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

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Underground System, What Are You (Soul Clap) Led by guitarist Peter Matson and fronted by vocalist-flautist-percussionist Domenica Fossati with horns, keys, synths, and a load of rhythmic specialists thrown into the mix, New York City’s Underground System spring from an Afrobeat base but with a poppy, revelry-inspiring trajectory that makes this full-length debut a welcome delight. Boldly recorded with assistance from Tony Miamone, the mildly B-52’s-ish “Rent Party” is a standout, but so is Maria Eisen’s chewy saxophone in the title-track (and elsewhere), and “Just a Place” is a Euro-tinged dancefloor beast. In short: those predisposed to a more song-based, African-rootsy cousin of !!! (with whom they’ve played) just got dealt a full house, so ante up and then rake in that pot. A-

The Chills, Snow Bound (Fire) New Zealand’s reformed Chills continue to impress, with vocalist and cherished pop song fount Martin Phillipps as sturdy as ever. On one hand, the quality of the tunes here is astounding, as comebacks after long hiatuses often garner goodwill (and yes, occasionally produce strong albums), but rarely reconjure the creative vitality which made the recommencement of activity such a big deal. Hey, you take what you can get. But upon second thought, why not? Because back in the day (this would be the ’80s on Flying Nun into the ’90s on Slash), Phillipps’ pure pop acumen could register like a velvet pouch stuffed tight with pearls the size of jumbo marbles. Sure, on first listen Snow Bound might seem a little lesser, but after a half-dozen spins, its true excellence is revealed. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Miles Davis Quintet Miles Smiles (8th) While my favorite music from Davis’ “second great quintet” remains Live at the Plugged Nickel; once upon a time a gorgeous 2LP, and for a while now a copious boxset documenting two nights of utter brilliance, this studio album, the group’s second, cut in October of ’66 and released early the following year, is a direct extension of that Chicago visit. The ’65 debut E.S.P. is great of course, but it also documents the lineup getting comfortable. Next came Plugged Nickel and then this return to the studio, which is abundantly rich. For two examples, there’s Herbie Hancock’s piano soloing, particularly in opener “Orbits,” and Tony Williams’ drumming in the wonderful transformation of Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance.” Absolutely essential. A+

The Beta Band, Three EPs & The Best of the Beta Band (Because Music) Lots of folks’ positive energy regarding The Beta Band directly correlates with the first time they heard “Dry the Rain.” Therefore, it’s no surprise that in addition to providing the Three EPs with an essentially perfect lead-off track, it also opens the Best of. Three EPs is offered here as a multicolored vinyl 4LP+CD set, with the breakdown into component parts appreciated, as it’s a looonnnggg one, while Best remains 2 CD-only, its second disc holding a live show from London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 2004 that aids in rendering it as non-superfluous for heavy-duty fans, though that doesn’t necessarily make it a must have. You decide. It is a nice, at times very nice, synopsis of a band that helped to expand the possibilities of folktronica. A– / A-

Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band, The Serpent’s Mouth (Big Crown) Led by Bjorn Wagner, this outfit’s debut 55 (also for Big Crown) delivered a heaping dish of steel pan instrumentals, but don’t go thinking it was in any way an exercise in amiably quaint stylistics. It was deliciously funky, and so is this follow-up, which is even more of the moment than its predecessor. This is not to imply that Bacao are consciously breaking from tradition; although they tackle Dr. Dre (“XXplosive”), Mobb Deep (“Burn”), Amerie (“1 Thing”), Gang Starr (“All for the Cash”), and Mary J. Blige (“I Love You”), they also serve up a version of The Jackson 5’s “Great to Be Here” that can’t help but feel like a nod to the Esso Trinidad Steel Band’s cover of “I Want You Back.” As on 55, the originals hold their own without a hitch. A-

Capital Punishment, Roadkill (Captured Tracks) This was the post-punk outfit of Ben Stiller; perhaps you’ve heard of him. His bandmates were Peter Swann (a Supreme Court Justice for Arizona), Peter Zusi (a professor of Slavic Studies), and Kriss Roebling (a musician and documentarian whose family designed the Brooklyn Bridge). Captured Tracks are wisely promoting this as an unveiled curiosity rather than a lost classic, as this was a high school band, and it shows, though it has a few things working in its favor. Foremost, there’s an abundance of creative energy, that when combined with the sheer breadth (or less kindly, lack of focus) helps to keep boredom at bay. The humorous elements, if unsurprising, also enhance a mild similarity to ’80s UK DIY. It’s all far from amazing, but a palpable charm does emerge. B-

Darto, “Fundamental Slime” (Aagoo) Seattle’s Darto has been on my radar for a while, and I feel like I’ve given them short shrift; there was Human Giving and a split 45 with Wand, both from last year, and while I checked out both and was impressed, I let ‘em slip through the cracks. In July I dished some positive words on The Limits of Men, the debut solo effort of the band’s Nicholas Merz, so I haven’t been a total idler. As mentioned in that Merz piece, Darto aren’t easy to peg. This is to their credit, but it does make synopsis difficult. Previously, they’ve struck me as a little psych-rockish, but for this 4-song vinyl EP they incorporate synths, which might read as worrisome, and also throw in some motorik action (“Brotherhood”) while tangling with edgy sax (courtesy of Neil Welch) throughout. A successful twist. B+

Harmony Rockets with special guest Peter Walker, Lachesis/Clotho/Atropos (Tompkins Square) For ears with an itch for all things raga who are unfamiliar with guitarist Walker, his two folkish mid-’60s albums for Vanguard are the biz. After a long absence, the man’s return to recording via Tompkins Square found him in strong form, and it’s a scenario that continues on this star-studded affair. The Harmony Rockets are Jonathan Donahue and Grasshopper of Mercury Rev under their longtime alternate handle, with contributors including Wilco’s Nels Cline and Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley. These three long tracks delve into raga-rock and psych-rock rather than the folky, offering plenty of sparks, expansion, and non-meandering flow. And if you’re averse to the Rev, this has its own thing happening, so worry not. A-

Lee Hazelwood’s Woodchucks, Cruisin’ for Surf Bunnies (Light in the Attic) Like many, I learnt of Lee through the sublime weirdness of “Some Velvet Morning,” which led me to dip deeper into his collab with Nancy Sinatra and nab a copy of his solo LP Love and Other Crimes from an antique mall for cheap. At the time, there was an air of the castoff surrounding the guy’s non-Nancy Sin material, and the idea that one of the globe’s stronger reissue labels would eventually initiate an extensive Hazelwood archival series would’ve seemed a stretch. But here we are. And here’s the man’s unreleased instrumental surf LP from ’64. Rather than an aborted cash-in, it’s a productive if not mind-blowing trip through the Ventures-Chanteys pipeline from the guy who produced “Rebel Rouser.” Hang ten, if you’re inclined. B+

The Holydrug Couple, Hyper Super Mega (Sacred Bones) Hailing from Santiago, Chile, The Holydrug Couple are vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Ives Sepúlveda and drummer Manuel Parra, and this is their fifth album. I’ve read a few descriptions of their sound as falling into the dream-pop realm, but dipping back into their catalog, the psych-pop assessments are ringing truer. While there is a fair amount of swirling expanse, things don’t really drift or hover. Ultimately, there’s too much heft. But don’t get the notion of heavy goings-on, as the pop is emphasized, especially on this new one. The duo’s intention with Hyper Super Mega was to deliver a “classic” sounding record, but in part through their use of tech (plus brightness in the production dept), the orientation is decidedly contempo. B+

JOBS, Log on for the Free Chance to Log on for Free (Ramp Local) Brooklyn’s JOBS, featuring Max Jaffe (drums/vox), Robert Lundberg (bass/vox), and David Scanlon (guitar/vox), sprang to live as killer BOB, replacing the moniker along the way but retaining its Twin Peaks reference for the title of their debut, killer BOB sings. For this follow-up, they rented some temporary digs way out in Santa Fe and then finished up the process back east, heading upstate to Woodstock and welcoming contributions from the exceptional avant violist-violinist-composer Jessica Pavone, who is now a full-on member of JOBS. Pavone’s input undeniably deepens matters (her piece “Held Up Fairly” is a highlight), but the art-rock fortitude, math rockish angularity, and rhythmic intensity remains. A-

Lyrics Born, Quite a Life (Mobile Home Recordings) Back in April for Record Store Day, Asian-American rapper Lyrics Born (formerly Asia Born and with Lateef the Truthsayer half of Latyrx) had his killer 2003 debut Later That Day… reissued, so if you scooped that up and were wondering if he still has it, here’s proof in the affirmative. In hip-hop terms, Lyrics Born radiates considerable old-school flavor, though he diverts from the turntables and mic template for a funky, horn-laden live band approach that’s thankfully non-trite in execution and primed for party-rocking. Fun is clearly the intent, but it’s serious fun; fitting for his handle, the MC has ample words of value on a variety of relevant topics. It all comes together in the rousing James Brown cover-lyrical extension-update “This Is a Man’s World?” A-

OST, Wild Wild Country (Western Vinyl) I know essentially nada about this six-part Netflix documentary series except that it won a Creative Arts Emmy Award this year for best Documentary or Non-Fiction series by telling the story of Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his followers. Well, I also know the doc’s score comes via composer Brocker Way (the series was co-directed by his brothers Chapman and Maclain), whose contribution can be aptly tagged as neo-classically inclined. While crisp and bright to the point of occasional glistening, there’s a lack of the innocuous; unlike a whole lot of neo-classical stuff, this isn’t just pretty aural wallpaper. Way does successfully navigate other areas, with his “High Desert” recalling Morricone sans triteness. Instead, it (and the whole score) is inspired and inventive. A-

Sextile, “3” (Felte) For their latest, LA’s Sextile have slimmed down to Brady Keehn and Melissa Scaduto and have additionally altered their formerly synth-punky approach toward a more electro-driven dancefloor scenario, but without dispensing entirely with guitar (to the contrary, strings flail to the forefront in the highlight “Spun”) and simultaneously cultivating an edgy, dark atmosphere that should appeal to those into the early output of the Mute, Some Bizarre, and Fast Product labels. Alienated, isolated, agitated, and unabashedly retro, right down to sleeve design that recalls the contents of a late ’80s used bin, quite frankly this isn’t the development that I’d hoped Sextile would take, but it’s executed with panache and isn’t long enough to run out of steam. Where’s my black turtleneck? B+

Spirit of the Beehive, Hypnic Jerks (Tiny Engines) This Philly outfit shares a name with a masterwork of Spanish cinema by Victor Erice; without scouring the net, it’s unclear if it’s homage or just a casual (maybe coincidental) lift; I suspect the latter. Why bring it up? Well, the maneuver (if that’s what it was) sparked my interest in checking this out (I knew not of them previously). But it also somewhat riskily raises expectations. Had Hypnic Jerks been lousy, the unfortunateness would only be compounded through an association with something great. Hypnic Jerks is not lousy, though its occasionally arty indie rock does prove more intriguing (and promising) than full-on (or borderline) excellent. The title-track reminded me of The Constantines (remember them?) soaked in Noo Yawk attitude. I think that’s nice. B

Daniel T., Heliotrope (Cascine) L.A.’s Daniel Terndrup, formerly half of house music specialists and remixers Cosmic Kids, has quite the rep as a crate digger and collector, with this passion for wax impacting his activities as a producer and DJ, both in the club (the weekly party he cohosts at the former Hollywood strip-joint Gold Diggers) and on the radio (with shows on Dublab and NTS). Holding only this background in mind, I approached his full-length solo debut with the expectation of creative sampling, but that’s not what Heliotrope has to offer. While falling solidly into the electronic camp, the contents are often rhythmic but not especially dancy (a prior solo EP reportedly has that covered) as the man excels at songcraft (with a smattering of guest female vocals). Finale “Redline” is a standout. B+

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