New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: giant sand

Ani Cordero Brings Her Haunting, Reverb-Drenched Protest Rock to the West Side

Art by definition is subversive since it mirrors society’s downside as well as its upside, a secret that authoritarian regimes would prefer not to share (the Taliban outlawing music in Afghanistan, for example). By that standard, Ani Cordero’s new album Querido Mundo (Dear World), streaming at Soundcloud, is as transgressive as music can get in 2017. Not only because it’s extremely accessible, and the multi-instrumentalist bandleader’s Spanish-language lyrics tackle all kinds of controversial issues, but also because it’s one of the best rock records released this year. Cordero and her band are playing tonight, April 9 at 7:30 PM at Subrosa in the Meatpacking District. It’s a funny little club: most of the seating is on the staircase on the way down to the bar, where there are no sightlines, so it makes sense to get there in time. Cover is $10.

Cordero has a formidable list of credits beginning with her turn behind the drums in an early-zeros configuration of space-surf legends Man or Astroman. After that, she drummed for legendary downtown art-rockers Bee & Flower before switching to guitar in Cordero, her own enigmatically jangly indie group. At the same time, she was part of the considerably more politically-fueled, similarly jangly Pistolera.

But her latest material is her best. Her previous album, Recordar (Remember) reinvented protest songs from across the decades and the Americas. The new one is all originals. Her band is killer: Erich Hubner provides both Man or Astroman-style surf guitar and bass; Eileen Willis plays keys and accordion, with Lisette Santiago on percussion and Omar Akil Little on trumpet.

The bouncy ranchera-rock opening track, Corrupcion, mocks nickel-and-dime nepotism and greed in Puerto Rico but on a global level as well, Hubner’s savagely bluesy guitar solo giving way to a more hopeful one from Little. Awash in lingering reverb guitar, Alma Vieja (Old Soul) is a haunting southwestern gothic anthem, akin to Giant Sand covering the Church with more nuanced vocals than either of those groups. Likewise, Me Tumba addresses police brutality over a loping desert rock groove.

The tricky syncopation of the gentle, wistful, accordion-spiced immigrant anthem Voy Caminando harks back to Cordero’s indie rock work in the zeros. Over a gently insistent clave beat, the salsa-tinged Sacalo is a shot of encouragement for any woman trying to escape an abusive relationship. There’s similar hope in the gently lilting Pienses en Mi (Believe in Me).

The starkly pulsing El Pueblo Esta Harto (The People Won’t Take It) references Los 43, the forty-three Mexican student protestors abducted and murdered by government thugs in 2014. It wouldn’t be out of place on the Joe Strummer songbook.

Growling surf bass contrasts with spare Spanish guitar and ominously reverberating electric riffage in Culebra (Snake). The recurrent mantra is “Leave me here” – it’s the album’s most understatedly impactful and haunting track.The album’s catchiest, most anthemic cut is Dominas Mis Suenos (You Take Over My Dreams), part 60s Laurel Canyon psychedelic folk, part surf rock. Little’s trumpet flutters above a spiky web of guitars on the brightly resolute mariachi-flavored Vida Atrevida (Living Fearlessly), a challenge for dangerous times. The album winds up with the bittersweet Luto Por Nuestro Amor (Requiem for Our Love) and its blend of starry spacerock and saturnine desert-rock suspense.

Is Cordero – an American citizen with Puerto Rican roots – afraid of reprisals from the Trumpites? No. Her view is that it’s time for everyone with a voice to stand up for what’s right. Other songwriters ought to do the same. And they are – keep an eye on this page.

Xixa Find Themselves in the Middle of the Year’s Best Lineup of Music on the 16th at Drom

Xixa are a Giant Sand spinoff. Formerly known as Chicha Dust, their name is as coyly entertaining as the psychedelic cumbias they play. But Giant Sand’s Gabriel Sullivan and Brian Lopez don’t just imitate the gloriously trebly sounds of Peru in the 70s, or pretty much anywhere south of the border in this decade: they’ve got an individual, sometimes harder-rocking, very 80s-inspired sound. Their debut vinyl ep Shift and Shadow is streaming at rockpaperscissors and out from Barbes Records.

They’re playing what’s most likely the best multiple-band lineup anywhere in New York this year – who knows, maybe anywhere at Drom on January 16, starting at 7:30 PM for a measly $10. Check out this lineup: Moroccan trance grooves with Samir Langus, psychedelic, surfy, vallenato-influenced art-rock groovemeisters Los Crema Paraiso, the even more psychedelic cumbia/salsa jammers Dos Santos Anti-Beat Orquesta; the magically haunting, soaring all-female Mariachi Flor de Toloache ; Xixa; then the darkly Middle Eastern flavored Nubian sounds of Alsarah & the Nubatones , rustic Haitian/Dominican cumbia/vallenato group Buyepongo and the newschool Ethiopiques-inspired dancefloor intensity of Debo Band sometime in the wee hours around 1 AM. For those in Park Slope, Buyepongo and then Xixa are also at Union Hall on 1/17 at 8 for $10

The ep’s title track welds Lynchian tremolo guitar and slithery minor-key organ to a peppy stadium rock chorus: you can practically see the sea of lighters rising as the sun goes down on Bonaroo or somewhere similar. The cover of the Meat Puppets’ Plateau – famously redone by Nirvana – looks not to grunge but to both the 80s goth-pop of bands like the Damned and Echo & the Bunnymen, as well as Peruvian jungle-rock legends like Juaneco y Su Combo. With its echoey timbale groove and serpentine organ, Cumbia del Platero brings to mind ornately orchestrated late-period Chicha Libre. The final cut, Dead Man slowly winds its way out of the synthy, chorus-box-guitar 80s toward a newschool cumbia slink.

A full-length album is scheduled for later in the year; fans of dusky, distantly ominous, trippy sounds should check this stuff out. And for those new to the genre, chicha is both a Peruvian malt beverage – sort of the Andean equivalent of Olde English or Colt .45 – and a slang adjective that translates roughly as “ghetto.” It’s also a style of psychedelic cumbia that first peaked in popularity in the 70s but was brought to the US by Chicha Libre and…you know the rest.

Saint Maybe’s Debut Album: A Southwestern Gothic Rock Classic

Things As They Are, the debut album by Tucson supergroup Saint Maybe, sounds like the great lost sequel to the Dream Syndicate’s 1983 classic Medicine Show. That’s not to say that Saint Maybe are a ripoff: in their most anthemic moments, they evoke Willie Nile; at their jangliest, they remind of the Wallflowers, or Neil Young, or even Dylan, which makes sense since this project features Bob Dylan drummer Winston Watson. What they play is retro 80s psychedelia with some great tunes and deliciously unhinged, off-kilter lead guitar from the Patti Smith Group’s Oliver Ray. Guitarist Chris Sauer – who a few years back put out the intriguingly dark Desert Whale Ghosts – is also part of this project, as is southwestern gothic guru Craig Schumacher. If this album had come out in 1985, it would have a cult following today; without question, it’s one of 2012’s best.

These songs are long, typically unfolding slowly over seven or eight minutes, intricately arranged with layers of guitars and keyboards. The opening track, Everything At Once (And More) is a psychedelic tour de force. Ray’s surreal lyrics can be deliberately off-the-cuff and inscrutable, but he can really nail a phrase when he wants: this one’s a study in paradoxes. “We wanna live forever before we die,” he intones over a catchy, simple blues riff that eventually decays to a fluorescently hypnotic Brian Jonestown Massacre-style interlude layering ethereal mellotron against crashing fuzztone guitar.

With its bristling layers of acoustic and electric guitars, Houses for Ghosts reminds of paisley underground legends True West as the band mingles aphoristic, apocalyptic Steve Wynn-style imagery over a backbeat with pulsing keys: “Is that a dust storm approaching, the highway’s disappeared, they’re building houses for ghosts.” With its oscillating Rhodes piano, fuzz bass and staccato reverb guitar, the funky Delicate Prey owes a debt to Wynn’s desert rock classic Here Come the Miracles. By contrast, She’s Alright works a brisk but casually nocturnal country groove, a launching pad for another series of surrreal lyrics and smartly terse Americana guitar solos. It’s Dylanesque in the best possible way.

The Dream Syndicate influence really starts to show itself on the broodingly swaying Way with Words: the way they work a slow, steady crescendo, riding a sunbaked slide guitar lead (is that Schumacher? Sounds like him) is artful to the extreme. The centerpiece here is the epic Everything That Rises, driven by a venomously twisting Ray guitar riff. Rising from the ashes slowly with a wry Grateful Dead reference, it coalesces into a roaring, jangling, hallucinatory swirl, a wickedly catchy chorus and then a long bridge that builds to a devastating crescendo over wild layers of chord-chopping:

What’s that coming down the line
The question? Fires answered in your eyes
Are we to be reduced to ash
Or will we choose to be free at last?

They keep the Medicine Show menace going full throttle with the even longer Take It Easy (But Take It), a jaggedly catchy 6/8 anthem echoing with reverb guitar, pulsing drones and more of that offhandedly vicious slide guitar, the organ finally taking over to drive the hauntingly surreal narrative home. If that song is the album’s John Coltrane Stereo Blues, the title track is its Merrittville, a low-key but murderous Americana rock dirge with some deliciously terse, bluesy wailing by Ray. As much crazed improvisation as there is here, the orchestration is meticulous: an enormous amount of creativity went into this album. Let’s hope this isn’t the last we hear from Saint Maybe.

Tom Shaner’s Long-Overdue Solo Debut: Worth the Wait

For those who’ve followed Tom Shaner’s career since his days in the early zeros fronting Industrial Tepee – the great southwestern gothic rock band that should have been as famous as Calexico or Giant Sand but never was – his new album Ghost Songs, Waltzes and Rock n Roll is long overdue. Ironically, though billed to Shaner solo, it’s far more lush and richly arranged than anything he did with that band, in fact, the best thing he’s ever done. The music blends layers of jangly, twangy, spiky, occasionally searing electric and acoustic guitars over a nimble rhythm section, ornamented with deviously flickering keyboards, mandolin, banjo and the occasional wry electronic effect. Songwise, there are echoes of Steve Wynn, the Byrds, Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave in its most pensive moments.

Shaner’s nonchalant, laid-back vocals are sort of a cross between Lou Reed and the Wallflowers’ Jakob Dylan. The songs’ lyrics are terse, cynical and clever: they’ll resonate especially with anyone who’s weathered the same storms as Shaner has during these past few years as the New York he came up in slid closer and closer to New Jersey. Although many of the songs have a dusky desert feel, a familiar urban milieu recurs throughout the album. That factors in heavily on the funniest song here, the deadpan, early Elvis Costello-ish Unstoppable Hipster, as well as the considerably more spare, haunting Downtown Has Done Damage, which reminds of the Church around 1986 or so.

Sinner’s Highway sets a surreal, sordidly Lynchian scene to snarling minor-key rock: a late-period Industrial Tepee tune, it reminds a lot of Steve Wynn, with a wry quote in the solo guitar outro. Another one from that era, Sister Satellite manages to be dreamy yet bracing as its layers of guitar mingle and then surge.Then Shaner evokes another well-known late 90s/early zeros band, White Hassle, with Forever Drug, spiced with tongue-in-cheek samples and hip-hop turntablism.

She Will Shine is crushingly caustic: over punchy, syncopated, Jayhawks-flavored rock, Shaner relates how a girl who couldn’t hack it in the big city is ostensibly leaving for better things in the country, but “when the lid is lifted, everything is shifted…her time is complete, the future is a one-way street.” Rosa Lee, a big concert favorite, works a more pensive, regretful vein.

Shaner pairs Foreverland, a creepy reggae song, with the nebulous, only slightly less creepy psych-folk anthem Silent Parade. Where Grief Becomes Grace, an echoey desert rock dirge, is as broodingly evocative as anything Giant Sand ever did. A cover of Tom Waits’ Cold Water picks up the pace with a gospel-fueled menace, black humor in full effect.

Only slightly less dark colors close the album. Everything Is Silver returns to a romping Elvis Costello vibe: it’s the opposite of what it seems. And My House is Green builds a moody acoustic Velvets ambience. But not everything here is as dark: there’s Sun Girl #2, with its lushly gentle Sunday Morning sway, and Streets of Galway, a lively Irish tune. One of the best albums of 2012, no question. Shaner plays the release show – assuming the subways are back up and running – at the Knitting Factory on Nov 7 at 8:30 PM.

Another Freebie from Giant Giant Sand

More cool southwestern gothic for ya: this one, Detained, has a quiet intro and a scampering Tex-Mex verse that gets absolutely creepy. Howe Gelb is at Joe’s Pub this Thursday, May 10 at 11:30 PM, no doubt with some of his conspirators from this one. From the forthcoming “country rock opera” simply titled Tucson, due out June 12.

Today’s Free Download

New York Music Daily has been interrupted by a crisis. Crisis now resolved, drugs taking effect, the next couple days’ worth of posts should be interesting. Today’s free download is the new single from Giant Sand! Forever and a Day has a more optimistic western swing-flavored vibe than this band is known for, but it gets dark fast, then goes back again. From their forthcoming Tucson album due out in June. Download it here.

Catching Up on Some Good Southwestern Gothic

Too much good music, too little time. Lubbock, Texas band the Thrift Store Cowboys’ album Light Fighter came out last fall: if you’ve been paying attention to the recently resuscitated alt-country scene, you probably already know that. This is for those who might have slept on it a year ago: it’s worth your time. A lot of this is like peak-era Wilco circa Summerteeth but with more balls and less drawl – frontman Daniel Fluitt sometimes lets his syllables run overtime like that band did, but he doesn’t overdo it. And he’s a better songwriter. That which is not Wilcoish is the best stuff here, rich with ghostly imagery, aching violin, steel guitar and desert ambience like the best southwestern gothic: which makes sense, since the album was recorded at Craig Schumacher’s legendary Wavelab studio, home to Steve Wynn and Friends of Dean Martinez, Giant Sand and the rest of those great spaghetti western-tinged bands that sprang up in the tumbleweeds back in the late 80s and 90s.

In fact, those seem to be two distinct and separate sides to this band: you could make two solid, separate playlists out of the album, one of them scary and one of them more straight-up alt-country. The latter would include the title track which leans closer to Son Volt, actually, but with a hypnotic, circular 6/8 vamp. The album’s second track sounds like Wilco if they’d gone into the desert and never come back, while Regardless and Ghost Guys take the Summerteeth formula and add snappy bass and shimmery steel guitar. Rosemary mixes in out-of-focus, guitar-fueled noise and a little Morricone-style guitar. And You Can’t See the Light puts a historical spin on a familiar-sounding country-rock ballad theme, in this case the bitter tale of a seminarian imprisoned and later executed during the Spanish Civil War.

But the scary playlist is the really amazing one here: the band could release this as an ep and they’d have a genuine classic. The menacing, chromatically-charged banjo shuffle 7’s and 9’s sounds like Botanica if they’d gone into the desert and never come back. The best song here, Scary Weeds, is written by and sung with gentle apprehension by violinist Amanda Shires. A paranoid 6/8 ballad about a couple on the run, it reminds of the Walkabouts, with Shires’ vividly ominous violin and low, urgent, unaffectedly chilling vocals. The surreal, dizzyingly evocative Morning Weekend begins with menacing sunrise desert ambience and morphs into a big backbeat anthem; Nothing, a sad 6/8 ballad about Buffalo soldiers dying of thirst in the desert after being led astray by clever Comanches defending their land, is a dialogue between one of the dead soldiers and his widow at home, who also ends up emptyhanded. You have to listen closely but it’s worth it. And Shires contributes another creepy, 6/8 tune, Lean into the Sway, an allusive, brooding ballad that could be a prequel to her other one here. The Thrift Store Cowboys made a swing through New York last year behind this album; let’s hope there’s another one down the line.