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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Michael Vincent Waller, Moments (Unseen Worlds) Waller is a NYC-based composer whose debut The South Shore was released in 2015 on XI Records, the label of composer Phill Niblock. Amongst others, Waller has studied with La Monte Young, and if these info tidbits are leading you towards the drone, I say whoa there, partner. On this, his third release (out on CD and 2LP) Waller more appropriately fits the bill of minimalist, or maybe better said miniaturist, as the piano pieces here, played by R. Andrew Lee, are reminiscent of Erik Satie. The selections for vibraphone, played by William Winant, are more resistant to easy comparison, at least for me; ultimately, they chart their own contemplative course. With excellent notes by Tim Rutherford-Johnson and “Blue” Gene Tyranny. A

Boduf Songs, Abyss Versions (Orindal) Mat Sweet from Southampton UK (and who is currently based in Toledo, OH) is the man behind Boduf Songs, a long-running endeavor (roughly 15 years) combining home recordings blending organic instrumentation and assorted electronic additives plus field recordings. He’s been described as an electroacoustic musician, an that’s not wrong, but Sweet is, per the name of the project, invested in songs, and he displays appealingly broad range across his seventh album. If the domain is the homestead, this isn’t a lo-fi thing, instead reminding me a bit at times of Mark Kozelek or Warn Defever crossed with Low (there is a Kranky connection). However, other parts cozy up to darkwave flirting with bedroom industrial, and the guitar playing is consistently sharp. A-

Gong Gong Gong, Phantom Rhythm 幽靈節奏 (Wharf Cat) Duo music in an approximate rock mode commonly features a drummer or some form of mechanical device in service of creating beats. This record is a striking exception in that its Beijing-based makers Tom Ng (born in Hong Kong) and Joshua Frank (born in Montreal but an intermittent resident of Beijing since he was a child) play guitar and bass respectively. Ng sings in his native tongue, which is described in the label PR as a defiant gesture (folks currently following world news should understand). However, don’t go thinking there’s an absence of rhythm here, as they work up robust post-punk grooves. They have wide-ranging influences (Bo Diddley, Cantonese opera, desert blues, drones and electronics) but a focused attack. Impressive for a debut. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Ethel Mae Bourque, Chansons de la campagne (Nouveau Electric) CDs and tapes are reviewed in this column, as the point of the endeavor is what’s newly available to buy in stores. However, it takes a special release on these formats to grab a weekly pick, and that’s the case with this CD from the label of Lost Bayou Rambler Louis Michot. Ethel Mae Bourque was a friend, mentor, and inspiration to the fiddler, with a large store of original songs and versions of Louisiana French nuggets at her command. These field recordings were made by documentarian Erik Charpentier in her kitchen in 2003-’04 (she passed in 2011) with occasional contributions from Michot and his brother David on guitar. It unwinds like a choice Lomax session but with heightened personal flavor. A-

Max Andrzejewski’s Hütte, Hütte & Guests Play the Music of Robert Wyatt (WhyPlayJazz) If you dig non-crap progressive rock, Robert Wyatt is almost certainly one of your guys. Along with membership in Soft Machine and Matching Mole, his wealth of solo recordings solidifies his stature in the overlap of rock, jazz, and the avant-garde. Upon invitation to participate in the British tribute program Leipzig Jazztage, drummer-bandleader Andrzejewski chose Wyatt’s music, expanded his core quartet with Turkish vocalist Cansu Tanrıkulu and organist-guitarist Jörg Hochapfel, and got down to it. However, rather than a live document of from the fest, this CD was captured in studio later, and the sharpened collective execution is palpable as the selections aren’t those one might expect. Pretty delightful all-around. A-

Bark, Terminal Everything (Striped Light / Cool Dog Sound) A fine record from a Knoxville, TN duo that grapples with loss, specifically departed family, friends, and beloved animal companions, that’s tucked into a sleeve featuring an exceptional linocut artwork by drummer-vocalist Susan Bauer Lee and hand-printed via letterpress by Knoxville’s Striped Light Studio. Now, Bark is what happens when the Tim Lee 3 loses a member and Bauer Lee switches from bass to drums. They do enlist some help across Terminal Everything’s ten tracks (backing vocal touches, a little lap steel, some extra guitar, a likeable bit of rhyming by Black Atticus at the end of “Apocalypse Shimmy” and even electronics in the excellent closing Deep South rumination “Chimneyville”), so the sound isn’t really two-piece minimal.

Rather, it extends and adjusts the post-Paisley U-ground roots-pop action of the prior trio and the extensive earlier work of its guitarist-vocalist namesake. Tim Lee’s been a working musician since the ’80s in a bunch of different contexts (for the scoop, please dip into the review of Tim Lee 3’s Devil’s Rope in this website’s archives), but there isn’t a trace of fatigue in his playing, or for that matter in the record’s thematic weight. Instead, it deals with the pain that life can dish out in one of the best ways possible; by bonding together and creating artistically. The alternating/ shared vocals of Tim and Susan can still radiate like John Doe and Exene, and that’s cool, but there’s a sense of maturity that leads me to think fans of Don Dixon and Marti Jones will find Terminal Everything very much to their liking. A-

Imani Coppola, The Protagonist (Ipecac) Coppola is a seasoned performer who debuted in ’97 with Chupacabra. I recall that record but confess to not checking it out, and I also missed the handful of self-released efforts that followed. She debuted on Ipecac in 2007, then returned to self-released mode for a few more, and here she’s back on Mike Patton’s label. Ipecac’s involvement paired with The Protagonist’s cover design hinted at a twisted retro-songstress excursion, but that’s not what’s happening here. Instead, Coppola’s latest is a journey through disparate styles: there’s country twang, techno glitchy moments, punky jaunts, and pop both retro (’60s girl group) and screamingly contempo (the gunshots in “Sage” had me thinking of M.I.A.). Overall, it’s too diverse, but admirably so. B

ESSi, Vital Creatures (Ramp Local) Brooklyn’s Jessica Ackerley (vocals and guitar) and Rick Daniel (drums and electronics) attain levels of noisy, experimental post-punk heft that makes their duo reality quite striking (the only extra contribution is Paige Johnson Brown’s backing vocals on three tracks). Even more impressively, this appears to be their full-length debut. While the guitar intricacy in opener “Marimba” had me thinking of mathematical happenings from roughly ten years’ time ago, ESSi dallied not in productive branching out. As records commonly do, Vital Creatures came with a handful of comparisons, and the one I was most dubious about was This Heat. However, “Seams” got in the ballpark. Dang. And “Deal” followed it up with some almost Merzbow-level noise. Dang again. A-

Jason James, Seems Like Tears Ago (Melodyville) The opening title track here gets so deep into the boozy back room ambience of classic honky-tonk, with a resemblance to George Jones in particular, that I was momentarily blindsided by memories, circa the late ’70s, of having been enveloped in the strains of country radio. That James so resembles his idols across these tracks, which constitute something of a career refresh after parting ways with his prior label, isn’t necessarily a compliment, especially as there’s been an increase in folks traversing similar avenues of late. Three things put this in the solid category: the songs are strong, the band is even stronger, and James is a good enough singer that even when he sounds like somebody else, which is most of the time. he doesn’t come off as a mimic. For Fulks fans. B+

Henry Kaiser, Anthony Pirog, Tracy Silverman, Jeff Sipe, Andy West, Five Times Surprise (Cuneiform) I’ve just received a couple new releases from this label, which is great, and we’ll get to ‘em in the next few weeks, but the new stuff reminded me that I’d almost let this one slip through the cracks. That wouldn’t’ve been a smart move, as I’m certain that fans of prog guitar scorch and early fusion jazz forcefulness will have many days made by soaking up this maxi-length CD. The reason for the delay was partly because I’d planned a full review, as there’s a whole lot of interesting background relating to the participants, but as should be clear, that didn’t work out. So, rather than let Five Times Surprise fall by the wayside, I’ll attempt a briefer summation.

We’ll begin with guitar master Kaiser as project coordinator; he’s a man of versatility who can combine Dead-inspired expansiveness with avant qualities shared with compatriots like Fred Frith and Eugene Chadbourne. That makes him a great fit with the younger Pirog, who can work in modes post-Gatton and post-Fugazi. Silverman is a slayer on electric violin, lending this set a deep similarity to early Mahavishnu Orchestra (though this is not a tribute). Drummer Sipe is a co-founder of Aquarium Rescue Unit and six-string bassist West a Dixie Dreg, which adds subtle Southern jam prog vibes to the equation. But while technically proficient and surely progressive, the larger reason I dig this release is that the soloing can get noisy as shit. Sipe and West make it heavy without curtailing the outbound tendencies. A

Pavone String Ensemble, Brick and Mortar (Birdwatcher) Fitting for the title, there is a physical release of these exceptional, if terse, five pieces composed by Jessica Pavone, who plays viola alongside Joanna Mattrey on the same instrument and Erica Dicker and Angela Morris on violins, though it’s currently CD-only (she’s had vinyl issued prior, specifically Knuckle Under in 2014). But I’m going to guess the title here doesn’t really apply to consumer practices but to general structural sturdiness; at least said durability is evidenced in this music, which finds Pavone returning to writing for group after an extensive (six-year) solo period. Bowed strings are one of my favorite sounds, and when they follow the drone path, even better, so “Sooner or Later” is a highlight, though this set is pretty immaculate overall. A

The Penguin Café, Handfuls of Night (Erased Tapes) This LP was sparked by a commission from Greenpeace for four compositions corresponding to four breeds of penguins in aid of heightening awareness over the endangered Antarctic seas, a smart idea on levels beyond the obvious, with “Chinstrap,” “Adelie,” “The Life of an Emperor,” and “Gentoo Origin” flowing forth with the expected intermingled neoclassical and minimalism with contempo touches (please note that this group, started by Arthur Jeffes, is distinct from his father Simon’s Penguin Café Orchestra). Handfuls of Night offers five additional tracks seamlessly combing with the above four, with the prominent bowed strings helping counterbalance any overbearing prettiness (a frequent personal hang-up with this sorta thing). B+

Zaparatus, S/T (Bohemian Amigos Artworks) In the spirit of full disclosure, half of this Maryland-based duo, namely Erik Anders (who plays bass, keyboards, and co-produces), is an old high school chum (we were even in a band together, of which I will say no more. I mean it.), and will add that we are still friendly, though these days our contact is predominantly online. Now, some will say that our relationship disqualifies me from reviewing this record, the debut of his duo with Mike Brittingham (who plays guitar, keyboards, and is the other producer, and whom I don’t think has ever made my acquaintance) but as should be obvious, I hold the opposing viewpoint. This is only partly because they sent me an endearingly oddball platter (and one that’s not at all what I expected).

This is not to say that I dig it all equally. In fact, I enjoyed opener “Birth of the Salmon” not at all. It markedly diverges from their self-described combo of psychedelic jam-band live instrumentation (sans-vocals) and electronic beats (EDM and acid techno are also mentioned), though I do get the point that it’s a (four minute) intro-fanfare of sorts. On the positive side, I like the subsequent stuff. If you’re curious over the stylistic combo, this doesn’t strike my ear as reminiscent of HORDE tour vets, nor does it suggest late-night warehouse mania. Instead, it reminds me of a couple of dudes who drove down to the beach, set up their equipment on a pier and then let it fly. It’s loose, it glides (but with weight), it gets agreeably trippy (in a mild, fun way), and it does groove, but to its own rhythm, and that’s cool. B

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