Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
August 2019, Part Five

Part five of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—presently in stores for August, 2019. Part one is here, part two is here, part three is here, and part four is here.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Andrew Munsey, High Tide (Birdwatcher) Munsey is a drummer, composer, producer, and with the release of this often-superb quintet debut, solidly established as a jazz bandleader. His counterparts for the record are Steph Richards on trumpet and flugelhorn, Ochion Jewell on tenor saxophone and kalimba, Amino Belyamani on piano and Fender Rhodes, and Sam Minaie on double bass, and they cover broad territory across 11 compositions, all Munsey originals save for Stravinsky’s “Les Cinq Doigts: Lento,” while settling into a hearty zone that’s thoroughly “advanced” without tipping over into the avant-garde. However, assorted nudges; a blown line here, an abstract passage there, and numerous crescendos of intensity, do acknowledge jazz’s outside, and that’s cool.

There are more than a couple of spots where Richards reminds me of ’60s Don Cherry, which deepens the coolness considerably. But Munsey the composer clearly expands upon the structural jazz richness of the ’60s-’70s. I threw the quotes around advanced above in part because I was reminded of the “advanced bop” that Blue Note specialized in during the ’60s (this was also when Cherry recorded for the label). Belyamani on Rhodes brought forth thoughts of Corea, but on the straight keys my attention turned to Andrew Hill, though this is reinforced by the strength of Munsey’s composing. To his and the band’s credit, they aren’t shy over straight beauty moves, and we can all use some beauty in 2019. It’s out tomorrow digitally and on CD but also on double vinyl, so wax-loving fans of new jazz take note. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Arlo Guthrie, Alice’s Restaurant: OST (50th Anniversary Edition) (Omnivore) Every season has its appropriate sounds, and as fall nears that’s mainly Halloween stuff, but due to its association with Thanksgiving, Alice’s Restaurant has become an autumnal standard. I’m talking about the original song/ album, but folks craving a fresh spin on Guthrie’s mammoth story-tune should look into this set on CD or 2LP. In my memory, Arthur Penn’s film of the tale, which starred Guthrie, wasn’t very good. This expanded byproduct of the movie is much better. The song is done numerous times, intermingled with bluegrass-tinged instrumental bits, a group-sung “Amazing Grace,” Pete Seeger, and Tigger Outlaw’s version of Joni’s “Song to Aging Children.” Not a mindblower, but very likeable. B+

Vince Guaraldi, It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (Craft) This wasn’t necessarily what I was referencing with the above mention of Halloween stuff, but you really can’t get more seasonal than this set, which is making its vinyl debut. That factoid might seem crazy, but please understand that the music totals all of 20 minutes; it’s all on side one, with an etching of Linus’ obsession on the flip. Also of note: it glows in the dark. While the iconic “Linus and Lucy” and “The Great Pumpkin Waltz” are here, most of the rest is quite short and even fragmentary. But hey, what these collected pieces might lack in fully developed flow they make up for in sheer joyous-jazzy ambiance. The aura is amiable, maybe too much so for some serious jazzbos, and includes fluting, which is no surprise as he was a West Coast guy. A-

!!!, Wallop (Warp) I was into this band circa 2001-‘04 (their self-titled debut, the “Me and Giuliani…” EP, the full-length follow-up Louden Up Now) but lost track of their subsequent work; well, not totally, as I would hear a cut here and there and it would all generally sound just fine. I’ll say the same about this latest release, which is a marked shift from their early stuff (material I typically think of when folks say “dance punk”) toward what frontman Nic Offer openly admits is a more ’90s-impacted sound. This is most tangibly manifest in various shades of techno, including rave and even house-tinged pop. That’s not necessarily a promising development, but there’re still plenty of odd twists and edginess amid the funkiness, so that !!! continue to register as an emphatic soundtrack for freak flag flying. B+

Bibi Ahmed, Adghah (Sounds of Subterrania) Hailing from Agadez in Niger, guitarist-vocalist Ahmed leads Group Inerane, who fans of Tuareg blues may recall cut a pair of albums (and a 7-inch) for Sublime Frequencies roughly a decade back. And for lovers of this psych-trance-groove style, not only will Adghah hit the sweet spot, I’ll go so far as to call it a must. If accurately noted as a solo record, with Ahmed recording everything himself, he isn’t deviating from the Tuareg blues-Tamachek guitar folk-Sahara-rock template, though there are moments of heightened intimacy, e.g. the pretty guitar glide and up-front vocal warmth of standout late track “Tamiditin Janette.” Cut in Lotte Lindenberg Studio in Frankfurt, the results are in league with similar recent work on Glitterbeat and Sahel Sounds. A-

Ben Babbitt, Paris Window OST (Not Not Fun) I briefly suspected this was one of those soundtracks to a film that didn’t actually exist, in part because the cover photo seemed closer to something derived from a book of photography or the portfolio of a visual artist than a still from a movie, but hey, the PR indicated legitimacy and a little further checking on my part backed up that Paris Window is not a faux kinda deal. Specifically, there’s a minute-long teaser for the movie on director Amanda Kramer’s website that connects as nearer to a work one might view in a museum (a definite video installation vibe) than in a standard movie theater; it’s almost certain to not be playing at the nearby (or distant) multiplex. Actually, I’m not sure it’s playing anywhere at the moment (a physical space or even streaming online).

All this shouldn’t suggest that the 60-second glimpse of Paris Window lacks in qualities that are recognizably “cinematic.” It has them, and so does its soundtrack, though I wouldn’t call Babbitt’s work “traditional.” The PR describes it as being in the ballpark of “some hypnagogic contemporary noir.” As this set features a persistent drifting synth aura that’s reliably off-center, I can get with that comparison. The track titles support the analogy as well, for “They Love Each Other,” there is an “Investigation,” we meet “The Landlord,” and then go to “Sunny’s Party.” But there’s also a “Spirit Gate” leading into surreal/ supernatural territory. As the selections unwind, Babbitt’s prior experience in scoring (and co-creating) the experiential adventure video game Kentucky Route Zero comes nicely into focus. A-

Ruth Garbus, Kleinmeister (Orindal) Ruth might not be as high-profile as her sister Merrill (of tUnE-yArDs), but she’s been on the scene for a while, initially in the freak-folkish Feathers and then the psych-pop-inclined Happy Birthday, but it’s really her solo work, beginning in 2006 with the originally self-released “Ruthie’s Requests” cassette mini-album, the Rendezvous with Rama LP, and her pair of 7-inch discs, “Hello Everybody” and the gemlike “Joule EP,” that capture her talent emerging into full bloom. With Kleinmeister, this flowering is extended beautifully. The aura of Northeastern (specifically, VT) liberal arts college town neo-folk is still present, but along with sharpened vocal skill (Garbus is now a mezzo soprano) she’s reaching into Joni-esque areas. Highlight “Slusher” mingles in some Laurie A. A-

Hugar, Varða (Sony Music Masterworks) This is the second LP from the Icelandic duo of Bergur Þórisson and Pétur Jónsson, and the first for Sony Masterworks. Said label might lead you to the conclusion that Varða is a classical thing (with a suspicion toward neo-classical), and as this is my introduction to Hugar, I was holding the same expectations. As the tranquil piano prettiness caressed my ear, I thought I nailed it, but then came a grand sorta bandlike sweep that lead me to utter, “yeah, Iceland,” and then “Sigur Rós.” The album’s title references the stone markers that once led travelers to the Icelandic Parliament, and the way the music reaches upward points to achievement in a journey. I can dig it but wouldn’t’ve minded a touch of dark edge ala Godspeed. But I do understand there’s a lot of sunlight in Iceland. B

Lightning Bolt, Wonderful Rainbow (Thrill Jockey) While reliably steady (and satisfying) with the release schedule, Thrill Jockey isn’t known as a reissue label, which makes their acquisition of Lightning Bolt’s catalog extra noteworthy. But as the duo is in partnership with Thrill Jockey and with a new release on the horizon, getting the entire catalog (the full-length records, anyway) under one sturdy roof, which appears to be the plan, makes total sense. Starting not at the self-titled beginning but with Wonderful Rainbow, which is their third from 2003, might seem a curious decision, but the LP is considered by many to be Chippendale and Gibson’s most “accessible” (not the word, really), and I agree. Issuing this one first thoughtfully acclimates newbies to the rumbling momentum before hitting the wilder stuff. A

Dylan Moon, Only the Blues (RVNG Intl.) I, and I’m assuming others, generally think of RVNG Intl. as an electronic music label, though one with a roving focus that to my ears has fostered a sustained appeal. The debut LP from west coaster Dylan Moon diverts from that template, but only initially. Offering 14 tracks in a tidy 35 minutes, Only the Blues isn’t stylistically bluesy but folky. But Moon, who studied electronic production and sound design, integrates drum machine rhythms amid an often hazy occasionally hissy production approach that by album’s end has sauntered right up to RVNG’s overall thing. Make no mistake, these are full-fledged songs, with the titular blues expressed in a downtrodden quality that connects at times a little like post-folk ’70s soft-rock, but more damaged, i.e. better. A-

Palm Haze, Rêve Bleu (YHS) The name of the group suggested a tropical experience, with the second word leading me to wonder if this was extending from the early hypnagogic pop angle that was like, “fuck it, let’s go to the islands and score some drugs.” But no. Palm Haze, a duo, are from Vancouver, and they dive into a blend of shoegaze and indie guitar-based pop-rock, with touches of dream pop in the mix. I say touches of dream-pop, as Rêve Bleu never fully decamps into the ethereal neighborhood, and that’s alright with me. Instead, they connect as descendants from the template of My Bloody Valentine, Ride, and others of their ilk. Closer, “Almost Soon” filters in some neo-psych, but I’m going to cite the nine minutes of “Wildflower” as the record’s standout track. Nice work. On CD and tape. B+

Parsnip, When the Tree Bears Fruit (ANTI FADE – Trouble In Mind) Melbourne’s Parsnip consists of bassist Paris Richens, guitarist Stella Rennex, drummer Carolyn Hawkins, and keyboardist Rebecca Liston. They’ve been described as a punk affair, and that works for me, though their stuff isn’t so easily classified. The influence of children’s verse and nursery rhymes is mentioned, and as this 35-minute debut full-length (there are two prior 45s) plays, that’s discernible, but on an introductory blind listen, this set didn’t strike me once as twee. Also, the band and album names plus “Sprouts” suggest they are really into gardening, foliage, and the produce market. Maybe they are, but the LP’s title derives from poet Sri Chinmoy, illuminating wide-ranging inspiration and influence, an unimpeachably good thing. A-

The Vacant Lots, “Exit EP” (A Recordings) This Burlington, VT-NYC duo have a lot of records out, but only two full-lengths. You know what that means. They gravitate toward the 7-inch and EP, and this new one, their second for Anton Newcombe’s label, underscores adeptness at the short form, as well. That they are on A Recordings additionally points to their heavy neo-psych comportment and that Newcombe will be involved in some way beyond simply acting as label head. On “Bells,” the opening track here, he plays bass, synths, guitars, and sings backing along with running the desk. Stretching out to nearly six minutes, its crisp pop-rock psych propulsion is my pick for the EP’s standout, though the hovering ruminations morphing into drumbox punk of the eight-minute closer “Funeral Party” isn’t far behind. A-

Zwitschermachine, System for Us (WhyPlayJazz) The debut CD from alto saxophonist-clarinetist Mark Weschenfelder’s group (he’s joined by flautists Paul Berberich and Vincent Bababoutilabo, trombonist Adrian Kleinlosen, guitarist Joachim Wespel, double bassist Andris Meinig, and drummer Florian Lauer) is described by the label as drawing upon “Krautrock, psychedelic, ambient, groove and post-M-Base”; the latter influences might suggest that this set bops around a lot, but while certainly accessible (in the context of progressive jazz), I’m more impacted by the mentions of Henry Threadgill and Earle Brown (the disc’s title references Brown’s composition “Folio and 4 Systems”) and the version of Meredith Monk’s “Hocket.” Systems for Us is compositionally rich with edge, but still swings mightily. A-

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