New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: roger waters

Solace and Inspiration From One of the World’s Greatest Musical Visionaries

Fear, fear drives the mills of modern man
Fear keeps us all in line
Fear of all those foreigners
Fear of all their crimes
Is this the life we really want?
It surely must be so
For this is a democracy and what we all say goes

In times of crisis, we turn to visionaries, because they see more clearly than we do. When Roger Waters put out his album Is This the Life We Really Want in 2017, he sure didn’t do it for the money. He did it because he had something important for us. While he doesn’t reference pandemics anywhere on the record, there’s never been a more appropriate time to to take an hour or so and absorb what he has to say than there is right now. It’s still streaming at youtube – with far fewer interruptions where you need to hit the mute button to kill the ads than there were when it first came out.

That cynical quote is from the title track. Once again, Waters – always a big-picture guy – gets it. We see all the President’s men in their surgical masks and we assume we have to be wearing them too – after all, those guys are all oligarchs, or wannabe oligarchs, and they look just like us! Or, they look like how they want us to look.

Beyond Waters’ own simple acoustic chords, there isn’t a lot of guitar on this album. That track, with its bell-like sonics and litany of people and faces – which bring 1983’s Every Stranger’s Eyes full circle – is the exception. Otherwise, it’s mostly strings and the former Pink Floyd bassist’s marvelously spacious, picturesque, gospel-inspired piano.

The album is symphonic to the nth degree, with several themes and variations. A ticking clock (or a bomb) that references Dark Side of the Moon is one of them. The melodies of a couple of iconic Floyd numbers from The Wall also figure into the equation. Lyrically, it’s as shattering, and insightful, and genuinely foundational as anything Waters ever wrote. In the years since, he has gone on to other equally important things – like advocating for Palestinian and Bolivian freedom fighters – but musically he’s as relevant as he’s ever been.

On one hand, Waters’ catalog reads like a doomsday book. Withering cynicism notwithstanding (and there’s A LOT of that here), his hope for a future based on compassion rather than greed remains unshakeable after all these years. At the end of the record, love conquers all: this apocalyptic news junkie gets off the screen.

But he reminds us never to forget past and present atrocities. Refugees on the run and and drone murders are recurrent themes: the bravery of being out of range tragically remains as much of a meme as it was when Waters put out his equally visionary Amused to Death album in 1992. Or for that matter, since long before Dark Side: “’Forward!’ He cried, from the rear, and the front rank died.”

Broken Bones, with its stately piano and grim strings, is one of the keys to this:

Though the slate was never wiped clean
We could have picked over them broken bones
We could have been free
But we chose to adhere to abundance
We chose the American Dream
And oh Mistress Liberty
How we abandoned thee
…Little babies mean us no harm
They have to be taught to despise us
To bulldoze our homes to the ground
To believe their fight is for liberty
To believe their God will keep them safe and sound
Safe and sound
Safe and sound
We cannot turn back the clock
Cannot go back in time
But we can say “fuck you,”
We will not listen to
Your bullshit and lies

Smell the Roses, another key track, sounds like Floyd’s Have a Cigar with good lyrics, calling bullshit on the military-industrial complex with characteristic down-to-earth elegance:

Wake up and smell the roses
Close your eyes and pray this wind won’t change
There’s nothing but screams in the field of dreams
Nothing but hope at the end of the road
Nothing but gold in the chimney smoke
…This is the room where they make the explosives
Where they put your name on the bomb
Here’s where they bury the buts and the ifs
And scratch out words like right and wrong

And there are a lot of really funny moments here. Trump gets snuffed out – or at least cut off mid-sentence, which for him is the same thing. Waters turns the “classic rock” radio staple Run Like Hell into a love song, which doesn’t come across quite as optimistically as that transformation might imply. And the reference to Floyd’s Wish You Were Here album is particularly spot-on. In a year where all the old paradigms are dying  faster than the abandoned patients in your average nursing home, this challenges us to reinvent ourselves. The alternative is in Waters’ narratives here, and in many grim songs from throughout his career. Is that the life we really want?

Psychedelic Rock Icon With Inspired Band Picks Up Gloriously Where He Left Off

What can a person do at night in a place that suddenly became the City That Always Sleeps?

You could pick up your instrument, or sit down at it, and write something.

If you gravitate toward big, ornate sounds, you could tune in to the New York Philharmonic’s live webcast.

Or you could watch James Tonkin‘s new concert film Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets: Live at the Roadhouse. It hasn’t hit VOD yet, but the audio is streaming at Spotify. This isn’t just your ordinary Pink Floyd cover band: “There’s so many thousands, all playing the same four albums,” guitarist Gary Kemp smirks. “The first thing that will be really telling will be to see how they change their setlists as a result of us doing this!”

What differentiates these guys from the wannabes is that they play exclusively pre-Dark Side material from the Syd Barrett and early David Gilmour eras. They also managed to convince Floyd’s iconic drummer to join them. After a few well-received shows, they had this frequently glorious concert immortalized, at a venue where the Barrett edition of the band were the first group to play.

To open the show, Telecaster player Kemp picks hard on his low E string, second Tele player Lee Harris launches into the evil, chromatic descending riff of the instrumental Interstellar Overdrive, then bassist Guy Pratt – playing a snappy Rickenbacker – joins the song along with organist Dom Beken and the bandleader…and they’re off. In general, throughout the concert, the music has a tighter, somewhat lighter-fingered pulse than the reckless abandon of the Syd Barrett era. The songs also tend to be more ornate, but in a lot of ways the additional layers raise the psychedelic factor. Who wants to hear a band play something exactly as it was recorded, anyway?

Jim Parsons’ classic rock-doc production is purist: lots of fretboard close-ups, panning the stage and then back. The sound mix is tastefully oldschool as well. To his infinite credit, the bandleader is toward the back, just as he was throughout Pink Floyd’s tenure: he’s always been a guy to let the sound out of his kit instead of trying to bang something into it. And what a big kit it is. One of his bandmates remarks that even in his seventies, Mason’s vigor is “terrifying.” Maybe his subtlety has something to do with that.

Tellingly, it takes two guitarists to replicate what both Barrett and Gilmour did, with plenty of noise and echo, closer to the former’s style than the latter’s anguished, Hendrix-inspired existential screams. Likewise, Beken has a Rick Wright-sized array of textures at his disposal, orchestrating the music with more of an overtly trippy ripple and twinkle than just the vast deep-space textures the late, great Pink Floyd keyboardist constructed so expertly.

The group segue into Astronomy Domine after the night’s opening jagged surrealism: this song is a little more bluesy than the original, but practically just as crazed in places, the bass obviously higher than that instrument typically was recorded in 1967 when Roger Waters played it. Lucifer Sam and Arnold Layne seem a little fast. and rotely digital; yet that same approach improves Fearless, underscoring that otherwise gentle pastoral pop tune’s druggy narrative.

The woozy instrumentals Obscured by Clouds and When You’re In seem odd choices, little more than a platform for Kemp’s simple slide work. As does Vegetable Man, considering what happened to Barrett. In that context, the “why can’t we reach the sun” refrain in Remember a Day has special poignancy, a cautionary tale to the extreme.

While Kemp stays on key more than Waters did singing If, the gloomily sunbaked madness anthem, Waters’ acid-damaged vocals are stil missed. As are the horns and orchestra of Atom Heart Mother – at least we get about seven minutes of the majestic main theme, emphasis on the macabre.

The proto-metal of The Nile Song holds up well (and foreshadows a famous Johnny Rotten lyric). The alien-encounter anthem Let There Be More Light has an almost gleefully grim intensity; likewise, the bulked-up version of the rarely played Gilmour narrative Childhood’s End is more richly dark.

The show’s centerpiece, the menacingly raga-influenced Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun, has a literally breathtaking vastness, Mason having a wryly good time with his huge gongs and then his mallets on the toms. The band pick up the pace with the hauntingly bittersweet See Emily Play, romp through Barrett’s mid 60s Carnaby Street pop tune Bike, then hammer their way through One of These Days, Waters’ strobe-lit repeaterbox instrumental from the Meddle album.

Fueled by Beken’s funereal chromatics and enveloping, smoky echoes, the band go way down the rabbit hole with A Saucerful of Secrets and end the show triumphantly with Point Me At the Sky. The film also contains a few snippets of live footage from the Barrett years plus a bit of context from individual band members. Who would have thought that in 2020, anyone would attempt, let alone succeed in revisiting these classic sounds?

A Gorgeously Bittersweet Farewell to Manhattan from Art-Rock Maven Spottiswoode

The Manhattan that Jonathan Spottiswoode came up in back in the 1990s was far from perfect. The seeds of the city’s death by real estate speculation had already been sown. But there were a lot more places where an often witheringly lyrical, lavishly orchestrated rock band could play then than there are now. Spottiswoode & His Enemies may have sold out the release show for their latest magnum opus, Lost in the City, at Joe’s Pub on the 30th, but twenty-one years ago they could have done the same at a much bigger venue. So it’s fitting that the album – streaming at Bandcamp – is an elegaic salute to a vanished, urbane metropolis, and that Spottiswoode has since relocated to his London birthplace. At least we’ll always have the memories – and this epic.

While Spottiswoode is no stranger to largescale creations, this is arguably his most lavish release. He’s always had a knack for latin sounds, and he dives more deeply into the Spanish Caribbean here than ever before. The opening track is Hoboken. It’s dead ringer for a brooding Pink Floyd ballad: Spottiswoode’s voice has weathered to resemble Roger Waters more and more over the yearas, and Tony Lauria’s gospel-tinged piano completes the picture. The migthy Springsteenian bridge is spot-on, right down to Laura’s Roy Bittan impersonation. “I tried it like all the rest, not what I dreamed I guess, but I did ok,” Spottiswoode muses.

With its bluesy minor-key swing spiced with horn harmonies from saxophonist Candace DeBartolo and trumpeter Kevin Cordt, the title track could also be peak-era Springsteen. With Lauria’s erudite, Fever-ish solo at the center, it’s a long-lost cousin to 10th Avenue Freeze-Out. The nimble pulse of bassist John Young and drummer Tim Vaill propel the funny, filthy, syncopated latin soul anthem Love Saxophone, a look back to a period ten years further back, and several Manhattan blocks north and east. 

Antoine Silverman’s acerbic, Romany-flavored violin kicks off The Walk of Shame, a hauntingly orchestrated vignette of the dark side of the bright lights: “The night was so delicoius/Now a puddle is a mirror for Narcissus.” Then Cordt and trombonist Sara Jacovino work a punchy conversation in Because I Made You, a return to swinging oldschool soul.

The way Spottiswoode sets up the narrative in the distantly ominous, wistful clave-soul elegy Goodbye Jim McBride is too good to give away. The starkly bluesy, doomed, reverberating ambience of It’s on Me wouldn’t be out of place on Dylan’s Time Out of Mind album. Next, the band hit a slow, Lynchian swing groove with Batman & Robin, a disconsolate picture of a divorced dad out with his kids on the weekend.

Riley McMahon’s hailstone reverb guitar mingles with Lauria’s stern salsa piano and organ in Now Didn’t I? McMahon and the bandleader bulid spaghetti western menace over a 5/4 beat in Tears of Joy: as Lauria’s electric piano twinkles eerily overhead, it could be Botanica. Then the band hit a blazing soul-blues sway with Dirty Spoon.

A mashup of late 60s folk-rock Kinks and Springsteen E Street shuffle, Still Small Voice Inside could be the album’s most poignant, relevant number:

Hello, good evening
Did you accomplish what you planned?
Don’t you know the feeling
Too much supply no demand
Yeah it’s a drag, at least you tried
Now listen to the still small voice inside

Young’s big bass bends anchor McMahon’s lingering guitar and blues harp in Cry Baby. Wistful strings and Lauria’s elegant piano mingle in Sunset, a vivid, Ray Davies-esque vignette, followed by the wryly Waitsian swing blues Going Home for Christmas.

The album’s musical high point could be the swaying 6/8 noir soul instrumental East Village Melody, Cordt and then DeBartolo channeling wee-hours melancholy over the band’s glistening, distantly ominous backdrop. Spottiswoode’s gritty vocals soar in You’ll See, an unexpectedly optimistic Weimar waltz. The album winds up with I Don’t Regret, its lush strings and Leonard Cohen inflections: it’s an old rake’s colorful, defiant defense of a “sordid life.” The sounds on this album are old but timeless: it will age well, just like the guy who wrote it.

Barclay James Harvest at Lincoln Center!?!

It was great to finally get to see Barclay James Harvest at Lincoln Center Out of Doors this past evening. Now THAT’S one for the bucket list.

Barclay James Harvest got their start in the 70s as an uptight, tunefully deficient jamband, sort of a prototype for My Morning Jacket. Then they morphed into a competent artsy pop band best known for recycling other peoples’ ideas. The music media at the time called them on it; their snarky response was the song Poor Man’s Moody Blues, whose title perfectly captures their appeal. Their cult classic is Suicide, an actually very poignant ballad with a surprise ending. The rest of their material was not up to that level. Random song title: Galadriel. Genuine hobbit-rock!

OK, it wasn’t Barclay James Harvest who headlined last night. It was Jonathan Wilson. He’s a superstar lead guitarist, the best player to hold down that chair in Roger Waters’ band since Jeff Beck’s brief tenure in the group. He also writes artsy pop songs that recycle other peoples’ ideas. His influences are unimpeachable. The Beatles, and John Lennon especially…Pink Floyd, of course…Elliott Smith, all over the place…the Grateful Dead…Hendrix…Crowded House! Big Star! The Move! The Jayhawks, Marty Willson-Piper and Matt Keating, maybe. And also Neil Young and the Allman Brothers.

Wilson is a competent, unpretentious singer, doubles on piano and writes the occasional withering, cynical turn of phrase. His latest album threatens to descend to the level of James Blunt but doesn’t sink quite that far. Onstage, Wilson was a completely different animal, even though he tantalized the crowd by treating them to a grand total of four guitar solos. Each was scintillating; his long, achingly intense, Gilmouresque interlude midway through the set, over the changes to Pink Floyd’s Breathe, was the high point of the night.

His Telecaster player was just as good when he got the chance to cut loose, with a slide or with some stinging Chicago blues (props to Wilson for having the confidence to include a guy with similarly sizzling, eclectic chops in his band). The bassist doubled strangely on synth bass (why not just use a volume pedal?). The keyboardist used seemingly every patch ever invented, from squiggly vintage 70s Moog sounds, to vast washes of string synth, majestic organ and austere electric piano.

They opened with the fuzztone Carnaby Street psych-pop tune Trafalgar Square, elevated above Oasis level with an unexpected, spacy interlude. Over the Midnight came across as the Verve played by good musicians. Likewise, There’s a Light was a more glam Elliott Smith (or Oasis with a better singer covering Elliott Smith). They ended the show auspiciously with a long, vamping art-rock epic featuring one of two cameos by special guest Laaraji on zither and backing vocals.

One song they didn’t play was a sneering waltz from the new album, with its most relevant lyric:

We’ll be sucking, we’ll be fucking
While the other ones are posting
These kids will never rock again
A sign of the times

The opening act drew a few gaggles of awkward New Jersey high school girls, a few of whom had brought along their similarly unsure-looking pretend boyfriends. Years ago, there was a big market for indifferent, vaguely melancholy upper middle class white women who set their diary entries to music. In the years since, the corporate record labels, by their own admission, have lost 90% of their influence. Back in the day, Natalie Merchant used to play Madison Square Garden. The best this girl can do is open a show at Bowery Ballroom. Is that more a function of the death of the record industry, or the decline of the middle class?

Lincoln Center Out of Doors continues out back in Damrosch Park on Aug 2 at 7:30 PM with a high-voltage set by the Nigerian “Queen of Afrobeat” Yemi Alade. Get there early if you want a seat.

Iranian Rock Rules at Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center Out of Doors was packed this past evening. The message was clear: New Yorkers, or at least a large subset of us, love Iranian music. On a triplebill that began with a tantalizingly short set by all-female hometown crew Habibi and ended with crooner Faramarz Aslani and his band, rock band Kiosk played one of the best sets of any group in this city this year.

Frontman Arash Sobhani entertained the crowd with his sardonic sense of humor, edgy, mythologically influenced Farsi lyrics and slashingly individualistic Stratocaster chops. His fellow axeman Mohammad Talani wailed and slunk, a nonchalantly powerful presence on a big hollowbody Gibson while bassist Ali Kamali bubbled over the steady, funk-influenced beats of drummer Yahya Alkhansa.

The early part of the set was an update on the psychedelic “Farsi funk” that was all the rage in Iran prior to the 1979 Khomeini takeover, and brutally suppressed thereafter (Kiosk take their name from the kind of venues available for confrontational rock in their Teheran  hometown). Hits like Love For Speed (a sarcastic parable about Teheran traffic), the cautionary tales Everybody’s Asleep and Bulldozer each had a minor-key psych-funk feel grounded by a heavier than usual drumbeat for that style, Sobhani evoking peak-era Leonard Cohen with both his vocals and his chord changes. On guitar, he fired off purist, icepick Chicago blues leads but also slithery volleys of chromatics that were a dead giveaway for the group’s origins.

Talani hung back with his rhythm early on but once he got a chance to cut loose, he took a couple of the darker anthems to angst-fueled peaks with his screaming, anguished leads, like a Middle Eastern David Gilmour. Meanwhile, Sobhani led the group through an eclectic mix that included a pensively crescendoing contemplation of exile, then a rapidfire, punkish romp through a melody that he said was originally Iranian but eventually became a klezmer melody (it sounded Russian).

A couple of shuffling numbers after that could have been American ghoulabilly save for the linguistic difference. After a detour into what could have been dub reggae but wasn’t, and a tune that brought to mind Gogol Bordello, they did a silly faux Chuck Berry tune about a legendary Iranian bootlegger who got jail time for pirating AC/DC records. This group is huge in the Iranian diaspora but should be vastly better known beyond that world.

Habibi deserved more than fifteen minutes onstage. What they lack in tightness they make up for in originality. Lead guitarist Lenaya “Lenny” Lynch fired off needling tremolo-picked riffs over the tense surf-ish rhythm sectdion of bassist Erin Campbell and drummer Karen Isabel as rhythm guitarist Leah Beth Fishman added rainy-day chords that sometimes edged toward Lush dreampop, frontwoman Rahill Jamalifard singing coolly and matter-of-factly, mostly in Farsi. From their brief, Arabic-tinged instrumental intro through a mix of Breeders jangle, Ventures stomp and Farsi funk, they’re developing an intriguing, distinctive sound. Give the rhythm section a year to get their chops up to speed, and this band could be dangerous.

Backed by six-piece band including flamenco guitarist and musical director Babak Amini, Aslani got the crowd singing and dancing along to his allusively biting lyrics set to pleasant, flute-fueled Mediterranean and Brazilian-inflected acoustic ballads that often brought to mind the Gipsy Kings. An icon of Iranian music since the 70s, he’s a wordsmith and connoisseur of classical Persian poetry first and foremost.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors continues tomorrow night, July 29 with art-rock guitarist Jonathan Wilson – of Roger Waters’ band – doing his own material. Getting into the show this particular evening was easy, but you might want to show up before 7:30 PM showtime if you want a seat.

You Mean That Really Wasn’t Pink Floyd at B.B King’s Last Night?

If B.B. King’s wasn’t sold out last night, it was close to capacity. The crowd was multi-generational: there were at least two tables with grandparents, parents and grandchildren. Dads with college-age daughters were everywhere, and there was a lot of Spanish being spoken: south of the US-Mexico border, art-rock never went into eclipse. Many of those concertgoers spent part of the set with their eyes closed, which made sense. Without watching the band onstage, it was as if Pink Floyd was up there. That good.

Since the 80s, the Machine have made a living on the road playing the complete Pink Floyd catalog. They are revered among musicians. Many of their peers had come out on one of the few truly cold nights of this young “winter” for inspiration and to be swept away by a chillingly spot-on recreation of the towering angst, epic grandeur and improvisational flair of the world’s most iconic art-rock band. The Machine opened with the complete Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Pt. 1. More than three hours later, they ended with the complete second part, plus a long jam midway through where the individual members got to color the music with their own erudite personalities and irrepressible deadpan humor. Like everything else they did, it was in keeping with the spirit of Pink Floyd, subtle and distinctively British. All this from a bunch of native New Yorkers.

Forget having the perfect, unmistakeable collection of vintage keyboard patches and guitar effects: to effectively recreate Pink Floyd takes fearsome chops., which this band has coming out their pores. In deference to the brilliance of David Gilmour, the Machine had two guitarists – frontman Joe Pascarell, and Ryan Ball, who doubled on pedal steel – taking turns with the lead and rhythm parts, channeling sepulchral vibrato, lightning blues and trippy intensity. It was good to hear bassist Adam Minkoff up in the mix, playing Roger Waters’ terse, purposeful lines with a little more treble than Waters typically used, and usually with a pick, as Waters typically did. Drummer Tahrah Cohen perfectly captured Nick Mason’s stately grace, subtle swing and playful counterintuitivity with the occasional well-placed cymbal splash or funereal tom-tom flurry on an elaborate, oversize kit. Scott Chasolen negotatiated Richard Wright’s lavish keyboard orchestration with split-second precision and made it look easy. Surprisingly, the band relied on him as the prime mover during the jams, as much or even more than the guitars. His animated, good-naturedly spiraling phrases brought to mind Genesis’ Tony Banks more than they did Wright.

After the richly lingering opening number, Pascarell tackled the evening’s lone “deep album cut,” Fat Old Sun – from the Atomheart Mother record – running his Strat through an acoustic patch, Ball on pedal steel, Chasolen channeling Richard Wright at his most austerely spiritual with spacious gospel piano licks. They followed with album-precise versions of Breathe and Time, establishing that the band had the essential organ and guitar tones, Ball using the steel to recreate Gilmour’s anguished slide guitar riffage. What was clear by now was how much this band plays up Pink Floyd’s psychedelic side – and notwithstanding how many hundreds of times they’ve played these songs onstage, how much fun this band has after all this years. “It’s good to smoke a bone beside the fire,” Pascarell intoned at the end of Time, resulting in a wave of raised joints, one-hitters and vape thingys down front.

Early in a matter-of-fact, aptly brooding, low-key take of Mother, Pascarell turned the mic over to the audience. “Mother do you think they’re going to break?…” got the appropriately ballsy response, nobody missing a beat. Later during the second set, he and the rest of the band teased the crowd with a succession of riffs: what was it going to be, Careful With That Axe, Eugene, or Astronomy Domine? It turned out to be a searing yet comfortably relaxed Lucifer Sam.

As hard-driven as much of the material was – a snarling Not Now John, complete with “Fuck all that” chorus, and blistering takes of Comfortably Numb and Run Like Hell – the high point was a hypnotically pulsing, enveloping, potently crescendoing full-length version of Dogs. Otherwise, this was the classic rock radio set. Chasolen’s warpy synth solo on Money was a vast improvement on the awful sax solo on the original, and his washes of white noise on Hey You just as unexpectedly welcome. The band’s choice of riding a slow build through most of side one of The Wall up to big radio hit – where they reveled in the song’s inner funk – was a revelation. There was also a take of Wish You Were Here with a long twelve-string acoustic intro and audience singalong. Pink Floyd may be history, but that doesn’t stop a new generation of alienated kids from discovering them, and being transformed by them, every year. It’s a good thing that we have the Machine to keep that vast body of work alive onstage. And they have a similarly vast archive.org page, where you can treat yourself to enough concert material to keep you in more-or-less new Floyd for literally weeks.

Some Possible Context for the New Pink Floyd Album

Imagine that you didn’t know who David Gilmour and Richard Wright are – and if you don’t, you will soon. The former, an icon of improvised music; the latter devoted to meticulously composed soundscapes. An unlikely pair of collaborators considering their backgrounds, wouldn’t you say?

Sometime in the early 90s, the two find themselves together in the studio and jam out a series of themes. Sounds pretty avant garde, doesn’t it? Twenty years go by: meanwhile, the session sits, unedited, in a vault at a once-dominant record label, whose global sales fall to about one-fifth of what they were when the session was recorded.

In 2006, Gilmour releases a rare solo album, On an Island, a magically crepuscular, foreboding suite of sorts. Two years later, Wright dies at 65. Another six years go by; Gilmour plays a successful world tour of midsize venues, reunites his old 70s band for a cameo at a one-off tv concert, then pretty much retreats from view.

Was it the desire for filthy lucre that set loose The Endless River, the latest album released under the Pink Floyd name? Or was it more of a genuine need for same, considering that Gilmour isn’t making any money touring these days, and that the entire Pink Floyd discography can be downloaded in seconds flat if your connection is fast enough? And is there anything to this release by the post-Roger Waters version of the band, more than the uneven and aptly titled Momentary Lapse of Reason or the ponderous and tunefully deficient Division Bell, which sounds like a collection of Dire Straits outtakes?

Best to take this “new” album out of context and forget Gilmour and Wright’s glorious art-rock past for a minute. As a series of simple, mostly one or two chord vamps, all of them instrumentals except for a single track, it showcases each musician’s strengths and signature tropes. Throughout these seventeen brief, often barely two-minute excerpts, obviously a series of carefully chosen edits, Gilmour unleashes his usual mournful wails, anguished screams and ominous swells, building the expected, majestic wall of reverb. Wright, true to form, is more judicious, even careful, peppering the mix with pensive, sometimes gingerly placed neoromantic chords and piano riffs and the occasional blues or gospel-tinged phrase. Every so often, there’ll be a hint of a big ballad or a sweeping, cinematic theme, the last of them a particularly triumphant one. Drummer Nick Mason, one of the art-rock era’s most underrated and richly musical players, anchors these miniatures with his reliable combination of elegant color and mighty thud.

Gilmour distinguishes himself the most when he uses a slide, much as he did on Dark Side of the Moon. The sample of Wright reputedly playing the organ at the Royal Albert Hall in 1969 is insignificant and is over before you know it. And the single song with vocals is a throwaway that tarnishes the band’s legacy. Even so, every year, a new generation of alienated kids discovers this band, just as they do Sartre, and Margaret Atwood, and Frida Kahlo. They’ll make their way through the catalog to this one eventually, and will find it as musically intriguing as the band’s iconic 70s work. The elephant in the room, or, rather, lingering just outside the door, is Roger Waters: one can only imagine what these tantalizing fragments could have become as vehicles for his visionary lyricism.

Towering, Haunting Lynchian Intensity from Alec K. Redfearn

On Sister Death, their first album since 2007’s The Blind Spot, accordionist Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesores deliver a lushly orchestrated, epically sweeping, Lynchian mix of creepy cinematic themes and towering gypsy-infused art-rock. Redfearn’s rich, often funereal tones blend with the even more macabre swirls and torrents from Orion Rigel Dommisse ‘s Acetone Top-5 organ: she plays the Lynch Girl on this album, and often steals the show. The core of this shapeshifting Providence, Rhode Island band includes Matt McLaren on drums, Chris Sadlers on bass, Clint Heidorn on guitar and the father-daughter team of Jimmy and Hannah Divine on violins along with a mammoth supporting cast. Redfearn has an enormous talent base to draw from, and in concert has been known to bring anything from a stripped-down quartet to a mighty fifteen-piece chamber orchestra.

The album opens with Fire Shuffle, a brisk, murderously chromatic epic, the casualness of the guy/girl vocals downplaying the darkness of the music: “Burn with me awhile, leave the wreckage far behind,” Redfearn and Dommisse intone. Chris Turner contributes a ferociously intense, feedback-charged chromatic harp solo to fan the flames.. The second track, Unawake, reaches for the same kind of orchestral sweep even though it’s over in just over two minutes. The Seven and Six, a slowly menacing 6/8 ballad, has the accordion rising through the mix with an increasingly distorted, gritty texture beneath Redfearn’s mythologically-inspired wordplay.

Terse tremolo guitar and creepy bells gently propel Longreach, a totally Lynchian instrumental, followed by the trickily rhythmic Amplifier Hum, its faux Bulgarian folk vocals (in English!)  a throwback to the band’s earlier days working a more avant-garde vein. Black Ice begins with a solo accordion taqsim and builds to a massive Balkan dance, funeral organ mingling with the accordion and intricately multitracked guitar from Domenick Panzarella. A creepy waltz, Exhumed is sort of a gypsy take on Julee Cruise Twin Peaks noir pop, Redfearn’s baritone uke mimicking a Spanish guitar, Dommisse playing femme fatale once again over an echoey dead-girl choir.

With a more straight-ahead beat, Scratch would be horror surf instead of Balkan rock – Redfearn’s long, searing, minimalist accordion solo out is adrenalizing to say the least. They follow that with Hashishin, a matter-of-factly swaying, trippily macabre Middle Eastern instrumental jam, the baritone uke running through a Big Muff pedal for extra menace. By contrast, Redfearn’s cover of St. James Infirmary gets a skeletal steampunk treatment, ending with a murderous, digeridoo-like drone from the bass pedals on a Hammond organ. The most inscrutable – and least menacing – number here is Wings of the Magpie, with its surreal 70s space-rock vibe. The album closes with a dire, In the Morning, Roger Waters meets the Walkabouts.

Redfearn is a cool guy: much of his fascinatingly eclectic back catalog is available as free downloads at the  Free Music Archive. A punk/metal kid back in the 80s, he taught himself accordion in retaliation against the onslaught of grunge. This might be his best album: nice to see, for someone who’s been making music since the 90s and remains one of the most underrated songwriters in rock, or whatever you call what he does. The album is due out in a couple of days from Cuneiform;  he and the band play a hometown album release show on Oct 4  at the Empire Black Box Theatre in Providence.