Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for February 2021, Part Four

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Wau Wau Collectif, Yaral Sa Doom (Sahel Sounds / Sing a Song Fighter) Described as “avant-garde cosmic sounds from Senegal,” Yaral Sa Doom (a Wolof phrase meaning “educate the young”) is a gorgeous and life-affirming byproduct of cultural collaboration, as Swedish musician Karl-Jonas Winqvist visited Toubab Dialaw, a bohemian enclave of sorts in Senegal, for a music summit lasting a few weeks’ time. Upon returning to Sweden, Winqvist traded recordings via WhatsApp (good ol’ WhatsApp) with studio engineer Arouna Kane back in Senegal. Immediately striking is the combination of styles across the LP, with Sufi praise songs rubbing up against jazzy horns and dubby rhythms amid voices of young ones (“Mouhamodou Lo and His Children” is simply exquisite), synthetic beats and electronic additives seemingly derived from a celestial video game. Speaking of music of the spheres, “Salamaleikoum” is gently beautiful in a way that reminded me of Washington Phillips, and that’s special praise indeed. Those hoping to feel good in 2021 should try this gem on for size. A

John Tejada, Year of the Living Dead (Kompakt) Born in Vienna and based in Los Angeles, techno specialist Tejada is releasing his fifth album for the Kompakt label with Year of the Living Dead, which as might be ascertained from the title, is a recording impacted by the Coronavirus. Tejada had started production on the record shortly before quarantine and then continued working thereafter (being essentially a solo electronic operator allowed him to do so safely), though he has stated that distance from his loved ones during the process affected him, and by extension, impacted the record. As this set lands firmly in the neighborhood of progressive house, any connections to the pandemic are implicit, with the eight tracks, spread out across four sides of vinyl (but totaling classic album length at a smidge over 41 minutes) aren’t bleak or harried in nature. Tejada’s stuff flows inventively, easily steering clear of club clichés, and is easy to absorb in part due to the generous but not excessive duration. It more than holds up to immediate consecutive spins, which is rare for electronic stuff in my experience. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: 4 Mars, Super Somali Sounds From the Gulf of Tadjoura (Ostinato) The Ostinato label’s 2019 release The Dancing Devils of Djibouti by Groupe RTD was a direct byproduct of the label being granted access to the Archives of Radiodiffusion-Télévision de Djibouti, a storied vault of East African recordings spanning back decades. Groupe RTD’s album featured new material, the result of an unforeseen but fortunate twist on the way to tapping into the Djibouti archive, of which this is the first volume in a series, dedicated to a 40-member Somali outfit documented through studio and live recordings dating from 1977 to ’94. Similar to Groupe RTD (with whom they share a member, saxophonist Mohamed Abdi Alto), 4 Mars was a band that thrived in service of a political party with a particular goal, specifically unifying the newly formed country through music. But what makes these 13 tracks (plus one Bandcamp digital bonus) such a treat is the stylistic blend 4 Mars honed to sustained excellence, featuring elements from assorted African regions combined with Turkish synths, reggae rhythms, flutes from China and Mongolia, and a healthy dose of Bollywood. Altogether magnificent. A

Don Cherry, “Cherry Jam” (Gearbox) You may recall “Cherry Jam” arriving last September for Record Store Day, but that edition of 1,100 is by now likely hard to come by, therefore necessitating a new press as part of Gearbox’s Japanese Editions, a series inspired by label founder Darrel Sheinman’s time spent in Japan. It features 180gm 12-inch 45 RPM vinyl in mono with an OBI strip (a CD is available in “very limited quantities”). Musically, this is quite a find, capturing Cherry on cornet the year he cut his masterpiece Complete Communion, consisting of three originals and Richard Rodgers’ “You Took Advantage of Me,” cut in Copenhagen for Danish national radio. Cherry’s bandmates for the session are Mogens Bollerup on tenor sax, Atli Bjørn on piano, Benny Nielsen on double bass, and Simon Koppel on drums, Danes all, with the performances dishing elevated hard bop rather than the avant-garde for which Cherry was associated at the time. The band is pleasingly in synch throughout (not always the case with Euro bands of this era) and the three Cherry originals were never recorded elsewhere. A-

Geneva Jacuzzi, Lamaze (Mexican Summer) Deep in the rather extensive promo text for this reissue, it is mentioned that Lamaze is essentially a collection of demos that served as Geneva Jacuzzi’s debut album in 2010. Prior, she was part of the outfit Bubonic Plague and helmed art projects in various media including the play Dark Ages that was performed in unannounced public spaces over the span of four years in 30 countries. Apropos of an LP made by a figure with considerable contempo art connections, original vinyl copies of Lamaze are pricey, selling for well over $100, so this is a well-deserved reissue. Described as an early example of hypnagogic bedroom-pop, the currents of strangeness back that up, but the sound never strays far from early synth-pop, but with a severe Euro-arty bent. Dance beats are present, but so is a disaffected aura. The lo-fi (4-track and 8-track) scenario does add to the at-times rather fucked-up appeal. If Liquid Sky is your favorite movie of all time it’s safe to say you’ll be coming in your pants or soaking your undies with this one. I’m mildly stirred, but left dry. B

Omar Khorshid, With Love (WEWANTSOUNDS) First released in 1978 by the Voice of Lebanon label, indefatigable musical excavators WEWANTSOUNDS are claiming this is With Love’s first vinyl reissue, but by my admittedly brief investigation into the record’s history (meaning I poked around on Discogs), it appears to be its first release on any format since the ’70s, meaning it’s never been issued on CD. It still hasn’t, as this is a vinyl-only scenario, at least currently. Khorshid, who died in a car accident in 1981, was an Egyptian-born guitar slinger who moved to Lebanon in 1973 and began recording under his own name after years of band work and back-ups. He is the master of a twangy, indeed surfy sound that he applies to Arabic songs with flair and with keyboards, percussion and period synths filling out matters. If that reads to you like the recipe for a cult instrumental LP, you’ve hit the bullseye, by jiminy. Does it rise to the level of classic? I’d say not quite, but it gets close enough, as it’s enjoyable to the ear all the way through. That’s rare. Khorshid can obviously play, but he’s more interested in establishing the twang than showing off. The synth and keys deliver a Joe Meek-ish vibe, so fans of the Tornados take note. B+

Araki Kodō VI, Hankyō (Self-released) Residents of the USA who recognize the name Hanz Araki likely associate him with traditional Irish flute, with his skill on the instrument established through myriad performances and five CDs, all currently available. However, he is also a master of the shakuhachi, an end-blown Japanese flute, as Araki is a member of the Kinkō Ryū, a guild formed by Araki’s great-great grandfather dedicated to the art of the music played on the instrument. In 2009, Araki’s father bestowed upon him the name Kodō, making him the sixth in his family lineage to be given the title. The four solo shakuhachi pieces on this CD, played on a flute crafted by his great-great grandfather, reinforce Araki Kodō VI’s brilliance as they provide enlightenment into this traditional Japanese style. The instrument was initially played by itinerant monks for purposes of meditation, but the music on Hankyō, while aptly described as soothing, also carries an undercurrent of intensity that occasionally moves into the foreground as the pieces are consistently beautiful. Hankyō is a delightful surprise. A

Nicole Marxen, “Tether” (Self-released) This is Dallas-based Marxen’s solo debut, available digitally and on cassette, offering four tracks of dark synth-rock with Goth-infused atmospheric qualities, described by the artist as a “meditation on the grieving process,” with Marxen’s mother having recently passed. Noted as a member of the outfit Midnight Opera, it’s pretty clear through “Tether” that Marxen favors a band sensibility for her initial solo foray, and that’s just fine, as she conjured up a thick, booming, agitated sound captured at the studio of John Congleton with Alex Bhore of This Will Destroy You producing and mixing. Did I mention this stuff is dark? I’ll say it again and add that the cover of “Tether” is a B&W photo of Marxen. Furthermore, the tape’s plastic is charcoal-hued. Still, the music moves as it broods, with touches of melody (e.g., the keyboard lines in “Moonflower”). A lot of the music populating this stylistic corner of the scene can exude an air of affectation, and there’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, but sincerity is one of this release’s strong points. I’m eager to hear a full album. B+

Roof Beams, This Life Must Be Long (Freeloader Free Press) Roof Beams used to be called Raise Up Roof Beams, a name derived from Salinger, don’tcha know. They have a couple prior albums as just Roof Beams, including Charon from 2017, but This Life Must Be Long is my introduction to the band. Washington, DC is cited as home base for the combo, though it is also mentioned that the instrumental parts for this new LP were arranged and recorded individually at home in DC, Maryland and Pennsylvania in the spring and summer of last year. That makes this a quarantine record, and as such, it’s impressively intimate. Roof Beams’ songs are written and sung by Nathan Robinson, who also plays assorted instruments, including acoustic guitar and harmonica. You might be imagining a folky situation, but that’s only part of it, as there is pedal steel and mandolin, played by multi-instrumentalists Bill Smyth and Phillips Saylor Wisor, respectively. And so: Americana, but with an indie spin a la Bright Eyes and fleetingly, Mountain Goats. Robinson even dabbles with electronics to non-detrimental effect. B+

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