Yesterday, I missed my mark for my weekly Wandelwatching series, due to a combination of conflicting chores, duties and circumstances. I'll get to that post a bit later, but first, an acknowledgement of something that happened yesterday in the social-media realm. A Facebook post I wrote in the afternoon – intended to set the record straight about a new development – caused rather more response than I'd anticipated. Here's the post:
Dear everyone: Since an official memo has circulated internally, and since word will now commence to spread outside of these walls, please allow me to officially state that after very nearly 13 years of dedicated service, I will be leaving Time Out New York on Friday, April 11. My departure is bittersweet but completely amicable, a choice that I made in order to devote more life and time to my fabulous wife and daughter, while also creating the brainspace for future developments to become clear.
Let me repeat, to ward off speculation summarily: there is NO foul play involved here. It simply became the right time for me to move on to the next stage, and to clear the way for some new professionals to make the most of an opportunity to shine.
More on that front soon. For now, please join me in congratulating new Music Editor, Craw enthusiast and Facebook refusenik Hank Shteamer. And to my Time Out peeps past and present, it's been an honor and a privilege to work with, laugh with, cry with and learn from all of you.
Time Out New York
Aug 15–21, 2013
Any self-respecting pop star would be delirious to have a hit like “I Love You Always Forever,” an irresistible bit of romantic treacle that launched Welsh singer Donna Lewis to global success in 1996. Same goes for “At the Beginning,” the uplifting duet with Richard Marx from the animated film Anastasia, which returned Lewis to the top of the charts in 1997.
But if you really listened past the earworm chorus and bubbly beat of Lewis’s debut hits, you quickly sensed that she was no flash in the pan. The classically trained daughter of a jazz pianist, Lewis had a breathy coo that could recall Kate Bush, and used it with a flexibility that few pop princesses could muster.
Still does, to judge by Brand New Day, a striking demo Lewis has just recorded with prog-jazz trio the Bad Plus. Produced by avant-guitarist David Torn, the collection addresses a personalized pantheon: Songs by Antonio Carlos Jobim, Burt Bacharach, Chocolate Genius and Gnarls Barkley mesh cozily and radiate congeniality. “I Love You Always Forever” merits its inclusion. At Drom, pianist Aaron Parks sits in with Bad Plus bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King for what’s certain to be an illuminating reintroduction.—Steve Smith
Presumably the reason why the Bad Plus pianist Ethan Iverson isn't on this gig is because he's opening a run with veteran drummer Billy Hart's superb quartet at Birdland the same night. That band, with saxophonist Mark Turner and bassist Ben Street, is also strongly recommended; read Hank Shteamer's 2012 Time Out feature on the band for more details. All of which said, Aaron Parks is an excellent choice for a sub with Lewis et al at Drom.
Live preview: Jordan Klassen
Time Out New York
Aug 1–7, 2013
“Let me give, let me talk, let me live in your pillow / Kill your fear, whisper words in your ear,” Jordan Klassen intones reassuringly on “Go to Me.” Slipping easily between intimacy and grandiosity, the track is the first single from Repentance, the British Columbian singer-songwriter’s forthcoming album on Toronto label Nevado. That “Go to Me” was also the initial cut on Klassen’s 2012 EP, Kindness, and LP, Monastery, shouldn’t bother you—it’s that solid, elliptical lyrics and all.
Interviewed by a Vancouver newspaper in June, Klassen listed as his chief influences Belle and Sebastian, Paul Simon, Joanna Newsom, Nick Drake, Radiohead and Sufjan Stevens. You’d have guessed as much from spinning Repentance, a clutch of memorable tunes gently intoned by the singer, and whimsically adorned by producer Jonathan Anderson with ukulele, glockenspiel, toy piano, parade drums and whistling. Klassen’s writing earned him early cred, but comparing his fledgling self-releases with the imaginative refinement of Repentance, you hear the distance from aspiration to inspiration.—Steve Smith
Rockwood Music Hall; Aug 5
Mercury Lounge; Aug 6
This event took place at Issue Project Room on May 25, 2013. Since previews on the Time Out New York website now disappear from view once an event is passed, I'm preserving it here for personal posterity. Sadly, I was unable to attend, but warmly recommend the three CDs mentioned in the text.
Issue Project Room; Sat 25
For some time now it’s been possible to labor under the impression that electroacoustic improvisation (or EAI) is exclusively available on import, primarily the domain of Japanese, German and English performers. Actually, that’s never been the case; Americans have contributed to this outlier scene and its constantly morphing aesthetic from the start. But the arrival of ErstAEU—a new imprint of genre-defining mainstay label Erstwhile Records, operated by Jersey City tastemaker Jon Abbey—brings a fresh focus on a groundbreaking wave of homegrown talent.
Like AMM, the intentionally vague name used by a seminal British forebear to the current scene, AEU is meant to be amorphous. A clearly stands for American, Abbey readily admits. But E could be Electroacoustic or Erstwhile, and U might represent Union, Underground, Umbrella, Unlimited…U name it. Conjoined under the mysterious moniker is a growing band of outward-bound composers, improvisers and collaborators—“who may or may not yet know of their involvement,” according to the shadowy collective’s sole public statement.
Performing in this inaugural splash at Issue are the three duos who recorded ErstAEU’s initial trio of releases. Joe Panzer and Greg Stuart connect Gerhard Richter’s slathered, scraped canvases to Merzbow’s assaultive sonic discharge on Dystonia Duos. Anne Guthrie and Richard Kamerman palpably convey sensations of space, dimension and unrest on their rich, enveloping Sinter. Graham Stephenson and Aaron Zarzutzki hew closest to recognizable shades of EAI interplay on Touching, while neatly avoiding predictability. Don’t expect anyone to “play a song from our latest album” here.—Steve Smith
Interview with Lauren Worsham
Time Out New York, Feb. 21–27, 2013
An excruciatingly short snippet from a lengthy, wide-ranging and brilliantly fun conversation with Lauren Worsham (full name: Lauren Worsham Jarrow), who plays Flora in New York City Opera's stylishly spooky production of Benjamin Britten's opera The Turn of the Screw.
Worsham caught my eye and ear in Brooklyn Village, a wonderfully creative multimedia concert event staged by the Brooklyn Philharmonic at Roulette (reviewed here), then shook me to the core in a Peak Performances staging of David T. Little's opera Dog Days at Montclair State University (reviewed here).
Since both of those events made my list of Top 10 events for 2012 in Time Out, talking to Worsham about her City Opera assignment was a no-brainer. We covered her Texas roots, her training at Yale University, her early jobs, her relationship with opera and her flamboyantly stagey rock band, Sky-Pony, which she leads with her husband, theater composer Kyle Jarrow.
Someday, I'd love to get around to transcribing and posting the entire interview. Don't hold your breath right now, though. Instead, look out for Worsham as Guadalena and Manuelita in City Opera's production of Offenbach's La Perichole at City Center, April 21, 23, 25 and 27. And watch this video of Sky-Pony in action at Joe's Pub, then see the band's schedule for your next chance to witness it live… as of this writing, it's March 30 at Pianos on Ludlow Street.
Preview: Choi Joonyong and Hong Chulki at 155 Freeman
Time Out New York, Feb. 7–13, 2013
A succinct preview of a concert that Issue Project Room will present next Monday, February 11, at 155 Freeman in Greenpoint, featuring two of the principal figures in Seoul's growing, thriving electro-acoustic improv and noise community.
The following is a Top Live Shows preview I wrote for the current issue (Nov. 1–7) of Time Out New York. The concert in question has been postponed indefinitely due to storm- and transit-related concerns, so I'll just post it here for the time being.
Aaron Dilloway/Jason LescalleetBobby Redd Project Space; Sat 3
When arts journalism is your bag, quoting other critics is a weak way to make your case. Then again, it’s hard to resist repeating what the redoubtable Bill Meyer wrote in his Dusted review of Grapes and Snakes, the new LP by avant-garde provocateurs Aaron Dilloway and Jason Lescalleet: “If used stereo components could scuttle under a table and hide, you’d see a lot of emptied shelves whenever either of these men walks towards the back of the Goodwill store.” His point is well-taken: For anyone put off by one too many gigs featuring inscrutable laptoppers who could be checking their e-mail onstage, know that Dilloway (ex–Wolf Eyes) and Lescalleet are supremely physical sound-surfers whose electric-junk performances partake of punk-rock aggression and guerilla-theater chaos.
Supremely well documented by the German label PAN, Grapes and Snakes is a tactile tour de force. Burbling analog synths get manhandled, magnetic tape gets stretched and, at one point, Godzilla gets strafed by flying saucers, or so it seems. The pair come to the collaboration in prime form, each having released an aesthetic-expanding, critic-wowing double album (Dilloway’s Modern Jester, Lescalleet’s Songs About Nothing) destined to be cited among the year’s top releases. In this rare Brooklyn outing, for which presenters promise ultra-high-fidelity sound, each will have a solo set before the inevitable clash of the titans.—Steve Smith
Nov. 4 addendum: Erstwhile Records proprietor Jon Abbey indicates that this show might arrive belatedly in January, date and location to be determined. Stay tuned.
Live preview: 2NE1
Prudential Center; Aug 17
Time Out New York, Aug 16–22
How and when South Korea’s pop-music industry began to insinuate itself in the U.S. isn’t altogether clear, but mounting evidence indicates that K-pop, a polyglot sound purveyed by a swelling stream of slick, energetic boy bands and girl groups developed by entertainment megacorps like S.M. and YG, has established a beachhead here.
Small wonder: These fresh-faced performers and their sticky-sweet sounds are as addictive as Pop Rocks, and the choreography, costuming, video and stagecraft involved in their packaging beat most anything going. SMTown Live, a showcase of top acts like Super Junior, Girls’ Generation and SHINee, not only sold out Madison Square Garden last October, but matched and even surpassed Justin Bieber’s most recent Garden extravaganza for sheer dazzle and preteen decibels. Now, American kingpins like Kanye West and Teddy Riley are working with K-pop acts, and Girls’ Generation strutted on Letterman in April.
All of which sets the stage for the arrival of 2NE1, alternately pronounced “to anyone” and “twenty-one” (the latter prompting fans to dub themselves “Blackjacks”). A YG-groomed girl group crowned 2011’s “Best New Band in the World” by viewers of global-pop showcase MTV Iggy, 2NE1 stirs hip-hop and dancehall sounds into its spotless dance pop; singers CL, Bom, Dara and Mimzy drop English choruses and asides among Korean verses, but their attitude needs no translation. Blackjack, 2NE1’s Will.i.am-helmed English-language debut, has yet to arrive, but last year’s 2nd Mini Album includes six of the group’s strongest cuts. Listen to inspirational thumper “I Am the Best,” and you too might be chanting “naega jeil jal naga” with the diehard Blackjacks in Newark.—Steve Smith
The preceding ran in the issue of Time Out New York currently on newsstands, previewing a concert held last Friday at the Prudential Center in Newark. Jon Caramanica's review of that show is in The New York Times today, online here. Phil Freeman also reviewed the show, producing an epic post for MSN Entertainment.
Album review: Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles: Diamonds in the Dark
Sugar Hill Records, 2007
Time Out New York, June 7–13, 2007
Five stars (out of five)
Had Boston-based singer Sarah Borges come along in the mid-1960s, she surely would have been roped into the Capitol stable alongside like-minded mavericks such as Wanda Jackson, Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. Ten years later, she might have been part of the Stiff cartel; in the ’80s, Slash and Twin/Tone would have fought over her. That Borges’s second album, Diamonds in the Dark, has just been issued by Sugar Hill only furthers the argument that roots music is the new punk.
Blessed with brassy pipes and charisma aplenty, Borges is irresistible in “The Day We Met,” a jangly ode to new love that could easily be one of the summer’s top singles. But she’s just as capable of selling a line like “I’m always the girl that they dance with / But I’m never the one that they want to take home,” the tear-soaked refrain in “Belle of the Bar.” Borges surrounds her catchy original tunes with shrewdly chosen covers associated with Dolly Parton (“False Eyelashes”), X (“Come Back to Me”) and George Cartwright (“Stop and Think It Over”).
Guitarist Mike Castellana provides spit-shined twang and broken-hearted steel, while bassist Binky and drummer Rob Dulaney lay down whip-crack beats and lazy shuffles. Producer Paul Q. Kolderie, a veteran of sessions with the Pixies, Radiohead and Uncle Tupelo, adds atmospheric touches here and there but mostly adheres to a useful old maxim: Less is more.
When I first announced some months ago—optimistically, go figure—that I intended to start archiving some of my older pieces here with the collective tag My Back Pages, what I had in mind was a specific Anthony Braxton concert review from last year that appeared in The Wire. Obviously that effort got derailed, though the notion is still very much alive. But when I came upon this choice old CD review this evening on the Time Out New York website, where older pieces disappear without a trace all too often, thanks to multiple migrations, I decided to grab it right away and stick it here for safe keeping.
So now, when I least expected it, My Back Pages has become a real thing, which is nice. Also, I reviewed a show by Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles at Joe's Pub shortly after this CD review ran; it appeared both on this blog and on Time Out's defunct music blog, The Volume, where you can still find it here. Borges is currently raising funds to do a solo album, which I did not know until just this very minute, and just a little over a year ago released a live set, Live Singles, on the piquantly named label Suck a Bag of Discs. I just bought it on iTunes, and you can, too. Or, at the very least, you can give it a listen on Spotify.