Author Archives: Joseph Neff

Graded on a Curve: Sunny & the Sunliners,
Mr. Brown Eyed Soul

Led by vocalist Sunny Ozuna, Sunny & the Sunliners began as a sturdy regional act in the late ’50s, broke out nationally for a little while, and then just kept on rolling; of course, they’re ripe for contemporary discovery, and with Mr. Brown Eyed Soul, Big Crown Records has brought the goods. Earlier this year, label owners Danny Akalepse and Leon Michels issued the “Should I Take You Home” b/w “My Dream” single as a teaser, and this compilation’s 13 additional tracks don’t disappoint. Fans of classic doo wop, R&B, and soul shouldn’t procrastinate; it’s out now on vinyl, compact disc, and digital.

Sunny Ozuna’s start in music is a variation on a highly familiar story, but one that somehow never succumbs to hoariness. As detailed in Ramón Hernández’s sleeve notes for this set, he started out as vocalist for The Sequence and then The Galaxies, both high school doo wop groups popular around Ozuna’s hometown of San Antonio.

It was Sunny and Rudy Guerra’s forming of the Sunglows that precipitated Ozuna’s impact beyond southern Texas. “Just a Moment” delivered their first regional hit in 1959, but it was “Talk to Me” that provided their national R&B chart breakthrough, making it to #11 in ’63 through Huey Meaux’s Teardrop label. The song resulted in an invitation to appear on American Bandstand, the long-running pop music-focused TV program hosted by Dick Clark; Ozuna was in fact the first Chicano artist to appear on the show.

Somewhere along the way, the moniker was adjusted to the Sunliners. Meaux continued to release the group’s recordings, but those studio forays are not what’s found on Mr. Brown Eyed Soul. The Sunliners’ contract with Teardrop ended in mid-’66, and it was then that Sunny and Johnny Zaragosa started the Key-Loc label; the music here cherry-picks from seven years’ worth of self-released productivity, a considerable length when compared to the much shorter periods of creative longevity experienced by many acts both well-known and obscure.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Joseph Shabason,

It’s Joseph Shabason who plays the somewhat yacht-evoking saxophone on the last two albums from Dan Bejar’s Destroyer, but his first solo effort is onto something decidedly different. Aytche can be succinctly tagged as an ambient jazz recording, but it easily surpasses the expectations for such a merger, exhibiting a consistent desire for experimentation amid sonic environments that transcend mere tranquility and smoothness. It’s out now on LP, CD, and digital from Western Vinyl.

There was really no reason to expect Joseph Shabason’s solo debut to be some sort of outgrowth from his work on Destroyer’s Kaputt and Poison Season, any more than one would assume a direct formal link between the solo work of Shabason’s saxophone peer Colin Stetson’s solo recordings and the numerous albums he’s guested on.

But in diving headfirst into a stylistic hybrid that on paper will likely produce as many (or more) doubters than eager listeners, Shabason, who in addition to lending sax to Destroyer, The War on Drugs and others also contributes synth to the unabashedly throwback electropop act DIANA, does pull off a maneuver somewhat akin to Bejar’s elevation of soft-rock textures to art-rock status.

Helping to raise Aytche’s worth is a lack of strain through deliberateness, as the nine tracks frequently travel far afield of the ambient jazz zone, though it takes a little while to get there. Opener “Looking Forward to Something, Dude,” with its recordings of birdsong, processed sax drift, and occasionally skittering lines conjuring images of a horn being played in a rainforest, fit into the imagined ambient jazz bag quite well, but with streaks of subtle unusualness assisting in the avoidance of the trite.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve: 80s Underground Cassette Culture Vol. 1

A fair amount of deserved spotlight has been paid to ’80s UK DIY, an impulse that thrived in the underbelly of the decade’s post punk scene, but a new compilation from the Contort Yourself label reinforces self-production and distribution of experimental sounds as a global occurrence throughout the decade. 80s Underground Cassette Culture Vol. 1 collects 21 examples of subterranean artistry with a focus on dark and occasionally misanthropic electronic experimentation. It’s out September 18 on double vinyl with a gatefold jacket, printed inner sleeves, and two inserts.

As detailed in Tristan Koreya’s succinct notes, the selections corralled here exist due to a confluence of factors. There was the increased affordability of musical instruments (synths, drum boxes), recording devices (microphones, tape machines), and duplicating equipment (Xerox copiers, dual tape decks, and naturally, cassettes), but just as importantly, there was the postal service, a network of enterprises which made it possible for these artists to overcome seclusion, providing and receiving inspiration and validation via the mailbox while developing a base of listeners, even if tiny.

Side one of this often-fascinating collection wastes no time in emphasizing the widespread nature of the phenomenon. East End Butchers hailed from Australia, their “Assassins” an ominous bit of tape collage, incessant pulse, rhythmic whacking, and sing-song spoken word, while Magthea called Belgium home; the extract from their “Magthea & Insanity” is a rising-falling and appealingly low-tech instrumental soundscape.

Missing Persons shouldn’t be confused with the US new wave act of the same name; representing the DIY wave mentioned up top, this Missing Persons resided in the UK. “Rotten to the Core” is aptly pegged as post-punk political protest, certainly a more strident affair than “The Other Stranger,” an unruffled blend of synth, rhythm, and dialogue samples from the Dutch outfit Doxa Sinistra. Germany’s PCR employ similar ingredients to a darker, industrial-tinged result, as side one closes with an extract from their “Myths of Seduction & Betrayal.”

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, September 2017

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued wax presently in stores for September, 2017.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Daniel Levin, Living (Smeraldina-Rima) Levin is a NYC-based cellist tapping into a wide variety of New Music disciplines, with avant jazz a major component. Living is his second recording of solo improv, a difficult, and by extension, rare avenue of spontaneous expression. The prior disc, 2011’s Inner Landscape, was live, but this LP (in an edition of 300) was captured in studio, and it’s a perfect fit for home listening. Going far beyond standard bowing, he doesn’t create a racket but instead conjures quiet, focused intensity and surprise. It’s just one of four 2017 releases for Levin. A

Trio da Kali & Kronos Quartet, Ladilikan (World Circuit) Trio da Kali consist of vocalist Hawa Kassé Mady Diabate, bass ngoni player Mamadou Kouyaté, and balafon player and musical director Lassana Diabaté; described by World Circuit as a sort of Malian griot supergroup, their playing is exquisite, especially the balafon (a type of xylophone), and the singing is powerful, pretty, and expressive (and occasionally gospel-flavored). With the assistance of Jacob Garchik, who arranged Trio da Kali’s repertoire for this collaboration, Kronos inject elements of surprise and make a splendid thing even better. A

REISSUE PICKS: The Dream Syndicate, The Complete Live at Raji’s (Run Out Groove) The reunion set from this foundational Paisley Underground band is freshly out and more than up to snuff, but this reissue (first time on vinyl for the entire show) is an absolute monster. Captured on the last day of January 1988, this is the Ghost Stories lineup (2/3rds of which are back for the new LP) a little prior to that album’s recording, with the track-list focusing on the first three Syndicate records. The whole band is killing it, and Wynn’s guitar tone is blazing throughout, especially on sides three and four. A

Group Home, Livin’ Proof (Get on Down) The duo of Lil’ Dap and Melachi the Nutcracker were part of the Gang Starr Foundation, which in ’90s hip hop terms is a sure sign of quality. Produced by DJ Premier (with a track a piece by Guru and Big Jaz), this ’95 debut is rhythmically intense yet complex and loaded with samples (in the manner of so much New York hip hop of the era), with the numerous instrumental interludes a highlight, but the MCs are far from overshadowed. Possessing contrasting styles, Lil’ Dap wields a distinctive lisp and Melachi brings the comparatively straightforward firepower. A-

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Record Store Club | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Arjan Miranda,
Spiritual America

The mingling of mysticism and rock can make for an occasionally uncomfortable pairing, but when it’s done right, specifically when the blend unfurls naturally and is not forced, the results can rise to the sublime. In its best moments, the new record from vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Arjan Miranda attains this plateau, with the high points frequent and any problematic dips downright scarce. Spiritual America is the first release on his own label The Wild Unknown; it’s out now on vinyl in an edition of 1,000 with a highly attractive hand-drawn fold-out poster.

Arjan Miranda is probably better known for his participation in the Family Band, where he went under the name Jonny Ollsin. Alongside vocalist Kim Krans and bassist/ lap steel player Scott Hirsch, they specialized in a strain of neo-folk with psych trimmings that was likely to appeal to fans of Cowboy Junkies, Cat Power, and New Zealand’s The Renderers. In 2008, they self-released the “Blessed” EP on CDR, with the Miller Path LP following two years later, but it was 2012’s Grace & Lies that made the biggest splash through its emergence on the No Quarter label.

They dubbed their sound “heavy mellow,” and that registers as right on the money. It was certainly a far cry from the undeniably non-laidback approach of his early ’00s band Skateboarding Totally Rules Everything Else Totally Sucks, or S.T.R.E.E.T.S. for short (who, it should go without saying, played skate-rock), or for that matter Children, who issued the hard-charging metallic Hard Times Hanging at the End of the World on Kemado on ’09.

Still, don’t think the heavy in “heavy mellow” is in any way wishful thinking; Grace & Lies is the sort of record one wouldn’t be surprised to find a partisan of art-metal unwinding to after a long day of pummel, doom, and sludge. The choice of producer for Spiritual America retains this quality; having shifted coasts to Portland, OR, taking a considerable break from public music making, and coming back with a fresh moniker, Miranda hooked up with Randall Dunn, he of extensive work with Earth and Sunn O))).

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Jan & Dean, Filet of Soul Redux: The Rejected Master Recordings

Jan Berry and Dean Torrance, professionally known as Jan & Dean, are secured a place in pop history as part of the ’60s surf wave, but their career transcends the designation. Beginning with doo wop in the ’50s, they surely hit their stride with surf-related material, though they soon chafed against label-imposed limitations. Filet of Soul Redux: The Rejected Master Recordings finds unconventionality and humor running rampant; freshly issued on CD by Omnivore, it’s more an occasionally fascinating curiosity than a great (or even very good) album, but its snidely oddball time capsule does serve to deepen this oft-underappreciated duo’s story.

More than once I’ve overheard the opinion that Jan & Dean were a flash in the pan who rode on the coattails of The Beach Boys, but that’s just wrong. Yes, “Surf City” was a Brian Wilson song given to Berry to finish, and the two groups were indeed thick as thieves, but Jan & Dean’s success in fact began in the late ’50s with “Jennie Lee.”

To be specific, the song was credited to Jan & Arnie; friend Arnie Ginsberg had brought the lyrics to Berry, who then adapted the music from the Civil War tune “Aura Lee” and arranged the harmonies. The plan was for the three to record the song in Berry’s home studio, but Torrance had to fulfil a commitment to the Army Reserve, so Jan & Arnie it was.

The success of “Jennie Lee,” which hit #8 on the pop charts in 1958, was something of an accident, with producer Joe Lubin hearing the song and offering to buy it. It was Lubin’s version with Jan & Arnie backed by a band that hit, though the tune still sounds like it was recorded in a shed. With Torrance back and Ginsburg out, a couple more smaller hits followed through a connection to Herb Alpert and Lou Adler, who got them onto the small Dore Records label.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve: Afghan Whigs,
Up in It, Congregation, “Uptown Avondale”

From humble beginnings, Cincinnati’s Afghan Whigs grew into one of 1990s more appealing Alternative success stories. Featuring guitarist Rick McCollum, bassist John Curley, drummer Steve Earle, and vocalist-guitarist-songwriting powerhouse Greg Dulli, they came on strong with 1990’s Up in It and sharpened their sound with ‘92’s Congregation; covers EP “Uptown Avondale” signaled the departure of Sub Pop for the majors. In a sweet turn, all three records are getting vinyl reissues in standard 180gm versions and special Sub Pop “Loser” editions, both available September 8 through the label’s online store and at the Whig’s merch table. The records hit retail shops September 22.

Up in It emerged in 1990 and was an immediate breath of fresh air. A whole lot of loud and heavy stuff was steamrolling toward a point of detonation, but the Afghan Whigs essentially came out of nowhere and infused the template with better than average songwriting right out of the gate. The LP’s best song is its opener, “Retarded” an almost ridiculously catchy hard rocker reinforcing that Dulli and company weren’t just hitched to a trend on the upswing. It’s sort of cut that can get stuck in one’s head for days, as this writer can attest, and reinvestigation has proved this capability undiminished.

Had Up in It been the only record the Whigs released…but wait. They do in fact have a prior record under their belt, 1988’s Big Top Halloween, issued on their own Ultrasuede label in an edition of 1,000 copies, one of which landed in the hands of Sub Pop’s Jonathan Poneman. Except for three tracks tacked onto the end of the Up in It CD (“Big Top Halloween,” Sammy,” and “In My Town”), nothing from the record has been legitimately reissued. Unbreakable: A Retrospective 1990–2006 chronologically cuts it out of the band’s history.

This is understandable. Although not terrible, Big Top Halloween (notably engineered by Wayne Hartman, who did the same for another Ohioan debut, the “Forever Since Breakfast” EP from Guided by Voices) is somewhat schizophrenic. Initially tapping into a Replacements vibe, across the disc there’re numerous structural nods to hardcore, doses of college jangle, a rather bogue country-ish number (“Life in a Day”), and the earliest nod to R&B-soul in the group’s discography (“But Listen”).

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve: Invenciones: La otra vanguardia musical
en Latinoamérica

The avant-garde is often submerged under a torrent of fleetingly popular detritus, and with the passage of time investigating its essence frequently gets harder. This is the circumstance from inside one’s own culture; becoming acquainted with the history of artistic experimentation in other parts of the world can be even more difficult. With this said, Invenciones: La otra vanguardia musical en Latinoamérica 1976-1988 is a highly enlightening treat for thirsty ears. Digging into the Latin American avant-garde, the 14 tracks derive from ten countries and span a variety of approaches, yet it all makes for a cohesive listen. It’s out September 8 on 2LP and 2CD through Munster Records.

When thoughts turn to Spain’s Munster label, the predominant genres springing to mind are punk, garage, and assorted strains of unkempt roots junk, with a focus on reissues. The emergence of this compilation was therefore something of a surprise, but an insightful observation in Munster’s promo text lent clarity by reinforcing the reality of these Latin American musicians amid social and political upheaval, regularly under dictatorial rule.

While nothing here fits a trad punk description, these artists do share a similar impulse for creativity in environments that were generally non-encouraging and even downright hostile. And so; a subculture, or better put, a post-hippie-era counterculture formed with attention to self-sufficiency that anticipated and overlapped punk’s DIY wing.

What brings these geographically wide-ranging selections together is a common spirit of adventurousness, though there are of course other commonalities. For instance, Peruvians Manongo Mujica and Miguel Flores struck out from rock bands, the former in the London-based Los Mad’s, the latter in The Loops, Thee Image, and PAX.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
The Ocean Party,
Beauty Point

Extant since 2009 and currently six members strong, The Ocean Party formed in Wagga Wagga, Australia and are currently based in Melbourne. With the release of Beauty Point, their discography is now seven LPs deep, with a couple of cassettes sprinkled in. Specializing in a mature strain of indie pop, fans of fellow Aussies The Go-Betweens or Scotland’s Orange Juice might find these 13 tunes strolling right up their main street. The new record is out now on vinyl and compact disc, in their home country and New Zealand through Spunk Records and in the US, UK, and Europe via Emotional Response.

The Ocean Party’s output resonates an undeniable 1980s feel (but in a non-labored way), and yet their prolific nature, releasing those seven full-lengths across the same number of years, gives off something of a ‘60s vibe. Making this even more impressive is the sophisticated nature of their sound right from the get-go; The Sun Rolled Over the Hills is their 2011 debut.

Social Clubs made it clear they’d located their sound, honed through a Wagga Wagga arts council giving young local bands an opportunity to play the city’s library (there was an additional youth-run program named Youth Voice), and Split drove home solid musicianship and occasionally biting lyrics that helped to set them apart, important qualities when putting discs in the racks with such regularity. Soft Focus came next, followed by Light Weight, and 2016 brought Restless.

This shouldn’t suggest a sameyness in execution. For starters, since Split, everybody sings their own songs, and for Beauty Point there are a few guests voices including recurring backing vocalist Ashley Bundang. Over their existence the lineup has changed little, and for the new record there’s Zac Denton, Liam Halliwell, and Curtis Wakeling on guitars, Jordan Thompson on keyboards, Mark Rogers aka Crowman on bass, and Zac’s bro Lachlan Denton on drums.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, August 2017

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued wax presently in stores for August, 2017. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Nadia Sirota, Tessellatum 2 (Bedroom Community) On occasion, the impulse to combine experimental sounds with visuals (often of a likeminded nature) smacks of a covert attempt to quell boredom. However, when the union is inspired it can be sublime. Such is the case here. Featuring Sirota on violas and Liam Byrne on viola da gamba playing a composition by Donnacha Dennehy, the accompanying animated film by Steven Mertens (available as a download with the LP/ CD) enhances an already full-bodied sonic tableau; think modern classical with elements of drone. Superb. A

Rob Noyes, The Feudal Spirit (Poon Village) A stunning solo 6 and 12-string guitar debut (in an edition of 330 with a Raymond Pettibon cover), aptly tagged as post-Takoma school (Glenn Jones is a vocal proponent) but with broader folk-blues reach (lines of descent have been drawn from John Renbourn, Davey Graham, Wizz Jones, and Michael Chapman) and a level of intensity setting him apart from the ever-increasing contempo fingerpicking hoards. Noyes has a background in loud post-HC rock (e.g. Bloody Gears), but his playing, often aggressive and fast, evinces no traces of the recent covert. A

REISSUE PICKS: Pharoah Sanders, Izipho Zam (My Gifts) (Everland) This sometimes gets tagged as spiritual jazz, and opener “Prince of Peace” (with vocalist Leon Thomas and his ultra-cool yodel) reinforces the observation; more so, the LP was originally on Strata East. But stretches of “Balance” and the 29-minute title track (amidst more yodeling) offer some of the wildest large group free jazz ever recorded. The lineup is wide-ranging, including out-jazz mainstays Sonny Sharrock on guitar and Sirone on bass, but also Sonny Fortune on alto, Howard Johnson on tuba, and Billy Hart on drums. A doozy. A

Jerry Garcia, S/T (ATO) Amir Bar-Lev’s recent film Long Strange Trip is something of a music doc rarity, in that it’s an utter treat for serious Deadheads and more casual fans alike, and it reasserted my love for the band. It also deepened the fresh listen I gave to Garcia’s ’72 solo debut, a record I’ve long dug, but probably never more than right now. Stripped back to just a multi-tasking Jerry, drummer Bill Kreutzmann and some of Robert Hunter’s best lyrics, the first side of this, peaking with the majestic “Sugaree,” is faultless. Some bag on the experimentation opening the flip, but it bothers me not a bit. A

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Record Store Club | Leave a comment

  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text