Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, March 2017

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued wax presently in stores for March, 2017.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: The Feelies, In Between (Bar/None) A considerable internal debate transpired over awarding this pick status. Not due to matters of quality, but rather that I’d come-off as an utter sycophant regarding a band I’ve long loved as they gravitate toward strum-pop. It’s a style that’s always been a facet in their overall attack, but the increase here turns these Hoboken beauties’ second post-recommencement album into a grower of sublime proportions. With a refreshing lack of late-career baggage, it’s crystal clear this is what The Feelies want to be doing. If you’re a fan, you’ll eat it up. A

Cindy Lee Berryhill, The Adventurist (Omnivore) Berryhill’s first album in decade is a gorgeous song cycle inspired by her late husband (and Crawdaddy magazine founder) Paul Williams, and it’s a long way from “Damn, I Wish I Was a Man” and her stature as a prime player in the late-’80s anti-folk movement. Here, warm and woody production (thanks to recurring use of cello and violin) and a crack band including Syd Straw, DJ Bonebrake, Danny Frankel, and Probyn Gregory and Nelson Bragg of Brian Wilson’s group, enhance Berryhill’s already splendid writing, as she’s nimble of finger and strong of voice throughout. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Buzzcocks, “Spiral Scratch” and Time’s Up (Domino) A core document of DIY punk (self-released on their New Hormones label) and one of the genre’s greatest statements, the limited-edition reissue of “Spiral Scratch” came out in late January; it’s still very much available and pairs nicely with this 11-track studio session. Recorded for 45 pounds at Revolution Studios in October of 1976, Time’s Up isn’t as sharply honed as the EP, but it does deliver a glorious glimpse of brilliance in bloom. NOTE: these two releases encompass the audio portion of Domino’s new Buzzcocks Mk. 1 box set. A+ / A-

V/A, The Sound of Jazz (Analogue Productions) This one ain’t cheap, but as history it’s indispensable; derived from the December 8, 1957 CBS telecast Seven Lively Arts, this gave the mainstream public a rich taste of the jazz milieu, with music consultants Whitney Balliett and Nat Hentoff insuring the opportunity was not wasted. They roped in Basie’s cornerstone band, the post-Armstrong-isms of the Henry Allen Orchestra, Lady Day with Mal Waldron, plus Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Pee Wee Russell, and Jimmy Giuffre. Everyone is in fine if not peak form. Special is an understatement. A

Ana & Ina, On Dockweiler Beach (Constellation Tatsu) One of three tapes comprising this prolific Oakland-based ambient-New Age-celestial label’s “Winter Batch,” this entry delivers two long helpings of synth drone from the duo of writer Ashley Hoffman and visual artist Ian James. Per the credits, Hoffman brought the “thoughts” while James is responsible for the “emotions”; if that sounds cutesy, the results are marked by a tangible seriousness of intent. “Come In” begins in a cathedral organ-like zone and gradually shifts into prime drift mode, while “Come Around” offers broader sonic terrain. A-

Cyanide Pills, Sliced and Diced (Damaged Goods) Downright spiff merger of gutsy power-pop, Ramones-style simplicity, and Buzzcocks-y snarl from a self-deprecating but totally on-the-fucking-ball Leeds-based five piece. Like any record that hurls out 18 songs in 39 minutes, this doesn’t maintain a consistent peak, but the lack of any major valleys is an achievement. What’s more, with this many participants the chances of somebody screwing the instrumental pooch are high, but Cyanide Pills run like a finetuned machine throughout. “Say You Will” triggers visions of leather pants, and baby, that’s cool. A-

Duke Ellington, Jazz Party (Acoustic Sounds) Even with guest spots by Dizzy Gillespie and Jimmy Rushing, one might sneakingly suspect this ’59 LP as a minor statement, for records so boldly flaunting high-profile participants have a habit of not meeting expectations. Plus, nearly all of side one is taken up with the “Toot Suite” medley; never a good sign. But hey, this is Duke and his band, including regulars Cat Anderson, Harry Carney, Johnny Hodges, and Paul Gonsalves, all in typically strong form. Diz solos well on “U.M.M.G.” and Basie’s vocalist Rushing lends bluesy panache to closer “Hello Little Girl.” A-

Ric Gordon, “Just Can’t Get Enough” (Next Wave – Russian Winter) Speaking of leather pants, this 6-song mini-album of hard-edged power-pop from 1979 has been remastered for CD and digital, but the sweetest news is original vinyl copies getting uncovered in a move, with the box of 50 currently and affordably available on Bandcamp. Even better is that it’s not second-rate stuff; residing in Kansas City surely contributed to this disc slipping through the cracks (it’s apparently the only release on Next Wave) but anybody with a hankering for Bomp or Yellow Pills should snatch a copy of this right up. B+

The Halo Benders, God Don’t Make No Junk (K) The ’94 debut by this indie supergroup remains their best. Featuring Beat Happening’s Calvin Johnson and Built to Spill’s Doug Martsch with Pell Mell’s Steve Fisk playing occasional keyboards (Wayne Flower and Ralf Youtz lend a hand as well), half the record’s inspired tunes edge into top-notch territory, benefiting from the contrasting vocal styles of Cal and Doug as the music explores styles often appropriately foreign to their higher profile outfits. The prime cuts are largely frontloaded but “On a Tip” and “I Can’t Believe It’s True” rally late. A-

The Holy Mackerel, (Ship to Shore PhonoCo) The sole LP by the group singer-songwriter Paul Williams formed after he received a modicum of success with a B-side for Tiny Tim. Personally, I’ve always been a bigger fan of Williams’ acting (e.g. De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise and Hal Needham’s Smoky and the Bandit), but his writing and singing here is enjoyable if minor as the template switches between mild-psych, folk-pop, and early country-rock. However, the best song is credited to former Jefferson Airplane bassist Bob Harvey (“Wildflowers”); the obnoxious “Prinderella” is a “way-out” stinker. B

Lydia Lunch, Honeymoon in Red (Bang) Much ballyhooed upon release, the 1982 session participants Nick Cave and Mick Harvey subsequently insisted their names not appear on the release. Mixed in ’87 by J. G. Thirlwell with added guitar by Thurston Moore, Lunch applied unkind pseudonyms to her former conspirators and issued the album on her Widowspeak label. The noir-rock surliness and general turpitude is maybe not as gripping as intended, but the set does offer a striking portrait of ’80s u-ground ambition, with Lunch in clear command. The Teenage Jesus-like finale “Dead in the Head” is a blast. B+

Six by Seven, The Closer You Get and Greatest Hits (Beggars Arkive) The Closer You Get was this Nottingham UK band’s second album, reissued here on vinyl with a bonus LP of Peel Sessions and B-sides. The contents are very much of the late-’90s, with echoes of shoegaze, Radiohead, Brit-pop, Sonic Youth, and post-rock. This isn’t to suggest a simple amalgamation of styles; although vocalist-guitarist Chris Olley has been the only constant, there is a cohesive group personality on display. As comps often do, Greatest Hits corrals highpoints but flattens the overall appeal a bit in the process. B+ / B

SJOB Movement, Friendship Train (Cultures of Soul) Esteemed global groove enthusiast Deano Sounds teams with Nigerian music expert and producer Uchenna Ikonne to reissue this tasty artifact from 1977. SJOB stands for Sam, Johnnie, Ottah, and Bola, the latter being Prince Bola Agbana, described by Ikonne as a session musician, stylistic innovator, and founder, leader, drummer, and singer for the Movement. Friendship Train was their second LP, its six tracks funky yet not as hectic as some of their Afro-rock peers. The compact disc comes with a kickin’ remix by Washington, DC’s Sol Power All-Stars. B+

Slime, “Controversial” b/w “Loony” (Damaged Goods) Cut in ’78, this is the handiwork of Johnny Moped’s Slimy Toad, two punk ditties with touches of straight-rock competence that ultimately aids rather than detracts from the whole, especially the flashes of guitar proficiency on the A-side (rumored to be Captain Sensible of The Damned, though I’ve also heard the internet is full of lies). This would fit nicely in a set between Eddie & the Hot Rods and The Stranglers; it’s not as bashing as The Killjoys’ “Johnny Won’t Get to Heaven” or even The Jerks’ “Get Your Woofing Dog Off Me,” but it’s not far behind. B+

Soda Lite, In Eco (Constellation Tatsu) Soda Lite is Melbourne Australia’s Alex Last, with these seven tracks offering a substantial immersion into naturalism; burbling brooks and chirping birds provide a sense of place as synths and keyboards encourage letting go. As it all unfurls, Last gradually augments and alters the tranquility of the scenario, so that late cut “Lagoon” is less relaxing and more immersive. Still the waters flow, and they crest with closer “Oceania.” Of the tapes constituting Constellation Tatsu’s “Winter Batch,” this one most deeply recalls the ambiance of a crystals and incense shop. B+

The Chandler Travis Philharmonic, Waving Kissyhead, Vol. 2 & 1 (Sonic Trout) As a wee lad in knee pants, I once asked a grizzled clerk for sounds comparable to NRBQ. He snorted, spit some brown stuff into a spittoon, croaked that “nobody sounded like the Q,” burped, and then barked “check out the Incredible Casuals.” The Casuals were Chandler Travis’ band after the demise of Travis Shook and the Club Wow; in the current century, he’s been busy with the Chandler Travis Three-O, the Catbirds, and his horn-laden eponymous philharmonic. Their latest is warm, off-kilter American music with humor and élan. A-

Ultimate Spinach, Behold and See (Sundazed) This Bosstown Sound-exponent never reached grand heights of quality, but they were better than the negative claims of many detractors. Part of Alan Lorber’s attempt to establish a city scene upon the cresting wave of psychedelia, the Spinach’s creative mastermind was singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Ian Bruce-Douglas. Amid the period trappings he’s a pop guy at heart, crooning up a storm on “Visions of Your Reality” and elsewhere. If not as deep as Lorber’s obvious San Fran models, this is still far from fakery, with parts remaining quite agreeable. B

Visible Cloaks, Reassemblage (RVNG Intl.) Alongside this duo, Spencer Doran is known for a couple of mixtapes, Fairlights, Mallets and Bamboo, and Music Interiors plumbing the depths of ’80s Japanese new age-ambient-minimalism. As the title suggests, his work here with Ryan Carlile extends from the mixtape aesthetic, but to distinct ends. The gentle, abstract exoticism coursing through this record recalls the more overly artistic side of the ’80s new age/ high-end stereo system-scene without ever faltering into throwback-ism. Auto-Tune is also used creatively and subtly, with no nudge-wink BS. A-

Xiu Xiu, Forget (Polyvinyl) Jamie Stewart has been prolific as Xiu Xiu, but even without exhaustive knowledge of his group’s output it’s clear that Forget is a poppier affair than most, though of course that’s relative. Commercially, this is still an experimental and at times quite dark undertaking, but it’s also hard to deny that in a better world tracks like the electro-poppish “Wondering,” the gothier “Jenny GoGo,” the emotive marinade of “At Last, At Last,” and the released tension of title track would be nearer to chart material. Featuring contributions from Charlemange Palestine and Vaginal Davis! B+

Forest Walker, UV Sea (Constellation Tatsu) Forest Walker Christenson is half of the duo Seabat (with John Also Bennett) as well as an engineer at Hans Zimmer Productions. His contribution to Constellation Tatsu’s “Winter Batch” holds four tracks, opening and closing with long pieces. “Desert Lighthouse” is the first, combining repeato-wiggle and kosmische glide as waves of sound ebb and flow. Sometimes soundtrack-y and at other moments minimalist, there is also clinical sci-fi-ish tension in “Amendment of Fundamental Axioms,” with a few shimmers throughout likely to please the new-New Age brigade. B+

The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, Part One and Vol. 2 (Jackpot) I’ve always dug these guys more than the critical consensus, with second LP (and Reprise debut) Part One being my favorite. This is mainly down to covers of the Mothers’ “Help I’m a Rock” and Van Dyke Parks’ “High Coin,” but there’s some sweet and breezy jangle-pop happening as well. There are also lesser moments, a factor that’s more prevalent on the ambitious hodge-podge of Vol. 2; overall, it’s the kind of experience a Bosstown Sound hater might call phony-psych, but I hear a poppish-sincerity in its unevenness. B+ / B

Barney Wilen, Moshi (SouffleContinu) Notable French bop guy and film composer Wilen had his consciousness permanently altered by the seismic global shift known as the 1960s; by decade’s end he was in Africa with filmmakers, technicians, and fellow musicians, with the goal of recording pygmy tribes. Reportedly a rocky trip, Wilen did manage to assemble this consistently interesting and occasionally killer 2LP. It blends audio from the expedition with expansive jazziness, streams of psychedelia, and even a few likeable pop-inclined moments. This 1,000-copy edition comes with a DVD, so don’t sleep. A-

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