Graded on a Curve: New
in Stores, February 2018, Part One

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Kevin Sun, Trio (Endectomorph Music) If you’re into pianoless trios with a horn up front, you’ll not want to miss this one. Sun has recorded previously in the collective quartets Great On Paper and Earprint, but this is his first release under his own name, spotlighting him on tenor, c-melody sax, and clarinet with Walter Stinson on bass and Matt Honor on drums. As I listened, the promo text’s mentions of Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz rang true, and the way the band engages with tradition while eschewing the straight ahead brought Steve Lacy to mind. Much of these 71-minutes can be described as cerebral, even the reading of “All Of Me,” but occasionally they step fully outside, as on “One Never Knows Now,” which reminded me of ’70s Braxton teamed up with Milford Graves and Alan Silva. A

Ezra Feinberg, Pentimento and others (Related States) Guitarist Feinberg was the leader of San Francisco psychsters Citay. After folding that band in 2012, he moved to Brooklyn and shifted focus to marriage, family, and work as a psychanalyst. Less positively, he lost a friend and early artistic mentor to cancer. But the pull of musicmaking is a strong one. Rather than attempt to pick up where he left off (impossible), Feinberg embraced growth and changes, and the results are splendid. Psychedelia is still an ingredient, but the instrumental net Pentimento casts is wide, including recurring strains of ambient-drone-New Age, NYC Minimalist repetition, a whole lot of fingerpicking, and on finale “Experience Near,” the pedal steel of guest Pete Grant. An altogether fine reentry to the scene. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Shuggie Otis, Inspiration Information (8th) When this was reissued back in 2001, it was a revelation. Originally released by Epic in ’74, Otis’ fourth album was severely overlooked and then promptly all but forgotten; subsequently, used copies were scarce, at least around my digs, and while I knew Shuggie through his dad’s band, Kooper Session and Zappa’s Hot Rats, I was frankly unprepared for what emerged through the auspices of David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label. “Holy smokes, this thing is magnificent!” I recall gushing at the time. Since then, having listened more and gathered perspective, I’ve reined in the enthusiasm, but only a little, as this blend of psychedelic soul, Curtis, Marvin, and Otis’ own thing remains a brilliant achievement, and one still accurately tagged as magnificent. A

Country Joe and the Fish, Electric Music for the Mind and Body & I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die (Craft) These two slabs are part of Craft’s 4LP stereo-and-mono-mix collector set Wave of Electrical Sound, which comes with an assortment of bells and whistles and an unseen by me 30-minute doc on DVD. But the stereo versions are available separately, so we’ll approach them that way. Electric Music is an essential serving of original San Francisco psychedelia, and one that gets not nearly enough contemporary love. Yes, it’s dated, but in the best way possible; cut for indie Vanguard, the contents are undiluted stuff. By Fixin’ To Die, which opens with the “clean,” jug-bandy version of their best-known tune, they’d begun to slip, but the whole is better than some detractors, who probably hate hippies, claim. A/ A-

Poppy Ackroyd, Resolve (One Little Indian) Ackroyd’s classically trained on piano and violin, and she’s noted for her use of extended technique (i.e. getting inside the piano to make sounds) and studio multitracking to create music that falls into the neo-classical (or post-classical) mode. This is her third album, and her first for Björk’s label, and a noted development is the choice to recruit guest contributors, including Manu Delago on hang drum, Mike Lesirge on clarinet and flute, and Jo Quail on cello; her prior efforts all utilized field recordings. Regarding neo-classical, much of the recent stuff I’ve heard often sounds like it could be used to soundtrack inspirational internet videos. Some of that uplifting glisten can be found here, but the highpoints, and there are a few, manage to transcend it. B+

Anna Burch, Quit the Curse (Polyvinyl) Detroiter Burch is making her solo debut here, though she doesn’t lack experience, having sung first in Frontier Ruckus and then the Failed Flowers before stepping away from music to go to grad school. Through pretty yet substantial vocals and a solid guitar attack that’s fortified with attentive, non-flashy band support, these nine selections spotlight a sound that would’ve been right at home in the ’90s indie rock playground. Emotional resonance is frequent, but the impact is tougher than twee, and I’d guess this album will appeal to fans of Spinanes, Breeders, early Liz Phair, and Fontaine Toups’ work in and outside of Versus. It’s all vividly produced, and the spacy ‘70s guitar in “Asking 4 a Friend” and the pedal steel in “Belle Isle” add cool twists. B+

Bardo Pond, Volume 8 (Fire) Back in 2000, these expansive Philadelphians began a limited edition CDR series devoted to jam sessions and the like. As a band, and like many in the psychedelic underground, they are prolific, but the productivity is reasonable. Seven entries later, here we are, with the first of those sets to see a vinyl release. In this case, jam session doesn’t mean sloppy or unfocused, but it does indicate a higher level of improvisation, without there being any radical differences in their overall thrust. No, if they’d titled this one differently, I bet few would’ve noticed anything unusual, so if you’re thinking Volume 8 is better suited for those that’re more intensely devoted to the Pond, don’t. This one’s for everybody with an inclination for heavy-psych. 17-minute closer “And I Will” is tops. A-

The Cabin Fever, “Exercise the Demon” (Self-released) The more I listen to this five-song EP (plus three digital bonuses), the LA trio’s second and by all indications their first on vinyl, the more they remind me of the place where Alternative once rubbed up against Indie (like at an all-day festival at RFK Stadium), anytime between, say, ’94 and the end of that decade. If this reads like an insult, that’s because it definitely could be, but not in this case. That’s mainly because these guys have a just-budding sense of weirdness, smart use of stings (arranged by guest hand Patrick Taylor), and decent enough songs (especially the title cut, which has a slow drift that’s tangibly more 21st century). Lyrics are hit and miss. Likewise, Sean Moriarty’s whispered vocals. Embrace the weirdness, fellas. I’ll be checking back. B

Death and Vanilla, The Tenant (Fire) Swedes Death and Vanilla are firmly established in the contemporary retro-futurist camp. In terms of influences, think BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Broadcast, Moogs and other early electronics, and of course soundtracks, though D&V have taken matters further by dabbling in alternate film scores. As there’s a persistent interest in hearing new soundtracks for older, mostly silent movies, this isn’t unusual; D&V’s prior effort was for Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr, which isn’t silent, but is low on dialogue. However, Roman Polanski’s The Tenant has plenty of words (at least I recall it that way), which presents a bigger challenge. They were up to it. Hearing this with the images would obviously be best, but the tension in these limited-edition grooves is still substantial. B+

Dr. John, Sun Moon & Herbs (8th) The last entry in Dr. John’s “Night Tripper” period, and in some ways the least of the bunch. Reportedly, the original aim was to produce a triple album, and the compromise can be detected in the mildly streamlined nature of the pared down results. Simultaneously, it’s an all-star affair, with Clapton and Jagger contributing, though I’m more interested in appearances by tubist Ray Draper (who recorded for Prestige in the ’50s with Coltrane) and flautist Kenneth Terroade (his BYG/Actuel LP Love Rejoice is killer). But don’t think for a sec that Sun Moon & Herbs isn’t an enjoyable listen; it is, and if you have the other Night Tripper LPs, you’ll likely want this, too. B+

Genocide Pact, Order of Torment (Relapse) Here’s LP #2, after 2015’s Forged Through Domination, from this DC-based death metal trio. It’s also the first for Relapse, a fact that brings a high likelihood of quality. It’s all effectively recorded by Kevin Bernsten, which means the pummel is neither murky nor slick, and with other positives; for starters, guitarist Tim Mullaney’s vocals, while bowels-of-hell guttural, don’t overwhelm matters. He also gets in a few cool solos amid the crunch and roar, and his feedback-buzzsaw textures at the end of “Ascendency Absolved” are terrific. Additionally, the rhythm section of bassist Mike Nolan and drummer Connor Donegan not only thuds but is capable of forward motion. It’ll take someone else to rank them in death metal’s overall scheme, but this one sounds good to me. B+

Paul & The Tall Trees/Mattison, “I Explained It All” b/w “Watch Out” (Big Crown) As the heads of Big Crown, Leon Michels & Danny Akalepse are noted for a discerning approach to contempo soul in a classic mode, but that’s not the only sound up their sleeves. Please consider the A-side of this split; P&TTT is the band of veteran guitarist Paul Schalda, and even though he’s backed up Charles Bradley and worked with the Budos Band, the eerily femme-voiced “I Explained It All” is nearer to a blend of Americana and neo-psych than neo-soul. The flip, a track from Kate Mattison, originally self-released prior to the formation of current Big Crown signees 79.5, does revel in soulful glide, but it’s appealingly assured DIY flavor is distinct from the Lee Fields/ Lady Wray side of the label’s equation. B+/ B+

Roxy Music, S/T (Virgin) This is getting half-speed mastered for it’s 45th anniversary, which is cool, but I haven’t heard it. I’m going to assume it sounds great. Because if it doesn’t, that would be embarrassing. What’s not embarrassing is Roxy Music as they emerged in ‘72. Blending a kitschy glam aesthetic (check out those outrageous gatefold pics for evidence) and scrappy art-rock with strong, occasionally fantastic songs, this LP’s still a kicker. It’s important to note however, that it appears Virgin is reissuing the original UK press, which doesn’t have “Virginia Plain.” As a pre-album UK single, it was quickly added to later editions, including the first US press, so I’m guessing most Yanks looking to upgrade are going to register an absence. And a big one, as “Virginia Plain” fucking rules. Even without it, this is still major. A

The Saxophones, “Aloha” b/w “Just You” (Full Time Hobby) The Oakland-based Saxophones are the duo of Alexi Erenkov (vocals, guitar, sax, and synth) and his wife Alison Alderdice (vocals, percussion, and sampler), though for this 7-inch they are assisted by Richard Laws (bass and vibraphone). On offer is post-slowcore with touches of melancholia and lethargy and a subtly off-kilter aura somewhere between oldies radio and a late-night lounge; in the case of the A-side, a Hawaiian lounge. The later angles in this description are certainly enhanced by Erenkov’s choice of horn, plus the flip’s a cover of a Badalamenti/ Lynch composition. The atmosphere doesn’t get as strange as I’d like, but still, it’s a safe bet that peepers bonkers over Peaks will clutch this one like it’s a hunk of firewood. B

The Soft Moon, Criminal (Sacred Bones) Here’s the fourth full-length from the post-punk-darkwave-goth-industrial project of Luis Vasquez, who’s debuting on Sacred Bones after three for Captured Tracks. If undeniably derived from the subterranean ’80s, this isn’t a retro show, though it is worthy of note that in its propulsive menace, The Soft Moon does conjure comparisons to Nine Inch Nails. But the similarity is not labored; in fact, Criminal is aptly described as a personal, confessional work dealing with Vasquez’ guilt and wrongdoings as well as the negative actions of others. This brings the proceedings depth far beyond simple stylistic reassemblage, and it surely helps that the auteur’s got his formal ducks lined up well. The density and abrasion on display is at times quite impressive. A-

SUSS, Ghost Box (Self-released) Described as ambient country, with the promo text mentioning Eno and Morricone, Ghost Box sidesteps genre grafting, instead unwinding like something natural yet quite out of the ordinary. Perhaps more Eno than Ennio, but that’s because (thankfully) the guitar motifs aren’t blatantly imitative of Leone soundtracks (which is generally what’s thought of when placing Morricone in a “country” context). At the start of “Big Sky,” there’re tones reminiscent of Robert Fripp, and in fact much of this reminds me a little of Evening Star infused with non-clichéd desert twang. But a whole lot doesn’t hit me like that, e.g. the electronic textures in “Laredo.” SUSS is Bob Holmes, Gary Leib, Pat Irwin, Jonathan Gregg, and William Garrett, and I’m hoping this isn’t their only recording. A-

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