New York Music Daily

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Category: noir music

Melissa Errico Channels Her Inner Femme Fatale in Her New Film Noir Album

While singer Melissa Errico has always taken a lot of inspiration from film noir, she plunged deeply into the genre after the March, 2020 global coup d’etat. After a year and a half of watching movies, she was able to score enough studio time to record a vast seventeen-track collection of songs associated with noir cinema, Out Of The Dark: The Film Noir Project, streaming at Spotify. The music here is not particularly lurid: Errico comes from a theatrical background and is keenly aware that singing is acting, so a lot of these songs exist in the margins. Which, considering the genre, makes perfect sense. Even in the big aching crescendos, Errico doesn’t reach for anything more showy than a brittle vibrato.

Tedd Firth supplies flourishes at the piano, guitarist Bob Mann adds spare blues riffage and bassist Lorin Cohen keeps a sotto-voce presence behind Errico’s determined, inscrutable anti-heroine in the opening track, Angel Eyes.

Errico reaches for more towering angst over Firth’s glittery piano, David Mann adding misty sax in their take of With Every Breath I Take, drummer Eric Halvorson a ghostly presence with his brushes.

The band give Errico a slow, pillowy swing for her understated, Dinah Washington-inflected version of Written in the Stars , spiced with a wee-hours sax solo and Scott Wendholt’s spare trumpet.

Errico speaks for the tender but untrue over Firth’s lingering chords in their duo take of The Bad and the Beautiful. Haunted Heart (seriously, is there any other kind?) has the full rhythm section and a more tender, troubled vocal. She finally drops her guard in the descending cadences of Michel Legrand’s lusciously chromatic Amour, Amour, Joe Locke’s vibraphone harmonizing eerily with the piano.

Cellist Richard Locker is a whispery one-man string section in Silent Partner, Errico a forlorn accomplice in her own heartbreak. The album wouldn’t be complete without Farewell, My Lovely, or Laura: Errico gives the former a deadpan allure backed by Locke’s flickering vibes, while the latter gets a velvety bossa arrangement.

She sings Blame It On My Youth with a knowing gravitas, turning it into a wounded reminiscence. Checkin’ My Heart has a brassy cynicism and tinges of klezmer; a little later on, Errico has fun with a time-honored baseball metaphor or two in The Man That Got Away, one of the more expansive tracks here,

The album’s longest number, Detour Ahead has both distant foreboding and an epiphany, as well as some aptly nocturnal trumpet. The shortest one is a spare, tropical guitar-and-vocal version of Shadows and Light. True to the noir tradition, this album isn’t completely unproblematic: the material thins out toward the end, and Errico should have left the French-language material on the cutting room floor. A translator would have come in handy.

Gorgeous, Glimmering Noir Instrumentals From the Royal Arctic Institute

Best album title of the year so far goes to the Royal Arctic Institute, whose new cassette ep From Catnap to Coma is streaming at Spotify. Over the last few years, the New York instrumentalists have developed a distinctive sound that draws on film noir soundtracks, surf music, psychedelia and new wave. At a time when so much of the New York music scene has been scattered to places like Texas and Florida, it’s good to see these guys sticking around and putting out their best record so far.

The opening number, Fishing by Lanterns has a slow, Lynchian sway, the spare, twangy guitars of John Leon and Lynn Wright building a starry unease over David Motamed’s bass and Lyle Hysen’s evocative drumming while keyboardist Carl Baggaley fills out the nocturnal ambience.

Track two is Shore Leave on Pharagonesia, a hypnotically pulsing, backbeat theme that’s part Ventures spacerock nocturne, part drifting but propulsive Los Crema Paraiso highway theme. After that, First of the Eight rises from a carefree glimmer to a more driving intensity.

Ghosts of the Great Library, a big-sky tableau, is a clinic in how to get the most mileage out of simple, economical riffs: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Big Lazy catalog. The final cut is Anosmia Suite, referencing the medical term for loss of sense of smell. Motamed’s sliding chordal intro is a cool touch; from there, it builds to the album’s most hypnotic interlude.

Haunting, Starkly Resonant Middle Eastern-Flavored Sounds From Singer Christiane Karam

Singer/percussionist Christiane Karam has built a unique and darkly captivating body of work that blends Middle Eastern and Balkan music, jazz and European art-song. Like Sarah Serpa, Karam gravitates toward subtly expressive, wordless vocals. She covers a deceptively impressive among of ground, from aching highs to somber lows. She’s good at surprise, pulling crescendos out of thin air. Her new album Nar – Arabic for “fire” – is streaming at Bandcamp.

A dramatic flurry of cymbals. whirring bendir, and haunting cello in the hijaz mode kick off the title track, Karam adding gently rhythmic vocalese, pianist Vadim Neselovskyi parsing spare chords over a lithe but slinky groove from bassist Peter Slavov and drummer Keita Ogawa. Karam rises to a defiant triumph, then dips to a a more muted, visceral sense of longing

The album’s second number is Halla Fayat, a catchy, pensive waltz punctuated by a brooding ,melismatic cello solo, a tersely elegant bass solo, somber reflecting-pool piano and the occasional big cymbal splash

In Last Snow, she runs spare variations on a three-note riff, then cuts loose with an unexpected crecendo, Neselovskyi building icy ambience over a steady, sparse sway. The group diverge and then regroup, only to fall away to an eerily dissociative ending.

Karam’s experience leading a Balkan choir informs her minutely nuanced ornamentation in Petlite Payat over a skeletal cello/bass intro and then a shivery, soberly resonant backdrop.

The album features two spoken-word interludes.. “Where I come from, everything is deadly, everything hurts…we revolt, we rebel, we try, we want to live,” the Beirut-born Karam asserts over a percussive, atmospheric tableau. In the second, she exchanges guardedly hopeful, simple riffs with the piano as it grows more rippling and intricate.

Scrapy, droning low strings contrast with Karam’s plaintive, soaring vocals as the album’s most epic track, Beirut gets underway, Karam smacking a tapan standup drum for extra bite on the beats. Starkly echoing atmosphere falls apart violently, Karam tries to pull it up with simple, concise melody, but darkness pervades and descends, percussive metal flickering amid an increasingly torrential whirlpool. From there Neselovskyi amd Slavov rise to a staggered, insistent pulse as Alatrash swoops and wails. The shivery, macabre wartime tableau right before the end is absolutely chilling.

Karam sings the woundedly crescendoing ballad Peine in French, spare piano and bass triangulating subtly with the drums. The album’s most insistently haunting song is Paneen, a bitterly poetic escape anthem: it could be a late 60s Procol Harum cut with Arabic lyrics and a woman out front.

Karam goes back to vocalese in Voyage, gracefully lilting waltz with a punchy bass solo, starrily psychedelic piano and warily descending, snarling cello curlicues. Then she flips the script completely with the album’s airiest, most playful track, Btihi Ala Bali.

Karaam and Ogawa join forces for a percussive, flamenco-infused attack to open Faramdole, which quickly calms to a pensive minor-key ballad, then a darkly circling, turbulent interlude and an increasingly tongue-in-cheek drum break, The band wind up the album with a reprise of the opening theme. This gorgeous record is on the shortlist of the best and most original albums of 2022 so far.

Chilly Suspense and Subtle Humor in Tori Letzler’s In From the Cold Soundtrack

In her soundtrack to the sci-fi Russian spy series In From the Cold – streaming at SpotifyTori Letzler packs a lot into some very brief passages: the action is nonstop. What’s coolest about this is that she sidesteps the usual tropes: no late-night subway sonics, massed cellos, bongos announcing an intruder on the doorstep. or Terminator coldly surveying the aftermath. Instead, Letzler runs with motorik sequences alternating with chilly, drifting atmospherics. toxic industrial textures and simple, brooding piano riffs. Aircraft are also involved, or so it would seem.

Pussy Riot sing the opening credits theme, like a techier version of the Bad Brains with a woman out front. Letzler’s score begins with an airy, drifting hint of a Carpathian-tinged lullaby, followed by a brief, brisk, apprehensive motorway theme as Abba might have done it. This ride leaves the road fast.

A sparse, moody piano interlude disappears into electronic crackles. The loopy motorik piece after that has some of the lowest tones you’ll ever hear blipping from a sequencer. A love theme rises to the level of sarcastic new wave loopiness, but no further. Backward-masked footfalls in a pursuit scene are a similarly wry, deft touch. The way Letzler finally brings the mountain lullaby theme back around is even more artful. This is good driving music: it’ll definitely keep you awake behind the wheel.

A Haunting New Thriller Score by Isobel Waller-Bridge

Today’s episode in New York Music Daily’s second annual January-long celebration of big sounds and towering achievements is Isobel Waller-Bridge‘s 25-track original soundtrack to the World War II thriller Munich: The Edge of War, streaming at Spotify. Interestingly, the composer doesn’t go for retro, whether with orchestration or any of the European or American pop sounds of the day. Instead, her brooding score follows a largely desolate, chilly trajectory that often ends up in ambient industrial territory. It would work just as readily in a dystopic sci-fi thriller.

Tara Nome Doyle sings the opening credits theme, You Dream with a drifting, hazy warmth over lushly orchestrated, moody piano pop. After that, there’s a tensely hurried walk to the British royal residence, coldly plasticky atmospherics and ominous cello beneath disquieted violin harmonics – or their electronic analogue.

From there it’s much of the same. The majority of the tracks here are very brief, under the two-minute mark. Waller-Bridge likes to say a lot with a little: there are no grandiose moments here, only unrelenting grey skies. Sad minimalist piano beneath scrapy microtonal strings, mercilessly mechanical footfalls, grim smoke-off-the-battlefield tableaux and a mercifully brief, eerily whistling cameo by Hitler himself follow in turn.

With its swooping violin, the next-to-last segment, They’ll Hang You For That will give you shivers. Doyle brings the soundtrack full circle with a stripped-down German-language version of the opening theme.

Some Catchy Songs and a Real Heartbreaking One

Been awhile since there’s been a playlist on this page. Four songs in twelve minutes for your listening pleasure. Click on the song title for audio, click on the artist name for their webpage.

Night Palace‘s Jessica Mystic is a drifty, wistful Lynchian jangle-and-keys pop song with a ska-tinged alto sax solo. It all works: go figure.

Churchyard. by Ex-Void is a blast of female-fronted powerpop that’s over in a minute 58. The chorus is “I get so bored.” But not by this song.

Joydah Mae gives us Hands Off Our Children, a big acoustic singalong anthem for our time: “Which side of history will you participate in?”

Warning: this last one will bring tears to your eyes. Teenage songwriter Julie Elizabeth couldn’t record her song Silence because she took the kill shot, “Thinking this would save me, I did what you asked me to…I was loyal to the fight, I lined right up to do what’s right.” And now this up-and-coming performer is too badly crippled to perform. Her friend April recorded it – and sang truth to power over a backing track at the freedom rally at the Lincoln Memorial last Sunday.

A Relentlessly Dark, Chilly Soundtrack For a Relentlessly Dark, Chilly Time

Joseph Trapanese‘s epic soundtrack to season two of The Witcher – streaming at Spotify – is a feast for fans of unrelenting, dark music. And yet, throughout the album’s thirty-two tracks, Trapanese works a vast dynamic range, from a whisper to a roar. Plenty of familiar tropes take centerstage: gloomy minor-key vamps, shivery violins, ominously drifting low-register ambience, and the occasional stormy orchestral interlude or horror-stricken swell. There are plenty of less expected sounds as well: gamelanesque belltones, guttural monstrous allusions and rhythms that run the gamut from motorik to Frankensteinian.

Sudden bursts of sound pounce in from the shadows at the edge of a vast desolation. There’s a long sequence that starts out as a surreal, echoey, solitary nocturnal trip on a subway of the mind and grows to a frantic, thundering chase scene. Down-the-drainpipe industrial ambience gives way to stalker footfalls. A funereal Balkan-tinged tableau recedes into the mist and then makes an unexpected return. An oboe sails mournfully above the waves.

Joey Batey, who plays the role of Jaskier in the series, takes the mic for three songs. Burn Butcher Burn is a soaringly vengeful, Elizabethan folk-tinged art-rock ballad. Whoreson Prison Blues is a funny proto-bluegrass tune; there’s another number that seems to be a spoof of mythological faux-Celtic pop.

Don Davis’ Relentless, Harrowing Matrix Score Finally Available on Vinyl

If reissuing classic film soundtracks on vinyl is a meme, it’s long overdue. One auspicious development is the recent release of Don Davis‘ complete music from The Matrix, just out as a triple vinyl record and streaming at Spotify. Much of the score is very still, with tense highs from the strings and occasionally the cymbals. Suspense is everything, until in a split second something goes haywire, or trouble looms and then explodes, often triggering frenetic bouts of activity. Themes or riffs burst into the sonic picture, only to be cut off mid-phrase. Several of the interludes are especially fleeting, under the one-minute mark.

Big swells and striking, loopy phrasing are recurrent tropes: Philip Glass’ film work appears to be a big influence. An anvil rhythm returns as a foreshadowing device. While the overall sense of terror seldom lifts, Davis’ sense of humor occasionally percolates to the surface, whether in a galloping gamelanesque interlude, or a ridiculously blithe passage for solo harp. One of the tracks is titled Switches Brew. A steady, pulsing theme, Switch Works Her Boa gets frantically fleshed out as Switch Woks Her Boar.

There are also a couple of smartly chosen references to a fugitive riff from Shostakovich’s macabre String Quartet No. 8. The last disc is where Davis gets the orchestra’s brass to dig in hard throughout a long series of stormy, bellicose passages. Taken as a microtonally-tinged stand-alone suite for orchestra and occasional keyboards, this is as entertaining as it is forward-looking – which dovetails with the sensibility of the film.

Darkness and Light For December 7

On the dark side, Karla Rose Moheno – whose metaphorically crushing, allusively haunting Battery Park topped this blog’s picks for best song of 2020 – has not been idle since. Most recently she’s lent her mysterious, endlessly mutable voice to While the World Stops, the new single by Grand Flux. Shadowy, drifting industrial-tinged trip-hop is an unexpected new avenue for her.

On the lighter side, the perennially acerbic Dennis Davison, former frontman of psychedelic cult figures the Jigsaw Seen has been putting out a series of catchy singles, including Sensual Summer. Here he hits the high-beams for some hope in an era that’s been anything but sensual and summery for too many of us.

If you want something 180 degrees from that, check out The Guise of Comedy, a twisted, phantasmagorical 60s-style psych-pop gem

Staying on the dark side for the most part, French cinematic duo Abraham Fogg have a new soundtrack to one of the world’s first horror films, BlĂ„kulla streaming at Bandcamp. You thought Blacula director William Crain was just being clever with that title? This score puts a surrealistically techy spin on those old visuals. Uneasily flickering violin arpeggios rise to a brooding dancefloor thump. Starry keys gleam down icily, minor-key stillness wafts in and out. There’s also a wry, synthy, sometimes goofy motorik sensibility here and there. The devil turns out to be an robotic Terminator type, which makes sense in 2021.

A Haunting, Starry Night with Guitarist Andre Matos

One of the most rapturous, magical albums of 2021 is guitarist AndrĂ© Matos‘ solo acoustic record Estelar, streaming at Bandcamp. He recorded the collection of “comprovisational” nocturnes alone this past May in Harlem, using a cheap practice model from the 1960s.

Among jazz guitarists, Matos is one of the kings of melody (Bill Frisell and Tom Csatari are good reference points if not necessarily comparisons). But where Csatari comes to jazz via Americana, Matos cut his teeth on the blues, and remains a brilliant blues player. There’s a lot of that here, even if if it’s often allusive, adrift in the stars.

Matos’ phrasing here is very spare, so much that fret noise becomes an essential part of the picture. There are no wasted notes and no big chords, just little chordlets intermingled amid gently floating slide licks. While there are dreamy interludes, overall this is a pretty dark record, no surprise considering the circumstances under which it was made.

Most of these tracks appear to be single takes; a few feature overdubs. The first is Ao Relento (Outside), Matos’ desolate, spare slide phrases congealing into a spare, mournful minor-key blues anchored by a persistent low E.

After the rustic Aguda (Acute), a crepuscular atmosphere lingers throughout Miradouro (Perspective), as Matos reaches toward a bittersweet downward resolution. The suspense in Pensomentos builds as Matos hints at where he might take the hypnotically atmospheric central vamp. Luz Subita, true to its title, is one of the warmest numbers here.

Track six, So (The Only One), is absolutely forlorn and the most album’s most Lynchian interlude. With its throaty, keening slide riffs, Fadiga Do Concreto (literally: Concrete Fatigue) makes a good segue, Matos building to a punchy intensity over a drone.

There are wry hints at a ba-BUMP roadhouse theme in Plantas Medicinas…hmmm, you be the judge.

After that, the unease rises amid lustrous resonance in Chuva Miuda (Drizzle). Matos winds up this quietly edgy suite of sorts with the allusively sinister mood piece Consciencia do Mundo. Assuming that world events don’t derail the best albums of 2021 page here at the end of the year, you’ll see this one on it.