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A Free Saturday Night Brooklyn Show by Psychedelic Desert Rock Guitarslinger Bombino

Fiery Tuareg jamband leader and lead guitar wizard Omara “Bombino” Moctar lives on the road. Over the years, he’s also been able to put out a surprisingly diverse series of albums that continue to push the envelope and change the face of Saharan psychedelic guitar music. His latest album, Azel – meaning “roots” in his native Tamasheq and streaming at his music page – is a lot more terse and crystallized than you migiht expect from a master of the recently resurgent art of lead guitar. He and his five-piece band are playing a free show at 7:30 PM this Saturday night, July 23 at 7:30 PM at Prospect Park Bandshell. Femi Kuti – Fela’s kid – leads his Afrobeat band afterward sometime around 9.

Recorded by Dirty Projectors’ David Longstreth over a ten-day period in Woodstock, the album’s production thankfully doesn’t gloss over Bombino’s signature edge and bite. If anything, the sound is enhanced by increased bass  presence along with crystalline percussion balanced in the corners of the mix. Although Bombino has made it clear that this album is heavily influenced by classic roots reggae, that doesn’t come through as clearly as it could. The songs here, many of them familiar from concerts over the past couple of years, are a lot more dynamic than your typical rootsy two-chord jam, typically keeping things closer to the ground than the long improvisational firestorms that Bombino is known for onstage.

The opening track, Akhar Zaman (This Moment) is a typical blend of catchy and hypnotic, although Bombino’s Tamasheq lyrics address the harsh toll cultural imperialism has taken on his native land’s arts and culture. Iwaranagh (We Must) is even catchier, centered around Bombino’s penchant for playing desert riffs within the structure of American rock chord changes and hooks. The third track, the all-acoustic Inar (If You Know tHow Much I Love You) benefits from Longstreth’s beefed-up production.

Tamiditine Tarhanam (I Tell You,My Love) returns to blazing, distortion-fueled desert rock, the bandleader’s rapidfire hammer-on riffage bringing to mind Vieux Farka Toure. Timtar (Memories)  sounds like that same song capoed up the guitar neck, its call-and-response lyrics contemplating a relationship on the rocks.

From its ominous, distantly Sabbath-inflected solo guitar intro to its jagged, similarly dark reggae groove and long, grim sprint to the finish line (or the grave), Iyat Ninhay/Jaguar (A Great Desert I Saw) reflects the imminent danger of getting lost in the Sahara’s endless expanse. The gently exploratory, acoustic Igmayagh Dum (My Lover) makes a striking contrast. The hushed acoustic ambience grows even duskier with the understatedly elegaic Ashuhada (Martyrs of the First Rebellion), the album’s most trad track.

Bombino plugs in again, seamlessly blending his tube-amped, distorted multitracks in the hard-hitting, anthemic Timidiwa (Friendship). The album winds up with the mutedly hypnotic, acoustic Naqqim Dagh Timshar (We Are Left in This Abandoned Place). If Tinariwen are the Grateful Dead of desert rock (musically at least), then Bombino is the style’s Jefferson Airplane – or, as far as cross-pollination is concerned, its Ravi Shankar. Psychedelic music fans in New York would be crazy to miss Saturday night’s show, especially since lately there always seems to be plenty of room in the arena. And, oh yeah, the concert is free.

The Night Beats Bring Their Acid-Warped Soul and Garage Rock Vamps to Williamsburg

Has there been any album awash in and radiating as much reverb as the Night Beats‘ Who Sold My Generation released in the past…um…couple of decades? They put reverb on everything, except the growly bass. Otherwise, every other element in the mix, from the guitars to the drums to the vocals, takes about an extra second to filter out. The result is as trippy as the band’s songs are catchy, a throwback to the gonzo early days of mid-60s acid rock, equally informed by classic soul and garage sounds. And audiences have responded: if there’s ever been an example of how much filthy lucre there is in great music, consider the Night Beats’ success. They play good venues coast to coast, and are headlining a solid psychedelic twinbill on July 16 at 10ish at Rough Trade, with neo-Stooges rockers Acid Dad opening at 9. General admission is $12.

The album’s opening track, Celebration kicks off with frontman Danny Lee Blackwell’s multitracked guitars panning the speakers, and funny samples of some British guy commenting on how the tape recorder is a toy to be cast away with funny hats after the party. A searing, bluesy guitar solo builds behind the washes of fuzz and reverb, then segues into the strutting Power Child, a one-chord jam that explodes in a flurry of drummer James Traeger’s cymbals and reverb on the chorus, a shrieking wah guitar lead blasting over Jakob Bowden’s catchy, funky bass.

The band leaves the vamps behind for the hooky Right Wrong, a booze-soaked lost-love scenario that builds to an anthemically burning Brian Jonestown Massacre-style groove, up to the guitar solo out. Likewise, No Cops follows a pounding one-chord neo-Velvets pulse, a more ornate take on what the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion made their mark with twenty years ago. Porque Manana works a similar vamp with latin soul tinges and another rippling, purposeful guitar solo. And Sunday Mourning differentiates itself from the Velvets classic not only with a slight title change but also its anthemically crescendoing, bluesily shuffling drive and searing, sunbaked wah guitars.

Shangri Lah veers on and off a fiery spaghetti western gallop, pretty much a dead ringer for something from the Love catalog circa the Da Capo album. Burn to Breathe pairs unhinged Country Joe & the Fish guitars over a midtempo sway as the drums cluster and rumble: “You stare at the wall and your heart stops,” Blackwell intones nonchalantly. The band add punchy brass to Bad Love, an ominous soul-clap number with Tex-Mex touches.

Last Train to Jordan follows an endlessly echoey psychedelic strut tangent beneath toxic exhaust trails of guitar, while Turn the Lights picks up the pace with echoes of gutter blues. The album winds up on a high note with the pouncing, Middle Eastern-tinged Egypt Berry, a twisted mashup of Monkees and Paint It Black era Stones. Take a trip and never leave Williamsburg with these guys this Saturday night.

Balkan Psychedelic Band Choban Elektrik Sets Park Slope on Fire: Bed-Stuy is Next

More about that killer original Balkan music twinbill at Friends & Lovers in Bed-Stuy on June 15 at 8 PM, with psychedelic Balkan organ band Choban Elektrik and the elaborate, artful, mighty Serbian-style Raya Brass Band. It’s not clear who’s playing first, but it doesn’t really matter: both put on a wild live show.

Choban Elektrik were part of another ferocious doublebill at the end of April at Barbes, opening for rembetiko metal band Greek Judas. The quartet – Jordan Shapiro on organ, Jesse Kotansky on violin, Dave Johnson on bass and Phil Kester on drums – opened with a familiar Madeconian folk song, switching from major to minor, violin in tandem with the organ through some labyrinthine tempo shifts, Shapiro adjusting his textures from swirly roto to smoky hot. He left the smoke on through the similarly knotty, leaping and bounding, ebullient instrumental after that, bass bubbling, drums tumbling and careening as the organ spiraled upward. It’s tempting to say that their performance was sort of the Balkan equivalent of Emerson, Lake and Palmer doing Moussorgsky, but the keyboard timbres and enigmatic cascades were probably closer to the Doors – with a violinist from ELO, maybe.

Shapiro sang the next song, a rousing tune that for some reason sounded like amped-up Jamaican rocksteady with a more complicated groove and a hypnotically vamping, glimmering, upper-register Ray Manzarek-style organ solo. Appropriately, Shapiro switched to an echoey Riders on the Storm electric piano patch for the next number as the rhythm section delivered a sliced-and-diced gallop. A gritty, insistent, distorto organ crescendo gave way to uneasily sailing violin that surged forward toward shivery In the Hall of the Mountain King menace. A molten-metal, altered organ cha-cha practically segued into an organ arrangement of a punchy, pouncing Macedonian brass tune, then a number that sounded like a Balkan take on Rare Earth: surreal to the extreme. It’s almost funny to consider that such as tuneful band as this could be a spinoff of Zappa cover act Project/Object.

Greek Judas headlined. They haven’t changed their set much since they first started, but they haven’t really needed to since their songs are so creepy, and colorful, and the band jams the hell out of them. As is their custom, bandleader Wade Ripka alternated between distorted lapsteel and Strat, running each through a big Fender amp – inarguably the loudest band ever to play Barbes. Bassist Nick Cudahy and drummer Chris Stromquist wore deer and moose masks, respectively, if memory serves right (it was late; Kate kept bringing beers and that was impossible to resist). Guitarist Adam Good did not. Frontman/horn player Quince Marcum was decked out in a Byzantine gothic monk’s outfit: with his bushy beard, he really looked the part. With one long, searing, Middle Eastern-flavored jam after another and Marcum doing his usual bit explaining the Greek lyrics in detail, they kept the drinkers in the house through tales of lost love, drug smuggling, henpecked husbands and crack whores on the Athens streets in the late 1920s. Greek Judas bring their trippy attack to Leftfield this Saturday night, June 11 at 10 PM, where they threaten to be the loudest act ever to play there as well.

Texas Art-Rock Jamband and Neil Young Collaborators Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real in Williamsburg Tonight

If the idea of blowing off work or school today to wait for hours in the suddenly scorching sun for this evening’s free MOMA Summergarden event – where the new Neil Young album is being premiered over the PA at 6 out behind the museum – doesn’t appeal to you, there’s a relatively inexpensive alternative tonight at Brooklyn Bowl where Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, who back Young on the record, are playing their own stuff at around 9. Cover is a reasonable $15. That a band that packs stadiums coast to coast hasn’t sold out this comparatively smaller venue testifies to something really troubling as far as live music in New York is concerned.

The group’s latest album Something Real is streaming at Spotify. The opening track, Surprise, is exactly that, kicking off with a wry Pink Floyd quote and then hitting a bluesy metal sway over an altered version of the hook from Sabbath’s Paranoid .Then they make a doublespeed Blue Oyster Cult boogie of sorts out of it. The title track is a straight-up boogie: “I got tired of trying to please everybody…you’re just a name in a picture frame,” the bandleader rails, then bassist Corey McCormick, percussionist Tato Melgar and drummer Anthony LoGerfo take it down for a searing, blues-infused solo. These guys don’t coast on their bloodlines: Lukas and Micah Nelson play like they really listened to their dad…at his loudest.

Set Me Down on a Cloud has a pretty straight-up, growling Neil-style country-rock sway. Don’t Want to Fly has a similar groove, a dark stoner blues gem that David Gilmour would probably love to have written. Ugly Color is an unlikely successful, epic mashup of Santana slink, Another Brick in the Wall art-pop and BoDeans highway rock. Speaking of the BoDeans, the ballad Georgia is a tensely low-key ringer for something from that band circa 1995.

This brother outfit goes back to boogie blues with the strutting I’ll Make Love to You Any Ol’ Time. Then they blast through Everything Is Fake in a swirling hailstorm of tremolo-picking. The album winds up with an amped-up cover of Scott McKenzie’s famous 1967 janglepop hit San Francisco, Neil Young cameo included. It’s sad how so few children of noteworthy rock musicians have lived up to their parents’ greatness – on the other hand, it’s heartwarming to see these guys join the ranks of Amy Allison (daughter of Mose), the Wallflowers’ Jakob Dylan and Sean Lennon. And these guys rock a lot harder than all of them.

Desert Flower’s Menacing Heavy Psychedelic Debut: One of 2016’s Best Albums

Desert Flower are one of the half-dozen best bands in New York right now. The heavy psychedelic quintet spice their wickedly tight, menacingly careening, darkly individualistic sound with punk, stoner blues, 70s boogie and echoes of gothic rock. They’re also notable for being one of the few psychedelic bands out there fronted by a woman, powerful bluesy wailer/keyboardist Bela Zap Art. What Jefferson Airplane were to San Francisco, 1967 or what Siouxsie & the Banshees were to London, 1985, Desert Flower are to New York in 2016. Their debut ep – streaming at Soundcloud – instantly vaults them into contention for putting out the best album of the year. Right now they’re back in the studio – watch this space for future NYC dates.

Much as Zap Art has Ann Wilson power and intensity, the studio setting here gives her a chance to project far more subtlety than she typically gets a chance to do out in front of the marauding twin-guitar attack of Migue Mendez and Paola Luna. Likewise, bassist Seba Fernandez and drummer Alfio Casale get to show off dynamics that sometimes don’t make it into their high-voltage live show.

The first track, Darketa opens with a wash of guitar sitar before Fernandez’s slinky bassline kicks in and the band sways along, Mendez’s lysergic echoes ringing out against Luna’s gritty attack, Zap Art rising from a wounded, guarded intensity, to trippy lows that she runs through a phaser. As the song builds toward a pulsing peak and Fernandez’s catchy bass hook pans the speakers behind Mendez’s searing lead, it suddenly becomes clear that it’s just a one-chord jam!

Longest Way is a brisk mashup of downstroke postpunk and classic Motor City rock: “Let me take you to the secret place, where nobody can see your face,” Zap Art intones enigmatically. The majestic, haunting Sube sways along over an uneasily pouncing 6/8 groove, an orchestra of guitars channeling ornate Nektar-ish art-rock and MBV dreampop, “Going down on the grey skies,” Zap Art belts ominously.

Tango follows a creepily pulsing southwestern gothic trajectory, fueled by Mendez’s slide guitar and Luna’s lingering, brooding lines. The catchiest of the originals here, Warrior stomps along over an incisive, sarcastically faux-martial groove, with tongue-in-cheek trombone and some tasty, purist blues playing from Mendez.

The centerpiece of the record is Traveler, a towering 6/8 anthem by a friend in Buenos Aires. Zap Art plays macabre washes of sound on her organ as Mendez alternates between fat, vibrato-laden lines and a menacing growl, Luna anchoring it with her murky, watery broken chords. Look for this on the best albums of the year page in December if we make it that far.

Tuneful Heavy Psych Epics from River Cult

River Cult is the latest project of guitarist Sean Forlenza, late of epically intense, cinematic heavy rockers Eidetic Seeing. That band really liked long songs, a trait that Forlenza has carried even further on his new band’s debut ep, streaming at Bandcamp.The power trio builds a roaring, enveloping, psychedelic envelope of sound that’s a lot more propulsive than your typical stoner metal or postrock band.

The opening track,. Temps Perdu is a pounding mashup of the early Dream Syndicate, Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine. As long as this song is – just a tad under ten minutes – it’s awfully catchy. Forlenza’s reverb-cloud solo slowly works toward a frantic shriek over Anthony Mendolia’s growling bass and drummer Tav Palumbo’s matter-of-fact, hard-hitting sway. From there they segue through a hypnotically looping outro to Shadow Out Of Time, Forlenza using his slide, again with a ton of reverb over a slow, loping beat. Tempos shift, they hit a headless horseman gallop, riffs echoing Sleep or vintage Sabbath, then finally take it out in a morass of bleeding amps and a twisted kaleidoscope of sound, like scanning the radio dial but not pulling a single clear signal.

The final cut is A Drop In The Ocean – gee, wonder what THAT one is about, huh? Interestingly, it’s the most straightforward number here: at its molten core, it’s an Abbey Road Beatles dirge as a vintage 70s stoner group like Poobah might have done it. Good music for slipping away from reality on a gloomy Sunday.

7horse Bring Their LMAO Stoner Vibe and Catchy, Heavy Sounds to Bowery Electric

7horse play party music that’s not stupid. You might know them from their huge youtube hit, A Friend in Weed. The LA duo have an irrepressible, sardonic sense of humor and a much bigger sound than you’d expect from just a two-piece: big, burning, distorted guitars and an equally epic drum sound. Phil Leavitt sings with a brash but honest, unaffected delivery; guitarist Joie Calio layers his tracks for stadium heft and bulk. Their latest album Living in a Bitch of a World isn’t out yet, but they’ll be playing plenty of it at their show at 9 PM on April 15 at Bowery Electric. Cover is $10

It opens with the title track, a catchy, cynical midtempo number that’s part Dolls, part mid-70s Lou Reed: “Spending quality time with people I hate,” Leavitt complains. Two Stroke Machine – a motorcycle reference – has a four-on-the-floor Mellencamp thump and tasty layers of jangly Rickenbacker guitar, a wry tale about the hard life of a smalltime weed dealer.

The funniest track is their cover of the BeeGees’ Stayin’ Alive, reinvented as a stoner boogie. What might be funniest is that you can actually understand the lyrics, which are pretty awful. Leavitt stays down in his range rather than reaching for Barry Gibb’s helium highs. Dutch Treat isn’t as successful: the joke of a couple of white dudes doing a halfhearted spoof of putrid corporate hip-hop wears thin fast.

One Week is another boogie, a teens update on ZZ Top. 400 Miles from Flagstaff brings back the meat-and-potatoes highway rock, followed by the Stonesy, slide guitar-fueled Liver Damage Victims. Then they go back to heavy-lidded boogie with Answer the Bell: “The light in your eyes is making you sick,” Leavitt bellows knowingly.

Stick to the Myth is a real surprise, a brooding, minor-key kiss-off anthem, and it’s the best song on the album. They keep the low-key simmer going with Drift, a slow, pensive 6/8 stoner blues. The album winds up with She’s So Rock n Roll, an irresistibly spot-on parody of early 70s glam. For now, til the new record’s out, you can get a full-length immersion in what they sound like with their more roughhewn, gutter blues-oriented previous album, Songs for a Voodoo Wedding, streaming at Spotify.

Beninghove’s Hangmen and Big Lazy in Brooklyn: Noir Music Heaven

Considering that we’re only in March, it’s hardly safe to say that the twinbill coming up this Monday the 14th at around 9 at Manhattan Inn, with Beninghove’s Hangmen and Big Lazy, is the best one of the year. The April 15, 10 PM doublebill of Desert Flower and Lorraine Leckie & Her Demons, at Sidewalk, of all places, looks awfully good. And there will be others. But as far as dark and blackly amusing sounds are concerned, it doesn’t get any better than Monday’s lineup in Greenpoint.

Big Lazy’s set last Friday night at Barbes was surprisingly quirky. Gallows humor, and funny quotes from other songs are familiar tropes for the noir cinematic trio, but frontman/guitarist Steve Ulrich was having an especially good time with them: Mission Impossible, My Funny Valentine, Caravan – which Ulrich has covered murderously well in the past – and a whole bunch of others. And a trio of creepy cover tunes: Girl, by the Beatles, a stabbing version of an Astor Piazzolla tango and an absolutely lurid take of John Barry’s You Only Live Twice, with a savagely tremolo-picked solo midway through.

It was kind of a weird night, if a good one. The crowd wasn’t the usual mobscene that this band draws. Out front at the bar, it looked like the prom bus from Jersey or somewhere in Alabama had just disembarked. Scarier than Big Lazy’s originals – even Park Slope isn’t safe from yuppie puppy zombie apocalypse anymore. But in back, people were dancing in an oasis of reverb guitar and pitchblende basslines.

This Monday’s opening act, Beninghove’s Hangmen work the same turf: raindrenched wee hours crime jazz tableaux and more overtly humorous interludes. Like Ulrich, frontman/multi-saxophonist Bryan Beninghove gets a lot of film work, so his instrumentals can shift shape from, say, blithe to brutal in a split second and the segue doesn’t seem the least bit jarring. Case in point: the title track to their deliciously creepy upcoming album, Pineapples & Ashtrays.

And they’re more of a jamband than Big Lazy. While a lot of their material can be grim, and ghoulish, and sometimes downright morose, they can also be hilarious. The best example is Zohove, their instrumental album of Led Zep covers, streaming at Spotify.. Zep’s music can be awfully funny by itself, and Beninghove’s reimaginings are even funnier.

On the opening track, Kashmir, Rick Parker’s elephantine trombone snorts and Beninghove’s spectacularly swirling soprano sax lines over the stomp behind it elevate it to Vesuvius heights. Heavy new wave rhythm from drummer Kevin Shea (of another even funnier band, Mostly Other People Do the Killing) and bassist Ezra Gale (of dub reggae crew Super Hi-Fi, who are also hardly strangers to funny songs) might be the last thing you might expect to work in a cover of Misty Mountain Hop, but it does. And the guitar is trippy behond belief: Eyal Maoz’s droll Spinal Tap bends over Dane Johnson’s Jabba the Hut Space Lounge electro-breakdown.

What Is and What Never Should Be is a droll mashup of quotes:You Can’t Just Get What You Want, ad infinitum. Likewise, the album’s title track, a sort of a greatest-riffs collection, cleverly disassembled in the same vein as what you find in how-to books like “Play Guitar in the Style of Tony Iommi.”

The group’s version of Immigrant Song substitutes Bennghove’s sax and Parker’s trombone for Robert Plant’s bleat – and it’s priceless. A shivery twin guitar solo decays toward the noir the band’s known for, over dancing bass to match Beninghove’s bluesy tenor spirals

It’s amazing how they reinvent D’yer Maker as uneasy, metrically tricky noir ska, and then an Afrobeat epic, And the Specials quote at the end is LMFAO too. The album ends with a slinking, incendiary take of When the Levee Breaks fueled by blue-flame slide guitar worthy of Jimmy Page himself. It’s the one place on the album where the band actually seems to take the material seriously, and it might be the best track of all. Get this and get a roomful of Zep fans laughing their collective asses off. Beninghove’s Hangmen usually play at least one Zep cover at most of their shows, so we’re likely to get some of this buffoonery Monday night in Brooklyn.

Lily & Madeleine Bring Charm and Psychedelia to Joe’s Pub

Lily & Madeleine are the bastard child of Madder Rose and Sigur Ros. It’s hard to resist using a word like “bastard” to describe them since “bitch” would be way, way too much of a stretch. Lily & Madeleine are the kind of women you can bring home to meet mom. With their crystalline soprano voices and unselfconscious Midwestern warmth, they charmed and entranced a sold-out, similarly Midwestern crowd last night at Joe’s Pub.

Highs were bouncing all over the place early in the set.. “Nate, we have feedback up here, I believe it’s coming from the second front monitor,” Madeleine explained to the sound guy. “Is there anything we can do on our end to remedy the situation?” she inquired, bright and chipper. Others would have scowled, stopped their set, even. Not these two. They soldiered on, and things eventually worked out ok.

What is not to like about this sister duo? They harmonize beautifully. They play a whole bunch of different instruments. Their band is tight and they have the absolutely brilliant Shannon Hayden as their lead instrumentalist. Their songs are catchy. They release them on vinyl. What coldhearted curmudgeon wouldn’t want a vinyl copy of the new Lily & Madeleine album? Seriously.

Lily & Madeleine’s music is a mashup of trip-hop, psychedelia and chamber pop. It’s a very 90s sound, probably best appreciated under the influence of marijuana. Although the two sisters definitely weren’t stoned, and from the looks of it most of the multi-generational crowd didn’t seem to be either. Maybe other than one bespectacled dude who was so zooted that he couldn’t figure out what to order from the menu, so he just asked the waitress to bring him whatever she recommended. He ended up devouring a small plate of what looked like kung po shrimp.

Both sisters played tersely and eloquently on piano and multi-keys; Lily also played tightly competent rhythm on a beautiful white Strat. They let the notes linger, not wasting anything: resonance is one of the keys to their sound. Rhythm is another. Dummer Kate Siefker grabbed the ka-CHUNK, ka-CHUNK beat with both hands and swung it to the next level with her imaginatively tumbling cascades, unexpected textures and dynamic presence: she really felt the room and hung back when the music was most delicate, spinning a gracefully intricate, nocturnal web. And the way she almost imperceptibly shifted from the trip-hop to a straight-up, four-on-the-floor drive, as a couple of songs gathered steam, was artful to the extreme.

Hayden was a one-woman orchestra, switching deftly between electric mandolin, electric cello and lead guitar, often in the same song. Beyond the enveloping, low-register washes she’s best known for (she’s got a fantastic solo album just out), she ran her mando through a bunch of pedals, turning hammering flurries of Dick Dale tremolo-picking into a forest of reverberating notes. And she made the most of what little time she got on lead guitar, taking one of the songs to Memphis on the wings of some warmly purist Muscle Shoals licks.

Places figure into a lot of the duo’s songs. An early number offered a hazily nocturnal Colorado swimming pool reminiscence. A later song set in Chicago bordered on the lurid but didn’t quite go there. That’s this band’s strongest suit: they tantalize you with their hooks, sometimes crystallized, sometimes fragmentary.. Interestingly, one of the trippiest numbers of the night, Westfield, was also the techiest, bouncing along on the pulse from Siefker’s syndrums. They closed the set with Nothing, an understatedly bitter, Beatlesque kiss-off anthem that wouldn’t be out of place in the Gary Louris songbook, Madeleine on lead vocals. The encores were a propulsive guitar-pop tune and a lowlit, minimalist cover of Sea of Love with Lily on piano, a gentle way to send everyone back out into what had become an uncharacteristically wintry night.

Lily & Madeleine’s marathon US tour continues; upcoming dates through May are here.

Tim Kuhl’s St. Helena Build a Sound to Get Lost In at the Ace Hotel

Drummer Tim Kuhl‘s group St. Helena play some of the trippiest, most cinematic music of any band in New York. Current-day film composers from Angelo Badalamenti to Johann Johannsson seem to be an influence, as are minimalism, indie classical and jazz. The band are wrapping up their weekly February residency with a show at around 10 PM on February 28 in the comfortably spacious, lowlit lobby at the Ace Hotel (the old Breslin apartments building) at 20 W 29th St. just east of Broadway. There’s no cover, and there’s a laid-back bar just to the right of the elevators if you’d like a drink.

Their show this past Sunday was hypnotic, and enveloping, and absolutely entrancing in places. Kuhl is your typical elite drummer, with his fingers in a million pies – he’s also a jazz bandleader, when he’s not on tour with any number of rock bands, or playing a Manhattan residency as a member of folk noir crew Lorraine Leckie & Her Demons. This time out, Kuhl led the band from behind the kit, bolstered by Big Lazy’s Yuval Lion on syndrums, Jesske Hume on bass, Ryan Mackstaller on guitar and keys and Rick Parker on trombone, keys and mixer. There were also a couple of guest vocalists, one who did a surreallistically insistent spoken word cameo, working in tandem with the band to create a Lynchian newschool beat-jazz atmosphere.

What this band does live is what most other atmospheric acts would use electronics for – which is a big reason why they’re so interesting to watch. Midway through the set, Kuhl matched precision with raw power as he built a polar vortex of white noise with his cymbals, later employing a scrap heap worth of iron shakers for a creepy, ghostly effect. Rather than using a loop pedal, Hume took a tricky repetitive riff in 5/4 and played it slowly, over and over, with a precision to match the drums: no easy task.

The show followed a dynamic arc, slowly rising and then descending. Mackstaller built toward a twinkling fanfare with his echoey, minimalist lines as Kuhl slowly rolled out of a quasi-trip-hop groove toward a shuffling march beat. From there they worked a steady, slowly strolling 10/4 rhythm colored with warmly resonant, pastoral washes from Mackstaller’s guitar and looming, distantly ominous foghorn phrases from Parker’s trombone. Once again, Kuhl shifted meters so subtly that it wasn’t noticeable til it actually happened.

They picked things up with a dreampop-tinged postrock mood piece, again alluding to trip-hop but not quite going there. Then they brought things down with a surrealistically tremoloing sci-fi waltz of sorts before picking up the pace with what seemed to be a tongue-in-cheek, rhythmically shifting take on a New Orleans second-line bounce. Clanking prison-cell sonics contrasted with ghostly stairstepping bass amid the swirl as the show went on. They closed with a broodingly wistful, Lynchian theme and then a nebulously crescendoing motorik groove. No doubt there will be just as many trance-inducing flavors flickering in the shadows here this coming weekend.

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