Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for October 2020, Part Six

Part six of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for October 2020. Part one is here, part two is here, part three is here, part four is here, and part five is here.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Judith Hamann, Shaking Studies & Music for Cello and Humming (Blank Forms Editions) Released conjointly on October 30 (though there might be pressing plant delays), Shaking (on LP) and Humming (on CD) comprise Australian cellist Hamann’s debut as a soloist, though she has recorded with Tashi Wada, Graham Lambkin, Alvin Lucier, and Rosalind Hall. Knowledge of those names will clue one in to Hamann’s boldly experimental bent; suffice to say that lovers of the drone will want to get acquainted with these sets (she has worked La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela), even as the titles make clear that Hamann’s thematic focus for both releases goes beyond “simple” elevated note extension. Far beyond. The abundance of cello on these albums also strengthens connections to the classical avant-garde, though as the label points out, Hamann is consistently resisting “chamber music orthodoxy.” Shaking’s relation to its titular action is subtle but discernible; Humming spreads out to nearly 80 minutes and, due to the human need to breathe, is rife with pauses, strategically executed. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Catherine Christer Hennix, Unbegrenzt (Blank Forms Editions / Empty Editions) Along with two books, Poësy Matters and Other Matters, Blank Forms and Empty Editions have already issued two magnificent archival volumes of unheard music from Swedish composer Hennix, Selected Early Keyboard Works and The Deontic Miracle: Selections from 100 Models of Hegikan Roku, the latter sharing the top spot on my Best Reissues of 2019 list. Recorded in Stockholm in 1974, with Hennix (recitation, percussion, electronics) and Hans Isgren (bowed gong) “performing” “Unbegrenzt” (Unlimited), one of 15 text pieces from Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Aus den Sieben Tagen (From the Seven Days) the nearly 52-minute piece (split over two sides of vinyl) is to my ear superior to the version from 1969 that features Stockhausen himself. I’m not alone in this view, as the PR describes Stockhausen’s concept of “intuitive music” as “Eurocentric,” while Bill Dietz’s liner notes are considerably less kind to ol’ Karl, and that’s perfectly fine. Parts of this suggest traces of AMM and gamelan music as heard from inside a radio communications outpost, and that’s very fine. A

Zazou Bikaye, Mr. Manager (Expanded Edition) (Crammed Discs) This set follows Crammed’s 2017 reissue of Noir et Blanc, which was the collab of Congolese vocalist-composer Bony Bikaye, French musician-producer Hector Zazou, and modular synth team CY1 (that’s Frenchmen Guillaume Loizillon and Claude Micheli). Mr. Manager, originally a mini-LP, came out in 1985 with Zazou Bikaye solidifying as a band as CY1 exited the scene. There were additional selections recorded at the same time and in ’86, once intended for LP release but shelved as Zazou Bikaye moved on to release Guilty in ’88. This expansion rounds up that set-aside material (including two remixes of “Get Back” dating from 1990) for an 8-song LP (the mini-album held five) and a 14-song CD (a full download accompanies the vinyl). I remain quite enthusiastic over Noir et Blanc, and I like this too, but just not as much. The debut reminded me a little of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (except I consider Zazou Bikaye’s record to be stronger), and the continued African/ European fusion of Mr. Manager hits my ear a smidge like Talking Heads at their most dancy. But more eclectic, which is appreciated. A-

The Fall, The Frenz Experiment Expanded Edition (Beggars Arkive) The reissues by Beggars Arkive of The Fall’s Beggars Banquet output have been highlighted pretty extensively in this column, and by extension, I’ve mentioned at least once that back in the day, the band’s albums for the label were somewhat contentious, as many felt that Mark E. Smith and company (which at the time, included Brix Smith) had lost the plot and smoothed out. The Frenz Experiment, which included a UK-charting cover of The Kinks’ “Victoria,” didn’t curb the griping, but that’s a long time ago now. I find the record holds up well, especially in these 21-track 2LP and 28-track 2CD editions. Both include “Bremen Nacht Run Out” and “Mark’ll Sink Us” from the 45 that accompanied the UK and German first pressings of the LP. Exclusive to the CD version are four tracks from an unreleased BBC Radio session, a cover of “A Day in the Life” (very good), a nine-minute “Bremen Nacht (Alternative),” and an additional version of “Mark’ll Sink Us.” Overall, not as strong as Bend Sinister before or I Am Kurious Oranj after, but sharp, nonetheless. A-

Rachel Brooke, The Loneliness in Me (Mal) The work of singer-songwriter Brooke is drenched in old-school C&W flavor, but with aspects of the execution situating her as something other than a mere throwback. At least on this album, which serves as my introduction to a fairly extensive discography, though this is her first full-length in eight years (she did release a 6-song 7-inch in 2016). Brooke has a strong voice that when she’s really belting can remind me a little of Neko Case, but with a production approach that’s booming, often echo-laden and on a few occasions saunters right up to the border of cosmic. This combines with the honky-tonk pedal-steel in “Lucky and Alone,” laid on so thick that it’s like staggering out to the parking lot and confusing car headlights in the distance for a low-flying UFO. Good times. And then “The Awful Parts of Me” delivers some sweeping strings that recall the heyday of countrypolitan sans the syrup, and that’s a welcome lack. Overall, The Loneliness in Me is a grower of an album with some stealth ’60s gal-pop songwriting moves. B+

Emily Kuhn, Sky Stories (BACE) Trumpeter Kuhn, originally from Charlottesville, VA but currently based in Chicago, works as a sidewoman, composer, music educator and the leader of Helios, the chamber jazz nonet that’s heard on seven of the ten tracks on Sky Stories, her impressive debut CD. The other group features two trumpets (Kuhn, Joe Suihkonen), bass (Katie Ernst), and drums (Nate Friedman), and together they cohere into a whole that’s stylistically expansive. Helios (which features 11 participants here, though not everyone contributes to every track) is built around a string-section core, which brings chamber-jazz into the mix, but there’s also some trad large band warmth, personified by a version of “Body and Soul.” In “Fit,” the quartet delivers free jazz in the manner of Ornette Coleman, a comparison that led me to contemplate the scope of Sky Stories as being reminiscent of Coleman circa his Science Fiction sessions. Did I mention Mercedes Inez Martinez’s vocals? How about the group singing in opener “Roses,” which briefly stirred thoughts of Andrew Hill’s Lift Every Voice? B+

Juana Molina, ANRMAL (Crammed Discs) The boundary-pushing work of Argentine singer-songwriter Molina has been covered numerous times by this website, with her Halo album making my list of the best new releases of 2017. She’s also been the subject of a live performance feature, though not for the show documented here (on her first ever live album), which took place at the NRMAL Festival in Mexico City back in March of this year, shortly before the Covid-19 shit hit the fan. The setlist, taken from her albums Un Dia (’08), Wed 21 (’13), Halo, and the “Forfun” EP (’19), congeals into a solid representation of Molina’s consistency over the last dozen years, and if the songs aren’t as vibrant as the studio versions, this is a familiar situation with live albums, and Molina makes up for this lack with an energy level that’s high and sustained. However, I’ll add that Molina, her band (featuring Odín Schwartz and Pablo González) and the venue’s sound engineers did a fine job of getting into the ballpark of her album sound. A strong recording, but a bittersweet one, as it drives home how much we miss live music. A-

Veyrouz Mint Seymali, “Music From Saharan WhatsApp 09” (Sahel Sounds) Sahel Sounds’ series of digital-only, cellphone recorded EPs keeps on rolling, with volume nine featuring Veyrouz Mint Seymali, the daughter of Dimi Mint Abba, aka Mauritania’s “Diva of the Desert,” who passed in 2011. Recorded in Veyrouz’ home salon, the five pieces provide a vibrant taste of classical Mauritanian music while simultaneously establishing her as the current exemplar of the Seymali family’s crucial role in shaping the culture of the country; her father was a distinguished scholar, and her maternal grandfather composed Mauritania’s national anthem. For this recording, Veyrouz sings and plucks the ardin (a type of Mauritanian harp played by women griots), Memi and El Alem add percussion, Meyassa Mint Seymali lends backing vocals, and Ahmed Dendeny delivers the snaky tendrils of psych-edged guitar. Only available until November 10 on Bandcamp, and then we move on to volume 10. A-

Henrietta Smith-Rolla, “Kamali” (SA Recordings) British born Ghanaian/ Russian/ German artist, composer, producer, and DJ Henrietta Smith-Rolla is currently based in Manchester in the UK, with her music informed by electro, techno and house sounds (she often employs the handle Afrodeutsche), but also solo classical piano, which is what’s heard on this 10-inch EP collecting Smith-Rolla’s pieces for the soundtrack to Sasha Rainbow’s short documentary film “Kamali,” which takes as its subject a seven-year-old who happens to be the only girl skateboarder in her town in India, though across its 24 minutes, it’s as much about Kamali’s mother. Altogether, it’s a moving short, with Smith-Rolla’s compositions deepening the impact, though naturally, her achievement shines most brightly when heard in isolation. Her playing is spare, small m minimalist (think post-Satie) and quite pretty, but with heft. The only real letdown is that it’s over in under ten minutes. A whole LP in this mode would be wholeheartedly welcomed. This comes with a sample library created for composers and producers. B+

Sonja Tofik, Anomi (Moloton) The first full-length LP from Swedish electroacoustic musician and composer Tofik (she debuted with the Neuros cassette in 2017) is available in an edition of 200, half on black wax and the rest on clear, its title the Swedish word for anomie, which is a term dating back to 1893 as devised by French sociologist Émile Durkheim, which describes “the condition in which society provides little moral guidance to individuals,” with this absence leading to self-destructive behavior and societal deterioration. This is a heavy can of worms to open up across a 36-minute LP, but Tofik’s ambitions are well-realized as she engages with structure, sometimes cyclical, at other moments to the border of songlike, due in part to the intermittent inclusion of vocals. While anomie results in anguish (or at least malaise), Tofik’s work here isn’t despairing (intense, yes) but rather reflects a way out through a call to reintegrate mysticism into life. Tofik has also collaborated on LP with Mar-llena and was a part of the studio collective Drömfakulteten, which illuminates the assurance on display. B+

Jim White, Misfit’s Jubilee (Fluff & Gravy) The latest record from Jim White of the USA (not to be confused with Australian drummer Jim White of The Dirty Three), follows up his strong 2017 effort Waffles, Triangles and Jesus with an equally solid set, which is noteworthy, as many of these songs were retrieved from the vaults of exile, having been nixed as being too out-there or atypical for his string of major label-funded albums, which commenced in 1997 with Mysterious Tale of How I Shouted “Wrong-Eyed Jesus” for the WEA label (subsequent albums were cut for Luaka Bop, Yep Roc, and Loose Music). But for newbies to White’s thing, it should be mentioned that a modicum of eccentricity has long been a part of White’s appeal (consider the title to this album), as he possesses a modest similarity to Tom Waits, but with a deeper propensity for catchy rock moves, such as on this record’s “Sum of What We’ve Been.” And if these songs date from various times (a few are brand new, like standout closer “The Divided States of America”), there are unifying factors, such as the plinking toy piano. A-

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