10:59 am Oct. 1, 2012
If The Meters and Professor Longhair helped give the music of New Orleans swing and bounce, it was Allen Toussaint (Oct. 6, Capitol Theatre) who gave it heart and soul. He is an essential part of the DNA of the region's music, providing bright, skipping piano to countless albums as a teenager, and going on to pen a string of hits for other artists in the '60s—among them, "Lipstick Traces (On a Cigarette)" and "Land of 1,000 Dances." He flourished in the '70s, both in his contributions to records by artists like Dr. John, Paul Simon, and the Band, and also in his own solo work, where he partnered his slow-rolling funk with deeply-felt lyrics that treated both broken hearts and social unrest with the same level of palpable empathy. More than many of his peers, Toussaint was as concerned with the verses as the rhythm. "Victims of the Darkness," the opening track from 1972's Life, Love and Faith, rides a galumphing funk groove, but in Toussaint's measured croon is the clear trace of real worry: "Victims of the darkness," he laments, "what will they do?" In this way, his music has both the loose, joyous feel and the spiritual concerns of gospel—its revelry concealing a decidedly broken heart. For this appearance, he'll be paired with fellow Crescent City act Galactic, whose long history of improvisatory playing make them the perfect choice to flesh out Toussaint's moseying tempos. A few decades after Toussaint, RZA(Oct. 3, Music Hall of Williamsburg) alsomade a name for himself by conjuring a dense, swampy sound. The records he made with the Wu-Tang Clan sounded like they were built from scuffed thrift store soul 45s and, on the verses he saved for himself, his thick, sputtering flow sounds like a proclamation from a wild-eyed side-street fortune teller. The R&B singer Miguel (Oct. 1, Bowery Ballroom) has an eye on the past but, like RZA, he's most concerned with figuring out a way to make ghosts of the past float in contemporary settings. His forthcoming Kaleidoscope Dream is breathtaking, a combination of retro-futurist production topped with Miguel's gliding, Marvin Gaye-like voice. Nick Waterhouse (Oct. 6, Bowery Ballroom) and Holly Golightly (Oct. 6, Littlefield) pay the past more direct homage; Waterhouse cribs pristine late-'50s doo-wop and rock and roll for crisp, horn-rimmed rock songs while Golightly sticks with clanging, reverb-heavy '60s country and garage.
The music of the past hovers around the borders of Until the Quiet Comes, the radiant new record from Steven Ellison, who records as Flying Lotus (Oct. 7, Terminal 5). Where Miguel and RZA owe a clear debt to the soul music of years past, Ellison's roots are in jazz. It's no wonder: Ellison is the great-nephew of Alice Coltrane, who was both a jazz pianist in her own right as well as the wife of legendary saxophonist John Coltrane. Quiet often feels like a low-lit jazz club in some dark corner of a distant moon; liquid bass oozes through heartbeat rhythms; vibraphones sparkle like luminous Martian plants and voices drift and dissipate like thin red mist. The combined effect is distinctly interstellar, the soundtrack to a galactic Disneyland attraction of the late '60s. Like a theme park ride, there's a distinct sense of forward motion; songs don't end, they simply give way to new, dark caverns. One minute there's a piano fumbling its quiet way across an old standard while a crackling electronic sound floats by, the next the scenery shifts and things go subterranean, vocals echoing off cave walls and percussion dripping like water from stalactites. It's jazz written in a new language, one that drifts instead of scuttles. Ellison's cousin, Ravi Coltrane (Oct. 2–7, Jazz Standard), carries on the family name in a more traditional sense, but that doesn't mean his music doesn't challenge. The songs on the just-released Spirit Fiction tug and kick, Coltrane's saxophone tying loose knots between clattering percussion. Phil Gamble, also known as Girl Unit (Oct. 5, Glasslands) is similarly rambunctious. With fat synths and thumping drum machines, his nervous dance songs sound perfectly designed to score a party in the late '80s. Crystal Castles (Oct. 3, Roseland Ballroom) are darker and woozier, bringing the nighttime gloom of goth to synthpop. Cold Showers (Weds., Oct. 3, Home Sweet Home) round out their sallow neo-goth with searing electric guitars, making for music that's as invigorating as it is vaguely threatening.
Animal Collective (Oct. 5, Williamsburg Park) share Flying Lotus's experimental jones, but their palette isn't jazz, it's heaving psych. Merriweather Post Pavilion, their 2009 breakthrough, was full of whirling pinwheels of sound, layers of guitar, and electronics that floated by like neon ghosts while pleading vocals clawed their way upwards from behind. When they stumbled across a pop melody—as they did with the buoyant "My Girls"—it felt almost accidental. This year's Centipede Hz is more forthright. Its songs are more driving and percussive; "Today's Supernatural" is powered by locomotive percussion and spiraling, haunted castle organs and interrupted by rude outbursts of electric guitar. If past records felt vaguely spiritual, Centipede is more visceral, stomping where the band once pirouetted. Their live show is notoriously agnostic toward their catalog; the group constructs new pieces out of whole cloth, spurns their best-loved songs, and entertains the members' innate impulsiveness. It often feels as if they're writing new records on the fly, adventurous listening for anyone who dares to follow. They owe some of that impishness to Silver Apples (Oct. 4, Public Assembly), who made a string of similarly spaced-out, experimental electronic records in the late '60s. Django Django(Oct. 2, Bowery Ballroom) are calmer but no less layered. They fit folk structures with strange bands of sound to give them a surreal, dreamlike feel.
Heart (Oct. 3, Beacon Theatre), in the late '70s, were similarly mystical. Though their breakthrough Little Queen was anchored by the searing "Barracuda," it was rounded out by glassy-eyed folk songs that wouldn’t sound out of place as the soundtrack at a Renaissance Fair. They redirected quickly, making a name for themselves in the male-dominated hard rock scene with rugged songs centered on the piercing harmonies of Ann and Nancy Wilson. They excelled in the '80s, breaking and reshaping power ballads to give them an emotional ballast few of their peers could muster. Like many of their contemporaries, they struggled in the '90s, but they reunited in 2002 and the records they've made since then have returned the spotlight to their sturdy songcraft, while still offering up more than a few wild-eyed rock infernos. They're a testament to determination and clear vision. The Afghan Whigs (Oct. 5, Terminal 5; Oct. 6, Music Hall of Williamsburg) are also concerned with matters of the heart, but theirs is blacker and more dubious. They return for a final New York stand after a gripping show at All Tomorrow's Parties last weekend. Neil Halstead's (Oct. 5, Union Hall) approach may be quieter, but his songs are no less wrenching. Though he has turned the volume down considerably since his days fronting early-'90s shoegaze outfit Slowdive, his songs remain quietly crushing. So do Beth Orton's (Oct. 2, Music Hall of Williamsburg). Though her early work gained immediate buzz for blending folk music with electronic rhythms, she largely shed that method of songwriting over the ensuing years, choosing instead to focus on small, radiant songs that exude a quiet confidence.
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