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New Music Friday: Our Top 9 Albums for June 4th

New music this week from Green-House, Red Fang, Gizelle Smith and more courtesy of the Vinyl District.

The Vinyl District

NEW RELEASE PICKS:

Body Meπa, The Work Is Slow


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(Hausu Mountain)

This band of heavyweights (we shan’t call them a supergroup) chose a name that directly references the classic 1978 album by Ornette Coleman and Prime Time, although integrating the Pi symbol and thereby rendering the moniker distinct underscores this unit’s pursuit of their own substantive thing. The four pillars of Body Meπa are Grey McMurray (Sō Percussion, etc.) and Sasha Frere-Jones (of Ui, etc.) on guitars (Frere-Jones also plays bass on one track, “Rice Tea”), Melvin Gibbs (Defunkt, Harriet Tubman, etc.) on bass, and Greg Fox (Guardian Alien, etc.) on drums. Nobody sings. It should be a no-brainer that fans of the participant’s prior activities should seek out The Work Is Slow (available on CD, cassette and digital) at their earliest opportunity, but that doesn’t get to what the record sounds like. As the six tracks unwind, I heard elements of post-rock, a few passages of gliding psych, and even some robust funk. Also, the 1980s SST aesthetic (e.g., Minutemen and Meat Puppets) kept crossing my mind, and that’s just marvelous. A    

Green-House, Music for Living Spaces


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(Leaving)

The Los Angeles-based non-binary artist Olive Ardizoni released their debut Six Songs for Invisible Gardens on cassette and digital in January of 2020 (it’s subsequently received CD and LP editions that are still available; the tape is sold out), a recording that sounded exactly like what its title promised (that is, music for the benefit of transparent plants) while simultaneously and subtly exceeding expectations. Part of why related to Ardizoni enhancing their environmental objective through sheer electronic range while never losing focus of the goal. The same is true for this follow-up, which is rich with analog synths and vintage keyboard tones alongside recordings of nature such as babbling brooks, reverberating insects, birdsong and falling rain. Often gentle and always eschewing the disruptive, there are welcome unexpected elements, and right away with the regality of tone in opener “Top Soil.” Music for Living Spaces (also available on cassette, CD and LP) is relaxing and functional, but it’s as deep as it is pretty. It’s ultimately very moving. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS:

Juana Molina, Segundo


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(Crammed Discs)

While undertaking a synopsis of Argentine singer-songwriter and sound sculptor Molina’s prior work in a review of her terrific 2017 album Halo, I assessed this album, her second, as “a considerable step forward.” That was intended as high praise. However, given the extensive background provided in this 2LP reissue’s liners regarding the recording’s slow progression toward breakout success (let’s just say the journey was impacted by a few chance encounters), the terseness of my description reads like short shrift. I’ll add that getting reacquainted with Segundo on the occasion of this edition (which benefits from a quality remastering job) finds it rising in my esteem and deepening my impression that I underrated it, if inadvertently. For those unfamiliar but curious to hear more of Molina’s work, this is a fine starting point. While its contents can be tagged as folktronica, Molina ultimately transcends the designation. Fans of the Beta Band and Rita Lee’s work in Os Mutantes who don’t know Molina have some good times ahead. A   

Can, Live In Stuttgart 1975


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(Mute)

Captured from the audience on a Halloween night by fan Andrew Hall, the first installment in Mute’s series of Can live documents is absolutely essential, even if you’re already familiar with the recording (as the sound has been cleaned up considerably by sole surviving founding member Irmin Schmidt). Those who haven’t heard it should prepare for a jaw-dropping experience, as Can nixed a run-through of established tunes for five jams, titled numerically as “Eins,” “Zwei,” “Drei,” “Vier” and “Funf” (and sans vocals, as Damo Sazuki had recently left the band). The whole is high of discipline, intensity and extendedness. Of particular note for their durations are the 20-minute opener and the 36-minute “Drei,” the latter a startling excursion that justifies purchase of the 2CD/ 3LP all by itself. Along with the sheer pleasure of hearing Schmidt, Jaki Liebezeit, Michael Karoli, and Holger Czukay firing on full cylinders, it’s notable that the psychedelic thrust of these pieces travels into regions that aren’t readily taggable as Krautrock. It is identifiable at superb, however.  

Ghoulies, “Reprogram” EP


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(Goodbye Boozy)

This Perth, Australia-based four-piece stuffs seven songs onto this 7-inch, a feat made possible through consistent brevity (all the tracks clock in at under two minutes). It’s not the first time they’ve done so either, as last year they jammed eight cuts onto a platter of the same dimensions titled “Songs From Flat Earth” (so named as it’s a condensation of the 11-song “Flat Earth” cassette; both it and the 7-inch are sold out). Along with being brief, Ghoulies are also speedy, and they’ve been tagged as synth punk, an assessment with which I will not quibble, except to offer that the hyperactive nature of the songs mostly guides the synth playing of Indigo Foster Tuke into trad keyboard territory. It’s a circumstance that bothers me not a bit, though it does ultimately steer Ghoulies toward conventionality to varying degrees. Nothing on this platter falters into to the generic however, with the contents a hair compositionally sharper than the material they released in 2020. Energetic, committed stuff. B+

Mainframe, “Employee” b/w “Rip” (Goodbye Boozy)

Goodbye Boozy is an Italian label (specifically, the city of Teramo), but a lot of their releases (like Ghoulies above) originate from the Land Down Under, Australia, that is, which is the case here, though as we delve a bit deeper, these two songs came to fruition via internet discourse bouncing betwixt Sydney and the Midwest of the USA (we’re talking Indiana and Minnesota, using the internet for research) The participants’ other outfits (how many people are involved, I know not) include Research Reactor Corp, Satanic Togas, Set-Top Box, Gee Tee, Belly Jelly, Dummy and Skull Cult, and if you dig all those bands, it’s basically a cinch you’ll be into Mainframe, too. The sound arrived in my inbox accompanied with the descriptor of weird-punk, which is always a promising sign, and these tracks didn’t disappoint as they deliver drum box punk with raw guitars and injections of synth and rough vocal ranting. Due to the nature of the recording, the thrust is more caustic in its strangeness than it is heavy, and that’s kinda preferable. An edition of 200. A-   

Red Fang, Arrows


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(Relapse)

This is Portland, OR-based stoner-sludge four-piece Red Fang’s first album in four years, with the last one, their fourth, being Only Ghost. However, the band identifies Arrows as sharing a looseness of approach (what bassist-vocalist Aaron Beam calls “doing whatever the fuck we wanted”) with 2011’s Murder the Mountains. Additionally, the two records feature production by Decemberists multi-instrumentalist Chris Funk (who also helmed 2013’s Whales and Leeches). While not striking the ear as stylistically atypical, Arrows is refreshingly lacking in the predictable both formally and in terms of content. This non-hackneyed scenario at least partly relates to the band’s sense of humor, which is manifest in the PR for the set but also in a few of the track titles here, e.g. “Unreal Estate” and “Fonzi Scheme” (yes, referencing Henry Winkler’s character on Happy Days). This keeps matters from becoming overwrought through strained seriousness, but importantly (at least for me), there’s no goofing around. The band just dishes precision and punch. The title track is a total belter. B+    

Gizelle Smith, Revealing


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(Jalapeno)

This is the third full-length (and second for the long-running Jalapeno label amid a slew of singles) for the London-based vocalist Smith (the daughter of the recently departed Joe Smith of the Four Tops) but it’s the first that I’ve heard. Unsurprisingly, Soul is Smith’s forte, with her voice well-suited for it. As these nine tracks (all but one co-written by Smith) feature full band instrumental backing, Revealing offers more than passing acknowledgement of old-school sensibilities, although the main inspirations of yore are 1970s-derived, with a funky inclination and just a hint of disco. But numerous instances reinforce the LP as a byproduct of the 21st century, with the current qualities and the throwback vibes coexisting pretty well throughout. Along with a band that consistently avoids overplaying, the key to the record’s success is Smith, as she possesses confidence that undercuts any desperation to impress. The subject-matter, including an environmentally focused number, is refreshing, and the cover of Kate Bush’s “King of the Mountain” is solid. B+     

Leni Stern, Dance


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(Leni Stern Recordings)

Last year, I was sent a copy of NYC-based guitarist and vocalist Stern’s prior release but must admit to backing off after a cursory listen. Said LP was 4, so named as it was made by a quartet, adding Argentine pianist Leo Genovese from the previous album 3, with that one featuring Stern and the Senegalese rhythm team of bassist Mamadou Ba and percussionist Alioune Faye. My reason for relenting comes down to a sound that blends a forthrightly accessible strain of ’80s jazz (retaining aspects of fusion but minus the excesses) with a substantial dose of what used to be called World Music, and Stern’s songwriting, which is urbane without getting too sophisto. Smith has been on the scene for decades, so this combination gets expressed pretty naturally. But bluntly, it’s not my sound. So, why didn’t I just back away again? Well, there are aspects of Dance that have grown on me, particularly Smith’s singing and guitar. I especially dig the opener “Yah Rakhman Prayer” and closer “Fonio Grain.” Hell, even the synth injections in “Maba” are sounding (mostly) alright. B 

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