Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
July 2019, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—presently in stores for July, 2019.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Rachel Musson, Pat Thomas, Mark Sanders, Shifa – Live at Cafe Oto (577) The stream of 577 jazz vinyl continues with this absolute stunner from the UK-based trio of Musson (last heard on Federico Ughi’s excellent Transoceanico) on tenor and soprano sax, Thomas at the piano and Sanders behind the drum kit. The participants have played together before but not in this configuration, though there’s nary a trace of the tentative across the two free improvs. To the contrary, as the energy level gets way up there, deep into “Improvisation 1” Musson threatens to tear the roof off the sucker. Along the way, Thomas unfurls a bevy of angular clusters, board runs and rumbles that bring to mind Cecil Taylor and Matthew Shipp, but he’s so consistently good that comparisons are easy to forget.

Sanders sounds terrific throughout. Obviously due to those thoughts of Taylor, his playing led me to Andrew Cyrille and Rashied Bakr, and that’s swell. Musson really shines however, even deeper into “Improvisation 1” there’s a passage reminiscent of Peter Brötzmann (in trio with Kent Kessler and Hamid Drake Live at the Empty Bottle) that’s quickly followed by a cooler exchange with Thomas that’s briefly akin to mid-’60s Sam Rivers conversing with Paul Bley. The heat quickly gets turned back up, and it’s kinda like a “lost” LP cut by Cyrille, Dave Burrell and Frank Wright for BYG/Actuel. Actually, no; it’s just Musson, Thomas and Sanders at the top of their game. The opportunity to hear sax, piano and drums discoursing at such a level is special, indeed. LP includes download of the unedited “Improvisation 1.” A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Television Personalities, Some Kind of Happening – Singles 1978-1989 & Some Kind Of Trip – Singles 1990-1994 (Fire) My introduction to Dan Treacy’s Television Personalities came through the inclusion of “Part Time Punks” on Rough Trade’s majestic Wanna Buy a Bridge? compilation LP, which I scored secondhand not long after the ’90s got rolling. Now, you might be thinking that it’s fortunate my intro to this enduring outfit was culled from the group’s second single (that’d be the 4-song “Where’s Bill Grundy Now?” EP), and I totally agree, but I’ll add that it took me a couple of years to hear the whole thing (through an Overground Records repress) and even longer to catch up with their debut 45 “14th Floor” b/w “Oxford St., W.1.”

That’s just how it was in those days. While contemporarily it’s much easier for the ear to absorb an artist or band’s musical history with some semblance of promptness and order, it really helps when a label rounds up the material with consideration and quality, which is exactly what Fire has done here. The 2LP vinyl came out for RSD, with Happening adding a 7-inch (keep in mind that downloads complete the wax editions) but here are the CD bookbacks (everything is on the discs), and since both formats are still available, now’s a great time to enthuse over their considerable worth. Of course, this isn’t the complete TVP picture (as there are a bunch of killer LPs), but these collections do a wonderful job documenting the proto-DIY beginnings into twee psych-pop toward a bigger/ brighter/ bolder neo-psych sound. A/ A-

Joseph Allred, O Meadowlark (Feeding Tube) Per Byron Coley’s notes for this set, Allred’s a guitarist and banjoist who played the Thousand Incarnations of the Rose festival in Takoma Park last year. This should provide an inkling into what O Meadowlark is about, but if not, here’re two more words: American Primitive. Opening with a piece for banjo, my immediate thoughts turned to Billy Faier, but by the Eastern-tinged third track “The Porch at Night,” Allred’s playing is closer to Basho (as Coley mentions). Some American Primitive players still work in the zone of pure post-blues-folk melodic elevation, and that’s sweet, but Allred’s note cascades had me thinking more than once of the celestial. Plus, the selections form a narrative that sorta like Southern Gothic Lit meets early Stan Brakhage. Superb. A

Black to Comm, Before After (Thrill Jockey) Marc Richter can be described as an experimentalist, an abstract composer, a sound manipulator, and as a native and current resident of Germany. With his second full-length of 2019, he can also be called prolific; Seven Horses for Seven Kings came out in January, and beyond the obvious fact that both are releases by Richter, Before After is explicitly tied to its predecessor, with opening track “États-Unis” and “Perfume Sample” revisiting elements of his earlier effort. There are clear differences, with this set considerably shorter (Seven was a 2LP), and of course further similarities, as the aura of “post-industrial” deepens in my ear. “États-Unis” also reminded me of a mash-up of Ligeti and Stockhausen, and that’s fucking rad, dad. A-

Oren Ambarchi, Simian Angel (Editions Mego) Multi-instrumentalist and experimenter Ambarchi has released a lot of records in solo, “solo,” and collaborative modes; it’s safe to say that much of the whole can be considered foreboding to those not inclined toward abstraction and/ or abrasion. Simian Angel doesn’t break with the abstract, but in duo with noted percussionist Cyro Baptista (whose contribution is substantial), the two side-long tracks go down easy, and so folks cautiously wishing to get immersed in less trad sonic waters could dip a toe. The label mentions a Brazilian angle and how the synthetic guitar tone might just bring to mind Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell, and both are tangible, but the chatter halfway through “Palm Sugar Candy” is redolent of Hancock’s Sextant. And I dig that a whole lot. A-

Elephant9, Psychedelic Backfire I and Psychedelic Backfire II (Rune Grammofon) This Norwegian trio has been extant since 2006, and as these two 2LP live sets get released simultaneously, they’ve been busy since. But y’know, so have I. That means these four sides are providing me with an introduction to their work. The shared title had me thinking I was going to receive something expansive but pummeling and perhaps even abrasive, maybe not too far from the stuff found in the Japanese P.S.F. label catalog, but no. Elephant9 consist of Torstein Lofthus on drums, Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen on bass, and Ståle Storløkken on keyboards, specifically organ of a decidedly progressive stripe. As I’d read up on what these three were up to before pressing play, all this wasn’t a surprise, and yet it kinda was.

Elephant9 have been compared to King Crimson and Yes, which makes total sense but doesn’t touch upon their non-vocal reality, which is a BIG plus for me. It also doesn’t get to how they kick up a storm for long stretches (and for entire albums) without the presence of guitar, though frequent collaborator Reine Fiske does bring the strings on Backfire II. This lack of guitar is navigated through general intensity, but also through the right amount of organ edge-grind (and fitting for a trio, the bass presence is large). Like a lot of progsters, Elephant9 get the jazz comparison, and in this case it’s legit, though they nicely avoid fusion’s excesses. They also open Backfire II with a 14-minute cover of Stevie’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.” Bold, and good. Note: there’s a box set of these with an extra LP. A-/ A-

Nicolas Gaunin, Noa Noa Noa (Hive Mind) Gaunin, aka Nicola Sanguin, is an Italian experimentalist who some may know for his work in Lay Llamas and Orange Car Crash. Last year he released this music on cassette via the Artetetra label as Noa Noa. Here it is on vinyl with an extra Noa courtesy of Hive Mind, who have blossomed into one of the scene’s more reliable labels. Their PR for this set drops scads of names detailing Gaunin/ Sanguin’s inspirations, many of them composers ranging from the avant-garde (Partch, Moondog, Xenakis) to the tiki torch lounge (that would be Martin Denny) but there are also links to Africa (Francis Bebay) and Nintendo-style video game music informing this eclectic, occasionally fascinating and incessantly rhythmic platter. Like a trip to the rainforest on some really good drugs. A-

Necking, Cut Your Teeth (Mint) Part of this Vancouver four-piece’s story is how they told people they were a band before ever playing a lick of music together. If this seems like folly, I disagree; hell, it’s just one way to set things in motion. I’m sure it’s not the first time it’s happened. On the other hand, given their origins, the consistency and high quality of Cut Your Teeth becomes a bigger sort of deal. After 2017’s “Meditation Tape” EP this is their full-length debut, and while the early material was loose cohesive punk proudly carrying a Bikini Kill/ Bratmobile torch, the newer stuff is denser/ heavier to a positive result. Mucho band practice is clear, but more importantly they (seemingly) swipe moves from ’90s indie/ Alt rock and Grunge but with no bad aftertaste. Worry not, as there’s still a Riot goin’ on. A-

Oceans of the Moon, S/T (Castle Face) It was only a few weeks back that Six Finger Satellite was referenced in this space (as an influence on Psychic Graveyard), and now here’s the latest from Rick Pelletier, he of Six Finger plus Landed and LA Machine. The synths are still here, and so is the general cyberpunk aura; the vocal effect in opener “Hope Will Pass” reinforces the cited reference point of Chrome (and by extension, I hear a little Psychic Powerless-era Butthole Surfers). But the biggest structural aspect of Oceans of the Moon’s debut is Rock, and in “Baby Chiffon,” a sort of oddball funk. They sorta share this foundation with the Castle Face release directly below. The big dif is how this connects as a continued outgrowth of the ’80s-’90s u-ground scene of which Pelletier was a part. B+

Prettiest Eyes, Vol. 3 (Castle Face) As can be ascertained from the title, this is the third full-length from this Los Angelino three-piece, offering a sound that’s been tagged at least once as post-Industrial, though the perceptible level of Suicide-like swagger puts me in the mind of proto-Industrial. But I should clarify; it’s not that Prettiest Eyes have stood in front of some mirrors sharpening moves, it’s more the rock ‘n’ roll bedrock of many of the songs. This classique element is even a rudiment in their very sharp cover of Crash Course in Science’s “It Cost’s to Be Austere.” There are numerous spots reminiscent of the Neue Deutsche Welle, though this is closer to chug and grind than herk and jerk. But yes, industrial; “Marihuana” reverberates the way I always wished (most) Wax Trax stuff did. So, alright! A-

Terry Riley & Gyan Riley, Way Out Yonder (ORG Music) Terry Riley has long ranked amongst my top modern composers, though I’ll confess that a sizable percentage of his more recent output has eluded me, and for no other reason than too few hours, days, etc. This 2LP is a prime example; released in 2018 on CD and featuring live performances from the previous year (with one exception, the opening “Out Yonder,” which dates from 2014) by Riley (piano, melodica, electronics and voice) and his son Gyan (guitar), the results are warm, inviting and exploratory. Plus, for me, additionally enlightening, as this long set serves as my introduction to Gyan’s work (he’s recorded live with his dad before, and amongst other releases has a solo CD out on John Zorn’s Tzadik label). Good for relaxing, and yet substantial. A-

Elliott Sharp, Plastový Hrad (Infrequent Seams) Sharp has been one of the leading figures in the avant-garde for decades, with this stature undiminished even if one just focuses on his recent work for Infrequent Seams, of which this is his third CD after a gap of a few years (he’s been prolific on other labels; this is his fourth release of 2019). This new one includes a work for chamber orchestra (the opening title track), a mini-opera, and a solo electroacoustic piece for bass clarinet. “Plastový Hrad” was commissioned by the Brno Contemporary Orchestra in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Czech Republic; it’s as powerful as “Turing Test” is playful and occasionally disorienting, but it’s the inspired abstraction and flashes of beauty throughout “Oumuamua” that really elevates this whole. A

Joanna Sternberg, Then I Try Some More (Team Love) This is NYC-based singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Sternberg’s debut LP, and it’s impressive both compositionally and in terms of execution, but it’s maybe a little too wide-ranging, which isn’t anywhere close to a major flaw. I’d say ears attuned to indie folk will find this of interest, but then a tune like “Pimba” exudes a kid’s music vibe (I mean, it’s about “the littlest penguin”) that’s gentleness reminds me of pre-Reagan administration PBS fund-drives. What saves it for me is an utter lack of the cutesy. Well, what really saves the album for me is Sternberg’s work on piano, which reveals the influence of Randy Newman (especially “For You”), though the songs aren’t satirical, they’re earnest (Elliott Smith is another Sternberg biggie). Mucho promise. B+

Umberto, Helpless Spectator (Thrill Jockey) The moniker employed by composer Matt Hill is an homage (perhaps that should be hommage) to filmmaker Umberto Lenzi, an insanely prolific Italian genre director who made everything from period adventures to spy films to gialli to poliziotteschi to horror and specifically, entries in the notorious cannibal genre. Apparently, Hill’s prior material as Umberto (all pre-Thrill Jockey) lands more forthrightly in ’80s sci-fi/ horror soundtrack territory, which is to say that, while there are selections here (specifically, “Sadness, Happiness, Disgust and Surprise”) which conjure cinematic tension with aplomb, Helpless Spectator isn’t so easily compartmentalized. In fact, much of the LP radiates neo-classically. This is a sometimes-insubstantial zone going down OK here. B+

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