Category Archives: The TVD Record Store Club

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: Danny Kroha, Detroit Blues (Third Man) Kroha is a founding member of garage-punk monsters The Gories, an outfit who are sometimes tagged as a punk blues affair, which points us to a crucial ingredient in the sound served up here. To expand, Kroha’s second solo album interweaves early blues and old-time country with touches of hokum and then gives it an early ’60s folk scene polish that’s doubly reflected in the record’s sleeve design, which surely is intended to evoke the look of the folk and blues labels of that era (think Prestige, Riverside, Elektra, etc.). What’s nice is how Kroha’s sound holds up as much more than a well-intentioned homage. Indeed, his treatment of the source material, much of it familiar, heads into some unpredictable areas, like a version of “House of the Rising Sun” that sounds like the handiwork of Dock Boggs. Also, along with washtub bass and jug bass, Kroha plays a diddley bow (aka one-string guitar) on one track. This strengthens a Motor City connection, specifically in relation to fellow (homemade) diddley-bow specialist One String Sam. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Lilys, A Brief History of Amazing Letdowns (Frontier) & The 3 Way (Sundazed) Formed in Washington, DC in the late 1980s with singer-songwriter Kurt Heasley as the sole constant member, Lilys’ existence resists easy categorization. Having started out as a disciple of My Bloody Valentine, that changed pretty quickly in ’94 with A Brief History, which was released by the SpinART label as a 10-inch mini-album (following up debut LP In the Presence of Nothing). The shift was toward melody, as Lilys became a more forthrightly pop-rocking affair while keeping tabs on the distortion. The change is exemplified by “Jenny, Andrew and Me,” which is a bit like Yo La Tengo’s contemporaneous stuff, though the song’s title (I do believe) references Jenny Toomey and Andrew Webster of the band Tsunami, a connection that helps to situate Lilys as integral to the Slumberland-Simple Machines-SpinART ’90s indie constellation. For those building a shelf of the stuff, this expanded 12-inch is an essential component. Pink vinyl pre-order is sold out, but the black wax retail remains. A-

A Brief History is the third Lilys record to get the reissue treatment from Frontier, joining the debut album and ‘94’s other Lilys record, Eccsame the Photon Band. However, Heasley and company’s 1999 effort The 3 Way, initially released by Sire, is getting reissued through Sundazed on 2/26, which is quite fitting as the record and the label share a decided ’60s inclination, which bursts forth in opener “Dimes Make Dollars” as garage-like in comportment but wastes no time in shifting toward sunshine-tinged post-Beatle psych-pop in “Socs Hip,” and then nudges up against The Zombies in “Accepting Applications at University.” Comparisons have been made to Ray Davies, and I do occasionally hear that, but the comparison isn’t as strong in my ear as it is for some other listeners. For me, the more salient similarity is to Anton Newcombe (with whom Heasley has collaborated) except with more of a baroque pop orientation, which is wholly welcome in my book. There is still plenty of fuzz, though. A couple spots are striving a little too hard for a ’60s-encompassing range, but overall, this is a minor quibble. A-

Fleeting Joys, Despondent Transponder (Only Forever Recordings / Diggers Factory) Sacramento, CA shoegazers Fleeting Joys debuted with Despondent Transponder in 2006, releasing it on CD and then, roughly five years later, giving it a vinyl press in a hand-numbered edition of 300 on white wax. That small amount sold out quick. Subsequently, copies have changed hands for over $100, with CDs even going for $50, so the band hooked up with Diggers Factory to offer a fresh run of 300, this time on purple splatter wax. Don’tcha know this edition is effectively sold out as well, though I do see a few copies still available in stores online, so if your bag is MBV-style shoegaze with a twist of dream pop, and you haven’t already jumped on a copy, you might want to check with your local shop first, and then start poking around the web, because who knows when the next edition will come out. 2026? Maybe. Rorika Loring’s vocals really heighten the dream pop angle here, which helps to separate Despondent Transponder from the pack a bit. Ultimately, this is a very likeable debut, but it’s not quite amazing. B+

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Douglas Lee, Themes for Falling Down Stairs (Self-released) This album, available on 180gm vinyl, CD, cassette and digital, was released back in October, but it just recently entered my consciousness, and since the entrance was an impressive one, here we are and here it is. This looks to be Lee’s first record, but it’s obvious he’s accumulated experience along the way, as the compositions are his, and he plays a variety of (often unusual) instruments together with leading a large band that’s immersed in a neo-lounge jazz/ soundtrack mode (of a sort) that’s a bit like a puree of Henry Mancini, Nino Rota, Combustible Edison, and Angelo Badalamenti, with Mike Patton and John Zorn giving slow nods of approval from the sidelines. This batch of references will hopefully establish that Lee’s approach is off-kilter, but it never becomes overly wacked or too retro (the lack of vocals doth help in this regard). This is to say, Lee and co-producer Michael Rozon (of Ministry) are consistently restrained here, the better to focus on the strength of the songwriting and breadth of the instrumentation. A-

Work Money Death, The Space in Which the Uncontrollable Unknown Resides, Can Be the Place From Which Creation Arises (ATA) Back in 2017 Brit multi-horn man Tony Burkill released Work Money Death, with bassist Neal Innes, drummer Sam Hobbs, and percussionist Pete Williams in the band, those contributors specified as they also play on this LP, as does Burkill, pianist Adam Fairhall, guitarist Chris Dawkins, French hornist Dan Edward, and with a little harmonium from Matt Bourne. Along with Innes, Williams, and Dawkins, Rachel Modest adds vocals. As on the prior album, there are claps from the Headingley Hand Choir. This time out, Burkill sticks to saxophone as Williams adds some flute and bass clarinet. The LP offers two long tracks, “Dusk” on side one and “Dawn” on the flip. The sound is post-Coltrane spiritual jazz, with “Dusk” establishing a very attractive modal groove on its way to some exquisite frenzy (Burkill is a beast). The flip is more of an extended riff on a Pharoah Sanders beauty excursion. This is where the voices come in. All that’s missing really is a yodeling Leon Thomas. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Oh-OK, The Complete Reissue (HHTM) Athens, GA’s Oh-OK were extant from 1981-’84 and in that timeframe released two EPs for DB Recs, the “Wow Mini Album” 4-song 7-inch in ’82 and the “Furthermore What” 6-song 12-inch the following year. Originally released in 2011 by HHBTM, The Complete Reissue was a 17-cut vinyl paring down of Collectors’ Choice Music’s 2002 CD The Complete Recordings. Initially featuring singer Linda Hopper (later of Magnapop), bassist-singer Lynda Stipe (soon of Hetch Hetchy), and drummer David Pierce, their guitarless sound leaned much closer to UK post-punk than US post new wave, Southern style, though they shared a dance-rock aspect with their Athens contemporaries Pylon. Pierce left and was replaced by David McNair and then Matthew Sweet joined on guitar and brought his songs (prior, Hopper and Stipe were the lyricists). His addition obviously adjusted the sound, but not as much as one might think. Suffice it to say that if you dropped cash for the recent reissues of Pylon and Love Tractor, you’ll want this one, too. It’s a very groovy proposition. A-

Jilala, S/T (Rouge Frequency Recordings) In 1966, an LP of Sufi Trance music was issued on the Trance label of Ira Cohen, recorded in Tangier, Morocco the previous year by Brion Gysin and Paul Bowles. This is not a reissue of that album, but it comes from the same batch of recordings, which were put out on CD by the Baraka Foundation in 1998, with Rouge Frequency debuting them here on vinyl as the label’s first release on the format. Collectors should note that copies of the 180gm test pressing are on Bandcamp at $50 a pop. As of this writing, five of the ten are already gone. For those desiring a more affordable option, there is a standard edition, limited to 300 (the digital is also currently available for preorder). Musically speaking, this is a field recording of considerable potency, heavily rhythmic and with much mind-altering potential. It’ll make a fine vinyl companion to Music of Morocco: Recorded by Paul Bowles, 1959, the 4CD set Dust-to-Digital released back in 2016. This edition comes with new notes by Peter Wetherbee and an insert of the original LP liners by Cohen. A-

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Binker & Moses, Escape the Flames (Gearbox) This 2LP, limited to 500 so don’t sit on your hands (98 copies left as of this writing), delivers my first taste of saxophonist Binker Golding and drummer Moses Boyd. Taste? More like a six-course banquet, as the stylistic reach, while remaining in the jazz realm, is considerable. Recorded live at London’s Total Refreshment Centre in June 2017, the evening began with an extended serving of fiery duo exchange (“The Departure”), but then shifted into a sax groove that had me thinking of an edgier Eddie Harris (“Intoxication From the Jahvmonishi Leaves”) and after that moved into a zone reminding me a little of Sonny Rollins on Impulse! (“Fete By The River”). Speaking of Impulse!, much of Golding’s blowing is reminiscent of Coltrane, but his embracement of Modern Jazz romanticism (not just Rollins, but on finale “Leaving The Now Behind,” hints of Paul Desmond) sets him apart. Boyd can bring the thunder, but his attention to the tom drums stands out, and he’s solid with the brushes on that closer. Pretty consistently delightful. A

The Notwist, Vertigo Days (Morr Music) Germany’s The Notwist has been around for a long time, issuing their eponymous debut in 1990, and they’ve come a long way, emerging with a sound informed by punk and metal that beckoned toward the burgeoning Alternative scene only to enter into a long dalliance with electronics while maintaining an approach to songwriting that can be categorized as indie in nature. Brothers Markus and Micha Acher have been The Notwist’s constant members across that span, comprising a core trio with Cico Beck (who’s half of the electronic duo Joasihno) that for Vertigo Days has welcomed an august crew of guest contributors, including Ben LaMar Gay, who sings on “Oh Sweet Fire,” Gay’s fellow Chicagoan Angel Bat Dawid blowing clarinet during “Into The Ice Age,” the jewel of Argentina Juana Molina delivering voice and electronics to “Al Sur,” and Saya of Japanese pop duo Tenniscoats, who sings in the exquisite “Ship” and also plays in the brass band Zayaendo heard in the album’s closer “Into Love Again.” Vertigo Days offers many highlights amid impeccable flow. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: V/A, Somewhere Between: Mutant Pop, Electronic Minimalism & Shadow Sounds of Japan 1980–1988 (Light in the Attic) As Mark “Frosty” McNeill mentions in his notes for Light in the Attic’s latest dive into late-20th century Japanese sounds, its contents are positioned somewhere between (hence the title) the label’s prior Japan Archival Series comps Kankyō Ongaku (dedicated to  the ambient, environmental and new age genres) and the two Pacific Breeze volumes (which focus on City Pop, AOR, and boogie styles). As Kankyō Ongaku offers a uniquely Japanese take on the abovementioned forms, its contents were striking to the ear as well as historically enlightening, receiving an A grade in full review in this column. By contrast, the second volume of Pacific Breeze, while just as informative and frequently quite likeable, was given a B+, also in full review. Unsurprisingly, Somewhere Between’s title explicates exactly where its grade falls in relation to those earlier volumes, though a handful of its selections do equal Kankyō Ongaku’s standouts in terms of quality. A-

Sabir Mateen, Christopher Dell, Christian Ramond, Klaus Kugel, Creation (577) Along with possessing excellent taste in shirts, Sabir Mateen is a titan of the free jazz saxophone. He blows mightily on this CD, which was released on December 18, with the contents a live performance from October 14, 2012 at the A-Trane in Berlin. Mateen’s bandmates for the occasion are Germans Christopher Dell on vibraphone, Christian Ramond on bass, and Klaus Kugel on drums, all three new to my ear as Dell makes the strongest immediate impression, in large part because his instrument is not exactly common in the free jazz scheme of things (and as I’ve mentioned before in this column, the vibes are far from my favorite instrument in jazz terms). The good news is that his playing truly fits into this equation (rather than just hanging in there or providing an “interesting” juxtaposition). But it’s worth noting that Creation offers some very appealingly lyrical playing from Mateen (and some sweet scatting) amid the fire. As Francis Davis writes in his nifty liner notes, Ramond and Kugel bring the necessary tandem momentum. A

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: M. Caye Castagnetto, Leap Second (Castle Face) The Peruvian-born Castagnetto has lived in Lima, London and Twentynine Palms, CA, a reality that’s reflected in the uncategorizable nature of their debut album. That is, unless the category is “beautifully unusual.” Well, one could call it psychedelic folk, for there are vibes both druggy and uh, folky, but with the distinction that the combo doesn’t really conform to the recognizable psych-folk standard. Indeed, there are stretches that aren’t folk-inclined at all. They’re just spectacularly fucked (e.g. “Slippery Snakes”), which underscores how Leap Second doesn’t conform at any norms.

Upon reading the observation from Bjorn Copeland (he of Black Dice) articulating a similarity to Sun City Girls, I was excited, and after giving this set a few spins, I am definitely in accordance with the sentiment. His and others’ citing of Nico hits home, as well. I’ll also mention that this album evolved over the span of five years, though it doesn’t strike my ear as belabored. But neither does it sound slapdash. It’s also sample-based (of musicians playing, not of pre-existing records) without sounding like that, either. Accomplished and enigmatic yet inviting. A-

Palberta, Palberta5000 (Wharf Cat) New Yorkers Ani Ivry-Block, Lily Konigsberg, and Nina Ryser, who together comprise Palberta, have been at it for a while now, kicking into gear around 2013 to be specific, with Palberta5000 their fifth full-length by my count (I’m not including the live cassette or the split LP with No One and the Somebodies, Chips for Dinner). As the band acknowledges, they burst forth from a love of punk, and with their angular art edges they regularly brought to mind UK post-punk (think Rough Trade) and NYC dance punk (OG style, a la ESG and Liquid Liquid).

But for this set, they’ve admitted to an increasing interest in pop. But don’t worry. The sharp corners are still in evidence, it’s just that the vocal sweetness (often in harmony) has been intensified and the songs, have gotten longer (the same thing happened with Wire and the Minutemen). Well, some of them anyway (“I’m Z’done” is z’done in 18 seconds). At a few spots, I’m reminded of Bratmobile, which is always a good thing. “All Over My Face” is rich of voice and a punky body mover delivering the penultimate standout. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: The Gordons, S/T & “Future Shock” (1972) Formed in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1980, The Gordons have long been lumped into their home country’s storied Flying Nun saga, though there are a couple of distinctions to be made. The first is that the trio’s debut EP (from ’80) and eponymous LP (from the following year) were initially self-released, not landing on Flying Nun until their reissue in ’88 in connection with the formation of Nelsh Bailter Space, which after a shortening of the name and a few personnel changes (including an exiting Hamish Kilgour of The Clean) ended up featuring the original lineup of The Gordons—that is, Alister Parker (guitar, bass), John Halvorsen (bass, guitar), and Brent McLachlan (drums, percussion).

The second difference worth mentioning is in how The Gordons stood stylistically apart from the groundbreaking melodic rock/ indie pop variations that have come to define the “classic” Flying Nun sound; this might have something to do with why they weren’t on the label in the first place. The 3-song “Future Shock” 7-inch is caustic, throbbing, ranting punk with songwriting as smart as the atmosphere is thick. The churning angularity of “Adults and Children” is the standout, but all three tracks are total keepers.

It’s a superb appetizer for the LP, which is, bluntly, terribly underrated and years ahead of its time. To call it post-punk feels simply reductive, partly because the punk intensity hasn’t lessened, it’s just been expanded upon in a manner that is in line with the underground rock bands that emerged in the latter half of the decade. One could also consider them as peers of Mission of Burma and Sonic Youth. These releases were previously reissued separately on wax (“Future Shock” as a 12-inch) and combined on CD. 1972 is putting out a 7-inch (how “Future Shock” was initially released) and a full-length LP, but packaged together, i.e. not sold separately. You’re gonna want them both. A

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Matthew Sweet, Catspaw (Omnivore) Sweet’s big splash was the 1991 LP Girlfriend, though he’d been active for a good while prior, emerging from the Athens, GA scene with a sound that stood a bit apart from post-Byrdsian collegiate jangle. Instead, he’s generally categorized as a power-popper, but as the release of his 15th album Catspaw makes clear, with multidecade longevity that’s somewhat unusual for the genre, partly as he’s occasionally branched out a bit, but more because his range of influence is wide and therefore fertile. These dozen tunes are noted as the first time Sweet had played everything on a record except drums- that’d be guitar, bass and vocals, lead and background, plus recording and mixing the set. The drums ae handled by frequent collaborator Ric Menck, he an Alternative-era power pop coconspirator most notably from the band Velvet Crush, but this album is very much a showcase for Sweet as instrumentalist, particularly as lead guitarist, with his plying taking on Crazy Horse-like rough edges edge that contrast well with the vocal harmonies throughout. A-

Wolf Eyes / Blank Hellscape, “Winter Sunday” b/w “Concrete Walls” (12XU) Detroit’s Wolf Eyes are the underground noise vets as Austin’s Blank Hellscape occupy the young upstart position. I say u-ground, but it’s worth mentioning that in the mid ’00s Wolf Eyes released a few records on Sub Pop, a productive relationship placing them up there with Lightning Bolt amongst high-profile purveyors of sonic brutality and mayhem. A lot has transpired since. Fuck, a lot has went down in the last week, but something that hasn’t changed is the high quality of Wolf Eyes’ abstract ruckus. One change is that John Olson and Nate Young (Aaron Dilloway departed a while back) aren’t as aurally assaultive as they were circa Burned Mind, or on their 2,000 or so micro releases, for that matter. But their 18-plus minute side here (for this as a 12-inch single) will still give non-noiseniks the fidgets. Those looking for an ear canal scalding will be satisfied with the nearly 20 minutes of Death Industrial unleashed by Blank Hellscape (Andrew Nogay, Ethan Billips, and Max Deems). In summation, these pieces, recorded separately in (I assume) their home states, offer damaged vibes for damaged times. A-/ A-

Corey Ledet Zydeco, S/T (Nouveau Electric) If you’ve any doubts over the general health of zydeco in the 21st century, this CD, the 14th full-length release by singer, accordionist and bandleader Corey Ledet should dispel them. His band for this Mark Bingham-recorded ten-song set is Cecil Green on Hammond B3, Lee Allen Zeno on bass, Grant Dermody on harmonica, Julian Primeaux on guitar and backing vocals, and Gerard Delafose on drums and washboard, the band digging into the rich, tradition-rich soil of the style and, like the best zydeco bands, harnessing a sound that’s lively and fresh. As anybody who’s ever heard it likely knows, zydeco is a party music, with Ledet’s latest hitting the proper level of potency without a hitch, a far from easy task when it comes to recreating sounds best experienced live in the studio. Part of Ledet’s success might derive from the album’s intention as homage, both to his family (specifically his grandfather Buchanan, who is credited as zydeco’s first drummer) and to his musical heritage, though there are also sweet covers ranging from Big Joe Turner to Bob Marley. Fun, dig? A-

Dale Crover, Rat-A-Tat-Tat! (Joyful Noise) Crover remains best known, and appropriately so, for his role in the Melvins, playing drums and bass in that pioneering sludge-punk outfit for 36 years. But we’ll expand on those achievements further when Ipecac reissues two of their albums in March (alongside a new record). He’s also contributed to a slew of musical situations over the years, like drumming in pre-stardom Nirvana and more recently serving in the same capacity in Redd Kross, though as busy as he’s been, this set is only his second full-length solo effort, following The Fickle Finger of Fate from 2017, also on Joyful Noise. He also issued solo EPs in 1992 and ’96, plus “Piso Mojado,” a five-sided lathe-cut record with four spindle holes last May in an edition of 127 copies. It’s five solo drum tracks are reprised here, which is cool, as they deliver the beautifully fucked aura of a solo record by a heavy rock disruptor. And that’s exactly what this is. The twistedness also contrasts nicely with the more melodious, less mauling passages (e.g. “Shark Like Overbite”), moments which underscore that he’s been hanging around those McDonald brothers. Not as sharp as his best work, but still worthwhile. B+

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Alina Kalancea, Impedance (Important) Romanian sound artist and composer Kalancea, who’s based in Modena, Italy, has a prior full-length in her discography, The 5th Apple, which came out in late 2018 on the störung label. That one required four sides of vinyl, and hey, so does this follow-up, which serves as my introduction to her work. Succinctly, it’s a slow-building beauty of electronic soundscapes, an instrumental affair (but with a couple sourced voices in the weave) featuring ten tracks that flow interconnectedly with an edge that’s frequently dark, though the non-vocal design situates the whole as more about atmosphere than attitude. That’s sweet. And that Kalancea rides the Buchla into these realms is even better, as the hands-on approach amplifies Impedance as a human endeavor while striving to push electronic music forward. But still, some of her textures (and pulses) have a clinical sharpness, and that’s great, too. I’ll conclude by mentioning the set’s gatefold tip-on Stoughton sleeve, with the quality of the package matching the sounds in the grooves. A


Spiral Wave Nomads, First Encounters (Twin Lakes- Feeding Tube) When I explain that Spiral Wave Nomads’ debut album was produced remotely, you might conjure an idea as to why. But as that eponymous effort was issued in May of 2019, said idea is undercut. First Encounters is the duo’s new LP, their second, with its title a direct reference to how the disc’s four tracks document the first time Albany NY-based guitarist Eric Hardiman and New Haven, CT-dwelling drummer Michael Kiefer played in the same room at the same time (this was pre-Covid-19, in the summer of 2019). The sound can be described as free-psych with some wonderful bursts of abstract heaviness in “Fitful Embers” bringing the Dead C to mind just a bit. But even as the pair hone their adeptness at navigating the deep weeds, making clear this is in no way a throwback effort, there is enough gliding (particularly in the long opening and closing tracks) to recall those ballroom days of yore. First Encounters is a reminder of the goodness that can transpire when humans commune together, and right now, that’s a great thing. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Bill Fontana, Landscape Sculpture with Fog Horns (Other Minds) This CD is an expanded reissue of the 1982 LP released by the San Francisco radio station KQED-FM. That album documented artist Fontana’s outdoor sound installation of the previous year, which routed live audio feeds from eight foghorns located around San Fran into a central listening area in the city’s waterfront at Fort Mason. Fontana’s installation (groundbreaking in the field of Sound Art), the original vinyl and this CD share a title, but Other Minds’ edition includes a fresh edit by Andrew Weathers of the two-hour 1981 concert version that aired on KPFA-FM, an event that featured Stuart Dempster of the Deep Listening Band and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company on trombone, didjeridu, garden hose, and conch shell.

The installation recording is very much like hanging out on a foggy pier, but with the welcome absence of seagulls, and with the lack of those noisy fuckers, the whole becomes quite relaxing in its unhurried repetition. However, the concert version is a decidedly more “musical” affair (perhaps fitting, as it was performed as part of the New Music America Festival). There is also a 38-minute 2018 reworking by Fontana, which, the approximately doubled length aside, is much subtler in its differences from the installation recording. Folks pining for the visceral will probably want to get their kicks somewhere else, but for those with overlapping interests in New Music and Contemporary Art, this set is poised to satisfy, as it comes with a full-color 24-page booklet offering Fontana’s original notes, a new essay from Jennifer Lucy Allan, and a transcript of a recent convo between Fontana, Dempster, and Other Minds’ Charles Amirkhanian. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2020’s New Releases, Part One

What was said about the reissues of 2020 is even truer for the new releases of the year; this list could’ve easily been doubled. This is partly because there was just so much more time for listening.

10. Nap Eyes, Snapshot of a Beginner (Jagjaguwar) & Lewsberg, In This House (12XU) Give a listen to the latest by Halifax, Nova Scotia’s Nap Eyes, and you might agree; vocalist and songwriter Nigel Chapman is a pop auteur. His tunes and delivery are a big part of the reason Snapshot of a Beginner made this list. But unlike many pop auteurs, Chapman is also fronting a full-fledged band, which leads us to the other major aspect of the record’s success, specifically that the playing is often superb, as Chapman seems to thrive on the sturdy rapport of the participants.

Jaded fucks might grumble, before retreating to their bunker of solitude to frown at the wallpaper, that Rotterdam’s Lewsberg are merely an art-punk/ post-punk extension of moves the Velvet Underground dished out over half a century ago. Bet you’re glad you’re not a jaded fuck. As for Velvets influences (or Beatles, or Stones, or Byrds, or Cheap Trick, or Thin Lizzy…), what’s the problem, exactly? Lewsberg’s take on VU is pretty unique however, seemingly as heavily impacted by “The Gift” as other bands are by “What Goes On” or “Sweet Jane.” In This House also brings Plurex Records to mind, and that’s just great.

9. Gwenifer Raymond, Strange Lights Over Garth Mountain (Tompkins Square) & Mary Lattimore, Silver Ladders (Ghostly International) On her 2018 debut You Never Were Much of a Dancer, Welsh guitarist Raymond was already prodigious. She was also in the thrall of the American Primitive, a circumstance which elevated the record to knockout status. As Raymond’s fingerpicking remains dexterous, her melodic chops are sharpened (this is a beautiful album) and she’s even travelling into experimental territory, which opens up all sorts of possibilities going forward.

Raymond is a master of six strings, but as a harpist, Mary Lattimore has 47 to contend with, and she once again handles them with aplomb on Silver Ladders, which documents her collaboration with Slowdive guitarist Neil Halstead. His playing on the record (he also helped produce), along with a bountiful infusion of synth, expands the instrumental palette without minimizing Lattimore’s presence in the framework. There are a few times where her plucking takes on an almost electronic glisten, which is just one delightful aspect of an LP as vast as it is concise.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2020’s New Releases, Part Two

As explained in part one, the bench for the Best New Releases of 2020 is deep. On another day, in a different mood, some of those records could’ve easily made it into the rotation of this very list. So, fret not if your favorite music of the year is absent, for these selections aren’t intended to be in any way definitive. Rather than attempting any kind of last word (what hubris that would be), these selections are simply intended to be part of the greater discussion.

5. ONO, Red Summer (American Dreams) + “Kongo” b/w “Mercy” (Whited Sepulchre) & Nicole Mitchell & Lisa E. Harris, EarthSeed (FPE) Chicago’s ONO emerged as part of the 1980s underground, with a sound that encompasses Industrial, noise, free jazz, experimentation in general (they’ve been described as an “Avant-Industrial Gospel Band”), and spirted protest that is roaring (appropriately) like a four-alarm fire in 2020 with Red Summer and the very much complementary 12-inch, which arrived a little later in the year. Absorbed together, the contents are unflinching in their historical clarity on the subject of American racism and cruelty.

Nicole Mitchell & Lisa E. Harris’ EarthSeed, recorded live in Chicago, is flautist, composer and educator Mitchell’s third work in a series devoted to the culturally prescient work of the great science-fiction novelist Octavia E. Butler. It’s also Mitchell’s first compositional collaboration with the classically trained vocalist and interdisciplinary artist Harris, as the co-composers add electronics (Harris contributes Theremin) to an ensemble featuring vocalist Julian Otis, violinist Zara Zaharieva, trumpeter Ben LaMar Gay, cellist Tomeka Reid, and percussionist Avreeayl Ra. Jazz threads are certainly tangible, but the whole, invigorating and fascinating, is perhaps best described as lengthy dive into the avant-opera zone.

4. Jake Blount, Spider Tales (Free Dirt) & Sally Anne Morgan, Thread (Thrill Jockey) Spider Tales is banjoist-fiddler-vocalist Blount’s solo debut, but it radiates experience that’s unsurprising given its maker’s prominence in the contempo old-time community, where technique and feeling in performance are necessities. Blount’s also a member of The Moose Whisperers and half of Tui with fiddler-vocalist Libby Weitnauer, and he brings his adeptness at collaboration to this album, which features the great fiddler and singer Tatiana Hargreaves. Spider Tales also documents a gay Black man contributing with nary a trace of compromise to a scene with nasty bumps of intolerance in its historical road.

Blount is part of a younger generation that’s helping to keep old-time music vital through inclusion and curiosity into untapped possibilities. Sally Anne Morgan also holds a place of prominence in this category as fiddler in the Black Twig Pickers and as half of House and Land with Sarah Louise Henson, though Thread is her first solo album as it welcomes her partner Andrew Zinn on guitar and Black Twig Picker Nathan Bowles on drums. The results are a striking combination of Appalachian roots, Brit-folk sensibilities, and touches of experimentation. Morgan blossoms as a multi-instrumentalist (fiddle, banjo, guitar, piano) and her singing is absolutely delightful. This record and Spider Tales are future focused.

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Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2020’s Reissues, Part One

As in years previous, the picks for the best reissues and new releases of 2020 have been paired-up to varying thematic degrees. Until the reader gets to the top spot in part two tomorrow, they shouldn’t consider each number to be a tie…unless one wants to, because y’know, that’s cool. These lists are, along with championing excellence, about making people happy. And as rough of a year as it has been, it did feature a sweet mess of reissued and archival material. What’s below (and what’s to come tomorrow) isn’t even all of it. Another day, and the list would be different. This is how these things go… 

10. Flaming Tunes, S/T (Superior Viaduct) & Michele Mercure, Pictures of Echoes (Freedom to Spend) This Heat are one of the more revered bands to have hovered on the fringes of what can be considered as the post-punk era. The late Gareth Williams was that outfit’s bassist and keyboardist, and he was half of Flaming Tunes with his childhood friend Mary Currie. The contents of their sole release from 1985 are markedly distinct from This Heat, being nearer to UK DIY experimentation, The Residents in instrumental mode and even the lo-fi psych-pop of Tall Dwarfs. In short, a subterranean beauty.

The Flaming Tunes set was reissued on black and clear vinyl, both sold out at the source, but it was originally released on cassette. Spooled tape was also the initial format for most of the selections on the Pictures of Echoes compilation, which is Freedom to Spend’s follow-up to their first Mercure collection Beside Herself. The one came out on 2LP and CD, but for Pictures, cassette was the format of choice, with an emphasis on past tense, as the 150 copies are also sold out. Mercure’s work surely fits into the ’80s cassette subculture, but the sans-vocals soundtrack aura increases with repeated listens.

9. Giant Sand, Ramp (Fire) & Jolie Holland, Escondida (Cinquefoil) Howe Gelb is no stranger to this website’s best of the year lists, either solo or with the band that established his rep. Cited as the second in a trifecta of early ’90s classics by Giant Sand, Ramp gets a 25th anniversary expansion here, only magnifying Gelb’s breadth, which by this point was already considerable. Featuring the 1991 Mad Dog Studio sessions, this edition of Ramp reinforces the band as rough and occasionally twisted, contrasting sharply from much Alt-country and Americana to come. But make no mistake; Giant Sand is desert rock.

Jolie Holland’s Escondida is not desert rock, though I’ve no doubt it would make for fine listening in arid climes. A sophomore effort from 2004, it showcases Holland’s powerhouse voice as well as her skillful songwriting (most of the record) and strengths at interpretation (two traditional tunes), all while blending strains of early jazz (Ara Anderson’s trumpet is a gas), pre-war gal blues singers, and even country, with this element decidedly closer to Appalachia than Nashville. The result is a record that sounds old as it consistently reminds the listener that its not. A gem…

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Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2020’s Reissues, Part Two

It seems the year’s lack of live shows might’ve played a role in the sheer number of performance documents on this list. If so, that’s fine. Having something snatched away can really illuminate its value.

5. Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Just Coolin’ (Blue Note) & Jimmy Giuffre 3, Graz 1961 (ORG Music) It might seem paradoxical, but that Just Coolin’ is just now seeing release roughly 61 years after its recording is ultimately indicative of Art Blakey’s good fortune as a drummer and bandleader. The creative juices were flowing, the club dates were happening, and the personnel was changing. This lineup, featuring Hank Mobley on sax, Lee Morgan on trumpet, Bobby Timmons on piano, and Jymie Merritt on bass, didn’t last long, which adds to the worthiness of this fantastic hard-bop session.

Drummer-led combos like Blakey’s are rare in jazz. So are combos lacking in a drummer, though multi-reed man Giuffre’s groups made a habit of it. He started out with Woody Herman and came to be associated with cool jazz, but by the early ’60s Giuffre’s trio with pianist Paul Bley and bassist Steve Swallow were exploring a unique, and far less frequently traveled, avenue of the budding avant-garde. That Giuffre chose this route over the more accessible-commercial opportunities pursued by many of his West Coast cohorts is laudable, as Graz 1961 is amongst the most rewarding jazz documents of its era.

4. Dexter Gordon, The Squirrel (Rhino / Parlophone) & Marion Brown, Porto Novo (ORG-Music) To be blunt, the live recordings of saxophonist Gordon are plentiful. It’s unlikely that a subpar one (excluding issues of fidelity) has been released, because by the time he was being documented on the bandstand on a regular basis, he was blazing trails of positivity with consistently solid sidemen. Still, some nights are better than others, and the one heard on The Squirrel, with Kenny Drew on piano, Bo Stief on bass and Art Taylor on drums is one of the very best, partly because the band stretches out so intensely.

Like The Squirrel, saxophonist Marion Brown’s Porto Novo dates from 1967 and also transpired in Europe; Gordon’s show is from the Cafe Montmartre in Copenhagen, while Brown’s session was held in Soest in The Netherlands, with the Dutch rhythm section of bassist Maarten Van Regteren Altena (later just Maarten Altena) and the prolific drummer Han Bennink. Porto Novo ranks as one of Brown’s greatest, partly because the blowing is fiery and is all Brown (many of his other great records feature larger ensembles). It’s another of ORG’s commendable reissues of classics from the jazz avant-garde.

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Graded on a Curve: The Best of 2020’s Box Sets

It’s been a rollercoaster of a year, with many of those twists and turns unpleasant, and we’re not out of the woods yet. One of the consistent balms for uncertainty, pain, fear, and loneliness across this pileup of months has been art, with music prominent in the mix. This week, as a change of calendar is in the wings, we spotlight a more positive side of 2020 with a series of lists, beginning with the best box sets and expanded releases of the year.

10. Michael Rother, Solo II (Groenland) Those passionate over Krautrock are surely familiar with Rother from his cornerstone work in Neu! and later in Harmonia, and I’m willing to wager they know that he also thrived as a solo artist. Last year, Groenland rounded up his first four albums from 1977 to ’82, added some soundtrack work plus a little live material and remixes to shape the 6LP/ 5CD set Solo, a doozy of a box that missed contending for placement in TVD’s 2019 Best of list only through a delay in checking it out.

Solo II offers more across seven CDs. It isn’t as strong as Solo, though it’s inclusion here is still warranted, in part because it presents such a contrast with his earlier stuff. Indeed, non-synth-pop-loving sticklers for Rother’s groundbreaking work in Neu! (before that, he was also briefly in Kraftwerk) might want to dabble in the albums individually before dropping coin on its contents. However, the truly solo Fairlight CMI-infused Lust from ’83 is a cool snapshot of the era, and from there, some beautiful tranquility is heard, with Rother’s largely non-vocal approach, and his guitar playing, very much appreciated.

9. Peter Stampfel, Peter Stampfel’s 20th Century in 100 Songs (Louisiana Red Hot) Stampfel is best-known for his work in the Holy Modal Rounders, who helped give the 1960s folk surge a needed dose of the weird. They kept on trucking into the ’70s, as the Unholy version of the outfit joined with Michael Hurley, Jeffrey Frederick, and the Clamtones to wax Have Moicy!, which stands as one of the best records of its decade. Hey, it’s lists within lists!

In fact, this very set, featuring 100 versions by Stampfel of songs, one a year from the 20th century, across three CDs, is an act of audio list making, very personal, though its maker does admit to fielding suggestions from the last 20 years of the span. And speaking of 20 years, that’s roughly how long it took for this set to reach completion, but the production by Mark Bingham and Stampfel’s instantly recognizable singing insures crucial cohesiveness. It feels like a spoiler to reveal the unexpected choices, so I won’t. Like so much in 2020, this set’s been pushed to January 2021; here’s one to look forward to.

8. Grateful Dead, Dick’s Picks 26 – 4/26/69 Electric Theater, Chicago, IL 4/27/69 Labor Temple, Minneapolis, MN (Real Gone) As a fan of the Dead, I’ll listen to any live recording of the band, as there is reliably something, and more often, many things of interest, even from inside stretches of their existence that don’t thrill all me that much.

But as pertains to the band, I have a special fondness for the 1960s, and ’69 in particular. Folks up to speed with the Dead know that Live/Dead, one of the very greatest official (non-jazz) live albums, was recorded that year (compiled from assorted shows from January to March), and this volume of Dick’s Picks expands upon that brilliance, with the Labor Temple show (which is the majority of the set) even including the “Live/Dead sequence” of “Dark Star”> “St. Stephen”> “The Eleven.” Another big bonus is the organ of Tom Constanten. Real Gone’s 4LP edition (1,500 hand-numbered copies) sold out fast…

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for December 2020, Part Two

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Winston C.W., Good Guess (Whatever’s Clever / Ruination Record Co.) Winston Cook-Wilson sings, plays keyboards and writes the songs in Office Culture, an outfit that’s been described as “literary soft-rock,” a designation that effectively communicates music of sincerity rather than schtick. This scenario, the sincere, the soft-rock, continues on this solo effort (as a trio) by Cook-Wilson, though really, Good Guess is a cosmopolitan singer-songwriter paradise, the atmosphere deepened considerably by the upright bass of Carmen Rothwell; Ryan Beckley completes the band on electric guitar. You’ll notice the exclusion of drums, which is fine, as the songs don’t require them. What’s in abundance is a leisurely contemplation, and seriousness to go along with the sincerity. Soft-rock, or maybe better said, downtrodden urbanite piano pop circa the late ’70s, remains the foundation, with the style magnified in the up-tempo “Birds,” but there are stretches, such as “Swing Time” and the closing title track, where Cook-Wilson pushes outward to splendid effect. A terrific surprise. A-

Carly Johnson, S/T (sonaBLAST!) The strength of Johnson’s voice is undeniable. Based in Louisville, she’s sung jazz in duo with guitarist Craig Wagner, fronted a notable Heart cover band (I Heart Heart), and backed My Morning Jacket, Houndmouth, and Norah Jones, but this is her solo debut, featuring her own compositions co-written with her college roommate, Charlotte Littlehales. Along with the Wilson sisters, another of Johnson’s cited inspirations is Whitney Houston, which is reflected in the presentation here, as the bold expressiveness, if not hampered by slickness, is surely vivid in a manner that embraces commerciality. But stylistically, Johnson is reminiscent of Amy Winehouse and Sharon Jones, with the overall thrust of the set being old-school soul and R&B (another prime influence is Etta James). And as the songs unwind, an undercurrent establishes it as a Southern record in the best sense; it’s tangible in the instrumental verve and Johnson’s versatility. Will Oldham, who once guested with I Heart Heart, engagingly duets with Johnson on “For You.” An album as assured as it is powerful. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Divine Horsemen, Live 1985-1987 (Feeding Tube) These days, Chris D is best-known for forming and fronting the essential Los Angeles punk unit The Flesh Eaters. In fact, his stature in relation to that outfit has been pretty constant since the release of their two back-to-back masterpieces for Slash in the early 1980s. But by the second half of that decade, he had moved on to Divine Horsemen, a band that initially cohered to back Chris on his 1983 solo album for Enigma, Time Stands Still. In ’86-’87, Divine Horsemen cut three LPs and an EP as part of the 15,000 or so releases SST Records was putting out back then. By ’88, they were done. This is when I first heard them, at roughly the same time I got hip to The Flesh Eaters, with this overlap of discovery fitting, as the two bands shared some personnel and had a few songs in common. In fact, the name Divine Horsemen is also the title of the last song on The Flesh Eaters’ ’81 monster A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die.

But don’t get the idea that the two were interchangeable. Divine Horsemen were more of a rootsy-bluesy rock band with punkish tendencies in comparison with the wonderfully twisted roots punk of The Flesh Eaters. For us youths who’d gotten fatigued with “classic” rock stylings and headed for the punk offramp, Divine Horsemen may not have provided as immediate and sturdy a wallop. But on the other hand, by the late ’80s, when hardcore was proving to be a consistent letdown, the Horsemen could sound mighty fucking fine. This CD, culled from two shows, one in Huntington Beach, CA, the other in Boston, MA, offers proof of their capabilities and additionally highlights one of the band’s most distinctive qualities, specifically the tandem vocals of Chris and Julie Christensen. The disc flows very nicely with no repeated songs. It’s also great to know that a fresh Divine Horsemen record, Hot Rise of an Ice Cream Phoenix is on deck (a sort of reunion companion to I Used to Be Pretty, The Flesh Eaters’ excellent 2019 return, on which Christensen provided some backing vocals). A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for December 2020, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for December 2020. 

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Time OutTakes – Previously Unreleased Takes from the Original 1959 Sessions (Brubeck Editions) The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out, released in 1959 by Columbia Records, remains one of the cornerstones in the heyday of jazz, cut in what some have proposed was the music’s greatest year. What’s more, it was a legit smash at the time of its release, not just in jazz terms but in the pop sphere as well, where it climbed to No. 2 on the album chart, with the single of “Take Five” reaching No. 5. This means many people have heard its contents many times, and surely some of those listeners have concluded they’ve had their fill of the LP; while not ubiquitous (how could it be), the music could occasionally feel that way, as it crept into contexts of all kinds, frequently as a signifier. That means long after one chose to give Time Out a time out, other people would continue playing it. A lot.

Of course, the record’s perseverance is exactly why these outtakes are so worthwhile, as they present a fresh twist on sounds that are long interwoven into the cultural fabric. The playing is as impeccable as expected, but more importantly, the distinctiveness of these versions becomes quite clear; nowhere are the differences more apparent than in “Take Five,” which not only moves at a brisker pace (and yet is a smidge longer than the release version) but also finds everybody laying out except for Joe Morello, who makes exquisite use of the spotlight. “Blue Rondo a la Turk” is more than two minutes longer than the version that opens Time Out, with the intensity level higher and the playing just a bit edgier. I also like how OutTakes follows the sequence of the original album until deep in the runtime. Altogether, this set is a superb remedy for those who might still consider themselves burnt out on Time Out. CD is out 12/4, but it appears the vinyl has been delayed. A

Edan, Primitive Plus (Lewis Recordings) 2002 was the year of arrival for Edan’s debut full-length (receiving its first vinyl reissue since date of release here), and by that point, left-field/ underground hip-hop was a well-established subgenre. Primitive Plus still made a deep impression, partly because it was as strange in its musical layering as it was lyrically unique. Like many other u-grounders, Edan was a passionate student of the old-school, but rather than express his love through imitation, his word flow, sometimes twisted and in other moments direct, is equal to the sheer force of his beats and the often surreal nature of his loops. Scratching is abundant. It comes as no surprise that “Ultra ‘88” is a tribute to the Ultramagnetic MCs, the legendary group that unleashed Kool Keith on the world, for in terms of the bizarre, Keith is one of the few easily taggable influences on Edan’s work. It’s also not a shocker that Mr. Lif guests on “Rapperfection”; had Lewis Recordings not released Primitive Plus, it could’ve easily landed on Definitive Jux. A fine album that set the table for the brilliance of Beauty and the Beat. A-

The Bangles, Sweetheart of the Sun (Real Gone) For their fifth and most recent album from 2001, this oft-terrific Los Angeles band consisted of Susanna Hoffs and the Peterson sisters, Vicki and Debbi, as bassist Michael Steele had departed shortly after the recording of their 2003 reunion effort Doll Revolution. Recruiting Derrick Anderson to fill that role, what resulted on this set co-produced by the band and Matthew Sweet (who plays bass on “Through Your Eyes”), is one of the Bangles’ strongest records, opening with the riff-tastic “Anna Lee (Sweetheart of the Sun)” (which I would rate as one of their greatest songs, period), and wrapping up with a sturdy cover of the Nazz’s “Open My Eyes.” In between, the stated influence of the ladies of the Laurel Canyon (Carole, Joni, Carly) is heard, which is to say that there’s a vibe of maturity to the songwriting, a wholly appropriate circumstance that never undercuts the garage-y melodic youthfulness making the Bangles’ music such a treat. Only 900 copies pressed and sold out at the source, so if you see it and have the folding money, don’t hesitate. A-

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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Lisa/Liza, Shelter of a Song (Orindal) Lisa/Liza is singer-songwriter Liza (pronounced Lisa) Victoria, who resides in Portland, the one in Maine. This is her third LP for Orindal (she’s also issued a pair of cassette EPs for the label), and after welcoming additional instrumentalists on her prior effort Momentary Glance, she returns to solo mode here with eight tracks recorded live in a kitchen with nary an overdub. Victoria’s sound lands securely in the late night folk zone, with singing that’s pretty but sturdy, delivery that’s emotional but in control, and fingerpicking that is often gentle but with an invigorating tension and flashes of sharpness. Additionally, Victoria has the ability to tackle topics (the suicide of a friend on Momentary Glance, her own chronic illness on this album) that’s stimulating in its seriousness rather than burdensome. Still, it’s difficult to deny this record is a heavy experience, but that’s ultimately to Victoria’s credit. Shelter of a Song is unlikely to get many back-to-back spins, but when it is played it will surely leave an impression. A-

Enrique Rodríguez and the Negra Chiway Band, Fase Liminal (Soul Jazz Records) One of the dangers with spiritually focused music is an overflowing bliss that deflates into insubstantiality. Fase Liminal, which can be succinctly tagged as contemporary spiritual jazz from Chile, doesn’t have this problem, largely because the range of influence is fairly wide, so that an appealing balance is struck between free jazz fire and modal fusion textures, with electric keyboard prevalent. And so, not only does Rodriguez and band avoid getting too airy, but they also avoid faltering into hackneyed vamping or technique-flaunting noodles. Hooray! And while there’s an abundance of percussion across the record, rhythm doesn’t dominate the proceedings, as the horn playing is rich and occasionally raucous. This is true in particular during the closing alt take of “Dónde ?,” which attains levels of collective intensity recalling Sanders’ Karma but with piano that brought to mind LaMont Johnson’s playing on Jackie McLean’s “Hipnosis.” Everything clicks, even the flute and vocals. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: V/A, CUBA: Music and Revolution: Culture Clash in Havana: Experiments in Latin Music 1975-85 Vol.1 (Soul Jazz) This set, issued in 3LP and 2CD editions, arrives in conjunction with the hardcover book CUBA: Music and Revolution: Original Album Cover Art of Cuban Music: Record Sleeve Designs of Revolutionary Cuba 1959-90. Both the book and this collection are the handiwork of Gilles Peterson and Stuart Baker, their third such collaboration (the prior two delved into revolutionary jazz and bossa nova), and as these selections play it’s abundantly clear, even without access to the book (which isn’t available in the US until December 11), that the compilers are at the very top of their game. Now, you might’ve noticed that the book tackles a much longer timeframe than the compilation. That’s okay. The compressed focus of Experiments in Latin Music allows for a deep immersion into a transitional period rather than surface-skimming a longer span of years. Furthermore, it’s stated that most everything here was previously unheard outside Cuba, making this a feast for the curious (out 11/27). A

MIYUMI Project, Best of the MIYUMI Project (FPE) Now 20 years strong, the MIYUMI Project is a Chicago-based Asian-American / African-American collaboration founded and led by bassist Tatsu Aoki. Drawn from the group’s sizeable discography, these nine selections span four sides of vinyl (CD is also available) and from all research appears to by MIYUMI Project’s debut on wax. The sound is a synthesis of the Japanese taiko drumming tradition and avant-jazz improvisational firepower, with a sturdy connection to the Windy City’s AACM, including members Ed Wilkerson and Mwata Bowden on reeds and Dushun Mosley on drums. Aoki, who was part of Japan’s experimental scene before moving to the USA in 1977 (Chicago in ’79), brings a steadying maturity (and robust bass) to this fusion, though that’s not to infer that things don’t get wild. They do. Things are also consistently rhythmic, rising to a powerhouse level in the nearly 16-minute “Episode One.” Along with spirited expansive blowing, there is beaucoup string scrape, which only increases the fortitude of the MIYUMI Project’s bedrock. Compilations rarely get any better than this one, which culminates with an unreleased live track.

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for November 2020, Part Two

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Gwenifer Raymond, Strange Lights Over Garth Mountain (Tompkins Square) You Never Were Much of a Dancer, Welsh guitarist Gwenifer Raymond’s debut from 2018, was a knockout that underscored the perseverance and the sheer reach of the American Primitive style while driving home the pure skill and the youthful energy of its maker. Now, ability is an essential baseline ingredient in the expression of the American Primitive, but the spirit of young is by no means a prerequisite. In Raymond’s example across this oft exquisite set of eight pieces, the spark is distinct, in her estimation punkish, and coupled with raw power and edge that took me to some rather unexpected places; during “Gwaed am Gwaed” for instance, I couldn’t shake thoughts of Sonic Youth, which might not seem like a big deal, except that it’s just Raymond playing an acoustic guitar in her basement flat (the album was recorded in quarantine). The artist describes this LP as an expression of Welsh Primitive (channeling her country’s folk horror in the process), which unwinds here as a striking new development in Guitar Soli. A

Sam Burton, I Can Go With You (Tompkins Square) Burton hails from Salt Lake City, UT but currently resides in Los Angeles. Although he’s had a CDR and a pair of cassettes released on the Chthonic label, this is his proper full-length debut, and it’s a wonderful trip into the folky singer-songwriter zone. In the PR for this release, John Tottenham describes Burton as extending from the “downer folk” subgenre and specifically names Bob Desper, Dana Westover, and Tucker Zimmerman as antecedents. I think that’s cool, but I’ll merely add that these 11 songs also strike my ears as reflective of Fred Neil and the Tims, Hardin and Buckley…make that prime Tim Buckley. Now, many capable contempo songwriters can strap on a guitar, step in front of a mic, and play the approximation game (which might be why Tottenham chose a different route of comparison), but Burton elevates matters significantly through compositions that reveal nary a hint of anxiety over any perceived similarities. The production by Burton and Jarvis Taveniere is faultless, and the playing is simply exquisite. One of the surprises of 2020. A

Susan Alcorn Quintet, Pedernal (Relative Pitch) Alcorn is well-described as a pioneer of the pedal steel guitar in improvised music, though most of her work has been in solo or duo settings. However, along with the size of the band, Pedernal is further distinguished as the first release devoted to Alcorn’s compositions. Her cohorts here are Mark Feldman on violin, Mary Halvorson on guitar, Michael Formanek on bass, and Ryan Sawyer on drums, a group of stellar players that can bring these elevated pieces to life without a hitch. There is familiarity here, as Alcorn plays in the octet of Halvorson, and with the guitarist and Formanek comprising 2/3rds of Thumbscrew. Indeed, a stated goal of Alcorn’s was to make this album with friends, but the pedal steel/ guitar/ violin melodic core and the sheer individual distinctiveness of the three raise Pedernal to rare heights. Formanek and Sawyer are expressive in the rhythm spot, and Alcorn’s compositions are splendid; I adore finale “Northeast Rising Sun.” Note: the CD and digital are available 11/13 but pressing plant delays have pushed back the vinyl until December. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Love Tractor, S/T (HHBTM) For the October 23 drop of Record Store Day 2020, Love Tractor released new versions of two songs from this 1982 album, the Athens, GA band’s first (which has itself been remixed for this rerelease). The year of release positions them as one of the foundational acts in their scene, which became a huge deal in the College/ Alternative rock scheme of things, but if you are unfamiliar with Love Tractor and are imagining some variation on bookish jangle mumble, well don’t. If this non-vocal unit is reminiscent of any of their Athens contemporaries, it’s Pylon, but only a little bit, and mainly because the songs on this record possess an undercurrent that could be considered dancy. Really though, Love Tractor’s instrumental nature and the slightly Wavy angle of the songs has me thinking of the Portland, OR band of the same era, Pell Mell. Many outfits that operate sans a singer attempt to impress the listener with sheer ability. Love Tractor’s approach lacks ego, which nearly 40 years hence remains refreshing. A-

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