10:38 am Jul. 16, 2012
For music listeners of a certain age, their first introduction to Dick Dale (July 21, Brooklyn Bowl) came via Pulp Fiction, where his classic "Misirlou" screams across the opening credits. It was an appropriate choice: there's a kind of grinning maliciousness to Dale's deep-set guitar lead that matches the mood of the film note-for-note. In fact, Dale has become so synonymous with "Misirlou" that it's easy to overlook the rest of his catalog. Do so at your own peril: Dale applies that same bared-teeth, drag-race aesthetic across the board; in "Night Rider," he plays motorcycle-and-sidecar with a wailing saxophone and in "The Victor" jitters and pops like a nervous assassin. Even his version of "Hava Nagila" sounds like it's out for blood. A bout with cancer briefly sidelined him during the latter part of the last decade, but his recent shows have been just as roaring as the ones he used to perform in the 1960s. In fact, an argument could be raised that Dale's careering tempos and the inherent sense of menace in his songs are the true progenitors of punk rock—not to mention certain corners of indie rock. In fact, the sparkling layers of guitar Dale gently scatters through "King of the Surf Guitar" feel in some ways like a blueprint for Best Coast (July 17, Terminal 5), whose gorgeous, beach-loving, Jon Brion-produced second record occupies the same territory as bands like the Go-Gos and the Bangles. Spooky Action at a Distance, the sophomore album from Lotus Plaza (July 18, Mercury Lounge), a side project of Deerhunter's Lockett Pundt, is also full of songs that glisten like wet stones on the seashore, and Clare & the Reasons (July 18, Le Poisson Rouge) are quieter still, preferring gingerly-ornamented chamber pop to ambling indie rock.
Jazz pianist Orrin Evans (July 17-19, Jazz Standard) has no use for that kind of restraint. On his 1998 breakthrough Captain Black, his piano runs dart manically from one end of the song to the next, creating frenzied sonic zig-zags between equally manic sax and the clattering, ecstatic drumming of Ralph Peterson. But where other practitioners of forward-thinking hard bop can sound starchy or studious, there's something distinctly freewheeling about Evans' music ("A lot of those guys ... gave too much of a fuck. I never did," he said of some of his contemporaries in an interview with All About Jazz last year). On 2010's Faith in Action, he seemed like a man of many temperaments—idling lazily one minute, leaping off in another direction the next. His temperament is much the same on this year's Flip the Script, jockeying between a clutch of covers—among them, a tender, almost elegiac read on Gamble & Huff's "The Sound of Philadelphia"—and originals that are busy without feeling hectic. The result is loose and invigorating—just the kind of album you'd expect a man with no patience for convention to make. As unlikely as it may seem, the Swedish hardcore band Refused (July 18, Williamsburg Park) also took notes from the jazz tradition, infusing their battering-ram sonics with whiplash time changes and unconventional song structures. Iceage (July 22, Le Poisson Rouge), from Denmark, prefer a slightly more conventional approach, infusing their ice-cold, jittery punk with dead-eyed nihilism. For the better part of their 15-year career, Death Cab for Cutie (July 19, Wellmont Theatre) have kept the hopelessness in the lyrics, merging deceptively bleak words with warm, gently-rustling arrangements.
Hot Chip (July 18, Prospect Park) operate at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum. Since the turn of this century, they've been crafting elegant, expertly-realized dance-pop and used it as a conduit for expressing clear-eyed expressions of love and hope and commitment. Their latest, In Our Heads, is their most carefree and immediately rewarding to date—which is saying something from a band that excels most at being both carefree and immediately rewarding. Alexis Taylor's breathy, supple tenor was designed for these kinds of declarations, and in songs like "Let Me Be Him," he sounds almost angelic, floating in the background over a calm sea of synths. That the song crests with an extended sample of children playing in a schoolyard is the perfect encapsulation of the song's effortless innocence. They're even more engaging at faster tempos: "How Do You Do?" feels like a disco-era Depeche Mode, and "Night and Day" bounces along on a pogo-stick synth line, some sort of day-glo proto-industrial floor-filler. It makes the perfect contrast for openers Gang Gang Dance, who prefer to keep things shadowy, tribal, and mysterious. The same goes for Chromatics (July 22, Music Hall of Williamsburg), whose riveting new record Kill For Love seems to exist behind a shimmering veil of electronic gauze. There's veils too in the songs of Lower Dens (July 19, Bowery Ballroom), whose vocalist Jana Hunter threads her bewitching alto through layers of smokelike guitars. And though their music is more aggressive, there's mystery in the tunes of Sleigh Bells (July 21, Hudson River Park Pier 63) and Modest Mouse (July 21, Wellmont Theatre). The former's cannon-fire live show—full of constantly detonating bass and guitars that splinter like shattered glass—conceals a shadowy center; the latter deliver tales of deformity and desperation in vocalist Isaac Brock's manic yelp.
As a member of A Tribe Called Quest, Q-Tip (July 20, Irving Plaza) existed somewhere between the poles of Orrin Evans and Hot Chip. The group's songs borrowed liberally from jazz—their breakthrough The Low End Theory even featured a song called "Jazz (We've Got)"—but it was reconfigured to make it even friendlier to the dancefloor. The anchor was Q-Tip's warm, sandy delivery, which rolled effortlessly across the thumping acoustic bass and crackling snares. He had a way of casting off complicated rhymes as if they were just occurring to him, working out tricky mid-sentence rhyme schemes that deftly shifted location from lyric to lyric. As is often the case with M.C.s who were part of superstar groups, his solo work is spottier, but still impressively characterized by a determination to do whatever he wants. Which results in both impressively knotty art-rap records like 2009's endlessly-delayed Kamaal/The Abstract and sleek pop-rap records like Amplified. The chief asset of both extremes is Tip himself, and his ability to charm with his guileless delivery remains undisturbed in any sonic scenario. Dean Wareham (July 20, Le Poisson Rouge) also knows the value of a soft word delivered sweetly. As the frontman of Galaxie 500, he suspended his trembling croon in spiderwebs of guitar. He'll be revisiting those songs at this intimate live date. Meatloaf (July 17, Wellmont Theatre) would scoff at such soft-spokenness. His barrel-chested belters are the very definition of high drama. It's a marvel there isn't yet a Broadway musical built around them. But in terms of sheer volume, Ian Fernow, who records as Prurient (July 21, St. Vitus), makes Meatloaf and Dean Wareham look like equals. His howling noise compositions are the equivalent of a cranial acid bath.
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