New York Music Daily

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Tag: gothic music

Poignant, Pensive Brilliance on Jessie Kilguss’ Allusive, Eclectic, Wickedly Tuneful New Album

You’d think that someone who’d taken a star turn in stage productions with Daniel Day Lewis and Marianne Faithfull would stick with a successful theatrical career. But Jessie Kilguss was drawn to music – and that’s our victory and the theatre world’s loss. Over the past decade, she’s become one of the most haunting singers in any style of music. Her delivery is intimate, like she’s letting you in on a secret – whether that might be a sly joke, an innuendo or something far more sinister. While she’s best known as a purveyor of folk noir, her back catalog spans from witchy art-rock to anthemic janglerock to Richard and Linda Thompson-esque, Britfolk-influenced stylings.

Her new album The Fastness – streaming at Spotify – is not about velocity. It’s about refuge. The title is a North Sea term for a secluded hideaway: a place to hold fast. That sheltering theme resonates mightily through a mix of imagistic, often poignant songs blending elements of 60s soul, 80s goth, new wave and art-rock. And Kilguss’ voice has never soared more mightily or murmured more mordantly than here on this album. She and her first-class band are playing the album release show this Thursday, June 28 at 8:30 PM at the downstairs third stage at the Rockwood; cover is $10.

With Kirk Schoenherr’s contrasting layers of guitar – icy and Siouxsie-esque in the left channel, watery and organ-timbred in the right – the album’s opening track The Master is an elegaic masterpiece. In usual Kilguss fashion, it’s enigmatic to the extreme. “Who will be the oracle when he is gone?” is the final refrain. A Bernie Sanders parable, maybe, or a more ancient, mythological reference? 

Kilguss follows that with Spain, a guardedly optimistic if understatedly brooding update on 60s soul balladry, spiced with guitar grit over the calmly swaying pulse of John Kengla’s bass and Rob Heath’s drums. Strangers comes across as a wistful mashup of Guided By Voices and Blondie, while Dark Corners of Your Mind follows a hypnotically vamping, psychedelic path, akin to the Frank Flight Band with a woman out front. Kengla’s bass dances amid the sheets of rainy-day guitars as Kilguss ponders the danger of being subsumed by the demands of a relationship.

New Start is a surreal, unlikely mashup of classic 60s C&W and echoey new wave, but Kilguss manages to make it work, all the way through one of the album’s catchiest choruses, awash in the waves from her harmonium. Hell Creek – a co-write with Kengla – is one of the murder ballads she writes so well. With its lingering atmospherics, Kilguss references current-day atomization and how its ramifications can do far more damage than just playing tricks with your mind.

Likewise, Rainy Night in Copenhagen has aptly echoey, Cure-like ambience. Bridge the Divide is the monster anthem here, an eerily propulsive Laurel Canyon psychedelic verse giving way to soaring new wave on the chorus.

What Is It You Want From Me is the closest thing here to Kilguss’ purist pop masterpiece Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, from her 2014 album Devastate Me. She winds up this cycle with with the metaphorically-loaded Edge of Something, an easy place to fall off one way or another. Another triumph for one of the most unselfconsciously brilliant tunesmiths to emerge from this city in recent years and a strong contender for best rock record of 2018.

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An Epic East Village Show by Haunting Turkish Rock Singer Mehmet Erdem

Friday night at Drom, intense crooner Mehmet Erdem led his four-piece band through an epic, towering, majestic set of elegant, darkly crescendoing Turkish art-rock. Wearing a wireless headset, he and the sound guy had an animated dialogue going during the first few numbers of a concert that went on for well over two hours into Saturday morning. Which makes sense – although Erdem is a talented multi-instrumentalist who plays several Turkish lutes, his first gig as a professional was not as a musician but as a sound engineer. After a few tweaks, he was content: Drom is one of New York’s most sonically pristine venues.

That calm, meticulous approach extended to his vocals as well. In a powerful, resonant baritone, he stood resolute and mostly motionless in the center of the stage, intoning a long series of brooding, slowly crescendoing ballads in his native vernacular. You could call him the Turkish Leonard Cohen – although Erdem has a lot more range beyond Cohen’s foggy low register.

As is often the case with Turkish rock, Erdem’s lyrics are enigmatic and allusive, with the occasional mythological reference. What appear to be brooding lost-love laments on the surface may have political overtones, thinly veiled nostalgia for freedom and basic human rights. As the night wore on, the crowd sang along: even for non-Turkish speakers, it was easy to get a sense of meaning from Erdem’s articulation and forcefulness, and from the audience as well. The ladies sang along lustily on the night’s most carefree ballad; other times, phones were raised defiantly. Let’s hope some of this footage makes it to youtube.

The band were fantastic. Interestingly, for all his fretboard talent, Erdem only played oud, and only on a handful of songs midway through the show. And he never cut loose, negotiating a couple of serpentine intros with a brooding terseness, choosing his spots and slowly building suspense. His acoustic guitarist added incisive melody that occasionally shifted toward flamenco or the Middle East, especially when the music’s minor modes grew darkest (Turkish rock can be gothic AF, an effect that really kicked in when he switched to keyboards on the night’s most majestic numbers). Meanwhile, the rhythm section lurked in the background, occasionally rising when the tempos picked up.

But the star of the show was the clarinetist. In the Balkans and eastward, clarinet is often the lead instrument, and this band’s lead guy is killer. Opening with a dazzling, microtonal flourish was a red herring, considering that he matched the bandleader’s moody resonance most of the way through. As the set picked up steam, he opened a couple of numbers with all-too-brief taqsims, parsing every haunting tonality he could get out of his reed.

By about one in the morning, Erdem had methodically worked up to a peak, through grooves that a couple of times snuck their way from cumbia to straight-up stadium rock, with a couple of lively detours into funk and even roots reggae. From there, the group hit the hardest, with a series of singalong anthems. They brought it down somewhat at the end, closing on a somewhat disquieting, unresolved note. At that point, there was no need for an encore.

Drom is one of only a handful of clubs in the US, and the only one in New York which regularly features Turkish rock. Extraordinary chanteuse Sertab Erener – whose music is somewhat quieter but just as lavish – is there on May 25 at 7 PM.

Goth Music Rises From the Grave in Williamsburg Friday Night

Long after it seemed that emo had finally driven a stake through what was left of goth music, turns out that it’s very much alive – in Williamsburg, of all places. There’s a twinbill at Muchmore’s on Dec 15 at 11 that could be a real throwback to the sounds of the Meatpacking District dungeons in the 80s, awash in digital reverb and tight new wave beats,. It’s not clear whether Safe Hex or Picture One are playing first, but their sounds are very similar. Likewise, each band has an album up as a free download at Bandcamp.

Sidereal, by Safe Hex, opens with Watched Us Fade, which sets the scene: stiff 2/4 drum machine beat, brisk new wave bass and echoey downstroke guitar that pinwheels into a splatter of dreampop. The vocals are the only giveaway that this wasn’t made in the mid-80s in the shadow of the Cure.

The second cut, With What Sacrifice shifts from steadily pulsing early New Order into a more enveloping, hypnotic dreampop ambience. Rachael, with its soaring, watery bass, icy pulsar guitars and ominous chromatic riffage, is the one dead ringer for the Cure circa 1984 here.

Forgotten Bodies, which closes the album, is both its fastest, most atmospheric and anthemic cut, building to a catchy crescendo before the skittish staccato guitar returns.

Picture One’s all-instrumental album sounds less like a band and more like a bedroom project with guitars, lo-fi keys and drum machine. The opening track, Bunkbed Tapes follows a familiar, tense pattern as multi-instrumentalist Thomas Pinkney’s layers of Roland Juno-style faux organ and piano enter the picture and then recede. It segues into the aptly titled miniature Gray Signals, followed by Light Beyond This, Light Before, snappy bass strutting and winding through spare, reverb-drenched rainy-day guitar.

The cover of the Cleaners From Venus’ Only a Shadow is more than a shadow of the Cure’s Pictures of You sped up a bit, with a neat bit of a surf edge (or did was it the Cure who ripped off the original?). Things slow down with the dirgey, cinematic theme Red Rainbow and then pick up with A Dream Like Death Like, one of many tracks here screaming out for a full band to play it behind some black-clad guy who can really croon about things like desperate winter moons and lonely werewolves – ok, maybe not that, but you get the picture.

Robot Heart is another Cure soundalike. anchored by a fast, vamping, percussive bassline. The fleeting closing track, Montrose motors along over an anthemic four-chord riff driven by the bass, swooshy atmospherics looming in the background. There are plenty of gloomy neoromantic one-man-band types all over youtube, but it’s impossible to think of any writing goth songs without words in a vein as catchy as this.

Incendiary, Siouxie-esque Dark Guitar Rock From Touched By Ghoul

Today’s Halloween album is Murder Circus, released by ferociously dark, punkish Chicago band Touched By Ghoul last year and streaming at Bandcamp.

From the first few stomping beats from Paige Sandlin’s kickdrum, Alex Shumard’s uneasily rising bass and the roaring chromatic chords of guitarists Angela Mullenhour and Andrea Bauer, the album’s opening track, B.A.C.M., could be a lost gem from Siouxsie’s first album. Mullenhour’s insistent, wounded vocals are more evocative of the goth-punk icon’s raw, early style, before she developed her signature microtonal style.

The rest of the album careens between eras. The second cut, Whores is a mashup of Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth and early Siouxsie – or the Grasping Straws in particularly assaultive mode. Western Child has a skittish downstroke guitar pulse and a wrathful vocal straight out of Hong Kong Garden.

Rapevan has the same kind of haphazard drive and dirty Bush Tetras guitars, with a tasty scream from Mullenhour. She really pulls out all the stops with her vocals in Immaculate Consumption, which unexpectedly veers from punk thrash to skronk and then back.

“I was lost in a graveyard,” Mullenhour muses as Nice Corpse, a blend of early Public Image Ltd. and classic-era SY gets underway. With its artfully cynical variations on a familiar circus theme, the album’s title track is a real gem. The final cut is the brief, stomping Adios!, awash in a deliciously toxic, swirling cloud of guitar reverb. This makes you wonder what other treats this group have up their collective sleeves. 

Abraham Brody Brings His Mystical Reinventions of Ancient Shamanic Themes to Williamsburg

Lithuanian-American violinist/composer Abraham Brody covers a lot of ground. In a wry bit of Marina Abramovic-inspired theatricality, he’ll improvise as he stares into your eyes, a most intimate kind of chamber concert. He also leads the intriguing Russian avant-folk quartet Pletai (“ritual”) with vocalist-multi-instrumentalists Masha Medvedchenkova, Ilya Sharov and Masha Marchenko, who reinvent ancient Lithuanian folk themes much in the same vein as Igor Stravinsky appropriated them for The Rite of Spring. The group are on the bill as the latest installment in Brody’s ongoing series of performances at National Sawdust on Oct 5 at 7:30 PM. Advance tix are $20 and highly recommended.

Brody’s album From the Dark Rich Earth is streaming at Spotify. It opens with the methodically tiptoeing It’s Already Dawn, its tricky interweave of pizzicato, vocals and polyrhythms bringing to mind a male-fronted Rasputina. The ominously atmospheric Leliumoj goes deep into that dark rich earth, disembodied voices sandwiched between an accordion drone and solo violin angst.

Green Brass keeps the atmospheric calm going for a bit and then leaps along, Brody’s wary Lithuanian vocals in contrast with increasingly agitated, circular violin. Aching atmospherics build to a bitterly frenetic dance in Orphan Girl.  In Linden Tree, a web of voices weaves a trippy round, joined by plaintively lustrous strings.

Father Was Walking Through the Ryefield begins with what sounds like an old a-cappella field recording, then dances along on the pulse of the violin and vocal harmonies, rising to a triumphant peak. Oh, You Redbush, with its hazy atmosphere, and insistently crescendoing bandura, reaches toward majestic art-rock and then recedes like many of the tracks here. Likewise, the mighty peaks and desolate valleys in The Old Oak Tree.

Spare rainy-day piano echoes and then builds to angst-fueled neoromanticism in the distantly imploring I Asked. Strings echo sepulchrally as the ominous, enigmatic Litvak gets underway. Then the band build an otherworldly maze of echoing vocal counterpoint behind Brody’s stark violin in Trep Trepo, Martela.

The group revisit the atmosphere of the opening cut, but more gently, in Green Rue, at least until one of the album’s innumerable, unexpected crescendos kicks in. The final cut is the forcefully elegaic piano ballad A Thistle Grows. Fans of Mariana Sadovska’s bracing reinventions of Capathian mountain music, Aram Bajakian’s sepulchral take on Armenian folk themes or Ljova’s adventures exploring the roots of The Rite of Spring will love this stuff.

A Rare New York Appearance by Haunting Norwegian Soundscaper Deathprod

For more than twenty-five years, Helge Sten a.k.a. Deathprod has been creating hauntingly provocative sounds that are impossible to turn away from. Elements of minmalism, Eno-esque soundscapes, spectral, microtonal and film music all factor into what he does, but he transcends genre. Three of his European cult favorite albums – Treetop Drive, Imaginary Songs from Tristan da Cunha, and Morals and Dogma are being reissued by Smalltown Supersound and are all scheduled to be streaming at Bandcamp (follow the preceding three links or bookmark this page) He’s playing a rare New York live show on March 28 at around 9 at Issue Project Room, 22 Boerum Place in downtown Brooklyn; cover is $15/$12 stud/srs.

On the triptych that comprises three-quarters of Treetop Drive, originally released in 1994, the instruments are Sten’s “audio virus” and Hans Magnus Ryan’s violin. Steady minor-key chordal washes build a hypnotic backdrop, finally infiltrated by flitting, sepulchral shivers. A ghostly choir of sorts joins as the waves rise, and almost as if on cue, a wintry seaside tableau emerges. The second part, an assaultive industrial fugue, has a similarly insistent, pulsing quality. The spoken-word sample in the unexpectedly catchy, allusively motorik conclusion addresses a death fixation in late 20th century society that extends even to young children: creepy, at the very least. The final cut, Towboat, juxtaposes a calm minor arpeggio against waves of chaotic industrial noise

On 2004’s Morals and Dogma, Ryan also plays harmonium on one track, joined by Ole Henrik Moe on violin. The approach is more enveloping and layered: distant echoes of breaking waves, thunder, perhaps bombs and heavy artillery, are alluded to but never come into clear focus, raising the suspense and menace throughout the opening track, Trom. The almost nineteen-minute Dead People’s Things filters shivery flickers of violin, and then what could be a theremin, throughout a muted, downcast quasi-choral dirge. Orgone Donor, awash in a haze of shifts between major and minor, reaches for serenity – but Sten won’t allow anything so pat as a calm resolution. The final, enigmatically and ominously nebulous piece, Cloudchamber, is aptly titled. Heard at low volume, it could be soothing; the louder it gets, the more menacing it becomes. Perhaps Sten is telling us that just like life, death is what you make of it.

Comic Relief at the Expense of the Goths…If There Are Any Left

This is just too funny to leave sitting on the hard drive. Drop whatever you’re doing and grab a free download of Raleigh rocker Scott Phillips a.k.a. the Monologue Bombs‘ single Eighties Night. Hardly ever does a spoof this cruelly spot-on come over the transom here: cheesy fake Beethoven, Trenchcoat Mafia faux-angst and a perfect snapshot of what we had to endure at certain venues until the goth thing timed out and was supplanted by emo. The b-side sounds like Mellencamp at his darkest, but with keys instead of guitars. The Monologue Bombs open a good twinbill on December 29 at 6 (six) PM at Freddy’s, followed at 7:30 by iconic noir chanteuse Bliss Blood ‘s creepy torch song project with similarly dark flamenco-jazz/noir guitarist Al Street.

Intense Polish Art-Rock Bandleader Karolina Cicha Brings Her Otherworldly Jewish Music Project to Drom

For whatever reason, Balkan music in New York has evolved to the point where there’s a sort of Balkan solstice, in winter and late summer. Golden Festival takes place in mid-January, a worldwide gathering of bands and singers, held for the past several years at Grand Prospect Hall at the southern tip of Park Slope. The New York Gypsy Festival features many similarly first-class acts, spread across several weeks and venues in September and October. One of the highlights of this year’s festival promises to be the performance of rare Jewish songs from Polesia by charismatic Polish art-rock/folk noir singer and keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Karolina Cicha with cellist Bart Palyga at Drom on Sept 28 at 8 PM. $15 advance tix are very highly recommended.

Cicha is an intense performer who deserves to be better known outside her home country. At this show, she and Palyga will be playing songs from her 9 Languages project, a mix of somsetimes driving, sometimes haunting, often otherworldly Jewish folk material from the badlands of Polesia, bordering Russia, Belarus and Lithuana, a desolate region that for many decades was home to a more-or-less thriving Jewish community. Cicha has a thing for rare and antique instruments, both winds and strings, which may be a part of this.

Cicha’s vocals are starkly ornamented, plaintive and often anguished: avant-garde Carpathian chanteuse Mariana Sadovska often comes to mind. For a taste of Cicha’s goth-tinged antiwar art-rock, check out her video page. For her more folk-oriented material, there’s a page of intriguing audio at Flipswitch. The first track starts out seemingly blithely, a flute-driven dance that quickly goes into creepy art-rock territory. The second is a breathless folk-rock stomp with jawharp, accordion, shivery fiddle and ominuous layers of throat-singing. There’s a pulsing art-rock fiddle tune with hypnotically soaring mulititracked vocals, and an even more hypnotic, gorgeously atmospheric one with accordion and layers of strings and vocals. There’s also an eerily bouncing piano-and-accordion vamp, a swaying lute dance that sounds like a sea chantey, a mournful klezmer accordion tune from her hometown of Bialystock, and an angst-fueled vocalese-and-cello piece that sounds like a Polish Randi Russo, just for starters. Those who want to go deeper into Cicha’s fascinatingly eclectic catalog can also check out her ethnocloud and youtube channels.

Lorraine Leckie and Pavel Cingl Release Their Enigmatic, Witchy New Album at the Mercury on the 29th

Among rock songwriters, few are as capable as Lorraine Leckie in writing across a vast array of different styles. New Yorkers know her best as the leader of a whipcrack-sharp psychedelic Americana rock band that she fondly calls Her Demons. Yet as straightforward as her work with that group is, her other projects can be much harder to pin down. Her latest album, The Raven Smiled – a collaboration with similarly eclectic Czech violin star Pavel Cingl, streaming at Bandcamp – is her most enigmatic, her most beguiling and arguably her best. She and Cingl are joined by those Demons – lead guitarist and recent Blues Hall of Fame inductee Hugh Pool, bassist Charles DeChants and drummer Paul Triff – at the album release show on September 29 at 8 PM at the Mercury. Cover is $10, and you get a free copy of the cd with paid admission.

The influences on this album, through a glass darkly, seem to be PJ Harvey and Nick Cave, although the music here bears more reflection than resemblance to either artist’s work. As you would expect from the instrumentation – Leckie’s Telecaster or piano paired with Cingl’s violin – the sound is a lot closer to the folk noir of Leckie’s spare 2010 album Martini Eyes. However, Cingl’s judicious production frequently adds misty atmospherics and more ornate textures, in the same vein as Leckie’s haunting 2013 album with Anthony Haden-Guest, Rudely Interrupted.

The opening track, The Man That Walks in the Rain sets the stage, cryptic and mysterious, along the same lines as Dylan’s Man in the Long Black Coat. Leckie has made no secret that she is a devotee of the black arts, so it should come as no surprise that Climb Ya Like a Mountain would be a homage to Aleister Crowley (who, as Leckie tells it, was an avid mountain climber – and a surprisngly buffoonish persona for someone enamored with the dark side).

Leckie explores that light/dark dichotomy from the opposite angle with Dangerous Friends, its triumphant continental party narrative set against a hazy backdrop channeled via one of the unorthodox guitar tunings that she employs so often here. By contrast, the baroque-tinged piano ballad Story of Your Life has a lustrous, minimalist sheen, a homage to Prague, a city whose history and beauty clearly resonate strongly with Leckie.

Awake is even more minimalistic, Cingl’s lullaby violin gently building the somnambulistic ambience. By contrast, That Ain’t Nice is a launching pad for Leckie’s dissociative, noisy guitar explorations in tandem with Cingl’s blizzard of glissandos. Witches Heart tersely mashes up early PJ Harvey, witchy mid-70s Marianne Faithfull Britfolk and 80s goth, enhanced by the eerie close harmonies of backup singer Lisa Zwier. “My little doll, you were born under a broken star, I am sorry,” Leckie intones with a cool inscrutability as the album’s most distantly ominous track, Medicine Man, gets underway. The title cut, an enigmatic piano vignette, closes the album on a decidedly unresolved note. As with the rest of the songs here, there’s charm, but also menace, the defining characteristic of this allusively intriguing collection.

Intense, Haunting Frank Flight Band Recordings Rescued from the Archives

For their consistently dark post-Doors vision, brilliant guitar work, epic songcraft and wry humor, it’s tempting to call the Frank Flight Band the British Blue Oyster Cult. Except that the Frank Flight Band’s output has been much more consistent and genuinely brilliant. That’s not meant as a dis to BOC, although that band’s studio output since Fire of Unknown Origin – which was a long, long, long time ago – has basically been a wash. Over the past two decades, the Frank Flight Band’s output has been much less prolific – just four albums – but with the persistent hint that vastly more material is hidden away in a vault somewhere. That myth gets some validation on the band’s latest release, The Usual Curse, streaming in full at cdbaby.

There’s been some turnover in the band across the years. Although former frontman Andy Wrigley’s distinctive rasp is missed, Maurice Watson’s croon is one of the album’s strengths; he’s sort of the missing link between Bryan Ferry and Mark Sinnis. Flight is the rare bandleader who typically limits himself to rhythm guitar and songwriting, while lead player Dave Thornley gets to flex his chops. There isn’t a lot of lead playing here, but it’s choice. Flight draws on influences as diverse as David Gilmour, Robbie Krieger and classic C&W, and Thornley’s terse, spacious, jangly, chiming style is a good fit. For whatever reason, this is the first Flight album where he doesn’t contribute lyrically.

The opening cut, Empty has a doomed sway, Flight’s elegant multitracks and Thornley’s hauntingly bluesy solo over studio drummer Terry Shaughnessy’s shuffle groove. “It won’t be only bricks that fall on the grass that lovers bear…death is in the opening sighs of every interaction,” Watson intones.

The title track begins as a real departure for this band, Watson’s angry, death-obsessed lyrics over Thornley’s web of Beatlesque folk-pop guitar; then it goes electric with an unexpected Booker T-inflected soul groove. Thornley and Flight share writing credits on The Last Train West, a dusky, jangly kiss-off anthem akin to the Doors doing highway rock.

Thornley sings his sardonic, jazz-inflected mid-period Pink Floyd-influenced ballad, Ballet Dancer. Watson returns to the mic for the album’s riveting, anguished, Middle Eastern-tinged, closing clave groove, Unrequited, one of Flight’s half-dozen best compositions. While most of the tracks here date from almost ten years ago, there are also two new tunes. As Flight explains in the album’s liner notes, “In typical FFB cyclical fashion this is the first time all four original members have recorded together since the proto basement tape ‘Leyland Road’ sessions of the mid 1990’s.” The first of the new tunes, the epic Home from the Sea mashes up southern boogie, north Atlantic folk and pensive late 60s Laurel Canyon psychedelia. The second, the surf/spacerock instrumental As Far As The Eye Can See is a dead ringer for the Church circa the early 90s. While the Frank Flight Band’s definitive recording is their 2013 masterpiece Remains, this collection further cements their reputation as psychedelic cult heroes. And raises the intrigue: what else do they have in the can that we haven’t heard?