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Tag: cello rock

Pioneering Cello Rocker Serena Jost Brings Her Rapturous, Intimate Sonics to a Similarly Intimate Brooklyn Space

“My cello wants to go up in the ceiling,” Serena Jost observed at one of this year’s most rapturously intimate New York shows: in the middle of the day, in the cozy, vintage tin-plated Chinatown studio at Montez Press Radio a couple of days before Memorial Day weekend. As she did with her meticulously playful solo album Up to the Sky, Jost will typically size up the sonics of a room and then make them part of the performance. Just as she took advantage of the rich natural reverb at St. Peter’s Church in Chelsea when she recorded the album – live – she felt the highs bouncing off the studio’s metal, and the walls, and ran with it…calmly, and gently, with respect to any ghosts she might be coaxing out of the woodwork with her harmonics and overtones. She’s playing a slightly less intimate space, Freddy’s, at 7 PM on August 10 on a killer triplebill with haunting, fearsomely powerful soul belter and noir Americana songstress Karen Dahlstrom and the anthemic, politically fearless, vintage Springsteenian Tru Mongrel Hearts’ frontman Pete Cenedella

As a founding member of Rasputina, Jost is a pioneer of cello rock, but her own writing and improvisation defy categorization. If there was any common thread between the songs in this particular set – drawn mostly from her solo record – it was minimalism. No wasted notes, no gestures that weren’t meaningful, spiced with subtle echoes and sepulchral wisps of sound.

She opened with It’s a Delight, her soul-infused vocals soaring over its distantly Indian-tinged variations on a hypnotic octave riff. She got the harmonics keening with an especially emphatic take of the catchy Window; she’d revisit that trope with even more sonic surrealism later, with the contrasting rhythmic plucks and hazy atmospherics of Hallway.

Her lone cover was a more polished but understately chilling take on the brilliant/obscure Happiness, by Molly Drake (Nick’s mom): “Happiness is gone without a warning, jack-o-lantern in the night.”

Going back to the originals, Jost dug in hard with the staccato chords of Silver Star, an allusively seductive but ultimately just as wary and unresolved tableau. She also made up what was essentially a catchy, optimistic, singalong stadium-rock anthem, on the spot, and eventually closed with The Cut, a swaying, Britfolk-tinged tune that strongly evoked Linda Thompson, both vocally and thematically

The performance and interview afterward have been archived: click the archive link at Montez Press Radio and scroll down for a very acerbic, insightful look at where Jost is at these days: more attuned to psychedelia and spontaneity than ever, both as a solo artists and a bandleader.

A Rapturous, Hauntingly Spare Solo Album From Enigmatic Cello Rock Songstress Serena Jost

The sheer hummability of cellist/multi-instrumentalist Serena Jost’s music contrasts with the opaqueness of her lyrics. In her music, nothing is ever as it seems despite all indications to the contrary. That enigmatic sensibility has served her well over the past fifteen years. The closest comparison is ELO’s Jeff Lynne, a similarly brilliant tunesmith whose signature sound blends classical ideas with rock, and has a similarly distinctively, elegant production style as well. Jost’s newest album, Up to the Sky – streaming at her music page – is her most ambitious to date. It’s a solo recording, just cello and vocals, recorded in the rich, reverberating sonics of St. Peter’s Church at 346 W 20th St. in Chelsea, where she’s playing the album release show on April 19 at 7:30 PM. Cover is $10; a reception will follow.

Window opens the album. Jost’s stark, ambered low chords, circling in a Philip Glass vein, anchor her clear, pensive vocals. A recurring shooting star reference adds to the nocturnal rapture and unease.

The influence of Jost’s frequent collaborator Amanda Thorpe shines through plaintively in The Cut, a canteringly hypnotic, Britfolk-tinged, plaintively imagistic lament. Likewise, the wave motion of Clement – just vocalese and cello – sets the stage for Great Conclusions. Playing this with her band, Jost cuts loose with a galloping, crescendoing intensity, but in this version, her pizzicato attack is muted, her vocals understated and clear, echoing Linda Thompson as the song’s gloomily allusive narrative winds out.

Hallway. another instrumental with vocalese, brings in a hazy late-afternoon sun, introducing the baroque-flavored vignette Happiness. “Happiness has come and gone without warning, just a lantern in the night.” Jost intones.

Lullaby is a melody much of the world knows from childhood; the cello adds a newly somber undercurrent. By contrast, It’s a Delight rises to an unexpectedly triumphant crescendo over the sparest, circling low-register riff. Jost works that dichotomy again in Silver Star, its images of escape and release over subtle variations on a mantra-like cello phrase. The album concludes, unresolved, with the fragmentary, echoing, mysterious Red Door. Fans of darkly individualistic songwriters from Carol Lipnik to Connie Converse will devour this. Indie classical people ought to check this out as well – for what it’s worth, Jost once arranged and led a fifty-cello performance of Terry Riley’s In C!

An Edgy Debut Album and a Williamsburg Show by Intense Cello Rockers the Icebergs

The Icebergs are New York’s hardest-working cello band. No disrespect to the great Serena Jost, but the Icebergs maintain a punishing late-night gig schedule. If there’s any midnight band in New York, it’s the trio of frontwoman Jane LeCroy, cellist Tom Abbs and O’Death drummer David Rogers-Berry. That’s even more impressive when you consider that LeCroy also fronts the similarly intense, politically fearless avant garde duo Ohmslice with multi-instrumentalist Brandon Ross. The Icebergs have an edgy debut album, Eldorado, streaming at Bandcamp and Ohmslice have a show this Friday night at 8:30 PM at Pete’s.

If you can forgive the appropriation of an iconic album title (ELO’s epic, symphonic 1974 masterpiece is arguably the greatest rock record ever made), this is an edgy, lyrical treat. The opening track, Needleworker is about piecing things back together, literally and metaphorically, LeCroy’s soulful, blues-infused voice channeling 19th century African-American gospel starkness as she chronicles everything she’s got to stitch up over a brisk groove spiced with all sorts of tasty low-midrange riffs from Abbs. This gist of it is that this century’s American culture is hardly woman-friendly.

Sonnets 57 & 58 is a propulsive, echoingly uneasy 6/8 art-rock shuffle, Abbs’ terse overdubs and distant washes of sound over Rogers-Berry’s savagely ornate attack, a cynical, Shakespearean-inspired cautionary tale about women subjugating themselves. The catchy, witchy, hard-hitting Similitude could be a particularly energetic track from Rasputina’s first album

Then the band slows down with Proves My Love, a spare, darkly bluesy, imagistic account of less-than blissful domesticity: “Prison keeps you away from me, I visit you eternally,” LeCroy intones matter-of-factly .

Abbs rattles around a tasty reggae bass riff, Rogers-Berry answering back as Broken Heart vamps along: “I’ll take all your pieces put them together then smash your crown,” Le Croy announces. Swear looks back to an iconic, bluesy Stooges classic, Abbs overdubbing shivery, evil guitar licks way up the fingerboard over the drums’ fluttery accents.

“I’m a different ghost every day,” LeCroy muses in Gold, over a Siouxsie-esque vintage new wave pulse and Abbs’ gritty, distorted multitracks. Borders mingles Raw Power-era Stooges blues with Slits minimalism – it’s as vivid a menacing late-night-urban tableau as it is a defiant Trump-era anthem.

“I can’t find my Eldorado,” LeCroy laments over Abbs’ slinky, bouncing, gnawa-tinged bassline in Bad Map; then she takes her Kafkaesque search further toward hip-hop. As Abbs does throughout many of these songs, he works a lingering/rhythmic dichotomy for all it’s worth in Draw Me. Over an anguished whirl obscuring the song’s ominously bluesy undercurrent, LeCroy offers a catalog of doomed imagery in the album’s most intense track, Gun:

Everything tries
Everything fails
This life is a cross
And a bunch of nails

An echoey mashup of dub reggae and cello metal, Dear Lifeguard is a similarly gloomy oceanside tableau. The album winds up on a similar note with the surreal Decode. In a city oversaturated with vapid indie conformity, it’s good to see these three keeping the spirit of smart, individualistic, fearlessly relevant downtown New York rock alive.

Cello Songstress Meaghan Burke Brings Her Uneasily Amusing Phantasmagoria to Joe’s Pub

Cello-rock songwriter Meaghan Burke’s new album Creature Comforts – streaming at Bandcamp – spans from stark art-rock, noir cabaret, and phantasmagorical theatre music to frequent departures into the avant garde. She has a cynical sense of humor and an often menacingly dramatic presence. She’s playing the album release show with a full band including the Rhythm Method String Quartet on May 11 at 9:30 PM at Joe’s Pub; cover is $16.

The album’s opening track, Methadone Friend begins torchy and sparse over a low drone and then goes wryly waltzing up to a menacing circus-rock peak:

I like your arms better than no arms
Prosthetic limbs are not where I’m from…
I like your voice better than no voice
Though silence is golden…

Hobo Doreen, a shout-out to a dangerous character who still manages to be “the prettiest bag lady I have ever seen, a wine-chuggin’, whiskey bottle-huggin’ diamond of disruption,” sounds like a mashup of Rachelle Garniez and the Roulette Sisters, fueled by Zeke Healy’s dobro.

Careening haphazardly around Simon Usaty’s circular banjo riff, Butterface paints a surreal, jazz-infused picture of a shallow trophy wife type. The bouncy, kinetic Spirit Animal is one of the album’s funnier numbers:

Don’t take me on a vision quest
I’m not your spirit animal
I think you’ve confused me with someone else
I think you’ve confused me with yourself…
I hope you find your heart amid the alligators and the lions

The buzzy, growling cello metal anthem Everyone Sleeps Alone in the Funhouse reminds of Rasputina at their loudest and most surreal:

I am a beached whale caught in the fish pond
Throw me a rat tail that I can hang on to….
It’s over it’s over we die

Yikes!

Wedding Song starts out aptly gloomy and atmospheric and then picks up with a strolling snarl:

You were the rusty nail in my head
You were a father figure…
I was a loaded gun with no trigger

Gowanus, a shout-out to infamously toxic Brooklyn canal waters, is the album’s most haunting track, awash in flickering cello against a plaintive string quartet backdrop. “Do you know how much I thought I loved you?” Burke rails. By contrast, When You´re Gone is the album’s torchiest number, Burke’s vocals channeling angst and cynicism.

Ornithology is not the Charlie Parker tune but an original, a sideways salute to a birder, Carlos Cordeiro’s elegantly spiraling clarinet contrasting with Burke’s shivery cello. There’s also a secret track, Pigeontoes, a twisted sideshow of a banjo tune: it could be a Carol Lipnik outtake. Lots of flavors, good jokes and storytelling on this strangely enticing album.

Marika Hughes Releases One of the Year’s Most Magically Eclectic Albums at Joe’s Pub

As one of the world’s more adventurous cellists, Marika Hughes is always in demand. You want cred? She’s played with Tom Waits, Lou Reed and recorded two albums with Two Foot Yard for John Zorn’s Tzadik label. But her best work is her own, with her band Bottom Heavy: Charlie Burnham on violin, Kyle Sanna on guitar, Fred Cash Jr on bass and Tony Mason on drums. They’re one of the most distinctive groups in New York, equally adept at ornate art-rock, elegant chamber pop, funky soul and even Americana. Hughes’ songs shift shape on a dime, and she’s a strong and vivid lyricist. Finally, after a couple of Saturday night Barbes residencies and plenty of gigging all over town, she and the band are releasing their debut album, New York Nostalgia.  The album release show is tonight, March 14 at 7:30 PM at Joe’s Pub; tix are $15 and are still available as of this morning.

Her narratives and tunesmithing mirror her cosmopolitan background, equally informed by classical, rock, jazz, blues old-school soul, funk, Americana, free improvisation, Jewish music and the avant garde. Her strong, uncluttered alto voice moves seamlessly between styles, as does her playing: as a cellist, her low end is just as much about groove as it is about elegantly ambered washes of sound and lively, dancing melody.

The album’s opening track, Chapter Four, kicks off with a suspensefully-shivering string intro in the same vein as a classic ELO radio hit. From there, Hughes layers a dreamy, cinematically atmospheric anthem, a jaunty one-woman string quartet hovering over a driving motorik highway theme with hints of Ethiopian rhythm.

Fools Gold builds almost imperceptibly from warm, summery Temptations soul to a rousing gospel crescendo capped off by a characteristically purposeful Hughes cello solo. Jordan McLean’s jaunty trumpet spices the enigmatic Dream It Away, an imaginatively nocturnal blend of funky latin soul and early 70s Carole King Brill Building songcraft.

An unselfconsciously haunting look back at a New York now gone forever, Click Three Times builds to a mashup of majestically orchestrated funk and lush, classic 70s Gil Scott-Heron soul out of a slinky guaguanco beat, Hughes playing slyly dancing lines through a wah pedal over Burnham’s gorgeous violin. Then the band brings it down with the pensive For the Last Time, Hughes’ mournful, spare solo at its center.

The unexpectedly fiery, shapeshifting, balletesque instrumental waltz So Gracefully echoes both Hughes’ Tzadik work as her work in film composition. Single Girl opens as pensive, wary chamber pop and builds to a haunting psychedelic tropicalia groove spiced by Sanna’s acerbic, modal guitar and one of the album’s most stunning cello solos, the two instruments eventually intertwining and throwing off sparks.

The seductive blues No Dancing is a showcase for Hughes’ most sultry vocal stylings, lowlit by producer Doug Wamble’s blue-flame slide guitar. Likewise, the swing ballad A Kiss Is Just As Sweet As It Gets takes a Mad Men era milieu into the present, Wamble’s slide playing enhancing the balmy ambience and come-hither lyrics. Sophisticated Alice shifts between a Bo Diddley beat, a zydeco dance and bracing postbop jazz flourishes. The album winds up with This Is the Sound, a pulsing, triumphantly vivid soul anthem that sends a shout-out to ambitious young urban wake-and-bake stoners. Throughout the album, there’s a tight chemistry and warm camaraderie that stems from this band’s years together

It’s only March, but this is a strong contender for best abum of 2016; it’s by far the most interestingly eclectic one to come over the transom here this year. Since it’s due out momentarily, it hasn’t hit the usual streaming spots yet, but there are a handful of tracks up at Hughes’ music page and Soundcloud.

A Rare Cello Rock Twinbill in Williamsburg on the 13th

What’s the likelihood of seeing not one but two cello rock acts on the same bill? Even more unlikely than seeing one! For those who love the lows, cellist/singer Shelby Lynn Sangdahl opens for electrifying two-cello, two-vocal duo the Whiskey Girls at 8 PM on March 13 at Matchless in Williamsburg. Cover is $10.

On one hand, it’s hard to believe that the Whiskey Girls haven’t played a Brooklyn show since this past November in Fort Greene, where they battled a mostly-disabled PA and still turned in an electrifying performance. On the other hand, as you would expect with a couple of New York’s elite cellists, they’re constantly in demand in wide variety of styles. Patricia Santos is the duo’s lead singer, with a riveting contralto voice. She’s also an irrepressible extrovert and can be hilarious. Tara Hanish is the more inscrutable one – she’s basically the lead cellist and sings most of the higher harmonies. Their music runs the gamut from chamber pop, to ornate art-rock, to cello metal, earthy gospel and soul-infused sounds.

Their tantalizingly brief debut ep, titled First Drop, is streaming at Bandcamp. The first cut, The One I Should Love, is a blues that brings to mind Nina Simone as much as it does Led Zep; Santos sings through a delay patch to give this kiss-off anthem extra bite. For You builds a hazy psych-folk swirl, giving Santos a chance to air out her practically four-octave range: for someone whose voice can get down with her cello, she likes to nail those high notes. The final cut is Lion’s Hair, a stark, defiantly triumphant art-rock anthem with some spine-tingling, slithery lines from Hanish, similarly chilling harmonies and an understatedly revolutionary message. These three numbers are a good representation of the rest of the duo’s material. When the time comes when they flesh out this ep into a full album, it’s going to be killer.

Miwa Gemini Plays Her Smart, Surreal, Uneasily Enigmatic, Jangly Rock at a Rare Afternoon Show

Miwa Gemini is sort of the missing link between Shonen Knife and Calexico. She’s got the endearingly surreal lo-fi Japanese janglerock thing down cold, but she also has a southwestern gothic side. She likes waltzes, but these days it seems that she likes boleros even better. Her quirky sense of humor, along with the birittle vibrato that trails off as her voice reaches the end of a phrase, bring to mind Melora Creager of Rasputina. Gemini’s clangly, reverb-tinged minor-key guitar fits in among the many bands haunting the northern fringes of desert rock, like And the Wiremen. For those of you who might be stir-crazy after spending the evening in while the annual Santacon puke-a-thon made so many of us prisoners in our own homes, Gemini is playing the small room at the Rockwood at 4 (four) PM today, December 13. It’s a pass-the-tip-jar situation.

At her most recent show, at Branded Saloon last month, Gemini and her trumpeter had the misfortune to follow a sizzling set by another duo, cellist-vocalists the Whiskey Girls. Charismatic belter Patricia Santos aired out her powerful and spectacular vocal range throughout a mix of sultry blues, an in-your-face kiss-off song or two and a murderous oldschool soul narrative, all the while playing slinky basslines, ominous deep-well washes of sound and challenging harmonics that required a lot of extended technique. Tara Hanish carried the lead lines with her elegantly serpentine, sometimes baroque-tinged phrasing while adding similarly spot-on high harmonies on the vocal side.

After all that, you might think that Gemini would have been anticlimactic, but she wasn’t. As a guitarist, she didn’t waste notes, using lots of simple, catchy descending lines and uneasy chromatics. As a singer, she projected strongly despite being under the weather after taking a red-eye flight back from a West Coast tour. Some of the duskiest, darkest material seemed to be new, while much of the rest of the set drew on Gemini’s most recent album, Fantastic Lies of Grizzly Rose. It’s a trippy narrative loosely centered around an imperturbably adventurous imaginary muse and possible alter ego – or wishful alter ego. Gemini and her bandmate jangled and soared through the briskly uneasy border-rock shuffe Goodnight Trail, then later on (or before – the memory is fuzzy on this), made a hypnotic Steve Wynn-style low-key groove out of the psychedelic soul ballad The Other Half of Me. Gemini has done a lot of different styles, from oldtimey to swing to garage rock and psychedelia over the years, but she’s never sounded more eclectically tuneful than she has lately.

Dynamic, Lushly Tuneful Art-Rock and a National Sawdust Show from Founders

While Founders have found themselves a place in the majestic corridors of art-rock bands like Pink Floyd and ELO, they don’t seem to draw on those vintage groups at all. Their influences are both more current – Radiohead, for one – and antique. Violinist Ben Russell, violist Nathan Schram, cellist Hamilton Berry, bassist Andrew Roitstein and trumpeter/pianist Brandon Ridenour all share a classical and indie classical background. Their excellent debut album, You & Who, is unlike anything else out there right now. Much as it looks forward, it also harks back to the elegantly paradigm-shifting avant garde pop that Phil Ochs explored on albums like Pleasures of the Harbor and the second side of Tape from California. The tracks are streaming at Spotify, with a handful at the band’s music page if you don’t want to deal with the hassle of killing the volume every time an ad pops up. Consistent with the band’s classical background, they’re playing an interesting show tonight at National Sawdust at 9:30 PM as part of that venue’s Winterreise-themed month of shows, They’re set to play originals plus Radiohead covers and a new number utilizing lyrics by poet Wilhelm Muller, whose work Franz Schubert set to music in his Winterreise suite – a political broadside about escaping a tyrannical dictatorship disguised as a lovelorn song cycle. Cover is $15, which is cheap for this swanky concert hall.

The album opens with the title track, shifting shape and tempos dizzyingly yet expertly between jaunty ragtime and blistering cello-metal. It’s a defiant challenge: ”Come on if you think you can take us on, you and what army?” is the punchline. Ridenour plays the elegantly moody instrumental Blooming solo on piano, a more warmly melodic take on Radiohead. The Hunt, with its soaringly intermingled string arrangement and Russell’s operatically-inspired vocals, immediately brings to mind middle-period Phil Ochs as it rises to an achingly catchy chorus, swirls and rages from there to a sizzling violin outro.

“So bummed out outside my window, the sky is disappearing,” Russell intones on I’ll Fly Away, a spare, steady chamber pop update on the old Appalachian folk standard. It segues into Jane, an instrumental that shifts from a steady, emphatic waltz to more pensive, distantly ominous terrain and then back, Ridenour’s terse upper-register cadences over a tense bed of strings. He switches to trumpet on Never, a dancing baroque pop vignette.

Winter, another pensive waltz, opens with strummy strings mimicking a folk-rock guitar intro, then pulsing with echoes of Philip Glass and an unexpected trumpet fanfare from Ridenour. The drony Oh My Love blends echoes of Appalachia and classical Indian music, followed by a morose, minimalist, dirgey cover of Radiohead’s Motion. The album closes with Solace, which pretty much sums up what this band’s all about: clustering neo-baroque piano riffage, plaintive strings, unexpected dynamic shifts and an unassailable sense of melody.

One way this band actually does resemble its stadium-sized predecessors is that it could use a singer as strong and colorful as the music. With the exception of the Strawbs, who were fronted by none other than Sandy Denny in their earliest days, none of the art-rock bands of the 70s had particularly strong vocals. Imagine someone with the charisma and power of, say, Hannah Fairchild out in front of this band. That could be scary.

Rasputina’s Iconic Cello Rock Hits a Devastatingly Intense Peak

This Halloween week’s first entry might be the best of them all. Consider for a minute that the original Rasputina lineup comprised Melora Creager, Serena Jost and Julia Kent: in cello rock circles, that’s the equivalent of Jagger, Richard, Wyman and Watts. Seriously. In the years or centuries – depending on which myth you subscribe to – since Rasputina basically invented the style, Creager has more or less become synonymous with the name. And her dark vision is a hell of a lot more consistent than the Rolling Stones.

For an artist who’s famously old-fashioned, Victorian corsets and all, the topic of the chilling and disarmingly brilliant new Rasputina album, Unknown, is strangely and disconcertingly digital. The songs deal with being hacked, maliciously and anonymously. For that reason, the album is not available online: it’s ten bucks at Rasputina‘s webpage (and at gigs) and worth every penny. The opening track, Curse Tablet sets the stage: this may be a solo album, but Creager multitracks her cello and her vocals, a one-woman chamber ensemble. It’s shocking to hear someone who’s made a career out of channeling a million different characters sounding as vulnerable and wounded as she does here. And yet, she can’t resist bringing in some of her usual sardonic humor on the bridge, a spoof of spammer keyword-ese.

The cello-metal anthem Pastoral Noir blackly and amusingly imagines a showdown between Vesta (Greek goddess of the hearth) and Pan (god of mischief), with a little keyboard torture and a punchline that screams for the repeat button…several times, because the vocals are so heavily processed. Sparrow-Hawk Proud raises the menace factor, a creepy minor-key vamp punctuated by jarring, distorted cadenzas: “I will forever keep you quiet,” intones the mysterious voice at the end of the connection, wherever that might be. After building a harrowing, pulsing backdrop, Unicorn Horn Mounted draws a savagely cartoonish portrait of snobbish Jeb Bush types contemplating a rare kill.

Once again, when least expected, Creager lets down her guard on the gently dancing Bridge Manners: “Reflecting ignorance of sophistication, and ignorant of courtly machination,” the ingenue at the center of the story takes centerstage despite herself: subtext anyone? The savagely waltzing anthem Indian Weed contemplates “What happens when virtue is turned around and preyed upon, made to hurt you,” as any secrets you might have entrusted to the cloud come raining down.

The instrumental title track whispers and wafts along with a ghostly ominousness. The unease continues throughout the surreal, Gorey-esque Emily Dickinson’s Trophy Envelope, which posits a competition between the poet and the Wizard of Oz: Dickinson wins on many fronts, not the least because she never changes her clothes. The creepy, circling Psychopathic Logic, which makes the connection between serial rape, murder and cyberterrorism, is bookended by two instrumentals: the apprehensively crescendoing Catstkill gothic Steady Rain and a graveyard-scape called Untitled I.

Sensed, a moody acoustic guitar-and-strings ballad, ponders a last-day-on-earth scenario between “ghost lovers” – it’s Hannah vs. the Many’s heartbreaking Jordan Baker, but a thousand times creepier. “When you’re traumatized, you take everything as scary, you don’t talk anymore, you just keep it buried,” Creager intones on the murder ballad Taken Scary. For anyone who’s ever been screwed by a cybernerd, or stalked online, it’s delicious vengeance: Creager’s distorted slasher solo is pure bliss. The album ends on a somber note with the instrumental Hymn of the Wormwood Women.

Rasputina’s most essential album is still probably Oh Perilous World, Creager’s scathing 2007 indictment of Bush/Cheney surveillance state duplicity and mass murder, but this is a masterpiece in its own right – and a strong contender for best release of 2015. Watch for it on the Best Albums of 2015 page here at the end of the year. Rasputina are currently on fall tour; their next gig is at the Grey Eagle, 185 Clingman Avenue in Asheville, North Carolina at 9 PM on October 24.

An Intensely Enigmatic New Album from Art-Rock Duo Naked Roots Conducive

Violin/cello duo Naked Roots Conducive – Natalia Steinbach and Valerie Kuehne – come out of the far side of the avant garde, where music meets performance art. But wait wait wait – their new album Sacred521 is an elegant, plaintively composed mix of attractively tuneful shortscale neo-baroque and neoromantic compositions interspersed with the kind of haggard, assaultive kind of improvisational noise the two may be best known for. Both artists sing, strongly, dramatically and fearlessly: scaramouche but no fandango. If circus rock is your thing, or if you ever scoured every used vinyl store in town for the first ELO album and then finally caved in to the lure of some sketchy Russian site and downloaded it, this is for you. The pair’s next gig is on July 16 at 7:30 PM at ABC No Rio on a bill with string noise/movement crew Uniska Wahala Kano and performance artists Tif Robinette a.k.a. Agrofemme (who once did something akin to what Ivich did in L’Age de Raison), Jodie Lyn-Kee-Chow and Rudi Salpietra. Cover is a sliding scale starting at $3.

The new album is available both as a download from Bandcamp, where it’s streaming, and as a handmade limited edtion cd. It immediately raises the question of whether this is all just a ruse, a lure to get you to think that they actually like playing arrestingly carnivalesque art-rock themes in the same vein as Rasputina, and then to draw you into one of their live shows where they can bludgeon you. Whether or not that’s true, in either case, it’s worth the risk.

The album’s opening song is Sadness/Madness, establishing a – gasp – warmly Bach-like theme exploring a hope/despair dichotomy. The second track, In the Cellar is a creepy, Halloweenish chromatic waltz where Kuehne indulges her turophile (google it) fixation. fueled by Steinbach’s shivery staccato attack – that, or maybe camembert.

Happy Father’s Day in the Name of Science is an alternately doomed and triumphant existentialist mini-suite built around an explosively noisy interlude, Kuehne’s spiky rhythm underpinning Steinbach’s resonant longform lines until things get crazy. Nameless Story has a a catchy noir cabaret/circus rock strut: again, Rasputina comes to mind. Eating Dirt sounds pretty much like that until a balletesque 6/8 theme that gives way to ambience and back and forth: these two pack a lot into a single song.

“Everybody has their own fucked up opinions, wouldn’t it be nice if I had just the one to hold onto,” Steinbach ponders on WIBN: by now what’s been so far an emotional rollercoaster ride has become one pissed-off album. Happy Things is the most plainspoken and harrowing, and cruelly sarcastic, and maybe ironically its catchiest number: Finally, seven tracks in, Steinbach lets down her guard: “I need you to know this pain is for real…I can’t take any more bruises.” The album ends up with Demons No. 1 – a manic-depressive juxtaposition of a couple of contrasting mantras – and its second part, an epic that ends 180 degrees from where you might think it would – or does it? Yikes! If they want, Steinbach and Kuehne can write these acerbic, smartly anthemic themes til the cows come home, score a bunch of indie films and live happily ever after…or they can hang on the fringes and have all kinds of noisy fun. Or maybe both.