Category Archives: The TVD Record Store Club

Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, April
2018, Part Four

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for April, 2018. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: V/A, ACLU Benefit Compilation (Wharf Cat) As the annual RSD blitz nears, it’s important to keep things in context. That limited color vinyl 45 is cool, but the time in which we are living is, in numerous ways, quite uncool. Vital in the fight against fascism, racism, sexism, etc. has been the American Civil Liberties Union, and this 2LP is designed to aid them in continuing their heroic efforts. Featuring 22 tracks from a lineup including The Men, Alice Cohen, Palberta, Pop 1280, Merchandise, Profligate, and an outstanding piece for solo sax by Kate Mohanty (fittingly titled “Priorities”), the gist is contempo underground focused but with plenty of variety to be had. If you’re at all inclined to the scene, please make some idealistic young lawyers happy for the future of the planet. A-

Lloyd Green & Jay Dee Maness, Journey to the Beginning: A Steel Guitar Tribute to the Byrds (Coastal Bend Music) Folks who are understandably bonkers for Sweetheart of the Rodeo will likely know that Green and Maness contributed pedal steel to that album, the former an established Nashville scene guy and the latter a younger but studio-seasoned cat from L.A. For the album’s 50th birthday, the pair have gotten together to cut an instrumental tribute, and it’s a beauty. Rhythm, mandolin, and occasional fiddle adds richness in support, but it’s always Green and Maness’ show, and they hold the spotlight with grace and an obvious affection for the project. For the close, Jim Lauderdale, Herb Pedersen, Richie Furay, and Jeff Hanna deliver a swell vocal version of “You Ain’t Going Nowhere.” A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: The Mekons, “Never Been in a Riot” & “Where Were You?” (Superior Viaduct) I’ve observed before that if, at this late date, you really want to find a punk record that matches the frequently lofted genre descriptors of “barely competent” or “attitude over technique,” then head straight for the 3-song ’78 debut by The Mekons, a disc that seems constantly on the verge of falling apart, at least until they arrive at the urban tribal chant of “Heart and Soul.” But it’s not an accident, it’s a conscious approach, and that’s part of what’s so thrilling. Now, if you want to hear growth from this foundation that doesn’t result in or even predict a betrayal of principles, and adds a violin for good measure, then that’s “Where Were You?” Two of the best punk-era singles ever waxed. A/ A

Willie Colón, Wanted by the FBI for the Big Break – La Gran Fuga (Get on Down) Colón’s reputation as one of the greats in the field of salsa is fully deserved. On this ’70 album, the trombonist-bandleader’s sixth for Fania (the label’s name a mark of quality), and with the crucial input of singer Héctor Lavoe, Colón does much to advance the style beyond its root as a dance-party music. Primarily through changes of tempo and tone, but also in the employment of space, this broadening is perceptible even to a casual salsa listener such as myself. Along with dual ‘bones in the lineup and Lavoe leading the vocal charge, rhythm is still king, but the bongos, congas, and timbales are handled with flair that transcends the maintenance of groove. The personal standout element is the piano of “Professor Joe” Torres. A

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, April
2018, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for April, 2018. Part one is here and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Linda Perhacs, I’m a Harmony (Omnivore) I stupidly flaked on getting the word out on Perhacs’ newest recording when it dropped last fall, but here’s the Record Store Day 2LP edition to give me another chance. Although her debut Parallelograms came out in 1970, it took decades for folks to tune in to her frequency, with Perhacs eventually benefiting from the interest of freak folkies. However, her work lacked predictable unity with these New Weird Americans, and her two “comeback” albums have widened the distance; here, standout cut “The Dancer” is evocative of Kate Bush, and elsewhere she (and a loaded roster of guests including Julia Holter, Nels Cline, Devendra Banhart, and Durga McBroom) radiate similarities to folktronica, samba pop, psychedelia and more. A-

Anywhere, II (ORG Music) The first album by this project of Christian Eric Beaulieu (ex-Triclops!) was a star-studded affair (released for Record Store Day 2012) that exuded a heavy raga-rock vibe (self-described as eastern acoustic punk) with comparisons made to the work of Sandy Bull and Jack Rose, but with a harder edge. This one’s even more packed with notable contributors (including Krist Novoselic, Dale Crover, Phil Manley, and for a return engagement Cedric Bixler Zavala) enough so that bassist Mike Watt, heard extensively on the first record, is limited here to one track. II maintains the raga tendencies, but rather than affirm the hipper namedrops above, if I may be so gauche, I’ll observe that parts of this even rockier effort are somewhat Zeppelin-like. This is intended as a compliment. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Wire, Nine Sevens (pinkflag) Kicking off a slate of early Wire reissues for 2018 is this dandy singles set, which rounds up six 45s for the Harvest label (including the killer and I suspect underheard non-album singles “Dot Dash” b/w “Options R” and “A Question of Degree” b/w “Former Airline”), the “Our Swimmer” b/w “Midnight Bahnhof Café” disc for Rough Trade, the 4-song EP tucked into the initial pressing of 154, and the tracks found on side two of the “Crazy About Love” 12-inch EP transferred to 7-inch. A few cool twists do emerge, like Pink Flag cut “Ex Lion Tamer” providing the flip to Chairs Missing’s “I Am the Fly,” but overall, this effectively relates in abbreviated form the magnificent essence of this crucial band’s ’77-’80 run. Experience it any way you can A+

Duck Baker, Les Blues Du Richmond : Demos & Outtakes 1973-1979 (Tompkins Square) Guitarist Duck Baker is a treasure. My introduction to his work came through his ’96 CD Spinning Song, where he played the music of the great jazz pianist-composer Herbie Nichols; digging around hence in his sizable discography has never disappointed. His first album came out on Stefan Grossman’s Kicking Mule label in ’75, but before that he cut a demo which takes up the first side of this LP. Blending deft fingerpicking with a couple of 1920s vocal numbers and an interest in free jazz, Baker’s wide influences cohere into a highly individual and accessible experience even at this early stage, and side two’s stuff from ’77-’80 captures his sharpened, broadened, and deepened playing. Guitar fans, don’t dally. A

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, April
2018, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for April, 2018. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Bush Tetras, “Take the Fall” (Wharf Cat) Formed when Pat Place exited James Chance & the Contortions and teamed up with vocalist Cynthia Sley, bassist Laura Kennedy, and drummer Dee Pop, Bush Tetras constitute one of the finer extensions of the original No Wave impulse. Sporadically active over the decades, here they return after a long absence with three original members (Kennedy exited after the release of Beauty Lies in 1995 and passed in 2011), with Val Vera (aka Val Opielski, ex Krakatoa, 1000 Yard Stare, etc.) strapping on the bass; this trim five-track outing not only doesn’t sully their rep, it hangs with the earlier work sans hitch. They may be a smidge moodier and less dance-punky than in the early days (heaviness hath not abated), but the change suits them well. A-

Say Sue Me, Where We Were Together (Damnably) Say Sue Me hail from Busan, South Korea, but their sound derives to a significant extent from late 20th century developments out of the United Kingdom. Damnably describes their thing as surf-inspired indie rock, and that’s not off-target, but I’d simply tag ‘em as purveyors of indie pop…except that doing so runs the risk of losing them in a sea of likeminded outfits. The good news is that Say Sue Me aren’t mimics and do a fine job here of establishing a distinct personality across 11 tracks, which means that you won’t mistake them for being British. There are some tangible similarities however, e.g. a less twee Camera Obscura, The Primitives, and briefly, The Vaselines. The longer and increasingly loud “Coming to the End” is suitably sequenced last. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Harold Budd, Luxa (Curious Music) This ’96 full-length was initially a CD-only affair, but no more, as the resuscitated Curious Music offers it on double 180gm black vinyl remastered by Tim Story and pressed at 45RPM in a matte finish gatefold jacket with a high res numbered art print (there’s also a FLAC download available). If you’re thinking this is all a bit extravagant, then chances are you don’t know Budd, an artist for whom aural depth and detail is crucial. Many have been introduced to him through connections to Eno and collabs with Cocteau Twins, but here he goes it alone, and the results are so much more than tranquil, concluding with superb covers of Marion Brown’s “Sweet Earth Flying” and “Pleasure” by Steven Brown (of Tuxedomoon). Altogether a beautiful thing. A-

Sleepyhead, Future Exhibit Goes Here (Drawing Room) Drawing Room’s third recent ’90s indie rock reissue (after Sandra Bell’s Net and a double vinyl edition of Kicking Giant’s debut CD) is a 2LP twinning the second and third full-lengths (Starduster, 1994, and the formerly CD-only Communist Love Songs, ’96) from the NYC trio of bassist Michael Galinsky, drummer-vocalist Rachel McNally, and guitarist-vocalist Chris O’Rourke. Sleepyhead’s thrust can be considered no-frills, essentially alternating betwixt melodic punk and tough power-pop with guitar noise appropriate for the era and scene, so some will likely wonder what’s the big deal. I’ll just say that it went down sweet at the time and gives me a warm feeling now. Comes with a book collecting band reminiscences and Galinsky’s ace photographs. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, April
2018, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for April, 2018. 

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Mind Over Mirrors, Bellowing Sun (Paradise of Bachelors) I’ve been in the camp of Harmoniumist-electronic specialist-composer Jaime Fennelly for a while now, but this 2LP, which captures Mind Over Mirrors’ evolution from a truly solo project to a dialogue with added participants (documented on last year’s Undying Color) to a solidified full-on band, is a knockout. Commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Bellowing Sun’s gist pertains to the celestial, and unsurprisingly, the kosmische aura is strong. But there’s a coinciding elemental focus that’s beautifully expressed in Janet Bean’s vocals/ zither, Jon Mueller’s drumming, Jim Becker’s fiddling, and Fennelly’s leadership. Namechecking Popul Vuh, Henry Flynt, Terry Riley, and Alice Coltrane is no reach. Superb. A

Air Waves, Warrior (Western Vinyl) Here’s full-length #3 (and #2 for Western Vinyl) from Brooklyn-based Nicole Schneit. Described by the label as indie pop, that’s immediately perceptible in opening gem “Home.” Guitar is present, but so are electronic elements, though this doesn’t morph the indie pop into synth pop (the beginning of the title track is an exception), and that’s cool with me. Closer “Blue Fire” does exude a singer-songwriter-ish new wave vibe, reminding me of ‘Til Tuesday (there’s probably a better comparison, but damn if I can put a finger on it right now), and hey, that’s cool with me, too. A poem by Adrienne Rich was the song’s inspiration, which is quite fitting for an album concerned with struggle (Schneit’s own as a queer woman, her mother’s battle with cancer). Nice cover photo, also. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Scientist & Prince Jammy, Strike Back! (Real Gone) For this guy, prime dub equates to summertime sounds par excellence, and while I’m admittedly itching for warmer weather, this one has a surplus of sweetness to offer at any time of year: the space-sci-fi theme manifested in both the spiffy cover art and the song titles’ tantalizing hybrids (“Buck Rogers in the Black Hole,” “Flash Gordon Meets Luke Skywalker”); the limited edition of 700 on yellow-green “Lightsaber” vinyl; the production and compositions by Linval Thompson; the top-flight instrumental contributions from the Roots Radics; and naturally, Scientist and Jammy in strong form. The sheer amount of dub that’s available for listening can surely be intimidating, but the studio warpage on display here matches the presentation. A-

Jack Kerouac, Blues and Haikus (Real Gone) It seems with every passing day the allure of this key (in truth, the most key) Beat Generation figure fades a bit more under the harsh light of modernity, but for those who’ve been positively impacted by his writings and are desirous of adding a little of his essence to their vinyl shelves, this is the one to get if you only get one, and for a variety of reasons. First, unlike his likeable debut (which found him accompanied by the okay piano tinkling of comedian-talk show host Steve Allen), this pairs him with the real jazz deal in saxophonists Al Cohn (who also plays piano) and Zoot Sims. Second, it delivers a hearty dose of Kerouac’s poetic-spiritualism. Third, Jack sings! Fourth, the album’s as messy, frustrating, fascinating, and imperfectly beautiful as the man was himself. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, March 2018, Part Five

Part five of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for March, 2018. Part one is here, part two is here, part three is here, and part four is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Cavern of Anti-Matter, Hormone Lemonade (Duophonic) Consisting of multi-instrumentalist Tim Gane and drummer Joe Dilworth, both ex-Stereolab, plus synth specialist-electronic manipulator Holger Zapf, Cavern of Anti-Matter’s sound is inextricably linked to Krautrock. Unsurprisingly and undisguisedly so, as opener “Malfunction” is a 16-minute motorik excursion that for many will justify the purchase of this 2LP all by itself. Even more impressive is the territory covered in the tracks that follow, which travel quite a distance by the end of side four. As the trio operate sans vocals, the range adds extra value. There are a few moments recalling Stereolab, but had I been ignorant to the association upon listening, it’s questionable I would’ve made the connection. Fine stuff. A-

XOR Gate, Conic Sections (Tresor) Detroiter Gerald Donald has been one of techno’s most reliably interesting practitioners, and amongst a load of projects and collabs, most prominently Drexciya and Dopplereffekt, he’s also issued material under a bunch of pseudonyms, the most well-known perhaps being Arpanet and Heinrich Mueller. His latest venture/ moniker is XOR Gate, the tag borrowed from linguistic or electronic logic, with the music taking the form of eight themes all edited together as one 30-minute track where “waveform and synthesis merge entirely with emotions.” If this all seems somewhat (or considerably) obscure, don’t be intimidated, as this tangibly Germanic excursion is not a bit dry, and to my ear would make a fine companion to this week’s other new release pick. A-

REISSUE PICKS: V/A, Rumbita Buena: Rumba Funk and Flamenco Pop from the 1970s Belter and Discophon Archives (Pharaway Sounds) This continues my crash course in the Spanish genres of the title, a line of study I’m happy to be making, though from a personal perspective, I suspect the best way to engage with this material is through well-selected comps. Of which this is one; Rumbita Buena puts its weakest track right up front and then blossoms, the funkiness hearty rather than flashy and the pop rooted in substance over the saccharine. Plus, there are all sorts of cool twists; I especially dig Los Candelos’ hard rock guitar-infused “Te Estoy Amando Locamente” and Teresiya’s truly zonked gipsy yé-yé gem “El perro de San Roque.” Are there handclaps? Goddamn right there are handclaps. A-

The Damnation of Adam Blessing, S/T & The Second Damnation (Exit Stencil) Two slabs of hard rock from ’69-’70 that come with the Paul Major seal of approval. The Damnation of Adam Blessing hailed from Cleveland and got signed by United Artists, who by all accounts screwed the pooch in promoting them. For the first LP, the band’s psychedelic roots are a lot more obvious, but amid cool covers of “Morning Dew” and “Last Train to Clarksville” their original material makes clear that the “should’ve been” status isn’t hype. But an even better barometer of their worth relates to their second LP topping the debut. Comparisons have been made to Grand Funk, but I dunno if those guys (whose early stuff I like) had a song as killer as “Back to the River.” Vocals steer refreshingly clear of caterwauling. B+/ A-

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, March 2018, Part Four

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for March, 2018. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Brother JT, Tornado Juice (Thrill Jockey) Easton, PA’s John Terlesky has been active since the ’80s, initially with excellent garage-punks The Original Sins, but in the early ’90s he began releasing more invitingly out-there records under his current sobriquet, and I’ve never heard one that’s not been worth the time. His recent stuff has garnered comparisons to glam, and this tendency is indeed palpable, though at the core remains sweet, song-based psychedelia. JT definitely has a way with humor, but on this solid and oft-terrific new one, there’re wisely no attempts at a redux of “Sweatpants” (from 2013’s The Svelteness of Boogietude). However, as evidenced in “Ponin’” and “Mississippi Somethin’,” his wordplay can be as smile-inducing as ever. Which these days is a valuable thing. A-

Elk City, Everybody’s Insecure (Bar/None) Led by the vocalist Renée LoBue and drummer Ray Ketchem (former bandmates in the Melting Hopefuls), Elk City are back after a long absence (their last one House of Tongues hit in 2010), retaining guitarist Sean Eden while breaking in new keyboardist Carl Baggeley and bassist Martin Olson. Last autumn’s digital cover of The Motels’ “Suddenly Last Summer” announced the return and was an apt choice, as LoBue is a strong, expressive singer, and Ketchem is a noted producer (Guided by Voices, Luna, Versus, the Brother JT album above); opener “Sparrow” could’ve been gussied up and made too fragile, but instead, it and what follows benefits from weight and directness. Amongst the standouts are the sharp “25 Lines” and the intriguing “Root Beer Shoes.” A-

REISSUE PICKS: Cocteau Twins, Head Over Heels & Treasure (4AD) If you’d told me back in the ’80s that the Cocteau Twins would stand as one of the decade’s more influential acts, I suspect I would’ve quietly disagreed. Not because I didn’t like ‘em. I really liked ‘em. Most of my friends liked ‘em. Hell, Tesco Vee liked ‘em. But they did go about their innovation without a whole lot of fanfare, which is why I would’ve (probably) quibbled. 1983’s Head Over Heels is their second album, cut by the duo of Elizabeth Fraser and Robin Guthrie, and it captures a bolder gothic-edged sound prior to the splendid Treasure of the next year, which adds Simone Raymonde and marks their transition into the ethereal-dream zone. Decades on, hardly anybody’s done it better, and yes, (far too) many have tried. A-/ A

Ursula K. Le Guin & Todd Barton, Music and Poetry of the Kesh (Freedom to Spend) Amongst 2018’s sadder news is the passing of the great science-fictioneer Le Guin, author of the groundbreaking and multi-award winning 1969 novel The Left Hand of Darkness and much more. The list includes ’85’s Always Coming Home, an account of the Kesh, invented inhabitants of the Pacific Coast in a far distant time; the original boxed trade release was accompanied by an audiocassette of field recordings and indigenous song, and this is its vinyl reissue. Created by Barton with instruments and a conlang of the author’s invention, what was conceived as an enhancement now serves as enticement to dig back into Le Guin’s works, with Always Coming Home foremost. But it sounds just fine on its own. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, March 2018, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for March, 2018. Part one is here and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Mount Eerie, Now Only (P.W. Elverum & Sun) In 2016, Phil Elverum’s wife, the cartoonist and musician Geneviève Castrée, died at age 35 from pancreatic cancer. Last year’s A Crow Looked at Me, the ninth album by Elverum as Mount Eerie (he recorded previously as The Microphones) dealt with that terrible loss, and likewise, Now Only: largely an acoustic affair (piano figures on the title track and “Earth” has plugged-in guitar, drums, and keyboard textures for a full band feel), as reflected in the longer track lengths, he pushes deeper here. The cumulative effect is intensely personal and weighted with observations and confessional passages (the power of which crests with the ruminative 11-minute “Distortions”), but in the end is not despairing. Ultimately, it’s a transformative listen. A

Linqua Franqa, Model Minority (HHBTM) Athens, GA-based rapper Mariah Parker recorded this LP while completing her master’s degree in linguistics at the University of Georgia, and her course of study has informed her art to frequently superb effect. The wordplay is impressive in how it embraces complexity without faltering into mere displays of verbal gymnastics; instead, there are hooks galore as she grapples with tough subject matter, and she’s got the music to match, with much of the disc recalling the ’90s heyday of underground hip-hop (e.g. the jazzy elements in “Midnight Oil”) but with a persistent (and distinctive) vibe of strangeness that’s wholly appreciated. Model Minority takes her prior EP, places two new tracks and three remixes on side two and holds interest to the very end. A-

REISSUE PICKS: NRBQ, S/T (Omnivore) Although select cuts have been featured on comps over the years, this is, quite astoundingly, the first time The New Rhythm and Blues Quintet’s classic debut LP has been reissued in its entirety in any format; appropriately, Omnivore offers it on vinyl (in a gatefold sleeve), CD and digital. Cut in ’69 but about a million miles away from the rock mainstream of that year, NRBQ might not be as consistently killer as ’77’s All Hopped Up, but it does firmly establish the unstrained eclecticism that’s come to define this persevering band’s existence. A transformation of Eddie Cochran’s “C’mon Everybody” is the perfect opener, a reading of Sun Ra’s “Rocket #9” delivers one of music’s great hard left turns, and the whole is a life-affirming plunge into real, robust Americana. A must. A

Gary Numan, Dance (Beggars Arkive) Having finally dropped needle on this 2LP edition of the CD expansion of Numan’s third solo set (it came out in January), my assessment is that the man’s departure from the robotic synth-pop that made him famous holds up much better than some have suggested. But don’t get the idea that it’s not very much a byproduct of its era, as the fretless bass and sax of Japan’s Mick Karn (one of a handful of guests here, including Queen’s Roger Taylor and the Canadian prog-electro-new wave violinist Nash the Slash) helps to solidify the ’80s art-pop thrust (which I appreciate much more now than back then). It’s far from a complete break with the past, however; “She’s Got Claws” was a big UK hit, and overall, Dance is just the sound of its maker spreading his wings. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, March 2018, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued wax presently in stores for March, 2018. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Tania Chen, John Cage: Electronic Music for Piano (Omnivore) The immediate draw, at least for those with a casual interest in Cage, will be the players; Thurston Moore brings his guitar, Flying Lizard and Eno cohort David Toop multitasks, experimental electronic composer Jon Leidecker contributes mobiles and mixer, and noted musician and composer Gino Robair produces. But it’s Chen who gets the deserved top billing. An esteemed interpreter of Cage (and many of his peers), this finds her tackling one of his most rarely performed scores (due to its cryptic, minimal instructions), and fans of experimental classical (and lovers of abstract noise) should be stoked. Cage’s (lack of) guidelines offer latitude most can’t handle, but Chen and crew embrace it. The results are gripping. A

Keiji Haino & SUMAC, American Dollar Bill – Keep Facing Sideways, You’re Too Hideous to Look at Face On (Thrill Jockey) Haino’s the avant-noise king of Japanese guitar and SUMAC’s comprised of ex-members of Baptists, Russian Circles, and ISIS, so one could be forgiven for assuming this collab is a start-to-finish exercise in aural brutality. To be sure, there are some hairy (but communicative) passages here, many of them extended, but hey, the title track (and what a title it is) opens with flute, and the reality is that both sides of this team-up deliver more than pummel and abrasion. Much more. Across four sides of vinyl, free-rock is in abundance, a mode familiar to Haino fans through Fushitsusha and Nazoranai, but SUMAC (and Nick Yacyshyn’s drum thunder especially) instills a distinct flavor. A

REISSUE PICKS: Milt Jackson & John Coltrane, Bags & Trane (ORG Music) I’ve covered this meeting of vibraphonist Jackson and sax giant Coltrane before, as part of Rhino’s The Atlantic Years in Mono box set, but this is the 2LP 180gm stereo version, back in stock after being OOP for two years. It’s not inexpensive, but for audiophiles, it’s an utterly rich dish. I’m generally a non-fan of the vibes, though Jackson is one of the big exceptions. He does solidify the expertly executed straight-ahead direction here, as pianist Hank Jones, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Connie Kay (Jackson’s cohort in the Modern Jazz Quartet) fill out the band. Trane’s in fine form. If I persist in ranking this set as a little less than top-tier, it’s largely due to the atmosphere of casualness. Of course, this brings its own appeal. A-

Cindy Lee, Act of Tenderness (W.25TH) Cindy Lee is the project of Patrick Flegel, formerly of the Canadian outfit Women, and like Malenkost, which was reissued by W.25TH last year, Act of Tenderness dates from late 2015; it was initially issued in an edition of 300 on the CCQSK label. Described as Flegel’s diva alter-ego, Cindy Lee plants a flag at the intersection of lo-fi, experimentation and ’60s Brill Building-ish pop, and the results are fascinatingly surreal. In my short review of Malenkost, I mentioned David Lynch, and this time W.25TH pinpoints Eraserhead. Last time out, the mentions of No Wave were validated, but on “Bonsai Garden” here, I’m getting more of an Industrial noise vibe. However, “Miracle of the Rose” comes off like first LP Velvets at their most extreme shorn down to a duo of Cale and Nico. Wowsers. A-

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Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, March 2018, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued wax presently in stores for March, 2018. 

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Steve Barton, Tall Tales and Alibis (Sleepless) Barton is known mostly as a member of (the still active) San Fran New Wave-era guitar band Translator, but he’s cut a slew of solo efforts, and this 3CD set is his latest. The main snag with Translator was unevenness brought on by commercial concerns, but Barton is unshackled by such matters here. The original idea was to release three individual albums simultaneously, though the decision to issue them together was wise, as the contrasts are complimentary. Two of the three discs are truly solo and are mostly guitar focused; Star Tonight occasionally brings Ted Leo to mind, while parts of Shattered Light give off a pre-hobo Tom Waits vibe. Before I Get Too Young features a full band, it bests any of Translator’s ’80s (non-comp) LPs. A-

Trees Speak, S/T (Cinedelic) This 2LP debuts the psych project of Daniel Martin Diaz (ex-Blind Divine and Crystal Radio), who’s veteran accompaniment includes members of Black Sun Ensemble, Giant Sand, and Myrrors. Described as a sound laboratory as much as a band, there’s a definite experimental edge to the proceedings, but it comingles with an emphasis on rock, with a high quotient ’70s Germanic. It’s safe to say that fans of The Oh Sees will find much to enjoy here, but it’s also important to note that this doesn’t fit the garage punk scenario; Trees Speak also does its thing sans vocals. The first album is loaded with shorter tracks with elements of kosmische and even a little Meddle-era Floyd in the mix, and the second spreads a long multitiered piece across two sides. The packaging is magnificent. A-

REISSUE PICKS: V/A, Voyager Golden Record (Ozma) As a young blues fan, I was utterly chuffed to learn that this ambitious project of the Voyager Interstellar Record Committee (chaired by astronomer and educator Carl Sagan), launched on a tour of the solar system via the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts in 1977, included Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground.” These days, I’m far more struck by the gesture of goodwill in communication. Yes, it was assembled to, maybe, one day, be absorbed by possible lifeforms somewhere “out there,” but meanwhile, listening to its contents (which encompass so much more than music) in the here and now is a beautiful reminder that humankind is far more capable of decency and beauty than ugliness and atrocity. Let it give you a boost. A+

Sandra Bell, Net (Drawing Room) Bell’s discography stretches back to an ’84 cassette she made with fellow New Zealander Kim Blackburn, though she really caught the attention of those hungering for u-ground Kiwi sounds with ’91’s Dreams of Falling, which came out on tape through Xpressway and was cut with the contribution of Peter Jefferies. Net was its excellent ’95 follow-up, initially issued only on CD by the IMD label. Upon first listen, Bell’s voice and phrasing will likely conjure thoughts of Patti Smith, but overall, her work fits snuggly into the ’90s lo-fi/ noise milieu, with the important distinction that she’s a song-based artist, one as likely to connect with fans of early Cat Power as lovers of Dead C. This is a terrific vinylization made even better with an extra LP rounding up two of her period singles. A-

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Graded on a Curve: New
in Stores, February 2018, Part Four

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued wax presently in stores for February, 2018. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: The Skull Defekts, S/T (Thrill Jockey) I’ll admit that I first got into The Skull Defekts due to the connection with Daniel Higgs, who’d been the singer and poetic fount for Baltimore’s Lungfish, a band I long loved, and who’d joined the Swedish band well after their formation. But in soaking up their pre-Higgs discography, the appeal widened, with The Skull Defekts’ work serving up another fine example of Swede u-ground rock (with connections to Anti Cimix, Cortex, Union Carbide Productions, and Kid Commando), and it continues here with Higgs’ departure and Mariam Wallentin stepping in. In a reflective explanatory piece written by member Joachim Nordwall, he observes that this is probably their most composed album, and I don’t disagree. But it’s still a superb finale. A-

Renata Zeiguer, Old Ghost (Northern Spy/Double Denim) Although this is vocalist, pianist, and violinist Zeiguer’s first full-length, she doesn’t lack experience; there was her self-released “Horizons” EP from back in 2013, and she’s spent time in the interim performing as Cantina and contributing to numerous projects, including Ava Luna, Twin Sister, Cassandra Jenkins, and Christopher Burke of Beach Fossils. But it goes back farther than that; influenced as a child by classical music and a little later by the Great American Songbook, there is a florid quality to much of her material that when combined with her vocal strengths, solidifies the mention of Kate Bush. But her love of The Beatles and tropicalia also shines through (adding welcome touches of strangeness0, and I dig the indie rock toughness throughout. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Allen Ginsberg, Howl and Other Poems (Craft) This set includes a bunch of pertinent material: there’s a booklet with writing by Beat expert Ann Charters and poet Anne Waldman, a repro of the invite to the poetry reading of ’56 held at City Lights bookstore, a photo of the man at his typewriter, and a reprint of the City Lights Pocket Poets edition of the work that impacted so many lives and challenged so many norms. It’s all certainly appropriate regarding the poetry’s import and looks cool as hell, but the main attraction is a translucent red vinyl repress of the Fantasy Records LP from ’59. Hearing “Howl” read by its creator still delivers a major charge, stripping away time’s extraneous bullshit and getting to its protest core. Before braying it’s no longer relevant, just take a look around. A+

Langley Schools Music Project, Innocence & Despair (Bar/None) When this collection of ’70s Canadian elementary schoolers doing pop-rock tunes under the aegis of a cool music teacher emerged in back in 2001, it was a bit of a sensation, and deservedly so, as it delivered an extended dose of youthful goodness that seems impossible to resist; over the years I’ve witnessed it unrankle more than a few curmudgeons, and if you need a taste of human decency to offset the drag-me-downs of existence, it’s a surefire remedy. Putting the kibosh on any twee tendencies and resonating emotionally in a way that music created for children almost always doesn’t, to swipe from Tosches, it’s really the school assembly that transcendeth all knowing. And “The Long and Winding Road” gets me every time. A

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