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No New Abnormal

Tag: circus rock

A Broodingly Direct, Terse, Haunting Art-Rock Suite From Cattivo

Is Israeli art-rock duo Cattivo’s haunting, phantasmagorical album Le Marchand De Rêve a lockdown parable, in terms of the bill of goods the lockdowners tried to sell us, even as one rationale after another was debunked and collapsed under the weight of its own lies?

Probably not, actually: the two musicians recorded it before the lockdown, so it’s more likely a tale of personal betrayal. But it’s definitely an album for our time, and it’s up at Bandcamp. Omer Farkash plays guitar and organ and sings in a girl-down-the-well voice. Udi Berner contributes viola, piano, theremin, organ and glockenspiel.

They open with a drifting, point-of-no-return intro and then pace gloomily through the title track, a stately minor-key theme, Farkash’s guitar playing steady, funereal broken chords over a somber haze of keyboard-and-viola orchestration.

Berner plays mostly solo on piano through a triptych of somber preludes: the miniature Avec Sa Jambe De Statu, the Le Grand Parcours Solitaire – how’s that for a a title for the year 2020 – and finally, a more emphatic yet spacious conclusion, Tu Vois Je N’ai Rien Oublié. The album winds up with a final variation with funeral organ and quavery viola.

Darkly Carnivalesqe, Mary Lou Williams-Inspired Themes From Frank Carlberg and Gabriel Bolaños

This is not to imply in any way that the lockdown has been anything other than Hitlerian evil, but it’s forced everybody to think outside the box. We’re now finding out how far outside the box artists have pushed themselves in the past year. One who’s explored unexpected territory is pianist Frank Carlberg, whose phantasmagorical new electroacoustic album of Mary Lou Williams-inspired microtonal music, Charity and Love, a collaboration with Gabriel Bolaños is streaming at Bandcamp.

Carlberg has always had a carnivalesque side, and is a connoisseur of noir, but this is arguably his creepiest record yet. It seems here that his piano is processed to evoke bell-like microtones. Sometimes the effect is akin to an electric piano, sometimes a toy piano, sometimes a carillon. Either way, the effect is persistently disquieting.

Bumping around under the lid, channeling darkly ambered blues, some of the phantasmagoria he so excels at has echoes of stride and boogie and a little crazed tomcat-on-the-keys noise in the album’s title track. Meanwhile, a loop of voices draws closer and closer to the center, becomes painfully unlistenable and fortunately is not a portent for what’s on the rest of the record.

Mary Lou, Mary Blue is a stunningly uneasy, carillonesqe piece that soon goes up and down the funhouse staircase in odd intervals that will keep you on your toes no matter how agitated or woozily surreal the multitracks become. Zodiac Impressions has an echoey, strange web of flitting, rhythmic gestures and Monklike riffs twisted into microtonal shapes, rumbling diesel motor sonics contrasting with the chimes far overhead, decaying to a creepy, sepulchral outro

A brief, murky interlude introduces Mary’s Aries, one of the starker pieces here, its spare, steadily rhythmic, chiming phrases and cascades imbued with the album’s warpiest tonalities. The duo follow that with Broken Stomp, a delicate, marionettish strut encroached on by loops and cascades. The way Bolaños layers the echoes, one long phrase following another, will give you chills.

Big Sky, Dark Clouds is a haunting Lynchian stroll that Carlberg builds emphatically and lets drift away forlornly at the end. Williams’ quote about “Whenever there’s a strong beat, people always want to degrade the music by calling it jazz,” is priceless in context.

The two follow Hop, Skip, Jump, a lively gremlin of a miniature, with the spacious, lingering chords of Water Under the Bridge, strongly evoking the otherworldly, eerie coda of Messiaen’s Quartet For the End of Time. The two close with Waving Goodbye, Carlberg opening with the album’s most darkly carnivalesque, chromatic melody, then taking a twistedly wistful turn that branches off into bizarre multitracks before the piano brings the poignancy back. In a strange way, this makes a good companion piece to Chris Pattishall‘s reinvention of Williams’ Zodiac Suite.

A Lavish, Delightfully Phantasmagorical Anne LeBaron Career Retrospective

It was tempting to save composer/harpist Anne LeBaron’s lavish new double album Unearthly Delights – streaming at Spotify – for this coming October’s annual monthlong Halloween celebration here. But waiting that long would only deprive you of its many wicked treats. New classical music has seldom been so darkly and playfully entertaining.

Flickering, increasingly agitated ghosts from Pasha Tseitlin’s violin and apocalyptic waves from Nic Gerpe’s piano pervade the first number, Fissure, inspired by the crack that eventually brought down Edgar Allan Poe’s House of Usher. 

Playing, narrating and rattling around, pianist Mark Robson turns in a colorful rendition of Los Murmullos, a phantasmagorical setting of text from Juan Rulfo’s horror novel Pedro Páramo. A second piano-and-violin piece, Devil in the Belfry blends the otherworldliness of Federico Mompou with scampering phantasmagoria, illustrating the diabolical clock chimes from another Poe short story, an all-too-familiar narrative of conformity and its crushing consequences. LeBaron couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate historical moment to release it.

Bassoonists Julie Feves and Jon Stehney prowl and lurk and flurry through the electroacoustic, Hieronymus Bosch-inspired Julie’s Garden of Unearthly Delights. Quick, somebody tell ICE bassoon maven Rebekah Heller, whose collection of bassoon duo pieces is unsurpassed!

The album contains two versions of the dynamic, reflective, sometimes eerily pentatonic solo harp work Poem for Doreen, a tribute to harpist Doreen Gehry Nelson. Alison Bjorkedal’s is more elegantly legato; the composer’s own is somewhat more percussive and lively.

Mark Menzies plays the stark, steady, imaginatively ornamented Bach-inspired solo violin piece Four, as well as its graphic-scored shadow piece, Fore. His interpretation of the latter has more slash and a lot more space, and fits right in with the darkest material here.

The album’s second disc begins with Is Money Money, soprano Kirsten Ashley Wiest joined by clarinetist Chris Stoutenborough, bass clarinetist Jim Sullivan,violist Erik Rynearson, cellist Charlie Tyler and bassist Eric Shetzen. The title reflects a Gertrude Stein quote with serious relevance in a year where the lockdowners are trying to crash the US economy via hyperinflation. Musically, this allusively boleroesque, picturesque piece is the album’s most cartoonish interlude, but also one of its most sinister.

Stehney returns for the solo work After a Dammit to Hell, a genial salute to a now-shuttered Alabama barbecue joint. Gerpe plays the impressionistically glittering Creación de las Aves for solo piano, inspired by the surrealist art of Remedios Varo. Soprano Stephanie Aston and baritone Andy Dwan deliver the album’s epic triptych, A – Zythum, backed by Linnea Powell on viola, Nick Deyoe on guitar and banjo and Cory Hills on vibraphone and percussion. This dissociatively layered, Robert Ashley-esque piece provides a strange and dramatic coda to this lavish and eclectic mix of material. 

A Twisted, Phantasmagorical Memento From Knife Throwers Assistance

Today’s album is the one and only release by sprawling circus rock collective Knife Throwers Assistance. Not much remains of them on the web, other than a Bandcamp page where you can still get a free download of the live recording the haphazardly orchestrated, mostly-female band made at their final show. They liked lurid harmonies, contrapuntal vocals and unorthodox instrumentation – and their songs were pretty relentlessly creepy.

As that final gig began, the band took the stage to a weird sample collage: it’s almost nine minutes of random noise, mic checking and guitar tuning. You can start your playlist with Mr. Detective, a long, ominously vamping murder ballad. This time out the group included the founding duo of guitarist Eve Blackwater and pianist Heidi Harris; singers Bridget Rooney, Deb Zep (who also plays bass clarinet) and Tea Leigh; banjo players Christen Napier and Annie Levey; cellist Elizabeth Glushko; singing saw player Cara White; bassist Kevin Anderson and drummer Matthew Vander Ende.

The forlorn piano ballad Crow Cry sounds like Carol Lipnik trying her hand at trip-hop, with a really cool, ominously circling vocal arrangement. They follow with the ba-bump stripper theme That Cat, then Voodoo, a folk noir tune with ridiculous faux-southern vocals.

Somebody plays eerie, chromatic melodica behind the steady guitar and aching vocals (guessing that’s Deb Zep) in Freedom, a gospel-tinged tableau. “Meet me by the railroad, that’s where we mortgaged off our souls,” Blackwater musees in Second Repeater, a surreal roadtrip tale.

Hildegard You Have My Heart has all kinds of neat touches: flamenco-ish interludes, snarling cello glissandos and glockenspiel tinkling evilly as the song rises and falls. The singing saw and Levey’s flute flutter uneasily behind the insistant vocals of Unfair, then the band wind up the show, and their career, with Scarlet the Fire-Eater, a plaintive, Appalachian-tinged ballad.

The album also comes with lo-fi concert videos of Crow Cry and Mr. Detective from the band’s early days, the latter with a long, haphazard glockenspiel solo, singing saw and bass clarinet among the many other instruments gathered onstage.

Since the band’s demise, Blackwater continues as a solo artist and member of the Greenpoint Songwriters Exchange, who for the better part of a year put on similarly sprawling monthly shows at Pete’s Candy Store until the lockdown drove live music in New York underground.

Going to the Well For an Overlooked Phantasmagorical Treat by Brodka

Polish singer Monika Brodka‘s album Clashes came out in 2016; if she ever played New York, that evidence never made it this far. Since then, the record’s been sitting on the hard drive here, but leaving it there was a mistake. If you like catchy, dark, carnivalesque sounds or 80s goth bands, you should hear it. It’s streaming at Bandcamp.

Creepily twinkling music-box electric piano underscores the airy violin and wounded vocals of the title track: imagine Lorde if/when she ever grows up. The band shift between a cantering syncopation to a straight-up gothic rock pulse in Horses. By now, it’s obvious they’ve got a great bass player; nice creepy, quiet outro too.

Santa Muerte is a surreal, galloping southwesern gothic bounce…with funeral organ. Can’t Wait For War is not a Trumpie march but a pulsing blend of Siouxsie and Romany-flavored sounds. With its blippy minor-key synth and processed vocals, Holy Holes has a moody 80s New York vibe.

A mbira (or a close digital approximation) pings through the steady, hypnotic Haiti: something in the song relates to “cherry flavor.” Funeral is a strange mashup of noir swing and macabre art-rock, afloat in menacingly waltzing keyboard textures. Up in the Hill is the weirdest track here: it’s a generic pop song with an unexpectedly serpentine guitar solo buried in the mix. Could it be that another band’s tune got sequenced into the files that were sent here?

The bass-heavy new wave track afterward is pretty forgettable as well. They bring back the macabre, funeral-organ ambience with the instrumental Kyrie and keep it going through Hamlet, an elegantly muted, disconsolate processional. The final cut is Dreamstreamextreme, an airy, slowly swaying tableau. Throughout the album, you can hear an artist who’s found an original sound and is still experimenting with other ideas: may that experimentation continue and find a wider audience.

A Wild, Careening, Eclectic New Album and a Ridgewood Release Show From Funkrust Brass Band

Funkrust Brass Band‘s name raises some questions. There’s no question that they’re fun. Are they krusty?

They’re definitely funky. Are they also rusty? Hell no to that.

Bottom line: this massive, potentially eighteen-piece monstrosity are one of New York’s most explosive live bands. They march in various formations, wear illuminated costumes, climb on anything that looks like it could support them…and write catchy songs that draw from styles as diverse as Serbian dances, New Orleans second-line marches and punk funk. Their latest ep, Bones & Burning is streaming at Bandcamp. They’re playing the album release show on Nov 8 at around 10 PM at Footlight Bar in Ridgewood on a killer triplebill. The Plaster Cramp open the night at 8 with their darkly lyrical mashup of post-Velvets jangle and Talking Heads, followed at 9 by Williamsburg psychedelic funk vets the MK Groove Orchestra. Cover is $10.

A moody chromatic trumpet solo kicks off the album’s title track, which sounds like Slavic Soul Party playing clave funk, with incisive, spare solos from trumpet and alto saxes. “The future’s gone, we don’t believe in it,” frontwoman Ellia Bisker (also of latin noir art-rockers Kotorino and existentialist soul band Sweet Soubrette) intones cynically through her bullhorn.

Open House Fire is closer to a New Orleans street theme, with a heftier arrangement that whole crew seems to be in on, pretty much from the beginning. Terminus is the album’s craziest, punkest number but also the most hypnotic one. The group go back to minor keys and chromatics for Uncanny Carnival, with a quote from the busker-rock playbook that’s so obvious but also such a good joke that it’s surprising that other brass bands haven’t used it.

With such a huge ensemble, it’s impossible to tell who’s playing what most of the time, but the whole army of instrumentalists deserves credit for this dark beast. In alphabetical order: Phil Andrews (trumpet), Elizabeth Arce (trombone), Eva Arce (trumpet), Josh Bisker (percussion), Matthew Cain (sousaphone), Sherri Cohen (trombone), Anya Combs (alto saxophone), Devin Glenn (trumpet), Ryan Gochee (trombone), Allison Heim (bass drum), Nick Herman (percussion), Perrine Iannacchione (alto saxophone), Alex Jung (snare), John Lynd (sousaphone), Roo O’Donnell (snare), Andrew Schwartz (trumpet), Laurel Stinson (tenbor saxophone).

A Deviously Dark New Masterpiece and a Joe’s Pub Show From Creepy Duo Charming Disaster

Charming Disaster aren’t just the creepiest guy/girl harmony duo in folk noir. They’re also a songwriting superduo. Since the late zeros, guitarist Jeff Morris has led mighty noir mambo/circus rock band Kotorino. When singer/ukulele player Ellia Bisker – leader of majestic existentialist soul band Sweet Soubrette – joined his group, that springboarded a series of collaborations that led to the duo’s debut collection of original murder ballads. Since then, they’ve become a touring powerhouse and have expanded their sound to include dark and death-obsessed narratives set to increasingly and expertly diverse musical backdrops. Their latest album Spells and Rituals is streaming at Bandcamp. They’re playing Joe’s Pub on August 22 at 9 PM; cover is $15.

They open the record with Blacksnake, a slinky clave tune about a pair of lovers who’ve gotten in too deep for their own good. All this bliss just might kill them: “Is it just hallucination or the ergot on the rye?” they ask as what may be an apocalypse looms on the horizon. There’s also a funny fourth wall-breaking reference to percussion equipment; see the band live and you’ll get it.

Although the duo do an impressive job playing multiple instruments onstage to bulk up their sound, there’s a full band on the album. Wishing Well, a Merseybeat-tinged janglerock tune has Don Godwin doing double duty on bass and drums along with the handclaps to propel its allusively suicidal narrative. Baba Yaga, a shout out to the popular witch from Russian mythology, has a scampering horror surf-tinged groove; there’s no Moussourgsky quote, although that’s the kind of thing they’d slip in when playing it live.

Devil May Care, with its wry Biblical allusions and Tex-Mex tinges, is a hoot. “You’ve got a right to get in trouble,’ is the refrain. Llithe strings add to the distant menace , alongside Jessie Kilguss’ droning harmonium. Bisker’s sultry tones enhance the sinister ambience over Morris’ gorgeously bittersweet guitar jangle in Blue Bottle Blues, a swinging number about poisoning.

Heart of Brass is a throwback to Kotorino’s adventures in sardonic steampunk storytelling, Morris and Bisker in counterpoint over tinkling glass bells and a hypnotic sway. From there they blend Beatles and classic 60s country balladry in the slightly more lighthearted, metaphorically loaded cross-country narrative Keep Moving.

Menacing circus-rock piano (that’s either Morris or Bisker; both play keys on the album) and strings (Heather Cole on violin and Patricia Santos on cello) build operatic drama in Belladonna. “The ambulance sang my name more times than once,” Morris and Bisker harmonize in Fire Eater, a broodingly orchestrated, Balkan brass-tinged parable about the perils of thrill-seeking. They stomp their way through the catchy Laurel Canyon psychedelia of the monstrously funny Be My Bride of Frankenstein and close the album with the cynical, scampering garage rock spoof Soft Apocalypse. Dark music has seldom been this much fun – and these two put on a hell of a show.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lurid, Creepy, Lush String Sounds on Natalia Steinbach’s New WaterLynx Album

Violinist Natalia Steinbach turns into a haunting, carnivalesque one-woman string orchestra on her new WaterLynx ep, streaming at Bandcamp. On one hand, it’s as grand guignol and gothic AF; on the other it’s not cliched either. That’s a fine line, and Steinbach manages to walk it…in black six-inch stilettos, one assumes. The former member of the alternatively lush and assaultive Naked Roots Conducive duo with cellist Valerie Kuehne is playing the album release show at Pine Box Rock Shop on May 16 at 9:30 PM.

Steinbach opens the album with a big, pulsing, angst-fueled ballad, Moonlight in Decay, switching back and forth between a creepy waltz and a more straightforwardly anthemic theme. There’s klezmer and Romany influences in the moody minor-keys; “Having trouble seeing when the lights are in full bloom,” she alludes in her dramatic, colorful soprano.

Steinbach sings Don’t Tempt Me – a setting of an embittered, distraught Evgeny Baratynsky poem – in the original Russian, over a plaintively swaying arrangement akin to what Tschaikovsky would have done with a folk lament. Then she switches gears with the insistent, lyrically torrential, sardonically desperate Breathe in Nothing, her one-woman string section flickering up some delicious chromatics.

The album’s final cut is There Is No Demon, a steady, dancing anthem with an intro like Vivaldi on acid, and gorgeously macabre vocal harmonies on the chorus: it’s the album’s most venomous track. Fans of the dark and dramatic, from the little girls who crushed on Lorde, to the vets who prefer Rasputina and Carol Lipnik, ought to give this often spine-tingling collection a spin.

A Moody New Album and a National Tour by Brooding Rockers DeVotchKa

Long-running, carnivalesque rockers DeVotchKa have a brand new album, This Night Falls Forever streaming at Spotify and a national tour in the works. The next affordable show is on Sept 21 at around 9 PM at the Wonder Ballroom, 128 NE Russell St. in Portland, Oregon. As a bonus, Orkesta Mendoza, who careen between psychedelic cumbia, psycho mambo and eerie southwestern gothic, open at around 8. General admission is $25.

Driven by dancing, Tex-Mex flavored reverb guitar, the album’s opening track, Straight Shot sounds like the BoDeans covering the darker side of 60s Orbison, with a little faux-soukous thrown in. Let Me Sleep is DeVotchKa at their phantasmagorical best, a southwestern gothic bolero rippling with Tom Hagerman’s moody neoromantic piano and ominously swooshing strings.

With its winged arpeggios and galloping pulse, Lose You in the Crowd is a mashup of Nick Cave and Orbison noir. Love Letters, a waltz, rises through delicate pizzicato strings to artsy pop lushness: Nick Cave lite.

Empty Vessels, with frontguy Nick Urata’s languid Coldplay vocals and portrait of carefree richkid entitlement, sounds suspiciously sarcastic: “We’re just empty vessels waiting for words to fill,“ yeah right. Likewise, Done With Those Days has those same lingering, bombastic vocals over a purposeful baroque-tinged, noirish backdrop.

Shawn King’s clustering drums and Jeanie Schroeder’s suspenseful bass push My Little Despot along as the orchestration pulses at halfspeed, Urata intoning a moody banana republic gothic narrative. It’s one of the album’s two strongest tracks.

The other is the slowly waltzing art-rock ballad Break Up Song, awash in organ and simmering guitar: it could be Nicole Atkins at her most gothic, with a dude out in front of the band. With Angels, the band return to catchy, comfortable, smoke machine-infused stadium rock: spare verse, big anthemic chorus, moody major/minor changes. The album’s last track is a throwaway, more or less – Urata’s whistling gets annoying in seconds flat.

While the new album isn’t as dark or carnivalesque as the band’s earlier material, the tunes are catchy, the arrangements are majestic yet pristine and the band play them elegantly. Goes to show that stadium grandeur isn’t necessarily incompatible with smart tunesmithing.