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Tag: instrumental music

Colorful Guitar Icon Jim Campilongo Continues His Rockwood Residency

It took a long time after the lockdown, but Jim Campilongo made it back to one of his oldest haunts, the Rockwood, where he’s played an on-and-off monthly residency, practically since the venue opened in 2005. Revered in guitar circles, Campilongo is not quite as well known as Bill Frisell, but the two have much in common beyond erudite and eclectic chops. Each player infuses jazz with Americana and a frequent noir sensibility. And each has his shtick: Frisell with his loop pedal, Campilongo using the neck of his Telecaster for a wammy bar effect by bending it ever so slightly. His next Rockwood gig is in the big room on August 29 at 7 PM; cover is $15.

Right before the lockdown, Campilongo was spending a lot of time in low-key, intricate duo situations. But one of this blog’s favorite Campilongo albums, Heaven Is Creepy, goes all the way back to 2006 and remains one of his most picturesque releases to date. An added element of creepiness is the tragic loss of bass player Tim Luntzel, who was stricken by Lou Gehrig’s Disease and died eight years later. Like a lot of musicians have been doing, Campilongo has discovered the utility of Bandcamp as a marketing tool and has put most of his albums up there, including this classic.

The first track is The Prettiest Girl in New York, a cheery lattice of bluegrass licks and coy harmonics over drummer Dan Rieser’s shuffle beat. Track two, Monkey in a Movie is a wry, slightly skronky strut with moments for the rhythm section to gnaw on the scenery.

There are two versions of the album’s first cover, Cry Me a River. The first is an instrumental. Campilongo’s surreal, slipsliding, lapsteel-flavored licks never quite coalesce out of an increasingly agitated, psychedelic thicket, shades of Dave Tronzo, until the very end. The second, with Norah Jones on vocals, is faster and more straightforwardly haunting, even if it isn’t on the same level as Erica Smith‘s shattering version with Dann Baker on guitar.

The album’s darkest and best track, Mr & Mrs Mouse veers all over the place, from Campilongo’s bracing wide-angle chords, to horror surf, to a cynically tiptoeing cha-cha that could be Big Lazy. Then the trio bring it down with the skeletal, brooding rainy day theme Because You Like Trombone.

Hamster Wheel (Slight Return) is a swampy trip-hop theme. Menace is less outright creepy than sardonically skronky, when Campilongo isn’t leading the trio scampering through Django Reinhardt’s shadow. The album’s chromatically snarling title track could just as easily be called Creepy Is Heaven: it’s the most enigmatically ominous, disquietingly strange tune here.

Nellie Bly, as Campilongo seems to see the prototypical investigative journalist, is a Beatles fan with a vintage country streak. The final cut on the album is Pepper, part lullaby, part suspense film theme. It says a lot about how much ground Campilongo can cover in under five minutes. There’s also a brief, aptly Victorian-flavored cover of Beautiful Dreamer with Martha Wainwright on vocals.

The Zoo Berries Bring Their Slinky, Imaginative Funk and Soul Grooves to Long Island City

Have you noticed how suspiciously much the word “lab” is trending, not just when connected with things that escape or are released from labs, but in everything from rehearsal studios, to bands, to music venues? Especially the places with free shows? What’s that all about?

One of those venues, surprise surprise, is a new one, Culture Lab in Long Island City. Even so, there have been a ton of good acts playing on the back of the flatbed trailer in the parking lot there this summer. One of them is the Zoo Berries, who are there on August 26 at 8 PM.

Back in 2018, their bandleader and bassist Ayal Tsubery – also of sizzling Balkan band Tipsy Oxcart – sent over some files. Since everybody in the band had plenty of other projects going on, this group didn’t play that many shows, so those files just sat, and sat, and sat on the hard drive here. But the band’s lone studio release is good!. If imaginative soul and funk sounds are your thing, give it a spin at Bandcamp.

The first number is Back In Time, which the band build from a spare intro, to an easygoing slow jam, then guitarist Nadav Peled (also of ferocious Ethiopiques band Anbessa Orchestra) takes a machinegunning solo, and the energy goes through the roof. Soprano saxophonist Hailey Niswanger’s solo after that is just about as incendiary.

The second track is Brother, a warmly swaying 6/8 oldschool soul groove, Niswanger harmonizing exuberantly with tenor player Arnan Raz before the two diverge and go blasting through the stratosphere as pianist Daniel Meron and drummer Peter Kronrief kick in harder. They follow the same trajectory in Final Decision, an update on a classic, slinky Booker T sound, Peled’s icepick guitar anchoring the groove to where Meron unexpectedly takes it into hard-hitting jazz.

He pulls back to a moody ripple in Shir LeShabbat, a traditional Jewish melody: finally, the bandleader takes a serpentine solo, climbing and then taking the long way down from the top of the fretboard with his nimble hammer-on riffs. The final tune is Acceptance, a real change of pace with its rainy-day intro. But then spoken-word artist Kéren Or Tayar gets on the mic, and Niswanger plays gentle, sustained lines and a few curlicues, and the sun bursts from behind the clouds.

A Rare Surf Rock Triplebill in Williamsburg on the 18th

Beyond the occasional show in the little back room at Otto’s or Freddy’s, there hasn’t been much surf rock in New York since before the 2020 totalitarian takeover. For anyone who misses the days when people in this city had the chance to bounce around to fast, catchy rock instrumentals with reverb guitar and rolling drums, there’s a rare triplebill happening on August 18 at 8 PM at a new outdoor Williamsburg venue, the Sovereign at 173 Morgan Ave. Like a lot of places in town, they’ve been slow to catch the #cashalways wave and in the early going have embraced the weird dollars-and-cents online ticketing fad. Which most likely translates to twenty bucks at the door if you want to see the Jagaloons, Wiped Out and then headliners Messer Chups.

The openers play a mix of originals and classic covers which range from early 60s surf hits to spaghetti western themes. A live set at Otto’s in the spring of 2018 revealed them as a lot tighter than what they have up at Bandcamp: knowing that they made it through the lockdown intact is a good sign just by itself. The headliners are a Russian counterpart to Man or Astroman, except that they have a regular bass player: their cartoonish take on horror surf can get annoyingly kitschy. The biggest attraction on the bill is the in-between band, who have an ep and a bunch of singles up at Bandcamp.

The first one, Waves of Panic, is a great start, a chromatic, Greek-flavored cousin to Misirlou with a little organ mingled in with the guitars. The flip side is No Surfing in the East River, a go-go theme. Those washed up on shore and pretty much went back out to sea in the lost summer of 2020.

Fast forward three months later to when the band put out the aptly titled Bummer Vacation, where they switch on a dime between horror surf and reggae. The band stayed busy and in January of last year put out their first ep, Sweet Almond Eyes, which opens with a doo-wop vocal number, followed by the punchy Shark Attack and then One More Before Dark, an ominously twangy tune with a little Tex-Mex flavor.

Last June, they released another single, Dude, That Was Gnarly, a tasty blend of tremolo-picking and icy reverb-tank pings backed by a pretty sizzling cover of Walk, Don’t Run. The band’s most recent release is the single Reverbology, which makes a good segue and has what sounds like a theremin on it. The b-side (do digital releases have b-sides?) is wryly titled Mellow Out and is the strongest, most darkly unpredictable song they’ve recorded so far.

Savage Republic Return with a Smoldering New Album

Editor’s note: Guitarist, activist and constitutional law scholar Philip Drucker, a.k.a. Jackson Del Rey, died this past July 16 at 63. A founding member of iconic 80s bands Savage Republic and 17 Pygmies, he was an early supporter of and friend to this blog. Deepest condolences to his wife and bandmate Meg Maryatt.

On one hand, it’s amazing that Savage Republic would still be putting out music as relentlessly intense as they were when they released their feral, rumbling 1982 debut album, Tragic Figures. Admittedly, the group on their new vinyl record Meteora – streaming at Bandcamp – were not among the crew on that album, but both guitarists Thom Fuhrmann and Ethan Port date from the band’s mid-80s peak. Multi-instrumentalist Kerry Dowling and drummer Alan Waddington are more recent additions, continuing a four-decade tradition of pummeling, frequently menacing instrumentals that veer defiantly between postrock, gothic rock and dystopic soundscapes.

They open the album with Nothing at All, an icy stomp that sounds like a track from PiL’s Metal Box album, but with typical leadpipe Savage Republic percussion. This time out, the guitars maintain the chilly, digital reverb sheen, in contrast with the gritty bassline of the second track, Stingray, a catchy dreampop-tinged instrumental.

God and Guns is a slowly swirling, grimly cynical broadside directed at self-righteous hypocrites: “You worship a massive cock, you just follow the fascist plot.” Fragments of Link Wray, Dick Dale and maybe Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth blend together in Bizerte Rolls, a menacingly chugging surf-rock anthem.

The album’s title track is a more disquieting, messier take on what the Cure was doing circa Seventeen Seconds, while Unprecedented is a mashup of My Bloody Valentine cyclotron swirl and Crass abrasiveness.

The album’s best song, Boca del Vaca is an evilly glimmering throwback to the hypnotically pulsing, overtone-laced, Middle Eastern sound the band worked so memorably in the 80s. Then they go back to Siouxsie/Cure chorus-box territory in Newport ’86. They wind up the album with Ghost Light, shifting in and out of focus with the haphazardly percussive energy of the group’s early days. Who knew that Savage Republic would be around forty years after they started, making the kind of records that show up on best-albums lists at the end of the year!

The Monomatics Ride the Waves Into the East Village This Saturday Night

Practically ever since Otto’s Shrunken Head took over the former Barmacy space, they’ve had surf music there. Tiki bars have come and gone in this city and at this point Otto’s seems to be the only one left – if this long, narrow former home to an independent pharmacy even qualifies as a tiki bar.

The big issue with Otto’s is that the weekend door guy has an ID scanner and employs it mercilessly, even on the elderly (you might be surprised to see how many of the elderly frequent Otto’s). Bring your passport, since scanners don’t work on passports. Now more than ever, we need to be careful not to leave any kind of electronic trail of where we go, what we buy and who we hang with.

The latest surf show there is this Saturday night, starting at 8 with an act called the Reverb Kings. They may or may not be a cover band like the headliners, the Wraycyclers, who play Link Wray tunes. The middle act, the Monomatics – an up-and-coming, mostly-instrumental Brooklyn trio – are the most intriguing. They’ve got two promising short albums up at Bandcamp, released just before the 2020 lockdown.

The better of the two is the Last Night ep, which came out in December of 2019. Guitarist Donn Denniston chooses his spots, playing with a vintage tube amp sound – reverb and cheap distortion – in the opening number, Race Towards Death, a horror surf tune.

The band slip out of an early 60s-style R&B theme into a loping desert rock groove in the second track, Lost Woman (for Devra). Denniston sticks with running catchy riffage in the brief Focus on Sanity, followed by Alan Vega, a shout-out to the late Suicide frontman, everybody in the band off in his own individual time zone more or less.

The band wind up the ep with Rough Pass, built around a series of tritones; Strychnine, a punk song with no relation to the Cramps tune; and Pearl’s Dance, a decent stab at a noir stripper theme. If surf rock is your thing, this could be your chance to get to know these guys before they bust out of triple-A for the majors.

A Gorgeously Drifting, Lynchian Album With a Tragic Backstory

New York instrumentalists SussNight Suite album, released earlier this year, was a gorgeously evocative, drifting travelogue akin to the recent Freedom Convoy, tracing a highway trip from New Mexico to the California desert. The equally picturesque sequel, Heat Haze – streaming at Bandcamp – continues the journey in a similarly southwestern yet less gothic vein. Tragically, one of the band members only appears on this road trip in a metaphorical sense. Keyboardist Gary Lieb died suddenly in March of last year shortly after wrapping up recording, just as so many musicians have in the wake of the lethal Covid injections. It’s not known what role, if any, that may have played in his untimely death.

In a cruel stroke of irony, Lieb’s floating synth plays a major role throughout the record, mingling with the guitars of Pat Irwin and Bob Holmes and the pedal steel of Jonathan Gregg. It’s often impossible to figure out who’s playing what, beginning with the slowly shifting, tectonic ambience of the title track, at least until Gregg’s steel and a few low, ominous reverb-guitar notes come into focus over the horizon.

Lieb’s keyboards pulse hypnotically behind spare, loopy acoustic and electric riffs in the second track, aptly titled Shimmer. Gregg’s steel takes centerstage over gentle acoustic strums and the occasional low clang in Grace: the group seem to be emerging into more populated territory by now.

Lieb layers calmly circling layers beneath reverb riffs that pan the speakers on track four, Train: this is the real midnight in the switching yard, with a sonic joke or two which are too good to spoil. The most immersively ambient track here is the final one, Pine. If this is all that’s left of the band’s recorded output, it’s a memorable departure.

NYC Surf Rock Favorites Bring Their Clang and Twang to the South Slope Tomorrow Night

When you think about it, surf rock has been retro for almost as long as swing jazz. And every year, a new generation of kids discovers the catchy, danceable, reverb-drenched sound which these days is made mostly by bands who live nowhere near the water.

One group that does live near the water, or close to it, anyway, is the Supertones. Dating back to the mid-90s, they’re one of the longest-running bands in New York. A lot of surf artists, from legends like Dick Dale to Los Straitjackets and the Coffin Daggers, bring their sensational chops and supersonic tremolo-picking to wow the crowd. The Supertones do the opposite: Bandleader and Telecaster player Tim Sullivan writes lingering, spacious themes that border on the minimalist, with a sound that looks back to the early 60s and the golden age of the Ventures and Shadows.

Everything they play sounds familiar, yet hard to place, maybe because Sullivan is awfully good at taking classic surf hits and tweaking them just enough to call them his own. The group’s late-90s residency at the old Luna Lounge on Ludlow Street is legendary. There’s been some turnover in the group over the years (the original rhythm section left and eventually became Mr. Action & the Boss Guitars), but the Supertones didn’t drown in the lockdown and have emerged with a gig at 9 PM tomorrow night, June 25 at Freddy’s. A couple of cover bands, Band of Others and then Link Wray cover crew the WrayCyclers play after; it’s a pass-the-bucket situation.

There are as many tracks on the Supertones’ Reverbnation page as Heinz has flavors. At about two minutes a clip, that’s two hours of jangle and twang. Skip the first track, Paradise Point Pt. 1 which is a red herring with that fakeout organ intro. Instead, roll with The Last Ride, a twangy Bakersfield-style tune with rolling surf drums. There’s close harmonies off a low string in Avanti, a gently twangy blend of loping desert rock and low-key Ventures in El Rollo, and Ali Baba, a very, very close cousin to Misirlou with a few goofy moments thrown in to distance it from the original.

I Surf in Black is a prime example of how the group typically do a slow, vaguely melancholy ballad. They pick up the pace in Dora Lives. a tightly galloping number, while Morbious is a reminder that cheap Casio organ tunes were not the band’s strong suit. Likewise, it’s a mystery why there’s such a sloppy version of Moon Shot here. That sets you up for three different takes of All For a Few Perfect Waves. After that, there’s still over an hour of music to keep you fresh and icy for whatever you’re doing after you get offline. If you get as far as the deliciously bittersweet Bushwacked, you will be richly rewarded.

The last time anyone from this blog was in the house at a Supertones show, it was at Otto’s – where else, right? – to kick off what turned out to be an amazing 2018 Labor Day weekend. That Friday night, the group did more slinking than pummeling through a set much like the Reverbnation page. Truth in advertising – and don’t hate on them because they use an old platform. It’s only fitting for a band that plays old music.

Revisiting One of the World’s Most Intriguing Guitarists in an Intimate Space

For more than two decades, guitarist Jim Campilongo has carved out a distinctive, erudite, energetic niche somewhere between jazz, surf rock and film noir music. For almost as long, he’s had an on-and-off residency at the various Rockwood rooms. In 2017, he finally got around to making a live album there with his long-running trio of Chris Morrissey on bass and Josh Dion on drums. That album is still streaming at Bandcamp, and Campilongo has returned to his old haunt. His next appearance there is April 25 at 7 PM in the big room; cover is $15

Obviously, considering how Campilongo’s music continues to evolve, a listen to the live record doesn’t necessarily reflect what his live show is about these days. His most recent album is even more intimate, an intricate, sometimes spare duo record with fellow six-stringer and Morricone fan Luca Bendedetti. It’s full of surprises: their quarterspeed version of Chopin’s Minute Waltz is a hoot. Much as Campilongo’s studio material is all worth hearing – his 2006 album Heaven Is Creepy is this blog’s favorite – live is where he excels most.

Is that a vintage repeaterbox he’s using on the intro to the live record’s first song, I’m Helen Keller and You’re a Waffle Iron? Maybe. It comes across as a more restless, ornamented take on Big Lazy noir skronk. The way he builds up to a scorching, circling series of sus chords is a clinic in tunesmithing – or creating a melody out of thin air.

The second number, Big Bill is a squiggly strut, Dion kicking up the dust as Morrissey shadows the bandleader and eventually gets his amp burning with a long, emphatic series of chords. Imagine Mary Halvorson playing a John Zorn noir surf tune and you wouldn’t be far off.

Dion sings the spare, sophisticated, angst-fueled blues ballad Here I Am, Campilongo defying gravity on the long ladder upwards. In what’s titled the “Jimi Jam,” he detunes his Telecaster, indulges in some of his signature neck-bending, fires off a handful of foghorn slide riffs and keening harmonics among his gritty chords. There are no distinguishable Hendrix licks.

Nels Cline guests on the album’s big epic, Cock and Bull Story, adding incisive Middle Eastern riffs and noisy haze against Campilongo’s biting, chromatic theme, the rhythm section keeping a tense pulse. The duel that follows, Cline first trailing and then engaging with the bandleader’s unhinged vintage Velvets squall is blissfully adrenalizing.

There are echoes of styles as different as Jerry Garcia spacescapes and Tal Farlow Americana swing in Sal’s Waltz, a more-or-less rubato tableau with Morrissey and Dion hanging on the fringes.

Cline returns for There You Are, a wistfully wafting theme that foreshadows where Campilongo would go with Benedetti almost five years later. The final number is Jim’s Blues, a loosely expansive launching pad for erudite Chicago and western swing-influenced clusters, a searing, machete coda and even a little Link Wray. Campilongo has so many ideas up his sleeve that it’s always a wild guess where he’s going to go next.

Some Killer Rare and Unreleased Sonic Youth Rescued From the Archives

Other than field recordings, is there anything left in the Sonic Youth vault worth hearing that hasn’t already been released? As it turns out. yes, and some of it is prime! It’s a bit of a shock that several of the tracks on the new album In/Out/In – streaming at Bandcamp – haven’t surfaced until now. These rare and previously unreleased cuts date from the final decade of the most influential rock band of the past forty years.

One-chord jams, or close facsimiles, predominate here. In the case of one song, In & Out, a very late-period outtake, it’s amusing to watch SY turn into Yo La Tengo, a band they influenced so profoundly. Over Steve Shelley’s surprisingly muted, galloping rhythm, the guitarists assemble starry, chiming accents amid a warm drone laced with occasional flickers of feedback and Kim Gordon’s breathy, allusive, wordless vocals.

The opening instrumental is a false start: it could be your band, or anyone else’s, hesitatingly jamming out a two-chord Velvets vamp. Social Static, the theme from the Chris Habib/Spencer Tunick film, is a steady, one-note musique concrète mood piece that collapses into loops of feedback, oscillations, pulsing noise and R2D2 in hara-kiri mode: SY at their most industrially ugly but also subtly funny. No spoilers.

Machine, an outtake from The Eternal sessions, is a rare gem: a steady, midtempo stomp bristling with the band’s often-imitated-but-never-duplicated, dissociative close harmonies and layers of gritty textures that grow more assaultive. Why was this left off the album? Space considerations?

Out & In, an epic instrumental workout from 2000 is the real standout here. There’s a wry allusion to the moment The Wonder segues into Hyperstation (arguably the high point of the Daydream Nation album), with signature off-center Thurston Moore raga riffage, and just enough microtonality and clouds of overtones to let the ghosts in under the door. Everything falls away to buzz-and-clang midway through, then they start over with a squall that’s absolutely evil. The band take it out with a stampeding over-the-shoulder nod to Captain Beefheart. This is a must-own for fans and a surprisingly good overview for beginners.

Gorgeous, Glimmering Noir Instrumentals From the Royal Arctic Institute

Best album title of the year so far goes to the Royal Arctic Institute, whose new cassette ep From Catnap to Coma is streaming at Spotify. Over the last few years, the New York instrumentalists have developed a distinctive sound that draws on film noir soundtracks, surf music, psychedelia and new wave. At a time when so much of the New York music scene has been scattered to places like Texas and Florida, it’s good to see these guys sticking around and putting out their best record so far.

The opening number, Fishing by Lanterns has a slow, Lynchian sway, the spare, twangy guitars of John Leon and Lynn Wright building a starry unease over David Motamed’s bass and Lyle Hysen’s evocative drumming while keyboardist Carl Baggaley fills out the nocturnal ambience.

Track two is Shore Leave on Pharagonesia, a hypnotically pulsing, backbeat theme that’s part Ventures spacerock nocturne, part drifting but propulsive Los Crema Paraiso highway theme. After that, First of the Eight rises from a carefree glimmer to a more driving intensity.

Ghosts of the Great Library, a big-sky tableau, is a clinic in how to get the most mileage out of simple, economical riffs: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Big Lazy catalog. The final cut is Anosmia Suite, referencing the medical term for loss of sense of smell. Motamed’s sliding chordal intro is a cool touch; from there, it builds to the album’s most hypnotic interlude.