New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: punk funk

Marc Ribot’s Young Philadelphians Bring Their Twisted Take on Philly Soul and Disco to Bowery Ballroom

To say that guitarist Marc Ribot doesn’t let the grass grow under his feet is a something of an understatement; where this guy treads turns into Carthage. To take that to its logical extreme; whatever he touches, he destroys – in the best possible sense of the word. The irrepressible downtown polymath’s career high point may be his shadowy, noir 2010 Silent Movies album, but his latest release, Live in Tokyo, with his group the Young Philadelphians – guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Jamaladeen Tacuma and drummer G. Calvin Weston – might be the best album of 2016. It’s a volcanic punk-funk record – most of it streaming at the band’s music page -with the same noisy, clenched-teeth exhilaration as Ribot’s 2014 Live at the Village Vanguard set. The premise of this one is typically ambitious: to connect the dots between Ornette Coleman’s 70s/80s Prime Time band and the plush Philly soul which served as a backdrop if not an immediate touchstone. AND to do it with two guitars instead of a horn band. Wild stuff. They’re bringing their careening intensity to a gig this Thursday, July 28 at 11 PM at Bowery Ballroom, a rare appearance by a jazz band at Manhattan’s best-sounding midsize venue. Advance tix are $20, half of what you’d spend if you saw Ribot in any number of jazz clubs. Chris Cochrane subs for Halvorson on the band’s current US tour.

The intro to the album’s opening track, Love Epidemic, is worth the price of admission alone: Ribot blazes through a classic funk riff, then Halvorson comes in with an artery-slashing pickslide, a pickup Japanese string section swirling animatedly overhead. Tacuma anchors all this with his bubbly, purposeful vintage disco lines in tandem with Weston’s straight-up dancefloor pulse. Both guitarists switch on a dime between hard funk and irresistibly jubilant blasts of distorted punk rock. It’s fun to just think about this, let alone hear it or try to play it.

By contrast, the two guitarists’ droll wide-angle tremolo approach on the ballad Love TKO brings to mind Isaac Hayes at his most soulfully hot and buttered. Tacuma and Weston draw on their time with both Coleman and James Blood Ulmer, the bassist strutting and slipsliding, drums moving effortlessly from chill to crush. Ribot builds with fiery deliberation from shivery acid blues to skronk to cap it off.

The group twists Fly, Robin, Fly – a cheesy 1975 hit by German one-hit wonders Silver Convention – into a sick mashup of Bush Tetras and late-period ELO – and then takes it toward saturnine Sun Ra territory. TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia) is just plain hilarious, Weston and the strings opening it as a bombastic Olympic theme over the guitars’ jagged, sandpapery attack, then they hit the groove with a snarky thump. They get a lot looser on an even more sardonic, wah-infused take of the Ohio Players’ Love Rollercoaster, Halvorson having a ball anchoring Ribot and Tacuma’s stoner funk with her cumulo-nimbus ambience and woozy textures.

Do Anything You Want is closer to classic P-Funk than anything else here, and a launching pad for both Halvorson’s and Tacuma’s most incendiary playing. The group winds up the set logically with the funniest number of all, The Hustle. Ribot’s incessant quoting from an iconic anthem from a completely different idiom is as cruel as it is hilarious, finally getting his revenge for having to play the song on a wedding gig decades ago.

On the vocal numbers, it sounds like everybody sings, or at least vocalizes – not that there’s a lot in the way of lyrics, but it adds an extra dimension of fun. Since releasing the album, Ribot explains that the band is now stretching this material out even further, slicing and dicing the big hooks as springboards for even crazier improvisation. That’s an auspicious move since Halvorson’s own legendary ferocity is held in check somewhat here (she plays in the left channel, Ribot in the right).

And in case you haven’t already guessed, the Bowery gig may have something to do with the material on the bill, in addition to the artists. Can’t you see it: two dudes texting back and forth on Okcupid, “Let’s go to this, it’ll be so ironic.” To pronounce that final word correctly you have to hold your nose and say it in as flat and loud a voice as you can while trying to photobomb the selfie being taken by the gentrifier next to you. Steve Wynn put out a couple of dozen brilliant albums before he realized that he needed to write songs about baseball in order to reach a mass audience. Maybe Ribot has to be the leader of the world’s funnest and funniest disco cover band to do the same.

The Puff Pieces Revisit a Classic Postpunk Sound

Washington, DC postpunk project the Puff Pieces’ debut 7″ ep New Nazis (streaming at Bandcamp) is a trip back in time to a 1981 of the mind, when kids flocked to college-town record stores to blow their Reagan Recession paychecks on expensive Gang of Four import lp’s they’d never heard…or crammed themselves into tiny basement studios to record simple, snarling, tinny, politically-fueled cassettes, using just a single guitar, bass and drumkit. But this one was recorded last year – presumably on digital equipment, although it has a lo-fi analog sound – by frontman Mike Andre with E.D. Sedgwick’s Justin Moyer and Weed Tree’s Amanda Huron.

These skronky, propulsive, sketchily funky songs are short, evoking the Gang of Four as well as legendary/obscure DC band the Urban Verbs. The briskly marching first track, with its jagged upper-register guitar shrieks, trebly bassline and uneasy, off-key vocals, makes deadpan mockery of taking tests for this and that. The title track has a similarly sarcastic, vamping pulse, the bass carrying the melody: “What are you gonna think when the new Nazis spill your drink?” Andre asks, and it gets more disturbing from there. The third tune strips the idea of capitalism down to the caveman competition that it essentially is: it’s the most straight-up punk of all the songs here. The scampering, bass-driven final cut makes fun of the spend-and-consume economy: the credit card joke at the end might be a little obvious, but it’s too good to spoil. Big picture ideas, catchy simple riffs, and you can dance to all of them.

A Rare Two-Night Stand by Legendary Postpunk Pioneers the Bush Tetras

CBGB-era no wave/funk/postpunk pioneers the Bush Tetras are playing a couple of nights on March 29 and 30 at 8 PM at the Slipper Room (the red-curtained strip club at the corner of Stanton and Orchard), of all places, and if you’re planning on going you should get there early: these shows are likely to sell out. After fifteen years in major label limbo, their long-awaited second album, Happy, has been released by RIOR on both vinyl and the usual digital formats. Brilliantly produced by noiserock maven and noted archivist Don Fleming, the album is a lot heavier than you might expect after hearing Too Many Creeps. For anyone lucky enough to have seen the band at, say, Brownies, around the time it was recorded and wondered when we might get a chance to hear studio versions of these songs, it’s a special treat.

It opens with the slow burn of Heart Attack, Pat Place’s guitar resonant and grim, then delivering a mean, minimalist metallic menace, Cynthia Sley’s vocals channeling her usual visceral unease. The second track, Slap, raises the menace factor, setting eerie minor-key janglerock over drummer Dee Pop’s suspenseful groove: “Could you slap me real hard, could you wake me up?” Sley asks plaintively.

Trip turns on a dime from a catchy two-chord funk vamp to snotty, straight-up rock. Nails reverts to the roaring, multitracked blue-flame ambience of the opening cut – what’s cool about this album is that as much as Place does the noisy/atonal thing more succinctly than just about anybody, here she gets to fill out the sound with a lush roar that she doesn’t often get the chance to create onstage.

The hypnotic, echoey instrumental Chinese Afro sets crashing percussion over the tiptoeing bass of Julia Murphy (who by that time had replaced Laura Kennedy in the group, and has since left). It makes a good segue with Pretty Thing, which  takes the atmospherics up a notch for an unexpectedly artsy, Velvets-tinged ambience.

At this point, the album hits a peak and stays there, beginning with You Don’t Know Me, a beefed-up take on the band’s abrasive early-period sound, Place firing off wickedly atonal swirls and macabre chromatics over a tight funk beat. Buckets of Blood works a slow, lingering, distantly menacing 80s jangle, Murphy hovering just underneath, Sley’s angst-ridden vocals overhead. Unlike what the title might suggest, Motorhead keeps the tensely simmering menace going.

Theremin (which actually has a theremin on it) builds from surreal no wave funk to a snarling groove that reminds of what Thalia Zedek and Come were doing around the time this album was made. Likewise, Ocean follows an arc from a hypnotic but harsh backdrop to a paint-peeling guitar workout. The album ends with Swamp Song, an off-kilter riff-rocker that evokes the Chrome Cranks, but funkier, a reminder that the Tetras were constantly evolving and keeping up with what was happening around them in New York. Kind of sad and funny that an album made in 1998 would be one of the best released in 2013 so far.

Unhinged Hungarian No Wave Noir Surf Jazz

The danger in writing about an album that came out almost a year ago is that the band might not still exist. Dorota hail from Budapest: their album is a brain-warping, assaultive mix of surf rock, no wave funk and free jazz, often with a creepy noir edge. With shimmery reverb and chorus-box guitar contrasting with menacingly growling, melodic bass and a drummer who smartly chooses the spots where he gets ugly, it’s a time trip back to around 1980. If this band had been around then, they’d be worshipped for being an influence on Sonic Youth, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and god knows who else. It’s feral, fearlessly noisy, adrenalizing stuff; while there were plenty of bands who prowled around the jagged outskirts of new wave back in the day, no one sounds quite like Dorota. The album cover gives it away more or less: a rough woodcut showing a warrior, naked except for the antlers on his head, skewering a rifle-toting soldier.

They introduce their menace quietly, just steady, scraping bass over a vocal loop. The second track is sort of a twisted Besame Mucho Twist, a staggering one-chord surf jam that cruelly refuses to find any kind of resolution except in horror tonalities. A brief no wave funk interlude is followed by a sick, skronky funk tune in 7/8 time that they take down to an atmospheric interlude before bringing it back. The way these instrumentals shift shape, switch tempos abruptly and then return to something approximating coherence is the jazz element here. The best two songs are the most noirish: the first a swaying mix of surf and dark new wave built around a brooding bolero guitar hook, the second a cinematic, ten-minute southwestern gothic epic that alternates a slow, twangy, desolate desert guitar theme with ghostly, quiet interludes where shadowy flickers of sound twitch their way from the amps to the cymbals.

The best of the funky songs blends paint-peeling atonalities and junkie blues guitar over the snarl of the bass, the guitar’s watery tone and horror-film motifs echoing John McGeoch of Siouxsie & the Banshees. The funniest one is basically a one-chord jam that slowly and matter-of-factly speeds up to a whirlpool of dreampop guitar over the roar and clatter of the rhythm section. Another of the funkier tracks evokes Robert Fripp’s abrasive King Crimson stuff; the strangest of the short interludes here features bagpipes over a distant guitar din. The band brings back the bolero allusions on a song that sounds like a cross between Bauhaus and the Raybeats, and ends the album with a warped big sky theme, Bill Frisell on an acid O.D.

Does Dorota still exist? YESSSSS. Even if this is the last album they ever put out (happily, from the looks of it, there may be many more),  it’s a classic of its kind. Download it at their site and then hit their Soundcloud page where there’s even more delicious pandemonium!