New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: Jonah Rapino

Hard-Hitting, Edgy, Tuneful Postrock Band Sunwatchers Opens for Smog’s Bill Callahan in South Williamsburg

Sunwatchers play hard-charging, psychedelic postrock instrumentals with Middle Eastern, Balkan and occasional African touches. Their sound blends the searing guitar and electric phin of Jim McHugh with Jeff Tobias’ atmospheric, resonant alto sax over the driving rhythm section of bassist Peter Kerlin and drummer Jason Robira. They’ve got a new, self-titled full-length album (sort of streaming online if you connect the dots – follow the individual links below) out from Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer’s Castle Face label, and they’re opening a kind of weird twinbill at Baby’s All Right starting the night of June 26, which happens to be sold out. As of today the two following shows, at 9 PM on the 27th and 28th, with Smog’s Bill Callahan headlining, are not. Cover is $25. On one hand, as loud, and catchy, and adrenalizing as these guys can be, putting Callahan – Mr. Mist – on after them is anticlimactic. On the other hand, it’s good to see a deserving band get to play to a captive audience. ***UPDATE – all three nights are sold out.

The suite – much of which has been released previously on cassette a couple of years ago – opens with Herd of Creeps, a pounding series of variations on a wickedly catchy minor-key hook, sax and guitar blasting together as a toxic swirl builds in the background over a punk stomp. It reminds of the kind of long, ska-flavored jams Tuatara would take back around the turn of the century. They vary it with more complex guitar on the second track, For Sonny (a Rollins dedication? It isn’t as far as out as the jazz sax icon could go with it) and then hit a hardcore drive as the guitar buzzes and oscillates and the sax swirls on track three, White Woman.

Eusubius moves toward the looseness of free jazz, but Robira’s decisive, spacious hits hold it together as the guitar flutters and bursts into flame and the sax does the same, but more warmly and low-key. It’s like an electric wacko jazz take on circular, spiky yet balmy West African kora music. The band goes back to the original theme for the most epic cut, Ape Phases, sort of a cross between the insistent aggression the album opens with, and the more varied second part. They finally hit a peak in a machete-thicket of tremolo-picked guitar and frenetically melismatic sax.

Moroner shifts from a (relatively, for these guys) easygoing, ultraviolet-lit Velvets/Black Angels style jam toward more haphazardly intense territory. Likewise, the final cut, Moonchanges rises out of spiky blues guitar phrasing over atmospherics, to a steady, surprisingly four-on-the-floor drive with amiable sax/guitar interplay.There are some good special guests here – Dave Harrington on guitar and keys, Hubble’s Ben Greenberg on guitar, Cory Bracken on vibraphone, Dave Kadden on keys and Jonah Rapino on fiddle, but it’s not apparent where any of these guys are exactly within the squall. Bite the bullet, go to the Baby’s All Right show and find out for yourself.

Debo Band Bring Their Darkly Bristling Update on Classic Ethiopian Dancefloor Sounds to Williamsburg

What do you associate Ethiopian music with? Those slinky triplet grooves? Stark, ancient, otherworldly bluesy modes? Shivery, melismatic vocals and fiddle? Debo Band take all those tropes and rock them out with both blazing brass and strings over an undulating pulse. Their new album Ere Gobez is streaming at Storyamp, and they’re opening a killer twinbill at Brooklyn Bowl tonight at around 8, with similarly minor-key fixated original first-wave Afrobeat dancefloor groovemeisters Antibalas headlining afterward. Hopefully you have $15 advance tix; it’s more at the door.

On the album’s opening track, Endris Hassen’s hypnotically circling, oscillating massenqo fiddle riff underpins the blaze of horns, and then guitarist Brendon Wood fires off a succinct solo. The second number, a Somalian tune, is similar, but with a trickier, syncopated beat. Track three – in purist Ethiopian fashion, most of the song titles are in frontman Bruck Tesfaye’s native Amharic – sets a joyous mix of upper-register violins and saxes mingling with Marie Abe’s accordion over bassist PJ Goodwin and drummer Adam Clark’s dancing, waltzlike beat.

Track four, Yachat, is a hard-rocking detour toward psychedelic 60s garage rock – it’s their Psychotic Reaction, Wood’s rampaging, bluesy lines front and center. Blue Awaze makes more or less straight-up hard funk out of an uneasily modal, proto Middle Eastern riff, Danny Mekonnen’s judiciously smoky baritone sax solo leading up to a swirly, string-fueled psychedelic breakdown where everything goes haywire, then finally back. From there the band segues into Goraw, a defiant Amharic-language Ethiopian-pride anthem which sounds like the ancient roots of Isaac Hayes at his most psychedelic – or what Hayes might have done had he collaborated with Mulatu Astatke.

The band builds Sak ominously over a brooding bati vamp, like a thunderstorm on the horizon, counterintuitively growing more spare as Mekonnen launches into a growling baritone solo. The album’s most epic number, Oromo swings along on a mighty minor-key blues groove, following a long, triumphantly majestic upward climb punctuated by a thoughtful massenqo break. The band follow the joyously circling, lushly orchestrated Hiyamikachi Bushi with the slinky, bitingly latin-tinged Yalanchi and close the album on a searingly trad note with the hauntingly propulsive Eyew Demamu, arguably its strongest track and a lauching pad for Tesfaye’s intense, expressive vocals.

Since Ethiopia is where it all started, at least as far as the human species is concerned, it’s not an overstatement to say that music from this part of the world resonates on a deep level, quite possibly in our collective DNA. This is the rare album that will hit the spot with people who like energetic, upbeat music as much as with those who gravitate toward the dark and mysterious.