Author Archives: Joseph Neff

Graded on a Curve:
Phil Ochs,
Live in Montreal, 10/22/1966

Excelling at protest material before honing an introspective approach that’s been naggingly underappreciated over the years, Phil Ochs stands as one of the essential folksingers of the 1960s. Live in Montreal, 10/22/1966 combines his pointed takedowns of authority and injustice with early solo readings of his less explicitly political songwriting, and the combination illuminates the artist’s range and commitment. The full show is spread across two compact discs, and is available now through RockBeat.

The mixing of music and politics has often inspired snorts of derision from those who feel that art should serve a loftier purpose than didacticism, sloganeering, persuasion, or protest. I’ll confess up front to having occasionally expressed this view, mostly when the music was unsubtle or sanctimonious, but the tenor of the times has surely adjusted my thoughts on the issue.

The putdowns of yours truly used to be targeted at scads of hardcore kids obsessing over Reagan or Bush père and/ or fils, or at rock stars preaching about injustice from the comfort of their gilded mansions, but indeed, current events have taken such a severe turn toward the shitty that I’m unreservedly pining for an onslaught of young upstarts chanting slogans of dissent as they call out the oppressors by name. Furthermore, any wealthy celebs who want to get in on the action, please step right up.

Of course, ranting to the converted regularly achieves little more than bucking up morale, while upper-class activism often breeds alienation and the codification of opposing viewpoints. Listening to Live in Montreal, 10/22/1966, it occurs to me that I’m really hoping for a musician (or a few) who can cut through the ugliness to call out the bullshit with clarity and beauty.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Three from The Vin Du Select Qualitite Label

The Vin Du Select Qualitite label, or VDSQ for short, focuses on solo guitar recordings in various styles and sizes, and features entries from an august group of players including Chris Brokaw, Sir Richard Bishop, Bill Orcutt, Alan Licht, Michael Chapman, and Thurston Moore. With the release of Chuck Johnson’s Balsams, Anthony Pasquarosa’s Abbandonato da Dio Nazione, and Mark McGuire’s Ideas of Beginnings, VDSQ has just surpassed the 20-release mark with élan; attractively designed vinyl editions of all three are available now.

Vin Du Select Qualitite put out its first record in 2009, with Joshua Blatchley’s Solo Acoustic Volume One inaugurating a series that’s most recent installment, Icelander Kristin Thora Haraldsdottir’s Volume 14, emerged last spring. As the three LPs under consideration here highlight, not everything VDSQ issues falls under the Solo Acoustic umbrella, nor is the discography composed entirely of full-length discs; a pair of 7-inches by Dan Melchior and Glenn Jones reside amongst the spoils.

VDSQ is run by Steve Lowenthal, who some may know as the publisher of Swingset, a terrific and sadly defunct zine that flourished during the ’00s, and he’s also the writer of Dance of Death: The Life of John Fahey, American Guitarist. VDSQ sets by Jones and Sarah Louise Henson underscore the subject of Lowenthal’s authorship as quite germane to the label’s raison d’être; as the catalog numbers shoot off into all sorts of complementary guitar zones, the American Primitive is never out of sight.

The label’s stylistic terrain now encompasses Balsams’ pedal steel ambiance, Abbandonato da Dio Nazione’s soundtrack to an unmade Spaghetti Western, and Ideas of Beginnings’s crisply flowing blend of melodicism and loop-based techniques. Although much of VDSQ’s output is still in print, acquiring this sweet trifecta while it’s hot would make a fine introduction to Lowenthal’s curatorial skills; that the contributions of Pasquarosa and McGuire are return engagements only reinforces this scenario.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Chain and the Gang,
Best of Crime Rock

Led by noted musician-thinker Ian Svenonius, Chain and the Gang’s current lineup features two new members in bassist Anna Nasty and guitarist Francy Z Graham, as Mark Cisneros lends a hand on drums. They have a full-length on the horizon, but right now the focus is on Best of Crime Rock, which finds the revamped unit dishing out fresh versions of some of the outfit’s well-loved tunes. Bluntly put, few have the chutzpah to attempt such a maneuver, but Chain and the Gang pull it off and with panache to burn. Holding two new tracks amid the dozen offerings, it’s available now on vinyl, compact disc, and digital through In the Red Records.

A band endeavoring to rerecord their hits for a Best of set is aptly pegged as a dicey exercise, but from this writer’s perspective Ian Svenonius, high of profile as frontman of The Nation of Ulysses, The Make-Up, Weird War, and now Chain and the Gang, has an impressive track record of turning iffy propositions into resounding success.

Svenonius’ musical activities are always conceptual, and to anybody acquainted with his writings, recordings, and indeed just his public persona, this should be crystal clear. But for those unfamiliar, please don’t get the wrong idea. When the term conceptual is applied to music, it can be difficult to suppress an assortment of fears, prominent amongst them bone-dry slogs, ludicrousness bred from unchecked indulgence, and of course varying degrees of arrogance.

Thankfully, Svenonius’ work is none of those things, in part because he combines economy and intelligibility with doses of sharp, smart humor, attributes gleaned from the punk aesthetic that’s at the core of his art. Just as importantly, throughout his discography is found an unflagging attraction to the lowercase disposability of rock ‘n’ roll.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Joan Shelley,
Joan Shelley

The latest album from Louisville singer-songwriter Joan Shelley is an eponymous blend of familiar elements and new twists. To elaborate, James Elkington and her longtime associate Nathan Salsburg have once again made the scene, and they’re joined by new recruit Jeff Tweedy in the dual role of producer and instrumentalist, plus his son Spencer on drums. Recorded at Wilco’s Chicago studio The Loft, it reinforces Shelley’s strengths in an atmosphere both vibrant and intimate. It’s out now on vinyl, compact disc, and digital via No Quarter.

Although she’s a native of Kentucky, Joan Shelley’s new LP is better described as folky rather than backwoodsy. Interestingly, Shelley identifies the root of the disc as “Hog of the Forsaken,” a tune from Michael Hurley, who for decades has stood as one of the USA’s great country-folk eccentrics. Don’t let that seem odd; Shelley’s work accurately derives from the rural, specifically the sturdy foundation of old-time styles, but it does so with intelligence, grace, and touches of erudition that can recall the ’60s folk boom. All the while, she never really strikes the ear as citified.

Shelley’s amassed a sturdy discography. As one-third of Maiden Radio she delved deep into the old-time, but in a manner encompassing the coffeehouse as well as the back porch. Farthest Field, a 2012 collab with fellow Kentuckian Daniel Martin Moore, nods to Gram and Emmy as Moore’s voice radiates a non-toxic similarity to Paul Simon. However, much of the disc connects as neo-folk somewhat in the mold of Iron & Wine.

Shelley’s 2012 solo effort Ginko, like Farthest Field and Maiden Radio’s Lullabies, was issued on the Old Kentuck label. It and especially her ’14 follow-up and debut for No Quarter Electric Ursa deepened the ’60s vibe mentioned above, outlining Laurel Canyon terrain but with no sacrifice to the traditional bedrock of her sound. The albums also established a recurring cast of support, including Moore, Salsburg, guitarist-engineer Kevin Ratterman, and guitarist-vocalist Joe Manning, with whom she teamed up for the rock-edged ’14 7-inch “Outside, Stay Outside.”

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, June 2017

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: CHEER-ACCIDENT, Putting Off Death (Cuneiform) This Chicago avant-prog unit (led by multi-instrumentalist-composers Jeff Libersher and Thymme Jones) has been active for over 30 years, with their first record coming out in 1986; something like 20 albums later, they exhibit not a trace of fatigue. Instrumental dexterity is certainly on display, but honest-to-goodness songs are showcased over musical athleticism; the early portion of 11-minute-plus opener “Language Is,” is aptly described as pop inclined (think Robert Wyatt). Note for vinyl-loving Cuneiform fans: this one’s on wax. A-

Stutter Steps, “Floored EP” (Blue Arrow) Ben Harrison’s second release and debut for Blue Arrow is a 6-song EP with a stunningly perfect guitar-pop title track as the opener. It’s veteran stuff; Harrison has collaborated with Dean Wareham (who his voice favors just a bit), and is a curator of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Stutter Steps have been described as combining Flying Nun with the Go-Betweens, and that continues here in “Dim,” which starts out like the former and subtly transitions into latter. If none of the subsequent tracks quite match the highs of “Floored,” the whole is still a peach. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Doc Watson, Live in Chicago March 1964: Vol. One (Rockbeat) For decades, Doc Watson served as an invaluable vessel of the USA’s wide-ranging folk essence. Plainspoken but lacking in any phony “aw-shucks” vibes, his ability to bring casual audiences a dose of the real stuff is essentially unequaled, and he influenced generations of players. This just under an hour-long set was captured shortly after Watson cut his self-titled masterpiece for Vanguard, but there is little overlap in these 18 songs. The guitar and banjo picking, the singing, and the conversation are exceptional. A

ESG, Step Off (Fire) I recall the nervousness some felt over the long-delayed return of this rightfully legendary minimalist funk unit, but this sweetly concise 7-song effort brought the goods. Having deeply impacted post-punk, hip-hop, and later, the dance-punk surge that was still transpiring as this set originally emerged via Soul Jazz, ESG (stands for Emerald, Sapphire and Gold) played on Step Off like it was their debut and they were an unknown band from Bronx. This is indeed body-moving stuff, but with an attention to instrumental heft that’s always reminded me of another trio, namely the Minutemen. A-

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Record Store Club | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Keiji Haino,
Watashi Dake?

Keiji Haino stands as a towering figure in the history of Japanese experimentalism, a guitarist-vocalist celebrated for his consistently evolving yet quickly identifiable and yes, sometimes difficult personal style, but he wasn’t an overnight sensation. In fact, he’d been honing his art in performance for roughly ten years prior to solo debut Watashi Dake? Originally released in a 1,000-copy edition by Pinakotheca in 1980, it reached a wider listenership via P. S. F. in ’93, and it’s currently inaugurating the reissue program of that iconic label by the Los Angeles-based enterprise Black Editions. It’s out on deluxe gold and silver-sleeved vinyl June 16.

The audience for experimental music is never not small, so my discovery of the news that Black Editions would be reissuing a portion of the P. S. F. catalog was met with considerable happiness. Those initials stand for the title of the label’s first release, namely Psychedelic Speed Freaks by High Rise, a Tokyo band who borrowed their moniker from the J. G. Ballard novel.

Many folks (myself included) got hipped to P. S. F. during the period where Forced Exposure was transitioning from a magazine of discerning u-ground tastes into the mail order company that still thrives today. For the final two issues, they were effectively both, and P. S. F., established in Tokyo by Hideo Ikeezumi in 1984, was an enticing component in Forced Exposure’s early offerings.

A big part of P. S. F.’s glory then and now derives from the noise-psych of High Rise, Mainliner, White Heaven, Marble Sheep, the Tokyo Flashback compilation series, and perhaps the most well-known act on the roster, Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U. F. O. But Ikeezumi also traveled more experimental pathways (with some clear overlap), and the king of these journeys is Keiji Haino.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
The Charlatans,
Different Days

As a persevering component of the Madchester scene, The Charlatans (who still often get tagged as The Charlatans UK) have amassed a considerable discography since debuting back in 1990; with the release of Different Days, the studio LPs in their oeuvre now total a baker’s dozen. Loaded with guests including New Order’s Stephen Morris and Gillian Gilbert, Johnny Marr and Paul Weller, the album avoids hubbub, instead connecting like another fresh, engaging, and relevant release from the band. It’s out now on vinyl, compact disc, and digital through BMG.

The Charlatans first album Some Friendly, released in the autumn of 1990 by Beggars Banquet side label Situation Two, is an exemplary slice of Madchester, a sound most commonly associated with Happy Mondays (whose 1989 disc Madchester Rave On brought the genre a handle) and The Stone Roses but extending to Inspiral Carpets, James, Northside, Candy Flip, and a smattering of others.

In a nutshell, Madchester was a hybrid movement infusing ’60s ambiance (a whole lot of organs) with the loping rhythms inspired by the club/ rave happenings of the moment, but unlike the roughly contemporaneous stylistic emergence of shoegaze, the Madchester experience hasn’t aged especially well. There are exceptions of course, notably The Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets, and the subject of this review, as The Charlatans’ lack of breakup has allowed them to organically develop their sound beyond those trippy grooves of yore.

The gradually unfolding pop nugget “Hey Sunrise” is a case in point; it opens Different Days with an unraveling techno gauze that’s quickly followed by Tim Burgess’ acoustic strum and vocals. Strengthened by deft piano counterpoint and solidified further with the entrance of the full ensemble, it’s pop of a decidedly mature stripe.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
TAANG! Records:
The First 10 Singles

In 1984 a record label was formed in Boston with a focus upon the city’s hardcore punk scene, its name an acronym for Teen Agers Are No Good! Since then its founder Curtis Casella has released music of wildly varying levels of quality, but TAANG! Records: The First Ten Singles provides a surprisingly consistent and highly enjoyable listen. A Record Store Day box-set limited to 2,000 copies and available only at participating brick and mortar shops, it offers 7-inches from Beantown acts Gang Green, Negative FX, Lemonheads, Moving Targets, and more.

Like numerous other ‘80s indies, TAANG! began as an outgrowth of a long-established local scene, with Curtis Casella chronicling the mid-‘80s punk/HC activity of his hometown. Other US imprints of similar beginnings exude more respective glamour (e.g. SST, Touch and Go, and Dischord), largely because they started earlier, but TAANG! stepped-up and captured a transitioning milieu when many of his predecessors were running out of steam, chasing dead-ends, or simply losing interest. And like any worthy label it’s the music that’s paramount, so let’s waste no time in delving into this set’s rewards.

Prior to a long tenure as one of the globe’s leading celebrants of unbridled alcohol intake, metal-tinged skate-punks Gang Green existed as a trad hardcore outfit, with their strongest attribute the exhibition of almost ludicrously blistering speed. That velocity is crucial to “Sold Out,” easily the crown jewel from the original lineup. It alternates parodic yet appealing elements of melody with stabs of breakneck momentum, and “Sold Out” stands as one of the best HC songs (which were frankly at a premium) of its period.

Following “Sold Out” on the a-side of TAANG! #1’s initial pressings was the 47 seconds of “Terrorize,” the flip holding a likeable if indisputably minor dub version. But for this collection, “Taang Dub” has been curiously and debatably excised, and “Terrorize” now sits on the b-side all by its lonesome. Some will understandably quibble with this decision, but it’s also hard to deny that a track many have given short shrift gets a new lease on life through the maneuver.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve: Leather Girls,
Leather Girls

Many bands call Austin, TX home, and with a sound seemingly spawned from an echo-laden garage, Leather Girls are amongst their number. The four-piece’s self-titled debut is poised to spread the word far beyond the city limits, and for folks desiring another serving of ’60s rudiments, ’70s punk energy and contempo clamor, the disc will not steer them wrong. To be fair, it’s not as predictable as all that; just when the group appears to be settling into a specific era/ decade, they shrewdly shift the program. Leather Girls gets the vinyl, compact disc, and digital treatment June 2 through Yippee Ki Yay Records.

In terms of imagery, the name Leather Girls presented this writer with a variety of possibilities; obviously if one is of the certain age, Suzi Quatro will immediately sprang to mind, with additional female silhouettes likely to take shape. In fact, Leather Girls are three dudes and a gal, specifically Erik Camacho on guitar and lead vocals, Mike Garrido on guitar, Dillon Fernandez on drums, and Deborah White on bass.

Garrido and White also contribute vocals to the scenario, which is succinctly described as garage psych. To be frank, there is no shortage of the style in the bins these days, but Leather Girls cut an enticing amount of mustard right out of the gate; “Drawing Lines” oozes ample fuzz gunk and pedal smudge, but the residue is smartly combined with thump, velocity, and holler. The result is very much of the current century.

So, a nice start. However, track two finds Leather Girls delivering something considerably greater than a mere fix for genre fans. “Arabian Daze” weds huge rhythmic elasticity to a decidedly twisted ’60s pop approach; in turn, the mention of Tropicalia in Yippee Ki Yay’s promo blurb gets elevated far beyond standard namedropping.

Read More »

Posted in The TVD Storefront | Leave a comment

Graded on a Curve:
Endless Boogie,
Vibe Killer

Endless Boogie hail from New York City, having come together in late ’90s Brooklyn, in fact, but their bluesy stoner-psych-hard rock sounds more appropriate for a back-roads dive bar in the late hours of a wild Saturday night. If this doesn’t read as a significant or especially promising endeavor, through expansion, repetition, and the distinctive vocal approach of Paul “Top Dollar” Major, the band’s qualitative bar gets raised considerably upward. Long noted for stylistic indulgence as a virtue, their new album Vibe Killer streamlines matters a bit, but with no loss of power and eccentricity. It’s out now on vinyl, compact disc, and digital through No Quarter.

The scoop on Endless Boogie is that they formed not to make records, but simply to jam. Although they landed a rather prestigious first live gig opening for Stephen Malkmus in 2001, they didn’t get onto wax until four years later through a pair of insanely limited edition LPs. A widely available full-length finally appeared in ’08 through Focus Level, their debut for No Quarter.

Those familiar with Malkmus’ post-Pavement material can draw a line from his cover of Black Oak Arkansas’ “Keep the Faith” (found on the “Jenny & the Ess-Dog” EP) to the sound shaping the Endless Boogie catalog. The main difference between the two, up until now anyway, has been Top Dollar and company’s disinterest in forsaking their choice of moniker; the handle is borrowed from John Lee Hooker’s ’71 2LP for the ABC label.

Along with an affinity for non-rudimentary blues-tinged groove, Endless Boogie share with Hooker a desire for transcendence through duration. Indeed, the band’s highest-profile releases, namely Focus Level, 2010’s Full House Head, and ’13’s Long Island, are all double albums (and all issued through No Quarter). Additionally, they have a digital release of a three-hour radio session cut for the New Jersey freeform station WFMU.

Read More »

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