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No New Abnormal

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Purist, Sharply Crafted Twin-Guitar Rock From Ratstar

The cover image of powerpop band Ratstar’s short album In the Kitchen – streaming at Bandcamp – displays an industrial-sized countertop that’s got to be twenty feet long. Next to the sink, there’s a blender overflowing with a suspicious grey substance that’s been blasted all over the floor. That’s truth in advertising. If searing layers of guitars and smart retro tunesmithing that brings to mind bands as diverse as the Stones, Squeeze, Cheap Trick and the British pub rock groups of the 70s are your thing, you should check them out.

The first track, Love You Again sets the stage for the rest of the record: Dave Hudson and Marty Collins’ tightly roaring guitars over a punchy, swaying beat that finally shifts toward reggae underneath a jagged solo. The bass uncurls to a slinky peak in the highest registers; these guys can really play.

The second cut, Stay a While starts out as a chugging, Stonesy tune, hits an unexpectedly lithe, funky groove from bassist Matt Collins and drummer Dean Mozian, then the band go back to It’s Only Rock n Roll territory. The band stay there for Unheavenly Dog, which is a little slower and brings to mind one of the great New York bands of the early zeros, the Sloe Guns.

The icing on the cake here, and the album’s punkest song, is No Encounter. Clustering drum breaks and high-tension lead lines rise to a spectacular exchange of solos between the guitars at the end, one of the best rock outros of the decade.

One of Brooklyn’s Best Jazz Acts Returns to Playing Live with a Vengeance

One of the first bands at the very front of the pack getting busy on the live circuit again is fronted by the guy who might be the best guitarist in Brooklyn. From the mid to late teens, Tom Csatari’s Uncivilized played a careening, highly improvisational but also wickedly tuneful blend of pastoral jazz and psychedelia, with frequent detours into the noir. Their distinctively drifting live album of Twin Peaks themes is an obscure treasure from the peak era of the Barbes scene. The group survived their bandleader’s brush with death (this was long before any so-called pandemic) and have emerged seemingly more energized than ever. Csatari didn’t let all the downtime during the past fifteen months’ lockdown go to waste: he wrote three albums worth of songs. He calls it the Placebo Trilogy, and it’s streaming at Bandcamp.

Their next show is June 26 at 8 PM at the new San Pedro Inn, 320 Van Brunt St. (corner of Pioneer) in Red Hook. You could take the B61 bus but if you’re up for getting some exercise, take the F to Carroll, get off at the front of the Brooklyn-bound train and walk it. Nobody at this blog has been to the venue yet but it gets high marks from those who have.

All three records are Csatari solo acoustic, often played through a tremolo effect. The first one, Placedo-Niche has a couple of numbers with a distantly Elliott Smith-tinged, hazily bucolic feel, the first steadier, the second more spare and starry. Csatari packs more jaunty flash and enigmatic strum into D’art in less than a minute thirty than most artists can in twice as much time: one suspects that this miniature, like everything else here, was conceived as a stepping-off point for soloing.

Morton Swing is an increasingly modernized take on a charmingly oldtimey melody. And Extra could be a great lost Grateful Dead theme – who cares if this singalong doesn’t have lyrics.

The second record, Placebo-ish begins with Fresh Scrabble, Csatari’s gritty, nebulous chords around a long, catchy, descending blues riff. As it unwinds, he mingles the same kind of finger-crunching chords into a southern soul-tinged pattern, explores a moody Synchronicity-era Police-style anthem, then sends a similarly brooding variation through a funhouse mirror. The most John Fahey-influenced number here is titled Sad-Joy, both emotions on the muted side.

The last album is Placebo-Transcendence. The gentle, summery ambience of the opening track, Valentino, suddenly grows frenetic. Sugar Baby vamps along, warm and hypnotic. The wryly titled Civilized is…well…exactly that: it sounds like Wilco. The funniest song title (Csatari is full of them) is Silicone Transcendence (Tryin’ to Transcend), the closest thing to Twin Peaks here.

There isn’t a jazz guitarist alive who gets as much mileage out of a chord-based approach than Csatari, and there aren’t many people writing tunes as hummable as these in any style of music. Yet they tease the ears at the same time. If you want to learn how to write using implied melody, there isn’t a better place to start than these records.

A Foundationally Haunting, Influential 70s Political Thriller Soundtrack Finally Available on Vinyl

Alan Pakula’s 1974 political assassination thriller The Parallax View is arguably more relevant today than when it was released at the height of the Watergate scandal. And while fewer film scores were released in those days as stand-alone records, it was not uncommon: some of the era’s bestselling albums, from 2001: A Space Odyssey, to Star Wars, were movie soundtracks. So it’s something of a shock to discover that Michael Small’s Parallax View score, one of the most iconic and influential of its kind, has never been released on vinyl until now. The whole album is not online, but bits and pieces of the score are floating around youtube.

Generally speaking, it’s amazing how much mileage Small gets from so few moving parts, especially in the tensest moments, presaging the minimalist meme of fifteen years later. Eerily twinkling accents peek out over ominous, sustained low strings as the title theme wafts in, a distantly brassy allusion to a Richard Strauss tune which had been resurrected very successfully just five years previously. That dichotomy continues throughout the brief morgue scene and dips to pitchblende cellos for the sheriff’s house interlude.

The momentary chase scene is classic: jagged Bernard Herrmann strings, but also icepick flutes, machinegunning drums and more Strauss from the lows of the piano. Spare violins accent a wary, slow stroll through the Testing Center. Eerie close harmonies and creepy tritones linger over the sparest, syncopated pulse, bells against massed basses in the nocturnal tableau that follows.

The famous brainwashing scene at the Parallax Corporation comes complete with dialogue: the way Small shifts from wistful folk-pop, to faux-pomp, to a contented Jimmy Webb-esque nocturne, is a clinic in mashup science. Lows balance keening, tense highs, sheets of strings and brass shifting slowly through the sonic picture as a suitcase bomb is delivered. Did Angelo Badalamenti nick one of the riffs from the bells for a famous Twin Peaks theme? Maybe!

Small gets classic again, with the most minute, insectile string flickers against looming lows as the death squad make their way in. Zarathustra hangs in the wings through a bit of chaos before the closing credits, where the quasi-pageantry reaches Shostakovian heights of sarcasm. No spoilers; see the movie or even better, get the vinyl.

Fun fact: in pulling together this release, the Cinema Paradiso crew were required to identify the uncredited voiceover actor in the brainwashing scene in order to secure permission from Paramount Pictures to include it. Considerable sleuthing finally revealed that it was Pakula himself, who had recorded a scratch track. The director, apparently satisfied with his own Hitchcockian cameo, ended up keeping it

Fighting Future Lockdowns with a Summer Solstice Celebration on Roosevelt Island

“There should be a thousand people here,” one spectator observed yesterday afternoon, trailing along the edge of a crowd of maybe a couple dozen folks making their way to the southern edge of Roosevelt Island. They’d come out for a walking tour led by healer and journalist Cat McGuire, who in a half hour under the trees in the park traced how Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “four freedoms” principle has been eroded in the recent past and over the years – beginning with the guy who created that shortlist.

No doubt, there should have been more people gathered here. But this is how paradigm shifts start, with a small group of people thinking outside the box. To paraphrase McGuire’s witheringly colorful observation, one person armed with the truth has more impact than sixty thousand who don’t. And this is happening all over the world.

McGuire has assembled a very sobering and enlightening presentation about the upcoming Cyber Polygon tabletop exercise scheduled for July 9, which you can watch here and download here. Considering what we know about false flag incidents coinciding with real-time military or police exercises – notably 9/11 and 7/7 – not to mention all the noise the World Economic Forum has been making about the threat of a global takedown of the power grid, this is a situation we need to keep our eye on.

Investigative journalist and singer Tessa Lena, whose poetically insightful news feed as well as her equally entertaining podcast Make Language Great Again have become two of the most reliable information sources over the past year, gave a short talk about the transhumanist component of the New Abnormal (a.k.a. Klaus Schwab’s Great Reset). Online avatars which supposedly keep all our memories alive in perpetuity? Internet-enabled nanobots injected under our skin to track our every movement and torture us to death if we say something critical about Facebook or Amazon? She doesn’t actually believe those nightmares will ever come true – as long as we make sure they don’t. According to the planned 2030 timetable, Ray Kurzweil’s bizarro “singularity” – where everyone except the world’s billionaires becomes a cyborg slave – is unfolding right on schedule.

Out behind the collapsing shell of the island’s long-vacant smallpox quarantine facility, psychologist Karin Burkhard reminded that over the years, an estimated fourteen thousand people were essentially abandoned and died inside the building. According to legend, the bodies were burned and the ashes scattered on the island: lost souls with lots unfinished business, right where everybody was standing, as Burkhard put it. She explained how even after mass vaccination campaigns had finally eradicated smallpox, those same vaccines continued to be available to members of the military for decades afterward…and that laboratory cultures of the virus were not destroyed until much more recently. One  hopes they were, anyway.

There was also music. Michael Jay used two huge gongs to build magical, immersive sheets of boomy lows and sepulchral high harmonics. He calls it a sound bath: this was more of a power shower of mystical calm. After more than half an hour of spine-tingling sonic refreshment, percussion trio Africa Forestdance picked up the pace  Led by Formoro Diabate, heir to a multi-generational Guinean balafon legacy, the group built rippling but similarly hypnotic volleys of sound.

And a pretty woman in a tan print dress, armed with a formidable walking stick, shared her entire container of watermelon with a thirsty (and very grateful) music reporter. What a sweet thing to do for someone on a sweltering day.

A High-Voltage, Colorful, Historically-Inspired Big Band Jazz Suite From the Wilds of Saskatchewan

At the end of December, 2019, the Saskatchewan All Star Big Band played bandleader and keyboardist Fred Stride’s colorful, cinematic, historically-infused Saskatchewan Suite at the Casino Regina – and had the foresight to record it. It would be the last show they would play for quite awhile…but hopefully not forever. Canada may be locked down in perpetuity – the Chinese commies undoubtedly eying Canada’s vast water resources – but resistance there is growing fierce.

In the meantime, we can enjoy this high-voltage performance, streaming at Spotify. Flickers from Dylan Wiest’s vibraphone, a wash from Miles Foxx Hill’s bass, and ominous lows from the brass kick off the night’s first number, The Place. Tentative brassy steps signal the first human incursions into the prairie. Guitarist Jack Semple’s soaring, Gilmouresque lines and pianist Jon Ballantyne’s subtle flourishes lead the group intrepidly into balmier territory. A dip to fleeting individual voices – local fauna? Indians on the lookout for same? – rises with invigorating but wary swells as Ballantyne plays folksy blues. Alto sax player PJ Perry gets to fuel the cheery, Dixieland-tinged conflagration at the end.

Portentous swells over an insistent, shamanistic beat signal further arrivals in the second movement, The First, the group artfully shifting toward a cabaret-tinged ba-bump beat as the brass and reeds swirl and intertwine. The determined, striding cheer seems satirical, lightly spiced by Semple’s spare slide work, Perry choosing his spots in a solo and a coda that seem to echo the more strenuous side of setting up roots in unfamiliar territory.

Movement three, The Newcomers, begins with Perry’s unexpectedly plaintive lines awash in Ed Minevich and Cam Wilson’s violins and the lustre of the reeds. Ballantyne bounces brightly for a bit and then some; the violins signal a bulked-up Irish reel. The jaunty Celtic theme continues in the fourth movement, The In-Between, Perry leading the charge upward with a series of rhythmic shifts as Stride builds tension.

September 1905, the date of Saskatchewan provincehood, is an eventful time, ablaze with brass and tightly clustering, rhythmic rhythms, Ballantyne’s scampering solo handing off to trombonist Shawn Grocott’s blustery cameo; that little quote at the end is irresistible. The sixth movement, Saskatchesport…hmmm…could that be Ballantyne’s piano flicking the puck into an empty net? This turns out to be a suite within a suite. In the most humorous interlude, trumpeter Dean McNeill’s megawatt articulacy fuels a brightly undulating cheer. There’s also wide-angle atmospherics punctuated by drummer Ted Warren’s tricky two-handed dribbling and Perry spinning down from the clouds as the orchestra punch and dodge behind him.

Thank You, Mr. Douglas – a shout-out to longtime NDP leader and Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas – is a low-key, resonantly ambered ballad, Hill’s bass swooping down and bubbling over Ballantyne’s pensive chords and the orchestra wafting overhead. They wind up the suite with Saskatchejazz, which vigorously debunks the longstanding myth that once you leave New York, the quality of the musicians goes down a notch. Veering from quasi John Philip Sousa, to the early swing era, soulful late-night Ellingtonianisms, jump blues, bossa nova, electric faux-Miles, and what could be Buddy Rich, they cover all the bases.

Mike Neer’s Brilliant, Imaginative New Album Reinvents Jazz Classics for Lapsteel

Lapsteel player Mike Neer‘s previous album was a reinvention of Thelonious Monk classics. His latest album Keepin’ It Real – streaming at Bandcamp – is an absolutely brilliant, occasionally unsettling mix of material imaginatively arranged for what Neer calls a “faux Hawaiian trio” of steel, bass and ukulele, all of which he plays himself. Recorded during the lockdown, it also features cameos from an allstar cast.

It wouldn’t be overhype to compare the opening number, Duke Ellington’s African Flower, to Big Lazy. Neer’s steady ukulele in the beginning is a red herring: his ominously chromatic steel lead follows a  swinging quasi-bolero beat. It brings to mind a certain Brooklyn psychedelic cumbia band’s take on Erik Satie.

Nica’s Dream, a Horace Silver tune, shifts from hints of bossa nova to a jaunty swing, then clouds pass through the sonic picture, guest vibraphonist Tom Beckham adding a steady, latin-tinged solo over Neer’s uke flurries before he hits a deviously Monk-inflected steel solo.

Neer’s take of McCoy Tyner’s Passion Dance – has a jaunty, bubbling, riff-driven cheer and a series of dazzling, rapidfire Beckham solos. Melodica player Matt King adds a layer floating over Neer’s steel in their amiably pulsing bossa take of Pensativa.

An aptly furtive, stalking take of Stolen Moments features Anton Denner taking tensely bluesy flight on alto flute. West Coast Blues comes across as what could have been a Bob Wills demo, Neer contributing both a terse bass solo and a romping, irrepressible bop steel solo.

Will Bernard guests sparely, incisively, and subtly ferociously on guitar in the allusively modal, vamping Witch Hunt. Accordionist Ron Oswanski kicks off Peace with a lush intro, Neer adding warmly, sparely pastoral melody over a slow, trip-hop-like sway

Fun fact: before Neer became New York’s foremost jazz lapsteel player, he did some time as lead instrumentalist in Hawaiian swing stars the Moonlighters, an influence that obviously stuck.

Commemorating a Feral Blues Legend on Limited Edition Vinyl

There’s incredible irony in that legendary Mississippi hill country bluesman T-Model Ford, who lived more than half his life before digital recording existed, would getting a release on vinyl now. The new retrospective I Was Born in a Swamp – which isn’t online yet – is out on limited edition, appropriately red-colored vinyl. Ford, who died in his nineties in 2013, would no doubt approve.

The opening track on each side is an interview. Ford was a bright guy, and a shady character who did nothing to dispel the many eyebrow-raising but likely apocryphal stories which were probably concocted to sell cds and fuel his legend as the great 1990s wildman of the Mississippi juke joint circuit. On the A-side, he addresses his date of birth. His driver’s license says one thing, his passport says another. Whichever the case, he is certain he was born on June 24: when, he probably took to the grave with him. The reminiscence on the B-side has more reliable historical information.

The first number is Someone’s Knocking At My Door, essentially a thinly disguised version of Howlin’ Wolf’s Smokestack Lightning. What’s unusual about this album is that Ford, who typically only recorded with guitar and drums, is either playing acoustic, or backed by a full band featuring  members of Gravel Road, Moreland & Arbuckle, the Soledad Brothers and Outrageous Cherry. who contribute organ, bass and sunbaked, psychedelic lead guitar. It’s a far cry from Ford’s usual unhinged, ramshackle style, but it’s also far from slick.

Another unusual feature is the length of the songs. Onstage, he would stretch out, but in the studio he typically kept things short. The eight-minute take of Big Legged Woman here has piano and squalling slide guitar – and chord changes, something Ford didn’t have much use for. An atypical, rather subdued take of Chicken Head Man sounds like a very late-career number, with an unexpected lineup of acoustic guitars, blues harp and drums.

Likewise, the epic, practically eleven-minute version of Hip Shaking Woman, where Ford nicks a whole verse from Muddy Waters. Ford knocks back a little whiskey before a brief take of Little Walter’s My Babe, then the band plug in again for the final cut, Same Old Train: second take, same as the first, more or less.

In the fall of 2000, the publisher of a now long-defunct New York music e-zine brought a couple of friends to see Ford at the Mercury Lounge. He wasn’t even headlining: the guy at the top of the bill was R.L. Burnside. Sitting in the back of the club before the show, Ford was gregarious and in good spirits, but when he hit the stage, he and his drummer channeled something shamanic, and otherworldly, and just as sinister. It was one of the most explosive bills the venue ever staged. New York Music Daily’s historical archive contains a surprisingly high-quality field recording of both artists’ sets.

Azure Ray Return With a Gorgeously Lyrical Psychedelic Pop Record

It’s been twenty years since Azure Ray put out their debut album, a major influence on a generation of bedroom pop perpetrators which was finally issued for the first time on vinyl this year. In the years since, the duo of Maria Taylor and Orenda Fink have not been idle, and they have a brand new album, Remedy, streaming at Bandcamp. In general, it’s more lush and keyboard-oriented, without the group’s earlier Americana touches. The vocals are calm but strong and the lyrics are fantastic: there’s a persistent existentialist streak throughout many of these otherwise warmly shimmery songs.

“How do you say hello when you know there is no more? What do you dream about when you’re not swallowing swords?” the two ask in the opening track, a spare, Lennonesque piano ballad.

They revert to the loopy keyboard pastiches they explored on their debut album in the second track, Bad Dream, but with more of a spacy, dreampop-influenced feel. It’s a wake-up call, possibly referencing an abusive relationship.

Likewise, there’s a gentle spacerock sway to Phantom Lover, swirly keys and chilly guitar clang over a simple drum machine loop. “All we’ve got is what we’ve done,” the duo observe in Already Written, an allusive, bittersweetly devastating psychedelic pop gem that’s one of the best songs of the year:

I want to bite my tongue, I’m never great with decisions
Got a lot to be desired but never asked for permission
Thank god I was raised this way
Now I’m somewhere between what I hear and when I listen
Try to write it down but it’s already written
How I miss those days

The album’s title track has a lush hypnotic web of guitars and a lyric that seems to reference the Trump era:

Stand alone in an empty room
Scared to stay, stared to bloom
Little beast clawing at my door
I call for peace, they call for war…
I’ve disadmired old tendencies
A secret greed in the cemetery

“If you think about it long enough, you’ll question everything you know,” the two remind, over the surreal blend of acoustic guitar and drifting keys in Desert Waterfall. They stick with the spare/sleek dichotomy in Grow What You Want and How Wild: finally, seven tracks in, we get a pedal steel.

The Swan is the most sweepingly angst-fueled, orchestrated number here, a hauntingly allusive tale of a steep decline:

Another fight for the waking light
Did you lose your wings at a sacrifice
It’s impossible to understand
And what tore your fingers back from your closed-up fist
You closed your eyes with confidence
It’s impossible to understand

29 Palms, a strangely successful mashup of atmospheric Americana and balletesque chamber pop, is a soberly imagistic breakup narrative. They close the record with the techy, blippy I Don’t Want To Want To: “Inside part of me has died but I still have a photograph.” Who would have thought that Azure Ray would make an album in 2021, let alone that it would be one of the best of the year!

Yelena Eckemoff Goes Deep Into the Secret Life of Plants

Pianist Yelena Eckemoff‘s best work is typically her quietest material. Over the years, she’s explored a wide range of sounds, but where she really stands out is with her slow, wintry, often Messiaen-esque tunes. Yet her lavish new double album Adventures of the Wildflower – streaming at Spotify – is her most colorful and arguably best release yet. Stevie Wonder may have beaten her to the concept of the secret life of plants forty years ago, but the music here is as fascinatingly diverse as the floral kingdom itself. And the central flower here, eerily named Columbine, does not fade. Much as these plants send out pollen and fragrance, and even converse, what they do most of the time here, it seems, is battle the elements. This is a LONG album: hang with it and you will be rewarded.

The opening track, The Ground, sets the stage, Jarmo Saari kicking it off with an operatic swell on his theremin, later adding spare, resonant guitar chords over Eckemoff’s steady forward drive, while bassist Antti Lötjönen and drummer Olavi Louhivuori slowly emerge from the shadows. Vibraphonist Panu Savolainen’s starry solo backs away for the band to bring everything full circle, mysteriously.

Germination begins as an icy, deep space-scape, Savolainen’s glimmer signaling a bit of bustling swing before the twinkling chill returns: pushing up through this icy ground is scary. Eckemoff portrays Weeding the Garden as swinging between the baroque, a jaunty, surrealistic shuffle and a darkly bluesy vamp, Saari and eventually the rest of the band taking a wry hands-on approach. Soprano saxophonist Jukka Perko introduces Dog Chasing a Mouse, whose liveliness and humor is laced with phantasmagoria: poor mouse!

Likewise, Rain has a frequently gorgeous bittersweetness, Eckemoff supplying neoromantic crush but also verdant cheer in tandem with Savolainen. The swooping triangulation that opens Home By the Fence is foreshadowing: this homey pastoral scene turns out to be totally Lynchian. Then the band go into carnivalesque mode for Chickens, which is a lot closer to a picture at Moussorgsky’s dead friend’s exhibition than, say, Link Wray.

Is the lingering, fugal counterpoint of Drought a portrait of the garden scheming how to weather a dry spell? If so, desolation and struggle seem to take over. The thundershower that winds up the first half of the record takes awhile to get going, the band romping triumphantly out of the suspense, Perko’s Balkan-tinged solo setting up a roaring guitar-fueled peak.

The second disc opens with the slowly swaying Winter Slumber, Eckemoff’s languid, expansive solo at the center: the interweave between vibes and piano as it brightens is absolutely luscious. Individual voices push upward and begin to bound around in Waking Up in the Spring, a subtle jazz waltz.

Interestingly, there’s an elegaic quality to the baroque interplay of Buds and Flowers: it’s the album’s most conflictedly captivating track. The inner soul ballad in Butterflies, piano paired once again with the vibes, could be the album’s most unselfconsciously lyrical moment, the theremin adding a surreal touch.

Gently rhythmic belltone piano and vibes holding the bouncy Hummingbirds together, with echoes of pastoral Pink Floyd. The wistful, Russian folk-tinged waltz Children Playing with Seed Pods could be called Milkweed at a Funeral, at least until Perko pulls the song into cheerier territory. The scene where Columbine finally goes the way of all garden plants has a stately, bolero-ish sway and encroaching echoes of the macabre from both guitar and vibes, assembled around an energetic polyrhythmic interlude.

But all hope is not lost. Another Winter is the most echoey, improvisational segment here, Perko leading the sprouts up from hibernation. In the end there are Baby Columbines, and undulating wee-hours contentment from the band to match.

As a bonus, Eckemoff includes a charmingly hand-drawn 33-page fable in the cd booklet, further illustrating Columbine’s arduous tale of struggle and renewal. That we should all be so tenacious at this pivotal moment in history.

Clever, Deviously Picturesque Themes and an Upper West Side Album Release Show by the Daniel Bennett Group

One icy Sunday in Manhattan about six months ago, the Daniel Bennett Group were busking on the sidewalk, out in front of a shuttered computer repair store and a vacant barbershop.

It was about ten in the morning.

That’s a typical kind of stunt for Bennett. Why play later and compete with the likes of Jeremy Pelt or Chris Potter? All of them elite jazz musicians who appear at major venues and festivals. All reduced to playing on the street or in the park for spare change at one point or another this past fifteen months.

That’s what happens when live music is criminalized.

Being one of the great wits in jazz no doubt helped Bennett stay sane through the lockdown. He emerged with a characteristically sly new album, New York Nerve, streaming at Bandcamp. He also has – gasp – a real-life album release show this June 26 at 7 PM at the Triad Theatre, 158 W 72nd St. between Broadway and Amsterdam. Cover is $20; be aware that the venue has a two-drink minimum as well.

The album is a suite, a theme and variations. The opening number is titled Television. It’s a steady, suspiciously cheery, motorik rock tune, percolating over an endless series of gritty guitar changes, Bennett driving it forward with his steady alto sax and then clarinet. It sets the stage for the rest of the record.

The Town Supervisor, as Bennett sees him, is a folksy, wistful kind of guy, bassist Kevin Hailey and drummer Koko Bermejo maintaining a muted 6/8 beat as guitarist Assaf Kehati jangles and bubbles and exchanges verses with Bennett’s alto.

The group return to the brisk pulse of the opening track in Gold Star Mufflers, Bennett’s keening organ fueling an increasingly subtle disquiet beneath the busy pulse and occasional cartoonish touch. Likewise, Human Playback is a subtly altered reprise of the opening theme, Kehati hitting his distortion pedal for a sunbaked, resonant solo, Bennett’s electric piano tinkling and rippling. Then he shifts back to sax for a surreal, floating, spacy outro.

Bennett and Kehati burble and intertwine arrythmically over a deadpan, steady beat as Rattlesnake gets underway, sax pulling the theme together with a catchy, biting minor-key intensity. The group go back to pastoralia to wind up the album with The County Clerk, who comes across as more brooding than his boss (presumably that’s the Town Supervisor). The humor in Bennett’s songs without words always comes across most strongly onstage: these guys are probably jumping out of their shoes to be able to play indoors again without having to do it clandestinely.