Graded on a Curve: New in Stores, December 2017

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Thor and Friends, The Subversive Nature of Kindness (Living Music Duplication) After a killer debut last year, the avant-chamber unit of Thor Harris, Peggy Ghorbani, and Sarah “Goat” Gautier are back, and they’ve slipped not at all. The minimalism of Reich and Riley remains a pronounced part of the equation, but this is a still a major leap, in part through an emphasis on wordless vocals. The guesting voices belong to Michael Gira of Swans, Norwegian opera singer Stine Janvin Motland, and Oregonian throat singer Enrique Soriah, who helps turn “Grassfire” into a highlight. A

Alexander, S/T (No label) Back in the mid-’90s a friend opined that the guitar’s musical potential was essentially tapped; I thought the idea suspect then, and two decades hence the notion is proving downright ludicrous. The latest evidence comes from David Shapiro, a native of New Haven who records solo as Alexander. Earlier this year he shared a split single with fellow CT string wrangler Rob Noyes; this is his debut LP. Played on a self-built guitar, a fact certainly reinforcing ties to the American Primitive, there’s an introspective assurance to much of this set that’s kept me listening for weeks. A

REISSUE PICKS: Louis Armstrong & His All-Stars, Jazz Is Back in Grand Rapids (ORG Music) While I’m not one of those guys who waxes enthusiastic over “Hello Dolly,” I’m not also a hardliner who insists that Satchmo was musically over with before the bomb dropped on Pearl Harbor; please see Jazz on a Summer’s Day for details. Or for that matter, check this out, as it offers a complete show from two years prior across four sides. If this reads as mainly of historical interest, that’s off target; the band is in solid hot jazz form, especially bassist Arvell Shaw, who is prominent throughout this recording. (out 12/15) A-

Duke Ellington & His Orchestra, Volume 1: 1943 (ORG Music) Ellington’s later period was considerably more fruitful than Armstrong’s (’67’s Strayhorn tribute …And His Mother Called Him Bill is a masterpiece). ‘twas so full of goodness in fact that some tend to ignore his pre-LP era recordings. This is not a smart move. Duke was an absolute titan in the ‘30s-’40s, as this set of transcriptions for World Broadcasting bears out. Shorn of incomplete takes, the contents flow splendidly, and with a couple exceptions, this was one day’s work; if minor in the overall scheme, it’s still impressive. (out 12/15) A-

Matias Aguayo & The Desdemonas, Sofarnoplis (Crammed Discs) As the year closes, I’d like to shed light on a few overlooked but deserving items from the last few months. I’m mildly familiar with Aguayo’s electronic work, but this immediately stood out as a different affair. Described as a “post-electronic rock-band,” it avoids any negative connotations the merger suggests, in part by channeling Suicide without being too obvious about it. But there’s a lot more going on (post-punk, dub), and it comes down to good songs inventively conveyed on a long 2LP that gets better as it plays. Love “Vocal Arranger.” A-

Brian Briggs, “Special Sampler: Selected Music from the Album Brain Damage” (Get on Down) Indeed, a straight reissue of the 5-song teaser from the full LP, which came out in ’80 on Bearsville. I first heard this during the great ’00s MP3 Blog wave; Briggs’ real name is John Holbrook, and he was a noted rock engineer. Brain Damage is a cool hybrid of studio wiz tendencies with smart mainstream and New Wave gestures, and this abridged version communicates the essence of the whole, peaking with a cover of Eddie Cochran’s Nervous Breakdown.” Still, a reish of the entire disc would’ve been preferable. B+

Michael Cosmic / Phil Musra Group, Peace in the World / Creator Spaces (Now-Again Reserve) The combo of these scarce mid-’70s Boston free jazz albums makes total sense, as the leader of each plays on the other. The addition of a third LP (apparently only available to Now-Again Reserve series subscribers) holding a 20-minute live cut by Worlds’ Experience Orchestra is also fitting, as that group’s John Jamyll Jones plays bass on Peace in the World. Both Cosmic’s alb and Creator Spaces, a trio with Turkish drummer Hüseyin Ertunç, are stone monsters. Worlds’ stretches out and gets spiritual. A/ A/ B+

Hater, “Red Blinders” (Fire) A four-piece straight outta Malmö, Sweden that made some recent waves with their debut album You Tried, they were promptly snatched up by Fire, and this set should leave Brit indie pop fans pleased as Judy’s old man. More aptly put, Hater reliably display a sense of sophistication that branches out from indie pop’s prime descendants; opener “Blushing” offers flashes of Camera Obscura, Belle and Sabastian, and The Clientele, but they’re far from settled into that mode. Take for instance the subtle drum box beat of the title track and the almost psych-pop of “Penthouse.” B+

Andy Human and the Reptoids, “Kill the Comma” b/w “Do the Mole” (Emotional Response) Bay Area-based Andy Human has made his mark in a bunch of bands, amongst them The Time Flyz, Beatniks, Razz (covered in last month’s New in Stores), and the Reptoids, who’ve dished a few 45s and an LP for S-S Records back in ’15. They’ve been awarded with the KBD tag, and unlike some other acts that’re paid the compliment, they totally live up to the standard. The A-side dishes loads of guitar with just the right amount of needling spazz and then just rolls, while the heftier flip adds non-crap sax and piano. A

Jon Langford’s Four Lost Souls, S/T (Bloodshot) One of the great Brit punks, Mekon Langford was also one of the first to hone what is now known as alt-country, but here he’s moved into the realms of old-school Southern pop, heading to Alabama with guitarist John Szymanski and vocalists Bethany Thomas and Tawny Newsome to record with a bunch of heavy friends and producer Norbert Putnam, who’s noted as a former member of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Blending country, R&B, soul and rock, the results are unusually together for a Langford LP, but the gals make it feel like a soon-to-be classic. A-

Yasuaki Shimizu, Music for Commercials (Crammed Discs) Shimizu is known for his tenor sax interpretations of Bach, for ‘80s experimental outfit Mariah, for collaborations from Bjork to Elvin jones to Van Dyke Parks, and for this LP, which Crammed Discs initially issued as part of their Made to Measure series back in ’87. ‘tis indeed what the title states, but unlike The Residents’ Commercial Album, these selections were in fact used in ads (and one longer computer-animation piece), with the majority named after products. Fans of the Eyeball bunch and avant-pop in general should dig this. A-

Sob Stories, S/T EP (Emotional Response) Led by Bay Area lead singer and songwriter Joel Cusumano, this group features some members of Razz. However, the melodic rocking they offer is noticeably less infused with Razz’s charged-up power pop ideal, instead getting nearer to the early-’80s auteurs that thrived between the demise of new wave and the establishment of college rock. That means there’s still plenty of good riffing, but these five short songs have a classique feel that makes the comparisons to Graham Parker and Scott Miller fitting. Cusumano’s husky voice lends distinctiveness. B+

Mick Trouble, “It’s the Mick Trouble EP” (Emotional Response) Most lost records are revelatory but ultimately nothing breathtaking. This one would be an exception, except that it’s backstory, specifically that Trouble and his band were poised for breakout success through an EP (this one) to be released on Whaam! Records (the label of Dan Treacy of the Television Personalities) before a contractual snag left it on the shelf, is a fabrication. But damn if it isn’t a sweet bit of yarn-spinning (that has certainly faked a few folks out), and the description of TVP meets Nick Lowe is true fucking blue. A-

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