Category Archives: The TVD Record Store Club

Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
May 2020, Part Seven

Part seven of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for May, 2020. Part one is here, part two is here, part three is here, and part four is here, and part five is here, and part six here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: TALsounds, Acquiesce (NNA Tapes) Chicago’s Natalie Chami is a member of the trio Good Willsmith and is half of Damiana and l’éternèbre, but her solo music, which can be encapsulated descriptively as experimental electronics with vocals, is released as TALsounds. The earliest recording listed in the TALsounds Discogs entry is Sky Face, which came out on cassette in 2013 (it’s still available digitally via TALsounds’ Bandcamp). A deeper inspection of her output shows that magnetic tape has been the preferred physical format for nearly all of Chami’s solo stuff, though there was a split 7-inch with Iron Galaxy released in 2013 in an edition of 100 copies and then Love Sick on LP and CD in 2017 through Ba Da Bing! Acquiesce is also available on wax (standard black or 100 copies in white) and is a truly solo affair, with Chami responsible for all the playing and recording, an improvisational process finding the results “later trimmed down and reformatted into songs.”

Cooper Crain of Bitchin’ Bajas is credited as producer, but as Acquiesce is her fifth album, the process of trimming down outlined above is pretty clearly Chami’s own, a conclusion drawn from the striking confidence of the music here as it unfolds rather than seeking out specifics of/ in her earlier stuff. Equally impressive is how her vocalizing, which is often wordless and described by Chami as “leaning into vowels instead of phrases,” is enhanced by the cascading soundscapes, which indeed have songlike structure but also possess drifting qualities unsurprising in experimental (and improvised) electronics. By extension, her history of opening for artists as diverse as Tortoise, Mary Lattimore, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, and Merzbow is easy to understand. One can also easily absorb Chami’s statement that for her, it’s the playing rather than the recording that brings therapeutic value. On that note, we should consider ourselves lucky she’s produced such a large body of work, with Acquiesce the latest example. A-

Ami Dang, “Meditations Mixtape Vol. 1” (Leaving) Dang is a Baltimore-based South Asian-American ambient artist, singer and player of electronics, plus most distinctively, a mean sitarist. This was all in evidence on Parted Plains from last year, also on Leaving and still available on LP, though “Meditations Mixtape Vol. 1,” which, appropriately for a mixtape, is available on cassette in an edition of 300, provides a tidier dose of the same, but with urgency that one might not expect given Dang’s ambient sensibility. Specifically, she was inspired to create this music after her aunt and uncle became very ill with coronavirus. In her words, “Whether you or a loved one are ill, you’ve lost work, or are feeling general anxiety about the state of the world, these meditations are for you.” Her sitar is as strong as on Parted Plains, but it’s really her vocals that stand out on these four tracks and especially in “Simplicity Mind Tool” and closer “Tension, Tension Release.” An inspirational whole. Thank you, Ami Dang. A-

Matthewdavid’s Mindflight “Care Tracts” (Leaving) Matthew David McQueen mastered Ami Dang’s Meditations Mixtape, and he’s also the co-founder of Leaving Records, which has been one of the more consistently rewarding indie labels to have emerged over the last dozen or so years. A part of Leaving’s discography derives from McQueen’s work under the handle Matthewdavid (with LRH001 in fact, DISK Collection Vol.1, a CDR packaged in a hand-crafted 5¼-inch floppy disk), and a sub-portion as Mindflight, which on the new “Care Tracts” cassette EP (300 copies) strives for a plateau of elevated consciousness across three selections of 10 minutes each: “Tract of Animalia,” “Tract of Gentle Healing,” and “Tract of Bell & Flute Magic.” You might be thinking, “New Age?” You can bet your sweet keister this is New Age, bub. But in wholly embracing the style it avoids the clichés of the genre (especially in the final tract) and hopefully, any negative connotations you might still hold regarding the form. Just let go and float, ok? A-

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
May 2020, Part Six

Part six of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for May, 2020. Part one is here, part two is here, part three is here, and part four is here, and part five is here.

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Three LPs from Smithsonian Folkways. The massive archive of this esteemed label (better described as a jewel of public works) is not difficult to investigate, but original vinyl can be hard to come by and occasionally pricey, so the decision to reissue selected titles (in sharp reproductions of the distinctive tip-on jackets that define a significant portion of Folkways’ output prior to founder Moses Asch donating the entire discography to the Smithsonian in 1987), has been appreciated, and covered pretty extensively both in this column and in larger reviews in TVD’s Graded on a Curve. Unsurprisingly, the focus has largely been on folk, blues, old-time, bluegrass and Americana recordings, but Folkways’ interests also spanned into experimental and avant-garde regions, which is reflected in the three most recent reissues, all out tomorrow, and all spotlighted directly below.

The Entourage Music and Theater Ensemble, The Neptune Collection. Of the artists responsible for these three LPs, this group, with connections to Baltimore and Connecticut in the 1970s, likely has the highest profile, due in part to their music getting sampled by Four Tet, but more recently, through the release by Tompkins Square of the Ceremony of Dreams : Studio Sessions & Outtakes, 1972​-​1977 3CD (which also has a scaled back single LP edition). This album, Entourage’s second, recorded in Silver Spring, MD in May 1975, features recordings exclusive to the album, so if you have and dig either or both of those comps, you’ll probably want this one, too (their debut was reissued in 2012). Featuring Joe Clark, Wall Matthews, Rusti Clark and Michael Smith, they collectively composed for dance-theater, with this the home stereo equivalent. Listeners into world-jazz should find its contents appealing, though it often goes beyond that sorta thing, “Space Needle Suicide” in particular. A-

Craig Kupka, Crystals: New Music for Relaxation 2. Okay, so I’ll confess that music specifically made for relaxation hasn’t been a high priority in my life. That means I’m not familiar with Kupka’s prior effort, Clouds, which came out in 1981, also on Folkways. After “extensive field testing found this lovely album as popular as Mr. Kupka’s first” (you have no idea how much I enjoyed reading that on the back cover), this one followed in ’82, featuring Kupka on trombone, MXR digital delay and Arp synth, Norman Beede on Fender Rhodes and Siel synth, Bob Ose on trombone and Kenny Sawhill on bass trombone. That’s a lot of trombone, enough that the nearly 20-minute “Trombones of Lithia” on side one had me thinking of it as a possible distant cousin of ’70s NYC Minimalism, which isn’t a terrible stretch, as Kupka’s other recorded work is three volumes of Modern Dance Technique Environments. Side two’s 21-minute title track goes easy on the ‘bones but lands in early electronic territory to pleasurable effect. A-

Ann McMillan, Gateway Summer Sound: Abstracted Animal and Other Sounds. Across the decades, Folkways has released recordings of speeches, interviews, recitations by poets, authors and educators of their own works or those of others, field recordings of rain forests, junk yards, and cable car soundscapes; there’s even a self-hypnosis instructional album. But one of the more popular “non-musical” LPs, at least in my experience, as I’ve seen it in so many collections, is Sounds of North American Frogs. I own it. I enjoy it. But I appreciate McMillan’s work here a lot more, as it’s intriguing in its abstraction, blending aspects of sound collage, field recordings and early electronic music as she manipulates the sounds of frogs, insects and birds, but also children’s voices, sounds of land, air and sea traffic, pan percussion, harpsichord, and even Frederick Kiesler’s sculpture “The Gong.” There are parts that hit the ear like sound effects for a ’50s sci-fi film but are probably just a hoot owl. ‘nuff said. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
May 2020, Part Five

Part five of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for May, 2020. Part one is here, part two is here, part three is here, and part four is here.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Phillip Sollmann, Monophonie (A-Ton) Sollmann is a Berlin-based DJ and producer, who when recording via the alias Efdemin, produces a brand of techno that’s, reportedly, “psychedelic, and idiosyncratic,” doing so as recently as last year on the New Atlantis album (which was based, per the title, on an unfinished 17th century novel by Francis Bacon). He’s also produced work that falls outside of the techno realm, specifically experimental and microtonal composition, which includes the “Panama / Suez” EP (a collaboration with Konrad Sprenger and Oren Ambarchi), Gegen Die Zeit (a co-billed collab with John Gürtler) and Monophonie, which, as a live performance with Ensemble Musikfabrik, dates from 2017, premiered at Berlin’s Volksbühne theatre and then taken to Ruhrtriennale and Kampnagel in Hamburg.

For Monophonie, Sollmann has orchestrated a massive undertaking that employs the “rare historical instruments of sonic research” developed by 19th century physician-physicist Hermann von Helmholtz (including the double siren, an original of which Sollmann played in performance with Ensemble Musikfabrik), the microtonal instruments made by the great 20th century avant-classical composer Harry Partch, and the metal sound sculptures of Harry Bertoia (I did say massive). Utilizing the tuning system of just intonation, Monophonie, akin to his work in techno, attains the psychedelic, which in this case is a transportive music reminiscent at times of ’70s Steve Reich blending with early Terry Riley, but with tones and instrumentation enhancing the non-academic side of the modern classical tradition a la Partch naturally, but also nodding toward Moondog and even La Monte Young. Monophonie is a record of startling beauty and precise, disciplined ambition, destined to be one of the best of 2020. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Ike Yard, S/T (Superior Viaduct) NYC’s Ike Yard hold the distinction of having the first record released on Factory Records’ short-lived Factory America label, their eponymous 1982 LP sporting the catalogue number FACT A SECOND (FACT A FIRST was given to a NYC live show featuring Ike Yard opening for New Order, whose set was later released on the Taras Shevchenko VHS). Featuring vocalist-percussionist Stuart Argabright, guitarist Michael Diekmann, vocalist-bassist Kenny Compton and synth player Fred Szymanski, Ike Yard’s second release (following the “Night After Night” 12-inch, issued in 1981 by Les Disques Du Crépuscule, a label associated with a few Factory bands. It’s slated for reissue in August by Superior Viaduct) fits into Factory’s post-punk scheme quite nicely while also standing out and being stylistically prescient, distinguishing them as an influential cult band.

This appears to be the first US vinyl reissue for this album (there was a French pressing in 2012), but the music was notably released by the Acute label in 2006 on the CD 1980-82 Collected; that was a welcome set, as original copies of Ike Yard’s releases aren’t exactly common in the bins, which makes Superior Viaduct’s endeavor especially appealing for vinyl lovers who favor electronics-infused experimental rock. As said, the music here oozes chilly alienation that’s right up Tony Wilson’s alley, but with an edge that situates the band as evolving out of their city’s No Wave scene. Sort of by extension, the danceability of their stuff, which draws fair comparisons to other Factory signees (A Certain Ratio, Section 25) and as Superior Viaduct points out, Cabaret Voltaire and Front 242, never registers as Ike Yard’s main goal, which is a big part of why this record continues to hit so hard. Essential for post-punk collectors. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
May 2020, Part Four

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for May, 2020. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Pharis & Jason Romero, Bet on Love (Lula) Residing in Horsefly, British Columbia, Canada, the married folk-Americana-bluegrass duo of Pharis & Jason Romano also make instruments. Specifically, they build banjos, and Bet on Love, the fifth album for the Juno Award winners, was recorded in their shop at home. It’s a delightful record evincing strong ties to the old-time folk root while flowing forth with bright, crisp production that places the album as a contemporary release, if one unburdened by any trends of the moment. Put another way, the Romeros aren’t throwing back to the past, but instead, being deeply invested in tradition (as instrument builders, more so than most), are carrying the old styles into the present with clarity that’s reflected in Bet on Love’s expert musicianship.

The reliable anchor of Patrick Metzger’s double bass and the strumming and occasional flourishes of John Reischman’s mandolin aside, Bet on Love ultimately lands nearer to Americana than the elevated ensemble flair of bluegrass. But happily, the record lacks the mild-mannered sensibility that hinders, at least for this listener, so many current practitioners of the Americana style. This shouldn’t suggest that the music here isn’t primed to be soaked up without a hindrance by as many receptive ears as possible, it’s just that the beauty with which this album is infused is delivered with considerable power. Part of this intensity derives from the sturdy folk foundation, but a larger reason comes down to the sheer gorgeousness of Pharis Romero’s voice, which hits a peak in the record’s title track but sounds splendid throughout. She also plays guitar as Jason utilizes a variety of banjos and guitars; while often pretty, the playing is better assessed as possessing great verve. A magnificent set, on vinyl and compact disc. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: V/A, Early Works: Funk, Soul & Afro Rarities from the Archives (ATA) Whether it’s releases by The Sorcerers, The Magnificent Tape Band, The Lewis Express, Abstract Orchestra, Rachel Modest, or Tony Burkill, the ATA label, based in Leeds, UK, has made it crystal clear that contemporary funky soulfulness in a classic vein isn’t exclusively the provenance of US labels like Daptone, Big Crown, and Colemine. The label of Neil Innes & Pete Williams, ATA commenced operations in 2013 and not long after had their initial work compiled by the Here & Now label in an edition of 300 copies that sold out in weeks. With new artwork, notes that illuminate the label’s origins, and a slightly altered title, this is a welcome reissue.

That Innes and Williams are involved with everything lends cohesiveness to the whole, as does the largely instrumental nature, which helps the label to standout a bit, though the approach does bring them into the general proximity of Big Crown. Still, ATA’s stuff hits hard but is noticeably distinct from the work of Leon Michels, frequently coming off as a neo-library music experience. However, the sitar and flute in “Thought Forms” by um, Ivan Von Engelberger’s Asteroid is tasty neo-psych. I also adore the ripping baritone sax in “Hawkshaw Philly” by The Yorkshire Film And Television Orchestra, which is a late standout. There are also two vocal cuts courtesy of Cleveland Freckleton, though for one he goes under the handle Reverend Barrington Stanley. Represented by three cuts, The Sorcerers bring some Ethio-jazz to the table with “Elephant,” while The Cadets cinch up a soul-jazzy finale with “What Are We Made Of.” This album is great for dancing in your sock feet on the hard word floor of the living room. I tried it. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
May 2020, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for May, 2020. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Beauty Pill, Please Advise (Northern Spy) The first new music from Beauty Pill since the brilliant Describes Things as They Are is not a letdown, though the brevity of the release does leave me wanting more, which isn’t the same thing as disappointment, as the four tracks cohere into a worthy whole. The shortness means Please Advise might be an EP, but I’ve only seen it referred to as an LP; Beauty Pill have been tagged as post-rock, but they are also post-duration, apparently (a different bonus track comes with each format). Beauty Pill is also the band of Chad Clark, who doesn’t lump the music into the post-rock genre but rather the Beauty Pill genre, which reinforces how post-rock is in many ways post-category; Tortoise and Godspeed You! Black Emperor are up to different things, and Please Advise doesn’t sound like either of them, partly because Beauty Pill is an ever-evolving band, here introducing newest member Erin Nelson right away through her AI-like vocals in “Pardon My Dust.”

Alongside Nelson’s contribution, there’s also a horn-quartet blowing a wiggly pattern reminiscent of the Downtown NYC of yore and underscoring Clark’s love of Arto Lindsay. The mention of Lindsay provides a nice segue into some general enthusiasm for Clark’s guitar playing, which shines in closing cut “The Damnedest Thing.” But guitar isn’t a constant factor in Beauty Pill’s equation (it’s not even a constant factor in “The Damnedest Thing”). Neither is Nelson’s voice, though she’s crucial to “Prison Song.” However, rhythm is a constant here as the songs feature a blend of live and programmed drums that occasionally skitter forth in a manner similar to electronica. That’s nice. A sound that reminds me of a synthetic hammered dulcimer in “Tattooed Love” is even nicer. And the horn arrangement that pops up in “Pardon My Dust” hits my ear a little like those heard on Illinois by noted Philip Glass-fan Sufjan Stevens, so this review has come full circle. A-

Steve Dawson & Funeral Bonsai Wedding, Last Flight Out (Kernel Sound) Succinctly, Funeral Bonsai Wedding is a project that came to life in Chicago, bringing together Americana affiliated singer-songwriter Dawson (of the band Dolly Varden) with musicians from the Windy City experimental jazz and improv scene including bassist Jason Roebke, vibes player Jason Adasiewicz, and on self-titled 2014 debut, drummer Frank Rosaly, who’s replaced here due to the constraints of distance (as he moved to Amsterdam) by Charles Rumback. Additionally, the all-female classical string ensemble Quartet Parapluie partook in the recording of this follow-up, with their input, often terrific, going a long way in solidifying the comparison to Astral Weeks that accompanies the album in preparation of its release on vinyl, CD, and digital this week.

The other reason for the connection to Van is due to the mingling of the songwriter scene with jazz, which often doesn’t produce much beyond expert playing and trivia (as in, “hey, do you know who’s soloing there?”) but delivered something truly special on Astral Weeks. Now, Last Night Out isn’t as great as Weeks (very few records are) but there are a few spots where the similarity jumps out as accurate, mostly due to Roebke but in “However Long it Takes,” very much through Dawson’s vocals. His singing more frequently reinforces his Americana background to the point where this set is recommended for folks deeply invested in the style’s contempo developments, although he can occasionally remind me of Tim Buckley, a circumstance surely helped by how Adasiewicz can recall David Friedman on Happy Sad, Blue Afternoon, and Dream Letter. But really, this set is a winner on its own merits; the songs are as strong as the singing and the playing is just top-flight all the way through. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
May 2020, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for May, 2020. 

NEW RELEASE PICKS: The Soft Pink Truth, Shall We Go on Sinning so That Grace May Increase? (Thrill Jockey) Conceived by Drew Daniel of Matmos, the latest release in this long-running if on-again-off-again project is a direct byproduct of the artist’s desire to respond emotionally and artistically to creeping global fascism, generally, and a certain narcissistic incompetent’s election to the US Presidency, more directly. He’s further stated that he didn’t want to make “angry white guy” music, which means this album (available digitally today and out on vinyl June 19, understandably delayed due to pressing plant safety issues related to Covid-19) isn’t an exercise in sloganeering or didacticism, a lack that’s appreciated but frankly not especially surprising, as Daniel isn’t a strong candidate for making like a pissed-off Caucasian on record, even as a portion of The Soft Pink Truth’s catalog is dedicated to interpretations of what many (not me) would dismiss as “angry white guy” music.

I’m talking about Do You Want New Wave or Do You Want The Soft Pink Truth? (described as “electronic interpretations of UK punk and American hardcore songs”) and Why Do the Heathen Rage? (“electronic profanations of black metal classics”). And yet it’s important to note The Soft Pink Truth began as a challenge to Daniel to make a house record, a root that’s manifest here in the decidedly club-friendly second track “We.” Although Daniel’s engagement with the house style isn’t sustained through this record, the music still coheres into a life-affirming whole, with moments that can even be called joyous. Furthermore, The choice of a biblical quote, specifically from Paul the Apostle, has been explained as relating to Daniel’s “creative practice and how one should live in the world,” but the title also gets to how the music provides a “much-needed escape” while avoiding the pitfalls of escapism. Shall We Go on Sinning so That Grace May Increase? can be thought of as gospel music for these troubled times. A

ONO, Red Summer (American Dreams) Now, Chicago’s ONO have been called a “gospel industrial band” and “punk-gospel-noise.” These may seem unusual juxtapositions, so here’s the statement of purpose from the group’s website: ONO is an “Experimental, Noise and Industrial Poetry Performance Band Exploring Gospel’s Darkest Conflicts, Tragedies and Premises.” Noise is amongst the most confrontational of musics; most find it something to abjure, while a smaller number welcome it as a presence to be reckoned with; it can’t exist as background, and resists being ignored. The industrial genre, in its earliest years, was in many ways an offshoot, or indeed, an early incarnation of noise music, which had yet to really be articulated as a form.

ONO spans back to this era, formed in 1980 by P Michael Grego and travis, the former handling the audio, the latter the words, with records released in ’83 (Machines That Kill People) and ’86 (Ennui) for the noted San Francisco punk indie label Thermidor (both were reissued in limited editions in 2013 and ’15, respectively, by the Galactic Archive label). Now, ONO’s music might seem an odd fit for the gospel tag, but if confrontational, Red Summer is, per the above statement of purpose, contending with the past and how it impacts the present, and all in hopes of a better future. Over the decades, the lineup has changed a lot, but P Michael (here on samplers, drum machine, bass, and synthesizer) and travis (again, the words and vocals) have been the constants, with work on Red Summer commencing in 2015.

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
April 2020, Part Six

Part six of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for April, 2020. Part one is here, part two is here, part three is here, part four is here, and part five is here.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Damien Jurado, What’s New, Tomboy? (Mama Bird Recording Co. / Loose) I got into Jurado’s work pretty early on, shortly after his second album, 1999’s Rehearsals for Departure, came out on Sub Pop. I was pretty taken with that one and his follow-up from 2000, Ghost of David, enough so that I picked up a bunch of his subsequent stuff, which consisted of one more for Sub Pop and then a bunch for Secretly Canadian. And I can’t say I was let down by any of it; the guy’s consistency as a singer-songwriter in what I’ll succinctly call the post-Neil Young tradition is striking and a bit reminiscent of another guy I stumbled onto around the same time, Richard Buckner, not because they sound similar (they do, and yet they don’t), but because they were able to turn that tradition into something that was very much their own.

But I must confess that I lost track of Jurado’s work around 2012, right about when his album Maraqopa came out. This drifting apart was mainly down to his prolificacy before and since, as this new record is his 15th full-length (and he has a slew of EPs and singles, as well). This is not the only instance where I’ve disconnected from a musician or band for no fault of theirs, though sometimes return engagements can prove to be a letdown. Well, happily, not here, as What’s New, Tomboy? unwinds with confidence and verve, just like I remember it, though I don’t want to infer that he hasn’t grown as a musician since the last I heard him. No, the songs consistently impressed upon me that Jurado is in strong creative form, and it wasn’t until roughly halfway into the record and “Francine” (with its terrific vibes playing and fingerpicking) that I was reminded of the influence of ol’ Neil. From there, Jurado continues to exemplify everything that is worthwhile at the crossroads of indie and folk. Now, to catch up on what I missed. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Sopwith Camel, The Miraculous Hump Returns from the Moon (Real Gone) As is the case with countless acts, maybe the least interesting thing about Sopwith Camel was their hit single, namely “Hello Hello,” which made it all the way to No. 26 in ’67. That might be overstating matters a bit, but it’s in aid of explaining how this San Francisco outfit’s long-delayed second album didn’t come completely out of nowhere. But still. Reformed with all the original members except one, the sound of Sopwith Camel circa ’73 had almost nothing to do with the Lovin’ Spoonful-Mamas & Papas neo-vaudeville pop of their earlier days, instead diving into a merger of funkiness, soft rock and spaciness, though a few songs on side two do reinforce a connection to what they sounded like before.

Now, I’ll confess to coming to Miraculous Hump with fresh ears. If the record had a cult following, I wasn’t clued in, and will admit to being more than a little skeptical over the specialness of the situation as proclaimed in the 2014 Guardian article cited in the press for this reissue, which was released in late March in a limited edition of 750 on marbled smoke vinyl (and still available). However, checking this out establishes it as much more than a curiosity (if not quite as amazing as some of the praise has it). As a lot had transpired in the period between the group’s two albums, that they migrated toward what is at times reminiscent of Steely Dan mating with Santana in a Seals & Crofts state of mind shouldn’t be a shock, but that it holds together so well, kinda is. It’s so effective that the later cuts which recall their earlier incarnation have an almost Bonzo Dog Band goes soft rock feel. Cuh-razy. I also have a creeping suspicion that folks into Shuggie Otis will dig this. B+

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
April 2020, Part Five

Part five of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for April, 2020. Part one is here, part two is here, part three is here, and part four is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Bad History Month, Old Blues (Exploding in Sound) Before releasing Dead and Loving It: An Introductory Exploration Of Pessimysticism as Bad History Month in 2017, vocalist, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Sean Sprecher was half of Fat History Month with drummer Mark Fede. This is his second album on his own, and it attains a level of introspection that has been tagged, at least once, as emo, though the songs here exude the quality of being well read that borders on the intellectual, and certainly literary, so that I’m reminded more of David Berman and Bill Callahan (plus, anybody who cops the name of a Mel Brooks movie for an album title is on to something more than the dour self-seriousness/ self-absorption that mars so much emo).

But on a purely musical level, Old Blues productively branches out a bit, at times recalling early Sebadoh, though I’ll emphasize these moments are fleeting. Furthermore, because hardly anything here moves particularly fast, the sound and perhaps better said, the mood, can bring to mind slowcore, and spiked with flareups of loner folk. But upon consideration, Sprecher, with Fede producing, has labored over an immersive set of music, as sharp instrumentally as it is vividly (and complexly) observational, that isn’t easily comparable to any other artist or band. Bookended by two long, shape shifting, and thematically linked tracks in “Waste Not” (13 minutes) an “Want Not” (15 minutes) that reinforce the heights of Sprecher’s ambition, the five shorter cuts productively contrast through restraint. In the end, Old Blues sounds like the kind of record that might’ve been squirted out by an indie label in the mid-’90s to a gradually increasing and passionate cult following. That’s a welcome gift in 2020. A

Lewsberg, In This House (12XU) The second LP from this Rotterdam, Netherlands-based band is the first to get a US release. Anybody into art-punk/ post-punk should investigate its ten tracks with haste, for they cohere into a stone killer. Utilizing the tried-and-true lineup of dual guitars (Arie van Vliet, Michael Klein), bass (Shalita Dietrich), drums (Dico Kruijsse) and vocals (Klein sings lead save for one track and Dietrich handles the occasional backing except for her turn up front), In This House is the latest in a long line of examples that underscore the inexhaustible inspiration of the Velvet Underground, although as in the finest prior instances of this influence, the Velvets are largely employed as a foundation rather than as a full-on template. I say largely because “Cold Light of Day” is a slice of VU action that’s completely, some might say flagrantly, undisguised, and an utter gem in the category of how to do it right.

That is, it’s never a mere copy. The other nine songs serve up a full platter of the aforementioned art-punk/ post-punk with range that’s subtly expressed as it firmly reinforces Lewsberg as a band with a focused sound. The simple fact of the matter is the genre in which they excel doesn’t often hang together in full albums by one band (those cornerstone art-punk/ post-punk LPs have attained that stature for a reason), much less a stunner on the level of In This House. And they’ve done it twice; I went back and checked their eponymous debut from 2018, and it kicks, just not as hard as this one. That’s great, and even rarer. Another cool turn of events is how Dietrich’s lead vocal in “Jacob’s Ladder” hit me like Kendra Smith’s did the first time I listened to The Days of Wine and Roses. If you dig the VU and The Dream Syndicate but also love The Fall, this LP could be your new fave. A

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
April 2020, Part Four

Part four of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for April, 2020. Part one is here, part two is here, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: GRID, Decomposing Force (NNA Tapes) Featuring Matt Nelson (Battle Trance, Elder Ones) on saxophone, Tim Dahl (Child Abuse, Lydia Lunch Retrovirus) on bass, and Nick Podgurski (New Firmament, Feast of the Epiphany) on drums, this is GRID’s second album after a self-titled debut in 2017 (that one’s still available on cassette, this one’s on LP), though last year they also collaborated with Lydia Lunch on a sweet track as tribute to key Beat writer Herbert Huncke. Decomposing Force is a brutal but also atmospheric slab of post-free jazz-molten noise-Industrial strength improv scorch that should briefly cheer up those who are perpetually saddened by the lack of biannual releases from Borbetomagus. It’s not quite as hammer-down as that trio (notice I said atmospheric) but it definitely has the potential to be a room clearer. So, don’t play it during quarantine. Unless you’re hanging with a bunch of Wolf Eyes fans, in which case the party’s just getting started. What a lucky fucker you are. A

Harkin, S/T (Hand Mirror) Although she has a ton of experience as a touring musician along with a few studio credits including Waxahatchee’s Out in the Storm, this is the debut from Katie Harkin, which is also the first release on the ambitious new label she’s formed with her partner, the writer Kate Leah Hewell (they describe Hand Mirror as a “creative community,” with literary publications and live events part of the plan). The eponymous effort is a solid one, reinforcing her background along with smarts in choosing collaborators; the set features the drums of Stella Mozgawa (Warpaint) and Jenn Wasner (Wye Oak, Bon Iver). Additionally, Harkin reveals savvy in combining a live foundation with electronic elements including samples and synths.

As said, savvy: the record doesn’t really go in for an electro-poppy sound but is instead mildly reminiscent of the sorta “serious” high-tech album statements that occasionally emerged during the 1980s, though even with a few post-Gothy strains and Kate Bushy motions, this general tendency doesn’t feel like a calculated state of affairs (which is to say, maybe you won’t hear it, and it might’ve not been her intention). Part of why has to do with Harkin’s guitar playing, which is most assertive early (vaguely like Barney Sumner in early New Order in opener “Mist on Glass”) and late (in closer “Charm and Tedium”), but the biggest reason is that it’s clear Harkin isn’t striving to fit into any sort of stylistic niche. Her songs are as strong as her singing, and I’d say this is a promising record, but really, she’s already essentially delivered. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
April 2020, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for April, 2020. Part one is here and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Buck Curran, No Love is Sorrow (Obsolete Recordings) Curran, a deft guitarist and also a talented singer-songwriter, finished this set, his third solo full-length (he’s also half of Arborea) in late February in Bergamo, Italy, where he, his pregnant wife (the other half of Arborea) and young son have been on lockdown since March 9 due to Covid-19. The album is being rushed released digitally in order to procure much needed income for Curran and family, and it’s safe to say that for anybody who’s pleasurably soaked up the sounds of the ’00s psych/ folk/ New Weird underground (a scene which in fact spawned Arborea), No Love is Sorrow will be a solid buy. Curran alternates between sturdy instrumentals and appealing vocal tunes, though for “Django (New Years Day)” he switches to piano a la his inspiration Robbie Basho; it’s worth noting that Curran’s is much nearer to trad folk and indie folk. I figure this will get a physical release soon, but buying digital now helps the man and his fam, so please consider it. A-

V/A, Women of Doom (Desert Records / Blues Funeral) Featuring Nighthawk and Heavy Temple, Amy Tung Barrysmith (of Year of the Cobra), Besvärjelsen, Mlny Parsons (of Royal Thunder), Frayle, The Otolith (comprised of four former members of SubRosa), Doomstress Alexis, Deathbell, and The Keening (with Rebecca Vernon, the one member of SubRosa not in The Otolith), everyone gets a track each except Mlny Parsons, who brings two to this righteous party. The comp’s raison d’être is right there in the title (Doom being a strain of contempo metal, if you didn’t know), and it’s both an admirable exercise and a damn solid listen, one consistent to the point where it’s difficult to pick a favorite, so I won’t. I will mention that the concept of inclusivity reflects a breath of approach (within genre, pushing genre, beyond genre) that makes this set such a start-to-finish winner, and will add in closing that folks bummed about SubRosa’s breakup should be flat-out stoked over The Otolith’s track. It’s a killer. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Ellen Fullman, In the Sea (Superior Viaduct) Ellen Fullman is one of the leading lights in the history of the Drone. This 2LP, like the Jon Gibson double set below, came out in late February, but I’ve been able to give it the necessary attention only recently; it’s an exquisite follow-up to Superior Viaduct’s 2015 reissue of her 1985 debut The Long Stringed Instrument, and more than simply a vinyl pressing of her ’87 cassette In the Sea. LP one truncates the title piece and “Staggered Stasis” (they ran 40 and 34 minutes) from the tape, adds a portion of “Work for 4 Players and 90 Strings” from the tape of the same name (also from ’87) on side three, and then drops an unreleased excerpt of “Work for Two” (from ’88 at De Fabriek in Den Bosch, Holland) on side four. Now, some might get the idea that Fullman’s music will be impenetrable or difficult, but I disagree, as when these sides start up it’s like walking into a giant head shop emporium with infinite rooms. It’s mystically robust, dig? A

Jon Gibson, Songs & Melodies 1973-1977 (Superior Viaduct) Superior Viaduct has already reissued two of Gibson’s key early albums, debut Visitations and follow-up Two Solo Pieces, both originally on the Chatham Square Productions imprint of Philip Glass, from ’73 and ’77, respectively, making this collection the perfect companion. It’s also noteworthy that nearly everything here is previously unreleased as “Song I” and “Song II” feature Arthur Russell and Barbara Benary (“Song II” also has David Van Tieghem) and “Equal Distribution” is a side-long piece with Julius Eastman on piano. “Solo for Saxophone” is a tasty number with Gibson on soprano (he plays organ, piano and flute on other selections), but the standouts are the sublime drift of “Melody IV” and tidier patterns of “Melody III” on side three. Altogether not as vital as Visitations or Two Solo Pieces, but still very necessary. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
April 2020, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for April, 2020. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Simon Fisher Turner & Edmund de Waal, A Quiet Corner In Time (Mute) A lot of the time, when I’m introduced to works composed to accompany art installations (which admittedly isn’t all that often), I can’t help shake that the sounds are impressing upon me that, y’know, I really should’ve been there. Similar to the vast majority of film scores (for every great one there are dozens that aren’t), they excel at enhancing the experience for which they were conceived but don’t exactly thrive when presented as a standalone work. There are exceptions of course, and this release, which offers what began as a sound work by composer Simon Fisher Turner for ceramicist and author Edmund de Waal’s architectural installation, – one way or other –, at the Schindler House in Los Angeles, is one of those.

The reason why comes down to the depth and dimension of the project, bringing Fisher Turner’s field recordings, which were captured in Vienna and LA, together with what the ample bio for this set describes as de Waal’s “placed materials and architectural interventions: porcelain vessels and shards, furniture, and vitrines.” Fisher Turner states that his intention was to “activate the exhibition without touching it,” and it strikes my ear that he’s succeeded; as the tracks unwind, the impression is of progressing from space to space, even as the piece alternates from field recordings to processed sound (and mingles the two). There are plenty of repeated clinks, clanks, scrapes and spiraling sounds that impress de Waal’s impact on the piece itself and heighten the distinctiveness. There is also Ryuichi Sakamoto’s recordings of Mr. Raku’s fine coffee and tea ceramics. An exceptional release. A

Nap Eyes, Snapshot of a Beginner (Jagjaguwar) Nap Eyes’ prior long player I’m Bad Now  served as my introduction to the band, a solid batch of songs that, through the singing of Nigel Chapman, reminded me a bit of Dan Behar (he of Destroyer). That was cool, but this new record brought this similarity to mind very seldom as the overall approach, which combines the best qualities of singer-songwriter-styled indie rock (think Bill Callahan and Purple Mountains) with ’80s Brit/ Aussie guitar-pop at its most richly elevated, comes into sharper focus. Chapman, the lyricist here on all the songs but one, continues to hone a sensibility that’s poetic without drifting into the eccentric the way Berman, Callahan, and Behar can. Instead, Nap Eyes register as fruit from the same fertile tree that gifted us with the Go-Betweens, Jazz Butcher, Felt, and even East River Pipe. A surprising and excellent record. A

Roedelius, Selbstportrait Wahre Liebe (Bureau B) In the annals of kosmische and Krautrock, composer and multi-instrumentalist Hans-Joachim Roedelius is a figure of deserved esteem, most prominently for his work as a co-founder of Kluster/ Cluster and then Harmonia, plus a handful of collabs with Brian Eno, though the largest portion of his work has been solo. One of the earliest of his own was Selbstportrait in ’79, his third solo LP overall, which kicked off an on-again off-again series of self-portraits (the literal translation of the title) that have intertwined through a solo discography that now numbers into the dozens. Here’s the latest installment, initiated at the suggestion of Gunther Buskies, the founder of Bureau B, as that label’s been reissuing a fair portion of his work over the last decade.

Buskies further asked that this new one utilize the instrumentation that dominated his work circa the late ’70s, specifically Farfisa organ, drum machine, tape-delay, and a Rhodes keyboard. If you’re thinking this isn’t exactly boding well as portraiture of Roedelius in 2020, Buskies openly wondered (threw down the challenge, if you will) if the man could “beam back” into his past and, using essentially the same gear, come up with something similar. Well, he has, and it unwinds superbly, but with Onnen Bock (a member of Roedelius’ recent project Qluster) and Wolf Bock on board, it registers as much more than just a re-creation of his earlier self. And hell, I can’t deny that I started to lose a firm grip on the guy’s work after ’81 or so, which made the specifics of this LP/ CD mighty enticing. Often nearer to Terry Riley than new age, this is a rewarding 53-minute set. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
April 2020, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for April, 2020.

NEW RELEASE PICK: Trees Speak, Ohms (Soul Jazz) I was turned onto this Tucson, AZ outfit via their self-titled 2017 debut on the Italian Cinedelic imprint. The label change for LP two should increase the profile of the group, especially since Soul Jazz hardly ever deviates from reissues and anthologies. Led by Daniel Martin Diaz, rather than jazzy grooving or post-punk, Trees Speak specialize in the psychedelically Krautrocking, but with an unharried approach that could appeal to folks into King Gizzard or maybe even early Tame Impala. I happen to dig what Trees Speak are up to a lot more than those two however, partly because they do it sans vocals (likely why they were on Cinedelic), and additionally due to the heavier (and sax skronkier) passages. The decidedly Germanic keyboard-synth motions are also welcome, as are the spots that again suggest Meddle-era Floyd. Comes with bonus 45. Holding tight! A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Robbie Basho, Songs of the Great Mystery–The Lost Vanguard Sessions (Real Gone) The scoop here is that in 2009 Vanguard contacted American Primitive guitar expert and fingerpicker extraordinaire Glenn Jones regarding a discovered tape of the very great and highly underrated guitarist Basho, who cut records for John Fahey’s Takoma label, Vanguard, and later Windham Hill prior to his premature passing in 1986 at age 45. Turns out the tape was from the same long session that produced his two Vanguard LPs rather than a batch of second-rate stuff for Guitar Soli maniacs, so this is four sides of exquisite playing on guitar and piano (opening and closing the set) plus an abundance of singing (and whistling), so if you can’t abide his voice, then please move along. There are only 1,000 copies in this pressing (on clear wax), and they belong in upstanding homes. A

V/A, Stone Crush: Memphis Modern Soul 1977-1987 (Light in the Attic) Complete with typically excellent liner observations by Memphis expert Robert Gordon, this is an enlightening dive into a run of singles, and everything here was originally issued on 45, that will almost certainly be new discoveries to all but the most soul diligent. I’ll confess that the period covered coincides with a declining personal interest in soul/ funk/ R&B, in large part due to the prevailing commercial sound of the times, but even as a fair portion of the sounds anthologized here bounce around like a dingleberry in Rick James’ jockstrap, the generally modest production values impact the whole in a manner that’s enjoyable, with unavoidable fluctuations, across the set’s four sides. However, things never dip too low as the highlights can get up there pretty high.

Amongst my favorite moments are the linguistic love-tango in “Under Cover Lover” by the wonderfully named Captain Fantastic and Starr Fleet, the swirling DIY of “What Does it Take to Know (A Woman Like You),” by Greg Mason (with crucial input from producer Bernard Haynes), my pick for standout of the bunch, and the sneakily old-school “You Mean Everything to Me” by Sweet Pearl. The intermingled bluesy and fuzzy guitar in Frankie Alexander’s “Take Time Out for Love” and the horn-laden groove-glide of Cato’s “Slice of Heaven” are also dips into earlier sounds. And as Memphis was a music industry town, there are ties to the city’s well-documented past, directly to Willie Mitchell and Ardent Studios, indirectly to B.B. King. Now, you could procure original copies of these 45s, which would be cool but will set you back stupid money, or you can get this, which would be even cooler. You could also do both. A-

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A note to record shops and those who frequent them in response to the global pandemic: share your shop’s updates

We’ve long held that purchasing records is best done at your local indie record shops, however given the current precautions surrounding the Coronavirus, this might not be an option over the coming weeks or months. And while receiving records in the mail is certainly second best, many mom and pop shops support their revenue via sales on Discogs and eBay or directly via their own websites (as we’re pretty certain you’re aware).

While this is not breaking news per se, there WILL BE news generated going forward and we’d like to do what we can by offering our forums for your updates on your record shop’s status and where you’re continuing to offer sales via any of the above websites or elsewhere. Also, those of you who frequent your local shops are invited to add to the conversation.

Post here or on our socials—share, revise, and spread the word as to what’s happening in your shop or what those of you are seeing across the globe as we face this challenge together. An update will stay pinned to the top of our website and locator app Facebook pages as a handy resource for sharing news that you can feel free to also update or revise as needed. Find us on Twitter here and tweet updates to us which we’ll retweet and share from our side. We’re on Instagram here for the same.

We often joke around here about the dichotomy of celebrating indie, brick and mortar record shops and its community via pixels. Perhaps it’s an upside these days.

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
March 2020, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for March, 2020. Part one is here and part two is here.

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Jon Hassell, Vernal Equinox (Ndeya) & Jon Hassell/Farafina, Flash of the Spirit (Tak:Til/Glitterbeat) First issued by Lovely Music, Ltd. in 1977, Vernal Equinox is the debut album from Hassell, the master of smeared trumpet and a true groundbreaker in ambient music; additionally, it carries the distinction of laying the foundation for what’s now long-established as Fourth World Music. Subsequent examples include Hassell’s follow-up Earthquake Island and a handful of records by Brian Eno, with Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics a collab featuring Eno and Hassell; it’s a record the trumpeter hasn’t always been particularly fond of. I’m guessing he feels differently about Vernal Equinox, and well he should, as it remains a healthy dose of calmly unfurling oddness and beauty.

He didn’t do it alone, as the contributors to the album (which is available on vinyl for the first time in 42 years) include Naná Vasconcelos on percussion, David Rosenbloom on synth, and William Winant on kanjira. Jumping forward a little over a decade leads us to Flash of the Spirit, a co-billed collab with the Burkina Faso group Farafina, originally on the Intuition label (and Capitol in the US). The album is less gentle than Vernal Equinox, at times far less so, and the overall thrust isn’t as strange. Therefore, I don’t rate it as highly, though I am impressed by how well its intersection with the then burgeoning World Music genre holds up (particularly as it was produced by Eno and Daniel Lanois fresh off The Joshua Tree). But expanded to 2LP (no extra stuff, though), it still offers its share of worthy moments. A/ A-

Game Theory, Across The Barrier Of Sound: PostScript (Omnivore) My enthusiasm for the work of the late Scott Miller is well documented. Game Theory was Miller’s band, one of them anyway, and arguably the outfit for which he’s most remembered (might depend on whether you’re an ’80s or ’90s child; Miller went on to form The Loud Family). Omnivore has done a bang-up job in reissuing Game Theory’s stuff, and now here are the band’s final sessions, cut with the last lineup, which toured but never released a proper album. The personnel here includes Michael Quercio from the then recently broken up Three O’Clock and Jozef Becker, formerly of True West, Thin White Rope, and Miller’s prior band Alternate Learning, so it was far from a case of Miller scrounging up a bunch of scrubs for a tour.

And Across the Barrier of Sound bears out that everybody was fully engaged, whether it was for home recordings, in the studio, or live. Miller’s songwriting is consistently sharp, which is no surprise, as a fair amount of the contents here turned up on the first LP by The Loud Family, Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things. He’s also in fine voice (I’m just going to say that Ted Leo fans who don’t know Miller should do themselves a solid and check him out), which feeds right into one of this set’s strong points, a mess of covers, including The Beatles (“All My Loving”), The Nazz (“Forget All About It”), Eno (“Needle in the Camel’s Eye”), The Monkees (“The Door into Summer”), and on the CD, Big Star (“Back of a Car”), and Three O’Clock (“A Day in erotica”). Altogether, it’s so much more than a batch of leftovers. A-

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Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores for
March 2020, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases presently in stores for March, 2020. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Astroturf Noise, S/T (577) Here is one of 2020’s sweetest surprises. It delivers an unpredictable and consistently rich blend of jazz, Appalachian roots, and in the wildest turn into left field, electronics. Sam Day Harmet plays mandolin/fx, Sana Nagano violin/fx, and Zach Swanson string bass. Snappy dressers all, they welcome guests Billy Martin on percussion and Sarah Bernstein on violin. If you are familiar with those names, you’ll likely suspect that this is much nearer to the avant-garde of jazz than some lame-ass library commons area yawn fest, a scenario that extends to their approach to hill roots, as the overly polite aura of contempo Americana is nowhere to be found. I’ll just say that if you’ve dug Eugene Chadbourne’s style shifting over the decades, you’re going to love this one. A

Maria McKee, La Vita Nuova (Afar – Fire) Fucking wow. McKee is the former singer and guitarist for the ’80s country-rock outfit Lone Justice. That band continues to be occasionally tagged as cowpunk, which isn’t wrong, though they did undergo a pretty quick refinement that found me increasingly less interested. Well, she’s been involved with all sorts of things since, including solo work, but I’ll confess to familiarizing myself with little of it, and anyway, this is her first solo effort since 2007’s Late December. As the opening phrase of this review probably makes clear, La Vita Nuova is a doozy. An homage to Dante’s opus on unrequited love, it draws inspiration from John Cale, Scott Walker, and Bowie plus Brit poets Keats, Swinburne, and Blake (initially based in L.A., McKee has relocated to England), but lands securely in Brit-folk/ chamber pop territory. Already borderline excellent and very likely a grower. A-

Sunn Trio, Electric Esoterica (Twenty One Eight Two Recording Company) The world is fucking burning. Maybe you’ve noticed. The music of Sunn Trio is deeply tied to this circumstance, with particular attention to the Middle East. Although based in Phoenix (as is the 2182 label), this outfit, with the core member being guitarist Joel Robinson (at times, the group’s number has been significantly larger than three), dishes desert music that’s considerably (and ethically) world cognizant, as befitting a relationship with fellow Arizonans Alan and Richard Bishop (more on them directly below). The influences of free jazz, improv, psych, and punk are also noted and are integrated here in a manner that, due to obvious practice, is nearly seamless, but with an abundance of grit and danger. A beautiful thing. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICK: Sun City Girls, Live at the Sky Church – September 3rd, 2004 (Twenty One Eight Two Recording Company) This is the first new music from Sun City Girls since Funeral Mariachi back in 2010, but as the title conveys, it’s also archival, documenting a Seattle show from 2004. Charles Goucher, who was a third of Sun City Girls, passed in 2007, leaving brothers Richard and Alan Bishop to carry on in various modes, including as custodians of the group’s legacy. This album, which is accompanied by a DVD of the performance (that I have not watched), captures them at particular heights of psychedelia, antagonism and the perplexing. Note: this is Vol. 2 in the Mount Meru Anthology Series. Vol. 3 is directly above. Vols. 1-4 are being issued in a wooden box set in an edition of 75. A

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  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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