The NYChillharmonic are one of this city’s most enjoyably explosive bands. Much of the time they sound like symphonic Radiohead, the big obvious influence in frontwoman/composer Sara McDonald’s mighty anthems. Her lush, dynamically rising and falling arrangements can be just as thorny and packed with unexpected twists and turns. She and the band are back in action onstage tonight, July 8 at 7:30 PM outdoors at Culture Lab in Long Island City.
They’ve also been recording lately, all the more impressive considering how hard it became to find studio space for a 22-piece jazz band during the mass psychosis in the wake of the 2020 lockdown. Their most recent material is all up at Bandcamp, including their latest single, I Don’t Even Want It, which sounds like My Brightest Diamond at their bubbliest and most blustery, with a whoomp-whoomp dancefloor thud.
Their previous single, Mean, has an allusive, Middle Eastern-tinged chromatic feel: it’s the crunchiest, heaviest guitar tune they’ve put out yet, which makes sense considering that it’s a lot easier to mix a simple, straightforward rocker that’s been recorded over the web in a couple dozen different sonic environments.
Their first full-length album, simple titled 1, came out in 2019. McDonald sings and also plays keys on this one alongside the lush, often fiery textures of the brass, reeds, strings and rhythm section. The first track is Surface Tension, a catchy, pulsing, cheerily orchestrated new wave tune with warmly hazy dips and lulls.
The weird effects on the vocals disappear serendipitously in Aubergine, a cleverly syncopated mashup of newschool disco, ba-bump cabaret and 21st century classical string composition. Surrealism is big in McDonald’s songs, especially with the wry contrast between a brassy march and drifting, enveloping psychedelia in Wax Garden.
The Radiohead influence is most apparent in Blumen, from McDonald’s warpy, keening synth, to the spacy electronic effects and the trickily circling rhythm beneath her puffy, elegantly textured syncopation. The best song on the album is Observer Effect, McDonald pushing the limits of her vocals over a tightly rapidfire groove with the band rising from lush to stormy.
The strings punch through the mist in Patterned, the album’s most epic anthem, playful individual voicings rising to lavish waves. The last track on the record is Sun, an aptly titled, comfortably enveloping coda with an inventive choral arrangement.