New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: art-rock

A Deviously Dark New Masterpiece and a Joe’s Pub Show From Creepy Duo Charming Disaster

Charming Disaster aren’t just the creepiest guy/girl harmony duo in folk noir. They’re also a songwriting superduo. Since the late zeros, guitarist Jeff Morris has led mighty noir mambo/circus rock band Kotorino. When singer/ukulele player Ellia Bisker – leader of majestic existentialist soul band Sweet Soubrette – joined his group, that springboarded a series of collaborations that led to the duo’s debut collection of original murder ballads. Since then, they’ve become a touring powerhouse and have expanded their sound to include dark and death-obsessed narratives set to increasingly and expertly diverse musical backdrops. Their latest album Spells and Rituals is streaming at Bandcamp. They’re playing Joe’s Pub on August 22 at 9 PM; cover is $15.

They open the record with Blacksnake, a slinky clave tune about a pair of lovers who’ve gotten in too deep for their own good. All this bliss just might kill them: “Is it just hallucination or the ergot on the rye?” they ask as what may be an apocalypse looms on the horizon. There’s also a funny fourth wall-breaking reference to percussion equipment; see the band live and you’ll get it.

Although the duo do an impressive job playing multiple instruments onstage to bulk up their sound, there’s a full band on the album. Wishing Well, a Merseybeat-tinged janglerock tune has Don Godwin doing double duty on bass and drums along with the hanclaps to propel its allusively suicidal narrative. Baba Yaga, a shout out to the popular witch from Russian mythology, has a scampering horror surf-tinged groove; there’s no Moussourgsky quote, although that’s the kind of thing they’d slip in when playing it live.

Devil May Care, with its wry Biblical allusions and Tex-Mex tinges, is a hoot. “You’ve got a right to get in trouble,’ is the refrain. Llithe strings add to the distant menace , alongside Jessie Kilguss’ droning harmonium. Bisker’s sultry tones enhance the sinister ambience over Morris’ gorgeously bittersweet guitar jangle in Blue Bottle Blues, a swinging number about poisoning.

Heart of Brass is a throwback to Kotorino’s adventures in sardonic steampunk storytelling, Morris and Bisker in counterpoint over tinkling glass bells and a hypnotic sway. From there they blend Beatles and classic 60s country balladry in the slightly more lighthearted, metaphorically loaded cross-country narrative Keep Moving.

Menacing circus-rock piano (that’s either Morris or Bisker; both play keys on the album) and strings (Heather Cole on violin and Patricia Santos on cello) build operatic drama in Belladonna. “The ambulance sang my name more times than once,” Morris and Bisker harmonize in Fire Eater, a broodingly orchestrated, Balkan brass-tinged parable about the perils of thrill-seeking. They stomp their way through the catchy Laurel Canyon psychedelia of the monstrously funny Be My Bride of Frankenstein and close the album with the cynical, scampering garage rock spoof Soft Apocalypse. Dark music has seldom been this much fun – and these two put on a hell of a show.

Catchy, Edgy, Shapeshifting Art-Rock and a West Village Show from Eclectic Violinist Dina Maccabee

Dina Maccabee is one of the most versatile and interesting violinists and violists around. She’s a founding member of the Real Vocal String Quartet, and an important part of creepy Twin Peaks cover band the Red Room Orchestra. She’s also a bandleader in her own right and has a glistening, deliciously textured new art-rock album, The Sharpening Machine streaming at Sundcloud. Her next New York gig is on a bill she fits right in with, this August 17 at 3:30 PM as part of Luisa Muhr’s monthly Women Between Arts show – New York’s only multidisciplinary series focusing exclusively on woman performers – at the Glass Box Theatre at the New School, 55 W 13th St. Other artists on this highly improvisational program include dancer Azumi Oe with drummer Carlo Costa and bassist Sean Ali, plus dancer Oxana Chi with performance artist Layla Zami and pianist Mara Rosenbloom. It’s not clear who’s playing when, but everyone is worth seeing. Cover is $20, and be aware that the series has a policy that no one is turned away for lack of funds.

Maccabee’s tunesmithing on the new album is playful and catchy yet trippy and opaque. Echo effects bounce back and forth throughout the briskly bouncy title track, which opens the record. Maccabee runs her pizzicato textures and gentle wafts of sound through a kaleidoscope of effects alongside Brett Farkas’ spare, watery guitar, with hints of both the Cocteau Twins and Pink Floyd.

Maccabee’s crystalline vocals recall Aimee Mann in Could You Be Right, a verdantly orchestrated, surrealistically marching anthem in a Wye Oak vein. Sad Sad Sad Sad Sad Song is a rippling bluegrass banjo tune as ELO might do it – with a nifty fiddle solo and a resolute woman out front. Hey You – an original, not the Pink Floyd “classic rock” radio staple – brings to mind psychedelic pop icon Jenifer Jackson in a pensive, atmospheric moment: “My knowledge is written on my nails and my knuckles, if you refuse to see,” Maccabee’s narrator advises.

Tall Tall Trees is an unselfconsciously gorgeous late Beatlesque anthem set in a theatre where the show never starts; Farkas contribufes a deliciously spiraling, dipping guitar solo.

An uneasily charming glockenspiel solo opens Even When the Stars Align, Maccabee’s vocals dancing over a slowly swaying, artfully spare web of textures. “I’m still a million miles away,” she laments. Her acoustic guitar lingers alongside electric player Roger Reidbauer’s spare lines amid the shimmer of the moody, slowly waltzing Green Again, which could be a great lost track from Pink Floyd’s Obscured by Clouds.

Little Bite has a suspiciously sardonic, quasi-martial sway powered by Sylvain Carton’s baritone sax : it’s sort of the missing link between Bjork and Hungry March Band. But I Do is a ruefully swinging oldtimey country tune. The final cut is It Doesn’t Have to Be Okay, a brooding trip-hop tune with big accordion-like swells. The level of detail and creativity on this record is amazing: there are too many neat touches to enumerate here. You’ll see this on the best albums of the year page here in December.

A Catchy New Album and a Gowanus Release Show From Anthemic, Psychedelic Rockers Quicksilver Daydream

Quicksilver Daydream distinguish themselves among psychedelic bands as one of the few in the world who feature a mellotron as a primary instrument. Alex Bayer is the lucky guy who gets to turn loose that mighty beast’s orchestral sonics, joining with synth player Jonathan Schenke to create a drifting majesty above the jangle and clang of the guitars. Unlike most of their trippy brothers and sisters, Quicksilver Daydream keep their songs short and concise. Their new album Fly Oblivion is streaming at Bandcamp. They’re playing the album release show tomorrow night, August 10 at 9 PM at Littefield; cover is $10.

Drummer Alf Lenni Bak Erlandsen propels the album’s catchy, jangly opening track Into the Night with a loose-limbed shuffle: “My days have turned to ashes,” frontman/guitarist Adam Lytle muses. He teams up with lead player Glenn Forsythe for a grittier but similarly anthemic sound in Immortal Blue beneath the sweep overhead.

Bassist Brett Banks’ elegant broken chords pulse through the mix of folk-rock jangle and art-rock lushness in Hang On. The album’s longest and trippiest song, Warmth of Other Suns is a riff-driven number with a surreal atmospheric interlude. Then the band bring it down in Forever, gentle acoustic fingerpicking mingling with spare electric guitar textures and the sweep of the mellotron.

After a hypnotic intro, the band pick up the pace with an emphatic drive in Turn It Around, the closest thing here to the eerie jangle of current day Laurel Canyon revivalists like the Allah-Las. “Memories eclipse on eternity’s plane,” Lytle sings casually in the galloping, spaghetti western-tinged Infinite Range.

They blend those Morricone tinges with Schenke’s starry, swirling keys in the propulsive but elegaic Silent Gaze. The pensive Realm of Light and the bouncy closing cut, Voyager both look back to vintage 70s psychedelic Britfolk bands like the Strawbs. With all the subtle textural variations, catchy hooks and big singalong choruses, it sounds like the band had a great time recording this album, and that vibe is contagious.

Another Savagely Brilliant Album and a Williamsburg Gig from Expertly Feral Guitarist Ava Mendoza’s Power Trio

Word on the street is that Ava Mendoza is the best guitarist in Brooklyn – and might have been for a long time. Her show with creepy, organ-and-sax-fueled quasi-surf instrumentalists Hearing Things at Barbes at the end of last month was mind-blowing. Mendoza has become that band’s secret weapon: through two sardonic sets, she had her reverb turned way up, slashing and clanging and often roaring through the group’s allusive changes. With her, they’re more Doors than Stranglers, but without any of the 60s cliches, Mendoza’s next gig is August 10 at around 10 PM leading her  epic noisemetal power trio Unnatural Ways on a triplebill in between the math-iest doom band ever, Skryptor, and shapeshiftingly surrealistic Chicago art-rockers Cheer Accident at Ceremony, 224 Manhattan Ave. (off Maujer) in Williamsburg. The venue doesn’t have a website, so it’s anybody’s guess what the cover is. To avoid hourlong-plus waits for the L train, your best bet is to take the G to Broadway and walk from there

Unnatural Ways’ new album The Paranoia Party is streaming at Bandcamp. True to form, it’s a relentlessly dark concept album, more or less, centered around a disturbing encounter with alien beings. Mendoza and bassist Tim Dahl shift between warpy sci-fi sonics and machete riffery in the opening track, Go Back to Space: it’s the missing link between Thalia Zedek’s legendary 90s band Come and Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth.

The Runaway Song is a savage mashup of Syd Barrett, Diamond Dogs-era Bowie and 70s Zappa. Most of All We Love to Spy is nine sometimes skronky, sometimes crushingly ornate minutes of chromatics over drummer Sam Ospovat’s precise but relentlessly thumping syncopation.

Mendoza fires off volley after volley of casually sinister Dick Dale tremolo-picking over a squiggly backdrop in Trying to Pass. The band shift from machinegunning hardcore to a doomy sway centered around a surprisingly glammy guitar riff in Draw That Line, Mendoza and Dahl each hitting their chorus pedals for icy ominousness. They machete their way through the fragmentary Soft Electric Rays, which leads into the final cut, Cosmic Border Cop, a deliciously acidic pool of close harmonies, macabre chromatics and distorted scorch over a constantly shifting rhythmic skeleton. Easily one of the ten best, most adrenalizing rock albums released in 2019 so far.

Pioneering Cello Rocker Serena Jost Brings Her Rapturous, Intimate Sonics to a Similarly Intimate Brooklyn Space

“My cello wants to go up in the ceiling,” Serena Jost observed at one of this year’s most rapturously intimate New York shows: in the middle of the day, in the cozy, vintage tin-plated Chinatown studio at Montez Press Radio a couple of days before Memorial Day weekend. As she did with her meticulously playful solo album Up to the Sky, Jost will typically size up the sonics of a room and then make them part of the performance. Just as she took advantage of the rich natural reverb at St. Peter’s Church in Chelsea when she recorded the album – live – she felt the highs bouncing off the studio’s metal, and the walls, and ran with it…calmly, and gently, with respect to any ghosts she might be coaxing out of the woodwork with her harmonics and overtones. She’s playing a slightly less intimate space, Freddy’s, at 7 PM on August 10 on a killer triplebill with haunting, fearsomely powerful soul belter and noir Americana songstress Karen Dahlstrom and the anthemic, politically fearless, vintage Springsteenian Tru Mongrel Hearts’ frontman Pete Cenedella

As a founding member of Rasputina, Jost is a pioneer of cello rock, but her own writing and improvisation defy categorization. If there was any common thread between the songs in this particular set – drawn mostly from her solo record – it was minimalism. No wasted notes, no gestures that weren’t meaningful, spiced with subtle echoes and sepulchral wisps of sound.

She opened with It’s a Delight, her soul-infused vocals soaring over its distantly Indian-tinged variations on a hypnotic octave riff. She got the harmonics keening with an especially emphatic take of the catchy Window; she’d revisit that trope with even more sonic surrealism later, with the contrasting rhythmic plucks and hazy atmospherics of Hallway.

Her lone cover was a more polished but understately chilling take on the brilliant/obscure Happiness, by Molly Drake (Nick’s mom): “Happiness is gone without a warning, jack-o-lantern in the night.”

Going back to the originals, Jost dug in hard with the staccato chords of Silver Star, an allusively seductive but ultimately just as wary and unresolved tableau. She also made up what was essentially a catchy, optimistic, singalong stadium-rock anthem, on the spot, and eventually closed with The Cut, a swaying, Britfolk-tinged tune that strongly evoked Linda Thompson, both vocally and thematically

The performance and interview afterward have been archived: click the archive link at Montez Press Radio and scroll down for a very acerbic, insightful look at where Jost is at these days: more attuned to psychedelia and spontaneity than ever, both as a solo artists and a bandleader.

Breathtaking Grandeur and a Feast of Guitars on Noctorum’s Latest Brilliant Album

Marty Willson-Piper is best known as this era’s greatest twelve-string guitarist, but he’s also a brilliant songwriter, an aspect that was often weirdly overlooked during his long tenure alongside another great tunesmith, Steve Kilbey, in iconic Australian psychedelic band the Church. Willson-Piper has also put out several great albums under his own name and with Noctorum, his project with Dare Mason. Noctorum‘s richly orchestral, mesmerizingly jangly latest album, Afterlife, is streaming at Bandcamp.

It opens with The Moon Drips, a slinky, seductive, bolero-tinged ballad: imagine Nick Cave at his lushest, with a brass section. The carnivalesque, hurdy-gurdy style bridge is delicious.

High Tide, Low Tide is a mighty, jangly, propulsive rocker that would have been a standout track on a late 80s Church album. Mason sings this cautionary tale to a high-flying party animal who’s heading for a fall.

Willson-Piper returns to lead vocals for the album’s first single, Piccadilly Circus, a bleakly gorgeous, syncopatedly swaying portrait of quiet working class desperation in real estate bubble-era London. A lusciously icy blend of six and six-string guitars anchor Show, a grimly metaphorical breakup narrative set to vamping, Television-like janglerock. Willson-Piper’s incisive, climbing bass punctuates the lush, dreamy, pulsing sonics and baroque elegance of A Resurrected Man.

The album’s loudest track is A Girl with No Love: choogling, raging 70s riff-rock verse, lushly jangly chorus. “I don’t know if I’ll ever dream again, all I know is I can,” Willson-Piper croons in Trick, a surreal blend of Iggy Pop and the Cocteau Twins. Head On (not the Stooges classic but a duet between Willson-Piper and his violinist wife Olivia) rises out of incisively rhythmic riffage to a sultry, sinister peak and eventually an outro straight out of Jethro Tull: “See you at nine-ish where we first met, me and my Sunbeam, you and your Corvette.”

The album’s title track is its most amorphous number, Willson-Piper’s narrator waiting in the netherworld for loved ones amid the guitar swirl. The final cut is the unexpectedl whimsical, bouncy In a Field Full of Sheep. Good to see these guys, with careers that go back to the early 80s, still going strong.

Big Lazy Take Their Film Noir Sounds to Pleasantville

The house was full, and people were dancing. That’s inevitable at Big Lazy‘s monthly Friday night residency at Barbes, although it’s not what you would expect at a show by a band best known for film noir menace. Then again, you wouldn’t expect the bandleader to write a score for a PBS series about comedians, But composers who write for film and tv are expected to be able to create any mood the director wants.

The band have a long-awarited new album  due out later this summer. Frontman/guitarist Steve Ulrich’s latest batch of instrumental narratives are just as dark, maybe even darker at the center, although parts of them extend into much brigher terrain than the trio have typically explored since they got their start in what was then an incredibly fertile rock scene on the Lower East Side back in the 1990s.

Onstage, the group reinvent their material, old and new, sometimes to the point where it’s almost unrecognizable. Was that a 6/8 version of Uneasy Street, the slow, macabre centerpiece of their first album, that they played at last month’s show? Maybe. Or it could have been a new number: tritones and chromatics slink out of the shadows constantly throughout this band’s catalog. Ulrich went further out on a limb than uusal this time, pulling himself off the ledge with savage volleys of tremolo-picking, taking a machete to the music. Bassist Andrew Hall used his bow for long, stygian, resonant passages, especially when the band took the songs toward dub, a welcome return to a style the band took a plunge into back in the early zeros. Drummer Yuval Lion was in a subtle mood this time, icing the intros and outros and quieter moments with his cymbals, rims and hardware.

The familiar material got reivented and tweaked as usual, too. Princess Nicotine, inspired by a 20s dada silent film, wasn’t quite as lickety-split as usual: maybe the princess has switched to lights. Their cover of the Beatles’ Girl was even more of a dirge than usual. Loping big-sky themes took unexpected dips into the macabre, balanced by the tongue-in-cheek go-go theme Sizzle and Pops. Guest trumpeter CJ Camerieri’s moody lines intertwined with Ulrich’s similarly spare incisions while another guest, Brain Cloud lapsteel monster Raphael McGregor added slithery sustain and flickering ambience at the edges as the songs moved toward combustion point.

Big Lazy are back at Barbes at 10 PM on July 26. Singer/guitarist Pierre de Gaillande‘s edgy parlor pop band Bad Reputation – who continue to build a rich catalog of English translations of songs by French chansonnier maudit Georges Brassens – play at 8.

A Seething, Politically-Fueled Dark Rock Masterpiece From the Bright Smoke

It wouldn’t be overhype to characterize the Bright Smoke as a female-fronted Joy Division. Harrowing intensity? Check. Minor keys? Doublecheck. Tight, minimalist tunes over analog drum samples, uneasy atmospherics wafting in the background? Check, check, check. Like Ian Curtis, singer/guitarist Mia Wilson is one of the most riveting performers in any style of music – and she has been, since the beginning of the decade when she was primarily a keyboardist, leading the brilliant/obscure French Exit. The Bright Smoke’s latest album Gross National Happiness – streamng at Bandcamp – could be her darkest and most shattering release so far, and it’s much more explicitly political than Joy Division ever were. The Bright Smoke have a couple of gigs coming up; on July 13 at 8 PM they’re at the small room at the Rockwood. Then on July 27 at 9:30 PM they’re playing the album release show at Littlefield; cover is $10.

On the new album, Wilson asserts herself more than ever on lead guitar, with potent results. With his guitars, bass and electronics, her longtime collaborator Quincy Ledbetter adds tersely orchestrated variations on the band’s usual black-and-grey sonic palette. They open the album with the brief Broken Party, its noisy ambience bringing to mind the politically-fueled dystopic soul of Algiers, the ache in Wilson’s voice reaching new heights

“I fear this more,” Wilson intones in American Proletariat. More than “The employ of and the company of torturers and slumlords…”? Yes. She gets out her bullhorn:

I will get to my desk on time
And I will stay til five
And I will aid
I will participate
In the united front and
I will lead your manhunt

Has Big Brother completely broken Wilson’s spirit? Hardly. The sarcasm is withering. Likewise, in Model Citizen – which shifts from unsettled indie chords to a stark minor-key interlude: “I can help you lose everything you won…you model citizens are out for blood.”

An ominously looping guitar figure gives way to an acidic swirl as Orbit moves along: “It’s not testament to your excellence that I’m bored with your war,” she warns. After that, the band motor through the wickedly catchy The Lion And, a defiant Patti Smith-esque anthem.

One Hundred Years looks back to the gritty gutter blues the band were exploring earlier in the decade:

It’s been a banner year
It’s open season on the weak
And every hundred years
We get dressed to the nines
The barbarians?
They’re not coming this time

Again Again has a spare, stripped-down minor-key blues phrase over a tightly swinging groove, biting guitar acccents slowly entering over an acidically misty backdrop. Wilson half-speaks, half-sings the verse: “Old friend I need your forgiveness again/Can I hold onto you as the walls close in.”

Ledbetter’s oscillating bassline propels Mauretania, a desperate tableau where everyone expects a “top down trickle down, but it never came.” The album’s guardedly optimistic final cut, Lower 48, again brings to mind Patti Smith, Wilson’s stark, insistent, minimalist guitar over a wafting nocturnal haze. It’s an apt soundtrack for the deadly, flailing final months (we desperately hope) of the Trump administration. You’ll see this high on the list of best albums of 2019 at the end of the year.

Yet Another Killer Short Album and a Williamsburg Gig From Ferocious Power Trio Castle Black

Over the last couple of years, power trio Castle Black have put out a series of ferociously smart, edgy short albums. Watching the group develop from a promising, messy punk band into a sleek, relentlessly dark, complicated beast has been one of the real feel-good stories in the ever-shrinking New York rock scene. Their latest release, Dead in a Dream is streaming at Bandcamp. They’re playing the album release show this July 9 at 9 PM at Muchmore’s; cover is $7. For people worried about not being able to get home from Williamsburg on the L train, the venue is a leisurely five-minute walk from the Lorimer St. station, and the G train is running all night.

The first couple of tracks on the new ep blend dark garage rock with shapeshifting psychedelia. Throughout U Do the Same the band veer between time signatures, new drummer Joey Russo handling the tricky changes and also addiug gritty intensity on bass.

Frontwoman/guitarist Leigh Celent begins the moody Know Me, Anyway with a wall of feedback, the song rising from a plaintive verse into a venomously catchy chorus: “You don’t know me, anyway,” she intones as the storm builds toward gale force..

The title track is a creepy, sabretoothed masterpiece, Celent working the contrast between her lingering, jangly lines and savagely insistent chords, up to a series of brooding, psychedelic interludes. It’s one of the half-dozen best songs of 2019 so far, and the band play the hell out of it live.

Darkly Eclectic Composer Jay Vilnai Releases His Most Haunting Album

Guitarist Jay Vilnai is one of Brooklyn’s most individualistic, consistently interesting composers. Over the years, he’s led a fiery Romany-rock band, Jay Vilnai’s Vampire Suit and made acerbic chamber music out of Shakespearean poetry. He’s also the lead guitarist in another wild, popular Slavic string band, Romashka. His latest album, Thorns All Over – a collection of new murder ballads with text by poet Rachel Abramowitz, streaming at Bandcamp – is one of his best projects so far. In fact, it could be the most lurid, Lynchian indie classical album ever made. Vilnai is playing the album release show at Arete Gallery in Greenpoint on June 6 at 7 PM, leading a trio with violinist Skye Steele and singer Augusta Caso. Cover is $15.

The allbum’s Pinter-esque plotline follows a series of jump cuts. Likewise, the rhythms shift almost incessantly, enhancing a mood of perpetual unease. Vilnai layers eerily looping piano, desolately glimering tremolo guitar and evil, twinkling vibraphone up to a savage crescendo in the album’s opening track, The Lake: it’s all the more haunting for how quietly and offhandedly the narrator relates what happens along the shore that night.

Vilnai builds a skronky maze of counterpoint in tandem with Reuben Radding’s bass in A Woman or a Gun, a surreal mashup of what could be Ted Hearne indie opera, John Zorn noir soundtrack tableau and Angelo Badalamenti taking a stab at beatnik jazz.

“I took her to the dark forest to see if she would light the way,”Vilnai intones over gloomy pools of piano, as the band make their way into The Forest. A chamber ensemble of Skye Steele on violin, Oscar Noriega on clarinet, Ben Holmes on trumpet, Katie Scheele on English horn and David Wechsler on alto flute build a gently fluttering tableau, a sarcastic contrast with the story’s ugly foreshadowing.

A ghostly choir – Quince Marcum, Laura Brenneman and Jean Rohe – join in an echoing vortex behind Vilnai’s stately angst in Heartbreak. He layers grim low-register guitar, coldly starlit piano and enveloping atmospherics in the title track, up to a squirrelly mathrock crescendo amd slowly back down: this love triangle turns out to be a lot stranger than expected.

The album’s macabre final diptych is The Night We Met: Noriega’s moody clarinet rises over creepy, lingering belltones, Vilnai’s minimalist guitar lurking in the background. It concludes as a glacially waltzing dirge. Count this as one of this year’s most haunting and strangest records: you’ll see it on the best albums of 2019 page here in December.