New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: October, 2019

Yet Another Brilliant, Shadowy Album and a Gowanus Release Show From Noir Instrumental Icons Big Lazy

Big Lazy are the world’s most menacingly cinematic instrumental trio. They’re also the world’s darkest jamband, one of Brooklyn’s most popular dance bands…and they keep putting out brilliant albums. The cover of their long-awaited new one, Dear Trouble, has a 1972 Ford Country Squire station wagon off to the side of a desolate road somewhere in the midwest, facing a tower along the powerline as the clouds linger and the sun sets. That says a lot. They’re playing the album release show this Nov 8-9 at 8 PM at the old American Can Company building at 232 3rd St. in Gowanus. Night one is sold out, but night two isn’t yet; you can get in for $20. They’ll be joined by three of the special guests on the record: Sexmob‘s Steven Bernstein on trumpet, Slavic Soul Party’s Peter Hess on saxes and Miramar’s Farfisa sorceress Marlysse Rose Simmons. Take the F or the R to 4th Ave/9th St.

Interestingly, this turns out to be the band’s quietest, most desolate album. It begins with The Onliest, a loping, skeletal theme slinking along on Andrew Hall’s hypnotically bluesy bassline. They hit an interlude bristling with bandleader/guitarist Steve Ulrich’s signature, macabre chromatics, then eventually a false ending. It’s a good introduction to where the band are at now: there are echoes of horror surf, Angelo Badalementi David Lynch soundtracks, Thelonious Monk and Booker T. & the MGs in the rhythm, although Big Lazy’s sound is inimitably their own.

The album’s title track has Ulrich’s melancholy, resonant lead over a sardonically strutting blend of Nino Rota tinged with early 60s pop: if Tredici Bacci wanted to get really dark, they might sound like this. As is the case with so much of Ulrich’s catalog, the song takes on many different shapes, textures and guitar timbres and winds up far from where it started.

Ramona, with dubby accents from Simmons organ, is one of the spare, overcast bolero-ish tunes that Ulrich writes so well. Cardboard Man features Marc Ribot, a rare guitarist who can go as deep into noir as well as Ulrich, adding eerily flamenco-tinged touches. The exchanges between the two, switching in a split-second between styles, are expertly bittersweet.

Sizzle & Pops – referring to the imaginary roadhouse that Ulrich and his wife would be running in an alternate universe – is a rare moment of straight-up levity for this band, part Booker T, part pseudo Bill Black Combo 50s cheese. Bernstein adds distantly muted New Orleans flavor, both jaundiced and jubilant, on the group’s cover of the Beatles’ Girl: who knew what an ineffably sad song this was!

Drummer Yuval Lion takes the loose-limbed slink of the opening number and raises it several notches with his flurries in Dream Factory as Hall runs another trancey blues bassline, Ulrich’s baritone guitar pulling the song deeper into the shadows. Consider how the title of Cheap Crude could mean many things, and its sardonic rockabilly makes even more sense.

Exit Tucson, another tense, morose quasi-bolero, has all kinds of neat, rippling touches pinging through the sonic picture around Ulrich’s sad broken chords, disconsolately reverberating riffs and long, forlornly shuffling solo. The arguably even more gloomy Fly Paper has a deliciously disorienting blend of tone-bending lapsteel and furtive guitar multitracks: with its trick ending, it’s the most Twin Peaks of any of the songs here.

Ribot returns for Mr. Wrong, a disquietingly syncopted stroll: it’s amazingly how chameleonic yet grimly on task both he and Ulrich are here. The album’s final cut is Sing Sing, Peter Hess’ baritone sax adding extra smoke beneath Ulrich’s lingering, macabre tritones. The album hasn’t officially hit yet but is due up at Big Lazy’s music page.

Ulrich and Big Lazy are no strangers to the best albums of the year page here. He took first place back in 2012 for the Ulrich Ziegler record, a quasi-Big Lazy album with guitarist/bassist Itamar Ziegler, which turned out to be a one-off project before he reformed the group.. And Big Lazy’s big comeback album, Don’t Cross Myrtle, was #1 with a bullet for 2014. As far as 2019 is concerned, no spoilers, check back here at the end of December…

The Schizophonics Bring Their Extended Play Garage Rock Energy to Union Pool Tonight

Bump bump, bump-bump, bump. Hey!

A cynic would say that pretty much sums up what garage rock is all about. But year after year, a new generation of leather-jacketed kids discovers the indomitably energetic retro sounds the Schizophonics revisit on their new album People in the Sky, which is due shortly at their Bandcamp page (there are a handful of singles already up now) They’re playing Union Pool tonight, Oct 30 at 8 PM; cover is $10. You’ll probably want to take the G train home afterward because the L will be down by the time the show’s over.

Either you can’t resist the good energy this stuff gives off, or you find it irredeeemably cliched. If you’re in the former camp, here goes; frantic vocals, buzzy guitars and basic riffs one step removed from the early soul music that the first practitioners of the style – the Pretty Things, Kinks, Blues Magoos, and every one-single wonder from Lenny Kaye’s Nuggets anthologies – could muster up in cheap studios or garages from dirty water Boston to sonic Seattle.

What differentiates the Schizophonics from decades of other bump bump, bump-bump, bump, hey! bands is that guitarist Pat Beers uses distortion and somewhat less ancient amps which give their music more than a tinge of the stoner boogie that eventually morphed out of garage rock by the end of the 60s. And their songs often go on past the two minute thirty second mark. Imagine the Arctic Monkeys if they’d been raised on the Kinks instead of Led Zep.

The album’s opening track is an anomaly in the garage rock genre, an epic, five minute-plus take of pretty much everything you can do with a 1-5-7-1 progression. Steeley Eyed Lady is a fuzztone tune that sounds like the Mooney Suzuki – except with an acoustic guitar grafted on.

Nine Miles has some chromatics, a scampering soul bassline and an unhinged teenage Dave Davies style guitar solo. The title track sounds like the Brian Jonestown Massacre on coke; The One I Want could be Muck & the Mires. Battle Line is vaguely political. Not Gonna Change My Mind wouldn’t be out of place among the MC5’s poppiest songs.

Long Way to Go is the album’s big stomper, while Show Me Your Eyes is the fuzziest – and arguably catchiest, with all that slapback reverb. Like a Mummy is a Sonics shout-out with the album’s best guitar solo. Down and Out is their All of the Day and All of the Night. The album’s final cut is She’s Coming Back, with a series of goofy modulations. If all the retro rock references here resonate with you, you’ll love this crew.

If you’re looking for today’s Halloween installment, take a trip back just over a year ago and revisit Brooklyn’s best young band, Dark Beasts, captured at the peak of their power at a semi-secret show in July of 2018.

Witheringly Elegant, Ruthlessly Funny Protest Songs From Dawn Oberg

What’s more Halloweenish than the prospect of Donald Trump NOT being impeached? Think about that for a second. Dawn Oberg, arguably this era’s most entertaining protest songsmith, played a guardedly optimistic, elegantly venomous set at the Rockwood last month that evoked what the world would be like under another Trump administration. It was as grim as you would expect, but Oberg’s irrepressible sense of humor wouldn’t quit. In times like these, you have to laugh, right?

It had been six years since anybody from this blog had seen the Bay Area singer/pianist in concert. The first time was at the infamous Bar East, where she played to basically two people: this blog’s owner, and the coked-up soundguy. The New York gigs have gotten better since then, and Oberg’s voice has grown richer and more velvety, like a good single malt. And her writing has never been more excoriatingly funny.

Playing wide-angle gospel chords and intricate, jazz and blues-inflected ripples, she briskly made her way through a bristling set. Not all of the songs were political. She opened with her usual Old Hussies Never Die and followed that with Whiskey Priest, one of her many character studies, this a shout out to a liberation Christian with a fondness for spirits (much of Oberg’s catalog looks to the bottom of a glass, darkly).

Idiot for Love was a rarity, a wry, guardedly optimistic love ballad, followed by the similarly upbeat, pouncing, quietly devastating End of the Continent, a cynical tale of abandonment and alienation told in California seismological imagery. And with the disarmingly catchy Angel Rant, Oberg offered robust, rebellious empathy for anyone spiraling into a dark night of the soul.

Then she dug into the political satire, ruthlessly, one song after another: the relentless cynicism of I’d Love to Be Wrong; the withering Nothing Rymes with Orange (title track of her fantastic protest song ep from last year), and possibly the best song of the set, the furious, defiant it’s 12:01, namechecking everyone  recently murdered by the SFPD: “Past time, motherfuckers, to change the guard at the gate.” The funniest song of the set was Mitch McConnell, wherein Oberg pondered what horrible things a turtle could possibly do to be compared to that troglodyte.

Oberg’s next gig is, Nov 14 at 6 PM at Martuni’s, 4 Valencia St. in San Francisco.

The Plaster Cramp Bring Their Distant Menace to a Halloween Eve Bushwick Gig

Today’s Halloween installment is the Plaster Cramp’s debut album – streaming at Bandcamp – which came out back in 2016. The band’s cynical surrealism looks back to the downtown postpunk scene of the early 80s, with occasional tinges of psychedelia and latin music. They like sprawling Velvets vamps with jagged guitar spilling over the edges; the darkness in the songs’ lyrics is allusive, and it draws you in. They’re playing Alphaville on Oct 30 at 10 PM; cover is $11.

The album opens with The Ghost of Great Jones. Aside from a little Daniel Ash-style string-torturing from guitarist/frontman John Frazier, there isn’t anything particularly dark about this slinky, Talking Heads-ish one-chord jam.

In the Stacks is a throwback to the Velvets’ first album, complete with the hammering piano, just a hair out of tune. Dracula is a phony bossa tune that coalesces out of atonal weirdness, multitracked vocals half-buried in the mix.

A dancing bassline propels Pinball Safari, a latin-flavored funk tune. The group go back to vintage Velvets stomp for Change It, “While the moon above weeps above the drying poplar trees,”Frazier speaks, calmly. “Do you like what you see?”

The group mash up Talking Heads and the Velvets in Impatient Knives, then bring the lights down with the album’s best and most implicitly grisly song, Apartment 23. It sounds like a more fleet-footed Botanica:

His car sat on the wrong side of the streeet
The phone just rang and rang in apartment 23
Nobody expects to discover anything
He had hidden himself
An ordinary man, no next of kin
No one to notice…
Lost in a city of pinstripes and grey suits
How they go together holy jesus

Cherry Dark is the Plaster Cramp’s What Goes On, a catchy, tastily twisted 4 AM Lower East Side scenario. The guardedly optimistic Fingers Crossed sounds like the Velvets playing New Order: the anachronism is actually very funny. The album closes with the starry nocturne Downstream, a dead ringer for vintage Brian Jonestown Massacre. The group have been playing more frequently over the last few months, a good sign, even if very few of the venues they’ve been at do anything to promote the bands who play there.

Venomously Elegant Dark Sounds From Doomstress

One of the most unexpectedly welcome trends in heavy music over the last few years is that more and more individualistic women are fronting doom metal bands. Doomstress are one of the best. Their sound is slinkier than most bands in that netherworld can typically conjure, and frontwoman/bassist Alexis Hollada doesn’t just wail at the top of her lungs. If you like slashing minor keys, haunting heavy sounds and twin guitar solos, Doomstress are waiting for you. Their debut album Sleep Among the Dead is streaming at Bandcamp.

The album’s opening track, Bitter Plea, is a galloping southwestern gothic-tinged groove. “There’s no escaping the past,’ Hollada sings, guitarist Brandon Johnson multitracking hazy leads over minor-key crunch punctuated by drummer Tomasz Scull’s heavy foot.

The second track, Burning Lotus is the album’s most vintage Sabbath-influencd track, although it’s faster than most of that band’s iconic songs. Johnson multitracks ominously lingering acoustic and electric leads over Hollada’s elegant blend of chords and single-note lines as the Dreaming Spider gets underway, following a trickily rhythmic, subtly venomous upward drive.

”You’ve been deceived,” Hollada snarls in the shapeshifting Your God Is Blind, a slap upside the head of warmongering religious nuts, rising to  a spine-tingling outro. The slow, majestic Bones and Rust continues that vengeful theme, Johnson’s crunch and snarl in both channels. “Shallow breath, but the mouth is wide,” Hollada taunts.

The album’s most epic track, Apathetic Existence has spacerock vastness, a shout-out to a classic Sabbath theme and a raised middle finger to the “crumbling mechanisms of power.” The final cut is the title track , a sadistic, grand guignol take on ba-BUMP noir cabaret. No wasted notes or silly, florid guitar solos, just relentless anger and cynicism in these classy minor key anthems. May this band last long enough to put out another great album before it all comes crashing down.

The “New Nusrat Record” – Believe the Hype

Today’s Halloween month piece concerns someone who has gone to the great qawwali party in the sky. If you haven’t heard the “new Nusrat record,” as everyone seems to be calling it, you should, if hypnotic sounds or dance music are your thing. Credited to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Party, this live recording– never before released – from the 1985 WOMAD Festival, was the iconic Pakistani qawwali singer’s first-ever performance in front of a western audience. It’s streaming at Spotify.

The show begins with swirling harmonium over a spare tabla beat. Some of the male members of the party onstage trade ecstatic, imploring, melismatic verses as the harmonium resonates gently behind them; finally, the crowd clap along as the rhythm kicks in and the first number, Allah Ho Allah Ho gets underway. It’s twenty full minutes of hypnotic revelry, pretty much everyone raising his or her voice. Khan’s is both honeyed and gritty, maybe feeling the effects of being on the road.

The catchy, singalong second number, Haq Ali Ali is even longer and slower, in a broodingly chromatic, Middle Eastern-tinged mode; the bristling vocal cadenzas tend to be more incisive and brief. The group take it doublespeed at about the eight-minute mark and don’t look back.

Everybody onstage joins in the rapidfire exchanges of call-and-response in the concert’s most hypnotic number, Shahbazz Qalandar, “A very famous tune,” as Khan succinctly explains. They close with the  sprawling Biba Silda Dil Mor De, returning to an uneasy Middle Eastern-flavored mode. Obviously, miking everybody onstage– vocals, percussion and harmonium – was a potential minefield for the sound engineer, but the recording levels are seamless.

It would be a stretch to call any of this Halloween music – but, this blog did promise you dead people earlier this month.

Jessie Montgomery Brings Her Potently Relevant New Compositions Back to Her Home Turf

Oldtimers reminisce about the glory days of the East Village in the 1970s, but as violinist and composer Jessie Montgomery reminded last night, the blight of gentrification had already begun to infest the area. Greedy landlords were already hell-bent on evicting residents of the multicultural artistic neighborhood, whose poets, musicians and artists by then were predominantly Puerto Rican. Montgomery’s show last night at the Metropolis Ensemble’s intimate Rivington Street digs with a series of ensembles, just a few blocks south of where she grew up, sent an acerbic shout-out to the LES’s defiant, determined people. It was a cosmopolitan party for the right to fight.

Joined by soprano Mellissa Hughes on vocals, Jessica Meyer on viola, Gabriel Cabezas on cello and Eleonore Oppenheim on bass, Montgomery led various permutations of the ensemble through a series of edgy, incisively melodic recent works. To begin the evening, Hughes’ regal, steady delivery imbued LES poet Bimbo Rivas’ bittersweet mid-70s tribute to his home turf with unexpected gravitas over the strings’ terse counterpoint.

Montgomery’s Duo for Violin and Cello had a similarly concise interweave. She likes to use the entirety of the violin’s range, and that vivid sense of color extends to other instruments as well. Unexpectedly, what was possibly the most riveting interlude of the evening was a still, stygian soundscape which she played with her duo Big Dog Little Dog with Oppenheim. Montgomery’s silken high harmonics contrasted with Oppenheim’s big muddy river, slowly fading out as the bassist bowed her strings right at the tailpiece for a sepulchral wash of overtones that finally vanished into silence. It’s hard to imagine another piece for bass that calls for so much in the upper registers.

Meyer’s Space in Chains, for soprano and viola, shifting from steady, swaying, incisive riffage to clenched-teeth flurries, giving voice to another neighborhood poet, Laura Kasischke, whose contention was that music is “The marriage of rhythm and antisocial behavior.” After Montgomery and Oppenheim’s twin canine project – “We switch off,” Oppenheim deadpanned, explaining who’s the big dog in the band – the group closed with Montgomery’s enigmatically lilting Lunar Songs, utilizing texts by J. Mae Barizo. Whoever thinks that new chamber music doesn’t have any social relevance missed this show.

The ongoing series of concerts at the second-floor space at 1 Rivington St. just east of Bowery continues on Nov 23 at 8 PM with the Attacca Quartet playing the album release show for their new recording of Nathan Schram‘s Oak and the Ghost; admission is $20/$10 stud/srs.

A Smoky, Careening Free Download From Heavy Psychedelic Band Salem’s Bend

Today’s Halloween month installment is Cold Hand Live, a free ep download by LA heavy psychedelic power trio Salem’s Bend. There are just two tracks here. The first is the nine-minute Cold Hand, a slowly swaying doom theme in 6/8 time, guitarist Bobby Parker’s muffled vocals over Kevin Schofield’s bass and Zach Huling’s drums. It doesn’t take long before Parker picks up with a jagged, Hendrix-inspired attack. Then Schofield hits his distortion pedal; Parker takes the song from spare and hypnotic, through a brief salute to classic Sabbath to a screaming, bleeding solo out.

The second track is Winter Sunn, with its suspenseful pulse, sharply executed 70s stoner riffs and comet-trail guitar solos. Grab this while you can.

Revisiting a Deliciously Dark, Psychedelic Album from Sugar Candy Mountain

Today’s Halloween month installment is Sugar Candy Mountain‘s deliciously lurid, cinematic, tropically psychedelic album 666 – streaming at Bandcamp – which came over the transom here in 2016 and promptly vanished down that black hole better known as the hard drive. So, it’s long overdue. Sorry, folks – what a fun record!

Frontwoman/guitarist Ash Reiter has a misty voice with just a hint of enticement, infusing the opening track, Windows, with gently torchy allure over a samba-tinged, minor-key retro 60s groove with a long, undulating, reverb-drenched solo. A brief, similarly dark tropical interlude with Will Halsey’s tumbling drums at the centetr leads into the album’s title track, a midtempo, simmering, surf-tinged theme: the sarcasm in Reiter’s airy, half-spoken vocals is irresistible.

Rippling, watery guitars and Jason Quever’s multitracked synth permeate the next track, Being: imagine a quirky existentialist along the lines of the Icebergs’ Jane LeCroy fronting a lo-fi, trippy indie project like Extra Classic. The album’s longest cut, Atlas is a surreal mashup of oldschool soul, glossy new wave and late Beatles, but somehow the band make it all work.

Thomas Edler’s precise, snappy bass opens Eye on You, a jaunty soul tune with starry guitars and organ. “Regrets and wasted time have wasted you,” Reiter and Halsey intone in Time, a pulsing Rubber Soul-esque anthem. They follow that with Tired, a moody Laurel Canyon psychedelic soul strut with icy analog chorus box guitar.

Snorting reverb riffs contrast with summery organ in the Brazilian-tinged Who I Am; the album ends with Summer of Our Discontent, which perfectly sums up what this band is all about. No matter how sunny some of these tracks are on the surface, there’s always an undercurrent.

A Dynamic, Intimate Live Album and a Birdland Gig From Jazz Piano and Vocal Siren Champian Fulton

At this point in jazz history,  Champian Fulton is the best piano-playing singer and the best pianist who happens to be a singer. With her blend of precision and flair on the keys and her nuanced approach to the mic, she’s been unstoppable lately. Her career validates the old proverb that you get good at what you do: somehow, in between gigs, she manages to find the time to make albums. And she likes to flip the script: she’s done everything from reinventing Dinah Washington – a major influence – to a devious all-instrumental piano trio record, and now her latest release, Dream a Little, an intimate but often fiery live set with saxophonist Cory Weeds. The new record, a mix of standards, a couple of rarities and an original is streaming at Bandcamp. Fulton’s next New York gig is a two-night stand at Birdland on Oct 30-31, with sets at 7 and 10 PM; you can get in for $20.

Weeds opens the first track, Dream a Little Dream, with a balmy solo before Fulton’s piano brings in some James P. Johnson gravitas, a contrast that lingers through an unexpectedly restrained, even suspenseful take of a song that Mama Cass Elliott made epic drama out of.

Weeds does the flying – gently – in Fly Me to the Moon, the two folllowing the same dynamic, both Fulton’s piano and voice infused with calm take-charge attitude. Strap on that seat belt, buster!

By contrast, Lullaby For Art  is a starkly pulsing, latin-tinged instrumental theme with bitingly bluesy solos from both musicians. Fulton’s clenched-teeth intensity before the third verse is one of the album’s most stunning moments.

The duo’s take of Darn That Dream has a wistful, expansive solo first verse from Fulton, Weeds fluttering among the clouds, a dynamic they mirror with a steady, subtly stride-influenced version of Pennies From Heaven. Then they pick up the pace with Once I Had a Secret Love, Weeds’ precise chromatic volleys setting the tone.

Fulton’s slowly swaying interpretation of I Thought About You leaves no doubt that it’s about being haunted by a memory. As he does throughout the record, Weeds plays tersely, developing melodic themes rather than blowing endless, too-cool-for-school practice patterns like too many other reed players do.

The two make low-key, striding swing out of Tangerine: Fulton likes to use her low lefthand a lot, and that device works particularly well here, grounding Weeds’ cheery lines. I’d Give a Dollar For a Dime – Joe Williams’ 1930 shout-out to what seemed already had become jukebox nostalgia – dips and weaves with a dreamy charm. They close the record with a coy jump blues take based on Eddie Lockjaw Davis’ version of Save Your Love For Me

While this is first and foremost a collection of bittersweet love ballads, it’s also uproariously funny when least expected: Fulton has a subtle and often sly sense of humor, particularly on the keys. As if we need yet more proof that more artists should be making live records, this is it.