New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: October, 2013

Another Assaultively Brilliant Album from Hannah vs. the Many

It’s never safe to say that one artist is the best in a particular genre: every time you think you’ve heard everything, a songwriter like Nehedar comes out of the woodwork and blows you away. But it’s safe to say that there is no better lyricist, tunesmith or singer in rock right now than Hannah Fairchild of Hannah vs. the Many. Her previous album All Our Heroes Drank Here was rated #13 on the best of 2012 list here and probably should have been #1. With its torrents of lyrics, savage humor, menacing noir cabaret cascades, scorching guitar riffage and relentless angst – not to mention Fairchild’s searing, wounded wail – it illustrates a bitter, doomed urban milieu as memorable as anything Leonard Cohen or Jarvis Cocker ever wrote. Hannah vs. the Many have a new ep aptly titled Ghost Stories just out and an album release show coming up on Nov 14 at Cake Shop. They’re ferociously good live, and Fairchild is as charismatic a frontwoman as you would expect after hearing her studio material.

The new ep reinvents several of the tracks from Fairchild’s 2010 solo album Paper Kingdoms. It’s amazing how different they are, yet how much the original, mostly acoustic versions sound like demos for these volcanic full-band performances.

All Eyes on Me builds from layers of resonant guitar from Fairchild and her brilliant lead player, Josh Fox, as the organ and keys rise to a slashing insistent Strat-fueled chorus. The narrative could be about a triumphant flight above the “the sorry strangers under glass, no time to think about their lives, identical in horror” – or it could be the desperate tale of a double suicide told from the point of view of someone with no fear of the reaper.

Lady of the Court is Fairchild at the top of her dramatic power, a bitter cautionary tale from the perspective of someone who’s just willing enough to work her way up…but to what? From its faux-bombastic twin guitar intro, it hits a roaring anthemic groove, Fairchild’s voice low and menacing as she traces another angst-fueled trajectory:

Unlikely princess in the eyes of the day-old drunks
I’ve never been the girl whose name is in the title
The story is ending and the world just blurs away
Turning pages and waiting on the hero
I am a guardian of thieves
Flying on unbuttoned sleeves 
Falling in the backstreets but not for too long

It hits a wry 80s keyboard interlude on the way to a surprise ending.

Nicollet captures a bitter breakup over creepy piano-based art-rock. The original version has a folkie acoustic feel, albeit with a distant menace; what’s stunning about this version is how much more power, yet more nuance there is in Fairchild’s voice:

Crossing yourself at my door
You’ve come seeking some quick and easy absoloution
But I’m only as clean as the floors I’ve been kneeling on

The most explosive and arguably best song here is Poor Leander, a corrosively poignant account of two probably irreparably damaged souls hell-bent on NOT making things work, set to marauding noir cabaret rock:

Bedsheet around your shoulder, scrapes on both your knees
Were you running off the rooof again, my broken friend?
Now you’re flying out to save her from the latest ivory castle that you found
But the second she lets you in her window it’ll all come crashing down

The closest thing to the original here is the luridly torchy, aptly titled Slow Burn, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Julia Haltigan catalog. As with the rest of the album, guitars gleam and smolder, electric piano tingles and Fairchild’s voice rises from an anxious murmur to a vengeful scream and then back again. Forget about Grace Potter and all those wannabes: Hannah vs. the Many are the real deal, the teens equivalent of what Siouxsie & the Banshees were in the 80s or the Avengers ten years before.

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Darcy James Argue Brings His Brooklyn Babylon to the Jazz Gallery

Three generations ago, big jazz bands were the U2 or Rolling Stones of their time. They didn’t play stadiums, but they gigged constantly at hotel ballrooms and were a profitable enterprise for everyone concerned. These days, big band jazz is a niche that doesn’t make much if any money for anyone other than the few venues who book it. And yet there are diehards who continue to write it, and play it, and push the envelope with it. With a big boost from the media, Brooklyn’s own Darcy James Argue is the best-known of the latest crop of big band jazz composers. That he’s received so much ink probably has more to do with the tastes of the critics who like him than it does with Argue himself, whose music is vivid, often explosive and cinematic to the nth degree. It’s also often a lot closer to indie classical than what most people would call jazz, inspired more by avant garde composers like Steve Reich than by, say, Dizzy Gillespie. Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society brings those high-voltage,cutting-edge sounds to the Jazz Gallery on Nov 7 with sets at 9 and 10:30 PM; cover is $20. The new upstairs Jazz Gallery space at Broadway and 27th St. is bigger than the venue’s old Soho digs, but not by a lot, so early arrival is very highly recommended.

Their album Brooklyn Babylon is more hard-hitting and insistent rhythmically than it actually swings. Argue distinguishes himself by using the entirety of the sonic spectrum, from the lowest lows to the highest highs. Unorthodox instrumentation is standard procedure for him: the idea of pairing an accordion with the bass for a wistfully bluesy duet , which he does on one of the many brief, suspenseful interludes here, is second nature. He likes Balkan music and writes it fluently. As the title alludes, context and content beyond simple tunefulness is central to Argue’s work. For those who haven’t already discovered it, this is an important album in New York history, a very uneasy suite of variations on a theme illustrating a city in constant flux, often changing for the worse.

The album’s opening Prologue quickly emerges from waves crashing into the shore and a mournful trombone theme to a rat-a-tat Balkan brass dance that ends on a creepy, carnivalesque note fueled by the piano. The Neighborhoood pulses tensely over a looped, circular rhythm driven by electric bass, then moves up and down, a pensive waltz with klezmer-tinged clarinet giving way to a brief, roaring guitar rock interlude. An Invitation brings in a dancing, blithe circular theme from the high reeds and then low pulse kicks in, in the same vein as the Taxi Driver theme, part Reich, part Morricone.

The Tallest Tower in the World bookends a stately trumpet-fueled march in 9/4 around an uneasy neo-baroque interlude. Construction-Destruction begins with a lushly airy apprehension, morphs into a Bernard Herrmann-ish horror film prelude and then brings back the low, ominously insistent pulse against a rattling, mechanical guitar note – it’s the most cinematic piece here and possibly the key to the whole album. By the time the sarcastically pounding wah-wah guitar drama of Builders kicks in, the narrative has become clear: this city is being bludgeoned to death, remade into a suburb of its former self.

Missing Parts wryly creates a forest of echo effects with the whole orchestra, everything from bongos to accordion to baritone sax and a frantic group of high reeds getting in on the action. The faux pomp and pageantry that kicks off Grand Opening is as irresistibly over-the-top as it is cruelly satirical: this should be a celebration, but the angst never lets up, all the way through one of the most crushing crescendos ever in big band jazz. It segues into Coney Island, its moody sway punctuated by a biting, distorted guitar solo that only seems to be a diversion from the gloom. The Epilogue opens with a sad, echoey acoustic guitar intro, rises with a tersely loungey piano solo and then winds its way out on a muted, somewhat defeated, nocturnal note.

The first of the several short interludes that punctuate the storyline here makes wry funk out of a simple Serbian-flavored riff, a clever mashup of Balkan and blues. The next one pairs creepily warped, microtonal flutes. Beyond that accordion-bass duet, there’s a moody trumpet piece; an understatedly desolate classical guitar miniature; and an agitated reprise of the brooding Balkan theme. Their sheer diversity attests to Argue’s command of eclectic styles for both small and large ensembles to evoke a mood or make a point. If there was ever a composer in need of a Hollywood epic to give him a launching pad for a legendary score, this is the guy.

Spindrift Bring Their Ghosts of the West to Glasslands on November 8

Fronted by Kirkpatrick Thomas, formerly of the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Spindrift play a reverb-drenched, surrealistically stagy mix of Lee Hazelwood-esque spaghetti western rock laced with punk-era influences from the Gun Club all the way back to the Cramps. Thomas is a connoisseur of desert rock and can’t resist employing every trope in the book in what seems to be a lovingly satirical, playfully Tarantino-esque take on it. Thomas’ baritone can be on the campy side; once in awhile he reaches for a Mark Sinnis-style menace. The band is at Glasslands at around 11 PM on Nov 8, playing songs from their latest album Ghost of the West, a mix of originals and wry updates on popular Old West tunes from across the decades. Spindrift are very good live, and as you might expect, a lot more psychedelic than they are in the studio.

Some of the new songs are cartoonish: Buffalo Dream, which sounds like the early Gun Club channeling their inner Indian tribe;  Cowpoke Cowpoke, a cartoonish faux-noir cowboy waltz; and a wryly deadpan version of Blood on the Saddle. They do When I Was a Cowboy in super lo-fi mode, shooting for a retro 20s 78 RPM ambience, then make psychedelia out of it. Thomas goes into crooner mode forCool Water, its swaying Apache vibe fleshed out with layers of ominously jangling guitars and Sasha Vallely’s lushly lurid vocal harmonies.

The  mariachi-pop Ballad of Paladin, “a knight without honor in a savage land,” sounds like Johnny Horton with more punk production values. King sings the elegantly arranged Hanging Me Tonight with a stoic sadness, while Thomas’ faux Johnny Cash slapback vocals on Gunfighter are irresistibly over-the-top. The western swing-flavored Wanderers of the Wasteland is much the same.

But the best songs here are the instrumentals. The epic Matador & the Fuzz begins by keeping the mariachi rock vibe going with flamencoish acoustic guitar, moody brass and a robust choir of voices, and builds to an explosive cop-car bolero. Mudhead works a briskly guitar-fueled, Romany jazz-tinged pulse. And the funniest track here might be Paniolos on the Range, adding bizarre gamelan touches over its loping Tex-Mex beat; it wouldn’t be out of place in the Tribecastan catalog. The album winds up with Navajo Trail, part rockabilly, part 50s lounge pop and part punk, and then a take of Ghost Riders in the Sky that offers a tip of the pitch-black cowboy hat to the Ninth House version.

Ellen Foley Gets Back in the Rock Groove

Before she made a name for herself in film, on tv and in the theatre, Ellen Foley had a brief but arguably just as successful career as a singer. Her Mick Ronson-produced 1979 debut album Night Out bombed in the US but scored big in several European markets. Her classic remains 1981’s Spirit of St. Louis, generally regarded as the great lost Clash album since Joe Strummer and Mick Jones (Foley’s boyfriend at the time) produced it, played on it and wrote most of the songs. Then there was 1983’s Another Breath, a pretty forgettable detour into synth-pop. Oh yeah – Foley also sang on that famous Meatloaf monstrosity as well as a bunch of Joe Jackson hits. After a similarly eclectic acting career, it was good to suddenly see her fronting a band again, starting about six years ago when she had a more-or-less monthly residency at the late, great Lakeside Lounge. And now she’s got a new record, About Time, with her Lakeside band, assembled by former Five Chinese Brothers leader Paul Foglino and produced by Eric Ambel. The album, her first in thirty years, confirms for anyone who missed her Lakeside shows that the chameleonic chanteuse is just as adept at deliciously guitar-driven highway rock as she is with cabaret, powerpop and elegant chamber-rock. The whole thing is streaming at her Bandcamp page. She’s doing the album release show at the Cutting Room at 8 PM on Nov 4; tix are $20 and still available as of today.

Foglino contributes most of the songs here – and they’re some of the best he’s ever written. The opening track, If You Can’t Be Good has Foley showing off the big resonant vibrato that became her trademark back in the 70s, over a tastefully arranged web of jangly guitars. Nobody Ever Died from Crying looks back to Blondie with its steady backbeat pulse and coyly vengeful lyrics, while All of My Suffering goes in a swaying, anthemic highway rock direction with Stonesy piano, organ and slide guitar, followed by a tasty wee-hours version of Randy Newman’s Guilty.

“If you had a mind, you would be losing it, if you had a soul, it would be shaking…torture me, torture me, open your eyes and tell me what you see,” Foley intones with understated rage on the catchy, soul-tinged If You Had a Heart. She turns in her best vocal over a sultry saloon-jazz groove on Madness, then goes back to the glam on the T Rex-flavored Worried Woman, with its wickedly soaring chorus. And then she brings it down with the Memphis soul-tinged Any Fool Can See.

Around the Block and Back keeps the vintage soul vibe going, defiantly alluding to the twists and turns of a long career. Another standout track is I Can See, Orbison noir as peak-era 70s Blondie might have done it. She looks back in time another ten years to the early Who with the stomping Carry On and winds up the album with a lullaby of sorts, Everything’s Gonna Be All Right. It’s good to see a cult heroine from thirty years ago still at the top her of game, picking up like she never left off.

The Steep Canyon Rangers: Just About the Best Thing Happening in Americana Right Now

The Steep Canyon Rangers – bassist Charles Humphrey, fiddler Nicky Sanders, mandolinist Mike Guggino, banjo player Graham Sharp, guitarist Woody Platt and drummer Michael Ashworth – might be best known as Steve Martin’s bluegrass backing band. But they also write great songs. They’re on tour for their latest album, Tell the Ones I Love, at City Winery on Nov 4 at 8 PM; $20 standing room tix are your best deal. Newgrass nd original acoustic Americana doesn’t get any better than this.

The title track opens the album and sets the stage for most of the rest of it; the way they work an oldtime vernacular, respectful of tradition but not constrained by it, is the key to what this band does. This one is a brisk banjo-driven tune with a doomed, death-obsessed lyric, sort of an update on the classic folk song The Old 97. Stand & Deliver builds a surreal, apocalyptic scenario over a soaring, anthemic tune lit up by bluesy mandolin and a shivery fiddle solo. Bluer Words Were Never Spoken has a literate acoustic alt-country feel in something of a Joe Maynard vein, a sad story-within-a-story. They follow that with the amusingly cynical Come Dance.

Camellia recalls the Grateful Dead circa American Beauty; then the band pulls out their lone instrumental here, the Celtic-tinged Graveyard Fields. Boomtown has the feel of a James McMurtry western ballad, a pensive go-where-the-work-is tale. The band wryly explores a different and more dangerous kind of work in the weed-smuggling anthem Mendocino County Line, then go into darkly guitar-fueled oldtimey swing with Hunger. Lay Myself Down has some killer vocal harmonies and a neat succession of handoffs, from fiddle to banjo to mando; it wouldn’t be out of place in the Dixie Bee-Liners catalog. Take the Wheel goes back toward a rustic oldtime folk feel; the album ends with its best song, the twistedly carnivalesque hi-de-ho noir Las Vegas. “I’m king of this plastic castle but I feel like dying,” says the guy watching the “tight shirts, t-shirts and quick casanovas, honeymooners, middleschoolers, sightseeing high rollers” slowly making their way down the strip. “If you ain’t hustling, you can bet you’re getting hustled.” It’s a good indication of how diverse this band can be when they feel like it. And as anybody who’s ever seen Martin with these guys will tell you, they’re just as good live as they are on this album.

Salaam Plays One of 2013’s Best Concerts Downtown Saturday Night

Throughout her band Salaam‘s set this evening at Alwan for the Arts downtown, multi-instrumentalist Dena El Saffar had an expression of pure, unselfconscious delight on her face. Which makes sense, considering how much fun to play her songs must be. A cynic would say that this group is a bunch of Americans playing Middle Eastern music, which is true, although there is a family connection. As she explained it, the bandleader and her jazz trumpeter brother Amir grew up as second-generation Iraqi-Americans in Chicago in the 80s, although their musical lives then revolved around Lutheran hymns and classical music in school and then sneaking into blues clubs at night. “Amir stopped going when he turned 21,” she joked. Since then, they’ve come full circle with their heritage and in the process have built one of the most entertaning Middle Eastern bands on the planet. She began the night on viola, her original instrument, with the ridiculously catchy, irresistibly slinky Mesopotania. The song was nspired, she explained, by her first awestruck sight of the land between the Tigris and Euphrates, which hardly resembled the boring-as-dust account she remembered from middle school. Joining in soaring harmony with soprano saxophonist Ole Mathisen, her brother played trumpet on that one. Then he switched to santoor (the rippling, ringing Iraqi dulcimer) for a bouncy traditional song whose Arabic lyrics went something along the lines of “she went from her father’s house to the neighbor’s house and didn’t stop at mine, I wonder if she’s mad at me.”

A gregarious, nonchalantly charismatic performer, Dena El Saffar seemed to have as much fun telling stories as she did playing music. She explained that she never envisioned herself as someone who’d make a career out of introducing kids to Middle Eastern music. but because she had so much fun the first time she did it, she kept doing it – and now she’s led workshops with thousands of students. But while like her brother, she’s immersed herself in traditional Iraqi music, her influences range far beyond there. Her husband Tim Moore, who played dumbek (goblet drum) with a groove that was as understatedly joyous as it was hypnotic, led the group through a tribute to Lima Sahar (the first woman to compete on the Afghani verison of American Idol, whose rapid rise to fame was derailed by misogynists in her own family) with a hook-driven Bollywood flair. Queen of  Sheba, inspired by some very cool folks at a Louisville Ethiopian restaurant, built to a swirling, dancing Ethiopiques vamp. The title track from the band’s latest album Train to Basra served as a long launching pad for sizzling hard bop as well as plaintive Orientalisms from both trumpet and sax. And Iraqi-American Blues artfully juxtaposed  iconic Muddy Waters riffage with eerie Iraqi chromatics, an illustration of both the emotional similarities between the blues and Middle Eastern music as well as the sometimes hellish experience of being an American of Middle Eastern descent in the years following 9/11.

As the night went on, Dena El Saffar switched to oud, then violin, then joza (the stark Iraqi fiddle, with its coconut-shell body) for a harrowing version of the rustically mournful Joza Tears. Although Salaam’s music doesn’t typically feature as much of the sometimes long-winded soloing common throughout the Middle East, everybody got a chance to cut loose, even the bassist, whose agile microtones, jazzy variations on the melody and stark, brooding bowing were some of the set’s high points. They wound up the show with an exuberantly anthemic singalong of the classic Iraqi folk song Over the Palm Tree, the elder El Saffar in unselfishingly soulful crooner mode, his sister taking what might have been the most exhilarating solo of the night on viola, building to a fiery series of stun-gun staccato riffs, finally blasting through the last chorus at doublespeed. It’s been a great year for concerts in New York this year, but this was one of the very best.

Sunshine Brings Their Souful, Bluesy Fun to Muchmore’s

Brooklyn band Sunshine‘s new album Down & Up Blues is a playfully shambling, imaginative, lo-fi blend of electric and acoustic blues, oldschool soul and indie rock. It’s oldtimey and at the same time it’s completely in the here and now. The whole thing is streaming at their Bandcamp page. They’re playing the album release show on Nov 2 at 9 PM at Muchmore’s in Williamsburg, and they sound like they’re a lot of fun live.

The core of the band is excellent, eclectic guitarist Steven Ferrara – who also plays lapsteel, banjo, keys, harmonica, mandolin and sax – and Amy Santos, who plays bass and takes over lead vocals on several tracks. Katie Fuller and Joe McLean contribute drums, with Crawford Forbes on trumpet and Mike Lambert adding slide guitar and piano. The opening track, Long Sweet Helen works a mid-60s Chicago organ lounge groove, Ferrara’s biting guitar lead reminding of Buddy Guy back in the Buddy Guy/Junior Wells days Santos sings the nonchalantly soulful A Thousand Love Songs, followed by a watery acoustic Kottke/John Fahey-style Ferrara pastorale.

The excellent lo-fi fok-rock Dry Eyed Tampa wouldn’t be out of place on a late 90s album by Low. The Things That Harm Me coalesces into a brisk, Stonesy pulse, if not as tight as the Glimmer Twins. Santos sings the catchy, bouncy oldtimey swing tune Finger String; after that, Rise Above sounds like an early Led Zep demo. Santos gives the self-explanatory Everybody’s Crazy About the Doggone Blues But I’m Happy a resolute, nonchalant feel; the album winds up with the lingering, apprehensive, slowly slinky Until We Both Close Down and then a brief sketch of a song.

Lara Ewen Brings Her Smart, Original Americana Tunesmithing to the Path Cafe in November

Lara Ewen has a 10 PM Friday night residency this November at the Path Cafe on Christopher St. just west of 7th Ave. South. The cover graphic for her new album The Wishing Stone Songs depicts the outline of a woman with her head in her hands, but her songs are far more lively than that image implies. When she’s not evoking the Dixie Chicks at their late-career best (after Natalie Maines dissed George W. Bush), Ewen’s doing cool new things with classic country songwriting. One of the best songs here has the sly sophistication of Ewen’s pal Kelli Rae Powell; another sounds like the acoustic Grateful Dead. The production of the album is fresh and live-sounding, stripped to the bare necessities (sometimes just a couple of guitars and no bass, other times with just a cajon for percussion) without being skeletal.

Ewen has a twang in her voice, an ear for a catchy hook, great taste in arrangements and an aphoristic lyrical style that looks back to classic C&W even though the songs here range from citybilly to a more purist take on folk-pop. In other words, this isn’t top 40. The first track, Death Better Take Me Dancing introduces a dark humor that recurs throughout the album: over a catchy, lithe, fiddle-driven groove, Ewen makes it clear that she wants to go out standing up and still moving fast. One Day sounds like Sheryl Crow without the cliches and some absolutely gorgeous flatpicking, while the pensive waltz How to Be Your Girl balances delicately plucked fiddle against lush washes of strings, Ewen sardonically pondering how to handle a relationship that actually might not go straight to hell in a hurry.

She keeps the brooding sarcasm going with A Whole Lot Worse, an all-too-true story of a woman settling for a guy who doesn’t completely suck. set to spiky, fingerpicked acoustic guitar and washes of Gerald Menke pedal steel. The most imaginative arrangement here is Restless: Ewen takes a bluesy Appalachian-style ballad and makes piano-based chamber pop out of it. She goes back to waltz time for the duet Keeping It In, a bitter post-breakup barroom ballad:

Now I wanna make you feel worthless
No one could blame me for trying
 I’m worn out like a screw that’s been stripped
From being turned around so many times

By contrast, All the Way There is a deliciously catchy, upbeat highway anthem: with its rich web of acoustic and electric guitars, it’ll resonate with anybody who likes the idea of driving barefoot. The narrator of the swaying, bluesy-infused Reckless defiantly insists that she’s going to get back on top of her game:

I let my callouses soften
Let my heart go black
And I’m gonnna beat on my chest
Til I feel it beating back

Then Ewen goes back to brooding mode for the haunting, Waits-ish down-and-out scenario Breakdown Lane. A couple of tracks here veer closer to the softer side of New Nashville: the funky, metaphorically-charged Hospital Song, and the wryly seductive Outlaw Song. All together, it’s a musically purist, cleverly lyrical mix of some of the best things happening in Americana right now.

Dark Tuneful Uncategorizable Indie Rock from the Martha’s Vineyard Ferries

The Martha’s Vineyard Ferries‘ debut album is titled Mass.Grave (you get it, right? Massachusetts supergroup-of-sorts?). Kahoots’ Elisha Wiesner plays guitar and sings with Shellac’s Bob Weston on bass and Chris Brokaw – who’s played with everyone from Steve Wynn, to Come, to Jennifer O’Connor (whose insurgent Kiam Records is putting this album out) – back behind the drums. As the title implies, this is unassumingly dark, thoughtful but very catchy stuff, unadorned without being threadbare. Most of the seven tracks here sound live; there don’t appear to be a lot of overdubs. You could call it postpunk, for lack of a better word.

Wiesner writes most of the songs. The first track, Wrist Full of Holes, works insistent, chromatically-charged guitar riffage over a loping beat. They bring in phasers on the chorus: cool touch! There are hints of Elliott Smith, another guy with a Massachusetts connection.

Track two, Parachute, sounds like an early 80s Boston band’s take on the Gang of Four, noisy but without any of the affections. It’s about an actual parachute jump,  or a metaphorical one, a pulsing, minimalist beat dropping out for a series of tradeoffs between the guitar and bass and then back up in a hurry. She’s a Fucking Angel (From Fucking Heaven), by Brokaw, adds layers of dreampop guitar and the kind of offcenter, noisy edge you might expect from a longtime Thalia Zedek collaborator. It’s also the funniest and most upbeat song here.

The best song here is Ramon and Sage. An insistent intro hands off to variations on an enigmatically clanging, resonant guitar phrase and then a deliciously catchy verse over Weston’s fuzz bass. It’s over in less than three minutes but could have gone on for twice that and wouldn’t be boring at all. Blonde on Red also begins with an insistent, rhythmic intro, evoking early Wire or Guided by Voices without the faux-British thing.

Weston’s Look Up, an anxious Boston-area motorway narrative, also has Wire echoes, that fuzz bass again and a sarcastic chorus: “Look up from the telephone, step off of the curb alone.” The last track, One White Swan is a post-Velvets slowcore dirge, Brokaw subtly coloring the funereal pulse with his fog-off-the-ocean cymbals as eerie vocal harmonies slowly rise to take centerstage over a minimialist guitar loop; this track also evokes Zedek in ultra-hypnotic mode. Safe to say that there is no other band alive who sound anything like them. It would be great to hear more from these guys; if this is the only album they ever make, it’s a gem, one of the best of 2013.

Noisy, Stylized Guitar-Driven Rock from Todd Clouser

Todd Clouser‘s new album Man Without a Country is sort of a cross between Kevin Salem and Steve Wynn. It’s tersely and purposefully produced by Anton Fier (whose notable production jobs in recent months include sensational albums by Lianne Smith and Serena Jost; he also plays drums here), alongside an A-list lineup of Tony Scherr on bass, Medeski Martin & Wood’s Billy Martin on percussion and drums, Erik Deutsch on piano and organ and Sexmob‘s Steven Bernstein on trumpet and additional brass. Clouser plays guitar with a searing, raw, sustained attack reminiscent of Salem (whose playing most recently spices Robin O’Brien‘s brilliant Dive Into the End of the World), or Wynn in more assaultive moments.

The album opens with Never, just solo Wurlitzer and vocals, a three-chord gospel vamp that  reminds of Nick Cave. Throughout much of the album, Clouser sings in a drawl so exaggerated it’s comedic. Whether the buffoonishness of the vocals is intentional or not not is hard to tell. He winds up the song with a long feedback-infested solo that sounds much like Lou Reed’s most recent, extremely vigorous adventures in noiserock.

The brief Clock at the Top of This Town sets a bubbly, metalish looped lead guitar line over similarly bubbly, fat bass and shouted, echoey vocals. The title track is catchy 4-chord gospel-infused backbeat rock, Clouser’s guitar jangling and occasionally screaming over Scherr’s sinuous pulse and the occasional swell of the brass. Pocket Full of Bones has something of a classic Detroit/Sonic’s Rendezvous Band vibe, Clouser’s recurrent, acidic lead line resonating over Scherr’s overdubbed wah guitar and swelling, slipsliding bass.

Clouser drops the vocal affectations on How to Trust a Lover, a wistful, minimalist solo vocal-and-electric-guitar tune, Bernstein and the band eventually adding their own echoey, lonesome spaciousness. Mighty Bird matches a mid-70s Dylanesque electric bluesiness with a windswept, dusky Wynn surrealism. Where’s Her Money From has a slow, talky, skronkily bluesy nocturnal groove that looks back to a CBGB of the mind circa 1983 and what John Cale might have been doing around that time. Clouser again drops the vocal shtick for Kaylee, which evokes Botanica in an pensive, gospel-inspired mode,

Eyes for You flavors a slow, hypnotically enveloping one-chord vamp with increasingly ominous guitar and organ fills over Fier’s leadfoot thump, much like an 80s anthem by the Church. We Are a Generation looks back ten years previously to David Bowie circa Alladin Sane but with a noisier guitar edge. The last track, Pistol Storm, again evokes Botanica, this time in a bludgeoning, bluesy vein. Fans of dark-tinged rock with noisy guitar have a lot to enjoy here.