Streets of Your Town: Live shows in New York, featuring TORRES, Kurt Vile, Patti Smith, Tune-Yards
You don't need to listen closely to the lyrics to get a clear sense of the emotional mood that pervades the debut from Mackenzie Scott, who records as TORRES (Feb. 22, Cake Shop; Feb. 24, Paper Box). Just listen to the way it sounds.
There's Scott's electric guitar – bare, untreated, spiraling like a solitary metal ballerina atop an ancient music box – and there's Scott's voice, a worn, pleading alto that conveys hurt and resentment and longing with each gasped syllable. The net effect is wrenching, like eavesdropping on a downstairs neighbor as she pours her heart out over the phone in the small hours of the morning.
As it turns out, the sparseness isn't deliberate but accidental – the album was recorded with room mics in Scott's home in five short days after her family gave her the guitar she plays on it as a Christmas gift. Lyrically, the album is just as spare and just as crushing. "This cannot happen again," she pleads in the opening moments of "Honey," "twice in a year's too much."
From there, she lays out a narrative of emotional despair that's all the more devastating for its precision. "While you were ashing in your coffee, I was thinking about telling you what you'd done to me," she seethes in the song's most damning line. Scott's songs depict the kind of cruel, quiet heartbreak that set in daily and kill slowly and quietly.
Aly Spaltro, better known as Lady Lamb the Beekeeper (Feb. 23, Knitting Factory), is also a skilled storyteller. Unlike Scott, the songs on her debut, Ripley Pine, are rich and expansive, bursting with brass and buoyed by rollicking back porch country rhythms. Where Scott exposes romantic disappointment with minimalism, Solange (Feb. 20, Webster Hall) conceals it in lush, bubbling productions. Her latest album, True, radiated the thump and glide of '80s R&B, Solange's slippery voice wriggling through the sluices between the drums. My Midnight Heart (Feb. 20, Glasslands), the musical guise of Angelica Allen, is more mysterious. The music is languid and foamy, Allen's voice a spirit gliding over the waters. Heaven's Gate (Feb. 18, Brooklyn Bowl) are grimmer and darker, great swipes of guitar cutting into Jess Pap's sirenlike voice.
Like TORRES, there's an intimacy to the music of Kurt Vile (Feb. 23, Kimmel Center at NYU). His stunning last record, Smoke Ring for My Halo, felt like an old sailor's journal set to music. Vile's voice – a lazy, drawn-out wheeze – sang out songs of romantic longing, endless, troubled journeys and strange visions, and the music, an obtuse take on folk and classic rock , felt like a peyote-gobbling trip through Neil Young or Bob Dylan's catalog.
But even at its most lyrically obtuse, there was a peculiar, irresistible beauty to the music. Vile's conversational approach to singing – and his tendency to emphasize unlikely syllables - made each line feel strange and surprising, and the music had an almost subliminal melodicism: it took a few listens for the hooks to take hold, but when they did, they became irresistible. Vile is a ragamuffin romantic, a scruffed-up streetcorner singer with a warm, oversized heart.
There's some of that same weathered beauty in the music of the Portalnd group Porches (Feb. 23, Shea Stadium). Like Vile, they work from a base of folk music and classic rock but, also like Vile, they refract it so violently that only traces of it remain. "Daddies," from their last album, Smoke and Love Songs Revisited, is a perfect example. The guitar turns a lazy curlicue, but the lyrics, which arrive slow and measured, tell of late-night drug use and pining for lost friends.
The Australian group Tame Impala (Feb. 19, Terminal 5) also dismantles familiar pop forms, but their choice base material is '60s psych pop. The resulting music is woozier and more kaleidoscopic, full of blown-out guitars, clanging pianos and distant vocals.
Acid Baby Jesus (Feb. 22, The Bell House; Feb. 23, Cake Shop) take that same fondness for psychedelia to noisier extremes. The Greek group's outstanding debut, LP, treats garage rock like an acid blotter, letting its edges bloat, distort, buckle and go neon.
EULA (Feb. 21, Death By Audio) have no patience for such niceties. The Brooklyn group gets more startling and more ferocious with each new effort. Their latest single, "I Collapse," is their strongest yet, a bit of minimalist post-punk that lurches like a wagon with a square wheel before detonating in a blinding flash of dissonant guitar.
Dissonance has been the motto of the Norwegian band Enslaved (Feb. 22, Bowery Ballroom) for the last 22 years. After a career characterized by scorching black metal, they expanded on last year's RIITIIR, working in open-ended art metal structures, cascading keyboards and operatic vocals.
They are joined by the Arkansas band Pallbearer, whose gorgeous 2012 album Sorrow and Extinction made doom metal feel emotive and elegiac, and Royal Thunder, whose feral update on '70s hard rock was one of last year's most thrilling surprises.
Things will be quieter at the 23rd Annual Tibet House Benefit (Feb 23, Carnegie Hall), a concert to raise money for the non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of Tibetan culture. Tibet House was founded at the request of the Dalai Lama in 1987, and has since become a quietly dependable source of art exhibitions and lectures.
The concert, curated by Philip Glass, has rounded up a typically eclectic lineup: though Jim James and Patti Smith both offer a reliable – if slightly iconoclastic – takes on roots rock, the bill is rounded out by weirdo crayon-pop innovator Ariel Pink, the ecstatic, yelping music of Tune-Yards and betboxer/rapper Rahzel.
Other notable Tibet enthusiasts include the director David Lynch, who not only made an obsession with Tibetan culture a notable character detail for Twin Peaks' Special Agent Dale Cooper, but who had himself traveled to the region numerous times. He's curating a night of his own, simply entitled: David Lynch Presents Chrysta Bell & Special Guests (Feb. 22, Le Poisson Rouge). Though Lynch himself will not be performing, Bell – whose smoky delivery hypnotic presence was featured in the deeply unsettling Inland Empire – is sure to embody his knack for making the familiar feel strange.
Atlas Moth (Feb. 18, Music Hall of Williamsburg) also spike familiar music with a bit of the surreal – their take on doom metal is churning and psychedelic, working strange textures into thundering sound.