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

Part four 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, and part three is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Brother JT, Tornado Juice (Thrill Jockey) Easton, PA’s John Terlesky has been active since the ’80s, initially with excellent garage-punks The Original Sins, but in the early ’90s he began releasing more invitingly out-there records under his current sobriquet, and I’ve never heard one that’s not been worth the time. His recent stuff has garnered comparisons to glam, and this tendency is indeed palpable, though at the core remains sweet, song-based psychedelia. JT definitely has a way with humor, but on this solid and oft-terrific new one, there’re wisely no attempts at a redux of “Sweatpants” (from 2013’s The Svelteness of Boogietude). However, as evidenced in “Ponin’” and “Mississippi Somethin’,” his wordplay can be as smile-inducing as ever. Which these days is a valuable thing. A-

Elk City, Everybody’s Insecure (Bar/None) Led by the vocalist Renée LoBue and drummer Ray Ketchem (former bandmates in the Melting Hopefuls), Elk City are back after a long absence (their last one House of Tongues hit in 2010), retaining guitarist Sean Eden while breaking in new keyboardist Carl Baggeley and bassist Martin Olson. Last autumn’s digital cover of The Motels’ “Suddenly Last Summer” announced the return and was an apt choice, as LoBue is a strong, expressive singer, and Ketchem is a noted producer (Guided by Voices, Luna, Versus, the Brother JT album above); opener “Sparrow” could’ve been gussied up and made too fragile, but instead, it and what follows benefits from weight and directness. Amongst the standouts are the sharp “25 Lines” and the intriguing “Root Beer Shoes.” A-

REISSUE PICKS: Cocteau Twins, Head Over Heels & Treasure (4AD) If you’d told me back in the ’80s that the Cocteau Twins would stand as one of the decade’s more influential acts, I suspect I would’ve quietly disagreed. Not because I didn’t like ‘em. I really liked ‘em. Most of my friends liked ‘em. Hell, Tesco Vee liked ‘em. But they did go about their innovation without a whole lot of fanfare, which is why I would’ve (probably) quibbled. 1983’s Head Over Heels is their second album, cut by the duo of Elizabeth Fraser and Robin Guthrie, and it captures a bolder gothic-edged sound prior to the splendid Treasure of the next year, which adds Simone Raymonde and marks their transition into the ethereal-dream zone. Decades on, hardly anybody’s done it better, and yes, (far too) many have tried. A-/ A

Ursula K. Le Guin & Todd Barton, Music and Poetry of the Kesh (Freedom to Spend) Amongst 2018’s sadder news is the passing of the great science-fictioneer Le Guin, author of the groundbreaking and multi-award winning 1969 novel The Left Hand of Darkness and much more. The list includes ’85’s Always Coming Home, an account of the Kesh, invented inhabitants of the Pacific Coast in a far distant time; the original boxed trade release was accompanied by an audiocassette of field recordings and indigenous song, and this is its vinyl reissue. Created by Barton with instruments and a conlang of the author’s invention, what was conceived as an enhancement now serves as enticement to dig back into Le Guin’s works, with Always Coming Home foremost. But it sounds just fine on its own. A-

The Claudettes, Dance Scandal at the Gymnasium! (Yellow Dog) Chicago’s The Claudettes began as a duo, but after a series of personnel additions (and changes) now exist as a four-piece. They’ve been tagged as punk-blues, but on this CD immediately connect as something other/ more than growled out Willie Mabon covers slathered in amp gristle. This is partly due to the piano of founder-constant member Johnny Iguana, who’s played with Junior Wells and Otis Rush. But if steeped in tradition, The Claudettes aren’t a replication (or as said, a mere dirtying up) of it, instead exuding comfort with contemporary motions (Mark Neill produced) as new vocalist Berit Ulseth shines, especially on “Pull Closer to Me” and “Death and Traffic.” Iguana’s skills are fully showcased on the title track. A-

Buck Curran, Morning Haikus Afternoon Ragas (ESP-Disk – Obsolete Recordings) Alongside his wife Shanti, Curran is half of the psych-folk duo Arborea, and Immortal Light, his first album under his own name, came out in 2016. It’s a strong effort that apart from a few contributions from Shanti was a truly solo affair. The follow-up changes things up a bit, with Curran immediately showcasing the acoustic guitar; Morning Haikus’ first side holds six solo pieces that are sure to please folks into the more reflective side of the Takoma Records experience. As on Morning Light, Curran does sing here, but unlike on his debut, this aspect, and the input of guest contributors, gets placed on side two, a tactic that works nicely. “Taurus,” which is dedicated to Peter Green, is a highlight. CD has five bonus tracks. A-

Deke Tom Dollard, Na-You (Hot Casa) The label describes the Afro Soul of Ivory Coaster Dollard as mind-blowing, but after taking a listen I can’t say I exactly concur. It’s certainly of interest, but offering only four selections at 18 minutes, the adjective that’s hard to shake is skimpy. Of Dollard, little is known, although a basic web search turns up two records, each cut for a different label, and this LP (EP?) culls a pair of tracks from both. The sound suggests the late ’70s, possibly even early into the next decade, as the period of origin, and aspects of the funky disco-ish direction are likeable (e.g. the spritely guitar of “Dèmondè”) but not synapse-frying. As Hot Casa less hyperbolically explains, the music’s utilization of the Bété language is unique, so a straight reish of a whole album would’ve been preferable. B

Seth Graham, Gasp (Orange Milk) Per the label, this is designed to sound like a “digital blob of classical music” intended to put the limitations of structure, technology, and the listener’s engagement to the test. Soaking up the ten tracks in just short of 28 minutes, I’d say Graham’s succeeded quite well. Sharply diced and occasionally stuttering, with splashes and full-on bursts of colorful activity that just as quickly retreat into silence, a few brief moments are reminiscent of John Oswald’s Plunderphonics (minus the focus on sampling), and overall, the classical-in-a-Cuisinart approach, if abstract and unyielding, isn’t as random as one might assume. There are moments of real and indeed recognizably classical beauty here that is intensified by the fleeting nature of it all. A-

Herbie Hancock, Inventions and Dimensions (Wax Love) Hancock’s third album as a leader is a sneaky bit of business. Due to the lineup, which has Hancock on keys, Paul Chambers on bass, Willie Bobo at the drums, and Osvaldo “Chihuahua” Martinez handling percussion, one might assume this to be a Latin jazz fiesta. But you’re probably getting where this review is going. Notable in Hancock’s discography for its lack of a horn player, there is an abundance of rhythm on this LP, and yet a groove beast it’s not. And that’s cool. Per Blue Note’s standard, the pianist’s first two were loaded with big names (Takin’ Off featured Dexter Gordon), but Inventions tightens the iris without pitching tent in the standard piano trio campground. Refreshing. The result is a minor classic that foreshadows consecutive masterpieces. A-

Peter Lemer, Local Color (ESP-Disk) Brit pianist Lemer has wide-ranging credits (Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Gilgamesh, Paraphernalia, Gong, Mike Oldfield, Annette Peacock, Baker Gurvitz Army and a lot more), but this is his debut and only release as a leader. Prior, he’d studied with Jaki Byard, Paul Bley, and Bill Dixon, which makes the free jazz comportment here unsurprising, but don’t go expecting a scream-fest. Better described as an inside-outside trip (not uncommon from ESP-Disk at the time), the album also introduced saxophonist John Surman, who’s now a Brit jazz mainstay and ECM regular. But everybody involved, namely tenor Nisar Ahmad Khan, drummer Jon Hiseman, and bassist Tony Reeves, displays ample levels of aplomb. Maybe not essential, but the contents are a consistent pleasure. A-

Liziuz, Geschichten des Lebens (Hospital Productions) Liziuz is a Berlin-based electronic producer, and this 2CD, the title of which translates to “The Story of Life,” is his debut, with each disc holding a single long track of over 50 minutes. Adding interest, it’s the same piece in different versions, one ambient and one techno. The frequently shifting soundscape of “Interaction Personnelle” is consistently engaging, enough so that after listening, the prospect of techno enhancement seemed, if not dubious, then possibly superfluous. But upon diving in, “Transformation Personnelle” is worth the time, in part because it delivers a loose and non-hackneyed plunge into the techno realm that fits nicely with the label’s description of the artist’s introverted approach. Not a jaw-dropper, but still worthwhile. B+

The Lyman Family with Lisa Kindred, American Avatar (Omnivore) The roots of this CD (with original copies of the ’69 Reprise LP not scarce or terribly expensive) lay in the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, who had Mel Lyman as a member. Kweskin plays guitar here, as does Geoff Muldaur and Bruce Langhorne (who’s also credited with hand drums and electric bass), amongst other contributors. The repertoire is cover material with an emphasis on the blues that, per the notes, was chosen by Kindred, a robust singer who’d cut a prior record for Vanguard. Lyman blows a good harmonica, but it’s Kindred who emerges as the shining light of these seven songs. Initially, it all connects as enjoyable no big deal, but when the lack of missteps (much less blatant fuckups) hits home, the whole solidifies as a little better than that. B+

OST, The Ballad of Shirley Collins (Earth) I’ve yet to watch Rob Curry and Tim Plester’s documentary on the incomparable British folk singer Shirley Collins, but with this evidence, I suspect it is a treat. Not because it is flush with Collins’ songs, though there are examples of her work, including an unreleased BBC session from 1958 that makes this worth the price alone. No, much of the LP consists of material recorded by Collins and Alan Lomax during a famed ’59 song-collecting trip in the Deep South of the USA. What these tracks instill is a sense of the milieu in which Collins thrived and the traditions that inspired her artistry that was in turn gifted to the world; she continues to be a treasure. LP is out now; CD/ DVD appears to be currently UK-only, but it seems this will change later in 2018. A-

Senyawa (+ Vincent Moon), “Calling the New Gods” (Okraina) This came out in January but caught my attention only recently, and it’s such a doozy that I can’t resist giving it a late mention. It offers on 10-inch the soundtrack to Moon’s titular short film of 2012, which documents Rully Shabara and Wukir Suryadi, together the experimental outfit Senyawa, as they play in various locales in Yogyakarta, Java. Soundtrack in this case means an unedited lift of the movie’s audio, which makes this as much of a field recording (indeed, that’s exactly how Moon’s credited on the sleeve) than an OST. Intensely strange and with a folky vibe that can recall the unusualness captured in the heyday of anthropological recording, the healthy spirit of collaboration elevates the whole. Another fine release from Okraina. A-

Swarm Intelligence, Against the Dying Light (VOITAX) Swarm Intelligence is the moniker of Irish producer Simon Hayes, who unsurprisingly given his aptitude for edgy techno, is currently based in Berlin. He has a handful of prior releases under his belt, and after giving his latest a few listens, I’m tempted to do a little digging. Spread across four vinyl sides but totaling a digestible 50 minutes, the music corroborates a stated range of interest that’s held together through a clear fondness for Industrial atmospheres. This, alongside occasional noisy techniques, helps to offset a few of the more predictable maneuvers that arise along the way. Yes, a lot of this could do damage on the dancefloor, but it’s an even better fit for an imagined dystopian landscape. Out 4/3. B+

Wet Tuna, Livin’ the Die (Feeding Tube) A new(ish) duo made up of familiar halves, in this case long familiar, as Matt Valentine (an artist of distinction in the MV/EE Medicine Show and more) and Pat Gubler (the guiding force of P.G. Six, etc.) were part of the reliably spiff Tower Recordings (and before that Memphis Luxure). If you dig the bent of a flowing non-throwback blend of out-folk and deep psych, you just might be familiar with ‘em, too (well maybe not Memphis Luxure, the days of which Byron Coley describes as “near-forgotten”). But as said, this documents a fresh reunion of forces, a vinyl debut in fact, and it glides with sharpness and occasional bouts of disruption. The guitar is paramount but enhanced with additional instrumentation, and while everything rolls, the two long tracks are choice. A-

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