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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Blues Lawyer, Guess Work (Emotional Response) Rob I. Miller (Mall Walk), Elyse Schrock (The World), Alejandra Alcala (Preening), and Nic Russo (aka Dick Stusso) hail from Oakland but are neck-deep in UK minimalist punk (think Pink Flag-era Wire), post-punk (a la early Television Personalities), and a guy-gal bruised feelings-frustrated romance feel (the Vaselines citation is right on the money). This lean set (ten songs in 20 minutes) is a gem with some sneakily sharp guitar (in addition to the indefatigable jangle-strum), clever sequencing (with the three-punch combo of “Turf,” “27th St.,” and the inner-pain-of-the-perennially-overlooked gem “Real Cool Guy” helping shape the second half), plus a killer culminating detour in “I Tried.” A lark, but one destined for classic status. A

Venetian Snares x Daniel Lanois, S/T (Timesig / Planet Mu) Multi-instrumentalist Lanois has put out his own records, but his real claim to fame derives from an extensive list of production credits including U2, Dylan, Neil Young, Willie Nelson, and Emmylou Harris. Those progressive country leanings help to underscore the unlikeliness of a team-up with prolific breakcore/ drum and bass guy Aaron Funk (the fellow Canadian who is Venetian Snares). On the other hand, Lanois has worked productively with Brian Eno, Harold Budd, and Jon Hassell. But enough background, as this pairing works swimmingly; even during this digestible LP’s most hectic moments (and there are a few), Lanois pedal steel atmospheres are recognizable and provide productive counterpoint to Funk’s rhythmic aggressiveness. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: The Just Measurers, Flagellation (Emotional Response) UK DIY is a glorious rabbit hole to fall into, but one best recommended to folks who gravitate to post-punk as a stylistic expansion rather than a refinement or commercialization. Initially issued (in a run of 300) on the deservedly legendary It’s War Boys label, and featuring members of Homosexuals, Milk From Cheltenham, L. Voag, Die Trip Computer Die, Amos and Sara, etc., The Just Measurers’ sole LP journeys through a labyrinth of street level experimental pop discombobulation. Aptly described as being (like a handful of their UK DIY peers) roughly compatible with the sounds (emerging at around the same time) of the Los Angeles Free Music Society, from start to finish Flagellation a wonderful thing. A

Fred McDowell, Mississippi Delta Blues (ORG Music) For heavy-duty blues nuts, only a slim percentage of McDowell’s discography can be considered skippable, as the man conveyed emotional intensity and instrumental sturdiness both acoustically and plugged-in on many (yet not voluminous) studio sessions, home recordings, and captured live performances. This means novices who wish to dabble can jump in at numerous spots and not be let down. However, for the less fervent blues fan I would consider a few to be essential: the Lomax recordings, the first one for Arhoolie, his electric debut I Do Not Play No Rock ‘n’ Roll, and this one, which courtesy of Alan Bates (and initially released on Black Lion) documented McDowell solo (with a little help from his wife Annie Mae) in 1965. Worth it for “Lucille” alone. A

Bang, Best of Bang (Ripple) Bang reside in the Godfathers of Heavy Metal category, Underappreciated but Legendary in the USA division, although they are by no means a “lost” band, having charted an LP and single after getting signed to Capitol in the early ’70s. Unsurprisingly, their run with a major had its up and downs, but this 2LP vinyl distillation of the Bullets 4CD box (issued in 2010) is a fairly positive (if not mind-shattering) listen, opening with three from ’71’s Death of a Country, an album that remained unreleased until ’04, as the Capitol brass wanted something less conceptually psych-tinged and more in the Sabbath/ Grand Funk vein. Of the three LPs Capitol did accept, the self-titled first is the best, but the others are well-represented here. Sabbath level? Of course not, but still worthy of anthologizing. B

The Buttertones, Midnight in a Moonless Dream (Innovative Leisure) Formed in 2012 by vocalist Richard Araiza, guitarist-vocalist Dakota Böttcher, bassist Sean Redman, drummer/multi-instrumentalist Modeste ‘Cobi’ Cobián, and saxophonist/keyboardist London Guzmån, The Buttertones are known for blending a swamp-surf-garage template with dark post-punky pop angles to a result that’s decidedly Californian; fittingly, they call Los Angeles home. This is their fourth album, and while the Cramps/ Deadbeats/ Gun Club/ Scientists roots are still evident, there is an increase in polish, plus bolder songwriting that validates the stated influence of Scott Walker. However, much of the record brings a less broodingly gothic Nick Cave or Peter Murphy to mind. The sax continues to add distinctiveness. A-

Roy Buchanan, Live at Town Hall 1974 (Real Gone) Highly esteemed as a blues-rocker, Buchanan is one of the few in the style whose soloing doesn’t leave me cold or downright get on my nerves, mainly because he regularly chose to spit out grizzled note tangles (of course the byproduct of elevated proficiency) over flash-assed lick-strutting or doofus noodling. Still, a high ratio of the man’s output could be underwhelming. This 2CD will surely be welcomed by fans, as it offers the complete sets that shaped his ’75 LP Live Stock. Roy is in fine form (overcoming a faulty cord at the beginning of set two), but Billy Price’s singing is merely okay to me, and I wish Malcolm Lukens had left his organ at home (his piano sounds fine). Lots of overlap in the sets, as well, including two dives into “Hey Joe.” B

Cleveland Steamers, Best Record Ever (Smog Veil) Well no, but I appreciate the self-esteem. This is the third LP from the Steamers, which is led by Pink Holes bassist Cheese Borger; here he shares vocals with partner Meredith Rutledge-Borger, and while the results are quite punky, there’s also the stated objective of noir-pop to consider. Meredith’s vocal inspirations are Dusty Springfield and Hope Sandoval, and while neither touchstone lent their pipes to anything this gnarly and loud, the influence is tangible, as some of the tracks possess a strong melodic core amid the rawness. Angelo Badalamenti is another point of reference, and while that’s also detectible, Best Record Ever is scaled much more modestly. Cheese’s speak-sing venting in “My Asshole Cousin” and “Shut Up!” closes things nicely. B+

Lucrecia Dalt, Anticlines (RVNG Intl.) Colombian experimental electronic artist (and former geotechnical engineer) Dalt’s recent work is noted for taking inspiration from films, with ’13’s Syzygy partially impacted by a string of European masters (Godard, Antonioni, Bergman) and ’15’s Ou tightening the focus to the New German Cinema (Fassbinder, Wenders, Helke Sander, Werner Schroeter). Anticlines, her first for RVNG, offers a new development, merging spoken word, South American rhythms, and contempo avant-composition. Given the filmmakers above, one can be forgiven for expecting utterances of chilly alienation, but while not poetry slam exuberant (thank goodness), the calmness of Dalt’s delivery is somewhat Laurie Anderson-like; the music, while abstract, is consistently engaging. A-

Simone Forti, Al Di Là (Saltern) Forti is known as a dancer, choreographer, artist, and writer; with this, her first collection (currently only on CD), recording artist can be added to her considerable list of achievements. As a dancer, she’s worked alongside such important musicians-composers as Nam June Paik, Charlemagne Palestine, Z’EV, Yoshi Wada, and Jon Gibson, and while this comp of material dating from the early ’60s to the mid-’80s can sometimes exude comparable avant sensibilities (La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela guest on a portion of the 20-minute highlight “Bottom”), other portions are highly distinctive in their personal thrust, including the terrific solo “throat dances” of the ’68 piece “Largo Argentina.” An edition of 550 with a 28-page booklet of writings, drawings, and photos. A-

Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs, Clippety Clop (Transdreamer) The Brokeoffs aren’t a backing band, but rather one guy, namely Lawyer Dave in longstanding tandem with veteran vocalist Golightly. After a short hiatus they’ve now put out ten albums, and when considering the high quality across that number (the break in activity wasn’t due to any noticeable creative fatigue), it all becomes quite impressive. As the title and cover art establish, Clippety Clop explores an equestrian theme that fits nicely with their tough rural approach. But if rootsy, there’s no lack of ambition and verve on display, and I especially like the transformation of “Stewball” (a Brit chestnut also notably tackled by Golightly’s old pal Billy Childish) that’s in keeping with their cohesive sound. A-

Les Halles, Zephyr (Not Not Fun) Lyon-based ambient specialist Baptiste Martin has a few prior releases out, but this is his second on wax and the first to be made completely with a computer, though he also works with samples of organic instruments, which include (per label press sheet) Slovakian fujara flutes, PVC panpipes, and chimes. If you’re thinking New Age, well yeah. This would assuredly make a fine soundtrack to crawling out of a tent on the outskirts of a glade as a misty sunlit morning unfolds, but there’s a concurrent vibe that could be of interest to non-spiritual campers (I would include myself in this number), and it’s readily clear that the computer-based sharpness and depth of focus (derived in part from a use of delay) is the basis for Zephyr’s transcendence of mere tranquil atmospheres. B+

Eddie Harris, Plug Me In (Get on Down) Saxophonist Eddie Harris recorded a ton, and a fair portion of that output is subpar. Once derided as something of a sellout (and right off the bat, as his debut, ’61’s Exodus to Jazz, was the first certified gold record in the genre’s history), he was in truth a pop experimentalist. ’68’s Plug Me In, titled as such for the Veritone device used to amplify his sax and alter its sound (first spotlighted on the previous year’s The Electrifying Eddie Harris), is a good, if not stellar example of his overlapping desires to please audiences and avoid stagnancy. The set’s highlight is opener “Live Right Now,” with its funky trucking a bit like something King Curtis might’ve dished at the Fillmore. The rest is ‘60s mainstream jazz as a vessel for the appealing contours of Harris’ playing. B+

Barry McGuire & The Doctor, S/T (Real Gone) Here’s a rather unexpected CD reissue featuring Mr. “Eve of Destruction” and the somewhat obscure guitarist Eric Hord, here credited as The Doctor. Previously, Hord was a largely anonymous guitarist for The Mamas & The Papas (a group that was an integral component in McGuire’s not bad ‘65 LP This Precious Time). By ’71 both these guys were (according to McGuire) polluted with cocaine and desperate for a career upswing. Even with Byrd Chris Hillman, Burrito Brother “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow, future Eagle Bernie Leadon, and an uncredited Herb Alpert (this Lou Adler-produced session was issued on A&M subsidiary Ode), sales eluded them. If this reads like a mess, it kinda is. But well-played and sung, it’s a mess that rates as McGuire’s best album. B+

Jessica Risker, I See You Among the Stars (Western Vinyl) Holding eight tracks in a half-hour, this is a welcome dose of psych-folk (with excellent sleeve design to match), but one that doesn’t radiate any strong freaky or New Weird vibes. As the label suggests, the gently expansive tone is occasionally reminiscent of Sibylle Baier and aspects of Broadcast, but Chicagoan Risker, who has extensive writing and recording experience (although this set can perhaps be considered her formal solo debut) never coasts on atmosphere. These are all solid songs, and if the influence tilts Brit/ Euro (as opposed to the Canyon or the Village), there’s never the impression of an artist grasping for a performance identity. The sound of a subway train at the end of “Anyway When I Look in Your Eyes” drives this home. A-

Emily Ritz, Pattern Recess (Self-Released) After a long stay in the Bay Area, where she was in the bands Yesway, Honeycomb, and DRMS, Emily Ritz has returned to her native New York and cut her solo debut. As the artist observes, Pattern Recess is partially a jazzy, contempo R&B-inflected pop affair, and her songs and voice make it obvious she could work effectively in a straight-ahead mode. However, much of what’s here fruitfully eclipses standard pop structure, and her varied use of electronics regularly stretches into some likeable strangeness. Smartly, the electro element doesn’t consume the others, which includes her guitar playing (sturdy throughout). While the songs here don’t all resonate with me equally, the album’s multidimensional enough to always provide something to chew on. That’s cool. B+

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