Category Archives: The TVD Record Store Club

Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for January 2022, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for January 2022. Part one is here and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: The Whitmore Sisters, Ghost Stories (Red House / Compass) This one starts big and bright and then doesn’t falter in its old-school harmony rich rootsy country-rock sweetness. Bonnie Whitmore is known for her solo recordings, of which there are four, with 2020’s Last Will And Testament serving as my entry point to her work. Eleanor is half of The Mastersons with husband Chris Masterson; they’ve cut four albums and play in Steve Earles’ Dukes. Produced by Masterson, this is the Whitmore siblings’ first album together, but anybody coming to it cold would likely think they’d already cut three or four, as the interaction is sublime. Recorded spontaneously post-pandemic in Los Angeles, the 11 tracks thrive on unexpected twists, and right away in “Learn to Fly,” which has a Bangles gone country-rock appeal, while also emphasizing their harmonious strengths, as in “On the Wings of a Nightingale,” a song that Paul McCartney wrote for the Everly Brothers. Secret weapon: strings. In closer “Greek Tragedy,” they bring Forever Changes to mind. WHAT KIND OF WONDERFUL CRAZINESS IS THIS?! A

Artsick, Fingers Crossed (Slumberland) The focal point of Artsick is Christina Riley, formerly of Burnt Palms, who set this band in motion by sharing a few of her demos with Mario Hernandez of Kids on a Crime Spree and Ciao Bella. He was up for playing drums and doing some recording at his Oakland, CA studio. With Donna McKean of Lunchbox and Hard Left stepping in on bass, a new trio was formed. Musically, the focal point on this concise full-length is also Riley, with her vocals lending everything, even the hard-charging Ramones-y handclapping highlight “Despise,” a 1990s indie-pop angle, though this shouldn’t discount the deftness of the playing. On that note, the Ramones mention supports a comparison to Vivian Girls, though I will add that Artsick is less rigid and more supple in their approach, and with some appealing range. A fine example is “Look Again,” which reminds me a bit of a Bratmobile-’80s Flying Nun hybrid, though I suppose that the C86 explosion and even earlier ’80s predecessors Dolly Mixture can be considered part of the equation, as well. It’s an equation that never feels like formula. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, Play Selections From the New Musical Golden Boy (Honey Pie) Here’s a highly deserving reissue of one of the few obscurities in the discography of celebrated drummer and bandleader Blakey. Released in 1963, Golden Boy’s lack of stature derives partly from its release on the Colpix label (rather than Blue Note or Atlantic or Impulse!) and also I’m guessing due to the Broadway musical tie-in. The corrective is the personnel, specifically the Messengers lineup that cut Caravan before and Free for All after: trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, trombonist Curtis Fuller, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Cedar Walton, and bassist Reggie Workman, this core group expanded with Lee Morgan on trumpet, Julius Watkins on French horn, Bill Barber on tuba, James Spaulding on alto sax, and Charles Davis on baritone sax. The largest Blakey band on record? I think so, and the playing throughout is splendid, with Shorter and Davis particularly fired up. Blakey shines in his spots, and if Golden Boy isn’t on par with his best stuff, it’s not far behind. A

The Cosmic Jokers, S/T (Die Kosmischen Kuriere) The label blurb for this reissue states that it’s a remaster from the “original analog tapes,” and has apparently never sounded better. The text also describes the Jokers as simply an “all-star band,” which isn’t wrong, as this Krautrock supergroup features Manuel Göttsching and Klaus Schulze from Ash Ra Tempel and Jürgen Dollase and Harald Großkopf from Wallenstein, with Dieter Dierks also contributing, but definitely omits some crucial info, as they congregated to play parties organized by producer Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser and hosted by Dierks in his sound studio, with the “band” reportedly paid in cash and hallucinogens. Recorded (legend has it surreptitiously) and edited by Kaiser, four albums were issued in 1974 without the consent of the players (who weren’t even informed of their release). Legal action ensued (the dispute eventually settled). It’s been a while since I’ve heard the others, but checking this one out fresh solidifies my belief that it’s the best of the bunch. It features two potent side-long space rock excursions sans vocals. A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for January 2022, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for January 2022. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Tony Malaby’s Sabino, The Cave of Winds (Pyroclastic) “Everything was nuts, so I just had to go down there and throw sound with my guys. It got me through and kept me positive.” The speaker is saxophonist Tony Malaby. The nutzoid everything is Covid and the Presidential election of last year. Down there is a New Jersey turnpike (nicknamed in this CD’s title) where Malaby met up with numerous improvising contemporaries during the height of the pandemic. These activities led him to reconvene Sabino, the group heard on his debut album from 2000, a self-titled affair released by the Arabesque label. That means Michael Formanek is on double bass and Tom Rainey on drums here, but with guitarist Ben Monder instead of Marc Ducret, who played on the debut.

Interestingly, Monder was Sabino’s guitarist prior to the recording with Ducret, so the interactive flow here is in no way tempered through a late addition to a collective experience that’s decades old; before Sabino, Malaby and Formanek played in the Mingus Big Band and then joined Rainey in Marty Ehrlich’s group. And while Malaby is a stalwart free improvisor, he can also play “inside” like nobody’s business, with the turnpike sessions featuring a re-engagement with standards and the jazz repertoire (courtesy of Billy Mintz and John Hébert). While there’s nothing resembling conventional balladry here, opener “Corinthian Leather” is something of a free-bop affair, and a sweet one at that. In a few places (a stretch of “Life Coach (For Helias)” in particular), ’60s Ornette came to mind, I suspect due to Formanek and Rainey possessing an elevated rhythmic thing that’s league with David Izenzon and Charles Moffett. Monder’s sound ranges from clean, recognizably jazzy lines to post-metallic amp splatter. And Malaby’s one of the few saxophonists who sounds as killer on soprano as he does on tenor. Nice all around. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Reiko & Tori Kudo, Tangerine (A Colourful Storm) Tori Kudo remains most associated with Maher Shalal Hash Baz, but his contributions to the Japanese underground span back to the late ’70s-early ’80s and Noise, a band which also featured contributions from Reiko Omura; Tori and Reiko later married. In addition to a string of solo records, Reiko was also part of Maher Shalal Hash Baz, as she and Tori released a handful of duo albums, of which Tangerine was the last, issued on CD in 2013 by the Hyotan label. This edition is Tangerine’s vinyl debut, and with a new cover. The sound is wonderfully sparse and gentle, categorized as folk, which isn’t wrong but doesn’t communicate the music’s reach, which resists easy comparisons, though there are few; Peter Jefferies’ solo work fleetingly came to mind, and by extension John Cale. But it’s “The Swallow II,” which manages to combine Young Marble Giants and elements of God Bless the Red Krayola and All Who Sail With It, that delivers the record its standout track. Comes with an insert, a postcard and lyrics in Japanese and English. A

Rapoon, Fallen Gods (Abstrakce) Rapoon is the project of Robin Storey, who co-founded the noted experimental-industrial outfit Zoviet France in 1980, a group he exited in 1992, the same year Rapoon’s debut Dream Circle emerged. Released in 1994, Fallen Gods is Rapoon’s third in what would become a insanely voluminous discography; two more releases followed in ’94, with Vernal Crossing already reissued by Abstrakce in 2020. As was the case with that set, this is Fallen Gods first time on vinyl. Irrefutable is that Storey digs repetition in the music, though unlike others in the industrial field, he’s not dancey but tribal, as Rapoon’s been tagged as ethno-ambient. While there are aspects that date this set, things never tip over into the corny or the lame. Potentially of interest to Jon Hassell fans. Please note that Fallen Gods is being offered for purchase in bundles with the expanded reissue of Erik Wøllo’s Silver Beach (1986), or the reissue Juan Belda’s eponymous LP (also ’86), or with the Belda and D.K.’s Eighteen Movements (2021), all releases from this highly interesting Spanish label. A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for January 2022, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for January 2022. 

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Stefan Schönegg, Enso: Strukturen (impakt Köln) This is the Cologne-based Schönegg’s fourth release featuring Enso, an assemblage described by the bassist-improvisor-composer as his “chamber music ensemble with changing instrumentations.” This time out, Enso features clarinet (Michael Thieke), bassoon (Sandra Weiss), cello (Nathan Bontrager), double bass (Schönegg), and extended snare drum (Etienne Nillesen). Of Enso’s four recordings, this appears to be the first issued on vinyl (it’s also the first I’ve heard), offering ten pieces, the first six titled “Struktur” and the last four “Reflexion” (the tracks distinguished by roman numerals), with the whole reflecting Schönegg’s stated interest in reductive strategies and his desire for Enso to embody slowness in contrast to the fast pace of modern life. This leaves room for a range of sonic possibilities, as portions of the record engage with extended tone clusters that are reminiscent of chamber drone, though as the number of pieces and the format should indicate, none of the durations are especially long. Unintrusively captivating. A

Fred Hersch, Breath by Breath (Palmetto) Hersch’s skills as a pianist are beyond reproach. This is not to say that every one of his releases is perfect. It’s just that Hersch’s handle on his mastery is as firm as his playing is lyrical. For this ambitious CD, he’s joined by bassist Drew Gress, drummer Jochen Rueckert, and for one selection (“Mara,” a standout), percussionist Rogerio Boccato, along with the Crosby Street String Quartet, which features Joyce Hammann and Laura Seaton on violins, Lois Martin on viola, and Jody Redhage Ferber on cello. Breath by Breath consists of The “Sati” Suite in eight parts and a closing ninth piece, “Pastorale,” an homage to the German composer Robert Schumann. While the relationship of jazz and strings has been a historically rocky one, too often sounding stitched together and unsatisfying, the combination flourishes here from the compositional foundation to the execution, with both the trio and the quartet displaying heightened sensitivity. As Hersch’s conception was inspired by his practice of meditation, the suite exudes a comforting energy. It’s never overly tranquil. A

Michael Hurley, The Time of the Foxgloves (No Quarter) When this record came out late last year, on December 10 in fact, I elected to set it aside until just after the New Year, in hopes that Hurley had worked his magic once more and I would’ve gifted myself a fresh treat for 2022. Smart move on my part. Snock’s hooking up with a sizeable indie label might’ve landed him a sweet profile in the New York Times, but fear not, as No Quarter is run by a longtime fan, so that the 11 tracks here are pure Hurley. Opener “Are You Here For the Festival?” adds another classic to a repertoire already full of them, the vocal duets are wonderful (The Louvin Brothers’ “Alabama” with Betsy Nichols and “Jacob’s Ladder” with Josephine Foster are the best at this early juncture), the instrumentation is diverse, including fiddle, banjo, baritone ukulele, upright bass, bass clarinet, xylophone, even electric piano (a Wurlitzer A200) on another standout cut, “Blondes and Redheads.” Exactly where this one will land in Hurley’s discographical hierarchy will require time to assess, but rest assured it’s whole is exquisite. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Michael Beach, Gravity/Repulsion (Goner) ‘tis true that Gravity/Repulson came out a mere four years ago, but four years can register as a long time; think of a presidency that ran from 2016 to 2020 and tell me how fucking long that felt like. Anyway, Goner’s reissue of this fine record (the follow-up to Beach’s masterful 2013 album Golden Theft) came out just last month, and as it’s likely many missed the boat on its existence back in ’17, it’s a great opportunity to get acquainted with one of the 21st century’s sharpest extenders of what I’ll call the classic ’80s-’90s indie rock sound. Not that I missed the boat myself, as I gave it a full review upon release for this very website. But don’t get the idea that I’m gloating, since I just recently caught up with Beach’s Dream Violence, which Goner put out last March. His latest continues an impeccable streak of quality, with Golden Theft remaining his best, but good luck finding a vinyl copy of one now. Here’s an opportunity to scoop up a record that’s nearly as great, so don’t sleep. After a few fresh spins, it’s clear that Gravity/Repulsion hasn’t lost a thing. A

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Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2021’s New Releases, Part Two

As we arrive at the final tippy-top ten of the Best New Releases of 2021, it easy to envision the scroll-downs and the scrunched-up frowns: “hey, where is _____?” Please understand that the fave in question is likely in a queue still waiting to be heard, or was heard but is hanging just off the periphery, perhaps even making an early draft of the list, or was simply elusive in the modern avalanche of high quality sounds. As said at the beginning of the week (seems like much longer than week ago, and it’s only Friday), these lists are never really final. Lists are in fact, at their best, just part of an ongoing conversation…

5. Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt, Made Out of Sound (Palilalia) & Binker & Moses, Escape the Flames (Gearbox) Versatility and adaptability are common, near constant, traits in the great “jazz” drummers, characteristics that allowed Elvin Jones to productively create with Barry Harris (RIP), John Coltrane (of course), Lee Konitz and Sonny Sharrock.

I mention this because Chris Carsano is definitely a “jazz” drummer in all the best ways, and on Made Out of Sound he gets very much into a Elvin-like zone in tandem with the soaring beauty of guitarist Bill Orcutt, who locates those fleeting moments of transcendence heard from some the great expansionist string benders of the 1960s-’70s (a few of them also “jazz”) and then just hangs out there beautifully. It’s impossible for me to contemplate listening to Made Out of Sound and not feeling good.

Corsano and Orcutt dish an exemplary serving of duo exchange, but Escape the Flames hits the “classic” exploratory sax-drums target right in its bullseye with “The Departure,” and then takes a big groove offramp with “Intoxication From the Jahvmonishi Leaves.” That means this 2LP is likely not as skronky as some hardcore aficionados of freedom might prefer, but Binker Golding’s tenor is still cut from the cloth of ’60s Coltrane (some of finest woven aural threads, anywhere). And with “Fete By the River” he brings Impulse-era Sonny Rollins to mind, partly because Boyd displays some of that versatility spoken of up above. The crowd loves it (yes, this set was recorded live). Then they tear it up some more…

4. Thumbscrew, Never Is Enough (Cuneiform) & Colleen, The Tunnel and the Clearing (Thrill Jockey) Is there a better leaderless “jazz” trio than Thumbscrew currently working? By which, let me clarify, amassing a discography; this is guitarist Mary Halvorson, bassist (upright and plugged-in) Michael Formanek, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara’s sixth album. The appeal is partly based in ceaselessly sharp playing, partly in structural acumen (each point on this triangle brings three compositions to the table), and partly about heightened interaction. One could call it a series of beautiful conversations, but it’s more like snapshots of three brilliant humans living together and attaining a rare level of harmony.

Shifting from group settings to the solo paradigm, The Tunnel and the Clearing is another exceptional record from Cécile Schott. With a synth and keyboard-based approach, often glistening in its retrofuturist qualities (but never trite), her stuff is solid as marble structurally, with her vocals adding considerable value. And there is a sense of quiet, of intimacy, on her latest that is never labored. The songs, and Schott is as much a crafter of songs as she is an architect of atmospheres, are excellent listening any time of day, but especially so late at night.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2021’s New Releases, Part One

As we head into the Best List home stretch with a shift of focus onto the new, it bears repeating that the sheer number of potential candidates for inclusion was even larger than it was for the box sets and reissues, and with a mountain of interesting releases still unheard. Considering how the decks are currently stacked against musicians in so many ways, the perseverance is downright inspiring. So are the ten records listed below.  

10. Alicja-Pop, Howlin’ (Black & Wyatt) & Deerhoof, Actually, You Can (Joyful Noise) From a standpoint of a music reviewer, one reliable yardstick of high quality is when you keep a record in heavy rotation for a week or two (or more) after the review has posted. The problem of course, it that this situation is never evident until…well, you’ve probably figured it out.

But it just dawned on me that I could mention this circumstance in relation to Howlin’ by Alicja-Pop, the solo endeavor/ group venture of the extremely musically active Alicja Trout of Memphis, TN, because I’d already sussed that this self-described compilation of several years of songs was a solid effort while reviewing it a few months back. That Trout’s forte on Howlin’ is modestly scaled pop-rock likely solidified my initial level of assessment, but after soaking up “Vines B” for the umpteenth time and for the sheer hell of it, the depth of her talents became clear. And so here we are.

Modestly scaled isn’t an accurate description of Deerhoof. On Actually, You Can, their music is as thunderous and agile as ever it was before, but the nine tracks are also notable for being built with the intention to be reproduced on live stages. A goal, taking it (safely) out on the road, that’s thoroughly understandable, with the record effectively unwinding as enticement to witness them playing live. A handful of the tracks are certain to trigger pockets of fan frenzy as they begin, particularly “Scarcity is Manufactured” and its air of joyousness. A little joy is something we could all use right about now.

9. Van Dyke Parks & Verónica Valerio, “Only in America–Solo en América” (Modern Recordings) & Okuté, S/T (Chulo) As was mentioned earlier this week in part one of 2021’s best reissues, rarely do singles and EPs make these lists, but there are exceptions, as is the case this year with the repress of Maximum Joy’s debut 12-inch (which inspired the observation), as so it is with this 4-song 10-inch.

“Only in America–Solo en América” is a collaboration of uncommon richness, though that’s not especially surprising, as Van Dyke Parks is handling the orchestrations, and he’s near the very top of his game. This is immediately apparent in the opening version of Agustin Lara’s “Veracruz,” and it continues through the three original compositions by Valerio. Make that three vibrant compositions by Valerio. Whose singing (and speaking) elevates this EP to a special plateau. And the cover art by Klaus Voormann? Mighty nice on the eyes.

This S/T album from Okuté is also the Havana, Cuba-based band’s debut. That’s lead vocalist Pedro “Tata” Francisco Almeida Barriel on the cover, joined in the group by percussionists Machito, Ramoncito, Roberto Vizcaino Sr. and Roberto Vizcaino Jr, trésero Juan “Coto” de la Cruz, and bassist Gaston Joya. They tap into the essence of rumba and other Cuban styles, with ties to the African root and guitar playing that has a familiar edge to it. Produced by Jacob Plasse, who plays trés guitar in Brooklyn’s Los Hacheros along with running Chulo Records, Okuté has virtuosity to spare but is never slick. At times, like during the killer guitar solo in “Gaston’s Rumba,” it gets downright raw.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2021’s Reissues, Part Two

For part two of 2021’s best reissues the tide turns toward releases of an expansive, often jazzy nature, and with a double dose of punk bite in the mix.

5. Mujician, 10 10 10 (Cuneiform) + Paul Dunmall, Keith Tippett, Philip Gibbs, Pete Fairclough, Onosante (577) Amongst the honorable mentions this year is the initial handful of installments (including a compilation) in Decca’s British Jazz Explosion series, which does a very fine job getting the ball rolling in regards to the worthiness of a scene that’s still thriving in multiple ways (that’s what we call foreshadowing). But in terms of retrospective releases of Brit jazz, I must admit that this pair of discs pulled my chain most effectively in 2021.

The connecting threads are multi-reed man Paul Dunmall and pianist Keith Tippett. The leaderless group Mujician teamed them with Paul Rogers on bass and Tony Levin on drums. Across 10 10 10’s two long selections, the sparks of freedom do fly, but there are still palpable connections to jazz tradition, with these ties never token gestures. Earlier in the year, I compared Mujician’s leaderless thrust to the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and I stand by that, though I’ll add that the two don’t sound all that similar. It’s a matter of tactics.

Keith Tippett, likely the most well-known member of Mujician, died on June 14, 2020, spelling the end of the group, though to my knowledge they hadn’t been active for quite a while, as 10 10 10 is designated as their final studio album, cut in Bristol Music Studios in Bristol, UK on October 10, 2010 (hence the title). Onosante was recorded on November 15, 2000, initially released on CD in an edition of 100, with guitarist Philip Gibbs and drummer Pete Fairclough joining Dunmall and Tippett for a dialogue that’s effectively as leaderless as 10 10 10.

There’s a little more collective heat, skronk, and rumble on Onosante, but the group’s relationship to the jazz root is still discernible and it’s always sincere (never a ritualist move). And in a bit of wonderful news, Onosante is the first of hopefully many Dunmall reissues from 577; the next one, Mahogany Rain by Keith Tippett, Julie Tippetts, Philip Gibbs, and Dunmall, is scheduled for release on February 18, 2022. Killer!

4. Screamers, Screamers Demo, Hollywood 1977 (Superior Viaduct) + The Gun Club, Fire of Love Deluxe Edition (Blixa Sounds) In the never-ceasing ever-flowing world of reissues and archival collections, there’s a need to single out the truly essential items from those that are merely very good or (certainly) less, and not just at the end of a calendar year.

This is especially true of punk rock, as it’s so easy for the impressionable to be led astray. And it’s always necessary to champion the Screamers, the Los Angeles synth-punks from before synth-punk had a name. This demo, finally legitimately released after decades of bootlegging, is as essential as it gets, because in terms of edge, it hasn’t lost a thing.

Now, a fair argument can be made that dropping The Gun Club’s debut album onto this list is just squeezing out the reissue of a punk album that’s in greater need of a spotlight in 2021. Yes, Fire of Love has been reissued a handful of times (including by the very label that put out the Screamers record above) and it’s never been hard to find, but never in an edition with bonus tracks, and certainly not with an entire previously unreleased live set (Live at Club 88 – March 6, 1981) attached.

The point of this pairing (well, one point of the geometry, anyway) is that something special was happening in LA (and all over California, in fact) starting in the late ’70s, which pinpoints the Screamers, and that this specialness was still struggling to be heard in the early ’80s amid a stagnant sea of genericism and commercialism. And so, the Fire of Love, which has never sounded as good and for so long as it does in 2021.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2021’s Reissues, Part One

Shifting attention from the big box sets and multi-LP releases toward (mostly) scaled-down reissues and archival material only expands the pool of worthiness. This list, thematically paired and then broken into two parts, was pared down from a collection of candidates substantially longer and attractively massive, even as it excluded all the stuff that still remains unheard. Although agonizing (sweetly so, as outstanding music is the focus here), decisions just had to be made. Here are some of them.

10. The Raybeats, The Lost Philip Glass Sessions (Ramp Local) + 4 Mars, Super Somali Sounds From the Gulf of Tadjoura (Ostinato) For those digging the Bush Tetras collection Rhythm and Paranoia (which made TVD’s list of 2021’s Best Box Sets), The Lost Philip Glass Sessions serves as a pretty nifty companion, as the bands were part of the same scene (the post-no wave scene, don’tcha know), and indeed, they were both featured on Stiff Records’ Start Swimming compilation in 1981.

For these seven tracks The Raybeats’ core consisted of Don Christensen, Pat Irwin, and Jody Harris (Raybeat Danny Amis figures on two tracks, while Gene Holder helps out on bass and Michael Riesman and producer Glass play keyboards). The sound messes around with a retro sensibility (Link Wray’s “Jack the Ripper” gets covered) that results in a datedness that Bush Tetras never displayed, but that’s alright, as “Pack of Camels” has a feel that’s in the ballpark of the B-52’s (who Irwin eventually played with for a long stretch). It’s the instrumental “Black Beach” that really illuminates Glass’ involvement, and is an appealingly unusual addition to what’s largely a party record.

A groove powerhouse, 4 Mars has undoubtedly heightened many a party, with their music uncovered for non-Somali listeners when Ostinato Records was granted access to the Archives of Radiodiffusion-Télévision de Djibouti, or RTD. First heard through a track on Sweet as Broken Dates, Ostinato’s superb compilation devoted to Somali brilliance that was released in 2017, 4 Mars was a band in the ballpark of 40 members tapped to encourage unity by the political party in charge of the young nation’s independence from France. Super Somali Sounds From the Gulf of Tadjoura is the first volume in the label’s Djibouti Archives series, and to describe it as an eye-opener is an understatement.

It’s also a sheer pleasure for the ear. As established on Sweet as Broken Dates, the region of East Africa represented on these comps was for centuries a major trading hub, which also meant cultural exchange. 4 Mars taps into Jamaica (lots of reggae rhythms), India (definite Bollywood vibes), and the USA (soul, R&B, and funk elements), plus, per Ostinato’s typically excellent notes for the set, influences derived from Turkey, China, Mongolia, and Yemen. But maybe my favorite aspect is the wicked-ass psych guitar solo in “Abaal (Gratitude).” Then again, the accordions are also downright swank. Decisions!

9. V/A, Cumbia Cumbia 1 & 2 (World Circuit) + V/A, Cuba: Music and Revolution Vols. 1 & 2 (Soul Jazz) World Circuit, for decades now one of the our most reliable labels in pursuit of global sounds, released the Cumbia Cumbia LP way back in 1989 and then followed it up with Cumbia Cumbia 2 in ’93, both sets archival as the music was sourced from Columbia’s Discos Fuentes label from ’54-’88. Then, in 2012, they were combined into a single whopper of a volume.

That edition fell out of print right quick, as anyone familiar with the sound of cumbia is likely to understand. Here it is again, a wholly deserving fresh edition, an absolute cornucopia of subtle instrumental variations (allowing for extended and repeated listening to roughly 90 minutes of music), and not a trace of declining quality as the tracks of more recent vintage enter the scheme. But it surely doesn’t hurt that the balance of the set is weighted toward the ’50s-’60s. Please understand that this stuff just doesn’t quit.

These Soul Jazz Cuba comps, both compiled by Gilles Peterson and Stuart Baker, are also numerically designated but were released separately, one early in 2021 and the other late (and as each spans six sides of vinyl, they are technically expanded releases, but we’ll not dwell on that). The combined selections, 45 in all, offer a wide sound spectrum but also continuity, as a handful of artists and groups are featured on both volumes.

If Cumbia Cumbia 1 & 2 thrives on the warmth of classic ensembles at their creative peak, the Cuba sets are as advertised about transitions and new possibilities, with Culture Clash in Havana Cuba: Experiments in Latin Music 1975-85 completing the title of both volumes. While the contents regularly engage with assorted popular genres, what’s refreshing is the absence of trend chasing. Never is there a sense of desperation, but instead a constant stream of broken ground.

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Graded on a Curve: The Best of 2021’s Box Sets

As 2021 draws to a close, the best of the year lists have been ramping up. Unlike in (some) years previous, this rundown of the best box sets and expanded releases could’ve been much longer (doubled, essentially), but to borrow a song title from the Richard Hell and the Voidoids album directly below, there is the issue of Time. Time to listen, time to consider, time to write, time to scrap those ideas and listen again, all while carving out time to listen to more.

As such, lists designating the Best _____ of _____ are never final. No, not really. They are but a document of assessments made and conclusions drawn at a specific moment of…time. Like, right now, dig it? It’s these ten large-scaled releases that had the deepest impact across this last 12-month stretch.  

5. Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Destiny Street Complete (Omnivore Recordings) + Bush Tetras, Rhythm and Paranoia: The Best of Bush Tetras (Wharf Cat) Having been a fan of Hell and the Voidoids’ second and final album since the late 1980s (yes, having sought it out in order to hear “Time,” which had been covered by the Minutemen on their posthumous live comp Ballot Result), I’d long considered it an underrated effort by one of punk’s true originators, and also something of a final (musical) statement, as hardly a recorded peep had been heard from Hell (Dim Stars excepted) for a long while after Destiny Street’s 1982 release.

And so, Destiny Street Repaired, credited to Hell & the Voidoids but featuring guitarists Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell, and Ivan Julian in place of Robert Quine and Naux (both deceased) from the original sessions was a surprise upon arrival in 2009, a recording made possible through Hell’s discovery of a tape holding only Destiny Street’s rhythm tracks, allowing him to correct an album mix he’d long disdained and deliver a wholly worthwhile revision. In 2019, Destiny Street’s original 24-track masters, once thought lost, were uncovered, meaning Hell could finally mix his second album the way he wanted. Destiny Street Complete offers all three versions plus demos, solidifying it as an essential punk document.

The reasons for pairing Bush Tetras with Richard Hell should be pretty clear. There’s geography for one, specifically NYC. There’s genre for another. Sure, Hell is a cornerstone of the First Wave while Bush Tetras are rightly tagged as belonging to the No Wave, but from my perspective, and not to get all Billy Joel up in here, it’s all punk rock to me.

And yet, there is another less obvious reason for coupling Hell and Bush Tetras, and it has to do with beating the odds. Hell did it by not only not screwing the qualitative pooch when altering a record that was long-ensconced in punk history, but actually improving its stature overall. And Rhythm and Paranoia illuminates how Bush Tetras beat the odds over the span of decades by reuniting twice without a trace of crappiness either time. And magnifying the longshot nature of their endeavors, the sound of Bush Tetras evolved significantly, meaning they always sounded like a contemporary band, never a nostalgia act. RIP to Bush Tetras drummer Dee Pop, who passed in his sleep on October 9.

4. Kazuki Tomokawa, 1975–1977 (Blank Forms) + V/A, The Harmonic Series II (Important) 1975–1977 is a 3CD set collecting three LPs, Finally, His First Album (1975), Straight from the Throat (’76), and A String of Paper Cranes Clenched Between My Teeth (’77), all originally issued by Harvest Records (note: not the UK Harvest Records) and all to be reissued separately on vinyl by Blank Forms in 2022 (the three are available for pre-order now, with April the prospective release month as of this writing). The memoir Try Saying You’re Alive!: Kazuki Tomokawa in His Own Words is also available now in hardcover and paperback from Blank Forms Editions.

To borrow Blank Forms’ description, Tomokawa is a “poet, soothsayer, bicycle race tipster, actor, prolific drinker, self-taught guitarist, and living legend of Japanese sound,” an artist many mavens of u-ground Japan know through his extensive association with the P.S.F. label. Called the “screaming philosopher” of Japan, Tomokawa does raise the roof vocally, but importantly, only sometimes. Stylistically, he spans from folk to psych-rock to assorted varieties of pop. The vinyl reissues offer a great opportunity to own them affordably on the format, but the CD box drives home that they should be collected together, as they constitute a whole of engaging diversity. Sometimes with backing singers.

The Harmonic Series II is comprised of six long-form works in just intonation, one each per album side by Kali Malone, Duane Pitre, Catherine Lamb, Tashi Wada, Byron Westbrook, and Caterina Barbieri. It follows the first installment from 12 years hence, that one issued on CD, with both curated by Pitre.  It all joins together to deliver not just a wonderful collection of sounds, but an affirmative statement on the health of an avant-garde tradition that spans back to the 1960s.

Well, further than that, much further than that, to be sure. It was the early ’60s when just intonation began to have an impact on happenings in New York City (woven into the story of the Velvet Underground, subject of one of the best documentaries, on music or otherwise, of 2021), which means that for many, the story (the drone) starts right there. That’s wrong, but enough, as this digression does disservice to the brilliance spanning across The Harmonic Series II, from the pipe organ and bass clarinet in Malone’s piece, the “unknown instrumentation” in Pitre’s, the eight violins in Wada’s, and the varied use of synthesizers in Lamb’s, Westbrook’s, and Barbieri’s. The range is as wide as the pieces are unified.

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for December 2021, Part Two

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Duane Pitre, Omniscient Voices (Important) Pitre is an American experimental composer and musician (borrowing the description from his website) with an extensive discography in the ballpark of 20 full-length releases including collaborations (and excluding compilations, like this year’s outstanding The Harmonic Series II, also on Important), though for Omniscient Voices Pitre is in solo mode on electronics and a justly tuned piano. Equally prioritizing the piano and the electronics, Pitre employs a Max/MSP-based generative network to convert his piano motifs into data that is then fed into a pair of polyphonic, microtonal hardware synths with patches of Pitre’s own authoring. There is also controlled improvisation. The complexity of Pitre’s method (and I’ve even synopsized a bit) might suggest a rigorous if not quite unrelenting experience, but the five pieces (fitting nicely onto LP) engage with the minimal (cited influences: Morton Feldman, Arvo Pärt, Philip Glass, Steve Reich) in a productive and often surprising manner. Tense resonances are plentiful, but also an underlying sense of order. A

Gas, Der Lange Marsch (Kompakt) Gas is the ambient-techno project of Wolfgang Voight, debuting with a self-titled record in 1996, followed by Zauberberg the next year and Königsforst in 1998 (these three were compiled in the 10LP set titled Box in 2016), and then a long break that ended in 2017 with Narkopop. Arriving in 2018 was Rausch, and now Der Lange Marsch, which is comprised of 11 pieces, all of them title-tracks numbered sequentially. Purchasing either the 2LP, CD, or digital from Kompakt’s online store comes with an email download of the 11 files plus all the music in one file as a continuous track (not sure how this works with purchases made in brick-and-mortar shops or even other online retailers, as there is no download card). I mention the continuous track because it would seem to be the best (though certainly not the only) way to experience this set, partly because once the rhythm kicks in, it doesn’t let up, and it doesn’t really change). Still, don’t let the ambient or minimal descriptor give you the wrong idea. There is a lot going on throughout Der Lange Marsch, all of it worthy. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: V/A, Etching the Voice: Emile Berliner and the First Commercial Gramophone Discs, 1889-1895 (Archeophone) Captured by Emile Berliner’s disc gramophone in Europe (Germany to be exact) between the years of the title, these 102 tracks on two CDs represent, per Archeophone (frankly experts on the matter), the earliest and also the scarcest manufactured sound recordings in the world. That wall of LPs you’re (hopefully) cultivating? These sounds are square one. But if it’s a lengthy plunge into late 19th century musicality you seek, please adjust those expectations. Musical pieces, mostly played or sung solo but occasionally by bands or choirs, are certainly part of the weave, but so are recitations of speeches, nursery rhymes, jokes and prayers (mostly in German, sometimes in English or Spanish). There’s even a person clucking like a chicken and barking like a dog. Sweet. Surface noise is abundant, but in fact these recordings sound better now than they ever did before, even when new. It is a fascinating trip enhanced by the wonderful 80-page booklet. A

Doug Carn, Adam’s Apple (Black Jazz – Real Gone) This is the fourth and final record multi-instrumentalist (with a focus on keyboards) and bandleader Doug Carn made for the Black Jazz label (nobody made more, not even the guy who founded the label, Gene Russell). It’s also often nearer to progressive R&B than jazz (“Mighty Mighty” by Earth, Wind & Fire gets a nice cover, that in a sweet twist, delivers Adam’s Apple one of its jazziest moments), but with other enhancing elements integrated into the scheme, e.g. proggy organ (see “The Messenger” for evidence), numerous spiritual jazz motions, and some very interesting use of Moog synth (again, scope out “The Messenger”) Plus, even as Carn’s vocalist wife Jean Carn has departed the scene, there’s still an abundance of vocals (John Conner and Joyce Green joining Doug for the duties). Also: Calvin Keys on guitar. While Adam’s Apple strives for accessibility, it lacks in any brazen commercial gestures, unless you consider R&B to be a brazen commercial gesture. In which case…what in the fuck are you thinking? A-

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Beauty Pill, “Instant Night” (Northern Spy) The title track of this 4-song EP came out digitally last year. In his notes accompanying this physical expansion (clear vinyl in a transparent plastic sleeve and a clear CD with a silver center in a transparent jewel case), Beauty Pill’s singer-guitarist-producer-chief songwriter Chad Clark describes the song’s political-protest genesis, it’s poetical (rather than polemical) sensibility, and it’s unexpectedly quick finish via socially distanced recording (on a rooftop), so that the cut was rush released by Northern Spy in hopes of inspiring citizens to vote in the Presidential election in November of 2020. The track is also noteworthy for its lack of drums and for highlighting Beauty Pill’s woodwind quartet. Clark says it sounds like Phillip Glass music, which is detectable but not blatantly. The main thing is that the song is built to last rather than carrying the rapid-fire datedness of so much political music. The drums roll back into the picture on the other cuts, and the horns stick around for the swank “You Need a Better Mind,” which gets a nifty remix. A-

Robert Ashley, eL / Aficionado (2021) (Lovely Music, Ltd.) Per the title, this is a 2021 recording of an opera by the late avant-gardist Ashley, a work that premiered in 1987 with many performances following over the next seven years and a prior recording released by Lovely Music in ’94. Until October 21-23 of this year at Roulette in NYC, the opera was last performed in 1995. This CD, released on 10/22, features the cast of the 2021 production, with mezzo soprano Kayleigh Butcher stepping into the role formerly played by baritone Thomas Buckner. eL / Aficionado offers a series of conversations between an “agent” (Butcher) and her three interrogators (Brian McCorkle, Interrogator No. 1; Bonnie Lander, Interrogator No. 2; Paul Pinto, Interrogator No. 3). Espionage and intrigue are essential components in the work, but Ashley’s intent wasn’t to construct a spy story, not even a post-modern/ nonlinear example of such. Instead, the unwinding complexity seems focused upon the friction between public personas and private-inner lives. Tom Hamilton’s orchestration, recording, and mixing are essential. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Robert Ashley, Foreign Experiences (Lovely Music, Ltd.) For this 1995 recording of Foreign Experiences, an opera that’s part of Ashley’s early 1990s tetralogy, with Perfect Lives and Atalanta (Acts of God) to follow, Sam Ashley is Don and Jacqueline Humbert is Linda, characters familiar from Improvement (Don Leaves Linda), which preceded Foreign Experiences in said tetralogy, first recorded for Nonesuch in 1991 (a new recording of Improvement (Don Leaves Linda) was released on CD in 2019 by Lovely Music, featuring a new group dedicated to realizing Ashley’s work). For this release of Foreign Experiences, the ensemble consists of Robert Ashley himself along with Thomas Buckner, Margareta Cordero, Joan La Barbara, and Amy X Neuburg, this group having interpreted Ashley’s work from 1992-2012. Here, they are recorded by Tom Hamilton and Cas Boumans, with the release mixed and edited by Hamilton. Even at this relatively early point, the “band” is in prime form, and the prose is some of Ashley’s very greatest. He was an absolute master of language. A+

Calvin Keys, Proceed With Caution (Black Jazz – Real Gone) Keys got his start in the ’60s backing up a slew of soul jazz organ heavyweights, and on Shawn-Neeq, his debut as leader from 1971 (reissued early in 2021 as part of Real Gone’s Black Jazz reissue program and already sold out at the source), it’s not hard to tell, as he has a crisp, lithe, clean approach that’s occasionally reminiscent of Grant Green. Keys notably nixed the organ for Shawn-Neeq, electing instead for the electric piano of Larry Nash, a decision retained for Proceed With Caution, though the pianist this time is Kirk Lightsey. Those allergic to Fusion need read no further, but ears open to the style should understand that while Shawn-Neeq is a solid effort, its follow-up is an all-around improvement; the scope is broader both instrumentally and compositionally, there’s plenty of heat and edge, and nary a trace of smoothness. The year was 1974. Had this been released by one of the major labels in the mid-’70s, say Columbia or Warner Brothers, my guess is it would be perennially in print rather than getting its first-time vinyl reissue in 2021. A

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for November 2021, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for November 2021. Part one is here and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Hedvig Mollestad, Tempest Revisited (Rune Grammofon) Norwegian guitarist Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen has released seven full-length recordings with her trio, all of them on Rune Grammofon, including Ding Dong. You’re Dead in March of this year. This might lead one to the supposition that this is a solo set, but no; recorded in 2019, it offers five tracks by a septet featuring assorted saxophones, vibraphone, bass, two drummers, a little flute and synth, plus Mollestad’s guitar (she’s also credited with vocals, upright piano, and handclaps). Similar to her trio material, the sound here is a robust fusion, merging rock and jazz in a manner that’s primarily hard and heavy (not bluesy) and expansive rather than explicitly proggy. There are a few pleasant atmospheric stretches and some solid groove action that doesn’t go overboard. Considered a bookend to The Tempest, a work by the late and highly esteemed Norwegian electronic musician and composer Arne Nordheim, this album continues a streak of creativity likely to please adventurous rock heads and non-stodgy jazzbos alike. A-

Wet Tuna, Eau’d To a Fake Bookie Vol. 1 & 2 (Hive Mind) Wet Tuna has been showered with enthusiasm in this space before. The outfit is the impetus of MV and PG Six (aka guitarists Matt Valentine and Pat Gubler), two individuals with deep and varied u-ground psych catalogs who’ve played together extensively for the last 25 years or so, back in the day as part of Tower Recordings and more recently as Wet Tuna. This 2LP is a vinyl press of a limited edition 2CD that came out last year on the Child of Microtones label, consisting of six cover selections, with MV and PG Six multitasking instrumentally while welcoming additional hands on bass and drums. The first LP offers two side-long tracks, “When I Get Home” by Pentangle and “Water Train” by Michael Hurley, that brought to mind both Lou Reed and Skip Spence’s Oar. LP two shortens the runtimes but broadens the sound with programmed drums, organ and synth on versions of “Fallin’ Like Dominoes” by The Blackbyrds, “The Harder They Come” by Jimmy Cliff, “Deal” by Jerry Garcia, and “Baudelaire” by Peter Laughner. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Phương Tâm, Magical Nights: Saigon Surf, Twist & Soul (1964-1966) (Sublime Frequencies) South Vietnamese singer Phương Tâm’s entire career is covered by the three-year period of the title, which makes the sheer range on display all the more impressive, as it includes assorted strains of early R&R (with an emphasis on pre-Beatles dance craze igniters), soul-R&B, bluesy numbers, and jazz ballads. The informative texts in the booklet by Magical Nights’ producers Mark Gergis and Hannah Hà (Tâm’s daughter) explain how Tâm was as much of a club performer as a recording artist, often appearing in up to four venues in the course of one evening and necessitating the breadth of style, as some catered to R&R-loving youth while others were more sophisto. Holding it all together on this CD of 25 tracks is Tâm with vocals strong and confident. She might not be as polished as some of her Western inspirations, but that’s actually part of the appeal, as Tâm is never not in control, her verve combining beautifully with the lean energy of the bands. A large serving of personality-laden history. A

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for November 2021, Part Two

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Henry H. Owings, Plus 1 Athens: Show Flyers From a Legendary Scene 1967-2002 (Chunklet Industries) Unless I’m misremembering, Athens, GA was the first city that entered my consciousness specifically as a locale of a music scene. This was no small thing. Although I preferred the sounds of other regions, Athens heavily impacted my consciousness as a place of possibilities achieved, and in my imagination, against substantial odds, at least until I learned that dozens of college towns across the country had scenes. But it’s not like that realization burst my bubble. Offering over 150 flyers (and one guest list) chronicling a city’s musical development, Owings book effectively captures the non-glamor of the Athens experience (this attribute shared with other college rock-indie rock scenes) while documenting a range of styles considerably wider than Southern new wave and jangle.

Owings allows bands no more than three appearances, so instead of 52 flyers of R.E.M., the pages present a narrative of substantial depth as distinct pockets of the scene get illuminated, including the welcome appearance of a few leftfield outfits like Boat Of and the Opal Foxx Quartet, plus a fair amount of out-of-towners, ranging from the Art Ensemble of Chicago to Fugazi to Hasil Adkins and Southern Culture on the Skids. Together with Owings’ thoughtfully personal introduction, there is a forward by Dave Schools of Widespread Panic, an afterword by Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers, and essays from Michael Lachowski and Vanessa Hay of Pylon and Arthur Johnson of the Bar-B-Q Killers. Anybody who fond memories of a wall in their humble college-era dwelling decorated with tacked up show flyers understands the appeal of such supposed ephemera (spawned from necessity). There’s an abundance of it in this book, with its first hand numbered edition limited to 500 copies. A

Daxma, Unmarked Boxes (Blues Funeral Recordings / Majestic Mountain Records) To begin, the name is pronounced DOCK-ma and it’s a term for a Zoroastrian funerary temple. The band, comprised of Isaac R. (guitar-vocals-bass), Jessica T. (violin, vocals, guitar, piano), Forrest H. (guitar, bass), and Thomas I. (drums), is from Oakland, CA, with Unmarked Boxes their second full-length alongside two EPs since 2016. Described as a post-doom combo, Daxma’s ambitiousness is on full display here, with the record drawing inspiration from a poem by the 13th century Persian poet Rumi  (his line “Don’t grieve, anything you lose comes back in another form” titles the last two tracks). The sound is heavy but also atmospheric. Notably, the band employs “post-metal” as a descriptor, which strikes me as a genre extension of post-rock. I bring this up because the atmospheric qualities occasionally brought Godspeed You! Black Emperor to my mind. I’m not the first to mention this similarity; while it’s not overdone, the relationship is certainly there. And that’s swell. So are the vocals. Eminently relistenable. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Leo Nocentelli, Another Side (Light in the Attic) Nocentelli is best known as the guitar player and songwriter in The Meters, the decidedly funky New Orleans institution. This recently-unearthed solo album (the story features “Money Mike” Nishita and a Southern California swap meet), recorded between 1970-’72 with assistance from pianist Allen Toussaint, drummer James Black, and fellow Meters, bassist George Porter Jr. and drummer Zigaboo Modeliste, is largely acoustic and therefore not inaccurately described as folky, but it’s still a pretty funky affair, which is cool. It can be hard not to think of Bill Withers as the songs unwind, but that’s just fine, as thoughts of Bill Withers have never been a problem for me. But along with a few instances that inch toward swamp pop (“Riverfront” reminds me a bit of Tony Joe White with a hint of Shuggie Otis), everybody’s playing is sharp, and Nocentelli’s singing is consistently likeable, especially on “Getting Nowhere” and an album-closing version of Elton John’s “Your Song.” Another sweet surprise from a reissue label full of them. A-

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Patrick Shiroishi, Hidemi (American Dreams) Los Angeles-based Japanese-American multi-instrumentalist & composer Shiroishi named this record in memory of his grandfather Hidemi Patrick Shiroishi, with its contents directly related to his 2020 album Descension, which was primarily an expression of life inside the Japanese-American concentration camps of WWII. That set, featuring saxophone and electronics, stands as an uncompromising yet cathartic experience, but Hidemi, with its more personal focus on his grandfather’s post-camp life, offers great beauty amid passages of raucous power as Shiroishi plays C-melody, soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones, multitracking the horns in studio to often startling effect. While there are elements of free jazz abstraction in the mix, this is a highly structured record that is further elevated by Shiroishi’s vocals on the final track, “The Long Bright Dark.” Vinyl has been pushed back to February/March. There is an accompanying chapbook of essays from Asian-American artists including Susie Ibarra, Jon Irabagon, and Eyvind Kang. A

Sally Anne Morgan, Cups (Thrill Jockey) As a member of the Black Twig Pickers and as half of House and Land, multi-instrumentalist Morgan has amassed a considerable body of work, but it was only last year that her terrific solo debut Thread was released. Cups is its follow-up, released on cassette October 1 with the digital available tomorrow, 11/12. No mention is made of additional contributors, so it’s safe to assume that Morgan is using the studio to its full advantage and playing fiddle, banjo, guitar, dulcimer, and assorted percussion. What might be lost in interactive spontaneity is replaced with intensity of personal vision; Cups is a recording that’s inextricably connected to Appalachian old-time tradition, but with an expansiveness (Thrill Jockey describes it as psychedelic) elevating the contents into the realms of the experimental. In “Hori Hori” the guitar is reminiscent of prime early Fahey (in terms of pure beauty, not dexterity), while closer “Angeline” exudes some tremendous raga vibes. In between there are elements of drone and cyclical maneuvers that are subtly Minimalist. An altogether superb excursion. A

Ross Goldstein, Chutes & Ladders (Odd Cat) This is the third LP in Goldstein’s trilogy for mellotron (preceded by The Eighth House in 2018 and Timoka last year), a highly satisfying culmination that, like the prior two albums, avoids disintegrating into a faux-orchestral swamp. It’s important to note that the entirety of the LP’s sounds derive from the mellotron’s soundcard library (the same is true of The Eighth House and Timoka, with the exception of a field recording of a hot springs on the former and the sound of Goldstein’s cat on the later), and also that Goldstein is using a digital simulation of an original modal. Much of Chutes & Ladders radiates like extracts of film soundtracks, and especially the recording of Beethoven’s “Allegretto,” which sounds like it could’ve been culled from an obscure Eastern European art film from the late ’60s, and a closing reading of Shostakovich’s “Largo.” Many of the original pieces, and particularly so with “Socorro” and “Journey to the End of the Night” (nice Céline reference there) delver a sort of mystical sci-fi atmosphere that brought Tarkovsky to mind, which is fantastic. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: The Bootheels, 1988: The Original Demos (Omnivore Recordings) Doubtlessly some folks who are hip to the background of this band but have yet to soak up the 13 tracks (plus three extra on the CD and digital) have glanced downward just a bit on their screens, absorbed the given grade and are sure the mark’s just too kind: “They were just teenagers, how can it be that good.” Well, for one thing, some of the best R&R ever was made by teens, and The Bootheels are unabashedly R&R in orientation. Second, the lineup doesn’t just feature one musician who went on to proverbial bigger and better, there are four, namely future Freewheeler Luther Russell (also half of Those Pretty Wrongs with Jody Stephens), Jakob Dylan and Tobi Miller, later of The Wallflowers, and Aaron A. Brooks  who went on to play with Moby and Lana Del Rey. This isn’t one budding talent surrounded by modest cohorts, it’s four skilled guys bursting with energy. Yes, their stuff sounds a lot like the Replacements, but had these songs came out in ’88 I would’ve played them a helluva lot more than Don’t Tell a Soul. A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for October 2021, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for October 2021. Part one is here and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Black Marble, Fast Idol (Sacred Bones) Beginning as a duo, with the early exit of TY Kube, Black Marble became the project of Chris Stewart, Brooklyn-based for a while though currently working in Los Angeles. Three full-length records precede Fast Idol in the Black Marble discography, with this set the second LP released by Sacred Bones, who also put out Black Marble’s pink vinyl 12-inch of cover songs last year. I dug that set, and feel the same way about Fast Idol, as Stewart’s approach to techno-pop benefits from vivid multidimensionality of execution. It’s clear by now that scads of folks can regurgitate this sound, but few pull it off as convincingly as Stewart. It comes down to writing as much as timbres and atmospherics. Style descriptors attached to Black Marble include darkwave, minimal synth, and coldwave, none of them inappropriate, but to my ear, the sustained high quality of the songwriting places this album firmly in pop territory, techno- or synth-, take your pick. Highly danceable, but more achily lush. The added guitar in “Say It First” delivers a standout moment. A-

Dinner, Dream Work (Captured Tracks) Dinner is Danish multi-instrumentalist Anders Rhedin, who has a few prior full-lengths out on Captured Tracks, though the man is in fact returning from a sojourn of sorts, as it is divulged that he delved into the potentialities of “ambient and meditation music.” As this is my introduction to Rhedin’s work, it was difficult to discern what kind of impact this break had on his output as Dinner, at least until penultimate track “Born Again” gave way to “Drøm.” There is the sound of running water, there are drifting fields of sound, and there is even a synthetic fluty thingy (maybe two). It’s a nice way to end an album, but leading up to that, Dinner is still squarely about the songs. There are synths, but it’s not synth pop. There are surely guitars, but it’s not exactly guitar pop. Indie? Sure, but it doesn’t easily fit into the old-school or new jack varieties. All of this definitely situates Dream Work as a pop-auteur situation that’s only enhanced by a few neo-’80s-isms, the occasional guy-gal harmonies and the distinctive quality of Rhedin voice, his accent adding value. A-

Kira, S/T (Kitten Robot) Kira Roessler is a bass player of distinction, one of the best I’ve heard in fact, with my esteem directly related to her work in the two-bass duo dos alongside her ex-hubby Mike Watt (her work in other contexts is also worthwhile, in particular her role in Black Flag as she replaced Chuck Dukowski). Kira (as she prefers to be called) is also a fine singer (a talent she sharpened in dos) and crafter of songs (with the bass always at the forefront), making her a triple threat (and even more, as she has multiple credits as sound editor for Hollywood films) who’s only gotten around to releasing her debut solo album in 2021. It’s a good one. A damned good one, even. Although she gets a little help from her friends (and production assistance from her brother Paul), this is firmly Kira’s show, the ten tracks unwinding with a relaxed maturity that still holds the power to captivate. At a few moments, I was reminded of Kim Gordon, though Kira’s work here is pretty firmly rooted in songs. Still her rock bona fides shine through, as she maximizes the potential of her instrument throughout. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Lena Platonos, Balancers (Dark Entries) The discography of Greek pianist and composer Platonos is extensive and begins in the early 1980s, with its fruits falling solidly into the electronic basket, but with clear arty and outright experimental tendencies. She’s particularly noted for three releases, Sun’s Masks (’84), Galop (’85), and Lepidoptera (’86), which have all been reissued by Dark Entries, along with three 12-inch EPs devoted to contemporary remixes of her work. Balancers offers 14 tracks, all unreleased and likely to tempt fans of avant-electronics, especially as the timeframe, specifically ’82-’85, overlaps with the above albums. The reality is that without a specific pointer to the age of these recordings, I would’ve been hard pressed to nail down their era. This lack of datedness is appreciated, as is the range; there are rhythms, but they don’t run rampant. I quite like the numerous tracks where Platonos recites poetry in Greek. During “Now, While You Wait for Your Love,” she even breaks into song. A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for October 2021, Part Two

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Sean Conly, The Buzz (577) Unsurprising for a bassist in contemporary jazz, Conly has extensive appearances on records but a tighter discography as a leader or co-leader. He is part of numerous combos that have yet to hit studios, however. His interactive ingenuity shines out brightly here, with pianist Leo Genovese and Francisco Mela on board for a 10-track set (available on vinyl, CD, and digital) with six of the compositions Conly’s; they also tackle pieces by his frequent collaborator Michael Attias, Paul Motion, Sam Rivers, and Sondheim in a closing reading of “Send In the Clowns.” After multiple listens, it seems the bassist’s billing derives from his authorship of the tunes. As said, Conly is wonderfully expressive (and big in a vibrant recording) but so is Mela and Genovese as the three excel in the tried-and-true piano trio format. Yes, the ties to various traditions are strong, but it’s also crystal clear that The Buzz is the byproduct of minds at the forefront of jazz music’s 21st century flourishing. It’s an LP that’s inviting yet rigorous and an utter treat throughout. A

V/A, Sacred Soul of North Carolina (Bible & Tire Recording Co.) Bruce Watson’s newest label hits a home run with this collection of African American gospel, thematically tight yet invigorating in its diversity, all from Eastern North Carolina, and with the entirety recorded across eight days in February of 2020 in a studio assembled in the storefront of a 100-year-old building in the town of Fountain. Anybody conversant with the long history of Hot Gospel will appreciate how these eleven groups extend the style while exuding vitality that registers as thoroughly of the moment. In this case, “of the moment” is not the same thing as contemporary, though the soulfulness that runs through these 18 selections is still very much relevant to modern music. But what makes this comp so vital is skill honed through passion and community-strengthening conviction. The range of Faith & Harmony’s two tracks, the first an a cappella knockout and the second an organ-rich full band-backed groover is indicative of the whole. Sacred Soul of North Carolina is a non-stop delight, available on 2LP, CD, and digital. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Tito Arevalo, Mad Doctor of Blood Island OST (Real Gone) The first of two Halloween-appropriate soundtracks culled from the vast reservoir of psychotronic grindhouse (or drive-in, depending on the part of the country you’re from) exploitation cheapies. I know Mad Doctor of Blood Island only by its sketchy reputation. Released in 1969, it’s the second film in the Blood Island saga, and in OST terms, this one is likely the most interesting. I come to this speculative conclusion based on Filipino composer Arevalo’s score being reused in the next two Blood Island installments, 1970’s Beast of Blood and ’71’s Brain of Blood, though Mad Doctor’s is the only one that’s fully orchestral. There are also multiple sequences that reinforce Arevalo is being a non-hack, and I’m not just talking about the pieces that can be described as Horror Exotica (to borrow Real Gone’s term). Quite enjoyable if a tad repetitive. Added value: a killer radio spot for the film and its excerpted opening, which features a William Castle-style “drink this vial of green blood” audience gimmick. Those were the days. B+

William Lava, Dracula Vs. Frankenstein OST (Real Gone) Unlike the above, I have watched Dracula Vs. Frankenstein, once many years ago. If I said it was forgettable, I’d be lying. Dracula had a ring that shot flames. Frankenstein was in wheelchair. There were hippies. Bikers. Russ Tamblyn. Lon Chaney Jr. And a carnival on a boardwalk. But memorable doesn’t necessarily equal good. That Al Adamson, one of more enduring figures in the history of exploitation films, directed, helped a bit (this movie reportedly began as a sequel to Adamson’s Satan’s Sadists, which explains the bikers and Tamblyn), but please don’t get the idea that Drac Vs. Frank is some kind of trash masterpiece. Lava’s soundtrack is solid and with moments of distinctiveness, e.g., touches of vibraphone, weird note slides (at one point mingling with some aggressively blown tuba), and even a few cascades of harp. The alternate takes are worthwhile, especially the “Jazz Chase” sequence (which was unused in the film). Also features a radio spot: “Yesterday they were cold and dead, today they are hot and bothered…Rated PG…B+

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