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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: I.P.A., Bashing Mushrooms (Cuneiform) Although this Scandinavian quintet, releasing their fifth full-length and second for the Cuneiform label of Washington DC, is accurately described as an excursion into avant-jazz, the eight tracks here are not particularly formidable in terms of abstraction or raw skronk. Comprised of Atle Nymo on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet, Magnus Broo on trumpet, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on double bass, Håkon Mjåset Johansen on drums, and Mattias Ståhl on vibraphone, they initially came together through a shared love of Don Cherry’s music, which is still extant in their sound, though I.P.A. also recall that early ’60s stretch when post-Coleman groups (e.g. the New York Contemporary 5, Sonny Simmons and Prince Lasha) were navigating the new freedoms with a concurrent basis in bop-derived melody. By extension, Nymo’s bass clarinet and Ståhl’s continued presence on vibes puts me in the mind of Dolphy’s Out to Lunch! This is a wonderful thing. Note: this is out on vinyl in an edition of 25. Cuneiform’s Bandcamp says there is 8 copies left. A

Dustin Laurenzi’s Natural Language, A Time and Place (Woolgathering) Snaketime: The Music of Moondog, saxophonist Laurenzi’s tribute (with the octet Snaketime) to the great composer Louis Hardin, aka Moondog, made my best new releases of 2019 list, so discovering that his other group, the quartet Natural Language, who recorded their eponymous debut in 2016, had a new LP on deck filled me with excitement. And while its contents aren’t as thrilling as the Moondog set, there is much to love as Laurenzi, guitarist Jeff Swanson, bassist Mike Harmon, and drummer Charles Rumback blend highly advanced post-Modern jazz and avant-garde modes to a highly pleasurable result. While sparks of intensity do fly, this isn’t a harried affair, as Swanson favors a clean, recognizably jazzy tone and Laurenzi, if occasionally ruminating upon inspirations such as Albert Ayler (“Albert”) and blowing in a manner reminiscent of Coltrane (“Blocks”) is just as invested in contemplative warmth. Swanson’s cyclical glide in closer “Slate” secures the music as a byproduct of contemporary Chicago. A-

Julia Reidy, Vanish (Editions Mego) Featuring two side-long pieces, this LP is guitarist Ready’s debut for Editions Mego, but it completes a trifecta of records with two from last year, the 12-inch “brace, brace” on the Slip label and In Real Life on Black Truffle. Reidy (from Sydney, based in Berlin) has a few prior releases on cassette, CDR and wax, and is a member of Splitter Orchestra (whose CD with trombonist George Lewis I’d really like to hear), but this is my introduction to her work, a set that establishes her as a multi-instrumentalist, integrating synths, found sounds, autotuned voice, and harmonica into extended vistas that are strange and vivid. Both tracks are unsurprisingly layered, but also fluid and with a few instances of boom-thud. But worry not, mavens of contempo guitar artistry, there are ample stretches of string glisten, especially in the middle and latter portions of each cut. As unusual as it is satisfying, comparisons to other string benders are elusive. I plan on seeking out more of Reidy’s stuff. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: The Bachelor Pad, All Hash and Cock: The Very Best of The Bachelor Pad (Emotional Response) The Glaswegian quintet are sometimes affiliated with the whole C86 shebang, though more as subsequent reactors, as they didn’t get a record out until ’87. Additionally, the reality of catchy numbers dipped in hard-edged punk and psychedelia (the Buzzcocks fronted by Syd Barrett comparison is apt) further distances The Bachelor Pad from the varying shades of jangle that persist in defining C86 to this day. Furthermore, the level of inspired racket elevates this above the studied formalism of the neo-’60s acts that sprouted up like not-so psycho daisies during the same era. This set compiles both sides of their debut 7-inch, the a-side to the follow-up 45 from ’88, one track each from the band’s 4-song ’89 EP, seven cuts from their 1990 LP Tales of Hofmann, and one cut from their 5-song ’91 EP. Obviously, that isn’t everything, but it’s a solid primer and a consistently fine listen (no weak entries), with enough melodicism to please the indie-poppers curious about this one. A-

BBsitters Club, BBsitters Club & Party (Hausu Mountain) Chicago’s BBsitters Club, a dual guitar pseudonymous four-piece, are a bit like a 1970s listening den with plush carpeting, a high-end system, and wood paneling on the walls that’re not overtaken with shelves upon shelves of records, that’s been transmogrified into a CD, their debut CD (also available on cassette), though they did release a digital-only live set last month. The referenced stereo digs encompass blues-rock, psych-rock, prog-rock, and just hard rock in general…but wait. Along the way there are few detours into a math-rocking neighborhood, along with a gradually increasing aura of sly humor that places them outside of mere retro jam band motions, though it should be emphasized that these cats are instrumentally savvy, and with soaring leads that will surely please the twirlers in your life. I dig these passages more than “Beef Pizza,” which reminds me of a cross between Ween and the ’90s descendants of Zappa. But “Carl Blues” is like Bad Company with coinciding psych-rock and funk-rock tendencies. That’s nice. B+

Grand River, Blink a Few Times to Clear Your Eyes (Editions Mego) Pineapple, the full-length debut for Grand River (birth-name is Aimée Portioli), came out in 2018, a 2LP for the Spazio Disponibile label. I haven’t heard that one, but this follow-up from the electronics-wielding composer and “poly-instrumentalist producer” (of Dutch-Italian descent but, wouldn’t you know it, she’s based in Berlin) is a rewarding point of entry into her varied sound world. A few of the eight selections do land in the contemporaneously well-trod zone of ambient, but with depth that is perhaps aided by the subtle use of field recordings, while other tracks, like opener “Side Lengths,” with the increasing intensity of its effervescent digital cascades, and later, standout “Coordinate Redirects Here,” which intermingles cyclical motifs to splendid effect, stand out. Altogether, it’s an assured work lacking in any missteps, with its run time of a little over 40 minutes (trad album length, essentially) advantageous as it leaves me satisfied but not overstuffed. The entrance of her voice in closer “All There Now” is a nice capper. A-

Latitude, Mystic Hotline (Emotional Response) Fronted by guitarist-vocalist Amy Fowler, San Francisco’s Latitude are a decidedly ’70s-’80s power-pop/ new wave affair filled out with guitarist Josh Miller, keyboardist-vocalist Justin Frahm, drummer-vocalist Joe Z. Armin, and bassist Rob Duncan. While Frahm’s instrumental contribution solidifies the wave-oid angle, the dual guitars put this securely in a pop-rocking place. Mystic Hotline arrives with some points of reference, such as Eno producing Rumours and Chilton collaborating with Blondie, that might set up expectations which ultimately won’t get met, but I do agree that the comparisons are accurate overall, with a few other flavors in the mix such as The Pretenders and The Nerves. What offsets matters is that none of these predecessors had a keyboard sound quite like Latitude’s. After a few spins, I’d say their strong suit is that, with the exception of closer “Dead End Fantasy,” the songs could pass as an album that was cut but shelved circa 1980 or so. That’s pretty high on the retro meter, but the quality of the songs helps to elevate matters. B+

Anthony Pirog, Pocket Poem (Cuneiform) For some, Washington DC-based guitarist Anthony Pirog is known for his role in The Messthetics with drummer Brendan Canty and bassist Joe Lally. In short, they are a post-Fugazi power trio of considerable merit, but Pirog’s also something of a staple in the contemporary Cuneiform roster, having released Where Is Home as a duo with his cellist wife Janel Leppin in 2012 and a debut solo CD Palo Colorado Dream in 2014, plus taking part in Five Times Surprise, the superb Mahavishnu Orchestra tribute organized by fellow guitar master Henry Kaiser, which was released last year. Perhaps his wildcard Cuneiform disc is as part of the Spellcasters, a three Fender Telecaster five-piece that takes its inspiration from a couple of DC greats, Danny Gatton and Roy Buchanan, though the unifying factor in Pirog’s work is that he’s a multifaceted virtuoso in the same league as Bill Frisell and Nels Cline, excelling in a variety of contexts, both experimental and straight-ahead (and the in between), and from jazz to rock to modern classical, even.

From inside his body of work, an easy point of comparison for Pocket Poem is to The Messthetics, as both are trios sans vocals, though the most obvious analogy is to Palo Colorado Dream, as his bandmates for that set, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Chex Smith, have returned here. Now, if you are familiar with the work of those two (say, Formanek in Thumbscrew and Smith with John Zorn, both with Tim Berne) you might be anticipating Pirog’s latest as contempo jazz with edge, but that’s not the reality, though jazz is certainly an ingredient and is occasionally articulated in fusion-esque and advanced Modern jazz-like thrusts. But more frequently, the band blends elements of non-toxic prog, folky fingerpicking and atmospheric stretches, a range of elements that coheres into a whole that’s effectively post-category, but with the pleasant flavor of post-rock. Notably, electronics from Smith and Pirog are blended with guitar synth as Formanek plays both acoustic and electric bass. Pocket Poem isn’t a knockout, but instead, in its sturdiness of vision, is a record to hold close. A-

Greg Puciato, Child Soldier: Creator of God (Federal Prisoner) You may not know it, but Puciato was the vocalist for Dillinger Escape Plan, an aggregation that for five albums across roughly 12 years was amongst the heaviest of metal bands, attaining a plateau as artistically robust as it was aurally aggressive. Along with current membership in the metal supergroup Killer Be Killed (with an album on the horizon), Puciato is releasing his debut solo effort with Child Soldier, though he’s stated that going solo wasn’t the deliberate intention. To elaborate, parts of this are reminiscent of his work in the Black Queen, but not entirely so, which is to say Puciato didn’t think they fit into the scheme of that outfit, even as they radiate an electronic aura. And that’s fair, as there is just as much Dillinger-like pummel and roar throughout the set, though spiked with stretches of melodicism, strummy introspection, and even a couple late ’80s R&B-laced pop moves. Ambitious and lengthy, Child Soldier is uneven, but admirably so, and Puciato’s vocal athleticism is undiminished. B+

Ray Russell, Fluid Architecture (Cuneiform) If you are a fan of, or are even just familiar with Sean Connery-era James Bond films, you have heard the playing of guitarist Ray Russell in one context, as he was a member of the John Berry Seven, heard on Dr. No, Thunderball, and much later, post-break-up of the Seven but still in cahoots with Berry, Octopussy, credits that fit into his extensive background as a session musician (Julio Iglesias, Tina Turner, Heaven 17). Simultaneously, Russell amassed an extensive jazz discography, from essentially inside early albums to bouts with the avant-garde to deeper excursions into prog and fusion, which is largely the foundation from which Fluid Architecture springs. As a non-Russell expert with a definite preference for his freer stuff, this CD doesn’t bowl me over (opener “Escaping the Six String Cage” comes close), but overall, it establishes why Russell is a living legend of the guitar, and does so without gratuitous showboating. Rather than uninspired note-flurries, the work here is often textural. When the licks do fly, it’s with warmth and some soaring, even bluesy turns. B+

Spires That in the Sunset Rise, Psychic Oscillations (FPE) Sporting a title that immediately had me thinking of Silver Apples, this is the latest from a unit originally formed in Decatur, Il as a quartet but currently based in Madison, WI, slimmed down to a duo of Taralie Peterson and Ka Baird. And it doesn’t sound anything like Silver Apples, though during the title cut (the longest of the six tracks) it does recall a (sadly fictional) meeting of the musical minds from the same era, specifically Patty Waters and Erica Pomerance, the pair communing with a big ol’ bag of drugs. That is to say, it’s psychedelic folk, and way gone, with synths and saxophone. The late Jack Rose described them as a “female Sun City Girls,” which is major praise, but this set’s closer “Sax Solfa” had me thinking of a three way collision/ collusion of Terry Riley, Marshall Allen, and the Raincoats, and that’s fucking amazing. Currently digital only, but it’s so goddamn good that I’m hoping FPE (or somebody) will give this a vinyl pressing at some point before I expire. A

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