New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: talking heads

A Ferocious, Funny. Surreal New Album and a LES Show by the Charismatic Mary Spencer Knapp and Toot Sweet

To call Mary Spencer Knapp a force of nature really doesn’t do her justice. She will drop you in your tracks. The self-described accordion shredder is also a brilliant pianist, with a purposeful, bluesy streak. She’s a strong lyricist, she’s funny and she’s a whirlwind onstage. On the mic, she can move from a vengeful wail to a purr to something surreal and outer-dimensional, sometimes within the span of a few seconds, and make it seem completely natural. And there isn’t a style of music she can’t write: she’s played everything from Dominican folk to noir cabaret to the fringes of the avant garde.

Likewise, her new album Disco Eclipse with her band Toot Sweet – streaming at Bandcamp, blends new wave rock with cabaret, oldschool disco, soul music and a little performance art. The core of the group also includes Doug Berns on bass, Tyler Kaneshiro on trumpet and synth,and Javier Ramos on drums. They’re playing the album release show on March 31 at 8 PM at the small room at the Rockwood.

The album’s catchy, sarcastically strutting first song, Civilians comes across as a mashup of cabaret, the B-52s and early Talking Heads. It starts with a talk with the “drug counselor” and ends with Knapp bemoaning that “My grandfather killed civilians, I’m just one of seven billion.” In between songs, there are several playful miniatures. The best, titled Toot Suite, a wistful stroll with a tasty, torrential accordion solo and an ending that ’s too good to give away.

The soul-infused Northern Boulevard is even catchier: it’s a shout-out to a Queens neighborhood that starts with a rush to pick up a nameless injured person and then a wistful look back at a time before social media distractions:

There was something about living, living in the moment
I could achieve when I was there
There was something about sensing the world was ending
To free me from my usual affairs
There was something about making a saint of a man
Finding purpose in a good old laugh
There was something about living, living in the moment
I could achieve when I was there

Knapp’s full-throated voice, accordion and nostalgia for Old New York all bring to mind another first-rate, eclectic accordion-wielding songwriter, Rachelle Garniez.

Rolling on the Floor is a twisted, sultry cabaret-funk-punk tune about various situations which involve the floor, and also rolling:

She’s a manicured cutie
Big cat eyes with a bootie
Says she gonna give you triple X tonight
You want something more bovine?
You’re gonna have to draw the line

After the surreal stream-of-consciousness uke tune Fault Line, Bloody Murder is a surreal blend of Sergeant Pepper Beatles, the English Beat and no wave, set to a disco groove. Don’t you go running to mommy because “She’s a maleficent director, she’s gonna strut you and then she’ll cut you.”

In Rainy Day, Knapp builds a bouncy, bleakly surrealistic daydrunk scenario, followed by a trippy dub miniature. “I’ll make you sick of me,” is her vengeful mantra in the hypnotically hammering Playground Politics – and it gets more allusively vengeful from there.

Sway could be Laurie Anderson at her most rocking, while Bzzzness alternates variations on a slit-eyed boudoir theme with big crescendos from Knapp’s assertive gospel piano. The album’s final cut is the apocalyptic Tread Softly Epilogue. As diversely dramatic as these songs can be, they only hint at the kind of slinky valkyrie fury Knapp can work up onstage.

Oh yeah – Knapp was also a cast member in that popular Broadway show based on War and Peace.

Artsy Afrobeat-Inflected Tunesmithing and a City Winery Show from Jenn Wasner

Jenn Wasner is an anomaly in the indie rock world: a fluent, imaginative guitarist who uses just about every sound available to her and writes smart, pensive, lyrical songs. She’s bringing her band Wye Oak to a rare Manhattan gig tomorrow night, Oct 6 at City Winery. If you can get to Manhattan, you can also get home afterward since the show is early – 8 PM – and you won’t have to worry about the train leaving you at some random outpost in the remote fringes of Bushwick. And you can get in for twenty bucks at the door.

Wasner also has an intriguing side project, Flock of Dimes, whose debut album is streaming at Bandcamp. The songs blend icy, crisply produced ABC-style 80s art-pop with a stainless-topped, airconditioned 90s lounge feel over Afrobeat-inflected rhythms. Wasner likes dancing vocal melodies and tricky tempos which percolate throughout pretty much every song here.

Wasner’s lingering guitar resonates over a soukous-ish triplet beat on the opening track, Birthplace; “My love is not an object,” she asserts, then dancing, synthesized strings kick in. The Joke is a powerpop gem as the Talking Heads might have played it, with blippy synth and surrealistically echoing faux-Leslie speaker guitars: the steel solo that the song fades out on is anunexpected treat and over too soon.

Everything Is Happening Today pairs atmospheric verse against kinetic, metrically tricky chorus.  Likewise, Semaphore shifts from uneasy resonance to subtly crescendoing dancefloor-beat angst on the chorus, “Too far gone for a sempahore.”

The danciest and techiest track is Ida Glow. which could be Missing Persons or Garbage without the sexpot pose. Wasner goes back toward Remain in Light-era Talking Heads with Flight, an allusive, lushly textured account of betrayal.

With its watery layers of chorus-box guitar and similarly disembodied vocals, Apparition could be late-period Siouxsie without the microtones…and then it goes in the direction of the Fixx or Tears for Fears. Spiraling, Spanish-tinged guitars punctuate the gorgeous Given/Electric Life, which could be Linda Draper with slicker production: “I’m not in the ways of counting days, distract myself,” Wasner insists.

“We seem to be awake, but we are dreaming,” shse intones enigmatically at the end of Minor Justice, a return to icy, blippy Afrobeat-pop. “I couldn’t free you, I couldn’t free myself,” she laments in You, the Vatican – #bestsongtitleever, huh? The album ends with,…To Have No Answer, which sounds like Bjork at her trippiest and most atmospheric. Throughout the album, Wasner plays all the guitars and keys as well: she obviously put a lot of time and effort into this. It’s like an artichoke, one layer after another to unfold. If the album had come out thirty years ago, every graying Gen-Xer would still have the cd somewhere – and that’s a compliment.

Carol Lipnik and Matt Kanelos Get Magically Surreal…With Some Help from Penny Arcade

“I’m the Singing Mermaid,” chanteuse Carol Lipnik explained with a chirpy wink in the intimate back room at Pangea Sunday night, before soaring skyward to the top of her stratospheric four-octave range. “I carry my heart in a specimen jar…from this open wound shoots a human cannonball.” Of course, all this carnival imagery – until recently, Lipnik’s signature style – is loaded with subtext. Lipnik demurred that this number, dating back to her first album about fifteen years ago, happens to be a favorite of Penny Arcade. And in keeping with Lipnik’s tradition of bringing up a special guest midway through the set here, her performance artist pal delivered a characteristically searing, funny monologue touching on gentrification and its discontents, among other pressing topics. And a couple of days later – at the kickoff party for an art exhibit curated by Anthony Haden-Guest – Arcade stunned the crowd with an excerpt from her incendiary new show, Longing Lasts Longer, a corrosively funny critique of luxury condo-era New York and death by cupcake that runs from July 13 through 15 at 8 PM at Theatre for the New City.

Since February, Lipnik and pianist Matt Kanelos’ weekly residency at Pangea on Second Avenue north of 11th Street has been honed to a tightly glimmering, mesmerizing sheen. It’s music to get lost in. Of all the many ongoing weekly gigs in this city, it’s impossible to think of a more happening one right now than this show. Lipnik and Kanelos have a camaraderie that borders on the telepathic, each following the other, always ready go to just a little outside the lines, blurring borders and shifting the time just enough to raise the disquiet factor to redline. And the music is more lush, and plaintive, and terse than anything Lipnik has done before.

On one hand, the residency, and the duo’s repertoire, draws heavily on their new album Almost Back to Normal, reinventing the concept of art song for this era. On the other, it’s awfully fun to see how the two have also reinvented a lot of Lipnik’s older Coney Island phantasmagoria, pushing that material further toward art-rock. They took the ghoulishly vaudevillian Freak House Blues deeper into the night, muting the ominously cartoonish ambience of the original, and gave a hypnotically swaying trip-hop groove to Moth, the plaintive title track from Lipnik’s 2008 album. And they encored with a raptly morbid version of The Two-Headed Calf, which was all the more creepy for its gentle sympathy for the freak watching the stars and seeing double. There were also two covers: the Talking Heads’ Heaven Is a Place as Laura Nyro might have done it, and a gleefully deadpan, utterly macabre version of the Twist that looked straight back to Klaus Nomi.

And the newest material – the broodingly intense individualist anthem Crow’s Nest; the pensively soul-inflected hedonist’s tale Honey Pot; and the album’s mystically William Blake-influenced title track, among other songs, maintained the studio versions’ surreal lustre. Lipnik and Kanelos have moved their residency to Thursdays at 7:30 PM for July and August, starting on July 9 with another first-class, sympatico special guest, charismatic accordionist-singer Rachelle Garniez. If state-of-the-art songcraft and magical voices are your thing, miss this at your peril. Years from now, people will be saying they were here even if they weren’t.