Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, May 2016

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

NEW PICK | Those Pretty Wrongs, s/t (Ardent/Burger) Comprised of Jody Stephens of Big Star and Luther Russell of The Freewheelers, this full-length debut handily quashes any fears over middling nostalgia gestures. Instead, its ten songs shape a highly satisfying excursion into the sort of elevated guitar-pop that just as often reminds these ears of ‘80s college radio as it is does Big Star. Of course the sounds of Reagan-era Athens and Hoboken (and elsewhere) were deeply impacted by Stephens’ former band, so the breadth is no shocker. The goosebumps-inducing harmonies of closer “The Heart” are sublime. A-

REISSUE PICK | Sheila Jordan, Portrait of Sheila (Blue Note) Alfred Lion’s label hardly ever cut LPs by vocalists, a smart decision that only adds allure to this 1963 date, Jordan’s debut as leader and an utter masterpiece resurrected in this year’s Blue Note reissue slate (the others are below). While the group assembled, namely guitarist Barry Galbraith, bassist Steve Swallow, and drummer Denzel Best, deserve much praise, it’s the leader’s composed individuality as she instills freshness into a dozen selections, many of them standards, that endures as such a treat, transcending cliché for nearly 40 minutes. A+

B Boys, “No Worried Mind” (Captured Tracks) Released in March, this Brooklyn unit’s 8-song debut makes a strong enough impression to warrant an addendum, though one shouldn’t get the impression this tidy plunge into late ‘70s art punk is a mindblower. It is pretty refreshing however, in part because B Boys (Brooklyn Boys? Not a great handle) don’t register as especially pleased with themselves; instead, it just seems Chairs Missing bowled them over so heavily they had no choice but to start a band. B

Blue Jeans, Songs Are Easy (Jigsaw) Formerly Santa Monica Swim and Dive Club, these ’60s-leaning co-ed indie poppers feature Tim Sendra of ’90s act Veronica Lake. Fred Thomas of Saturday Looks Good to Me produced/ lent instrumentation and ex-Black Tambourine/ Velocity Girl Archie Moore engineered, so this is quite the All-Star affair; a few spots recall the elevated pop science of Thomas’ oft-lauded outfit, particularly when bassist Heather Phares is singing, but the stated influences of Del Shannon, The Modern Lovers, and The Go-Betweens (amongst others) register as more than name-dropping. B+

Bright Curse, Before the Shore (HeviSike) Full-length debut from a London-based trio specializing in ’70s-styled hard rock bombast with psychedelic sludge/ doom elements. Across seven tracks in 43 minutes Romain Daut sings a whole fucking lot, but he also plays a mean guitar, and if the trio (Zacharie Mizzi on drums, Max Ternebring on bass) toys with the conventions of a bygone era right down to the organ strains of “Northern Sky,” they do a good job avoiding boneheaded maneuvers. A few lags weaken the whole, but this is partially offset by a rousing finale. B

Cherubs, “Fist in the Air” (Brutal Panda) These ’90s Austin noise rockers reunited for an LP last year; this 2×45 follow-up has been out for a couple of months but made my acquaintance only recently so here it is. Originally part of Butthole Surfer King Coffey’s Trance Syndicate label, I recall Cherubs as twisted in that particularly Texan manner; happily, this new stuff, produced by Mike McCarthy and including remixes of the title track by $hit and $hine and Les Savy Fav’s Tim Harrington, retains a fair amount of the weirdness of yore and lacks the mercantile stench too many reunions waft from the stereo. B+

Haybaby, “Blood Harvest” (Tiny Engines) Their debut is pretty solid but this cassette EP is even better and puts them on the path to a potentially knockout second full-length. The Pixies vibe plateaus on “What It Is”; elsewhere it gets slyly sharpened to flaunt momentary parallels to the atmosphere The Breeders conjured up on their eternally wonderful Pod; it’s a connection enhanced by the increasingly distinctive vocals of Leslie Hong. She especially stands out on “Joke/ Rope.” B+

Holy Ghost!, “Crime Cutz EP” (DFA) The opener has some cool ’80s Euro-trash soundtrack moments, but far too much of what follows just connects as uninspired cherry-picking of predictable tropes. While I’m admittedly not in the core audience for the sound on offer here, when this stuff is assembled well it can provide a real physical/ emotional charge. Instead of dance club burners or car stereo killers, this just registers as a dilution. C+

Damir Imamović’s Sevdah Takht, Dvojka (Glitterbeat) Born in Sarajevo, Imamović is a third generation master of sevdah, a folk music from Bosnia and Herzegovina. He sings and plays the tambur as his quartet features electric bass, percussion, and violin; they transcend language through melodicism, rhythmic heat, and emotional depth. Glitterbeat explains that Dvojka honors tradition by striking out from the conventional, therefore remaining true to the label’s mission for global sounds, but to this relative sevdah novice, the 11 tracks simply add up to a vibrant sum. A-

Paul Kelly, Seven Sonnets & a Song (Cooking Vinyl) Aussie Kelly has been at it in various scenarios for decades, and some older North American heads may remember him as the leader of the Messengers. like a lot of experienced artists creeping up in years Kelly’s turned to the Bard, setting his writing to music with swell results. Best moments: “Sonnets 44 and 45” and “O Mistress Mine (Clown’s Song from Twelfth Night),” which recall Vic Chesnutt, and “My True Love Hath My Heart,” a sonnet by Shakespeare contemporary Sir Philip Sidney sung by Vika Bull. My only complaint is that it’s so short. Encore! A-

Blue Mitchell, The Thing to Do (Blue Note) Trumpeter Mitchell had extensive experience as leader for Riverside prior to this ’64 date, so the palpable confidence throughout this textbook Blue Note hard-bop gem should be no surprise. Essentially an alteration of pianist’s Horace Silver’s group, Mitchell retained cohorts Junior Cook on tenor and Gene Taylor on bass as Al Foster took over for Roy Brooks on drums and a young Chick Corea turns in a superb performance at the piano. The standouts are the opening “Fungii Mama” and the extended “Step Lightly,” but there’s not a misstep to be found here. A

Big John Patton, Let ‘Em Roll (Blue Note) Patton is generally synopsized as a soul-jazz organist, and while accurate the guy was also pretty progressive; later on he provided James Blood Ulmer with his recording debut and played with John Zorn. This ’65 LP was his fifth as leader and his best since Blue John; it’s got his regular sidekick Grant Green on guitar, Otis Finch on drums and most interestingly for an organ session Bobby Hutcherson on vibes. Other than a slight qualitative dip due to a reading of “The Shadow of Your Smile,” this is a terrific ride. Green and Patton absolutely nail it on album standout “Latona.” A-

Ike Quebec, Blue and Sentimental (Blue Note) A lot of ballad focused records end up about as appealing as leaning on a lamppost in the rain while trying to light a damp cigarette, but a handful of attributes turn this one into a winner. For starters, as per the title, the ballads are alternated with the blues, and improving this situation is the presence of Blue Note MVP Grant Green in an all-around strong band. They’re led by Quebec, whose tone on tenor retains an edge in the midst of the romantic warmth. He also plays a little piano and lends sturdy original compositions to the best of his post-comeback LPs. A

Sam Rivers, Fuchsia Swing Song (Blue Note) Considering the size and richness of Rivers’ discography, he might be the most underappreciated of the major New Thing figures. Having just exited the quintet of Miles Davis after touring Japan, the saxophonist proceeded to his debut session as leader with his Davis bandmates Ron Carter on bass and Tony Williams on drums, filling out the lineup with the splendid pianist Jaki Byard. The result is a magnificent “inside-outside” album, searching but still very much tied to post-bop and blues sensibilities; it’s the perfect place for the Rivers newbie to begin. A

Pat Todd & the Rankoutsiders, Blood and Treasure (Hound Gawd!) As lead singer for Los Angeles’ terribly underrated and long defunct Lazy Cowgirls, Pat Todd made a strong case for the undying relevance of pre-hardcore punk rock. Far from the only cat to deeply embrace rootsy R&R as the birthdays add up, his Rankoutsiders do it better most and have been at it now for roughly a decade; what seem like lesser songs have a way of turning into winners and folks into The Blasters, The Flesh Eaters, and Todd’s former band should inspect the contents of this one. B+

Used Cassettes, Rock and Rills (Magic Strawberry Sound) Based in Seoul South Korea with members hailing from South Africa, Canada, and Detroit, the main issue here is whether or not this serving of garage punk lives up to their atypical expat background. Well yes, but don’t get the notion Used Cassettes reach a Monks level of goodness. On the other hand, singer Danny Arens’ swagger can be traced back to Lou, the playing is energetic throughout, and the songs consistently avoid the generic. B+

V/A, Junjo Presents: Wins the World Cup and Linval Presents: Space Invaders (Greensleeves) Both of these ’81-’82 albums were originally credited to dub kingpin Scientist, but the expansion of each to include an extra disc of the vocal originals finds Greensleeves revamping the packaging of both to instead spotlight producers Henry “Junjo” Lawes and Linval Thompson. The results are a massive helping of goodness, with the sources a welcome supplement. Scientist is still here of course as are his assistants for both albums the Roots Radics, but I can’t help feeling kinda bad for the guy. A-/ A-

Wrong, s/t (Relapse) Debut LP from a Miami band blending metal and hardcore elements into what Relapse describe as heavy noise rock; thankfully there isn’t a terrible surplus of “tough guy” ambiance here, though I’m sure the testosterone gets pretty thick at the front of the stage when these dudes play out. The comparisons to Helmet and Unsane occasionally shine through, and if they don’t equal those reference points, it’s early yet. B

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