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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Mount Eerie, Now Only (P.W. Elverum & Sun) In 2016, Phil Elverum’s wife, the cartoonist and musician Geneviève Castrée, died at age 35 from pancreatic cancer. Last year’s A Crow Looked at Me, the ninth album by Elverum as Mount Eerie (he recorded previously as The Microphones) dealt with that terrible loss, and likewise, Now Only: largely an acoustic affair (piano figures on the title track and “Earth” has plugged-in guitar, drums, and keyboard textures for a full band feel), as reflected in the longer track lengths, he pushes deeper here. The cumulative effect is intensely personal and weighted with observations and confessional passages (the power of which crests with the ruminative 11-minute “Distortions”), but in the end is not despairing. Ultimately, it’s a transformative listen. A

Linqua Franqa, Model Minority (HHBTM) Athens, GA-based rapper Mariah Parker recorded this LP while completing her master’s degree in linguistics at the University of Georgia, and her course of study has informed her art to frequently superb effect. The wordplay is impressive in how it embraces complexity without faltering into mere displays of verbal gymnastics; instead, there are hooks galore as she grapples with tough subject matter, and she’s got the music to match, with much of the disc recalling the ’90s heyday of underground hip-hop (e.g. the jazzy elements in “Midnight Oil”) but with a persistent (and distinctive) vibe of strangeness that’s wholly appreciated. Model Minority takes her prior EP, places two new tracks and three remixes on side two and holds interest to the very end. A-

REISSUE PICKS: NRBQ, S/T (Omnivore) Although select cuts have been featured on comps over the years, this is, quite astoundingly, the first time The New Rhythm and Blues Quintet’s classic debut LP has been reissued in its entirety in any format; appropriately, Omnivore offers it on vinyl (in a gatefold sleeve), CD and digital. Cut in ’69 but about a million miles away from the rock mainstream of that year, NRBQ might not be as consistently killer as ’77’s All Hopped Up, but it does firmly establish the unstrained eclecticism that’s come to define this persevering band’s existence. A transformation of Eddie Cochran’s “C’mon Everybody” is the perfect opener, a reading of Sun Ra’s “Rocket #9” delivers one of music’s great hard left turns, and the whole is a life-affirming plunge into real, robust Americana. A must. A

Gary Numan, Dance (Beggars Arkive) Having finally dropped needle on this 2LP edition of the CD expansion of Numan’s third solo set (it came out in January), my assessment is that the man’s departure from the robotic synth-pop that made him famous holds up much better than some have suggested. But don’t get the idea that it’s not very much a byproduct of its era, as the fretless bass and sax of Japan’s Mick Karn (one of a handful of guests here, including Queen’s Roger Taylor and the Canadian prog-electro-new wave violinist Nash the Slash) helps to solidify the ’80s art-pop thrust (which I appreciate much more now than back then). It’s far from a complete break with the past, however; “She’s Got Claws” was a big UK hit, and overall, Dance is just the sound of its maker spreading his wings. A-

Bichkraft, 800 (Wharf Cat) This Kiev, Ukraine-based unit has been described as a mix of shoegaze and post-punk, but I’m hearing a lot more of the latter on this, their third LP. Dual guitars, bass, and drum machines dish out pervasive riffing and melodic drive over moodiness, and the resulting cohesion extends the style without ever falling under the sway of one (or a few) specific examples. The rhythm boxes do more than thump, which helps in sidestepping sameyness, the production by Carson Cox of Merchandise balances the rawness of the attack with clarity, and in a big plus, Jenia Bichowski sings in his native language (Sam York and Elizabeth Skadden of WALL contribute English to a track each). Showcased single “Yonder” is something of a departure, but by the end it fits right in. A-

Caroline Says, No Fool Like an Old Fool (Western Vinyl) Last August, Western Vinyl reissued 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong, the 2014 cassette debut from Caroline Sallee, and this is its follow-up, recorded after the artist’s move to Austin and inspired by a fresh perspective on her hometown of Huntsville (made plain in “Sweet Home Alabama, which is not a cover). A tendency to fingerpick, which by closer “Lone Star Tall Boy” is in full bloom, extends the indie folk vibe heard on Elvis, but elsewhere she dives deep into fragile, oft-drowsy bedroom pop. This sleepy quality is enhanced by the occasional use of loops, mechanical rhythms, and Sallee’s appealing vocals, which are reminiscent of Yo La Tengo’s Georgia Hubley, especially on “A Good Thief Steals Clean” into “Rip Off.” A-

Earthless, Black Heaven (Nuclear Blast) Consisting of guitarist-vocalist Isaiah Mitchell, bassist Mike Eginton, and drummer Mario Rubalcaba, San Diego’s Earthless debuted in 2005 with Sonic Prayer, and with their latest, the hard rock riff-scorch-pummel has let up not a bit. Although the connection isn’t overt, the professed influence of Krautrock can be felt in the adherence to grooves. Much more explicit are the ties to Japanese heaviness a la High Rise, with Mitchell’s often spectacular soloing deepening the hard psych edge. In the rock trio tradition, Earthless is adept, and this can result in instrumental action that’s a smidge too busy (see the funk-laced opener “Gifted by the Wind” or the boogie-ish “Volt Rush”) but the terrific instrumental “Black Heaven” offsets these factors quite nicely. B+

Fabulous Dynamics, “Get Hip to Yourself” b/w “Every Time I See a Pretty Girl” (Big Crown) One of three 45 reissues from Big Crown is a double dose of vocal group soul taken from the only known copy of an acetate discovered in the personal collection of Lamont Dozier. It’s apparently a rehearsal recording made in hopes of getting local shows, a supposition lent support by the sole accompanying strum of an acoustic guitar, and the tracks’ stripped-down intimacy nicely links ’50s street corner doo wop to the broader developments in harmony that transpired throughout the ensuing decade. Yes, mysteriousness does add to the appeal, but the song-root is solid, the vocal blend even more so, and the aura of distinctiveness a total winner. It’s easy to understand why Lamont kept this one around. A-

Kool & Together, “Sittin’ on a Red Hot Stove” b/w “Nassau Beat” (Big Crown) Formed at the dawn of the ’70s in Victoria, TX as a sort of family funk act, Kool & Together (who also utilized the moniker My Children + 2) featured Charles Sanders, his three sons, and additional local musicians. They were productive enough to fill the retrospective Original Recordings 1970-1977, which came out on the Heavy Light label in 2011 with hyperbole unsurprisingly attached. That collection is workmanlike enough to be primarily of interest to funk fanatics, but it does have a few highpoints, with the A-side here, a likeable serving of funky ’70s rock, one of them; it smartly opened the CD/2LP. The flip is amongst the handful of demos tacked onto the end of that set, and its looseness is also okay. A modestly enjoyable thing. B

Morena Y Clara, No Llores Más (Pharaway Sounds) This and the Vargas LP below have been out for a while, but they just recently hit my mailbox, an arrival possibly inspired by the positive notice of the ¡Naino! Spanish Gipsy Soul Funk Disco 1974 / 1984 comp (which included Morena Y Clara and Vargas) listed here back in January. I was intrigued yet worried, as V/A comps regularly show off positive attributes while sidestepping the potential to wear thin over time. Ultimately, the sound of flamenco-flavored singing infused with rock and contemporaneous pop and funk, i.e. gipsy rock for short, does settle down, but through the combo of well-executed production twists, the pair’s strong vocals, energetic distinctiveness, and a not overabundant running time, No Llores Más doesn’t run out gas. B

OST, Queen of Earth (Waxwork) Here’s the score to the fourth feature by indie filmmaker Alex Ross Perry, a movie I liked quite a bit based on one viewing a few years ago. Perry’s been assessed as a cinephile auteur, one that thankfully avoids shallow hommage, and in making a small-cast psychological thriller with a loose New Hollywood vibe (shades of Kubrick and the Altman of Images and 3 Women) he understood that a good soundtrack was key to his success. Something of an indie-flick scoring vet (including Perry’s prior Listen Up Philip), Keegan DeWitt conjures thoroughly non-ham-fisted Modernist classical-indebted eeriness and creeping dread in “Refuge (Main Theme),” and then sets off for other vaguely Minimalist-angled regions. When he returns to tension, he handles it astutely. A-

Paul Ramos / Ulysses Crockett, “Fence Walk” b/w “Funky Resurgence” (Big Crown) The last of Big Crown’s recent grab bag is a curious combo. Although Ramos’ Mandrill cover (from the band’s third LP, ’72’s Composite Truth) doesn’t stray far from the single version’s template, it’s sturdy enough, and a short trumpet flourish helps it in standing out. The flip is from a San Francisco vibe player who along with leading the groups Afro Blue Persuasion and Ulysses Crockett Magic was reportedly in The Skins with rock promoter Bill Graham. His soul-jazz flavored selection derives from a batch of music he wrote for a play by John Ivey, and if the vibraphone is far from my favorite instrument, Crockett favors melody over gratuitous displays of mallet dexterousness, and that’s alright. B+/ B

Sara Serpa, Close Up (Clean Feed) Featuring vocalist-composer Serpa, tenor and soprano saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, and cellist Erik Friedlander, this CD is a delightful serving of avant chamber jazz with a rewarding conceptual focus. Succinctly, the inspiration here is “changing identities,” and specifically, in part, the masterful film by the late Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, of which this disc shares a title. A native of Lisbon, Serpa sings here in Portuguese (utilizing Ruy Bello’s poem “Pássaros”), in English (engaging with texts by Virginia Woolf and philosopher/ feminist Luce Irigaray), and wordlessly; in all three instances the effect is enchanting. The interaction is also fantastic throughout, with Laubrock letting loose late in “Quiet Riot,” and the three coming together exquisitely in closer “Cantar Ao Fim.” A

Rodrigo Tavares, Congo (Hive Mind) This recording from Brazilian guitarist and composer Tavares first surfaced digitally back in 2016, but it’s getting its first vinyl pressing through a newish label out of Brighton, UK, and folks unfamiliar with the artist (as was I) who are piqued by the possibilities of classic Brazilian stuff (e.g. Gilberto, Jobim, Nascimento, Veloso) interacting with jazz, minimalism, and the more recent development of post-rock, shouldn’t hesitate in stepping up. Unsurprisingly, the sound never becomes raucous, and the jazzy atmosphere can sometimes wade into fusion-ist waters, but as Tavares’ thrust is neither sedate nor marred by noodling, I can’t say I really mind. To the contrary, the man’s playing is consistently enjoyable, and holds the propensity to grow over time. B+

Thundercat, OG Ron C & The Chopstars, Drank (Brainfeeder) I’ve always kinda dug the sheer twistedness of the chopped and screwed aesthetic but will admit to largely engaging with it a track or two at a time. This 2LP 70-minute mix of Thundercat’s Drunk by OG Ron C and DJ Candlestick (which, like its source, emerged last year) doesn’t have me rethinking my personal approach, but it’s also hard to deny the unique and yes, drug-bent ambiance. Some will jeer, but I kinda prefer this to Thundercat’s likeable but streamlined original. A few sections radiate the weirdness I associate with dub reggae, but more often it’s like listening to slow-jam R&B radio from a hospital bed while in a medicated haze, and it’s surely the strangest record to feature contributions from Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins. B+

Dolores Vargas, “Le Terremoto” Anana Funk Hip 1970-1975 (Pharaway Sounds) Vargas’ long career is outlined in the set’s booklet; in the ’50s, alongside playing music, she appeared in a series of films. Sharing a stage in Cannes with Edith Piaf, she went down a storm, and then ended up in the US for a couple of years after appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show. Back in Spain, she was signed by the Belter label, released a slew of records and became, per the notes, a phenomenon comparable to Tina Turner during her Ikettes period. The selections here easily validate the strength of her pipes and the size of her presence, and with more inventive (and less horn-vampy) backing, this set could’ve delivered a knockout. However, the reality is that it’s Vargas’ show, which was surely always the intention. B

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