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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Daniel Bachman, The Morning Star (Three Lobed) Bachman is deservedly well-known for his post-American Primitive guitar prodigiousness, but as quietly forecasted by his S/T effort of 2016, he came to a stylistic fork in the road (coinciding with a move back to Virginia from North Carolina), and he chose the more experimental path to brilliant, often captivating result. Experimental can often be shorthand for “fluctuating level of success,” but time was taken with The Morning Star (Bachman’s first release in two years), and the 74-minute 2LP is remarkably consistent with the focus on drone and field recordings; at 18-plus minutes, side-long opener “Invocation” brought Henry Flynt to mind. Plenty of fine guitar playing is to be heard, but sometimes there is none (e.g. “Car”). A

V/A, Freedom of the Press (Kith & Kin) A benefit for the Freedom of the Press Foundation, featuring such worthy names as The Weather Station, Garcia Peoples, Hans Chew, Wooden Wand, Tom Settle & Friends, Bob Hughes, Elkhorn, and 75 Dollar Bill. A lot of various artists collections aiming to help good causes round up participants that are so stylistically broad that actually listening to the assembled contributions can become something of a chore, but new label Kith & Kin have tightened the focus to the “modern psychedelic songwriter scene,” and the results flow like a mixtape from an old, discerning friend. CD and digital only, but as phony populist fascists, corporate whores, self-serving political frauds, and contemptable bigots are currently attempting to destroy the USA, format is immaterial. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Charles Mingus, The Complete Sessions of The Clown & East Coasting (Wax Love) Of these two 1957 recordings, The Clown was originally released on Atlantic, and is the better known. Opening with the glorious “Haitian Fight Song” and closing (on the original wax) with the title track, an ambitious piece featuring an improvised story by the great writer-broadcaster Jean Sheppard, a solid blues and a sublime Bird tribute in between help solidify The Clown as an early masterpiece from the bassist-bandleader. Quibble: the bonus cuts eradicate a powerful ending. I’ve have no such issues with the extras on East Coasting; first issued by Bethlehem, the set persists as underrated, especially since the pianist for the session is Bill Evans. If not as bold as The Clown, it’s still essential. A+ / A

Paul Page and His Paradise Music, Pacific Paradise (Subliminal Sounds) This 2LP/ CD collection documenting a little-known but indefatigable Alaska-born, Indiana-bred, and as an adult, Hawaii-based singer-bandleader-record maker offers a bountiful plunge into private press tourist lounge exotica. As detailed in Domenic Priore’s extensive liners, across a long string of LPs and 45s, Page combined Bing Crosby-ish pop sophistication (he was quite a crooner), a “seafaring Anglo working sailor man” approach, and legit Hawaiian-Polynesian-Pacific influences. With a few exceptions, e.g. the wonderfully zonked “Chicken Kona Kaai” and the spectacular “Auwe, Wahine,” this is pretty well-mannered stuff, but it coheres into an impeccably assembled and researched tribute to one guy’s passion. B+

The Cradle, Bag of Holding (NNA Tapes) The Cradle is the recording moniker of the NYC-based Paco Cathcart, and his Bandcamp page reveals a whole slew of activity, much of it digital only, though he has prior cassettes out on Ramp Local and Feeding Tube. Given the label here, one might assume Bag of Holding to be a spool situation as well, but no, ‘tis a vinyl LP. It connects as a spotlight-move for Cathcart, and therefore is fitting as my introduction to his work. NNA’s press text relates this as calmer than his prior stuff, though Cathcart picks a mean guitar as the contents are enlivened by occasional guest vocals by the members of Palberta and arrangements from Sammy Weissberg. The latter can be somewhat Sufjan Stevens-like, though Cathcart’s story-songs reinforce distinctiveness. B+

Masayoshi Fujita, Stories & Book of Life (Erased Tapes) For a long time my main experience with the vibraphone was through jazz, and it largely left me cold. It still does. Superficial, maybe. But fuck it; so much of the instrument’s existence within the form is a gesture of conservatism, and if my horizons have broadened with age my standards haven’t collapsed. I do however appreciate the unique sound texture potential of the vibes (as I’m not an unfeeling monster), and mallets in the right hands can produce some fine listening. Japan’s Masayoshi Fujita has two such (non-jazz) mitts. At times buoyant, energetic, and exploratory, Stories (a reissue from 2012) finds him mostly solo, and is a good intro. Continuing on from ‘15’s Apologues, Book of Life is more orchestral and also more tranquil. A- / A-

Grex, Electric Ghost Parade (Self-released) Guitarist-vocalist Karl Evangelista and keyboardist-vocalist Rei Scampavia are Oakland’s Grex, with drummer Robert Lopez and assorted others also assisting throughout. Their latest taps into a psych vein, but with stronger songs than is the norm, and those songs to varying degrees unusual. This hasn’t kept them from getting compared to classic psych units like Cream, Traffic, and the Airplane, but nothing retro is going on here. Instead, the music’s sharp turns validate the mention of Deerhoof and so do the avant flareups in relation to such namedrops as Sonny Sharrock, Nels Cline, and Sonic Youth. Evangelista wields a swell grouchy guitar tone, Scampavia’s pipes are sweet, and when they freak out, they freak out good. Currently CD/ digital only. A-

Peter Holsapple, Game Day (Omnivore) If you love guitar-pop and don’t know Peter Holsapple you are in for a treat, for he was integral to one of the style’s finest ever bands, the dB’s. This is his first solo record in 21 years, so folks who’ve been hip to the man for a while also get something nice. Game Day is currently CD only, but it’s available in a bundle with his 45-rpm single from last year (its songs “super bonus” tracks on the disc), so vinyl lovers aren’t left out of this equation. Reviewing that 45 previously in this column, I assessed it as “adult pop,” and that sensibility is extant in Game Day, but so is a nasty guitar tone and songs that work as much more than a complement to his early stuff. That means Holsapple newbies can get acquainted with this and be knocked out by Stands for Decibels later. A-

LFZ, Name Plus Focus (Castle Face) I haven’t dived into the wares of California garage punk/ psych rock label Castle Face in a while, so color me surprised that Name Plus Focus deviates from the stylistic thrust for which the endeavor is known. LFZ is Sean Smith, who holds a prior rep as a guitarist with full releases and comp appearances on the imprints Strange Attractors Audio House, Tompkins Square, and Takoma. Guitar is still his main axe, but for LFZ he feeds his playing through so many digital and analog effects that it mostly comes out sounding like synths. Some of this is ambient, and much has a cool throwback vibe to the early days of electronic possibilities. I like it, though maybe not as much as Castle Face co-operator John Dwyer, who not only signed LFZ but wrote a poem in praise. It’s a good poem. B+

Lords of the New Church, S/T (Blixa Sounds) When I first heard this 1982 recording in the late ’80s, the cut-out bins were littered with punks striving to maintain relevance via more mature strains of rock, so this 10-track slab impressed me little. Given their “punk supergroup” status, featuring Stiv Bators (Dead Boys), Brian James (The Damned), Dave Tregunna (Sham 69), and Nick Turner (The Barracudas), this surprised me at the time (obviously, not so much now). After a few spins of this expanded 2CD (bonuses on disc one, a complete ’82 live show from My Father’s Place on disc two), I like the studio stuff more than I did back then, but still, it’s no great shakes. Through the expected increase in urgency and absence of polish, the live set is preferable. It’s what the LP should’ve sounded like. Studio; B- / live; B+

Mimika Orchestra, Divinities of the Earth and the Waters (PDV records) Formed in London in 2010 by Croatian composer and saxophonist Mak Murtic, the Mimika Orchestra blends big band jazz with Slavic influences, with this 2LP described by the group as a “musical and narrative journey set in the preindustrial Balkans.” And so, an ambitious fusion, though it differs from what might spring to mind when that term is bandied about in a jazz context. Hey, It’s better to expand a little; instead, tag this as progressive (not prog) in its arranging with hints of the avant-garde. It’s impeccably played with vibrant soloing (especially the baritone sax), warmly and intensely sung by a female quartet, robust in its folk flavor, and never predictable, which given its 82-minute duration, is quite an achievement. A

Miss Red, K.O. (Pressure) Here’s the debut LP from Israeli dancehall vocalist Miss Red aka Sharon Stern in collaboration with British musician-producer The Bug aka Kevin Martin, and I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that folks who dig Jamaican dancehall and post-Industrial sound fuckery (or just have a full shelf of On-U Sound stuff) are going to love this one. It’s a peanut butter and chocolate thing. The story is that Miss Red met Mr. Bug by spontaneously asking to rock the mic at one of his shows, but there’s nothing dilettantish on display here, with the 42-minute LP consistently focused on her skills as a rapper-singer; it’s clear she could deliver a straight vocal album if she wanted to, but why would she want to? Bug’s appealingly weird music complements Miss Red rather than propping her up. A-

Nopes, Stapler (Magnetic Eye – Discontinuous Innovation) Like Grex, Nopes hail from Oakland, but they aren’t psychedelic. Not at all (well, maybe a little bit in the brief “Ashley Bart”). Instead, they are as heavy as one of those big-assed weights from the old Tex Avery cartoons where some dastardly nogoodnik was going to drop it on somebody else’s head. Except make that four weights, as Nopes is a quartet. They can also put together some songs, catchy ones even, placing a good example (“Lean”) right up front on Stapler. But still they spastically rage, with the vocals mixed so low at times that I’m checking my watch to see of it’s 1992, and where’s my Amphetamine Reptile t-shirt? Some fucker stole it, I bet. I dug Nopes’ prior effort Never Heard of It, and with Stapler, they are doing just fine. A-

Oldermost, How Could You Ever Be the Same? (AntiFragile) Hailing from Philly, Oldermost are vocalist Bradford Bucknum, guitarist Mike Sobel, bassist Dan Wolgemuth, and drummer Stephen Robbins. They play mature contempo-hued but classically minded guitar rock with an emphasis on songs, the sort of stuff that’s good bonding material for dads and daughters, moms and sons. That may read like a diss, but hey, I’ve never considered cross-generational appeal to be a bad thing. The songs here are sturdy all the way through, and so’s the playing, sometimes earthy at other moments achy and even borderline anthemic in the best sorta way. And at a few points the writing and Bucknum’s singing reminded me a bit of Aussie Michael Beach (with a smidge of Dan Behar), and that’s unequivocally a compliment. A-

Francis Plagne & crys cole, Two Words (Black Truffle) Francis Plagne is an Australian songwriter, crys cole a Canadian sound artist, and Two Words is their first collaborative release, consisting of one 32-minute 33-second track broken onto two sides of vinyl. The first portion is a deep excursion into experimental field recording, presenting an unwinding of sound that registers as possibly deriving from a certain source, but in a manner similar to cinematic Foley art, could easily be something else. Cool. Then a keyboard enters the scene, at first reminiscent of a landline dial tone and then per the promo text Wyatt-like (as in Robert), and matters take a sweetly gradual turn toward song structure. And vocals, which bring a definite art-pop vibe. Overall, a smashing success, and I hope there is more to come. A-

Vainio & Vigroux, “Ignis” (Cosmo Rhythmatic) Mika Vainio, who arrived on the scene in the ’90s as part of electronic heavyweights Pan Sonic (originally Panasonic), unexpectedly passed in 2017 (RIP). Franck Vigroux is a French electroacoustic industrial noise creator known for operating solo and in collaboration, with this tandem with Vainio a prime example; their 2015 2LP “Peau froide, léger soleil” was the byproduct of three years’ work. As you might imagine, the duo was capable of quite a racket, but this six-track follow-up EP is described as more “spacious” and “somber” than its predecessor, and after comparing the two, that strikes me as right on. But there’s still a lot here that at a high enough volume will annoy or just straight-up frighten the neighbors, if that’s the sorta thing you’re into. A-

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