Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, April 2017

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued wax presently in stores for April, 2017. Part one can be found here, and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Sarah Davachi, All My Circles Run (Students of Decay) Davachi is a drone-minimalist, her early stuff dubbed onto cassette and more recent output issued on vinyl. Previously, she’s combined the acoustic and electronic, but the synths get put aside here for a focus on a single organic instrument on each of the set’s five tracks. “For Strings” offers exquisite drone, “For Voice” is avant-classically eerie, and “Chanter” interweaves patterns of prepared piano, while “For Organ” and “For Piano” double-down on the drone to outstanding result. All this and an album jacket in B&W widescreen. A

V/A, Thank You, Friends: Big Star’s Third, Live…and More (Concord Bicycle) Cut on April 27 of last year, this star-studded affair, with Jeff Tweedy, Robyn Hitchcock, Jessica Pratt, Kronos Quartet, Mike Mills, Chris Stamey, Mitch Easter, and Ira Kaplan only a portion of the talent assembled, is a splendid tribute to one of rock’s greatest albums. Filling two CDs and a DVD, this isn’t an act of docile mimicry; chronology gets tossed aside as a bunch of non-Third Big Star material and even Chris Bell’s “I Am the Cosmos” is performed. Instead, this collective salutation transforms its subject, and the love is palpable. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Big Star, Complete Third: Vol. 3: Final Masters (Omnivore) Per the label, this is “every released master recording from every officially released version of Third,” presented for Record Store Day in a slipcase edition designed to hold the previous two vinyl installments (the whole thing came out on CD last autumn). If you’ve purchased Vol. 1 and 2, here’s your place to put ‘em, but if the masters are all you think you need, Vol. 3 is getting a non-slipcase issue later in 2017. However, as Thank You, Friends attests, Third really is a multifaceted, unceasingly giving beauty, so buy wisely. A+

V/A, Really Rock ‘Em Right: Sun Records Curated by Record Store Day, Volume 4 (ORG) This is one of our global vinyl holiday’s shrewder ideas, mainly because it could roll into the double digits without a drop-off in quality. This edition is especially well-assembled, mixing established Sun giants (Howlin’ Wolf, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins) with less celebrated figures (Big Memphis Ma Rainey, Lou Sargent, Billy Love, Frank Frost) as prime R&B (Ike Turner & His Kings of Rhythm, James Cotton) and uncut rockabilly (Warren Smith) shoot the value meter into the red zone. All this and Roy Orbison, too. A

$3.33, Draft (Leaving) These four experimental piano pieces by LA-based artist Celia Hollander came out digitally in 2014, but Leaving has just given them reissue on cassette in a super-limited edition of 50, so act fast if interested. Having served as the musical accompaniment for a performance piece choreographed by her sister Madeline, the spirit of collaboration carries over into an album-length music video created by Miko Revereza. However, Hollander’s music stands perfectly well on its own, and her classical training is unsurprising given the minimalist but at times highly aggressive playing here. A-

Bettie Serveert, Damaged Good (Schoolkids) The first of two RSD items from the North Carolina-based indie shop Schoolkids; the other is by fellow Carolinians The Veldt (see below). Here they reach across the water all the way to the Netherlands for the 11th LP by a combo who made a considerable splash in ’92 with the superb indie guitar-rock of Palomine. It’s a record they’ve never topped, but the circumstance hasn’t hindered them from persevering. Damaged Good reinforces a resistance to formula while maintaining consistency of voice. Speaking of which, Carol van Dyk remains in strong form. B+

Cory Branan, Adios (Bloodshot) Branan’s biggest strength remains his songwriting, though he also possesses a likeably non-affected vocal style. A fair percentage of alt-country/ Americana artists get tripped up with a strained authenticity that starts out innocently enough, but Branan mostly eschews drawl for the straightforward; when he does reveal his Southern roots, it pays dividends. But maybe the most appealing aspect of this LP is the occasional early ’80s college town bar-rock flare-ups complete with new wavy organ, which hits its apex with the terrific “Another Nightmare in America.” B+

The Cairo Gang, Untouchable (Drag City) Glad I finally got around to this one, for Emmett Kelly has worked up a concise folk-rocking joy of a record, and with the assistance of Ty Segall, the contents are a smidge heavier than usual. The main attractions in terms of heft are the big beat of “That’s When It’s Over” and the hard-charging riffed-out “In the Heart of Her Heart,” but the title track will attest that Kelly hasn’t been transformed into a garage rocker. Folks smitten with Entrance’s Book of Changes looking for a fresh kick should step right up; this isn’t quite as psychedelic, but it’s in the ballpark. A-

Dexter Gordon, Walk the Blues (ORG) On July 20-21, 1967 Gordon visited Copenhagen’s Jazzhus Montmartre and cut enough material to fill a series of albums. This is some of it, his band featuring pianist Kenny Drew, drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath, and bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen; everyone’s in strong form, but Gordon leads the charge and consistently delivers. Walk the Blues is satisfying but short, but on the plus side, “Blues Walk” is a boisterous opener, “I Guess I’ll Have to Hang My Tears Out to Dry” dishes worthy balladry and “Love for Sale” stretches across side two. A-

Arto Lindsay, Cuidado Madame (Northern Spy) The CD-digital for Lindsay’s first album of song-based material since ’04’s Salt is out this week, with the vinyl hitting May 19. As detailed in the swell promo text by Beauty Pill’s Chad Clark, Lindsay has an untamed side (termed by Clark as Scary Arto) and a calmer side (that’d be Sexy Arto); folks demanding wildness are advised to search out Scarcity, his improv duo with drummer Paal Nilssen-Love from ’14. Here, things lean toward the smooth but get progressively harrier in the late stretch. The man’s voice is as appealing as ever. A-

The Raincoats, “Fairytale in the Supermarket” (We Three) As all three of these tunes are on The Raincoats’ amazing debut LP (which was given a repress by We Three in ’09 and shouldn’t be too difficult to track down), this is the definition of collector’s item, which is fitting as it’s a Record Store Day reissue. But it’s also this cornerstone post-punk act’s first single, so historical import oozes from its grooves. If you own and love the LP, you don’t “need” it, but if you know a young’un who’s been grabbed by Patti or X-Ray Spex or Bikini Kill, please buy it for them and blow their beautiful mind. A

Rays, S/T (Trouble in Mind) Delightful post-punk ‘n’ roll from Oakland, released by a label with an increasing adeptness for picking winners (Chook Race, Dick Diver, Ultimate Painting and Omni, to name but a few). The way this bunch bears down hard on their guitar progressions is positively British (and particularly DIY-ish), but “Back Downtown” radiates US garage (both ’60s and contemporary). As the disc unwinds, the label’s mention of Aussie and Kiwi influences also rings true, but the ace in the hole is experience, with all the members having played in other Bay Area bands. A-

Sun Ra, Janus (ORG) This album has occasionally been described as a compilation of stray tracks, but that’s misleading. Reportedly assembled by the bandleader and intended for release as an LP around 1970, that didn’t happen; in ‘71 the tapes were sold to Black Lion who didn’t release it either. Some of this material made it onto a few Saturn LPs, but the original sequence belatedly hit CD in 1999 amid a flurry of Sun Ra reissues, which probably encouraged the idea of Janus as an enticing hodgepodge. The contents are varied; there’s exotica, lengthy jump-cut abstractions, and swinging big band skronk. A-

U-Roy, Dread in a Babylon (Get on Down) Reggae music and the marijuana plant have enjoyed a long and undeniably productive association. A minor personal quibble is that the atmosphere sometimes becomes a mite too mellow, which is why I almost always prefer the pure fucked-up-ness of prime dub. But this classic of the genre isn’t too relaxed, even as the jacket photo reinforces U-Roy as a first-class toker. Some hints of dub do arise here and there, particularly in “Natty Don’t Fear” and “Silver Bird,” but overall this record is about flow and not warpage, and its pop undercurrent retains its appeal. A-

V/A, Nicolas Winding Refn Presents The Wicked Die Young (Milan) The prior volumes in Milan’s Refn Presents series are reissues of OSTs (e.g. Oldboy, The Terminator, Robocop, and It Follows) but this is a mix of inspirations for The Neon Demon. A few contempo choices, ‘70s punk, Euro disco, femme pop vocals, Cliff Martinez, and the director’s son coalesce into a cool listen, yet this is mainly for folks who view the compiler as a genius. The soundtrack lifts by Pino Donaggio (from De Palma’s Dressed to Kill) and Claudio Gizzi (from Paul Morrissey’s Flesh for Frankenstein) underscore Refn as a cinephile auteur. B

The Veldt, “Symmetry” b/w “Slow Grind” (Schoolkids) The flip’s title aside, “Symmetry” is the real shoegaze slow-jam, crossing hazy rooftop dream-pop with the emotional heft of contempo R&B balladry; this insures The Veldt’s uniqueness, although true success comes through writing an honest to goodness song. The flip is less tune-oriented and more of a repeated gliding motif, stretching out to nearly seven minutes, which is perfectly okay for a B-side. It also has cinematic appeal, seeming like a good choice for a melancholic closing scene into end credits. Someone tell Nicolas Winding Refn. B+

Neil Young, Decade (Reprise) This is one of the better expanded single artist retrospectives produced by the rock idiom, beginning with Buffalo Springfield and winding through Young’s career up to 1977, much of it solo but also in collaboration. That there is more Crazy Horse than CSN&Y is a big part of this 3LP’s success, but I’d be lying if I said that “Helpless” and “Ohio” don’t go down smoothly in this mix. Sure, a lot of Young’s Greatest Hits are here, but in this broad landscape even the overplayed “Heart of Gold” hangs in okay. Side five is killer, and best of all, Young had yet to succumb to stylistic hopscotch. A

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