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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Gilberto Rodriguez y Los Intocables, Sabor Maracuyá Desnuda (Empty Cellar) Succinctly tagged as experimental Chicano soul and consisting of guitarist-vocalist-bandleader Rodriguez, percussionist Ahkeel Mestayer, keyboardist Ruben Sandoval, and trumpeter brothers Carlos and Jorge Rodriguez, the outfit’s 82-minute 2LP is an intriguing, engrossing, and at-times astounding collection, with Chicano Batman’s Bardo Martinez referencing Caetano Veloso’s Transa in praise of its worthiness. I can hear that, but Sabor Maracuyá Desnuda is more sprawling and looser, and is ultimately its own Bay Area street-level thing. This vinyl edition of 500 copies is housed in a Stougton tip-on gatefold jacket cut and pressed by Timmion in Helsinki, Finland, so procrastination isn’t a smart move. A

Universal Eyes, Four Versions on “Artificial Society” (Trip Metal Limited Series / Lower Floor Music) This 2LP (on white and coke bottle clear vinyl and bound to be scarce within minutes of release) documents the reunited forces of Michigan noiseniks Universal Indians and Wolf Eyes. Consisting of three side-long tracks and two on side-four to be played at a speed “to be determined by the listener” (all but one of my promo MP3s were encoded at 33rpm), much of this is more expansive, pulsing, ominous, and even science-fictive than it is outright pummeling, though things do get nicely harried (and tribal) late. Also, skronk is plentiful and very much appreciated (and unsurprising, as Universal Indians are named after a cut from Ayler’s Love Cry and Wolf Eyes have collaborated productively with Anthony Braxton). A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Faust, The Faust Tapes (Superior Viaduct) As a Krautrock cornerstone, Faust’s first four albums (and their collab with Tony Conrad) are essential. But where to start? Some will tell you at the beginning (with 1971’s Faust), but that’s not the way most have discovered them. Indeed, many thousands of Brits received their introduction through this, their third release and first for the fledgling Virgin label, which was offered at the price of a single; the sales figures range from 60,000-100,000 copies, with the distinction that it wasn’t Faust’s third LP but instead a pleased-to-meet-you collection of uninterrupted work tapes stringing together abstraction, experimentation, grooves, and yes, actual songs, some pleasantly folkish amid the discernable influence of early Zappa. It remains superb. A

Pentangle, Sweet Child (Real Gone) If I had to limit myself to one Pentangle release, this, the band’s sophomore effort, would be it, in part because I’d get to keep the equivalent of two full albums, one live at Royal Albert Hall and one studio, with both offering Terry Cox, Bert Jansch, Jacqui McShee, John Renbourn, and Danny Thompson at the top of their individual and collective games. Manly cats are known to belittle this group as airy-fairy light stuff, but as I give this set a fresh listen, palpable intensity runs through its four sides, and the way they blend trad Brit songs, early music, American blues and jazz (Thompson’s truncated reading of Mingus’ “Haitian Fight Song” is sweet), beaucoup fingerpicking and rich vocalizing (especially McShee) is simply magnificent. It’s a highpoint for progressive folk. A

Tom Abbs & Frequency Response, Hawthorne (Engine Studios) Multi-instrumentalist-composer Abbs has an extensive discography largely in the realms of avant-jazz. This is the fourth release from his group Frequency Response, recorded in 2009 but shelved unfinished and not pulled down and mixed for release until this year. Along with tuba, cello, and piano, Abbs plays a lot of bass on this CD, joined by drummer Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground), violinist Jean Cook (Beauty Pill), and tenor saxophonist Brian Settles (The Hook Up). Taylor plays on all of Frequency Response’s output, with Cook and Settles on 75%, so the interaction is strong. While free jazz is certainly an element in the equation, Hawthorne isn’t a fiesta of abstract flow; the term free-bop has been mentioned, and it fits like a good shoe. A

Oliver Coates, Shelley’s on Zenn-La (RVNG Intl.) Like many I’m sure, when presented with a cellist who has a propensity for dance music, my brain triggers visions of the late Arthur Russell sporting a trucker hat. However, this release’s arrival on my digital doorstep has made a strong enough impression that from here I’ll also be thinking of Coates. Earlier this year, the noted Radiohead collaborator issued a fine new arrangement of composer John Luther Adams’ Canticles of the Sky, but this is a much different affair. There are certainly passages, whole selections even, that are suitable for gyrating, but I’m really swayed by the organic richness and tonal qualities of the synth/ keyboards, and additionally in how well Coates integrates his cello into the whole. The compact disc offers a bonus track. A-

Alice Coltrane, Spiritual Eternal—The Complete Warner Bros. Studio Recordings (Real Gone) Some entity other than Real Gone received the vinyl reissue rights to this material, but any news of new wax has yet to emerge. Meanwhile, if you’re amenable to the format and are looking to obtain this stretch of Coltrane’s output, this 2CD collection might suffice until the LPs arrive. In brief, Coltrane’s Warner Bros. stuff isn’t as strong as her Impulse work, though I find everything here, specifically Eternity (from ’76), Radha-Krsna Nama Sankirtana, and Transcendence (both from ’77), more fulfilling than her sole LP for Columbia with Carlos Santana (from ’75). Coltrane’s best release for Warner’s, Transfiguration, a trio with bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Roy Haynes, isn’t here, as it was a live performance. B+

Carlo Ditta, “Pass the Hatchet” b/w “Life In Heaven” (Orleans) The big-beat funk of Roger & the Gypsies’ “Pass the Hatchet,” released in 1966 as the first single on the Seven B label with production and vocals by that fine New Orleanian Eddie Bo, is one of the great singles of it’s decade. If you don’t know it, this will surely resonate as hyperbole, but once it’s filled your ear canals you’ll understand, even if you don’t rate it as highly. As a general rule, its essence shouldn’t be grappled with, no matter how well-intentioned. Straight imitation? Pointless, and straying too far from the root would be in grave error. Here, Crescent City denizen Carlo Ditta pulls off a near impossibility, keeping things recognizable but with an injection of swampy guitar and sax-infused panache. B-side original is a solid keeper, as well. A-

Courtney Hartman & Taylor Ashton, Been on Your Side (Free Dirt) Hartman (she of the outfit Della Mae) and Ashton (who’s part of the “roots supergroup” Fish & Bird) are multi-instrumentalists, and for this joint effort they both sing, with harmonies aplenty. Although the prominence of Ashton’s banjo occasionally carries this into the territory of folk-tinged Americana, the majority of what’s here is better tagged as post-post-Greenwich Village folk with a few rustic touches. The main dangers in this sorta endeavor are either strained authenticity or faltering into politeness. While the pair never succumb to the cutesy, much of this is a few notches too well-mannered for me, which makes the good stuff especially stand out. Oh, for a few more powerful Hartman spotlights like “First of Us.” B

Thrainn Hjalmarsson, Influence of Buildings on Musical Tone (Carrier) For this CD, Icelandic composer Hjalmarsson presents five chamber works for five different performers or ensembles all hailing from his home country, namely CAPUT Ensemble, Nordic Affect, Ensemble Adapter, Icelandic Flute Ensemble, and Kristin Thora Haraldsdottir. The title, which derives from architectural theorist Hope Bagenal, might suggest academic dryness, but I found this collection to be consistently engaging, in part due to the variety that naturally comes through such a range of interpreters. But more importantly, there is unity of approach in Hjalmarsson’s pieces, most prominently a tendency for the sounds to rise and subside like ocean tides. There are a few piercing or unsettling tones, but much of this is appealingly calm. A-

David J, Crocodile Tears and the Velvet Cosh (Glass Modern) David J (Haskins) is celebrated most as the bassist in goth kings Bauhaus. Runner up is the much different Love and Rockets (composed of Bauhaus sans Peter Murphy). Between those entities, he issued a run of singles and a couple LPs, of which this strong if not mind-blowing 1985 effort was the second. In terms of those two main bands, this is nearer to Love and Rockets, though its sound is better pegged as extending from his bass playing for The Jazz Butcher from around this period. Haskins isn’t as eccentric however, instead diving comfortably into a post-Dylan singer-songwriter zone with glam touches (Bowie obviously, though the recurring use of sax suggests a seed planted by solo Lou Reed) and yes, hints of Love and Rockets’ neo-psych to come. B+

Raul Lovisoni / Francesco Messina, Prati Bagnati Del Monte Analogo (Superior Viaduct) I’d previously read of this as a collab, but it’s actually a split featuring two noted (if perhaps undersung) Italian avant-garde composers. Released in 1979 on the highly regarded progressive/ experimental Cramps label with production by their countryman Franco Battiato (who currently has four LPs available on wax, all worthy and all from Superior Viaduct), it shapes up into an enlightening and satisfying listen likely to please ears into minimalism, ambient and new age. Messina’s 23-minute a-side title track (with the composer on synths) is rewardingly tranquil (and sans cliché), while Lovisoni’s “Hula Om” and “Amon Ra” deliver showcases for Patti Tassini’s harp and the composers’ crystallophone, respectively. A fine one. A-

L7, Hungry for Stink (Real Gone) On one hand, the low opinion some hold for this LA band’s work surprises me, but I also must fess up that I never listened to them much. When I did hear their stuff (often on CD jukeboxes in ’90s watering holes) they registered as okay heavy riff-rock, but just okay in that dept. In terms of gal-bands with a comparable temperament, I was more into Babes In Toyland and to a lesser extent 7 Year Bitch and was certainly more taken with the Riot Grrl scene that L7 are credited with anticipating-influencing-overlapping. Although it may not seem like it, my aim here isn’t to tear the band down. Separated from all the grunge-Alt hoopla, Hungry for Stink goes down…okay. If you dig ‘em more, this reissue of a CD-used bin staple offers the opportunity to affordably own it on (red) vinyl. B

The Lewis Express, S/T (ATA) This Leeds-based outfit’s name doffs the lid to one of soul jazz’s prime movers, pianist Ramsey Lewis. Featuring alumni from such funky-jazzy endeavors as The Sorcerers, Abstract Orchestra, and The Magnificent Tape Band, the Express take influence from Lewis’ trio (of “The In Crowd” fame) and the group that spun off from Ramsey’s thing, The Young-Holt Trio (later Young-Holt Unlimited, who scored a hit with “Soulful Strut”). In league with other recent ATA offerings, this isn’t a carbon copy; for one thing, there are no covers of pop material. Instead, they conjure what the label tags as a “European feel.” There are also occasional non-cheese library motions, plus Fiona McMillan’s vocals on the nifty closer “Straight Seven Strut.” A solid thing. B+

Mirah, Understanding (Absolute Magnitude) This is singer-songwriter Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn’s sixth full-length, which the promo text presents as a return to her earlier mode of recording, further described as less conventional, messier and rawer. Those qualities aren’t exactly tangible in the finished tunes, which were co-produced by her frequent collaborator Eli Crews and feature additional input from Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier, though there is a crisp directness to the whole (both instrumentally and emotionally, with Mirah’s songs up to her usual standard) that I’m digging very much. Also appreciated is the use of midi and the non-trite integration of Crews’ array of vintage synths and electronic gear, which includes a mellotron and an ’80s era Soviet drum box. Its 10 songs in 39 minutes leave me wanting more. A-

Kate NV, для FOR (RVNG Intl.) The second full-length by electronic musician Kate NV (aka Kate Shilonosova) is described as a score for her “native urban environment,” specifically Moscow. What’s immediately striking is the absence of both grandeur and aspects representative of trad soundtrackery. Instead, there’s a vibrant, uncluttered playfulness that drives home that she really likes her home city, and that’s cool. Stylistically, the sound shifts around a fair amount but overall hovers and flits and flirts between inviting experimentalism and synth-y art-pop, though only one track, the woozy “вас YOU,” features vocals, its lyrics deriving from a poem by the great Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky. At times, this is a bit like Steve Reich and Laurie Spiegel having a picnic behind the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. A-

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