Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores,
November 2018,
Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for November, 2018. 

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Heather Leigh, Throne (Editions Mego) As a former member of Charalambides and with collaborators ranging from Thurston Moore to Jandek to Chris Corsano to Richard Youngs to Peter Brötzmann (see directly below), Heather Leigh is a versatile yet singular force to be reckoned with, specifically due to her choice of instrument, the pedal steel guitar in combination with a powerful singing voice. After a batch of CDRs, tapes and a couple of limited wax slabs, 2015’s terrific I Abused Animal for Ideologic Organ raised the profile of Leigh in solo mode, and with this follow-up her work blossoms to captivating effect (while adding touches of violin, synth and bass). Others’ mentions of Kate Bush and Coil are apropos, but the ambiance is like 2:30am in a cabin in Appalachia. Hell yeah. A

Peter Brötzmann/Heather Leigh, Sparrow Nights (Trost) Leigh and German horn giant Peter Brötzmann have three prior releases, Ears Are Filled With Wonder, Sex Tape, and the tour only Crowmoon, all recorded live. For this studio set, nearly 80 minutes long on CD but scaled back to six tracks for the LP, there are moments that if not tranquil, certainly do unfold less aggressively than has been the performance norm. This is not to suggest that Brötzmann is weakening in his later years; far from it, as he ranges from alto to bass sax here and kicks up a glorious racket in the full set’s centerpiece “This Time Around.” But Leigh’s unorthodox approach is indispensable to the piece’s success, and her riveting solo opening to “It’s Almost Dark” is maybe my favorite passage from this amazing duo exchange. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: V/A, Deben Bhattacharya, Paris to Calcutta: Men and Music on the Desert Road (Sublime Frequencies) Since emerging 15 years ago, Sublime Frequencies has been an undisputed leader in uncovered global sounds, offering a distinct approach that’s been tagged “punk ethnography.” Up to now, we’ve yet to cover anything from the label in this space, but with four releases dropping this week, here’s an overdue spotlight. This 4CD+160pg book documenting a 1955 trip from France to India by “field recordist, poet, filmmaker, musicologist, and amateur ethnomusicologist” Deben Bhattacharya is the jewel of the bunch, and it’s assured to be amongst the finest archival sets of the year. At times wildly intense, if you dug Dust-to-Digital’s recent Paul Bowles collection, this one’s an absolute must. A+

V/A, To Catch a Ghost: Field Recordings from Madagascar (Sublime Frequencies) This is the second volume in Sublime Frequencies’ documentation of Charles Brooks’ field recordings from central and southern Madagascar, (the first was Outlier: Recordings from Madagascar) and the results are of a much more recent vintage than the Bhattacharya set, and shorter too, fitting onto a single LP. To Catch a Ghost is also wonderfully varied, featuring everything from complex (and intense) harmony, to strummed strings (sometimes guitar-like, but in one instance similar to a dulcimer), to whistle-like wind instruments, to the bowed lokanga (which on “Prosper Razafimamdimby” sounds like a distant relation to Appalachian fiddling). There’s also fair amount of throat breathing, which is a major plus. A

Abstract Orchestra, Madvillain, Vol, 1 (ATA) Saxophonist Rob Mitchell’s Abstract Orchestra wields a decidedly ’70s-ish jazzy-funky approach that, as the LP’s title might clue you in, takes inspiration from hip-hop. In doing so, they offer a little something more than retro-minded blending of the J.B.’s with the groovier soundtracks of the era (think Lalo Schifrin, David Shire, and Isaac Hayes). The old-school vibes are strong, but they ultimately recall the ’70s without mimickry. For this tribute to Madlib and MF Doom, Mitchell and band (recorded live in the studio with few overdubs) deliver an enjoyable follow-up to last year’s Dilla, and my impression is largely the same; I could’ve used more grit and less smoothness, but the wildness of closer “Madmix 2” is easily worth sticking around for. B+

Gaye Su Akyol, Istikrarlı Hayal Hakikattir (Glitterbeat) Turkish vocalist Akyol’s international debut Hologram İmparatorluğu (her third record overall) reminded me a bit of her fellow Turk Selda Bağcan (a high compliment), with the whole fitting exceptionally well into Glitterbeat’s general scheme (in short, global traditions with contemporary verve). Strong of voice throughout, Akyol continues to combine the classic with the modern here, and after a few spins Istikrarlı Hayal Hakikattir connects as even stronger than its predecessor. I especially like the surf guitar in “Laziko”, the horns in “Şahmeran,” and the non-trite dance beat in “Bir Yaralı Kuştum.” Is there fuzz guitar? Why yes, indeed. Synths? Ditto. And Selda’s influence is still felt, as much through Akyol’s leftist social themes as musically. A-

Annie Chen Octet, Secret Treetop (Shanghai Audio&Video Ltd. Co.) Born in Beijing and currently living in New York, vocalist Chen integrates scatting into a fluid and full-bodied approach that’s surely pleasant to the ear, though hers is definitely not an album of classic-styled jazz vocals. Good! It certainly does fall into the jazz realm, however; while Chen and the band exhibit clear knowledge and comfort with the avant-garde, this CD, her second (debut Pisces the Dreamer featured a sextet), is better described as eclectic rather than edgy, with its seven tracks highly arranged courtesy of Octet guitarist Rafal Sarnecki. Maybe the best way to categorize it: progressive. The impact of classical and global musics is also tangible. There is also a digital only version of Nirvana’s “All Apologies” that I can’t wait to hear. A

Baba Commandant And The Mandingo Band, Siri Ba Kele (Sublime Frequencies) Commandant (aka Mamadou Sanou) and his group are a contemporary outfit (with a prior release on Sublime Frequencies) dedicated to blending ’70s Mandingue guitar music with traditional and modern Burkinabe funk, and it’s safe to say anybody with a hankering for prime Afrobeat will find these six long-ish tracks of great interest. The fluid groove comes courtesy of bassist Massibo Taragna and drummer Mohamed Sana, while the guitar of Issouf Diabate’s is sturdy and in the solos often spectacular. Commandant’s playing of the doso n’goni and his vocals, conversational while peppered with growls and exhortations (he’s been described as an “eccentric character,” and I can believe it), ice this magnificent cake. A

Indifferent Dance Centre, “Flight & Pursuit” b/w “Release” (Outer Reaches) Hot on the heels of Outer Reaches’ first release, which reissued Garage Class’ “Terminal Tokyo,” comes this follow-up from 1981, and while it’s accurately tagged as part of the enduringly appealing Thatcher-era DIY UK shebang, the label’s “provincial post-punk” descriptor is even better, nailing a sound that, while in no way reacting against or even ignorant of then-current post-punk trends, lacks the self-consciousness and streamlining that was an increasing aspect of work from bigger-cities. Jaded listeners may shrug, but for fans of early Rough Trade and Cherry Red, this shapes up as an affordable treat, with a digital only remix by C.A.R. that makes it sound like the Chichester-based outfit had relocated 20 miles outside West Berlin. A-

Thurston Moore, Klangfarbenmelodie​.​. And The Colorist Strikes Primitiv (Glass Modern) Here’s a sweet dish from the newly established reissue wing of the reactivated Glass label, and a really welcome one in that it brings to wide availability a sliver of the guitarist’s fertile activities from outside of Sonic Youth’s high profile. Dating from early ’95 and originally released on New Zealander Bruce Russell’s Corpus Hermeticum label, it captures a live set with avant-drummer Tom Surgal, who at that point was primarily known for his membership in guitarist Rudolph Grey’s Blue Humans, where he’d previously collaborated with Moore. This connection means they bypass the feeling-out process, and while Moore’s distinctive sound does gush forth, the comparisons to Blue Humans and to Dead C are spot-on. A-

The Ocean, Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic (Metal Blade) Germany’s The Ocean (originally The Ocean Collective) were formed around 2000 by guitarist-songwriter Robin Staps and have undergone frequent lineup changes since. Of the various sub-genres attached to their oeuvre, the rather ambiguous tag of progressive metal seems the best fit, as I admittedly come to them as a newbie, and therefore with limitations of perspective. I also can’t shake off a personal limitation in regard to metal vocals, in this case the sung variety, which recall stylistic developments circa the 1990s. I’ve mentioned this pleasure-block enough that I risk seeming smallminded about it, so I’ll add that the shout-growl-beller side of the equation goes down much better, the instrumentation is sharp, and the ambitions are kept in check. B

Orchestra of Spheres, Mirror (Fire) At the core of this Wellington, NZ outfit’s music is a psychedelically rich dance music, which means it’s as inviting as it is expansively strange. However, that terse description doesn’t adequately impart the diverse range of influences that are pulled into Orchestra of Sphere’s increasingly signature sound. This is the group’s fourth full-length, a 2LP lasting just over an hour, and the comparisons I’ve previously cited in attempting to portray their wild but cohesive sound remain in evidence: minimal disco, post-punk a la Rough Trade, African groove with a particular nod to Konono Nº1, and even a little out-jazz (they’ve previously covered Sun Ra’s “Rocket No. 9”). Bottom line is that after four records OoS isn’t anywhere close to running out of creative steam. A-

Colin Self, Siblings (RVNG Intl.) Self is a composer-choreographer based in both New York and Berlin, and Siblings is the sixth and final installment in the opera series Elation, which focuses on a non-biological family, “bonded by curiosity and caring,” who come together and find ways to collectively cope with the state of our planet in crisis. When staged, Siblings goes far beyond trad opera, featuring “black-light messaging, countdown clocks, books on rope, and dancers adorned with swirling prints and LED lanterns,” but this portion lunches from an intense and appealingly unruly electronic dance platform, integrating field recordings, spoken passages, vocal richness, and plenty of slices, dices, stutters, pulses and throbs. Altogether, it’s gripping and inspiring, with a beautiful finale. A

Senyawa, Sujud (Sublime Frequencies) My first taste of this Indonesian experimental-trad duo came through Okraina’s “Calling the New Gods” 10-inch released back in January (and reviewed here in March). I was quite taken with that release (and Moon’s visuals, as well), but Sujud presents not only a bigger taste, but one that’s more graspable as a standard LP experience, rather than what was essentially a field recording. Senyawa’s integration of Indonesian folk moodiness and current genre styles is fascinating, and to my ear occasionally reminiscent of dirge metal. Part of this is due to the guttural nature of Rully Shabara’s vocals, though the sound just as easily evokes a throat singer’s drone. But Wukir Suryadi’s instrumental contribution is just as crucial to the foreboding atmosphere. A-

Akiko Yano, Tadaima (We Want Sounds) Yano is an accomplished jazz pianist and vocalist who after the release of her debut LP Japanese Girl in ’76 ended up hanging with Yellow Magic Orchestra; at the time of Tadaima’s (“I’m Home”) recording, she was married to Ryuichi Sakamoto, who produced and brought the whole YMO crew to play on Yano’s move away from a piano-driven scenario and toward 1981’s synth-pop vogue. Serving as my introduction to Yano, I enjoyed hearing her wade into the genre, though mildly so. It’s undeniably dated, and that kinda adds to the appeal for me (so do the passages underlining Sakamoto’s artistry, which fruitfully peaks with closer “Rose Garden”), but I’m also glad Yano didn’t leave her piano completely behind, with the long “Taiyo No Onara” my favorite moment here. B

Yum-Yum, Dan Loves Patti (Omnivore) Here’s another one for the “major label releases of the ’90s that fell under the radar” corner of the record collection, though it was also the subject of a minor sincerity vs. irony shitstorm. Chicagoan Chris Holmes, formerly of Sabalon Glitz and currently warmup DJ for Paul McCartney, was the leader of Yum-Yum, with his moniker a hat-tip to bubblegum music. “Apiary”’s referencing of foodstuff (a common facet of bubblegum) aside, what he achieved on this love-letter to AM radio is better described as orchestral pop, with mellotron and Chamberlain amongst the arsenal of strings, and also a solid, and occasionally excellent batch of songs. I recall liking this when it came out, but lost track somewhere along the way. With reacquaintance, it’s held up quite well. CD only. A-

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