11:57 am Jun. 18, 2012
In recent years, it could be argued that Metallica's relentless eclecticism has been their downfall. This feels somewhat cruel to say. Heavy metal is a genre that can at times be preposterously dogmatic, and the natural impulse is to praise any band—particularly one as revered and pioneering as Metallica—that dares defy its Code of Conduct with a bit of arty impulsiveness. The trouble is, Metallica's impulses haven't always been the right ones (and you can cue up any section of last year's brain-breaking collaboration with Lou Reed at random for proof). So be thankful, then for Orion Music + More (June 23 & 24, Bader Field, N.J.), where the group's adventurousness finds a more productive output. Curated by the band, the two-day event isn’t wanting for metal—the chilling, Satanic Ghost, art-metallers Baroness, and too-fast-too-furious Liturgy all will make appearances. But they're counterbalanced by the sunny California pop of Best Coast, Gary Clark Jr.'s blistering blues, Eric Church's rollicking country, and psych-folk mystic Roky Erickson. And lest they feel neglected, there's even a little something for the purists: Metallica will close both nights by running through a classic album in its entirety. On Saturday, they'll be performing 1984's Ride the Lightning, and on Sunday, their eponymous 1991 album, commonly referred to as "the Black album." Whether or not they will be joined onstage by Terry Riley or members of Arcade Fire remains to be seen. Metallica's isn't the only festival happening this week: The Governor's Ball (June 23 & 24, Randall's Island) caters to more conservative tastes, bringing Beck, Modest Mouse, Fiona Apple and Passion Pit (who are gearing up to release their second record later this month) to town. Though not exactly a festival, the pairing of Das Racist and the incorrigible, food-obsessed M.C. Action Bronson (June 19, Red Hook Park)—filling in for the originally-announced AraabMUZIK—is certain to be one of the more festive shows of the week.
Like Metallica, Liars (June 20, Webster Hall) also have an experimental streak, but it typically yields more satisfying results. It's impossible to recall 12 years into their career, but the group were once mentioned in the same breath as bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Rapture, and !!!, thanks mostly to the jittery, zeitgeisty dance-punk of their 2001 debut. They scrapped that approach shortly after, though, diving headfirst into aggressive drones on 2003's wrongly-derided They Were Wrong So We Drowned and then into thumping, tribal songs on Drums Not Dead. This year they released WIXIW, which is their most approachable album in years. Its songs are wrapped in filmy, rainbow-colored bands of electronics, and frontman Angus Andrew murmurs and croons more often than he yelps. It's not without a sense of menace—the flashes of minor-key synths in "Octagon" feel like the strobe lights in a David Lynch movie—it's just that the group offers more opportunities for listeners to get their bearings and catch their breath. The slow-building (and cheekily-titled) "His and Mine Sensations" gathers steam slowly, its slow bass throb steadily accumulating layers of foamy synths, like it's the gyrating spindle in some sonic cotton-candy machine. That they can maintain such an air of mystery, while tiptoeing back toward something like accessible songwriting, may be their boldest experiment yet. Speaking of the Rapture (June 20, House of Vans), they too have changed significantly since their rubberband-bassline beginnings, losing principle member Matty Safer and edging their sound toward gospel house. The Swedish duo Icona Pop (June 22, Glasslands) don't bother with nuance—their songs are shout-alongs with walloping rhythms and neon-colored keyboards. They're the exact antithesis of Ministry (June 23, Best Buy Theater), who are back after a brief retirement with more grim, grinding industrial music.
Hilary Hahn & Hauschka (June 20, City Winery) also exist in a middle ground somewhere between the sinister and the soothing. The two have been garnering acclaim individually for years, Hahn as a young violin prodigy given to gripping, emotional interpretations of Bach and Tchaikovsky, and Haushcka—or Volker Bertelmann as he is known to his parents—as a purveyor of prepared piano. On their first collaboration, the quiet, spellbinding Silfra, they meet in the middle. Recorded in Iceland and largely the product of improvisation rather than composition, Silfra at times feels like the score to some strange Scandinavian folk tale, the kind inhabited by withered, mystic old peasant women, strange fog, and ominous omens. Hahn and Hauschka complement each other perfectly; sometimes, his piano builds slow as a snow bank and Hahn's violin—often jagged and rude—saws across the top; other numbers they attack in tandem, firing of a barrage of taut, hammering staccato notes. The resulting album creates a cycle of calmness and unsteadiness that repeats endlessly—like a folk tale handed down across generations. Terence Blanchard (June 20–24, Jazz Standard) is just as evocative. Known equally for his noirish hard bop as his scores for films like Malcolm X and Inside Man, his music is both as sleek and as somber as a detective out of a Walter Mosley novel. Piano legend McCoy Tyner (June 21–23, Blue Note) adds a bright sheen to the bounding bop formula, his playing loose and ambling and sunny. The music of Bowerbirds and Basia Bulat (both June 23, Music Hall of Williamsburg) is bright, too, the former favoring richly-ornamented folk music, the latter dressing up a dry acoustic strum with her lovely, fluttering alto. Kristian Matsson, the Tallest Man on Earth (June 19–20, Town Hall) used to keep his music that simple, but on There's No Leaving Now he sets his ragged, Dylan-style rasp in a warm bed of organ, piano, harp and guitar.
The Tallest Man on Earth may have Dylan's delivery down, but Dan Bejar of Destroyer (June 18, Brooklyn Masonic Temple) captures his essence. Since 1996, Bejar has been turning out peculiar, riveting records that flit across the stylistic spectrum—one year, it's ragged classic rock, the next it's all-synth magical fantasy music; on last year's sumptuous Kaputt, he dabbled in soft rock, threading moody saxophone lines through gauzy synths. The one consistent element—and the other way in which Destroyer recalls Dylan—is Bejar's gift for hyper-literate, occasionally loopy lyrics that wrap pointed social commentary in wry, sarcastic punchlines. This formula hit its apotheosis on 2006's Destroyer's Rubies, a pithy quasi-concept album that cast a jaundiced eye toward the American indie rock underground and surrounded it with music that recalled a sloppier take on the Band and early Neil Young. On Kaputt he's adjusted his subject matter to suit the music's cool, mid-'80s sheen, writing songs about late-night city streets and bungled encounters in run-down discos. He still finds time for the witty aside: "I sent a message in a bottle to the press/ It said ‘don't be ashamed or disgusted with yourself,'" he sings on "Blue Eyes." The man is nothing if not thoughtful. The California rapper Ab-Soul (June 21, S.O.B.'s), who's part of the Black Hippy crew with similarly-buzzy M.C.s Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q, is also a deft lyricist, cramming head-spinning internal rhymes into hazy, dreamy productions. In the early part of her career, Ani DiFranco's (June 19, Bowery Ballroom) clipped cadence had a lot in common with hip-hop. She's mellowed lately, preferring jazz and funk-informed folk music. Bonnie Raitt (June 19, Wellmont Theatre) has been mining that same territory since the early '70s. Her latest, Slipstream is her rawest and most engaging since her 1989 breakthrough Nick of Time. Aforementioned Roky Erickson (June 22, Maxwell's) takes folk music into the mystic, writing strange, vaguely psychedelic songs he delivers in a sandpaper bark. Nova Social (June 20, Joe's Pub) operate at the other end of the spectrum, closer to the music found on Destroyer's Kaputt. They pair glittery electropop with moody vocals and frontman David Nagler's coy, occasionally cutting lyrics.
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