Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, October 2017

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Barbez with Velina Brown, For Those Who Came After: Songs of Resistance from the Spanish Civil War (Important) This gem pays tribute to the 2,800 Americans, known as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, who traveled to Spain in the ’30s to fight the fascists during the Spanish Civil War. Through a large able cast with vocalist Brown prominently placed, the results are an emotionally stirring utter delight, as the crowd reactions verify. Featuring impressive audio for a live recording, the band is faultless, Brown is rousing, and the whole is an antidote for despair. A

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, The Kid (Western Vinyl) Quite often, concept records arrive hand-in-hand with a lessening of accessibility, an increase in rigor, or just plain expansiveness. The Kid musically examines four distinct stages of the human lifespan, and does so across four vinyl sides, but at 52 minutes is far from unwieldly, with Smith’s increased vocalizing making this a perfect place for the analog-synth curious to get their toes wet. But those having rode upon the Smith train for a while now need not worry, as the sonics not only remain rich but thrive in the varied landscape. A

REISSUE PICKS: Earl Hines, Tour de Force (ORG Music) Sometimes pianists can be so workaday in their rumination on standards that the listening experience fizzles out. For the most part, the ever-loving point of playing the chestnuts is to bring something new to the turntable, most commonly a personal stamp, and that’s just what Hines does on this date, cut solo in ’72 in NYC. Personal and intimate, with the pianist’s vocalizations audible in a non-obtrusive way, not only are these versions distinct from those of any other interpreter, but Hines’ technique is undiminished. Initially a Black Lion release. A

Acetone, 1992-2001 (Light in the Attic) Here’s a band that’s fully deserving of the reissue treatment. This L.A.-based trio put out two albums on Vernon Yard, the Virgin subsidiary that brought the world Low, and two on Neil Young’s Vapor label, but they’ve yet to work up a sizeable following. For that to change, all it’s going to take is a growing number of listeners getting bowled the fuck over by “Louise,” which is simply one of the finest third album Velvets takeoffs I’ve heard in many a moon. And for the clued-in handful, much of what’s here is previously unreleased. So, leisurely paced and revelatory all around. A

The 3 Pieces, Vibes of Truth (Jazz Dispensary) The reissues of this label, a division of Fantasy, have until now stuck close to the jazz path, either through organ trio stuff (Charles Kynard, Rusty Bryant) or fusion (Gary Bartz NTU Troop, Joe Henderson), but this set’s main connection to the form is production by Donald Byrd. At its core a trio of bassist-lead vocalist Jerry Wilder, percussionist Andre Richardson and multi-instrumentalist Lincoln Ross, this is funk-tinged string-section-augmented pop-R&B, and mostly rather tepid. Ray Parker Jr. adds guitar to this underwhelming disc’s highlight, “Shortnin’ Bread.” C+

Acid Baby Jesus, Lilac Days (Fuzz Club) Third LP for this Athens, Greece-based combo. The label affiliation, and obviously the band name, foreshadows what’s in store, and listening establishes a ’60s inclination with emphasis on songs. Sometimes a garage tendency is foregrounded (“Me & Panormita”) at other moments they inch toward territory reminiscent of The Oh Sees (“Guide Me In”), but mostly this exudes a consistent trippy quality without ever going too far out on a limb. Thus, it’s not a knockout, but “Down the Ley Lines” is superb Brit psych-pop with touches of twee and jangle. B+

Action Skulls, Angels Hear (CMP) Featuring Vicki Peterson (Bangles), her husband John Cowsill (touring member of the Beach Boys and of course part of the Cowsills) and Billy Mumy (Barnes & Barnes and America), they call their sound Canyon Rock; specifically, that’s Laurel Canyon, where they all live, and while the music fits the regional description, this crisply delivered set of ambitious ’60s-informed pop-rockers should stoke the fire of said style’s fans. The addition of bassist Rick Rosas leaves more room for chiming guitars, shared lead vocals and harmonies. Hey, a vinyl edition would be nice. B+

Basement 5, 1965-1980 & “In Dub” (Play It Again Sam) Led by Dennis Morris, a photographer and general post-’77 mover-and-shaker, Basement 5’s fusion of punk and dub has long been championed by lovers of post-punk, and especially Public Image Ltd, as Morris befriended Lydon and designed the PiL logo. Basement 5 doesn’t attain the quality of early PiL, but the gruff-voiced Morris is after something a little different here, the stylistic hybrid largely driving straight ahead and eschewing the arty. Both records feature production by Martin Hannett. The dub heavy mini-album is slightly preferable. B+/ A-

Cheer-Accident, Trading Balloons & Salad Days (Skin Graft) Folks jazzed by these Chicagoan art-prog-experimental rockers’ latest album (that would be Putting Off Death on Cuneiform), have further reason to rejoice, as Salad Days is making its vinyl debut, and Trading Balloons, if still CD-only, is bringing a long-scarce item to physical availability. As an uninterrupted 52-minute piece (with a 15-minute fadeout!), Balloons’ existence on CD makes sense, and it’s the stronger of the two. But Salad Days doesn’t lack for interesting moments; there are many in “Graphic Depression” and the side-long title track. B+/ A-

Como Asesinar a Felipes, Elipse (Koolarrow) When I hear of a musical project’s fusing of hip hop and jazz, my default reaction is to prepare for disappointment, even when it attempts to “mix the jazz of the ’60s, the rock of the ’70s and the rap from the ’90s.” Chile’s Como Asesinar a Felipes succeed, largely through the combination of new addition Cristián Gallardo’s expansive tendencies on the sax and an edge that can get hectic without faltering into post-Rage Against the Machine-isms. Would I prefer some full-on skronk fury? Yes. And aggressive experimentation a la Dälek? Sure. But this one does have teeth. B+

Alice Cooper, Pretties for You, Love It to Death & Special Forces (Rhino) Love It was the breakthrough, and a must for the ’70s hard rock shelf, but I’ve always dug Pretties, though of course they were a different band, one much more psychedelic a la Syd-era Floyd, at that early point; if you dig Piper, do check it out. Vincent Furnier adopted the band name as persona long-prior to their breakup, but after the dissolution, he went to the creative dogs; the faux-punkish Special Forces was part of an attempted early ’80s reset. Coop says he can’t remember making it. Hopefully, I can forget hearing it. B+/ A-/ D+

Deradoorian, Eternal Recurrence (Anticon) Angel Deradoorian has worked with Dirty Projectors and Avey Tare and backed up a wide range of acts as vocalist; on her debut 2015 full-length The Exploding Flower Planet she delivered a highly rhythmic strain of art-pop with Kraut-ish post-rock angles, but here she sets the drums aside and reaches out for kosmische and new age. Some might be thinking that enough is enough regarding this stylistic uprising, but Deradoorian’s trim excursion is consistently intriguing, especially the spacy-pop of “Nia in the Dark.” The extended drift of “Return-Transcend” is a highlight. A-

Funk Inc., S/T (Jazz Dispensary) This five-piece Indianapolis band eventually faltered into over-slickness and then broke up, but their first couple discs of thoroughly accessible but hotly rendered jazz-funk deliver some goodness. This ’71 date was the first for the group led by drummer-turned-organist Bobby Watley, and the sound is roughly comparable to Brother Jack McDuff crossed with Bill Doggett and the early Meters. As a platform for groove, the jazz is regularly minimized, but this is hardly a fiesta of stale vamping; even when they bring it down on a cover of B.B.’s “The Thrill is Gone,” they don’t falter. B+

The Golliwogs, Fight Fire: The Complete Recordings 1964-1967 (Craft) Make no mistake, The Golliwogs weren’t a great band, but as the forerunner to one of the ’60s defining acts, namely Creedence Clearwater Revival, they chalked up more than a few fine moments. More read about than heard, at least by those who didn’t invest in Fantasy’s 2001 Creedence box (the contents here helped comprise disc one), or Rhino’s Nuggets box (“Fight Fire” was included on disc three), those who choose to take the dip now might be surprised by the consistency of this essentially garage-based material. B+

Hear in Now, Not Living in Fear (International Anthem) This has been out for a few months but I shall fumble in spreading the word no more. It’s the second release by the international (NYC, Italy) female string trio featuring violinist-vocalist Mazz Swift, cellist Tomeka Reid, and double bassist Silvia Bolognesi. They all have a ton of prior credits; recently, they were half of Roscoe Mitchell’s sextet. Unsurprisingly, chamber-like resonances and ample avant-jazz excursions abound. Vocalist Dee Alexander’s guest spot on the title track is a highlight, but this is a coherent, powerful disc all around. A

Jerry Lee Lewis, Jerry Lee’s Greatest! (ORG Music) This ’61 LP was Lewis’ second for Sun. That might seem odd given his historical stature at the label and his rank as an early rock ‘n’ roller, but he and Sam Phillips’ did pump out the 45s, and this set, if questionable in the Titular Claims Dept., does round up a few and pads them out with stuff that was new to buyers at the time of original release. Much is made of Lewis as an 88s banging, attitudinal force of nature, but he was just as importantly a song stylist; his versions of “Money” and “What’d I Say” don’t surpass the originals, but they sure are a blast to hear. A-

OST, Rat Film (Domino Soundtracks) The film is by Theo Anthony. It’s a documentary, or more appropriately from the reviews I’ve read, an essay film, exploring Baltimore’s overabundance of rats while poetically connecting it to “urban, social, and racial inequalities.” The score is by the Charm City’s Dan Deacon, who detours from the zonked bubblegum that informs much of his work to focus on straight composition, which has always been an important undercurrent in his attack. Deacon did have some rats play some Theremins, which is cool. The surprise provided by “Pelican” is even cooler. A-

Pylon Reenactment Society, “Part Time Punks Session” (Chunklet Industries) With the death of Randy Bewley in 2009, Pylon came to an end, but there’s been a lot of deserved interest in the band since, making this outfit’s formation unsurprising, if welcome due to the involvement of Pylon’s vocalist Vanessa Briscoe Hay. Joining up here with Jason NeSmith and Kay Stanton of Casper & the Cookies, Damon Denton of Big Atomic and Joe Rowe of The Glands, this session for the KXLU program was an outgrowth of live performance, and the songs reflect that. Hay astutely compares it to Gyrate. A-

Whitney Rose, Rule 62 (Six Shooter) It’s not unfair to peg Rose’s second album as a retro country affair, but the reality is that Rule 62 is so stylistically wide-ranging that it’s existence would’ve been impossible back in the day; there’s marriage-breakup honky-tonk, non-saccharine countrypolitan, roots-pop, rockabilly, country-rock, ’60s-ish pop, and a whole lot of Texas courtesy of Maverick Raul Malo, who’s producing Rose for the second time. However, she wrote nine of the songs and sings all eleven with conviction, so it’s never not her show. Americana? Sure, but it’s Rose’s pop savvy that stands out. A-

Strange Relations, Editorial You (Tiny Engines) The Minneapolis-based duo of Casey Sowa and Maro Helgeson makes some strides here. Sowa writes the songs, drums and sings; Helgeson plays synth and bass. They’ve professed the influence of Björk on the sleeve art, hand-drawn by Maro in a style mildly reminiscent of G.B. Jones’ zine J.D.s, and I can hear the Icelander in the music, too, though the connection is far from blatant. The way the rhythm and electronic textures cohere is much closer to post-rock than synth pop, but when the guitar emerges, they retain their post-punk angle. B+

James Blood Ulmer with The Thing, Baby Talk (Trost) The prior collabs of this Scandinavian heavy-jazz trio, with Neneh Cherry and Joe McPhee to name just two, set a high standard, and Baby Talk doesn’t disappoint. Ulmer’s jazz rank is assured through his work with Ornette, but he’s released a bunch of worthwhile stuff since, much of blues based. This live performance puts him squarely in high energy skronk territory, with Mats Gustafsson blowing up a storm and bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love cohering into an abstract rhythmic force. The guitarist doesn’t whither. A-

V/A, Holding Hands Under a Cloudless Sky: A Tribute to Television Personalities Vol. 4 (The Beautiful Music) Multi-volume various artist tributes to iconic bands almost always result in diminishing returns, but this 22-track doffing of the cap to England’s Television Personalities is consistently rewarding, largely through an avoidance of mimicry. Instead, the contents reinforce the sheer adaptability of Dan Treacy’s songwriting, though an appetite for indie pop will keep this one in the frequently played pile. Appearances by Kiwis The Puddle and Robert Scott (of The Bats and The Clean) are stone winners. A-

Jerry Yester, Pass Your Light Around (Omnivore) Yester perhaps remains best known for his production of Tim Buckley, but he chalked up a bunch of interesting credits over the years, including the masterful Farewell Aldebaran with Judy Henske. Earlier in 2017 Omnivore reissued the sole album from the post-Aldebaran group Rosebud; this collection of previously unreleased Yester solo stuff (with the consistent input of Buckley lyricist Larry Beckett) is roughly equal in terms of quality. Cut across the ’70s with one exception, this is stylistically broad and wildly uneven, but the good stuff outweighs the marginal. B

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