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Tag: noir music

Hauntingly Vivid Nocturnes and a Couple of Intimate May Shows from Hayes Carll

If Townes Van Zandt hadn’t drunk himself to death – or if he was born in the 80s – he’d be doing what Hayes Carll is right now. Pretty much everybody’s favorite outlaw Americana songwriter has a two-night stand coming up at Joe’s Pub on May 16 and 17 at 7:30 PM. Advance tix are $25 and as of today are not sold out, which is especially weird since he usually plays Bowery Ballroom or the Bell House when he’s here in town.

His spare, unselfconsciously haunting latest album, impeccably produced by Joe Henry, is Lovers & Leavers, streaming at Spotify. It kicks off with the aptly desolate Drive, spacious tremolo guitar and organ looming distantly over elegant, skeletally fingerpicked guitar and brushed drums. If the Highwaymens’ albums had an organic feel instead of all those cheesy sythesizers, they would have sounded like this. It’s a bittersweet lament for a restless spirit who can’t be corralled: “Burning both ends of the candle and you pretend that you don’t care.”

Sake of the Song is as much of a shout-out to any down-and-out songwriter as it is a salute to Carll’s brooding road-dog influences, from Hank Williams to Dylan and Elvis and Tom Waits, a gorgoeusly slinky Nashville gothic ballad:

Hitchhike and bus ride and rental cars,
Living rooms, coffeehouses, rundown bars
Ten thousand people all alone under the stars
All for the sake of the song

Good While It Lasted offers a bitter, more personal look at the downside of late-night barroom tunesmithing, part Waits, part Blood on the Tracks-era Dylan. That last muted cymbal hit will rip your face off.

The hushed waltz You Leave Alone is a vivid southern existentialist character study:

One conversation
One short-term destination
Can lead to a lifetime
Away from home
But no plan’s worth making
All the big dreams are taken
When you leave this world
You leave alone

Withs its lingering pedal steel and melancholy chromatics, My Friends could be John Prine, or the late-90s Jayhawks, or the Walkabouts doing their country thing. Carll brings back the subtle gospel tinges with The Love That We Need, a crushingly sardonic portrait of a marriage that’s lost its lustre. Love Don’t Let Me Down, the album’s title track more or less, has the feel of a lovelorn 60s Don Gibson ballad recast with the spacious, desolate ambience of the album’s opening cut.Likewise, Love Is So Easy is roller-rink soul done as Americana. The album winds up with an a final character study, casting a disconsolate, restless woman as a Jealous Moon. It’s no wonder why Carll likes small venues, considering how well these songs are suited to them.

Beninghove’s Hangmen Release Their Most Savagely Cinematic Noir Instrumental Album

In the jazz world, Bryan Beninghove is known as a monster tenor and soprano saxophonist and a connoisseur of Romany swing. But he’s also one of this era’s great film composers. His most interesting project may be his noir instrumental band, Beninghove’s Hangmen. Their previous two original albums both ranked in the top five of the year here; their new one, Pineapples and Ashtrays – streaming at Bandcamp – is their most eclectic, twistedly picturesque and definitely their funniest. Much as Beninghove’s creepy riffage and rainswept themes make him one of the small handful of film score writers who deserve mention alongside Angelo Badalamenti, he also has a snide, deviously erudite sense of humor and that’s front and center here. The band are playing the album release show on May 26 at around 10 at the Citizen, 332 2nd St. in Jersey City, about six blocks from the Grove St. Path station.

The album opens with Astronete, arguably the most sarcastic cha-cha ever written. Beninghove distinguishes himself with a faux-bubbly Rhodes piano solo, treble turned up to the point of distortion; guitarist Dane Johnson takes it out with some gritty metallic blues.

On one hand, the title track is your basic musical dialectic: bad cop vs. good cop, Jason stalking his unsuspecting prey. On the other, it gives you pause: the band hold their sarcasm close enough in check, and dive into the menace with so much relish, that they just might be serious after all. It starts off as a menacingly altered bolero, then the scenes shift through a balmy ranchera, cornpone C&W and a twinkling Hawaiian tableau. Meanwhile, the bolero theme winds up, then winds down, Rick Parker’s looming trombone and Johnson’s clenched-teeth monster surf guitar front and center.

Lola Gotta Gun is a very clever, Lynchian dub reggae mashup of Lola and Happiness Is a Warm Gun. La Girafe is a showcase for Beninghove’s subtle side, which is ironic considering how over-the-top cartoonish this loping, happy-go-lucky theme is. The best joke is cruel, it’s in French and it’s too good to give away here

Roebuck – a shout-out to the Staples Singers’ patriarch Roebuck Staples – opens as a simmering, misterioso Quincy Jones summer night theme and builds to a methodical but very uneasy sway on the wings of Johnson’s dark blues lines and Beninghove’s shivery red-neon tenor work. The careening, self-explanatory Elephant Stampede echoes the band’s expertly buffoonish Zohove album, a collection of instrumental Led Zep covers.

The lone cover here is a pretty icky Neil Diamond ditty that other bands have tried to make noir out of. It’s not up to the level of Beninghove’s originals, although it does bring to mind a teenage, trenchcoated Diamond lingering outside the girls’ yeshiva somewhere in Midwood, staring at a nine-year-old and thinking to himself, girl, you’ll be a woman soon enough. The album winds up with Terminator, which sounds like Nine Inch Nails taking a stab at a New Orleans second-line groove, as funny as it is ugly. Much as we’re still in April, there’s no way anybody’s going to release a more cinematically entertaining album than this in 2016.

Last night, it was viscerally painful to walk out on the band as they launched into the lickety-split monster surf of H-Bomb, considering how expertly feral their set had been up to that point. Has the leader of any band ever to play Otto’s Shrunken Head ever instructed his players to pay attention to volume and dynamics? Beninghove did, and the crew – this time including bass powerhouse Ezra Gale, guitarist Sean Kiely and drummer Sean Baltazor – delivered, through a scorchingly psychedelic set including ferociously expansive takes of macabre, chromatically-charged surf classics like Surf ‘n Turk and Surfin’ Satie as well as a trippy version of Lola Gotta Gun and an amped-up roadhouse blues-infused Roebuck.

Holly Miranda Brings Her Twin Peaks Pop to a Rare Small Club Residency at Hell Phone in Bushwick

Holly Miranda is one of the most distinctive and consistently interesting singers around. The former Jealous Girlfriends frontwoman’s nuanced vocals are sort of a cross between Marissa Nadler at her most energetic, and Karla Rose in a pensive moment. Tunewise, Miranda is just as much an individualist: she can sing gospel with anybody, is drawn to vintage soul music but also has a thing for the 80s (and probably current bands that look back to that decade). She doesn’t waste notes, but she also likes artsy arrangements. Her most recent, self-titled album is streaming at Spotify. While her most recent New York shows have been at Bowery Ballroom, she’s playing a rare, intimate residency on Thursdays beginning April 28 through May 26 at around 9 at Hell Phone, the swanky, charmingly retro boite at 247 Varet St. in Bushwick. Cover is $10, or $15 which includes a download of her upcoming album. The place is steps away from the Morgan Ave. L stop.

In the meantime, we have the self-titled album to enjoy. The opening track, Mark My Words follows a steady upward trajectory into syncopated new wave, built around a dreamy chiming guitar riff matched by  Miranda’s gentle, considered vocals. Drony baritone sax mingling with distorted guitar adds an ominous undercurrent to the slow oldschool soul ballad Everlasting, which rises to a mighty, searing, guitar-fueled peak.

Whatever You Want brings to mind Amanda Palmer‘s poppiest solo work, as well as 80s groups like the Joboxers, who mashed up Motown with new wave. Come On is even poppier, with hints of hip-hop amid the glistening, enveloping sonics and fluttery dreampop guitars. Pelican Rapids is the great missing Twin Peaks soundtrack ballad, right down to the oscillating, overcast, warptone analog synth having loopy fun with the tv show’s title theme.

A more oblique take on Twin Peaks pop, Desert Call has an appropriately surreal, spacious, nocturnal resonance, more of that smoky sax and an especially wounded angst in Miranda’s voice: for someone whose stock in trade is enigmatic restraint, she really cuts loose here. With its twinkling, blue-neon guitars, The Only One is the most Lynchian and best song on the album.

The hypnotically waltzing Heavy Heart rises from echoes of 80s goth to a big art-rock crescendo: “You see the lights are dancing as you swallow the poison pill.” Miranda intones inscrutably. Until Now comes across as a mashup of the Twin Peaks C&W of Detroit’s Whiskey Charmers and Australian spacerock legends the Church. The album winds up with Hymnal, a launching pad for some spine-tingling, stratospheric vocal flights.

Oh yeah – in case you think Miranda’s catalog is limited to sad songs, you haven’t heard All I Want Is to Be Your Girl. It went viral when it came out, probably because she drops the f-bomb a bunch of times. Text the video to al your middle-school friends.

Karla Rose & the Thorns Bring Their Inscrutable Film Noir-Inspired Menace to the Rockwood This Thursday

Why do we go see bands? To hang with our friends? For an excuse to tie one on? Maybe to transcend whatever trouble this century’s ongoing depression has sent us. If there are clouds ahead, and clouds behind, as Karla Rose sings in her signature song, Time Well Spent, her band will drive those clouds away, at least as long as the torchy, magnetic singer/guitarist is onstage. Karla Rose & the Thorns are the kind of act that you walk away from glad to be alive, firing on all cylinders, the roar of the guitars, slinkiness of the bass, misterioso groove of the drums and Rose’s hauntingly lyrical vocals still playing in your head. They’re bringing Rose’s signature blend of menacing, film noir-inspired torch song, jaunty new wave and offhandedly savage psychedelia to a headline slot at midnight this Thursday, April 14 at the big room at the Rockwood. The even louder, hard-charging, more Americana-influenced Marco with Love play the album release show for their new one beforehand at 11.

Rose did a stint fronting Morricone Youth, so it’s no surprise that there’s a cinematic influence in her music, although she’s developed a sound all her own. Her band is relatively new: starting about last July, she pulled this semi-rotating cast of players together. Right now, the one constant is the sometimes elegant, sometimes thrashing interweave between Rose’s Telecaster and lead guitarist Dylan Charles’ hollowbody Gibson. They played a tantalizingly brief show last November at the Mercury that landed on this blog’s Best New York Concerts of 2015 list, but looking back, their gig at Berlin a month beforehand might have been even better.

It definitely was louder. As you might expect from someone who writes lyrics that are usually pretty dark but can also be extremely funny, Rose typically zings the crowd with one-liners in between songs. This was not one of those shows. Fronting this group, Rose tends to be pretty inscrutable, but she was clearly out of sorts, maybe because she’d just spilled vodka all over her butt. “Very sanitary,” she joked, but otherwise she took out whatever was troubling her on her instrument. It was rewarding to hear that jangle, and clang, and eventually the unrestrained ferocity blasting from her amp while Charles made his way up the fretboard, chopping at the strings with an unhinged attack that made Dick Dale look like a wimp by comparison.

The best song of the night was a new one, Battery Park. Rose opened it solo, flinging her chords out over a slithery altered bolero groove, with a deliciously Lynchian, unexpectectedly minor-to-major change before the first verse kicked in. This is how Rose works at the top of her game: in the middle of this creepily allusive narrative, inspired by American Pycho, there’s subtle political subtext and also a hilarious double entendre that looks back to hokum blues. The joke is too good to give away. Charles eventually took the song out with a machete-through-the-underbrush solo.

The rest of the set wasn’t quite as feral but just as intense. The angst-fueled chromatics of Girl Next Door – which has a surrealistic, Twilight Zone-esque video, directed by Peter Azen – contrasted with the achingly sultry Sunday hangover sceneario alluded to in the bouncy new wave of Drive, as well as the serpentine, seething Time Well Spent, which seems on the surface to be a murder mystery but is actually a thinly veiled, exasperated account of trying to stay sane in gentrification-era Manhattan. Rose has a new album in the works, which, if this show is any indication, is a lock for best of 2016.

Rose also has impeccable taste as an impresario. This time out she decided to book the Paul Collins Beat to headline the show, and the “king of powerpop” lived up to his regal status as hookmeister and guitarslinger. And by the end of the night, Rose seemed to have her mojo back and was down front, dancing. You could do the same at the Rockwood this Thursday.

A Fond Look Back at a Brooklyn Show by Noir Chanteuse Gemma Ray

It’s hard to fathom that Gemma Ray hasn’t played a New York show since a tantalizingly brief, luridly delicious set at Rough Trade about a year and a half ago during Colossal Musical Joke week. While it would be understandable if CMJ turned her off to this city, the now Berlin-based noir chanteuse/guitarist was originally scheduled to make an auspicious return this April 9 at the new Owl in Lefferts Gardens. Unfortunately, that gig has been cancelled. Stepping in to fill the slot is none other than Patti Smith’s lead guitarist and powerpop mastermind Lenny Kaye. Botanica pianist/frontman Paul Wallfisch is booking the venue that night, and the rest of this week with some of the best acts from his deep address book, both from playing and booking artists at his long-running Small Beast night at the Delancey a few years back – one of the very few genuinely essential weekly rock events this city’s ever produced.

The grim, overcast, rainy atmosphere outside the venue set the tone for Ray’s set that September day. Inside on the high stage, backed by just a drummer, the black-clad, leather-jacketed, raven-haired singer brought down the lights and turned the venue into a sonic Twin Peaks set, opening with a mutedly percussive ghoulabilly number. Ray has a very distinctive, terse guitar style, flinging bits and pieces of chords in between strums, not wasting a note – Randi Russo comes to mind. Ray also had fun teasing the crowd by leaving her loop pedal going in between songs, a red herring of a segue machine.

Ray’s vocals rose from an icepick alto to a wounded upper register on the shuffling, staggering noir blues The Right Thing Did Me Wrong. She brought things down low with a skeletally creepy 6/8 soul ballad, adding a nonchalantly chilling guitar solo full of murderous passing tones midway through. Ray and her drummer swayed their way through the doomed, starlit, Lynchian number after that, her reverb turned up all the way. The two then made a return to shuffling, anguishedly bluesy terrain with There Must Be More Than This, Ray punctuating it with a series of tremoloing, gutpunch chords midway through. Then she fingerpicked her way through the folk noir gloom of If You Want to Rock and Roll. She closed with a cantering, low-key take of the Gun Club’s Ghost on the Highway, a slow, elegaic dirge and then a more direct, guitar-fueled number that was part Spector pop, part Julee Cruise. Ray has a new album in the works, and hopefully a return engagement here some time after that.

In the meantime, if noir is your thing, New York’s state-of-the-art noir band, Karla Rose & the Thorns are at the big room at the Rockwood on April 14 at midnight.

Fable Cry Draw the Crowd in Saturday Night on the Lower East

There’s a big crowd gathered toward the back of the room at Fat Baby on Rivington Street Saturday night. “You can get closer, you know,’” Fable Cry frontman/guitarist Zach Ferrin tells them. “But maybe you might not want to,” he adds with a hint of a sinister smile. Then he and a four-piece edition of the Nashville circus rock outfit – Jo Cleary on violin, Scott Fernandez on twelve-string bass and Rachel Gerlach on drums – launch into the lickety-split noir cabaret shuffle Onion Grin. Zach tells the crowd that this particular number is about getting too cozy for safety’s sake.

Fable Cry’s songs cover topics like making Frankenstein babies, and the kind of things that happen when somebody forgets to lock the gate at the mechanical monster park. Symbolism or just bizarre, creepy storytelling? Whichever – the band kicks ass. Ferrin fires off phantasmagorical flourishes when he’s not vamping out on a suspenseful two-chord minor-key groove while Cleary mashes up Romany and bluegrass licks. He’s got the eyeblack, the Halloween pirate getup; she’s more demure in overall cutoffs and black stockings. Both go out into the audience with their respective axes and get in everybody’s face. Funny thing is that the more they do it, the more people gravitate down front: they want to get in on the action.

Speaking of axes, Fernandez’s is huge. It’s about half the size of a harp and must weigh a ton, but he’s a big guy and it doesn’t seem to phase him. And instead of Chapman Stick-ing it and playing a million notes where one would do, he sticks to the groove and adds slinky leads on the middle strings when the guitar and violin are fluttering ominously and vamping out. Gerlach swings hard and she can play a mean Texas shuffle, but when the music gets darkest that seems where she likes it best: it wouldn’t be a surprise if she had a background in artsy metal.

Three of their songs tonight have a rapidfire, surrealistic hip-hop edge to the lyrics: Ferrin rips through them before they have a chance to settle in. The Train Song is the bluegrass/circus rock mashup; The Zoo of No Return is the missing-monsters-run-amok scenario. From Myth to Moon has a little Celtic edge; if memory serves right, they either close or come close to closing with the catchy Fancy Dancing, one of the numbers with a touch of hip-hop. Technical difficulties onstage on the part of the club limit the band to just a tad over half an hour onstage; it would have been fun to see what they could have done with a longer set.

Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith Haunt the Met Breuer with a Spare, Judicious Duo Show

Last night at the Met Breuer (formerly known as the Whitney), Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith played ECM noir. For those who don’t follow jazz improvisation, ECM is the venerable German label devoted to the spare, classically-influenced kind, and these two have a new album, A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke, out from them. It doesn’t swing: it marinates. And what a marinade the state-of-the-art pianist and iconic trumpeter came up with in front of a sold-out crowd that rewarded them with a couple of standing ovations.

That marinade had acerbity and spice, and if you buy the metaphor, astringency, but also a persistent unease that often drifted into ominousness and desolation. According to Iyer, they drew significantly on the spare, meticulously miniamlistc work of Nasreen Mohamedi currently on display at the museum, which is where the Metropolitan Museum of Art has decided to stash their modern collection. The chemistry and cameraderie between the two players was comfortable to the point of joyous restraint. Each musician played with economy, Iyer with a chilly, airconditioned judiciousness, otherworldly Messiaenic harmonies, bell tones and an incessant, stygian pedalpoint that he finally took into the upper registers. For someone so direct, transparent and dedicated to getting the max out of the min, Smith employed a surprising amount of extended technique, from valve-shivering harmonics to ghostly wisps of breath.

This being a duo improvisation, there was all sorts of repartee, but ultimately the conversation wound down to “I’ve got your back.” Each anchored the other when he’d go out on a limb, Smith often providing calm, steady half-notes while Iyer clustered or insistently chiseled out space, Iyer providing moody reflecting pools and upper-register penlight illumination when Smith would fire off a series of flurries. Including the encore, there seemed to be six discrete pieces, most of them following a segue. Each segment followed a steady series of upward and downward arcs, Smith using his mute when the shadows grew longest, Iyer switching back and forth between piano and Rhodes as well as a mini-synth and mixer which he used for distant atmospherics and, finally, a persistent, looping rhythm. In the end, they came full circle, back to Iyer’s high/low, troubled/guardedly optimistic dialectics, Smith hovering with a magisterial warmth overhead.

And as if to say to the crowd, “You’ve earned it,” the encore was more still, and minimalistic, and rapt than anything they’d done  to that point – but also prayerful and ultimately hopeful. At the end, Smith went way up high for a fleeting two-note phrase and then immediately looked to Iyer with a we-got-it grin. Iyer sat motionless, holding down the keys: he wasn’t going to give anything away until its time. It made for an unexpectedly amusing ending to broodingly rapt night. Iyer and Smith are embarking on a US tour; dates are here.

The Legendary Shack Shakers Bring Their Expertly Menacing Party to the Bell House

The Legendary Shack Shakers are at the peak of their long career in creepy, sometimes macabre, cynical Americana party music. Frontman JD Wilkes has never sounded more in command of the dark side of every roots rock style ever invented: ghoulabilly, southwestern gothic, garage rock, punk and blues. They’re one of the few bands alive who can match the offhandedly savage minor-key intensity of Australian legends Radio Birdman. a band they often resemble. They’ve been hitting New York regularly over the last couple of years; their next gig is a headline slot at the Bell House on April 7. Raucous southern roots/jamgrass/honkytonk band the Pine Hill Haints open the night at 9; $15 advance tix, available at the venue box office, are your best bet.

The Shack Shakers’ latest album is The Southern Surreal, out from Jello Biafra’s label, Altenative Tentacles and streaming at Spotify. The first track, Mud, is a scampering, banjo-driven ghoulgrass shuffle. Its funniest number is Misamerica. 60s noir garage as Stiv Bators would have done it circa 1979, or Radio Birdman at three-quarter speed. “Bloody lipstick all over her teeth…the queen of idiocracy…from the party line to the tv screen,” Wilkes intones.

Cold, a loping gothic cowboy ballad, wouldn’t be out of place in the Mark Sinnis catalog; then guitarist Rod Hamdallah fires off a Birdman riff as the chorus kicks in. Gloomy lyrics soar over snarling Stonesy guitars on The One That Got Away, which looks back to a classic Grateful Dead anthem. Let the Dead Bury the Dead blends tongue-in-cheek noir cabaret and punked out Tex-Mex, while Young Heart, Old Soul represents the lighter side of the band, a carefree, stomping ska number, like the Slackers with distorted guitars

Fool’s Tooth, a brief blues vamp with honking harmonica sets things up for Down to the Bone, a southern psych-soul vamp. They really mix things up here: Christ Almighty, a lickety-split update on the Yardbirds or early Pretty Things, gets followed by Demon Rum, a snidely nonchalant honkytonk piano number.

Buzzard & the Bell, by drummer Chris Whitacre, makes a creepy shuffle out of a 1920s style Greek gangster tune, like Greek Judas in English. The album closes with a similarly menacing, slinky take of the Albert King blues classic Born Under a Bad Sign. The tracks are punctuated by fragmentary, sardonic samples including a really grisly roadkill story.

Their 2003 album Cockadoodledont also got a welcome reissue recently and is up at Spotify as well. Its first track, Pinetree Boogie is dirtier than the Yardbirds but tighter than, say, Knoxville Girls. The swamp-rock CB Song offers a darker take on a silly novelty genre. Help Me From My Brain spices frantic World Inferno circus-rock with eerie Romany and Balkan riffs

Shakerag Holler welds a slyly shuffling oldtimey blues to a split-second detour into hardcore punk. Hunkerdown bounces along on a familiar Doors riff, while Clodhopper goes in a sardonic jug band direction. Bullfrog Blues mashes up Radio Birdman and an Otis Rush classic, with more of that honking blues harp.

Blood on the Bluegrass foreshadows punkgrass bands like the Devil Makes Three. Devil’s Night Auction is your basic rockabilly dressed up in a flickering Halloween costume. Wild Wild Lover offers a nod to the haphazard shuffles of the early Gun Club, while the cover of Slim Harpo’s ShakeYour Hips improves on than the Stones version, although it’s not as feral as Randi Russo’s. The album winds up with the punkabilly Hoptown Jailbreak It’s good to see this back in print: you will probably get some of both albums and a lot more in Gowanus on the 7th.

Walter Ego Brings His Hilarious, Edgy Marathon Recording Project to a Saturday Night Show

Walter Ego could be characterized as Elliott Smith with a better sense of humor and command of a more diverse number of styles. Bass is Walter Ego’s main axe, but he also plays pretty much every other instrument you’d want in a rock band. Last year, he challenged himself to record two songs a month. The result is his 24 in 2015 playlist, streaming at his site and available as a free download. He’s playing his dozen favorite tracks from the project this Saturday night, March 26 at 7 PM at Sidewalk.

Much as a lot of these songs are very funny, they’re also relevant. Walter Ego doesn’t suffer fools gladly, he abhors gun violence and blind obedience. The project’s first songs are typically just a single instrument and vocals; as it goes on, the songs get more fleshed out, Walter Ego as a one-man orchestra. The first number, Triangle Player, is a characteristically tragicomic one. See, Walter Ego is also a classical music fan. This elegant piano waltz contemplates the job of an orchestral triangle player, who doesn’t have a very hard job…yet it has some unique frustrations. The second January tune, Why Can’t It Stay Exactly Like This Forever is guitar and vocals, a subtly sarcastic look at how change might not be such a bad thing after all:

Dylan goes electric
John Henry is replaced
She loves you not, she doesn’t care
Dylan stays acoustic
John Henry keeps his job
She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah

The punchline after that, like a lot of them here, is too good to spoil.

February’s first song is a darkly chromatic noir cabaret piano number, We’re Going In the Wrong Direction, with another metaphorically-charged lyric and one of the album’s more vividly icy vocals. Be My Enemy also has a noir cabaret feel, an irresistibly amusing reference to an iconic Pink Floyd song, and the kind of subtly savage political message that will recur many times throughout these songs.

March’s first song is In Threes, an art-rock piano ballad, Walter Ego having fun with numbers and celebrity death myths. The second one is The Banishment Button, a swinging phaser-guitar rocker that seems like it’s going to be punk rock but has a lot more depth than that. April’s recordings include the darkly catchy art-rock anthem Everything’s Captured, weighing the “pros” and cons of the surveillance state, and Do Over, a sardonic new wave vignette weighing the dilemmas of ontogeny recapitulating philogeny.

The diptych Difficult Street is a slinky, sarcastic organ-and-drums number told from the point of view of a spoiled one-tenth-of-one-percenter. After that, the Moody Blues-esque folk-rock anthem Making Money – a droll counterfeiter’s tale – makes a good segue. June is represented by This Is What Happens, a coy right-brain-versus-left-brain scenario, and the absolutely brilliant I Woke Up In the Modern World, a vintage Springsteenesque sendup to paleoconservatives.

Set to swinging parlor piano pop, My Manifesto offers a subtly creepy look inside the head of a Unabomber type. If You Could See Inside My Head continues the theme – as goofy as this shuffle is, in a way it’s even creepier: “I guess that you think that amatuer brain surgery is fun,” the narrator taunts.

The surrealistically bouncy Radio Backwards is a twistedly hilarious counterpart to Elvis Costello’s Radio Radio. Say What’s On Your Mind take a snidely slinkys slap upside the head of a passive-aggressive type, one of the few songs here where Walter Ego really cuts loose on the bass.

Who Says I Have to Be Consistent is one of the funniest and most spot-on tracks here: as usual, it’s the song’s implication that’s funniest. The punchy psych-pop tune What Was I Thinking About? introduces horns for the first time; it’s one of the most poignant numbers here, bringing to mind Lee Feldman‘s recent work. By contrast, the swaying paisley underground-tinged White Bones offers a cruelly accurate answer to anyone who might dispute the science that establishes Africa as the birthplace of humankind.

Electric lead guitar makes its entramce in The Red Mercury Blues. a salute to a dangerous element that’s not easily labeled. I Am Here Now is the most surreal number here, a vamping Velvets-ish look at a post-Facebook world, with a trick ending.

The playlist winds up with three of its strongest tracks. With its jungly drums, blippy organ and synth brass, Welcome to Us blends elements of Afrobeat and psychedelia: finally, twenty tracks into the album, Walter Ego takes a guitar solo, and it’s good! Give Me a Gun For Christmas is just plain hilarious as a spoof of Xmas songs in general. And Martin Luther King Zombie Killer is just about as amusing, imagining a secret life for the civil rights leader, who “had a dream but also had a nightmare.” As usual, the subtext is murderously funny, and cruelly accurate. If the best album of the year is measured in terms of both quality and quantity, it’s going to be next to impossible for anyone to top this in 2016.

Murder Ballad Mondays Makes a Mean Return to Fort Greene on the 21st

A monthly residency is a sneaky way to keep your fanbase coming out without stating the obvious, that they could always blow off your show this month and catch you next time around. After all, who can keep track of when the third Thursday of the month is going to fall, other than the band playing that night?

A lot of touring artists use small New York venues as an anchor when they’re here – or as a rehearsal room, basically. Barbes is home base to many of the elite among them, most notably Big Lazy (first Friday of the month at 10) and Rachelle Garniez (first Thursday at 8). There are also a trio of good acts using Sidewalk to keep themselves sharp: guitarist Lenny Molotov’s bitingly lyrical original oldtime swing band the Fascinators (first Saturday at 8), Mac McCarty‘s careening folk noir Kidd Twist Band (first Saturday at 9) and the darkly eclectic, avant garde-inclined Lorraine Leckie (third Friday at 11, including tonight the 18th).

This blog’s favorite monthly residency is Murder Ballad Mondays at Branded Saloon. Like Paul Wallfisch‘s late, lamented Small Beast at the Delancey, it’s blogbait. Any lazy blogger can save himself or herself four or five separate nights out and catch several of the best acts in town all on the same bill on an off night that doesn’t conflict with anything. And it’s become a hit with the local Fort Greene contingent.

Last month’s was a prime example: with cold rain pelting the slush outside, torchy noir singer Ellia Bisker and her guitarslinging Charming Disaster conspirator Jeff Morris packed the place and treated folks to a deliciously lowlit, lurid evening. They used to treat the crowd to at least a short set, but lately they’ve been teasing everybody with just a song or two. This time out their contributions were a slinky version of a shadowy, swing-infused new number with some hilarious rhyme schemes as well as Murderer, Charming Disaster’s signature song of sorts, a coldly wary, subtle cautionary tale reminding that the perfect crime has no witnesses.

Jessi Robertson set the bar high right off the bat. Hauntingly resonant, deeply soul-infused vocals fused with lead guitarist Rony Corcos’ similarly lingering, bluesy lead lines and elegantly jangly phrasing. Part of Robertson’s appeal is that her big crescendos sometimes seem triumphant and celebratory when they’re actually venomous, and their first song was a prime example. They also made their way through the bristling underbrush of a folk noir number and closed with a fiery PJ Harvey cover.

Liz Tormes, this city’s leading exponent of murder ballads, brought the ambience down to a blue-flame intensity, mining the catalogs of Peter Rowan and Bill Monroe, her own calmly and murderously alluring repertoire and closed with a stark Elizabethan suicide song. Former Snow frontwoman Hilary Downes sang a calmly brooding version of the Townes Van Zant classic Pancho & Lefty. And Mudville – singer/keyboardist Marilyn Carino and brilliant bassist Ben Rubin – kept the simmeringly ominous ambience going with noir cabaret takes on the Misfits and Tom Waits as well as an even more allusively venomous original.

That’s what makes Murder Ballad Mondays so interesting – it’s taking the concept of songs about killing people far beyond the time-honored Britfolk/Appalachian tradition. The more you know about music, the more you realize just how much we have in common: no matter the culture, people around the world just love to kill each other. And then write about it. This coming Murder Ballad Monday on March 21 starts at 8 sharp and features Charming Disaster, Elisa Flynn – whose rapturously haunting voice is matched by her historically-informed, erudite tunesmithing – and others TBA who will probably be just as good.

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