Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, June 2017

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Dominique Eade and Ran Blake, Town and Country (Sunnyside) Pianist Blake excels at one-on-one interaction with vocalists, e.g. his indispensable ’62 LP with Jeanne Lee. Here, he engages in dialogue with brilliant chance-taker Eade on a wide variety of songs, from standards to folk to two selections by Walter Schumann for Charles Laughton’s noir masterpiece The Night of the Hunter to Nelson Riddle’s theme to Route 66. “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” sounds like Anita O’Day flipped for Bob back in ’65 and decided to transform the song with the assistance of…Ran Blake. How cool. A

V/A, Typical Girls Volume 2 (Emotional Response) This continues the admirable international focus of the first set and with no drop off in quality. Beginning with jagged art-racket-rant by Aussies Bent and swiftly and sweetly shifting gears into the charging melodic punk of Oakland’s Midnite Snaxxx, there’s also edgy wavy stuff (Madrid’s Juanita y Los Feos, California’s Cold Beat), stomp-throttle (Cali’s Neighborhood Brats), more art-squall (Oakland’s Naked Lights), solid post-punk (Berlin’s Levitations), and more including Aussies Suss Cunts (see below) and UK vets Skinny Girl Diet. A remedy for power imbalance. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Tony Conrad, Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plain (Superior Viaduct) Some know Conrad through his connection to The Velvet Underground, others are familiar with his work with Krautrockers Faust, and abstract film nuts might be hip to The Flicker. This 2LP/ 2CD set, consisting of one remarkable 88-minute piece featuring Conrad on violin, Rhys Chatham on the Long String Drone (a homemade instrument of wood, metal, bass strings, an electric pickup, tape and rubber bands), and Laurie Spiegel on bass, now sits at the top of this too often overlooked avant-gardist’s already potent discography. A+

Game Theory, 2 Steps from the Middle Ages (Omnivore) It’s common for the final album in a band’s reissue cycle to be one for the die-hards, but across their ’82-’90 existence Game Theory never put out a bad record. More to the point, once Scott Miller and company attained greatness the albums largely maintained that standard. Because this is a somewhat streamlined affair compared to Lolita Nation, I’ve heard some put it down, but listening to it in 2017, I have no fucking clue what those people are talking about. Listen up and get a grip; this is guitar pop for the ages. A-

Abstract Orchestra, Dilla (ATA) Saxophonist-leader Rob Mitchell’s stated objective here is to wed jazz complexity to the structural simplicity of hip-hop while paying tribute to the late J Dilla; the results can be aptly described as a crate-digger’s delight, recalling everything from Isaac Hayes, David Axelrod, the J.B.’s, the sophisticated ambition of ’70s soul (guest vocalist Anna Uhuru flourishes in Dionne Warwick-Minnie Ripperton modes), and the action flick soundtracks of the same decade. A few moments here get a little too smooth, but they pass quickly in favor of off-kilter beauties like “Raw Shit.” B+

Lando Chill, The Boy Who Spoke to the Wind (Mello Music Group) Taking inspiration from Paulo Coelho’s book The Alchemist, Lando Chill’s second LP is far from standard hip-hop. Blending the personal and the spiritual, the whole is anchored by social relevance and a distinctive musical approach; described in MMG’s promo text as sharing as much with James Blake and Bon Iver as he does with Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar, the folkish angle here is appealingly darkened with elements reminiscent of experimental techno and even Industrial. Even the poetic interjections are solid. B+

Cowbell, Haunted Heart (Damaged Goods) Third album from the UK garage-roots duo of Jack Sandham and Wednesday Lyle; he plays the guitar and keys, she beats the traps, they both sing, and if you’re thinking of Jack and Meg, well, don’t. Through additional assistance and overdubs, Cowbell don’t give off the duo vibe, instead striving for a fully fleshed out band sound celebrating varied styles deriving from the US of A. If their approach to ‘billy and blues is maybe a mite too well-mannered, Haunted Heart’s strong suit is a nuanced execution of assorted strains of Southern pop. B+

Jason Loewenstein, Spooky Action (Joyful Noise) Veteran Loewenstein’s highest profile work is as part of Sebadoh (which he co-founded with Lou Barlow) and The Fiery Furnaces, but he’s also toured with such esteemed figures as Richard Buckner and The Clean’s David Kilgour. Therefore, the instrumental substantiality of this, his second solo effort (after 2002’s At Sixes and Sevens for Sub Pop) is no shocker, and as his writing in Sebadoh underscores, neither is the strength of the songs. Maybe it’s just the Flipper t-shirt he sports in the “Machinery” video, but there’s a nicely fucked edge to these 13 tracks. A-

The Luxembourg Signal, “Laura Palmer” b/w “Let’s Make Some Plans” (Shelflife) I’m a full-blown Twin Peaks nut, but like others I’m sure, I haven’t plunged into the revived series yet, only because I lack the needed cable hookup. As such, art paying tribute to or inspired by David Lynch and Mark Frost’s singular blend of soap opera, noir, and surrealism triggers regret that I didn’t upgrade my TV package and binge re-watch the pilot, first two seasons, and Fire Walk with Me in prep. To quote the Peanuts gang…Sigh. The synth-pop shaded A-side here is ok, but the flip’s buildup to an excellent finale is the pick. B+

Madison Washington, “Code Switchin’” (Def Pressé) 6-song EP of u-ground style hip-hop from New York emcee Malik Ameer and Sheffield UK producer-DJ thatmanmonkz. As their choice of moniker makes plain, the gist is politically focused, with the words of poet and lit journal editor Ameer gaining strength through eloquence counterbalanced with the rough intensity of his delivery (which thankfully stops short of overboard bluster) and combines well with the sample-based attack. The occasional jazz lifts underscore a connection to the East Coast ’90s, though “iAncient” recalls Adrian Sherwood. B+

OST, The Babadook (Waxwork) In case you haven’t noticed, a big part of the current boom for OSTs is devoted to horror soundtracks, and unsurprisingly so; slash, jump, and scream aficionados do seem a bit more gripped by the collector urge than movie buffs do in general, but also, other than full-blown musicals, there’s arguably no genre more indebted to intelligent sound design than horror (the obvious contender is suspense, which horror often overlaps). Although Jed Kurzel’s music for Jennifer Kent’s acclaimed flick is sparkling with newness, he builds tension through repetition like an old pro. A-

OST, Evil Dead 2 (Waxwork) Unlike Kurzel’s contribution to The Babadook, which exudes an experimental atmosphere that can stand apart from the images they accompany, Joseph LoDuca’s OST for Sam Raimi’s beautifully zonked horror-comedy is immediately identifiable as a film score in the Hollywood tradition, though don’t read this as an assessment of lesser value. Heard in isolation, this baby radiates a decidedly ’80s action flick feel, but minus any synth tones, meaning the whole is closer to Spielberg and OST classicism than Carpenter. Still, the intensity and sweet twists make this one a consistent winner. A-

OST, Halt and Catch Fire (Fire Soundtracks – Lakeshore Records) If it’s synths you desire, then step right up to this one, which inaugurates Fire’s soundtrack division in partnership with OST behemoth Lakeshore. I’ve not watched the TV show from which this score derives (Twin Peaks excepted, I’m more of a cinema guy), but it’s described as dramatizing the personal computer revolution, making the input of ex-Tangerine Dreamer Paul Haslinger (he joined post-Sorcerer/ Thief but was on board for Near Dark) a solid fit. Blending retro ambiance with more contempo elements, this is rewarding, serious work. B+

Duncan Reid and the Big Heads, “C’mon Josephine” b/w “Bombs Away” (Damaged Goods) Heavy-duty fans of ’77 UK punk surely know The Boys, and the same goes for lovers of the era’s power-pop happenings. Duncan “Kid” Reid was the bassist in the original lineup. He’s been at it as the leader of the Big Heads for roughly five years and three albums, and Damaged Goods swipes two from their latest Bombs Away for this corker of a single. A-side is a riffy grower concerning lovey-dovey business, but the anthemic flip, complete with big, punky guitar and Beach Boys harmonies, is really where it’s at. A-

Rosebud, S/T (Omnivore) I rate Judy Henske and Jerry Yester’s Farewell Aldebaran (reviewed here a few months back) as a classic, but this sole ’71 effort from the group the couple formed next, is a far more conventional, and to these ears less satisfying, affair. A full-fledged band rather than simply a backing vehicle for the duo, the songs include input from Craig Doerge (who put out a solo LP for Columbia in ’73 prior to forming the session outfit The Section). But more than a few worthwhile moments (and bonus tracks) do emerge as this deepens the ’60s scene’s march toward commerciality. B

Small World Experience, Soft Knocks (Tenth Court) This Aussie outfit, concisely tagged as the project of singer-guitarist Pat Ridgewell with the assistance of drummer Ian Wadley and bassist Julian Patterson, was but one component in the ’90s guitar-pop underground. Although ’94’s Shelf-life was reissued by Siltbreeze last year, they haven’t issued a peep since ’99’s Side Projects on Chapter Music, so this LP is unexpected but quite welcome. Occasionally labeled as lo-fi back in the day, to my ear they connect as an extension of ’80s DIY with unusually choice songs; this dozen easily maintains that standard. A-

Suss Cunts, S/T EP (Emotional Response) 4-song EP from an all-female Aussie trio split between Melbourne and Sydney that combine the focused anger of Riot Grrl with all sorts of nifty bits, including the ’80s DIY-ish guitar strum and post-punk ranting of “Anaemic Boyfriend” and a dose of humor in the Debbie Harry meets Clare Grogan chorus of “Sweater Vest” (“I made you coffee! Why won’t you love me!”). By extension, the keyboard in closer “Julianne” underscores an appealingly garage-New Wavy angle to the Suss Cunts’ work, and I’m psyched to hear more. B+

John Gary Williams, S/T (Stax) This is the sole LP from vocalist Williams after his departure from the Mad Lads, and it’s quite the rare item from Stax’s later days. Its vinyl reissue is a boss turn of events, but folks hoping for more along the lines of “The Whole Damn World is Going Crazy” are likely to be disappointed, unless they have a corresponding jones for the expression of romantic sentiments. Truthfully, Williams is far from a duff specialist in said moods, but opener “I See Hope” raises expectations for a platter of social observation. Worth a pickup, but not a lost classic. B

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