Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, August 2016

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: Ariana Delawari, Entelechy I & II (She King) The long-awaited second release from this socially engaged Afghan American multimedia artist (musician, film director, actress, photographer) offers an electronically based album in collaboration with Butchy Fuego and an accompanying disc of the same songs performed in tandem with tabla player Salar Nader. Impressive: Entelechy I’s rich warmth and lack of gimmickry, the non-quaint immediacy of its counterpart, the high standard of songwriting throughout, and the sturdy beauty of Delawari’s voice, particularly on Entelechy II. A

REISSUE PICK: Anthony Braxton, Three Compositions of New Jazz (Delmark) He debuted nine months prior on pianist Muhal Richard Abrams’ Levels and Degrees of Light (also for Delmark), but this ’68 LP was multi-instrumentalist Braxton’s first as “leader,” though that post-bop notion doesn’t really apply here; the thrill is in soaking up his unique vision from an early vantage point as Abrams, violinist Leroy Jenkins, and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith complete the group and everybody plays numerous instruments along the way. Braxton’s next one For Alto is an absolute beast, but this is still amazing. A

Aktion, Groove the Funk (PMG) The opening title track landed on the first volume of Wake Up You, the Now Again label’s superb pair of Nigerian rock retrospectives released earlier this summer, and this reissue of a ’75 LP originally on Clover Sound makes abundantly clear that Uchenna Ikonne didn’t just cherry pick the finest moment. The name on the sleeve provides an accurate description of Aktion’s modus operandi, but in their favor the contents aren’t overly slick and neither are they instrumental showoffs, instead maintaining a consistent ambiance with fuzz guitar and keyboard. B+

Atmosphere, Fishing Blues (Rhymesayers) Eight albums strong, the latest from rapper Slug and DJ-producer Ant is a whopping dose of cerebral but polished hip-hop, in fact a bit too polished; other than recurring explicitness the ride is quite accessible, and at nearly 70 minutes (and spread across six sides of vinyl) more than a little too long. However, the excessive length stops short of inflicting fatal damage; there are enough ideas, though many are derived from a string of guest appearances (DOOM, Kool Keith, Aesop Rock etc.), to keep this one afloat. B-

Big Eyes, Stake My Claim (Don Giovanni) Led by singer-songwriter-guitarist Kait Eldridge, Big Eyes offer a hooky scenario imbued with raw-edged guitar and propelled by an energetic rhythm section; for their third outing the catchiness is ample without faltering into monotony. Landing between gutsy power-pop and Ramones-like punk simplicity, the LP chalks up 23 minutes as the individual songs lack an ounce of excess fat; Eldridge has received a fair amount of comparisons to Joan Jett, and while that’s not off-base this is far from a copycat situation. Standouts: “Leave This Town” and “Curse of the Tides.” B+

Blo, Phase IV (PMG) Undeniably funky, this highly-regarded ’70s Nigerian unit is downright polished in comparison with Aktion or for that matter their own killer debut. Founding bassist Mike Odumosu had essentially departed by this point, replaced by keyboardist-singer Otu Udofa, and while guitarist Berkley Jones remains, his expansive Grateful Dead-like flights are basically gone as Blo migrated toward the dancefloor. The occasional synth flourishes are likeable, and “Music Makes You Happy” is a standout, but those valuing both sides of the afro-rock hyphen should search out Chapter One. B-

Peter Broderick, Partners (Erased Tapes) Broderick has extensive varied credits and many releases under his own name; his latest finds him at the piano bench and diving into Cage-ian chance operations with considerable success. Dice rolls aside, one shouldn’t assess this as an exercise in randomness, as Broderick offers five of his own compositions, one by Brigid Mae Power (whose excellent 2016 album he recorded) and “In a Landscape,” one of Cage’s more accessible works; he doesn’t equal Stephen Drury’s masterful version, but gets much closer than expected. Partners is a pleasant, stimulating LP. B+

Celibate Rifles, (S/T) aka Five Languages (Bang!) For lovers of Detroit proto-punk, Ramones and Radio Birdman-styled racket this Aussie unit consistently delivered sweet nectar. By ’84 and this sophomore LP they’d honed the melodic punkish energy found on ’82’s “But Jacques, the Fish?” EP and added elements roughly analogous to The Feelies (not a stretch as both bands covered Patti’s “Dancing Barefoot”); there are traces of the same on ’83’s Sideroxylon (also reissued by Bang!), but this set really hits a few peaks. Only 500 pressed, this has never been easy to come by in the USA, so don’t sleep. A-

Cool Ghouls, Animal Races (Empty Cellar) Third record from this San Fran-based bunch strikes these ears as quite nice when they’re fully embracing a merger of melodic rock and non-doofus psych moves; this occurs fairly often, with “Sundail” delivering an early highlight. They follow it with the attractively expansive “Time Capsule,” but much of the LP leans toward succinctness and shows off a substantial instrumental weave (including mellotron and pedal steel), slightly off-kilter pop sensibilities, and plentiful vocal harmonies. The faux country-rock stuff doesn’t thrill me, but it’s a small part of the equation. B+

Dear County, Low Country (pOprOck) They call it California Country Soul, and that’s not off-target, but just as illuminating is how founding members Arrica Rose (lead vocals, guitar) and Mark W. Lynn (lead guitar, vocals) met through the crossed paths of their prior punk bands. The nine songs on this debut do radiate a little like punkers in the clutches of roots discovery and with a particular Cali ’80s vibe; Rose has the pipes, the Soul borrowings come from a decidedly Southern angle, the band is solid and so is their Neil Young cover, but I’d like to hear more rawness in their overall execution. B

The Detroit Cobras, Mink, Rat or Rabbit and Life, Love and Leaving (Third Man) Originally released in ’98 and ’01, these LPs are glorious assemblages of garage-R&B-gal group cover swankiness. Initially peddled by Sympathy for the Record Industry, the contents always reminded me of a heaping dollop of Norton Records’ retro-focused mayhem sprinkled with a dash of Crypt’s thoroughly anti-psych (and pro-burlesque) approach to teen R&R. Chock full of undefeatable doozies like “Slummer (The Slum)” (originally by the 5 Royales) and “Stupidity” (by Solomon Burke), this is truly life-affirming stuff. / A

Eros and the Eschaton, Weight of Matter (Bar/None) Second album from a worthwhile group working in increasingly crowded territory, specifically neo-shoegaze, as led by founding members Kate Perdoni and Adam Hawkins. The label tags this as inspired by Neil Young and Crazy Horse, which obviously means guitars, though to their credit it takes a little while for this to become apparent; on opener “OMG I AM” they initially seem to be heading in a synth pop direction, and once the amps kick in the emphasis is on songs as much as texture. Nothing startling happens but the program goes down with precision. B

The Heaters, American Dream: The Portastudio Recordings (Omnivore) These ten retroactively released selections, which lean heavily but appealingly toward ’60s girl-groups and chiming guitar pop, were self-produced after two prior LPs yielded unsatisfying results. The idea of commercially releasing home recordings was far from the norm in 1983, so this stuff aged like wine in the vaults; the main quibble today is a few points where Theresa Robertson and sisters Maggie and Marcy Connell are a smidge too reverent. But y’know, that just might be the aftershock of a fresh run in with the Detroit Cobras. B+

Judy Henske & Jerry Yester, Farewell Aldebaran (Omnivore) Terribly overlooked on release in late ’69, this classic of folk-rock unconventionality is easily one of the jewels in the discography of Zappa’s Straight Records. Yester’s presence is felt throughout, and he shines on “One More Time,” but the real star is Henske; I especially dig the sideways baroque bombast of “St. Nicholas Hall” segueing into the sunshiny-overcast tug-of-war of “Three Ravens.” Difficult to find on vinyl for decades, this repress is very welcome, but keep in mind the five unreleased and worthwhile bonus cuts are CD only. A

The Moles, Tonight’s Music (Fire) Fans of Richard Davies’ previous work need not worry; after 20 years’ absence this basically picks up where The Moles left off. Lo-fi, alternately ragged and pop savvy, plus at 24 tracks deep and nearly 80 minutes purposely and purposefully too long (obviously he’d amassed some songs), this should provide major strokes to those holding Drag City-era Pavement, Scat-period Guided by Voices, and the Homestead albums of Sebadoh (Bob Fay contributes here) in high regard. Sometimes compared to The Chills, on “Stray Dog” Davies nods to Tall Dwarfs. Welcome back. A-

MX-80 Sound, Out of the Tunnel and Crowd Control (Ship to Shore PhonoCo.) Reissues of this gloriously difficult to pigeonhole San Francisco by way of Bloomington, IN outfit’s two flat-out brilliant albums for Ralph. 1980’s Out of the Tunnel is just slightly the better of the two, combining art and pop with a racket so intense and well controlled that they were sometimes likened to heavy metal, which might not seem unusual until one soaks up the prominent saxophone playing. ’81’s Crowd Control finds them tackling the themes to De Palma’s Sisters and Carpenter’s Halloween (not on the original LP), and is a treat. / A

Nomad Stones, (S/T) (Brutal Panda) “Dirty Boots and a Friend Named Goo” is the second track on this brief debut, and it asks the question: “what happened to my Sonic Youth?” It’s a pretty good indicator of exactly where this Boston trio’s musical heart beats, though they don’t sound like SY but rather specialize in chunky riff velocity with flashes of post-hardcore, noise-rock, and larger doses of melodic punk on display in “Heartbeat.” Disappointingly, that’s not a Wire cover; these guys are ultimately too orthodox for such a task, and by extension it’s kinda difficult to get excited over this platter. B-

Omni, Deluxe (Trouble in Mind) This debut from an aspiring dance-punky Atlanta band came out a while back but kept getting set aside; the belated acquaintance reveals nothing particularly groundbreaking going on, but more in their favor is a persistent dodging of the formulaic. The songs’ hard-edged angularity occasionally recalls the contents of obscure late ’70s-early ’80s art-punk 45s, and along the way there are attitudinal flare-ups that can conjure visions of scarves and leather. It’s like they can’t decide if they should cut class or stay after for extra credit. Appealingly spiky guitar throughout. B+

Piano Magic, Disaffected (Saint Marie) As the label is named after one of the group’s songs, this first time on vinyl reissue has found a fitting home. Formed in mid-’90s London, Piano Magic was a prolific unit who played a solid role in the whole post-rock indie-electronica shebang, though they were sometimes undervalued particularly on their home turf where their records were apparently ignored (even as two were released by 4AD); by this album’s ’05 release they were confident and highly effective. Inspirational lyric: “all I need is love and music/ Love and music gets me by.” A-

The Super Super Blues Band, (Jackpot) The name awarded to this congregation of Chicago blues and R&R mainstays Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Bo Diddley, simultaneously hyperbolic and generic, is essentially the inverse of the subpar, ill-conceived contents they put down on tape; it’s as if Chess realized the typical record store browser might suspect something was amiss, so they threw in the redundant adjective out of desperation. This is actually the follow-up to ’67’s Super Blues, and it’s worse, mainly because in replacing Little Walter, Wolf hogs the spotlight unrepentantly. For completists only. C-

Turnip King, Laika (Fire Talk) As mentioned above, the sounds of shoegaze are currently plentiful, probably too much so, but this Sea Cliff, NY four piece integrate their layered guitar environments with the noisier and heavier aspects of ’90s indie rock. Sure, this is no startling combination, but Turnip King manage it in a non-hackneyed manner, and along the way dish out impressively executed dynamic shifts with attention paid to speedier tempos. The mixed gender vocals of Cal Fish and Lucia Arias are also a plus, as is the tendency to spread out; all but one of the songs exceeds five minutes. B+

Velvet Crush, Pre-Teen Symphonies (Omnivore) Short and sweet, this CD collects eight demos this reliably terrific Rhode Island pop-rock unit recorded with Mitch Easter on the way to their ’94 album Teenage Symphonies to God, and pairs them with eight more contemporaneous live songs from Chicago’s Cabaret Metro featuring the estimable Tommy Keene on guitar and a stellar closing cover of 20/20’s “Remember the Lightning.” This isn’t the place to begin with this band’s stuff, but it’s hard to imagine anybody who still spins their discs with regularity wouldn’t want this one within arm’s reach. A-

T-Bone Walker, T-Bone Blues (Rumble) Like many blues LPs from the ’50s-’60s, this is a comp, but its sessions were arranged by Atlantic, and the results cohere exceptionally well and provide an outstanding look into an important (and at this juncture perhaps underrated) genre figure; seldom has earthiness and the urbane blended so seamlessly as on Walker’s prime sides; blues nuts will obviously require a multi-disc collection of the guy’s stuff, but for vinyl aficionados looking for an in, this is hard to beat; “Two Bones and a Pick” features Walker, R.S. Rankin, and Barney Kessel and it smokes. A

Robert Pete Williams, Louisiana Blues (4 Men with Beards) Originally released by Takoma in 1966, this LP is a prime example of everything that was right about the original rediscovery blues boom. With nary a hint of the exploitative, the focus is on a musician who’d overcome significant adversity with talent yet to decline, and just as importantly was the purveyor of a highly individualistic style. Nobody else sounds like Williams; he can initially impact the ear as rough and disjointed, but after time spent is revealed as multifaceted and beautifully free in his raw urgency. Maybe not his best, but it’s very close. A

Thalia Zedek Band, Eve (Thrill Jockey) Singer-songwriter-guitarist Zedek has been at it since the early ’80s as part of Dangerous Birds, Uzi, Live Skull, Come, and from 2001 under her own name; Eve documents a return to the studio with familiar collaborators including violist David Michael Curry and pianist Mel Lederman, their instruments meshing very effectively with the maturation of voice and the assuredness of her playing. Although the contents move like an organic band effort (check out standout “Northwest Branch”) this is very much Zedek’s show, a work of continued growth with no signs of fatigue. A-

John Zorn, Naked City (1972) By LP two Naked City was the band’s name, but here Zorn was the de facto leader as the album’s title signified a neo-noir aesthetic on horse pills cut with nods to various soundtrack maestros (Morricone, Goldsmith, Mancini, Mandel, Barry etc.) and a loving allegiance to the operational tactics of the great Warner Bros cartoon kingpin Carl Stalling. The personnel lacked a weak link; Zorn (alto), Bill Frisell (guitar), Fred Frith (bass), Joey Baron (drums), Wayne Horvitz (keys), and Yamatsuka Eye (spazz vox) delivered a major head-spinner as the 20th entered the homestretch. A

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