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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Duane Pitre, Omniscient Voices (Important) Pitre is an American experimental composer and musician (borrowing the description from his website) with an extensive discography in the ballpark of 20 full-length releases including collaborations (and excluding compilations, like this year’s outstanding The Harmonic Series II, also on Important), though for Omniscient Voices Pitre is in solo mode on electronics and a justly tuned piano. Equally prioritizing the piano and the electronics, Pitre employs a Max/MSP-based generative network to convert his piano motifs into data that is then fed into a pair of polyphonic, microtonal hardware synths with patches of Pitre’s own authoring. There is also controlled improvisation. The complexity of Pitre’s method (and I’ve even synopsized a bit) might suggest a rigorous if not quite unrelenting experience, but the five pieces (fitting nicely onto LP) engage with the minimal (cited influences: Morton Feldman, Arvo Pärt, Philip Glass, Steve Reich) in a productive and often surprising manner. Tense resonances are plentiful, but also an underlying sense of order. A

Gas, Der Lange Marsch (Kompakt) Gas is the ambient-techno project of Wolfgang Voight, debuting with a self-titled record in 1996, followed by Zauberberg the next year and Königsforst in 1998 (these three were compiled in the 10LP set titled Box in 2016), and then a long break that ended in 2017 with Narkopop. Arriving in 2018 was Rausch, and now Der Lange Marsch, which is comprised of 11 pieces, all of them title-tracks numbered sequentially. Purchasing either the 2LP, CD, or digital from Kompakt’s online store comes with an email download of the 11 files plus all the music in one file as a continuous track (not sure how this works with purchases made in brick-and-mortar shops or even other online retailers, as there is no download card). I mention the continuous track because it would seem to be the best (though certainly not the only) way to experience this set, partly because once the rhythm kicks in, it doesn’t let up, and it doesn’t really change). Still, don’t let the ambient or minimal descriptor give you the wrong idea. There is a lot going on throughout Der Lange Marsch, all of it worthy. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: V/A, Etching the Voice: Emile Berliner and the First Commercial Gramophone Discs, 1889-1895 (Archeophone) Captured by Emile Berliner’s disc gramophone in Europe (Germany to be exact) between the years of the title, these 102 tracks on two CDs represent, per Archeophone (frankly experts on the matter), the earliest and also the scarcest manufactured sound recordings in the world. That wall of LPs you’re (hopefully) cultivating? These sounds are square one. But if it’s a lengthy plunge into late 19th century musicality you seek, please adjust those expectations. Musical pieces, mostly played or sung solo but occasionally by bands or choirs, are certainly part of the weave, but so are recitations of speeches, nursery rhymes, jokes and prayers (mostly in German, sometimes in English or Spanish). There’s even a person clucking like a chicken and barking like a dog. Sweet. Surface noise is abundant, but in fact these recordings sound better now than they ever did before, even when new. It is a fascinating trip enhanced by the wonderful 80-page booklet. A

Doug Carn, Adam’s Apple (Black Jazz – Real Gone) This is the fourth and final record multi-instrumentalist (with a focus on keyboards) and bandleader Doug Carn made for the Black Jazz label (nobody made more, not even the guy who founded the label, Gene Russell). It’s also often nearer to progressive R&B than jazz (“Mighty Mighty” by Earth, Wind & Fire gets a nice cover, that in a sweet twist, delivers Adam’s Apple one of its jazziest moments), but with other enhancing elements integrated into the scheme, e.g. proggy organ (see “The Messenger” for evidence), numerous spiritual jazz motions, and some very interesting use of Moog synth (again, scope out “The Messenger”) Plus, even as Carn’s vocalist wife Jean Carn has departed the scene, there’s still an abundance of vocals (John Conner and Joyce Green joining Doug for the duties). Also: Calvin Keys on guitar. While Adam’s Apple strives for accessibility, it lacks in any brazen commercial gestures, unless you consider R&B to be a brazen commercial gesture. In which case…what in the fuck are you thinking? A-

V/A, Tokyo Glow: Japanese City Pop, Funk & Boogie Selected by DJ Notoya (Nippon Columbia / WEWANTSOUNDS) & V/A, Tanamur City: Indonesian AOR, City Pop and Boogie, 1979 to 1991 (Cultures of Soul) These two releases have been gathered together for a reason that should be easily clarified by simply reading the titles, and it’s Tokyo Glow, a very attractively designed 2LP set (WEWANTSOUNDS is handing the vinyl), that will get addressed first, mainly because the City Pop genre originates from Japan. City Pop, and I may have mentioned this before, lands pretty far from my overall thing, though it’s of consistent interest and occasionally even fascinating to hear Japan’s reaction to and alteration of ’70s-’80s Western pop motions at their most contemporarily commercial (the other styles listed in the titles above should clue in a City Pop newbie to what the genre is up to). DJ Notoya’s method of compiling is meant to gather steam as it progresses (similar to a DJ set), but the main element is a focus upon City Pop’s sheer brilliancy, undiluted by degrees of hybridization.

This means, as the tracks progress (and there are 18 in all), the quirky angles and the atmospheres of strangeness are too few, with this lack ultimately limiting my appreciation, though there are still differentiating aspects that makes this stuff preferable to its inspirations. Again, rather than attempting to hang on the stylistic fringes, Notoya is striving to portray the true essence of City Pop (a laudable goal) while digging into the rich vaults of Nippon Columbia, so Tokyo Glow is a suitable point of entry for those who want to get a taste of unfettered City Pop, and will surely deliver a kick to ears already amenable to the sound, as the selection is heavy (not the best word, really) with cult classics and rarities, many of them debuting digitally and seeing release on vinyl for the first time outside Japan. B-

I found Tanamur City more appealing for a handful of reasons. First, in contrast to Tokyo Glow, which is a release very much true to its title, the production budgets are audibly smaller on the nine tracks comprising Cultures of Soul’s Indonesian collection, which was researched and compiled by Harry “Munir” Septiandry. This isn’t to suggest a lo-fi experience, just one that’s not slathered in sheen. There are also plenty of twists, and I wouldn’t call them strange, but instead appealingly unexpected, like the wild guitar in opener “PDK” by Iwan Fals, the New Order beat and the gamelan elements in “Jakarta Kasmaran” by Denny Malik, the incessant arpeggiator motif in “Denny” by Lydia Kandou, the almost mutant disco bass in “Waktu Kian Berrarti” by Chaseiro, the spongy vocoder in “Sebuah Kenyataan” by New Rollies, the tough funk of “Musik Kami” by Gito Rollies, and the use of kendang drum in “Kenangan Asmara” by Grace Simon. That’s nearly all the selections, though there are aspects of many that aren’t as appealing, frankly. That’s why the grade isn’t higher. It’s still a fun and enlightening ride. B+

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