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NEW MUSIC: Villagers, Du Blonde, Anna B Savage, Inner Tongue, White Sage

Villagers_Conor_OBrien

New Music is brought to you by Deadly Music! which covers mostly independent indie, alternative, electro pop, post rock and ambient music, with a bit of everything else deadly thrown in for good measure.

Most songs reviewed here are available on a Soundcloud playlist, some of them on a Spotify playlist....both of which are embedded at the end of this post, where you can also sign up for our weekly updates.

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Villagers - Darling Arithmetic

Nominated for the Mercury Prize for his grandly conceived orchestral / electro-folk first two albums Becoming a Jackal and {Awayland}, Dubliner Villagers - aka Conor O’Brien (above) - has entirely stripped the sound back for the mostly acoustic nine tracks on new album Darling Arithmetic.

Villagers3Recorded at home alone and self-produced, Darling Arithmetic abandons the big picture scope of his earlier work for one of quiet introspection in which O’Brien addresses his own sexuality.

Specifically not a “coming out album” - a label which O’Brien wants to avoid - Darling Arithmetic is “a human love album because everyone in the world feels those emotions at some stage.”

However, it is when he moves beyond the love songs beautiful in their simplicity - notably “Everything I Am Is Yours” and “No One To Blame” - to less personal subjects that the album leaves its mark.

In “Little Bigot”, O’Brien takes to task the notion that those campaigning against gay rights in Ireland are actually not homophobes, singing “So take the blame, little bigot/ And throw that hatred onto the fire."

Sticking with the theme, on “Hot Scary Summer” O’Brien addresses an ex and the difficulties of working hard on a relationship in the face of “all the pretty young homophobes looking out for a fight”. It all gets too hard because “we got good at pretending, then pretending got us good."

Although at times tending towards navel gazing as with the rambling “The Soul Serene”, Animal Arithmetic is a massively rewarding sea change for O'Brien.

 

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Du Blonde: “Mind Is On My Mind”

Du-BlondeDu Blonde is Beth Jeans Houghton from Newcastle, England.

Welcome Back To Milk, set for release on May 18th, is Houghton’s second album but the first to be released under the name Du Blonde.

As such, it represents a complete reinvention. With the new name comes a new sound, new band and a new attitude, leading to new freak psych pop given a shunt from potential obscurity with the appearance of inimitable Future Islands frontman Samuel T. Herring on “Mind Is On My Mind”.

Where 2012’s debut Yours Truly Cellophane Nose threw everything at a song, Welcome Back To Milk strips everything back and is one massive release of pent up aggression, captured perfectly by producer and Bad Seed Jim Sclavunos.

Think: REM doing the soundtrack for the sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

 

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Listen to new songs by Anna B Savage, Inner Tongue and White Sage, AFTER THE JUMP...

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Ballet Meets Broadway in Dazzling New Musical ‘An American in Paris’: REVIEW

American in paris 1

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

There is an airy and dizzying quality to Christopher Wheeldon’s wonderfully imaginative production of An American in Paris, a new musical that opened last night at the Palace Theatre. It feels something like a first gasp of air after holding your breath for a long, long time. Broadway is currently awash in questionable movie-to-musical marquees, but a stage version of the 1952 Oscar-winning picture starring Gene Kelly feels like a foregone conclusion held in suspension. And over half a century later, the wait was worth every minute.

American in parisThe show features an assembled score of beloved tunes by George and Ira Gershwin (including those the pair wrote for the movie and other favorites), and an expertly reworked story by book writer Craig Lucas (The Light in the Piazza), which artfully expands on the movie’s characters and reimagines its sparse plot into a more satisfying one for the stage. Made just years after World War II, the movie is pure Hollywood escape; but Lucas grounds the airborne musical in the aftermath of Nazi liberation in 1945—in a Paris in the throws of reinvention.

GI-turned-artist Jerry Mulligan (a charming and fleet-footed Robert Fairchild) stays behind after the war to pursue both an artist’s life and, of course, a woman. He falls in with Adam Hochberg (Brandon Uranowitz), a composer and fellow expat, and Henri Baurel (Max von Essen), the son of their French landlords and a closeted cabaret singer (and possible closet case).

American in paris 2As quickly becomes clear, all three men are in some stage of falling in love with Lise Dassin (a graceful and beguiling Leanne Cope), a ballet dancer and very close consort of the Baurel family. Jerry also catches the eye of a wealthy patron, Milo Davenport (Jill Pace), adding another dimension to the plot’s romantic web.

Lucas lends the characters rich backstories and reasons to sing and dance (largely absent in the film), and the company brings their characters to life as if for the first time (with a couple new characters added into the mix). Fairchild, a principal member of NYC Ballet, and Cope, of London’s Royal Ballet, are both captivating on their toes, and equally winning in dialogue and song. The rest of the cast is likewise excellent, including von Essen in a rousing rendition of “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” and Veanne Cox as Madame Baurel, his coolly droll mother.

American in paris 4Wheeldon, a renowned ballet artist, makes a remarkable directorial debut (the production first premiered in Paris last fall). Every aspect of the show unfolds like an effortless, mesmerizing dance.

His masterful choreography can be seen everywhere from the limbs of his actors to the movement of furniture and gliding of cityscapes. The gifted design team—led by a visionary Bob Crowley—mines the city’s art history to stunning effect. The city, sketched to life as it wakes up from war, grows back into the vibrant forefront of modern art. 

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: angela sterling, matthew murphy)


'90s Political Sex Farce 'Clinton the Musical' Opens Off Broadway: REVIEW

Clinton The Musical _13. Photos by Russ Rowland

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

Hillary may have just set up campaign digs in Brooklyn, but Bill’s two terms are getting a bawdy send-up across the river in Clinton the Musical, which opened Off Broadway at New World Stages last night. The loose-limbed romp down memory lane offers a Mad TV meets Cliff’s Notes-style recap of the scandals that rocked Mr. Clinton’s reign, from Whitewater to Lewinsky. But, it’s also an origin story for the Clinton on everyone’s lips, and in the brilliantly zany hands of Kerry Butler (whose turn as Olivia Newton John’s character in Xanadu is the stuff of Broadway musical legends), the likely nominee for 2016 is a comedic force to be reckoned with.

Clinton The Musical _10. Photos by Russ RowlandFirst presented stateside at the 2014 New York Musical Theatre Festival (and previously in Edinburgh), the musical by Peter and Michael Hodge has plenty to delight, not least of all the kooky and charming Ms. Butler. While these may not be the first descriptors the former First Lady calls to mind, the scribes take (many) liberties in their behind-the-scenes peek at a national sex farce in era of dial-up modems and monochrome pantsuits. While Butler’s two rousing solo numbers are worth all that comes between, this is a story about Bill—or, rather, two dueling sides of him.

Clinton The Musical _02. Photos by Russ Rowland“In my whole life, I have only ever loved two men—and they happen to be the same man.” With her opening line, Hillary introduces two versions of the former president: one, “William Jefferson” (Tom Galantich), is upstanding and trustworthy, while the other, “Billy” (Duke Lafoon), likes French fries, sex, and thumbing his sax. The two are often on stage at once, meant to be just one person (at first, only Hillary can actually see Billy). But trying to wrap your head around the stage logic of this simple, two-sides-to-every-coin metaphor proves to be more trouble than it’s worth.

Shoehorning a (relatively) high-concept stage gag into what is otherwise a low satire proves to be an awkward endeavor. Quarrels between the two Bills, presumably meant as inner dialogue, offer little insight on the man’s thinking, and Hillary debating them both makes for an odd political threesome. It’s Billy (the id among the three), of course, who meets Monica (Veronica J. Kuehn), who the Hodges have written as a scheming, blow-up-doll of a character that makes for easy laughs but feels uncomfortably misogynistic.

Clinton The Musical _09. Photos by Russ RowlandThe musical’s score has its ups and downs (the opening number, entitled “Awful-Awesome,” is inadvertently and mostly accurate), and director Dan Knechtges (Tail! Spin!, Lysistrata Jones) makes fun use of a rotating set and recurring sight gags (including a life-sized cutout of Al Gore and a singing portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt). The show’s juiciest laughs come from its super villains, Newt Gingrich (a rotund and petulant John Treacy Egan), first seen scarfing marshmallow goo from the jar in the sub-sub-basement of Congress, and Kenneth Starr (a gleefully maniacal Kevin Zak), whose pursuit of Bill is as awesomely perverse as it is sinister.

With the real political stage about to light up, a silly escape to root for our heroes and vilify our opponents may be just what the 24-hour pundits ordered. And, focusing on Hillary (and the idiocy of her family's rivals) while allowing Bill to fade into the background may be perfect practice, too.

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: russ rowland)


Possessed Puppet Comedy 'Hand to God' Opens on Broadway: REVIEW

HAND_TO_GOD_on_Broadway

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

The titular appendage in Hand to God, playwright Robert Askins’ wickedly hysterical play that opened on Broadway last night at the Booth Theatre, goes by the name of Tyrone. He delivers some of the most apt criticism of western religion you’re ever likely to hear, and has zero tolerance for B.S.—including from the hand that wears him. A sharp-tongued (and awesomely foul-mouthed) sock puppet, Tyrone may or may not in fact be possessed by the devil. Forget everything you know about puppet shows: On the hand of a preternaturally masterful Stephen Boyer, this puppet is unlike any other you’ve seen before.

HAND_TO_GOD_on_Broadway1Askin’s play, which transfers to Broadway after a critically acclaimed run Off Broadway at MCC last spring, is set in a small Texas town, where a few teenage kids meet at the local ministry to rehearse a puppet pageant and stay out of trouble. Jason and his mother Margery (who leads the puppet group) are both reeling from the recent loss of his father to a heart attack. For Marge, running the group seems like a much-needed distraction; for Jason and his puppet Tyrone, it’s a lot more than just that.

Aside from his recent loss, Jason is a shy, quiet type, and giving voice to his puppet helps raise the volume on his own. Tyrone starts out like the devil on Jason’s shoulder, a wisecracking voice for thoughts the boy might not otherwise say himself. It’s how he first connects with Jessica (a wonderfully droll Sarah Stiles) the girl he likes in class, and later how he lashes back at Timothy, his cocky, oversexed rival (a perfectly bro-ey Michael Oberholtzer).

HAND_TO_GOD_on_Broadway4But it quickly becomes clear that Tyrone has a mind of his own, or at least a will separate from Jason’s, who can’t just take him off as he pleases. By the play’s second act, blood is drawn, puppet sex is had, and it seems an exorcism may be in order. Yet still, his puppet’s violent temper and wild libido are qualities Jason could use himself in moderation—courage to stand up for himself and the nerve to get the girl.

Boyer reprises his mind-boggling, virtuosic performance as Jason (and Tyrone), spending much of the play in conversation with his own left hand—from acting out an Abbot-and-Costello routine to impress Jessica, to full-on hand-to-sock combat. Jason and Tyrone are so distinct in personality and their two-way dialogue is so convincing, at times it’s astonishing to step back and realize you’re watching a single performance.

HAND_TO_GOD_on_Broadway3Joining the others from the Off-Broadway cast, Geneva Carr is equally warm and maniacal as Marge, who doesn’t get along with the other church mothers, and who attracts equally ardent attention from Pastor Greg (an ever charming Marc Kudisch), and hormonal Timothy, making her the apex of a twisted (and surprisingly athletic) love triangle.

Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel scales up the production from its downtown digs, keeping the action moving swiftly around its rotating set and amping up the laughs for a larger crowd, while also firmly grounding the play's human (non-puppet) drama. The stellar company reprises its expert performances with assurance, fueled by the uproarious energy of a Broadway audience.

Often shockingly funny, the play's disarming humor makes its dark conclusions all the more startling. We’re accustomed to puppets who have something to teach us, like the difference between good and evil. Tyrone's lesson that the two go inextricably hand-in-hand is likely to stick in your mind longer than most.

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: joan marcus)


Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy Open in ‘Skylight’ on Broadway: REVIEW

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BY NAVEEN KUMAR

In one remarkable scene of director Stephen Daldry’s arresting and vivid production of Skylight, which opened on Broadway last night at the Golden Theatre, Kyra and Tom, the two main characters in David Hare’s 1995 drama, recall the spark and collapse of their six-year affair as Kyra prepares food in her rundown London flat. The tension between the former lovers, played with impeccable emotional precision by Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy, bubbles up in tandem with the food on the stove—and as the scent from the pot wafts through the audience over the course of their gripping exchange, the production achieves something like a total seduction of the senses.

SKYLIGHT_1_4114-V1-RGBIn the scene, we learn that Tom, a wealthy and successful restaurateur, met Kyra when she arrived in London at the age of 18 and got a job in one of his restaurants. The two began a romance they kept secret from Tom’s wife for six years, and which ended a few years before the play begins. Tom’s wife has since died of cancer, and his teenage son Edward (played by a dazzling and jumpy Matthew Beard) arrives at Kyra’s door hoping she can wrest his dad from his misery (or at least make him less miserable to be around). 

Hare’s three-character play happens over just two days in a single dingy, North London flat, but covers a sweeping range of social and political questions. The couple is divided across a line of haves and have-nots—he’s a rich, upper-class business owner and she’s a working-class teacher of underprivileged kids. Though the parallels are a bit neatly laid, the playwright’s exploration of the great social divide is well grounded in intimate drama, and the play’s language is full of the sort of swift insights and everyday poetry for which Hare is known. The beautifully designed set by Bob Crowley also situates the lovers in a broader context, showing glimpses of the other lives unfolding around them.

SKYLIGHT_1_4433-V1-RGBNighy, previously seen on Broadway opposite Julianne Moore in Hare’s The Vertical Hour, plays his role with the exacting, frenetic energy of a musician playing an instrument. His hands clenched in half-fists, Tom moves in fits and starts—bucking against the rare feeling of not having control. Nighy brings a spellbinding charisma to the role, making it easy to see why Kyra fell for him in the first place. He wants her back now, and considers the life she’s built since leaving him as an elaborate escape.

SKYLIGHT_1_4380-V2-RGBHare’s play is primarily concerned with its two generations of men, and, for three-quarters of the story, Kyra is something of a sieve for their psychological gymnastics. She listens, evades, serves tea, cooks and tidies up messes (which she mostly makes herself). Mulligan (previously seen on Broadway in The Seagull) has a brilliant and uncanny way of evoking a swell of feeling behind a placid exterior. And when she does unleash that inner turmoil, she does so with explosive and affecting force.

Though the play’s gender politics show some signs of age 20 years on (Kyra questioning Tom about respecting her decisions actually gets a laugh), Daldry’s production makes the drama and its many social questions feel vital and urgent. Having collaborated on the novel-to-screen adaptations of The Hours and The Reader, Hare and Daldry have a visual language all their own, and it’s as stunning as it is visceral. Seeing this many gifted artists come together is rare, and the results are divine. 

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: john haynes)


Elisabeth Moss and Jason Biggs Open on Broadway in ‘The Heidi Chronicles’: REVIEW

Heidi0099r

BY NAVEEN KUMAR

You may be surprised, at times, that characters don’t burst into song in director Pam MacKinnon’s often campy revival of Wendy Wasserstein’s Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning 1989 play The Heidi Chronicles, which opened on Broadway March 19 at the Music Box Theatre. Though our vocabulary around feminism has changed, the decades-spanning story of a woman finding her way (and herself) through second-wave feminism certainly bears revisiting and still resonates in many ways. But, while the production features strong performances from a charming leading cast, MacKinnon’s caricatured approach to the play’s historical setting pushes the story to feel more distant than relevant.

Heidi0242rHeidi Holland, played with gusto and grace by Elisabeth Moss, first addresses us from behind a lectern in 1989, an art historian speaking out for women artists overlooked in the male-dominated canon. We then begin Heidi’s story at a high school dance in 1965, where she meets her lifelong friend Peter (who later turns out to be gay), played to quirky and comic perfection by Bryce Pinkham (Tony nominated for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder). At a Eugene McCarthy rally in ’68, she meets cocky and quick-witted Scoop (played by Jason Biggs, excellent), who becomes her on-again, off-again lover for the next decade.

Heidi0219rThe women in Heidi’s life, and her shifting relationships with them, are the measures against which her personal journey unfolds—the radical feminists surrounding her in the ‘70s give way to mothers and career women of the ‘80s. Having given her life to the movement and been molded in its ideals, she’s disillusioned to find that most of her comrades have abandoned her and the high road she imagined stretching before them; by the time they reach their late 30s and early 40s, youthful ideals give way to conventional adult life.

As she’s proven in her sterling performance as Peggy Olsen on Mad Men, Moss is very much at home in the role of a striving, nuanced, pioneering woman, and her talents translate seamlessly to the stage. Both Pinkham and Biggs are perfectly cast, and their unique chemistries with Moss are a delight to watch. The three leads give grounded, emotionally resonant performances, which, refreshingly (if unfortunately) stand in marked contrast to the rest of MacKinnon’s production.

Heidi0096rIn its nearly 30-year span, Wasserstein’s play seizes on decade-defining moments and sentiments that can easily ring cliché—and, because this production often puts those eras (and their defining concerns) in air-quotes with a steady rotation of wigs, projections, and indicative design—they too often do. When the original production premiered on Broadway in 1989, Wasserstein was telling a story about her own generation with a certain heightened naturalism. Just over 25 years later, that history is relevant as ever—even when it's done up to look more like Hairspray.

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: joan marcus)


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