New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: rock music

These New Puritans Bring Their Brooding Art-Rock Themes to Bowery Ballroom

 

This blog didn’t exist when These New Puritans recorded their landmark debut, Beat Pyramid, in 2008. It was a big deal then, and the moody British art-rock band’s initial release remains one of the most indelibly original recordings of the past several years. Their latest album Field of Reeds is streaming at Spotify, and they’ve got a long-awaited NYC gig coming up on April 30 at 9 PM at Bowery Ballroom. Advance tickets are $20 and very highly recommended. If you like the idea of Radiohead but find the reality unapproachably cold and mechanical, you will find These New Puritans far more chillingly alive.

The latest album’s opening instrumental The Way That I Do gives you a good idea of their game plan. An icy, minimalistic piano dirge with disembodied vocals – Mum without the synthesizers – gives a way to a broodingly sustained orchestral arangement, then the piano comes back in and they take it out with emphatic trumpet against swirly upper-register organ. It could be a detective film theme, from the kind of movie where the sleuth solves the case and then moves on to the next grisly scene.

Fragment Two opens with frontman Jack Barnett’s simple circular piano theme juxtaposed against atmospheric strings and echoey backing vocals, like a more tuneful take on what the Blue Nile were doing in the late 80s. There’s a gothic aspect to these slowly unwinding, wounded melodies, as well as elements of trippy 90s chillout music, but drummer George Barnett maintains a counterintuitive pulse that livens the hypnotic layers of keys, strings and woodwinds.

A cinematic sweep develops methodically out of another minimamalist dirge in The Light in Your Name. It’s practically a tone poem, echoing Radiohead but rooted in a peat bog rather than drifting through deep space. The epic V (Island Song) opens with a similarly downcast, Smog-like ambience and then alternates between an insistent, piano-driven march and a slinkier, more trancey trip-hop groove. Spiral sets guest chanteuse Elisa Rodrigues’ creepily processed vocals against the bandleader’s wintry baritone over ominously shifting cumulo-nimbus washes of sound that eventually give way to a slow, elegant, baroque-inflected woodwind theme.

Organ Eternal balances Smog moroseness with a circular keyboard riff and lush orchestration that evokes composer Missy Mazzoli‘s art-rock band Victoire. Nothing Else, the album’s longest track, is also its most anthemic and cinematic: it figures that the central instrument would be a carefully modulated, resonant bass clarinet. Dream, sung airily by Rodrigues, could be Stereolab with vibraphone and orchestra in place of the synthesizers. The album ends with the title track, a Twin Peaks choir of men’s voices contrasting with dancing vibraphone and an anthemic vocal interlude. This is troubled and troubling but also unexpectedly comforting music, not what you typically hear at a Bowery Ballroom gig but perfect for the room’s enveloping sonics.

Good Shows Saturday Night on the LES

Eve Lesov looks kind of punk; her music has a classical tinge to it (it seems that every Russian has classical training). She plays an original, tuneful, moody mix of noir cabaret, chamber pop and gothic rock. Her songwriting also has a Spanish side. She’s a strong pianist, a fantastic singer with a dramatic, sometimes stagy flair and the kind of sardonic humor that so many Slavs have. She also has a shtick, “Russian devotchka in New York and things are crazy, man, but everything’s gonna be ok.” And she’s got an excellent, eclectic band. Saturday night at the Rockwood, Lesov led them through a set that was occasionally haunting, sometimes pensive, sometimes kinetic and often amusing.

Lesov’s drummer kept a terse, muted thump going through her mostly slow-to-midtempo songs using just a cymbal and a conga, which he played with mallets. Her excellent bassist added the occasional guitarlike flourish into his fluid grooves. Acoustic guitar mingled with Lesov’s stately piano chords and icy arpeggios; on a handful of songs, the band added balmy jazz flute on top of the mix for an unexpectedly tasty blend of textures.

They opened with a slow minor-key instrumental, Lesov wordlessly reaching for the top of her crystalline vocal range over a brooding chromatic bassline. Then they segued into a pensive bolero. A couple of big, crescendoing anthems bookended a slinky trip-hop groove that was the poppiest number of the set, yet it had the same kind of distant menace as most of the other songs. In a typically uneasy-funny moment, Lesov alluded to being kidnapped on her way over to the US – if that’s true, good thing she got away!

A little later, Lesov switched to guitar, the guitarist taking a turn on the drums while the drummer went to the piano and turned out to have impressively nimble, jazz-influenced chops. After Lesov sang her latest single, in Russian (with more of a clenched-teeth intensity than she had on any of the English-language material), the band closed with a slowly swaying, anthemic number that was part Britfolk, part stadium rock and part early 70s Bowie. Lesov seems to be making the Rockwood her home lately; she and the band will go slumming at Sidewalk on May 2 at 9 PM.

Afterward, it was great fun to go a few blocks north to catch LJ Murphy, who was also slumming at Sidewalk in a rare duo show with his phenomenal pianist Patrick McLellan. With Botanica‘s Paul Wallfisch making Germany his home base these days, McLellan has taken over as New York’s best rock keyboardist. He was on fire throughout the set, his Bernard Herrmann-esque horror cinematics on Mad Within Reason taking that song – the title track from Murphy’s album – to new levels of creepy surrealism. Likewise, he turned the snarling East Village Hell Night scenario This Fearful Town even more nightmarish with frantic, crazed midrange clusters. And then he backed away into graceful oldschool soul and gospel on the melancholy Waiting by the Lamppost. The rest of the show was a flurry of blues and jazz licks, Murphy growling and barking in his vintage voice through a mix of upbeat, anthemic numbers like the nonchalantly menacing Long Island murder anthem Pretty for the Parlor,  the sardonic Imperfect Strangers and then the singalongs Blue Silence and Barbed Wire Playpen. Murphy has made a name for himself as a charismatic showman, bandleader and lyricist but now he’s got a guy on the keys who can match his intensity.

Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs Tour Their Best Album with a Couple of NYC Shows

Well-liked retro rock duo Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs have a new album, It’s Her Fault, arguably the best one they’ve ever made (it’ s not on Spotify yet, but most of the rest of their albums are). They’ve also got a couple of New York shows: in Williamsburg for free on 4/20 at 2 PM at Rough Trade (get there early if you’re going), and the following night, April 21 they’ll be at the Mercury at 10:30 for $12 in advance.

The new album is a lot darker than anything they’ve done so far: much as a lot of the punk blues in their catalog isn’t exactly happy-go-lucky stuff, this can get unexpectedly intense. It’s also a lot more fleshed out than their earlier material, with bass, piano and all kinds of tasty but purist, spare guitar multitracking. SLC, the first number, is a duet, and it kicks ass: “You can turn around an oxcart in Salt Lake City, and they think that’s a really good time…but you ain’t gonna have a good time.” This amped-up oldtimey folk tune will resonate with aybody who’s ever been there. For All That Ails You, with its mournful train-whistle guitar and stalking, noir blues sway, is uncommonly dark for this band, and it’s excellent. Likewise, Pistol Pete, a creepy noir cabaret waltz.

They go back to the haphazard kind of hillbilly boogie they’re known for on Can’t Pretend and then do the same, adding uneasily quavering funeral organ, on 1 2 3 4. They hit a lurching honkytonk groove with the unexpectely hilarious Bless Your Heart, a reality check for any Brooklyn poser with phony C&W affectations.

Holly and Lawyer Dave reinvent Trouble in Mind as a lo-fi, punked-out oldtime slide guitar shuffle and go deep into echoey, eerily twinkling Nashville gothic with the sad waltz The Best – Holly pulls out all the stops in channeling a seriously damaged woman.

Don’t Shed Your Light offers a lo-fi take on the kind of nocturnal glimmer the Stones were going for circa Exile on Main Street, with more of that deliciously swirly funeral organ. They do the same with honkytonk on the vengeful No Business and then go straight for a Stones vibe with Perfect Mess, which would be a standout track on, say, Let It Bleed. The closing cut, King Lee, brings back the unhinged punk blues vibe. Not a single second-rate track here: one of the best dozen or so albums of 2014 by this reckoning.

Creepy and Lively Americana Tunesmithing from the Annie Ford Band

Seattle-based fiddler Annie Ford made a name for herself on the road with Gill Landry, who went on to the Old Crow Medicine Show. These days, she’s got a killer debut album that juxtaposes her own broodingly lyrical, purist Americana songwriting with her drummer Matt Manges’ more upbeat but similarly oldschool C&W tunes. The whole thing is streaming at her Bandcamp page.

The production is as vintage-sounding as the songs. Everything sounds like it was recorded through old tube amps onto analog tape: Olie Elshleman’s gorgeously otherworldly pedal steel, Tim Sargent’s jaggedly noir guitar, Ivan Molton’s terse bass. and Robert Mitchell’s jaunty saloon piano and soul organ.

The best song on the album is Buick 1966, a cinematically noir mini-epic that shifts from a creepy bolero to a waltz to scampering bluegrass and then back, fueled by Sargent’s knee-buckling, Marc Ribot-like reverb guitar lines. All Hours is another haunting gem: Ford’s aphoristic portrait of drinking to remember rather than forget, set to vintage honkytonk spiced with stark fiddle and resonant, plaintive pedal steel, could be a classic from the late 50s – or an LJ Murphy song.

Mitchell takes centerstage on Frankie, a more upbeat,Fats Domino-esque murder ballad by Manges. Likewise, Shake on That works a late 50s style swamp rock groove that blends hints of both boogie-woogie and the Grateful Dead. Another romp by Manges, Lovesick has a carefree, early Wanda Jackson-style rockabilly energy.

Elshleman’s bittersweetly soaring steel makes a vivid contrast with Ford’s morose, subdued vocals on the forlornly shuffling Two Sides. Dirty Hearts & Broken Dishes explores similar emotional terrain over an elegant oldtime banjo waltz tune. Calloused Hands, another gently powerful number by Ford, has a narrator scrambling to hold onto memories of a comfortable childhood gone forever. The way Ford strings together her striking images: a woodsy, rural scene bulldozed into dust and a “tree struck open by a lightning storm that you could hide in to keep you safe and warm,” will resonate with anyone who’s seen their childhood neighborhoods replaced by McMansions.

Ford also examines family unease in My Brother, a reflection on someone dear to her heart who could obviously be dearer. Driven by more of that delicious, distantly menacing tremolo guitar, the midtempo shuffle Northern Rain has an understated vengefulness. The album ends up with the joyously vicious, metaphorically-charged noir bluegrass tune Gotta Kill a Rooster, capped off by a triumphantly diabolical, Romany-tinged Ford fiddle solo. There’s something for everyone here, country charm and menace in equal supply along with plenty of vintage soul sounds – it’s one of the best albums to come over the transom here in recent months.

The Sound of the Fab Four Inspires Andrew Collberg’s New Album

Swedish-born, New Zealand-raised and now based in Tucson, Andrew Collberg is a connoisseur of many retro rock styles. He has a background in southwestern gothic, and a couple of years ago put out a killer single, Dirty Wind b/w Back on the Shore, a rich evocation of classic paisley underground rock in the same vein as True West or the Dream Syndicate. These days he’s mining sounds that evoke ELO and the Beatles, adding layers of the blippy faux-vintage keyboard textures that are all the rage in the Bushwick indie scene on his latest album, Minds Hits. The whole thing is streaming at Spotify.

The opening track, Rich, is totally ELO, a soul-tinged update on the sound Jeff Lynne achieved with Evil Woman, then morphing into something of a glamrock song with a fuzztone guitar solo before coming back to the wickedly catchy, funk-tinged verse. From there Collberg segues into Hole and its Penny Lane bounce, followed by Take a Look Around, a retro 60s soul tune with Abbey Road touches: la-la-la backing vocals, elegant broken-chord guitar lines, organ and a terse faux electric harpsichord solo. After that, the long, hypnotically vamping Pepper Peter keeps the Abbey Road vibe going, this time on the Lennon side of the street.

Tear has Collberg playing precise soul chords that rise to a swaying, ba-BUMP late-Beatles groove that grows more majestic as he adds layers of guitars and keys. Stars takes the sound about a dozen years forward into ornately catchy Jeff Lynne space-pop territory, while Snide Creepy Soul takes an insistent, similarly hooky ELO-style pop tune thirty more years into the future with a mix of vintage and fake-vintage keyboard voicings.

Easy Lazy Dome speeds up a Hey Jude ambience doublespeed and then takes a turn into unexpectedly ominous psychedelia, fueled by shivery lead guitar. Cantaloupe looks back to Sergeant Pepper, complete with tumbling Ringo-esque drums. The album winds up with Hit the Gas, which sets a classic Lennon-style tune over boomy lo-fi drums before it picks up with increasingly ornate layers of guitar/keyboard orchestration. Isn’t it amazing that fifty years after the Beatles first hit, artists and audiences alike continue to be obsessed with them? Fans of Elliott Smith, Abby Travis, and of course ELO and the Fab Four will have a good time with this.

Hauntingly Intense Americana Tunesmithing from Ernest Troost

Ernest Troost is a brilliant Americana songwriter. Doesn’t he have the perfect name for one? Consider: Ernest Troost in skintight leather and spike bracelets, raising his Flying V guitar to the sky with a foot up on the monitor in the haze of the smoke machine? Nope. Ernest Troost remixed by celebrity DJ eUnUcH? Uh uh. But Ernest Troost making pensive, sometimes snarling, Steve Earle-ish, lyrically-driven Americana rock with inspired playing and smartly judicious arrangements? That’s the ticket. Troost’s latest album, prosaically titled O Love, is streaming at his Soundcloud page. He doesn’t have any New York shows coming up, but folks outside the area can catch him in Ridgefield, Connecticut on April 27 at Temple Shearith Israel, 46 Peaceable St.

Troost sets his aphoristic wordsmithing to a tightly orchestrated interweave of acoustic and electric guitars over a purist, understated rhythm section. The opening track, Pray Real Hard evokes Dylan’s Buckets of Rain, but with better guitar, a hard-times anthem where “you got to sleep on the floor ’cause that’s the only bed you made.” The ballad All I Ever Wanted adds psychedelic imagery over its country sway. Close, with its nimble acoustic fingerpicking and Sweetheart of the Rodeo-era sonics, has as much truth about why some relationships actually manage to work as it does an element of caution for clingy people. “All this room you give me makes us close,” Troost drawls: he could be talking to a woman, or to the Texas sky, but either way it makes an awful lot of sense.

The album’s shuffling, delta blues-tinged title track has a visceral ache: “Oh love left me a broken hollow frame, I do not feel a thing but I cannot bear the pain,” Troost intones. With its circling mandolin and intricate acoustic guitar interplay, Harlan County Boys builds a gloomy noir mining country folk tableau. Bitter Wind broodingly weighs the possibility of being able to escape the past, and also the danger of getting what you wished for. The Last Lullaby is a gently nocturnal elegy, while Storm Coming has a bluesy intensity and paranoid wrath to match anything Pink Floyd ever recorded, even if it doesn’t sound the slightest thing like that band.

Troost’s snaky, ever-present acoustic lead guitar line on the stark, oldschool folk-flavored When It’s Gone is the kindof device more artists should use. The Last to Leave waltzes from an oldtime C&W intro to lush countrypolitan sonics, a vividly sardonic, metaphorically-charged after-the-party scenario. The album’s best song is the wailing, electrifying murder ballad Old Screen Door: Troost’s genius with this one is that the only images he lets you see are incidental to what was obviously a grisly crime, “lightning bugs floating through a haze of gasoline” and so forth. It’s one of the best songs in any style released in recent months, a sort of teens update on the Walkabouts’ Pacific Northwest gothic classic Firetrap. Slide guitar fuels the upbeat, anthemically triumphant Weary Traveler, while I’ll Be Home Soon ends the album on an unexpectedly balmy, optimistic note. Fans of Steve Earle, James McMurtry, Jeffrey Foucault and the rest of that crew will find an awful lot to like in Troost’s brooding, intense songcraft.

Jaro Milko & the Cubalkanics Blow Up in Your Face

Jaro Milko & the Cubalkanics’ new album Cigarros Explosivos – streaming at Bandcamp – sounds kind of like a Balkan version of Chicha Libre. Yeah, that good. The Firewater lead guitarist proves to be as original and interesting playing Peruvian surf music as his Brooklyn counterparts, who jumpstarted the whole chicha revival. It reaffirms how the cumbia revolution has taken over the entire globe – or at least established a base pretty much everywhere. This seems to be as much of a deviously tongue-in-cheek homage to classsic Peruvian sounds as it is a mix of killer original chicha grooves. Another band this brings to mind, for its surreal sense of humor and frequently cinematic sensibility, is Finnish surf legends Laika & the Cosmonauts.

The opening track, Cumbia Griega sets the stage, taking a classic Los Mirlos bassline and then coming together around a spiky Enrique Delgado-style hammer-on guitar riff from Milko, who plays an army’s worth of guitars here. After Eric Gilson’s organ and Eric Gut’s drums come in, it sounds like Chicha Libre in noir mode, part creepy surf, part Peruvian psychedelica.

El Topo could be an early Los Straitjackets number- the band turns up the distortion and adds the hint of a New Orleans shuffle beat. Over a dark reggae groove, All the Past ponders what’s left for a culture after “money’s here for joy in the world of desire” and pushes everything else out of the picture…more or less. Cumbia #5, which happens to be the fourth track, builds a dubwise tropical atmosphere and then shifts to blippy southern Balkan-flavored electric guitar jazz.

Miseria adds swing, hints of flamenco and ominous organ to a classic psychedelic cumbia vamp. The album’s longest track, Summer in January builds a wry, wistful seaside tableau. Where Chicha Libre bring in a French influence, these guys do the same with the Balkans, with a similar wit and erudition – and in this case, Milko’s elegant twelve-string guitar lines.

A brisk Balkan tango with some sizzling tremolo-picked guitar, Belly’s Bounce sounds like Laika & the Cosmonauts with horns, Milko’s frenetic lead lines contrasting with Lukas Briggen’s suave trombone. El Perro evokes Peruvian psychedelic legends Los Destellos working a LA lowrider groove, but more aggressively, while Herido blends Del Shannon noir with a creepy bolero: it’s arguably the album’s strongest track.

Danza Mentirosa keeps the creepy vibe going, a dubwise crime jazz theme that evokes Big Lazy with an organ. Cumbia Orientale is not a cumbia but an ominously marching Vegas tango, while Nah Neh Nah introduces a surfed-up ye-ye pop theme, Milko first playing a little Django and then a whole lot of Django: the guy’s an amazing guitarist. The album winds up with the surreal, cynical, rhythmically dizzying, disquieting Music Rum & Cha Cha Cha. Until Chicha Libre makes another album, this is the best recent mix of south-of-border psychedelics you’ll find anywhere.

Hassan Hakmoun Amps Up His Mesmerizing Gnawa Trance Music

Hassan Hakmoun’s new album Unity takes the ultimate trance music and spices it with jagged, sometimes searing rock guitar and solid rock-oriented drumming along with the usual thicket of hand-drum percussion that typically underpins the Moroccan sintir virtuoso’s work. As fans of gnawa and North African music know, the low-register three-string sintir lute is the funk bass of the Berber world: in Hakmoun’s hands, it’s as slinky as it is mesmerizing. Hakmoun and band are playing the album release show on April 12 at 7 PM at Joe’s Pub; tix are $20.

Hakmoun’s agile hammer-ons fuel the opening track, Zidokan (Just Go), John Lee’s guitar pedaling a chord nebulously in the background over a clattering but hypnotically swaying beat. Then it turns into what could be a mashup of Public Image Ltd., George Thorogood and Moroccan folk music – and in the process sets the stage for the rest of the album. Balili (My Father) sets tightly spiraling sintir and guitar lines – and some unexpectedly boisterous wood flute – to a tight four-on-the-floor snare drum beat. Hamady (Prophet Mohammed) sounds like Hakmoun is playing his trance-inducing, circular riffs through a flange or a wah – or a fuzzbox. Shivery tremoloing guitar lingers way back in the mix before taking centerstage with an unhinged bluesmetal edge, Hakmoun singing in a gruffly passionate baritone in his native vernacular.

Dima Dima (Always) juxtaposes elegantly rapidfire acoustic guitar with the fat, pulsing groove, again bolstered by a steady beat on the rock drumkit and more of that breathless wood flute. Baniy (My Son) veers in and out of hard-hitting, psychedelically tinged funkmetal. Ohio, which aopears to be a shout-out to audiences around the world, is less acidically funky, built around one of the many call-and-response vocal vamps in most of these songs. Boudarbalayi (Saint) begins more slowly, in a more trad vein than the other tracks, before watery Keith Levene-esque guitar and woozy electronic keys enter the picture.

Soutinbi (Makkah) shuffles along on a beat that’s the closest thing to trip-hop here, lightly accented with guitar, electric piano and organ. Hakmoun runs the verses of Amarmoussaoui (People of God) with just guitars and a vocal choir before bringing in the sintir on the choruses: he makes you really miss it! The last of the tracks, Moulay Ahmed (Saint Ahmed) turns out to be the catchiest and most anthemic. The album also includes a couple of remixes, one by esteemed Israeli bassist Yossi Fine, who also produced the album, Hakmoun’s first in twelve years. It’s a vivid approximation of his literally mesmerizing live show.

A Surreal, Creepy Treat From Dark Rock Legend Martin Bisi

In a past century, Martin Bisi was best known as a producer with a list of iconic albums – most notably Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation – to his credit. Fast forward to 2014 and Bisi finds himself touring Europe and probably better known to this generation as a solo artist and bandleader, the purveyor of a distinctive New York brand of surrealistically menacing, psychedelic, melodic art-rock. His new album Ex Nihilo (Latin for “from nothing,” due out April 1) is a throwback to the raw, chaos-embracing, adventurous experimentation of albums like 1988′s Creole Mass. There’s plenty of Bisi’s signature savage erudition, literary and mythological references, and archetypes from across the centuries, scattered throughout these songs like bodies across a battlefield. And while there’s also plenty of bleakness and a relentless cynicism here (you just have to love the title of the concluding cut, Holy Threesome), Bisi’s irrepressible, sardonic wit glimmers amidst the chaos and desolation. He’s playing the album release show on April 15 at around 8 at Glasslands; cover is $12.

Contrasts abound here: Bisi’s cool, matter-of-fact, often half-spoken vocal delivery in the center of a whirlwind of overdubs, dead-girl choirs courtesy of chanteuse Amanda White’s epic multitracks, vocal samples, and vertigo-inducing orchestration. Likewise, Bisi’s guitar slashes and clangs, but with a purposefulness and tunefulness (Syd Barrett often comes to mind) that’s the one constant within what’s often a vortex of sound, most of it played by Bisi himself through a maze of reverb, delay and loop effects. This succinctness makes the sprawl around it all the more disquieting. Billy Atwell’s counterintuitive but propulsive drumming adds extra spice. .

The opening track, Nihil Holy begins as a cloudbank of nebulous, disembodied voices joined by muted, gritty electric guitar, drums and tumbles of keyboards, an acidic kaleidoscope of sound that sets the stage for the rest of the album. Eventually, the voices drop out and a starlit soundscape emerges. Bisi segues into the wickedly catchy 80s-style new wave goth anthem Sin Love Hate, with its massive, operatic choral arrangement and an unexpected free jazz free-for-all fueled by guests the Stumbebum Brass Band before it all comes together at the end. “I run around with animals,” Bisi intones sarcastically, “I pull their ears and pinch their tails.”

The Mermaid Queen, a duet with White, reminds of the Black Angels at their darkest and most focused, its slow, swaying Blue Jay Way-on-opium verse giving way to a catchy, early Pink Floyd-ish chorus, the backing vocals evoking a big gospel choir while the drums roll, the verses rise and an endless parade of devious psychedelic effects wafts and flits through the mix.The eight-minute Invite to Heaven Hell builds a stygian spacerock ambience, like the Chuch (or, for that matter, the Byrds) at their most psychedelic, with hints of peak-era Sonic Youth peeking through the pulsing guitars, disembodied vocals, soaring trumpet and that dead-girl chorus again. It’s one of the most deliciously tuneful things Bisi has ever done.

Suffer the Moon, another big epic, also evokes the Black Angels, but with a more grim, dramatic focus, cartwheeling drums paired off against the otherworldly choir, jaggedly tuneful guitars, rising and falling dynamics and a very devious melodic quote at the end. Fine Line finds Bisi and guest drummer Brian Viglione having fun with tempo changes that eventually coalesce into a murky post-Velvets groove, a snidely goth-tinged anthem about a girl who seems just a little too eager for her own good…or, for that matter, yours. The concluding cut is the album’s noisiest yet also quietest one: echoes of Pink Floyd (yeah, that’s a pun), the Church, the Velvets and the Beatles’ Revolution 9 swirl and overlap and obliterate each other in turn as the maelstrom spins, Bisi throwing a characteristically LOL ditsy vocal sample into the mix for extra sardonic bite. That’s a nuts-and-bolts look at what’s going on here: obviously, there are so many layers that it takes a lot of listening to figure what else is happening, if in fact such a thing is possible. More twistedly ornate aural junkyard sculpture – like a sonic version of the old Gas Station on Ave. B – than surrealistic pillow, it’s one of the most flat-out intriguing albums of the year. Bisi plays the album release show at around 8 at Glasslands on April 15; cover is $12.

John Zorn’s Abraxas Plunges into the Killer Surf

John Zorn may have made a name for himself in the avant garde, but people forget what a hell of a rock tunesmith he is. Abraxas – guitarists Aram Bajakian and Eyal Maoz, bassist Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz and drummer Kenny Grohowski – have a new album, Psychomagia, out on Tzadik, which finds Zorn going off into noiserock and horror surf with the same kind of out-of-the-box tunefulness and assaultiveness as Beninghove’s Hangmen, or Big Lazy – or Morricone in his most acided-out back in the 60s, all filtered through the noisy prism of downtown NYC jazz. This being Zorn, some of his songs here are very through-composed, in other words, verses and choruses repeat less than you would expect from most surf bands. The result is both more elegant and more feral in places than even the mighty Dick Dale.

The opening track, Metapsychomagia, juxtaposes puckish wit with flickering menace, building from an uneasy bolero groove to a staggered Middle Eastern monster surf stomp, both guitarists ranging from lingering and twangy to frenetic and crazed, epic art-rock infused with swirling noise. Sacred Emblems is a Tex-Mex nocturne as Pink Floyd might have done it on Meddle, growing from a bittersweet Lee Hazelwood-flavored sway to southwestern gothic majesty. The band works a similar dynamic a little later on the considerably darker Squaring the Circle, a sort of Andalucian bolero surf number with a bracing Middle Eastern edge and unexpected dreampop echoes.

Circe is portrayed via a buzzing, squalling Raybeats-style stomp, the bass holding the center with burning low-register chords while the two guitars ride savage waves out into the maelstrom. Celestial Mechanism is closer to modern-day Balkan jazz than surf music, a shrieking, squalling two-chord vamp with the bass again holding the fort as the drums careen back and forth. Likewise, Four Rivers blends electric Balkan fusion with Israeli stoner metal over tumbling drums – it’s the noisiest thing on the album.

The Nameless God manages to be both the most opaquely indie-flavored and trad surf tune here, following a Ventures-in-space tangent over nebulously resonant, reverb-drenched guitars. The other two tracks here are the artsiest and arguably most interesting. Evocation of the Triumphant Beast is a genuinely evil creature, building from a macabre bolero over a stygian backdrop to searing, noisy postrock and then back with increasingly menacing flickers from the guitars. And Anima Mundi goes in the opposite direction, from an insistent danse macabre to a twinkly, clanging, serpentine guitar interlude that reminds of 70s psychedelic/art-rock legends Nektar. Throughout the album, the twin guitars sometimes wrestle, sometimes trade off gracefully, sometimes echo each other with a close yet dangerous chemistry that threatens to explode any second. On one hand, this album is so tuneful that fans of traditional surf music are going to love it; at the same time, it’s so deliciously evil in places that the most cynical Yo La Tengo diehards might be caught drooling.

So where can you hear this masterpiece? Start here at Youtube.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 132 other followers