New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: Alec Spiegelman sax

Surreal, Entertaining, Strangely Cinematic Themes on Curtis Hasselbring’s New Album

Curtis Hasselbring may be best known as one of the mostly highly sought-after trombonists in the New York jazz scene, but he also plays a lot of other instruments. As a guitarist, he has a very distinctive, jagged style and impeccable taste in late 70s/early 80s postpunk and new wave. He’s been involved with innumerable projects over the years, but his most psychedelic one is Curha, his mostly one-man band. Hasselbring’s music has always been defined by his sense of humor, but this is where you’ll find some of his funniest songs. The brand-new Curha II album is streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening track, Casa Grande is a tongue-in-cheek surf tune with neatly intertwining guitars and keening funeral organ, Dan Reiser supplying a low-key beach-party beat. He sticks around for the second track, Togar, an outer-space Motown theme, guest guitarist Brandon Seabrook mimicking the squiggle of the keys.

Hasselbring keeps the sci-fi sonics going in Sick of Ants!: listen closely to the watery guitar and you’ll catch his appreciation for the late, great John McGeoch of Siouxsie & the Banshees and PiL. How airy is Blimp Enthusiast, a rare vocal number? Not particularly, but this quasi trip-hop song is very funny.

The blippy Blaster comes across as a motorik tv theme on whippits. With its loopy low-register piano and clip-clop beats, Soap makes even less sense until Peter Hess’ bass clarinet ushers in a somber mood for a second. Hasselbring’s trombone appears distinctly for the first time in Murgatroid, a clever mashup of 70s disco, outer-space theme and early new wave.

With its intricately dancing web of guitar multitracks, the rather disquieting MMS has echoes of early 80s Robert Fripp; then Hasselbring takes it further toward acid jazz. He goes back to lo-fi motorik minimalism with Totally Hired, then shifts toward spare, 90s electro-lounge with History of Vistas.

He closes the album with the coyly tiptoeing Her Pebble Fusion and then Blown Bubble Blues, which is kind of obvious but irresistibly fun. Hip-hop artists in need of far-out samples need look no further. You don’t have to be high to enjoy this, but it couldn’t hurt.

A Southwestern Gothic Masterpiece and a Williamsburg Show by the Revitalized Beat Circus

Beat Circus‘ lavish new album These Wicked Things – streaming at Bandcamp – is a soundtrack to an imaginery western. It’s the hardest-rocking record the esteemed Innova Records label – a destination for some of this era’s most vital serious concert music – has ever put out. Rock is a new thing for them, but they couldn’t have picked a better group than this. Beat Circus were the real thing: they played under a big tent. And they’re back, over twenty-five years later, with a characteristically cinematic southwestern gothic concept album, arguably the best thing bandleader Brian Carpenter has ever put out. They’re playing the release show at around 8 PM on April 25 at National Sawdust. Coyly psychedelic, cinematic, faux-Italian instrumentalists Tredici Bacci open the night at 7; advance tix are $20, and even if the show goes two hours – which it probably will- there’s still time to get to the Bedford Ave. train station before the L shuts down.

Frontman/multi-instrumentalist Carpenter has turned back in a dark direction recently, after focusing on another project, the far more blithe and upbeat Ghost Train Orchestra for several years. This album is a delicious return to form. The album cover pretty much gives it away: a man and woman in black silhouette, standing under stormclouds between a highway billboard and a 1970 Ford Mustang convertible.

The core of the band comprises Andrew Stern on guitars, Paul Dilley on bass and Gavin McCarthy on drums. The opening track, Murieta’s Last Ride, is an oscillating, loopy, Peter Gunne Theme-ish instrumental. The title track has a menacing bolero sway enhanced by the swirling orchestral arrangement: that’s Abigale Reisman on violin, Emily Bookwalter on viola, Alec Spiegelman on bass clarinet and Brad Balliett on bassoon.

“I wonder what she was involved in,” Carrpenter croons, regarding the dead woman in Bad Motel, a pulsing, retro-60s garage-psych number “If you need some help, it’s the last place to go.” Just a Lost, Lost Dream comes across as a scampering, slide guitar-fueled tale on the Gun Club, with a better singer. Hey – that ghost on the highway reference won’t be lost on those who remember good 80s music. They follow that with the jaggedly orchestrated syncopation of the instrumental Crow Killer, which brings to mind fellow noir luminaries Big Lazy.

Spiegelman’s crescendoing tenor sax flurries offer slight hope for the hitchhiker in the briskly shuffing Gone, Gone, Gone. The Girl From the West Country comes across as a Morricone spaghetti western homage, as do the two Rosita themes here, a defly orchestrated tango, and then a swaying huapango with a defly spiraling acoustic guitar intro: imagine Giant Sand backed by a lush mariachi band..

“It”s 2 AM on the side of the road, looks like we’re not moving – I’ll take the wheel if you turn the key,” Carpenter suggests in the Lynchian waltz The Key. All the Pretty Horses is a tumbling instrumental for reverb guitar and drums. Bill Cole’s Chinese suona oboe gives Childe Rolande to the Dark Tower Came a keening, quavering eeriness, then goes absolutely nuts along with the guitars in The Evening Redness in the West.

The band hit a skronky sway in The Last Man ((Is There Anbyody Out There), a surreallistically swinging Lynchian blend of beat poetry and a Balkan-tinged chorale set to menacingly orchestrated desert rock. The concluding instrumental, Long Way Home is a similarly astigmatic mashup of spaghetti western sonics and loopily orchestrated minimalsim. Watch for this on the best albums of 2019 page here if we make it that far.

Catching Up with Avi Fox-Rosen

Avi Fox-Rosen is on a mission to put out the best album of the year – or the twelve best albums of the year. His conceptual album-a-month project, one of the most ambitious jobs anyone in the rock world has taken on lately, doesn’t seem in any danger of slowing down. His initial release in the series got a thumbs-up here back in January and since then the albums have only gotten stronger. Other bands have famously released humungous amounts of music on a single album, or over a short period of time, but by comparison to Fox-Rosen, they’re all cheaters. Most of the songs on the Magnetic Fields’ hundred-song album are about a minute long and three chords at best; Vole’s hundred-song album, the first of its kind, saw them adding their own lyrics to other people’s music (i.e. turning the Clash’s Safe European Home into Greenpoint Pet Food Store).

Fox-Rosen, on the other hand, writes intricately and lyrically in a whole slew of styles, from funk, to oldtimey swing, to snarkily satirical powerpop, to all kinds of art-rock, some of it with pensive shades of the klezmer music he’s immersed himself in over the past few years. If he keeps this project up for the rest of the year, there won’t be another artist in the world who’ll be able to keep pace. Nor has this blog been able to keep up with him. So this is a long overdue look at what he’s been putting out, all as name-your-price releases at his Bandcamp page.

More than anything, Fox-Rosen’s songs are funny. As a guy who makes a living playing guitar – and also plays in Yiddish Princess, who do hair-metal versions of old Jewish songs – he’s learned a vast supply of cheesy riffs and sprinkles them with surprisingly good taste throughout his songs for plenty of laughs. He’s big on satire. The funniest of all the songs on the five albums he’s put out since February is on April’s album (the best of the bunch so far), a spot-on spoof of phony-sensitive Counting Crows style janglerock. The song is titled Plastic Los Angeles: the cynically sentimental lyrics are a hoot, but the music is even funnier. Fox-Rosen not only has the lazy chord voicings down cold, he also has the lazy inflections and amp settings down so cold that you don’t even notice that the song doesn’t have any drums. The rest of that album puts a simmering anger front and center, no surprise since the central theme is stupidity. The other songs include a cruelly hilarious Christian rock parody, an even crueller dis of cluelessly rapt, trendoid web surfers set to fake early 80s disco, a wickedly crude nod to Huey Lewis, a slightly subtler power ballad that references Oasis and a brief spoof of computerized club music.

March’s album is also very funny: it’s about money. Fox-Rosen quotes Hendrix and gets more bombastic from there on the first track, a raised middle finger to an arrogant one-percenter. I Went to College cleverly explores the limited options remaining for a guy with a degree in “esoterica” in the era when “entitlement all came tumbling down,” while All It Takes Is Money alludes to how the world’s oldest profession is a prototype for pretty much every other kind of transaction. Then Fox-Rosen drops the comedy and gets serious with a couple of biting folk-rock anthems: How Sharp Does the Bite Need to Be, a parable of a sleeping village surrounded by wolves, and the bitterly elegant Wish I Could Still Believe.

The theme of May’s album is fairy tales. Jack and the Beanstalk gets retold as a metal spoof, The Emperor’s New Clothes as snarky  power ballad parody, the Ugly Duckling as a snarling mix of klezmer, swing and noir cabaret. Fox-Rosen’s take on Rapunzel makes fun of a gentrifier girl in her highrise, while the funniest track, Don’t Let Go, flips the bird to Oprah-esque top 40 ballads from an unexpectedly diabolical point of view.

February’s album takes a jaundiced look at love, “A word you have to say so you don’t hurt the feelings of people who like to say it more than you….love is the biggest pain in your ass,” Fox-Rosen complains. A swinging country shuffle, a pensive art-pop song, a jaunty swing number, a garage rock tune and a creepy carnivalesque take on what the Beatles did with When I’m 64 round it out: it’s the most straightforward of all the albums so far.

This month’s album is about teen angst, and once again Fox-Rosen is heavy on the parody. Second-generation Chuck Berry by bands like Rockpile, Henry Mancini-style boudoir pop and 80s synth-pop each get a good spoof, followed by an unexpectedly serious, Beatlesque folk-pop song and a sexy new wave tune titled Cyanide. This time around, Fox-Rosen takes teenage lyrics by Heather Warfel Sandler, Leah Koenig and Sarah Zarrow and sets them to music for the final three tracks. It’s going to be a lot of fun to see what he has in mind for July. Throughout the series, Fox-Rosen plays most of the stringed instruments – guitars, bass and mandolin as well as keys – with contributions from several drummers as well as Michael Winograd and Dave Melton on keys plus Patrick Farrell on accordion and Alec Spiegelman adding some excellent clarinet and sax on the June edition.