Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, June 2016

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: Maarja Nuut, Una Meeles (In the Hold of a Dream) (Self-released) The second full-length effort and first to get a physical pressing (thus far only on CD, unfortunately) from this Estonian fiddler and vocalist is an absolute knockout, interweaving folk traditions and elements of modernity without undercutting roots verve or faltering to the conservative. Utilizing electronics to loop and layer sounds in a manner destined to please fans of the eternal drone, Nuut’s voice is as substantial as it is sweet and her masterful violin playing is an edgy delight. A

REISSUE PICK: Howlin’ Wolf, (S/T) aka The Rockin’ Chair Album (Rumble) This isn’t Wolf at his wildest; for that search out Rounder’s Cadillac Daddy or Bear Family’s two Sun Records volumes, but the man remained a feral presence throughout his tenure at Chess and this is a spectacular survey of his work for the label. Wolf’s first album Moanin’ in the Moonlight highlights the transition from Memphis to Chicago (and is also essential), but this follow-up (compiled in ’62 from singles) effectively shows why Chester Burnett was one of the Windy City’s twin blues titans. Great playing, great songs, and that voice A+

Adam & the Ants, Kings of the Wild Frontier (Legacy) For some the Ants’ story ends with the underrated Dirk Wears White Socks, but of course it’s not so simple. Legacy is peddling a deluxe LP/CD/DVD edition alongside a straight vinyl reissue that’s more sensible for newbies; certain Animal Collective fans will find it a revelation. Sure, much of this is varying shades of goofy but it’s largely affably so; amid flashes of broken ground I really like Marco Perroni’s blatant Link Wray grab in “Killer in the Home.” The bad news is the album runs low on gas, a problem complicated by late miscalculation “Jolly Roger.” B

Alternative TV, The Image Has Cracked (Radiation Deluxe) A truly fascinating record from one of the UK class of ’77’s finest; opening with guest Jools Holland on proggy Moog synth, “Alternatives” is nearly ten minutes of audio vérité from a wild live gig; amid the contentiousness and rambunctious one can easily hear the fashion tourists losing interest. This has its share of straight-up classics, however; the chunky riffing of “Action Time Vision,” a cover of Zappa’s “Why Don’t You Do Me Right,” the robustly post-punkish “Still Life,” Jools’ piano on “Viva La Rock N’ Roll,” and more. A

Barbecue Bob, Rough Guide to Barbecue Bob (World Music Network) The CD has 24 tracks, the LP half that with an accompanying download. While the recording career of Robert Hicks was relatively concise (’27-’31, cut short by his death), he was busy in that timeframe as an impressively varied example of the Piedmont blues. This collection offers over a third of his output in robust but accessible voice and strong audio; for those worried over the cover pic of Bob in chef’s hat and apron, the gimmick doesn’t detract from the songs. Hokum is present, so prepare thyself for whoppers like “Chocolate to the Bone.” A

Blues Magoos, The Mercury Singles (1966-1968) (Sundazed) They debuted with a cool 45 for Verve Folkways in ’66 and regrouped on ABC in ’69 for a pair of unsurprisingly weak albums, but this Bronx-based garage-psych troop’s Mercury stuff is really where it’s at; those owning their three LPs for the label already have the majority of what’s here, the exceptions being the “experimental” B-side “Dante’s Inferno” and a Christmas single (meh). For folks without the albums this collection pleasantly avoids some of the lesser material, though the lack of depth still occasionally skirts the fringes. B+

Casket Girls, The Night Machines (Graveface) I’m not the first to make the observation, but the general electro leaning environs offered here by Ryan Graveface (formerly of Black Moth Super Rainbow) aren’t always the best vehicle to maximize the potential of the Greene sisters Elsa and Phaedra. He in no way ruins the proceedings, but the sense of strangeness throughout their third album ends up more inferred than fully realized; after a few listens this begins to coalesce into its own appeal, and much of this can be ranked as dream-pop with a stronger than normal ‘60s bent. B

Close Lobsters, “Under London Skies” b/w “Wander Epic Part II” (Shelflife) Worthwhile double dose of guitar-infused ache from these seemingly indestructible founts of indie pop; the A-side is enhanced by some Spector-beat and a look-back-in-melancholy-and-fondness lyrical stance, while the flip complements the mood with a generous anthemic instrumental passage. Both tunes spread out nicely and would fit very well on the soundtrack to a bittersweet coming of age flick, just in case anybody’s thinking about making one. A-

Loren Connors, “The Departing of a Dream, Vol. V” (Family Vineyard) The previous installment in this series, which was initially conceived as a loose tribute to Miles Davis’ “He Loved Him Madly,” came ten years ago on the Connors’ retrospective Night Through: Singles & Collected Works 1976-2004. The rekindling is a 10-inch in an edition of 500, an appropriate number for this fringe “avant-blues” guitar legend. The two side-long tracks (“Part One” and “Part Two”) will frustrate those desiring a tangible line back to Davis, but for Connors’ fans this abstract yet intermittently soothing work should satisfy. A-

Cough, Still They Pray (Relapse) Third full-length from these Richmond, VA-based sludge-doom monsters; their brand of heaviness, and this is plenty heavy, comes with an unsurprisingly psychedelic edge, but this is mostly composed of lengthy mauling grooves. The majority are rendered slowly but don’t sink too deeply into the molasses, which isn’t a plus or a minus. Definitely a positive are vocals that are mixed well and display some range in the apocalyptic anguish; the tempos move around a bit amid solid soloing, ample thickness and lively drumming (in this context, of course). Odd acoustic finale. B+

Fat Mattress, (S/T) (Radiation Deluxe) Hendrix Experience bass man Noel Redding’s late ’60s side band. Swapping out four strings for six, he shares vocal duties in a folk-rocking endeavor that has doubtlessly pleased buffs of Tull and Traffic; Chris Wood’s flute even makes a brief appearance. Some Band-ish action emerges as well, but the highpoints are the country-rock/ Beatles-psych blend “I Don’t Mind” and the more forthrightly psych-pop closing flight “How Can I Live?” Lesser tracks are also present, but fans of the era unfazed by the song title “Magic Forest” shouldn’t hesitate to proceed. B+

Gozu, Revival (Ripple) Titles like “Lorenzo Llamas” (snort), “By Mennen,” and “Tin Chicken” could give a false impression of this Beantown act as a bunch of yukmeisters, but they are accurately portrayed as pretty straightforward stoner rock, and with three albums hoisted by their collective suspenders they’ve got the moves basically down pat. Overall, I’m neither especially impressed or underwhelmed; sometimes the gruff wailing of singer Marc Gaffney works for me and at other times, specifically near the end of “By Mennen,” it definitely doesn’t. B-

Gruesome, “Dimensions of Horror” (Relapse) Dedicated to keeping the flame of Death (and their ‘80s ilk) alive, this is a half-dozen belches of unadulterated noxiousness recorded in sunny Orlando for extra authenticity. Although far from an expert in the genre (death metal, don’tcha know), I’m pretty impressed with the dynamic on display here; their collective technical ability is unquestionable, and as an exercise in form as homage this has surprisingly strong legs to stand on its own. I also like the EP approach (no wearing out of the welcome, dig?), the crisp production and the Ed Repka cover art. A-

Guru Guru, UFO (Play Loud Productions) Apparently the first authorized reissue of this 1970 Krautrock whammy; those looking for motorik or kosmische should definitely try before they buy as this is a scaly monster of heavy psych. For genre fans, think truly outward bound drug rock without any doofus moves; to the contrary, Guru Guru had links to German free jazz. While we’re on the subject, some will require a bit more structure; what these ears have always dug is a lack of vocals. The more orthodox finale “Der LSD-Marsch” lessens the heft a bit, particularly in relation to the title, but this is still major. A-

Hazmat Modine, Extra-Deluxe-Supreme (Barbès) Wade Schuman and tuba player Joseph Daley are the only original members of the group that released Bahamut a decade ago; Schuman is the bandleader and Daley a veteran of dozens of sessions including extensive work with Sam Rivers. Daley’s earliest stuff includes a pair of albums with Taj Mahal, and they’re not a bad analogue for what’s happening here, mainly because Schuman excels at hybridization rather than mimicry; there is a smoothness that takes a little getting used to, but upon exposure these ten songs come into sharp focus. B+

Bert Jansch, From the Outside (Earth Recordings) This reliable Brit label’s Jansch reissue campaign continues with an album that was barely released in ’85; there were but 500 copies on the Belgian imprint Konexion. CDs did emerge but they seem kinda shoddy next to Earth’s assembling of the entire session, this time in an edition of 1,000 LPs. Most importantly, this disc found the artist stripping down in a manner evocative of his lauded self-titled debut. Is it as good? Well, no; but it’s far better than second-rate, with Jansch nimble-fingered and inspired throughout. I can’t imagine a buff wouldn’t want one. A-

Ariel Kalma, Interfrequence (Black Sweat) First time reissue of a 1980 LP by this early new age/ electronic figure. Gotta assume that RVNG Intl.’s recent spotlight on the guy is the impetus for this retrieval, but the sounds here differ from what’s found on An Evolutionary Music or his ’78 Osmose LP; these 18 mostly short tracks were conceived for film and TV, though this library music specimen is a bit more satisfying than the norms of the “genre” as the use of horns provides connective tissue to Kalma’s earlier stuff. The canned kosmische of the title track stretches out to over five minutes and is a treat. A-

Kikagaku Moyo, House in the Tall Grass (GuruGuru Brain) This Japanese unit categorize their thing as “feeling good music,” and I’m not here to argue, but will add they exude a (mostly) soft psychedelia that’s satisfying but in the end quite calculated. That isn’t necessarily a fault; hey, calculation worked gangbusters for Rob Schneider, but there just isn’t any boundary pushing here, though the influences aren’t exactly worn out. If one wants danger, grab Guru Guru’s UFO (ironic, given the name of the label). However, if one wants a soundtrack to couch surfing while contemplating eating another brownie… B

Bérangère Maximin, Dangerous Orbits (Crammed Discs) On her fourth album and first for Crammed Discs, Maximin delivers lengthy pieces utilizing repetition, drone, and abstraction to cultivate mood and mysteriousness. Having trained in the electroacoustic field, academia doth linger, lending discipline and implicit logic to the sounds as they unwind. What she really wants is for the listener to experience and consider space and texture. For fans of musique concrète (she studied with composer Denis Dufour), Rock in Opposition (Fred Frith is a collaborator), and NYC improv (John Zorn released her debut). A-

Nothing, Tired of Tomorrow (Relapse) Based on the label and the song titles “Eaten by Worms” and “Our Plague” one would be forgiven for aligning this record with the metal category, but this is aptly described as shoegaze-inflected rock. The link to Relapse is heaviness; even at low volume this album (the band’s second) feels loud. There are also moments of prettiness, particularly “Nineteen Ninety Heaven,” amid lyrical bleakness that tightens the link to Relapse. B+

Emily Rodgers, Two Years (Misra) Stunning third album from this Pittsburgh-based singer-songwriter and guitarist, produced by Kramer, a fact worth mentioning in that it loosely connects her to the unhurried intensities of Low. It’s a similarity that shouldn’t be overstated however, as she is working very much in her own zone. While pedal steel and violin are present, this isn’t an exercise in Americana, though the comparison to Cowboy Junkies isn’t inapt. What’s dually impressive is the sheer lack of the predictable in these ten songs and the power of her voice as the focal point of an outstanding band. A

Al Scorch, Circle Round the Signs (Bloodshot) It’s hard not to be won over here; Scorch plays his banjo fast and although clearly impacted by punk, unlike certain unfortunate others having pursued a roughly analogous path his roots mining doesn’t OD on roughneck image peddling. Scorch actually smiles in pictures and is socially conscious/ active rather than apathetic or defeatist. In turn, he registers as a descendent of the folk scene as much as a byproduct of the punk circuit or honky-tonk dives; the exceptional “Poverty Draft” brings it all together. B+

Still Parade, Concrete Vision (Heist or Hit/ Lefse) This is my first encounter with Niklas Kramer, he of a few prior singles and an EP that were big with the “tastemaker blogosphere.” Lefse relates that he’s left dream folk and yacht rock behind, but it kinda sounds like he just docked the boat and made a beeline for the nearest lounge. This would frankly be bland to insufferable except for solid songwriting and the fact that Kramer self-recorded on a tape deck his father bought him; I’m less impressed by the generosity and more the LP’s similarity to a private press or an unrealized demo. B-

SunPath, Yasimin and the Snowflake Dragon and Dream Music (LEAVING) Out of nowhere but totally welcome DIY New Age from New Mexico originally released on cassette in 1980 and ’84 respectively and reissued on the same format. Four side-long creations by one individual (Jeff Berry) utilize synthesizer, nature sounds, and homemade instruments such as the “self-built wire string harp.” The results are surely infused with the mystical but retain a substantiality that’s too often lacking in more conventional New Age stuff. The undying need to create inspires scenarios that never cease to amaze. A- / A-

Throws, (S/T) (Thrill Jockey) Thanks in part to the falsetto of Sam Genders, this initially saunters forth as soulfully-inclined and finely-polished art-pop, but as the ten songs unwind the duo (completed by Mike Lindsay, the two having previously intersected in the UK outfit Tunng) displays impressive breadth. There are electronic elements, folky bits, and an undercurrent of ’60s pop as the familiarity of the participants considerably strengthens this debut outing. At times I’m reminded of TV on the Radio but more often the Beta Band, and that’s a sweet thing. B+

V/A, Cosmic Machine: The Sequel (Because) Where a lot of follow-up compilations can’t obscure the reality of contents being spread thin, this set, subtitled A Voyage Across French Cosmic & Electronic Avantgarde (70s-80s), is of even deeper historical interest than its prior volume through slightly wider reach. Of course the quality is as variable as its predecessor and that’s actually part of the appeal; this is a landscape where visionary prog rubs shoulders with blatant attempts to cash in and one will quickly lose count of the disco elements. “Fade in Hong Kong” by Video Liszt just might take the prize here. B+

Victory Kicks, Get Blurred (Unmanned Ariel Vinyl) Third album from a London group led by songwriter-guitarist-vocalist John Sibley is consistent but attains no great heights, even as they pre-release three singles from the LP. Although heavily indebted to the indie of the ’90s and early ’00s, there is also an amiable aspect to the music, particularly noticeable in Sibley’s singing, that seems to harken back to ‘80s college rock; Victory Kicks are accomplished but ultimately non-threatening. B

Weval, (S/T) (Kompakt) Y’know, when a promo blurb mentions “electronic funk,” this is what I want to hear, not a bunch of flaccid cornball retro-’80s keytar shenanigans. Weval is the creative partnership of Harm Coolen and Merijn Schotte Albers, and their music registers as totally of the moment; the bold claim above aside, they don’t always go where I’d like them to, but where they do go is of reliable value. Largely through an avoidance of overly polished surfaces, the progression unwinds organically with flashes of a superb drum sound. B+

Andre Williams, I Wanna Go Back to Detroit City (Bloodshot) A strong snort of gusto from this grizzled yet suave survivor, much of the album devoted to Williams’ tried and true off-kilter rockin’ R&B but with a significant reduction of The Black Godfather’s over the top smuttiness. He’s still plenty rough and raucous though, the lack of polish infusing some straight-up blues and even a C&W-tinged number with beaucoup personality. “Hall of Fame” disses the institution that will likely never award this subterranean musical architect a plaque; doubters need only know this man co-wrote “Shake a Tail Feather.” A-

WOMPS, Our Fertile Forever (Displaced) Hard-edged muscular pop debut from a pair of Glaswegians who trumpet their association with Steve Albini like it’s 1992. Since WOMPS’ existence is inconceivable without the precedent of early guitar-based indie rock, name-dropping the Chicago recordist makes sense. There is a bit (and at times a lot) more emoting than in the u-ground rock of the late ’80s-early ’90s, and this heart-on-the-sleeve aspect lessens the impact overall; moments of high quality, e.g. the full-bore “Ritalin” heading into the slightly Sebadoh-ish “Cancer of the Bone,” are also present. B

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