Author Archives: Joseph Neff

Graded on a Curve: Dexter Gordon,
Our Man in Paris

Sound reads from the archives, all summer long.Ed.

On May 23 of 1963 a trio of bebop originals joined up with a worthy European compatriot and visited CBS Studios in Paris. The comeback of tenor giant Dexter Gordon was well underway, but the Continent was a relatively recent change of scene. Pianist Bud Powell and drummer Kenny “Klook” Clarke had been living in France for quite some time however, and bassist Pierre Michelot was born there. Together this quartet agreed upon five standards and executed them with utter brilliance. Blue Note titled it Our Man in Paris, and 51 years later it remains a classic.

They ate voraciously as Dean, sandwich in hand, stood bowed and jumping before the big phonograph, listening to a wild bop record I had just bought called “The Hunt,” with Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray blowing their tops before a screaming audience that gave the record fantastic frenzied volume.
—Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Much deserved praise gets heaped on Dexter Gordon for his comeback(s), but it can be occasionally overlooked that even if he never came back at all, he’d be a hugely important figure anyway. To begin, he’s the most distinctive tenor saxophonist to emerge from the ‘40s bop scene, extending the influence of Lester Young and quickly adapting the innovations of Charlie Parker, recording with Bird and Dizzy Gillespie and as a leader for Savoy before heading back to California and cutting those tenor battle 78s for Dial, the very sides that impacted Kerouac and Neal Cassady (i.e. Dean Moriarty) so massively.

It was heroin that nearly ended Gordon’s career for good; the ‘50s were a lost decade, though he did cut two records in ’55, Daddy Plays the Horn for Bethlehem in September and Daddy Blows Hot and Cool for Dootone two months later. After kicking the habit, he commenced his return with The Resurgence of Dexter Gordon, a minor session (some would call it a false start) for the Jazzland label.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, July
2018, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for July, 2018. 

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Claire Morales, All That Wanting (Self-released) Following up 2015’s Amaranthine, this is LP #2 from singer-songwriter-guitarist Morales, but it serves as my introduction. Comparisons to Angel Olsen and PJ Harvey are what sparked my interest, and while I can understand (indeed, hear) the similarities, I’m left with a favorable impression through strength of voice, quality of tune, and ambition realized most fully in the consecutive “Diane I” and “Diane II.” Plus, the sharp interplay with guitarist Alex Hastings, bassist Ryan Williams, and drummer Russ Connell (the last two returning from her debut) adds heft, but just as importantly, opens up the songs. Morales can effectively scale it back however, as on “Golden” and “Enough,” and she’s a commanding presence throughout. A-

Hamish Kilgour, Finklestein (Ba Da Bing) Kilgour is a member of New Zealand post-VU indie-rock royalty The Clean. The Mad Scene, his ’90s outfit with Lisa Siegel, was often terrific, and ’14 brought the appealing loner vibe of his solo debut All of It and Nothing. This follow-up, based on a story by Kilgour that he would tell his son, is also swell, but given the specifics of its conception, markedly different. For one thing, the range of instrumentation is broader, with much of the record leaning into lo-fi psych-pop. But it’s not a radical change, as he’s again working with producer Gary Olson, who also plays on the disc. Furthermore, “Welcome to Finklestein” is reminiscent of The Clean in keyboard mode, and maybe it’s just me, but the brief “Opening” recalls Tall Dwarfs’ “Louis Likes His Daily Dip.” And that’s great. A-

ARCHIVAL/REISSUE PICKS: Adonis, Marshall Jefferson, Frankie Knuckles, Mr. Fingers, Trax Records 45s (Get on Down) These four 7-inches are available either individually or as a bundle through Get on Down’s website as part of the label’s Jukebox Series, but they are certainly also obtainable in stores, at least temporarily. As fans of electronic club music will be snatching up these prime artifacts from House Music’s ’80s emergence, longevity in the bins is surely finite, especially as they aren’t straight reissues of higher-profile later (and longer) mixes, but original versions. To these ears, Jefferson’s “Move Your Body” b/w “Drum Your Body,” which nods to the style’s eventual commercial inroads, is the least of the bunch, but it lowers the collective quality only slightly; the contents deserve to be graded together. A-

Dave Evans, The Words in Between (Earth Recordings) Here’s a repress of Evans’ 1971 debut (shorn of the bonus cuts added to an earlier reissue), and it offers as much sweet folky fingerpicking as a sensible mind could ask for. Very much an exponent of the Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Ralph McTell, Wizz Jones style of Brit folksong (with a few touches of Nick Drake in the mix, as well), Evans’ Welsh accent and the occasional harmony vocals of Adrienne Webber lend a degree of distinctiveness. Some have criticized Evans’ songwriting (all ten are originals; even his guitar is homemade), but it all sounds fine to me, as the whole really captures the spirit of the time; as the record was cut in fellow folkie Ian A. Anderson’s house and released on the independent The Village Thing label, I’ll declare it sounds especially fine. A-

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Record Store Club | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Wire, 154

Most bands are fortunate to get in the ballpark of a single masterpiece during their existence, but from ’77-’79, and right out of the gate with their debut, Wire produced three in a row. In the process, they delivered a blueprint for minimalist art-punk (from which many have swiped but never bettered) while becoming one of the defining acts in the emerging genre of post-punk. Those three records are currently available from Pinkflag as CD books, each with loads of worthy bonus material and all with written contributions from Jon Savage and Graham Duff; the standalone vinyl and bookless CDs are available July 6. Today, we conclude our coverage of these releases with thoughts on 1979’s 154.

As the final studio album before Wire’s first hiatus, 154 inevitably registers as a culmination. However, if the byproduct of chances taken, repetition disdained, and unsurprisingly, friction between band members, the album’s experimentation with and extension of rock and pop form ultimately transcends the tag of post-punk, with its contents remarkably cohesive and betraying no signs of strain from creative differences.

For an outfit who stated they’d quit because of a dearth of new ideas, 154 is loaded with them. If it’s a taste of the band at the end of their tether that you desire, then the live recording Document and Eyewitness, revised and expanded in 2014, is the release to check out; fascinatingly flawed but in this writer’s view somewhat underrated, it stands as the true end of Wire’s first period.

But don’t let’s lose track of the subject at hand. 154 easily extends the brilliance established on Wire’s prior releases by unveiling another major spurt in development, though the sheer intensity of invention did them few favors. The reality of all this rapid-fire progress? Wire was simply moving too fast to cultivate their listenership, and by extension, disappointment from their label EMI was certain. Furthermore, as their sound was at odds with the general trend toward post-punk refinement (e.g. New Romanticism), the response from critics could often be indifferent, perplexed, or even hostile.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, June
2018, Part Four

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for June, 2018. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: The Innocence Mission, Sun on the Square (Badman Recording Co. / Bella Union / P-Vine) It’s been a long time (like last century) since I’ve listened to The Innocence Mission, but their tenth album (they’ve been busy over the last few years) immediately brought the memories flooding back. This is wholly due to Karen Peris’ distinct voice, which I’ve always had a soft spot for, even in my noise-craving youth, when I generally appreciated her and the playing of Peris’ guitarist husband Don and bassist Mike Bitts through exposure from others rather than actively seeking them out. While gentle, The Innocence Mission eluded preciousness, and still do, with this a damn fine record, especially the Astrud Gilbert/ bossa nova-inspired title track. Looks like I have some catching up to do. A-

Allen Ravenstine, Waiting for the Bomb (ReR Megacorp) Upon learning that original Pere Ubu synthesizer man Allen Ravenstine was once again making music, I was excited. First came a pair of duo outings with current Ubu synth player Robert Wheeler, and last year The Pharaoh’s Bee found Ravenstine alone. That one was cool, but this follow-up, which employs analogue and digital instruments, hardware and software, is even better. There’s lots of abstraction on this hour-plus set, but also moments recalling sci-fi soundtracks/ incidental music, early electronics, jazz both straight-up mersh and with darker undercurrents, general ambience, and even a little funk. Sweet. Limited vinyl comes with a 48-page perfect bound volume of Allen’s music-related short stories. Even sweeter. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Barbara Dane, Hot Jazz, Cool Blues & Hard-Hitting Songs (Smithsonian Folkways) It’s the 70th anniversary of Smithsonian Folkways, and I’m way past due to salute ‘em. This excellent 2CD primer into an often-overlooked vocalist-guitarist-leftist hero can be obtained from the label in a bundle with the vinyl reissue of Barbara Dane and the Chambers Brothers. Equally adept at range of blues, jazz, and protest folk, had Dane allowed herself to succumb to record company bullshit, she would’ve been better known in her prime, but this set illustrates that her achievements were huge in a more substantial way. As the injustice she fought against still exists, this collection is screamingly relevant. Features contributions from Lightnin’ Hopkins, Memphis Slim, Willie Dixon, and Doc Watson. A-

Anna & Elizabeth, The Invisible Comes to Us (Smithsonian Folkways) I can’t believe I missed the boat on this one; only by a few months (it came out in March), but still. I’d gotten hipped to the work of Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth LaPrelle last year due to comparisons made to another duo, House & Land. There’s a definite similarity between the two acts (and some shared Virginia roots), but also differences. Like House & Land, Anna & Elizabeth are steeped in tradition but never quaint, and this is their third album (available on wax), the byproduct of a shared residency in Virginia after a year’s worth of researching the archives of song collector Helen Hartness Flanders. Combining the true folk root with elements of the ’60s-’80s NYC avant-garde, the results are enveloping and often glorious. A

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Record Store Club | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Alan Braufman,
Valley of Search

As part of NYC’s fertile ’70s free-spiritual-loft jazz scene, the alto saxophonist Alan Braufman cut a solitary and underheard album as a leader, the ’75 effort Valley of Search. It was the second LP on the esteemed independent jazz label India Navigation, captured essentially live with no overdubs, alternate takes, or extra cuts, and while a handful of particulars solidify its stature as a noteworthy recording (including the debut of pianist and instrument builder Cooper-Moore), the biggest is its robust, ecstatic improvising. Long a rarity and never given an authorized reissue, a fresh vinyl edition is out June 29 through the Valley of Search label.

Clifford Allen’s excellent liners for this reissue go into greater depth, but in brief, the move that made Valley of Search a reality was Braufman’s leaving Boston along with a group of Berklee College of Music students for New York City, and specifically lower Manhattan; the others were saxophonist David S. Ware, bassist Chris Amberger, and pianist Gene Ashton, who’s known today as Cooper-Moore.

Next came the acquisition of a space in which to live and create, in this case a building on 501 Canal St. Once moved in, the first floor was designated for performances. Others took up residence, including drummer Tom Bruno and vocalist Ellen Christi; Amberger moved out. Through rehearsal and performance, the Braufman-Ashton unit, which included bassist David Saphra and drummer Ralph Williams, grew into the role of the house band. With time and diligence came increased attention and then the opportunity to record.

The five LPs (released separately) or three CDs (issued as a set) that hold the Wildflowers loft jazz sessions (a series of events held at Sam Rivers’ Studio RivBea that featured a range of players both well-known and obscure) remain a bountiful point of entry into this scene, but they should in no way be considered definitive. A whole lot more was happening, and a sizable percentage was preserved through Bob Cummins’ India Navigation label.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Frank Newsome,
Gone Away with a Friend

Since 1972, Frank Newsome has been a minister in the Little David Old Regular Baptist Church, located near tiny Haysi in southwestern Virginia. As part of services, he is also a singer of uncommon richness and power, delivering his message without musical instruments in keeping with church tradition. Although Newsome received some exposure beyond Haysi through his longtime friend Dr. Ralph Stanley and was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship in 2011, Gone Away With a Friend is his first recording. Capturing him a cappella and unaccompanied in his church, the compact disc is out June 29 through Free Dirt Records. Anyone with an interest in folk and gospel traditions will want to hear it.

Gone Away With a Friend provides a rare opportunity to experience the Old Regular Baptist singing tradition. As mentioned in Christopher Koepp’s notes for the set, the only prior widely available Old Regular Baptist recordings were two early ’90s discs from Smithsonian Folkways that offered lined-out hymnody from Southeastern Kentucky. Making this collection rarer still is that with one exception, the pieces here aren’t lined-out, i.e. an individual leading a congregation in song (and as such, a relative to shape-note singing), but instead present Newsome alone.

The strength of Newsome’s voice is immediately felt, its quality made even more remarkable when considering his contraction of black lung disease after years working in the coal mines of his region; his last day underground was February 12, 1976. As vocal intensity gets seamlessly united with the conviction and indeed the utter soulfulness of Newsome’s singing, Gone Away With a Friend attains a brilliance that’s at first startling, then soothing, and ultimately life-affirming.

More so than most recorded examples of undiluted tradition, the disc registers almost entirely as an act of preservation rather than dually serving as a calling-card for an artist or group working in a niche of the vast field of Americana. It is true that Newsome would often commence the proceedings of Ralph Stanley’s Hills of Home festival (and has sung at other folklife oriented fests), but those appearances (it feels wrong to call them performances) occurred as an outgrowth of friendship and community, aspects that deeply resonate as Gone Away With a Friend plays.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
John Coltrane,
The Atlantic Years
in Mono

Sound reads, all summer long.Ed.

John Coltrane’s Atlantic period presents an arresting convergence of circumstances. It was a time of raised profile and of considerable transition, the artist’s confidence audibly growing as he united jazz tradition and experimentation; most of all it was an era of major breakthroughs establishing the saxophonist as a leader in his field. The Atlantic Years in Mono doesn’t include the entirety of his work for the label, but it does ably document a thrilling era that brought Coltrane to a mainstream audience. Don’t be scared by the audiophile angle; Rhino’s 6CD/6LP+7-inch set is a splendid acquisition for both newbies and longtime fans. One gets to hear the thriving mastery as it was originally released.

By the time John Coltrane hooked up with the Ertegun brothers he’d already chalked up a significant list of achievements, serving as a powerful voice in post-bop’s development via the bands of Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis, guesting for a track on Sonny Rollins’ Tenor Madness, teaming with Hank Mobley, Al Cohn, and Zoot Simms for Tenor Conclave, and leading bands for Prestige and for one LP Blue Note. Top billing came with Coltrane in 1957, and next was Blue Train for Blue Note, which many consider to be his first great album. John Coltrane with the Red Garland Trio followed in ’58 (aka Traneing In for its ’61 reissue), and Soultrane retained the services of the Garland band. As Coltrane’s fame grew Prestige would later release nearly a dozen albums under his name from unissued sessions and elevated sideman dates, in turn possibly lending a false impression of the saxophonist as unusually prolific during ’57-’58.

Coltrane was constantly playing but was nowhere near popular enough to have that many albums produced in such a short span; indeed, his two ’58 records with Wilber Harden as co-leader, Jazz Way Out and Tanganyika Strut, are rarely discussed in spite of their being positioned directly before Coltrane’s move to Atlantic. Well, not quite; the closest correspondent recording to his ’59 Atlantic debut Giant Steps is Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, June
2018, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for June, 2018. Part one is here and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Norbert Rodenkirchen / Robbie Lee / James Ilgenfritz, Opalescence (Telegraph Harp) As part of the ensemble Sequentia, Rodenkirchen is a heavyweight medieval music flautist. Lee’s a woodwind specialist who likes bringing early music instruments into contempo settings; amongst others, he’s played with Mary Halvorson and Brian Chase. Ilgenfritz is a bassist, composer, and leader of The Anagram Ensemble; of collaborators and credits, he has a ton. Although flute is a hard sell for me when not played by Eric Dolphy or Roland Kirk, this LP proves to be a non-stop pleasure, largely because it resides in an avant zone where clichés, flute or non, are absent. That doesn’t mean medieval/ early music aspects aren’t perceptible amid the post-jazz thrust, there’s just no grafting. Sweet. A

Arp, Zebra (Mexican Summer) Artist-producer-DJ Alexis Georgopoulos is Arp, and his latest is a consistently engaging and occasionally delightful tour of an instrumental landscape that’s more than slightly reminiscent of the post-Eno/ Jon Hassell progressive-ambient ‘80s, with definite nods toward the era’s global adventurousness. There are elements recalling rainforest New Age, rhythms African and Reich-like, Multikulti jazz, mellow kosmische, Japanese avant-pop, and a boatload of fluttering, burbling, and swirling electronics. Employing a wide array of instruments, maybe the most appealing being double bass, Georgopoulos isn’t merely striving for period synthesis here, with a few moments bringing The Necks and The Books to mind. “Halflight Visions” and “Fluorescences” are amongst the standouts. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: V/A / Hugh Tracey, Listen All Around: The Golden Age of Central and East African Music (Dust-to-Digital) The reports of the compact disc’s demise are greatly exaggerated. While I’m no fan of the format overall, the recent proliferation of CD-books is a cause for great cheer, especially when assembled by the folks at Dust-to-Digital. These 84 pages spotlighting field-recordings made in the titular regions from 1950-’58 is an information trove, and the emphasis on the work of pioneering ethnomusicologist Tracey, a native South African who established the International Library of African Music in 1954, is surely admirable. but it’s the two CDs of wide-ranging and unswervingly beautiful music, all 47 tracks of it, that makes this essential for fans of African sounds. A+

V/A, Voices of Mississippi: Artists and Musicians Documented by William Ferris (Dust to Digital) Dipping into the substantial life’s work of audio recordist, filmmaker, folklorist, and professor William Ferris, this offers a 120-page hardcore book teeming with insights and photos illuminating African-American art and culture, a DVD of his documentary films (one of which covers the fife and drum master Othar Turner), and three CDs, the first focused on a wide variety of blues, the second offering a wonderful serving of gospel, and the last loaded with storytelling from an array of voices including a handful of the contributing musicians (plus B.B. King and Pete Seeger) as well as authors Barry Hannah, Alice Walker, Alex Haley, Allen Ginsberg, and Robert Penn Warren. The cumulative effect is staggering. A+

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Record Store Club | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
The Room in the Wood, The Room in the Wood

Liverpool’s The Room in the Wood features vocalist Dave Jackson and guitarist-bassist Paul Cavanagh, and their project’s self-titled debut marks the first time they’ve worked together since the breakup of their noted post-punk outfit The Room back in 1985. Both have been musically active since, so the limited vinyl’s 11 songs (a dozen on the CD) show no traces of rust as the contents imbue a mature post-punk-descended melodic rock with folk and acoustic blues influences. Altogether, it’s a winning combination, and it’s out June 22 through the reignited A Turntable Friend Records.

I first heard The Room long after they’d called it a day, during one of my periodic dives into the labyrinthine nooks of the post-punk wave, with my lingering impression of a solid band with a handful of great songs (maybe the greatest being “Things Have Learnt to Walk that Ought to Crawl”) and a few characteristics in common with their country’s indie pop impulse.

If critically adored while extant (at least reportedly so), in the years since they’ve become somewhat underrated, though far from forgotten; the high-volume discography of the post-punk retrospective label LTM holds two CD collections of The Room’s work, one a Best of (No Dream) and the other an LP/ mini-album combo (In Evil Hour/Clear!)

After the breakup Dave Jackson went on to sing and write songs in Benny Profane along with a bunch of other bands and projects, while Paul Cavanagh took part in a slew of activities as well, amongst them recording solo as Cabin in the Woods. The Room in the Woods finds them rejoining forces, but in a positive development, not attempting to fall back into the motions of their former band.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Chris Crofton,
Hello It’s Me

Rock musician, stand-up comedian, actor, comedic advice columnist: Nashville’s Chris Crofton wears many creative hats, but with Hello It’s Me he dives wholeheartedly into singer-songwriter pop with an emphasis on serious, complicated love songs. Crisply produced by Kevin Ratterman and with sharp instrumental assistance from like likes of Jim James and Scott Moore of My Morning Jacket and Matt Rowland from the bands of Bobby Bare Jr. and Caitlin Rose, the star of this bright and at-times surprising ten-song set is undeniably Crofton, and he’s delivered a pop-lover’s delight but with an undercurrent of subtle unusualness. It’s out on vinyl, compact disc, and digital June 22 through the Arrowhawk label.

Every record has a backstory, but Hello It’s Me’s is especially interesting. Much of it derives from the breadth of Chris Crofton’s pursuits, having kicked out heavy punkish rock in the Alcohol Stuntband, acted in the sitcom Still the King on the CMT Network, and Harmony Korine’s faux found-VHS mindfuck Trash Humpers, performed edgy stand-up all the way out in Los Angeles (running in the same circles as Bob Odenkirk and Neil Hamburger), and back home serving as the Advice King for the weekly Nashville Scene.

Much of this activity was fueled by booze, an unsurprising fact given the name of his band, but a few years ago Crofton made the decision to get sober, and while sticking with it he wrote and recorded a striking batch of tunes that register as an ode to the soft rock side of the classic singer-songwriter experience.

Along with a quickly discernable writing talent, the key to the album’s success is its seriousness. Hello It’s Me is not a tongue-in-cheek thing; Crofton is an open admirer of John Denver, Bread, and Gordon Lightfoot because to quote him, “the melodies are strong as shit.” It’s hard to argue with that. But if respect is vital, Crofton’s personality keeps this set from becoming an exercise in mere imitation or homage.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, June
2018, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for June, 2018. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Eartheater, IRISIRI (PAN) New Yorker Alexandra Drewchin is Eartheater, and this is her third release and first for Pan after a couple for the Hausu Mountain label. As she possesses a three-octave vocal range, you might assume she’d place this ability front and center and then leave it there, but for a fair amount of IRISIRI an intriguing instrumental blend of experimentation and digital textures (sometimes leaning toward the ambience of electronica) basks in the foreground. However, it’s not like Drewchin’s elected to subvert her strength as a vocalist; when those pipes get asserted, the results are a powerful and integral component in an oft-surreal cascade of newness. And yet subtle. Additionally, poetical contributions from guests Odwalla1221 and Moor Mother fit right into the advanced weave. A

Patrick Higgins, Dossier (Other People) Composer-producer Higgins is noted for his guitar presence in the New York ensemble Zs, an outfit he joined in 2012, at the same time as Guardian Alien’s Greg Fox. But hey, the gent has a slew of his own credits, including the String Quartet No.2 + Glacia 2LP (2013) and the Social Death Mixtape cassette (2015). This combo of guitar and live custom electronics is his latest, and it’s a doozy. All of the four-part work’s programming is original and performed live with no overdubs, as the samples, conceived specifically for this project, are executed with midi triggers mapped to the guitar. Other People’s press release calls the results post-apocalyptic, and I’m with it. The 18-minute final section, loaded with string-wiggle, soaring tones, and vocal samples, is an utter delight. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Gene Clark, Sings for You (Omnivore) After Clark left The Byrds in ‘66, he recorded the very cool Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers for Columbia. It fell far short of commercial expectations and the company lost interest, which prompted the man to cut some demos intended to spark the curiosity of labels. Those sessions are the first eight tracks on this CD/ 2LP set, and it’s an especially valuable unveiling, as Clark’s profusely flowing song fount during this period meant that none of this material turned up on his subsequent album for A&M. Plus, even more goodness comes through the rediscovery of an acetate of his songs from the same period given to the band The Rose Garden (more on them down below). Altogether, a glorious new gulp of Clark, and in prime form. A

Mouvements, S/T (Mental Experience) Originally released in 1973 in a boxed edition of 150 with inserts and lithographs by artist Richard Reimann and sold only in art galleries, this Swedish hybrid of avant-garde, out jazz and art-psych-prog rock was organized by guitarist Christian Oestreicher. It’s an eye-opening pleasure in its reissued LP form (minus box and lithos for affordability, though there is an informative interview with Oestreicher) and loses no creative steam across the five CD bonus tracks or the four digital-only extras (worry not, everything’s downloadable with purchase of the vinyl). Considering the nearly 100-minute running time, this is impressive. The prevalent violin of Blaise Català can bring Hot Rats to mind, but much more is happening here, including a cool Soft Machine vibe. A-

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Record Store Club | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Wire,
Chairs Missing

While the punk genre has its share of great albums, and the same can surely be said for the refinements, expansions, and disruptions in post-punk’s playground, the list of those having excelled at both is short indeed. If any outfit makes the cut, it’s Wire. Having delivered the UK class of ’77 a cornerstone LP, their next two full-lengths helped to define the sound of post-punk; they remain amongst the finest records the styles ever produced. Out now through the band’s label Pinkflag are special edition CD books of all three, 80 pages each and sized like 45s, featuring text by Jon Savage and Graham Duff plus additional tracks. The standalone vinyl and no-frills CDs arrive July 6. Here’s our look at 1978’s Chairs Missing.

The enduring stream of adulation awarded to Wire’s debut Pink Flag can mask the fact that the esteem wasn’t instantaneous. As the printed observations in these CD books helps to clarify, the band was strikingly distinctive as part of the whole ’77 punk shebang, as they garnered a pocket of fervent advocates, including then Sounds writers Jon Savage and Jane Suck, but overall, Wire existed as just one outfit amongst many, and this lack of a microscope of expectation surely allowed for creativity to flourish without the hinderance of unnecessary pressures.

If somewhat ambivalent to the punk tag at the time and in retrospect, it’s pretty apparent now that Wire benefited from their emergence in connection to the sheer tumult of the time. Just as importantly, they weren’t anointed the saviors of its essence, the crucial destabilizers of convention, or the inevitable deliverers of what comes next.

Simply put, making rock music is hard. Making rock music that will produce an immediate audience reaction (and critical response) is harder. And making rock music under outsized expectations has been the end, literal and figurative, of many a band, resulting either in breakups or a nosedive in quality. At the very least, the avalanche of attention will irrevocably change the music.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve: Joshua Abrams, Excavations 1

Bassist Joshua Abrams’ discography is loaded, and with accumulated credits considerably more diverse than the norm. As a young Philadelphian, he was a member of The Roots, and after relocating to Chicago, he’s played with, amongst others, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Tortoise, and Jandek. As a jazz explorer, his connections include Roscoe Mitchell, Fred Anderson, Peter Brötzmann, Hamid Drake, Kidd Jordan, and Nicole Mitchell, but he’s probably most noted for forming the beyond category Natural Information Society. Abrams’ latest release presents him solo, and for lovers of advanced abstraction, it’s a killer; Excavations 1 is out June 15 on vinyl through Feeding Tube.

While not a native of Chicago, Joshua Abrams carries forward the city’s jazz tradition exceptionally well. Although he’s released one CD as leader of the Joshua Abrams Quartet (2013’s Unknown Known on Rouge Art), his name has been established through steadfast collaboration and the sturdy output of groups. First there was Town and Country (five albums, all but the first for Thrill Jockey, between ’98 and ’06), and beginning in 2010 (with four releases and a joint disc with Bitchin Bajas) there is now the Natural Information Society.

This is not to suggest that Abrams is a diligent adherent to the precedent set forth by the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Air. To the contrary, he’s clearly the leader of NIS (in fact, many of the records are credited to Abrams, though, interestingly, all except the debut Natural Information and the Bajas collab feature textless front covers), and of the comparisons I’ve run across, the one to Don Cherry feels quite right, in large part through a persistent disinclination to adhere to a single stylistic path.

As anyone familiar with NIS knows, they utilize instrumentation both trad (frame drum, tabla, gongs, bells, harmonium, dulcimer, and Abrams’ guembri) and electric in a blend of psychedelia, minimalism, drone, Krautrock, and yes indeed, jazz. All with a refreshing eschewal of hierarchy, with Abrams less a leader than a shaping coordinator, which brings me back to thoughts of the Windy City.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, June
2018, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for June, 2018. 

NEW RELEASE PICKS: OST, Hereditary (Milan) This is the score to the latest in the “I know you like horror movies, but THIS ONE is shit-your-pants scary” line of contempo fright flicks; most often it’s hype, occasionally the film delivers, and in this instance, we shall see (it arrives in theaters on Friday). Getting Canadian experimental saxophonist Colin Stetson to provide the music is a promising development, one substantially deepened after time spent with this 71-minute set. There are certainly elements of newness in Stetson’s scheme, but the palpable and deft sustainment of ominous atmospheres is in keeping with the lineage of great horror soundtracks. There’s also a nice repeated (sorta techno-ish) motif as things get progressively more intense and, even better, mysterious. Buy your tickets now. A

Modern Studies, Welcome Strangers (Fire) Via their debut Swell to Great (self-released in 2016 and reissued by Fire last year) I had this Scottish group pegged as chamber pop-Brit folk, and while the left side of that hyphen does persist here, the scale and ambition is much larger, incorporating a full-blown chamber orchestra (secured through a Creative Scotland grant), with rhythmic motion and general ambience confirming the promo text’s mentions of kosmische and Krautrock (think of a more rural Broadcast, perhaps). But that’s only a small part of the equation, as the value is raised considerably. “It’s Winter” underscores the influence of Van Dyke Parks, “Young Sun” begins in a fab chamber-folk place, and the harmonies of Emily Scott and Rob St. John are delightful throughout. A wonderful surprise. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: DJ Spooky, Presents Phantom Dancehall (VP Records) I received this Record Store Day item just after the big event went down and subsequently sat on my hands. The good news is that copies are still available, and as it gets a digital release on June 22, procrastination over grabbing the wax is inadvisable. If you know the dancehall style, which combines the foundation of reggae (and sometimes the weirdness of dub) with hip-hop, electronic, and even flashes of pop, then you know the root of what’s in these grooves, but in DJ Spooky’s hands it all ranges from a little zonked to a whole lot more, and all without undermining the essence of the subgenre’s appeal. It’s a sound that can sometimes wear thin in large doses, but Phantom Dancehall closes with the highlight “Jah Dub.” A-

Zuider Zee, Zeenith (Light in the Attic) As a lad, I recall bypassing this ’70s Memphis band’s sole ’75 Columbia album in the cut-out and second-hand bins. Years later, upon hearing a friend’s copy, I wasn’t too stressed over the lack. In obscure power-pop terms, it had moments but was far from great, though apparently Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen felt differently. This is not that LP, but a tidy batch of unreleased songs cut between ’72-’74, and I like it a whole lot more. Unsurprising, as the major label transition (after years of practice and gigs, which shows here) was the undoing of many a band. This doesn’t reach the possible heights of the cited Big Star-T. Rex hybrid, but the comparison does makes sense, and ditto the Beatles influence. Amid some dated elements, the songs here aren’t hindered by the execution. B+

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Record Store Club | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve: Lithics,
Mating Surfaces

The homemade quality of the cover to the Lithics’ second album recalls the heyday of DIY post-punk, and it’s an adequate tip-off to the nature of their sound. Many have done it over the years, and it can seem like just as many are doing it right now; and so, it’s necessary to spotlight the good stuff. Across a dozen tracks, the Portland, OR four-piece make clear they didn’t stumble onto the genre last week, but neither do matters unfold as premeditated. Mostly, Lithics connect as confident and inspired, and the songs place Mating Surfaces securely in the keeper column. It’s out now on LP, CD, cassette and digital through Kill Rock Stars; this month, the band will be playing shows with Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks.

A lot of neo-post-punk, particularly the bands displaying an inclination for the early stuff, gets all (too) caught up in the defining aspects of execution, e.g. the stuttering rhythms, the needling guitars, the structural angularity, the skeletal and/ or the shambolic, the whole non-pro yet non-workmanlike nature of it all.

Lithics, who consist of vocalist-guitarist Aubrey Horner, guitarist Mason Crumley, drummer Wiley Hickson, and bassist Bob Desaulniers, don’t skimp on the formal qualities. In fact, any of the cuts from this, their second full-length and first for Kill Rock Stars (the pairing a comfortable fit) could be slipped onto a mixtape of the original impulse made for the curious novice with nary a snag. But what immediately struck me, an experienced post-punk listener, was how well Mating Surfaces’ “Excuse Generator” engaged with those conventions as the song appealingly flowed amongst the jagged.

This can partly be chalked up to practice, but it’s just as attributable to intent, and it’s the combination of attentiveness, diligence, and taste that pushes this effort to the front of the current post-punk class. Horner’s alienated Euro delivery is wholly appropriate for their chosen style, but it nicely avoids the feigned, and the way she rides atop the disjointedly melodic instrumental attack of “Still Forms” is impressive and indicative of the record’s whole.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text