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Tag: Timur Yusef

Shapeshifting Art-Rockers Changing Modes Put Out Their Most Savagely Brilliant Record Yet

Changing Modes aren’t just one of the most instantly recognizable rock bands in the world: they’re also one of the best. Over the past ten years or so, they’ve put out an increasingly brilliant succession of sharply lyrical, mind-warpingly eclectic albums that span from quirky new wave to majestic art-rock to ferocious punk. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call them the American Pulp – or to call Pulp the British Changing Modes. The big news about the group’s latest album, What September Brings – streaming at Spotify – is that keyboardists and co-frontwomen Wendy Griffiths and Grace Pulliam, guitarist/bassist Yuzuru Sadashige and drummer Timur Yusef have been bolstered by the addition of baritone saxophonist Sawa Tamezane. The new release is also arguably the band’s angriest and most political record yet (think about that title for a second). Griffiths has a short fuse when it comes to narcissists, and she torches several here. Changing Modes are playing the album release show on Sept 20 at 8 PM at Arlene’s; cover is $10. It’s impossible to think of a more entertaining, consistently surprising Friday night rock act anywhere in New York right now.

The album’s opening track, Days, could be described as noir new wave Motown circus rock, but that’s only scratching the surface of how artfully the band blend those styles. The two women’s voices harmonize eerily over an uneasy, altered waltz, the sax adding a deliciously smoky undercurrent:

These are the days I never spent with you
Black eyes and broken wings
White lies don’t give away
Black eyes and broken wings
Butterflies don’t miss a day

Pretty Poisonous has gritty guitar majesty balancing those carnivalesque keys, an allusively snide slap upside the head of real estate bubble-era yuppies. With blippy Wurlitzer, fuzz bass and sarcastic ba-ba harmonies, Tightrope is a delicious dis aimed at a phone-fixated drama queen: It also might be the funniest song Griffiths has ever written.

Corey Booker Blues is not about the mayor and erstwhile candidate: it’s a slinky instrumental, sort of a mashup of Henry Mancini and mid-70s King Crimson, dedicated to Griffiths’ cat – that was his name when she got him from the shelter. Next, the band keep the shapeshifting menace going with another instrumental, 2 1/2 Minutes to Midnight, with some tremolo-picked savagery and more than a hint of heavy metal growl from Sadashige

The band romp lickety-split through 250 Smiles, a sardonic sendup of a catty girl whose “tiny lies accessorize.” Then Pulliam flips the script with January, a pensive tale of abandonment set to an insistent, ornate solo piano backdrop.

Rocket, a sinister surveillance state parable, brings to mind X at their most rockabillyish: “Tell me why the failsafe signal failed/Tell me why the driver never broke a sweat,” Griffiths wants to know. Fueled by Amy Boyd’s shivery violin, Alexander Springs is a more psychedelic take on classic, lush mid-70s ELO, laced with brooding Aimee Mann cynicism:

Wasted summer days on village greens
You wait to see what September brings ‘cause
You’ve been down that lonely road before

Fire has backbeat stomp from Yusef, wary chromatics from Tamezane and Griffiths’ most savagely dystopic lyrics here:

In the line of fire
There’s no reality
As they watch you on their flat screens
A blip is all they see
Caught by friendly fire
As drones divide the sky
You’ll just give in if you never ask why

The cynicism reaches redline in Glide, a sardonically twinkly boudoir soul-tinged nocturne, Griffiths fixing her crosshairs on slacker apathy. The band reach back toward circus rock, with a little Beatles, in Potassium and Riboflavin, a strutting kiss-off number. They close the record with Night Loop, recalling Ennio Morricone’s Taxi Driver score as much as Angelo Badalamenti’s David Lynch theme music. It’s going to be awfully hard to choose any album other than this as the best of 2019 at this point.

An Unpredictably Fun Album Release Show by Changing Modes

It’s hard to imagine a New York band that has as much fun onstage as Changing Modes. Or a band anywhere who can negotiate the endlessly tricky metrics and serpentine twists and turns of their artsy, often new wave-tinged songs as tightly as they do. At their album release show for their new one, Goodbye Theodora at Webster Hall this past weekend, everybody in the band except for drummer Timur Yusef switched instruments.

Singer Wendy Griffiths is the best keyboardist in the band, but she played the better part of the set on bass – as it turns out, she’s also their most nimble bass player. Co-frontwoman Grace Pulliam is a guitarist, but she played keys and bass synth. Guitarist Yuzuru Sadashige took over bass duties early on and ended the show on keys. As usual, Griffiths and Pulliam took turns on lead vocals, often in the same song, Pulliam’s soul-infused lower register blending with Griffiths’ crisp, crystalline soprano for some unselfconsciously spine-tingling moments and some that were a lot more devious. Griffiths worked the mystery angle; everybody else in the band was pretty much grinning from ear to ear for the duration of the show. They’re bringing their multi-instrumental prowess, good cheer and darkly lyrical songs to the one-year anniversary celebration at the Muse Brooklyn at 350 Moffatt St. in Bushwick tonight, April 2 at 7:30 PM. Cover is $15; take the L to Wilson Ave.

It takes nerve to open with an instrumental, but that’s what Changing Modes did, tackling the creepy, futuristic tumbles and swells of 2-1/2 Minutes to Midnight without breaking a sweat. They kept the enigmatic, surreal atmosphere going with a swaying take of Mind Palace, the first of the tracks from the new album and followed with the sly noir swing romp Amanda’s House, which sounds suspiciously like a song somebody with that name might write.

Sadashige fired off some evil noiserock in between Pulliam and Griffiths’ vocal handoffs in Red, followed by the macabre, lingering anthem Arizona, the night’s best song. Fueled by Sadashige’s searing solo, they growled through the postapocalyptic allusions of Door, then had fun with Sharkbird, the night’s monster surf-tinged second instrumental.

After the uneasy dynamic shifts of Firestorm, they lightened the mood with Pulliam singing an Amy Winehouse-esque cover of Elle King’s Ex’s & Oh’s, and later elevated Radiohead’s Karma Police toward late Beatles grandeur. Too Far Gone – a co-write with their indie classical composer pal Denise Mei Yan Hofmann – made a detour back to grimly anthemic territory. They wound up the set with the poppy, bouncy Vital Signs and the woozy, fuzzy, older new wave song Pretty Vacant, which is nothing like the Sex Pistols. Changing Modes have a deep back catalog, seven albums worth of songs just as eclectic and unpredictably fun as these.

Another Darkly Brilliant Album and a Webster Hall Release Show from Art-Rockers Changing Modes

How many bands or artists have put out seven albums as strong as New York art-rockers Changing Modes’ catalog? Elvis Costello, sure. But the Clash? No. The Doors? Nope. Pink Floyd? Maybe. The Stones, or the Beatles? That’s open to debate. What’s clear is that Changing Modes deserve mention alongside all of those iconic acts, a distinction they’ve earned in over a decade of steady playing, touring and recording. Their latest release, Goodbye Teodora, is due out this Sunday. They’re playing the album release show on March 26 at 6:45 PM at the downstairs space at Webster Hall; cover is $15.

Changing Modes distinguish themselves from their many shapeshifting, ornately psychedelic colleagues around the world in many ways. They’re one of the few art-rock acts fronted by a woman. And they’re dark. Co-leader Wendy Griffiths’ sharply literate lyrics and allusive narratives are as intricately woven as the band’s musical themes, and they keep their songs short, seldom going on for more than three or four minutes. The lineup on the new record is the same as their previous masterpiece, 2014’s The Paradox of Traveling Light. Griffiths switches between keys and bass, joined by guitarist/bassist Yuzuru Sadashige, multi-keyboardist Grace Pulliam and expert drummer Timur Yusef. The album opens with the uneasy Mind Palace, part scampering circus rock-tinged anthem, part jagged King Crimson. It’s a characteristically intriguing, enigmatic number that could be about a robot, or not a robot: “He is a hoarder of broken memories, a savage mistake, a victim of technology.”

Griffiths’ hard-hitting piano and Pulliam’s swooshy organ fuel Amanda’s House, a vivid and wryly detailed portrait of a goth girl which also might be satirical – consider the song title. Sadashige’s sharped-edge, steadily stalking guitar builds to menacingly anthemic proportions throughout Door, a creepy study in suspense. Yusef’s tersely boomy Middle Eastern percussion in tandem with Sadashige’s sparse crime-jazz lines underscore Griffiths’ crystalline, nuanced vocals in Arizona: southwestern gothic doesn’t get any darker than this.

Sharkbird is a dancing surf rock instrumental in the same vein as the Slickee Boys’ psychedelically creepy adventures in that style. The surrealistically elegaic Wasted shifts between dub-infused reggae and catchy, windswept orchestrated rock. The brooding, dynamically shifting Too Far Gone – not the Emmylou Harris classic but a co-write with rising star indie classical composer Denise Mei Yan Hofmann, who also contributes guitar – comes across as a mashup of Throwing Muses grit and allusively dark Invisible Sun-era Police.

With its flickering electric piano, moody Middle Eastern guitar, tense flurries of drums and a majestically wounded Sadashige solo midway through, the album’s title track is a requiem:

Goodbye Teodora
Hello to my emptiness
Over time you’ll be inclined
To give it all a rest

Likewise, Sadashige’s unselfconsciously savage, distorted lines contrast with Griffiths’ stately piano throughout the metrically tricky Firestorm. The allusively Beatlesque symphonic-rock anthem Chinese Checkers explores power dynamics via boardgame metaphors. The album’s most straightforward track, Vigilante, has grim political overtones. The album winds up with Dust, a vast, ineluctably crescendoing postapocalyptic anthem. We’re only in March now, but this could be the best rock album of 2017, hands down. 

More Creepy, Psychedelic Soundtrack Magic from Morricone Youth

You’re going to be hearing a lot of Morricone Youth in the next year, and not just here. Prolific guitarist/composer Devon E. Levins’ ominously psychedelic film soundtrack outfit are off to a good start with their planned marathon fifteen-album cycle of original film scores they’ve performed live over the past five years. The latest in the series is the music for Lotte Reiniger’s 1926 silent The Adventures of Prince Achmed, the oldest animated feature still in existence. As with the previous release, this one’s available on limited-edition vinyl as well as digital formats. Most of it’s up at the band’s youtube channel (tracks aren’t in sequential order, but there’s a heavenly feast of noir sound here).

The title theme scatters hints of Middle Eastern modes in Dan Kessler’s dramatic funeral organ, Levins’ steely tremolo-picking finally hitting a slasher peak over altered cha-cha drums, pouncing along on a tricky 5/4 beat. Conrad Harris’ koto-like, reverbtoned pizzicato violin and Ayo Awosika’s inscrutable vocalese spice the Asian psychedelica of Chinese Emperor; then Levins takes it further into Vampiros Lesbos territory with his sunbaked, distorto lines.

Harris channels vintage Bollywood in tandem with Levins’ guitar sitar in Peri Banu. Changing Modes drummer Timur Yusef adds all sorts of eerie, jungly textures to open Maestro in Baghdad, as he frequently does throughout the album, while Kessler’s organ keens in tandem with Levins’ terse, distantly menacing Andalucian lines.

Fraser Campbell’s tenor sax channels a classic Addis Ababa riff as the elegant Maidens gets underway: Mulatu Astatke might have done something like this if John Carpenter had hired him for a horror soundtrack forty years ago. Sorcerer, the final cut, takes a completely unexpected turn into blippy Afrobeat. For a band that seems hell-bent on dumping release after release of collector vinyl onto the market, they maintain an amazingly high level of consistency: this is every bit as fun and arguably even more eclectic than the band’s just-released score to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.

Changing Modes Bring Their Kinetic, Intense, Wickedly Tuneful Art-Rock to Spectrum

Art-rock band Changing Modes play some of the catchiest songs of any current New York band, plus they’re a lot of fun to watch. Part of that is because their musicianship is on such a high level, on par with a jazz or classical group. In the past, they’ve had as many as three keyboardists. The latest edition of the band has bandleader Wendy Griffiths sharing lead vocals with co-keyboardist Grace Pulliam while Yuzuru Sadashige switches between guitar and bass over drummer Timur Yusef’s undulating, shapeshifting groove. The album release for their new one, Traveling Light, at Bowery Electric last month was one of the best shows of the year. They’ve got another gig coming up at Spectrum, the sonically delicious, comfortable Ludlow Street space on August 23 at 9 PM for $15.

At the Bowery Electric gig, just when it seemed that Griffiths was going to be playing all the elegant, plaintive, classically-tinged piano lines and Pulliam was in charge of supplying an endlessly kaleidoscopic series of synth and organ textures (and synth bass when Sadashige played guitar) , the two would switch roles. On several songs, Griffiths emerged from behind her keys to play bass, bopping animatedly along with Yusef’s irrepressible drive. He and Pulliam were all smiles; Sadashige seemed to be the calm center of the storm while Griffiths played the role of mystery girl, deadpan and serious in contrast to her animated vocals and harmonies with Pulliam.

Guest Vincent Corrigan took a handful of cameos on vocals, on a duet of the briskly pulsing, sardonic breakup narrative Red and then Ship, a swaying disaster tale, which he brought to a climax with a long bellow worthy of Bruce Dickinson, or David Lee Roth for that matter. That contrasted with his stately, expressive crooning on the chamber pop piano ballad Sycamore Landing.

What was most striking about the show was that some of the strongest songs in the set weren’t from the new album. Too Far Gone, with its clave beat and Police-like hooks, turned into a springboard for savage tremolo-picking, eerily dancing postpunk riffs and bluesmetal spirals from Sadashige. And Shangri-La juxtaposed chromatically-charged X guitar riffage and a menacingly cinematic guitar/keys interlude with a telling Leonard Cohen reference. The songs from the album were just as memorable: the apocalyptic, Rasputina-esque piano-pop opening track, Dinosaur; the slyly feline narrative Jeanine; an understatedly creepy take of the darkly enigmatic, rhythmically shifting In June and Fly, a bitter, even creepier escape anthem.

Changing Modes Add to Their Legacy As One of the Great New York Bands

Quick: who’s the best rock songwriter in New York? Wendy Griffiths of Changing Modes is on the shortlist, no question. Quietly and efficiently, the keyboardist/bassist and her artsy, new wave-flavored band have put out a series of bitingly lyrical, wickedly catchy albums, all of which are streaming at Spotify. They’ve got a new one, The Paradox of Traveling Light, their sixth full-length album, due out momentarily and a release show at 9 PM on July 19 at Bowery Electric. Much as Changing Modes have made a name for themselves for elegant arrangements and shapeshifting tunes, they’re great fun live. Griffiths may be unsurpassed at creating a nonchalantly menacing ambience, but onstage she’s full of surprises, and the band feeds off her energy.

She also has a devious sense of humor, and that’s in full effect from the first few beats of Timur Yusef’s garage-rock drum intro on the album’s opening track, Dinosaur. A trickily rhythmic piano-pop song, it could be a snarky commentary on trendoids, or the human race in general on the fast track to the apocalypse. Griffiths’ scream on the way out is classic, Jello Biafra-class evil.

She works a neon luridness on the second track, Red, one of a handful of guy/girl duets here with the stagy-voiced Vincent Corrigan. The two spar and threaten each other over a punkish guitar-driven backdrop that brings to mind vintage X. The band follows that with the moody, Siouxsie-esque new wave anthem Give Up the Ghost, Griffiths and co-keyboardist Grace Pulliam shifting shades up to an expansive but purposeful Yuzuru Sadashige guitar solo.

The guy sings Sycamore Landing, an elegantly troubled 6/8 piano ballad that would fit perfectly in the Neil Finn catalog. In June alternates between a bouncy but creepy pulse and lingering atmospherics, a rich study in contrasts that might be a breakup song…or it might be about a suicide. That’s what makes Griffiths’ songwriting so interesting: she never hits anything head on, always drawing the listener into the mystery.

The one cover here is Black & Grey, a surprisingly solid, pensive song by otherwise lightweight quirk-pop band the Dream Bitches. Jeanine is the most lighthearted song here, and it’s not the first one the band has done about a cat. Fly morphs from macabre to wryly hilarious (Yusef gets the punchline), a bitter suburban escape anthem. Ride keeps the menacing chromatics going over a brisk new wave pulse, Griffiths’ venomous lyric driven to a crescendo by a snarling Sadashige guitar solo.

Lately takes an unlikely blend of spacerock lyrics and a brisk, surfy, organ-fueled groove and makes it all work: it seems to be a death-in-space scenario. The album ends with Sadashige’s pensive Triangle Heart, an understatedly dark ballad that shifts tempos all the way through to a funereal, tremoloing Griffiths organ solo that perfectly caps off this troubled and sometimes wrenchingly beautiful album, a strong contender for best of 2014.