Author Archives: Joseph Neff

Graded on a Curve:
Ben Bryden,
Figure Of Eight

On Figure Of Eight, Scotland-native and NYC-based tenor saxophonist Ben Bryden leads a band featuring the guitar of fellow UK-to-NYC transplant Phil Robson, the bass of Desmond White, and the drums of Rajiv Jayaweera, the rhythm section current New York residents both originally from Australia, with Bryden’s horn flanked on two tracks by fellow tenor and long-time collaborator Steven Delannoye. The record has moments of accessible warmth that can harken back to the heyday of post-bop but with sustained passages that are undeniably new in conception. It’s out now on compact disc and digital through Circavision Productions.

Along with Figure of Eight’s generally inviting comportment, the chosen instrumental configuration of tenor, guitar, bass and drums only serves to deepen ties to modern jazz’s classic era, though in reality, this specific lineup, with guitar sans piano or organ, isn’t as historically common as one might think. However, it was the set of axes featured on Sonny Rollins’ comeback classic of 1961 The Bridge (with Jim Hall on guitar, Bob Cranshaw on double bass and Ben Riley on drums), and as Ben Bryden’s latest plays, a certain compatibility with the Rollins album does become discernible.

These qualities are far from overwhelming, though. Much more prominent are elements that are decidedly non-jazzy, and immediately so, as “Luskentyre,” named after a beach in Scotland, delivers a brief opening prelude that also stands as a bookend with the record’s outro “Bostadh,” which is also titled after a Scottish beach. The promo text mentions post-rock, and while that’s not off-target, please don’t get the idea that Bryden and company have navigated into Tortoise territory.

We are somewhat nearer to the work of Sigur Rós, and yet fleetingly so, as “Cold Shoulder” instead flows with a jazziness that’s distinctly urbane; Bryden’s playing is lyrical, Robson establishes his deftness with clean, ringing tones and note runs, and the rhythm section is crisp but unperturbed, though the atmosphere thankfully withstands getting too velvety.

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Graded on a Curve: Ryuichi Sakamoto,
Thousand Knives of Ryuichi Sakamoto

As a composer, vocalist, songwriter, producer, keyboardist, and electronic music pioneer, Ryuichi Sakamoto has accumulated a substantial list of achievements since emerging as part of the 1970s Japanese scene. A member of the Yellow Magic Orchestra, all of his solo recordings postdate the release of that outfit’s debut except one, which came out in 1978 a month prior to YMO’s eponymous first LP. It delivers an occasionally fascinating look at the artist before his ’80s rise in profile, but Thousand Knives of Ryuichi Sakamoto has never been an easy find in stores; in a sweet turn, Wewantsounds has reissued it on LP and CD, the first time in decades that it’s been available physically outside Japan.

In the promotional text for Becoming Peter Ivers, the RVNG Intl. label’s fresh archival release of demos from the late singer-songwriter, the subject gets quoted: “Demos are often better than records,” with Ivers adding, “More energy, more soul, more guts.” It’s a sentiment in which I am in accord, and I mention it as this idea can easily be adjusted and applied to an artist or band’s debut recording, in part due to a lack of streamlining that can result from the desire to expand upon early success.

Conversely, first albums (or EPs, or 45s even) can sometimes be formative, modest, and even generic affairs that do little or nothing to portend what is on a musician’s discographical horizon. Occasionally, the opportunity to record comes too early, but artists are unlikely to turn down the chance, either because they think the time is ripe, or they realize that the option may not arise again.

Thousand Knives of Ryuichi Sakamoto follows a more productive path, as its motions of creative growth, while surely not eclipsing Sakamoto’s later recordings in worth, are quite pleasurable in how they help inject color into a portrait of the young artist. Additionally, the LP directly connects to Haruomi Hosono’s Paraiso, which was issued in April of ’78.

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for November 2019, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for November, 2019. 

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Jumpstarted Plowhards, Round One (Recess) Bassist Mike Watt is, with no hyperbole, indefatigable. In the recent past, he’s been out on the road as part of Tav Falco’s band, assisted (along with singer David Yow) in a bunch of shows with Flipper, and has just wound down a tour with his own outfit The Missingmen. Recordings have been prominent as well, with this set a back-and-forth project with singer-guitarist Todd Congelliere of Toys That Kill and a rotating cast of drummers including a few with long associations with Watt, namely George Hurley, Raul Morales, and the youthful Nick Aguilar. Toys That Kill is a San Pedro-based outfit, so this is all literally close to home for Watt, with the foundation of the songs beginning with his bass parts as recorded to click tracks.

They were then passed on to Congelliere, who fleshed out the tunes and finally picked the drummers as he felt appropriate; amongst the contributors is Patty Schemel of Hole. Not being super-familiar with Toys That Kill, the results are pretty surprising as the concise set begins in what I’ll call a late ’70s-early ’80s UK art-punk zone that borders on that era and that nation’s subterranean DIY explosion. As the next seven tracks unwind, the general aura of Britishness remains but without ever slipping into the territory of a best-accent contest. The whole is cohesive as fuck (this bodes well, as there are five more prospective installments of Jumpstarted Plowhards material) and rocks like a mofo, which given the participants, isn’t the least bit surprising. It all syncs up very nicely with the below. A-

Fitted, First Fits (ORG Music) If Jumpstarted Plowhards is near to Mike Watt geographically, Fitted connects to the Minutemen (the bassist’s most high-profile endeavor, as ever it will be) pretty solidly, as amongst the participants is founding member of Wire, bassist-vocalist Edvard Graham Lewis; rounding out the band is later and current Wire member Matthew Sims on guitar and Bob Lee (Fearless Leader, Claw Hammer, The Freeks) on drums, with Watt on bass and spiel. Lewis adds synth and sampler, while Simms brings modular synth and organ to the studio. Well, five studios, as this was cut in various locations in Cali, the UK and Sweden in 2017-’18. Amazingly, Fitted practiced once, on March 30, 2017. The music is sharp-edged post-punk and expansive; at six tracks, it’s twice the length of Round One. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Peter Ivers, Becoming Peter Ivers (RVNG Intl.) Peter Ivers is far from forgotten, but along with the mysterious circumstances of his death in 1983, he’s probably remembered mainly these days for writing “In Heaven,” which was featured in David Lynch’s Eraserhead as sung by Laurel Near (it has since been covered many times, including by The Pixies). He was also the host of Los Angeles-area public access show New Wave Theater, which benefited from wider exposure on Night Flight and last decade by making the internet rounds. But as a recording artist, Ivers debuted all the way back in ’69 for Epic with Knight of the Blue Communion. Neither it nor his epic follow-up Take It Out On Me sold much, but he still ended up signed to Warner Brothers, where he cut two more albums.

Ivers’ role on New Wave Theater might position him on the surface as an early punk-era oddball personality, which he certainly was, but as the above should highlight, he was much more than that. His ’74 album Terminal Love was produced by Van Dyke Parks, who appears on one selection on this collection, “Window Washer.” Five years in the making and collecting mid-’70s demos, four of them of songs from Terminal Love, Becoming Peter Ivers really underscores Ivers’ talent as a songwriter, his solid harmonica playing (he was mentored by Little Walter) and the kind of ’70s presence that didn’t fit in to the decade’s scheme, a la Tom Waits, though the music here, often in the singer-songwriter mode with a funky undercurrent, is distinct. While demos, these aren’t song skeletons. A valuable eye-opener. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
Albert Collins,
Truckin’ with Albert Collins

Albert Collins hailed from Texas, and he had the blues. His biggest fame as a guitarist came during the 1980s but his tenure as a performer and recording artist spanned all the way back to the late-‘50s. Truckin’ with Albert Collins serves up a very nice collection of his mid-‘60s work, and its chapter one in the story of a major electric blues figure.

It was a long run of albums for Alligator that finally brought Albert Collins sustained and much deserved recognition, but prior to his association with that long-serving Chicago-based indie he’d already achieved the status of a Texas master. Along with T-Bone Walker, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Freddie King, and Lightnin’ Hopkins, Collins is an essential component in the Lone Star State’s post-World War II blues progression, and his pre-Alligator material reveals an artistry that thrived on versatility and yet was also quite focused.

However, noting the man’s rise in stature via Bruce Iglauer’s label shouldn’t suggest that Collins was doing his thing under a shroud of total obscurity during the ‘60s, or conversely that the ascension via Alligator was instantaneous (far from it; it was only in the late-‘80s that he was able to pay someone else to drive his tour bus.) The guitarist certainly had his moments during the ‘60s blues boom, and the record that established him as a force was his single for the TCF/Hall label “Frosty.”

It’s been awarded with the distinction of selling a million copies, though it apparently never landed on any national chart, so it’s not easy to check that claim’s veracity. And rather than tally-up a quick surge of retail momentum, the lithe instrumental instead found a steady audience by exploring terrain similar to the Kings Freddie and B.B., with Collins tapping into a blues sensibility completely lacking in anachronistic qualities.

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Graded on a Curve: Fear, “I Love Livin’ in the City” b/w “Now Your Dead”

Los Angeles punk mainstays Fear will be forever defined by the anti-social expressions of their 1982 album The Record. Many thousands cherish that disc, while others evaluate it as the locus of obnoxious fakery. But those who completely dismiss them shouldn’t do so without hearing their 1978 single “I Love Livin’ in the City” b/w “Now Your Dead,” for both musically and in terms of attitude it paints a distinct portrait of the group’s early development.

The general consensus on The Record finds it ranking very high in the punk rock pantheon, but after going back again to recheck, I must admit that I’ve never felt it’s all that great. Actually, I’d rate it as only moderately good, at best. Yes, the LP is loaded to the gills with historical importance and does have enough moments that I’ve kept a copy around, but the only time the thing’s gotten play in this house over the last few decades is when I would periodically feel the need to reassess my evaluation in the face of other’s rampant enthusiasm.

This happened more than just once or twice, and on a few occasions my viewpoint was met with something other than just disagreement. Instead I received stares of deep incomprehension, like I’d just called Michael Jordan an okay shooting-guard or Shakespeare a middling playwright. It was enough to instill some personal doubts. Perhaps it wasn’t The Record; maybe the problem was with me. But each time I pulled it out the same conclusion was drawn, and until just recently it has spent roughly a dozen years tucked away on the shelf.

However, I will agree that a significant part of my reaction does come down to personal considerations. Specifically, I didn’t get to hear it until around 1987 or so. If I’d been a late teenager when The Record kicked up its first clouds of dust, it might’ve been a gripping experience. But in 1982 I was just peaking into the doorway of adolescence, with my musical heroes the predictable suburban standbys Zeppelin and Sabbath. If someone had played The Record for me then, my reaction would’ve naturally held some measure of, well, fear, but it surely would’ve been overtaken by a much greater sense of bafflement.

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for October 2019, Part Five

Part five of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for October, 2019. Part one is here, part two is here, part three is here, and part four is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Swans, Leaving Meaning (Young God / Mute) It can seem a bit unfair to other promising and thriving acts to so regularly spotlight the work of Michael Gira in this column (and in year end best lists), but after consideration, Leaving Meaning fully deserves the attention, as it’s something distinctly more than just another great Swans release. That’s because it documents a new phase of Gira’s band; much attention was paid to the winding down of the prior lineup, arguably the best in the outfit’s long history, after the release of the masterful The Glowing Man. There was promise of more to come under the moniker with the understanding that the results would constitute a break with what had commenced at the beginning of the decade and solidified Gira as one of our most important artists.

Leaving Meaning assuredly marks a fresh chapter in the saga, though unsurprisingly, Gira hasn’t inaugurated this phase with concision, as the release is over 90 minutes long on 2CD and over 80 on 2LP. This is in keeping with his penchant for large-scaled works (which predated the prior Swans iteration going back to the mid-’90s and even earlier as ’87’s Children of God broke 70 minutes). And with expected similarities aside, Leaving Meaning justifies the new start hubbub; back in the day, Swans was occasionally compared to Industrial, but this set inches into the ballpark of the Gothic, or maybe more appropriately dark folk, partly through depth of vocals but also because Gira is never cheerful, which, along with many returning players, reinforces this as a Swans record. A very brilliant Swans record. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: The Pop Group, Y (Definitive Edition) (Mute) This expanded edition of the first LP from these essential UK post-punkers completes a reissue program that commenced on the band’s own Freaks R Us label back in 2016 with the rerelease of their second LP from 1980, For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? There was also a fresh pressing of the “We Are All Prostitutes” 45, Cabinet of Curiosities, which collected the debut single and unreleased stuff including a session for John Peel, and The Boys Whose Head Exploded, which was a collection of live songs documenting various locations on a 1980 tour. This stream of fanbase-funded material overlapped with two new records from the group that to my ear did a pretty okay job of not sullying their significant legacy.

Perhaps in part because Pledge Music (the platform for the Freaks R Us reissues) went bust, Mute is now on the scene. But I’ll add that the multi-format nature of the affair required hefty label muscle; along with single CD and cassette offerings of Y, there is a 3CD that includes the rare and unreleased comp Alien Blood plus the self-explanatory Y Live. There is a 2LP of Y with a 12-inch reissue of debut 7-inch “She Is Beyond Good and Evil” and two limited 4LP sets, one on Inca Gold wax, corralling everything. Those unfamiliar with The Pop Group’s importance might be wondering if all this activity is justified, to which I’ll reply most certainly, as the music offered here greatly expanded possibilities, and as reflected by how many folks once hated this band, was way ahead of the game. So, it still holds up, big time. A

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Graded on a Curve: Vetiver,
Up on High

Led by singer-songwriter Andy Cabic, Vetiver has been at it for well over fifteen years, with new album Up on High the outfit’s seventh full-length. The sound is rooted in folk-rock, though these fresh ten selections expand the template with touches of soft rock, college rock, indie rock, and classic rock intermittently nodding toward country rock. All these elements might suggest a patchwork if not a hodgepodge, but the disc is a focused affair, and if easygoing it avoids faltering into the overzealously mellow. It’s out November 1 through Mama Bird Recording Co.

I’ve mentioned it before in this space regarding other artists, but my first taste of Vetiver came via 2004’s The Golden Apples of the Sun, the limited-edition (1,000 copies) Devendra Banhart-compiled CD made available through the Arthur magazine imprint Bastet. A decidedly freak-folky excursion with numerous intermingled strands of New Weird Americana, Vetiver’s “Angel’s Share” opened the set, and due to its curator’s strong taste, the comp remains one of best examples of the field’s consistency and breadth.

Flash forward to 2005 and Vetiver were found on the CD included with the literary periodical The Believer’s annual music issue, then in its second year. The amount of overlap between that covers-themed disc and The Golden Apples of the Sun was considerable; along with Vetiver, who delivered a sweet version of Michael Hurley’s “Be Kind to Me,” there was CocoRosie, Josephine Foster, Espers, and ol’ Devendra himself.

This reinforces the impact of the whole New Weird folk experience, but I mainly bring it up to highlight how Vetiver has endured while many others involved in that scene have long since drifted off the radar. With this said, I haven’t been the most diligent follower of Andy Cabic’s material after 2006’s To Find Me Gone (which came after the eponymous ’04 debut). There was Thing of the Past in ’08 for FatCat and two after that for Sub Pop, Tight Knit in ’09 and The Errant Charm in ’11, followed by Complete Strangers for Easy Sound in ’15.

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Graded on a Curve:
Nat King Cole,
Hittin’ The Ramp: The Early Years (1936-1943)

Nat King Cole’s enduring renown derives from his skill as a vocalist, but he’s also arguably the most underrated of jazz’ great pianists. The seven CDs or ten LPs comprising Hittin’ The Ramp: The Early Years (1936-1943) do a stellar job of highlighting Cole’s keyboard prowess while documenting the growth of his superb trio with guitarist Oscar Moore and bassist Wesley Prince first, and later Johnny Miller. There are also brief visits from the great saxophonists Lester Young and Dexter Gordon and a ton of singing, though the approach lands solidly in a hot and often vocal group zone. It’s out November 1 through Resonance Records in partnership with the Nat King Cole estate.

Back in 1991, Mosaic Records issued The Complete Capitol Recordings of the Nat King Cole Trio, an exhaustive limited-edition set spread across 18 compact discs or 27 vinyl records. It was obviously produced for hardcore jazz nut collectors, the kind of listener who would know that Cole had worked extensively as a musician prior to his career-defining move to Capitol (an association he would maintain throughout his superstardom until the end of his life) but with very few commercial records detailing said period.

Hittin’ The Ramp features jukebox-only discs, private recordings, and a slew of radio transcriptions along with the handful of sessions that resulted in discs that were available for retail purchase, with the vast majority of the selections here officially released for the first time. There is a smidge of overlap with the Mosaic collection, but it doesn’t arrive until LP eight (or CD six) with “Vom, Vim, Veedle” commencing a smattering of cuts for the small Excelsior and Premier labels which were later purchased by Capitol and serve as the kickoff to the Mosaic set.

This repetition isn’t likely to bother owners of The Complete Capitol Recordings one bit, as it’s a miniscule percentage, specifically ten tracks out of Hittin’ The Ramp’s 183. Yes, that’s a lot of music, but slim compared to the behemoth decades-of-discovery scenario presented by Mosaic’s presentation of Capitol’s holdings, though in its vinyl incarnation Resonance’s achievement is also a limited edition.

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for October 2019, Part Four

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for October, 2019. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Negativland, True False (Seeland) This enduring and intermittently notorious outfit are better described as sound collagists and media satirists than a trad band. Old enough to have made the Nurse with Wound list, their ’87 record Escape from Noise is their masterpiece, or one of ‘em, anyway. One could say that the time is ripe for a new Negativland release (this is the first of two interconnected 2LPs), but the reality is that the time is forever ripe for their brand of deconstruction and commentary (here featuring the return of The Weatherman) plus the requisite guests (including Matmos’ M.C. Schmidt and guitarist Ava Mendoza). As agitators, Negativland are not partisan; True False’s making began in 2012. Strange, troubling, and occasionally funny, just like it’s always been. A-

Moonchy & Tobias, Atmosfere (Hidden Shoal – Tiny Room) While the second full-length from vocalist Pat Moonchy and multi-instrumentalist Todd Tobias is self-described as a more subdued affair (adjusting the debut’s psychedelia), it still has numerous positives, including a comfort level that reinforces the duo as something more than a studio project. And although Moonchy’s often breathy voice enhances a persistently dreamy quality, it’s not like the psych aura has been eradicated. To the contrary, much of Tobias’ playing, in particular some solid acoustic fingerpicking, is nicely (if subtly) outward bound. But the icing on the cake (for me) is that Moonchy sings nearly the entire record in her native Italian, making the brevity of the whole a wee bit disappointing. Atmosfere is just over too damned quickly. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Willie Colón, The Hustler (Craft Latino) One of four reissued classics from the Fania catalog via Craft Recordings, three of which are available in brick and mortar stores (the other, listed below, is an October Record of the Month from subscription by mail service Vinyl Me, Please). We’re so far away from the ’60s that most people won’t immediately associate this record’s title and cover art with the Robert Rossen-directed, Paul Newman-starring flick about big money billiards, but that was the reference, and it signified a major break from the Latin music norms of the time, specifically a generally clean and safe image and an emphasis on boogaloo. The Hustler was a big step in the move toward salsa, featuring Colón’s trombone hugeness and Héctor Lavoe’s Spanish vocals. A

Curt Boettcher & Friends, Looking for the Sun (High Moon) Dawn Eden Goldstein’s excellent notes for this set begin by noting that Boettcher was once essentially forgotten, but these days, I’d guess that plenty of heavy-duty fans of ’60s pop know his work. This is the first collection to spotlight him as producer, arranger and writer. Having produced the Association hits “Cherish” and “Along Comes Mary” (plus Tommy Roe’s “Sweet Pea”), those cuts aren’t here. The biggest name is Sagittarius, who conclude the record, though there is an abundance of sunshine pop preceding them. When said style is average it can connect as a whole lot worse, but that’s not a problem here, as miraculously, Looking for the Sun improves as it progresses. I can’t think of a better compliment for Boettcher than that. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
Pour Me a Grog:
The Funaná Revolt
in 1990s Cabo Verde

Ostinato Records’ impact on retrospective global music discovery has been major. Founded and operated by Vik Sohonie, the label’s initial mark was made through an extensive dive into Haitian sounds followed with equally broad coverage of Somalian and Sudanese music. But recently, the focus has tightened onto short, sweet illuminations of late 20th century developments in Cabo Verdean stuff; the latest is Pour Me a Grog: The Funaná Revolt in 1990s Cabo Verde, which spotlights a wildly rhythmic and accordion-driven generational advancement in the Funaná style with conciseness magnifying the vitality. It’s out October 25 on LP with a 12-pg 12-inch booklet and CD hardcover bookcase with a 20-page booklet.

Grog might put one in mind of pirates, but the term is something of a catchall for certain types of distilled booze, in the case here, a “Cabo Verdean moonshine distilled from sugarcane crushed by bulls.” Alright. Ostinato sum up their informative promo text with advice, specifically to get a glass of grog and “imbibe responsibly, listen carefully, and dance recklessly.” After soaking up the eight selections comprising this set, that recommendation makes total sense.

Ostinato’s journey into the music of Cabo Verde began in 2017 with Synthesize the Soul: Astro​-​Atlantic Hypnotica from the Cape Verde Islands, an 18-track compilation (reviewed in full in this column) documenting the output of the young country’s immigrants as they travelled into Europe (Portugal, France, The Netherlands) and the USA (with Boston given a point of distinction).

Synthesize the Soul’s ample selection was enhanced through diversity, but for the label’s subsequent Cabo Verdean inspections, which began in June of this year with Grupo Pilon: Leite Quente Funaná de Cabo Verde, Ostinato is significantly abbreviating the aural tours, though they are ultimately no less enlightening as a complete package.

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Graded on a Curve: Zonal,

Zonal is the handiwork of Justin Broadrick, he most notably of Godflesh, in partnership with Kevin Martin, aka The Bug, who’s been involved in a slew of projects including most recently King Midas Sound. This duo worked extensively through the 1990s and into the new millennium as Techno Animal, and folks who dug them before are likely to find Wrecked, their long-playing debut under a fresh moniker, very much of interest, especially as it offers six tracks with Philadelphia-based Afro-futurist MC Moor Mother, aka Camae Ayewa, of 700 Bliss and Irreversible Entanglements. It’s out October 25 on double vinyl, compact disc, and digital through Relapse Records.

Wrecked is a record of halves. It’s first six tracks cohere into the collab with Moor Mother outlined above, with the subsequent six the work of Broadrick and Martin alone. This suggests an appreciable level of confidence on the part of the duo, as following the trio portion, a potentially gangbusters team-up as evidenced by Ayewa’s superb contribution to The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s We Are On the Edge released earlier this year, with material lacking in her undeniably powerful presence, could easily risk disappointment.

It turns out the pair’s assurance was not unfounded, though the cuts with Moor Mother do immediately establish this record as something more than a simple recommencement of activities adorned with a fresh handle after a long hiatus; the final Techno Animal full-length, The Brotherhood of the Bomb, came out in 2001 on the Matador label.

Techno Animal were no strangers to collaboration, with their discography including credits from Jon Hassell, Antipop Consortium, dälek, El-P, and Rob Sonic, but with the exception of Symbiotics, their 1999 release co-billed with Porter Ricks (the duo of Thomas Köner and Andy Mellwig), I don’t recall a collab in their discography that’s as extensive as the one undertaken here with Moor Mother.

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for October 2019, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for October, 2019. Part one is here and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Los Siquicos Litoraleños, Medianos Éxitos Subtropicales Vol. 2: El Relincho Del Tiempo (Hive Mind) From the rural north of Argentina comes a sound that’s gloriously weird. While the folk music of their home country is the bedrock, with the spirt of Tropicalia also present, there is detectible punk fuckery happening, though a better way of putting it is to say this reminds me a lot of The Residents. Once heard, it was a hard similarity to shake, but the group never sounded too much like the Eyeballers, and that really increased the impressiveness. Mixing new material with selections from the group’s extensive archive of home recordings probably aids in the strangeness retaining such a consistently high level of quality. There is a Vol. 1, released on tape in 2016, and it’s still available. A-

The Muffs, No Holiday (Omnivore) Guitarist-vocalist-songwriter Kim Shattuck has left us far too soon, departing this mortal coil shortly before the release of this, her band’s seventh LP. Soaking up the 18 tracks drives home the solidity of the endeavor, which makes its release especially bittersweet. Shattuck was a rock scene lifer, playing in The Pandoras when this middle-ager was just discovering the whole ’80s u-ground rock shebang, and one thing about long-haulers is how they regularly exude a sorta careerist vibe, an understandable aura if one that’s often underwhelming. But not Shattuck. Her stuff, No Holiday’s stuff, a batch of songs written between ’91-’07, radiates love for ’60s-ish pop mixed with ’77 punk roar. It’s out on CD and 2LP but with a standard album length. RIP Kim, you’ll be missed. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Milton Delugg & His Orchestra, Music for Monsters, Munsters, Mummies & Other TV Fiends & The Munsters, S/T (Real Gone) Halloween is coming, don’tcha know. We’ll cover these two vinyl reissues now to give folks ample time to swipe copies for their upcoming costume soiree, and we’re going to group them together as that makes utter sense, though they do offer fairly distinct approaches to the holiday theme. The Delugg album can be considered as a cash-in, and a kitschy one at that, but it’s also a load of fun, leaning HARD into a ’60s TV theme-talk show big band sensibility that I find hard to resist. There are undisguised steals from Mancini, cuts reminiscent of or in direct reference to Neal Hefti and Vic Mizzy, plus a fair amount of non-crap organ stylings.

The Munsters is also a money grab, but it’s a Wrecking Crew-affiliated one, featuring Glen Campbell and Leon Russell in the studio. Produced by Joe Hooven and Hal Winn, the results are much closer to the youth sound and culture of ’64. It’s surfy with flurries of hot licks and hot rod sounds (the Jan & Dean-knockoff “(Here Comes the) Munster Coach” is borderline ridiculous, and that’s swank), references to Frankenstein wearing a Beatle wig, a vampire stripper scenario with saloon piano, Martin Denny-esque exotica, vocal contributions from the Go Gos (who are noted for their own ’64 LP), and more. Original copies go for hundreds, so this run of 1,000 on grey wax will surely please interested parties who don’t require a first press. The Delugg is a 900-copy edition on green vinyl with a cover by Jack Davis. B+/ B+

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Graded on a Curve: Laurie Anderson,
Tenzin Choegyal,
Jesse Paris Smith,
Songs from the Bardo

Eastern spirituality has inspired a lot of music, with only a small percentage aptly assessed as substantial. An even tinier amount rises to the level of artistry found on Songs from the Bardo, the new release from NYC avant-garde cornerstone Laurie Anderson, multi-instrumentalist, composer and musical director Tenzin Choegyal, and multi-instrumentalist, composer, and climate activist Jesse Paris Smith. Described as a collaborative composition featuring Anderson’s readings from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the results are contemplative and exploratory without ever meandering into facile formlessness. A major work, it’s out now on 2LP, CD, and digital from Smithsonian Folkways.

It might read as if I’m being unnecessarily hard on music that’s infused with Eastern spiritual-philosophical qualities. Twenty years ago, that would’ve been true, and I’d probably have expressed matters much more harshly (and with less maturity), but in the ever-loving now I’m merely riffing on Sturgeon’s Law (and that’s not to suggest Ted’s maxim is the gospel truth).

I’ll add here that the term Eastern spirituality is a rather severe generalization, so let me highlight the specific; Songs from the Bardo is described by the label as a “guided journey through the visionary text of the Tibetan Book of the Dead,” the enduring masterwork of Nyingma Buddhism, with the intention to open up the philosophy’s traditions to current and future generations as both pure listening and a store of insightfulness.

Accompanying downloads are certainly useful, but for those buyers with working turntables, they are generally inessential. In the case of Songs from the Bardo, which does offer the card with the code, this observation is somewhat arguable, as listening to the music in one uninterrupted stream, having done so now numerous times, feels optimal.

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Graded on a Curve:
Tomeka Reid Quartet,
Old New

When the conversation turns to jazz, the integration of tradition and innovation is a reliable topic of discussion. Hey, it’s right there in the two adjectives that make up the title of the sophomore effort from the Tomeka Reid Quartet. Featuring the leader’s cello on nine selections alongside guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist Jason Roebke, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara, Old New is a superb blend of historical heft, contemporary verve, and unified personal expression. Rather than a tactic faltering into a trope, a high level of quality is sustained, partly because the combination of then and now isn’t belabored or overly codified. Instead, it just sounds natural. The CD and digital are out now on Cuneiform Records.

Make no mistake, in addition to the roles of bandleader, composer and arranger, Tomeka Reid is a player of distinction, and only partially due to her chosen instrument, the cello, persisting as somewhat unusual in the jazz scheme of things. It should come as no surprise that prior to her move into jazz, Reid was focused on classical music, a realm where the cello is much more common.

In the promo notes for this release, Reid mentions that one of her early gateways into jazz was a book of basslines by Rufus Reid (no relation), and one would be hard-pressed to come up with a deeper example of jazz’s core principles than that. She then moved from Washington, DC to Chicago, which stands as one of the enduring hotbeds for the music’s intermingling of tradition and stylistic growth.

There, she met flautist-composer Nicole Mitchell and other members of the AACM (Association for Advancement of Creative Musicians) as she began playing at the Velvet Lounge, a venue then owned and operated by the late and very great tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson. Reid’s contribution to the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s excellent We Are On The Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration, released earlier this year, could perhaps be taken as a culmination of her Windy City activities, but really, her work is just as notable for its fluid, evolving trajectory right up to Old New.

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for October 2019, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for October, 2019. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Sarah Pagé, Dose Curves (Backward Music) Harpists aren’t as rare on the scene as they used to be, but theirs is still a fairly uncommon instrument. Some may know Montreal resident Pagé for her playing in The Barr Brothers, who are described as both rootsy and indie folky, but Dose Curves is my intro to her work, and it’s a wide-ranging treat for adventurous ears. There’s certainly an abundance of plucked beauty passages (e.g. closer “Pleiades”), but the opening title-track is reminiscent of cello or viola in an avant context, while “Lithium Taper” uses her homemade pickups and pedal setup to cultivate an appealing ambient field. Notably, the entire LP (in an edition of 222 copies, most of them already purchased) is one unaltered performance, and it delivers a major artistic statement. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Booker T & the MG’s, The Complete Stax Singles Vol. 1 (1962-1967) (Real Gone) Starting with that instrumental R&B cornerstone “Green Onions” and then rolling through 28 more sides up to “Silver Bells,” the flip to their ’67 Xmas 45, this is a smart way to amass this band’s prime work on either CD or 2LP. Featuring Booker T. Jones on Hammond, Steve Cropper on guitar, Al Jackson, Jr. on drums, and either Lewie Steinberg (early) or Donald “Duck” Dunn (joining in 1965) on bass, theirs is one of the most distinctive sounds in the genre, often imitated but never duplicated, partly because others struggled to attain the appropriate measure of tight and lithe. As Stax’s house band, this is only part of their story, but these chapters are essential, all taken from mono sources. A

Gary Numan, Replicas – The First Recordings & The Pleasure Principle – The First Recordings (Beggars Arkive) To commemorate the 40th anniversary of these two seminal and groundbreaking post-punk electronic pop-rock albums, Beggars is issuing the early recordings of both on 2CD and 2LP, Replicas (co-credited to Tubeway Army) on sage green wax and The Pleasure Principle on orange. Note that neither set includes the actual released albums, so if you don’t have those, you still need ‘em. And anyone interested in the abovementioned styles does need ‘em (they were both reissued by Beggars in 2015). With this said, it’s difficult for me to rate either of these sets as must-haves, but they are both wholly worthwhile documentations of works in progress. If you love the finished LPs, you’ll probably want ‘em.

That each set includes a Peel Session does substantially increase the value, though both have been previously released on wax. Plus, Numan was creating rapidly in this era, and these collections magnify his development (leaving Tubeway Army behind in the process) without getting bogged down with the ephemeral. These ears retain a special affection for the Replicas material, mainly because there are still traces of the band’s punk beginnings in an overall attack that’s sharply focused on the future, but it’s Pleasure that captures him in full flower, and this dive into its gestation wafts a pretty sweet aroma. It should also be mentioned that the 2CDs offer extra stuff, in the case of Replicas just a third early version of the title track, but Pleasure has six (and six unreleased cuts, two of which are on the wax). B+/ B+

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