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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Phew, Voice Hardcore (Mesh-Key) Phew (real name Hiromi Moritani) is an integral part of the Japanese underground; she fronted the Osaka punk band Aunt Sally, her debut 7-inch was produced by Ryuichi Sakamoto, her first LP featured guests Conny Plank and members of Can, and she’s remained quite active since. Voice Hardcore emerged as a tour CD last year, but this is the vinyl edition, and as an excursion into the possibilities of Phew’s voice and Phew’s voice alone, it’s a captivating and unpredictable listen. The title might suggest unrestrained throat aggression, but the results are less throttling and more enveloping. Indeed, opener “Cloudy Day” is reminiscent of Ligeti in its textured drift, and “In the Doghouse” is a marvel of sonic breadth and repetition. A

Wooing, “Daydream Time Machine” (Ba Da Bing!) Here’s the debut 3-song EP from the new band of Rachel Trachtenburg, who as a youngster was part of the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, and later was in Supercute! and the Prettiots. Although she’s a multi-instrumentalist (she drummed in TFSP), Trachtenburg handles vocals here, with JR Thomason on guitar and Rosie Slater behind the kit. Their sound is an unambiguous extension of ’90s indie; of the comparisons that others have floated, I’m most in agreement with Helium, and to a lesser extent The Breeders. They do combine Mary Timony’s mastery of mood with the Deals’ knack with a song, and the results are raw, occasionally dark, and best of all, amenable to volume. “In Colour” inches toward psych. “Tear World” is the pick by a nose. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Dinosaur L, (Get on Down) “Go Bang” and “In the Corn Belt” (Get on Down) Dinosaur L is often simply lumped into the magnetic eclecticism of the late and great Arthur Russell, but it’s worth noting upfront that these two tracks, split into parts with the original versions found on the 24->24 Music LP (released in ’82 via Russell and William Socolov’s Sleeping Bag Records), is the byproduct of a band. A studio band, sure, and one directed by Russell, but a band nonetheless, featuring the input of the Ingram brothers, Julius Eastman and others. They played disco, a prototype for art-disco to be specific, with Francois Kevorkian remixing “Go Bang” and Larry Levan handling “In the Corn Belt,” and these 45s will hopefully enliven many a DJ night across 2018 and beyond. A-/ A-

Indian Ocean, (Get on Down) “School Bell / Treehouse” 12-inch (Get on Down) As the PR for this reissue notes, Arthur Russell suffered from an inability to finish projects, leaving him with only one completed full-length solo effort prior to his untimely death from HIV in 1992. Russell’s working method also caused him to part ways with his Sleeping Bag partner William Socolov, but as his health began to deteriorate, he approached his friend to cut this 12-inch, his last for the label, which was also his final collab with friend Walter Gibbons. By this point, Sleeping Bag was focusing on early hip-hop, so this disc probably got lost in the shuffle, but it shouldn’t’ve, as it’s a treat of avant-groove. Sure, I’d welcome a higher ratio of distorted cello lines, but what’s here is still a lovely (and bittersweet) sound. A-

Deathless Legacy, Rituals of Black Magic (Scarlet) The fourth release from this Milan-based “Horror Rock” outfit is described by the label as their first concept album. The contents detail the ancient rituals of the title, right down to “dosages, ingredients, processes and spells to cast,” though as the six-piece band have all adopted alter-egos (complete with costumes) derived from romantic and modern gothic lit, it seems fair to peg Deathless Legacy’s very existence as conceptual. The music is about what you’d expect, if you were expecting something in the post-Mercyful Fate mold, infused with dark symphonic elements and synths that resist plunging too deeply into Itali-horror soundtrack tropes. The pluses are solid songs and the femme vocals, but this strain of chunky bombast only goes so far with me. B

Duran Duran, “Girls on Film 1979 Demo” (Cleopatra) As a young lad, I cared for Duran Duran hardly at all, and as an adult I’ve never owned any of their records, so I might not be the most fitting judge for this dose of New Romantic prehistory. The four songs here, cut prior to Simon Le Bon joining the band, feature vocalist and songwriter Andy Wickett (who replaced founding singer Stephen Duffy). The early version of “Girls on Film” is what most folks are going to slap down cash to own; it’s easily recognizable, yet distinctly funkier and obviously more stripped down. “See Me Hear Me” will also be of interest to fans, as it’s said to be the root of “Rio,” though the relationship isn’t easy (for me) to discern. The other two cuts deepen the group’s ties to post-punk, but are no great shakes. On CD and red or clear wax. B-

Aretha Franklin, Lady Soul (Rhino – Atlantic) This a SYEOR 2018 Exclusive; that stands for Start Your Ear Off Right. Har. With this set amongst Rhino’s offerings, that won’t be difficult. By this album’s ’68 release, Franklin had already recorded a bunch, but she didn’t really hit her stride until hooking up with Atlantic. This was her third LP for the label, and if not Franklin’s best for the company (that would be her label debut I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You from the previous year) it doesn’t miss by much. It features four hit singles, including superb readings of Don Covay’s “Chain of Fools,” the Goffin-King composition “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and her own song (co-written with Teddy White) “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone,” and bluntly, every soul shelf needs it. A+

Grace Basement, Mississippi Nights (Avonmore) This is the fourth album from what’s described as the R&R side-project of St. Louis-based multi-instrumentalist Kevin Buckley, but the first I’ve heard. As assisted by drummer Jill Aboussie, bassist Greg Lamb, and a bunch of others, the music is melodic rock with a range of flavors; a little old-school indie here, some tinges of alt-country there, with larger injections of roots and singer-songwriter style (Petty and Chilton are namechecked). Buckley apparently plays nearly every night of the week in a variety of styles, which helps account for the breadth, but the writing is focused enough to hold it all together. The whole resonates with a veteran sensibility; the record is named after a long-running St. Louis rock club that closed over ten years ago. B+

Half Japanese, Why Not? (Fire) The Jad Fair train just keeps on rolling, clacking along the rails of rock immortality. Inspired by the Shaggs and a contemporary of Daniel Johnston, Fair was once considered part of the u-ground rock fringe, but the cohesiveness of the man’s artistic thing (which encompasses more than music) has been abundantly clear for quite a while. There have been changes over the decades, but Jad’s never compromised his work to fit into the latest scene; instead, scenes understandably sought to include him into their overall scheme. Speaking of cohesive, Half Jap’s persevering current incarnation continues to expand upon the sound developed by the band in the late ’90s, and on this disc’s second half, they stretch out a bit stylistically. The results are mighty fine. A-

Glen Hansard, Between Two Shores (Anti) I’m one of the few viewers (I’m guessing) that didn’t enjoy Once, and I’ve kept Hansard’s music at a distance ever since. But when a preview copy of his new one arrived, I decided what the hell, give him another try. Well, in terms of soulful troubadours with emotional weights on their shoulders, it’s digestible, though it takes a while to get warmed up. His guitar playing is solid, and he largely flaunts a weathered vocal quality without strain, but the de rigueur horn section (harkening back to Van the Man, of course) drags the first few selections down. “Wreckless Heart” hits a nice stretch cresting with “Setting Forth,” and “Lucky Man” blends Dylan and Cocker. But I also hear Sweet Baby James in there too, and frankly, that taints the whole. C+

Meat Beat Manifesto, Impossible Star (Flexidisc – Virtual Label) Regarding the genre known as Industrial Dance, I’d say the majority hasn’t aged well. But to be unsparing, a large percentage of the techno-thud field was to varying degrees subpar right out of the gate. MBM was an exception, though I’ll confess to lacking insight into what the outfit, long led by founding member Jack Dangers, has been up to since the turn of the century. The MBM stuff I do know didn’t flog a dead stylistic horse, so I was curious into what Impossible Star would sound like. Due to current politics, I was kinda expecting angry, beat-slamming mayhem, but no. Much of this is nearer to electronica than Industrial aggressiveness, though it’s still plenty rhythmic, and occasionally even funky. Not a knockout, but well worth the time. B+

Ozone Mama, Cosmos Calling (Ripple) The label specializes in heavy, which often means a variation on metal (regularly in the doom-sludge-stoner zone), but the latest album by this Budapest-based four-piece is better described as ’70s-style boogie-arena hard rock. Non-partisans of rock heaviness may think I’m splitting hairs, but the distance between Cosmos Calling and the Witchcryer disc reviewed below is tangible. Regarding Ozone Mama (who share a name with a Black Crowes song), I’d probably dig them more if they were more blatantly ’70s derived; the modern swaddling Ripple’s PR mentions is indeed extant, though more accurately, I often thought of the ’90s, largely in relation to the vocals of Márton Székely. To be fair, he keeps the wailing tendencies in check, so this one’s (just) OK. B-

Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers, L.A.M.F. (The Lost ’77 Mixes) (Jungle) Those absolutely bonkers for ’70s NYC punk will need the Definitive Edition, but for folks whose love for the era is a little less feverish, this LP, which offers the best sounding version of the Heartbreakers sole studio album, should suffice. As something like the sixth repress, this isn’t a revelation; that occurred back in ’94, clarifying what the original ’77 album on Track Records should’ve sounded like. Due to that shoddy mix, the Heartbreakers were often tagged as second tier, which was off-base, as my original copy (found already beat up in a discount used bin) brought much enjoyment, but there’s no doubt this is a corrective. “Born to Lose” and “Chinese Rocks” are the killers, but it all roars. How? Like a motherfucker, that’s how. A

Stanislav Tolkachev, “Blue Mood” b/w “Absolute Limit” (Intergalactic Research Institute for Sound) The label is young, with this 10-inch their second release. The first was a twelver compiling Georgian electronic and ambient music, and this continues in the same vein. Tolkachev’s been around for a while, with the A-side in fact dating from 2008, but the flip is brand new. As abstract techno goes, this is satisfying; “Blue Mood” offers an incessant rhythmic stutter and electro reverberation with a shifting atmosphere underneath. Rather than going anywhere in particular, it hangs and hangs and hangs and then fades out. Cool. “Absolute Limit” is wigglier and glitchier with increases in volume. It’s all so mysterious, and it comes with a photo by Tolkachev that you can stare at. 150 copies, clear wax. B+

V/A, The Reverb Conspiracy: Vol 5 (Fuzz Club) Along with documenting a significant portion of the contempo psych scene through a steady stream of albums including live-in-studio sessions, Fuzz Club has been dishing out an almost yearly compilation series that delves into the assorted wrinkles of the druggy European rock fabric (with one exception, Melbourne, Australia’s Black Heart Death Cult). Like Fuzz Club’s roster proper, the results fall solidly into the song-based category, but there’s enough motorik action to keep these ears pleased. Yes, a few of the cuts derive from current albums (e.g. Helicon’s “The Bold Yin” and Sekel’s “Bergamot”), but there are exclusives. One of them is TRAAMS’ Oh Sees-esque “A House on Fire,” which appropriate for its title, burns like a homestead aflame. B+

Witchcryer, Cry Witch (Ripple) The Austin-based Witchcryer have been tagged as purveyors of doom, but it’s often a hooky and up-tempo strain of the style; Ripple mentions the influence of the Deep Purple/ Uriah Heep mode of ’70s heavy, and I can hear it. Still, the doomy atmosphere is nicely underscored by the song “Witchfinder General,” which is concerned not with the band but the movie. Frankly, I like ‘em best when they slow down and lean on those riffs, a la “The Preying Kind,” which was sensibly offered as the pre-release single from this, their debut full length. The vocals of Suzy Bravo, who belts out the tunes with appropriate gravitas and chordal range while remaining fully engaged with the band aesthetic, is a big plus, but even better is the incline in quality as the album progresses. B+

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