New York Music Daily

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Tag: instrumental music

The Ocular Concern: The Coen Brothers Do Twin Peaks, Sonically Speaking

Noir menace, sometimes distant, sometimes front and center and impossible to turn away from, fuels Portland, Oregon instrumentalists The Ocular Concern’s album Sister Cities (streaming at Bandcamp). The band’s music bears considerable resemblance to guitarist Marc Ribot‘s cinematically unfolding themes as well as multi-clarinetist Ben Goldberg‘s Unfold Ordinary Mind narratives, not to mention Ennio Morricone’s 70s work, especially the Taxi Driver score. The group’s main songwriters are guitarist Dan Duval and keyboardist Andrew Oliver, whose electric piano does double duty as bass in the same vein as what Ray Manzarek did with the Doors but with more restraint. The rest of the group includes Stephen Pancerev on drums, Lee Elderton on clarinet and Nathan Beck on vibraphone and mbira.

Surrealism is in full effect with the opening track, a wintry west African mbira theme for vibraphone, bass and drums, Duval’s loopy electric guitar kicking in to raise the ante. Violinist Erin Furbee, violist Brian Quincey and cellist Justin Kagan join the group on the Sister City Suite, which opens alternating between an uneasy calm and jarring strings, then shifts to a snide faux noir latin ambience that’s pure Bernard Herrmann spun through snarky Ribot downtown cool. Alex Krebs adds washes of bandoneon to the sarcastically blithe second segment, its suspenseful pulse evoking the Get Carter soundtrack, finally hitting a roaring punk jazz stomp where Elderton’s clarinet leaves no doubt that this is where the murder happens. From there they move to a cynical, string-driven cha-cha and then follow a fake tango groove with lushly swooping strings contrasting with more of that menacing Ribot-esque reverb guitar. This may be a Pacific Northwest band, but the sound is pure New York circa 1988.

The band’s eponymous track parses coldly glimmering. wistful pastoral jazz, Elderton using its hypnotic rhythm as a launching pad for a slowly crescendoing solo until the piano and drums push it out of the picture. Lafayette, another wintry mbira groove, sounds like the Claudia Quintet without the busy drums, Eldterton’s trilling and eventually thrilling solo being the highlight. They follow that with The Eclectic Piano, essentially a suspiciously blithe variation on the same theme. The album ends with the warmly consonant, narcotic William S. Burroughs, Let’s Go!, Elderton’s alto sax taking a slowly resonant lead over Oliver’s twinkling. echoing electric piano lines. If the Coen Brothers ever did an episode of Twin Peaks, this would be the soundtrack.

Good Cop and Bad Cop Review LJ Murphy Plus the Byzan-Tones

Good Cop: I think this is our big break. We’ve never been given an assignment this good.

Bad Cop: Back on the Columbus shuttle.

Good Cop: You mean the Scranton shuttle.

Bad Cop: I can’t get used to Scranton being a Yankees farm club. It was part of the Phillies system for as long as I can remember.

Good Cop: Now that’s going back a ways! Anyway, tonight we get to review LJ Murphy, the best rock songwriter in town, and then the Byzan-Tones, an awesome surf band! This is a big deal for us! You notice we’ve been getting better assignments lately?

Bad Cop: If you say so…

Good Cop: Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside, then Red Baraat, and this the best yet! If we don’t screw this one up there’s no telling how far we’ll go! [Good Cop elbows Bad Cop in the ribs]

Bad Cop [winces} Ouch! Don’t kid yourself. We haven’t had any assignment from this blog, good or bad, since July. We only got to cover that Sallie Ford concert because the blog had reviewed the record a couple of days before. We only got to do Red Baraat because the story wasn’t the music, it was that horrible experience in Central Park. So if this blog hadn’t reviewed LJ Murphy back in November, we’d still be in Col…I mean, Scranton.

Good Cop: Well, goodbye Scranton. hello Parkside Lounge on a Saturday night! [LJ Murphy,wearing a black suit and porkpie hat and holding a big black acoustic guitar, takes the stage along with his lead guitarist, keyboardist and drummer. With no bass, they launch into a swinging blues]

Bad Cop: I guess this is soundcheck.

Good Cop: I don’t think so. They did the song all the way through. I know this one: it’s Another Lesson I Never Learned.

Bad Cop: Guess they lost their bass player.

Good Cop: Not as far as I know. Nils Sorensen’s also in Brothers Moving, you know, that great Danish Americana band so maybe he had a conflict. And check out Patrick McLellan, he’s playing basslines with his left hand on the piano! At this point they don’t need a bass player…

Bad Cop [emphatically] Oh yes they do. But this guy’s good. Real good. Picked up on what was missing right away and took care of business.

Good Cop: I can’t believe somebody this good is playing the Parkside.

Bad Cop: Classic case of a guy stuck in the New York scene. In this town, you play to your friends. There’s no central scene with any significant following that you can leverage anymore. Here’s a guy who’s as good a songwriter as Richard Thompson, or Steve Earle, or Aimee Mann – and he’s younger than all of them – but he never got to take the band on the road. And he’s a band guy, not a singer-songwriter.

Good Cop: And he’s got a sizeable European following too. Funny how these things happen, isn’t it?

Bad Cop: Sound is not good tonight.

Good Cop: You know the Parkside, it can be good one night and not so good the next.

Bad Cop: It’s the piano. The low mids are feeding. And you can’t hear the electric guitar.

Good Cop: That’s Tommy Hoscheid. Great player. I see he brought his Gibson SG.

Bad Cop: He’s gonna need it.

Good Cop: Oh, I love this song. This is Happy Hour. Anybody who’s suffered through having to hang out with work “friends” in the financial district needs to hear this, it’ll validate you. And I love how LJ has rearranged it as an oldschool Stax/Volt shuffle.

Bad Cop: I liked it better when it was straight up janglerock. At least that’s one thing you can count on with this guy: you never know what you’re gonna get. Always rearranging things. The Faulkner of the three minute rock song. And you notice, he changed the lyric: it used to be “brotherhood of useless warts” instead of “brotherhood of sold and bought.”

Good Cop: That doesn’t rhyme with “one eye on the secretary and the other on the quarterly report.”

Bad Cop: It does if you’re from Queens.

Good Cop: True. “Their daytime dramas wait at home on videocassette,” that’s a really twisted line.

Bad Cop: It wasn’t back when he wrote it. These days you think of a spycam, or a webcam, right? Back then it was like something you Tivoed – except in analog, in real time, and everybody did it, and it actually wasn’t twisted at all. Ha, necessarily, at least. I remember this one time rushing home to record an episode of Survivor for this chick…

Good Cop: I can imagine where you’re going with that. Anyway – check out that creepy cascade from Patrick! This is Mad Within Reason, title track from LJ’s most recent album. “The music was sampled from Bach to James Brown, they saddled the mistress and lowered her down.” Nobody’s writing lyrics like that these days!

Bad Cop: Oh yeah they are. Four words for you: Hannah Versus the Many. But this guy’s good, always has been. “While everybody tried to become what they hate” – and another creepy piano cascade. This is sweet.

Good Cop: This next one’s even sweeter. Pretty for the Parlor – Long Island sniper gone on a spree. What a great tune this is – it’s anthemic, but not derivative or Beatlesque, it’s just good. And full of surprises. “The machinegun mama’s boy has called in sick today,” yum!

Bad Cop: OK, he’s gonna bring it down now. Waiting by the Lamppost for You: a period-perfect blend of sixties soul and blues. “Moonlight delays me, daylight betrays me, I’m hungover and showing my years.” Do you hear Nightclubbing, you know, the Iggy song?

Good Cop: Not unless it’s blasting through the wall from next door. Is that place still a disco?

Bad Cop: We’re at the Parkside, not the Mercury. Nobody next door. Deli across the street.

Good Cop: Oh yeah! Now this drummer’s good. A jazz guy maybe. They’re really rocking out Lonely Avenue – you know, the old Elvis song.

Bad Cop: Doc Pomus wrote it. Orthodox Jewish guy from Brooklyn. Now this is where you lose me, white guys playing the blues.

Good Cop: Aw, c’mon, the audience loves it.

Bad Cop: Once you’ve heard T-Bone Walker do Stormy Monday, all other versions are useless.

Good Cop: T-Bone Walker died before you were born.

Bad Cop: T-Bone Walker actually died when I was in the third grade I think. But I have the album.

Good Cop: This next song is Damaged Goods. What did LJ say, this is the first song he ever wrote in Brooklyn after moving from Queens?

Bad Cop: Guess he must have had the Wall Street job back then. Dungeoness and her crabs, more or less. This guy was on to what Eliot Spitzer and that crew were up to before anybody else was.

Good Cop: Now they’re going back from new wave to noir. This is Fearful Town. Did you hear Patrick quote Riders on the Storm?

Bad Cop [derisively]: Everybody does that. But this is a good song. This is why I came out tonight. Now this speaks to me. This is why I’m here and not someplace else. This guy speaks for anybody who used to live in this neighborhood. “Raided my old hangouts, put away my friends, now I’m sitting on a bonfire on a night that never ends.” LES, 2014, we are with you LJ Murphy!

Good Cop: You’re breaking character. You’re not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to hate everything.

Bad Cop: And you’re breaking the fourth wall. You’re not supposed to do that. What am I supposed to do? I complained about the sound. The blues medley left me cold. But I like this guy. Despite myself. Even this one. This next song is Nowhere Now. Sort of a twisted Chuck Berry kind of thing. I can’t figure it out for the life of me. Maybe it’s about America, all that “200 years of hoping, you’re not hoping anymore” stuff. What do you think?

Good Cop: That’s what I love about LJ’s songs, they draw you in and make you figure out what’s going on. Now this one’s easy, Blue Silence – they’re going to rock the hell out of this.

Bad Cop: And they do. And then they close with Barbed Wire Playpen, another Wall Street dungeoness crab scenario.

Good Cop: Ha ha funny.

Bad Cop: Couldn’t resist. And now we’re off to Otto’s.

Good Cop [about ten minutes later, at Otto’s Shrunken Head]: Holy shit, this place is packed. I haven’t seen Otto’s like this, maybe, ever.

Bad Cop: And we didn’t even get carded walking in.

Good Cop [laughs]: Nobody would ever card you.

Bad Cop: The doofus at the door, the skinhead, once chased me to the back and screamed at me until I showed him my I.D. This is recent, like, last year.

Good Cop: You can’t be serious.

Bad Cop: I’m completely serious. A guy at the bar saw the whole exchange, he came up to me afterward and said he couldn’t believe what he’d just witnessed.

Good Cop: I can’t either. But we’re here. And this band is great! What a cool doublebill it’s been, two venues, two great bands. That’s George Sempepos on lead guitar, I can’t see who’s playing bass or drums, and that’s Steve Antonakos on guitar too.

Bad Cop: They used to have an electric oud. Now that was wild. Psychedelic Greek surf music. I remember coming back from seeing them at the Blu Lounge in Williamsburg, this must have been around 2003 or so, completely shitfaced, this is at about four in the morning and I’m waiting forever at 14th Street for the F and I’d recorded the show so I pulled out my recorder and started blasting the Byzan-tones right there on the platform. And everybody was down with it.

Good Cop: You’re lucky you didn’t get arrested.

Bad Cop: Nobody arrests me!

Good Cop: OK. Now I can’t keep track of whether these songs are originals, or they’re psychedelic rock hits from Greece in the 1960s.

Bad Cop: My understanding is that they’re originals. But they sound like old Mediterranean stoner music. Except with more of a surf beat. Now this version of the band is a little brighter and a lot tighter than I remember them being.

Good Cop: And look, the crowd is really into this! This is music from a culture that doesn’t even use our alphabet and peeps are loving this! And the place is so packed that we can’t even get into the back room!

Bad Cop: Hold your fire. We would be able to if this was Lakeside. Oh yeah, Lakeside is gone now. But you get my point. And besides, it’s surf night, half the crowd came from Connecticut, they’re not going to leave for awhile. Captive audience. What every band needs in this century in this town.

Good Cop: Lots of Arabic sounds in this band. And minor keys, and tricky tempos. I can’t figure out what this one is in.

Bad Cop: Me neither. I’ve been drinking since before I left for the Parkside. Sorry.

Good Cop: Now this song is called Pontic Pipeline. Doesn’t sound like Pipeline, though.

Bad Cop: I think the reference is a little…um…what’s the word I want? Oblique? How does that sound ?

Good Cop: Sounds like Arabic rock to me. I love this band, and how the two guitars sometimes harmonize…and how Steve fakes how he’s playing with a slide even though he’s just bending the strings…and now George is singing. In a low, cool baritone, in Greek! What’s the likelihood of seeing something like this outside of Astoria?

Bad Cop: Or outside of Athens.

Good Cop: Point taken. OK, time to go. What a cool night this was! I can’t wait to do this again!

Bad Cop [pulls a flask from inside his trenchcoat and drains it]: OK, see you in July. Or in Col…I mean Scranton.

The Legendary Poets of Rhythm’s Rare Funk and Soul Sides Are Finally Back in Print

Much as the web has helped break down boundaries between cultures – some would say not always for the better –  the bar is still higher for people who play music that isn’t indigenous to their culture. That the mysterious German assemblage of musicians known as the Poets of Rhythm were able to replicate vintage American soul and funk from the 60s and 70s ten years and more before Youtube existed testifies to their passion for getting those sounds just right. The new Poets of Rhythm anthology out from Daptone Records mixes tracks from the group’s two studio albums from the 90s plus a handful of rare singles released between 1992 and 2003 under pseudonyms like the Bus People Express, Bo Baral’s Excusionists of Perception, the Whitefiled Brothers, the Soul Saints and Pan-Atlantics. It’s quite touching to see how little these guys cared about fame: all they wanted to do was to play music like it was 1967 again, a time when most of their posse probably wasn’t even born yet. Eclectic and often psychedelic as their sound could be, ultimately this was designed to get you up on your feet.

The production of undulating instrumentals like 50 Yards of Soul may be crisper than typically would have been the case in 1970, but the arrangements – in this case, wah guitar, organ and shuffling drums – are period-perfect. South Carolina – not the Gil Scott-Heron classic but an original – sways along with balmy organ and gently scratchy Memphis guitar, a tribute to a place the band had assuredly never seen. The single’s b-side, Augusta GA evokes vintage James Brown – huh, here I come, good god! – right down to the shuffling drum break and a gamely trebly impression of a young Bootsy Collins. Likewise, North Carolina plays off a catchy stairstepping bass hook.

Choking on a Piece of Meat Pt. 1 fades up, slow and slinky, into a Roy Ayers psychedelic soul vamp with wah guitar and reverbtoned flute. Discern Define sounds more like a backing loop for a 90s hip-hop joint by, say, Digable Planets than it does anything from an earlier era, although the textures – incisive horns, echoey drums, lingering Rhodes piano and slightly smoky organ – are spot-on. The previously unreleased Path of Life blends jazz poetry into a breezy mid 70s groove with jarringly anachronistic but irresistibly amusing wah synth.

Funky Train works an upbeat JBs style wah-and-horns track – unlike so much so-called “white funk,” the drums swing and the bass doesn’t waste notes. Ham Gallery is much the same, with a slightly more uptight, head-bopping beat. More Mess on My Thing offers a more caffeinated take on a hypnotically cinematic Isaac Hayes-style vamp. It Came Over Me finds the band gamely taking a stab at mid-70s Stylistics balladry and finding the groove with somewhat more spare horns and strings.

Santa’s Got a Bag of Soul has a droll sample straight out of Cypress Hill – told you this stuff was psychedelic, huh? Serengeti Stroke works a midtempo groove with an emphasis on hypnotic percussion, while Summer Days goes for balmy atmospherics. By contrast, The Donkey is the most lo-fi number – but as somebody in the band says, that donkey still bites! A couple of the album’s nineteen tracks don’t measure up to the others, but that’s still a good average. It’s good to see this stuff available digitally for a whole new generation to discover, especially considering that the original vinyl is hard to find and very pricy. And if it gets anyone into the original source material, so much the better. The whole thing’s hard to find as a full stream on the web, although it is on Spotify.

David Krakauer Reinvents Oldschool New York Movie Music Downtown

David Krakauer is one of the most exhilarating clarinetists in town. His career spans the worlds of klezmer, classical music and jazz. His shows fronting the band Klezmer Madness in the 90s are legendary. He’s also New York to the core. His forthcoming album The Big Picture celebrates New York-centric film music from across the ages, a mix of well-known and obscure treasures, recorded with a killer band. He also has an intriguing residency coming up at the Museum of Jewish Heritage downtown at 36 Battery Place (just north and west of Battery Park) beginning on Jan 29 and continuing on Wednesdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2 PM through the month of February. Krakauer and a characteristically diverse lineup including Rob Schwimmer on keyboards, Sara Caswell on violin, Sheryl Bailey on guitar, Mark Helias on bass and John Hadfield on drums will be backed by original films by Light of Day and Cutting Room Films, turning the musicians-play-to-the-celluloid paradigm on its head. Tix are very pricy – $35, or $30 for students and seniors – but Krakauer’s preview of the program last month with a trio was characteristically and auspiciously invigorating.

One of the new album’s high points is Krakauer’s austerely waltzing, nocturnal take of the Ralph Burns interlude titled The Family, from the 1974 Lenny Bruce biopic, Lenny. Another is Honeycomb, the psychedelically funky, early 70s Herbie Hancock-style theme from Barry Levinson’s Avalon, written by Randy Newman. How do you do Body and Soul and make it fresh? Turn it into a slinky noir clarinet feature and swing it from a hint of a waltz to a Lynchian sway over the pulse of Jim Black’s cymbals.

Among the other tracks on the album, there’s also a nonchlalant Parisian accordion waltz titled Keep It Gay that goes doublespeed with a droll lickety-split vaudevillian flair. La Vita E Bella begins airily and moves to a warmly bossa-flavored groove lowlit by Adam Rogers’ guitar. Krakauer, Rogers and violinist Jenny Scheinman make a surprisingly upbeat, anthemic, Celtic-tinged dance out of the Love Theme from Sophie’s Choice.

Moving to the Ghetto starts as a grudging solo clarinet theme over a muted accordion backdrop and builds to an aching dance, then turns the haunting melody over to Scheinman and Rogers, who make lingering art-rock out of it. The band creates nonchalant wah funk out of Si Tu Vois Ma Mere, takes a tongue-in-cheek, sotto vocce march through a familiar Prokofiev theme, makes surf rock out of an even more familiar Fiddler on the Roof vamp and ends the album with Wilkommen, which moves from a nocturne into a swinging romp in seconds flat.

Everything here serves more or less as a launching pad for Krakauer’s swirling, crescendoing, sometimes achingly intense, sometimes subtly witty clarinet solos. The only dud here is a turd from the Barbra Streisand catalog that even this all-star cast can’t polish. These album tracks are just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of where Krakauer can take them. You’ve got more than a month to check all this out in a spacious, sonically superb auditorium.

A Supremely Good Surf Album by the Reigning Monarchs

Surf music may be a lot of fun, but there’s always been a dark underside to the style, from Dick Dale wailing away at ominous Middle Eastern themes, to the perennially popular horror surf of bands like Beware the Dangers of a Ghost Scorpion. The Reigning Monarchs don’t play horror surf, strictly speaking, but their music is evil. The two-guitar frontline of Greg Behrendt and Boston powerpopsters Letters to Cleo’s Michael Eisenstein fires off reverberating, snarling, menacing chromatic riffage over the hard-hitting rhythm section of bassist David Hawkins and drummer Blair Sinta. Their debut album Black Sweater Massacre is streaming all the way through at their site.

Much as their sonics are retro – vintage-sounding guitars, reverb everywhere, pummeling surf drums – the Reigning Monarchs have an original and distinctive sound. For one, they use horns (Tower of Power’s Lee Thornburg on valve trombone, flugelhorn and trumpet and Eugene Toale on sax) to raise the dramatic effect on several of the tracks here. They also blend in elements of styles that didn’t exist until surf music was already retro. The brief opening track, It Might be the Perfect Now mixes surf and dreampop, a strangely effective hybrid they revisit later with the absolutely hilarious, tongue-in-cheek Tanya Donnelly. The brass first seems like it’ll be a distraction, but it works like a charm to raise the disquiet on the deadly biker rock theme Murder Your Summer, Eisenstein’s funeral organ whirling over Behrendt’s hammering menace. Likewise, Steakhouse Blues is a Lynchian low-rent Vegas roadhouse number with wild, unhinged tremolo-picking and a tricky false ending: it reminds of Beninghove‘s Hangmen.
The album’s title track is a blistering noir tune, like a classier, more cinematic Ghost Scorpion, or a bollywood band doing surf.  It’s Always Gonna Rain works a backbeat cinematic highway theme, building to a crescendo where the two guitarists throw jangly phrases at each other before returning to a cynical Old West ambience. The intense, explosive Thuggery is sort of a Peter Gunne Theme for the teens, with a slashing, off-the-rails guitar solo midway through. Swamp Thing follows a cinematic path from bright and jangly to ominously lingering and then picking up the pace with a gallop.

Frankenstein Ska begins as awfully slow ska and ends as reggae, with noisy references to the Balkans and dub in between. Moto Guzzi rips the old pop standard A Taste of Honey, while the menacing, marching Roll the Tanks evokes Laika & the Cosmonauts at their most savagely sarcastic. The album ends with Bood Red Metal Flake, bookending more reggae with lurid chordal splashes and a squirrelly, flanged guitar solo. It’s early in the year, but we have a strong frontrunner for best album of 2014.

Horror Surf for the Holidays

Mysterious Michigan horror surf band Zombie Zen A Go Go have a very cool, ghoulish new ep, Music for Hoards, up as a name-your-price download at their Bandcamp page. This band distinguish themselves from the rest of the horror surf contingent with their spacious, elegant guitar and snaky, slinky funeral organ over terse, uncluttered bass and drums. In other words, it’s more horror and less surf, although there’s tons of reverb on the guitars.

Don’t let the silly song titles give you the wrong idea: there’s not a single bad song here. The first one, Groovy Ghoul A Go Go, sets the stage with its droll horror film sonics, pulsing groove and tongue-in-cheek synth. Midnight Alien Creep mixes up an amazing amount of elements into barely two minutes: a bluesy intro, a marching organ theme, a handful of slashes from the guitar, a little piano and a quote from the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  NYC Zombie Love Story has a delicious interweave of organ and jangly reverb guitar, and a turnaround that hints at Bach.

Dr. Devious keeps a suspenseful, dynamically-charged pulse going all the way up to a slinky bridge with a touch of crime-jazz: it’s basically a variation on the Peter Gunne Theme. The final track is It’s Hammer (Horror) Time!, a surreal, woozy, fuzzed-out tribute to the great B-movie studio – it’s the least surfy track here; it’s closer to the Marshmallow Ghosts than surf music. Which doesn’t make it bad, it only makes it different. For anybody who’s wondering why there’d be such a Halloweenish album on this page at this time of year, that’s because this blog doesn’t do holiday music – unless, of course, it’s Halloween.

Darkly Bittersweet Guitar Themes from Don Peris

The Innocence Mission’s Don Peris has a side project where he plays gorgeously nocturnal, elegant guitar instrumentals. Some of the tracks on his album The Old Century resembles John Fahey at his most bucolic and focused, as well as Bill Frisell’s most straight-ahead work. Peris doesn’t waste notes or ideas: most of the songs clock in under the three minute mark. The album title is apt. Peris’ themes have a timeless, blue-sky feel: they could easily be classic folk songs from the Civil War era. His fingerpicking is meticulous and dynamically rich, with a persistent air of suspense: these songs may be gentle, but they’re hardly light. For all its beautiful, bittersweet rusticity, the album has a persistently creepy undercurrent. It would make a good soundtrack to a future Coen Brothers film: Midwestern setting, trouble lurking just around the corner.

Peris likes waltzes, lots of them. There’s the title track, a wistful country theme – you keep waiting for the orchestra to come in and sweep everything away, but Peris plays this one close to the vest. There’s PennyLand, which builds from a nebulous intro to a lush lullaby. Concertina has both concertina and string synth that looms in as the chorus rises to a cinematic anthem. Catalonia has a distantly Spanish tinge, as does the slow, elegaic History in G Minor. Holiday Beach pairs gently resonant electric guitar against a classically-tinted acoustic background; it could be Theme from a Summer Place At Night.

Marisol hints at the baroque with plaintive strings and guitar. Speedwell Forge is the jazziest and most enigmatic track here; the Punch Brothers would do well to cover it. There’s also the steady, twinkling ElectroStar; the resonantly swaying Palos Verdes; the brief, atmospheric Operadio; Swansea, which puts an uneasy edge on Britfolk; Ranger, a full-band electric number, which could be Pat Metheny, the spikily jaunty  Bicycling, and Flight, with its dancing, airy upper-register picking. Put this on with the lights out and drift off to a land that time forgot.

Uncategorizable, Deliciously Noisy Stuff from Slobber Pup

Power  trio Slobber Pup‘s new album Black Aces will clear a room fast. It’s not for people who like their music in concise, hummable, self-contained verses and choruses. This ensemble of downtown outsider-jazz types inhabits the deliciously abrasive netherland somewhere between noise-rock, postrock, metal and jazz. Their music is ugly, assaultive and long-winded, but in an intriguing way. On one hand, their album Black Aces sounds like one long jam where everybody’s soloing at once; on the other, everybody’s on the same page rhythmically, and they get out of each others’ way when a shift in the dynamics calls for it. The band’s secret weapon is frontman Jamie Saft’s organ, which swells and swirls and provides a stygian backdrop as well as a sometimes unexpectedly melodic center for banks of distorted synths, Balasz Pandi’s tumbling drums and Trevor Dunn’s growling, pitchblende bass, with noisy bluesmetal guitar that usually takes centerstage. Those hearing this for the first time might be surprised to discover that’s Joe Morris on guitar playing all those unhinged, bluesy leads: it’s quite a change from the resolute, defiantly atonal approach that defined his style for many years. Although he does revert to that style from place to place here as well.

The album is best appreciated as a whole. The practically half-hour opening “track,” Accuser, comes across as something akin to Deep Purple on speedy acid. Morris finally leaves the blues scale for some jagged noise, then veers between the two styles over the often jarring wash of liquid organ and buzzing, acidic synth, roaring, gritty bass and careening but steady drums. The organ hits a menacing tritone and leads the band into an inchoate horror movie theme about thirteen minutes in; later on, Dunn tries to take everybody in a Floydian, anthemic direction but eventually descends into the maelstrom around him. They go out sudddenly with a gentle cymbal hit. Some might find this self-indulgent to the extreme, but as a menacing, defiantly noisy mood piece, it’s hard to resist.

Morris uses a more metalish, sustained tone on Basalt, the bass trying to push it toward Slipknot territory, then everybody drops out, leaving Morris to linger by himself. His off-center, dancing single-note lines and creepy, unsteadily bending microtonal fretless guitar chords are the high point of the title track, while Suffrage, a slower, slinkier and heavier groove, features unexpectedly tuneful, bluesy organ juxtaposed with Morris’ gleeful Friday the 13th chord-chopping. The final segment, Taint of Satan maxes out the contrast between the dirgey rhythm and Morris’ frenetic axe-murderer attack on his strings. Slobber Pup are at Shapeshifter Lab on Dec 13 at around 10 for Rare Noise Records night; cover is $15.

Moody, Hypnotically Shapeshifting Soundscapes from Itsnotyouitsme

Guitarist Grey McMurray and violinist Caleb Burhans get around a lot in indie classical circles; one of their most intriguing projects is their ambient loopmusic duo itsnotyouitsme. The two play the album release show for their new one, This I, on Dec 10 at 7:30 at Subculture (Bleecker at Lafayette) on a doublebill with Brooklyn postrock band the Knells. Advance tix are $15 and highly recommended. You might not think that a band that makes such slow, quiet music would be exciting live, but they can be absolutely mesmerizing if you’re in the right mood.

Crooner Theo Bleckmann and bassist Skuli Sverisson join the murk on the new record, alhough their contributions are textural rather than solo-based, in keeping with the music’s overall mood. The whole thing is streaming at their Bandcamp page. The epic opening track, If the Ground Is Covered, Are We Still Outside? opens as a circling vortex, gently tremolo-picked guitar over low-register washes. The picture brightens, the web of textures grows and then recedes to wavelike figures that circle and echo back with an increasingly metallic, echoey pulse. It gradually coalesces into an enigmatically haunting anthem.

Things Past Are Pretty Now is a sardonic, over-the-shoulder look at nostalgia, its dirty guitar and surreal, processed, wordless vocals quickly ebbing back into gently shifting waves that take on a pointillistic glimmer as it winds out slowly. Long Tales of Short Lived Victories builds an enveloping ambience with gentle long-tone phrases from the violin, McMurray’s steady-handed tremolo-picking echoing in the distance, again shifting almost imperceptibly to a brooding, circling, anthemic loop.

The shortest track, Wrinkling Into a Beautiful and Broken World (a free download), moves from short, blippy phrases that sound like they’re being spun backwards out of a loop pedal to hypnotic ambience and then stormier sonics. The You Since Me is the most stripped-down piece, like a more warmly nocturnal, more acoustic Radiohead and one of the few places on the album where the individual voices are distinct. But even that doesn’t last, reverting to a spaceships-passing-in-the-night atmosphere. The final cut is titled Sometimes It’s Hard Being Alive Seeing Bright Stars in the Sky, a long, bittersweetly symphonic, dynamically shifting piece that gives the guitar more of a chance to cut through, plaintive and longing against wistful flickers and ominous deep-space drones.

The Sultans of String Bring Their Sweeping Sounds to Joe’s Pub

Wickedly eclectic Canadian instrumentalists the Sultans of String play a cosmopolitan, global take on acoustic string band music. Informed by the flamenco and Romany traditions but not reverential to them; they cast a wider, more diverse net than the Gipsy Kings. Fans of the more expansive side of Balkan music also ought to check them out. They’re at Joe’s Pub on Dec 6 at 9 PM; tix are $20.

Their latest album, Symphony!, finds the groupl ensemble bolstered by a massive orchestra. With such lush sonics, much of the album has a gentle, even lullaby feel to it – some people may hear this and think Pink Martini, but even if the music can be pillowy and soft around the edges in places, there’s no denying how solid and tasteful the playing and arrangements are. And the explosiveness of the louder parts makes the contrast all the more powerful. The opening track, Monti’s Revenge, has them doing with strings what Fanfare Ciocarlia does with brass – with droll breaks for horns and whistling as the bass walks frantically, all the way up to a titanic conclusion. Palmas Sinfonia makes elegant flamenco chamber-jazz out of a sweeping chart that has the guitar trading riffs with an entire string section, building slowly to a whirlwind and then some unexpected funkiness.

Josie is dreamy and lush, with Celtic tinges, incisive oboe and flute sailing over a dreamy backdrop. Emerald Swing attempts to make Romany jazz out of an Irish waltz, while Sable Island works an evocative, vividly wistful Acadian theme, with some unexpectedly Gilmouresque electric guitar and uillean pipes. They follow that with A Place to Call Home, which they manage to make both more lush and more bouncy. And just when you might think these guys are on the road to Vegas, they hit the Road to Kfamishki, a fiery, oud-fueled levantine masterpiece that’s the best track on the album – fueled by Bassam Bishara ‘s oud, it could have gone twice as long and wouldn’t be boring.

Luna brings back a clever, wryly humorous trajectory from Acadian folk to a tongue-in-cheek latin vamp. The album ends with the flamenco-folk Encuentros, a gentle knockout with its haunting changes on the turnaround out of the verse, probably the best approximation here of what this band sounds like live.


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