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Tag: psychedelia

A Prescient, Indomitable Final Album From Jewlia Eisenberg’s Charming Hostess

“There was a doctor, there was a teacher, but the doctor didn’t care about illness, and the teacher didn’t care about teaching,” Charming Hostess frontwoman Jewlia Eisenberg sang, to open her radical circus rock band’s final album, The Ginzburg Geographies. In the context of 2022, the irony could not be more crushing.

Eisenberg died on 3/11 last year, four months after the Covid shot rollout. She’d been in precarious health for quite some time before. Nonetheless, the indomitable singer and musical polymath had continued to perform and work on a vast series of projects right up until the 2020 lockdown. It’s something of a miracle that she got as far as she did with the album, which her bandmates finished without her last year.

It’s collection of wildly original arrangements of Italian protest songs, an exploration of the territory that nurtured and eventually destroyed the marriage between World War II-era Italian antifascist activists and writers Natalia and Leone Ginzburg, Hounded and pursued by axis forces, the two managed to evade and outlive Mussolini, but Leone was murdered by the Nazis. His widow would go on to serve in the Italian parliament in the decades after the war.

If you count their college days, Charming Hostess enjoyed a career that lasted almost thirty years, on and off. They went through many incarnations, from proto Gogol Bordello punk to feminist klezmer. Here, they do a strikingly faithful evocation of an anarchic Italian street band from seventy years ago, while also putting their own spin on retro 70s Italian film music in a Tredici Bacci vein . Eisenberg took several of the couple’s texts and used them to create a playlist of brooding, accordion-fueled psychedelia, oom-pah blue-collar protest songs and skittishly subversive bedroom pop. A girl protests against household drudgery, over a swaying, accordion-fueled backdrop. “Authority has no value,” Eisenberg reminds. Guitarist Jeremiah Lockwood jangles through some heartbreakingly beautiful interludes behind Eisenberg’s delicate multitracks. Much of this is on the phantasmagorical side, which makes plenty of sense considering the context. There’s also a ramshackle, bluegrass-flavored cover of a classic Woody Guthrie antifascist song.

The best number on the album is La Situazione, a slinky, shuffling, distantly creepy psychedelic rock shuffle fueled by Dan Cantrell’s roller-rink organ. The gist of Leone’s text is that it is Italians’ duty not to give in to alarmism and instead to dig in and fight while the Nazis roll into Rome. You want prophetic?

Eisenberg was outrageously funny, earthy and sometimes combative. Yet that feisty persona was a manifestation of her deeply liberational Jewish spirituality. She wrote film and theatre music, took a plunge into Babylonian mysticism and late in her career revisited her inner soul and blues sirens: she was a lot of those. Eisenberg didn’t just think outside the box: that box existed only as a target for her surrealist wit…or to be destroyed. How cruel that we’ll never know what else she might have had up her sleeve.

Whirlwind Violin Metal at a Favorite Uptown Spot Tonight

“Your prism is just a prison,” Stratospheerius frontman/violinist Joe Deninzon sings on the band’s latest single, Prism – streaming at Bandcamp – which they recorded live at the Progstock festival in New Jersey in 2019 . It’s surprisingly mellow for such a ferocious band, who dance through the tricky rhythms of this characteristically ambitious blend of 70s stadium rock and artsy metal with Andalucian violin flourishes. They survived the lockdown intact and are back tonight, May 12 at 11 PM at a favorite Manhattan spot, Shrine. The Harlem venue is a scruffy little place which is not known for being particularly organized. Considering the location, it’s highly unlikely that there are any apartheid door restrictions.

The band have another single from the Progstock show, Game of Chicken, which is also up at Bandcamp. Moving through clustering minor-key riffs, the band build to a ferocious guitar/violin duel on the way out. “Drowning in the false alarmers…Chicken Little is hungry for you, on your way to your alley of doom,” Deninzon sings: a prophetic statement from right around the time the Gates Foundation and Johns Hopkins were staging Event 201, the final rehearsal for the 2020 plandemic.

A third single, Cognitive Dissonance, could be the Alan Parsons Project at their heaviest and most complicated.

The last time this blog was in the house at a Stratospheerius show, it was in late May, 2018 at Gold Sounds in Bushwick on a killer twinbill with another tyrannosaurus of a band, Book of Harmony. Tragically, there is no field recording of the show in the archive here, although Book of Harmony did have the presence of mind to put several songs from a Drom show earlier that year up at youtube. Their band’s lone album is still up at Soundcloud: serendipitously, the oceanic first track is titled Echoes of Freedom. Less serendipitously, the band did not survive the lockdown.

That album features the band’s original singer, Leah Martin. By the time the group reached Bushwick, they had a new singer, an Asian woman with a dramatic intensity that may have been influenced by pansori or kabuki theatre. Bandleader/lead guitarist Anupam Shobhakar is also an accomplished sarod player and has a background in Indian music, which translated less in terms of riffage than long, labyrinthine, rhythmically impossible tone poems that seemed to go on for fifteen minutes at a clip.

If memory serves right, Stratospheerius headlined (the master concert list here isn’t clear on that). Deninzon was a whirlwind onstage, leaping down into the crowd and firing off lightning, Romany-flavored cascades of notes while the band pounced and roared behind him. The metal intensity grew as the show went on, the guitarist’s flurries of tapping entwined with Deninzon’s shivery, supersonic volleys. The crowd grew slowly, to the point where Deninzon actually had to dodge audience members as he spun across the floor in front of the stage. He may have to stay put at Shrine where there is less room for those kind of shenanigans.

An Aptly Restless Album and a Red Hook Gig From Genre-Defying Pianist Gabriel Zucker

Pianist Gabriel Zucker has carved out a distinctive niche as a leader in the New York improvisational music scene. He is an anomaly in that he has a strong neoromantic classical sensibility, and likes to both muddy the water (or clear the skies) with electronics. His songs can be incredibly tuneful one moment and messy the next. His latest album Leftover Beats, was recorded live in the studio on the Fourth of July, 2019 is streaming at Bandcamp and is more of an art-rock record. David Bowie and Radiohead are the most obvious influences.

Zucker’s spare, lingering, wistful phrases quickly dissolve in a chaotic whirlpool as the album’s title track gets underway, guitarist Tal Yahalom’s dissociative phrasing sliding closer to the center as drummer Alex Goldberg drives this babelogue upward to A Day in the Life, more or less.

The group follow a bit of a Radiohead-flavored interlude into the second number, Shallow Times and its snidely loopy late 70s Bowie-esque art-rock drama. Yahalom slips into the skronky Adrian Belew role.

“I used to write so much more than I do, I used to fall in love so much more than I do,” Zucker intones with more than a hint of angst in Songbird, a bittersweet ballad livened with Goldberg’s tumbling drums. It’s the missing link between the Grateful Dead and peak-era mid-zeros Botanica.

The trio veer from a lingering ballad to a cascading art-rock crush in Someone to Watch You, Part 2. Drunken Calypso definitely sounds drunken but not particular Caribbean, each band member squirreling their way toward an emphatic unity, Predictably, Zucker completely flips the script with an attractive take of the Dirty Projectors’ Impregnable Question, a ballad without words. He returns to a mashup of Radiohead, Botanica and jazz poetry to wind up the record with Someone to Watch You, Part 3.

Zucker’s next gig is May 15 at 7 PM at the Red Hook Record Store on Van Brunt just before you hit Pioneer; it’s about a fifteen-minute walk from the front of the downtown F train at Carroll St. Take First Place all the way to Summit, go over the pedestrian bridge, make a u-turn and then follow Summit past the playground triangle and hang a left on Van Brunt.

Sami Stevens Brings Her Blue-Flame Soul Intensity to the Lower East Side

Sami Stevens was sixteen when she sang the national anthem at Fenway Park. That’s a gig that’s just as difficult to get as it is to pull off. If there’s video evidence, it’s well hidden, which is too bad. It’s a fair bet that she hit it out of the park, sometime around the tail end of the Tito Francona era, in the years when the Red Sox were struggling to sustain the level they’d reached after their 2007 world championship.

More recently, Stevens has become one of the most electrifying singers in New York. She’s the not-so-secret weapon in faux-Italian psychedelic soundtrack band Tredici Bacci, and before the lockdown held down a popular residency at the Parkside in Ditmas Park. She’s back at an old haunt, the small room at the Rockwood in a couple of days, at 8 PM on April 28.

Stevens put out the full-length album And I’m Right in 2017 with her band And the Man I Love, which is still up at Bandcamp. The production is refreshingly oldschool, organic and features a full band with horns, shades of early Lake Street Dive. Stevens’ songwriting isn’t constrained to four minutes or less, and her songs are spiced with thoughtful sax solos and keyboard work (Stevens plays piano; it’s not clear if that’s her on the record). The title track to that one is a good indication of the kind of simmering intensity she channels onstage, a big, wounded, gospel-tinged struggler’s anthem in 6/8 time.

Stevens works a slinky/slashing dichotomy in Over and Over, another catchy, expansive ballad. She takes a more breathily expressive approach to Baby Blue, a retro Bill Withers-style tune, then follows a simmering, gospel-fueled upward trajectory in Where Will I Find My Best Friend. Then she picks up the pace with A Child They Said Was Mine, a parable of urban disquiet that rings just as true now

There’s also the catchy, steady self-empowerment strut Learn to Love, with its fluttery horns and starry keys; She Is God, a spine-tingling, impassioned shout-out to everyday female determination; and a slightly truncated single version of the title cut. If you missed this the first time around, it’s one of the most imaginative, purist albums of soul music released in the past several years.

Stevens’ most recent release is a short album, Make Your Mind, which she put out in the fall of 2020 and is also up at Bandcamp. In general, it’s more low-key, trippy and neosoul-oriented.

Jamband Legends Blackberry Smoke Tackle the Stones Just in Time For 4/20

Beyond the band at your local bar butchering Honky Tonk Women or Brown Sugar, consider how few Rolling Stones covers there really are. That’s because it’s not as easy to play them as it might seem.

Seriously – if you’re going to cover some other band’s song, you either have to do it better than the original, or completely differently…or pretty much note for note. That last approach is the one that Blackberry Smoke take on their brand-new vinyl album Stoned, streaming at Spotify just in time for 4/20.

Interestingly, the band focus mostly on one specific period in Stones history, with tracks from Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street. Most of this stuff is iconic. How does it come off? Pretty damn well.

The level of craft here is meticulous but not stuffy and reverential: these guys nail the simmering tube amp atmosphere but also the pervasive, doomed cynicism of the originals. Guitarists Charlie Starr and Paul Jackson latch onto the slide-driven swagger of the first track, All Down the Line – and Starr enunciates way better than Mick Jagger. Bassist Richard Turner and drummer Brit Turner are a little more four-on-the-floor than Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts; Brandon Still’s spare, Nashville-inspired piano is an improvement on the Exile version.

“It’s just that demon lie that got you in its sway” – how cool is it to actually hear the lyrics to that one? The guitar sonics are an eerie approximation of the opiated original, Still’s echoey electric piano enhancing the vibe.

As Still’s organ rises in the mix in Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, the band switch out the lowrider soul for a more psychedelic approach. Tumbling Dice is more chill and focused than the original – and Jagger’s endless gambling metaphors are actually pretty clever! Who knew!

The band move forward in time a few albums for a second-gen cover, Just My Imagination – arguably the best one the Stones themselves ever did. This one doesn’t have the unleashed roar of the Some Girls version. Good song, solidly played.

Likewise, I Got the Blues – the real gem among the deep cuts on Sticky Fingers – is sketchier than the original. The band close with a ripsnorting take of Street Fighting Man, a great choice: they do to it what the Stones did to Just My Imagination.

How good does all this sound if you’re stoned? You be the judge. It takes a lot of memory to run a music blog, in every sense of the word. Blackberry Smoke’s next stop on their latest tour is tomorrow night, April 21 at around 8:30 PM at the Norva, 317 Monticello Ave. in Norfolk, Virginia. Another solid southern-fried band, Anthony Rosano and the Conqueroos open the night at 7:30; cover is $27.50.

Yet Another Tab of Treats on the Latest Brown Acid Compilation

Every year, in celebration of 4/20, the warped brain trust behind the Brown Acid vinyl compilations release a new volume in the series. The initial concept focused on resurrecting rare heavy psych and proto-metal singles from the late 60s and early 70s. As the years went on, the project grew into a quasi-solstice celebration, twice a year, and began to encompass heavy funk as well as the occasional thrashy, garagey R&B or protest song, which makes sense considering that a lot of this music dates from the Vietnam War era. The brand-new fourteenth volume – streaming at Bandcamp – is a characteristically wide-ranging and entertaining celebration of stoner excess. For whatever reason, this one is somewhat more pop-oriented: Nuggets on Thai stick.

The first track is Fever Games, by Harrisburg, Pennsylvania band the Legends. Stoner boogie gives way to heavy funk in this 1969 Hendrix homage with a devious Little Wing quote – not the one you think – and Iron Butterfly drums.

Detroit duo Mijal & White’s 1974 B-side is a throwback to early heavy British pop bands like the Herd: some excellent extrovert drum work here. The real rediscovered gem on this playlist is Texas band Liquid Blue’s 1969 obscurity Henry Can’t Drive (why can’t he get behind the wheel? Guess).. Lead guitarist Ted Hawley would go on to become an important figure in Texas blues: his slithery multitracks here are exquisite.

The San Francisco Trolley Company were actually a Michigan band, represented by their fierce 1970 original, Signs. With the group’s cheap amps spewing dust-bunny overtones, it stands up strongly alongside the heavier Detroit acts of the era like SRC.

The contribution from West Virginia garage rock project Blue Creed is pretty generic. One of the most obscure but tightest and catchiest tunes here is Play It Cool, Transfer’s slyly shuffling, slightly surfy 1974 shout-out to stoners on the DL. Even less is known about Appletree, whose cowbell-driven single You’re Not The Only Girl (I’m Out To Get) is built around some tightly scrambling lead guitar work.

There’s an interesting blend of Beatles and Hendrix in I’m Tired, by Chicago collar-county area band Cox’s Army. The last song is the Columbus, Ohio crate-digger favorite Raven’s 1975 mostly one-chord jam Raven Mad Blues, a prime example of the extreme hippie self-indulgence the Brown Acid records sometimes descend into. Punk rock was born as an antidote to monstrosities like this – although as a comedic coda to this latest installment, it’s pretty priceless. May there be many more.

Some Killer Rare and Unreleased Sonic Youth Rescued From the Archives

Other than field recordings, is there anything left in the Sonic Youth vault worth hearing that hasn’t already been released? As it turns out. yes, and some of it is prime! It’s a bit of a shock that several of the tracks on the new album In/Out/In – streaming at Bandcamp – haven’t surfaced until now. These rare and previously unreleased cuts date from the final decade of the most influential rock band of the past forty years.

One-chord jams, or close facsimiles, predominate here. In the case of one song, In & Out, a very late-period outtake, it’s amusing to watch SY turn into Yo La Tengo, a band they influenced so profoundly. Over Steve Shelley’s surprisingly muted, galloping rhythm, the guitarists assemble starry, chiming accents amid a warm drone laced with occasional flickers of feedback and Kim Gordon’s breathy, allusive, wordless vocals.

The opening instrumental is a false start: it could be your band, or anyone else’s, hesitatingly jamming out a two-chord Velvets vamp. Social Static, the theme from the Chris Habib/Spencer Tunick film, is a steady, one-note musique concrète mood piece that collapses into loops of feedback, oscillations, pulsing noise and R2D2 in hara-kiri mode: SY at their most industrially ugly but also subtly funny. No spoilers.

Machine, an outtake from The Eternal sessions, is a rare gem: a steady, midtempo stomp bristling with the band’s often-imitated-but-never-duplicated, dissociative close harmonies and layers of gritty textures that grow more assaultive. Why was this left off the album? Space considerations?

Out & In, an epic instrumental workout from 2000 is the real standout here. There’s a wry allusion to the moment The Wonder segues into Hyperstation (arguably the high point of the Daydream Nation album), with signature off-center Thurston Moore raga riffage, and just enough microtonality and clouds of overtones to let the ghosts in under the door. Everything falls away to buzz-and-clang midway through, then they start over with a squall that’s absolutely evil. The band take it out with a stampeding over-the-shoulder nod to Captain Beefheart. This is a must-own for fans and a surprisingly good overview for beginners.

A Feast of Jangle and Clang From David Koral

Psychedelic lead guitarists are not usually associated with lyricism, but David Koral is the rare guy who is. He has an impressively eclectic history playing in various New York rock scenes and is also a first-class songwriter with a strong lit-rock streak. He’s got a couple of singles up at Bandcamp that you should hear.

The latest one, Morning Gathers In comes at you in waves, a rainy-day janglefest like peak-era mid-80s REM without the mumblemouth. This one’s an imagistically loaded cross-Manhattan stroll:

Dark in a flash
In your eyes
Was a taste
For a night to behold
A flight to unfold

There’s also an older song, Handful of Mist. which makes a good segue. It’s a little more upbeat: you can hear influences as diverse as the Rain Parade, the Church and Jefferson Airplane. Now if he would only break out that long-rumored cover of Billy Idol’s Flesh For Fantasy…

Eclectic Soul, Jazz and Funk Tunesmithing From Saxophonist Alison Shearer

Alto saxophonist Alison Shearer comes out of a jazz background but also writes genre-busting songs that bridge the worlds of soul, psychedelia and funk. Her debut album View From Above is streaming at Bandcamp. Her attack is nimble, purposeful, and her songs tend to be on the bright side. Shearer’s not-so-secret weapon here is keyboardist Kevin Bernstein, who fleshes out the material with layers of organ, Bernie Worrell-ish synth patches, electric and acoustic piano.

The first track is On Awakening, a cheery, kinetically loopy interweave of Shearer’s dancing sax and Marty Kenney’s blippy bass over Bernstein’s woozy P-Funk-ish keyboard layers, drummer Horace Phillips providing a solid footing. Shearer builds her mistily propulsive solo to a triumphantly emphatic series of closing riffs

Celestial has brightly circling sax hooks over a well-worn singer-songwriter progression that Bernstein quickly expands with his pointillistic piano, shreddy guitar voicings on the synth kicking off a cheery, singalong Shearer solo. The next tune, Cycles is a lithely dancing Hollywood Hills boudoir soul tune balanced with some neat triangulations between electric piano, sax and Wayne Tucker’s trumpet

Miranda Joan sings Breathe Again, a crescendoing, occasionally gospel-tinged soul-jazz ballad reflecting a hope to emerge into renewed freedom and optimism.

Shearer uses the vampy. swaying Toni’s Tune as a launching pad for catchy, misty soloing, bookeneded around a doublespeed bridge. “Art is dangerous,” a voiceover reminds, “Because dictators, and people in office, and people who want to control and deceive know exactly the people who will disturb their planning.” Take that, Klaus Schwab!

Tucker returns for tightly syncopated. bittersweet harmonies in Three Flights Up, anchored by Bernstein’s twinkling, resonant Rhodes. Jonathan Hoard, Vuyo Sotashe and Chauncey Matthews interchange on vocals in Big Kids; Bernstein plays somber neoromantic piano and Susan Mandel provides shivery cello behind a sobering sample of Martin Luther King commenting on police brutality.

Hattie Simon’s cut-and-pasted vocals float over a gentle, wistful, spare soul backdrop in Purple Flowers. The best song on the album is Dawn to Dusk, Shearer shifting from a stark, loopy Ethiopiques theme to swirly psych-funk and back. She winds up the album with Gentle Traveler, a warmly catchy song without words: the contrast between carefree sax and pensive cello is a neat touch.

Shearer doesn’t have any unrestricted gigs coming up, but Tucker is leading a quintet at Smalls tonight, March 17 at 7:30 PM. The trumpeter has a fiery side but is just as much at home in balmy Afrobeat-flavored sounds, and he likes to croon. The club is open again with no restrictions; cover is $25 at the door.

Kiko Villamizar Puts Out a New Socially Conscious Psychedelic Cumbia Album

Guitarist/bandleader Kiko Villamizar gives the listener plenty of food for thought with his new album Todo El Mundo, streaming at youtube. There’s a lot of impressively relevant subject matter for a party record. If you like your cumbia with some oldschool punk rock edge and bite, this is your jam.

But this isn’t any ordinary party record: in its ramshackle, ferocious way, it’s a throwback to the classic chicha music of the early 70s, when not all the songs were about drinking and partying and chasing women. Much as Villamizar’s songs are psychedelic and danceable, he’s been addressing issues like anti-immigrant bigotry and the threat of environmental destruction since the beginning of his career.

Villamizar is Colombian by heritage: he sings in Spanish, and even though there are plenty of serious songs on the album, he hasn’t lost his surreal sense of humor. He also asserts himself on guitar more than he ever has, right from the start with the opening track, Tuya Tuyita, a classic psychedelic cumbia in a Juaneco vein, burning with distortion over the flurrying groove from bassist Greg Goodman and drummer Michael Longoria, with Beto Cartagena on caja vallenata. The gist of the song is taking ownership of your life, for better or worse.

Villamizar turns up the surfy reverb on Siembra el Maiz, a trippy reminder that it’s time to start planting seeds if we want to create something better. Guest Victor Cruz’s gaita hembra reed flute wafts through the clang of the guitar and the thicket of percussion in the album’s title track, a swaying, electrified take on coastal Colombian bullerengue which addresses the ironies in how people native to the Americas are the first to be imprisoned by la migra.

Guru is not a an Indian theme but a biting funk-tinged latin soul groove. Flor de Maracuyá is a rambunctious tribute to the passion flower that’s ubiquitous in climates further south. Villamizar fires off some pretty wild guitar spirals in Papa Soltero, then mashes up a classic chicha sound with cheery bullerengue in La Caravana.

The best song on the album is Tiempo de los Cucuyos, a slow, slinky, elegantly careening number that poses some provocative questions about how the earth might be trying to wake us to how we need to take care of her. Later, the band wind their way through El Grillo, the record’s most amusing and crazed track. They close with Lelolai, which is funny for completely different reasons.