Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, September 2017

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Shilpa Ray, Door Girl (Northern Spy) Like many of the great New York records, Door Girl has few strong ’60s threads in its weave, an attribute that gives Ray’s songwriting a sense of timelessness. But she deviates from any kind of comfort zone through lyrical candor (detailing her time working the door at NYC bar Pianos) and beautifully risky stylistic jumps; “Revelations of a Stamp Monkey” is rap-rock that totally kills, and “EMT Police and the Fire Department” weds a post-Beat poetic scenario to a full-tilt punk blowout sans hitch. And jeepers creepers, what a set of pipes she’s got. A

Golden Retriever, Rotations (Thrill Jockey) If a plunge into a blend of kosmische, ambient, new age, and experimentation is what you’re desiring, then look no further than the Portland, OR-based duo of modular synth man Matt Carlson and bass clarinetist Jonathan Sielaff. For Rotations, they enlist a large crew of guests on assorted string instruments, French horn, flute, oboe, percussion, vibraphone, and pipe organ, and the sonically varied results are weightier and edgier than is the norm for this sort of outward-bound sprawl. Lift-off is certainly achieved, but parts of this get downright hectic. I dig. A

REISSUE PICKS: Slade, Slade Alive! (BMG) Rightly remembered for dishing out hits from the earthier side of the glam rock sphere, on the evenings documented by this killer live slab (19-21 October 1971), Slade were just as aptly tagged as good time hard rockers. As evidence, please consider the opening cover of Ten Years After’s “Hear Me Calling.” Harkening back to their days as Ambrose Slade, they were rock knowledgeable enough (and in retrospect, somewhat tasteful, even) to avoid boogying themselves into a hole in the ground, and could shift gears into John Sebastian’s “Darling Be Home Soon” quite nicely. A-

Mal Waldron, Mal/2 (Go Bop) Waldron cut over 100 albums as leader and nearly as many in the support slot. Forget about owning them all, but this early date from his ’50s run for Prestige, where he was house pianist at the time, is one for the shelf. In part for the personnel, which includes Coltrane, Jackie McLean, Sahib Shihab, Bill Hardman, Idrees Sulieman, Art Taylor, Ed Thigpen, and Julian Euell in an interchangeable sextet, though Waldron’s playing is splendid, and his three originals are sharp. The highlights are a fascinating “Don’t Explain” and a refreshing dive into “The Way You Look Tonight.” A-

Marc Almond, Shadows and Reflections (BMG) Covers records are often lazy runs through the motions, but not this consistently inspired orchestral pop album from veteran UK vocalist Almond. The choices are smart, with unexpected picks by The Yardbirds, The Herd, and The Action joining Bacharach, Bobby Darin, and Johnny Mandel, the scope’s largeness is brightened by John Harle’s orchestrations (which include an overture and interlude), and Almond is in solid, engaging voice throughout. Plus, his original “No One To Say Good Night To” brings the disc to a strong, unstrained conceptual finish. A-

Balmorhea, Clear Language (Western Vinyl) After a significant gap in activity (other than the “Heir” 7-inch, there’s been nothing new since 2012’s Stranger), Rob Lowe and Michael Muller recommence Balmorhea; the violin and viola of Aisha Burns also returns, but in many ways, the post-rock-neoclassical vibes are closer to their self-titled 2007 debut (which preceded Burns’ input). For starters, this is entirely instrumental, and it largely lacks drums (what’s here is programmed). Some of this does flirt with nature documentary innocuousness, but it never goes full-on bland, and the distorted guitar is a plus. B+

Loren Connors, Angels That Fall (Family Vineyard) On the list of grade-A experimental guitarists, Connors ranks right up there, and he has a deserved rep of abstracting and avant-gardening the blues, but this 17-minute piece (on a one-sided LP in an edition of 500) gives off a vibe closer to the celestial, at least for most of its run time. This was recorded at Brooklyn, NY’s First Unitarian Congregational Society in May of last year, and maybe the location and album title have something to do with my observance of an otherworldly atmosphere. In addition to guitar, Connors delivers a striking piano coda. A-

Dälek, Endangered Philosophies (Ipecac) Having released comeback album Asphalt for Eden last year on the Canadian label Profound Lore, MC dälek returned without co-founders Oktopus and Joshua Booth, but there was nary a spurious whiff in the recommencement. Instead, he teamed up with Mike Manteca and DJ rEk, the outfit’s original DJ from ’98-’02, and Endangered Philosophies finds them back on the Ipecac roster. The term experimental hip hop can mean a lot of things, but here it’s well-assessed as industrial-shoegaze-noise-hip hop merging with consistently sharp and timely social commentary. A-

El Michels Affair, “Shadow Boxin’” b/w “Iron Maiden” (Big Crown) Folks having dug the gist of Return to the 37th Chamber, El Michels Affair’s quite satisfying live band excursion into the music of the Wu Tang Clan and affiliated projects, will not want to sleep on this, for the flip is a non-album gem covering the opening cut from Ghostface Killah’s ’96 solo debut Ironman. Over the years, a significant amount of live instrument hip hop has left me unimpressed, but not Leon Michels. He understands that inventiveness is essential to the crossover, and the tracks here are as vivid as they are hard-driving. A-

Flamin’ Groovies, Fantastic Plastic (Sonic Kicks / Severn) After a studio break of nearly a quarter century, here comes guitarist Cyril Jordan, bassist George Alexander (both original members of the group), and vocalist-guitarist Chris Wilson (who joined circa Shake Some Action) with drummer Victor Penalosa, and from inside a non-mindblowing zone, which is where the Groovies have spent a lot of their time in a 50-plus year existence, the results are surprisingly solid. Along with swell covers of the Beau Brummels and NRBQ, the ten originals sidestep filler and excel at Byrdsian guitar pop. B+

Thee Headcoatees, Punk Girls (Damaged Goods) The fifth album from Holly, Kyra, Ludella, and Debbie, with backing from Thee Headcoats, originally dished on Sympathy for the Record Industry in 1997, is a svelte pounder. The originals are from the unflagging fount of Billy Childish, and they don’t disappoint, but the covers are where it’s at: there’s the Beatles rewrite “Don’t Wanna Hold Your Hand,” The Undertones’ “Teenage Kicks,” The Ramones’ “Pinhead,” The Lurkers’ “Shadow,” and Plastic Bertrand’s “Ca Plane Pour Moi,” but the best (at least right now) is The Strangelove’s “Cara-Lin.” Terrif. A-

Laraaji, Sun Gong & Bring on the Sun (All Saints) Two new ones from this persevering conjurer of celestial delights. Bring on the Sun was recorded by Davey Jewell (Peaking Lights/ Flaming Lips) and mixed by Carlos Niño of Leaving Records, and the results are suitably vivid as they largely launch from the new age-ambient platform for which Laraaji is well-known. But Sun Gong finds the man experimenting with gong microtonalities and it’s a substantially different affair. Running those gong tones through electronic effects, the darker, edgier byproduct contrasts and nicely complements Bring on the Sun. A- / A-

Bob Lind, Since There Were Circles (Deep Focus) This came out on CD in ’06 with bonus tracks, and was given a vinyl pressing sans extras by the Spanish label Mapache in ‘14, but I’m guessing the audience for Lind’s lost-in-the-cracks attempt to advance beyond “Elusive Butterfly” is still relatively untapped. And so, here we are: this is not a masterpiece, but it gets a lot closer than you might expect, especially if you’ve read some of the disparaging reviews, which I don’t get. The stylistic range (folk-pop-country-rock) is impressive, with Lind comfortable between pop and roots, and the session-ace playing is hot. B+

Terry Malts / Kids on a Crime Spree, “Our Love” split EP (Emotional Response) putting together a quality split record, either EP or full-length, isn’t as easy as one might assume, but Emotional Response has the knack, herein borrowing a pair of bands primarily associated with the Slumberland label. Through classicism that connects like a 45 in a tattered pic sleeve dug out of a box under the bins, Terry Malts continues to ensure that pop-punk isn’t a spent genre. They combine well with KoaCS’s pair of Spector-inspired fuzz-pop growers. Pressed onto 10-inch vinyl in a cover that’d make a great t-shirt. B+/ B+

Hank Mobley Sextet, With Donald Byrd and Lee Morgan (Go Bop) This is the perennially underrated Mobley on tenor, leading a group featuring two of the key trumpeters in ’50s hard bop, along with Horace Silver on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Charlie Persip on drums. The loaded lineup doesn’t disappoint, as improvisational sparks do fly, but just as crucial is the room to stretch out, especially on the 11-plus minute “Barrel of Funk.” Go Bop have elected to add a pair of bonus tracks from a separate Mobley-led quintet session from later the same year, increasing value while distorting the original. A-

Severed Heads, Come Visit the Big Bigot (Dark Entries) It’s a popular idea that whenever aggressive early industrialists attempted to integrate less confrontational elements into the recipe, they quickly turned to shit. Well, this reissue of the Heads’ ’86 album, originally on Nettwerk and their first to be released simultaneously in their native Australia, North America and Europe, complicates that theory of diminishing returns. Sure, a fair amount of this points to the dancefloor, but the beats hit hard, the layering gets quite strange and it’s still believable that Tom Ellard recorded this baby in his bedroom. A-

Slits, Return of the Giant Slits (Real Gone) This oft-denigrated and once-scarce follow-up to Cut has undergone something of a critical rehabilitation, and it’s well-deserved, as the album highlights the disinclination of this cornerstone post-punk act to idle in one stylistic spot. The addition of the Pop Group’s Bruce Smith on drums means things are as rhythmically robust as ever, and the integration of African, Asian, and funk sounds into the equation works far more often than it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, it’s still interesting. Tessa bass is big, Viv’s guitar is thorny, and Ari is inspired throughout. B+

Ummagma, “LCD” EP (Label Obscura / Somewherecold) Not your typical remix EP. Ummagma are the duo of Yukon vocalist Shauna McLarnon and Ukrainian multi-instrumentalist Alexander Kretov, and their sound lands in the zone where shoegaze and dreampop overlap, with attention paid to the output of the Creation and 4AD labels. That makes Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins and Dean Garcia of Curve and SPC ECO fitting guest remixers, and the contributions from both are strong, especially Garcia’s dark ambient transformation of the title cut. But the album version of “LCD” is far above the norm for this style. A-

Upper Wilds, Guitar Module 2017 (Thrill Jockey) This is described by the label as the “launching point” of a new band featuring Dan Friel, formerly of Parts & Labor and a worthy batch of solo discs. The band features bassist Zach Lehrhoff and drummer Aaron Siegel, but Guitar Module 2017 is the byproduct of Friel alone, melding copious guitar distortion and keyboards, rhythmic thump, and melodious, at times soaring songs. The counterpoint to the roughshod distorto-blitz is Friel’s cleanly delivered vocals, which bring a pop edge. Thrill Jockey’s recommendation is to play loudly through speakers. I will concur. A-

UV-TV, “Go Away” 4-song EP (Emotional Response) Just knowing this melodic punk ripper is the byproduct of Gainesville, FL gives me a special charge. UV-TV previously split a 45 with Los Angelinos Shark Toys, but they get both sides here, and don’t waste an inch. Bassist Rose Vastola sings rather than snarls, her manner bringing some of the femme-voiced entrants in the ’90s indie punk explosion to mind, though nothing specific, and that’s cool. But the raw distorted gush of Vastola, guitarist Ian Bernacett, and drummer Ryan Hopewell makes me think of Goner Records, and that’s even sweeter. A-

The Yardbirds, London 1963: The First Recordings (Tiger Bay) It’s been fashionable over the years to sneer at this crucial band’s early live stuff, but I will dissent. This isn’t destined to drop any jaws, but it does shed a crisp spotlight upon these young blues and R&B-obsessed Brits, and its historical import (the beginnings of ol’ Slow Hand) goes down easy. A more exhaustive (and preferable) survey would be The Compleat Collection, which pairs this LP with a second disc of the ‘birds backing up Sonny Boy Williamson. One track with the blues giant is included here; so is studio stuff from December ’63. B+

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