New York Music Daily

Music for Transcending Dark Times

Month: April, 2020

Dynamic, Intense String Themes From One-Man Orchestra Christopher Tignor

Violinist Christopher Tignor occupies a unique place in the New York music scene, where the worlds of new classical music, improvisation and ambient psychedelia intersect. For a guy who plays a lot of brooding, overcast music, he’s a very entertaining performer, often doing the one-man band thing with a kickdrum and his trusty loop pedal. His latest album A Light Below is streaming at Bandcamp.

What’s new about this is that it’s hardly all grey skies and moody atmospherics. The first number, Flood Cycles has warmly drifting, coccoony sheets of sound, Tignoer gradually brightening the picture

Loopy, shivery strings and a dramatic, thumping beat make their entrance in Your Slowly Moving Shadow, My Inevitable Night: the majesty and drama rise as Tignor overdubs himself into a one-man symphonic ensemble.

Known By Heart is closer to his earlier work, alternating between hazy unease and ominously crescendoing cumulo-nimbus ambience: imagine a Noveller piece for string orchestra instead of guitar loops. Tignor builds A Mirrored Reliquary from steady, spare overlays to an elegant, plaintive, baroque-tinged theme and arresting swirls – and then brings it back down.

I, Autocorrelations (that’s the title) is a bracingly lush, loopily syncopated dance in 12/4 time. The dancing pulse continues, for awhile at least, in the album’s most epic track, The Resonance Canons, a partita. Echoey pizzicato loops leap beneath shimmery metal gongs, then an enveloping atmosphere return, followed by an oscillating, gamelanesque interlude. Tignor runs an otherworldly, pinging, microtone-spiced riff over organ textures as the looming lows rise; the ending is unexpected.

He winds up the album with the only slightly less expansive What You Must Make of Me, an increasingly disorienting web of simple, translucent motives mingling over a muted piledriver beat; then they filter out, leaving the most anthemic ones in place. The coda seems to be a guarded benediction. Good to see this rugged individualist expanding his sound into new terrain.

Alice Lee’s Isolation Blues: Brilliant Music for Troubled Times

Alice Lee has forged a career writing smart, catchy soul music with an often witheringly insightful lyricism. Her album The Wheel made the top ten albums of the year list here in 2017; a year later, her single Me, Too landed on the ten best songs of the year list. Now, she’s released Isolation Blues, the best song of 2020 so far. It’s part darkly rustic, fingerpicked 1920s style blues, part sophisticated soul anthem.

The New York multi-instrumentalist/singer – one of this city’s “essential workers” – dedicates it to John Prine and Bill Withers. She wears a mask in the video – and it’s subtitled, a characteristically subtle touch that speaks volumes:

The people outside got fear in their eyes
Above the cover of a mandated disguise
When we need each other most
And it doesn’t make sense
We stay away from each other
In self-defense
As we scatter and hide, just trying to stay alive
They didn’t get out, they couldn’t survive
…We’re expendable when we don’t have the cash unbled
‘Cause when you’re black, brown or poor
You might as well be dead
We once were free to roam now we cannot choose
To live or die with these isolation blues

Darkly Drifting, Reverb-Drenched Soundscapes From Sonar Atmosfera

Since the late  zeros, guitarist Thomas Simon has worked a darkly cinematic, swirling sound that veers from anthemic post-Bauhaus rock, to ominously epic instrumental tableaux, to hypnotic loopmusic. His latest project, appropriately titled Sonar Atmosfera – streaming at Bandcamp – is a collaboration with psychedelic tropical band Baianasystem‘s João Milet Meirelles. In a lot of ways it’s one long, brooding theme, but the subtle variations are very psychedelic. It’s a great late-night, lights-out listen.

Simon’s guitar flickers and crackles, awash in reverb and smoky atmospherics as the album’s first track, Feel the Hope gathers steam. A drumbeat enters the picture and suddenly this one-chord jam takes on a swaying insistence, akin to a trip-hop take on Pink Floyd’s Run Like Hell.

The second track, Resist is completely different, a lot closer to Baianasystem’s woozy, loopy dub: halfway through, Simon’s spare, resonant phrases add a distant ominousness. The guitar snarling in Live For the Run subsides for a couple of momentary, Bauhaus-like lulls. The two segue from there into The Trip, with its spacious, low-register, bell-like accents and steady, syncopated drum loops.

Blippy, motorik beats and Space Invaders sonics contrast with Simon’s allusive chordlets and menacing chromatics in A Dream. Fight With Love, a brief postapocalyptic scenario, has snippets of movie dialogue. The eleven-minute epic My Story slowly rises from atmospheric minimalsm: Brian Eno’s Apollo comes to mind.

The album’s most hypnotic, loopy number, Condor Jam is built around a simple 1-4-5 reverb guitar riff spiced with gritty, distorted motives. Manic World finally reaches that point, a chilly dancelfloor thud pushing Simon’s spacious, cumulo-nimbus phrasing out of the picture. Simon’s forlorn, desolate, clanging phrases and chords ring out over shifting textures in the album’s final epic, On Land.

A Mesmerizingly Eclectic Debut Album From Singer Aubrey Johnson

Singer Aubrey Johnson has been a rivetingly individualistic part of the fabric of the New York jazz scene, with both large and small ensembles as well as John Zorn’s Mycale choir, for the better part of a decade. So it’s hard to believe that she’s only now releasing her debut album as a bandleader. That record, Unraveled, is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a chance to hear her arrestingly clear, crystalline voice delivering her own material as well as a few vastly multistylistic covers: it was worth the wait. Johnson has newfound gravitas in her lower registers as well as a little Americana rusticity further up the scale, bolstering an already formidable stylistic arsenal.

Herer she’s joined by by pianist Chris Ziemba, drummer Jeremy Noller and bassist Matt Aronoff, along with austere violin from  Tomoko Omura. The band launch into a straight-up trip-hop groove to kick off the album with the understatedly angst-ridden twists and turns of No More I Love Yous, written by obscore 80s new wave duoThe Lover Speaks: “I used to have demons in my room at night,” Johnson confides.

She switches to Portuguese for an expansively spare take of the Jobim standard Dindi, Michael Sachs adding graceful clarinet. The duet between Johnson and Aronoff is tantalizingly brief; her spiraling vocalese before she sings the final verse in English wil give you goosebumps.

She leaps around, over fluttery bass clarinet, Ziemba’s insistent minimalism and Noller’s altered trip-hop beat in Happy to Stay, a souped-up chamber pop tune that sounds like Gretchen Parlato on steroids. Karate is a coyly funny, blippily wordless remake of a famous Egberto Gismonti theme that echoes Johnson’s Mycale bandmate Sofia Rei‘s most playful work.

“The dawn is calling your name,” Johnson intones soberly in the moodily syncopated ballad Lie in Wait, “Are we just hanging on to prove everybody wrong?” Sachs and Omura add judiciously energetic solos as the band go scampering. Ripples from Ziemba and the bass clarinet permeate Love Again, Johnson’s voice rising and dipping from daunting heights as the beat grows funkier.

Her take of Jimmy Rowles’ noir jazz classic The Peacocks, with a bracing solo from Sachs,, is especially spare and cinematic: the rapport with Ziemba’s icy backdrop brings to mind Sara Serpa‘s similarly chilling work with Ran Blake. These Days is not the Joy Division postpunk classic but a poignantly energetic, rainy-day original, Johnson working her entire range as the violin sails, Ziemba’s piano rages and then backs away.

Untitled is a song for our time, a portrait of dissociation and alienation: over a shifting modal groove, Johnson asks for anything that would generate some kind of emotional response. Alice Lee‘s most adventurous jazz work comes to mind. And Johnson reaches back to the tropics again with the jauntily lilting, matter-of-fact Voice Is Magic, through a stunningly phantasmagorical midsection. Admittedly, there haven’t been many albums released in the last few weeks, but this is still the frontrunner for best vocal jazz release of 2020.

Relentlessly Uneasy, Dystopic Soundscapes From Austin Rockman

Today’s pick for music here is cold, mechanical, dystopic…and trippy as hell. There’s a lot going on in electronic composer Austin Rockman‘s new maxi-single Sonde Aim/Seek No End – streaming at Bandcamp – so it’s more persistently uneasy than it is desolate. If you need about thirteen minutes to get lost in, this will work.

The rhythmic center of the first track is a loop of what sounds like the needle on a turntable bouncing off the face of a weatherbeaten record. Fleeting doppler smears pass through the sonic picture in a split second, echoed by low rumbles; eventually, keening, minimal highs and fragmentary backward masked effects begin to take centerstage.

The second is a more grimly hazy, echoey tableau, with slowly shifting sheets of sound in place of dopplers: as with the A-side, Rockman eventually brings the highs up in the mix. Neither piece offers any kind of resolution: life is like that.

Poignant French Late Romantic Music and a Brilliant Obscurity From Alina Ibragimova and Cedric Tiberghien

Today’s album is about poignancy and brooding contemplation – and is also a rare recording of a great obscurity from the French Late Romantic era. The violin-piano duo of Alina Ibragimova and Cedric Tiberghien released their record of music by Eugene Ysaye, Cesar Franck, Louis Vierne and Lili Boulanger last year; it’s streaming at Spotify. There’s considerable emotional depth here.

The first piece is Ysaye’s relatively well-known, Romeo and Juliet themed Poeme Elegiaque. The two play it with straightforward restraint: they don’t languish in its lulls. Ibragimova quickly finds a clenched-teeth focus in its gritty upward climbs; likewise, Tiberghien lets the chilly desolation in his chords speak for itself, matched by the violin’s stark, midrange resonance. As the narrative hits an anguished, allusively chromatic peak midway through, the contrast is nonchalantly breathtaking.

Franck’s Violin Sonata in A was a wedding present for Ysaye, one of his era’s great violinists. For whatever reason, there seems to be more wistfulness and longing than romantic joy in the swaying, spare first movement. The two approach the delicate second movement with a vivid tenderness that also seems wounded, but then the piano signals a charge upwards toward redemption. There’s considerable contrast between quiet, tense hesitancy and several “yes!”crescendos throughout the third movement, Ibragimova using a lot of shivery vibrato. Likewise, there’s unexpectedly uneasy glitter intermingled with the warmly triumphant phrasing of the conclusion.

Beyond to his virtuosity at the organ, Vierne was also an awardwinning violinist. He may be best known as a writer of turbulent, ferocious organ symphonies, but his rarely performed music for strings is sublime. Case in point: his Violin Sonata in G Minor, which the duo here leap into with a Romany-tinged, brittle, wintry attack that quickly warms and grows more expansively anthemic. So when the two return to this biting quasi-tarantella, the effect packs a punch.

The second movement follows the same trajectory as Franck’s piece: slow, with lots of expressive midrange from the violin and more of a steady nocturnal gleam. Vierne brings the tarantella back for movement three, but as more of a flamenco-tinged ballet theme.  Ibragimova and Tiberghien wind it up with serene contemplation rising in a long series of waves, and serious gravitas in the dance variations.

A rising star just over a hundred years ago among French composers, Lili Boulanger died tragically at 25; she wrote her Nocturne for Violin and Piano at 18 in 1911. It’s akin to a prelude, an inviting moonrise tableau with a wry Debussy quote at the end.

Wryly Expert, Wildly Catchy Retro 60s Psychedelia From Lucille Furs

Lucille Furs is not an obscure French actress, nor a store on West 30th Street in Manhattan selling unfashionable outerwear made from dead animals. Lucille Furs are a spot-on retro 60s psychedelic band with more of a Beatles influence than most. Their album Another Land is streaming at Bandcamp.

Unsurprisingly, the first instrument you hear in the title track, which opens the album, is Patrick Tsotsos’ slithery, trebly bass, playing a shivery, McCartneyesque, Come Together-ish riff.  Brendan Peleo-Lazar’s drums straighten the rhythm out, the spare, catchy minor-key reverb guitars of frontman Trevor Pritchett and Nick Dehmlow kick in along with Constantine Hastalis’ starry keys, and suddenly it’s 1967 again: the band really nail those vintage sonics. Here as elsewhere, the songs’ lyrics are gnomic and fantastical; it’s seldom clear what they’re about beyond a life of the mind, all synapses running at peak voltage.

With its trippy narrative and elegantly vaudevillian piano, Leave It As You Found It has a Penny Lane feel. First Do No Harm pulses along with that soaring, melismatic bass, awash in gorgeous layers of jangling, chiming twelve-string guitar and keening Farfisa. Paint Euphrosyne Blue could be one of the bluesier, vampier numbers from the White Album, at least until that noisy breakdown and wry early 70s-style twin guitar solo.

Sooner Than Later has a sparsely jangling, brooding 60s British psych-folk tune and a mellotron (or a good digital facsimile) back in the mix. The band build All Flowers Before Her around a familiar, insistent Link Wray riff, jaggedly reverbtoned textures panning the speakers. They straighten out of a hovering organ intro in Eventually. “You are back in that place where you smoke, in your room, and not once or twice…we’re glad to have you back!” Pritchett announces.

In Madredexilliados, the group blend tropical bursts from the keys, a clanging Secret Agent Man guitar riff and hints of surf from the drums. Sparkling with that twelve-string guitar, the album’s funniest and arguably most anthemic song is Karaoke Trials, something you definitely want to be saved from!

Opening with a Beatlesque descending progression and continuing with deliciously icy analog chorus-box guitar, it’s not clear what Pritchett misses most about The 34th Floor: the girl there, or the party. After that, the band revisit an uneasily steady Laurel Canyon jangle and more of those looming bass hammer-ons with Transmitting From the Blind Guard.

The album’s most expansive track, Almond Bees is the missing link between Abbey Road Beatles and the Byrds. The twelve-strings ring more brightly than anywhere else here on the final cut, No Word in English, a catchy country song at heart. If you’re a fan of nouveau psychedelic bands from the Jigsaw Seen, to the Chemistry Set and the Allah-Las, set the controls for the heart of this album..

A Sizzling Live Newschool C&W Album from Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters

Time to say it again: more bands should make live albums. Amanda Anne Platt & the Honeycutters‘ Live at the Grey Eagle – streaming at Spotify– is one of the best of the past year’s batch. One of the most smartly lyrical songwriters in Americana, she has a crackerjack oldschool C&W band behind her throughout this lavish 23-track collection recorded in front of a boisterous, hometown Asheville crowd.

“They teach you not to bite on the hand that feeds, but when you’re starving sometimes you just don’t know,” Platt twangs in the opening number, 90 Miles, a characteristically cynical, somewhat muted backbeat-driven breakup song. With its rapidfire lyrics, her brother Andrew Platt’s choogling lead guitar and Matt Smith’s wafting pedal steel, the shuffle Better Woman brings to mind Amy Rigby‘s adventures in Americana.

Evan Martin’s piano tinkles along, up to a spine-tingling steel solo in Jukebox, a country-soul now-or-never anthem: “Songbirds just ain’t built to fly, but sooner or later we have try,” Platt muses. If you remember jukeboxes, this one only costs a quarter!

The band ease their way into a brisk shuffle in All You Ever Needed, a cautionary tale for those who set their sights too low. Platt keeps that vividly seething exasperation going in Back Row, a bittersweet wake-up call to a self-destructive friend, with a fiery Memphis soul guitar solo over washes of organ. Likewise, the tersely tasty breaks in Blue Besides, Platt assessing whether getting the hell out is always necesarily the answer.

“When it comes to waiting, I’ve been practicing for years,” Platt announces in Golden Child, a defiantly triumphant, soul-tinged number. A broodingly upbeat war parable set to a brisk Texas shuffle beat, Lillies could be the Grateful Dead at their tightest, with a woman out front. The band go back to soul-tinged country with Wheels, then cover the BeeGees’ To Love Somebody as Dusty Springfield might have done it.

The show dips to a spare, pensive solo acoustic take of Holy Wall, then the band come back up for Eden, a chillingly detailed portrait of slow decay in Flyover America. As Platt sings, you really can’t go home again: “Please let me back inside the garden, I won’t eat anything that’s fallen from that goddamn tree.”

Martin spices the restless wanderlust tale Carolina with some oldschool Nashville slip-key piano. Platt dedicates the slow waltz Sawdust Girl to her mentor in lutherie, Asheville guitar builder Brad Nickerson, picking up the pace with the steel-driven Getting Good at Waiting – a big theme with her, huh?

The pensive Birthday Song is surprisingly more subdued than the album version. “Tonight this town is ours,” Platt intones in Low Road, a wise, richly detailed, summery carpe-diem ballad. Then the energy rises again with Irene, a tenderly reassuring, bittersweetly shuffling honkytonk number.

Platt’s solo acoustic take of The Road is aptly stark and wistful. From there the band slowly rise with a vampy Lou Reed feel in Diamond in the Rough and then keep those changes going through the Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want. For the encores, they work their way up from a delicate, elegant fingerpicked intro in Not Over Yet and close the night with the bristling blues Fancy Car, with slashing solos all around, including violin and harmonica – the latter by Platt’s impressibly tuneful dad – way back in the mix.

Hilarious, Witheringly Insightful Heartland Americana From Chicago Farmer

Cody Diekhoff a.k.a. Chicago Farmer writes knowingly wry, often witheringly spot-on, ferociously populist blue-collar narratives set to a dynamically rousing Americana backdrop. His debut album Backenforth, IL made the shortlist of the best albums of the year here back in 2013. He titled his new one Flyover Country, just as Amanda Gardier (featured here yesterday) did with hers. First time there have ever been two albums with the same name on this page on consecutive days! Who knows, maybe that’s a meme.

This particular Flyover Country – streaming at youtube – begins with Indiana Line, a fiery, bluesy, open-tuned outlaw ballad. “I’ll be the king of roadkill, two birds at a time,” insists this rural Avon Barksdale: there’s a reason he’s so reckless moving all that weight, but it’s too good a story to spoil.

The funniest song here is 13 Beers: it’s sweet redemption for any concertgoer who’s been scammed and subjected to one indignity after another at a Ticketbastard arena. It makes you want to sing along with the ending, even if Dieckhoff planned that all along.

The title track is unusually earnest for him: yeah, us East Coast snobs look down our snooty noses on Heartland America, which does all the heavy lifting and doesn’t get much in return. Trouble is, that’s a coast-to-coast problem.

The lyrically torrential eco-disaster parable Mother Nature’s Daughter is an update on Blonde on Blonde Dylan: “Mother nature’s daughter, they’ve done sold and bought her, there ain’t no more water in the well,” Dieckhoff warns.

“White collar crime pays, and blue collar crime takes away,’” is the chorus in Collars, a sad waltz that brings to mind John Prine’s Hello in There thematically if not musically. Dieckhoff sends a shout-out to hardworking, underpaid musicians and their equally hardworking, underpaid fans in the hillbilly boogie All in One Place and follows with Deer in the Sky, which has a little Creedence feel to it and a funny assessment of the perils of flying versus driving.

The cover of Hank Williams’ Ramblin Man has a welcome Nashville gothic sparseness. Baseball season may be in jeopardy, but the metaphors of Dirtiest Uniform are timeless. Dickhoff wraps up the album with The Village Revisited, a grim hurricane parable that’s part Creedence, part Stones. We need more guys like this who can be stone-cold serious, but just as gut-bustingly amusing.

A Brilliantly Edgy, Uneasy New Album From Saxophonist Amanda Gardier

Are you vaccilating between being glued to the news and the endless online scuttlebutt about the coronavirus crisis…and just wanting to dive into the most escapist thing possible (that a person can do without going within six feet of anybody else)? Alto saxophonist Amanda Gardier‘s album Flyover Country – streaming at Spotify – is a profoundly rewarding listen for anyone who might feel that way. With her fiery, intense compositions, picturesque sensibility and wry sense of humor, she reminds that there’s a whole big world out beyond our cabin fever dreams.

The opening track is titled Midwestern Gothic: bristling with uneasy chromatics and understatedly dramatic crescendos, it’s an unselfconsciously dark showstopper. Gardier sticks with those chromatics tersely and bitingly over similar piano from Ellie Pruneau and the rhythm section’s brisk, tight swing throughout the second track, Boss Lady: you don’t want to mess with this chick! Pruneau’s phantasmagorically clustering solo adds highwire intensity, up to an almost gleefully crushing insistence from the whole band.

Built around a warily catchy, stairstepping two-note phrase, Void is the album’s first ballad, Gardier’s airy, resonant lines over Pruneau’s fanged, glistening chords and drummer Carrington Clinton’s emphatic cymbals, bassist Brendan Keller-Tuberg taking over the melody with a subtle, darkly balletesque pulse.

Bubbly has a slow, funky sway: you expect to hear a Rhodes but the piano remains. Gardier matter-of-factly but enigmatically expands on what in lesser hands would be a generic soul groove, up to another mighty, clenched-teeth crescendo. As you might expect, 40 Tattoos opens with circling, gothic piano, Gardier calm amid the phantasmagoria. Then it gets very funny. Is this a revenge song, maybe?

Gardier floats and sails uneasily over steady, shady circles from the bass in Hidden, a duet. She brings the band back for the persistent shifts of Redheaded Uncle, Pruneau careening from one side of the fence to the other. Just when you think the dude is a blithe spirit, Gardier shifts the syncopation toward disquiet: nice guy but don’t mess with him.

The loose-limbed rhythm of the album’s title track belies a serious, purposeful focus, more succinctly than the previous number, with variations on a simple rising bassline, Gardier switching to soprano for extra clarity and bite. She closes the record with the balmy but unsettled Sea Day, opening with a slow forghorn-and-bell motif over the cymbals’ waves, Pruneau adding a spare, bittersweet solo echoed by Gardier. This could be one of the best jazz albums of the year.