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Tag: album review

Karen & the Sorrows Celebrate Their Excellent, Eclectic New Americana Album at Littlefield This Week

Over the last few years, Karen & the Sorrows have individualistically skirted the fringes of the New York Americana scene. Not all their songs are sad, and frontwoman Karen Pitttelman has no fear of mashing up different styles. Their debut album was a creepy New England gothic suite. Their second ome was a country-tinged janglerock record. Their latest album. Guaranteed Broken Heart – streaming at Bandcamp – is even more eclectic, featuring some of New York’s most electrifying musicians. Pittelman’s vocals are more dynamic and diverse than ever as well. She and the band are playing the album release show on Oct 18 at around 10:30 PM at Littlefield. Nimble, pensive acoustic guitarist/songwriter Genessa James‘ Onliest open the night at 8:30, followed by the exhilarating, fearlessly political, historically inspired Ebony Hillbillies, NYC’s only oldtime African-American string band. Cover is $10.

The title track opens the album: it’s a briskly brooding southwestern gothic shuffle with some cool tradeoffs between lead guitar and pedal steel. Cole Quest Rotante’s lingering dobro spices the loping second track, There You Are, blending with the pedal steel, mandolin and Rima Fand’s plaintive fiddle.

The band go back to darkly shuffling desert rock with the organ-driven Jonah and the Whale, Girls on Grass guitar goddess Barbara Endes winding it up with a deliciously slithery solo. Why Won’t You Come Back to Me has an even more haunting, spare, 19th century African-American gospel feel: “Oh my little angel, send me back to hell,” is the closing mantra.

Bowed bass, mandolin and banjo mingle with Fand’s mournful fiddle in the similarly rustic Appalachian gothic ballad Your New Life Now. Drummer Charles Burst gives the sad, lingering ballad Far Away a muted country backbeat: “Some people you can love up close, some from afar/The trick is knowing which they are,” Pittelman observes.

Third Time’s the Charm is an upbeat, pedal steel-fueled honkytonk number: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” sets up the chorus. Then they bring it down with the mournful Queen of Denial.

When People Show You Who They Are is a subdued, downcast, hypnotic folk-pop tune in Americana disguise. The group mash up electric Neil Young with tinges of oldschool soul in It Ain’t Me, then quietly shuffle through the melancholy Something True, with tantalizingly brief mandolin and fiddle solos. They close the album with a love ballad, You’re My Country Music. It’s inspiring to see a genuine New York original taking her sound and her songwriting to the next level.

Jenifer Jackson Returns to Her Catchy, Poignant Psychedelic Pop Roots

Of all the songwriters who built their careers in the incredibly fertile crucible of the Lower East Side New York scene in the late 90s and early zeros, Jenifer Jackson is one of the most prolific and arguably the best. Over the years, she’s moved from Beatlesque psychedelia to stark, brooding pastoral pop, bossa nova and harrowing, majestic art-rock. She’s also been a poineer of the DIY house concert tour circuit Her move to Austin in the early part of the decade springboarded a deep dive into Americana. Her latest album Paths – streaming at Bandcamp – is a return to the catchy, anthemic, eclectic psychedelic pop she made a name with early in her career. Jackson has a pair of New York gigs coming up next month. She’s at the Owl on Nov 3 at 8, then the next night, Nov 4 at the same time she’s at the big room at the Rockwood.

On the new record, her voice is more nuanced than ever; her lyrics are characteristically crystallized, imagistic and loaded with subext. There’s a restrained angst in her delivery as she soars up to the chorus on the elegantly waltzing opening track, Things I Meant to Tell You, Jim Hoke’s flute and Chris Carmichael’s one-man string quartet adding a stark baroque touch. As usual, Jackson lets the images of returning to a dusty room after a trip speak for themselves. It packs a gentle wallop.

There’s a delicate web of acoustic guitar fingerpicking beneath the orchestration in the tender early-dawn scenario First Bird. Then the band – which includes Brad Jones on guitars, bass and keys, Pat Sansone on guitar and mellotron and Josh Hunt on drums – picks up the pace with Back Home, a big, electric, organ-driven backbeat rocker. “The silence almost made me lose my mind,” Jackson confides: the tradeoff between organ and twelve-string guitar in the break is absolutely luscious.

Travelled Together, a bittersweet breakup ballad, has wintry, vintage 60s orchestration and Laurel Canyon psychedelic pop ambience: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Judy Henske catalog. Sultry Memory is a summery psychedelic soul ballad with shimmering vibraphone: it has the enigmatic lushness of Jackson’s classic 2007 Outskirts of a Giant Town and the lush Philly soul of Got To Have You, two standout numbers from Jackson’s vast output over the years.

Hey, Good is a wistful, hopeful, sprightly tune with ukulele and just a hint of brass: it could be a charming lost acoustic McCartney miniature from the White Album. Jackson brings back the electricity and the backbeat in Written in Stone: imagine the Byrds backing the Mamas & the Papas.

Jackson likes to put a good old-fashioned hard country tune on every album, and What Good’s a Memory is a picture-perfect vintage 60s tune, right down to the saloon piano and pedal steel. She wraps up the record with a country gospel-flavored piano ballad, Hail and Farewell. In a time where the brain drain out of New York stalled or even destroyed so many music careers, it’s testament to Jackson’s sheer talent (not to mention persistence) that she’s been able to stay on a creative tear that just won’t quit.

[If you’re looking for today’s Halloween installment, take a trip back to October 21 of last year for an underrated, darky psychedelic 2013 release – amazingly still available as a free download – by a New York band who should have gone a lot further than they did]

Purist Americana Rock Tunesmith Michaela Anne Brings Her Catchy Songs Back to Her Old Stomping Ground

Singer and bandleader Michaela Anne has built a devoted following with her blend of vintage honkytonk and twangy rock. Her catchy, smartly produced new album, Desert Dove – streaming at Bandcamp -, is much more rock than Americana-oriented, with keyboards, a string section and unexpected tinges of 80s new wave. Imagine Margo Price without the jamband interludes, or Tift Merritt with more elaborate arrangements. Michaela Anne and her band are playing the album release show on Oct 16 at 7 PM at the Mercury; adv tix at the counter, available M-F from about 5 til 7 PM, are $12.

The album’s first track, By Our Design is a determined, slightly bucolic powerpop song with sweeping strings: imagine Merrritt orchestrated by ELO’s Jeff Lynne. One Heart has windswept pedal steel and bluesy guitar…and cloying corporate urban pop overtones, too. It’s the only track here that should have been left among the outtakes.

I’m Not the Fire – as in “I’m not the fire, I’m just the smoke” – pulses along with a catchy backbeat and swirly organ. The brisk, deftly orchestrated, cynical roadtrip tale Child of the Wind is a dead ringer for a Jessie Kilguss song, while Tattered Torn and Blue (And Crazy) takes a turn toward Twin Peaks retro-Orbison noir pop.

The album’s title track is a steady, upbeat, anthemic, Mark Knopfler-esque tale about a ghostly archetype. Run Away With Me has a Tom Petty vibe; Michaela Anne takes until track eight before she hits the purist honkytonk with Two Fools, its mournful pedal steel and saloon piano.

If I Wanted Your Opinion is an unexpectedly fierce feminist anthem. Michaela Anne makes it clear that the last thing she wants is to be judged on her appearance:

I’m not a poster on the wall, not a porcelain doll
I think it’s funny how you think you run the show
You want to tell me how to sing, I’m not a puppet on a string
And if I wanted your opinion you would know

Somebody New is the new wave-iest tune here; the concluding cut is Be Easy, a simple, purposeful acoustic song, a word of comfort to a troubled friend. It’s cool to see a songwriter who honed her formidable chops playing an endless Dives of New York tour here reaching the point where she can play the tour circuit, where people will really appreciate her.

[If you’re looking for today’s Halloween piece, take a trip back in time on the mighty, ravenous condor wings of Merkabah, from exactly a year ago.]

Folk Noir Supergroup Bobtown Bring Up the Lights Just a Little

For about ten years, Bobtown have been the most bewitching three-part harmony folk noir supergroup in the world. Their three-woman frontline – percussionist/tenor guitarist Katherine Etzel, guitarist/banjo player Karen Dahlstrom and singer/percussionist Jen McDearman – are as eclectically skilled as songwriters as they are on the mic. Their new album Chasing the Sun is streaming at Bandcamp. They’re playing the album release show on  Oct 13 at 7 PM at the big room at the Rockwood; cover is $10.

As the band admit, this album is somewhat less relentlessly dark than their haunting back catalog. They open the new record with Daughters of the Dust, a moody, midtempo, metaphorically charged newgrass tune: “In our land of bone and rust, unsteady and shifting, will we ever find a place for us?” the three women ask.

“I hear the whispesrs, will she sink or swim?” Etzel muses as Kryptonite gets underway; then lead guitarist Alan Lee Backer’s twangy riffage kicks in, a defiantly swaying, anthenic toast to “Feed the hungry ghosts of all our glory days.”

The starkly fingerpicked intro to Come On Home is there to fake you out: it’s a Tex-Mex flavored romp. Special guest Serena Jost‘s cello adds haunting textures to the album’s lone cover, a dirgey, elegaic take of Tom Petty’s American Girl: who knew that this song was about suicide?

“The darkest heart and evil hand blind our children’s eyes, as every witness takes the stand to show the devil in disguise,” the group harmonize in Hazel, a melancholy, banjo-driven portrait echoing the theme of the Petty song. The subtly vindictive breakup ballad Let You Go is a throwback to the group’s early years, when they were reinventing old 19th century field hollers.

Etzel takes the lead for In My Bones, a blithely creepy, cynical country-pop tune about cheating the reaper, with an irresistibly funny round of vocals midway through. “I’m right to question everyrthing, I’m right about to scream,” McDearman intones in This Is My Heart, a wounded waltz. Then the band pick up the pace with the determined, optimistic Devil Down: it’s Bobtown’s take on what Tom Waits did with Keep the Devil Down in the Hole.

The best song on the album is Dahlstrom’s gospel-flavored No Man’s Land. It’s an anthem for the Metoo era, a soaring, defiant, venomous broadside, and it could be the best song of the year:

...No man has me at his command
No man can claim me for his own
I am no man’s land
No man’s book can tell my story
No man’s judge can understand
No man’s eyes can see my glory
I am no man’s land

As consistently excellent as the band’s recorded output is, nothing beats the way these three distinctive voices blend onstage

Middle Eastern-Tinged Jazz Intensity and an Upper West Side Album Release Show From Brilliant Bassist Petros Klampanis

Petros Klampanis is a highly sought after bassist in the New York jazz, Middle Eastern and Greek music scenes. He’s also a fantastic composer, combining elements of all those styles and more. His darkly intense latest album Irrationalities, a trio recording with pianist Kristjan Randalu and drummer Bodek Janke, is streaming at Spotify. He’s playing the release show on Oct 9 at 8:30 PM at Symphony Space; advance tix are $27.

The opening track, Easy Come Easy Go, has a sprightly, shuffling groove, Randalu’s glittering lines over fluttery percussion that subtly shifts toward clave as the piano grows more wary and modal: this mix of moody Middle Eastern and salsa-jazz is more than a little bittersweet. Klampanis’ use of eerie close harmonies and allusively levantine melody throughout the record raises the intensity several notches.

Seeing You Behind My Eyes follows the rises and falls between a similarly brooding tone poem and lithely dancing, judiciously spacious variations that finally peak out with Randalu’s spiraling, tumbling solo before coming full circle. The album’s title track makes gritttily majestic jazz out of a tricky Indian carnatic vocal theme, artfully melding uneasy chromatics with warmer hints of trad balladry and a masterfully intertwining piano solo. The false ending is a cool trick as well.

LIkewise, the polyrhythms between bass and piano as Thalassia Platia gets underway: what seems to be a wistful waltz turns out to be far more conflicted, with its aching lushness and a biting, upper-register bass solo. No Becomes Yes goes in the opposite direction, a rather stern, sometimes eerie melody expanding as the group let some sun burst through the clouds, although that’s not as simple as that might seem. Lots of persuasion going on here, apparently.

Klampanis winds up the album with its most epic number, the Nat Cole ballad Blame It On My Youth, cleverly triangulating the rhythm and adding a delicious surprise at the end. There are also a couple of coy miniatures, Temporary Secrets 2 and 3, blending urban found sounds with glockenspiel and a catchy bass riff. Purposeful, relentlessly tuneful and distinctively original, this is a stealth contender for one of the best jazz albums of the year

A Bracing, Slashing New Album and an October Release Show by Violin/Viola Duo andPlay

Maya Bennardo is one of the violinists in the perennially ambitious Mivos Quartet. Hannah Levinson is the violist of indie classical chamber group the Talea Ensemble. Together, the two musicians call themselves andPlay. With a similar ambition and, yeah, playfulness, they’re advocates for exciting new repertoire for their two instruments. Their debut album Playlist is streaming at Bandcamp. They’re playing the release show at the Metropolis Ensemble‘s intimate second-floor digs at 1 Rivington St. on Oct 4 at 7:30 PM. Cover is $15; the entrance is a few steps past the southeast corner of Rivington and Bowery

The new record features four new compositions which explore the many ways that string players can employ sharp, fleeting figures: most of it is the opposite of atmospheric music. Frequent, it seems that there are more than two instruments playing.

There are two David Bird works: the first, Bezier has brief scrapes, coyly stairstepping riffs, chirpy microtones and grimly intertwining tritones contrasting with wanly sepulchral washes. It brings to mind Messiaen’s experiments in evoking birdsong. The epic Apochrypha, which closes the album, has flitting electronic bits that blend with and then fight the alternately still and agitatedly flickering strings.

Ashkan Behzadi’s Crescita Plastica, the opening track,, begins with a slithery downward swipe followed by suspensefully spaced, shivery phrases and troubled call-and-response. As the two instruments shriek and scrape fitfully, it strongly evokes the work of Michael Hersch. Clara Ionatta‘s Limun comes across as a couple of friendly ghosts in a game of peek-a-boo and then gives way to drifting horizontality. For the most part, this isn’t easy listening, but it’s an awful lot of fun for people who gravitate toward stark, edgy harmonies and textures.

A Classic Reissue and a Rare Williamsburg Gig from Heavy Psychedelic Legends Acid King

More about that killer triplebill on Sept 30 starting at 8 PM at the Knitting Factory. The New York music scene is in serious trouble if the best available venue for pummeling horror punkmetal band Warish, the epic Wizard Rifle and heavy psych legends Acid King is this undersized if sonically excellent Williamsburg bar. OK, maybe the show was a last-minue addition to the tour, but it’s safe to say – or at least it used to be safe to say – that there are more fans of heavy stoner sounds in New York than can fit into that space. Cover is $20; because of the L-pocalypse, you’ll either have to take the G to Lorimer St., or take the J/M to Marcy and take a ten-minute walk up Havemeyer to the venue. Desperate times, desperate measures.

Over the past two decades, headliners Acid King have validated that hubristic name, to the point where Riding Easy Records is banking on the hope that there’s money in a vinyl reissue of their classic 1999 debut album Busse Woods, streaming at Bandcamp. And why not? Who ever would have thought that we’d come to the point where we could replace those cold, digital cds with good quality vinyl?

The album is a suite, more or less, centered around Brian Hill’s spare, menacing minor-key basslines. The first track is Electric Machine, with its slow, sludgy, fuzztone chromatics, singer/guitarist Lori S’s voice floating ethereally over the crawling dirge underneath. Ozzy had the voice to do this with Sabbath but was apparently too wasted to figure it out until after the fact. Hill rumbles around the gravel in tandem with drummer Joey Osbourne as Lori finally goes up the scale. How rare is it to find a metal band who play so few notes and make all of them count?

That relentlessness serves them well throughout the rest of the record. They build Silent Circle around a familiar descending blues riff. Likewise, the icy solo bass intro to Drive Fast, Take Chances – the slowest song ever written about drunk driving – is the cornerstone for some unexpectedly subtle variations.

Hypnotic funeral-bell bass chords introduce 39 Lashes, a sick, macabre countdown to a mutedly twisted peak you can see comimg a mile away – although the outro is a surprise. The band move in tight, glacially slow formation in Carve the 5, disembodied vocals eventually giving way to a cleverly doubletracked bassline and uneasy fuzztone guitar. They close with the menacingly atmospheric instrumental title track. On the album cover, they still look like the alienated, angry kids who would escape to the outskirts of Chicago to get high, crank their car stereos and get away from the ugliness around them. It’s only gotten uglier since.

Warish Bring Their Hard, Fast Attack to the Knitting Factory

Warish play hard, fast, heavy music that sounds a lot like Queens of the Stone Age: metal chord changes at punk speed. They’re not big on guitar solos but they are big on hooks and evil chromatics. They like their textures fuzzy and dry, Pantera-style. Their new album Down in Flames – which doesn’t seem to be a Dead Boys reference – is streaming at Bandcamp. On the record, they tend to pair similar-sounding songs together, maybe because the tunes here are on the short side: no wasted notes. Warish are playing the Knitting Factory on Sept 30 at 8 PM followed by the epic Wizard Rifle and then psychedelic doom legends Acid King; cover is $20. Because of the L-pocalypse, you’ll need to find a way to take the G train – which doesn’t have any scheduled delays that night, at least as far as we know – to connect with whichever subway you’re taking home.

The album’s first track, Healter Skelter doesn’t sound anything like the Beatles, but it does sound exactly like QOTSA: fast, gritty, simple riffage, mostly a one-chord jam. You’ll Abide has the same kind of hammering QOTSA drive, but the changes are just as fast and furious and a lot catchier.

Big Time Spender has gleefully evil doomy hammer-ons from frontman/guitarist Riley Hawk in between the bludgeoning riffs; Bleed Me Free follows the same pattern. With its catchy 3-2-1 minor-key hook, the desperate wartime trench tune In a Hole is the album’s punkest tune. Then they follow with Bones, which is much the same.

Voices has an especially tasty chromatic menace and hints of horror garage rock. They go back toward punk with Fight and its slithery raga-rock intro. Then, in Shivers, they shift from wide-angle psychedelic chords to straight-ahead punk and a little halfspeed Sabbath.

Running Scared could be surf punk legends Agent Orange at their heaviest. The album closes with the cynical, QOTSA-style blues-tinged Their Disguise – finally, a shreddy guitar solo, and it’s unhingedly good! Their Disguise. Not a single weak song on this record: these guys have really figured out their sound. If you like speed and power, this is for you

A Rare New York Appearance by Peruvian Amazon Psychedelic Legends Los Wembler’s de Iquitos

In the late 60s, in a remote Peruvian Amazon oil town, the late guitarist Salomon Sanchez started a psychedelic cumbia group. It was a family band: his twelve-year-old son, the drummer, was the junior member. Sanchez named the group Los Wembler’s de Iquitos (the apostrophe was intentional, a mistake of primitive English), namechecking both his hometown along with Wembley Stadium in the UK. In the next decade or so, they put out a lot of records, toured relentlessly and became known as one of the most feral of all the groups mashing up American surf rock, psychedelia, ancient Peruvian melodies and Colombian cumbia into what’s now called chicha music. They never got to Wembley Stadium….at least not so far. But Los Wembler’s – with almost all of their original members – are making an extremely rare US appearance at the Poisson Rouge on Sept 23 at around 9 PM. The more rustic, acoustic Combo Lulo open the show at 8; you can get in for $20 in advance.

Rediscovered by Chicha Libre, the originators of Brooklyn psychedelic cumbia, Los Wembler’s put out an incredibly fresh-sounding ep in 2017, revealing their chops completely undiminshed by the wear and tear of half a century. Even more astonishingly, they have a new full-length album, Vision del Ayahuasca, just out from Barbes Records and streaming at Spotify. Recorded mostly live in the studio in a marathon two-day session in Lyon, France, it’s one of the trippiest and most deliciously strange records of the year. Most of the songs are basically instrumentals; the lyrics are funny and deal with dancing, partying, drugs and the battle of the sexes.

The undulating opening number, Lamentico Selvatico is exactly what the group sound like live: layers of surrealistically intertwining jangle and clang, and wah-wah and reverb, over a minor-key bassline and a rattling, shapeshifting percussion section It’s dance music, but it’s also psychedelic to the extreme, a kaleidoscope of textures rippling through the sonic picture.

There are hints of Indian music, and early 60s Bakersfield twang, in the album’s alternately majestic and trebly title track – or maybe that’s just what you hear while tripping on ayahuasca. Lead player Alberto Sanchez’s riffs in Mi Caprichito, a rapidfire minor-key shuffle, are part Dick Dale, part warped horror surf. Then the band slow things down a bit with the bright, spiky No Me Vuelvo a Enamorar. and the even more unselfconsciously cheery, catchy Cosa Muy Rico.

After five decades of doing this, they’ve earned the right to play Los Wembler’s Para El Mundo, a victory lap reminding how their once obscure jungle sound took over the world (cumbia bands tend to be just as self-referential as rappers).

Un Amor Que Se Va shuffles and clangs along bittersweetly, while Triste y Sola isn’t really a waltz, or cumbia, and it’s not straightforwardly sad and desolate either. Like the rest of the songs here, it defies description.

El Puente De Aguaytia is a mostly one-chord jam with sunshiney lead lines over muted wah riffs. The group wind up the album with the haphazardly swaying Todo Es Mentira, the most vivid and careeningly psychedelic throwback to their early years. If you’re in the right mood and open to the unexpected, there aren’t many albums that make you feel as good all over as much as this one does. Watch for it on the best albums of 2019 page here at the end of the year.

Monograms Bring Their Spot-On Gothic 80s Sound to Bushwick This Weekend

Monograms call themselves “New York’s nuke wave.” In an era when rock music has become a legacy style like bluegrass or roots reggae, this four-piece band do a great job emulating the dark side of early 80s British new wave, particularly the Cure around the time of the Pornography album. Monograms’ debut album Living Wire is streaming at Bandcamp; they’re playing the release show on Sept 21 at 9ish at the Broadway, the recently reopened former Gateway space at 1272 Broadway in Bushwick. The noisy Big Bliss play beforehand. Most of the shows at the Gateway were pass-the-hat: the venue doesn’t have a website. so it’s it not clear if that’s the situation, or if there’s a cover charge. Take the J to Gates Ave. and walk back toward Williamsburg a couple of blocks.

The album opens with the opaque Buzz Choir, a swirly, dreampop-tinged take on Joy Division. The second track, Sounds Like Mean Spirit is total 80s goth, frontman Ian Jacobs’ spare, catchy, watery chorus-box guitar over Sam Bartos’ snappy, trebly bass and Rich Carrillo’s skittish 2/4 drumbeat. In the background, Michelle Feliciano’s synth quivers and oscillates.

Likewise, Don’t Fight For It is awash in grey-sky string synth and icy guitar/bass textures: it’s basically a one-chord song. The chugging dancefloor beats and washes of synth in Nose Dive are pure New Order circa 1981. Common Circles has some neat guitar/bass/synth tradeoffs, while the gloomily propulsive Century pulses with fried-plastic textures.

Garbage Can could be an especially guitarish outtake by mid-80s New Order; likewise, the final cut, Pirate Government Inc. is a denser take on early Human League (before that band got all poppy).

For the most part, lyrics and vocals don’t really figure into this band’s music: it’s all about the chilly ambience. If you have an aunt or uncle who spent time at any of the New York goth palaces like Slimelight or the Cooler back in the 90s, ask them if they have any black eyeliner you can borrow for the Bushwick gig.