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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: OST, Hereditary (Milan) This is the score to the latest in the “I know you like horror movies, but THIS ONE is shit-your-pants scary” line of contempo fright flicks; most often it’s hype, occasionally the film delivers, and in this instance, we shall see (it arrives in theaters on Friday). Getting Canadian experimental saxophonist Colin Stetson to provide the music is a promising development, one substantially deepened after time spent with this 71-minute set. There are certainly elements of newness in Stetson’s scheme, but the palpable and deft sustainment of ominous atmospheres is in keeping with the lineage of great horror soundtracks. There’s also a nice repeated (sorta techno-ish) motif as things get progressively more intense and, even better, mysterious. Buy your tickets now. A

Modern Studies, Welcome Strangers (Fire) Via their debut Swell to Great (self-released in 2016 and reissued by Fire last year) I had this Scottish group pegged as chamber pop-Brit folk, and while the left side of that hyphen does persist here, the scale and ambition is much larger, incorporating a full-blown chamber orchestra (secured through a Creative Scotland grant), with rhythmic motion and general ambience confirming the promo text’s mentions of kosmische and Krautrock (think of a more rural Broadcast, perhaps). But that’s only a small part of the equation, as the value is raised considerably. “It’s Winter” underscores the influence of Van Dyke Parks, “Young Sun” begins in a fab chamber-folk place, and the harmonies of Emily Scott and Rob St. John are delightful throughout. A wonderful surprise. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: DJ Spooky, Presents Phantom Dancehall (VP Records) I received this Record Store Day item just after the big event went down and subsequently sat on my hands. The good news is that copies are still available, and as it gets a digital release on June 22, procrastination over grabbing the wax is inadvisable. If you know the dancehall style, which combines the foundation of reggae (and sometimes the weirdness of dub) with hip-hop, electronic, and even flashes of pop, then you know the root of what’s in these grooves, but in DJ Spooky’s hands it all ranges from a little zonked to a whole lot more, and all without undermining the essence of the subgenre’s appeal. It’s a sound that can sometimes wear thin in large doses, but Phantom Dancehall closes with the highlight “Jah Dub.” A-

Zuider Zee, Zeenith (Light in the Attic) As a lad, I recall bypassing this ’70s Memphis band’s sole ’75 Columbia album in the cut-out and second-hand bins. Years later, upon hearing a friend’s copy, I wasn’t too stressed over the lack. In obscure power-pop terms, it had moments but was far from great, though apparently Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen felt differently. This is not that LP, but a tidy batch of unreleased songs cut between ’72-’74, and I like it a whole lot more. Unsurprising, as the major label transition (after years of practice and gigs, which shows here) was the undoing of many a band. This doesn’t reach the possible heights of the cited Big Star-T. Rex hybrid, but the comparison does makes sense, and ditto the Beatles influence. Amid some dated elements, the songs here aren’t hindered by the execution. B+

Beechwood, Inside the Flesh Hotel (Alive Naturalsound) It hasn’t been a year since this NYC trio dished Songs from the Land of Nod (it’s been given a few additional pressings into the early months of ’18), and this follow-up is less ’70s street punky and more psych-pop/ glam-rock in its overall thrust. It isn’t a major jump from what these Kinks-covering sharp dressers delivered before, and this solid effort’s Detroit-tinged “Nero” helps to tie the two strands together. There’s also a political bent in spots, which is sorta unexpected for scarf-wearers (even in 2018). “Boy Before” and “Amy” are consecutive standouts, as is “Over on Everyone” a bit later. Closer “Our Love Was Worth the Heartache” is a Stones-y faux country sing-along. Striking the ear as a bit lesser at first, ultimately, this one’s a grower. A-

Dana T, Harsh Forever (Telsrow) Dana T is Dana Telsrow of the Des Moines, IA duo Karen Meat (where he plays guitar), and this is his solo project’s second album. Somewhat concisely, it can be described as art-rock with a propensity for funkiness, aspects of prog, and through the use of numerous horns, a pronounced jazzy streak. Per the artist, it lands somewhere between Zappa and Prince, and if that reads as an incongruent pairing, the proof is (subtly) in the pudding. Detectable as well: Steely Dan (it’s those horn charts), The Residents, bouncy ’80s radio pop (where the Prince comes in) and maybe even Mr. Bungle (which brings us back to Frank). Similar to my reaction to Karen Meat, not all the textures and avenues are my bag, but the level of ambition is impressive. “A Million Earths in the Sun” is a highlight. B

Nick Faber, “What Happened Yesterday?” (Fabyl) Faber is a studio maestro who, in addition to a bunch of solo and group projects, is noted for remixing an array of names including Kylie Minogue, the Sugarbabes, Badly Drawn Boy, and John Turrell. For the first release on his new label, he steps out on his own with a vinyl 12-inch and delivers a pair of surefire dancefloor movers, with each track offered in two versions. The title cut’s solid big-beat funk foundation gets injected with a little ’80s FM radio rock action and a lot of R&B-ish flavor, complete with repeated vocal lines; it’s cool, but I slightly prefer the flip’s inviting blend of ‘60s discotheque pop-soul (complete with organ and horns, with fluting prominent) and contempo heat and texture. It’s all especially well-done in the remix. B+

Fire Down Below, Hymn of the Cosmic Man (Ripple) This is the second LP from a Belgian four-piece described as playing desert-rock, and indeed, without knowing their country of origin I surely would’ve assumed they were from the USA, with a likelihood of residence in the Southeast. Somewhat widening the template is Hymn’s reality as a concept album, one synopsized as portraying “a single soul against an unnamed threat to mankind.” Not to bite too much from Ripple’s press release, but their quoting of someone’s observation that Fire Down Below are like a “stoner version of Tool” is salient; frankly, this limits my pleasure a bit (as ’90s hard rock ambience reliably does), but the tendency is kept in check, and I dig how they can extend without losing power (and my interest). Mixed by Brad Boatright. B

Jon Hassell, Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Volume One) (Ndeya) It’s been nine years since Hassell released a record, and that’s too fucking long if you ask me. The dictionary definition of pentimento (courtesy of Hassell) is “reappearance in a painting of earlier images, forms, or strokes that have been changed and painted over,” and the pinpointing of this quality as part of his Fourth World aesthetic registers as wholly appropriate (indeed enlightening) rather that any strain for lofty importance. Listening to Pictures, if not as massive as his groundbreaking material, is still mighty robust in its intriguing abstract flow, so if you dig the old stuff then you should dig this one, too. I do, and I do. This also kick-starts his new label, with the promise of more stuff (new, old, and unreleased) to come. A-

Phil Haynes & Free Country, My Favorite Things (’60-’69) (Corner Store Jazz) This 2CD, the third in a trilogy from drummer Haynes’ “jazz-grass” project with guitarist Jim Yanda, bassist Drew Gress, and cellist Hank Roberts, tackles ’60s popular song. On much, Roberts also sings, and part of the introductory fun is wondering which tunes, from a large helping of Beatles to Coltrane to Dylan to the Doors to Bacharach to the theme to Star Trek, will feature vocals. Does “R.E.S.P.E.C.T.”? How about “What’s Going On”? (yeah, that’s ’71, but it’s in the spirit of the decade.) I shan’t spoil. There’s much fine jazz playing (and some poetry) to be had, but the selections are transformed rather than deconstructed. Altogether, a mostly swell small group counterpart to Ed Palermo’s recent big band pop-rock discs. B+

Howlin Rain, The Alligator Bride (Silver Current) Ah, a new one from the outfit formed in the mid-’00s by guitarist-vocalist Ethan Miller of Comets on Fire. That group was/ is known for heavy psych, but Howlin Rain continues in a more accessibly rocking late ’60s-early ’70s vein, here citing the Dead’s Europe ’72 and Free’s Fire and Water as touchstones in the creation of “Neal Cassady Rock.” After a few spins, I’d say he and Dan Cervantes (guitar, pedal steel), Jeff McElroy (bass), and Justin Smith (drums) have succeeded, though the gist, with some passages of truly smoking guitar, lands a little nearer to Free. That’s cool. Even cooler is the remembrance of relaxing in an outdoor café, drinking peach iced tea, and listening to Howlin Rain on my headset while perusing the latest issue of Arthur. Good fucking times. A-

Mitra Sumara, Tahdig (Persian Cardinal Recordings) Specializing in Farsi pop with some funky inclinations, this NYC group, founded and fronted by vocalist Yvette Saatchi Perez, is inspired by the pre-revolutionary pop of ’60s-’70s Iran, but they aren’t merely replicating for novice ears. Instead, they offer their own spin on the songs (from such notable Iranian singers as Googoosh, Soli, and Leila Forouhar), and the results are uniformly appealing, with just enough edge amid the sharp musicality (courtesy of, amongst others, trombonist and former Lounge Lizard Peter Zummo, keyboardist and ex-Fleshtones Jim Duffy, and percussionist and Antibalas member Nikhil Yerawadekar). If far from a simple copy, the obvious respect in the group’s stamp of freshness insures tastefulness in the best way. A-

Muziekkamer, ‘II – Popmuziek’ (Contort Yourself) Coming out of the ’80s Dutch underground, Muziekkamer was the project of Martin Keuning and Cees van de Oever, and folks attuned to Contort Yourself’s swell ’80s Underground Cassette Culture Vol.1 compilation from late last year will be familiar with their entry “Being Home Tonight.” That track is included on this first ever vinyl release of the duo’s ’83 cassette (the second of four), and for folks into the resurrected subterranean experimental sounds of the era (and/ or proud owners of Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray of Liquid Sky), I’d say this is a winner. The label claims it foreshadows electronic happenings that I’m fuzzy on or flat-out ignorant to, but the gesture still feels right, as Muziekkamer avoid overdone tropes while feeling very much of their time. B+

No Fast Food, Setting’s for Three (Corner Store Jazz) Here’s Phil Haynes and Drew Gress (from the Free Country disc reviewed above) with woodwind master David Liebman, delivering their third (and first studio) CD of contempo jazz, relaxed but intense and consistently exploratory. Due to his work with Miles, Liebman is the most well-known name here, but as reflected in the moniker, this is a leaderless group dedicated to advanced interaction, with much of the dialogue recognizably post-free in nature. However, the improv, if potent, is quite approachable, with diverse nods to stylistic precedent, e.g. the terrific “Longer Shorter,” which tips a cap to saxophonist Wayne Shorter by using his composition “Pinocchio” as a launching pad, and the superb samba-based “Shramba.” Magnificent. A

Thee Lakesiders, “Si Me Faltaras Tu” b/w “Parachute” (Big Crown) Thee Lakesiders are the Los Angeles-based duo of Marie (lead vocals) and Necalli (backing vocals), making their debut here with backing from Max and Shannon of The Shacks and sharp production from Big Crown’s Leon Michels. Instead of neo-soul, the results are refreshingly classique pop flavored, but modest of scale, and in its A-side cover of a tune by the Venezuelan group Los Terricolas, delivering a pleasant Latin-hue. Recognizably rendered and vocally strong (with Spanish lyrics intact), this version is distinguished by additional instrumental kick. The flip presents a complementary contrast, plunging into dreamy and tender ’60s gal-pop territory as Marie shines. The next time you want to slow dance with your lovey-dovey, it’ll do the trick. Nicely. B+

Virginia Wing, Ecstatic Arrow (Fire) I’m not alone in having referenced the intersection of Stereolab and Broadcast in relation to this UK duo’s sound, but maybe I employed the comparison a bit too often, though in fairness to myself it’s not like I was belittling their achievements; 2016’s Forward Constant Motion received a new release pick in this very column. Furthermore, I mention it again because Ecstatic Arrow essentially leaves the association behind as it shifts into fresh and boldly scaled territory, wedding elements of progressive new wave and flat-out art-pop to often brilliant effect. In part through the retention of their prior work’s retro-futurism, this isn’t a sharp break from what transpired before; it still sounds like them, but the blossoming is significant and altogether well-done. A-

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