New York Music Daily

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Tag: oren bloedow

Another Dark Lyrical Masterpiece From Elysian Fields

Elysian Fields earned an avid cult following for their torchy, noir sound, fueled by frontwoman Jennifer Charles’ smoldering vocals. Since the 90s, they’ve become more epic and cinematic, so their latest album, Pink Air – streaming at Bandcamp – is a something of a departure for them. It’s arguably the most starkly straight-ahead rock record they’ve ever made. It’s also their most overtly political album, obviously inspired by the grim events since the 2016 Presidential election. And it’s one of the half-dozen best albums to come out in 2018 so far. The band are currently on European tour; the next stop is the Milla Club, Holzstrasse 28 in Munich on Oct 19 at 8 PM. Lucky concertgoers can get in for €15.30.

Polymath guitarist Oren Bloedow’s eerie chromatic bends open the album’s first song, Storm Cellar, a black-humor look at the complications of creating art while the whole world is dying – literally. Charles paints a wry picture of bunker life over a steady, simple, anthemic new wave groove from bassist Jonno Linden and drummer Matt Johnson.

The jangle of Bloedow’s twelve-string alongside Simon Hanes’ Strat open Star Sheen with Church-like lusciousness, then the two mute their strings as the song sways and Charles’ opiated vocals contemplate solitude and a certain kind of self-deception:

Only dark can feed the soul
If you don’t manipulate it
When a silent earth has spoken
Planets swoop intoxicated

Likewise, the spectre of death lingers in the distance in the muted Beyond the Horizon:

And though the flames are low
I know that they’re climbing
The neolithic flint that’s making a spark…

Thomas Bartlett’s steady lattice of electric piano anchors guest trumpeter CJ Camarieri’s balmy solo.

The guitars get growlier and Charles’ vocals get sultrier in Tidal Wave, a new wave-ish throwback to the band’s early days. Over backdrop that grows from hazy to hypnotically direct, Karen 25 is arguably the album’s most chilling track, an allusively grisly dystopic scenario from a very imminent future:

I met Karen 25 the last days of the archives
Our instructions scrub the files
From the master hard drive…

Over Bloedow’s spare, poignant jangle, Charles’ breathy sarcasm addressing an unnamed patriarchal figure in Start in Light is absolutely withering:

This world could be bought and sold
So many people
Busy doing what they’re told
But the right stuff
Ain’t the right stuff
It’s just old

Rising from nebulous to bitingly anthemic, the album’s centerpiece is Philistine Jackknife, a spot-on portrait of “festering piehole’ Donald Trump and his “horrowshow that’s now livestreaming:”

Can we smoke him out
Tear him from the garish tower
Mercenaries standing by
Clocking in by the hour

Dispossessed is a contemplation of the the challenge to find any kind of stability in these precarious times. The most elegiac. apocalyptic number here is Household Gods, a horror-stricken gothic tableau, Charles intoning soberly about “Watching from a window like a shadow play/Down below, no one can tell that they’ve run away.”

With a searing Bloedow solo at the center, the album’s hardest-rocking track is Knights of the White Carnation, a spot-on critique of the neoliberal drift toward fascism:

A dark illumination
A murdering resurrection
Lords and Queens of the castle walls
Heirs of the great plantations
Hands that whipped black skin
Hold the keys of the private prisons

The album winds up with Time Capsule, a wistfully uneasy childhood reminiscence that brings to mind Bloedow’s collaborations with another extraordinary singer, Jenifer Jackson. Look for this album on the best of 2018 page at the end of the year.

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La Mar Enfortuna Lead a Haunting Guided Tour of Sephardic Music at the Jewish Museum

There was a point last night at the Jewish Museum where La Mar Enfortuna guitarist Oren Bloedow, playing a gorgeous black hollowbody Gibson twelve-string, hit an achingly ringing, clanging series of tritones. Violinist Dana Lyn answered him with a flittingly menacing couple of high, microtonal riffs. It was like being at Barbes, or the Owl, except on the Upper East Side.

That good.

For four years now, the Bang on a Can organization has been partnering with the Jewish Museum for a series of concerts that dovetail with current exhibits there. This time out, La Mar Enfortuna’s starkly beautiful Sephardic art-rock and reinventions of ancient Jewish themes from across the Middle East and North Africa were paired with the ongoing Modigliani show.

Since the 90s, Bloedow and his charismatic chanteuse bandmate Jennifer Charles have been the core of similarly haunting, sometimes lushly lurid noir art-rock band Elysian Fields. Likewise, this show built a dark but more eclectic atmosphere. At their quietest, bassist Simon Hanes – who otherwise looked like he was jumping out of his shoes to be playing this material – switched to acoustic guitar, for a spare duo with Bloedow on an ancient Moroccan song whose storyline was a possibly hashish-influenced counterpart to the Sleeping Beauty myth.

The band slunk through a salsa-jazz verse to a ringingly otherworldly, anthemic chorus on an original, Charles singing a lyric by Federico Garcia Lorca in the original Spanish. Bloedow, who was in top form all night as sardonically insightful emcee, noted that the band had played that same song just a few yards from where the fascists had taken Garcia Lorca into the underbrush and then shot him in the back.

Charles also sang in Farsi, Ladino and Arabic. The early part of the set featured more minimalist, lingering ballads; drummer Rob DiPietro sat back from his kit and played a hypnotic dance groove on daf frame drum on one of them. Matt Darriau began the set on bass clarinet; by the end, he’d also played a regular-size model and also bass flute, fueling the songs’ moodiest interludes with his sepulchral, microtonal, melismatic lines.

The closest to an over-the-top moment was when the band danced through the original Sephardic melody of a big Vegas noir ballad that’s been used umpteen times for Hollywood approximations of exoticism. The night’s most hypnotic song was another Moroccan number that strongly brought to mind Malian duskcore rock bands like Tinariwen. The high point was a slowly crescendoing original that rose to a mighty peak, fueled by Bloedow’s majestically resonating chromatic chords.

The Bang on a Can series at the Jewish museum continues on February 22 of next year at 7:30 PM with similarly otherworldly Czech violinist/composer/vocalist Iva Bittova and her ensemble; tix are $18 and include museum admission.

A Richly Tuneful, Enigmatic New Album From Art-Rock Band the Universal Thump

Singer/keyboardist Greta Gertler Gold was about eight months pregnant when she played her most recent show, at Barbes about six weeks ago, with her art-rock band the Universal Thump. If that’s not punk rock, you figure out what is.

The Universal Thump’s music is actually not punk at all – it’s lush, and ornate, and meticulously crafted…and an awful lot of fun. Their 2012 debut album was an epic double-cd set awash in lavish orchestration, theatrics, dynamic shifts and symphonic majesty. one of the most rewardingly herculean efforts by any band in recent years. Their new, second album, Walking the Cat – recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London, and streaming at Bandcamp – is less hefty but no less fun. The opening track, Sunset Park – a tribute to their Brooklyn home turf – pairs drummer/percussionist Adam D Gold’s pointillistic celeste with his wife’s cautiously scampering piano and soaring, stratospheric vocals, buoyed by a tiptoeing string arrangement played by violist Anne Lanzilotti and cellist Brian Snow.

The second track, Cockatoos, is Gretler Gold at her most brooding and plaintive, a briskly strolling tone poem of sorts: “I never fell so hard, I never fell so far,” she relates. Then the band picks up the pace with the ep’s poppiest song, Watch the Sunrise, Barney McAll doing a fair impersonation of a snarling, distorted electric guitar with his synth midway through.

J. Walter Hawkes’ multitracked trombone builds grey-sky ambience as the piano rises to an uneasy peak in Treehouse. Jonathan Maron’s lithe bassline pairs with the piano as the album’s psychedelic, mightily crescendoing title track picks up steam, Elysian Fields guitarist Oren Bloedow channeling George Harrison while Gertler Gold’s organ bubbles and ripples…and then the band builds in a second to a droll, lickety-split sprint. As with the best psychedelic music, nothing here is exactly what it seems: there’s a moody edge underneath all the playful exuberance. As short albums go, there’s hardly been anything released in 2015 that’s this consistently good.

The Barbes show also deserves a mention. Rather than bringing his swirly Hohner Electrovox from his days in the late, great Chicha Libre, guest Josh Camp played piano while Gertler Gold shifted between textures on her Nord Electro. Who knew he was such a good C&W slip-key player? Another of the band’s charter members, guiter maven Pete Galub led the group through a breathlessly droll cover of XTC’s Making Plans for Nigel.

Much as Gertler Gold has always had an impressive top end to her high soprano, she’s never sung better than she did at this show, not just sailing along but genuinely searing at the very top of her register. Like so many bands these days, the Universal Thump have considerably more material than they’ve been able to record: this show gave them a chance to air out a couple of oldschool soul-informed numbers as well as a handful of tongue-in-cheek, sardonic Passover songs written for a theme night at Joe’s Pub, one a sultry minor-key tune and the other more upbeat. Among the best songs of the night was an amped-up, especially restless take of Cockatoos; the band closed with a triumphant version of Walking the Cat. Gertler Gold promises not to let motherhood keep her from the stage; watch this space for upcoming shows from one of this era’s great art-rock bands.

Intensely Fun Summer Concerts by Nicole Atkins and the Universal Thump

Nicole Atkins and her “band of Daves,’ as she put it – on lead guitar, electric piano and organ, bass and drums – played a soaringly eclectic, richly tuneful set to kick off this year’s outdoor concert series at Madison Square Park. What was most striking about the concert was the welcome absence of the cheesy keyboard textures that gunk up some otherwise excellent songs on Atkins’ latest album, Slow Phaser. Aside from a diversion into that on a swaying, funky tune early in the set, her keyboardist stuck to fluid organ fills and elegantly glimmering electric piano.

They opened with the new album’s first song, Who Killed the Moonlight, putting more emphasis on lingering, uneasy atmospherics than the disco bounce of the studio version. The bassist gave it a slinky groove as the lead player added terse, red-neon, noirish fills and bends. Atkins’ wounded outsider presence on the sardonic Cool People provided an edge that transcended all the purloined Beatles and Lou Reed licks. Atkins reaffirmed why she has such a devoted fan base, showing off a spectacular vocal range that she varied from low and apprehensive to some spine-tingling flights to the upper registers, adding subtle blues and soul tinges and then some grit at the end as her voice began to go ragged after all that exertion.

She and the band maintained the intensity with the organ-fueled ba-bump noir cabaret tune Gasoline Bride and its creepy slowdown at the end, then the slow, angst-fueled Vera Beren-esque 6/8 ballad The Way It Is, part darkly Orbisonesque Americana, part gothic art-rock. Atkins took that to a peak with the wickedly catchy Maybe Tonight, an anguished blue-eyed Motown hit as towering as anything Gary Usher wrote for Gary Puckett back in the 60s.

Girl You Look Amazing, another tune that’s pretty straight-up disco on the new album, took on extra bite with a more straight-ahead beat underneath Atkins’ sarcastic dig at a would-be pickup artist. Interestingly, they gave We Wait Too Long a swooshy, misterioso groove, in contrast to the album’s more direct, regret-laden version.

After the hypnotically loping, darkly bluesy Vultures, with its creepily twinkling electric piano, they tiptoed and swayed through the longing and bitterness of Red Ropes, the most luridly noir song on the new album.

Atkins’ cynical sense of humor came front and center on It’s Only Chemistry, a sardonic battle-of-the-sexes narrative, and then an aching take of The Worst Hangover, whose narrator is so miserable (and possibly still so drunk) that she ends up calling an ambulance. It was too bad that the lead player missed his chance to take The Tower – the crushing, potentially explosive anthem that’s sort of Atkins’ signature song – to a logically pyrotechnic peak, instead drifting unexpectedly into nebulously metal territory. After everything that had come before, it would have been the perfect way to end the show. It took a siren echoing across the park from further north to add just the right touch of horror as the song wound out. The Madison Square Park series of free concerts continues on July 16 at 7 PM with French jazz pianist Jacky Terrasson and his group.

And it was good to be able to catch about half an hour of a show that promised to be even better beforehand several blocks north at Bryant Park, where keyboardist/songwriter Greta Gertler’s lush art-rock band the Universal Thump aired out some of the soaring, often epic songs from their massive triple-cd debut album along with some tantalizing new tunes. Gertler’s elegantly intricate electric piano mingled with the otherworldly vocal harmonies of Las Rubias Del Norte‘s Emily Hurst and Allyssa Lamb over the terse pulse of drummer Adam D. Gold and bassist Byron Isaacs. Guitarist Oren Bloedow – the noir mastermind behind art-rockers Elysian Fields, and a longtime Jenifer Jackson collaborator – kept a low-key, blue-flame intensity going, finally rising to a savagely insistent attack as the show hit a peak right about at the midway point. And then it was time to head south.

A Welcome Return Engagement from Jenifer Jackson

How many of you caught Jenifer Jackson’s most recent New York show last week at the Rockwood? The place was pretty full. As usual, the crowd was a lovefest, a bunch of A-list New York musicians coming out to revisit one of their own who was ubiquitous here ten years ago. But since she moved to Austin, return engagements have been limited. It was great to see so many familiar faces, everybody amped to see Jenifer. But was this a nostalgia show? No way. She debuted three new songs (which so far haven’t made it to youtube). The first, In Summer, related how summer babies don’t like the cold (Jackson is one: she speaks from experience), over a pensive janglerock verse that gave way to an only slightly restrained chorus filled with unexpected major/minor changes. She’s very eclectic: the next new one, a hypnotic, slow anthem, reminded of Australian rockers the Church, bassist Jason Mercer picking it up with a swoop out of lead guitarist Oren Bloedow’s counterintuitively biting staccato solo. And the last one was a western swing tune, Bob Wills without the horns or the pedal steel.

She sang with her usual combination of nuance and smoldering soul, the band – which also included the tremendously subtle Greg Wieczorek on drums and Matt Kanelos on piano – pretty much jumping out of their shoes to get the chance to play with her again. And as much as the new material was a lot of fun, the best song of the night was Trouble Fire, a sad country ballad from her Birds album that she started subdued and defeated before bringing it up and teasing the audience with allusions to a harmony on the chorus that she hinted and hinted at and finally nailed at the end just to make everybody happy.

Back in the day, you could catch her playing at Fez, then a week or two later she’d be at the Mercury, or the Living Room before it moved and became a tourist trashpit. Or maybe she’d do something at Pete’s Candy Store. Memo to anyone who has a favorite New York band or performer: carpe diem and see them now before they move to Austin or somewhere the same.

Two Drummers Make a Difference

Drummers do all the heavy lifting and usually get none of the credit, so this is to give credit where it’s due. As dynamic as Jenifer Jackson and LJ Murphy are, each got to take their shows this past weekend to the next level because of who was behind the drum kit. Each show was intense, in a completely different way: Jackson dreamy and hypnotic, Murphy careening through one catchy, blues-infused rock song after another. At Rockwood Music Hall Friday night, Jackson was unselfconsciously blissed out to be playing with most of the New York crew she’d made her 2007 Outskirts of a Giant Town album with: Matt Kanelos on piano, Elysian Fields’ Oren Bloedow on guitar, Jason Mercer on bass and Greg Wieczorek behind the kit. The original Rockwood space is small, and some drummers just don’t get it, hammering away like John Bonham. From his first suspenseful brushstroke, Wieczorek set a mood and never wavered, sometimes pushing Jackson’s often inscrutable grooves with just a shaker and a muted kick beat. And when a chorus would rise to a swell, he’d let the band take it. He was just there enough to swing the beat, almost imperceptibly shifting it into bossa nova, or adding quiet, counterintuitive cymbal splashes or hi-hat accents: had he not been there, it wouldn’t have been the same.

The rest of the band seemed to be just as blissed out to be playing with Jackson. Mercer’s moody, sepulchral solo on the night’s opening song, Maybe, set the tone right off the bat; Kanelos’ tersely majestic chords gave a mesmerizing glimmer to I Remember – done here as part Beatles, part countrypolitan – and a long, psychedelic take of The War Is Done. Jackson has been a great rock singer for a long time: she’s a great jazz singer now. The way she suddenly leaped off the page impatiently as the chorus rose on the brisk bossa shuffle Suddenly Unexpectedly, and the way she spun clever little circles around the ridiculously catchy chorus of Bring on the Night was impossible to turn away from. She ended the show with a mostly solo acoustic version of The Beauty in the Emptying, a wistful country ballad on the surface, underneath a characteristically resilient, tenacious resolution not to concede defeat. From a bon vivant like Jackson, it was a logical way to end this particular reunion with a crowd of longtime fans who were just as psyched to see her as she seemed to be to see them.

Saturday at Otto’s, Murphy went in a completely diffferent direction: this time it was drummer Andrew Guterman who kept the machine from jumping the rails. It’s not like Murphy had been freed from being behind a guitar – it’s an important part of his stage act – but on account of a recent hand injury, he had to stick to just vocals at this show. But instead of doing the crooner set, Murphy pulled out all the stops and all his big rockers, seizing the opportunity to unleash some of his inner James Brown, scatting along with outros, bringing the band almost to a stop in a split second and then back up again. And for what amounted to a pickup band, these guys – Patrick McLellan on piano, Tommy Hoscheid on Les Paul and Nils Sorensen on bass – were amazingly on top of their game. And Guterman kept the energy level going through the roof without drowning out his bandmates, whether elevating the bitter Same Trick beyond mere Stax/Volt homage, or giving the inscrutably caustic Nowhere Now a drive that went over the edge into punk.

Murphy is a 99 percenter to the core, and his lyrics resonated more than ever considering what was happening in Foley Square. Whether snarling about how “crosses and pistols are slung at our hips,” ridiculing the one percenter – an “elegant tormentor stripped of all his polyester” – getting his freak on in a dungeon just a stone’s throw from Wall Street, or warning of the day when “a sermon blares all night from the roof of a radio car,” there was a defiant I-told-you-so in his carnivalesque, blues-drenched vocal assault. The band careened through the afterwork nightmare scenario of Happy Hour with a deliciously sarcastic, blissed-out attack, only to follow with the tense apprehension of Bovine Brothers, a look at the kind of future that the Occupy protestors are also warning us about, where “the hand that you’ve been pumping turns into a handsome snake, with only one regret because he’s running out of bones to break.” After winding up the set with a punishing version of the surreal late-night psychology session Blue Silence and then encoring with an equally raucous Barbed Wire Playpen (the one about the S&M hedge fund guy), the crowd still wanted more. But the excellent Highway Gimps – sort of a cross between Motorhead and My Bloody Valentine – were next on the bill.