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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Brigid Mae Power, The Two Worlds (Tompkins Square) Power’s self-titled 2016 LP, also for Tompkins Square, benefited from the confluence of a raised profile and a considerable artistic leap forward. Listening to it then, it fleetingly reminded me of Tim Buckley, Cat Power, Joanna Newsom, Nico and more. She cut that disc in Portland, Oregon with Peter Broderick; this one was recorded, again with Broderick, in Galway, Ireland, the city in which she mostly grew up. Power describes it as far from a rosy move, but the “repressive and oppressive environment” was conducive to her finishing “Don’t Shut Me Up Politely,” which is amongst the highpoints on this psych-folk beauty. Another standout is the exquisitely outsider-edgy “Down on the Ground.” An altogether superb release. A

Jerry David DeCicca, Time the Teacher (Impossible Ark) DeCicca is probably still best-known for fronting Black Swans; this LP might change that. Hopefully, it doesn’t get lost in the current bustle. Per Time the Teacher’s notes, these songs were written after a move to Texas with cats and a loved one, but DeCicca didn’t want it to sound typically Texan, and in consort with producers Jeb Loy Nichols and Benedic Lambin, he’s succeeded. While the root is singer-songwriter of a ’70s sort, the decision to backseat guitar for piano, horns, and soulful vocal backing brings a deep breath of fresh air that resists easy comparisons. However, “Kiss a Love Goodbye” is a bit like Randy Newman in confessional mode with a mid-song dose of reeds reminiscent of Lambchop circa How I Quit Smoking. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Shudder to Think, Ten Spot (Dischord) & Pony Express Record (B-Core Disc) Over the years I’ve noticed folks occasionally downgrading Ten Spot, but upon reflection and a few fresh spins I can’t get with those assessments at all. I heavily dug Shudder’s art-glam-post-harDCore merger from the point of their debut (and especially the anthemic wail of “Let it Ring”), but Ten Spot got lots of play in the first car I ever owned with a tape deck, and a few decades later it hasn’t slipped in my estimation a bit. Of course, by Pony Express Record, with a retooled lineup and a move to Epic Records (a final Dischord 45 gave a taste of what was in store), they were a machine to be reckoned with. Of the ’90s indie-to-major label records that hardly anybody bought, it remains among the very best. A-/ A

Chet Baker, Sings (Wax Love) All of the ’50s Baker vocal albums have their charms, and unless you simply can’t abide jazz singing or just dislike Chet (hey, some people do), you’ll do good getting this one. Record three for Riverside, Chet Baker Sings It Could Happen to You, has the best band (Kenny Drew, Sam Jones, Philly Joe), but this set, the first of two for Pacific Jazz, has the appeal of being, well, first. But in fact, that’s side two of this LP, recorded in ’54 and originally released on 10-inch. Side one was cut two years later, after the material that comprises Chet Baker Sings and Plays…Got it? Folks have argued that without his matinee idol looks and the tone of his skin these opportunities wouldn’t have come to Baker, and I don’t disagree at all. But it’s not like he couldn’t sing. And his sound remains unique. A-

All Souls, S/T (Sunyata) It occurs to me that at least a fair portion of contempo heavy rock is casting a gaze of fondness upon the genre’s developments in the post-grunge ’90s. I largely downgrade this impulse, in large part because I simply wasn’t a fan of the general sound, but the debut from LA’s All Souls manages to overcome my resistance to the style. Foremost, Antonio Aguilar’s vocals (he also plays guitar) avoid the era-specific wailing that frankly gets on my nerves, secondly, those guitars, with Aguilar and Erik Trammel bringing the dual attack, are suitably raw, third, bassist-vocalist Meg Castellanos and drummer Tony Tornay establish a muscular foundation that moves, and last, the production by Toshi Kasai is bright but not slick. For this record at least, they’ve won me over. B+

Ruby Boots, Don’t Talk About It (Bloodshot) This is the second album (and first for Bloodshot) from Aussie to Nashville transplant Ruby Boots (real name Bex Chilcott), and from inside a pop-rock framework, her strong suit is diversity. She offers glammy-punky ’70s street-rock sass in opener “It’s So Cruel,” and plays around with rootsy soulful country without straining for authenticity in “I Am a Woman,” but the real ace up her sleeve is the ability to craft a killer pop single; the title track is like Hope Sandoval doing the backstroke in Phil Spector’s swimming pool. I also dig the touches of power-pop. While the sharp, occasionally rough-edged backing by the Texas Gentleman and the coherent production by Beau Buford helps to hold things together, it’s Ruby who brings the goods. A-

Calibro 35, Decade (Record Kicks) The scoop on this Italian instrumental crew foregrounds that they’ve been sampled by Dr. Dre and Jay-Z, and listening to Decade, it’s easy to understand why. You see, Calibro 35 are funky, and more to the point cinematically funky; to get right down to brass tacks they specialize in a sound reminiscent of poliziotteschi, i.e. the heavily-violent Italian crime-action flicks that exploded in the ’70s. If you’ve watched Mike Malloy’s doc Eurocrime!, you know the genre, and you’ve also heard some of Calibro 35’s stuff on the soundtrack. This is dangerous territory, prone to be high on period ambiance but low on ideas, but this boldly symphonic and occasionally jazzy album never runs out of steam. In fact, it tempts me to queue up Fernando di Leo’s Milieu Trilogy. Right on. B+

Fu Manchu, Clone of the Universe (At the Dojo) Fu Manchu have long embodied the hard-rocking party (as opposed to arty or doomy) side of the stoner-retro-heavy rock equation, a point driven home by their early album covers and intermittent, sincere use of cowbell. Halfway through opener “Intelligent Worship” on this, their twelfth full-length, they begin clanging that metal, remaining allegiant to their core sound through the lineup changes. Back in the ’90s, Fu Manchu kinda struck me as a gimmick band, though one that’s stunt wasn’t hard to swallow. Clone of the Universe is a mixed bag; “(I’ve Been) Hexed” and “Slower Than Light” are cool, “Nowhere Left to Hide” is lesser, and “Il Mostro Atomico” doesn’t justify its length, but the album still unexpectedly spotlights a fairly graceful aging process. B

Gary War, Gaz Forth (Feeding Tube) A long time ago Greg Dalton aka Gary War was a member of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. More recently he’s spent time in New Zealand, but word is that he’s returned to Massachusetts. It’s an indisputable fact that after a break of over five years, Gary War is returning to the record bins. The electronic element is still here, but there’s less of the tweaked synth-pop and robotic flavor of previous records. Instead, there’s a melodic strum-psych feel that’s quite pleasurable. Much of the singing still has that underwater vibe, but as Byron Coley states in the press release, there’s also a similarity to the Moody Blues in the vocal department. If this worries you, don’t let it. Gaz Forth is much nearer to a garage than any amphitheater, and the whole of this is plenty weird. Welcome back. A-

Chris Hillman, The Asylum Years (Omnivore) In his notes for this disc, which combines former Byrd and Flying Burrito Brother Hillman’s solo debut and its follow-up on one CD, Scott Schinder describes Sailin’ Away as state-of-the-art ’70s studio rock. He’s right, and that’s exactly why I’m largely underwhelmed by the results. Featuring a bunch of ex-Burritos, Eagle Timothy B. Schmidt, Flo & Eddie, Steve Cropper and others including a handful of LA session dudes, Sailin’ Away’s high level of post-country-rock comfortableness even includes an Arp synth on a few tracks, though the bluegrass of “(Take Me in Your) Lifeboat” is a nice closing detour. Hillman’s assessment of Clear Sailin’ as a sophomore slump gave me hope I’d like it better; surprisingly mainstream, with lotsa sax in boat shoes, I do, but not by much. C+

Kolb, Making Moves (Ramp Local) Released on cassette, the six-song debut from Michael Kolb has an interesting backstory. Initially hitting NYC to become a pro opera singer, Kolb became disillusioned with the classical world (in a word: money) and in turn embraced the city’s underground scene. Ramp Local mentions bedroom pop in relation to Making Moves, but then immediately differentiates him from the norms of that loose genre, as Kolb is sturdy, both of voice (still operatic) and instrumentally, with the song’s frequent sharp angles architecturally sound. The whole can be aptly tagged as art-pop, but with no neglect to the right side of that hyphen. That is to say, the delightful “Car Song” (and a few other examples here) has a foundation that could translate into wide appeal. A-

River Cult, Halcyon Daze (Nasoni – Blackseed) After a three-song debut EP from 2016, this Brooklyn-based trio delivers five selections on this solid full-length follow-up. Succinctly self-described as heavy psychedelic rock, the list of influences includes Sleep, Blue Cheer, Ty Segall, Hawkwind, Pentagram, Led Zep, and Earthless, and while the vocals of guitarist Sean Forlenza don’t detract a bit from the whole, the overall thrust is instrumentally focused, which is unsurprising as all the tracks top seven minutes; “The Sophist” reaches twelve. Sure, River Cult aren’t laying rubber on any new trails here, but neither are they the slightest bit hackneyed, and I can easily imagine revisiting this one with regularity. Nasoni is handling the vinyl, while Blackseed has the CD and the limited-edition cassette. A-

Curtis Roush, Cosmic Campfire Music (Modern Outsider) Austin dweller Roush is guitarist-vocalist in Bright Light Social Hour, but I haven’t heard ‘em. I have spent a little time with this album, which is Roush’s solo debut, and while I’m not bowled over it’s something of a grower. His main gig has been tagged more than once as psychedelic, which coupled with the title here had me hoping for some good ol’ Texas weirdness, but for the most part, no; instead, the majority is quite pop-focused, though not without a few likeable moments of subtle strangeness. Jim James crossed my mind more than once. A big positive here is the breadth of the instrumental attack, with electronics productively rubbing up against pedal steel. Likewise, the songs; when Roush dishes out a dance track late, it adds value. B+

Shiner, The Egg (B-Core Disc) This was originally released in 2001 on DeSoto Records, the label once operated by Bill Barbot and Kim Coletta of Jawbox. This connection might lead one think Shiner was a Washington, DC-area band, but no, they hailed from Kansas City, MO. Hearing their fourth full-length The Egg without knowledge of the band’s mailing address, one might also guess they hung their hats (if hats they wore) on hooks in the thereabouts of the Nation’s Capital. Spying that J. Robbins of Jawbox was the producer would surely reinforce this assumption. Yes, Shiner have some similarities to the late-’90s DC sound, but they are not exactly blatant copyists; it’s just as apparent that they’d been impacted by Radiohead. A few ’90s-isms hold this back a bit, but it’s still an engaging listen. B+

John Tejada, Dead Start Program (Kompakt) Techno practitioner Tajada’s been active for over twenty years, on his own, as a remixer, and more recently collaborating with Reggie Watts as Wajatta, and since 2011’s Parabolas he’s been a part of Kompakt’s roster; along with a bunch of the expected EPs, this is his fourth full-length for the German label. The promo sheet states this is for fans of classic techno, electro, and house music, and as the eleven selections unwind, that’s easily discernible. I feel safe in predicting this will go down nicely with the club crowd, but right now, sitting in a hard-backed chair and listening on headphones, it’s proving to be quite satisfying. A lot of electronic releases can be rather sprawling affairs, and that’s fine, but I do like the digestible 50 minutes of this one. B+

Jim White, Waffles Triangles and Jesus (PIAPTK) Veteran Southern eccentric White’s sixth solo studio album came out in the UK (maybe elsewhere, too) last year, but its US release is 2/9, and its arrival is quite welcome. I’ve long dug his stuff, especially his pair for Luaka Bop, but will confess to kinda losing track of the guy; his last release Where It Hits You came out over five years ago. White’s albums are reliably loaded with guests and session aces, and this one’s no different, though the highest-profile name here is Holly Golightly, who sings on the downhome humorous “Playing Guitars.” But if a decidedly Southern trip, White’s worldliness, oddball perspectives, and underlying pop instincts broaden the appeal. Maybe not as strong as his best work, but not far from the mark. A-

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