Chip Off the Old Bloque
From the tiny stage at Filter 14, Ivan Benavides, leading rockspañol songwriter recently infatuated with electronica, was trying to translate the idea behind his song “No Way, José.” “Life is a big chain of small mistakes with no importance,” mused Benavides, making his debut performance on February 15 with his new group, Lata, which combines programmed drum’n’space with percussion-driven salsa rock. But the smiling, shaved-head poet belied his moody existentialist stage patter with these downright festive songs, written during a brief New York exile from his hometown, Bogotá.
Benavides made a big downtown splash a year and a half ago fronting Bloque, a Colombian supergroup of electro-vallenato sessionists. But this new venture is a different species—while Lata literally means “tin,” its slang use has something to do with making a ruckus. At its center is a free-flowing collaboration between Benavides and DJ Nova, a Bronx prodigy who previously embellished the urban Latino ska of King Changó—at Filter 14 he navigated a mothership-full of sound textures merging dub-hop with Brazilian-tinged ambient funk.
Lata’s essential groove was the classic son montuno piano riff that signifies “Latin” music like every Santana or Tito Puente song you’ve ever heard (and actually prodded some couples to dance). But you could also hear “world music” from Colombia—sampled shouts of mountain people, the hypnotic chandé rhythm, and the eerie, berimbau-like twang of the arco, wielded by percussionist Ernesto Santos. Before and after Lata’s set, DJ Nova and other turntablists spun the trance-y deep house and drum’n’bass that energizes the Latin alternative tribe. On the frayed edges of 14th Street, the inner howl of what Benavides calls el mundo industrial atrazado (the underdeveloped industrial world) was furiously pushing itself into the First World mix. —Ed Morales
“You couldn’t make music like that here,” my date whispered, waxing nostalgic for the Windy City. And for a while on Friday, it looked as though Town and Country versus City of New York was not going well for the visitors. Home advantage was with the negligent sound staff, the din leaking in from bars surrounding the Knitting Factory’s main hall, and the yokels yammering away like the Nanny.
You see, a Town and Country song is a delicate thing, ill-equipped to clamor for attention. Essentially it goes like this: a precise but modest guitar arpeggio joined by a lightly syncopated bassline with lots of whole notes; one or two chimes from the celesta; a harmonium’s drone. Pauline Oliveros’s earthy minimalism comes to mind. Morton Feldman was more attentive to sound color. People showed Morton a little respect.
But halfway through the set, the game was theirs. Town and Country’s long drones had expanded to encompass the room; the thrumming from the bar had become just a long overtone. It happened sometime before “That Old Feeling,” the showstopper, in which Liz Payne used slide guitar for something like a riff, and Jim Dorling tapped eights on the harmonium’s bellow, qua percussion. Then Dorling begins bowing the harmonium [sic], Payne takes up two bells and bows across their mouths, and Ben Vida picks up a beer and . . . no, he swigs it, donning an accordion to double the bells’ keening. And then they bowed the Knitting Factory and it vibrated to a seventh chord.
The cover photo on last year’s It All Has to Do With It (Thrill Jockey) looks from an empty auditorium into a leafy park through a big glass wall. Transparency is Town and Country’s cardinal virtue. On record you might imagine some Jim O’Rourke-style artfulness, but live you find acoustic instruments, no effects, no displays of virtuosity. Not a whole lot of notes, either. Nothing up their sleeve, which means they’re practicing magic after all, the highest and most elusive trick—the illusion of simplicity. —David Krasnow
The Accidental Band
The first New York gig by a Canadian micro-indie band with a hideous name—not a formula for a packed club. Still, the New Pornographers (supposedly named after a Jimmy Swaggart book, Music: The New Pornography) sold out Brownies before the doors opened on February 19. Led by Carl Newman of Zumpano and including alt-country singer Neko Case, filmmaker Blaine Thurier, and members of the Goblins and Limblifter, the Vancouver group presents all the symptoms of a side project, but it’s abruptly turning into an ongoing affair, thanks to Mass Romantic (Mint) outshining everything else its members have recorded. It’s an effortless-sounding power-pop album that aspires to early-’70s Top 40—the first of its many radiant harmonies lands on the phrase “someone on the RAAADIO! RAAADIO!”
Effortlessness takes work, and getting the band’s ornate studio-assembled confections across live presented a bunch of formal challenges. The touring sextet isn’t quite the same group that assembled Mass Romantic over a three-year span: Dan Bejar, a/k/a Destroyer, who wrote and sang the oddest third of the album, has gone walkabout (he’s apparently in Spain now). Todd Fancey filled in for him on keyboards and guitar, and his vocals were redistributed. The Pornographers couldn’t replicate their dense recorded arrangements without another half-dozen players on stage, so they gave the songs extra speed and elbow grease. But that didn’t leave enough material for a full set, a problem they solved with rollicking covers of Shocking Blue and Sparks. Their voices were showing some wear after a week of touring (Case was swigging from a bottle of aloe vera juice and straining for the high notes in “Letter From an Occupant”), but nobody cared: Their harmonies slid together like, well, porn stars. Swaggart had a point. —Douglas Wolk