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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Lafayette Gilchrist, NOW (Lafayette Gilchrist Music) Baltimore-based pianist-composer-bandleader Gilchrist’s CD from last year, Dark Matter, was a superb listen, but it was also a solo set, recorded live in 2016. This 2CD, which offers nearly two and a half hours of music, expands to a trio with Herman Burney on bass and Eric Kennedy on drums, and finds the band immediately setting forth on a course of high energy and groove heaviness that effectively illuminates Gilchrist’s influences from ragtime and stride to hard-bop and blues to go-go and hip-hop, with the thrust falling comfortably between the two-handed expressiveness of Dark Matter and the vivid sound of his larger bands, which includes the New Volcanoes (formed in 1993). There are also passages of considerable lyricism, particularly “The Wonder of Being Here” on disc two, but even Gilchrist’s ballads can boom (in no small part due to Burney).

Gilchrist might be best known for “Assume the Position,” which was featured on the HBO series The Wire. A ripping version of the piece opens NOW, the choice deliberate as the song deals with police violence, an issue that continues to plague this country (this reading of the tune was recorded last year, before the latest egregious examples occurred). Indeed, the record’s very title establishes that its contents are socially concerned, and as detailed above Gilchrist’s music is a robust blend of old and new. Along with The Wire, the pianist has also been featured on two other David Simon series, The Deuce and Treme; the connection to the latter highlights a touch of New Orleans in his music, though he’s firmly a Charm City-DC guy. While the length of NOW situates it as best absorbed a disc or so at a time (the first concludes exquisitely with “The Midnight Step Rag”), the second half does find the trio progressing into less torrid, more contemplative territory (the second disc also holds many of the set’s more personal selections). Most importantly, there’s never a shortage of ideas or verve. A

Michael J Sheehy, Distance is the Soul of Beauty (Lightning Archive) Londoner Sheehy’s music-making spans back to the 1990s as part of Dream City Film Club, who released a pair of albums and an EP for Beggars Banquet in the latter half of the decade. Following that outfit’s breakup in ’99, he commenced a solo stretch, initially on Beggars for three records, and next on Glitterhouse for three more, two of them with backing band the Hired Mourners, Then, a break of over ten years. But don’t consider that span a stretch of inactivity, as along with quitting drinking, Sheehy’s been playing in Miraculous Mule and is half of United Sounds of Joy, the psychedelic electronic act where he’s joined by his partner in Dream City Film Club, Alex Vald. Along with imbibing, another thing Sheehy stopped doing for a while was solo writing, although after a few years of sobriety and then his time in Miraculous Mule, the tunes began to come together.

Following the start of United Sounds of Joy and especially after the birth of his daughter, the songs were flowing with greater frequency, and Sheehy had an album on his hands. But that’s not what’s here, as post-Covid-19, he shelved that material unfinished and then dedicated himself to recording and releasing a finished album quickly. This is the result, and while it required a few spins to get its hooks in, I’m glad I took the time. Sheehy cites the third Velvets album as a touchstone for Distance, and I can hear that, though I’ll elaborate that a few cuts here, specifically in closer “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” remind me of the gentler Ira-sung selections on Yo La Tengo’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out. But there’s also a consistent Memphis-Nashville vibe (underscoring another of Sheehy’s touchstones, Elvis) and a use of electronics that drives home the influence of Suicide in a wonderfully subtle way. But the bottom line is that the songwriting here is strong throughout. A-

Deerhoof, Love-Lore (Joyful Noise) This surprise free download features five cover medleys, four short, falling between three and six minutes, and one long at 19, and it’s another jaw-dropping undertaking for this unit, specifically for the sheer number of selections tackled and the stylistic breadth on display. To expand, these pieces were first played live last year at the Time:Spans Festival in NYC, with the performance promoted with the tag, In All Languages: Deerhoof Plays Hits of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, and recorded in studio the next day. Examples from the 43 songs in 35 minutes: Ornette Coleman, Stockhausen, Eddy Grant, Mauricio Kagel, B-52’s, Sun Ra, The Velvet Underground, Parliament, John Cage, Caetano Veloso, Silver Apples, Kraftwerk, Penderecki, Beach Boys, Anthony Braxton, and Voivod.

The interweaving of such extremes is clearly intended to reflect the changing dynamic that occurred in the relationship between “serious”-experimental-avant-garde-“art” music and more popular-commercial forms as the 20th century barreled to its conclusion, a topic that avoids heavy-handedness and is instead rendered fun by Deerhoof’s execution, as they throw down these densely packed vessels of content with precision and energy. But with the inclusion of selections from the world of film, via Morricone and John Williams (refreshingly, from Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and television (theme music from Knight Rider and The Jetsons), and even the Maxwell House percolating coffee maker jingle, there’s a complementary concept that musical worthiness can derive from just about anywhere, even the uncool world of advertising. Ever further, Love-Lore reflects the break (still in progress) from Pan-European dominance in music, and that’s nice, too. Altogether, this is just a blast of a time. A-

The Lurkers, “Fits You Like a Glove” b/w “When You Are Borderline” (Damaged Goods) It’s taken a long time for me to cozy up to the sound of punk rock as played by bands of certifiable oldsters, with my adjustment in temperament probably relating to the fact that I’m nearing the neighborhood of the senior discount, though I prefer to think that I just finally heard the right riled up codgers. In this case, it certainly helped that I’d long been a fan of the no-frills post-Ramones riff-roaring of The Lurkers; the reissue of their debut LP Fulham Fallout for Record Store Day in 2018 was sweet, and then their 2019 single of new stuff featuring original members Pete Stride, Nigel Moore, and Esso with The Featherz’ lead singer Danie Centric, was also more than okay. Well, Danie’s not on this follow-up, but that’s alright, as the A-side here is an ample dose of sturdy catchiness that avoids faltering into substandard pop-punk jive. The flip is more of a barreling mauler, but with vocals that positively call out for a sweaty audience to sing along. Hopefully, soon. B+

Anne Malin, Waiting Song (Self-released) The prior set from vocalist and songwriter Anne Malin Ringwalt, Fog Area, was self-released in 2018 on CD, but this follow-up is digital-only, a circumstance that in an earlier, less fraught time would’ve precluded its review here. But in a period where musicians are getting their stuff out there in whatever manner they can (and additionally, listeners are adjusting their budgets for obvious reasons), it makes good sense to expand the parameters of format (see Deerhoof’s free download above). It’d be swell if Waiting Song received a physical release at some point (preferably vinyl, of course), as it’s a fine expansion on her prior effort, finding her joined again by William Johnson, who contributes the entirety of the instrumentation. Malin’s voice is reminding me a lot more of Josephine Foster than it did last time out, which deepens the lo-fi folk/ New Weird Americana vibe, and that’s just fine. When the pedal steel rises up, it can recall some of alt-country’s stranger excursions, too. “Mountain Song” gets downright surreal, and that’s dandy. A-

Pan Amsterdam, HA Chu (Def Presse) The undeniable aroma of the old school in the work of NYC-based hip-hop act Pan Amsterdam (aka Leron Thomas) gets articulated in a rather unique and understated manner, which I dig. Plus, there’s a tangible connection to u-ground hip-hop, and I dig that, too. On top of this, Thomas’ trumpet playing brings intermittent bursts of jazz flavor that never overstates the issue; he was in the jazz scene prior to starting Pan Am (finale “The New York Hustle” explicitly deals with this topic), so it’s not like he’s straining to establish the connection. Also, Thomas’ rapping is distinctive without being deliberately eccentric (well, there are a few exceptions), unhurried, but not like he just rolled out of bed. Featuring Jason Williamson of Sleaford Mods, Jimi Goodwin of Doves (using the producer alias of Coup Diablo), and Iggy Pop, HA Chu is a document of Pan Am’s global touring, with the set surprisingly enhanced by the audio of assorted conversations that were captured along the way. Late track “Script” is the standout, as its extemporaneous poetics succeed against the odds. A-

Graham Reynolds, An Original Score for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger (Fire) There remains a vogue for musicians, either solo or in bands, endeavoring to craft alternate soundtracks to films, some of them canonical, others underground or recently discovered or reconsidered (as a revision to or expansion of the canon). Fire Records has played no small role in shaping this trend, releasing reimagined soundtracks by Jane Weaver’s project Fenella (for Marcell Jankovics’ Feherlofia) and two by Death and Vanilla (for Roman Polanski’s The Tenant and Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr), and now Graham Reynolds’ score for Alfred Hitchcock’s silent feature of 1927, the Ivor Novello-starring The Lodger. Of course, cinephiles (those who attend film screenings and festivals, anyway) are likely to recognize that the reimagined score is no recent phenomenon (Alloy Orchestra, featuring Roger Clark Miller of Mission of Burma, have been doing it for decades), though it is an endeavor that film purists regularly disdain (though they can frankly be a difficult bunch of mofos).

Now, I’ve no problem with updated soundtracks, as I’ve often found earlier retrofitted scores to silent films to be clichéd to the point of distraction, but quality does vary in each case, in the old stuff and the new (it’s also important to note that not all alternate soundtracks are for silent films). Reynolds is experienced in composing for contemporary movies (including Richard Linklater’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette), so he comes to The Lodger not with an iconoclastic agenda but with a desire to reinvigorate a film that many have simply checked off a viewing list on their way toward Hitch’s more celebrated masterpieces. Instead of traveling down a neo-classicist path, Reynolds delivers moments evocative of a modern thriller. However, Fire’s LP holds 10 tracks that total a smidge more than 37 minutes, so synching up the music to accompany a viewing of The Lodger at home isn’t feasible, currently. Reynolds did compose a full 90-minute score, having performed it live with the film at least once, so hopefully its availability will eventually come to pass (Criterion? BFI? Masters of Cinema?) A-

John Lee Shannon, In & Of (Tompkins Square) I gather, that up to this solo album, guitarist Shannon has predominantly been a sideman; it was in this capacity that he met fellow guitarist Neal Casal, who was to collaborate with Shannon on In & Of prior to Casal’s death last year (a portion of this album’s proceeds will go to the Neal Casal Music Foundation, which was “created to inspire future musicians and bring mental health support to musicians already on the path”). In his notes for the release, Shannon details his exposure to a variety of guitarists through Casal’s passionate fandom, notably UK folk greats Renbourn, Graham, and Jansch. Gleaning this knowledge really highlights the broad stylistic range of Shannon’s work as he eschews falling into one “school” of playing. To elaborate, this album sounds like the sweet motions of avid listener-player rather than someone with a sharply defined, codified approach. Where many solo guitar records are like paintings, In & Of is like a quilt, which hits me just right at the moment. A-

Bonnie Whitmore, Last Will and Testament (Self-released) Whitmore has four prior albums reaching back to her 2006 debut, but playing bass as well as singing, she’s also noted for backing such artists as Hayes Carll, John Moreland, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Butch Hancock, credits that, along with calling Austin home and having lived in Nashville, establish her as a byproduct of the Americana scene. That isn’t inapt, but this record (which I’ll confess is my introduction to her solo work) finds her extending beyond that designation a bit. Better said, she’s dishing a sound that was well-defined prior to Americana’s emergence as a certifiable genre. Specifically, she combines youthful toughness with sturdy, mature songwriting as country is an influence but not her style. Rather, the sound is at times reminiscent of Petty, Raitt, and Lucinda Williams, but more often this is just a straight-up guitar driven pop-rocker with a nod to jazz vocal standards for the finale. Along with a few unexpected instrumental choices, Whitmore’s lyrics can be appealingly pointed (e.g. anti-rape highlight “Asked for It”). B+

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