Category Archives: The TVD Record Store Club

Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for February 2019, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—presently in stores for February, 2019. 

NEW RELEASE PICK: Xiu Xiu, Girl With a Basket of Fruit (Polyvinyl) It’s been 17 years of existence for Xiu Xiu with no lengthy gaps in activity, as this is the 11th album from the group formed by sole constant member Jamie Stewart, and what’s immediately impressive upon listening is the lack of creative fatigue. More to the point, Girl With a Basket of Fruit is an intense, at times in-your-face record, but unlike a lot of music of this temperament that ends up ringing hallow, Xiu Xiu’s latest (co-produced by member Angela Seo and Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier) is distinguished by its depth. Like a lot of experimental music, the LP’s contents can initially feel messy, but that’s just it; the record just feels messy. Art-rock with an abundance of emotion, of humanity, and maybe the best description that it’s just wonderfully poetic. A

REISSUE/ ARCHIVAL PICKS: Sun Ra, Monorails & Satellites: Works for Solo Piano Vols. 1, 2, 3 (Cosmic Myth) Like Duke Ellington, Sun Ra has often been underrated as a pianist, with the largeness and vividness of the Arkestra’s endurance somewhat obscuring his brilliance as a player, though excursions into smaller groups, duos and solo settings did offer up evidence; it’s just that they could be obscured by the vastness of the overall discography. This 2CD/ 3LP set, fully authorized by the Sun Ra estate, collects two LPs of the man alone at the keyboard, originally issued on Saturn, Vol. 1 from ’68 and the follow-up from the next year, and adds a third album of previously unreleased material. The playing is consistently intense but also compositionally rich, blending beauty moves and thunder throughout. A

Alex Chilton, From Memphis to New Orleans & Songs from Robin Hood Lane (Bar/None) If you’ve already burrowed deep into Chilton’s solo career, From Memphis to New Orleans offers no surprises, corralling material from the man’s ’80s comeback releases Feudalist Tarts, High Priest, the “No Sex” 12-inch, and Black Rain, but it is a solid overview of what the guy sounded like once he reemerged after his surly, boozy, wilderness period. Back in the day this era was regularly bagged on due to its relative togetherness, but I’ve always kinda dug it (as some of it was amongst the first solo Chilton I heard), and for casual fans who don’t need to own every album he ever did, this is a solid single LP overview this portion of Alex’s trajectory. I do miss “Tee Ni Nee Ni Noo/Tip on In,” though. A-

In the early ’90s, Chilton took an unexpected turn toward the interpretation of pop standards with the album Clichés. I was underwhelmed at the time, even as the spare setting, just the man and his guitar, kinda safeguarded against schmaltz. I’ve enjoyed it more with subsequent listens, though never totally fell in love with it, so I consider it a plus that Songs from Robin Hood Lane cherry-picks five tunes from the set and combines them with three Alex-sung cuts from Rough Trade’s ’91 Chet Baker tribute Imagination, credited to Medium Cool, which also featured No Wavers Adele Bertei and James White, but in total inside jazz mode, like they were recording for late ’80s Verve or something. Four unreleased tracks seem to derive from the same session. Something of a curio, but the chutzpah levels are high. B+

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for January 2019, Part Five

Part five of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—presently in stores for January, 2019. Part one is here, part two is here, part three is here, and part four is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Maurice Louca, Elephantine (Sub Rosa – Northern Spy) Cairo-born and based, pianist-guitarist-composer Louca has cut a prior LP under his own name, 2014’s Salute the Parrot, in addition to playing in Bikya, Alif, Lekhfa, Kharkhana (praised in this space a couple of weeks back as part of the Unrock split LP Carte Blanche), Orchestra Omar and Dwarves of East Agouza, the latter a trio with Sam Shalabi (of Shalabi Effect) and Alan Bishop (of Sun City Girls). Being hip to those two can provide a starting-point for what Louca achieves across Elephantine’s six tracks (totaling a gripping 38 minutes), but the whole is a highly distinctive blend of compositional fortitude and free jazz exploration. An instrumentally massive set, “The Palm of a Ghost” features exquisite vocals from Nadah El Shazly. A

Hedvig Mollestad Trio, Smells Funny (Rune Grammofon) If you always felt Mahavishnu needed an injection of Black Sabbath-like oomph scorch, this is an asteroid of chocolate plunged into your personal store of peanut butter (the group has notably shared stages with McLaughlin and Sab). Mollestad’s the guitarist, and she tears into complex runs without sacrificing forward motion as bassist Ellen Brekken and drummer Ivar Loe Bjørnstad deliver much more than a rhythmic bedrock. ‘tis a true power trio thing. The Sabbath reference shouldn’t imply the doom-laden but rather just heaviness, with the record (their sixth in seven years) a fine locale for headbangers and jazzbos to joyously congregate. The title brings Zappa’s comment on jazz to mind, but Smells Funny makes plain that rock ain’t dead, either. A

REISSUE/ ARCHIVAL PICK: Ran Blake & Jeanne Lee, The Newest Sound You Never Heard (A-Side) Along with teaching at the New England Conservatory in Boston for over 50 years, the great pianist Ran Blake has a voluminous discography; my introduction came through his sublime ’65 ESP Disk Ran Blake Plays Solo Piano. Four years prior, he debuted on record in duo with his Bard College classmate, the vocalist Jeanne Lee (and for two tracks bassist George Duvivier) on the RCA Victor LP The Newest Sound Around. Opening with “Blue Monk,” it stands amongst the most underrated of vocal jazz records, Lee not only impacted by but extending the grandness of Billie Holliday, Dinah Washington, and Abbey Lincoln as Blake, already more than just an accompanist, often recalled the sensitivity of Mal Waldron.

The title and the cover design of this 2CD collection directly reference the RCA LP, which is wholly appropriate as the contents are an ample serving of the duo in majestic form at the studio of what was then BRT (Belgium Radio and Television) and live in Brussels in ’66-’67. However, these recordings are also a spotlight on maturity and a widened sphere of interest, and right away; the opening “Misterioso” features words taken from a Gertrude Stein poem. Loaded with standards that ooze assurance and taste (in the best sense), they also dig into Ray Charles and Ornette and Duke, revisit “Blue Monk,” and in an unexpected but sweet left turn, interpret The Beatles and Dylan. Two tracks offer Blake in prime solo form, while Lee delivers a wonderful a cappella “Billie’s Blues.” Overall, outstanding and revelatory. A

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for January 2019, Part Four

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—presently in stores for January, 2019. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

BOOK PICK: Mary Lee Kortes, Dreaming of Dylan: 115 Dreams About Bob (BMG) Upon first learning of this collection, in which musician and Dylan-aficionado Kortes assembles the number of dreams cited in the book’s title, dreams that in some way include Bob, dreams as remembered and written down by individuals ranging from the anonymous to laborers to lawyers to fellow musicians, a few of them notable, my worry was that it would be hampered by an overabundance of whimsy, or if not that than the zany, or possibly even a lethal combination of the two. The first thing that steered me in a more hopeful direction was a casual flip through. In doing so, I was immediately struck by the colorful and inventive design, its pages loaded with photos, art, and repurposed materials and objects.

While quirkiness and zaniness are both in evidence, that’s to be expected as dreams are rarely normal. But hearing people relate their sleep scenarios, particularly in groups, can sometimes register like a contest for who had the kookiest night before. Kortes keeps these qualities in check mainly through a non-sequential ordering of the dream entries, the lengths of which range from a few words to a few hundred (but mostly on the shorter side), so that uneventful unusualness offsets the more truly strange scenes. The next thing you know, many pages have turned, with Bob consistently enigmatic, sometimes pleasant, at other moments aloof; at a few spots, he’s even a little dickish. It’s not a mindblower of a read, but I laughed out loud and amazingly, was never annoyed. It’d make a terrific coffee table item. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Knud Viktor, Les Éphémères (Institute for Danish Sound Archaeology) Born in Denmark and a resident of Southern France for nearly 50 years, the late Knud Viktor (1924-2013) didn’t set out to create in the field of music, having instead studied at the Royal Art Academy in Copenhagen. In fact, Viktor didn’t consider himself a musician at all, but rather a sound painter; only two records of his work were issued in his lifetime, Images and Ambiances from 1972, reissued by the label above as a 2LP set in 2017. The material here was intended for release in ’76, but that didn’t pan out. However, the master tape and cover design layout for Les Éphémères were discovered in Viktor’s archives after his passing, so here it is now on 180-gram vinyl with a 20-page booklet and an essay by Magnus Kaslov.

After graduating, Viktor moved to Provence with his wife so they could both subsist as painters (he met her at Academy), but directly due to the incessant sound of cicadas around their residence his energies were refocused toward sculpting with audio; insects, animals and nature was his domain, and by the mid-’70s via tape recorders, homemade parabolic microphones, and audio effect processing machines (also homemade) he was creating in quadraphonic sound. On Les Éphémères, which like Ambiances consists of two side-long pieces (here specified as parts of a whole), the sounds of the living creatures of Viktor’s surroundings are easy to discern, especially birdsong, though other passages are harder to peg; a distinctive aspect is poetry spoken by the artist. Altogether an immersive, delightful listen. A

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for January 2019, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—presently in stores for January, 2019. Part one is here and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Lisa/Liza, Momentary Glance (Orindal) Portland, ME’s Liza (pronounced Lisa) Victoria has a prior record out on Orindal, Deserts of Youth, where she goes it completely alone via acoustic guitar and vocals. On this follow-up she switches to electric and enlists some instrumentalist friends, though Victoria’s front-and-center presence is only intensified on a half-dozen selections (totaling 42 minutes) that radiate a magnificent late-night psych-folk vibe. Recorded and mixed by Efrim Manuel Menuck of Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra during a brutal Montreal winter, the suicide of a friend greatly impacted Victoria’s creative process. My learning of this surely deepened the emotional heft, which hits its apex with the massive “Tea Kettle.” A

Machinefabriek, With Voices (Western Vinyl) Dutch composer Rutger Zuydervelt is Machinefabriek, and his work essentially resides in a neighborhood shared by ambient, drone, minimalism, modern classical, noise, field recordings, electronics, and a general spirit of avant-experimentation. The man wields an insanely loaded, completist-defeating discography, but With Voices is destined to be one of the gems in that expansive body of work, in part because it finds him collaborating with a variety of vocalists across eight Roman numeric tracks, including Chantal Acta, Peter Broderick, Marianne Oldenburg, Richard Youngs, and Marissa Nadler. Eschewing lyrics, with a high percentage of the utterances effectively wordless, the results are wildly varied and in the case of the Nadler-sung finale, quite beautiful. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Caspar Brötzmann Massaker, The Tribe & Black Axis (Southern Lord) Originally released by Zenzor in 1988, The Tribe was the debut by guitarist Brötzmann’s trio with Eduardo Delgado Lopez on bass and Jon Beuth on drums, and it delivered a noisily intense yet rock solid heart punch and a wakeup call; the possibilities of amplified string mayhem had been broadened and the roster of u-ground guitar heroes deepened. Coming off at times a bit like Hendrix at his wildest if he’d lived and largely set aside bluesy grooving for Germanic Industrial pummel, the Massaker were a formidable beast, and that they didn’t make as may waves as the Experience ultimately speaks to the conservative atmosphere of the era from which they sprang. A few slightly lesser tracks do emerge. A-

Caspar was the son of the German free jazz saxophone titan Peter Brötzmann (who designed The Tribe’s cover), which led to some speculation prior to hearing that the Massaker was going to be an excursion into skronk-rock fusion (like Last Exit, Jr., maybe). That wasn’t the case, though The Tribe and ’89’s follow-up Black Axis (originally on Marat Records) were both cut at FMP studio in Berlin, where many of the greatest German avant jazz recordings were made. Part of the reinforcement of a rock sensibility comes through the use of vocals, which serve roughly the same function as they did in the Experience. Black Axis finds the band (with fresh drummer Frank Neumeier) tapping into grooves a bit more (some near funky), but also kicking up clouds of pungent cacophony and launching into the stratosphere. A

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for January 2019, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—presently in stores for January, 2019. Part one is here.

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Caetano Veloso, S/T (Irene), S/T (A Little More Blue) & Araçá Azul (Lilith) When it comes to Tropicália, vocalist, guitarist, composer, writer, and activist Caetano Veloso is one of the movement’s heavyweights (alongside Os Mutantes, Tom Zé, Gilberto Gil, and Gal Costa). Over the decades, he’s also been quite prolific, but newbies are advised to start early in the discography and work forward as far as personal desire dictates. These three LPs from Lilith, all on clear vinyl, don’t cover all the bases, as his first two and the essential Tropicália ou Panis et Circencis LP (which featured Veloso and all of the abovementioned names) are absent, but for those eager to plunge in, their availability is an irrefutably sweet development.

I’ve noticed a few folks ranking his second eponymous record, that’d be Irene from ’69, somewhat lower than those that surround it, but I disagree rather strongly. Others have rated it as his very best, and I don’t know about that either, though it’s certainly not far from the top. And given that it was made while Veloso was under house arrest (he and Gilberto Gil recorded the vocals and acoustic guitar, while arranger-producer Rogério Duprat integrated everything else separately), the sense of achievement rises. Everything unwinds at a high level, with “Marinheiro Só” (featuring a chorus of children) just one of the highlights. A-

However, his next album, ’71’s also self-titled A Little More Blue, recorded in England in government-imposed exile, registers as slightly greater and is substantially different in execution. Missing are the threads of psychedelia from Irene, replaced with a folky approach and a heavy mood, understandably so, as he was missing his homeland. The album has never hit me as a downer, though. Save for closer “Asa Branca,” the lyrics are all in English, and if not as bold a Tropicália experience, there’re still moments of strangeness, e.g. the wordless vocals in “Maria Bethânia” and “Asa Branca.” A

But if it’s weirdness you’re looking for, then step right up to Araçá Azul, Velsoso’s highly divisive follow-up hot on the heels of his widely popular and quite accessible Transa. Described as his most experimental LP, much of Araçá Azul is as sparse as it is esoteric, but “De Cara/Eu Quero Essa Mulher” is a gnarly rocker (with flashes of Beefheart), and if the whole can take a few spins to really take hold, “Julia/Moreno” is immediately reminiscent of Veloso’s most approachable earlier stuff. A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for January 2019, Part One

The TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—presently in stores for January, 2019.

BOOK PICK: Nick Soulsby, Swans: Sacrifice and Transcendence: The Oral History (Jawbone Press) Many of Soulsby’s prior credits delve into the grunge scene of the Pacific Northwest and Nirvana in particular; he’s done two books related to the band, one an oral history and the other a collection of interviews with Kurt Cobain. If that doesn’t necessarily paint him as a natural fit for covering one of the most formidable outfits of the last half century, do consider that he also assembled an oral history of Thurston Moore’s musical collaborations outside Sonic Youth.

Swans leader Michael Gira was interviewed for that book, and Moore (amongst a long list of others) was spoken with for this one, and the results are appropriately exhaustive (there’s lots of welcome input from Jarboe) without getting into sheer minutiae. The narrative is broken into chapters largely focused on periods that Swans fans have already drawn for themselves, which should also prove useful for the curious newbie, as it’d be easy and beneficial to listen to the records listed at the start of each chapter while soaking up the specifics of the tale. The while the book’s title truly fits what unfurls in the text, Soulsby could’ve easily chosen another word; that’d be Struggle, of course in the striving for excellence in the moment, but also on the part of Gira as a communicator with his bandmates and loved ones.

The unfurling anecdotes do nothing to soft-pedal Gira’s famously difficult personality. Indeed, Sacrifice and Transcendence is a warts-and-all portrayal. Folks who want to read about art-making as a bed of roses are advised to buy some other tome. But Soulsby pulls off the tricky feat of balancing the unpleasantness and the bountiful humanity, though working directly with the participants’ spoken words helps; there’s no authorial pleading or contortions of perspective, as everything said was said by somebody else. Also, the depictions of touring here are amongst the most grueling I’ve ever read. But there are also moments that inspire laughter, and the book’s trajectory is ultimately a rumination on hard-won success. As a lover of Swans, I knew that already. But I really know it now. What a book! A

NEW RELEASE PICK: Frank Kimbrough, Monk’s Dreams: The Complete Compositions of Thelonious Sphere Monk (Sunnyside) 2017 was the centennial of Thelonious Monk’s birth. The mammoth undertaking that is this 6CD set was a direct outgrowth of the commemoration of Monk’s arrival on this spinning rock, featuring the distinguished individuals that pianist Kimbrough called upon to play as part of a celebration held in NYC at the club Jazz Standard. This release does indeed cover Monk’s entire compositional oeuvre (70 pieces in total, even the Christmas song) and finds bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Billy Drummond in typically (exquisitely) sharp form as multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson handles the horn duties with something more than aplomb.

Given the number of tunes and how the group got the results onto tape in six working days, that this isn’t a radical reinvention of Monk’s work shouldn’t be a surprise, but even as the word respect hovers prominently over Monk’s Dreams, this isn’t timid imitation, and if recognizably, even approachably jazzy to novices of the form, I still hesitate to call this a “straight-ahead” undertaking. A big part of the non-imitative approach here relates to Robinson’s work on numerous horns, including a few not associated with Monk, e.g. the bass sax, bass clarinet, echo cornet, contrabass sarrusophone and to a lesser extent, the trumpet. Right off the bat in “Thelonious,” he doubles on trumpet and tenor sax, but if invested in non-mimicry, the multi-horn approach is also devoid of gimmicks.

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores,
December 2018

The TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for December, 2018.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Scone Cash Players, “Scone Cold Christmas” (Flamingo Time – Mango Hill) Bluntly, holiday music is not my favorite music. But there are exceptions, like this 45 from the band of soul-jazz-funk organist Adam Scone. Rather than just diving into standards-based instrumental quickie mode, Scone enlists singer Lee Taylor and some vocal-group backing for “My First Divorced Christmas (Santa Claus Got a Divorce),” a tune that might read as jokey but unwinds as surprisingly heartfelt, with the groove keeping things from getting too weepy. On “They Say It’s Christmas Time (Christmas Time in Brooklyn),” it’s the warm, assured baritone voice of John Dokes that’s the highlight. Well, one of ‘em, as the band ascends an organ-driven Hot Buttered Soul-era Isaac Hayes-like mountain to a killer peak. A-

Say Sue Me, “Christmas, It’s Not a Biggie” (Damnably) I’m on board with the non-holiday themed stuff from this Korean indie-surfy pop-rock outfit, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t worried, as even in reliable hands Christmas music can curdle like milk in a failed fridge. Say Sue Me succeed because they don’t lay the theme on too thick. Instead, the guitar is big but congenial in the Dick Dale-tinged pop-punky title track. It and instrumental “Too Expensive Christmas Tree” brought the Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet to mind, and that’s a cool thing to consider, in December or any time of year, really. In “Out of Bed,” vocalist Sumi Choi reminds me of Hope Sandoval diving head first into a sweet sea of early ’60s gal-pop, and from there, all Say Sue Me needs to do is not foul things up. “After This Winter” doesn’t. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Lee Morgan, Indeed! (Down at Dawn) Top-flight hard-bop trumpeter Morgan was 18 years old when he cut this session in 1956 for Blue Note, an achievement that’s undeniably impressive, though it’s also important to avoid overrating it. The whole is solid, with the young leader still clearly in thrall to Dizzy and Clifford Brown, but it’s not a jaw-dropper. So why the pick status? Well, numerous reasons, including Wilbur Ware on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums, an always reliable pair, plus Horace Silver on piano, who sounds fine but doesn’t steal the show, as Morgan is clearly in command. This is not to infer that he’s hogging the spotlight, as the obscure alto man Clarence Sharpe gets plenty of solo room. As the album rolls, a decided post-Bird-Diz feel develops, and that’s nice. B+

Freddie Hubbard, The Artistry of Freddie Hubbard (Down at Dawn) Having hit the scene a little later, in some ways Hubbard temporarily stole some of Morgan’s thunder; by ’63, he’d delivered four LPs as leader for Blue Note, and followed them up with this, his first of two for Impulse! It’s a minor classic from a talent-loaded sextet featuring Hubbard’s Jazz Messengers’ cohort Curtis Fuller on trombone, Sun Ra Arkestra lynchpin John Gilmore on tenor, Tommy Flanagan on piano, Louis Hayes on drums, and Art Davis (who’d played with Hub on Olé Coltrane) on drums. While it’s not aptly described as a groundbreaking affair, the playing is assured all around, and the whole, opening with Duke’s “Caravan” and following with three originals and a nice version of “Summertime,” is ripe with ambition. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores,
November 2018,
Part Six

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Oren Ambarchi & Jim O’Rourke, Hence (Editions Mego) Ambarchi and O’Rourke have two prior collabs; well, three if you count 2012’s Imikuzushi with Japanese avant-guitar titan Keiji Haino. And counting that one kinda makes sense, as this new one features the guest tabla mastery of Japan’s U-zhaan. Along with the drum, there’s synthesizer and guitar, and the whole can be aptly tagged as electroacoustic. Hence offers two long pieces, with the level of abstraction quite high, but the cumulative effect is welcoming rather than rigorous. It even fits to call big portions of this downright comforting, particularly on side two, where I was reminded a bit of rainforest New Age. However, this ambiance gets imbued with mysteriousness that’s distinct and ultimately quite pleasing. A-

Owen Lake and the Tragic Loves, The Best of Your Lies (Carrier) This set of “electro-country” from a NYC project pseudonymously led by noteworthy contempo avant-composer Jeff Snyder might read like an imminent disaster, but the blending of techno-pop with honky-tonk and Countrypolitan (all covers save for two solid ones co-written by Snyder and fiddle-harmony vocalist Anica Mrose Rissi) starts out as potentially egregious, then impresses as sincere, moves on to admirable, and with accumulated spins connects as a surprisingly successful legit fusion rather than just an experiment that didn’t fall apart. To be sure, a Carter Family song with vocoder vocals might rile some tempers, but the execution is far preferable to an umpteenth well-mannered (to the point of blandness) Americana version. Believe it. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Dock Boggs, Legendary Singer and Banjo Player (Smithsonian Folkways) While I agree that Dock Boggs’ greatest stuff was cut for Brunswick in ’27, this album still holds a special allure. Boggs had just been rediscovered by Mike Seeger (who contributes illuminating liners here) and by extension the audience at the American Folk Festival, where some of this set was recorded. As the disc unwinds, knowledge of the circumstances leading to its recording enhance the aura of Boggs’ reengaging with, and in a sense rediscovering his own music, as well; he’d reportedly repurchased a banjo shortly before meeting Seeger for the first time. But don’t think Boggs is tentative in his delivery across these 15 songs. As intense as he was in ’27? No. This is a document of an older and wiser man. A

V/A, American Banjo – Tunes and Songs in Scruggs Style (Smithsonian Folkways) Smithsonian Folkways has been celebrating their 70th anniversary by reissuing some choice titles from the vast catalog on vinyl, and the theme of the latest batch is the banjo. This includes Dock Boggs above and two releases below, plus this 1957 collection documenting the three-finger technique developed by Earl Scruggs and popularized roughly a decade before, first in the band of Bill Monroe and shortly after in his own group co-led with guitarist Lester Flatt. In short, it’s bluegrass baseline. Earl doesn’t play on this LP, but his older brother Junie does, along with Roni Stoneman, Snuffy and Oren Jenkins, J.C. Sutphin, Smiley Hobbs, Kenny Miller, and Mike Seeger, who also recorded and produced. It all sounds splendid. A

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores,
November 2018,
Part Five

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Foghound, Awaken to Destroy (Ripple) The new LP from doom-riff behemoths Foghound arrives with non-musical heaviness relating to the death of the band’s bassist Rev. Jim Forrester last December (RIP). After overcoming health problems delaying the recording of Foghound’s follow-up to their second album The World Unseen, Forrester was gunned down in Fells Point in Baltimore. Rather than fold activities, the band rallied and finished the LP (Forrester had been part of the basic tracking) and have recruited Adam Heinzmann to continue forward. The perseverance directly relates to Forrester’s memory, but Foghound also have a smoking album on their hands, one that’s raw and pummeling and engaging until the very end. Amid this enduring style, one of the year’s best. A-

Jacco Gardner, Somnium (Polyvinyl) Gardner is tagged as a baroque pop multi-instrumentalist, but one with a penchant for integrating ambient and kosmische elements (the promo text mentions Bo Hansson, Vangelis, Cluster, Tangerine Dream, Eno, and Oldfield). The album’s title is in direct reference to Johannes Kepler’s book from 1608 that’s been cited as the first science-fiction novel. This reinforces the considerable retro-futurist spaciness of the whole, but there are also appealing tendrils of psychedelia manifest in part through injections of fuzz guitar (and longer pedal-driven washes). It’s altogether an inviting ride, expansive yet crisp, with passages reminding me of Laurie Spiegel, the BBC Workshop, and even David Axelrod (so this would pair well with the Pride reish below). A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Michele Mercure, Beside Herself (RVNG Intl. – Freedom to Spend) Between 1983 and ’90, Pennsylvania-based synth composer Mercure self-released a handful of cassettes through tape-trading networks; until this 2LP retrospective covering her early work, 2017’s Eye Chant (the first release on Freedom to Spend) was her only music to grooved into vinyl. The 19 pieces collected here, while unmistakably from the 1980s, are refreshing in how they navigate and transcend the aura of the period. At times, like when she manipulates audio taken from TV news program, her circumstances as a denizen of the underground come to the fore, but as the collection unwinds the surprises pile up, with “An Accident Waiting to Happen” just one of the standouts. Another revelatory release from RVNG. A

The Germs, “What We Do is Secret” (ORG Music) I was just chatting with a pal the other day about the cornerstone LPs of classic LA punk. We came to a consensus over Los Angeles by X, Group Sex by the Circle Jerks, The First Four Years by Black Flag (which is a compilation, I know), and (GI) by the Germs. There are other fine full-lengths sure, but this is an effective starter kit for the scene. “What We Do is Secret” is not as massive and essential as (GI), but its best moments aren’t far behind, and its eight songs would serve as a fine introduction. Well, better make that seven songs, as one track consists of captured banter from a 1980 gig at the Starwood that, rather than superfluous, magnifies the band’s essence (and segues into a pair of worthy cuts from the show). A tidy taste of disheveled glory. A

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: V/A, 3 x 4: The Bangles, The Three O’Clock, The Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade (Yep Roc) A lot of scene-oriented regroupings/ get-togethers are hindered by a sense of self-congratulation, but this endeavor by four key Paisley Underground bands, with the above-named participants covering each other’s songs, doesn’t give me that vibe at all, partially because this celebrates a movement that was initially a rejection of “gotta-make-it-big”-ism in favor of classic stuff (as listed by Steve Wynn in the booklet; VU, Nuggets, Syd-era Floyd). They all sounded so good though, that making it big (to varying degrees) was basically inevitable. This has three songs each by all four, and if you ever wondered what the Bangles covering “That’s What You Always Say” would sound like, well wonder no more. A-

Tav Falco, Cabaret of Daggers (ORG Music) Memphis titan Tav Falco came to prominence as arguably the finest, and less contentiously, the deepest of the post-punk (as in after punk) champions of pre-Beatle rock ‘n’ roll and sweet Southern roots. I consider it hard to dispute that he was the most striking personality of the bunch, and his flair has extended into his later work, which has retained its relevance through a consistently expanding sphere of interests, including tango music. Accompanied by his Unapproachable Panther Burns, Cabaret of Daggers sounds markedly different from Tav’s thing in the 1980s, though the man’s huge presence integrates it quite nicely into his oeuvre as a whole. That he gets political in “New World Order Blues” (and a cover of “Strange Fruit”) is a welcome bonus. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: The Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band, Almost Acoustic (ATO) I know this one well through the Deadheads in my life, but I’ve never owned it; ‘tis nice that I can rectify that with ease. Recorded live in San Francisco and Los Angeles, this 70-minute set of bluegrass, blues, and roots reinforces both Garcia’s talent as a guitarist and his pretty-much unfaltering taste in material, as he chooses a bounty of traditional songs, “Blue Yodel #9” from Jimmie Rodgers, “Oh, Babe, It Ain’t No Lie” from Elizabeth Cotten, two from Mississippi John Hurt, and more. The entire band is in top-notch form (of special mention is the record’s producer Sandy Rothman on mandolin and dobro) and they roll with clear delight all the way to a concluding version of “Ripple.” You know the crowd loved it. I do, too. A

Bauhaus, “The Bela Session” (Leaving), Press the Eject and Give Me the Tape & The Sky’s Gone Out (Beggars Arkive) For Bauhaus lovers, the EP is the crown jewel in this batch of 40th anniversary reissues, as three of the five cuts are previously unreleased (one is “Boys” from the ’79 “Bela” 12-inch in its original version). Those who like but are not bonkers over Bauhaus might be wondering if these tracks hold more than historical interest, but it’s really getting to hear the band before they totally solidified their direction that makes it all such a treat. Press the Eject is the ’82 live alb; it’s solid but skippable if you’re on a budget. Third LP proper Sky holds signs of strain but is strong enough that their positive trajectory was essentially maintained. The opening cover of Eno’s “Third Uncle” rips. A-/ B+/ A-

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Josephine Foster, Faithful Fairy Harmony (Fire) In the wrong hands, the title for this one would likely indicate an aural quagmire, but as this is Josephine Foster, I hadn’t a worry over its contents, and this four-part 2LP didn’t disappoint. Foster’s voice is capable of sweetness, deeper beauty, and sharp intensity, plus the ability to resonate as from an earlier time without affectation. But she’s also sturdy instrumentally, playing guitar, piano, organ, harp, autoharp, harmonica, and percussion as well as producing here (recording again in Nashville with Andrija Tokic). Having come to prominence during the New Weird folk wave, Foster’s music was impressive then, and over the years she hasn’t redirected or streamlined her sound, but rather transformed it. This just might be her best one yet. A

Zaïmph, Rhizomatic Gaze (Drawing Room) I’ve expressed approval more than once over the vinyl format’s help in curbing full-length releases as containers of seemingly unedited spillage. Of course, in the right hands, records of longer duration do provide a special kick, and like Foster directly above, the mitts of Marcia Bassett (formerly of Un, Double Leopards, GHQ, and numerous collabs) are right as rain. It’s a scenario that extends to her instrumental prowess on a variety of instruments, particularly guitar. At just short of 72 minutes, there’s plenty of room here for Bassett to explore drone, noise, and ambient motifs, and while her sound has been described on more than occasion as dark, seriousness of intent keeps this far away from black capes and plastic fangs territory. Halloween is over. Outstanding. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Robbie Basho, Venus in Cancer (Traffic Entertainment) Of the three big names in American Primitive guitar’s original wave, Basho remains the least well-known, but as this very cool LP is being reissued for the third time since the turn of the century, his cult has endured (there was also a 1982 live set issued on ESP Disk last year). Originally released in ’69 or ’70, this was Basho’s sixth album and first for Blue Thumb, and it opens with the exquisite nine minutes of the title track; suffice to say no fan of Guitar Soli will want to be without it. Basho does sing on three tracks, and I’m not going to say his voice doesn’t take some getting used to, but in the 25 years since I first heard those pipes, they’ve become an integral part of the experience, which means this LP is sounding better than ever. A

The Posies, Amazing Disgrace (Omnivore) When praising Omnivore’s reissue of The Posies’ Frosting on the Beater back in August, I ranked that record as my favorite from the band, and I still feel that way. However, upon reacquaintance with this one, I’m a bit surprised at how well it’s held up. Beater has been anointed “the loud one” in the band’s discography, but they retained a lot of that spit and fire for Amazing Disgrace, and in terms of attitude, this has some of their most aggressive stuff. It also reinforces the songwriting of Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow as still up to standard, which in pop-rock is a more difficult achievement that you might think. Even at their heaviest there’s catchiness plus an avoidance of the hackneyed. The vinyl is 2LP (sans download), the CD has oodles of exclusive extras. A-

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Mourning [A] BLKstar, The Garner Poems (Electric Cowbell) As of this writing, the Election Day polls in the USA have closed, but the outcome is far from decided, and I’ve shut off social media for a necessary breather and to focus on last few items in this column. Regardless of the electoral outcome, there’s much work ahead in the struggle to heal the open wounds of oppression, bigotry, and violence, and artists creating politically will be integral in the fight. This Ohio-based DIY Afrofuturist soul outfit’s latest record is a beacon of music as righteous action, blending a diced-up, sample-infused, hip-hop, jazz and soul-informed instrumental foundation with socially impassioned lyrical clarity. The whole shines a defiant light on the ugliness of inequality, and police brutality in particular, all with the goal of remembrance, justice, and the hope of a better future. May we work together to achieve it. A

Tallawit Timbouctou, Hali Diallo (Sahel Sounds) From Northern Mali, Tallawit Timbouctou are specialists in the traditional musical style takamba, with its structuring instrument the tehardent, which is described as a four-stringed lute and precursor to the banjo. The rhythms are produced by pounding on an overturned calabash. The style has a long history, possibly stretching back to the Songhai Empire of the 15th century, but it hit another level in the ’80s with the introduction of amplification. The results are hypnotic (an uninterrupted stream when listened to digitally) and highly distorted. If you haven’t heard ‘em, you’re going to imagine a certain level of distortion. Upon listening, these glorious note tangles are going to blow those expectations completely away. A stellar release. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Thing, S/T (Cultures of Soul) Not to be confused with the extant Norwegian/ Swedish free jazz trio, this Thing existed in early ‘70s Boston, formed by saxophonist and jazz educator Arni Cheatham, and they specialized in a robust stream of fusion that while undeniably evoking the sound of electric Miles and early Weather Report, ultimately stands on its own (consistently sharp playing helps matters considerably); it’s all held up well over time. Featuring two side-long live suites from ’72 (one from Harvard U), some may recall excerpts from these performances on Cultures of Soul’s comp The Boston Creative Jazz Scene 1970-1983, but now here’s the whole shebang on wax. Your chances of finding a copy of an original are basically nil, so this is an affordable gesture of goodness. A-

Yoruba Singers, Fighting for Survival (Cultures of Soul) Active since 1971 and cited as the longest-running musical act in Guyana, the Yoruba Singers recorded this set ten years into their existence (after a few prior singles and an LP), and in the press release the contents get described as their “magnum opus.” I’ll add that its stylistically all over the place, but fascinatingly so, and with a funky thread that manages to hold their range together. There’s some light funk, a little deeper funk, a few pop-tinged tunes, touches of reggae, excursions in afrobeat, and even calypso. There are elements in the Yoruba Singers’ stew that don’t really float my boat, but on the other hand, every song here lands on the plus side of the equation, and it’s easy to understand why original copies of this have sold for $300. B+

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Heather Leigh, Throne (Editions Mego) As a former member of Charalambides and with collaborators ranging from Thurston Moore to Jandek to Chris Corsano to Richard Youngs to Peter Brötzmann (see directly below), Heather Leigh is a versatile yet singular force to be reckoned with, specifically due to her choice of instrument, the pedal steel guitar in combination with a powerful singing voice. After a batch of CDRs, tapes and a couple of limited wax slabs, 2015’s terrific I Abused Animal for Ideologic Organ raised the profile of Leigh in solo mode, and with this follow-up her work blossoms to captivating effect (while adding touches of violin, synth and bass). Others’ mentions of Kate Bush and Coil are apropos, but the ambiance is like 2:30am in a cabin in Appalachia. Hell yeah. A

Peter Brötzmann/Heather Leigh, Sparrow Nights (Trost) Leigh and German horn giant Peter Brötzmann have three prior releases, Ears Are Filled With Wonder, Sex Tape, and the tour only Crowmoon, all recorded live. For this studio set, nearly 80 minutes long on CD but scaled back to six tracks for the LP, there are moments that if not tranquil, certainly do unfold less aggressively than has been the performance norm. This is not to suggest that Brötzmann is weakening in his later years; far from it, as he ranges from alto to bass sax here and kicks up a glorious racket in the full set’s centerpiece “This Time Around.” But Leigh’s unorthodox approach is indispensable to the piece’s success, and her riveting solo opening to “It’s Almost Dark” is maybe my favorite passage from this amazing duo exchange. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: V/A, Deben Bhattacharya, Paris to Calcutta: Men and Music on the Desert Road (Sublime Frequencies) Since emerging 15 years ago, Sublime Frequencies has been an undisputed leader in uncovered global sounds, offering a distinct approach that’s been tagged “punk ethnography.” Up to now, we’ve yet to cover anything from the label in this space, but with four releases dropping this week, here’s an overdue spotlight. This 4CD+160pg book documenting a 1955 trip from France to India by “field recordist, poet, filmmaker, musicologist, and amateur ethnomusicologist” Deben Bhattacharya is the jewel of the bunch, and it’s assured to be amongst the finest archival sets of the year. At times wildly intense, if you dug Dust-to-Digital’s recent Paul Bowles collection, this one’s an absolute must. A+

V/A, To Catch a Ghost: Field Recordings from Madagascar (Sublime Frequencies) This is the second volume in Sublime Frequencies’ documentation of Charles Brooks’ field recordings from central and southern Madagascar, (the first was Outlier: Recordings from Madagascar) and the results are of a much more recent vintage than the Bhattacharya set, and shorter too, fitting onto a single LP. To Catch a Ghost is also wonderfully varied, featuring everything from complex (and intense) harmony, to strummed strings (sometimes guitar-like, but in one instance similar to a dulcimer), to whistle-like wind instruments, to the bowed lokanga (which on “Prosper Razafimamdimby” sounds like a distant relation to Appalachian fiddling). There’s also fair amount of throat breathing, which is a major plus. A

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Makaya McCraven, Universal Beings (International Anthem) Everything I’ve heard thus far from Paris-born, New England-reared, and long-time Windy City resident Makaya McCraven has been sweet, but this 90-minute 2LP/ 2CD is a knockout, in part through sheer enlargement, comprised as it is from four sessions (one per vinyl side), two of them live (in NYC and Chicago), one in studio (in London) and one at guitarist Jeff Parker’s house (in L.A.). Hitting a sweet spot between the flowing expansiveness of spiritual jazz and the rhythmic thrust of hip-hop (which adds some crucial toughness), there’s also some beneficial avant-garde edge as drummer McCraven provides significant post-production to the whole. Overall, it clarifies how the “jazz is dead” crowd remains utterly full of shit. A

Neneh Cherry, Broken Politics (Smalltown Supersound) Given the title, you might expect Cherry’s latest (and first since 2014’s Blank Project) to be a (perfectly appropriate) rage fest, but while anger is an element in this sonic stew, no; in some ways this is an antidote to the exhaustion that can result from too frequent bouts of furiousness. Working at Creative Music Studio in Woodstock and again with producer Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet), there’s mucho nuance here, and the range of topics, amongst them the refugee crisis in “Kong” and gun violence in “Shot Gun Shack,” fruitfully combine with a broad musical palette (vibraphonist Karl Berger guests for a track). Along with Cherry’s rich voice (whether singing, speaking, or rapping), Hebden’s occasionally trip-hoppy production lends focus. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Bauhaus, In the Flat Field & Mask (Beggars Arkive) Even if the qualitative track record of subsequent Gothsters was pretty dang poor, Bauhaus shall not be blamed; often credited as the kick-starters of said musical (life)style (given Siouxsie, it’s a distinction that’s at least somewhat arguable), Bauhaus was a fine band (‘tis true many didn’t think so while they were extant), and one that I don’t think ever sounded better than they did early on. Commencing a hefty reissue program that stretches into December, here’s full-length debut In the Flat Field and follow-up Mask. Keeping in mind the lack of extras from later CD editions, Flat offers a handful of the band’s strongest moments, while Mask’s positive refinements help to shape their most consistent, and best album. A-/ A

Space Streakings, First Love 初恋: Debut Album and Demo Tracks (Skin Graft) Part of a fertile Japanese u-ground scene that’s highest-profile export was Boredoms, Space Streakings sometimes sounded like an espresso company-sponsored video game tournament taking place in the pit of a battle of the bands where the horn-section-flanked spazz-core finalists nix the idea of taking turns and just go for broke simultaneously. This glass-mastered compact disc in a six-panel jacket collects their ’93 debut Hatsu-Koi, originally released on Nux Organization (the label of Zeni Geva’s KK Null, who also produced), and adds a prior demo. For those bummed over the lack of vinyl, both of Space Streakings subsequent efforts, ’94’s Steve Albini-assisted 7-Toku and their ’96 collab with Mount Shasta, are currently available on wax. A-

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Madison Washington, (((( FACTS ))))) (Def Pressé) This NYC-UK duo’s “Code Switchin’” EP from last year was solid, but here is a major leap forward and one of the best hip-hop full-lengths (available on 2LP) that I’ve heard in quite a while. After the short opening track’s spoken poetics (with a touch of sonic manipulation) reassert the politically-socially conscious verve of their debut, the title cut delivers a rhythmic tour de force, setting matters into motion with a high point, and it’s to MC Malik Ameer and producer-DJ thatmanmonkz’ credit that what follows never falters or even runs low on gas. Interestingly, I’m hearing a much stronger P-Funk/ Outcast vibe than I did before but sprinkled with some jazzy bits and bushels of smart rhymes. A knockout that’s invigorating for the body and mind. A

V/A, Mexican Summer: A Decade Deeper (Mexican Summer) Emerging in 2008 as a subsidiary of Kemado Records, Mexican Summer has grown into one of the more interesting labels on the contempo independent scene, and stylistically diverse, which means that the previously unreleased selections on this anniversary compilation (which lean toward the imprint’s recent and current activities) are unlikely to please most listeners equally. As evidence, my preference is for the tracks by Arp, Drugdealer, Robert Lester Folsom, Allah Lahs, PAINT, Connan Mockasin’s Jassbusters, Gregg Kowalsky, and Tonstartssbandht over Part Time’s lite-pop-fuckery and Dungen’s cut, which kinda sounds like America with their mouths sewn shut. But hey, nothing gets even close to stinking thing up, so cheers for ten good years. B+

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: V/A, Damaged Goods 1988-2018 (Damaged Goods) Rearing to life as a punk reissue label in ’88 London, Damaged Goods began dishing out fresh stuff not long after. With 30 years of elevating global record store bins in the books, this 37-track 2LP anniversary celebration of “top tracks, deep cuts, lost gems and personal favourites,” if far from exhaustive (as there’s 500 releases in the catalog), delivers a roaring, banging, at times grabbingly melodic, and more than adequately varied good time, even as the label’s enduring and crucial stewardship of Wild Billy Childish’s output (in its assorted guises) is well-represented (and fairly diverse, as selected here). Highlights? Too many to list, but if punk classique brings you warmth, this’ll get ya nice and toasty in the record den. A-

Black Artists Group, In Paris, Aries 1973 (Aguirre) Formed in St. Louis, the Black Artists Group was a free jazz collective similar in operation to Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. An additional connection was Joseph Bowie, the brother of Art Ensemble of Chicago trumpeter Lester Bowie. BAG membership included saxophonists Julius Hemphill, Luther Thomas, and Hamiet Bluiett (RIP), but for this recording, the players are saxophonist Oliver Lake, trumpeters Baikida Carroll and Floyd LeFlore, drummer Charles Bobo Shaw, and trombonist Bowie. Having traveled to France a la an earlier excursion by the Art Ensemble, the likenesses between the two collectives extend further, but much of this fire is of the BAG’s own making. Far more than of historical interest, and in an edition of 500. A-

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