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Tag: southwestern gothic

A Gorgeously Drifting, Lynchian Album With a Tragic Backstory

New York instrumentalists SussNight Suite album, released earlier this year, was a gorgeously evocative, drifting travelogue akin to the recent Freedom Convoy, tracing a highway trip from New Mexico to the California desert. The equally picturesque sequel, Heat Haze – streaming at Bandcamp – continues the journey in a similarly southwestern yet less gothic vein. Tragically, one of the band members only appears on this road trip in a metaphorical sense. Keyboardist Gary Lieb died suddenly in March of last year shortly after wrapping up recording, just as so many musicians have in the wake of the lethal Covid injections. It’s not known what role, if any, that may have played in his untimely death.

In a cruel stroke of irony, Lieb’s floating synth plays a major role throughout the record, mingling with the guitars of Pat Irwin and Bob Holmes and the pedal steel of Jonathan Gregg. It’s often impossible to figure out who’s playing what, beginning with the slowly shifting, tectonic ambience of the title track, at least until Gregg’s steel and a few low, ominous reverb-guitar notes come into focus over the horizon.

Lieb’s keyboards pulse hypnotically behind spare, loopy acoustic and electric riffs in the second track, aptly titled Shimmer. Gregg’s steel takes centerstage over gentle acoustic strums and the occasional low clang in Grace: the group seem to be emerging into more populated territory by now.

Lieb layers calmly circling layers beneath reverb riffs that pan the speakers on track four, Train: this is the real midnight in the switching yard, with a sonic joke or two which are too good to spoil. The most immersively ambient track here is the final one, Pine. If this is all that’s left of the band’s recorded output, it’s a memorable departure.

A Lush Lynchian Masterpiece From Howe Gelb and the Colorist Orchestra

It is nothing short of astonishing how after a long career leading iconic southwestern gothic pioneers Giant Sand, and then as a solo artist, Howe Gelb is arguably at the peak of his career as a songwriter. His latest album, Not on the Map – streaming at Bandcamp – is a serendipitously Lynchian collaboration with Belgian art-rock ensemble the Colorist Orchestra. As you would expect just from the artists involved, this is a lock for one of the best albums of 2021.

The group open with Counting On: “The frontlines are closing in,” Gelb mutters as the strings flutter and Sep François’ vibraphone rings eerily. It could be an especially lush Botanica number from that band’s most orchestral, mid-zeros peak.

Gelb’s voice has weathered like a good whiskey over the years, best evidenced here by his unselfconsciously saturnine delivery throughout the cover of the Glenn Campbell countrypolitan hit Gentle on My Mind.

Pieta Brown contributes two songs of her own, first joining Gelb in a duet, Sometimes I Wish, a fondly nocturnal waltz. Karel Coninx’s viola floats starkly over the enveloping backdrop from violinist Jeroen Baert, Gerrit Valckenaers’ bass clarinet and Tim Vandenbergh’s bass. Wim De Busser’s piano is a light in a windowshade alongside the twinkling percussion. Brown’s other duet here is Sweet Pretender, a hazy country ballad.

Percussionists Kobe Proesmans and Aarich Jespers anchor the lilting latin-tinged groove in Dr Goldman, a distantly sinister, enveloping twilight tableau: imagine a warmer, less synthy version of Australian legends Flash & the Pan flown in to the Arizona desert..

The closest comparison to Leonard Cohen here is Thyne Eyes, a semi-bolero gently spiced with De Busser’s plucky prepared piano and the gleam from François’ vibes. Gelb half-sings, half-whispers Ruin Everything in his weathered baritone, the album’s most hypnotic, atmospheric, subtly gospel-tinged ballad. “Now you’ve mastered the art of the undone,” he intones.

The album’s most unselfconsciously gorgeous track is Tarantula, a dusky opening-credits theme with Gelb on what sounds like a reed organ. A single, fleeting moment of menace from the bass clarinet could be the most breathtaking point here.

Vandenbergh’s spare, dancing bass gives More Exes a loping Big Lazy groove behind Gelb’s evocative, understatedly menacing railroad trestle scenario. The group close the record with the title track, a classic Gelb noir bolero awash in aching strings, keening highs from Valckenaers’ glass bowls and some deliciously uneasy, microtonal work from Coninx.

Brilliantly Catchy, Creepy Reverb-Drenched Desert Rock From Cate Von Csoke

Australian guitarist Cate Von Csoke blends reverb-infused desert rock and girl-down-the-well vocals for one of the most distinctively creepy sounds around. Her new vinyl record Almoon – streaming at Bandcamp – is a lock for one of the best of 2021. Throughout the album, the mystery never lifts. After awhile, it all starts to sound like one long, forlorn song – but Von Csoke owns that sound.

She opens it with Coyote Cry, her hazy, distant vocals and reverb-drenched, Link Wray-inspired changes over drummer Steve Shelley’s slow, loping beat. Jared Artaud’s eerily twinkling Wurlitzer twinkles eerily amid Von Csoke’s icy clang in the second song, Silver Screen

Imagine Marissa Nadler covering a Morricone spaghetti western theme and you get Silver Highway. Von Csoke breaks out her repeater box for an Electric Prunes-style strobe in the next cut, Flake and follows that with Dream Around, just disembodied vocals and lingering guitar jangle.

She sticks with the guitar-and-vocals format for Flowers, which brightens the mood a little. But that doesn’t last, as Darkchild unfolds over a catchy series of brooding 60s folk-rock changes. The final cut, Hold True brings the album full circle: Australians have always had a thing for Wray and surf rock in general.

Now where did Von Csoke escape to, before the Australian government decided to institute draconian lockdowns whenever any rando shows up positive on a meaningless PCR test? She ended up in Brooklyn: apartheid capitol of the US, outside of Oregon, anyway. Rents are coming down all over town: these days the South Bronx is looking better and better.

Hypnotically Intense, Resonant Psychedelic Instrumental Themes From the Mute Duo

If Big Lazy‘s creepy big-sky tableaux, the southwestern gothic vistas of the Friends of Dean Martinez or peak-era, late 80s Sonic Youth are your thing, you’ll love the Mute Duo. With just pedal steel and drums, their slowly unfolding, tectonically shifting soundscapes are as suspenseful as they are psychedelic. Their album Lapse in Passage is streaming at Bandcamp.

There’s enough reverb on Sam Wagster’s pedal steel here to drive a truck through, maxing out the icily overdriven resonance. A lingering menace slowly builds over airy drones as Derived From Retinas, the first track, coalesces out of spare, reverb-drenched phrases, Skyler Rowe’s drums and the spacious upward swoops from the steel hinting that the clouds will break. They don’t, and the rhythm never completely comes together, even as the duo make a grim modal anthem out of it.

A metallic mist of overtones rises as the one-chord tableau Past Musculature Plains gathers momentum: it could be the great lost atmospheric track from Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation.

Canopy Bells, a minimalist mini-suite, gets a summery, hazy introduction, wind chimes gently rattling in the breeze before the drums begin prowling. The frenetic, roaring crescendo comes as a jolt;

The brief ambient interlude A Timbre Profile leads into the album’s most epic track, Overland Line, which could be the skeleton frame of an early PiL instrumental played with a slide. This time it’s the drums which hold this together as Wagster leaves plenty of distance between his phrases. Echoey loops mingle through a long crescendo;  Rowe’s decisive cymbal whacks kick off the coda.

Dallas in the Dog Days has sheets of steel floating over a similarly reverb-iced, moodily pastoral, slightly out-of-tune piano track. With its simple variations on a drone finally gathering into a flock of busy wings, Redwinged Blackbirds comes across as a minimalist take on early 70s instrumental Pink Floyd. The album winds up with Last Greys, the drums pulling its anthemic, loopy phrases further outside. This is a great lights-out, late night listen.

Celebrate the End of an Ugly World with Brent Amaker and the Rodeo’s Protest Songs

Everybody’s favorite tongue-in-cheek baritone C&W crooner, Brent Amaker, has a new ep Ugly World, with his band the Rodeo streaming at Spotify. His protest songs speak for billions of people around the globe. How do you write a hit song? Make it a broadside about everybody’s least favorite bully.

You probably know the big hit, Dump Trump:

He has his head up his own butt…
Dude loves himself so much he’ll take us down for a buck
This tv star is a hack
I want my country back

It’s a solid piece of retro tunesmithing, too – that machete-chord guitar outro is spot-on.

The rest of the record is just as relevant. The title track is a spaghetti western tune with a bunch of amusing musical quotes and a long, incendiary guitar solo. Amaker would love a beer, but the bars are closed: things just get uglier and uglier in this lockdown hell!

He sticks with a loping southwestern gothic groove for Soldier, an unexpectedly subtle number that manages to be sympathetic to the battlescarred dude while not missing the implications of what people this damaged do if they’re running the show. Amaker closes with  New Rodeo Anthem. a stadium-friendly (or corral-friendly) singalong. You know that when the lockdown is over and Amaker is back on the road, he and the band are going to break this one out for the encores.

Now, some of you regular readers might be wondering why, after salivating over the prospect of a Trump impeachment week after week a year ago, this blog went totally silent on the Presidential election. Did New York Music Daily secretly go over to the dark side and endorse Trump?

No. But if anybody thinks Biden is an improvement, they’re living in a dream world. In many respects Biden is Trump with a smiley face – or wearing a muzzle with a smiley face on it. Trump was surrounded by a bunch of cheap snatch-and-grab thugs, but Biden’s people are far more sinister. The Trump crowd simply wanted to loot the treasury and make a quick getaway. Biden’s people have an agenda: permanent lockdown. The New Abnormal. We are going to have to be twice as dedicated to noncompliance as we’ve been the past year in order to get rid of it. And this blog believes we can. Stay strong because the next four years are going to be hell. But we’re going to win this thing.

The Goners Mash Up Garage Rock and Powerpop with Classic Heavy Riffage

The Goners play an individualistic brand of heavy rock that’s slinkier and more focused than most bands in the style. Unlike most heavy bands, their rhythm section – bassist Aaron Miller and drummer Aaron Smith – really swing (although Geezer Butler and Bill Ward swung like hell too). And the group don’t use a lot of guitar effects: just overdriven amps and some growly treble on the bass, and that’s pretty much it. Their latest album Good Mourning – streaming at Bandcamp – is a blend of doom metal, garage rock and more opaque indie sounds.

The first track, Are You Gone Yet is basically a garage rock tune souped up with some tasty chromatics and a sunbaked wah guitar solo. High Low and Never In Between is a chunky riff-rocking Sabbath homage, more or less, with a couple of pinwheeling, doublespeed guitar solos.

They go back to a garage rock stomp for World of Decay, then hit a gallop with Evil Is Not Enough, a twisted tale of hooking up with a groupie. After that, they take an unexpected and successful detour into loping southwestern gothic with Good Ol’ Death and return to swaying riff-rock with The Sickening, with a nasty, tremolo-picked guitar solo out.

The most bizarre song here is Down and Out, a mashup of the Ventures and early Iron Maiden, with a spacy interlude for trumpet. Likewise, the mashup of Stooges and crunchy Sabbath in You Better Run is pretty weird, up to the album’s best and most allusively menacing guitar solo. With its punchy changes and watery analog chorus-box solos, The Little Blue reminds of Da Capo-era Arthur Lee.

The band go back to a surreal mix of spaghetti western, surf rock and hints of Radio Birdman to close the album with Dead in the Saddle (Dead Moon). Some fans of heavier sounds are going to hear frontman/guitarist Nate Gone’s flat, off-key vocals and the lithe, supple grooves of this music and find it insubstantial. But leave your mind open and you just might get into this.

Yet Another Brilliant, Shadowy Album and a Gowanus Release Show From Noir Instrumental Icons Big Lazy

Big Lazy are the world’s most menacingly cinematic instrumental trio. They’re also the world’s darkest jamband, one of Brooklyn’s most popular dance bands…and they keep putting out brilliant albums. The cover of their long-awaited new one, Dear Trouble (streaming at youtube) has a 1972 Ford Country Squire station wagon off to the side of a desolate road somewhere in the midwest, facing a tower along the powerline as the clouds linger and the sun sets. That says a lot. They’re playing the album release show this Nov 8-9 at 8 PM at the old American Can Company building at 232 3rd St. in Gowanus. Night one is sold out, but night two isn’t yet; you can get in for $20. They’ll be joined by three of the special guests on the record: Sexmob‘s Steven Bernstein on trumpet, Slavic Soul Party’s Peter Hess on saxes and Miramar’s Farfisa sorceress Marlysse Rose Simmons. Take the F or the R to 4th Ave/9th St.

Interestingly, this turns out to be the band’s quietest, most desolate album. It begins with The Onliest, a loping, skeletal theme slinking along on Andrew Hall’s hypnotically bluesy bassline. They hit an interlude bristling with bandleader/guitarist Steve Ulrich’s signature, macabre chromatics, then eventually a false ending. It’s a good introduction to where the band are at now: there are echoes of horror surf, Angelo Badalementi David Lynch soundtracks, Thelonious Monk and Booker T. & the MGs in the rhythm, although Big Lazy’s sound is inimitably their own.

The album’s title track has Ulrich’s melancholy, resonant lead over a sardonically strutting blend of Nino Rota tinged with early 60s pop: if Tredici Bacci wanted to get really dark, they might sound like this. As is the case with so much of Ulrich’s catalog, the song takes on many different shapes, textures and guitar timbres and winds up far from where it started.

Ramona, with dubby accents from Simmons organ, is one of the spare, overcast bolero-ish tunes that Ulrich writes so well. Cardboard Man features Marc Ribot, a rare guitarist who can go as deep into noir as well as Ulrich, adding eerily flamenco-tinged touches. The exchanges between the two, switching in a split-second between styles, are expertly bittersweet.

Sizzle & Pops – referring to the imaginary roadhouse that Ulrich and his wife would be running in an alternate universe – is a rare moment of straight-up levity for this band, part Booker T, part pseudo Bill Black Combo 50s cheese. Bernstein adds distantly muted New Orleans flavor, both jaundiced and jubilant, on the group’s cover of the Beatles’ Girl: who knew what an ineffably sad song this was!

Drummer Yuval Lion takes the loose-limbed slink of the opening number and raises it several notches with his flurries in Dream Factory as Hall runs another trancey blues bassline, Ulrich’s baritone guitar pulling the song deeper into the shadows. Consider how the title of Cheap Crude could mean many things, and its sardonic rockabilly makes even more sense.

Exit Tucson, another tense, morose quasi-bolero, has all kinds of neat, rippling touches pinging through the sonic picture around Ulrich’s sad broken chords, disconsolately reverberating riffs and long, forlornly shuffling solo. The arguably even more gloomy Fly Paper has a deliciously disorienting blend of tone-bending lapsteel and furtive guitar multitracks: with its trick ending, it’s the most Twin Peaks of any of the songs here.

Ribot returns for Mr. Wrong, a disquietingly syncopted stroll: it’s amazingly how chameleonic yet grimly on task both he and Ulrich are here. The album’s final cut is Sing Sing, Peter Hess’ baritone sax adding extra smoke beneath Ulrich’s lingering, macabre tritones.

Ulrich and Big Lazy are no strangers to the best albums of the year page here. He took first place back in 2012 for the Ulrich Ziegler record, a quasi-Big Lazy album with guitarist/bassist Itamar Ziegler, which turned out to be a one-off project before he reformed the group.. And Big Lazy’s big comeback album, Don’t Cross Myrtle, was #1 with a bullet for 2014. As far as 2019 is concerned, no spoilers, check back here at the end of December…

Karen & the Sorrows Celebrate Their Excellent, Eclectic New Americana Album at Littlefield This Week

Over the last few years, Karen & the Sorrows have individualistically skirted the fringes of the New York Americana scene. Not all their songs are sad, and frontwoman Karen Pitttelman has no fear of mashing up different styles. Their debut album was a creepy New England gothic suite. Their second ome was a country-tinged janglerock record. Their latest album. Guaranteed Broken Heart – streaming at Bandcamp – is even more eclectic, featuring some of New York’s most electrifying musicians. Pittelman’s vocals are more dynamic and diverse than ever as well. She and the band are playing the album release show on Oct 18 at around 10:30 PM at Littlefield. Nimble, pensive acoustic guitarist/songwriter Genessa James‘ Onliest open the night at 8:30, followed by the exhilarating, fearlessly political, historically inspired Ebony Hillbillies, NYC’s only oldtime African-American string band. Cover is $10.

The title track opens the album: it’s a briskly brooding southwestern gothic shuffle with some cool tradeoffs between lead guitar and pedal steel. Cole Quest Rotante’s lingering dobro spices the loping second track, There You Are, blending with the pedal steel, mandolin and Rima Fand’s plaintive fiddle.

The band go back to darkly shuffling desert rock with the organ-driven Jonah and the Whale, Girls on Grass guitar goddess Barbara Endes winding it up with a deliciously slithery solo. Why Won’t You Come Back to Me has an even more haunting, spare, 19th century African-American gospel feel: “Oh my little angel, send me back to hell,” is the closing mantra.

Bowed bass, mandolin and banjo mingle with Fand’s mournful fiddle in the similarly rustic Appalachian gothic ballad Your New Life Now. Drummer Charles Burst gives the sad, lingering ballad Far Away a muted country backbeat: “Some people you can love up close, some from afar/The trick is knowing which they are,” Pittelman observes.

Third Time’s the Charm is an upbeat, pedal steel-fueled honkytonk number: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” sets up the chorus. Then they bring it down with the mournful Queen of Denial.

When People Show You Who They Are is a subdued, downcast, hypnotic folk-pop tune in Americana disguise. The group mash up electric Neil Young with tinges of oldschool soul in It Ain’t Me, then quietly shuffle through the melancholy Something True, with tantalizingly brief mandolin and fiddle solos. They close the album with a love ballad, You’re My Country Music. It’s inspiring to see a genuine New York original taking her sound and her songwriting to the next level.

Grupo Fantasma Bandleader Adrian Quesada Headines a Cutting-Edge Soul Triplebill at Lincoln Center Out of Doors

More about that oldschool and newschool soul triplebill at Lincoln Center Out of Doors on the 27th of this month: at 7 PM, British band the Black Pumas open the night, followed by late 60s singer-survivor Lee Fields & the Expressions. Headlining at around 9 are psychedelic guitar maven Adrian Quesada. leading a Texas soul band with a rotating cast of singers from his home state.

As the leader of Grupo Fantasma and its many, many spinoffs, Quesada is no stranger to fans of psychedelic and latin music. His main band’s latest album, American Music Vol. 17 is streaming at Spotify. It’s the group’s most political album, and one of their best, right from the ominous flurry of guitars that opens the first track Fugitivo, a cantering norteno desert rock number with spaghetti western riffage, lithe accordion and a grim narrative about being on the run, from La Migra, or more than one enemy.

Nubes is a sly, brassy mashup of psychedelic cumbia and salsa, while LT, a sex joint, has bright horn accents over a slinky, oscillating soul groove. The band go back to cumbia for the aching, bolero-tinged ballad Que Mas Quieres De Mi, then shift to a mashup of lowrider funk amd reggaeton in The Wall, a snide dismissal of Trumpie anti-immigrant bigotry.

La Cruda is a brightly bouncy, oldtime Mexican folk-flavored party anthem, followed by the gritty, anthemic, fuzztoned Nosotros, set to a circling beat that’s practically qawwali. The brand come across as a latin soul Rare Earth in Let Me Be, a defiant individualist’s anthem fueled by organ and guitar.

The group sandwich a brief dubwise interlude amid circling, dancing psychedelic chamame in Ausencia. They kick off the album’s most epic track, Hot Sauce with a trickily rhythmic intro and then hit a mighty, horn-driven cumbia sway, Quesada contributing his most incisive guitar work here.

Cuidado is hard-swinging wah funk tune with a growly baritone sax solo. The album’s best and most broodingly trippy number is Yo Quisiera, Quesada’s bittersweet wah guitar over moody organ chords; then the band make psychedelic salsa out of it. They close with the darkly otherworldly oldschool Colombian-style cumbia Sombra Roja, flute and accordion swirling over icy reverb guitar. There are as many flavors here as you could possibly find on both sides of the Tex-Mex border. Now imagine if this music, or this band possibly could have existed if there was a wall there.

A Lusciously Jangly, Ferociously Relevant Masterpiece From Girls on Grass

Girls on Grass’ latest album Dirty Power – streaming at Bandcamp – has everything you could possibly want from a great rock record: slashing lyrics, soaring vocals, gorgeous harmonies, layers and layers of luscious guitar jangle and clang and roar, and tunesmithing that draws on styles from the 60s through the 80s. It’s fearlessly political, and it might be the best record released so far this year. Frontwoman Barbara Endes is on the shortlist of the best guitarists in all of rock – and she’s a great bassist too. Imagine the Dream Syndicate fronted by a woman, and produced by Eric Ambel (who was actually behind the board when this was made, and it’s one of the best projects he’s ever worked on). Girls on Grass are headlining one of the year’s best triplebills on May 12 at Coney Island Baby at around 9. Catchy, fun guy/girl indie soul band Sunshine Nights open the night at 7, followed by wickedly jangly surf/twang/country instrumentalists the Bakersfield Breakers at around 8. Cover is a ridiculously cheap $8.

The new album opens with Down at the Bottom, the harmonies of Endes and drummer Nancy Polstein rising over a soul-clap beat, spiced with icy twelve-string guitar jangle that’s part 60s Merseybeat, part 80s paisley underground psychedelia. Second guitarist David Weiss adds country-tinged twang as bassist Dave Mandl holds down an insistent groove, Endes reminding that all the best things are in the shadows and in the deepest waters. In status-grubbing real estate bubble-era New York, that subtext screams.

Street Fight is a cynical, sarcastic stomp, Weiss channeling Mick Taylor in simmering post-Chuck Berry mode, up to a slashing chromatic run. Friday Night is an indelibly simmering tableau, capturing the energy and anticipation of meeting a crush at what promises to be a hot show, chilling back by the soundboard, passing around a joint. The ending is an unexpectedly different kind of crush.

Got to Laugh to Keep From Crying, a bittersweet account of betrayal and stalker behavior, is one of the album’s most gorgeous songs, Endes’ clang against Weiss’ country twang. Two Places at Once shifts between amped-up. briskly shuffling Morricone spaghetti western and an eerily surfy Radio Birdman highway theme. Then the band burn through the garage rock riffage of the escape anthem Into the Sun, with a searing, chromatically-fueled guitar solo midway through: it sounds like that’s  Endes, but it might be Weiss too.

“Capitalism ruins everything worth doing,” Endes intones to a guy who’s only in it “For the cash, and the underage ass” in the album’s most overtly political track, Because Capitalism: the rhythm section hits a fast Motown beat as the guitars stab and burn. Endes got the inspiration for the wounded, crescendoing anthem John Doe  from the time the X bassist wrote a carpe diem message in her journal, with a “We gotta stick together” mantra that works on more than one level.

The loping desert rock instrumental Asesino sends a shout-out to an iconic Ventures hit, with hints of vintage Public Image Ltd. at the very end. “I come from superior genes,” the narcissist-in-charge brags over a swaying Flamin’ Groovies drive in Commander in Thief: the faux bombast of the guitars matches Endes’ sardonic lyric. The band wind up the album with Thoughts Are Free, with a slow, richly lingering Dream Syndicate-style intro, then picking up with a brisk country shuffle beat. “Got my money, never mind what’s happening behind the scenes,” Endes sings sarcastically. Look for this on the best albums of 2019 page at the end of the year.