Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, August 2017

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Ben Frost, “Threshold of Faith” (Mute) When it comes to post-industrial experimental soundscapes, Reykjavik-based Australian-native Frost consistently delivers the goods, and more; in 2013, he directed a musical-stage adaptation of Iain Banks’ novel The Wasp Factory. This EP documents a visit to Steve Albini’s place in Chicago, a meeting that resulted in over two hours of music. The opening title track comes on strong with booming thud-pulse enveloped in electronic haze, but the whole expands into less aggressive, at times even placid terrain. More from these sessions, please. A-

Brian Landrus Orchestra, Generations (BlueLand) Baritone sax/ low woodwind specialist, bandleader and composer Landrus is openly influenced by a wide variety of non-jazz, from Motown to Zep to Michael Jackson to J Dilla, but he’s anything but a pastiche-happy crossover hack. As the baritone chair in the Gil Evans Project, he’s absorbed some big band sensitivity from that endeavor’s namesake and loaded his orchestral debut (after a batch of smaller group outings) with some major names, amongst them vet drummer Billy Hart, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, and harpist Brandee Younger. Utterly non-stale. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Univers Zero, Heresie (Sub Rosa) Intensely dark second LP from a Belgian unit sometimes synopsized as chamber prog and further explained by a connection to Rock in Opposition. The term gothic is also occasionally employed, but don’t get the wrong idea; their inclusion on the Nurse with Wound list should relate the degree of seriousness at work here. The closest prog antecedents are Magma and to a lesser extent Crimson, though with this album they moved even farther afield of rock. This set features the 2010 remix issued by Cuneiform sans the bonus track “Chaos Hermetique.” A

Lejsovka & Freund, Music for Small Ensemble & Computer (MIE Music) The title might suggest the lab-coat-clad sternness of the avant-garde electronic days of yore and its occasional overlap with 20th century classical, but no. Keith Freund describes part of what he’s up to with Linda Lejsovka as “DIY shitty classical” but I’d never be so gauche. The small ensemble action here is modernist but warm, and the computerized elements serve a wide purpose, from varying degrees of enhancement to non-hostile disruption. This 500 count 2LP reissues the prior Mold on Canvas and Lethal Strategies. A-

Absolutely Not, Errors (No Trend) This punkish Chicago-based outfit covers admirable stylistic territory; opener “Communication” peels out from the intersection of power-pop and melodic punk with furious bursts of energy (so much so that classicists might be put off) and sprays riffs all over the place. Rolling from there, they get new wavy (keyboards enter the picture) and post-punky, though their reach ultimately coheres into an appealing party rock “glitter-punk” whole (members Donnie Moore and his sister Madison Moore host a monthly LGBTQ rock event at Chicago’s Empty Bottle). Short and sweet. B+

Sorry Bamba, Du Mali (Africa Seven) Malian bandleader Bamba was included on Luaka Bop’s sweet 2005 compilation World Psychedelic Classics 3 and has been included on assorted V/A affairs since, but he really emerged into the Western consciousness via his own spotlight, Volume One 1970 – 1979. Compiled by Ian Eggleston, Extra Golden’s Alex Minoff and Bamba and released by Thrill Jockey in ’11, it included two tracks from this, his second LP, originally issued by Songhoï in ’77. Succinct at four tracks, the standout here is “Porry,” a lengthy groover further heightened by Bamba on trumpet. A-

Banny Grove, “Cars in Control” (Nicey Music) Banny Grove is the alter-ego of “woman in a wig” Louise Chicoine in duo with Peter Nichols on guitar and synth. These five tracks (concise enough to fit on a 7-inch) nod to the ’80s without succumbing to retread, in part through creative auto-tuning (especially on “Baby”) but mostly through the eccentricity of the Banny Grove character’s innocence and positivity. Matters get progressively weirder, with the dystopian “Trash Truck” leading right into the smile and laughter inducing “Dogs FM,” which is, you guessed it, about a canine radio station. No Shit. B+

Bergsonist, “Mutation” (Styles Upon Styles) Here’s an electro-chilly NYC alter ego to contrast Banny Grove’s emotive Los Angelino persona; Bergsonist is the fictional character of Moroccan-born Brooklynite Selwa Abd. As a largely non-vocal affair (a Murry CY remix of “Ressentiment” carries a repeated lo-mixed phrase), this essentially leaves Bergsonist’s “personality” to the listener’s imagination, though the character-project’s moniker deriving from a philosophical text by Gilles Deleuze (expanding upon the theories of Henri-Louis Bergson) lends clarity. Clubby, yet inte-llect-schul… B+

Paul Bley, Improvisie (Bamboo) In terms of the synth as improv axe, Sun Ra led the way. However, pianist Bley was an early adopter, and with gusto, if only for a brief period. So was Annette Peacock; married to Bley at the time, she not only sings and plays (piano and synth) on Improvisie but frankly deserved co-billing. The credit was given on Polydor’s cool Revenge: The Bigger the Love the Greater the Hate and Freedom’s spotty Dual Unity, but this LP, originally issued in ’71 by the French label America, is the best of the bunch. Two side-long cuts with Bley on synth and the great Dutchman Han Bennink on drums. A-

Bob & Gene, If This World Were Mine (Daptone) This Buffalo-based vocal duo’s long-unreleased LP continues to radiate exotic flair. Most unearthed regional soul stuff derives from singles, and if cut on a budget, the contents still radiate a tangible level of studio ingenuity, if not necessarily polish. However, the work of Bobby Nunn & Eugene Coplin was documented in Nunn’s dad’s makeshift studio, and the homemade-ness of the results is considerably amplified by the choice to (largely) tackle Motown lovey-dovey finesse over Stax-style grit. Scaled way down but not incompetent, and fully committed. B+

Cozmic Corridors, S/T (Mental Experience) Recorded in ’72-’73 in Cologne by Toby Robinson and originally released essentially as a vanity art pressing by Robinson’s Pyramid label, this reissue collects the Hammond organ of one Alex Meyer. There is additional input on guitar and percussion plus some femme vox, though this wasn’t a band but rather a studio affair. Meyer was clearly influenced by Terry Riley, but with accents of gothic spookiness that could’ve worked well as the soundtrack to a horror remake by Herzog or Paul Morrissey. If you dug Cologne Curiosities, you’ll want this one too. B+

Dale Crover, The Fickle Finger of Fate (Joyful Noise) The first solo disc from Melvins guy Crover, who plays nearly everything here (Steven McDonald of Redd Kross is a noted guest). Sprinkled-in fragments of studio creativity expand this to 20 tracks, yet concise flow is still achieved, said elements spicing up a solid songwriting outing for Crover and insuring matters don’t get too accessible; a few selections, particularly the title track, are surprisingly pop friendly. Frankly, a lot of what’s here is what I’d kinda hoped ’90s post-grunge would’ve developed into. That didn’t happen, but ‘tis good to hear it now. B+

Eerie Gaits, Bridge Music (Tiny Engines) Instrumental project by John Ross of Wild Pink, inspired by “driving, particularly over bridges.” The seven selections are undeniably soundtracky, and Creagh Roll’s pedal steel (and more than a few of the guitar figures) conjures Americana, but less pastoral and more meditative. Given Ross’ stated influences of Eno and Daniel Lanois, this makes sense. The best moments (“Lore”) hint at an Americana-post-rock merger, but they occur too infrequently, overridden by brutally pleasant background music for second-rate indie flicks. Cassette-only edition of 200. B-

Heat Exchange, Reminiscence (Out-Sider) This has been out for a few months, but I’m just wrapping my noggin around it now. Collecting the three 45s this Canadian band cut for the noted Rockville label and filling it out with tracks intended for an unreleased (‘till now) full-length, the presence of flute has drawn comparisons to Tull, but a decidedly sophisto inclination keeps the association from sticking; saxophone and piano fleetingly brought Traffic to mind. Miraculously, the pop savvy and the horns don’t fuck the pooch, but there is still too much flute and not enough heaviness for this to rank especially high. B-

John Lee Hooker, The Country Blues of John Lee Hooker (Cornbread) Like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Hooker was able to alternate between the amped-up citified boogie for which he’s justifiably renowned, and the folk-blues that was in vogue at the point of this ’59 recording, originally waxed for Riverside. If unplugged and solo, this is still unmistakably Hooker, though it lacks the wild, at times unpredictable edge of the man’s best electric stuff (either alone or with band). The illumination of Mississippi roots does heighten matters; “Tupelo Blues” is here, and so is “Good Mornin’ Lil’ Schoolgirl.” B+

Melvins, A Walk with Love and Death (Ipecac) Touted as these heavy groundbreakers first 2LP in a long existence and deep discography, it also pairs the trio in relatively straightforward rock mode (the first nine tracks, designated as Death) with a 13-track score to the band’s film in progress (herein called Love). The punk experimentation of the latter portion will obviously be divisive, but as a chaser to the front half’s togetherness (and effectiveness), it goes down with snotty, abstract bite. This is the Melvins expanding but not deviating from their well-established template, and with a load of guests on hand. B+

Moğollar, S/T (Pharaway Sounds) Reading that Moğollar was the long-running and membership-shifting Turkish band’s final LP, originally released in ’76, I’ll admit to worrying over the quality of the results. It’s no secret that last efforts are frequently plagued with creative exhaustion, but in this instance the contents are distinguished by refreshing instrumental cohesion. Moğollar often featured a vocalist, but not here; this seems to heighten the focus on the blend of Anatolian tradition and contempo instrumentation and mild, dare I say tasteful rock and psych elements. A-

Vadim Neselovskyi Trio, Get Up and Go (Jazz Family / Neuklang) Ukrainian native and Berklee College of Music alum Neselovskyi has fleet fingers and a light touch, so upon initial listen much of the debut CD by his working group, featuring bassist Dan Loomis and drummer Ronen Itzik, glided by amiably enough. However, depth of composition and interaction, plus a pair of standout tracks with wordless vocals by Portuguese singer Sara Serpa, brought me back. I do prefer a higher ratio of edge in the piano trio context, but on the other hand, his solo spotlight “Krai” is a treat. I just wish “Interlude II” was longer. B+

Tapiman, Hard Drive (Guerssen) Far too many reissues of hard rock obscurities fall way short of expectations, but not here. It’s true this Barcelona act didn’t fall through the cracks of history, but this documents the trio’s pre-Max Sunyer lineup with Miguel Ángel Núñez. That aggregation cut a lost LP prior to Núñez quitting, but this ain’t that; instead, Hard Drive’s first side is superbly heavy practice space action. Much of the contents are aptly assessed as embryonic, and that’s key to its success. The flip is more developed but not disappointing, with a wildcard cover of Sabbath’s “Planet Caravan.” B+

Tomten, Cremation Songs (Plume) The third LP from this Seattle-based trio, and a fair amount of it can be assessed as pleasingly Beatle-esque, a scenario that’s far less common than one might think. They describe themselves as baroque pop, though at least here (I’ll confess ignorance to their earlier output) the term relates to the level of songwriting more than the use of strings. Mostly; “Leaving Joyous Gard” and “Mette’s Tune” both have some nice woody bowing, but overall the ’60s-derived action steers clear of Left Banke or Forever Changes lushness. Vibes at times like Creation Records. A-

V/A, “Avocet Revisited” (Earth) This label’s reissue of Bert Jansch’s 1979 avian-concept LP Avocet was a swell development, and this 4-track EP serves as a worthy companion piece by asking four contributors not to cover the work of Jansch but to instead pick a species of personal resonance and then build a composition around it. The results: the vocal goodness of “Fulmar” by Edwyn Collins and Carwyn Ellis, the robust bow action of “Curlew” by Modern Studies, the terrific fingerpicking and organ of “Goosander” by Alasdair Roberts, and the increasingly wyrd-folky “Golden Plover” by Trembling Bells. A-

Voigt/465, Slights Still Unspoken (Mental Experience) This useful LP (plus bonus tracks on the download) collects the discography of a late ’70s Aussie band (Sydney, specifically). In the words of member Phil Turnbull, they combined art-rock, punk, and free-improv, and the promo I received made comparisons to Can, Ubu, Slapp Happy, This Heat, and more. Does this reach the creative heights of that list? No, but as the selections pile up they do make considerable progress in establishing their own sound. Suffice to say that anyone digging post-punk happenings Down Under will want to have this one handy. B+

The Zodiac, Cosmic Sounds (Rhino) Fans of space-age pop might know this LP, reissued here by Rhino as a “Summer of Love exclusive,” as the work of one Mort Garson. Ditto for Moog obsessives, the instrument played here by Paul Beaver. This is about as legitimately psychedelic as a bag of banana peels, but it’s not as goofily kitsch as has been said. I mean, it IS rather goofy in spots and is kitsch from front to back, but I rarely laugh out loud while listening, I suspect because Garson and Co. were invested beyond cashing in. Still, 50 years later, this is overwhelmingly a period piece, so I’m grading it as such. B+

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