New York Music Daily

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Month: October, 2021

A Chilling Civil War-Inspired Reflection For Halloween

The annual October-long Halloween celebration of dark music comes to a close today with one of the most somberly beautiful songs ever featured here. Guitarist Chris Jentsch was inspired to write Meeting at Surratt‘s by the events surrounding the trial of Mary Surratt, the first woman in American history executed for a federal crime.

She may have been innocent.

Surratt owned the Washington, DC boardinghouse where John Wilkes Booth and his conspirators hatched the plot to assassinate President Lincoln. She was convicted based on the testimony of others convicted in the conspiracy, who asserted that she’d assisted in providing and hiding their weapons. Evidence at the trial was conflicting; she proclaimed her innocence, and several of those arrested offered supporting testimony. One of her slaves testified as a character witness (although it’s hard to imagine a slave saying anything other than complimentary things under the circumstances).

So is this song an elegy for a woman murdered for being at the wrong place at the wrong time? Or an anthem for assassins who call themselves patriots? Either way, it’s a gorgeous, melancholy, Ashokan Farewell-style folk ballad. Jentsch’s background is jazz, but no style is off limits in his wide-ranging work. The nonet version on his 2019 Topics in American History album is more ominously robust and guitar-fueled, with lush multitracks. The quartet version from the 2018 album Fractured Pop, seems a little faster, with a warmly wistful, gorgeous Pharaoh Sanders-ish Matt Renzi sax solo.

And the way Jentsch ends the big band version, especially, will give you chills. See, Mary Surratt, age forty-three, mother of two children, didn’t so much fall from the gallows as she slid to the end of the rope.

The Lucky Thirteenth Volume of the Brown Acid Heavy Psych Compilations Is Out Today

Over the course of a dozen compilations, the tireless crate diggers behind the Brown Acid series have unearthed innumerable rare heavy psychedelic, heavy soul and proto-metal singles and deep cuts. At what point is the bowl finally played? Where does the trip wind down to the point where it’s time to kill what’s left of the case of beer and crash? Not now. The Thirteenth Trip is out on vinyl today and streaming at Bandcamp.

Previous compilations have spanned from the late 60s to as recently as 1981. The year 1972 is a big one for this playlist. The first cut is Run Run, a riff-rock curio by Montreal band Max. Nice high-midrange guitars, barely passable English lyrics, such that there are any.

Ralph Williams’ Dark Street immediately validates the Brown Acid esthetic, a lithely pulsing heavy blues with some tantalizingly tasty lead guitar work. “Dark street, you are my life,” Williams asserts, even if “I haven’t got a single thing to eat.”

Third Side, by Geyda, is a mostly one-chord Spooky Tooth-style number: skittish drums, minor sixth chords. In a primitive way, it embraces non-binary thinking. No joke.

Gary Del Vecchio’s Buzzin is a feast of sizzling riffage, overdubbed call-and-response style in each channel: as the liner notes tell it, he was the lead guitarist on the Max single. John Kitko’s 1972 acid rock gem Indecision obviously took even more time in the studio for the icepick-precise lead guitar multitracks: bizarrely, it ends cold, seemingly cut off. Did the master tape run out, or break off? We’ll probably never know.

Tampa band Bacchus’ 1972 single Hope is a heavier take on what the Doors did with Roadhouse Blues: they would go on to become Fortress, who had some success with their 1981 album Hands In The Till.

“How can I live without this disease, yeah?” Master Danse’s singer intones in the Detroit band’s monstrous 1972 blues Feelin Dead. It’s both a tribute to the band’s Detroit roots, and one of the most venomous anti-Boston songs ever written. Vengeance would be on the Murder City’s side that year: Red Sox manager Eddie Kasko started a rookie against the Tigers in a pivotal late-season game, with disastrous results.

Orchid’s Go Big Red is one of the great mindfucks that pop up here and there throughout the Brown Acid series. It’s a squeaky-clean garage-pop song with a couple of fuzztone guitar breaks that sound so improbable, it’s as if some studio stoner decided to overdub them just to fuck with the band…or to get them to pay for their time.

These compilations also occasionally feature a novelty song or two. Dry Ice’s garagey Don’t Munkey with the Funky Skunky speaks for itself, a cheap attempt at what Brownsville Station would do much more effectively with Smokin in the Boys Room. The last song on the record is Good Humore’s souped-up soul shout-out to their Detroit home turf.

In a very auspicious development, Riding Easy Records is launching a new series focusing on rare 80s metal. That promises to be even more of a gold mine, considering how advances in low-budget cassette recording fueled an explosion of both studio and live material.

Sick of Halloween Cliches? The Goosebumps Soundtrack Is Your Revenge

Today’s Halloween album is the cartoon kind. Danny Abosch and John Maclay‘s Original Studio Cast Recording to Goosebumps: The Musical – Phantom of the Auditorium is up at Spotify. It’s a play within a play packed with snarky, spot-on acting-world references.

This sometimes loving, sometimes coldly cynical satire begins when a handful of drama-club dorks, sick of being stuck in nonspeaking roles, decide to hijack the Woods Mill Middle School’s production of Phantom of the Opera. Seeing as they’re the school’s most dedicated horror fans, they’re uniquely qualified to pull off the stunt.

Beyond Andrew Lloyd Webber’s third-rate Berlioz, it’s a good guess that this is peppered with sardonic quotes from other musicals like The Lion King and Beetlejuice. The fourth wall comes down fast and pretty much stays down throughout this spoof, which also extends to the music. Like the narrative, this is a parody of parodies. Corporate urban pop and new wave each get a good spanking. Every horror-film score cliche other than a theremin eventually makes an appearance: spiraling cello, a churchbell, a random scream, lingering vibraphone and minor keys everywhere.

The plotline is akin to a PG-rated take on Heathers (which also was adapted into a killer musical). This cast includes Krystina Alabado, Alex Brightman, Stephanie Styles, Noah Galvin and Sheryl Lee Ralph. Alabado gets more time on the mic than anyone else. It’s anybody’s guess if or how good a singer she is because she’s autotuned. But that could be part of the joke.

A Brilliantly Dark, Purposeful Debut From Guitarist Nick Rousseau

Guitarist Nick Rousseau‘s debut full-length album Rest/Unrest – streaming at Bandcamp – is strikingly vivid, often troubled music that reflects the struggles of our time. Rousseau plays purposefully, often sparely, with an uncluttered, slightly reverb-tinged tone and writes darkly translucent themes.

The title track begins spaciously and pensively, guest trumpeter Alex Sipiagin doubling Rousseau’s steady, moody, resonant lines, up to a warily reflective solo. Bassist Sean Hannon, pianist Carlin Lee and drummer Anton Kot provide a smartly lowlit backdrop.

The second number, Lucid Awakening shifts quickly from a dreamy bass-and-guitar introduction to somberly descending chromatics, then the band pick up the pace with incisive piano and guitar solos over Kot’s oceanic forward drive. The outro is spot-on beyond words.

Likewise, in Let Their Voices Sing, the band move quickly from a glittering, neoromantic-tinged intro to a shadowy clave, a flaring guitar solo and then a deliciously messy, heavy metal outro. Deassurance, a wistful ballad, has hints of Scottish folk and early Pat Metheny (without the ubiquitous, watery chorus-pedal ambience). The polyrhythmic interweave between Rousseau and Kot – who was only eighteen when he recorded this – is breathtaking.

Mutedly eerie piano glistens over a sketchy rhythm and dissociative loops in Soul Harvest, an increasingly animated tableau where the reaper seems to be having a feast. Rousseau launches into an ambling, guardedly optimistic theme to kick off Reconstruction, punctuating Lee’s loose-limbed, bluesy piano lines with bright, incisive spires.

Rousseau returns to somber wistfulness in Fall Rebuild, a disconsolately modal ballad: this time it’s Lee’s turn to puncture and color around a looping guitar phrase as Kot builds stormy intensity. The album’s final cut, simply and aptly titled Solemn, is a spacious, pastoral tone poem for solo guitar.

Rousseau also has a brooding, Big Lazy-esque, rather macabre single, Gaslight – good subject matter for an era of lockdowns and lethal injections, huh? – up at his Bandcamp page as a free download.

A Swiss Mess From Garage-Punk Legends the Monsters

In case you might be thinking that the people of Switzerland are all down with Klaus Schwab’s sinister “glate leeset,” Swiss legends the Monsters have a new vinyl record, You’re Class, I’m Trash, streaming at Spotify. The first song on it is titled Gimme Germs. That’s about all there is to the lyrics. Yeah, punk rock is all about confrontation. Take that, WEF Nazis!

The rest of the album is up to the level of the feral, primitive garage-rock stomp the band have made a name for themselves with around the world since 1986. Another song here that needed to be written is track eight, Electrobike Asshole. For the record, this blog’s owner got hit by one of those this past summer – in the middle of a crosswalk, walking with the light, no less. Happily, that incident ended with the blog owner getting up, cursing and bruised…while Electrobike Asshole was left with bent handlebars and a busted throttle.

The track before that is Yellow Snow Drink, an ersatz country tune. It’s weirder and a lot shorter than the Frank Zappa song on the same subject.

“Smell my tongue, it’s brown,” frontman/guitarist Beat-Man hollers on the album’s second track.

The third cut, Carpool Lane starts out as a fuzztone stalker theme, goes through a strutting series of Nuggets riffs, decays to a noise jam and has a good joke at the end.

As the band seem to see it, death is a Crampsy stroll, spun through a flange: in addition to bassist Janosh and drummer Swan Lee, the band includes live engineer Pumi on “knobs.”

A lot of the songs here remind of King Khan in his punkest moments. In Devil Baby, they prove they can be just as primitive with a piano as with guitars: that’s where the Hasil Adkins influence comes through strongest. Horror film composer Mario Batkovic guests on creepy quasi-baroque electric piano on a second version of Death.

This album is not for people who take themselves very seriously, or expect virtuoso chops, but it sure is fun.

The Lords of Black Crystallize Their Savage Attack

The last time metal band the Lords of Black were on this page, it was Halloween month, 2016. Fast forward to 2021: they’ve left the Iron Maiden fixation behind for a more dynamic, individualistic. ambitious sound. Their new album Alchemy Of Souls, Pt. II is streaming at Spotify. Make no mistake, this is dark music, but it’s more colorful, more than just flat on gloss black. It’s like a musical Sequeiros mural: lots of volcanic reds and oranges. And underneath the guitar roar and flashy synths, there’s an occasional, surprisingly subtle lockdown-era political subtext. These guys are wise to the robber barons’ sadistic agenda.

The core of the band – frontman Ronnie Romero and guitarist/keyboardist Tony Hernando – remain, joined by the group’s latest rhythm section, bassist Dani Criado and drummer Jo Nunez. They open the album with an ominously cinematic prelude that segues into Maker of Nothingness, evil chromatics over endlessly tricky changes and a piranha-fanged guitar solo

What’s Become of Us is a more or less steady backbeat anthem with layers and layers of guitars , a grim tale of falling apart on personal and political levels:

You claim you are the ruler of the land
You’re painting a lie that you call destiny
Now when you justify before your time is gone
I finally know where the sinners go

Hernando caps it off with a tornado of tapping.

The band stick with a similar stomp in Bound to You. with machinegunning drums and a blippy new wave keyboard riff. Before That Time Can Come is a kiss-off song to society, a mashup of the first two styles on the album. “Maybe we need my blood, maybe we need my bones in the ground before that time can come,” Romero rasps.

Mind Killer has AK-47 guitar bursts kicking off a steady, wickedly anthemic stomp punctuated by horror-movie piano: “Fear is the mind killer – shame on you,” Romaro snarls. Death Dealer is a sprint: “Faith healer is the death dealer…the more you come along, the more they rob you,” Romero warns.

Criado’s fuzz bass riffage anchors the sci-fi metal of Prayers Turned to Whispers. The band go back to labyrinthine rhythms with In a Different Light: it makes a good segue, Hernando firing off one of his most frantic solos.

Cynicism reaches redline in How Long Do I Have Now, a revenge anthem: throughout the record, Hernando is a master of menace with his simple, eerie piano lines over the relentless burn of the guitars. The group follow with Fated to Be Destroyed, the closest thing to Trans-Siberian Orchestra here.

Hernando’s skeletal, rainy-day solo intro explodes into a chromatic fireball in No Hero Is Homeless, a mix of death metal and majestic art-rock: it could be the album’s best track. The final cut, Sympathy, is a real surprise, a biting pop hit in heavy disguise, Hernando making the most of the chance to shred his way out.

A Lush Lynchian Masterpiece From Howe Gelb and the Colorist Orchestra

It is nothing short of astonishing how after a long career leading iconic southwestern gothic pioneers Giant Sand, and then as a solo artist, Howe Gelb is arguably at the peak of his career as a songwriter. His latest album, Not on the Map – streaming at Bandcamp – is a serendipitously Lynchian collaboration with Belgian art-rock ensemble the Colorist Orchestra. As you would expect just from the artists involved, this is a lock for one of the best albums of 2021.

The group open with Counting On: “The frontlines are closing in,” Gelb mutters as the strings flutter and Sep François’ vibraphone rings eerily. It could be an especially lush Botanica number from that band’s most orchestral, mid-zeros peak.

Gelb’s voice has weathered like a good whiskey over the years, best evidenced here by his unselfconsciously saturnine delivery throughout the cover of the Glenn Campbell countrypolitan hit Gentle on My Mind.

Pieta Brown contributes two songs of her own, first joining Gelb in a duet, Sometimes I Wish, a fondly nocturnal waltz. Karel Coninx’s viola floats starkly over the enveloping backdrop from violinist Jeroen Baert, Gerrit Valckenaers’ bass clarinet and Tim Vandenbergh’s bass. Wim De Busser’s piano is a light in a windowshade alongside the twinkling percussion. Brown’s other duet here is Sweet Pretender, a hazy country ballad.

Percussionists Kobe Proesmans and Aarich Jespers anchor the lilting latin-tinged groove in Dr Goldman, a distantly sinister, enveloping twilight tableau: imagine a warmer, less synthy version of Australian legends Flash & the Pan flown in to the Arizona desert..

The closest comparison to Leonard Cohen here is Thyne Eyes, a semi-bolero gently spiced with De Busser’s plucky prepared piano and the gleam from François’ vibes. Gelb half-sings, half-whispers Ruin Everything in his weathered baritone, the album’s most hypnotic, atmospheric, subtly gospel-tinged ballad. “Now you’ve mastered the art of the undone,” he intones.

The album’s most unselfconsciously gorgeous track is Tarantula, a dusky opening-credits theme with Gelb on what sounds like a reed organ. A single, fleeting moment of menace from the bass clarinet could be the most breathtaking point here.

Vandenbergh’s spare, dancing bass gives More Exes a loping Big Lazy groove behind Gelb’s evocative, understatedly menacing railroad trestle scenario. The group close the record with the title track, a classic Gelb noir bolero awash in aching strings, keening highs from Valckenaers’ glass bowls and some deliciously uneasy, microtonal work from Coninx.

Revisiting an Iconic Moment in the Creepy Classical Canon

Over the course of several years of annual, October-long Halloween celebrations here, you would think that at some point, Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition would have made an appearance. No dice. The Chelsea Symphony‘s performance of that staple of the horror-classical canon got a big thumbs-up here...but that was in January of 2016.

Fast forward to 2021: the Chelsea Symphony’s beloved executive director has moved on and the group are as imperiled as any other performing arts organization outside the free world. But there is a very straightforward, energetic 2018 live recording at Spotify by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gianandrea Noseda (both featured here earlier this month) which has plenty of creepy moments.

For those unfamiliar with the suite, the composer wrote it as a requiem for his painter friend Victor Hartmann, inspired by a posthumous retrospective of his work. It’s a wildly successful attempt to bring those paintings to life within the context of a leisurely, pensive gallery tour. In reality, Moussorgsky’s memory of several of the pictures on display was either fuzzy, or he deliberately gave them a much creepier interpretation. The original suite is for solo piano; Maurice Ravel orchestrated it in 1922. That’s what the orchestra are working with here.

The creepiness doesn’t start immediately, Noseda leading the listener into the gallery via a firmly reverential stroll. Ravel’s genius is in highlighting every available bit of phantasmagoria. Case in point: the twinkling second segment, The Gnome, which Noseda picks up boisterously at the end.

Fueled by the low brass and deliciously fluttery, ghostly strings, this broodingly waltzing take of The Old Castle is a keeper for anybody’s Halloween party playlist. Those cattle in the pasture? Definitely up to no good, beneath an increasingly stormy sky.

The Ballad of the Unhatched Chicks is on the goofy, cartoonish side of Halloween music. But Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle, the two Jews out for a Shabbat stroll, are definitely keeping an eye out for trouble. Interestingly, Noseda’s interpretation of the catacomb scene is much louder and emphatic – and less haunting – than other conductors usually portray it. Maybe that choice was to set up the distant ominousness of the land of the dead – and then a rise to the bellicose menace of Baba Yaga’s Hut afterward.

The rest of the suite is relatively more lighthearted: proto-ragtime Tuileries, an anxious Limoges market scene and a dynamically rich, stately portrait of the (completely fictitious) Great Gate of Kiev.

This album opens with a similarly dynamic, persistently restless concert recording of Tschaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. Although it has plenty of sturm und drang, characterizing it as Halloween music would be a stretch. The fateful angst and moody balletesque variations of the first movement, moments of gorgeous bittersweetness and torment of the second, unexpectedly carnivalesque touches in the third and boisterous swirl in the conclusion all testify to how sensitively Noseda and the orchestra approach it.

Moodily Atmospheric New Wave and Lynchian Sounds From Brass Box

Sometimes Brass Box’s album The Cathedral – streaming at Bandcamp – totally nails a David Lynch soundtrack atmosphere. Other times the group totally nail a dark 80s new wave sound. Either way, their songs are catchy and tightly focused, frontwoman/bassist Ammo Bankoff channeling clear-eyed abandonment and despondency over the chilly echo and swirl.

The album opens with the title track, a mutedly galloping Pink Floyd Run Like Hell riff anchoring Neil Popkin and Matt Bennett’s broodingly echoey mix of guitars that explode in a ringing dreampop vortex on the chorus, Bankoff’s searching, anxious vocals awash in the icy mist.

With its resonant, reverberating deep-space sonics and wistful, starry backdrop, the second track, DDM could be the Lost Patrol. Surrender is not the Cheap Trick teen-rebellion anthem but a dead ringer for Siouxsie & the Banshees circa 1982, right down to the watery chorus-box guitar and prominent bass.

They follow the atmospheric, enveloping goth rock tune Latency with the allusively catchy Waves, which rise to some gorgeously Eastern European-tinged vocal harmonies on the chorus. Then they hit a steady, fast new wave groove with Towne, the album’s hardest-rocking track.

The record’s slowest track, Roses, comes across as a dreampop update on the more skeletal material on Unknown Pleasure-era Joy Division. The band go back to Lynchian/dreampop mashup mode with Ivory Skies and close the album with Parting Ways, a song they should have parted with prior to sequencing the record. On one hand, all the sounds that Brass Box evoke have been around for decades. On the other, nobody has figured out how to blend them quite like this.

Magos Herrera Brings Her Elegant, Genre-Defying, Poignant Songcraft to a Popular Outdoor Queens Spot

Singer Magos Herrera‘s music spans the worlds of jazz, film themes, contemporary classical and many styles from her native Mexico. This blog has witnessed her in a rapturous, intimate duo performance with her longtime collaborator, guitarist Javier Limon, as well as a much more lush and politically-fueled set with string quartet Brooklyn Rider. When live music was criminalized throughout much of the world in 2020, she turned to the web for supporting musicians. The result is Con Alma, the most eclectic album of an amazingly eclectic career, an “operatic tableau on isolation” streaming at Bandcamp. Herrera is back in action in New York, with a 7 PM gig outdoors on Halloween night at Terraza 7, where she’s leading a quintet. The Elmhurst venue is best known for jazz, so that’s probably going to be what Herrera brings to the stage, but knowing her, anything is possible.

The album is a mix of energetic acoustic guitar-driven numbers, imaginative pieces for orchestra and vocals and choral works. As you would expect from an album created during the lockdown, there’s an ever-present apprehension, but also hope. As fascinating as this music is, you will want to skip track seven – a found-sound collage on which Herrera does not appear – which contains PTSD-inducing samples of social engineering run hideously amok, a 2020 artifact best buried forever.

The first track is La Creación de las Aves, Vinicius Gomes’ circling, nimbly fingerpicked  acoustic guitar loop anchored by Jeffrey Zeigler’s sweeping cello and Gonzalo Grau’s lithely understated cajon.

Tree of 40 Fruit begins as an uneasily close-harmonied soundscape, layers of wordless vocals by Constellation Chor‘s Marisa Michelson blended with a little crowd-sourced spoken word on themes of isolation and alienation. She quickly builds it to an anguished series of peaks: the effect of all the multitracks wipes away any sense of loneliness or abandonment.

Clarinetist Kinan Azmeh joins with guitarist Romero Lubambo for moody but energetic dynamics in Rojo Sol, a bristling, flamenco-tinged ballad. Alma Muerta, a choral collaboration with Ensemble Sjaella rises from a desolate, Gregorian chant-influenced atmosphere to a web of stricken, shocked operatic riffs.

With her broodingly impassioned vocalese, Herrera and the Orquesta Sinfónica de Minería reinvent the album’s title cut – a Dizzy Gillespie hit – as a shapeshifting mini-suite, moving from cumulo-nimbus orchestration to a delicately bouncy, balletesque rhythm.

Ensemble Sjaella return for Fratres, by Paola Prestini, Herrera and the choir moving uneasily between early Renaissance-flavored ornamentation, grey-sky ambience and tremoloing atmospherics.

The lush treble counterpoint of Prestini’s Thrush Song, sung by the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, offers a glimpse of hope. Herrera and her Mexican orchestral colleagues wind up the album with a strikingly stark, gracefully rhythmic take of Cucurrucucú, a longing-infused ballad made famous by Mexican singer Ana María González in 1954.