Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, July 2016

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: 75 Dollar Bill, Wood / Metal / Plastic / Pattern / Rhythm / Rock (Thin Wrist) The second LP from guitarist Che Chen and percussionist Rick Brown is an absolute stunner; incorporating influences ranging from Arabic and Indian music to Mississippi blues, the sound is forcefully hypnotic as saxophones, trumpet, bass, and viola augment the core. Featuring a short piece, one of medium length and two longer numbers, the grooves are psych-inclined but never meandering. Fans of desert blues, Sun City Girls, Endless Boogie, and RL Burnside take note. A

REISSUE PICK: Charles Mingus, Blues & Roots (Atlantic) The first of three straight masterworks the incomparable bassist-bandleader cut in ‘59 gets a 180gm mono edition. Embedded lore situates this was cut in response to nagging assertions of Mingus not swinging enough; hey, so much for never answering one’s critics! Along with Mingus Dynasty, this didn’t actually see release until 1960, by which time Mingus Ah Um had emerged, so it would seem the charges of non-swing, if not quashed, were greatly lessened; loaded with a head-shaking cast of contributors, this swings like a beast. A mandatory item. A+

Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra, (S/T) (Glitterbeat) A lot of this label’s output has been assessed as (too) slick, but this LP, which documents recordings made during the five days’ worth of rehearsal for a live concert by a large band featuring central Afrobeat figure Tony Allen in creative dialogue with numerous Haitian musicians including Erol Josué and Sanba Zao, is better described as possessing decidedly modern warmth. Although the rhythmic heat keeps the proceedings from ever getting too out, there is a fair amount of eclecticism on display, particularly the recurring electronic elements. B+

Agitation Free, 2nd (Made in Germany) These atypical Krautrockers get nowhere near enough love, though they are certainly familiar to fans of the Nurse with Wound list. The main question would seem to be which of their initial albums is the best, the Middle Eastern-infused debut Malesch from ’72 or this decidedly more Grateful Dead-like follow-up from the next year. I’m still undecided; there is as much proggy experimentation and kosmische as psych in 2nd’s equation, so those looking for a varied listen won’t be disappointed. Borrowing words by Poe, “Haunted Island” is a pretty nifty closer. A-

Daniel Bennett Group, Sinking Houseboat Confusion (Manhattan Daylight Media) Multi-horn specialist Bennett’s “folk-jazz” hybrid can suggest Jimmy Guiffre visiting ’80s downtown NYC, but the main difference with fellow hybridizer John Zorn is a lack of disruptiveness and Carl Stalling-esque tactics; Bennett instead blends his influences via horns, guitar, electric bass, and drums to very approachable ends, and just when things threaten to become too nice he throws an edgy curveball. Notable is a pair of standout duets, one with the poetry of Michele Herman, the other with guitarist Mark Cocheo. B+

Rafi Bookstaber, Late Summer (Woodsist) There’s really no shortage of contempo psych-folk, but Bookstaber’s played a significant role in this style through Aswara, Von Himmel, Death Chants, and Mendocino. Home-recorded in Asheville, NC, this Eastern-tinged LP adds to the solo discography as its manufacture through Woodsist is likely to increase his profile. Full of the type of layered drift that flourished on minuscule vinyl, tape, and CDR runs a decade back, those with an interest in the later work of Dredd Foole and Bookstaber’s collaborator and vocal proponent Matt Valentine should investigate. A-

Broken Beak, Some Nerve (Near Mint) An emo connection is apparently at play here due to the participation of Brendan Lukens; supposedly a big deal in the emo realm as part of Modern Baseball, I haven’t heard ‘em, but Broken Beak’s debut LP (though very concise at 24 minutes and change) doesn’t push any of the bothersome or downright egregious buttons so often associated with the genre. Instead, this is a frequently rocking and never whiny set hitting near the sweet spot stoked by the Mountain Goats, The Paper Chase, and the numerous projects of Oberst. An unexpectedly cool thing. B+

Cerise, Smoke Screen Dreams (Self-released) Amid a recent influx of dream-pop-angled recordings this doesn’t exactly make it to the head of the class, but that really isn’t a surprise as it’s the L.A.-based singer-songwriter’s debut. Numerous strengths are evident, specifically an avoidance of airy-cutesiness and a disinclination to draw too much on stylistic precedent, though she’s been compared to Hope Sandoval more than once already. Her cited influences of The Cure, Bauhaus, and Siouxsie play a deeper role as she resists blatant retro vibes. With robust production by Joseph Arthur, this is one to watch. B

Emma Cook, “Counting Sheep” (Self-released) The first of a two-part EP documenting the comeback of a Toronto-based musician after a head injury from a fallen tree branch resulted in a three-year battle with Post-Concussive Syndrome. These three songs, which can be succinctly pegged as crisp guitar-based poppish singer-songwriter fare, establish Cook’s perseverance in struggle. There is definitely an “adult” sensibility at work, a circumstance aided by the input of tasteful horns and pedal steel, but it’s in no way a fault, as Cook’s tunes are damn good; “Counting Sheep” is a knockout. Eagerly awaiting part two. A-

Cosines, “Transitions” (Fika Recordings) The weakest song on this 4-song 10-inch (“Dunbar”) happens to have the best lyric, at least after a handful of listens; “all you rich motherfuckers should just leave our shit alone.” Described in the label blurb as an attempt to reconcile New Order, United States of America, and Stereolab, this doesn’t reach the maximum potential of that beautiful three-way, but they still attain a pretty high standard; it’s smart pop with a retro-futurist jones and a preference for erudition over the twee (though “Chaos Theory” compares well with Camera Obscura). Cosines have dished a winner. A-

Dentist, Ceilings (Little Dickman) Dentist is an Asbury Park-based four-piece delivering fuzzy, hooky, melodic rock with a beachy aura and femme vocals on their second album. Emily Bornemann plays guitar and sings in a manner that’s been tagged as ethereal, but there is just too much edge across these ten songs for the whole (or any parts, even) to get lumped in with the dream-pop crowd. Instead, this is likely to appeal to fans of Bomp Records; somebody please hook ‘em up with Paul Collins in the producer’s chair, because I’ve a suspicion the union would kick out a classic. B+

Paul Desmond Gerry Mulligan, Two of a Kind (ORG Music) The pianoless quartet configuration gives lots of improvising space to altoist Desmond (mostly noted as Brubeck’s horn) and pioneering west coast baritone Mulligan, and they utilize it quite effectively. Hard bop partisans might carp over the whole as being too polite, and based on the dapperness of the cover pic one might be inclined to agree. But I’ll respectfully quibble, even in the case of Desmond; by ’62 neither of these guys was exactly riding the cutting edge, but if lacking grease, there is verve. “The Way You Look Tonight” is an upbeat standout. A-

Eggs Over Easy, Good ‘N’ Cheap: The Eggs Over Easy Story (Yep Roc) Brinsley Schwarz fans take note; this truly deserving 3LP set collects the entire recorded output of these highly influential yet hardly ever heard American transplants to early ’70s London, where they helped lay the groundwork for pub rock. Rounding up Good ‘n’ Cheap (produced by Link Wray), Fear of Frying, and unreleased sessions (produced by Chas Chandler) into a fairly laidback scenario, the roots will please The Band’s legions as the left of center qualities are sure to grab lovers of NRBQ. Not every song is a gem, but the whole is a treat. A-

Jason Kao Hwang, Voice (Innova) This highly satisfying blend of avant-jazz and vocal chords features two distinct groups interacting with a pair of voices interpreting a variety of works from assorted poets; the constant factor is violinist and composer Hwang. Mezzo soprano Deanna Relyea brings an operatic gutsiness to the first six tracks as baritone Thomas Buckner’s tackling of texts frequently resonates nearer to the expected intersection of jazz and poetry. Both approaches are worthwhile, but after time spent these ears slightly prefer the latter, in part due to the tenor sax and trumpet of Joe McPhee. A-

Marah in the Mainsail, Thaumatrope (Last Triumph) Full-length debut from a Minneapolis gang self-describing as “cinematic alt-folk”; it’s an apt evaluation, though the jaunty whistle-fest of opener “The Traveling Man” had me worried this was going to err in the direction of mere anthemic politeness. They wisely dip into darker waters and hit a few sepia-toned sweet spots along the way so chalk this one up as a success. Cinematic often means overbearing imagery and personality, but if vivid they generally resist laying it on too thick. I like the serrated edge low horn tones. “Clockmaker” is a standout. B

Masked Intruder, Love and Other Crimes (Pure Noise) Not to be confused with a far superior Lee Hazelwood LP. The Garbage Pail Kids knock-off cover art actually isn’t a bad idea; in fact, other than the deceptively appealing power pop of opener “Take What I Want” it’s really the smartest maneuver this Madison, WI band has to offer. The ensuing pop punk is so generic that it necessitates some sort of differentiating facet, but sadly their burglar gimmick (they play live with masks on) is stalled in the starting gate as the Mummies are giving them the finger from the finish line. C-

MC5, High Time (Atlantic) I continue to rate the three original albums by this jewel of a band as essential, but of course that shouldn’t suggest they’re all of equal quality. This was their last and also their least; additionally, it’s the one lacking a mentoring hand, though at its best High Time does sorta unite the Sinclair fireworks of the live debut with the Landau molded Back in the USA. Lessened grandeur is tangible as is the occasional overt flaw, but the relatively straightforward hard rock with soulful injections endures as a rough blueprint for how to successfully combine the raw and the funky. A

Miramar, Dedication to Sylvia Rexach (Barbès) An enlightening debut by this US-based bolero group featuring singer Reinaldo Alvarez and pianist-arranger Marlysse Simmons- Argandoña from the noted salsa outfit Bio Ritmo; they’re joined by singer Laura Ann Singh and a troop of top-flight instrumentalists. Although paying tribute to a trailblazing figure with a cult following, this set is still a very welcoming affair and even includes original material. It might be tempting to suggest an affection for the genre as necessary for full appreciation, but that’s off-target; this is a highly effective gateway to fandom. A-

Mrs. Magician, Bermuda (Swami) Second album by this San Diego bunch adheres to their stated three-point program; there’s punk bedrock, classic ’60s pop and rock largeness, and ’70s and ’80s power pop structures; it’s a tried and true combination, but this LP (once again produced by John Reis) isn’t a bit conflicted over going for the Big Sound that oldsters associate with pre-shit commercial radio; more than once mid-’60s Beach Boys sprung to mind amid fleeting thoughts of early Blondie and Bomp. Those needing evidence of songwriting prowess need only soak up late standout “No More Tears.” A-

OST, Alexandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain (Real Gone Music) Jodorowsky’s the in your face surrealist king from the heyday of midnight movies and The Holy Mountain is arguably his biggest success. Featuring Don Cherry, the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, and studio wiz (and ex-Archie) Ron Frangipane (with input by the director), this is of potential interest regardless of what one thinks of the guy’s mindfuck visuals. His early stuff used to be a pain in the ass to see, and the OSTs? Forget it, making this 2LP very welcome. “Ilsa (the Sapphic Sleep)” into “Psychedelic Weapons” is very cool. A-

Popincourt, A New Direction to Modern Love (Jigsaw) Described as “what Paul Weller’s Style Council would have sounded like if he had been French instead of English,” I’ll concur, though opener “I Found Out” also recalls Roddy Frame’s Aztec Camera. Auteur singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Olivier Popincourt is indeed a Frenchman with a jones for the high-toned ’80s Brit stuff, an affinity unusual enough that it steers this very promising debut far clear of mere pastiche; there’s some really good stuff here, and amongst the backing band is Ken Stringfellow of the Posies and Big Star. B+

Question Mark & the Mysterians, Action (Real Gone Music) Responsible for a ’60s garage masterpiece, these Saginaw, MI cats still had trouble crafting a fully satisfying LP, but their two stabs for Cameo-Parkway aren’t without interest. 96 Tears was the first and best but Action is nearly its equal; lacking a No. 1 smash, it actually registers as the more consistent platter. There’s fuzz, organ, tambourines, the requisite R&B excursions, hearty bass, and Rudy Martinez as a non-abrasive front-man. “Can’t Get Enough of You Baby” slyly triggers thoughts of “96 Tears” without coming off as a rehash. B+

Marc Ribot & the Young Philadelphians, Live in Tokyo (Yellowbird) This is Ribot, fellow string slinger Mary Halvorson, bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, and drummer G. Calvin Weston delivering a simultaneous doffing of the cap to Ornette’s first Prime Time band and the sound of ’70s Philly soul. I shit you not, its Dancing in Your Head meets Gamble and Huff, and it works. Adding a three-piece string section for proper effect, the program includes The Trammps, MFSB, Ohio Players, and the mighty Pendergrass; they don’t demolish the sources, instead turning them into No Wave-ish burners. What a great idea. A-

Sumac, What One Becomes (Thrill Jockey) The second LP from guitarist-vocalist Aaron Turner (ex-Isis, Old Man Gloom), drummer Nick Yacyshyn (Baptists), and bassist Brian Cook (Russian Circles, These Arms Are Snakes, Botch), this is as potent a slab of art metal as is likely to be released in 2016. Unequivocally doomy thanks to Turner’s guttural growl and the oft-bombastic structures, the production (by Kurt Ballou of Converge) is bold and bright enough through the distortion that it’s wrong to assess this as sludgy. Heavy but not heavy-handed, the “art” qualities are integrated with a light touch. A

Mia Doi Todd, Songbook (City Zen) This is progressive singer-songwriter Todd’s second straight album of material written by others; 2014’s Floresta focused upon her favorite Brazilian songs while Songbook tackles a wide variety of US and UK artists. The sources remain recognizable, Todd bringing a unique personal touch to each while avoiding the groan-worthy smarty-pants approach that’s in current fashion. There’s nothing twee or ironic here; this is just a batch of interpretations including Neil Young, Joni, Elliott Smith, Sandy Denny, Townes, Prince, and a standout version of The Cure’s “Close to Me.” A-

V/A, First Class Rock Steady (17 North Parade) Not to be confused with the identically titled Record Store Day 7-inch box set from earlier this year, this follow-up for International Reggae Day stuffs 40 tracks onto a pair of CDs; after soaking it all up a few times “comprehensive” feels right on the money. Also available digitally, the tempo of the nearly two hours is basically perfect for the consumption of ice-cold beverages while being plagued with stifling humidity. Those having missed out on the vinyl box rest easy; all its tracks are here. For those having scored and seeking more this is the logical next purchase. A

V/A, Greg Belson’s Divine Disco (Cultures of Soul) This label’s authoritative documentation of global disco continues through this eye-opening collection of religious themed dancefloor igniters from the ’70s-’80s. Appreciation for the style is required to really enjoy this latest volume, though DJ Belson delivers sturdy club movers with enough content to cut home listening mustard. The content spans output from the long-running Savoy label to inspired regional efforts; the later provides a few standouts, especially the Gospel Ambassadors, whose pair of LPs I’d really like to hear. Two likeable remixes cap the set. B+

V/A, Sherwood at the Controls Vol. 2 1985-1990 (On-U Sound) As this has a bunch of collabs with acts that can accurately be called industrial (in contrast to the post-punk and dub that comprised much of Vol. 1 and Science Fiction Dancehall Classics) I was prepared to assess this as a lesser offering, but after time to absorb and contemplate it’s not that lesser. The Tackhead/ Fat Comet-related stuff is still a gas, Ministry, and especially Beatnigs actually spark good memories, and the later portion of the program is actually loaded with dub flavor. A necessary installment in the aural history of a very important guy. A-

The Watters, Great Unknown (Self-released) Maximal Soul-Americana led by guitarist-vocalists Jenna and Daniel Watters; recent Austinites, this brightly hued and succinct set is their first record under the name, having previously dished four albums as The Oak Creek Band. Their experience is immediately apparent, with the original session cut live and the horns added later. Adroitness does bring smoothness and sometimes too much, though it’s also difficult not to like these ten tracks as they unwind, particularly in the season of outdoor gatherings. If smooth, the Watters don’t strain, and that’s worth a lot. B+

Crystal Yates, “The Other Side” (Self-released) A talented songwriter and even better vocalist, Yates exudes a classic R&B vibe (with a hint of New Orleans) on the opener to her 5-song EP; the rest is Americana-laced contempo country running the gamut from the late night honky-tonk (standout track “Hell on My Soul”) to the Sunday morning church service (the title reinforces an undercurrent of gospel). Ably produced by McKenzie Smith of Midlake, the results are certainly of interest, but it would be nice to hear Yates inhabit slightly edgier environs; perhaps her prior records explore this state of affairs. B

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