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Category: rock music

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.

Dark Tunesmith Gemma Ray Takes a Detour Into Enigmatic, Minimalist Tableaux

Gemma Ray made a name for herself in the previous decade as a connoisseur of eerily twangy, Lynchian songcraft. On her new album Gemma Ray & the Death Bell Gang – streaming at youtube – she completely flips the script, switching out her signature retro guitar sonics for cold, disquieting keyboard atmospherics. You could call this her Low album. In addition to the guitars, Ray plays keys, joined by Ralf Goldkind on keys and bass, Kristof Hahn on lapsteel and Andy Zammit on drums.

Appropriately enough, the first sound you hear echoes the way AC/DC opened the bestselling album of alltime. From there, the opening track, No Love grows into a hazy, chilly, electronicized take on a stark 19th century gospel sound: Algiers with a woman out front.

Likewise, the second cut, Procession, is a stern minor-key blues awash in nebulous keys, Ray’s eerie, tremoloing guitar tantalizingly hinting at piercing the veil.

She channels early 80s Siouxsie in Be Still, a slowly swaying, distantly lurid, quasi trip-hop tune. Howling also brings to mind Ms. Sioux, but in sleek, keyboard-driven mode from ten years later.

Come Oblivion is a surprisingly successful attempt to blend early 60s soul and pulsing, organ-driven bedroom pop. The instrumental Tempelhof Desert Inn – a reference to the abandoned German airport – begins with wry helicopter sonics, then Ray picks up her big hollowbody Gibson and builds a terse deep-sky tableau.

I Am Not Who I Am is an uneasily hypnotic boogie blues disguised as murky, cinematic trip-hop. The album’s loopiest song is The Point That Tears, a mashup of cheery 60s soul-pop and smoky, synthesized battlefield sonics. The most surreal track is All These Things, a collage of echoey, disjointed phrases around a buzzy synth loop.

“She was born with her dark taste/Let her stray to the cliff face,” Ray muses in the final cut, Blowing Up Rocks, taking her time rising from a skeletal sway to what could be smoky, menacingly orchestrated Portishead. On one hand, another Twin Peaks guitar record from Ray would have been welcome; on the other, her invitation to this strange and opaquely troubled new sound world is well worth your time.

The World’s Most Cinematic Guitarist Continues His Dark Dynasty

It was the spring of 2016, and cinematic instrumental trio Big Lazy had just finished slinking their way through a slowly simmering, increasingly macabre, chromatically slashing crime theme. The Brooklyn bar was packed, and people were dancing, notwithstanding the band’s somber, noir-drenched sonics.

Then guitarist Steve Ulrich took the mic and led the band through a brisk if somewhat wistful new wave song. Half the audience did a doubletake: a Big Lazy song with lyrics, in a major key, no less!

But fans of Ulrich’s signature blend of nocturnal bristle, deep-sky twang and white-knuckle improvisational scramble know that he has a completely different body of work. In addition to Big Lazy – the first band to top the best-albums-of-the-year lists here twice, in 2014 and 2019 – Ulrich does a lot of work in film and other media. His soundtrack to the artworld forgery documentary Art and Craft ranges from his signature, shadowy style to more lighthearted terrain. And now, he’s finally released a compilation of some of his most vivid and surprisingly eclectic soundtrack work from the NPR series This American Life, due to hit his Bandcamp page. Ulrich is celebrating the release of the album with a characteristically epic night on Feb 4 at 7 PM at the Sultan Room, playing a set with a string quartet, then bringing Big Lazy in to close the evening. The venue is easy to get to from the Jefferson St. stop on the L; like a lot of the trendier Brooklyn joints, they’ve become enamored of weird online dollars-and-cents cover charges, meaning that $26 cash should get you in.

On one hand, this is the great lost Big Lazy album. On the other, it’s more texturally diverse and slightly more lighthearted: the increased use of keyboards is a newer development for Ulrich. Typically, he’ll lay down a simple, muted riff and then judiciously add layers.

The first track, Earthly begins as a klezmer-tinged, lithely pulsing, delicately disquieted cha-cha, drummer Dean Sharenow spacing out his playfully counterintuitive hits, keyboardist Thomas Bartlett channeling a deep-space cabana with his lightly processed piano. Ulrich orchestrates bass and lapsteel into the mix as well.

The group slowly straighten out into a dark, wry strut in Handheld as Ulrich’s layers of skeletal guitar and resonant lapsteel mingle with Bartlett’s occasional roller-rink organ. In track three, The Swell, they trace a similar light-footed path, following a familiar Ulrich pattern, shifting almost imperceptibly out of the shadows into a sunny pastoral theme and then back.

Fellow Traveler is not a Chinese army song but a syncopated waltz with hints of dub and classic country, courtesy of Ulrich’s baritone guitar work. Surprise, Arizona is a Big Lazy concert favorite that first took shape in the wake of a 2019 tour, a stern Appalachian theme that diverges into mysterious sagebrush.

Ulrich’s sense of humor tends to be on the cynical side, but Rinse Cycle – the loopiest number here – is irresistibly funny and a good example of how far afield he can go from Big Lazy noir when he feels like it. He begins Housebroken as a forlorn bolero over Sharenow’s shuffling snowstorm beats: it’s the closest thing to Big Lazy here and the album’s creepiest song.

The most jazz-inflected tune here is If and When, a classic example of how Ulrich can take a whimsical theme and turn it inside out in a split-second, Bartlett shadowing the unfolding menace with his airy fills. The most brisk tune here is Unpretty, which is actually very attractive, in a delicate, melancholy vein

Bookworm turns out to be an apt coda, a bouncy swing tune where Ulrich flips the script on his usual trajectory. It’s still January, but Ulrich just might have given us the answered to the question of what the best album of 2023 is.

Cupid’s Nemesis Bring Their Catchy Retro Guitar Pop Sounds to the Rockwood

By last summer, when a substantial number of venues began breaking free of lockdown restrictions, it quickly became obvious that there wasn’t much left of the New York rock scene. However, that brain drain has opened a window of opportunity for some of the remaining talent here, much of which probably would never been able to score a gig at a “name” venue like Rockwood Music Hall on a weekend night That’s where power trio Cupid’s Nemesis are playing on Jan 28 at 10 PM.

Their new ep, Sleepover – streaming at Bandcamp – is a competent take on Big Stir Records guitar pop. The three brief tracks include a cynical, scruffy Shirts-style new wave tune, a decent, bittersweet powerpop anthem and an early 60s-style proto-Merseybeat number that could be an early song by the Who.

Their debut album, which they released last year, has a lot more detail, stylistic breadth and guitar textures – and it’s up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. The band – guitarist/frontman Erik Reyes, bassist Antony DiGiacomo and drummer Declan Moy Bishow – stake their claim to a catchy mid-sixties four-chord Britpop sound in the opening song, Time Traveling Man, with keening roller-rink organ and layers of acoustic and electric guitars.

All of My Friends is a punchier midtempo take on Jacco Gardner sunshine pop. Then the group make trip-hop out of a jazzy Burt Bacharach-inflected sound in Amores. The best song on the album is Best Friends With a Ghost, a similarly jazz-tinged miniature that clocks in at barely a minute twenty-five.

The band leap forward thirty years into gritty indie pop with I Don’t Care. Then they go back to the sixties, bringing back the organ and adding some flute in Scary World, a gently strutting psych-pop tune.

Reyes hits his chorus pedal and DiGiacomo plays fuzz bass up to an unexpectedly swirly spacerock chorus in Drop Out. The album’s slow, catchy, melancholy concluding ballad is simply titled Me. Considering the more raw, stripped-down sound of the ep, the band may be going in a more straightforward direction, something you can find out this Saturday night at prime time.

In Memoriam: David Crosby

David Crosby. who with his guitarist bandmate Roger McGuinn invented janglerock in their iconic 60s band the Byrds, died yesterday at 81.

Like the Beatles, the Byrds played Rickenbacker guitars, which have a distinctively ringing, high-midrange tone enhanced by a high-pitched harmonic resonance. The Byrds maximized that effect, with McGuinn playing a twelve-string model.

Unlike the Beatles, whose early songs were based on chords and riffs, McGuinn and Crosby pioneered the use of broken chords and a slower style of bluegrass-inspired flatpicking. The Byrds were unsurpassed at Dylan covers; the group’s enormous influence on generations of jangly rock bands, from Big Star, to the Church, to REM, cannot be overstated. Crosby’s high vocal harmonies and imaginative guitar work were central to the Byrds’ sound. Their hit I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better remains one of the foundational songs in the style: pretty much every rock guitarist knows it.

Crosby’s career after the Byrds was erratic. He was a founding member of 70s harmony-rock band Crosby Stills Nash & Young, whose frequently pompous, cloying, folky sound has not aged well.

Crosby’s long solo career afterward was spent mainly on the nostalgia circuit. Tragically, he was imprisoned for crack possession in the mid-80s when he really needed rehab. He would later require a liver transplant due to his heavy cocaine and heroin use.

The 2nd Smartest Guy in the World Substack asks if Crosby was murdered by the lethal Covid injection. Crosby claimed on social media to have taken the shot, but with so many celebrities buying fake vaxx cards, we will probably never know the answer. On one hand, the world’s most-published cardiac physician, Dr. Peter McCullough, asserts that until proven otherwise, we should always assume that the Covid shot is to blame if someone who has taken it dies suddenly. On the other hand, very few people survive into their eighties after a lifetime of heavy drug abuse and an organ transplant.

In Memoriam: Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck, one of the most technically gifted guitarists to emerge in the 1960s British rock and blues scene, died at 78 this past Tuesday. According to media reports, the cause of death was bacterial meningitis, an increasingly common consequence of the lethal covid shot that Beck had championed over the past year.

Beck got his start as a session musician in London in the early 60s, while still in his teens, playing with R&B and pop cover bands. At 18, he was hired as lead guitarist in Screaming Lord Sutch’s horror-blues band. In 1966, the Yardbirds enlisted Beck to replace Eric Clapton, a commonsense move considering Beck’s speed, precision and reputation for perfectionism. The gig lasted long enough for him to recruit a fellow session guitarist, Jimmy Page, to join the band.

After leaving the Yardbirds, Beck formed his own group with Rod Stewart on vocals and released two records which are considered foundational moments in British blues. Afterward he led the psychedelic power trio Beck, Bogart & Appice and released a handful of fusion-oriented records which were his most commercially successful. He would later disown those albums as being overly slick and unreflective of the gritty blues sound he preferred.

A master of texture and tone, Beck pioneered the use of effects including distortion, reverb, fuzz and wah-wah. Beck would arguably record his finest work as lead guitarist on Roger Waters’ 1992 album Amused to Death album. Although known for his ability to shred, Beck could be poignantly lyrical: give a listen to his wrenchingly beautiful solo on The Ballad of Bill Hubbard, or his concise work on Three Wishes.

A year later, he played lead guitar on Kate Bush’s album The Red Shoes. In later years he would tour occasionally and collaborate with other artists, most notably Australian bassist Tal Wilkenfeld.

NYC Noiserock Legends From the 80s Play a Rare Brooklyn Show This Saturday Night

You could make a strong case that Live Skull were the best New York band of the 1980s. They pushed the envelope with weird, acidic tonalities, but where the first wave of postpunk and no wave bands were art-for-art’s-sake, Live Skull had a grim political edge. And where their contemporaries Sonic Youth drifted into an indie slacker vibe over the noisy guitars, Live Skull reflected a Reagan-era punk anger.

They were a ferociously good live act. Their 1985 live album, Don’t Get Any On You only hints at the feast of overtones and psychedelic squall they could conjure onstage. And despite their legacy as a noiserock band, they were catchy despite themselves. This blog was in the house in the winter of 2016 at BC Studio for the band’s first show since 1988, a tantalizingly brief set where they basically picked up where they left off without missing a beat. Since then they’ve returned to recording and playing: their next gig is on Jan 14 at 8 PM at St. Vitus. Aggro-instro two-piece the Austerity Program open the night at around 7; cover is $20.

To be clear, this isn’t the complete original lineup, but founding guitarist Mark C and drummer Rich Hutchins – who took over behind the kit after the departure of James Lo in 1985 – remain, joined by ex-Holy Ghost bassist Kent Heine. Singer Thalia Zedek and bassist Marnie Greenholz also contribute to their big comeback album, Saturday Night Massacre, streaming at Bandcamp (there’s a more recent one, but it’s partly paywalled). While the sound is much more straight-ahead and doesn’t have the group’s signature two-guitar imterplay, it’s still amazing how fresh and edgy they are.. You can even hear the lyrics, which in the band’s heyday were typically half-buried in the mix.

The opening number, Saturday Night Massacre – a reference to the Nixon administration’s final days – is a lot more riff-oriented and straight-up punk than the band’s iconic early work, with simple, catchy single-note leads in lieu of paint-peeling swirl and jagged attack. Greenholz sings Nova Police: at this point, we can hear some of the insistent roar and defiant unresolve in the wall of guitars.

Up Against the Wall is a real change of pace: it’s just lo-fi string synth, a syncopated 1-4-5 fuzz bass riff and drums until the end of the first chorus. Memory Time Sleep is an ambitiously successful blend of the slashing skronk the band mined so memorably in the early 80s, hitched to an ominous, lingering chorus – and that has to be Greenholz sliding and slithering on her fretless bass.

“Everything that breaks has been broken…in this thought control experiment,” Mark C intones in Identical Skies, a pouncing anthem with a surprisingly optimistic conclusion. We hear an approximation of the twin-guitar contrast, sinuous leads and roaring rhythm in Details of the Madness, which quotes liberally and hauntingly from a Joy Division classic.

Mark C fires off some lingering PiL broken chords and then insistent, slashing riffage in Shadow War, the synth hovering over the steady, gritty drive down below. With its tumbling syncopation and bass/guitar interweave, Never Kill a Client could be a standout track on, say, the band’s Cloud One album from 1985. “I don’t want to live in your world,” Mark C asserts.

Zedek takes the mic on the slow, simmering, swaying aptly titled Midnight Zone, a web of surreal sci-fi synths expanding over a blue-flame bassline and eventually some completely unexpected, forlorn blues harp. The band wind up the record with The Date, a straightforward, stomping, slightly more powerpop-oriented take on the band’s peak-era sound.

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.