Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, August 2017

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Nadia Sirota, Tessellatum 2 (Bedroom Community) On occasion, the impulse to combine experimental sounds with visuals (often of a likeminded nature) smacks of a covert attempt to quell boredom. However, when the union is inspired it can be sublime. Such is the case here. Featuring Sirota on violas and Liam Byrne on viola da gamba playing a composition by Donnacha Dennehy, the accompanying animated film by Steven Mertens (available as a download with the LP/ CD) enhances an already full-bodied sonic tableau; think modern classical with elements of drone. Superb. A

Rob Noyes, The Feudal Spirit (Poon Village) A stunning solo 6 and 12-string guitar debut (in an edition of 330 with a Raymond Pettibon cover), aptly tagged as post-Takoma school (Glenn Jones is a vocal proponent) but with broader folk-blues reach (lines of descent have been drawn from John Renbourn, Davey Graham, Wizz Jones, and Michael Chapman) and a level of intensity setting him apart from the ever-increasing contempo fingerpicking hoards. Noyes has a background in loud post-HC rock (e.g. Bloody Gears), but his playing, often aggressive and fast, evinces no traces of the recent covert. A

REISSUE PICKS: Pharoah Sanders, Izipho Zam (My Gifts) (Everland) This sometimes gets tagged as spiritual jazz, and opener “Prince of Peace” (with vocalist Leon Thomas and his ultra-cool yodel) reinforces the observation; more so, the LP was originally on Strata East. But stretches of “Balance” and the 29-minute title track (amidst more yodeling) offer some of the wildest large group free jazz ever recorded. The lineup is wide-ranging, including out-jazz mainstays Sonny Sharrock on guitar and Sirone on bass, but also Sonny Fortune on alto, Howard Johnson on tuba, and Billy Hart on drums. A doozy. A

Jerry Garcia, S/T (ATO) Amir Bar-Lev’s recent film Long Strange Trip is something of a music doc rarity, in that it’s an utter treat for serious Deadheads and more casual fans alike, and it reasserted my love for the band. It also deepened the fresh listen I gave to Garcia’s ’72 solo debut, a record I’ve long dug, but probably never more than right now. Stripped back to just a multi-tasking Jerry, drummer Bill Kreutzmann and some of Robert Hunter’s best lyrics, the first side of this, peaking with the majestic “Sugaree,” is faultless. Some bag on the experimentation opening the flip, but it bothers me not a bit. A

Atriarch, Dead as Truth (Relapse) These Portland, OR-based dark-metal specialists’ fourth album finds them well-honed and wielding a wide stylistic reach; along with the expected varieties of metal (black, doom, sludge), they also integrate post-punk and noise elements and gothic atmosphere (think castles, not lipstick) in a manner that feels natural rather than a strain for distinctiveness. Lenny Smith’s vocals can span from curdling wails with real emotional weight (not just bluster) to an ominous tone bringing Michael Gira to mind, and the band’s explosiveness transcends mere bombast. A-

B Boys, Dada (Captured Tracks) It’s obvious B Boys aren’t looking to win any originality contests, but they’re also not slavishly mimicking their influences, primary amongst them Wire and Gang of Four; I’m willing to bet a box of Buzzcocks badges that nine out of ten articles on B Boys mention those two bands, but nothing here is accurately pegged as brazen (unlike, say, a certain “Three Girl Rhumba” nick from a few decades back). This slightly improves upon their prior EP, and establishes that they can knock out at least one strong long-player. B+

The Black Watch, The Gospel According to John (The Eskimo Record Label) The band of John Andrew Frederick has issued 15 full-length records since St. Valentine in 1988; this one came out a couple of months back, but it’s worthiness warrants a slightly tardy mention, particularly as lit-professor Frederick resides amongst the perennially underrated. California-based, The Black Watch are something of an Anglo-ish proposition, at times here a bit like Echo crossed with Julian Cope (or Aussies The Church). Produced by Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Rob Campanella, the songs and delivery are solid. B+

Boogie Down Productions, Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip Hop (Get on Down) This ’89 set refined KRS-One’s shift away from the slamming proto-gangsta rap of ’87’s Criminal Minded. Squeezed in between was By All Means Necessary, which is the best of the man’s consciousness-raising efforts. Ghetto Music doesn’t miss by much, though. Musically minimalist yet effective, the focus is dependably on the rhymes and the ideas they impart, though overall this is more fun than it’s often given credit for. Anyway, accusations of didacticism are sorta moot when you call yourself the Teacher, y’know? B+

Tom Brosseau, Treasures Untold (Crossbill) Songwriter, guitarist, vocalist, and interpreter of classic song, Brosseau is also sometimes described as a musical storyteller, and this recording from a private event in Cologne, Germany is as warm as a plate of grandma’s oven fresh biscuits. The four originals are solid, but the ten taken from the American Folksong Book, with Brosseau’s ability as a singer and player allowing him to go deep (Hank Williams, Rev. Gary Davis. Elizabeth Cotton, Jimmie Rodgers), make this one special. Often as polite as an episode of Prairie Home Companion, but thankfully non-affected. B+

Caroline Says, 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong (Western Vinyl) This puts on vinyl a 2014 cassette by Caroline Sallee, who borrows a Lou Reed song as her recording handle and titles her album after an old Presley comp. Those borrowings aren’t indicative of her sound (well, except for the vaguely Reed-ian closer “Lost Feeling”), which is sometimes indie folky and at other moments more appealingly indie poppish, though she nicely broadens the spectrum with some bossa nova (“My Fiancé’s Pets”) and increasingly woozy ‘60s pop (“God Knows”). Reissued in prep for a 2018 LP, this sparks interest. B+

Alex Chilton, A Man Called Destruction (Omnivore) Chilton’s mid-’90s albums, of which this sits in the middle, are often described as his comeback, but it continues to strike me that his stuff from the period serves as a terrible introduction to the guy. This is not to suggest that the music’s bad; I quite like the looseness and eccentricity of this set’s sturdy originals and discerning covers, but I suspect it needs context to really come to life. So, if you’re curious about his stuff, I wouldn’t use this as a point of entry. Fans of solo Chilton will likely want to pony up, as it expands to 2LP with seven bonus tracks. B+

Jack Cooper, Sandgrown (Trouble in Mind) Citing Terry Allen’s Lubbock (On Everything), Sinatra’s Watertown, and Springsteen’s Nebraska as inspiration, Ultimate Painting co-frontman Cooper’s solo debut draws on youth spent in Blackpool, England. This doesn’t reach the heights of those predecessors, but working alone with a Teac 144 4-track, Sandgrown’s personal heft is substantial. Branching out and scaling back from Cooper’s main gig, the label’s comparisons to Scott Walker, John Cale, and Robert Wyatt seem lofty at first, but with repeated play the namedrops begin sharpening in focus. B+

Crayola Summer, I Know Who We Are (Emotional Response) The name Crayola Summer might trigger twee thoughts in some observers, but no. The project of Simon Williams (Sarandon, The Safe Distance, A Witness, The Great Leap Forward), his use of the moniker comes from a love of the Red Crayola, though you wouldn’t necessarily figure this out just by listening to his latest set. What we do have here is a solid ten songs of raw-edged non-generic indie pop; spots reminded me of Close Lobsters and Wolfhounds, but nothing here is aptly pegged as derivative. “She Didn’t Like Flowers” is an early standout. B+

Hulaboy / Safe Distance, S/T split (Emotional Response) Both sides here feature Stewart Anderson. Perhaps best known as part of Boyracer (he also co-runs Emotional Response), Hulaboy is his duo with Eric M. Stoess (of Hula Hoop). They specialize in indie pop with doses of humor (“Part Time Goth”) and on a few cuts, a burbling synth. Occasionally rough-edged but reliably catchy, Hulaboy contrast well with Safe Distance; Anderson’s duo with Simon Williams (of Crayola Summer) is a beefier and somewhat more serious-minded affair, though it’s all still tangibly derived from the indie pop fount. B+/ B+

Johnny Moped, “Catatonic” b/w “Hard Lovin’ Man” (Damaged Goods) The general high quality of these first-generation Brit punkers’ recent comeback was far from expected, but as a consistently undervalued unit, they didn’t really have to worry about meeting expectations; instead, they just rocked, and this new single effectively dodges the pitfall of departing original drummer Dave Berk. The A-side kicks out some beefy chugging that should leave any lover of early Damned well chuffed, but it’s the flip, which comes off like prime Raw Records with a touch of “Borstal Breakout,” that steals the show. A-

Lulu Lewis, S/T (Self-released) Featuring guitarist Pablo Martin, a native of Buenos Aires and a resident of NYC for the last two decades, and singer Dylan Hundley, a New Yorker (with time spent in LA) who’s notable for acting in films by Whit Stillman and Abel Ferrara. They put their weakest song up front on this 4-song tape, but it’s not that weak (in fact it’s a grower) and the gist of the set is bold pop-rocking with soulful touches courtesy of Hundley’s up-front delivery. There’s also a punkish undercurrent, but not in a stripped-down or rudimentary sense. I’m curious to hear the upcoming album. B+

Roy Panton & Yvonne Harrison with Friends, Studio Recordings 1961-1970 (Liquidator Music) This repress of a cool and historical ska/ rocksteady collection from 2012 initially connects as a Panton showcase, finding him solo on four cuts (including “Beware Rudy,” which should hold interest for Specials fans), as well as in duo with Millie Small (“My Boy Lollipop”), Patsy (aka Millicent Todd), Annette Clark, and Eric “Monty” Morris. Harrison gets two solo and one with Glen Adams, so it’s not all Panton’s show. Their team-up only provides five of the 17 tracks, but they’re amongst the LP’s best. B+

Florence Raynaud, “Singes” (Emotional Response) Vocalist Raynaud emerged last year dishing subtly quirk French pop on the flat-out terrific first album from Croque Madame. This is Raynaud’s debut under her own name, with her bandmate and Brit DIY notable Robert Storey contributing arrangements (along with guitar and keyboards). The main diff between her work in Croque Madame and this agonizingly too brief 7-inch relates to how these three songs inch attractively nearer to full-blown art-pop. Fans of Brigitte Fontaine take note. A-

John Sabastian, John B. Sabastian (Exhibit) This was once a common used bin find, at least around my burg. Loaded with noteworthy guests (Buzzy Linhart, Dallas Taylor, Buddy Emmons, the Ikettes, and the totality of Crosby, Stills & Nash), Sebastian’s solo debut (and biggest solo seller) expands from the Lovin’ Spoonful’s already rather broad stylistic range. Like the band he’d left, success is variable (I’ve never been able to warm up to “She’s a Lady,” for instance), but Sabastian pulls things together well, and he has a point that the album’s delayed release undercut its stature in the singer-songwriter canon. B+

Brandon Seabrook, Die Trommel Fatale (New Atlantis) Guitarist Seabrook’s ensemble includes drummers Dave Treut and Sam Ospovat, cellist Markia Hughes, bassist Eivind Opsvik, and the throat and electronics of Chuck Bettis. The inclusion of Bettis might clue some in to Seabrook’s avant goings-on, and if you’re pining for prog-noise this is the jackpot. The leader’s instrumental range spans from note-splatter to angular shards to the atmospheric to a few brief spots that’re like early McLaughlin on meth. Reminiscent of output on the Tzadik and Ipecac labels, this is New Atlantis’ 50th release. Celebrate. A-

Archie Shepp / Lars Gullin Quintet, The House I Live In (Modern Silence) Courtesy of Steeplechase, it’s never been particularly hard to hear this 1963 Jazzhus Montmartre date pairing visiting US tenor saxophonist Shepp with Swedish baritone man Gullin (plus a killer rhythm section), but this edition of 500 is the first vinyl repress since its initial release in 1980. As a leader in the young free jazz movement, Shepp was an odd match for the considerably more bop-minded Gullin, but while their approaches do contrast (mainly in Shepp’s solos) they don’t clash, and this set is much more than a curiosity. B+

The Solarflares, Psychedelic Tantrum, That Was Then…And So is This, & Can Satisfy You (Damaged Goods) The Prisoners remains Graham Day’s highest-profile outfit, but The Solarflares should be better known outside of Medway circles. Comprised of guitarist Day, bassist Allan Crockford, drummer Wolf Howard, and later, organist Mr. Paisley, they merged raw freakbeat and hard-edged garage with touches of psych across five albums from ’99 to ’03; this is three of them. Tantrum is the heftiest, That Was Then sports the richest songwriting, and Satisfy is a comp sprinkled with some nifty covers. A-/ A-/ A-

Superchunk, S/T (Merge) The band’s first album, initially released by Matador in 1990, with a bonus full CBGB show from the same year on the download card. In a recent chat with Noisey, ‘chunk bassist Laura Ballance ranked this as her least favorite of their ample discography, and on one hand, I can relate; although I bought it shortly after it came out, it’s the LP of theirs that I’ve listened to the least over the years. On the other, the punk-HC bedrock of the band’s sound is never more apparent than it is here, and pulling it off the shelf for a few fresh spins suggests that maybe I should’ve played it more often. B+

Television Personalities, And Don’t the Kids Just Love It, Mummy Your Not Watching Me, They Could Have Been Bigger Than the Beatles & The Painted Word (Fire) These came out in April for Record Store Day, but have recently received a wider general reissue, and young converts to indie pop, post-punk and neo-psych shouldn’t dally in obtaining the lot. Many of TVP’s contemporaries weakened promising beginnings or drove a sound into the ground, but not Dan Treacy. For those digging the styles mentioned above, lacking these classic albums will serve as a gaping life-hole. Don’t fuck up. A/ A/ A-/ A

V/A, Sing It High, Sing It Low: Tumbleweed Records 1971-1973 (Light in the Attic) In the early ‘70s Larry Ray and Bill Szymczyk bailed on the established record industry for Denver with the intention of doing things right. Securing a hefty financing deal with Gulf + Western, the early modest momentum of Danny Holien’s “Colorado” single was stymied and the label shuttered after just nine albums. Drawing from that pool, this offers a seriously mixed bag. Holien’s country-rock and Pete McCabe’s gently off-kilter Marilyn Monroe trib “Late Letter”? Yes. Robb Kunkel’s soaring mainstream rock? Most definitely no. B

V/A, Total 17 (Kompakt) This latest edition of Kompakt’s yearly comp series, offered on 2CD/ 2LP + download, holds over 2 and ½ hours of music, so it’s unlikely any consumers are going to complain about being shortchanged. But what about too much of a good thing? Well, obviously Kompakt’s formats of choice allow for parceling out the contents in increments, but in absorbing it all in one big gulp (which I admittedly only did twice) nothing felt skippable, and that’s no small achievement. Kompakt’s addition of eight new tracks will do economically-minded electronica mavens no favors. A-

Dustin Wong & Takako Minekawa, Are Euphoria (Thrill Jockey) The third team-up of guitarist Wong and veteran vocalist-composer Minekawa delivers seven tracks of vivid cyclical layering. In his Baltimore days, Wong dished experimentalism both rock (in Ponytail) and solo, while Minekawa can be synopsized as an art-pop specialist (she’s previously collaborated with ex-hubby Cornelius and Ryuichi Sakamoto), but this is substantially more than just a meeting of complementary sensibilities. Thrill Jockey cites the inspiration of internationalist fusion, and that feels right on. Animal Collective fans are likely to dig. A-

The Yawpers, Boy in a Well (Bloodshot) On this third full-length (unless you count a self-released covers album from 2013), the Denver-based Yawpers continue to sharpen a blend of blues, rockabilly, punk, and Americana. Refreshingly literary, with their name deriving from Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and this LP described as “a sensational tragedy set in World War I France” (it’s accompanied with a comic book illustrated by J.D. Wilkes), the smarts have no adverse effect on the wildness of their rocking, produced here (with instrumental input) by Tommy Stinson. Inspired, raw, and non-hackneyed. A-

Yowie, Synchromysticism (Skin Graft) The third record by this St. Louis-based math-prog trio is marked by a persistently high energy level. The dual guitars of Jeremiah Wonsewitz and new member Christopher Trull (ex-Grand Ulena) needle, dart and delve into patterns of intricacy, and the results are urgently spastic but always in control. However, it’s through the drums, courtesy of a dude named Defenestrator, that the record effectively moves; comparisons to Dillinger Escape Plan are not inapt, but the intensity of the string work also brought Mick Barr to mind. A-

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