New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Category: postrock

Arooj Aftab’s Misty, Organic New Album Transcends Tragedy

Pakistani singer Arooj Aftab’s new album Vulture Prince – streaming at Bandcamp – takes its title from a Parsi funeral custom, where a body is left for the vultures in order to continue the natural cycle of life. The backstory is grim: the singer lost her younger brother Maher while making the record. Somehow she found the perseverance to transcend that tragedy. The central theme is revisiting places, and situations, and people, who may not exist anymore. With the lockdowners still exerting an iron grip on much of the world, the album couldn’t be more relevant.

As usual, Aftab defies categorization. Several of these songs could be called ghazals, but the instrumentation is more jazz and art-rock oriented. Baghon Main is a verdantly catchy remake of a track from her debut album, Maeve Gilchrist opening the song with a flourish on her harp, then Petros Klampanis’ stately bass and Juliette Jones’ distant violin enter the picture. Aftab’s meticulously modulated voice has taken on additional gravitas and maybe even more nuance – if that’s possible! – in the the years since.. And it’s the key to the album. Instrumental voicings that would have been spun through a mixer earlier in her career are organic now – the echo and doppler-like effects from the violin, for example.

Diya Hai has a similarly catchy, spiky backdrop, Badi Assad supplying  acoustic guitar with Jones’ shivery violin entering later, Aftab’s gently emotive voice just as haunting. She keeps her melismas low-key and lustrous in Inayaat, awash in violin, Aftab’s spare, hypnotic piano contrasting with the incisive pings and ripples of the harp. Percussionist Jamey Haddad’s shift from a drifting, ghazal-like feel to an implied qawwali groove is a striking touch.

Aftab multitracks her vocals in the starkly catchy minor-key dub reggae tune Last Night, a setting of a Rumi love poem with a handful of lines in English. Mohabbat comes across as a gently undulating mashup of Elizabethan British folk and Punjabi devotional music, Nadje Noordhuis’ resonant trumpet calm above Gyan Riley’s guitar, the harp and the tremoloing lines of the violin.

Aftab’s misty intonation of her late friend Annie Ali Khan’s lyrics in Saans Lo – an encouragement to move on and the closest thing here to Aftab’s swirly, immersive earlier work – is unselfconsciously wrenching. She closes the album with Suroor, her hazy vocals contrasting with the lively, lightly processed harp and a dancing rhythm: as imaginatively arranged as this is, it’s the closest thing to a traditional ghazal here.

An Edgy Playlist for a Spring Day…and a Great Upcoming Webcast

Spring is here and artists are starting to release more and more singles. Prediction: this year we’re going to see more and more music that was recorded in defiance of the lockdown. For your listening pleasure, here’s a self-guided playlist that’s just a small capsule of some of the very good things bubbling up from under the radar:

Molly Burman‘s Fool Me With Flattery has a noirish 60s rock edge with tropicalia tinges. Great jangly guitar!

Just when you think Paper Citizen‘s Scratching the Surface is totally no wave/skronky retro early 80s dystopia, the big catchy crunchy chorus kicks in. The lyrical message is allusive but spot on: let’s get off the screen before it gets us.

Shannon Clark & the Sugar‘s Let It Ride is not a cover of the Bachman-Turner Overdrive hit but a slow-burning minor key blues original. Remember the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks? This is probably on the jukebox there

Blood Lemon‘s Black-Capped Cry oozes through slow, doomy postmetal minimalism. They’re an Idaho band, and Idaho is a free state, so chances are they recorded this legally!

In elegant, stately Hebrew, singer Shifra Levy sings If I Found Grace over pianist/composer Yerachmiel’s neoromantic crescendos. It’s a Purim piano power ballad. Purim is sort of the Jewish Halloween: it’s not macabre, but all the cool kids dress up in costume and go to parties. Purim is over and Passover is looming, but give it a spin anyway

And speaking of awesome Jewish music, iconic klezmer violinist Alicia Svigals is playing a webcast live from Rockland, New York this March 13 at 7 PM. She chooses her spots for when she does these broadcasts, always gives you plenty of thrills and chills but just as much poignancy and an encyclopedic knowledge of the source material.

An Uneasy Treat From Noa Fort and Vinnie Sperrazza

The new short album Small Cities by multi-keyboardist Noa Fort and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza – streaming at Bandcamp – is a real change of pace for both of them because it’s so minimalist. The centerpiece, Only Happy When I’m Haunted, is the real showstopper here. Bookended by a wry drum solo, and a final, playful vocal-and drum-tune, it features Fort on what sounds like an old Yamaha organ instead of her usual piano. And it’s creepy, with an almost-unhinged tension similar to Serena Jost’s improvisational work in a completely diffferent context.

All proceeds of purchases go to Planned Parenthood.

A Haunting, Hypnotic Elegy For People of Color Murdered by Police Since 2017

Cinematic postrock soul band Algiers originally released the anti-police violence broadside Cleveland on their 2017 album The Underside of Power. Frontman Franklin James Fisher’s impassioned vocals channeled determination to decimate what’s left of Jim Crow, whether the old or new kinds. In the wake of the protests of the past several months, they’ve released one of the most extended singles of all time, Cleveland 20/20 – streaming at Bandcamp – adding the names of 232 innocent people of color murdered by police since the song first came out. Fisher has also included the victims of the child murders that plagued Atlanta from 1979 to 1981. It is even more of a shock to discover that so many of these people were women.

This is sort of the Shoah single of 2020: haunting, hypnotic and relentless, over a swirling, gothic motorik background that decays to bleakly atmospheric free jazz. And at almost thirty-four minutes, it’s as grimly relevant as music gets in 2020.

There’s also a “vocal mix” that’s about half as long, with just the roll call of the murdered, gospel harmonies and handclaps.

Get Lost in Domkraft’s Day of Doom Live Album

The latest in the Day of Doom Live series – immortalizing the performances at last year’s festival of dark psychedelic rock at St. Vitus in Greenpoint – is Domkraft’s searing set, streaming at Bandcamp. This what separates real musicians from wannabes. Anybody can sound like a million bucks in the studio, but onstage, you have to bring it, and Domkraft don’t disappoint. As with the other bands who played the festival, their influences range beyond metal to sledgehammering postrock and swirilng dreampop.

They get epic right from the start with The Rift, a hypnotic, mostly one-chord jam punctuated by hypnotic, insistent upward waves, guitarist Martin Widholm slowly dialing in the wah to make things even trippier. Bassist/frontman Martin Wegeland’s downtuned axe buzzes behind Widholm’s uneasy resonance as they launch into Through the Ashes, which is more doomy and chromatic, with a gloomy interlude where the guitar drops out midway through.

The tasty, evil riff that opens the studio version of Watchers gets lost here: this is more about dense head-bobbing atmospherics as drummer Anders Dahlgren drives it into doublespeed. But the version of Flood here has more menace and textural bite than the original.

Meltdown of the Orb is the set’s most hypnotic moment, like the early Black Angels at their loudest. They close with Landslide, slowly bringing up the eerie opening riff and then hitting a vikings-in-space groove in 6/8 time.

It should go without saying that nobody wants to live in a world where shows like this are against the law: just ask Domkraft, who come from Sweden, which never locked down this past year. Time to get busy, people: the US Supreme Court handed down a temporary injunction overturning New York dictator Andrew Cuomo’s ban on religious gatherings. Concerts – the kind outside of houses of worship – should be our next order of business!

Horsehunter’s Crushingly Psychedelic Set at Last Year’s Day of Doom Festival Immortalized on a New Live Album

In a stroke of genius, the organizers of the Day of Doom Festival at St. Vitus in Brooklyn last year decided to record it. They’re now releasing the recordings; the first was a wickedly psychedelic set by Summoner. The latest one in the series is Horsehunter’s Day of Doom Live, streaming at Bandcamp. These albums’ sound quality is consistently excellent, no surprise considering the venue’s tremendous PA system.

As these records remind, not all the bands at the festival were straight-up doom metal: the loosely connecting thread was dark psychedelia. Horsehunter have throat-shredding vocals and build immersive, dynamically shifting atmospheres that brings to mind early 80s no wave bands like the Ex and the dreampop of My Bloody Valentine as much as any kind of metal. For a band who can be dangerously loud, they’re sometimes shockingly quiet.

There are only four tracks here: only their first number, Witchery, is less than ten minutes long. They open that one with feedback shrieking from guitarists’ Michael Harutyunyan and Dan Harris’ Flying V and Les Paul, bassist Himi Stringer and drummer Nick Cron building to a hypnotic, enveloping gallop and then a series of bludgeoningly tricky rhythms.

Bring Out Yer Dead, the first of the epics, shifts from a spare, funereal, circling riff to a long series of variations on gritty, thick cinderblock chords. They bring it full circle, hauntingly.

Nuclear Rapture has allusive Sabbath chromatics over an undulating mathrock-tinged sway, an unexpectedly minimalist, low-key funeral march midway through, a tantalizingly brief thicket of machete tremolo-picking and finally a big payoff with a completely haphazard guitar solo.

Decaying for a bit to more sheets of feedback, they segue from there into a practically seventeen-minute version of Stoned to Death to close the set. This is where the doom wafts in, from a syncopated Electric Funeral riff, to a spine-pounding doublespeed break, crazed exchanges of guitar shredding and tarpit atmospherics.

This blog has been agitating for years for artists to release more live albums, considering that it’s infinitely cheaper to record a show than rent studio time. Who else had the presence of mind to record a live set at St. Vitus, or any other good metal venue? Let’s hear it.

Flickering Nocturnes and Big Sky Atmospherics From Suss

Back in 2018, this blog called New York cinematic instrumenalists Suss “the missing link beween Brian Eno and Ennio Morricone.” Their debut album was aptly titled Ghost; the release show, at a black-box theatre in Long Island City, was magically sepulchral and unexpectedly energetic, the band taking their time expanding on the record’s distantly Lynchian themes. Their new vinyl album Promise – streaming at Bandcamp – is even more vast and atmospheric. It’s best appreciated as a cohesive whole – with a pause to flip the record over.

The opening number, Midnight is a characteristic, glacially unwinding big-sky tableau, pedal steel player Jonathan Gregg’s minimalist lines washing over the ambience from guitarists Pat Irwin, Bob Holmes and keyboardist Gary Lieb.

Drift, the second cut, is exactly that, a flicker of low, twangy reverb guitar finally puncturing the enveloping, misty layers. Individual instruments become more distinct in Home, a minimistically folksy Great Plains nocturne.

The guitars get a little grittier and starrier in No Man’s Land – and is that a harmonium shadowing them? Mission is Pink Floyd spacerock with half the notes and layers of guitar, while  Echo Lake is a clever study in sound bouncing off one distant surface back to another.

Pensively strummed acoustic chords and the occasional troubled, watery electric guitar phrase linger beneath the hovering atmospherics in Winter Light, the album’s most ominous and memorable interlude. They close with the hypnotically twinkling Nightlight.

A Chilly Album of Solo Atmospherics For Our Time From Violinist Sarah Bernstein

Violinist Sarah Bernstein has written everything from microtonal jazz to string quartets to jazz poetry. As many artists have done this year, she’s released a solo album, Exolinger, streaming at Bandcamp. As you would expect, it’s her most minimalist yet, a chilly series of reverb-drenched instrumental and vocal soundscapes that directly and more opaquely reflect the alienation and inhumanity we’ve all suffered under the lockdown – outside of Sweden, or Nicaragua, or South Dakota, anyway.

The album’s first track, Carry This is a series of loopy car horn-like phrases that get pushed out of the picture by noisy fragments pulsing through the sonic picture, the reverb on Bernstein’s violin up so high that it isn’t immediately obvious she’s plucking the strings. It could be a song by Siouxsie & the Banshees spinoff the Creatures.

The second track, Ratiocinations is an increasingly assaultive series of variations on echo effects using a variety of chilly reverb timbres. The third piece, Tree, is definitely one for our time:

Crisis of mixed proportions
Manageable in ways
Mitigated, maximized, handled, contained
Sitting outside the birds have sirens
Fresh city air
The tree has been here awhile,
Has always been here
Before 1984, before 2020

Does Ghosts Become Crowds refer to a return toward normalcy…or a parade of the dead? The mechanical strobe of the grey noise behind Bernstein’s spare vocalese seems to indicate the latter.

The Plot works on multiple levels. On the surface, it’s a lengthy, shivery, blustery commentary – and demonstration – of the music inherent in language, and vice versa. In this case, apocalyptic industrial chaos trumps pretty much everything.

Through Havoc is a series of echoey, crunchy, noisy loops. “How strong is your will? Do you last a few hours?” Bernstein asks in We Coast, a moody study in resonance versus rhythm. She closes the album with its one moment of levity, Whirling Statue, which opens with what sounds like a talkbox.

Deliciously Lynchian Guitar From Ari Chersky

Guitarist Ari Chersky plays a darkly hypnotic blend of ambient soundscapes, slashing guitar jazz and film noir themes. His album Fear Sharpens the Dagger is streaming at Bandcamp, and it’s a great Halloween playlist.

The first track Take The Heart, is a noisier and eventually shreddier take on Angelo Badalamenti dub, as that iconic film composer concretized the style on the soundtrack to David Lynch’s Lost Highway.  Chersky’s bass runs a catchy loop over Craig Weinrib’s shuffling drumbeat while the guitar lingers and then cuts loose, Peter Schlamb’s tinkling vibraphone mingling with the mist of reverb in the background. It sets the stage for much of the rest of the record.

Distant elephantine snorts and warpy outer-space textures punch through the even dubbier backdrop of the second number, Dark Flow. A string section – Joanna Mattrey on viola and Christopher Hoffman on cello – plays wistfully over echoey drainpipe sonics in A Creature Divided, then Schlamb returns to add uneasy glitter over a hazy, drifting background in Magnificent Glow.

Chersky hints that he’s going to make a morose waltz out of Old Line; instead, he loops that melancholy riff as the song shifts between dissociation and minimalistic focus. Burn the Scrolls has a similar architecture, but with layers of uneasy, acidic guitar resonance.

Who Am I to You comes across as a mashup of Brian Eno, Pink Floyd and Bill Frisell in a particularly thoughtful moment. The strings return for On Heavy Wings, a gorgeously bittersweet miniature.  Then the vibes take centerstage in the loopy Lynchian dub theme In Human Form.

Sparse guitar phrases resonate over eerie, stairstepping funeral organ in the aptly titled Haunt: it’s the album’s creepiest and best track. Chersky brings in more than a hint of dusky desert rock in the brief, circling Pride in Effort (An Entity Separate).

Low growls and starry glimmer build a spacy contrast in Wizard in Grey, which segues into the album’s final cut, Out of the Shadows, a maze of loops and flickering accordion. Fans of multi-layered guitar instrumental bands like Steelism and Big Lazy, and David Lynch soundtracks have plenty to feast on here.

Dark Rituals and Gritty, Imaginative, Noisy Rock From Dorota

In a year where musicians and the arts are under assault more than at any other time in history, it’s heartwarming to see a group first featured on this page eight years ago still together and still putting out defiant and utterly unique music. Hungarian trio Dorota were characterized as “noisy noir punk surf jazz” here in 2012. Their latest album, Solar the Monk – streaming at Bandcamp – is just as noisy, more tuneful, and more influenced by late 70s no wave and 90s dreampop.

Is the blippy atmosphere at the beginning of the drony miniature that opens the album an allusion to sirens and lockdown-era fear? Actually not – the album predates the lockdown. The band don’t waste any time kicking into the first part of the album’s title track, a pouncing postrock stomp that recalls early Wire. Midway through, guitarist Dávid Somló, bassist Dániel Makkai and drummer Áron Porteleki slam out the same staccato E chord over and over as the overtones slowly rise. They reprise it later on with more syncopation and menacing clang.

The sternly marching third track, Neméreztem sounds like a group of Tibetan monks conjuring up an experimental rock ritual in a dingy Amsterdam club in 1979. Porteleki prowls mysteriously around his drum kit over spare atmospherics as Might Be Him takes shape, then the song morphs into a quasi-gospel groove punctuated by Makkai’s curlicue bass riffs.

Vacsorázin begins as a sputtering, drony dirge, then the monks return and chant their way slowly upward. The increasingly crazed instrumental Patient Religious Boys features flutes over boomy percussion, followed by the diptych The Stone Garden. The first part is just spare lo-fi keys and loops, then Somló switches back to guitar as Makkai’s looming chords rise along with Indian-flavored flutes.

From there we get dissociative ambience, Hare Krishnas on acid maybe, and twisted motorik noiserock. The concluding epic, It’s Gonna Rain slowly coalesces out of fuzzy, tensely wound bass to a wild stampede of guitar shred and huffing organ, and ends as you would expect. May this group survive the lockdown and continue to put out music as blissfully deranged as this.