Category Archives: The TVD Storefront

Demand it on Vinyl: Smithsonian Folkways’ The Social Power of Music in stores 2/22

VIA PRESS RELEASE | Music is a universal element of human life. It’s a tie that binds us together, a force that breaks down walls and carries us forward, a refuge where we turn for hope, and a channel for our despair. On February 22nd, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings will release The Social Power of Music, a new box set that examines these roles of music in our lives from many angles and through many voices. Over four CDs, 80+ tracks, and an illustrated 124-page booklet, The Social Power of Music presents some of the most powerful moments in Smithsonian Folkways’ vast and ever-expanding catalog, putting them in conversation with each other to highlight the ways song has shaped the societies we live in.

The Social Power of Music looks at this music through four different perspectives. Disc 1: Songs of Struggle channels the visceral power of the fight for civil rights, featuring household names from Folkways’ archives including Woody Guthrie, The Freedom Singers, and Pete Seeger, and songs that defined a generation. Disc 2: Sacred Sounds presents music from many religions and spiritual practices, in some cases drawing from rarely heard or known ceremonies. Disc 3: Social Songs and Gatherings shows how we use music to come together, often in celebration. Disc 4: Global Movements looks to the use of roots music in key political movements around the world, tapping into anti-fascist verses, odes to the working class, and polemics against governmental corruption and violence.

The box set, and the idea of music’s centrality to the way people connect to one another, inspired the upcoming Smithsonian Year of Music, which presents music and sound events in Washington, DC and around the country every day throughout 2019. The series will kick off with a listening party for the compilation on January 2, 2019 at Songbyrd Record Café and Music House in Washington, DC. “The Social Power of Music” will also be the animating theme of the 2019 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which takes place annually on the National Mall.

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Needle Drop: HOLY WOW, “Hey Dragon”

Industrial electro rockers HOLY WOW hail from NYC and specialize in the kind of Gothic pop that made household names out of The Jesus and Mary Chain and Echo and the Bunnymen.

Their newest single, “Hey Dragon,” is a stadium-primed barn burner that rides a relentless bass groove into a full on Rolling Stones, gospel-tinged climax. The blissed out, fuzz-driven undertones and buzzsaw riffs are a perfect match for lead singer Dmitry Wild’s dynamic vocals which oscillate from Lou Reed-like speak singing to Brandon Flowers-esque rock operatics.

“Hey Dragon” is off the forthcoming debut, Modern Ancient Man, which marks the first time Mr. Wild has taken the leadership role among the prolific line of bands he’s been associated with. The new skin seems to suit him well, as the whole LP is laced with a sweet spot swagger that continues to impress after repeat listens.

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Meg Myers: In-store
with TVD at DC’s Som Records

Meg Myers has been on our radar for a number of years now, and despite our own vinyl predilections, our introduction to Meg came via a slew of videos released over time—often haunting, tense, claustrophobic, and kinda eerie.

As such, it delights us to no end to report that in person Meg’s quite easily the opposite of that persona—well, at least on this sunny Saturday at DC’s Som Records. She’s warm, funny, engaging—and with hugs all around after the record rummage.

So, let’s take you to the record store—we’re record shopping with Meg Myers at Washington, DC’s Som Records!

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Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2018’s New Releases, Part One

We now shift into the first part of our roundup of the best new releases of 2018, and below (and right off the bat) you’ll notice a few labels popping up more than once. More than twice, even. After much consideration, this is just how the cookie of quality crumbles in this calendar year, though the juxtapositions are still worthwhile.

10. The Chills, Snow Bound (Fire) & Modern Studies, Welcome Strangers (Fire) Led by singer-songwriter and sole constant member Martin Phillipps, New Zealand’s The Chills have long been one of my favorite melodic-rock endeavors. As a youngster in the 1980s, I grabbed the band’s early records towards the tail end of that decade; they were on the Kiwi label Flying Nun, a sure sign of quality, though the platters were released in the US at the time through Homestead. As the scope of Phillipps’ songs continued to grow, his profile rose as he moved on to Slash. After ending a long break in recording in 2013 The Chills found a solid home with Fire in the UK. Best lists routinely focus on groundbreaking or at least considerably ambitious stuff, but Snow Bound isn’t blazing a trail, with the main ambition here to write and record a solid, memorable set of songs; what they’ve achieved is another batch of notably strong Chills material nearly 40 years after Phillipps formed the group, and that is no small thing.

Modern Studies are a band from Scotland-via-Lancashire whose 2016 debut Swell to Great impressed me quite a bit. I also dug their track on “Avocet Revisited,” which was a short V/A covers tribute to the very cool Bert Jansch album. Welcome Strangers expands upon their prior baroque folky atmospheres while never totally leaving them behind, in part through their continued use of organic instrumentation, including double bass, harmonium and piano alongside electric guitar and bass, brass and string arrangements and the occasional tasteful use of electronic rhythms. Often dancy and poppy in way that could trigger rampant delight in a busload of ABBA fans, the tandem vocals of Emily Scott and Rob St. John are invitingly warm, but there are also experimental (though never discomfiting) elements aplenty (plus some Krautrock-ish undercurrents), and the cumulative effect is bold without ever faltering into the grandiose. Without ever faltering much at all in fact, across a record loaded with unexpected twists.

9. Madison Washington, (((( FACTS ))))) (Def Pressé) & Obnox, Bang Messiah (Smog Veil) Where so much contemporary hip-hop zigs, Madison Washington zags, and that’s cool with me. The duo of California/New York-based emcee Malik Ameer and Sheffield, England resident DJ/producer thatmanmonkz are named after the man who led the first and only successful slave rebellion in the USA, so rest assured that (((( FACTS ))))) (which follows up their debut EP “Code Switchin’”) will leave you feeling smarter, though to call Madison Washington a scholarly thing is inapt; throughout this 2LP, they instill much more of a party vibe. I said they like to zag, and after an opener that sorta picks up where the EP left off, the thrust shifts into a funky zone (underscoring Ameer’s bi-coastal situation) that references P-Funk and reminds me at times of Outkast. But it’s all so much more than a revamp/ rehash. To restate sentiments from my earlier short review, it’s some of the best hip-hop I’ve heard in a long time.

Hip-hop and a general sense of funkiness are but flavors in Bang Messiah’s overall recipe, but they are essential ingredients rather than the sort of slapdash additives that seem like a good idea but then turn out to be barely palatable at best (the dangers of cooking while high). Main Obnox man and Clevelander Lamont “Bim” Thomas’ prior credits are substantial, including the Compulsive Gamblers, Bassholes (with former member of the Gibson Bros. Don Howland), and This Moment in Black History, bands that might make it clear to the uninitiated that Obnox combines hip-hop and rock, though the garage/ punk/ scuzz background keeps this far away from a baseball cap turned backwards scenario. Instead, Bang Messiah is a weird and noisy affair, and with staying power as it connects as a record of ideas. And as Obnox has amassed a sizable discography, it’s been this way for a while; I haven’t heard everything, but I’ve soaked up more than a few. This is the best one yet.

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TVD Radar: Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” short form project unveiled

VIA PRESS RELEASE | As part of an ongoing campaign to commemorate Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 50th anniversary, Craft Recordings is pleased to present an official short form audio-visual project offering a fresh take on their timeless standard, “Have You Ever Seen The Rain.” Following the “Fortunate Son” video moment earlier this year, “Have You Ever Seen The Rain” conveys a wholly different dimension of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s enduring relevance—separate from politics or American traditions, something more personal and eternally youthful. Filmed in “Big Sky Country” Montana, the project pays tribute to nostalgia, friendship and adventure.

Directed by Laurence Jacobs—who has directed and produced videos for artists including Andrew Bird, Steve Martin, Elvis Costello, and Valerie June–the project features Jack Quaid (The Hunger Games, Logan Lucky, HBO’s Vinyl and Amazon’s upcoming series, The Boys), Sasha Frolova (FOX’s Red Sparrow, Netflix’s Snowpiercer, KENZO’s The Everything) and Erin Moriarty (Marvel’s Jessica Jones, Amazon’s The Boys). “I knew I wanted to tell a coming-of-age story,” Jacobs explains. “Something distinctly real that encapsulated identity. Not teenage years, but specifically your early 20s when you’re still growing and trying to become someone.” The result is a story that captures early adulthood’s wild rush of nostalgia and freedom, mixed with heartbreak and melancholy-emotions of which the song is emblematic.

Continues Jacobs, “My writing partner [Luke Klompien] and I developed this story about three best friends hanging in Montana until one of them moves away. The whole experience was so meaningful. Our crew poured so much love into this thing, and we worked with wonderful Montanans who just opened their doors and wanted to be a part of the experience.”

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Graded on a Curve:
Various Artists,
Repo Man: Music from the Original Motion Picture

There was no need to look for the joke with a microscope when the film Repo Man came out of left field in 1984; Alec Cox’s tale of a cynically blasé hardcore kid turned car repossessor who has a spiritual awakening of sorts while riding in a radioactive 1964 Chevy Malibu flying high above the lights of nighttime L.A. was a laugh fest.

But Repo Man did more than just introduce us to Otto, Bud, Miller, and the Rodriguez Brothers; it came along with a nifty little soundtrack album that is every bit as offbeat, hilarious, and ultimately transcendental as the movie itself.

Cox peppers 1984’s Repo Man: Music from the Original Motion Picture with everybody’s L.A.hardcore faves (Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Fear, Suicidal Tendencies, and if you wondering where X is, can you imagine Otto listening to them?), but also throws in a couple of real wild cards in the form of Iggy Pop’s tailor-made “Repo Man,” a trio of absolutely wonderful cuts by the Plugz, and the faux soul howler “Bad Man,” in which Sy Richardson reprises his role as Lite, the baddest and blackest repo man of ‘em all.

Perhaps the strangest thing about this soundtrack to history’s best hardcore movie is how little hardcore music there is on it. But this makes perfect sense when one considers that the hardcore scene is just the film’s starting point–the dead end that sends Otto straight into the unscrupulous arms of the Helping Hand Acceptance Agency and the company of Bud and Miller in the first place.

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Needle Drop: Violet Sands, “Gone”

Brooklyn-based trio Violet Sands are relatively new to the scene, but their artful electro-pop musings feel crafted by the steady hand of a master.

Spearheaded by guitarist Derek Muro and vocalist Deidre Muro, the band has come to be known by their synthesis of shoegazey riffs and electo-chillwave production. Their newest single, “Gone,” is a dreamy slice of synth pop that isn’t in a rush to prove itself, revealing it’s power through dynamic shifts in arrangement and world-weary lyricism.

Derek shares, “‘Gone’ is about losing your way in life, being confused and still pressing on despite the temptations of escapism. It’s trying to be comfortable in face of the unknown. We started the song as part of our album HOTEL in Los Angeles immediately before I moved back to New York. The song definitely has a quality of a big life move embedded in it.”

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Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2018’s Reissues, Part Two

Part two of our reissue spotlight extends the diversity; there is live jazz, the early recordings of an icon, some heavy funk, and rock in varying shapes, sizes and levels of strangeness. It all gets capped off with a bountiful helping of vintage African sounds and a series of releases from one of post-punk’s defining bands.  

5. Thelonious Monk, Mønk (Gearbox) + Bud Powell, The Essen Jazz Festival Concert (ORG Music) Uncovered recordings of great artists are likely to bring reassessments, and so it is with this live platter of Thelonious Monk’s quartet from Copenhagen in 1963, the tape of which (made by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation) was reportedly saved just before being carried off in the trash (it was found in a skip). The reevaluation here relates to this incarnation of Monk’s quartet, which features bassist John Ore and drummer Frankie Dunlop together with Monk’s longstanding tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse. A fine band, and the unit that brought us Monk’s Dream in fact, but not a lineup that has previously stood out as spectacular on live recordings. With this retrieval, the group is now documented as having a great night.

ORG’s The Essen Jazz Festival Concert, which finds Bud Powell in a quartet setting with tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, drummer Kenny Clarke, and bassist Oscar Pettiford, is not a new discovery. However, giving it a deep listen on the occasion of its reissue provided the opportunity to further revise my assessments regarding the work and the troubled, ultimately tragic life of Powell, who was amongst the greatest pianists in the history of jazz. In short, a recurring stream of thought concerning Powell’s later recordings has been that they are to varying degrees subpar, and while I won’t deny that there are some rough patches in the discography, this performance from Essen, Germany is not one of them. This is not to say that the show isn’t without faults, but most of them aren’t Bud’s, and if this isn’t as strong an affair as Mønk, the opportunity to contemplate Powell in the ’60s without a black cloud hanging over the proceedings is very much appreciated.

4. Nina Simone, Mood Indigo: The Complete Bethlehem Singles (BMG – Bethlehem) + Betty Davis, Nasty Gal (Light in the Attic) Shoddy reissues predate the CD era, but the flood of visually unappealing, noncontextualized releases probably hit its peak in the ‘90s. I won’t deny that I sometimes took the bait and bought some otherwise unenticing releases because there was no other way of hearing the contents, and I indeed picked up a bunch of underwhelming packages in gathering the Bethlehem singles of Nina Simone, specifically because no label ever bothered to package them all together. Well, this year BMG and producer Cheryl Pawelski did, and their smart gesture is a joy to hear as it underscores the depth of Simone’s ability on her earliest recordings. Much of the record (available on CD and on vinyl with a bonus 7-inch) finds Simone singing and playing piano alone with results that are sublime, and while bassist Jimmy Bond and drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath do occasionally back her in a jazz framework, this collection forecasts the wide range of her later work. It provides a fabulous opportunity to soak up the brilliance of the artist long before her career struggles set in.

If Nina Simone suffered from a refusal to be boxed into a single category, the issue with Betty Davis was that she was simply ahead of her time. Musically and sexually bold in an era that seemed primed for acceptance, the aggressive funk of this intense, liberated woman was ultimately too much for the listening public at large to handle, as it wasn’t as openminded a time as has often been claimed; naturally, she’s sustained a cult following in the ensuing years. About a decade back Light in the Attic reissued her ’73 self-titled debut and the following year’s They Say I’m Different, the pair opening the eyes of many, and in 2016 they dished her largely unheard early recordings as The Columbia Years 1968-69. It’s all worthy stuff, but this year they returned to print Davis’ third and best solo LP from ’75, a slab of funk so heavy and wild of personality that her career essentially stalled. If you dig Funkadelic but have yet to get hip to Nasty Gal, you’re in for a doozy.

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TVD Radar: King Diamond, Songs For The Dead Live 2-LP, DVD/
Blu-ray in stores 1/25

VIA PRESS RELEASE | On January 25th, King Diamond will release a new DVD/Blu-ray, Songs For The Dead Live, via Metal Blade Records.

There is only one King Diamond, and for more than thirty years the great Dane has been dropping classic albums and putting on shows fans remember for the rest of their lives. Perhaps the only downside to having such a formidable catalogue is that there are just too many great songs to fit into a single set. However, you would be hard-pressed to find a fan who wouldn’t want to hear 1987’s seminal Abigail in its entirety, and Songs For The Dead Live captures this, twice, and in very different locales.

Boasting eighteen songs per set, each of the two shows – Belgium’s Graspop Metal Meeting in June 2016 and Philadelphia’s Fillmore in November 2015 – feature a brace of classic King Diamond and Mercyful Fate tracks including “Welcome Home,” “Halloween,” and “Eye Of The Witch” before launching into Abigail. The performances of the all-star lineup of musicians, comprising of guitarists Andy LaRocque and Mike Wead, bassist Pontus Egberg and drummer Matt Thompson, are absolutely ferocious, hammering home every single moment.

Captured on film by director Denise Korycki for Wild Wind Studios, she worked closely with King on every aspect of filming, and throughout the viewer finds themselves front and center as the shows unfold. This includes some inventive camera placement, such as riding in on the back of the wheelchair as it is wheeled out to “Out From The Asylum” at the start of the show, or looking up from the coffin at the commencement of Abigail opener “Funeral,” which adds an extra dimension to proceedings.

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Demand it on Vinyl: Dennis Coffey, Live at Baker’s in stores 3/1

VIA PRESS RELEASE | Dennis Coffey’s first recording date was in the 1950s, when the guitarist was only 15. Years later, he would become a member of the famed Detroit session group the Funk Brothers, playing on hits like Edwin Starr’s “War” and laying down the solo on the Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion.” He also performed on tracks with Parliament/Funkadelic, Wilson Pickett, Chairmen of the Board, and produced Cold Fact for Rodriguez. That’s some resume!

But, even as a session musician, Coffey shines brightest playing live, as evidenced on the acclaimed One Night at Morey’s: 1968, a previously unissued set released last year. Street date for Live at Baker’s is set for March 1, 2019 via Omnivore Recordings, available as CD and Digital. Live at Baker’s brings Dennis’ performance legacy into this century, with Coffey and his band (two-time Detroit Music Award winner Demetrius Nabors on keys, Grammy®-nominated Gaelynn McKinney on drums, and bassist Damon Warmack) tearing through nine tracks, which include covers of Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Miles Davis, Jimmy Smith, and The Temptations — plus a searing version of Coffey’s own Top 10 1971 hit, “Scorpio,” one of the first songs by a white artist played on Soul Train. “Scorpio” has been sampled over 90 times, ensuring that its captivating qualities will be enjoyed for generations to come.

Live at Baker’s, recorded in 2006, features liner notes from author/ journalist Bill Kopp and a new interview with Coffey. According to Kopp’s notes: “It’s a rare electric guitarist who can serve up dazzling fretwork while simultaneously displaying good taste. Detroit-based guitarist Dennis Coffey is just such a musician. And he’s been doing it consistently — onstage and in countless recording sessions — since the middle of the 1950s.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2018’s Reissues, Part One

As we continue our look back at the best of 2018, the gears shift to reissues of the non-boxed variety, covering post-punk, global sounds, jazz, and a sprinkling of American originals. Overall, a bounty of goodness, and this is just part one.

10. The Fall, I Am Kurious Orang (Beggars Arkive) + Cocteau Twins, Treasure (4AD) It’s testament to the late Mark E. Smith’s brilliance that The Fall, simply one of the essential and singular pillars of post-punk, was also a great singles band. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that a significant portion of new Fall listeners initially engage with the band (featuring a plethora of lineups, but always with Smith in the driver’s seat) through compilations, increasingly drawn from their myriad 45s and EPs. That’s cool, and I can relate; while I’d heard them prior through a few V/A comps, my first Fall vinyl was a dog-eared used copy of 77-Early Years-79. While I don’t think the band’s long string of LPs is suffering from lack of exposure, it was still nice of Beggars to reissue I Am Kurious Orang, which is one of The Fall’s less celebrated but fully realized albums, shortly after the label graced the world with a fresh edition of 458489 A Sides. Conceived as the soundtrack to a ballet by Michael Clark, it was a return to restless ambition after a dalliance with pop respectability, and it sounds as sweet now as it did in ’89.

I’ll admit that a touch (okay, a lot) of nostalgia informs my present-day interaction with I Am Kurious Oranj. But that’s okay; we all have our fond remembrances (and madeleine moments). This also applies to Treasure, the 1984 LP by Cocteau Twins, though even deeper recollections are tied to their ’88 effort Blue Bell Knoll. But Treasure, which featured the solidified union of singer Elizabeth Fraser, guitarist Robin Guthrie, and bassist Simon Raymonde, was around too, and it was frequently just the right ethereal capper to hours of noisy, punky racket. Other records suited the same purpose, but few have held up as well as this one; hell, some don’t hold up at all. Part of the reason Treasure sounds even better now than it did back then is directly related to the group’s pushing into uncharted territory. Of ’80s bands, they are amongst the most distinctive, and while they are now often cited as an early practitioner of dream pop, the Twins render as inadequate the vast majority of that style’s contempo offerings. Treasure is one of the few ethereal recordings that can be aptly described as heavy, and it still sounds magnificent today.

9. Joseph Spence, Bahaman Folk Guitar: Music from the Bahamas, Vol. 1 (Smithsonian Folkways) + Stella Chiweshe, Kasahwa: Early Singles (Glitterbeat) We’ve been graced in 2018 with a wonderful batch of vinyl reissues from Smithsonian Folkways including essential discs from Lightnin’ Hopkins, Woody Guthrie, Dock Boggs, and Pete Seeger, but the best, and certainly the most idiosyncratic, of the bunch is this Sam Charters-recorded dose of Bahaman guitarist Spence. While the man’s warmly rhythmic playing and his incessantly tapping feet secure his stature as one of the greats of international folk, its his loose and largely wordless vocalizing that has spurred countless unwitting listeners to quickly inquire “what in the hell is this?” Growly but joyous and yeah, weird but in a thoroughly unforced way, Spence was an utter original in an enduring scene that regularly values authenticity over individualism. Just thinking about the guy can get his music stuck in my head for days. I think about him a lot.

We move from the late ’50s in the Bahamas to the ’70s and early ’80s in Zimbabwe through the superb collecting of the early work from renowned mbira player and singer Chiweshe, whose inroads to international prominence largely began with the ’87 release of Ambuya?; it came out in the US via the Shanachie label as part of that decade’s boom for what was then tagged as World Music. That’s a cool record, but I’ll confess to liking this one a lot more as it quickly gets to mbira music’s beautiful core in the documentation of Zimbabwean traditional sounds made for Zimbabweans. It’s been a fine year for reissued global stuff, with the Analog Africa, Ostinato, and Akuphone labels bringing much goodness, but Kasahwa: Early Singles is amongst the very best as it spotlights something of a rarity; a female master of the mbira. I’m no expert in the instrument, but after numerous spins of this record I feel safe in claiming Chiweshe takes a backseat to nobody.

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Demand it on Vinyl: Johnny Mathis, I Love My Lady, lost pairing with CHIC in stores 2/1

VIA PRESS RELEASEJohnny Mathis was billed on his very first album as “A New Sound in Popular Song.” In the decades since that 1956 debut, the vocalist has always explored new avenues in pop from Latin music to Philly soul. But the most adventurous of Mathis’ 60-plus albums may be the one that got away…until now.

In late 1980, Johnny teamed up with the white-hot CHIC production team of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, fresh off triumphant collaborations with artists including Sister Sledge and Diana Ross, for I Love My Lady. Mathis took his voice into new, uncharted territory on eight anthemic, club-ready tracks that pushed the envelope of rhythm and blues as they incorporated funk, jazz, disco, and dance rhythms.

Despite the irresistible beats, incomparable vocals, and of-the-moment production, Columbia Records shelved I Love My Lady in 1981. Yet its legend only grew as the years passed. In 2006, house music duo The Shapeshifters even tantalizingly sampled a track from one song (“Love and Be Loved”) while the full track remained in the vault.

Finally, beginning in 2010, its songs began to trickle out on compilations, and in 2017, I Love My Lady was issued for the first time as part of a Mathis box set. Now, Real Gone Music and Second Disc Records are proud to present the first-ever standalone compact disc of this remarkable album by two American treasures: Johnny Mathis and CHIC.

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TVD Radar: Xymox, Twist of Shadows 2-LP vinyl set in stores now

VIA PRESS RELEASE | Gothic vocals shrouded by synthesized atmospherics greet you upon entering the world of Xymox.

While their album Twist of Shadows isn’t exactly industrial in its sound, the bpm’s run mid-tempo and sound totally danceable in a New Order-ish way. This expanded remastered release includes the club hits “Obsession” and “Blind Hearts,” along with several rare 12″ mixes and B-sides. A couple of the tracks have string arrangements by famed producer Tony Visconti, who was responsible for several of David Bowie’s landmark releases.

The two LPs are housed in a gatefold jacket complete with lyrics, and the artwork was designed by Vaughan Oliver of 4AD fame. Originally released in 1989, this is the most accessible Xymox album, selling over 300,000 copies, and their first on a major label. The 2-CD remaster also contains 10 bonus tracks in all with some very rare 12″ mixes and B-sides which have never been available on CD.

Xymox’s Twist of Shadows is out now as a limited 2-LP vinyl set (500 translucent red & 500 black) and as a double CD set via Pylon Records.  

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Graded on a Curve: The Best of 2018’s Box Sets

Hey, it’s that time again. The time for reflecting on the year that has been (boy howdy, what a year it has been), and the time for making lists of the year’s best releases (there have been a few). Box sets and expanded releases are up first!

10. V/A, Technicolor Paradise: Rhum Rhapsodies and Other Exotic Delights (Numero Group) Back in the ’90s, the rediscovery of the ’50s-’60s genre known as Exotica was an unexpected but welcome thing. However, it gradually devolved into a lounged-out situation that embodied retro Rat Pack shenanigans rather than the tropical island approximations of Martin Denny. As the Buckinghams so eloquently put it, ‘twas kind of a drag. This set however, is decidedly not a bringdown.

Sure, booze is mentioned in the title and additionally in the subcategories of the three LPs packaged in this exquisitely designed and deeply annotated set (another top-notch job from Numero), but instead of a soundtrack for the return of the Cocktail Nation, the vibe is solidly in the tropical mood music zone. That means the aroma (some would say stench) of cultural appropriation is strong, but it’s all part of a highly listenable history lesson, the majority of which you’re unlikely to have previously heard.

9. V/A, The Complete Cuban Jam Sessions (Craft Recordings) Offering sounds of roughly the same era as the release above, The Complete Cuban Jam Sessions is utterly lacking in kitsch or resurrected, reevaluated detritus, so if Technicolor Paradise’s blend of trend-hopping and surface-level cultural swiping and contortion isn’t your bag, this baby might be, given you dig groove heat produced by the sparks of improv.

While not reassessed castoffs from a dusty box moldering beneath the record store discount bin, that doesn’t mean the five LPs compiled here haven’t suffered from long periods of neglect and general shoddiness when previously reissued. Part of the joy of this collection (as is the case with so many of the best reissues) is how the music, specifically two sessions led by Julio Gutiérrez with one each by Niño Rivera, Israel “Cachao” López, and José Antonio Fajardo, basks in clarity as it’s given its belated due, here in large part through the tenacity of co-producer Judy Cantor-Navas.

8. Guru, Jazzmatazz Deluxe Edition (UMG – Urban Legends) By the time this “experimental fusion of hip-hop and jazz” hit in 1993, I was already neck-deep in jazz research and was steadily devouring East Coast hip-hop, so unlike some folks of my acquaintance, Jazzmatazz didn’t provide an epiphany as to the worthiness of either form or furthermore, that they would blend well together (as Stetsasonic, A Tribe Called Quest, and Guru’s own crew Gang Starr had already illustrated the potential of the stylistic union).

What Jazzmatazz made abundantly clear was that hip-hop could thrive in relationship to live jazz instrumentation across a whole album in contrast to what had largely been the prior norm of cherry-picking choice bits via sampling and looping. That it works may seem obvious in retrospect, but this record, here expanded to three LPs through remixes and instrumental versions, is considered groundbreaking for a reason. It also holds up like a champ and is one of the best rap releases from a decade loaded with quality from the genre.

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Graded on a Curve:
Levon Helm,
Electric Dirt

Talk about your survivors; legendary Band drummer/vocalist Levon Helm was 69 years old when he released 2009’s wonderful (and moving) Electric Dirt, and he packed a whole lot of very hard living (and a near fatal case of throat cancer) into those 69 years.

But this proud son of cotton farmers from Turkey Scratch, Arkansas triumphed over it all, and went out on a valedictory note with a pair of twilight LPs (2007’s Dirt Farmer garnered him a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album in 2008) that did nothing but enhance his status as one of the most distinctive vocalists and drummers of the rock era.

Helm may have run with real slick customers (Bob Dylan and Robbie Robertson, for starters), and he spent his fair share amount of time atop the Big Rock Candy Mountain, but he never lost that rural twang. His singing was equal parts white clay grit, visionary yowl, and sly country swing, and it provided some much needed American coloring to Robbie Robertson’s Canadian songwriting palette–he was the only fella in the Band who could have pulled off “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”

The years that followed the break-up of the Band were no kinder to him than to anybody else in the group; he messed around some, landed a memorable movie role or two, and put together some great touring bands and played his ass off, but his recording career was spotty at best.

Which is what makes the last two LPs he recorded before his death so wonderful. On Dirt Farmer he reached way, way back to explore his folk roots; come Electric Dirt he stretched out and went the funky Americana route, and ended up winning the first ever Grammy Award for Best Americana album for his efforts.

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