New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: pop music

Lavish, Imaginatively Arranged, Individualistic Ballads From Le Mirifique Orchestra

Le Mirifique Orchestra play lush, vast, majestically arranged ballads from the worlds of jazz standards, classic chanson and pop music. The arrangements on their new album Oh! My Love – streaming at Bandcamp – draw on classical styles from the baroque to the 21st century, emphasis on the modern. It’s an absolutely unique, imaginative sound, with jazz solos, classical lustre and catchy, relatively short songs. The group like playful instrumental intros, and have six strong singers taking turns out front.

The orchestra open the record with calmly spacious minimalism and then make their way into the first song, Skylark, sung with soaring, vintage soul-infused hopefulness by Agathe Peyrat. With orchestration that spans the sonic spectrum, from Thomas Saulet’s flute and Nicolas Fargeix’s clarinet down to Jérémie Dufort’s tuba, the song sets the stage for the rest of the record.

Co-leader Alban Darche’s judicious sax flurries over Alexis Thérain’s bittersweet guitar chords introduce Don’t Explain, then back away for Alice Lewis’ similarly pensive vocals. The swirl of the reeds against the resonance of trumpeter Rodolph Puechbroussous and horn players Pierre-Yves Le Masne and Emmanuel Bénèche maintain an uneasy dichotomy over drummer Meivelyan Jacquot’s muted sway.

Chloé Cailleton moves to the mic for the wistful You Can Never Hold Back Spring, the orchestra shifting between terse lustre and bubbling optimism. After a coyly shapeshifting intro, crooner Loïs Le Van takes over the lead on Parce que je t’aime, the ensemble moving from a subtle fugue to bright pageantry and back.

After a suspensefully flurrying guitar-and-drums interlude, the strings of Le Quatuor Psophos add lushness to the moody, often rather troubled instrumental Answer Me. Darche opens Je crois entendre with a balmy solo, then Philippe Katerine offers a gentle vocal over a contrastingly brooding, tense backdrop.

The string quartet return for My Love, foreshadowing the album’s title track with disquieting close harmonies and dynamic shifts. Cailleton takes over vocals again in a hazily brassy take of I’ll Be Seeing You, the high reeds rising to a balletesque peak.

Lewis goes back to the mic with a moody understatement for the haunting Celian’s Complaint, guest trumpeter Geoffroy Tamisier winding it up with a desolate solo: it’s the high point of the album. The similarly somber, mysterious narrative Et pour autant qu’il m’en souvienne makes a good segue, Le Van’s sober spoken word set to spare, possibly improvised verses before the angst-fueled chorus kicks in. Thomas de Pourquery sings the title cut to close the album on a pensively pillowy note.

Rare Live Elliott Smith Available For the First Time on Record

The big deal about the new, remastered 25th anniversary edition of Elliott Smith’s solo debut – streaming at Bandcamp – is that it comes with a bonus live album, something that the iconic 90s songwriter never released during his lifetime. It took a conversation with one of his best friends from college to get the inside dope. “Oh, from when he was doing all those drugs,” she said with a dismissive wave of the hand: she wasn’t inclined to hear it.

For whatever reason, Smith doesn’t sound particularly opiated. His voice is ragged in places, and he doesn’t interact much with an impressively large crowd who’d come out for his solo acoustic set at Umbra Penumbra in Portland, Oregon on September 17, 1994. But his guitar work is solid, and vigorous, and everybody who was listening to Smith before he was murdered will want to hear it.

Knowing how he ended up, it’s sobering to hear the endless druggie references: the desperate narrative over those Wilco-ish chords in his first number; the references to scoring on the Lower East Side in Alphabet Town; and the appearance of Constantina, a recurrent, pseudonymous character who would outlive him.

Plenty of early versions of as-yet unreleased material in the setlist. No Name #4, an allusively grim narrative over briskly picked folk chords; the even more grisly detailed Condor Ave.; the wistfully waltzing No Name #1; and the broodingly Britfolk-tinged No Confidence Man, among others. Smith’s old Heatmiser bud Neil Gust joins him for a stark two-guitar version of Half Right.

On the reissue record, the bass response seems substantially boosted: does that explain why the downstrokes and atonal open-string harmonies of Needle in the Hay, for example, sound so much like Nirvana? Or is that just a function of listening on headphones instead of getting to know this otherwise rather delicate, mostly acoustic cd by cranking it up on a big oldschool stereo in a Gramercy Park apartment?

Hindsight being 20/20, it’s easy to hear the otherwise opaque Christian Brothers as a prototype for the gorgeously anthemic sensibility of Figure 8. Or how tantalizingly the briskly strummed layers of Southern Belle foreshadow that era as well. Or, listening to the full-band studio version of Coming Up Roses here, how much he already had that in his fingers to an extent that nobody realized at the time.

Purist, Catchy Powerpop From Librarians With Hickeys

Akron, Ohio band Librarians with Hickeys play expertly crafted, catchy, 1979-style powerpop. They jangle and clang, they like layers of guitars, cool keyboard accents and vocal harmonies. And they would have been huge if they’d been around back four decades ago (that’s a compliment). Their debut album Long Overdue is streaming at Bandcamp,

On one hand, this is the kind of album that’s a dead giveaway for what’s in the band’s collective record collection. On the other, the four-piece group – guitarists Ray Carmen and Mike Crooker, bassist Andrew Wilco and drummer Rob Crossley – have good taste. The opening track, Until There Was You is sort of Kirsty MacColl’s They Don’t Know About Us with twin-guitar grit and more of a four-on-the-floor drive. That Time Is Now follows a familiar rock progression (the best a band’s been able to do with it is the Church’s Bel Air) with dreamy harmony vocals by Lisa Mychols of the Seven And Six. And Then She’s Gone recounts the final scene in the film Ghost World where Enid, the Thora Burch character, gets on that magic bus at the end: the tune is a silkier take on Guided by Voices.

Be My Plus One is a sunshine pop number: Mrs. Brown, you’ve got a lovely daughter, I’d like to ask her out. Next Time is pure 80s, complete with watery chorus-box guitars, Crossley getting the clap-clap going with his syndrums. Likewise, the trebly, jangly, vamping Obsession could be the Church in a particularly poppy moment circa the Seance album.

The band mash up organ-livened Lyres garage rock with a little spacy new wave in Leave Me Alone and follow that with Poor Reception, another Church-like janglerocker that also recalls legendary/obscure 80s Long Island space-pop band the Hatracks. Wilco goes way up on his G string for the boomy chorus hook in Silent Stars, the album’s most hypnotically psychedelic track.

Carmen breaks out his Rickenbacker for extra clang in Alex, a gentle backbeat folk-rock number. The Church – that damn Oz band again! – come most strongly to mind in Looking For Home, but in the vein of a big rocker from, say, the Gold Afternoon Fix album. The band close the record with Black Velvet Dress, Crossley’s piano rippling above the guitar flare in this empathetic tale of a girl throwing a party for herself. Singalong hooks, expert craftsmanship, no wasted notes: what more could you want from guitars, bass and drums?

Trippy, Free Neosoul on the Northern Plains Next Weekend

There’s another intriguing free outdoor concert next weekend at 4 PM on Sept 20 at Terrace Park, 1100 W 4th St in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where neosoul singer and hip-hop artist Arlinda Peacock plays a duo set with keyboardist Gus Martins. Her most recent album is the Peacock Cassette, which came out in 2016 and is still available at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. It’s sort of Janelle Monae before Janelle Monae got really popular, with simple, swoopy layers of keys and a beatbox. Peacock has an expressive voice and doesn’t waste notes: you won’t hear any over-the-top American Idol bullshit in her songs.

Peacock opens the record (or the cassette, if you want to to call it that) with a loopy, twinkly, mostly instrumental trip-hop intro. The first song is Eff Annie, a Little Orphan Annie parable. Rapper Bob Rawss takes the bridge, with insights into how people who haven’t had positive influences growing up figure out how to make sense of the world.

”There was once a beginning, that we all decided to destroy,” Peacock announces as  Chosen Unchosen gets underway  It’s a simple, telling commentary on equality and how to create it. “We call them people these days,” she explains dryly.

Pony Boi is a trippy, spare number with a catchy piano hook and jazzy synthesized brass. “Don’t ever let me catch you looking down again,” Peacock sings in Bravery, a chiming, upbeat trip-hop anthem.

The album’s swooshiest and most psychedelic track is Attitude Rewind: it could be a Missy Elliiott tune from the late 90s. Peacock keeps the surreal, cinematic ambience going with the most ominous cut here, Justice.

Konstantly is even scarier, when you consider that Peacock’s character is talking to her dead mom. The last of the songs is the epically mysterious Timmy on the Run, set to a dark, classically-influenced, vintage RZA suspense/action film style backdrop. Peacock brings the album full circle at the end.

If you’re wondering why a New York music blog would be paying this much attention to such a faraway state as South Dakota, be aware that it’s one of the few places in the nation where it’s still legal for crowds to gather to see live music. Here in New York, the State Liquor Authority recently ordered restaurants and bars not to charge a cover or sell tickets to performances, and to keep musicians twelve feet or more from the customers. Presumably this bureaucratic overrreach extends to places that do not serve alcohol as well. Whoever thought we’d live to see the day when South Dakota would be kicking New York’s ass 24/7 as far as support for the arts is concerned.

An Album of Songs For Our Time by Nicole Zuraitis

“All the screens block something inside, those afraid of their beginnings, unfulfilling,” singer Nicole Zuraitis wails over an anthemic 6/i8 groove, deep into her new album All Wandering Hearts, streaming at Bandcamp. “Eyes find comfort in darkness, eyes find comfort in escaping deep in a slumber to block out the overdrive mind.” Behind her, the band oscillates into a desperate vortex.

Of all the singers to have come out of New York in the last ten years or so, Zuraitis is one of the most individualistic. Gifted with scary range and gale-force power, she’s always embraced a lot of styles, from the big band jazz she belts over her husband Dan Pugach’s nonet, to thorny art-rock, lilting Americana and impassioned oldschool soul. Zuraitis has an intense, big-picture presence: her mind always seems to be racing, and she’s always looking for a respite, a reprieve. And she can be a hell of a lyricist.

And in the years since she was raising the roof at places like Caffe Vivaldi and 55 Bar, that fearsome voice has grown: there’s new grit in the lows, new power in the highs, new subtlety everywhere, In the liner notes, she sardonically calls this a “jazz adjacent album.”

The first song is Make It Flood, somber vocals in a guarded triumph: it’s Rockwood Music Hall pop in in heavy disguise. The Way Home rises, subtly, to a funky sway and then the lushness takes over again:

Trying to abandon my post
Before i lose this war…
Minus one’s a new concept
The slope of loss is steep
i know that there’s a void for us to fill
But there’s an answer if there is a will

Zuraitis’ circling, incisive piano provides a haunting backdrop for Gold, a prophetic, lithe clave anthem for a post-lockdown era where compassion trumps greed, Carmen Staaf enhancing that with a cheery, bubbly Rhodes solo.

The sinister Monk tonalties of the witheringly sarcatic Sugar Spun Girl set up the narrative in Rock Bottom, the most hilarious but also saddest song ever written about being on the road as a singer-songwriter. There’s no small irony in how singer-songwriters have earned a massive resurgence in the months since the lockdown, playing clandestine house concerts and parties, spreading the news and offering good cheer in the spirit of their medieval troubadour ancestors.

Zuraitis dedicates an elegant solo piano-and-vocal lullaby to her daugther, reinvents Prince’s I Would Die 4 U as swirling art-rock, and goes deep into What a Wonderful World for tenderness and rapture, in the context of a sobering dialectic. Deep music from a deep soul. A thoughtful and purposeful performance from a band that also includes Pugach on drums, Alex Busby Smith on bass, Elise Testone on backing vocals and Chase Potter on strings.

NYC “Concert Calendar” for September 2020

This is more of a sticky note for the fridge than a real concert calendar: lots of stuff going on, but nobody’s talking about it outside of small circles of friends. Most of the publicly announced concerts are jazz and classical since it’s unamplified, outdoors and unlikely to draw the attention of Cuomo’s gestapo.

9/5, 1 PM saxophonist Marquis Hill leads his Quartet at the Mall in Central Park, close to the Naumburg Bandshell, more or less mid-park, enter at 72nd St. Then the next day Sept 6, 1 PM saxophonist Michael Thomas is there with his trio.

9/7, 4 PM new all-female string quartet the Overlook play an amazing program of music by black composers: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and others at the Morris-Jumel Mansion, outdoors, 65 Jumel Terrace two blocks east of Amsterdam Ave just off 160th St., A/C to 163rd St 

9/14, 5:30 PM members of the American Symphony Orchestra play rare works by African-American composers including Jessie Montgomery, William Grant Still, Florence Price and others at Bryant Park

9/19, 1 PM the Leap Day Trio with drummer Matt Wilson, bassist/vocalist Mimi Jones and saxophonist Jeff Lederer at the mall in Central Park, close to the Naumburg  Bandshell, enter at 72nd St.

9/19, 2 PM guitarist Andreas Arnold plays original flamenco compositions and classics at an outdoor house concert in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, free, email for address/deets 

9/19, 3 PM Gail Archer plays rare Ukrainian organ works at St. John Nepomucene Church, 411 East 66th St, at 1st Ave, free

9/20, 1 PM wildfire vibraphonist Joel Ross’ Quartet with saxophonist Sergio Tabanico, drummer Craig Weinrib and bassist Rashaan Carter at the mall in Central Park, close to the Naumburg  Bandshell, enter at 72nd St.

9/20, 3:30 PM bass goddess/soul singer Felice Rosser’s ageless reggae-rock-groove band Faith outdoors at the Front, 526 E 11th St.

9/21, 5:30 PM members of the American Symphony Orchestra play string quartets by Samuel Barber and Nino Rota at Bryant Park

9/26, 1 PM drummer Nasheet Waits with saxophonist Mark Turner and bassist Rashaan Carter at the mall in Central Park, close to the Naumburg  Bandshell, enter at 72nd St

9/26, 3 PM the S.E.M. Ensemble play works by Robert Ashley, Morton Feldman, Alvin Lucier and Petr Kotik outdoors at 25 Columbia Place on the Brooklyn Prom, take State St to the Prom free, rsvp req if you want a seat

9/27, 1 PM intense saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins with drummer Nazir Ebo and bassist Burniss Earl Travis at the mall in Central Park, close to the Naumburg  Bandshell, enter at 72nd St.

10/4, 1 PM saxophonist Darius Jones with drummer Gerald Cleaver and bassist Dezron Douglas at the mall in Central Park, close to the Naumburg  Bandshell, enter at 72nd St.

10/17, 3 PM organist Austin Philemon plays a program TBA at St. John Nepomucene Church, 411 East 66th St at 1st Ave, sug don

10/20, 5 PM, not in NYC but fairly close on the Metro North train, a septet of Orpheus Chamber Orchestra musicians perform Richard Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op. 28 arranged by Franz Hasenöhrl, plus Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat Major, Op. 20, in celebration of the composer’s 250th birthday,at the Reformed Church of Bronxville, 180 Pondfield Rd, Bronxville, free, bring your own lawn chair

11/14, 3 PM organist Mark Pacoe plays a program TBA at St. John Nepomucene Church, 411 East 66th St at 1st Ave, sug don

12/12, 3 PM organist Maria Rayzvasser plays a program TBA at St. John Nepomucene Church, 411 East 66th St at 1st Ave, sug don

There may be other outdoor shows going on this month where the artists are comfortable inviting the public – if so, you’ll see them here.

Thoughtful, Attractively Enveloping Nocturnes From Swimming Bell

Swimming Bell play slow, pensively lingering, atmospheric songs that draw equally on Americana and ambient music. Their new album Wild Sight – streaming at Bandcamp – brings to mind Neko Case or Tift Merritt as produced by Brian Eno, maybe. Washes of pedal steel and vocal harmonies figure prominently in frontwoman Katie Schottland’s songs. Her narratives are subtle, full of small, allusively telling details: they invite you in for repeated listening.

Good Time, Man begins as a hazy, atmospheric, wistful summertime tableau awash in Oli Deacon’s pedal steel. By the time Schottland’s intricate, fingerpicked acoustic guitar kicks in, it’s clear that this is a breakup scenario.

Deliciously icy tremolo guitars clang and ring out over a slow, swaying 6/8 groove in 1988, unraveling into a starry dreampop mist at the end: it seems to be a sad childhood reminiscence.  The pedal steel returns along with tasty, looming bass clarinet in For Brinsley, a Brinsley Schwarz homage: “Don’t lose your grip on love,” is the mantra.

“She’d lost the medal but she’d won the fight,” Schottland recalls in We’d Find, the enveloping sonics coalescing into an indian summer haze. Cold Clear Moon, a Tomo Nakayama cover, is catchy, steady and spare, the acoustic and electric guitar textures, glockenspiel and contrapuntal vocals building a hypnotic interweave.

The band follow Wolf, an echoey, circling vignette, with Got Things, a glistening anthem and the album’s catchiest, most straight-up rock number: it wouldn’t be out of place in the Rose Thomas Bannister catalog.

Left Hand Path is a front-porch folk tune with delicate electronics and steel twinkling in the distance. Schottland launches into Love Liked You slowly over National steel guitar, the band methodically rising into a slow, crescendoing, Hem-like sway: the swirly atmospherics are the icing on the cake. The album ends with Quietly Calling, a lush, crepuscular waltz that could be the Grateful Dead in a sharply focused moment: “You were listening to prove that you could while I was trying to be good,” Schottland intones. What a refreshing and individualistic sound: let’s hope Swimming Bell figure out how to make another album like this, clandestinely or otherwise.

Revisiting One of the Zeros’ Defining Bedroom Albums

Today is all about zeros nostalgia. Since nostalgia is the enemy of history, let’s put this in historical context. Goldfrapp’s third album Supernature came out in 2005. There wasn’t much to celebrate that year, globally speaking. The Bush regime was dropping thousands of tons of depleted uranium on Iraq, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians and dooming generations to a plague of birth defects. Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerberg was scheming up ways to turn his campus photoblogging service into the world’s most dangerous surveillance system. But at least Napster was still going strong, opening up a world of music that millions around the world never would have discovered otherwise.

To commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the album’s initial release, it’s been remastered and reissued on green gatefold vinyl, and you can hear it at Spotify. Throughout the record, singer Alison Goldfrapp’s breathy vocals have been left as sultry as they were on the original release, although Will Gregory’s many layers of simple, catchy, playfully psychedelic keys seem more balanced, less dancefloor-oriented than on the cd.

Revisiting the album, the influence of early 80s new wave acts like Missing Persons, Yaz and early Madonna is more vivid than ever. And the songs are a trip, from Ride a White Horse, the duo’s thinly veiled ecstasy anthem, to Number 1, the motorik New Order ripoff that closes the record. In between, the duo’s frontwoman shows off her upper registers in You Never Know (a song that would be autotuned if it was released by a corporate label in 2020), descends to a seductive whisper in the loopy Let It Take You and purrs over the catchy synth bass in Fly Me Away.

Who can forget the cheery, completely deadpan Slide In? If you were around back then, maybe you slid in or smoked up to the woozy, P-Funkesque textures of Coco, the pogo-sticking Satin Chic or the drifty, oscillating Time Out From the World. In the time since, the two have stayed together – and why wouldn’t they? Their New York shows over the past several years have gotten more and more stratospherically expensive.

The album gets extra points for its effectiveness as a weapon to get noisy neighbors to shut up. Played on a sufficiently powerful system, those icy, bassy electronic beats really cut through the the walls and ceiling.

Gorgeously Arranged, Lavish Soul Sounds From Ren Harvieu

If a ton of money didn’t go into the production of chanteuse Ren Harvieu‘s new album Revel in the Drama – streaming at Bandcamp – producer and Magic Numbers frontman Romeo Stodart deserves some kind of award. The arrangements are lavish but organic, with layers of keys, guitar, strings, backing vocals and Harvieu’s uncluttered, sometimes ripely sensual vocals. The music draws on decades of soul, from pre-Motown sounds through the 90s.

The opening track, Strange Thing is a lushy produced, harder-rocking take on jazzy early 70s Stylistics soul. Teenage Mascara is a weird, trippy mashup of Lynchian pop and soul from a decade before, with hints of hip-hop and Hawaiian music, backing choir and theremin! Then Harvieu shoots for early 90s Sade ambience, but with more organic production and dub tinges, in This Is How You Make Me Feel.

She goes back to early 70s ambience for the slow boudoir soul ballad Curves Swerves: again, the piano and guitar are more prominent than the orchestration and backing vocals. Smoky organ and pounding drums propel the towering Vegas noir ballad Cruel Disguise, the album’s most arresting track. After that, Harvieu brings it down with Yes Please, a mashup of 90s trip-hop and starry psychedelic soul.

Spirit Me Away is an unexpected detour into gothic rock, complete with neoromantic piano, cello and a bell tolling in the distance. Both Harvieu and the band shift between fullscale art-rock angst and lustrous, nocturnal soul in This Is Our Love. The country-tinged You Don’t Know Me gets a deliciously shivery string intro and Harvieu’s biggest vocal crescendo here.

“As soon as I stop making bad decisions, oh world, watch out!” Harvieu announces in the catchy Tomorrow’s Girl Today, awash in contrasts between celestial keys, quietly glimmering guitar and piano. Harvieu winds up the album with its most distinctly nocturnal numbers, the spare Little Raven and the unabashedly Romantic, crescendoing My Body She Is Alive: “Here is your life” is Harvieu’s closing, angst-ridden mantra. It’s a clinic in tasteful, imaginative orchestration and catchy tunesmithing.

Classic Influences and Catchy Rock Tunesmithing From the Fast Romantics

Toronto powerpop band the Fast Romantics’ new album Pick It Up – streaming at youtube – is their most keyboard-driven record yet. They draw on classic rock songcraft from the 60s through the 80s and have a sense of humor. This one isn’t as funny or melodically ambitious as their 2017 American Love album: it’s closer to what the New Pornographers have been up to most recently, along with influences from the Beatles to gospel.

The album opens with the title cut, a  slow gospel piano ballad and an enigmatic look at the potential pitfalls of artistic creativity. We’re Only People has George Harrison-style slide guitar over steady Penny Lane-ish piano: “How did you find me in my hideout, how did you get me to come down?” frontman Matthew Angus wants to know.

Keyboardist Lisa Lorenz’s fuzzy 80s textures buzz beneath more of that swooping slide guitar in Made For You, a techier update on the Born to Run-era Springsteen the band love so much. The keys get starrier and also more symphonic in Hallelujah What’s It to Ya, which is more subtly irreverent than the title would imply.

The Rules is a wry Let It Be Beatlesque piano ballad, a sardonic look back at the price of nonconformity, with an unexpectedly defiant coda. “Watch me blow it all on sellout serendipity,” Angus muses in Top of the Mountain, a stoner trip-hop number that brings to mind early 90s Pulp. 

The band follow Iso Radio, a creepily nocturnal, vaguely apocalyptic piano theme, with the album’s final track, Do No Wrong: “i made a mess so I’m clearing my history,” Angus relates over a catchy backdrop that’s part Motown, part new wave.