Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
May 2020, Part Five

Part five of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for May, 2020. Part one is here, part two is here, part three is here, and part four is here.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Phillip Sollmann, Monophonie (A-Ton) Sollmann is a Berlin-based DJ and producer, who when recording via the alias Efdemin, produces a brand of techno that’s, reportedly, “psychedelic, and idiosyncratic,” doing so as recently as last year on the New Atlantis album (which was based, per the title, on an unfinished 17th century novel by Francis Bacon). He’s also produced work that falls outside of the techno realm, specifically experimental and microtonal composition, which includes the “Panama / Suez” EP (a collaboration with Konrad Sprenger and Oren Ambarchi), Gegen Die Zeit (a co-billed collab with John Gürtler) and Monophonie, which, as a live performance with Ensemble Musikfabrik, dates from 2017, premiered at Berlin’s Volksbühne theatre and then taken to Ruhrtriennale and Kampnagel in Hamburg.

For Monophonie, Sollmann has orchestrated a massive undertaking that employs the “rare historical instruments of sonic research” developed by 19th century physician-physicist Hermann von Helmholtz (including the double siren, an original of which Sollmann played in performance with Ensemble Musikfabrik), the microtonal instruments made by the great 20th century avant-classical composer Harry Partch, and the metal sound sculptures of Harry Bertoia (I did say massive). Utilizing the tuning system of just intonation, Monophonie, akin to his work in techno, attains the psychedelic, which in this case is a transportive music reminiscent at times of ’70s Steve Reich blending with early Terry Riley, but with tones and instrumentation enhancing the non-academic side of the modern classical tradition a la Partch naturally, but also nodding toward Moondog and even La Monte Young. Monophonie is a record of startling beauty and precise, disciplined ambition, destined to be one of the best of 2020. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Ike Yard, S/T (Superior Viaduct) NYC’s Ike Yard hold the distinction of having the first record released on Factory Records’ short-lived Factory America label, their eponymous 1982 LP sporting the catalogue number FACT A SECOND (FACT A FIRST was given to a NYC live show featuring Ike Yard opening for New Order, whose set was later released on the Taras Shevchenko VHS). Featuring vocalist-percussionist Stuart Argabright, guitarist Michael Diekmann, vocalist-bassist Kenny Compton and synth player Fred Szymanski, Ike Yard’s second release (following the “Night After Night” 12-inch, issued in 1981 by Les Disques Du Crépuscule, a label associated with a few Factory bands. It’s slated for reissue in August by Superior Viaduct) fits into Factory’s post-punk scheme quite nicely while also standing out and being stylistically prescient, distinguishing them as an influential cult band.

This appears to be the first US vinyl reissue for this album (there was a French pressing in 2012), but the music was notably released by the Acute label in 2006 on the CD 1980-82 Collected; that was a welcome set, as original copies of Ike Yard’s releases aren’t exactly common in the bins, which makes Superior Viaduct’s endeavor especially appealing for vinyl lovers who favor electronics-infused experimental rock. As said, the music here oozes chilly alienation that’s right up Tony Wilson’s alley, but with an edge that situates the band as evolving out of their city’s No Wave scene. Sort of by extension, the danceability of their stuff, which draws fair comparisons to other Factory signees (A Certain Ratio, Section 25) and as Superior Viaduct points out, Cabaret Voltaire and Front 242, never registers as Ike Yard’s main goal, which is a big part of why this record continues to hit so hard. Essential for post-punk collectors. A-

Aksak Maboul, Figures (Crammed Discs) The imminent release of Aksak Maboul’s first album in 40 years, out next week, 5/22, on 2LP, led me to the realization that I’ve neglected a few other recordings from this esteemed label going back as far as a year ago. As we’re in a period of numerous rescheduled and delayed albums, it seemed a good time to spotlight that overlooked stuff, which is covered below, alongside slightly early coverage of Figures, which is an utter treat in two album-length parts. But first, let’s mention the 2014 LP/ CD Ex​-​Futur Album which featured tracks co-credited to Aksak Maboul and Véronique Vincent (plus her band of the early ’80s, the Belgian experimental rock act Honeymoon Killers), that were “unfinished and unreleased for 30 years.”

Ex​-​Futur Album is especially noteworthy as Vincent remains a key component in the band Marc Hollander, who’s Aksak Maboul’s (and Crammed Discs’) founder, has assembled for Figures, which includes Faustine Hollander, Lucien Fraipont, and Erik Heestermans plus guests Fred Frith, Steven Brown of Tuxedomoon, and members of Aquaserge. Vincent’s credited with helping to write, conceptualize and produce the set, and just as importantly, she sings, with her voice a major factor in Figures’ appeal (as it was on Ex​-​Futur Album). Specifically, the sound of her voice, as she’s singing in French (I’m not fluent). Structurally, Figures is an ample serving of old-school avant-pop with aspects of the Rock in Opposition movement (of which Aksak Maboul played a roll from ’77-’80) and a definite retrofuturist vibe that can bring Stereolab to mind, partly because of Vincent’s vocals, sure, but also due to the emphasis on keyboards. Ultimately, Figures transcends comparisons and seems destined for classic status. A-

Doctor Fluorescent, S/T (Crammed Discs) This one hit stores on LP and CD back on February 28. It’s a collaboration featuring Scott Gilmore, whose Two Roomed Motel came out on this label last year, and Eddie Ruscha, he of such projects as E Ruscha V and Secret Circuit. Familiarity with both participants only gave me a rough idea of what to expect. What I got was a strain of electronic pop infused with retro qualities that can make it seem like I’m taking a ride in a robot-piloted air taxi with Giorgio Moroder. Part of the reason is down to the vocoder-ed vocals of Doctor Fluorescent, who is described as being “born out of Scott and Eddie’s minds,” but who became an “actual human being in every sense.” I can dig it! What I dig more is how they can recall with ease how early electronic pop sometimes interacted with prog sensibilities and was just as often, sometimes simultaneously, legitimately experimental. Please see highlight “Carbon Footprint” for details. B+

Kassel Jaeger/Jim O’Rourke, In Cobalt Aura Sleeps (Editions Mego) Due to his role as Sonic Youth’s fifth member during their consistently satisfying and (I suspect) underrated late period, Jim O’Rourke has an unusually high profile for an experimentalist (yes, his production credits and “singer-songwriter” albums for Drag City add to his stature). Not as well-known is Franco-Swiss composer and electroacoustic musician François J. Bonnet, who works as a musician under the sobriquet Kassel Jaeger (setting those endeavors apart from his output as a writer and theoretician). As Jaeger, Bonnet has worked with Giuseppe Ielasi on the Parallel / Grayscale LP (2013, Editions Mego), Oren Ambarchi and James Rushford on the Pale Calling LP (2016, Black Truffle) and Face Time LP (2018, Black Truffle), and Stephan Mathieu and Akira Rabelais on the Zauberberg LP (2016, Shelter Press).

There is also a prior collab with O’Rourke on Editions Mego from 2017, Wakes on Cerulean, plus a bunch of solo records including the Aster 2LP, also from 2017 and also on Editions Mego, but my introduction to his work came through the Cylene 2LP from last year, which paired him (in a twist, as François J. Bonnet) with Stephen O’Malley of SunO))). That record was heavy, but not in the way you might think, striving to express the calm that can come after pain and despair rather than merely raising a ruckus. While similar, In Cobalt Aura Sleeps is also different, as it eschews noisy tendencies across two side-long pieces, the first offering ambient drift with electroacoustic elements as the flip side works up a atmosphere of tension that gives way to a passage that’s like lounging at night by the frog pond only to segue into a section that suggests we might not even be on this planet. Jeepers. Altogether, In Cobalt Aura Sleeps is the sound of experimental-ambient-electroacoustic abstraction done right. A-

Nova Materia, Strength (Crammed Discs) This 3-song EP, which offers the title cut, a dub version and “Strength (In the Tropics)” sandwiched between, is sadly digital-only, but the contents do function as a fine taster (which one can soak up in full on Bandcamp) for what’s available on their earlier LP/CD It Comes, which was reviewed in this column back in September of 2018. To be clear, this song isn’t part of It Comes, but rather, “Strength” effectively communicates Nova Materia’s modus operandi, which relies upon sounds generated with raw and mineral materials like metal, rocks etc. Comprised of France’s Caroline Chaspoul and Chile’s Eduardo Henriquez, Nova Materia conceived this new track in response to recent political events in Henriquez’s home country, with “Strength” opening with the sound of stones hitting the metal wall of the Telefonica company’s building in Santiago de Chile. It sets in motion a highly energetic ride through three versions that hint at Industrial dance as the sound of techno dominates. A-

RMFTM, The Bestial Light (Fuzz Club) This Dutch band specializes in aggressive strains of experimentation, with their work considerably distinct from the varying shades of neo-psych that makes up the majority of Fuzz Club’s offerings. The abbreviated band name (which shortens Radar Men from the Moon, the name of a 1952 Republic Pictures movie serial) might put one in the mind of industrial dance (a la KMFDM) but nope. This observation is useful though, as The Bestial Light hurls a substantial hunk of industrial-inclined noise-rock, wielding rhythmic pummel that’s descended from Swans and Einstürzende Neubauten and with the attitude to match. Like their influences, this stuff moves from surly into misanthropic into realms that could be considered transgressive (e.g. track three: “Sacred Cunt of the Universe.”) Thankfully, it’s the potency of RMFTM’s instrumental attack that raises the danger level of this album. Bet they’re a bunch of pussycats when you meet ‘em after a show. A-

Rose City Band, Summerlong (Thrill Jockey) On the first Rose City Band LP, an eponymous affair initially self-released but quickly given a nifty repress by Thrill Jockey last year, the role of Ripley Johnson, he of Wooden Shjips and half of Moon Duo, was effectively downplayed, especially so during its “private press” beginnings. For this follow-up, this is not the case; if you know Johnson, you’ll hear him in these eight songs, which is why there’s just no obscuring his part in the proceedings this time out. But still, Summerlong, like its predecessor, does stand a bit apart from Johnson’s overall thing, coming on so country-rock with the pedal steel in spots that I thought of Brewer & Shipley. The sweet thing is how this element blends in with stretches that are psychedelically inclined in a way that’s going to please the shit out of your Widespread Panic-loving uncle. I’d go ahead and preorder him a copy. The digital is out today, but the vinyl is delayed until June 19. A-

Stubbleman, Mountains and Planes (Crammed Discs) This set, the first electronic-ambient album for veteran composer-producer Pascal Gabriel, hit stores in April of 2019 on LP and CD, but a video of a remix by French electroclash DJ/producer Miss Kittin for the record’s track “Great River Road” just came out last week, reminding me of Mountains and Planes’ existence and leading me to go back and check it out. Maybe you’ll do the same. That this is a first for Gabriel might seem odd, as his background leads all the way back to 1977 with the Belgian punk band The Razors and roughly a decade later, after relocating to London, as producer and co-writer of “Theme from S’Express” by S’Express and “Beat Dis” by Bomb the Bass. Those two were kind of a big deal. Extensive production, writing and remixing followed, with Gabriel alternating between dance groups, alternative acts and straight pop artists.

This album, worked on in Gabriel’s French studio and then mixed in London with Gareth Jones, was inspired by a trip across the US, where the basic tracks for these 11 pieces were recorded. While there are certainly aspects of ambient electronica on display and right off in opener “Moonstone,” Gabriel’s piano is just as prevalent, which brings Mountains and Planes a compositional quality that ambient music often lacks. Even in a track like “Griffith Park,” which amplifies the techno feel considerably, the piano is still subtly there, which helps to bond the cut to more contemplative selections such as the one immediately following, “Abiquiú.” If not a mindblower (ambient music rarely is), the attention to form, with occasional melodies, is appreciated, if not necessarily surprising given Gabriel’s background. B+

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