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February 2013

Deerhoof and Ensemble Dal Niente at the Ecstatic Music Festival

by Gabriel Furtado

Deerhoof and Ensemble Dal Niente performing Marcos Balter's Meltdown Upshot
Deerhoof and Ensemble Dal Niente performing Marcos Balter's Meltdown Upshot

Last Wednesday night Deerhoof and new-music group Ensemble Dal Niente came together for a concert at Merkin Hall as part of the third annual Ecstatic Music Festival, providing an example of the festival’s curatorial skill in fostering unique collaboration among forward-thinking artists from both classical and non-classical traditions.

With a program featuring the Brazilian-born composer Marcos Balter as prominently as the critical-darling rock quartet, the concert opened on an intimate note with Balter’s Wicker Park, a work for solo sax that, through extended technique, writhes and respires to great effect.   

Following Ear, Skin, and Bone Riddles, for soprano, violin, and cello, all of Ensemble Dal Niente’s members took the stage for Deerhoof Chamber Variations, a piece by Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier, which uses Deerhoof songs as base material. Lithe and mercurial, the piece bounced between vignettes that included the jagged-edged figures of math rock, Dadaist vocal passages, supple instrumental melodies, and, overall, a particularly keen use of texture and color.

The work was met with an enthusiastic reception by the audience, a few of whom, in earshot, pointed out Saunier’s classical training as the backbone of the piece’s success. (Saunier studied at Oberlin in the early '90s.) However, while Saunier’s classical background certainly bubbled to the surface, the work owes just as much to his DIY ethic and unabashed spirit of experimentation.

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Goodnight, Texas at Arlene's Grocery

Goodnight, Texas at Arlene's Grocery 2

by Laura Wasson

Last night I had the pleasure of catching Goodnight, Texas at the Lower East Side's Arlene’s Grocery. Named for the tiny town at the exact midpoint between their respective homes in San Francisco and North Carolina, Avi Vinocur and Patrick Dyer Wolf's American folk-revival band has been crisscrossing the country in support of their debut LP, A Long Life of Living. The evening proved a homecoming of sorts for Wolf, who spent a portion of his childhood in the Northeast, and suitably, the small space was packed to the gills with dear friends and ardent fans who relished every minute of the nearly hour-long set.

The boys began on a playful note, opening with a pseudo-warmup of "The Star Spangled Banner" that instantly put the crowd in high, participatory spirits before moving straight into "The Railroad" and "Meet Me by the Smokestack"—both rootsy, bluegrass-tinged songs that played to Vinocur and Wolf's strengths on guitar, banjo, and mandolin.

The group's sound is American in the strictest sense, with a heightened focus on the storytelling. Similar to The Band, Bob Dylan, and more recently The Raconteurs, Goodnight, Texas put a premium on thoughtful lyricism. Gone are the paeans to drunken nights with friends or slapdash love songs that seem to encompass every artist's oeuvre these days. Their work is much more considered and elegant, deftly weaving tales of angst, sorrow, and—yes—love that feel real and earnest.

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Ecstatic Music Festival with Daniel Wohl, Laurel Halo & Julia Holter

Ecstatic Music Festival, Transit, Daniel Wohl, Julia Holter, Laurel Halo

The third annual Ecstatic Music Festival is back in swing over at Merkin Concert Hall, with Judd Greenstein once again presenting collaborations between composers from the new-music world with musicians from the electronic and indie-pop ecosystem. It's an idea that, in the best sense, no longer feels radical or out-of-bounds, but a natural complement to our shuffle-mode sound world.

One of the composers who grabbed me by the throat during last year's EMF was Daniel Wohl, whose smoldering electroacoustic music combines field recordings and deep bass drones with shimmering strings and percussion. Last night, Wohl returned, collaborating with electro-indie stars-du-jour Laurel Halo and Julia Holter on a series of compositions and arrangements alongside Wohl's new music band, TRANSIT (David Friend, piano; Joe Bergen, percussion; Evelyn Farny, cello; Andie Springer, violin; and Sara Budde, clarinet).  

With Wohl seated next to Halo and Holter at a long table crammed with laptops, wires, and synths, the combined ensemble created a dark, haunting soundscape that was simultaneously soothing and sinister. Halo and Holter sang sporadically throughout, their transporting voices fuzzed out with an abundance of reverb. The music moved at a glacial pace, with recordings of voices and indeterminate machines contributing to the gnawing sense that we'd stumbled into someone else's disturbed dream. 

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Bodyparts, Thrillington, Marcos Napa & Jonathan Pfeffer at Secret Project Robot

by Craig Brinker

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Last night's show at Bushwick's Secret Project Robot was a typical Brooklyn lineup of atypical bands, featuring Afro-punk headliners Bodyparts celebrating the release of their newest LP, Sell by 2012, as well as indie-prog outfit Thrillington, Marcos Napa—an Afro-Peruvian percussionist—and Jonathan Pfeffer

Bodyparts perform short, spastic songs that display a child-like enthusiasm for making noise: play the guitar riffs of Paul Simon's Graceland at twice the original speed, add some synth bass, mix in the unbridled ferocity of punk music, and you have a close approximation of what Bodyparts sound like. Aimed at the audience of ADD-riddled tweeters, their songs are about the banalaties of life, encompassing knee-joint problems, credit-card statements, and spleens. Bodyparts is notoriously loud, hyperactive, and not for the faint of heart, but what they lack in subtlety, they make up for in consistent enthusiasm.

Thrillington successfully walks the tightrope between experimentation and old-fashioned pop sensibility. Performing their six-part suite, The 1000 Pointing Fingers, as well as a new piece, IKO IKO, the band displayed their love for rythmically complex and contrapuntal music that hints at both Steve Reich and Gentle Giant. The lyrics were witty, politically tinged, and featured some interesting wordplay (one of the movements is called "Sotomayor!" after all). Primary songwriter Andrei Pohorelsky was particularly convincing when singing the anthemic middle movement of the suite, "The Birds," showing off the band's ability to distill a variety of musical influences into a complex and compelling whole.

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