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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Douglas Lee, Themes for Falling Down Stairs (Self-released) This album, available on 180gm vinyl, CD, cassette and digital, was released back in October, but it just recently entered my consciousness, and since the entrance was an impressive one, here we are and here it is. This looks to be Lee’s first record, but it’s obvious he’s accumulated experience along the way, as the compositions are his, and he plays a variety of (often unusual) instruments together with leading a large band that’s immersed in a neo-lounge jazz/ soundtrack mode (of a sort) that’s a bit like a puree of Henry Mancini, Nino Rota, Combustible Edison, and Angelo Badalamenti, with Mike Patton and John Zorn giving slow nods of approval from the sidelines. This batch of references will hopefully establish that Lee’s approach is off-kilter, but it never becomes overly wacked or too retro (the lack of vocals doth help in this regard). This is to say, Lee and co-producer Michael Rozon (of Ministry) are consistently restrained here, the better to focus on the strength of the songwriting and breadth of the instrumentation. A-

Work Money Death, The Space in Which the Uncontrollable Unknown Resides, Can Be the Place From Which Creation Arises (ATA) Back in 2017 Brit multi-horn man Tony Burkill released Work Money Death, with bassist Neal Innes, drummer Sam Hobbs, and percussionist Pete Williams in the band, those contributors specified as they also play on this LP, as does Burkill, pianist Adam Fairhall, guitarist Chris Dawkins, French hornist Dan Edward, and with a little harmonium from Matt Bourne. Along with Innes, Williams, and Dawkins, Rachel Modest adds vocals. As on the prior album, there are claps from the Headingley Hand Choir. This time out, Burkill sticks to saxophone as Williams adds some flute and bass clarinet. The LP offers two long tracks, “Dusk” on side one and “Dawn” on the flip. The sound is post-Coltrane spiritual jazz, with “Dusk” establishing a very attractive modal groove on its way to some exquisite frenzy (Burkill is a beast). The flip is more of an extended riff on a Pharoah Sanders beauty excursion. This is where the voices come in. All that’s missing really is a yodeling Leon Thomas. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Oh-OK, The Complete Reissue (HHTM) Athens, GA’s Oh-OK were extant from 1981-’84 and in that timeframe released two EPs for DB Recs, the “Wow Mini Album” 4-song 7-inch in ’82 and the “Furthermore What” 6-song 12-inch the following year. Originally released in 2011 by HHBTM, The Complete Reissue was a 17-cut vinyl paring down of Collectors’ Choice Music’s 2002 CD The Complete Recordings. Initially featuring singer Linda Hopper (later of Magnapop), bassist-singer Lynda Stipe (soon of Hetch Hetchy), and drummer David Pierce, their guitarless sound leaned much closer to UK post-punk than US post new wave, Southern style, though they shared a dance-rock aspect with their Athens contemporaries Pylon. Pierce left and was replaced by David McNair and then Matthew Sweet joined on guitar and brought his songs (prior, Hopper and Stipe were the lyricists). His addition obviously adjusted the sound, but not as much as one might think. Suffice it to say that if you dropped cash for the recent reissues of Pylon and Love Tractor, you’ll want this one, too. It’s a very groovy proposition. A-

Jilala, S/T (Rouge Frequency Recordings) In 1966, an LP of Sufi Trance music was issued on the Trance label of Ira Cohen, recorded in Tangier, Morocco the previous year by Brion Gysin and Paul Bowles. This is not a reissue of that album, but it comes from the same batch of recordings, which were put out on CD by the Baraka Foundation in 1998, with Rouge Frequency debuting them here on vinyl as the label’s first release on the format. Collectors should note that copies of the 180gm test pressing are on Bandcamp at $50 a pop. As of this writing, five of the ten are already gone. For those desiring a more affordable option, there is a standard edition, limited to 300 (the digital is also currently available for preorder). Musically speaking, this is a field recording of considerable potency, heavily rhythmic and with much mind-altering potential. It’ll make a fine vinyl companion to Music of Morocco: Recorded by Paul Bowles, 1959, the 4CD set Dust-to-Digital released back in 2016. This edition comes with new notes by Peter Wetherbee and an insert of the original LP liners by Cohen. A-

The Body, I’ve Seen All I Need to See (Thrill Jockey) The Body is a Portland, OR-based outfit featuring drummer Lee Buford and guitarist-vocalist Chip King. Heaviness is their modus operandi, landing somewhere betwixt curdled doom drained of any recognizably rock gestures and a hallucinatory technological haze. For this record, The Body have reportedly dialed back the electronics a bit, though the thrust is regularly so distorted that it conjures an atmosphere of mechanical overload. The Body is also known for collaboration, but I’ve Seen All I Need to See changes course in this regard as well, being the byproduct of Buford and King with minimal vocal input from guests Chrissy Wolpert and Ben Eberle. What hasn’t changed is the severity and the bleakness of the attack. As it did on prior releases, it pleases me that The Body’s bum trip is largely attained through formal extremity rather than transgressive content. Avoiding shallow shock tactics, the negativity here is productively nuanced, Still, the ability to enjoy the intersection of noise and abstract pummel is a necessity with this set. A-

Michael Gregory Jackson, Frequency Equilibrium Koan (Golden) This digital archival release of a 1977 performance at The Ladies’ Fort, 2 Bond St. NYC, will hopefully eventually get an LP release (it’s just the right length), but fans of 1970s loft jazz shouldn’t wait for that to happen, because the music is undeniably major. Jackson is featured on guitars electric and acoustic, chimes, bamboo flutes and body percussion (the compositions are also his), the late and very great Julius Hemphill plays alto sax, Abdul Wadud bows the cello, and Pheeroan aKLaff handles the drums. While Frequency Equilibrium Koan’s emergence is worthy of celebration foremost as a journey into collective excellence, it also illuminates how the activities in the lofts could get as wild and free as the Fire Music and avant-jazz that preceded it. Jackson’s flute in the final track “A Meditation” highlights a tendency toward world-jazz fusion, but his guitar in “Heart & Center” is the kind of thing to rouse fans of Mary Halvorson, which is to say that Bill Frisell’s observation that this music “sounds like the future” is an astute one. A

Killer Kin, “Sonic Love” b/w “Narrow Mind” (Pig Baby) Hailing from New Haven, CT, Killer Kin are a five-piece specializing in scuzzy, speedy, brawny punk with an emphasis on the rock, which is to say, theirs is a decidedly non-hardcore brand of throttle. Thing is, they bear down so hard and get so raw that I can easily imagine this red wax doozy (edition of 300) appealing to the umpteenth generation of HC upstarts. This seems especially true when they rev up the pace in “Narrow Mind.” The less rapid passages in that track excrete a slight similarity to the Stooges, and that’s sweet, but the overall thrust, particularly in “Sonic Love,” is NYC style street rock. Killer Kin are Mattie Lea on vocals, his partner Chloe Rose and Brendan Toller on guitars, Dan Soto on bass, and Jason Kyek on drums. They released a 5-song demonstration download “Bad, Bad Minds!” in January of last year that bonds quite well with the contents of this 45 (both were mixed and mastered by Sam Carlson). The earlier release flaunts their range with a couple doses of twisted roots action. This set is a concentrated combo-punch. B+

Dusty Springfield, The Complete Atlantic Singles 1968-1971 (Real Gone) This CD opens with the song for which Springfield, a UK vocalist who traveled to the US for recording in connection with her contract with Atlantic, is most renowned for today. That would be “Son of a Preacher Man,” a striking of gold that this relationship of such promise sadly never repeated, though a few tracks did gets in the ballpark, with “Willie and Laura Mae Jones” and “I Believe in You” coming very close. All but three songs from the essential (but slow-selling) Dusty in Memphis (the LP version, anyway) are here, but that’s just eight of these 24 tracks, which breeze by in a little over 66 minutes. Now, it’s important to note that Springfield was far from specifically a singer of soul, indeed frequently engaging with mainstream pop (fans of Dusty in Memphis already know this), which isn’t necessarily the culprit in the lack of returning to those “Son of a Preacher Man” heights. The reality is that consistency of voice elevates whatever Springfield sings, subtly imbuing the material with verve, which in turn helps to raise the grade for this set. A-

Terry Gross, Soft Opening (Thrill Jockey) This is not that Terry Gross, it’s Phil Manley (of Trans Am) on guitar, Donny Newenhouse on bass, and Phil Becker on drums. The three co-own and engineer at El Studio in the Bay Area, with jamming up in that joint the impetus for this record comprised of two long tracks and one that’s comparatively short. But you know, I’m currently enjoying the idea of someone buying this record because they thought it was the handiwork of the host of Fresh Air and then being all like “damn, I wouldn’t’ve guessed Terry Gross was so into Krautrock, I was expecting something nearer to Downtown NYC jazz.” Then when the tide turns toward hard rock a la stoner, this consumer gets a little fidgety, and after the singing comes in, they check the sleeve: “Hey, this isn’t Terry Gross, it’s THREE DUDES! I’ve been BAMBOOZLED!” I dig the Germanic motions here best (reminding me a bit of Ohsees) and am cool with the hard rock aspects and even more so the touches of psych, but as pertains to the vocals, I’m not so thrilled, at least not at this juncture. But hey, they don’t sing all that much. B+

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