New York Music Daily

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Category: ethiopian music

Ethio-Jazz Soul Singer Meklit Airs Out Her Brilliant Forthcoming Album at Lincoln Center

Last night at Lincoln Center, Meklit came to conquer. Rocking a sassy kente cloth skirt and black top, the ex-Brooklynite Ethio-jazz belter bounded and whirled across the stage, singing in both English and Amharic, leading a tight six-piece band through a passionate, fiery, subtly relevant mix of mostly new songs from her forthcoming album When the People Move, the Music Moves Too. Freed from behind her acoustic guitar – at least for most of the set – she’s found new vocal power in her low register, and commands the stage like never before. It’s hard to believe that the artist formerly known as Meklit Hadero – her full name – got her start in the cautious, sedate world of singer-songwriters.

While her work has always drawn on her Ethiopian roots, her newest material goes deeper into that nation’s joyously cantering, brassy dance music from the 60s and 70s. “Ethio-jazz in 2017!” was the mantra throughout the night’s most explosively kinetic number, I Want to Sing For Them All, a shout-out to influences ranging from the golden-age hip-hop she grew up with and found kinship in, to Coltrane and Mulatu Astatke, among many others. Drummer Colin Douglas and percussionist Marco Peris Coppola negotiated the song’s twists and turns with a steely precision as bassist Sam Bevan bubbled behind the searing, thrilling, trilling chomatic harmonies of tenor saxophonist Howard Wiley and trumpeter DeAndre Schaifer. It was a visceral validation of George Clinton’s observation about how freedom begins in the lower extremities.

In between songs, there was silence, and Meklit let it linger, choosing her thoughts like she chooses her spots as a singer. “Welcome to my living room!” she beamed as the second line-tinged groove of You Are My Luck got underway, an irrepressibly shuffling shout-out to the power of love as fuel for the struggle. She bookended her roughly hourlong set with a couple of bracing Ethio-jazz numbers, the first with a trick ending and a tantalizingly brief Wiley solo, the closing number a careening, pulsing take of the first Ethiopian number Miriam Makeba learned for her initial trip to that country in the 1960s.

They reinvented an Erykah Badu pop hit as Ethiopiques, with a still, suspenseful intro that gave way to spine-tingling microtonal horn riffage. One of the new songs, Supernova was akin to the Sometime Boys tackling Ethiopian funk, with Meklit’s most powerful, dramatic vocal of the night. “In case you’re ever feeling ordinary, remember you were born in a supernova,” she mused beforehand.

Musically speaking, the high point of the evening was an insistent minor-key anthem, part Ethiopiques, part Aretha, with a long, feral, microtonal Wiley solo that began with aching sirening effects and eventually picked up with volley after volley of chromatics and microtones. Then Meklit plugged in her krar harp for a number she hoped would be as hypnotic to the crowd as it is to her, an argument that held. Then she flipped the script with her own wryly sunny happy-birthday song, a welcome alternative to what you hear blasting from the speakers in East Village Indian restaurants.

The triumphantly crescendoing, anthemic, soukous-tinged This Was Made Here peaked out with a long, riveting, trilling trumpet solo fueled by Schaifer’s circular breathing. “I’m not going to wait, and I’m not going away,” Meklit belted. Throughout the set, Bevan – switching from standup and five-string Fender, and then back – impressed with his ability to be busy but not obtrusive, playing lots of variations on bouncy octaves. Coppola, with a big Indian dhol bass drum slung over his shoulder, handled the tricky metrics in tandem with Douglas and Bevan. At one point the drummers left their posts to bang on the bass strings for a solo: this group has as much fun onstage as their bandleader. The next stop on their current US tour is tonight, April 7 at 8 PM at World Cafe, 500 N. Market St. in Wilmington, Delaware.

The atrium space at Lincoln Center is where most of the most happening shows there take place – it’s an easy place to call home away from home. The next one is on April 20 at 7:30 PM with psychedelic Colombian champeta dance band Tribu Baharu.

More Creepy, Psychedelic Soundtrack Magic from Morricone Youth

You’re going to be hearing a lot of Morricone Youth in the next year, and not just here. Prolific guitarist/composer Devon E. Levins’ ominously psychedelic film soundtrack outfit are off to a good start with their planned marathon fifteen-album cycle of original film scores they’ve performed live over the past five years. The latest in the series is the music for Lotte Reiniger’s 1926 silent The Adventures of Prince Achmed, the oldest animated feature still in existence. As with the previous release, this one’s available on limited-edition vinyl as well as digital formats. Most of it’s up at the band’s youtube channel (tracks aren’t in sequential order, but there’s a heavenly feast of noir sound here).

The title theme scatters hints of Middle Eastern modes in Dan Kessler’s dramatic funeral organ, Levins’ steely tremolo-picking finally hitting a slasher peak over altered cha-cha drums, pouncing along on a tricky 5/4 beat. Conrad Harris’ koto-like, reverbtoned pizzicato violin and Ayo Awosika’s inscrutable vocalese spice the Asian psychedelica of Chinese Emperor; then Levins takes it further into Vampiros Lesbos territory with his sunbaked, distorto lines.

Harris channels vintage Bollywood in tandem with Levins’ guitar sitar in Peri Banu. Changing Modes drummer Timur Yusef adds all sorts of eerie, jungly textures to open Maestro in Baghdad, as he frequently does throughout the album, while Kessler’s organ keens in tandem with Levins’ terse, distantly menacing Andalucian lines.

Fraser Campbell’s tenor sax channels a classic Addis Ababa riff as the elegant Maidens gets underway: Mulatu Astatke might have done something like this if John Carpenter had hired him for a horror soundtrack forty years ago. Sorcerer, the final cut, takes a completely unexpected turn into blippy Afrobeat. For a band that seems hell-bent on dumping release after release of collector vinyl onto the market, they maintain an amazingly high level of consistency: this is every bit as fun and arguably even more eclectic than the band’s just-released score to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.

A Wild Ethiopian Dance Party with Debo Band at Lincoln Center

Debo Band are Lincoln Center favorites. They’ve put on some pretty volcanic shows at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, and their performance at the atrium space there last night was as fun to watch and take in as a listener as it must have been for the dancers who packed the center of the space in front of the stage. Ethiopian dance music as a rule tends to have a hypnotic quality, and the ten-piece group’s lavish arrangements went pretty deep into psychedelia, to the point where it was sometimes hard to tell who was playing what. Was that otherworldly, oscillating lead coming from Endris Hassen’s massenqo fiddle? Nope. That was Brendon Wood’s guitar. Was that snaky, almost subsonic pulse coming from bassist PJ Goodwin, who was celebrating his birthday? No. That turned out be sousaphone player Arik Grier.

They opened with a couple of undulating triplet grooves ablaze with horns, drummer Adam Clark edging toward a classic 70s disco shuffle groove on the second number. Suave frontman frontman Bruck Tesfaye wasted no time getting rid of the mic stand in front of him to encourage the dancers to congregate closer to the stage, and they followed his lead. From there the band rose from a digeridoo-like drone as the rhythm slowly coalesced, the fiddle circling like a vulture overhead; then they lept into a briskly funky, New Orleans-tinged stomp.

To western ears, one of the most ominous-sounding, chromatically-charged numbers was fueled by cumulo-nimbus low brass, Tesfaye’s shivery, melismatic vocals and capped off by a feral Gabriel Birnbaum tenor sax solo. The song’s title? Amharic for “laughter” Like their brothers in Russia and the Balkans, Ethiopians equate minor modes with energy and excitement rather than sadness.

The first of the night’s three covers featured a wickedly catchy chromatic horn riff over a steady, driving backbeat from Clark; the band took it out with a misterioso ambience as the rhythm echoed and then disappeared.Sax player Danny Mekonnen, who’d switched from baritone to tenor, explained that the next number, based on an Okinawan folk song, was inspired by the Ethiopian soldiers sent to aid the Allies in the Korean War, who returned home with a new fondness for Asian sounds. Which make sense, considering that both Ethiopian and much of Asian music employ similar pentatonic scales.

After that, the band romped through Blue Awaze, their reinvention of Duke Elington’s Blue Pepper from the 1966 Far East Suite, the kind of mashup that the Ellington Orchestra and popular Addis Abbaba group the Police Orchestra could have jammed out the night that the American jazz icon played the city on a State Department-sponsored tour.

The crowd was full of New York music cognoscenti. Brooklyn Lutherie fiddle maven Chloe Swantner was in the house, as were at least half of blissful Morrocan trance-dance group Innov Gnawa. Tesfaye got everybody to do the Rock Lobster, up and down, B-52’s style, a couple of times. Throughout the show, there were plenty of edgy solos and some knifes-edge jousting between group members. Hassen built a swirling, upper-register tornado with his massenqo; later, accordionist Marie Abe took centerstage with her acidically shifting sheets of sound. The group wound up the roughly ninety-minute party with a couple of  fiery dancefloor numbers, each with a deliriously circling, leaping groove much in the same vein as qawwali music.

Debo Band continue on their current US tour; dates are here. The next bigtime dance party at the Lincoln Center Atrium is on Nov 17 at 7:30 PM with Brooklyn funksters Igbo opening for charismatic, EWF-influenced retro 70s soul/funk personality Boulevards. Since these events are popular, getting to the space early is always a good idea.

Hearing Things: Brooklyn’s Funnest New Band

Ever smile so hard during a show that your face hurt afterward? Hearing Things will do that to you. They’re the funnest band in Brooklyn right now. Tenor saxophonist Matt Bauder, organist/keyboardist JP Schlegelmilch and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza play bouncy, wickedly tuneful, often very dark original surf instrumentals that frequently veer into psychedelia or Ethiopiques. The trio play at 7 PM on 9/11, the centerpiece of a triplebill at their home base these days, Barbes. It’s a typical Barbes night: the segues are pretty bizarre, but the music is killer. Pianist Joel Forrester, one of the great wits in jazz and co-founder of the irrepressibly cinematic Microscopic Septet, opens the evening solo at 5. If you dig the theme to NPR’s Fresh Air – which he wrote – you’ll appreciate his sense of humor and Monk-influenced purposefulness. At around 9:30, after Hearing Things, guitarist Stephane Wrembel and his trio play his signature mix of Romany jazz, hypnotic post-Velvets psychedelia and Pink Floyd-influenced art-rock themes.

Hearing Things opened their most recent Barbes show last month by faking out the crowd with a honking, deadpan cover of Midniter, by the Champs. Sperrazza took a drum break that was more Gene Krupa than Mel Taylor, which made the song even funnier. Would this set the tone for the rest of the night? No.

Bauder opened the next number with a misterioso Ethiopian riff as Sperrazza tumbled ominously on the toms and Schlegelmilch anchored everything with creepy funeral organ. Quickly, they hit a swirly spacerock interlude and then took the song back toward enigmatic Mulatu Astatke territory over Sperrazza’s rolling triplets. The fluttery, echoey outro sounded like early Pink Floyd spun through a food processor.

The nonchalantly macabre stroll after that was a dead ringer for Beninghove’s Hangmen, bloody overotnes dripping from Schlegelmilch’s electric piano, Bauder pulling the trio back toward Addis Ababa, 1976. Then they picked up the pace with an uneasy go-go shuffle, like a John Waters soundtrack piece on brown acid, organ and sax trading menacing fours with the drums midway through, Bauder finally taking an angst-fueled spiral up to the rafters as they wound it up. Then they swung their way through another mashup of horror surf, Spudnik and Ethiopiques, evoking another excellent if now obscure New York keyboard-surf band, Brainfinger. By now, most of the room was dancing.

Introducing Hubble Brag, Bauder took a break and reached for his phone, where he pulled up the Hubble Telescope Twitter feed and proceeded to crack up the audience with a few of them. Pity the poor NASA intern stuck with that job. At the end, Bauder was laughing as hard as the crowd. “We’re mostly a music band,” he shrugged.

Sperrazza’s hushed, ominously resonant bolero groove drove the next number, Bauder’s long washes bleeding overtones over a distant river of funeral organ. They picked up the pace with another uneasily stabbing go-go tune: if the Stranglers played go-go music, they would have sounded like that. The shuffle afterward was a lot more wry and easygoing, Then they took Peter Gunne into the Apollo 5 control room before Schlegelmilch sent it spiraling off towards Doors territory, anchoring his rapidfire righthand organ with catchy lefthand keyboard bass riffage. The crowd screamed for more, but the band was out of originals. It’s hard to think of a better alternative to all the somber 9/11 memorial stuff going on this weekend.

Gato Loco’s Perilous Mambos and Noir Cinematics Capture These Dark Times

Perilous times, perilous measures, perilous bands. In an era in New York when seemingly half the population  doesn’t know if they’ll have a roof over the heads a month from now, it’s only logical to expect that the music coming out of this city at this moment would reflect that unease. Many of New York’s elite bands and artists – Karla Rose & the Thorns, Big Lazy, Rachelle Garniez, Beninghove’s Hangmen across the river, and now Gato Loco – speak for this new Age of Anxiety. Of all those bands, Gato Loco might be the loudest and most explosive.

Most bands pump up the volume with loud guitars, and Gato Loco have Lily Maase to bring that firestorm. But more than anything, Gato Loco’s sound is an update on the oldschool mambo orchestras of the 50s, emphasis on low brass. Frontman Stefan Zeniuk can be found on bass sax, baritone sax, and, ironically, mostly on tenor sax these days. “Tuba Joe” Exley brings the funk and the funny stuff (is there a tuba player alive without a sense of humor? Perish the thought). Trombonist Tim Vaughan takes over front and center since he’s often the guy with the most dynamic range; likewise, drummer Kevin Garcia supplies just as much color as groove, on his hardware and rims and cymbals and pretty much everywhere that can be hit.

Like so many of New York’s elite, Gato Loco’s home base these days is Barbes. Last month, they played a Williamsburg gig that gave them the benefit of a big stage, which was fun considering that it afforded them a lot more space to stretch out, yet didn’t compromise the intimate feel of their Park Slope gigs.

A tense, syncopated stomp introduced the show. Slowly, the horns converged with a similarly dark riff that suddenly flared into a classic Ethiopian tune: a noir latin spin on Musikawi Silt, an iconic Ethiopiques hit from the 1970s. Trumpeter Jackie Coleman fired off a plane-crash slide, then the band hit a monster-movie mambo pulse. That was just the first eight minutes or so.

Maase anchored the next song with her shadowy Brazilian riffs, a blazing Lynchian bossa of sorts, horns leaping from the shadows like flames on an old building whose landlord finally decided to show the remaining tenants the Bronx, 1970s style, the guitarist putting a tighter spin on spiraling Carlos Santana psychedelia. The highlight of the set came early with The Lower Depths, a slow, murderously slinky, blackly backlit number: the striptease theme from hell, essentially, something that wouldn’t be out of place in the Beninghove’s Hangmen catalog. Flickers of Lynchian dub and 60s Quincy Jones noir soul cinematics appeared before all hell broke loose, Vaughan contributing a long, cloudbusting major-on-minor solo. Zeniuk has been writing a lot of theatre music lately, and this is a prime example.

Likewise, with the set’s next song, the group worked a serpentine path upward through brooding exchanges of voices over Garcia’s nebulous woodblock-fueled groove, chaos threatening to break out every other measure. It was the sonic equivalent of a Sequieros mural. From there they hit a hint of dub reggae on their way to a brisk clave stomp and then more Ethiopiques fueled by Coleman’s tersely joyous blues and the bandleader’s cynically fleeting tenor sax.

Tuelo & Her Cousins opened the night with a rather epic set that drew equally on jaunty, jangly late 80s British guitar pop, oldschool soul and the exuberant, dynamic, socially aware frontwoman’s South African heritage. They’re at Union Hall on Sept 9 at 8 PM; cover is $8.

Anbessa Orchestra Plays a Killer Barbes Show, Then Heads to Red Hook

One of the most exciting concerts of this summer promises to be the twinbill on July 1 at Pioneer Works at 159 Pioneer St. in Red Hook, where sizzling Israeli-American Ethiopiques groove band Anbessa Orchestra opens for popular Ethiopian jazz bandleader/keyboardist Hailu Mergia. Realistically, there probably aren’t a lot of people outside of Red Hook who are going to go to this, but if you are in Red Hook, get your ass over to the venue and pick up an advance ticket for $20 and save yourself five bucks off the door charge. The show is advertised as beginning at 8, although things usually start on the later side here. The easiest way to get to the venue from downtown Brooklyn is to catch the B61 bus, which runs down Court St. and then takes a right on Atlantic, past Sahadi’s, and will drop you off about a block and a half from the venue.

Anbessa Orchestra played an amazing show at Barbes the Saturday night over Memorial Day weekend. They hit hard right from the start, shifting rhythms artfully from slinky to funkier as guitarist Nadav Peled fired off intricate Malian desert rock hammer-on riffs, the alto saxophonist picking things up with a bluesy, exuberant solo as the band cantered behind him. They hit a punchy, staccato minor-key Ethio-funk groove after that, Peled distinguishing himself as he would do all night, finding interesting places to go on the fretboard throughout what was basically a one-chord jam as the dancers on the floor twirled and bounced.

Fueled by Eden Bareket’s smoky baritone sax, the next number built quickly out of an ominous intro to a brisk, camelwalking triplet rhythm, balmy alto sax overhead. Considering that the blues is African and Ethiopian music is the world’s oldest, it’s no surprise to hear so much blues in this band’s music. What’s most refreshing, and ultimately makes them as catchy as they are, is that they keep things terse and purposeful and don’t overplay. The horns are tight and so is the rhythm section, and when somebody tales off on a solo, they make it count, whether Bareket’s offhandedly wild postbop spirals on this particular number, or the bubbling organ against the ominously looming horns on the similarly funky but considerably more otherworldly tune after that. A biting, puristically bluesy Wayne Tucker trumpet solo and Peled’s clanking, clenched-teeth guitar each built to an explosive peak as the music rose and fell.

The highest point of the night was when Tucker went blasting and trilling to an instant crescendo as the even mightier anthem afterward swelled and then grew quieter, Peled’s deep-desert riffage bobbing and weaving under a tightly syncopated minor-key horn chart, drummer Eran Fink and bassist Tamir Shmerling nimbly negotiating its tricky rhythm, seemingly shifting in and out of focus. Peled took it down to a quiet, darkly majestic solo interlude before the organ and rhythm section pulled it back up into the stormclouds. Then the band completely flipped the script with an easygoing, catchy, major-key, vintage Jamaican-style rocksteady tune. And that was just the first set. These are just some of the flavors they’re likely to bring to Red Hook on the first of next month.

 

A World of Great Music at Globalfest, and the Crowd Is Clueless

“Shhhh,” Simon Shaheen gently told the boisterous, largely daydrunk crowd crammed into an impossibly small ground-floor space at Webster Hall last night. Then he motioned for his nine-piece pan-Andalucian ensemble, Zafir, to stop. “I think this is disrespect,” he explained somberly, “To the people who are listening.”

That shut up the roar emanating from the back of the room for a minute or two, but then they were back at it. Which perfectly capsulizes both the lure and limitations of Globalfest.

This was the thirteenth anniversary of the annual multiple-stage festival of sounds from around the world, a spinoff of the annual January booking agents’ convention. On one hand, those guys – an older bunch whose general overindulgence at this year’s concert suggested that they haven’t been getting out much lately, at least to tie one on – can be interesting to talk to. It was lovely to be able to get Wayne Shorter biographer and NPR correspondenent Michelle Mercer’s inspiringly un-jaded take on changes in how music is being staged around the world (in Korea, promoters turn a daylong jazz festival into a picnic and in the process create thousands of new fans for the genre). It was less so to have to deal with the noise, and the overcrowding, and the most hostile security staff of any venue in the five boroughs. You usually have to go to New Jersey or Long Island for this kind of hell. How much this city has changed since the festival promoters figured out that they could make a few extra bucks if they opened the doors to the public.

Let’s be clear that the artists who play the festival don’t book themselves into it: they’re all invited. Many of them can be seen – and have been covered here in the past – in the summer at Lincoln Center Out of Doors. Wild expat Ukrainian chanteuse/keyboardist Mariana Sadovska, the even wilder New Orleans Russian folk-punk band Debauche, hypnotically kinetic Ethiopian krar harp-driven dance band Fendika and Shaheen himself have all made appearances there.

Fendika’s distinguishing characteristic among similar Ethio-folk acts is their heavy, insistent western dancefloor beat: they switch out the frequently intricate rhythmic latticework for a more straightforward approach for the sake of western audiences who don’t have a feel for those ancient and sometimes tricky beats. The crowd of dancers onstage grew as the music followed a slow trajectory upward toward fever pitch as the krar fired off simple, catchy, upbeat major-key riffs. The dancefloor was pretty empty when they started; by the time they’d finished, the club’s big main room was packed.

In the small basement studio space, Sadovska and her multi-instrumentalist bandmate – who switched in a split-second between drums, keys, what looked like a tsimbl dulcimer and a mixing board – treated the crowd to a phantasmagorical, otherworldly mashup of ancient Carpathian folk songs and eerie electroacoustic art-rock. Sadovska shifted between her trusty harmonium and an electric piano as her voice lept, soared, snarled, snorted and screamed, through a series of pretty wild old folk narratives and finally, a somberly lingering dirge that eventually rose to fullscale horror as a depiction of war in general, and in particular, ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine.

Unsurprisingly, even the wildfire noir cabaret punk antics of Debauche couldn’t upstage Shaheen. Equally erudite and thrilling on both oud and violin, he’s simply one of the world’s greatest musicians (in context: it’s probably safe to say that Kayhan Kalhor, Richard Thompson and JD Allen are operating on his level). This ensemble included oud, kanun, strings, multiple percussion plus flamenco and classical Arabic singing and dancing. Matter-of-factly and expertly, they made their way seamlessly and rivetingly through themes from Arabic, Jewish, flamenco and possibly Romany music, interwoven with biting minor keys, ominously elegant Middle Eastern modes, slowly slinking rhythms and frequent, exhilarating peaks. At the end of the show, after having to shush a disinterested crowd (that a crowd could possibly find Shaheen disinteresting speaks for itself), how did he respond to a two-minute warning from the sound guy? With one of the most bittersweetly beautiful violin solos of his life. OK, maybe not the very best one, but it was awfully good, and Shaheen showed not the slightest interest in cutting it short, going on for at least five minutes as his fan base at the front of the room looked on raptly. If that’s not punk rock, nothing is.

Although the acoustic Gogol Bordello-esque Debauche downstairs were pretty close (memo to the frontguy – that incessant wolf whistle has got to go). Ultimately, where all this goes down best is in more spacious confines..like Lincoln Center Out of Doors, where everybody seems to be a lot happier and a lot less cynical, an emotion that at this festival gets contagious real fast and shouldn’t be considering the quality of the music. It’s too bad that the overall experience, year after year, doesn’t measure up.

The 50 Best Albums of 2015

Seven or eight years ago, everyone was predicting the demise of the album. That hasn’t happened, and as long as we have recording technology, it won’t. A few other predictions from the past decade, however, have come true. Albums these days tend to be shorter, and artists are releasing fewer of them. And as a result, they’re consistently better, since acts are no longer contractually obliged to record labels to churn out product regardless of whether or not they’ve got first-class material ready to go. A couple of artists on this list are on boutique labels, but everybody else is independent.

On this page you’ll find a link to stream each album in its entirety. Whenever possible, those links are to ad-free sites like Bandcamp or Soundcloud so you can multitask in comfort without having to ride the fader to mute the ads. Considering the vast number of albums released in any calendar year, you shouldn’t regard this list as gospel. It is, however, an informed survey based on careful triage followed by a sampling of several thousand releases, and then a locked-in, analytical listen to the best 500 or so, from this past January up to the present date. A LOT of time went into this. For purposes of keeping the list under control, none of the many thousands of excellent jazz, classical and avant garde releases are represented here. Realistically, there’s a limit on how much territory a single blog can cover.

The one collection that packed the most mighty wallop – a pretty quiet one, actually – and wins the title of best album of 2015 is Who’s Counting, by Rachelle Garniez. With gallows humor, terse piano, accordion and spare acoustic guitar, it’s the New York songwriter’s shortest, most intimate and darkest album, a masterpiece of existentialist rock, grim explorations of mortality and global carnage juxtaposed with jaunty, sultry, cabaret-flavored set pieces. This is the second time a release by Garniez has topped this list: her 2007 album Melusine Years ranked #1 that year at this blog’s predecessor. Stream it at Spotify

As far as the rest of this rich crop is concerned, there’s no ranking here, since there are so many styles to choose from. Seriously: what’s better? Carol Lipnik‘s otherworldly art-rock, Twin Guns’ savage garage-punk and horror surf, or Hungrytown‘s magnificently pensive folk noir? Apples and oranges, right? These albums are all so good that they can stand alongside anything here.

Les Sans Culottes- Les Dieux Ont Soif/The Gods Are Thirsty
The New York-based faux-French rockers deliver their most satirical, bitingly hilarious, spot-on critique yet…in French, of course, with a harder, more guitar-fueled edge than the retro 60s psychedelic pop they’re known for. Stream it at Soundcloud

Regular Einstein – Chimp Haven
Velvet-voiced, wickedly lyrical janglerock songwriter Paula Carino is another artist who topped the Best Albums of the Year list at this blog’s predecessor. In her case, that release was 2010’s Open on Sunday. This is her first new one – since the 90s, in fact -with her original New York band, packed with delicious double entendres, bittersweet narratives and tricky time signatures. Stream it at Bandcamp

The Bright Smoke – Terrible Towns
Haunting singer/guitarist Mia Wilson’s full-length debut with this atmospheric, blues-infused art-rock project ranks with Joy Division for angst-fueled, white-knuckle intensity. Stream it at Bandcamp

The Sideshow Tragedy Capital
Guitarist/frontman Nathan Singleton brings a ferocious, bitterly apocalyptic lyrical sensibility to his fiery gutter-blues band. Stream it at Bandcamp

Charming Disaster – Love, Crime & Other Trouble
Jeff Morris of the phantasmagorical Kotorino and Ellia Bisker of dark chamber pop band Sweet Soubrette join forces on their debut full-length release, a lyrically and historically rich mix of murder ballads and tales of relationships gone spectacularly wrong. Stream it at Bandcamp

Carol Lipnik – Almost Back to Normal
The best album by the best singer on this list, a launching pad for her spectacular four-octave vocal range, backed by luminous, hypnotic piano from Matt Kanelos and strings by Jacob Lawson. Allusive apocalyptic themes of natural and manmade disaster and post-9/11 terror linger in the distance. Stream it at Mermaidalley.com

Ember Schrag – The Folkadelphia Sessions
Hypnotically Beatlesque art-rock, smoldering Macbeth-inspired narratives and a killer Great Plains gothic anthem by the style’s most lyrical and distinctive practitioner. Stream and download it free from the Folkadelphia page

Twin Guns – The Last Picture Show
A mighty leap for the ferocious power trio, including but not limited to their Cramps-style stomp. This one’s a lot more psychedelic and noir surf-oriented. Stream it at Bandcamp

Lorraine Leckie & Pavel Cingl – The Raven Smiled
Spare and surreal yet majestically enveloping art-rock and Slavic folk noir sounds from the Canadian gothic songstress and Czech violin wizard. Stream it at Bandcamp

Rachel Mason – The Lives of Hamilton Fish
One of the darkest albums on this list, this lush, evocative mix of historically-inspired janglerock and folk noir traces the seeemingly unconnected lives of two early 20th century figures who shared the same name: a serial killer and the scion of a famous New York political legacy. Stream it at Bandcamp

King Raam – A Day & a Year
A majestic, brooding Iranian art-rock record by the pseudonymous expat baritone crooner and bandleader. Lyrics in Persian. Stream it at Soundcloud

Fernando Viciconte – Leave the Radio On
The noir rock bandleader originally hails from Argentina; this haunted, doomed concept album, with significant contributions from REM’s Peter Buck and others, could be the great lost Steve Wynn release. Stream it at Bandcamp

Litvakus– Raysn: The Music of Jewish Belarus
A rousing, exhilarating mix of rare Jewish dance numbers,lively originals and morose folk tunes from the badlands of Polesia, in the corner where Belarus, Poland, Latvia and the Ukraine meet. One of the best party albums on this list. Stream it at Bandcamp

Raya Brass Band – Raya
Another awesome party album, the third release by the New York Balkan group is their most original, stylistically and emotionally diverse one yet, incorporating Ethiopian and latin sounds into their rapidire chromatics. Stream it at Bandcamp

Tipsy Oxcart – Upside Down
A fat rock rhythm section anchors these deliriously edgy minor-key Balkan, Turkish and Jewish themes and originals. Stream it at Bandcamp

Marianne Dissard – Cologne Vier Takes
The southwestern gothic/art-rock chanteuse and bandleader at the top of her uneasy game, in a mix of richly atmospheric yet intimate versions from her darkly lyrical catalog. Lyrics in French. Stream it at Bandcamp

Tom Warnick & the World’s Fair – Side Effects
The well-loved noir rock cult figure turns in a characteristically diverse mix of ghoulabilly, noir swing, soul and blues, all with his signature black humor and a luridly smoky band behind him. Stream it at Spotify

Matt Keating – This Perfect Crime
Getting away with murder is the loosely interconnecting theme on this typically diverse blend of janglerock, Stonesy stomp, Americana and soul-infused sounds, all with Keating’s richly sardonic, literate lyricism. Stream it at Mattkeating.com

Tracy Island – War No More
The long-awaited full-length debut from captivating singer/multi-instrumentalist Liza Garelik Roure – former leader of deviously psychedelic popsters Liza & the WonderWheels – is her catchiest and most pensively colorful yet, fueled by husband Ian Roure’s sizzling lead guitar. Stream it at Lizasongs.com

Bliss Blood & Al Street – Unspun
The iconic noir torch song heroine builds lowlit, lurid, delectably lyrical ambience in an intimate duo recording with her longtime flamenco-inspired six-string guy. Stream it at Bandcamp

Orphan Jane – A Poke in the Eye
Deviously witty, creepy noir cabaret and circus rock from this irrepressibly theatrical, Brecht/Weill-inspired New York crew. Stream it at Bandcamp

The Universal Thump – Walking the Cat
Famously recorded at Abbey Road Studios, frontwoman/keyboardist Greta Gertler has never written with greater wit or purist pop chops than she does here with her lush chamber pop/art-rock project. Stream it at Bandcamp

Sarah Kirkland Snider – Unremembered
The most lavishly orchestrated album on this list features vocals from Padma Newsome and Shara Worden throughout a mix of brooding, sweeping art-rock reflections on harrowing childhood experiences and similar trauma. Stream it at Bandcamp

Goddess – Paradise
The latest release by the phantasmagorical New York art-rock band captures them in creepily enveloping psychedelic mode. Stream it at Bandcamp

Bobtown – A History of Ghosts
Eerie, sepulcural Appalachian folk tunes, creepy newgrass, retro soul, murder ballads, black humor galore and exquisite four-part harmonies from the band that might be the best folk noir act around. Stream it at Bobtownmusic.com

Mike RimbaudPut That Dream in Your Pipe and Smoke It
Yet another provocative, surrealistically lyrical, tight powerpop and retro new wave record from one of the most fearlessly funny, spot-on chroniclers of post-9/11 global society anywhere. Stream it at Spotify

Hungrytown – Further West
The most elegantly arranged and arguably best album by poignant Americana songstress Rebecca Hall and multi-instrumentalist Ken Anderson’s plaintive folk noir band Stream it at Spotify

The Sway Machinery – Purity & Danger
One of the great guitar albums on this list, this richly textured, intricately arraanged, soaring collection of anthems sees the band venturing further from desert rock toward cantorially-inspired psychedelia. Stream it at Spotify

The TarantinosNYC – Surfin’ the Silver Screen
Catchy, fun, vividly cinematic surf rock, spy themes and psychedelic soul from one of NYC’s most original instrumental units. Stream it at Spotify

Dalava – their debut album
Guitar polymath Aram Bajakian and his haunting singer wife Julia Ulehla combine to reinvent stark traditional Moravian themes with an electric edge. Stream it at Bandcamp  

Patricia Santos – Never Like You Think
The auspicious, intense, eclectic soul-infused debut by the charismatic cello rocker and Kotorino member. Stream it at Bandcamp

Eleni Mandell – Dark Lights Up
Los Angeles noir soul, bittersweet torch song and Americana by an icon of dark retro songcraft. Stream it at Spotify

The Whiskey Charmers – their debut album
Twin Peaks C&W, Appalachian gothic, dark blues and jangly rock from this shadowy, female-fronted Detroit dark Americana band. Stream it at Thewhiskeycharmers.com

Figli di Madre Ignota – Bellydancer
High-energy, Gogol Bordello-esque circus rock and Romany punk songs with hilarious, satirical lyrics in Italian and English. Stream their “spaghetti Balkan” sounds at Soundcloud

The Frank Flight Band – The Usual Curse
The British counterpart to Blue Oyster Cult reach back into the vaults for this haunted mix of Doorsy art-rock, shapeshifting psychedelia and unexpectedly macabre gothic sounds. Stream it at cdbaby

Dawn Oberg – Bring
The irrepressible parlor pop pianist/chanteuse at the top of her sardonic, lyrically rich game in this mix of personality portraits and psychopathological analysis. Stream it at Dawnoberg.com

Jennifer Hall – her debut ep
An intriguing, auspicious mashup of noir soul and art-rock from the powerfully nuanced Chicago song stylist and her excellent, eclectic band. Stream it at Spotify

The Grasping Straws – their debut album
Edgy songwriter/guitarist Mallory Feuer’s snarling, hard-hitting, scruffy, defiantly lyrical first full-length effort goes in a more straightforward, less jazz-inspired direction than the band’s initial ep. Stream it at Bandcamp

Ben Von Wildenhaus– II
Southwestern gothic, slinky bellydancer noir themes and Twin Peaks atmospherics from the loopmusic guitar master and esteemed noir soundscaper. Stream it at Soundcloud

Naked Roots Conducive – Sacred521
Cellist Valerie Kuehne and violinist Natalia Steinbach’s tormentedly cinematic, surrealistically intense art-rock dives menacingly and blackly amusingly into themes of alienation and ahwer despair. Stream it at Bandcamp

Lions – their debut ep
A slinky, trippy mix of Ethiopian grooves, Israeli stoner rock jams and cinematic themes. Stream it at Bandcamp

George Usher & Lisa Burns – The Last Day of Winter
Intense, autumnal purist powerpop, blue-eyed soul and psych-pop tunesmithing from two highly regarded, veteran songcrafters. Stream it at Spotify

Banda de los Muertos – their debut album
Epic, ornate, richly arranged, reinvented Mexican brass band ranchera themes and sweepingly majestic, blazing originals from trombonist Jacob Garchik’s imaginative big brass ensemble. Stream it at Spotify 

Spanglish Fly – New York Boogaloo
A hard-hitting, wickedly arranged, cleverly crafted update on classic 60s salsa soul from this irrepressible, danceable, psychedelic New York outfit. Stream it at Bandcamp

Curtis Eller & the New Town Drunks – Baudelaire in a Box: Songs of Anguish
Intriguing new translations of classic, surrealistically creepy Baudelaire poems set to starkly bluesy, phantasmagorical tunes by the charismatic circus rock bandleader and the Eastern Seaboard noir group. Stream it at Bandcamp

Elisa Flynn – My Henry Lee
The darkly eclectic songwriter and hauntingly luminous chanteuse’s most spare, terse album blends starkly funny individualist anthems with more pensive material and a classic murder ballad. Stream it at Bandcamp

Fireships – their debut album
Imaginatively arranged Americana rock and chamber pop with a fearlessly aware, Dylanesque, populist lyricism. Stream it at Bandcamp

The Amphibious Man – Witch Hips
Enigmatically lo-fi, twistedly Lynchian, surf-tinged reverb rock. Like nothing else on this list and yet in a way like an awful lot on this list, in terms of general darkness. Stream it at Bandcamp

The Honeycutters – Me Oh My
Oldschool female-fronted honkytonk with a newschool, sharply literate, defiantly populist lyrical edge. Stream it at Spotify

The Old Ceremony – Sprinter
Folk noir and serpentine, intricately arranged, Lynchian art-rock and chamber pop from Django Haskins’ darkly eclectic band. Stream it at youtube – but BE CAREFUL – a loud audio starts immediately when you click the link, mute the sound before you do

For more yummy clickbait, other 2015 lists here include the forthcoming playlist at the Best Songs of 2015 page and the Best New York Concerts of 2015 page.

Lions Bring Their Haunting, Slinky, Irresistible Ethiopiques Grooves to Barbes

Lions are one of New York’s most enjoyably slinky, mysterious, psychedelically danceable bands. Their specialty is Ethiopiques, the otherworldly, haunting mix of ancient folk melodies, Afrobeat and American jazz that originated in the 60s and exploded onto the global stage when Mulatu Astatke got popular back in the 90s and early zeros. The group of six Israelis and one American have an amazing debut ep streaming at Bandcamp and a show headlining at Barbes tonight, July 17 at 11 PM.

The album’s opening number, Aynotche Terabuslinky has that classic camelwalking Ethiopian triplet rhythm, with brightly wary minor-key riffage from the horns over resonant minor-key organ from Dor Heled, bandleader/guitarist Nadav Peled holding steady to a terse, circular riff as Tamir Shmerling’s bass and Eran Fink’s drums anchor the groove. Peled caps it off with a deliciously spiky, trebly, reverbtoned solo. His blend of 60s psychedelic rock and Ethiopian phrasing is distinctive and intruguing: you never know exactly where he’s going to go with it.

A dynamic horn intro from trumpeter Wayne Tucker, alto saxophonist (and noted big band leader) Eyal Vilner and baritone saxophonist Eden Bareket kick off the brooding second number, Yematibela Wef. Vilner’s pensively bending phrases and Bareket’s purposeful spirals keep the enigmatic vibe going over a hypnotically swaying beat. The best track here, simply called Lions, takes a classic, creepily chromatic bati riff and builds a mighty anthem out of it, with biting horn harmonies, some clever tradeoffs between guitar and organ, Heled taking centerstage with his menacingly swirling, rippling lines. A straightforward Tucker solo takes it up to a mighty, stomping peak.

Peled makes snaky surf rock out of Nagatti Si Jedha with his pinging, incisive lines, building to a darkly climactic, cinematic theme with more than a hint of Bollywood; Heled’s surrealistically pulsing organ solo might be the best one on the whole album. Le’b has a jauntily swinging horn intro and some bracingly offcenter harmonies over a fat roots reggae groove. The ep winds up with Zelel Zelel, lit up with yet more of Peled’s stingingly psychedelic, nimble riffwork.
One of the last recordings made at Williamsburg’s legendary Excello studios, the album has a warm analog feel. Best debut of 2015? There’s nothing that’s come out so far this year that can touch this. If you’re going to Park Slope tonight, you might want to get there early before the back room fills up.

A High-Voltage, Auspicious Kickoff to the Global Beat Festival Downtown

This weekend’s three-day Global Beat Festival in the financial district got off to an exhilarating start last night. There’s a ton of great music coming out of Israel lately, exemplified by the US debut of Libyan Jewish cantorial revivalists the Libyans. Insspired by his cantor father, bandleader and oud player Yaniv Raba has rescued centuries-old melodies and devotional poetry….and then he and the band rock the hell out of them. Frontman Dvir Cohen Eraki intoned them in a sonorous baritone, occasionally indulging in a thrilling, melismatic, improvisational intro. Raba, kanun player Ariel Kassus, bassist Yankale Segal and ney flute player Itzhak Ventura also got to kick off the songs with carefully crescendoing improvisations that hinted at the ecstasy that would sometimes come later.

The sounds ran the gamut of North Africa and the Middle East, a potent reminder of how music from that part of the world continues to come full circle: six hundred years ago, it was next to impossible to tell what was Jewish and what was Berber or Arabic, with everybody borrowing from everybody else. The group opened on a stately note with a lingering, vamping theme, pretty much everybody in the band doubling each others’ lines over Roei Fridman’s tersely hypnotic hand drumming. As the show went on, the group went into trip-hop (or maybe more accurately, a rai rhythm) for a couple of numbers. The energy peaked with a trio of slinky, bitingly modal anthems that echoed classical Egyptian music. The best of these was an original by Raba, featuring a suspenseful oud solo that mined the lowest registers of that ancient, otherworldly instrument.

Washington, DC’s Feedel Band opened their set with a long, psychedelically echoing Fender Rhodes electric piano solo from bandleader Araya Woldemichael before the eight-piece Ethiopian groove band joined him, their tight three-piece horn section – Ben Hall on trombone, Feleke Hailu on alto sax and Moges Habte on tenor sax – carrying the austere, broodingly minor-key hook that made something of a contrast with the undulating, percussive drive underneath. Other than Woldemichael, Habte got the only other extended solo of the night for this band and made the most of it, adding a darkly bluesy edge to the austere melody that probably predated it by a thousand years or more.

The songs alternated between long, dynamically rich dancefloor grooves and almost minimalist, 70s-tinged hard funk numbers, guitarist Mehary Mehreteab adding the occasional wry wah-wah interlude, contrasting with the resonance of krar lute player Minale Bezu and the keening mesenko fiddle of Seteng Atenaw (who brought two different axes, one with a much scrapier, scarier tone). A parade of dancers, three women and two men made their entrance throughout the show, illustrating what could have been ancient courtship rituals and hunting myths. After spending most of the show in acidic, minor-key modes, the group ended on a more carefree note with what was basically a long, extended one-chord jam with plenty of solos for both the band and the dancers.

The festival continues tonight, May 8 at 8 with intense Tunisian-born chanteuse Emel Mathlouthi – who’s most recently been putting her own spin on classic Arabic diva balladry – and then lushly enveloping Canadian-based Persian song reinventors Niyaz. Then on Saturday night, May 9 at 8 there’s rare Honduran twinbill with surf rocker Guayo Cedeno & Coco Bar and then Garifuna guitar legend Aurelio & the Garifuna Soul Band. The concert is free, but it won’t hurt to get there early if you want a seat. Logistically, your best and fastest bet is to go straight down Vesey St. and hang a left into the World Trade Center Path station, then follow the corridor to the right, around the bend, under the West Side Highway and then up into the “winter garden” across the street with its stage in the center of the building’s west wall.