115 Empire Street
When we last left David Cohn (Serengeti) and Yoni Wolf, it was 2011—the year of the Rabbit, the year of Occupy Wall Street, and their first collaborative album, Serengeti’s Family & Friends. Somewhere amidst Charlie Sheen’s meltdown and Oprah’s last episode, the duo dropped one of the most simultaneously bleak and hilarious song cycles ever conceived, replete with tales of bigamy, reinventions of self, addiction, and disgraced UFC fighters. Woe leavened by whimsy.
A half-decade later, Serengeti and Wolf (principal songsmith of the band WHY?), have returned with Testarossa. Due in May 2016 on Joyful Noise Recordings, it soundtracks a script the pair penned while on tour together. Every song conceptualizes the saga of star-crossed lovers, Maddy and Davy.
After Davy got Maddy pregnant, he proposed. The ceremony was a lovely, traditional affair. Shortly thereafter, Davy’s band took off and he rode the wave of garage rock revival. But alas, soon their music went out of vogue, and the tastemakers left them for dead. No blog would touch them with a ten-word post, but Davy never gave up. Music was the only life he knew, the only way he could pay the bills and process the pain.
So he took any gig he could get, canvassing the road, hoping to ignite his career at sparsely attended shows from Hoboken to Hamburg, Germany. Times were tough. Davy barely had any income to send home to Maddy and their now two children. With her husband on the road, she was forced to take a job as a cocktail waitress. Slightly debased, and getting hit on all the time, she eventually took solace in the arms of Davy’s old high school best friend/ex-bandmate.
Testarossa captures this disarray and emotional turbulence, cold Decembers and dark memories. On opening song, “Umar Rashid,” Serengeti (as Davy) tells the listeners that he’s as troubled as can be. “Allegheny” finds him fretting over melancholic pianos, nostalgically assuaging his own guilt, mentioning the model Testarossa he brought home for his children. Yoni croons, “I told you once, I told you twice, sweetie pie, I’m cold as ice… I have to catch this flight.”
The sentiment distills the slow decay of the album. It’s a high-concept examination of lives crumbling. The despair of a lovable underdog who chased his dreams so relentlessly that he lost those he loved the most. He misses his kids, but still lives a debauched life away.
As always, there’s the undercurrent of sadness and regrets, sin and repentance, the juxtaposition of bleak reality, the surreal, and dark humor. It’s a dirty, weird and brilliant album that becomes more stark and visceral with every listen. This is love and willful destruction sharing a beer and a shot—the soundtrack to wrong decisions and crooked twists of fate. Yoni & Geti. Testarossa.
TALL TALL TREES (NYC)
Tall Tall Trees by Ben RouseMike Savino is not your grandaddy’s banjo player, and Tall Tall Trees is definitely not your average indie-folk outfit from NYC. A pioneer in the the world of experimental and psychedelic banjo music, Mike Savino has released two records and one EP on his own label Good Neighbor Records, Tall Tall Trees (2009), moment (2012), and The Seasonal EP (2014). Since 2012 Tall Tall Trees has been touring relentlessly, mystifying audiences with his “continually refreshing and innovative approach to the banjo” (Paste Magazine). Often performing solo, Savino’s modern take on the one-man band involves running his homemade instrument, dubbed the Banjotron 5000 through a slab of effects and loopers, bowing, drumming, and strumming out multi-textured arrangements to support his lyrically driven songs.