Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
July 2020, Part Four

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Thumbscrew, The Anthony Braxton Project (Cuneiform) A CD to celebrate jazz master Braxton’s 75th birthday, and a very sensible idea, as the three sharp and brilliant points on Thumbscrew’s triangle have all been impacted to varying extents by the greatness of the saxophonist-composer-educator. I’d say this is especially true of guitarist Mary Halvorson, who made a considerable splash in my consciousness pool through her playing on the 9CD+DVD live collection 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006 on the Firehouse 12 label. Bassist Michael Formanek and drummer-percussionist Tomas Fujiwara have both played with Braxton too (Fujiwara on record), so the trio’s invitation to select previously unrecorded (or hardly ever recorded) pieces from the archives of the Tri-Centric Foundation (the non-profit organization dedicated to the work and legacy of Braxton) was as wise as it is successful.

I’ll add that Thumbscrew, who are releasing their fifth CD with this set, have been one of my favorite groups in what’s often called the Creative Music scene for quite a while. For their self-titled 2014 debut and 2016 follow-up Convallaria, the trio offered their own individual compositions, but for Theirs and Ours they tackled ten pieces by others on the first disc and nine of their own on the second (both were released on the same day in 2018). This background situates that The Anthony Braxton Project isn’t entirely new territory for the group (it’s the third straight album recorded at a residency at City of Asylum in Pittsburgh), though there are some fresh developments, such as the introduction of Fujiwara’s vibraphone. But mostly, this sounds like Thumbscrew putting their personal stamp on work from one of the last century’s greatest musicians. The interaction is as energetic, vivid and supple as ever, Halvorson’s guitar remains thrillingly distinctive, and this is easily one of the year’s best. A+

Lingo Seini et son groupe, Musique Hauka (Sahel Sounds) Another grand slam for Sahel Sounds, this time documenting Hauka ritual music captured in Niamey, the capital city in the West African country of Niger in 2017. Until now, the Hauka, described in a fascinating Sahel Sounds blog post as “the Songhoy spirits of the pre-Islamic pantheon and possession ceremonies,” have been better known to hardcore cinephiles familiar with the work of French ethnographic filmmaker Jean Rouch, specifically his short movie of 1955 Les maîtres fous (The Mad Masters). I caught this film in January of 2019 through the streaming service MUBI and found it striking, if surely a difficult watch due to an instance of ritual animal sacrifice. Jumping forward well over half a century, this is one of the first full-length recordings of the Hauka’s ritual music, longer and even more powerful than the film, rhythmically unrelenting and featuring a monochord lute. A must for lovers of ceremonial sounds, only 500 were pressed. Get it. A

Even As We Speak, Adelphi (Shelflife) Back in 2018, the estimable Flagstaff, AZ label Emotional Response reissued this Sydney band’s 1993 set Feral Pop Frenzy, which was originally released by the beloved Sarah Records. It was a righteous gesture, deserving of a reissue pick in this column, and Adelphi is strong enough to land in this week’s spotlight for new releases. Part of the reason is that the five-piece, fronted as ever by Matthew Love and Mary Wyer, knocked-off any rustiness prior to recording their 2017 10-inch “The Black Forest.”  This 10-song LP finds them as boldly sophisto as ever they were before, with the crucial distinction that the upsurges of raw guitar allow one to connect the dots back to the foundation of punk (filtered through indie pop, of course). However, the synthpop flourishes are just as appealing, largely because they are gestures rather than full-blown style moves. Also, there’s a grown-up quality to the whole that’s appropriate for the reunion scenario. A-

The Allergies, Say the Word (Jalapeno) Back in April I bestowed some appreciation on The Allergies’ “Felony,” that cut issued ahead of this album, freshly arrived here to fulfill the promise of the single and even deliver a little something extra, partly because the core duo of DJ Moneyshot and Rackabeat strengthen their party-focused funkiness with range encompassing ’70s James Brown, Latin gusto (courtesy of guests the Cuban Brothers on “Let Them Know”), gal-voxxed R&B sass (featuring Marietta Smith on a series of numbers), slinky Prince-like guitar, and back-in-the-day block party rocking rap joints; indeed, the flip side to the April single “Rile ‘Em Up” had me thinking of the Delicious Vinyl crew and Deee-Lite, but there are spots on this LP that reach back to Sugarhill Gang and even in terms of spirit to pre-rap foundational stuff like the Incredible Bongo Band. But overall, Say the Word doesn’t strive to sound too old school; the vibe is consistently ’90s and forward, and that’s cool. A-

Cinder Well, No Summer (Free Dirt) This is my introduction to the work of Amelia Baker, recording here as Cinder Well, though she has prior experience in the Santa Cruz, CA anarcho-folk band Blackbird Raum, of which she is still listed as a member. However, she’s moved from Cali to County Clare in Ireland to study the region’s traditional sounds, which are integral to this record. As Cinder Well, there was a self-titled tape released in 2015 and Unconscious Echo on CD and cassette three years later; this is her vinyl debut, another strong release from the Free Dirt label. Once in Ireland, Baker worked with the trad-punk outfit Lankum, an association that might illuminate the depth and verve distinguishing Cinder Well as something more than just another mingling of punk attitude and root forms. This is not to diminish the investigational impulse of punkers into aged Transatlantic prole styles, it’s just that the results have often been more admirable and mildly likeable than revelatory and artistically gripping

Baker fruitfully combines her own songs with trad stuff, impressively blending them into a powerful whole rather than simply mapping out sharp contrasts and establishing variations in quality. In fact, No Summer’s highpoint might be Baker original “Our Lady’s,” which stretches out to over nine minutes as it reflects upon the faltering promise of the USA. But just as striking is Baker’s invigorating version of “The Cuckoo,” an Appalachian number that’s become quite the old-time staple over the decades. The length and vocal-less passages of “Our Lady’s” reinforces Baker’s attention to instrumental heft in tandem with potent topicality (punk shining through), but it’s important to stress how the originals aren’t particularly crafted after trad models. The superb finale “From Behind” drives home that No Summer is likely to appeal to fans of Angel Olsen (Nick Wilbur, who has worked with Olsen, recorded the album) and maybe even Sharon Van Etten. It’s also recommended for fans of Irish-Appalachian sounds with punch. A-

Mike Polizze, Long Lost Solace Find (Paradise of Bachelors) If you’re a Purling Hiss fan, you likely know Mike Polizze as the man behind that moniker, a noisy rock cat who’s never put out a record under his birth name before this one, and who hadn’t even played a show as such until 2015, opening for the Weather Station at the urging of Christopher Smith of Paradise of Bachelors. And so, Long Lost Solace Find is something of a solo big deal, but it’s also a notable Philadelphia thing, as Polizze was joined for the recording by Kurt Vile as a player and singer and War on Drugs engineer Jeff Zeigler as the man who recorded the whole affair. The results, which spanned a year, are folk-rocky with occasional country-ish tendencies and a decided post-indie undercurrent. The music fits in with Paradise of Bachelors’ general thrust very nicely, but I’ll add that folks into Purple Mountains might dig, and that at a few points this reminded me of a less bent and more laidback and fingerpickin’ Miighty Flashlight. Swell. (out 7/31). A-

Jorma Tapio & Kaski, Aliseen (577) Tapio is a Finnish saxophonist and flautist who’s played on a bunch of records, including a few by drummer and fellow Finn Edward Vesala. Thus far however, he doesn’t seem to have made many records as a leader; this is his second, though he’s recorded in a few leaderless groups including the intriguingly named The Flaming Shit, and in duo with Kaski’s drummer Janne Tuomi. Bassist Ville Rauhala rounds out Kaski, which Tapio formed in 2015 with the intention to combine local Finnish folk music and free jazz. The eleven pieces here “reflect on rural life in Finland,” and both Tapio and Tuomi play the Kantele, a trad Finnish stringed instrument similar to a zither. These elements do bring Aliseen a distinct flavor, but the ties to jazz are strong and varied throughout.

The mention of Coltrane and Ayler reflects a tangible (and quite enjoyable) freedom objective, but there is also mention of the great swing-into-bop tenor Don Byas, which points to a recurring lyricism across this CD (but notably, Byas is a favorite of the German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann). However, a fair amount of these beauty moves shine through in the fluting; Tapio plays standard, bass and wooden models, which works out nice since he can bring to mind a little Dolphy, a bit of Kirk and a tad of Cherry. Hell, Prince Lasha and Sam Rivers, even. Very nice. To reinforce the ambiance of avant-jazz classique, there are spots where Tapio’s saxes (he plays alto and tenor) recall prime-era Archie Shepp, which is even nicer. The Finnish folk shines through strongest in opener “Reppurin Laulu,” the following drone-tinged cut “Henkays,” and especially in the killer closing title track, which is drenched in Kantele and sorta hits a middle ground between tribal grooving and old school left-field non-dance Industrial. A-

Stirrup+6, The Avondale Addition (Cuneiform) The scoop here is that Stirrup, a trio, is augmented by six musicians on this CD, but with the distinction that core member Fred Lonberg-Holm is not playing his main axe the cello but is instead operating the lightbox, which is the device he uses, along with cue cards, to conduct the group as he becomes an improvising arranger of sorts. The other main Stirrups are bassist Nick Macri and drummer Charles Rumback; the additional six are Jen Clare Paulson on viola, Zoots Houston on electronics, Russ Johnson on trumpet, Peter Maunu on guitar and violin, and Keefe Jackson and Mars Williams on reeds. Of the whole bunch I’m most familiar with Lonberg-Holm, in part through his extensive association with saxophonist Ken Vandermark, but Marci has contributed to a mess of records I own and like (he’s also in the Zincs), and Rumback’s duo record from last year with guitarist Ryley Walker, Little Common Twist, was a treat.

Now, if the unusual conduction system has you thinking about John Zorn, the 1980s and Downtown NYC, I understand, as there are a few similarities to the chance-operation game-strategy-pieces that were part of Zorn’s bag back then, and by extension free improv (like the baseball-themed trio of Zorn, guitarist Derek Bailey and trombonist George Lewis on 1983’s Yankees), but here’s where I’ll stress that so much more of this just hits like an especially robust excursion into the beauty of avant-Chicago, recorded live at Elastic Arts in 2017, and with stretches that roll and even groove; in terms of rhythm (movement) and foundational sturdiness, The Avondale Addition is a substantial ride (that lasts for just over an hour). Everybody plays at a high level, and this makes me want to hear more from Johnson (who reminds me a bit of Windy City cornetist Rob Mazurek here), and it’s always great to hear Williams (who I’ve dug on records by the late Hal Russell, the Psychedelic Furs, etc.) Splendid stuff. A

that dog., Totally Crushed Out & Retreat from the Sun (Third Man) Featuring Anna Waronker on guitar, Tony Maxwell on drums, and two of the Haden Triplets, Rachel on bass and Petra on violin, that dog. were part of the great indie-alt explosion of the 1990s. Fittingly, I first heard them on DCG Rarities Vol. 1, a ’94 compilation from the label that signed them (aka Geffen Records) where they were sandwiched between Sonic Youth and Counting Crows. To an extent, these two opposing stylistic poles reflected the band’s range if not their sound. They were punky and raucous and occasionally downright heavy but also quite poppy. However, that dog.’s melodicism was ultimately nearer to three other bands on that comp; Teenage Fanclub, Weezer and The Posies. In a nutshell, they can be described as punky indie-alt power pop with smarts.

That all three women sang, and sang well, worked in their favor, but that dog.’s most distinctive quality early on was Petra’s violin. Extant at roughly the same time as Boston’s The Dambuilders, who also featured violin (from Joan Wasser), that dog. was more Cali-centric in terms of raw catchiness (there were connections to Redd Kross), where The Dambuilders sorta followed a post-Pixies model. But on second album Totally Crushed Out, which turns 25 this year, there are a few spots, particularly late, that remind me a bit of Mary Timony’s work in Helium. It’s a strong, edgy album, clearly of its era but not burdened by datedness, though it didn’t sell much, and was likely to spell the end of that dog., except the A&R people thought it’d be better if Waronker’s solo album came out recorded and released by the band. Perhaps because it springs from Anna’s vision, it’s more straightforward but still quite punky, reminding me at times of Juliana Hatfield. Notably, this is the first vinyl release for both records. A-/B+

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