Heroes of Toolik are as close to a supergroup as NYC has right now. Frontman/guitarist Arad Evans plays in avant garde legend Glenn Branca‘s ensemble. Bassist Ernie Brooks was in the Modern Lovers, and Billy Ficca held down the drum chair in Television. Violinist/singer Jennifer Coates rounds out the lineup with trombonists Peter Zummo (ex-Lounge Lizards) and John Speck. Together, they offer potently tuneful reinforcement to the argument that cerebral music can be just as catchy.
Their sound blends riff-driven postpunk, psychedelia and minimalism, with the occasional jazzy flourish. They’re playing a rare stripped-down duo show at around 9 at Troost in Greenpoint on Sept 28. Then they’re back in Greenpoint on Oct 12 at St. Vitus at around 11, playing the album release show for their new one, Like Night. Cover is $10. The album hasn’t hit Spotify yet, but there are some tracks up at the band’s soundcloud page.
The opening track, Perfect builds quickly out of a pensively jangly guitar hook with a looming brass chart: “Pay your respects to the great unraveled…between the flash and lightning’s echo, that moment waiting is where you live,” Evans intones. Coates’ violin joins the intricate weave between the horns as the song winds out.
It’s good to hear her assertive, crystalline voice front and center on several of these tracks, beginning with Miles, which builds into an ominous march with alternating, minimalist clang and squall. Coates’ disembodied vocals add to the sepulchral ambience, the long psychedelic outro echoing the Branca symphonies that Evans is used to playing.
The surreal, distantly mambo-tinged Something Like Night sways along, terse trombone contrasting with spiky koto and a circular, pulsing guitar hook. The epic instrumental Warm follows the same pattern, guitar and violin exchanging loopy phrases, gradually building momentum as the drums and trombone add polyrhythms – it’s the closest thing to jazz here.
The briskly strolling Blind Man builds a vividly nocturnal tableau – it sounds like the kind of obscure, jangly 80s indie bands that influenced Sonic Youth, bluesy violin and spare trombone adding melody and texture. Say Virginia bounces along with a wry rondo of individual instrumental voices, a gruff trombone solo taking the tune out. The enigmatic, allusively phantasmagorical waltz Again sets Coates’ crystalline vocals over an increasingly ornate backdrop.
The band keeps the distant menace going through the noirish stroll Crazy Doll, a slowly unwinding, allusive northern New England mystery tale. Coates sings the album’s closing cut, You Will Not Follow, a creepily inscrutable nursery rhyme-inflected number that suddenly hits a growling, unhinged guitar-fueled sway, shades of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. It’s an aptly ambitious way to wind up this strange and compelling mix of songs.