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Darkness, Light and in Between 10/25/21

Been awhile since the last playlist on this page. Some iutrigningly dark stuff, in keeping with this month’s Halloween esthetic; some lighter stuff to vary the mood. Each song title is a streaming link. Charming Disaster, Coloratura and Marianne Dissard are guaranteed ad-free; the rest are at youtube so you might want to mute your sound before clicking in order to avoid the ads.

Charming Disaster‘s Ourobouros is arguably the noir rock superduo’s hardest-rocking song. A phoenix in the making, or just a pile of bones? “Is this annihilation or metamorphosis?”

Lola Kirke‘s Monster is a pensive, slowly swaying, moody janglerocker with slide guitar.

Colatura‘s The Met is bright, shiny stuff. Imagine walking alone through the Metropolitan Museum of Art when it wasn’t an apartheid place. Then imagine if Happy Mondays hadn’t been addled by all those powder drugs and had a woman out front

Frankie & the Witch FingersMepem is a heavy, dark psychedelic soul jam with wah guitar and organ. Like Nektar covering War, with a surprise ending

Bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck and guitarist Nels Cline cover Lullaby, by iconic 90s/zeros rock band Low, in eight-plus minutes of sonic magic. Cline plays very subtle, somber variations on a low-register riff as Schoenbeck looms in ominously and then reaches for angst. The mix of clangy chords and plaintive, spare leads from the bassoon is tasty to the extreme

And Marianne Dissard‘s ongoing series of interesting covers – the goal being her first-ever covers record – continues with a bittersweet duet cover of Townes Van Zandt’s ahead-of-its-time 1972 ballad If I Needed You with multi-instrumentalist Raphael Mann

A Sharply Amusing New Record From One of New York’s Best Psychedelic Bands

For the better part of ten years, the Academy Blues Project were one of New York’s most consistently entertaining psychedelic bands. They got as far as the Rockwood, where they held down a long series of big-room residencies. Their annual Big Lebowski tribute was as much a giveaway to their sensibility as their sly, surreal live show. And unlike most rock acts in town before the lockdown, carefully scheduling gigs to maximize turnout and ensure future bookings at a handful of coveted, profit-strapped spots, these guys would take random dates at some pretty out-of-the-way venues just to keep the vibe fresh. It was always fun to catch them at an intimate space like Shrine, or Long Island City Bar, on an off night.

Although they’ve released a  handful of eps, their new album The Neon Grotto – streaming at Bandcamp – is their first full-length record. It’s like discovering your cool stoner uncle’s stash of artsy psychedelic records from the 70s. The obvious influences here are the Grateful Dead and Steely Dan, but there are also echoes of acts as diverse as Supertramp, P-Funk and Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. The band recorded the basic tracks right before the lockdown. After their members were scattered to the winds by the summer of last year, they finished it over the web. The seductive surrealism and archetypes in Meera Dugal’s album cover art make a perfect visual companion.

The opening number, Athens to Corfu, could be the good-natured Hollywood Hills boudoir soul tune that never made it onto Steely Dan’s Aja record. Frontman/guitarist Mark Levy tremolo-picks feathery washes and sunbaked, echoey blues, keyboardist Ben Easton starting out with starry Rhodes piano and drifting into an oscillating swirl, bassist Trevor Brown and drummer Jim Bloom kicking up the waves at the end. There is nothing remotely Mediterranean about this song other than the lyrics’ clever wordplay.

Turbulence, the second cut, could pass for a late 70s track by the Who: the metaphors reach cruising altitude and the brief, celestial bass-and-guitar interlude midway through seems devised for much more extended jamming. The album’s instrumental title track opens with a sideways Grateful Dead reference and then hits a steady backbeat pulse, Levy spinning his catchy riffage through an icy vintage analog delay pedal.

The album’s big epic is Rock Song (Don’t Step in the Gooey Parts), an aptly dramatic, tongue-in-cheek musical history of geological formations, from lava to ossification. The big sunburst intro brings to mind early Santana; from there the band truck like the Dead to an uneasily jangly Nektar bridge and then rising and falling echoes of Pink Floyd.

Make Believe, a big concert favorite, is part Blackberry Smoke newschool southern rock, part White Album Beatles. Prevailing Winds has Genesis written all over it, from Easton’s elegant piano intro to Levy’s big vocal peak.

All Will Be Revealed begins as a deviously detailed account of what could be a stolen election, or some other massive fraud:

And the innocents forget who’s master and who’s slave
Packing peanuts in their trunks, they join in the fray, they join the parade

Then Easton’s gospel piano leads the band skyward to Levy’s savage guitar outro. Who knows, this song could be more prophetic than anyone ever could have imagined.

They close with the instrumental Little Island, Big Volcano, Levy adding amusingly balmy Hawaiian flavor with his slide. It’s still early in a year where there haven’t been many rock records released, but at this point this is top-ten-of-2021 material. What’s even better is that the band have two other albums planned for release this year.

Guitarist Kurt Leege Reinvents Jazz Classics As Envelopingly Ambient, Richly Psychedelic Soundscapes

There’s considerable irony in that Kurt Leege, one of the most interesting guitarists in all of ambient music, first made his mark as a feral lead player, beginning with Curdlefur, then Noxes Pond and finally System Noise, New York’s best art-rock band of the zeros. Leege’s new album Sleepytime Jazz – streaming at Bandcamp – is his second solo release, a similarly celestial follow-up to his 2018 record Sleepytime Guitar, where he reinvented old folk tunes and spirituals as lullabies.

This one is calm, elegant, drifty music with a subtle, soulful edge, a mix of jazz classics from John Coltrane, to Miles Davis, to Herbie Hancock and Louis Armstrong. Leege layers these tracks meticulously, typically using his ebow to build a deep-space wash and then adding terse, thoughtful, often strikingly dynamic multitracks overhead. This may be on the quiet side, but it’s also incredibly psychedelic. Play it at low volume if you feel like drifting off; crank it and discover the beast lurking deep within.

Blue in Green has spiky, starry chords and resonant David Gilmour-like phrases fading deep into spacious, hypnotically echoing ebow vastness. Leege has always been a connoisseur of the blues, and that cuts through – literally – in At Last, his spare, gentle but incisive single-note lines over the starry resonance behind him. And Coltrane’s Spiritual is much the same, and even more starkly bluesy: shine on you distant diamond.

Georgia on My Mind comes across as opiated Wes Montgomery with distant Memphis soul echoes. Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage could be a particularly immersive, atmospheric interlude by 70s art-rock cult favorites Nektar.

Leege reinvents My Funny Valentine, artfully shifting up the metrics with equal parts Pink Floyd grandeur and Bill Frisell tenderness. He hits waltz time even more head-on in his version of Naima, the fastest and most hauntingly direct of all these slow numbers.

Neferititi, appropriately, is the album’s most delicate and hypnotic piece. The echoes come in waves most noticeably throughout Tenderly, tersely layered from top to bottom. And Leege’s take of What a Wonderful World is as anthemic as it is warmly enveloping. What a gorgeous record. It’s a real find for fans of jazz, ambient music, psychedelic rock, or for that matter anyone who just wants to escape to a comforting sonic cocoon

A New Psychedelic Cult Classic by the Greek Theatre

If Swedish band the Greek Theatre’s 2017 album Broken Circle – streaming at Bandcamp – had come out in 1975, it would be considered a cult classic. It’s 70s psychedelia at its most colorful and outside-the-box. There are moments that look back to Pink Floyd, Nektar, the Strawbs, even the Grateful Dead, but there’s no other band on earth who sound like this. Layers and layers of guitars and less expected instruments artfully arranged throughout the sonic picture, tersely atmospheric keys, and a spring-loaded rhythm section deliver smartly orchestrated, stylistically puddlejumping, relentlessly uneasy trippiness. Who said they don’t make music like this anymore?

Take the first track, Fat Apple. The opening quickly winds down to a delicate, starry theme with what seems to be a bagpipe wafting through the glimmer – Pink Floyd with Celtic tinges. “Castrate all your fears,” frontman Sven Froberg advises as a cautionary tale of a Dylanesque ballad, sparkling with pedal steel, suddenly appears. “See what you became, what a shame you turned out this way.” They take this seven-minute epic out with a swaying twin-guitar duel. Are we having fun yet?

Spiky, gleaming guitars and airy keys introduce Paper Moon, rising to a restrained gallop, a brooding tale of hiding out from trouble capped off with an elegant mandolin solo. Still Lost Out at Sea follows a drifting 6/8 pulse, lilting soprano sax carrying a wistful sea chantey tune over a low-key acoustic web. “Go back through the years, see how it feels, find out what’s real,” Froberg gently suggests.

“They’re selling drugs down at the mall, and though we know, we don’t tell a single soul,” he quietly announces over a similar, mutedly triumphant folk-rock backdrop in Stray Dog Blues, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Marty Willson-Piper catalog. They follow with the pensive instrumental 1920, its deft echo phrasing and balance of subtly dynamic acoustic guitars and distantly omious kickdrum.

The album’s unexpectedly optimistic, increasingly anthemic title track fades up into a rumbling sway, its icy, echoey, resonant guitar multitracks recalling Pink Floyd’s Animals as well as Nektar’s Journey to the Center of the Eye. From there the band go back to instrumental territory with the delicate, bluegrass-tinged Ruby-khon.

Likewise, Kings of Old has a rustic Strawbs-like intro, then the band leaps into an early Genesis-style vamp with more of that delicious, watery chorus-box guitar they like so much. The deftly fingerpicked final cut, Now Is the Time makes a benedictory, warmly hypnotic coda, complete with a calmly shamanic outro.

A Welcome Return by What’s Left of 70s Psychedelic Legends Nektar

Nektar were one of the greatest psychedelic rock bands of the 70s, sort of the missing link between Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead. Forty years before crowds of thousands were taking to the streets to protest corporate-fueled global warming, Nektar were putting out records with sidelong, acid-inspired cautionary tales about eco-disaster. After the band’s arguably best and ironically most hopeful album, Recyled, frontman/guitarist Roye Albrighton left. A lacklustre 2004 reunion cd, The Prodigal Stranger, was followed by an unexpectedly transcendent tour, reaffirming that they were still a mesmerizing live act.

Albrighton died three years ago. Since then, bassist Mo Moore and Ron Howden – one of the edgiest and most distinctive rhythm sections of their era – pulled another band together under the Nektar name, adding two guitarists – Randy Dembo and Ryche Chlanda – along with keyboardist Kendall Scott, whose textures match original organist Taff Freeman’s  mghty grandeur. The result is a new album, The Other Side, which hasn’t hit the web yet but turns out to be surprisingly fresh and invigorated. Even if it’s loaded with riffs nicked from Pink Floyd, Steely Dan and the group’s first incarnation.

The presence of Albrighton looms immensely over this record, from its innumerable baroque-tinged cascades, to the flaring guitar codas his songs would peak out with. And he had his hand in some of the material on the record, notably Devil’s Door, which opens with his own solo taken from a 1974 concert soundboard recording. The songs are a mix of lavish epics with lofty peaks and desolate valleys, themes morphing into different shapes like an Escher mobius woodcut.

The album opens with a nine-minute tour de force, I’m On Fire, a triumphant, galumphing dinosaur rock anthem that strikes a balance between the baroque and Led Zep, with a bridge that goes from balmy to Pink Floyd Wall grit It’s amazing how vital the rhythm section still is: Moore has the snap and crackle that elevated him above most of the other bassists of his era, and Howden negotiates whatever tricky directions the songs take with typical heavyfooted elegance.

SkyWriter is a a broodingly catchy ballad that Chlanda originally worked up with the band in 1978. I’s closer to ELO than, say, the Dead, with a minimalist Procol Harum-ish organ solo and a searing, Albrightonesque guitar break. The album’s most gargantuan creation is the diptych Love Is/The Other Side, an eighteen-minute monstrosity that begins as a pharaphrase of the Alan Parsons Project’s Eye in the Sky with George Harrison slide guitar grafted on. The segue into the title track raisies the energy a little, shifting back and forth between an orchestral 70s psychedelic sound – Pink Floyd’s Dogs is an obvious reference point – and slicker 80s chorus-box guitar sonics. An unexpected neoromantic piano interlude signals an eventual break in the clouds.

Drifting, a mostly instrumental number in 9/4 time, is another Animals-era Floyd knockoff. Albrighton’s gentle, pastoral intro doesn’t hint at the syncopated 7/4 pulse that Devil’s Door will hit – it’s a shock this metaphorically charged anthem didn’t make it onto a Nektar album, live or in the studio, in its heyday. Scott’s high-beamed, richly textured keys here are one of the album’s high points.

They follow the Synergy-istic keyboard soundscape The Light Beyond with the sweeping, unsettled folk-rock vistas of Look Through Me, Dembo’s twelve-string acoustic guitar front and center. They close the album with Y Can’t I B More Like U, a late Beatlesque ballad that they eventually take bouncing down the hobbit trail. Good to see these guys still vital after all these years.

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.

Heaters Bring Their Envelopingly Tuneful Psychedelia to South Williamsburg

Heaters‘ new album Baptistina – soon to be streaming at Bandcamp, and available on both green and black vinyl – further cements their reputation as one of the world’s most consistently excellent dark retro psychedelic bands. What’s most impressive about them is that a close listen reveals how seldom they change chords. They can vamp out on one for minutes on end and it never gets boring because there are so many interesting things going on, texturally and melodically: repeaterbox echoes flitting through the mist, shifting sheets of feedback and jagged twelve-string guitar incisions in contrast with an enveloping quality that seems to draw on Indian classical music as much as it does classic 60s psychedelia. The trio – guitarist Nolan Krebs, guitarist/bassist Andrew Tamlyn and drummer Joshua Korf – also shift tempos on a dime, making things all the more strange and compelling. They’re playing the album release show at Baby’s All Right on August 5 at 10 PM; cover is $10.

The obvious influence is the 13th Floor Elevators, but there’s also a little early Country Joe & the Fish as well as Brian Jonestown Massacre in the mix as well as a whole slew of other influences. The sonics are period-perfect: guitars awash in reverb with a clanging, slightly tinny vintage Vox amp attack, trebly melodic bass hanging back with the drums. The opening track, Centennial, begins with a Byrdsy jangle and ends with White Light/White Heat guitar freakout .The lushly crescendoing Ara Pacis puts Syd Barrett on a Magical Mystery Tour bus, while the expansive soundscape Orbis brings to mind early Nektar.

Elephant Turner pounces along on a tricky fuzz bass riff, sinuous guitar interweave overhead. Garden Eater sets a nimbly scampering bassline over a steady, swirly stomp and then floats off into spacerock. Another catchy fuzztone bassline fuels Dali, which then sinks in a morass of trippy waves. Then the band picks things up again with Mango, referencing both the Kinks as well as early 70s proto-metal.

The resonant spacerock ambience returns as the band sets the controls for the heart of the sun in Voyager. The album winds up with the teasingly loopy instrumental Turkish Gold and then the catchy, propulsively tumbling Seafoam, Del Shannon on brown acid, winidng up with the longest, most searing guitar solo here. This is music for people who won’t settle for merely being stoned: it’s a soundtrack for getting high as a kite.

Their excellent, somewhat more kinetic previous album Holy Water Pool is also streaming at Bandcamp, for the most part. Kamikaze, a slowly simmering, echo-drenched minor-key neo-Elevators number, opens it, bass rising as the chorus winds up, twelve-string guitar piercing the reverb cloud. There’s also the loping and then frantic spaghetti western blues of Master Splinter; the careenng Highway 61 vamp Sanctuary Blues; Propane, with its spiky/drony neo-Velvets sway and artfully menacing rhythmic shifts. the jangly, catchy Hawaiian Holiday and its playful tv theme references; the uneasy Bakersfield twang-influenced Detonator Eyes; Bad Beat, a mashup of early Pretty Things, Brian Jonestown Massacre and Radio Birdman; the starlit stoner soul of Gum Drop; Honey, a Blues Magoos/Count Five hybrid; Cap Gun, which very cleverly nicks the chords from a new wave-era cheeseball hit; and Dune Ripper, part BJM, part Byrds. The band takes their time with each of these, although they don’t go on nearly as long as that previous sentence.

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.

Mahogany Frog Make Quirky, Catchy Psychedelic Art-Rock

If you heard Mahogany Frog for the first time and didn’t know who they were, you might assume that they were a European band from around 1974. If you like your music terse and wrapped up in a neat three-minute package, this Winnipeg, Manitoba group is not for you, although their most recent album, Senna is a lot of fun. What differentiates multi-instrumentalists Graham Epp and Jesse Warkentin, bassist Scottt Ellenberger and drummer Andy Rudolph from the legions of artsy stoner bands from thirty years ago is that their songs here are all instrumentals, and they’re pretty much through-composed: hardly anything here ever repeats, creating a constant element of surprise, a surreal, nonlinear narrative. That the music would be so consistently catchy despite the absence of recurrent hooks speaks to the band’s tunesmithing. They employ a chateau full of vintage keyboard settings but none of the cheesy ones. Tempos tend to be tricky, although the bass and drums aren’t very busy: they go more for a hypnotic, looping rhythm. The guitar, surprisingly enough, is the tersest instrument here: no garish, extended soloing, just layers of incisive, occasionally noisy, biting phrases, one after the other. At the risk of sounding painfully stoned, this is an audio kaleidoscope. The whole thing is streaming at the band’s main page.

The album opens with the two-part Houndstooth, and within thirty seconds the echoes of Pink Floyd’s Echoes make themselves apparent in the gorgeously echoey, shimmering guitar riffs over tightly scampering keys, bass and drums. It builds with a tricky baroque rock flair and then sails with a David Gilmour-esque bite. A bass riff appears out of nowhere and signals the second part, which is a lot trickier, somewhat more aggressive with the guitar distortion and layers of keys and closer to what a lot of people would call prog (a listen to some of this stuff out of context might trigger an “eww, Yes!” but that comparison doesn’t hold up long: this band is vastly more focused).

Expo 67 (a Montreal historical reference) opens with a quick Welcome to the Machine-style envelopey white-noise synth intro and then moves to more straight-up and anthemic, with more echoey Echoes guitar, oscillating synth floating over twinned guitar/keys harmonies with a wry sense of humor: some of the late Billy Cohen’s artsier stuff sounds a lot like this. Flossing with Buddha is a catchy pop song, thinly disguised, followed by the album’s most warmly tuneful number, a diptych titled Message from Uncle Stan. Judicious Britfolk-tinged electric guitar multitracks build toward an anthemic Roye Albrighton-style crescendo, catchily looped phrases over a misty squall where the bass and drums don’t come in for several minutes. The second part layers dirty, distorted guitar and electric piano within tricky tempo changes, swirly organ raising it to a big crescendo; it ends enigmatically, unresolved.

The strangest, and most fascinatingly original track is Saffron Myst, a steady, psychedelic, early 70s soul tune given the art-rock treatment. Clavinova appears over a thinly veiled clave beat through a series of jazz chords that hint at a return to a catchy chorus but never quite go there; the ending is unexpectedly and effectively comedic. The album ends with Aqua Love Ice Cream Delivery Service, another two-parter which goes for a triumphant overture vibe, an artful blend of bubbly sound effects within a maze of slide guitar and crescendoing, whirling keys. It all falls apart in the middle and ends on a surreal note with a brief quote from a Jean-Philippe Rameau baroque sarabande. Moonjune Records, home to all things global and prog, put this out this past spring.

The Tea Club Bring Sweeping, Epic Grandeur to a Chill Little Williamsburg Room

The psychedelic art-rock epics on the Tea Club‘s third album, Quickly Quickly Quickly are closer to Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, Nektar or Boston neo-art-rockers the Brew than, say, the Mars Volta.  They’re playing the back room at the Gutter bowling alley at Kent Ave. and North 12th St. in Williamsburg on August 2 at around 9: if trippy, majestic, symphonic grandeur is your thing, see this band.

The opening track, Firebears, is eighteen minutes long. Yup, pushing Pink Floyd Echoes territory. Not for people with ADD, but for those with a long attention span and an appreciation for catchy hooks, there are thousands in this one. Patrick and Dan McGowans’ guitars roar and clang and jangle and mingle nebulously over Jamie Wolff’s growly, melodic bass and Joe Rizzolo’s flurrying, clustering drums, keyboardist Renee Pestritto adding neoromantic flair on synth and elegantly pensive piano. The Nektar influence is everywhere, from the dreamy, opiated interlude that reminds of that band’s Dream Nebula, and later the long symphonic crescendo that wouldn’t be out of place on the Recycled album. And while the arrangements are ornate, and majestic, and often sweepingly beautiful, they keep the tunes simple. It’s easier to picture someone in the band saying to another, “Wouldn’t this sound great as an audience singalong at the Garden?” as the closing vamp gets underway, than it is to visualize the band actually playing the entire epic  all the way through in a rehearsal room (although they must – and it might cost a fortune!).

The second track, The Eternal German Infant is about half as long and kicks in immediately without the two-minute intro. A litany of surreal images – “She hid the meteorite keys?” A “peaceful pepper witch?”- gives way to a triplet theme that winds down gently and rises again. The guitar and synth textures are tasteful and purposeful: distortion, jangles and washes mingle and interweave without wasted notes, a rarity in this kind of music. The same is true of the rhythm section: Rizzolo doesn’t go overboard, and Wolff often serves as a third guitar lead. As with the first track, a peaceful interlude rises to a big orchestrated swell. And the dream sequence takes on a disquieting tone: “When I looked back the house turned to flame, and everything turned black.”

The album’s shortest song, Mister Freeze opens ominously with wah bass, pensive acoustic guitar and a dark wash of string synth. It’s got more of a dark, folk-rock atmosphere: think the Strawbs circa Hero and Heroine but with vastly better, more down-to-earth production. The brooding instrumental break midway through evokes the doomy interlude midway through Iron Maiden’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It segues into the album’s final cut, I Shall Consume Everything, shifting from a moody Pestritto flute solo, up and down through alternatingly sinister and soft passages with harplike keys, once again evoking Nektar as the guitars go more and more unhinged.

On one hand, there are plenty of ponytailed old stoners out there who would trade in their extra copies of Yes records if they knew this band existed. On the other, the element that every year discovers Pink Floyd and has their lives changed forever by that experience will also love the Tea Club. Bet on them being around thirty years from now and making a good living places like B.B. King’s.