New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: stoner music

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.

Two Shows in a Week From One of New York’s Most Individualistic, Entertaining Bands

It’s hard to think of a New York band with a more original, distinctive sound than the Sometime Boys. They can do straight-up funk, or country, or elegant chamber pop or wildly guitar-fueled psychedelia, but they’re more likely to combine all those styles. With her full-throttle, brassy alto voice and sardonic sense of humor, singer/guitarist Sarah Mucho is a charismatic presence in front of the band, but the whole group – lead guitarist Kurt Leege, bassist Pete O’Connell and drummer Jay Cowit – have sizzling chops as well. They’ve got a couple of shows coming up, the first at 9:30 PM on Friday the 19th at Pine Box Rock Shop in Bushwick, then they’re headlining at 10 PM at Cake Shop on an excellent billwith Paula Carino’s similarly lyrical, intensely catchy Regular Einstein opening the night at 8.

This blog most recently caught the Sometime Boys at Freddy’s on a Friday night right around Thanksgiving. They opened on an Americana soul tip with a funky beat, Leege flicking off some warm vintage Memphis licks as the song wound up. The next number’s playful hook brought to mind the Grateful Dead circa 1969; the band hit a more straightforward dance-rock pulse as Mucho’s voice soared to the rafters, Leege taking an all-too-brief, bluesy solo that suddenly veered off in a much darker direction before Mucho came back in to brightened things up. Later in the set, they again brought to mind the Dead, this time at that band’a early 80s peak.

Cowit drove the band’s cover of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s Strange Things Happening Every Day with a jaunty New Orleans second-line bounce, O’Connell taking a solo over Leege’s ragtime-flavored licks, the violinist from the Philly bluegrass band who opened the show (and were excellent) invited up to add a lively one of her own. From there the band went in a more enigmatically dynamic direction with the title track to their latest album, Riverbed and then a scratchy no wave funk number, Leege building an echoey vortex of reverb that he finally pulled out of with a shriek at the top of the fretboard.

Mucho and Cowit duetted on a droll bluegrass-flavored take of the big crowd favorite Why Can’t We Just Be Enemies and then really got the crowd going with their version of Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad. Not even counting the covers, this band has a lot more material than what’s on their three albums, and they brought back an enigmatically resonant dancefloor vibe with the set’s next song.

The night’s most intense number was also the quietest one. The Great Escape. Cowit built gentle clouds of mist with his cymbals as Mucho pulled back and let her haunting lyrics speak for themselves throughout this elegantly gospel-tinged chronicle of a late-night suicide. One of the closing tunes was an epic take of the Allman Brothers’ Whipping Post that went on for at least ten minutes, Leege finally hitting his distortion pedal for his most volcanically angst-fueled solo of the night. These are just some of the flavors the band might bring to the stage in Bushwick and on their old turf on the Lower East.

In Memoriam – Paul Kantner and Signe Anderson

Funny how the Jefferson Airplane became the psychedelic band most imitated on film, but not by other musicians. Because they couldn’t. Jack Casady had done time with James Brown, and he brought that funk with him. And Paul Kantner was the rare rock guitarist who could fling dancing figures into the air and not sound cliched. And now he’s gone.

With the Airplane, Kantner quickly grew into one of the 60s’ most distinctive and interesting guitarists. He loved noise and feedback and was a prime mover experimenting with them. He didn’t waste notes and was content to fire off two or three notes where another guitarist would have automatically reached for a full chord. He didn’t invent psychedelia by himself, but he was one of the originators of the style. He swung like crazy. And now he’s gone.

Listen to what might be his finest moment on vinyl, Young Girl Sunday Blues, from the 1968 After Bathing at Baxter’s album. Without Kantner’s stinging rhythm, Jorma Kaukonen’s acidic leads would just evaporate. And as much as the 60s contained Kantner’s finest moments, when the Airplane reunited in the late 80s to tour, he reaffirmed that a starship hadn’t swooped down, loaded with cash, and stolen his edge.

In a creepy coincidence, the Airplane’s first frontwoman, Signe Anderson, died along with Kantner, many miles away, also on the 28th of this past month. When she was in the band, Grace Slick, then fronting garage band the Great Society, took notice and was significantly influenced by Anderson’s elegant, precisely articulated folk-rock style. That influence would cut through in the Airplane’s quieter moments after Slick took over on vocals.

What a horrible year it’s been for rock legends!

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.

A Second Sick, Reverb-Drenched Disc of Holiday Dub from Super Hi-Fi

Super Hi-Fi play live dub reggae. Their signature sound blends the twin-trombone frontline of Rick Parker and Curtis Fowlkes (of Lounge Lizards/Jazz Passengers fame) into a moodier, sometimes noir-tinged take on vintage Lee Scratch Perry or what the Skatalites were doing in their quieter moments during the golden age of Jamaican ska. When the band started, they had more of an Afrobeat feel, no surprise since bassist/bandleader Ezra Gale led first-rate, second-wave Bay Area Afrobeat band Aphrodesia. These days, they’re a lot slinkier and more low key. From their doomy and seriously excellent debut album, Dub to the Bone, you’d have no idea just how funny this band can be…unless you also know the follow-up to that, Yule Analog Vol. 1, a snarky collection of dub versions of Christmas carols. Sure enough, when the band went into the studio, they did enough of those to fill not one but two cds  – four album sides, considering that the band is known for their vinyl releases – of this shit. And they’re back, with Yule Analog, Vol. 2 – streaming at Bandcamp – and a show in the front window at the intimate, laid-back Bar Chord in Ditmas Park on December 19 at 9.

The previous collection opened with a theme that Jethro Tull was known for pilfering – are you laughing yet? This time it’s Simon & Garfunkel. OK, not a Simon & Garfunkel original, and not with the samples or the antiwar message. What it does have is tons of reverb on the guitar, gently oscillating organ, a rhythm section that sways rather than skanks along and meanderingly goodnatured ska-jazz trombone solos. It sets the stage: the most recurring joke here is the cat-and-mouse game about what song they’re playing and how far they go with it.

O Come All Ye Faithfull (with the double L in “faithfull” – oldschool 90s stoner humor?) doesn’t do that as much, and after awhile the carol has you reaching for the fast-forward. The Christmas Song takes a very, very, very familiar Irving Berlin theme toward swing, with a wry Mitch Marcus tenor sax solo that fades just when it seems like there’s a serious punchline on deck. But the Tschaikovsky theme is killer: who else would have thought to wring Jamdown noir and ambient noise from the Nutcracker?

Gale and drummer Madhu Siddappa keep What Child Is This very close to the ground for a bit until the screams from Jon Lipscomb’s guitar signal another chorus: it’s not hard to imagine this epically delicious plate emanating from the Black Ark in a cloud of ganja smoke circa 1976. They follow that with a funny ska song, Please Santa Bring Me an Echoplex, the album’s only vocal number.

The rest of the tracks are versions of the early songs, and each is an improvement. O Come All Ye etc. gets a black-hole spin through the Echoplex. The Tschaikovsky grows into a mind-altering blend of the baroque, King Tubby and postbop jazz. There’s also the noisy What Version Is This?  [memo to self – isn’t there a carol called It Came Upon a  Midnight Clear?] and a brief Echoplex Reprise. The joke works better before or after December: as heavy disguises as these songs wear, it’s hard to avoid reaching holiday smarm saturation point this time of year. Unless you do your grocery shopping and other retail stuff where this blog travels – in that case, that means salsa, bachata, reggaeton and Polish hip-hop. All of which have never sounded better than they have this month.

Desert Flower Bring Their Smoldering, Intense Heavy Psychedelia to the East Village Saturday Night

On Sundays starting at around 11 in the morning, there’s a flea market at Paperbox in Bushwick. Along with the antiques and tchotchkes and book stalls and used vinyl, there’s street fair food out back, and if you’re of age there are drinks at the bar. A lot of people go here for daydrinking ($3 drafts until 2 PM, yikes!), or to bring the kids and see some live music, because they have bands here. And some of them are fantastic: psychedelic cumbia group Consumata Sonidera treated the crowd to a sizzling show here a couple of weeks ago. The highlight of this past week was a tightly ferocious set by heavy psychedelic band Desert Flower. Although they mash up some very famliiar styles, most of them from the 70s, they’re one of the most individualistic bands in town: there is no other group in New York who sound remotely like them.

One of the keys to their sound is the contrast between the two guitarists. Migue Mendez plays a Gibson SG through a Fender amp with the reverb turned up most of the time, delivering creepily echoing, deep-space quasar leads, menacingly shivery flurries of reverb riffage and sunbaked stoner blues lines. Paola Luna plays a Telecaster, varying her attack from gritty, terse, blues-based riff-rock, to a menacing, sustained minor-key clang. Bassist Seba Fernandez and drummer Alfio Casale cluster and churn as they propel the songs’ generally slow-to-midtempo grooves. Out in front of the band, singer Bela Zap Art sways slowly, eyes closed, completely lost in the music as the waves slowly rise and then break behind her. Much as she has a bluesy wail to match Heart’s Ann Wilson, there’s an elegance and nuance in that powerfullly modulated alto of hers, with touches of cabaret and nuevo tango. Considering that musicians tend to be night creatures, Desert Flower ought to be even more careeningly powerful when they play Sidewalk this Saturday night, November 14 at midnight

The Paperbox show opened with a flurry of drums and growling, trebly bass, Fernandez playing off to the side of the stage as the briskly ominous stomp built steam, part early Siouxsie, part early 90s NYC gutter blues, part punk, Mendez building to an all-too-brief, searing solo toward the end. And a listen back to the recording reveals something that was anything but obvious at the moment: the song doesn’t have any chord changes!

The band likes to segue between songs, and they did that right off the bat, Mendez and Luna flinging dark fragments of melody against each other before the rhythm section came back in, Luna’s sepulchral upper-register shrieks capping off Mendez’s heavy blues lines and mighty, majestic slide playing.  Zap Art bent her notes with a surreal, lysergic ominousness as the song built slowly to a peak.

The most epic song of the set was Traveler, a slow, haunting 6/8 noir blues dirge written by a composer friend from Buenos Aires. After that, they went back to the riff-rock with a moodily shuffling new number, Zap Art bringing to mind blue-eyed soul belters like Genya Ravan when she hit the impassioned, blues-drenched chorus. The band’s most intense original was another marauding 6/8 minor-key anthem: “Falling down from the grey skies,” Zap Art wailed again and again over the twin guitars’ sharkteeth attack.  The sarcastic march that followed, like the Dead Kennedys taking a detour into circus rock, was every bit as potent. They wound up the show with a tight, furious cover of Moonage Daydream that looked back to the live pyrotechnics of the Mick Ronson-era version of Bowie’s band.

And the opening act was good too. It would have been fun to have seen more than the last handful of songs by noisy, intense power trio Slow Suck. Frontwoman/guitarist Kiki Sabater has an individualistically dirty but melodic sound that brings to mind early Bauhaus as well as what Courtney Love was doing on the first Hole album, i.e. before she went completely off the rails. Sabater’s songs don’t follow any kind of predictable verse/chorus pattern, and the rhythm section behind her negotiated those tricky transitions between slow and sinister and screaming punk rock with an impressive elegance, particularly the bassist, whose thoughtful hammer-ons and slinky melodies darkened an already vivid, gloomy ambience. Sabater’s unselfconsciously anguished wail drove it all home.

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