New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: surf music

Twin Guns Bring Their Searing Noir Intensity to a Revered, Repurposed East Village Spot

Are Twin Guns the best straight-up rock band in New York right now? They could be. Since the early zeros, the trio of guitarist Andrea Sicco, former Cramps drummer Jungle Jim and bassist Kristin Fayne-Mulroy have put out three volcanic, creepy, reverb-oozing albums that blend punk, garage rock, horror surf and spaghetti western sounds. Their latest one, Imaginary World – streaming at Bandcamp – continues in the more ornate, menacingly psychedelic direction of their previous release The Last Picture Show. Their next gig is tomorrow night, June 14 at 9:30 PM at Coney Island Baby, the former Brownies and Hifi Bar space. Cover is $12.

The new album begins with the title cut, Sicco’s menacingly reverberating layers of guitar over steady, uneasy tom-toms and cymbal splashes, the bass a looming presence deep in the mix. As the surreal tableau builds, Sicco adds roaring, pulsing and keening slide guitar textures, a one-man psychedelic punk guitar army.

100 Teenage Years follows a furtively vampy Laurel Canyon psych-folk tangent in the same vein as the Allah-Las. Cannibal Soul is a twisted waltz, Fayne-Mulroy supplying hypnotic fuzztone growl beneath Sicco’s slowly uncoiling, macabre layers of chromatics, a sonic black velvet cake. Then the trio mash up doom metal and horror surf in Dark Is Rising, funeral organ tremoloing over a crushing Bo Diddley beat.

Complete with a peppy horn section, Portrait in Black could be the darkest faux bossa Burt Bacharach ever wrote – or Tredici Bacci in especially mean, sarcastic mode. The band revisit their more straight-ahead vintage garage rock roots with the shuffling Sad Sad Sunday, then move forward thirty years to the hypnotically riff-driven Blueberry Sugar, which sounds like the Brian Jonestown Massacre playing Motown.

Sociopath is a straight-up zombie strut, Sicco artfully adding layers around the skeleton. The lush, bleak dirge House on the Hill brings unexpected plaintiveness and gravitas to the playlist, followed by the album’s most ep[ic track, Endless Dream, rising from 60s riff-rock to BJM spacerock to melancholy psych-folk and a final sampede out.

There are also three bonus tracks. My Baby, awash in a toxic exhaust of white noise, drifts from punk R&B toward the outer galaxies. Sick Theater might be the album’s best and creepiest track, a macabre, funereal, organ-infused waltz. The final song is Late at Night, an evilly twinkling, hypnotic way to wrap up one of the most unselfconsciously fun and intense albums in recent memory.

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Squeegee Men and Twin Peaks Themes in Long Island City Tonight

There’s a great twinbill tonight, April 30 starting at 9 at Long Island City Bar. A fantastic band who call themselves Fuck You Tammy play Twin Peaks themes and music from David Lynch movies starting at around 9. Then at 10 the Squeegee Men play their twisted, reverb-laced original surf rock and cowpunk songs.

The Squeegee Men have an ep, Coney Island Shark Bite, up at Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. The title track is a real blast, a serpentine instrumental that shifts from snappy, bass-driven dark garage rock to a sunnier, jazz-tinged, beachy theme and then back, guitar overdriven into the red.

After a careening, jangly take of My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It – as in “My bucket’s got a hole in it, I can’t buy no beer” – the band launch into Slow Burn and its swaying Wooden Indian Burial Ground-like contrasts between icepick leads and fuzztone menace. The album winds up with White Freightliner, a shout-out to diesel big rigs that brings to mind 80s cowpunk bands like the Raunch Hands.

A word about the band name for millennials – back in the 90s, homeless guys armed with squeegees and water buckets would stake out busy New York intersections, and the exits from the Holland and Battery tunnels, hoping to extort a few bucks from sympathetic motorists. The bridge-and-tunnel crowd hated this, and mayoral candidate Rudy Giuliani exploited the situation for all the racist mileage he could get out of it in his successful 1993 campaign.

Back to the music – Fuck You Tammy put on a hell of a show here back in February, a less jam-oriented approach than guitarist Tom Csatari has taken with Lynch themes. With guitar, keys, rhythm section behind her, their dynamic frontwoman belted and purred her way through vocal numbers including a hazy, aptly nocturnal take of Julee Cruise’s Falling and The Nightingale.They stalked their way through The Bookhouse Boys, then did a restrained version of the sultry, vamping Audrey’s Theme as well as a more expansive, psychedelic take of the iconic Twin Peaks title theme. It makes sense that they might be even tighter, with possibly more material, this time out.

Tantalizing Original Surf Rock from the Jagaloons in the East Village Friday Night

Unsteady Freddie is sort of the Alan Lomax of East Coast surf music. Practically every month since the early zeros, he’s made the shlep in from out of town to Otto’s Shrunken Head, where he hosts what can often be a marathon night of surf rock. The crowds have thinned out over the years, but he’s still at it. His youtube channel has thousands of videos from over ten years worth of shows by bands who otherwise probably never would have played here.

This month’s lineup – on Friday the 6th – is pretty characteristic of what you can find there these days. There are cover bands at 9 and 10 PM, then the Jagaloons – who draw on spaghetti western and hotrod music as well as surf – play at 11. Jangly New York original surf rock cult heroes the Supertones headline sometime around midnight, revisiting their glory days when they used to pack the old Luna Lounge on Saturday nights.

If you’re into twang and clang and tons of reverb, you should grab both the Jagaloons’ ep and single, which are up at Bandcamp as name-your-price downloads. The first one, Knife Bumps, kicks off with the title track, built around a catchy descending fuzztone guitar riff, in s Peter Gunne Theme vein.

They do a haphazard cover of the Ventures’ Journey to the Stars and follow it with the wry border rock theme Sexo en la Playa. Then they pull out the repeaterbox and all the fuzz and whiplash volleys of drums for Creature From the Jagaloon Lagoon. After a skittish take of another Ventures classic, Penetration, they end with Deadeye, which has a long, dramatic buildup and then careens all over the place through a catchy bunch of changes before modulating.

The single is titled All Surfed Up and includes Kanagawal, a sort of twin-guitar update on Pipeline, and the spaghetti western-tinged Rancho Relaxo, their best song so far. Considering how imaginative, and also how purist their songwriting is, it’s a good bet that the band have tightened up their sound since throwing these recordings together.

The Nifty’s Make Exhilarating Surf Rock and More Out of Iconic Jewish Themes

It’s been more than half a century since the Ventures recorded the first klezmer surf rock hit: Hava Nagila. Wrapping up their first US tour with a deliriously fun show at the Austrian Cultural Center earlier this week, Vienna instrumentalists the Nifty’s took the idea of making electric rock out of Jewish folk and jazz themes to new levels of noir menace, surfy fun and punk rock intensity.

Their opening number, an original, sounded like Big Lazy with two guitars – that good. Lead guitarist Fabian Pollack played lingeringly Lynchian reverbtoned lines on his Fender Jazzmaster, mingling with the similarly reverberating, spacious clang and twang of Michael Bruckner, who played a mysterious hollowbody model. Bassist Dominik Grunbuhel strolled tersely behind them with a dry, crisp tone, but by the end of the show he was swooping and diving all over the place. At one point, he was playing furious tremolo chords with his knuckles while the guitarists did the same, but with their picks: it’s a miracle he didn’t leave the stage a bloody mess.

Like Big Lazy’s Yuval Lion, drummer Gottfried Schneurl loves counterintuitive accents, odd syncopation and uses every piece of his kit, but with more of a punk edge. At one point, he emerged from behind it to bang on hardware and mic stands and eventually the strings of the bass, an old Dick Dale trope that surf musicians have never been able to resist.

But the Nifty’s aren’t a straight-up surf band. Niffty was the nickname that Naftule Brandwein, who was sort of the Sidney Bechet of klezmer clarinet, gave himself. One of the great paradigm-shifters in the history of Jewish jazz, he would no doubt approve of where the Nifty’s take the tradition. That’s what Brandwein’s great-nephew, who was in the crowd, said after the show, and he ought to know.

The band opened with a couple of moodily surfed-up horas – two-part dance numbers that began slowly and uneasily and picked up steam in the second half – and closed with a reggae tune, encoring with a rapidfire bulgar from Odessa with a stunning cold ending. In between, they mixed up originals, new arrangements of brooding minor-key traditional melodies as well as reinvented versions of tunes from Brandwein’s catalog.

Drei, a serpentine Pollack original and the title track of the band’s latest album Nifty’s No. 3, was more of a diptych. Nifty’s Texas Massacre, from the band’s second album Takeshi Express, was a cinematic, punk-influenced four-part psychedelic punk mini-suite that set the stage for much of the rest of the night, as the band sped up again and again, past the point where the rhythm had come full circle. There was a persistent, slinky noir bolero quality to much of the rest of the material, reminding how much of a confluence of latin and Jewish music the noir esthetic is. Let’s hope these guys make it back here soon.

The next show at the Austrian Cultural Center is on Nov 7 at 7:30 PM with cellist Friedrich Kleinhapl and pianist Andreas Woyke playing Beethoven sonatas plus works by Schnittke, Friedrich Gulda and Shostakovich. Admission is free; there’s a reception to follow; a RSVP is required.

Yet Another Haunting, Psychedelic Silent Film Score From Morricone Youth

Today’s Halloween album is Morricone Youth’s original score to F. W. Murnau’s 1927 silent film Sunrise: A Tale of Two Humans. For the past almost twenty years, Morricone Youth have built what might be the vastest, most consistently dark repertoire in the history of art-rock. Aas film music, bandleader/guitarist Devon E. Levins’ body of work rivals the greatest of the greats: Bernard Herrmann, Angelo Badalementi, Steve Ulrich and the maestro Morricone himself. Over the past eighteen months or so, the group have been on a marathon recording binge, with a game plan of immortalizing every single one of the band’s roughly fifty original scores. This latest edition is one of the very best of the bunch, streaming at Soundcloud. The band are playing the release show on Oct 15 at WFMU’s Monty Hall, 43 Montgomery St (between Greene and Washington) in Jersey City. Cover is $12; take the Path train to Exchange Place.

The title theme is a slowly stalking, creepily carnivalesque, distantly bolero-tinged art-rock instrumental with a big Pauline Kim Harris violin crescendo midway through, keyboardist Dan Kessler shifting cleverly between woozy, keening synth and funereal organ. Levins becomes a one -man Ventures with his guitar overdubs on the crime-surf romp Barber Twist, beefed up with low brass underneath Kessler’s swooping synth and a couple of momentary unexpected Pink Floyd-ish interludes.

Dreiky Caprice and Tredici Bacci‘s Sami Stevens duet on Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, a suspiciously blithe Os Mutantes-style exercise in psychedelic bossa nova; Levins’ flitting Led Zep quote trailing out of a fluttery flute solo is priceless. From there the band follows a fragment of a boogie-woogie chase scene with Trolley Song, Fraser Campbell’s uneasy sax over Brian Kantor’s galloping drums. Stevens’ coy vocal bombast sounds like Bombay Rickey’s Kamala Samkaram singing the Ventures’ Apache.

Spare motorik synth textures twinkle grimly alongside the occasional menacing reverb-guitar accent in the soundscape Bundle of Reeds. Then they make gloomy 7/8 art-rock out of the title theme with Another Honeymoon, Kessler’s melancholy rivulets glistening alongside Levins’ jangly lines.

They follow a momentary starlit interlude with a gloomy, Romany-tinged “peasant dance” straight out of the Beninghove’s Hangmen playbook. The same could be said about the far darker instrumental reprise of that snappy bossa. The album ends with an epic return to the title theme, opening with Levins’ mournfully chiming solo intro to another guy/girl duet, like a minor-league take on Karla Rose at her most distantly menacing. If Trump hasn’t started a nuclear war by the time December rolls around, you’ll see this on the best albums of 2017 page here. 

Psychedelic Peruvian Legends Los Wemblers Make a Historic Appearance in Red Hook on the 16th

A landmark event in New York music history is happening this Oct 16 at 9 PM at the Pioneer Arts Center in Red Hook, where the brain trust of Brooklyn hotspot Barbes have booked an extremely rare US show by Peruvian psychedelic cumbia legends Los Wemblers de Iquitos. Powerhouse singer Carolina Oliveros’ trippy tropicalia band Combo Chimbita – who mash up cumbia, salsa, chamame and a whole bunch of other south of the border styles – open the night. Cover is $25.

Even on their home turf, Los Wemblers had pretty much dropped out of sight until the past few years. It’s probably safe to say that if Olivier Conan and Vincent Douglas hadn’t started Chicha Libre, who brought the wild, surreal psychedelic cumbias of 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.

This family band of six guys from an isolated Amazonian oil boomtown, most of them in their sixties and seventies, played a wildly vigorous recent show that kept a mix of sweaty kids and curious oldsters on their feet for the better part of three hours. As one of the night’s emcees emphasized, Los Wemblers distinguish themselves from their innumerable countrymen who from the late 60s into the 80s mashed up American surf music, psychedelic rock, indigenous folk themes, sounds from Cuba to Argentina and pretty much all points in between.  But where so many of those bands went soft when synthesizers got popular, Los Wemblers sound exactly like they did in their hometown of Iquitos 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 percussionists laid down a slinky, irresistible groove that boomed and rattled off the space’s bare walls to the point that there was an oscillation between the clave click of the woodblock and the thump of the congas, which raised the psychedelic factor several notches. Together they ran through a surreal mashup of snaky cumbia, sprightly Pervuian folk themes, twangy surf tunes, a couple of strikingly stark, minor-key, Cuban-tinged numbers, and many of their hits, segueing into one after another with hardly a single break.

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 the crowd got to twice was the careening, aptly gritty La Danza Del Petrolero – and happily, unlike the popular Los Mirlos cover, 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. Fresh off their first ever European tour, they’re reputedly every bit as incendiary as they were this time out. The Pioneer Works show ought to be at the top of the bucket list of every New Yorker who’s into psychedelic sounds.

Big Lazy at the Peak of Their Darkly Cinematic Power in Brooklyn This Saturday Night

Friday night at Barbes the room was packed and the girls in the front row were dancing up a storm through two slinky sets by Big Lazy. Less than 24 hours later, seeing Los Straitjackets – a similarly twangy, virtuosic guitar instrumental band who go far deeper into the surf than Big Lazy but are nowhere near as picturesque – raised the question of how many other bands are actually better now than they were twenty years ago.

The New York Philharmonic, maybe?

Big Lazy had already earned iconic status in noir music circles before the end of the 90s, and continued that streak with a reverb-drenched series of albums that combined elements of crime jazz, macabre boleros, Bernard Herrmann Hitchcock themes, horror surf, ghoulabilly and bittersweet big-sky tableaux. But this current edition of the band is their classic lineup. If you were around when they were playing Friday nights at midnight at Tonic during the early to mid-zeros, and you haven’t seen the band since, you’re missing out  on the best part of their career.And you have a rare chance to see a very intimate show when they play this August 12 at 8:30 PM at Bar Lunatico in Bed-Stuy.

Drummer Yuval Lion can be combustible, but Friday night he was in misterioso mode. These guys haven’t had someone so colorful, who can build suspense with every part of the kit as subtly as this guy does, since Willie Martinez left the original lineup when his latin music career got in the way. Bassist Andrew Hall co-founded the Moonlighters and plays with western swing band Brain Cloud, so he swings, hard. And he’s also the funniest bass player this band’s had. He’ll sometimes fake a charge into the crowd, or do a wry faux-rockabilly slap thing, and he likes glissandos and swoops and dives. He always seems to be at the center of the eye-rolling “gotcha” moments.

Guitarist/bandleader Steve Ulrich can also be hilarious, notwithstanding how bleak most of the band’s music can be. But they never play the same thing remotely the same way twice. This time out the recurrent, unexpecr\ted quotes he’d randomly slip in were from My Funny Valentine and It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To. A couple of months before, it was Mission Impossible. And just when it seemed he’d go off on a couple of long, savage scenery-chewing chord-chopping interludes, he stopped both cold, in midstream: he spars with the crowd as much as he does with his bandmates.

This was one of the band’s best setlists ever: top ten, by this blog’s standards, and this blog and Big Lazy go back to the very beginning. The lingering chromatics and morose washes were balanced by a droll go-go strut, lickety-split artful-dodger escapades and matter-of-factly perambulating but increasingly grey western sky pastorales. As much jagged menace as they brought to Skinless Boneless, one of their signature songs, the two best songs in the evening’s two full sets were both brand new. The first was awash in distant longing and echoes of sad Orbison noir pop, the second a bloodstained bolero and a platform for both some nimbly creepy tumbles from Lion, and sniper-in-the-shadows fire from Ulrich. Because the Bar Lunatico gig is happening so fresh on the heels of this one, you’re likely to hear all this and more this Saturday night.

An Improbable, Magic Comeback Album From Psychedelic Cumbia Legends Los Wembler’s

The best short album of 2017 is by a band from the 1960s who until now have never released a record outside Peru. Los Wembler’s de Iquitos play chicha, the surfy, reverb-drenched psychedelic cumbias that were all the rage from Lima to the Amazon from the late 60s til the early 80s, and thanks to Chicha Libre have become arguably the world’s default party music. But unlike so many of their more urban colleagues, Los Wembler’s (the apostrophe is probably just bad English) never got soft with synthesizers or drum machines. Their new ep Ikaro Del Amor – streaming at Spotify  – captures the band pretty much as feral and surreal as they were almost fifty years ago, except with good production values. And producer/Chicha Lilbre bandleader Olivier Conan gives the band a chance to tune their guitars, something they didn’t get to do when recording their big Amazonian hit La Danza Del Petrolero, which first reached a global audience via the first of Barbes’ Records’ two indispensable Roots of Chicha compilations.

The only band member who didn’t live to see this is family patriarch and bounder Salomon Sanchez Casanova. Otherwise, this is most of the original members, on guitars, bass and multi-percussion. The opening title track, a chicha standard, comes across as a bizarrely catchy mashup of ska rhythm, tropical mosquito guitar, Ventures surf twang and a little C&W. There’s a mysterious shout-out to Brooklyn in there too.

The centerpiece is a sprawling, phantasmagorical take of Sonido Amazonico, later simplified into a one-chord jam (and a big hit) by Lima band Los Mirlos, then recorded almost forty years later by Chicha Libre as the title track to their first album. Over time, the song has become as iconic as Pipeline is to surf rock fans, or Anarchy in the UK is to punks. Awash in resonant jangle, wah-wah riffs and endless permutations on an ominous chromatic melody, it’s the creepiest, slinkiest, trippiest jam of the year.

There are two other tracks. The epic La Mentecata has a wryly expanding, Twelve Days of Xmas style series of verses, a bubbly, almost Cuban guitar hook and a steady clave on the woodblock. The final cut is Dos Amores, lead guitarist Alberto Sanchez Casanova airing out every sound in his effects boxes, from a fair approximation of an electric accordion to the kind of low-budget electric piano one might have found in a ramshackle recording studio in the band’s halcyon days.

That this album exists at all boggles the mind; until being rediscovered in the early part of this decade the band would regroup for the occasional block party, but that’s about it. And now they’re wrapping up their first European tour. Big up to Conan and Barbes Records for having the foresight to bring them to the mass audience they deserve.

The World’s Most Popular Surf Band Cover a New Wave Cult Hero

Los Straitjackets are hardly known as a cover band  Sure, every surf group does a version of Duke Ellington’s Caravan, just like the Ventures. But what’s made Los Straitjackets one of the best-loved (and by now, best-covered) surf bands ever is their originals. That’s why their new album What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Los Straitjackets – streaming at Spotify   is such a radical departure for them. Still, in keeping with the band’s signature originality, they chose an odd source: the Nick Lowe catalog. Then they redo the songs like probably no one ever imagined.

Lowe is well-loved by an aging new wave era crowd (a New Yorker might cynically say that he’s a WFMU guy). But a lot of people, especially those who haven’t seen him live, might not realize what a good guitarist the self-described Jesus of Cool is. So his first-wave retro rock is a lot better suited to a fast 2/4 beat, and twang and clang and lots of reverb than might first seem apparent. The band are making a quick New York stop tomorrow night, June 25 at 9 PM at City Winery; cover is $30 for standing room. Be aware that there is a headlining act and that he is not worth seeing – unless you go for dorky guys who steal their fashion sense from early Elvis Costello, but forget to rip off Costello’s catchy tunes and edgy lyrics.

Another cool thing about the new album is that it isn’t all just the popular or the uptempo stuff: these guys really went through Lowe’s repertoire to find material that makes the most waves, whether whitecaps or gentle ripples across the pond. The A-side opens with Shake and Pop, bassist Pete Curry anchoring it with a little grit in his tone over Chris Sprague’s drums. Is that Eddie Angel or Danny Amis taking that nasty tremolo-picked solo? Everybody’s wearing masks, so it’s impossible to tell.

By contrast, they give All Men Are Liars a cheery, conversational early 60s Joe Meek bounce. Then they turn a relatively more recent tune, Lately I’ve Let Things Slide into resonant midtempo Ventures with a little Tex-Mex and Hank Williams thrown in. After that, a balmy take of You Inspire Me throws a fond nod back to Theme From a Summer Place

Rollers Show – Lowe’s snarky swipe at wildly popular 70s British teenybopper rock band the Bay City Rollers – gets an aptly swaying sock-hop beat and a deviously cruel quote or two from other songs. The first side closes with (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding, which a million bands have covered, none of them remotely as well as Costello did. Los Straitjackets opt for reinventing it as a loping Lee Hazlewood desert-rock theme.

The B-side begins with I Read a Lot, slow and shadowy, drums drenched in reverb for extra noir, along with some wry siren effects. Half a Boy and Half a Man is the first number that isn’t really surf: it’s pretty close to the British pub rock that Lowe got his start in. Likewise, Checkout Time is a mashup of early Shadows skiffle and the Mexican side of the Ventures: the tongue-in-cheek medley of riffs from classic surf tracks at the end is LOL funny.

The Lowe tune that turns out to make the best surf song of all of these is I Live on a Battlefield, yet even with all the wry historical references – DAMN, these guys know their surf – they don’t add a chord change in the verse that would totally Venturize it.

Sprague’s Wipeout drums add a droll touch to the cover of Raging Eyes. The band saves the most obvious stuff for last, Cruel to Be Kind recast as a melancholy, swaying ballad and Heart of the City as a mashup of Buck Owens and the Modern Lovers (you know the song – the Sex Pistols covered it). If you always wanted to be in a surf band, get this album and learn it cover to cover. Someday somebody will pay you good money to play this stuff.

Unmasking Steve Ulrich’s Mysterious, Murderously Fun Barbes Residency This Month

An icy, lingering tritone reverberated from Steve Ulrich’s 1955 Gretsch. “We end everything with this chord,” this era’s most esteemed noir guitarist joked. His long-running trio Big Lazy have been his main vehicle for suspense film themes, uneasy big-sky pastorales and menacing crime jazz narratives, but this month he’s playing a weekly 6 PM Saturday evening residency at Barbes to air out some of his more recent and also more obscure film work from over the years. This past Saturday he was joined by Peter Hess of Balkan Beat Box (who have a characteristically fun new album due out soon) on baritone sax and flute as well as a rhythm section. The final installment of this month’s residency is at 6 on March 25 and will feature Ulrich’s frequent collaborator, guitarist Mamie Minch, who will be playing her own scores to accompany a screening of Russell Scholl’s edgy experimental films.

At this past Saturday’s show, the quartet opened with Dusk, by Sandcatchers, “One of those tunes I’d wished I’d written the moment I heard it,” Ulrich revealed. Lonesome trainwhistle lapsteel bookended a melancholy, aptly saturnine waltz with exchanges of steel and baritone sax. They followed with an enigmatically chromatic, reggaeish new Ulrich original, just guitar, bass and drums. Echoes of 70s Peruvian psychedelic cumbia filtered through the mix, leading to a wry, descending solo by bassist Michael Bates. It was sort of the reverse image of the popular early zeros Big Lazy single Mysteries of the Deep.

From there the rhythm section launched into an altered bolero sway, Ulrich making his way through spikily strolling phrases and elegant descending clusters of jazz chords, down to an exploratory sax solo. Then Hess raised the energy to just short of redline: the dynamic wallop was visceral.

The one Big Lazy tune in the set turned out to have been inspired by Raymond Scott’s madcap Loony Tunes cartoon scores: “It’s pretty crazy,” Ulrich admitted. At its innermost core, it was a creepy bolero, but with a practically hardcore beat and a relentlessly tense interweave of sax and guitar, Ulrich and Hess a pair of snipers dueling at a distance.

Another new number, In the Bones was originally titled Lost Luggage, Ulrich revealed. A slowly unwinding, shapeshifting theme, it followed an emotional trajectory that slowly shifted from stunned shock to mournful acceptance. From there, the four made their way through a creepy cover of the Beatles’ Girl, packed with tongue-in-cheek Ellington quotes, then a murderously slinky instrumental take of Lesley Gore’s You Don’t Own Me

Awash in a long series of bittersweet Americana riffs, a new ballad, Sister, was dedicated to Minch. Her music is more overtly blues based, but it’s as dark and deep as Ulrich’s: this was an insightful portrait. Ulrich sent the band offstage and then played a solo take of Latin Quarter, from Big Lazy’s 1996 debut ep. He explained that it was originally conceived as a mashup of salsa jazz and ghoulabilly – and that the gorgeous gold Gretsch he was playing it on had been a gift many years ago from a fellow swimmer at the Greenpoint YMCA. The guitarist’s shock at his poolmate’s generosity was mitigated somewhat when he discovered that its serial number had been sanded off.

Hess switched to flute for the title theme from Ulrich’s latest film score, a slyly surreal Asian-flavored 60s psychedelic rock tune, part Morricone, part Dengue Fever and part Ventures spacerock. He wound up the set with a single, droll verse of Sizzle and Pops, the name of the imaginary lounge duo with his wife. “You can guess who’s who,” Ulrich told the crowd. Charming 1930s/40s French chanson revivalists Les Chauds Lapins played after – more about that one a little later. Good news for film music fans from outside the neighborhood who want to catch the final night of Ulrich’s residency: both the F and G trains are running to Park Slope this coming weekend