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Tag: psychedelic rock

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.

Slomo Sapiens Bring Their Ominous Heavy Psych and Metal Attack to Brooklyn

Philadelphia power trio Slomo Sapiens play a no-nonsense blend of stoner boogie, doom metal and heavy psychedelia. Their latest limited edition cassette, Slomos Volume 1 is streaming at Bandcamp. They’re bringing their disquieting intensity to a Bushwick gig on April 24 at around 9 PM at Our Wicked Lady. There’s a techy opening act and then a couple of similar acts afterward: none of them are worth seeing. The venue’s webpage says cover is $13.60: it’s probably safe to say that the door person is unlikely to be making change with dimes and nickels, so bring fourteen bucks if you’re going. Things are getting weirder and weirder everywhere we look!

The first track on the album is Sandpounder, a catchy bumpa-bumpa-bumpa fuzztone stoner boogie tune. Frontwoman/guitarist Ceallaigh Corbishley brings surprising angst and nuance to the second track, There’s Nothing More Evil in This World Than Time, shifting from bassist Greg Geiger and drummer Jon Pritchard’s ominous gallop to a toxically swirling ambience and then back.

Slurry hammer-ons, dystopic vocoder sonics and macabre chromatics fuel the next tune, Spook the Prince, up to a dizzying, dissociative rhythmic interweave. Salem is a surreal mashup of twangy surf rock, sludgy slowcore grit and skin-peeling wah-wah riffage. They wind up the cassette (pun intended) with Chi, an echoey sound collage with some tantalizing twin guitar leads half-buried in the mix.

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…

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.

An Energetic, Eternally Relevant New Live Album by a Jamband Icon

“One way or another, this darkness has got to give.”

Jerry Garcia led that singalong in concert for the first time in 1970. Working-class Americans were still coming home from Vietnam in body bags, napalm and Agent Orange were being dropped on civilians there, and the violence of the 1968 inner-city riots and the Altamont concert a year later were still fresh in the American consciousness. Garcia’s longtime sparring partner Bob Weir opens with that song on his new vinyl album Live In Colorado with his most recent post-Grateful Dead project, the Wolf Bros., streaming at Soundcloud.

More than half a century later, is there anything left in the tank? On the mic, Weir stretches grittily into a range that Garcia’s tenor reached easily. On the frets, Weir is every bit the magician than he was in the Dead. To call him a rhythm guitarist doesn’t do justice to his distinctive blend of sinewy leads, chordlets and basslines: remember, in the Dead, half of the time Phil Lesh was bounding around way up on his G string.

The band ease their way into the song, New Speedway Boogie. The idea of the Dead with a horn section might strike a lot of people as wretched excess, but the intriguingly assembled quintet of cellist Alex Kelly, trumpeter Brian Switzer, trombonist Adam Theis, violinist Mads Tolling and saxophonist Sheldon Brown supply tight harmonies as pedal steel player Greg Leisz sails overhead, sometimes playing through an icy chorus pedal. Jeff Chimenti shifts from terse, bluesy piano to organ and then back – he’s the Pigpen the Dead never had. Meanwhile, drummer Jay Lane and bassist Don Was maintain a low-key sway while Weir is at his flintiest and most incisive,

The second song is an extended take of Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, another number with immense relevance to 2022. Chimenti and Leisz punch in and out, but the rest of the band chill and let Weir deliver one grim reality after another.

What is the next song, my blue-eyed son? If you dial up this album, try not to cheat and look at the tracklist: it’s impossible to tell. Is it going to be Minglewood, or Brown-Eyed Women? It’s the Dead’s favorite Johnny Cash cover, Big River, Weir taking spiky leads every bit as biting as the ones on hundreds of field recordings. Turning centerstage over to Leisz for some western swing is a perfectly obvious move.

With chorus full on, his chilly, tremoloing lines bring the menace in a slow, utterly noir version of West LA Fadeaway to a blue-neon intensity: this could be the Dream Syndicate. Weir updates a slow, slinky take of the (relatively) rare Dead tune My Brother Esau with a current-day environmentalist reference, then takes his time with the only one of his solo releases here, Only a River, a Shenandoah paraphrase.

The end of the album is where the test of time is most telling. Looks Like Rain was inevitably a high point whenever the Dead played it; this version is surprisingly fast and has neither stormy duel nor picturesque poignancy. The group wind up the album with an equally iconic interlude. Sailor/Saint, in Deadspeak, was the last in a long series of famous diptychs. Part one, Lost Sailor also seems on the fast, uptight side, but the orchestra – if you want to call them that – elevate this brooding tale into fullblown art-rock territory. They do the same, briefly, with Saint of Circumstance: afterward, we get Bobby telling the crowd that they’ll be back for the second set. But these were second-set tunes! Even if you think the Dead died with Jerry – and they did – this is as close to the real thing, in all their shambling glory, as the generation afterward will ever be able to see. Assuming concert restrictions go the way of the dinosaur, as they should, you’ll be able to see Weir on tour later this year.