New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: desert rock

Another Haunting Knockout From Marianne Dissard

Marianne Dissard is one of this era’s great cult artists. Known as a connoisseur of desert rock, she’s equally adept at new wave, but doesn’t limit herself to those two genres. Born in France, she relocated to Tucson in her teens and quickly laid the foundation for longstanding collaborations with Giant Sand and Sergio Mendoza, resulting not only in unimpeachable cred but also a deep and distinctive body of work. Perhaps ironically, for someone so tireless and endowed with so much joie de vivre, the pixieish, charismatic contralto singer’s best album to date is her most somber. Years of relentless touring eventually took their toll, and in 2013, Dissard basically crashed. The result was The Cat. Not Me, a majestically orchestrated art-rock masterpiece that, as a portrait of complete emotional depletion, ranks with anything Leonard Cohen or Ian Curtis ever wrote.

One considerably more upbeat constant throughout those years of touring has been that Dissard has always documented the various bands she’s played with. Not with live albums, but by taking whoever she had on the road with her into the studio in various cities throughout Europe, as the schedule would allow, to knock out a quick, tight snapshot of wherever her music happened to be at the moment. Her latest release in that series, available in a neat hybrid vinyl/cd format streaming at Bandcamp, is Cologne Vier Takes, an intimate, stripped-down trio set with Yan Péchin on guitars and Allyson Ezell on backing vocals, recorded in a single whirlwind afternoon between gigs earlier this year..

The opening track, Oiseau (Bird), is devastating – literally. Dissard intones her loaded images of the hapless creature hitting the window and then collapsing with a wounded understatement that permeates the quieter material from this session. Underneath, Péchin builds a richly textured web of electric and acoustic guitars, like the early Velvets if they’d been more elegant and raised on the Arizona/Mexico border. The gospel-fueled trip-hop original on The Cat. Not Me was good, but this is far more harrowing. Dissard and Péchin work the same dynamic, a little louder, on the defiant, sarcastically titled Mouton Bercail (Domestic Sheep).

Likewise, Les Confettis gets transformed from bouncy post-Blonde on Blonde Dylan into broodingly swaying, lushly echoey folk-rock, finally rising to a burning guitar crescendo after Dissard has chronicled every shard of torn paper: death by a thousand twisted little heartbreaks. The version of Les Draps Sourds (The Drunken Sheets) is Dissard at her surrealistic best, the deep-space menace of the guitar in contrast with her wry account of the kind of interruptions lovers sometimes have to deal with at the least opportune moment.

Tortured, distorted guitar underpins Dissard’s similarly tormented lyrics on the take of Election here. It has the presence of a full band, even with just the one instrument and Dissard’s typical vocal understatement – she’s as brilliant a singer as she is a lyricist, in this case in French, although she also writes fluently in English and German. The album ends with the whisperingly venomous kiss-off ballad Cayenne, another rapt blend of vocal and guitar nuance. There’s no other short album released this year that can compare with this.

Not to distract you from appreciating this album, but there’s also a free download of Dissard playing a similarly intimate trio show live on WFMU in 2009, up as a free download at the Free Music Archive, that you should grab immediately: as of today, over 3500 people have already beaten you to it. Dissard also promises a lavishly packaged best-of compilation in 2016, and hopefully a full-length memoir as well.

Julia Haltigan Channels a Simmering Noir Intensity at the Poisson Rouge

Unlikely as it is that the leader of one of the city’s most dynamic bands would be just as entertaining and luridly gripping as a solo act, that’s what noir songwriter Julia Haltigan was Saturday night at the Poisson Rouge. It was a good gig for her, not her usual crowd, which tends to be on the young and wild side, something you might expect for someone who channels a torchy, retro allure and a menace that’s sometimes distant and sometimes in your face. This show gave her a chance to connect with an older, bridge-and-tunnel date-night audience who’d come out for an easy-listening evening with singer-songwriter Vonda Shepard. Haltigan’s regular backing unit has jazz sophistication but also feral energy; playing mostly by herself, with just her trusty vintage Gibson guitar and her reverb pedal, she used the moment to work the corners with a razorwire nuance that matched her songs’ simmering intensity.

Haltigan also seized the opportunity to make points with the audience via a couple of good stories. The first concerned some unexpected consequences in the wake of allowing her electric mandolinist dad – who also made a cameo during the show on smoky blues harp – to serve as an admin at her Facebook fan page. The second looked back to a past decade when people had Blackberries. Haltigan explained that she once went about a year without texting “hi” to anyone for fear of the gizmo translating that as “I’m horny.” Her phone ended up embarrassing her that way a couple of times, once in an exchange with her cousins, before she realized what was going on. That took awhile.

One day during rehearsal, she related the story to her bassist. “Remember that time I borrowed your phone?” he asked her. “I reset the autocorrect.”

That was the comic relief from the songs’ relentless, smoky disquiet. An appropriately spare take of Skeleton Dance, she explained, contemplated a sort of “Mickey Mouse version of death.” But that was the exception. A co-write with the Waterboys’ Mike Scott shifted from an enigmatic stroll to the kind of anthemic chorus you’d expect from that band; a little later, Haltigan led the crowd in a singalong of a similarly pensive, oldtime gospel-flavored Freddie Stevenson song. But her own material was the most memorable. She opened with a slow, haunting oldschool soul-tinged ballad, a woman on the run in her Waitsian hotel room in the wee hours, looking back on what she’ll never have again. From there Haltigan went toward dark rockabilly with the irrepressible Gasoline & Matches and the defiant I Don’t Wanna Fall in Love, airing out her powerful low register. The best song of the night was a murderously scampering border rock anthem that wouldn’t have been out of place at a Karla Rose & the Thorns show.

Haltigan next plays with her band on December 15 at 10:15 PM at the Manderley Bar at the McKittrick Hotel, 532 W 27th St. (10th/11th Aves, south side of the street, look for the little red light at the top of the stoop).

Haunting Noir Psychedelia and a Rare Williamsburg Show by Fernando Viciconte

“Everything you’re saying turned out wrong,” Fernando Viciconte muses. “Busted and broken or dead and gone.” Then a Farfisa keens, way back in the mix. And then the song explodes. The song is Save Me, the opening track on his new album Leave the Radio On, streaming at Bandcamp. And it’s killer. Sort of the lost great Steve Wynn album.

Viciconte hails from Argentina originally. Got his start in LA twenty-odd years ago, fronting a band called Monkey Paw. Eventually landed in Portland, Oregon. Wynn heard him and gave him the thumbs-up, as does his Baseball Project bandmate Peter Buck, who plays a lot of guitar on the album. You could call this noir psychedelia, for the sake of hanging a name on it, and you wouldn’t be off the mark, although there are a lot of different flavors here from both north and south of the border. It’s one of the best records of the year (and it is a record – you can get it on vinyl). Viciconte is making a rare New York swing, with a gig on November 27 at 9 PM at Pete’s. He’s also at the small room at the Rockwood tomorrow night, the 25th at 8.

The album’s second cut, The Dogs, is a lot quieter and vastly more surreal, with a similar sense of desperation and doom: Viciconte airs out his balmy, Lennonesque voice as the fuzztones come in with a swoosh of cymbals and a big exhaust fan blast of reverb. El Interior blends uneasy organ and mariachi horns into its Patagonian gothic resonance, an allusive tale of return and despair.

Icy, trebly layers of acoustic guitar mingle with eerily stately piano as So Loud gets underway, then picks up with a shuffling border rock groove up to a murderous series of drumshots out. The slow, brooding 6/8 anthem Friends and Enemies traces the last days of a dying relationship over Daniel Eccles’ elegaic guitar and pedal steel lines. Viciiconte hints that he’s going to take The Freak in a growling garage rock direction, but instead rises toward circus rock drama and desperation, David Bowie as covered by southwestern gothic supergroup Saint Maybe, maybe.

Paul Brainard’s pedal steel and then Buck’s mandolin sail woundedly above Viciconte’s low-key, defeated vocals and steady acoustic guitar on another elegaic number, the vintage C&W-inflected Kingdom Come:

Stay in pale moonlight
Stand your ground and choose your side
We don’t believe you anymore
We’ve all crawled on your killing floor

Then the band picks up the pace with the backbeat-driven Burned Out Love, part blistering paisley underground anthem, part wickedly catchy late Beatles. The gloomiest number here, White Trees takes a turn back down into spare folk noir:

When you left the table, who followed you home?
The knives and daggers left flesh and bone
The moon moon was shining on that cursed white stone
And you were crying and crying, trying to let it go

The catchiest yet arguably most haunting of all the tracks is the surreal In Their Heads, with its echoey blend of backward masking and ghostly narrative of childhood memories of an execution. One can only imagine what Viciconte might have witnessed, or heard about, during his early years in Argentina in the days of los desaparecidos. The album winds up on its most Beatlesque note with the title track: “Illusion is only skin deep, like raindrops on your wall,” Viciconte broods, “It all comes to an end in the blink of an eye.” Enjoy this dark masterpiece while we’re all still here.

A Rare NYC Appearance and a Driving, Resolute New Album by Malian Desert Rockers Terakaft

There’s cruel irony in the title of Malian desert rockers Terakaft‘s new, fifth album, Alone (streaming at Spotify). For two decades, the group’s message has been one of resistance and solidarity. A sort of shadow project to iconic duskcore band Tinariwen, with whom they share several members, they’ve typically served as a harder-rocking version of that group. But the energy of their new album, unlike their previous two releases, is driven not by optimism but disillusion and sometimes crushing despair in the wake of the ongoing war in their native land. Nonetheless, their music is steady, resolute and indomitable, its mantra-like grooves and rhythms testament to their commitment to the struggle that’s taken untold lives in their conflict-stricken home country. They’re at Joe’s Pub on September 7 at 9:30 PM as part of their current North American tour. Cover is $22 and since this band so seldom plays here, advance tix are highly recommended.

Growling, lingering, distorted chords anchor the loping pulse of the opening track, Anabayou (Awkward), further beefed up by heavier percussion than one would typically hear if the group were playing around the fire at sundown in the Sahara. Credit their longtime producer Justin Adams with adding stadium rock muscle without subsuming the music’s otherworldly, hypnotic quality.

Tafouk Tele (The Sun Is There) shifts the shuffling groove to the offbeat, the call-and-response of the vocals – an ancient trait in the region’s folk music – mirrored by the deft exchange of guitar riffage. When the song suddenly falls apart at the end, the effect is viscerally chilling. The album’s most stark and intense track – possibly the band’s best song ever – is Karambani (Nastiness), a rather savage minor-key shuffle fueled by a menacing baritone guitar riff that speeds up to a horrified sprint.

Itilla Ehene Dagh Aitma (To My Brothers) sets a low-key verse and a singalong chorus to trickily rhythmic, undulating waves of ringing, keening guitars. Oulhin Asnin (My Heart Hurts) subtly shifts the rhythm into a more straightforward groove, creating a feeling of forward motion slowly breaking free of restraint. Track six, Kal Hoggar works a more straight-up triplet beat, carefully textured layers of guitars buildilng a serpentine interweave.

Amidinin Senta Neflas (My Trusted Friend) is the closest thing here to straight-up western rock, enhanced by a spare harmonica track, a touch that probably originated in the studio. With its surreal, deep-space lead guitar lines, Wahouche Natareh (Lions) is the album’s most psychedelic number. Its most spare and woundedly pensive tune is the concluding title cut. You may be wondering about the lyrical content here: as with the group’s previous output, themes of exile, longing, anguish and struggle, sung in the group’s native Tamashek, dominate these resonant, memorably lingering songs.

Orkesta Mendoza Bring Their Desert Noir to Lincoln Center

Orkesta Mendoza are connoiseurs of noir. A lot of what’s lurking in the shade of that big black umbrella takes its origins from the Balkans, Romany and Jewish music, notably hi-de-ho jazz and its descendants in ghoulabilly and elsewhere. But a lot of noir comes from south of the border. For bandleader/guitarist/keyboardist Sergio Mendoza, none of those styles are off limits: slithery mambos, funereal boleros and towering, angst-fueled, cinematic rancheras, to name a few. He and his sizzling band – which can vary in size from a six-piece to a full orchestra – take those styles and mash them up into stampeding, lushly and exhilaratingly arranged psychedelic rock. They’re playing Lincoln Center Out of Doors, out back in Damrosch Park on July 29 at 7 PM. You should get there early if you want a seat.

The group’s most recent New York appearance was last year at South Sttreet Seaport, with a roughly ten-piece lineup including a horn section. Mendoza’s songs, whether originals or covers, tend to be expansive and go on for sometimes ten minutes or more – they redeem the concept of a jamband. This time out, in roughly forty-five minutes onstage, there wasn’t time for a lot wild improvisation, altough the group made those moments count. Mendoza played mostly acoustic guitar, shifting to the organ for just a single number. The star of this particular show was lapsteel player Joe Novelli, who played with a searing, chromatically-fueled fury. This wasn’t western swing – it was el diablo del desierto teleported from the netherland where Ambrose Bierce disappeared.

Baritone saxophonist Marco Rosano also distinguished himself and played keys on a couple of songs as well – lots of guys in this band double on several instruments. The most haunting song of the afternoon was Dulce Amor, a menacing bolero sung with drama and passion by Mexican cult favorite crooner Salvador Duran. Another similarly ominous, more upbeat minor key number was Mambo Mexicano, a springboard for several sizzling solos from throughout the band.

There was also a pricelessly hilarious moment. After the bass player led the group into a slinky psychedelic cumbia groove, Mendoza began it in English. It didn’t have much in the way of lyrics, and it turned out to be just a one-chord jam – but the band made it interesting. And when they got to the chorus, when Mendoza deadpanned “Don’t tell me that you love me,” it turned out that this was a Fleetwood Mac cover, Tusk, the 1979 hit that might be the most soporific song ever to reach the top 40. Fewer people in the crowd than you might expect got the joke – then again, 1979 was a long time ago, and it’s not likely that number gets a lot of corporate radio airplay anymore. For their last song, the group brought up whirlwind accordionist Rey Vallenato Beto Jamaica – who’d opened the afternoon with his band – raising the energy several notches. The only drawback about this show was that it was relatively short, but at Lincoln Center, artists typically get about a full hour onstage.

A Characteristically Rapturous Album and a Rare Outdoor Show by Magical Singer Kiran Ahluwalia

Singer Kiran Ahluwalia is one of the world’s great musical individualists. Her cool, clear, lustrous vocals are distinctive, blending the soaring peaks and hairpin-turn melismas of Indian music with the introspection of Pakistani ghazals. She’s carved out a niche for herself as a cross-pollinator, a woman of Indian extraction singing Pakistani and Malian melodies. Her latest album, Sanata: Stillness is streaming at Spotify, and she has a rare outdoor show on July 22 at 7 PM at Madison Square Park.

Ahluwalia’s not-so-secret weapon on the new album is her husband, guitarist Rez Abbasi, who does a one-man Tinariwen impersonation with his bristling pull-offs and spark-shedding, minutely nuanced, reverbtoned rhythm. That should come as no surprise, since Abbasi’s playing can be as protean as his wife’s vocals – and also because Ahluwalia featured Tinariwen on her previous album. The opening track sets the stage perfectly, an undulating, mystical Saharan groove, Ahluwalia’s Punjabi vocals sailing over her bandmates’ practically sinister low harmonies. Throughout the album, Nikku Nayar and Rich Brown take turns on bass, each contributing tersely tasteful low end. Nitin Mitta plays tabla, Mark Duggan alternates between vibraphone and percussion and Kiran Thakrar adds color with his harmonium.

Jaane Na – meaning “Nobody Knows” – is a scrambling, scurrying, funk-tinged number, a metaphorically-charged contemplation of personal demons and how to conquer them; it’s a lot closer to Abbasi’s brand of spiky guitar jazz than anything Ahluwalia has done up to this point. The guitarist’s meticulous multitracks give the the anthemic, subtly crescendoing title track – a wistful breakup ballad – a slow simmer. He grounds Tamana – an anthem for living with impunity – in nebulously jazz-tinged chords, matching Ahluwalia’s wary midrange and gentle melismatics.

Ahluwalia sings vocalese on Hum Dono, a minimalist progressive jazz sketch. The first of the two covers here is Jhoom, a qawwali drinking anthem reinvented as duskcore; the other is Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s Lament, done as a psychedelic epic, part 90s trip-hop, part Pink Floyd.

Taskeen opens with a swirly harmonium improvisation and builds slowly and carefully, with judiciously biting Middle Eastern tings; it’s an original setting of a poem about not being jealous of your significant other’s past lovers. The last of the originals is the enigmatically fluttering, folk-rock tinged Qaza:

The truth of the heart has many doors
Some open some don’t
Don’t get lost in them

Who is the audience for this? Anyone who likes to get lost in the mystical sound of ghazals or hypnotic Saharan guitar bands, and for that matter anyone looking for a moment of elegant sonic serenity.

Imharhan Bring Their Hypnotically Intense, Relevant Malian Desert Rock Jams to Littlefield

Timbuktu-based dusckcore band Imharhan differentiate themselves from the rest of their hypnotic desert brethren by way of frontman Mohammed Issa’s brightly incisive, even aggressive lead guitar style. Among practitioners of assouf, ie. so-called “desert blues,” Niger-born guitar star Bombino‘s work comes to mind. Imharhan also have an alter ego, Tartit, where the band, joined by a choir of women, transforms itself into an acoustic act playing ancient traditional tunes, the roots of Issa’s gleaming, guitar-fueled anthems. Imharhan’s latest album, Akal Warled (“Alien Land” in Tamasheq) is out, and they’re playing Littlefield at around 9 on March 23.

Issa’s distinctive, kinetic lines immediately take centerstage on the first number, Aicha Talamomt, ringing out with precise hammer-ons and sputtery but resonant accents over a snaky camelwalk groove. Although Imharhan’s music is typically hypnotic and reflective, this is one of the band’s more sonically adventurous, rock-oriented tracks: the rhythm guitarist plays through a wah pedal, and Issa’s crescendoing attack is as close to western stadium rock as you’ll ever find in this otherwise psychedelic, slinky style of music.

The album’s title track reflects on the angst of an exile, a bitter commentary on the ongoing civil war in Mali, but more animatedly than you might expect. It coalesces into a deceptively brisk shuffle that gets more careening as it goes on, winding up with a lushly intertwined twin-guitar duel that sounds almost like a bagpipe at full power. The following track, Amassakoul in Tenere is more terse, built around a wickedly catchy raga-ish guitar riff as it illustrates the life of a nomad, someone who was born to wander.

Ehala Damohele, a tribute to the resilience of women, works an amped-up, circular Tuareg folk theme. The matter-of-factly swaying Taliat Malat bears the most resemblance to current-day desert rock, as popularized by Tinariwen (who also happen to be in town, on March 23 and 24 at Brooklyn Bowl) and Etran Finatawa. Taliat Ta Silkjourout –  “beautiful girl across the oasis,” essentially – sets Issa’s long, soaring, subtly crescendoing lead lines over calm but bubbly polyrhythms, a hypnotic interweave of guitars, bass and percussion.

Tarha Tizar – meaning “love is the reason”- has a more insistent, purposeful, straight-ahead pulse: Issa clearly means business on this one. As he and the band do even more fervently on the album’s final track, Tidawt (Unity), which laments the state of the band’s native land, portrayed as a camel ripped to shreds by a jackal. Imharhan were one of the stars of last year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival, and their live show promises to be even more electrifying in Littlefield’s more intimate, sonically excellent space. As far as the album is concerned, where can you hear it online? Well, you basically can’t – although live versions of some of the tracks have made it to youtube, you’ll have to go to the show instead.