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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: The Dreebs, Forest of a Crew (Ramp Local) Adam Markiewicz (vocals/ violin), Jordan Bernstein (prepared guitar), and Shannon Sigley (drums) are connected to fellow NYC act PC Worship (they all contribute to 2017’s Buried Wish), but on this 15-track effort, which alternates eight songs with vocals (at times productively engaging with the operatic) and seven instrumentals, The Dreebs exist far outside the shadow of any other band. They hone an avant sensibility, in part through the guitar and violin, that strengthens ties to their city’s earlier underground eras, while the drums gesture towards rock. Prior associations with No Wave aren’t wrong, but the whole connects like something that emerged a decade after No New York with ties to both Downtown and the Bowery. A-

Carlos Giffoni, Vain (iDEAL) Giffoni is an electronic musician, experimentalist, improvisor, collaborator (amongst others, he’s created in tandem with Nels Cline, the guitarists of Sonic Youth, Chris Corsano and John Duncan), and coordinator (of the noteworthy No Fun Festival and its associated label). Having amassed a sizable discography, this is only his fourth non-collab full-length, and it’s a varied, focused, and (at 42 minutes) succinct delight. Described as the soundtrack to the movie transpiring in Giffoni’s head, the LP, his imagined flick, and its psychokinetic-powered California-prowling answer-seeking main character all share the same name. Surely, that’s her on Vain’s custom van-worthy sleeve (a painting by Wiley Wallace). Amid all this leftfield surreal background, Giffoni’s music stands on its own. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Pierre Sandwidi, Le Troubadour De La Savane – 1978/1982 (Born Bad) This set throws a deserved spotlight onto the slim discography of Sandwidi, a singer-guitarist who hailed from Burkina Faso, the African country formerly known as Upper Volta. Considered part of the Francophone African elite amongst such artists as Francis Bebey and G.G. Vikey, Sandwidi’s music is sprightly, with the band at times effectively turning up the heat, as much of this LP is clearly designed for dancing. And yet, the deeper impression is made by the budget keyboard and guitar-inflected glide, its temperament frequently gentle in its infectiousness and by extension often quite pretty. Sandwidi’s vocals are just as inviting, and the breadth of influence, including a few Western elements, deepens enjoyment. A-

Sensation, S/T (Folk Evaluation) That the vinyl resurgence has proven healthy enough to see once scarce and prohibitively expensive private press items getting reissued with some regularity is just dandy. Take as evidence this ’76 LP from Wisconsin songwriters/ multi-instrumentalists Donald S. Fisher and Jeffrey L. Engel. Recorded in a makeshift local studio on budget equipment, it delivers a refreshing wrinkle on the “usual” private press thing, emphasizing serious post-Beatle pop and soft-folk instead of bluesy hard rock or psych (though there is some nice fuzz guitar). There are a few sweet twists, e.g. a couple spots clearly impacted by 3rd and 4th album Velvets, plus the smart use of horns. All this and a nifty bonus 7-inch pairing two later outtakes with the 45 of Sensation backing local soul singer Tina Smith. Wow. A-

Sarah Bernstein Unearthish, Crazy Lights Shining (Phase Frame) A vocalist, violinist, composer, and poet, Bernstein brings all these disciplines to the second release by Unearthish, her duo with percussionist Satoshi Takeishi (however, her recorded output is extensive and wide-ranging, featuring collabs with Kid Millions, Anthony Braxton, Oxbow and lots more). Her experience in the free jazz realm is occasionally audible across this CD’s 35 minutes, but more dominant is an art-pop inclination that’s as varied as it is satisfying. The tail end of “Little Drops” illustrates that the pair can bring the ruckus, while the array of percussion underscores Takeishi’s global background. However, the real treat is Bernstein’s poetry, accurately described as “post-Beat,” which is a plus in every instance. A fine, warmly avant release. A-

Bogie Kaufman Mann, Volume 1 (Figure & Ground) Straying from the purpose of this column, yet too cool an offer to overlook, Volume 1 won’t be found in stores, but after visiting figureandground.com and checking out the Soundcloud stream of the release’s six tracks, you can choose your two favorites and place an order for them to be pressed onto a custom hand-cut vinyl 45, but only until the music hits the digital marketplace on June 29. And hey, if picking favorites is not your thing, you can always just order three 45s and get the whole freaking bunch. Stuart Bogie, Josh Kaufman, and Geoff Mann have a ton of credits amongst them, and these appealing instrumentals range from jazzy to folky to psych-rocky, sometimes within the same track (e.g. the 9:41 of “Hodges,” which will require some tight grooving). B+

The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Something Else (A Recordings) The title of the 17th BJM album brings similarly named discs by Cannonball Adderley, Ornette Coleman, and The Kinks to my mind, and while this Something Else doesn’t hang in the same ballpark of quality as those three, it does get back to the earlier, less experimental “traditional sound” of the band’s heyday, and as such is firmly a record I’d like to keep near the turntable. With this said, there are no real knockout moves on display here, just a group of songs that are largely solid, neither too fussed over nor tossed-off, which actually adds to the overall appeal. Also helping matters is a strong opener (“Hold That Thought,” from the 10-inch single covered last week in this column) and the eight-minute Velvety-psych-drone closer “Silent Stream.” B+

Cool Maritime, Sharing Waves (Leaving) Sean Hellfritsch is Cool Maritime, and this is his second outing under the name and first on wax (after the 2016 tape Some Sort of Wave Portal, also on Leaving). That Hellfritsch is the husband of Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, has adorned this album with a cover snap of himself hanging out with musical rig in a mossy wooded area, and given its tracks titles such as “Forest Bathing,” “Secret Caves,” “A Restful Place,” and yes, “Mossage,” certainly paints a specific picture even before cueing up the album for a listen, but the results, nicely layered and swirling via modular synth, transcend mere New Ageist qualities (the music was partly conceived through a commission to create pieces for a downtown plaza in Los Angeles) while offering a surplus of positive vibes and a titular surf reference. A-

Datashock, Kräuter Der Provinz (Bureau B) Befitting a group with no fixed lineup who choose to gather in the studio and then just go for it (these activities having commenced in the middle portion of last decade), Germany’s Datashock has a whole lot of music available for the hearing. Self-tagged as “neo-hippie-spook-folk,” that’s on the money if maybe a little vague; also appropriate to their geographical location, they offer a broad, and on this 2LP set, lengthy, plunge into potent Krautrock waters. This means that the results, if freely improvised, cultivate grooves which, as the set progresses, validate an earlier observation pegging them as a free-folk extension of Amon Düül. All said, Kräuter Der Provinz, with the vinyl offering two bonus tracks, is an expansive all-around pleasure to these ears. A-

E, Negative Work (Thrill Jockey) The second full-length from guitarist Thalia Zedek, guitarist/ stomp box specialist Jason Sanford, and drummer Gavin McCarthy fruitfully solidifies the distinctive rock motions, heavy yet tuneful, that were offered on their self-titled effort of 2016. As everybody has prior notable experience (in Zedek’s case, in numerous outfits), confidence in execution is a constant plus, and the fact that all three sing (their own lyrics, mostly) lends a refreshing range. It also continues to underscore that E isn’t merely a pick-up band for Zedek’s considerable talents; not that that would necessarily be a bad thing, it’s just that E is more. Some of this, especially the mathy post-core-ish “Down She Goes,” remind me of something that might’ve come out on Dischord in the late-’90s-’00s, and that’s cool. A-

The Love-Birds, In the Lover’s Corner (Trouble in Mind) After a 7-inch on Empty Cellar last year, this Bay Area four-piece follows it up with an LP residing in the fertile zone betwixt Cali-guitar jangle and ’80s indie pop. While not a record of pulverizing introductory freshness, these Birds do have their blend of influences in order, and as their moniker suggests, tackle the subject of relationships and their difficulties in a non-trite (and as pertains to the indie pop, non-twee) manner. Mastered by Norman Blake (he of the Teenage Fanclub) and co-engineered across two sessions by fellow San Fran cats Glenn Donaldson and Kelley Stoltz, there are a few highlights (the sweetly organ-tinged “December (Get to You)”, the early-Love-ish “Kiss and Tell”) but it mostly offers promise for what’s (hopefully) to come. B+

Michelle Phillips, Victim of Romance (Real Gone) Along with her subsequent acting career, Phillips was a member of The Mamas & the Papas, but she didn’t get a solo album out until this one from ’77 (reissued here on CD with three bonus cuts); it suffered from marketplace indifference and she never made another. Don’t surmise that this was due to a lack of talent, as her impressive lead vocal on the M&P’s hit “Dedicated to the One I Love” should make clear. Said tune, originally by the “5” Royales and a big hit for The Shirelles, somewhat forecasts the ’50s-ish vibe that’s sprinkled across this set (hitting an apex with a not-bad cover of Doris Troy’s “Just One Look”) in complement to a general tendency for ’70s MOR. Although it eschews Grease-itis, I largely respect Victim of Romance more than I actively dig it. B

Keely Smith, Sings the John Lennon-Paul McCartney Songbook (Real Gone) This is a straight CD reish of a ’64 Reprise LP (used vinyl copies should be found without too much trouble or expense) by the fine (and sadly, recently deceased) pop vocalist perhaps best known for her work with Louis Prima, but the music here, cut in ’64, long prior to The Beatles’ conquering of the culture at large, makes a sturdy case for Smith’s artistry and acumen in isolation from her former musical partner/ ex-husband. Smith is in typically strong voice throughout, and many of the pop-jazz/ big band arrangements by Ernie Freeman and Benny Carter are inventive and largely likeable. However, the recurring use of backing singers (they basically sink “She Loves You” and nearly so, “P.S. I Love You”) is a big mainstreamish misstep. B

V/A, Chebran Volume 2: French Boogie 1979-1982 (Born Bad) The earlier volume of this slid right by me, but I’m moderately chuffed that this one’s made my acquaintance. Its title is truth in advertising, though that doesn’t mean it delivered exactly what I was expecting. In fact, the rap element, with JM Black’s “Lipstick” inconceivable without the precedent of “Rapper’s Delight,” threw an immediate happy curve. Personally, the success if this kinda material largely rests on how weird it gets, and while there’s a fair amount of that here, it’s also nearly 80 minutes long, making it best absorbed in doses. On the plus side, there are some robust grooves amid the boogying, so folks into the recent compilation surveys from labels like Cultures of Soul and Pharaway Sounds should sashay right up to this one. B

Jake Winstrom, Scared Away the Song (Self-released) Tennessee-to-Brooklyn transplant Winstrom was a member of the Tenderhooks, but this is my introduction to his work, the album recorded back home in Knoxville, and it’s a consistently sharp affair that brightens a singer-songwriter tableau with flashes of pop-rock (southern US collegiate pop-rock, at that) and more frequently, infusions of Americana. This is further heightened by the most immediately striking aspect of the record, specifically Winstrom’s distinctively high-register vocals. Naturally delivered, his timbre quickly settles into the sonic tapestry and invigorates his approach, a blend of well-worn styles that can too often falter into the hackneyed. Not here, with the album satisfying throughout, though I do prefer the tougher, rock-edged material. B+

Wooden Shjips, V. (Thrill Jockey) With an ample discography as evidence, Wooden Shjips haven’t the slightest problem dishing the rocking psych, and I’ve been a supporter for a good long while. But for this album, per the title their fifth, the band is portrayed as digging into decidedly more laid-back soil, and frankly this worried me a bit, inspiring visions of experienced tokers clad in denim hip-hugger bellbottoms and t-shirts with iron-on decals reading “UFOs: Stop and Be Friendly.” While they’re nice people, chatting with ‘em kinda makes ya’ want to take a nap. But I shouldn’t have worried, as the band hasn’t lost touch of their space rocky, Kraut-ish repetition, instead having just honed it with producer Cooper Crain into a floatier, at times a little trippier, and tangibly more Classic Rock-tinged stew. B+

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