New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Tag: nektar band

The Academy Blues Project: Great Psychedelic Band in Need of a New Name

Saturday night at Shrine, the Academy Blues Project put on a kaleidoscopically psychedelic, boisterously entertaining and sometimes LMFAO funny display of killer chops and deliciously unpredictable songwriting that spun through pretty much every good style of music from the 1970s, other than punk. The bandname is a misnomer: there’s absolutely nothing academic about them, nor are they particularly bluesy. If you’re into psychedelic rock and you’re in New York right now, they should be at the top of your bucket list along with Greek Judas.

Throughout two long sets, intros and outros constantly shifted away from whatever the song in between was. It was like Baskin-Robbins and Ben & Jerry’s combined – although it was straight-up Coffee Ice Cream that might have been the night’s best song, a biting, glittering, rhythmically tricky art-rock instrumental that recalled Nektar at their most epic, The band have a Big Lebowski fixation, and are playing a tribute to The Dude on Oct 28 at 10 PM at the big room at the Rockwood; cover is $10.

A raven-haired beauty at one of the front tables confided that she’d spent a good portion of her freshman year at NYU watching Gentle Giant videos with the core of the band. Which made sense – there was plenty of that band’s epically matter-of-fact, crescendoing sensibility in the songs. Peter Gabriel-era Genesis was another obvious influence, particularly in keyboardist Ben Easton’s carnivalesque neoromantic cascades, along with plenty of sly funk, eerie noir soul, balmy tropicalia and the occasional menacingly tidal organ interlude.

Guitarist/frontman Mark Levy has chops to match, shifting effortlessly through deep-sky spirals, leering Steely Dan funk, roaring four-on-the-floor Stonesy rock, a little chicken-fried southern boogie, and a gritty, hard-hitting oldschool New Orleans soul tribute to Allen Toussaint that suddenly shifted gears in midstream into a tantalizing, rhythmically tricky maze. He led the band out of a Keith Richards stadium rock stomp into a similar acid Lego passage, made latin soul and then a hammering, almost motorik drive out of a popular Disney film theme and then swung the band through Dylan’s The Man in Me, from the Big Lebowski soundtrack.

The funniest song of the night was Little Bird, Levy talking his way through a surreal encounter with a peace-loving feathered friend who hates the “human stink” of plastic and burning trash and bombs: it’s hard to think of a more gently apropos antiviolence anthem for this  year.

The night’s most epic number flowed in and out of a tongue-in-cheek, mariachi-tinged surf theme that the band sped up until they’d practically brought it full circle, when doublespeed was regular speed again. It was that kind of night. Drummer Jim Bloom and bassist Trevor Brown kept a tight pulse in sync with all the crazy changes; Brown finally danced some suspenseful octaves on an intro to one of the later numbers. All of the great psychedelic bands – the Dead with Phil Lesh, Nektar with Mo Moore, the Move with Ace Kefford and then Rick Price – put the bass out front a lot, and it wouldn’t hurt for this crew to keep that tradition going.

A Brilliant, New Wave-Tinged Debut Album and a Bowery Electric Release Show by Tracy Island

Let’s get any possible preconceptions out of the way, fast: Tracy Island are not a couplecore band. Multi-instrumentalists Liza Roure and her husband Ian Roure have played together for years, in the brilliantly lyrical Larch – which Ian fronts – and also in the late, great psychedelic new wave band Liza & the WonderWheels, in which Liza switched out her keys for a Strat. In the wake of the demise of the latter group, she’s been fronting a duo project, Tracy Island, with Ian on lead guitar. Now, at last, Tracy Island have a characteristically catchy, brand-new debut album, War No More, streaming online and an album release show coming up on November 3 at 8 PM at Bowery Electric. It’s a hell of a triplebill, with cult favorite Americana songwriter Rebecca Turner opening the night at 7 and then art-folk icons the Kennedys headlining at around 9, celebrating the release of guitar genius Pete Kennedy’s new album Heart of Gotham as well. Cover is a ridiculously reasonable $9.

Although Tracy Island is a duo project, this is a full-band album. Ian handles the bass and Liza the drums, for a tersely tight groove; in the spirit of the WonderWheels, this is otherwise strictly a guitar album, no keys. The two open with a WonderWheels song, What You Want, a perfect marriage between cheery 60s Carnaby Street riffage and vamping, watery, chorus-box new wave. Likewise, the metaphorically-loaded Playing Checkers, Ian’s icy strobe guitar rising over its balletesque rhythms up to its vintage soul-infused chorus. Then the two go back to the skinny-tie era with the seductively propulsive Midnight Lightning.

Low Strung reaches back toward 70s folk-rock, but with a Beatlesque stroll. Can Better Days Be Far Behind is a real stunner, especially by comparison to the cheery material that precedes it, rising from a brooding, wary stroll to Ian’s blacklit, reverbtoned Roye Albrighton art-rock incisions. The album’s most gorgeous and troubled number is Cold Wind, the duo’s aching vocal harmonies over Ian’s ominously chugging bassline and supercooled rivulets of vintage chorus-box guitar. The enigmatic instrumental break midway through offers a fond nod back to the surprisingly focused jamming that the WonderWheels would often break out.

The moody ambience continues with the plaintive Land of Opportunity, part early 70s pastoral Pink Floyd, part Richard & Linda Thompson, part new wave: “This is not the first time life has let me down,” Liza broods. From there the two take an unexpectedly successful detour into simmeringly wounded Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris Americana with I Spy. The album comes full circle, back to catchy new wave with Message in My Head and its wry shout-outs to a classic by X and also a 70s pop cheeseball by somebody else. Ian’s meticulously timbred blend of flash and focus have never been in better form, and the same can be said for Liza’s early-spring brook of a voice, so clear that you can see yourself all the way to its depths. You’ll see this albun on the best of 2015 page here at the end of next month.

And for a fun look back at how crazy the WonderWheels could get, click the listen button here and scroll down to the “Hall of Eds,” three pretty wild live versions of the concert favorite Eddie Come Down from over the years.

State-of-the-Art Heavy Psychedelic Band Mondo Drag Bring Their Stoner Stomp to St. Vitus

Oakland psychedelic band Mondo Drag’s second album – streaming at Bandcamp – is amazingly retro, yet completely in the here and now. As far as stoner art-rock goes, this stuff is state-of-the-art. It opens with a song titled Zephyr, which fades up with a galloping pulse, vocals back in the mix, John Gamino’s smoky Hammond organ front and center over the careening rhythm section of Zack Anderson’s trebly bass and drummer Cory Berry’s muted stampede. They wind it up with a guitar solo in tandem with the organ that wouldn’t be out of place on an classic Nektar album…or something from early 70s Jethro Tull. Everything about this – the production, the smoky vibe, the nonchalant expertise of the playing, is straight out of 1974 in the best possible way. Their current US tour brings them to St. Vitus in Greenpoint on July 18 on a killer triplebill with swirly post-Sabbath psych-metal band Electric Citizen and heavier, more boogie-driven Fresno stoners Slow Season. Doors are at 8; general admission is $12.

The album’s second song is titled Crystal Visions Open Eyes – guitarists Nolan Girard and Jake Sheley give it a murky, drony intro before the band hits an altered motorik groove, then that smoky organ hits in tandem with Anderson’s soaring bass – it could be the great lost track from Nektar’s Down to Earth. Shivery, aching wah guitar over a funky beat takes it down to an elegant acoustic interlude straight out of the Moody Blues.

The Dawn, with its twin organ-and-guitar riffage, is more straight up – until it goes on a doublespeed rampage, part Allman Brothers, part Nektar. Plumajilla is a swaying Santana-esque vamp, with twin guitars fading into the ozone, snakecharmer flute, a big, long crescendo and then a mysterious interlude like Iron Maiden at their artsiest that goes into gently ornate early Genesis territory. How much art-rock richness can one band possibly mine in a single song?

The most original track here is Shifting Sands, a mashup of Tangerine Dream and maybe early U2 – at least before the guitars get all crunchy. The stately slide guitar and organ intro to the instrumental epic Pillars of the Sky is as good as any Richard Wright/David Gilmour collaboration – Atomheart Mother, for example – and then brings to mind the gorgeously bittersweet spacerock of Nektar’s It’s All Over. The album’s final cut is Snakeskin, taking a hypnotic Brian Jonestown Massacre pulse back in time a few decades.

Anderson and Berry have since moved on to Swedish band Blues Pills, replaced by Andrew O’Neil and Ventura Garcia, who’ll be on this tour. Those are large shoes to fill, but you’d expect a band as brilliant as this to bring in guys who can fill them.

Jacco Gardner’s Period-Perfect Psychedelia Comes to NYC

Psychedelic songwriter Jacco Gardner’s new album Cabinet of Curiosities so perfectly recreates the surrealistically vaudevillian sound of 60s British psychedelic pop that it could be a parody. Consider: the central instrument here is the electric harpsichord. If you’ve ever killed time with “classic rock” radio, you know the sound: Ray Manzarek plays one on the Doors’ People Are Strange. Gardner delivers his paradoxical, sometimes befuddled lyrics in in perfect deadpan English, his purist second-generation Beatles melodies mingling with the baroque via an endless series of vintage and neo-vintage keyboard patches. Does he realize how completely absurd, and completely ridiculous a lot of this sounds? Consider: Gardner is Dutch, and while it seems everybody in Holland speaks English, it’s not everyone’s first language. Whatever the case, ultimately it doesn’t matter. Whether or not this is a homage, a sendup, a serious (hmmm) attempt to take the psych-pop pantheon to new places, or all of the above, it’s impossible to listen to this and not smile. The whole thing (along with other miscellaneous treats) is streaming at his Bandcamp page.

What’s most spectacular about this is that Gardner not only writes this stuff, he plays all of it, manning all the keys as well as guitars, bass and drums, all of them period-perfect! If Elliott Smith had been born thirty years earlier and had followed his muse into mushrooms rather than opiates, he might have sounded something like this. The Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle is an obvious influence, as are the Pretty Things, the Move and the Kinks in their airiest and artsiest mid-to-late-60s moments. Among current-day acts, the Smiles and Frowns and Jeremy Messersmith come to mind.

The opening track Clear the Air sets the tone, both swooshy and rippling all at once: the guitar doesn’t come in til the second chorus, and then it’s just an acoustic. The One Eyed King works a more classically-tinged minor-key vibe: “Open up the window to your mind so I can look inside,” Gardner teases as the mellotron pans the mix. Puppets Dangling continues in the same vein, a mix of oldschool chamber pop and fifth-wave psychedelia. Where Will You Go teleports the idea of Oasis’ Wonderwall 25 years back in time and improves on it immensely, sort of a carnivalesque take on the Moody Blues.

The most anthemic track here is Watching the Moon, making its way from a sureal waltz into more ornate territory. Gardner is brave enough to make the title track an instrumental, and a good one, with its ghost-girl vocalese and unexpected chord changes: with tunes this good, who needs lyrics, anyway?

The Riddle, with its wry Good Vibrations references, rocks harder than anything here: it reminds of Brooklyn art-rockers Aunt Ange. Gardner goes back to weird waltz mode with the aptly titled Lullaby, its Nektar-ish broken chords and long, dreamy fade, then raises the angst level and the epic sweep with Help Me Out: “I need another curtain just to make me feel all right…let the sunlight find me just before I turn into stone,” he intones with an eerie matter-of-factness.

With its warm harmonies and wistful catchiness, Summer’s Gone reminds of Love Camp 7. Chameleons contrasts nimbly fingerpicked guitar and resonant electric piano; the album winds up with The Ballad of Little Jane, a wry and strangely pretty ELO-tinged piano ballad. Gardner is at Death by Audio on Mar 3 and then back in New York on Mar 23 at the Mercury; it’s not known if he’s doing these shows solo or with a band. Either way, it should be a lot of fun.

Mothership: Tuneful Texas Metal That Doesn’t Waste Notes

Imagine a metal band that doesn’t waste notes or get self-indulgent. Hard to believe, but that’s Texas power trio Mothership, whose self-titled debut album is out today from Ripple Music. In a style where so many acts either ape the classics or the flavor du jour, it’s refreshing to hear a band who have an instantly recognizable sound, one that draws on 40 rich years of heavy rock but isn’t reverential about it. There’s plenty of post-Sabbath, Orange Goblin-ish chromatic riffage, but without the death-rattle vocals. It’s a compliment to say that there actually a couple of tracks here that could have been radio hits back in the 70s, when a couple of obvious reference points, Blue Oyster Cult and Molly Hatchet were peaking. Guitarist Kelley Juett is the real deal, capable of rapidfire Adrian Smith/Dave Murray runs but more likely to bend notes into the ozone and build a tune like Buck Dharma, or go surrealistically screaming in the same vein as Nektar’s Roye Albrighton. Juett’s bassist brother Kyle and drummer Judge Smith keep it low to the ground with a cast-iron swing, without cluttering the arrangements.

The opening instrumental, Hallucination, has a long intro that nicks Pink Floyd’s Welcome to the Machine before the first  fuzztone riff kicks in, multitracked bluesmetal  riffage with a neat Hendrix allusion kicking off a doublespeed stampede. Cosmic Rain is heavy Texas boogie as BOC might have done it – think Buck’s Boogie, but more creepy and sludgy, the bass kicking off a Maidenesque interlude that finally gets an overamped wah guitar solo.

City Nights motors along with a vintage Molly Hatchet groove, sounding straight out of 1978, with a wickedly haphazard guitar solo running down the scale and obliterating everything in its path. From there they segue into Angel of Death and its Motorhead-meets-BOC assault.

Win or Lose is not the Sham 69 classic but an original, sort of the Kinks’ Superman as Sabbath might have done it and a clinic in good, smart, heavy guitar: slurry chromatic riffage, East Coast boogie, nonchalantly maniacal tremolo-picking and acid blues. Elenin works a fast/slow Maiden dynamic for all it’s worth, through a squalling, psychedelic end-of-the-world scenario.

Eagle Soars blends Texas boogie and Sabbath into a crunchy, menacing roar. The album ends with Lunar Master, a hallucinatory biker epic that nicks the long interlude from Maiden’s Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, right down to the tasty bass solo and a zillion menacing, echoey layers of guitars as the song rises again. The vinyl record (!!!) and cd each come with a download card and a poster; you’ll have to supply your own hooch. And you don’t have to be a metalhead to like this: much as it’s loud and trippy, it’s also catchy as hell. Let’s ask the devil to send them to New York and book them into St. Vitus.