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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Mind Over Mirrors, Bellowing Sun (Paradise of Bachelors) I’ve been in the camp of Harmoniumist-electronic specialist-composer Jaime Fennelly for a while now, but this 2LP, which captures Mind Over Mirrors’ evolution from a truly solo project to a dialogue with added participants (documented on last year’s Undying Color) to a solidified full-on band, is a knockout. Commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Bellowing Sun’s gist pertains to the celestial, and unsurprisingly, the kosmische aura is strong. But there’s a coinciding elemental focus that’s beautifully expressed in Janet Bean’s vocals/ zither, Jon Mueller’s drumming, Jim Becker’s fiddling, and Fennelly’s leadership. Namechecking Popul Vuh, Henry Flynt, Terry Riley, and Alice Coltrane is no reach. Superb. A

Air Waves, Warrior (Western Vinyl) Here’s full-length #3 (and #2 for Western Vinyl) from Brooklyn-based Nicole Schneit. Described by the label as indie pop, that’s immediately perceptible in opening gem “Home.” Guitar is present, but so are electronic elements, though this doesn’t morph the indie pop into synth pop (the beginning of the title track is an exception), and that’s cool with me. Closer “Blue Fire” does exude a singer-songwriter-ish new wave vibe, reminding me of ‘Til Tuesday (there’s probably a better comparison, but damn if I can put a finger on it right now), and hey, that’s cool with me, too. A poem by Adrienne Rich was the song’s inspiration, which is quite fitting for an album concerned with struggle (Schneit’s own as a queer woman, her mother’s battle with cancer). Nice cover photo, also. A-

REISSUE PICKS: Scientist & Prince Jammy, Strike Back! (Real Gone) For this guy, prime dub equates to summertime sounds par excellence, and while I’m admittedly itching for warmer weather, this one has a surplus of sweetness to offer at any time of year: the space-sci-fi theme manifested in both the spiffy cover art and the song titles’ tantalizing hybrids (“Buck Rogers in the Black Hole,” “Flash Gordon Meets Luke Skywalker”); the limited edition of 700 on yellow-green “Lightsaber” vinyl; the production and compositions by Linval Thompson; the top-flight instrumental contributions from the Roots Radics; and naturally, Scientist and Jammy in strong form. The sheer amount of dub that’s available for listening can surely be intimidating, but the studio warpage on display here matches the presentation. A-

Jack Kerouac, Blues and Haikus (Real Gone) It seems with every passing day the allure of this key (in truth, the most key) Beat Generation figure fades a bit more under the harsh light of modernity, but for those who’ve been positively impacted by his writings and are desirous of adding a little of his essence to their vinyl shelves, this is the one to get if you only get one, and for a variety of reasons. First, unlike his likeable debut (which found him accompanied by the okay piano tinkling of comedian-talk show host Steve Allen), this pairs him with the real jazz deal in saxophonists Al Cohn (who also plays piano) and Zoot Sims. Second, it delivers a hearty dose of Kerouac’s poetic-spiritualism. Third, Jack sings! Fourth, the album’s as messy, frustrating, fascinating, and imperfectly beautiful as the man was himself. A-

Birds of Passage, The Death of Our Invention (Denovali) New Zealander Alicia Merz is Birds of Passage, and her sound is ambient dark pop, though one could also tag it as ethereally melancholic. At times, Merz’s singing is a whisper; for the short intro and outro “If Full of Care,” that’s all there is. The first full track “Haunt my Existence” unfurls in a decidedly Lynchian manner, and from there the music hovers weightlessly while engaging with varied strands of melodicism, including the folky “Shadows of Our Mind” and the more forthrightly poppy “Another Thousand Eyes”; their characteristics intertwine fruitfully in “Demons in Our Midst.” The final full selection “Modern Monster” wields a sharper edge. If I call this dreamlike, will you please not mistake it for a thousand other acts? A-

Die Wilde Jagd, Uhrwald Orange (Bureau B) This is the sophomore album from Düsseldorf’s Sebastian Lee Philipp, and it offers a succession of tracks, from longish to longer, aided by producers Ralf Beck (who was formerly half of Die Wilde Jagd for their self-titled 2015 debut) and, for the later mixdown process, Aussie Kris Baha. Bureau B says to file it under electronic, and I will, but it’s important to note that while Philipp enjoys stretching out, the results largely aren’t techno in flavor but rather, regularly possess songlike qualities that help to sweeten an obvious tendency for studio playfulness. The shortest cut here bypasses six minutes, with the eight selections totaling 80, and yet Uhrwald Orange (named for the studio where it was made) hardly registers as indulgent. It just feels invitingly vast. A-

Don Gibson, The Best of the Hickory Records Years 1970-1979 (Omnivore) Don Gibson is probably best remembered as a songwriter; “Sweet Dreams,” “Oh Lonesome Me,” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You” are all his, but he had a major chart run as a performer in the ’50s-’60s. As the title indicates, this CD is not that, instead dishing 25 tracks from his comeback, including “Woman (Sensuous Woman),” which hit the top spot on the C&W chart in ’73. The sound is country pop, which means much of this travels down the Middle of the Road, but on the plus side, Gibson was a fine, committed singer, the songs (mostly) lack excess production, the studio-ace playing has its share of zesty spots (e.g. “If You’re Goin’ Girl,” “Snap Your Fingers”), and while I’m partial to Chuck Jackson’s version, his “Any Day Now” won me over. B+

Girlschool, The Singles 1979-84 (Real Gone) The all-female Girlschool found themselves lumped into the Brit uprising known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and by extension were also closely aligned with Motörhead, who guest on this album’s “Please Don’t Touch.” Their relationship with Lemmy and crew makes total sense, as Girlschool launch from a trim rock ‘n’ roll foundation that’s accurately assessed as punky. Across these (mostly) A-sides the sound gets unsurprisingly embellished, but it’s never abandoned, which makes for a cohesive (if not always satisfying) listen. Although it’s tempting to rank their ’79 City Records’ debut “Take It All Away” as their best moment, the first few for the Bronze label attain comparable highs. More importantly, none of the lesser, later cuts stink up the joint. B

Honnda, Maraschino Mic Drop (Orange Milk) Amnon Freidlin wears numerous artistic hats, including video work as part of Mouthguard88, playing guitar in Normal Love, and scoring Nick Cave’s recent installation for Barney’s New York, but for this cassette he hangs out (at times way out) on the fringe of bizarroland pop-dance-techno spazz ‘n’ splatter. Indeed, his stuff busts out so strong that I’ll admit it took a little getting used to, but as I listened, his aesthetic, which is so warped and pop simultaneously that it becomes psychedelically futuristic, came nicely into focus, and if I’m maybe not the biggest fan of some of the root forms Freidlin’s fucking with, I like this just fine. Surely twisted, there’s some legitimately danceable stuff here (“Box Outs”), and a sense of fun that reminds me of Dan Deacon. A-

Oscar Mulero, Perfect Peace (Semantica) Spaniard Mulero has reportedly been DJing since ’88, with most of his work since designed for the dancefloor, but his latest is cited as a departure into less club-inclined territory, though moments found on his prior efforts Grey Fades to Green and Muscle and Mind apparently foreshadow the change. This deeper plunge offers passages of dark edginess, ambient moments, some deep beat excursions, clinical atmospheres, and an overall cohesiveness that supports the stated intention for the whole to be absorbed by the listener as a soundtrack (to what exactly, I’m not sure). It all goes down agreeably but is ultimately no jaw-dropper. Perhaps if I’d spent the last 30 years in the clutches of Mulero’s straight-ahead techno thing I’d feel differently. B

OST, Commando (Real Gone) For those not up on their ’80s action cinema, Commando is an ’85 Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle helmed by journeyman director Mark Lester, a movie I haven’t watched since shortly after its initial release, though positive words by esteemed critics Dave Kehr and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (who calls it the definitive Schwarzenegger film) make me want to pay it a revisit. And y’know, so does its soundtrack; before Braveheart, and then Titanic, and later still Avatar, James Horner scored a LOT of movies, and this was one of them. So many ’80s OSTs, especially those of an action temperament, come with varying levels of cheese (as a norm, the lower the budget, the higher the Velveeta) but this blend of undeniable ’80s ambiance, steel drums and saxophone has aged well. B+

OST, Tank Girl (Real Gone) Like Commando, I haven’t watched this ’90s cult flick since shortly after its home video release. I recall not being smitten. The soundtrack, apparently compiled by Courtney Love, though it just as easily could’ve been any studio suit with an ear cocked to the Alternative Nation, didn’t entice me back then, either. Lessee, after a short opening bit from Stomp, there’re strong cuts by Björk and Portishead, an inferior redo by Devo of “Girl U Want,” and tracks by Belly, Hole, Joan Jett + Paul Westerberg, Veruca Salt, Bush, and Scott Weiland-side project Magnificent Bastards, that are middling, tossed off or worse. It’s all wrapped up with a so-so closer from the era’s soundtrack regular (Colors, Pump Up the Volume, Trespass, Judgement Night, etc.) Ice-T. Hey, I think I’ll pass. C

Partials, “Glossolalia” (True Blue) Athens, GA’s Partials are a self-described psychedelic dance act taking non-imitative influence from the Talking Heads and LCD Soundsystem. I don’t know if I would’ve made any connections to psychedelia on my own, but as the sound does get consistently expansive, I take their point. And I’ll concur that they aren’t boldly copping any moves from the Heads or James Murphy; to my ear, this 6-song vinyl EP more generally extends from the wave of dance-rock that flourished last decade, but without the negative connotations this link might suggest, in part through a better than decent proclivity for pop-angled songwriting amid the grooving. A few spots recall !!!, and I’m assuming (hoping) that standout “Man Made Machine” is considerably lengthened in the live setting. B+

Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, Years (Bloodshot) On Shook and band’s prior effort Sidelong, originally released in 2015 before getting snapped up and reissued by Bloodshot last year, the Chapel Hill, NC-based crew offered a decidedly flavorful dish of country-punk (or cow-punk, as it was once occasionally called), and Years delivers another helping, but with nary a hint of leftovers. Although there’s plenty of (occasionally foulmouthed) attitude in evidence here, Years doesn’t depend on feigned badassery to get by; solid songwriting is in evidence (I’m especially taken with the pop undercurrent of “Over You”), and the playing is consistently sharp (with the rock-edged guitar in “Lesson” a treat). Plus, Shook’s strong, non-gussied up vocals further reinforce the punk connection amidst abundant ache and twang. B+

Tiny Tim, God Bless Tiny Tim (Real Gone) Obviously, if you can’t deal with the guy’s quavering falsetto, exemplified by his (some say inexplicable) hit single “Tip Toe Thru’ the Tulips with Me,” you’re going to have a hard time with the reissue of his ’68 Richard Perry-produced debut for the Reprise label. Yes, “Tip Toe” is here, which is cool by me, but the 14 additional tracks drive home that Herbert Buckingham Khaury applied a varied vocal approach to an encyclopedic knowledge of Tin Pan Alley songwriting (plus “I Got You Babe”) and was furthermore astute enough to resurrect Irving Berlin’s pacifist “Stay Down Here Where You Belong” as Vietnam raged on. Much more than a novelty, God Bless is instead a highly listenable blend of eccentricity and nostalgia, with Perry’s pop psychedelic touches a positive. B+

Western Centuries, Songs from the Deluge (Free Dirt) Consisting of Ethan Lawton and Cahalen Morrison, both residents of Seattle’s south end, and Jim Miller, who regularly resides in NYC, Western Centuries have been billed as a “honky-tonk supergroup.” This is their second album and the first to make my acquaintance. The accordion in opener “Far from Home” had me poised to tag this as a dive into the Bayou-Tex-Mex roots-party zone, but that’s only part of the story. Due to the input of three songwriters, a varied sensibility comes into play, though the tunes are complementary and further cohere via amiable and polished playing. Sometimes a little too polished, but with that squeezebox, upright bass, fiddle, pedal steel, etc. it becomes impossible for me not to like this, both in spirit and execution. B+

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