New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

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A Legend of 80s Metal, Still Going Strong

Who knew how prophetic Queensryche’s Operation Mindcrime would become, thirty years after it came out? Did the band have a sleeper agent in Davos, keeping an eye on developments in predictive policing and data mining? Or did the group just have a healthy cynicism about transnational elites and their drift toward Orwellian totalitarianism?

And who knew that in 2021, the band’s frontman would still be going strong? Geoff Tate‘s vocals have weathered the storm well. In addition to fronting the Operation Mindcrime touring band, he also has a new album, Relentless, with his Sweet Oblivion project streaming at Spotify. His sound hasn’t changed much over the years: NWOBHM rock with cinematic keyboard ambience.

The opening track, Once Again One Sin immediately hits an ornate, symphonic drive, keyboardist Antonio Agate fueling it with his elegant minor-key piano and wafting string synth, much as he does with the rest of the album. The band reach for a steady, storm-brewing backbeat atmosphere in the second track, Strong Pressure, driven by bassist Luigi Andreone and drummer Michele Sanna’s leaden thump. Guitarist and main songwriter Aldo Lonobile contributes a careening, blues-infused solo.

It takes a lot of balls to name your own song Let It Be – this stomping, midtempo minor-key ballad is infinitely better than the one you’ve been subjected to on the Beatles’ worst album. Another Change, a breakup anthem, has some wild tapping from the guitar – it’s not clear if that’s Lonobile, Walter Cianciusi, or Dario Parente, the latter two also being Operation Mindcrime members.

Wake Up Call has a suspicious similarity to a famous Pink Floyd tune: “How do we get beyond the lies?” Tate wants to know. His wintry vocals hit an unexpectedly operatic peak in Remember Me: imagine the Psychedelic Furs playing metal.

The art-rock alienation anthem Anybody Out There is built around a familiar David Gilmour riff – but it’s not the delicate acoustic one you might be thinking of. As you might expect from a bunch of Italians, there’s a tune here titled Aria…and Tate sings it in dramatic Italian, with a twin guitar solo to match midway through. The album winds up with I’ll Be the One, a pretty generic, mostly acoustic ballad which could have been left on the cutting room floor, and then Fly Angel Fly, the darkest and heaviest track here and a strong coda.

A Brilliant, Subtly Satirical New Video From Kira Metcalf

Watch very closely in the first few seconds of Kira Metcalf‘s video for her new single Hoax for a visual clue that packs a knockout punch.

This is how dissidents in the old Soviet Union had to protest. Looks like we’ve come to that here in the US.

Metcalf actually wrote the cleverly lyrical kiss-off anthem eight years ago, but it’s taken on new resonance since the lockdown began. Videowise, the esthetic is pure early 90s Garbage, as Shirley Manson would have mugged for the camera. Musically, the song is closer to early PJ Harvey with even more of a vengeful wail

A Titanic, Imaginatively Orchestrated Salsa Swing Album From the Iconic Ruben Blades

What an inspiration it is to see the most fearlessly original paradigm-shifter of all the salsa dura pioneers of the 70s still pushing the envelope. Ruben Blades‘ new album Salswing with Roberto Delgado & Orquesta – streaming at Spotify – is aptly titled, a lavishly symphonic latin jazz project. Blades’ voice is a bit more wintry than it was forty years ago, but he tackles the material here – an imaginative mashup of jazz standards and salsa – with his usual soul and gravitas. Listen closely and you discover that he’s overdubbed his own coros. Hearing him hit those high notes on the second track reaffirms his indominable stature as leader of the old school – which in his case makes him just as much a leader of the new school.

Delgado’s Panamanian ensemble and his colorful, edgy charts make a good match. They open with Paula C, the lushness enhanced by the Venezuela Strings Recording Ensemble. Guest Eduardo Pineda’s Rhodes piano bubbles amid the brassy gusts, trumpeter Juan Carlos “Wichy” Lopez reaching for the stratosphere and nailing it.

Blades lands somewhere between Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. in a blazing, ebullient take of Pennies from Heaven, trombone soloist Xito Lovell cascading down out of a sunburst brass break. The textures and exchanges between the reeds and brass in the instrumental Mambo Gil have grit to match their majesty, alto saxophonist Jahaziel Arrocha taking a tantalizingly brief, spiraling solo.

Blades goes into nuanced crooner mode for Ya No Me Duele over the bandleader’s strolling bass pulse, Tom Kubis adding flourishes on alto sax amid the towering brass. The vocals on Watch What Happens are bordering on breathless, effectively driving home the song’s ironclad optimism over the sudden swells of the orchestra. Blades reaches for similar intensity, but with a more imploring feel in Cobarde and its intricate, understated polyrhythms.

Lopez’s balmy, straightforward trumpet solo flies over an elegant midtempo swing beat in Do I Hear Four?, the group’s counterpoint rising toward inferno levels. There’s a little more drama and mystery in Blades’ voice in Canto Niche, Juan Berna switching between piano and echoey Rhodes. The Way You Look Tonight is the closest thing to a coyly seductive, straight-up fifties Sinatra swing tune here,

Blades winds up the record with a couple of slinky barn-burners. Ricky Rodriguez’s low-key, tumbling piano and Alejandro “Chichisin” Castillo’s smoky baritone sax anchor the dynamically-shifting, colorful Contrabando, Raul Aparicio’s accordion popping in unexpectedly. Similarly, Tambó rises from a streetcorner intro from the percussion section to an insistent, driving oldschool salsa groove. A titanic achievement from a huge, semi-rotating ensemble that also includes percussionists Ademir Berrocal, Raul Rivera, Carlos Perez Bido, Jose Ramon Guerra and Luis Mitil; Francisco Delvecchio and Avenicio Nunez on trombones; Carlos Ubarte, Ivan Navarro and Luis Carlos Perez on saxes; Milton Salcedo, Dino Nugent, Ceferino Caban and Dario Boente on piano; Carlos Quiros on bass; Carlos Camacho on vibes; and Abraham Dubarron on guitar.

Empire de Mu Raise a Lost Continent to Explosive Heights

We know from the spread of animal species around the world, from Africa outward, that there were once vast expanses of land where there is only ocean now. Accounts vary widely as to why these land bridges disappeared. The most commonly accepted explanation is the plate tectonic theory. Others believe that these once-fertile land masses sank because the earth’s crust had not yet solidified enough to keep them above sea level. A much more sinister theory is that they were destroyed by aliens using a beam weapon from outer space: an ancient precursor to 5G.

Empire de Mu build on James Churchward’s von Daniken-like tales of the lost continent of Lemuria, or Mu, in their colorful, explosive new album Spiritual Demise, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a wild mix of angst-fueled High Romantic classical melodies, snarling metal and mathrock beats.

They open with a somberly cinematic, cello-driven overture, frontwoman Arianne Fleury leading a choir of voices up to the crunchy, constantly shifting rhythms of the first song, Submersion. Drummer Tommy pummels his way through the maze as guitarist David Gagné and bassist Sami El Agha solidify into a menacing chromatic theme. Throughout the album, Fleury sings and roars in French, English and Spanish, no doubt drawing on an operatic background.

In the second track, Under the Black Sun, it’s Gagné’s turn to build a thorny thicket of minor-key riffage, capped off with a supersonic solo as Fleury shifts from arioso drama to a death metal rasp. Ouloum II is much the same but shorter. After that, Fleury ranges from the top of her formidable range to the grim lows at the bottom in Death Lotus, Gagné building a savage web of tremolo-picking and minor-key chromatics.

El Agha switches to buzuq for the haunting, tantalizingly short Egyptian-flavored instrumental Souk: he could have gone on for three times as long and nobody would be complaining. It’s a good segue into Ruins of Lemuria, Gagné constructing his most ornate, grimly symphonic melodic lattice.

From there they segue into the frantic Naacalls, rising from low-midrange roar to yet another sizzling series of Gagné solos. They close with Faithed Sorrow, a tragic, Romany-tinged coda.

These days, some believe that humanity is in many respects reliving the end of the Lemurian Age. According to this argument, the lockdowners plan to use 5G microwave weapon satellites to crush any remaining opposition to the needle of death, lockdown restrictions and surveillance, by frying entire populations who refuse to comply. That would explain why free countries like Nicaragua and Croatia, and the fourteen free US states, have been allowed to liberate themselves up to this point.

Yet Another Lush, Picturesque Concert Album From the London Philharmonic

For the past several years, the London Philharmonic Orchestra has been releasing one live recording after another. Clearly, they cherrypick their concerts for particularly prime performances. One such came out last fall: a choice program of works by Ravel and Debussy, conducted meticulously and purposefully by François-Xavier Roth and streaming at Spotify.

Beyond the simple pairing of a couple of French impressionists, it’s a smart choice of pieces. Roth considered the famous, chromatic descending progression of Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and immediately thought of the big riff from Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole – or the other way around.

This is often a very suspenseful recording. Although one hardly thinks of Debussy or Ravel as Halloween music, it was tempting to save this for the annual October-long Halloween celebration here. While the cd booklet doesn’t specify the location where the concert was recorded, there’s a generous amount of natural reverb, soloists bright and clear over the lushness of the massed high strings somewhat muted behind them.

Rising from almost complete silence, Roth leads the ensemble in a terse, hushed, relentlessly uneasy pulse, even beyond the first flamenco flute cadenza of the Rapsodie espagnole. The momentary Malaguena dance is coyly and elegantly phantasmagorical; the Habanera, starry and lustrous until sudden flashes of fireworks. The dynamics of the coda are on the restrained side for the most part. adding considerable and rather unexpected poignancy and make the finale seem even more explosive.

The take of Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune is similarly cautious and low-key, straight through to the woodwinds and the soloists, although Roth plays up the Spanish tinges as you would hope he’d do with this program. Then, when you would least expect it, everybody picks up the pace for a bit before returning to a pastorale that’s short of being languid. This is late afternoon and Bambi is on the lookout for guys with guns!

For Debussy, the ocean wasn’t the empire it was for Vaughan Williams, or the passion it was for Mendelssohn…or the potentially apocalyptic vortex it is for John Luther Adams. Debussy gravitated toward the coast, and this version of La mer is all about seashore, and waves and tidal motion, maybe in a sailboat but not out on the high seas.

Sudden but careful swells, flickering brass and winds lapping the beach color the opening movement: even a couple of passing storms steer clear of full-on thunder until the very end. What’s delightful about Roth’s interpretation is that this comes across e just as much of a nightscape, even if the composer specifies dawn til noon.

Roth also brings up the hidden flamenco touches in the playful waves of the second movement along with some dazzling sunbursts. The concluding duel between wind and waves is for the most part a genteel one, with more than one wry reference to the album’s previous woodsy scenario. Even if you’ve heard these pieces plenty of times, this album lures you to rediscover them.

Twisted Things Come in Threes Today

Been a little while since there have been any singles on this page. But little by little, more and more artists are gearing up for a return to freedom. There’s optimism, apocalypse and fury in today’s trio of songs.

“I’m living in a ghost town, I’m doing things my way, I’m not dead yet, ” four-piece New York band Devora’s frontwoman asserts over skronky minimalist punk rock straight out of the late 80s in their latest single, Not Dead Yet.

Chicago guitar legend Dave Specter and blues harp player Billy Branch build a slow, venomously simmering groove in The Ballad of George Floyd: “Eight minutes of torture, begged for mercy, then he was killed.” Specter has been on a roll with good protest songs, ever since his venomous anti-Trump broadside, How Low Can One Man Go.

Marianne Dissard, who’s been putting out single after hauntingly eclectic single from a planned covers album, has just released the one of her disturbing picks so far, a ghastly remake of Adriano Celentano’s creepily dadaesque 1972 Prisencolinensinainciusol, with a pastiche of samples of lockdown posturing by Boris Johnson, two Trumps, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, Reccep Erdogan, and Xi Jinping. Together they give Dissard a long, long rope to hang them with.

Imaginative, Energetic Jazz and Classical Mashups From Brother Duo Nicki and Patrick Adams

On their new duo album Lynx – streaming at Sunnyside Records – brothers Nicki and Patrick Adams come across as a classical/jazz mashup. Trumpeter Patrick typically carries an unhurried, lyrical melody line while pianist Nicki drives the songs forward with an often turbulent aggression and an erudite interweave of classical riffs. Jazz musicians have been having all kinds of fun with this kind of cross-pollination for decades; this one is packed with clever, unexpected connections and purposeful playing.

They open with Joe Henderson’s Shade of Jade, contrasting lively, upbeat trumpet with gritty, driving piano that slowly and subtly introduces a couple of Bartok themes until the Bulgarian influence is front and center…and then the duo bring it back.

Likewise, they reinvent Monk’s Pannonica by mashing it up with the Khachaturian Toccata and the Gigue from Bach’s Partita in Bb Major, trumpet soaring calmly over disjointed aggression from the piano which calms, and then returns with a leap.

Nicki gives John Coltrane’s 26-2 a coyly motoring Bach undercurrent as his brother chooses his spots. The duo’s brooding reinvention of Nick Drake’s Things Behind the Sun – or wait, isn’t that Al Stewart’s Life and Life Only? – is a quiet stunner.

These two are without a doubt the only ones to tackle Wayne Shorter’s E.S.P. while blending in bits and pieces of Gershwin and the Quartet For the End of Time – that’s Patrick sneaking in the Messiaen here.

The Gershwin influence lingers elegantly in the bouncily strolling Cool Blues, an original. They follow with a lively, Art Tatum-inspired take of Herbie Hancock’s Actual Proof and close by interpolating Debussy, Bartok and Satie with ragtime flair into the ballad I Wish I Knew. If outside-the-box entertainment is your thing, whether you’re a listener or a player, give this a spin.

Revisiting Karavan Serai’s Gorgeously Slinky, Psychedelic Middle Eastern Themes

Karavan Serai‘s haunting, hypnotic album Woven Landscapes came out in 2015. Considering how lush this blend of original Iranian and Middle Eastern-inspired music is, it’s almost a shock to find out that there’s just two guys in the band. Narayan Sijan plays the stringed instruments and the percussion, and sings in a strong, resonant baritone. Carmen Rizzo plays keys and supplies electronic textures that are often very enveloping. The record is streaming at Bandcamp.

These two like slinky one-chord jams, and always find a way to make them interesting. A slow, swaying, warmly dusky theme, The Journey, opens the album. How trippy is this? With incisive oud and tar lute awash in Rizzo’s echoey sonics, it’s plenty psychedelic, but just as joyous as it reaches the end. The second track, Schirin is completely different, a broodingly dramatic if equally serpentine Arabic-flavored tune where the oud is a lot more prominent.

River Bend starts out with even more epic grandeur and grows more surreal and atmospheric, with Sijan’s multitracked tar lute, oud and buzuq echoing each other. His allusive, steady cascades in The Road to Hijaz tease the listener, as he only uses the iconic Arabic scale on the turnaround. Tingly buzuq contrasts with cumulo-nimbus atmospherics in the first part of Caspian Sea, then Rizzo adds an unexpected trip-hop rhythm while Sijan’s Arabic phrasing gets more animated, but more hypnotic as well.

He digs into majestic raga-like chords as Rizzo adds graceful piano and synth accents over drony atmospherics in Upon My Own Hand. Desert Water, a diptych, begins with a hazy ambience and morphs into the album’s most lighthearted track: appropriately enough, since it’s about a mirage. The duo close the album with the alternately echoey, gritty, aptly majestic High Mountain, the closest thing here to Rizzo’s other Iranian band, Niyaz.

A Sizzling Live Set of Free Jazz in Williamsburg Before the Lockdown

The glut of live albums recorded before the lockdown doesn’t seem like it’s going to abate anytime soon. And that’s just as well: this blog has been agitating for years for more artists to get wise to the value of live recordings. For one, they’re infinitely more economical than studio projects. And for musicians who aren’t located in free parts of the world, what better way to energize the fan base than a sizzling live record? Guitarist Jonathan Goldberger, bassist Simon Jermyn, violist Mat Maneri and drummer Gerald Cleaver had the presence of mind to record their February 24, 2019 Williamsburg show and release it as at Untamed: Live at Scholes, which hasn’t hit the web yet.

This is free jazz for people who like thoughtful interplay, edge and groove. Throughout the set, the acidic interweave between Goldberger and Maneri is such that it’s often hard to tell who’s playing what. Case in point: the hammering, hypnotic interlude about midway through their first number, presented here as an uninterrupted thirty-six minute track.

After the quartet coalesce gingerly to introduce it with spare bits of allusive Middle Eastern melody, then a hint of qawwali emerging, Jermyn hits a steady swing pulse and the race is on. Maneri takes centerstage to fire off a deliciously enigmatic, tersely microtonal solo. Goldberger throws shards and knotty postbop runs into the fray, Jermyn clustering and Maneri returning with an anxious intensity. Cleaver, running a colorful floating swing on his hardware, is back in the mix as you might expect at Scholes Street Studios, where everybody else in the band is using an amp.

There’s hazy volume-knob resonance from Goldberger in tandem with the viola as Jermyn runs a loopy riff. Cleaver gets some welcome time to himself, getting the boom or an approximation thereof going with his toms, the rest of the band building a devious swordfight with their swipes and slashes. Jermyn subtly hints at stoner boogie; winding tensile lines from guitar and viola over a cleverly altered Diddleybeat from Jermyn and Cleaver grow more aggressively skronky.

Everybody diverges down to echoes and more menacingly sustained wafts. Cleaver’s refusal to lose the groove, no matter how quiet he gets, is the key to the record. The rainy-day soundscape when he finally drops to a cymbal mist, Jermyn playing voice of reason to Goldberger’s knotty, restless lines while Maneri adds psychedelic harmonics, is just as much fun as when the band is really cooking. Likewise, the brooding viola solo, hypnotically pulsing drive and devious echo effects on the way out.

They fade up a much shorter number, presumably an encore, on the brink of a bracingly assertive Maneri solo as Jermyn shifts between a folksy dance and a gallop, Goldberger in jaggedly lingering mode. The Grateful Dead during their late 60s fascination with Indian music come to mind. Won’t it be even more fun when these guys can make another live album like this – or maybe they have, and they’re just not telling us yet. In the meantime, Cleaver is scheduled to play a series of live concert recording dates with saxophonist Darius Jones‘ trio on June 6 through 8 at 1 PM in Central Park, as part of Giant Step Arts’ incredible lineup of free jazz shows. Take the 81st St. entrance on the west side, go north and up the hill about a block, follow the sound and you’re there.

Icon of Sin Put an Expertly Cynical, Smart Update on a Classic Metal Sound

Brazilian band Icon of Sin play a surreal blend of gritty, anthemic late 70s acid rock and early 80s British metal. They take the spirit of early Iron Maiden to its logical conclusion, but with more original and tuneful songcraft than most heavy riff acts. Frontman Raphael Mendes sings in English, in an operatic Bruce Dickinson baritone with a sinister wink. Beyond the drama, it’s not often obvious what he’s singing about, adding to the surrealistic factor. Bassist Caio Vidal plays with a Steve Harris snap, but closer to the ground. Likewise, drummer CJ Dubiella keeps the drive straight-ahead and uncluttered. Guitarists Sol Perez and Mateus Cantaleãno play catchy, anthemic changes with soloing that’s flashy enough to draw some blood but not so much that it becomes a cartoon. Their new album, which hasn’t hit their Spotify page yet, is one of the first rock records so far with the guts to tackle the ugly consequences of the lockdown, even if they do that opaquely.

They open with their brisk, propulsive theme song: hey, if you’re going to sin, you might as well do it iconically. The second track, Road Rage is an even harder-charging, thrashy number: run to the hills in your tricked-out Toyota. The guitar chords grow fangs but get even catchier in Shadow Dancer, which seems to be a celebration of all the things that can only be found when the sun goes down.

Unholy Battleground is a heavy biker rock tune in a Death Wheelers vein, peaking out with a tasty, bluesy solo: a war-on-terror critique, maybe. Nightbreed is just as grimly anthemic, a big backbeat tune with tinges of 80s goth.

Is the lickety-split, Motorhead-inspired Virtual Empire a cynical commentary on the lockdowners’ attempt to take all human interaction online, where they can spy on you 24/7, Chinese Communist style? It would seem so. The band keep things in the here and now with the even more corrosive Pandemic Euphoria, which could be the UK Subs at the peak of their metal phase. The album’s best and most epic track is Clouds Over Gotham, shifting between gentle, early Genesis-tinged interludes, a fullscale stampede and nightmarish symphonic angst…but if Mendes’ prophecy comes true, we will rise again!

Arcade Generation is a steady, midtempo metal take on Stiv Bators’ old observation about how video games train the kids for war. The band turn Japanese for a moment in The Last Samurai, with its elegant folk-tinged intro and rapidfire, bellicose Asian riffage. They nick a classic early 80s Maiden sound for in The Howling and stick with it for the closing cut, Survival Instinct. Let’s hope they survive to make another album as good as this one.