Saturday, November 30, 2019

Record Roundup: Contemporary Kaleidoscope

Before the Best Of lists begin, here's one more “regular” post, a quick run through just a few spectacularly colorful recent releases in the contemporary classical arena. Push "play" on this playlist to listen along in real time.

Zosha Di Castri - Tachitipo Color. Texture. Emotion. Craft. All those virtues are fully on display on this stunning portrait debut from Di Castri, a Canadian composer with whom I was completely unfamiliar. If you’re in the same boat, paddle over and climb aboard a luxury liner packed with talent. In the engine room are Di Castri’s compositions, which demonstrate an astonishing facility with a variety of forces, from vocal group to string quartet, and from solo piano to chamber ensemble. Then, you have the staterooms, appointed with such luminaries as Ekmeles, Talea Ensemble, JACK Quartet, Julia Den Boer, International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), and Yarn/Wire, each one performing at the top of their game. That’s no mean feat when you consider something like the opening track, The Animal After Whom All Other Animals Are Named (2013), which has Ekmeles dishing out all manner of vocal effects while engaging in a fractured duet with glitched-out electronics. It’s a gauntlet thrown and one ably picked up by Cortège, which has Lorraine Vaillancourt through a dark funhouse of tension, release, and smart orchestration. 

String Quartet No. 1 (2016) is like raw steak tossed into the JACK’s cage: they attack the score with gusto and make quite a meal for all of us. While deeply connected to the tradition, Di Castri also approaches it with a disarming freshness. May it be played often by string quartets everywhere. Dux (2017) also gives Den Boer a lot to chew on, whether it’s the keyboard spanning runs or techniques seemingly derived from Cage and Nancarrow. Unlike those two masters, however, Di Castri seems to be leading with her heart more than her head. La Forma Dello Spazio (2010), performed by ICE, is next, all flashing swords and lances, like knights on skittish horses. The percussion part adds atmosphere and the inventiveness continues to the very last note.

Yarn/Wire, a quartet of two pianos and two percussionists, now have, in the title track (2016) a new piece that should long find a place in their repertoire. Named after a brand of typewriter, it’s a showpiece for both players and composer, full of wit, charm, and moments of limpid beauty. And if all of this variety has you wondering if there's is anything she can't do, witness Diego Espinosa Cruz Gonzalez performing How Many Bodies Have We To Pass through, a deep exploration of percussive possibilities. The name Zosha Di Castri is memorable all on its own, but this knockout album guarantees it will be on the lips of anyone who loves new music. Shell out for the CD - it comes in a letterpress package by Kiva Stimac that is the ideal visual and tactile companion to the sounds within. Dare I say it's the perfect stocking stuffer?

Mario Diaz de Leon - Cycle And Reveal Both Talea Ensemble and ICE appear on this latest collection of works by Diaz de Leon, each the result of long collaborations between artist and performer going back at least a decade. The four works here find Diaz de Leon using space and silence in new ways without losing the sense of wonder and ceremony that I have come to expect from him. Sacrament (2017) opens the album with the beautifully rounded sounds of the marimba (played by Alex Lipowski) combined with flute and eventually clarinet and electronics, moments of dense sound synthesis alternating with fragmented sections, the instruments seeming to chase each other around the room.

Labrys (2017), composed for and performed by ICE bassoonist Rebekah Heller, also has a fragmented feel, with plenty of air around the expectorations of the reed instrument and the bright synth tones. Part of the fun is putting it all together in your head an effort which comes to a crashing halt when the commanding tones of Mariel Roberts's cello digs into the opening notes of Irradiance (2016), a cavernously involving piece. Diaz de Leon as master of darkness and electronics (and deeply informed by pop and metal) comes to the fore here, releasing startling images in my mind such as a black rose crushed into diamonds, glinting with all the colors of the universe against a velvety night sky. It must be heard to be believed! The ICE trio of Heller, Claire Chase (flute), and Joshua Rubin (clarinet) finish the album with Mysterium (2016), which lives up to its name with the narrative tension of a great Lalo Schifrin score. If you haven't been tracking Diaz de Leon's career thus far, Cycle And Reveal is a ideal point of entry.

Tak Ensemble - Oor This no-holds-barred group debuted in 2016 with Ecstatic Music, devoted to the compositions of Taylor Brook and one of the best classical releases of that year. They dedicated their second recording to Diaz de Leon for another remarkable excursion into his sound world. If those weren't proof enough that they were ready for anything, Oor will convince you that nothing is too wild or wooly for Tak. Naturally, Tyshawn Sorey is an ideal co-conspirator and Laura Cocks (flute) and Carlos Cordiero (clarinet) easily meet the demands of his aggressive and witty Ornations (commissioned by Tak in 2014), which I had the privilege to see Claire Chase and Josh Rubin perform at the Miller Theatre earlier this year. That's not even as much fun as album closer, The Colors Don't Match by Natacha Diels, who puts vocalist Charlotte Mundy (who also sings with Ekmeles) through her paces as she she recites the names of notes ("D flat...E...E flat") in a variety of attitudes while the rest of the band tries to keep pace. Def puts Diels on my radar. 

David Bird's works shone on AndPlay's wonderful Playlist so it's great to hear his talents applied to the wider palette of Tak, who take his ball and run with it a long distance. Ashkan Behzadi, who also had a piece on Playlist, takes full advantage of Mundy's adventurous spirit in Az Hoosh Mi..., almost casting Marina Kifferstein's violin as another vocalist in an investigation of a modern piece of poetic Persian erotica. The album also includes Erin Gee's Mouthpiece, which gives Mundy even more space to play, and Anne Cleare's Unable To Create An Offscreen World, a colorfully harsh fantasia with some splashy moments for percussionist Ellery Trafford and guest cellist Meaghan Burke. Equally as exciting as Oor itself is the fact that it was released on their own Tak Editions label - perhaps a hint that their is much more to come from this extraordinary bunch of players.

Jessica Meyer - Ring Out In which supremely talented violist Meyer reveals herself as a delightfully varied, and emotionally connected, composer. Not surprisingly for someone who only began composing five years ago, many of the most assured works are for strings, whether the headlong rush of cello (played by Andrew Yee of Attaca Quartet) in Released (2014), or the skillful intertwining of violin and cello, played by Miranda Cuckson and Caleb van der Swaagh respectively, in the Rumi-inspired three-part suite, I Only Speak Of The Sun (2018). But Meyer also branches out beautifully in a song cycle, Seasons of Basho, written for viola, countertenor (Nicholas Tamagna), and piano (Adam Marks), and Ring Out, Wild Bells (2017), composed for the vocal octet Roomful of Teeth, and taking full advantage of the unique resonance of the TANK in Colorado. Bringing together the words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson,and field recordings of Parisian church bells, it spins off many possibilities for Meyer's future as a composer. If you listen to Ring Out you'll likely be waiting with bated breath for more.

Ted Hearne - Hazy Heart Pump Composer/performers don't come much more polyglot than Hearne, who is equally at home deconstructing Madonna songs or composing a choral dissection of the Citizens United ruling. But I think his personality (personalities?) as an artist have never been as searingly committed to a single album as they are here. You can almost visualize the funnel going into his brain, with Charles Mingus pushing past poetry (Saul Williams and Dorothy Lasky) and jockeying for space with David Lang and, say, Bela Bartok, where it's transmuted into his own particular art. The wonder of this album is in the full package, too, thanks to the liner notes from Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti, which not only describe their friendship but also superbly explicate the background to each piece. Lanzilotti is present as a performer as well, adding her viola to Hearne's piano and the violin of Miki-Sophia Cloud for Vessels (2008), which employs alternate tunings and muted strings to arrive at a chopped and screwed vision of Neue Weiner Schule serialism. At least that's what happens in my head - your results may vary.

The album kicks off with For The Love Of Charles Mingus (2016), which finds Cloud layering six violin parts for an oblique response to the universe of the great jazz bassist. Williams joins forces with the Mivos Quartet for The Answer To The Question That Wings Ask (2016), a series of questions ("What time is it? Who set the clock? Who coded/decoded time? Are there different ways of keeping it?) with the Mivos either following or competing with the poet's intense recitation. The four jagged and funky parts of Furtive Movements (2015) will have you questioning why more works aren't written for cello and percussion - then again, not everyone has Ashley Bathgate and Ron Wiltrout at their disposal to make those dreams a reality. Nobody's (2009) is wisely at the center of the album, a short bit of shattered Appalachia for solo viola (Diana Wade - and her stomping feet) that leads perfectly into Vessels. The album closes with the Argus Quartet's reading of Exposure (String Quartet No. 1) (2017) and you would be correct in thinking that the subtitle indicates a confrontation with the storied tradition of string quartets. Hearne's pen is more than up to it, too, resulting in a piece that should be played far and wide in halls big and small. Trust me, Hearne's latest will have your heart pumping in ways that are not at all hazy.

Daniel Lippel - Mirrored Spaces Even if Lippel never released another album under his own name, we would all owe him a debt for his wise and generous steering of the ship that is New Focus Recordings, which issues a seemingly endless stream of great albums each year. And that's not to mention his superb work within many ensembles, ICE and counter)induction among them. But here he has followed up last year's remarkable ...through which the past shines with yet another gift, a vast collection across the possibilities of guitar music as sprawling and adventurous as the White Album, featuring pieces by Orianna Webb, John Link, Kyle Bartlett, Douglas Boyce, Ryan Streber, Ethan Wickman, Christopher Bailey, Dalia R. With, Sergio Kafejian, Karin Wetzel, Sidney Corbett, and Lippel himself. From solo acoustic gems like Wickman's Joie Divisions to electro-acoustic works like the alternately sparkling and serrated Like Minds by Link, Lippel wants us to hear it all, feel it all, and marvel at it all. 

The project has its roots in a 2008 performance, represented here by a live recording of Lippel's own Scaffold for electric guitar, full of moody string-bending, feedback and distortion, which will echo in your head long after the album ends. I'll leave it to the sociologists to look into why, after a peripatetic series of collaborations, premieres and recording sessions, Mirrored Spaces comes to us in the same season as All Mirrors by Angel Olsen or mirrored heart by FKA Twigs, but I will say it is as vital a reflection of our times as either of those fertile and exploratory journeys into the heart of pop expressionism. I will be listening to, and taking nourishment from, Mirrored Spaces for quite some time. I suggest you start now.

Dither - Potential Differences If it's more guitar goodness you seek, don't, er, dither about grabbing on to this third album from a most versatile electric guitar quartet made up of Taylor Levine, Joshua Lopes, James Moore, and Gyan Riley. Whether exploring various techniques and tones in Jascha Narveson's marvelous four-movement suite, Ones (2011) or going full atmo-prog in Mi-Go (2012) by Lopes, these guys can do it all. Each of them contributes a piece, in fact, with Riley's hypnotic The Tar of Gyu (2013) and Levine's post-punk freakout, Renegade (2013), being especially memorable. We also get more Ted Hearne in Candy (2010), which is filled with patterns and textures you can imagine David Torn contributing to a Bowie album. Maybe we can get someone to commission a guitar quintet and have Lippel sit in with Dither...a person can dream. Until then, I'll just continue enjoying the ride. 

There's something for all tastes and occasions above - let me know which ones move you the most.

You may also enjoy:
Record Roundup: String Theories
Concert Review: JACK In The Crypt
Record Roundup: Past Is Present
Record Roundup: Composed, Commemorated, and Beyond
Glints In The Darkness: Mario Diaz de Leon

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Record Roundup: American Harvest

It’s at this time of the year, when the dark falls early and the sweet aroma of dead leaves is joined by the smoky hint of fireplaces being put to first use, that you may seek the sounds of that elusive genre known as Americana and other folk and country infused music. As I did in last year’s Cornucopia Of Folk And Americana, here’s a quick roundup of albums and EP’s that fit the bill - all of them, except for one spectacular reissue, recent releases. Like the earlier post, a playlist is included for your listening pleasure. This time I’ve put it at the top so you can press “play” and then read along.

Hiss Golden Messenger - Terms Of Surrender For someone who crafts emotionally resonant lyrics sometimes informed by great literature, it should never be forgotten that M.C. Taylor’s best work is often accompanied by a wicked backbeat. It’s that groove that drew me into Lateness Of Dancers, the masterpiece that was my gateway drug into his wonderful oeuvre - it was also my number one album of 2014. Drummer Matt McCaughan is an essential part of that hypnotic rhythm and he is in such fantastic form on Terms Of Surrender that it might have been my favorite Hiss album since Lateness even if the songs weren’t so terrific. But they are: richly melodic ruminations on family, work, and the endless conflicting demands between the two. Granted, these are the rows Taylor has been hoeing for some time, but the heat has brought that familiar pot to a rolling boil. Even if you didn’t know Taylor was writing himself out of a dark year, you would feel his burning need to get to the light. The production overall is also fantastic, burnished to a 70’s FM radio sheen yet not sanding down some of those eccentricities that made the early Hiss albums so striking, mixing dub and Appalachian folk into a distinctive blend on tracks like Cat’s Eye Blue and Whip. Guitar/keys/harmonica polymath Phil Cook and his brother, bassist Brad Cook, are no doubt worthy of our gratitude for much of what sounds so wonderful. Finally, it must be said that Taylor’s voice has never sounded better, one benefit of all those nights on the road, singing for his family and wishing he were with them. Concert dates are here.

Tyler Ramsey - For The Morning It’s been eight years since the last album by this fine singer-songwriter so if his name is familiar it’s likely you noticed it in the credits on an album by Band Of Horses, with whom he was active until 2017. Those years were probably good for his craft, not only to hone it but to focus him on what was important just to him, rather than the compromises of being in a band. The sound he has settled on is rich with layered guitars and loaded with atmosphere, surrounding his high, clear tenor and supporting songs that take hard-won personal truths and transmute them into the universal. For The Morning is an involving listen and a great return to solo work for this indie stalwart.

Elana Low - Loam These three haunting songs are a wonderful calling card for Low’s monolithic brand of dark folk, which finds her honeyed contralto accompanied by the mesmerizing drone of her harmonium. The self-penned tunes seem to come from the earth itself, with melodies the ancients would recognize and claw back as their own. Low is channeling something very special, creating a mood which is nicely reflected in the handmade packaging for the CD. So order one up and see if you don’t put it on repeat while idly checking her website and counting the days until you can see her in concert and take a deeper drink from her river of song.

Andy Jenkins - The Garden Opens A great song tells a story through its melody and chord changes as much as its lyrics. On these four sweet numbers, from the finger-picked wonders of Starfish Fever to the wry self-deprecation of Don’t Dance, Jenkins once again proves his mastery of the form. After having his debut album, Sweet Bunch, on repeat for much of 2018, what a delight it is to have more from Jenkins!

Ryley Walker and Charles Rumback - Little Common Twist Walker is a supremely talented acoustic guitarist, one of the best around, and a reliably witty Twitter presence. However, our interests have diverged, especially on the lyrical front, since the gloriously sun-dappled jazz-folk of Primrose Green in 2015. But I’ve always kept a close eye, seeking that album’s warmth and depth. Somehow I missed Walker’s first collaboration with avant-jazz drummer Rumback (Cannots from 2016) but I am fully on board for this one. Little Common Twist finds the duo in symbiotic pursuit of texture, melody, and emotion, each making ideal use of their instruments. But there is no sense of display, just the creation of an immersive little universe in sound, and one to which I look forward to returning often.

John Calvin Abney - Safe Passage It may seem a damning with faint praise to focus first on the frame rather than the picture, but Abney devises such perfect settings for each of his songs that I am compelled to mention the production on this album right up front. The first song, I Just Want To Feel Good, has the sense of an overture, just two finger-picked guitars and the chorus plainly stated like a mantra. Kind Days follows and the details keep adding to the atmosphere, whether the yearning pedal steel or the shimmering vibraphone. Both of those are played by Abney as well, proving he can take care of himself when it comes to executing his ideas. He does get help from others, however, including Shonna Tucker on bass, Will Johnson on drums, Megan Palmer on violin and organ, and John Moreland on guitars. Abney has always been a good singer but here he seems even more comfortable with his warm burr, using it to transit a wide array of emotions, including the sly digs of Honest Liar, just one standout track. Words like “reliable” and “craftsmanship” come to mind when I think of Abney - but don’t take them the wrong way. It just means that he puts in the work so you can have something to depend on in this wayward world - and that’s not something I take for granted.

Courtney Hartman - Ready Reckoner Between you, me, and the lamppost, one reason I like being friends with musicians is because they often clue me into great sounds. That’s how I found Hartman - I was instantly sold when Richard Aufrichtig shared a snippet in an Instagram story. While this is her debut solo album, it comes after wending her way through the both the world of modern bluegrass with the band Della Mae and the back roads of Spain. In fact she wrote some of these songs while hiking the 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago, the “road of Saint James” that has taken pilgrims to Santiago de Campostela in Galicia for centuries. But the sound she lays down here, much of it driven by her adventurous acoustic guitar, full of woodsy and percussive sounds, feels purely American. It’s only natural that one of her collaborators is Bill Laswell, that master of shimmer and smoke in jazz-infused guitar tones. Their duet on Neglect is deeply moving - and it’s an instrumental. Co-producer Shahzad Ismaily also serves Hartman well, conjuring a warm and spacious surrounding that allows her music to breathe. Her versatile voice ranges from a flighty head sound to a rich mezzo, employed especially effectively on Koyaanisqatsi - bet you weren’t expecting that song title! Just another surprise on this exquisitely crafted and deeply personal album.

Jonathan Wilson - ‘69 Corvette Speaking of “personal,” the title track of Wilson’s new EP takes us on a journey back to where he came from - North Carolina - in a tapestry of music that seems to coalesce under a porch light with a foggy forest as a backdrop. Mark O’Connor’s Appalachian fiddle speaks as profoundly as the lyrics. Whether this is a dalliance away from Wilson’s typically more progressive work, the EP’s two other countrified tracks, make the idea of more of this quite appealing indeed.

Molly Sarlé - Karaoke Angel Sarlé is one third of Mountain Man, the Appalachian-influenced vocal group that also includes Alexandra Sauser-Monnig and Amelia Meath. While still full of folky chord changes and turnarounds, Sarlé’s own songs mine more of a 70’s pop-rock ethos, aided by a highly detailed production by Sam Evian. But the songs, which convey the thrills and pitfalls of freedom and self-discovery with poetic universality, could stand on their own easily. I’ve always found Mountain Man, though technically impressive, somewhat impenetrable and cloying but Sarlé on her own is a treasure. If you find your way to this album, you will likely hold it close.

Daughter Of Swords - Dawnbreaker This is the name Alexandra Sauser-Monnig chose to symbolize newfound freedom as a songwriter and solo performer away from Mountain Man. Maybe there's a deep message that both she and Sarlé have songs called Human on their debut albums, but I'd prefer to let each occupy its own little plot of land. Dawnbreaker, in any case, is far more of a mood piece than Karaoke Angel, with its ten tracks blending almost seamlessly into a single statement. There's nothing monotonous about it, however, as strong melodies and varied textures abound and each song is a tidy shadowbox of memory and hope.

Tate McLane - Jackpine Savage I found this album when I was looking for something entirely different but I was tempted to give it a try and found myself listening to the whole thing. McLane powers his raspy voice over chugging-train guitars or sweet picking with the gusto of a busker still trying to raise enough to get a cup of coffee and get out of the cold. Personality and passion combine to put over these tunes, which might sound overly familiar in other hands.

Rebecca Turner - The New Wrong Way Full disclosure: I know Turner and my saying nice things about her new album is in no way related to any kind of guilt over my topping her in Words With Friends at a rate of two games to one. It is what it is. But while I can hit a 100-pointer on the triple word score, I certainly can't write a song like Turner - not many can. She manages to find deeply personal little details and turn them into songs so relatable you'll think these things happened to you, like this from Water Shoes: "I borrowed your shoes, and my happiness hovered on the surface of the water." While her voice has its quirks, listening to her delicately swinging take on the old standard, Tenderly, clues you into her solid craft as a singer. Produced by Turner with Scott Anthony, with some of the recording taking place at Memphis's legendary Ardent studios, the sound is warm and inviting, like a house concert to which you'd feel lucky get invited. Give this a listen - you might just feel like you've found a new friend.

Wilco - Ode To Joy There are parts of this album that seem enervated, sere, and barely able to get out of bed, with Jeff Tweedy's voice barely above a whisper and all the instruments taking a back seat to Glenn Kotche's trudging, implacable drums. Depending on my mood, those moments either have me thinking, "C'mon, dudes, get moving! We have things to do! What's wrong with you?" or "Seriously, guys, I get you. And you get me. Thank you for understanding!" We are living in an era of high anxiety and Tweedy is nothing if not a divining rod of the cultural moment. So, sure, this may not be the Wilco album you wanted (which could have been a punchy kick in the pants like Star Wars or an album full of Mondays), but it just might be the Wilco album you need. Either way, listen carefully and you will hear all kinds of comforting Wilco-isms, from the melodies of Everybody Hides and Love Is Everywhere (Beware) to the angular freakout at the end of We Were Lucky or Hold Me Anyway's triple guitars. And if you remain disappointed in Ode To Joy, it's likely the next album will be completely different and hit you where you live the way this one does for me.

Gene Clark - No Other (Deluxe Edition) Gram Parsons was famous for calling his signature blend of country, folk, and soul "cosmic American music." On No Other, Clark, a founding member of The Byrds, almost went Parsons one better by adding funk into the mix. I say "almost" because the funkiest takes of the album's eight songs, cooked up with collaborator Thomas Jefferson Kaye (himself worthy of further investigation), were never released - until now. Disc two of this deluxe reissue comprises a fully alternate version of the album that is arguably superior to what originally came out in 1974 - and if you know how good THAT album is, you will be running to your computer or local record store to get your hands on this. Granted, the clavinet and conga jams Kaye and Clark consigned to the vault were probably too ahead of their time and outside of what people expected to have had any success back then. Then again, considering the fact that Asylum records buried the album because label head David Geffen was pissed that his $100K budget yielded so few songs, part of me thinks, "What if they had gone for broke?" In any case, now we have this embarrassment of riches, which fits in with the other artists on this list with astonishing ease. If No Other hasn't already been in your rotation as a classic album of the 70's, get to it now - it may just help define your current decade in music.

You may also enjoy:
Cornucopia Of Folk And Americana
Autumn Albums, Part 1
Autumn Albums, Part 2
Hiss Golden Messenger Holds Back The Flood
New Americana, Part 1: Phil Cook
New Americana, Part 2: Hamilton Leithauser & Paul Maroon

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Shamans Of North Sixth

One night, two venues, and two very different approaches to channeling the charismatic in music.

Part One: Carolina Eyck at National Sawdust

Leon Theremin’s pioneering electronic instrument just hit its century mark, having made its debut in 1919, and there are probably only two or three people alive who both see beyond its novelty value and have the technique to exploit it fully. One of them is Carolina Eyck, who first came to my attention in 2016 on Fantasias for Theremin and String Quartet, a collaboration with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble. That remarkable album was a constant listen and found a home on my Best Of 2016 (Classical) list. 

However, while I’ve had the files for her latest album, Elegies for Theremin & Voice for some time in advance of its release about a month ago, I’ve been finding it hard to fully connect to the music. While the surface is shiny and bright and the textures - both electronic and vocal - are wonderful throughout, there also seemed to be static quality to the songs. Such is my respect for Eyck, however, that I jumped the chance to see her perform at National Sawdust on Friday, October 25th. 

The rows of seats were almost full when I arrived and sank into mine, already grateful for the intro music, which was Eno’s Music For Airports played on NatSaw’s superb sound system. Eyck’s theremin was center stage accompanied by a table with a laptop, an MPC, and some other gear. Her confidence immediately commanded my attention when she strode on stage, resplendent in crushed velvet and jewel tones, a touch of face-paint lending a ritual aspect to her appearance. 

She sat at her instrument and...made magic. The astonishing control of her right hand (which controls the pitch) allowed the notes to take shape in the air, becoming a physical as well as aural reality. The first piece had the sense of an overture, all swoops and glides and echoing drama. While I dismissed my mind’s initial attempt to place it adjacent to the fat analog synth tones of Steve Miller Band’s Space Intro in my mental library, as the evening progressed and Eyck put her humor and pop skills into the mix, I thought, Why not? 

When she played songs from the album, witnessing the layering and looping of her vocals exposed the solid architecture that I was having trouble discerning. She also gave a little background to some of the songs, such as Remembrance, which pays homage to a school friend who died too soon. But rather than just lamenting her death, Eyck celebrates her life with some light and playful sounds, sharing this special person with us. She also gave a brief tutorial on the workings of the theremin, describing how she visualizes a string in the air, which she plucks with her right hand, while the left hand controls the volume by gesturing around the looped horizontal element. 
Eyck getting into the rhythm of a new song
We were also privileged to hear a “very new” song called After The Sun Went Down, which, with its propulsive bass line and bright melody, is one canny remix away from the dance floor - it’s a banger in the making! After a brief interlude of “fairy” sounds and what sounded like another new song, Eyck ended the night with Commemoration from Elegies, its massed choir of her own voice sounding heavenly. Based on other reviews I’ve read of Elegies, it is unlikely that you will need a live performance to gain entry into its many charms. Either way, if Eyck comes to your town I would not hesitate to take advantage of an opportunity to spend some time in the presence of this supremely talented and heartfelt musician.  

Part 2: Starcrawler at Music Hall Of Williamsburg 

The night was still youngish when I left National Sawdust and ran into a friend who invited me to join him at the Starcrawler show. As this is a band I’ve wanted to see since last year, when I called their debut album, “Pure filth, sloppy, grinding, filth, but tuneful,” I jumped at the chance. A rigorous security check presaged the dramatically different experience I was about to have as we entered the familiar confines of MHOW. The opening act was still on, which I would have been happy to skip in favor of a drink in the basement bar, but my friend, having seen Starcrawler before, wanted to get prime position near the front of the stage.

I got a cup of Old Broadhorn for me and a water for him and met him in the main room. We listened to the opening band, a lumpy stew of psychedelia and The Clash, for just a few minutes before he turned to me and said, “This is really bad.” Indeed, it was. Everything about it was terrible, in fact, from their stage presentation and the over-miked drums, to the shit guitar tones and pretentious jamming. I worked mightily in my mind not to lose the mood of excellence imparted by Eyck, holding it in my cortex as these knuckleheads thrashed away. I was mostly successful and it was, thankfully, over soon. Bizarrely enough, they had fans, who had been dancing maniacally and singing along and were now calling for an encore. “The opening act does NOT get an encore,” I spat out loud enough for people to hear. That felt good!

We had a little time to wait so I caught up with my friend, whom I had never before met in person, and made some new ones. During the banter I was surprised that no one had heard of Frankie & the Witch Fingers, who are another band from L.A., very different but they rock just as hard as Starcrawler. Finally, just as we natives started getting restless, the house lights went down and Starcrawler’s drummer, Austin Smith, entered stage left, sat down at his kit and started pounding out the rolling glam stomp that opens Lizzy, the first song on their terrific new album, Devour You. The crowd started to move to the beat but it was when guitarist Henri Cash, looking fab in an imitation Nudie suit, came out and unleashed his wicked right hand that we exploded. It was like rock & roll lightning had struck us all, with Tim Franco’s bass the only thing keeping us from frying to a glorious crisp.

Then Arrow de Wilde, in the first of many well-informed theatrical gestures, oozed down the few stairs from the stage door before settling in a heap near her mic. The knowledge that the explosion was coming did nothing to reduce its effectiveness when she sprang up and began assaulting the mic with a variety of screams while showing off moves that found a through-line between Cotton Club shimmy dancers, ballet, and the snake-hipped antics of Iggy Pop and Jim Morrison. In short, de Wilde was a high voltage electromagnet for our attention, riveting in her every twitch. Her outrageousness only seemed to inspire Cash to his own pursuit of the guitar-player posture hall o’fame, which included pulling outrageous and hilarious faces.
The Cash and de Wilde show.
The amazing thing about both de Wilde and Cash as performers is that there was absolutely nothing studied about any move they made - everything they did grew organically out of the sounds they were making. As my friend warned me, de Wilde can also be a provocateur, flipping one fan’s hat off his head on more than one occasion, putting a foot on the shoulder of another, drooling fake blood, and inevitably leaving the stage to writhe on the floor and then be carried around by the audience. When we chatted with Cash after the show and wondered if she had ever gotten in trouble due to her behavior, he said no before explaining, “When Arrow is on stage, there’s nothing here” - he pointed at his forehead - “it’s all here” - he indicated his body. Fair enough! Cash also turned out to be an eager student of rock history. My friend had sent him a DVD of The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, which gave us a opportunity to geek out briefly about The Dirty Mac.

Cash's collection of guitars also betrayed a deep knowledge of the sounds he wished to achieve, including playing several songs on not one but two guitars with only three strings. The band’s energy never flagged as they thundered through their set like a runaway train. Even if only some of the variety and, yes, subtlety (There's a ballad!) of Devour You showed up on stage, as the first half of my evening proved, your recorded personality need not match what you do in a live setting. Another way to look at it is that it’s almost like having two Starcrawlers - to which I can only say: What a time to be alive. I’ll let more pictures tell the rest of the story - and I hope to see an even bigger crowd the next time Starcrawler swings through NYC. Will you be there?

Arrow de Wilde assaulting the mic.

Henri Cash, unleashing his right hand.

Austin Smith and Tim Franco, holding down the bottom.

Cash spraying notes from one of his three-stringed guitars.

Cash feeds off the energy of the crowd.

De Wilde becomes one with the audience.
Who was this guy? Unknown - but he finished the show!
You may also enjoy: