Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, May 2017

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Grandpa’s Ghost, The Carnage Queen (Transduction) Pocahontas, IL’s Grandpa’s Ghost have been active since the ’90s, garnering beaucoup accolades and a too-small following, which is to be expected when roots and experimentation intersect. Impossible to imagine without the precedent of Neil Young in and outside of Crazy Horse, but boy howdy do they transcend that template on this 2LP (+ bonus digital set Country of Piss). “I Am a Specimen” is a highlight of raucous out-rock leading into “Come Here, Come Here,” which hits like a midwestern Lungfish crossed with Peter Jefferies. A

Jason Rigby, One (Fresh Sound) Inside-outside trios are a personal favorite, and this disc, which features Rigby on tenor and soprano sax with Cameron Brown on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums, maintains a consistently high standard. Evenly split between strong Rigby originals and a diversity of borrowed material, the decision to tackle “You Are Too Beautiful” was inspired by Coltrane and Rollins; Rigby’s playing combines elements of both but isn’t the slightest bit derivative. His soprano is a pleasure, and so’s his going it alone on “Embraceable You.” Brown and Cleaver reinforce their heavyweight reps. A-

REISSUE PICKS: OST, Blue Velvet (Varèse Sarabande) David Lynch’s ’86 cult behemoth is eminently quotable (“yes, that’s a human ear, alright.” “I’LL FUCK ANYTHING THAT MOVES!”), so I’m guessing there was temptation to pull a Tarantino and expand the reissue with dialogue snippets. If so, then kudos for resisting the urge, as Angelo Badalamenti’s classically orchestral score deserves to be front and center. The sound effects suite is also cool, as is “Honky Tonk Part 1,” “Love Letters,” Julee Cruise singing “Mysteries of Love,” and of course, the candy-colored clown they call the sandman. A

Swans, The Great Annihilator + Drainland (Young God) By ’94 Swans were solidly back on sure footing, but upon Annihilator’s initial release, I can distinctly recall being struck by its power, cohesiveness, and maturity. Michael Gira has recently professed displeasure with the original mix, but I was never so bummed; nonetheless, this remastering from the original tapes does strike the ear as fuller, and folks lacking this set on vinyl (which is most people, I’m guessing) can scoop it up now with Gira’s signature and get a bonus download of the man’s rather nifty ’95 solo joint Drainland. ‘tis a good ‘un! A- / A-

Yazz Ahmed, La Saboteuse (Naim) I’m an advocate for jazz fusion, but it’s difficult to deny that current examples of the form falter into a lite temperament far too frequently. Not here. British Bahraini trumpet/ flugelhorn specialist Ahmed’s second album is a major statement, with the presence of contempo electronic aspects avoiding shallowness, and ditto for the Middle Eastern melodic motifs. Meanwhile, Fender Rhodes blends with bass clarinet and Lewis Wright’s striking vibraphone. But it’s the lyricism, texture, and diversity of Ahmed’s playing that makes the deepest impression. B+

Chino Amobi, Paradiso (Uno NYC / Non) A whole lot of allegedly noisy stuff ultimately proves second-rate in terms of disruptiveness. This ample set from a Richmond, VA-based member of the collective NON may not be as brutal as I hoped (though it is punishing at times, e.g. “Negative Fire III” and “Polizei”), but rather than a letdown, Paradiso impresses as an interconnected, guest-heavy hour-plus plunge into surreal racket-groove. Springing from experimental dance and touching down in the rocky conceptual terrain of dystopian protest, there is poetry, raw throats, and disgust at our current quagmire. A-

Battle of Santiago, La Migra (Made with Pencil Crayons) The hybrid here, specifically afro-Cuban and post-rock, was unexpected, and bluntly, I was unsure how well the two genres would cohere. Turns out, quite well, as this Toronto-based half Canadian half Cuban outfit choose to envelop their jazzy forward motion with edgy guitar atmospherics and shards of dissonance. This is appropriate, as La Migra is a politically-focused album (the title translates to “deportation police”), with a fitting rhythmic intensity throughout. Another big plus is a searching rather than vamping saxophone. B+

Andrea Belfi, Ore (Float) My introduction to Belfi was through Il Sogno del Marinaio, a trio featuring guitarist Stefano Pilla and bassist Mike Watt, but the Berlin-based drummer has been active since the ’90s, with a load of collabs and solo efforts on his résumé; he got his start in punk bands but has subsequently grown into an electro-acoustic musician, recording with David Grubbs and touring with Nils Frahm. Ore fits the E-A MO, but with an appealing emphasis on Belfi’s skills behind the kit; sporting a jazzman’s touch, this is clearly a drummer’s album, but it’s appealingly lacking in showboating. A-

Black Helicopter, “Everything is Forever” (Limited Appeal) This Boston quartet shared a practice space with Mission of Burma, a fact worthy of mention since the four songs comprising this EP are aptly described as punk derived, intelligent and unaffected indie rock. A sound not so common today, one could’ve encountered variations on this recipe rather easily anytime from ’88 into the first half of the new century, which is when these guys released their debut. Subsequently, they were on Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace label for a while. Lineup changes have ensued, but sharpness remains. A-

Coldcut X On-U Sound, Outside the Echo Chamber (Ahead of Our Time) It’s a bit of a surprise this team-up between Jon More and Matt Black, who comprise Coldcut, and On-U Sound impresario Adrian Sherwood didn’t happen sooner, but the delayed results have not missed the qualitative boat. A guest-heavy affair including vets Junior Reid and Lee “Scratch” Perry, by extension it’s often dub-trippy; Brit rapper Roots Manuva and On-U Sound/ Sugarhill/ Tackhead alumni Doug Wimbish and Skip McDonald lend hands. The Liberace-sampling Indian detour “Kajra Mohobbat Walla” (featuring Iyer) is a gas. A-

The Como Mamas, Move Upstairs (Daptone) The prior LP by the Mamas, 2013’s Get an Understanding, stands as an exquisite, and in a contempo sense rather startling, helping of a cappella hot gospel. However, it was basically inevitable that the Mississippi trio would end up receiving instrumental accompaniment, in this case by The Glorifiers Band. While the results don’t grab me as strongly as the pure vocal stuff, Move Upstairs still manages a tight grip. Interestingly, the playing leans toward the bluesy rather than the soul-drenched, with the singing occasionally bordering on the gutbucket. A-

Feederz, “WWHD – What Would Hitler Do?” (Slope) Punk as provocation doesn’t get much better than this band’s 1980 “Jesus” 7-inch, but a lot of time has passed, and I’ll fess to ignorance over their output since. Leader Frank Discussion is an antagonist in the Jello mold (har-har), and he’s joined here by drummer DH Peligro of the Dead Kennedys and bassist Clear Bob for two songs produced by Meat Puppet Cris Kirkwood. At first, both sides felt too rock tame and by a considerable margin, but with spins the appeal grew. Plus, any record likening the odious shit-pout of 45 to ol’ Adolf is A-Okay with me. B+

Arthur Lee & Love, Complete Forever Changes Live (Rockbeat) Forever Changes is one of my tiptop records, a work of near boundless imagination brought to the brink of perfection through the studio ingenuity of a bygone era…how’s that for breathless adoration? Therefore, the prospect of a 2003 Glastonbury Festival gig of the album in-sequence filled me with dread, but after listening to this I shouldn’t have worried. Lee is engaged, the orchestral sections are rendered extremely well, and the variations aren’t stumbles. Upon consideration, I would’ve loved to have been there. A-

Quinsin Nachoff’s Ethereal Trio, S/T (Whirlwind) There’s a whole lot of high-quality stuff going on here. Described as a jazz-classical merger, tenor saxophonist-composer Nachoff’s conception isn’t reminiscent of “third stream,” as the playing is considerably more exploratory. Much of the disc is free but not skronky; drummer Dan Weiss has much to offer, from abstract accents to a sturdy groove on “Subliminal Circularity,” but I’m particularly taken with the bass of Mark Helias, who is huge in the vivid warmth of the mix. The six compositions are trim and varied, with Nachoff sounding terrific throughout. A-

Rat Fancy, “Suck a Lemon” (HHBTM) Buzzy bass-eschewing Los Angelino twee-pop. The six songs are as catchy as the kissing disease, but they also thrive on simplicity nearer to punk than the sophistication of say, Camera Obscura, though “Suck a Lemon II” gets into the Scottish combo’s neighborhood through the vocals of Diana Barraza (formerly of the Sweater Girls). Much of the rest reminds me a little of Brigit Cross-era Velocity Girl, except more deeply twee; “I Can’t Dance to the Smiths Anymore” will win them immediate fans, but it’s Gregory Johnson’s keyboard that’s the sneaky grabber. B+

T.Raumschmiere, Heimat (Kompakt) I’m no expert on the work of Marco Hass aka T.Raumschmiere, but what I heard was noted as cool. To be honest, I’d forgotten about the guy, but he’s been active since his highest profile period in the ’00s, and has returned to the label that issued his early stuff with a 58-minute 2LP. Growth is in evidence; his 2000 “Bolzplatz” EP comes off a little bit like a pinch of sand being sprinkled into some well-oiled gears, but Heimat feels much broader, with Hass registering not as a fly in techno’s ointment but more like a crackle-fiend inhabiting a fertile outpost on the electronic fringe. A-

V/A, Function Underground: The Black and Brown American Rock Sound 1969-1974 (Now-Again) It’s no secret that non-whites have rocked hard (in the USA and Africa), but many persist in ignoring the fact, or in considering examples of such as exceptions to a norm or as “exotic.” Well, bullshit to that, and kudos to Now-Again for this strong assemblage of underheard material (peak find: “Jimi’s Guitar Raps with the Bass,” by Jimi Macon, later of the Gap Band). Heavy funk originals are common, but the fuzz-rippin’ version of Spencer Davis’ “I’m a Man” is cool, as are the dips into Neil Young and Sly Stone. A-

Workhorse, No Sun (Tenth Court) 7-song cassette from an Adelaide, AU unit who benefit from experience as they mingle indie and alt-country of a decidedly ’90s bent. Overall, the sound is more like a Matador signee than an entry on the Bloodshot roster (Tenth Court’s Cat Power reference is on the money, in part due to the solid vocals of Katie Schilling), though the ’60s poppish closer “Horses” is something of an exception. While not as raw or as desperate as their Kiwi neighbors The Renderers, Workhorse does stake out similar territory, mainly because they’re disinterested in peddling bogue authenticity. B+

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