New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: art-rock

New Music Duo andPlay and Cello Rocker Meaghan Burke Put on a Serious Party at the Edge of Chinatown

How do violin/viola duo andPlay manage to create such otherworldly, quietly phantasmagorical textures? Beyond their adventurous choice of repertoire, they use weird alternate tunings. Folk and rock guitarists have been doing that since forever, but unorthodox tunings are a relatively new phenomenon in the chamber music world. At the release party for their new album Playlist at the Metropolis Ensemble‘s second-floor digs at 1 Rivington St. last night, violist Hannah Levinson and violinist Maya Bennardo – with some help from their Rhythm Method buds Meaghan Burke and Leah Asher, on harmonica and melodica, respectively – evoked a ghost world that was as playful and bracing as it was envelopingly sepulchral. Anybody who might mistakenly believe that all 21st century serious concert music is stuffy or wilfully abstruse needs to check out the programming here.

The party was in full effect before the music started. A sold-out crowd pregamed with bourbon punch and grapefruit shots. As the performance began, Levinson sent a big bucket of fresh saltwater taffy around the audience, seated in the round. The charismatic Burke opened with a brief solo set of characteristically biting, entertainingly lyrical cello-rock songs. Calmly and methodically, she shifted between catchy, emphatic basslines, tersely slashing riffs, starry pizzicato and hypnotic, loopy minimalism. The highlights included Hysteria, a witheringly funny commentary on medieval (and much more recent) patriarchal attempts to control womens’ sexual lives, along with a wry, guardedly optimistic, brand-new number contemplating the hope tbat today’s kids will retain the ability to see with fresh eyes.

Dressed in coyly embroidered, matching bespoke denim jumpsuits, andPlay wasted no time introducing the album’s persistently uneasy, close harmonies  with a piece that’s not on it, Adam Roberts‘ new Diptych. Contrasting nebulous ambience with tricky polyrhythmic counterpoint, the duo rode its dynamic shfits confidently through exchanges of incisive pizzicato with muted austerity, to a particularly tasty, acerbic, tantalizingly brief coda.

Clara Ionatta’s partita Limun, Levinson explained, was inspired by the Italian concept of lemon as a panacea. Playful sparring between the duo subtly morphed into slowly drifting tectonic sheets, finally reaching a warmer, more consonant sense of closure that was knocked off its axis by a sudden, cold ending.

The laptop loops of composer David Bird‘s live remix of his epic Apochrypha threatened to completely subsume the strings, but that quasar pulse happily receded to the background. It’s the album’s most distinctly microtonal track, Bennardo and Levinson quietly reveling in both its sharp, short, flickeringly agitated riffs and misty stillness.

The next concert at the space at 1 Rivington is on Oct 11 at 7:30 PM with composer Molly Herron and the Argus Quartet celebrating the release of their new album “with music and poetry that explore history and transformation.” Cover is $20/$10 stud.

Mystical, Dynamic Rainy-Day Korean Sonic Exploration with Kim So Ra at Lincoln Center

Last night Lincoln Center partnered with the Korean Cultural Center to bring janggu drummer and innovator Kim So Ra and her band to make their debut here. She’s one of the great innovators in Korean sounds, having founded the country’s first all-female traditional percussion ensemble, Norikkot, as well as cinematic art-rock instrumentalists nuMori. She was clearly psyched to be at “One of the finest musical theatres in the world,” as she put it. “Cool! I brought some rain from Korea for this perfect day,” she grinned, alluding to the stormy, watery themes on her latest album A Sign of Rain. The result was as psychedelic a storm as you can possibly imagine.

There’s a tradition in janggu drumming that’s feral and shamanic, but the duo of Kim and fellow percussionist Hyun Seung Hun,opened the night with otherworldly, mysical ambience, blending delicate gongs and a singing bowl punctuated by spare, resonant beats and rainlike washes. Then the bandleader kicked into a brisk, syncopated 10/8 beat that was no less hypnotic for being a lot louder.

The two made disorientingly clipped variations out of a distantly majestic processional before really picking up with a staggered gallop. Piri player Lee Hye Joong blew white noise and then increasingly animated, quavering calls through her little wooden oboe over a steady janggu riff; gayageum player Lim Ji Hye joining quietly underneath.

The irresistibly warptoned gayageum (a fretless zither that sounds like a low-register hybrid of the Egyptian oud and the Indian surbahar, minus the reverberating strings) took centerstage, ripping and leaping over percussive flurries, long, surprisingly low, sax-like sutained lines from the piri and an eventual return to a stately, swaying rhythm. Meanwhile, deep-space photography drifted across the screen behind the stage. Somebody give this band a residency at the Hayden Planetarium: they’d pack the place!

A janggu solo meant to depict a heartbeat came across as a pretty strenuous expedition, drama giving way to a hypnotic groove and back, with some serious sprinting involved as well. Then the two percussionists brought the thunder and eventually some dancefloor thud, entreating the crowd for some boisterous call-and-response. The full quartet closed with a mighty, swaying theme punctuated by wailing piri and spiky, rippling volleys of upper-register gayageum, and encored with an even more turbulent piece.

The next concert at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St is tomorrow night at 7:30 PM with latin jazz drummer and bandleader Bobby Sanabria leading a mighty 21-piece unit paying tribute to the great Palladium-era salsa bands. Get there early if you’re going: it’s going to be a dance party.

Lynchian Menace and a South Williamsburg Gig From Noir Chanteuse Laura Carbone

Noir singer Laura Carbone’s voice ranges from purr to a soul-infused ache, somewhere between Ajda the Turkish Queen and Abby Travis. In the noir rock demimonde, she’s in good company. Her deliciously sinister, reverbtoned latest album Empty Sea is streaming at Bandcamp? She’s playing Baby’s All Right at midnight on Sept 22; cover is $15

Lead player Mark Lewis; lingering Pink Floyd slide guitar hovers over a wash of ominously reverbtoned jangle and dense resonance in the album’s opening cut, Grace, a slow 6/8 dirge. Cellophane, a syncopated one-chord stomp driven by bassist Brodie White and drummer Jeff Collier, is a throwback to early 90s New York gutter blues bands like the Chrome Cranks. Carbone goes back to slinky 6/8 time with Carnival of Souls organ and a vast, bleak panoraman of guitar textures in the album’s title track: imagine the queen of Coney Island phantasmagoria, Carol Lipnik singing an Angelo Badalamenti Twin Peaks set piece.

Nightride is a sparse highway-of-death tableau – like the Dream Syndicate stripped to the bare bones – rising to a garagantuan, swirling coda. Old Leaves Shiver is a weird mashup of folk noir and distantly troubled postpunk, with a hint of corporate urban pop. The opening shriek and jagged, dense guitar textures of Crisis are total Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth, matched by Carbone’s distorted megaphone vocals.

A dancing bass figure percolates through the blue velvet textures of Tangerine Tree, the album’s most distinctively Lynchian track – curiously, Carbone mispronounces “tangerine” as “tangrin.” The most epic cut here is Who’s Gonna Save You, a swaying, darkly blues-tinged fuzztone anthem that looks back to peak-era early 90s PJ Harvey. Carbone winds up this relentlessly bleak, gorgeously produced collection with Lullaby, a catchy backbeat-driven southwestern gothic tune. This album’s going to be on a lot of best-of-2019 lists at the end of the year.

A West Village Gig and an Dark, Underrated Gem from Guitarist Cameron Mizell

This blog once called Cameron Mizell the best pastoral jazz guitarist not named Bill Frisell. But aside from last names that rhyme, the two musicians’ talents extend far beyond that demimonde. Quietly and efficiently, Mizell has put together a remarkably tuneful, eclectic, understatedly cinematic body of work. In a world overpopulated by guys who play a million notes where one would do, Mizell’s economical, purposeful style stands out even more. He’s got a new duo album with fellow six-stringer Charlie Rauh and a show coming up at Greenwich House Music School at 7:30 PM on Sept 20. Harvey Valdes, who works a more traditional postbop vein, plays the album release show for his new solo record afterward; cover is $15.

Mizell’s arguably best, most Lynchian and most relevant album so far might be Memory/Imagination (streaming at Bandcamp), a brooding, multitracked deep-sky solo record he put out about a year after the fateful 2016 Presidential election. It opens with the distantly uneasy, lingering title cut, a tone poem awash in reverb and backward masking effects: imagine Big Lazy‘s Steve Ulrich making a 1970s style ECM record.

As puckishly picturesque and Pink Floydian as the second cut, Melting is, it’s also a surreal acoustic-electric portrait of global warming. A Toast is meant to evoke a boardroom full of corporate robber barons congratulating themselves: is the loopiness a snide poke at their groupthink, maybe? Interestingly, the song has a visceral, Indian-tinged sense of longing: maybe even those who destroy the world will also miss it when it’s gone.

The Wind Will Never Blow Us Out, a more minimalist take on pensive Jim Hall-style postbop, offers a somewhat more resilient perspective. A haunting, spikily fingerpicked waltz, Vulnerabilities was inspired by a chance meeting with a homeless vet searching in vain for a power outlet to juice his electric wheelchair. Mizell’s inspiration for the hypnotically echoing The View From Above came from a NASA photo of the earth from space, which had been deleted by the time Mizell went back to try to find it again. “Maybe it made America look too small for the new administration,” he relates.

We’ll Find Our Way Out of This Mess begins as a wry study in how to construct a pretty, folksy melody out of backward masking but then takes on epic, ominous proportions. Mizell, a natire Missourian, reflects on the murder of Michael Brown and the Ferguson protests in A Turning Point, an echoey, edgy, bluesy number akin to what David Gilmour could have done if he’d played on Quincy Jones’ In the Heat of the Night soundtrack. The album comes full circle with Decisions, a brighter, more optimistic series of variations on the opening theme. It’s a great late-night listen.

Shapeshifting Art-Rockers Changing Modes Put Out Their Most Savagely Brilliant Record Yet

Changing Modes aren’t just one of the most instantly recognizable rock bands in the world: they’re also one of the best. Over the past ten years or so, they’ve put out an increasingly brilliant succession of sharply lyrical, mind-warpingly eclectic albums that span from quirky new wave to majestic art-rock to ferocious punk. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call them the American Pulp – or to call Pulp the British Changing Modes. The big news about the group’s latest album, What September Brings – streaming at Spotify – is that keyboardists and co-frontwomen Wendy Griffiths and Grace Pulliam, guitarist/bassist Yuzuru Sadashige and drummer Timur Yusef have been bolstered by the addition of baritone saxophonist Sawa Tamezane. The new release is also arguably the band’s angriest and most political record yet (think about that title for a second). Griffiths has a short fuse when it comes to narcissists, and she torches several here. Changing Modes are playing the album release show on Sept 20 at 8 PM at Arlene’s; cover is $10. It’s impossible to think of a more entertaining, consistently surprising Friday night rock act anywhere in New York right now.

The album’s opening track, Days, could be described as noir new wave Motown circus rock, but that’s only scratching the surface of how artfully the band blend those styles. The two women’s voices harmonize eerily over an uneasy, altered waltz, the sax adding a deliciously smoky undercurrent:

These are the days I never spent with you
Black eyes and broken wings
White lies don’t give away
Black eyes and broken wings
Butterflies don’t miss a day

Pretty Poisonous has gritty guitar majesty balancing those carnivalesque keys, an allusively snide slap upside the head of real estate bubble-era yuppies. With blippy Wurlitzer, fuzz bass and sarcastic ba-ba harmonies, Tightrope is a delicious dis aimed at a phone-fixated drama queen: It also might be the funniest song Griffiths has ever written.

Corey Booker Blues is not about the mayor and erstwhile candidate: it’s a slinky instrumental, sort of a mashup of Henry Mancini and mid-70s King Crimson, dedicated to Griffiths’ cat – that was his name when she got him from the shelter. Next, the band keep the shapeshifting menace going with another instrumental, 2 1/2 Minutes to Midnight, with some tremolo-picked savagery and more than a hint of heavy metal growl from Sadashige

The band romp lickety-split through 250 Smiles, a sardonic sendup of a catty girl whose “tiny lies accessorize.” Then Pulliam flips the script with January, a pensive tale of abandonment set to an insistent, ornate solo piano backdrop.

Rocket, a sinister surveillance state parable, brings to mind X at their most rockabillyish: “Tell me why the failsafe signal failed/Tell me why the driver never broke a sweat,” Griffiths wants to know. Fueled by Amy Boyd’s shivery violin, Alexander Springs is a more psychedelic take on classic, lush mid-70s ELO, laced with brooding Aimee Mann cynicism:

Wasted summer days on village greens
You wait to see what September brings ‘cause
You’ve been down that lonely road before

Fire has backbeat stomp from Yusef, wary chromatics from Tamezane and Griffiths’ most savagely dystopic lyrics here:

In the line of fire
There’s no reality
As they watch you on their flat screens
A blip is all they see
Caught by friendly fire
As drones divide the sky
You’ll just give in if you never ask why

The cynicism reaches redline in Glide, a sardonically twinkly boudoir soul-tinged nocturne, Griffiths fixing her crosshairs on slacker apathy. The band reach back toward circus rock, with a little Beatles, in Potassium and Riboflavin, a strutting kiss-off number. They close the record with Night Loop, recalling Ennio Morricone’s Taxi Driver score as much as Angelo Badalamenti’s David Lynch theme music. It’s going to be awfully hard to choose any album other than this as the best of 2019 at this point.

A Rare Live Show by Composer Christopher Marti’s Intense, Cinematic Postrock Project

Guitarist Christopher Marti is best known for his film scores. But he also has a pummeling, epically vast postrock instrumental project, Cosmic Monster. He’s released several albums under that group name over the years, and he’s bringing that project to do an improvisational show tonight, Sept 5 at 6 PM at Holo in Ridgewood. What’s more, the show is free, and since it’s so early, you still have time to get home on the L train before the nightly L-pocalypse begins.

To get a sense of what Marti does with Cosmic Monster, give a listen to their eponymous 2014 six-track ep up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. The ominously titled first track, Strontium 90 – inspired by the Fukushima disaster three years previously, maybe? – has a pounding attack and multitracked guitars that strongly evoke Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth, coalescing out of enigmatic close harmonies to a straightforward, anthemic chorus and then retreating.

Electric Battle Masterpiece has a watery 80s dreampop vibe – it could be Sleepmakeswaves covering a track from the Church’s Seance album. Marti brings back the vintage SY feel for Monster/Monster, awash in vigorously slamming tremolo-picked chords and big bass/drums crescendos, then returns to punchy Aussie-style spacerock with Answers From Space.

Ten Thousand Pink Satellites is both the densest and most concise track here, a spacier take on My Bloody Valentine. Marti winds up the album with the evilly majestic The Deep Blue Sleep, part Big Lazy noir surf, part coldly drifting deep-space tableau, part crawling Mogwai menace. It’s anybody’s guess what Marti might do in Queens, flying without a net, but it’s a good bet it might sound like all of the above.

Looking Back on a Surreal Interpretation of One of the Ugliest Periods in American History

By reflecting humanity back on itself and questioning the status quo, isn’t art subversive by definition?

Are those who merely mimic the inherently questioning nature of art selling themselves short…or, even worse, perpetuating an evil system by evading their duty to subvert it?

Was Emma Goldman any less of a revolutionary because she had limousine liberal friends who helped her out in a pinch?

Woody Guthrie and Roger Waters, two of the most popular antifascist artists of the past hundred years, dedicated themselves to concretizing their messages in the simplest, most impactful terms. Is an artist whose message is less straightforward missing an opportunity to create a powerful movement, or contribute to it?

Ted Hearne’s 2015 album The Source – streaming at Bandcamp – raises all of those questions. He’s singing as part of this year’s Resonant Bodies Festival of avant garde vocal music at Roulette on a triplebill on Sept 4 at 7:30 PM with enigmatic singer/percussionist Anais Maviel and indie classical star Kate Soper. Advance tix are $20.

There seems to be more autotune on this record than there is in the entire Disney pop catalog from the last two decades. But maybe Hearne is using autotune subversively – or at least sarcastically. Introduced slowly as a way for a rapidly shrinking corporate music industry to completely eliminate humans (other than computer programmers) from what was then salable product, autotune can also be used by used to evade speech recognition technology.

Mark Doten’s lyrics are a primarily a pastiche of Wikileaks Iraq War transcriptions and quotes from whistleblower heroine Chelsea Manning, set to Hearne’s sometimes kinetic, sometimes uneasily fragmentary art-rock, which often recalls the Bang on a Can All-Stars. The two grab the rope left behind by the (mostly) nameless war criminals exposed by Manning and Julian Assange and lets them hang themselves.

For those who’ve kept up with the news, this is a familiar, ugly story. The suite shifts dissociatively from Pink Floyd-style channel-surfing samples, to a verbatim account of failed American diplomacy in Asia, a fleeting mention of American troops buying prisoners from human traffickers, and graphic references to torture.

There’s a cruelly prophetic interview with Assange over stark, maddeningly syncopated strings and more than a hint of sarcastic rock bombast; a slowly cantering, quasi-metal dirge fueled by Taylor Levine’s guitar and Greg Chudzik’s bass; and a bit of faux disco floating from Nathan Koci’s keys along with  the trio of violinist Courtney Orlando, violist Anne Lanzilotti, and cellist Leah Coloff. A similarly brief detour into quasi-renaissance polyphony is just as savagely snarky. The album winds up with an angst-fueled, crescendoing mini-epic told in Manning’s voice, tracing her life from preschool ousider to increasingly imperiled freedom fighter.

Obviously, Hearne and the rest of the crew on the record deserve credit for having the guts to tackle the issue at all. Whether they could have spread the word further if the music was more accessible is open to debate. However, it’s also important to consider that the indie classical audience Hearne has enjoyed for more than decade is largely Republican. Maybe this record has done more work for a vital cause that might seem apparent.

Blissing Out With Fabian Almazan at the Jazz Standard

This past evening at the Jazz Standard, pianist Fabian Almazan and his trio played a lustrous, glimmering set of nocturnes with the same epic gravitas as his larger-ensemble work. It was a show to get lost in.

Almazan’s lefthand attack can have every bit as much intricacy and nimble glisten as his whirlwind righthand, but the material in this set – comprising much of his latest, lavishly gorgeous, ecologically-themed album The World Abounds with Life – was typically anchored by sometimes fiery, sometimes broodingly resonant pools of chords or hypnotically circling, trickily percussive lefthand riffs.

More often than not, bassist Linda May Han Oh – Almazan’s significant other – would double those riffs, or at least the rhythm, although she took one of the night’s most unselfconsciously plaintive solos, bowing up to an angst-fueled peak in what could have been the show’s most emblenatic number, Drummer Henry Cole opened that one solo with a steady, elegantly tumbling stroll, finally hinting at a famously canine Led Zep groove. Were the band going to go there? As it turns out, no, Almazan following what would become a familiar pattern, circling staccato phrases lightly enhanced by an echo effect, bookending expansive, lush cascades and long, neoromantic chordal brescendos over a shapeshifting beat.

They opened the night with Benjamin – named after the cynical donkey in George Orwell’s Animal Farm – following a similar pattern. The fluttery electronics, which Almazan would typically set a quarter note behind the beat, added textures that during the sparest passages were surreal, and when the notes flying from Almazan’s fingers grew torrential, created a parallel storm. Sometimes this echoed Ikue Mori’s live sampling with artists like Satoko Fujii. The challenge to the rhythm section to stay undistracted must have been considerable but Oh and Cole didn’t waver.

The highlight of the night was The Everglades, an epic salute to Almazan’s refuge as an angst-ridden Cuban immigrant growing up in Florida. Building an increasingly stormy upward drive out of the murk, then going fullscale orchestral with the electronics, Almazan finally brought it down to a long, hushed, tender calm, a moody salute to an imperiled old haunt. The rest of the set was more kinetic, but the rapturous effect lingered: after awhile, it seemed like one long symphony, warmly enveloping passages alternating with frenetically circling interludes.

Almazan’s going to be on the road, in both the US and Europe, for awhile; his next gig is with trumpeter Terence Blanchard’s Art Blakey project at the Detroit Jazz Festival on Sept 1.

Epic Bustle and Thump and Entertainment From the Uncategorizably Fun NYChillharmonic at Joe’s Pub

Was it worth leaving this year’s Charlie Parker Festival early to catch the NYChillharmonic last night at Joe’s Pub? Absolutely. Who knows, maybe someday singer/keyboardist Sara McDonald’s lavish eighteen-piece big band will play the festival – although the lineup that day will have to be a lot more forward-looking than it was yesterday evening.

McDonald’s music is easy to trace back to the wildly syncopated early 70s art-rock of bands like Genesis, although her compositions also draw on classical music, big band jazz, Radiohead and lately, classic soul music and even disco. Huddled together on the cabaret-sized stage, the mighty group were tight as a drum throughout a pummeling, nonstop performance heavy on the beat.

The staggered, staccato pulse of the opening number set the tone and was the most evocative of 70s psychedelia. Like the rest of the songs on the bill, it was pretty much through-composed, reaching a white-knuckle intensity with a series of rhythmic shrieks toward the end. McDonald typically finds more surprising places to take an audience – and her bandmates – than simply coming back to land on a verse or a chorus. Often but not always, the band would bring starkly moody intros full circle to close a tune, whether voice and keys, voice and guitar, or even voice and tuba.

With a vocal delivery that came across as more chirpy and biting than it’s been in recent months, McDonald sang resonantly while spiraling through tightly wound arpeggios on a mini-synth. Then she’d spin and conduct the ensemble, then return to the mic and keys, and made it look easy.

She explained that she’d written the night’s second number, Living Room, after quitting her shitty dayjob. Maybe some organization like Chamber Music America can step in and help her stay away from shitty dayjobs so she can concentrate on what she does best.

That particular number began as a restlessly propulsive soul anthem bulked up to orchestral proportions, with unexpectedly hushed, halfspeed interludes and a similarly sepulcutral outro, flitting out on the wings of the group’s string section. With the next tune, Ambedo, the band mashed up classic 70s disco and 50s Mingus urban noir bustle, punctuated by a series of almost vexing interruptions and a wry, woozy, Bernie Worrell-style bass synth solo.

The night’s darkest and most bracing song, Wicker – which McDonald dedicated to “Ugly patio furniture everywhere” – had looming, ominous chromatics and 21st century Balkan jazz allusions, along with a deliciously jagged guitar solo and more P-Funk keyboard buffoonery. Zephyr has been considerably beefed up since the last time the group played the piece here, its chattering, uneasy intro more of a contrast with its relentlessly syncopated upward drive. It was the closest thing to orchestral Radiohead on the bill.

Easy Comes the Ghost began with circus-rock piano phantasmagoria, shifting through a polyrhythmic maze to a determined disco strut that ended sudden and cold. The group closed the show with another mashup of Radiohead, dancefloor thud and Darcy James Argue-style big band minimalism. Like Missy Mazzoli, McDonald manages to write torrential melodies without cluttering them.

Time was short, so there were no band intros. It would have been fun to have been able to stick around for brass quartet the Westerlies with crooner Theo Bleckmann, but sometimes life takes you elsewhere…humming riffs from this shapeshifting crew which this time included Alden Helmuth on alto sax, Jasper Dutz and Jared Yee on tenor, Drew Vanderwinckel on baritone, Ben Seacrist and Michael Sarian on trumpets, Nick Grinder and Nathan Wood on trombones, Jennifer Wharton on tuba, Kiho Yutaka and Dorothy Kim on violin, Will Marshall on viola, Sasha Ono on cello, Eitan Kenner on electric piano, Steven Rogers on guitar, Adam Neely on bass and Dani Danor on drums.

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.