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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra, Tinctures In Times (Community Music, Vol. 1) (The Royal Potato Family) This is the first of four albums, all issued on vinyl, that will complete trumpeter-composer-arranger Bernstein’s Community Music series, with Vol. 4, Popular Culture, scheduled for release on September 2 of next year (Vol. 2, Good Time Music, paring the orchestra with vocalist Catherine Russell, comes out in January, while Vol. 3, Manifesto of Henry-isms, where Bernstein’s Hot 9 is joined by keyboardists John Medeski and Arturo O’Farrill, releases on May 1). Each volume has its own theme, with this set marking the first time Bernstein’s Orchestra has played his own compositions (having previously focused on his arrangements of other people’s material). While tagged as an orchestra, the credited players on Tinctures in Time total up to a nonet that’s steeped in tradition but with boldness of execution and edge that should satisfy avant-garde heads, who likely already know Bernstein, anyway. He’s played with everybody, and his tunes cut strong mustard. A

Buck Gooter, Head in a Bird Cage (Ramp Local) I’ve mentioned in a prior review that a live show, specifically a hometown opening slot warming up a touring act, served as my proper introduction to this Harrisonburg, VA-based u-ground industrial duo. After that show, I became a certified fan of Terry Turtle and Billy Brett, and the esteem hasn’t wavered through numerous releases, though this one marks a sad occasion, as Terry died on November 20, 2019. Hospitalized in August of that year with unbearable shoulder pain brought on by a broken neck that was caused by a malignant tumor that had eaten away his vertebrae, Terry was visited often by Billy, who recorded him while there. At the same time, he was working on Head in a Bird Cage, partly due to Terry’s insistence on knowing how the record was progressing. Only one song, “Sun Is Beaming,” was written after Terry’s hospitalization, but he’s sampled in some way on all of the 14 tracks, with his presence felt throughout. Fans of ONO and Wolf Eyes should take note. Rest easy, Terry Turtle. You’ll definitely be missed. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Marianne Faithfull, The Montreux Years (BMG) This live in Montreux series kicked off earlier this year with sets devoted to Nina Simone and Etta James, their contents assembled from numerous performances spanning decades to provide a thorough overview. This spotlight on the consistently undervalued Faithfull is a welcome shift of gears. While the timeframe is tighter here, spanning 1995-2009, the contents still feel comprehensive, as the selections are drawn from five different shows, staring out with a version of Van’s “Madame George” that’s followed by a guitar heavy extended version of “Broken English” that’s an absolute treat. Not everything here thrills me. I enjoyed Faithfull’s spoken intro to “Song For Nico” more than the song itself, for instance, but right after “Broken English” is the wonderful “Times Square, and then we’re back to Broken English the album with “Guilt.” Other highlights include “Sister Morphine” and versions of Duke Ellington’s “Solitude” (a nod to Billie Holliday and Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song.” Faithfull’s engagement puts this set over the top. A-

Muddy Waters, The Montreux Years (BMG) I’ve no way to know for sure, but I suspect I’ve listened to Muddy Waters more than any other blues artist. With that said, I’ll confess to dipping into the man’s post-1960s material only on occasion, with this installment in the Montreux Years series the deepest dive I’ve taken into his ’70s stuff in quite a while. The songs derive from four performances dating from ’72-’77, and possibly because he was playing for more refined and knowledgeable audiences (at least hypothetically), the approach isn’t as aggressively raw as it is on the studio album Hard Again, which is just fine by me, as the tunes here extend pretty naturally from the sound of Muddy’s stronger ’60s albums, rather than trying to impress the rock crowd; at least that’s the impression I’m always left with whenever I return to the Johnny Winter-produced Blue Sky albums (of which Hard Again was the first). Naturally, a bunch of his most well-known songs are here, but often with distinctive execution. “Mannish Boy” is a prime example. But a handful of deep cuts nicely weaved into the program. A-

Colin Moulding, “The Hardest Battle” (Burning Shed) Ah, the CD single. This one gets a 4-panel digisleeve, surely more aesthetically pleasing than the jewel cases these babies used to come in. Moulding (who celebrated a birthday just last month) is formerly of XTC and the writer of such killers as “Life Begins at the Hop,” “Making Plans for Nigel,” and “Generals and Majors.” Although he’s released an EP and a full-length in duo with XTC drummer Terry Chambers as TC&I, these three songs represent his first ever truly solo release, with everything played and sung by Moulding except for some piano by Jon Buckett on the second track, “Say It” (Moulding did cut an okay single in 1980 under the pseudonym The Colonel, but it was far from a solo affair). The opening title track, which also closes the EP in an early demo, unsurprisingly radiates a neo-’60s vibe, though it’s far less psych-inclined than you might expect for a guy who helped found the Dukes of Stratosphere. Think Beatles and Beach Boys. The same is true for “Say It,” but a tad more ‘70s. This is solid stuff but connects like the first taste of something bigger. B+

P.E., “The Reason for My Love” EP (Wharf Cat) Skronk-spiked electro-infused dance punk is the sort of sound that a pandemic-inspired quarantine would seemingly render extremely difficult, if not near impossible, to safely execute. But that’s exactly what Brooklyn’s P.E. went and did, with members spread out all over, recording remotely and sharing ideas and building tracks until this past February, when they got together and banged out some tracks at Studio Windows. Three of them have landed on this EP along with two remixes of the wickedly grooving title track, one by the band and one by Xiu Xiu. With a bass line halfway between a stutter and a gallop, electronic splatters and surges, bold-ass sax wiggles, a fleet cyclical rhythm and the breathy urgency of Veronica Torres’ vocals, “The Reason for My Love” is a doozy. “Shadow Side” hits upon a more gradual, mechanically inspired tempo. It should get the crowds swaying rather than wildly gyrating. “Beauty Queen Boy” shows it down even more, with Torres’ voice and Ben Jaffe’s sax helping to conjure a dystopian sultriness. Bring on a full LP. A-

Chris Stamey & Kirk Ross, The Robust Beauty of Improper Linear Models in Decision Making Vols. 1 & 2 (Modern Recording) These remixed and remastered reissues are a digital-only affair, with their contents originally released as a single CD by the East Side Digital label in 1995. In splitting them in two, the tracks are reordered, with Vol. 1 described as modal, and Vol. 2 offering soundscapes. Folks who primarily know Stamey as a pop-rock guy might be surprised by the experimental heft of these recordings, all instrumental and guitar-focused, but with vital rhythms by percussionist Ed Butler. Ross’s activities are numerous, but prominent in the scheme is Lud, a band I haven’t heard but would like to, particularly as Sara Bell of Shark Quest was a member. Of note is that Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo is heard on two selections on Vol. 1, including the terrific “(I’m In with) the Out Crowd,” and one cut on Vol. 2. Stamey and Ross both add some occasional coronet and percussion.

The background on how this music took shape appears on the Bandcamp page for the releases, and is worth reading in full, particularly for the scoop on how they arrived at the title. But in short, Stamey caught a performance of Lud as part of an evening devoted to outside sounds. Impressed, he wanted to get involved. After the necessary preparations, a recording session took place at the Cat’s Cradle nightclub located near Chapel Hill, with Robust Beauty a thoroughly North Carolinian affair. Their three-day improvisational plunge yielded fruits that have been truncated and, in some cases, given post-recording enhancement (sound loops and such). Today, it results in a very digestible listen (if cleaved into themed halves, the music still deserves to be considered together). Vol. 1 often tickled my ear as being nearer to late ’70s-early ’80s Euro style art-rock (like something found in the catalogs of Crammed Discs or Recommended Records) than abstract experimentation, though there is some of that, too. And it’s mighty okay. So is Vol. 2, its more textural inclination quite satisfying. A-/A-

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