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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Patrick Shiroishi, Hidemi (American Dreams) Los Angeles-based Japanese-American multi-instrumentalist & composer Shiroishi named this record in memory of his grandfather Hidemi Patrick Shiroishi, with its contents directly related to his 2020 album Descension, which was primarily an expression of life inside the Japanese-American concentration camps of WWII. That set, featuring saxophone and electronics, stands as an uncompromising yet cathartic experience, but Hidemi, with its more personal focus on his grandfather’s post-camp life, offers great beauty amid passages of raucous power as Shiroishi plays C-melody, soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones, multitracking the horns in studio to often startling effect. While there are elements of free jazz abstraction in the mix, this is a highly structured record that is further elevated by Shiroishi’s vocals on the final track, “The Long Bright Dark.” Vinyl has been pushed back to February/March. There is an accompanying chapbook of essays from Asian-American artists including Susie Ibarra, Jon Irabagon, and Eyvind Kang. A

Sally Anne Morgan, Cups (Thrill Jockey) As a member of the Black Twig Pickers and as half of House and Land, multi-instrumentalist Morgan has amassed a considerable body of work, but it was only last year that her terrific solo debut Thread was released. Cups is its follow-up, released on cassette October 1 with the digital available tomorrow, 11/12. No mention is made of additional contributors, so it’s safe to assume that Morgan is using the studio to its full advantage and playing fiddle, banjo, guitar, dulcimer, and assorted percussion. What might be lost in interactive spontaneity is replaced with intensity of personal vision; Cups is a recording that’s inextricably connected to Appalachian old-time tradition, but with an expansiveness (Thrill Jockey describes it as psychedelic) elevating the contents into the realms of the experimental. In “Hori Hori” the guitar is reminiscent of prime early Fahey (in terms of pure beauty, not dexterity), while closer “Angeline” exudes some tremendous raga vibes. In between there are elements of drone and cyclical maneuvers that are subtly Minimalist. An altogether superb excursion. A

Ross Goldstein, Chutes & Ladders (Odd Cat) This is the third LP in Goldstein’s trilogy for mellotron (preceded by The Eighth House in 2018 and Timoka last year), a highly satisfying culmination that, like the prior two albums, avoids disintegrating into a faux-orchestral swamp. It’s important to note that the entirety of the LP’s sounds derive from the mellotron’s soundcard library (the same is true of The Eighth House and Timoka, with the exception of a field recording of a hot springs on the former and the sound of Goldstein’s cat on the later), and also that Goldstein is using a digital simulation of an original modal. Much of Chutes & Ladders radiates like extracts of film soundtracks, and especially the recording of Beethoven’s “Allegretto,” which sounds like it could’ve been culled from an obscure Eastern European art film from the late ’60s, and a closing reading of Shostakovich’s “Largo.” Many of the original pieces, and particularly so with “Socorro” and “Journey to the End of the Night” (nice Céline reference there) delver a sort of mystical sci-fi atmosphere that brought Tarkovsky to mind, which is fantastic. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: The Bootheels, 1988: The Original Demos (Omnivore Recordings) Doubtlessly some folks who are hip to the background of this band but have yet to soak up the 13 tracks (plus three extra on the CD and digital) have glanced downward just a bit on their screens, absorbed the given grade and are sure the mark’s just too kind: “They were just teenagers, how can it be that good.” Well, for one thing, some of the best R&R ever was made by teens, and The Bootheels are unabashedly R&R in orientation. Second, the lineup doesn’t just feature one musician who went on to proverbial bigger and better, there are four, namely future Freewheeler Luther Russell (also half of Those Pretty Wrongs with Jody Stephens), Jakob Dylan and Tobi Miller, later of The Wallflowers, and Aaron A. Brooks  who went on to play with Moby and Lana Del Rey. This isn’t one budding talent surrounded by modest cohorts, it’s four skilled guys bursting with energy. Yes, their stuff sounds a lot like the Replacements, but had these songs came out in ’88 I would’ve played them a helluva lot more than Don’t Tell a Soul. A-

Constant Smiles, Paragons (Sacred Bones) It took a few listens for Paragons to take hold, but once it did the hooks stayed in. I’ll confess that the latest from the Massachusetts-based project of Ben Jones also serves as my introduction to the whole affair. Constant Smiles reportedly began as a noise duo for a live show in 2009, with a sizable (mostly digital) discography accrued since, including a handful named after inspirations from the film world (John Waters, Divine, Maya Deren, Isabella Rossellini). The story is that Jones’ outfit, 50-contributors deep (over the years, as it doesn’t sound like that many people are playing on this album), has tightened up along the way, a statement easily verifiable by soaking up the 13 tracks on this set, Constant Smiles’ debut for Sacred Bones. I’d read of Paragons subtly exuding a ’70s singer-songwriter sensibility, and while that certainly proved accurate, I’m reminded more of post-’70s pop auteurs, though the thrust is a little less Anglo than some others that fall into that category. There are many strong songs here, with “Where Am I Now?” a late gem. A-

Sylvie Courvoisier and Mary Halvorson, Searching for the Disappeared Hour (Pyroclastic) Pianist Courvoisier is a native of Switzerland but a Brooklynite of two decades. Along with ten releases as leader, her recordings as a collaborator are extensive, including a prior album, 2017’s Crop Circles, with guitarist Halvorson, whose discography is also bountiful, both as a leader and in collaboration. Of the dozen pieces here, nine are compositionally based (five from Halvorson, four from Courvoisier), with three improvisations spaced through the sequence. To their credit, upon first listen, it wasn’t easy to differentiate between the spontaneous and the planned, particularly as both players excel at exploratory, energetic and at times (quite often in fact across this hour-long CD) downright exquisite pattern-based interaction. That’s not to suggest that Searching is a total math-fest, for there is a wide emotional range and an abundance of beauty. It’s also apparent how both participants were writing with their collaborator in mind; that is, Halvorson’s “Gates & Passes” is a showcase for Courvoisier. A

Double Dagger, Sophisticated Urban Living, the Contemporary Conveniences Edition (Thrill Jockey) Released to coincide with a pair of reunion shows that went down in Baltimore on October 15-16, this digital release adds eight tracks to the three that were released in 2008 on the “Sophisticated Urban Living” 7-inch, specifically “Luxury Condos for the Poor,” “No Allies,” and “Art Machine,” in the process turning an EP into a full-length, with nine of the cuts recorded during the same session, utilizing a cassette 4-track in their practice space. The final two songs were captured live at the University of Maryland, and they really solidify this set as a necessary acquisition for fans of the band and also a prospective new entry-point into their work for those who enjoy non-throwback punk rock of a raw, ripping and non-generic variety. Double Dagger’s style is certainly impacted by the loud and heavy trail blazed in the ’80s by a few bands from the Midwestern region of the USA and with a touch of influence from neighboring DC, but it’s not like you’ll mistake them for anybody else, even at this early stage. A-

Vanishing Twin, Ookii Gekkou (Fire) Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab is one of the contributors to this album, the third for London’s Vanishing Twin, with her involvement a solid indicator of the tradition from whence this group’s sound derives. But it’s not quite so simple, as there is a high level of variety on Ookii Gekkou. “Phase One Million,” for instance, reminds me of post-Moving Raincoats in a funky frame of mind, while “Zuum” is an excursion into Krautrock-tinged retrofuturism. “The Organism” suggests experimental sound collage, but with an inviting flow, and “In Cucina” hit me just a bit like the Arkestra in an exotic mood complete with flutes, chanting and fluttering synths in the mix. And Giorgio Moroder’s visage looms large as “Light Vessel” features processed vocals reminding me of that early ’80s score for Metropolis. Vanishing Twin don’t lean too heavily into the retro aspects of their sound, however. Finale “The Lift” gets into a post-punk disco territory but with vocals that remind me of Cibo Matto, or better yet, Buffalo Daughter. A tightly constructed and inspired album overall. A-

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