New York Music Daily

Music for Transcending Dark Times

Category: postrock

Saluting a Century of the Wacky, Versatile First Electronic Instrument

Now that live music – and movies, and sports, and museums, and galleries – in New York have been shut down by the coronavirus scare, what can a person do for entertainment? Spring is here: you could go for a good, long run…or listen to a creepy fifty-one track album of theremin music. Or do both at once – it’s on Bandcamp.

To be fair, the NY Theremin Society’s compilation album Theremin 100 isn’t always creepy. While Russian scientist Leon Theremin’s 1920 invention may be most readily recognized for its uncanny evocations of creaky doors in a million horror movies, there are thousands of artists from around the world who have mastered the granddaddy of all sci-fi instruments’ magical force field for both good and evil. A lot of them are on this record. And one of the best, Pamelia Stickney – who’s surprisingly not on it – had a scheduled gig on March 20 at the Owl, but like pretty much everything going on around town, it’s been cancelled.

The album’s first track, Christopher Payne’s Somnambulist is a loopy, swoopy, chromatic nocturne that wouldn’t be out of place in a horror movie: are those strings and bass real, or an expert theremin imitation? Other tracks in the same vein include Herb Deutsch’s Longing – one of many with just theremin and darkly neoromantic piano, and Ei and Kuli Schreiber’s surreal tunnel narrative Train Jumper, at the top of a substantial list.

Often the theremin will evoke a violin, as in Peg Ming’s Therexotica, a gentle, brisk bolero with retro 50s twinkle; About Aphrodite’s lustrous Membran Music; or where Gregoire Blanc adds just a hint of shudder over eerily glimmering piano in Waves – with a bridge that’s too gleefully grisly to give away.

Therminal C’s Sputnik Crash powerfully demonstrates the instrument’s vast range and little-used percussive potential, as does Thorwald Jorgenson’s epic seaside tableau Distant Shores. The theremin gets backward masked in Hekla’s Twin Peaks pop tune Indenderro, used for squiggles and ominous banks of sound in Aetherghul’s Fire in the Sky, and an imploring vocal analogue in Jeff Pagano’s The Ancient Sea.

Some of the acts here employ a theremin for laughs. The Radio Science Orchestra contribute Atom Age Girl, a wry space-surf theme; Everling throws in his droll, bloopy Playing Theremin Is My Madness. The joke is simpler yet subtler in Hyperbubble’s I’m Your Satellite, while Robert Meyer’s deadpan teutonic boudoir groove Taxi is pretty ridiculous. Matt Dallow’s circus rock theme Tailor Made Destination isn’t far behind.

A handful of these pieces are massively orchestrated, like the Nightterrors’ macabre, Alan Parsons Project-ish Megafauna. Others, including Dorit Chrysler’s atmospherically circling Murderballad and Elizabeth Brown’s desolate March 21, are more spare. Twenty-nine tracks in, an electric guitar finally appears in Veronik’s Anomala, which is sort of House of the Rising Sun with a theremin. Song number 38, by the Keystone, is a strangely drifting duet for lapsteel and theremin. The most atmospheric track here, Gabriel and Rachel Guma’s Balloons Tied Up in the Sky, evokes whalesong. The weirdest one, Aileen Adler’s Piezoelectric Dreaming, is a mashup of Balkan reggae and spaghetti western themes.

Much of the rest of this material is classically-tinged: Japan Theremin Oldschool’s take of Ave Maria; Tears of Sirens’ Under the Milky Way (an original, not the Church classic), and Lydia Kavina’s In Green, a pretty piano-and-theremin ballad that wouldn’t be out of place in the ELO catalog if that band had a theremin. Maurizio Mansueti does a great job getting his contraption to emulate bel canto singing in the moody Blindfolded, while there’s a real aria in Robert Schillinger’s Bury Me, Bury Me Wind. The compilers who put this thing together deserve enormous credit for the consistently high quality, vast scope and imagination of most everything here.

New Wave-Era Legends Wire Play Their Most Intimate NYC Shows in Decades

On one hand, it’s a shock that new wave-era legends Wire are still together and making excellent albums. Considering how vast their influence has been, from the dreampop bands of the late 80s through indie rock, it’s also a shock to see that their next New York shows are at the smallest venue they’ve played here in decades. Their March 11-12, 8 PM two-night stand is not at, say, Bowery Ballroom, but the Music Hall of Williamsburg, for $30 general admission.

The biggest shock of all is that the shows aren’t sold out yet, although they probably will be soon. Since the club is no longer part of the Bowery Ballroom chain, you can try your luck with getting tickets at the box office, which is open on show nights. This being midweek, it’s also a good bet that the L train will still be running by the time the band are done; if not, the G at Lorimer isn’t so faraway. You could even walk down Bedford to the south side and catch the J or M at Marcy.

Wire have yet another album, Mind Hive – streaming at Spotify – to add to their immense back catalog. The production is on the big-room side, as it has been since the group reformed back in the mid-80s, guitars dense and icy with reverb as usual. It’s amazing how the band work their signature tropes – sometimes an insistent, downstroke guitar pulse, other times those deliciously creepy, Syd Barrett-ish minor-to-major changes – without repeating themselves. And for a band who made a name for themselves as Modernists, they’re pure Romantics at heart. They’re not the least bit optimistic about the future: this is their most dystopic album yet, often drifting into psychedelia.

The sarcastic opening track, Be Like Them blends that downstroke beat and those ominous changes, setting the tone for the rest of the record. Track two, Cactused is classic Wire: sardonically wide-eyed spoken-word lyrics on the perils of the datamining age, that steady pulse, a big crunchy chorus and spacious, reggae-tinged bass from Graham Lewis. Primed and Ready is only slightly less sardonic: it could be a three-quarterspeed, backbeat-driven version of a standout track from the band’s iconic 1977 debut, Pink Flag.

Off the Beach has a watery theme that looks back to the Cure’s first album, when those guys were a scruffy janglerock band. Unrepentant is an unexpectedly successful detour into trancey, Indian-tinged psychedelia, in a Black Angels vein. From there the band segue into Shadows, the album’s grimmest, most Orwellian scenario and best song,

Awash in creepy keyboards, the ominously galloping Oklahoma continues the macabre, futuristic narrative. The album’s big epic, Hung has a smoky, grey haze over a slow, pounding sway; “In a moment of doubt the damage was done” is the mantra. The group close the record with the elegaic, atmospheric Humming. Who would have thought that a band who debuted almost forty-five years ago would still be going so strong.

Darkly Noisy, Unhinged Sonics and a Union Pool Show From the Resolutely Uncategorizable Parlor Walls

Since spinning off from the noisily anthemic Eula, enigmatically intense duo Parlor Walls have developed a careening, slashing style all their own. Frontwoman/guitarist Alyse Lamb winkingly calls it “trash jazz.” But it’s more rock than jazz, and it isn’t really trashy, either. While their songs often sound like they’re thisclose to going completely off the rails, they’re actually very meticulously choreographed. And as intense a stage presence as Lamb is, Chris Mulligan is a force of nature, playing drums and an assortment of keyboards at the same time.

Other bands – Mr. Airplane Man, most famously – have done it, and then there was Ray Manzarek, who played a keyboard bass with his lefthand and organ with his right. But this band’s really something to see. They’re playing the album release party for their latest one, Heavy Tongue – streaming at Bandcamp – on Feb 27 at around 10:30 PM at Union Pool. Cover is $10; Lutkie’s pulsing, noisy electronic weedscapes open the night at around 9:30. You will need to take the G train home unless you’re looking forward to hours waiting on the L platform, or you get very lucky.

In a lot of ways, the new album is a return to the sometimes sideways, sometimes in-your-face assault of the band’s debut ep, although the songs (or soundscapes) are longer. The lurching first track, Birds of Paradise is a mashup of jagged late 70s no wave, more enveloping, techy ambience (and early New Order too). They segue into Game, its blippy/buzzy contrasts filtering in and out of an uneasy swirl over Mulligan’s piledriver pulse.

Lunchbox is a loopy, unexpectedly amusing detour into industrial trip-hop, if such a thing exists, Lamb’s voice calm amid the mechanical maelstrom. In Violets, hip-hop becomes a ghost in the relentless machine, followed by the grinding 80s Foetus sonics of Pinafore.

Lamb pulls back the effects on her voice and then really cuts loose in the brooding, pummeling Spinning Gold, which could be Algiers with a woman out front. The two close the record with Rails,its spacy machine-shop sonics and wry  Supremes allusions.

Righteous Rage and Smoky Atmospherics with Algiers at Rough Trade

Algiers played a tantalizingly brief, barely half-hour set at Rough Trade on Wednesday night. This blog characterized their 2015 debut album as “revolutionary postrock soul.” These days, industrial gothic gospel is a better description. Their smoky, swirly yet rhythmically pummeling sound is more Sisters of Mercy, less Terminator soundtrack now.

Frontman/keyboardist Franklin James Fisher sings powerfully in the studio; he is amazing live, and even more dynamically diverse. On the band’s opening number, Void – the final cut on their just-released vinyl record, There Is No Year – he had a gleefully brittle Jello Biafra quaver in his voice. That song came across as a Dead Kennedys homage, right down to the ominous chromatics and drummer Matt Tong’s 2/4 hardcore thump. It seems to be the key to the record, with its relentless theme of escape.

Aside from a leaner sound, what was most obvious was how much of the music was in the mixer: guitar, bass, keys, backing vocals…other than Fisher’s electric piano, and his own mixer too, was anything actually being played live? Guitarist Lee Tesche put down his axe for a sax on the second number, but if that was miked at all, it got lost in the grim, grey-sky sonics. Although he did reach for his tremolo bar for Lynchian twang for the intro to a song a little later, and his icily minimalist, Robert Smith-style riffs afterward cut through the mix as well.

Fisher channeled angst-fueled Levi Stubbs passion throughout Unoccupied, a darkly techy update on classic, minor-key Motown: an allusive breakup narrative, it seemed to be the only number in the set that wasn’t political. “Run around, run away from you, America, while it burns in the streets,” Fisher belted as Dispossession, another new track, took shape over his own stark, insistent gospel piano chords. “Here they comes from the ashes of ashes, so immune to defeat,” he cautioned – but there was also defiance and hope in his imploring crescendos and flood metaphors. Which seems to be his ultimate message: with their bankster economy and surveillance, the enemy is always encroaching. But we’ve got the numbers.

Algiers will be back on April 9 at St. Vitus, a great spot for them.

A Relentless Gothic Postrock/Metal Hybrid from Alltar

Portland, Oregon’s Alltar bridge the gap between gloomy, dystopic Mogwai postrock and doom metal. Their new album Hallowed is streaming at Bandcamp. No shredding, no stoner blues, no boogie, just slow-baked, grimly swaying grey-sky vistas punctuated by the occasional upward drive. Interestingly, 80s gothic rock is a big influence along with the requisite Sabbath references.

The opening track, Horology starts out as a watery, spare chromatic bass-driven vamp and then explodes with a firestorm from guitarists Tim Burke and Colin Hill. The vocals are buried in the mix: if the dark early 80s Boston bands like Mission of Burma played metal, they would have sounded like this. Likewise, if the Cure were a metal band, they would have built War Altar as this band does here, taking a morose, drippy stalactite theme, finally making snarling doom metal out of it with a long series of distorted 6/8 guitar riffs and disembodied vocals. There’s also a sarcastic cynicism to the lyrics.

The most epic track here is Induction, opening with a clanging, bell-like, slowly syncopated art-rock sway. “Society has lost its connection to humanity, and I can’t understand why,” keyboardist/frontman Juan Carlos Caceres ponders. “If chosen, what would you say?” Drummer Nate Wright’s careful accents foreshadow grinding doom metal crush: again, It’s rare that you hear a guy behind the kit who’s as dynamic as he is here.

Hailstorm tremolo-picking and a slow, evil chromatic riff open Spoils before the relentless crush and lo-res distortion kick in, with a final rise from super-slow, to just plain slow and ceaselessly grim. The band seem to care more about vocals than most metal acts: the apocalypse seems awfully close. Four solid tracks to smoke up to and contemplate the end.

A Rare Live Show by Composer Christopher Marti’s Intense, Cinematic Postrock Project

Guitarist Christopher Marti is best known for his film scores. But he also has a pummeling, epically vast postrock instrumental project, Cosmic Monster. He’s released several albums under that group name over the years, and he’s bringing that project to do an improvisational show tonight, Sept 5 at 6 PM at Holo in Ridgewood. What’s more, the show is free, and since it’s so early, you still have time to get home on the L train before the nightly L-pocalypse begins.

To get a sense of what Marti does with Cosmic Monster, give a listen to their eponymous 2014 six-track ep up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. The ominously titled first track, Strontium 90 – inspired by the Fukushima disaster three years previously, maybe? – has a pounding attack and multitracked guitars that strongly evoke Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth, coalescing out of enigmatic close harmonies to a straightforward, anthemic chorus and then retreating.

Electric Battle Masterpiece has a watery 80s dreampop vibe – it could be Sleepmakeswaves covering a track from the Church’s Seance album. Marti brings back the vintage SY feel for Monster/Monster, awash in vigorously slamming tremolo-picked chords and big bass/drums crescendos, then returns to punchy Aussie-style spacerock with Answers From Space.

Ten Thousand Pink Satellites is both the densest and most concise track here, a spacier take on My Bloody Valentine. Marti winds up the album with the evilly majestic The Deep Blue Sleep, part Big Lazy noir surf, part coldly drifting deep-space tableau, part crawling Mogwai menace. It’s anybody’s guess what Marti might do in Queens, flying without a net, but it’s a good bet it might sound like all of the above.

Enigmatic, Cinematic Instrumentals and a Williamsburg Gig from the Royal Arctic Institute

The cover photo for the Royal Arctic Institute’s latest album Accidental Achievement – streaming at Bandcamp – shows the utterly flavorless top section of a 1970s adobe-tinged concrete highrise apartment complex. If only we could have stuck with that kind of quality construction…then again, nobody’s ever going to live in those cheap plastic-and-glass highrises that are being thrown up by sleazeball developers to replace perfectly good brick buildings on seemingly every Manhattan and Brooklyn streetcorner. Seriously: somebody could get murdered there and nobody would ever know. The cinematic instrumental trio’s latest album has a similar sardonic edge. They’re playing Rough Trade on April 16 at 9 PM; $13 advance tix, which you can and should get at the box office at the back of the record store, are still available as of today

The album’s first track, Leaky Goes to Brooklyn hints at spacerock before bassist Gerard Smith and drummer Lyle Hysen start tiptoeing behind guitarist John Leon’s lingering noir lines; then he switches to pedal steel for a mournful southwestern gothic feel. Then the band completely flip the script with The Grubert Effect, switching coyly between hypnotic, insistent Raybeats attack and a loungey theme.

A shout-out to surrealist poet Raymond Roussel has a lingering, reverbtoned, strolling menace, the steel adding a big-sky wonder over the jangle and eventual roar below. Graveltoned bass soars over resonant steel in When Razors Were Works of Art, Leon savaging the upper registers with his guitar as the rhythm section stays chill.

The Lark Mirror is a steady, distantly bittersweet, conversational stroll highlighted by plaintive violin – it’s the album’s most haunting track. Frosted Tips sardonically channels Celtic balladry via Sonic Youth. The Vorth is an icily dreampop-tinged march, while Dear Mr. Bookman – a Joe Maynard shout-out, maybe? – is a surreal mashup of western swing and triumphant new wave stadium rock.

Dark Matter (Song for Randy Newman to Sing) slowly coalesces into a pastoral waltz that quickly shifts into cold, cinderblock postrock territory. The album winds up with the jaunty, jangly, Northern Progress Exploration Company, the missing link between Fairport Convention and maybe early zeros Hoboken instrumentalist the Subway Surfers. The album makes a good companion to this year’s highly anticipated forthcoming release by this era’s premier noir guitar soundtrack band, Big Lazy.

Kyle Nasser Brings a Rogues Gallery to a West Village Gig

The genially ambling final track on tenor saxophonist Kyle Nasser’s latest album Persistent Fancy – streaming at Bandcamp – is titled Coffee and Cannabis. If you like those two things, you’ll probably like the album. He’s playing a trio show at the Bar Next Door on Feb 21 at 8 PM; cover is $12..

True to the title, that song has a dichotomy: balmy sax over guitarist Jeff Miles’ growling, expansively resonant chords, the loose-limbed 4/4 groove supplied by pianist Dov Manski, bassist Nick Jost and drummer Allen Mednard. Nasser takes his album title from the same poetic source that Iron Maiden drew on for their longest epic, which might explain Miles’ shreddy solo later on.

For those who can think outside the box enough to handle boisterous P-Funk buffoonery and enigmatic postrock in a jazz context, this is an entertaining record. Yet much of it is also very serious. Nasser takes considerable inspiration from literary rogues from throughout history: as he points out, they’re invariably more interesting than the good guys.

His fluttery microtones in the opening cut, Split Gut brings to mind Joe Maneri, but more straight-ahead, harmonizing and then trading off with altoist Roman Filiu. The second track, Arrival, foreshadows the carefree/gritty sax/guitar dialectic of the closing number, Manski taking off for Mars with his wry Bernie Worrell-ish portamento synth.The epic Ascent of Henry Monmouth traces a certain Shakespearean king’s journey from Falstaff sidekick to conquistador, a pensive stroll punctuated by moments of wary humor and sharply focused solos. The title track is also a study in contrasts: goofy wah-wah riffs versus tightly wound horns over insistent syncopation, woozy synth solo followed by Miles’ sharp-fanged attack. CBD espresso, anybody?

The Baroque Suite, a triptych, is divided up into a prelude, fugue and improv. The first part juxtaposes a more easygoing take on Rudresh Mahanthappa’s bhangra jazz with glimmering neoromanticisms and trippy Sun Ra twinkle. The second has a playful, shuffling interweave, which goes doublespeed up to an irresistible quote for a coda.

Sticky Hipster is a catchy, distantly latin-tinged, offbeat instrumental rock tune, Nasser following Miles’ uptight shred with a cool-headed solo, Mednard’s sotto-voce vaudevillian romp kicking off a final anthemic verse. The Eros Suite, another triptych – hmmmmm – opens with the saxes and drums playing cat-and-mouse, then Mednard predictably drives it home. There’s also a tongue-in-cheek boudoir theme for a postlude:. It’s allmost painfully obvious, but it’s going to go viral once enough college kids discover it.

3-Way, Nasser insists, does not refer to the preceding topic but to a conversation, in this case mostly between edgy guitar and bright sax work. The album also includes a jazz remake of a Hindemith theme

A Tantalizingly Enigmatic Trio Album From Ambitious Keyboardist JP Schlegelmilch

Multi-keyboardist JP Schlegelmilch is the not-so-secret weapon in psychedelic noir surf band Hearing Things, who are playing a welcome return gig at Barbes on March 1 at 10 PM. Previously, he distinguished himself as the only pianist to record an album of solo transcriptions of Bill Frisell works. His latest release, Visitors – streaming at Bandcamp – is an intriguingly uncategorizable trio record with guitarist Jonathan Goldberger and drummer Jim Black. The three don’t have any gigs coming up together, but Schlegelmilch is playing with psychedelic lapsteel monster Myk Freedman‘s band at Barbes on Jan 30 at 8. Goldberger will be leading one of his groups at Pete’s on Feb 2 at 5 PM followed by drummer Tim Kuhl, whose pointillistic soundscapes shift from Claudia Quintet tableaux to trippier, more hypnotic vistas.

The not-so-secret weapon in Schlegelmilch’s trio is a vintage Yamaha organ, popular with 70s bands and a favorite of Sun Ra. Here, it’s used more for atmosphere and as an anchor rather than as a lead instrument. Schlegelmilch’s eerily keening, Morricone-esque textures don’t come to the forefront of the first song, the title track, until Goldberger has done some enigmatic scenery-chewing over Black’s cascading waltz beat.

Goldberger introduces the second track, Chiseler with a gritty, syncopated pedalpoint as Schlegelmilch and Black build rhythmically shifting variations, part Sonic Youth, part Raybeats, part downtown 80s guitar skronk, up to a neat squirrelly/atmospheric contrast. The album’s most transparent track, Ether Sun has a slow, anthemic Frisellian bittersweetness, with lingering spacerock ambience. Corvus hints at mathrock and then Big Lazy noir cinematics, Goldberger finally cutting loose with some jagged tremolo-picking over the organ’s waves as Schlegelmilch builds increasingly icy textures.

Lake Oblivion is a diptych. Imagine a more rhythmically challenging, Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth with an organ: that’s the first part, decaying to a grim drone and then back. The second has an altered motorik drive, Goldberger’s lingering phrases and dying stompbox flares and flickers beneath the organ’s steady, blippy riffs until it coalesces as a postrock anthem.

The album’s most epic track, Terminal Waves has a vast windsweptness punctuated by a bell-like dirge melody, Goldberger’s resonant lines building to a frenetic, metallic scream. The closing miniature shows how versatile the Yamaha can be, in this case both a mellotron and a vibraphone. Whether you consider this jazz, postrock, psychedelia or film music, it’s all good.

Towering, Hypnotic, Psychedelic Korean Postrock Majesty from Black String at Lincoln Center

Korean postrock band Black String’s show at Lincoln Center last night seemed much more terse and minimalist than their feral set last year at Flushing Town Hall. Yet while the songs this time out seemed more focused and stripped-down, the music was no less psychedelic. There, bandleader Yoon Jeong Heo was all over the place on her geomungo bass zither, delivering every texture and timbre that can possibly be plucked – with a stick! – from that magical instrument. Here, she was more percussive, and in that sense, hypnotic, and the band followed suit.

At that Queens gig, guitarist Jean Oh let loose majestic, David Gilmour-esque flares and got lowdown with some gritty Marc Ribot skronk. Here, he played mostly big, icy, resonant block chords, adding contrasting delicate flavor via flickering electronics. Last night, it seemed more than ever that multi-reedman Aram Lee has become the group’s lead instrumentalist, switching between wood flutes of various sizes, running endless variations on simple pentatonic riffs, often with a bluesy majesty. Drummer Min Wang Hwang made the tricky time signatures and metric shifts look easy, whether adding marionettish cymbal accents, fullscale stomp on a couple of floor toms, or with the thump of his janggu barrel drum.

The enveloping, persistent unease brought to mind the insistent, grey grimness of Mogwai, Godspeed You Black Emperor at their most focused…or Jethro Tull playing a Glenn Branca symphony (that’s where the flute comes in). To max out the psychedelic factor, the band rode the sonic rollercoaster, often bringing the music down to a simple pairing of instruments: there seemed to be fewer moments when everyone was charging along in unison.

At one point, Heo marvelled that the ancient Korean folk themes which the group use as a stepping-off point seem absolutely avant garde today. She could just as easily have said no wave. Black String’s most hammeringly emphatic instrumentals would have been perfectly at home in the early 80s downtown scene.

The most poignant moment of the night was a gently imploring prayer of sorts wafting up from Lee’s flute: here as elsewhere, the electronics (when they were working) added subtle echo or sustain effects. The most explosive interlude was a ferocious geomungo-drum duel: it was astonishing to witness Heo snapping off so many volleys of notes against a single, pulsing low pedal tone.

They closed the set on an insistent, triumphant note with Song of the Sea, a mini-suite of ancient fishermen’s songs that Hwang delivered in his powerful pansori baritone, modulated with a wide-angle, Little Jimmy Scott-style vibrato.

What’s become most clear after seeing this band in two very different spaces – each with an excellent sound system – is that they need better gear. The guitar rig Oh was using delivered a cold, trebly, flat, transistor amp sound that died away too soon. And Heo needs some custom pickups for her geomungo. She was out of breath at the end of several numbers, yet there were too many places where her riffs got lost in the mix. A performer so mesmerizing to watch deserves to be heard.

The next free show at the atrium space at Lincoln Center on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is their more-or-less monthly salsa dance party. This time the featured band is oldschool Cuban-flavored charanga Son Sublime. Showtime is 7:30; the earlier you get there, the better the chances of getting in.