Category Archives: The TVD Record Store Club

Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2017’s New Releases, Part Two

As we continue, there’s guitar abstraction, jazz, and rock of various stripes, with inspirational history and hope sharing the top spot.

Find them all for purchase from our friends at Discogs at the links below, or at your local mom and pop, indie record shops via The Vinyl District Record Store Locator app—free for your iPhone here, free for your Android here.

5. Chain & the Gang, Experimental Music (Radical Elite), Escape-Ism, Introduction to Escape-Ism (Merge) + Juana Molina, Halo (Crammed Discs) Sporting a new project and a major spurt in activity from his current combo, Ian Svenonius has had quite a year. It’s a burst of goodness that extends an already impressive list of achievements including, but not limited to, Nation of Ulysses, Cupid Car Club, The Make-Up, Weird War, David Candy, and XYZ, as well a book writing, talk show hosting, filmmaking, and general thinking.

All this from a guy whose explosion onto the early ’90s scene, while certainly welcome, didn’t exactly seem poised for longevity. That’s okay, as much fine rock ‘n’ roll isn’t, but regardless, he’s just knocked out three killers in 2017 with Chain & the Gang; Best of Crime Rock (instead of a straight comp, the cuts are rerecorded, and it works), Live at Third Man (self-explanatory), and Experimental Music, which is the strongest (by a nose). Introduction to Escape-ism is truly solo, conjuring thoughts of Suicide and early electro, and it reinforces Svenonius as nowhere close to running out of creative gas.

Juana Molina only released one new record in 2017 (I just consulted Discogs to check), but it’s a doozy. She’s been musically active since the mid-’90s, which is when she decided to end her career as an actress (she was a star in her native Argentina) to concentrate on the recording studio and live stage. Initially poorly received at home, the critical tide has turned in her favor, but she’s still been naggingly underrated. In fact, the only thing more reliable than not enough people digging her stuff is the increasingly high quality of her work, with Halo shaping up as her best album so far.

As she emerged as part of the folktronica field, that’s doubly impressive. Not to knock on the style, but those practicing it haven’t exactly be noted for longevity; Molina’s exception derives from a non-clichéd blend of elements and strength of construction; at this point, her stuff should likely interest fans of Os Mutantes and Animal Collective, and hey, if one album isn’t enough, her swell 2008 set Un dia has recently been reissued on wax by her new label Crammed Discs.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2017’s New Releases, Part One

Diversity of tradition, experimentation, instrumental vigor, and protest help shape our best new releases of 2017. Here’s the first half.

Find them all for purchase from our friends at Discogs at the links below, or at your local mom and pop, indie record shops via The Vinyl District Record Store Locator app—free for your iPhone here, free for your Android here.

10. Saz’sio, At Least Wave Your Handkerchief at Me (The Joys and Sorrows of Southern Albanian Song) (Glitterbeat) + Shilpa Ray, Door Girl (Northern Spy) One of the sweet byproducts of music fandom is getting introduced to various new styles, often from far-reaching regions of the globe. Such is the case with the debut album from Saz’sio. While the group’s sounds are new to my ears, for the residents of their home country, the recording’s vitality is part of a long, rich tradition.

At Least Wave Your Handkerchief at Me is a doorway into the Albanian musical form Saze, which the notes for the album describe as one of the world’s least recorded folk styles. Dynamically executed both vocally and instrumentally, the emotional range is as wide as the title’s parenthetical suggests. Produced by Joe Boyd and recorded by Jerry Boys, folks attuned to Balkan and Turkish folk and even klezmer should waste no time getting to know this one.

Even without knowledge of her previous work, making Shilpa Ray’s acquaintance brings an immediate sense of the familiar, as she oozes a distinct swagger that’s simultaneously old-school and up to date. Indeed, her fourth full-length (there have been two fronting Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers, and now two under her own name), Door Girl is a record chronicling life in NYC, and as the selections unwind Ray’s confidence is palpable.

Throughout, she makes good choices, particularly the doo-wopish elements established right off the bat in “New York Minute Prayer” and later the assured pop-rock of “Rockaway Blues,” but she also takes chances; attempts at rap-rock usually stink up the joint, but she pulls it off with “Revelations of a Stamp Monkey” (the song and album title reference her time working the door at Lower East Side bar Pianos). Ray occasionally recalls Debbie Harry and Patti Smith, but on “EMT Police and the Fire Department” she belts out a wall-pinning punk rager and references Allen Ginsburg to boot. Brilliant.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2017’s Reissues, Part Two

Picking up where we left off yesterday, the international focus continues. You can find them all for purchase from our friends at Discogs at the links below, or at your local mom and pop, indie record shops via The Vinyl District Record Store Locator app—free for your iPhone here, free for your Android here.

5. V/A, Even a Tree Can Shed Tears: Japanese Folk & Rock 1969-1973 (Light in the Attic) + Hiroshi Yoshimura, Music for Nine Post Cards (Empire of Signs) In the notes for Even a Tree Can Shed Tears, set co-producer Yosuke Kitazawa observes that Japan’s global pop exports have been rather small. Regarding pop I can’t disagree, but in overall musical terms I’d argue that Japan’s impact has been significant. Bluntly, I can go hardly a day without some Japanese band or artist entering my consciousness, if not landing upon my turntable.

Like another of Even a Tree Can Shed Tears’ producers Jake Orrall, much of my initial interest in the country’s music came through noise, experimentation, and heavy rock, and it’s an inclination I maintain. That doesn’t mean the more folk-derived sounds collected here aren’t appealing; I love when things take a turn for the psychedelic, but even the Laurel Canyon-esque moments go down easy. Joni is a big influence here, but so is Dylan, and this is the type of comp that inspires binge buys of the represented artist’s full albums. I’m familiar with a few already, but frankly, I’m going to need a longer shelf.

Empire of Signs is a label co-founded by Maxwell August Croy (of the Root Strata label) and Spencer Doran (of Visible Cloaks), and it’s being distributed by Light in the Attic. Croy and Doran’s inaugural release brings wider exposer to Yoshimura, a pioneer in Japanese ambient music. Music for Nine Post Cards was his 1982 debut (he passed in 2003), and it’s been reissued numerous times, but this is its first release outside Japan and its first time on vinyl since initial release, executed in cooperation with the artist’s widow Yoko Yoshimura.

Beginning as a conceptual artist, Yoshimura’s musical side developed as part of the Japanese post-Fluxus scene, with his sound creations intended to soundtrack activities (fashion shows) and objects (from houses to train stations to perfume). Indeed, Music for Nine Post Cards’ original incarnation was as a demo tape intended for play inside the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art. If you’re thinking Eno, well yeah, but this LP, played on a keyboard and Fender Rhodes, is distinct. Empire of Signs’ promo text states he strived for serenity as an ideal, but the album is also very pretty and melodically engaging.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2017’s Reissues, Part One

What was said yesterday regarding the year’s box sets also applies to 2017’s less expansive reissues. Who could listen to them all? Not us. Not you, either. But amid the deluge, many worthy releases emerged, some exceptional even, and here’s a list of a few.

Find them all for purchase from our friends at Discogs at the links below, or at your local mom and pop, indie record shops via The Vinyl District Record Store Locator app—free for your iPhone here, free for your Android here.

10. Jackie Shane, Any Other Way (Numero Group) + OST, Ciao! Manhattan (Light in the Attic) Any Other Way is one of the out-of-nowhere finds of the year, though unsurprisingly, heavy soul heads have long been in the know regarding the slim discography of 1960’s transgender pioneer Jackie Shane. Lighting out from her hometown of Nashville, she landed in Toronto and developed a career singing soul as a transwoman, even if the culture wasn’t ready for full acknowledgement of this fact.

However, Canadians (and some US residents) were eager to purchase her ’62 version of the William Bell song that titles this collection, making it a regional hit that bubbled under on the Billboard chart at #124; in the context of this comp, it resonates like a smash. Any Other Way collects her studio recordings and the serious fun of her ’67 live album, and if there’s occasional unevenness, Shane’s talent is undeniable. Though her career was brief (she turned down deals with Motown and Atlantic and the opportunity to join Funkadelic), Shane is a survivor; she currently lives in Nashville.

Edie Sedgwick did not survive, and like many of the figures primarily known for their association with Andy Warhol, her life, which was alternately captivating, exasperating, lurid, absurd, and ultimately tragic, has been the subject of scorn. Often, this is little more than small-minded hostility over the Warhol scene’s aura of cool, though quintessential underground flick Ciao! Manhattan’s blending of unfinished B&W footage of Sedgwick and Paul America in ’65 NYC (the good times) with color photography from California in ’70 (the downward spiral) provoked understandably diverse reactions.

I was conflicted after my now long-ago viewing, and through snippets of dialogue, the first-time reissue of this soundtrack (in any form) initially stirred up similar feelings. Mingling those audio bits with a synth score by Gino Piserchio and post-hippie singer-songwriter selections by John Phillips, Skip Battin, and a handful from Richie Havens, this OST is wildly imperfect; individually, the threads aren’t much, but weaved together, the whole becomes messy, uncomfortable, still sometimes frustrating and yet quite striking. Put another way, I keep coming back to it, which is something I doubt I could do with the film.

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Graded on a Curve: The Best of 2017’s Box Sets

To listen to every box set released in 2017 would require the ability to stop time, so this list is in no way definitive. However, regarding what was heard, these are the best.

Find them all for purchase from our friends at Discogs at the links below, or at your local mom and pop, indie record shops via The Vinyl District Record Store Locator app—free for your iPhone here, free for your Android here.

10. Bert Jansch, Living in the Shadows + Living in the Shadows Part Two: On the Edge of a Dream (Earth) Over the last few years, most of the recordings from this defining Brit folk guitarist’s first decade have been easy to obtain in reissue form. This circumstance is fully deserved and not a bit surprising, as Jansch’s early albums for Transatlantic, especially his ’65 self-titled debut, are considered the essential stuff, and the subsequent discs for Reprise and Charisma do nothing to besmirch his standing. Additionally, there’s his membership in Pentangle to consider.

That’s all a swell situation, but Earth Recordings’ recent activity is even cooler. Beginning with 2015’s Live at the 12 Bar, the label began making some of Jansch’s harder to find and less celebrated later material widely available. These 4LP/4CD sets, the first covering the ’90s (The Ornament Tree, When the Circus Comes to Town, and Toy Balloon) and the second the ’00s (Crimson Moon, Edge of a Dream, and The Black Swan), and each with a full platter of unreleased cuts, stand as Earth’s strongest Jansch-related achievement thus far. Considering their reissue of Avocet, that’s saying something.

9. Genius/GZA, Liquid Swords Singles Collection (UMG – Urban Legends) Concerning the physical qualities of vinyl, I’ve noticed quite a few enthusiastic testimonials over the years, and a rise of them recently, that flirt with or occasionally plunge head-first into the realms of the mystical. And hey, I can dig it. But really, at its core, the physical appeal of vinyl (and other tangible containers of art, of course, books foremost amongst them) is relatively straightforward; you can hold it in your hands and interact with it.

Box sets can provide years of appreciation, often by offering multiple CDs that are stuffed to the maximum, but Liquid Swords Singles Collection takes the opposite approach, grabbing just a handful of tracks (plus a pair of instrumental versions and a RZA remix featuring D’Angelo), grooving them into 7-inch vinyl, tucking them into attractive picture sleeves, adding art prints by Andrew Hem, and placing it all in an oversized, easel-backed art box. As Liquid Swords is one of the ’90s defining hip-hop albums, the music here is built to last, but the enduring appeal will surely derive from the physicality of it all.

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, December 2017

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued wax presently in stores for December, 2017.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Cindy Wilson, Change (Kill Rock Stars) That Wilson’s solo debut doesn’t sound like the B-52’s isn’t exactly jaw-dropping. No, what’s impressive is the level of success achieved in migrating away from new wavy party pop-rocking, especially as she’s chosen to engage so heavily with an electronic template that could’ve easily spelled disaster. Some of this, like the title track, dives deep into techno ambience (there are a few pepperings of Gary Numan throughout the alb), but there’s plenty of strong songwriting to be found, and the guitars in late track “Brother” are a nice surprise. A-

The Telescopes, Stone Tape (Yard Press) In terms of the whole shoegaze/ neo-psych thing, to my mind Stephen Lawrie’s The Telescopes don’t get enough credit. Debuting on a split flexi with Loop, they ended up on Creation Records before taking a decade off. Returning in ’02, they’ve been steadily at it since (issuing As Light Return earlier this year), and this concept LP (concerning the Stone Tape Theory of Thomas Charles Lethbridge), the first release on Italian graphic designer Giandomenico Carpentieri’s new label, has moments recalling Spacemen 3, Tony Conrad, Suicide, Velvets, and even early Doors. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Basil Kirchin, Worlds Within Worlds (Superior Viaduct) Not to be confused with Kirchin’s ’71 album of the same name on EMI, this came out in ’74 through Island, and it’s a splendid hunk of elevated musique concrète, integrating horns, cello, organ etc. with sounds of animals, engines, the docks in Hull, and autistic children in Schurmatt, Switzerland. Kirchin had a varied career; in addition to a long Brit big band period with his dad, he also contributed to the score for The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Along with the EMI set and Quantum, this is a must for avant-garde shelves. (out 12/15) A

Zazou/Bikaye/CY1, Noir et Blanc (Crammed Discs) This collaboration between Congolese musician Bony Bikaye, French composer Hector Zazou and his countrymen Guillaume Loizillon and Claude Micheli, who worked as the analog synth duo CY1, was initially released in ’83, but in defying expectations it sounds as fresh as last week, in part due to the exploratory curiosity of everyone involved. The results (reissued here with welcome demos and bonuses) offer a legit African/European fusion, and I find it more engaging than Eno/ Byrne’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, to which it’s sometimes compared. A

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, December 2017

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued wax presently in stores for December, 2017.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Thor and Friends, The Subversive Nature of Kindness (Living Music Duplication) After a killer debut last year, the avant-chamber unit of Thor Harris, Peggy Ghorbani, and Sarah “Goat” Gautier are back, and they’ve slipped not at all. The minimalism of Reich and Riley remains a pronounced part of the equation, but this is a still a major leap, in part through an emphasis on wordless vocals. The guesting voices belong to Michael Gira of Swans, Norwegian opera singer Stine Janvin Motland, and Oregonian throat singer Enrique Soriah, who helps turn “Grassfire” into a highlight. A

Alexander, S/T (No label) Back in the mid-’90s a friend opined that the guitar’s musical potential was essentially tapped; I thought the idea suspect then, and two decades hence the notion is proving downright ludicrous. The latest evidence comes from David Shapiro, a native of New Haven who records solo as Alexander. Earlier this year he shared a split single with fellow CT string wrangler Rob Noyes; this is his debut LP. Played on a self-built guitar, a fact certainly reinforcing ties to the American Primitive, there’s an introspective assurance to much of this set that’s kept me listening for weeks. A

REISSUE PICKS: Louis Armstrong & His All-Stars, Jazz Is Back in Grand Rapids (ORG Music) While I’m not one of those guys who waxes enthusiastic over “Hello Dolly,” I’m not also a hardliner who insists that Satchmo was musically over with before the bomb dropped on Pearl Harbor; please see Jazz on a Summer’s Day for details. Or for that matter, check this out, as it offers a complete show from two years prior across four sides. If this reads as mainly of historical interest, that’s off target; the band is in solid hot jazz form, especially bassist Arvell Shaw, who is prominent throughout this recording. (out 12/15) A-

Duke Ellington & His Orchestra, Volume 1: 1943 (ORG Music) Ellington’s later period was considerably more fruitful than Armstrong’s (’67’s Strayhorn tribute …And His Mother Called Him Bill is a masterpiece). ‘twas so full of goodness in fact that some tend to ignore his pre-LP era recordings. This is not a smart move. Duke was an absolute titan in the ‘30s-’40s, as this set of transcriptions for World Broadcasting bears out. Shorn of incomplete takes, the contents flow splendidly, and with a couple exceptions, this was one day’s work; if minor in the overall scheme, it’s still impressive. (out 12/15) A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, November 2017

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued wax presently in stores for November, 2017. Part one is right here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Soul of a Woman (Daptone) The passing of Sharon Jones hit hard. A large part of why was purely musical, but Jones’ unlikely rise to fame as a modern vessel of uncut classic soul verve was also enduringly inspirational. Essential to her sustained success was a union with the Dap-Kings, the vitality of which is undiminished here as the disc’s contents continue to emphasize Jones’ versatility. Too often defined by her aptitude for belting, an ability to cover a range of emotions is on full display, with self-penned finale “Call on God” packing a wallop. A-

Mavis Staples, If All I Was Was Black (Anti) As the third collaboration (in four albums) between Staples and producer Jeff Tweedy, the comfort level is high, enough so that the Wilco leader wrote all ten songs with the veteran vocalist in mind; she immediately makes them her own, with social commentary ringing out loud and clear. Staples’ gospel-based positivity has been long-noted, but reflective of the times, the mood here is darker and angrier yet not hopeless, and the songs flourish in a cohesive small group setting descended from but never imitating socially conscious Mayfield-ish soul-funk. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Willie Nelson, Spirit & Teatro: The Complete Sessions (Modern Classics) Two underrated and contrasting ’90s efforts: the self-produced Spirit is scaled-back to the guitars of Nelson and Jody Payne, piano from his sister Bobbie, and occasional fiddle by ace Johnny Gimble. It magnifies Nelson as a songwriter of rich tradition. Teatro was cut with an expanded lineup in an old movie theater in Oxnard, CA with producer Daniel Lanois. If less intimate, the strength of the writing, playing, and singing remains high. Spirit is on wax; Teatro is on CD with a performance DVD directed by Wim Wenders A/ A

Sonny Clark Trio, The 1960 Time Sessions (Tompkins Square) The title differentiates the contents, originally issued as a self-titled LP, from an also eponymous and more well-known trio date for Blue Note three years prior. That one had Paul Chambers and Philly Joe; this expanded set features George Duvivier and Max Roach, so there’s no drop off in personnel quality. Ben Ratliff’s notes (augmenting Nat Hentoff’s original words) do a fine job of placing this record in the context of Clark’s career as a leading light in the hard-bop movement. Is it the pianist’s best? No, but the interaction is sterling throughout. A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, November 2017

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued wax presently in stores for November, 2017.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Barry Altschul and the 3Dom Factor, Live in Kraków (Not Two) Altschul has drummed with Paul Bley, Andrew Hill, Sam Rivers, and with Anthony Braxton, Chick Corea and Dave Holland in Circle; his third release with bassist and fellow Braxton associate Joe Fonda and the young, masterful saxophonist Jon Irabagon is a start-to-finish delight. Monk’s “Ask Me Now” and an original paying tribute to three cornerstones of jazz rhythm cement the importance of earlier traditions, but it all launches from a ’60s small ensemble NYC avant-garde platform. They make a beautiful sound. A

Nona Hendryx & Gary Lucas, The World of Captain Beefheart (Knitting Factory) Not just anyone can successfully navigate the vast essence of Don Van Vliet, but this team-up, which began through participation in a live symphonic Beefheart trib in Amsterdam, handles the task with aplomb. Having assembled a small, sharp band, world-class guitarist (and former member of the Magic Band) Lucas is in typically fine form, and Hendryx, once of LaBelle and a noted solo artist, continually impresses; she’s crucial to relating the adaptability of the material, and handles the wilder moments like a champ. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Men & Volts, A Giraffe Is Listening to the Radio: Men & Volts Play Captain Beefheart (Feeding Tube) This terribly underrated band, featuring David Greenberger of Duplex Planet fame, sprang to life playing the music of Van Vliet to the exclusion of all else, but unless one was a clued-in Bostonian, this fact was essentially just lore. Until now. Consisting of practice tapes from ’79, the lo-fi aura never obscures how deep (How deep? WAY deep) they got into Beefheart’s thing. Indeed, this could be mistaken as a Captain boot, which means it never reverberates as a mere tribute. A-

Little Richard, Here’s Little Richard (Craft) Fats Domino has left us, but the other two greats of first-wave rock ‘n’ roll piano are still kicking, and their prime stuff can still demolish most contemporary competition. Going back to Little Richard’s first LP after a lengthy absence invariably reinforces it as even stronger than memories situate; that’s one reason we return to records instead of just remembering them. That Craft’s 2CD reissue offers previously unreleased material from the sessions for this historic and essential set is gobsmacking. Inquiries into the necessity of the extras will be taken as rhetorical. A+

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, October 2017

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued wax presently in stores for October, 2017. Part one can be found right here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Brooklyn Raga Massive, Terry Riley In C (Northern Spy) Rooted in Indian classical music, Brooklyn Raga Massive are, on this live recording, 18 members strong. Acting upon an idea by sitarist Neel Murgai, they engage with Riley’s minimalist cornerstone while simultaneously expanding the three-to-four musician Indian classical standard, an undertaking that makes them massive indeed as the results succeed resoundingly. Rhythmically infused and instrumentally vibrant, they deliver an interpretation of Riley’s open-scored work that’s unlike any I’ve previously heard. A joyful thing. A

Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition, Agrima (Self-released) Indio-Jazz fusion? Oh yes. But more so, a rich dialogue. Featuring Indian-American Mahanthappa on alto sax, Pakistani-American Rez Abassi on guitar and Anglo-American Dan Weiss on tabla, they debuted on record with 2008’s Apti. This set makes some considerable advances; Mahanthappa adds electronics to the equation, Abassi plays with more effects, and Weiss gets behind a drum kit. There is much exploration amid the intensity and flow, and the alto is consistently sharp. Available on 2LP, which isn’t the norm in contempo jazz terms. A

REISSUE PICKS: V/A, Andina: Huayno, Carnaval and Cumbia – The Sound of the Peruvian Andes 1968-1978 (Tiger’s Milk / Strut) The first of three compilations in Tiger’s Milk’s program to uncover Peruvian music past and present is consistently engaging and quite enlightening with wide stylistic range; there’s cumbia, huayno, big band, and traditional harp music, with the intention of label co-founder Martin Morales (also a Michelin-starred chef; this release coincides with a cookbook of the same name) to undercut the historical stereotypes of his home country’s music. He’s succeeded with flying colors. A

Blind Idiot God, Undertow (Indivisible Music) Originally out of St. Louis, the instrumental trio of guitarist Andy Hawkins, bassist Gabe Katz, and drummer Ted Epstein survived the late ’80s SST deluge and ended up on Enemy for this, their second album. Dividing their energies between bruising art-metal and thick dub, they defied the odds and made it work with the help of producer Bill Laswell. The LP holds up well, but the 45RPM bonus disc is the cherry on top, as “Purged Specimen” features John Zorn and two versions of “Freaked” (from the Alex Winter film) are solid collabs with vocalist Henry Rollins. A-

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