Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, July 2017

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Anton Kubikov, Whatness (Kompakt) Some may know Kubikov as half (alongside Maxim Milyutenko) of Russian techno-house act SCSI-9; amongst other output, they released a pair of full-lengths for Kompakt in ’06 and ’08. Kubikov has also contributed to three of the label’s Pop Ambient compilations, and folks attuned to the gist of that series are likely to be pleased by Whatness, as “April” from the 2016 installment gets a reprise here. Where a fair amount of this style displays traces of a dancefloor past, Kubikov strives for and succeeds in attaining a full-on 64-minute ambient landscape. A-

Tunabunny, PCP Presents Alice In Wonderland Jr (HHBTM) Too many bands make a hasty retreat for safe climes after stepping out onto an experimental plateau, but in a sweet twist, Athens, GA vets Tunabunny appear fully comfortable extending the sonic ventures undertaken on their prior effort Kingdom Technology. Extending and honing; this new one is 28 tracks totaling nearly 75 minutes, and while it surely has its share of tangents, the overall cohesion raises the intensity. Plus, many of the songs hit the level of the strongest stuff on Genius Fatigue; by a nose, this feels like the band’s best full-length. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Fairport Convention, Liege and Lief (A&M) I can’t imagine it’d be that difficult to find a clean-playing used copy of this for a moderate amount of dough, but then again, it’s a stone classic and I’m not letting go of my copy any time soon. I’m not parting way with the group’s three prior efforts either, but to these ears this is not just Fairport at their peak, it’s arguably Brit folk-rock’s shining moment. The turn away from US influence toward homegrown traditions is in full flower, as is Sandy Denny’s voice. “Maddy Groves” and “Medley: The Lark in the Morning” slay me every time. A+

Link Wray, S/T (Future Days) Any reissue of this classic is cause for cheers. Released in ’71, the contents of this comeback (which kicked-off a cool four-LP run) apparently received a lowkey response from Wray’s fanbase, but that’s because he wasn’t into peddling variations on his (admittedly classic) early instrumental rock singles. Instead, this stripped-down mix of roots, recorded by his bro Vernon and Steve Verroca in Vernon’s Accokeek, MD Shack Three Track, predates Americana by a long stretch and through comfort with assorted styles (importantly, including blues) betters most of it. A-

Arthur Alexander, S/T (Omnivore) In the notes for this reissue of Alexander’s ’72 LP for Warner Brothers, Barry Hansen (aka Dr. Demento) writes of a “dignified performer” who didn’t “jump or shake on stage.” No doubt that’s true, but it also meant he wasn’t an easy fit for radio; legendarily covered by The Beatles and Stones, he did score some chart action, but when he got his hands on a surefire “comeback” hit in “Burnin’ Love” (one of the highlights here) Elvis beat him to the retail racks. Warner Brothers’ lack of soul success is illustrated through far too many early fades, but this is still manna for soul lovers. B+

Atomic Rooster, Death Walks Behind You (Music on Vinyl) I can’t shake how the guitar at the beginning of the opening title track to the Rooster’s sophomore (and notably, post-Carl Palmer) LP seems to be imitating a chicken. It is, shall we say, a distraction. Regardless, this is generally heavier than I remembered, and that’s good; proggy keyboard is also in evidence, though noodling is largely kept in check. Still, much of the songwriting is no great shakes (e.g. “Tomorrow Night,” “I Can’t Take No More,” the initial portion of “Nobody Else”), and closer “Gershatzer” is plagued by a drum solo. B-

Gary Bartz NTU Troop, Harlem Bush Music – Uhuru (Jazz Dispensary) For many, the overriding flaw of noted multi-reed man Bartz’s ’71 effort will be datedness, but to these ears, the time capsule of empowerment and social commentary is a plus. Bassist Ron Carter, drummer Harold White, and percussionist Nat Bettis insure the grooves are solid, Andy Bey’s statements are as sharp as his voice is smooth, and Bartz blows well; to these ears, the main limitation is that the group doesn’t let loose nearly enough, and that a few ideas get stretched a little thin. ‘tis still a distinctive listen. B

Best Available Technology, Exposure Therapy (Styles Upon Styles) The smudgy, echoed-out, and static-peppered opener “Session 10670” readies the ear for a glitch fiesta, but the whole (consisting of eight tracks) is broader than that; it’s the cut’s tangible beat that sets the stage for what follows. Described as a “complex meditation on the golden age of New York hip hop” (or in the parlance of the era, the “boom-bap”) the project of Portland-based producer Kevin Palmer avoids direct stylistic mimicry in its homage. The beats are present, but so is dub, ambient, and experimental techno. B+

Buck Gooter, 100 Bells (Ramp Local) In the spring of ’11 I caught Buck Gooter playing the basement of an Ethiopian restaurant in Harrisonburg, VA. The food? De-lish, as was the drumbox punk William Brett and Terry Turtle served up. But where a lot of that sub-style can be assessed as precise and pummeling forward motion, the attack here is considerably more diverse, spewing a little Crampsian in “Goats Are Cool” and closer “Fracking Up the Planet,” while “Mound 72” swaps in hand drums as Brett rants and the guitar gets exquisitely bent. The stated reference points of Suicide and Beefheart are well-earned. A-

Cornelius, Mellow Waves (Rostrum) The title’s truth in advertising is only amplified by the 11-year gap in recording (at least under his Cornelius moniker). This is indeed non-hyperactive and at times is aptly described as relaxing, especially the closing guitar instrumental “Crépuscule.” Elsewhere, Keigo Oyamada examines a Brazilian angle (“Sometime / Someplace”), fools around with a vocoder (“Helix / Spiral”), and lays down an intricate foundation for an airy pop glide (“Mellow Yellow Feel”). An experimental peak is attained with “Surfing on Mind Wave Pt. 2,” but the mood is not disrupted. B+

Cornell Campbell, Dance in a Greenwich Farm (Radiation Roots) Originally issued in ’75 in the UK by the Grounation label, this is a trim showcase of an enormously successful but today a somewhat overlooked reggae singer. Skilled at interpretation (herein tackling songs by the Gaylads, Heptones, and Uniques), Campbell’s fine falsetto could easily handle an R&B-flavored heartacher like “Lost in a Dream.” Produced by Bunny Lee, mixed by King Tubby, and with backing by the Agrovators, the dozen tracks here roll without a hitch and culminate in the classic “Conquering Gorgon.” A-

Christos DC, Tessera (Honest Music) But if, a few years ago, you told me I’d give a positive review to a CD sporting a credit for The Skankin’ Monks, plus a roots reggae version of “Heart of Gold,” I’d’ve looked at you askance. At the very least. But to be fair, the Amsterdam-based Monks help get the fourth release by Christos DC (aka Greek American District of Columbia resident Chris Vrenios) off to a nice start, and by the point of the Neil cover (the vocal smoothness of which ain’t at all bad), consistency of quality is established. Guest spots by Sly and Robbie, Don Carlos, and more cinch up a solid summer jammer. B+

The Electric Prunes, S/T (Rhino) Here’s the 50th anniversary edition “Summer of Love Exclusive” of a debut that’s occasionally titled after the band’s biggest hit. That’d be “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night”; this LP also offers the stomper “Get Me to the World on Time” and a bunch of stuff drifting far afield of the garage, so be advised. Like nearly all ’60’s garage LPs, this is wildly uneven; there are some duff song choices (e.g. “About a Quarter to Nine,” “The King is in the Counting House”), and regrettable stylistic maneuvers (anticlimactic finale “The Toonerville Trolley”), but “Dream” is an absolute beauty. B

Joe Henderson featuring Alice Coltrane, The Elements (Jazz Dispensary) Henderson recorded a lot for Milestone (eight CDs worth), and the best LP of the bunch is ’69’s Power to the People, but this ’74 set isn’t far behind. Aptly categorized as spiritual jazz, it’s been described as fusion, and that’s not wrong, but it’s mixes “world music” (tambura, tabla, and sakara drum enter the equation) and searching, post-free flow that was edgier than Henderson normally got. Coltrane multitasks to strong effect, Charlie Haden dishes bass with typical aplomb, and violinist Michael White is the ace in the hole. A-

OST, Troma’s War (Ship to Shore PhonoCo – Locked Groove Recording Co.) I’ll admit it: rather than partaking in the films themselves, I generally admire the low-budget tenacity of Lloyd Kaufman’s Troma studio from a safe distance. That means I’m not familiar with the film from which this soundtrack derives, but I can get a rough idea of the story by reading down the titles. If you treasure ’80s ambiance like it’s crack cocaine, this baby will get you fucked up silly; it’s got an abundance of synths, programmed beats, a whole lot of wailing guitars, bass funk, and cheese galore. Like I said, I admire the tenacity. B

Sextile, Albeit Living (Felte) A lot of contempo synth-(post-)punk ends up registering like scaled-down techno-pop, which isn’t a death sentence by any means, but the undeniable punk roots of Sextile’s “Who Killed Six” bring considerable pleasure. Indeed, the second album from these Los Angelinos, with its raw guitar, buzzing, whooping and gnawing electronics, and hard-driving rhythms, comes off not like a new issue but rather the kind of rediscovered item plattered-up by Superior Viaduct or (the sadly defunct) Acute labels. Obviously adept in this zone, I’m checking out Sextile’s prior disc right quick. A-

Sniveling Shits, I Can’t Come (Damaged Goods) Like the ’07 picture disc of Giovanni Dadomo and Co.’s trim output, Damaged Goods’ vinyl repress of their prior CD handwork has four tracks not on the original LP. The 12 cuts include their track (as Arthur Comix) for Beggars Banquet’s Streets comp, the origins of Steve Lilywhite (who played bass early), a Jacques Dutronc cover, input by Eddie and the Hot Rods, backing by The Damned on “There Ain’t No Sanity Claus,” and Dadomo mispronouncing Robert De Niro’s surname De Nyero to force a rhyme with Biro. So, a smidge short of classic, but still essential. B+

SQÜRL, “EP #260” (Sacred Bones) Jim Jarmusch is one of the finest directors of the last 50 years, and his musical output enriches this achievement, in part because the activities are intrinsically related; this project with Carter Logan and Shane Stoneback emerged on the OST for The Limits of Control, continued in collab with lute-man Jozef Van Wissem for the score to Only Lovers Left Alive, and then scaled back to a duo with Logan for Jarmusch’s latest, Patterson. This 5-song 34-minute heavily guitar atmospheric set sees Stoneback return and features remixes by Anton Newcombe and Föllakzoid. It’s a good’un. B+

Mikey Young, Your Move Vol. 1 (Moniker) This is first in the label’s Your Move: the Synthtastic Solo Series for Humans 8+. The rules: the music’s gotta be synth-driven and the cover art must be inspired by the game of chess. Kicking it all off is Young, he of Total Control, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Ooga Boogas and more; the results are minor but enjoyable electronica utilizing dance rhythms, early-’80s art-wave ambiance, nods to New Age and the BBC Workshop, and on “Walking for Pleasure,” a deep immersion into Fripp. “Enignatic Cosmic Enforcer” maintains interest across 20 minutes. B+

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