Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, October 2017

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued wax presently in stores for October, 2017. Part one can be found right here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Brooklyn Raga Massive, Terry Riley In C (Northern Spy) Rooted in Indian classical music, Brooklyn Raga Massive are, on this live recording, 18 members strong. Acting upon an idea by sitarist Neel Murgai, they engage with Riley’s minimalist cornerstone while simultaneously expanding the three-to-four musician Indian classical standard, an undertaking that makes them massive indeed as the results succeed resoundingly. Rhythmically infused and instrumentally vibrant, they deliver an interpretation of Riley’s open-scored work that’s unlike any I’ve previously heard. A joyful thing. A

Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition, Agrima (Self-released) Indio-Jazz fusion? Oh yes. But more so, a rich dialogue. Featuring Indian-American Mahanthappa on alto sax, Pakistani-American Rez Abassi on guitar and Anglo-American Dan Weiss on tabla, they debuted on record with 2008’s Apti. This set makes some considerable advances; Mahanthappa adds electronics to the equation, Abassi plays with more effects, and Weiss gets behind a drum kit. There is much exploration amid the intensity and flow, and the alto is consistently sharp. Available on 2LP, which isn’t the norm in contempo jazz terms. A

REISSUE PICKS: V/A, Andina: Huayno, Carnaval and Cumbia – The Sound of the Peruvian Andes 1968-1978 (Tiger’s Milk / Strut) The first of three compilations in Tiger’s Milk’s program to uncover Peruvian music past and present is consistently engaging and quite enlightening with wide stylistic range; there’s cumbia, huayno, big band, and traditional harp music, with the intention of label co-founder Martin Morales (also a Michelin-starred chef; this release coincides with a cookbook of the same name) to undercut the historical stereotypes of his home country’s music. He’s succeeded with flying colors. A

Blind Idiot God, Undertow (Indivisible Music) Originally out of St. Louis, the instrumental trio of guitarist Andy Hawkins, bassist Gabe Katz, and drummer Ted Epstein survived the late ’80s SST deluge and ended up on Enemy for this, their second album. Dividing their energies between bruising art-metal and thick dub, they defied the odds and made it work with the help of producer Bill Laswell. The LP holds up well, but the 45RPM bonus disc is the cherry on top, as “Purged Specimen” features John Zorn and two versions of “Freaked” (from the Alex Winter film) are solid collabs with vocalist Henry Rollins. A-

45 Grave, Sleep in Safety (Real Gone) Of the Cali deathrock wave, 45 Grave was amongst the best to these ears, mainly because they lacked the gothy seriousness of Christian Death and the myriad faults of Dance with Me-era T.S.O.L. Instead, Paul B. Cutler and Dinah Cancer, with ex-Germ Don Bolles, ex-Bag/ Gun Clubber Rob Graves (Ritter), and ex-Screamer Paul Roessler embraced a punky, hard rocking B-movie-ish sense of dark fun (see their cover of “Riboflavin”), and this lineup’s sole studio LP, produced by Craig Leon, has it in spades. CD with bonus cuts is out now. LP hits 11/24. B+

Airiel, Molten Young Lovers (Shelflife) Founded and led by vocalist-guitarist Jeremy Wrenn and active since the late ’90s, this is only the second full-length from the Chicago-based Airiel, though there has been a fair number of singles and EPs. Dream pop-shoegaze is the specialty here, and with range (opener “This is Permanent” is quite danceable, “Mind Furnace” canoodles with electronica, etc.). That’s important, as the record chalks up a 55-minute running time and most of the tracks stick around for a while. The amount of ground they break is zilch, but there are no stumbles as they roll along. B+

Azonic, Prospect of the Deep Volume One (Indivisible Music) Azonic is the improvisational project of Blind Idiot God guitarist Andy Hawkins with his BIG bandmate Tim Wyskida (also of Khanate) on timpani, concert bass drum, and gong. Consisting of two side-long pieces and a bonus track on the CD, this has been tagged as “orchestral drone,” a description that fits through the combo of Hawkins’ sharp atmospheric spillage and Wyskida’s choice of instruments, which instill weight, breadth, and color over standard thud. There’s still plenty of rumble, and Prospect’s contents are large as well as lengthy. A-

Tim Buckley, Venice Mating Call & Greetings from West Hollywood (Manifesto) For Buckley fans, Live at the Troubadour 1969 has been a long favorite. These releases, Venice a 2CD and Greetings a 2LP, derive from the same Troubadour run of shows, but have been crafted by reissue producers Bill Inglot and Pat Thomas so they contain none of the versions from 1969 and have only two versions in common with each other; given the heights Buckley achieved during this era and the strength of this band (Art Tripp, John Balkin, Lee Underwood, and Carter C.C. Collins), both are worthy, revealing pickups. A-/ A-

John Carpenter, Anthology: Movie Themes 1974-1998 (Sacred Bones) In most cases, the prospect of re-recorded material jazzes my ass not a bit, but news of Carpenter returning to his earlier work via his band for the Lost Themes sets—that’d be his son, Cody Carpenter, and godson, Daniel Davies, piqued my interest and left me hopeful. The contents satisfy, touching on most of his acknowledged classics, some canonical, others cultish, including pieces written by Morricone (The Thing) and Jack Nitzsche (Starman) and even the theme to his pre-Halloween proto-Aliens late-night stoner mainstay Dark Star. A-

Fink, Resurgam (R’COUP’D) This is the sixth studio album from Fink, which is both the performance moniker and band of UK-born Berlin-based singer-songwriter Fin Greenall in tandem with guitarist-drummer Tim Thornton and bassist Guy Whittaker. Initially an electronic musician, over the years Greenall has collaborated with John Legend and Amy Winehouse, and as this Flood-produced set spins the art-funk wafts the scent of Radiohead. Nothing here grabs me as strongly as the ominousness of the eight-plus minute opening title track, but everything did hold my interest. B+

The Heliosonic Tone-tette, Heliosonic Toneways, Vol. 1 (ScienSonic Laboratories) Cut on the 50th anniversary of The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra’s recording, this features Arkestra members Marshall Allen and Danny Thompson with ScienSonic’s founder Scott Robinson and sharp cast of contributors, all paying tribute to the avant-garde masterwork. Tribute but not remake, as this is original music, but with deep connections to its inspiration; Allen naturally, but also the bass marimba played on the ’65 LP. Occasionally, Sun Ra tribs can get a little lightweight, but not here. This one’s wild and free. A-

Les Filles de Illighadad, Eghass Malan (Sahel Sounds) Here’s the studio debut from a female-led Tuareg guitar outfit hailing from the commune of Illighadad in central Niger. Those with a love for the desert blues of Tinariwen, Tamikrest etc. will want to saunter right up to this one, though there are distinct qualities. Although Fatou Seidi Ghali’s guitar does instill an immediate aura of familiarity, she’s also one of the only Tuareg female players of the instrument, and Les Filles de Illighadad’s righteous objective is to integrate the female “tende” Tuareg tradition with the traditionally male desert blues. A-

Lost Bayou Ramblers, Kalenda (Rice Pump) Broussard, LA’s Ramblers have been at it for eight albums, building upon the Cajun tradition through experimentation and making considerable strides. They continue down this path on their latest, and the rate of success is quite striking. Listening to Kalenda will leave no doubt over the chosen genre, but the band, led by brothers Andre and Louis Michot, integrate fiddle and accordion with elements of rock, electronics, noise and the avant-garde. The results are preservation through extension. Right on. Pogue Spider Stacy and saxophonist Dicky Landry guest. A-

Montrose, S/T & Paper Money (Rhino / Warner) Often cited as the could’ve-been American Led Zep, for that to have transpired guitarist Ronnie Montrose and company (including a never better Sammy Hagar on the mic) would’ve needed to aim higher lyrically. Montrose does rock like crazy, making this expanded edition featuring demos and a smoking live radio session highly appreciated, but it didn’t sell all that well initially; the follow-up redirected into poppier territory and spelled the original group’s demise. Frequently dumped on, Paper Money is quite appealing, as is its bonus radio session. A-/ B+

Naked Beast, S/T (Guitars and Bongos) The melding of rock and spoken word often falters into an “it seemed like a good idea at the time” scenario; this is an exception. Featuring Johnny Strike, Hank Rank, and Joey D’Kaye of San Francisco’s first-gen punk royalty Crime, this baby coheres into a meaty pre-hardcore punk appendage flipping open a notebook of yarns and ripping out pages of potent stuff ranging from Burroughs in trench coat mode to Bukowski to Black Lizard pulp to tough-as-nails no-nonsense street reportage. But there’s also some straight-up songs here, and that’s cool. B+

NRBQ, “Happy Talk” (Omnivore) Coming on the heels of the splendid 2016 retrospective High Noon is a 5-song EP proving these guys still have it. Adams’ “Head on a Post” is fueled by warm strands of eccentricity as it establishes a trucking mid-tempo groove, while the McDonough/ Adams number “Yes, I Have a Banana” ups the playfulness and the tempo. The covers? A run-through of Roy’s “Only the Lonely” in ’50s country style, a take on Abb Locke’s “Blues Blues Blues” that’s a tad reminiscent of ’90s Chilton, and a lavishly arranged title-track dive into Rogers & Hammerstein that steals the show. A-

OST, Return of the Living Dead (Real Gone) The soundtrack to this ’80s cult staple arrives just in time for a spin at your Halloween bash. I have pleasant memories of watching this sturdy Dan O’Bannon-directed “punk horror comedy” numerous times on cable during my high school years, and even fonder recollections of tooling around the back roads with friends on weekend nights while a tape of its accompanying songs blared out of the speakers. Repo Man was the other go-to OST, and frankly, that one’s more consistent; Return bogs down some on side two, but other than T.S.O.L., the A-side kills. B+

Dan Rico, “Flesh and Bone” b/w “Gold Volvo” (Shit in Can) Let’s say you’re having a hard time deciding on an outfit for Halloween. It happens. Well, you could slide over to your local wax shack and see if they have Dan Rico’s latest 45. If they do, grab it, split directly for home and then spin side one; most likely, you’ll be pining to hit the parties decked out like T. Rex. Question is, will you be able to procure the necessary threads in time? The clock is ticking. Along with the Bolan trib is a flipside and a download bonus digging deep into early ‘80s guitar-laden melodic rock sans nostalgia hang-ups. ‘tis cool. B+

Spa Moans, Obedient Vibrations (Drop Medium) Released on tape for 2017’s Cassette Store Day, the debut of Chicago-via Milwaukee solo artist Jenny Pulse takes an eclectic batch of ingredients, namely lo-fi no wavy (or per the label, post-industrial) minimalism, u-ground electronics and elements of techno and ‘90s R&B (Pulse cites Sadé and 808 State as influences), and integrates them in a manner that ultimately feels natural rather than forced. Far too personal to be categorized as an exercise in Post-Mod, Spa Moans’ bedroom-basement ambiance is well-suited to its chosen physical format. B+

Too $hort, Life Is…Too $hort (8th Records) I feel like an um, broken record saying it, but from a lyrical standpoint, a significant portion of this album hasn’t aged well. Truth is, Too $hort was notorious for his explicitness when this, his second full length, was fresh in the racks, but it’s also not an uninterrupted gush of incorrectness; in fact, it’s takes a while for the misogynistic dirty-talkin’ to fully flare up, and that’s cool, because the guy was a beast on the mic. Furthermore, the non-sample-based instrumental backing still packs a punch. Everything comes together on “City of Dope.” B+

Nicole Willis & UMO Jazz Orchestra, My Name Is Nicole Willis (Persephone Records) Long-noted as a top-notch classic-soul stylist, Willis’ latest pinpoints her aversion to idling in a safe spot. This kind of pairing was once more frequently heard, but it’s always been a tricky feat to pull off, mainly because orchestras regularly indicate strings, and strings too often come accompanied with syrup. But long-running Finnish big band UMO is about the horns, and low tones over mere vamping. Willis is in fine voice throughout on a mix of old and new material, and Ian F. Svenonius guests. A-

ZZ Top, ZZ Top’s First Album (Rhino / Warner) This isn’t ZZ Top’s First Great Album (that’s Tres Hombres, though Rio Grande Mud gets close), but the seedlings of brilliance are already beginning to sprout here. Folks used to (still?) denigrate these guys as arena-bastardizers, but puh-leeze; blues studiousness is admirable, but it’s almost never preferable to the root. ZZ Top adapted the form rather than just worshiped it, and compared to the gussied-up bar band hackery too often rated as worthwhile, this album is a smoker. Therefore, it’d be easy to overrate, but a dose of their later stuff provides clarity. B

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