Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
July 2021, Part Five

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Ruth Mascelli, A Night at the Baths (Disciples) This the solo debut from New Orleans-based Mascelli, who’s noted as part of Special Interest, an outfit, unheard by me, that’s tagged as a combo of no wave, glam, and industrial, frankly very enticing, but right now there’s this LP to consider, which is described as progressing from Mascelli’s electronically focused output as Psychic Hotline (that I’ve also not heard). To elaborate, A Night at the Baths is inspired by techno, acid house and ambient, with Mascelli explaining further that the album is an “audio diary” of their experiences in “various bathhouses, dark rooms, and gay clubs” while touring with Special Interest and traveling alone. Crafted so that each track is representative of an individual room or space, parts of this, such as opener “Sauna” and “Libidinal Surplus,” unfurled about how I expected (both are dancefloor thumpers), but as Mascelli is skilled and inventive, that’s in no way a negative. Other cuts, such as the spacy “Hydrotherapy” and the ’70s surrealism of “Missing Men,” divert from the anticipated very nicely. A-

koleżanka, Place Is (Bar/None) Brooklyn-based Kristina Moore used to be in Triathalon, but she’s currently devoting herself exclusively to this project, writing and singing the songs and playing the guitar as Ark Calkins assists on bass and drums. koleżanka can be tagged as art-pop, though the sound moves around a good bit, ranging from dreamy to electronics-tinged (synths and a drum machine are involved) to even soulful. A few of her songs thrive on directness suggesting that in a better world, they’d be hits, specifically early track “$40.” Moore has a powerful voice well-suited for the foreground as she delivers the occasional high-note flourish, but she seems more invested in making her album instrumentally interesting, which is admirable, even as the songs don’t always end up where I’d prefer them. The key is that she avoids bad decisions. But “Vegan Sushi,” which reminds me of Stereolab, could’ve lasted for another four minutes (it’s over in under two and half, waaaa), and lands in a highly enjoyable place. Strong for a debut, and very smart. B+

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Obits, Die at the Zoo (Outer Battery) Featuring singing guitarists Rick Froberg and Sohrab Habibion, bassist Greg Simpson and drummer Alexis Fleisig (who replaced Scott Gursky in 2011), Brooklyn’s Obits broke up in 2015, with their final studio album Bed and Bugs released two years prior. This live recording (a dozen songs on the vinyl, with the full 15 offered via accompanying download) captures a long set from Brisbane, Australia in 2012, and it’s a sharp, energetic affair. Before Obits, Froberg was in San Diego stalwarts Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes, as Habibion and Fleisig were members of DC’s Edsel, credits that highlight a background in both post-hardcore and beefy garage-punkish rock with a touch of the Stooges thrown in. In 2021, this guitar-centric and rhythmically hefty sound is quite welcome, and that it derives from a band of savvy vets makes it even better. That Outer Battery didn’t just dump this on wax by shaving off the last three tracks is indicative of the overall quality; ‘tis also a very attractive thing, on yellow wax (the pink is sold out). A-

Kippie Moketsi & Hal Singer, Blue Stompin’ (We Are Busy Bodies / The Sun) South African saxophonist Moketsi was a groundbreaking member of the Jazz Epistles alongside Abdullah Ibrahim, Hugh Masekela, and Jonas Gwangwa. US saxophonist Singer played in the bands of Jay McShann, Oran “Hot Lips” Page, Roy Eldridge and many others, and in 1959 Singer cut an LP for Prestige with Charlie Shavers’ band titled Blue Stompin’, its opening composition also commencing this album, played in 1974 while Singer was in South Africa on a State Department tour. It the best of the four tracks on this reissue of an LP originally released in ’77 by The Sun label. It’s also the only cut to feature Singer, just so you know. The other selections by Moketsi’s band, if not quite as strong, are worthwhile enough to make this a desirable item. Note that as of this writing, there are 14 remaining for purchase on Bandcamp (copies are also available in stores). Moketsi opens “Blue Stompin’” wonderfully, all by himself. The full band’s groove thereafter is a swank reminder that Singer hit #1 on the R&B chart in 1948 with “Corn Bread.”  A-

The Awakening, Mirage (Black Jazz / Real Gone) Real Gone’s Black Jazz reissues continue with The Awakening’s second LP and last for the label, released in 1973 (following Hear, Sense and Feel from the year before) and extending the band’s combo of soul-jazz, fusion, spiritual jazz, and the avant-garde. There is of course a level of synthesis of these styles, but more often individual selections pursue a chosen path and then reset to deliver a fresh approach (there are seven tracks total). I’m very keen on “The Ultimate Frontier” and especially “Glory to the Sun,” with their exploratory inclinations (The Awakening’s roots lead back to Chicago’s AACM), but the funky-soulful-fusion cuts are just okay. It’s “Just a Little Peace” that’s something of an outlier here, beginning with rather stately solo piano and then shifting toward saxophone romanticisms atop a bed of electric piano. It’s a little too close to proto-Smoothness for my personal comfort. But I shan’t complain too loudly, as this digression isn’t much more than a stumble in an otherwise likeable (if not amazing) snapshot of its era. B

Henry Franklin, The Skipper & The Skipper at Home (Black Jazz / Real Gone) As I saddled up to spend some time with the reissue of double bassist Franklin’s second of two albums for Black Jazz, 1973’s The Skipper at Home, it struck me that I’d not reviewed his first, The Skipper, which came out the previous year and is still available on wax from Real Gone. In rectifying this omission, I’ll begin with Franklin’s diverse background, which in his younger days ranged from Archie Shepp and Roswell Rudd to Willie Bobo and Hugh Masekela (that’s Franklin on “Grazin’ in the Grass”), but the highlights of his debut are two long side-opening tracks exploring modal fusion territory, and with some intense soloing. Excepting the closing title cut, the other selections aren’t as appealing, though nothing stinks up the joint. The follow-up is a little more groove oriented and “Venus Fly Trap” excepted, is less inclined to visit the deep weeds, but there’s some wildness in the solos and Franklin’s bass is prominent. “Magic Boy” is a highlight. Both records, if far from perfect, exemplify the sound of jazz in a decade of transition. B+/ B+

Xalpen, Sawken Xo on (Sound Pollution / Black Lodge) This Chilean black metal outfit has been around for roughly half a decade, with a couple of 12-inch EPs, a cassette, and half of a split 7-inch preceding this full-length. The internet tells me Sawken Xo on came out last year on an El Salvadorian label Morbid Skull, with a cassette on Sweden’s Nigredo Productions, but here it is again, on either black or clear vinyl or on CD in a jewel case. Given that I can’t understand a word the singer is saying throughout, Xalpen might as well be from Poughkeepsie, but that shouldn’t be construed as a complaint, as my interest in black metal’s themes is basically zilch. That might read as a value judgement or just snobbery, but please don’t take it that way. I just prefer to contend with the thunderous waves and scorched-throat growls of black metal without reading a lyric sheet. Xalpen are adept at ratcheting up rippling streams of abrasion that stack up nicely next to non-metal-tagged noise extremity, and that’s what I’m listening for. It’s not until the last track that the form coheres into something recognizably rock, and then not for long. A-

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