New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Category: dance music

Nation Beat Bring Carnaval to Mardi Gras, and Vice Versa

Before the lockdown, Brooklyn group Nation Beat had a long run as one of New York’s top party bands, mixing up Brazilian sounds with New Orleans second-line shuffles, Americana, and in the early days, even surf rock. Happily, this rotating cast of musicians from around the world is are still together and releasing records. Their new album The Royal Chase – streaming at Bandcamp – is their most New Orleans-flavored and best release yet.

The opening number, Forró de Dois Amigo has Joe Correa’s sousaphone pulsing behind drummer’bandleader Scott Kettner’s surprisingly subtle mashup of Brazilian and Mardi Gras shuffle beats, reggae-tinged, bronzed horns, and solos from trombonist Mariel Bildstein and tenor sax player Paul Carlon. That sets the stage for the rest of the album.

Morô Omim Má has a more hypnotic groove, with resonant horns and spare guitar, Rob Curto’s organ anchoring a pensive Mark Collins trumpet solo. The album’s title track has a brisk strut: it’s practically ska, a mashup of rustic 19th century marching band music and a little dub.

They follow with a muscular, brassy reinventino of the Meters’ Hey Pocky Way with impassioned vocals and a slinky tuba solo. The group edge back toward reggae with the moodily vamping, minor-key Paper Heart, a brooding trombone solo at the center.

Forró no Escuro is a playful blend of Brazilian forro rainforest folk with bright frevo brass band flavor and more than a hint of calypso: down in the tropics, sounds get around fast. Ciranda for Lia is the album’s most lyrical number, a syncopated, pulsing ballad: it’s a song Grover Washington Jr. could have heard back in the 80s and thought to himself, “I’ve got to cover that.”

A tricky circling sax riff kicks off the jubilantly strutting, bluesy Big Chief, a launching pad for bright trumpet and suave trombone solos. With its rapidfire, icepick rhythm, Feira de Mangaio is the most specifically Brazilian tune here, although the sousaphone adds beefy flavor from further north.

Algunas Cantan has gentle Portuguese lead vocals from “Carolina Mama” over what sounds like an African balafon. The band wind up the record with Roseira do Norte, its pounding maracatu beat, jubilant brassiness and hints of vintage Burning Spear.

Playful, Gently Trippy Dance Tunes and Neosoul From Kalbells

Kalbells play psychedelic funk and neosoul. They’re a road-warrior supergroup: Rubblebucket’s Kalmia Traver fronts the band with her cheery, chipper vocals, alongside Okkervil River keyboardist Sarah Pedinotti, Angelica Bess of Body Language and drummer Zoë Brecher of Hushpuppy. Their new album Max Heart is streaming at Bandcamp. This stuff is all about trippy textures and messing with your head: airy highs, reverb and uncluttered dance beats all figure into their web of sound. This is a good party record but it works just as well as chillout music.

Lush string synth joins the twinkly electric piano, Bernie Worrell-esque keyb flourishes, and fluttering flute in the opening track, Red Marker, Traver’s bandmates’ harmonies wafting behind her vocals. The song seems to be about picking up the pieces and moving on.

Traver testifies gently to the therapeutic effects of blowing some notes out into the street in Flute Windows Open In the Rain, exchanging phrases with thoughtful sax over an altered oldschool disco groove. Purplepink has a muted but resolutely funky strut and a slit-eyed, sunbaked guitar solo.

Twinkling keys return over a spare, steady beat and increasingly lush keys in Poppy Tree. Dancing along over some catchy bass octaves, Hump the Beach is just as hypnotic as it is catchy.

Pickles is the album’s funniest track: without giving anything away, it’s metaphorical and features a cameo by hip-hop artist Miss Eaves.

Brecher supplies an elegantly rattling Afrobeat rhythm to anchor the blippy, playful textures of Bubbles. Big Lake is closer to four-on-the-floor, with a catchy, leaping bassline and enveloping harmonies.

Diagram of Me Sleeping is a slow jam that gets funnier the more closely you listen to the lyrics – although that whistling is annoying. The band wind up the album with the defiantly anthemic, whimsically ornamented title track.

Punchy Afrobeat Grooves From Surefire Sweat

Toronto band Surefire Sweat play a very tight, purposeful style of Afrobeat. Solos are short and succinct, the grooves a little heavier and more focused than most acts who jam out African-flavored funk. Their debut album is streaming at Bandcamp.

They open with Threshold, a brassy stomp built around an assertive, repetitive riff from tenor saxophonist Elena Kapeleris (their not-so-secret weapon here), baritone saxophonist Paul Metcalfe and trumpeter Brad Eaton.

Set to bandleader/drummer Larry Graves and bassist Liam Smith’s soukous-flavored groove, For All the Times I Never Came to See You has similarly punchy horn riffage and a bright, spiraling solo from Kapeleris.

The rhythms grow trickier and more loping in Sunshine Interference, with a jaggedly allusive guitar solo from Paul MacDougall. A Tale of Two Times is moodier and a lot closer to vintage Fela, Kapeleris’ long, pensive solo at the center. The band build RH Factor, a bright, cheery tune, around exchanges between Graves and percussionist Dave Chan along with a spacious trumpet solo.

The album’s catchiest and darkest number, On the Phrynge has some cool, subtle rhythmic shifts around an uneasy, trilling Kapeleris solo. Number Nine, a shout-out to longtime Fela drummer Tony Allen, slowly grows more complex, with accents from the whole band shifting through the mix. They close the record with Scuffle Strut, a slow New Orleans funk tune set to a pretty straight-up rock beat.

Catchy, Purist New Orleans-Tinged Funk and Soul From Will Bernard

The reason why you see so little guitar jazz on this page is that so many guitarists go into jazz as an excuse to noodle. On the other side of the equation, there are a few guitarists like Will Bernard, who ended up in jazz for the sake of additional opportunities to entertain, and have fun, and express a devious sense of humor. His latest album Freelance Subversives is a killer party record: you can fire it up at Bandcamp and dance to everything on it. As it goes along, it gets more psychedelic.

This time out Bernard breathes new life into a well-loved style: timeless, vintage 60s New Orleans funk. The album opens with Pusher Danish, a tightly clustering, catchy Meters-esque tune set to the punchy quasi-Motown beat of bassist Ben Zwerin and drummer Eric Kalb, Eric Finland’s swirly B3 organ and starry Wurlitzer overhead along with the bandleader’s lingering soul licks and purist Jim Hall riffage.

Back Channel comes across as a turbocharged Booker T tune, Finland’s torrents behind Bernard’s gritty, distorted, sustained lines and slinky wah-wah rhythm. Raffle has biting twin guitar leads, a terse, straight-ahead funk bassline from Jeff Hanley, plus sly, smoky tenor and baritone sax from special guest Skerik.

Blue Chenille is a vampy blend of Hollywood Hills boudoir soul with echoes of Pink Floyd and Angelo Badalamenti, Ben Stivers’ B3 organ and Rhodes overdubs twinkling beneath Bernard’s judicious slide work. How gunky is the album’s fifth track, Gunk? Bernard’s hazy layers of overdubs over a tongue-in-cheek, growling wah bassline from Zwerin could qualify; Jay Rodriguez reaches for the sky with a brief tenor sax break right before the end.

Driven by Moses Patrou’s clip-clop percussion, Clafunj is a psychedelic latin lowrider soul groove with tasty, crescendoing gospel organ from guest John Medeski. Bernard sticks with the latin soul for the album’s strutting title track, its hints of Shadows space-surf and Floydian galactic drift.

The lowrider groove won’t stop with Lifer; Stivers’ keening Farfisa and Bernard’s Beatles allusions add a devious Chicha Libre psychedelic cumbia feel. The album’s most psychedelic nugget, Garage A comes across as a mashup of Booker T and a classic Peruvian chicha group like Los Destellos taking a stab at a War tune.

The group move back toward New Orleans with Skillset, fueled by Finland’s torrential organ, Rodriguez’s sax and Bernard’s sagacious blues phrasing. They close with We the People, mashing up the Meters, Pink Floyd and the space side of the Ventures into a go-go theme. Bernard has played on an awful lot of good records over the years and this could be the best of all of them.

Playful, Bouncy, Quirky 80s-Influenced Sounds From Pom Poko

Pom Poko like big, simple riffs, noisy guitar and keyboard accents, a steady, danceable beat and 80s sonics. Sometimes that means new wave, sometimes the bracing, in-your-face side of the Pixies. Frontwoman Ragnhild Fangel sings in a chirpy high soprano over a generally bouncy, often rather spare mix anchored by  Jonas Krøvel’s similarly terse bass and Ola Djupvik’s drums. Their new album Cheater is streaming at Bandcamp.

They open with the title track, a skittish, minimalist, skronky strut fueled by Martin Miguel Tonne’s jagged Gang of Four guitars. The group switch on a dime between buzzy and spare in LIke a Lady, like Goldfrapp with guitars instead of synths, a contrast they revisit a little later with Look.

The third track, Andrew, has blippy new wave keyboard and guitar accents and some rhythmic trickiness. The band shift between lo-fi sparseness, My Sharona octaves and a lickety-split punk stomp in My Candidacy.

Sparse, watery guitars give Danger an icy dreampop edge, with echoes of Siouxsie but also calypso. Andy Go to School comes across as math-y late 70s XTC with a woman out front, at least until the straight-ahead punk chorus kicks in. Baroque Denial is much the same with fuzz bass taking the place of the guitar roar.

Curly Romance is the closest thing here to classic powerpop, and the album’s most unselfconsciously catchy number. They close with Body Level, built around a catchy, circling bass riff. It’s hard to tell what these songs are about, other than dancing and having fun, two things that we need to be doing a lot more these days.

Pure Escapism From Cuushe

Isn’t it really weird that there was so much happy, upbeat music released in 2020, the worst year in human history? That’s because it was all made in 2019…or at least before the lockdown. Case in point: Cuushe, AKA Mayuko Hitotsuyanagi and her twinkly, pillowy new album Waken, streaming at Bandcamp. Most of this one could have been made before 9/11, before Facebook, youtube, Myspace or even the Y2K scam. You want escapism, this is your jam.

The opening number comes across as late 90s Missy Elliott in a particularly lighthearted interlude, taking a stab at trip-hop electro from five years earlier. The second track, Magic looks back ten years before then to glossy new wave pop, synthesized strings gusting and shimmering over a techy bounce.

Cuushe’s airy voice sails over blippy dancefloor beats and icy, playfully layered layers of upper-register keyb multitracks in Emergence. Not to Blame is all melting-plastic neosoul, while Nobody sounds like somebody’s sampler went on the blink during the mixing process.

Drip is aptly titled: burying those autotuned vocals behind all the keys was a good idea. Cuushe winds up the album with Beautiful, a slow jam with what sounds like an out-of-tune koto riff popping up here and there, and then Spread, a glistening, rainswept summer evening trip-hop tune.

Smart, Politically Woke Party Music From Los Mocosos

Old ska bands never die: the party never stops. Look at the Skatalites. They invented ska, and even as they lost some members along the way – starting early, with Don Drummond – they had a fifty-year career. Los Mocosos have a long, long way to go before they get that far, but don’t rule them out. And they play a lot more than just ska. Their latest album, wryly titled All Grown Up, is streaming at Bandcamp.

Throughout the record, the band switch between English and Spanish, typically in the same song. They start out with the party songs and get more political as the album goes along. They open with the title cut, a catchy minor-key mashup of rocksteady, salsa and ska. “‘I’m just here to play my tunes, get your body to move and get all the ladies,” frontman Juan Ele sings in a resonant croon with a strong resemblance to Steel Pulse’s David Hinds.

Speaking of classic reggae, the second track, United We Stand, immediately brings to mind Bob Marley’s Exodus, right down to Steve Carter’s slinky organ, Happy Sanchez’s tightly clustering bassline and the punchy brass section. It’s a reminder that we’re one big nation of immigrants who need to stick together and fight, or else we’re all in trouble.

Mirala is a psychedelic cumbia party tune with balmy horns and a little reggaeton. Ready for the Weekend shifts back and forth between a turbocharged oldschool disco groove and a ska bounce. Then the band hit a simmering roots reggae pulse and make their way into a Sympathy For the Devil-style sway in Caminos, an anthem for hardworking strugglers everywhere.

They slow things down even further with the twinkling retro rock ballad Memories of Love and then give themselves a shout-out with the salsa-ska theme Viva Los Mocosos. Ele contemplates how an immigrant fits into a neighborhood and its history with It’s All Good, a brooding mashup of lowrider funk, oldschool soul and hip-hop.

The album’s most defiant track is Libre, a big, soaring rocksteady anthem. They close with Brothers & Sisters, a call for unity. It’s been a brutal year, and it’s been a long time since there’s been any party music on this page. Feels good to know bands like this still exist.

Revisiting One of the Zeros’ Defining Bedroom Albums

Today is all about zeros nostalgia. Since nostalgia is the enemy of history, let’s put this in historical context. Goldfrapp’s third album Supernature came out in 2005. There wasn’t much to celebrate that year, globally speaking. The Bush regime was dropping thousands of tons of depleted uranium on Iraq, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians and dooming generations to a plague of birth defects. Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerberg was scheming up ways to turn his campus photoblogging service into the world’s most dangerous surveillance system. But at least Napster was still going strong, opening up a world of music that millions around the world never would have discovered otherwise.

To commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the album’s initial release, it’s been remastered and reissued on green gatefold vinyl, and you can hear it at Spotify. Throughout the record, singer Alison Goldfrapp’s breathy vocals have been left as sultry as they were on the original release, although Will Gregory’s many layers of simple, catchy, playfully psychedelic keys seem more balanced, less dancefloor-oriented than on the cd.

Revisiting the album, the influence of early 80s new wave acts like Missing Persons, Yaz and early Madonna is more vivid than ever. And the songs are a trip, from Ride a White Horse, the duo’s thinly veiled ecstasy anthem, to Number 1, the motorik New Order ripoff that closes the record. In between, the duo’s frontwoman shows off her upper registers in You Never Know (a song that would be autotuned if it was released by a corporate label in 2020), descends to a seductive whisper in the loopy Let It Take You and purrs over the catchy synth bass in Fly Me Away.

Who can forget the cheery, completely deadpan Slide In? If you were around back then, maybe you slid in or smoked up to the woozy, P-Funkesque textures of Coco, the pogo-sticking Satin Chic or the drifty, oscillating Time Out From the World. In the time since, the two have stayed together – and why wouldn’t they? Their New York shows over the past several years have gotten more and more stratospherically expensive.

The album gets extra points for its effectiveness as a weapon to get noisy neighbors to shut up. Played on a sufficiently powerful system, those icy, bassy electronic beats really cut through the the walls and ceiling.

Amazing, Surreal, Psychedelic Sounds From the Brazilian Amazon

The new compilation Jambú e Os Míticos Sons Da Amazônia – streaming at Bandcamp – is a collection of surreal, psychedelic dance music from northern Brazil in the 70s. Its epicenter was Belem, at the mouth of the Guamá river, which connects the area deeper in the Amazon with the Atlantic. There’s a lot of similarity between what the Peruvians and Brazilians were doing at the time, a cross-pollination facilitated by the airwaves.Yet it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard before unless you were around at the time it was popular, or know someone who’s obsessed with it. Where the Peruvians namechecked their local spirits and psychedelic plants, these Brazilians are more likely to reference the Yoruban gods along with their own indigenous flora.

This is a vast playlist of rare records, nineteen tracks in all. The first one, Pinduca’s Vamos Farrear is pretty primitive: just tinny minor-key rhythm guitar, boomy bass, percussion, bizarrely oompahing trombone and a sax solo out. The percussionist/bandleader’s second number, Pai Xangô, is a diptych and much closer to chicha, with spare, trippy wah-wah leads. Yet neither song hints at the jazz influences in his third track here, Coco Da Bahia.

Os Muiraquitãns’ A Misturada could be a mashup of vallenato and salsa….or simply a carimbo dance tune with muted electric guitar grafted on. Praia Do Algodoal, by Os Quentes de Terra Alta is the most rustically thumping, acoustic number here, a lusciously chromatic trumpet solo at the center.

Janjão’s bouncy sailor song Meu Barquinho begins with one of the album’s trippiest interludes, a strangely dissociative women’s choir. Messias Holanda’s wedhead anthem O Galo Canta, O Macaco Assovia and Vieira e Seu Conjunto’s Lambada Da Baleia could be Peruvian legends Juaneco y Su Combo with Portuguese lyrics. The question is who stole what from whom?

Verequete e O Conjunto Uirapurú are represented by the brisk, smoky sax-driven Mambo Assanhado and Da Garrafa Uma Pinga. O Conjunto De Orlando Pereira also have two tracks here, the spooky organ-driven Maruda and Carimbó Para Yemanjá.

A second Messias Holanda number, Carimbó Da Pimenta has distant echoes of reggae. Track number two by Vieira e Seu Conjunto, Melô Do Bode, has the most gorgeously spiky guitar here and is arguably the highlight of the record.

There are two Grupo da Pesada tune here: Võa Andorinha sounds like a scampering, electrified Veracruz folk tune, while the woefully out-of-tune Lundun Da Yaya is more of a salsa tune. There’s also the biting, chicha-tinged Xangô, by Magalhães e Sua Guitarra and Mestre Cupijó e Seu Ritmo’s tumbling, darkly careening Despedida. What an incredible service Analog Africa have done to help rescue these amazing sounds from obscurity.

Surreal, Entertaining, Strangely Cinematic Themes on Curtis Hasselbring’s New Album

Curtis Hasselbring may be best known as one of the mostly highly sought-after trombonists in the New York jazz scene, but he also plays a lot of other instruments. As a guitarist, he has a very distinctive, jagged style and impeccable taste in late 70s/early 80s postpunk and new wave. He’s been involved with innumerable projects over the years, but his most psychedelic one is Curha, his mostly one-man band. Hasselbring’s music has always been defined by his sense of humor, but this is where you’ll find some of his funniest songs. The brand-new Curha II album is streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening track, Casa Grande is a tongue-in-cheek surf tune with neatly intertwining guitars and keening funeral organ, Dan Reiser supplying a low-key beach-party beat. He sticks around for the second track, Togar, an outer-space Motown theme, guest guitarist Brandon Seabrook mimicking the squiggle of the keys.

Hasselbring keeps the sci-fi sonics going in Sick of Ants!: listen closely to the watery guitar and you’ll catch his appreciation for the late, great John McGeoch of Siouxsie & the Banshees and PiL. How airy is Blimp Enthusiast, a rare vocal number? Not particularly, but this quasi trip-hop song is very funny.

The blippy Blaster comes across as a motorik tv theme on whippits. With its loopy low-register piano and clip-clop beats, Soap makes even less sense until Peter Hess’ bass clarinet ushers in a somber mood for a second. Hasselbring’s trombone appears distinctly for the first time in Murgatroid, a clever mashup of 70s disco, outer-space theme and early new wave.

With its intricately dancing web of guitar multitracks, the rather disquieting MMS has echoes of early 80s Robert Fripp; then Hasselbring takes it further toward acid jazz. He goes back to lo-fi motorik minimalism with Totally Hired, then shifts toward spare, 90s electro-lounge with History of Vistas.

He closes the album with the coyly tiptoeing Her Pebble Fusion and then Blown Bubble Blues, which is kind of obvious but irresistibly fun. Hip-hop artists in need of far-out samples need look no further. You don’t have to be high to enjoy this, but it couldn’t hurt.