New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: disco music

Charlene Kaye Funks Up the Mercury Lounge

Charlene Kaye & the Brilliant Eyes brought a party to the Mercury Lounge Wednesday night with a too-brief set that was as quirky and fun as it was surreal, blending equal parts psychedelic funk, new wave and postpunk. She had not one but two drummers onstage, playing full kits: how cool is that? Kaye has jumped nimbly from style to style in recent years, from pensively jangly rock to  more oldtime-flavored sounds, but lately she’s put a lot more muscle into the rhythm. Since this band had no bass, the low notes were supplied by keyboardist Jason Wexler, whose fat, woozy synth basslines drew a straight line back to Bernie Worrell. And this guy is FAST – he played his one solo of the night, a machinegunning series of spirals down from the upper registers, with just his right hand. It was Kaye’s bad luck to follow that big crowd-pleaser with one of her own, firing off nimble funk and blues licks. She’s a connoisseur of guitars – last time this blog caught her onstage, she had a Les Paul, this time it was a Jazzmaster – and has serious chops to match. And an ear for assimilating the sounds of a particular era and then spinning them back with her own stamp on them.

The night’s second number began with acidic sheets of noise from the keyb – which drove the sound guy crazy – and blippy 80s synth grounded by Kaye’s solid, minimalist, funky riffage. The slinky, vintage P-Funk-tinged number after that, Kaye said, she’d written to pick herself up after a particularly bad summer. From there she led the band into oldschool 70s disco updated with wry 80s synth voicings. She reinvented a Drake song as classic disco, building from minimalist postpunk guitar on the verse to a big lingering chorus over fuzzy, sustained synth bass and echoey electric piano.

One of several brand-new songs, simply titled You, set an anthemic 80s Britpop tune to the cleverly orchestrated thump of the two drums – this was the number with the back-to-back high-voltage solos. Another song brought back the classic disco groove and then morphed into an anthemic new wave hit that evoked the Motels at the peak of that band’s mid-80s popularity. Years go by and people still dance to these sounds – and Kaye seems determined to capitalize on that. There were a couple of songs that missed the mark – the opener, which had a cloying, Vampire Weekend-ish sweaterboy Afropop feel, and the closer, with its singsongey ah-OOH-ah backing vocals, which veered toward the studied awkwardness of corporate emo. But the crowd was into it. It would have been more fun if Kaye’d had the chance to do a longer set and cut loose more on guitar. To let off steam, she sometimes plays in an all-female Guns & Roses cover band called Guns & Hoses (no joke) and is reputedly fierce in that one as well.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors Kicks Off with an Eclectic Triplebill

[repost from NY Music Daily’s sister blog Lucid Culture]

The Kronos Quartet are celebrating their fortieth anniversary this year, so it makes sense that the beginning of this year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival – one of the best ever – would be centered around that landmark occasion. The world’s most adventurous string quartet have an auspicious new cellist, Sunny Yang (replacing Jeffrey Ziegler) and their usual slate of premieres and new commissions. Even by their paradigm-shifting standards, their world premiere of Ukraine-born Mariana Sadovska’s Chernobyl: The Harvest – with the composer on vocals and harmonium – last night at the Damrosch Park bandshell was nothing short of shattering,  It’s a suite of old Ukrainian folk songs reinvented to commemorate the horror of the 1986 nuclear disaster, which by conservative standards killed at least a million people around the globe and caused the breakup of the Soviet Union, the world’s second-greatest power at the time.

Singing in Ukrainian, Sadovska began it a-cappella with her signature nuance, a thousands shades of angst, sometimes barely breathing, sometimes at a fullscale wail, occasionally employing foreboding microtones to max out the menace. Violist Hank Dutt got the plum assignment of leading the ensemble to join her, Yang’s foreboding drone underpinning a series of up-and-down, Julia Wolfe-esque motives. Quavering, anxious Iranian-tinged flutters from the cello along with violinists David Harrington and John Sherba, astringently atmospheric harmonics and a big, uneasy crescendo, the harmonium going full steam, built to a savagely sarcastic faux circus motif and then a diabolical dance. That was the harvest, a brutal portrayal whose ultimate toll is still unknown. Through a plaintive theme and variations, Sadovska’s voice rose methodically from stunned horror to indignance and wrath: again, the triptych’s final theme, Heaven, appeared to be sarcastic to the extreme, Sadovska determined not to let the calamity slip from memory. Nuclear time forgives much more slowly than time as we experience it: 26 years after the catastrophe, wild mushrooms in Germany – thousands of miles from the disaster scene – remain inedible, contaminated with deadly nuclear toxins.

In a counterintuitive stroke of booking, luminous singer Shara Worden’s kinetic art-rock octet, My Brightest Diamond headlined. They’re like the Eurythmics except with good vocals and good songs – hmmm, that doesn’t leave much, does it? Or like ELO during their momentary lapse into disco, but better. Sh-sh-sh-sh-Shara can get away with referencing herself in a song because she does it with tongue planted firmly in cheek, and because she’s as funny as she can be haunting. She loves props and costumes – a big cardboard moustache and a fez among them, this time out – and draws on a wide-ranging musical drama background. But she saves the drama for when she really needs to take a song over the edge, belting at gale force in contrast to a fat, droll synth bass pulse late in the show. Her lively arrangements rippled through the ensemble of Hideaki Aomori on alto sax, Lisa Raschiatore on clarinet and bass clarinet, CJ Cameriere on trumpet, Michael Davis on trombone and Alex Sopp on flutes, like the early/middle-period Moody Blues as orchestrated by Carl Nielsen. Sopp’s triumphant cadenzas capped off several big crescendos, as did Aomori on the second number, a circus rock song with dixieland flourishes. Worden brought the energy down to pensive for a bit, crooning with a low, ripe, Serena Jost-like intensity and playing Rhodes piano on a hypnotic trip-hop number. Worden switched to minimal but assured electric guitar on a slow, pensive tune and then a warm, gently arpeggiated love song, then to mbira on a similarly hypnotic but bouncier Afro-funk song. “A girl from the country had a dream, and the best place she could think of was here,” Worden beamed to the packed arena as she wound up the night. “We’re living the dream.”

Emily Wells was lost in limbo between the two. The smoky patterns on the kaleidoscopic light show projected behind her on the back of the stage offered more than a hint of the milieu she’s best suited to. It was a cruel if probably unintentional stroke of fate that stuck Wells, a competent singer, between two brilliant ones. Her music is quirky, playful and trippy to the extreme. Wells can be very entertaining to watch, when she’s building songs out of loops, adding layers of vocals, keys and violin, switching between instruments and her mixing board with split-second verve. But as her set – the longest one of the night – went on, it became painfully obvious that she wasn’t doing much more than karaoke. She sang her dubwise, trippy hip-hop/trip-hop/soul mashups in what became a monotonously hazy soul-influenced drawl without any sense of dynamics. Where Sadovska sang of nuclear apocalypse and Worden tersely explored existential themes, the best Wells could do was a Missy Elliott-ish trip-hop paean to Los Angeles. And when she addressed the crowd, Wells seemed lost, veering between a southern drawl and something like an Irish brogue. But the audience LOVED her, and gave her the most applause of anyone on the bill.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors is phenomenal this year: the Kronos Quartet will be there tomorrow and then Sunday night. The full calendar is here.

The Bombay Royale Takes Classic Bollywood Psychedelia to the Next Level

The heart of what the Bombay Royale plays on their new album You Me Bullets Love is surf music. But over the driving drums and ominously twanging guitars, the eleven-piece band from Melbourne, Australia has dramatic blasts of brass, lush woodwinds and strings, sitar, tabla and all sorts of vintage keyboards. Their songs are mostly original material inspired by the classic psychedelic sounds of 1960s Bollywood, along with a couple of vintage covers from that era. Some of this is such a vivid homage that it’s almost satirical how this band gets that sound down so cold; when they’re not romping through one chase scene after another, they’re slinking along on a psychedelic disco boudoir groove that appropriates American tropes from the 70s like woozy bass synth, maybe an Omnichord, an Arp or whatever the cheap pre-Casio keyboard du jour happened to be in India circa 1980. This isn’t a subtle record by a long shot but it’s an awful lot of fun.

James Bond organ and ominous low brass kick off the Henry Mancini-esque opening track, Monkey Fight Snake, which picks up steam with Bob Knob’s wicked hollowbody bass pulse, managing to boom yet also cut through like a scimitar. As with most of the tracks here, the guy/girl vocals of Shourav Bhattacharya and Parvyn Kaur Singh follow a predictable Bollywood dichotomy, debonair baritone smoothness versus coy, chirpy high soprano – Singh has a truly stratospheric range and really gets to air it out here. The title track, a prime example of the two pairing off, takes a raga melody, surfs it up and finallly sends it flying out on a lush bed of strings. The first of the covers, Jaan Pehechan Ho (from the 1965 film Gumnaam) maintains the Vampyros Lesbos/Electric Prunes-via-India vibe with Matt Vehl’s noir organ and Tom Martin’s reverb guitar; by contrast, the second, Sote Sote Adhi Raat works a suspensefully nocturnal disco vibe with a series of dubious synth settings that evoke vintage video games more than they do any instrument that was ever used in rock music.

From there the band takes their own stab at Hindi disco before splashing back into the surf with the cryptically titled Bobbywood, a somewhat more stripped-down arrangement (somewhat being a relative word here) with chromatic organ, punchy brass, a delicious and all-too-brief organ-and-sitar break and a very satisfying, darkly lush outro. Mahindra Death Ride turns out not to be horror surf but instead a sort of Indian take on go-go music with some lurid spy-movie guitar welded on. Oh Sajna – one of several co-writes by saxophonist/bandleader Andy Williamson – is a bracingly minor-key, anthemic surf-pop song, while Dacoit’s Choice offers a look at what P-Funk might have sounded like had they been Indian. The album winds up with Phone Baje Ne, slowly coalescing into hypnotic reggae lit up by a sweet trumpet solo over a catchy bass hook.

Is this campy? From an English-speaking perspective, not having any idea of what the Hindi or Bengali lyrics might mean, at least a little. Kitschy? Not really – the music has too much of an underlying unease and sometimes downright menace. Other than the obvious fans of old Bollywood spy movies, who is the audience for this? Anyone who’s into surf music, or the wooziest side of 60s psychedelia, or current-day American psychedelic revivalists like Dengue Fever or Chicha Libre, who’ve resurrected esoteric styles that originated in far-flung places like Cambodia or Peru. Isn’t it funny how so often cross-pollination often improves on the original sound? In a nutshell, that’s the Bombay Royale. Lucky fans in Sydney can see them play a swanky album launch party on June 10 at 7:30 at the Basement, 7 Macquarie Place, Circular Quay, NSW 2000: advance tix are $15.