New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: instrumental music

Quirky Cinematic Themes From the Royal Arctic Institute

Today’s Halloween album – streaming at Bandcamp – is The French Method, by cinematic rock instrumentalists the Royal Arctic Institute. It’s not Halloweenish in any ordinary sense: the ghost in this machine is a friendly cartoon one rather than any genuinely malevolent spirit. The albums’s eleven tracks have a puckish sense of humor: wry references to Richard Strauss, Pink Floyd and a cheesy “classic rock radio” staple by the Who, among others, pepper these shapeshifting, enigmatic themes. The trio are playing tonight at around 9 PM, headlining an excellent triplebill at the Nest, 504 Flatbush Ave. at Lefferts Ave. in Prospect Lefferts Gardens that starts at 7 with excellent southwestern gothic band And the Wiremen and continues with the envelopingly  kinetic Wharton Tiers Ensemble. The venue’s webpage has no mention of the show, so if you’re in the neighborhood, stop by and see what the deal is: you most assuredly won’t need tickets in advance. Be aware that starting late tonight, the Q train isn’t running this weekend, so you may have to take the 2 at President St. on the way home.

The album begins with Do the Kuchar, a cheery surf theme as Guided By Voices might do surf: straight-up. Guitarist John Leon throws some unsettled indie chords into the riffage for a late 90s Hoboken feel. The second track, Latonya Ripford has surreal, warpy Mary Halvorson-ish guitar tones lingering above Gerard Smith’s tiptoeing bass and Lyle Hysen’s drums, rising from a whisper to a Beatlesque stroll and a playful series of false endings.

Japanese Viperina begins as a twistedly strutting stripper theme, shifting to a powerpop stomp and then back. Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm, inspired by an unsolved World War II-era British murder, has more of that warpy, expansive, enigmatic guitar, rising to a sly series of texturally contrasting overdubs: it’s more enigmatic than creepy.

The album’s title track has a jangly, jazzy late 80s Britpop bounce: Happy Mondays with better chops. Maystadt Process – a reference to a sci-fi scenario concerning how to keep a body alive after the soul has departed – could be slow Big Lazy, Leon’s big-sky tremolo resonating over Smith’s incisive bassline and Hysen’s whispery brushwork.

Barack’s Mic Drop – a shout-out to a President who really earned his vacation time, according to the band – veers back and forth between cheery faux-soukous and Floydian spacerock. Similarly, Greely’s Ghost has a slow, reverbtoned sway akin to Big Lazy tackling a theme from side one of Dark Side of the Moon. And then it becomes Theme From an Indian Summer Place, so to speak.

The blithe swing of Bandersnatch contrasts with the album’s most epic track, Ludic Lovers, a slow, restless tune that offers barely a hint of the guitar savagery that lies in wait. The final cut is Transhumania, a twistedly twangy quasi-rockabilly theme and the album’s most overtly dark, cynical interlude.

Who is the audience for this? Film directors in need of quirky, eclectic scores, for starters. And the band work quickly: they’ve already got another album, Accidental Achievement, in the can, due for release later this month.

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Menacing Full-Throttle Instrumentals From the Death Wheelers

Today’s Halloween album, streaming at Bandcamp, is I Tread on Your Grave, by instrumentalists the Death Wheelers. The album cover and bandname are a little misleading: what they play isn’t really biker rock. It’s closer to the growling SoCal ATV themes that Agent Orange played on the River’s Edge soundtrack (now there’s a great Halloween movie!). Pat Irwin’s eclectic 80s scorpion rock band the Raybeats also come to mind, although the Death Wheelers are a lot louder. more metal-oriented and distinguish themselves with downtuned bass. In the same vein as another legendary instrumental rock band, Man or Astroman, the group like to open their songs with snippets from cheesy 50s horror flicks.

The album opens with the title track. Max Tremblay’s doomy, gleefully tremoloing Sabbath-esque bass riff kicks it off, then the band – who also comprise guitarists Sy Tremblay and Hugo Bertacci, plus drummer Richard Turcotte – take it on a weirdly syncopated tangent with keening slide guitar.

13 Discycles is a metalflake take on horror surf: when the band go halfspeed, then quarterspeed on the long outro, it could be Pantera playing Beware the Dangers of a Ghost Scorpion. The furthest they go into the surf is Moto Vampiro, but even that takes a detour into vintage 70s riff-rock: the flange and the distorted bass add skunky contrast.

Where so many of these tracks careen from one style to another or mash them up, Roadkill 69 is the closest thing to 60s biker theme here, but with metal sonics. The album’s best track, Sleazy Rider Returns, is also its creepiest, a Frankenstein gallop that starts out as the most horror surf-oriented number here, then slouches toward Sleep and then pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd.

Death Wheelers/Marche Funebre begins all sludgy, with some tasty machete tremolo-picking, then the band put the rubber to the road: it could be the Coffin Daggers with grittier bass. They launch into a nazgul gallop in Black Crack, a wry update on a classic Led Zep stomp; then, in Backstabber, they weld more of that vinyl-cracking sunburst slide guitar to a chugging, vintage Motorhead-style riff. 

If Iron Maiden had been an instrumental band during their earliest days back in the 70s, they might have done RIP (Last Ride) – the sample that introduces it is a real hoot. The brief Purple Wings sounds like an unexpectedly swinging, funk-tinged rehearsal jam that the band decided to keep and maybe work up later.

The album’s final cut is Moby Dick – an original, not the Led Zep monstrosity -where they nick an old Sonny Boy Williamson riff that the Allman Brothers infamously ruined, and do it justice. Guess these guys figured they couldn’t nick the title as well if they didn’t put in a really funny Spinal Tap drum solo as well. It’s hard to think of a more interesting, original heavy band out there. 

Kaada Delivers an Ominously Dynamic Halloween Soundtrack

It’s hard to imagine of a better way to foreshadow Halloween month than Kaada’s Closing Statements, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a lushly cinematic, all-instrumental, Lynchian concept album about death. The gallows humor of the song titles doesn’t often translate to the music, but the themes can be deliciously ominous. This is about suspense rather than fullscale horror.

The opening track, It Must Have Been the Coffee is a sad folksy tune beefed up with all sorts of neat touches: airconditioned funeral organ in both the lows and highs, forlorn starlit keys overhead and fluttery strings. Norwegian composer John Erik Kaada – whose last name is aptly pronounced “coda” –  plays all the instruments here.

The second track, simply titled Farewell, comes across as a variation on the Twin Peaks title theme, echoey piano and sepulchral string flickers rising to an achingly majestic crescendo – then an incongruous, blippy synth kicks in without warning.

Everything Is an Illusion is a minimalist tableau built around repetitive piano figures. There’s much more going on in Unknown Destination: uneasily waltzing piano and strings, a more uneasy classical melody played on reverb guitar, then a series of lively baroque flourishes on the way out.

After a staggered, music box-like interlude, On the Contrary slowly rises with a starry, tremolo-picked sweep: if Angelo Badalamenti wrote trip-hop, it might sound something like this. A synthesized dead-monk choir and what could be a theremin float over a delicate, baroque-tinged web of piano and guitar in Useless Useless, while Clearing Out blends lingering ambience with strangely minimalist syncopation. The segue into the techy 80s snowstorm textures of More Light is a little jarring: other than the surprisingly animated closing cut, Home in the Dark, it’s the least overtly troubled of all the tracks here.

The dichotomy between vast and percussively kinetic is most striking in Hey Unfair That Was My Exit. Somewhere there’s a good suspense flick whispering from the shadows for this soundtrack.

Macabre Piano Epics and Deep-Space Ambience From Elizabeth A. Baker

Pianist/multi-instrumentalist Elizabeth A. Baker’s new album Quadrivium – streaming at Bandcamp – is extremely long and often extremely dark. Her music can be hypnotic and atmospheric one moment and absolutely bloodcurdling the next. Erik Satie seems to be a strong influence; at other times, it sounds like George Winston on acid, or Brian Eno. It was tempting to save it for Halloween month – when all hell breaks loose here – but Baker’s playing the release show tonight, Sept 22 at Arete Gallery in Greenpoint at 7 PM. Cover is $15 – be aware that there is no G train between Nassau Ave. and Queens this weekend, so your options are either taking the L to Bedford and about a 20-minute walk, or the G to Nassau if you’re coming from Brooklyn and then hoofing it from there.

Baker’s striking high/low piano contrasts follow a hypnotically circling, glacial pace in the thirteen-plus minutes of the album’s opening track, Sashay. Subtly and slowly, her icicle accents grow more spacious, with the occasional unexpectedly playful accent. The second track, Command Voices – 251A is a lot more sinister, laced with Baker’s emphatic menace amid sepulchral rustles. Its eleven-minute second part is a pitch-black haunted house soundtrack complete with creaky inside-the-piano sonics and ghostly bells that finally come full circle with a long parade of macabre close harmonies.

Four Explosions Expanding From the Center is an awfully sardonic title for a deep-space Satie-esque tone poem echoing the album’s opening track as it grows more energetic. Quarks is a study in coy, fleeting accents followed by the brief spoken-word piece Identity Definitions, which contemplates how primitive attempts to rationalize existence still have resonance today.

The far more epic Lateral Phases & Beat Frequencies addresses interpersonal quandaries over drones and spacy squiggles. Headspace is as ambient and drifty as you would think. What Is Done in Silence builds a spot-on, sarcastically robotic cautionary scenario about getting caught in a digital snare. Baker works trippily oscillating loops in An Outcast; the album’s final cut is a coldly glimmering, practically 24-minute portrait of a dangerous powder drug, or so it would seem. It brings to mind the early loop collages of Phil Kline. Lots of flavors and lots of troubling relevance in an album which has a remarkably persistent awareness even as Baker messes with the listener’s imagination.

Us, Today Bring Their Catchy Postrock Grooves to the Lower East Next Weekend

Cincinnati trio Us, Today are one of those rare bands who’ve refined a sound like no other out group there. It’s easy to categorize them as postrock: the obvious comparison is Tortoise. At other times, they come across as a more minimalist take on Ensemble Et Al at their most energetic. Us, Today’s instrumentals are both purposeful and psychedelic, catchy and hypnotic. Kristin Agee plays vibraphone and keys, with Joel Griggs on guitar and and Jeff Mellott on drums. They’re playing the big room at the Rockwood at 10 PM on Sept 2.

Their latest album, Computant is streaming at Bandcamp. The opening track, No Funny Game is actually far from sinister – Agee’s tight vibraphone riffs dance gracefully over a smoothly undulating, funky groove spiced with Griggs’ gritty textures as it winds out.

Spellcaster (Dr. Spirit) begins in a similar vein but goes through some subtle rhythmic shifts. Griggs mutes his emphatic low notes for basslines and eventually goes echoing through the Van Allen Belt; Agee holds her pedal down for a woozy organ effect. Hello Viewers, a carillon-like miniature, introduces Sharin’, a trickily rhythmic, propulsive number: is that Griggs playing bass or is that fat envelope sound coming from Agee’s bass synth? 

Best Unfriends is a tasty, propulsive motorik groove with echoey dreampop riffage from Griggs. Likewise, WHAT IS TIME NOW. GOODMORNING? has a tense krautrock pulse, Griggs’ incisive riffage burning through Agee’s raindrops.

Circling, buzzy syncopated guitar riffs exchange with the twinkle of the vibraphone over flitting, woozy lows in Greetings from the Master. The album’s most colorful track is Wealthe + Fame + Love + Luck, mashing up minimalist P-Funk, indie classical, dreampop and hints of 80s goth, Griggs’ machete chord-chopping fueling the blaze over a deadpan backdrop. The trio segue into the lingering final number, Eracism and its amusing trick ending.

Some people might hear a few bars of this and confuse it with mathrock. Much as Us, Today’s music is all instrumental, with textures straight from the video game theme park, it’s much more interesting and cinematic. Isn’t it funny how music equated with mathematics so often tends to be spastic and awkward…hardly mathlike, when you think about it.

Fun fact: the band’s catalog also includes the acerbic single The Compulsion of Picture Taking. Somebody had to do that and it’s a good thing it was these guys.

Dustlights Build a Catchy, Ethereal Sonic Cocoon

Dustlights’ enveloping debut album In a Stillness – streaming at Bandcamp – has a vastness you’d never expect from just a trio of sax, bass and drums. Part trip-hop, part stoner soundscape and part postrock, like Tortoise at their most concise, it’s music to get lost in. Yet bandleader/saxophonist Joe MF Wilson’s riffs have a purpose and directness that matches the material’s deep-space proportions, beefed up with layers of echo, reverb and other effects. The trio are playing the album release show tomorrow night, Aug 6 at around 10 PM at Wonders of Nature. Gritty, guitar-fueled postrockers Star Rover play beforehand at 9; cover is $10.

The album’s opening cut, Stolen Treasures and the Sea sets the stage for the rest of the album, bassist Ran Livneh (of amazing Ethio-jazz jamband Anbessa Orchestra) and drummer David Christian maintaining a litheness under Wilson’s catchy, subtly wafting hooks. Livneh’s hypnotic looping melody underpins the plaintive rainy-day melody, lingering ambience and hints of Ethiopiques in the second cut, Lifeworld

Throught Awoke, ghe rhythm section build a subtly echoing trip-hop groove beneath Wilson’s washes overhead. Blades That Bend has tastily astringent hints of Afrobeat contrasting with its balmy, low-key, minimalist pulse, while Tea Wars, with its flickering drum hardware and contrasting bass multitracks, is hardly bellicose.

The aptly titled, spare yet spacious Empty Porch Chairs floats along slowly; it’s arguably the album’s most nocturnal piece. Then the group pick up the pace – at least as much as they do here – with Night Tide, an echoey, rather wistful theme grounded by the rhythm section’s tight persistence, rising to a very unexpected peak.

Heart Counts begins as a ballad in disguise, featuring Wilson’s warmest phrasing here, then becomes a battle in disguise – more or less. With its dub reggae echoes, the album’s most animated, catchiest track is Shaken. The group wind it up with the epic Inner Stillness, practically ten minutes of spare, misty tectonic shifts over mystical, spacious djembe and bass pulses. Put this on and drift off to a better place.

Rapturous Nightscapes From an Invisible Orchestra by Pamelia Stickney

Pamelia Stickney is arguably the world’s foremost theremin player. By any standard, she’s done more than anyone else alive to take the original electronic instrument to new places. While most musicians use the early Soviet-era contraption for horror-movie shivers or comedic whistles, Stickney plays melodies on it. At various points in her career, those have ranged from desolate deep-space tableaux to earthy symphonic extravaganzas. At her tantalizingly short set this past weekend at Barbes, she led her ironically titled Transcendental Dissonance Quartet through a similar, stylistically vast expanse of styles, from film noir themes to lowdown latin soul to elegant chamber jazz improvisation.

Stickney plays theremin as if she’s playing a magical, invisible, somewhat cranky bass. Standing perfectly still, her right hand controlling the volume, she bends her left hand at the elbow, expanding her fingers outward to hit the notes. She saves the instrument’s signature, quavery, creaky-door effects for when she really needs to make a point. This time, she opened with a low bass synth sound that George Clinton would undoubtedly love to have in his arsensal.

Meanwhile, Stuart Popejoy – playing piano instead of his usual bass here – delivered tersely incisive, moody variations on a stark, Lynchian theme while Danny Tunick’s vibraphone sprinkled stardust throughout the tableau, violinist Sarah Bernstein completing the picture with airy washes and spare, plaintive  countermelodies. They would stick with this eerie, surreal thousand-layer cake of textures throughout their roughly fifty minutes onstage while Stickney channeled the sound of massed voices, a cello (which she also plays, among many other instruments), and various kinds of brass. Her m.o. is simple: a theremin takes up a lot less space when you’re on tour.

Midway through the set, she moved to the piano for a slowly unfolding, hushed duet with Bernstein, who finallly got the chance to move through the magical microtones that have become her stock in trade over the last few years. Then the whoe group reconfigured for a final nightscape.

Stickney is back in New York this September, where she’s doing a week at the Stone with a series of ensembles. In the meantime, she’s back on her home turf in Vienna this week, with gigs on May 24 at the Ruprechtskirche at Ruprechtspl. 1 – where she’s playing cello alongside the carnivalesque Hans Tschiritsch & NoMaden – and then on May 25 with her Scrambolage trio with pianist Monika Lang and cellist Melissa Coleman at Roter Salon, Wipplingerstr. 2 at 8 PM; cover is 15€/10€ stud.  And for New Yorkers, Bernstein is playing the album release show for her most lyrically-driven album yet this May 30 at 9ish at Wonders of Nature.

Squeegee Men and Twin Peaks Themes in Long Island City Tonight

There’s a great twinbill tonight, April 30 starting at 9 at Long Island City Bar. A fantastic band who call themselves Fuck You Tammy play Twin Peaks themes and music from David Lynch movies starting at around 9. Then at 10 the Squeegee Men play their twisted, reverb-laced original surf rock and cowpunk songs.

The Squeegee Men have an ep, Coney Island Shark Bite, up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. The title track is a real blast, a serpentine instrumental that shifts from snappy, bass-driven dark garage rock to a sunnier, jazz-tinged, beachy theme and then back, guitar overdriven into the red.

After a careening, jangly take of My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It – as in “My bucket’s got a hole in it, I can’t buy no beer” – the band launch into Slow Burn and its swaying Wooden Indian Burial Ground-like contrasts between icepick leads and fuzztone menace. The album winds up with White Freightliner, a shout-out to diesel big rigs that brings to mind 80s cowpunk bands like the Raunch Hands.

A word about the band name for millennials – back in the 90s, homeless guys armed with squeegees and water buckets would stake out busy New York intersections, and the exits from the Holland and Battery tunnels, hoping to extort a few bucks from sympathetic motorists. The bridge-and-tunnel crowd hated this, and mayoral candidate Rudy Giuliani exploited the situation for all the racist mileage he could get out of it in his successful 1993 campaign.

Back to the music – Fuck You Tammy put on a hell of a show here back in February, a less jam-oriented approach than guitarist Tom Csatari has taken with Lynch themes. With guitar, keys, rhythm section behind her, their dynamic frontwoman belted and purred her way through vocal numbers including a hazy, aptly nocturnal take of Julee Cruise’s Falling and The Nightingale.They stalked their way through The Bookhouse Boys, then did a restrained version of the sultry, vamping Audrey’s Theme as well as a more expansive, psychedelic take of the iconic Twin Peaks title theme. It makes sense that they might be even tighter, with possibly more material, this time out.

A Wryly Trippy, Picturesque New Album and an Owl Release Show by Curtis Hasselbring

Curtis Hasselbring has been a mainstay at the adventurous edge of the New York jazz scene since the late 80s. Best known as a trombonist and composer of cinematic themes with a sardonic sense of humor, he’s also a very distinctive guitarist and keyboardist. His new solo album, Curha II is streaming at his music page. It’s a lot more techy than his usual work, and probably the most psychedelic thing he’s ever done. Here, he plays all the instruments. He’s playing the album release show on April 20 at 9:30 PM at the Owl, leading a very cool quintet with Alec Spiegelman and Peter Hess on bass clarinets, Ari Folman-Cohen on bass and John Bollinger on drums.

The album opens on a slashing note with Scissors, a gamelanesque, pointillistic stroll through a Javanese funhouse mirror. Then Hasselbring completely flips the script with Egon, a woozy, blippy synth-and-drum-machine acid jazz number.

A squirrelly new wave-influenced shuffle, Respect the Pedestrian comes across as an early 80s video game theme as XTC might have done it – with a not-so-subtle message for an era in New York where a driver can blast through an intersection, take out a couple of toddlers, and get away with it.

Mystery Guest mashes up Eno-esque rainy-day ambience and a warpy trip-hop groove. The Beatles catch up with Gary Numan in the catchy Sir Fish; then Hasselbring goes further into psych-folk mode with ’68, its wah-wah guitars and catchy acoustic garage riffage.

Party Platter People is prime Hasselbring: a staggered motorik drive, cascading Tangerine Dream synths against King Crimson guitar flares…and dreamy Hawaiian swing when you least expect it. The dubby Fish Coda is sort of King Tubby meets sleng teng uptown. The album ends with the stomping Ana-lo, which sounds like a Joy Division instrumental b-side. There’s also the surreal trombone-and-electronics shuffle Alpaca Lunch and Madgit, an interminable, robotic techno parody – maybe. Tune in, turn on, bug out. 

Edgy, Danceable B3 Grooves From the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio

Seattle band the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio are akin to Booker T & the MG’s with more of a guitar-oriented, often darkly cinematic focus. These irrepressible, constantly touring groovemeisters are bringing their party to the big room at the Rockwood this April 18 at 10:30 PM; cover is $15.

Their latest album Close But No Cigar – streaming at Spotify – bubbles and simmers with influences from a half-century of soul, funk and groove: these three guys live for throwing riffs back and forth, whether original ones, or hooks from obscure 1960s singles. The record opens with the title track, a catchy strut that’s like a mashup of the Meters and early James Brown, the bandleader’s subtly tremoloing organ contrasting with guitarist Jimmy James’  sharp funk lines over drummer David McGraw’s edgy snare hits and snowstorm cymbals. James’ wry, warpy, tone-bending guitar solo midway through is irresistibly fun.

Little Booker T is a self-effacing title for a slow but purposefully swaying soul groove driven by snarling guitar that shifts between distorted, staccato rhythm and big expansive chords, in contrast to Lamarr’s suammery fills and pulses. Ain’t It Funky Now is truth in advertising, a vintage JB’s-style slink. As with a lot these tracks, the organ and guitar switch up roles, between melody and rhythm, a trick most B3 bands use too infrequently. James indulges in some twangy blues over Lamarr’s leadfoot stomp midway through.

James vamps on an edgy 70s soul-jazz riff and variations in Close But No Cigar. Memphis – a Lamarr tune, not a cover – is another vampy number, Lamarr and James casually trading licks, with a couple of bluesy organ solos punctuating the interplay. Al Greenery – these guys are good with titles – is closer to the gritty noir cinematics of the City Champs than Rev. Green, bristling with wide-angle minor-key guitar over Lamarr’s slithery lines. Likewise, James’ serpentine, sparkly Marv Tarplin-ish lines propel Can I Change My Mind.

The no-nonsense strut Between the Mayo and the Mustard falls somewhere between Jimmy Smith, Booker T and the Meters, with a big powerful chorus packed with tense echo phrases – you can almost hear the horns. Raymond Brings the Greens bursts and pulses with oldschool soul-funk flavor; it’s the album’s funniest track. The trio wind it up with their only cover, a slow, simmering, heavily camouflaged take of the Burt Bacharach classic Walk On By

Oh yeah – you can dance to all this.