Category Archives: The TVD Record Store Club

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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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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