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Tag: dark rock

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.

LJ Murphy Brings His Feral Stage Show and Visionary Lyricism Back to the East Village

Great musicians reinvent themselves every so often. Bowie did it, and Elvis Costello has done it a few times as well. And so has.LJ Murphy, who is the closest thing New York has to either of those songwriters these days. The Bowie influence isn’t really obvious, although Murphy’s songs have a surrealistic side. The Costello influence is something Murphy has deliberately muted over the past few years, although lyrically speaking, the two share a fondness for irresistible puns, double and triple entendres and a defiant, sometimes venomously anti-authoritarian sensibility. Where Costello these days is a suave elder statesman, Murphy is a ferociously charismatic showman. What’s new in Murphy’s music is that these days, he’s fronting a band with three electric guitars, taking an already high-voltage sound to new heights of intensity. He’s bringing his megawatt show to a Saturday night East Village gig at Sidewalk on Nov 12 at 8 PM. As a bonus, Mac McCarty‘s new Spoon River Anthology-inspired folk noir band, Abraham’s River, play afterward at 9 with Walter Ego – as good a songwriter as anybody else on this bill – probably doing his typical multi-instrumentalist thing on bass, piano and lead guitar.

Over the years, Murphy has fronted an eclectic series of groups, ranging from catchy, new wave-influenced janglerock to volcanic electric blues. Although there were some brilliant lineups behind him in the mid-zeros – the version of his group, The Accomplices, with the crushingly swinging rhythm section of Josh Belknap on drums and Andrew Plonsky on bass, comes to mind – the current lineup may be the best of all of them. And as explosive as this unit is, Murphy has lately been opening and closing his shows solo acoustic. It’s kind of a macho thing, as if to say, “Yeah, this band is great, but these songs don’t need a band.” Last time out, he opened with the haunting, minor-key Fearful Town, an understatedly savage portrait of East Village tourist trap hell, and closed with the similarly poignant Saturday’s Down, a 6/8 soul ballad set in McCarren Park in Williamsburg back in the days when it really was populated with cops on horseback, sleeping drunks and men who work three jobs.

The time before that Murphy played a brief acoustic set in tandem with his multi-instrumentalist not-so-secret weapon, Tommy Hoscheid, who’s as likely to break out his tenor sax as he is to fire off a vintage Memphsi soul solo on electric guitar, or accompany the band on piano. The time before that – yeah, this guy’s worth seeing three times over the course of a summer – Murphy opened with Saturday’s Down and closed with the ominously aphoristic noir blues cautionary tale Geneva Conventional.

But the funnest parts of those shows were when the band was really cooking. Hoscheid and Dylan Treadwell on guitars, Murphy rocking his vintage Gibson hollowbody, the kinetically tuneful Quinn Murphy (no relation) towering over the rest of the group on bass and Jacob Kavell on drums. Together they blasted through the punked-out Stax/Volt of Happy Hour – a crushingly funny portrait of Wall Street happy hour dysfunction that anybody who’s ever spent time in the belly of the beast down there can relate to. They shuffled propulsively through the menace of another soul-inflected number, Panic City and its evocation of post-9/11 paranoia and post-3/11 horror, quite possibly the most relevant song written by any rock writer in the past fifteen years. They swung gently through the brooding cautionary tale Sleeping Mind, a poignant evocation of terminal depression, and romped through more upbeat numbers like the jangly, sardonic Damaged Goods, the enigmatically crescendoing Nowhere Now, the drunk dream sequences in the decaying Rust Belt noir of Buffalo Red and the explosively bouncy Blue Silence. As seemingly every song wound up, Murphy reached for the rafters with the headstock of his guitar, chopping at his chords like an axe murderer until the rest of his accomplices joined him. As far as feral, unleashed energy is concerned, there’s nobody in town these days who can touch this guy. If raw adrenaline is your thing, miss this show at your peril.

 

Morricone Youth Launch Their Marathon Film Score Recording Project with a Zombie Classic

It’s hard to think of a band more committed to darkly cinematic themes over the past almost twenty years than Morricone Youth. They started out covering the great Italian film composer’s work and quickly branched out into their own music. Their latest album, available on limited edition green vinyl, is a soundtrack to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, a mix of pieces from the original score plus creepy new instrumentals, streaming at youtube. It’s the debut release in a planned series of fifteen (15!?!?!) albums of material the band has scored for midnight movies and silent films over the past five years. Their Halloween night show at Nighthawk Cinema in Williamsburg – where they’ll be playing the album to accompany the film – is sold out, but they’ll also be at the annual Rubulad Halloween party on Oct 29, guessing at around 11 PM. As usual, the event promises to be a Burning Man style extravaganza featuring sets by Brooklyn’s original punk Balkan horn group Hungry March Band, haphazard gutter blues/garage rockers the YeahTones and Afrobeat funk dancefloor faves Emefe, plus “cabaret Scary-Go-Round, Jessica Delfino as Lucrezia Borgia, Kostume Karaoke Lounge by Alex Pearguson, and Dark Circus Extraordinaire by Abnorm Freakoeur.” Your best deal is to show up before 9 when cover is $15, otherwise it’s an extra ten bucks. Email for location and directions. 

The new album opens with the film’s original title theme, Driveway to the Cemetery: the band does it as macabre tritone art-rock with bandleader Devon E. Levins’ tiptoeing, eerily tremoloing guitar and Dan Kessler’s surreal wah synth. Barbra, the next track, circles slowly over a motorik synth theme for well over six minutes, Levins elegantly ominous tremolo-picking over the hard-hitting rhythm section of bassist John Castro – who also contributes a dead boys’ choir of wordless vocals – and drummer Kenny Shaw.

Traumatized is a lot more dynamic, and more typical of a horror film score: hammering guitars, moments of sheet terror and chaos juxtaposed with that shivery tremolo-picked theme. The spooky, barely minute-long miniature At the Gravesite reverts to the guitar-and-synth arrangement of the title theme, followed by the album’s centerpiece, the macabre art-rock anthem Beat ‘Em or Burn ‘Em, with its tricky metrics and horrified stomp-em-out interludes. The end title is the dirge Another One For the Fire, awash in tinkly glockenspiel, echo effects and evil chromatics. You’ll see this on the best albums of 2016 page here at the end of the year if we don’t run into a zombie apocalypse in the meantime.

And if you’re feeling sad that you missed out on the band’s Halloween night show, cheer up. You can catch their enigmatic, haunting, intriguingly lyrical former frontwoman Karla Rose & the Thorns playing her similarly cinematic originals at Berlin at around 8:30; LA punk legends the Dickies headline at around 10. Cover is $10.

Hauntingly Poignant Folk Noir and Phantasmagorical Rock From Thee Shambels

Thee Shambels have been one of New York’s best bands long enough to make it hard to believe that their new album, Lonely à la Mode – streaming at Bandcamp – is their first full-length release. Just in time for Halloween too! Frontman/guitarist Neville Elder’s wickedly literate, bleakly cynical existentialist narratives have never been more acerbically poignant, and the band behind him are onfire through a mix of noir cabaret, Nashville gothic, folk noir, retro soul and a Celtic-tinged ballad or two. Pound for pound, the album is somewhat less raucous than the band’s previous output. The production is lusciously lush, Claudia Chopek a one-woman string section floating behind Melissa Elledge’s accordion, Scott Kitchen’s bass, JJ Murphy’s drums and Sarah Mischner’s soaring harmony vocals. Matthew Dennis plays guitar, Alex Mallett plays banjo and CP Roth is on keyboards.

The opening track, Will There Be Women at My Funeral? has its beleaguered narrator costing out his own funeral over a swinging, Waitsish backdrop fueled by Elledge’s elegant accordion:

Will there be women at my funeral?
Will you press your sisters to attend?
How much do you think they’ll want for their time?
How much do you think I should spend…
Smudge your lips on my dead white face, add the cost to the bill…

And it just gets better from there.

Bad Timing is a slow, reverbtoned Lynchian soul epic set in a vividly detailed, seedy circus milieu where an acrobat’s “empty trapeze swings out in the dark,” as he falls to his death, Elder questioning:

Are the things we want
The things we need?
Are the things we need
The things we want?

With its subtle Brooklyn references, it could be a standout Joe Maynard song.

Caroline is more upbeat, a mashup of Blonde on Blonde Dylan and Walk Away Renee-style baroque pop. The album’s title track is a broodingly romping, masterfully orchestrated minor-key blend of noir cabaret and moody folk rock which wouldn’t be out of place on a Kotorino album. “Let’s throw stuff in the quarry,” Elder intones gleefully in the eerily shuffling Sister, “Maybe we can catch a stray cat.”

Elder punctuates the title of When Will We Be Lovers? with ominously tolling reverb guitar as the song gets underway, then the song build to toweringly majestic, angst-fueled heights. “I’m holding on for dear life,” Elder admits, building a vividly downcast East River tableau. in his characteristically flinty delivery. The slightly more optimistic, backbeat-driven nocturne Radio Down Low (Nashville) could have been a radio hit for the Wallflowers twenty years ago, complete with twinkling piano and mandolin solos.

Elder goes back to slow, moody, classic 60s soul for the breakup ballad Letting Go. Mallett’s banjo drives the sweeping, 6/8 ballad The Girl At the Bottom of the World, a love song that makes an apt companion piece to Roy Orbison’s In Dreams. Happy Birthday Baby (Going Down) takes an unexpected turn into wryly amusing lickety-split vintage R&B; the final cut is the surrealistic instrumental La Valse des Solitaires. Count this among the dozen or so best releases of 2016 and watch this space for an album release show.

Celebrating the World’s Most Famous Suicide Song

What’s more appropriate for Halloween than the world’s most famous suicide song? The truth about Gloomy Sunday is a lot less lurid than the legend. The song’s composer, Rezso Seress, actually did commit suicide more than three decades after he wrote it in the early 1930s. It’s a sad tune, although the same could be said about thousands of other melodies from across the centuries, none of whose writers ended up killing themselves. Nor did Laszlo Javor, author of the lyrics to the first recorded version, by Pal Kalmor, in 1935. That reality didn’t stop the BBC and other radio networks from succumbing to an urban myth and banning the song until just a few years ago.

You can hear Kalmor’s wonderful dead-calm performance – complete with funeral bells and heart-wrenching strings –  on the new compilation album Hungarian Noir, streaming at Spotify. The playlist also includes the more famous and considerably subtler 1941 recording by Billie Holiday with the Teddy Wilson Orchestra along with recordings from the past few years, some of which are more Halloweenish than others.

A handful are ludicrous to the point of being funny. A breezy African pop version? How about a Brazilian rap version? There’s also a talented Cuban chanteuse whose phonetic command of English falls short of what a singer needs in order to channel much of any emotion, happy or sad, in addition to an instrumental arrangement by Cuban salsa orchestra Manolito Simonet y su Trabuco, whose icy precision speaks to the group’s professionalism more than their commitment to encouraging mass suicide.

But some of the new reinterpretations of the song are very creative. Matuto contribute a moodily psychedelic, cumbia-tinged version, guitarist Clay Ross’ Lynchian, chromatic reverb guitar mingling with Rob Curto’s accordion. Accordionist Chango Spasiuk approaches the song as a vividly spare, Romany jazz-tinged instrumental. Polish art-rock songbird Kayah’s spacious trip-hop take looks back to the original with stark vocals over lushly crescendoing orchestration. And unsurprisingly, the best of the reinventions here is by Cimbalomduo, a collaboration between two of the world’s most exhilarating virtuosos of the Hungarian zither: Kálmán Balogh and Miklós Lukács. Obviously, their take isn’t about pyrotechnics but slow, brooding ripples and lingering despair.

The best new version of the song didn’t make the cut – or the album’s compilers didn’t have it on their radar. Nashville gothic songwriter Mark Sinnis recorded it on his 2010 album The Night’s Last Tomorrow, and gave New York audiences plenty of chills with it before he headed for the hills and, ultimately, to North Carolina. Speaking of which, Sinnis returns to New York State for a cd release show for his latest album, One Red Rose Among the Dying Leaves on October 30 at 6 PM at Sue’s Sunset House,  137 N Water St in Peekskill. There’s no cover; the baritone crooner and his band will be playing two long sets. The venue is just steps from the Peekskill Metro-North station, and trains will be running for a couple of hours after festivities end at 11 PM.

Carol Lipnik Sings This Year’s Most Hauntingly Mesmerizing Halloween Show

Last night a hunter moon cast its merciless stare over downtown Manhattan, opening some casually concealing corners to predators of all kinds. Inside on the lowlist stage at Pangea, Carol Lipnik took a rapt, silent audience on similarly moonlit journey through ominously murky water imagery, into a world populated by dead clowns, where spirit wolves circle your tracks, hungry ghosts gaze on your flesh and where the only real way to happiness is to get high. With her right hand raised, palm up, as if to conjure a stairway to a better galaxy, she worked every inch of her vast four-octave range throughout a chillingly dynamic, loosely thematic, tragicomically existentialist show. Lipnik has held down a weekly 7 PM Sunday night residency at Pangea for the better part of two years – if there’s any show you should see this Halloween month, this is it. Cover is $20, deals are available through Lipnik’s website and the good food here will ground you in reality while Lipnik takes you elsewhere. One suspects that she’ll really pull out all the stops at the October 30 show.

Widely regarded as the best singer in New York, Lipnik and her longtime pianist Matt Kanelos distill elements of noir cabaret, art-song, psychedelic rock, 70s freak-folk, theatre music and jazz into a blacklit reflecting pool. Kanelos – who is every bit as integral to this performance as Lipnik – held mostly to a rapturous low-midrange resonance, equal parts neoromanticism and jazz, often adding sepulchral electronic touches as well. The duo reinvented Nick Drake’s Black Eyed Dog as a relentless stalker theme, with a glittering chain-link rattle from the piano and Lipnik’s increasingly apprehensive echo effects. She worked two mics, one with a murderously muffled reverb, taking the phantasmagoria in Ray Davies’ Death of a Clown to new levels. The Screamin’ Jay Hawkins classic I Put a Spell On You was more slow conjury than it was outright witchy – until Lipnik picked up her kazobo and blew evilly jealous crow’s cries at the end.

The two gave a bittersweet Celtic lilt to Biff Rose’s cult classic, Molly, but left no doubt that this sad clown’s descent ends at the very bottom of the abyss. Ride on the Light of the Moon, a Lipnik/Kanelos co-write and the night’s most guardedly optimistic interlude, waltzed along with a pensive grace, the singer pulling out all the stops for a stratospheric, operatic coda. The night’s sardonic theme song, Goddess of Imperfection (a co-write with Taneke Ortiz) brought back the lingering echo effects thanks to Michael Jurin‘s pinpoint-precise sound design. Lipnik introduced him at the end as the “fifth Beatle” in this project, and she’s right.

She looked back with equal parts fondness and tongue-in-cheek ghoulishness to Klaus Nomi for her creepy outer-space version of The Twist. But her originals were the night’s strongest songs. A new one set a bestiary of aphroristic Brothers Grimm images over Kanelos’ insistent minimalism. The brooding waltzes Oh, The Tyrrany and The Oyster and the Sand contemplated the ravages of time along with waterborne apocalypse. A steady, suspenseful nocturne based on the James Tate poem Peggy in the Twilight found Lipnik half-singing, half-speaking a wry mystery tale about a woman whose eccentricity isn’t limited to cocktail hour choices like grasshoppers and sidecars. They closed with a harrowing, galloping, Sisyphean art-rock setting of Helen Adam’s poem Farewell, Stranger, encoring with what could be the most enigmatic Moon River ever, then Kanelos’ doomed, politically-charged parlor-pop ballad Nonviolent Man.

And special guest chantuese Gay Marshall – who has a four-week, Paris-themed stand this month at Pangea starting this Tuesday, Oct 18 at 7 PM – made a vivid and apt cameo midway through the show, joining Kanelos in a take of Autumn Leaves featuring Marshall’s own translation of the original French lyrics, revealing new levels of angst and longing.

La Femme Bring Le Noir to Williamsburg on the 19th

There’s no French equivalent to Halloween, but French band La Femme play as if they grew up with the American holiday. The core of the group comprises frontman/keyboardist Marlon Magnée, chanteuse/keyboardist Clémence Quélenneche, guitarist Sacha Got and bassist Sam Lefevre. Their June Summerstage show was tantalizingly eclectic, neither as dark nor as trippy as their previous studio output. While their latest album Mystere – streaming at Spotify  – is arguably their most diverse to date, there’s enough menace on it to entice you in and then keep you there with all its catchy hooks, both light and dark. The songs’ French lyrics range from surreal humor, to broodingly cinematic narratives, to punk hostility. La Femme are back in New York this Oct 19 at 7 PM at Warsaw in Williamsburg. Cover is $18.

The opening track, Sphynx, lives up to its inscrutable title – at heart, it’s a ba-bump noir cabaret number, but lit up with a swirly, circling synth hook and a big, ominously blustery string synth arrangement. La Vide Est Ton Nouveau Prenom (Empty Is Your New Name) follows a moody psych-folk sway, sparse acoustic guitar blending with mournful keys. Ou Va le Monde (Where’s the World Going?) sets Magnée’s apprehensive rap over the brooding surf rock that’s been the group’s signature sound, more or less, since the beginning. with a weird, achingly warped keyboard solo out.

The band takes an unexpectedly sunny detour with Septembre. notwithstanding the clever outro where they reintroduce a Jesus & Mary Chain theme to its Velvets roots. Tatiana sounds like the Black Angels on whippits (with a little Plastic Bertrand thrown in), while both SSD and Elle Ne T’Aime Pas (She Doesn’t Like You) come across as a Gallic take on Pulp during the British band’s snide pseudo-disco days.

Exorciseur (a pun on “exorcist”) nicks the changes from the national anthem of grunge and makes swaying psychedelia out of it. Mycose is a sardonically lyrical mashup of surf music, motorik disco and Planet Clare new wave. Tueur Des Fleurs (Flower Killer), with its low, looming string synth and Lychian tremolo guitar, is the album’s darkest and arguably best track. The dubby, ethereal, late Beatlesque Al Warda is ominously enticing; and the loping, surfy Psyzook, with Quélenneche’s stratospheric, airy vocals, is arguably even more mysterious.

Le Chemin (The Road) could be a dangerous early Dream Syndicate track if that group had been more keyboard-oriented. The album winds up with Vagues (Clouds), the epic that Julee Cruise never tackled. About 40% of this makes a first-class Halloween playlist; the rest you can sprinkle around your party mixes.

Gato Loco’s Perilous Mambos and Noir Cinematics Capture These Dark Times

Perilous times, perilous measures, perilous bands. In an era in New York when seemingly half the population  doesn’t know if they’ll have a roof over the heads a month from now, it’s only logical to expect that the music coming out of this city at this moment would reflect that unease. Many of New York’s elite bands and artists – Karla Rose & the Thorns, Big Lazy, Rachelle Garniez, Beninghove’s Hangmen across the river, and now Gato Loco – speak for this new Age of Anxiety. Of all those bands, Gato Loco might be the loudest and most explosive.

Most bands pump up the volume with loud guitars, and Gato Loco have Lily Maase to bring that firestorm. But more than anything, Gato Loco’s sound is an update on the oldschool mambo orchestras of the 50s, emphasis on low brass. Frontman Stefan Zeniuk can be found on bass sax, baritone sax, and, ironically, mostly on tenor sax these days. “Tuba Joe” Exley brings the funk and the funny stuff (is there a tuba player alive without a sense of humor? Perish the thought). Trombonist Tim Vaughan takes over front and center since he’s often the guy with the most dynamic range; likewise, drummer Kevin Garcia supplies just as much color as groove, on his hardware and rims and cymbals and pretty much everywhere that can be hit.

Like so many of New York’s elite, Gato Loco’s home base these days is Barbes. Last month, they played a Williamsburg gig that gave them the benefit of a big stage, which was fun considering that it afforded them a lot more space to stretch out, yet didn’t compromise the intimate feel of their Park Slope gigs.

A tense, syncopated stomp introduced the show. Slowly, the horns converged with a similarly dark riff that suddenly flared into a classic Ethiopian tune: a noir latin spin on Musikawi Silt, an iconic Ethiopiques hit from the 1970s. Trumpeter Jackie Coleman fired off a plane-crash slide, then the band hit a monster-movie mambo pulse. That was just the first eight minutes or so.

Maase anchored the next song with her shadowy Brazilian riffs, a blazing Lynchian bossa of sorts, horns leaping from the shadows like flames on an old building whose landlord finally decided to show the remaining tenants the Bronx, 1970s style, the guitarist putting a tighter spin on spiraling Carlos Santana psychedelia. The highlight of the set came early with The Lower Depths, a slow, murderously slinky, blackly backlit number: the striptease theme from hell, essentially, something that wouldn’t be out of place in the Beninghove’s Hangmen catalog. Flickers of Lynchian dub and 60s Quincy Jones noir soul cinematics appeared before all hell broke loose, Vaughan contributing a long, cloudbusting major-on-minor solo. Zeniuk has been writing a lot of theatre music lately, and this is a prime example.

Likewise, with the set’s next song, the group worked a serpentine path upward through brooding exchanges of voices over Garcia’s nebulous woodblock-fueled groove, chaos threatening to break out every other measure. It was the sonic equivalent of a Sequieros mural. From there they hit a hint of dub reggae on their way to a brisk clave stomp and then more Ethiopiques fueled by Coleman’s tersely joyous blues and the bandleader’s cynically fleeting tenor sax.

Tuelo & Her Cousins opened the night with a rather epic set that drew equally on jaunty, jangly late 80s British guitar pop, oldschool soul and the exuberant, dynamic, socially aware frontwoman’s South African heritage. They’re at Union Hall on Sept 9 at 8 PM; cover is $8.

Relentlessly Haunting 60s-Influenced French Noir from Juniore

If the French didn’t invent noir, they deserve at least half credit since it’s their word. And much as the concept of existential angst may not be a French construct (for those of you who weren’t phil majors, meaning probably all of you, its roots are German), it’s safe to say that it wouldn’t have become so much a part of our collective consciousness if not for Jean-Paul Sartre. French singer Anna Jean’s band Juniore’s debut full-length album – streaming at Bandcamp – channels that restless, relentless solitude, putting a shadowy spin on bouncy Françoise Hardy-style 60s ye-ye pop. It’s one of the darkest and best albums of the year and it might well be the very best of all of them: hard to say, as we’re only in the beginning stages of another été meurtrier.

The opening track, Christine  sets the stage: the guitars building a mix of 60s fuzztone and icy 80s wash over trebly, snappy bass and skittish drums. The song is a period-perfect take on the peppy garage-pop that was all the rage in France in the late 60s, but with a brooding, noir edge. Jean sings with a snippy impatience on this one. Dans le Noir is 180 degrees from that, vocally, a warmly swirling, bittersweetly nocturnal tableau – but by the end, Jean hardly sounds like she’s looking forward to dancing in the dark, like she says. Similarly, La Fin Du Monde, with its blend of psychedelic grit, swooshy cinematics and Jean’s cleverly intricate rhyme scheme, isn’t as quite apocalyptic as its title would imply.

Jean follows a vivid, doomed narrative over a Ghost Riders in the Sky gallop in Marche, lit up with some creepy chorus-box guitar cadenzas midway through. She works the road metaphor implicit in the pouncing, persistent horror-garage hit La Route for all it’s worth – thematically if not musically, it’s her take on Iggy Pop’s The Passenger. Then she opens the skeletally dancing Mon Autre with a scream – finally, six tracks in, she can’t avoid a comparison to French obsessions the Cure, but with surreal deep-space keyb tinges.

The band goes back toward creepy new wave-ish border rock with Cavalier Solitaire (Lone Rider), bringing to mind the similarly brisk but persistent unease of Jean’s colleague Marianne Dissard‘s early work. The best song on the album, Je Fais Le Mort (I Play Dead) might also be the best song of the year, comparable to this year’s early frontrunner, Karla Rose & the ThornsBattery Park. That one’s a bolero of sorts; this is a toweringly sad, phantasmagorical lament in in 6/8 time. Over and over again, Jean underscores how this metaphorical killing wasn’t worth the time it took – along with plenty of other implications.

Even the bounciest and most retro number here, Marabout, a single from last year, has a dark undercurrent: this ladykiller will get you on your knees. And A La Plage might be the most melancholy beach song released in recent years, part Stranglers, part dark 60s Phil Spector, with hints of dub reggae. The album winds up with Animal, a coyly menacing number that reminds of Fabienne Delsol. While there’s no need to speak French to appreciate this on a musical level, Jean’s lyrics are superb, packed with double entendres and clever, sometimes Rachelle Garniez-class wordplay. You’ll see this high on the list of best albums of 2016 if the screen you’re watching doesn’t go completely noir by then.

Revisiting a Folk Noir Classic by Hungrytown

It might seem absurd that folk noir duo Hungrytown’s latest album Further West – streaming at Bandcamp -made the Best Albums of 2015 page here, yet never got a full writeup. That’s because if they made it to town last year, they did that before the album came over the transom. Where it sat, and sat, and sat, and that’s a crime: it’s by far their most vivid and intense album, in fact one of the most darkly memorable releases of the past many months.

Since the early zeros, singer Rebecca Hall and her multi-instrumentalist husband Ken Anderson have been working the darker corners of the folk milieu. Their most recent album before this, 2011’s Any Forgotten Thing took an impressively erudite detour into period-perfect 60s Laurel Canyon psychedelic folk. This release is a return to their elegant acoustic roots, more or less, although a couple of the most quietly lingering tracks also explore the band’s psychedelic side. The elegantly waltzing, understatedly menacing title cut sets the stage:

Rocks in my pocket
Blood on the stairs
Followed you down to the sea

And the story only gets better from there. Hall’s calm, collected narrator eventually intimates that she’s leaving the crime scene for parts further west simply because she’s got better things to do.

The album’s version of Hard Way to Learn – the chilling opening track on Hall’s excellent 2000 solo album Rebecca Hall Sings! – gets a slightly bulked-up remake, awash in lush, multitracked harmonies, propelled by Anderson’s steady banjo and Lissa Scheckenburger’s stark fiddle. In Sometime, Hall turns on her pillowiest, most understatedly wounded delivery, anchored by funereal organ, revisiting a theme of learning the hard way:

Rushing through my brightest hour but favoring the dark
Believing every undying word is justified in part

Hall doesn’t bother to change any of the lyrics to fit a woman’s voice for a stark take of the old British folk ballad, Don’t You Let Me Down, and the result is even more surreal than the original. And the bit about how “the bank man stole it all away” makes it even more relevant, here at the end of the real estate bubble era. The harrowingly catchy Day for Night takes that theme further into the present:

Losing streak, trying to sail, over dry land
Losing sleep, promise to pay, no money in hand
And the cold’s rolling in from the north…
So many ways, ways to go wrong, so we just go along
And the trucks run their engines all night
We’ll sleep in the glare of the streetlight

Hall and Anderson duet a-cappella and keep that hardscrabble ambience going with the bitter migrant work lament Pastures of Plenty. They pick up the pace with the Lynchian vintage C&W of Don’t Cross That Mountain, the bit of extra reverb on Hall’s voice matched by Anderson’s ominously echoey guitar. Then they revisit the indian summer psychedelia of their previous album with the hypnotic, uneasily starlit Highway Song:

Moon rolls down the highway
Playing hide and seek
Stop along the meadow
Tickling his cheek

Suzanne Mueller’s austere cello underpins the stately, heartbroken minor-key waltz Ramparts and Bridges. Anderson’s twinkling electric piano mingles with low-key fingerpicked guitar on Static, an enigmatic night drive that might or might not be a sequel to the title track: “I know how you feel to have lost every signal you once had,” Hall intones gently. The album ends up with the elegantly trad Eastward Forests, Westward Hills and then the spare, menacingly aphoristic Troubles in Between:

December, sorry, slept right through.
January, missed you too.
Sped past March, April and May
Sometimes it’s best to keep away

Not only is this one of the best albums of 2015, if’s one of the best of the decade, if anybody’s counting. Hungrytown’s next gig is actually sort of close to home, a free outdoor show tonight at 6:30 PM at Harborfront Park, 101A East Broadway in Port Jefferson, Long Island.