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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Joe Morris / Damon Smith, Gusts Against Particles (Open Systems) Free improv/ avant-jazz guitarist Joe Morris has been active since the 1970s, debuting on record with Wraparound by his trio on his own label Riti in 1983. Double bassist Damon Smith is nearly two decades Morris’ junior and young enough that punk rock (’80s US u-ground division) was a source of inspiration before jazz and free improv. He’s recorded a bunch, and like Morris, he started his own label, Balance Point Acoustics. On his instrument, Smith is a beast, and in fact, so is Morris; as Gusts Against Particles plays, the sheer breadth of technique grows to utterly striking levels, largely because the goal is intensity of interaction. Morris’ sound is at times reminiscent of Derek Bailey and Eugene Chadbourne (in free improv mode) but he is ultimately his own man. The same is true of Smith as he pulls gargantuan notes on his bass and wrangles passages of massive extendedness. A wonderfully recorded LP (Smith’s breathing is audible at a few points) in an edition of 200 as Open Systems’ first release. With two digital bonus tracks. A

Maxine Funke, Seance (A Colourful Storm) New Zealander Maxine Funke sings and plays guitar with an uncommon gentleness that’s decidedly late-night and never cutesy. In fact, at a few points, like during the terrific “Moody Relish,” Funke conjures an atmosphere that’s notably tense. That same track also had me thinking of Young Marble Giants, a comparison that never crossed my mind when soaking up her 2018 LP Silk. Like on that album, Seance dives deep into the lo-fi folky zone, with that sound heard most straightforwardly in “Homage.” But as on Silk, Funke expertly evades cliché. As side one played, I thought more than once of Skip Spence’s Oar, which is high praise, as that record is a masterpiece. So is this one. Having played in $100 Band with Alastair Galbraith and Mike Dooley (also her bandmate in The Snares), Funke has roots in the Kiwi underground, and while the relationship remains tangible as her latest unwinds, her music isn’t easily comparable to others from the same scene, which is to her credit. It’s also worth noting that Funke’s strain of lo-fi is economical rather than murky. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Chora(s)san Time-Court Mirage / Catherine Christer Hennix, Blues Alif Lam Mim (Blank Forms Editions) Since 2018, Blank Forms has enriched the world with a yearly release of work by the Swedish composer Catherine Christer Hennix. The first three date from the 1970s, but this set is of more recent vintage, the piece (full title: Blues Alif Lam Mim in the Mode of Rag Infinity/Rag Cosmosis) performed in 2014 in Brooklyn at ISSUE Project Room by Hennix and her expanded just intonation ensemble Chora(s)san Time-Court Mirage and issued on CD in 2016 by Important Records; this 2LP (in a tip-on gatefold Stoughton jacket) is its vinyl debut. The ensemble features a five-horn brass section, live electronics and three voices (one of them Hennix herself) as the music extends to nearly 80 minutes at the intersection of drone, raga and the cosmic. The effect is meditative (the singers incant a devotional poem written by Hennix in Arabic that includes quotations from the Quran) but wields power and beauty in equal measure. Avant-garde sounds are rarely this welcoming. A

Mark Fry, Dreaming With Alice (Now Again Reserve) In 2013, an original copy of this record, first released by RCA subsidiary It in 1972, sold for a smidge over $4,000. When obscurities go for that much, it’s safe to assume the master tapes are lost and someone’s planning a reissue mastered from clean vinyl. But Now Again’s edition, available on wax and CD, is sourced from the rediscovered tapes, and the fidelity is totally up to snuff. The music is psych-folk of unusually high quality and sustained levels of bentness, and the story (in short) is that while studying painting in Italy, Fry cut this record for It, the label teaming him with the visiting Scottish band Middle of the Road. Along with a title song that’s broken into segments (each featuring a verse) and spread across the album, there are flutes and sitars and a general druggy atmosphere, with the folky vibes mildly reminiscent of Nick Drake and Donovan. A prior reissue by Akarma came in a sleeve paying homage to/ ripping off the cover of Barabajagal, but this sports the original design and adds six CD bonus cuts of a substantially mellower disposition. A-

Sara Bug, S/T (Egghunt) Having grown up in New Orleans with hopes of a career in music, Sara Bug landed in Nashville in 2013. While the ten songs that comprise her debut LP postdate that move, they weren’t intended for release, instead deriving from Bug’s journal entries, essentially a private endeavor from after the reality of Nashville life set in. Bug’s songs have been described as indie country, which will make sense once this record is heard (and heard to the end). A solid point in the LP’s favor is Bug’s singing, which consistently underscores her potential in more or less straight country mode, though it needs to be reiterated that, at least up to the final track “Back In Nashville,” that’s not what’s here (and even that track is a throwback to the pop country sound of the ’80s but with a forceful backbeat and a warped fiddle and pedal steel prelude). Much of the record combines the vocals with playing that brings to mind the refined side of the early ’00s indie sound. Frankly, that’s far from my favorite style, though the results here are likeable and occasionally surprising if not jaw-dropping. B+.

The Daleks, Exterminate: 40 Years Too Late! (Damaged Goods) Inspired by the 1970s punk uprising (and The Stranglers in particular) The Daleks were formed in Croydon, UK and managed to put out a 3-song 7-inch EP in 1980 on their own Exterminated Products label. This silver vinyl album (500 copies) collects that release, adds recordings of John Peel introing and outroing “This Life” on his show, and tacks on a few more Daleks numbers in comparatively rough audio. In addition, there are selections from subsequent short-lived associated bands Strictly Rockers (not a reggae influenced outfit) and ViaVess, plus a solo track (a late highlight by Eddie Turtle). While catchiness was part of The Daleks’ equation, both Strictly Rockers (formed by Dalek Gaz Kilner) and ViaVess (which featured Kilner’s Dalek counterparts Turtle and Woodie Taylor) increased the melodicism considerably without sacrificing riffs. Individually, while enjoyable, none of the assembled parts here are especially impressive, but heard in succession the narrative accrues value and offers panache without polish. B+

Sophia Kennedy, Monster (Domino) With Monster serving as my introduction to Sophia Kennedy’s music (it is her second album, following an eponymous effort from 2017), I’m impressed with her eclecticism, her strengths as a singer and her songwriting ability, though I’ll confess that it took me a few listens to get a handle on the pile-up of art and pop, partly because she draws on so many styles, or better said, eras. Kennedy’s vocals are planted pretty firmly in classic songstress mode without overly playing that aspect up, which is fitting, as instrumentally, she’s painting on a post-electro-R&B-hip-hop canvas. Ensuring a lack of friction, there is an R&B-ish thrust to Kennedy’s singing that adds to Monster’s appeal. But what really puts this record over the top are the frequent injections of strangeness. And let me clarify that the aura of the strange is a matter of pure sound and not personality; Kennedy is surely distinctive, but I wouldn’t call her eccentric. While a few lesser tracks arise along the way, there are no duds and even a couple gems, e.g. “Francis.” B+

Unwed Sailor, Truth or Consequences (Spartan) Jonathan Ford formed Unwed Sailor in 1998 after leaving the bands Pedro the Lion and Roadside Monument. Residing in Seattle at the time, Ford is currently based in Tulsa, OK, with Truth or Consequences marking full-length number seven. Unwed Sailor’s largely non-vocal orientation is also noteworthy, an approach that’s occasionally landed them in the post-rock category, which is a fair point of comparison but far from the last word. The same can be said for the early ’80s Anglo moodiness; it’s part of the sound but in no way a defining characteristic. The bass is a little bit Joy Division, but the overall sound is closer to Durutti Column (if Vini rocked out more). Ford does favor sweeping anthemic progressions, which if he (or somebody else) sang atop them, could’ve posed a real problem (here and elsewhere), but as they mostly don’t (the one cut here with wordless singing is a restrained affair), it’s not. While none of these eight tracks blew me away, that’s not really the aim, and at a few points I thought of a non-New Wavy Pell Mell. And that’s cool. B+

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