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Tag: surf band

Dark City: Explosive, Intense, Original Surf and Instrumental Rock

Dark City opened the monthly Saturday night surf rock show at Otto’s and played with a ferocity and tunefulness unmatched by most other instrumental rock bands. What they write is ostensibly surf music, but it’s a whole lot of other things, from art-rock to metal: there is no band on the planet who sound anything like them. Guitarist Joe Kazer played a Jazzmaster through a Fender Twin, his reverb turned up all the way, but he varied his attack from the expected twang to ominously blurry tremolopicking, eerie upper-register glimmers, roaring punk chords and flesh-tearing monster surf riffage. Bassist Davey Mass had brought an amp that was a lot more powerful than Ottos’ small back room required, grinding out nimble, explosively melodic lines with a growly, trebly tone much in the same vein as the Stranglers’ Jean-Jacques Burnel. Drummer Andy Mass has the chops to play both metal and funk and didn’t really play either; he just anchored the songs with a shapeshifting attack that never ended up in the same place where it began, the quality that defines this band’s style more than anything else.

What makes Dark City different is that they steer clear of all the cliches that so many surf bands fall into: their music has a total lack of cheese. Their songs are labyrinthine, and there always seems to be a minotaur lurking around the corner. They opened with a swaying, tumbling horror surf tune that reminded of Boston marauders Beware the Dangers of a Ghost Scorpion, snarling guitar chords giving way to menacing tritones. The song after that had the bass leaping around over resonant guitar chords and then an unexpectedly plaintive chorus. From there they took a bouncy latin-flavored groove and then hit an anthemic progression that evoked the Jam, and then went into more traditional, jangly surf territory.

The next tune began with pensive broken chords over a big bass crescendo, swayed slowly, morphed into horror surf, went halfspeed, then into a hotrod theme: a mini-movie for the ears. Nocturnal began as a surf version of the Buzzcocks’ Hollow Inside, then went galloping as the bass and guitar played roaring chords against each other. A darkly enigmatic, funkier tune suddenly shifted into reggae and then back up with an assault-rifle drum riff. Their best song, their bassist asserted, was Pillars, and at this show it was, an epic that began with hypnotic guitar, a galloping metal bass riff and rose to a chorus that sounded like Iron Maiden covering Iggy’s The Passenger. As it lumbered on, dynamics rose and fell, eerie guitar microtones mingling with surfy chords over shifting tempos – it sounded like they were playing in 15/4 at one point. They closed the set, returning to a more-or-less horror surf vibe, with a viciously crackling song that hinted at both the Hawaii 5-0 theme and Black Sabbath’s Electric Funeral without actually quoting from either one, Kazer finally hitting his pedal for a blistering Dead Boys roar.

Fred Salzburg aka Unsteady Freddie has been doing his surf rock shindig the first Saturday of the month, more or less, since Otto’s opened in the old Barmacy space around the turn of the past century. After all these years, he’s still there, still making videos, which he posts on his excellent and constantly updated youtube channel. The crowds are a little thinner now, a little older, but among the old standbys that he brings in every month – many of whom are still fantastic – there’s some new blood. This time out it would have been fun to have been able to hang around to hear the pretty self-explanatory Bongo Surf, the hauntingly surreal Greek and Middle Eastern-flavored Byzan-Tones and then Strange But Surf. But in what promises to be one of several final middle-finger salutes from a lame duck mayor to a city where he is despised like few other mayors before him, Bloomberg and his henchmen had shut down several subway lines in anticipation of the New York marathon – which was more than twelve hours away at this point. That there would be terrorists bent on attacking the marathon, never mind why those terrorists would think they could dodge all the cops in the subway, is a paranoid daydream best known to Bloomberg himself. Let’s hope the DiBlasio administration will be more reasonable.

Chicha Libre’s Canibalismo: Best Album of 2012?

Chicha music in Peru in the 70s followed the same trajectory as the American surf music that inspired it. Along with the sounds that get pigeonholed as surf rock these days, the Ventures and Dick Dale and their contemporaries also played country, and western swing, and hotrod themes, then went through a psychedelic phase that eventually got pretty cheesy before a second wave of surf bands dove in and rescued it. Likewise, Los Destellos, Los Diablos Rojos, Los Mirlos and countless other Peruvian bands whose amazingly syncretic work has recently emerged from obscurity played a whole bunch of different styles, from straight-up rock, to electrified Andean folk, Colombian cumbias, Brazilian and Cuban-influenced styles. But by the early 80s, they’d started using Casios and digital technology, and the focus shifted to the girls shimmying onstage alongside what was left of the bands phoning in all the old vamps. Until Chicha Libre came along, brought the style north with them and introduced the rest of the world to an amazing, trippy, twangy sound that for decades had been exclusively an indigenous phenomenon.

Now the Brooklyn group leading the psychedelic cumbia revival have a new album, Canibalismo, coming out on Barbes Records (it hasn’t officially hit yet, but if you swing by Barbes, no doubt you can pick up a copy and then have a drink to celebrate the world-renowned club’s ten years in business). Even more than their classic 2008 debut, Sonido Amazonico, the new album isn’t exclusively chicha music: there’s a couple of tracks that sound like Gainsbourg, a little dub, a Mexican border pop vamp and a Santana-esque rock number. They’ve added a lot of different textures to the mix: keyboardist Josh Camp has added 80s synth and other vintage sounds along with his swirling, reverb-drenched Hohner Electrovox (a vintage synthesizer in an accordion body, marketed to a latin audience fifty years ago). Likewise, versatile guitarist Vincent Douglas gets more time in the spotlight, a very welcome development; there are even psychedelic EFX on frontman Olivier Conan’s cuatro, which essentially serves as the rhythm guitar here.

The opening track, La Plata (En Mi Carrito De Lata) sets the stage, a bouncily shuffling 2-chord chromatic vamp that gives Camp a launching pad for a million echoey keyboard settings, plus oooh-oooh backing vocals, and a disco beat pulsing from the congas and timbales. La Danza Del Millionario may have originated as a bad-guy theme written for a soundtrack to the 1921 Charlie Chaplin silent film The Idle Class: it’s a creepily direct, intense tune that puts the melody front and center rather than the effects. The downright creepiest track here is Papageno Electrico, which sounds like a Japanese surf song, reverb guitar trading on and off leads with innumerable woozy oscillating keyboard textures and equally woozy, menacingly cartoonish vocals. And the tremoloing, funereal Depresion Tropical reminds that bad times always hit the third world harder than the first

Camp contributes El Carnicero de Chicago (Chicago Butcher), a minor-key clave rock groove that builds to a sort of chicha highway anthem. The only straight-up cover here is a lickety-split version of Los Mirlos’ Muchachita Del Oriente (Asian Girl), lit up by a couple of nimble breaks by both percussionists; however, the band also nick a famous theme by Juaneco y Su Combo and turns it into a tribute to bandleader Juan Wong Popolizio, envisioning the man who lost most of his band in a tragic 1977 plane crash reunited with them in the great beyond.

The rest of the album is even more eclectic. L’Age D’Or, a slow, slinky, snide look at nostalgia has Conan doing his best Gauloise-flavored Gainsbourg rasp in his native French over electric harpsichord and echoey Electrovox. Number 17 looks back to the kitchen-sink psychedelia of Los Destellos’ classic 1971 album Constelacion (and to Henry Mancini) with its casually crescendoing trippiness, echoey vocals and absurdist lyrics (a tribute to Fermat prime numbers…all five of them). Lupita en la Selva y el Doctor is a slyly undulating tropical tribute to Albert Hoffman, who first synthesized LSD. Ride of the Valkyries is punk in spirit if not execution, revealing how incredibly cheesy and ridiculous Wagner’s original was – it has the feel of something that the bass player might have brought in at the last minute at the end of the recording session and dared his bandmates to take a stab at. The album ends with Once Tejones (Eleven Badgers), a playful shuffling anthem with boomy percussion, intricate late 60s soul guitar and some unexpectedly keening slide work.

Is this the best album of 2012? Probably. That’s not to say that any such competition between bands exists, or that it should. It’s simply to say that this album packs more pleasure and thrills than anything else released this year so far. To put it in context, it’s right up there with Raya Brass Band’s Dancing on Ashes, Dancing on Cinders, and Black Fortress of Opium’s Stratospherical. Chicha Libre are currently on South American tour; after a series of midwest US dates, they play the album release show for this one at 9 PM on May 19 at the 92YTribeca for a measly ten bucks.

And if the press release for this album is to be believed, the cumbia revolution has finally reached the fauxhemian class: the pretty boys of Animal Collective have ostensibly been spotted sashaying around Lima, flashing their parents’ credit cards and digging through musty old crates of vinyl in search of chicha treasures. But not to learn how to play the music, of course: only to sample it.