New York Music Daily

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Tag: stoner music

Blackout, Slow Season and Mondo Drag Join Forces for NYC’s Best Triplebill So Far This Year

This has been a great year for doublebills, but the hottest triplebill this blog has witnessed this year happened on the hottest day of the year so far, this past Saturday the 18th at St. Vitus. Blackout opened. They do one thing and one thing very well: slow, doomy, pounding anthems. The Melvins seem to be an obvious influence, but where that band goes for sneering humor, Blackout go into the abyss. Bassist Justin Sherrell ripped crushing, stygian chords from his downtuned J-bass while frontman/guitarist Christian Gordy launched steady, precise, chromatic mortarbomb hits from his Gibson, with an appreciative nod to Tony Iommi, but not in a blatantly derivative way. For such a heavy band, drummer Taryn Waldman is a refreshing change, staying low to the ground, coloring the slow, stalking dirges with smoky cymbal washes instead of the expected brontosaurus thud. And just when it seemed that this band is all about relentless gloom, they’d pick up the pace, doublespeed or triplespeed toward hardcore territory, both Gordy and Sherrell bellowing over the maelstrom. As with the next two bands on the bill, it would have been fun to hear them play twice as long as the barely thirty-five minutes they got onstage.

Slow Season‘s rhythm also went in an unexpected direction, 180 degrees from Blackout. Their unhinged stoner attack looks back to 70s proto-metal, which usually doesn’t have the crushing olympic impact that drummer Cody Tarbell brought to their blistering set. As searing as the guitars of frontman Daniel Rice and David Kent were, it was Tarbell who stole the show with his nimble yet bunkerbuster-scale assault, closing the set with a flurry that matched brute force to completely unexpected elegance. Meanwhile, Hayden Doyel’s blue-smoke, nimbly bluesy basslines and eye-popping octaves enhanced the purist NoCal skunkweed vibe. They opened with a boogie groove that went unexpectedly halfspeed, driven by twin guitar riffage hellbent on setting cities on flame with rock & roll.

Boogies were a major part of the rest of their tantalizingly brief set, like a northern Molly Hatchet taken back in time ten years, and with a snakier rhythm section. Kent’s acidic wah riffs, hazily menacing fuzztone bluesmetal lines and the occasional haphazard Hendrix reference reinforced the 1969-73 ambience: the only difference was that this crowd was vaping rather than smoking up – for the most part, anyway. Kent hit one false ending with a nails-down-the-blackboard slide that was one of the night’s highest points, kicking off the next number by himself, taking his time as he built to an aching, screaming peak before a smirky ba-bump groove kicked in. They wound up with an epic that galloped and swayed through his best and most relentlessly searing solo.

Mondo Drag made a towering, epic, majestic headliner. It was like seeing Atomheart Mother-era Floyd and Nektar on the same bill – although it was Slow Season who blasted through the night’s lone wry quote from the David Gilmour riffbook. Mondo Drag’s signature sound loops a hypnotic, vamping groove, with endlessly shifting, richly dynamic segments from frontman John Gamino’s organ and keys along with the guitars of Nolan Girard and Jake Sheley. The band’s new rhythm section is killer and maybe even an improvement over the old one, who were pretty damn good: bassist Andrew O’Neil played meticulously circular, catchy hooks pretty much nonstop while drummer Ventura Garcia channeled a period-perfect, muted 1975 stoner gallop across a surreal, sometimes menacing landscape.

One dynamic that the group worked for a towering, dynamic intensity was Gamino’s smoky, gothic chords grounding the music a la Richard Wright while the guitars played aching, searing, angst-fueled sheets overhead, taking on the Gilmour role. Other songs were fueled by punchy, galloping Nektar-style triplets. That band’s influence – the hard-charging crescendos of Remember the Future, the distantly crushing elegaic quality of It’s All Over and the swaying steamroller attack of Journey to the Center of the Eye – made itself apparent everywhere. Creepily twinkling night-sky Fender Rhodes interludes, tersely biting Arabic-tinged guitar-and-organ passages and endless vamps punctuated by mournfully airy guitar atmospherics and some neat call-and-response between guitars and keys were just part of the picture. As the show went on, an atmosphere of slightly restrained panic and subdued horror underpinned everything. as tempos and metrics shifted, the bass circling like a vulture. At the end of the set, Gamino’s vocals finally took on a somber, resigned, apocalyptic quality. All this justified risking death by dehydration: just try powerwalking through the Greenpoint ghetto all the way back from Clay Street to the L at Bedford, weighted down with a heavy toolbag and workboots in 110 degree heat, and see how you hold up.

Ruby the Hatchet Headline a Killer Triplebill at the Acheron

One thing that jumps out at you when you take a look at what’s happening out of town is that New York hardly has a monopoly on good multiple-band bills. For example, back on the 17th, intense Philadelphia psychedelic metal band Ruby the Hatchet played on a hometown quadruplebill with a couple of the bands – Slow Season and Mondo Drag – who SLAYED at St. Vitus this past Saturday. More about that inspiring night here momentarily. In the meantime, Ruby the Hatchet have moved on to a kick-ass triplebill, headlining at around 10 at the Acheron on July 24. Excellent retro 70s stoner band the Golden Grass – who add boogie and some unexpected blues to their riff-driven attack – play beforehand at around 9. The eclectic, interesting Iyez – who blend dreampop and noisy postrock into their reverbtoned lo-fi assault – open the night at 8. Cover is $10

Ruby the Hatchet’s new album, Valley of the Snake, is streaming at Bandcamp. It opens with Heavy Blanket, Sean Hur’s organ rising out of the mist, introducing Michael Parise’s galloping bass, then the rest of the group – guitarist John Scarps, drummer Owen Stewart and frontwoman Jillian Taylor – kick in. The vibe brings to mind early Maiden, back when they were more straightforward, less artsy. That, or Deep Purple without the hippie-dippy bullshit.

The second track, Vast Acid goes in the same direction, a catchy, swaying anthem fueled by Scarps’ terse multitracks. Taylor’s vocals are strong, with a bent, bluesy edge, but not going over the edge into Janis Joplin cliches. “I will cut you down, down, down,” is the mantra.

Tomorrow Never Comes, the album’s best track, is a haunting, apocalyptic, practically nine-minute epic, teasing the listener with a flamenco-tinged guitar intro before Scarps’ crushing riffage takes over and then eventually hits a cruelly stampeding pulse. Hur’s atmospheric keys are a neat touch. Mos Generator’s classic The Late, Great Planet Earth is a good comparison.

The Unholy Behemoth looks straight back to Sabbath, slow and doomy before it picks up with Iommi-style, bludgeoning blues riffage: it’s a trip to hear a woman singing this stuff. Ozzy, eat your heart out! Likewise, Taylor’s ominous harmonies max out the ethereal menace in the briskly pulsing, Blue Oyster Cult-ish Demons. It would make a good, heavier segue with, say, Burning For You. The album’s final cut is the title track, wryly making jangly psych-folk out of a very familiar Beatles theme before it rises toward Led Zep grandeur. One of the coolest things about this is that you can get it on cassette for the bargain price of $6.66. No joke.

Epic Psychedelic Grooves and a Williamsburg Show by Fly Golden Eagle

Nashville psychedelic band Fly Golden Eagle have two versions of their album Quartz. The first is an epic 26-track double album streaming at Bandcamp. The second, whittled down to a dozen tracks, maybe for lazy bloggers, is called Quartz Bijou. But the hell with laziness: this band’s put so much creative energy into making these songs, it’s only fair to give them a listen, right? The band is in the midst of a summer US tour (dates here), with a gig at Brooklyn Bowl on July 23 at 8 PM opening one of the year’s most bizarre triplebills. Cover is $15; it’s highly unlikely that you’ll want to stick around afterward for a generically pigsnorting death-metal act followed by the G-rated, squeaky-clean fauxgrass band after them. What was the booking agent here smoking when he put this bill together?

Other than the purist, oldschool production, the full album’s not-so-secret weapon is Mitch Jones’ organ: it gives the songs a surrreal, distantly sinister edge that a lot of retro psych bands go for but miss out on. Many of the songs have a shapeshifting, cinematic quality, which makes sense considering that the album ostensibly follows the trajectory of an obscure 70s film, The Holy Mountain, which was produced by Beatles manager Allen Klein and financed by John Lennon and George Harrison. The opening track, Can’t Leave You Alone is a scampering mid-60s garage rock vamp, like the Seeds with better production values. You Look Good to Me has an Afrobeat horn intro, rises from slinky hard funk to a summery early 70s stoner rock interlude and peaks out as ecstagic gospel-funk. They go back to a catchy reverbtoned psych-rock sway for Horse’s Mouth, with an organ-and-bass-fueled early 70s midwestern boogie passage at the end. Stepping Stone – an original, not the Monkees hit or a punked-out cover – makes Brian Jonestown Massacre-style psych out of a gospel-rock riff.

White Lighter hints at creepy desert rock before it hits a funk-tinged sway spiced by frontman Ben Trimble’s spiky, offcenter guitar riffage, then goes in more of a stoner soul direction. Nimble bassist Rick Alessio and drummer Richard Harper elevate the warm oldschool soul groove Monolith above the level of generic, then the band abruptly segues into the hard-edged, riff-rocking vignette Lotus Island.

Magic Steven goes back to the catchy 60s psych vibe, Alessio’s dancing, melodic lines intertwining with the organ, up to a noisy, atmospheric outro. Song for Aphrodite follows a slow, vampy Highway 61 blues tangent. Ronnie is arguably the catchiest and edgiest track so far, with its major-minor changes and big anthemic hooks. They follow that with West Minister College, a briskly pulsing, practically motorik groove straight out of an acid movie like The Trip.

Tangible Intangible is a swayingly hypnotic backbeat psych-soul groove, echoey keys trade glimmering shades with the guitar. The only hint that this wasn’t recorded in 1974 is the woozy low-register portamento synth solo. Heady Ways keeps the stoner groove going, but with a creepy blues feel over a fuzztone loop from Alessio. Machine Burger, a short, swirly, ambient instrumental follows that, then Medicine Hat, a mashup of C&W and vintage soul, a trippier take on what the Band was doing around that time – at least until they hit a smoky fuzztone break.

Boychild Ghost is a psychedelic take on lush late 60s soul-jazz, with another snarlingly terse fuzztone solo from Trimble. By now, the songs have grown longer and trippier, with a darker undercurrent probably to match the film: the soaring, pulsingly climactic gospel-soul theme Tehuacana is a prime example. The even more expansive Superior Circle builds troubled, echoey ambience around a pounding, early Who-influenced riff. After more swirly atmospherics, the band reacjes one of the album’s catchiest points with Couched in Twos: with less soulful, oldschool production values, it could be a Snoop Dogg backing track..

Alessio’s Motown bassline pushes The Death Myth against some unexpected polyrhythms and atmospherics, up to a jaggedly incisive Trimble solo. Double Vision has a stomping, minor-key Paint It Black drive. Sugar on My Tongue brings back the dark stoner soul, but also offers a seriously LOL moment midway through.

Walking On the Line is a Texas boogie as the 13th Floor Elevators might have done it. The Slider has an amped-up early 60s R&B feel that reminds of the early Pretty Things. Es Muss Sein has more of a bittersweet stoner soul groove, until it goes doublespeed and menacing. The untitled concluding track, the longest and fittingly strongest one here, follows a slow, slinky Country Joe & the Fish acid rock trajectory, plaintive guitar and keys echoing over funereal organ. To steal a phrase from the Cake Shop calendar, you made it to the end, yaay! What a fun album this was to listen to in the wee hours! One caveat: this is for smokers, not drinkers. Maintaining a reasonable pace, you’ll go through a magnum before Fly Golden Eagle’s magnum opus is over.

State-of-the-Art Heavy Psychedelic Band Mondo Drag Bring Their Stoner Stomp to St. Vitus

Oakland psychedelic band Mondo Drag’s second album – streaming at Bandcamp – is amazingly retro, yet completely in the here and now. As far as stoner art-rock goes, this stuff is state-of-the-art. It opens with a song titled Zephyr, which fades up with a galloping pulse, vocals back in the mix, John Gamino’s smoky Hammond organ front and center over the careening rhythm section of Zack Anderson’s trebly bass and drummer Cory Berry’s muted stampede. They wind it up with a guitar solo in tandem with the organ that wouldn’t be out of place on an classic Nektar album…or something from early 70s Jethro Tull. Everything about this – the production, the smoky vibe, the nonchalant expertise of the playing, is straight out of 1974 in the best possible way. Their current US tour brings them to St. Vitus in Greenpoint on July 18 on a killer triplebill with swirly post-Sabbath psych-metal band Electric Citizen and heavier, more boogie-driven Fresno stoners Slow Season. Doors are at 8; general admission is $12.

The album’s second song is titled Crystal Visions Open Eyes – guitarists Nolan Girard and Jake Sheley give it a murky, drony intro before the band hits an altered motorik groove, then that smoky organ hits in tandem with Anderson’s soaring bass – it could be the great lost track from Nektar’s Down to Earth. Shivery, aching wah guitar over a funky beat takes it down to an elegant acoustic interlude straight out of the Moody Blues.

The Dawn, with its twin organ-and-guitar riffage, is more straight up – until it goes on a doublespeed rampage, part Allman Brothers, part Nektar. Plumajilla is a swaying Santana-esque vamp, with twin guitars fading into the ozone, snakecharmer flute, a big, long crescendo and then a mysterious interlude like Iron Maiden at their artsiest that goes into gently ornate early Genesis territory. How much art-rock richness can one band possibly mine in a single song?

The most original track here is Shifting Sands, a mashup of Tangerine Dream and maybe early U2 – at least before the guitars get all crunchy. The stately slide guitar and organ intro to the instrumental epic Pillars of the Sky is as good as any Richard Wright/David Gilmour collaboration – Atomheart Mother, for example – and then brings to mind the gorgeously bittersweet spacerock of Nektar’s It’s All Over. The album’s final cut is Snakeskin, taking a hypnotic Brian Jonestown Massacre pulse back in time a few decades.

Anderson and Berry have since moved on to Swedish band Blues Pills, replaced by Andrew O’Neil and Ventura Garcia, who’ll be on this tour. Those are large shoes to fill, but you’d expect a band as brilliant as this to bring in guys who can fill them.

Psychedelic Peruvian Legends Los Wemblers Make a Historic New York Debut

A landmark event in New York music history took place Thursday night, when the brain trust of Brooklyn hotspot Barbes – who’ve now gone into the worldwide booking business – sold out the Pioneer Arts Center with the debut New York performance by Peruvian psychedelic legends Los Wemblers. Largely forgotten even in their home country until the past five years or so, this family band of six guys, most of them in their sixties and seventies, from an isolated Amazonian oil boomtown, played a wildly vigorous show that kept a mix of sweaty kids and curious oldsters on their feet for the better part of three hours. In an era when nobody in New York leaves their neighborhood, that the Barbes crew could bring a crowd this size all the way to Red Hook sent a message. Imagine what the guys could do with a venue that everybody could actually get to – like Madison Square Garden.

But that’s just part of the story. If Olivier Conan and Vincent Douglas hadn’t started Chicha Libre, who brought the wild, surreal psychedelic cumbias from the 1960s and 70s out of the Amazonian jungle for the first time, staging this concert anywhere outside of a Peruvian expat community would have been absurd. But thanks in large part to their band – and Barbes Records’ two Roots of Chicha historical compilations – this trippy, intoxicatingly danceable music isn’t an obscure niche genre anymore. Maybe, as Conan once boasted, cumbia really is going to take over the world.

As one of the night’s emcees emphasized, Los Wemblers distinguish themselves from their many other countrymen who mashed up American surf music, psychedelic rock, indigenous folk themes and sounds from Cuba to Argentina and pretty much all points in between from the late 60s into the 80s. Where so many of those bands went soft when synthesizers got popular, Los Wemblers sound exactly like they did on their home turf in 1969 – except louder. The band’s patriarch, guitarist Salomon Sanchez sadly didn’t live to see the band’s resurgence, but his five sons did and now comprise most of the group. The star of the night was guitarist Alberto Sanchez, who played most of two long sets with his eyes closed, the trace of a smile on his face as his fast fingers fueled a magically clanging, twangy, undulating tropical time machine.

Behind him, the band’s two percussionsists laid down a slinky, irresistible groove that boomed and rattled off the walls of the space to the point that there was an oscillation between the clave click of the woodblock and the thump of the congas, ramping up the psychedelic factor several notches. Together they ran through a surreal mashup of snaky cumbia, sprightly Pervuian folk themes, twangy surf times, a couple of strikingly stark, minor-key, Cuban-tinged numbers and many of their hits, mostly nonstop, segueing into one after another.

The best one of the night was Sonido Amazonico, which they played twice. The first time around, they did the haunting, phantasmagorical “national anthem of chicha” as a sprawling ten-minute jam, a creepy cocktail of Satie-esque passing tones, like a warped tarantella to counter the effects of a lysergic spider bite. The second time around they hit it harder and more directly, like the original vinyl single, the guitarist capping off his solo with a sizzling, spiraling flight upward, then hitting his wah pedal and leaving it wide open, a murky pool of sound mingling with the echoey, cantering beats. What frontman/percussionist Jair Sanchez left no doubt about was that it was their song to mess with, notwithstanding that Lima band Los Mirlos’ version was the bigger hit, and that Chicha Libre’s cover is what pretty much jumpstarted the Brooklyn cumbia cult.

Another hit that Los Wemblers treated the crowd to twice was the careening, aptly gritty La Danza Del Petrolero – and happily, unlike the popular Los Mirlos single, the guitar was in tune this time. The rest of the set was a fascinating look at how psychedelic cumbias are just as diverse as American psychedelic rock. Without blinking an eye, the band made their way expertly through a couple of bright, cheery vamps that more than hinted at Veracruz folk tunes, eventually hit a brooding, Cuban-flavored number, made cumbia out of a stately, dramatic tango anthem, sped up, slowed down and took a couple of frantically pulsing detours toward merengue. One of the night’s best numbers was also the most ornate and ominously elegant – but no less danceable. Devious references to the Ventures, Duke Ellington and the Richard Strauss theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey bubbled to the surface. By the time the old guys finally called it quits, it was almost midnight. If you weren’t lucky or ambitious enough to make it out to Red Hook, Conan promises they’ll be back next year.

The Brown Rice Family Bring Their Latin-Inspired Reggae and Ska to Drom, With a Psychedelic New Album

For the past several years, the Brown Rice Family have been one of New York’s most consistently fun jambands. Their catchy, danceable songs blend ska and reggae with all kinds of south-of-the-border sounds. They won the WNYC Battle of the Bands back when that achievement actually meant something – which wasn’t that long ago, actually. They’ve got a new album, Havana to Kingston, and an album release show on July 9 at 8 PM at Drom; advance tix are $10.

The basic band lineup is Sticky Rice and Okai on vocals, Yuichi on percussion, Soils on soprano sax, Amu on bass, Kaz on guitar, Isaiah on tenor sax and clarinet and Tama on drums. Like so many classic New York bands, their members hail from diverse backgrounds, representing Haiti, Japan, Nigeria and Jamaica and this city as well. The album kicks off with a really funny intro, a Jamaican guy hitting on a coy Cuban bartendress, leading into the first single, Latin Goes Ska, drawing equally on the original Alejandro Tovar Cuban hit as well as the better-known Skatalites remake for a joyous dancehall-infused jam lit up with sizzling horn solos.

Listening to the album, the first thing that hits you is that these songs are long: they go on for six or seven minutes at a clip, with a subtle dub influence. The oldschool roots reggae anthem Gun Town blends Israel Vibration harmonies to a classic Burning Spear-style groove, with a potent anti-violence message. Say What You Wanna Say is a punchy, upbeat blend of horn-fueled soca and vintage 80s dancehall. Repatriation (Mama Africa) builds to a lushly orchestrated, Rasta-themed peak, in the same vein as one of the more anthemic tracks on Bob Marley’s Kaya album –  Kaz’s Memphis-inspired guitar solo caps it off.

The propulsively bubbling Zimbabwe (Illegal Economic Sanctions) addresses the issue of how multinational corporations push western governments into terrorizing the third world, creating a new slave state for this era’s global robber barons. Moving Forward takes a potently relevant detour into conscious funk – “Eminent domain taking over your mainframe” – with a shout-out to a classic Crusaders hit. The band goes back to roots reggae with She’s Gone: “I”m becoming dysfunctional,” Sticky Rice laments, before a balmy Augustus Pablo-style melodica solo kicks off a dub interlude. The album winds up with Surfing, a vintage 70s roots groove. Since the record isn’t out yet, it’s not at any of the usual streaming sites, although it’s a good bet that the band will have some copies of it at this show. And as good and purist as the recording is, ultimately this is a live band: you really have to see them to appreciate them, whether you just want to chill and sway to the riddim or rock out and dance, either way they’re happy to have you there.

Jacco Gardner Brings His Trippy 60s Top of the Pops UK Sounds to Rough Trade

Psychedelic songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jacco Gardner is sort of the Elliott Smith of retro 60s sunshine pop. But where Smith wrote doomed junkie narratives, heartbreak ballads and politically relevant broadsides, Gardner stays in the 60s witth his dreamy, trippy, pastoral baroque pop. He’s got a couple of albums out: Cabinet of Curiosities, which this blog gave a solid thumbs-up to last year, and a new one, Hypnophobia, which seems (at least from what little’s up at Bandcamp) to be more epic and slightly more beefed-up sonically. Gardner is Dutch but sings in a period-perfect , precise, cat-ate-the-canary 60s Carnaby Street London accent. Underneath, he layers all sorts of jangly, spiky, ringing, pinging vintage guitars, trebly bass and what sounds like vintage mellotron and organ (he really likes the flute patches). He’s also got a show coming up on June 11 at 10 PM at Rough Trade; advance tix are $12.

Gardner’s most recent New York show was in the middle of last August at South Street Seaport – yeah, that’s going back a ways. Listening back, what does the recording sound like? Trebly and tuneful. Outdoors in mid-afternoon, Gardner played an acoustic-electric model, backed by lead guitar, bass, drums and keys. The show was a good approximation of the meticulousness of his recordings, with enough wobbly reverb on the vocals to drive a minivan through. The lushness of the keys over a hard-hitting beat gave the songs more energy and sweep than you would expect, enhanced by how long the band jammed them out, a couple numbers clocking in at around seven or eight minutes. There were also three-part vocal harmonies that brought to mind the Zombies, the Move and the Pretty Things. And one of the later tunes, with its swirly keys, resonant guitar clang and uneasy major/minor chord changes, strongly evoked Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. All this should sound even better in the intimate, sonically superb confines in the back at Rough Trade.

Tongues in Trees Wrap Up Their Lush, Enveloping Sonic Cocoon at Barbes This Week

Hypnotic, thoughtfully adventurous trio Tongues in Trees wind up their May residency at Barbes with a show tomorrow night, May 27 at around 8 PM. It can be pretty comical to see how bands tag themselves, but this crew found a bunch that fit: “experimental art rock folktronica indian classical New York.” But one they didn’t pick – psychedelia – probably describes them best. On their debut ep – streaming at Bandcamp – singer Samita Sinha, guitarist Grey McMurray and drummer Sunny Jain take dreamy pastoral soundscapes, many of them colored with the precise modulations and ecstatic peaks of Indian carnatic nusic, and set them to trancey rhythms orchestrated with richly multilayered guitar textures.

The album’s first track, Howl Like (Running Brooks) opens with resonant, lingering guitar and Jain’s wind-chime cymbals, Sinha choosing her spots as the washes and gently jangling guitar loops rise and fall, the drums finally picking up with a mighty majesty. It’s the closest thing here to what the band sounds like live.

The second cut, Love Letter is a gently swaying lullaby – Sinha uses a gauzy filter on her tenderly keening vocalsa, way up toward the top of her her stratospheric range, as she often does onstage as the song builds to another soaring crescendo before fading down gracefully. Parallel sets Sinha’s nuanced, microtonal carnatic vocals and McMurray’s subtly polyrhythmic jangle and swoosh over a hypnotic, persistent motorik groove. The last track is Meri Bhavana, taking the gentle/rippling dichotomy of the second song up a notch.

At the first night of their residency earlier this month, it was especially cool to see Jain behind a full kit – rather than the big, boomy dhol bass drum he pummels in bhangra brass band Red Baraat – utilizng everything from the rims to the hardware with jazz precision and wit. Sinha alternated between mics and effects, a pillowy, springlike tone and full-gale intensity. McMurray, for a guy who plays very economically, really gives himself a workout onstage, always in search of the perfect timbre and the perfect spot for a note or a phase, many of which he spun through a loop pedal. Pouncing from one stompbox to another, he was like a stepdancer or a marine on an obstacle course, managing to knock over just a single drink in the process. A special guest added some looming trombone lines and also a dub edge to the several of the songs via a mixing board.

The Cool Ghouls Bring Their Trippy, Clanging, Period-Perfect 60s Psychedelia to Town

San Francisco psychedelic band the Cool Ghouls are making a swing through town this week. They’re at Union Pool on March 11 at 10 PM on a good doublebill with fuzztone monsters the Mystery Lights, who’re playing at 11. The next night, March 12 they’re at Cake Shop at 10 for two bucks less. Their excellent second album, A Swirling Fire Burning Through the Rye. is streaming at Bandcamp.

The Cool Ghouls’ sound is totally 60s, driven by twangy six- and twelve-string guitars with the reverb-heavy, fast-decaying tone that defined the pre-Marshall Stack era. The name is a misnomer; they’re not really ghoulish at all. What sets them apart from the legions of garage rock clones is how cleverly they mash up familiar riffs with original tunes. Sure, there’s plenty of Beatles, and Byrds, and a little Stones, and maybe even Van Morrison’s Them in their songs, yet they’re distinctive.

Driven by drummer Alex Fleshman’s steady, clustering syncopation, the album’s opening track, And It Grows contrasts guitarist Ryan Wong’s buzzing fuzztone riffage with Pat McDonald’s resonant jangle and biting folk-rock hooks. Wong’s steady repeaterbox guitar fuels a Link Wray sway on The Mile, building to a descendingly anthemic chorus that’s just as catchy. What A Dream I Had is another swaying midtempo number fueled by lingering fuzztone riffage and a heavy Beatles influence, right down to the soaring Ticket to Ride vocal harmonies and some deliciously sputtering Ringo drum riffs.

Orange Light is a jangly minor-key backbeat tune with a little Paint It Black hitched to the Byrds on the chorus. Insight – an original, not the Joy Division tune – sways along with its gorgeous layers of guitar, another crescendoing Beatlesque number capped off by Wong’s slinky George Harrison-esque solo. It morphs into an early Dead-style one-chord jam and then segues into the punchy anthem Get A Feelin’, which takes the Modern Lovers’ Roadrunner backward in time about five years.

Across the River sets Wong’s spiky lead over richly clanging rhythm and a tense beat, with a fuzztone solo straight out of the Jorma Kaukonen playbook, 1967. Reelin’ is another gorgeous backbeat number, glistening rainswept Rickenbacker chime contrasting with deeper washes of jangle and clang beneath it – it wouldn’t be out of place in the Plan 9 catalog, around 1985 or so. New Moon is the trippiest number here, a proto-powerpop tune bookending the jagged Venus in Furs clangfest at the center. The album winds up with Sweet Rain, Pat Thomas’ trebly bass cutting through the strutting folk-rock resonance. If you like your jangle and clang with a trippy edge, or you need catchy hooks for a really super spaceout, the Cool Ghouls are your band.

Jim Jarmusch Turns Out to Be As Interesting a Guitarist As a Filmmaker – In a Completely Unexpected Way

The one quality that was surprisingly absent from the world premiere of indie film icon Jim Jarmusch’s band Squrl’s performance in the Financial District this evening, playing live soundtracks to a quartet of Man Ray silent films, was Jarmusch’s often devastatingly droll, deadpan humor. Sure, there were a few places where Jarmusch – alternating mostly between Strat and what sounded like a Farfisa – and his drummer/keyboardist pal Carter Logan, would accent a pratfall or a sudden shift in imagery with an “omg” drum hit or an eerily bent note or guitar chord. But mostly, the duo stuck to their blueprint. Which meant slow, resonantly droning, Indian-flavored soundscapes, a highly improvisational theme and variations.

As the pieces peaked, Jarmusch – who distinguished himself as an individualistic, talented and unassailably tuneful player – would launch into a phrase, or a chorus of sorts, sometimes evoking Neil Young with Crazy Horse, other times Yo La Tengo at their most epically melodic, or a paisley underground band like the Dream Syndicate. Many of the pieces grew slowly out of lingering, reverb-drenched guitar atmospherics and frequent, simple looped phrases, Logan shadowing Jarmusch with his own organ settings. Other than in a few lighter moments, the duo didn’t seem to be trying to correlate their slowly unwinding jams with any of the films’ playfully dissociative imagery. Then again, plot is an afterthought in Man Ray’s onslaught of action, deadpan dadaisms and wryly aphoristic, proto-existentialist subtitles. A particularly menacing, chromatically smoldering crescendo rose up during one of the lighter moments in a carefree sequence of rooftop dancing on the screen above the stage; similarly, the most ominous imagery onscreen appeared early on as Jarmusch and Logan let their notes ring out, judiciously shifting timbres with an assortment of pedals and a mixing desk.

WNYC‘s John Schaefer – on whose New Sounds Live this performance and the one Thursday night, Feb 19 at 8 PM will ostensibly air at some future date, at least in pieces – cautioned anyone thinking of coming back for Thursday’s second show to arrive early. Logistically, your best and fastest bet is to hang a left into the World Trade Center Path station, then go around the bend, under the West Side Highway and then up into the “winter garden” across the street with its stage in the center of the building’s west wall.

Squrl also have new albums out – the most recent profiled here a couple of days ago – both streaming at Soundcloud and available on delicious gatefold vinyl.

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