Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
April 2021, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for April 2021. 

NEW RELEASE PICKS: El Michels Affair, Yeti Season (Big Crown) Funk is a constant in this enduring band/ studio project spearheaded by Big Crown cofounder Leon Michels, and funk reliably of a cinematic stripe; think boldly composed ’70s soundtracks. So it is with Yeti Season, the Affair’s third LP of original material (Michels is also noted for instrumental reworkings of Wu-Tang Clan and Isaac Hayes), though there is a sweet gravitation toward Turkish pop aided by Piya Malik (she of Big Crown act 79.5) singing in Hindi on four selections evenly distributed throughout the record. The non-vocal tracks are totally worthy however, particularly the Bill Conti-brassiness of “Ala Vida.” But nothing on this set beats the Malik sung “Zaharita,” which is sequenced late and suggests a ’70s Turkish movie where beaucoup psychedelics are consumed, and then some seriously bad shit happens. And while on the subject of film, I’ll add in conclusion that the cover of this record is persistently reminding me of the Michael Findlay-directed grindhouse non-classic Shriek of the Mutilated, a movie as duff as Yeti Season is swank. A-

Thomas Fehlmann, Böser Herbst (Kompakt) Zurich-born composer-producer Fehlmann has been at it for decades, first as part of the noted Neue Deutsche Welle act Palais Schaumburg, later as the founder of the Teutonic Beats label, and after that, contributions to The Orb. Along the way, there has been numerous other projects and solo work, with Böser Herbst the follow-up of sorts to 1929 – Das Jahr Babylon, Fehlmann’s 2018 soundtrack to the documentary of the same name by Volker Heise. This album is the OST to Heise’s Herbst 1929, Schatten Über Babylon; both docs offer historical insight for those watching the German TV series Babylon Berlin, which brings us to Fehlmann’s work here. On the prior record and this one, sounds were taken from 1920s-era recordings, with the samples looped, layered, stretched and otherwise distorted in a manner that’s surprisingly subtle. To put it another way, there’s an abundance of hazy hiss on Böser Herbst, but no clichéd crackle. Think ocean tides rather than rotating shellac. The set is atmospheric, but there’s also drive and strangeness. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Allen Ginsberg, At Reed College – The First Recorded Reading of Howl and Other Poems (Omnivore) Note that this isn’t the first public reading of “Howl”; that occasion was the famous Gallery Six event from October 1955 that featured Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Philip Lamantia, and Michael McClure (Lawrence Ferlinghetti was in attendance. So was Kerouac and Neal Cassady. Kenneth Rexroth was emcee). This Reed College performance was from the following February, held at the liberal arts-focused school located in Portland, OR. In his notes for this tremendous archival find, Dr. Pancho Savery (Professor of English & Humanities at Reed) mentions that the version of “Howl” that’s nearest to what’s heard on this release (available on vinyl, CD, and digital) is found in Howl: Original Draft Facsimile, Transcript & Variant Versions (first published in 1986), and he adds that it’s worthwhile (advisable, even) to have a copy of it (specifically, “Draft 5”) and the text of the City Lights edition handy to read while listening.

If this makes At Reed College sound like a prize best suited for serious poetry nuts and particularly those with an itch only the Beats (and associated bohos) can scratch, well…perhaps. I will add that the tape ran out during the reading, so if you are expecting a seamless experience, this is not that. It’s not even complete, as after Ginsberg rereads a few lines once the recording has recommenced and then begins “Part II,” he abruptly asks to stop due to an inadequate level of energy on his part. And yet, the whole, which is comprised of poems that were first published alongside “Howl” in Howl & Other Poems and in Reality Sandwiches, is a fascinating document, and one that’s ultimately fully satisfying, even if it’s unfinished. It’s striking to hear the laughter of the assembled, not just during “A Supermarket in California,” but also in “Howl,” and the same is true for Ginsberg’s playful false starts while reading “A Dream Record.” In the end, it’s a joy to hear one of the very greatest of modern poets sharing his defining work while it was still being perfected. A

Caterina Barbieri, Fantas Variations (Editions Mego) Barbieri’s 2019 LP Ecstatic Computation received a high grade in this column, as it was a rigorous but engaging set of synth-based pattern compositions. There are much longer descriptions of her modus operandi, but space is limited, I’m afraid. “Fantas” was Ecstatic Computation’s opening track, and this delightful digital set offers eight diverse interpretations of the piece from eight artists, including reimaginings for four voices, for saxophone and voice, for two organs, for electric guitar, and for piano. I’d list all the contributors, but like I said, space… More important: the release’s second half does offer a few selections that cozy up to differing styles of dance music, but please keep in mind that Fantas Variations is in no way a “remix” affair. This is really worth emphasizing, as the sheer stylistic breadth of these pieces would make for a wholly fulfilling listen with no insight into Barbieri’s prior work whatsoever. So maybe forget I said anything. Better yet, just check out Ecstatic Computation in prep for these pieces. You’ll get to Fantas Variations sooner or later. A-

The Blips, S/T (Cornelius Chapel) The cover of this record is designed like a set of nine buttons, or what some folks refer to as badges (people pin them to guitar straps and thrift store suit jackets), all of them different but all featuring this Alabama band’s moniker. It is a sign, to borrow a phrase from Peter Noone, that I’m into something good. To elaborate, The Blips, who consist of experienced players from numerous other projects, specialize in punk-edged power-pop Southern-style. I dig the hint of twang in the riff-laden opener “Inside Out,” and also the wavy-quirky opening to “Same Do.” But y’know, I queued this set up for what was essentially a blind test drive (as I am wont to do), and roughly halfway through (track five of ten) I was like, hey, this sure sounds like “Wild Thing.” Then the vocals come in, and I was like, hey, it’s a cover. Then just as quick it was apparent it wasn’t, but rather a tribute of sorts to the mighty Troggs (it’s titled “Wild Thing II”). Point is, these slicksters have their combined head on straight. In terms of tough melodic action from the region, this is up there with Gentlemen Jesse. A-

Anna Heflin, The Redundancy of the Angelic: An Interluding Play (Infrequent Seams) The NYC-based label Infrequent Seams is one of the most consistently rewarding avant-garde labels currently going, but I’ve neglected their output as of late, so here’s the first of two this week as a remedy to the oversight. This is the debut recording from Anna Heflin (a former editor of the online journal Classical Post), who composed the music, wrote the text, played the viola and narrated this Interluding Play. In short, Heflin’s pieces for viola and two violins alternate with her spoken sections, so that the music and the recitations are in dialogue but never overlapping. Clearly an ambitious undertaking, Heflin hasn’t overreached; to the contrary, the precision of the assemblage results in a gripping and occasionally humorous listen that reminded me more than once of Robert Ashley, which should be taken as an unmitigated positive. More often, the whole underscores Heflin’s reality as queer and feminist (and bi-coastal). Issued digitally and on cassette in a strikingly designed wraparound heavy paper cover. A-

Akira Kosemura, 88 Keys (Schole) Japanese pianist and composer Kosemura is known for his scores for film (True Mothers), television (Love Is__), video games (Jack Jeanne), and ballet (Manon), He also wrote music for the Japan Pavilion in Milano EXPO, and has collaborated with Devendra Banhart, but I’ll confess that 88 Keys is my intro to his work. Kosemura’s solo discography includes several solo records, some of them utilizing a wider instrumental palette. This set (available on LP, CD, and digital) consists of 14 solo piano pieces brought on by the circumstances of the pandemic, the contents differing from his prior solo efforts in being composed sketches rather than improv-based. Tranquil prettiness is abundant, a quality that I suspect is somewhat indicative of his non-solo recordings, this conclusion drawn due to Kosemura’s popularity on streaming services. In short, 88 Keys is non-feather ruffling stuff. There are a few moments conjuring memories of the theme to The Young & the Restless, but they are fleeting: more often, the aura is reminiscent of Satie-descended contempo neo-classical. That’s just fine. B+

Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band, Dance Songs for Hard Times (Family Owned) It’s been a while since I checked in with Payton and the Band, so I was struck by how electrified the outfit has become. While based in Nashville (the one in Indiana), there’s still a lot of hill blues coursing through the trio’s circulatory system, heard straight away in opener “Ways and Means.” Plugging in obviously accentuates the slashing nature of their attack, though there is also a level of restraint. From my perspective, raw neo-roots stuff runs the risk of becoming a tad (or a lot) too…theatrical. Or maybe performative is a better way of putting it. One could also call it the hard sell. Guitarist and singer Rev. Peyton, board scraper and backing singer “Washboard” Breezy Peyton, and drummer Max Senteney aren’t a bit timid in the expression of their rootsiness, but neither do they go overboard in the endeavor. The rawness of their attack complements the bluesy (and churchy) qualities rather than bludgeoning them. There are a couple lesser tracks, but overall, the results are sincere and structurally legit. B+

String Noise, Alien Stories (Infrequent Seams) Offered digitally, on CD in an attractive 6-panel wallet, and on limited cassette in equally appealing wraparound packaging made of heavy paper (both CD and tape formats feature a detail of mixed-media artist Edwin Bethea’s The Abyss of Man), this is one of three releases (all issued 3/26) that celebrate the tenth anniversary of String Noise, the NYC avant-garde violin duo comprised of Conrad Harris and Pauline Kim Harris.  For Alien Stories, they tackle five diverse compositions from Jessie Cox, Lester St. Louis, Anaïs Maviel, Charles Overton, and Jonathan Finlayson, all African-American composers, as String Noise cite the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement and the continued fight for human rights and racial equality as the set’s inspiration. The descriptor in the pair’s moniker comes early, particularly in St. Louis’s piece “ARCHIVE01 [Absolute Recoil],” courtesy of some hard wailing on violins that seem to be big as houses. Maviel’s “La Puyala Munta” offers a welcome meditation on folk dance, while Finlayson’s “Yet to Be” comes nearest to a chamber piece. A

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