New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: August, 2017

Rapturous Vocal and Sitar Ragas Last Night at the Drive East Festival

There was a point last night at the ongoing, weeklong 2017 Drive East Festival of Indian music at Dixon Place where tabla player Dibyarka Chaterjee looked up at singer Indrani Khare with a sudden grin, all the while maintaining a steady, syncopated volley of notes. Was she going to throw something else like that him again?

Although the greatest Indian classical musicians are all great improvisers, when they fly without a net those flights tend to be on the subtle side. An elegant, graceful presence onstage, Khare had begun her vast, profoundly bittersweet interpretation of raga Puriya Kalyan with a velvety calm, slowly adding ornamentation, up to a big, meticulously modulated crescendo where her melismatic vocalese became a tightly wound trill that basically required her to be in chest voice and falsetto at the same time. It’s a common if breathtaking device in carnatic music, and she was obviously taking some unexpected liberties. Meanwhile, her singing guru, Mitali Banerjee Bhawmik, watched approvingly, occasionally signaling to her star protegee from the front row.

There was another point where Chaterjee and young harmonium prodigy Srikar Ayyalasomayajula exchanged a momentary, wide-eyed stare as Khare sang unacompanied for a few bars: was this really happening? Could a human being possibly channel such depths of tenderness, and sadness, and guarded hope, so unselfconsciously? Chaterjee has obviously played with countless A-list Indian musicians, but something special was clearly going on here.

He eventually got a solo spot where he flickered through similar low-key simmer, matched occasionally by Ayyalasomayajula, whose nimble phrasing often doubled or shadowed the bandleader. Shifting back and forth between crystalline, unadornedly warm phrasing and the occasional fluttering cadenza, even her most dramatic moments never reached for the kind of stratospheric, chirpy tone that a lot of Bollywood singers embrace. At the end of her hour onstage, she incorporated all those same devices in a more concise context with a devotional bhajan ballad.

The next performance on the night’s bill was by sitarist Kinnar Seen, who played a similarly dynamic if much more wildly energetic take of two evening pieces, raga Rageshwari and raga Mishra Bhairawvi. Seen had programmed this as a suite, barely taking time between the two. With a slow, purposeful, nocturnal stroll punctuated by the occasional emphatic low bent note, he followed a series of tangents through torrents of upward and downward riffage, sometimes adding stark accents that brought to mind ancient British folk music.

There were a lot of surprises in the music: the only point where Seen telegraphed where he was about to go was when he hit chopped his strings for what seemed like a minute, building a deep mist of overtones that would resonate when he finally resumed his frenetic cascades down the fretboard.

It’s not often that students get to play with an acclaimed international touring artist, but the two teenage tabla players behind him held their own and were given several turns in the spotlight, the most engaging one being a rapidfire charge together which was a triumph of seamlessness – and these dudes aren’t afraid of showing how much fun they’re having. By contrast, tanpura player Melissa Cheta lingered in the background with her stately accents. 

The Drive East Festival at Dixon Place (161A Chrystie St., just north and around the corner from Bowery Ballroom) continues tonight with music and dance tonight starting at 6 PM with a cross-pollinated Indian-Korean percussion-and-dance piece by Jin Won and Seu Yeon Park, followed at 7:15 by the festival’s artistic director Sahasra Sambamoorthi’s Navatman Dance ensemble with Sridhar Shanmugam and then carnatic vocal crooner Shankar Ramani at 8:30; tix for all of these shows, in various price ranges, are still available as of this hour. Be aware that last night’s performances were pretty full, so some of you might want to reserve those before they’re gone.

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A Sneak Peek at One of the Year’s Most Enticing Big Band Shows

It used to be that an artist never got a Lincoln Center gig until they were well established. That’s changed. These days, if you want to catch some of the world’s most exciting up-and-coming acts, Lincoln Center is the place to be. This August 31 at 7:30 PM the mighty, cinematic and wildly danceable Jazzrausch Bigband make their Lincoln Center debut at the atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd Street. The show is free, so whether you want a seat or a spot on the dancefloor, getting there on time is always a good idea.

Some mystery surrounds this largescale German ensemble. There isn’t much about them on the web other than a Soundcloud page and a youtube channel, which is surprising, considering how individualistic, cutting-edge and irrepressibly fun they are. Like the NYChillharmonic – whose leader, Sara McDonald, has also sung with them – their instrumentation follows the standard big band jazz model. Stylistically, they’re all over the map.

A listen to four tracks from their forthcoming album reveals influences that range from current-day big band jazz to EDM, autobahn krautrock, indie classical and disco. The result is an organic dancefloor thud like a much more ornate Dawn of Midi or Moon Hooch. Much as these recordings are extremely tight, the band have a reputation for explosive live shows, with roots that trace all the way back to the raucous European anarchist street bands of the late 1800s.

The first album track that mysteriously made its way into the inbox here is the aptly titled Moebius Strip. Loopy, pinpoint syncopation from the reeds -Daniel Klingl, Raphael Huber, Moritz Stahl and Florian Leuschner – leads to a suspenseful pulse fueled by the low brass, and then they’re off onto a whoomp-whoomp groove. “It’s a weird strip,” intones soul-infused chanteuse Patricia Roemer; at the center, before the strutting crescendo peaks out, there’s a jaunty alto sax solo.

The ten-minute epic Punkt und Linie zur Flaeche (Point and Line to the Area) has a relentless motorik drive, cinematic flashes and flickers from throughout the orchestra and a deadpan hip-hop lyric. Moody muted trumpet and dancing saxes punctuate the mist as the band build a towering disco inferno: is that white noise from Kevin Welch’s synth, or the whole group breathing through their horns?

The Euclidean Trip Through Paintings by Escher brings back the loopy syncopation, with a playfully bouncy melody that could be a fully grown Snarky Puppy, trumpet shifting the theme into uneasier territory until they turn on a dime with a little New Orleans flair. The last of the tracks, Trust in Me, is another epic and the most traditionally jazz-oriented number. When’s the last time you heard a disco song that combined flavors like Henrich Wulff’s lingering Pink Floyd guitar,Marco Dufner’s sparkling chicha-flavored drums and stern faux hi-de-ho brass from trumpeters Angela Avetisyan and Julius Braun, trombonists Roman Sladek, and Carsten Fuss and tuba player Jutta Keess?

Greg Lewis Brings His Harrowing, Haunting, Elegaic New Protest Jazz Suite to Bed-Stuy

Greg Lewis is one of the world’s great jazz organists, best known as a radical reinterpreter of Thelonious Monk. But Lewis hardly limits himself to reinventing the classics. His latest album The Breathe Suite – streaming at Spotify – is just as radical, and arguably the most relevant jazz album released in the past several months. Lewis dedicates five of its six relentlessly dark, troubled movements to black Americans murdered by police. There’s never been an organ jazz album like this before: like Monk, Lewis focuses on purposeful, catchy melodies, heavy with irony and often unvarnished horror. If this isn’t the best album of 2017 – which it might well be – it’s by far the darkest. Lewis and his Organ Monk trio are making a rare, intimate Bed-Stuy appearance on August 26 at 8:30 PM at Bar Lunatico.

A long, astringently atmospheric intro with acidic, sustained Marc Ribot guitar gives way to a stark fanfare, much like something out of the recent Amir ElSaffar catalog, as the suite’s epic, nineteen-minute first movement, Chronicles of Michael Brown, gets underway. Lewis’ ominous, sustained chromatics introduce a slinky, moody nocturne with a cinematic sweep on par with Quincy Jones’ mid-60s film music, Reggie Woods’ bright tenor sax and Riley Mullins’ trumpet contrasting with a haunting undercurrent that drummer Nasheet Waits eventually swings briskly.  From there Lewis and Ribot edge it into  simmering soul, then Waits leads the drive upward to a harrowing machete crescendo. Lewis’ solo as the simmer returns is part blues, part carnivalesque menace. When the fanfare returns, jaggedly desperate guitar and drums circle around, Lewis diabolically channeling Louis Vierne far more than Monk.

The second, enigmatically shuffling second movement memorializes Trayvon Martin, Lewis alternating between Pictures At an Exhibition menace and a chugging drive as guitarist Ron Jackson’s flitting solo dances in the shadows. The third, Aiyana Jones’ Song eulogizes the seven-year-old Detroit girl gunned down in a 2010 police raid. It’s here that the Monk influence really comes through, in the tersely stepping central theme and Lewis’ creepy, carnivalesque chords as the piece sways along. The altered martial beats of drummer Jeremy “Bean” Clemons’ solo lead the band upward; it ends suddenly, unresolved, just like the murder – two attempts to bring killer Joseph Weekley to justice ended in mistrials.

The murder of Eric Garner- throttled to death by policeman Daniel Pantaleo in front of the Staten Island luxury condo building where he’d been stationed to drive away black people – is commemorated in the fourth movement. Awash in portentous atmospherics, this macabre tone poem veers in and out of focus, the horns reprising the suite’s somber fanfare, Jackson’s guitar circling like a vulture overhead, then struggling and shrieking as the organ and drums finally rise.

The fifth movement, Osiris Ausar and the Race Soldiers opens with a conversation between pensive organ and spiraling drums, then the band hits a brisk shuffle groove, horns and guitar taking turns building bubbling contrast to Lewis’ angst-fueled chordlets underneath. The final movement revisits the Ferguson murder of Michael Brown with an endless series of frantically stairstepping riffs, Lewis finally taking a grimly allusive solo, balmy soul displaced by fear. Fans of good-time toe-tapping organ jazz are in for a surprise and a shock here; this album will also resonate with fans of politically fearless composers and songwriters like Shostakovich and Nina Simone.

Aashish Khan Plays a Transcendent Opening to This Year’s Drive East Festival of Indian Music

Anyone who doubts the curative power of Indian music obviously didn’t see sarod virtuoso Aashish Khan’s transcendent show at Dixon Place last night.

Chosen to open this year’s lavishly eclectic Drive East Festival of Indian music and culture, things didn’t look good for the son of the iconic Ali Akbar Khan, heir to a musical legacy that dates to the 1500s.. “I wanted to cancel, but my word is bond,” he shrugged.

And then struggled through a relatively brief ten minutes or so worth of a spacious, enigmatic evening raga where the main theme seemed to be “let’s not go there.” Time after time, Khan reached for flurrying intensity and then pulled back. It’s not like he was dealing with a life-threatening illness, but he was having a hard time finding his game – and apologized prosueful to the audience beforehand for being under the weather.

Then he and tabla player Nitin Mitta took a deep breath and launched into a stark, distantly anguished, ultimately indomitable performance of a brooding south Indian raga which had made its way into the northern repertoire, he said.

As it unwound, was Khan going to put the finishing touches on a triumphant, bitterly chromatic crescendo that seemed to say, “Take that!” to whatever had threatened to reduce him to an inhaler-dependent, shivering mass?

Not yet, no way. If there was any takeaway from this show – other than the harrowing, lingering, Middle Eastern-tinged phrases that Khan parsed early on – it was how much of a force of nature Mitta is. After Khan had found new life and sank his teeth (and fiery fingers) into it, hard, he handed the biggest crescendos to his tabla player. And did Mitta ever deliver. Devious, rat-a-tat twelve-on-four riffs, droll spirals from the depths to the flitting outer rims of the drums, and a jet-engine crescendo out of a plaintive Khan phrase brought the energy to redline.

The other message, if anybody hasn’t guessed by now, is that if this is Khan at halfspeed, imagine the guy at full steam. Which he and Mitta finally hit, after a long, sepulchrally modal, eerily contemplative stroll through the sarod’s upper-midrange, Khan picking his targets and then leveling a savagely precise chainsaw attack. The two then exchanged a sardonic series of congratulatory riffs – holy smokes, we actually pulled this thing off! – and wound up the set in a final careening volley of notes, heavy metal as it might have been played in Punjab in 1600 but with better instruments.

The Drive East Festival continues tonight, August 22 at 6 PM with a killer twinbill: Hindustani singer Indrani Khare (cover is $15) followed at 7:15 by by rising star sitar player Kinnar Seen ($20 cover). And the rest of the week’s lineup is pretty spectacular as well. Dixon Place is at 161A Chrystie St., just a block east and around the corner from Bowery Ballroom. The closest train is the J//M to Bowery, but it’s also an easy walk from the B/D at Grand St and the F at Second Avenue

Ferocious Power Trio Castle Black Put Out One of 2017’s Best Short Albums

In an era when gentrification, the demise of one venue after another and subway closures all down the line at night have landed one crushing blow after another on the New York music scene, Castle Black’s rise to become one of this city’s best bands is as heartwarming as it is improbable. A couple of years ago, they were playing the usual cruddy circuit of bottom-tier venues that most new bands never gain enough traction to leave. Since then, Castle Black have put out a succession of ep’s, each one better than the other and emerged as a relentlessly touring powerhouse.

Armed with a couple of vintage Fenders, guitarist/frontwoman Leigh Celent has grown into a powerful and distinctive player equally at home with noise and melody. Bassist Lisa Low anchors the music with a looming ominousness while drummer Matt Bronner ranges from rapidfire four-on-the-floor punk to doomy metal to the occasional departure into unorthodox meters, holding the beast to the rails. The band’s latest ep, Trapped Under All You Know is streaming at youtube. They’re playing the release show on August 25 at 10 PM at the Well in Bushwick – they’re definitely loud enough to drown out any of the other bands rehearsing in the upstairs rooms there.

The album’s first track, Seeing in Blue kicks off with Bronner’s boomy tom-tom rolls, Celent building an angst-fueled nocturnal scenario with her guitar and her vocals. It’s part Avengers roar and part enigmatic late-period Bush Tetras, with a little Cramps menace. And it’s as catchy as all those references

Broken Bright Star is one of the half-dozen best songs of 2017, hands down. The catchy, doomy opening guitar riff brings to mind the Vice Squad classic Last Rockers, rising to a richly jangly mesh of guitar multitracks on the chorus. The point where the verse suddenly dips down to just Celent’s vocals, and then explodes with a wrathful guitar chord, will give you goosebumps.

Blind Curtain is just as anthemic and catchy: imagine a two-guitar version of Blondie covering mid-80s Husker Du. The album stays in that relentlessly troubled zone with the distantly Joy Division-inflected last cut, Rise, Celent’s roaring, reverbtoned guitar shards flickering through the “shadows as they rise, again and again again.”  Brief as this is,  you’ll see this album on the best of 2017 page here in December if we’re still all here.

Looking Back and Forward to Some of the Most Electrifying Large Ensemble Shows in NYC

There are very few eighteen-piece groups in the world, let alone New York,  led by women. Even fewer of those bandleaders are singers. Here in Manhattan we have Brianna Thomas and Marianne Solivan, who have assembled their own big bands to back them from time to time. But they play mostly standards. Sara McDonald, who fronts the NYChillharmonic, writes some of the world’s catchiest yet most unpredictable music for large ensemble. Watching their show at Joe’s Pub back in May was akin to seeing a young Maria Schneider emerge from Gil Evans’ towering influence twenty years ago – not because McDonald’s music sounds anything like Schneider’s, but because it’s so distinctive and irresistibly fun. And the scariest thing of all is that McDonald still growing as a composer.

Over the last couple of years, she’s invented her own genre, and concretized it with equal amounts depth and surprise. The occasional lapse toward the corporate urban pop she may have been immersed in as a child is gone, replaced by a lavish sound with equal parts puckishness and gravitas. Radiohead is the obvious influence, but McDonald switches out icy techiness and relentless cynicism for a far more dynamic range of textures. Keeping a big band together that plays steadily for a month or two and then goes on hiatus as the band members do their own thing is a herculean task, especially as far as tightness is concerned, but this time out she’d whipped them into shape to nail the split-second changes – and there were a lot of them.

A NYChillharmonic show is best experienced as a whole. Ideas leap out, only to be subsumed in a distant supernova of brass, or a starry trail from the strings, or a calming, beachy wash from the reeds. Then that riff, in any number of clever disguises, will pop out later. McDonald works from the same playbook the best classical and film composers use, beginning with a simple singalong hook, embellishing it and then taking it to all sorts of interesting places. McDonald’s are more interesting than most. The lucky crew who got to go there this time out comprised Albert Baliwas, Brian Plautz, David Engelhard, Dean Buck and Eitan Gofman on saxes; trombonists Karl Lyden, Seth Weaver, Nathan Wood and Dillon Garret; trumpeters Rachel Therrien, Michael Sarian, Caleb McMahon and Chris Lucca; pianist Eitan Kenner, bassist Mike DeiCont, guitarist Steven Rogers and drummer Pat Agresta, plus a string quartet of Kiho Yutaka, Audrey Hayes, Jenna Sobolewski and Susan Mandel

Throughout the set, she and the group employed just as many subtle shifts as striking ones. Odd meters would filter to the bottom and then straighten out as the whole ensemble would enter over a pulsing quasi-canon from the brass or moodily loopy electric piano. More dramatically, the orchestra would drop down to just McDonald and the rhythm section, then leap back in at the end of a bar or when a chorus kicked in, such as there are choruses in her music – recurrent themes are everywhere, but never where you expect them.

On the mic, McDonald – who’s also grown immensely as a singer over the last several months – would vary her delivery depending on the song’s content, whether slyly coy, or uneasily insistent, or with one fullscale wail late in the set to illustrate some kind of apocalypse or at least a dramatic end to something good. Lately she’s been lending her voice to the even more enigmatically improvisational rock band Loosie. And she’s also been known to sing with the much crazier, high-voltage Jazzrausch Bigand, who are making their Lincoln Center debut this August 31 at 7:30 PM at the atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. If you’re going, get there on time because it could get pretty wild.

The Bumper Jacksons Bring Their Hot, Eclectically Swinging Americana Party to the Bleecker Street Strip

The Bumper Jacksons play irresistible oldtimey toe-tapping music. If you got priced out of the Squirrel Nut Zippers reunion tour shows, this band will put the bubbles in your Moxie. Their latest album I’ve Never Met a Stranger – streaming at their music page – expands the band’s adventures of all sorts of Americana even further, embracing oldschool country and soul music as well as the swing they’ve made a name for themselves with. They’ve got an enticing show coming up at the Poisson Rouge on August 24 at 7 PM; $15 advance tix are highly recommended.

Guitarist Chris Ousley sings the jaunty opening track, Many Paths, over Dave “Duckpin” Hadley’s soaring pedal steel and the bouncy rhythm section of bassist Alex Lacquement and drummer Dan Samuels. Clarinetist Jess Eliot Myhre, trombonist Brian Priebe and trumpeter Joseph Brotherton join in a joyous dixieland raveup at the end.

Myhre takes over the mic for Find it Say Amen, a brisk mashup of country gospel, folk-pop and vintage C&W in the same vein as New York’s own Demolition String Band. I Sing the Body, a New Orleans cha-cha, features snazzy horns over resonant big-sky pedal steel, with a tantalizingly brief muted trumpet solo. Then Ousley sings the aptly titled, subtly hilarious western swing shuffle Get on Up, a showcase for Hadley’s sizzling chops.

The whole band join voices on the album’s brisk honkytonk title track: “I’ve never met a stranger at the bottom of a bottle, just like the friends all around me whose names I’ve forgotten,” is the chorus. Then they flip the script and take Hank Williams’ Ramblin’ Man down to St. James Infirmary.

Looming trombone and soaring pedal steel frame the matter-of-factly swaying, wistful Technicolor Waltz, an incongruous but richly successful blend of Bob Wills and Crescent City brass. Likewise, the pedal steel adds unexpectedly tasty texture to the vintage Memphis soul anthem Over Your Head. “Some of us will never grow up, never grow old, just ask those who tell us to do so,” Myhre sings in Old Birds, the album’s catchiest, most understatedly joyous, defiant track, the band shifting deftly between distantly gospel-inspired front-porch folk and New Orleans soul.

“If i called your name, would you answer, this city’s noise grow like a cancer,” Myhre broods in in the spare, bitter soul nocturne Waiting ‘Round Here. Gimme a Pigfoot (and a Bottle of Beer) is just as slow but a lot more upbeat, risiing to a horn-spiced hokum blues party. The band winds up the album with a bouncy second-line version of Corina, Corina and then the blue-flame boogie Dirt Road Blues. It’s a party in a box.

A Brooding New Album and a Brooklyn Show from Dark Country Band the Whiskey Charmers

Ann Arbor dark country band the Whiskey Charmers made a big splash with their 2015 debut album. Their new one, The Valley – streaming at Bandcamp – takes their Lynchian twang and shuffle and raises the energy: this is much more of a blue-flame electric rock record. They’re making a rare New York appearance tonight, August 18 at 8 PM at the Way Station, making the trek out to the fringes of Bed-Stuy worth your while.

Lawrence Daversa’s bone-bleached slide guitar builds lingering menace throughout the album’s opening track, Desert, frontwoman/guitarist Carrie Shepard voicing an understatedly lurid scenario that probably doesn’t end well: it’s up to the listener to solve this mystery.

Brian Ferriby’s boomy drumbeat and Daniel “Ozzie” Andrews’ tersely slinky bass propel the defiant, honkytonk-flavored title track, about banishing an evil spirit who could be either dead or very much alive. The simply titled Melody is a straight-up, morose oldschool C&W shuffle: Shepard turns the art of crafting a tune into a metaphor for a relationship that probably won’t go anywhere.

The band returns to loping desert rock in Meet Me There, Shepard’s understatedly simmering vocals channeling hurt and abandonment: “Don’t you care that I was falling down the stairs?” she wants to know. Then Daversa detours into snarling Nashville noir in Dirty Little Blues: that creepy little ch-cha of a bridge is killer.

The band slow things down with the low-key Americana rock burner Fireproof and then bring back the luridly longing ambience in Full Moon, lit up by Daversa’s slashing, vintage electric Neil Young riffage. And his sinuous, resonant country lines in the bittersweet Songbird might be the the album’s most gorgeous moments, anchored by David Roof’s vividly murky organ.

“Been looking for you lately on my lawn…been looking for you in the back of my car,” Shepard muses in the swaying, melancholy Red Wine. The album’s most epic track is Coal, a majestically gloomy, metaphorically bristling anthem that could be the Dream Syndicate at their countriest, capped off by a searing, careening Daversa solo. The album winds up with Warnings, an Americana-pop song in Halloween disguise. You have been warned: this band is going places. Catch them now before it costs you big bucks at a venue like Bowery Ballroom.

A Richly Retro New Album From Honkytonk Harmony Stars the Sweetback Sisters

With their twangy harmonies, purist oldschool C&W instrumentation, vivid storytelling and omnipresent sense of humor, the Sweetback Sisters sounds like they just stepped offstage at the Grand Old Opry sometime in the mid-50s – or 60s on occasion. Singers Emily Miller and Zara Bode can be totally badass one moment and shatteringly poignant the next. Their previous album Looking For a Fight was a mix of deliciously retro honkytonk and western swing tunes, with a couple of harrowingly lyrical ballads. Their new one King of Killing Time – streaming at Bandcamp – looks back a little further to around 1953, when proto-rock, blues, jazz and pop were all getting cross-pollinated more radically than anytime before the internet was something more than a dialup connection for the Pentagon. The Sweetback Sisters don’t play quite a much live as they used to, so their album release show this Saturday night, August 19 at 8:30 PM at the Jalopy is likely to sell out. Cover is $20; get to Red Hook early if you can.

With its brisk shuffle rhythm and trainwhisttle guitar accents, Gotta Get A-Goin could be an early 50s Davis Sisters hit, right down to the vintage vernacular and Ben Sanders’ jaunty fiddle solo. The swinging I Got Lucky With You is just plain sweet: it’s got 50s-style PG-rated innuendo, and it’s also the rare love song that doesn’t suck:

Fortune smiles on very few in this world…
So I have to muddle through
The other things that I do
Since I got lucky with you

Trouble, by the band’s excellent former guitarist Jesse Milnes, is a sly, lowdown proto-rockabilly boogie with unexpectedly fiery cajun tinges, a tantalizingly brief duel between guitarists Ross Bellenoit and Ryan Hommel, and a trick ending. The album’s sad, swaying, aphoristic title track, a concert favorite, feels like an Ernest Tubb radio hit spiced up with a little Chuck Berry guitar. On one hand, the story of the redneck landlord/tenant confrontation in I’m Gonna Cry is just plain funny, but coming from a band more or less based in Brooklyn, that scenario takes on a more soberingly sinister level of meaning.

It’s All Your Fault is a showcase for the band, with solos all around from fiddle, to bass, to guitar, and finally a long, triumphant one from Brain Cloud clarinetist Dennis Lichtman. The wistful waltz One Day at a Time offers an intriguing new way of responding if your true love should unexpectedly pop the question. Keening pedal steel and gentle fiddle fuels the catchy, midtempo That’s All it Took; a duet that would be infinitely improved if just the band’s two frontwomen were singing it.

The cover of Marty Robbins’ Don’t Worry is the most surreal and musically amusing song on the album, an anachronistic mashup of hard honkytonk, early swamp rock and fuzztone 60s psychedelia. The album winds up with a lush, harmony-infused cover of George Jones’ classic honkytonk waltz If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will). It’s impossible to think of a better hard country record than this released this year.

Algiers’ Enigmatic New Album Looks at Current Day Perils Through a Glass, Darkly

Algiers are one of the world’s most individualistic, relevant bands. Their 2014 debut album was a grim, confrontational mashup of oldschool soul, new wave and postrock, with a fiery populist, anti-racist sensibility. Their latest release, The Underside of Power – streaming at Spotify – is more Sandinista than London Calling . It’s a jaggedly interconnected suits that owes as much to the 80s film scores of Brad Fiedel and RZA’s lavish 90s Wu-Tang Clan sample collages than it does to rock or soul music. Informed by the Black Lives Matter movement, hip-hop, oldschool gospel and Albert Camus, it demands repeated listenings. Like Joe Strummer, frontman Franklin James Fisher is a fiery vocalist but often obscured in the mix to the point where the repeat button is required. But it’s worth the effort. 

Fisher’s fervent gospel-influenced vocals rise over a trip-hop beat and Lee Tesche’s war videogame synth on the opaquely defiant opening track, Walk Like a Panther: Rev. Sekou meets Portishead. With its watery Siouxsie guitar, loopy backdrop and dark cinematic cloudbanks, Cry of the Martyrs gives Fisher a launching pad for fire-and-brimstone imagery with current-day resonance. The equally catchy title track, a hit in camo disguise, is dark Four Tops Motown through  prism of postrock: “t’s just a question of time before we fall fall down,” is the mantra.

Death Match blends Unknown Pleasures Joy Division with Depeche Mode darkwave, building an allusively apocalyptic scenario. With its toxic post-battle ambienceA Murmur a Sigh  echoes that gloom.

Ryan Mahan’s austerelly waltzing piano in Mme. Rieux – a reference to a minor character in Camus’ novel The Plague – adds Botanica plaintiveness to its towering Pink Floyd grandeur. A mashup of dark gospel and trip-hop, Cleveland is a fierce yet enigmatic anti-police violence anthem :

In Jackson Mississippi they don’t have to hide…
We’re coming back…
The hand that finds you behind and ties the the thirteen loops…

The question is who’s making the comeback here, the Klan, or the people? The answer is far from clear.

With its brisk motorik rhythm,  Animals is Wire crossed with the Bomb Squad  The band follows that with the slow, ominously atmospheric  instrumental Plague Years and then the broodingly crescendoing A Hymn For an Average Man, its horror movie piano loops setting the stage for mighty Floyd guitar crunch.

The echoey soundscape Bury Me Standing segues into the final cut, The Cycle the Spiral Time to Go Down Slowly, a pulsing noir soul song awash in sweeping war movie sonics. Spend some time with this album in the dark and then figure out where we’re going to go from here.