New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Trombonist Michael Dease’s Latest Album: How Many Flavors Can You Handle?

Trombonist Michael Dease‘s latest album All These Hands – streaming at Posi-Tone Records – is an ambitious jazz travelogue. The title is a characteristically wry reference to the fact that he’s got so many people on it. On one hand, it’s a chance for the bandleader to show off his command of a whole bunch of regional styles: lookit me, I’m in New Orleans! Now I’ve gone back to the Delta to visit Robert Johnson’s grave! But what’s consistent, beyond the relevance and the sometimes grim historical references throughout this vast, diverse collection, is the tunesmithing. Riffs jump out at you from all over and have you humming them afterward despite yourself. No wonder all these big names want to play with him: the core band on the album has Renee Rosnes on piano, Gerald Cannon on bass, Lewis Nash on drums and Steve Wilson doing his usual multi-reed thing, with Etienne Charles on trumpet and Randy Napoleon on guitar. Dease is leading most of this band over a weekend stand on May 26 and 27 at 10:30 PM at Smalls.

Before we leave town here, what does Dease’s portrait of Brooklyn sound like? Kenny G? A trombone with a drum machine? A virtual trombone? Wait, those are Notbrooklyn things, as we say around these parts. Set to Nash’s steady, flickering clave groove, Dease’s Brooklyn is latin, and full of light/dark contrasts and hints of early Steely Dan – Brooklyn knows the charmer under this guy. In fact, it’s one of the album’s best songs, with a deliciously slippery bass solo from guest Rufus Reid.

The rest of the album measures up strongly. The opening number, Creole Country is balmier and more bossa-tinged than the name might imply, the beat loosening into a shuffle artfully and imperceptibly, Rosnes anchoring Dease and Wilson’s airy lines. Delta City Crosssroads is a sagely animated conversation between Dease’s muted, tongue-in-cheek character and Napoleon’s rustic slide man. There are two similar blues duets later on: the Detroit shout-out Black Bottom Banger, between Dease and Cannon, and Memphis Fish Fry, Dease pairing off jauntily against Rosnes’ Fender Rhodes.

The Dizzy Gillespie-inspired Good & Terrible is another catchy clave tune, Rosnes again grounding Dease’s purposeful, airy solo, Cannon taking a wry tiptoe tangent. Territory Blues is as straight-up as a swing blues can get, with purist solos from Cannon and Napoleon – whose presence on what sounds like a National steel guitar is an unexpectedly welcome touch. Benny’s Bounce is another swing tune with a long series of handoffs: Dease’s bubbly solo to Wilson’s more airy tenor, Rosnes’ clusters and Cannon finally hitting that Benny Golson-influenced bounce.

The band goes back to the default clave for the album’s most epic track, Downtown Chi-Town, which could just as easily be Spanish Harlem, Wilson’s spiraling flute handing off to the bandleader, percolating as he chooses his spots and then giving Wilson the floor for some enigmatically modal explorations on tenor. Everybody gets into the act at the end.

Dease opens Gullah Shout Ring with a long, allusively bluesy solo and then holds the center as guitar and bass flutter and stab at the perimeter – it’s the freest number here, at least until they pull it together into another swing blues with an implied Heartbreak Hotel vibe. Muted suspense and chirpy trombone-and-trumpet riffs punctuate the goodnatured Chocolate City, a diptych of sorts that goes completely in the opposite direction, fueled by Rosnes and Dease: it’s a riveting piece of music with a real payoff. Guest bassist Rodney Whitaker makes the most of a solo piece to end the album, mashing up the blues with a moody, ragaesque quality. It’s awfully rare that you hear an album with so many flavors which is as this solid as this one is all the way through. Count on Dease to pull out just as many over Memorial Day weekend.

NO ICE Represent the Real Brooklyn at Bowery Electric

NO ICE might be the best band to come out of Brooklyn in the last few years. They spun off of punkish populists the Brooklyn What when one of that band’s original three brilliant lead guitarists, Evan O’Donnell, absconded to Indonesia to work on a gamelan metal project (he’s been a member of New York’s Balinese gamelan, Gamelan Dharma Swara) and then most recently put out a ferociously good, dark art-rock album.

So frontman/multi-instrumentalist Jamie Frey decided to finally play all those instruments he’d been hiding down in the basement and keep the band going with a slightly different lineup and a different name. No ice – say it fast, ok? Or, you know the deal: if you’re ordering a fountain soda to go with your fast food, you get twice as much if you tell the girl at the register, “No ice!” Hardly rocket science – and it’s not known if that scam is the band’s M.O. beyond the noisy pun of a bandname.

Frey is one of New York’s most erudite musical talents. His songs draw on sixty years or more of music history: he’s as adept at doo-wop as he is at noiserock, fuzzily catchy Guided by Voices powerpop, unhinged punk rock and probably stuff we haven’t heard yet. It wouldn’t be out of the question to think that he had a couple of Duke Ellington big band numbers in him. He and the band are back from a marathon US tour and have an enticing show coming up on June 3 at Bowery Electric at 10, where they’re on an amazing all-New York triplebill, with power trio Castle Black – who veer between acidic Bush Tetras postpunk, stoner metal and more straight-up, sardonic punk – opening the night at 9. Television lead guitar legend Richard Lloyd headlines at 11; cover is an absurdly good $10. They’ll also be playing the annual Northside Festival on June 9 at Main Drag Music and on the 10th at the Gutter; both shows are at 11.

NO ICE’s album is Come On Feel the NO ICE, streaming at Bandcamp. It opens with The Cemetery,  a fast electric remake of the Jesus & Mary Chain’s Deep One Perfect Morning. The themes are similar, the musicianship better since they have Jesse Katz’s live drums backing John-Severin Napolillo’s guitar, Frey’s piano and Sean Spada’s organ. It makes a good diptych with with Summer Bummer, a hazier but equally brooding J&MC-style post-Velvets tune. “She’ll never love you again,” intones singer Oliver Ignatius.

Darlin’ will have you reaching for your phone – damn, what song from Daydream Nation does this take to the next level? Answer: it’s Hey Joni, complete with awesomely unhinged noise guitar jam. Then Frey goes deep into the soul-rock he loves so much with Leave Her Alone, a battle of superego vs. id. Superego wins, walking off with less than a home run.

I Want You goes back toward J&MC territory with some tastier, more dynamic guitar multitracks than that band ever laid down. We Get High Together is just plain sweet: if you have a stoner girlfriend, if you had a stoner girlfriend – or if you are a stoner girlfriend – you’ll get it. By contrast, Change Your Mind comes across as a haphazard mashup of the Lemonheads and Bay City Rollers (ok, nobody in the band except for Jamie probably ever heard of the Bay City Rollers, but that’s what it sounds like).

Out With the Brats is a powerpop gem: “Out on a weekday, feeling so weak and greY.” The trick ending is primo. The next track, simply titled Guitar, is an acidically simmering, twistedly psychedelic tableau with a sideways shout-out to Queen. Then the band returns to super-catchy mode with TBD and its blend of Britfolk and vintage powerpop. It’s here where it hits you, if you’ve read the song credits, how Frey has internalized the style of every other writer in this band to the point where he can sound like them just as easily as he can slip into Robert Pollard, or Thurston Moore, or (who was the songwriter in the Ink Spots?).

The swaying, jazzy miniature Eat This Heart is a co-write with Saskia Kahn. The band aptly turns the album’s lone cover, Leonard Cohen’s Memories, into leering vintage Springsteen. They wind up the album with Five Beers, a slow, contentedly slit-eyed nocturne: Frey really nails the starry distance that a few bowls and a few beers put between you and the sick Trumpy reality that awaits you when you wake up  hungover and hashed over, Napolillo turning in a tantalizingly fleeting slide guitar solo.  Somewhere Lou Reed is listening to this and smiling and saying, uh huh.

Soul Singer Alice Lee’s Long-Awaited New Album: One of 2017’s Catchiest, Most Lyrically Searing Releases

Back in the mid-zeros, soul singer Alice Lee was one of the most distinctive and individualistic artists in what was a thriving Lower East Side and Brooklyn music scene. She remains one of the most eclectic tunesmiths to emerge from there, blending jazz sophistication, trippy downtempo ambience, and a little slashing punk-funk or downtown guitar skronk into her uneasy, picturesque songs. This blog’s predecessor picked her 2005 release Lovers and Losers as one of the thousand best albums of all time. That one was sort of a mashup of Nina Simone and Fiona Apple.

In the years since then, gentrification continued to blight neighborhoods across the city, and Lee was one of the thousands driven out by the luxury-condo blitzkrieg. These days she’s been dividing her time between here and Guatemala, continuing to play her own music as well as tropicalia and jazz throughout Central America. Now, she finally has a new album, The Wheel – streaming at Bandcamp – and a a show coming on on May 25 at 9 PM Pete’s Candy Store, one of the few remaining venues that she played back in the day that’s still open.

Although there’s great elegance and nuance in her voice on these songs, the overall atmosphere is sobering and defiantly angry. Much of the material is awash in regret; the album’s best songs are searing narratives of 99-percenter struggles. She kicks things off with a swinging, lo-fi guitar-and-vocal jazz miniature, These Foolish Things: it’s over in a heartbeat, just like the affair it commemorates. The wickedly anthemic, trip-hop-tinged Where Are You My Love, a longtime concert favorite, captures Lee in the studio circa 2003 on electric piano, with Yuval Gabay on drums and Lee’s longtime producer, Pere Ubu and No Grave Like the Sea mastermind Tony Maimone on bass.David Johnson’s tersely biting Spanish guitar solo midway through matches the bittersweetness and longing in Lee’s voice as it finally rises at the end.

Most of the rest of the songs here feature Mark Schwartz on bass and Alejandro Vega on drums, with Maimone on the four-string on a handful of tracks. The blockbuster cut is the resolutely insistent Your Blues, an anthem for the era of Ferguson and Eric Garner, Lee doubletracking her blippy, distorted electric piano and judiciously resonant electric guitar:

Bend your life, break your back
For a system that bruises you
Twenty lashes in jail
When it fails you, accuses you
Don’t exist in the eyes of the law
They can do with you as they please
You stand up for yourself
And they bring you to your knees
Can’t look me in the eye
As you take your shot
The blood on your hands
Will come out in the wash
How can you stand by
Watch your brother fall and suffer
At the hands of another
How far are we from done
From disconnect and thinking we’re the only ones

Another electric piano groove, Letter to No One revisits the surreal, restless nocturnal vibe of much of Lovers & Losers:

My heart is overwhelmed
By a tide that won’t turn
I stumble forward, wondering how long
Before I wake
The key to happiness,
A secret no one else can crack
Always looking forward and
Never looking back

The album’s loopy, tricky, syncopated title track looks at the desperation of love in a time of wage slavery:

These days were meant for the dogs
You hit the blocks hard but you don’t get the job
Or you get the job but you’re full up in debt
That you spend the rest of your life trying to get ahead
…You don’t get a choice in the matter
Until you get caught

Lee revisits the theme in the briskly swinging, catchy, cynical Too Little Too Late, another big audience hit:

We go forward, two steps back
Hit play, repeat, don’t skip the track…
Watch the broken glass across the gap
Step on the line don’t let me pass the same way twice

Descent, set to an ironic downward chord progression, is Lee at her most harrowing and intense, with a creepy, tremolo-picked dreampop guitar solo:

Repetition is a curse
Save the chorus
Erase the verse
Where were you
When I was down
For the count, but not quite out
Passing ghost with no regrets
Learning to live and forget

The funky First and Sixth, another brooding nocturne, will resonate with anybody who has bittersweetly hazy memories of wee-hours hookups in what was then a (semi) affordable East Village on nights when the trains were all messed up: “Waiting on the L just out of luck, now I’m stuck at 14th St., waiting on my whiskey sour…it’s almost time for breakfast again…make no difference, hand to mouth…I don’t care if I’m the only one to get out of here alive.” This wasn’t such a long time ago, either.

Love Is a Thief, an elegant jazz waltz of sorts, dates from the early zeros and has the feel of early 60s Nina Simone blended with Velvets folk-rock: Lee plays it solo on acoustic guitar and piano. She works a psychedelically sparkling upward trajectory on the kiss-off anthem Left of Mine, brooding guitar jangle set to a funky shuffle beat. The album also includes a couple of remixes, including legendary Greenpoint producer Scotty Hard’s version of First and Sixth. It’s only May, but we may have the best album of 2017 here.

Shujaat Khan Envelops the Audience in Starry, Nocturnal Rapture at the Miller Theatre

Sitar virtuoso Shujaat Khan is as funny as his music is deep. His work is characterized by vastness, poignancy, and both subtle and explosive dynamics, but is also spiced with great wit. Friday night at the Miller Theatre, his seemingly sold-out show – booked by the World Music Institute in collaboration with Columbia University’s South Asia Institute – was rich with sparring and musical banter. He tantalized the audience with a fleeting series of gorgeously plaintive riffs early on, then engaged them more broadly with peek-a-boo syncopation. His sparring with father-and-son tabla players Samir and Dibyarka Chatterjee was as much a philosophical dialogue as it was it was a joust between old friends, throughout a rapturous two-hour performance of the nocturne Raga Jhinjhoti.

Khan addressed the crowd candidly before the show, explaining that he had just discovered that an audience Q&A had been planned for midway through the performance. “Does anybody have any questions?” he grinned. Quoting a joke by an old buddy, Khan demurred that “Musicians and paintings are a lot alike: they should be kept at a distance. You didn’t come here to hear me talk, did you?”  Saluting this New York audience for their passion and support for Indian classical music, he then took his time slowly unfolding the raga with a meticulousness and unselfconscious wonder for the simple resonance of a series of minimalistic phrases – like Morton Feldman without the fussiness.

The opening alap (solo improvisation) took Khan at least a half an hour. A couple of times, he threw a glance at the tablas, but the Chatterjees weren’t about to join the conversation yet: Khan was on a roll and they wanted to witness that as much as the crowd did. Slowly and matter-of-factly, he worked both sides of a dialogue, throwing in the occasional, strikingly energetic short phrase, as well as a few luridly shivery downward glissandos that became the night’s most adrenalizing recurrent tropes.

The tablas entered, first the father, then the son, then together. Khan scouted the perimeter and eventually settled on an enigmatically energetic, hypnotically circling midrange phrase that he used to anchor the percussionists’ cascading beats. The bandleader recalled having played New York with his own dad, the great Vilayat Khan, forty years ago, likening what the younger Chatterjee had to deal with as being “a deer in the headlights.”

From there, the trio were all about suspense and setting a mood. Just when the volume and intensity hinted that they might finally leave the ground, Khan would pull back. The trio peppered the starry warmth with irresistibly fun echo phrases, almost-pregnant pauses and then finally a brief interlude of low-key vocalese from the bandleader. After finally throwing caution to the wind, building a long crescendo that eventually hit doublespeed,and even more, Khan wound down the performance with a thoughtful, counterintuitive return to the conversation that brought the piece full circle.

The next show on the World Music Institute calendar is by another Indian group, trippy tabla/harmonium ensemble Talavya at the atrium at Lincoln Center this Thursday, May 18. The  concert is free, but you should plan on getting the space on Broadway at 63rd St. at least an hour before the 7:30 PM start time if you want to get in – and earlier, if you want a seat.

Funkrust Brass Band Release Their Mighty Debut Album on the Year’s Best Triplebill in Brooklyn

Funkrust Brass Band are one of the relatively newer bands in New York’s surprisingly vital Balkan music demimonde. Venues keep closing and working class people keep getting priced out of town, but it seems that at least half of the good horn players who are still here are in this band. They’re definitely the largest one of the bunch, sort of a Brooklyn counterpart to MarchFourth.

Ellia Bisker, who leads the lyrically excellent soul/chamber pop band Sweet Soubrette and is also half of menacing murder ballad duo Charming Disaster – who also have an excellent new album out – fronts this mighty crew. Their debut album Dark City – streaming at Bandcamp – is a party in a box, and a good approximation of the band’s explosive live show. For a release party, they’re headlining at around 10 PM on what might be the best triplebill of the year. It starts at 8 PM on May 19 at Matchless with guitar band Greek Judas – who make careening heavy psychedelia out of crime rhymes and hash-smoking anthems from the Greek resistance underworld of the 1920s and 30s – followed by the similarly explosive Raya Brass Band, who would probably be the best band in town most anywhere between the Danube and the Black Sea. Cover is $10.

Funkrust Brass Band waste no time opening the album with their signature song, Funkrust. Catchy tuba bassline underpinning its rat-a-tat trombones, cinematically rising trumpets and undulating groove, this mashup of Balkan brass and American funk sounds like an even more epic version of iconic Brooklyn band Slavic Soul Party.

Elevator begins as a vintage soul strut with an enigmatically bubbling trombone section; then Bisker gets on her bullhorn and all of a sudden it’s a hip-hop brass number that brings to mind the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. Zoology opens with a little latin percussion, a catchy tuba-funk bassline and some high-voltage call-and-response from high and low brass; then Bisker gets on the bullhorn again to encourage everybody to find their inner animal.

The title track, with its uneasy chromatics and tightly crescendoing swells, is the album’s most cinematic and distinctively Balkan number. Swamp Samba is the most original of the tunes here, an unexpected mashup of Balkan brass and Brazilian frevo. As with many of the cuts, Bisker has a good time poking fun at obsessions with technology.

The album’s most incongruously successful mashup is Catch Yr Death, which blends Balkan and Motown dance sounds: “They say it’s not gonna kill you, but they don’t feel like you do,” Bisker wails through a wall of trebly distortion. They wind up the album on a high note with Riptide, a blazing, ominously cinematic Hawaii 5-0 style theme with global warming allusions.

Like many of the Brooklyn Balkan contingent, Funkrust Brass Band has a revolving cast of characters. Co-leader and composer Phil Andrews plays trumpet along with Eva Arce, Andrew Schwartz and John Waters. Their all-female sax section comprises Cassandra Burrows, Anya Combs, Perrine Iannacchione, Danielle Kolker and Melissa Williams. Trombonists include Elizabeth Arce, Sherri Cohen, Phillip Mayer and Cecil Scheib. Matthew Cain and John Lynd play tuba; the percussion section includes Allison Heim, Francesca Hoffman, Monica Hunken, Alex Jung, Seth White and Josh Bisker.

The Battle of Santiago Bring Their Wild, Hard-Rocking Latin Dancefloor Jams to Red Hook

The Battle of Santiago sound like no other group on the planet. Ostensibly, they’re an Afro-Cuban dance band, but that’s just for starters. They also bring elements of Afrobeat, dub, south Asian sounds and even a little stadium rock to their undulating, serpentine dancefloor jams. They’re bringing their wild live show to Pioneer Works in Red Hook at 8 PM on May 14; the show is free.

Maybe more than anything, the Battle of Santiago are all about contrasts. They fill the sonic picture from boomy lows to airy highs over a clattering, hypnotic beat from Sty Larocque’s drums in tandem with the congas and percussion of Reimundo Sosa and Magdelys Savigne. Their album La Migra – an obvious reference to the terror facing displaced persons and immigrants these days – is streaming at Bandcamp.

It opens with the stormy, seven-minute jam Aguanileo, part shamanistic call-and-response chant, part Afrobeat and part dub, awash in ominous low brass and Lyle Crilly’s resonant guitar as bright alto sax flutters overhead. The second number, Rumba Libre sets distantly fiery, tremolo-picked guitar and a hypnotic interweave of horns over a circling, qawwali-like groove. In Pa’ Bailar, the band sticks with that pulse but picks up the energy, burning electric guitar anchoring the sax and Elizabeth Rodriguez’s violin. Congo is much the same, centered around a bright, anthemic Hawaii 5-0 brass hook.

After the music box-like miniature El Viajes del Bata, a balafon solo, the band brings back the bluster with Asi Vengo Yo, a blazing, galloping, cinematic theme awash in nebulous atmospherics, spiced with guitar, sax and a little reggaeton. Barasu-Ayo is a diptych, opening with a lively santeria chant over bubbly balafon, then picking up with a brisk Afrobeat drive and a scurrying Jason Hay baritone sax solo. With cloudbanks of synth slowly turning overhead, it’s the album’s most hypnotic number.

Se Me Complica, a big, dramatic Afrobeat jam, bounces along with clip-clop percussion. The album winds up with Bomba Grande,  a launching pad for a long, treetop-brushing bari sax solo. For those who like like Radiohead and Pink Floyd but wish that you could dance to them – or who would like Fela better if his music was more focused and heftier – this is your jam.

Omar Souleyman’s Soulful Rasp and Dancefloor Thud Brings New York Together in the West Village

It was Arabic music that drew what might have been this year’s most diverse crowd at any New York concert. Maybe it’s a stretch to credit Syrian crooner Omar Souleyman for uniting these people, but he definitely brought them together at his sold-out show last night booked by the World Music Institute at the Poisson Rouge.

The wannabe Republican operative leaning against the back wall of the club was bitching to his fiancee about how Donald Trump’s latest misadventures in reality tv-style management might bolster Democratic hopes in the 2018 midterm elections. Neither his fiancee nor her petite friend had much to say in response. Soon after, a mustachioed dark-skinned man arrived and whisked the fiancee’s friend off to the dance floor.

A few feet away, a lesbian couple twirled and whispered sweet nothings to each other in Arabic. Around the corner by the bar, a couple of preciously scruffy Bushwick boys in matching belly shirts did much the same, next to a posse of German tourists chugging shots and beers. Appearances can be deceiving, but the Arabic-speaking contingent seemed to be outnumbered at least three to one.

Souleyman took the stage to thunderous applause, rocking his signature kaffiyeh and desert shades and proceeded to glide back and forth across the stage, engaging the audience in one clapalong after another, for at least half of his roughly fifty-minute set. By the midpoint, he’d loosened up some. His voice haggard from constant touring, he took frequent breathers and left it to his supersonically fast keyboardist – who was the star of this show – to fill in the gaps. Although the duo had help – a pretty much relentless EDM thump-thump along with lots of synthy atmospherics emanating from a vintage analog mixing desk – most of the music seemed live. Resolute and focused behind his Hasan microtonal keyboard, the guy played Flight of the Bumblebee, or its Arabic counterpart, in hijaz mode for pretty much the duration of the set. This feat was made doubly difficult because of the split-second precision required to stay in sync with the relentless click track. 

For all the good vibes and the endless sea of dancers clapping along and making videos, Souleyman’s music is very much attuned to the here and now. After a suspenseful snakecharmer of an introductory taqsim, he launched into Chobi (Longing for Home), a standout track from his forthcoming album To Syria With Love, his distantly imploring baritone rasp set to machinegunning volleys of synthesized violin and flute patches. Souleyman worked more suspense later in the show with a long jam on the cheating anthem Kayan, another track from the forthcoming album, with all sorts of call-and-response between vocals and keys. He didn’t talk to the audience much, although his shout-outs to his home turf in Al-Jazira, Syria – which he hasn’t visited in six years – drew ferociously assertive applause. Is it any wonder that the Trump Administration wants to keep this kind of inclusive musical cross-pollination out of the country?

By the end of the show, the Bushwick boys had disappeared into the crowd of dancers. A tall Asian man stumbled from the melee and clung to a nonplussed music writer to avoid collapsing on the floor. The tall dude’s companion, a pretty woman in her 20s, made it clear that she was sick of him overdoing it. The Republican operative was all by himself in the back of the club: the bath salts had kicked in by now, and he was still swaying, eyes rolled back in his head, even though the music had stopped.

On the way out, there was no Souleyman vinyl for sale, but there was a big crowd milling around the World Music Institute table, everybody signing up for their email list. The WMI’s next show is tonight at 7:30 at the Miller Theatre at 116th and Broadway, with the great Indian sitar virtuoso Shujaat Khan, son of the legendary Vilayat Khan. Tix are as low as $15, a real bargain, and are still available as of this hour.

Sam Sowyrda Brings His Relentless, Spectacularly Hypnotic Percussion Pieces to Trans-Pecos

Percussionist Sam Sowyrda has a thing for dynamics. He likes to build his compositions almost imperceptibly, giving himself an enormous amount of range to explore when he wants to get really loud – or just sort of loud. That’s where the MalletKAT (electronic vibraphone) player from trippy quirk-instrumentalists Cloud Becomes Your Hand ends up about three minutes into the more than twenty-minute A-side of his debut solo album Luminous Horizons, streaming at Gold Bolus Recordings and also available on cassette. He’s airing out that material and probably a lot more at the release show on May 13 starting at around 3 at Trans-Pecos. Cover is $10; wild avant garde marching band Ashcan Orchestra (he’s a member) follow his opening set, then Sowyrda eventually closes the evening at around 5:30. Hallowed Bells, a synth duo who seem to be shooting for some kind of postrock/cinematic thing, play before the second set.

Vibraphone is his main axe, but here he plays a custom-built dulcimer made from a piano soundboard. After rising to a hammeringly precise pitch that brings to mind Louis Andriessen’s Worker’s Union, he lets the sound fall away to the occasional, resonant hit on what sound like temple gongs. Then, slowly and methodically, he builds toward a crescendo again with a calm, focused, gamelanesque approach that brings to mind Susie Ibarra. Is that a tremolo-picked guitar? A mbira? It’s just nuanced enough to give away the fact that it’s Sowyrda’s tireless fast-twitch muscles that are playing rapidfire volley after volley, rather than letting a laptop or a loop pedal do the work. The one-man orchestra effect that develops is as mesmerizing as any recent Michael Gordon percussion piece.

The B-side, the vibraphone piece Occidental Error, clocks in at a whopping 33 minutes plus. It follows a similar tangent, beginning louder but more minimalistic, creating more of a hypnotic effect with very subtle polyrhythmic shifts and then the album’s gentlest, most envelopingly resonant moments. For the hell of it, here’s how Sowyrda’s Bandcamp page is tagged: “experimental acoustic ambient beautiful noise drone textural New York.” Spot-on.

Rachael Kilgour’s New Album Transcends Trauma

Rachael Kilgour is the rare artist who sounds perfectly good in the studio, but onstage takes her formidable vocal skills to a level that few singers even attempt, let alone reach. Her Lincoln Center show last year was absolutely shattering. She cried during one of that evening’s saddest songs – that’s how deeply she inhabits her characters. And she’s hilarious, too: few songwriters can be so much fun, and so insightful, pillorying rightwing hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance.

But most of the material at that show wasn’t the political satire she’s best known for. The majority of the set was Americana ballads from her latest album Rabbit in the Road, streaming at her webpage. She’s bringing that harrowingly melismatic voice and alternately plaintive and biting tunesmithing to a couple of New York shows this month. On May 12 at 7 PM she’s at the Commons Cafe, 388 Atlantic Ave.in Cobble Hill; take any train to Atlantic Ave; The following night at 8, she’s at Caffe Vivaldi preceded at 7 by another eclectic songwriter with a sense of humor, Orly Bendavid & the Mona Dahls.

And now that you know how ferociously political Kilgour’s previous output is, now’s the time to tell you that her latest release is far more personal. It’s a breakup album.

Aie aie aie.

Michael Franti used to write brilliant political songs and raps back in the day. Then he decided that schlocky top 40 love ballads were his thing – and fell off the map. Paul Weller once fronted one of the best and most political punk rock bands ever, the Jam…and never wrote a song worth hearing after they broke up. Did Kilgour run out of gas too?

As it turns out, no. Her lyrics on the new album can be just as incisive and edgy, and she can still write a catchy hook and an anthemic chorus with the best of them. It’s just her focus that’s changed direction. It seems that Kilgour got blindsided in a particularly messy divorce. She’s been outspoken about how she wants to break down the barriers between audience and performer, and that she sees the new material as being therapeutic for both sides of that equation.

So it’s comforting on more than one level that she’s succeeded at what she wanted to achieve: this is the rare heartbreak narrative that doesn’t come across as mawkish or cliched. The album opens with a soul-tinged, somewhat stunned miniature that sets the stage. Deep Bruises is where the shock sinks in, Kilgour trying to talk herself through an endless cycle of despair: It’s the one song that best evokes her soaring, Orbison-esque angst when she slides up to a note to drive a chorus home. Steve Wynn’s Tears Won’t Help You Now is a good point of comparison.

Ready Freddie is the ballad that Kilgour had the hardest time getting through at the Lincoln Center gig. It’s an attempt to cheer up her adopted daughter, someone she’s obviously close to and missed terribly when she wrote it. it’s a theme she revisits almost as fervently later on the record. By contrast, Up From Down is a kiss-off anthem, if a muted one, set to a pleasant if innocuous full-band folk-pop arrangement.

Anger rises in Still My Wife, the homey imagery that Kilgour opens with giving way to a cheating tale straight out of a classic country ballad. The dismissive patronizing title track is songwriter vengeance at its most subtle and satisfying: in case you haven’t already figured it out, never, EVER mess with one, they always get even in the end

Don’t Need Anyone echoes the defiance of Kilgour’s political work as much as her vocals echo Neko Case. “You think I need a lover to save me from my grief? I don’t need distractions, I don’t need your second hand relief,” she insists. Likewise, Hit By a Bus balances mixed feelings with vindictiveness: guess which one wins.

Kilgour has had great fun mocking Christian extremists (some people mistake her for a born-again because they don’t get the joke). So I Pray might seem like quite a departure, but it’s a wish, rather than a call to some patriarchal force, and a launching pad for vocal pyrotechnics in a live setting. Even here, Kilgour can’t resist a delicious dig: “I pray, to no one in particular, that they’ll help you find your way.” The album’s concluding cut, Break Wide Open is the only place where it feels overproduced: it doesn’t really add anything. Needless to say, it’ll be interesting to see what direction Kilgour goes in after this. We could use her stiletto wit and inclusive vision right about now.  

The Sadies Bring Their Most Psychedelic Sounds Yet to the East Village

Americana fans need no introduction to Canadian quartet the Sadies, one of the world’s alltime great jangle bands. They’ve been around for about twenty years and they make fantastic albums. Their work with Neko Case is legendary. Their 2014 collaboration with Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie, a grim detour into southwestern gothic, was every bit as good. Interestingly, their latest album, Northern Passages – streaming at Bandcamp – is their hardest-rocking and most psychedelic release. Which shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody who’s seen the band lately: they blasted through a cover of Iggy Pop’s I Wanna Be Your Dog at a recent Bowery Ballroom gig. They’re playing Webster Hall on May 11 at 8 PM; tix are $25. On one hand, there are additional acts on the bill, opening and closing the night. But, hey, these guys are great live, whatever the circumstances.

With organ swirling calmly over drummer Mike Belitsky’s subtle rimshot pulse, the album’s opening track, Riverview Fog, has a laid-back Blonde on Blonde feel that mutes the song’s brooding lyrics. Brothers Dallas and Travis Good match guitar fury on Another Season Again’s careening post-Velvets drive: if the Brian Jonestown Massacre had been more focused, they would have sounded something like this.

The group ramps up the energy even higher with There Are No Words, a blast of waltzing fuzztone psychedelia spiced with icepick twelve-string guitar. Kurt Vile laconically tackles the torrential, aphoristic lyrics of It’s Easy (Like Walking), part Neil Young stoner folk, part classic, uneasy, minor-key Sadies jangle and clang. The band puts a twin-guitar snarl and then tack a noisy, unhinged outro onto late 60s Carnaby Street Britpop in The Elements Song: “We carry on, carry on, we pretend that nothing’s wrong,” the brothers harmonize.

Through Strange Eyes scampers along in the same newschool psychedelic jangle vein as the Allah-Las, but with an electric bluegrass edge. Honkytonk guitars and fiddle imbue God Bless the Infidels with a Sweetheart of the Rodeo proto-outlaw country vibe. Then the band washes the bitterly elegaic folk-rock of The Good Years in icy reverb guitar. “She knew these things would come in threes, maybe in fours…he haunted her before he was dead,” the Goods intone. It’s the album’s darkest and best song.

As Above, So Below is part stoic Beatles, part soaring, twelve string-fueled Byrds, a rich web of intertwining leads. Questions I Never Asked is the band at their most bittersweetly jangly and gorgeous, building out of glistening clang and twang to a roaring coda. That the album’s concluding instrumental, The Noise Museum, would be just as strong as the other tracks speaks to how memorably uneasy these songs are. Has there been an album this tuneful and guitarishly rich released in the last six months? Probably not.