Category Archives: The TVD Record Store Club

Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
April 2020, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for April, 2020.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Trees Speak, Ohms (Soul Jazz) I was turned onto this Tucson, AZ outfit via their self-titled 2017 debut on the Italian Cinedelic imprint. The label change for LP two should increase the profile of the group, especially since Soul Jazz hardly ever deviates from reissues and anthologies. Led by Daniel Martin Diaz, rather than jazzy grooving or post-punk, Trees Speak specialize in the psychedelically Krautrocking, but with an unharried approach that could appeal to folks into King Gizzard or maybe even early Tame Impala. I happen to dig what Trees Speak are up to a lot more than those two however, partly because they do it sans vocals (likely why they were on Cinedelic), and additionally due to the heavier (and sax skronkier) passages. The decidedly Germanic keyboard-synth motions are also welcome, as are the spots that again suggest Meddle-era Floyd. Comes with bonus 45. Holding tight! A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Robbie Basho, Songs of the Great Mystery–The Lost Vanguard Sessions (Real Gone) The scoop here is that in 2009 Vanguard contacted American Primitive guitar expert and fingerpicker extraordinaire Glenn Jones regarding a discovered tape of the very great and highly underrated guitarist Basho, who cut records for John Fahey’s Takoma label, Vanguard, and later Windham Hill prior to his premature passing in 1986 at age 45. Turns out the tape was from the same long session that produced his two Vanguard LPs rather than a batch of second-rate stuff for Guitar Soli maniacs, so this is four sides of exquisite playing on guitar and piano (opening and closing the set) plus an abundance of singing (and whistling), so if you can’t abide his voice, then please move along. There are only 1,000 copies in this pressing (on clear wax), and they belong in upstanding homes. A

V/A, Stone Crush: Memphis Modern Soul 1977-1987 (Light in the Attic) Complete with typically excellent liner observations by Memphis expert Robert Gordon, this is an enlightening dive into a run of singles, and everything here was originally issued on 45, that will almost certainly be new discoveries to all but the most soul diligent. I’ll confess that the period covered coincides with a declining personal interest in soul/ funk/ R&B, in large part due to the prevailing commercial sound of the times, but even as a fair portion of the sounds anthologized here bounce around like a dingleberry in Rick James’ jockstrap, the generally modest production values impact the whole in a manner that’s enjoyable, with unavoidable fluctuations, across the set’s four sides. However, things never dip too low as the highlights can get up there pretty high.

Amongst my favorite moments are the linguistic love-tango in “Under Cover Lover” by the wonderfully named Captain Fantastic and Starr Fleet, the swirling DIY of “What Does it Take to Know (A Woman Like You),” by Greg Mason (with crucial input from producer Bernard Haynes), my pick for standout of the bunch, and the sneakily old-school “You Mean Everything to Me” by Sweet Pearl. The intermingled bluesy and fuzzy guitar in Frankie Alexander’s “Take Time Out for Love” and the horn-laden groove-glide of Cato’s “Slice of Heaven” are also dips into earlier sounds. And as Memphis was a music industry town, there are ties to the city’s well-documented past, directly to Willie Mitchell and Ardent Studios, indirectly to B.B. King. Now, you could procure original copies of these 45s, which would be cool but will set you back stupid money, or you can get this, which would be even cooler. You could also do both. A-

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A note to record shops and those who frequent them in response to the global pandemic: share your shop’s updates

We’ve long held that purchasing records is best done at your local indie record shops, however given the current precautions surrounding the Coronavirus, this might not be an option over the coming weeks or months. And while receiving records in the mail is certainly second best, many mom and pop shops support their revenue via sales on Discogs and eBay or directly via their own websites (as we’re pretty certain you’re aware).

While this is not breaking news per se, there WILL BE news generated going forward and we’d like to do what we can by offering our forums for your updates on your record shop’s status and where you’re continuing to offer sales via any of the above websites or elsewhere. Also, those of you who frequent your local shops are invited to add to the conversation.

Post here or on our socials—share, revise, and spread the word as to what’s happening in your shop or what those of you are seeing across the globe as we face this challenge together. An update will stay pinned to the top of our website and locator app Facebook pages as a handy resource for sharing news that you can feel free to also update or revise as needed. Find us on Twitter here and tweet updates to us which we’ll retweet and share from our side. We’re on Instagram here for the same.

We often joke around here about the dichotomy of celebrating indie, brick and mortar record shops and its community via pixels. Perhaps it’s an upside these days.

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
March 2020, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for March, 2020. Part one is here and part two is here.

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Jon Hassell, Vernal Equinox (Ndeya) & Jon Hassell/Farafina, Flash of the Spirit (Tak:Til/Glitterbeat) First issued by Lovely Music, Ltd. in 1977, Vernal Equinox is the debut album from Hassell, the master of smeared trumpet and a true groundbreaker in ambient music; additionally, it carries the distinction of laying the foundation for what’s now long-established as Fourth World Music. Subsequent examples include Hassell’s follow-up Earthquake Island and a handful of records by Brian Eno, with Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics a collab featuring Eno and Hassell; it’s a record the trumpeter hasn’t always been particularly fond of. I’m guessing he feels differently about Vernal Equinox, and well he should, as it remains a healthy dose of calmly unfurling oddness and beauty.

He didn’t do it alone, as the contributors to the album (which is available on vinyl for the first time in 42 years) include Naná Vasconcelos on percussion, David Rosenbloom on synth, and William Winant on kanjira. Jumping forward a little over a decade leads us to Flash of the Spirit, a co-billed collab with the Burkina Faso group Farafina, originally on the Intuition label (and Capitol in the US). The album is less gentle than Vernal Equinox, at times far less so, and the overall thrust isn’t as strange. Therefore, I don’t rate it as highly, though I am impressed by how well its intersection with the then burgeoning World Music genre holds up (particularly as it was produced by Eno and Daniel Lanois fresh off The Joshua Tree). But expanded to 2LP (no extra stuff, though), it still offers its share of worthy moments. A/ A-

Game Theory, Across The Barrier Of Sound: PostScript (Omnivore) My enthusiasm for the work of the late Scott Miller is well documented. Game Theory was Miller’s band, one of them anyway, and arguably the outfit for which he’s most remembered (might depend on whether you’re an ’80s or ’90s child; Miller went on to form The Loud Family). Omnivore has done a bang-up job in reissuing Game Theory’s stuff, and now here are the band’s final sessions, cut with the last lineup, which toured but never released a proper album. The personnel here includes Michael Quercio from the then recently broken up Three O’Clock and Jozef Becker, formerly of True West, Thin White Rope, and Miller’s prior band Alternate Learning, so it was far from a case of Miller scrounging up a bunch of scrubs for a tour.

And Across the Barrier of Sound bears out that everybody was fully engaged, whether it was for home recordings, in the studio, or live. Miller’s songwriting is consistently sharp, which is no surprise, as a fair amount of the contents here turned up on the first LP by The Loud Family, Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things. He’s also in fine voice (I’m just going to say that Ted Leo fans who don’t know Miller should do themselves a solid and check him out), which feeds right into one of this set’s strong points, a mess of covers, including The Beatles (“All My Loving”), The Nazz (“Forget All About It”), Eno (“Needle in the Camel’s Eye”), The Monkees (“The Door into Summer”), and on the CD, Big Star (“Back of a Car”), and Three O’Clock (“A Day in erotica”). Altogether, it’s so much more than a batch of leftovers. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
March 2020, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for March, 2020. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Astroturf Noise, S/T (577) Here is one of 2020’s sweetest surprises. It delivers an unpredictable and consistently rich blend of jazz, Appalachian roots, and in the wildest turn into left field, electronics. Sam Day Harmet plays mandolin/fx, Sana Nagano violin/fx, and Zach Swanson string bass. Snappy dressers all, they welcome guests Billy Martin on percussion and Sarah Bernstein on violin. If you are familiar with those names, you’ll likely suspect that this is much nearer to the avant-garde of jazz than some lame-ass library commons area yawn fest, a scenario that extends to their approach to hill roots, as the overly polite aura of contempo Americana is nowhere to be found. I’ll just say that if you’ve dug Eugene Chadbourne’s style shifting over the decades, you’re going to love this one. A

Maria McKee, La Vita Nuova (Afar – Fire) Fucking wow. McKee is the former singer and guitarist for the ’80s country-rock outfit Lone Justice. That band continues to be occasionally tagged as cowpunk, which isn’t wrong, though they did undergo a pretty quick refinement that found me increasingly less interested. Well, she’s been involved with all sorts of things since, including solo work, but I’ll confess to familiarizing myself with little of it, and anyway, this is her first solo effort since 2007’s Late December. As the opening phrase of this review probably makes clear, La Vita Nuova is a doozy. An homage to Dante’s opus on unrequited love, it draws inspiration from John Cale, Scott Walker, and Bowie plus Brit poets Keats, Swinburne, and Blake (initially based in L.A., McKee has relocated to England), but lands securely in Brit-folk/ chamber pop territory. Already borderline excellent and very likely a grower. A-

Sunn Trio, Electric Esoterica (Twenty One Eight Two Recording Company) The world is fucking burning. Maybe you’ve noticed. The music of Sunn Trio is deeply tied to this circumstance, with particular attention to the Middle East. Although based in Phoenix (as is the 2182 label), this outfit, with the core member being guitarist Joel Robinson (at times, the group’s number has been significantly larger than three), dishes desert music that’s considerably (and ethically) world cognizant, as befitting a relationship with fellow Arizonans Alan and Richard Bishop (more on them directly below). The influences of free jazz, improv, psych, and punk are also noted and are integrated here in a manner that, due to obvious practice, is nearly seamless, but with an abundance of grit and danger. A beautiful thing. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Sun City Girls, Live at the Sky Church – September 3rd, 2004 (Twenty One Eight Two Recording Company) This is the first new music from Sun City Girls since Funeral Mariachi back in 2010, but as the title conveys, it’s also archival, documenting a Seattle show from 2004. Charles Goucher, who was a third of Sun City Girls, passed in 2007, leaving brothers Richard and Alan Bishop to carry on in various modes, including as custodians of the group’s legacy. This album, which is accompanied by a DVD of the performance (that I have not watched), captures them at particular heights of psychedelia, antagonism and the perplexing. Note: this is Vol. 2 in the Mount Meru Anthology Series. Vol. 3 is directly above. Vols. 1-4 are being issued in a wooden box set in an edition of 75. A

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
March 2020, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for March, 2020. 

NEW RELEASE PICK: Big Blood, Do You Wanna Have a Skeleton Dream? (Feeding Tube) Based in Portland, ME, Big Blood are a psychedelic outfit spawned from the band Cerberus Shoal that features domestic partners Caleb Mulkerin and Colleen Kinsella, and now, for the first time as an official member, their daughter Quinnisa, who’s wearing a Thrasher magazine sweatshirt in the band photo glimpsed in this LP’s nifty insert poster. Her full-on inclusion makes this a “family band” situation, and sorta fittingly, this record is less “out” and more pop than the previous Big Blood material I’ve heard (although there is a whole lot of it, and I’ve only heard a percentage). I mean, parts of this sound appropriate for spinning at listening parties where the gals are flaunting beehive ‘dos. Hairdresser underground!

The PR notes by Byron Coley (as is the norm for Feeding Tube) mention Julee Cruise/ Badalamenti/ Lynch as a reference, which helps situate that this album isn’t as normal as the girl-group/ neo-’60s pop vibe might infer. It also underscores that unlike some other historical family band situations, there is nothing cutesy or saccharine going on. The psych element is still present, as is a wonderfully non-pro vibe overall. These approachably unusual twists are a treat, and when they plunge deeper into the realms of the strange, as during the Goth pop meets B-movie hypnotist vibe of “Pox” (featuring a repeated quote familiar from The Smiths’ “Rubber Ring”), it still goes down pretty sweetly. Dedicated to Greta Thunberg and Fred Cole, likely a first-time combination (but hopefully not the last). A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Charlie Parker, The Savoy 10-Inch LP Collection (Craft) Along with his recordings for the Dial label (which chronologically overlapped the material featured here), Charlie “Yardbird” Parker’s work for Savoy constitutes the portion of his discography that is inarguably essential; there are plenty of other releases by the saxophonist that you’ll not want to do without, but these selections are part of the foundation upon which so much subsequent 20th century music was built, and it all still sounds amazing. I was going to say these eight sides of 10-inch vinyl serve as a blueprint, but the reality is that Parker’s artistry at the point of these sessions (which span from 1944-’48) was fully formed.

There have been plenty of variations and advancements (to say nothing of flat-out imitators) since, but I don’t think anybody’s done pure bebop better. Of course, it’s important to note that these sessions are loaded with crucial figures, including Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Bud Powell, John Lewis, Tommy Potter, Duke Jordan and Curley Russell. Often, recordings stuffed with such august personnel are anticlimactic, but there isn’t a trace of letdown here. Nobody’s coasting, and the interaction is electric throughout. As Neil Tesser observes in his liners for this set, at the time of release this music was the avant-garde of jazz. Over the many decades since, many have smoothed its surfaces and draped it in respectability. But listening anew reasserts Parker’s eternal cutting edge. As said, indispensable. A+

Horace Tapscott Quintet, The Giant is Awakened (Real Gone) It’s likely not that hard to find a clean playing used edition holding some if not all of Parker’s Savoy stuff (that Craft has assembled it with class and care is deserving of distinction), but exactly the opposite is true of the 1969 debut from Los Angeles-based pianist and composer Horace Tapscott. Scarce and quite expensive on vinyl (I recall seeing two copies of this for sale, both times behind glass), this is its first-time reissue, on green neon wax by Real Gone for February’s Black History Month. And the rarity is multidimensional, as The Giant is Awakened provides a healthy dose of a rather uncommon sound, specifically the free jazz-adjacent West Coast of the 1960s (it doubles up nicely with Smiley Winters’ Smiley Etc. on Arhoolie, also from ’69).

Along with being an uncommonly strong debut that, due to some reported record label funny business, Tapscott didn’t follow up until nearly ten years later (he was apparently not eager to cut this LP, and thereafter, recorded only for independent labels, including Nimbus, Arabesque, and HatArt), this album offers an enlightening early taste of alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe (indeed, I do believe this is also his debut on record). When folks consider avant-tinged jazz from the ’60s West Coast, it’s Ornette Coleman who often dominates the discussion, but The Giant is Awakened presents a stylistic alternative in part due to Tapscott’s instrument (the piano being absent on nearly all Coleman’s recordings until the ’70s). The music here, compositional and quite engaging, is likely to please those into ’60s Andrew Hill. A

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for February 2020, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for February, 2020. Part one is here and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Lee Ranaldo & Raül Refree, Names of North End Women (Mute) Lee Ranaldo is world-renowned as one of the guitarists in Sonic Youth. Spaniard Refree (aka Raül Fernandez Miró) isn’t as well-known perhaps, though along with record producing he is also a guitarist, so it comes as sort of a bait and switch that this release isn’t a fiesta of bent strings. I say sort of, as Ranaldo has been long noted for his range of talent. Underrated as a vocalist, this aspect of his artistry is in ample evidence here. Refree also has range, starting out in Spanish melodic hardcore band Corn Flakes before branching out to work with singers Rosalía and most recently Lina, in projects respectively focused on modernized explorations of flamenco (Los ángeles) and fado (Lina_Raül Refree).

Mute informs us that the music here was composed on marimba, vibraphone, samplers, and vintage tape recorders (guitar can be heard). Additional contributions come via Haley Fohr (aka Circuit des Yeux) and Katy and Yolanda Sey (of the Sey Sisters) with some lyrics by novelist Jonathan Lethem. As Refree produced Ranaldo’s prior album Electric Trim, there is palpable rapport here that’s beneficial to the record’s success. Also, there is a consistent stream of technology running through the songs that is very much of the moment without ever straining for the contemporary. I like that very much. Note that the sequence of the CD/ digital release and the LP slightly differ; the version of “Humps” on the CD/ digital is “Humps (Espriu Mix)” and the version of “At the Forks” on the vinyl is “At the Forks (Edit).” A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Henning Christiansen, Peter der Große / Gudbrandsdal (Institute for Danish Sound Archaeology) Born in 1932 and deceased in 2008, Christiansen was a Danish composer, sound artist and visual artist who fell in with the Fluxus movement (and his country’s Experimental Art School, Eks-Skolen) in the 1960s, and notably, became a collaborator of the artist Joseph Beuys, meeting him in 1964 and working with him until his death in 1986. As detailed in the PR for this very attractive 180gm 2LP in a reverse printed gatefold sleeve, Christiansen and Beuys’ relationship was particularly fertile in the second half of the ’60s as the composer honed his skills as a purveyor of tape music, often using multiple tape machines while on stage during multidisciplined Beuys’ art actions.

The label states that Christiansen ditched Fluxus in the 1970s and began composing neo-Romantic works such as waltzes, symphonies, and material in the mode of Danish traditional song. This turn isn’t at all unusual, as groundbreaking artists often migrate (the common descriptor is backsliding) toward older and more conservative forms as they themselves increase in age. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, though the situation often comes with a bunch of unattractive baggage. But far less predictably, Christiansen returned to Fluxus, (per the PR, again, as prior to being sent this release, my knowledge of Christiansen’s background was fairly limited) or more specifically, he reengaged with his “own vision” of Fluxus. This was during the 1980s, the decade from whence this album derives.

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for February 2020, Part Two

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for February, 2020. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE/VALENTINE’S DAY PICK:  Lulu Lewis, “The Love Song EP” (Ilegalia) The general guideline (I wouldn’t call it “policy”) with this weekly column is a focus on physical releases that one could potentially buy in a brick-and-mortar store. While this EP falls into the digital-only category, due to its theme as articulated through three smart cover tunes, I was immediately tempted to make an exception. But as vocalist Dylan Hundley and multi-instrumentalist Pablo Martin are offering made to order limited edition prints in a batch of four, I can include it this week sans conflict. Those prints are the pictured EP cover + one for each song, all in a similar style. Now, some might carp that the EP made the cut on a technicality, but I’ve a creeping suspicion those grumps are staying home for Valentine’s Day.

Lulu Lewis find success with the holiday tie-in through inspired song selection as they hit the sweet spot between interpretation and recognizability. This middle ground is most pronounced in the opening reading of Roxy Music’s “In Every Dream Home a Heartache,” which comes off a little like young Siouxsie collaborating with early Ultravox, at least until Martin’s guitar bursts forth for an extended passage. John Cale’s “Helen of Troy” is next, with guest vocals from someone named Deer, though folks into Lulu Lewis’ Genuine Psychic (available on wax) will have an inkling who that is. The courtly keyboard fanfare retained from the original is a highlight. A take on Funkadelic’s “I’ll Bet You” remains groove-tastic but is sung by Hundley with breathy verve. Altogether, this would make a fine gift for someone you love. A-

NEW RELEASE PICK: Elkhorn, The Storm Sessions (Beyond Beyond is Beyond) Elkhorn’s prior two, Sun Cycle and Elk Jam, came out simultaneously last year on Feeding Tube. The move to BBiB is natural and should only increase the likelihood that newbies will zero in on the work of guitarists Jesse Sheppard (12-string acoustic) and Drew Gardner (6-string electric) as psych in nature. There is an undeniable relationship to the American Primitive as well, but with Turner Williams adding electric bouzouki on the first side and shahi baaja on the second, this hits like something Vanguard (who released Fahey and Basho, yes) or maybe even ESP-Disk might’ve put out in ’68-’69. I mention those labels because as The Storm Sessions glides and searches, it’s often closer to raga than rock, and that’s a wonderful thing. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Maximum Joy, Station M.X.J.Y. (1972) Post-punk’s funk groove subgenre, to which Maximum Joy belong, could sometimes become a little (or a lot) too refined, but Station M.X.J.Y. doesn’t have that problem. This is in part because it was the band’s only LP. Formed by the Glaxo Babies’ Tony Wrafter with Janine Rainforth, then just 18 years old, on vocals, along the way Glaxo Babies Charlie Llewellin and bassist Dan Catsis joined as did John Waddington from The Pop Group, making this something of a post-punk supergroup situation; this might’ve contributed to the brevity of their existence, as well. Throw in production by On-U Sound label founder Adrian Sherwood (plus relevant credits-heavy producers Dave Hunt and Pete Wooliscroft) and the table is set for something special.

Released in 1982 on the Y label, Station M.X.J.Y. is getting its first-time standalone vinyl reissue here, which is quite surprising, as the contents are the sorta thing to knock recent post-punk converts right the fuck over (Crippled Dick Hot Wax! did include this album on their 2LP comp Unlimited (1979 – 1983) in 2005 and there was a Japanese CD released in 2008; both currently sell for too much money). Yes, putting this on in a crowded club between bands could easily result in the audience getting scattered all over like bowling pins on league night at the lanes; y’know, those cats throw fingertip balls designed to hook right into the pocket. Maximum Joy’s pocket is where funk, dub, punk, Afrobeat and even elements of jazz (horns are well represented) come together with robust clarity. Sounds superb today. A

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for February 2020, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for February, 2020. 

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Arbor Labor Union, New Petal Instants (Arrowhawk) Some will listen to this record, Arbor Labor Union’s second after 2016’s I Hear You for Sub Pop (well, third if you count Sings for You Now, released in 2015 under prior name Pinecones), and find the connections to punk and hardcore dubious. The reason comes down to Arbor Labor Union’s sound, self-described as “Cosmic American Music.” Now, those doubting folks likely consider the punk milieu and hippiedom to be largely incompatible, rather than distinct but complementary offshoots from the same countercultural impulse. The band additionally describe their thing as CCR meets the Minutemen, but on a purely musical level New Petal Instants reminds me of the Meat Puppets circa Up on the Sun, and that fantastic. A-

Jeff Parker & The New Breed, Suite for Max Brown & “Max Brown Part 1” b/w “Max Brown Part 2” (International Anthem / Nonesuch) Guitarist Jeff Parker is surely best known as a member of Chicago’s foundational post-rockers Tortoise. Debuting with them on wax via 1998’s classic TNT album, he helped to accentuate the group’s jazz angle, with a clean tone and dexterousness that one could associate with the classic post-bop string masters but totally at home in what was often a decidedly Fusion-descended context. Well, the jazz influence is strong on his latest LP, which includes an interpretation of Joe Henderson’s  “Black Narcissus” (titled “Gnarciss”) and a reading of John Coltrane’s “After the Rain,” but there’re enough category defying passages to spark the interest of the old Tortoise fanbase.

But I have a feeling many of those folks have kept abreast of Parker’s activities, as this is his seventh solo album (or “as a leader,” in jazz parlance), and his second for International Anthem, though this one inaugurates a label partnership with the folks at Nonesuch. For those unfamiliar with International Anthem, the relationship with Parker is fitting, as they are extending the sort of boundary defying material that reaches back to the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, of which Parker belongs. Suite for Max Brown is named for and is a tribute to Parker’s mother, who is pictured on the record’s cover.  The set concludes on a high note with the ten-minute title track. It’s also featured on the pre-album single, broken into two parts but also over three minutes shorter. A- / A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: East Village, Hotrod Hotel (Slumberland) Even though they opened for House of Love and McCarthy, this indie-pop outfit, formed by brothers Martin and Paul Kelly as Episode Four in the mid-’80s in Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire UK, found their greatest success posthumously. It’s a familiar story. This singles collection, initially issued in 1994 on the Summershine label, is arguably their finest achievement. After the name change the band ended up on the Sub Aqua label, cutting two EPs before the imprint went kaput. Both of those records are here, as are a few 45 and their half of a split flexi disc (not here is the “Strike Up Matches” 12-inch as Episode Four). The sound leans to the sophisticated side of the C86 spectrum, but the focus never wanders from the guitars. That’s spiff. A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for January 2020, Part Four

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for January, 2020. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Squarepusher, Be Up a Hello (Warp) When I learned Tom Jenkinson (the Englishman who is Squarepusher) had a new record out, I was surprised, excited and worried all at once. Surprised, because there hasn’t been a Squarepusher record in five years, excited because Jenkinson was amongst the first artists (along with Aphex Twin, Autechre, Boards of Canada and a couple more) to turn me around to electronic stuff, and worried because such a long hiatus can foretell a diminishment of inspiration. Well, my fears were misplaced, as this set is a total success. Much of this is like video game music marinating in caffeine and adrenaline, but the anthemic pop angle in opener “Oberlove” is a cool twist. “Detroit People Mover” blends Nintendo and Moroder and offers contemplative regality. A-

Ross Goldstein, Timoka (Birdwatcher) Composer Goldstein’s latest continues the progressions established on his prior LP, 2018’s The Eighth House, specifically a change in direction away from psychedelia. 2017’s Inverted Jenny struck me as an orchestral pop record, and so, a transitional work, perhaps. Timoka definitely has moments, like right out of the gate with “Obsidian Cat,” that one could describe as orchestral (a digital version of the Mellotron is being used), but pop it is not. Instead, like The Eighth House, it exudes a soundtrack-like sensibility, in part through the record’s non-vocal nature, but also because Goldstein’s work is reminiscent of developments in creative film scoring from the ’60s-’80s, but without coming off like a faux OST. This last observation is very important to Timoka’s success. A-

Jason McMahon, Odd West (Shinkoyo) Here’s the solo debut of a Brooklyn guy who’s been in a lot of bands, most prominently The Skeletons (not the rootsy and defunct Missouri Skeletons), and if a first effort on his own, in large part due to experience it lacks in the tentative, which is doubly impressive as it finds McMahon, already an accomplished guitarist, diving into the deep end of the pool that is  advanced fingerpicking technique, and with gusto. I said this was doubly impressive, but the achievement grows as McMahon offers more than Fahey-disciple moves. There are certainly flourishes of string glisten descended from the more ornate end of the American Primitive spectrum, but Odd West reminds me more of post-rock, and I really dig how McMahon integrates vocals into his scheme. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Jolie Holland, Esconidida (Cinquefoil) When I heard that Holland’s second album from 2004 was getting the first-time on vinyl treatment (through her own Kickstarter), I danced a little jig. It’s quite the special set, and in some ways her solo debut, as prior effort Catalpa was a demo that burst out beyond its original intention through sheer force of quality. Esconidida, first released by ANTI (who also gave Catalpa a wider pressing), avoids even a trace of a letdown; in fact, it’s even better, and a sterling example of quality in the Americana style. A major reason why has to do with her lack of politeness/ affectedness as she rewrites “Old-Time Religion” as “Old Fashioned Morphine” (and references “Billy” Burroughs) and drops a “motherfucker” at the end of “Do You.” A classic. A

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for January 2020, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for January, 2020. Part one is here and part two is here.

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Breathless, The Glass Bead Game (1972) The band name derives from Jean-Luc Godard, the album title from a novel by Hermann Hesse, and the music is amongst the more underrated post-punk of the 1980s, with this their debut from 1986. Breathless singer-keyboardist Dominic Appleton is perhaps best known for his participation in This Mortal Coil, though if you recognize him through that contribution, it’s quite likely you know his work in tandem with bassist Ari Neufeld, guitarist Gary Mundi, and Tristram Latimer Sayer. They apparently sometimes get lumped in with The Sound and Comsat Angels, but the music here ultimately owes more to the precedent of The Cure and Joy Division. Unsurprisingly, Breathless fit in with the stronger 4AD work of the period.

Had This Mortal Coil member and 4AD label honcho Ivo Watts-Russell put this out on his own label rather than Breathless self-releasing it on their Tessa Vossa imprint, the chances are good that this record and the band would have a much higher profile today. This is speculation of course, but the likelihood is reinforced by inspired musicianship rather than the by-the-numbers (or better said, hand-me-down) moves that were surfacing in ethereal post-punk (aka OG dream pop) at the time. But it’s also not as if the influences can’t be discerned, as Joy Div greatly impacts the consecutive “All My Eye & Betty Martin” and “Count on Angels.” But they do it very well. It’s side one’s closer “Monkey Talk” that works up a level of intensity reinforcing The Glass Bead Game as the beginning of something special. A-

Go Hirano, Corridor of Daylights (Black Editions) This 2004 set is the third of three records Japanese musician Hirano cut for the P.S.F. label starting in 1993, though he was also in psych rock band White Heaven. This music is aptly described as home field recordings with piano at the fore. It also features melodica, wind chimes, the ambience of Hirano’s surroundings, even a little vocalizing, and in “Coral,” some treated guitar from Roderick Zalameda. The whole is gentle and captivating as it naturally differs quite a bit from White Heaven and is further distinguished from the too-often predictable bright buoyancy of neo-classical piano stuff.  This is the only one of Hirano’s P.S.F. releases not originally on vinyl, debuting on the format here. Next month it is bundled with a cassette of unissued material. A

Tangerine Dream, Sorcerer Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Waxwork) Director William Friedkin’s Sorcerer, released to theaters in 1977, was a commercial flop and for a long time was also considered an artistic dud. Its bad reputation endured partly because it wasn’t easy to see in the years after its initial run was over, and if one could locate a copy or a screening, it would likely not be the uncut version in the proper aspect ratio. Well, Friedkin’s cut has since been restored to considerable critical reevaluation, and this soundtrack, notably the first for a Hollywood film from the Krautrock-affiliated Tangerine Dream, is sorta the icing on the cake. It features a short liner text by the director detailing the collaboration. Where much of the Dream’s later stuff doesn’t thrill me, this one satisfies nicely. A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for January 2020, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for January, 2020. Part one is here.

BOOK PICK: Billy Vera, Rip It Up: The Specialty Records Story (BMG) The fourth installment in BMG’s RPM series tackles one of the crucial R&B-R&R labels of the 1950s as formed and operated by Art Rupe, with the story told by a man who was integral in setting Specialty’s reissue course right at the dawn of the CD era. Vera’s also a noted musician who was deeply influenced by the sounds that Rupe was responsible for gifting to the world, and his love shines through, though he’s not uncritical. This applies to some of the artists and individuals in Rupe’s employ, as Specialty’s owner-operator, like Excello Records’ Ernie Young (covered in an earlier RPM volume) is revealed to be a fundamentally decent guy. He’s still with us, at 102 years of age.

Like Young, Rupe was especially taken with the music made by blacks in mid-2oth century USA (with a particular affinity for gospel), but unlike Sam Phillips, he was never able to land a major caucasian R&R crossover. However, the book makes clear that he really didn’t try that hard; as Rip it Up’s title and cover photo underscore, he had Little Richard, at least for a little while, and that secured him a ton of sales in the booming rock market. Vera’s authorial approach is to proceed roughly chronologically while spotlighting many of the singers and players who shaped one of the strongest discographies of the era (and beyond). There is also attention paid to how crooked the biz was then (Alan Freed is here in all his heinousness), enough so that Rupe retired from music and made his fortune in oil. A solid read. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Throbbing Gristle, A Souvenir Of Camber Sands, TG Now, Part Two – The Endless Not (Mute) Formed in 1975 in Kingston upon Hull, UK, Throbbing Gristle are in many ways the dictionary definition of Industrial music in its raw form, which is to say, prior to the style’s hybridization and dilution with dance beats. Emblematic of a societal bleakness that led many to take up instruments and set punk rock into motion, Throbbing Gristle didn’t react to it/ rail against the desolation but rather internalized it and then spat it back out in often chilling fashion. They remain most revered for their initial string of albums (plus a pair of expansive box sets of live material, the first holding 24 CDs, the second 10), which decades after their emergence could still unnerve.

Reforming in December 2004 for an All Tomorrow’s Parties Nightmare Before Christmas event dedicated to John Balance (aka Geoffrey Nigel Laurence Rushton, who founded Coil with TG member Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson), who’d died the month prior, A Souvenir Of Camber Sands documents them in strong form. Notably, this two-disc set was available in CDR form minutes after the performance; this is its first time on vinyl. The ambience isn’t as abrasive and confrontational as it often was back in the late ’70s, but that’s understandable and actually preferable, with much of the set list revealing a disinterest in merely repeating themselves. In studio form, Some of the tracks do derive from TG Now, which dipped a toe into the reformation pool to find the temperature favorable.

Released on LP and CD in March of 2004 and originally available to attendees of RE-TG Astoria, which was the group’s first live performance since touring the US in 1981, TG Now’s studio origin, even at roughly half the length of Camber Sands, nicely magnifies the indifference to retreading earlier achievements (there’s no need to dish out a version of “Hamburger Lady” for the assembled faithful, natch). But it’s really 2007’s Part Two – The Endless Not that drives home Throbbing Gristle’s desire to strike out for fresh territory. But it’s also familiar to the style that TG helped formulate, as “Rabbit Snare” is a bit reminiscent of Jim Thirlwell or even Angelo Badalamenti. Altogether, these three releases constitute a vital portion of this uncompromising and often brilliant outfit’s legacy. A-/ A-/ A

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for January 2020, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for January, 2020.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Animal Collective, Ballet Slippers (Domino) Yes, this came out in November (it all seems so long ago, now), but a little thing called Black Friday went down and then two weeks later TVD unveiled our Best of the Year. Ballet Slippers is also a long one, three LPs in fact, so it didn’t get the necessary attention until the holiday break. And it was time well spent, as this live collection from 2009, with a heavy emphasis on Merriweather Post Pavilion (assembled from four shows to hit like a full performance), connected with my memory banks like a punch from Ali. It’s been over ten years since this stuff unraveled in the air, but Ballet Slippers, peppered as it is with selections reaching back to 2002, really underscores the ’00s as Animal Collective’s decade. Simultaneously warped and accessible. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: The Revillos!, From the Freezer, Compendium of Weird, Live from the Orient (Damaged Goods) Formed by vocalists Eugene Reynolds and Fay Fife after the breakup of the Scottish ’77 punk era act The Rezillos, this outfit’s initial run was 1979-’85. The 20-track comp From the Freezer (CD only, as it was upon first release in 1996, though this edition is a gatefold digipak with booklet) details their existence quite well. I resisted simply calling them ’77 punk, and that’s because they (and the band that preceded them) didn’t conform to the music’s angry standard, though they do fall into a fun-loving niche of the period; at times, it’s like early Blondie and the B-52’s morphed into another band. There are also a few Joe Meek-ish motions and a Crampsian love of junky youth culture.

The thing about this band (with either the z or the v) is that they were consistently so revved up and loudly amped that it always felt punk enough for me. And thus it remains. As you might’ve gleaned, they’ve gathered something of a following, and Compendium of Weird (which is out on vinyl, though the CD adds two cuts for a 17-track total) is an extensive dig into the vaults. It should come as no surprise that Compendium isn’t as consistently sharp as Freezer, but the number of cuts that should’ve stayed in the can (like the head-scratching pop move “Heaven Fell”) number very few, and the cover selections, including “Cool Jerk,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” and “ Do You Love Me,” nicely reinforce their ’60s-derived foundational inspiration.

Long-posthumous clearinghouse comps can instill worry, especially in punk territory, but Compendium holds it together. A much bigger fear is the emergence of reunion material, and there are few places where that sorta thing can get more horrific than in the punk zone. The big difference in the case of Live from the Orient is that it indeed captures The Revillos in performance, specifically during a Japanese visit in 1994 (the first time they’d gotten back together since ’85). initially released in much shorter form in ’96 on the Vinyl Japan label, the source tapes, which for a while were effectively lost, were partially salvaged by guitarist Kid Krupa prior to his passing, with the job finished by drummer Rocky Rhythm. Amped and energetic, the results blow the doors off expectations. 21 tracks, 18 on the vinyl. A- / B / B+

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Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2019’s New Releases, Part Two

So, we wrap up a calendar year of coverage with ten records in five entries. If your personal favorite of 2019 is not here (or in yesterday’s installment) please fret not; it was most likely unheard in a certifiable avalanche of new music from across the last twelve months. These releases however, struck us as special.

5. Swans, Leaving Meaning (Young God / Mute) & Laurie Anderson, Tenzin Choegyal, Jesse Paris Smith, Songs from the Bardo (Smithsonian Folkways) One of Leaving Meaning’s pertinent facets (and something that relates to prior Swans releases) is that it makes generally worthwhile and even accurate synopsizing difficult. That it is lengthy has little to do with it; rather, it is a work utterly loaded with content, dimension, and with range reflective of this new version of Michael Gira’s long-extant band/ project. But Leaving Meaning can be described as a spiritual record, which isn’t a new development, though it offers this aspect distinctively. Parts of it sound great at Christmastime, even. ‘tis the season!

To call Songs from the Bardo a spiritual record is to spew a banality, at least for folks familiar with Tibetan Buddhism. Even for those with little to no knowledge of the practice, the overall transcendental nature of the collaboration should be easily absorbed. But this isn’t what makes the album special. Instead, it’s in how affecting the contents become for listeners with a casual relationship (or less) to the shared spiritualism it documents. That’s instrumentally (via all three participants), textually (through the persistent calmness of Anderson’s recitation), and vocally (the heartfelt singing by Choegyal). Songs from the Bardo communicates broadly without slipping into the banality mentioned above. That’s special.

4. Bill Orcutt, Odds Against Tomorrow (Palilalia) & Peter Brötzmann, I Surrender Dear (Trost) The beauty motions on guitarist Bill Orcutt’s latest are considerable. We’re talking beauty as a non-contentious property, a facet of the whole that large groups of listeners could (theoretically) agree upon. It’s something of an unexpected development in Orcutt’s trajectory. Not that he didn’t seem capable. It was more like he just wouldn’t be interested in traveling down that particular avenue. Plus, there was an abstract beauty (the kind of beauty people argue over) in his work already. Well, the good news is that Odds Against Tomorrow is a stellar record hovering on the borderline of a sound that’s tangibly rock.

Now, when experimenters and avant-gardists begin migrating toward a recognizably rocking zone, it’s generally time to get nervous. This can also apply to jazz musicians if they are swinging their creative pendulum toward conservatism. In the case of I Surrender Dear, which could be alternately titled Brötzmann Does Ballads except that he’s doing a whole lot more (a few of his own tunes just for starters), there is no need to worry, for the man’s playing, if more clearly intertwined with Tradition than ever before, is still far far away from tuxedos and cocktails. “Brozziman” (a tune by Misha Mengelberg) hits like Albert Ayler decimating a vaguely Mancini-like strip joint number. Glorious.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2019’s New Releases, Part One

Out with the old (reissues), in with the new (releases), y’know? 2019 is rapidly dwindling away, so let’s usher it out with a bang and get right down to the biz.

10. Chuck Cleaver, Send Aid (Shake It) & Joan Shelley, Like the River Loves the Sea (No Quarter) The tendency when compiling annual lists of best new music is toward broken ground and pushed boundaries. Everybody does it. And it makes sense to do it. But the thing is, it doesn’t have to be done all the time. Room can be made for a record that lands securely in the pop-rock pocket while oozing veteran assurance and some heartland verve (plus nifty lyrics). The indie scene once dished out killer platters like this with regularity, so while we’re celebrating the new, this brings back memories. Neat duality.

A similar claim of non-innovation can be made for Joan Shelley’s latest, though a record as flat-out gorgeous as Like the River Loves the Sea can easily register as tapping into the inventive. A substantial percentage of the beauty is directly vocally derived as Shelley engages wholeheartedly but astutely with a rural, subtly Brit-folk approach. That means she never comes off as overly reverent. The result documents the artist breaking significant personal ground on her fifth and finest record yet.

9. Sequoyah Murray, Before You Begin (Thrill Jockey) & Alexander Noice, NOICE (Orenda) The full-length debut (there was a prior EP “Penalties of Love,” also in 2019) of 22-year old Atlanta, GA-based Murray resonates with possibilities through rich hybridization, but it is also a remarkably assured collection of song, and for all its pushing into fresh territory, there is a substantial pop core. Specifically, there is a strong current of contemporary soul and a stated influence of rap that to my ear is implicit but surely there. More explicit are elements of synth-pop, which works well with Murray’s voice. His cello playing has drawn comparisons to Arthur Russell, but this LP is following its own path of promise.

Really, the only disappointing thing about NOICE is that its physical manifestation was CD only. Was? Yeah, it’s sold out. Waaa! But hey, it’s early yet. If enough folks take the digital plunge with this release, a vinyl edition might just emerge. Here’s hoping. The recipe here includes art-rock, prog-rock, its younger niece math-rock, jazz, electronics, noise and the avant-garde, with an emphasis on the operatic through the vocals of Karina Kallas and Argenta Walther. Thoughts of a Downtown NYC Deerhoof persist, though the jazz background of Los Angeles-based guitarist and composer Noice gives the whole a distinct flavor. NOICE is a captivating experience that does not run out of gas.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2019’s Reissues, Part Two

As we dive into the part two of 2019’s best reissues and archival releases, a little space gets devoted to what constitutes genuine worthiness in the endeavor. Unsurprisingly, the journey moves pretty far afield from the well-trodden path, although the twists and turns are far from random. They begin directly below.

5. Willie Colón, The Hustler (Craft Latino) & V/A, No Other Love: Midwest Gospel (1965-1978) (Tompkins Square) Partly because there continues to be two major Record Store Day events annually that seem to be going down gangbusters, it’s safe to say that vinyl buying is still very much an endeavor connected to being in a room full of records. This makes the steady stream of reissues emerging via Craft Recordings’ Latin subsidiary a real service, as the plain facts are that original specimens from the Fania Records catalog aren’t common in less metropolitan areas. I mean, you could buy secondhand copies online, but that practice is a few blocks from Nowheresville. Oh, how’s The Hustler sound? It’s a fucking beast…

Grabbing an original Willie Colón LP is unlikely out in the boondocks, and you can forget about the selections on Tompkins Square’s latest African-American gospel volume. As Ramona Stout’s accompanying essay explains, No Other Love’s contents were the direct result of community record canvasing (only one track has been anthologized before, on a Numero Group set). It’s safe to surmise that nobody besides Stout and her partner Kevin Speck heard all these cuts prior to presenting the compilation to others. It’s an amazing LP, with Stout’s notes contextualizing matters far beyond the increasingly trite “pure sounds of religious fervor” concept. You know, things are never so simple.

4. Joe McPhee, Nation Time (Superior Viaduct) & Sounds of Liberation, New Horizons & Unreleased (Columbia University 1973) (Dogtown / Brewerytown Beats) To get back to the idea of rarity, or maybe more appropriately, scarcity, when Atavistic commenced the Unheard Music Series shortly after the turn of the 21st, it was cause for celebration for fans of avant-garde jazz the globe over. I mention it because Nation Time by the great multi-reed man Joe McPhee kicked off the whole shebang. The only real caveat is that the UMS was a CD-only endeavor; Superior Viaduct’s reissue of Nation Time gives folks a new vinyl pressing and inspires hope that further UMS titles will see fresh wax editions in the years ahead.

But you need not wait years to scoop up some truly scant ’70s avant-free-spiritual jazz in reissue form, as two records from the Philadelphia-based band Sounds of Liberation have been reissued by the above labels (interestingly given the remarks over brick and mortar above, Brewerytown Beats is also a Philly record store). The septet’s highest-profile players were saxophonist-flautist Byard Lancaster and vibraphonist Khan Jamal; the other members were guitarist Monnette Sudler, drummer Dwight James, bassist Billy Mills, and percussionists Omar Hill and William Brister aka Rashid Salim. Fans of loft jazz and the Wildflowers volumes in particular will want to grab copies of both. The sound is flowing but potent.

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