New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: November, 2014

The Skull Practitioners Bring Their Tuneful Noiserock Assault to Grand Victory

The Skull Practitioners are just about the ultimate Halloween band – but not in a campy way. There’s no way any other group could have played as genuinely menacing, or deliciously noisy a set as the trio of guitarist Jason Victor, bassist Kenneth Levine and drummer Alex Baker did that night at Pine Box Rock Shop in Bushwick. The reason that their reverb-drenched noiserock assault works so well is because their songs are so catchy. They’re always going off the rails in one way or another, but there’s always a tune somewhere – even if it’s about to come unglued. They’re bringing their mix of savage jams and deceptively tight tunesmithing to Grand Victory in Williamsburg on December 9 at around 9:30.

These days everybody agrees that Victor is the best guitarist ever to play in Steve Wynn‘s band – and now, also in the Dream Syndicate, considering that Wynn has resuscitated his legendary 80s paisley underground outfit. And since Victor is always out on the road dueling with Wynn, he hasn’t had much time off for this project until the last couple of months, when they’ve been playing out a lot. That probably explained why they were as tight as they are their twisted debut cassette (which is also streaming at Bandcamp).

At the Halloween show, they got in and got out, Ramones style: seven songs in half an hour, then called it quits. Levine’s catchy bass riffage in tandem with Baker’s tersely bounding drums anchored Victor’s smoldering, anguished bends and swoops laced with shards of feedback when he wasn’t burning through a catchy chorus with the kind of rich Telecaster roar that few other guitarists – maybe Orville Neeley of the OBNIIIs – can generate. A tight, purposeful groove anchored the opening instrumental, Victor leaping through a cloud of reverb into a furious chorus and then winding his way through a rattlesnake of a string-wrenching solo.

A couple of friends of the band took turns hollering vocals that might or might not have been made up on the spot, just like much of the music. The band worked a biting, minimalist early 80s postpunk Gang of Four/Wire riff on the second song, but with more gravitas and edge than either of those bands. They segued into the ominous, Dream Syndicate-influenced third number, Victor flailing around wildly until he’d found his footing as the band took the song doublespeed and then back to a careening sway. The song after that had a chugging Train Kept a-Rolling style rhythm, Victor alternating between savage bluesmetal and raw, reverb-drenched noise. From there they hit an insistent, metalish attack, like a punk take on early Iron Maiden, then did a couple of numbers that could have been James Williamson-era Iggy Pop but more unhinged, Victor ripping his way through catchy Kinks-ish riffage, tense Dream Syndicate jangle, a funny Link Wray quote and a teeth-gnashing tremolo attack that pulled and eventually ripped away from the song’s central riff. So no matter how far out he went, the song never got lost. Listening back to a cheap recording of that show, along with a bunch of equally savage tracks the band cobbled together in the studio recently, is reason to believe the Grand Victory gig could be even more intense.

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Another Magical, Otherworldly Night Staged by @tignortronics

Last week’s triumphant reprise of the initial show at Littlefield staged by composer/violinist/impresario Christopher Tignor, a.k.a. @tignortronics was magical. Sometimes lush and dreamy, other times stark and apprehensive or majestically enveloping, often within the span of a few minutes, Tignor and the two other acts on the bill, cellist Julia Kent and guitarist Sarah Lipstate a.k.a. Noveller put their own distinctly individualistic marks on minimalism and atmospheric postrock. There was some stadium rock, too, the best kind – the kind without lyrics. And much as the three composer-performers were coming from the same place, none of them were the least constrained by any kind of genre.

Kent and Lipstate built their sweeping vistas out of loops, artfully orchestrating them with split-second choreography and elegant riffage, both sometimes employing a drum loop or something rhythmic stashed away in a pedal or on a laptop (Lipstate had two of those, and seemed to be mixing the whole thing on her phone). Tignor didn’t rely on loops, instead fleshing out his almost imperceptibly shapeshifting variations with an octave pedal that added both cello-like orchestration and washes of low-register ambience that anchored his terse, unselfconsciously plaintive motives.

Kent opened her all-too-brief set with apprehensive, steady washes that built to an aching march before fading out quickly. Between songs, the crowd was  rapt: although there were pauses in between, the music came across as a suite. An anxious upward slash gave way to a hypnotic downward march and lush, misty ambience; a little later, she worked a moody, arpeggiated hook that would have made a good horror movie theme into more anthemic territory that approached Led Zep or Rasputina, no surprise since she was a founding member of that band (no, not Led Zep). Slithery harmonics slashed through a fog and then grew more stormy, then Kent took a sad fragment and built it into a staggered, wounded melody. She could have played for twice as long and no one would have said as much as a whisper.

Tignor flavored his judicious, sometimes cell-like themes with deft washes of white noise and his own slightly syncopated beat, which he played on kick drum for emphatic contrast with his occasionally morose, poignant violin phrases. A long triptych moved slowly upward into hypnotic, anthemic cinematics, then back and forth and finally brightened, with a surprisingly believable, unexpectedly sunny trajectory that of course Tignor had to end enigmatically. A slow, spacious canon of sorts echoed the baroque, more melodically than tempo-wise, its wary pastoral shades following a similarly slow, stately upward tangent. He played a dreamy nocturne with a tuning fork rather than a bow for extra shimmer and echoey lustre and wound up his set with another restless if judiciously paced partita.

Where Kent and Tignor kept the crowd on edge, Lipstate rocked the house. She began with a robust Scottish-tinged theme that she took unexpectedly from anthemic terrain into looming atmospherics. A rather macabre loop hinting at grand guignol became the centerpiece of the big, anthemic second number, long ambient tones shifting overhead.
She followed a broodingly circling, more minimalist piece with an increasingly ominous anthem that more than hinted at David Gilmour at his most lushly concise, then a postrock number that could have been Australian psych-rock legends the Church covering Mogwai, but with even more lustre and sheen. She lept to a peak and stayed there with a resounding, triumphant unease as the show wound out, through an ominous, cumulo-nimbus vortex and then a long, dramatically echoing drone-based vamp that brought the concert full circle. Tignor promises to stage another concert every bit as good as this one this coming spring; watch this space.

Another Lush, Lusciously Lynchian Album from the Lost Patrol

The Lost Patrol get a lot of film and tv work, which makes sense for such a Lynchian band. Their latest album Chasing Shadows is streaming at Bandcamp, and it’s one of the year’s best. Frontwoman Mollie Israel’s reverb-drenched, unselfconsciously poignant vocals waft over lead guitarist Stephen Masucci’s icy, echoing phrases and twelve-string guitarist Michael Williams’ lush jangle, new drummer Tony Mann maintaining a tersely stalking beat.

The opening track, Creeper, mashes up Rob Schwimmer’s Booker T. organ, creepy Lynchian tremolo guitar and an 80s goth sway, but it doesn’t swing – the tension is relentless, and vertiginous. Likewise, Too Hard Too Fast pulses along on a new wave beat: if Blondie at their peak were darker, they’d sound like this. Israel sings S’Enfuir (meaning “run away”) in breathy, angoisse-drenched French as the two guitars gently but menacingly jangle and intertwine.

Israel’s wounded, poignant vocals soar over baritone guitar riffage and a lush web of acoustics and electrics on the Nashvillle gothic shuffle Trust Me. By contrast, Treachery rocks a lot harder than this band usually does, echoing both Bowie and X. The album’s title track has Masucci mingling a Blue Oyster Cult-ish riff into the nocturnal, echoey swirl behind Israel’s brooding, resigned voice.

The album’s catchiest song is Hurricane, a cautionary Juliee Cruise-esque guitar pop hit directed at a guy who can’t resist a femme fatale. Its final cut is the regret-laden waltz If I Could. And you might think that the one cover here, I’m 28 – originally recorded by lightweight 80s chirper Toni Basil – would be a laugh, but Israel actually manages to lend some genuine dignity to a girl who breathlessly feels her clock ticking. Not bad for a song written by a guy (ex-Hollie Graham Gouldman).

A Volcanic, Intense New Album and a Union Hall Show from Jessi Robertson

Jessi Robertson has one of the most harrowing voices around. It’s one powerful instrument, which is why sometimes when she’s onstage – especially when she’s playing solo – she doesn’t bother to use a mic since she basically doesn’t need one. Yet she’s also one of the most captivatingly nuanced singers around, which is unusual for someone with such an unearthly, impassioned wail. Her new album, I Came From the War blends her signature folk noir with artfully sculpted, lingering, sometimes majestic art-rock over tempos which tend to be on the slow side. She’s playing the release show on Dec 5 at 9 PM at Union Hall in Park Slope on a killer doublebill with the similarly brooding, intense, enigmatic Richard Buckner. Cover is $15 and it’s a good bet this show will sell out, so get there early. The album’s not out yet but there are a couple of tracks up at Robertson’s webpage and also her Bandcamp page – and what’s best is that it will be available on vinyl in addition to the usual digital formats.

Robertson varies her delivery from song to song, often from one verse to another: a soaring, achingly wounded soul-inspired delivery, then raw gritty rock, or smoldering, torchy jazz phrasing. The subtext screams throughout these songs, sometimes literally: war and its aftermath as metaphor for the perils of romance. The opening track, You’re Gonna Burn sets the stage: deep inside, it’s a bitter, menacing blues, Omer Leibovitz’s resonant, sustained lead guitar lines fueling its big upward trajectory.

Paper Crowns follows the same kind of upward drive out of a minimalist intro, a hunter-captured-by-the-prey scenario with an absolutely spine-tingling, lurid crescendo from Robertson. Trouble, a hypnotic anthem and a big audience hit, is a particularly anguished take on the old dilemma of whether or not to give in to temptation: Robertson caps it off with a particularly messy image of of losing one’s virginity. Tin Man kicks off with a stately 6/8 sway, watery guitars contrasting with Alex Picca’s fuzzy bass, building an orate, goth-tinged 80s atmosphere: it’s a portrait of denial told from the point of view of the bad guy in a relationship.

Immolate revisits the fire metaphor, but in the voice of a combat survivor, gospel-fueled angst over 4AD atmospherics – the way Robertson lets a crack or two into her voice is viscerally intense. Picca’s catchy bassline and Layton Weedeman’s drums build a pounding, red-neon arena-rock ambience on Lipstick: “How can I get high when you always bring me down,” Robertson’s protagonist complains, hell-bent on another conquest of one kind or another.

The album really picks up toward the end, first with Microtone Tone, the most noir song here, a kiss-off anthem with hilariously mean lyrics. Likewise, Silly Old Thing is a more amped-up take on the kind of brooding Americana that Robertson first made a name for herself with in the past decade. The most haunting and intense song of all is Winter Coat, just Robertson’s low, anguished vocals and acoustic guitar, a chilling portrait of battles with inner demons – Lucinda Williams would be proud to have written something this vivid.  The final cut, Cipher, is much the same, Robertson on piano this time, a chillingly apocalyptic digital-age parable. Like all the best art, this album gives you pause and makes you question where you are, whether in your own life or in what’s around you: the most intimately personal as political.

The Best New York Rock Show of 2014 and Its Aftermath

The best New York rock show of 2014 was a couple of weeks ago at Bowery Electric – there’s  no way there’s going to be anything this good coming up in the next few weeks, end of story. The triplebill of folk noir singer Jessie Kilguss, lit-rock songwriter/bandleader Ward White (the two playing the album release shows for their latest ones) and Americana vet Matt Keating made for a transcendent and surprisingly thematic night of hard-hitting, emotionally potent songcraft. Much as their styles, and sets, were vastly different, they share a power and individuality as singers, as tunesmiths and lyricists.

Kilguss played first, backed by a terse, expertly tuneful band with Jason Loughlin on lead guitar, Andrea Longado on acoustic guitar, John Kengla on bass and Rob Heath on drums. Kilguss has one of those voices you hear maybe once every ten years: it’s that affecting, and sad, and unselfconsciously deep. It’s a little misty, yet direct to the point of being scary. Her new album is titled Devastate Me, but ultimately it’s the listener who’s devastated – in a good way.

Kilguss went up high when a chorus would kick in, because that’s where her songs are the most anthemic, but she doesn’t belt very hard – or at least didn’t seem to. She opened with the new album’s title track and its regretful “I let myself fall” refrain. Then she played the the single best song of the night, Red Moon. On one level, it’s a Hunger Games milieu, rebels hiding from an unseen gestapo, but on another it’s a chilling portrait of personal decline as vivid as anything Bukowski ever wrote.

The rest of the songs were just as memorable if not quite as intense: Loughlin’s guitar, always hovering around a central tone, fueled a lingering sense of unease. Kilguss followed the downcast resignation of I’m Your Prey with the indelibly catchy Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight – on the surface a wistful reminiscence of a country childhood, but ultimately a tale of urban claustrophobia. The band added a resonantly psychedelic edge to A Safe Distance From You, and a couple of louder, more powerpop-oriented earlier songs, then took that to a peak on Train Song, with its towering Pink Floyd grandeur and cynically eerie narrative inspired by the time Kilguss passed out on the subway.

You might think that someone who writes songs like hers might be distant and introverted, but when she talked to the crowd she was conversational and funny. She related that recently, she finally broke out her guitar for a live show – at a hospital ward. And Wynton Marsalis was there – visiting, not convalescing, as it turned out. So her attempt to make her debut with the guitar in a low-pressure situation kind of fizzled when the famed jazz trumpeter heard her play…and then he invited her to a rehearsal at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the kind of endorsement that just falls into your lap. Kilguss and band are at Red Hook Bait & Tackle on a twinbill with Matt Keating on Dec 12 starting at around 9.

Where Kilguss is disarmingly direct, nobody writes songs that stand up to more repeated listening – or for that matter require more repeated listening – than Ward White does. The images and changes in narrators in the songs in his all-too-brief, roughly fifty-minute set flashed by in rapid succession, to the point where it made the most sense just to enjoy the suspenseful builds to the anthemic choruses, the jokes that would jump out, and the raw yet ornately orchestrated power of the band onstage. The night’s single most intense musical moment was toward the end of the fiery, pounding Bikini, where violinist Claudia Chopek built a shivery crescendo evoking the nuclear holocaust on the uninhabitable island of its title. Keyboardist Joe McGinty’s elegant electric harpsichord (yeah, harpsichord, just like on all those old Doors albums) gave both surprising gravitas and tongue-in-cheek drollery to the surreal Bacharach S&M pop of Alphabet of Pain and the jazzy Rash, which had its own torture references.

Bassist Bryan Smith supplied the equivalent of a second lead guitar to bolster White’s own sometimes searing, sometimes aching lead guitar lines over Everet Almond’s crushing drums while Victoria Liedtke’s backing vocals added another layer of punch and poignancy. Meanwhile, White teased the crowd with one narrative voice after another. There was the narcissistic gay boss (Rudy Giuliani? Michael Bloomberg? Bill DiBlasio?) kicking the male hooker out of his place over a faux-disco beat on I’ll Make It Up to You; the quiet sadist ready to grill his prey in the Lynchian Dolores on the Dotted Line; and the dotty, aging protagonist intent on buying a mylar balloon for a granddaughter? girlfriend? The answer wasn’t clear. That’s not White’s style lately. For more intrigue, he’s playing Mercury Lounge at 7 PM on Dec 2 with this band.

Matt Keating brought the night full circle, both with his band and his songs. Lead guitarist Steve Mayone echoed Loughlin’s defiant refusal to resolve, to allow any easy answers, throughout Keating’s restless, uneasy but explosively crescendoing songs. There was a lot of new material on the bill, no surprise since Keating has a new album due out early next year. Bassist Jason Mercer and drummer Greg Wieczorek alternated between a steady backbeat and a slinky soul groove as Keating opened with an angst-fueled narrative focusing on a woman who did some time behind bars for “giving the finger to a uniform” – Springsteen and Tom Waits only wish they wrote stories of the down-and-out this vividly.

From there Keating led the group through the metaphorically-charged Maker of Carousels – a devastatingly sad waltz – to a searing, anthemic take of his concert favorite Lonely Blue, then a departure into Coney Island soul, then lushly gorgeous janglerock with the airy but chilling Saint Cloud and Louisiana, a biting post-Hurricane Katrina narrative. Keating joins Kilguss on the bill in Red Hook on Dec 12.

The Allah-Las Brighten Their Surreal, Catchy Psychedelic Pop – Just a Little

The Allah-Las reaffirm the reality that if you tour good music coast to coast, larger and larger crowds will come out to see it. Watching them grow from small club band to solid large-venue attraction has been one of the more satisfying success stories among rock bands over the last couple of years. Their new second album, Worship the Sun, was produced by retro music maven Nick Waterhouse and is streaming at bandcamp.

The opening track, De Vida Voz continues the catchy, eerie, retro 60s psych-folk-rock vibe that filtered through their brilliant 2012 debut album: “Voices carry through the canyon,” is drummer Matthew Correia’s mantra over the band’s signature, jangly blend of twelve- and six-string guitars. The second track, Had It All bulks up a simple-but-catchy garage rock tune with twelve-string clang and a period-perfect solo that’s little more than just a single, reverberating note – you can pull that off with vintage guitars and amps and tons of reverb. The darkly anthemic Artifact is a real gem, frontman/guitarist Miles Michaud intoning his doomed imagery over a reverbtoned melody that sounds like a cult classic from the 60s that Carl Newman might have decided to appropriate.

With its keening, twangy guitar leads and insistent piano, the instrumental Ferus Gallery pays homage to the well-known LA art spot: it wouldn’t have been out of place as, say, the Sunset Strip theme in the Blues Project’s soundtrack to The Trip, the Jack Nicholson cult classic. Recurring builds the same kind of gentle but apprehensive Peanut Butter Conspiracy-style psych-pop atmosphere that distinguishes much of the band’s prior output.

Nothing to Hide takes a deceptively simple latin-tinged vamp and makes psych-pop out of it, with a tremoloing, aptly out-of-focus guitar solo out by lead player Pedrum Siadatian. The two guitars intertwine tersely on the similar Buffalo Nickel, then they trade punchy riffage on the distantly Kinks-flavored Follow You Down over Spencer Dunham’s judiciously dancing bass and Correia’s tight, nimble drumming. Likewise, 501-415 sets vertiginous Siadatian repeaterbox echoes to a brightly jangly vamp straight out of the early Kinks.

The instrumental Yemeni Jade adds elegantly jazzy touches to its delicately chiming twelve-string pulse, segueing into the balmy Classics IV-tinged title track. Better Than Mine reaches for an unexpected but successful detour into Rickenbacker-fueled, early Beatlesque pop sounds – with steel guitar, for extra surrealism. The dusky, wary surf/spaghetti western instrumental No Werewolf – the first of the two bonus tracks – is one of the strongest ones here. The other is Every Girl, a dead ringer for Van Morrison-era Them. Overall, as the title more than implies, this album is a sunnier if still surrealistically cloudy and interesting update on a classic 60s sound. It’ll be interesting to see what this band comes up with next.

Former BoDeans Frontman Sam Llanas Returns with a Vengeance to Fiery Electric Rock

There’s no small irony in the fact that when the BoDeans broke up in the mid-zeros, guitarist Kurt Neumann brought in four new members to replace co-founder Sam Llanas. While Neumann continued touring the band with more of an emphasis on cajun and C&W sounds, Llanas concentrated on brooding, mostly acoustic songwriting. But now Llanas is back with a vengeance, with the best BoDeans album since the 90s…except that it’s not a BoDeans record, it’s a Llanas solo album. On the brand-new The Whole Night Thru –  streaming at Spotify – he’s assembled a smoldering electric band: Sean Williamson on guitar, Matt Turner on bass and Ryan Schiedermayer on drums, with Gary Tanin on keys. The result is the best studio project anybody associated with the BoDeans has probably done since before the band’s iconic double live album, Joe Dirt Car back in 1995.

And it’s got everything that made the group a stadium rock favorite across the country for so long; big singalong anthems, volcanic guitar sonics and the same burning, impassioned vocals that made songs like Feed the Fire and Still the Night such audience favorites. This is definitely one for the diehards, and ought to draw in a new generation of fans who missed Llanas in his previous incarnation.

The opening track, Deja Vu, like many of the songs here, opens with suspenseful atmospherics and builds to a classic, anthemic Llanas chorus. It’s a lurid song: Llanas references Edgar Allen Poe and might or might not be addressing the breakup of his old band with the line about the “vultures waiting for your body to fall.” Williamson adds an all-too-brief solo, playing searing lines against a single resonating string.

The swaying, catchy, shuffling Cold n’ Clean will be familiar to those who’ve followed Llanas’ solo performances: with its wishing well imagery, it manages to be sardonic and poignant at the same time. Everywhere But Here brings back the noir of the opening track, addressing a mystery New York girl against an ominous, 80s-tinged gothic rock backdrop: “I’ve been chasing your ghost around Miltown,” Llanas laments, “You’re everywhere but here.” Again, Williamson’s guitar takes the intensity to redline.

With its layers of guitars and shifting vocals, Dangerous Love ponders what kind of price a femme fatale’s going to extract. By contrast, I’m Still Alive paints a somber portrait of a hurricane survivor facing hard times, alone and alienated. Then the band picks it up with Somethin’ Comin’ as the song rises from a simmering intro to roaring, slide guitar-fueled anthem: it’s one of the loudest numbers Llanas has ever recorded, and he makes it worth the effort.

Addicted to the Cure returns to Llanas’ familiar theme of whether or not to resist the advances of a woman who’s obviously got an agenda. The Best I Can gives the chance to work Llanas’ signature catchy chord changes dynamically, back and forth against a roaring blend of distorted guitar textures. The elegant, regret-laden final cut, To Where You Go paints an achingly vivid picture of the solitude of a cross-country night drive. It’s everything a fan of Llanas’ old band could possibly want. Four-on-the-floor rock records don’t get any more satisfying than this.

Sunday Singles

It’s not like any of these songs will ever get stale – they’re all good – but they’ve been sitting around here for awhile. So enjoy!

Vatan play propulsive, hauntingly shuffling Persian folk-rock. Check out those gorgeous chromatics, the lush web of tar lutes and Mona Kayhan’s cool, slow-burning vocals on their single Niloufar, at bandcamp.

Field Report’s Decision Day is acoustic and Steve Earle-ish, a little heavyhanded lyrically but the tune is catchy and builds anthemically. “Now you and I are free to extricate ourselves from the mud,” via soundcloud.

CTMD honcho Pete Rushefsky is also an accomplished player on the hauntingly rippling tsimbl, the Ukrainian Jewish dulcimer which is the forerunner of the Hungarian cimbalom. His show a couple of Fridays ago at the American Folk Art Museum with a couple of violinists (and his similarly talented wife on flute and vocals) was off the hook. Here he’s playing Joseph Moskowitz’s Oriental Movement #1 (youtube).

And here’s another fun live youtube clip: surfy post-Bollywood art-rockers Bombay Rickey doing a live take of their catchy, shapeshifting Bombay 5-0 at their Ditmas Park hideaway earlier this year. The surf kicks in really good at about 1:40.

Saturday Singles

Former Band of Susans guitarist (and Demolition String Band bassist) Anne Husick has a creepy new single, The Other Side out from the World Wide Vibe folks and streaming at Soundcloud. With its absolutely gorgeous layers of guitars, it’s a noir blues at the core, lit up with Robert Aaron’s organ and drummer Kevin Tooley’s echoey snare beat. She’s playing the release show at Sidewalk on Dec 3, time TBA. If her show at Otto’s a couple of Sundays ago was any indication, you’re in for a night of dark oldschool LES rock treats. Tons of people rip off Lou Reed: Husick uses a 70s version of the post-Velvets sound as a springboard, and dives in from there.

Powerpop maven Mark Breyer has been writing heartbreakingly beautiful songs for a long time, first with cult favorites Skooshny and most recently on his own, under the name Son of Skooshny. His latest one, No Ho – a collaboration with multi-instrumentalist/producer Steve Refling, streaming at Bandcamp – paints a gently devastating portrait of existential angst and understated despair, a couple doomed from the start traipsing their way through a vivid LA milieu. And the title could be as savage for the girl as the narrator’s prospects are bleak.

You want a sultry vocal? Check out Melissa Fogarty’s multilingual delivery on Metropolitan Klezmer‘s Mazel Means Good Luck, based on a 1954 arrangement of a 1947 big band hit. The irrepressible cross-genre Jewish jamband are playing the album release for their new one – this song is the title track – at the legendary Eldridge Street Synagogue Museum on December 15 at 4 (four) PM. Tix are $20/$15 stud/srs.

And check out September Girls‘ Black Oil, ornate postpunk with Middle Eastern flourishes, that’s catchy and disorienting at the same time.

Que Vlo-Ve Bring Haunting, Edgy Greek Crime Rhymes and Revolutionary Anthems to Barbes

Que Vlo-Ve aren’t the only band in town who play haunting, Turkish-influenced Greek revolutionary songs and hash-smoking anthems from the 20s and 30s, but they’re one of the best. Right now they’ve got three singles up at Bandcamp as free downloads, which offer an intriguing glimpse of the kind of material they’re likely to air out at their upcoming show at Barbes on Nov 26 at 8 PM. The first song, O Psilos, shows off the lively, upbeat side of their music. The second, Ferte Preza Na Prezaro, dances along with forceful Greek vocals from frontman/percussionist Quince Marcum and biting chromatics from violinist Maya Shanker and guitarists Wade Ripka and Izaak Mills. The most recent one, To Baglamadaki Spase is slower and more brooding.

At their previous Barbes show, Marcum told the audience that although it would be overly reductionistic to explain this music as something created by a clash between stoners and drunks, there’s some truth to that. The backstory is that when the Turkish dictatorship kicked its indigenous Greek population out of Smyrna right before World War I, those people once again found themselves outcasts once they’d made it to Greece since their expatriate culture differed in many ways from what was the rule on the mainland. As a soundtrack to their demimonde, which helped fuel the Greek underground resistance to their own repressive dictatorship, they invented rembetiko, the so-called “Greek gangster blues” that draws heavily on ominous, Middle Eastern sounds from Turkey and points further east.

Marcum intoned in an expressive baritone as Shanker and Ripka passed a spiky baglama lute back and forth. One airy song concerned a guy trying to impress a hot girl with how cunning a linguist he is – he speaks both Greek and Turkish, plus, since she’s Jewish, a little Ladino. Another, The Knife Fight offered a tale of death and retribution in the criminal underworld: hip-hop themes go back a lot further than Biggie Smalls. The chorus of one murky, hypnotic tune reminded how it takes a stoner to know a stoner: a Greek take on When You’re a Viper, more or less. A little later they played an even more hypnotic tune, a drug smuggler’s sea chantey of sorts.

Ripka opened a couple of numbers with slowly unfolding, mysterious guitar improvisations, one on baglama. Shanker’s soaring violin carried most of the big crescendos and the occasional departure into otherworldly Arabic microtones. The funniest number was The Flea, a deviously dancing tune: Marcum explained that its gist is, “I will penetrate you and keep you awake, just like you keep me awake all night.” For the sake of the non-Greek speakers in the crowd, that context added a dimension too often missing at performances of this kind of esoterica.

What does Que Vlo-Ve mean? That’s not clear. However, there once was a scholarly journal of Apollinaire studies with that same name.