If Marc Ribot’s noir stuff is your kind of thing, Beninghove’s Hangmen are heaven. They call their music “creeptastic grinder jazz for the masses,” which is an understatement. Creepy, chromatic B&W movie tunes; a shot of gypsy punk; a hit of klezmer hash; a blast of surf music; a bite of punk jazz; a dash of ska…and the chase is on! Is the bad guy gonna get away? Hell yeah! Unsurprisingly, some of their music has made it to tv and film: with Big Lazy in mothballs, Steve Ulrich expanding a long way beyond his signature noir style and Mojo Mancini only playing infrequently, Beninghove’s Hangmen take over centerstage as New York’s most cinematic noir band. Alongside bandleader/saxophonist Bryan Beninghove, Rick Parker plays trombone, with Eyal Maoz and Dane Johnson on guitars, Kellen Harrison on bass and Shawn Baltazor on drums. Their album came out this past spring and it’s killer, streaming in its entirety at bandcamp.
Much as this has all the standard issue noirisms – reverb on the guitar, minor keys, devils’ chords, suspenseful press rolls on the drums – it’s not cartoonish. The angst and the menace are visceral. They leap into it with the first track, simply titled Jack Miller, a twistedly swinging chromatic theme, the guitars plowing through every garbage bag in the gutter, trombone shadowing Beninghove’s gritty tenor sax. Then they slow it down to a sway with distorted wah guitars, sax intermingling to the point where it’s impossible to tell who’s playing what. It’s pure evil and it sets the tone for the rest of the album.
Interestingly, there are three waltzes here, and they’re all excellent. Reve Melodique is a pretty musette that goes creepy as the guitars kick in, then dreamy and ghostly and finally macabre as the trombone takes over. Reject’s Lament is the most haunting of the three, Beninghove’s smoky alto sax over reverb-drenched, jangling guitars, crescendoing to an agitated horror as the guitars pick up with a blistering, tremolo-picked bluesmetal solo from Maoz as Johnson grimes it up a la Ribot. Hangmen’s Waltz reaches back for a murderously Lynchian ambience, just trombone, drums and guitars setting an ominous backdrop until the rest of the band finally comes in about halfway.
The rest of the album is eclectic to the extreme. There’s Tarantino (A Tarantella), a scurrying surf/ska song that morphs into skronky no wave, and The Puppetmaster, a cruelly satirical stripper theme featuring an absolutely twisted, meandering solo by Parker. Sushi Tango jarringly alternates between a slow, resolute tango and a surprisingly bubbly dixieland theme, while H Bomb, arguably the best song on the album, is a Balkan brass tune done as horror surf, like the Coffin Daggers might have ten years ago, solos around the horn growing increasingly unhinged. There’s also Quatro Loko, a punk salsa tune with a memorably pensive Parker solo that Beninghove uses as a launching pad to take the song completely psychotic; a noisy, grimy boogie blues titled Roadhouse; and the suspenseful, shapeshifting tone poem that closes the album. It’s hard to keep track of all the great albums that have come out this year, but this has to be one of the ten best. Big shout-out to Jeff Marino of amazing oldschool soul band the One and Nines for the heads-up about these guys.