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Tag: botanica band

An Aptly Restless Album and a Red Hook Gig From Genre-Defying Pianist Gabriel Zucker

Pianist Gabriel Zucker has carved out a distinctive niche as a leader in the New York improvisational music scene. He is an anomaly in that he has a strong neoromantic classical sensibility, and likes to both muddy the water (or clear the skies) with electronics. His songs can be incredibly tuneful one moment and messy the next. His latest album Leftover Beats, was recorded live in the studio on the Fourth of July, 2019 is streaming at Bandcamp and is more of an art-rock record. David Bowie and Radiohead are the most obvious influences.

Zucker’s spare, lingering, wistful phrases quickly dissolve in a chaotic whirlpool as the album’s title track gets underway, guitarist Tal Yahalom’s dissociative phrasing sliding closer to the center as drummer Alex Goldberg drives this babelogue upward to A Day in the Life, more or less.

The group follow a bit of a Radiohead-flavored interlude into the second number, Shallow Times and its snidely loopy late 70s Bowie-esque art-rock drama. Yahalom slips into the skronky Adrian Belew role.

“I used to write so much more than I do, I used to fall in love so much more than I do,” Zucker intones with more than a hint of angst in Songbird, a bittersweet ballad livened with Goldberg’s tumbling drums. It’s the missing link between the Grateful Dead and peak-era mid-zeros Botanica.

The trio veer from a lingering ballad to a cascading art-rock crush in Someone to Watch You, Part 2. Drunken Calypso definitely sounds drunken but not particular Caribbean, each band member squirreling their way toward an emphatic unity, Predictably, Zucker completely flips the script with an attractive take of the Dirty Projectors’ Impregnable Question, a ballad without words. He returns to a mashup of Radiohead, Botanica and jazz poetry to wind up the record with Someone to Watch You, Part 3.

Zucker’s next gig is May 15 at 7 PM at the Red Hook Record Store on Van Brunt just before you hit Pioneer; it’s about a fifteen-minute walk from the front of the downtown F train at Carroll St. Take First Place all the way to Summit, go over the pedestrian bridge, make a u-turn and then follow Summit past the playground triangle and hang a left on Van Brunt.

The Shining Tongues’ Haunting Debut Album Transcends a Tragic Loss

The Shining Tongues are the surviving members of the Infinite Three, who proved tragically less infinite with the loss of their drummer Paul Middleton in the fall of 2019. Multi-instrumentalists Daniel Knowler and Sam McLaughlin pulled the project together last year, so there are probably multiple levels of grief and angst in their bitingly ornate, often psychedelically tinged art-rock songs. There’s a towering High Romantic sensibility as well as a fluency in dark 80s British sounds on their debut album Milk of God, streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening track, The Idiot Skin begins as Blondie’s One Way or Another with distant Indian inflections; then the band take it into a pouncing, darkly anthemic direction, sparkling with guitars and keys. Botanica in their early years is a good point of comparison.

They shift to slow-burning post-Velvets janglerock for the second track, Buildings. The sense of rage and loss is visceral, and builds to a dirty inferno: it could be New Model Army at their early 90s peak. Behind the shiny brass and keening organ, It Is Fear draws a straight line back to early Wire.

Nourishment is a recurrent metaphor here. Track four, Eating Bread is the album’s lingering, rainswept centerpiece: this time it’s the Smiths in a rare moment of relative calm who come to mind. After that, the band boil up a blend of 13th Floor Elevators and late 60s Laurel Canyon psych-pop in Rice.

They return to angst-fueled acoustic-electric anthem territory in 6/8 time with Natural Slab. The album’s most lavishly orchestral track, Annihilation has a wealth of dark textures: fuzztone repeaterbox guitar, symphonic keys and a lush bed of acoustic guitars.

Swallow Heaven is not a place for dead birds but a desperate, gloomy, gothic folk-tinged anthem. From there the band segue into Humming/Dissolving, a swirling soundscape shedding eerie overtones.

From there, the leap into The Undefiled Absorption of Supreme Bliss, a triumphantly loopy instrumental, is quite a shock. The band wind up the record with Make Us Eat, which comes across as a grim Mitteleuropean take on what Australian spacerock legends the Church were doing in the 80s. Much as 2021 has been the slowest year for rock records since rock music first existed, this is one of the year’s best.

An Incendiary Concert at a Legendary Studio Immortalized on the BC 35 Album

Martin Bisi is a legend of the New York underground  – and he’s hardly a stranger in many other worlds as well. As a young engineer in 1983, he vaulted to prominence by winning a Grammy for his work on Herbie Hancock’s hit Rockit, which would go on to be sampled by thousands of hip-hop acts over the decades. The vast list of acts Bisi has worked with at his legendary Gowanus digs BC Studios runs from Sonic Youth  to John Zorn to the Dresden Dolls. 

His new album BC 35 – streaming at Bandcamp – was recorded in front of a live audience there over the course of a marathon weekend in January of 2016, a historic event very enthusiastically reviewed here. True to form, Bisi also recorded it and played with many of the groups on the bill, in celebration of the studio’s 35th anniversary. Much as he’s as distinctive and darkly erudite a guitarist as he is a producer, he’s somewhere in the mix here on three tracks: characteristically, he isn’t being ostentatious. His latest gig is at El Cortez on Sept 1 at around 8 on a killer triplebill, in between the perennially sick, twisted noiserock of the Sediment Club and the headliners, no wave sax legends James Chance & the Contortions. Cover is $20.

The order of the tracks leaps back and forth between the Saturday and Sunday sessions. The album’s most notable cut is Details of the Madness, the first recording and live performance by 80s noiserock legends Live Skull (who call themselves New Old Skull here) since 1998. guitarist Mark C, bassist Marnie Greenholz Jaffe and drummer Rich Hutchins pick up like they never left off, enigmatically catchy, icy guitar multitracks over a relentless fuzztone swing that slows with an ominous nod to Joy Division.

Some of these tracks are improvisations, including the album’s opening number, Nowhere Near the Rainbow. Original Sonic Youth drummer Bob Bert gives Parlor Walls guitarist Alyse Lamb, Skeleton Boy from Woman and Lubricated Goat’s Stu Spasm a slinky pulse for sputters and squall punctuated by the occasional anthemic goth riff. SYNESTHESIA!  – an Alice Donut reunion, more or less – is similar but much dirtier. Denton’s Dive – with Hutchins, Skeleton Boy, Dave W, Phil Puleo and Ivan Up – is practically ten minutes of sludgecore, dissociative reverbtoned noise and swaying atrocity exhibition atmosphere.

Here’s how this blog described the Sunday session jam What a Jerk: “Algis Kisys of Swans jousted with ex-Cop Shoot Cop bassist Jack Natz and drummer Jim Coleman for a ferocious blast through a hornet’s nest of needle-pinning fuzztones and booming low-register chords.” What’s here is a judicious edit – if noiserock jams can be judiciously edited, Bisi’s definitely the man for the job. After that, Tidal Channel’s no wave synth-and-spoken-word piece Humash Wealth Management, Inc. keeps the assault going full force.

JG Thirlwell’s characteristically creepy, southwestern gothic overture Downhill features Insect Ark’s Dana Schechter on bass and violinist Laura Ortman leading a full string section. It is probably less memorable for being this blog’s owner’s most recent appearance on album, as part of the impromptu “BC Radiophonic Choir.”

The lineup on The Animals Speak Truth includes Barbez’s Dan Kaufman on guitar, Botanica’s Paul Wallfisch on organ and keys and the Dresden Dolls’ Brian Viglione on drums, maintaining the lingering lysergic menace in a vamping instrumental that picks up to a grimly tumbling, clustering pace.

Looking back to the weekend reportage again: “Susu guitarist Andrea Havis and drummer Oliver Rivera Drew (who made a tight rhythm section with baritone guitarist Diego Ferri, both of whom play in Bisi’s European touring band) backed Arrow’s soaring frontwoman Jeannie Fry through a swirl of post-MBV maelstrom sonics and wary, moodily crescendoing postpunk jangle.“ That’s His Word Against Mine, by JADO.

White Hills’ echoey End of the Line offers contrast as well as the weekend’s lone reference point to Brian Eno, BC Studios’ co-founder. Bolstered by Wallfisch and Viglione, noir singer/guitarist Ajda the Turkish Queen’s toweringly gorgeous, Lynchian waltz Take This Ride is the strongest track here. The album concludes with a noisy, hypnotically pulsing jam by Cinema Cinema plus David Lackner and Mikel Dos Santos, and more Tidal Channel assault. Warts and all, you’ll see this on the best albums of 2018 page at the end of the year, a magical piece of history. What a treat it was to be witness to most of it.

Mad Meg’s Killer Debut Album Mashes Up Elegant Art-Rock and Creepy Phantasmagoria

Being in New York is a mixed blessing a lot of the time these days. Musically speaking, it means that you miss out on all kinds of good stuff if you aren’t hooked into one expatriate scene or another . For example, Mad Meg have a devoted following in the Russian community, although they aren’t as well known outside that demimonde – and they ought to be. They’re sort of a mashup of all sorts of good, moodily carnivalesque acts – Gogol Bordello, Nick Cave and Botanica, just for starters. They’ve got a new album, the sardonically titled Puberty Tales – streaming at Bandcamp – and an album release show this Thursday, Sept 29 at 9:45 PM at Drom. Cover is $10.

The band played a tantalizing preview for this show with an expansive, theatrical set at the end of last week at Alexandre Gertsman Contemporary Art, THE go-to gallery for A-list Russian artists these days. Despite the fact that the band was playing practically all acoustic, they held a packed house rapt for practically an hour on an impromptu stage. Frontman Ilya Popenko swooped and circled out into the crowd: tall and wiry, decked out in a black suit, the Cave resemblance is unmistakable. But he’s the rare, distinctive artist who’s as adept at music as he is with visuals. His twisted Photoshopped tableaux – substituting his face for a series of twisted characters coiled up in corners, schmoozing sardonically around a holiday table or engaging in all sorts of sordid behavior – are as funny as his series based on the cult favorite Soviet cartoon Gena the Crocodile.

The album is as witheringly cynical as it is catchy. Over a frantic, horn-fueled circus rock pulse, Popenko explains that the Circling the Drain Dance is a global phenomenon. “Play whatever music that makes you less annoyed, say hello to people that you still don’t avoid.” It’s the prequel to Botanica’s Castration Tango.

With its flashy piano intro, Engineer is a mashup of Botanica art-rock and Tom Waits saloon blues, with a little Hunky Dory-era Bowie thrown in. Livable Lovable Life sets Jason Laney’s trippy, echoey Wurlitzer electric piano and a sarcastic horn chart to a furtive swing, the missing link between Dark Side-era Floyd and Botanica. Moscow Song disguises a classic Pretenders bassline – and coyly references another 80s new wave hit – underneath menacing lounge lizard piano.

Polish Girl switches between an organ-driven noir waltz and some neat counterpoint between growly baritone sax and accordion, the tale of a gold-digging girl “majoring in volleyball and all sorts of interesting games.” Scary People tales a scampering detour toward disco: “Sitting in the forest, drinking their PBR’s,” Popenko intones, trading rasps with James Hall’s trombone: “I’m not ever going out, never going out there.” Words of wisdom for anybody contemplating a train ride to Bushwick.

The piano-and-resonator-guitar textures throughout the surrealistic Sky Grows Taller are s psychedelic as they are plaintive. Sunday Nights takes an even more surreal turn toward psychedelic soul: “I’m just a little beat, not an alcoholic,” Popenko snarls. The Very Last Train is the sneaky killer cut here with its swirly organ solo and mix of noir swing, disco and Romany punk. And Torn follows a hypnotically nocturnal Jesus & Mary Chain sway. Blast this at your next party and you’re guaranteed to get at least one “Who is this?” or “Which Gogol Bordello album is this?”

A Fond Look Back at a Brooklyn Show by Noir Chanteuse Gemma Ray

It’s hard to fathom that Gemma Ray hasn’t played a New York show since a tantalizingly brief, luridly delicious set at Rough Trade about a year and a half ago during Colossal Musical Joke week. While it would be understandable if CMJ turned her off to this city, the now Berlin-based noir chanteuse/guitarist was originally scheduled to make an auspicious return this April 9 at the new Owl in Lefferts Gardens. Unfortunately, that gig has been cancelled. Stepping in to fill the slot is none other than Patti Smith’s lead guitarist and powerpop mastermind Lenny Kaye. Botanica pianist/frontman Paul Wallfisch is booking the venue that night, and the rest of this week with some of the best acts from his deep address book, both from playing and booking artists at his long-running Small Beast night at the Delancey a few years back – one of the very few genuinely essential weekly rock events this city’s ever produced.

The grim, overcast, rainy atmosphere outside the venue set the tone for Ray’s set that September day. Inside on the high stage, backed by just a drummer, the black-clad, leather-jacketed, raven-haired singer brought down the lights and turned the venue into a sonic Twin Peaks set, opening with a mutedly percussive ghoulabilly number. Ray has a very distinctive, terse guitar style, flinging bits and pieces of chords in between strums, not wasting a note – Randi Russo comes to mind. Ray also had fun teasing the crowd by leaving her loop pedal going in between songs, a red herring of a segue machine.

Ray’s vocals rose from an icepick alto to a wounded upper register on the shuffling, staggering noir blues The Right Thing Did Me Wrong. She brought things down low with a skeletally creepy 6/8 soul ballad, adding a nonchalantly chilling guitar solo full of murderous passing tones midway through. Ray and her drummer swayed their way through the doomed, starlit, Lynchian number after that, her reverb turned up all the way. The two then made a return to shuffling, anguishedly bluesy terrain with There Must Be More Than This, Ray punctuating it with a series of tremoloing, gutpunch chords midway through. Then she fingerpicked her way through the folk noir gloom of If You Want to Rock and Roll. She closed with a cantering, low-key take of the Gun Club’s Ghost on the Highway, a slow, elegaic dirge and then a more direct, guitar-fueled number that was part Spector pop, part Julee Cruise. Ray has a new album in the works, and hopefully a return engagement here some time after that.

In the meantime, if noir is your thing, New York’s state-of-the-art noir band, Karla Rose & the Thorns are at the big room at the Rockwood on April 14 at midnight.

A Historic Marathon Weekend at Martin Bisi’s Legendary BC Studio

While booking agents clustered around the East Village at several marathon multiple-band bills this past weekend, another far more historic marathon was going on in a Gowanus basement. As chronicled in the documentary film Sound and Chaos: The Story of BC Studio, Martin Bisi has been recording and producing some of New York’s – and the world’s – edgiest music in that space for the past thirty-five years. A couple of years ago, a dreaded upmarket food emporium moved in, sounding an ominous alarm bell. Like a smaller-scale Walmart, when that chain shows up, the neighborhood is usually finished. And with rents skyrocketing and long-tenured building owners unable to resist the lure of piles of global capital, what’s left of the Gowanus artistic community is on life support.

BC Studio’s lease runs out next year. The historic space is where Bisi earned a Grammy for his work on Herbie Hancock’s single Rockit, where Sonic Youth, the Dresden Dolls and innumerable other defiantly individualistic bands made records, and where a sizeable percentage of the foundation of hip-hop was born. If there’s any artistic space in Brooklyn that deserves to be landmarked, this is it.

This past weekend, to celebrate BC Studio’s 35th anniversary, the producer invited in several of the most noteworthy acts who’ve recorded over the years, to collaborate and record material for a celebratory anthology. Both a Sonic Youth (Bob Bert) and a Dresden Doll (Brian Vigliione) did and lent their eclectic pummel behind the drumkit to several of the acts. It was a quasi-private event: media was invited (look for Beverly Bryan‘s insightful upcoming piece at Remezcla). Bisi also spilled the beans and invited the crowd at his Williamsburg gig this past week, and from the looks of it, some of that younger contingent showed up to see some of the more memorable acts who’ve pushed the envelope, hard, over parts of the last four decades there. It wasn’t a concert in the usual sense of the word, but it was a rare chance for an adventurous crowd beyond Bisi’s own vast address book to watch him in action. And while he’d fretted out loud about keeping everything on schedule, that hardly became an issue, no surprise since he knows the room inside out. The most time-consuming activity other than the recording itself was figuring out who needed monitors, and where to put them.

Historically speaking, the most noteworthy event of the entire weekend was the reunion of Live Skull, who were essentially a harder-edged counterpart to Sonic Youth back in the 80s. One of their guitarists, Tom Paine couldn’t make it, but his fellow guitarist Mark C, bassist Marnie Greenholz Jaffe and drummer Rich Hutchins made their first public performance together since 1988, in this very same space. Methodically, through a series of takes, they shook off the rust, the guitar lingering uneasily and then growling over the band’s signature anthemic postupunk stomp. Watching Greenholz Jaffe play a Fender with frets was a trip: in the band’s heyday, she got her signature swooping sound as one of very few rock players to use a fretless model. In a stroke of considerable irony, Mark C’s use of a synth in lieu of guitar on one number gave the band a new wave tinge very conspicuously absent from their influential mid-80s catalog. Both four- and six-string players sang; neither has lost any edge over the years. Greenholz Jaffe ended their last number by playing an ominous quote from Joy Division’s New Dawn Fades, arguably the weekend’s most cruelly apt riff.

Of the newer acts, the most striking was guitarist Adja the Turkish Queen, who splits her time between her more-or-less solo mashup of folk noir and the Middle East, and ferociously noisy, darkly psychedelic band Black Fortress of Opium. This time, she treated the crowd to an absolutely chilling, allusive trio of jangly, reverb-drenched Lynchian numbers: a brooding oldschool soul ballad, an opaquely minimalist theme that could have passed for Scout, and a towering art-rock anthem. Botanica’s Paul Wallfisch supplied a river of gospel organ, elegant piano and then turned his roto to redline on the last number, channeling Steve Nieve to max out its relentless menace.

Dan Kaufman and John Bollinger of Barbez – who have a long-awaited, Middle East conflict-themed new album due out this spring – were first in line Saturday morning. Bollinger switched effortlessly between drums, lingering vibraphone and a passage where he played elegantly soaring bass while Kaufman jangled and then soared himself, using a slide and a keening sustain pedal. Togther they romped through apprehensively scrambling postrock, allusively klezmer-tinged passages and elegaic, bell-toned cinematics.

Susu guitarist Andrea Havis and drummer Oliver Rivera Drew (who made a tight rhythm section with baritone guitarist Diego Ferri, both of whom play in Bisi’s European touring band) backed Arrow’s soaring frontwman Jeannie Fry through a swirl of post-MBV maelstrom sonics and wary, moodily crescendoing postpunk jangle. In perhaps the weekend’s best-attended set, Algis Kisys of Swans jousted with ex-Cop Shoot Cop bassist Jack Natz and drummer Jim Coleman for a ferocious blast through a hornet’s nest of needle-pinning fuzztones and boomoing low-register chords, followed by a gorgeously contrasting ambient soundscape by Dave W and Ego Sensation of White Hills. It was the weekend’s lone moment that looked back to Brian Eno, who put up the seed money to build the studio.

There were also a couple of performances that echoed the studio’s formative role as hip-hop crucible. The first was when Tidal Channel frontman Billy Cancel channeled the inchoate anger of the Ex’s G.W. Sok over Genevieve Kammel Morris’ electroacoustic keyboard mix. The second was former Luminescent Orchestrii frontman Sxip Shirey‘s New Orleans second line rap over the virtuosic fuzztone bass of Don Godwin, better known as the funkiest tuba player in all of Balkan music. Wallfisch was another guy who supplied unexpectedly explosive basslines when he wasn’t playing keys.

The rest of the material ranged from industrial, to cinematic (JG Thirlwell’s collaboration with Insect Ark frontwoman/composer Dana Schechter, bolstered by a full string section and choir), punk (Michael Bazini’s wry gutter blues remake of an old Louvin Brothers Nashville gothic song) and to wind up the Sunday portion, an unexpectedly haunting, epic minor-key jam eventually led by Bisi himself, doing double duty on lead guitar and mixer.

Music continued throughout the afternoon and into Sunday night after this blog had to switch gears and move on to another marathon: the festivities included Bert backing Parlor Walls guitarist Alyse Lamb, an Alice Donut reunion of sorts and a set by Cinema Cinema. As much a fiasco as Globalfest turned out to be that night, the wiser option would have been to stay put and make an entire weekend out of it. As Kammel Morris put it, Bisi should host a slumber party next year.

The Ministry of Wolves Update the Brothers Grimm with Twisted Art-Rock

You could make a case for the Ministry of Wolves as a gothic rock supergroup; or you could take them up a few notches and call them the latest incarnation of the urbane existentialist art-rock that Botanica‘s Paul Wallfisch has mined so memorably since the 90s. Alexander Hacke and Danielle de Picciotto are members of the latest edition of Crime & the City Solution; Hacke also did a long stretch in Einsturzende Neubauten. Mick Harvey was a founding member of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds; Wallfisch is the least gothic but most musically defining member of this unlikely and wildly successful pickup band, which first came together to supply a soundtrack to Claudia Bauer’s theatre production Republik der Wolfe. That spectacle was first staged at the Theater Dortmund in Germany, where Wallfisch is artistic director. Its songs use Grimm’s Fairy Tales and most specifically, Anne Sexton’s take on them from her 1971 collection, Transformations, as a stepping-off point. The group released many of the songs from the production earlier this year; their new album, Happily Ever After (streaming at Spotify) includes unreleased material as well as several tracks with lyrics in the original German.

De Picciotto delivers both the English version and a German translation of Sexton’s pointedly sarcastic poem The Gold Key (Der Goldene Schluessel) with counterintuitive brightness over Harvey’s  lingering guitar multitracks and Wallfisch’s ominously reverberating Wurlitzer. It makes a good title theme here and would work just as well for pretty much any horror film. She does the same with a creepy, music box-like version of White Snake Waltz (Die Weisse Schlange). Wallfisch casts Little Red Riding Hood as a Jersey tourist in Manhattan on a Saturday night in a Lou Reed-inspired narrative, over a noisy one-chord jam that’s one part Taxi Driver soundtrack, one part Blind Idiot God.

Hacke narrates a particularly twisted version of the most epic of the previously unreleased tracks here, The 12 Dancing Princesses. The guys in the band shamble through the chilling folk-rock of The Wonderful Musician, “Like a fish on a hook, dancing the dance of death,” Hacke’s banjo adding rustic textures in the background.

Rapunzel gets a lushly angst-fueled, absolutely Lynchian overture in her name, via Wallfisch’s one-man multi-keyboard orchestra. Der Froschkoenig (The Frog Prince), starts as a stately waltz and brings back the undiluted menace of the opening theme. Wallfisch’s piano drives the final cut, Rumpelstilzchen, with a noir boogie riff as it reaches its expected conclusion. You’ll see this here again on the best albums of 2014 page in a couple of days.

Serena Jost Brings Her Elegantly Gorgeous Cello Rock to Barbes

Good Cop: Serena Jost and her band play elegant, old-world, allusively beautiful songs. Listening to her, I’d want a glass of wine, maybe a single malt. Like something they’d have at Barbes. But malt liquor? No way!

Bad Cop: Way. Nothing goes with a Serena Jost show like a few Crazy Horse tallboys.

Good Cop: So that’s what you were up to on June 29th. Daydrunk on a Saturday afternoon. What bar serves that crap, anyway?

Bad Cop: Bar? I went to the deli. Then I went to to the community garden on 9th Street.

Good Cop: I thought you weren’t supposed to drink there…

Bad Cop: Who do you think created New York community gardens? People who drink bespoke locavore artisanal tea?

Good Cop: OK, you have a point. And I know your old hangout, Lakeside Lounge, is gone now. But Crazy Horse, damn, that stuff is foul…

Bad Cop: The true taste of cardboard! But anyway, what was coolest about that Saturday was that aside from having a nice place in the shade to kick back with a beer, there was a great band. Fender Rhodes, bass and drums. Slow, slinky, minor-key funk grooves: the ultimate soundtrack for a beautiful summer day in New York. According to the sign on the garden gate, as far as I can remember, the band was called Vic & the People, but I googled them and didn’t get any results.

Good Cop: What were they playing? Originals?

Bad Cop: I guess. Long bluesy instrumental jams, basically. Kind of funky, a little jazz, a little latin influence. The whole band was good. Pretty psychedelic too. No wanky bass solos, no coked-out drum solos, just good summery New York music.

Good Cop: I would have enjoyed that. You should have texted me!

Bad Cop: I thought you’d be on the train so I didn’t. But that put me in a perfect mood for Serena Jost’s show at the Rockwood afterward. It was great to get sort of lost in one band and then get completely lost in another. My favorite part of her show was that big swell out of the verse into the chorus of Sweet Mystery. That’s such a catchy song. On one hand, you start nodding your head to that Motown beat, you know the crescendo is coming a mile away, but you want it so bad, and then you get it…oh baby. That was heaven.

Good Cop: And you can hear it for yourself when Serena Jost and her band play Barbes at 8 PM on July 31. They make a great segue with the headliners, Kotorino, who are playing at 10 and are one of the best bands in New York. They mix latin sounds with noir cabaret and circus rock and like Serena’s band, they have a very lush sound. Although Kotorino have more of a brass band and jazz influence, where Serena’s sound is more classically oriented.

Bad Cop: She’s a cellist. All cellists have that classical thing. She’s a symphony orchestra player. And she was in Rasputina for probably longer than anybody except Melora Creager.

Good Cop: Yeah, that in itself is an accomplishment. Let’s tell the people about the Rockwood show, which should give everybody a good idea of what we can look forward to at Barbes…

Bad Cop: OK. They opened with A Bird Will Sing, which is the title track on her most recent album. A swinging art-pop song that the crowd of douchebags who were at the bar, after the band before, hollered and blabbered through. They didn’t give a shit. Amateur hour: Jersey assholes completely blitzed on one beer. But then they started to clear out and you could hear the band. Amazing band, too: Julian Maile on guitar, Rob Jost – no relation – on bass, Robert DiPietro on drums.

Good Cop: My favorite song in the set was Great Conclusions, which has this lithely dancing, ballet-like verse and then this heavy, bada-BUMP, bada-BUMP heavy metal groove on the chorus. Who would have thought, you know?

Bad Cop: The Move would have done something like that. But that’s oldschool. Early 70s. Nice to see somebody doing that kind of thing these days. Not that there aren’t other good art-rock bands out there.

Good Cop: You think anybody knows what we mean by art-rock?

Bad Cop: That’s a good question. The term goes back to the 70s. Pink Floyd, ELO, Procol Harum, you know…

Good Cop: …the Universal Thump, Botanica, Kotorino.

Bad Cop: Exactly. Second song of the set: douchebags haven’t completely cleared out of the bar yet. Luscious bittersweet major-minor changes. Serena’s playing guitar which isn’t her main instrument but she’s good at it anyway. And that bruised, haunted voice: I love her songs but I can’t figure out what any of them are about.

Good Cop: Maybe she’s trying to draw you in. Maybe you should listen more closely..

Bad Cop: Hmmm…no objection there! Next song: sort of slow Highway 61 Dylan doing Fairport Convention. Wow, it’s an instrumental! With wordless vocals! I had forgotten about that!

Good Cop: I tell you, we’re taking over this blog. We get to see all the best shows.

Bad Cop: Let’s do play-by-play for the rest of the Rockwood gig and then wrap this up. An absolutely gorgeously soaring, swaying, hypnotic Britfolk-flavored waltz with some out-of-this-world vocals. A couple of BUMP-badda-BUMP cello-rock anthems, including your favorite.

Good Cop; You sure you want to wrap this up so quickly?

Bad Cop: Blog Boss says to remember that nobody has time to spend a lot of time at a music blog. People work for a living. Everybody’s exhausted.

Good Cop: OK, I’m listening back to your recording, who’s that playing accordion?

Bad Cop: Accordion? Serena Jost doesn’t have an accordion player. Oh wait, that’s Isle of Klezbos. Another East Village garden show. More on that later…

Good Cop: So are we going to Serena’s show on the 31st at Barbes?

Bad Cop: Sure, why not. It’s free, anyway. If Blog Boss doesn’t approve, tough. We just might write about it anyway. You know where I can get a can of Crazy Horse in Park Slope?

Good Cop: I think the further downhill you go, the more likely you are to find it. That’s a double entendre, by the way…

Marianne Dissard Makes a Stormy, Brilliantly Twisted Art-Rock Album

Much as Marianne Dissard has established herself as one of the most distinctive voices in southwestern gothic rock – she even made a film about Giant Sand – she’s always had an art-rock side. Her latest album, due out in a couple of weeks – titled The Cat. Not Me – has a mighty, majestic, orchestral grandeur. A lot of is up at her Soundcloud page. Her world-weary, breathy, often whispery vocals are more nuanced and yet more powerful than ever. Although there’s guitar on this album, and it’s excellent, piano is the central instrument out in front of towering strings, woodwinds and brass, with an explosive rhythm section. Can you say grand guignol? Yet despite the prevalent menace, there’s incredible subtlety and often grim, surreal humor here. Dissard sings in her native French, moving from a purr to a wail with split-second grace. Although her lyrics sometimes get subsumed by the orchestration, that’s part of the allure: her dark imagery draws you in and won’t let you go. That seems to be the point of the album – but you don’t have to speak French to enjoy it [you can blame this blog for any errors in translation].

The opening track, Heureusement sans Heurt (rough translation: Happily without Accident) sets the tone, Dissard entering with a breathy whoosh along with the drums over insistent, dramatic piano chords anchored by low, resonant hass clarinet. Dissard’s litarny of surreal imagery ends with someone “melting in the road.” Her tender, elegaic vocals mingle with a gorgeously wounded, flamenco-tinged backdrop on Am Letzen: “The sun rises so it can set, I go out so I can can come back, I have no time left in my heart,” she whispers: the “last morning of the year” refrain carries a ton of weight. The song’s poignancy reminds a lot of Rachelle Garniez.

Dissard shifts gears abruptly with Mouton Bercail (Domestic Sheep), a twisted, noisily guitar-fueled minor-key new wave surf-rock number, sardonically beating herself up for not putting an end to something that’s obviously not working out. Then she goes into gospel-tinged art-rock – with some absolutely gorgeous piano – with Pomme (Apple), a disturbing tableau that seems to be a 21st century update on William Tell, its anxious prisoner awaiting some sign from a nameless commandant.

Je Ne Le Savais Pas (I Didn’t Know) is the loudest song on the album, a wrathful, anvil-of-the-gods anthem that winds out with the whole orchestra blasting at full steam. Oiseau (Bird) brings back that gorgeous gospel piano over an altered trip-hop beat, with a vividly gliding harmonica solo, Dissard working the doomed avian imagery for an understatedly imploring intensity.

Tortue (Turtle) builds a phantasmagorical, Kafkaesque tableau, Dissard’s torrential, hip-hop inflected lyrics against blustery orchestration and stately but slashing block chords from the piano. By now, if you’re paying attention, all this animal imagery makes perfect sense if you consider the album title. Election, which might well have the political subtext the title implies, is the poppiest number here, capped by a dirty, wickedly noisy guitar solo midway through. The most sweeping, angst-fueled and cinematic song is Salamandre, rising and falling, hushed and whispering before it picks up with a regret-laden blast from the orchestra. The season of the salamander may be summer, but this isn’t exactly a summery song.

Doll Circa (Terra) is the creepiest: the “little girl on the carpet, all alone” with the screams in the background as the last verse opens will give you goosebumps. As usual, Dissard unveils her images rather than expressly stating what’s happening, adding to the suspense. The album ends with La Partie De Puzzle Du Jardin A la Francaise (c’mon, that’s an easy translation), a strange, beautiful, brooding anthem that sounds like a cross between Botanica and something from Pink Floyd’s The Wall, complete with sardonic samples from old movies in the background. Meticulous arrangements, wrenchingly emotional musicianship, and Dissard at the top of her uneasy game: an early contender for best album of 2014.

A Lush Lyrical Masterpiece from the Leisure Society

The Leisure Society play erudite, wickedly catchy, smart chamber pop and art-rock. Frontman Nick Hemming’s vocals are gentle but resolute; his tunesmithing is brilliant and his influences reveal him as someone who’s listened widely and deeply to decades worth of literate rock. The references fly fast and furious on the band’s new album Alone Aboard the Ark: the Kinks (not surprising, since Ray Davies sought them out to record at his Konk Studios, where they cut the record more or less live), Hal David and Burt Bacharach, Pulp, Elvis Costello, the Smiths, obscure but sometimes brilliant 80s bands like the Wild Swans and Shelleyan Orphan. The album is streaming at the NY Times, of all places. The British press – always with a chip on its shoulder, more than willing to misrepresent in order to win an American audience – has compared them to Fleet Foxes, the Decemberists and the like, which is ridiculous, since the Leisure Society’s hooks hit you like a Rolls-Royce with no brakes and their lyrics are also strong.

The album’s opening track, Another Sunday Psalm, contrasts a breezy backbeat acoustic guitar-and-piano pop tune with Hemming’s pensive lyric:

Can you keep this pose too many other cats are craving
They’re polishing their claws and saying in fifteen words
What took me years to hang my name upon 

A Softer Voice Takes Longer Hearing sets a cynical, morose lyric over twangy Lynchian bolero pop: “Every hour is a cavalcade to be gazed upon as it slips away,” Hemming muses.  Fight for Everyone, inspired by watching the 2012 Olympics, kicks off with trumpet from Mumford & Sons’ Nick Etwell, then the period-perfect, drolly oscillating 80s synth kicks in. Faux Rick Wakeman riffage underscores the relentless bombast and pressure that elite athletes have to endure even before the starting gun fires.

Tearing the Arches Down sardonically mingles Ziggy-era Bowie and late T Rex glam, like Edward Rogers in a particularly 1972 moment. The album’s best song is the Sylvia Plath homage The Sober Scent of Paper, Botanica noir filtered through the misty prism of 70s Britfolk – a free download in exchange for your email. All I Have Seen blends northern soul with Ronsonesque glam, building to a mad crescendo, while Everyone Understands is La Bamba as Botanica might have done it, a bitter sendup of a drama queen in 7/8 time. “What do you get for all this freewheeling? A pirouette in a castle of sand,” Hemming grouses.

Life is a Cabriolet (Edwardian British for convertible) juxtaposes bouncy swing with a doomed cynicism, followed by the similarly cynical cabaret-infused chamber pop song One Man & His Fug. The Romany-flavored title track of sorts, Forever We Shall Wait follows a Jarvis Cocker-style party animal’s desperate trajectory up to a big circus rock ending. Gay overkill doesn’t set in til the last two tracks, and if homoeroticism is your thing, you’ll like those songs too. Big-studio 1970s production values and lush yet terse playing from multi-instrumentalist Christian Hardy, violinist Mike Siddell, cellist William Calderbank, flutist Helen Whitaker, bassist Darren Bonehill and drummer Sebastian Hankins propel this magnificent beast. A lock for one of the best albums of 2013.