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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Norbert Rodenkirchen / Robbie Lee / James Ilgenfritz, Opalescence (Telegraph Harp) As part of the ensemble Sequentia, Rodenkirchen is a heavyweight medieval music flautist. Lee’s a woodwind specialist who likes bringing early music instruments into contempo settings; amongst others, he’s played with Mary Halvorson and Brian Chase. Ilgenfritz is a bassist, composer, and leader of The Anagram Ensemble; of collaborators and credits, he has a ton. Although flute is a hard sell for me when not played by Eric Dolphy or Roland Kirk, this LP proves to be a non-stop pleasure, largely because it resides in an avant zone where clichés, flute or non, are absent. That doesn’t mean medieval/ early music aspects aren’t perceptible amid the post-jazz thrust, there’s just no grafting. Sweet. A

Arp, Zebra (Mexican Summer) Artist-producer-DJ Alexis Georgopoulos is Arp, and his latest is a consistently engaging and occasionally delightful tour of an instrumental landscape that’s more than slightly reminiscent of the post-Eno/ Jon Hassell progressive-ambient ‘80s, with definite nods toward the era’s global adventurousness. There are elements recalling rainforest New Age, rhythms African and Reich-like, Multikulti jazz, mellow kosmische, Japanese avant-pop, and a boatload of fluttering, burbling, and swirling electronics. Employing a wide array of instruments, maybe the most appealing being double bass, Georgopoulos isn’t merely striving for period synthesis here, with a few moments bringing The Necks and The Books to mind. “Halflight Visions” and “Fluorescences” are amongst the standouts. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: V/A / Hugh Tracey, Listen All Around: The Golden Age of Central and East African Music (Dust-to-Digital) The reports of the compact disc’s demise are greatly exaggerated. While I’m no fan of the format overall, the recent proliferation of CD-books is a cause for great cheer, especially when assembled by the folks at Dust-to-Digital. These 84 pages spotlighting field-recordings made in the titular regions from 1950-’58 is an information trove, and the emphasis on the work of pioneering ethnomusicologist Tracey, a native South African who established the International Library of African Music in 1954, is surely admirable. but it’s the two CDs of wide-ranging and unswervingly beautiful music, all 47 tracks of it, that makes this essential for fans of African sounds. A+

V/A, Voices of Mississippi: Artists and Musicians Documented by William Ferris (Dust to Digital) Dipping into the substantial life’s work of audio recordist, filmmaker, folklorist, and professor William Ferris, this offers a 120-page hardcore book teeming with insights and photos illuminating African-American art and culture, a DVD of his documentary films (one of which covers the fife and drum master Othar Turner), and three CDs, the first focused on a wide variety of blues, the second offering a wonderful serving of gospel, and the last loaded with storytelling from an array of voices including a handful of the contributing musicians (plus B.B. King and Pete Seeger) as well as authors Barry Hannah, Alice Walker, Alex Haley, Allen Ginsberg, and Robert Penn Warren. The cumulative effect is staggering. A+

Brendon Anderegg, June (Thrill Jockey) Anderegg is noted as half of the electronic duo Mountains with Koen Holtkamp, but he’s also scored for television and film and operates the studio Telescope Audio. June is his first solo release in a long time, consisting of one 36-minute track that rides the border of electronic composition and ambient to a satisfying result. Comparisons are made to Tangerine Dream, Popol Vuh, and Cluster, but my blind first listen didn’t stir up thoughts of German kosmische; instead, I was struck by a similarity to early academic synth works (as opposed to the pop-inclined stuff) as the piece’s second half gradually drifted toward a blend of drone and the spacey side of New Age. Further enjoyable listens did validate the Kraut connection, but this is far from by-the-numbers stuff. A-

Michael Beach / Bitch Diesel, “’sessin” b/w “Power” (Split Singles Club) This is part of the second batch of six splits from a Melbourne, Australian community enterprise, with this run’s artists curated by Poison City Records and Our Golden Friend; volume one’s contents were chosen by Bedroom Suck and Milk! That’s the label’s exclamation point, not mine, though I was excited to hear this fresh track from Michael Beach. It didn’t disappoint. With guitar noticeably rawer and an atmosphere a tad lower-fi than is the man’s norm, the overall mood is a little more strung-out bluesy, but it’s still recognizably Beach. And so, a minor gem. This is my intro to gal three-piece Bitch Diesel, which makes it hard to pinpoint ‘em; it suffices to say that “Power” is moody u-ground rock with psych guitar, and I like it. A-/ B+

Doug Clifford, Doug “Cosmo” Clifford (Craft) Maybe he was just having a bad day, but in an interview, Creedence Clearwater Revival drummer Clifford rated this, his only solo LP from 1972, as a “terrible record.” I disagree. Describing the band, which includes CCR bandmate Stu Cook, Donald “Duck” Dunn, and Tower of Power as “great,” Doug’s main problem is his singing, but if a non-remarkable vocalist, he gets the job done on this set of eight originals and three covers, the best of the latter being Doug Sahm’s “She’s About a Mover.” Solo efforts by drummers and bassists can be the butt of jokes, but there’s nothing funny here, as the ambition is to explore roots forms through solid songs (right off the bat with the funky “Latin Music”) that offer occasional flourishes of country and New Orleans. Underrated. B+

Thee Dagger Debs, S/T (Damaged Goods) Here’s the debut LP from a Brit gal combo, and it fits into Damaged Goods’ punk ‘n’ roll objectives without a snag. Tagged as a pub rock power trio with an affinity for ’60s garage, Brit R&B, and proto-punk, all those elements come through loud and clear, and with an emphasis on rawness via the appealingly nasty guitar tone of Laura (no last names here), who also sings. Just as importantly, bassist Letty and drummer Paula prefer simplicity and energy over finesse, which contrasts well with their knack for catchy tunes. This means the early ’60s teen pop classique of standout “Ain’t Worth the Time” leans closer to Glam-era toughness than a contrived malt shop vibe. A dozen tracks and nary a weak one in the bunch, making this a special kind of no-big-deal. A-

Diamont Dancer, Shapes (Canoa Snake) Diamont Dancer is the Spanish duo of guitarist Pau Roca and DJ-producer Nacho Marco, and this is their debut. Utilizing processed guitar loops and synth drones, the emphasis is on layered patterns (sometimes melodious but never especially poppy) rather than bouts of abstraction or ambience. Much of the record does drift however, and quite nicely, doing right by the stated influences of Fripp and Eno, Steve Reich, and John Carpenter, but without really sounding like any of them, though “Pyramid” does pull off an extended mingling of cyclical Minimalism and New Age glisten for an album highlight. Even as “Sphere” is evocative of waves at the beach early on, nothing here gets too placid, and the pair’s experience and good judgement shines throughout. (Out 6/25) A-

Tom Fogerty, Excalibur (Craft) For his second solo LP, CCR guitarist Fogerty retains the services of keyboardist Merl Saunders, bassist John Kahn, and drummer Bill Vitt from his first and adds guitarist Jerry Garcia, completing the Garcia/Saunders band of the period and making this as much of interest to Deadheads as CCR nuts. Problem is, like a fair portion of the Garcia/Saunders stuff, the results are to varying degrees underwhelming. Fogerty doesn’t get overshadowed by his contributors, but for every modestly likeable cut (the country-rock of “Forty Years”) there’s an iffy proposition (too much noodling by Merl in “Sick and Tired”), though the disc holds only one borderline clunker (“Get Funky,” which isn’t as funky as you might think). Still, beginning with “Straight and Narrow,” the album rallies late. B-

David Hillyard and the Rocksteady 7, The Giver (ORG Music) While I adore Jamaican ska, rocksteady, and reggae (especially when the temps are high), I’ve always engaged with non-native examples of those styles with apprehension. Sure, I’ve come to enjoy the 2-Tone impulse, but even some of that material doesn’t float my boat. Ska-punk? No thanks. Hillyard and his group aren’t that; at their best, they inhabit territory in the ballpark of what the Skatalites were up to in the ’90s circa Ball of Fire, except more relaxed, and therefore not as appealing. Additionally, their tendency to blend Jamaican styles with elements of R&B and Soul (and a nod to “Build Me Up, Buttercup,” jeezus) is successful but not remarkable. Lastly, there is singing on the majority of the tracks, and frankly, I wish there wasn’t. B

Infinite Music, A Tribute to La Monte Young (Fire) Recorded live at Teatro Maria Matos, Lisbon in September of last year and originally conceived to be part of a 2016 event celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Velvet Underground, this features Spacemen 3’s Sonic Boom, Zombie Zombie’s Etienne Jaumet, and tanpura player/ master of Indian Dhrupad singing Céline Wadier. The results, executed with assurance and with clear affection for Young (who as a cornerstone of drone minimalism was far more than just a component in the history of VU), are enchanting throughout, with Wadier’s contributions especially resonant. My only very minor quibble is that at 48 minutes, it’s over too quickly; I’m hoping this was only part of a larger performance, and if so, bring on the rest. A-

John Parish, Bird Dog Dante (Thrill Jockey) Parish’s credits as producer, from Eels to Tracy Chapman to Jenny Hval to seven albums by PJ Harvey, are the main reason his name rings contempo bells, but this is his sixth solo record, and the first since Screenplay, which I reviewed positively for this website back in 2013. That’s far back enough that I declined a side-by-side comparison and instead just focused on his achievements here; they include what will inevitably be, at least for the time being, the record’s centerpiece, the fine duet with Harvey on a song about their departed friend Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse, “Sorry for Your Loss.” I say time being because the surrounding cuts, like the terrific “Buffalo,” are uniformly strong as they spotlight Parish’s skills as a multi-instrumentalist. A-

Twilight 22, S/T (Craft) In 1983, Twilight 22 scored a sizable hit with their electro jam “Electric Kingdom.” Led by Gordon Bahary (who as a teen had worked on Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life and Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants) in tandem with Joseph Saulter, they concocted a rap-infused boomer that was loaded with unexpected twists. It’s included on this, their sole LP from the following year, where it gets joined by a few worthy tracks in the same mode, and unfortunately, too much R&B-ish padding. The first two cuts fall into this trap and are further hindered by vocalist Saulter’s attention to themes of love and sex that frankly come off more than a little skeevy. These lesser selections do possess a time-capsule quality, and the good stuff is good, but the lack of consistency disappoints. B-

U.K. Subs, SubVersions (Cleopatra) In brief, Charlie Harper and the Subs’ brand of punk rock didn’t misplace the rock, and at its best, which like most punk outfits came early, it could help kick-start a rousing good time. But the inferior material inevitably arrived, and the last time I listened to anything new by the band was…well, I really can’t remember when. And so, I approached this new one with trepidation. It presents this largely stable lineup dishing out a set of covers, and it’s mostly an engaging listen, though it’s no shocker that the quality ranges. The common thread is songs that inspired the band, but I can’t help wishing they’d resisted gifting the world with these umpteenth MC5 and the Stooges versions and chose more in the vein of Bob Seger, Slaughter & the Dogs, and The Diodes. B

V/A, Epilogue A Tribute to John Duffey (Smithsonian Folkways) It’s an easy call; if you love bluegrass, you love John Duffey. As multi-instrumentalist, singer, and leader of first The Country Gentleman and then The Seldom Scene, he was crucial in bluegrass’ development beyond its Appalachian roots. Now, a lot of subsequent bluegrass refinements were too polished and well, highfalutin for my Stanley Brothers and Bill Monroe-loving tastes, but what I’ve heard from Duffey’s bands has always went down easy. As does this tribute, which features a massive list of names including Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Nils Lofgren, and Dave Grisman. The playing and harmonies are sharp, the song choices wide-ranging, and the only disappointment is the CD-only format. Really, this deserves a vinyl pressing in a classic tip-on jacket. A-

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