New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: psychedelic music

A Haunting, Riveting Opening Night at This Year’s Drive East Festival of Indian Music

The Drive East Festival has rapidly become the Indian music counterpart to the Charlie Parker Festival: New York’s most highly anticipated concert series in a rapidly growing demimonde. In recent years, opening night has been a feast of thrills and chills. This past evening, sitarist Hidayat Khan may have set the bar impossibly high for the rest of the week with his relentlessly haunting duo performance with tabla player Enayat Hossain. Then again, the rest of the schedule promises similarly transcendent moments.

In about an hour and a half onstage, Khan”s approach to a bracingly chromatic South Indian raga was nothing short of symphonic. What was most striking, intellectually, was how effortlessly and imaginatively he built a series of several thematic variations and then interpolated them into the piece. What was most emotionally riveting was how relentlessly sad the music was: Khan’s brow remained furrowed throughout the entire duration of his opening alap. If there was ever a raga to reflect this grim historical era, this was it.

Khan may have serious chops on the sitar, but he quickly made it clear that this wouldn’t be about searing solos: it was about poignancy, and longing for some kind of closure. He finally delivered that about three-quarters of the way through the concert, but not until then. The alap was spare, somber, bristling with unresolved phrases that tantalized but eluded any decisive landing. Khan’s virtuosity revealed itself the most in a series of wrist-twisting bent notes that he delivered with such force that it seemed he might be using an icy electronic effect like a chorus pedal.

Maybe whoever invented the chorus pedal once saw a sitar virtuoso doing the same thing to build that kind of ambience.

There was plenty of daunting interplay between sitar and tabla throughout the set, Khan challenging Hossain to match his increasingly thorny syncopation note for note: Hossain nailed every phrase. Other sitar virtuosos like to build dynamic contrasts and ride the waves up and down, but Khan was intent on watching the darkness. The central theme was a close approximation of the edgy Arabic hijaz mode, but without the microtones – unless you count the sometimes subtle, occasionally savage bent notes in his matter-of-fact, unrelentingly brooding phrases over Hossain’s sometimes galloping, sometimes stark four-on-the-floor beat

The two alluded to an Afro-Cuban clave for extra slinkiness about three-quarters of the way through, then hit the passing lane, only to detour to the shoulder of this musical road as Khan brought the plaintiveness of the central theme full circle. The Drive East Festival continues tomorrow night, August 6 at 6 PM at the Mezzanine Theatre at 502 W 53rd St with Bharatanatyam dancers Rasika Kumar, Sahasra Sambamoorthi and Nadhi Thekkek performing their new piece Unfiltered, inspired by the Metoo movement. There’s also a live score by spellbinding singer Roopa Mahadevan with violinists Sruti Sarathi and Arun Ramamurthy. Tickets are $30.

Uneasily Echoey Spacerock and Post-Velvets Psychedelia from the Abyssmals

The first thing you notice about the Abyssmals‘ new record The Abyssmals Present Gospels, Hymns and Other Trash – streaming at Bandcamp – is how how much reverb is on it. But it’s not a cheesy slapback effect: it’s more trebly. Just to be clear: the upstate New York five-piece are not a gospel group. Their retro sound oozes through dark garage rock, primitive psychedelia and the occasional dip into the surf. Brian Jonestown Massacre are the obvious reference point; some of the shorter, punchier tracks bring to mind the unhinged R&B of the Pretty Things right around the time they’d discovered LSD.

The first track, Enter…the Abyssmals is a dark surf song; in less than a minute, the downward cascades of tremolo-picking have kicked in and it’s obvious this record is going to some shadowy places. The second cut, Sleepwalker starts out with drummer Nick Nigro’s muted ba-bump Cramps beat, then the envelopingly opiated post-Velvets ambience takes over.

Death Row Messiah is all about cool contrasts: cheap Vox amp jangle versus resonance, the peaks driven not by the guitars of Jarpon Reyes and Bob Forget, but by Boris Cahrenger’s emphatic bass. Muffy Reyes’ organ bleeds with the two guitars into a deep-sky pool in the slowly swaying Mansion of Happenings. Then the band pick up the pace with For All of Time, post-Rubber Soul verse rising to gritty powerpop chorus.

Imagine the Pretty Things taking a stab at go-go music and you get See You Go, with its burbly bass and roller-rink organ. Spare, dissociative acoustic phrases punctuate the gritty, riff-driven spacerock of Nobody Cool. A slinky McCartney-ish bass hook propels the hypnotic No Sleep Til Low Beat, while the droning organ and subtly oscillating guitars of Good Faith bring to mind the Black Angels. The album winds up with its longest track and most obvious Velvets homage, Kiss, Kiss Abyss. In case you’re wondering how this band managed to form in a backwater place like Poughkeepsie, keep in mind that musicians like this would still be flocking to New York and creating a scene if housing was affordable here.

Breathtaking Grandeur and a Feast of Guitars on Noctorum’s Latest Brilliant Album

Marty Willson-Piper is best known as this era’s greatest twelve-string guitarist, but he’s also a brilliant songwriter, an aspect that was often weirdly overlooked during his long tenure alongside another great tunesmith, Steve Kilbey, in iconic Australian psychedelic band the Church. Willson-Piper has also put out several great albums under his own name and with Noctorum, his project with Dare Mason. Noctorum‘s richly orchestral, mesmerizingly jangly latest album, Afterlife, is streaming at Bandcamp.

It opens with The Moon Drips, a slinky, seductive, bolero-tinged ballad: imagine Nick Cave at his lushest, with a brass section. The carnivalesque, hurdy-gurdy style bridge is delicious.

High Tide, Low Tide is a mighty, jangly, propulsive rocker that would have been a standout track on a late 80s Church album. Mason sings this cautionary tale to a high-flying party animal who’s heading for a fall.

Willson-Piper returns to lead vocals for the album’s first single, Piccadilly Circus, a bleakly gorgeous, syncopatedly swaying portrait of quiet working class desperation in real estate bubble-era London. A lusciously icy blend of six and six-string guitars anchor Show, a grimly metaphorical breakup narrative set to vamping, Television-like janglerock. Willson-Piper’s incisive, climbing bass punctuates the lush, dreamy, pulsing sonics and baroque elegance of A Resurrected Man.

The album’s loudest track is A Girl with No Love: choogling, raging 70s riff-rock verse, lushly jangly chorus. “I don’t know if I’ll ever dream again, all I know is I can,” Willson-Piper croons in Trick, a surreal blend of Iggy Pop and the Cocteau Twins. Head On (not the Stooges classic but a duet between Willson-Piper and his violinist wife Olivia) rises out of incisively rhythmic riffage to a sultry, sinister peak and eventually an outro straight out of Jethro Tull: “See you at nine-ish where we first met, me and my Sunbeam, you and your Corvette.”

The album’s title track is its most amorphous number, Willson-Piper’s narrator waiting in the netherworld for loved ones amid the guitar swirl. The final cut is the unexpectedl whimsical, bouncy In a Field Full of Sheep. Good to see these guys, with careers that go back to the early 80s, still going strong.

Get Lost in Susie Ibarra’s Chiming, Hypnotic Philippine Sounds on Governors Island

Percussionist Susie Ibarra, a mainstay of the downtown scene since the 90s, draws on her Filipina heritage to create an often mesmerizing blend of traditional bell ensemble sounds and jazz. She’s leading her aptly named DreamTime Ensemble this Saturday afternoon, July 13 at 3 PM, playing a free show outdoors in front of Building 10A in the park in the middle of Governors Island. Ferries leave from the old Staten Island Ferry terminal, and from the landing where Bergen Street meets the Brooklyn waterfront, on the half hour during the afternoon; a roundtrip ticket is $3. Ibarra is also at Issue Project Room on July 27 at 8 for $20/$15 stud/srs.

Ibarra’s five-part Song of the Bird King suite, with her slightly smaller Electric Kulintang quartet – streaming at Spotify – capsulizes the kind of dream state and flickering magic which have become her signature sound. From the first slides of Oz Noy’s acoustic guitar and Lefteris Bournias’ otherworldly, microtonal Balkan tenor sax over the bandleader’s ripples and pings, the effect is psychedelic to the extreme.

Her fellow percussionist Roberto Rodriguez drives the music forward – as well as round and round – with his drums and electronic loops. The suite’s epic first part, Of the Invisible rises and recedes, sometimes with majestic echoes of Pink Floyd, other times a mashup of ancient, fluttering and trilling Balkan sounds mingling with Ibarra’s steady pointillisms.

Part two, 21 Million Hectares (a reference to the Philippines’ forest acreage prior to global warming) comes across as a gamelanesque take on psychedelic cumbia, a shuffling, loopy thicket of beats underpinning Ibarra’s catchy riffage and Bournias’ achingly gorgeous, bagpipe-like phrasing. The third section, simply titled The Dream is more spare, echoey and evocative of loungey 90s trip-hop.

Spare bottleneck guitar and Bournias’ long, desolate birdcall sax echo over a martial, practically industrial beat in Indigo Banded Kingfisher. The concluding segment, Migratory has more of a swaying, strolling groove: until Bournias’ meticulously modulated microtones kick in, it sounds like a traditional Filipino ensemble taking a stab at Midnight Starr-style early 80s electro. To quote Jeff Lynne – another guy who knew something about early 80s electro – it’s strange magic.

Yet Another Killer Short Album and a Williamsburg Gig From Ferocious Power Trio Castle Black

Over the last couple of years, power trio Castle Black have put out a series of ferociously smart, edgy short albums. Watching the group develop from a promising, messy punk band into a sleek, relentlessly dark, complicated beast has been one of the real feel-good stories in the ever-shrinking New York rock scene. Their latest release, Dead in a Dream is streaming at Bandcamp. They’re playing the album release show this July 9 at 9 PM at Muchmore’s; cover is $7. For people worried about not being able to get home from Williamsburg on the L train, the venue is a leisurely five-minute walk from the Lorimer St. station, and the G train is running all night.

The first couple of tracks on the new ep blend dark garage rock with shapeshifting psychedelia. Throughout U Do the Same the band veer between time signatures, new drummer Joey Russo handling the tricky changes and also addiug gritty intensity on bass.

Frontwoman/guitarist Leigh Celent begins the moody Know Me, Anyway with a wall of feedback, the song rising from a plaintive verse into a venomously catchy chorus: “You don’t know me, anyway,” she intones as the storm builds toward gale force..

The title track is a creepy, sabretoothed masterpiece, Celent working the contrast between her lingering, jangly lines and savagely insistent chords, up to a series of brooding, psychedelic interludes. It’s one of the half-dozen best songs of 2019 so far, and the band play the hell out of it live.

Psychedelic Cumbia Icons Chicha Libre Reunite at Barbes

It was late 2006 at a long-gone Curry Hill honkytonk “I’ve got this Peruvian surf band playing on Sundays that you should really check out,” the club’s talent buyer suggested to an e-zine publisher who would eventually become the proprietor of a daily New York music blog. The future blog owner never made it to Rodeo Bar to see an embryonic Chicha Libre, but the group did go on to become the funnest band in New York, toured internationally and also pretty much singlehandedly introduced psychedelic cumbia to the world north of the Texas border.

They played a brief, maybe 45-minute set at their longtime home base, Barbes last night. It was their first New York show since early 2015, but it was like they’d never left. It was amazing to watch the faces of pretty much everybody in the band. The expressions spoke for themselves: “I can’t believe we’irre doing this, and that it’s still this fun.”

Vincent Douglas is still the most economically slashing surf cumbia guitarist on the planet – this time he hit his distortion pedal again and again, for simmer and burn and sunbaked ambience. Frontman/cuatro player Olivier Conan is more serioso in front of the band than ten years ago, notwithstanding the fact that this multinational act is just as much a copycat as the Peruvian cult favorites they imitate were, forty and fifty years ago.

Conguero Neil Ochoa had the songs’ machinegunning turnarounds down cold; timbalera Karina Colis not only added extra layers of devious flurries, but also perfectly replicated Alyssa Lamb’s vocal harmonies from the band’s first two records. Bassist Nick Cudahy held the center while Josh Camp used two small keyboards and a labyrinth of effects pedals for a decent recreation of the tremoloing, oscillating, keening dubwise effects he used to get out of an old Hohner Electrovox synth. Maybe it’s a lot easier to switch between a couple of keyboards than to strap on the heavy accordion body that houses the Electrovox. “Electronics have always been an issue for this band,” Conan confided.

The songs were sublime: jangly, and trebly, and swooshy, just like the classic Peruvian bands the group modeled themselves after. Pretty much everybody in the crowd was dancing or at least bouncing. Surprisingly, the one song that gave the band trouble was the broodingly otherworldly Sonido Amazonico, the national anthem of chicha and title track of their classic 2007 album. But no matter – they jammed it out, a little faster and more dubwise than they used to do it

The uneasily waltzing Depresion Tropical, a snide commentary on IMF bloodsucking in the Caribbean, had special resonance. Camp sang a cumbia version of Love’s Alone Again Or. Conan’s account of the little drunk guy in El Borrachito, who tells a girl in the bar that she should stop picking on him and be his girlfriend – in Spanish, obviously – was as cruelly funny as it was when the band played it ten years ago here. Same with the tightly shuffling Hungry Song, told from the point of view of a couple of guys who are so high they can’t tell weed from chicha. Speaking of which, Barbes now has that sour, beerlike corn mash liquor on draft. As a thirst-quencher on hot days, it’s better than beer.

They closed with their outrageously silly cover of the schlocky cheesy pioneering 1972 proto-synthpop hit, Popcorn, They’re back at Barbes tomorrow night, June 26 at 10, and if stoner music, or dance music, or cumbia is your thing, this may be your only chance to see this band, ever. They’re doing a couple of South American dates next, but after that, who knows.

The Black Capsule Bring Their Epic, Surreal, Cynical Psychedelia to Unexpected Places

Psychedelic band the Black Capsule like long songs. Unlike what their name might imply, speed is not their thing. There’s no other New York band who sound like anything like them, although there are a whole lot of old bands who do. This crew draw on oldschool soul, the more pensive side of Hendrix and stoner 70s art-rock. British psych legends the Frank Flight Band are a good comparison, although the Black Capsule are more cynical and quintessentially New York. Their album is up at Bandcamp as a free download.

Now, there are plenty of decent venues in this town where psychedelia can be found: where are these guys taking the stage on June 20 at around 9? At Baby’s All Right? No. Union Pool? No. Trans-Pecos, Gold Sounds, Coney Island Baby? No, no and no. They’re playing the Bitter End. Cover isn’t listed on the club webpage, but it’s usually ten bucks there. Make sure to find some standing room because the moment you sit down, the waitress will try to stick you for a drink minimum.

The album’s catchy opening track is pretty short by comparison to the rest of the material, clocking in at less than six minutes. It’s a swaying latin soul-tinged anthem, like Chicano Batman at their most sprawling, acoustic and electric guitar textures mingling with Rhodes piano and then swirly organ as it hits a peak. “She was high, she was high, she was high when she was coming down,” the frontman (uncredited on the group’s Bandcamp page) intones in his flinty voice.

Joanna is an increasingly creepy chronicle of failed relationships – think a more vengeful, eleven-minute take on what the Nails did with 88 Lines About 44 Women, with a bridge nicked from Pink Floyd:

After all the cigarettes”
I’m just left with cheap regrets
Take me to your dear dark cave
I promise that I won’t behave

After All is a slightly more focused remake of the Velvets’ Heroin: same two-chord vamp, similar junkie milieu. half-baked Allan Brothers guitar jam on the long way out. Random Thoughts (yes, that’s the title) is a twisted mashup of LA Woman-era Doors, Dark Side-era Floyd and acid funk: it’s the closest thing to Frank Flight here, growly bass poking up through the murk and the smoky organ.

Imagine Hendrix if he hadn’t been a shredder and had an organ in the band: that’s Red Morning, a sort of Fourth Stone From the Sun. The band stagger toward stoner boogie territory, and more Hendrix, with SWLABR. Then they offer a nod to the mean side of the Grateful Dead with The Netherlands. The album’s most epic, final track is Desperate Daze: It’s their Midnight Rambler.

On one hand, this album is like a stoner dad’s record collection: if you know what’s in it, you’ll recognize every stolen lick here. On the other, there’s no denying this band’s epic ability to keep you listening. if you’re, um, in the mood

Ancient Norwegian Magic From Marja Mortensson at Joe’s Pub

In her North American debut last night at Joe’s Pub, Marja Mortensson and her unorthodox trio delivered an even more unorthodox, often mesmerizing set of songs rarely heard in her native Norway, let alone here. Joined by brilliant tuba player and flugelhornist Daniel Herskedal and colorful yet subtle drummer/percussionist Jakop Jansson, she sang in South Saami, a now-rare variant of an ancient language spoken today by fewer than thirty thousand people.

In that tradition, her songs are called yoiks. If that makes you think, “Yikes!” imagine Bjork if she’d grown up listening to the trans-Siberian throat-singing of Huun-Huur-Tu. It’s a very onomatopoeic word. As Mortensson drew out the vowels in her slowly drifting, starkly hypnotic songs, the timbre of her voice slowly oscillated, stopping short of the keening overtones common to vocal music of the Central Asian steppes.

Much as it’s never safe to play armchair musicologist and equate musical traditions with the terrain where they emerged, it was easy to hear these songs and imagine vast snowy expanses more populated by reindeer than humans. Mortensson comes from a long line of reindeer herders. Although she learned her repertoire from archival recordings that often date back more than a century, she was exposed to the language through her grandmother. Many of the yoiks are wordless: in excellent English, Mortensson explained that someone singing one is supposed to embody the subject of the song.

Unsurprisingly, themes related to the outdoors, nature, climate and the local fauna, i.e. reindeer are the usual focus: the people who came up with them were ecologists before there was such a word. Mortensson also sang one about her grandmother, who came across as resilient and patient but also seems to have a quirky sense of humor.

The melodies were spare and didn’t follow any traditional western harmonic structure, neither major nor minor. Yet many of them were surprisingly anthemic, resolving with an unselfconscious triumph. Rocking a stately, antique green dress with a bright red sash, Mortensson waited until practically the end of the show before she finally went all the way up the scale to literally stunning heights. The rhythm section, such that they were, completely get this music. Herskedal conjured up ghostly harmonics and duotones via what must have been strenuous circular breathing throughout his long, resonant passages. Jansson built long, methodical rises and falls, playing mostly on a couple of big, boomy tom-toms, often using his hands. At the end of the show, he broke out a kalimba; its spiky ripples made a considerable contrast yet blended well with his bandmates’ looming atmospherics>

Mortensson dryly chalked up the music’s disappearance to “colonization.” Clearly, revitalizing this almost-vanished repertoire is a labor of love, but also a bulwark against English-language corporate cultural imperialism. You can’t exactly autotune a yoik.

Greek Judas Headline One of the Year’s Best Twinbills in the East Village

When Greek Judas took the stage at Niagara at a little after eleven a couple of Thursdays ago, everybody in the crowd suddenly had their phones out. Maybe that was because three of the five guys in the band were wearing animal masks. But it’s more likely that nobody in the audience had ever seen a Greek metal band.

And in that space, they were louder than ever. Singer Quince Marcum projects as well as any other frontman in town, but this time he was low in the mix. When the band got their start, guitarist/lapsteel player Wade Ripka and guitarist Adam Good would typically take long, careening, Middle Eastern-tinged solos. And that worked; both guys love their creepy chromatics, and they can get totally symphonic without being boring. Times have changed: instead of jabbing at each other to pull a song back on track, there’s a lot more interplay and at least semi-controlled chaos now. Ironically, the tighter they get, the more psychedelic the music is.

Bassist Nick Cudahy downtunes his axe now, for some serious tarpit sonics. Meanwhile, drummer Chris Stromquist makes the songs’ tricky rhythms look easy: the way he plays, no matter how bizarre the underlying beat is, you can stand and sway from side to side and not feel any more stoned than you might already be.

Obviously, you don’t have to be high to appreciate the band. One of the reasons why they’ve tightened up the show is that they have a lot more songs and they don’t have to stretch them out so much. They’re all covers, from the 1920s to the 1960s, most of them from the criminal and revolutionary underworld who fought against dictatorial terror and then a British invasion after World War II. Many of those tunes were written by ethnic Greeks who’d escaped persecution in Cyprus and Turkey, only to find themselves second-class citizens in their ancestral land.

The best song of the night was I’m a Junkie, which might have just been a shout-out to good hash, or something stronger – Marcum sings everything in the original Greek. The most lyrically innocuous love song of the night was also one of the most macabre. Police brutality, heavy partying, black humor behind bars, trans-Mediterranean drug smuggling and crack addiction were some of the other topics Marcum addressed – he almost always gives the audience a little translation for just about everything. They’re back at Niagara (Ave. A and 7th St., the former King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut across from the southwest corner of Tompking Square Park) this Thursday at 10. As a bonus, the excellent Trouble with Kittens – who play similarly edgy if somewhat quieter and faster, new wave-influenced songs – open the night at 9. Noir cinematic trio Sexmob‘s brilliant drummer, Kenny Wollesen is sitting in with them this for this show. It’s a pass-the-tip-jar situation.

Edgy, Catchy, Individualistic Guitar/Cello Sounds and a Barbes Gig From Sean Moran’s Sun Tiger

Guitarist Sean Moran inhabits an uneasy netherworld between jazz, abstract rock and metal. He’s the rare six-string player in any of those idioms who doesn’t waste notes. His album with his excellent, similarly multistylistic trio, Sun Tiger with cellist Hank Roberts and drummer Vinnie Sperrazza is streaming at Bandcamp. They’re opening a great twinbill at Barbes on May 21 at 7 PM; Balkan brass monsters Slavic Soul Party, who lately have been going to some even stranger mprovisational places than usual, play at 9 for a $10 cover. You may want to stay for the whole night.

The first track on the Sun Tiger album is Suns, catchy cello and then guitar riffs over a circular groove, offering absolutely no hint that the band will plunge into squalling doom metal. Finally, Roberts gets to run with the the carchy opening theme again.

One for Lacy is a twisted semi-strut with what seem to be good cop/bad cop roles (cello and guitar, respectively), some simmering slide work from Moran, a bit of a dancing bassline from Roberts, and many allusions to Monk. A Steve Lacy homage, maybe?

Without a pause, the band go straight into the album’s most epic track, Arc, skronk and sunbaked psychedelic guitar resonance contrasting with a little tongue-in-cheek metal frenzy. Sperrazza’s anvil snare – talk about a distinctive sound! – keeps the monster on the rails until everybody calmly and gently diverges, up to a hazy slight return.

Roberts’ droll Indian campfire licks over Sperrazza’s cymbal pointillisms open the slowly loping pastoral jazz theme Cheyenne, the album’s most sparse and arguably catchiest number. Roberts takes a turn at a little squealing metal over a quasi-qawwali beat as Big Shoes gets underway; then Moran puts the hammer down with a series of crunchy, syncopated riffs and all hell eventually breaks loose. A sailing Roberts pulls it together as Moran snipes and squiggles a little, then gets dirty again.

The surreal, rather morose ballad Eye Eye sounds like deconstructed Big Lazy, veering between purist postbop and more than a hint of noir: it’s the album’s most memorable track. Likewise, the final number, Percival, crawls like a scorpion and then hits a resolute stomp, Moran and Roberts both shifting in a split second between relative calm and distorted grit. Yet another example of the kind of casual magic that happens when translucent tunesmithing ends up in the hands of great improvisers.