New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: rock music

Quirky Cinematic Themes From the Royal Arctic Institute

Today’s Halloween album – streaming at Bandcamp – is The French Method, by cinematic rock instrumentalists the Royal Arctic Institute. It’s not Halloweenish in any ordinary sense: the ghost in this machine is a friendly cartoon one rather than any genuinely malevolent spirit. The albums’s eleven tracks have a puckish sense of humor: wry references to Richard Strauss, Pink Floyd and a cheesy “classic rock radio” staple by the Who, among others, pepper these shapeshifting, enigmatic themes. The trio are playing tonight at around 9 PM, headlining an excellent triplebill at the Nest, 504 Flatbush Ave. at Lefferts Ave. in Prospect Lefferts Gardens that starts at 7 with excellent southwestern gothic band And the Wiremen and continues with the envelopingly  kinetic Wharton Tiers Ensemble. The venue’s webpage has no mention of the show, so if you’re in the neighborhood, stop by and see what the deal is: you most assuredly won’t need tickets in advance. Be aware that starting late tonight, the Q train isn’t running this weekend, so you may have to take the 2 at President St. on the way home.

The album begins with Do the Kuchar, a cheery surf theme as Guided By Voices might do surf: straight-up. Guitarist John Leon throws some unsettled indie chords into the riffage for a late 90s Hoboken feel. The second track, Latonya Ripford has surreal, warpy Mary Halvorson-ish guitar tones lingering above Gerard Smith’s tiptoeing bass and Lyle Hysen’s drums, rising from a whisper to a Beatlesque stroll and a playful series of false endings.

Japanese Viperina begins as a twistedly strutting stripper theme, shifting to a powerpop stomp and then back. Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm, inspired by an unsolved World War II-era British murder, has more of that warpy, expansive, enigmatic guitar, rising to a sly series of texturally contrasting overdubs: it’s more enigmatic than creepy.

The album’s title track has a jangly, jazzy late 80s Britpop bounce: Happy Mondays with better chops. Maystadt Process – a reference to a sci-fi scenario concerning how to keep a body alive after the soul has departed – could be slow Big Lazy, Leon’s big-sky tremolo resonating over Smith’s incisive bassline and Hysen’s whispery brushwork.

Barack’s Mic Drop – a shout-out to a President who really earned his vacation time, according to the band – veers back and forth between cheery faux-soukous and Floydian spacerock. Similarly, Greely’s Ghost has a slow, reverbtoned sway akin to Big Lazy tackling a theme from side one of Dark Side of the Moon. And then it becomes Theme From an Indian Summer Place, so to speak.

The blithe swing of Bandersnatch contrasts with the album’s most epic track, Ludic Lovers, a slow, restless tune that offers barely a hint of the guitar savagery that lies in wait. The final cut is Transhumania, a twistedly twangy quasi-rockabilly theme and the album’s most overtly dark, cynical interlude.

Who is the audience for this? Film directors in need of quirky, eclectic scores, for starters. And the band work quickly: they’ve already got another album, Accidental Achievement, in the can, due for release later this month.

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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. 

Shattering Acoustic Songs and Defiant Rock Anthems Side By Side on the Lower East

“The most depressing music ever!” That’s how one of the members of high-voltage rockers Petey & the True Mongrel Hearts introduced his bandmate, singer Erica Smith at the Treehouse at 2A a couple of weekends ago. But much as Smith’s shattering, nuanced voice and painterly lyrics deal almost exclusively with dark topics, her songs actually aren’t depressing at all. She’s all about transcendence. Which is what dark music is all about, right? If everything was hopeless, why bother? The real torment is the lure of something better, and Smith channels that hope against hope better than just about anyone alive.

Her career as one of the leading lights of a still-vital Lower East Side Americana scene in the late zeros took a couple of hits, first with the loss of her drummer, the late, great Dave Campbell, then the demands of job and motherhood. Since then, she hasn’t exactly been inactive, but her gigs have been more sporadic: we can’t take her for granted anymore. Playing solo acoustic, she was all the more unselfconsciously intense for the sparseness and directness of the songs.

As usual, her imagery was loaded. Glances exchanged, unspoken, almost buckled under the weight of a pivotal twist of fate. A surreal, dissociative stare up into bright lights could have been a prelude to a grisly interrogation…or just a particularly anxious moment as seen from a hospital bed. That reference came early during the night’s best song, Veterans of Foreign Wars, a brooding waltz ending with a scenario that could have been either an Eric Garner parable, one with broader, antiwar implications, or both. Otherwise, she strummed and nimbly fingerpicked her way through styles from austere front-porch folk to vintage soul to minimalist rock.

But Smith is hardly all about gloom and doom: she has a fun side. The solo set made a stark contrast with her turn out in front of the band, through a smoldering take of group leader/guitarist Pete Cenedella’s mighty, steamy oldschool soul ballad, Hand to Lend, which quickly became a launching pad for belting and torchy melismatics to rival Aretha. Nobody sings a soul anthem like Smith: we may have lost Sharon Jones, but we still have this elusive performer.

Cenedella got his start fronting the highly regarded American Ambulance, whose ferocious populism and interweave of Stonesy rock with what was then called alt-country won them a national following. But musically speaking, this latest group’s musicianship rivals any outfit he’s been involved with.

Drummer David Anthony’s matter-of-factly swinging four-on-the-floor groove and bassist Ed Iglewski’s trebly, melodic lines underpinned lead guitarist Rich Feridun’s incisively terse fills and Charly CP Roth’s rivers of organ. Alongside Cenedella, the harmony vocal trio of Smith, Lisa Zwier and Rembert Block spun elements of Motown, Tina Turner soul and Balkan gothic into an uneasily silken sheen.

The songs in the group’s first set (this blog went AWOL for the second one) rock just as hard as Cenedella’s most electric earlier material, and if anything, are more anthemic than ever. The addition of the organ along with a frequent 60s soul influence often brought to mind peak-era Springsteen at his most ornate: Gaslight Anthem, eat your heart out.

The catchiest and most danceable number was a slinky go-go-strut, The Getaround. The most straightforwardly poignant, in a mix of songs with persistent themes of heartbreak and crawling from the wreckage afterward, was the imagistic Skies Can’t Decide. Setting the stage with the catchy, defiant Down Harder Roads and Turning of the Wheel worked out well, considering the fireworks, both loud and quiet, which followed.

Petey & the True Mongrel Hearts are currently in the midst of recording a lavish double album, so they ought to be playing out a lot more. And Smith is at Otto’s on Nov 1 at 7 PM with Beatlesque soul band Nikki & the Human Element

Another Dark Lyrical Masterpiece From Elysian Fields

Elysian Fields earned an avid cult following for their torchy, noir sound, fueled by frontwoman Jennifer Charles’ smoldering vocals. Since the 90s, they’ve become more epic and cinematic, so their latest album, Pink Air – streaming at Bandcamp – is a something of a departure for them. It’s arguably the most starkly straight-ahead rock record they’ve ever made. It’s also their most overtly political album, obviously inspired by the grim events since the 2016 Presidential election. And it’s one of the half-dozen best albums to come out in 2018 so far. The band are currently on European tour; the next stop is the Milla Club, Holzstrasse 28 in Munich on Oct 19 at 8 PM. Lucky concertgoers can get in for €15.30.

Polymath guitarist Oren Bloedow’s eerie chromatic bends open the album’s first song, Storm Cellar, a black-humor look at the complications of creating art while the whole world is dying – literally. Charles paints a wry picture of bunker life over a steady, simple, anthemic new wave groove from bassist Jonno Linden and drummer Matt Johnson.

The jangle of Bloedow’s twelve-string alongside Simon Hanes’ Strat open Star Sheen with Church-like lusciousness, then the two mute their strings as the song sways and Charles’ opiated vocals contemplate solitude and a certain kind of self-deception:

Only dark can feed the soul
If you don’t manipulate it
When a silent earth has spoken
Planets swoop intoxicated

Likewise, the spectre of death lingers in the distance in the muted Beyond the Horizon:

And though the flames are low
I know that they’re climbing
The neolithic flint that’s making a spark…

Thomas Bartlett’s steady lattice of electric piano anchors guest trumpeter CJ Camarieri’s balmy solo.

The guitars get growlier and Charles’ vocals get sultrier in Tidal Wave, a new wave-ish throwback to the band’s early days. Over backdrop that grows from hazy to hypnotically direct, Karen 25 is arguably the album’s most chilling track, an allusively grisly dystopic scenario from a very imminent future:

I met Karen 25 the last days of the archives
Our instructions scrub the files
From the master hard drive…

Over Bloedow’s spare, poignant jangle, Charles’ breathy sarcasm addressing an unnamed patriarchal figure in Start in Light is absolutely withering:

This world could be bought and sold
So many people
Busy doing what they’re told
But the right stuff
Ain’t the right stuff
It’s just old

Rising from nebulous to bitingly anthemic, the album’s centerpiece is Philistine Jackknife, a spot-on portrait of “festering piehole’ Donald Trump and his “horrowshow that’s now livestreaming:”

Can we smoke him out
Tear him from the garish tower
Mercenaries standing by
Clocking in by the hour

Dispossessed is a contemplation of the the challenge to find any kind of stability in these precarious times. The most elegiac. apocalyptic number here is Household Gods, a horror-stricken gothic tableau, Charles intoning soberly about “Watching from a window like a shadow play/Down below, no one can tell that they’ve run away.”

With a searing Bloedow solo at the center, the album’s hardest-rocking track is Knights of the White Carnation, a spot-on critique of the neoliberal drift toward fascism:

A dark illumination
A murdering resurrection
Lords and Queens of the castle walls
Heirs of the great plantations
Hands that whipped black skin
Hold the keys of the private prisons

The album winds up with Time Capsule, a wistfully uneasy childhood reminiscence that brings to mind Bloedow’s collaborations with another extraordinary singer, Jenifer Jackson. Look for this album on the best of 2018 page at the end of the year.

More Brown Acid For Halloween Month

Halloween month this year is turning out to be a long, strange trip around here. In celebration of the creepiness coming up at the end of the month, there’s a sixth compilation in the Brown Acid series of obscure proto-metal and heavy psych treasures, most of them from the 60s and early 70s.

Most of the dozens of bands anthologized in the series never made more than a few singles at best. Many made only one. Some of those 45’s sell for thousands of dollars on the collectors market, but the Brown Acid folks have made them available for people who don’t have hedge funds or trust funds. And they actually pay royalties to the surviving artists. Imagine – buy the vinyl and you’re actually helping support some old weedhead.

The most recent vinyl release Brown Acid: The Sixth Trip – streaming at Bandcamp – is the most R&B, psychedelic soul and funk-influenced volume to date. It kicks off with No Parking, by San Franciso band Gold, which welds frantically scampering Blues Magoos garage rock to amped-up R&B. Like a lot of these singles, it’s mixed in mono, an effect which actually helps hold the convulsive outro together.

Inferno, by Canadian group Heat Exchange, comes across as a more nimble version of Cream, with tasty twin leads from guitar and organ and a shockingly good, biting alto sax solo before the wah-wah kicks in. Lovin’ You, by Travis (not the late 90s British arena-rock band) is a slinky,psychedelic soul groove that could almost pass for very early Hendrix. Enoch Smoky’s It’s Cruel distinguishes itself with one of the tastiest, fattest basslines in the entire series: don’t let the fact that it’s basically a supercharged Brill Building pop tune scare you off.

Backwood Memory’s Give Me Time is a vintage psychedelic soul nugget: it’s too bad the band never connected with a record label that could buy some airplay. One of the funnier titles in the collection, Luvin, Huggin & More, by Flight, sounds like a prototype for Bachman-Turner Overdrive recorded on somebody’s home stereo, guitars pinned in the red. Which comes as no surprise – six years after “releasing” this in 1974, bandleader Victor Blecman had a left-field new wave hit with Space Invaders.

Midnight Horsemen, by Truth & Janey, has a loping, funky beat and a doublespeed bridge that almost falls apart: if REO Speedwagon had started out in the 60s, they might have sounded something like this. My Life, by West Minst’r, is the most generic riff-rock track here, although the befuddled lyrics are really funny.

Purgatory’s Polar Expedition is a hippie blues bounce that could be Brownsville Station covering the Doors. Boston hippie Johnny Barnes’ Steele Rail Blues could be early Thin Lizzy. before the label censors edited out the weed references: it’s the one track here that could have been edited down to two minutes fifty seconds without sacrificing anything. The album winds up on a high point with Chicago rockers Zendik’s wickedly catchy, 13th Floor Elevators-tinged There No Peace. The biting diminished chords and “god is dead” mantra make you wish there was more material from this talented, insightful crew.

Devil’s horns raised to the skies for the tireless playlisters here who’ve dedicated literally thousands of hours to giving this music the audience it’s deserved for decades but never reached until recently.

What Would Halloween Month Be Without Brown Acid?

What’s more Halloweenish than LSD? If you’re lucky, you associate it with laughing fits and the ability to consume ridiculous amounts of alcohol without feeling it. But anyone who’s experienced knows the flipside, which can be the distilled essence of macabre. Very few of the songs in the Brown Acid compilations actually reference the drug, pro or con. Do these playlists, whose raison d’etre is to exhume buried treasures from the 60s and 70s at the magic moment when psychedelia got really heavy and started to morph into metal,  actually make a good soundtrack for tripping? Depends on your taste – or maybe your condition.

There are now six Brown acid collections available for stoners and fans of what was called hard rock back in the 60s and 70s. Each compilation is very eclectic: there’s doom metal, stoner boogie, a surprising amount of psychedelic soul, and heavy psych. The fifth one, which is streaming at Bandcamp and available on vinyl, turns out to be more garage and Britrock-influenced.

Track one is No Reason, by Captain Foam, a catchy piece of tumbling Dave Clark Five Britpop turbocharged with fuzzy guitars with the reverb turned all the way up, in the same vein as Spooky Tooth or the Move at their heaviest. The spacy instrumental bridge leaves you wanting several minutes more.

George Brigman’s Blowin’ Smoke is a Hendrix knockoff without the Hendrix – they could have left this one in its dusty sleeve. But Nothing in the Sun, a 1968 rarity by Milwaukee rockers Finch, is a post-Velvets gem: it’s more proto-glam than proto-metal, cheap amps driven to deliver every ounce of buzz and feedback they can as the lead guitar goes up the scale.

The smoky organ over the trebly, jagged heartbeat bassline in Cybernaut’s instrumental Clockwork sounds like Uriah Heep with a Ph.D. – the rhythmic changes are a neat psychedelic touch. The album’s A-side ends with Fargo’s Abbadon, its weirdo religious imagery and twisted early Moody Blues-meet-the-MC5 vibe.

Side 2 opens with Mammoth, by Mammoth (yup), adding a wild, woolly edge to what would otherwise be a mostly one-chord, early Kinks-ish R&B vamp. Icky Blicky, by Flasher opens with the turn of a key in the ignition and then hits a psychedelic soul pulse: Rare Earth comes to mind in this surreal tale about a guy so high he apparently can’t move his car. Fireball, by obscure Canadian band Lance, is a grittier take on what Bowie was doing on Aladdin Sane, while Zebra’s cover of Helter Skelter goes in a psychedelic soul direction and is a little slower than the original (how did the compilers afford what it must have cost to license this?!?!)

The album’s final cut is Lick It, by Thor – keep in mind that this was made long before Spinal Tap, and before gangsta rap made coyly smutty rock innuendos seem like a quaint artifact. Cowbell and fuzztones rule here, a growling lead track half-buried in the mix. The song isn’t quite as funny as Be On My Side, by Fragile & the Eggs, but it’s close. Further proof that the major label history of rock music only tells a tiny fraction of the story.

An Ominously Glimmering Free Download from Brian Carpenter & the Confessions

While the latest album by Brian Carpenter’s Ghost Train Orchestra is more blithe and cartoonish than their previous, more noir-inspired material, the trumpeter/multi-instrumentalist’s other project, Brian Carpenter & the Confessions haven’t lightened up any. Their show last fall at Drom on an amazing triplebill with New York’s most cinematic noir band, Big Lazy and gonzo soul band the Claudettes was one of the year’s best. They’ve also have a live Folkadelphia Sessions ep up at Bandcamp as a free download.

There are three ominous, slightly surreal tracks, perfect for Halloween. Guitarist Andrew Stern and violinist Jonathan Lamaster build sinisterly clanging, reverbtoned ambience to kick off the first one, Lazarus, Carpenter’s wintry voice intoning Old Testament gloom and doom over the steady backdrop of bassist Tony Leva and drummer Gavin McCarthy. The bandleader adds a gorgeously funereal, tremoloing Farfisa organ solo as well.

Falling From You is a bolero as Nick Cave might do it. The final cut is Far End of the World, a Tom Waitsian noir soul ballad, Carpenter’s spare, ominous guitar anchoring the faux-blithe vocals of Jen Kenneally and Georgia Young.

If you haven’t discovered the Folkadelphia Sessions, you can get pretty lost there. This vast series of live free download recordings isn’t limited to crunchy music, either: artists as diverse as Anais Mitchell, Devotchka and Marissa Nadler – who’s recorded two sessions – all have releases in the catalog.

Brilliant Grey-Sky Themes and Savage Irony From Andrew Rosciszewski

Bassist/composer Andrew Rosciszewski’s music vividly evokes his primary influence, Shostakovich, from a persistently grim, grey-sky sensibility to a devious, sometimes cruelly ironic sense of humor. Other obvious touchpoints are the terse minimalism of Gorecki and the phantasmagoria of Stravinsky. Rosciszewski’s richly dynamic new collection of chamber works, Sonic Real Estate, is streaming at Bandcamp. His deft use of false endings is unsurpassed: Beethoven would be jealous.

The album opens with his Piano Trio No. 1. The first movement comes across as a radical deconstruction of the first couple of bars of the famous Mars theme from the Planets, by Gustav Holst, flickers of what was once bellicose drama drifting endlessly through space with a funereal pulse. Cellist Timothy Leonard’s amazingly consistent, loopy phrases contrast with Wen Yi Lo’s stern, fragmentary piano, violinist Izabella Liss Cohen eventually making a similarly somber entrance.

The gleefully creepy Balkan dance of the second movement provides striking contrast. Deep-space belltone gloom introduces a series of hypnotically emphatic, circling phrases straight out of Gorecki’s Third Symphony in the third. The concluding Allegro is a feast of darkly carnivalesque tropes: devilish glissandos, a bit of Bartokian boogie, a Balkan danse macabre with some breathtaking lows from Leonard and a marionetttish strut for a coda.

Leonard and Lo team up for the Pieśń Wdowy for Cello & Piano, a diptych that opens with Rachmaninovian glimmer and angst and swings back into the Balkans – and is that a distortion pedal that Leonard’s playing through?

Music for Three Instruments is a three-part suite, opening with a particularly animated Andante, Tamara Keshecki’s twistedly dancing flute against a backdrop of Joseph d’Auguste’s clarinet and Lucy Corwin’s viola. The sheer desolation of the Russian folk theme afterward and then the animatedly sepulchral conclusion both strongly echo Shostakovich at his darkest and most cynical.

Meg Zervoulis plays the Impromptu for Piano solo, a sly neoromantic parody that drifts off into Philip Glass territory. The title piece is a cinematically suspenseful, occasionally buffoonish, chamber-rock number with the composer on electric bass and Moog pedals alongside percussionist Vincent Livolsi, Leonard, Keshecki and Lo, who switches to synth. In a best-case scenario, this album ought to raise Rosciszewski’s profile beyond cult-favorite status: somebody give this guy a grisly historical epic to score!

Withering Arabic Political Anthems and Swinging Noir Sounds at Youssra El Hawary’s US Debut at Lincoln Center

“We want our programming to be reflective of this city,” Lincoln Center’s Jordana Leigh said succinctly, introducing firebrand Egyptian singer/accordionist Youssra El Hawary this past evening for her North American debut. “She had an amazing song that went viral, part of the Arab Spring movement.” El Hawary has come a long way since her scathingly antiauthoritarian youtube hit The Wall six years ago.

She channels an angst and a noir psychedelic sensibility very similar to the French band Juniore. Yet she hasn’t lost any of the witheringly cynical political edge that brought her worldwide acclaim. ‘I can’t describe how emotional I am today,” she told the crowd, confiding that after her first show in Egypt, she thought she’d resign herself to going home and giving up on her dream. Sometimes good things happen to people who deserve them.

The blend of El Hawary’s chromatic accordion, Shadi El Hosseiny’s stalker electric piano and Sedky Sakhr’s wood flute in the night’s opening number, Kollo Yehoun, blended for an absolutely lurid mashup of late 60s French psychedelic pop and Egyptian classical songcraft. Tareq Abdelkawi’s buzuq added uneasily rippling intensity beneath El Hawary’s unselfconscious, airy Arabic-language vocals. She draws you in, whether understatedly moody or cool and collected.

Sakhr switched to harmonica for the second tune of the night, La Tesma Kalami, an anthemically strutting, shadowy Pigalle pop tune driven by Yamen El Gamal’s punchy bass and Loai (Luka) Gamal’s understaged drums. The anthemic, cabaret-tinged Kashkouli, as El Hawary described it, tackled issues of overthinking and fearlessness, Abdelkawi doubling the bandleader’s plaintive lead lines.

El Hawary rose gently out of El Hosseiny’s creepy, twinkling music box-like intro to a swaying, minor-key midtempo number, Mana Washi, Sakhr’s flute wafting and then bouncing as the band took the song further into straight-up rock territory. The title track to her album – which she translated as “We all go to sleep at night, wake up and forget” – swung through unexpected tempo shifts, torchy cabaret infused with Levantine energy. “That’s what we’ve been doing the last six, seven years,” she deadpanned.

Sakhr cynically went to great lengths to describe the noxiousness of Cairo bus exhaust in the city’s notoriously tangled rush hour traffic. Songs about things that literally smell like shit seldom have such a carefree bounce as Autobees, the jubilantly sarcastic number the band followed with. El Hawary didn’t hesitate to make the connection between the Cairo wall in her big hit and Trump’s proposed version on the Mexican border, which drew roars of applause as the band vamped and swung behind her: cosmopolitan elegance, pure punk rock energy.

Abdelkawi’s spirals and flickers lowlit the romantic angst of Baheb Aghib; then El Hawary brought the lights down with the bittersweetly lilting vocal-and-piano lament Bil Mazboot. The band went deep into swaying, crescendoing Cairo cafe land with the instrumental Sallem Zal Beit, a showcase for El Hawary’s accordion chops.

They reinvented the new wave-era French pop hit Maron Glacee with a droll calypso feel, then flipped the script with Jessica, a vindictively swinging kiss-off singalong directed at the ditzy French girl who stole her boyfriend. Despite differences in the band about how to translate Reehet El Fora, everybody agreed it was about the kind of sinking feeling that comes with having a Jessica around. With its neoromantic swirl, it was one of the night’s most stinging moments.

The band built a brooding, foggy behind her and then leapt into Hatoo Kteer, El Hawary skewering the Egyptian habit of stockpiling in case of crisis. She closed with Akbar Men El Gouda, the night’s most rock-oriented tune, then encored with a moodily catchy film theme that she credited as being a pivotal post-Wall moment in her career. 

You’ll see this show on the best concerts of 2018 page here at the end of the year. Lincoln Center’s mostly-weekly series of free concerts at the atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. continues next Thurs, Oct 11 at 7:30 PM with a rare New York performance of South African jazz featuring reedman McCoy Mrubata and pianist Paul Hanmer. Get there early if you want a seat. 

A Moody New Album and a National Tour by Brooding Rockers DeVotchKa

Long-running, carnivalesque rockers DeVotchKa have a brand new album, This Night Falls Forever streaming at Spotify and a national tour in the works. The next affordable show is on Sept 21 at around 9 PM at the Wonder Ballroom, 128 NE Russell St. in Portland, Oregon. As a bonus, Orkesta Mendoza, who careen between psychedelic cumbia, psycho mambo and eerie southwestern gothic, open at around 8. General admission is $25.

Driven by dancing, Tex-Mex flavored reverb guitar, the album’s opening track, Straight Shot sounds like the BoDeans covering the darker side of 60s Orbison, with a little faux-soukous thrown in. Let Me Sleep is DeVotchKa at their phantasmagorical best, a southwestern gothic bolero rippling with Tom Hagerman’s moody neoromantic piano and ominously swooshing strings.

With its winged arpeggios and galloping pulse, Lose You in the Crowd is a mashup of Nick Cave and Orbison noir. Love Letters, a waltz, rises through delicate pizzicato strings to artsy pop lushness: Nick Cave lite.

Empty Vessels, with frontguy Nick Urata’s languid Coldplay vocals and portrait of carefree richkid entitlement, sounds suspiciously sarcastic: “We’re just empty vessels waiting for words to fill,“ yeah right. Likewise, Done With Those Days has those same lingering, bombastic vocals over a purposeful baroque-tinged, noirish backdrop.

Shawn King’s clustering drums and Jeanie Schroeder’s suspenseful bass push My Little Despot along as the orchestration pulses at halfspeed, Urata intoning a moody banana republic gothic narrative. It’s one of the album’s two strongest tracks.

The other is the slowly waltzing art-rock ballad Break Up Song, awash in organ and simmering guitar: it could be Nicole Atkins at her most gothic, with a dude out in front of the band. With Angels, the band return to catchy, comfortable, smoke machine-infused stadium rock: spare verse, big anthemic chorus, moody major/minor changes. The album’s last track is a throwaway, more or less – Urata’s whistling gets annoying in seconds flat.

While the new album isn’t as dark or carnivalesque as the band’s earlier material, the tunes are catchy, the arrangements are majestic yet pristine and the band play them elegantly. Goes to show that stadium grandeur isn’t necessarily incompatible with smart tunesmithing.