New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: electric cowbell records

Catchy Eclectic Grooves from CSC Funk Band

We’ve come full circle when American bands in the teens are stealing from Nigerian bands from the 70s who were stealing from Americans back then. CSC Funk Band takes the Nigerians’ hypnotic pulse and biting horns, then beefs up the mix with a beat that’s a little heavier, then adds a bluesy/funky guitar edge and woozy, liquid organ and synth for a sound that’s uniquely their own. All their songs are instrumental jams. Is what they do stoner music? Well, their latest album, Funkincense was released by the Electric Cowbell folks on 4/20…but you don’t have to be high to enjoy it. It’s good party music, good on the train, wakes you up without giving you a headache and then keeps you up. You can stream it at Flea Market Funk.

The album is divided up into A and B sides. Side one begins with Catcher’s Mitt, which takes a loping Afrobeat groove, a catchy minor-key horn riff, adds bluesy guitar cadenzas and some woozy stoner synth. The title track has oscillating synth under Wes Buckly’s catchy alto sax riffage and bandleader Colin Langenus’ gritty guitar. Make Your Mind Up, by bassist Jesse Lent, has a goodnatured bounce, slinky clustering bass, blue-sky alto sax, upper-register organ and then a mutlitracked slide guitar break.  Choom Gang – a tribute to President Obama’s teenage stoner years, complete with talk-show banter that sounds much more stoned than the actual song – is a muscular Afrobeat jam, its web of guitars and sax rising to a series of triumphant crescendos, followed by an echoey dub interlude. Total absorption achieved!

Side two starts with the hard-hitting, wickedly catchy minor-key dancefloor groove You Say. Ticket to Cabo, by trombonist Elizabeth Arce, warps back and forth between an airy 80s groove and an edgier 70s guitar-driven sound. Built around a wry, loopy synth riff, Klip Winger reminds of Moisturizer with its moody baritone sax. The album winds up with keyboardist Matt Mottel’s Versace Nachos, vamping on a famous early 80s riff with an ear-to-ear grin.  Goes to show how much fun you can have when you take an eclectic bunch of musicians with backgrounds in noiserock, jazz improvisation, ska and funk, smoke them up and see what comes out.

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Haunting, Otherworldly Ancient Georgian Songs from Zedashe

If you’re a fledgling Brooklyn record label, you want to establish yourself with a big-name indie rock band, right? Maybe if you’re lucky, some famous remixer [fill in the blank with the name of one if you know any – dozens of emails pitching indie rock remixes come over the transom here every day, and every single one of them goes in the trash] will remix one of the tracks ,and then you’ll suddenly be rich and famous, no? Insurgent Brooklyn label Electric Cowbell Records does things a little differently. Aside from putting out the excellent, more Afrobeat-inclined second release by CSC Funk Band (more about that one here soon), they went to Georgia in the former Soviet Union for Zedashe. In an era when nobody buys music anymore, they are going to sell a lot of copies of this album. It’s actually worth owning as a cd – you heard it here first.

Zedashe are a multi-generational ten-piece-plus choir from the village of Sighnaghi who specialize in centuries-old folk songs. They sing in their native Georgian language, accompanied by spare panduri lute, gardoni (wooden accordion) and chiboni (bagpipes) and occasional drums. Their music is literally otherworldly: it comes from another time and place. Throughout history, Georgia has been torn by war and invasions: it’s a miracle that any culture there existed at all, let alone one that could be passed down through the generations. The album was recorded at the local winery. It’s hardy, feral stuff.

Low, hypnotic, sometimes menacing drones anchor many of the choral pieces. A work song for artisans carving a wine trough sounds like a sea chantey – and lends credence to the argument that WHOOOOAH means exactly the same thing in Georgian as it does in English, i.e. “stop right now and go back in the direction you just came from.” There’s a catchy anthem that with English lyrics could be an East Anglian folk song and a matter-of-fact number with the garmoni delivering an echoey effect like a 1960s guitar repeaterbox. The close harmonies of the choir, composed of men, women and children in the old tradition, are sometimes surreal, often trance-inducing: this is the creepiest childrens’ choir you will ever hear, bar none. There are places where the counterpoint is as sophisticated as the most elaborate western classical music. There are horror film soundtracks in process waiting for some of these songs. There’s also a psychedelic aspect to many of the 23 tracks here. Zedashe take what they do very seriously: the opening track, for example, is described as being “derived from G. Svanidze’s 1924 recording of Petre Petriashili.” After hearing this, one can only hope to hear the original. For the English-speaking world, Electric Cowbell has a useful listening guide with translations of the lyrics here.

This blog was launched in August of 2011. The very first album chosen for review here – out of a universe of millions – was a 2004 collection of choral works by Ukrainian composer Roman Hurko, in memory of the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. At the time, given the global extinction event that happened the previous March 11, it made sense. With this album, it looks like this blog has come full circle.

Richly Creepy Vintage Afrobeat Grooves from Karthala 72

Karthala 72, right down to their name, evoke the crazed, surreal, most menacing side of the psychedelic funk coming out of Nigeria and Ethiopia in the 70s. Is their recently issued album Diable du Feu (Fire Devil) in fact an obscure treasure from that era? As you probably guessed by now, it’s not: the band is from Brooklyn. But hearing the music, you could easily fool someone who wasn’t hip to the scheme. And Karthala 72’s take on that era is spot-on, right down to the haphazard, seemingly on-the-fly production complete with dirty, distorted bass. What’s coolest about this album is that most of the songs are short: even though most of them are one or two-chord jams, they never go on so long that they get boring. The effect is just the opposite: the listener is left wishing they’d go on for twice as long because the band is thrashing the living hell out of them.

The album opens with the title track, a creepy chromatic horror surf guitar riff rising over circular, blippy bass and boomy percussion. Swirly sax takes it back from chaos to that evil opening riff – and then they’re done in less than three minutes. The raga-funk Marche de la Mort (Death Market) is sort of Within You Without You done as macabre Afrobeat, while the slow, hypnotic Bahari Farasi works call-and-response guitars into a surreal clave groove.

Armour Sombre is a brisk Afrobeat-rock shuffle with clattering percussion that harks back to 80s noiserock bands like Savage Republic (who ironically were influenced by the original stuff from Africa) as much as it does Fela. The same goes for Dans le Coeur Du Feu (In the Heart of the Fire), the A-side of their 2011 Electric Cowbell 7.”

The B-side of that single, Dolores sets surprisingly blithe sax against a brooding one-chord trance vamp. The longest jam here, Triomphe Dieu de la Mer (Sea God’s Victory) pairs echoey East Bay Ray guitar with trippy, echoey, distorted Rhodes piano that builds to a weirdly bluesy jam over an omnipresent percussive groove, rising from a slither to a gallop. They follow that with Trop Fort (Too Strong), which comes together out of a woozy dub-flavored intro with more offcenter chromatic reverb guitar and an even creepier Ethiopiques horn riff.

The brief Le Vieux Chien Marcel (Old Dog Marcel) is the closest approximation of the imitation James Brown coming out of Africa forty years ago, followed by Kishindo Hekalu Wa Roho, which starts out like an amazing Lee “Scratch” Perry dub of an early Black Sabbath track and ends up like Savage Republic. The album closes with the ominous stoner funk of L’Expansion Bantoue (Bantu Takeover).

That’s the nuts and bolts of what Karthala 72 sounds like. Emotionally, this album takes you on a heart-racing, darting tour of the ill-lit back corners of some nameless, dusty third world city of the mind where danger lurks around every turn and the pungent, skunky smell of Durban poison hangs heavy in the air. Creepy dance music doesn’t get any better than this.

Super Hi-Fi Puts Out the Best Reggae Album of the Year

Meet the best reggae album of the year – and it doesn’t have any lyrics. Brooklyn band Super Hi-Fi’s new album Dub to the Bone is all instrumental. Essentially, it’s live dub – to an extent, they’re doing live what Scratch Perry would do in the studio. But this album keeps the studio wizardry to a minimum and focuses on the songs. Theyv’e got an oldschool echoplex, which they use judiciously and absolutely psychedelically, but it’s the tunes and the playing that make this psychedelic. Since this was recorded as a vinyl record for Brooklyn’s excellent, eclectic Electric Cowbell label, there’s an A-side and a B-side.

The band keeps it simple and catchy as they make their way methodically from one hook to another. A lot of reggae is verse/chorus/verse/etc. and this isn’t, which keeps it interesting while maintaining a fat groove. And while a lot of dub is an endless series of textures echoing and fading in and out of the mix, the band does this live without missing a beat. Bassist Ezra Gale’s songs lean toward the dark and menacing side: some of this is absolutely creepy, as the best reggae and ska can be.

The opening track, Washingtonian works trippy variations on a dark reggae vamp, the occasional vintage newsreel sample adding snide commentary on the military-industrial complex (is that Eisenhower?) The tightness of the twin trombones of Alex Asher and Ryan Snow reminds of classic Skatalites, or Burning Spear’s peak-era band with the Burning Brass.

There are two versions of Tri Tro Tro here and they couldn’t be any more different: they’re basically two separate songs. Which is the coolest thing about dub – the first builds to a carefree Will Graefe guitar hook over the equally catchy bassline, the second begins as a new wave guitar song before the reggae riddim kicks in and morphs into a soukous tune. The third track, Neolithic, runs from a twin trombone hook to a wickedly catchy turnaround, wailing guitar giving way to the swoosh of the echoplex and then an unexpectedly balmy, jazzy interlude.

The best track here is the absolutely Lynchian We Will Begin Again with its noir trombones, creepy, lingering guitar and shapeshifting melody. Q Street drops the individual instruments in and out over an Ethiopian-flavored groove, while Public Option – another political reference  – centers its echoey orchestration around a moody minor groove and Madhu Siddappa’s hypnotically boomy snare drum. The final track, mixed expertly by Victor Rice, somebody who knows a thing or two about classic dub, is Single Payer, the most psychedelic, Black Ark-style plate here, the veteran ska and reggae producer having fun matching the bass and drums against the guitar and trombones and vice versa. The album release show is at Nublu at around midnight – you know how that place is – on Dec 13, and it’s free.

Something for Spring from CSC Funk Band

Here’s a couple of cool tracks to put some spring in your step. Brooklyn’s CSC Funk Band played a Guru tribute last year which inspired them to record an instrumental single that builds on vintage Gang Starr beats while adding an original bite and edge. The A-side, A Little Weight is a hip-hop joint with jaunty violin as the lead instrument – when’s the last time you heard that? There are jazz groups who do stuff like that – Zach Brock’s trio comes to mind – but this is definitely something different. The B-side, A Little Planet is trippier and rocks harder, with CSC’s trademark organic groove. A limited vinyl pressing is available from Electric Cowbell and of course through your favorite independent record store.

Slinky Dub from Super Hi-Fi

Brooklyn Afrobeat dub outfit Super Hi-Fi have a great new single, the sardonically titled Single Payer, just out on high-grade vinyl on Electric Cowbell Records, “probably the only dub track you will hear that works in samples of Nancy Pelosi and Joe Lieberman alongside a fiery trombone solo,” as the band puts it. The A-side is a seven-minute roots reggae instrumental with Alex Asher and Ryan Snow doing ominous harmonies on their trombones over the slinky groove of bassist Ezra Gale (formerly of the excellent Bay Area group Afrodesia) and Madhu Siddappa on drums, with Will Graefe skanking on guitar, oldschool stylee. The B-side is a version by Victor Rice, who also knows a thing or two about dub. They’re both streaming at Soundcloud, along with a bunch of other equally mind-melting mixes. Enjoy!

Today’s Batch of Goodies

Can you name a better NYC band than Spanglish Fly? There are a bunch of others who are just as fun: Chicha Libre, Rev. Vince Anderson and his funk band, the Roulette Sisters, LJ Murphy in his many incarnations, but is there anybody better? Check out their latest summery single and see for yourself. Spanglish Fly play bugalu, a wicked mix of Puerto Rican grooves and oldschool soul music that originated in the 60s when the Puerto Rican kids in Spanish Harlem started listening to soul music. Meanwhile, the black kids uptown were listening to Puerto Rican music – it was one of those gorgeous melting-pot moments that could have only happened here. They’re playing the release show for their new single on Feb 16 at Zebulon starting at around 9. The A-side, Me Gusta Mi Bicliceta has frontwoman Erica Ramos wailing like never before. The B-side, The Po-Po is absolutely killer, a sarcastic plena soul groove that explores a universal NYC phenomenon: kids getting busted for open containers by cops desperate to make their “quality of life” arrest quotas. Check out that cool baritone sax! Both songs are streaming here; the vinyl – this stuff is pure analog! – will be out on Electric Cowbell Records.

Wave Sleep Wave – the latest project from the Blam’s Jerry Adler – has a new free download, Hey What – hypnotic, jangly reverby Britrock that wouldn’t be out of place on Wire’s 154 record. A full album is scheduled for next month.

Another free download worth checking out is the Feeling Anxious PR Valentine compilation. Not everything here is worth uploading, but the good stuff is choice: Tatiana Kochkareva’s bouncy retro psychedelic pop, Hannah vs. the Many’s assaultive, hyper-literate noir cabaret and Bryan Dunn’s super-sly country drinking song, Flowers, an anti-Valentine song if there ever was one.

And in case you missed Either/Orchestra’s transcendent three-hour marathon show of mostly brand-new Ethiopian-flavored jazz at the New School last November, it’ll be airing on WGBO’s Jazz Set program on Feb 19 at 6 PM and then on Feb 22 at 6:30. Listening back to a recording of the show, it’s amazing: an eclectic new suite by bandleader Russ Gershon plus several Ethiopian pieces never played outside Ethiopia, performed for probably the first time since the 60s or early 70s.

Some Fun Tracks for the Weekend

Melvin Van Peebles’ 1971 song That’s America with footage from Occupy Wall Street – timeless (via brooklynvegan courtesy of Moist Paula).

Just in time for Halloween, here’s the Marshmallow Ghosts’ The Attic and Pig Man’s Bridge (via IFC).

Quietly and methodically, Brooklyn’s Electric Cowbell Records has been putting out one good vinyl single after another, most of them a refreshingly eclectic mix of styles from around the world. The latest is Sigi Diya, by Malian griot and kora virtuoso Cheik Hamala Diabate. It’s a swirling, spiky, psychedelic treat, also available digitally. Stream the track here.