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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Devin Gray, Dirigo Rataplan II (Rataplan) Of the players here, I’m most familiar with tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin (through his stuff on hatOLOGY and Eremite) and bassist Michael Formanek (his own bands, Tim Berne’s Bloodcount and Thumbscrew), but the compositions and overall conception belong to drummer-leader Gray on this sequel to a group’s debut from 2012, with trumpeter Dave Ballou completing the lineup. The Ornette quartet vibe can be strong at times, which is an unambiguously fine thing, but through Gray’s writing and the players’ rapport, imagination and overall experience, a splendid distinctiveness is achieved. For vinyl-only folks into avant-free-friendly but compositionally rich jazz, this one (and the first Dirigo Rataplan) are on wax, so don’t futz around. A

V/A, Music of Southern and Northern Laos (Akuphone) Between 2006 and ’13, “self-taught ethnologist” Laurent Jeanneau (aka Kink Gong) traveled to Laos to capture numerous musical practices of the country’s minority groups, and the results are captivating, but unlike the sometimes studious, other times polite and commonly distant aura of recordings in this tradition, this set (one CD and two separate LPs by titular region) is wild and intense. With a deep interest in South East Asia, Jeanneau’s been at this for a while (releasing on Akuphone, Atavistic, Discrepant, Loup, unsurprisingly Sublime Frequencies and others), and it shows. While part of the richness comes from the clarity of modern portable recorders, listening on headphones really gives the impression of being right in the thick of it. Wonderful. A / A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Stella Chiweshe, Kasahwa: Early Singles (Glitterbeat) Zimbabwean Chiweshe has been called “The Queen of Mbira,” and her discography backs up the praise. If you’re into her work, it’s a cinch you’ll want this collection of her early output, initially cut to 7-inch vinyl mostly in the ‘70s, as it’s never been issued outside of her home country. However, if you’re a curious newbie, this short but abundantly beautiful set would make a fabulous introduction. Featuring just vocals, shakers, and of course the metal-and-wood thumb piano (the mbira, which also names the style she’s mastered), this lacks the bright production and interpolation of other genres that marks her subsequent stuff, but the root essence is strong and delightful, especially on the 8-minute standout “Mayaya (Part 1 & 2).” A

Dur-Dur Band, Dur-Dur of Somalia: Volume 1, Volume 2 & Previously Unreleased Tracks (Analog Africa) If you hunger for all things globally funky, then you may already be hep to the Dur-Dur Band, who rose to fame in ’80s Mogadishu as the funkiest act in Somalia. Awesome Tapes from Africa reissued the group’s 1987 cassette Volume 5 on multiple formats back in 2013, and now here comes this massive and very welcome 18-track roundup of their first and second releases plus additional material on a choice of two cassettes, a 2CD, or a 3LP gatefold edition. Dur-Dur’s stated mission was to combine traditional Somali music with “funk, reggae, soul, disco and new wave” plus anything else that would get bodies moving. And so, a groove monster, but one that not only holds up but encourages pure listening. That’s rad. A

Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard, Sing Me Back Home: The DC Tapes, 1965-1969 (Free Dirt) This crucial, gender pioneering bluegrass duo recorded four albums’ worth of material, but these songs, captured in Gerrard’s kitchen via reel-to-reel recorder, predate all of it. In the set’s press release, M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger (producer of Gerrard’s terrific 2014 album Follow the Music) calls this discovery as “intimate and essential as The Basement Tapes.” That’s cool, though the brilliance here is distinct; rather than epically mysterious, Sing Me Back Home is just refreshingly unburdened by any expectations other than their own. Maybe not the best intro to the pair, but of you dig ‘em (as any Americana fan should), this is indeed a must, with sweet covers of the Everly Brothers and, per the title, Merle Haggard. A

Garage Class, “Terminal Tokyo” (Outer Reaches) Garage Class (originally The Pits) were from Alsager in North West England, and their only single, recorded in 1980 and released post-breakup in 1984, is a classic of UK DIY. But this isn’t a straight reissue, growing from seven inches in diameter to ten, swapping out the enjoyable but fairly standard pogo-punk B-side “One Hell of a Kiss” for the more DIY-ish “I Got Standards,” and adding a remix of the tune by DJ Twitch. This insures the collectability of the original 45 (which sells in the neighborhood of 50 bucks) while effectively deepening Garage Class’ rep. Edgy and non-pro but quite highly developed and together as a tune, “Terminal Tokyo” is an expectations-exceeding minor classic from this style-era-scene, but the flip proves it was not a fluke. A-

Thee Headcoats, In Tweed We Trust (Damaged Goods) The most high-profile LP by Thee Headcoats probably remains the one they did for Sub Pop in 1990 (roughly a year after they formed), and while it’s surely a great one (with excellent jacket art by Dan Clowes), this slab from ’96 puts the lie to the idea that the long-playing records by Wild Billy Childish, Bruce Brand, and Johnny “Tub” Johnson all sound pretty much the same. Sub Pop’s Heaven’s to Murgatroyd, Even! It’s Thee Headcoats (Already) was a pounder, but it was also a display of range. Contrasting, Thee Headcoatees are nowhere in sight here, and the slices of solo Billy in bluesy mode are also absent. Instead, In Tweed We Trust is just top-to-bottom stomping UK Beat-descended punk rock action. As the sleeve boldly claims, England’s finest. A

Arve Henriksen, The Height of the Reeds (Rune Grammofon) Classically trained, Henriksen is a trumpet player, vocalist, and composer. He has a slew of prior recordings out under his name, most on Rune Grammofon, but amongst other labels a few on ECM as well; he’s also worked in groups including Supersilent, which is where I first heard him. His latest began as a commissioned work composed by Henriksen with Eivind Aarset and Jan Bang originally intended to accompany a sound walk across the Humber Bridge in UK city of Hull in April-June 2017. Headphones were utilized. Soaking this up through the same device while sitting in a chair in my vast listening den, I can understand why the experience proved such a hit. The blend of jazz, classical, and ambient is warm and quite welcoming. A-

Mount Eerie, (After) (P.W. Elverum & Sun) I’m generally not a huge fan of live albums, at least in the pop-rock-country-blues-folk realms (jazz is another story), although a list of exceptions would grow long enough to probably contradict my stance. So I won’t do that. Instead, I’ll just mention that after numerous listens the latest by Phil Elverum, captured at last year’s Le Guess Who? Festival in Utrecht, Netherlands, is one. Part of why is likely the lack of premeditation, with a member of the crew having taped the performance without Elverum knowing, meaning the artist’s focus was on the moment rather than partially on posterity. Held in an acoustically resonant cathedral (pictured on the cover of this 2LP), the music is tender yet powerful while avoiding the precious or morose. It was a fine night. A-

The Oscillation, Wasted Space (Fuzz Club) U.E.F., the prior full-length by this Walthamstow, UK outfit led by Demian Castellanos, came out via Fuzz Club just this past March and received positive coverage in this column. Known for changing up The Oscillation’s stylistic program, Castellanos dived into a zone reminiscent of techno for U.E.F., but rather than totally shed those motions, he integrates it here with tangibly songlike structures and a dark, mildly (post-)punky mood that for the most part goes down well, though spots do occasionally bring back memories of the Alt-rock ‘90s (like “Drop,” which could easily soundtrack the highlights section of a TV show devoted to extreme sports). But if you didn’t live through it, you mightn’t care. I do like the tense “Human Shell” and extended finale “Luminous Being.” B+

JP Schlegelmilch, Jonathan Goldberger, Jim Black, Visitors (Skirl) The label describes the debut of organist-keyboardist Schlegelmilch, guitarist Goldberger, and drummer Black as a “21st-century take on the organ trio,” but it’s dang far from a remodeling of Brother Jack McDuff or even Larry Young. There are connections to fusion, but aggressively executed and with just as much affiliation with the avant-garde. Goldberger’s playing can suggest Sonny Sharrock, Jeff Parker, and even a little Robert Fripp, but mostly he’s reminiscent of none of ‘em as Schlegelmilch never noodles and Black is both hard-hitting and expansive with nary a showoff move within earshot. Overall, instead of fusion, the gist here is closer to post-rock and heavy prog, so if you’re into Tortoise and Cuneiform Records then step right up. A-

Brandon Seabrook Trio, Convulsionaries (Astral Spirits) I guess technically this is a guitar trio, as Seabrook is the leader and axe-handler, though it’s not jazz, as the six highly complex pieces here are compositionally based, and with no (apparent) elbow room for improv. However, all three participants—with Seabrook there’s double bassist Henry Fraser and cellist Daniel Levin (whose LP of solo cello Living was a new release pick in this column last September), have avant-jazz experience, so the sharp angles, wiggles, flails, scrapes, moans, intricacy, and general intensity is as likely to please folks into out-jazz (particularly Mart Halvorson, with whom Seabrook’s played) as it will enthuse those with a jones for edgy avant-string trios. Of which this solidly is. Available on CD, cassette, and digital. A

The Shadracks, S/T (Damaged Goods) This debut from the Medway, Kent, UK act of Huddie Shadrack, Elle Meshack, and Ellisa Abednego has been out digitally since July, but the wax arrives on 9/21, so for an overview in this space there is no time like now. While the home base and issuing label may lead you to assume this is a mere variation upon the classic Medway sound (as exemplified by Wild Billy Childish), please set those expectations aside. There are some clear similarities in comportment, but the guy-gal thrust is quite diff, the band’s relationship to the ’60s is tangibly nearer to US garage than UK Beat, and the overall kick lands pretty firmly in the breadbasket of UK ’77, with top-flight covers of Alternative TV and Buzzcocks. Ba-dum ba-dum! X Ray Spex and Raw Records’ fans should be chuffed. A-

Fred Thomas, Aftering (Polyvinyl) From his outpost in Ann Arbor, MI, songwriter and studio wiz Fred Thomas is prolific. Along with the stuff released under his own name, he’s most well-known for the often-exquisite shape-shifting pop of Saturday Looks Good to Me, with that project’s All Your Summer Songs a personal favorite. This new one is a different affair, which is no surprise as per the artist it’s loosely conceived on the model of Neil Young’s On the Beach. But there are some familiar aspects, foremost the guest contributors, which this time include Anna Burch, Elliot Bergman, and Wolf Eyes’ John Olson. Still, even with a few catchy tunes early on this isn’t an immediate grabber, though with time spent its strangeness and ambition (especially late in the album) add up to a considerable sum. A-

V/A, Sichten 1 (Raster) For a long time, starting in 1999, there was the discerning electronic label Raster-Noton, the enterprise having emerged from the union of the Rastermusik and Noton imprints, but as of 2017 the endeavor has reverted back to separate entities. The left side of the hyphen has just released this 2LP comp, the first in a series, with the inaugural volume curated by Raster-Noton co-founder Frank Bretschneider. A few attributes make this comp worth checking out. For starters there’s the variety, ranging here from the rhythmic to the abstract and combined with multiple tracks by the six selected artists, counterbalancing with cohesion and bringing the whole affair nearer to a savory multi-course meal (and at 73 minutes, there’s a lot to savor) rather than a (mere) smorgasbord. A-

Thalia Zedek Band, Fighting Season (Thrill Jockey) If it seems like only a few months have passed since Negative Work by Zedek’s other band E (with Gavin McCarthy of Karate and Jason Sidney Sanford of Neptune) came out, well, that’s because only a few months have indeed passed. Nothing sounds rushed or underdeveloped here though, and unlike the leaderless E, this is clearly her show all the way, even as her former bandmate Chris Brokaw (in Come) and fellow Bostonian J. Mascis contribute to the album’s opener “Bend Again.” The inclusion of viola, cello, and piano can suggest a singer-songwriter template, and given the depth of Zedek’s tunes, such a route could’ve easily worked, but there’s a heaviness in execution that’s enhanced by the bold production and lyrics (good lyrics) relating to current events. A-

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