New York Music Daily

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Category: psychedelic rock

A Characteristically Dark, Cinematic New Album and a Smalls Gig from Phillip Johnston

Best known as a co-founder of the irrepressibly cinematic Microscopic Septet, saxophonist Phillip Johnston has also unsurprisingly done a lot of film work in addition to a bunch of smaller-group projects over the years. He’s playing with the celluloid-oriented Silent Six tonight, Nov 27 at 7:30 PM at Smalls, although his latest project is with a smaller group, the darkly picturesque organ quartet the Coolerators.

Their new album, Diggin’ Bones, is streaming at Bandcamp. As the bandname indicates, the Thelonious Monk influence that informs so much of what Johnston has done throughout his career is front and center here. The tunes are a mix of older material rearranged for organ quartet plus some deliciously menacing new material which gives new meaning to the term “gutbucket organ music.”

The opening track, Frankly, sets the stage, a carnivalesque strut juxtaposing Alister Spence’s smoky, menacing organ against Johnston’s more lighthearted riffage, bassist Lloyd Swanton and drummer Nic Cecire light on their feet. Further back in the mirror but just as present is a certain cover of Pictures at an Exhibition.

What Is Real?, a catchy number that dates back to the 80s, expands out of a syncopated Lou Donaldson-tinged soul-jazz tune, the bandleader sailing uneasily overhead. The title track blends elements of Monk, klezmer and latin noir, Spence raising the suspense with his blend of marionettish staccato and funereal swirl that loosens and lightens, Johnston’s biting modalisms bringing it full circle.

Temporary Blindness is a more latin-flavored take on the album’s opening track: the macabre duet between Spence’s stabbing organ and Swanton’s bowed riffage is one of the album’s high points. Later, which dates from Johnston’s days as a busker in San Francisco in the 70s, is an altered waltz with a surreal, enveloping blend of Monk, the Middle East and psychedelic rock. It’s the album’s most epic and strongest track out of many.

The lone cover is The Revenant, by 70s folk noir icon Michael Hurley, reinvented as a wistful, sparsely arranged shuffle groove with an aptly ghostly, tiptoeing Swanton solo. Legs Yet is the group at their slinkiest and most modally improvisational – and the most traditional, funky organ jazz tune here. Trial By Error – which Johnston had originally recorded with accordion wizard Guy Klucevsek – has a brisk, brightly pulsing klezmer influence fueled by Johnston’s acerbic yet balmy soprano sax attack.

Regrets #17, another number that dates from the 80s, works tight variations on a bluesy chromatic swing theme: here and throughout the album, Spence’s smoky ripples bring to mind the great expat New York organist Jordan Shapiro. The final cut, Ducket Got a Whole In It brings the album full circle with a creepy circus flair. This is arguably the best band Johnston has worked with outside of the Micros, and this album is one of the best and most tuneful of 2018.

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Combo Chimbita Air Out Their Darkly Shamanic Psychedelic Grooves at Lincoln Center

This past evening at Combo Chimbita’s feral, darkly psychedelic show, Lincoln Center’s Viviana Benitez explained that the dancefloor at the atrium space had been opened up, “So that you will feed off their energy and they will feed off you.” She was on to something.

The Colombian-American band were celebrating the release of their first single, Testigo, from a forthcoming album due out in 2019. Drummer Dilemastronauta built a boomy, shamanic triplet groove over an enveloping low drone as Niño Lento’s synth woozed in and out. Then a whistle of wind echoed the rain raging outside, and frontwoman Carolina Oliveros took the stage. Decked out in a striking, stark black gothic skirt and blouse, silvery bracelets and facepaint flickering under the low lights, she was an Incan avenging angel hell-bent on righting centuries of conquistadorian evil. As the group rose to a screaming peak behind her, she didn’t waste time cutting loose, Niño Lento blasting out eerie sheets of reverb from his Fender Jazzmaster. Maybe because the guitar was so loud, she was even more ferocious than usual: their usual home base, Barbes, is a lot smaller.

Next it was bassist Prince of Queens’ turn to get a catchy minor-key riff swirling from his keys, then a reggae-tinged pulse as the guitar fired off a flickering, deep-space hailstorm. A stygian vortex of sound took centstage as Oliveros left her trance momentarily, then the group hit a galloping Ethiopiques beat with a furious, insistent- bullerengue-style call-and-response, which made sense considering that Oliveros also fronts the even trancier, considerably more rustic Afro-Colombian collective Bulla En El Barrio. It was a galloping constelacion of Los Destellos psychedelic cumbia and the Black Angels.

Oliveros stalked across the stage, channeling an increasingly forceful series of witchy voices as the next tune grew from a brooding, reggae-tinged groove to a hypnotically cantering blend of icepick reverb guitar and woozy synth swirl. The song after that was just as psychedelic, a deep-space hailstorm of hammer-on guitar over dubwise bass and Oliveros’ looming intensity front and center, foreshadowing the big crescendo the band would hit with the new single a bit later.

From there Oliveros’ imploring voice rose over an echoing, bass-heavy slink that slowly shifted from reggae to cumbia and back and forth, the menace of Niño Lento’s funereal organ closer and closer on the horizon. Sinister dub bass anchored icy minor-key clang, giving Oliveros a long launching pad for her most explosive, assaultively shivery vocal attack of the evening. After awhile, it was as if the show was all just one long, grittily triumphant anthem. You might not have heard it here first, but this is the future of psychedelic rock: lyrics in something other than English and a charismatic woman out front.

The next free show at Lincoln Center’s atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is this Nov 29, a return to the usual Thursday night programming here with Time for Three playing a similarly surreal if somewhat more sedate set mashing up classical and Americana styles. Get there as close to 7:30 PM showtime as you can if you want a seat.

Twisted Psychedelic Balkan Noir From Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesores

The first track on Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesores’ relentlessly creepy 2012 masterpiece Sister Death was a menacing, chromatically psychedelic Balkan art-rock epic aptly titled Fire Shuffle. The Rhode Island-based accordionist/bandleader opens his similarly brilliant, macabre new one, The Opposite – streaming at Cuneiform Records – in a similar vein, with Soft Motors. The difference is that this time he’s playing all the keyboards. In many cases, he overdubs his accordion, running it through several wildly diverse effects patches. This particular number is awash in an ever-closer circling web of catchy minor-key riffs, Redfearn a one-man Balkan orchestra. “Fear won’t stop til the mornings are soft,” horn player Ann Schattle sings, deadpan but troubled.

Tramadoliday is a deviously bouncy, chromatically juicy, increasingly orchestral danse macabre, Schattle’s horn wry and steady while Redfearn conjures up lysergic Stoogoid wah-wah, bass synth fuzz and Carnival of Souls organ around a wicked Balkan accordion riff.

Drummer Matt McLaren flits around on his rims for a good approximation of a vintage drum machine to propel the hypnotic, cell-like phrases of the album’s title track, its quasar pulse looming closer and closer. Carnivore has a carnivalesque, hurdy gurdy-like theme and dark, allusively chromatic variations: “Come, turn out the lights,” is the mantra. Finally, bassist Christopher Sadlers gets a juicy fuzztone riff of his own to run underneath Redfearn’s strobe attack.

The slightly more playful, hip hop-influenced There’s a Bat Living in My Room takes its inspiration from Redfearn’s former coke dealer, whose inability to resist getting high on his own supply resulted in hallucinations reputedly more prosaically troubling than the song title. Rend the Veil blends uneasy 60s Laurel Canyon psychedelic rock into a ba-BUMP theme for the Macedonian wedding from hell, with a sick, echoingly dissociative outro that segues into Possum, a shout-out to an old Redfearn pal who killed himself. It’s the album’s hardest-hitting and most Middle Eastern-flavored track, with a spot-on Redfearn approximation of a mighty metal guitar battle theme at the center.

The final cut, Pterodactyl, is the album’s longest epic: picture a 60s Bollywood band putting a dub reggae spin on the Buzzcocks’ Why Can’t I Touch It, if you can imagine that kind of time warp. As with the band’s previous album, look for this one high on the list of best albums of 2018 next month here.

Much as Redfearn is a spellbinding player in the purest sense of the word, it would have been even better to be able to hear Rose Thomas Bannister’s elegant organ work alongside his accordion. The similarly haunting noir psychedelic Brooklyn songwriter toured with Redfearn as a sidewoman back in 2015. Onstage, the contrasting textures and interplay between the two was unadulterated sonic absinthe.

A Gorgeously Bittersweet Farewell to Manhattan from Art-Rock Maven Spottiswoode

The Manhattan that Jonathan Spottiswoode came up in back in the 1990s was far from perfect. The seeds of the city’s death by real estate speculation had already been sown. But there were a lot more places where an often witheringly lyrical, lavishly orchestrated rock band could play then than there are now. Spottiswoode & His Enemies may have sold out the release show for their latest magnum opus, Lost in the City, at Joe’s Pub on the 30th, but twenty-one years ago they could have done the same at a much bigger venue. So it’s fitting that the album – streaming at Bandcamp – is an elegaic salute to a vanished, urbane metropolis, and that Spottiswoode has since relocated to his London birthplace. At least we’ll always have the memories – and this epic.

While Spottiswoode is no stranger to largescale creations, this is arguably his most lavish release. He’s always had a knack for latin sounds, and he dives more deeply into the Spanish Caribbean here than ever before. The opening track is Hoboken. It’s dead ringer for a brooding Pink Floyd ballad: Spottiswoode’s voice has weathered to resemble Roger Waters more and more over the yearas, and Tony Lauria’s gospel-tinged piano completes the picture. The migthy Springsteenian bridge is spot-on, right down to Laura’s Roy Bittan impersonation. “I tried it like all the rest, not what I dreamed I guess, but I did ok,” Spottiswoode muses.

With its bluesy minor-key swing spiced with horn harmonies from saxophonist Candace DeBartolo and trumpeter Kevin Cordt, the title track could also be peak-era Springsteen. With Lauria’s erudite, Fever-ish solo at the center, it’s a long-lost cousin to 10th Avenue Freeze-Out. The nimble pulse of bassist John Young and drummer Tim Vaill propel the funny, filthy, syncopated latin soul anthem Love Saxophone, a look back to a period ten years further back, and several Manhattan blocks north and east. 

Antoine Silverman’s acerbic, Romany-flavored violin kicks off The Walk of Shame, a hauntingly orchestrated vignette of the dark side of the bright lights: “The night was so delicoius/Now a puddle is a mirror for Narcissus.” Then Cordt and trombonist Sara Jacovino work a punchy conversation in Because I Made You, a return to swinging oldschool soul.

The way Spottiswoode sets up the narrative in the distantly ominous, wistful clave-soul elegy Goodbye Jim McBride is too good to give away. The starkly bluesy, doomed, reverberating ambience of It’s on Me wouldn’t be out of place on Dylan’s Time Out of Mind album. Next, the band hit a slow, Lynchian swing groove with Batman & Robin, a disconsolate picture of a divorced dad out with his kids on the weekend.

Riley McMahon’s hailstone reverb guitar mingles with Lauria’s stern salsa piano and organ in Now Didn’t I? McMahon and the bandleader bulid spaghetti western menace over a 5/4 beat in Tears of Joy: as Lauria’s electric piano twinkles eerily overhead, it could be Botanica. Then the band hit a blazing soul-blues sway with Dirty Spoon.

A mashup of late 60s folk-rock Kinks and Springsteen E Street shuffle, Still Small Voice Inside could be the album’s most poignant, relevant number:

Hello, good evening
Did you accomplish what you planned?
Don’t you know the feeling
Too much supply no demand
Yeah it’s a drag, at least you tried
Now listen to the still small voice inside

Young’s big bass bends anchor McMahon’s lingering guitar and blues harp in Cry Baby. Wistful strings and Lauria’s elegant piano mingle in Sunset, a vivid, Ray Davies-esque vignette, followed by the wryly Waitsian swing blues Going Home for Christmas.

The album’s musical high point could be the swaying 6/8 noir soul instrumental East Village Melody, Cordt and then DeBartolo channeling wee-hours melancholy over the band’s glistening, distantly ominous backdrop. Spottiswoode’s gritty vocals soar in You’ll See, an unexpectedly optimistic Weimar waltz. The album winds up with I Don’t Regret, its lush strings and Leonard Cohen inflections: it’s an old rake’s colorful, defiant defense of a “sordid life.” The sounds on this album are old but timeless: it will age well, just like the guy who wrote it.

Another Relentlessly Haunting Album and an Alphabet City Gig by Guitarist Gordon Grdina

Even by his own high-voltage standards, fiery jazz oudist/guitarist Gordon Grdina has really been on a roll making albums lately. Edjeha, with his Middle Eastern jazz quartet Marrow might well be one of the half-dozen best albums released this year. His other new one, Inroads, with his quartet of reedman Oscar Noriega, pianist Russ Lossing and percussionist Satoshi Takeishi blends haunting Middle Eastern chromatics with savage improvisation and even detours into snarling doom metal and Lynchian cinematics. This is deep, dark music. Their next gig is Nov 26 at 9 PM at the old Nublu on Ave. C; cover is $10.

The album – streaming at Bandcamp – kicks off with a haunting, spaciously Satie-esque rainy-day piano tableau cruelly titled Giggles. The band follow with the album’s most epic track, Not Sure, opening with frenetic, polyrhythmic variations on a Balkan-tinged theme, disintegrating for a bit and then regrouping with a savage late 70s King Crimson focus and more of a Middle Eastern attack. Lingering psychedelic pulses give way to a brisk, twisted stroll that isn’t Britfolk or Egyptian but alludes to each of those worlds. From there the band scamper and then memorably blast their way out.

P.B.S., another epic, beginns with interchanges of creepy Rhodes and more stern acoustic piano, Grdina and Noriega – on alto sax – playing the morose central theme in tandem. A marionettish theme develops; Noriega’s microtonal, allusive circling beyond an increasingly tense center is pure genius. Deep-space oxygen bubbles escape the Sun Ra craft as solar flares loom ever closer, then sear the scenery:.Grdina’s merciless, resonant attack is breathtakingly evil.

Semantics is a brooding, morosely wafting duet for echoey, spare guitar and ghostly sax. The next epic, clocking in at practically ten minutes, is Fragments, the bandleader’s spare, spacious oud intro echoed by Lossing’s inside-the-piano flickers and muted rustles. The two develop a phantasmagorical catacomb stroll; then each band member takes a separate elegaic tour, only to reconvene with a frenetic hope against hope. Noriega’s looming foghorn solo at the end is another gloomy highlight.

The desolately crescendoing guitar/sax tableau Casper brings to mind Bill Frisell at his most disconsolate, or Todd Neufeld’s whispery work with trombonist Samuel Blaser. Kite Fight, a squirrelly and then assaultive Grdina/Noiriega duet introduces the album’s final epic, Apokalympic, Noriega eventually wafting in to join Grdina’s expansive postbop chordal guitar phrasing. Lossing’s arrival signals a turn toward franticness and terror, fueled by a scorching guitar/sax duel. The marionettish Macedonian psychedelic outro is irresistibly twisted. 

The group close with a Lynchian reprise of Giggles, Grdina’s angst-fixated, starry reverb guitar paired with Lossing’s close-to-the-vest, wounded neoromanticisms. Looks like Grdina has not one but two albums on the best of 2018 list here.

Single of the Day 11/6/18 – Lynchian Psychedelia

Not quite sure what dark songbird Ezza Rose’s American Man, a surreal mashup of Lynchian femme fatale waltz and slow Dream Syndicate psychedelia (via soundcloud), is all about, but it’s hard to turn away from 

Another Deliciously Catchy, Jangly Album From the Warlocks

What would Halloween month here be without the Warlocks? The well-loved psychedelic rockers’ latest album Songs from the Pale Eclipse is streaming at Bandcamp. It might be the most consistently tuneful record of 2018. Just about shadowy, jangly retro ultraviolet-rock band from the Mystic Braves to the Allah-Lahs to the Growlers owes a debt to these guys: they resurrected that acid-washed 60s sound first.

The album’s opening track, Only You, contrasts vast, echoey 80s goth chorus-box guitar on the verse with a gritty, distorted chorus: imagine the Chameleons UK if they actually could write a tune. Lonesome Bulldog is a lusciously jangly psych-folk anthem, frontman Bobby Hecksher’s hushed vocals channeling desolation and despair until guitarist John Christian Rees kicks in with some toxic distortion as the song winds out.

Easy to Forget has the same kind of moody, catchy, jangly newschool Laurel Canyon psych-folk four-chord vibe, Hecksher’s voice rising unexpectdly toward fullscale angst: it could be the great lost track from the Church’s Seance album.

“You make my hands clammy with tears,” Hecksher complains in Dance Alone, shifting back and forth between a wah-wah Beatles verse and stately chorus awash in watery guitar multitracks. All the guitars – Hecksher, Rees and Earl V. Miller – get into the picture as this mini-epic winds up.

You might expect a track tilted We Took All the Acid to be a surreal Revolution 9 trip-scape, but this one turns out to be a dreampop number, like early Lush with a guy out front. The band go back a couple of decades for the tightly propulsive, catchy, Love Is a Disease, driven by Christopher DiPino’s bass and Jason Anchondo’s drums. Then they fast-forward back to the 80s for the slow, undulating Drinking Song, another elegantly ornate Church Seance soundalike.

Special Today is especially moody for a love song. I Warned You has reverbtoned blues harp filtering through the vampy jangle and clang. The album’s final cut is The Arp Made Me Cry – that distinctive, slightly warpy, sharp-toned synth from the 70s must have really made a mark on Hecksher, at least enough to come up with this swirly ballad. You’ll see this on the best albums of 2018 page at the end of the year.

Purposeful, Darkly Heavy Psychedelia and Blues From All Them Witches

Nashville hasn’t historically been a rock hotspot, but there’s been a lot of good stuff coming out of there recently without the hint of country twang. Heavy psych band All Them Witches are at the front of the pack. Their latest album, ATW, is streaming at Bandcamp. Their riff-rock is more minimal than Led Zep, less envelopingly hypnotic than the Black Angels, although there are moments where these guys very closely resemble those two very different groups.

The album’s first track, Fishbelly 86 Onions is a circling, staggered riff-rock mini-epic. “Never thought he would wake up from a fistfight,” frontman/guitarist Charles Michael Parks Jr. intones. “Never thought he would get knocked down,” he adds. Finally the cuts loose with the vibrato on the guitar; the bass doubling Jonathan Draper’s reverbtoned Fender Rhodes electric piano lines add to the smoky atmosphere. All of a sudden, six minutes in, it hits you: these guys haven’t changed chords yet!

“Like a warhorse caught in the stable,” Parks explains as the band builds a darkly rustic, 19th century blues-influenced groove in Workhorse.  “They want to feel the wheels of control…they wanna see me work in a cage, see me bleed.” It could be a heavier take on the kind of ferociously populist gutter blues the Sideshow Tragedy were doing a couple of years ago.

Drummer Robby Staebler steers the band through the tricky changes of the vintage Zep-flavored 1st vs. 2nd with a nimbly crushing attack. “I’ve been counting the seconds, I’ve been waiting too long,” is the mantra.

The brooding Half-Tongue is a gorgeously spare heavy blues, Parks’ jagged Chicago guitar lines over Draper’s smoky Hammond organ. The album’s darkest number, Diamond is almost as stark, finally building to a menacing, chromatic drive fueled by Parks and fellow guitarist Ben McLeod before returning to a deadpool ambience that sounds like the Black Angels covering Blue Oyster Cult.

The band go back to slow, heavy minor-key blues for album’s longest epic, Harvest Feast, which is definitely a feast of clanging, echoing, wailing and burning guitar textures, orchestrated with immense subtlety for a band this heavy. The way they edge toward Grateful Dead territory without losing focus is an especially cool touch.

The band turn on a dime from a drony jet engine intro to a shamanistic pulse as HJTC gets underway: it could be the Black Angels reduced to simplest and darkest terms. They wind up the album Rob’s Dream, a slow, spare, eerily warpy minor psych-blues tableau that finally rises to a scorching peak: British legends the Frank Flight Band come to mind. Despite a recent lineup shuffle, this captures one of this country’s most individualistic psychedelic bands at the top of their uneasy game.

Menacing Full-Throttle Instrumentals From the Death Wheelers

Today’s Halloween album, streaming at Bandcamp, is I Tread on Your Grave, by instrumentalists the Death Wheelers. The album cover and bandname are a little misleading: what they play isn’t really biker rock. It’s closer to the growling SoCal ATV themes that Agent Orange played on the River’s Edge soundtrack (now there’s a great Halloween movie!). Pat Irwin’s eclectic 80s scorpion rock band the Raybeats also come to mind, although the Death Wheelers are a lot louder. more metal-oriented and distinguish themselves with downtuned bass. In the same vein as another legendary instrumental rock band, Man or Astroman, the group like to open their songs with snippets from cheesy 50s horror flicks.

The album opens with the title track. Max Tremblay’s doomy, gleefully tremoloing Sabbath-esque bass riff kicks it off, then the band – who also comprise guitarists Sy Tremblay and Hugo Bertacci, plus drummer Richard Turcotte – take it on a weirdly syncopated tangent with keening slide guitar.

13 Discycles is a metalflake take on horror surf: when the band go halfspeed, then quarterspeed on the long outro, it could be Pantera playing Beware the Dangers of a Ghost Scorpion. The furthest they go into the surf is Moto Vampiro, but even that takes a detour into vintage 70s riff-rock: the flange and the distorted bass add skunky contrast.

Where so many of these tracks careen from one style to another or mash them up, Roadkill 69 is the closest thing to 60s biker theme here, but with metal sonics. The album’s best track, Sleazy Rider Returns, is also its creepiest, a Frankenstein gallop that starts out as the most horror surf-oriented number here, then slouches toward Sleep and then pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd.

Death Wheelers/Marche Funebre begins all sludgy, with some tasty machete tremolo-picking, then the band put the rubber to the road: it could be the Coffin Daggers with grittier bass. They launch into a nazgul gallop in Black Crack, a wry update on a classic Led Zep stomp; then, in Backstabber, they weld more of that vinyl-cracking sunburst slide guitar to a chugging, vintage Motorhead-style riff. 

If Iron Maiden had been an instrumental band during their earliest days back in the 70s, they might have done RIP (Last Ride) – the sample that introduces it is a real hoot. The brief Purple Wings sounds like an unexpectedly swinging, funk-tinged rehearsal jam that the band decided to keep and maybe work up later.

The album’s final cut is Moby Dick – an original, not the Led Zep monstrosity -where they nick an old Sonny Boy Williamson riff that the Allman Brothers infamously ruined, and do it justice. Guess these guys figured they couldn’t nick the title as well if they didn’t put in a really funny Spinal Tap drum solo as well. It’s hard to think of a more interesting, original heavy band out there. 

Tuneful, Fearlessly Original Heavy Stoner Riffage From Fuzz Evil

Today’s Halloween album is High on You, by Fuzz Evil, which is streaming at Bandcamp. While there’s some fuzztone in the band’s guitars and plenty of post-Sabbath evil in the music, they’re more diverse than those elements would suggest.

The opening track is Get It Together: if Nirvana had a thing for stoner boogie (and could play their instruments a little better, and had a keyboard) they would have sounded like this. You Can Take Her Away is a lot faster and riffier, Sabbath at doublespeed maybe. Finally we get a deliciously allusive guitar solo from frontman Wayne Rudell while bassist Joey Rudell’s lines rise toward the peak of the wave at the end.

Ribbons and Kills is a savage, slow, crushingly cynical kiss-off anthem. There are creepy, watery effects on the vocals, a vein-slashing pickslide behind the walls of distortion: “You’re daddy’s little girl,” is the mantra.

If You Know could be slow Nirvana with more confident guitar, stronger vocals, a slow-burning, Sabbath-inspired rhythm section and a deliciously icy, macabre Blue Oyster Cult-ish guitar solo.

Pushed along by drummer Orgo Martinez, The Strut is more of a stomp,  minor-key Sabbath riffs over an emphatic pulse. When the toxic waves of reverb guitar overflow the container, the payoff is sweet.

The album’s title track envelops you with its slow, echoey, ominous sonics over Martinez’s crushing, sparse beats, building to a a rhythmically twisted Rubik’s Cube. The final cut is Are You In Or Out, strobe guitars building to a steady, emphatic burn. If you’re into heavy psych, don’t sleep on this.