New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Tag: gospel-rock

Righteous Rage and Smoky Atmospherics with Algiers at Rough Trade

Algiers played a tantalizingly brief, barely half-hour set at Rough Trade on Wednesday night. This blog characterized their 2015 debut album as “revolutionary postrock soul.” These days, industrial gothic gospel is a better description. Their smoky, swirly yet rhythmically pummeling sound is more Sisters of Mercy, less Terminator soundtrack now.

Frontman/keyboardist Franklin James Fisher sings powerfully in the studio; he is amazing live, and even more dynamically diverse. On the band’s opening number, Void – the final cut on their just-released vinyl record, There Is No Year – he had a gleefully brittle Jello Biafra quaver in his voice. That song came across as a Dead Kennedys homage, right down to the ominous chromatics and drummer Matt Tong’s 2/4 hardcore thump. It seems to be the key to the record, with its relentless theme of escape.

Aside from a leaner sound, what was most obvious was how much of the music was in the mixer: guitar, bass, keys, backing vocals…other than Fisher’s electric piano, and his own mixer too, was anything actually being played live? Guitarist Lee Tesche put down his axe for a sax on the second number, but if that was miked at all, it got lost in the grim, grey-sky sonics. Although he did reach for his tremolo bar for Lynchian twang for the intro to a song a little later, and his icily minimalist, Robert Smith-style riffs afterward cut through the mix as well.

Fisher channeled angst-fueled Levi Stubbs passion throughout Unoccupied, a darkly techy update on classic, minor-key Motown: an allusive breakup narrative, it seemed to be the only number in the set that wasn’t political. “Run around, run away from you, America, while it burns in the streets,” Fisher belted as Dispossession, another new track, took shape over his own stark, insistent gospel piano chords. “Here they comes from the ashes of ashes, so immune to defeat,” he cautioned – but there was also defiance and hope in his imploring crescendos and flood metaphors. Which seems to be his ultimate message: with their bankster economy and surveillance, the enemy is always encroaching. But we’ve got the numbers.

Algiers will be back on April 9 at St. Vitus, a great spot for them.

An Ecstatic Gospel Rock Party in Williamsburg with Jesus on the Mainline

Monday night at 11:30 or so is Rev. Vince Anderson‘s weekly dance party at Union Pool. If you want to get your dirty, funky gospel groove on, there is no better place to do it. This past Monday night was an exception since Jesus on the Mainline played a raucous, careening show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg that was every bit as fun. Their roughly hourlong set cast them as sort of a cross between Anderson’s gritty jamband funk and the ecstatic, towering, anthemic New Orleans vibe of Brother Joscephus, with generous splashes of oldschool soul and occasional hints of circus rock. Fronted by charismatic trumpeter/conductor/singer Andrew Neesley, the band seems to draw on a rotating cast of A-list New York jazz talent. The obvious star of this particular sixteen-piece edition of the band was singer Mel Flannery, whose raw, powerful, brassy alto and stratospheric harmonies in tandem with Lauren Davidson (who was sitting in for Amanda Brecker) were nothing short of spine-tingling. Neesley may not embarrass himself on the mic, but Flannery’s otherworldly wail is transcendent: she got to take just one lead vocal all night and deserved them all.

When he wasn’t singing, or taking a tantalizingly brief, energetic trumpet solo, Neesley worked the dynamics up and down, pairing off soloists, signaling the band to drop out for a dip to just the keys and percussion, or the five-piece horn section, then leading everybody back up to a wild peak. Most of the songs went on for about ten minutes with plenty of time for solos. Guitarist Simon Kafka played slinky, in-the-pocket soul riffs, where Andrew Miramonti went for jaggedly dancing, explosive leads, thrashing as he played them. Keyboardist Pascal Le Beouf, who’s a distinguished jazz pianist in his own right, turned out to have sizzling, incisive chops on the organ as well. The most intense instrumental solo of the night came from tuneful, precise trombonist Natalie Cressman, while trumpeters Mike Gorham and Augie Haas got time in the spotlight along with trombonist Frank Cohen. The low end was bolstered by the twin pulse of bassist Tomek Miernowski and tuba player Mark McGinnis in tandem with Dave Scalia’s drums. In the quieter moments, percussionists Jake Goldbas and Austin Walker could be heard along with Tim Emmerick, who began the show’s first song with a bucolic banjo intro, later switching to acoustic guitar and singing harmonies as well.

While the tempos tended to sway and swing at a leisurely pace, the energy went up to redline with the first big rise from the horn section and stayed that way. Most of the songs were in major keys, eschewing the dark otheworldliness of some gospel music, especially the old stuff. And while the tunes often went straight to church, the lyrics didn’t. The catchiest song of the night was also the hardest-rocking number, with a gorgeous Le Boeuf organ solo and a more unhinged one from Miramonti. The show’s high point came courtesy of Flannery, whose sassy, indomitable low register was just as searingly powerful as her highest notes, fronting a gospel-soul number midway through the set and earned her the most applause of the evening. Neesley and Emmerick also teamed up for a rousing, slowly undulating tribute to getting so blitzed that the only option is to keep the bender going for another day, and that also resonated with the crowd. This music crosses a lot of boundaries, agewise, incomewise and otherwise, drawing a very diverse audience that represented Brooklyn a lot more, one suspects, than the typical crowds at this venue. The band doesn’t have any shows booked at the moment; watch this space.

Rachelle Garniez Releases Her Most Intriguing, Inscrutable Album

Sometimes the best albums take the longest to get to know. Which isn’t any surprise: if you can figure out exactly what an album is all about the first time around, maybe it isn’t worth hearing again. Rachelle Garniez has been making good and frequently transcendent ones since the late 90s. Her new one Sad Dead Alive Happy, just out this past January, is the fifth by the virtuoso accordionist/pianist/chanteuse, who’s fluent on guitar and bass as well. Over the years, she’s covered more ground more expertly, unpredictably and entertainingly than pretty much any other songwriter alive: noir blues, lushly orchestrated piano anthems, oldtime country, oompah punk, salsa, tango, psychedelia, torch songs and ragtime, to name a few genres. Her lyrics work multiple levels of meaning for a style that sounds completely spontaneous but probably isn’t: songs as intelligent as hers are typically very carefully thought out. This new album is her most opaque and inscrutable: musically, it’s an unexpected turn deep into gospel and soul music.

As usual, keyboards are front and center here, along with Garniez’ nuanced, occasionally dramatic multi-octave vocals. She pulls out all the stops on the opening track, the album’s funniest, a surreal homage (in the rough sense of the word, anyway) to Jean-Claude Van Damme, who’s apparently been hawking antidepressants on tv. It could be sincere, or it could be the album’s cruellest, most sarcastic and punkest song. Garniez’ grand guignol operatics on the outro sound more like Queen than anything else: it’s so beautifully blissful it’s hard to believe. God’s Little Acre is overtly sarcastic and even more upbeat, an unrepentant anthem for hedonists who might not want to reconnect with old conquests via Facebook. Lunasa begins echoey and hypnotic and morphs into an Irish ballad: “Tonight is the last night of the summer of love, the last night of summer, my love,” Garniez sings sweetly, but as usual, there’s an undercurrent of menace that finally emerges after a charming tack piano interlude. Nothing is exactly as it seems here.

If you’ve always wondered how Matt Munisteri would play an arena-rock guitar solo, you’ll find out on Parallel Universe, which melds 80s stadium rock into a slow gospel ballad – and surprisingly, it works. Metaphorically, it’s about rediscovering an earlier self: how that might be achieved is open to interpretation. A couple of tracks here have a previous life as well. The jaunty, clever swing tune Just Because You Can first appeared on Catherine Russell’s This Heart of Mine in 2010; Garniez’ own version is more straight-ahead. And the refusenik soul anthem My House of Peace was first released as a vinyl single by Jack White (who also plays drums on the song) on his Third Man Records label in 2009.

The album’s final track, Land of the Living brings the gospel to a crescendo both lyrically and musically: it’s an Aimee Mann drug dirge that trades that artist’s harrowing edge for a streetwise optimism. “When you fly, do you like to get a running start?” whispers Garniez as the song slowly kicks in; by the end, it’s two women hanging out, smoking on a stoop somewhere in Manhattan, one gently nudging the other toward a more robust future. You could call this gospel for nonbelievers – paradoxical as that sounds, it’s the kind of theme Garniez thrives on. Check back at the end of the year and see if this gets the nod for best album of 2012: it just might. In the meantime, it’s streaming in its entirety at myspace.