Author Archives: Joseph Neff

Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, June 2016

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new or reissued wax presently in stores for June, 2016.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Spain, Carolina (Glitterhouse/ Diamond Soul) For his sixth LP as Spain, Josh Haden cites a turn toward Americana/alt-country, and that’s indeed a tangible thing; check the pedal steel-infused “In My Hour” for evidence. But along the way the style branches out farther than one might expect, with “Apologies” providing a highlight through assured soulfulness of voice. In no way has Haden forsaken his established “slowcore” direction, so those digging the old stuff should like this just fine. But neither is he stuck in a holding pattern, and he’s got Danny Frankel and his sister Petra on board. A-

REISSUE PICK: The Scenics, In the Summer (Studio Recordings 1977-1978) (Dream Tower) Highly worthwhile collection of Toronto-based punk-friendly melodic-rock that’s intermittently injected with an era-appropriate nervousness nearer to Ubu than The Feelies. A lot of these late ’70s punkish reissues present bands best suited as local openers for out-of-town headliners, and that’s cool. However, The Scenics were strong enough that had circumstances been different they could’ve toured the continent’s clubs. This album came out in 2015, but it’s getting a fresh push through Light in the Attic. A-

Ben Lukas Boysen, Spells (Erased Tapes) Merging programmed piano pieces with live instrumentation, specifically drums, cello, and harp, Boysen’s second album (at least under his own name, he’s got a bunch more as an electronic producer under the moniker HECQ) should appeal to those with a minimalist inclination, though it consistently avoids the pitfall of background. First single “Golden Times 1” combines an electronic aura with a chamber classical vibe, while “Nocturne 4” works up a sturdy rock-ish beat connections to Boysen’s previous album. Consider me intrigued. B+

James Brown & His Famous Flames, Try Me (Rumble) This is Syd Nathan using Brown’s follow-up hit to “Please Please Please” as a potential sales hook, and the results basically document the bandleader in search of a consistent sound. Try Me is dominated by straight R&B, excursions into rawer blues and unsurprisingly given the nature of the title cut, shades of doo wop; a few strands of formative soul do emerge in the mix. With a few exceptions this isn’t classic Brown, yet the selections still cohere into a strong whole in part because the tunes haven’t been overplayed. It’s a vivid snapshot of 1959. B+

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Record Store Club | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
The Robert Bensick Band, French Pictures
in London

Until recently it’s fair to state that only heavy-duty fans of Cleveland’s subterranean musical history recognized the name Robert Bensick, but with the emergence of French Pictures in London as the latest volume in Smog Veil Records’ Platters du Cuyahoga series, his modest profile is set to change. Combining 14 tracks into a potent avant-pop brew, the results, once thought lost, are fascinating and on occasion startlingly effective. Featuring a lineup sprinkled with future Ohio punk all-stars, the Robert Bensick Band’s sole outing deepens the already labyrinthine rewards of its region and rescues its namesake from footnote status; it’s out June 24 on vinyl, compact disc, and digital.

The arrival of French Pictures in London concludes Series 1 of Smog Veil’s Platters du Cuyahoga initiative, and after time spent it registers as the most necessary (if not by extension the best) of the three albums; it’s preceded by X__X’s Albert Ayler’s Ghosts Live at the Yellow Ghetto and Mr. Stress Blues Band’s Live at the Brick Cottage 1972 – 1973.

Actually the second installment in this initial Platters du Cuyahoga run but the last to see completion (series 2 is reportedly in preparation now), French Pictures in London is very much its own thing; with this said it eventually gravitates nearer to John Morton’s art-punk convulsiveness than it does to the no-frills bar-band blues action of Mr. Stress Blues Band.

However, Bill “Mr. Stress” Miller and Bensick did basically evolve from the same fertile late ‘60s scene. By ’66 the latter had been recruited from his first band the Back Group (originally The Coachmen) to play drums for The Munx of Sandusky, OH. Specializing in essentially innocuous vocal harmony-infused guitar pop, they issued a couple of 45s. By ’68 Bensick had bailed for more lively creative environments.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Swans,
The Glowing Man

Swans is a formidable behemoth amongst bands. Swans is also the recording and performance entity of one Michael Gira, and with The Glowing Man he’s effectively closed the door on the latest incarnation of his group. Having recommenced activity back in 2010, the two prior Swans studio albums are sprawling examples of collective massiveness and this latest installment is no different; clocking in just shy of two hours, it’s a sustained and immense thrust of creativity certain to engross and challenge listeners for decades to come. It’s out June 17 through Young God (and Mute in the UK) on triple vinyl, double compact disc, 2CD+DVD, and digital.

Like a fair amount of reality, the story of Swans would be unlikely to survive as a fictional construct; chances are great that if made up, Michael Gira’s shape-shifting unit would fall victim to a reduction of size and ambition. Gradually maturing from post-no wave beginnings to serve as a cornerstone of ’80s noise-rock, Gira shed those limitations to reveal unexpected range on a string of more broadly scaled ’90s records. He then dissolved the band and explored various musical avenues beyond the appellation Swans before assembling a new lineup at the start of this decade.

It’s this most recent manifestation of Swans that would exceed fictive norms, as reconvening to make music under an established moniker usually entails returning to a comfort zone and tapping into a wellspring of largely safe ideas. Instead, Gira’s rekindled Swans increasingly offered such grand magnitude that borderline incredulity frequently resulted; reports of their performance juggernaut only raised the head-shaking astonishment.

Of course with 2010’s My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky, ’12’s The Seer and ’14’s To Be Kind, Gira was actually getting back to the epic length, all two hours and 21 minutes, that was explored on ’96’s Soundtracks for the Blind, while far from repeating himself; often still a pummeling experience, the sound of these Swans registered as less antagonistic and not as sharply rebuking of rock clichés.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Pere Ubu, Architecture of Language 1979-1982

Starting in the mid-‘70s Pere Ubu conjured up a few of rock history’s truly gripping moments amid an unusually high standard of quality; the immediate results were critical acclaim and modest sales figures, with cult status developing later. Similar scenarios have broken or severely damaged other outfits, but for their first seven years they simply created at a steady clip. Architecture of Language 1979-1982 is Fire Records’ second Ubu volume; including four LPs, it begins with ’79’s brilliant New Picnic Time, continues through the subsequent pair of albums to the band’s ’80s hiatus and is capped with a worthy compilation disc. It’s out March 18.

Cleveland’s Pere Ubu began an unpredictable existence with a riveting spurt of independently released singles. Now revered, they garnered enough initial attention to secure a booking at Max’s Kansas City and to get signed to Mercury’s punk subsidiary Blank. The result is an enduring classic, though The Modern Dance’s lackluster retail fortunes caused Mercury to promptly spurn them; the terrific Dub Housing emerged via new label Chrysalis.

This is all documented on Fire’s prior Elitism for the People 1975-1978; it tidily corrals Ubu’s Hearthan 45s, the aforementioned studio efforts and a live show from Max’s circa 1977 into one of the finest box sets of 2015. Newcomers slain by Elitism will be wondering if Architecture harnesses the same level of excellence; the short answer is no, though the chronology does start almost as strongly.

Apparently Pere Ubu’s commercial standing was so bleak circa 1979 that New Picnic Time was issued by Chrysalis only in Europe, with copies trickling in domestically as imports. To the group’s credit they responded to the consumer indifference by seemingly altering their cooperating procedures not at all; in fact its opener, which somewhere along the way ditched its original name “Have Shoes Will Walk” and shaved the parenthesis off current title “The Fabulous Sequel,” melds David Thomas’ fringe-ranting to off-kilter post-punk.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Pere Ubu, Elitism for
the People 1975-1978

Based in Cleveland amid the peak bleakness of mid-1970’s USA, Pere Ubu has forged a path unlike any other in rock’s history, and through lineup changes, hiatuses, refocused ambitions, and a refusal to assume the predictable, empty role of rock elders, David Thomas and his many collaborators stand as one of recorded music’s unlikeliest wonders. Those suspecting this claim as hyperbole should please investigate Fire Records’ new 4LP set Elitism for the People 1975-1978. It gathers Ubu’s earliest output, an achievement still capable of dropping jaws 40 years after the band’s formation.

Before even spinning a Pere Ubu platter on a turntable I’d read and was excited by the term avant-garage, and while the tag did prove useful, as time wore on it ultimately became shorthand for “oddball punk.” Ubu’s sole constant member David Thomas has since downplayed it as a joke-bone tossed into the salivating maws of the journalistic brigade, but it’s interesting how the title of this collection revisits the meaningfulness of the phrase.

Circa the mid-‘70s rock was still partially a populist undertaking, and garage bands continued to exist in closest proximity to the masses, sometimes playing right on the floor at audience level; these are the ashes from whence Pere Ubu sprang, with guitarist Peter Laughner and singer Thomas forming the group after exiting the storied (and subsequently rekindled) proto-punk unit Rocket from the Tombs.

Their ex-mates went on to the Dead Boys, and selections from the Tombs’ repertoire (notably sprinkled with Stones, Stooges, and Velvets covers) carried over to both outfits; as evidenced by this box’s The Hearpen Singles (1975-1977) Pere Ubu was immediately the darker of the two; “30 Seconds over Tokyo,” their first a-side (the label then called Hearthan) took the first-person viewpoint of a bomber pilot in dealing with the ugly reality that ended World War II.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve: Laraaji & Sun Araw, Professional Sunflow

One-off musical collaborations can run the gamut from essential (Duke Ellington & John Coltrane, Have Moicy!) to skippable (Lulu, the Flaming Lips and whomever), but the majority are simply adequate records of primary interest to fans of the parties involved. Professional Sunflow, a live document from New Age pioneer Laraaji and contempo sonic experimentalists Sun Araw manages to be more than that; amongst other things it’s the first release on the label W.25TH, and it’s out on 2LP June 17.

It’s kinda unusual for an enterprise devoted to reissues to grow a sub-label appendage dedicated to uncovering new material, but that’s exactly what Superior Viaduct has done with W.25TH. Professional Sunflow gets the discography off to a strong start, mainly by following the same strategy as their parent entity and allowing good taste and curiosity to lead them to refreshing stylistic terrain.

Said landscape isn’t exactly uncharted waters, however; upon reading of W.25TH’s inaugural release, a pair of albums on the RVNG Intl. label quickly sprang to mind, namely 2011’s FRKWYS Vol. 8 featuring Laraaji and Blues Control and the next year’s Icon Give Thank by Sun Araw, M. Geddes Gengras, and The Congos.

RVNG’s FRKWYS series captures sessions pairing younger artists with simpatico veteran inspirations, and something roughly comparable is going on with Professional Sunflow. Laraaji is the vet; he has a whole fucking shit-ton of wax under his belt, and it suffices to say that I haven’t heard it all and neither have you.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Free Pizza, “Berlin, DE”

Presently based in Nashville, Free Pizza is a lightheartedly shambling trio deft at chiseling fresh chips off the old punk block. Their debut brandished quirk that bordered on the arty, but for their new EP they’ve honed the approach to offer increased melodicism combined with a sunshiny and at times almost laid back sensibility; if not quite as winning as what came before the results remain refreshingly unhindered by the generic. “Berlin, DE” is out now on vinyl through BUFU Records.

Free Pizza possess a fairly eventful background for such a young band. Founders Jesus Vio and Santiago Cardenas were born in South America but raised in Miami. Collaborators in art and music since high school days, their current outfit was formed after the pair moved up north to Boston for the purpose of attending art school.

Grabbing Rick Rasmussen on drums, Boston, MA was their first album, its ten songs in nineteen minutes co-issued by Beantown labels BUFU and Feeding Tube in an edition of 300 copies; unsurprisingly, it sold out rather promptly. Cited as DIY cohorts of MA units the Happy Jawbone Family Band, Quilt, and Guerilla Toss, Free Pizza lit out for a tour of Europe and upon returning settled down in Nashville. The name of this EP references its contents being written during a stay in the storied German city.

Admittedly from many listener’s perspectives punk rock has long run its course. However, for those of us who feel the genre is just getting warmed up Boston, MA landed rather sweetly; at some moments it brought early Meat Puppets to mind (“Freedom Pizza,” “Forward”), and at another kind came off like a strapping young Ian MacKaye following Henry out west and joining a combo on the Happy Squid roster (“Porty”).

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Brigid Mae Power,
Brigid Mae Power

Brigid Mae Power is a Galway Ireland-based singer-songwriter skilled on guitar, baritone ukulele, piano, accordion, and harmonium; active since the early part of this decade, her new album and first for the Tompkins Square label is poised to considerably expand her profile. Combining instrumental proficiency with an attractive and sturdy voice, the self-titled platter’s strongest attribute is emotional intensity that bypasses the conventional without ever misplacing its sense of control; as the halfway point of 2016 nears, its eight songs form one of the year’s finer releases. The LP, CD, and digital editions are available now.

Brigid Mae Power is of Irish descent but was born in London and didn’t move to Galway until she was twelve years old. These facts nicely underpin the nature of her latest effort as Tompkins Square introduces Power’s work to the vinyl format; Irishness is certainly tangible but ultimately plays a nuanced role in what makes her new disc so remarkable.

Although sure to increase her listenership, this is not her debut. A handful of items, some issued under the name Brigid Power-Ryce, are currently obtainable on Bandcamp, the offerings spanning back to 2011’s “Ode to an Embryo,” a five song guitar and vocals-centered affair recorded in an underground car park in Galway; those desiring a taste of her potential as an Irish folk songstress should definitely investigate the echo-laden a cappella reading of the trad “She Moved Through the Fair” that closes the EP.

2012 brought two versions of the standard “My Lagan Love,” one matching her voice with accordion and the other with harmonium played by frequent collaborator Declan Kelly. “Eee Tuts” emerged the following year, its five songs recorded at home (with a sole exception) and centered around a fantastic version of “The Auld Tringle.”

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, June 2016

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new or reissued wax presently in stores for June, 2016.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Maarja Nuut, Una Meeles (In the Hold of a Dream) (Self-released) The second full-length effort and first to get a physical pressing (thus far only on CD, unfortunately) from this Estonian fiddler and vocalist is an absolute knockout, interweaving folk traditions and elements of modernity without undercutting roots verve or faltering to the conservative. Utilizing electronics to loop and layer sounds in a manner destined to please fans of the eternal drone, Nuut’s voice is as substantial as it is sweet and her masterful violin playing is an edgy delight. A

REISSUE PICK: Howlin’ Wolf, (S/T) aka The Rockin’ Chair Album (Rumble) This isn’t Wolf at his wildest; for that search out Rounder’s Cadillac Daddy or Bear Family’s two Sun Records volumes, but the man remained a feral presence throughout his tenure at Chess and this is a spectacular survey of his work for the label. Wolf’s first album Moanin’ in the Moonlight highlights the transition from Memphis to Chicago (and is also essential), but this follow-up (compiled in ’62 from singles) effectively shows why Chester Burnett was one of the Windy City’s twin blues titans. Great playing, great songs, and that voice A+

Adam & the Ants, Kings of the Wild Frontier (Legacy) For some the Ants’ story ends with the underrated Dirk Wears White Socks, but of course it’s not so simple. Legacy is peddling a deluxe LP/CD/DVD edition alongside a straight vinyl reissue that’s more sensible for newbies; certain Animal Collective fans will find it a revelation. Sure, much of this is varying shades of goofy but it’s largely affably so; amid flashes of broken ground I really like Marco Perroni’s blatant Link Wray grab in “Killer in the Home.” The bad news is the album runs low on gas, a problem complicated by late miscalculation “Jolly Roger.” B

Alternative TV, The Image Has Cracked (Radiation Deluxe) A truly fascinating record from one of the UK class of ’77’s finest; opening with guest Jools Holland on proggy Moog synth, “Alternatives” is nearly ten minutes of audio vérité from a wild live gig; amid the contentiousness and rambunctious one can easily hear the fashion tourists losing interest. This has its share of straight-up classics, however; the chunky riffing of “Action Time Vision,” a cover of Zappa’s “Why Don’t You Do Me Right,” the robustly post-punkish “Still Life,” Jools’ piano on “Viva La Rock N’ Roll,” and more. A

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Record Store Club | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve: Nineteen Thirteen,
Music for Time Travel

Victor DeLorenzo and Janet Schiff comprise Nineteen Thirteen; the moniker stems from the year Schiff’s instrument was produced, though the music they create is very much of the nonce. If DeLorenzo’s name rings a bell, it’s likely due to his status as a founding member of the Violent Femmes; still based in Milwaukee, he lends the rhythm as Schiff composes and pulls the bow. Music for Time Travel is their full-length debut, and it’s out now.

Victor DeLorenzo undeniably possesses the higher of Nineteen Thirteen’s two creative profiles, but he’s not the unit’s dominant personality; while much of the music thrives on equality, it’s Janet Schiff’s instrument, its tones bright and woody as they get layered and looped throughout their first album, that makes the deepest impression.

It’s in no way a putdown to the former Violent Femme that Schiff’s cello resonates so strongly in Nineteen Thirteen’s context, but make no mistake, DeLorenzo is certainly more than an accompanist here; his frequent and distinct brush-work provides the main link to his prior group, and his contribution is accomplished and engaging all-around as his role underscores a disinclination to usurp the spotlight from his counterpart.

Instead, he accentuates, deepens, enlivens, and indeed, gets more than a couple of moments at the forefront of Music for Time Travel’s overall scheme. And while the record is pretty far afield from the work of The Violent Femmes, there are a few chapters in the ‘80s college rock mainstay’s narrative that can be retroactively viewed as forecasting the maturity and stylistic range of Nineteen Thirteen.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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