2020 Year In Review: Woods

Jam (noun): a sweet, sticky edible substance made of fruit and sugar, boiled to a thick gelatinous consistency that’s yielding and spreadable

Jam (verb): to push, shove, squeeze or otherwise manipulate an object into a constrained space, often implied to be aggressively or even forcibly realized

Contained in this little three-letter word are at least six or seven distinct meanings according to this thing once referred to as a dictionary (it’s like a papery blog). And while we’re talking semiotics it’s interesting to note how the two definitions above are on opposite ends of the spectrum in some ways: yielding vs. forceful, sweet vs. aggressive. 

Another meaning of jam: “An extended, semi-unstructured musical passage, or entire musical work, in which synchronized, partially improvised interactions between musicians are of key importance--often with the objective of achieving a concentrated, intensified, and/or ecstatic state of perception among both musicians and listeners. The formal properties of the jam (aka “jammers”) tend to revolve around an optimal balance between repetition and variation; and on the macro level, a continuous ebbing and flowing in terms of tempo, dynamics, and/or texture before ultimately reaching a climactic release, with the notable exception of “mellow jams” or “droney jams” where such macro-level formal developments are de-emphasized or not sought at all.”

The long-running bands Woods are masters jammers (but not a “jam band,” you won’t find too many patchouli-besotted noodle dancers at their shows). And in their jamming they capture all the dictionary meanings of jam described above--playing music that’s alternately and sometimes at once both sweet and aggressive, ethereal and ferocious, disciplined and sprawling. 

Besides their proclivity for jamming Woods are master songwriters as well with a musical palette stretching from pastoral folk rock to driving alt-pop to resplendent psychedelic rock. If you need proof of any of this I’d recommend spending New Year’s Eve and Day listening to their eleven albums (the latest being Strange To Explain released earlier this year) plus the compilation released out in October called Reflections Vol. 1 (Bumble Bee Crown King) that brings together rare and unreleased recordings made between 2009 and 2013. One standout on the latter is an early demo of “Bend Beyond” that’s a good deal more jammy than the version on the Bent Beyond album (2012). And below you can hear how they stretched out the song even more when they played it live. 

Strange To Explain is a fitting epithet for the year that just passed, featuring songs that act as a gentle balm for dreamers (“Where Do You Go When You Dream?”) and insomniacs (“Just To Fall Asleep”) alike. Here is an album that puts the “vibey” back in vibraphone and the “mellow” back in Mellotron, both instruments featured heavily on the album.

The writing of Strange To Explain overlapped with the band’s Purple Mountains project, a collaboration with Silver Jews’ frontman David Berman. The reclusive songwriter and genius poet came out of a decade-long retirement from music to record the album with Woods. Sadly, after a life-long struggle with depression, Berman committed suicide in 2019 just weeks before a widely-anticipated Purple Mountains tour.

And so as we say good-bye and good riddance to 2020 let’s pay tribute to those we lost and those among us who feel lost. And give thanks for the transcendence granted by the music that we love--whatever it may be--more important than ever this past year. Personally I’ll be riding it out with “Weekend Wind,” the mellow jammer that closes Strange To Explain. (Jason Lee)


2020 Year In Review: Hypoluxo

Imagine if a parallel-universe version of the band Television wrote songs about actual televisions with lines like “tell me all the things that you see in me / can it be explained through the TV? / cuz that’s all I know.” Now listen to “Ridden” and imagine no more.  

On Hypoluxo’s third album which is A) self-titled, B) self-possessed, C) self-reliant, or D) all of the above the Brooklyn-based quartet makes the kind of post-punk-inflected guitar-oriented music that critics love to refer to as “angular.” It’s a fitting description but let’s face it there’s lots of different kinds of angles. Any geometrist worth her weight in protractors will tell you there’s acute angles and right angles and obtuse angles just for starters. On Hypoluxo, Hypoluxo has all these angles covered and more.

For sharp-and-severe acute angles take a listen to “Night Life” with its martial drum beat, slithering bassline and twin-guitar sheer heart attack. The song’s ricocheting melodies (headphones recommended) capture something of the anticipation and the anxiety, the potential desperation and potential catharsis of its subject matter, culminating in a frenzied freakout on the dancefloor.

Next, for some obtuse angles check out “Shock” which confronts the vague but pervasive sense of fear hanging in the air as of late. “Well it’s a SHOCK / working up / to realizing this is not a DREAM” is the immaculately articulated opening gambit, going on to describe a mind stressed and dulled by 2020 PTSD. Guitars circle overhead for much of the song, like a flock of angry-but-one-hopes-not-predatory birds, with the fog finally broken by the Rent Is Too Damn High refrain in the song’s coda.

And finally, on “Nimbus” Hypoluxo gives the listener the right angle (heh heh) on how weathermen (and weatherladies let’s be fair) are the scourge of humanity or at least one of them anyway. And wouldn’t you know it, the 1% own all the umbrellas. Michael Stipe once posed the question: “Should we talk about the weather [or] should we talk about the government?” But Hypoluxo make it abundantly clear that they’re one and the same thing. So let’s talk about both and hope for better weather in 2021.
(Jason Lee)


Maraschino covers Cristina's "Things Fall Apart"

Maraschino, aka Piper Durabo, is a Los Angeles-based performing artist, songwriter, guitarist, producer, and radio DJ. So why cover her on the Deli NYC blog? Two reasons: First, having come across her music thanks to the gloriously askew “Synthmus” holiday special recently alluded to in this space, it turns out that Durabo started the Maraschino project while residing in the city in 2018 and had her live debut at a Red Bull Music Academy show in Coney Island; and second, because her featured performance on said holiday special, for which she also served as co-host, was a cover of Cristina’s “Things Fall Apart,” a song that’s New York City to the core.

Cristina, full name Cristina Monet Zilkha (1956-2020), was a massively influential but still largely unheralded New York City native whose handful of singles and two albums--released on ZE Records between 1978 and 1984--established a template for ‘80s downtown cool in terms of music and fashion and overall attitude that helped shape not only the early careers of mainstream artists like Cyndi Lauper and Madonna, but also countless others in subsequent years/decades who fused elements of pop, disco, punk, new wave, and avant-gardism as a sort of “Brechtian pastiche” in Cristina’s own words. Ms. Monet Zilkha sadly passed away on March 31, 2020 after suffering for years from autoimmune disorders and then contracting COVID early in its reign of horror. Obituaries can be found here and here.

The similarly single-monikered Maraschino is by all appearances a 21st-century inheritor to Cristina’s legacy. From her output with the Teen Vogue touted sister-act Puro Instinct, who were once described as “Stevie Nicks through a lens of chiffon and horse tranquilizers” (Isn't Stevie Nicks usually already wearing chiffon? Oh well, nevermind!) to her several singles released under the new cherrubic rubric, Ms. Durabo is clearly an apprentice of Christina’s outsider pop art, or as she herself puts it “mystic disco-pop for introverts.” Along these lines Maraschino’s debut single “True Lover” (2019) must have had Martin Gore clutching his leather chaps in jealousy with its earworm fusion of boppy major-key synths and sadomasochistic subtext--a dynamic that's effectively captured in the music video which itself matches the Mode for overall icy hotness.

Also not unlike Cristina, who recorded a clutch of memorable covers ranging from Prince’s “When U Were Mine” to the Beatles’ “Drive My Car” to Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” (the latter of which being one the greatest cover versions ever recorded in the history of humankind in the mind of this humble writer), Maraschino has likewise taken a shine to the art of the musical homage. To wit, this year she's put out covers of both the Carly Simon/Chic collab “Why” as well as the aforementioned “Things Fall Apart.”

While technically a Christmas song, “Things Fall Apart” is one of those rare instances of a seasonal song that transcends its trappings--a tale of struggle and perseverance in the midst of poverty, perversion, romantic betrayal, tree murder, and motherly love. To her credit Maraschino pulls off a beautifully streamlined synthpop version of the song, capturing the melancholic yet oddly hopeful mood of the original (see the top of this page for the video) and Cristina’s finely-honed deadpan yet fully engaged vocal delivery:

The party was a huge success
"But where should we go next?" they said
They killed a tree of 97 years
And smothered it in lights and silver tears
They all got wrecked
They laughed too loud
I started to feel queasy in the crowd
I caught a cab back to my flat
And wept a bit
And fed the cat

Most widely known from its inclusion on Cristina’s swan song Sleep It Off (1984), “Things Fall Apart” was first released on ZE Records’ 1981 LP A Christmas Record which also introduced the world to the Waitresses’ now perennial “Christmas Wrapping” (by far the most quasi-cheery song on the album). The Xmas comp didn’t shy away from the avant-pop experimentalism and No Wave severity that were ZE's stock in trade (home to releases by James Chance and the Contortions, Suicide, Was (Not Was), and Lydia Lunch/Teenage Jesus and the Jerks among others) and has been called “the first alternative Christmas album” and “the darkest Christmas record of all time." So now you know where to go for one last dose of holiday weirdness this year. And should you go there (trivia alert!) you'll also learn where Madonna found inspiration for the hook on her first hit single. (Jason Lee)



Lady Bits on the "Look Out"

You better look out / you better decide
If Santa’s your man / or patriarchy must die
Lady Bits is coming to town

He stalks you when you’re sleeping
Gaslights and violates
He thinks he knows what’s bad or good
So be bad for goodness sake

You better look out / you better get wise
Cuz yr gonna find out / that being naughty is nice
Lady Bits is coming to town...

Lady Bits’ new single “Look Out” is out so give it a listen, grab a beer and have a happy new year. And for the stocking stuffer, check out their Lose The Thread EP below!


Black Marble: "All I Want For Christmas Is You"

We all know that Mariah Carey is a lovely and talented woman but let’s face it if you hear her singing “All I Want For Christmas Is You” just one more time you may end up bashing in the head of the nearest reindeer with an oversized candy cane and no one wants that for Christmas. So, in the interest of concerned reindeer everywhere, we suggest that you scratch that XXXmas lust song itch with a new cover version of “All I Want” by Black Marble instead. 

Replacing Mariah Carey’s whistle tone and Tony Mattola in a Santa suit with Casiotones, Korgs and a synthetic cowbell and sleigh bells disco groove--and a music video homage to Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al"--is a stroke of genius and feels about right for Christmas: The 2020 Edition and plus it’s a perfect coda to Black Marble’s covers EP from earlier this year entitled I Must Be Living Twice (which is well worth checking out on it’s own merits--surely the first covers album ever to features songs by both Wire and Robert Palmer). 

And if that’s not enough, and why should it be, you can also find “All I Want” on the hour-long Synthmas: A Holiday Special featuring performances from the likes of The Space Lady, Neon Indian, Mac DeMarco, Dam-Funk, Drugdealer and more, so many many more. Hosted by Maraschino and Jimmy Whispers--truly this generation’s Donnie & Marie Osmond--with an assist by a sardonic, chain-smoking magical talking Christmas tree, no one has seen holiday-themed musical numbers like these since Bea Arthur serenaded a giant extraterrestrial rat in the Star Wars Holiday Special and that’s been over 40 years ago. And yes, I mean that as a compliment so check it out or else you may find some coal in your fishnet stockings. And while you're at it click those links and spread some holiday cheer to Save Our Stages and the Alexandria House. (Jason Lee)