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Sean Spada's "The Wild Ride" is a yacht-rock-run-aground piano-based psych-rock operetta

photo by Tasha Lutek

The piano isn’t exactly the coolest instrument in the public imagination these days and it hasn't been for a good while which yeah of course there’s plenty of cool piano music out there but not like back in the day like say 19th-century Europe up to its armpits in mad genius sex-crazed pianist-composers roaming the continent like the polonaise-playing rock stars of their day…

…wantonly indulging in sex, drugs, and Rachmaninoff and not even the most shameful STD of the century could stop Byronic fops like Robert "Mad Bob" Schumann from writing some truly sick tunes (wordplay!) made only sicker by the syphilis-induced “hallucinations and horrors and psychological conflicts reflected in [their’] music” this according to an article entitled “Syphilis’ Impact on Late Works of Classical Music Composers” published in the July 2021 issue of International Journal of Urologic History which makes for great bathroom reading...YEAH I JUST WENT THERE SO F*CKING WHAT!

…and heck even well into the 20th century the piano was still pretty damn hip, take for instance the early-century rise of stride, ragtime, and boogie-woogie piano styles or the decades-long dominance of Tin Pan Alley which birthed the modern day hit parade by selling millions of copies of piano-based sheet music to the All-American masses ultimately displaced by the piano-pounding R&B shouters and early rock ’n’ rollers of the mid-20th-century…

…but this all changed somewhere between then and now and personally I'm inclined to hold Giorgio Moroder and Peter Criss of KISS responsible cuz in the first case when the Italian synth wizard teamed up with disco queen Donna Summer for “I Feel Love” in 1977 the synthesizer was transformed overnight—once the primary province of pretentious prog rock profligacy—into a booty-shaking, floor-filling miracle machine and why would anyone wanna play a dumb ol’ piano ever again…

…meanwhile a year earlier the fire breathing, blood spewing, all-night partiers known as KISS scored their first top ten hit with a piano-driven ballad called “Beth” featuring the band's raspy-voiced, pussy-faced drummer apologizing (apologizing!) to his titular lady friend for staying out too late rockin' out with the boys and at precisely this moment the piano became the antithesis of cool… 

…and don’t even get me started on Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” (an easy target, I realize, but still!) with its self-regarding, pseudo-Dylanesque portrait of a “piano man” who despite being lucky enough to be gainfully employed at a local watering hole and to be much loved by its regular clientele (“it's me they've been comin' to see”) nonetheless looks down his nose at all the pathetic, self-deluded saps (“they're sharing a drink they call loneliness”) who hang out at the piano bar

…but never mind Billy Joel or Peter Criss or Donna Summer because this article is about SEAN SPADA (obviously!) and SEAN SPADA is the real deal, a hard-working, consummate-pro piano everyman who would never dream of insultingly patronizing the sad sacks at the bar because clearly he identifies with and counts himself among the sad sacks at the bar (“the world is too much, I’m not enough”) facing down life’s dead-ends and cul-de-sacs with steely resolve, fatalistic wit, and a clutch of jazz-laced seven- and nine-chords on his new album The Wild Ride

…a record that’s not lacking for Leonard Cohen/Tom Waits type vibes like when Sean wonders aloud “am I lost? / am I found?” before conceding that “sometimes I just prefer to be / spaaaaacing oooout” which is a theme explored at length on numbers like “Spacing Out, Pt. 1” and “Spacing Out, Pt,. 2,” songs that are fittingly full of stereo-panned mindfuckery (theremins and vocoders and vibraslaps, oh my!) so pass the bong, yo…

…but it’s “Doppelgänger Jungle” that’s the biggest head trip of all, a six-and-a-half-minute epic tale of “shadow selves escaping from my dreams” glanced by our narrator on every other street corner, a paranoic but pretty rad fantasy matched to a soundtrack of planetarium-ready percolating synths and a whole entire part that sounds like a Steely Dan/ELO/Boz Skaggs mashup and finally an extended breakdown coda section with “breakdown” being the operative word that slowly-but-surely builds back up to a swirling vortex of sound before trailing off again with some airy vocal harmonies floating off into the ether like a puff of fog machine smoke in the corner of a run down piano bar…

…so needless to say it’s a wild ride akin to “Pablo Cruise in purgatory” (pull quote!) or if you prefer a cross "between Randy Newman and Huey Lewis" but either way it's a ride that never flies off the rails thanks to the ever-present guard rails of Sean’s sensitive, skillful piano playing to the point where I’m moved to proclaim The Wild Ride the world’s first psychedelic piano lounge yacht-rock-run-aground rock operetta, a character study of a piano man who may be “Set Up To Self Destruct” but who’s nonetheless “Getting on the Highway” with predictable results perhaps but all the more stirring for seeing it coming...

…so in closing we recommend you pour yourself a double on the rocks and don’t forget the swizzle stick (because…stirring!) before dropping the digital needle on Sean Spada’s The Wild Ride and when he observes in the album-opening “When You’re Crazy” that “the only sane way to truly be yourself” is to embrace your own craziness you'll no doubt slowly and sagely nod your head and raise your glass to toast the bittersweet poignancy of it all. (Jason Lee)

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Release-Day Hot Take: "Versechorus" by Two-Man Giant Squid

Admittedly I can be prone to taking band names a little too literally sometimes but with Two-Man Giant Squid I think it’s a fair opening gambit because even though they’re on the record described their band name as silly it nonetheless conveys the aura of TMGS’s debut LP Abyssal Gigantism and by the way that’s “abyssal” and not “abysmal” as in an an immeasurably deep gulf vs. immeasurable deep suckitude…

…because right from the opening moments of opening track “Don’t Make Your Presence Known” the band has a way with combining herky-jerky rhythms, twisty arrangements and “angular” melodies™ much like a lurching pantomime horse whose head and ass each have a mind of their own (i.e., two heads) which is both amusing and unsettling to witness…

…with the surreal subaquatic fluidity of a giant squid witness for instance the watery vibes of song #2 on the album “First (And Last) Time In Your Nightclub” which has been described elsewhere as the band’s “November Rain” and in fact I'd say the record as a whole continually plays off this same dynamic push-and-pull between teetering post-punk angularity and woozily soft-focus psychedelia, ergo Two-Man Giant Squid…

…all of which can now be tossed out the window because TMGS’s just-dropped single “Versechorus” throws the listener a curveball with its straight-down-the-middle verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge song structure and its loud-quiet-loud grunge dynamics not to mention its repetitive, self-referential lyrics (“I’ll probably just, like…write a bridge”) that otherwise concerns mundane topics like text messaging…

…which all makes sense once you realize the song is intended “as a tongue-in-cheek FU to modern songwriting expectation” or “a tongue-in-cheek spite-song that was written as an FU to a former band member who was not pulling his weight because the songs weren’t ‘verse-chorus’ enough for him to learn properly” which I wouldn't have realized without the quotes above kindly provided by frontperson Mitch Vinokur…

…and the way I see it “Versechorus” could easily end up being TMGS's “Song 2’ in other words a lean-yet-loin-stirring garage punk ripper by an art-damaged band who accidentally pen a future sports-stadia anthem that although intended sardonically at first is transfigured over time into a populist fist-pumping, adrenaline-boosting singalong of the masses (there’s even a subtle “woo-hoo!’ near the end) and if it actually pans out this way remember you heard it here first! (Jason Lee)

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Indie Rock

Time: 
7:00 pm
Band name: 
Sleeping Jesus
FULL Artist Facebook address (http://...): 
https://www.facebook.com/sleepingjesusmusic/
Venue name: 
Our Wicked Lady
Band email: 
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Indie Rock

Time: 
19:30
Band name: 
Nautics
FULL Artist Facebook address (http://...): 
https://www.facebook.com/Nauticalmyson
Venue name: 
Berlin Under A
Band email: 
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Joudy set off on a monster-slaying journey with "Uneasy"

Imagine a TV show revolving around a Partridge Family style band but made up of three Venezuelan cousins known collectively as Joudy (pronounced 'howdy' for all you gringos) with hair easily as resplendent as David Cassidy’s or Susan Day’s back in the day and who instead of playing preternaturally perky sunshine pop while traveling the country in a brightly colored Mondrian-inspired school bus are more inclined to dress in black and they've traveled across multiple countries already having migrated from the lush valleys of the Chiapas Highlands (San Cristóbal more specifically) to the dense steel canyons of New York City owing to the dire economic and political straits of their native country...

...a country that's witnessed nearly seven million of its inhabitants depart since 2014 which is (or was) around 15% of its total population but despite this staggering loss of human capital it's been reported that Venezuela's musical heart is still beating strong and what's more the country's already eclectic, expansive musical landscape now spans across the globe like never before with the diaspora absorbing new influences along the way and influencing those same locales in return...

…case in point being Joudy themselves with their restless, searching energy and eclectic musical tastes ranging from jazz to Black Sabbath to Massive Attack just listen to their latest single “Uneasy” which sounds like a pot about to boil over with its roiling bass line and porous guitar chords dissolving into the ether like water into steam not to mention the unsettled guitar melody that sounds like it's searching note-by-note for a point of arrival but never finding one…

…but it's an uneasiness that comes across more galvanizing than paralyzing to these ears, seeing as how I can't see how anyone could manage to sit still to Joudy's music—even the literally-and-figuratively-dark music video, directed by G. Duque, ends with a synchronized dance number as seen above—with the lyrics likewise compelling movement in lines like “the burning bush has been speaking loud and clear” which is an obvious call to action unless you think that speaking, sentient plants can just be ignored but we've all seen Little Shop Of Horrors haven't we...



…and much as the sacred shrubbery that confronted Moses in the Book of Exodus was located in a mystical, liminal space between the divine and the physical worlds, likewise a band like Joudy occupies a liminal space which in this case is more between the Global South and Global North not to mention also between musical genres ranging from grunge and metal (doom metal especially) to psych and prog (e.g., occasional odd meters, intricate song structures, and trippy solos that conjure up Bill Ham light shows) plus hints of Krautrock, trip hop, stoner rock, Latin funk, post punk, and even gaita zuliana (Venezuelan folk music with no shortage of spunk) if you're inclined to hear it…

…which makes sense given how each member of Joudy is coming from a different place musically which come to think of it is a big plus for our prospective TV show (for your basic sitcom format each character must adhere to a "type") and while their heavy real world circumstances may make for a hard sell to network execs it bears remembering that The Partridge Family had both a Black Power episode and an episode where they played at a prison during its four-year run...

...or it could be pitched as a prestige cable "dramedy" along the lines of a Venezuelan-American Reservation Dogs meets Stranger Things (we'll soon see how monsters come into play) playing up the contrast between the band’s ferocity on stage and their mild-mannered demeanors offstage not to mention singer-songwriter-guitarist Diego Ramirez being a trained, working architect much like the patriarch of the Brady Bunch and that guy from How I Met Your Mother plus the many other fictional architects populating TV shows and movies whatever that's about...

…a fact that I learned after meeting up with Diego one evening at Brooklyn's Anchored Inn (the perfect name for a bar not just for Joudy but for all us non-native New Yorkers who's dropped anchor in the big city) where he filled me in on some other relevant details like how he's inclined to sometimes invent his own scales to be fleshed out in individual songs, so no wonder there’s a restless, exploratory quality to so much of their music..

…and also how Joudy formed as a five-piece a decade ago before going on indefinite hiatus and then unexpectedly reforming and honing their sound when 3/5 of its members ended up in NYC (and not all at once either) with Javier Ramirez and Gabriel Gavidia driving the relentlessly churning rhythm section (on bass and drums respectively) and with Diego blowing up his guitar parts to more and more cinematic proportions but also leaving more and more space where called for which is easier when you don't have three guitarists...

…and also I got a sampling of Venezuelan rock and folk music to check out with Diego name-checking both Zeta and Lil Supa as musical influences—the former mixing post-rock and goth and grindcore and to face-melting effect while the latter is more like Mobb Deep lost deep in the Andes—and based on these and other encounters I gotta say that “face melting” seems to be the norm for Venezuelan music (including electronic music just check out this recent profile and interview with Venezuelan-American "hyperreal hyperpop" vocalist-songwriter-producer Slic) to the point where I’m not sure how anyone from this country has a face left at all…

…a country where even the folk music will make you wanna bang your head and wake the dead, and if you're not buying it go listen to some gaita zuliana (aka “gaita”) or some joropo tunes or just about anything played on Venezuela's national instrument, the uke-like lute called the cuatro (with four strings, natch) that Diego says influenced his own guitar playing…

…and now I”m starting to hear how Joudy take the cuatro’s breakneck strumming patterns, slows them down and stretches them out into heavy-but-nonetheless-restless riffs and rhythms while retaining their home country's upbeat-accenting syncopations (go and listen to the drumming on “Uneasy” again) not to mention polyrhythms and polymeters…

…which not to go too "music theory nerd" on your ass here but quoting from an actual dissertation: “according to the Enciclopedia de la Musica en Venezuela, the joropo always superimposes 6/8 and 3/4 meters [where] the most interesting aspect of the superimposition is that these meters do not start at the same time” or to put it in layperson's terms “it’s complicated” and it's no wonder Venezuelan music makes the average person wanna get up and boogie to its entrancing rhythms like a puzzle waiting to be solved through bodily movement…

…and with "Uneasy" being the leadoff track on Joudy’s upcoming album Destroy All Monsters there's a value inherent to swift and dextrous movement in depicting a kind of hero’s journey with our protagnist navigating from one difficult situation to the next like a modern-day Odysseus making his way between Scylla and Charybdis which today are maybe more like Nicolás Maduro and Ron DeSantis...

…or as Diego himself put it in an interview recently with another outlet: “Each album we’ve put out tells the story of where we were at the moment, and that’s what Destroy All Monsters is. We faced transmutation and the consequences of that can be felt in the songs of this album…through the lens of a mystical epic story [where] the main theme is overcoming the unexpected challenges we’ve faced through different cycles of life”…

…and if you wanna check out some of Joudy’s previous cycles you're in luck because their two Venezuela-recorded LPs, namely La Bestia (2013) and Obertura (2016), have recently been re-issued and made available in the US for the first time by their US label Trash Casual thus allowing one to chart the band’s development from a Spanish-language Soundgarden of sorts…

…into multi-tentacled beast they’ve since become (but a heroic beast) and when it comes to those older records you may wanns start with the one-two punch of “Obetura” and “El Estigia" from Obertura because why not jump directly into the deep end and then you get to work on figuring out why every song one on La Bestia is a single word starting with the prefix “En“ and then finally you'll wanna compare Joudy’s newly recorded "transmutated" versions of five of their older songs that they've put out the past couple years with the original versions…

=

…and finally, finally, seeing as today is Bandcamp Friday (but maybe not Bandcamp Friday by the time you're actually reading this so...psyche!!) you can go purchase Joudy’s entire recorded catalogue and not feel too bad about it in the morning and meanwhile I’ll write Netflix and pitch them on what’s sure to be the biggest immigration-themed hit TV show since Perfect Strangers debuted in 1986 and just wait until the members of Joudy move in with a trio of stewardesses next season! (Jason Lee)

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