New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: psychedelic folk

Politically Fearless Noir Mexican Psychedelia at Lincoln Center Thursday Night

“This has been a long time in the making,” Lincoln Center’s Meera Dugal told an ecstatic crowd there Thursday evening.  “Tonight you are in for a treat, a powerful and soulful voice.” Then she let Edna Vazquez’s charismatic presence and slinky, thoughtful, psychedelic, often haunting songs speak for themselves.

Maybe the singer/guitarist’s stunningly eclectic blend of styles mirrors her Mexican ancestry, considering that Mexico is every bit as much of a melting pot as the US. “The Mexican government is not so different from this one,” she wryly confided three songs into her set. And then spun through the rapidfire chord changes of a tune that could be characterized as noiriachi…or the great lost Arthur Lee hit from 1966. Did he rip a mariachi riff for the ominous scamper of 7 and 7 Is…or did Vazquez hear that and decide to take that idea to the next level, with a message about freeing ourselves from the distraction that keeps us from joining forces and overthrowing the forces of evil? Or did each artist come up with those ideas completely independently?

Playing acoustic guitar and singing  mostly in Spanish in a formidable, intense mezzo-soprano that often brought to mind Nina Simone, Vazquez and her five-piece band opened with a psychedelic rock number that put a bouncy, syncopated spin on the old Status Quo hit Pictures of Matchstick Men, keyboardist Gil Assayas adding extra menace with his downwardly cascading glockenspiel lines. Then the group – which also included William Marsh on lead guitar, 3 Leg Torso’s Milo Fultz on bass and Jesse Brooke on drums – launched into the first of several slinky numbers that sounded like Love teleported to Mexico City, 1967.

Fultz switched from upright to Fender bass for Do You See, by Vazquez’s old band No Passengers, a kinetic, funk-tinged number with Lynchian lead guitar and keys and a big powerpop chorus –  the Motels gone south of the border. Marsh played allusively uneasy blues on a big anti-globalization anthem; Assayas’ brooding organ and evilly starry keys flickered through the noir new wave number that followed.

From there the band pounced their way through muted trip-hop about the serendipities of meeting random strangers, then driving backbeat rock, a mashup of Cuban rhumba and noir Mexican bolero, and a brisk new wave rock number- is there any style in Spanish or English that this woman can’t write in?

She aired out the big a-cappella intro to Sola, the night’s most dynamic and dramatic anthem, with a dark gospel-flavored intensity that built to righteous 60s soul rage,  When she finally got to the cumbia number that the dancers out on the floor had seemed to be waiting for, it turned out to be a cheery hybrid of vintage soul and Peruvian psychedelia.

An ecstatic crowd called her back for three encores: an understatedly haunting, spare solo acoustic take of the Mexican folk classic La Llorona, a stately, soaring mariachi tune with the band going full steam and then an imploringly resonant soul ballad, which Vazquez sang in English.

Vazquez and band are at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC tomorrow night, Nov 6 at 6 PM; the show is free. And the next concert at Lincoln Center’s atrium space just north of 62nd Street is this Friday, Nov 10 at 7:30 PM, with Afro-Cuban percussionist Roman Diaz joining forces with the Brooklyn Raga Massive  to reinvent classic Indian themes. This show is also free – the earlier you get there, the better.

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Ampersan Play Dreamy, Cinematic Tropical Psychedelia in Their New York Debut at Lincoln Center

There were some ecstatic moments in Ampersan’s New York debut at Lincoln Center last night, part of the ongoing Celebrate Mexico Now festival. The high point might have been where the punteador and jarana of the five-piece Mexico City band’s founders Kevin Garcia and frontwoman Zindu Cano intertwined with a rippling, slinky intensity. But more often than not, throughout their roughly hourlong set,  the music was simply something to get lost in, reflecting the band’s long background scoring for film.

Ampersan make hypnotic, psychedelic sounds with instruments typically associated with far more boisterous styles. The show came together slowly. Was this going to be just another evening of vampy trip-hop-influenced tropicalia with the occasional psychedelic flourish? The lilting, harmony-infused opening number and the stately candombe ballad afterward suggested that, bassist Sergio Medrano’s terse pulse in tandem with cajon player Héctor Aguilar Chaire and his fellow percussionist Nirl Cano.

Then the group took a detour into reggaeton and Cano switched to violin, raising the energy with his stark, rustic resonance. Garcia played mostly electric guitar and the small, uke-like punteador. Rocking a slinky, gothic black dress, the group’s lead singer began the set on jarana and then switched to guitar; she also had a couple of mics set up for her vocals, one which she ran through a mixer for subtle atmospheric effects.

Then Garcia went up to the board, twiddled with it as it hiccupped and burped…and just when it seemed that the electronics were about to clear the room, they simmered down and the group followed with what could have been the best song of the night, a lush, dreamy, slowly crescendoing tropical psychedelic anthem. The quintet would make their way through more of these while animated videos of Adriana Ronquillo and Mónica González’s mystical deep-forest narratives and imagery played on the screen above the stage.

Likewise, the band’s Spanish-language lyrics have a mysterious, allusive quality: themes of escape, and unease, and occasional heartbreak floated to the surface over the music’s graceful pulse. They like to use poetry from across the ages and hit another peak when they brought up son jarocho champion and poet Zenen Zeferino to deliver a defiant, characteristically eloquent freestyle. As they romped their way through some snazzy Veracruz party polyrhythms, he alluded to how Mexico is just as much or even more of a melting pot than the United States. The implication was that this intelligence ought to trump the demagoguery seeping from the bowels of the White House.

The group brought the show full circle at the end, Zula’s voice receding from a fullscale wail to a tender balminess. The concluding concert of this year’s Celebrate Mexico Now festival is a free show this Sunday, Oct 22 at 3 PM at the Queens Museum in Crotona Park with cinematic music by violinist Carlo Nicolau along with post-industrial projections by video artist Vanessa Garcia Lembo. And the next show at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway north of 62nd St. is tonight, Oct 20 at 7:30 with oldschool salsa dura band Avenida B.

A Killer Triplebill Foreshadows a Great Psychedelic Show on the LES

This Thursday, March 30 at 8 PM there’s a rare, intimate performance by second-wave Los Angeles psychedelic legends the Jigsaw Seen at Bowery Electric. They’re followed by the much louder New York Junk, whose retro sound moves forward in time another ten years to the Max’s Kansas City early punk rock scene. Cover is a ridiculously cheap, CBGB-era $8.

The Jigsaw Seen’s latest album, streaming at Spotify, is aptly titled For the Discriminating Completist. It’s a collection of B-sides and rarities. There’s an album of new material in the works, and frontman Dennis Davison has also recently immersed himself in a brand-new dark acoustic project, Witchfinder Witch, a duo with New York folk noir icon Lorraine Leckie. Speaking of which, she has an incendiary new protest single, America Weeping, just out and available as a free download at Bandcamp

The two made their debut at Pete’s Candy Store on a Saturday night in January, Davison on acoustic guitar and Leckie on piano. The highlight of that gig was Cave Canem, a witheringly lyrical anthem that casts the history of dogs – and centuries of canine abuse – as a metaphor for humans’ crimes against their own species.

A few days later at Maxwell’s, the duo were the centerpiece of what’s arguably been the best triplebill of the year. Debby Schwartz opened the show, jangling adn clanging through a series of arcane British folk turnings on her hollowbody Gretsch, bolstered by Bob Bannister’s nuanced, artfully jeweled, Richard Thompson-esque Strat work, Rose Thomas Bannister supplying lush harmonies and percussion. Through neo-Britfolk and more dreampop-oriented material, Schwartz sang with her her soaring, diamond-cutter delivery, dreaming New York City in the middle of LA and finally closing with a stunning take of the psych-folk anthem Hills of Violent Green.

By now, Witchfinder Witch had shaken off whatever early jitters they might have had: they’d come to conquer. Davison spun bittersweet, pun-infused psych pop gems weighing the pros and cons of clinical depression (do it right and you get tons of songs out of it) and a couple of darkly allusive, mystically-tinged co-writes with Leckie. She charmed and seduced the crowd with blue-flame red-light cabaret tune or two, a jaunty S&M piano number that was so deadpan that it was creepily plausible, and a mysterious, hypnotic folk noir tableau that could have been about heroin, or simply death itself. The crowd was rapt.

The Pretty Babies headlined, putting a deliriously fun coda on what had been a low-key, entrancing evening up to then. Professional subversive and rockstar impersonator Tammy Faye Starlite – who’s channeling Nico on Thursdays in April at 7:30 PM at Pangea – led the world’s funniest Blondie cover band through a stampeding take of Dreaming as well as a surprising number of deeper cuts from the band’s early days when they rocked harder. If memory serves right, Tammy took a hilariously politically-fueled detour that eventually drove Call Me off the rails. Everybody in the band has a funny, punny Blondie name. Was bassist Monica Falcone – who absolutely nailed the wry disco lines in Heart of Glass – newly christened as Chrissie Stein? It’s hard to remember who else everybody else was: Heidi Lieb and Keith Hartel as Frank Infantes separated at birth, and expert standins for Jimmy Destri on keys and Clem Burke on drums. Hearing the Pretty Things and watching the crowd on their feet and bopping along was a jab in the ribs that said, hey, the original outfit was pretty good too. 

Dervisi Recreate a Shadowy World of Gangsters, Underground Revolutionaries and Hash Smoke

As guitarist Steve Antonakos puts it, Dervisi – his rembetiko guitar duo with fellow six-stringer George Sempepos – plays “gangster blues.” The two put a psychedelic spin on the haunting, Middle Eastern-flavored sound borne on waves of displacement when hundreds of thousands of refugees, most of them of Greek heritage, returned to their ancestral land from Cyprus and Turkey in the wake of brutality and repression in the years right before World War I. Aliens from a Middle Eastern culture suddenly thrown into a Mediterranean one, many of these people became part of the underground resistance to tyranny on their new turf. Their music is plaintive, full of cruel ironies and soul and colorful stories, in the same vein as American blues.

For the last couple of years, Dervisi have held down a couple of regular monthly residencies in Brooklyn and Queens. Sempepos is one of the real mavens of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern psychedelia, dating from his days leading Annabouboula, one of the few Greek psych bands to reach an audience beyond the Aegean. These days, he also leads even harder-rocking surf band the Byzantones. Antonakos also has a background in Greek psychedelia, notably with Magges, and is a ubiquitous presence in the New York Americana scene. He’s one of the most interesting and instantly recognizable lead guitar virtuosos around, but in this band he plays mainly rhythm. It was fun to catch their Greenpoint residency at Troost earlier this month; on June 16, they return to their regular Queens haunt, the intimate Espresso 77 at 35-57 77th St. in Jackson Heights; take the 7 train to 74th St./Broadway..

In Dervisi’s music, you can hear where Dick Dale got his inspiration. This time out Sempepos had not only his his guitar but also a saz lute, which he hit pretty hard for all manner of plinks and clanks: it has a very distinctive, spiky sound, well-suited to the music’s serpentine, slinky grooves. Singing in Greek in his signature, sonorous baritone, he and Antonakos were joined by ex-Annabouboula clarinetist George Stathos, who added uneasily quavery melismatics and tightly wound spirals as the stringed instruments fluttered and sputtered behind him. One by one, Sempepos explained the songs for those in the crowd (probably everybody) who didn’t speak Greek. A defiantly catchy, steadily pulsing anthem celebrated the joys of smoking hash with fellow stoners. A jailhouse scenario, a bunch of bad guys conspiring what they were going to do when they got out, was more low-key.

The most memorable tune of the night might have been a stalking number told from the point of view of Death, who goes out looking for the party just like everybody else. The duo also took a couple of the classics that the Byzantones play and brought them full circle, back to their smoky, rustic, broodingly modal roots. Late in the set, they surprised everybody with a jaunty Bollywood freak-folk theme. This music may seem esoteric, and one level it is, but so is cumbia, and look at how that went global. Maybe rembetiko is next: if Antonakos and Sempepos get their way, someday it will be.

Goddess Releases One of the Year’s Best and Most Hauntingly Psychedelic Albums

Goddess are one of New York’s most phantasmagorical, individualistic bands. There is no other group in town who sound remotely like them. Part creepy 60s psychedelic act, part folk noir, part underground theatre troupe, they create a magically eerie ambience, whether live or on record. It was a treat to be able to catch their most recent performance at a private party in south Brooklyn: the album release show for their fantastic new one, Paradise, streaming at Bandcamp. Maybe it was the low lights over a leafy back courtyard – or maybe it was Ember Schrag‘s dangerous gin punch-  but as it went on, the show built an electrically suspenseful ambience, like being invited to a wiccan ceremony or some kind of sacrifice, a real-life Stonehenge hidden away just up the block from Fourth Avenue.

Andy Newman’s lushly enveloping multi-keys are one of the keys to the band’s sound. The other is Tamalyn Miller’s one-string violin, which she built herself. With no training as a violinist, she created her own otherworldly style, sometimes trancelike, other times savage and menacing. Singer Fran Pado maxes out both the band’s surrealistic, theatrical side and also the creepiness factor. Bassist/keyboardist Bob Maynard and polymath guitar sorcerer Bob Bannister complete the picture.

The album’s opening track, Leave Here builds a gorgeously enveloping web of acoustic guitars, the women adding their eerie vocal harmonies, rising to a hauntingly bracing interlude, the stark overtones of the violin contrasting with the gently suspenseful lattice behind it. Death by Owls, a mini-suite, juxtaposes an uneasy lullaby theme with pulsing, warily echoey vocals and then a psych-folk march that looks back to vintage King Crimson or the Strawbs at their most psychedelic. Begins sets soaring, stately, gorgeous vocal harmonies over what could be a horror-film piano theme. By now, it’s clear there’s a narrative of sorts, if a rather opaque one: “Like a finger in the palm, like the death of remorse,” the women intone.

Ponies, a slow folk-rock piano theme, switches from a Brothers Grimm-style tale of mass drowning to a balmy, nocturnal Peter Zummo trombone solo. The band builds contrastingly ethereal vocals and droll electronic keys throughout the anthemic, late Beatlesque Belladonna Honey. Grey Skull works a disquieting dichotomy between ethereal, mellotron-like art-rock orchestration and stark, spare strings, Prado’s mysterious vocals soaring calmly overhead.

Married opens with the mantra “this is not a dream,” those richly soaring vocals over spare, baroque-tinged classical guitar, Miller providing a menacing, multitracked outro. The album winds up with the majestically elegaic title track, an escape anthem fueled by organ and violin, Pado’s gently alluring vocals joined by a choir of voices: a shot of hope breaking through the gloom that’s been gathering all the way to this point. What is this all about? It’s not clear. What is clear is that this is an album you have to spend some time with, and get lost in. Its closest relative is Judy Henske and Jerry Yester”s 1969 cult classic Farewell Aldebaran; someday this too may be just as prized by collectors of magical esoterica.

The outdoor show featured another, similarly phantasmagorical suite, this one a sinister, tragicomic tale of a witch who hypnotizes and then moves in with a hapless New Jersey family, who must then use what little strength they have left to break free of the spell. No spoilers here! And for the icing on the cake, Schrag played a set afterward with her full band, Bannister doing double duty on lead guitar, with Debby Schwartz playing lusciously slippery slides and chords on bass and Gary Foster behind the drum kit, matching Bannister’s edgy nuance. Highlights of the set were not one but two Macbeth-themed new ones. What’s become more and more intriguing, watching Schrag’s repertoire grow over the past several months, is how she takes fire-and-brimstone biblical imagery and turns it back on itself, a savagely articulate critique set to similarly biting, incisive psychedelic rock. Speaking of which, she’s playing Hifi Bar (the old Brownies) at 8 PM on July 2. Watch this space for upcoming Goddess gigs – with their theatrical, multimedia bent, they like to make their events special and for that reason haven’t been playing live a lot lately.

Psychedelic Cumbia Legends Juaneco y Su Combo’s Feral First Two Albums Available for the First Time Outside Peru

In 2008, Barbes Records released the first collection of recordings by Juaneco y Su Combo ever issued outside of the strange and hitherto obscure band’s native Peru. Beginning in the late 60s, Juaneco y Su Combo were pioneers of a surreal, viscerally psychedelic blend of surf music, acid rock, Peruvian folk tunes, Colombian grooves and Cuban dances, which became known as chicha. The corn beverage whose name became attached to the music is sort of the Peruvian equivalent of malt liquor: the ghetto intoxicant of choice. Used as an adjective, it connotes exactly that: “ghetto.“ The chicha revolution in Peru mirrored what was happening at the same time with roots reggae in Jamaica or with turbo-folk in the Balkans: electric instruments and American rock influences transforming the local flavors. That, and planeloads of ganja.

Among the scores of amazing bands – Los Destellos, Los Mirlos, Los Wremblers and Los Diablos Rojos, among others –   playing chicha (or “cumbia sicodelica”) during its peak in the 70s, Juaneco y Su Combo were among the strangest and most feral. They dressed in Shipibo Indian costumes – a radical and considerably dangerous look to adopt, considering how brutally persecuted that population had been from the days of the conquistadors through the dictatorship of Juaneco‘s era. With keening Farfisa organ, tinny electric guitars and bass, the band mixed and ripped coastal Afro-Cuban chants, rustic mountain melodies, hypnotic jungle beats and spiky, glimmering, eerily reverberating surf riffage. Now, the Vital Record has made Juaneco y Su Combo’s first 1970 singles and ep, plus their 1972 full-length debut available for the first time ever outside of Peru as an eighteen-track anthology titled The Birth of Jungle Cumbia. These rare sides – remastered from collectible vinyl since the original masters were lost long ago – capture the band at their wildest, before any producer had the chance to tone down their sound.

As with most chicha bands, their songs are mostly instrumental: the band chants a chorus – usually about a girl, or partying, or local mythology – or somebody exclaims, “Tasty!” and that‘s about it. The occasional out-of-tune guitar, crunched chord or missed beat only adds to the raw spontaneity of the music, obviously recorded live and probably without any second takes. The top end of the Farfisa distorts a lot, and you can hear the engineer tweak levels or even the master volume on the fly.

The band’s de facto frontman, lead guitarist Noe Fachin, was a visionary tunesmith, but as a musician he wasn’t always the witch doctor he was reputed to be. If only he’d practiced more, or hadn’t gotten so stoned before he went into the studio for these sessions: one of the reasons Juaneco’s early material sounds so feral is because Fachin’s lead lines can be so unhinged, losing his grip on his incessant, signature hammer-ons and pull-offs, or wandering away from the beat. While he proved capable of playing with a lot more focus, ultimately we’ll never know what he could have become because on May 2, 1977, he and five of his bandmates were killed in the second horrible plane crash to hit their native Puycallpa in six years. Bandleader Juan Wong Popolizio- who wasn’t on that plane – had lost two family members earlier in an even more horrific crash on Christmas Eve, 1971, which in a cruel stroke of irony the band memorializes in one of the more subdued numbers here.

The first dozen tracks are the 1972 album. A vamping clip-clop groove illustrates the story of an Amazonian centaur woman being chased by the devil, who whips her for being promiscuous. Fachin makes primitive fuzzbox rock out of birdsong, then on the next track staggers his catchy minor-key vamps while Juaneco tells a “negra linda” how much fun his cumbia is. The Farfisa echoes Fachin’s lead lines in very close counterpoint for one of the album’s coolest effects on Me Voy Pa’ Trompeteros: “I’m heading up to oil country,” essentially, a shout-out to regional pride.

Bassist Walter Dominguez contributes a bouncy, cheery number about a pretty palm fruit vendor along with a dedication to his daughter Karina that’s part Byrds, part proto-salsa. This band listened very eclectically: there are echoes of the Ventures’ Out of Limits on Perdido en El Espacio and go-go music on Bailando con Juaneco. The bandleader plays roller-rink organ over a scampering cumbia beat on Rosita y Las Avispitas (Rosita and the Hornets), and also contributes the slow, haunting, bolero-tinged vocal number El Forastero (The Stranger), sung passionately by guiro player Wilindoro Cacique.

The material from the 1970 sessions is a lot more interesting, more melodically complex, closer to rock than electrified Peruvian folk or cumbia, and Fachin is on top of his game even if the boomy sonics aren’t up to the level of the album from two years later. The lead guitarist’s deviously matter-of-fact, spiraling solo slowly pans from left to right and back on Sirenita Enamorada (Mermaid in Love) and he adds a dark chromatic edge to his phrasing on Guajira Loretana. Juaneco’s La Incognita is the most Cuban-flavored track here, followed by the aptly spritely La Danza Del Yacuruna (Dance of the Evil Water Spirit).

The final two tracks comprise the band’s first single. Romance Shipibo (the b-side) is darkly psychedelic folk-rock with a clattering Peruvian groove. And while Fachin’s happy-go-lucky shuffle Aguita de Manantay might bring to mind a babbling brook, the tributary in question was actually fetid and disgusting. Since Juaneco lived nearby, this was a band joke. Oh yeah – you can dance to everything here, in fact you’re supposed to.

After the second plane crash, Juaneco regrouped with the remaining members, although their sound changed considerably. The band is still active in Peru, with Cacique still on lead vocals. Where can you hear this amazing stuff online? Ummm…there isn’t much of anything at the album page, but there are a couple of tracks at the publicists’ site.

Lively, Intriguing Folk-Rock Jams from McGuffin Electric

Italian acoustic trio McGuffin Electric build an attractively pastoral psychedelic folk sound out the lush interweave of Matteo Fiorini’s guitars, banjo and uke, Erica Polini’s violin and Domenico Peluchetti’s bouzouki and bass. Their album Brightelephant, a free download from the atmospherically-inclined Acustronica netlabel, is aptly titled; their long instrumental vamps have a colorful airiness as well as elephantine length and heft.

The title track is a long, pretty, swaying Neapolitan folk-rock theme with atmospheric violin juxtaposed against slightly out-of-tune ukulele that adds a surreal edge. Kismet, Hardy rises and falls over a spare acoustic waltz tune, basically a dreamy, elegant one-chord jam like something off Pink Floyd’s Atomheart Mother. Somewhere in the North of Italy, a gently gorgeous stroll for guitar and bouzouki, works slowly shifting waves of dynamics – it sounds more lush than it actually is, credit to Fiorini and Peluchetti’s tight interplay. Seaside builds slowly with ghostly whispers echoing  around a quietly purposeful boogie riff.

I Don’t Give a Damn, the longest track here, is an extended jam that’s part Nick Drake, part Velvet Underground, lit up by Polini’s alternatingly stark and sailing violin. Kiss Me, Hardy is a considerably livelier blend of bluegrass fingerpicking, boisterous strumming and incisive violin work, with a nod to early 70s acoustic Hot Tuna. The album ends with Vivre Sa Vie and its sideways allusions to Romany jazz.  Who is the audience for this? Fans of the quieter side of jamband rock, the contemplative side of jazz, the rich Italian folk tradition, or simply the kind of music you can drift away to on a sunny Saturday morning. In addition to this album, Fiorini has a bunch of good stuff streaming at his Soundcloud page.

Magical Eastern European Sounds from Vasko Dukovski’s Amniotic Fluid

Vasko Dukovski is one of the world’s most highly sought-after clarinetists. He usually plays concert halls with orchestras and chamber ensembles. But the Macedonian-born reedman also has a passion for music from his native land, as well as Balkan and gypsy tunes. Earlier this year, he put out a deviously entertaining collection of droll folk-flavored themes under the name Amniotic Fluid, with eclectic percussionist Krume Stefanovski and powerhouse accordionist Jordan Kostov. It’s a pretty radical change from the classical and indie classical sounds that Dukovski is usually associated with, less of a display of sensational chops than imagination and wit.

The songs are a mix of moody vamps and less serious ones: the titles, like Sta-Me-Na and China Express Around the World, pretty much give them away. On the lighter side, there’s the carefree groove Svirci Iz Kavadarci (The Bulgarian in Honolulu), a sarcastic Jimmy Buffett lost-in-the-Balkans tune. There’s Salsa’s Journey, which takes a sassy ready-get-set-go riff and develops it into a psychedelic thicket of multitracked clarinet and accordion, capped off with a long, brightly sailing Dukovski solo. And Bace Don’t Kraj is no relation to the Cure: it’s a live trip-hop theme that builds to an allusive noir jazz atmosphere, Kostov blazing through a rapidfire staccato solo over an endless series of tricky rhythmic changes.

The cinematic Cabaret Bombay begins with foghorn clarinet and then morphs from a march into jazzy trip-hop, while Chobarium is more ambient and suspenseful. Vatashkata interchanges brooding gypsy-flavored interludes with a long, lively Macedonian dance. Slinky as it is, Sloga Sarajevo (Peace Sarajevo) has an inescapably apprehensive undercurrent. Muv Let- Melburnshka Tresenica mingles a series of rapidfire clusters with nimble, echoey vibraphone, while the trio turn the traditional Flying Bulgar into a jaunty tango.

But maybe in keeping with the intensity that defines Dukovski’s work, the two best songs on the album are its darkest. Veseliot Oktopod (Cheerful Octopus) starts out with a series of tongue-in-cheek, cartoonish motifs and then turns surprisingly plaintive: clearly, this octopus has issues. And the absolutely creepy, phantasmagorical carnival theme Be Careful Children packs more menace in its barely two minutes than most horror-movie soundtracks. All this goes to show what kind of magic can happen when you put three of the most original players in Eastern European music together and see what they come up with from basically just messing around.

Gorgeous Esoteric Psychedelic Sounds from Magges

Some of popular New York Greek-American band Magges‘ music is incredibly haunting, packed with Middle Eastern-tinged chromatics. Some of the songs on their new album 12 Tragouthia (meaning “12 Songs,” streaming all the way through at their Bandcamp site) have a rousing gypsy quality; some are simply upbeat and happy. Some of them definitely qualify as psychedelic rock, while others are obviously folk tunes. With all the esoteric, trippy rock from outside the English-speaking world in the 1960s and 70s having gone global over the last decade, it’s time that fans of groups like Chicha Libre and Dengue Fever discovered the Greek side of the equation. That’s what Magges brings to the table (along with lots of ouzo at their rock club gigs): it’s unbeatable party music. Their signature sound blends the twin bouzoukis of frontman Kyriakos Metaxas and Nick Mandoukos, with Steve Antonakos on acoustic rhythm guitar, Ken Forrest on upright bass and Spiros Edgos on drums, with Susan Mitchell adding her signature intensity on violin on several tracks.

The hardest-hitting tracks fall under the category of remebetiko, the Middle Eastern-flavored “Greek blues” which was equally popular with hash smokers and the freedom fighters battling the dictatorship there in the 1930s and 40s. The long, intense opening cut, Ego Maggas Fenomouna works its way from a big, crescendoing minor-key twin-bouzouki intro into a stately, stalking anthem, sort of a less ponderous counterpart to a bitter Russian dirge. The band goes happy and spiky with Ouzo and its catchy major/minor shifts, then back into the shadows again with Ena Vrathi Pou’Vrehe, its thunderstorm of bouzoukis and Mitchell’s steady, catchy hook against suspenseful, biting, ringing staccato riffage. Athikopnigmeni, one of the most psychedelic cuts here, is basically a one-chord jam with a series of unexpected dynamic shifts: deep thickets of bouzouki picking, and a stark, minimal vocal interlude that plays call-and-response with the instruments as the song grows more intense and elegaic, with allusions to the Byrds’ Eight Miles High.

They follow that one with Pente Magges, which has a Boulevard of Broken Dreams vibe, but slower and without the tango beat, a motor scooter sputtering away at the end. Twisting and turning on a chillingly beautiful two-bar twin bouzouki interweave, Haremia Me Diamandia turns a rembetiko anthem into Greek psychedelic rock. Se Kitazo sets Greek folk to a gypsy jazz shuffle, yet another reminder of how influential and widespread gypsy sounds had become before World War II. There’s also the bouncy minor-key folk-rock of Giati Glykia Mou Kles; the tensely bitter, expansive rembetiko anthem Ximeromata; Thalasies Handres, with its tricky rhythms and singalong chorus, and a couple of rapidfire dance numbers that speed up faster and faster, daring whoever’s on the dance floor to keep up with them. Count this as one of the most fascinating and fun albums of 2012; stream it here.

The Wiyos Make a Rock Record..and It’s Good!

To celebrate 4/20, here’s an account of a psychedelic rock record inspired by the Wizard of Oz. No, it’s not Dark Side of the Moon. It’s the new Wiyos album, Twist. Fans of the Wiyos know them as a high-energy oldtime blues/hillbilly/swing band with a live show that’s completely off the hook. On one level, this new album is about as radical a departure from their earlier sound as you can imagine. On the other hand, they’ve always had a carnivalesque side, which serves them well here. Except that this time out, it’s a dark carnival instead of the relentlessly upbeat, good-time circus atmosphere they’ve always brought with them. And it’s a surreal one.

The album isn’t a literal episode-by-episode companion to the Wizard of Oz, although it does loosely follow the plotline and features some of the characters. The Cowardly Lion is best represented via a savagely satirical Walmart wasteland set to a dark, minor-key shuffle with one of the album’s several reverb-toned surf guitar interludes. The Tin Man also appears, but without any references to the tropic of Sir Galahad or similar lightweight stoner gobbledygook. Lyrically, it’s on the jokey side, with lots of barely veiled pot references – “weed” rhymes with “seed” a lot, and there’s a “whole lot of mary jane to play in your cartoon.” It wouldn’t be fair to spoil the endless series of surprise twists and turns: suffice it to say that in a split second, the songs can morph from distantly menacing Waits-on-acid blues, to tango, to bossa nova, psychedelic folk, western swing, country waltzes, at least one warped rockabilly shuffle and a beginning and end like the oldtimey Wiyos everybody knows and loves. Two obvious references: Country Joe and the Fish, and Pigpen-era Grateful Dead, two groups who like the Wiyos got their start in oldtime folk sounds before becoming experienced. As usual, the guitar playing is incisive, versatile, and far more stylistically eclectic than this band’s ever been, boisterously supported by harmonicas of various tunings, jaunty brass, agilely pulsing bass and keyboards ranging from ominously echoing Fender Rhodes to tremoloing funeral organ. All this would make a good movie soundtrack…oh yeah, it kind of is one.