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

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

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

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

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

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

Beach Slang, The Deadbeat Bang of Heartbreak City (Bridge Nine) The PR for Philly-based James Alex-led Beach Slang’s fourth full-length describes the sound as being more inspired by Cheap Trick than frequent (self) comparison The Replacements, which is a point well-taken as even with Tommy Stinson on bass, the music here is geared much more toward big arenas and bigger stadiums than the mostly club-scaled sounds of the ‘Mats (late track “Kicking Over Bottles” is the main exception). There’s also beaucoup riff-strutting that’s reminiscent of the glammy hard rock of the ’80s. My favorite parts feature baroque strings that suggest time spent with Third/Sister Lovers without going overboard with the “Stroke It, Noel” worship. Not quite a knockout, but it’s sturdy and has verve, which is appreciated. B+

The Detroit Cobras / Kenny Tudrick, “Stay Down” b/w “Lightning Byrd” (Wild Honey Records / Black River House Recordings) Heavy-duty Cobras fans surely know that Kenny Tudrick is the band’s drummer, so this split is just as aptly tagged as a union of harmonious activity. Tudrick penned both tunes, with his flip a nice slab of slightly country-tinged early ’60s crooner pop boosted with some big fuzz and additional tasty licks. “Stay Down” exudes a pasta-oater vibe that lands approximately in the neighborhood of Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, which is cool. The lead vocal swagger of Rachel Nagy and the backing sass elevates matters even further. Still, this doesn’t connect as a mindblower. Instead, it’s one to pull off the shelf during a late-night spin session. Which is a perfectly ok thing. B+

Ducks Unlimited, “Get Bleak” EP (Bobo Integral) This Canadian outfit debuts with a 7-inch platter holding four cuts of string jangling indie pop, but with considerable range exhibited inside those parameters. Instead of endearingly rudimentary and/or borderline shambolic, Ducks Unlimited are erudite, precise and land pretty solidly on the adult (rather than twee) side of the spectrum. The record label comparisons to Postcard and Sarah and Flying Nun are on the money, with the latter helping to keep matters from getting too sophisto. The nod to the Go-Betweens is also on-target but shouldn’t be overstated. Put it this way; the hefty Vol. 2 of the Go-Betweens career anthology came out recently, and if your budget can’t yet afford that, this would be a fine appetizer for the eventual main course. A-

Gordon Grdina’s Nomad Trio, Nomad (Skirl) My first taste of the Vancouver-based guitarist-oud player Grdina provides a striking intro in tandem with pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Jim Black. On this CD, his main axe is the six-string, with the terrific finale “Lady Choral” his solitary oud feature, though the closer’s title, recalling a dream-state mispronunciation of Larry Coryell’s name, is indicative of Grdina’s approach. That would be, in a word, fusion. However, he’s appealingly tough-toned and if clearly adept avoids ostentatious displays of virtuosity, with much of Nomad leaning into an avant-garde context (both Mitchell and Black have played in the bands of saxophonist Tim Berne). The prevailing synthesis is contemplative complexity delivered with intensity that never becomes harried. Fine soling, too. A

William Hooker, Symphonie of Flowers (ORG Music) Jazz drummer and consummate experimenter Hooker has been at it for decades now and with a few masterpieces under his belt; his latest attains this stature, though it is a thorny, uncompromising beast. The focus on rhythm may seem unsurprising, but across this set’s four sides Hooker includes three additional drummers, Marc Edwards, Warren Smith, and Michael Thompson, plus the piano of Mara Rosenbloom, the electronics of Eriq Robinson, and the saxophones of Stephen Gauci and Devin Waldman. The horns don’t show up until the second disc, however. When they do, the record delivers (for a while) a killer extension of ’80s-vintage NYC free gush that Hooker (alongside Charles Gayle, David S. Ware, Matthew Shipp, etc.) was integral in formulating.

What’s striking is how few direct links to jazz precedent arise across Symphonie of Flowers’ first two sides. This is not to infer that the music is devoid of spiritual kinship, as I thought more than once of Hooker communing with Art Blakey and Milford Graves (and in opener “Chain Gangs,” countless urban street drummers), it just that it doesn’t sound like that. This is in part due to the prominence of Rosenbloom’s piano. As the second disc progresses, Robinson’s electronics emerge and remain in the foreground. It’s also worth noting the degree to which this set embraces the experimental, an aspect that is manifest in an unpolished quality that might result in Symphonie of Flowers’ fullness accruing gradually, like the blooms of the title. With time spent, Hooker’s achievement comes into vivid focus. A

Tony Irving & Massimo Magee, Vitriol and the Third Oraculum (577 Records) Regarding free jazz sax-drums duos, there is a tendency to draw comparisons to John Coltrane and Rashied Ali (Interstellar Space) and Ali and Frank Lowe (Duo Exchange). I speak from experience. As drummer Irving is an alum of the UK group Ascension, there is a temptation to do so here. Instead, I will relate the rather massive Ayler vibe this baby brings via Magee on tenor, alto and sopranino saxophones. However, an important distinction is in how Magee doesn’t brandish Ayler’s way with the outlandishly hummable (though he does have melodic strengths). The 25 minute “The Third Oraculum” reminds me of Charles Gayle, which means this brings the scorch something fierce. Unlike most recent 577 output, this is CD only. A

JOBS, “Similar Canvas” b/w “Different Properties” (Ramp Local) NYC’s JOBS, an outfit composed of Dave Scanlon (guitar, vocals, programming), Jessica Pavone (viola), Rob Lundberg (bass), and Max Jaffe (sensory percussion) hit my radar through the swell Log On for the Free Chance to Log On for Free back in the fall of 2018. Here they are with a 7-inch, notably a collaboration with visual artist Sam King, whose work adorns the front and back cover, the front and back of the sleeve and an insert. That’s four inkjet print and acrylic pieces and a facsimile of a sculpture, and it provides a vivid complement to the two songs here, which tap into a chilly alienation which reminds me a bit of the Germanic new wave, except with some humor, and a working method that’s reminiscent of The Books. A fine item all around. A-

Azar Lawrence, Summer Solstice (Jazz Dispensary) Saxophonist Lawrence’s ’74 album Bridge into the New Age was reissued back in ’17, and at the time I found its spiritual jazz thrust to be enjoyable. So, I was more than a little struck by how unappealing I found “From the Point of Love,” the opener from his follow-up from the next year. There are mild similarities to P. Sanders at his most amiable, but that approach isn’t, shall I say, one of my favorite things, at least in isolation. Matters do pick up a bit subsequently, though only somewhat, as a Latin vibe arises that’s likeable but no great shakes to ears familiar with Fania. “From the Point of Light” and the title track are the highpoints. Although bassist Ron Carter and drummer Billy Hart are in the band, this is less star-studded than Lawrence’s debut. B-

Junius Paul, Ism (International Anthem) Late in 2019, this record was beckoning for a listen, but I resisted, as I was deep in the assemblage of a best new releases of the year list, and it was very likely that absorbing the debut of Chicago bassist Paul (he’s contributed to Makaya McCraven’s Universal Beings and the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s We Are on the Edge, amongst numerous others) would blow my graphs, charts, and equations straight to fucking kablooey. Well, not long after that list was finalized, I gave these four sides a few spins, and don’tcha just know it? I suspected right. Like much of the jazz-aligned music coming out of the Windy City in the 21st century, Ism is beyond category but with richness, depth and cohesion that can be described as illuminating the Art Ensemble’s Great Black Music ethos.

One of the record’s most appealing qualities is the numerous stylistic threads it interweaves and to satisfying and frequently captivating result. Paul, who plays acoustic and electric bass, percussion, ceramics and little instruments here, exudes total comfort with advanced avant-garde tangles (right off the bat, with “You Are Free to Choose”), vaguely Miles-like fusion (but with a touch of prog a la Soft Machine, maybe), post hip-hop beat driving, bass excursions that recall the best from the Strata East or Muse catalogs (the sort of stuff hip-hoppers love to sample), and even an intense dive into post-bop that’s like Paul cutting a live LP for Prestige in ‘66 at Lennie’s on the Turnpike. But no; as “Fred Anderson and a Half” makes clear, Paul’s spot was Chicago’s Velvet Lounge. “Paris” is an absolute monster. A

Ramoms, “Teacher’s Pet” (Pirates Press Records) This Philly-based all-female, all-mom four piece specialize in lyrically tweaked Ramones tunes to fit an elementary school-age sensibility. And so, “53rd and 3rd” is now “Going into 3rd,” while “The PTA Took My Baby Away”; no adjustment was needed for “Beat on the Brat.” As on their prior “Problem Child” 7-inch from May of last year, the Ramoms are attentive to the boost of rawness that ensures their source inspiration will blare with undying greatness. Thusly, their stuff avoids a few frequent kid’s music limitations, like reducing the appeal to the young ones and their wards, and by extension, grating on the nerves of single, grown-up childless people. Instead, like the Ramones, they connect with the eternal kid in all of us. Praise Dee Dee. B+

Yann Tiersen, Portrait (Mute) Not a compilation, but new recordings (per the label, a re-examining and reimagining) of pieces from across Tiersen’s career, an endeavor that spans over 95 minutes and is seeing release on double CD and triple vinyl (also cassette and digital). Tiersen is sometimes tagged as a film composer, and while there are three soundtracks in his discography, that’s only a percentage of his overall work, which makes the description inapt, particularly as his soundtrack to Amelie (likely his most well-known stuff) is mostly derived from his first three albums. Those familiar with Tiersen only through Amelie might be expecting something a little more…Parisian, but this pleasing if demanding (and guest-loaded) set reinforces him as an exemplar of post-rock with neoclassical and avant-garde leanings. A-

Pat Thomas, Dominic Lash, Tony Orrell, BleySchool (577) A tribute from pianist Thomas, bassist Lash and drummer Orrell not only to the late pianist Paul Bley, but also his ex-wife Carla, whose composition “Ida Lupino” is covered, alongside group two originals (“Aloof” and the title cut), plus Ornette’s “The Blessing” and Duke’s “In a Sentimental Mood.” It’s outstanding work all around. In successfully integrating what casual listeners would recognize (at least I hope so) as a piano trio thrust with avant-garde elements that are robust but not formidable (heightened abstraction and some angularity), this set eclipses mere hat tip for an elevated exploration of Bley’s work and his inspirations. That means BleySchool is multidimensionally personal in extending sincere love for all the referenced artists. A

Toh-Kichi, Baikamo (Libra) A duo composed of pianist Satoko Fujii and drummer Taysuya Yoshida, Toh-Kichi can bring the free-avant rumble with authority, though this CD offers much more than that. Fujii and Yoshida (he’s known as a founding member of another duo, Ruins) have recorded as a twosome before (additionally, he’s a member of the Satoko Fujii Quartet), but not as a pair since Erans in 2004 (‘twas their second effort, released by Tzadik following an eponymous disc for Victo), and while they’ve played together since, it hasn’t been regularly. The invitation to perform in Hiroshima inspired both to compose new music for the occasion, and things went down so smashingly they decided to document those tunes in the studio (along with eight free improvisations); this is the result, and it’s a killer.

The “much more” referenced above relates to consistency in compositional acumen that can hit the ear as occasionally tinged with art-rock (but not necessarily proggy), as the instrumentation and the intertwined creativity of the principals cultivate a distinctive sound. Foremost however, is tangibly jazzy forward motion, particularly from Fujii, that never once hints at gestures of conservatism, a lack that gets magnified by the general explosiveness Yoshida brings to the discourse. This leads us back to the free-avant rumble cited in the paragraph above. Again, eight of the pieces here are free improvs, with the sound getting quite thunderous and delivering additional wallop through precision. Overall, the disc is strikingly varied; there are even vocals. The nearly 57 minutes are over too damned quickly. A

Melanie Velarde, Bez (Commend There) Commend is the storefront of RVNG Intl., and also a community space; it can be found in the Lower East Side of NYC. Commend There is its “label limb,” with this cassette the inaugural release, though Velarde brought the third installment to the Commend See series, which was “a multi-disciplinary, site-inspired collaboration series overseen by Commend.” Under the moniker TemporaryArchives, the Berlin-based Velarde has layered field recordings and found musical objects. Bez brandishes a likeminded approach and with an admirably broad sonic range, but with a focus on low tech (not lo-fi) and repetition that borders on the psychedelic. An edition of 125 copies with hand stamped letterpress covers by Stumptown Printers. Get it before it’s gone, baby. A-

Fay Victor, Barn Songs (Northern Spy) Victor is a NYC-based avant vocalist of considerable prowess, though the songs on this CD derive from an extended period spent in Amsterdam. However, the reconsideration (from the distance of 20 years, with Victor adding two new compositions) and the recording of these pieces took place in a barn in the Catskills Mountains. Said barn belongs to cellist Marika Hughes, who contributes to the disc along with alto saxophonist Darius Jones. That makes this a trio outing, and while the avant nature is strong, it combines with a sturdy jazz foundation to outstanding effect (notably, before the move to Amsterdam, she was a straight-ahead jazz vocalist). The recording is as warm as the delivery, and the recording’s duration leaves me wanting more. A

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