Graded on a Curve:
New in Stores,
November 2018,
Part Six

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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Oren Ambarchi & Jim O’Rourke, Hence (Editions Mego) Ambarchi and O’Rourke have two prior collabs; well, three if you count 2012’s Imikuzushi with Japanese avant-guitar titan Keiji Haino. And counting that one kinda makes sense, as this new one features the guest tabla mastery of Japan’s U-zhaan. Along with the drum, there’s synthesizer and guitar, and the whole can be aptly tagged as electroacoustic. Hence offers two long pieces, with the level of abstraction quite high, but the cumulative effect is welcoming rather than rigorous. It even fits to call big portions of this downright comforting, particularly on side two, where I was reminded a bit of rainforest New Age. However, this ambiance gets imbued with mysteriousness that’s distinct and ultimately quite pleasing. A-

Owen Lake and the Tragic Loves, The Best of Your Lies (Carrier) This set of “electro-country” from a NYC project pseudonymously led by noteworthy contempo avant-composer Jeff Snyder might read like an imminent disaster, but the blending of techno-pop with honky-tonk and Countrypolitan (all covers save for two solid ones co-written by Snyder and fiddle-harmony vocalist Anica Mrose Rissi) starts out as potentially egregious, then impresses as sincere, moves on to admirable, and with accumulated spins connects as a surprisingly successful legit fusion rather than just an experiment that didn’t fall apart. To be sure, a Carter Family song with vocoder vocals might rile some tempers, but the execution is far preferable to an umpteenth well-mannered (to the point of blandness) Americana version. Believe it. A-

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Dock Boggs, Legendary Singer and Banjo Player (Smithsonian Folkways) While I agree that Dock Boggs’ greatest stuff was cut for Brunswick in ’27, this album still holds a special allure. Boggs had just been rediscovered by Mike Seeger (who contributes illuminating liners here) and by extension the audience at the American Folk Festival, where some of this set was recorded. As the disc unwinds, knowledge of the circumstances leading to its recording enhance the aura of Boggs’ reengaging with, and in a sense rediscovering his own music, as well; he’d reportedly repurchased a banjo shortly before meeting Seeger for the first time. But don’t think Boggs is tentative in his delivery across these 15 songs. As intense as he was in ’27? No. This is a document of an older and wiser man. A

V/A, American Banjo – Tunes and Songs in Scruggs Style (Smithsonian Folkways) Smithsonian Folkways has been celebrating their 70th anniversary by reissuing some choice titles from the vast catalog on vinyl, and the theme of the latest batch is the banjo. This includes Dock Boggs above and two releases below, plus this 1957 collection documenting the three-finger technique developed by Earl Scruggs and popularized roughly a decade before, first in the band of Bill Monroe and shortly after in his own group co-led with guitarist Lester Flatt. In short, it’s bluegrass baseline. Earl doesn’t play on this LP, but his older brother Junie does, along with Roni Stoneman, Snuffy and Oren Jenkins, J.C. Sutphin, Smiley Hobbs, Kenny Miller, and Mike Seeger, who also recorded and produced. It all sounds splendid. A

Baby Grandmothers, Merkurius (Subliminal Sounds) Whole lot of Swedish psychedelic history here, but in a nutshell, guitarist Kenny Håkansson, bassist Bengt Linnarson, and drummer Pelle Ekman are, alongside Hansson & Karlsson and Pärson Sound, one of the three originators of Swede psych. They released one 45 in ’68 (which sells of hundreds today) before adding a member and becoming the Mecki Mark Men; they cut a pair of LPs, toured the US and recorded at Chess studio. Breaking up, the core trio morphed into the wildly popular at home (and still active) Kebnekajse. Clearly itching to get back to the roots, this is the second Baby Grandmothers release since ’07. It’s a heavy, often rocking scenario, expansive but not mind-melting. Proffered by oldsters, the sound is tangibly young in spirit. A-

Badfinger, S/T & Wish You Were Here (Real Gone) The story of Badfinger is peppered with classic singles and a few fine albums, but it’s ultimately a sad one rife with label dysfunction and managerial greed that ends in tragedy through the suicide by hanging of members Pete Ham and later, Tom Evans. Their eponymous fifth album and first for Warner Brothers isn’t great, suffering from an occasional lack of cohesion and lapses in songwriting quality, but I think it’s better than its rep, and it’s certainly a more worthwhile affair than prior LP Ass. The extra material on this reissue, including a solid unreleased song, elevates matters even further. Follow-up Wish You Were Here is arguably the best LP they ever cut, one where everything fell into place except patience in allowing it to reach its audience. Both CD-only. B+/ A-

Bloom Offering, Episodes (The Helen Scarsdale Agency) The sound Seattle’s Nicole Carr delivers on her vinyl debut (after a series of cassettes) is defined by the label as “synth wave / blighted electronics,” and that sums it up pretty well. There’s a definite chilly vibe with an undercurrent of corrosion that inspires visions of black-clad individuals struggling under the weight of dystopia in reserved isolation. But it’s not as surface-level retro as this might portray; somewhere close is a battered copy of RE/Search’s Industrial Culture Handbook, so the recipe is potent. Furthermore, the bleak-future atmospherics are counterbalanced with Carr’s lyrical themes, which rail against gender injustice. “Out 2 Get U” is offered as the prime example of this, but the two tracks that follow are the short album’s standouts. A-

Causa Sui, Free Ride (El Paraiso) This is the second album from this Danish stoner rock crew, Initially issued in 2007 as a limited edition with copies having sold since for over a $100. As a non-obsessive fan of the style, the inflated prices strike me as a tad ludicrous (even the CDs change hands for heftier than average sums), but that’s partly due to my indifference over Kasper Markus’ vocals; they don’t really do anything to sully my experience with Free Ride, but I could just as easily do without ‘em. Apparently, the band felt the same way, as they’ve been an instrumental unit ever since. The singing often amplifies the band’s heavy boogie flirtations, though again, this is a non-toxic situation. The tracks where they stretch out (including the 20-minute bonus “El Paraiso”) uplift matters quite a bit. Expanded to 2LP. B+

The Cocky Bitches, Mercy (Slope) Auxiliary projects by members of the Butthole Surfers can be a hit-and-miss situation. Hell, since the early ’90s, the Surfers themselves have been a spotty deal, though they haven’t released a new record since ’01. And so, the supplemental activities are now the main event. Good news: I dug Jeff Pinkus’ recent work with the Melvins, and I’m on board with this LP from Paul Leary’s new band, though it’s properly assessed as a psych-blues-punk-weirdness trio filled out with drummer Sam McCandless (formerly of Cold) and vocalist Formica Iglesia aka the Baroness. Leary’s multi-instrumental presence is mauling and gnawing, and matters do climb high on the thud threshold. The Baroness’ twisted presence helps elevate the handful of lesser songs. B+

Paula Matthusen and Olivia Valentine, Between Systems and Grounds (Carrier) This unique undertaking by composer Matthusen and visual artist Valentine is described in the promo text as a “feedback loop between textile construction processes and feedback-based electronic music.” To synopsize it as environmental in nature isn’t wrong, but it’s also a “durational performance and installation project”: at home, you get the choice of cassette or digital download. Along with a whole lot of feedback and some distortion, the incorporated sounds include: insects, frogs, birds, wind and breezes, a thunderstorm, a silo, an electric fence, a lawnmower. Matthusen handles the electronics and Valentine the textiles; specifically, she’s making lace. Some pieces are time-compressed, and others are in real-time. Superb. A

Del McCoury, Sings Bluegrass (Smithsonian Folkways) These days, guitarist-vocalist-bandleader McCoury is a bluegrass legend and something of an enduring crossover phenomenon, but in ’67 when this LP was cut (for Arhoolie, which was acquired by Smithsonian-Folkways in 2016) the man was just getting his first band together. He’d spent some time playing with Bill Monroe, which brought him into contact with fiddler Billy Baker and banjoist Bill Emerson; filling out the band is Wayne Yates on mandolin and either Tommy Neal or Dewey Renfro on bass. These 12 tracks of exemplary trad bluegrass are given an extra boost by McCoury’s high lonesome vocals. This has been available on CD as I Wonder Where You Are Tonight, but it’s sweet to have it back in print on vinyl with the original cover design. A  

Caoilfhionn Rose, Awaken (Gondwana) This is the debut LP from singer-songwriter Rose (her first name is pronounced Keelin), who up to this point is probably best-known as a collaborator of fellow Mancunian Vini Reilly (of Durutti Column fame). She possesses a voice that’s pleasant but large and a sturdy batch of songs, with the lyrics coming from her pen and the music, save for one selection that’s hers alone, composed in collaboration with her band. The press release cites the influences of psychedelia, electronica, and folk, but it’s really the latter, and more specifically folk-pop, that rings out as the dozen tracks progress (there are a few subtle touches that underline Rose’s stated affinity for Broadcast). There are also lush passages that are offset by instrumental heft. Overall, very promising. B+

Pete Seeger, Goofing-Off Suite (Smithsonian Folkways) Seeger’s lionized as a socially-minded folksinger, but I’m not alone in believing his greatest talent was the banjo. For evidence, one need search no further than this set, which was originally released as a 10-inch in 1955. It’s a barrel of fun, and notably so, as much of it is borrowed (swiped is Seeger’s preferred term) from Bach, Beethoven, Greig, and in standout track “Russian Folk Themes and Yodel” Stravinsky, with Pete’s longhair nabs intertwining conceptually with Igor’s folk inclination. Seeger then goes a step further and weds it to a yodel grabbed from the Sons of the Pioneers. It’s a medley so sweet the Coen Brothers swiped it for Raising Arizona. The A-side is the suite and the flip a handful of solid but in this context slightly lesser folk numbers. A-

Finlay Shakespeare, “Routine” b/w “Perris (Inevitable Forthcoming Netflix Docudrama Version)” (Editions Mego) Mr. Shakespeare has released prior techno-based music through the moniker Future Image, but this 45, presented as a teaser for an LP slated to arrive in February, is his debut under his reported birth name. Along with expertise with electronic instrument building (he’s the founder and CEO of Future Sound Systems, a synthesizer and effects unit manufacturer based in Shakespeare’s Bristol UK digs), the man flaunts discerning taste; the A-side here is what the kids call a banger, but there’s just as much attention to crafting a memorable song. The label’s mention of Aphex Twin and Cabaret Voltaire are borne out, but it’s the slow, grand build of the flip that’s the real winner here. A-

Jakob Skøtt, Instrumentality (El Paraiso) Skøtt is the drummer for Causa Sui. While I dig the reissue of their second LP reviewed above, I’m into his brand new “solo” LP even more (he has four prior records, all on El Paraiso, so I’m very late to the game). The title underlines the general robustness of the musical approach here, but it also applies to the lack of vocals, which is a plus. Hard rock is definitely a part of the stew, but it contrasts from the stoner-boogie-isms of Free Ride as Skøtt integrates synths. A touch of ’80s Euro soundtrackery results, but there’s even more of a contemporaneous arcade game feel. That might read as potentially lame, but it goes down a storm. The prominence of the drumming makes clear whose LP this is, but it’s not like Skøtt is showboating. He’s just pounding away, and that’s swank. A-

Takeleave, Inner Sea (Project Mooncircle) Berlin-based Nicolas De Araújo Peixoto is Takeleave, and his entry into the abundant contemporary electronic scene is a blend of ambient, broken beat and downtempo/trip-hop injected with a little bit of house along the way. The results are warm and relaxing (and unwind largely sans vocals) yet avoid faltering into aural wallpaper, and while nothing startling occurs along the way, the whole is highly enjoyable. Peixoto has prior experience as a songwriter and guitarist in bands (that’s his playing in the late album highlight “Back Water”) but his turn to electronica registers as largely assured. At 36 minutes, Inner Sea is a tidy but satisfying affair, with the brevity also applying to many of the individual tracks; the set is best listened to as a flowing whole. B+

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