New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: stoner music

A Rare NYC Appearance and a Driving, Resolute New Album by Malian Desert Rockers Terakaft

There’s cruel irony in the title of Malian desert rockers Terakaft‘s new, fifth album, Alone (streaming at Spotify). For two decades, the group’s message has been one of resistance and solidarity. A sort of shadow project to iconic duskcore band Tinariwen, with whom they share several members, they’ve typically served as a harder-rocking version of that group. But the energy of their new album, unlike their previous two releases, is driven not by optimism but disillusion and sometimes crushing despair in the wake of the ongoing war in their native land. Nonetheless, their music is steady, resolute and indomitable, its mantra-like grooves and rhythms testament to their commitment to the struggle that’s taken untold lives in their conflict-stricken home country. They’re at Joe’s Pub on September 7 at 9:30 PM as part of their current North American tour. Cover is $22 and since this band so seldom plays here, advance tix are highly recommended.

Growling, lingering, distorted chords anchor the loping pulse of the opening track, Anabayou (Awkward), further beefed up by heavier percussion than one would typically hear if the group were playing around the fire at sundown in the Sahara. Credit their longtime producer Justin Adams with adding stadium rock muscle without subsuming the music’s otherworldly, hypnotic quality.

Tafouk Tele (The Sun Is There) shifts the shuffling groove to the offbeat, the call-and-response of the vocals – an ancient trait in the region’s folk music – mirrored by the deft exchange of guitar riffage. When the song suddenly falls apart at the end, the effect is viscerally chilling. The album’s most stark and intense track – possibly the band’s best song ever – is Karambani (Nastiness), a rather savage minor-key shuffle fueled by a menacing baritone guitar riff that speeds up to a horrified sprint.

Itilla Ehene Dagh Aitma (To My Brothers) sets a low-key verse and a singalong chorus to trickily rhythmic, undulating waves of ringing, keening guitars. Oulhin Asnin (My Heart Hurts) subtly shifts the rhythm into a more straightforward groove, creating a feeling of forward motion slowly breaking free of restraint. Track six, Kal Hoggar works a more straight-up triplet beat, carefully textured layers of guitars buildilng a serpentine interweave.

Amidinin Senta Neflas (My Trusted Friend) is the closest thing here to straight-up western rock, enhanced by a spare harmonica track, a touch that probably originated in the studio. With its surreal, deep-space lead guitar lines, Wahouche Natareh (Lions) is the album’s most psychedelic number. Its most spare and woundedly pensive tune is the concluding title cut. You may be wondering about the lyrical content here: as with the group’s previous output, themes of exile, longing, anguish and struggle, sung in the group’s native Tamashek, dominate these resonant, memorably lingering songs.

Greek Judas: New York’s Best New Psychedelic Band

Greek Judas made their debut last night at Barbes. They’re amazing. Comprising most of the members of Greek rembetiko revivalists Que Vlo-Ve, they’ve reached the inevitable point where it made sense to completely and explosively electrify the colorful, gritty repertoire from the 1920s and 30s underground that they’ve mined up to this point. Wade Ripka alternated between roaring, poinpoint-precise, menacingly chromatic electric guitar leads and and searing lapsteel lines, joined by a masked rhythm guitarist who doubled on tenor sax on one of the later numbers. Slavic Soul Party drummer Chris Stromquist nimbly led the group through the songs’ relentlessly tricky changes with stomp and aplomb while bassist Nick Cudahy was the picture of cool, chilling in the back, delivering the same kind of effortless psychedelic groove that he did for so long in the late, great Chicha Libre. Toward the end of the set, frontman Quince Marcum picked up his horn and joined with the sax player for some intricate twin leads on what sounded like a brass band mashup of Macedonian folk and Led Zep.

Was Marcum running his resonant baritone vocals through a phaser? Yesssssss! And a whole bunch of other trippy, creepy patches too! When not singing in Greek, he had a lot of fun explaining the gist of the songs. This stuff is wild. A seafaring anthem celebrated smuggling untaxed cigarettes and Iranian hash. In their jail cell, couple of magges conspire about what they’re going to do once they get out: “Restring my bouzouki for me, babe, I’m coming home,” one announces, more or less. A couple of rude guys drool over a Romany girl, while another complains that his icy girlfriend has driven him into the monastery, metaphorically at least. And one of the later numbers reminded that crack whores existed in Greece in 1927 – and that crack was just as wack then as it is now. The band wound up their roughly 45-minute set with a pounding one-chord stomp that sounded like the Bad Brains playing Greek music. A screaming guitar band playing hardcore punk rock at Barbes? Damn straight. If you’re in the neighborhood and you like artsy metal or psychedelia, you’d be crazy to miss the band’s second-ever show when they play here on August 27 at 8 PM.

Ripka’s chromatically bristling spirals and leaps over Stromquist’s stately beat on the night’s opening number brought to mind killer Greek surf band the Byzan-tones. The band went for careening metal majesty on the night’s sescond number, resonant guitar snarl over an unexpectedly straight-up, hypnotic, boomy beat on the one after that. On the following tune, Ripka’s aching twang rang out over Stomquist’s tense, tight 7/8 beat as Marcum’s vocals swirled and echoed. The best song of the night was also the most Middle Eastern-influenced, a titanic blast of sabertoothed leads from Ripka’s guitar over the swaying roar of the rest of the band. This group’s ceiling is practically unlimited. First gig ever, there was a good crowd at Barbes, and that following will grow. St. Vitus seems inevitable; after that, Donington here we come!. Wait til the metal crowd discovers these guys: they’ll be able to make a living on their road til they’re in their eighties if they feeling like cranking it up like they did last night.

Intense, Haunting Frank Flight Band Recordings Rescued from the Archives

For their consistently dark post-Doors vision, brilliant guitar work, epic songcraft and wry humor, it’s tempting to call the Frank Flight Band the British Blue Oyster Cult. Except that the Frank Flight Band’s output has been much more consistent and genuinely brilliant. That’s not meant as a dis to BOC, although that band’s studio output since Fire of Unknown Origin – which was a long, long, long time ago – has basically been a wash. Over the past two decades, the Frank Flight Band’s output has been much less prolific – just four albums – but with the persistent hint that vastly more material is hidden away in a vault somewhere. That myth gets some validation on the band’s latest release, The Usual Curse, streaming in full at cdbaby.

There’s been some turnover in the band across the years. Although former frontman Andy Wrigley’s distinctive rasp is missed, Maurice Watson’s croon is one of the album’s strengths; he’s sort of the missing link between Bryan Ferry and Mark Sinnis. Flight is the rare bandleader who typically limits himself to rhythm guitar and songwriting, while lead player Dave Thornley gets to flex his chops. There isn’t a lot of lead playing here, but it’s choice. Flight draws on influences as diverse as David Gilmour, Robbie Krieger and classic C&W, and Thornley’s terse, spacious, jangly, chiming style is a good fit. For whatever reason, this is the first Flight album where he doesn’t contribute lyrically.

The opening cut, Empty has a doomed sway, Flight’s elegant multitracks and Thornley’s hauntingly bluesy solo over studio drummer Terry Shaughnessy’s shuffle groove. “It won’t be only bricks that fall on the grass that lovers bear…death is in the opening sighs of every interaction,” Watson intones.

The title track begins as a real departure for this band, Watson’s angry, death-obsessed lyrics over Thornley’s web of Beatlesque folk-pop guitar; then it goes electric with an unexpected Booker T-inflected soul groove. Thornley and Flight share writing credits on The Last Train West, a dusky, jangly kiss-off anthem akin to the Doors doing highway rock.

Thornley sings his sardonic, jazz-inflected mid-period Pink Floyd-influenced ballad, Ballet Dancer. Watson returns to the mic for the album’s riveting, anguished, Middle Eastern-tinged, closing clave groove, Unrequited, one of Flight’s half-dozen best compositions. While most of the tracks here date from almost ten years ago, there are also two new tunes. As Flight explains in the album’s liner notes, “In typical FFB cyclical fashion this is the first time all four original members have recorded together since the proto basement tape ‘Leyland Road’ sessions of the mid 1990’s.” The first of the new tunes, the epic Home from the Sea mashes up southern boogie, north Atlantic folk and pensive late 60s Laurel Canyon psychedelia. The second, the surf/spacerock instrumental As Far As The Eye Can See is a dead ringer for the Church circa the early 90s. While the Frank Flight Band’s definitive recording is their 2013 masterpiece Remains, this collection further cements their reputation as psychedelic cult heroes. And raises the intrigue: what else do they have in the can that we haven’t heard?

Big Lazy Bring Their Lurid, Creepy, State-of-the-Art Noir Back to Barbes

How many bands have there ever been who were at their peak twenty years after they started? On one hand, just getting to the twenty-year mark as a band is quite the achievement. But composer/guitarist Stephen Ulrich just keeps getting creepier and more eclectic. And it’s safe to say that this edition of Big Lazy, the world’s most consistently haunting, reverb guitar-fueled instrumental band is the best ever. Which is not to be dismissive of original drummer Willie Martinez, who only left the group due to the demands on his schedule as a star of latin jazz and salsa. Nor is this a dis at original bassist Paul Dugan, whose darkly frenetic pulse was such an important part of the band’s first incarnation from about 1996 through 2007.

But the new rhythm section of Andrew Hall and Yuval Lion is the best ever, and the most consistent with Ulrich’s bleak, rain-drenched vision. Back in the day, the band made their home at Tonic, the late, lamented Norfolk Street hotspot for adventurous, jazz-influenced music. Since last year, maybe predictably, the band has made Barbes their home base. They’re playing there again on August 7 at 10 PM.

Between them, Hall and Lion give Ulrich a more minimalist groove than this band has ever had. And yet, they also get featured more prominently on solos, Hall using his bow for extra stygian resonance, Lion rattling the traps like a poltergeist left over from when Manhattan’s Record District (where you bought turntables and vinyl) was bulldozed to make way for the World Trade Center. It may not be safe to say that any one band in town is the very best, but it is safe to say that Big Lazy never play anything remotely the same way twice.

Ulrich saves his bloodthirsty volleys of tremolo-picking and savage chord-chopping when he really needs to take the energy to redline or bring a sonic narrative to a murderous peak (film soundtracks are his regular gig – Big Lazy is his fun project). He’ll often intersperse a loping highway theme or great plains noir atmospherics amidst all the crime-jazz chromatics and wall-bending noir surf riffs. Although on record, menace is the band’s stock in trade, onstage Ulrich can be very funny, quoting from all sorts of jazz songs and movie themes. Once or twice a set, he’ll put down the guitar and break out his lapsteel for high lonesome wails or lingering, floating body-in-the-pool sonics. And much as most of the songs are instrumentals, occasionally they’ll have a guest take a turn out front: one of the coolest moments in the trio’s recent shows has been where oldtime music maven Mamie Minch joined them for a nonchalantly Lynchian, plaintive version of Crazy.

When Ulrich regrouped Big Lazy in 2013 after a six-year hiatus, that was big news, and this blog covered them not once but five times that year and in 2014. Which explains why the band has been absent from the front page here since this past January. But this blog hasn’t been absent from Big Lazy’s Barbes shows this year, beginning in January and then in each of the last three months. In case you haven’t already figured it out, one more thing that’s safe to say about this decidedly unsafe band is that they’re worth seeing more than once. At the end of the year, along with the best albums and best songs lists, there’s also a list of the best concerts in New York and at least one of these gigs will be on it – the May show in particular was pretty amazing.

Blackout, Slow Season and Mondo Drag Join Forces for NYC’s Best Triplebill So Far This Year

This has been a great year for doublebills, but the hottest triplebill this blog has witnessed this year happened on the hottest day of the year so far, this past Saturday the 18th at St. Vitus. Blackout opened. They do one thing and one thing very well: slow, doomy, pounding anthems. The Melvins seem to be an obvious influence, but where that band goes for sneering humor, Blackout go into the abyss. Bassist Justin Sherrell ripped crushing, stygian chords from his downtuned J-bass while frontman/guitarist Christian Gordy launched steady, precise, chromatic mortarbomb hits from his Gibson, with an appreciative nod to Tony Iommi, but not in a blatantly derivative way. For such a heavy band, drummer Taryn Waldman is a refreshing change, staying low to the ground, coloring the slow, stalking dirges with smoky cymbal washes instead of the expected brontosaurus thud. And just when it seemed that this band is all about relentless gloom, they’d pick up the pace, doublespeed or triplespeed toward hardcore territory, both Gordy and Sherrell bellowing over the maelstrom. As with the next two bands on the bill, it would have been fun to hear them play twice as long as the barely thirty-five minutes they got onstage.

Slow Season‘s rhythm also went in an unexpected direction, 180 degrees from Blackout. Their unhinged stoner attack looks back to 70s proto-metal, which usually doesn’t have the crushing olympic impact that drummer Cody Tarbell brought to their blistering set. As searing as the guitars of frontman Daniel Rice and David Kent were, it was Tarbell who stole the show with his nimble yet bunkerbuster-scale assault, closing the set with a flurry that matched brute force to completely unexpected elegance. Meanwhile, Hayden Doyel’s blue-smoke, nimbly bluesy basslines and eye-popping octaves enhanced the purist NoCal skunkweed vibe. They opened with a boogie groove that went unexpectedly halfspeed, driven by twin guitar riffage hellbent on setting cities on flame with rock & roll.

Boogies were a major part of the rest of their tantalizingly brief set, like a northern Molly Hatchet taken back in time ten years, and with a snakier rhythm section. Kent’s acidic wah riffs, hazily menacing fuzztone bluesmetal lines and the occasional haphazard Hendrix reference reinforced the 1969-73 ambience: the only difference was that this crowd was vaping rather than smoking up – for the most part, anyway. Kent hit one false ending with a nails-down-the-blackboard slide that was one of the night’s highest points, kicking off the next number by himself, taking his time as he built to an aching, screaming peak before a smirky ba-bump groove kicked in. They wound up with an epic that galloped and swayed through his best and most relentlessly searing solo.

Mondo Drag made a towering, epic, majestic headliner. It was like seeing Atomheart Mother-era Floyd and Nektar on the same bill – although it was Slow Season who blasted through the night’s lone wry quote from the David Gilmour riffbook. Mondo Drag’s signature sound loops a hypnotic, vamping groove, with endlessly shifting, richly dynamic segments from frontman John Gamino’s organ and keys along with the guitars of Nolan Girard and Jake Sheley. The band’s new rhythm section is killer and maybe even an improvement over the old one, who were pretty damn good: bassist Andrew O’Neil played meticulously circular, catchy hooks pretty much nonstop while drummer Ventura Garcia channeled a period-perfect, muted 1975 stoner gallop across a surreal, sometimes menacing landscape.

One dynamic that the group worked for a towering, dynamic intensity was Gamino’s smoky, gothic chords grounding the music a la Richard Wright while the guitars played aching, searing, angst-fueled sheets overhead, taking on the Gilmour role. Other songs were fueled by punchy, galloping Nektar-style triplets. That band’s influence – the hard-charging crescendos of Remember the Future, the distantly crushing elegaic quality of It’s All Over and the swaying steamroller attack of Journey to the Center of the Eye – made itself apparent everywhere. Creepily twinkling night-sky Fender Rhodes interludes, tersely biting Arabic-tinged guitar-and-organ passages and endless vamps punctuated by mournfully airy guitar atmospherics and some neat call-and-response between guitars and keys were just part of the picture. As the show went on, an atmosphere of slightly restrained panic and subdued horror underpinned everything. as tempos and metrics shifted, the bass circling like a vulture. At the end of the set, Gamino’s vocals finally took on a somber, resigned, apocalyptic quality. All this justified risking death by dehydration: just try powerwalking through the Greenpoint ghetto all the way back from Clay Street to the L at Bedford, weighted down with a heavy toolbag and workboots in 110 degree heat, and see how you hold up.

Ruby the Hatchet Headline a Killer Triplebill at the Acheron

One thing that jumps out at you when you take a look at what’s happening out of town is that New York hardly has a monopoly on good multiple-band bills. For example, back on the 17th, intense Philadelphia psychedelic metal band Ruby the Hatchet played on a hometown quadruplebill with a couple of the bands – Slow Season and Mondo Drag – who SLAYED at St. Vitus this past Saturday. More about that inspiring night here momentarily. In the meantime, Ruby the Hatchet have moved on to a kick-ass triplebill, headlining at around 10 at the Acheron on July 24. Excellent retro 70s stoner band the Golden Grass – who add boogie and some unexpected blues to their riff-driven attack – play beforehand at around 9. The eclectic, interesting Iyez – who blend dreampop and noisy postrock into their reverbtoned lo-fi assault – open the night at 8. Cover is $10

Ruby the Hatchet’s new album, Valley of the Snake, is streaming at Bandcamp. It opens with Heavy Blanket, Sean Hur’s organ rising out of the mist, introducing Michael Parise’s galloping bass, then the rest of the group – guitarist John Scarps, drummer Owen Stewart and frontwoman Jillian Taylor – kick in. The vibe brings to mind early Maiden, back when they were more straightforward, less artsy. That, or Deep Purple without the hippie-dippy bullshit.

The second track, Vast Acid goes in the same direction, a catchy, swaying anthem fueled by Scarps’ terse multitracks. Taylor’s vocals are strong, with a bent, bluesy edge, but not going over the edge into Janis Joplin cliches. “I will cut you down, down, down,” is the mantra.

Tomorrow Never Comes, the album’s best track, is a haunting, apocalyptic, practically nine-minute epic, teasing the listener with a flamenco-tinged guitar intro before Scarps’ crushing riffage takes over and then eventually hits a cruelly stampeding pulse. Hur’s atmospheric keys are a neat touch. Mos Generator’s classic The Late, Great Planet Earth is a good comparison.

The Unholy Behemoth looks straight back to Sabbath, slow and doomy before it picks up with Iommi-style, bludgeoning blues riffage: it’s a trip to hear a woman singing this stuff. Ozzy, eat your heart out! Likewise, Taylor’s ominous harmonies max out the ethereal menace in the briskly pulsing, Blue Oyster Cult-ish Demons. It would make a good, heavier segue with, say, Burning For You. The album’s final cut is the title track, wryly making jangly psych-folk out of a very familiar Beatles theme before it rises toward Led Zep grandeur. One of the coolest things about this is that you can get it on cassette for the bargain price of $6.66. No joke.

Epic Psychedelic Grooves and a Williamsburg Show by Fly Golden Eagle

Nashville psychedelic band Fly Golden Eagle have two versions of their album Quartz. The first is an epic 26-track double album streaming at Bandcamp. The second, whittled down to a dozen tracks, maybe for lazy bloggers, is called Quartz Bijou. But the hell with laziness: this band’s put so much creative energy into making these songs, it’s only fair to give them a listen, right? The band is in the midst of a summer US tour (dates here), with a gig at Brooklyn Bowl on July 23 at 8 PM opening one of the year’s most bizarre triplebills. Cover is $15; it’s highly unlikely that you’ll want to stick around afterward for a generically pigsnorting death-metal act followed by the G-rated, squeaky-clean fauxgrass band after them. What was the booking agent here smoking when he put this bill together?

Other than the purist, oldschool production, the full album’s not-so-secret weapon is Mitch Jones’ organ: it gives the songs a surrreal, distantly sinister edge that a lot of retro psych bands go for but miss out on. Many of the songs have a shapeshifting, cinematic quality, which makes sense considering that the album ostensibly follows the trajectory of an obscure 70s film, The Holy Mountain, which was produced by Beatles manager Allen Klein and financed by John Lennon and George Harrison. The opening track, Can’t Leave You Alone is a scampering mid-60s garage rock vamp, like the Seeds with better production values. You Look Good to Me has an Afrobeat horn intro, rises from slinky hard funk to a summery early 70s stoner rock interlude and peaks out as ecstagic gospel-funk. They go back to a catchy reverbtoned psych-rock sway for Horse’s Mouth, with an organ-and-bass-fueled early 70s midwestern boogie passage at the end. Stepping Stone – an original, not the Monkees hit or a punked-out cover – makes Brian Jonestown Massacre-style psych out of a gospel-rock riff.

White Lighter hints at creepy desert rock before it hits a funk-tinged sway spiced by frontman Ben Trimble’s spiky, offcenter guitar riffage, then goes in more of a stoner soul direction. Nimble bassist Rick Alessio and drummer Richard Harper elevate the warm oldschool soul groove Monolith above the level of generic, then the band abruptly segues into the hard-edged, riff-rocking vignette Lotus Island.

Magic Steven goes back to the catchy 60s psych vibe, Alessio’s dancing, melodic lines intertwining with the organ, up to a noisy, atmospheric outro. Song for Aphrodite follows a slow, vampy Highway 61 blues tangent. Ronnie is arguably the catchiest and edgiest track so far, with its major-minor changes and big anthemic hooks. They follow that with West Minister College, a briskly pulsing, practically motorik groove straight out of an acid movie like The Trip.

Tangible Intangible is a swayingly hypnotic backbeat psych-soul groove, echoey keys trade glimmering shades with the guitar. The only hint that this wasn’t recorded in 1974 is the woozy low-register portamento synth solo. Heady Ways keeps the stoner groove going, but with a creepy blues feel over a fuzztone loop from Alessio. Machine Burger, a short, swirly, ambient instrumental follows that, then Medicine Hat, a mashup of C&W and vintage soul, a trippier take on what the Band was doing around that time – at least until they hit a smoky fuzztone break.

Boychild Ghost is a psychedelic take on lush late 60s soul-jazz, with another snarlingly terse fuzztone solo from Trimble. By now, the songs have grown longer and trippier, with a darker undercurrent probably to match the film: the soaring, pulsingly climactic gospel-soul theme Tehuacana is a prime example. The even more expansive Superior Circle builds troubled, echoey ambience around a pounding, early Who-influenced riff. After more swirly atmospherics, the band reacjes one of the album’s catchiest points with Couched in Twos: with less soulful, oldschool production values, it could be a Snoop Dogg backing track..

Alessio’s Motown bassline pushes The Death Myth against some unexpected polyrhythms and atmospherics, up to a jaggedly incisive Trimble solo. Double Vision has a stomping, minor-key Paint It Black drive. Sugar on My Tongue brings back the dark stoner soul, but also offers a seriously LOL moment midway through.

Walking On the Line is a Texas boogie as the 13th Floor Elevators might have done it. The Slider has an amped-up early 60s R&B feel that reminds of the early Pretty Things. Es Muss Sein has more of a bittersweet stoner soul groove, until it goes doublespeed and menacing. The untitled concluding track, the longest and fittingly strongest one here, follows a slow, slinky Country Joe & the Fish acid rock trajectory, plaintive guitar and keys echoing over funereal organ. To steal a phrase from the Cake Shop calendar, you made it to the end, yaay! What a fun album this was to listen to in the wee hours! One caveat: this is for smokers, not drinkers. Maintaining a reasonable pace, you’ll go through a magnum before Fly Golden Eagle’s magnum opus is over.

A Characteristically Rapturous Album and a Rare Outdoor Show by Magical Singer Kiran Ahluwalia

Singer Kiran Ahluwalia is one of the world’s great musical individualists. Her cool, clear, lustrous vocals are distinctive, blending the soaring peaks and hairpin-turn melismas of Indian music with the introspection of Pakistani ghazals. She’s carved out a niche for herself as a cross-pollinator, a woman of Indian extraction singing Pakistani and Malian melodies. Her latest album, Sanata: Stillness is streaming at Spotify, and she has a rare outdoor show on July 22 at 7 PM at Madison Square Park.

Ahluwalia’s not-so-secret weapon on the new album is her husband, guitarist Rez Abbasi, who does a one-man Tinariwen impersonation with his bristling pull-offs and spark-shedding, minutely nuanced, reverbtoned rhythm. That should come as no surprise, since Abbasi’s playing can be as protean as his wife’s vocals – and also because Ahluwalia featured Tinariwen on her previous album. The opening track sets the stage perfectly, an undulating, mystical Saharan groove, Ahluwalia’s Punjabi vocals sailing over her bandmates’ practically sinister low harmonies. Throughout the album, Nikku Nayar and Rich Brown take turns on bass, each contributing tersely tasteful low end. Nitin Mitta plays tabla, Mark Duggan alternates between vibraphone and percussion and Kiran Thakrar adds color with his harmonium.

Jaane Na – meaning “Nobody Knows” – is a scrambling, scurrying, funk-tinged number, a metaphorically-charged contemplation of personal demons and how to conquer them; it’s a lot closer to Abbasi’s brand of spiky guitar jazz than anything Ahluwalia has done up to this point. The guitarist’s meticulous multitracks give the the anthemic, subtly crescendoing title track – a wistful breakup ballad – a slow simmer. He grounds Tamana – an anthem for living with impunity – in nebulously jazz-tinged chords, matching Ahluwalia’s wary midrange and gentle melismatics.

Ahluwalia sings vocalese on Hum Dono, a minimalist progressive jazz sketch. The first of the two covers here is Jhoom, a qawwali drinking anthem reinvented as duskcore; the other is Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s Lament, done as a psychedelic epic, part 90s trip-hop, part Pink Floyd.

Taskeen opens with a swirly harmonium improvisation and builds slowly and carefully, with judiciously biting Middle Eastern tings; it’s an original setting of a poem about not being jealous of your significant other’s past lovers. The last of the originals is the enigmatically fluttering, folk-rock tinged Qaza:

The truth of the heart has many doors
Some open some don’t
Don’t get lost in them

Who is the audience for this? Anyone who likes to get lost in the mystical sound of ghazals or hypnotic Saharan guitar bands, and for that matter anyone looking for a moment of elegant sonic serenity.

Lions Bring Their Haunting, Slinky, Irresistible Ethiopiques Grooves to Barbes

Lions are one of New York’s most enjoyably slinky, mysterious, psychedelically danceable bands. Their specialty is Ethiopiques, the otherworldly, haunting mix of ancient folk melodies, Afrobeat and American jazz that originated in the 60s and exploded onto the global stage when Mulatu Astatke got popular back in the 90s and early zeros. The group of six Israelis and one American have an amazing debut ep streaming at Bandcamp and a show headlining at Barbes tonight, July 17 at 11 PM.

The album’s opening number, Aynotche Terabuslinky has that classic camelwalking Ethiopian triplet rhythm, with brightly wary minor-key riffage from the horns over resonant minor-key organ from Dor Heled, bandleader/guitarist Nadav Peled holding steady to a terse, circular riff as Tamir Shmerling’s bass and Eran Fink’s drums anchor the groove. Peled caps it off with a deliciously spiky, trebly, reverbtoned solo. His blend of 60s psychedelic rock and Ethiopian phrasing is distinctive and intruguing: you never know exactly where he’s going to go with it.

A dynamic horn intro from trumpeter Wayne Tucker, alto saxophonist (and noted big band leader) Eyal Vilner and baritone saxophonist Eden Bareket kick off the brooding second number, Yematibela Wef. Vilner’s pensively bending phrases and Bareket’s purposeful spirals keep the enigmatic vibe going over a hypnotically swaying beat. The best track here, simply called Lions, takes a classic, creepily chromatic bati riff and builds a mighty anthem out of it, with biting horn harmonies, some clever tradeoffs between guitar and organ, Heled taking centerstage with his menacingly swirling, rippling lines. A straightforward Tucker solo takes it up to a mighty, stomping peak.

Peled makes snaky surf rock out of Nagatti Si Jedha with his pinging, incisive lines, building to a darkly climactic, cinematic theme with more than a hint of Bollywood; Heled’s surrealistically pulsing organ solo might be the best one on the whole album. Le’b has a jauntily swinging horn intro and some bracingly offcenter harmonies over a fat roots reggae groove. The ep winds up with Zelel Zelel, lit up with yet more of Peled’s stingingly psychedelic, nimble riffwork.
One of the last recordings made at Williamsburg’s legendary Excello studios, the album has a warm analog feel. Best debut of 2015? There’s nothing that’s come out so far this year that can touch this. If you’re going to Park Slope tonight, you might want to get there early before the back room fills up.

State-of-the-Art Heavy Psychedelic Band Mondo Drag Bring Their Stoner Stomp to St. Vitus

Oakland psychedelic band Mondo Drag’s second album – streaming at Bandcamp – is amazingly retro, yet completely in the here and now. As far as stoner art-rock goes, this stuff is state-of-the-art. It opens with a song titled Zephyr, which fades up with a galloping pulse, vocals back in the mix, John Gamino’s smoky Hammond organ front and center over the careening rhythm section of Zack Anderson’s trebly bass and drummer Cory Berry’s muted stampede. They wind it up with a guitar solo in tandem with the organ that wouldn’t be out of place on an classic Nektar album…or something from early 70s Jethro Tull. Everything about this – the production, the smoky vibe, the nonchalant expertise of the playing, is straight out of 1974 in the best possible way. Their current US tour brings them to St. Vitus in Greenpoint on July 18 on a killer triplebill with swirly post-Sabbath psych-metal band Electric Citizen and heavier, more boogie-driven Fresno stoners Slow Season. Doors are at 8; general admission is $12.

The album’s second song is titled Crystal Visions Open Eyes – guitarists Nolan Girard and Jake Sheley give it a murky, drony intro before the band hits an altered motorik groove, then that smoky organ hits in tandem with Anderson’s soaring bass – it could be the great lost track from Nektar’s Down to Earth. Shivery, aching wah guitar over a funky beat takes it down to an elegant acoustic interlude straight out of the Moody Blues.

The Dawn, with its twin organ-and-guitar riffage, is more straight up – until it goes on a doublespeed rampage, part Allman Brothers, part Nektar. Plumajilla is a swaying Santana-esque vamp, with twin guitars fading into the ozone, snakecharmer flute, a big, long crescendo and then a mysterious interlude like Iron Maiden at their artsiest that goes into gently ornate early Genesis territory. How much art-rock richness can one band possibly mine in a single song?

The most original track here is Shifting Sands, a mashup of Tangerine Dream and maybe early U2 – at least before the guitars get all crunchy. The stately slide guitar and organ intro to the instrumental epic Pillars of the Sky is as good as any Richard Wright/David Gilmour collaboration – Atomheart Mother, for example – and then brings to mind the gorgeously bittersweet spacerock of Nektar’s It’s All Over. The album’s final cut is Snakeskin, taking a hypnotic Brian Jonestown Massacre pulse back in time a few decades.

Anderson and Berry have since moved on to Swedish band Blues Pills, replaced by Andrew O’Neil and Ventura Garcia, who’ll be on this tour. Those are large shoes to fill, but you’d expect a band as brilliant as this to bring in guys who can fill them.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 199 other followers