New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: cabaret music

A Macabre Masterpiece From John Ellis and Andy Bragen

Considering how busy tenor saxophonist John Ellis always seemed to be – before the lockdown, anyway – it’s something of a shock that he was able to find the time to come up with his latest album, The Ice Siren – streaming at Bandcamp – a masterpiece of noir assembled as a collaboration with lyricist Andy Bragen. It’s also arguably the best thing, and definitely the darkest project Ellis has ever been involved with, in a career as one of the most sought-after musicians in jazz for both big bands and smaller ensembles.

The obvious comparison is pioneering, carnivalesque 90s band Kamikaze Ground Crew, who brought a lithe improvisational component into noir, cinematic circus rock tableaux. Is this jazz? Noir cabaret? Art-rock? All that and more, which is why it’s so interesting.

The opening theme, Graveyard Visit, begins with a striking violin cadenza over stark cello and slowly morphs into a macabre chromatic vamp that strongly brings to mind both Philip Glass’ Dracula score as well as Carol Lipnik‘s creepiest work, with the ghosts of Brecht and Weill nodding approvingly out there somewhere. But some of the phantasmagoria here has coy touches: devious accents from Marcus Rojas’ tuba and Miles Griffith’s wry, wobbly vocals over a backdrop that shifts from blithe bossa back to menace.

Ellis finally gets to interject a vividly searching solo over the eerily lingering, vamping backdrop in Heaven or Hell. Gretchen Parlato’s ghostly vocalese over Mike Moreno’s spare, broodingly picked guitar and Chris Dingman’s glitttering vibraphone meld into an increasingly lush horror theme.

Parlato sings Melusina’s Siren Song with an airy angst over a steady, slow bass clarinet pulse that expands back to a sweeping, distantly enticing variation on the central Lynchian theme. Griffith returns for a duet with Parlato in the disquietingly atmospheric She Shows Her Face, the most avant garde number here.

The orchestration grows blippier and balmier in Little Man, but by the end the disquiet returns. Ellis’ liquid clarinet delivers klezmer tinges over a brisk bounce in the next-to-last number, Cold, the most circusy track here. The wistfully waltzing conclusion, Entombed in Ice is chilling, literally and metaphorically. This is a frontrunner for best album of 2020 from a cast that also includes violinists Hiroko Taguchi and Olivier Manchon, violist Todd Low, cellist,Christopher Hoffman and percussionists Daniel Sadownick and Daniel Freedman.

A Rare, Spellbinding Set of Moldovan Yiddish Music and More in Midtown

It was almost three weeks ago that the encroaching fear which has since paralzed most of this city threatened to turn a concert by the Vienna Yiddish Duo at the Austrian Cultural Forum into a very sad, lonely Purim party. While not every ticketholder to the sold-out show was there, a robust crowd turned out and were rewarded for their bravery, as a staffer there put it.

In terms of the material on the program, it was fascinating to witness two Moldovan musicians playing it since so much of the klezmer we hear in New York has origins in Romania, or the badlands bordering Ukraine, Lithuania and Poland. And yet, over and over again, pianist Roman Grinberg and clarinetist Sasha Danilov reaffirmed that delicious, chromatic connection shared by so much music from across the Jewish diaspora. Through lilting sher dances, a couple of boisterously bouncing freylachs, a plaintive doina and a hora that the two finally took to the rafters with a big crescendo, they reveled in those bracing minor keys.

But that wasn’t the case with everything on the bill. Grinberg has a gruff baritone, a flair for the theatrical and strong, emphatic chops on the piano. Over and over again, Danilov blew the crowd away with his reed-warping microtones, crystalline sustained lines, a couple of superhuman displays of circular breathing and rapidfire, perfectly precise volleys of notes that went faster and faster as Grinberg spurred him on. Several of those numbers – including a surprisingly un-schmaltzy, angst-fueled take of the ballad Mein Yiddishe Mama – reflected a warmly consonant classical influence, no surprise coming from a Vienna-based group.

There was plenty more lighthearted material on the bill as well. Grinberg seemed surprised that everybody in the crowd knew Tumbalalaika, which drew some chuckles. The duo’s fleet-fingered take of A Bisschen a Mazel (A Little Luck) was as wryly amusing as it could have been, along with a soaring take of the Yiddish theatre ballad I Love You Much Too Much, complete with a slashing Astor Piazzolla quote toward the end.

“This wasn’t on the program, but I think we should play it,” Grinberg told the crowd before launching into Abi Gezunt, another dark-tinged cabaret number whose cynical message is basically, “Well, at least you have your health.” The two got serious at the end, with a whirlwind, crescendoing, Moldovan take of the Klezmer Freylach and then a bittersweet, rather gorgeous ballad with a message of hope: “When you go over the bridge, never be afraid,” Grinberg reflected somberly.

The Austrian Cultural Forum’s schedule of performances has been shut down until further notice, pending the outcome of the coronavirus crisis.

Sam Broverman Skewers Holiday Overkill

Sam Broverman is the Tom Lehrer of cabaret music. Like Lehrer, he’s a math professor with an insatiable love for parodies. His latest album A Jewish Boy’s Christmas is out just in time for the holidays and streaming at Spotify. The songs first took shape as part of what would become a spoofy annual concert. They’re sardonic, cynical, sometimes schmaltzy, other times absolutely priceless.

True to form, he covers Lehrer’s Hanukkah in Santa Monica, but adds some lyrics of his own, a litany of holidays too good to give away here. Then he does the first verse again – in what sounds, at least from a former Lower East Sider’s perspective, to be perfectly good Yiddish. If you want a translation of “Every California maid’ll find me playing with my dreydl,” this is where to find it.

What’s a Jew to Do on Christmas is a deadpan, faux-wistful swing ballad about Christmas envy. What if ham could be kosher for a day – and maybe shrimp too? Multi-instrumentalist Drew Jurecka’s clarinet echoes that sentiment over the judicious backdrop of Peter Hill on piano, Ross MacIntyre on bass and Ernesto Cervini on drums.

As one of several shout-outs to Jewish artists who’re responsible for famous Christmas songs, Mel Torme is represented twice. The Christmas Waltz is a duet with Broverman’s cabaret partner, chanteuse Whitney Ross-Barris. The other is The Christmas Song, a.k.a. Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire – it’s not Nat Cole, but Broverman nevertheless characterizes it as one of the album’s more “serious” songs. Oy.

Ross-Barris’ misty take of the British folk staple Coventry Carol is the best of the serious tunes here, a somber jazz waltz. Then Broverman flips the script with You’re Speaking Yiddish, an irresistibly dixieland-flavored litany of chazzerai, shiksas, kvelling shlemiels and such which have insinuated themselves into everyday English.

The First Noel Parody, featuring the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, casts a suspicious eye on members of the tribe who celebrate Christmas – hey, don’t laugh, in the old country the cossacks would leave you alone if you were ho-ho-hoing with everybody else.

Ross-Barris offers a brassy take of the Tom Waits classic Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis. Christmas Carol Parodies might be the album’s best track, a cautionary medley about holiday selfies, overindulgence and the Halloweenish experience of children’s concerts.

Broverman explains Swinging the Chicken as “a comedic look at the traditional Yom Kippur ritual ‘kapores,’ when a live chicken is passed overhead three times with the hope that it will help atone for one’s sins.” Mazel tov. Ken Whiteley plays slide guitar and Jurecka switches to fiddle in this ersatz western swing tale of poultry in motion. To call this one of the alltime great Christmas albums is akin to saying that Shoko Nagai is one of the world’s greatest Japanese klezmer accordionists. Such things do exist; this is one of them.

Anne Carrere Reinvents Edith Piaf Classics and Rarities with Flair and Imagination in Midtown This Week

In her lavish, colorful, poignant tribute Piaf: The Show – currently running through April 21 at 7:30 PM at the French Institute/Alliance Française at 55 E 59th St. – French singer Anne Carrere absolutely gets what the iconic little sparrow was all about. On one hand, Carrere has assimilated an astonishing amount of Piaf’s performance style, extending well beyond vocals to costumes, stage patter and even her hand gestures.

There’s a moment during the angst-ridden ballad La Foule where the narrator is dancing. Last night, while Carrere sang the final verse, a vintage 1950s video of Piaf singing it played over the back of the stage. Synched to a split-second, the song’s originator and re-interpreter each swayed without a partner in their arms, sixty years apart, absolutely alone in the crowd. The effect packed a wallop.

Yet for all the verisimilitude, this isn’t mimicry. Carrere can hold those low notes with any other Piaf interpreter, but her voice is a little higher. Serendipitously, for those who didn’t grow up speaking French, her diction is much clearer than Piaf’s rapidfire 1930s Parisian slang. That helps enormously during the early part of the show, which follows Piaf’s early years singing the torrential lyrics of her hardscrabble street urchin tales in the streets of Montmartre and in sleazy Pigalle boîtes.

The imaginative, playful new arrangements of the songs hold true to lyrical content. Carrere doesn’t try to make garage rock out of Jezebel, like the Lyres did – instead, she reinvents it as third-generation, klezmer-inflected Vegas noir. She singe Autumn Leaves in competent English. And the sad tale of Mon Legionnaire, infused with Philippe Villa’s bittersweetly glittering, neoromantic piano, left no doubt as to the fateful consequences of one country stirring up trouble in another’s desert.

The choice of songs will satisfy longtime Piaf fans, and also serves as a solid introduction to the legendary chanteuse’s career. Obviously, the program includes  La Vie en Rose, and Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, and Milord: each of them are more stark and spare than you would expect, which enhances the lyrical effect, whether resolute and indomitable, hazy and lovestruck or bittersweet.

The early material is choice: hardcore Piaf fans will not be disappointed. Not to spoil anything, but you get the expected – an absolutely defiant take of the workingwoman’s anthem Je M’en Fous Pas Mal and  a wistful C’est un Gars – along with less frequently performed numbers, from a Waitsian interpretation of La Java de Cézigue to a deliciously phantasmagorical version of Bravo Pour le Clown.

Carrere’s four-piece backing band are fantastic, creating a backdrop that is by turns lush or intimate, depending on context – there’s never a moment where the lavish orchestration of so many of the originals is missed. Drummer Laurent Sarrien colors several of the songs with pointillistic vibraphone. Bassist and musical director Daniel Fabricant stays lowdown and in the pocket, with a deadpan camaraderie that sets up a couple of Carrere punchlines. And accordionist Guy Guiliano’s vast, plaintive washes and occasional stormy cascades are as breathtaking as Carrere’s presence.

Gil Marsalla’s direction is inventive and full of surprises. He keeps Carrere on the move nonstop throughout the first half of the program, leaving no doubt as to how hard Piaf had to work in her early days. Band members play along with the vaudevillian moments goodnaturedly; there are costume changes and several droll instances where the fourth wall comes down. The video montages are insightful, packed with rare footage of Piaf offstage with the many, many members of her circle. You will eventually be asked to sing along: there will be supertitles to guide you.

Parisian Flair and Subtlety with Chloe Perrier and Her Fantastic Band at the Winter Cabaret Festival

It wouldn’t be fair to let the week go by without mentioning the irrepressibly charming show by chanteuse Chloe Perrier and the French Heart Jazz Band last weekend at the Winter Cabaret Festival. Working every subtle corner of her supple soprano and backed by a slinky, similarly nuanced trio – Aki Ishiguro on guitar, Jim Robertson on bass and Rodrigo Recabarren on drums – she sang an intriguing mix of jazz, chanson, Brazilian and occasionally Romany-tinged numbers in French as well as impressively competent English.

The best song of the evening was an American number, an unexpected treat. The group reinvented the old chestnut My Heart Belongs to Daddy as a bolero-tinged Twin Peaks theme, radiating danger and just enough seduction to ramp up the menace. Ishiguro’s lingering, eerily tremoloing lines channeled Jim Campilongo at his most shadowy; by the time Ishiguro hit his solo, he’d shifted the ambience toward vintage, terse Jim Hall postbop purism. Meanwhile, Perrier wore her cards close to the vest: the teasing in her voice trailed off enigmatically with just a tinge of vibrato. She wasn’t about to give anything away, just like the vintage black lace dress she was wearing.

The rest of the set was just as eclectic. The night’s most obscure, and upbeat number was a 20s hot jazz tune that Perrier had found in a history book. The most obvious, but least obviously arranged number, was La Vie En Rose. The languid, rubato intro gave it away, but then the band punched in and took it in a tropical direction, lowlit by Recabarren’s surprise rimshots and boomy flourishes on the toms. He would do that all night, just as Robertson would hang on a chord for looming ambience as a song would move down the runway.

For the rest of the set, Perrier and her band shifted back and forth between bossa nova, cabaret, lively swing and at least one wry original. She brought the torrents of lyrics in Menilmontant to life with the bittersweetness but also the informed gravitas of a Parisienne who’s been there. Exes were dissed, relationships gone wrong were dissected and remembered through glasses that weren’t exactly rose-colored. “I’m trying to take it easy up here,” Perrier grinned; no one would have guessed how hard she was actually working if she hadn’t acknowledged it. Her next gig is on Feb 1 at 10 PM at the McKittrick Hotel.

A Richly Haunting New Tango Album and a Harlem Release Show by Sofia Tosello

Great singers are used to getting called on to sing all sorts of widely different styles, and Sofia Tosello is no exception. She’s just as comfortable fronting experimental trance-folk duo Chuño as she is with classic and nuevo tango. Her latest album, Lluvia Fue – streaming at her music page – is a real cloudburst of intensity, a mix of iconic and lesser known tango ballads from across the decades. She’s playing the album release show on Dec 8, with sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM at the newly reopened and remodeled Minton’s uptown. Cover is $15; as far as minimums, a seat at the bar is your most cost-effective move.

The sonics on the album match the unaffected, raw power of Tosello’s vocals, thanks to Fernando Otero’s brilliantly stark, uncluttered production. He plays piano, joined by Pedro Giraudo on bass, Nick Danielsonon on violin, Yuri Juarez on guitar, Adam Fischer on cello and Omar Massa on bandoneon. It opens with the stormy angst of Piazzolla’s Siempre Se Vuelve a Buenos Aires, the slashing string arrangement underscoring the longing and regret in Tosello’s narrative. In a sense, it’s the key to the album: tango may be a Spanish rhythm, but it was fermented and transformed in Argentina.

Likewise, the strings shift from nebulosity to a moody fugue in the Roberto Calvo title track, Tosello rising from misty acerbity to a full-throttle wail and back. She brings a coy cabaret rusticity to the torrential narrative in the first of the vintage Juan Carlos Cobián pieces here, Hambre. The other, Nostalgias, gets a strikingly spare, vivid treatment with just the strings and guitar behind Tosello’s dynamic, dramatic delivery.

Guest guitarist Adam Tully adds spiky flamenco flavor to another number from the guardia vieja, Jose Razzano’s colorful Tortazos, while Otero teams with Tosello for a lingering, stunningly nuanced piano-and-vocal take of José Dames’ Fuimos, adding jazz color and hints of Debussy that would no doubt strike a chord with Piazzolla. Sebastian Piana’s De Barro is a return to sardonically lyrical, pulsing milonga-room flavor, fueled by the strings and Juarez’s incisive guitar.

Tosello maxes out the cabaret theatrics in José Maria Aguilar’s Al Mundo Le Falta un Tornillo, matched by the tongue-in-cheek, strutting strings; the sad waltz Tu Pálida Voz, a 1943 hit for Charlo-Homero Manzi, follows a similar blueprint.

Osvaldo and Emilio Fresedo’a Vida Mia, popularized by Dizzy Gillespie, gets a glimmering, spaciously expansive piano-and-vocal treatment underscoring the solitude and abandonment in Tosello’s voice. The group follows the enigmatic tropicalia of Nestor Basurto’s Conjuro del Alba with the alternately marionettish and sweeping pulse of Eladia Blazquez’s Contame una Historia. The album closes aptly with Anibal Troilo’s La Ultima Curda, arguably the most haunting of Otero’s many brooding, clenched-teeth string arrangements here. 

A Creepy, Tasty Treat From Orphan Jane’s Enigmatic Accordionist

Today’s Halloween album – streaming at Bandcamp – is The Sugar Man, the debut release by Timatim Fitfit, the mostly-solo side project by multi-keyboardist Montana Slim, a.k.a. Tim Cluff of creepy noir cabaret band Orphan Jane. It’s a good, weird, disturbing ride.

The opening track is a quavery romp through Walking Stick, a Freudian hokum blues. Cluff takes the album title from the lyric, a sardonic 1920s reference to a guy left out in the cold, literally speaking. Irving Berlin appropriated the song and made it much more coyly funny: this one’s disquieting in a C.W. Stoneking vein. Orphan Jane guitarist Old Man Shorty, a.k.a. Dave Zydallis guests on it; Cluff plays accordion and saloon piano.

The second track is Living in the City, a stabbing parlor pop tune, John Cale mashed up with the Handsome Family:

Taxidermies in your basement
Smell of borax fills the room
I wish I could be resurrected
Like a little grey loon
There are pigeons all around me
They don’t give a shit
If I survive
Or if I drown in it

Feelin’ Good is a twisted, phantasmagorical stroll with echoes of Thelonious Monk. With its funereal organ, glockenspiel and cynical, politically spot-on narrative, the tiptoeing waltz Arctic of Men could be a Tom Warnick tune. Cluff follows that with the even more sarcastic, ragtime-tinged War Machine, Zydallis’ ominously tremoloing guitar soaring overhead. Then Seeders and Leachers reaches for the phantasmagorical scamper of their main band.

Down the Fells is a lush, Celtic-tinged ballad as John Cale might have done  it on Paris 1919. The surreal tale Flowers By the Door has some deliciously wistful accordion. The album’s funniest and strangest track is Dog in a Manger, a slowly waltzing robot’s dilemma: in a dystopian nightmare, humans aren’t the only ones who suffer.

The album winds up with the morosely oldtimey Another Shitty Day, and then Low Batteries, a desperate escape anthem that’s the album’s least stylized and most genuinely creepy track.

Fun fact: if you’re wondering what the band name means, it’s sort of the Ethiopian equivalent of fattoush. 

A Twistedly Relevant, Phantasmagorical Evening in Brooklyn with Orphan Jane

Orphan Jane brought a good crowd to the Knitting Factory Wednesday to watch them pounce and scamper through a tantalizingly brief, lurid set of noir cabaret and circus rock – on a night when the L train was shutting down early. Considering that their motley fans don’t seem like an Uber crowd – they’re a pretty diverse bunch – that’s all the more impressive.

What was most impressive was frontwoman Jessica Underwood AKA The Girl with No Name’s vocals. In the band’s early days, she worked a sardonically brassy, vampy persona. These days she’s Pirate Jenny on steroids. With her wide-angle vibrato, glass-shattering wail, razor bangs and crimson dress, she channeled pure menace. Guitarist Old Man Shorty (Dave Zydallis) and bassist The Gravedigger (Robert Desjardins) slunk and scurried and stabbed as singer Montana Slim (Tim Cluff) spun eerie Balkan-tinged minor-key chords from his accordion.

Underwood’s arioso firestorm rose over creepy, spiky artful-dodger guitar, red neon accordion waves and nonchalantly menacing chromatic trumpet from Daria McBean (Caitlin Featherstone) as the the first number got underway. “We don’t want a thing from you” became a sarcastic mantra. They followed with a twisted tale about a guy trying to pick up (very) underage girls – it’s their Aqualung, and also turned out to be the most Gogol Bordello-ish number of the night. As expected, Underwood took it way up to the rafters at the end.

The most straightforwardly murderous song of the night was Creepy Little Town, Underwood switching out the theatrics for raw evil, Zydallis’ stark monster-movie riffage anchoring its noir blues sway. They went back to the noir cabaret for the slashingly sarcastic The Banker, rising form a suspensefully tiptoeing intro to a big swinging harmony-fueled chorus. Cluff’s role in this band is sort of good cop to Underwood’s very bad one: “I’d prefer not” became his recurrent theme.

The next song, Diamonds and Caviar, was an unexpectedly Tex-Mex flavored conspicuous-consumption satire. The vernacular may have been Weimar, but the band definitely had the spend-and-Instagram crowd in their sights. “I can’t forget my mother, to hell with all the others,” Underwood snarled; “There will be clothes” was the mantra. The followed that with Strong – a fiery, towering female-empowerment anthem, with the HipSits’ Cherrye Davis and Kathleen Fletcher supplying spot-on satanic gospel harmonies – and then closed with the murderous Gatsby-gone-awry anthem The Mansion Song, the best and most cinematic narrative from their 2016 A Poke in the Eye album, Underwood unable to resist throwing a dis at Jared Kushner as it got underway. Kurt Weill, look at the monster you created. 

Haunting Singer Carol Lipnik’s East Village Residency Takes On New Relevance

This past Sunday evening at Pangea, Carol Lipnik reached for the rafters, with her voice and with her hand, as if trying to pull stars from the sky. It wasn’t as if she was imploring some unseen force, but there was a quiet desperation as her four-octave voice rose to the stratosphere. Behind her, Matt Kanelos built a twilit mist of electronics and then played steady, lustrous neoromantic piano chords to anchor his longtime collaborator’s uneasy flights upward.

“We’ve fallen backward into a strange abyss of imperfection,” Lipnik mused, in between songs. Iridescent in a shimmery midnight blue dress, she addressed the ugly events of the past week with grim understatement. “Our pleasure ship has hit an iceberg. My life raft is made of paper, and my oar, a pen…my song is a torn sail, my voice the ripping wind.” Much as Lipnik’s performances, and especially her lyrics, can be both hilarious and heartwrenching, this was out of character.

Then again, we’ve all been wrenched from our comfort zones. Calmly and matter-of-factly, Lipnik built a dynamic intensity that rose and fell, laced with dark punk rock humor and ominous nature imagery. The fun stuff included a leap to the rafters with a boisterous cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ I Put a Spell on You that its author would no doubt have been proud of. Lipnik channeled Klaus Nomi in a phantasmagorical version of The Twist. She drew the most feverish applause when she introduced a famous 60s cabaret-rock hit. “The Barnum and Bailey circus is going out of business, Lipnik explained. “Now there’s a new circus in town. Let’s all drink to the death of a clown!” Without further elaboration, the duo onstage brought out every ounce of creepiness in Dave Davies’ metaphorically-loaded circus narrative. Later, the two brought out far more angst than hope in a relentlessly steady take of Leonard Cohen’s Anthem.

The most bittersweet number of the night was a brand-new, rather elegaic collaboration with David Cale titled A History of Kisses. The most apt for the moment was an insistent minor-key art-rock anthem titled Beast Bird, a familiar bestiary facing an even more familiar peril. An elegantly surreal “torch song to a wild goose,” a disquietingly airy take of Goddess of Imperfection – Lipnik’s theme song for her ongoing Pangea residency – and the allusive eco-disaster parable My Piano (which was a tree in a past life) completed the picture. Lipnik’s weekly Sunday shows in the sonically exquisite back room at this comfortable East Village boite are almost as legendary as her vocal range; the show continues this Sunday, Feb 5 at around 7 PM.

Midway through the show, Lipnik brought up Witchfinder Witch, the brand-new duo collaboration between Dennis Davison, frontman of LA psychedelic rock legends the Jigsaw Seen and folk noir songstress Lorraine Leckie, who were making their Manhattan debut. She delivered a cute singalong about legendary Lower East Side dive Mars Bar; he held the crowd rapt with The Unhappiest Man Under the Sun with Leckie on piano, a song that no doubt spoke for a lot of people in the crowd.

Hannah Vs. the Many Release the Best Rock Record of 2016

For the past five years or so, Hannah Vs. the Many have earned a reputation for incendiary live shows and brilliant albums equally informed by noir cabaret, punk, art-rock and theatre music, with a dash of magic realism. Frontwoman/multi-instrumentalist Hannah Fairchild might not just be the best songwriter in New York: she might be the best songwriter anywhere in the world. Her torrential volleys of lyrics have stiletto wit, sardonic and often savage double entendres, and a towering angst that sometimes boils over into raw wrath. While her writing reflects elements of purist Carl Newman powerpop, epic Paul Wallfisch grandeur and Neko Case noir, she’s a stronger and more eclectic writer than any of them with the possible exception of the Botanica frontman. Her wounded wail is one of the most riveting and dramatic voices in New York as well. Originally a keyboardist, she was writing brooding acoustic guitar songs almost from the moment she first picked up the instrument, then pulled a band together and the rest is history.

Their debut, All Our Heroes Drank Here, made the shortlist of the best albums of 2012 here; the follow-up, Ghost Stories ranked high on that list two years later. Their latest release, Cinemascope, draws its inspiration from classic film from over the decades. In terms of vast lyrical scope, genre-defying sophistication and sheer catchiness, it’s the best rock record of the year (caveat: Karla Rose & the Thorns have one in the can that hasn’t hit yet). Hannah Vs. the Many are playing the album release show at around 9 this Saturday, Nov 19 at Bushwick Public House at 1288 Myrtle Ave; the closest train is the M to Central Ave.

The opening track, Smoke Is Rising begins as a pensive art-rock ballad, Fairchild adding a jazz tinge with her piano, and builds to a noisy metallic inferno. It follows the same arc as the suicide jumper in Fairchild’s similarly searing All Eyes on Me; this one’s about a woman’s self-immolation, and every metaphor that could imply. When Fairchild intones, “You notice me, don’t you?” it’s just as much a condemnation of those who would watch without intervening as it is a cynical comment on depressive self-absorption.

Lovely Resolution blends elements of Nordic valkyrie metal, punk and classic garage rock, carried by Fairchild’s melismatic shriek. It ponders questions of authenticity and motives in revolutionary politics, it’s the most punk track on the album, and it’s a good anthem in this surreal post-election netherworld. And it’s optimistic:

We are the preface of a new day rising
Last year’s hope
This year’s trash
Next year’s gods

Carl Limbacher’s bubbly bass opens the bitter Cameo, a chronicle of a flirtation to rival the crunching cynicism of the Church’s For a Moment We’re Strangers, tense blue-flame jangle giving way to an explosive chorus. Fairchild has written about the inspiration for these songs in a series of poignant, sometimes shockingly revealing blog posts; this one was spiringboarded by a late-night hookup thwarted by too much alcohol.

I won’t be remembered
I won’t be remembered
Curling up and drifting off under blanket statements
Draw near help me fight this chill
Resolutions wearing thin
Morals bending backwards
Don’t stay, only say you will

The skittish new wave that opens The Auteur gives way to stomping, lickety-split punk. Like much of Fairchild’s work, this one casts a cold eye on how men expect women to subsume themselves, how some women do so willingly, and at great expense. It’s also very funny:

Once we’re discovered the question will ever be
Which of us settled for whom?
It’s uninspired at best, another biblical fall
You’re unravelling under surveillance
And now we’ll all place our bets
On if you’ll come when you’re called

The saddest, quietest and most radical change for Fairchild here is Chiaroscuro. It’s a muted country song with a banjo, of all things, a chronicle of a family trip to a Washington, DC historic site as well as the divorce that followed years later, a psychological autopsy of Midwestern stoicism worthy of Upton Sinclair:

Every child becomes a murderer in time
We take our leave of absence and we scatter from our homes
They offer contrast, these killers out of context
Someone else’s brother has been chiseled into stone
Not ours, though.

The hard-charging Hotel Empire, as Fairchild has explained, is the album’s turning point. Up to now, the songs have mainly chronicled women trying to be good. All the narratives after this are from anti-heroines. It’s also the climactic song in a suite inspired by what was probably a horribly abusive real-life relationship. Fairchild uses the plotline from Hitchcock’s Vertigo, from the point of view of the Kim Novak character, as the springboard for this harrowing conclusion. “Go on. I said I’m fine,” is the mantra.

Surrender Dorothy is the key to the album, a lickety-split look at the madonna/whore dichotomy through the prism of high school musicals (Fairchild had quite a successful career as a stage actress while still in her teens). It sounds like Patti Smith backed by the UK Subs:

Cinderella’s sisters tell us
Nothing in the final edit
‘Cause we left them blinded, bled and
Screaming through the rolling credits
Made a mistake, played it straight
How many punchlines til she breaks?
Splitting on seams, no reprieve
What I get is what you see

Max Tholenaar-Maples’ scrambling drums and Fairchild’s distorted guitar keep the punk rock going fulll-throttle in Murder Darling, bookending Wells Albritton’s brief, moody electric piano interlude. It’s another example of Fairchild at her most savagely hilarious and spot-on:

Flash right back to a boy in need of applause
Evading playground taunts
From bright young things with eyes rolled
Beat that track! Daddy said you’re whatever you want
And how that promise haunts

NSFW revisits love-as-war metaphors, both musically and lyrically, shifting between a sarcastic march and wounded jangle:

Curious trend
Isn’t it strange?
What information you chose to retain?
All of my fears, none of my wit
Drape me in jealousy tailored to fit
Lining your walls
Faces you’ve earned
Duchesses hanging themselves on your word
Women of rank I have surpassed

Kopfkino makes a harrowing coda to the album, an actress at the end of her rope in a Holocaust milieu whose ending you can’t see coming, but which brings the song cycle full circle. In terms of sheer ambition, epic grandeur and cruel insight, there’s no other album that’s been released this year that comes close to this one.