10:54 am Jul. 9, 2012
Being difficult comes easy to Dirty Projectors (Jul. 10, Prospect Park Bandshell). Their 2009 breakthrough Bitte Orca was crammed with corkscrewing vocals, bubbling, lab-beaker bass and spindles of guitar that bent and jabbed like acute angles. It was a fascinating, flummoxing package, sounding at times as if each of the band members were playing wholly separate songs that would coalesce at odd intervals for moments of striking beauty. So it was significant that the first single from their new record, "Gun Has No Trigger," seemed to signal an about-face. A gently gliding number powered by a rattling hip-hop backbeat and barely-there bassline, the song is most remarkable because it feels like the band members, led by frontman Dave Longstreth, are all following the same co-ordinates, rather than darting out in their own distinct directions. It seemed to telegraph that the album it was taken from, Swing Lo Magellan, would present a more restrained, easily digestible Dirty Projectors. That, as it turned out, was a ruse. The band's sixth studio album is just as obstinate as its predecessors, full of the same jackknifing melodies and crazy-quilt arrangements. What's different, though—and what "Gun Has No Trigger" perfectly prophesied—was a newfound sense of warmth. Longstreth's voice seems to act as a guide through his weird world, rather than as simply another odd element within it. It's confident and comforting—a cookie trail lovingly laid through a strange, enchanted forest. There's an otherworldliness to the music of opening act Purity Ring as well, with Megan James' cooing voice soaring through stuttering outer-space electronics. Baltimore's Future Islands (Jul. 11, Death By Audio) feel even stranger, vocalist Samuel Herring's brusque croak scraping like grains of sand in the band's smooth sheets of synth. Tycho (Jul. 14, Webster Hall) dispenses with vocals entirely, letting tiny keyboards glisten like raindrops on blades of grass. Xenia Rubinos (Jul. 13, Cameo) is closer to the Dirty Projectors' experimental spirit—her songs have a similarly cut-up aesthetic and her spiraling alto could shadowbox Longstreth's any day. Dirty Projectors may be the latest practitioners, but NRBQ (Jul. 11, Iridium Jazz Club) were one of the first bands to fuse rock with jazz, though their resulting boogie-fied albums were decidedly more accessible.
The sense of adventure exuded by Black Lips (Jul. 14, Beekman Beer Garden) often extends past their records and into the real world. Their notoriously chaotic live shows have earned them fanatic devotion and passionate revulsion in equal measure. Their antics reached a peak in 2009, when police forced them out of India after guitarist Cole Alexander stripped onstage and began making out with his bandmates. The downside to that kind of hijinks is that they tend to distract from the band's music, which has been growing more focused and more rewarding since their rollicking, reverb-soaked 2003 debut. Last year's Arabia Mountain, mostly produced by Amy Winehouse collaborator Mark Ronson, managed to spit-shine their booming garage rock without softening its smartass sneer. "Time" rattles and sparkles like the Byrds covering The 13th Floor Elevators, layers of twinkling guitar wrapped around pitch-black low-end churn; another standout, "Mr. Driver," twitches and buzzes like a mad scientist's Tesla coil. It's potent proof that growing up does not have to mean settling down. George Clinton & Parliament (Jul. 12, Rockefeller Park) are also known for raucous stage shows, though theirs aren't quite so dangerous. Even this many years into their career, Clinton's collective still delivers an unhinged, multicolored carnival.The same goes for Dan Deacon (Jul. 12, Pier 84), whose rubbery dance music translates perfectly to the live setting. El-P and Killer Mike (Jul. 12, Irving Plaza) deliver a darker dance party—theirs is hip-hop for a crumbling, post-apocalyptic dystopia. Cosmetics (Jul. 10, Glasslands) prefer the spookier side of darkness, writing shivering synth-pop songs that sound dialed in from some ghoulish disco.
Black Lips may capture youthful exuberance, but Buddy Guy (Jul. 11, World Financial Center) offers ample proof that one does not always have to slow down as they age. “I know everything that a good woman needs,” he sings slyly on his 2012 Grammy-winning album Living Proof, and then elaborates: “I show 'em respect and I treat 'em right/ and they all keep coming back night after night.” Guy could just as well be talking about his audience. Though he's one of the last living members of the original Chicago Blues scene, Guy has deftly sidestepped the kind of musty “curatorial appreciation” that is typically afforded to players of his age. Instead, he typically shares the stage with former fans—among them, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck—and this past February he performed for the President and First Lady. And while his just-released memoir When I Left Home does not gloss over his difficult early years, hungry and poor on the streets of Chicago, his indomitable spirit helped him endure until overdue recognition arrived. As he put it in a recent interview with the Chicago Sun-Time: “The funny thing about the blues is you play 'em 'cause you got 'em, but when you play 'em, you lose 'em.” Hearing him play 'em has roughly the same effect. Some legends don't get the privilege of seeing history vindicate them. The Bowery Electric will mark what would have been punk guitarist Johnny Thunders' 60th birthday with the Johnny Thunders Birthday Bash (Jul. 15, Bowery Electric), with perofrmances by artists who share Thunders' rough-and-tumble spirit. Portland band Guantanamo Baywatch (Jul. 11, Cake Shop) exists in some odd middle ground between Guy and Thunders, and also delivers roaring songs on the back of razor-wire guitar leads with raucous punk rock attitude. And the unusually-named It Is Rain In My Face (Jul. 9, Cameo Gallery) funnels his blues through a campfire acoustic strum he swaddles in reverb, singing his sorrow in an elegant falsetto.
The blues runs through the music of Charles Bradley and Neko Case (Jul. 12, World Financial Center), too, but it finds distinctly different outlets in both. Bradley's blues feel raw and urgent—dark headlines howled in by a prophet as he watches the apocalypse. On his stunning debut, No Time For Dreaming, he belted out his fears over gospel organs and 400-degree horns. Spiritually it's closest to Sly & the Family Stone's dark masterpiece There's a Riot Goin' On, but sonically it recalls the sweltering funk of James Brown's In the Jungle Groove—a comparison that becomes even clearer during his raucous and stunningly physical live shows. (Bradley in fact used to perform a James Brown revue; read more on him in a Capital New York profile here.) Case also has a way with sad songs, but hers often feel more like expertly crafted stories than true confessions. Though she began her career on the periphery of the alt-country movement, her later records have all the soft light and mystery of '50s singers like Peggy Lee and Julie London. Her piercing, red-orange voice is one of the world's great wonders; it's perfectly suited to singing heartache, and she does so with the perfect mix of candor and dry wit. "The next time you say 'forever,' I will punch you in your face," she snaps at an errant lover, before following with the revealing confession, "Just because you don't believe it doesn't mean I didn't mean it." In Case's world, strength and weakness are separated by mere molecules. The music of Nick Waterhouse (Jul. 15, Maxwell's) also recalls a bygone era—his freewheeling delivery is in the direct lineage of booming, crooning singers like Little Willie John and Jonny Ace. Nouvellas (Jul. 12, Union Pool) are just as electric, having all the grit and swivel of classic Aretha Franklin. And Sarah Jaffe (Jul. 15, Music Hall of Williamsburg) applies that same smoky croon to twitching, dexterous art-pop, displaying the same ear for complicated arrangements as Annie Clark (St. Vincent) or prime Peter Gabriel.
More by this author:
- Streets of Your Town: This week's live shows in New York, featuring Kendrick Lamar, Thurston Moore, Ravi Coltrane and more
- Streets of Your Town: Live shows in New York, featuring TORRES, Kurt Vile, Patti Smith, Tune-Yards