New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: January, 2013

The Mumbo Gumbo Album Is Back in Print!

Mumbo Gumbo were either five years or twenty years ahead of their time, maybe both. And they were retro back in 1989 when the New York Americana quartet – not to be confused with the California band of the same name – recorded their only album, a cassette-only release, over the course of a marathon two-day, 20-song session. In the years that passed, guitarist/violinist Joe Flood and accordionist Rachelle Garniez would go on to become international touring artists; guitarist George Breakfast, now back in England, still performs, and Mark Ettinger remains as sympatico and eclectic a bassist as ever. And their album is back in print, newly digitized with ten bonus tracks. Much as it’s a charming and revealing look at these artists’ early years, it’s also prophetic: these four were making alt-country, albeit without drums, back when the guys in Wilco were still playing punk rock and the Mumfords were in diapers. And yet, Mumbo Gumbo were looking back, to the hippie folk of John Prine, 70s honkytonk and outlaw country as well as oldtime blues and latin sounds. The album is streaming all the way through at Flood’s Bandcamp page.

It’s amazing how distinctive a singer Garniez had already become at that point. This album only has two of her songs, but they’re the strongest tracks here. Swimming Pool Blue, the first song she ever wrote, is far more direct and dark than the dreamy, mentholated torch-blues version on her Crazy Blood album. And New Dog (called New Dog Blues here) is more coy and trad with its volleys of sly innuendos than the more theatrical recording on her classic 2003 Luckyday cd. She also sings lead on a casually sultry version of  Sway, a Pablo Beltran Ruiz bolero famously covered by Bobby Rydell, as well as Breakfast’s fetching Strollin’ with the Wind

The album opens with Flood’s vividly aphoristic, bluesy I’m in a Hole, which might be a Vietnam reference. His contributions also include the wryly shuffling, Dan Hicks-ish swing tune Good Morning Mr. Afternoon; the sureeal, swaying Keep Listening; the jaunty, latin-flavored My Heart’s an Open Book; the soul-tinged Hard Ain’t It Hard; and the Tex-Mex cheating ballad Night on the Town. Breakfast contributes Foolish Pride, a dead ringer for an early 70s Moe Bandy track; Make Babies, probably a big crowd-pleaser; Invite Her to Dance, a goodnatured waltz; Heaven, which has the suspicious feel of a country gospel parody; and the bluegrass romp Heading for the Hills, among others.

Throughout the album, the vocal harmonies soar, Garniez adds lithe accordion flourishes along with Flood’s casually dexterous fiddle lines and several biting George Breakfast breaks for mandolin – and is that a chorus box he’s playing through, or just a very resonant mando? The album ends on a rather ghoulish bluegrass note with Dead and Gone, foreshadowing the dark acoustic Americana sounds that would start to resonate throughout Brooklyn ten years later.

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Legendary Pittsburgh Punk Funk Band Reunites with a New Album

Stick Against Stone Orchestra”s new album Get It All Out has a quaint early 80s charm: it should resonate mightily with people who were there at the time and dancing up a storm at college parties and punk clubs. That’s because this group was there, a wildly popular Pittsburgh attraction who never managed to catch on outside their local scene. Many of the catchy, simple songs on this album date from from 1983 or before: as early indie funk, this stuff foreshadows the advent of cool bands like D’Tripp and the Family Stand, who were influenced as much by the Talking Heads as James Brown. What’s obvious is that this was a bunch of punks trying their hand at funk and Afrobeat. Like the Gang of Four, their plainspoken, politically-charged lyrics, shouted more often than sung, have the feel of a college term paper, but as early Reagan-era observations, they’re spot-on. Musically, the hooks are simple and catchy, with bright horn charts and incisive bass, and the NYC pros who form the backbone of the newly reassembled band do a good job capturing the music’s irrepressible, subversive spirit.

The backstory is a heartwarming one: in the early stages of producing a documentary on the band (due out next year, with the same title as the album), filmmaker Will Kreth ended up putting the surviving members of the group back together, bolstered by some hot NYC funk talent including baritone sax genius Paula Henderson (who absolutely nails this ambience) and Shudder to Think bassist Jesse Krakow, along with jazz saxophonist Michael Blake (doing double duty on soprano and alto) and drummers Tony Mason and Denny McDermott.

The opening track – a snide broadside against the music business – blasts through in a minute fifty-one seconds and sets the stage with growly bass, a tensely aggressive beat and catchy horn hooks. Wasted Lives keeps the briskly shuffling pulse going, through long bass-and-drum and horn vamps; they follow that with a slinky reggae tune, Wish and Want, spiced with melodica and flute and sarcastic, politically-fueled, stream-of-consciousness lyrics.

They go back to the rapidfire punk funk for Face Down and then hit a smooth Afrobeat groove with Moonlight Finds a Face, violin and flute dancing over simple, wickedly catchy verse and chorus hooks – it could be Liza & the WonderWheels trying their hand at an African vibe. They mingle funk and Afrobeat on the next track and then make their way through Elephants, a slowly undulating, hypnotic, summery Afrobeat-tinged groove, followed by a similarly slinky, somewhat more lush track.

Medicine Wheel juxtaposes snarling staccato guitar, flute and another wicked horn chart. The Private Sector is the best, most sonically assaultive and funniest track here, reminding that the roots of turning essential services like health and childcare into a profitable means of exploiting the public go back a lot further than Mitt Romney.”They’ve been held back by regulation, from here on out you’re dependent on them,” the singer shouts gleefully. The album ends with the warm, rootsy reggae of Necessity’s Tongue and then a long, intensely crescendoing funk vamp to close it out on a high note. Stick Against Stone Orchestra play Joe’s Pub on 1/29 at 9:30 PM.

The Brooklyn What’s Hot Wine: Best Rock Record of 2013?

The most hotly anticipated New York rock record of the year is out, it’s streaming at Bandcamp and the band is celebrating its release tonight, Jan 19 at Public Assembly in Williamsburg at around 11. The Brooklyn What’s new album Hot Wine justifies the buzz surrounding it: this savagely lyrical fifteen-song masterpiece blends sounds from across five decades of rock into an exuberant, exhilarating, ferociously guitar-driven storm. There is no other band that sounds anything like the Brooklyn What, and few who are as much fun. There literally isn’t a bad song on this album – and it’s amazing how much the band has tightened up since their brilliant, savagely ramshackle 2009 debut, The Brooklyn What for Borough President.

The opening track, Catastrophe Kids sets the stage: at heart, it’s the New York Dolls channeling Chuck Berry but through the prism of the ‘Mats and Guided by Voices, frontman Jamie Frey snarling about the too-cool-for-school crowd who’re afraid to move a muscle at rock shows since that might give the impression that they have individual personalities. There’s a guitar solo, too, a mean, live-wire punk-blues explosion from John-Severin Napolillo (who also fronts fiery purist band John-Severin & the Quiet 1s with Saruh Lacoff and the Brooklyn What rhythm section, bassist Doug Carey and drummer Jesse Katz).

Punk Rock Loneliness starts out with a slowly unwinding guitar duel that explodes into the first verse and then gets even more pyrotechnic after the second chorus: it’s a funky but bittersweet, blackly amusing elegy for CBGB and punk rock in New York in general. This version is slower and darker than the one the band released on their South Brooklyn Singles collection in 2010.

Come to Me is punk rock doo-wop, sly but sweet: “Anything that money can’t buy, I will give to you,” Frey rasps to the waitress he’s trying to pick up, while the band growls like the Dead Boys behind him (the guitar sonics on this album are to die for). Guitarist Evan O’Donnell plays tense postpunk chords underneath Napolillo’s lilting slide work on the uneasy, 80s Britrock-tinged Tomorrow Night. Napolillo takes a lead vocal on the viciously Stonesy Brown Spit, a gruesome drinking song.

The title track, by founding member Billy Cohen – who died young in 2010 – blasts through a surreal, oldtime swing-spiced Coney Island narrative about saving innocent children from an evil mayor who’s trying to boil them in oil. “Hot Wine” in this case seems to mean “hell yeah” or something like that – booze doesn’t really factor into the song.

With its roaring, wickedly catchy minor-key riffage and hollering back-and-forth vocals, the escape anthem Status Quo also looks back to the Dead Boys, adding a more recent noiserock edge. Too Loose raises the voltage on a catchy hardcore tune with a blazing horn section, while Winter Song has Frey singing a hopeful come-on over a pensive, aptly chilly sway. The album winds up with Late Night Travelers, its intricately jangly twin guitars leading up to yet another big anthemic chorus.

Other tracks here include The Basement, a wry, metaphorically-loaded tribute to the band’s rehearsal space that blends hazy GBV aggression with Sonic Youth murk; Crush You So Fast, which leaps from a spacy, spare two-guitar intro into sirening Silver Rocket stomp; Wildman, which grafts a noiserock intro onto defiant oldschool hardcore punk; Give Her All You Got, an unexpectedly jazzy, funny ballad, and Saturday Night, a catchy, cynical, trendoid-bashing singalong  It’s only January, but this could be the best rock album of 2013. And as a nice bonus, the album is also out on vinyl. The Brooklyn What have a lot of shows coming up; watch this space, or better yet, come out to Public Assembly tonight.

Wild Persian Art-Rock, Metal and Jazz from Salim Ghazi Saeedi

[repost from NY Music Daily’s sister blog Lucid Culture]

One important rising composer who’s doing genuinely visionary work in microtonal music, helping to integrate sounds from the Middle East into jazz and rock, is Tehran-based multi-instrumentalist Salim Ghazi Saeedi. His latest album namoWoman is an often otherworldly creation. It’s considerably more raw and roughhewn than, say, recent albums by David Fiuczynski and Hafez Modirzadeh, both artists to which he compares favorably. Aside from the fact that Saeedi plays all the instruments on the album – guitars, keys, basses and drums – what’s most amazing about it is how through-composed it is. Thematic variations recur frequently but always change shape, melodically and dynamically. It’s a dark, bracing, uneasy roller-coaster ride.

Saeedi’s main axe is the guitar, which he multitracks using two basic tones: a ringing, watery timbre that he typically uses to deliver plaintive, judiciously picked microtonal phrases and ringing sustained lines, along with a gritty, crunchy, distorted tone that often takes centerstage with a sneering, occasionally comedic flair. That tone, and its bombastic allusions and head-on assaults, poses the question of whether this is heavy metal, or jazz, or Persian art-rock. Ultimately, the answer is all of the above.

Saeedi’s unorthodox use of both piano and bass is also extremely clever. Saeedi leans heavily on the piano’s lowest keys, whether to anchor the music in a murky, overtone-spiced ambience, or for basslines. By contrast, Saeedi utilizes the bass’s entire sonic spectrum, frequently bowing eerily elegant viola melodies in the upper registers. A few of the tracks have trebly-toned, judiciously played electric bass along with the occasional electronic keyboard motif. All this contrasts with the savage, distorted guitar lines: whether or not that dichotomy is deliberate or not (two sides of the same coin, maybe, one profound and the other profane?), it’s inescapable.

Throughout the nine-part suite, Saeedi establishes individual voices within the arrangements, with all kinds of melodic interweaving and conversations: piano ripples respond to bass bubbles, cello-flavored lines hand off to the guitar, or to the drums. Without knowing it, you wouldn’t necessarily guess that guitar is Saeedi’s primary axe, considering how graceful, dexterous and propulsive his bass work is; his piano lines are terse, imaginative and serve an important part of the musical backbone. If there’s any criticism of this, it’s that Saeedi swings on the guitar and especially the bass but not the drums: a percussionist with a proficiency equal to Saeedi’s on those two instruments could have been useful here. Then again, percussionists capable of playing such eclectic compositions are hard to find anywhere, let alone in traditional Persian music.

Bluesy allusions give way to suspenseful not-quite-minor, not-exactly major Persian intervals; rhythms tend to be straight-up but not always, one interlude bouncing along on a tricky groove that would be perfectly at home in Macedonia or Greece. Pensive, moody guitar echoes until it’s bludgeoned out of the picture as the distorted roar takes over, and then recedes, a constant game of good cop vs. bad cop with an occasional exchange of roles. There’s simple, insistent staccato guitar riffage straight out of the Pantera playbook, and also spacious, distantly anguished David Gilmour-inflected phrasing. The High Romantic, the gothic, the gypsy and the jazz – think Cecil Taylor in extreme deep space mode – mingle and echo and at their most cohesive, haunt the hell out of you. Little flourishes like a jaunty melodica vamp, hints of surf rock and Mediterranean psychedelia lighten the darkness while enhancing the surrealism of it all. Who is the audience for this? Middle Eastern metalheads; fans of Persian music who need a jolt of energy, and any fan of loud, dark sounds laced with fearless humor. There is no one in the world who sounds anything like Salim Ghazi Saeedi: where he takes these ideas in the future promises to be a pretty wild place.

Another Brilliant, Disconcerting Album from Lee Feldman

Now that the world has made its way out of post-Saturnalia mode, this is as good a time as any to catch up on some of the albums that should have been covered here last year but weren’t. Case in point: Lee Feldman’s absolutely brilliant, chilling Album No. 4: Trying To Put The Things Together That Never Been Together Before. Feldman is a terrifically eclectic pianist, equally at home with Bach or jazz as with the elegant art-rock songs he’s been writing since the 90s. His animated musical Starboy is a classic, a charmingly witty piece of vintage 80s style performance art. His late-2011 collaboration with cellist Noah Hoffeld, Sacred Time, was a richly tuneful detour into traditional Jewish instrumental themes that the duo transformed into what could be termed indie classical music (or something that John Zorn would put out on Tzadik). This is a return to original songcraft, and it stands with the best Feldman has ever done, which is saying a lot. The whole thing is streaming at his Bandcamp page along with several of his other albums, going all the way back to 1996’s Living It All Wrong.

This one’s a continuation of the themes Feldman explored on his 2007 album I’ve Forgotten Everything, an understatedly haunting portrait of alienation and disorientation brought on perhaps by age, perhaps by other factors, possibly in combination. Here as well as there, Feldman writes in the voice of a naif, echoed in his clear, bright, deceptively simple vocals and melodic hooks. Where I’ve Forgotten Everything mined an austere art-rock vibe, this one’s a much more ornate, stylistically diverse chamber-pop effort with terse horn charts and a string section.

The album peaks immediately with a surreal, Middle Eastern tinged art-rock waltz spiced with Carol Lipnik’s creepy, swooping vocals. Whoooah, this ride is going way too fast, gotta stop the machine and get off! The abruptness with which the narrator puts an end to some pretty spectacular fireworks is telling, and sets the stage for the rest of the story. It is not a happy one, and in a Faulknerian sense, this tale told by an idiot capsulizes our own present danger.

The second track is a red herring and a throwaway. Feldman picks up where he left off with That’s The Way the World Used to Work, an allusive ontogeny-recapitulates-philogeny theme set to lush, woodwind-enhanced chamber pop. River, a latin-tinged bounce, downplays the lyrics’ loaded symbolism. The hippie eco-pop of Trees Are People Too could be a children’s song, a vibe that flips 180 degrees on The Magician, a wistful ballad: Pete Galub’s distantly majestic lead guitar lowlights the mantra “I’m an outsider.”

I Remember The Night captures a family meeting at a particularly serious moment, in the Twilight Zone. An elegant piano waltz, Do You Want to Dance mingles gospel piano with a lyric that descends from carefree to absolutely miserable in seconds flat. The most psychedelic of all the tracks is the ninth one (the title is absurdly long, for a reason), a blend of trip-hop, Terry Riley and Beat Crazy-era Joe Jackson that seems to chronicle fragments from what’s essentially been a wasted life.

On the lullaby that follows, the narrator explains to the infant that “when you are ready to run, it’s me you’ll be running from.” The album’s creepiest track is Empty Room, the drums (guessing that’s the Universal Thump’s Adam D Gold behind the kit) shifting around its echoey, arrythmic ambience, a portrait of isolation and defeat.  In typical Feldman fashion, that reaches a peak with the blithe madness of Hamfest: over a casually comfortable Rhodes piano groove, the narrator (lapsing in and out of outer-borough accent) announces how “I play the trumpet just like Emperor Hirohito/I try to play the books I read but I never play repeato.” The Party’s Over has the same kind of disconcerting, disassociative blitheness: “The ship is sinking and the fish are friendly, and I’ve been thinking that I don’t like fish,” the protagonist reflects. The album ends with Thanks and its characteristically simple yet crushing sadness. In just a few words and a few major chords, Feldman delivers a wallop. The star-studded band behind Feldman, besides Lipnik, Galub and Gold, includes Hoffeld on cello, Nadia Sirota on viola, Doug Wieselman on reeds, keyboardists Greta Gertler, Dan Bryk and Glenn Patscha, trombonist Clark Gayton, bassist Byron Isaacs and singer Amy Allison among others.

The Avi Fox-Rosen Album-a-Month Marathon Is Off and Running

Musicians and athletes have a lot in common. One is a fascination with marathons and milestones. Take the album with the most songs on it, for example. Most people think that the Magnetic Fields set that record, but in fact there was another group who beat them to the hundred-song album: comedic Williamsburg band Vole. Then there are songwriting and recording marathons. Steve Wynn did a song a month for a year; cellist Emily Hope Price did a song a day for a month. Now songwriter/guitarist Avi Rox-Rosen is taking the concept to the next level. His game plan is to release an ep a month for all of 2013, a titanic enterprise. But he’s off to a good start with the first one, streaming at his Bandcamp page and available as a name-your-price download.

His 2009 album Welcome to the Show worked a wickedly smart, darkly theatrical Steely Dan-esque funk-rock vein, and this new album is just as deviously clever and funny. He’s not phoning this stunt in, at least not yet (he may have a bunch more songs ready to go than the average songwriter, considering that he plays in more than one band and has written for the theatre). There’s a dark undercurrent to much of this, a brooding contemplation of getting older and not liking it one bit.

The first track is a fun one, an amusingly allusive soul/funk number titled Fuck Yeah, Balkan/Americana chanteuse Eva Salina Primack turning in a torchy performance as one-woman soul choir. Baby seems to be a tender acoustic lullaby, but quickly gets very funny – it’s a sardonic return-to-the-womb scenario. And you’d probably prefer an enemy to the schadenfreude-obsessed friend in the catchy folk-rock shuffle Great Expectations.

Another Man’s Life makes a wry muscial joke on the theme of spinning one’s wheels, while Snow reminds of an acoustic Led Zep number. Arguably the best, and creepiest tune here is the gypsy-tinged, trippy, surreal Misdated Checks. The last song, Champagne Dreams, falls flat – it’s a perfectly pleasant, Levon Helm-ish piano pop ballad, nothing you haven’t heard before. Watch Fox-Rosen’s Bandcamp site for a second and hopefully many subsequent installments.

Mucca Pazza: An Explosive Carnival of Souls at Globalfest

In their headlining set at Globalfest Sunday night at Webster Hall, Mucca Pazza played what had to be the most exciting, lavishly intense live show by any band in New York in recent months. With zombie apocalypse choreography and a raw, frequently macabre, punked-out brass band sound, the 28-member version of this Chicago circus rock monstrosity careened through a mix of  instrumentals that drew equally on marching band music, the Balkans, horror surf and menacingly cinematic vamps. They used the big split-level space for all it was worth, marching their way in from the balcony, many of the instruments running through battery-powered amps built into the band members’ uniform hats, the players trailed by a ceaselessly energetic crew of cheerleaders who lept gleefully and hoisted each other high above the band when they weren’t flopping into horror-stricken Pompeiian poses. On a couple of occasions, the band split, the brass section scampering from the stage to the balcony and then engaging in a lively call-and-response with the reeds gathered on the sidelines below.

As seemingly chaotic as their antics are, in reality Mucca Pazza are an exceptionally tight, well-rehearsed unit, which an act this size has to be in order to pull off their shtick. The juxtaposition of a bunch of wholesome, athletic, Middle American-looking bunch of guys and girls leaping and grinning against a backdrop of ominous minor keys and monster movie chromatics blasting behind them is surreal to the extreme, and it’s far more disconcerting than it would be if, say, they dressed like dead monks or real apocalyptic zombies (do such things exist? This band makes you think they might). And as entertaining as they are to watch in their non-matching vintage marching band uniforms, ultimately it’s the music (their most recent album Safety Fifth and other releases are streaming online or available for free download at their site) that’s the most exciting part of their act. The surrealism extended to a couple of intros chanted in unison by the cheerleaders: “Embrace absurdity and all that comes with it, good or bad,” seemed to be the message.

One after the other, the songs maintained a creepy carnivalesque atmosphere. A couple seemed to be parodies of happy-go-lucky parade marches; a handful of others were minor-key surf songs turbocharged many times over with roaring brass arrangements. They looked to Serbia or thereabouts a couple of times for pulsing two-chord vamps to bludgeon the audience (or make the cheer squad look as if they’d been bludgeoned); a few of the other tunes had a less gloomy, more lively Mediterranean flavor (the band name is Italian for “crazy cow.”)

One of the best songs got a sobering intro when a member of the band reminded the crowd how brave it must be to go to the school bus stop carrrying a violin – and then the band’s violinist made his way furtively and actually very hauntingly into a wicked gypsy-fueled dance number. Later in the set, guitarist Jeff Thomas led them through a pounding hardcore punk number built on a menacing series of tritone chords, spurring another exodus from the stage by what seemed half the band. The drumline came to the front, the cheer crew and some of the horn players keeled over into mock grotesquerie, and the glockenspiel player and electric mandolinist fired off chillingly strange, ringing solos. Before Mucca Pazza marched in, the impressively large crowd who’d stuck around after five hours of three stages’ worth of gypsy music, brass band funk, latin rock and an early-evening performance by brilliant Iranian composer/spike fiddle player Kayhan Kalhor, were suddenly reinvigorated. Which they should have been: Mucca Pazza are a force of nature. To think that this band actually squeezed themseves into little Public Assembly in Williamsburg a few months ago is as impressive as it is funny. Where this act really ought to be is Broadway, in a big space where they can work their theatrics for all they’re worth.

A Classic Small Beast Reunion of Sorts

[cross-post from NY Music Daily’s sister blog Lucid Culture]

Is it possible to be nostalgic for something that happened just four years ago? Is nostalgia a healthy emotion to begin with? Probably not. But with today being the four-year anniversary of Small Beast, seeing that date memorialized last week upstairs at the Delancey brought back fond memories of the weekly series’ glory days here in New York. Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch – this era’s finest rock keyboardist – founded the night in 2008 as a solo residency, followed by an endless cavalcade of some of New York’s, and the world’s, finest and darkest rock acts. This past Monday’s show was a fond reminder of what an amazing run Small Beast had up to the summer of 2010, when Wallfisch took his show on the road to Germany. He now runs the State Theatre in Dortmund, which also serves as the European base for the Beast.

The night opened explosively with Valerie Kuehne. She’s part punk classical cellist, part performance artist, but her performance art isn’t the foofy, mannered kind – it’s oldschool 80s style and it has fangs. And it’s hilarious. Whether or not Kraft pasteurized processed American cheese qualifies as food, or how yoga has been transformed from oasis of relaxation to yuppie clusterfuck, might seem obvious. But Kuehne’s rapidfire rants about both were irresistibly funny all the way through to the punchlines…and then she played a roaring solo cello piece that became surprisingly lyrical, as violinist Jeffrey Young strolled in through the audience, and then she and accomplice Esther Neff  donned masks and handed out instructions to the audience. Which turned out to be a cruel kind of dada – watching the crowd make fools of themselves, looking up at them from the floor of the club (music bloggers aren’t immune to being spoofed) was almost as funny. Then she and Neff ran off to Cake Shop, where they were doing another show.

Martin Bisi cautioned before his duo improvisation with fellow guitarist Ernest Anderson that it might be “sleepy.” Nightmarish, maybe, but definitely not sleepy: fifteen seconds into it, and Bisi hit a ringing tritone and then sent it spiraling devilishly through the mix as Anderson anchored the ambience with keening layers of sustain from his ebow. Meanwhile, Bisi slammed out chords when he wasn’t building a murky, echoey cauldron of implied melody. And then in a raised middle finger to the sound system, he stuck his guitar in his amp and mixed the noise through a labyrinth of bleeding, pulsing effects. Although he’s not known as a jam guy – epic dark songcraft is his thing – he’s actually a tremendously entertaining improviser who never plays the same thing the same way twice. Jamming out soundscapes is probably the last thing he or anybody who knows his music would expect him to be doing, but this was good trippy fun.

Roman Wallfisch was the star of this show. The guitarist son of the night’s impresario has been playing banjo for a couple of weeks now, and he’s already figured out all sorts of cool voicings mixing old folk tropes with new rock ones. He casually made his way through a couple of shambling narratives, Monsoon Season and Parts of Speech, both songs showing off a wryly surreal lyrical sensibility and a wicked sense of melody: the apple obviously didn’t fall far from the tree. Oh yeah – in case you’re wondering, Roman Wallfisch is fourteen years old.

And the Wiremen – in a duo performance with guitarist/bandleader Lynn Wright and violinist Jon Petrow – could have been anticlimactic, but they weren’t.  Wright’s plaintive English/Spanish vocals over broodingly jangly, reverb-toned southwestern gothic melodies were as surrealistically dusky as ever. Wright held the crowd rapt with a quiet new song and ended the set with Sleep, which seems to be a cautionary tale, Petrow’s even more reverb-drenched lines raising the sepulchral ambience as high as anything sepulchral can go.

Guitarist Alexander Hacke and electric autoharpist Danielle Depicciotto treated the crowd to an equally brooding southwestern gothic ballad and then Cuckoo, the old Austrian folk song, complete with yodeling. Noir cabaret personality Little Annie was supposed to be next, but she was under the weather, so pianist Wallfisch was  joined by another brilliant dark chanteuse, Sally Norvell, whose takes of three haunting tracks from her duo album with him a few years back were lustrous and riveting, running the gamut from joyously torchy and seductive to funereal.

Wallfisch wrapped up the night with the kind of intuitively eclectic mix that defined the Beast for a couple of years, capturing the raw innocence of the Kinks’ Waterloo Sunset and the apprehension of Dylan’s Blind Willie McTell before a wry Little Annie Christmas song, the furtive gypsy punk of the Botanica song Money (from their latest, towering, intense album What Do You Believe In) and then the scorching gypsy punk of How, a crowd-pleaser from the old days. Petrow made another ghostly cameo or two. By now, it was after one in the morning, so Wallfisch wrapped up the evening with the nocturne Past One O’Clock (an audience request), the towering anthem Judgment (centerpiece of the new album) and a gorgeously brooding new number inspired by – among other things – the college kid in New Jersey who lept to his death from a bridge after being outed as gay. If there’s any lesson to take away from this show, it’s carpe diem: if there’s a scene this vital that you hang out in, don’t hide yourself at home, even if it’s Monday night. It could be gone sooner than you think.

Edgy, Powerful Middle Eastern Guitar Sound from Michel Sajrawy

[cross-posted from NYMD’s sister blog Lucid Culture]

Palestinian guitarist Michel Sajrawy ‘s latest album Arabop transcends category. What it most closely resembles is the current wave of electric gypsy music: fans of bands like the NY Gypsy All-Stars will love this stuff. Here he’s joined by a crew of Israeli musicians from his Nazareth hometown, teaming up for a vividly powerful mix of Middle Eastern and Balkan-tinged romps as well as a handful of haunting longer-scale numbers. Sajrawy plays with an envelope effect popular with guitarists east of the Danube that fills out his precise, staccato lines to the point where sometimes it sounds like he’s playing an electric piano or synth. What’s most impressive is that he often sounds like he’s playing a fretless guitar even though he’s simply bending strings on a standard-issue Strat. The result is a new hybrid musical language incorporating both traditional Egyptian modes and western tonalities, much in the same vein as David Fiuczynski here in the US and Salim Ghazi Saeedi in Iran.

The opening track kicks off with a slinky guitar vamp followed by a haunted, pleading soprano sax solo by Maali Klar, who shares a fondness for microtones and whose contributions to this album are some of its most riveting moments. Alto saxophonist Amiram Granot plays casually contrasting chromatics over the pulse of Stas Zilberman’s drums and Wisam Arram’s percussion. As he does on several tracks here, Sajrawy also plays electric bass on this one; Valeri Lipets holds down the low end on the others.

1 Count Before 40 begins with a pensive oud taqsim by Samir Makhoul, builds to a stately sway, Sajrawy navigating the space judiciously with a bit of a Greek folk feel: they work the dynamics up and down to a pinpoint guitar solo out. The title track, structured as sort of a musical palindrome,  blends biting Black Sea riffage, a long and rather chilling microtonal bop guitar solo and more of that delicious, ney-like microtonal soprano sax from Klar.

The cospiratorial, whispery Syncretic Beliefs is basically a microtonal tone poem, Sarajway playing casually but purposefully over a djeridoo-like drone. Batumi works a trickily rhythmic groove, Sajrawy expertly shifting it further from the Middle East into otherworldly microtones and then spiraling bop, Klar taking it deep into the shadows in the wake of Sajrawy’s long solo. The album’s best track is the brooding, dirgelike, practically ten-minute epic Hal Asmar Ellon, swaying with a haunting understatement, Granot’s alto summoning the spirits from the nether regions this time: it sounds like an electric version of a Trio Joubran piece.

Sajrawy mimics an oud line on the watery intro to Ya Lel, which eventually picks up with a funky edge before returning to the brooding initial theme. Likewise, Invention is a launching pad for Sajrawy’s nimble cross-genre exploration, moving once again from the desert to bop-land. At the end of the album, Sajrawy takes the popular Egyptian tune Longa Farah Faza and turns it into a sizzling organ shuffle – it’s the only place on the album where he shows off his supersonic speed and he makes the absolute most of it. Like the rest of the tracks here, it’s a feast of blissfully edgy chromatic guitar.

Pete Galub’s Candy Tears: A Feast of Guitar Sonics

Pete Galub has been highly sought after in the New York underground rock scene for years: he’s played lead guitar and bass with acts as diverse as art-rockers the Universal Thump (with whom he’s on Australian tour at this moment), country cult idol Amy Allison and alt-Americana pioneers the Silos. Galub is also the rare sideman whose songwriting is as strong as his musicianship. His new album Candy Tears – streaming at his Bandcamp page – is his quantum leap, a lusciously textured, bitingly melodic mix of art-rock and powerpop. His vocals have never been stronger, his lyrics are clever and sardonic and his guitar playing is a rare blend of ferocity and economy of notes. Galub smartly chose to record this with New York’s master of the upper midrange, Martin Bisi, who captured every ringing overtone, gritty roar and lingering sustained chord on this album just as he did with Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation all those years ago.

Galub is a purist: the tunes and the hooks come first, then he fills out the picture. Bassist Tom Gavin holds down the low end with such perfect competence that you don’t notice he’s there; Chris Moore (who also adds acoustic guitar and organ) is one of the more musical drummers around, adding uneasy, rustling colors that enhance the often epic majesty of many of the songs. Some of the powerpop stuff reminds of the Figgs; Big Star is also an obvious influence, and there are echoes of Australian art-rock legends the Church here and there.

The opening track, Reacquaintance has a raw, guitar-fueled anger that reminds of Eric Ambel’s early 90s songs: “I drank an ocean until I saw bottom, remember the good times until I’ve forgotten,” Galub rages as his big, sustained late Beatles chords ring out.  Crying Time is the monster hit here, working quickly from an ominous Wire-esque chord change to a bitter, wickedly catchy 60s flavored psychedelic pop theme.

The steady janglerock tune All I Am could be the Figgs in their early days when they had two guitars and jammed out their endings. An art-rock masterpiece, 300 Days in July slowly builds a hallucinatory, regret-drenched summer ambience. “So many drugs in the water supply…walking on water, those were the days when we just let it all slide,” Galub laments as the guitar ripples in tandem with his Universal Thump bandmate Adam D Gold’s vibraphone.

Feels All Over is sort of the Who meets the Church circa 1982, growing tensely from just guitar and vocals to an insistent, tense, ringing pulse. A boisterous, theatrical blast of 60s-influenced psychedelia, My Regeneration echoes Love Camp 7, but louder: “It’s alive!” is the echoey mantra half-buried in the reveb-toned sonic mayhem.

Galub teases with the chorus on Waiting, hinting at a release from the tension, finally reaching a searing, swirling dreampop hailstorm that’s part My Bloody Valentine, part vintage Sonic Youth.  I Plead the Fifth Dimension  opens with a glacial, opiated deep-space Velvets vibe and builds with layers and layers of guitars into a ferociously sarcastic commentary on idie-era detachment.  The album closes with Boat, guitar and vocals establishing a bitter atmosphere that grows dreamy before a wailing bluesy lead disrupts the reverie and eventually slashes and burns its way through everything in its path. It’s awfully early in the year, but we have a contender for best rock album of the year here.