonic, the Bavarian State Opera Chorus serving as kirtan choir in a theme and variations that hark back to Fricke’s beginnings. He reaches for the orchestra’s ominously drifting ambience in the marketplace scene with a couple of subsequent solo synthscapes. It’s a well-chosen way to bring the box set full circle.

Darkness and Light For December 7

On the dark side, Karla Rose Moheno – whose metaphorically crushing, allusively haunting Battery Park topped this blog’s picks for best song of 2020 – has not been idle since. Most recently she’s lent her mysterious, endlessly mutable voice to While the World Stops, the new single by Grand Flux. Shadowy, drifting industrial-tinged trip-hop is an unexpected new avenue for her.

On the lighter side, the perennially acerbic Dennis Davison, former frontman of psychedelic cult figures the Jigsaw Seen has been putting out a series of catchy singles, including Sensual Summer. Here he hits the high-beams for some hope in an era that’s been anything but sensual and summery for too many of us.

If you want something 180 degrees from that, check out The Guise of Comedy, a twisted, phantasmagorical 60s-style psych-pop gem

Staying on the dark side for the most part, French cinematic duo Abraham Fogg have a new soundtrack to one of the world’s first horror films, Blåkulla streaming at Bandcamp. You thought Blacula director William Crain was just being clever with that title? This score puts a surrealistically techy spin on those old visuals. Uneasily flickering violin arpeggios rise to a brooding dancefloor thump. Starry keys gleam down icily, minor-key stillness wafts in and out. There’s also a wry, synthy, sometimes goofy motorik sensibility here and there. The devil turns out to be an robotic Terminator type, which makes sense in 2021.

A Playful, Eclectic, Un-Cheesy Christmas Jazz Album From Singer Vienna Carroll

Singer Vienna Carroll is best known for bringing a fascinating level of historical insight to her songwriting and interpretations of black American folk music from across the decades and centuries. But she’s also an actress, and she has great comedic timing. She has a new Christmas album, Mary Had a Baby streaming at youtube.

The track that’s getting a lot of traction is Santa Baby, Carroll exchanging increasingly sly innuendo with percussionist Keith Johnston. The band – which also includes pianist Dan Furman and bassist Michael O’Brien – give the song a saloon jazz flair.

The group reinvent Vince Guaraldi’s Christmas Time Is Here as a jazz waltz, Carroll airing out the expressive side of her lower register. The album’s impassioned, resolute gospel title track is the closest thing to Carroll’s earlier work. And the third number, Alone in the World features a lush but restrained string section over lyrical piano: this song from the cult favorite 1962 cartoon Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol has unexpected angst for holiday album fare. Which is another reason why this tantalizingly short record transcends the limits of a genre that makes a lot of people wish December 26 would come a month earlier.

Strong Tunesmithing and Bristling Energy on Saxophonist Asaf Yuria’s New Album

There’s nothing sinister or macabre about tenor saxophonist Asaf Yuria‘s new album Exorcisms, streaming at Spotify. More likely, it could be about shaking off the rust and the demons of the most hideous year on record with an inspired, energetic sextet. Yuria plays with a slightly smoky tone and writes translucent, purist tunes whose darkness is understated more often than not. He also has a welcome sense of humor.

He kicks off the album with The Bell Ringers, a catchy, swinging, modally-tinged early 60s Prestige-style number. Yuria takes a cheerily energetic solo; trumpeter Josh Evans descends from the clouds and spirals his way up again; drummer Jason Brown has fun chewing the scenery for a bit. It’s a strong opener.

Lotus Moon is a clave tune with bright horn harmonies that hint at New Orleans, with Evans flurrying while pianist Jeremy Manasia shifts toward a more latin attack, the bandleader pulling hard away from the center up to a wry false ending.

The band follow a resonantly harmonized series of waves as they gather steam in Wise Eyes. Yuria’s bluesiness gives way to bassist Ben Meigners’ spare incisions. Manasia ripples around with allusive disquiet; Brown’s surreal textures behind Yuria’s pensive solo are an imaginative touch.

Although there’s some growl and crush to kick off the album’s title track, it’s more McCoy Tyner than Mike Oldfield, with pulsing horns and perambulating solos from Yuria and trombonist Jonathan Voltzok before Manasia’s allusively fanged attack caps it off.

A percolating clave introduces lustrous horn interchanges which grow livelier as Out of the Mist motors along. Yuria prowls and choose his spots while the band edge further toward Brazil, Voltzok and Evans taking their time, Manasia again seizing the moment to hit the high-beams.

The energy bristles intensely with modal piano and suspenseful horn harmonies as the band launch into Bright Night Light Flight, Voltzok’s bustle receding for Yuria’s rise from carefree to gritty, Manasia bringing a sense of calm this time over Brown’s colorful accents.

The closing number is Mindful Breath, which with its hard-charging, conversational drive is far removed from meditative contemplation, although the band have a great time with it..

A New Version of the Bestselling Album of Alltime: Even More of a Riot Than the Original

For anyone born too late for the radio-and-records era, the bestselling album of alltime is not by Nirvana or the Spice Girls…or the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. either. It’s AC/DC’s Back in Black. It was a rite of passage for an entire generation of dudes. For those about to rock, the new vinyl cover compilation Back in Black [Redux] – streaming at Bandcamp – is a hoot. It’s a bunch of A-list metal and heavy psychedelic acts reinventing a bunch of songs that for all their leather-lunged posturing were never made to be taken seriously. This might be the funniest record of the year.

Red Fang sink their talons into Hell’s Bells and mess with the chords just enough to bring out the macabre that the original only hinted at – although, damn, they leave out the churchbell! Howling Giant and Udo join forces and speed up Shoot to Thrill to practically punk velocity, having fun emulating Bon Scott instead of Brian Johnson…and the two-bass jam toward the end will leave you, uh, howling,

Likewise, Supersuckers find the inner boogie in What Do You Do For Money with their Molly Hatchet-ish version. Other than the speedup outro, Smoking Lightning do Givin’ the Dog a Bone pretty close to the original bone: sometimes it makes no sense to mess with a good thing.

Heavy Temple‘s Let Me Put My Love Into You is bulkier, bluesier and also more serious than the original, which seems to be the joke. Besvarjelsen reinvent the title track as a bizarre mashup of melodic Nordic metal and corporate urban pop. The funniest track of all of them is Jakethehawk‘s remake of You Shook Me All Night Long, a deadpan, venomous spoof of 80s goth and dreampop cliches.

Whores‘ version of Have a Drink on Me is another real mindfuck, with its Gang of Four and Psychedelic Furs allusions. The joke in Early Man‘s Shake a Leg is way too good to spoil: let’s just say these dudes really know their AC/DC. No spoilers for Earthride’s Rock n Roll Ain’t No Noise Pollution either.

Suggestion to the Redux compilation brain trust: let’s see what this cast of characters can do with the first Van Halen record next year.

The Shining Tongues’ Haunting Debut Album Transcends a Tragic Loss

The Shining Tongues are the surviving members of the Infinite Three, who proved tragically less infinite with the loss of their drummer Paul Middleton in the fall of 2019. Multi-instrumentalists Daniel Knowler and Sam McLaughlin pulled the project together last year, so there are probably multiple levels of grief and angst in their bitingly ornate, often psychedelically tinged art-rock songs. There’s a towering High Romantic sensibility as well as a fluency in dark 80s British sounds on their debut album Milk of God, streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening track, The Idiot Skin begins as Blondie’s One Way or Another with distant Indian inflections; then the band take it into a pouncing, darkly anthemic direction, sparkling with guitars and keys. Botanica in their early years is a good point of comparison.

They shift to slow-burning post-Velvets janglerock for the second track, Buildings. The sense of rage and loss is visceral, and builds to a dirty inferno: it could be New Model Army at their early 90s peak. Behind the shiny brass and keening organ, It Is Fear draws a straight line back to early Wire.

Nourishment is a recurrent metaphor here. Track four, Eating Bread is the album’s lingering, rainswept centerpiece: this time it’s the Smiths in a rare moment of relative calm who come to mind. After that, the band boil up a blend of 13th Floor Elevators and late 60s Laurel Canyon psych-pop in Rice.

They return to angst-fueled acoustic-electric anthem territory in 6/8 time with Natural Slab. The album’s most lavishly orchestral track, Annihilation has a wealth of dark textures: fuzztone repeaterbox guitar, symphonic keys and a lush bed of acoustic guitars.

Swallow Heaven is not a place for dead birds but a desperate, gloomy, gothic folk-tinged anthem. From there the band segue into Humming/Dissolving, a swirling soundscape shedding eerie overtones.

From there, the leap into The Undefiled Absorption of Supreme Bliss, a triumphantly loopy instrumental, is quite a shock. The band wind up the record with Make Us Eat, which comes across as a grim Mitteleuropean take on what Australian spacerock legends the Church were doing in the 80s. Much as 2021 has been the slowest year for rock records since rock music first existed, this is one of the year’s best.

Magically Diverse Solo Harp Improvisations From Jacqueline Kerrod

Jacqueline Kerrod was Robert Paterson’s not-so-secret weapon on his lusciously noir album Star Crossing, and also his contrastingly sparkling Book of Goddesses. But she’s probably better known for her time as the New York City Opera’s principal harpist…and for playing with a rapper who, if his improbable Presidential run had vaulted him into the Oval Office, would be a more lucid presence than what we have at the present moment.

Yet Kerrod’s arguably most foundational collaboration was with Anthony Braxton. Inspired by touring as a duo with the Tri-Centric icon, she made the best of 2020 lockdown time and recorded an often mesmerizing album of solo improvisations, 17 Days in December. streaming at Bandcamp. It’s unlike any other harp record you will ever hear. Jazz harpists are an individualistic bunch to begin with: Zeena Parkins, with her blend of acerbity and atmosphere; Alice Coltrane and her melodic rapture; Dorothy Ashby, who shifted the paradigm by employing everything but harp voicings, and to an extent, Brandee Younger following in her wake. Kerrod is a welcome member of that rare, celestial body.

The chilling, menacing opening tableau, titled Trill to Begin, no doubt reflects the dire circumstances under which Kerrod made it, almost exactly a year ago. It’s a series of eerie modal phrases against a tremolo-picked pedal note, punctuated by low funereal bell accents and otherworldly close harmonies. What a way to kick off the project!

The squiggly web she builds on her electric harp on the second track is 180 degrees from that. She returns to ominous portents, but more spaciously, in a short piece she calls Gentle Jangle. Jazz guitar-like voicings give way to disquietly circling phrases and icy deep-sky sparkle in An Impression, then Kerrod breaks out her electric harp again for the woozily skronky Sugar Up.

Likewise, Glare is a sunbaked, resonant piece that could be mistaken for an ebow guitar soundscape. After that, she assembles an echoey lattice that brings to mind Robert Fripp’s early 80s work. Kerrod employs a glass bowl to enhance the shimmering, steel pan-like microtones in Glassy Fingers. then takes it toward vortical Pink Floyd gloom.

Next, she coalesces toward a warped music-box theme, following with Fluttering Alberti, where she works a hypnotic/spiky dichotomy. Can-Can is not a latin number but a return to steady, sinister mode. In the album’s longest improvisation, Kerrod sprinkles spare incisions over a gritty low drone which she plays with a bow.

The album’s concluding tracks range from playful electronics, to a ghostly National Steel guitar-like miniature, a gently insistent, Debussy-esque interlude and a cheerily ornamented electric harp finale.

An AC/DC Cover Album Worth Owning?

A lot of people forget that when AC/DC first hit these shores back in the late 70s, they got filed in the punk bins. The difference was that Angus Young was faster than most of the punk lead guitarists. Otherwise, AC/DC songs are easy to play, as anyone who cut their teeth learning this stuff will tell you.

So is there any reason why you would want to own a cover album like the new double vinyl compilation Best of AC/DC [Redux], or spin it at Bandcamp? For one, the bands are killer, and the new versions are surprisingly original. In case anyone is wondering how you might possibly do anything interesting with an AC/DC cover, this is your answer. And while most of the singers on last year’s editions of the Redux cover compilations decided to channel their inner Ozzy, the guys in these bands aren’t trying to be Bon Scott, or Brian Johnson, or…there was another guy after him, right?

Witchskull kick off the album with the prototypical four-on-the-floor riff-rocker Sin City, peaking out with an appropriately unhinged Marcus De Pasquale guitar solo before a sudden bass break. Likewise, Supersuckers’ Overdose takes the over-the-top shredding to the next level of WTF.

Kal-El‘s remake of It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N Roll) is crunchier and sludgier: the organ track is an unexpectedly cool touch, even if it isn’t as insanely ridiculous as Greta Gertler‘s ukulele version. Mos Generator’s Tony Reed teams with Fu Manchu’s Bob Balch to reinvent What’s Next to the Moon as spare, sinister 80s goth rock: who would have thought? Ghost Ship Ritual‘s epic, ornate version of The Razors Edge is just as radical, and arguably the best song on the record.

One of the innumerable funny things about AC/DC is that despite Angus Young’s distaste for Ron Wood’s guitar playing, a lot of early AC/DC is awfully close to Ron Wood-era Stones. And some of those songs are here. But Kryptograf‘s Bad Boy Boogie ends a lot closer to the band’s Highway to Hell peak. And Solace do Whole Lotta Rosie as bad-to-the-bone boogie, with a deliriously good guitar duel out.

Blue Heron play Walk All Over You as Melvins-style sludge. Riff Lord‘s For Those About to Rock (We Salute You) is arguably heavier and a lot more dense than the original. Red Mesa‘s If You Want Blood is the closest thing to the original here – if it ain’t broke, right?

Caustic Casanova‘s take of Dog Eat Dog is closer to X, less over-the-top than the way cult favorite female-fronted New York AC/DC cover band Big Balls would do it. Fueled by drummer Rubin Badillo’s spot-on rolls, Electric Frankenstein play High Voltage as the Dead Boys would have. Domkraft wind up the record with a characteristically bludgeoning take of Night Prowler, AC/DC’s shameless ripoff of the Stones’ Midnight Rambler. All this makes you feel like a kid again: drop the needle and pick up your axe.

Beguiling New Sounds From Ancient Instruments

What’s the likelihood that a contemporary composer would write a partita for viola da gamba ensemble? Molly Herron – who plays bass viola da gamba on her new album Through Lines, streaming at Bandcamp – has done exactly that. Although it’s on the minimalist side, it’s very dynamic: sometimes bracing and sober, other times immersive, and unexpectedly funny in places.

Science Ficta’s Loren Ludwig and Zoe Weiss, on standard models, and Kivie Cahn-Lipman on bass viola da gamba, join the composer in this eleven-part suite. Each segment is on the short side, four minutes or sometimes considerably less. The introduction is spacious and on the austere side, rhythmically staggered plucking backed by simple long-tone lines. The dusky tones of gnawa occasionally come to mind.

The quartet follow a study in wafting drones, overtones and fluttering pedal notes with playful, conspiratorial eighth-note phrases, hypnotic flurries and enigmatic close harmonies. Segment four, After Picforth alludes to a stormy anthem, then recedes into atmospherics.

There’s also an overtone-spiced contrast between plucked acerbity and calm ambience; a wry rondo assembled from echo effects; somber, assertive variations on a simple minor chord; and a coy return to the opening theme at the end.

Daniel Romano Channels a Vintage Stones Vibe

Daniel Romano’s Outfit’s latest album Cobra Poems – streaming at Bandcamp – has a lot of psychedelic flavors. In Romano’s more imaginative moments, this is one of the catchiest, most entertaining psychedelic rock records of the year. Other times it’s derivative practically to the point of parody. To his credit, Romano really, really knows his Rolling Stones, down to the horn breaks and most minute percussion effects.

The opening tune, Tragic Head comes across as the Grateful Dead doing a catchy soul song with more Stonesy guitars: the tumbling drums are a tasty touch. Even in the Loom of a Caress shifts between Allah-Las clang, Stones growl and mellotron-waft 60s sunshine psych-pop.

Nocturne Child is a Honkytonk Women-style Glimmer Twins ripoff, right down to the sax solo on the outro. Romano tunes his guitar to open G again for Lonely Trumpeteer: he can copy Keith Richards like few others. Likewise, The Motions is awfully close to Wild Horses with a woman out front.

With its noir soul tinges and biting minor-key guitar riffage, Animals Above Our Town is the album’s strongest track. Tears Through a Sunrise is also ridiculously catchy…and with its jangly, bittersweet changes, is far less melancholy than you would expect.

Baby If We Stick It Out is Romano’s Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, more or less. Still Dreaming is the missing link between Loving Cup and Torn and Frayed (Stones fans will get that reference). It segues into the bizarrely loopy closing number, Camera Varda.

On one hand, much of this is as original as a Chinatown Rolex. On the other hand, if Romano gets some of the post-millennials listening to the source material – or even better, taking as much creative inspiration from it as he does – that’s validation.