New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Month: October, 2020

Revisiting a Hauntingly Ornate Metal Gem From Besvärjelsen

Swedish metal band Besvärjelsen put out their Frost ep – streaming at Bandcamp – as a free download in 2016: in a split second, it ended up on the hard drive here and probably millions of other devices around the world. And that’s part of what the annual Halloween month celebration here is all about: letting some of the spirits of the past into the mix rather than just new releases and concert coverage.

The ep’s first track, When We Fall is a mix of tricky rhythms, macabre fuzztone riffage and eerie minor-key clang, with a couple of ferocious, operatic crescendos from frontwoman Lea Amling Alazam. All Things Break starts out as more of a circling distantly Hendrix-influenced 70s proto-metal number with some neatly spiraling hammer-on licks from lead guitarist Andreas Baier and shifts into slower, more grim minor-key territory.

A lot of In the Dark comes across as a catchy pop hit turbocharged with snarling, distorted guitars and Erik Bäckwall’s heavy drums. Human Habits rises from Staffan Stensland Vinrot’s slowly oscillating wah guitar to a simple, marching minor-key anthem that becomes more hypnotic as it goes along. The record’s final cut, Past in Haze, is its most psychedelic, Johan Rockner’s bass buzzing and bending, before the big wall of crunchy riffage kicks in.

Vast Rapture and Playful Scrambles From Brilliant, Individualistic Pianist Eunyoung Kim

Pianist Eunyoung Kim plays improvised music that draws as much on 20th century and contemporary classical music as it does jazz. Her technique is daunting, and she has a rare fluency for orchestrating on the spot. Themes and variations are big with her, as are close harmonies. She flirts with twelve-tone ideas without being tying the knot with them. Her new album, Earworm – streaming at Bandcamp – is like nothing you’ve ever heard before.

The first number – each of the album’s tracks is untitled – has a steady, playfully dancing rhythm with hints of swing, tango and the baroque disguised behind close harmonies. If Louis Andriessen played jazz, it might sound something like this.

Track two is a vast, otherworldly, minimalist soundscape, akin to Federico Mompou at a tenth the speed, maybe. Kim returns to playfully rhythmic mode with the tune after that, an increasingly thorny series of curlicuing phrases and variations that grow more murky and hypnotic.

Track four reflects the spacious minimalism of track two, but more somberly and intricately: it brings to mind Satoko Fujii’s most brooding solo work. Blippy, leapfrogging phrases and staccato insistence mingle in the piece after that, down to a striking interlude fueled by stern quasi-boogie low-register work.

Track six begins as a synthesis of the bounciness and the moody minimalism that Kim has been shifting between so far; then she romps toward Monk and gospel music. She finally goes under the piano lid for her seventh improvisation, a momentary return to somber stillness.

With Kim’s steady, bracing modalities and steady, incisive attack, track eight reminds of Keith Jarrett’s 1960s work. Next up, Kim clusters and jabs with breathtaking speed and articulacy: that she waits this long before cutting loose with her chops testifies to her commitment to making a statement rather than showing off.

The album’s tenth track is increasingly hypnotic variations on a wry, loopy modal phrase. Kim closes the record with an approximation of a Monk-ish wee-hours ballad. Like all the albums on the new Mung Music label out of Korea, this was recorded live to a vintage Tascam cassette recorder before being digitized.

Relentlessly Anthemic, Enveloping, Desperate Epics From Paysage D’Hiver

As Paysage D’Hiver, Swiss multi-instrumentalist Wintherr (the name is a German pun) has built a vast, distinctive, obsessively focused body of work that blends elements of dreampop, no wave, black metal, classical and film music. It’s often impenetrably dense: the guitars typically sound like they’ve been recorded through a brick wall. Yet Wintherr’s towering neoromantic themes are just as catchy and anthemic, He likes endless washes of chords, with simple, purposeful minor-key riffs layered over them. He doesn’t take solos here, at least in the traditional sense. The vocals are in German, his guttural roar buried deeper in the mix than anything else, even the bass: this is a pretty trebly record.

The name of the project – French for “winter landscape” – reflects a single existential metaphor: an interminable winter walk. There is a plotline with a lot of jump cuts: the beginning and ending have already been released, or so it seems at this point. Narrative-wise, this latest epic installment, Im Wald (In the Woods) falls somewhere in the middle and is streaming at Bandcamp.

This is a long album, two hours worth of songs that go on for almost twenty minutes at times. With its relentlessly pummeling beats and loops – all of which sound organic – it will jar you awake at high volume: it’s great driving music. Yet at low volume it’s soothing, validating Wintherr’s sense for a good tune. Loops of what sounds like a man walking pretty briskly across muddy terrain are interspersed between the songs. Wintherr breaks up the relentless, reverb-iced attack with calmer, more brooding interludes where keyboards (or a keyboard patch) come to the forefront.

There’s a point where the music recedes to a forlorn minor-key guitar loop and the walking man sets up camp for the night. Everything gets more orchestral, desperate, and slightly more rhythmically diverse from there: a recurrent riff toward the end is absolutely bloodcurdling. It’s hard to think of a more apt album for the year of the lockdown, so many of us trudging onward, atomized and alone, running out of money and food and losing hope, one eye on the road ahead, the other on the Trace and Track gestapo and the spectre of the death camps. And they said it could never happen here.

Yet Another Brain-Warping Brown Acid Compilation

One high point of putting together the annual, monthlong Halloween celebration here every October is that there always seems to be a new edition in the Brown Acid compilation series that’s just out. There are now eleven different playlists, all of them available on vinyl. The series started as a sort of Nuggets for obscure proto-metal singles but quickly branched out to include latin soul and other sounds from across the psychedelic universe, from epic art-rock to novelty songs. The latest in the series is Brown Acid, Volume 11, streaming at Bandcamp.

This is a rare one where you’re going to want to skip the third-rate Hendrix ripoff that opens it. Instead, freak out with I’ll Give You Love, a hard funk tune by the irresistibly named Boston band Grump. It’s a lot closer to James Brown than Rare Earth – and it’s so rare that the compilers can only estimate that it came out around 1969.

Bagshot Row, from the heavy rock mecca of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, contribute Turtle Wax Blues, a tightly sizzling blast of acid rock riffage from 1973. Fifty years after he released the fuzztone riff-rock single Diamond Lady, Milwaukee’s Larry Lynn is still active – or was, anyway, before the lockdown.

Renaissance Fair hailed from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, where in 1968 they recorded the bludgeoning avant garde garage song In Wyrd. Wyrd is an understatement – it sounds like a heavier version of the Fugs.

One of the best of the rediscovered bands in the Brown Acid series is fiery, politically-inspired Chicago band Zendik. The witheringly sarcastic Mom’s Apple Pie Boy, with echoes of the MC5, is the high point of this particular playlist. Just Can’t Stay, released in 1977 by San Mateo, California’s Daybreak is a AC/DC homage, while Fort Dodge, Iowa’s West Minist’r are represented by the Blue Oyster Cult-influenced 1975 boogie I Want You.

Debb Johnson, from Saint Louis Park, Minnesota is not a singer-songwriter but a seven-piece band with a horn section. Their 1969 single Dancing in the Ruin is a politically-fueled, Rare Earth-inspired heavy funk tune. The album comes full circle with the woozy, coyly amusing faux-Hendrix of New York guitarist Jerry Ciccone f.k.a. Crazy Jerry’s Every Girl Gets One.

A Subtle, Elegantly Evocative Suspense Film Score From Disasterpeace

Composer Richard Vreeland, a.k.a. Disasterpeace’s orchestral score to the film Under the Silver Lake – streaming at Bandcamp – is a clinic in picturesque, suspenseful new classical composition. The themes are simple, even minimalist in places. Lush, distantly anxious or murky, close-harmonied strings, ambered woodwind/string textures and clarinet/bass contrasts are just a few of the interesting tropes here. There’s a lingering ominousness, delicate ambience punctured by sudden, yet often remarkably subtle figures or percussive accents. Moments of lively activity are infrequent and striking when they appear: the hushed ambience grows quieter and more sinister as the suspense rises toward the end. Featured instruments range beyond the usual orchestral lineup to include pennywhistle, icy electric guitar played through a vintage analog chorus pedal, and what could be either a cimbalom or a prepared piano,

The film soundtrack also includes a jaunty little ragtime strut and a delightful 60s pop hit. And a pointless cover of another hit from that era, plus a cheesy, orchestrated “R&B” number and a wretched pair of songs from the low point of REM’s career. Beyond that, this is an album will keep you at the edge of your seat for a long time: there are a total of 34 tracks here.

High-Voltage Piano/Bass Duels and Conversations From Eunhye Jeong and Minki Cho

Pianist Eunhye Jeong’s previous album The Colliding Beings was an epic live recording of ancient Korean pansori themes reinvented as free jazz. Her latest album, Abyss, is a series of duo improvisations with bassist Minki Cho, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s somewhat less expansive: no 25-minute songs this time around.

There’s a persistent good cop/bad cop dynamic between the steady, purposeful bassist and the restless pianist. Unearthly tones, whether keening in the harmonics of the upper registers or the stygian lows, come to the forefront in the duo’s first number, Head Sea. Jeong goes under the piano lid before she moves in, hard, on the piano’s low midrange, while Cho bows and then holds the center, motorboat riffs against a scurry.

Purple Beans has flitting piano accents against a calmer, more circular bass center. The two coalesce, then diverge tensely through a series of tritones, Jeong growing more frantic until Cho centers the music.

Surface Tension begins with churning, rattling atmospherics, Cho running loopy bass variations as Jeong hammers and circles; this time it’s her turn to break the spell. Thumbnail Sketch, the closest reference to swing here, begins with jaunty lowrange flourishes and insistence from the piano against steady bass. The two musicians rise to a coy parody of fanfare and then an anvil chorus which finally gives way to a deadpan, stern conclusion.

Kindred has funkier rhythms, some particularly explosive moments from Jeong and also an unexpectedly icy, terse duet midway through. The closing number, Dokdo 1696 is built around minimalist, suspenseful variations on an octave bass riff, up to some tasty Messiaenic upper-register piano and another anvil chorus, Cho playing voice of reason again. The album also includes a couple of spacious solo bass miniatures.

Deathprod’s Latest Album: Dark Anti-Fascist Ambience

As Deathprod, keyboardist and electronic musician Helge Sten has built an eclectic, often haunting and provocative body of work over the past quarter century or or so. His latest album, Occulting Disk – streaming at Bandcamp – came out late last year and is his first release since the mid-zeros. It’s described as an “anti-fascist ritual.”

Considering how many we’ve had in the streets this year, we could always use another one. This is a long album: several of the tracks are in the eight minute range or more. How ritualistic is this music? Much of it is a series of loops and variations. Is there discernible anti-fascist content? It’s icy, dystopic and mechanical, which could be construed as a cautionary tale.

This is the kind of album that’s best appreciated as a cohesive whole, rather than a series of distinct parts. It begins with a series of fuzzy loops of bass synth with a little space in between. Sten follows with the eight-part suite Occultation, which begins with shifting, atonal, eerily overtone-laden cloudbanks matched by a series of slow sirening effects. Sound familiar?

Buzzsaw oscillations subtly and glacially drift from the center. Sirens return at higher frequencies along with what sounds like the hum of a blown speaker that can’t be shut off. Dopplers and echoes mingle on a highway, though a very foggy window. Gritty, sustained bits and pieces of chords begin to emerge. An electric lawn mower struggles against something in the grass. Whale song in deep space, echo echo echo echo.

The suite is interrupted by the much louder, relentlessly bleak, practically thirteen-minute soundscape Black Transit of Jupiter’s Third Satellite. The conclusion is where the ritual starts to make sense: imagine Bill Gates, Tony Fauci and Andrew Cuomo adrift in a little boat, bound and gagged, on the Hudson river on a freezing cold January night. There’s historical precedent for that.

The Scariest Video of the Year

Several of you may have seen the ACLU’s pizza video. It’s the most frightening video of the year. Forget the most horrific stories you may have heard about COVID – this is infinitely scarier. The video is very short, less than two minutes, so pay attention. Never thought that ordering takeout food would have so many grim consequences, did you?

Haunting New Sounds From an American Transcendentalist and a Mumbai-Born Jazz Chanteuse

You probably wouldn’t think that one of the world’s most unpredictable pianists would be the first choice for a lot of singers. Au contraire – Ran Blake loves playing with singers and has made many albums with them. Blake personifies the film noir esthetic. His most noir-centric album in this century with a vocalist remains the 2012 cult classic Camera Obscura record with Sara Serpa. He’s also done spine-tingling work with Dominique Eade. And he’s worked with Christine Correa before: their new duo album, When Soft Rains Fall – streaming at Spotify – really brings out the best in both artists , a high point in their long-running collaboration.

It’s amazing how they completely reinvent a bunch of old standards: the two improvise at such a high level that everything on the record might as well be called an original. Correa’s bittersweet, weathered approach to I’m a Fool to Want You, the album’s opening track, is a perfect foil for Blake’s sudden yet sagacious shifts from minimalist blues, to furtive Messiaenesque ice, to his own saturnine gleam.

The two open For Heaven’s Sake as anything but a love song, but they warm it up quickly, even if Blake remains more gremlin than imp. Correa narrates The Day Lady Died as Blake takes this grimly imagistic 1959 Manhattan tableau into a cold, revealing Weegee light with shadows just outside.

The two reverse roles in You’ve Changed, Blake’s steadiness in contrast to Correa’s stricken vulnerability. She matches the shift between Blake’s insistent chimes and muted murk im You Don’t Know What Love Is, then the duo bring an apt phantasmagoria to The End of a Love Affair: breakups are the creepiest thing in the world!

They remake For All We Know with circling, Saties-esque menace: tomorrow truly may never come for all we know. Blake is unsurpassed at lowlit, close-harmonied miniatures, Big Stuff being the latest in a long series.

The bitter quasi-Rachmaninoff chords that open Get Along Without You Very Well – the key to the album – speak volumes, as does Correa’s cynical delivery. Blake plays a clinic in implied melody in Violets For Your Furs – he really makes you think you’re hearing a bluesy ballad – then goes under the lid, literally, behind Correa’s haggard angst in Lady Sings the Blues.

Blake’s insistence contrasts with Correa’s guarded hope against hope in But Beautiful, a dynamic they revisit to an extent in Glad to Be Unhappy, although she’s more vividly cynical in the latter.

Their take of I’ll Be Around – not the Howlin’ Wolf classic – is the album’s most spaciously brief number. They close it with It’s Easy to Remember, where Correa takes centerstage with an a-cappella intro. After all these years, Blake remains best known for his shattering, classic collaboration with the late, great Jeanne Lee, The Newest Sound Around, but he hasn’t stopped finding newer ones. And there’s more where this came from, including a collaboration with another darkly cinematic pianist, Frank Carlberg.

Why a Symphony From 1935 Matters More Than Ever

The events of 2020 under the lockdown are eerily similar to 1935. By then, the Nazi campaign of genocide had begun, with the mass murder of disabled and cripped people, all of them euthanized by the German medical establishment. Here in the US, the President recently announced a deal with the huge pharmacy conglomerate Wallgreens to kill off residents of nursing homes with the Bill Gates needle of death. When are the general public going to wake up? Eighty-five years ago, Europe didn’t until it was too late to stop the Nazi war machine. If that historical precedent holds true, we are in trouble. As Pastor Martin Niemoller famously recalled, “Then they went after the Jews. Then they came for us.”

Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 4 was premiered in 1935, by an earlier version of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Martyn Brabbins, lifelong champion of the Romantic tradition, conducts them in this latest recording, which hasn’t hit the web yet. If there was specific content or narrative in his music, the composer usually made that very clear, and he didn’t do that in this case. Still, this symphony is chillingly a reflection of its time, and in that sense, a cautionary tale.

As this storm gathers momentum, chromatics that stop thisshort of frantic cede to restlessly circling, gusty variations that rise with an increasing unease: hindsight may be 20/20, but it’s impossible not to read rumors of war into this. Brabbins immediately dims the lights for the comforting nocturne that morphs out of it: could this be a reflection on the momentary honeymoon between wars for the English people?

Likewise, a stalking pulse from the strings rises to enigmatic lustre, persistent disquiet disappearing in favor of twilit serenity in the second movement; yet it ends broodingly. A darkly bristling, distinctly Russian-tinged dance opens the third and transforms into a march in the last movement, albeit with suspiciously sarcastic humor. Again, Brabbins pulls the orchestra for a comforting lull, which doesn’t last. The Beethovenesque series of false endings grow more and more foreboding, to the point where the impact remains long beyond the final, seemingly sardonic blast of low brass.

Where is the 2020 counterpart to this troubled masterpiece? Probably still being written. The operative question is whether we’ll ever be able to hear it. In the UK in 1935 it was legal for an orchestra to perform in front of an audience..

This album opens with Vaughan Williams’ radically different “Pastoral” Symphony No. 3. As inspired by World War I gravesites as by the English countryside of the composer’s youth, it’s one of the quietest pieces in the symphonic repertoire, at least before the explosion of spectral music in the early 1980s.

The first movement comes across as sleepy time for heroes –an update on the wave motion the composer explored in his Sea Symphony – along with vast Dvorakian vistas. Maybe that influence explains the minor blues riff that anchors one of the main themes. The gentle, steadily ratcheting counterpoint introduced in the first movement comes further to the forefront in the more stark, spare, folksy second one. Alan Thomas’ long, restrained, distantly troubled trumpet solo is the highlight here.

Heroes wake up vociferously as the third movement gets underway, larks quickly ascend to the trees and some bustling and strutting ensues – yet quietly. Soprano Elizabeth Watts animatedly brings back the blues riffs over an almost imperceptible stillness to introduce the conclusion, rising to disorienting, fragmentary exchanges before the serene intertwine of the first movement returns. From there Brabbins meticulously leads the slow rise to a momentary triumph and descent into nocturnal content and contemplation, Watts adding celestial lustre at the end.

The record is also noteworthy for including the world premiere of Vaughan Williams’ previously unpublished cantata Saraband “Helen,” a setting of a Christopher Marlowe text about Helen of Troy. Brabbins’ arrangement is sober and understated; tenor David Butt Philip sings expressively over the increasingly bittersweet sweep of the orchestra and choir.