Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for January 2021, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for January 2021. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Matthew Sweet, Catspaw (Omnivore) Sweet’s big splash was the 1991 LP Girlfriend, though he’d been active for a good while prior, emerging from the Athens, GA scene with a sound that stood a bit apart from post-Byrdsian collegiate jangle. Instead, he’s generally categorized as a power-popper, but as the release of his 15th album Catspaw makes clear, with multidecade longevity that’s somewhat unusual for the genre, partly as he’s occasionally branched out a bit, but more because his range of influence is wide and therefore fertile. These dozen tunes are noted as the first time Sweet had played everything on a record except drums- that’d be guitar, bass and vocals, lead and background, plus recording and mixing the set. The drums ae handled by frequent collaborator Ric Menck, he an Alternative-era power pop coconspirator most notably from the band Velvet Crush, but this album is very much a showcase for Sweet as instrumentalist, particularly as lead guitarist, with his plying taking on Crazy Horse-like rough edges edge that contrast well with the vocal harmonies throughout. A-

Wolf Eyes / Blank Hellscape, “Winter Sunday” b/w “Concrete Walls” (12XU) Detroit’s Wolf Eyes are the underground noise vets as Austin’s Blank Hellscape occupy the young upstart position. I say u-ground, but it’s worth mentioning that in the mid ’00s Wolf Eyes released a few records on Sub Pop, a productive relationship placing them up there with Lightning Bolt amongst high-profile purveyors of sonic brutality and mayhem. A lot has transpired since. Fuck, a lot has went down in the last week, but something that hasn’t changed is the high quality of Wolf Eyes’ abstract ruckus. One change is that John Olson and Nate Young (Aaron Dilloway departed a while back) aren’t as aurally assaultive as they were circa Burned Mind, or on their 2,000 or so micro releases, for that matter. But their 18-plus minute side here (for this as a 12-inch single) will still give non-noiseniks the fidgets. Those looking for an ear canal scalding will be satisfied with the nearly 20 minutes of Death Industrial unleashed by Blank Hellscape (Andrew Nogay, Ethan Billips, and Max Deems). In summation, these pieces, recorded separately in (I assume) their home states, offer damaged vibes for damaged times. A-/ A-

Corey Ledet Zydeco, S/T (Nouveau Electric) If you’ve any doubts over the general health of zydeco in the 21st century, this CD, the 14th full-length release by singer, accordionist and bandleader Corey Ledet should dispel them. His band for this Mark Bingham-recorded ten-song set is Cecil Green on Hammond B3, Lee Allen Zeno on bass, Grant Dermody on harmonica, Julian Primeaux on guitar and backing vocals, and Gerard Delafose on drums and washboard, the band digging into the rich, tradition-rich soil of the style and, like the best zydeco bands, harnessing a sound that’s lively and fresh. As anybody who’s ever heard it likely knows, zydeco is a party music, with Ledet’s latest hitting the proper level of potency without a hitch, a far from easy task when it comes to recreating sounds best experienced live in the studio. Part of Ledet’s success might derive from the album’s intention as homage, both to his family (specifically his grandfather Buchanan, who is credited as zydeco’s first drummer) and to his musical heritage, though there are also sweet covers ranging from Big Joe Turner to Bob Marley. Fun, dig? A-

Dale Crover, Rat-A-Tat-Tat! (Joyful Noise) Crover remains best known, and appropriately so, for his role in the Melvins, playing drums and bass in that pioneering sludge-punk outfit for 36 years. But we’ll expand on those achievements further when Ipecac reissues two of their albums in March (alongside a new record). He’s also contributed to a slew of musical situations over the years, like drumming in pre-stardom Nirvana and more recently serving in the same capacity in Redd Kross, though as busy as he’s been, this set is only his second full-length solo effort, following The Fickle Finger of Fate from 2017, also on Joyful Noise. He also issued solo EPs in 1992 and ’96, plus “Piso Mojado,” a five-sided lathe-cut record with four spindle holes last May in an edition of 127 copies. It’s five solo drum tracks are reprised here, which is cool, as they deliver the beautifully fucked aura of a solo record by a heavy rock disruptor. And that’s exactly what this is. The twistedness also contrasts nicely with the more melodious, less mauling passages (e.g. “Shark Like Overbite”), moments which underscore that he’s been hanging around those McDonald brothers. Not as sharp as his best work, but still worthwhile. B+

Michael Bisio/Stephen Gauci, Pandemic Duets (gaucimusic) Last September, 577 Records released a splendid duo LP, Conversations Vol. 1, featuring Stephen Gauci on tenor sax and Cooper-Moore on piano. It’s six improvisations were recorded in October of 2019, with it’s second volume finished but not yet given a release date. In the meantime, Gauci has undertaken a series of socially distanced improvisational dives in the mode of free jazz, with the initial plan of completing five sessions expanding to dialogues with 19 individuals. A batch of them have been released on Bandcamp as digital releases, of which I’ve heard a few. We’ll add two to this week’s column and in the weeks ahead spotlight more as the pandemic continues to rage.

Joining Gauci for a collection of seven improvisations is Michael Bisio, a bassist perhaps best-known for his extensive work with pianist Matthew Shipp, though he’s cut numerous records with saxophonist Joe McPhee in addition to leading or co-leading bands on a bunch more. He brings a Mingus-like heartiness to these interactions, sometimes dropping an anchor as Gauci engages in some full tilt searching, and at other times bursting into communicative note flurries himself. One of the sweetest turns is when he picks up the bow near the end of the sixth improv and then carries it over at the start of the seventh with a much different texture (a bit reminiscent of Joshua Abrams). And while Gauci is blowing hard (and with an edge that can be tagged as harsh), he also occasionally lowers the temperature a bit, not just for the sake of contrast (as this is not an inside-outside thing), but because he’s listening and reacting. It’s the very nature of duo exchange. A-

Gerald Cleaver/Stephen Gauci, Pandemic Duets (gaucimusic) This set of three improvs, two long at around 15 minutes each with a short one at a little over four minutes in the middle, is nearer to what many consider the paradigm for duo exchange. That is, the combo of sax and drums, a la the unions of Coltrane and Rashied Ali and then Ali and Frank Lowe. Unsurprisingly, Gauci and Cleaver recall those foundational duos, but it’s more striking how they don’t. Without insinuating that these proceedings are laid back (for the music certainly isn’t), there is an occasional air of the casual to this meeting that might be better assessed as simply comfort in the undertaking. Gauci mentions that the Pandemic Duets aren’t intended as “masterpieces” or “grand statements,” which helps to contextualize the whole shebang for the listener, imparting that these are low pressure situations of significant reward. There are a few spots where Gauci sounds a little like a more freebop aligned early ’60s Ayler, which is truly marvelous. Cleaver’s playing rolls and ranges, but never overwhelms. Inspiring work. A-

Oyiwane, “Music from Saharan WhatsApp 11” (Sahel Sounds) Last year, this label undertook a series of name your price digital-only Bandcamp EPs recorded via cellphone from various musicians (solo players, duos, bands) located in the Sahel region of Africa. The kicker is that each installment was only available for 30 days as the next EP replaced it. This volume, which hit Sahel Sounds’ Bandcamp page on December 22, does appear to be the final entry, with the music still downloadable until next Friday. So, if the bustle of the holiday led you to lose track of this endeavor’s winding down (or you’re just learning of the whole enterprise), it’s not too late to scoop this one up, a smart move, as the four tracks by this Nigerois group, which combine trad percussion, Tuareg guitar, folk songs, and vocal interplay, deliver a splendid culmination. Oyiwane was formed by students attending the primary school of Toudou in Agadez, Niger way back in 1985, a fact that helps to illuminate the songs’ warmth and assurance as the execution is as intense as expected. Kudos to Sahel Sounds for this whole series. A-

Vajra, Irkalla (Thunder Cult) The NYC-based Vajra consists of vocalist Annamaria Pinna, bassist Dave Sussman, guitarists Mark Collom and Al Javier, and drummer-percussionist Jimmy DeMarco. Blake Fleming (ex-Mars Volta) also plays drums on Irkalla, which is Vajra’s second album. I didn’t hear their 2012 debut Pleroma, so this rather brief set (under 20 minutes) is probably not the best place to start. However, even as the band occasionally swan dives into a reservoir of the rollicking chunkiness that defines a strain of post-’90s heavy rock (in full disclosure, not my favorite sound), this more than holds my interest, partly because bandleader and songwriter Pinna is an appealing singer, partly due to Vajra diverting productively from the norm, and partly by launching into the stampeding thud with odds-defying appeal. Running through these six tacks are spiritual/ mystical themes that effectively enhance the music (rather than weighing it down) by intermingling with those aforementioned stylistic digressions. That means I’m looking forward to the second part of Vajra’s trilogy. B+

Miguel Zenón & Luis Perdomo, El Arte Del Bolero (Miel Music) This exquisite and intimate duo set, with Zenón on alto sax and Perdomo on piano, is digital-only, which on one hand is a bummer, but on the other, does get these six interpretations of standard tunes, all chosen from the Bolero era (Zenón was born in Puerto Rico, Perdomo in Venezuela) and all recorded live in one take in September of 2020 for a livestream event, into the libraries of listeners with very little delay (something it shares with the other digital releases in this column). But these selections also wonderfully extend from Zenón’s 2019 quartet recording Sonero: The Music of Ismael Rivera (also featuring Perdomo), which is available on vinyl (a 2LP set in fact) directly from the saxophonist’s website. Most of El Arte Del Bolero falls into ballad mode, but it’s elevated, truly expressive balladic territory that, in the celebration of tradition, avoids ever succumbing to romantic or sophisticated clichés. Beauty, mastery, and love from the artists for the material are in abundance. A

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