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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Daniel Blumberg, On&On (Mute) A record exceeding my expectations is always a wonderful thing. Not that my anticipation gauge was set low for this effort by Blumberg, it’s just that I missed his 2018 debut for Mute, Minus, and mainly knew him as the former guitarist for the band Yuck. Now, I thought Yuck was just fine, but in my experience, they were ultimately just one band amongst many, and the scoop with On&On is that in an even larger field of singer-songwriters, Blumberg stands apart. It’s worth noting that Blumberg left Yuck after their first album (before that, he was in Cajun Dance Party, whom I don’t think I’ve ever heard), and subsequent to his departure, he’s been up to some interesting things, though I learned of these activities only after being struck by the quality of his newest record. That On&On was released by Mute was enough for me to cue up the music without further PR browsing.

Had I read up first, and saw that the record comes with an essay from esteemed writer and musical-thinker David Toop, and learned that the song-cycle was inspired by Blumberg catching performances by Keiji Haino (the two have collaborated) at Café Oto in London, and noticed that the band for this record features Ute Kanngiesser (cello), Billy Steiger (violin), Tom Wheatley (double bass), and Jim White (drums), this lineup retained from Minus, but with Elvin Brandhi adding electronics, and discovered that On&On was recorded by Peter Walsh (who worked with the late Scott Walker); well, those expectations of mine would’ve been set considerably higher, and what’s more, would’ve been met. Blumberg’s foundation is folky, and one could even call it indie-folk, but it gets infused with avant-garde elements, often with a chamber string comportment (not baroque, however), though the emotionalism of “Silence Breaker” and “On&On&On&On” really validate the Haino connection. “Teethgritter” is a lyrically sharp strummer with nifty injections of string scrape. Superb all-around. A

V/A, Total 20 (Kompakt) This is indeed volume 20 in Kompakt’s annual series of techno compilations, and as electronic dance music is a genre where high quality and longevity aren’t commonly shared traits, that Total 20 maintains the standard established across the prior two decades is worthy of note alongside deserved anniversary commemoration. But here’s something else; the music that fortifies the Total series (and by extension, the Kompakt label overall) is club music at its impetus, which is kind of an obvious thing to say,  but I had to be reminded of it, or more specifically, that 2020, while a horrendous year with a little over four months to go, has been especially hard on club culture. With this in mind, Total 20 flicks my switch with a little more gusto than usual, but I can also detach from the sentimentality of Kompakt’s persistence and say that the bangers in this nearly three-hour run-time are doing more than just banging, while the pop-angled numbers are inventive and inspired. Kudos! A-

Alan Braufman, The Fire Still Burns (Valley of Search) Alto saxophonist Braufman’s Valley of Search, which was released in 1975 by the India Navigation label and reissued to much acclaim (including my long review for TVD) in 2018, is a rediscovered gem of loft-era NYC free jazz gush, and this new set, with Braufman’s longtime friend and collaborator Cooper-Moore returning on piano from the earlier recording, is clearly intended as an extension of aesthetic principles, with the very title driving this home. However, Braufman has grown compositionally (all the pieces are his) in the decades since and embraced a few accessible melodic motifs, hitting an apex in this regard with “Alone Again,” and with finale “City Nights” even dishing a borderline groove cooker. These developments set this LP apart, but ultimately for the better, even as I’m likely to always prefer the wildness of ’75.

But it should be emphasized that there are passages of abstract scorch here that are quite thrilling, especially “No Floor No Ceiling” and “Creation.” Along with Cooper-Moore, the band consists of James Brandon Lewis on tenor, Ken Filiano on bass, Andrew Drury on drums, and on “Morning Bazaar” and “City Nights,” Michael Wimberly on percussion. Those familiar with Valley of Search will note the added saxophone, while Braufman plays a little flute on “Block Party,” a selection that reminds me of something Pharoah Sanders and Andrew Hill might’ve conjured up in the mid-’70s. As The Fire Still Burns plays, Jackie McLean’s slept-on Hipnosis album, specifically side two dating from ’67, came to mind, though it’s the openness of Don Cherry’s work, particularly his two ’60s discs for Blue Note, that get cited by Braufman and Cooper-Moore as influential, and I can hear that, too. A-

The Crests, The Best of the Crests Featuring Johnny Mastro: 16 Fabulous Hits (Omnivore) The Crests delivered to the vocal group era an enduring smash with “16 Candles,” which climbed to No. 2 on the Billboard pop chart, kept from the top spot only by Lloyd Price’s “Stagger Lee.” They had some other hits, all of them collected here, or at least the ones for Coed; they first recorded and charted for Joyce Records. In short order, Mastro (a truncation of Mastrangelo), later Maestro, was singled out to record as a solo artist, though none of that material is included on this tidy set. Of historical note is how The Crests were a racially integrated group, featuring African American, Italian American, and Puerto Rican members. Pre-Coed, they even had Patricia Vandross (Luther’s sister) in the lineup. “16 Candles” was their commercial and creative highpoint, but the aura of youth culture is in full bloom here, and if not as wild as I generally prefer it, it’s still highly likeable throughout. “Journey of Love” is a standout. A-

Jyoti, Mama, You Can Bet! (eONE and SomeOthaShip Connect) Jyoti is the solo-jazz project of singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Georgia Anne Muldrow, with Mama, You Can Bet! her third album under the moniker; it’s my introduction to her work in this mode. Notably, her jazz connection is familial; her father played with Eddie Harris and her mother sang in the bands of Sir Roland Hanna and Pharoah Sanders. Interestingly, this is her first record as Jyoti to feature vocals, though that doesn’t mean that the contents adhere to any conservative notions of tradition that jazz singing often entails. Instead, it wouldn’t be inappropriate to call this as a beyond-category post-jazz release, but more descriptively, it works to say that the music contains elements of soul, funk, electro, hip-hop, experimental music, and street-level poetics alongside explicit connections to Mingus, Sun Ra, and Duke; the choral sections had me imagining Ellington and Mary Lou Williams smiling down on it all. I think this is currently digital-only, but I kinda suspect a physical release will eventually transpire. A-

Harmonious Thelonious, Plong (Bureau B) Düsseldorf-based electronic musician Stefan Schwander is Harmonious Thelonious, and he has a shit-ton of releases under his belt spanning back over a decade. Schwander’s stated modus operandi is to combine Minimalist music of the USA with the rhythm patterns of Africa, and as Plong plays I do get a slight vibe of Craig Leon’s Nommos. Right on. There is also a connection to punk, though distinct from Leon’s production work, as the form (more like the era, or the culture) made an impression on Schwander as he attended shows at the Basle club Totentanz (the venue titling the closing track here). To expand, there is a tangible lack of polish to the proceedings that is only reinforced by Schwander’s claim that he was initially going for more of an industrial vibe prior to Bureau B tapping him for this set, his first for the label. A little of his Industrial intent is still discernible, but while there is definitely a rhythmic constant, it’s not especially dancy. And that’s perfectly fine. A-

The Northern Belle, We Wither, We Bloom (Die With Your Boots On) “Gemini,” the opening track from this Norwegian outfit’s new album (by the looks of it, their third, and my introduction to their work), reminds me a bit of the defunct US combo The Essex Green. The big diff is that the group, fronted by vocalist and songwriter Stine Andreassen, lack the pop-psych undercurrent in the Essex Green’s work, instead heading deep into Americana-tinged country-pop territory. When the guitars are chiming, as in “Remember It,” the sound of The Northern Belle goes down okay, but I will add that as the record unwinds, I could’ve used a little more grit. Still, the playing is crisp, Andreassen’s singing is appealing and her writing, even when it’s heading deep into pop territory, has elements that hold my attention. Again, a little more sand in the gears could’ve stoked my interest even further. B

Caitlin Pasko, Greenhouse (Whatever’s Clever) Singer-songwriter, pianist and synthesist Pasko is a resident of Brooklyn, with a prior EP, “Glass Period,” dating from 2017. This full-length follow-up is out on cassette in an edition of 50, and I’m going to make the safe speculation that there will be more parties interested in her fusion of piano-anchored contemplative songs and electronic atmospherics than copies available. So, maybe don’t stifle your impulse to purchase if you prefer the physical route, is what I’m saying. Plus, a portion of the sales is being given to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which is an indisputably worthwhile gesture.

On Greenhouse, Pasko’s work attains cohesiveness in part through gradual pacing that amplifies the introspective nature of her tunes; in terms of the ivories, the references to Satie and Debussy register as legit, but at the core, Pasko is working in pop territory, artful and pretty but never so florid that it risks floating away like a wisp of pastel smoke. Additionally, the use of electronics is an enhancer but not a constant, as the synths (Dave Smith Tetra, Moogs, Yamaha TX7) never become the dominant flavor, even when the piano intermittently exists the scene (that is, her voice is still at the fore). Henry Terepka adds synth, guitar, and some piano here (he also produced, mixed, and mastered the record), but Greenhouse connects as thoroughly the work of Pasko, though as it progresses, I thought a few times of Sufjan. That’s not a bad thing. B+

Pussycat and The Dirty Johnsons, Beast (Hound Gawd!) Formed in 2000 originally as The Johnsons, this UK combo is fronted by gal belter and guitarist Puss Johnson with the current lineup rounded out by founding guitarist Jake Johnson (who also dishes a few backing vocals) and drummer Antz. They specialize in roaring garage punk with an occasional brooding quality that I’m guessing will appeal to folks into both psychobilly and gloomy rock, though there are no ten-foot-tall quiff hair helmets here, which is nice. There is a plastic fangs and fake fur coat thing happening, which reminds me of The Cramps, and that’s cool, but it’s important to clarify that the comparison is generally (appealingly) trashy rather than stylistically roots damaged. Beast is instead more punk derived (in an almost Damaged Goods stripe) but with the distorto-gunk meter often in the red. Altogether, a potent dose of pummel. B+

Andal Sukabe, “Music from Saharan WhatsApp 07” (Sahel Sounds) For those who’ve missed Sahel Sounds’ recent digital initiative, where the label releases a download-only EP a month from a series of artists and groups located in the Sahel region of Africa, all of them recorded on a cellphone and then promptly uploaded to Bandcamp (where the buyer can name their price) and then just as promptly replaced 30 days later with the next installment, here’s the newest installment getting you up to speed. Recorded August 1-3 and made available two days later, interested parties have until September 5 to scoop up this five-track set from this six-member family band based in the capital city of Niamey in Niger. Featuring guitar and vocals with occasional handclaps and rhythm, Andal Sukabe is described as combining trad Wodaabe chant with Tuareg guitar, and the results are quite pretty, yet powerful, though the guitar work isn’t as barbed as it can be in other Tuareg string workouts. Recommended for fans of the Original Music label and Mississippi Records’ The African Guitar Box. A-

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