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

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: Fahmi Mursyid, One Instrument Sessions (One Instrument) Mursyid is a Bandung, Indonesia-based composer, sound designer and producer. The third vinyl installment in this label’s documentation of their modus operandi (which has a much larger bi-weekly digital presence on Soundcloud) underscores that Mursyid is also a player of distinction. The One Instrument label’s guidelines are that for each released composition the artist can use only one instrument, though there are additional parameters: yes to volume adjustments, compression, EQ, reverb, multilayering, multiple patches (but only of the same instrument), sequencing and editing, no to any effects besides reverb (meaning no delay or distortion) and no to sampling.

I say that Mursyid is solidly a player, as for each of this record’s six selections he engages with a different instrument, so folks worried over a possible lack of tonal variety (i.e. monotony) can rest easy. The half-dozen axes, all acoustic, are in order: the saron, the kendang, the piano (a Rösler model from the ’50s), the karinding, the bonang, and the pan flute. That’s a high ratio of choices associated with gamelan music. Indeed, Mursyid consciously selected instruments with a connection to the culture of the Sudanese, who are the second largest ethnic group in Indonesia. While some undeniable gamelan vibes do emerge as this tidy set (at 25 minutes) unwinds, more prevalent is the aura of experimentation, or perhaps better said, of consistently tapped-into possibilities. And that’s the point, y’know? A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Omara Portuondo, Buena Vista Social Club Presents: Omara Portuondo (World Circuit) At 70 years of age upon this record’s release in 2000, the great Cuban vocalist Omara Portuondo, who’d received widespread exposure as part of Wim Wenders’ film Buena Vista Social Club and its soundtrack, delivered a set of impeccable performances in tandem with a band of unfailing brilliance including a full string section and guest spots from pianist Rubén González and singer Ibrahim Ferrer. She’s often called the Edith Piaf of Cuba, and as this recording plays it’s easy to understand the comparison; Portuondo achieves an essentially perfect balance of stateliness and deep feeling, all while exuding utter poise in the spotlight. On vinyl for the first-time, this is a life-affirming delight. A

Ali Farka Touré, Savane (World Circuit) Sometimes, a great artist’s final work falls a bit short of the heights of quality that established the artist’s rep. Depending on circumstances at the time of release, slack is often cut, and this is occasionally totally appropriate. However, there is no need for adjustments in assessment regarding Savane, which was released in July of 2006, four months after the death of the pioneering Malian desert blues guitarist. Part of why is that it’s a focused effort; Touré was suffering from cancer at the time of Savane’s making (cut on the top floor of the Hôtel Mandé and produced by Nick Gold), and along the way a statement of finality takes hold. But Savane’s enduring stature mainly derives from the playing and singing of Touré, as wonderful at the end of his life as it ever was before. A

Kendra Amalie, Intuition (Beyond Beyond is Beyond) Amalie is a Wisconsin-based singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer, and new media artist, and while this is far from her debut recording, as she’s released work under her own name (or as Kendra Calhoun) plus in the outfits Names Devine, Guitar Hell, and 11:11 (she’s also recently collaborated with sitarist-electronic artist Ami Dang as Sight of Swans), Intuition is deliberately positioned as an introduction to an artist who has thus far been productively operating with a low-profile amid the contempo u-ground. And it is as an intro that I am receiving its contents, though I do understand that Intuition marks a broadening of stylistic range and a heightened focus in her approach.

As the record plays Amalie’s ability as a 12-string fingerstyle guitarist gets highlighted quite nicely, and I’ll mention here that she’ll have an exclusive track on Tompkins Square’s next installment in their Imaginational Anthem guitar series (that’d be Vol. 9), which arrives later this month (as assembled by Ryley Walker). But just as crucial to the record’s impact is the songwriting prowess on display, along with Amalie’s deftness at integrating her picking into an aural thrust that is frequently very rock band-like (it’s stated that in the live setting the music emphasizes this sensibility even further, at least in part). As the songs progress, I’m reminded at times of Thalia Zadek and Shannon Wright, and yet, there is a persistent folkiness and a noisy closer that helps set matters apart. A likely grower and an artist to watch. A-

Black Country, New Road, “Sunglasses” (Speedy Wunderground / Blank Editions) The press release says little is known about this combo, so I didn’t bother to search the web for more info. I mean, time is of the essence. I do know they are a youthful 7-piece UK-based outfit, and they haven’t kept their names hidden. Isaac Wood is the vocalist-guitarist frontman as the music prominently features saxophone and violin alongside the standard additional guitar, bass, drums, and keys. It’s all utilized in service of hefty rock-based ambition; this isn’t an EP but one 8-minute song broken across two sides of a 7-inch (the digital came out in July) that connects like an angry young litterateur ranting amid a sonic attack mildly suggesting Future of the Left and even Slint. I dig both the scale of their goals and the overall sound. A-

Manu Chao, Clandestino: Bloody Border (Because Music) Although he’d been in the bands Hot Pants and Mano Negra spanning back to the ’80s, this ’98 effort was the first solo release by Chao, who was born to Spanish parents in France, where he was raised. I still haven’t caught up with his pre-Clandestino stuff (at least in part because it’s reportedly Clash-influenced and neo-rockabilly in style), and I didn’t soak up this album until a few years after it came out (which was the case with other listeners, as its eventual widespread success accrued somewhat gradually); at the time, I liked Clandestino but wasn’t blown away. Returning to it now, I dig its contents a little more, but am still not quite knocked sideways by its affable Latin-flavored worldbeat rock.

Recorded via laptop, the results often sound like it, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing as the low-tech audio sampling (spoken bits, including from Subcomandante Marcos, and a recurring and eventually endearing descending “bomb-drop” whistling sound) reinforces Chao’s distinctiveness. Still, the overall impact is tangibly lessened at times; when I hear the horns, I can’t help pining for a warmer, bolder sound. Of course, this is the nature of the record’s creation, and it builds up its own appeal, as the tunes and execution are just fine. There’s also a persevering political focus, with this remastering coming with an updated title and three new tracks including the powerful “Bloody Border.” The triple vinyl + CD set offers these on a 10-inch. “Bongo Bong” adds some fun to the seriousness. B+

Michael Janisch, Worlds Collide (Whirlwind Recordings) As evidence that I’m not smitten with all the jazz that comes my way, there is this record by multitasking composer-bassist Janisch (along with his own band and sessions, he produces and runs Whirlwind). Now, I’m not rating this as a bad album; please scan a few lines down for proof of the contrary. Indeed, there are aspects of this set (like the soloing; guitarist Rez Abbasi, saxophonist John O’Gallagher, trumpeter Jason Palmer, and drummer Clarence Penn are abundantly skilled) that I find appealing, but (for one thing) the synth in opener “Another London” (and elsewhere) didn’t thrill me. Plus, the urbane aura of the compositions leads me to think Creed Taylor would dig this set. If it all hit me like “Frocklebot” does, I’d be right there with him. B

Kaleta & Super Yamba Band, Mèdaho (Ubiquity) Born in the Benin Republic, guitarist Kaleta (Leon Ligan-Majek) moved to Lagos, Nigeria as a child where he grew up to play with King Sunny Adé and Fela Kuti. In the ’90s he moved to NYC, and now here he is with Super Yamba Band, a group of youngsters passionate for Afrofunk (think Fela and the stuff featured on Strut’s Funky Lagos comp). When well-intentioned non-African disciples of this style do their thing, the potential quality-weakening snafus can include politeness, reverent execution, or a tendency to overplay in an attempt to impress (maybe all three), but thankfully none of that is in evidence here. Rhythmic heat is generated, the singing is rich and intense, the horn section hits the groove-level just right, and I dig the keyboard sound. A-

Mermaidens, Look Me in the Eye (Flying Nun) This Wellington, NZ outfit consists of guitarist Gussie Larkin, bassist Lily West (they share lead vocalist duties), and drummer Abe Hollingsworth. Of full-length releases, they now have three (Perfect Body and this one on Flying Nun, along with a 45), with digital-only debut Undergrowth and earlier singles self-released. Along the way they’ve honed a sound that’s quite familiar as modern melodic indie rock, and yet it’s not that easy to draw direct lines to influence; the youthful inspirations of PJ Harvey, Warpaint, and Fugazi are indicative of what they do well. The instrumental heft and the occasional intricacy of arrangement point to their reality as a band (rather than a project) as the production displays an affinity for dream-pop that’s never full-on ethereal. B+

Paul & The Tall Trees, So Long (Big Crown) My intro to Paul Schalda’s work had me describing his half of a split single (with Mattison) as nearer to Americana and neo-psych than Big Crown’s soul bread and butter. This bears repeating, as Schalda is a former guitarist in the band of the late Charles Bradley. “Beware,” a song he wrote for Bradley, is amongst the selections on his second LP, which adjusts said Americana vibe into a zone between The Band’s prime stuff and ’70s singer-songwriter richness in general. Schalda is from Staten Island (his dad was in the Brooklyn doo-wop act The Montereys), but So Long is persistently rurally erudite, even as “Beware” oozes trippy soulfulness and closer “Numerous Times” ushers in some spacy ’70s analog synth. Overall, this is a tangible progression from his debut. A-

Pluralone, “Io Sono Quel Che Sono” b/w “Menina Mulher Da Pele Preta” (ORG) A casual listen to this 45 could likely bring a conclusion that it is the byproduct of a new band offering a pair of non-English language tracks, but no, it’s entirely the work of Josh Klinghoffer, he of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Dot Hacker; he plays and sings everything here himself. Furthermore, the songs aren’t originals, with the A-side an Italian tune popularized by singer Mina and the flip a song from the book of Jorge Ben that’s sung in Portuguese. I repeat that Klinghoffer sings on side one; a person could easily mistake his work for a female vocalist, though he impressively manages this feat without mimicry through natural range. The lack of strain is appreciated, and so is the B-side. B+

Shintaro Sakamoto, “Boat” b/w “Dear Future Person” (Zelone) Sakamoto, who’s gearing up for his first tour of the USA in October, has a long background. He was frontman for the Japanese psych act Yura Yura Teikoku, who were extant from 1989-2010, with solo work immediately following, as a pair of albums were issued in the States by the Other Music label. While I’ve undertaken a few dips into Sakamoto’s work over the years, it’s been intermittently and casually, so I’m far from expert in his thing, though these two cuts don’t really redirect my general assessment of the man’s work as gently tweaked retro-pop mingling between mellow, sophisto, and worldly. I’m gonna say that folks into solo-artist Tropicalia, Luaka Bop compilations, Beck, and even Sean Lennon’s Into the Sun will dig this one. A-

Royal Trux & Ariel Pink, “Pink Stuff” (Fat Possum) Released as a 2×7-inch, this is not an in-studio (or long-distance) collab, but five remixes by Ariel Pink of songs from White Stuff, which marked a 2019 studio return for Royal Trux after a long fucking time. The comeback is solid, and this extension is consistently of interest, with “Suburban Junky Lady” slouching forth with big beat lethargy and “Year of the Dog” morphing from its ’91 Redd Kross-Nazareth baseline into speedy art-punk. “Get Used to This” is considerably bolder and more bent as Kool Keith’s guest rapping and Jennifer Herrema’s singing remain un-fucked-with in the foreground. “White Stuff” is given a fuzz boost, while Haggerty is spotlighted in “Whopper Dave” amid an incessant aural swoosh. It’s all appropriately twisted, if not jaw-dropping. B+

V/A, 八仙过海,各显神通 (8 Gods Crossing The Sea, Each Demonstrating Their Unique Superpower) (Kepler 452b) Due to the aura surrounding this 2LP set, I was expecting the contents to be of an immediately wilder comportment, but no; matters were initially more atmospheric in an electronic context. Kepler 452b is a label, but it’s also a Berlin-based “artist and humanist community with members scattered across the globe.” The goal of this community is to “train interdisciplinary artists and produce Spiritual Techno Queer icons,” or “Kepler gods,” to which I say: good idea. I don’t want to give the impression that this collection is sedate. To the contrary, much of it is downright danceable (like side three’s opener “Rollerberger Str” by Tropikal Camel). If you’re into arty techno, I’ll bet you’ll dig it. B+

Weeping Bong Band, II (Feeding Tube) Featuring Beverley Ketch, PG Six, Anthony Pasquarosa, Clark Griffin, and Wednesday Knudsen, Weeping Bong Band are a Northeastern US u-ground supergroup of psychedelic comportment. Psych but not rock, or I should say not really rocking, as the music glides, hovers, swirls, and shimmers in its expansions rather than offering hard-hitting burn. However, II is far from lightweight. The PR mentions Bill Meyer’s assessment of their prior S/T LP as combining Popol Vuh’s Florian Fricke and the Bardo Pond-Roy Montgomery collab Hash Jar Tempo and adds Byron Coley’s nods to Kantner’s Blows Against the Empire and Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name. But the spirit of the collective hits me deeper here. And Ketch’s poetry is as sweet as a ripe peach. A-

Mikey Young You Feeling Me? (Castle Face) Surely many know Aussie Mikey Young as a wunderkind of record mastering, while others recognize him as a member of Total Control. I discovered his talents through Eddy Current Suppression Ring’s smoking Primary Colours back in 2008. Due to its initial emergence only on cassette in a hand numbered edition of 100, it’s likely only very few (or nobody) discovered Young through You Feeling Me? Instead, the release was surely snatched up by hardcore fans of Mikey, and no doubt a few of them missed the boat, even. And so, this reissue is quite welcome. Rather than rocking, it documents Young in “Sci-Fictitious working man’s factory songs” mode, or, to put it another way, he’s a prole-art threat with a futurist bent, hovering betwixt kosmische and UK DIY. A-

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