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Tag: marcel khalife

A Historic Performance by Iconic Lebanese Composer Marcel Khalife and His Sons This Dec 7

Rami Khalife plays an elegantly allusive, haunting chromatic piano riff, his brother Bachar’s cymbals flicker and then the pianist goes inside, under the lid, for some otherworldly sonics echoed by the percussion. That awestruck deep-space ambience opens the brilliant, poignantly elegant new album Andalusia of Love by the great Lebanese oudist and composer Marcel Khalife with his pianist and percussionist sons, streaming at Spotify. They’re playing the Town Hall on Dec 7 at 8 PM and $35 seats are available. That’s a steep price by anybody’s standards, but consider that unless some kind of election recount magic happens, this is the last Americans will see of these guys on this continent for the next four years.

The elder Khalife knows no limits stylistically. Since his ascendancy among the elite composers of the Middle East in the late 70s, he’s played vividly bucolic protest songs, cinematic suites, lushly neoromantic orchestral themes, and some of the most poignant oud music written over the past forty years. Employing both traditional Middle Eastern and western instruments, he incorporates both European scales and the magical microtones of his native idiom throughout his diverse and individualistic oeuvre.While the arrangements on this album are somewhat more intimate than on Khalife’s titanically orchestrated 2012 magnum opus Fall of the Moon, the sound is hardly less lavish.

On the album’s opening track Rami’s extended technique on the piano is matched by the ripple of the kanun, the great oudist taking a brief, somber solo  – and then the band takes the piece flying, joyously, doublespeed. It’s victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, setting the tone for the rest of the album, a suite where pretty much every track segues into the next one. A spacious ballad, Ouhbouki, follows it, a richly spare but intricate web of piano, oud, kanun with an expressively crescendoing vocal from the bandleader, building to a characteristically pensive, plaintive swing. As the song hits a rippling peak, it segues into the scampering but similarly awestruck Ana Li Habibi.

Taratil, a spare, gracefully steady, minimalistically-flavored piano-and-drums duo is next, segueing into Nassiti, a hypnotic variation on the theme where the whole band picks it up with even more poignancy and then rises and falls through several dynamic shifts. Rami’s piano takes the conclusion, Maraya, out with a resonant. starlit unease.

The stately, brief levantine love ballad Ya Habibi gets followed by the swaying, rippling, uneasy Achtahiki, pulsing along on a distantly booming groove with the kanun and piano soairng overhead. Faracha, a tense interlude, features the piano almost fighting through a straitjacket of muffled, muted notes against the sparkling tones overhead. Nahla starts out much the same, but with vocals, and rises to a longing, majestic crescendo. Likewise, Araki rises toward a shadowy grandeur out of a tantalizingly brief, spiky kanun solo as it echoes the album’s opening.

A tolling bell motif holds firm as the kanun pulls upward, almost struggling, as Yadaik opens, rising and then quickly descending to a wary intensity. By contrast, Andalos Al Hob – a title track of sorts – is a scrambling, almost boogie-woogie take on joyous Egyptian habibi pop. The album winds up with its most epic number, Achikain, its opening contrast between muted and unmuted piano tones, briskly scampering groove and ending that’s so unexpected and symbolically charged that it’s too much to give away. The Arabic lyrics, by the late, great Mahmoud Darwish, tersely and symbolically reference an Andalucian golden age now gone but infinitely ready for a return. Middle Eastern music in 2016 doesn’t get any more eclectic or magical than this.

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An Exhilarating and Elegaic Album by Oud Virtuoso/Singer Dhafer Youssef

Tunisian oudist/singer/composer Dhafer Youssef conceived his latest album Birds Requiem as a soundtrack for an imaginary film, a narrative about the transmigration of souls. And it could be – his long, pensively shapeshifting themes have a brooding, cinematic quality. They’re sort of a return to his roots: trained as a muezzin while still a child, he asserts himself vocally with a sometimes ecstatic, sometimes angst-ridden intensity over intricate arrangements that blend Middle Eastern and Western classical and jazz sounds, much in the same vein as the brilliant Lebanese-born composer Marcel Khalife.

The album – streaming at Spotify – begins with the somber, steady opening segment of a central suite with moody clarinet from Turkish great Husnu Senlendirici and resonant trumpet from Nils Petter Molvaer. The theme returns later as an ominous grey-sky tableau in the same vein as the Trio Joubran‘s more low-key work, slowly brightening with Kristjan Randalu’s rippling piano and Aytaç Dogan’s kanun. The next time it comes around, it’s a dance fueled by intertwining oud and piano harmonies. The dynamically-charged conclusion winds up the album on angst-ridden note with shivery clarinet and an imploring piano interlude.

Youssef’s achingly melismatic vocals establish that dynamic on the album’s second track, Sweet Blasphemy, over spacious oud and piano. Blending Souls & Shades rises from echoey atmospherics to a spine-tingling, full-gale vocal interlude and then a dancing horn passage before receding back to moodiness. Ascetic Mood is aptly austere and contemplative, a sad conversation between Phil Donkin’s bass, the clarinet and the oud.

Youssef’s elegy for his mother has a similar spaciousness and then grows more vigorous, Senlendirici’s haunting, resonant clarinet anchoring the piano’s rippling lines. 39th Gulay (In Istanbul) picks up the pace, a metal-flavored Middle Eastern art-rock song capped off by a rapidfire piano solo over the blast of the rest of the band as it winds out. Sevdah brings back the cinematics, rising out of a flamenco-inflected melody to a long, uneasily sustained crescendo and then back down again. Ascetic Journey follows a similar tangent, through a delicious series of variations from minimalist and elegaic to kinetically bouncing, the kanun rippling in tandem with Eivind Aarset’s guitar. There’s so much else going on here that it would take a small book to chronicle every highlight in this collection of magnificently haunting songs.

The 100 Best Songs of 2012

Was this the best year ever for music, or what? There could have been 500 songs on this list and they’d all be amazing. In order to give credit where credit is due, it became necessary to pare this down to just one track per artist.

Bookmark this page and visit often. Virtually every link here will take you to a stream or download of each song. Where this year’s 50 Best Albums page was all about rock, this page offers a chance to explore some of the best acts outside of the rock world. While these days, an “official release” tends to be the day someone uploads the song to youtube, there are a handful of tracks here which are so new that they haven’t made it to the web yet.

Outside of the top ten here, this list is in completely random order: trying to rank a jangly rock song against a lushly orchestrated Middle Eastern anthem, a bittersweet honkytonk song or a Serbian brass jam is absurd. So don’t think any less of the tracks at the bottom of the list: they’re all good. Rachelle Garniez, who happened to land on #99, is every bit as fun as Julia Haltigan at #9, or Lorraine Leckie at #19.

For the first time ever, this year’s top spots on the lists of best New York concerts, best albums and best songs were swept by a single group, Ulrich Ziegler. The noir guitar instrumental duo of Stephen Ulrich and Itamar Ziegler took top honors for their debut album, their album release show at Barbes in August and for their song Ita Lia, a morbidly reverb-toned, icily chromatic Nino Rota-inspired theme which you can play here. For those who’ve followed Ulrich’s career, that should come as no surprise, considering that his previous band Big Lazy pretty much ruled the top ten, year after year, at this blog’s predecessors on the web and in print.

2. Walter Ego – Sunday’s Assassin. This is an LJ Murphy song that Walter Ego used to play bass on when the two were bandmates back in the 90s. Murphy long since dropped this from his set list, and that’s too bad, because this casually lurid serial killer’s tale is one of the best things he ever wrote. Thanks to Walter Ego for resurrecting it. Watch the video

3. Mike Rimbaud – Idiot Wind. On one hand, to not put what could be the greatest rock lyric ever written in the top spot here is absurd, especially considering how Rimbaud reinvented it as straight-up, snarling rock. It’s also very hard to find: if you have Spotify, it’s here, otherwise here’s a sound snippet.

4. Chris Erikson – Ear to the Ground
Best jangly rock song of the year comes from this popular lead guitarist, who finally put out a debut album, Lost Track of the  Time, which includes this richly allusive, wickedly catchy track. He teases you with the hook and then makes you wait til the very end for the payoff. Watch the video

5. Saint Maybe – Everything That Rises
An epic masterpiece of volcanically guitar-fueled, psychedelic southwestern gothic rock from Patti Smith’s guitarist and Bob Dylan’s drummer. From their debut album Things As The Are. Play the song

6. Hannah vs. the Many – Jordan Baker. Prettiest sad noir 60s pop song of the year: girl finally finds guy she actually likes…and then the apocalypse swirls in. From the amazing new album All Our Heroes Drank Here. Play the song

7. The Sometime Boys – Good People of Brooklyn. Soaring lush acoustic chamber pop from this artsy Americana band. Frontwoman Sarah Mucho sings uneasily about her “city of trees,”  from the new album Ice & Blood. Play the song

8. Jon DeRosa – Birds of Brooklyn. Metaphorically loaded noir 60s chamber pop at its most cinematic, old guy eyeing a girl he could never have as the strings swoon behind him. From his new Wolf in Preacher’s Clothes album. Play the song

9. Julia Haltigan – Over the Fields. Looks to be too new to make it to the web yet – over careening southwestern gothic backbeat rock, the New York chanteuse amps up the suspenseful brassiness. She slayed with this at Make Music NY this summer.Stream some similar tracks

10. Changing Modes – Firewall. Nebulously narrative macabre chromatic Botanicaesque art-rock tune from this three-keyboard band’s brilliant latest album In Flight. Play the song

11. Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesores – Fire Shuffle. This is the most swirlingly psychedelic of the many macabre gypsy-tinged tracks on the Rhode Island band’s chilling latest album Sister Death. Play the song

12. Chicha Libre – Papageno Electrico. Like Alec Redfearn above, the Brooklyn Peruvian surf rock band’s latest album Canibalismo is loaded with trippy, creepy tracks and this is the creepiest, like a Japanese video game theme done as psychedelic cumbia. Watch the video 

13. Beninghove’s Hangmen – Surf & Turk. New York’s premier noir cinematic surf jazz monsters hit last year’s list with their debut album. This is a new creepy surf track; you can catch them at Zirzamin on Mondays at 9 where they play it frequently. Play the song; stream the first album

14. Daniel Kahn & the Painted Bird – Sunday After the War. Coldly wise, crushingly cynical klezmer-rock. “They’re always recruiting, after the war.” Kahn slayed with this at Lincoln Center Out of Doors this past summer. Watch a video

15. Emily Jane White – Clipped Wings. The murderess leaves a suicide note at the lake house and this is it: a great story and a chilling song. From her latest album Ode to Sentience. Watch the video

16. When the Broken Bow- Giving Up the Ship. Apocalyptic ukulele waltz with bloodcurdling screams at the end from this smart, raw, female-fronted Portland, Oregon art-rock crew. Play the song

17. Lianne Smith- The Thief. Now co-leader of the Golden Palominos, Smith has been playing this gorgeous but chilling oldschool country smash for years and finally released it on her debut Two Sides of a River. Sing along: “I found out, yeah, I found out too late. ” Play the song

18. Jan Bell – The Miner’s Bride. One of the great voices in Americana music, Bell makes the connection between Appalachian music and the British folk songs it sprung from. This is a Karen Dahlstrom song about a mail-order bride going off to what looks like disappointment and early death in the old west, from Bell’s new album Dream of the  Miner’s Child. Play the song

19. Lorraine Leckie – The Everywhere Man. This party crasher has come to kill everything in his path: a wicked serial killer tale from Leckie’s elegant new chamber pop collaboration with social critic/writer Anthony Haden-Guest, Rudely Interrupted. Play the song 

20. The Japonize Elephants – Melodie Fantastique. Lush sweeping majestic circus rock doesn’t get any more entertaining than this. Title track from the band’s sensational new album. Play the song  

21. Mac McCarty – My Name Is Jack. Another song about a killer, and one that hasn’t made it to the web yet, from one of the darkest voices in Americana. For awhile he had a monthly residency at Bar 82, where he would always play this, and he’s got other videos you can watch.

22. Dimestore Dance Band – Wren Wren. Might as well go with two relatively brand-new ones, this being an urbane, wry gypsy-inflected number from guitar virtuoso Jack Martin and his bassist accomplice Jude Webre. The band is back together and playing this from time to time, and you can hear more of their stuff here.

23. Jodi Shaw – The Witch. In the old days, dotty old women used to get burned. The Brooklyn pianist/songwriter works that metaphor for all it’s worth in this chilling art-rock ballad. From her latest album In Waterland. Play the song 

24. Choban Elektrik – Valle E Shquiperise Se Mesme. A classic Balkan folk song done as trippy psychedelic rock with funereal organ and searing violin, from the band’s sensational 2012 debut album. Play the song

25. Eilen Jewell – Warning Signs. Her 2012 album is called Queen of the Minor Key, which pretty much says it all: this is a killer backbeat noir Americana rock tune with cool baritone sax and reverb guitar. Watch the video

26. Kayhan Kalhor & Ali Bahrami Fard – Where Are You. Anguished alienation has never been more hauntingly restrained than it is on this epic instrumental from I Will Not Stand Alone, the transcendent new collaboration between the Iranian spiked fiddle and santoor virtuosos. Watch the video  

27. Damian Quinones y Su Conjunto – Barrio. This lead guitar-fueled epic from their brilliant 2012 album Gumball Ma-Jumbo is a throwback to the classic latin soul sound of the late 60s and early 70s, right down to the inspired, analog-sounding production.  Play the song

28. Matt Keating – Punchline. Bouncy, metaphorically charged vintage soul-infused cynicism from Keating’s characteristically literate, intense latest album Wrong Way Home. Play the song

29. Clairy Browne & the Bangin Rackettes – Vicious Circle. Dramatic, intense, theatrical oldschool soul anthem that may or may not be a bitter Amy Winehouse homage. From their album Baby Caught the Bus; they killed with this in their New York debut this fall at Webster Hall. Play the song

30. J O’Brien- Cottonmouth. Classic New York songwriting: a torrent of images of the kind of twisted people, and twisted psyches, you meet on the train home after work, from the former leader of fiery mod-punk rockers the Dog Show. Play the song  

31. Out of Order – Gimme Noise. Hammering hardcore riffage from this volcanic all-female noiserock/punk/postpunk trio’s deliciously assaultive new album Hey Pussycat! Play the song

32. Beware the Danger of a Ghost Scorpion – Denton County Casket Co Typically intense, macabre, breakneck horror surf from this unstoppable Boston band’s Five After Midnight broadcast recording. Play the song

33. Tri-State Conspiracy – The Clone. The high point of their Nuisance album from 2008, the noir ska/swing band’s savage version of this was the high point of this year’s Atlantic Antic festival, a cruel broadside directed at all the posers and gentrifiers. Watch the video

34. Les Sans Culottes – DSK. Another highlight of the Atlantic Antic, this viciously funny garage-psychedelic sendup of Dominique Strauss-Kahn hasn’t made it to the web yet, but you can check out a lot of other amusing stuff from the faux French rockers here.

35. David J – Not Long for This World. The ominous title track to the goth songwriting legend’s latest album, the once and future Bauhaus bassist/playwright turned in a riveting version of this backed by Botanica’s Paul Wallfisch at the Delancey this past spring. Watch a video

36. The NY Gypsy All-Stars – Sen Sev Beni. Their latest album Romantech is full of scorching gypsy vamps driven by clarinet powerhouse Ismail Lumanovski: this audience favorite  is the best of them. Play the song

37. Auktyon – Mimo. These Russian art-rockers have been around forever, and they put out a typically surreal, jazz and gypsy-influenced new album, Top, this year. This is the best track, a haunting, towering minor-key anthem. Play the song

38. Harmonia – Songs from Vojvodina. This prosaic title doesn’t give any idea of the ferocity and exhilaration of this lickety-split suite of gypsy music from the Cleveland band’s equally adrenalizing 2012 album Hidden Legacy. Sound snippet 

39. Nathan Halpern – The Mirror. A creepy Philip Glass-ine theme from the soundtrack to the documentary Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present, written by the esteemed Brooklyn noir rocker and composer. Sound samples from the score

40. Sam Llanas – Shyne. Low-key, brooding nocturnal noir 60s pop with an Americana edge from the longtime BoDeans frontman’s recent solo album 4 AM. Sound snippet

41. Super Hi-Fi – We Will Begin Again. The darkest and most mysterious track from the twin trombone deep-dub band’s debut album Dub to the Bone (get it?) Play the song 

42. LJ Murphy – Waiting by the Lamppost. The legendary New York noir rocker has a reputedly phenomenal new album due out next year and this might or might not be on it; it’s an uusually low-key, broodingly surreal soul song. Watch the video 

43. Mighty High – High on the Cross. Of all the drugs Brooklyn’s best-loved stoner rock parodists chronicle in their songs, none is more powerful – or funnier – than religion. Play the song

44. Band of Outsiders – Gods of Happenstance. Television and the Grateful Dead may both be history but these 80s New York garage-pychedelic-punk legends are still going strong; this is the standout track from their 2012 ep Sound Beach Quartet and it evokes the best of both of those bands. Play the song  

45. Spanglish Fly – The Po-Po. Oldschool 60s style latin soul about a familiar New York crisis: getting busted for an open container by cops who haven’t yet met their quota of summonses for harmless offenses. Play the song 

46. Love Camp 7 – Beatles VI. An especially loud, growling vintage 60s psychedelic style track with one of frontman Dann Baker’s characteristically sardonic lyrics, the 60s as a gloomy backdrop to the Fab Four. From their brilliant Beatles-themed album Love Camp VII. Play the song

47. Musiciens Sans Frontieres – Legalize. This song from cinematic guitarist/composer Thomas Simon’s artsy rock-pop project won an award for best video at a hemp film festival  and you can watch that video here.

48. Marcellus Hall – Afterglow. This might not be the right title, and it doesn’t seem to be anywhere on the web, which is too bad: it’s one of the former White Hassle frontman and Americana-punk songwriter’s funniest, and most withering – and catchiest – critiques. Band info 

49. The Ryan Truesdell Big Band – Punjab. Not what you might expect to see here on a daily basis – a recently rediscovered, epic Gil Evans big band noir classic, with lustrous Indian and Middle Eastern shades. From the new album Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans. Play the song

50 The Universal Thump – Opening Night. What an absolutely gorgeous song: late-period ELO with better strings, bigger theatrics and much better vocals from bandleader/singer Greta Gertler. She meets a girl in her dream who offers her a deal: if you bring me from the dream world to reality, you’ll never cry again. Think about that. Play the song  

51. Slavic Soul Party – Draganin Cocek. The high point of the ten-piece Balkan brass band’s scorching, eclectic new New York Underground Tapes – which don’t seem to have made it to the web yet. Stream some similar tracks

52. Magges – Ena Vrathi Pou’Vrehe. It may be all Greek to you, but even if you don’t speak the language, the ringing twin bouzouki riffs and haunting gothic undercurrent of their psychedelic classics will pull you under. From their new album 12 Tragouthia. Play the song

53. Wadada Leo Smith – Emmett Till. An epic narrative from the trumpeter’s Ten Freedom Summers concept album about the Civil Rights movement, this cinematic tale eventually hits a horrific crescendo, equal parts jazz and indie classical. Play the song

54. Bettye LaVette – Choices I’ve Made. The soul survivor took this old George Jone song and made a theme for anybody who’s ever lived to regret something or another. She sang an especially shattering version at Madison Square Park this past summer. Watch the video

55. Marcel Khalife – Palestinian Mawwal. The great Lebanese oud player and composer put out a titanic double album, Fall of the Moon this year and this is one of its high points, a lush Middle Eastern anthem with full orchestra and choir. Play the song

56. Alfredo Rodriguez – Fog. Noir soundtrack music doesn’t get any more haunting or evocative than the Cuban-American jazz pianist’s epic from his latest album Sounds of Space. Play the song 

57. Hot Club of Detroit – Midnight in Detroit. Proof that noir can be done just as well by a gypsy jazz bandk, in a minute 45 seconds. From their latest album Junction. Play the song 

58. EST – Three Falling Free. A rare outtake from the now-defunct, artsy, eclectic trio, this epic, Floydian monstrosity builds to a crushing crescendo with the piano and bass going full blast: you want adrenaline? Watch the video 

59. Israel Vibration – Ball of Fire. This apocalyptic roots reggae tune goes back almost as far as Culture’s Two Sevens Clash, and it’s even better. And the band kicked ass with it at Central Park Summerstage this past August. Watch the video 

60. Klezwoods – Charambe. One of many standout tracks from their new album The 30th Meridian – From Cairo to St. Petersburg With Love, this is a wicked blend of 60s style psychedelic rock and klezmer, like something the Electric Prunes would have done. Play the song

61. Glass Anchors – Winter Home. Sadness and longing set to wickedly evocative, catchy janglerock from the female-fronted, Americana-tinged Brooklyn band’s debut album.  Play the song

62. Bobtown – Battle Creek. High-voltage noir soul anthem from the point of view of a country girl steadily losing it in northern Midwest rust belt hell, sung electrifyingly by Karen Dahlstrom. From the noir Americana band’s killer new album Trouble I Wrought. Play the song  

63. Chicago Stone Lightning Band – Tears & Sorrow. Creepy, brooding  early 70s style acid blues from the Chicago band’s considerably more energetic debut album. Play the song  

64. Single Red Cent – Dilettante. A hilarious postpunk-flavored putdown of spoiled trendoids, “stealing a page from the better bands, nothing in common with the working man.” Play the song 

65. Wahid  – Looking for Paradise. New Middle Eastern instrumental sounds: hard to imagine that just an oud and drums can create a sound that’s this majestic and intense. From the duo’s new album Road Poem. Sound snippet

66. The Larch – Monkey  Happy Hour. Wry, spot-on double entendres abound in this psychedelic new wave look at the last people you’d ever want to hang with after work. From their excellent new album Days to the West. Play the song  

67. Sex Mob – Juliet of the Spirits. Even though the noir-ish jazz quartet’s version of the classic Nino Rota film theme is nowhere to be found on the web, it wouldn’t be fair to leave it off the list: the riveting version they played at the World Financial Center this past fall might have been their first time, and it was amazing.  Band info

68. M Shanghai String Band – Sea Monster
This offhandedly eerie, symbolically-fueled, gypsy-tinged cut might be the best one on the massive Brooklyn Americana band’s new album Two Thousand Pennies. Play the song 

69. Clare & the Reasons- Colder. An icy art-rock mini-epic from the Brooklyn band, with a chilling mantra on the way out: “When will it get better?” Watch the video 

70. Animation – Transparent Heart. The epic, cinematic instrumental title track from saxophonist Bob Belden’s concept album about how New York (and the country) went to hell, as the Bush regime used 9/11 as a pretext for dismantling 200 years of democracy, and New York became a haven for chain stores and suburban yuppie cluelessness. Play the song

71. Yankee Bamg Bang – Silver Bullet. The backlash against gentrifier music is in full effect from these Bollywood-influenced Brooklyn rockers, poking fun at “love songs we couldn’t swallow from musician/actor/models.” Play the song/free download

72. My Education – For All My Friends. Syd Barrett meets Nektar in this roaring ten-minute art-rock theme,  rising to a titanic wall of frantic tremolo-picking. From their latest album A Drink For All My Friends. Play the song

73. Amniotic Fluid – Be Careful Children. Creepy cinematics with virtuoso clarinet, accordion and percussion in under two minutes. From their fiery debut album. Sound snippet

74. Theo Bleckmann & ACME – To the Night. Like Sex Mob at #67 above, the list wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the rich, otherworldly debut that this crooner and indie chamber ensemble gave to Phil Kline’s new song cycle, Oud Cold, this past November. This is its high point, a feast of lustrous close harmonies. Not on the web yet, but you can check out the composer’s other intriguing song sequences.

75. Tom Shaner – She Will Shine. One of the highlights of the southwestern gothic rocker’s new album Ghosts Songs, Waltzes & Rock & Roll is a hilarious song called She’s an Unstoppable Hipster. This is sort of that song in reverse: gentrifier girl goes to the country because she’s sick of the city…or she just can’t hack it? This one’s not on the web but the first song is, in a very funny video

76. Tift Merritt – Small Talk Relations. The Americana chanteuse’s latest album Traveling Alone is the best guitar album of the year, with Marc Ribot’s noir playing off Eric Heywood’s steel and slide work. Ironically, this quiet, elegant countrypolitan number is the album’s best cut. Play the song/free download

77. Ramzi Aburedwan – Rahil. An absolutely sizzling, smashingly catchy theme for buzuq, accordion and percussion by the Palestinian virtuoso/composer, from his latest album Reflections of Palestine. Watch the video

78. Arturo O’Farrril & the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra – River Blue. One of the best concerts in New York this year was the first of two nights by this amazing, titanic band right after the hurricane: thsi darkly majestic  Rafi Malkiel Middle Eastern jazz epic is arguably the high point. Watch the video 

79. Ran Blake & Sara Serpa – Dr. Mabuse. With piano and wordless vocals, the noir jazz legend and his protegee evoke a troubled world of the spirits. From their live album Aurora, which is on Spotify if you have it; otherwise, good luck looking around.

80. Tom Warnick & World’s Fair- The Impostor. Kafkaesque rock doesn’t get any more intense than this: watch the keyboardist/bandleader finding it impossible to refrain from jumping back into the vocals after he’s handed them over to guitarist John Sharples on this noir classic. Here’s the video

81. Terrible Feelings – Blank Heads. This female-fronted punk band sounds like a dead ringer for the Avengers circa 1979, with rich Steve Jones style production. No streaming audio, but a free download from the band

82. Karthala 72 – Diable du Feu. Horror surf guitar grafted to a classic Afrobeat vamp with evil, buzzy bass by this period-perfect Brooklyn crew. Title track from their excellent new album. Play the song.

83. Spottiswoode -Enfant Terrible. This one came out a few years back, but the veteran art-rocker killed with this savage anti-trendoid broadside at a haphazardly assembled but absolutely brilliant show in the West Village right after the hurricane. Watch the video

84. Jaffa Road – Through the Mist of Your Eyes. A luscious Middle Eastern psychedelic rock tune from the eclectic female-fronted Canadian band. Play the song/free download 

85. The Funk Ark – El Rancho Motel. In case you think that Ethiopian cumbia is a crazy idea, check out this wickedly fun, creepily surfy track from the Washington, DC Afrobeat band’s excellent new album High Noon. Watch the video

86. Deleon – A La Nana. A creepy, stately minor key flamenco-flavored waltz with banjo as the lead instrument from this excellent Sephardic rock band. Play the song

87. Raya Brass Band – Melochrino. The hard-charging Balkan brass jamband is just as good at brooding, slowly unwinding, chromatically charged tunes like this one. From their phenomenal debut album Dancing on Roses, Dancing on Cinders. Play the song  

88. Andrew Collberg – Back on the Shore. A frequent Giant Sand collaborator, he writes period-perfect mid-80s style paisley underground psychedelic rock. This is a lush, hauning noir southwestern gothic anthem. Watch the video  

89. Tim Foljahn – New Light. From his brooding, pessimistic, absolutely haunting apocalypse concept album Songs for an Age of Extinction, this one artfully doubles the vocals: one track blithe and clueless, the other less so. Play the song

90. The Sweetback Sisters – Texas Bluebonnets
The harmonies and the melody of this oldschool western swing/Tex-Mex tune are so charming and chipper you know there has to be a sad undercurrent…and there sure is. “Those Texas bluebonnets just blew me away.” From their excellent album Lookin’ for a Fight. Watch the video

91. The Brixton Riot – Keep It Like a Secret. Snarling two-guitar rock from this New Jersey band, all too aware of how the Bush-era police state still lingers and makes you watch your back. From their scorching new album Palace Amusements. Play the song

92. Botanica – Manuscripts Don’t Burn. How the hell did the most epic, intense, grand guignol track from this era’s greatest art-rock band end up way down here? Roll of the dice. Sorry, guys. From their arguably most haunted, brooding album What Do You Believe. Play the song

93. Black Fortress of Opium – Afyonkaharisar Battle Cry. The female-fronted Boston band artfully crescendo from stately Middle Eastern sonics to a ferocious cauldron of dreampop guitar. From their new album Stratospherical. Play the song

94. Leigh Marble – Holden. The last of the anti-trendoid anthems here might be the funniest, which is ironic (in the true sense of the word) in that the Portland, Oregon songwriter’s latest album Where the Knives Meet Between the Rows is otherwise extremely dark. The title here is a Salinger reference. Play the song  

95. Marissa Nadler -The Wrecking Ball Company. Metaphorical, inscrutably deadpan, deathly noir atmospherics from this era’s unrivalled mistress of that style. From her latest and possibly best album The Sister. Play the song

96. Mucca Pazza – Last Days. An artsy, Russian-tinged accordion waltz from this titanically powerful gypsy punk brass band’s latest album Safety Last. Play the song

97. Niyaz – Shosin. A characteristically hypnotic, pulsing track from the Persian-Canadian dance/trance band’s latest album Sumud (Arabic for “resilience”). Watch the video

98.  Tribecastan – Jovanka. The darkest song on the eclectic-beyond-belief New York kitchen-sink worldbeat band’s latest album New Deli is sort of a balalaika bolero except that the web of stringed instruments is everything but a balalaika. Watch the video 

99. Rachelle Garniez – Land of the Living
The unexpectedly triumphant closing track on the inscrutable accordionist/chanteuse’s latest album Sad Dead Alive Happy, it starts with a devious dream sequence of sorts and ends with a warmly wry, indelibly New York stoop conversation. Play the song

100. Catspaw – Curl Up & Die. Let’s wrap up this list with a careening ghoulabilly track from this brooding 2/3 female New York retro rock trio. It’s a staple of their live show but hasn’t made it to the web yet – although you can hear their classic, even more haunting Southbound Line here.

Haunting, Cinematically Sweeping Armenian Sounds from MusAner

MusAner’s new cd Once Upon a Time is one of the most picturesque, intensely vivid albums of the year. It gets better as it goes along and ends on a lively note with what may be an escape anthem, Two Way Ticket Across the Black Sea, a jaunty seafaring theme bookended by a dark Balkan dance. The Boston-based group – whose name translates from Armenian as “muses” – take dark, often haunting, centuries-old Armenian melodies and flesh them out into a uniquely cinematic style, equal parts jazz and film music. Their songs always seem to end up in a different place from where they began. The group bill themselves as “folk fusion,” which is actually a misnomer since there’s absolutely nothing fusiony about their sound: the instruments are acoustic, the playing soulful and swinging. The group has a rotating cast, performing as both a lavish ten-piece orchestra as well as a smaller ensemble. Cyprus-born, Beirut-raised pianist Ara Sarkissian brings a tersely moody, meticulous edge to the music, backed by core members Todd Brunel on clarinet, Ken Field on saxes and Artur Yeghiazaryan and Martin Haroutunian on traditional Armenian wind instruments. They’re playing the cd release show at Drom on Oct 26 at 9:20 PM; advance tickets are available for $12. If gorgeously haunting melodies are your thing, this is for you.

The album’s opening track, A Drive Through the Mountains balances warmth and apprehension, a gypsy jazz shuffle given cinematic sweep with rippling neoromantic piano and Haroutunian’s rivetingly shivery microtonal playing on the zouma, a traditional reed instrument that sounds a bit like a cross between a clarinet and an oboe. They follow that with All in a Day, which juxtaposes a silly Alpine-tinged flute tune with a tensely dramatic piano-driven theme. Circle Dance at Midnight takes an edgy Balkan vamp and adds all kinds of cool variations, with echoes of ragtime, dixieland and then that silly Alpine tune when least expected.

The next track is Goodnight Datevik, an elegant piano-and-accordion nocturne; after that, they put a Middle Eastern spin on a bustling, intricately arranged Amina Figarova-style traveler’s tale aptly titled Jetsetter. But as entertaining as all this is, it can’t compare with the next four tracks. The singing quality of Haroutunian’s sometimes mournful, sometimes slithery zouma will give you chills; likewise, Sarkissian’s piano takes on a potently plaintive tone, mingling with the reeds, accordion, bass and drums.

The first of these tracks, Memory Box and then the title cut, make up a diptych of sorts, beginning wistfully but quickly growing darker: it’s clear that not all these memories are pleasant ones. But some are, and that’s how it ends. Likewise, the title track contrasts artfully echoey piano with wounded zouna lines, romps through a funky interlude but ends with with an expansively haunting, elegaic theme. Overnight Train takes a slow one-chord jam and makes a sad Caucasian waltz out of it, while Strewn By the Wind works its way through a long thicket of intertwining reeds into a pensive theme that morphs into a sad waltz and then ends with a poignant piano interlude that wouldn’t be out of place in the Marcel Khalife songbook. In terms of raw, wrenching beauty, this is hard to beat.

Dark, Pensive Sounds from Wahid

The music on Wahid’s new album Road Poem sounds more majestic than you’d think that just two instruments, oud and drums, could create. But Dimitris Mahlis’ oud is a resonant instrument to begin with, and Chris Wabich’s drumkit has three boomy frame drums along with a snare, and hi-hat, and tambourine. Much of this is sad and elegaic. The first few instrumentals, with their somber melodies and stately, funereal rhythm, evoke the great Lebanese composer and oudist Marcel Khalife at his darkest and most minimalist. While the oud is most closely associated with the Middle East, Mahlis doesn’t limit his melodies to that region’s haunting modes, ranging as far afield as India and the Mississippi delta.

Throughout the album, the interplay between the two musicians is thoughtful and elegant: when the music rises and falls, they do it as a team, Wabich’s occasional solo maintaining the mood rather than wandering off on a tangent. The first song, Alexander’s Regrets starts out stately and midtempo, then Mahlis starts spiraling with flurries of tremolo-picking. As the song goes on, it takes on more of a folk-rock feel. The second track, Looking for Paradhisi has a strong stylistic resemblance to Khalife, building a stark nocturnal atmosphere, while Protoleia sets a funky, Macedonian-flavored tune to a Moroccan groove, shifting unexpectedly into darker tonalities as Wabich artfully orchestrates it.

Inside Silence is another somber minor-key dirge, rising and falling and ending on a particularly poignant note. Like several of the tracks here, it was recorded in concert, the audience obviously engaged in the music, letting it linger at the end before bursting into applause.

Indra Reclines is basically a south Indian raga for oud, Mahlis interpolating brisk clusters of notes over a simple, swaying, boomy beat and a steady drone – whether that’s a loop of a bowed cymbal, maybe, or something else, isn’t clear. Steal the Bride, with its tricky syncopation, is surprisingly jazzy; the album returns to end on a moody note with The Outcast, a spaciously pensive melody that builds gracefully up from and then back down to a simple minor-key blues riff. Who is the audience for this? Beyond the usual fans of Middle Eastern music, this is a great rainy-day album – anyone with a taste for dark, melancholy music should check it out.

A Dark Original Middle Eastern/Brazilian Hybrid

Here’s something for people who like brooding, intense, melancholy music: trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf is playing Drom on June 21 at 11 PM, doing some US dates in support of his recent album, Diagnostic. Maalouf’s background as a musician is eclectic to the extreme, encompassing Middle Eastern, western classical and jazz; he’s played with the great Lebanese composer Marcel Khalife, and on the lighter side, with Sting. Although trumpet is still central to the album, Maalouf also plays piano with a raw, plaintive style that often alludes to Erik Satie. For beats, Maalouf enlisted 17-piece Paris-based Brazilian batucada percussion troupe Zalinde to provide boomy, distant thunder. Taken together, the result is absolutely original and usually on the dark side: even a spacious solo piano piece for his young daughter is imbued with dread. Which might have something to do with his experience as a refugee from war in Beirut, growing up alienated in the tough cinderblock banlieu outside Paris, his father an acclaimed trumpeter in his own right.

Maalouf’s approach to the trumpet is the same as how he approaches music in general: nothing is off limits. He might rip into a Balkan tune with Arabic modalities over a Brazilian rhythm, segue out of an epic, cinematic Middle Eastern suite into garish heavy metal (a rare moment that actually doesn’t work very well here) or switch in a split-second from a slinky salsa groove to reggae, all of that over the distant boom of the batucada drums. He also switches up scales without any notice, an effect that he employs very powerfully to amp up the drama or unease factor. He’s the rare player who can solo for what feels like five minutes and at the end, you’re still left wanting more. The most energetic  tracks here are a couple of sirening, careening jajouka rock numbers – one that begins as a guitar boogie and then undergoes a very artful transformation. A pensive, low-key tune dedicated to Maalouf’s mom features a thoughtful, sympathetic interlude from French rapper Oxmo Puccino. Interestingly, the album’s most intense track is not one of the high-powered, crescendoing cinematic ones but the title cut, which juxtaposes wounded, absolutely depleted trumpet against a glittering backdrop of piano and marimba. Since much of the album is a one-man effort – sort of a vastly more moody, trumpet-driven counterpart to Daniel Bernard Roumain’s work – it’ll be interesting to see what kind of combo Maalouf brings to his Drom concert. And ostensibly he’s playing somewhere in Central Park as part of Make Music NY earlier in the day: if you hear pensive Arabic trumpet melodies wafting from behind the trees, it’s probably him.

Marcel Khalife Returns to the US with the Al Mayadine Ensemble

Marcel Khalifé and the Al Mayadine Ensemble are back on tour, starting in Houston this coming April 20. In the world of Middle Eastern music, that’s sort of like the Beatles getting back together. The group,which includes the iconic oud player/composer along with chanteuse Oumeima Khalil, pianist Rami Khalifé, and Bachar Khalifé on percussion are doing this as a homage to Marcel Khalife’s visionary collaborator, the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. As the Arab Spring has unfolded, Marcel Khalifé’s songs have become part of the movement, no great surprise since he’s been battling censorship, oppression and exile with his songs of freedom over the last forty years. “On the stage, I’m in my natural milieu, saying what I want,” says Khalifé – “There’s no censorship of what I say.”

“I sang for them,” Khalifé said of the freedom fighters across the Arab world, “And they gave me the feeling that they were my kin, that they were the source of strength to bring about the impossible.” For fans of lushly beautiful cross-cultural Middle Eastern music, this is a tour not to be missed – and Khalifé’s forthcoming album, The Fall of the Moon (out at the end of April) is a masterpiece as well. Tourdates below:

Fri, 4/20/2012, 8 PM
Houston, TX
Jones Hall
615 Louisiana St.
713.227.4772

Sat, 4/21/2012, 8 PM
Los Angeles, CA
Orpheum Theatre
842 S Broadway
877.677.4368

Sun, 4/22/2012, 7 PM
Berkeley, CA
Zellerbach Hall
101 Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley
510.642.9988

Fri, 4/27/2012, 8 PM
Detroit, MI
Music Hall
350 Madison Street
313.887.8500

Sat, 4/28/2012, 8 PM
Washington, DC
Warner Theatre
513 13th Street
202.783.4000

Sun, 4/29/2012, 7 PM
New York, NY
The Town Hall
123 W 43rd St.
212.840.2824

Fri, 5/4/2012, 7:30 PM
Chicago, IL
Copernicus Center
5216 West Lawrence Avenue
773.777.8898

Sat, 5/5/2012, 8 PM
Boston, MA
Berklee Hall
136 Massachusetts Avenue
617.747.2261