Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, January 2018, Part Two

Part two of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued wax presently in stores for January, 2018. Part one is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Leah Calvert, Satellite (Vera Hellcat) Amongst other bands and activities, Atlanta-based fiddler, vocalist, and songwriter Calvert is a member of the Dappled Grays, but this, her debut solo effort, is my first exposure to her work, and it’s quite the pleasant introduction. The initial selections establish a mainstream pop singer-songwriter foundation with some rock inflection, though in part through sturdiness of vocals the atmosphere is far from insubstantial. By the title cut (the fourth of ten tracks) it’s clear that the tunes are deeper than the norm for this style, and the playing, which includes not enough bowing from Calvert, elevates matters even higher. Additionally, “Sleep” is a flat-out rocker, and her version of Tom Waits’ “Day After Tomorrow” is a late album gem. A-

Unlikely Friends, Crooked Numbers (Swoon) Like other regions, the Pacific Northwest is known for genres, but it’s guitar pop productivity has been often undervalued. I’m talking Stag. I’m talking Posies. I’m talking Young Fresh Fellows. I’m talking Dharma Bums. I’m talking Fastbacks, people. And right now, I’m talking Unlikely Friends, who feature members of BOAT and Math and Physics Club. Repping a Seattle Tacoma Olympia melodic rock triangle, they’ve got songs, some anthemic others jangly, while oozing plentiful amp edge and clear knowledge of tradition. They also integrate elements, like the drumbox in “39 Steps” for instance, that eschew a throwback feel. There’s humor, too. If ya’ dig any of the above names (and Doug Martsch and/or Weezer, for that matter), don’t sleep on this one. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Big Star, Live at Lafayette’s Music Room (Omnivore) Some casual observers might be wondering if the stream of Big Star (and related) reissues has reached a point of diminishing returns, but this first-time on vinyl edition of a January 1973 show is anything but the overmilking of a cash cow. Captured just after #1 Record was released to a cricket-like response and the resulting departure of Chris Bell, we find Alex Chilton, Jody Stephens, and Andy Hummel adapting to their subsequent trio reality while opening for Archie Bell & the Drells in front of a largely indifferent crowd. First heard as part of the Keep an Eye on the Sky box set, this stand-alone 2LP delivers more than historical import. If the set is imperfect, there are plenty of highs, and they navigate a tough period with class and verve. A-

Rising Storm, Calm Before (Sundazed) I’m far from the first to say it, but ’60s garage LPs tend to be spotty affairs. Not this one. Cut by a bunch of teens during their senior year at Phillips Academy in Andover, MA, this is one of the rare long-players in the style that doesn’t wither when the needle hits the originals, which are folk-rocky and gently psych-tinged here. As the covers, which include the Remains, Love, Wilson Pickett, and Jimmy Reed, are well-executed, this is doubly impressive. Those who want their garage infused with a modicum of sneer and snot might find this album wanting, but there’s an equally strong chance the sound of six guys on the brink of adulthood doing it for the sheer love of it will bowl them right the fuck over. Original copies go for stupid money, so garage lovers WILL want. A-

Cid Rim, Material (Lucky Me) Cid Rim (aka Clemens Bacher) is a multi-instrumentalist and producer who’s part of the contempo Viennese electronic scene (alongside friends The Dorian Concept and The Clonious), with a handful of shorter releases and remixes to his prior credit. Posited by the label as a reintroduction, Material starts out strong with the dark tones of “Clay,” the reverberating synths of the aptly titled “Surge,” and the off-kilter instrumental “Zünder” (complete with slice-and-dice saxophone). Samantha Urbani’s guest vocals on “Repeat” underscore Bacher’s ties to cutting-edge pop that’s frankly not my forte. From there, the momentum slows somewhat and stalls late with the (not coincidental) vocal outpouring of “One Last Thing.” Bacher does throw consistent curveballs, however. B

Diamond Terrifier Cipher, Chapel Master (Styles Upon Styles) Just caught up with this fall release, and it’s too sweet to not slide in a mention. Diamond Terrifier is a solo project of NYC saxophonist Sam Hillmer (of Zs); here he’s in cahoots with guitarist Michael Beharie, vocalist Miho Hatori (of Cibo Matto), and electronics-midi manipulator Don De Vore (of Collapsing Society), who comprise Cipher; this is the debut of this expanded lineup, and it provides a potent dose of racket and abstraction. While there are a few moments that “merely” combine noisy electronics and free jazz skronk and squawk, Hillmer’s lungs aren’t as prevalent as one might expect given his role in shaping the proceedings, though he does step to the foreground on the B-side remixes on the limited vinyl. Last I checked, it’s still available. A-

Golden Teacher, No Luscious Life (Golden Teacher) The debut album after a bunch of shorter releases (the earliest stuff comped a few years back onto First Three EPs) from this six-member Glasgow unit. Mixing house, disco, Jamaica, industrial, funky Africa, post-punk, and experimentation into a tangy stew, the one prerequisite in their modus operandi seems to be an emphasis on the danceable, an art-party aesthetic (mildly reminiscent of !!!) that’s immediately apparent in “Sauchiehall Withdrawal,” the album’s opener giving classic electro a fringe-dubby revamp. The shared vocals of Cassie Ojay and Charles Lavenac are an additional big plus, but so’s the fact that they go deep; a prime example is “Diop,” a highly rhythmic tip of the hat to Senegalese griot Aby Ngana Diop. Regularly trippy, too. A-

Juan de Fuca, Solve/Resolve (Arrowhawk) The debut album from an Athens, GA five-piece that grew out of the solo project of singer-songwriter Jack Cherry. First came bassist Jack Webster and drummer Howard Stewart. With the rhythm section in place, guitarists Clark Brown and Declan Farisee entered the scene, and the decision to form a full unit was a smart one. Cherry’s songs (if the songs do remain fully his) and vocals are sturdy but nothing revelatory. Same goes for the instrumental component, which layers some indie guitar toughness to a riffy NYC template that’s drawn comparisons to The Strokes and (more fitting to my ears) The Walkmen. But putting the music, songs, and singing together produces a cohesive and energetic, if not synapse-frying, whole. Bands are still relevant, y’know? B+

Grae J. Wall and Los Chicos Muertos, Quinze Petites Morts (Trashville) Some may know Grae J. Wall as the frontman for Trailer Trash Orchestra, a group described by its singer as a cowpunk collective. Los Chicos Muertos, a scaled-down outfit shaped-up with his TTO mates, is also well-served by the cowpunk tag. They’ve been more creatively portrayed as Calexico meets Tarantino, though Trashville’s website notes that “Hunter S. Thomson meets Jim Jarmusch might be more accurate.” I’ll concur. Quinze Petites Morts, which serves as my introduction to Wall’s musical universe, morphed during its recording into an “album about death,” with the subject handled with seriousness that’s never undone by unrestrained gravity. Instead, there’s raw edge and energy, and “This Voice Kills Fascists” is greatly appreciated. B+

The Obsessed, S/T (Relapse) Scott “Wino” Weinrich’s has helped shape a long list of outfits and projects, but the two that truly cement him as a doom metal legend are Saint Vitus and The Obsessed. Early in 2017 The Obsessed returned with Sacred, a surprisingly strong effort, and late in the year Relapse unveiled a reissue of the band’s eponymous 1990 album. If the Sabbath-inspired science isn’t as sharp as it would become on ’94’s The Church Within, the crew never lacked in heaviness. Proof in the pudding is the 4-song “Concrete Cancer” demo from ’84 and a live set from Washington, DC’s The Bayou from the following year. The demo gets a separate vinyl press, the S/T vinyl includes a download of everything, and it’s all programmed onto 2CD. The sounds gather strength through accumulation. A-

OST, Mayhem (Relapse) Since scoring Cub in 2015, Steve Moore has averaged a soundtrack a year. This is his latest following The Mind’s Eye, which I thought was well done if not amazing, and this continues in essentially the same vein and inspires a roughly comparable reaction. While chalking up nearly 70 minutes, Mayhem is still significantly shorter than The Mind’s Eye, and in part due to the brief track durations, is a tad more digestible. Some will no doubt wish that numerous bits had been given lengthier treatments (a few do), but in serving the needs of the film, a synopsis of which finds Moore tackling a sort of splatter-action viral horror hybrid, the music avoids spinning its wheels. Like Zombi, Moore’s duo with Anthony Paterra, this is deeply indebted to ’80s soundtrack ambience of Carpenter and Goblin. B+

Eddie Senay, Hot Thing (Sundazed) Some of the testimonials for this ’72 slab of Motor City guitar-funk, originally issued by Sussex (label home of Dennis Coffey, don’tcha know) make it sound like a front-to-back burner, but Senay and his band are pretty well-behaved at times. Yes, there are grooves aplenty, but with a few notable exceptions, such as the cooking and somewhat Meters-like take of Donny Hathaway’s “Zambezi” and the Booker T.-ish original “Reverend Lowdown,” not an abundance of sweat. But if not especially gritty, there’s a pleasing lack of slickness and overplaying (and instrumental overcrowding) across this eight-song all-instrumental affair, and I really like what Senay does with his labelmate Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Too bad he didn’t record more. B+

Typhoon, Offerings (Roll Call) This Portland, OR outfit has been around a while, but they haven’t released anything since 2013. Led by singer-songwriter Kyle Morton, this is their fourth album, and at nearly 70 minutes, it’s a whopper of 21st century indie emotionalism. Yes, as it plays I can close my eyes and envision an NPR tote bag, but Typhoon don’t meander (unlike some other bands in this style who’ve produced long works) and significant goodwill is accrued through a varied sound of considerable potency. And ambition. Concerned with the loss of, and the attempt to recapture, memory both personal (through a fictive character) and cultural, the record’s broken into four sections. My interest never wavered, and closer “Sleep” briefly brought Neutral Milk Hotel and Bright Eyes to mind. Cool. A-

Ultimate Spinach, S/T (Sundazed) The first and best LP from this purveyor of the oft-ridiculed Bosstown Sound. Is the stuff multi-instrumentalist Ian-Bruce Douglas and band cooked up (under the auspices of producer and Bosstown Sound architect Alan Betrock) indebted to the contemporaneous sounds of the West Coast scene? Yes, occasionally blatantly so. Is the Ultimate Spinach inferior? Surely. But this disc is often a lot of fun, and “(Ballad of) the Hip Death Goddess,” if representative of the band’s frequent doofy pretentiousness, rates as a classic. I mean, with that bass line, how can it not? And hey, once I’ve acclimated myself to the mersh circumstances behind this album, it goes down rather nicely. In retrospect, the real mistake was in underutilizing the vocals of guitarist Barbara Hudson. B+

Yanomamos, Comes Alive! (Con D’or) Featuring bassist Miss Jane Mansfield and guitarist Timothy G. Piotrowski of ’80s obscurities Duck Kicking Vulture ‎with Hüsker Dü drummer Grant Hart, Yanomamos’ “Quizas” EP was issued in ’88 by New Alliance. Captured via boom box, it was the first post-breakup wax by a Dü member to appear; unsurprisingly, its two untitled tracks have been overshadowed by Hart’s (and Bob Mould’s) subsequent stuff. Other than a live benefit reunion in ’11, there’d been few motions from Yanomamos, though they did record an unreleased EP in ’15. That session forms side one of Comes Alive!, with the flip cut last year after Hart, diagnosed with cancer, reconvened the band. Specializing in loose but focused psych rock jams, this solid album elevates Yanomamos to more than a footnote. B+

YOB, The Great Cessation (Relapse) Relapse maintains a formidable release schedule, making it hard for this guy to promptly keep up. This situation extends to reissues that I might’ve missed the first time around. Hey, it ultimately comes down to preferences; while I do love metal, I don’t hunger for it like some (for whom Relapse’s productivity is likely quite welcome), and it’s taken me a while to soak up their remastered edition of The Great Cessation. Having originally emerged in 2009 on Profound Lore, this was YOB’s fifth full-length. The doom vibe is fittingly massive and at times, smartly psychedelic, which shouldn’t be misconstrued as arty. Two bonus tracks extend the running time over 75 minutes, which is maybe a little much, but as this review expresses, restraint isn’t conducive to good metal. A-

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