Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, January 2017

The TVD Record Store Club’s look at the brand new wax presently in stores for January, 2017. 

NEW RELEASE PICKS, Three from OSR: Having amassed 80+ releases, this Vermont-based label run by Zack Phillips is winding down operations as we enter 2017. Most OSR releases have seen physical manifestation via cassette and CD, but the discography’s final triptych arrives on wax, a circumstance helping to slightly assuage the sadness brought on by the imprint’s demise. As all are quite worthy, let’s cast the spotlight on the whole bunch…

Ruth Garbus & Friends, “Hello Everybody” Garbus’ 2014 “Joule” EP, issued on vinyl by OSR, stands as a concise psych-folk gem. A song shorter, a minute longer, and ultimately not quite as strong, this follow-up finds Garbus cussing more as she continues to radiate a decidedly late ’80s-early ’90s feel. To elaborate, the opening title track puts me in a Shimmy Disc frame of mind, perhaps a bit like Lida Husik under the influence of early King Missile, but maybe the disc’s vinyl mastering by Kramer at Noise Miami has triggered this association. Folks into Beck’s early folky stuff should give this one a whirl. A-

Black Bananas, “Spydr Brain” b/w “Frozen Margaritaz,” Having spun out of Jennifer Herrema’s post-Royal Trux outfit RTX, Black Bananas have been at it for a while now. “Spydr Brain” connects like an attempt by Kim Gordon to stitch the humid expansiveness of electric Miles to the boom-box ready qualities of early ’80s electro, which is a sweet ride. The flip is a bit nearer to Sly and G. Clinton, though Herrema’s addled vocals and zesty xaphoon blowing maintain the warped atmosphere. The byproduct of an established four-piece lineup, both tracks thrive on cohesion amongst the strangeness. A-

Hartley C. White, Something Better, Born in Kingston Jamaica and a resident of Corona Queens, NY since the ’80s, White had conceived and refined his sui generis Who-pa-zoo-tic Music (a concept described as stemming from the “broken rhythm” of Bruce Lee’s jeet kune do) on a bunch of self-released albums, songs from which comprised OSR’s previous This Is Not What You Expect comp. If this strikes one as an “outsider” proposition, that’s not exactly true; Something Better is on the fringe but it’s also remarkably organized, its brokenness intentional. “Blues for Roy Buchanan” is a highlight. B+

REISSUE PICKS: Erasmo Carlos, Erasmo Carlos E Os Tremendões, Carlos, ERASMO, and Sonhos E Memórias 1941-1972 (Light in the Attic) A teen pop star who played a major role in Música Popular Brasileira, Carlos has been somewhat undersung globally; this is the first time these LPs, each one better than the last, have been available outside of Brazil. Detailing the singer-songwriter’s creative growth, ’70’s Erasmo Carlos E Os Tremendões is erudite, frequently symphonic pop, ’71’s Carlos, ERASMO plunges into Tropicalia, and ’72’s Sonhos E Memórias attains an assured bossa nova-infused peak. B+/ A-/ A

AK Musick, S/T (Mental Experience) Swell first time reissue of a German experimental-avant improvisational artifact from ’72 initially released in a private edition of 150. Although there is a tangible relationship to free jazz (ensemble member Hans Kumpf later recorded with noted clarinetist Perry Robinson), the path traveled here navigates the Euro free improv zone with infrequent jaunts into compositional form reminiscent of the 20th century avant-classical masters. Therefore, not as purely abstract as Iskra 1903; but if that name rings a bell, it’s basically a cinch you’ll want to hear this. B+

Gaye Su Akyol, Hologram İmparatorluğu (Glitterbeat) Opener “Hologram” combines the melodic and rhythmic thrust of Akyol’s native Turkey, fabulous cinematic car chase string-sweep crescendos, deft tempo changes, and a mood enhanced with touches of Western pop-rock. In keeping with Glitterbeat’s modus operandi, this is a sharp blend of tradition and contemporaneous as the lyrics explore the political and personal, situating Akyol as a descendant of Turkey’s Selda Bağcan. Intermittent post-Morricone guitar lines extend the movie-like aura; Akyol is in strong voice throughout. B+

Allo Darlin, “Hymn on the 45” b/w “Wanderlust” (Fortuna Pop!) A consistently rewarding London-based twee pop unit says farewell. Twee but not skeletal, they’ve honed a full-bodied sound (within genre parameters, of course) across three LPs placing them in the general vicinity of Belle and Sebastian and more so Camera Obscura. Knowledge of their end mingles a touch of ache into the organ swells, crisp guitar licks, and vocal harmony of the A-side as horns add the right amount of panache. Appropriate for the genre and this goodbye, the flip is about remembering; Elizabeth Morris’ singing ices the cake. A-

The Animals at Night, S/T (Self Center) This is the fifth release from the Seattle-based project of Graig Markel, its 10 ambient-experimental electronic tracks varied but cohesive and at just short of 33 minutes, succinct. The self-imposed guidelines for this release are: strictly modular (and in some cases hand-built) synthesizers, live mono recording, no editing and no overdubs. That’s a lot of rules, but they don’t hinder the proceedings, and if not innovative the drift, surges, glitches, and loops more importantly eschew any traces of the old-hat. Limited to 100 CDs and 30 vinyl 10-inches, so be swift. B+

Beninghove’s Hangmen, ZOHOVE: Beninghove’s Hangmen Play Led Zeppelin (Very Special Recordings) Prior to listening it was hard to shake images of an 11AM slot on the opening day of a lightly attended jam-band-centric summer festival, but the pressing play complicates that preconception via experimental shading (guitarists Eyal Maoz and Dane Johnson have played with John Zorn and trombonist Rick Parker with Tim Berne) and an unflagging emphasis on hard rocking and clamor, much of it derived from Bryan Beninghove’s sax. A real surprise available only on cassette and digital. A-

Jakob Bro Thomas Morgan Joey Baron, Streams (ECM) Drummer Baron takes the place of Jon Christensen from Bro’s earlier ECM trio outing Gefion, the change altering the atmospheric Danish guitarist’s concept, though not radically. It’s hard to not think of Bill Frisell when listening to Bro, but the similarity isn’t a blatant one, as the two have previously recorded together. A part of Bro’s distinct appeal is a tangible Scandinavian folkiness enhanced here by two versions of the waltz “Heroines.” Baron and bassist Morgan excel on “Full Moon Europa.” Streams is exemplary wintertime music. A-

Craneium, Explore the Void (Ripple) All’s not atmospheric in the Nordic regions, as this Finnish stoner four-piece has harnessed a surplus of raw guitar and rhythmic pummel; on opener “Imperial Duster” they’re aptly described as nasty. Craneium also wield impressive dynamics and if the songs aren’t groundbreakers neither are they undone by staleness of execution. The strum, racket, and bombast of the nine minute “Ceasing to Exist” is almost as cool as its title. The CD has two bonus tracks, “Meet on Mars” and “Holy Oath”; both are found on a 7-inch that’s still available and worth the trouble. B+

Art Farmer/Jim Hall, Big Blues (ORG/ADA) Originally from ’79 on the CTI label, Big Blues is as much about the musical aims of Creed Taylor as it is a reunion of its estimable co-leaders; therefore, it’s a letdown. Flugelhornist Farmer and guitarist Hall sound fine, sometimes very fine when at the fore (as on opener “Whisper Not”), but Taylor’s proto-smooth jazz sensibility comes to dominate the proceedings. Plus, Steve Gadd’s drumming is too busy, Michael Moore’s bass personifies the instrument’s spongy sound on dozens of ‘80s recordings, and Mike Mainieri’s vibes underline the instrument’s status as overrated. C+

Group Titan, Anatolian Break Dance (Pharaway Sounds) The work of an anonymous “ad-hoc” studio assemblage, this ’80s Turkish cash-in falls considerably and unsurprisingly short of its titular promise; the No Wave disco-ish bassline at the start of “Çingeneler Maşa Yapar Satarlar” does briefly instill false hope, and the disappointment gets tempered by flashes of instrumental weirdness both period specific (loads of sci-fi drum-pad effects) and non (beaucoup guitar solos); “Adanali Funk” resembles a soundtrack to a video game featuring an aerobics class held inside an Istanbul shopping mall. B

Lee Hazlewood, 13 (Light in the Attic) Originally, this was a completed but never pressed solo effort by Lee protégé Larry Marks, but after Hazlewood moved to Sweden he sheered the vocals off the tapes and added his own. That singular throat mingling with music that’s part Vegas and part soul review (with intermittent injections of rock guitar) is unlike anything else in the man’s discography, but partly due to Hazlewood’s songwriting, it works. The Marks-sung numbers tacked onto the end provide an interesting footnote, though his version of “Cold Hard Times” pales next to Lee’s on Cowboy in Sweden. B+

Iron Butterfly, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (Rhino) Once tagged as a proto-metal outfit, these guys have been frequently downgraded as excessive and even kinda dumb. Allow me to disagree. Soaking up this iconic sophomore effort alongside solid debut Heavy and underrated third outing Ball, only their most famous song is fairly assessed as self-indulgent; more prevalent is the influence of R&B and an inclination for crooning, aspects lumping them in with hundreds of other ’60s bands. Side one here, with “My Mirage” excepted, is a bit underwhelming. The flip might be too long, but its acid-rock guitar is still a treat. B+

Antonio Carlos Jobim, Stone Flower (ORG/ADA) In fairness, Creed Taylor accrued numerous positives in his long career, e.g. his early days at the Bethlehem label, his signing John Coltrane to Impulse, and his work at Verve, where he helped instigate the bossa nova craze. Circa 1970 the mania for Brazil was diminished yet not so far-off to be considered a stylistic relic, and this early CTI 6000 series entry was a sizable hit. That’s no shock given the intentions of Taylor, Jobim, and bossa nova in general, but Stone Flower is tangibly ambitious inside its commerciality while being as amiable as one would expect. B+

Barış Manço & Kurtalan Ekspres, Estağfurullah… Ne Haddimize! (Pharaway Sounds) Group Titan remain anonymous, but Barış Manço was a Turkish pop star. This reissue, fittingly described by the label as prog-pop-folk, shares with Group Titan the shadings of its decade of origin, 1983 to be exact. This does temper the appeal, but Pharaway Sounds is also correct in calling this a grower, and it’s not completely zeroed in on its period of origin, with “Aman Yavas! Aheste” a funky disco groover. The chiming pop glide of “Eski Bir Fincan,” with its tasty guitar licks and Manço’s relaxed vocal, currently stands out. B

Night Beats, Fuzz Club Session (Fuzz Club) This Seattle band has hacked out a solid hunk of garage-psych these last few years but the seven songs offered here are more stripped-down by design as they kick off the label’s Fuzz Club Session series. Peddlers will never cease in claiming garage specimens as locating a fountain of originality in a desert of nostalgia, but listeners will recognize that as hogwash. The key is inspiration and smarts in execution, and this live in the studio affair culling five from Who Sold My Generation, one from Sonic Bloom, and a nifty Diddley cover stresses the Night Beats’ handle on both. B+

Jeremy Quick, Sketches of America (Self-released) Jazz guitar specialist Quick was born in Boston and studied at Berklee College of Music but was raised in rural Montana, so the musical objective as outlined by this debut studio album’s title is considerably broader than the big city bandstands often associated with jazz guitar trios (the lineup is filled out with Jungho Kang on drums and Ben Melvin on bass); for evidence check out the serene prettiness of “First Snow.” Quick plays clean but not fleet a la ’60s Blue Note, and his fusion-ish solo in “Just Groove,” nearer to Fripp than McLaughlin, is a nice surprise. B+

OST, Jackie (Milan) Pablo Larraín’s film concerning Jackie Kennedy’s life immediately following the assassination of her husband hasn’t made it to my neck of the woods yet, mainly because it reportedly falls on the unconventional side of the biopic spectrum. Mica Levi’s score, which is orchestral but with vibrancy and moments of tension illuminating her experimental side, backs up claims of Jackie’s unusualness, though nothing gets as wild as the ’70s De Palma-esque queasiness she ladled onto Under the Skin’s OST; befitting this subject, she’s consistently reserved. “Walk to the Capitol” stands out. B+

Christine Ott, Tabu (Gizeh) It’s been a while, but I have seen Tabu, the 1931 film co-directed by F.W. Murnau and Robert Flaherty, and recall it as a masterpiece. Composer and multi-instrumentalist Ott has performed this alternate soundtrack (the OST is by composer Hugo Riesenfeld under Murnau’s supervision) as a ciné-concert throughout France and Europe, and it’s strong enough that I’m tempted to grab Eureka’s recent Blu-Ray for the full synched-up experience. Modern scores to silent films can be a tricky biz, but Ott (on piano, Ondes Martenot and percussion) is respectful but not tentative. A-

Ken Schaphorst Big Band, How to Say Goodbye (JCA) Schaphorst and his killer band (e.g. Uri Caine and Ralph Alessi) stay largely inside here, which is no fault as the writing is consistently engaging and the soloing strong throughout; I did say largely, as Michael Thomas’ alto workout in “Amnesia” rubs up against the New Thing. But the composer-bandleader-educator regularly eludes trad-ism, playing Fender Rhodes (and trumpet) and offering pieces inspired by African Mbira music. Also included are tributes to Schaphorst’s mentors Herb Pomeroy and Bob Brookmeyer and fleeting hints of Mingus. Cool. A-

Super Hi-Fi, Super Hi-Fi Plays Nirvana (Very Special Recordings) This inspired even more dubiousness than the Zep covers tape reviewed above, but as Super Hi-Fi shares bassist Ezra Gale and trombonist Rick Parker with Beninghove’s Hangmen, the results are in the same ballpark of quality. Consisting of guitar (Jon Lipscomb), bass and drums (Madhu Siddappa) augmented by dual ‘bones (Alex Asher flanking Parker), they infuse six tunes from Nirvana’s book and one original tribute with dub flavor, thankfully avoiding the cheesy for deep and weird territory. Like ZOHOVE, this is cassette and digital only. B+

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