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 is our weekly round-up of live music performances this week in New York City.
If you came across "Swimming Pools (Drank)," the breakthrough single from the Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar's (Feb 26, Roseland) stunning debut full-length good kid, M.A.A.D. city, on hip-hop radio at any point over the course of the last year, initially you might have been hard pressed to spot anything unusual about it.
A woozy, menacing number with a time-bomb beat, the song is built around what appears to be a refrain that exults in indulgence: "You get a swimming pool full of liquor, then you dive in it / a pool full of liquor, then you dive in it." This, of course, is a ruse. Listen to the song in its rightful place, near the end of good kid, and it's not a song of victory, but one of defeat.
Lamar spends the bulk of the album – which presents a single, cohesive narrative – torn between the devil on one shoulder and the angel (represented on the album by the voice of his mother of the telephone) on the other. "Swimming Pools" is the point when he allows himself to be deluded by the dream, drowning himself in liquor.
That kind of canniness characterizes the entirety of good kid, a densely-layered, conceptually ambitious story of redemption that grows deeper and more nuanced with each listen.
If Kendrick's great skill is constructing long-form storylines, Ab-Soul (Feb. 27, S.O.B.s) excels at the quick payoff. Like Lamar, Ab-Soul is a member of the California hip-hop group Black Hippy, and like Lamar, he is a crafty, precise lyricist, with a particular knack for vivid imagery.
The recently-reunited punk band Desaparecidos (Feb. 26, Webster Hall) also employ razor-sharp lyrics, usually documenting political and social ills and voiced – frantically, raggedly - by Conor Oberst, who formerly fronted the venerated folk-rock outfit Bright Eyes.
Ari Hoenig's (Feb. 25, Small's Jazz) music is just as frenzied; the jazz drummer employs a busy, intense playing style, creating a scurrying base for his spiraling post-bop. Ravi Coltrane's (Feb. 27, Jazz Standard) music is just as energetic and even more obtuse, spirals of sax coiled around collapsing percussion.
The spirit of improvisation also informs Chelsea Light Moving, (Mar. 2, Maxwell's) the new band headed by Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore. The group's songs swing from tense and coiled to slow and sludgy, the one constant being Moore's trademark detached delivery.
Chat Logs (Feb. 26, 285 Kent) also skew experimental. The group's sonic palette is broad enough to contain soothing sound collages, deep drones and hammering, blown-speaker punk rock. Dead Leaf Echo (Feb. 27, Mercury Lounge) use grand sound to softer effect. Their songs lap slowly like cold waves on an empty beach, glistening guitars washing over dreamlike vocals.
Samantha Crain (Feb. 28, Music Hall of Williamsburg) also has a knack for evocative lyrics, but where Lamar is more interested in narrative storytelling, Crain favors vivid but opaque imagery. The songs on her engrossing new record Kid Face play out like impressionist paintings – there are hints of shapes and textures, but the full picture remains tantatlizingly out of view. It’s the perfect complement to her music, which is warm and rich and oaky – folk music served with alarming grace and lithe, snaking melodies. "Taught to Lie" creeps and stalks like a late-night prowler, with a loping bass line and taut, sinister strumming. The title track is surging and defiant, Crain's voice cresting and crashing like ocean waves late at night. It's a confident, assured work, one that establishes Crain as a mature voice with a clear sense of her future.
There's a similar confidence informing Anxiety, the new record by Arthur Ashin, who records as Autre Ne Veut. (Feb. 27, Santos Party House). Where Crain works within richly-dappled folk music, Ashin prefers R&B, which he bends and refracts and infuses with strange, iridescent colors. Ashin belongs to a group of musicians – How to Dress Well is another – aiming to recontextualize R&B's slippery phrasings within music more directly informed by ambient music and – to a much lesser extent – indie rock. The songs on Anxiety are richer than those on his debut; the spectacular first single "Counting" seems to imagine what might happen if Terence Trent D'Arby suddenly re-emerged and made a record informed by the likes of Purity Ring and Nite Jewel. It walks the line between confidence and longing, equally convincing at both.