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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Guided by Voices, Mirrored Aztec (GBV Inc) The Guided by Voices recipe consists of classic ingredients: hypothetically, that crotchety uncle of yours who hasn’t bought a new record since Steel Wheels should be a huge fan, but you know your uncle; he’s not down with GBV. In the early days, it was exceedingly short songs and lo-fi atmospheres that kept Pollard and crew from being mistaken as neo-trad pop-rock, but as time wore on and something resembling normalcy set in, the appealing eccentricities of the leader’s personal approach set matters apart right up to that long farewell lap in 2004. Post-comeback, much of the discussion has been about Pollard’s freakish prolificacy and consistency of goodness, of which there is really no precedent, except maybe for a while, The Fall. The big diff is Bob’s Warholian quality grip on distilling those classic elements (possibly another reason your uncle doesn’t like GBV) so they’re recognizable, but not the same. So it is with Mirrored Aztec. A-

Erasure, The Neon (Mute) I’m old enough to recall Vince Clarke and Andy Bell, the duo comprising Erasure, bursting onto the ’80s synth-pop scene, and while I enjoyed them back then I’ll confess to not keeping up…well, I really haven’t kept up, as The Neon is their 18th studio album. I can’t say I’ve heard more than six, but I do own the first three, and this tidy set retains, against considerable odds, the inspired, effervescent appeal of their early work. Something I’ve always admired about Clarke, going all the way back to Depeche Mode’s Speak & Spell, is his unabashed preference for pop in a classic tradition, dealing lyrically in tried-and-true themes minus angst, while as a singer, he’s a crooner at heart (which works well as maturity sets in). Not only are the songs surprisingly sturdy on this set, they get a little stronger as the finale approaches, with the best two sequenced at the end. Overall, in pure synth-pop terms, The Neon can serve as a tutorial for the style’s endless Johnnies and Janes come lately. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Tom Tom Club, S/T (Real Gone) The 1981 debut from Chris Franz’s and Tina Weymouth’s side-project in downtime from Talking Heads has been reissued on wax numerous times by Real Gone, so this could be considered a lazy choice for pick status, but this go-round, which is on tropical yellow and red vinyl as a tribute to the recording’s location of Barbados, is already listed as sold out on the label’s website, and the release date isn’t until Aug 21. This obviously underscores the love that’s accrued for the record over the years (which is interesting, as my recollection from the late ’80s is that many at the time, at least out in the ‘burbs, considered it something of a curiosity), but it also reflects its influence. I’ve positively reviewed a slew of releases that are frankly unimaginable without Tom Tom Club’s existence, and I feel like a stupe for not giving it more props. A robust dose of Downtown NYC, with deep cuts that don’t falter. I adore “Under the Boardwalk.” A

Alan Wakeman, The Octet Broadcasts 1969 and 1979 (Gearbox) In rock circles, and specifically the prog sphere, saxophonist Alan Wakeman is recognized for his playing in Soft Machine, appearing on the 1976 album Softs, and for playing on a string of records by his countryman, David “Rock On” Essex. But I’m guessing aficionados of British jazz will know him best for his work in the groups of Mike Westbrook, Graham Collier, Johnny Dankworth, and Barry Guy. However, as this release makes clear, he also led his own band, with these previously unreleased radio broadcasts for the BBC a delightful surprise, featuring two different octets across two discs on LP (and a single CD) with a bunch of notables on hand including reedman Mike Osborne (’69), drummer Paul Lytton (’69), tenor saxophonist Art Theman (’79), and pianist Gordon Beck (’79).

Plus, saxophonist Alan Skidmore and trombonist Paul Rutherford play in both bands, which lends cohesiveness to the collection, though the later broadcast really spotlights Wakeman’s compositional growth over the course of a decade. But this isn’t to diminish the material from ’69, which is a wonderful combination of Ellington, Mingus, and free jazz. The then nascent avant movement isn’t ever-present in either broadcast, but there is a wild blast at the start of ’69’s “Merry-Go-Round” that is reminiscent of an especially out session released on the BYG or FMP label. There are still elements of freedom in the ’79 set, which is an abbreviation (at the point of broadcast, not on the release) of Wakeman’s chess-inspired suite Chaturanga, but it might be better to describe the later work as “advanced.” As it played, Mike Gibbs’ big band crossed my mind, which means I was thinking good thoughts. This release comes with all the radio show intros from both broadcasts, a definite value addition. A terrific archival find. A-

Rachel Angel, “Highway Songs” (Public Works) Angel’s terse Bandcamp bio says she’s a “singer, poet, and guitar rocker,” who has resided in NYC, though I’ve read she’s returned to live in her hometown of Miami, which is where she relocated while fighting auto-immune disease. The songs were written while quarantining in her apartment in Brooklyn, and this CDEP was recorded in two days in that city as well, which is worth emphasizing, as “Highway Songs” (all five of them) never struck me as a New Yawk manifestation of Angel’s preferred style, that is, alt-country. At the same time, while I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s kicked a few dirt clods around once or twice, there are also no trace of affected rural-isms, even as the cover photo does capture her sitting in the bed of a pickup truck. It’s just an excellent way to do some highway traveling. For fans of Lucinda Williams (with a twist of indie-folk), this one, solid all-around, is highly recommended. A-

Bent Arcana, S/T (Castle Face) Featuring Ryan Sawyer, Peter Kerlin, Kyp Malone, Brad Caulkins, Tom Dolas, Marcos Rodriguez, Laena “Geronimo” Myers-Ionita, Joce Soubiran, Andres Renteria, and John Dwyer (who brought the whole gang together), this one is a smoker in the intended non-crap ’70s fusion-heavy prog mode. Another stated ideal for this record is the ECM label, which is certainly heard in the finished work, but I’ll add that there is enough of an experimental edge here at times to make me think of the associated ECM label JAPO. Speaking of Germany, and maybe just because Dwyer mentioned it in his typically cool PR essay, I thought of Can. More often though, this first album from what is intended to be a stream (or at least a string) of “off-the-cuff” affairs (I’m guessing with an interchangeable or at least evolving lineup) sounds like music made, with the above influences in mind, for the sheer love of it. That’s great. It also makes me want to get stoned. That is also great. A-

The Duprees, The Coed Singles & The Coed Albums: You Belong To Me / Have You Heard (Omnivore) Continuing with this column’s consideration of Omnivore’s series of reissues devoted to the 1958-’65 output of the NYC label Coed, here are two CDs devoted to The Duprees, a group who specialized in what has been called Italian-American doo-wop. That they released two albums is indicative of substantial commercial success, hitting the Top 10 in ’62 with “You Belong to Me” and landing a few more chart successes, all of which are compiled on the singles disc, including member Joey Vann’s solo 45. As you might suspect, the albums are loaded with songs from the singles, though there are exclusive tracks on each, enough so that folks who’ve developed a serious collectors jones for vocal groups will need both.

For most interested parties, one disc will probably suffice, though the curious should understand that The Duprees were a few streets over from the intersection of doo-wop and youth culture. That is, due to the Italian connection, you, like me, might initially get the impression that this stuff cruises right through Martin Scorsese’s part of town, and it very well might, but it’s even more likely that Marty’s mom was a fan. To elaborate, unlike The Duprees’ far from rambunctious labelmates The Rivieras (reviewed last week), these guys wholeheartedly embraced a schmaltzy big band (totally pop, not swing jazz) aesthetic that’s effectively expressed in “You Belong to Me.” And so, far more supper club than rec center sock hop, this has limited appeal for me, but I’ll add that I wished they’d cut a whole album in the small band with guitar backing mode of the single “Ginny.” As with The Rivieras, the harmonies are sharp, and Vann’s solo single is surprisingly okay, but the best of the Coed stuff is still to come. B/ B

Exotic Sin, Customer’s Copy (Blank Forms Editions) Naima Karlsson and Kenichi Iwasa are Exotic Sin. They gave their first performance in celebration of Karlsson’s grandparents Moki and Don Cherry, and have continued since, working in a mode that blends aspects of jazz, experimentation and electronics, with this album undeniably recalling some of the bolder avant style hybrids of the 1970s. In other contexts, this would be where I’d frown a bit upon the impulse to throwback, but in this case the similarity to the combination of jazz restlessness and pioneering electronics circa the administrations of Nixon, Ford and Carter is welcome, largely because this mode of abstraction was never particularly abundant.

The use of a few of Grandpa Don’s instruments, specifically a trumpet and two “zen saxophones” (aka “Don’s kettles”), which attach reed mouthpieces to plumbing parts, deepen the connection to the ’70s jazz-electro milieu (Cherry collaborated with Jon Appleton and Terry Riley), but it not like there aren’t other useful comparisons. For instance, a flurry of rhythm in the long first piece “Dot 2 Dot” reminded me a little of the avant-percussionist David Linton, an obscure reference to be sure, but worthy of mention as it derives from the ‘80s in Downtown NYC. There are other surprises, such as a stretch evoking a Minimalist sensibility and even a track named after a character in Ridley Scott’s 1989 film Black Rain (“Charlie Vincent”). This is another stone winner from Blank Forms, who have yet to disappoint. A-

Massimo Magee, Joshua Weitzel & Tim Green, Live at Salon Villa Plagwitz (Orbit577) Although 577 Records has been on the scene since 2001, the label has recently ramped up activities to become one of the brightest lights in contemporary avant-jazz, with the added bonus of certain releases getting pressed onto vinyl (this isn’t at all the norm in jazz circles). There are also CDs in the mix (very much the norm in jazz circles) and now, here’s the digital-only Orbit577 sublabel, which makes total sense, not only in direct relation to the circumstances of Covid-19 in 2020, but also in how the digital option simply gets more of this improvised music into the ears (if not the hands) of people who want it, recordings that otherwise might’ve been placed on a shelf awaiting a possible future multiformat release which may never have come to pass. Bluntly, improvisers are eager to express themselves by interacting with other improvisors, and documenting and distributing results that’re deemed worthwhile in a timely fashion is advantageous.

Live at Salon Villa Plagwitz was recorded in February of this year and was available in early July. It finds Londoner Magee, who blew me away on Vitriol And The Third Oraculum, his early January 577 release with drummer Tony Irving, here joins German guitarist Weitzel and Australian drummer Green for two selections of pure improv, initially loose and contemplative (but distinguished by some immediate sustained and very raw tones from Magee). But eventually, a free jazz ebb and flow is established, including a portion of the longer second piece “Interflug Exotica” where Weitzel’s guitar takes flight a la Sharrock or Rudolph Grey. Magee grinds, creaks, honks and blows hard (but with some sweet lyrical flights), and Green’s thump and scutter is appealing, but it’s Weitzel, through his range on guitar and Shamisen (a sort of fretless banjo-guitar) who stands out. He dishes some clean strumming and Derek Bailey-like clusters of pluck, but his Shamisen workouts are distinctive, with a long passage in “Interflug Exotica” reminding me of Eugene Chadbourne. That’s swell. A-

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