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A Starkly Relevant New Album and a Governors Island Show by the Very Serious Sirius Quartet

The album cover illustration for the Sirius Quartet‘s latest release, New World – streaming at Spotify – has the Statue of Liberty front and center, against a backdrop that could be a sunset with stormclouds overhead…or smoke from a conflagration. She’s wearing a veil. The record’s centerpiece, New World, Nov. 9, 2016 won the Grand Prize in the the New York Philharmonic’s New World Initiative composition competition a couple of years ago. The message could not be more clear. It’s no wonder why the group are so troubled by the events since then: both of their violinists are immigrants.

They’re playing a free concert featuring their own materal plus original arrangements of Radiohead and the Beatles this Sept 7 at the park in the middle of Governors Island, with sets at 1 and 3 PM. You can catch the ferry from either the old Staten Island Ferry terminal at the Battery – to the east of the new one – or from the Brooklyn landing where Bergen Street meets the river.

Violinist Fung Chern Hwei’s Beside the Point opens the album. In between a wistful, trip hop-flavored theme, the group chop their way through a staccato thicket capped off by a big cadenza where the violin finally breaks free, in a depiction of the struggle against discrimination.

Currents, a tone poem by cellist Jeremy Harman has stark, resonant echoes of Irish music and the blues: it could be a shout out to two communities who’ve had to battle bigotry here. The epic title track sarcastically juxtaposes contrasting references to Dvorak’s New World Symphony and Shostakovich’s harrowing String Quartet No. 8: look how far we haven’t come, violinist/composer Gregor Huebner seems to say.

Still, another Huebner composition, is based on Strange Fruit, the grisly chronicle of a lynching and a big Billie Holiday hit. Ron Lawrence’s viola chops at the air along with the cello over an uneasily crescendoing violin haze, the group coalescing somberly up to a horrified, insistent coda. Their version of Eleanor Rigby has a bittersweet, baroque introductory paraphrase and some bluesy soloing, finally hitting the original melody over a propulsive, funky beat. As covers of the song go, it’s one of the few actually listenable ones.

The album’s second epic, More Than We Are rises slowly through allusions to Indian music to a persistently wary, chromatic pulse fueled by Harman’s bassline: you could call parts of it Messiaenic cello metal. To a New Day is even more somber, flickering pizzicato passages alternating with a brooding sway grounded by a hypnotically precise, stabbing rhythm.

The Chinese-inflected 30th Night has a dramatic vocal interlude amid quavering cadenzas as well as phrasing that mimics the warpy tones of a pipa. The album’s second cover, Radiohead’s Knives Out is louder and more jagged than Sybarite5‘s lush take on the Thom Yorke catalog. The group return to the neo-baroque with the album’s rather sentimental closing cut, simply titled Cavatina. Contemporary classical protest music doesn’t get more interesting or hauntingly diverse than this.

A Rapturous, Hauntingly Spare Solo Album From Enigmatic Cello Rock Songstress Serena Jost

The sheer hummability of cellist/multi-instrumentalist Serena Jost’s music contrasts with the opaqueness of her lyrics. In her music, nothing is ever as it seems despite all indications to the contrary. That enigmatic sensibility has served her well over the past fifteen years. The closest comparison is ELO’s Jeff Lynne, a similarly brilliant tunesmith whose signature sound blends classical ideas with rock, and has a similarly distinctively, elegant production style as well. Jost’s newest album, Up to the Sky – streaming at her music page – is her most ambitious to date. It’s a solo recording, just cello and vocals, recorded in the rich, reverberating sonics of St. Peter’s Church at 346 W 20th St. in Chelsea, where she’s playing the album release show on April 19 at 7:30 PM. Cover is $10; a reception will follow.

Window opens the album. Jost’s stark, ambered low chords, circling in a Philip Glass vein, anchor her clear, pensive vocals. A recurring shooting star reference adds to the nocturnal rapture and unease.

The influence of Jost’s frequent collaborator Amanda Thorpe shines through plaintively in The Cut, a canteringly hypnotic, Britfolk-tinged, plaintively imagistic lament. Likewise, the wave motion of Clement – just vocalese and cello – sets the stage for Great Conclusions. Playing this with her band, Jost cuts loose with a galloping, crescendoing intensity, but in this version, her pizzicato attack is muted, her vocals understated and clear, echoing Linda Thompson as the song’s gloomily allusive narrative winds out.

Hallway. another instrumental with vocalese, brings in a hazy late-afternoon sun, introducing the baroque-flavored vignette Happiness. “Happiness has come and gone without warning, just a lantern in the night.” Jost intones.

Lullaby is a melody much of the world knows from childhood; the cello adds a newly somber undercurrent. By contrast, It’s a Delight rises to an unexpectedly triumphant crescendo over the sparest, circling low-register riff. Jost works that dichotomy again in Silver Star, its images of escape and release over subtle variations on a mantra-like cello phrase. The album concludes, unresolved, with the fragmentary, echoing, mysterious Red Door. Fans of darkly individualistic songwriters from Carol Lipnik to Connie Converse will devour this. Indie classical people ought to check this out as well – for what it’s worth, Jost once arranged and led a fifty-cello performance of Terry Riley’s In C!

Twistedly Hilarious Big Band Fun with Ed Palermo’s Reinventions of Psychedelic Rock Classics

If you had the chops to rearrange the Move’s Open Up Said the World at the Door as blustery, quasi big band jazz, would you? Ed Palermo did. That he would know the song at all is impressive. It’s not even the best track on the legendary British band’s worst album. But it’s a twistedly delicious treat, part boogie blues and part Stravinsky. What does the Ed Palermo Big Band’s version sound like?

Bob Quaranta plays a very subtly altered version of Jeff Lynne’s introductory piano hook and then the band makes a scampering, brassy swing shuffle out of it, trumpeter Ronnie Buttacavoli true to the spirit of Lynne’s unhinged road-to-nowhere guitar solo on the original. It perfectly capsulizes the appeal of Palermo’s latest album, a 21 (twenty-one) track monstrosity titled The Great Un-American Songbook Volumes 1 & 2 – streaming at Cuneiform Records – which does pretty much the same thing with a bunch of reinvented 60s and 70s psychedelic and art-rock songs, most of them on the obscure side. The band are airing them out this May 8 at 8:30 PM at Iridium; cover is $25, which is cheap for this midtown tourist trap.

The Beatles are represented by five tracks. The best and funniest is Eleanor Rigby, which quotes back and forth from a famous and very aptly chosen classical piece. Heavy low brass beefs up Good Morning, while Katie Jacoby’s vioiln adds biting blues rusticity to an otherwise droll, Esquivel-esque chart for a diptych of Don’t Bother Me and I Wanna Be Your Man, with detours into Miles Davis and then a big roadhouse-blues break. And extra brass and reeds add a Penny Lane brightness to the album’s benedictory concluding cut, Goodnight, which has an ending way too hilarious to give away.

The rest of the songs are much lesser-known but just about as amusing. Obviously, it helps if you know the source material. The lone Stones cut here is We Love You, redone to the point of unrecognizability as a mighty, red-neon Vegas noir theme, with a sly dig at Nicky Hopkins and a LMAO Beatles quote. Speaking of Hopkins, the intro to the almost fourteen-minute take of Edward, the Mad Shirt Grinder – a Quicksilver Messenger Service epic – will leave you in stitches.

Most of the songs segue into each other. Jacoby’s plaintive lines take centerstage again in Jeff Beck’s Definitely Maybe, leading up to a more ebulliently sailing clarinet solo and then back, in the process finding the song’s moody inner soul. Another Beck number, Diamond Dust benefits from the 15-piece band’s balmiest chart here and a starlit Quaranta piano solo.

King Crimson’s Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part Two is the album’s second-most epic track, with a stark yet symphonic sweep that’s arguably better than the original, punctuated by a moody Bill Straub tenor sax solo over  Bruce McDaniel’s clustering guitar. Palermo and crew also improve on another King Crimson tune, 21st Century Schizoid Man, transforming sludgy mathrock into jaunty swing, lit up by a long Clifford Lyons alto sax solo and Paul Adamy’s pirouetting bass.

Send Your Son to Die, by Jethro Tull predecessors Blodwyn Pig, evokes Tower of Power at their heftiest. Likewise, Tull’s Beggar’s Farm gets redone as a latin number and a vehicle for a long flute solo. Ted Kooshian’s tiptoeing baroque organ adds an element of cynical fun to America, by Keith Emerson’s original band the Nice – although the quote from that dorky 90s band at the end should have been left on the cutting room floor. There’s also an Emerson, Lake and Palmer number here, Bitches Crystal, muting that band’s bombast in favor of swing and an unexpected slink punctuated by a Barbara Cifelli baritone sax solo.

That Palermo would cover Procol Harum’s toweringly elegaic Wreck of the Hesperus rather than, say, Whiter Shade of Pale, speaks to the depth and counterintuitivity of this album: the song itself hews very close to the original. Similarly but on a completely different tip, Fire, the novelty hit by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, is funniest for its over-the-top vocals

The lone current-day (sort of) band included here is Radiohead. Palermo’s take of The Tourist takes the song back in time thirty years, productionwise and transforms it into a lush haunter, fortuitously without mimicking Thom Yorke’s whine.

There are also a couple of duds here. Cream’s As You Said comes across as Spyro Gyra on steroids, and the short version of Traffic’s The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys sounds like a Bleecker Street cover band that wandered into Winter Jazzfest. Still, for a grand total of 21 tracks, the band’s batting average is more than 900. A characteristically robust, joyously entertaining accomplishment for the group, which also includes trombonists Matt Ingman, Michael Boschen and Charley Gordon, trumpeter John Bailey, sax players Phil Chester and Ben Kono,

A Playful Change of Pace for New Orleans Chanteuse Carsie Blanton

On one hand, for Carsie Blanton to put out a record of Lynchian retro rock is kind of like the Squirrel Nut Zippers making a heavy metal album. But the Zippers are great musicians – who knows, maybe they’d pull it off. Turns out Blanton is just as adept at allusive, nocturnal early 60s Nashville pop as the oldtimey swing she made her mark in. Her latest album, So Ferocious, is streaming at her webpage and available as a name-your-price download, the best advertising she could possibly want for her upcoming show at 7 PM on Feb 21 at the Mercury. Cover is $10.

Although it’s a switch for her, Blanton is just as badass and funny as she is out in front of a swing band. She sings and plays uke here, backed by guitarist Pete Donnelly, keyboardist Pat Firth, bassist Joe Plowman and drummer Jano Rix. One of the funniest tracks is Fat and Happy, a return to Blanton’s oldtimey days: the theme is “just wait and see,” and the way it turns out is too LMAO to give away.

Fever Dream builds a surreal New Orleans after-the-storm scenario, darkly spare bass paired against sepulchral toy piano. Hot Night offers a bouncy, energetic contrast, spiced with a distant brass chart; if Springsteen really wanted to write an oldschool soul song, he would have done it like this. Another nocturnal soul ballad, Lovin Is Easy pairs a spare string section against similarly low-key electric piano and Blanton’s unselfconsciously matter-of-fact, tender vocals.

Ravenous, a chirpy look back at adolescent friskiness, has a roller-rink charm that brings to mind both the Kinks and the Cucumbers, a mashup that Blanton revisits on the understatedly biting title track.. She turns the clock back anothe twenty years in Scoundrel, a coy Phil Spector pop tale about a couple of troublemakers.

Musically speaking, the album’s best track is probably The Animal I Am, a defiant individualist’s anthem set to artsy Jeff Lynne-style Nashville gothic pop. The album’s darkest track is To Be Known, part brooding Jimmy Webb chamber pop, part early BeeeGees existentialist lament. “Isn’t it al you ever wanted, to be alone?” Blanton ponders. Or is it “To be known?”. There’s also Vim and Vigor, a funnier take on what Amy Winehouse was up to before she self-destructed. Download this irrepressibly fun, dynamic mix and get to know one of the real genuine individualists in retro rock and many other styles as well.

An Intense, Riveting Album and a Midtown Show by the Sirius Quartet

The Sirius Quartet  – violinists Gregor Huebner and Fung Chern Hwei, violist Ron Lawrence and cellist Jeremy Harman – play seriously exciting, tuneful, sophisticated music. They’re the rare newschool chamber ensemble who can strike a chord with fans of heavy rock, psychedelia and jazz in addition to the indie classical crowd. They’re playing on an intriguing twinbill, with special guest violinist Tracy Silverman, tonight, Jan 5 at around 9:30 PM at Club Bonafide that makes more sense thematically than you might think. Longtime Astor Piazzolla collaborator and nuevo tango pianist Pablo Ziegler and his ensemble open the night at 7:30, cover is $15 and the club’s webpage notes with some relish that you’re welcome to stay for both acts at no extra charge.

The Sirius Quartet’s latest album Paths Become Lines is streaming at Spotify,  opening with its title number, a pedal note shifting suspensefully between individual voices, pulsing with a steely precision as the melody develops elegantly and tensely around them. The darkly bluesy, chromatically-charged exchanges that follow are no less elegant but absolutely ferocious.

The second number, Ceili, is a sharp, insistent, staccato piece, in a Julia Wolfe vein. Plaintive cello interchanges with aching midrange washes; it grows more anthemic as it goes on. Jeff Lynne only wishes he’d put something this stark and downright electric on ELO’s third album.

Racing Mind builds to a swinging jazz-infused waltz out of a circular tension anchored by a bubbly cello bassline that gets subsumed almost triumphantly by tersely shifting and then spiraling riffage. Spidey Falls! is a cinematic showstopper, a frenetic crescendo right off the bat giving way to a harrowingly brisk stroll that’s part Big Lazy crime jazz, part Bernard Herrmann and part Piazzolla, then an acerbically circling theme in a 90s Turtle Island vein before the cell digs in and a violin solo signals a return to the turbocharged tarantella. String metal in 2017 doesn’t get any more entertaining than this.

The next piece is a fullscale string quartet. Slow, austere, staggered counterpoint gives way to an insistent chase theme that calms slightly and goes marching, with a hint of tango. The second movement, Shir La Shalom is slow and atmospheric, a canon at halfspeed that builds to a wounded anthem. The third opens with stern, stark cello but quickly morphs into a syncopated folk dance and increasingly rhythmic variations. The breathless, rather breathtaking conclusion mashes up Piazzolla at his most avant garde, early Bartok, swing jazz and furtive cinematics.

Get In Line, a staggered, chromatic dance, veers toward the blues as well as bluesmetal, spiced with an evil, shivery glissandos and tritones, suspenseful pauses and an allusively marionettish cello solo. The album winds up with its most expansive number, Heal and its series of variations on a hypnotic, pizzicato dance theme that finally rises, again in a tango direction, to fearsome heights. Other than the Chiara String Quartet‘s relevatory Bartok By Heart double-cd set, and the Kepler Quartet‘s concluding chapter in their wild Ben Johnston microtonal quartet series, there hasn’t been a string quartet album this exciting released in many months.

Sam Kogon Releases One of the Year’s Catchiest Purist Psychedelic Pop Records

Over the past couple of years, Sam Kogon has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the most consistently interesting, original psychedelic pop tunesmiths in New York. After a well-received debut full-length, he’s finally released his second album, Psychic Tears, streaming at Bandcamp. He’s playing the album release show tonight at Baby’s All Right at 10 PM; cover is $10.

Most of these tracks are very short, less than three minutes. The hooks flash by so fast that you barely have time to savor one before Kogon throws another at you: his songs are that catchy. Stylistically, he draws on a half a century worth of classic and obscure psychedelia and baroque pop. Jeff Lynne is the closest comparison, which is the highest praise imaginable for someone writing this kind of music. The album opens with a wry minitature, part Ventures, part late-period ELO, part XTC in their satirical Dukes of Stratosphere disguise, trebly bass climbing over a lattice of vintage keyboard patches.

Work It Out comes across as a surreal mashup of Abbey Road Beatles, Ward White and early 70s Lennon; the lush chorus-box guitar adds new wave mystique. By contrast, I’m Letting Go is a dead ringer for Wizzard-era Roy Wood, right down to the boogie guitar and the vocal echo.

The uneasily keening, swaying, minor-key Don’t Know Now brings to mind the Allah-Las in a particularly buoyant moment. I Was Always Talking, a duet with airy-voiced chanteuse Frankie Cosmos, has a noisy guitar backdrop behind its easygoing retro soul sway, soaring toward Jeff Lynne territory as Kogon builds it. The album’s longest track, Something’s Wrong has hints of jazz within its lush, elegant orchestration: it would be a standout ballad on ELO’s Discovery album.

I Could Kick Myself takes a scampering detour into new wave, followed by Tonetta, awash in clever echo phrases, chiming guitars and bubbly electric piano. Lincoln Lincoln has tricky symcopation and starlit Omnichord synth, then builds to stomping, anthemic propoortions.

My Love It Burns is an exercise in easygoing Double Fantasy-era Lennon pop, while The Way to Talk to Boys edges toward Chad and Jeremy style early Merseybeat territory. The brief, vampy final cut, I’ll Be There has the feel of a Double Fantasy outtake. Maybe if we get lucky Jeff Lynne will pull another ELO tour together like he did earlier this fall and Kogon can open for them. Now THAT’s a bucket-list show!

The Attacca Quartet Make a Strong Segue with Visionary Art-Rocker Jeff Lynne’s ELO at Radio City

No less august a figure than ELO’s Jeff Lynne had asked the Attacca Quartet to open his sold-out stand at Radio City this past weekend. The string quartet responded with an ecstatic, robust performance that, while tantalizingly brief, threatened to upstage the headliners. It was as much a testament to the group’s ability to connect with an audience most likely unfamiliar with their repertoire as it was Lynne’s confidence in his thirteen-piece band’s ability to pull off a similarly electric set of ambitious, iconic chamber pop and art-rock hits.

The foursome – violinists Amy Schroeder and Keiko Tokunaga, violist Nathan Schram and cellist Andrew Yee – spiced their set with codas by Haydn and Beethoven, practically jumping out of their shoes to be playing to such a vast audience. Beyond that, they impressed with their choice of material, opening with John Adams’ acerbically percussive miniature Toot Nipple, then a bit later slinking up his Alligator Escalator with its steady, apprehensive drive out of a rondo of sepulchral high harmonics. It was arguably the high point of the night. While the group could have taken the easy route with standard Romantic repertoire, or the ostentatious one with, say, Bartok, they cemented their cred by showcasing material from their pals, emerging composers Paul Wiancko and Michael Ippolito. Stark low-midrange washes and enigmatically lively exchanges held the crowd’s focus before the headliners hit the stage.

Opening with a low, ominously swirling vortex of sound – one of several recurrent tropes this evening – Lynne and company launched into the stark, misterioso intro to Tightrope, the uneasily dynamic, Dvorak-influenced first cut on the group’s platinum-selling 1976 New World Record. The only remaining member from the band’s several chart-topping 70s lineups is keyboardist Richard Tandy; the rest of Lynne’s merry band is on the young side, and they were stoked to the nines to be able to share the stage with one of the greatest rock tunesmiths of alltime.

They didn’t play Do Ya – the cult favorite by Lynne’s previous band the Move that ELO reprised much more ornately for an American audience – but they also didn’t segue into it like they used to do back in the day, when they’d cut off the galumphing, phantasmagorical outro to 10538 Overture, the alienation anthem that opens the band’s 1972 debut album. This time out they played that all the way through. Other than that and Tightrope, the night’s only other deep cut – an epically pulsing take of Secret Messages, title track to the band’s 1983 album – also rose out of a stygian reflecting pool.

The crowd saved their most heartfelt ovation for a particularly gorgeous, majestic take of the 1974 ballad Can’t Get It Out of My Head, lit up with terse Tandy keyboard flourishes that held very closely to the kind of fun the band would have with it onstage forty years ago. Otherwise, the band’s two additional keyboardists, as many as four guitarists at once and a couple of backup singers over a hard-hitting but swinging rock rhythm section brought new energy to Lynne’s already hefty studio arrangements.

The one new song in the set, from the late 2015 release Alone in the Universe, was the Lennonesque, autobiographical piano ballad When I Was a Boy. Otherwise, this was a clapalong show. The band followed an inspired version of the bluesy, minor-key 1976 kiss-off hit Evil Woman with a similarly terse performance of their 1973 British hit, Showdown. Their late-70s disco era was represented by the bouncy Shine a Little Love and All Over the World as well as a hypnotically spiraling run through Turn to Stone, from the 1977 double album Out of the Blue.

The rest of the set drew on fun, imaginatively orchestrated arrangements of radio hits including Livin’ Thing, with its spiraling violin solo; a boisterously strummed Sweet Talking Woman; and the stately, angst-drenched ballad Telephone Line, shimmering with surreallistic, melancholy keyboard textures. They closed with the crescendoing pastorale Wild West Hero and then a full-length version of Mr. Blue Sky – a nod to a well-known jazz standard – and encored with an expansive cover of Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven, a popular FM radio staple from 1972. Throughout the set, Lynne sang strongly, from the bottom of his formidable baritone, to the falsetto he used with such frequency in the late 70s. It would have been a treat to hear Eldorado, or Kuiama, or similar early material voicing his visionary; dystopic worldview. Guess we’ll have to wait til next tour for that.

The Attacca Quartet’s’ next New York performance is on October 21 at 8 PM at Holy Trinity Church, 3 W 65th St. where they’ll be performing works by Beethoven and Caroline Shaw. General admission is $20.

Joanne Weaver’s Noir Electro Glistens and Gleams From an Icy Distance

Going out in costume this Halloween? Nobody really wants to be the Boston Bomber, or a Republican operative, or a laughingstock, but we can all dress up at the expense of Dzhokhar Tsareyev, or Hillary, or Trump, right?

Speaking of dressing up, the blip on the radar that was Lana Del Rey seems to have jumpstarted a cottage industry of would-be femme fatales who think that a slinky black dress, fire-engine-red lipstick and a smoky come-on of a voice somehow equates to noir. Among the genuinely noir artists here in New York – Karla Rose & the Thorns ripping it up at CMJ a couple of weeks ago, Liz Tormes haunting the American Folk Art Museum last night – Joanne Weaver factors in. Her latest album Interstellar Songbook II is streaming at Soundcloud, and it’s one of the most original, interesting noir releases of recent years. Imagine Jeff Lynne circa 1981 producing an album of jazz standards reinvented by a swing chanteuse with a completely unadorned delivery that’s all the more disarming for its directness.

The not-so-secret weapon throughout this album is an Omichord synthesizer (or a damn good digital facsimile of one), its shimmery oscillation building a starry-night ambience throughout each of the the eleven tracks on Weaver’s sophomore release. Like a late-period ELO or Pink Floyd album, it opens with some wry, sampled movie dialogue. Begin the Beguine sets the stage, awash in icy reverb, the tremolo on the funeral parlor organ wide open: it’s closer to Orbison than the material on Weaver’s more overtly jazz-oriented debut, which is why it works so well

Weaver freezes any possible Borscht Belt shtick out of Golden Earrings and turns it into hi-tech Vegas noir: the deep-space kettledrum completes the desolate picture in contrast to the come-hither lyrics. Moonlight Serenade takes the atmosphere back into the shadows, while Sway – the album’s first single – gets an aptly creepy trip-hop groove. The strongest – and saddest – track is Summer Kisses, Winter Tears, reinvented as a Lynchian bolero.

With its languid trip-hop beat and shiny, chrome-plated late 90s downtempo lounge production, If I Didn’t Care is out of place here. Weaver’s take of Autumn Leaves brings back the gloomy Sunday evening mood, its layers of keys and delicate electronic touches spiraling out into the darkness. From there she segues into the album’s most cinematic track, a lushly ominous, neoromantic version of As Time Goes By – if you can handle the anachronism, think Julie London covering Siouxsie.The final cut is a delicate, flamenco-tinged take of When the Swallows Come Back from Capistrano. Whoever produced this album is a genius. Weaver’s NYC hang is the swanky Flatiron Room, 37 W 26th St. (6th Ave/Broadway) where she’ll be with her band on December 18 at 9 PM.

The Sound of the Fab Four Inspires Andrew Collberg’s New Album

Swedish-born, New Zealand-raised and now based in Tucson, Andrew Collberg is a connoisseur of many retro rock styles. He has a background in southwestern gothic, and a couple of years ago put out a killer single, Dirty Wind b/w Back on the Shore, a rich evocation of classic paisley underground rock in the same vein as True West or the Dream Syndicate. These days he’s mining sounds that evoke ELO and the Beatles, adding layers of the blippy faux-vintage keyboard textures that are all the rage in the Bushwick indie scene on his latest album, Minds Hits. The whole thing is streaming at Spotify.

The opening track, Rich, is totally ELO, a soul-tinged update on the sound Jeff Lynne achieved with Evil Woman, then morphing into something of a glamrock song with a fuzztone guitar solo before coming back to the wickedly catchy, funk-tinged verse. From there Collberg segues into Hole and its Penny Lane bounce, followed by Take a Look Around, a retro 60s soul tune with Abbey Road touches: la-la-la backing vocals, elegant broken-chord guitar lines, organ and a terse faux electric harpsichord solo. After that, the long, hypnotically vamping Pepper Peter keeps the Abbey Road vibe going, this time on the Lennon side of the street.

Tear has Collberg playing precise soul chords that rise to a swaying, ba-BUMP late-Beatles groove that grows more majestic as he adds layers of guitars and keys. Stars takes the sound about a dozen years forward into ornately catchy Jeff Lynne space-pop territory, while Snide Creepy Soul takes an insistent, similarly hooky ELO-style pop tune thirty more years into the future with a mix of vintage and fake-vintage keyboard voicings.

Easy Lazy Dome speeds up a Hey Jude ambience doublespeed and then takes a turn into unexpectedly ominous psychedelia, fueled by shivery lead guitar. Cantaloupe looks back to Sergeant Pepper, complete with tumbling Ringo-esque drums. The album winds up with Hit the Gas, which sets a classic Lennon-style tune over boomy lo-fi drums before it picks up with increasingly ornate layers of guitar/keyboard orchestration. Isn’t it amazing that fifty years after the Beatles first hit, artists and audiences alike continue to be obsessed with them? Fans of Elliott Smith, Abby Travis, and of course ELO and the Fab Four will have a good time with this.

Another Tantalizing Album from Elizabeth & the Catapult

 

Elizabeth Ziman, who basically is Elizabeth & the Catapult, is one of this era’s great purist pop tunesmiths. While the keyboard textures on her latest album Like It Never Happened (streaming at Paste, of all places) are totally Bushwick, 2014, her wickedly catchy hooks and artsy song structures are closer to the radio hit side of ELO circa 1976. Ziman is no slouch as a pianist, a competent rhythm guitarist and a strong, brilliantly nuanced, individualistic singer. When she’s at the top of her game, her songs have an Aimee Mann-class intensity. Even when she’s not at the top of her game, they’re still catchy. There’s a lot of everything here. She’s had an off-and-on residency at Rockwood Music Hall over the past few months, and she’s at the relatively new third stage there every Monday in February at 8 for $10.

Like everything else Ziman has done (she’s got two other albums out), this one has a couple of absolutely killer tracks. The first is a joke, a deliciously good one. With its sarcastically monotonous piano pedaling and snarky lyrics, Happy Pop wouldn’t be out of place in the Patti Rothberg catalog – and it ends with a bemused busker making snide fun of people who don’t get it. By contrast, Wish I Didn’t is a brooding kiss-off anthem that moves cleverly from a minimalist vocal intro to Jeff Lynne-style art-rock majesty – with a lot of curse words, crudeness and elegance side by side. Metaphorical, maybe?

Salt of the Earth sounds like an oldtime chain gang singalong tricked out with layers of keys and shivery strings, a trip-hop groove emerging and then receding in favor of jaggedly bluesy guitar. Shoelaces is a ridiculously catchy 60s garage-pop song updated with a bit of a whimsical late 90s vibe: the tune, the edgy guitar solo and swoopy organ are the highlights rather than the lyrics. Ziman follows it with the atmospheric, hypnotic chamber pop number Someday Soon.

More Than Enough has lushly sweeping string synth, rippling tremolo organ and another one of those irresistibly catchy, anthemic choruses, Ziman contemplating how to ground herself amid the angst: “Don’t take darkness for granted, without it light can’t exist.” From its staccato Penny Lane bounce to its woozily oscillating synth. Please Yourself is an ELO pop hit updated for the teens. Sugar Covered Poison pairs sarcastically acrid, techy synth voicings that leave an artificial, chemical taste with a knowing lyric about a guy who’s hard to resist but no more than the emotional equivalent of junk food. The final track, Last Opus, is a richly tuneful art-rock ballad that gives Ziman a long launching pad for a handful of gloriously brooding, gorgeous piano solos.

The album’s title track is somewhat disingenuous. It’s funny how all these careless girls are the first to complain that they’ve had their hearts broken, but they won’t cop to doing that to anyone themselves. Over a distantly Carole King-ish sway with resonant electric piano, Ziman’s cynical narrator owns up to what she’s been doing – sort of. And there’s also a ballad here that’s the lyrical equivalent of a Precious Moments tchotchke – but even there, Ziman stays on task and plays with purist taste and restraint. Which helps explain why this is a tantalizing album, and why Ziman’s best days as a songwriter are still probably ahead of her. In the meantime, she’s really good live.