New York Music Daily

Music for Transcending Dark Times

Month: May, 2020

Disquieting, Enveloping, Psychedelically Layered Sonics From Lord Buffalo

What was this haunting, savagely layered one-chord epic with a weird, possibly Pacific Island title doing on the hard drive here? Turns out that it’s Raziel, the seven-minute opening track on Austin band Lord Buffalo‘s latest album Tohu Wa Bohu, streaming at Bandcamp. They like slow, menacing themes; they don’t change chords much but they make them interesting.

That particular song is the missing link between the Friends of Dean Martinez’s southwesern gothic and Mogwai’s grim, cold concrete council estate tableaux. Through D.J. Pruitt and G.J. Heilman’s layers of guitars over the slow, steady beat, the heathaze is impenetrable, and frontman Pruitt makes that clear. But he holds out hope, dodging shards of reverb as they filter through the mix.

The band pick up the pace, building to a steady stroll with Wild Hunt, which has two chords, smoky sax, Brockett Hamilton’s piano and a Nick Cave influence along with the guitar torture. Troubled music for troubled times.

“This is the night, she don’t need nothing at all,” Pruitt intones, cold and deadpan, as the third track, Halle Berry gets underway, jagged quasi-funk guitars over a murky slink. Very early 90s New York gutter blues, a slower take on the Chrome Cranks maybe.

Dog Head comes across as a strung-out blues take on Joy Division’s The Eternal. “Be careful, you don’t know this song,” Pruitt warns as Patrick Patterson’s violin joins the guitars and the cloud congeals to toxic density. The title track is a slow, loopy mashup of jagged 70s no wave and early Dream Syndicate.

Cicadas cry, vehicles break down and night looms in all too soon in Kenosis, a mashup of understated Oxygen Ponies menace and sunbaked My Education atmospherics leavened with tinkly vibraphone and piano. The band open Heart of the Snake as a venomous take on an early 60s summer-house theme, then bring in creepy layers of organ and guitars: Alec K. Redfearn‘s work comes to mind. They segue from there into the loopy, careening Llano Estacado to wrap up the album in a ball of flame. You might ask why, in a time where we need to focus on shutting down the tech Nazis who keep flipping the script behind the lockdown, that it makes any sense at all to listen to something this amorphous and escapist. Hey, we all could use a break right about now.

A Reggae Record For Drinkers: Oxymoron or Rare Artifact?

Today’s album is a real rarity: a roots reggae record about drinking. It’s actually the second in bassist Victor Rice‘s planned trilogy. The first one, big surprise, was titled Smoke. This one, heavily inspired by red wine, is called Drink and is streaming at his Bandcamp page. On one hand, it’s akin to a night barhopping around Rice’s Sao Paolo home turf. While it also reflects the diversity of influences he’s incorporated into his music since leaving New York for Brazil in 2002, this album will definitely resonate with anybody who remembers his legendary Friday night residency at the Parkside back in the late 90s and early zeros.

To be fair, not everybody who likes reggae smokes weed, and the reverse is definitely true. How does this record sound after several rounds of 24-ounce cans? Pretty damn good. Throughout the album, Rice’s playing is very chill and in-the-pocket: original Skatalites bassist Lloyd Brevett would no doubt approve.

The album opens with a wistful, minor-key rocksteady groove, La Mura, which reflects Rice’s deep, bass-oriented production sound: the guitars have more reverb than the horns, but everybody gets plenty. Trombonist Buford O’Sullivan and tenor sax player David Loos take moody solos before the Burning Spear-inflected horns kick in again.

Drummer Tony Mason propels the southwestern gothic-tinged second track, Simao, with a lightly syncopated clave, guitarists Jay Nugent and Teddy Kumpel adding skank and Memphis soul, respectively. The Demander is a goodnatured ska tune dedicated to a dictatorial cat, while This Is Fine is Brazilian rocksteady with summery solos from sax and trumpet.

Agenor de Lorenzi infuses Bebida with a similarly cheery electric piano solo over drummer Nico Leonard’s low-key shuffle beat; they take it out with bluesy solo sax. Rice goes back toward Burning Spear-style roots, but also bossa nova for Arouche, which kicks off the record’s b-side.

The only real reggae references amid the conversational horns in Five are Leonard’s classic turnarounds, not necessarily where you would expect them. The band return to warmly upbeat rocksteady with Because I Can and then Madrid, which recalls Spain a lot less than Kingston, 1965, Kumpel adding a low-key, purposeful solo. They finally plunge into deep dub to close the record with Time to Go.

Doc Watson’s First New York Headline Gigs Immortalized For Posterity

Casual fans of Americana may not realize that before Doc Watson’s career on the folk music circuit took off, he was an electric guitarist. People back home in North Carolina didn’t want to hear the oldtime stuff: they wanted rockabilly, and Watson was giving then what they wanted. It was at this transitional moment in 1962 that eighteen-year-old fan Peter Siegel made a couple of good quality mono recordings of Watson’s first two Manhattan headline gigs, the first at NYU and the second a last-minute booking which turned out to be one of the final performances at the West Village folk club Blind Lemon’s.

Almost sixty years later, Siegel digitized the files; the result is a new Smithsonian Folkways vinyl album, streaming at Spotify comprising selections from both shows. It has additional historical value for being a rare recording of multi-instrumentalist Gaither Carlton, Watson’s father in law, who joins him here on fiddle and occasional banjo. Since these were sit-down concerts, not down-home dances, the two keep the songs short: practically everything here is under the three-minute mark, often less than two. Compared to the kind of whirlwind picking Watson would electrify audiences with later in his career, this is a revealing look at his original, much more low-key approach to acoustic material.

Watson and Carlton open with the fiddler’s bittersweetly vampy instrumental Double File, on banjo and fiddle, respectively. With his stark tone, Carlton typically doubles the melody line or shadows Watson, as he does throughout the brisk heartbreak ballad Handsome Molly. That tune, and the grim, perennially relevant Civil War narrative He’s Coming to Us Dead are credited to legendary fiddler G.B. Grayson, Carlton’s mentor.

Watson switches back from guitar to banjo for a relativley low-key take of Corrina, Corrina then returns to guitar for the instrumental Brown’s Dream and its tasty moving bassline. He’s back on banjo for the wistful farewell song My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains. From his banter with the crowd, it’s clear that he takes some pride in the duo’s rather hypnotic original guitar-and-fiddle arrangement of Bonaparte’s Retreat.

The album’s b-side starts off on a similar note with the banjo tune Willie Moore and continues with The Blue Ridge Mountain Blues: once again, hearing Watson move that bassline around is a clinic in Appalachian harmony. They pick up the pace, Watson on banjo for Goin’ Back to Jericho, then flatpicking his guitar on the instrumental Billy in the Low Ground.

The most rustic of all the songs here is a hobo tune, Reuben’s Train. The Dream of the Miner’s Child – credited to Andrew Jenkins – is one of the most ominous, the little girl in the story afraid she’ll lose her dad to his dangerous dajyob. There are also two version of an early 20s novelty song, Groundhog., The first, from the club, has Carlton on banjo; Watson plays it on the more boisterous take from the NYU gig.

Perchta Mash Up Ancient Brooding Tyrolean Themes With a Heavy Rock Assault

Austrian band Perchta sound like no other group in the world, blending haunting, otherworldly, ancient Tyrolean folk themes into their heavy, mysterious assault, part art-rock, part black metal, part thrash. Their frontwoman takes her name, and the band’s, from a Juno-like pagan goddess revered in antiquity as a protector of the group’s home turf in the rugged, mountainous northern part of the country. Boomy standup drum, wood flute and a rippling zither-like instrument are just as likely to appear in their songs along with crushing, multitracked guitars and co-leader Fabio D’Amore’s growling bass. Their latest album Utang – streaming at Bandcamp – is available on both black and white vinyl.

The album’s instrumental intro sets the stage: spare, ominous bits of melody from the zither mingle within hovering, static-flicked electronic ambience. The first track, Erdn is a blast of thrash with icy, swirling dreampop-inflected guitar (uncredited at the Bandcamp page) and a trio of brief acoustic interludes over gritty, trebly bass.

The band’s frontwoman whispers in Tyrolean dialect over sparse, rainy-day zither in Långs, then the band work tensely pulsing chromatics in Åtem, which comes across as an amped-up take on a medieval peasant work song.

The band follow Summa, a brief, anguished zither-infused invocation with Gluat, juxtaposing a rainswept folk theme with pounding, atmospheric, menacing chromatic guitar crunch.

They revert to skeletal, ominous zither folk with Herest, a good launching pad for the album’s epic centerpiece, Wåssa. It’s the only track on the album where the intricately fingerpicked acoustic intro carries over into the raging electric rock that follows, in this case a slow, menacing, practically ten-minute anthem.

From there they segue into Winta, another invocation whose enveloping outro brings the album full circle. The bonus cd package includes acoustic versions of Gluat and Wåssa, neither of which came with the promo for the record. The world needs more disquietingly individualistic bands like this.

An Allstar Bluegrass Album From Americana Sage Jim Lauderdale

Jim Lauderdale had already built a distinguished career as an Americana tunesmith before Elvis Costello enlisted him as one of the Sugarcanes. Since then, Lauderdale hasn’t abandoned his solo career. His latest album, When Carolina Comes Home Again – streaming at Bandcamp – is a bluegrass record. His drawl is a little more down-home here, and he’s got an allstar band. Steve Earle once semi-sarcastically admitted that he did a bluegrass record because he wanted more of his songs to get played at jams. After hearing this, it’s a fair bet that Lauderdale’s will also be getting a workout when pickers get together.

Lauderdale has a murderer’s row of bluegrass talent to work with here. Cane Mill Road, Town Mountain, Jon Stickley and Lyndsay Pruett, Balsam Range, the Songs From the Road Band and the Steep Canyon Rangers are all represented here along with hotshot young guitar picker Presley Barker, fiddler Kattie Hopkins Kinlaw, mandolinist Aaron Ramsey, guitarist Nick Dauphinais and banjo player Marc Pruett.

The first cut is the title track. Lauderdale starts with a slow, brooding intro, then the banjo kicks in, driving a lickety-split groove that’s just as moody. The instrumentation is classic, with momentary solos from mando, flatpicked guitar and fiddle. The second song, As a Sign is a littel slower and a little brighter, Lauderdale at his aphoristic best:

I’d like to place a nickel bet that every single time
What you see is what you get, shortchanged for a dime
How the number crunches when you’re that kind of fool
Who bets his heart on hunches as an elementary rule

Misery’s Embrace is a bluegrass take on midtempo, morose George Jones honkytonk. Lauderdale gets even more poignant with the careful, distantly chilling The Last to Know, which could be a classic Don Gibson ballad. Then the band pick up the pace with the briskly strolling It Takes Just One to Wander (as in “it takes two to tango, it takes just one to wander”).

Cackalacky is one of those fun, silly, mostly one-chord nmbers that pop up at jams after everybody’s had a few. Lauderdale really goes for a No-Show Jones vocal delivery in the album’s first waltz, You’ll Have to Earn It. Then he and the band romp through You’ve Got This, another track with tantalizingly brief banjo and fiddle solos.

In Mountaineer, Lauderdale sends a shout out to the folks who like living high above most civilized people: it’s easy to imagine Johnny Cash singing this. The slow, steady waltz I’m Here to Remind You is a hopeful appraisal of silver linings amidst the clouds. You might not expect Moonrider, the cosmic cowboy tune after that, but that’s what Lauderdale gives you. He winds up the album with Spin a Yarn, a lively Virginia reel and then Better Than You Found It, a blend of Memphis soul and country gospel with a timely message about not messing up the planet any further. All this is clinic in expert tunesmithing from a guy who’s been doing that a long time.

Edgy, Upbeat, Relentlessly Uneasy Greek Psychedelia From Trio Tekke

Trio Tekke play Greek psychedelia that looks to the Middle East as much as it does to the first wave of Greek psych-rock bands from the 60s. Zola Jesus‘ most straight-up psychedelic adventures are a point of comparison, as are the first wave of 90s revivalists like Annabouboula, although Trio Tekke have a sparser, less dance-oriented sound. Their new album Strovilos – meaning “whirlwind” – is streaming at Bandcamp.

The first cut is Tempest of the Dawn, a spare, Middle Eastern-tinged melody emerging from Antonis Antoniou’s echoey, allusively Middle Eastern flavored tzouras lute, Lefteris Moumtzis’ guitar, Colin Somervell’s bass and Dave DeRose’s drums. The lyrics are in Greek, although the album comes with translations: this one is a trippy bacchanal narrative. That’s a common theme throughout the rest of the album.

Electric bouzouki clangs and Farfisa organ blips in and out in the similarly spare, more mysterious On the Street, pulsing along on a tricky 10/4 beat with fuzztone bass. Then the band work their way up out of a pensive lauto intro to a creepy, watery, hypnotic groove in Rotten Luck

Fueled by a piercingly gorgeous, chromatic electric bouzouki melody from Antoniou, the rembetiko art-rock drinking anthem I Erase the Day has a slow, syncopated pulse: imagine Greek Judas without the heavy metal thump. Moumtzis’ lingering guitar contrasts with the ring of the bouzouki over a muted, dancing beat in the album’s title cut: it’s anything but stormy.

The band go back to strangely altered, more optimistic rembetiko atmosphere with The First Day, echoing the days when prisoners of the brutal dictatorship of the 30s languished in jails, plotting their escapes. In Breathless Shriek, the band continue that theme more darkly, without the metaphors, over balletesque syncopation with starry, incisive guitars and keys.

The album’s poppiest and most playful number is the taverna dance tune Shooting Star. With its incisive riffs, Karmic is the closest thing here to classic 70s British psychedelia: think early Genesis with Greek fretted instruments instead. The trio close the record with Electric Sighs, a Romany-tinged waltz with dub echoes. Further proof that the best psychedelia these days comes from places far from where it was invented.

Towering, Funky, Innovative Big Band Jazz From Organist Matthias Bublath’s Eight Cylinder Bigband

From the first few spiraling seconds of the intro to the first track on the Eight Cylinder Bigband’s debut album – streaming at Spotify – it’s obvious that this is not your average large jazz ensemble. Other than Dr. Lonnie Smith’s octet, this may be the only big band in the world led by a jazz organist. Matthias Bublath orchestrates his song with innovatively intricate flair, matching that with his attack on the keys. There’s a deep New Orleans funk influence here, but that’s often cached beneath many layers.

The result sometimes requires a lot of rapidfire, meticulous playing from the eighteen-piece group, and they deliver. The first number, Midnight Intro is a starry Hollywood Hills boudoir funk groove beefed up with judicious orchestral swells and an energetically melisamtic solo from lead trumpeter Takuya Kuroda.

Nice Green Bo has some nice call-and-response over funky syncopation, part 70s Crusaders, part darkly blustery, cinematic theme, a lithely dancing alto sax solo at the center as the organ swirls and pulses in the background. Eventually, the bandleader adds a Riders on the Storm electric piano solo.

Bassist Patrick Scales opens Eight Cylinder with a tasty rumble underneath the brightly pouncing horns, the song shifting further into funk, dipping and rising again with tight solos from alto sax and trumpet, to a torrential coda from Bublath. The simply titled Gospel Song has one of the album’s most imaginative charts, a surreal blend of slow, summery bluesiness and orchestral heft, Kuroda contributing bubbly lyricism.

Home Cooking is a Meters-style soul strut with a defiantly allusive baritone sax solo and a wryly hazy, halfspeed psychedelic interlude where all the textures get woozy. Bublath switches to piano, then glittery, reverbtoned Rhodes in the brassy salsa-jazz number Return the Source

Guitarist Ferdinand Kirner’s spare chicken-scratch lines contrast with the orchestral grandeur in Dump the Goose as the horns tease out a New Orleans melody and the bandleader sails around. Sad Belt is moodier but no less funky and majestic as Bublath takes the music into sunnier terrain, with hints of gospel and a series of bracing tradeoffs between the organ and various parts of the ensemble.

The most straight-up funky number here is Mister Scales, spiced with an ebulliently bluesy guitar solo. The album’s biggest New Orleans funk homage is Outro Blow. They close with Bolero, which is a lot closer to Stan Getz’s adventures in Brazilian music than it is anything particularly Spanish.

Pushing beyond both the confines of the organ jazz and big band demimondes, this is a very entertaining project from a group that also includes trumpeters Nemanja Jovanovich, Florian Jechlinger, Reinhard Greiner and Andreas Unterrainer; saxophonists Ulrich Wangenheim, Florian Riedl, Alexander Kuhn, Moritz Stahl and Gregor Burger; trombonists Jürgen Neudert, Hans Heiner Bettinger, Erwin Gregg and Jakob Grimm, and drummer Christian Lettner.

Another Side of a Grimly Prophetic Post-9/11 Masterpiece

Pianist Vijay Iyer offers some eerie context for the new album InWhatStrumentals – streaming at Bandcamp – an instrumental version of his classic 2003 In What Language collaboration with hip-hop artist Mike Ladd. “We were just coming to terms with the facts on the ground, which today seem frighteningly ordinary: mounting intolerance and hate crimes against Muslims, Arabs, Sikhs, and other nonwhite people; traumatic raids of immigrant communities by the INS (later Homeland Security); the prospect of endless, amoral war waged under false pretenses; the callous neoliberal agendas of globalization and disaster capitalism; and an unprecedented power grab enacted under cover of jingoism and feigned incompetence.”

Plus ça change!

What differentiates this from the original is that there’s no lyric track. This turns out to be the rare hip-hop album whose music is as turbulently cinematic as the lyrics. The original album title was taken from a quote by Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who a few months prior to 9/11 was detained while trying to catch a connecting flight at Kennedy Airport and then sent back, rather than being allowed to continue on his way. The gist of Panahi’s question is that reason and common sense are useless when dealing with little Hitlers.

Listening to the music without the voices of a parade of people persecuted during the wave of anti-immigrant paranoia after 9/11 is a bit strange, and removes a whole layer of context. But that music has held up magnificently. The opening number, the first movement of the suite The Color of My Circumference has Iyer’s darkly swarming piano rivulets over anxious, insistent, circular rhythms. Eventually drummer Trevor Holder and bassist Stephan Crump join the pummeling attack, Rudresh Mahanthappa’s alto sax and Ambrose Akinmusire’s trumpet floating overhead. Everything soon fades out.

Along with Ladd’s coldly techy layers of spy-movie keys, cellist Dana Leong figures heavily into the ominous swirl and staggered pulse of The Density of the 19th Century. Throughout the rest of the album, the disquiet is relentless, whether from guitarist Liberty Ellman’s bordering-on-frantic, circular riffs, Akinmusire’s forlorn, desolate lines, Mahanthappa’s enigmatic bhangra riffage, and Holder’s tense, practically motorik rhythms. Some of these themes are over in little more than two minutes, others take more time to draw you into the vortex. Sometimes the bustle of these airport scenarios masks the sinister forces lurking at the gates, other times that cold suspicion and assumption of criminality is front and center. So when the band pivot toward warm roots reggae in Taking Back the Airplane, or offer calm, enveloping hope in Asylum, the effect is especially striking.

The artists are donating proceeds from sales of the new record to organizations supporting immigrant groups and communities of color imperiled by the lockdown.

Trippy Tropical Sounds From Rising Stars of the Once and Hopefully Future Barbes Scene

When Chicha Libre, the band responsible for introducing so much of the world to psychedelic cumbia, went on ice, their legendary Monday night Barbes residency was turned over to a new generation of slinky, trippy tropical acts. Locobeach were the first of that wave of acts to put out an album; now it’s Los Cumpleaños’ turn. Their debut release, Agua – streaming at Bandcamp – officially comes out today: a year from now, we can say “¡Feliz!

Let’s just hope the band – singer/percussionist Nestor Gomez, keyboardist Eric Lane, trombonist Alex Asher and drummer Lautaro Burgos – are still around so that can happen. Barbes is cold and dark right now, and who knows how much longer musicians in this city can hold out without running out of basic necessities. Of course, there are always underground shows…but that’s something we can’t discuss here.

For now, we have the album. The first track, Camarones has shapeshiftingly loopy beats, blips and swirls from the synth and echoey trombone that echoes another Brooklyn band, deep dub reggae crew Super Hi-Fi.

There’s also classic 70s dub inside the the techy swirl and warp of the epic, practically ten-minute title cut. “Ole drinking water, keep on running,” is the message. To bad they had to autotune the vocals: a version without them would be infinitely more fun.

With its Balkan bagpipe loops, cascades, swells and fuzzily pouncing video game textures, Sonrisa will defininitely make you smile. A long, drifting outer-space baroque theme introduces the last song, Baile la Cumbia. Finally, the band stop teasing you and bring in a groove out of all that sticky green dub.

There’s Never Been a More Appropriate Time for a New Phil Ochs Album

Phil Ochs was the best songwriter to come out of the 1960s. Like Bob Dylan, he started out as a folksinger doing protest songs. Where Dylan drifted into electric blues and wove William Burroughs-inspired symbolist webs, Ochs wrote historically rich mini-movies set to contemporary classical music, neoromantic art-song and careening, jangly Laurel Canyon psychedelia. Like Dylan, he hit a dry spell after one of his greatest albums – the harrowingly prophetic 1968 Rehearsals For Retirement. A couple of years after Dylan made his first big comeback with Blood on the Tracks, Ochs killed himself.

While there are entire albums of Dylan covers (the Byrds and Mary Lee’s Corvette at the top of the list), very few artists have covered Ochs – Marianne Dissard‘s chillingly atmospheric recent version of The Scorpion Departs But Never Returns is a rare exception. Fortuitously, there seems to be an abundance of material in the Ochs archive that never made it to digital, as evidenced by the lavish, brand-new twenty-track compilation The Best of the Rest, just out and streaming at Spotify. While this isn’t all prime Ochs, his corrosive broadsides, cynical humor and profound insights into capitalism run amok have never been more relevant than they are now. As a starting point for an Ochs mixtape, this is a decent jumpoff point.

Most of the songs are acoustic outtakes from the sessions for his 1965 album I Ain’t Marching Anymore, signaling the point where he was beginning to stretch out beyond critiquing early Vietnam War-era politics from an aw-shucks, Woody Guthrie-influenced perspective. The first number, the solemly vamping In the Heat of the Summer allusively examines the Watts Riots. it’s more portrait than analysis.

The take of the famous Civil Rights era anti-racist dis Here’s to the State of Mississippi is every bit as stinging as the one that made it onto the album. And the take of the equally popular I’m Gonna Say It Now, a raised middle finger at patriarchal power, has a careening energy missing from the official mix. As a snide chronicle of exploitation and hypocrisy, Canons of Christianity is slightly more subdued but no less impactful.

The limousine-liberal parody Love Me, I’m a Liberal is just as funny as it was close to sixty years ago, especially if you get the historical references. Song of a Soldier is a Vietnam-era parable that carries much more of a wallop in an era where New York nurses on the frontline get a nightly 7 PM cheer…but no raise, and no time off, and minimal protective gear. The solo acoustic version of The War Is Over, from a 1967 radio session, is even more surreal than the album cut, and is even more uncanny, foreshadowing lockdown-era America.

Similarly, Days of Decision is Ochs’ eerily clairvoyant take on Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changing, right down to the waltz tempo. Hearing Ochs’ intricate Britfolk fingerpicking in I’m Tired, it’s no wonder English folksinger Shawn Phillips chose to cover it. Colored Town is as spot-on a portrait of ghetto life as anything Public Enemy ever recorded. Likewise, the cruel details in the anti death penalty tale The Confession.

That’s What I Want to Hear probably ended up on the cutting-room floor because it’s less than empathetic: some people (like Ochs himself!) are sometimes too depressed to protest. The Men Behind the Guns, a quasi sea chantey, is a shout-out to the navy rank-and-file, a reminder that Ochs was once a military academy-educated rightwinger before college radicalized him for life. But Sailors and Soldiers is as gorgeous and insightful a salute to veterans and draftees as anyone’s ever written.

Take It Out of My Youth could be the most elegant barroom tableau anybody ever set to a Tex-Mex waltz tune, “As the hours escaped to dungeons of wet empty words.” Ochs was a connoisseur of nueva cancion tunesmithing, underscored by an insistent take of the migrant worker tale Bracero. All Quiet on the Western Front, a 1969 rarity, paints a chilling, historically rich portrait of blind obedience to tyranny. The album’s final cut is a rare and fascinating rehearsal take of No More Songs, one of the few recordings featuring Ochs on piano, explaining his ideas for orchestral arrangements to an unheard collaborator in between verses. One can only wonder how the person at the other end of the monitor responded to Ochs’ self-penned obituary.