Category Archives: The TVD Record Store Club

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Hprizm, Signs Remixed (Positive Elevation / 577) MC and producer Hprizm, aka High Priest, is well-known as a founding member of Antipop Consortium, one of the cornerstone groups in avant-hip-hop’s turn of the century explosion. Antipop hasn’t released a record since 2009, but Hprizm’s Magnetic Memory came out on the Don Giovanni label in 2018, and he’s following it up with an album remixing Signs, the terrific debut recording of electronic music from crucial contempo avant-jazz drummer Gerald Cleaver, which came out last year on 577. The art of remixing can run the gamut of quality from inventive reinterpretations (that largely retain some semblance of recognizability) to autopilot hackery. Thankfully, in Hprizm’s hands, Cleaver’s pieces serve as a springboard toward invigorating possibilities. Now, if you’re expecting an infusion of slamming beats, please understand that Hprizm’s approach is broad and often abstract (in keeping with Cleaver’s source work). It’s altogether a captivating listen, but I’m especially fond of the throbbing tension in “AKA Radiator.” A

Gerald Cleaver, Griots (Positive Elevation / 577) Signs Remixed is being purposely released in conjunction with Griots, Cleaver’s second excursion into modular electronics, with both issued by 577’s new sublabel, Positive Elevation (“dedicated to electronic experimentation and avant soul.”). Although the majority of Griots’ 11 pieces are titled after individuals of significance to the New Yorker by way of Detroit (e.g. “Cooper-Moore,” “Victor Lewis,” “Geri Allen,” “William Parker”), Cleaver clarifies that this isn’t a tribute record, with his point well taken, as the contents maintain a consistently higher level of quality than most tributes. Rather than assuming that expressions of admiration will transform through sincerity into 30 minutes to an hour of worthwhile listening, Cleaver instead lets his inspirations (which include the Detroit jazz collective Tribe and Faruq Z. Bey of the Motown jazz group Griot Galaxy) serve as a starting point for a deeper delve into electronic territory, with an emphasis on the Motor City techno of his youth. Griots is an acknowledgement of roots, with its sounds vital and unpredictable. A

Assorted Orchids, S/T (Whale Watch) Assorted Orchids is the recording moniker of Massachusetts native T. McWilliams, and this is his debut, though I’ll note that he’s 35 years old, so there’s a steadiness (that life experience can bring) tangible throughout this succinct recording’s ten tracks. Fingerpicking is also consistently in the foreground, but McWilliams hits those steel and nylon strings hard, with this aspect of his sound intensified by the album’s depth of fidelity. I’ll add that guitar and vocals (his singing as prominent in the mix as the picking) are Assorted Orchids’ main ingredients, with Mississippi John Hurt, Donovan, and Nick Drake cited as influences. In terms of overall sound, he’s much closer to the Brits, but except for the aura of intimacy, he doesn’t particularly remind me of either one. There are a few fleeting moments that do make me think of Robyn Hitchcock if he’d been heavily impacted in his formative years by Bert Jansch. And the last couple selections led me to wonder if McWilliams cut this record in a lighthouse, but no, it was tracked at Wonka Sound Studios in the city of Lowell. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Milt Jackson & Ray Charles, Soul Brothers (Rhino) Ray Charles is a pillar of 20th century music, but his discography is large, and from my perspective, the two albums he cut with Milt Jackson for Atlantic are too frequently overlooked, perhaps because neither LP features Charles’ voice. Soul Brothers was the first, released in 1958 (Soul Meeting came out in ’61), and it has an abundance of fine qualities. Naturally, prominent among them is Charles on piano and Jackson on vibes, but the record is just as notable for documenting Charles’ alto sax (the title track and “How Long How Long Blues,” comprising the entirety of side one), and on the album’s mono pressings (which is what Rhino is reissuing) “Bag’s Guitar Blues,” which is the only recording of Jackson playing guitar. If you’re getting the idea that these sessions were relaxed, that’s affirmative, but the playing is sharp for the duration, heightened with Billy Mitchell on tenor, Skeeter Best on guitar, Oscar Pettiford on bass, and Jackson’s Modern Jazz Quartet bandmate Connie Kay on drums. The goodness is inexhaustible. A

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: Ìxtahuele, Eden Ahbez’s Dharmaland (Subliminal Sounds) Eden Ahbez remains best known for writing “Nature Boy,” which was a smash hit in 1948 for Nat King Cole, though in connection with that achievement Ahbez was noted for a proto-hippie lifestyle that included mysticism, health foods, and extended living outdoors (you know, in nature). The Swedish exotica band Ìxtahuele (amongst its members is Mattias Uneback, whose highly enjoyable Voyage Beneath the Sea came out last year, also on Subliminal Sounds) has undertaken the recording of Ahbez’s late compositions, which were located in the Library of Congress by this album’s coproducer (and liner scribe) Brian Chidester. The results are deftly played and with obvious love and respect for the material. Fans of Martin Denny will surely be pleased, but a song like “Dharma Man,” sung by King Kukulele, gives a lighthearted (some might say novelty) spin to the clear influence of Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, and delivers a tune that would’ve fit very nicely on Rhino’s The Beat Generation box set. Like, cool, daddy-o. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: V/A, Chicago/The Blues/Today! (Craft) Recorded for the Vanguard label in 1965 at the behest of Sam Charters, the three LPs in this collection were initially released as separate volumes. They were first reissued together in 1999, and now here they are again for RSD in a triple gatefold sleeve with two sets of notes by Charters and some words from critic Ed Ward (RIP). Issuing them together makes for a more expensive package, but that’s really beside the point, as anybody with an interest will want all three. Bluntly, this material from nine Windy City blues bands is indispensable from side one to side six. The artists tapped are Junior Wells, J.B. Hutto, Otis Spann, James Cotton, Otis Rush, Homesick James, Johnny Young, Johnny Shines and Big Walter Horton with Charlie Musselwhite. Of course, guitars, mouth harps, and pianos are well represented, but Young’s mandolin adds some unexpected breadth. Along with a handful of LPs put out on Delmark by Bob Koester (RIP), this set exemplifies the sound of the Chicago blues in the 1960s. It still delivers an astonishing kick. A

Michel Legrand, La Piscine OST + “Un Homme Est Mort” (WEWANTSOUNDS) Legrand, who passed in 2019, remains one of the greatest of film composers, and one of the best at utilizing the legit essence of jazz. The list of his exceptional scores is long, so instead I’ll mention that this is one of his less celebrated OSTs, at least in the USA, where the 1969 psychological thriller directed by Jacques Deray doesn’t have much of a reputation, at least not until very recently, with its 2021 restoration and theatrical rerelease, 4K Blu-ray from Criterion, and the LP at hand (the bonus RSD-only 45 offers two cuts from a 1972 Deray film scored by Legrand). Starring the smoking hot bods of Alain Delon and Romy Schneider, a soundtrack positively brimming with chicness was required, but Legrand delivers more, grabbing violinist Stephane Grappelli, calling on his vocalist sister Christiane Legrand (a member of the Swingle Singers), and even getting Delaney Bramlett to sing on one of the album’s two pop-rock numbers (but it’s the other one, “Ask Yourself Why,” sung in English by Sally Stevens, that’s the gem). The 45 is a total smoker. A

The Raybeats, The Lost Philip Glass Sessions (Ramp Local) NYC’s The Raybeats featured George Scott, Don Christensen, and Jody Harris, all fresh from the Contortions, and also included Pat Irwin, who played with Scott in 8-Eyed Spy (Lydia Lunch’s band after Teenage Jesus and the Jerks), so the No Wave connection is sturdy. But if you’re expecting pure abrasiveness and alienation, please understand that The Raybeats were tagged at the time as a neo-surf group. One could also call them a party rock combo, a description that points ahead to Irwin’s later work with the B-52’s. Also, Danny Amis, who replaced Scott after his death by overdose, went on to play in Los Straitjackets. Of the seven tracks here, Amis plays bass on a cover of Link Wray’s “Jack the Ripper” and guitar on “A Sad Little Caper.” Those and two more cuts, “Pack of Camels” and “Black Beach,” were produced by Philip Glass, who also played keyboards (and released it all in 2013 on his Orange Mountain Music label, though this is its first time on vinyl). A few of these moves are showing their age, but overall, this hangs together quite well. A-

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Body Meπa, The Work Is Slow (Hausu Mountain) This band of heavyweights (we shan’t call them a supergroup) chose a name that directly references the classic 1978 album by Ornette Coleman and Prime Time, although integrating the Pi symbol and thereby rendering the moniker distinct underscores this unit’s pursuit of their own substantive thing. The four pillars of Body Meπa are Grey McMurray (Sō Percussion, etc.) and Sasha Frere-Jones (of Ui, etc.) on guitars (Frere-Jones also plays bass on one track, “Rice Tea”), Melvin Gibbs (Defunkt, Harriet Tubman, etc.) on bass, and Greg Fox (Guardian Alien, etc.) on drums. Nobody sings. It should be a no-brainer that fans of the participant’s prior activities should seek out The Work Is Slow (available on CD, cassette and digital) at their earliest opportunity, but that doesn’t get to what the record sounds like. As the six tracks unwind, I heard elements of post-rock, a few passages of gliding psych, and even some robust funk. Also, the 1980s SST aesthetic (e.g., Minutemen and Meat Puppets) kept crossing my mind, and that’s just marvelous. A

Green-House, Music for Living Spaces (Leaving) The Los Angeles-based non-binary artist Olive Ardizoni released their debut Six Songs for Invisible Gardens on cassette and digital in January of 2020 (it’s subsequently received CD and LP editions that are still available; the tape is sold out), a recording that sounded exactly like what its title promised (that is, music for the benefit of transparent plants) while simultaneously and subtly exceeding expectations. Part of why related to Ardizoni enhancing their environmental objective through sheer electronic range while never losing focus of the goal. The same is true for this follow-up, which is rich with analog synths and vintage keyboard tones alongside recordings of nature such as babbling brooks, reverberating insects, birdsong and falling rain. Often gentle and always eschewing the disruptive, there are welcome unexpected elements, and right away with the regality of tone in opener “Top Soil.” Music for Living Spaces (also available on cassette, CD and LP) is relaxing and functional, but it’s as deep as it is pretty. It’s ultimately very moving. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Juana Molina, Segundo (Crammed Discs) While undertaking a synopsis of Argentine singer-songwriter and sound sculptor Molina’s prior work in a review of her terrific 2017 album Halo, I assessed this album, her second, as “a considerable step forward.” That was intended as high praise. However, given the extensive background provided in this 2LP reissue’s liners regarding the recording’s slow progression toward breakout success (let’s just say the journey was impacted by a few chance encounters), the terseness of my description reads like short shrift. I’ll add that getting reacquainted with Segundo on the occasion of this edition (which benefits from a quality remastering job) finds it rising in my esteem and deepening my impression that I underrated it, if inadvertently. For those unfamiliar but curious to hear more of Molina’s work, this is a fine starting point. While its contents can be tagged as folktronica, Molina ultimately transcends the designation. Fans of the Beta Band and Rita Lee’s work in Os Mutantes who don’t know Molina have some good times ahead. A

Can, Live In Stuttgart 1975 (Mute) Captured from the audience on a Halloween night, the first installment in Mute’s series of Can live documents is absolutely essential, even if you’re already familiar with the recording (as the sound has been cleaned up considerably by sole surviving founding member Irmin Schmidt). Those who haven’t heard it should prepare for a jaw-dropping experience, as Can nixed a run-through of established tunes for five jams, titled numerically as “Eins,” “Zwei,” “Drei,” “Vier,” and “Funf” (and sans vocals, as Damo Sazuki had recently left the band). The whole is high of discipline, intensity and extendedness. Of particular note for their durations are the 20-minute opener and the 36-minute “Drei,” the latter a startling excursion that justifies purchase of the 2CD/ 3LP all by itself. Along with the sheer pleasure of hearing Schmidt, Jaki Liebezeit, Michael Karoli, and Holger Czukay firing on full cylinders, it’s notable that the psychedelic thrust of these pieces travels into regions that aren’t readily taggable as Krautrock. It is identifiable at superb, however. A

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Joe Morris / Damon Smith, Gusts Against Particles (Open Systems) Free improv/ avant-jazz guitarist Joe Morris has been active since the 1970s, debuting on record with Wraparound by his trio on his own label Riti in 1983. Double bassist Damon Smith is nearly two decades Morris’ junior and young enough that punk rock (’80s US u-ground division) was a source of inspiration before jazz and free improv. He’s recorded a bunch, and like Morris, he started his own label, Balance Point Acoustics. On his instrument, Smith is a beast, and in fact, so is Morris; as Gusts Against Particles plays, the sheer breadth of technique grows to utterly striking levels, largely because the goal is intensity of interaction. Morris’ sound is at times reminiscent of Derek Bailey and Eugene Chadbourne (in free improv mode) but he is ultimately his own man. The same is true of Smith as he pulls gargantuan notes on his bass and wrangles passages of massive extendedness. A wonderfully recorded LP (Smith’s breathing is audible at a few points) in an edition of 200 as Open Systems’ first release. With two digital bonus tracks. A

Maxine Funke, Seance (A Colourful Storm) New Zealander Maxine Funke sings and plays guitar with an uncommon gentleness that’s decidedly late-night and never cutesy. In fact, at a few points, like during the terrific “Moody Relish,” Funke conjures an atmosphere that’s notably tense. That same track also had me thinking of Young Marble Giants, a comparison that never crossed my mind when soaking up her 2018 LP Silk. Like on that album, Seance dives deep into the lo-fi folky zone, with that sound heard most straightforwardly in “Homage.” But as on Silk, Funke expertly evades cliché. As side one played, I thought more than once of Skip Spence’s Oar, which is high praise, as that record is a masterpiece. So is this one. Having played in $100 Band with Alastair Galbraith and Mike Dooley (also her bandmate in The Snares), Funke has roots in the Kiwi underground, and while the relationship remains tangible as her latest unwinds, her music isn’t easily comparable to others from the same scene, which is to her credit. It’s also worth noting that Funke’s strain of lo-fi is economical rather than murky. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Chora(s)san Time-Court Mirage / Catherine Christer Hennix, Blues Alif Lam Mim (Blank Forms Editions) Since 2018, Blank Forms has enriched the world with a yearly release of work by the Swedish composer Catherine Christer Hennix. The first three date from the 1970s, but this set is of more recent vintage, the piece (full title: Blues Alif Lam Mim in the Mode of Rag Infinity/Rag Cosmosis) performed in 2014 in Brooklyn at ISSUE Project Room by Hennix and her expanded just intonation ensemble Chora(s)san Time-Court Mirage and issued on CD in 2016 by Important Records; this 2LP (in a tip-on gatefold Stoughton jacket) is its vinyl debut. The ensemble features a five-horn brass section, live electronics and three voices (one of them Hennix herself) as the music extends to nearly 80 minutes at the intersection of drone, raga and the cosmic. The effect is meditative (the singers incant a devotional poem written by Hennix in Arabic that includes quotations from the Quran) but wields power and beauty in equal measure. Avant-garde sounds are rarely this welcoming. A

Mark Fry, Dreaming With Alice (Now Again Reserve) In 2013, an original copy of this record, first released by RCA subsidiary It in 1972, sold for a smidge over $4,000. When obscurities go for that much, it’s safe to assume the master tapes are lost and someone’s planning a reissue mastered from clean vinyl. But Now Again’s edition, available on wax and CD, is sourced from the rediscovered tapes, and the fidelity is totally up to snuff. The music is psych-folk of unusually high quality and sustained levels of bentness, and the story (in short) is that while studying painting in Italy, Fry cut this record for It, the label teaming him with the visiting Scottish band Middle of the Road. Along with a title song that’s broken into segments (each featuring a verse) and spread across the album, there are flutes and sitars and a general druggy atmosphere, with the folky vibes mildly reminiscent of Nick Drake and Donovan. A prior reissue by Akarma came in a sleeve paying homage to/ ripping off the cover of Barabajagal, but this sports the original design and adds six CD bonus cuts of a substantially mellower disposition. A-

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: V/A, Arc Mountain (Hausu Mountain / Deathbomb Arc) This release, a benefit with all profits going to the Last Prisoner Project (a nonprofit committed to cannabis criminal justice reform), features artists from the Deathbomb Arc and Hausu Mountain labels in collaboration, with the cassette released by Hausu Mountain and the CD by Deathbomb Arc. Contributors include Dustin Wong, Margo Padilla aka I.E., They Hate Change, J Fisher, Fielded, Signor Benedick the Moor, TALSounds, Angry Blackmen, George Chen, Jonathan Snipes, White Boy Scream and more, with particularly heavy input from Fire-Toolz and Khaki Blazer. The contents range from wild blasts of underground hip-hop to varied strains of avant-pop to bent electronics to noisy soundscapes, with some instances of overlap and the uniting bonds being the liberating spirit of experimentation and a clear disdain for the soul-sucking rigidity of norms, both musical and societal.  Upon repeated listens, the gripping assemblage of twisted teamwork (mostly twos but a couple threes) coheres into a larger statement of considerable power. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: BMX Bandits, Star Wars (Last Night From Glasgow) Headed by sole constant member Duglas T Stewart and with input on this album from Francis McDonald and Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub and Gordon Keen and Eugene Kelly of Eugenius (Kelly was also in The Vaselines), BMX Bandits are one of indie pop’s finest cult bands, but with a refined blend of kindheartedness and twee tendencies that inspired many to reject them. Although there is a sense of the awkward in Stewart’s vocals (which has resulted in comparisons to Jonathan Richman, though they don’t sound alike to my ear), it never comes of as a mannerism, and that’s cool. What definitely not awkward is Stewart’s songwriting, which blossoms beyond the standard indie pop jangle. One example is “Extraordinary,” (sure to drive twee-haters up a wall), which sounds a little like young Dan Treacy if he was heavy into Nilsson and bubblegum pop rather than Syd Barrett. And instrumentally, the flare-ups of baroque strings remind me a bit of Big Star’s Third. And that’s just dandy. First time on vinyl outside of Japan. A-

V/A, Made to Measure Vol.1 (Crammed Discs) As part of Crammed Discs’ 40th anniversary, here’s a reissue on vinyl and compact disc of the inaugural entry in the Belgian label’s series dedicated to music that either could’ve been or deliberately was made as a soundtrack to other artforms, e.g. film, theater, dance, and even a fashion show, as is the case with this album’s track by Benjamin Lew, “A la recherche de B.” The other contributors are Minimal Compact, with four tracks commissioned for live dance; Aksak Maboul, with the album highlight “Scratch Holiday,” supposedly crafted (with a turntable, a ’60s pop 45, and orange marmalade) to soundtrack a movie, and six tracks intended to accompany a theatrical play; and Tuxedomoon, with three cuts composed for a documentary film. The guest violin by Jeannot Gillis (of Julverne and Univers Zero) for Minimal Compact, who are sequenced first, lends an appealing circularity, as Tuxdeomoon (and violin) close side two. But in fact, as the record plays, the sound is quite unified as it stirs thoughts of Rock in Opposition, Ralph Records, and early ’80s avant-pop in general. A-

Telex, This Is Telex (Mute) The best way to experience Telex is probably by soaking up one of their songs in a larger mix of material, like during some cat’s late night college radio show, in the midst of a friend’s mixtape, or as spun by a DJ in a club while waiting patiently for the headliner. Over the years, I’ve heard a few people opine that Telex was a novelty act, a conclusion drawn essentially because of their penchant for interpreting the material of others in the then nascent electronic pop style. I disagree. Taken individually, Telex’s songs are frequently pleasant, partly through catchiness but also due to the enduring appeal of their formative aura. But when heard sandwiched between the songs of others, Telex sticks out, largely because they were operating with a different sensibility. The trio’s versions of “La Bamba” (included on this LP/ CD compilation) and “Rock Around the Clock” (which isn’t, giving hopes for a follow-up volume) underscore the non-angsty ’50s-ish R&R spirit they brought to the scene. But there’s more to Telex, like a sweet version of Sparks’ “The Number One Song in Heaven.” A-

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Sarah Louise, Earth Bow (Self-released) Once upon a time, Sarah Louise Henson was primarily known for her skills as a fingerpicking guitarist and then a little later, as half of the progressive Appalachia duo House and Land with Sally Anne Morgan. But with her pair of LPs for Thrill Jockey, Deeper Woods (2018) and Nighttime Birds and Morning Stars (2019), she began making expansive headway that has come to some beautiful conclusions with her latest, Earth Bow. The blend of New Age and kosmische and drones and psychedelia might not seem like much of a big deal, seeing as how variations on this combination have been pretty common over the last decade or so, but a few things are working in Sarah Louise’s favor. Foremost, she’s deeply invested in song form, even flirting with pop here and there. Second, those songs can get quite intense. Earth Bow didn’t help me to relax; it took me for a ride. Third is her voice, powerful and beautiful, deepening the attentiveness to matters of nature and healing and bringing added dimension to the LP. It’s called sincerity. It means a lot. A

Innov Gnawa, Lila (Daptone) Based in NYC, Innov Gnawa is comprised of five Moroccan expats led by Mâallem Hassan Ben Jaâfer, who sings and plays the guembri, the three-stringed African bass (also called the Sintir), the featured instrument of Joshua Abrams on the latest record by his band Natural Information Society (a new release pick in this column just two weeks ago). The sound of the guembri here is traditional in nature, amply anchoring and propelling a style that’s been tagged as Sufi Blues. Please note that this sound is distinct from Malian Desert Blues, as Innov Gnawa’s four other members, Amino Belyamani, Ahmed Jeriouda, Samir LanGus, and Nawfal Atiq, along with singing richly in response to Ben Jaâfer’s powerful lead, all play metal castanets called qraqebs. An exception is the closing track “Hamdouchia,” which features Ben Jaâfer alone, his guembri playing as the start reminding me of Jimmy Garrison’s solo preludes in performance with John Coltrane (e.g. Live in Japan). Lila (which translates to “night” and describes an all-night Sufi musical healing ceremony) is utterly sublime. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Michael Nesmith, Different Drum: The Lost RCA Victor Recordings (Real Gone) The albums Michael Nesmith cut for RCA, six from 1970-’73, are still too often overlooked today, a circumstance that directly extends from their general neglect by consumers when they were new in the racks. While not flops (Magnetic South, his debut with The First National Band, produced the Top 40 hit “Joanne”), they certainly undersold in relation to RCA’s hopes for the man freshly departed from The Monkees. Now, for those with a long abiding love for Nesmith’s distinct strain of country-rock worthiness (abetted by the pedal steel of O.J. “Red” Rhodes, drummer John Ware, and bassist John London, under the supervision of Chet Atkins and Felton Jarvis), this CD is a sweet dish 22 tracks deep from across his time with RCA. Yes, it’s loaded with alternates and the back end is mostly instrumentals, but there’s distinctiveness in the versions and the playing is as shit-hot as skillet gravy. So I guess that means this set will make a fine primer for those having not yet plunged into Nesmith’s solo stuff. A-

Zouo, Agony憎悪Remains (Relapse) This set is the second in what’s hopefully an ongoing series of reissues by Relapse diving into 1980s Japanese hardcore; the first, Detestation, the debut LP from the highly influential band GISM (I’d call them legendary, but they appear to be currently active), emerged late last year. Agony憎悪Remains collects the debut 4-song 7-inch EP by Zouo, originally released in 1984, and adds two comp tracks from the same year to complete side one. The flip offers nine live cuts culled from Relapse’s 41-track digital release. It’s not clear if the vinyl editions (there appears to be four different color variations available but selling quickly) come with a download card; this review focuses on the 15-tracks grooved into the wax. Metal-core was too often hackneyed, but at its bizarre and extreme best, Japan’s strain was in a class by itself. Speed is integral, but it’s never the soul objective. Pristine fidelity gets nixed as murk and echo are abundant; indeed, some of the live stuff sounds like it was recorded in a metal culvert by a single microphone from 25 feet away. This is just as it should be. A-

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Toumani Diabaté and the London Symphony Orchestra, Kôrôlén (World Circuit) GRAMMY-winning kora specialist Diabaté is one of the cornerstones of traditional Malian music and also a diverse collaborator, with his partners including his countrymen Ali Farka Touré and fellow kora player Ballaké Sissoko, plus Taj Mahal, Roswell Rudd, Björk, and now the London Symphony Orchestra. As the delightful Promises, in which the LSO support electronic musician Floating Points and saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, was released just last month, it might seem the London Symphony are on something like a creative roll, but Kôrôlén dates from a 2008 concert at the Barbican Centre in London, with Ian Gardiner and Nico Muhly arranging the orchestra. The infusion of non-classical styles with the ol’ longhair tradition has historically been an iffy impulse at best, but this album, if not perfect in its combination of distinct aesthetics, does succeed, both through sensitivity (on the part of the orchestra) and flights of beauty from the kora, the balafon, and late in the LP, vocals. A-

Tristan Kasten-Krause, Potential Landscapes (Whatever’s Clever) Kasten-Krause is a NYC-based composer and bassist who, in addition to playing on Broadway in Oklahoma!, has been recruited to play on works by Steve Reich and Alvin Lucier. More pertinent to Potential Landscapes’ reality is Kasten-Krause’s involvement with his city’s “DIY and experimental scenes,” and by extension, his desire to make a record rooted in deeper levels of collaboration than is the norm in avant-garde circles, with Cloud Nothings drummer Jason Gerycz, experimental vocalist Lisel (Eliza Bagg), Tigue percussionist Matt Evans, electric guitarist-composer Brendon Randall-Myers, and violinist Carol Johnson bringing (per the PR for the release) their “musical practices” to the album, rather than simply realizing Kasten-Krause’s ideas, which are drone-based and more specifically rooted in the work of Lucier, Éliane Radigue, Jon Gibson, and Phill Niblock. The results are varied and yet deliver a coherent statement, and digestible, as the four tracks fit onto a single LP. An edition of 250 on wax, each with a unique hand-painted sleeve. A-

Michael Sarian & Matthew Putman, A Lifeboat (Part I) (577) Last year, in the midst of the pandemic, keyboardist Putman and trumpeter Sarian began playing together (with the necessary precautions) at Studio Hicks, which is in fact another name for Sarian’s home, in an attempt to keep the creativity flowing and to maintain basic sanity. Two short digital-only volumes were subsequently released (both still available for download), with each sporting the serviceable tag of Improvisations. They combined into a statement of beauty and urgency. This set, available digitally, on digipak CD and LP (limited copies on red, cyan blue, and black), wholly extends that worthiness (Part II is scheduled for release later this year). While Putman continues to play an electric model keyboard in this duo, its chiming resonances distinct from the acoustic mode he explores in the Telepathic Band and elsewhere, Sarian adds flugelhorn to the equation, maybe not a giant leap but still notable when considering the lean potency of these dialogues. The late-night aura gets tempered here, more through familiarity than design. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Paul Dunmall, Keith Tippett, Philip Gibbs, Pete Fairclough, Onosante (577) Like many jazz artists, UK saxophonist Dunmall is ridiculously prolific; this quartet session with his fellow Brits, pianist Tippett, guitarist Gibbs and drummer Fairclough, came out on CDr in 2000 in an edition of 100, meaning it was likely to be overlooked amid the more than 150 releases in Dunmall’s discography (that’s not counting the “sideman” dates). And so, it’s especially worthy of reissue (577 is offering a handsome digipak in an edition of 200), partly because Dunmall, in addition to tenor and soprano, plays fife and bagpipes here. The unusualness of the instrumental configuration undeniably adds to the appeal, and right away, as Gibbs’ guitar resonates like a mbira and Tippett dishes some washes of prepared piano. More importantly, the inspired interplay is sustained across the CD, and notably during the nearly 35-minute “For Lost Souls.” Along with the spark and energy of free improv, there is warmth that’s recognizably jazzy. The good news is 577 has more Dunmall scheduled for later in the year. A

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Natural Information Society with Evan Parker, descension (Out of Our Constrictions) (eremite) Formed in Chicago by multi-instrumentalist Joshua Abrams in 2010, the Natural Information Society on this 2LP features Jason Stein on bass clarinet, Mikel Patrick Avery on drums, and Lisa Alvarado on harmonium and effects, with Abrams on guembri and British saxophone titan Evan Parker completing the lineup of 7/9/2019, captured live in London at Cafe OTO as they explore the possibilities of one piece for 75 minutes. Naturally, it’s divided across four sides of vinyl, but in an interesting twist, also into four mp3s, which formulates a digital experience that’s a little like listening to the first CD edition of Coltrane’s Om (where the vinyl fadeout-rise up was retained). This might seem like an odd digression, but not so much when Coltrane’s impact on Parker is considered. His breath tangles with Stein are simply magnificent (indeed, evoking Trane and Dolphy), but it’s the incessant groove (with ties the Chicago House) and Alvarado’s wonderful contribution that enhances the unique flavor. A

Christine Ott, Time to Die (Gizeh) Ott’s skills as a multi-instrumentalist and composer are well-established, both through her solo albums (this is her fourth overall) and more recently in the side-project duo Snowdrops with Mathieu Gabry; earlier in her career, Ott contributed extensively to Yann Tiersen’s band. For Time to Die, she sings and plays piano, harp, and the Ondes Martenot (something of a signature instrument for her), along with adding percussion, Jupiter8, timpani, tubular bells, monotron and vibraphone. Gabry also contributes on a variety of instruments, and it’s the spoken voice of Casey Brown that’s heard in the opening title-track (reading a “beloved cinematic text” I shan’t spoil). Offered as a sequel to Ott’s 2016 LP Only Silence Remains, this record’s stylistic range is appealingly wide, beginning in a dark ambient-electronic zone and gradually drifting into assorted modes of modern classical, and with particular emphasis on her skills as a pianist. Although this isn’t a soundtrack (Gizeh calls it a “musical fresco in eight chapters”), Ott’s strengths as a film composer do shine through. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: V/A, Sound Storing Machines: The First 78rpm Records from Japan, 1903-1912 (Sublime Frequencies) The output of Sublime Frequencies is reliably captivating, and this set is no exception, the third in a series devoted to early recordings from Asia, all compiled by Robert Millis of the Climax Golden Twins. The prior volumes are The Crying Princess: 78rpm Records from Burma and Scattered Melodies: Korean Kayagum Sanjo, both released in 2013, and of the three, this set reaches back the farthest. Flat disc recording (as opposed to Edison-style cylinders) had only been in existence for a few years prior to the timeframe of this LP/ CD, so the audio quality isn’t optimal as surface noise is abundant. But I somehow doubt that anybody excited to hear these offerings will be too bothered by the rough ambience. No doubt many will welcome it. As Millis observes in his notes, the haze of surface noise intensifies the aura of strangeness. Amongst the most unusual are two by Suenaga Togi with the Imperial Household Orchestra, but the overall value easily eclipses the weird. A

V/A, MIEN (YAO) – Cannon Singing in China, Vietnam, Laos (Sublime Frequencies) Recorded and produced by Laurent Jeanneau aka Kink Gong, this LP offers three vocal duos, Keo and Na (from Laos), Deng Fu Mei and Zhang Wu Mei (from China) and Yang Chun Jin and Yang Bao Cheng (also from China), plus one track by Gap Choun (from Vietnam) that combines singing with considerable percussive clatter and bash. Succinctly, the Yao are hill tribes residing in the countries of the title, and the Mien are the largest branch of the Yao. While the vocal style doesn’t vary all that much across these pieces, the nearly 20 minutes of Keo and Na (sequenced first) becomes quite hypnotic as it progresses and is further enhanced by its nature as a field recording. There is birdsong (very welcome), but also at a few points a low hum that injects a mysterious tension into the scheme of things, at least until it becomes apparent that it might just be a distant motorbike. Due to its prominent rhythmic component, I kinda dig the Gap Choun piece the best, but nothing captured here is the slightest bit disappointing. A-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
March 2021, Part Four

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: Xiu Xiu, OH NO (Polyvinyl) This album features Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart in a series of duets with an impressive list of contemporary artists, including Sharon Van Etten, Haley Fohr (Circuits Des Yeux), Greg Saunier (Deerhoof), Owen Pallet, Chelsea Wolfe, Jonathan Meiburg (Shearwater), Alice Bag, and Stewart’s Xiu Xiu bandmate Angela Seo. 15 duets, well, 14, as the very brief “ANTS,” while a delightful finale, sounds like it’s Valerie Diaz all by her lonesome. Now, when a singer shares the mic on a record with a bunch of different folks, my expectations generally lean toward an enjoyable but not especially challenging affair, so I was intrigued by OH NO, as easy listening has never been Xiu Xiu’s specialty. Hey, good news: it still isn’t. The scoop here is that the making of OH NO served as therapeutic for Stewart, or more to the point, helped him to regain some faith in humanity after suffering a few betrayals. Instead of just a pileup of songs, this unwinds like a Xiu Xiu record, but with a handful of surprises, like a Cure cover, and the swank electro-pop of “A Bottle of Rum” with Liz Harris. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Ali Farka Touré, Red (World Circuit) Released in 1984 by Disques Espérance, a subsidiary of the French Sonodisc label, this wasn’t Touré’s recording debut, but it did substantially raise the Malian guitarist profile and proved enduringly influential, particularly after World Circuit (and Nonesuch in the US) combined it on CD in 2004 with Touré’s ’88 LP, as Red & Green, that name referring to the original eponymous releases’ sleeve colors that have come to stand in as titles that distinguish the two. Growing up in the 1980s, it was stated back then with regularity that World Music was mostly consumed by Yuppies (particularly those who were ex-hippies), but I can’t imagine those cats willingly hanging with the exquisite, barbed rawness of Red’s desert trance blues. Featuring just Touré on a Bulgarian-made acoustic and percussionist Hama Sankare on calibash, this set is pretty much required listening for fans of Tinariwen and for those into the output of the Sahel Sounds label, but it’s also recommended to curious newbies who are partial to the Delta blues and drone music. A

V/A, Cumbia Cumbia 1 & 2 (World Circuit) Cumbia is the celebrated dance music of Columbia, deep of rhythm and spiked with rich horns, spritely accordions and passionate vocals. I can think of no better primer into the goodness of the style than this set, which combines two albums originally issued by World Circuit in 1989 and ’93, the second one on CD only until they were first offered together in 2012. But more importantly, these four sides are packed with material that was first issued by the Discos Fuentes label, the first album spanning 1960-’88, while the second is a deeper dive into the ’50-’60s. What this means is that, unlike a multitude of other decades-spanning comps that become less vital as they progress forward chronologically, this baby is a certifiable fiesta of swinging throughout. Seriously, “Santo Domingo” by Los Cumbiamberos De Pacheco, sequenced deep into side three, feels like the standout of the record, but then side four delivers a ceaseless succession of gems. If you dig Afro Cuban sounds and salsa but aren’t hip to cumbia, this will hit a sweet spot you didn’t know you had. A

Tower of Power, 50 Years of Funk & Soul – Live at the Fox Theater – Oakland, CA – June 2018 (Mack Avenue) As the title relates, San Francisco’s Tower of Power has been around for a long time, hitting that golden anniversary in 2018 and marking the occasion with a run of shows in their hometown, augmenting the 10-piece core band with more horns and even a (sparingly used) string section. And the generosity of the band’s performance is matched by Mack Avenue’s multiformat documentation, as they offer a 3LP, a 2CD/ DVD combo and a standalone DVD. Drum tight and highly polished, Tower of Power embody the sound of communal celebration that’s comparable to Parliament, though minus George Clinton’s eccentricity. Instead, ToP just combine their incessant James Brown-like grooves with a soulful pop inclination that can occasionally suggest ’70s Philadelphia. And while the musicianship is impeccable, the virtuosity never kneecaps feeling, which is kinda miraculous given the nature of the endeavor. I’ll close by mentioning the coincidental timeliness of “Soul Vaccination.” A-

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Janet Simpson, Safe Distance (Cornelius Chapel) This is the first album for Birmingham, AL-based Simpson, but she’s recorded extensively, in her own groups (Delicate Cutters, Timber) and backing others (Wooden Wand, Will Stewart), and the prior experience is palpable. Gazing at the sleeve for Safe Distance, I kept imagining a mid-’70s private press LP heavily influenced by Joni Mitchell, but that’s not Simpson’s deal. Instead, think prime Lucinda Williams, but a tad more rocking, as if the players were recruited from Paisley Underground bands. Now, that isn’t to imply psychedelia, but rather Neil Young; Simpson’s Americana is appealingly tough. I also dig her preference for Fender Rhodes over pedal steel, though her use of the keyboard is nicely understated, as she’s not shooting for a retro vibe. There are a few tracks that broaden the spectrum a bit, including “Mountain,” where Simpson’s vocals conjured thoughts of Chrissie Hynde, and also finale “Wrecked,” which in its closing seconds had me thinking of, well, Joni. How ‘bout that… A-

Deniz Cuylan, No Such Thing As Free Will (Hush Hush) Based in Los Angeles, guitarist Cuylan delivers an impressive debut that manages to assemble a wide array of styles without coming off like a hodgepodge. It’s an integrated approach that’s as likely to please ears attuned to neo-classical as it’ll gently goose fans of fingerpicking. Cuylan’s folk side has some affinities with Bert Jansch (particularly circa Avocet), though his playing in “Flaneurs in Hakone” is reminiscent of the Takoma sound at its most florid. That’s great. But the sturdy patterns of “Purple Plains of Utopia” nicely back up the comparisons made elsewhere to Steve Reich and the Durutti Column, while the atmospheric swells and Brian Bender’s cello in “She Was Always Here” help to establish the connection to contempo classical gorgeousness. But fear not, for the calm beauty in these pieces is accompanied by weight and edge that easily fends off the dangers of insubstantiality. And while his playing is clearly dexterous, that’s never Cuylan’s point, which only reinforces the depth of the LP. An unusually rewarding debut. A-

Plankton Wat, Future Times (Thrill Jockey) Like a lot of folks, guitarist Dewey Mahood started out playing in a punk band. He’s come a long way since then, collaborating and contributing to numerous contexts, with the prolific outfit Eternal Tapestry having the highest profile (alongside Plankton Wat), but I mention those punk beginnings because Mahood’s inclination for cosmic drift and psychedelic expansiveness possesses a bit more bite when compared to many other like-minded practitioners. Indeed, for extended portions, Future Times gets downright strange as the guitar is as agitated as it is exploratory. There is a substantial thread of darkness spanning across the record as well, which is fitting given Mahood’s focus on the state of the planet as revealed in track titles “The Burning World,” “Modern Ruins,” “Dark Cities,” and “Defund the Police.” But I’ll emphasize that Future Times is still a highly transportive experience, and ultimately quite positive, especially as it concludes with the fuzzed-up beauty move and slow fadeout of “Wild Mountain.” A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Knoxville Girls, In a Ripped Dress (Bang!) Featuring Jerry Teel (Honeymoon Killers, Boss Hog, Chrome Cranks), Kid Congo Powers (The Cramps, The Gun Club, The Bad Seeds), Bob Bert (Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore, Bewitched), Jack Martin (Five Dollar Priest) and Barry London (Oneida), this bunch, who cut three records for In the Red from ’98-’01, aren’t girls, and neither are they from Tennessee (the name likely derives from a murder ballad, recorded by, amongst many others, The Louvin Brothers, The Country Gentlemen and…The Lemonheads). These demos of songs that mostly turned up in finished form on third LP In a Paper Suit sound like they were cut in a shack on the outskirts of a swamp but were actually recorded in NYC. Rubbing scuzzy, fuzzy R&R against damaged hick sensibilities, greasy sparks do fly. Hank Williams and Hasil Adkins get covered, but so does “Sophisticated Boom Boom” by The Shangri-Las. London’s organ brings some garage zest to the party, and the fiddle in opener “Any Reason to Celebrate” sparked thoughts of the Mississippi Sheiks. A-

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: John Krausbauer and Kaori Suzuki, Night Angel of Dual Infinities (Beacon Sound) This is the last of Beacon Sound’s releases for Bandcamp Friday, which yes, means it was issued last week, but as I wasn’t made hip to its existence until that very day, here we are. This is a 100-copy edition, 35 of them paired with a Risograph-printed art booklet (six are remaining as of this writing) and the rest offered as a standalone 45rpm 140gm 12-inch tucked into hand-assembled matte jackets with hand-stamped labels. It is, succinctly, an art object of unusually high quality, with the accompanying sounds, a single 21-minute, 45-second piece divided in two, equally exquisite. Krausbauer of Oakland, CA and Suzuki, Tokyo-born but also an Oakland resident, specialize in the drone, or as Beacon Sound’s PR puts it, trance psychedelia; it’s a form for which I’ve developed an affinity over the years, and this piece is easily one of the finest examples of sustained reverberation that I’ve heard in quite some time. Devotees of La Monte should step up to the plate because this baby won’t be around much longer. A

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Theory of Ice (You’ve Changed) Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is a Mississauga Nishnaabeg writer, editor, musician, academic and activist, with her work focused on the Indigenous experience in Canada. Her books are many, including the fiction work Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies, and with Theory of Ice, she is releasing her fourth album. It is the first I’ve heard, and it resonates as a major effort, poetic while wielding ideological and emotional clarity, the playing forceful yet possessing considerable beauty. On one hand, the LP’s centerpiece is its striking version of Willie Dunn’s “I Pity the Country” (which many have heard as the opening track on Light in the Attic’s 2014 compilation Native North America Vol 1), but on the other, Simpson’s own compositions stand up tall, especially the three following “I Pity the Country” in the sequence. I’m especially fond of penultimate track “The Wake” heading into “Head of the Lake,” the two songs recalling aspects of the ’90s indie sound in wholly positive ways while still being very much Simpson’s own thing. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: V/A, Rocksteady Got Soul (Soul Jazz) The musical style known as rocksteady dates to 1966, falling chronologically smackdab between ska and reggae in the Jamaican scheme of things. Many highly regarded names in the country’s music thrived playing rocksteady in the period the style was dominant, including Alton Ellis, The Heptones, Jackie Mittoo, The Gladiators, The Ethiopians, Errol Dunkley, and John Holt, all artists featured on this 18-track comp spanning ’66-’70 and culled from the deep vaults of Studio One, issued on double vinyl in a gatefold jacket and on CD and digital. But making Rocksteady Got Soul even sweeter is the sprinkling of high quality selections by lesser-known acts, with a few of those entries downright rare, this knowledge gleaned from the sharp sleeve notes by Rob Chapman. Amongst the highlights is “Run Rudie Run” by Lee (King) Perry & the Gaylads (Perry not yet known as Scratch), “The Tables Gonna Turn” by The Clarendonians, and a cover of Toots & the Maytals’ “Monkey Man” by the Freedom Singers and Larry Marshall. But the whole set is a delight. A

Sivuca, S/T (Real Gone) Starting in the late 1950s, Brazilian accordionist-guitarist-vocalist Sivuca recorded frequently, but his most prominent discs were made for Reprise, RCA, and Vanguard, the label that originally issued this set in 1973. It’s likely his highest profile LP, due in part to a version of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.” The mention of Vanguard and the cover photo might lead you to think this is a folky sorta situation, but even as Sivuca’s guitar does occasionally tap into the folk mode, his playing is more often fleet, and in “Tunnel,” appealingly fibrous. But it’s the blend of bossa nova and Latin jazz, eminently likeable and just as much of a time capsule, in no small part due to the group gal vocals, that sets the album apart. The singing lends it an airy quality that thankfully never drifts into the territory of kitsch. While there is nothing particularly strange going on, the record’s overall thrust is vibrant enough that fans of Tropicalia, and certainly Música popular brasileira, should dig it. Both color vinyl editions are listed by Real Gone as sold out, so if you spot a copy in store, don’t hesitate. A-

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Arab Strap, As Days Get Dark (Rock Action) Reuniting in 2016 and releasing their first LP in 16 years with As Days Get Dark, Arab Strap, which for those unfamiliar is the duo of vocalist Aidan Moffat and multi-instrumentalist Malcolm Middleton, display an admirable disinterest in approximating the essence of their ’90s sound. To clarify, these 11 tracks do cohere into what’s still clearly an Arab Strap album, but one that’s unmotivated by the temptations of easy nostalgia. There is a considerable tendency toward electronics throughout the record, along with some dancy rhythms, even getting borderline disco-ish in spots, plus string section largeness, and a few flurries of saxophone that gesture toward pop erudition without becoming too sophisto. And all this amid a production scheme that’s as bright as Moffat’s subject matter is reliably dark. That’s dark but not dour, because who needs dour in times like these? And Middleton’s guitar is not sidetracked. Sweet. The bottom line is As Days Get Dark is head and shoulders above the norm for reunion albums, and it ends fantastically. A-

Mouse on Mars, AAI (Thrill Jockey) AAI stands for Anarchic Artificial Intelligence, which is a dead solid description of what Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma, the individuals who have comprised Mouse on Mars for a quarter century now, have crafted on their latest release. In short, they are engaging with the idea of Artificial Intelligence both as a narrative driver for this record’s 20 tracks (totaling a smidge over 61 minutes) and as a compositional tool. Or to elaborate, using AI as a musical instrument, with St. Werner and Toma collaborating with AI tech collective Birds on Mars and with Rany Keddo and Derek Tingle, both former Soundcloud programmers, to build a sort of “bespoke software,” which was then fed the voices of writer and scholar Louis Chude-Sokei and DJ/producer Yağmur Uçkunkaya as a model. From there, St. Werner and Toma manipulated the AI, changing the speed and altering the vibe. Percussionist Dodo NKishi completes the list of contributors on a record, available on double vinyl, CD and digital, that is both conceptually rigorous and bizarre as fuck. A splendid combination. A-

Rachika Nayar, Our Hands Against the Dusk (NNA Tapes) Available on cassette and digital, this is the full-length debut from Brooklyn-based ambient-electronic composer Nayar. As described in her bio, Nayar’s compositional process begins with her guitar playing, which is looped and then digitally processed into pieces of considerable range, indeed expanding beyond the descriptor of ambient-electronic. Now, the consecutive tracks “Marigolds & Tulsi” and “The Edges” certainly did strike my ear as being ambient in nature, but across the set, her compositions possess both intensity and movement. To put it another way, things are happening, and those things are powerful. Nayar’s work wields an experimental edge that is quite appealing. Also, I dig how she broadened her sound even more with Zeelie Brown’s cello in the closing selection “No Future,” and how Yatta’s singing in “Losing Too Is Still Ours” breaks with the non-vocal template. Finally, there is an organic warmth in Nayar’s work that’s in welcome contrast to the often clinical sounds proffered by others in the electronic field. A-

Vapour Theories, Celestial Scuzz (Fire) Vapour Theories features John and Michael Gibbons, who are brothers, and also the guitarists for Bardo Pond. Those Philadelphians endure as one of the finest of heavy psych units, so if you’re familiar with what they’ve been laying down since the early 1990s, you’ll have an inkling of what’s happening with Celestial Scuzz. However, a few more observations are in order, foremost, that the dual guitar attack delivers plenty of amp sizzle (the Scuzz of the title) with an absence of thud (as there are no drums in Vapour Theories’ scheme). Instead, this baby soars like an absolute champ (which is where the Celestial comes in). Amongst this record’s treats is a version of Eno’s “The Big Ship” (from Another Green World), with Fire opining that the results are like ol’ Bri tangling with Sunn-O))))). Good gravy. Great gravy even, but lemme just add that at a few spots across this slab my thoughts turned to Popol Vuh, and that’s a superb thing to ponder. Other than half a split with Loren Connors in 2014, this is Vapour Theories first release in 15 years. ‘tis very welcome. A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for February 2021, Part Four

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Wau Wau Collectif, Yaral Sa Doom (Sahel Sounds / Sing a Song Fighter) Described as “avant-garde cosmic sounds from Senegal,” Yaral Sa Doom (a Wolof phrase meaning “educate the young”) is a gorgeous and life-affirming byproduct of cultural collaboration, as Swedish musician Karl-Jonas Winqvist visited Toubab Dialaw, a bohemian enclave of sorts in Senegal, for a music summit lasting a few weeks’ time. Upon returning to Sweden, Winqvist traded recordings via WhatsApp (good ol’ WhatsApp) with studio engineer Arouna Kane back in Senegal. Immediately striking is the combination of styles across the LP, with Sufi praise songs rubbing up against jazzy horns and dubby rhythms amid voices of young ones (“Mouhamodou Lo and His Children” is simply exquisite), synthetic beats and electronic additives seemingly derived from a celestial video game. Speaking of music of the spheres, “Salamaleikoum” is gently beautiful in a way that reminded me of Washington Phillips, and that’s special praise indeed. Those hoping to feel good in 2021 should try this gem on for size. A

John Tejada, Year of the Living Dead (Kompakt) Born in Vienna and based in Los Angeles, techno specialist Tejada is releasing his fifth album for the Kompakt label with Year of the Living Dead, which as might be ascertained from the title, is a recording impacted by the Coronavirus. Tejada had started production on the record shortly before quarantine and then continued working thereafter (being essentially a solo electronic operator allowed him to do so safely), though he has stated that distance from his loved ones during the process affected him, and by extension, impacted the record. As this set lands firmly in the neighborhood of progressive house, any connections to the pandemic are implicit, with the eight tracks, spread out across four sides of vinyl (but totaling classic album length at a smidge over 41 minutes) aren’t bleak or harried in nature. Tejada’s stuff flows inventively, easily steering clear of club clichés, and is easy to absorb in part due to the generous but not excessive duration. It more than holds up to immediate consecutive spins, which is rare for electronic stuff in my experience. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: 4 Mars, Super Somali Sounds From the Gulf of Tadjoura (Ostinato) The Ostinato label’s 2019 release The Dancing Devils of Djibouti by Groupe RTD was a direct byproduct of the label being granted access to the Archives of Radiodiffusion-Télévision de Djibouti, a storied vault of East African recordings spanning back decades. Groupe RTD’s album featured new material, the result of an unforeseen but fortunate twist on the way to tapping into the Djibouti archive, of which this is the first volume in a series, dedicated to a 40-member Somali outfit documented through studio and live recordings dating from 1977 to ’94. Similar to Groupe RTD (with whom they share a member, saxophonist Mohamed Abdi Alto), 4 Mars was a band that thrived in service of a political party with a particular goal, specifically unifying the newly formed country through music. But what makes these 13 tracks (plus one Bandcamp digital bonus) such a treat is the stylistic blend 4 Mars honed to sustained excellence, featuring elements from assorted African regions combined with Turkish synths, reggae rhythms, flutes from China and Mongolia, and a healthy dose of Bollywood. Altogether magnificent. A

Don Cherry, “Cherry Jam” (Gearbox) You may recall “Cherry Jam” arriving last September for Record Store Day, but that edition of 1,100 is by now likely hard to come by, therefore necessitating a new press as part of Gearbox’s Japanese Editions, a series inspired by label founder Darrel Sheinman’s time spent in Japan. It features 180gm 12-inch 45 RPM vinyl in mono with an OBI strip (a CD is available in “very limited quantities”). Musically, this is quite a find, capturing Cherry on cornet the year he cut his masterpiece Complete Communion, consisting of three originals and Richard Rodgers’ “You Took Advantage of Me,” cut in Copenhagen for Danish national radio. Cherry’s bandmates for the session are Mogens Bollerup on tenor sax, Atli Bjørn on piano, Benny Nielsen on double bass, and Simon Koppel on drums, Danes all, with the performances dishing elevated hard bop rather than the avant-garde for which Cherry was associated at the time. The band is pleasingly in synch throughout (not always the case with Euro bands of this era) and the three Cherry originals were never recorded elsewhere. A-

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: V/A, Brighter Days Ahead (Colemine) As was the case with most of us, when the pandemic-related reality of 2020 became fully evident, Loveland, Ohio’s Colemine Records found it necessary to shift focus. Instead of following through with a hefty release schedule, owner-operator Terry Cole began offering individual tracks from acts affiliated with Colemine and Karma Chief Records and placing them under the thematic Brighter Days Ahead umbrella in hopes of spreading positivity and strengthening a sense of community, both for the label and for those listening at home. Now here’s this 2LP/ CD/ digital set compiling elections from the whole undertaking. It coalesces into an unfailingly enjoyable and occasionally even splendid representation of the label’s ethos.

For newbies, that means a predominantly neo-soul and funk situation, though with breadth that spans from vocal harmony sweetness (Thee Sinseers, The Resonaires) to reggae-inflected action (Jr. Thomas & the Volcanos, The Soul Chance) to organ-soaked grooving (Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio) to gospel-soul in a vocal group mode (The Harlem Gospel Travelers) to larger ensembles launching from a hard-driving funk foundation (The Winston Brothers) into rock-tinged pan-stylistics (Ikebe Shakedown) and lush, jazzy, cinematic scenarios both instrumental (Ironsides) and with vocals (Ghost Funk Orchestra). But moving deeper into the set, Brighter Days Ahead offers some energetic psych-kissed guitar pop (Rudy De Anda) and ’70s-infused pop maneuvers a la folky singer-songwriters (Andrew Gabbard) and AOR R&B miners (Young Gun Silver Fox). There’s even a slice of blues-rock with nary a hint of paunch (GA-20). And this isn’t even everything. Featuring 22 tracks in all, the good vibes are abundant. Brighter days are ahead, indeed. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Bad Brains, “Pay to Cum” b/w “Stay Close to Me” (Bad Brains Records – ORG Music) Over the decades I’ve listened to friends, associates and strangers at parties and bars enthuse over the greatness of Bad Brains. Occasionally, I’ve been that friend, associate, etc. Sometimes this gushing ordains the DC outfit with the title of Greatest Hardcore Band Ever. This is of course arguable, as is singling-out their best recording, which is especially relevant currently as this remastered press of their debut 45 is kicking off an extensive vinyl reissue campaign that is stretching into early 2022. Now, to call this 7-inch Bad Brains’ finest recorded moment would be perverse, particularly as the Mod-soul-tinged reggae-rocker “Stay Close to Me” isn’t representative of their future trajectory (But Rasta reggae? That’s another story, and a Bad Brains topic that’s highly debatable as time has marched forward). “Pay to Cum” however, is one of the band’s signature songs, and I’ll argue this 1980 recording, with its wonderful concluding guitar lick, is its finest version. An absolutely essential punk document. A+

Johnny Adams, Best of Johnny Adams – New Orleans Tan Canary (Mardi Gras) The New Orleans-based Johnny Adams was a strong, frequently exceptional singer (as expected with the handle Tan Canary) who scored a few R&B hits in the 1960s-’70s, though his most productive period began in the ’80s with a long string of albums for Rounder. Or at least it could seem that way. This 2LP does a fine job documenting Adams’ progress on labels other than Ric, SSS International (home of his biggest chart success), and Atlantic, though it does include “Release Me” (leased to SSS Intl.) and “Reconsider Me” (cut for SSS proper). However, the bulk is from the Watch label and imprints run by or connected to key Nola figure Senator Jones like JB’s, Hep’ Me, and PAID. Most impressive is the consistency in this non-chronological set, which applies to Adams’ always engaging vocals plus the playing and arrangements, so that the late-sequenced disco cover of “Spanish Harlem” kinda snuck up on me, and hey, I knew it was coming. Tis cool. In striving for hits, there are refinements but not desperation. This is a big deal. A-

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