New York Music Daily

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Category: psychedelic rock

Darkly Ambient Americana Instrumentalists Suss Headline an Enveloping, Inviting Brooklyn Triplebill Tomorrow Night

In 2018 this blog called cinematic instrumental group Suss “the missing link between Brian Eno and Ennio Morricone – or the Lost Patrol without the drums.” They were a quintet then. Tragically, they’ve been whittled down to a trio after the sudden 2021 loss of keyboardist Gary Lieb, but they keep putting out frequently mesmerizing, sometimes Lynchian deep-sky themes. Their latest album is a double-cd release comprising both their Heat Haze southwestern travelogue suite and their even more nocturnal Night Suite along with new material.

They’re headlining a great lineup tomorrow night, Feb 8 at around 10 PM at Public Records, that shi-shi monstrosity in the former Retrofret space north of Gowanus. As a bonus, deadpan and often hilariously lyrical new wave pop spoofers Office Culture open the night at 8ish, followed by the trippy electroacoustic trio of saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi, bassist Paul Bryan and drummer Jeremy Cunningham. Cover is pretty steep for a show like this, presumably $24 since the venue is one of many in Brooklyn who seem to be oblivious to the rising popularity of #cashalways and are still trying to make it with the goofy pennies-and-nickels online ticketing fad.

Both Suss’ Night Suite and Heat Haze got the thumbs-up here. The new tracks – the first several of which you can hear at Bandcamp – are just as drifty and evocative. Beyond Jonathan Gregg’s resonant pedal steel and spare dobro, it’s impossible to tell whether that’s Pat Irwin or Bob Holmes on the many other guitar and keyboard tracks. The first is a miniature, Winter Is Hard, rising from a delicate little piano figure to a flaring slide guitar peak and then out.

The band blend keening ebow textures, slow doppler effects, stalagmite piano drips and icepick reverb guitar incisions in North Wind. The most lingering thing in Linger is the gentle, precise acoustic guitar and the reverbtoned steel over the puffing, echoey loops in the background. Everything Is So Beautiful is steady and sad and Lynchian, and over too soon.

By now, the band are working variations on that initial crystalline three-note theme, notably in the rising and falling icy/hot textures of The First Thaw. Then they reprise Winter Was Hard with some unexpected timbres like autoharp and some gritty mechanical whirs.

At this point, you will have to switch to yucky Spotify to hear the rest of the record. Across the Horizon is aptly vast but peppered with warmly anticipatory fragments of blues and C&W riffs. The band warp the sustain a little in Ranger as a solitary acoustic guitar surveys the great plains, then in Shimmer (Reflection) they bring back the delicate quasar pulse: a distant Blue Velvet galaxy.

Holmes breaks out his mandolin and slowly works his way up in the mix in That Good Night. They waft their way out with the gentle phrases in The Open Door, shifting slowly through a characteristically twilit tableau.

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In Memoriam: Tom Verlaine

Television guitarist and co-founder Tom Verlaine, whose distinctive style fused psychedelia, janglerock and in later years ambient music, died suddenly on January 28. He was 73.

Born Tom Miller, Verlaine took the name of one of the French poets whose work he discovered while in his teens. Alongside fellow guitarist Richard Lloyd, bassist Richard Hell and drummer Billy Ficca, Verlaine founded Television in New York in 1975. Although they were not a punk band, they were one of the first groups to have a regular residency at CBGB.

Television’s first two albums, 1977’s Marquee Moon, and Adventure, from a year later, achieved marginal commercial success but were enormously influential on subsequent, jangly guitar bands, from the Soft Boys, to the Larch. Marquee Moon is commonly cited as one of the greatest albums of all time.

In Television, Verlaine’s sinuous, melodic climbs and cascades contrasted with Lloyd’s harder-edged attack, often echoing the Grateful Dead’s two-guitar dichotomy. Where Lloyd would punch in with riffs and chords, Verlaine opted for melodic variations and rarely employed distortion, preferring a clean, ringing Fender guitar sound that drew on surf rock as much as Jerry Garcia and Lou Reed. Many of Television’s songs feature the two guitars exchanging roles and conversational ideas, a common jazz trope that was rare in rock bands of the era.

After the band’s breakup, Verlaine pursued a solo career and focused more on briefer, more pop-oriented songcraft. Verlaine also produced albums for two of the most important, twangy rock bands of the 80s, True West and the Room, as well as two Jeff Buckley cd’s.

Verlaine regrouped Television in 1992, primarily as an instrumental unit, with limited and highly sought-after live performances in the years that followed until he left the band for good in 2007.

The Skull Practitioners Hit Queens With Their Most Savagely Tuneful Album in Tow

Nobody plays guitar with as much distinctively feral intensity as Jason Victor. He’ll hang a chord over the edge of a familiar resolution until it bleeds and screams to be pulled back from the abyss, or slash his way through the passing tones like a Sandinista chasing a World Bank operative through the sugarcane. He’s best known for his work as Steve Wynn‘s sparring partner in the Dream Syndicate as well as Wynn’s band the Miracle 3. But Victor is also a bandleader in his own right, and has slowly built an equally savage body of work as frontman of the Skull Practitioners. While you can hear elements of the Stooges, the Gun Club and maybe the Chrome Cranks in his music, there is no band who sound like them. Their new album Negative Stars is streaming at youtube. They’re opening the best twinbill of the year so far on Feb 4 at 8 PM, with Jon Spencer & the Hitmakers headlining at a new venue, TV Eye, at 1647 Weirfield St. between Wyckoff and Cypress in Ridgewood. Cover is $20; take the J/M to Myrtle-Wyckoff and walk about eight blocks.

The album’s first number is Dedication, Victor buzzing and growling over the loose-limbed attack of drummer Alex Baker while bassist Kenneth Levine booms lithely behind them. There’s a bridge that’s part Sonics Rendezvous Band, part Live Skull. All that in about five and half minutes.

Track two is Exit Wounds, a catchy, hard-riffing post-Stooges number propelled by Baker’s staggered stomp: when Levine takes a climb up the scale behind Victor’s acidically floating lines, it could be Radio Birdman. For that matter, so could LEAP, where Victor blends in a more 90s-flavored, acidic, Polvo-style edge.

Hypnotic fuzz guitar and a suspenseful, mutedly echoey syncopation kick off the album’s big epic, Intruder, a mashup of uneasy surf rock, the Dream Syndicate, and the Lords of the New Church (let Victor’s vocals sink in for a minute). “We start apart and we finish alone,” Victor snarls.

Levine gets his fuzz going in What Now, Victor bending his chords and firing off one of his signature, unhinged solos that ends in a flurry of machete-chops. He builds a loopy noir atmosphere and then an increasingly desperate, bittersweet drive as the band rise into a brisk new wave groove in the album’s lone instrumental, Fire Drill.

In the next track, Ventilation, the band work a warped, ominously galloping southwestern gothic take on the Dream Syndicate. The album’s final cut is Nelson D – a reference to former New York Governor, pathological racist and deep state operative Nelson Rockefeller, maybe? Victor howls and wails, building a volcanic interweave with a few finely sharpened, dueling layers over the rhythm section’s ineluctable drive toward chaos. Having picked Steve Ulrich’s eerie Music From This American Life as the frontrunner for best album of 2023, this one’s a contender too.

Drop Party Bring Their Wildly Original Horn-Fueled Mashups to Alphabet City This Friday

Otto’s Shrunken Head is best known as a relic of a long-gone, gritty East Village punk rock scene – and one of the most notorious tourist traps in town on the weekend. Be that as it may, Otto’s was one of the first New York venues to reopen after live music had been criminalized in 2020. Vestiges of its second-gen claim to punk rock fame remain, and these days there are still punk and punk-adjacent sounds like ska and surf rock in the little back room on the off weekend. This Friday night, Jan 20 there’s a ska bill that looks pretty awesome, starting at 8 with Skappository – who are anything but anal – followed at 9 by Drop Party, one of the most original and unpredictable bands who sprang from the ska scene in the zeros. The mystery headline act call themselves Cenzo: good luck finding them on the web.

The centerpiece of the show is Drop Party. They play a wildly multistylistic blend of Crescent City brass band music, oldschool soul, ska, funk, classic disco and psychedelia, typically in the same song. Their musicianship is as tight as their jams are unpredictable. They put out a debut album, Lean Into the Wave, in 2018, which is still up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. Even better, they managed to regroup and put out a handful of singles last year, all of which you can snag for whatever you feel like paying, or not.

The first is Disco Ranger, which starts out as a straight-up wah-wah disco tune. But then the band turn it into a ferocious mashup, part New Orleans second-line march, hard funk and a wistful cinematic theme. New York used to abound with imaginative, outside-the-box horn-driven bands like this: the Brooklyn Funk Essentials, Mamarazzi, Super Hi-Fi, to name a few.

The second single is Mental Health, which is more of a straight-up New Orleans tune, with blazing horns from trumpeter Dan Raccuia and tenor sax player Jacob Raccuia over the slinky swing of bassist Jake Krasniewicz and drummer Zach Rader. Guitarist Jeff Wickun contributes a couple of jagged, tantalizingly brief solos.

Likewise, the band rise from an undulating groove to a sprint and then a dubwise LA lowrider interlude in the third single, Horns Up. Wickun takes over the mic briefly on the last one, What Can I Say, a sly disco strut.

The album is also worth grabbing. It’s a lot harder and more solo-centric. The opening track is a darkly blazing ska tune that’s skittish bordering on frantic, with a smoky sax solo midway through. The Mountain is a cinematic gem, veering from roadhouse funk to getaway theme to icepick skank.

The first of the big epics is On the Up & Up, part classy 70s soul-jazz, part sunny roots reggae and eventually a hard-driving minor-key ska theme. In First Contact, the band veer from Booker T soul, to a second-line march, some oldschool disco and noir ska, with a goofy joke that’s too good to give away.

The band do the same in Big Harry, switching on a dime between noir ska, dub and bluesy, psychedelic soul. One Small Favour is twelve minutes of eerily lingering psychedelia, Lynchian soul, twisted circus rock and an irresistible trick ending.

The final cut Captain’s Orders, a wild mix of oldschool soul, action film score and smoky reggae. Grab this while it lasts.

La Banda Chuska Put a Darkly Psychedelic New Spin on a Classic Cumbia Sound

La Banda Chuska played their first-ever gig on a Monday night in October, 2019 at a Brooklyn venue known for eclectic and unpredictable programming, One of the band members explained that their big influence was Los Belkings, one of the most surf-inspired of the great Peruvian psychedelic cumbia bands from the mid-to-late 1960s. These Brooklynites slunk and wafted their way through a handful of that band’s more ornate, psychedelic instrumentals, but they also played a bunch of originals that ranged from short and punchy to lush and cinematic. Calmly and intricately, these guys (and women) really slayed with a sound that’s hardly ever heard this far north: when were they going to play next?

We know what happened next. The good news is that the band survived the lockdown to release a debut ep at Bandcamp last spring. They’re playing second on one of those sprawling multi-band bills that Drom puts on every January as part of the annual booking agents’ convention. Whether that convention served any useful purpose before the lockdown is a useful question, but it always resulted in some great shows. This Jan 14, the group are hitting the stage there at around 8:30 PM, preceded by Greek surf band Habbina Habbina, who open the night at 7:30. Perennial party favorites Slavic Soul Party play their funky Balkan/hip-hop/Ellington mashups afterward at 9:30, then at around 10:30 Red Baraat’s fiery bhangra soul trumpeter Sonny Singh leads his band. After that, Mafer Bandola plays bouncy Venezuelan joropo llanero, around half past midnight Iranian violinist and bandleader Mehrnam Rastegari leads her group, with electroacoustic drummer Ravish Momin’s Sunken Cages doing their woomp-woomp dancefloor thing to close out the night. If you have the stamina for it, this could easily be the best concert lineup of 2023: general admission is $20.

The first song on the debut ep is Cumbia Chuska. Adele Fournet plays a pulsing, vaguely sinister progression on her organ, then a guitar – that’s either Sam Day Harmet or Felipe Wurst – comes in with an ominous spaghetti western riff over the undulating groove from bassist Abe Pollack and drummer Joel Mateo. Accordionist Erica Mancini floats in, then one of the guitarists hits his fuzz pedal. This is creepy fun!

Track two is Surf en CDMX, a catchy mashup of Ventures spacerock and uneasy Peruvian chicha with a deliciously clangy guitar interweave. The women in the band join voices in Arcoiris, which is not a bright rainbowy theme but a ghostly, airy, keyboard-driven undersea tableau that rises to a big guitar-driven peak and then a wry Fender Rhodes solo out.

From there they segue into Cine Olaya, where they do something predictable yet irresistibly fun with a slow, broodingly vampy chicha vamp. The final cut on the record is Playa Privada, a surreal mashup of the B-52s, Los Crema Paraiso and maybe the Police. We need more from this imaginative, original crew.

Elk City Bring a Starry, Swirling, Spacerock-Flavored New Album to a Williamsburg Gig

It’s hard to believe that Elk City have been playing catchy, anthemic, smartly crafted 80s-inflected rock for over 23 years now. After a hiatus, they reemerged in the late teens with a somewhat more psychedelic pop sound than the grittier, shadowy style they first mined in the late 90s. Their latest album Above the Water is streaming at Bandcamp. They’re playing Union Pool at 8 PM on Nov 18, with jagged-edged, Wire-ish postpunks Savak following on the bill. Cover is $16 if you round it up from the advertised nickel-and-dime cover (like a lot of Brooklyn rock joints, the venue has become infatuated with the online ticketing fad).

The album’s first track, That Someone harks back to the 80s: imagine Gang of Four with a woman out front, a slinkier rhythm section and a little dreampop sheen. The chiming guitars of Chris Robertson and Sean Eden circle each other over Richard Baluyut’s graceful, rising bass and Ray Ketchem’s drums in the second track, Someone’s Party. Imagine Changing Modes covering Vampire Weekend – a stretch, but try it.

Frontwoman Renese LoBue reaches for the top of her register in Apology Song, an increasingly driving minor-key backbeat hit that wouldn’t be out of place on an early 90s album by the Church. The two-guitar attack grows from a deliciously bittersweet Fairports-meets-the-Church jangle to a sun-streaked Eden slide solo in Your Time Doesn’t Exist: it’s the album’s most memorable song.

Likewise, the band build A Family from a pensively strummed acoustic tableau to an eerie psychedelic gleam. Then they put a teens update on shamanic mid-70s Patti Smith with Don’t You Wanna Try. To close the record, they slowly emerge from a Grateful Dead-like cloud to lingering, elegant new wave and finally a snarl in Floating Above the Water.

A Killer Twangy Guitar Triplebill in Bushwick on the 16th, Barring the Unforeseen

New York seems to be in the very early stages of a turnover in music venues. It’s completely balkanized at this point, but there are good things happening on the ground if you look hard enough. One excellent triplebill at an unexpected spot is coming up this Nov 16 at 8 PM. A couple of rewardingly unorthodox surf bands, the Zolephants and the bracingly Middle Eastern and Greek-flavored Byzan-tones open for guitar goddess Barbara Endes’ wickedly catchy janglerock band Girls on Grass at Wonderville, a bar and video arcade at 1186 Broadway in Bushwick. Take the J to Kosciuszko St.; it’s a pass-the-bucket situation.

The Zolephants are a side project for cinematic psychedelic Americana iconoclast Ben Lee a.k.a. Baby Copperhead. In this instrumental project, Nami Coffee’s mono bass synth bolsters Lee’s twangy, judiciously layered guitar multitracks over Bill Bowen’s drums. Their 2018 cassette release Islands of Neptune is still up at Bandcamp.

The opening number, Legend of the Black Snake starts out like late 70s Can and then goes fast forward a couple of decadea, in a Phantom Surfers direction before coming full circle on a much more disquited note. The second track, Speed Demon also echoes the Phantom Surfers: you could also call it a clangier take on the haphazard sound Man or Astroman were mining in the early 90s

Seven refers to the time signature. It’s funny and surf-insider-y AF. Track four, sarcastically titled Cheesy Intro, follows a familiar chord progression and then diverges into a long, rewardingly unpredictable sequence.

Truth or Consequences is a coy bolero-beat southwestern gothic theme. Fueled by a snappy bassline, Hey! Solid Citizen balances fuzzy, sailing synth and catchy guitar jangle. The closing number, Scratch starts out as if the band are going in a moody flamenco-surf direction, but they make quasi Egyptian reggae out of it instead.

Their somewhat more traditionalist 2016 debut ep is also up at Bandcamp as a free download. The first track, Bleeding Lungs is a brisk, skittish take on a loping desert rock theme. They open Behind the Fortress slowly and expansively before taking it into edgy hash-infused rembetiko rock.

Number 9 is the most psychedelic tune here, a loopy, trippily rhythmic tune underneath a wry Beatles-inspired samples pastiche. The trio electrify an old Greek gangster theme, Black Eyes, with some gritty tremolo-picking from Lee: it’s the band’s best song, at least among the Bandcamp tracks. They close the record with a goofy, skronky miniature.

Trippy, Texturally Luscious Oldschool Soul Jams From the Ghost Funk Orchestra

When the World Economic Forum and the Gates Foundation engineered the fascist takeover of New York in March of 2020, Ghost Funk Orchestra bandleader Seth Applebaum bunkered down, wrote and got a new album out of it. He began the project as a one-man band, more or less, but by the summer of 2019, when the group got a rave review here for a midtown Manhattan show, they’d grown into a beast of an oldschool instrumental soul band.

Their latest album A New Kind Of Love – streaming at Bandcamp – is their most psychedelic and eclectic yet. The instrumentation and production is totally classic 60s: reverb on the guitar and drums, snappy trebly bass, plus layers of organ or vintage electric piano and horns in places.

The first cut, Your Man’s No Good is an artful mashup of Isaac Hayes vintage soul sprawl, Menahan Street Band crime-soul and a little Hugh Masekela. Track two, Scatter comes across as dub Isaac Hayes: hypnotic, spare bass riffage, chicken-scratch guitar beneath lingering chords, a tantalizingly snarling Applebaum guitar solo and a trick ending.

The loopy, dubwise vibe continues in Prism, a twinkling Hollywood Hills boudoir soul jam. Quiet Places is actually anything but quiet, a swaying, brassy study in lo/hi contrasts, grim fuzztone versus starry gleam.

The album’s title track is a two-parter: Applebaum shifts between slow, slinky Quincy Jones soundtrack noir and dub-infused funk in the first, then closes the album with the second, a hazy early 60s summer-house theme with a gritty psych-soul coda.

Megan Mancini sings Why?, a hypnotically catchy slow jam, then sticks around for Blockhead, a steady, vampy groove where Applebaum flexes some judicious jazz chops in tandem with flutist Brian Plautz.

Baritone saxophonist Stephen Chen floats and bobs over the latin soul shuffle of bassist Jeremy Stoddard Carroll and drummer Mario Gutierrez in A Song For Pearl. Then the band go back to a drifting milieu with Bluebell, a pensively swaying love ballad with Mancini on mic again. The closest thing to straight-up psychedelic rock here is the Doorsy next-to-last track, Rooted. So far 2022 has been a relatively slow year for psychedelia in general, but this is one of the most enjoyably immersive records of the year.

Ruby the Hatchet Release a Hauntingly Diverse Reflection on the Lockdown

Has there been a better title for an album released this year than Fear Is a Cruel Master, by Ruby the Hatchet? More and more artists are putting out songs and albums about the lockdown, and this is one of the best, right up there with Mostly Autumn‘s 2021 release Graveyard Star. It’s less distinctly anguished than a reflection on alienation and isolation.

Ruby the Hatchet have made a name for themselves as one of the most melodic and unpredictable bands in doom metal, but here they move into styles as diverse as vintage powerpop and new wave, with tinges of psychedelic soul and garage rock.

The album – streaming at Bandcamp and available on limited-edition clear vinyl – opens with The Change, a pretty stunning but successful departure into new wave, complete with organist Sean Hur’s swirly lines behind singer Jillian Taylor’s bright vocals and guitarist Johnny Scarps’ catchy downstroke riffs.

Drummer Owen Stewart’s tricky tumbles open the second track, Deceiver in tandem with bassist Lake Muir, With the organ, it’s a smokier take on a classic late 70s acid rock sound, with a vintage Maiden-ish stampede out. Primitive Man is a killer, dark stoner boogie tune, with Taylor railing against authoritarians who would “steal my rights.”

The angst hits redline in 1000 Years, a slow, wounded ballad in 6/8 time: the point where Scarps suddenly ignites a fireball will give you goosebumps. The band slowly make their way out of the murk to an ominous ba-bump groove in Soothsayer, fueled by the organ and Scarps’ guitar multitracks.

They slow down again for Last Saga: imagine Blue Oyster Cult covering the Moody Blues’ Nights in White Satin (without the orchestral break). They follow with Thruster. the band at their phantasmagorical, propulsive best, with the smoky organ, stampeding drive and some surprising 60s garage licks, it’s the best song on the record.

They close it with Amor Gravis: “Looking back, I never knew you,” is Taylor’s mantra as the band shift between a familiar downward progression and a heavy soul gallop. So good to see how these guys survived the lockdown at the top of their game: one of the best albums of 2022.

Early Moods Deliver a Macabre Heavy Psychedelic Masterpiece

Early Moods play high-voltage, dynamically unpredictable heavy psychedelia and doom metal. Early Sabbath is the obvious and pervasive influence, but frontman/keyboardist Alberto Alcaraz has his own sound and isn’t trying to ape Ozzy. Their debut full-length “mystery color” vinyl album, one of the best of 2022, is streaming at Bandcamp.

One thing that elevates this album above so many other groups gathered around the glyph in the shadow of Sabbath is the nimbleness of the rhythm section. Another is the relentlessly ominous riffs and big anthems that come thisclose to careening over the edge, but somehow the band hold the songs to the rails.

On the album’s opening track, Return to Salem’s Gate, they shift back and forth from edgy fuzztone chromatics to a smoldering Fender Twin burn, drummer Chris Flores’ machinegunning salvos capping off the big peaks, with an edge-of-the-abyss wah-wah solo from lead guitarist Oscar Hernandez.

The Sabbath influence bubbles to the murky surface in the second cut, Live to Suffer, from the menacing first verse, to the doublespeed interlude with Hernandez’s tantalizingly shivery lead lines.

Alcaraz opens the band’s signature song with distantly drifting unease from his synth, Hernandez levitating from funereal belltones through a series of increasingly agitated variations  to a full-bore stomp in tandem with bassist Elix Felciano.

Defy Thy Name starts out gritty and briskly hypnotic: a tensely pounding halfspeed interlude leads to a bone-chilling, acid-flamenco dance of death, the high point of the record. From there they segue up into Memento Mori, a mini-dirge straight out of the first minute of Sabbaths’ first album and then work the gloomy implied melody in Last Rites for all it’s worth. Hernandez could go on at the end for ten times as long as he does and it wouldn’t be boring.

They hit a gallop in Curse the Light, but it’s a restrained one, Hernandez letting his grim, fuzzy notes linger in the toxic air. The band slow down a bit with a skewed take on a classic Arabic mode in Damnation, with a wry reference to an iconic busker tune and a famous Geezer Butler riff.

They close the record with Funeral Macabre, the most phantasmagorical and 60s-inspired track here, from a leering, carnivalesque theme through a long, gonzo, woozy Hernandez solo out. Doom metal purists who appreciate the classics, from Sabbath through Candlemass, St. Vitus and Radio Moscow, will love this record.