New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: psychedelic pop

The Resistance Revival Chorus Sing a Fiery, Fearless Benefit for Immigrant Rights

When the Resistance Revival Chorus hit the stage Tuesday night for the first of their rousing, oldschool gospel-style protest songs, there seemed to be about two dozen women in the group. By the time the show ended, individual choir members and special guests treating a sold-out crowd at City Winery to a tantalizing series of cameos, it seemed that the size of the chorus had doubled. Are they New York’s largest ensemble? At the rate they’re growing, they will be, and in the current political climate it’s not going to take long.

Much as booking a group with a ton of people in it is a surefire way to pack a club, there’s never been more of an audience for protest music. The chorus had put together a short video to kick off the show, tracing the history and profound influence of protest songs on this continent from field hollers and back-to-Africa anthems thinly disguised as Christian hymns, all the way to hip-hop.

There was a little bit of that, but most of the material was songs that drew on decades of soul music. And this was as much of a populist rally as concert. Three of the group’s founding members were organizers of the Women’s March on Washington earlier this year. They’re also affiliated with many pro-democracy and advocacy groups including Communities for Change and pro-immigrant organizations working under that umbrella. A couple of group leaders took the stage midway through the show and delivered a defiant, grimly entertaining bilingual English-Spanish account of the perils of being an undocumented immigrant, even in a so-called sanctuary city.

Laurie Anderson’s cameo was the funniest, with a bit of droll, satirical faux-autotune pop and a story about narrowly sidestepping what could have been a grisly stage mishap bookending a communal scream. The artist who got the crowd to scream even louder was Amy Leon, who otherwise held everybody rapt with her fearless, individualistic, witheringly acerbic blend of Nina Simone, Gil Scott-Heron and what might be called avant garde soul. She picked up where Simone left off with a misterioso take of Bob Dylan’s Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll and added her own scathingly insightful commentary on coping with white supremacy: things haven’t changed all that much in half a century.

Nigerian-American songstress Ayo – who has an album release show coming up at Drom this Dec 20 at 9:30 -,led her trio through a couple of spare, withering roots reggae tunes dealing with the murder of young black men at the hands of the police, and resistance in general. Trixie Whitley reached for similarly hypnotic ambience with a single psychedelic folk-blues number, solo on electric guitar. And a smaller subset of the choir got the crowd bouncing to their intricate interweave of voices, from Sam Cooke to classic gospel.

The catchiest of all the songs might have been the two by singer Alba Ponce De Leon and her band the Mighty Lions. The latin soul diptych they opened with veered into psychedelic Chicano Batman territory, then they raised the roof with the big, funky vintage-style soul anthem Love Army, which as the bandleader said, needed no explanation.

At one point, the chorus situated themselves throughout the room, for a neat stereo effect. At the end of the show, the whole crew finally made it onto the stage for a soaring, imperturbable take of their big youtube hit Under My Feet, where the narrative starts out at the rich man’s house and ends up at the White House speaking truth to power. And as one of the chorus’ founders reminded, their next performance may be at a rally or with a flashmob if it’s not at City Winery, which has become their home base. Pick an issue, find an advocacy group and then go out and represent – how ironic that at this point in history, we’ve never had so many to choose from.

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Poignant, Fascinating Korean Sounds in Queens Last Night

It would make sense to assume that a band who’d play a song called The Scream of the Sunflower would be more than a little psychedelic. Much as there were plenty of surreal moments in improbably named Korean chamber-folk group Fairy Tale’s North American debut last night at Flushing Town Hall, the show was more about elegance and poignancy.

“Legend” is probably a better English translation of what the sextet call themselves. Lyrics are very important to this group, especially to expressive frontwoman Myeongseo Jang, so she and her bandmates took turns introducing the songs in coyly fractured English. Their signature sound is piano-based parlor pop laced with terse, expertly played Korean folk riffs and playful trick endings. “Less is more” seems to be their mantra.

Their new album Land of the Poet features new songs with lyrics by Korean poets from across the years, and they played several of those, the most plaintive of them written under the Japanese occupation. The band’s not-so-secret weapon is haegeum (spike fiddle) player Yunjin Ko, whose eerie, slippery low-midrange glissandos and austere, overtone-spiced washes grounded the music in an austere rusticity. That effect was enhanced by the low-register geomungo lute of Juhee Kim, who played mostly low-key rock-style basslines, but tantalized the crowd with a couple of breathtakingly surreal, tone-warping solos. If there’s anybody in the band we need to hear more of, it’s her.

Drummer Kyuyeon Kim was a similarly understated presence: much of the time, purposefully emphatic pianist Youngjin Oh carried the rhythm. Daegeum (wood flute) player Youseok Seo traded brief contrapuntal passages with the haegeum and geomungo when he wasn’t adding precise flickers and flutters behind Jang’s nuanced vocals.

The night’s most arresting song was Dear Boy, a brooding lament with a lyric from the Japanese occupation years, bringing to mind early Genesis with its intricate, tantalizingly brief interplay between geomumgo and piano on the intro and outro. Most of the songs built momentum over an allusive triplet groove fueled by Oh’s steely lefthand. One of the early numbers came across as a mashup of Korean folk and Springsteen stadium rock; a later tune bounced along on a catchy, circling new wave piano riff.

The rest of the set edged toward both darkness and drama but seldom went all the way there, tension and suspense lurking but never showing themselves. A moody strut driven by a downward piano progression had echoes of Tom Waits. It wasn’t until the encore, a blazing sunset tableau, that Jang finally cut loose with a full-throttle wail at the very end.

Fairy Tale’s first tour outside of Korea continues tonight, Dec 2 at 6  PM at the Korean Community Center, 100 Grove St. in Tenafly, NJ. Flushing Town Hall continues to program some of the most exciting global sounds coming through New York outside of the usual Barbes-Drom-Lincoln Center pipeline. One especially intriguing upcoming concert here is on January 26 at 8 PM with another genre-defying Korean band, Black String, who blend edgy guitar improvisation with classic geomungo and flute sounds. Tickets go onsale on December 11, and as with all Flushing Town Hall events, ages 13-19 with school ID get in free.

A Long-Overdue Retrospective From the Greatest Songwriter You Might Not Know

Back in the radio-and-records era, it was common for a band to put out a greatest-hits album to fulfill their obligation to the label in order to get out of a record deal. Mark Breyer, longtime leader of cult favorite powerpop band Skooshny, put his together to get a record deal. Which makes sense in a way: Breyer is nothing if not counterintuitive. The album, Matchless Gifts – out from Kool Kat Musik and streaming at Bandcamp – is a lavish, smartly assembled double-cd compilation of the best tracks he’s released since 2006 under the name Son of Skooshny, often in collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Steve Refling. For those new to the Breyer songbook, this is as good a way as any to get to know one of the greatest songwriters alive, and it’s one of the best albums of 2017.

The layers of jangly guitars and dreamy sonics draw obvious comparisons to Australian psychedelic/spacerock legends the Church, reinforced by Breyer’s brilliant lyrics – his double entendres and wordplay rank with the Church’s Steve Kilbey, and Elvis Costello, and Rachelle Garniez. And the songs are catchy beyond belief, drawing on decades of clang and twang – Carl Newman is another reference point. Yet Breyer’s catalog doesn’t really evoke any band other than his old one. This guy is a real individualist, a first-ballot Hall of Famer who might take you by surprise.

And much as Breyer can’t resist a good pun – it’s impossible to count all of them here – these songs are sad. The devil is always in the details: Breyer has a rare eye for them. The one that might rip your face off more than any of the others, The Subtle Eye, is actually a brisk, balmy number and one of the gentlest songs here:

Teddy lifts me to a cloud
To protect me from an angry crowd
We sit and watch the spectacle below
Teddy died too young for her to go

See, Teddy is a dog. She appears in a dream, after appearances by now-deceased parents who, if these cameos are characteristic, were real cheerful earfuls (NOT). Humans will betray you, but many other species won’t. And they care enough about you to visit you after they’re gone, if only to let you know that they’re ok. In his last verse, Breyer promises to do the same: who knows what the subtle eye can see, right?

The boisterous opening anthem, Just a Test is irresistibly funny, but quaint diner food turns out to have a surprise in it, and eventually Breyer declares that “I want the other actors dead instead !” He’s referring to a tv show, but obviously there’s more to it.

“You left a note on my door, I found the footnote on the floor,” he announces as Spine, a big, enveloping seduction athem gets underway: foreshadowing is a huge part of Breyer’s M.O. A picturesque, bittersweetly romantic stroll through North Hollywood, No Ho may be conceptually funny – nobody walks in LA, right? – but you can see the ending coming a mile away, and it’s bleak.

Likewise, don’t let the blase calm 70s folk-pop sheen of Half of the World fool you. It deals with issues of perception and drunken yoga, with a coda that’s way too good to give away. Science Changes Everything, with its litany of math and physics metaphors, follows the same pattern, as does Dizzy – a dead ringer for the catchiest stuff on the Church’s Blurred Crusade album. “When more is less you use subtraction, reduce it to a fraction,” Breyer calmly intones.

His images invite plenth of debate. What does the object of affection In Mid-Century Modern do when she visits the justice of the peace? Regret, disillusion, and alienation bordering on despondency are everywhere. “I had that flat but it wasn’t home, you had a cat but you were alone,” Breyer relates in Sorry, another contrast between dreamy, Church-like sonics and richly imagistic, grim narrative.

Good Morning, Gail Warning may take place in an ashram kitchen, but Arthur Schlenger’s eerily reverberating guitars and keys are pure David Lynch soundtrack. “Troubles brew, bubbles rise,” Breyer relates in How Does It End, glistening nocturne swirling through an allusive tale of fractured family ties.

“Take apart your Japanese contraption – douse the charcoal, tear the plastic tent,” Breyer implores in Candy Air: meanwhile, the cat’s under the house and won’t come out. “May I remove your elevator shoes?” he asks in The Right Idea, backed by a plaintively lingering web of twelve-string guitars that leave no doubt how this story is going to end.

Some of these tracks rock pretty hard – Knee Deep, one of the few more optimistic anthems here; the surreal Kate’s Green Phone, which may or may not be about daydrinking and unrealistic expectations; the autobiographical Untold History, which traces an allusively harrowing Cold War childhood narrative; and Another Time, a Costello-esque account of dealing with somebody from outer space. And Bare Bones reaches toward classic punk blast and thud: it’s the closest thing to Breyer’s old band here.

In typical fashion, he saves some of the best songs for the bonus disc. Jeff Peters’ guitar nicks a familiar Angelo Badalementi film noir riff for the doomed trajectory of You Can’t Love Me:

Thank god you’re farsighted instead of near
It might be the only thing keeping you here

And Love’s Not Impossible, with Michael Meros’ hilarious early 80s pop quote, offers a tantalizing flicker of hope, even as the drizzle grows more impenetrable.

In the meantime, Breyer hasn’t slowed down. His latest single, The New South – presumably from yet another formidable album – has unexpected country flavor and a typically sardonic plotline. 

Maximo Park Bring Their Populist Dance Party to Bowery Ballroom

Maximo Park play fun, catchy, acerbic new wave-flavored dance-rock with smartly conscious lyrics. They’re more likely to bounce their way through the smoke machine haze than to strike a pose with a boot up on the monitor, Oasis-style. So it’s not likely that there’ll be a lot of trumpies at their show at Bowery Ballroom on Nov 30 at 9:30 PM. For the 99%, tickets are a reasonable $20 in advance, and you can get them at the Mercury Lounge on weekdays until 7.

The band’s latest album Risk to Exist is streaming at Spotify. The funky opening track is What Did We Do to You to Deserve, a sort of mashup of 1994-era Blur and the Cat Empire:

When the auditors add it up in the books
Will you keep it away
What’s that look upon your face
No this is not the good old days
What did we do to you to deserve this
You’re doing everything in your power to preserve this
Let’s all pretend to tell the truth…

Get High (No I Don’t) follows the same pattern, frontman Paul Smith calling bullshit on the appeal of forbidden fruit: “If someone tells your it’s wrong enough times, it’s a sinner’s song.” At the same time, the “no I don’t” mantra seems awfully suspicious.

What Equals Love is a more organic take on slick mid-80s new wave, guitarist Duncan Lloyd and organist Lukas Wooller harmonizing what probably would have been a string synth arrangement if a band thirty years ago was doing it:

Lock up the glass house every day
Hope the problem goes away

Tom English’s flurrying drums fuel album’s title track, a carpe diem anthem: so good to be alive while the whole world is dying, huh?

Wooller’s keys blip and bleep over tricky syncopation and then an enigmatic bass solo in I’ll Be Around: is this a come-on, or a sardonic look at a guy who’s willing to do the absolute minimum to look good?

Work and Then Wait is a defiant singalong anthem:

The rightwing views are getting me down..
The rich start life with a hand-me-down
The hand that giveth is set to take it away
They strip you of your dignity…
I won’t be caught in my fate

The Hero is a faux EDM dancefloor stomp, a sardonic tale of a hardworking guy too worn out to affect the pose:

How on earth do you begin
When you know you can’t win
They say that money doesn’t change a thing
But you know they’re not suffering…
Sometimes you have to give in but you better not make a habit of it

The Reason I Am Here starts out as Gang of Four no wave and rises to a big, triumphant Midnight Oil peak:

You will have to make a journey
Through the eyes of idiots
Where every problem is a country
It’s blamed on the immigrants
Not exactly high society
Neither fact nor sobriety
People who never doubt are the ones I’m worried about
People who never doubt are the ones who carry the clout

The ferocious, insistent Make What You Can has woozy Split Enz call-and-response, again building to a mighty peak, referencing somebody whose “Language is violent, somebody on the take” – which could be any dictator or would-be dictator, anywhere.

Respond to the Feeling is spare and funky:

You can sleepwalk into the night or focus on forever
You can make the short term right but you gotta focus on forever

The final cut here is Alchemy, a grimly funny, pulsing anthem that turns your typical online privacy disclaimer on its head and slams it into the ground. The Clash used to make albums like this.

Politically Fearless Noir Mexican Psychedelia at Lincoln Center Thursday Night

“This has been a long time in the making,” Lincoln Center’s Meera Dugal told an ecstatic crowd there Thursday evening.  “Tonight you are in for a treat, a powerful and soulful voice.” Then she let Edna Vazquez’s charismatic presence and slinky, thoughtful, psychedelic, often haunting songs speak for themselves.

Maybe the singer/guitarist’s stunningly eclectic blend of styles mirrors her Mexican ancestry, considering that Mexico is every bit as much of a melting pot as the US. “The Mexican government is not so different from this one,” she wryly confided three songs into her set. And then spun through the rapidfire chord changes of a tune that could be characterized as noiriachi…or the great lost Arthur Lee hit from 1966. Did he rip a mariachi riff for the ominous scamper of 7 and 7 Is…or did Vazquez hear that and decide to take that idea to the next level, with a message about freeing ourselves from the distraction that keeps us from joining forces and overthrowing the forces of evil? Or did each artist come up with those ideas completely independently?

Playing acoustic guitar and singing  mostly in Spanish in a formidable, intense mezzo-soprano that often brought to mind Nina Simone, Vazquez and her five-piece band opened with a psychedelic rock number that put a bouncy, syncopated spin on the old Status Quo hit Pictures of Matchstick Men, keyboardist Gil Assayas adding extra menace with his downwardly cascading glockenspiel lines. Then the group – which also included William Marsh on lead guitar, 3 Leg Torso’s Milo Fultz on bass and Jesse Brooke on drums – launched into the first of several slinky numbers that sounded like Love teleported to Mexico City, 1967.

Fultz switched from upright to Fender bass for Do You See, by Vazquez’s old band No Passengers, a kinetic, funk-tinged number with Lynchian lead guitar and keys and a big powerpop chorus –  the Motels gone south of the border. Marsh played allusively uneasy blues on a big anti-globalization anthem; Assayas’ brooding organ and evilly starry keys flickered through the noir new wave number that followed.

From there the band pounced their way through muted trip-hop about the serendipities of meeting random strangers, then driving backbeat rock, a mashup of Cuban rhumba and noir Mexican bolero, and a brisk new wave rock number- is there any style in Spanish or English that this woman can’t write in?

She aired out the big a-cappella intro to Sola, the night’s most dynamic and dramatic anthem, with a dark gospel-flavored intensity that built to righteous 60s soul rage,  When she finally got to the cumbia number that the dancers out on the floor had seemed to be waiting for, it turned out to be a cheery hybrid of vintage soul and Peruvian psychedelia.

An ecstatic crowd called her back for three encores: an understatedly haunting, spare solo acoustic take of the Mexican folk classic La Llorona, a stately, soaring mariachi tune with the band going full steam and then an imploringly resonant soul ballad, which Vazquez sang in English.

Vazquez and band are at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC tomorrow night, Nov 6 at 6 PM; the show is free. And the next concert at Lincoln Center’s atrium space just north of 62nd Street is this Friday, Nov 10 at 7:30 PM, with Afro-Cuban percussionist Roman Diaz joining forces with the Brooklyn Raga Massive  to reinvent classic Indian themes. This show is also free – the earlier you get there, the better.

Kacy & Clayton Haunt the Mercury Lounge

Maybe getting robbed lit a fire under Kacy & Clayton. Or else haunting performances which border on the transcendent are just their steez. Last night at Mercury Lounge was like that – hours after guitarist Clayton Linthicum had fifty-four bucks stolen from him, and then some creep swiped his partner Kacy Anderson’s shoes. “That was our toll money,” the Saskatchewan-born singer told the crowd. If it’s any consolation, this band won’t need to worry about toll money if they keep playing shows like this one.

Kacy & Clayton’s signature style takes the darkly rustic sound that was coming out of Laurel Canyon – and many Laurel Canyons of the mind – in the late 60s, and adds both guitar sting and a distant Twin Peaks menace. Anderson’s voice packs a gentle wallop, a honeyed, ambered soprano sparkling with blue notes and a Turboglide vibrato that she slips into to max outo the unease or ambiguity in a phrase. The stylistic resemblance to Jenifer Jackson is striking, not only vocally but in terms of chord changes and choruses. At times, it was as if this was 2002 and it was Jackson and Oren Bloedow up there onstage.

Linthicum is the rare guitarist who sounds like Richard Thompson but doesn’t rip him off wholesale. Linthicum fingerpicked with a sometimes savage agility throughout the set, running his vintage Gibson SG through a tremolo pedal to raise the blue-neon, Lynchian intensity little by little. Sometimes the effect was as if he was playing a twelve-string, which made sense considering how much Thompson was influenced by Roger McGuinn, another guy Linthicum can channel when he feels like it.

Even on the night’s closest thing to a blithe, upbeat number, Linthicum kicked it off with a biting minor-key psych-folk riff. The matter-of-fact, morose waltz they opened left the crowd speechless, Anderson setting the tone for the night with her low-key grace on the mic, her brown eyes fixing a bleak thousand-yard stare in the lights. They’d revisit that ambience later in the set; in between, the group pulsed their way through the night’s most hypnotic number, The Light of Day, then went down into the shadows and the brambles with more ominous, swaying psych-folk balladry before taking a detour toward oldschool C&W.

They also did a couple of covers, adding new levels of unease to Calgary, by the Great Speckled Bird – Ian and Sylvia Tyson’s psych-folk band – and then reaching for comic relief in an otherwise pointless take of one-hit wonders Brewer & Shipley’s One Toke Over the Line.

Linthicum isn’t the only guy in the band who’s serious about getting the most Lynchian textures out of his axe. Anderson’s acoustic resonated with a moody low-midrange jangle, while bassist Shuyler Jansen varied his lows and highs, often way up the fretboard to add to the serpentine clang. Drummer Mike Silverman switched between sticks and mallets for a muted thud to max out the suspense. Kacy & Clayton’s current tour continue; they’re at the Parlor Room, 32 Masonic St. in Northhampton, Massachusetts tonight at 8 for $15.

Ampersan Play Dreamy, Cinematic Tropical Psychedelia in Their New York Debut at Lincoln Center

There were some ecstatic moments in Ampersan’s New York debut at Lincoln Center last night, part of the ongoing Celebrate Mexico Now festival. The high point might have been where the punteador and jarana of the five-piece Mexico City band’s founders Kevin Garcia and frontwoman Zindu Cano intertwined with a rippling, slinky intensity. But more often than not, throughout their roughly hourlong set,  the music was simply something to get lost in, reflecting the band’s long background scoring for film.

Ampersan make hypnotic, psychedelic sounds with instruments typically associated with far more boisterous styles. The show came together slowly. Was this going to be just another evening of vampy trip-hop-influenced tropicalia with the occasional psychedelic flourish? The lilting, harmony-infused opening number and the stately candombe ballad afterward suggested that, bassist Sergio Medrano’s terse pulse in tandem with cajon player Héctor Aguilar Chaire and his fellow percussionist Nirl Cano.

Then the group took a detour into reggaeton and Cano switched to violin, raising the energy with his stark, rustic resonance. Garcia played mostly electric guitar and the small, uke-like punteador. Rocking a slinky, gothic black dress, the group’s lead singer began the set on jarana and then switched to guitar; she also had a couple of mics set up for her vocals, one which she ran through a mixer for subtle atmospheric effects.

Then Garcia went up to the board, twiddled with it as it hiccupped and burped…and just when it seemed that the electronics were about to clear the room, they simmered down and the group followed with what could have been the best song of the night, a lush, dreamy, slowly crescendoing tropical psychedelic anthem. The quintet would make their way through more of these while animated videos of Adriana Ronquillo and Mónica González’s mystical deep-forest narratives and imagery played on the screen above the stage.

Likewise, the band’s Spanish-language lyrics have a mysterious, allusive quality: themes of escape, and unease, and occasional heartbreak floated to the surface over the music’s graceful pulse. They like to use poetry from across the ages and hit another peak when they brought up son jarocho champion and poet Zenen Zeferino to deliver a defiant, characteristically eloquent freestyle. As they romped their way through some snazzy Veracruz party polyrhythms, he alluded to how Mexico is just as much or even more of a melting pot than the United States. The implication was that this intelligence ought to trump the demagoguery seeping from the bowels of the White House.

The group brought the show full circle at the end, Zula’s voice receding from a fullscale wail to a tender balminess. The concluding concert of this year’s Celebrate Mexico Now festival is a free show this Sunday, Oct 22 at 3 PM at the Queens Museum in Crotona Park with cinematic music by violinist Carlo Nicolau along with post-industrial projections by video artist Vanessa Garcia Lembo. And the next show at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway north of 62nd St. is tonight, Oct 20 at 7:30 with oldschool salsa dura band Avenida B.

A Creepy, Tasty Treat From Orphan Jane’s Enigmatic Accordionist

Today’s Halloween album – streaming at Bandcamp – is The Sugar Man, the debut release by Timatim Fitfit, the mostly-solo side project by multi-keyboardist Montana Slim, a.k.a. Tim Cluff of creepy noir cabaret band Orphan Jane. It’s a good, weird, disturbing ride.

The opening track is a quavery romp through Walking Stick, a Freudian hokum blues. Cluff takes the album title from the lyric, a sardonic 1920s reference to a guy left out in the cold, literally speaking. Irving Berlin appropriated the song and made it much more coyly funny: this one’s disquieting in a C.W. Stoneking vein. Orphan Jane guitarist Old Man Shorty, a.k.a. Dave Zydallis guests on it; Cluff plays accordion and saloon piano.

The second track is Living in the City, a stabbing parlor pop tune, John Cale mashed up with the Handsome Family:

Taxidermies in your basement
Smell of borax fills the room
I wish I could be resurrected
Like a little grey loon
There are pigeons all around me
They don’t give a shit
If I survive
Or if I drown in it

Feelin’ Good is a twisted, phantasmagorical stroll with echoes of Thelonious Monk. With its funereal organ, glockenspiel and cynical, politically spot-on narrative, the tiptoeing waltz Arctic of Men could be a Tom Warnick tune. Cluff follows that with the even more sarcastic, ragtime-tinged War Machine, Zydallis’ ominously tremoloing guitar soaring overhead. Then Seeders and Leachers reaches for the phantasmagorical scamper of their main band.

Down the Fells is a lush, Celtic-tinged ballad as John Cale might have done  it on Paris 1919. The surreal tale Flowers By the Door has some deliciously wistful accordion. The album’s funniest and strangest track is Dog in a Manger, a slowly waltzing robot’s dilemma: in a dystopian nightmare, humans aren’t the only ones who suffer.

The album winds up with the morosely oldtimey Another Shitty Day, and then Low Batteries, a desperate escape anthem that’s the album’s least stylized and most genuinely creepy track.

Fun fact: if you’re wondering what the band name means, it’s sort of the Ethiopian equivalent of fattoush. 

Ella Atlas’ Debut Album Builds Hauntingly Cinematic Twin Peaks Ambience

Stephen Masucci is best known for his film music and for his lead guitar in one of the most haunting, Lynchian New York bands ever, the Lost Patrol. Since that group ground to a halt a couple of years ago, he’s been busy with a new, similarly dark, cinematic project, Ella Atlas, with compellingly enigmatic, eclectic singer/multi-instrumentalist Tarrah Maria. The duo’s deliciously reverb-drenched new album The Road to Now is streaming at Bandcamp.

It opens with the catchy, distantly shimmering When the Gods Are Fading, swirly late 70s ELO through a surreal new wave prism peppered with references to wars and death. Masucci’s icy clang fuels the slowly swaying Red Kingdom, Tarrah Maria’s vocals lush with a similarly chilly allure.

Likewise, Hotel You begins with blue velvet tremolo guitar chords but quickly hits a brisk new wave take on a roadhouse rock groove, Tarrah Maria’s voice taking on a hint of a country twang in a luridly aphoristic tale of conflagration and escape. The slower. even more plush Waking Up has a spacerock sweep, the frontwoman’s voice bringing to mind Karla Rose at her most subtly torchy and dynamic.

Meteor shower atmospherics build to a propulsive chorus in Horses on the Run. Breaking Ice comes across as a noir surf-influenced take on the kind of angst-fueled retro new wave the New Collisions mined so memorably around the turn of the past decade.

Something to Be Desired is part hearbroken Nashville gothic pop, part Cocteau Twins, Tarrah Maria turning in her most ominously pillowy vocals here. The duo make an enveloping anthem out of an On Broadway vamp in Blindful & Bliss, then build strutting, turbulent, red-neon ambience in Can’t Go Back.

“I know that this will end, but I’m addicted to the view,” Tarrah Maria intones in Leave Me in Blue, the most darkly lingering, epically sweeping track here. The album winds up with Skin & Bones, rising out and then back to spare, rainy-day melancholy. As with the Lost Patrol, a persistent unease and distant sense of dread pervades these nocturnes: they’re songs for our time. Arguably the best debut album of 2017 so far.

Ladama Keep the Heat Simmering at Last Weekend’s Hot Pepper Festival in Brooklyn

Last weekend at the annual chile pepper festival at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, high-energy pan-latin band Ladama were charged with the thankless task of following Red Baraat , whose  brass-fueled bhangra vindaloo opened the festivities. That Ladama could hold their own, and hold the crowd gathered out of the sun and away from the long lines of chile heads in line waiting for a fix, attests to how refreshingly unpredictable and fun this group is.

Frontwoman/guitarist Sara Lucas gave that away during soundcheck. “Baile la cumbia,” she grinned, and although it wasn’t until later in their set that they hit a slinky cumbia groove, the party started pretty much right from the first bouncy beats of their opening tropical acoustic pop number. The mostly-female band’s not-so-secret weapon is Mafer Bandola, whose axe is the spiky Venezuelan bandola llanera. Throughout the show, she played with flash and fire and a purposeful focus: fast as her fingers are, she doesn’t waste notes. And she varied her textures, sometimes with a bachata-like ring, other times flicking her way through with a staccato attack, as if she was playing a mandolin. When she finally would cut loose with a furious flurry of tremolo-picking, or a slide up or down the scale, the effect was breathtaking.

The women in the band have contrasting voices that blend intriguingly. Lucas has a bright, soaring delivery, while drummer Lara Klaus – who finally emerged from behind the kit to take over lead vocals on a muted, suspenseful number – has a lower, calmer voice. Percussionist Daniela Serna comes across as the troublemaker in the band – taking a turn out in front, she rapped her way through the boisterously irrepressible Porro Maracatu, a rapidfire mashup of Brazilian rainforest rhythmic riffs and reggaeton from the band’s brand-new debut album. She also took a hypnotically rumbling solo on Colombian tambor alegre drum during a long, psychedelic take of the vamping, bossa-tinged Confesion as Lucas’ vocalese sailed overhead.

Bassist Pat Swoboda shifted elegantly from a funky pulse to starker, bowed lines, switching to Fender on one of the night’s most propulsive, Bahian-flavored numbers. Trombonist Alex Asher and trumpeter Andrew McGovern spiced a handful of the song with some rousing, punchy charts. The sardonic anger of Sin Ataduras (No Bandages) contrasted with the serpentine, joyous Cumbia Brasileira; given plenty of time onstage, the group jammed out intros and outros and left room for brief, tantalizing solos from throughout the band. Ladama’s current US tour continues:

10/7-8/2017- Shakori Hills Festival– Pittsboro, NC
10/20/2017- Columbus Theater– Providence, RI
10/24-25/2017- Dartmouth University– Hanover, NH
11/2-3/2017- Tedx Charlottesville– Charlottesville, VA

As far as hot pepper is concerned, the available samples – the ones with healthy ingredients, anyway – were a disappointment. Most of the sauces didn’t raise any real red flags – other than Hell’s Kitchen’s deliciously spiced Cinnamon Ghost Punch, that is. The westside Manhattan boutique’s sweet Rockin’ Rasta habanero sauce wasn’t quite as hot but just as flavorful and left most of the out-of-state contenders in the dirt.