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The Best, Most Darkly Cinematic New York Show of 2016: Mamie Minch and Steve Ulrich at Barbes

The best show of 2016 in New York – at least the best one where this blog was in the house – was in mid-October at Barbes, where guitarists Mamie Minch and Steve Ulrich played a live score to silent films supplied by filmmaker Russell Scholl. And it was unquestionably the the year’s most cinematic, which makes sense considering both the context and the artists involved. Ulrich gets lots of work for film and for PBS, when he’s not fronting his slinky, Lynchian reverb guitar band, Big Lazy. Minch plays her own darkly individualistic, wit-infused take on classic country blues and Americana when she’s not running New York’s only woman-owned instrument repair store, Brooklyn Lutherie,. Both players have shows coming up. On Dec 6 at 6:30 PM, Minch is part of an excellent triplebill with fellow oldtime country blues purveyor Eli Smith and rustic 19th century style string band the Four O’Clock Flowers at the American Folk Art Museum, playing songs on the time-honored theme of death and mourning to coincide with the museum’s latest, wonderfully creeyp exhibition. Then she’s at Barbes at 8 on Dec 16. Ulrich is at Spectrum on Dec 10 at 7:30 PM with his Big Lazy bandmate, drummer Yuval Lion, where they’ll join Bob Dylan keyboardist Mick Rossi, Barbez‘s Peter Hess and Zion80‘s Jon Madof for a night of similarly creepy improvisation; cover is $15.

The night’s first movie at Barbes was a surrealistically nostalgic Coney Island tableau by Scholl, Minch singing a sad waltz that she’d originally written as a member of the badly missed oldtime harmony quartet the Roulette Sisters. Low and somber, she built a similarly moody Brooklyn oceanside scenario, the amusement park as a metaphor for passion that could go drastically wrong. It’s her Wall of Death.

Then Ulrich joined her for a brief set of his own shadowy film noir compositions while another Scholl pastiche – a defiantly individualistic, snidely anti-authoritarian work, like a Donald O’Finn mashup without the endless parodies of oversexed tv – flickered on the screen behind them. The two musicians have collaborated a lot over the past couple of years. Hearing Minch play Ulrich’s signature, menacing chromatics on her resonator guitar was a real treat, Ulrich supplying his usual macabre, resonant twang through a skeletally dancing number with hints of Romany jazz, then a morose graveyard stroll, Ulrich’s angst-fueled insistence against Minch’s steady, mournful chords. They wound it up with tricky syncopation and more rain-drenched chromatics that gave way to reflecting-pool psychedelia as the film hit a comedic coda.

Minch scored the night’s final film, Windsor McCay’s pioneering 1921 early animation flick The Flying House, chronicling the adventures of a man who motorizes his home and then takes it up into the clouds in order to escape the evil bankster who wants to foreclose on it. You want relevance? Minch switched slowly and masterfully from one oldtime blues tuning to another. interpolating those graceful blue notes into the score as she retuned, moving seamlessly through gemtly waltzing, pastoral passages, bouncily romping interludes, elements of psychedelic folk and 70s British art-rock, hardly styles that you would associate with someone regarded as one of this era’s great blueswomen. After the movie. the two treated the crowd to a cover of Johnny Cash’s Committed to Parkview – a Hollywood nuthouse if there ever was one – as well as a take of the Beatles hit Girl that really brought out all the menace in a femme fatale. They closed out the night with a solo Ulrich jazz tune and then Minch’s funereal rendition of the Bessie Smith murder ballad Sing Sing Blues. Only in New York, folks.

Hannah Vs. the Many Release the Best Rock Record of 2016

For the past five years or so, Hannah Vs. the Many have earned a reputation for incendiary live shows and brilliant albums equally informed by noir cabaret, punk, art-rock and theatre music, with a dash of magic realism. Frontwoman/multi-instrumentalist Hannah Fairchild might not just be the best songwriter in New York: she might be the best songwriter anywhere in the world. Her torrential volleys of lyrics have stiletto wit, sardonic and often savage double entendres, and a towering angst that sometimes boils over into raw wrath. While her writing reflects elements of purist Carl Newman powerpop, epic Paul Wallfisch grandeur and Neko Case noir, she’s a stronger and more eclectic writer than any of them with the possible exception of the Botanica frontman. Her wounded wail is one of the most riveting and dramatic voices in New York as well. Originally a keyboardist, she was writing brooding acoustic guitar songs almost from the moment she first picked up the instrument, then pulled a band together and the rest is history.

Their debut, All Our Heroes Drank Here, made the shortlist of the best albums of 2012 here; the follow-up, Ghost Stories ranked high on that list two years later. Their latest release, Cinemascope, draws its inspiration from classic film from over the decades. In terms of vast lyrical scope, genre-defying sophistication and sheer catchiness, it’s the best rock record of the year (caveat: Karla Rose & the Thorns have one in the can that hasn’t hit yet). Hannah Vs. the Many are playing the album release show at around 9 this Saturday, Nov 19 at Bushwick Public House at 1288 Myrtle Ave; the closest train is the M to Central Ave.

The opening track, Smoke Is Rising begins as a pensive art-rock ballad, Fairchild adding a jazz tinge with her piano, and builds to a noisy metallic inferno. It follows the same arc as the suicide jumper in Fairchild’s similarly searing All Eyes on Me; this one’s about a woman’s self-immolation, and every metaphor that could imply. When Fairchild intones, “You notice me, don’t you?” it’s just as much a condemnation of those who would watch without intervening as it is a cynical comment on depressive self-absorption.

Lovely Resolution blends elements of Nordic valkyrie metal, punk and classic garage rock, carried by Fairchild’s melismatic shriek. It ponders questions of authenticity and motives in revolutionary politics, it’s the most punk track on the album, and it’s a good anthem in this surreal post-election netherworld. And it’s optimistic:

We are the preface of a new day rising
Last year’s hope
This year’s trash
Next year’s gods

Carl Limbacher’s bubbly bass opens the bitter Cameo, a chronicle of a flirtation to rival the crunching cynicism of the Church’s For a Moment We’re Strangers, tense blue-flame jangle giving way to an explosive chorus. Fairchild has written about the inspiration for these songs in a series of poignant, sometimes shockingly revealing blog posts; this one was spiringboarded by a late-night hookup thwarted by too much alcohol.

I won’t be remembered
I won’t be remembered
Curling up and drifting off under blanket statements
Draw near help me fight this chill
Resolutions wearing thin
Morals bending backwards
Don’t stay, only say you will

The skittish new wave that opens The Auteur gives way to stomping, lickety-split punk. Like much of Fairchild’s work, this one casts a cold eye on how men expect women to subsume themselves, how some women do so willingly, and at great expense. It’s also very funny:

Once we’re discovered the question will ever be
Which of us settled for whom?
It’s uninspired at best, another biblical fall
You’re unravelling under surveillance
And now we’ll all place our bets
On if you’ll come when you’re called

The saddest, quietest and most radical change for Fairchild here is Chiaroscuro. It’s a muted country song with a banjo, of all things, a chronicle of a family trip to a Washington, DC historic site as well as the divorce that followed years later, a psychological autopsy of Midwestern stoicism worthy of Upton Sinclair:

Every child becomes a murderer in time
We take our leave of absence and we scatter from our homes
They offer contrast, these killers out of context
Someone else’s brother has been chiseled into stone
Not ours, though.

The hard-charging Hotel Empire, as Fairchild has explained, is the album’s turning point. Up to now, the songs have mainly chronicled women trying to be good. All the narratives after this are from anti-heroines. It’s also the climactic song in a suite inspired by what was probably a horribly abusive real-life relationship. Fairchild uses the plotline from Hitchcock’s Vertigo, from the point of view of the Kim Novak character, as the springboard for this harrowing conclusion. “Go on. I said I’m fine,” is the mantra.

Surrender Dorothy is the key to the album, a lickety-split look at the madonna/whore dichotomy through the prism of high school musicals (Fairchild had quite a successful career as a stage actress while still in her teens). It sounds like Patti Smith backed by the UK Subs:

Cinderella’s sisters tell us
Nothing in the final edit
‘Cause we left them blinded, bled and
Screaming through the rolling credits
Made a mistake, played it straight
How many punchlines til she breaks?
Splitting on seams, no reprieve
What I get is what you see

Max Tholenaar-Maples’ scrambling drums and Fairchild’s distorted guitar keep the punk rock going fulll-throttle in Murder Darling, bookending Wells Albritton’s brief, moody electric piano interlude. It’s another example of Fairchild at her most savagely hilarious and spot-on:

Flash right back to a boy in need of applause
Evading playground taunts
From bright young things with eyes rolled
Beat that track! Daddy said you’re whatever you want
And how that promise haunts

NSFW revisits love-as-war metaphors, both musically and lyrically, shifting between a sarcastic march and wounded jangle:

Curious trend
Isn’t it strange?
What information you chose to retain?
All of my fears, none of my wit
Drape me in jealousy tailored to fit
Lining your walls
Faces you’ve earned
Duchesses hanging themselves on your word
Women of rank I have surpassed

Kopfkino makes a harrowing coda to the album, an actress at the end of her rope in a Holocaust milieu whose ending you can’t see coming, but which brings the song cycle full circle. In terms of sheer ambition, epic grandeur and cruel insight, there’s no other album that’s been released this year that comes close to this one.

LJ Murphy Brings His Feral Stage Show and Visionary Lyricism Back to the East Village

Great musicians reinvent themselves every so often. Bowie did it, and Elvis Costello has done it a few times as well. And so has.LJ Murphy, who is the closest thing New York has to either of those songwriters these days. The Bowie influence isn’t really obvious, although Murphy’s songs have a surrealistic side. The Costello influence is something Murphy has deliberately muted over the past few years, although lyrically speaking, the two share a fondness for irresistible puns, double and triple entendres and a defiant, sometimes venomously anti-authoritarian sensibility. Where Costello these days is a suave elder statesman, Murphy is a ferociously charismatic showman. What’s new in Murphy’s music is that these days, he’s fronting a band with three electric guitars, taking an already high-voltage sound to new heights of intensity. He’s bringing his megawatt show to a Saturday night East Village gig at Sidewalk on Nov 12 at 8 PM. As a bonus, Mac McCarty‘s new Spoon River Anthology-inspired folk noir band, Abraham’s River, play afterward at 9 with Walter Ego – as good a songwriter as anybody else on this bill – probably doing his typical multi-instrumentalist thing on bass, piano and lead guitar.

Over the years, Murphy has fronted an eclectic series of groups, ranging from catchy, new wave-influenced janglerock to volcanic electric blues. Although there were some brilliant lineups behind him in the mid-zeros – the version of his group, The Accomplices, with the crushingly swinging rhythm section of Josh Belknap on drums and Andrew Plonsky on bass, comes to mind – the current lineup may be the best of all of them. And as explosive as this unit is, Murphy has lately been opening and closing his shows solo acoustic. It’s kind of a macho thing, as if to say, “Yeah, this band is great, but these songs don’t need a band.” Last time out, he opened with the haunting, minor-key Fearful Town, an understatedly savage portrait of East Village tourist trap hell, and closed with the similarly poignant Saturday’s Down, a 6/8 soul ballad set in McCarren Park in Williamsburg back in the days when it really was populated with cops on horseback, sleeping drunks and men who work three jobs.

The time before that Murphy played a brief acoustic set in tandem with his multi-instrumentalist not-so-secret weapon, Tommy Hoscheid, who’s as likely to break out his tenor sax as he is to fire off a vintage Memphsi soul solo on electric guitar, or accompany the band on piano. The time before that – yeah, this guy’s worth seeing three times over the course of a summer – Murphy opened with Saturday’s Down and closed with the ominously aphoristic noir blues cautionary tale Geneva Conventional.

But the funnest parts of those shows were when the band was really cooking. Hoscheid and Dylan Treadwell on guitars, Murphy rocking his vintage Gibson hollowbody, the kinetically tuneful Quinn Murphy (no relation) towering over the rest of the group on bass and Jacob Kavell on drums. Together they blasted through the punked-out Stax/Volt of Happy Hour – a crushingly funny portrait of Wall Street happy hour dysfunction that anybody who’s ever spent time in the belly of the beast down there can relate to. They shuffled propulsively through the menace of another soul-inflected number, Panic City and its evocation of post-9/11 paranoia and post-3/11 horror, quite possibly the most relevant song written by any rock writer in the past fifteen years. They swung gently through the brooding cautionary tale Sleeping Mind, a poignant evocation of terminal depression, and romped through more upbeat numbers like the jangly, sardonic Damaged Goods, the enigmatically crescendoing Nowhere Now, the drunk dream sequences in the decaying Rust Belt noir of Buffalo Red and the explosively bouncy Blue Silence. As seemingly every song wound up, Murphy reached for the rafters with the headstock of his guitar, chopping at his chords like an axe murderer until the rest of his accomplices joined him. As far as feral, unleashed energy is concerned, there’s nobody in town these days who can touch this guy. If raw adrenaline is your thing, miss this show at your peril.

 

Lorraine Leckie and Her Demons Open for Americana Rock Legends the Long Ryders at Bowery Ballroom

One of the year’s most highly anticipated twinbills is this coming Nov 10 at 9 PM, when eclectic songwriter Lorraine Leckie and Her smoldering Demons open for the Long Ryders, who pretty much invented Americana rock back in the 80s. They haven’t played New York in this century, or for that matter, toured the US in almost thirty years. Their four-cd career retrospective, Final Wild Songs – which includes a stampeding live set recorded in Europe – is just out this year. This concert features the classic late 80s Long Ryders lineup of Sid Griffin on guitar and vocals, Stephen McCarthy on guitar, Tom Stevens on bass and Greg Sowders on drums. $20 advance tix are still available as of today.

Leckie’s most recent fullscale New York show was a rare smalll-club gig back in June at Pangea, a momentary homecoming sandwiched between European and US tours. As much as this was more low-key than she typically is on a big stage, the set was no less fiery for being somewhat quieter and a lot more intimate. She and a scaled-down version of the Demons – Hugh Pool on lead guitar and Tim Kuhl on cajon and percussion – opened with a hushed, seethingly waltizng take of Little Miss X, a sarcastic portrait of a bimbo du jour. From there the band made their way through a stripped-down version of the T Rex-ish Rainbow and then the rousing anthem Paint the Towns, Pool’s tersely resonant lines channeling 60s Memphis soul.

Kuhl pushed the sardonic nocturne Happy City along with a trip-hop groove, Leckie switching from Telecaster to piano. “When I go, I leave a scar,” she intoned with an understated, gleeful menace in Come A-Dancing, then gave an airy vocalese intro to a wickedly catchy, slinky, minor-key new number, Shake Off the Devil, Kuhl again supplying a clickety-clack trip-hop rhythm.

Leckie is hard to categorize – one minute she’s wailing through Neil Young-style electric Americana rock, the next she’s using all sorts of strange guitar tunings and playing enigmatically minimalist art-rock. She put the spotlight on that side of her vast repertoire with the propulsively brisk Man Who Walks in the Rain, the acidic, hypnotic waltz Dangerous Friends, and Climb Ya Like a Mountain, a shout-out to the noted mountain climber Aleister Crowley. From there the band shifted gears with another new number, the anthemic vintage 70s Lou Reed-ish Under the Vampire Moon.

The high point of the night, volume and intensity-wise, was another open-tuned guitar number, It Ain’t the Blues, Leckie airing out her powerful low register with the aching “It ain’t the blues, it’s only YOUUUUUU!” chorus. She closed with a couple of snarkly macabre, carnivalesque piano tunes. And electrifying guest singer Carol Lipnik – whose popular 7 PM Sunday evening residency at Pangea is now in its second year – contributed plaintive takes of two Leckie tunes. The highlight was Bliss, with its poignantly misty portrait of an old couple gone irrepairably off the rails, reinvented as an a-cappella showstopper where which Liphik accompanied herself on spoons. She’d brought them from home, she explained after the show, wanting to make sure that she had cutlery in hand that she could play in the same key as the song’s melody.

Morricone Youth Slay Zombies in Williamsburg

It’s hard to imagine a better way to cap off Halloween month than watching Morricone Youth play a live score to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Backs to the crowd, gamelan style, so they could follow every split-second cue onscreen, the band’s performance this past evening at Nighthawk Cinema in Williamsburg was a lot more entertaining than the movie. From the applause afterward, one suspects that the sold-out audience agreed.

The score is just out and available on limited edition neon green vinyl, the inaugural release in an ambitious series of fifteen soundtracks to the midnight movies the band’s played live to in the past five years. This one is a very cleverly intertwined series of three themes and variations, comprising both original soundtrack pieces and newly composed material. Although keyboardist Dan Kessler used his synclavier to trigger the occasional motorik loop, and guitarist/bandleader Devon E. Levins seemed to have an atmospheric wash or two stashed away in a pedal, everything else was completely live. Bassist John Castro matched a looming, booming presence to poinpoint precision in tandem with drummer Shaun Lowecki, who impressed with his tightness and subtlety despite having been pressed into service with just two rehearsals.

Kessler took centerstage most of the time with an endlessly shifting series of texures: eerily twinkling electric piano, sardonic wah-wah chromatics, ghostly music-box glockenspiel and warpy, rasping 60s synth tones. Levins lurked in the corner, stage left and alternated expertly between stilletto tremolo-picking, a little spaghetti western twang, elegantly menacing ripples and lingering, murderous ambience.

And like the movie, the score was absolutely hilarious in places. With an almost simultaneous flash of grins throughout the band, the group gently worked their way through a twinkling, sotto-voce love theme while a bizarre hint of romance between humans beseiged by zombies flickered onscreen. And the sudden, emphatic jolts in a couple of segments of the increasingly macabre main theme turned out not to mirror gunshots, or zombie deathblows. Timed to the split second, those sudden hits drove home the nails that the film’s protagonist was lackadaisically hammering in order to bar the doors and windows of the house that serves as the set for almost the entire film.

About the movie: for those who haven’t seen it, it’s like an Ed Wood production. Eighty percent of the budget gets saved for the vehicles and extras at the end. Watching how Romero pads the film to stretch it out to full-feature length – here’s the Pontiac going up the hill! Now here it is going down that same hill! – is funny at first and then leaves you wondering whether it’s time to take a break for a snack, or for the bathroom. Both of which would have been an option, had the band not been playing: the venue is primarily a bar/restaurant that just happens to show movies. The only real mystery here was where the box office was. “Upstairs!” hollered the guy behind the downtstairs bar. But the only office up there didn’t open until right before the performance.

New York’s Best 2016 Halloween Concert? At Barbes Last Month

As far as New York concerts this year go, the most irresistibly yet understatedly macabre Halloween music played on any stage in this city was Ben Holmes and Patrick Farrell‘s duo performance of their Conqueror Worm Suite at Barbes on the Saturday night of Labor Day weekend. Based on Edgar Allen Poe’s lurid 1843 poem, it’s a disturbing, grimly picturesque, many-segmented work – just like Poe’s flesh-eating insect. For a tantalizing taste, some of the suite has made it to youtube, featuring the similarly uneasy, Gorey-esque projections of Natalie C. Sousa.

A catchy, low-key trumpet figure with allusions to oldtime African-American gospel matched by moody, suspenseful low-register accordion opened the suite before Holmes picked up the pace, pensively and optimstically. The trumpeter narrated the first verse as Farrell’s accordion shifted into a morosely staggered waltz rhythm, Holmes’ brooding lines overhead echoing the Balkan music he’s been immersed in over the years, especially at this venue.

The poem follows the same plotline as Poe’s better-known short story The Masque of the Red Death. a high-society party turned into a nightmare – in 2016 political terms, there might be some symbolism here. Holmes put his mute in for a plaintive, rustically bluesy minor-key theme as Farrell held down a brooding, resonant anchoring ambience. From there the duo shifted unexpectedly from a momentary interlude of sheer, rapt horror to a bouncy Balkan dance, the trumpet soaring over Farrell’s rat-a-tat pulse; then the two switched roles and intertwined like..well, a giant worm and its prey.

After a briefly scampering detour, Farrell took centerstage with his big, evil, Messiaeneaque chords as Holmes did a Frankenstein sway several octaves higher. Since we know how the poem ends, it’s probably fair to give away the ending: only here did Holmes let terror flutter through his valves. The duo wound it up with a morose march. According to esteemed photographer and Barbes music room honcho Kate Attardo, this was the second time the work had been performed in its entirety here. Attardo knows a thing or two about good Balkan and brass music, and strongly affirmed that as good as the debut was, this performance was even better. There’ll be a “best concerts of 2016” page here at the end of the year, and this one will be on it.

Holmes’ next gig is on Nov 5 at 10 at Barbes with mighty, exhilarating Sinaloa-style ranchera brass orchestra Banda De Los Muertos. Farrell’s next New York show is on Nov 28 at 6 PM with klezmer fiddler Alicia Svigals‘ sizzling band outdoors at the triangle at 63rd St. and Broadway on the upper west side.

Morricone Youth Launch Their Marathon Film Score Recording Project with a Zombie Classic

It’s hard to think of a band more committed to darkly cinematic themes over the past almost twenty years than Morricone Youth. They started out covering the great Italian film composer’s work and quickly branched out into their own music. Their latest album, available on limited edition green vinyl, is a soundtrack to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, a mix of pieces from the original score plus creepy new instrumentals, streaming at youtube. It’s the debut release in a planned series of fifteen (15!?!?!) albums of material the band has scored for midnight movies and silent films over the past five years. Their Halloween night show at Nighthawk Cinema in Williamsburg – where they’ll be playing the album to accompany the film – is sold out, but they’ll also be at the annual Rubulad Halloween party on Oct 29, guessing at around 11 PM. As usual, the event promises to be a Burning Man style extravaganza featuring sets by Brooklyn’s original punk Balkan horn group Hungry March Band, haphazard gutter blues/garage rockers the YeahTones and Afrobeat funk dancefloor faves Emefe, plus “cabaret Scary-Go-Round, Jessica Delfino as Lucrezia Borgia, Kostume Karaoke Lounge by Alex Pearguson, and Dark Circus Extraordinaire by Abnorm Freakoeur.” Your best deal is to show up before 9 when cover is $15, otherwise it’s an extra ten bucks. Email for location and directions. 

The new album opens with the film’s original title theme, Driveway to the Cemetery: the band does it as macabre tritone art-rock with bandleader Devon E. Levins’ tiptoeing, eerily tremoloing guitar and Dan Kessler’s surreal wah synth. Barbra, the next track, circles slowly over a motorik synth theme for well over six minutes, Levins elegantly ominous tremolo-picking over the hard-hitting rhythm section of bassist John Castro – who also contributes a dead boys’ choir of wordless vocals – and drummer Kenny Shaw.

Traumatized is a lot more dynamic, and more typical of a horror film score: hammering guitars, moments of sheet terror and chaos juxtaposed with that shivery tremolo-picked theme. The spooky, barely minute-long miniature At the Gravesite reverts to the guitar-and-synth arrangement of the title theme, followed by the album’s centerpiece, the macabre art-rock anthem Beat ‘Em or Burn ‘Em, with its tricky metrics and horrified stomp-em-out interludes. The end title is the dirge Another One For the Fire, awash in tinkly glockenspiel, echo effects and evil chromatics. You’ll see this on the best albums of 2016 page here at the end of the year if we don’t run into a zombie apocalypse in the meantime.

And if you’re feeling sad that you missed out on the band’s Halloween night show, cheer up. You can catch their enigmatic, haunting, intriguingly lyrical former frontwoman Karla Rose & the Thorns playing her similarly cinematic originals at Berlin at around 8:30; LA punk legends the Dickies headline at around 10. Cover is $10.

Hauntingly Poignant Folk Noir and Phantasmagorical Rock From Thee Shambels

Thee Shambels have been one of New York’s best bands long enough to make it hard to believe that their new album, Lonely à la Mode – streaming at Bandcamp – is their first full-length release. Just in time for Halloween too! Frontman/guitarist Neville Elder’s wickedly literate, bleakly cynical existentialist narratives have never been more acerbically poignant, and the band behind him are onfire through a mix of noir cabaret, Nashville gothic, folk noir, retro soul and a Celtic-tinged ballad or two. Pound for pound, the album is somewhat less raucous than the band’s previous output. The production is lusciously lush, Claudia Chopek a one-woman string section floating behind Melissa Elledge’s accordion, Scott Kitchen’s bass, JJ Murphy’s drums and Sarah Mischner’s soaring harmony vocals. Matthew Dennis plays guitar, Alex Mallett plays banjo and CP Roth is on keyboards.

The opening track, Will There Be Women at My Funeral? has its beleaguered narrator costing out his own funeral over a swinging, Waitsish backdrop fueled by Elledge’s elegant accordion:

Will there be women at my funeral?
Will you press your sisters to attend?
How much do you think they’ll want for their time?
How much do you think I should spend…
Smudge your lips on my dead white face, add the cost to the bill…

And it just gets better from there.

Bad Timing is a slow, reverbtoned Lynchian soul epic set in a vividly detailed, seedy circus milieu where an acrobat’s “empty trapeze swings out in the dark,” as he falls to his death, Elder questioning:

Are the things we want
The things we need?
Are the things we need
The things we want?

With its subtle Brooklyn references, it could be a standout Joe Maynard song.

Caroline is more upbeat, a mashup of Blonde on Blonde Dylan and Walk Away Renee-style baroque pop. The album’s title track is a broodingly romping, masterfully orchestrated minor-key blend of noir cabaret and moody folk rock which wouldn’t be out of place on a Kotorino album. “Let’s throw stuff in the quarry,” Elder intones gleefully in the eerily shuffling Sister, “Maybe we can catch a stray cat.”

Elder punctuates the title of When Will We Be Lovers? with ominously tolling reverb guitar as the song gets underway, then the song build to toweringly majestic, angst-fueled heights. “I’m holding on for dear life,” Elder admits, building a vividly downcast East River tableau. in his characteristically flinty delivery. The slightly more optimistic, backbeat-driven nocturne Radio Down Low (Nashville) could have been a radio hit for the Wallflowers twenty years ago, complete with twinkling piano and mandolin solos.

Elder goes back to slow, moody, classic 60s soul for the breakup ballad Letting Go. Mallett’s banjo drives the sweeping, 6/8 ballad The Girl At the Bottom of the World, a love song that makes an apt companion piece to Roy Orbison’s In Dreams. Happy Birthday Baby (Going Down) takes an unexpected turn into wryly amusing lickety-split vintage R&B; the final cut is the surrealistic instrumental La Valse des Solitaires. Count this among the dozen or so best releases of 2016 and watch this space for an album release show.

An Uneasy John Vanderslice Instrumental Packaged As Collectible Art

Today’s Halloween song is the new John Vanderslice instrumental single, Mother of All Dead Time Factories b/w Convict Lake (For Minna), The A-side is a moodily surreal piano-and-organ theme, snappy bass over a techy trip-hop loop, like Goblin at halfspeed. The B-side has a similar groove, an uneasily ragtime-tinged parlor-pop number that brings to mind Andrew Bird. The single is available on 7” vinyl packaged with a limited-edition, signed 11 x 17 Guy Maddin print entitled Falling Man; the collage comes across as something of an update on Manet’s Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe. It’s expensive – $45 – but collectible value could justify the price. It’s the first in a planned series of vinyl singles paired with collectible prints from Cosmic Dreamer Music.

Celebrating the World’s Most Famous Suicide Song

What’s more appropriate for Halloween than the world’s most famous suicide song? The truth about Gloomy Sunday is a lot less lurid than the legend. The song’s composer, Rezso Seress, actually did commit suicide more than three decades after he wrote it in the early 1930s. It’s a sad tune, although the same could be said about thousands of other melodies from across the centuries, none of whose writers ended up killing themselves. Nor did Laszlo Javor, author of the lyrics to the first recorded version, by Pal Kalmor, in 1935. That reality didn’t stop the BBC and other radio networks from succumbing to an urban myth and banning the song until just a few years ago.

You can hear Kalmor’s wonderful dead-calm performance – complete with funeral bells and heart-wrenching strings –  on the new compilation album Hungarian Noir, streaming at Spotify. The playlist also includes the more famous and considerably subtler 1941 recording by Billie Holiday with the Teddy Wilson Orchestra along with recordings from the past few years, some of which are more Halloweenish than others.

A handful are ludicrous to the point of being funny. A breezy African pop version? How about a Brazilian rap version? There’s also a talented Cuban chanteuse whose phonetic command of English falls short of what a singer needs in order to channel much of any emotion, happy or sad, in addition to an instrumental arrangement by Cuban salsa orchestra Manolito Simonet y su Trabuco, whose icy precision speaks to the group’s professionalism more than their commitment to encouraging mass suicide.

But some of the new reinterpretations of the song are very creative. Matuto contribute a moodily psychedelic, cumbia-tinged version, guitarist Clay Ross’ Lynchian, chromatic reverb guitar mingling with Rob Curto’s accordion. Accordionist Chango Spasiuk approaches the song as a vividly spare, Romany jazz-tinged instrumental. Polish art-rock songbird Kayah’s spacious trip-hop take looks back to the original with stark vocals over lushly crescendoing orchestration. And unsurprisingly, the best of the reinventions here is by Cimbalomduo, a collaboration between two of the world’s most exhilarating virtuosos of the Hungarian zither: Kálmán Balogh and Miklós Lukács. Obviously, their take isn’t about pyrotechnics but slow, brooding ripples and lingering despair.

The best new version of the song didn’t make the cut – or the album’s compilers didn’t have it on their radar. Nashville gothic songwriter Mark Sinnis recorded it on his 2010 album The Night’s Last Tomorrow, and gave New York audiences plenty of chills with it before he headed for the hills and, ultimately, to North Carolina. Speaking of which, Sinnis returns to New York State for a cd release show for his latest album, One Red Rose Among the Dying Leaves on October 30 at 6 PM at Sue’s Sunset House,  137 N Water St in Peekskill. There’s no cover; the baritone crooner and his band will be playing two long sets. The venue is just steps from the Peekskill Metro-North station, and trains will be running for a couple of hours after festivities end at 11 PM.