Welcome to Audiofemme’s record review column, Musique Boutique, written by music journo vet Gillian G. Gaar. The last Monday of each month, Musique Boutique offers a cross-section of noteworthy reissues and new releases guaranteed to perk up your ears.
Coxsackie, New York-based rarities reissue label Sundazed Records (and their analog-cut from mono masters offshoot Modern Harmonic) have had busy month full of terrific releases, two of which focus on feminist alt-rock of the 1970s-early ’80s. TwinArt Presents Instant This/Instant That: NY NY 1978-1985 is a fascinating compilation that delves into the artistic goings on percolating in New York City’s Lower East Side at the time. It was the same fertile arts scene that Laurie Anderson, Ann Magnuson, and Sonic Youth would spring from, and these songs crackle with energy. The title track is a satiric ode to consumerism by Taste Test, a collective of visual artists and musicians, including the creative design team TwinArt (twins Ellen and Lynda Kahn) that curated the collection. Check out the song’s delightful video, the first of the numerous videos TwinArt would go on to make.
TwinArt’s own songs have a brittle edge to them. “Hands On Hands Off” is a great boundary-setting anthem (“Hands attack/You can attack back,” the lyrics warn), bringing to mind the likes of the Au Pairs, Delta 5, and Kleenex. “Double Shot of Love” is like a twisted version of the B-52’s “Love Shack.” Of the other contributors, the Dance lay down a potent groove in “You Got to Know,” and Julia Heyward has a tart sweetness as she delivers lines like “You’re so primitive/Eat the rich” in “Keep Moving Buddy.” It’s a great unearthing of long lost gems and previously unreleased goodies.
Jill Kroesen appears on Instant This/Instant That as well, and is also anthologized on her own album, I Really Want to Bomb You: 1972-1984. It vibrates with post punk/new wave/no wave fervor; all clattering disjointed edges, the snap crackle and pop of percussion, a braying honking saxophone. Then there’s her distinctive voice; alternately a stuttering monotone (“Wayne Hayes Blues”), a high pitch wailing like the cawing of birds (“I’m Sorry I’m Such a Weenie”), and a bluesy moan (“Honey, You’re So Mean”). As the song titles reveal, Kroesen has a wry sense of humor. She’s not above offering the occasional history lesson (“Alexander the Great,” “Napoleon”), and has a knack for cutting to the chase —as in the pithy “Fuck Off.”
Finally, two albums by French act Autour de Lucie, L’Échapée Belle (“The Beautiful Escape,” 1994) and Immobile (1998), make their vinyl debut thanks to Sundazed. This is accessible pop rock that extends a friendly hand across the language barrier to draw listeners in. “L’Accord Parfait” is perfect for breezy bicycle rides. There’s a new wave intensity in the jagged guitars of “Selon I’humeur” coupled with the retro flavor of an organ, like a cross between Blondie and Booker T & the MG’s. The pretty English-language “Island” is reminiscent of Julee Cruise, if she were floating down the Riviera while sipping on something from a frosted glass. The short piano-based instrumental “Sagrada Familia” is an atmospheric film soundtrack in search of a movie. Valérie Leulliot’s perennially enticing voice is the icing on the cake.
The harp isn’t an instrument you’d necessarily associate with jazz. But Ukrainian born, Polish educated, and UK-based harpist Alina Bzhezhinska (here’s her own video on how to pronounce her name) has made that leap, working with an ensemble she calls the HipHarpCollective. Their new album Reflections (BBE Music) will get you to think in a whole new way about the instrument. In “For Carrol,” a laidback beat underscores a mellow trumpet line by Jay Phelps that’s set against Bzhezhinska’s playful harp. The lively “Fire” adds Tony Kofi on saxophone to the mix, for an invigorating ride with plenty of twists and turns. That’s a danceable number, but most of the record offers music to chill out to, reflecting the disparate influences; Bzhezhinska cites Alice Coltrane, Joel Henderson, Dorothy Ashby’s “Afro-harping,” and the unmistakable pulse of triphop as the music that inspires her. Dip into a number like “Soul Vibrations” and let it spirit you away.
When Brandi and the Alexanders formed in 2014, they were an R&B covers band. But over the years they evolved into creating original music, citing legends like Aretha Franklyn, Lauryn Hill, and Isaac Hayes as influences. “Fire” is the lead off track from their new EP, Reflection (self-released), a powerful anthem written in response to George Floyd’s murder in 2020 and the protests that followed. “In chains, but you couldn’t keep us silent,” Brandi Thompson sings, in a song that’s a resonant affirmation of racial resilience. “I hope that a song like ‘Fire’ can be used to strike a nerve and inspire people to take action when something’s not right,” Thompson explained in an interview with radio station WFUV, and the song gets the job done as a perfect rallying cry.
Elsewhere, “Mama Told Me” is a smooth, cool track about dealing with the fallout from your parents’ break up and finding one’s inner strength. “Where You Belong” is a love song to an absent loved one, buoyed by picturesque lyrics like “Feel as cold and as empty as a steel drum in winter.” This is modern soul for troubled times, and it goes down very well.