New York Music Daily

Music for Transcending Dark Times

Tag: symphonic rock

Iconic Heavy Psychedelic Band Revisit Deep Cuts With Surprising Results

Can you imagine if Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear the Reaper made its debut on corporate radio in 2020? The politically correct crowd would crash Instagram with all their outraged selfie vids. “I can’t believe you’d be so irresponsible as to play a song that ADVOCATES TEEN SUICIDE!!!!!”

The band, of course, leave it open to multiple interpretations: it could just as easily be about drugs..or a love song, heh heh heh. And it’s a far cry from their best work: for that, you need to dig into their first four records. Over that initial span of releases, there is no other act in the history of rock music who were better.

Not the Stones, who weren’t ready for prime time. Not the Beatles, although they get an asterisk because their manager and record label held them back. Not the Dream Syndicate (who got screwed even worse by their label), the Velvets (who couldn’t pull their shit together, basically), the Stooges (who learned on the fly), Pink Floyd (who had to regroup after their bandleader self-destructed), the Dead Kennedys (whose second album was awful), David Bowie (who got off to a bad start) or Richard Thompson (ever try listening to Henry the Human Fly?). And as revolutionary and brilliant as the first four albums by Elvis Costello, the Jam, the Clash, X, Parliament/Funkadelic and several others are, Blue Oyster Cult’s classic early stuff is just as strong, and smart, and sometimes a lot funnier.

So why would this blog cover something as crazy as the band’s new recording, a 40th anniversary celebration of their uneven 1976 Agents of Fortune album, recorded live in concert in 2016 and streaming at Spotify? Because it’s just plain preposterous. Right off the bat, this isn’t even the same band that made the original: the Bouchard brothers’ rhythm section disintegrated back in the 80s, and we lost the great Allen Lanier a couple of decades later. Still, this is actually an improvement on the original!

Frontman/guitarist Eric Bloom, once a fine, clear-voice singer, doesn’t do much more than rasp these days. But lead guitarist Buck Dharma still has his chops here, and the replacements are clearly psyched to play a lot of material that these days falls into the deep-cuts category. There’s snap to the bass, a leadfoot groove but a groove nonetheless from the drums, and a lot of swirly organ.

They open with This Ain’t the Summer of Love, a riffy anti-hippie anthem that isn’t much more than rehashed Stones….but they seem to be having fun with it. They can’t do much with True Confessions, an ill-advised attempt at mashing up that sound with doo-woppy soul. Although Bloom can’t hit the high notes in the ominously circling hit single, and the band must be sick to death of it, they manage not to phone it in. “Forty thousand men and women coming every day!” State of the world, 2020, huh?

This edition of the band’s take of the “classic rock” radio staple E.T.I. (Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) isn’t as quite as offhandedly macabre as the original, but it still has a gleefully sinister ring. The Revenge of Vera Gemini – which original keyboardist Lanier co-wrote with his girlfriend at the time, Patti Smith – is heavier and a lot more menacing.

Dharma’s icy chromatics can’t quite elevate Sinful Love above the level of generically strutting powerpop. Likewise, Tattoo Vampire is a second-rate Led Zep ripoff. Morning Final, a haphazard attempt to blend Lou Reed urban noir and latin soul as the Stones did it on Sticky Fingers, is so bizarre it’s pretty cool.

From there the band segue into Tenderloin: disco-pop was not their forte. They wind up the record, and the show, with Debbie Denise: what an understatedly bittersweet, profoundly Lynchian pop song! A sparse audience cheer enthusiastically afterward.

Psychedelic Rock Icon With Inspired Band Picks Up Gloriously Where He Left Off

What can a person do at night in a place that suddenly became the City That Always Sleeps?

You could pick up your instrument, or sit down at it, and write something.

If you gravitate toward big, ornate sounds, you could tune in to the New York Philharmonic’s live webcast.

Or you could watch James Tonkin‘s new concert film Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets: Live at the Roadhouse. It hasn’t hit VOD yet, but the audio is streaming at Spotify. This isn’t just your ordinary Pink Floyd cover band: “There’s so many thousands, all playing the same four albums,” guitarist Gary Kemp smirks. “The first thing that will be really telling will be to see how they change their setlists as a result of us doing this!”

What differentiates these guys from the wannabes is that they play exclusively pre-Dark Side material from the Syd Barrett and early David Gilmour eras. They also managed to convince Floyd’s iconic drummer to join them. After a few well-received shows, they had this frequently glorious concert immortalized, at a venue where the Barrett edition of the band were the first group to play.

To open the show, Telecaster player Kemp picks hard on his low E string, second Tele player Lee Harris launches into the evil, chromatic descending riff of the instrumental Interstellar Overdrive, then bassist Guy Pratt – playing a snappy Rickenbacker – joins the song along with organist Dom Beken and the bandleader…and they’re off. In general, throughout the concert, the music has a tighter, somewhat lighter-fingered pulse than the reckless abandon of the Syd Barrett era. The songs also tend to be more ornate, but in a lot of ways the additional layers raise the psychedelic factor. Who wants to hear a band play something exactly as it was recorded, anyway?

Jim Parsons’ classic rock-doc production is purist: lots of fretboard close-ups, panning the stage and then back. The sound mix is tastefully oldschool as well. To his infinite credit, the bandleader is toward the back, just as he was throughout Pink Floyd’s tenure: he’s always been a guy to let the sound out of his kit instead of trying to bang something into it. And what a big kit it is. One of his bandmates remarks that even in his seventies, Mason’s vigor is “terrifying.” Maybe his subtlety has something to do with that.

Tellingly, it takes two guitarists to replicate what both Barrett and Gilmour did, with plenty of noise and echo, closer to the former’s style than the latter’s anguished, Hendrix-inspired existential screams. Likewise, Beken has a Rick Wright-sized array of textures at his disposal, orchestrating the music with more of an overtly trippy ripple and twinkle than just the vast deep-space textures the late, great Pink Floyd keyboardist constructed so expertly.

The group segue into Astronomy Domine after the night’s opening jagged surrealism: this song is a little more bluesy than the original, but practically just as crazed in places, the bass obviously higher than that instrument typically was recorded in 1967 when Roger Waters played it. Lucifer Sam and Arnold Layne seem a little fast. and rotely digital; yet that same approach improves Fearless, underscoring that otherwise gentle pastoral pop tune’s druggy narrative.

The woozy instrumentals Obscured by Clouds and When You’re In seem odd choices, little more than a platform for Kemp’s simple slide work. As does Vegetable Man, considering what happened to Barrett. In that context, the “why can’t we reach the sun” refrain in Remember a Day has special poignancy, a cautionary tale to the extreme.

While Kemp stays on key more than Waters did singing If, the gloomily sunbaked madness anthem, Waters’ acid-damaged vocals are stil missed. As are the horns and orchestra of Atom Heart Mother – at least we get about seven minutes of the majestic main theme, emphasis on the macabre.

The proto-metal of The Nile Song holds up well (and foreshadows a famous Johnny Rotten lyric). The alien-encounter anthem Let There Be More Light has an almost gleefully grim intensity; likewise, the bulked-up version of the rarely played Gilmour narrative Childhood’s End is more richly dark.

The show’s centerpiece, the menacingly raga-influenced Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun, has a literally breathtaking vastness, Mason having a wryly good time with his huge gongs and then his mallets on the toms. The band pick up the pace with the hauntingly bittersweet See Emily Play, romp through Barrett’s mid 60s Carnaby Street pop tune Bike, then hammer their way through One of These Days, Waters’ strobe-lit repeaterbox instrumental from the Meddle album.

Fueled by Beken’s funereal chromatics and enveloping, smoky echoes, the band go way down the rabbit hole with A Saucerful of Secrets and end the show triumphantly with Point Me At the Sky. The film also contains a few snippets of live footage from the Barrett years plus a bit of context from individual band members. Who would have thought that in 2020, anyone would attempt, let alone succeed in revisiting these classic sounds?

Epically Intense, Cinematic Indian Grooves and a New Album From Red Baraat’s Sunny Jain

To what degree is drummer/composer Sunny Jain‘s new album Wild Wild East – streaming at Bandcamp – simply the latest release by his wild Indian brass band Red Baraat? For one thing, it’s more stylistically vast, mashing up that band’s blazing, brass-fueled bhangra with classic Bollywood grooves, surf and spy themes, Morricone spaghetti western soundtrack ambience, and majestic 70s art-rock. Jain’s next gig is leading Red Baraat from behind his massive doublebarreled dhol drum at Symphony Space on March 10 at 8 PM; you can get in for $30.

The new album’s title reflects both the chaotic unease that an immigrant experiences, and also turns the traditional American cowboy archetype inside out. As Jain sees it, immigrants are the new cowboys, blazing a trail for the West, relegating the old model to what it is: a swaggering, pistol-packing menace to society, and especially to newcomers here.

Jain kicks off the record with Immigrant Warrior, a brisk, flurrying epic built around a lavishly arranged action theme that begins as a Bollywood-flavored dancefloor stomp and rises to titanic heights with Grey McMurray’s layers of searing guitars,  Pawan Benjamin’s catchy, matter-of-fact alto sax carrying the tune. The title track is more swirlingly suspenseful, with chanteuse Ganavya’s echoey, wordless midrange vocals over tightly clustering syncopation.

Benjamin’s trills and bends build a bracing microtonal edge over the enveloping raga ambience in Osian, as Jain subtly pulls it onto the rails out of a tumbling introduction, guitar growing more deliciously jagged as the band gather steam. In a lot of ways the ominous hip-hop tune Red, Brown, Black is the key to the album; “I love my country but they think I’m ISIS,” guest rapper Haseeb muses early on in a grim struggler’s narrative.

Aye Meri Del Kahin Aur Chal has a swaying, machinegunning bhangra beat, catchy multitracked surf guitar and a big raga crescendo. Bhaagi is a stormy ghazal set to a trip-hop beat, followed by Blackwell, a languid, carefree tableau with balmy bansuri flute. Hai Apni Dil to Aawara is the album’s biggest musical mindfuck, a carnatic country waltz.

The bansuri returns, but much more darkly, in the lingering twists and turns of Turnse Lagi Lagan, which in its quietly brooding way might be the album’s strongest track. From there the band segue up slowly into a gathering storm in Maitri Bhavanu, Ganavya’s melismatic vocals imploring overhead. The clouds finally burst in Brooklyn Dhamal, closing the album with a barreling drive through a blend of Peter Gunne theme and Sufi music. Whether you call this dance music, film music, Indian music or its own unique creation, it’s one of the best albums of the year as well as a snapshot of where American music will be headed in the decades to come…assuming we survive four more years of the Trumpies. It’s starting to look really ugly at this point.

A Picturesque, Symphonic Instrumental Suite From Marty Willson-Piper’s Atlantaeum Flood

Marty Willson-Piper is best known as this era’s preeminent twelve-string guitar player, and also as a witheringly brilliant songwriter. He’s also a composer. His latest album, One Day, credited to his Atlantaeum Flood project is streaming at Spotify. It’s his first all-instrumental suite, a day in the life of the planet from before sunrise to the wee hours of the next day. Willson-Piper’s bandmates here are Dare Mason and Steve Knott on guitars, Olivia Willson-Piper on violin and Lynne Knott on cello, rising together to an often titanic grandeur.

From a simple, fingerpicked four-chord acoustic guitar theme, Willson-Piper slowly builds a gentle predawn scenario into a blazing sunrise, adding layer after layer of guitar. It brings to mind a previous, epically brilliant Willson-Piper production, the lusciously jangly My Little Problem, from the 1994 Sometime Anywhere Album by his long-running, previous band the Church.

Mid-morning takes shape with another four-chord theme, ascending to an eagerly pulsing peak before the group bring it full circle, verdant and concise at the end. Then Willson-Piper completely flips the script with the pre-noon theme, his resonant David Gilmouresque electric leads and his wife’s airily soaring violin over an industrial percussion loop and an artfully rising and falling backdrop.

This particular afternoon is a simmering one, an elegant acoustic twelve-string theme anchoring rather wry backward masked and then wah-wah leads that finally give way to a lush violin break. The ensemble follow the fiery, flamenco-tinged sunset scenario with delicate dusk ambience balanced by spiky mandolin and horn-like electric guitar swells.

Before midnight is where Willson-Piper most closely evokes the Church’s densely echoey spacerock. This day doesn’t go out quietly til the very end, although the closing theme has a wistful, distantly elegaic quality,

Symphonic Lushness and Edgy Intensity from Wildly Eclectic Accordionist Simone Baron

Accordionist Simone Baron‘s debut album The Space Between Disguises, with her group Arco Belo – streaming at Bandcamp – has the lushness and epic sweep of classical music, the edge of the Balkans, the rhythmic complexity of jazz and the vividness of a film score. Just when you think it couldn’t get more eclectic,  she throws in brief interludes with loops and snippets of found sound in between songs. There are thousands of bands across Europe who mash up all these styles, but few here in the US.

The lush string overture introducing the album’s opening cut, Post Edit Delete, alludes to a famously overcast weekend song made famous by Billie Holiday. Then the group tipetoe through a Balkan-tinged violin theme. Baron plays piano on this particular number, dancing through the moody mist.

With its hazy swells and a coy bass/violin conversation, Angle of Incidence is more astringent, Baron’s accordion doubling bassist Mike Pope’s bubbly lines midway through. Who Cares is a gorgeously dark pastoral jazz vignette fueled by banjo player Mark Schatz’s enigmatic frailing. Dramatically incisive low-register piano, biting violin, austerely swirling strings, a bit of funk and warily unsettled accordion percolate throughout the epic mini-suite Passive Puppeteer.

The melancholic, singing quality of the strings and acccordion as the album’s title track gets underway is stunning; then all of a sudden it’s a loopy, marionettish dance that grows more haunting and lush. Baron reinvents Walter Bishop, Jr.’s Those Who Chant with an elegant gallop, then takes her time with the sweepingly plaintive Valsa, by Brazilian accordionist Tibor Fittel. The album’s concluding diptych, Buciumeana/Kadynja juxtaposes a gorgeous, klezmerish Moldovan theme with a Romanian folk dance appropriated by Bartók, complete with creepy music box-like piano and a killer handoff from accordion to violin.

A tour de force from a group that also includes drummer Lucas Ashby and the strings of Aaron Malone on violin and viola, Bill Neri on viola, Peter Kibbe on cello, plus violinists Nelson Moneo, Laura Colgate and Ellen McSweeney.

A Welcome Return by What’s Left of 70s Psychedelic Legends Nektar

Nektar were one of the greatest psychedelic rock bands of the 70s, sort of the missing link between Pink Floyd and the Grateful Dead. Forty years before crowds of thousands were taking to the streets to protest corporate-fueled global warming, Nektar were putting out records with sidelong, acid-inspired cautionary tales about eco-disaster. After the band’s arguably best and ironically most hopeful album, Recyled, frontman/guitarist Roye Albrighton left. A lacklustre 2004 reunion cd, The Prodigal Stranger, was followed by an unexpectedly transcendent tour, reaffirming that they were still a mesmerizing live act.

Albrighton died three years ago. Since then, bassist Mo Moore and Ron Howden – one of the edgiest and most distinctive rhythm sections of their era – pulled another band together under the Nektar name, adding two guitarists – Randy Dembo and Ryche Chlanda – along with keyboardist Kendall Scott, whose textures match original organist Taff Freeman’s  mghty grandeur. The result is a new album, The Other Side, which hasn’t hit the web yet but turns out to be surprisingly fresh and invigorated. Even if it’s loaded with riffs nicked from Pink Floyd, Steely Dan and the group’s first incarnation.

The presence of Albrighton looms immensely over this record, from its innumerable baroque-tinged cascades, to the flaring guitar codas his songs would peak out with. And he had his hand in some of the material on the record, notably Devil’s Door, which opens with his own solo taken from a 1974 concert soundboard recording. The songs are a mix of lavish epics with lofty peaks and desolate valleys, themes morphing into different shapes like an Escher mobius woodcut.

The album opens with a nine-minute tour de force, I’m On Fire, a triumphant, galumphing dinosaur rock anthem that strikes a balance between the baroque and Led Zep, with a bridge that goes from balmy to Pink Floyd Wall grit It’s amazing how vital the rhythm section still is: Moore has the snap and crackle that elevated him above most of the other bassists of his era, and Howden negotiates whatever tricky directions the songs take with typical heavyfooted elegance.

SkyWriter is a a broodingly catchy ballad that Chlanda originally worked up with the band in 1978. I’s closer to ELO than, say, the Dead, with a minimalist Procol Harum-ish organ solo and a searing, Albrightonesque guitar break. The album’s most gargantuan creation is the diptych Love Is/The Other Side, an eighteen-minute monstrosity that begins as a pharaphrase of the Alan Parsons Project’s Eye in the Sky with George Harrison slide guitar grafted on. The segue into the title track raisies the energy a little, shifting back and forth between an orchestral 70s psychedelic sound – Pink Floyd’s Dogs is an obvious reference point – and slicker 80s chorus-box guitar sonics. An unexpected neoromantic piano interlude signals an eventual break in the clouds.

Drifting, a mostly instrumental number in 9/4 time, is another Animals-era Floyd knockoff. Albrighton’s gentle, pastoral intro doesn’t hint at the syncopated 7/4 pulse that Devil’s Door will hit – it’s a shock this metaphorically charged anthem didn’t make it onto a Nektar album, live or in the studio, in its heyday. Scott’s high-beamed, richly textured keys here are one of the album’s high points.

They follow the Synergy-istic keyboard soundscape The Light Beyond with the sweeping, unsettled folk-rock vistas of Look Through Me, Dembo’s twelve-string acoustic guitar front and center. They close the album with Y Can’t I B More Like U, a late Beatlesque ballad that they eventually take bouncing down the hobbit trail. Good to see these guys still vital after all these years.

The Tune Have Fun Reinventing Ancient Korean Sounds at Lincoln Center

There’s been an explosion of psychedelic folk-rock coming out of Korea recently, and Lincoln Center has become one of the best places in New York to see it. Last night all-female quintet the Tune made alternately slinky, swaying and galloping themes out of ancient chants, dance tunes and peasant songs. Yujin Lee’s elegant neoromantic piano imbued the sound with a western classical lustre: there were times when the music sounded straight out of the UK circa 1974. But as translucent as their melodies are, the group have an enigmatic side: “Nobody knows us except us,” frontwoman Hyunkyung Go grinned. As the night went on, she turned out to be very funny: it’s been awhile since such an amusing band played here.

She opened the evening’s first song with a crystalline, quasi-operatic delivery over stagely, shapeshifting percussion and Lee’s piano ripples. With two small gongs, plus mallets on the drums, the polyrhythms grew more complex, the vocals considerably grittier as the thump picked up. Echoes of vintage American soul music, the witchy art-song of Carol Lipnik and maybe 70s art-rock like Genesis emerged.

A rhythmic, shamanistic invocation gave way to more moody classical lustre, percussionist Minji Seo’s thumb piano clicking along with the keys as their frontwoman wailed like a Korean PJ Harvey before backing away for Seo’s otherworldly taepyungso oboe. Then Go picked up her melodica as the band pulsed along gently, Seo’s piri flute adding austere color.

The shaman song after that had an imploring edge, shreddy taepyungso and a galloping triplet beat: that one really woke up the crowd. Lee switched to a vibraphone setting as the thicket of percussion – Haneol Song on drumkit, Soungsoun Lee on janggu barrel drum and Seo on a medium-sized gong – grew more hypnotic.

The song that followed, Port of Strangers had an unsettled, even aching quality, the unease of immigrants on new land transcending any linguistic limitations even as Go reached out her arms as if to welcome everyone there. But when she picked up a kazoo, she couldn’t keep from cracking up on the first verse of Youth Song, an undulating, minor-key workingperson’s blues (and drinking person’s blues) lowlit by echoey Fender Rhodes piano. Yet it wasn’t long before she got serious, singing in passable Spanish, going down on the the floor to get a clapalong going.

Go messed shamelessly with the audience, who’d been handed branches to keep time during a lively round that finally wound up with a mighty dancefloor thump and a wild taepyungso solo. The encore was a rousing mashup of oldschool 60 soul and Korean polyrhythms.

The next free concert at the Lincoln Center atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is Nov 14 at 7:30 PM, where wildly popular india classical composer, violinist and singer Caroline Shaw joins forces with the Attacca String Quartet. Get there on time if you’re going.

New Music Duo andPlay and Cello Rocker Meaghan Burke Put on a Serious Party at the Edge of Chinatown

How do violin/viola duo andPlay manage to create such otherworldly, quietly phantasmagorical textures? Beyond their adventurous choice of repertoire, they use weird alternate tunings. Folk and rock guitarists have been doing that since forever, but unorthodox tunings are a relatively new phenomenon in the chamber music world. At the release party for their new album Playlist at the Metropolis Ensemble‘s second-floor digs at 1 Rivington St. last night, violist Hannah Levinson and violinist Maya Bennardo – with some help from their Rhythm Method buds Meaghan Burke and Leah Asher, on harmonica and melodica, respectively – evoked a ghost world that was as playful and bracing as it was envelopingly sepulchral. Anybody who might mistakenly believe that all 21st century serious concert music is stuffy or wilfully abstruse needs to check out the programming here.

The party was in full effect before the music started. A sold-out crowd pregamed with bourbon punch and grapefruit shots. As the performance began, Levinson sent a big bucket of fresh saltwater taffy around the audience, seated in the round. The charismatic Burke opened with a brief solo set of characteristically biting, entertainingly lyrical cello-rock songs. Calmly and methodically, she shifted between catchy, emphatic basslines, tersely slashing riffs, starry pizzicato and hypnotic, loopy minimalism. The highlights included Hysteria, a witheringly funny commentary on medieval (and much more recent) patriarchal attempts to control womens’ sexual lives, along with a wry, guardedly optimistic, brand-new number contemplating the hope tbat today’s kids will retain the ability to see with fresh eyes.

Dressed in coyly embroidered, matching bespoke denim jumpsuits, andPlay wasted no time introducing the album’s persistently uneasy, close harmonies  with a piece that’s not on it, Adam Roberts‘ new Diptych. Contrasting nebulous ambience with tricky polyrhythmic counterpoint, the duo rode its dynamic shfits confidently through exchanges of incisive pizzicato with muted austerity, to a particularly tasty, acerbic, tantalizingly brief coda.

Clara Ionatta’s partita Limun, Levinson explained, was inspired by the Italian concept of lemon as a panacea. Playful sparring between the duo subtly morphed into slowly drifting tectonic sheets, finally reaching a warmer, more consonant sense of closure that was knocked off its axis by a sudden, cold ending.

The laptop loops of composer David Bird‘s live remix of his epic Apochrypha threatened to completely subsume the strings, but that quasar pulse happily receded to the background. It’s the album’s most distinctly microtonal track, Bennardo and Levinson quietly reveling in both its sharp, short, flickeringly agitated riffs and misty stillness.

The next concert at the space at 1 Rivington is on Oct 11 at 7:30 PM with composer Molly Herron and the Argus Quartet celebrating the release of their new album “with music and poetry that explore history and transformation.” Cover is $20/$10 stud.

Epic Bustle and Thump and Entertainment From the Uncategorizably Fun NYChillharmonic at Joe’s Pub

Was it worth leaving this year’s Charlie Parker Festival early to catch the NYChillharmonic last night at Joe’s Pub? Absolutely. Who knows, maybe someday singer/keyboardist Sara McDonald’s lavish eighteen-piece big band will play the festival – although the lineup that day will have to be a lot more forward-looking than it was yesterday evening.

McDonald’s music is easy to trace back to the wildly syncopated early 70s art-rock of bands like Genesis, although her compositions also draw on classical music, big band jazz, Radiohead and lately, classic soul music and even disco. Huddled together on the cabaret-sized stage, the mighty group were tight as a drum throughout a pummeling, nonstop performance heavy on the beat.

The staggered, staccato pulse of the opening number set the tone and was the most evocative of 70s psychedelia. Like the rest of the songs on the bill, it was pretty much through-composed, reaching a white-knuckle intensity with a series of rhythmic shrieks toward the end. McDonald typically finds more surprising places to take an audience – and her bandmates – than simply coming back to land on a verse or a chorus. Often but not always, the band would bring starkly moody intros full circle to close a tune, whether voice and keys, voice and guitar, or even voice and tuba.

With a vocal delivery that came across as more chirpy and biting than it’s been in recent months, McDonald sang resonantly while spiraling through tightly wound arpeggios on a mini-synth. Then she’d spin and conduct the ensemble, then return to the mic and keys, and made it look easy.

She explained that she’d written the night’s second number, Living Room, after quitting her shitty dayjob. Maybe some organization like Chamber Music America can step in and help her stay away from shitty dayjobs so she can concentrate on what she does best.

That particular number began as a restlessly propulsive soul anthem bulked up to orchestral proportions, with unexpectedly hushed, halfspeed interludes and a similarly sepulcutral outro, flitting out on the wings of the group’s string section. With the next tune, Ambedo, the band mashed up classic 70s disco and 50s Mingus urban noir bustle, punctuated by a series of almost vexing interruptions and a wry, woozy, Bernie Worrell-style bass synth solo.

The night’s darkest and most bracing song, Wicker – which McDonald dedicated to “Ugly patio furniture everywhere” – had looming, ominous chromatics and 21st century Balkan jazz allusions, along with a deliciously jagged guitar solo and more P-Funk keyboard buffoonery. Zephyr has been considerably beefed up since the last time the group played the piece here, its chattering, uneasy intro more of a contrast with its relentlessly syncopated upward drive. It was the closest thing to orchestral Radiohead on the bill.

Easy Comes the Ghost began with circus-rock piano phantasmagoria, shifting through a polyrhythmic maze to a determined disco strut that ended sudden and cold. The group closed the show with another mashup of Radiohead, dancefloor thud and Darcy James Argue-style big band minimalism. Like Missy Mazzoli, McDonald manages to write torrential melodies without cluttering them.

Time was short, so there were no band intros. It would have been fun to have been able to stick around for brass quartet the Westerlies with crooner Theo Bleckmann, but sometimes life takes you elsewhere…humming riffs from this shapeshifting crew which this time included Alden Helmuth on alto sax, Jasper Dutz and Jared Yee on tenor, Drew Vanderwinckel on baritone, Ben Seacrist and Michael Sarian on trumpets, Nick Grinder and Nathan Wood on trombones, Jennifer Wharton on tuba, Kiho Yutaka and Dorothy Kim on violin, Will Marshall on viola, Sasha Ono on cello, Eitan Kenner on electric piano, Steven Rogers on guitar, Adam Neely on bass and Dani Danor on drums.

A Deviously Dark New Masterpiece and a Joe’s Pub Show From Creepy Duo Charming Disaster

Charming Disaster aren’t just the creepiest guy/girl harmony duo in folk noir. They’re also a songwriting superduo. Since the late zeros, guitarist Jeff Morris has led mighty noir mambo/circus rock band Kotorino. When singer/ukulele player Ellia Bisker – leader of majestic existentialist soul band Sweet Soubrette – joined his group, that springboarded a series of collaborations that led to the duo’s debut collection of original murder ballads. Since then, they’ve become a touring powerhouse and have expanded their sound to include dark and death-obsessed narratives set to increasingly and expertly diverse musical backdrops. Their latest album Spells and Rituals is streaming at Bandcamp. They’re playing Joe’s Pub on August 22 at 9 PM; cover is $15.

They open the record with Blacksnake, a slinky clave tune about a pair of lovers who’ve gotten in too deep for their own good. All this bliss just might kill them: “Is it just hallucination or the ergot on the rye?” they ask as what may be an apocalypse looms on the horizon. There’s also a funny fourth wall-breaking reference to percussion equipment; see the band live and you’ll get it.

Although the duo do an impressive job playing multiple instruments onstage to bulk up their sound, there’s a full band on the album. Wishing Well, a Merseybeat-tinged janglerock tune has Don Godwin doing double duty on bass and drums along with the handclaps to propel its allusively suicidal narrative. Baba Yaga, a shout out to the popular witch from Russian mythology, has a scampering horror surf-tinged groove; there’s no Moussourgsky quote, although that’s the kind of thing they’d slip in when playing it live.

Devil May Care, with its wry Biblical allusions and Tex-Mex tinges, is a hoot. “You’ve got a right to get in trouble,’ is the refrain. Llithe strings add to the distant menace , alongside Jessie Kilguss’ droning harmonium. Bisker’s sultry tones enhance the sinister ambience over Morris’ gorgeously bittersweet guitar jangle in Blue Bottle Blues, a swinging number about poisoning.

Heart of Brass is a throwback to Kotorino’s adventures in sardonic steampunk storytelling, Morris and Bisker in counterpoint over tinkling glass bells and a hypnotic sway. From there they blend Beatles and classic 60s country balladry in the slightly more lighthearted, metaphorically loaded cross-country narrative Keep Moving.

Menacing circus-rock piano (that’s either Morris or Bisker; both play keys on the album) and strings (Heather Cole on violin and Patricia Santos on cello) build operatic drama in Belladonna. “The ambulance sang my name more times than once,” Morris and Bisker harmonize in Fire Eater, a broodingly orchestrated, Balkan brass-tinged parable about the perils of thrill-seeking. They stomp their way through the catchy Laurel Canyon psychedelia of the monstrously funny Be My Bride of Frankenstein and close the album with the cynical, scampering garage rock spoof Soft Apocalypse. Dark music has seldom been this much fun – and these two put on a hell of a show.