I had to spend some time wrestling with my options for Saturday night; there's a lot of good music happening, and I can only be at one show at a time. On the noisier end of the spectrum is Brooklyn duo Talk Normal, who play on a knockout bill at Lincoln Hall with Xiu Xiu, Tune-Yards, and Zola Jesus. On the group's recent debut full-length, Sugarland (Rare Book Room), Andrya Ambro and Sarah Register whip up a bristling throb—a barrage of guitar noise over pummeling, faux-tribal grooves—that evokes the heyday of post-no wave rock.
Register wrings a broad range of sounds from her guitar, nearly all of them various shades of gray and black—the squalling is numbing, abrasive, apocalyptic, and dark. The opening long tones and brittle chiming notes that open "Bold Face" hark back to the earliest days of Sonic Youth, before the band diluted its harrowing atmosphere with pop ideas, and more generally the album reminds me of Ut, the sadly overlooked 80s postpunk trio. Ambro brings the hammer down, but she rarely opts for a rock feel; instead she sticks to rolling tom patterns, clanging metal, and hypnotizing martial beats. The album also includes a brooding cover of Roxy Music's "In Every Dream a Heartache" that leaps from austere pleading to driving Stooges-like din. Below you can check out the great video for the album track "In a Strangeland."
Alicia Jo Rabins
Girls in Trouble, also from Brooklyn, is the solo project of Alicia Jo Rabins—perhaps best known as the manic fiddler in Golem. On her group's recent self-titled debut album for JDub she adds guitar to her arsenal, playing catchy indie-rock originals. The Baltimore native is a Torah scholar—she earned a master's at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan, spent two years studying ancient Hebrew and Aramaic texts in Jerusalem, and tutors bat mitzvah students—but she's also been playing violin since she was three, after her mother learned about the Suzuki method by watching the Phil Donahue show. Rabins studied classical music at first, but after moving to New York (to attend Columbia) her horizons broadened and she took an interest in klezmer, learning from the great violinist Alicia Svigals, formerly of the Klezmatics—who recommended her to the founders of Golem.
There's little that sounds Eastern European or Jewish in the music of Girls in Trouble, which features Rabins's husband, Aaron Hartman (of Old Time Relijun), on bass, but the people in her lyrics are all based on female characters from the Torah—the "girls in trouble" of the band's name. Her retelling of their often scandalous, murderous tales usually distills them to a universal essence, so that they work as reflections of contemporary life, not just as fables. The touring version of the band, a four-piece, plays at Ronny's on Saturday night—and also Sunday Saturday afternoon as part of Oranges Rock the Seder Plates, an event organized by KFAR Jewish Arts Center at Evanston's BooCoo Cultural Center. Below you can hear "I Was a Desert," the opening song from the album:
As good as these shows are bound to be, I've decided to spend my Saturday night seeing Joanna Newsom at the Vic, even though I'm not even close to getting my head around her musically and lyrically dense new triple album, Have One on Me (Drag City). Both of her previous records have required a certain commitment of time from me before fully displaying their abundant virtues, and I can tell the new one is no exception; each listen is pulling me in further. Though the arrangements, lyrics, and structures are all highly rigorous, and the instrumentation varies widely from piece to piece, many of the songs are more concise and accessible than the epics on her masterpiece, Ys. I'm guessing that experiencing this music live—Newsom leads a sextet that includes her primary collaborator, Ryan Francesconi, on guitar, banjo, tambura, mandolin, and other assorted stringed instruments—will accelerate my process of understanding and appreciating it. Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes opens.
Talk Normal photo: Lori Bailey Joanna Newsom photo: Annabel Mehran