New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: indie rock

Iranian Rock Rules at Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center Out of Doors was packed this past evening. The message was clear: New Yorkers, or at least a large subset of us, love Iranian music. On a triplebill that began with a tantalizingly short set by all-female hometown crew Habibi and ended with crooner Faramarz Aslani and his band, rock band Kiosk played one of the best sets of any group in this city this year.

Frontman Arash Sobhani entertained the crowd with his sardonic sense of humor, edgy, mythologically influenced Farsi lyrics and slashingly individualistic Stratocaster chops. His fellow axeman Mohammad Talani wailed and slunk, a nonchalantly powerful presence on a big hollowbody Gibson while bassist Ali Kamali bubbled over the steady, funk-influenced beats of drummer Yahya Alkhansa.

The early part of the set was an update on the psychedelic “Farsi funk” that was all the rage in Iran prior to the 1979 Khomeini takeover, and brutally suppressed thereafter (Kiosk take their name from the kind of venues available for confrontational rock in their Teheran  hometown). Hits like Love For Speed (a sarcastic parable about Teheran traffic), the cautionary tales Everybody’s Asleep and Bulldozer each had a minor-key psych-funk feel grounded by a heavier than usual drumbeat for that style, Sobhani evoking peak-era Leonard Cohen with both his vocals and his chord changes. On guitar, he fired off purist, icepick Chicago blues leads but also slithery volleys of chromatics that were a dead giveaway for the group’s origins.

Talani hung back with his rhythm early on but once he got a chance to cut loose, he took a couple of the darker anthems to angst-fueled peaks with his screaming, anguished leads, like a Middle Eastern David Gilmour. Meanwhile, Sobhani led the group through an eclectic mix that included a pensively crescendoing contemplation of exile, then a rapidfire, punkish romp through a melody that he said was originally Iranian but eventually became a klezmer melody (it sounded Russian).

A couple of shuffling numbers after that could have been American ghoulabilly save for the linguistic difference. After a detour into what could have been dub reggae but wasn’t, and a tune that brought to mind Gogol Bordello, they did a silly faux Chuck Berry tune about a legendary Iranian bootlegger who got jail time for pirating AC/DC records. This group is huge in the Iranian diaspora but should be vastly better known beyond that world.

Habibi deserved more than fifteen minutes onstage. What they lack in tightness they make up for in originality. Lead guitarist Lenaya “Lenny” Lynch fired off needling tremolo-picked riffs over the tense surf-ish rhythm sectdion of bassist Erin Campbell and drummer Karen Isabel as rhythm guitarist Leah Beth Fishman added rainy-day chords that sometimes edged toward Lush dreampop, frontwoman Rahill Jamalifard singing coolly and matter-of-factly, mostly in Farsi. From their brief, Arabic-tinged instrumental intro through a mix of Breeders jangle, Ventures stomp and Farsi funk, they’re developing an intriguing, distinctive sound. Give the rhythm section a year to get their chops up to speed, and this band could be dangerous.

Backed by six-piece band including flamenco guitarist and musical director Babak Amini, Aslani got the crowd singing and dancing along to his allusively biting lyrics set to pleasant, flute-fueled Mediterranean and Brazilian-inflected acoustic ballads that often brought to mind the Gipsy Kings. An icon of Iranian music since the 70s, he’s a wordsmith and connoisseur of classical Persian poetry first and foremost.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors continues tomorrow night, July 29 with art-rock guitarist Jonathan Wilson – of Roger Waters’ band – doing his own material. Getting into the show this particular evening was easy, but you might want to show up before 7:30 PM showtime if you want a seat.

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Grex Bring Their Irrepressibly Amusing Ersatz Psychedelia to Brooklyn and Queens This Month

Grex are a more epic, cohesive counterpart to Parlor Walls. The California band’s previous album was a screaming, guitar-fueled cover of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. It’s true to the spirit of the original in that it’s highly improvised. Yet Karl Evangelista’s guitar, Rei Scampavia’s keys and guest Dan Clucas’ cornet channel much more angst in the face of trying to connect with some type of higher power, compared to Coltrane’s fervent reverence. In a very hubristic, punk-inspired way, it’s a twisted masterpiece. They’re on tour this month, and they’re bringing their gritty assault to a couple of New York shows. On July 11 at 7 PM, they’ll be at Holo in Ridgewood for $10; then the following night, July 12 they’ll be at Pine Box Rock Shop in Bushwick at 10:30 PM for the tip jar.

Their new album Electric Ghost Parade – streaming at Bandcamp – is completely different. It’s a sardonically noisy psychedelic rock record with a little free jazz thrown in to keep you guessing. And it’s an awful lot of fun. It opens with Quicksilver, a cantering early 80s-style no wave vamp through the prism of Sonic Youth. By the time it’s over, the band have touched on punk soul, stoner metal and 60s psychedelia. Interestingly, the vocal harmonies bring to mind Dennis Davison of brilliant retro 60s psychedelicists the Jigsaw Seen.

Scampavia sings the grisly lyrics of the faux glamrock anthem TM26 completely deadpan, up to an irresistibly funny ending. Her vocals in Martha, sung to the last of the passenger pigeons, “caged in a past you can never appease,” are a lot warmer. Behind her, the band do a funhouse mirror take on Chicano Batman-style psychedelic soul, with a tasty, surprisingly straightforward chorus-box guitar solo from Evangelista.

Mal & Luma – about a couple of pet rats – begins as a disorienting mood piece, juxtaposing Robert Lopez’s spare, echoey cymbal work with squiggly electronics, some jagged guitar flickers and low-register ominousness, then morphing into a big, sarcastically garish guitar raveup. Then Evangelista has fun with phony Hendrix and phony soul in the carefree, haphazardly kaleidoscoping Feelin’ Squiddy.

Husk sounds like Mary Halvorson covering something from Sergeant Pepper. Road Trip, a duet, veers suddenly between stoner boogie, breezy folk-rock and wry noiserock freakout – it seems to be a chronicle of a doomed relationship. Scampavia plays bad cop to Evangelista’s good one in the even more cinematic Saints, which is like Charming Disaster on acid.

The album’s most straightforwardly tuneful number is Quincy, a wistful, pastoral lament – at least until Evangelista hits his distortion pedal, Scampavia hits her electric piano patch and they make lo-fi Pink Floyd out of it. Similarly, ersatz 70s stadium bombast sits uneasily alongside 90s riot girl chirp in Transpiration, before everything falls apart. The swaying, stomping Bad Cop is an unexpectedly direct sendup of religious nutjubs: “Better to die a martyr than raise a song or daughter.”

The album’s most epic, apocalyptic number is Mango Mango – with its echoey stoner sonics, off-kilter squall and allusions to artsy metal, it’s a good synopsis for the album. The album concludes with the squirrelly miniature Old Dogs, who “die slow,” according to Scampavia. This precariously funny blend of parody, assault and oldschool rock erudition will no doubt be on a lot of best-of-2018 lists – watch this space at the end of the year.

Parlor Walls Bring Their Strongest, Most Direct Album Yet to Alphaville This Week

For the past few years, intense trio Parlor Walls have fired out a series of intriguing albums that span from post-Sonic Youth noiserock to aggressive no wave, with elements of fiery free jazz sprinkled throughout their work. Their latest release, Exo – streaming at Bandcamp – is their most acerbic and relevant one yet. Frontwoman/guitarist Alyse Lamb is putting her charisma to better use than ever: the album title seems to refer to the Greek word for outside. Considering how gentrification and the real estate bubble have scorched the earth of their Brooklyn home base, it’s no wonder the band would want to address the forces of destruction, if somewhat opaquely. The band are playing the album release show on April 26 at 8 at Alphaville; cover is $10.

The production is a lot more enveloping than their previous work, possibly due to Joseph Colmenero’s engineering (he’s RZA’s righthand man). Another development that’s undoubtedly contributed to the thicker sound is that the group have switched out alto saxophonist Kate Mohanty for clarinetist and multi-instrumentalist Jason Shelton. 

The opening track is Neoromancer, awash in a reverb-drenched hailstorm of guitar multitracks. “Must be electrifying knowing how to fix me right,” Lamb intones sarcastically as her Telecaster howls, shrieks and echoes over drummer Chris Mulligan’s torrential drive. It has the feel of a vintage Kim Gordon SY track, but with better vocals and more of an icy sheen to the production,

Love Complex might be the most straightforward rock song the band’s ever done, shifting from a dreampop swirl to heavy, emphatic, noisy riffage to momentary squiggly keyboard interludes as Lamb’s voice rises defiantly:

Pick me off of the floor
All ordinary things become giant
Steep, monolithic climbs
Lips give a sudden break of forced delight
But will you give me sanctuary from this biting
Love complex

Isolator – a reference to social media-fueled atomization, maybe? – slowly coalesces out of the “trash jazz” the band made a name for themselves with in their early days into a catchy Silver Rocket stomp, Lamb speaking of the need to “break through, break free.”

The final cut, Low Vulture is the album’s noisiest, angriest moment, snarling and pulsing like Algiers or Public Enemy circa Fear of a Black Planet: 

Get out in front of it
You got me surrounded
You want to sleep with vultures
You’re low flying
Messing with my head
Is it all a game?

There’s a lot to think about here – and you can dance to all of it.

A Wryly Trippy, Picturesque New Album and an Owl Release Show by Curtis Hasselbring

Curtis Hasselbring has been a mainstay at the adventurous edge of the New York jazz scene since the late 80s. Best known as a trombonist and composer of cinematic themes with a sardonic sense of humor, he’s also a very distinctive guitarist and keyboardist. His new solo album, Curha II is streaming at his music page. It’s a lot more techy than his usual work, and probably the most psychedelic thing he’s ever done. Here, he plays all the instruments. He’s playing the album release show on April 20 at 9:30 PM at the Owl, leading a very cool quintet with Alec Spiegelman and Peter Hess on bass clarinets, Ari Folman-Cohen on bass and John Bollinger on drums.

The album opens on a slashing note with Scissors, a gamelanesque, pointillistic stroll through a Javanese funhouse mirror. Then Hasselbring completely flips the script with Egon, a woozy, blippy synth-and-drum-machine acid jazz number.

A squirrelly new wave-influenced shuffle, Respect the Pedestrian comes across as an early 80s video game theme as XTC might have done it – with a not-so-subtle message for an era in New York where a driver can blast through an intersection, take out a couple of toddlers, and get away with it.

Mystery Guest mashes up Eno-esque rainy-day ambience and a warpy trip-hop groove. The Beatles catch up with Gary Numan in the catchy Sir Fish; then Hasselbring goes further into psych-folk mode with ’68, its wah-wah guitars and catchy acoustic garage riffage.

Party Platter People is prime Hasselbring: a staggered motorik drive, cascading Tangerine Dream synths against King Crimson guitar flares…and dreamy Hawaiian swing when you least expect it. The dubby Fish Coda is sort of King Tubby meets sleng teng uptown. The album ends with the stomping Ana-lo, which sounds like a Joy Division instrumental b-side. There’s also the surreal trombone-and-electronics shuffle Alpaca Lunch and Madgit, an interminable, robotic techno parody – maybe. Tune in, turn on, bug out. 

Another Brilliantly Allusive, Eclectic Album From Haunting Singer/Multi-Instrumentalist Elisa Flynn

For over ten years, Elisa Flynn has been one of the most spellbinding and distinctive voices in New York music. Her songs are rich with history. They sparkle with images and tackle some heavy questions. Her melodies range from moody Radiohead complexity, to scruffy indie vignettes, to stark detours toward noir cabaret and 19th century art-song. Flybn’s vocals – full, meticulously modulated, often soaring, sometimes wrenchingly plaintive – are the shiraz that fuels the narratives on her latest album The World Has Ever Been on Fire, streaming at Bandcamp. She’s playing Picasso Machinery, 43 Broadway at Wythe in South Williamsburg on April 27 at around 9 PM. 

On the new record, Flynn is a one-woman orchestra, playing all the: guitars, banjo and drums. The Ballad of Richie and Margot rocks pretty hard, with a dreampop edge: spare, emphatic verse, big enveloping vintage Sonic Youth chorus, bitingly crescendoing stadium-rock guitar solo in the middle. She builds hypnotically ringing, pulsing grey-sky ambience with variations on a catchy, simple guitar hook in Before He Went Down – its doomed storyline ends suddenly, yet in the exact place where it makes sense.

Flynn picks out a spiky, distantly Middle Eastern-tinged vamp as Lost in the Woods shuffles along. “Maybe I’ll be addicted to those sleeping pills as well,”she muses in Syd, a catchy, darkly watery anthem. Paula Carino comes to mind: “I can only write these words in a kind of a trance…I can only feel like a girl when my lips are far too red.”

With its iush bed of multitracked, clanging guitars, the distantly tango-inflected escape anthem Wolves echoes the gloomy, anthemic intensity of Timber, the standout track on Flynn’s 2008 album Songs About Birds and Ghosts. The slowly swaying 6/8 ballad Prison Ship Martyr’s Monument – inspired by the Fort Greene memorial to the legions of US Revolutionary War soldiers who died in British captivity – is the album’s majestic centerpiece, a grim conflagration scenario. “Would you lend e your hand to climb out of the hold?” Flynn asks: the answer is all the more shattering for being left unsaid. It might be the single best song of 2018.

Veronica rises from a spare, rustic, allusively blue-infused one-chord banjo tune to a big, echoey, crashing full-band crescendo. The chiming, echoing No Diamond is even more hypnotic, an allusively wintry tableau capped off by an unexpectedly roaring guitar outro.

Sugar has a stomping, vamping mid-80s Throwing Muses vibe. The album winds up with Caution, a guarded love song that begins as a solo banjo number and then morphs into swirling, pouncing trip-hop. The contrast between sharp, translucent tunesmithing, Flynn’s enigmatic images and her strong, forceful vocals make this one of the best rock albums of 2018.

Fun fact: Flynn was a founding member of cult favorite kitchen-sink noiserockers Bunny Brains!

Video Satire of the Day – LMAO

If twee overkill has pushed you past the boiling point, you’ll feel deliciously avenged by Passive Aggressives Anonymous’ new video, (Let’s Have a Nice White) Middle Class Male Cry (via Youtube). If NPR doesn’t pick this deadpan, venomous faux bossa pop tune for a Tiny Desk Concert, there’s something wrong. Frontguy John Valenti’s outfit and haircut are just as spot-on sick as the song. Weird Al Yankovic meets Tredici Bacci with a Morrissey wannabe out front – it’s funny just to think about.

Tasty Psychedelic Tropicalia and a Union Pool Album Release Show by Renata Zeiguer

Renata Zeiguer sings in a balmy, dreamy high soprano and writes tropical psychedelic rock songs that often slink their way toward the noir edges of soul music. Yet as Lynchian as the guitar textures can be, her music isn’t gloomy – if there’s such a thing as happy noir, it’s her sound. And her new album, Old Ghost – streaming at Bandcamp – sounds like she had a great time making it. She’s playing the release show this Feb 23 at 11 PM at Union Pool; cover is $12.

“You’ve got a grip on salvation, a heavenly whip, I know,” Zeiguer intones cajolingly in the album’s opening cut, Wayside, which rises from a simple, catchy bossa-tinged vamp to a catchy, anthemic backbeat sway. Once you get past the jarring out-of-tune guitars and lo-fi synth on the intro to Bug, it morphs into a starry, ELO-ish romp with a gritty undercurrent. That uneasy catchiness pervades Below, from its Ellingtonian intro, to its lemon-ice chorus-box guitar riffs and gently pulsing samba rhythm.

After All comes across as a noisier take on Abby Travis-style orchestral noir – or 90s cult favorites Echobelly at their noisiest and dirtiest. Zeiguer’s coy melismas over the altered retro 60s noir soul backdrop of Dreambone evoke Nicole Atkins at her most darkly surreal – Zeiguer’s fellow Brooklynite Ivy Meissner also comes to mind.

The swaying Follow Me Down, awash in uneasily starry reverb guitars, depicts a lizard “Steadily slithering, steadily, patiently swallowing me whole.” The song’s mix of guitar textures – burning and distorted, keening, and lushly tremoloing – is absolutely luscious.

Neck of the Moon contrasts insistent syncopation and offhandedly noisy, flaring guitar work with Zeiguer’s signature starlit sonics. The dichotomy is similar in They Are Growing, pulsar guitar twinkles and pulses lingering over a brisk new wave shuffle beat. The album winds up with its title track, Gravity (Old Ghost), a steady, bittersweet lament about something that’s “only dissipating over time,” set to a catchy, Motown-inflected groove.

This is a great playlist for hanging out with friends on a smoky evening, adrift in the bubbling, percolating textures of the guitars and keys, Zeiguer’s comfortingly calm yet irrepressibly soaring vocals percolating through the haze. It would make a good soundtrack to that Netflix show about the weed delivery guy – now what’s that called?

A Lavish, Ambitiously Orchestrated Twinbill at Symphony Space Last Night

“How many of you have been to a classical concert before?” Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner asked the packed house at Symphony Space last night. From the response, it didn’t appear that many had. Which makes sense if you consider that the average age at the big Manhattan classical halls is 65. But what Wasner’s band were playing, bolstered by the Metropolis Ensemble and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, wasn’t the kind of classical you’d typically hear at those venues. It was a brand new kind of music: epic post-minimalist sweep matched to rock edge and attack.

Wasner spoke of being humbled in the presence of eighty other musicians of such a high caliber, but she has fearsome chops herself. She began the show on bass and proved herself more than competent, then moved to guitar and gave a clinic in shiny, emphatic, shimmery phrasing. Drummer Andy Stack pushed this mighty beast with a supple drive, shifting constantly between tricky meters. At one point, Wasner suddenly realized that her bass had gone out of tune, then didn’t miss a beat or a note, hitting her tuner pedal and then fixing everything even as the tempo and syncopation changed in a split second behind her. Tuning while playing is a rare art; it’s a whole other thing to tune and sing at the same time!

Throughout the show, whether singing her own material or William Brittelle’s restless new song cycle Spiritual America, there was considerable contrast between Wasner’s cool, concise, understated vocals and the orchestra’s leaps and bubbles. Guitarist Ben Cassorla added flaring cadenzas and carefully modulated sheets of sustain. frequently playing with an ebow. When Wasner was on bass, Metropolis Ensemble bassist Evan Runyon frequently teamed with her for a pulse that wasn’t thunderous, but close to it. Keyboardist Erika Dohi added warpy, new wave-flavored synth, wafting synthesized strings and on a couple of occasions during Brittelle’s suite, wryly blippy, EDM-tinged flutters.

In a context as orchestrated as this was, Wasner’s songs came across as very similar to Brittelle’s, Both songwriters’ lyrics are pensive, direct and don’t follow either a metric or rhyme scheme. Likewise, they both gravitate to simple, frequently circling phrases that went spiraling or bounding from one section of the ensemble to the next. Brittelle’s big crescendos tended to be more flamboyant, and more evocative of 70s art-rock like Genesis or Gentle Giant, with the occasional reference to coldly bacchanalian dancefloor electronics. Wasner’s tended to be more enigmitically reflective if no less kinetic, and more influenced by 80s new wave pop. Are both fans of Carl Nielsen’s playfully leapfrogging symphonic arrangements? It would seem so. 

The night’s coda, Wasner’s cynical I Know the Law, was a study in the utility of self-deception as well as its pitfalls. As with the rest of the material in the night’s second set, the chorus punctuated the music’s many splashes of color with steady, emphatic, massed polyrhythms and occasional moody ambience. Wasner joked that one of Brittelle’s more nostalgic numbers would be something that these kids would understand in about ten years, which could prove true. What they will remember is being on this stage with a hundred other musicians, and getting a huge standing ovation from an audience of their peers.

Metropolis Ensemble don’t have any upcoming New York concerts for awhile, but their violinist – and Mivos Quartet co-founder – Olivia DePrato is playing the album release show for her auspicious solo debut album, Streya, at 1 Rivington Street on March 13 at 7:30 PM. Tix are $20/$15 stud.

The Myrrors Bring Their Dusky, Pulsing Psychedelic Postrock to a Killer Alphabet City Twinbill

It’s not clear what the title of hypnotically kinetic psychedelic band the Myrrors’ latest record Hasta La Victoria – streaming at Bandcamp –  refers to. Whatever the case, it’s definitely a victory for the band themselves. The Arizona-based group went their separate ways around the turn of the past decade, but regrouped in the wake of ongoing youtube popularity. If there’s any need for further proof of the eternal viability of good psychedelic music, this is it. The Arizona collective are headlining a killer twinbill on Jan 20 at Berlin at around 9; Eno-esque ambient soundscaper J.R. Bohannon a.k.a. Ancient Ocean opens the night at 8. Cover is $10.

The album is a mix of hypnotic, circling epics and shorter numbers. The methodically swaying, ten-minute opening instrumental, Organ Mantra has a simple call-and-response sax loop front and center while the guitars of Cesar Alatorre-Mena and Nik Rayne build a dense wall behind it, and finally join the conversation. Meanwhile, Kellen Fortier‘s bass and Grant Beyschau’s drums bubble above the surface.

Awash in reverb, Somos La Resistencia sounds like Mogwai covering White Rabbit, with a squalling sax solo on the way out. From there the band segues into Tea House Music, with its echoing rainy-day rise and fall, distantly thundering percussion, plaintive twelve-string guitar hooks and echoes of Joy Division.

El Aleph, an ominous string soundscape, has distantly Indian-flavored overtones and melismatics. It’s a good intro for the mammoth title track, a dense, grey swirl and eventual flurry of instruments slowly coalescing around a central loop much like the album’s first number. This is the furthest from rock the band’s ever gone, and the trippiest destination they’ve found so far on a sonic journey that promises to discover newer depths and more enigmatically remote destinations.

Cynical, Bittersweet Powder Drug Noir at Pete’s Tonight

Interesting twinbill tonight, Dec 16 starting at 9 PM at Pete’s Candy Store. Bad Galaxy, who mine a sardonic folk noir vein, open for the similarly cynical, wryly surreal Dream Eaters, who play their distantly Lynchian quasi new wave at 10.

Ironically – in the true sense of the word – the Dream Eaters’ best song is the one that’s not on their album We Are a Curse, streaming at Bandcamp. That number is the woozily spot-on Klonopin Girl. But it’s a good prototype for the album tracks. “Back in the wasteland, sinking in the quicksand,” frontwoman Elizabeth LeBaron intones in a phenobarbitol murmur as Dead on the Inside begins. But then her voice rises to the rafters as the song grows from Jake Zavracky’s steady, staccato guitar strum to anthemic Julee Cruise territory. “I get so fried, trying to get through,” LeBaron wails.

With acoustic guitar, drum machine and enveloping vintage lo-fi synth textures, the calmly stomping Neanderthals follows the same template. “Keep the vermin out,” LeBaron instructs,” They won’t make us crawl, they’re all neanderthals.”

Dots is much the same: steady acoustic fingerpicking sparkles against deep-space ambience and LeBaron’s girl-down-the-well vocals. As you’ve figured out by now, the songs titles are dead giveaways. Astral Asshole and Sugar Coma share druggy outer-space metaphors and melancholy DollHouse harmonies. Almost Afraid, with its dreamy death imagery and understated front-porch folk guitar, brings back fond memories of late zeros Williamsburg cinephiles the Quavers. But Plastic Princess, which would be straight-up new wave at twice the speed, isn’t a dis: it’s a cautionary tale about the perils of conformity.

“Let me be your albatross,” LeBaron intones over a slow, stately chamber pop backdrop in So Heavy. With its grisly images, is the album’s languid title track a condemnation of Brooklyn gentrifier anomie? That’s open to debate. A final, fingerpicked lament, Brazil Song, is about as Brazilian as the Brazilian Girls. Some people might catch a few bars of this and dismiss it as wannabe Lana Del Rey faux-noir. But if sad, drifty music infused with gallows humor is your thing, stick with it.