New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: world inferno

Smart, Cutting-Edge Tunesmithing at Manhattan’s Most Comfortable Listening Room

Much as the world of singer-songwriters has shrunk, in the wake of the death of the big record labels – call it a market correction – Manhattan still has a great listening room for solo acoustic acts and small string bands. That venue is the American Folk Art Museum, just a few steps from the uptown 1 local to 66th Street, across the triangle from Lincoln Center. Their mostly-weekly Free Music Fridays series starts at 5:30 on the nose, goes to about quarter after seven and spans the world of folk music, from vintage Americana, gospel and blues to bluegrass, original songwriters and sounds from all over the world. That’s why this blog picked the museum as Manhattan’s best venue for 2016.

Jessi Robertson, with her harrowing narratives of angst and despair and her otherworldly, soul-infused wail, is the star of the show there on Friday the 29th. She’s a surprisingly funny performer for someone whose music is so dark and intense. She’s as captivating as the three best acts to play the space over the past few weeks: Joshua Garcia, Dina Regine and Anana Kaye.

Garcia held the crowd rapt throughout his brief set there last month. He has a flinty, clipped vocal delivery that’s bluesy without being cliched. He sounds like a throwback to the artists from the 1950s who influenced Dylan, but whom Dylan couldn’t quite figure out how to copy, at least vocally speaking. Along with a handful of populist anthems and nostalgic character studies, Garcia’s most riveting song was That’s the Way You Drop a Bomb. Told from the plainspoken perspective of one of the the crew of the Enola Gay, Garcia nailed every detail, right down to the pilot’s admonishment not to watch the explosion on the ground, the mushroom cloud or the firestorm afterward. Except that Garcia’s crewman had a conscience.

Dina Regine is best known as one of the pioneers of EDM, but her songwriting is vastly more interesting. On that same bill, she played solo acoustic on guitar, unselfconsciously making her way through a fearlessly populist set that made a great segue with Garcia. Shadowy vamping post-Lou Reed grit stood alongside warmly familiar retro 60s soul and doo-wop tunes, everything anchored in Regine’s background as a daughter of the Queens projects in the 1970s. She’s reputedly working on a new album which, if this set is any indication, promises to be just as eclectic and relevant as her last one.

Last week, Anana Kaye opened the night flanked by a couple of guys on rhythm and lead guitar. With her raccoon-eye makeup and circus rock outfit, she looked the part, but she transcends the theatrics of that cubculture (that’s a typo, but it works, right?). As a pianist, she really has a handle on uneasy, cinematic voicings that sometimes reach lurid, bloodcurdling depths. The best song in her tantalizingly brief set was Down the Ladder, a cruelly haunting desperation anthem. The most playful was Blueberry Fireworks, an aptly surrealistic shout-out to a gradeschool-aged friend with a vivid imagination. The more low-key material in her set reminded of Tom Waits while her upbeat, carnivalesque numbers reminded of a strummy, guitar-driven, lyrically infused Rasputina or female-fronted World Inferno. Kaye’s next gig is on Feb 15 at 8 PM at LIC Bar in Long Island City.

The Klezmatics Build Their Legacy With Yet Another Explosive, Eclectic Album

This new record has a song about slavery. another about the joys of being out and gay in an oppressive society, one about the murder of an innocent immigrant, along with a pretty wild drinking song, a bunch of dance numbers and a handful of dirges. Pretty relevant stuff, right? Is this hip-hop? Blues? New wave? None of the above. It’s the new Klezmatics album, Apikorsom/Heretics, streaming at Spotify. And it’s one of the best releases of 2016.

The Klezmatics are the Clash of klezmer. Back in the 80s, the Clash were the one punk band that pretty much everybody knew and loved, and the Klezmatics were their Jewish folk-punk counterparts – although their musicianship was always a cut above even the most talented punk rock band. There have been plenty of other innovators in traditional Jewish music from around the world, but most  – Dave Tarras, Manny Blanc and Prince Nazaroff, noteworthy among them – edged toward jazz. The Klezmatics, on the other hand, brought the transgressive energy of punk to a vast legacy of global Jewish sounds, and vice versa. The new album only further cements their reputation as innovators and instigators, a band whose influence long ago reached far beyond the klezmer demimonde. It’s safe to say that without the Klezmatics, there probably would be no Gogol Bordello and probably no World Inferno either.

The album opens on a trad note with Lisa Gutkin’s instrumental Der Geler Fink, her rapidfire violin against a suspensefully vamping pulse, then trumpeter Frank London and frontman/accordionist Lorin Sklamberg lead the band off on a scampering tangent. London flips the script and clarinetist Matt Darriau follows suit, wary and soulful, before the band brings the lightning back.

Zol Shoy Komen di Guele is a swaying, elegant take on a midtempo oompah groove, a song of redemption and salvation. The band moves to elegantly waltzing, brooding Ladino territory with the bitterly metaphorical Der Yokh (The Yoke) originally recorded by Lluis Llach in 1968: “Although it’s rotten and rusty, it grips us like pliers,” Sklamberg intones in the original Catalan.

The traditional Party in Odessa follows a bounce that’s just short of frantic: It’s a funny song, a peasant gone wild in the big city: “The guy with no suspenders is the one who loses his pants,” more or less. The band ramps it up doublespeed at the end.

Dark Is the Night, a new original with music by London features stark violin against mournful washes of accordion punctuated by spare cimbalom. If John Lennon had grown up in a shtetl somewhere in Eastern Europe, he might have written something like this.The title track is another London original; Sklamberg delivering a homoerotic Yiddish lyric over a happy bouncing melody that’s part early Beatles, part joyous shtetl stomp, taking an abrupt, welcome detour into a minor-key romp livened by the trumpeter’s terse, muted attack. Darriau’s Three-Ring Sirba is next, a bittersweet waltz fueled by the composer’s enigmatically sailing clarinet.

The bolero-tinged Vi Lang, London’s adaptation of David Edelstadt’s poem Vakht Oyf! sets Sklamberg’s understatedly imploring vocals against an elegantly slinky backdrop lowlit by funereal organ and latin-flavored horns, up to an uneasily shadowy, psychedelic outro underpinned by London’s insistent piano and Richie Barshay’s tumbling drums. Likewise, Sklamberg’s arrangement of Chava Alberstein’s Ver Firt Di Ale Shifn? (Who Guides the Ships?) has a moody late Beatlesque resonance and a boomy Barshay bolero beat. Then the band picks it up with the lickety-split Shushan Purim, contemplating the hangover of all hangovers. In case you’re wondering how to say “blotto” in Yiddish, the word is “farshnoshket.”

Green Violin, a London instrumental, has a dramatic ba-BUMP bounce and delicious Middle Eastern chromatics. Der Mames Spigl (Mama’s Mirror), a minimalist dirge by Gutkin with lyrics by Masha Shtuker-Paiuk, grimly contemplates the ravages of age. Even grimmer is the swaying, ominously Turkish-flavored murder ballad Tayer Yankele (Poor Yankele), Paul Morrisett’s guitar steady as the whole band builds a haunted call-and-response. It’s the album’s most epic and arguably best number.

The band handles the traditional, chromatically fueled dance Shtetl MO with a bouncy restraint that explodes on the chorus and then builds to a lickety-split romp as the horns blaze. The album winds up with Mazltov, a tender folk-rock waltz. Over the decades, the Klezmatics have put out some great albums and this one is probably in the top three along with their 2011 Live at the Town Hall album and their iconic 1997 collection, Possessed. The band are currently on US tour; their next show is at the Freight & Salvage, 2020 Addison St. in Berkeley, CA on Dec 21 at 8 PM. Advance tix are $28.

The Family Crest Hit It Big with the Post-Millennials

Due diligence is a bitch. This is what happens when you don’t reread your own music blog.

Publicist sends an email. Hey, wanna go see somebody open for a band whose name sounds vaguely familiar?

[Something] the Ghost? Umm, maybe Fever the Ghost? Why the hell not. Kind of glammy, post-Bowie, psychedelic, lots of keys! Forget that the bandname is stupid and signifies trendoid-ness. Reviewed ’em last year, last August or so if memory serves right.

Check the blog index to make sure? Naaaaaa, no time for that….

Opening band hits at 9:20 – publicist wasn’t lying, They’re moving things right along at Bowery Ballroom. And this show is sold out. Lots of kids. Children, that is. Middleschoolers, from the looks of them. None of them have ever been here before. Nobody’s drinking and nobody’s smoking pot either. They’re all looking up, looking around. Yet there’s not a selfie stick in sight.

The Family Crest make their entrance, and the kids go nuts. It’s date night, lots of screaming girls. This could turn out to be a very short evening.

The band has a cello, a violin and a trombone. And the kids are into it! Frontman Liam McCormick wails on his acoustic guitar, keyboardist Laura Bergmann switches to flute and fires off an darkly slinky series of flourishes while the string section play similarly elegant variations on a baroque-rock riff. The song, Beneath the Brine, is kind of World Inferno Junior, third-gen circus rock. It doesn’t have the New York band”s old-world irony or gleefully grim punk rock humor, but it’s good, and McCormick’s stagy cabaret delivery works in this context. And the kids love it! Whadda you know, slyly grinning chamber pop with a carnivalesque edge is big with post-millennials! There’s hope for the world!

The rest of the show doesn’t hit as high as this, but it’s not bad either. The band takes a turn back toward the phantasmagorical later on, but that number evokes a stadium more than a dark carnival. Instead, there’s a lot of Motown and new wave in the songs’ bouncy drive, and infectious energy, and relentlessly cheery hooks. The band are all good musicians and they’re a magnet for others: by the time all the special guests are onstage, there are two trombonists, two saxophonists and an electric guitarist taking an already hefty sound further skyward. Lyrics or storytelling don’t seem to be the band’s thing, but singalong catchiness is. One of the last numbers in the set –  which clocked in at barely forty minutes,  hardly fair – evokes the surreal post-new wave stomp of Aussie hitmakers the Cat Empire.

The band are as fresh-faced and friendly as their material. McCormick in particular turns out to be a big hit with the females – and he’s not exactly svelte. If that’s what the chicks are into these days, it’s enough to tempt a guy to quit running all over town, switch out the chana saag and ice water for pizza and PBR and pack on the pounds.

Fever the Ghost headline. Except that it’s not Fever the Ghost. It’s [Something Else] the Ghost. You’d think that one of those bands might sense the need for rebranding, but no. This trio also has a lot of busy keys, but in a way that’s part Liberace, part Mars Volta, maybe. Or Styx. Remember Styx? That top 40 band from the 70s? Not worth googling. Please. Don’t.

Both the keyboardist and guitarist have chops, but the guitarist sings in a mannered, phony-earnest emo-pop voice. They’re the kind of band who might lobby for a discount on student loan debt, but wouldn’t dare demand a return to the days of free tuition. And the drummer looks like a reject from the casting call for Almost Famous. Is this what closeted born-agains sound like? Theatreboys from Utah? Three songs in, it’s clear that this group ought to be calling themselves Leave the Room. And the kids are still there, still bopping. A couple of freshman fratboys, who may be more than just bro’s, get drunk on a single beer and start pumping their fists along with the guitarist’s fey uh-OH-oh’s Maybe there’s less hope than there seemed to be when the Family Crest hit the stage.

A Grim Look into the Future from HUMANWINE

Boston’s best band for the better part of a decade and now based in Vermont, HUMANWINE play important, politically insightful, exhilarating Romany-flavored punk rock and noir cabaret. They’re the closest thing to the Clash or the Dead Kennedys that we have right now. Those comparisons are especially appropriate considering that HUMANWINE (a cryptic acronym for Humans Underground Making Anagrams Nightly While Imperialistic Not-Mes Enslave) don’t just write songs about doom and despair under an all-seeing Orwellian eye. The band’s core, frontwoman Holly Brewer and guitarist/keyboardist Matthew McNiss envision an alternate future that’s NOT a corporate fascist surveillance state. Since the band came up right after the Bush/Cheney coup d’etat in 2000, their response has been venomous, and sarcastic, and articulate right from the start. They see this happening in their own country, and they take it personally. More of us should.

Right now they have a characteristically creepy, carnivalesque new album, Fighting Naked, and an ep, Mass Exodus, up at their Bandcamp page as name-your-price downloads, as ominously entertaining as they are prophetic. The music on the album is intense, and feral, and anthemic, and the message is spot-on. Are we going to be hypnotized by the “hypocritical fascist porno priests on the tv selling you shit you don’t need, ” while we let the billionaires and their multinational cartels inch us closer and closer to fullscale slavery – or are we going to join forces, all of us, delete our Facebook accounts and then give Big Brother the boot? It’s our call.

Many of the corrosively propulsive narratives here are told from the point of view of exiles and freedom fighters battling a murderous occupation. Some are set in the imaginary fascist state of Vinland, which is basically the world taken forward a few years to where every move a person makes is recorded and watched. But as Brewer reminds on the live acoustic version of the catchy, defiant protest anthem 1st Amendment, surveillance can work both ways. Who’s watching the watchers?

The first track on the album is a macabre punkmetal waltz, UnEntitled States of Hysteria, Brewer’s machinegun vocals splattering a grim tableau of life under the occupation, with a snide outro that makes the connection between medieval witch trials and this era’s demonization of so-called terrorists. The next cut, Big Brother, a Middle Eastern-tinged punk tune, is more defiant and optimistic: when the “Eye of the pyramid is keeping track of your every move, every day your thoughts are all you got – so go and do what you gotta do.”

Tumbling drums – is that Brian Viglione or Nate Greenslit? – and McNiss’ murderously growing low-register guitar fuel the title track, another creepy waltz. Wake Up is next, a sarcastic, surreal lullaby that morphs into a viciously sarcastic faux military march, followed by a punk sea chantey that offers a hint of comic relief.

“Sometimes families change…create your own,” Brewer sings coldly on the chorus of Epoch, which opens as a deliciously ominous, Britfolk-tinged number and then bounces toward Balkan musical territory in 5/4 time. Likewise, the album’s most macabre song, Worthless Ode, shifting from a morbid march to a Transylvanian dance: it’s about love during wartime, and it doesn’t end well. Another menacing waltz, Script Language sounds like Vera Beren covering Trans-Siberian Orchestra, with some brooding trumpet from the Ghost Train Orchestra‘s Brian Carpenter.

The banjo-driven Rivolta Silenziosa has a World Inferno-style noir cabaret feel, shifting uneasily between low-key and anguished. The most vivid of the Bush-era parables is the pensive, defeated, Pink Floyd-ish art-rock anthem When in Rome: “You can’t see the dead as they’re arriving – many more in the back are under flags and hiding,” Brewer intones. The album ends with a radio transmission from Vinland, the hardy few remaining trying to enjoy themselves with “an apocalyptic night on the town,” or what remains of it, Brewer taking it up and out with an operatic intensity.

The ep also includes Our Devolution Is Televised, whose recurrent mantra is “Can’t you feel the lockdown?”, and the raging, surreal Death Wish for the Impostor. These are great albums, and they’re important ones. The whole point of this music is that in times like these, you become either a hero or a zero: it falls to ordinary people like us to do heroic things. And history is on our side: there’s plenty of precedent. The Nazis weren’t defeated by a race of giants. It was people just like you and everybody else who risked their lives – and lost them, sometimes – to put an end to that particular strain of fascism. We really don’t have any other choice. Imagine what the guards at Auschwitz would have done with GPS technology.

HUMANWINE are playing the album release show for these two on June 10 at the Lizard Lounge, 1667 Mass Ave. in Cambridge, Massachusetts with their acoustic side project the Folks Below opening.

Golem Creates a Monster New Album

Golem are sort of the klezmer counterpart to both Gogol Bordello and World Inferno: all three bands came out of New York around the same time. Golem’s shtick is that they use biting old Jewish melodies as a springboard for edgy punk rock, crazy circus rock and straight-up hotshot klezmer. They’re playing the album release show for their new one, Tanz, at Joe’s Pub on May 29 at 9:30; cover is $14. The sedate, shi-shi venue has no idea what kind of madness they’ve gotten themselves into.

The current version of this band is probably the best ever. Sardonic, charismatic frontman Aaron Diskin and whirlwind accordionist Annette Ezekiel Kogan trade verses over the explosive rhythm section of Taylor Bergren-Chrisman on bass and Tim Monaghan on drums. The two lead instruments are Jeremy Brown’s searing violin and Curtis Hasselbring’s trombone, which typically takes a more brooding, ominous role.

The new album opens with 740, a hardcore tune that sounds like the Dead Kennedys gone to some ancient Ukrainian shtetl. Freydele brings to mind early-zeros Gogol Bordello doing a briskly swaying klezmer theme with funky chord-chopping guitar, a purposeful spacious trombone solo, and droll, surreal rhymes from Diskin. I’m a Snake has snarling, agitated harmonies from the violin and trombone, wailing against each other as Diskin and Kogan pair off. Love You All the Time is a very funny, rapidfire litany of things your mom doesn’t want you to do, from skiing in a blizzard to smoking menthols and drunk texting.

The brooding, reggae-tinged Mikveh Bath is literally drenched in history: Kogan’s understatedly plaintive vocals leave no doubt how much the song’s soon-to-be bride is dreading her wedding night, wondering if the guy she’s been married off to will be a good guy or a creep. By contrast, Miskayt is a hilariously strutting tango about a twisted couple who (spoiler alert) turn out to be perfect for each other despite their, um, imperfections.

With My Horse, the band makes galloping spaghetti western rock out of an old Russian tune: as usual with this band, there’s a biting irony and sarcasm underneath all the jokes. Here, Diskin’s narrator speaks German with the guards, Ukrainian with the other guys he’s locked up with, but it’s his horse – a mensch unlike all the people around him – that he can address in his mother tongue.

After Kogan sings a lickety-split, punk take of the klezmer standard Odessa, Diskin brings back the jokes with Poletim, a breakneck, snidely vaudevillian account of a team of inept would-be hijackers trying to get a plane from Vladivostok to Israel. The album’s title track turns out to be a deviously artful remake of David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, followed by Tum Balalaika, a springboard for some seriously feral Dick Dale style guitar tremolo-picking. That’s the album’s high point, musically; songwise, it’s the last track, Vodka Is Poison. Kogan and Diskin trade verses about why it either “Makes you round, makes you soft, makes it hard to get aloft,” or “Makes you happy, makes you free, makes you wish that you were me!” Is this the best album of the year? It’s one of them.

Vagabond Swing Brings Their Wild Live Show to NYC

Sunday night Lafayette, Louisiana’s Vagabond Swing gave the crowd at Rockwood Music Hall something to remember for months, blasting through what had to be the wildest, most ferocious show this normally sedate venue (“Classy,” a band member called it) might have ever hosted. “This is the smallest stage we’ve played in years,” admitted their trumpeter, but that’s what happens when bands who play to huge crowds on the road hit this city the first time around. And yet as much as they threatened to completely blow out the PA system, they felt the room, pushing it as far as it would go without being completely over-the-top. The group incorporates elements of Gogol Bordello at their most psychedelic, the Strawbs, Zappa, World Inferno, Tom Waits and Aunt Ange and yet sounds nothing like any of those acts. Their drummer also fronts the band, leaping from behind the kit out into the audience on several occasions, backed by trumpet plus two guitars, electric mandolin, bass and drums, the trumpeter and a couple of the guitarists doubling on creepy funeral organ.

Their shapeshifting songs went on for what seemed 20 minutes at a clip. To call them psychedelic gypsy punk isn’t off the mark but it doesn’t do justice to how crazily eclectic and intense they are. Their first number kicked off with a blistering Keystone Kops intro that morphed into a pensive waltz, then a swaying cabaret vamp and then back to the chase scene which didn’t take long to go completely awry with noisy guitar and trumpet solos. The second featured two slinky bass solos, two macabre organ interludes, a slowly careening waltz that reminded of the heavier stuff on Abbey Road and then a pensive folk-rock interlude with the trumpet soaring uneasily overhead. From there they went into brooding minor-key reggae and came out of that with machine-gun drums into morbidly swirling Carnival of Souls atmospherics. And then the trumpeter led them into a brief, bracing Ethiopian-flavored passage that turned menacingly Macedonian in a split-second and went doublespeed with a vengeance. Is there any style of music this band can’t play?

Wait, there’s more: a punked-out tango with an especially sweet trumpet solo; a twistedly bluesy merry-go-round waltz and a screaming Cab Calloway hi-de-ho number on acid. Vocals are part of the picture, but those didn’t come through clearly considering how fast and furious the band was playing. It didn’t matter. This was the kind of show that gives you enough adrenaline to sprint from the club, cut across two lines of traffic on Allen Street in the pouring rain and then dive down into the subway out of the storm, all in the span of about fifteen seconds. That’s not to suggest that you should do that, only to illustrate how exhilarating it felt to witness something this explosive at midnight on a Sunday.