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Tag: radiohead

The Irrepressible NYChillharmonic Bring Their Epic Art-Rock to Queens Tonight

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.

A Haunter of the New York City Subway Emerges From the Underground

It was past eleven on a raw, gloomy, pretty desolate Thursday night on the Lower East Side of New York in the fall of 2014. Waiting impatiently for the F train, a daily New York music blog owner leaned against a pole on the Second Avenue subway platform after a show by My Brighest Diamond. Across the way, a petite, black-clad woman wearing raccoon-eye mascara played instrumentals on an accordion.

The concert had been underwhelming. Shara Nova’s crystalline voice had soared as high as anyone could have wanted, but the band was a lot more stripped-down, compared to the symphonic lineup she’d had at an outdoor festival the year before. And the swirl and lushness of that performance was conspicuously absent. To the publicist who hooked up that show, this is a mea culpa, eight years late.

But the best was yet to come that night. Stationed in her usual spot on the platform, Melissa Elledge slowly worked her way into an absolutely chilling, gorgeously rubato take of Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1. And then followed it with an even more spacious, haunting version of Gymnopedie No. 2! For those who have no idea how beautiful Satie sounds on accordion, fast forward to 2:30 of this video of Elledge in her element, five years later. In a split second, that whole night was redeemed.

Elledge also plays the occasional above-ground show, and she’s doing an official outdoor performance on the water behind Battery Park tomorrow, June 21 starting at 4:30. As a bonus, you can catch a more theatrically-inclined, accordion-wielding artist, Mary Spencer Knapp, beforehand starting at around 2 if you have some time in the middle of the day.

Elledge has recorded with groups including folk noir band Thee Shambels but not much as a solo artist. Her Bandcamp page has a single, For Beethoven, with Love and Distortion, a wry rearrangement of a famous theme which she jams out on the platform a lot and is too funny to spoil.

She also has a Soundcloud page. The first track is a steady, ominously pulsing, uber-gothic solo accordion version of Clint Mansell’s Luz Aeterna, from the Requiem For a Dream score. She echoes that ambience a little later on with Radiohead’s Exit Music For a Film.

The rest of the page is eclectic to the extreme, and a lot of fun. Most of this is live. Elledge takes Duke Elington’s Shout ‘Em, Aunt Tillie and basically makes noir cabaret out of it – at least until a train rumbles into the station. She fires off a strutting backing track to the Coolio hit Gangsta’s Paradise, along with a cleverly reharmonized standard that she calls You Must Take the A Train…It Doesn’t Stop Here, Though. That’s a reference to how, for years, the F was constantly rerouted at night, away from Elledge’s regular busking space. Little did we know how that was just a part of a slow lead-up to the divide-and-conquer of 2020.

Elledge comes out of a classical piano background, so the Soundcloud tracks also include a Romantically-tinged take of Philip Glass’ Wichita Vortex Sutra, complete with a voiceover of the Allen Ginsberg text. And if you have the time, there’s an irresistibly fun and unexpectedly tight accordion orchestra version of Terry Riley’s In C, with Elledge leading the ensemble.

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.

The New Midlake Record: Same Smart Tunesmithing, Slightly More Psychedelic

Although the anticipated deluge of new rock records this year has yet to materialize, what we’ve seen so far is reason for serious optimism. One long-awaited new release is from Midlake. who hail from Texas, so it wasn’t hard for them to get back into the studio to wrap up recording For the Sake of Bethel Woods. Interestingly, the new vinyl album – streaming at Bandcamp – is far less gothic than The Trials of Van Occupanther, their high-water mark so far, which was reissued a couple of years ago. This one is arguably their hardest-rocking and most concise, yet also most psychedelic release. Otherwise, frontman/guitarist Eric Pulido’s artsy tunesmithing and thoughtful lyricism haven’t changed much. For whatever reason, escape is a recurrent theme here.

The backstory is even more fascinating. As the band tell it, keyboardist/flutist Jesse Chandler’s dad, whom he’d lost in 2018, appeared to him in a dream and encouraged him to pull the group back together. The rest is history.

After a single, tensely strummed verse contemplating isolation and “the ones who came before,” the band launch into the title track, akin to the Church at their vintage 80s peak with more skittish rhythm.

Floating, spare guitar from Pulido and Joey McClellan follow an exchange with Eric Nichelson’s keys, wafting over Chandler’s terse piano hooks in the title track, a brisk, catchy escape anthem.

The band start with a similarly tense, loopy Vampire Weekend-style faux-soukous riff and build it into starry rock in the third track, Glistening. Drummer McKenzie Smith’s pulse grows heavier behind the fuzzy/sleek dichotomies in Exile: imagine Radiohead covering the Church in 1999.

Feast of Carrion comes across as a mashup of Elliott Smith and the Alan Parsons Project, its uneasy harmonies broken up by a cheery flute solo midway through. Noble, the album’s most Radiohead-inspired track, was inspired by Smith’s son, who although afflicted with a rare genetic condition is by all accounts happy and well adjusted.

Drifting flute, keys and Pulido’s low-key vocals float over Smith’s steady strut in the next track, Gone.

Meanwhile could be a Jeff Lynne jazz tune from, say, ELO’s New World Record album, switching out the strings for balmy keys and flute.

“Enter a cautionary tale not for the faint of heart,” Pulido warns over spare electric piano and muted staccato guitar as the band gather steam in Dawning. “Fading, a glass menagerie, built upon what’s left of the years of misery.”

The End is not the Doors classic but an original: wary atmosphere and uneasy harmonies notwithstanding, it seems to be optimistic. “Nobody’s coming to hunt you down,” is the mantra. The album’s final and most psychedelically pulsing cut is Of Desire. It’s refreshing to see this band still intact and still putting on a clinic in smartly crafted songcraft, everything in its right place, no wasted notes.

A Lush, Symphonic Art-Rock Album From Gyda Valtysdottir

The last time that cellist Gyda Valtysdottir was on this page, it was the dead of this past February and at that point, her most recent release was a celebration of her fellow Icelandic composers. On her new album Ox – streaming at Bandcamp – the Mum cellist makes a halfway return to artsy, invitingly dreamy, atmospheric rock, retaining the orchestral sweep of her previous effort, Epicycle II.

The opening piece is Alphabet, a slowly unwinding, vast seascape, strings and winds soaring warmly overhead. Valtysdottir sings in cautious English in her distinctive, whispery high soprano.

A conspiratorial spoken-word piece set to densely orchestrated, opaque trip-hop, the second song, Black Swan comes across as symphonic Radiohead.

Dreamy vocals waft over a simple guitar loop and icy piano as the vampy In Corde gathers steam, up to a swaying, hypnotic orchestral crescendo. Cute Kittens Lick Cream is a peaceful instrumental tableau with steady piano amid the mist, flutist Alex Sopp adding whimsical flurries at the end. Riffs diverge, flicker in and out of the ether in Miracle, the most atmospheric track here.

Individual instrumental voices peep and burst up through the mist in Prism as a steady, circling rhythm develops. In Heavenly Piracy, Valtysdottir sets surreal, vaguely assaultive spoken word over a slowly coalescing trip-hop groove. Is that lyric “Bite me rightfully?”

With dissociative harp and shifting string textures, the brief Tell It evokes a broken music box. There’s a return to immersive angst and also more lavish sweep in Amaying, the album’s final cut.

Catching Up With Elisa Flynn’s Latest Edgy, Angry Art-Rock Release

How the hell did this blog blink on Elisa Flynn’s most recent, characteristically slashing ep, Maelstrom, which hit Bandcamp almost a year ago? To paraphrase Edgar Allan Poe (or Radio Birdman), it definitely descended into one. No time like the present to give props to one of the most intensely original singers and rock songwriters to emerge in New York since the zeros

Flynn has never sung better than she does here – she really locks in with that ripe vibrato. Shifting between thorny but catchy Radiohead-ish art-rock, folk noir and scruffy indie sounds (she was a founding member of Bunny Brains), her songs tend to be on the pensive side. This time around, they’re angrier than ever.

The first one is the title track, a techy, loopy tableau with gritty guitars, Radiohead with less ice. “When I reach up and get nothing from this inverted world, my hand goes right through the light, right through your heart,” she confides.

The second track, Animal is a catchy, chiming pop anthem with hints of soukous. Is it about missing someone – or trying to recapture a fearless, feral inner self? Flynn winds up this biting triptych with the defiant White Dress, which is slow, spare and hypnotically brooding, with the ep’s most intensely nuanced vocals. Another triumph from a familiar presence on the annual best songs and best albums of the year lists here.

Smart, Stormy, Fearless Art-Rock From Victoria Langford

Singer/multi-keyboardist Victoria Langford writes lush, sweeping yet very sharply sculpted songs. She has a strong, meticulously nuanced, expressive voice and a venomous sense of humor. She likes swirling, stormy orchestration and using religious imagery as a metaphor for interpersonal angst. Her debut album, simply titled Victoria, is streaming at Bandcamp. Imagine a more organic Radiohead, or a young Kate Bush at half the volume.

The album’s first track is Psalm, Langford’s spare Wurlitzer and insistent piano contrasting with Brett Parnell’s nebulous wash of guitars. The phantasmagoria hits redline with the second song, Coney Island, a harrowing, achingly intense tableau awash in a roar of sound and creepy canival effects:

I see stars
From the back
Of your hand
You bury me
Alive

At a moment in time when domestic abuse is rising with all this endless quarantining, the song has more relevance than ever.

Langford’s cynicism hits a peak in Savior, a brief, thumping parody of dancefloor pop:

You think everyone wants to fuck you
You are a victim or most wanted on the streets
You like to think that you are Kanye
But sitting on your ass won’t make those beats

I Found Hell Looking For Heaven is an instrumental, a majestic title theme of sorts, Leah Coloff’s stark cello blending with Langford’s symphonic keyboard orchestration. The string into to Boboli Gardens, cello bolstered by Sarah Goldfeather and Andie Springer’s violins, is even more plaintive, Langford’s piano shifting to a hazy, country-tinged sway.

The Radiohead influence comes through the most clearly in the slow, brooding What Might Have Been, right down to the glitchy electronics and tinkly multitracks behind the starkly circling piano riffs.

Rob Ritchie’s guitar lingers amid a whoosh of string synth over Joe Correia’s bass and Evan Mitchell’s drums in Be a Dragon, a surreal mashup of hip-hop and Radiohead with a fearless Metoo-era message. Langford winds up the record with The Truth, a pulsing, unapologetic escape anthem: It’s rare to see an artist come straight out of the chute with something this unique and individualistic, a stealth contender for best debut album of 2020.

Defying Category With Svjetlana Bukvich’s Rich, Dramatic Compositions

As a composer, Svjetlana Bukvich has made a career out of jumping off cliffs and landing on her feet. Few other artists are able to bridge such a seemingly ridiculous number of styles without seeming the least bit out of place. Most, but not all, of her vibrant, dramatic, often darkly bristling compositions are electroacoustic, imbued with an irrepressible joie de vivre as wel as both a striking clarity and embrace of the absurd. It seems that she just writes what she wants to and lets everybody else figure out how to categorize it..or just leave it alone and enjoy its vitality. Her new album Extension – streaming at Spotify – is by turns surreal, futuristic, troubling and triumphant.

She plays zither harp through a maze of effects, joined by Susan Aquila on electric violin and David Rozenblatt on percussion, on the album’s opening track, The Beginning, flitting space junk and dancing, pingponging phrases over stygian washes. Bukvich builds the hypnotically circling prelude Utopia around a simple, insistent, wordless vocal riff spiced with her own bright electric piano, flickers from Jacqueline Kerrod’s electric harp over terse syncopation from bassist Patrick Derivaz and drummer Wylie Wirth. Is this art-rock? Indie classical? Does it matter?

Singers Kamala Sankaram and Samille Ganges harmonize uneasily over Bukvich’s dancing synth lines in the album’s title track: imagine an Ethiopian contingent passing through Jabba the Hut’s space lounge. Once You Are Not a Stranger is featured in three different versions throughout the album. Derivaz dips low to open the first one, string quartet Ethel building a pensive series of echo riffs overhead.

Janis Brenner sings a much more minimalist take of the second over the composer’s spacious piano chords. The lush final version, which concludes the album, switches out the string quartet for the Shattered Glass String Orchestra,

Graves, with Bukvich joined by Kerrod, Wirth, Nikola Radan on alto flute and Richard Viard on acoustic guitar comes across as a moody, distantly Middle Eastern-tinged art-rock dirge. Sankaram brings both gentle poignancy and operatic flair to Tattoo, backed by Bukvich’s brooding piano and orchestration.

The bandleader switches to synth, teaming up with cellist Raphael Saphra and bassist Joseph Brock for Stairs, a similarly uneasy miniature. Then Jane Manning trades off with Sankaram over Bojan Gorišek’s piano and Bukvich’s wry electronics in the Balkan-inflected Nema Te (You Aren’t Here, You Aren’t There). Fans of acts as diverse as Radiohead, Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, exploding pianist Kathleen Supove and postminimalist composers like David Lang will love this stuff.

Celestially Orchestral Lushness and Persistent Unease on Lisa Hannigan’s Live Album

We may not have concerts in New York right now, but more and more artists are realizing the benefits of recording live albums. Unless you make your albums on your phone – as many do – it’s infinitely cheaper to record a concert than to run up studio time. And live albums are the best advertising: prospective concergoers know exactly what they’re getting themselves into. One relatively recent one that perfectly fits the zeitgeist is Live in Dublin, by Lisa Hannigan and S t a r g a z e (that’s how she spells it), streaming at Spotify.

Hannigan has a soaring, nuanced voice and stately cadences that reflect the folk tradition of her native Ireland. Her lyrics are pensive and often rather dark. The concert’s opening waltz, Ora, perfectly capsulizes the balance of persistent unease and lush, starry atmosphere that will pervade the rest of the set. The long, sustained tones of the strings and woodwinds are a throwback to the terse orchestral arrangements common on European folk-rock records of the early 70s. Then the bass and drums kick in elegantly behind an upward swirl from the strings as the soul-tinged piano ballad Prayer For the Dying gets underway: Radiohead meets Renaissance.

Twinkling mandolin and vibraphone mingle above the increasingly lavish backdrop of Little Bird. “You are lonely as a church despite the queueing out the door – I am empty as a promise,” Hannigan muses.

Insistently slurry strings and ominous brass swells build unsettling druidic ambience in Undertow. Overtones rise in a similarly suspenseful vein from the low brass drone that introduces Bookmark, a swing ballad stripped to its bare, fingerpicked bones: “Am I a friend, or an unwieldy heroine?” Hannigan ponders.

The band take a break for the rustic vocal harmonies of Anahorish, which foreshadows what Irish immigrants would bring with them to Appalachia. The tenderness of Hannigan’s vocals bely the melancholy, pulsing orchestral textures of Nowhere to Go. The energy of the concert hits a high point with Lo, a moody anthem with a neat web of counterpoint.

They back away for a trip-hop sway with Swan, which the orchestra elevates above the level of generic 90s pop. A hushed gloom grows more enveloping in We the Drowned, up to a mighty, stricken intensity with eerie backing vocals and echo phrases from the orchestra: it’s the high point of the show. After that, there’s nowhere to go but down with Lille, a spare, gently fingerpicked, wistful folk-rock ballad.

After that, A Sail comes as a surprise, a stomping, insistent, backbeat anthem and the most unselfconsciously catchy song of the set. The group shift from hazy atmospherics to equally hypnotic but more energetic trip-hop with Barton and close the night with Fall, an attractively strummy anthem: “Drain the spirits from the jar, hop the fences, steal the car,” Hannigan instructs rather somberly.

Gentle, Expertly Textured Psychedelic Pop From Green and Glass

Green and Glass sometimes sound like a warmer, female-fronted Radiohead. Other times they come across as a calmer Arc Iris. Keyboards swoosh, filter and rise through the mix over a slow sway as frontwoman Lucia Stavros shifts from soaringly anxious highs to a more plainspoken delivery in the middle registers. They like to cap off a long crescendo with low-key trumpet…and they have a concert harp in the band. Their debut album is streaming at Bandcamp.

They open with an eponymous, soul-tinged ballad, Stavros’ tenderly resonant vocals over a slow, gentle trip-hop groove delicately flavored with Andrew McGovern”s trumpet alongside her harp. She reaches for the stratosphere over a loopy harp riff in 14 Hours; then a techy, blippy electric piano pulse takes over – that could also be Stavros, or sax/keys player Sam Decker..

Imagine Portishead with a harp and an unadorned, folky lead vocal, and you get the album’s third track, Black Hole. In Sand, they add spare, tremoloing electric guitar, and bassist Ryan Dugre turns up his treble to cut through the mix. Then they build SMC slowly and resolutely out of a circling, Afrobeat-tinged riff that begins with spiky guitar harmonics.

David Flaherty’s drums drop out for Another One, a brief, hazy tone poem awash in dreampop reverb. They bring back the neosoul tinges in Good Enough For Some: spare, watery chorus-box guitar adds a welcome disquiet behind the sheen. If psych-pop maven Jenifer Jackson played the harp, she could have come up with Gabriel.

The ninth track, Wash, is pretty much that, as is the one afterward: sometimes bands have a hard time discerning between minimal and prosaic. They come full circle with the closing cut, Corona (recorded long before the current crisis, and completely unrelated), a trippy, gently optimistic trip-hop tune: it could be early, low-key My Brighest Diamond. Most of this makes a good playlist for an early summer afternoon (which means April or May these days), sitting by the river, one-hitter in your pocket, plotting your next move.