Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores, March 2018, Part Five

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Cavern of Anti-Matter, Hormone Lemonade (Duophonic) Consisting of multi-instrumentalist Tim Gane and drummer Joe Dilworth, both ex-Stereolab, plus synth specialist-electronic manipulator Holger Zapf, Cavern of Anti-Matter’s sound is inextricably linked to Krautrock. Unsurprisingly and undisguisedly so, as opener “Malfunction” is a 16-minute motorik excursion that for many will justify the purchase of this 2LP all by itself. Even more impressive is the territory covered in the tracks that follow, which travel quite a distance by the end of side four. As the trio operate sans vocals, the range adds extra value. There are a few moments recalling Stereolab, but had I been ignorant to the association upon listening, it’s questionable I would’ve made the connection. Fine stuff. A-

XOR Gate, Conic Sections (Tresor) Detroiter Gerald Donald has been one of techno’s most reliably interesting practitioners, and amongst a load of projects and collabs, most prominently Drexciya and Dopplereffekt, he’s also issued material under a bunch of pseudonyms, the most well-known perhaps being Arpanet and Heinrich Mueller. His latest venture/ moniker is XOR Gate, the tag borrowed from linguistic or electronic logic, with the music taking the form of eight themes all edited together as one 30-minute track where “waveform and synthesis merge entirely with emotions.” If this all seems somewhat (or considerably) obscure, don’t be intimidated, as this tangibly Germanic excursion is not a bit dry, and to my ear would make a fine companion to this week’s other new release pick. A-

REISSUE PICKS: V/A, Rumbita Buena: Rumba Funk and Flamenco Pop from the 1970s Belter and Discophon Archives (Pharaway Sounds) This continues my crash course in the Spanish genres of the title, a line of study I’m happy to be making, though from a personal perspective, I suspect the best way to engage with this material is through well-selected comps. Of which this is one; Rumbita Buena puts its weakest track right up front and then blossoms, the funkiness hearty rather than flashy and the pop rooted in substance over the saccharine. Plus, there are all sorts of cool twists; I especially dig Los Candelos’ hard rock guitar-infused “Te Estoy Amando Locamente” and Teresiya’s truly zonked gipsy yé-yé gem “El perro de San Roque.” Are there handclaps? Goddamn right there are handclaps. A-

The Damnation of Adam Blessing, S/T & The Second Damnation (Exit Stencil) Two slabs of hard rock from ’69-’70 that come with the Paul Major seal of approval. The Damnation of Adam Blessing hailed from Cleveland and got signed by United Artists, who by all accounts screwed the pooch in promoting them. For the first LP, the band’s psychedelic roots are a lot more obvious, but amid cool covers of “Morning Dew” and “Last Train to Clarksville” their original material makes clear that the “should’ve been” status isn’t hype. But an even better barometer of their worth relates to their second LP topping the debut. Comparisons have been made to Grand Funk, but I dunno if those guys (whose early stuff I like) had a song as killer as “Back to the River.” Vocals steer refreshingly clear of caterwauling. B+/ A-

Bättre Lyss, Till Den Sträng Som Brast Än Att Aldrig Spänna (Sommor) This reissues a ’75 private press from a Swedish hard rock-prog band influenced by the likes of Deep Purple, King Crimson, and Yes. The core trio of Rolf Hammarlund (vocals, bass), Christer Palmquist (vocals, acoustic guitars, piano), and Rolf Johansson (drums) enlisted a bunch of guests in completing their sole LP, including guitarist Anders Nordh from the band Life. I would’ve preferred more Crimson-esque moments and fewer turns toward melodicism (“Anna” is an obvious pop “single”), and overall, this is a very mixed bag. But there is enough of value, including the curious touch of lyrics originally written in English but translated back to Swedish, to keep me interested until the horn-spiked “K-E Andersson,” which closes matters on a high note. B-

Caitlin Canty, Motel Bouquet (Tone Tree Music) For her third full-length, Nashville by way of Vermont vocalist Canty straps on her 1939 Recording King guitar and enlists Punch Brother Noam Pikelny as producer, and for those with a hankering for contempo Americana, the results should be plenty satisfactory. It’s a possibility aided by the occasional Appalachia-tinged fiddle of Stuart Duncan, but overall, Canty’s sound combines the feel of progressive C&W (she’s been compared to Emmylou Harris) with the tougher singer-songwriters who took part in shaping the early alt-country movement (likewise, Lucinda Williams). On a record where everything clicks, “Who” is a gradually flowering standout that pushes far beyond the norms of quality for this genre. A-

The Courettes, We Are the Courettes (Sounds of Subterrania/Cargo) Second LP from the Brazilian-Danish married duo of Flavia and Martin Couri alternates garage-fuzz roar with a few ’60s teen pop moves, and across 31 minutes (a long time for this sort of thing) their engine never runs out of gas, nor even sputters. The rawness of Flavia’s guitar, the abandon in her screams, and the Sonics-like battering by Martin at the drums keeps this far away from the safeness of the retro scene as they wholeheartedly embrace elements of the ’60s experience that’re closer to the Back from the Grave comps than Nuggets. This places them in the general proximity of The Mummies, though the pop angle helps them to carve out their own niche. All this and a cool guest spot from Brazilian horror auteur Coffin Joe. A-

E Ruscha V, Who Are You (Beats in Space) I’m familiar with Eddie Ruscha (son of the great conceptual artist Ed Ruscha) from the ’90s shoegaze act Medicine, and after that as part of punk/ dub outfit Future Pigeon, but this is my introduction to his recent work, of which E Ruscha V is only a portion. After a few spins of these largely instrumental electro-synth soundscapes/ songs, my immediate impression is that Who Are You is a laidback mood soother with substance, but its strong point lay in how it refuses to sit stylistically still; had Ruscha stuck to one or a couple of these modes, I don’t think the result would’ve suited me much. ’80s New Age Exotica does recur, but it’s fucked around with rather nicely. I enjoyed the entrance of woozy guitar in “Carried Away,” and ditto the non-trite vocoder in “Endless Sunday.” B+

FACS, Negative Houses (Trouble in Mind) For this LP, Jonathan van Herik, Noah Leger, and Brian Case, all members of Chicago’s Disappears (effectively on hiatus as of 2016), deliver a sound comparable to their prior achievement, so fans take note. The main difference is a tangibly darker mood as FACS conjure up something of a shoegaze-tinged brawny art-rock nod to the persevering relevance of Joy Division. No, not the most original of pursuits, but these eight songs do avoid becoming leaden (a common pitfall in this territory), and when the saxophone (courtesy of noted Windy City improvisor Nick Mazzarella) enters during standout “Houses Breathing,” it’s unlikely you’ll be thinking of any other outfit. Van Herik has since departed, making the way for bassist Alianna Kalaba (of We Ragazzi). B+

Shuta Hasunuma & U-zhaan, 2 Tone (Commmons – Birdwatcher) This came out on Commmons in 2017, but was limited to the Japanese market; its wider issue through Birdwatcher on CD/ LP/ digital, if leaner by two cuts, is surely welcome, as multi-instrumentalist-composer Hasunuma and tabla player U-Zhaan (aka Hironori Yuzawa) produce a strain of avant-pop/ ambient experimental that’s as approachable as it is unusual. Although U-Zhaan’s instrument is instantly recognizable, don’t expect a plunge into Indian classical waters, even with Daikiti Yoshida’s sitar helping shape closer “ISO.” The contributions of Arto Lindsay (vocals, guitar) and Ryuichi Sakamoto (electronics) are more representative of the duo’s overall thrust (Devendra Banhart’s vocals less so, though that track is quite enjoyable nonetheless). A-

Geoff and Maria Muldaur, Pottery Pie & Sweet Potatoes (Omnivore) The first of two LPs Geoff and Maria cut after leaving the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, ’68’s Joe Boyd-produced Pottery Pie, is a delightful slice of proto-Americana, presented here in its first US CD reissue. Due to the use of “Brazil” in Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece of the same name, I snatched up a copy of this in the late ’80s, and while I wasn’t disappointed then, I dig it even more now. It’s that kind of record. By ’72, many of those who’d helped shape the ’60s hippie-folk scene had lost the thread, but Sweet Potatoes is alright. Hell, it’s more than alright. But it’s also lesser than its forerunner, in part due to the lack of Maria. Had Reprise got them into a studio with Van Dyke Parks a couple of years earlier, I wonder what would’ve transpired. A-/ B+

Nihilist Cheerleader, Riot, Right? (Perfect Attendance Records) This Athens, GA’s band is made up of Flynne Collins (guitar, vocals), Dylan Loftin (guitar), Leora Hinkle (bass), and Charley Gumby (drums), and as the title of this CD/ cassette suggests, Riot Grrl is a primary influence; they underscore the inspiration right away in opener “I’m Fine.” But the ensuing nine tracks (in a trim 28 minutes) aren’t all shards of rage, as they display an aptitude for edgy pop (“Drenched In” and “Who’s Gonna Hear You”) and a solid handle on less aggressively throttling maneuvers from punk’s playbook. It’s notable that the songs aren’t mere identifications of gender and power injustice, with the music delivering more than a restatement of established ground, but “& She Takes It” is an anthemic charger of a finale. A strong showing. B+

No Joy / Sonic Boom, “Synth Pop” (Joyful Noise) Featuring Jasamine White-Gluz of the Canadian shoegaze-dream pop act No Joy and Pete Kember of Spacemen 3, Spectrum and E.A.R., this four-song EP (available on vinyl, CD, and digital) doesn’t necessarily overtake the ideas White-Gluz has explored in No Joy (alongside Laura Lloyd), but instead lovingly fucks with them through intercontinental exchange, with Jasamine writing and producing in Montreal, and Kember, who’s been long known for his aural manipulation under the handle Sonic Boom, producing, arranging, and writing in Portugal. The results retain ties to pop but with a greater emphasis on experimentation. The 11-minute opener “Obsession” and the looped drone “locked groove” ending of closer “Teenage Panic” are pleasingly psychedelic. B+

Jeff Rosenstock, POST (Polyvinyl – Specialist Subject) This came out as a pay-what-you-want download at the beginning of the year, but it’s getting its physical release now through Polyvinyl in the US and Specialist Subject in the UK. Rosenstock’s a big deal in certain corners of the punk scene, but I’m coming to him as a newbie, and upon listening I can understand both his major following and why I’ve missed it thus far. In his favor is a boldly produced, amped up grasp of power-pop, but too often his hooks devolve into an anthemic pop-punk sensibility that’s only infrequently been found in my bag. Additionally, his more classicist pop gestures largely don’t resonate with me (“9-10” is an exception). However, the songs that connect really connect, and the lyrics are a cut above this sorta thing. B-

Second Woman, “Instant / Apart” (Tresor) Second Woman is Turk Dietrich of Belong and Joshua Eustis of Telefon Tel Aviv, occasional collaborators since meeting in the late ’90s, though with this project, which has chalked up a pair of full-lengths since 2016, their creative union has accelerated. The stated objective is to grab elements of footwork, dub, house, and techno and then mutate the combination into a sound that’s “kaleidoscopically liberated from the grid.” Suitably, “Instant I” is a potent hunk of abstract discombobulation, but “Instant II” and “Apart I” both flow with higher levels of dancefloor friendliness, and that’s cool. “Apart II” is the briefest of the selections, but placing its stutters, shutters, shards and bursts of strangeness at the end of side two provides an engaging circularity. B+

V/A, Tani: Disco Rhumba and Flamenco Boogie 1976-1979 (Pharaway Sounds) Although I’m in no way a disco-phobe, it was probably inevitable that I’d be less smitten with this dancefloor companion next to the Rumbita Buena comp reviewed above, and yet much of this goes down better than I expected, especially the tracks with a higher percentage of rhumba and flamenco in the mix. In fact, a few tracks, like Mala’s “La Marelu,” really kick and are further aided by string arrangements that, unlike their US counterparts, aren’t slicked up to the point of innocuousness. Sure, a few of the selections just truck along, but hey man, it was the ’70s. If you’ve been enjoying the Cultures of Soul label’s recent international disco comps, I’d say this one will sashay right up your alley. B+

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