Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, October 2016

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

NEW RELEASE PICK: Tony Molina, “Confront the Truth” (Slumberland) An 8-song 7-inch in a B&W pic sleeve radiating like a gem rescued from a dusty 50 cent bin, these guitar-pop miniatures lean toward Beatles-esque psych, particularly the utter gem “Hung Up On the Dream,” which oozes the influence of “Strawberry Fields…” with nary a trace of heavy-handedness. Fully stuffed platters such as this surfaced with some regularity back in the ’90s, and Molina’s brevity also recalls early Guided by Voices, but “No One Told He” actually reaches 2:28 as it extends the moves Teenage Fanclub copped from Big Star. A

REISSUE PICK: The Flesh Eaters, Forever Came Today (Superior Viaduct) As great as A Minute to Pray a Second to Die? Nope, and frankly only an overzealously ruthless B-movie reform school taskmaster would demand such a thing. But hey, Chris Desjardins does get in the ballpark, assembling a fresh band (only saxophonist Steve Berlin remains from the prior unit) for a leaner, harder rocking result. Easier for punk sticklers to digest (the genre mavens I know have taken a liking to it, at least), the playing is anything but generic and one of rock’s most fruitfully unconventional vocalists is in fine form. A

Axis:Sova, Motor Earth (God? Records) Third full-length effort from a project led by Brett Sova, and it really only takes a listen to understand its release through the Drag City-distributed imprint of Ty Segall. This shouldn’t be misconstrued as an exercise in predictability, however; comparable garage guitar haze is definitely in evidence, but so are some very pleasurable differences, in particular an occasional use of drum-box giving “Emoticog” a more than passing resemblance to Metal Urbain and a consistent psych-punk quality reaching an apex in the extended amp-pedal shitstorm “Routine Machine.” A-

Kurt Baker Combo, In Orbit (Wicked Cool) Garage denizen Steven Van Zandt is a fan, but this is better pegged as a Raspberries-Cheap Trick scenario dolled up in punk finery a la the Replacements. Some tough biscuits are sure to consider this album too polished/ calculated, an assessment missing Baker’s musical point; during “Baby’s Gone Bad” and especially “Modern Day Rock N Roll Girl,” In Orbit deftly approximates early ‘80s power pop-new wave FM radio crossover. A cover of Devo’s “Jerkin’ Back ‘N’ Forth” is carried into the neighborhood of The Romantics, so if that sounds enticing, step right up. B+

Born Loose, “Death from Above” (Hound Gawd!) This label’s running theme is punk with the emphasis on rock. With a moniker nodding to Johnny Thunders, Born Loose dive into the ’76-’78 zone and come out faster and brawnier, so it’s clear these five songs derive from the present-day; simultaneously, the band (which features members of Candy Snatchers, Iron Prostate, Ghetto Ways, and Heroin Sheiks) avoid befouling the waters with any offputtingly contempo gestures. The cover art is by Mort Todd, so this tidy blast should really stoke fans of the Back from the Grave comps also into New Bomb Turks. A-

James Brown and the Famous Flames, Think! (Cornbread) Although only a matter of months separates the release of Try Me and this 1960 follow-up, the increase in confidence, emotional range, and urgency of expression is quite tangible. Graced here with two extra cuts (both culled from its predecessor), Brown’s third LP often gets assessed as belonging to the formative phase of his career; if essentially a grab-bag of singles, which were beginning to mount up (seven national chart hits are included here), the soulfulness, inextricably linked to the eternal majesty of Live at the Apollo, is a joy to hear A-

Chook Race, Around the House (Trouble in Mind/Tenth Court) This Melbourne Australia-based act reportedly began life in a garage-surf mode but have currently blossomed into a very agreeable hybrid of Go-Betweens-ish mixed-gender pop richness and early Flying Nun guitar action a la The Clean and The Bats. It’s a truly fine platform broadened with intermittent flashes of rainy day mope, as “Sometimes” goes full-blown indie pop and “Pictures of You” raises the punk intensity without a hiccup. These components aren’t new, but freshly assembled and executed with brevity, this LP is a winner. A-

The Crystals, He’s a Rebel (Cornbread) Two bonuses, namely “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “Then He Kissed Me,” substantially raise the quality of this reissue; both are amongst the finest girl group material ever waxed. They also feature the real Crystals, who were a group before Spector entered the picture to usurp rights to and eventually exploit the group’s name; the title track and “He’s Sure the Boy I Love” are actually by Darlene Love and the Blossoms. A few lesser spots do emerge, but the “What’d I Say”-infused novelty cut “Frankenstein Twist” is as cool as “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)” is disturbing. A-

The Flat Five, It’s a World of Love and Hope (Bloodshot) Joyful LP by a Windy City supergroup featuring Kelly Hogan, Nora O’Connor, Scott Ligon, Casey McDonough, and Alex Hall. Starting as an occasional live act and progressing to the studio in a desire to cut the songs of Ligon’s big bro Chris, as befitting the participants, this hits all sorts of classique sweet spots, from mainstream ’50s pop to straight ahead vocal jazz to the gentle side of ’60s folk to glimpses of elaborateness recalling Brian Wilson and even Steely Dan. Inspirational lyric: “Don’t just sit around and mope/ buy yourself a great big bag of dope.” A-

Bobby Hebb, “Sunny” b/w “Bread,” Sunny, and That’s All I Wanna Know (Trocadero) The definitive version of “Sunny” will likely stand as Hebb’s most notable achievement. A crossover smash retaining its majesty 50 years hence, nothing else on the pop-leaning Sunny equals it, though a portion does reach the level of R&B-grooving B-side “Bread” (it’s also amongst the LP’s dozen cuts). The real surprise here is 2005’s That’s All I Wanna Know; retaining the pop focus with subtle contempo gestures, that it was only Hebb’s third (and last) studio album is a bummer. Hopefully Love Games is on deck for reissue. A/ B+/ B+

Helen Money, Becoming Zero (Thrill Jockey) Alison Chesley’s credits as a session cellist span into the triple digits, but her recordings as Helen Money, including a collab with ex-Swans vocalist Jarboe, total five. This is the latest and the first for Thrill Jockey, the label a nice fit for her sound, which is adequately described as hovering betwixt experimental metal and avant-composition. Recorded digitally with guest contributors including Rachel Grimes (of Rachel’s) on piano, Beyond Zero attains remarkable power that’s only amplified by learning Chesley made the record in response to the death of her parents. A

Holon, The Time is Always Now (Autumnsongs) It’s basically impossible to not inhale the prog fumes wafting throughout this debut solo project by Norwegian singer, songwriter, and guitarist Ronny Pedersen; he and numerous contributors aren’t a bit hesitant in brandishing elevated technique as the writing and vocalizing frequently takes on a grand, borderline mystical swoosh inspiring images of a big velvet bag full of 20-sided dice. There’s sitar, there’s flute, there’s organ, and there’s the potential for a real misfire, and yet I was quite taken with much of this, in no small part due to the femme vocals. B+

Jacuzzi Boys, Ping Pong (Mag Mag) Time surely flies. Nearing a decade’s worth of activity, these cats still reside in Miami, but in sonic terms they’ve traveled a noticeable distance away from their split 7-inch garage origins. Thing is, their initial angle was always a bit tweaked, so the current blend of glam, fuzz, NYC scarf punk, and decent if not amazing songs isn’t difficult to absorb, at least for these ears. Although the LP’s nearly 40 minutes is too generous, the almost art-punk guitar progression of “Refrigeration” delivered a nice surprise; a couple more like it would’ve put this one right over the top. B+

La Sera, “Queens” (Polyvinyl) Diverging from the country-ish angle of their Ryan Adams-produced Music for Listening to Music To, this EP cultivates ground reminiscent of ’80s college radio’s more adult motions; on the title track Katy Goodman and husband Todd Wisenbaker trade-off vocals as the guitars chime to a sweet fadeout. Gradually the tide turns more raucous and a little lesser, with “Shadow of Your Love (Slight Return)” and “I Really Need an Angel” culminating with considerable amp burn. Unless you’re King Curtis, covering “Whole Lotta Love” is probably a bad idea; La Sera’s version definitely is. B

Laraaji, Om Namah Shivaya and Be Still and Glow (Leaving) Intriguing spate of rare and unissued ’80s material from one of the New Age’s more interesting lights. Folks primarily interested in the man’s zither playing can likely skip the Om Namah Shivaya LP, the caveat being a coinciding interest in side-long drum machine-driven organ-infused numbers extending a vocal approach fairly pegged as ’80s pop R&B transcendentalism; it’s simultaneously frustrating and riveting. Be Still and Glow’s bundle of three cassettes is the motherlode of exquisite and nicely varied celestial drift. More of it, please. B-/ A

Mannequin Pussy, Romantic (Tiny Engines) Beginning as a duo and growing to a three-piece, the lineup is now a quartet, an expansion that registers throughout this sophomore effort. Overall, these 11 songs in 17 minutes swing from caustic heaviness to breakneck punk sprints, but their grip on inter-song dynamic shifts, displayed most vividly in the title track, is highly impressive. Another highlight is “Denial,” which dives briefly into indie poppish catchiness while keeping tabs on the power moves that surround it, in large part due to the vocal presence of Marisa Dabice. B+

Annette Peacock & Paul Bley, Dual Unity (Bamboo) An unexpected reissue, returning to print one of the less enthused over entries from the Freedom label. Bluntly, this is dated biz, with Bley stretching-out on synth and electric piano as Peacock offers electric bass, keyboards, and vocals; Mario Pavone plays bass. The drumming of Dutch maestro Han Bennink on the side-long A-side “M.J.” is a strongpoint; the too seldom heard Laurence Cook contributes on the flip. A fair amount of interesting stuff happens, but the streams only infrequently converge. Avant-jazz buffs will cotton to “Richter Scale.” B

Thor and Friends, S/T (Living Music Duplication) Featuring core members Thor Harris, Peggy Ghorbani, and Sarah “Goat” Gautier with numerous additional contributors, they utilize a variety of mallet struck instruments accentuated by pedal steel, analog synth, viola, clarinet, and more. Minimalism a la Reich and Riley is the stylistic launching pad, but with a whole bunch of complementary influences (the promo text tags Eno, Moondog, and The Necks) plus a notable absence of vocals. Recorded in Albuquerque, knowledge of such has formulated a desert vibe only enhancing this truly delightful debut. A

V/A, 16 Visions of Ex-Futur (Crammed Discs) Veronique Vincent & Aksak Maboul’s Ex-Futur Album was cut in 1980-’83 but left unfinished and unreleased until 2014. Originally intended by Marc Hollander as the third Aksak Maboul LP, its belated appearance brought surprise and accolades. ‘twas the sort of discovery to enthuse fans of Stereolab the globe over, so Laetitia Sadier’s contribution to this unexpected but very welcome tribute disc is no shocker; hers is a strong showing, but so are entries by Forever Pavot, Aquaserge, Capitol K, Bérangère Maximin, and two by the current Aksak Maboul. A-

V/A, Beyond Addis Vol 2: Modern Ethiopian Dance Grooves Inspired by Swinging Addis (Trikont) The second installment documenting the contemporary keepers of the flame ignited by Mulatu Astatke and the other artists comprising the indispensable Éthiopiques CD series. The bands here share an instrumental tightness that thankfully never falls overboard into a loss of energy, and this is a very cohesive listen, the contents regularly climbing to levels of intensity that’re downright enthralling (e.g. the Debre Damo Dining Orchestra). Kudos to compiler JJ Whitefield for a job well done. A

Bobby Womack, Fly Me to the Moon, My Prescription, and The Womack “Live” (Premium Cool) Combining Sam Cooke bedrock with the oomph of Sam & Dave, Don Covay, and Wilson Pickett, as a songwriter Womack was never at the mercy of inferior stuff; Fly Me to the Moon highlight “California Dreamin’” also illustrates a strength for interpreting non-Soul/ R&B material. My Prescription has the moxie of confidence yet doesn’t better its predecessor. The stripped-down “Live” segues “…Dreamin’” into George Harrison’s “Something” into Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” but is still slightly lesser. B+/ B+/ B

Young Mammals, Jaguar (Odd Hours) This Houston-based four-piece formed the early ’00s while the members attended middle school, and their latest LP takes its name from a 1967 movie by noted anthropological filmmaker Jean Roach; it’s a deceptively interesting tidbit, for Jaguar finds them in the midst of guitar-centered indie melodicism, a scenario frequently energetic enough that the lack of anything especially gripping transpiring gets momentarily displaced. Maybe not riveting, but they have a good handle on the sound, their songs are generally up to snuff, and overall this isn’t hard to swallow. B

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