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Tag: Chuck Prophet

Janglerock Cult Favorite Jeffrey Dean Foster Makes a Couple of Rare NYC Appearances

REM was just the tip of the iceberg. The American south was a hotbed of janglerock back throughout the 80s – the Athens band may have triggered the explosion, but there were also the dB’s, Let’s Active and a whole slew of what were then called college radio groups, many of whom got their fifteen minutes on the low end of the FM dial. Jeffrey Dean Foster goes back that far, starting with the Right Profile (whose keyboardist went on to fame co-authoring the Freakanomics books, and whose drummer later joined Superchunk), then the Carneys, and afterward in the late 90s with the Pinetops (the powerpop band, not the Pennsylvania newgrass cult favorites). So it makes sense that Foster’s new album, The Arrow – streaming at Bandcamp – would be produced by janglerock mavens Mitch Easter and Don Dixon. Foster is passing through town over the next few days, with a stop in Brooklyn tomorrow night, Feb 15 at 8:30 PM at 12th St. Bar & Grill, 1123 8th Ave @ 12th St in Park Slope (F/G to 7th Ave). Then on Tuesday the 17th he’s at the small room at the Rockwood at 6 – and afterward, serious janglerock fans who want to make a real night of it can go right next door for Matt Keating’s album release show.

Foster’s new album kicks off with the mid-period Wilco powerpop soundalike Life Is Sweet, a pensively rousing shot in the arm complete with big two-guitar freakout by John Pfiffner and Easter himself. “Life is sweet but it doesn’t last,” Foster sings energetically: his enthusiasm hasn’t lost a step in practically thirty years, something for all of us to consider. Likewise, When You Break looks to Jeff Tweedy at his most animated for its mashup of 90s alt-country and powerpop, fueled by Brian Landrum’s hard-hitting drums and Dixon’s terse bass work.

With its web of watery 80s chorus-box guitars, Morningside has a period-perfect Reagan-era angst: “Watch the water under the bridge downtown, fear and envy running round,” is Foster’s opening line: the menacing ambience grows from there. Foster picks up the pace after that with Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts, a ghoulabilly song in an 80s costume with an aching string arrangement overdubbed by Ecki Heins. After that, The Sun Will Shine Again reimagines Big Star as late 80s REM but with good vocals.

The piano ballad The Lucky One mingles Beatles and late 80s/early 90s Hoboken indie pop: “I used to ride the subway train at four o’clock in the morning, I didn’t know how lucky I was to make it home,” Foster muses soberly. From there the band segues into the fiery, scampering powerpop smash Young Tigers Disappear: speaking of Hoboken, it would be a standout track on a Bongos record. Then they bring it down, ominously, with a stark Appalachian-tinged miniature featuring the eerie harmonies of Tres Chicas‘ Lynn Blakey and Tonya Lamm.

The similarly gorgeous and uneasy Jigsaw Man has a psychedelic shimmer straight out of the Chuck Prophet playbook, as does the more soul-inspired, restlessly ethereal Out of the Blue. Hang My Head On You has a glamrock strut like the Jayhawks doing Bowie, while Open Book puts a 90s alt-country swirl on four-on-the-floor Springsteen rock. The album comes full circle with the steady, straightforward title track and its neat chamber pop touches. All this ought to go a long way toward helping the world get to know a guy whose consistently strong tunesmithing deserves more than a cult following.

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The 50 Best Albums of 2014

Of the hundreds of thousands of albums released every year, maybe ten percent of them are worth hearing. That’s about twenty-five thousand albums, possibly a lot more – it’s harder to keep track of the numbers than it was in the previous century. A very ambitious blogger can hear bits and pieces of maybe twenty percent of that total. That’s the triage.

A very, very ambitious blogger can hear, at best, maybe ten percent of that small sample, all the way through, at least enough to get the gist of what those few hundred albums are about. So consider this list – and the Best Songs of 2014 and the Best NYC Concerts of 2014 lists here – a celebration of good music released in 2014 or thereabouts rather than anything definitive. Links to listen to each album are included: whenever possible, the link is to an ad-free site like Bandcamp or Soundcloud rather than Spotify. So bookmark this page and come back to enjoy what you might have missed.

Every few years, there’s one album that stands out above all the rest, which transcends genre. This year, that was Big Lazy‘s Don’t Cross Myrtle, a creepy collection of reverb-drenched, Lynchian songs without words and desolate highway themes. Even by the standards of frontman/guitarist Stephen Ulrich’s previous work for film, tv and with this band, he’s never written with more delectable menace. Stream the album via Spotify.

Before the rest of the list kicks in, there are two ringers here from a couple years ago: Great Plains gothic tunesmith Ember Schrag‘s The Sewing Room, a quiet, allusive, disarmingly intense masterpiece (at Bandcamp), and a considerably more ornate and more chromatically-charged release, Philadelphia-based Turkish art-rockers Barakka‘s Uzaklardan (at Reverbnation). Both albums came over the transom too late to be included in the 2012 list here, but each of them is a real gem.

Beyond the choice of Big Lazy as #1, there’s no numerical ranking on this list. For fairness’ sake, the remainder of the fifty are listed in more-or-less chronological order as they first received attention here, without taking release dates into consideration. So the albums at the end aren’t the ass end of the list – they just happened to have been reviewed here at the end of the year. To be clear, the Ministry of Wolves, the last act on this list, are every bit as enjoyable as creepy surf band the Reigning Monarchs, who lead the rest of the parade:

The Reigning Monarchs – Black Sweater Massacre
Marauding crime-surf instrumentals from an unlikely cast of 90s powerpop types. Stream the album via the band’s page

Curtis Eller – How to Make It in Hollywood
Wickedly literate, historically rich, pun-infused and unexpectedly rocking Americana from the charismatic roots music banjoist. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Karla Moheno – Gone to Town
Nobody writes more intriguing noir musical narratives than this inscrutable chanteuse. If Big Lazy hadn’t put out their album this past year, this one would be at the top of the pile with a bullet. Stream the album via Soundcloud

Marissa Nadler – July
Arguably her best album, the atmospheric folk noir chanteuse and storyteller’s lushly enveloping adventure in Pink Floyd-style art-rock. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Marianne Dissard – The Cat. Not Me
A stormy, brilliantly twisted, angst-fueled, epically orchestrated art-rock album by the French southwestern gothic avatar and Sergio Mendoza collaborator. Stream the album via Spotify

Aram Bajakian – There Were Flowers Also in Hell
Darkly blues-inspired, characteristically eclectic, moody instrumentals by the last great lead guitarist from Lou Reed’s Band. Stream the album via Spotify

Rosanne Cash – The River & the Thread
A pensive southern gothic travelogue set to terse Americana rock, arguably as good as Cash’s iconic Black Cadillac album from a few years ago. Stream the album via Spotify

Laura Cantrell – No Way There from Here
The lyrically strongest and most musically diverse album yet by this era’s most compelling voice in classic country music. Stream the album via Spotify

The New Mendicants – Into the Lime
A janglefest of gorgeous Britfolk-infused powerpop from Joe Pernice of the Pernice Brothers, Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake and the Sadies’ Mike Belistky. Stream the album via Spotify

Siach HaSadeh – Song of the Grasses
Slowly unwinding, raptly intense improvisations on classic Jewish cantorial and folk themes from over the centuries. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Son of Skooshny – Mid Century Modern
Mark Breyer achieved cult status in the 90s with powerpop vets Skooshny and continues to write biting, lyrically rich, beautifully jangly songs. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Isle of Klezbos – Live from Brooklyn
A deliriously fun concert recording by the mostly-female, pioneering New York klezmer whirlwind. Stream the album via Bandcamp

New Electric Ride – Balloon Age
Period-perfect, fantastic mid-60s style psychedelic rock in a Dukes of Stratosphear or Love Camp 7 vein. Stream the album via Bandcamp

The Baseball Project – 3rd
Catchy, characteristically insightful powerpop, paisley underground and janglerock from Steve Wynn and Peter Buck’s supergroup, rich in diamond lore from across the decades. Stream the album via Spotify

Ichka – Podorozh
Meaning “journey” in Russian. the new album by the Montreal klezmer group blazes through bristling chromatic themes. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Jaro Milko & the Cubalkanics – Cigarros Explosivos
The Firewater lead guitarist’s adventure in psychedelic cumbias comes across as a sort of a Balkan version of Chicha Libre. Stream the album via Bandcamp 

Bad Buka -Through the Night
A harder-rocking, more theatrical take on Gogol Bordello-style Slavic punk from these New York guys and girls. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Gord Downie, the Sadies & the Conquering Sun
Ominously jangly southwestern gothic and paisley underground rock from the Canadian Americana band and the Tragically Hip frontman. Stream the album via the band’s page

Cheetah Chrome – Solo
It took practically twenty years for this searing, intense album by the punk-era guitar icon to see the light of day, but the wait was worth it. Stream the album via Spotify

Andrew Bird – Things Are Really Great Here, Sort Of
The cult favorite Americana songwriter plunders the catalog of another similarly literate, frequently creepy Americana act, the Handsome Family, for an insightful and lyrically rich collection of covers. Stream the album via Soundcloud

Guided by Voices – Cool Planet
If the last of the final four albums from the indie powerpop band’s marathon of recording over the last two years is really their swan song, they went out with a bang. Stream the album via Spotify

Golem – Tanz
A wickedly hilarious, blistering mix of edgy punk rock, crazed circus rock and straight-up hotshot klezmer. Stream the album via Spotify

Matt Kanelos – Love Hello
Pensive, allusively lyrical Radiohead-influenced psychedelia and art-rock from the popular NYC jazz and rock keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Spottiswoode – English Dream
Purist, richly arranged, artsy janglerock with psychedelic and Britfolk tinges from the cult favorite lyrical songwriter and bandleader. Stream the album via Bandcamp

The Skull Practitioners – ST1
Searing, pummeling, catchy noiserock and riff-driven jams from Steve Wynn lead guitarist Jason Victor’s explosive trio. Stream the album via Bandcamp

HUMANWINE – Fighting Naked
Creepy, menacing, chromatically-fueled narratives from an all-too-plausible, Orwellian nightmare future from the politically spot-on Vermont band. Stream the album via Bandcamp – free download

Amanda Thorpe – Bewitching Me: The Lyrics of Yip Harburg
The riveting Britfolk chanteuse reinvents songs by the Tin Pan Alley figure as noir-inflected janglerock, backed by a stellar NYC band. Stream the album via Spotify

Changing Modes – The Paradox of Traveling Light
Frontwoman/multi-instrumentalist Wendy Griffiths’ band’s most ornate, intricately crafted art-rock masterpiece, with the occasional departure into punk or powerpop. Stream the album via Soundcloud

The Bakersfield Breakers – In the Studio with the Bakersfield Breakers
These New York surf and twang instrumentalists put their own kick-ass spin on a classic Telecaster-driven sound from the early 60s. Stream the album via Bandcamp

The Sometime Boys – Riverbed
One of the most distinctively unique bands on this list, they blend newgrass, country blues, funky rock and Nashville gothic into a spicy, anthemically psychedelic, lyrically intense blend. Stream the album via the band’s page 

The Immigrant Union – Anyway
The Australian band – a Dandy Warhols spinoff – craft deliciously catchy Rickenbacker guitar janglerock. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Bombay Rickey – Cinefonia
The year’s best debut album is by spectacular, intense singer/accordionist Kamala Samkaram’s ornate, intricate, surfy Bollywood-inspired art-rock band. Stream the album via Bandcamp 

Hannah Thiem – Brym
Lush, moody, Middle Eastern and Nordic-inspired violin grooves and cinematic soundscapes from Copal‘s dynamic frontwoman/composer. Stream the album via Soundcloud 

The Larch – In Transit
Characteristically urbane, insightfully lyrical, Costello-esque powerpop with searing lead guitar from the highly regarded New York quartet. Stream the album via Bandcamp

The OBNIIIs – Third Time to Harm
The twin guitar-driven Austin garage punks are probably the closest thing we have to Radio Birdman these days. They released two albums this past year, one a sizzling live set, and this studio release which is more psychedelic and every bit as volcanic. Stream the album via Spotify

The Wytches – Annabel Dream Reader
Arguably the darkest album on this list, this harrowing collection mines the desperation of living at the fringes of society, set to scorching, reverb-drenched noir rock. Stream the album via Spotify.

Lorraine Leckie & Her Demons – Rebel Devil Devil Rebel
The Canadian gothic chanteuse returns to her fiery, electric Neil Young-influenced roots with this stampeding effort, driven by guitar great Hugh Pool’s ferocious attack. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Ward White – Ward White Is the Matador
The most intricately literate of all the albums on this list. Nobody writes more intriguing, or menacing, rock narratives than this New York tunesmith. And he’s never rocked harder, either. Stream the album via Bandcamp 

Jessie Kilguss – Devastate Me
The title is apt – the NYC folk noir singer/bandleader offers a quietly shattering. impeccably crafted collection of Nashville gothic and paisley underground rock. Stream the album via Spotify

Mesiko – Solar Door
One of the most tunefully eclectic albums on the list, the debut by Norden Bombsight’s David Marshall and Rachael Bell with all-star drummer Ray Rizzo has postpunk, paisley underground, psychedelia and kinetic powerpop, sometimes all in the same song. Stream the album via Bandcamp

O’Death – Out of Hands We Go
A characteristically careening, ominous mix of Nashville gothic, oldtimey, circus rock and noir cabaret from these Americana individualists. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Chuck Prophet – Night Surfer
One of the great lead guitarists in rock, Prophet is also a great tunesmith who spans from psychedelia to janglerock to Americana and powerpop. Stream the album via Spotify

Wounded Buffalo Theory – A Painting of Plans
The New York art-rockers have never sounded more focused, or more intense on this richly ornate, psychedelic collection. Stream the album via the band’s page, free download

Mark Rogers & Mary Byrne – I Line My Days Along Your Weight
A brooding, plaintive and vividly lyrical folk noir masterpiece, Byrne’s tersely evocative lyrics and luminous vocals over a darkly magical web of acoustic textures. Stream the album via Spotify

Jessi Robertson – I Came From the War
Combat is a metaphor for all sorts of angst on the riveting soul and Americana-influenced singer/bandleader’s intricate, atmospheric latest release. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Metropolitan Klezmer – Mazel Means Good Luck
An especially wild live album by this deliciously shapeshifting, latin and reggae-influenced New York Jewish music juggernaut. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Matt Ulery – In the Ivory
The jazz bassist’s lush, rippling compositions blend soaring neoromantic themes, edgy improvisation, cinematic instrumental narratives and frequently haunting interludes. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Jenifer Jackson – TX Sunrise
One of the most diverse songwriters here, she’s done everything from Beatlesque bossa pop to psychedelia to Nashville gothic. This is her deepest and most rewarding dive into Americana, comprising both classic C&W and southwestern gothic. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Mark Sinnis – It’s Been a Long Cold Hard Lonely Winter
A death-obsessed hard honkytonk album from powerful baritone crooner and leader of cult favorite dark rockers Ninth House. Stream the album via Spotify

The Brooklyn What – Minor Problems
The best short album of 2014 has explosive, dynamic guitar duels, a catchy anthemic sensibility, psychedelic intensity and edgy, sarcastic wit. Stream the album via Bandcamp

Robin Aigner – Con Tender
Historically rich, period-perfect, sultry and often hilariously lyrical tunesmithing equally informed by stark southern folk music, vintage blues and oldtimey swing jazz. Stream the album via Bandcamp, free download

The Ministry of Wolves – Happily Ever After
The second album of creepily theatrical art-rock songs based on Grimm’s Fairy Tales by the all-star band of Botanica‘s Paul Wallfisch, Alexander Hacke and Danielle de Picciotto from Crime & the City Solution and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds co-founder Mick Harvey. Stream the album via Spotify 

If you’re wondering why there’s hardly anything in the way of jazz or classical music here, that stuff is more likely to be found at this blog’s older sister blog, Lucid Culture.

Another Gorgeous, Lushly Arranged Art-Rock Album and a Bell House Show from Chuck Prophet

Chuck Prophet is one of the most exhilarating, purposeful lead guitarists in rock. He’s also a vastly underrated songwriter. Since his days in paisley underground legends Green on Red back in the 80s, he’s done everything from psychedelia to Americana to art-rock to what could be called a thinking person’s version of Tom Petty. He’s got a characteristically brilliant new album, Night Surfer – streaming at Spotify – which might be his darkest ever, and a show at the Bell House coming up this Friday, Nov 21 at around 8:30 PM. Cover is $15.

The theme that connects some if not all of the tracks here is future shock, and as Prophet makes clear, he’s not exactly comfortable with it. The opening tune, Countrified Inner-City Technological Man looks back to snide 80s Americana acts like the Del-Lords, with its soul clap beat and relentless cynicism. Wish Me Luck sways along with a warped, Bowie-esque glamrock vibe: “Look out you losers, here I come!” Prophet grins – it’s easy to imagine Edward Rogers or Ward White doing something like this.

Guilty As a Saint takes that sound back five years or so to Abbey Road (or twenty-five years forward to Spottiswoode), a rich, ornate arrangement with deliciously watery guitars from Prophet and James DePrato over the terse rhythm section of Brad Jones (who also produced) on bass, Prairie Prince on drums and lush strings by Chris Charmichael and Austin Hoke. They Don’t Know About Me and You takes that same ambience and lyrical surrealism down a few notches over Rusty Miller’s sweeping organ – until the big chorus kicks in.

Lonely Desolation opens in a blaze of guitar and insistent strings and then hits a rather droll new wave chamber pop pulse – it’s just thisfar from that cheesy Cure hit to avoid cute overkill. Likewise, Laughing on the Inside beefs up its new wave core to anthemic proportions, as Spacehog might have done it but with better, more organic production values. “When they turned on the hose, it felt like a drop in the ocean,” Prophet winks conspiratorially.

If I Was a Baby alludes to Dylan’s Isis, with a cool blend of rustic Americana and art-rock grandeur. Ford Econoline has a guitar-fueled drive that’s part Dream Syndicate, part the Church from around the same time. Prophet follows Felony Glamour, a sardonically amusing, Stonesy tale about a drama queen with Tell Me Anything (Turn to Gold), a lush blend of Byrds jangle and paisley underground menace. Truth Will Out (Ballad of Melissa and Remy) reaches for epic Dylan narrative but ends up closer to Amanda Palmer snark. The album winds up on an aptly surreal note with Love Is the Only Thing, part Orbison noir, growling Hound Dog Taylor blues and stadium rock.  “Bring your x-ray vision from the bedroom to the kitchen,” Prophet demands. It’s here that he finally bares his fangs – ironically, over some of the album’s prettiest music. Not a single substandard cut here – one of 2014’s best from a guy who’s been elite for a long time.