Streets of Your Town: this week's concerts, with Yo La Tengo's Hanukkah, Cannibal Ox, Miguel, and more
It seems safe, at this stage of the game, to add to the long list of Reliable Signs of the Season the sight of Georgia Hubley, Ira Kaplan, and James McNew—collectively known as Yo La Tengo (Dec. 12–18, Maxwell's)—gathered onstage at Maxwell's in New Jersey. The indie rock trio has been performing during the eight nights of Hanukkah for the past 11 years, and their shows collectively capture both the good cheer and familial warmth that has come to be associated with the holiday season. By now, the trademarks are well-known to anyone with even a passing interest in the band: there are special guests and surprise last-minute openers, more often than not of the marquee variety (in 2011, Jon Spencer's first band, Pussy Galore, reunited for one night only). This year, they've got something else to celebrate: in January, the band will release their 13th album Fade, which is by turns toothier and more ornate than they've been in recent years, while keeping an emphasis on their knack for gentle, pulsing melodies. The Utah band Desert Noises (Dec. 3, Rock Shop) are more luxurious, leaning heavily on warm, quilted vocal harmonies that recall Fleet Foxes. The warmth in Japandroids' (Dec. 4–5, Webster Hall) songs typically bubbles over into full-blown ecstasy. The group's aptly-titled album Celebration Rock offers a blast of giddy shout-along punk songs that celebrate youth both literal and spiritual. There's a spirit of celebration in the best Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Dec. 8, Union Pool) songs, too, and this week they'll be putting that euphoria in the service of a good cause: this show in the impossibly-small Union Pool is a benefit for victims of Hurricane Sandy. Things are darker and greasier with the band currently billing itself Royal Trux. (Dec. 8, St. Vitus) A band by the same name existed for the better part of the '90s and was founded by Neil Michael Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema. That band (which grew out of aforementioned Pussy Galore) released the garrulous, atonal Twin Infinitives in 1990. This Royal Trux, consisting of Hagerty and a crew of younger musicians, will perform Infinitives in its entirety, adding new layers to its oceans of murk.
"Oceans of murk" would be an adequate description for The Cold Vein, the still-stunning 2001 debut album from the hip-hop duo Cannibal Ox (Dec. 9, Knitting Factory). For months, it was more talked-about than heard; the first release on then-fledgling underground label Definitive Jux (which would go on to launch the careers of Aesop Rock and its founder, El-P) The Cold Vein seemed perennially bound up in red tape and mysterious complications. When it was finally released, its mystique only increased. Boasting dense, menacing production, the album perfectly embodied the feeling of doom and paranoia that had arrived with the turn of the millennium. It felt like a long journey through a series of pitch-black subterranean tunnels, walloping rhythms ping-ponging off dank walls, the edgy delivery of M.C.s Vast Aire and Vordul Mega adding to the sense of dread and anxiety. With such a heavy, game-changing document to their name, the group did what many in such situations do: they broke up. While both M.C.s went on to record solo albums, reunions have been few and far between. Yet amid the crumbling economy and the fractious state of global affairs, the time seems ripe; the chilling prophecies on their debut feel more relevant than ever. Mark Eitzel's (Dec. 3, Highline Ballroom) songs are more concerned with emotional darkness; since 1980, he's applied his aged-in-oak voice to songs of heartbreak and disappointment. The turbulence in Caspian (Dec. 9, Bowery Ballroom) songs is musical. The group constructs expansive, meticulously-plotted songs that roam for as much as 10 minutes at a time, moving from soothing beginnings to volcanic crescendos. Black Moth Super Rainbow (Dec. 5, Glasslands) pack as much volatility into smaller packages, inventing a synth-based take on psych rock that's miragelike and surreal. Selma Oxor (Dec. 3, Glasslands) has taken a page from their instruction book. Her songs are also built on blocky layers of synths and focus on her weird, witchy vocals. The Coup (Dec. 6, Bowery Ballroom) strike with greater force. The politically-minded hip-hop group fuse rock with funk to build a dark backdrop for Boots Riley's dart-sharp rhymes.
Where the Coup is concerned with matters of the mind, singer Miguel (Dec. 5, The Theatre at Madison Square Garden) is focused on matters of the heart. His debut album Kaleidoscope Dream is astonishingly assured. The minimal production on lead single, "Adorn," recalls Marvin Gaye's late-career masterpiece "Sexual Healing," and Miguel's approach to singing employs a similar restraint. Where many of his peers attempt to sell emotion through vocal histrionics, Miguel's singing is as smooth and soothing as a late-night whisper. The title track could have been lifted off of D'Angelo's masterpiece Voodoo: consisting of just a simple harrumph of bass and little else, it provides a wide open space for Miguel to pirouette elegantly, his voice refracting like the toy that gives the song its name. It's a very promising debut, rich with nuance and depth. If Miguel has a forerunner, it's Ne-Yo (Dec. 6, Webster Hall), who re-introduced the auteur element to r&b with his 2006 debut, In My Own Words, and has managed to gracefully mature with each subsequent record. Autre Ne Veut (Dec. 7, 285 Kent) certainly takes cues from both Ne-Yo and Miguel. The Brooklyn singer's next album, Anxiety, may be coming out on the indie dance label Software, but its author is clearly a soul fan at heart. And though she's been associated with the alt-country movement in the past, on her new record (cheekily titled I Like to Keep Myself in Pain), Kelly Hogan (Dec. 5, Mercury Lounge) edges closer to the smooth sound of classic soul.