Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for January 2019, Part Three

Part three of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—presently in stores for January, 2019. Part one is here and part two is here.

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Lisa/Liza, Momentary Glance (Orindal) Portland, ME’s Liza (pronounced Lisa) Victoria has a prior record out on Orindal, Deserts of Youth, where she goes it completely alone via acoustic guitar and vocals. On this follow-up she switches to electric and enlists some instrumentalist friends, though Victoria’s front-and-center presence is only intensified on a half-dozen selections (totaling 42 minutes) that radiate a magnificent late-night psych-folk vibe. Recorded and mixed by Efrim Manuel Menuck of Godspeed! You Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra during a brutal Montreal winter, the suicide of a friend greatly impacted Victoria’s creative process. My learning of this surely deepened the emotional heft, which hits its apex with the massive “Tea Kettle.” A

Machinefabriek, With Voices (Western Vinyl) Dutch composer Rutger Zuydervelt is Machinefabriek, and his work essentially resides in a neighborhood shared by ambient, drone, minimalism, modern classical, noise, field recordings, electronics, and a general spirit of avant-experimentation. The man wields an insanely loaded, completist-defeating discography, but With Voices is destined to be one of the gems in that expansive body of work, in part because it finds him collaborating with a variety of vocalists across eight Roman numeric tracks, including Chantal Acta, Peter Broderick, Marianne Oldenburg, Richard Youngs, and Marissa Nadler. Eschewing lyrics, with a high percentage of the utterances effectively wordless, the results are wildly varied and in the case of the Nadler-sung finale, quite beautiful. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Caspar Brötzmann Massaker, The Tribe & Black Axis (Southern Lord) Originally released by Zenzor in 1988, The Tribe was the debut by guitarist Brötzmann’s trio with Eduardo Delgado Lopez on bass and Jon Beuth on drums, and it delivered a noisily intense yet rock solid heart punch and a wakeup call; the possibilities of amplified string mayhem had been broadened and the roster of u-ground guitar heroes deepened. Coming off at times a bit like Hendrix at his wildest if he’d lived and largely set aside bluesy grooving for Germanic Industrial pummel, the Massaker were a formidable beast, and that they didn’t make as may waves as the Experience ultimately speaks to the conservative atmosphere of the era from which they sprang. A few slightly lesser tracks do emerge. A-

Caspar was the son of the German free jazz saxophone titan Peter Brötzmann (who designed The Tribe’s cover), which led to some speculation prior to hearing that the Massaker was going to be an excursion into skronk-rock fusion (like Last Exit, Jr., maybe). That wasn’t the case, though The Tribe and ’89’s follow-up Black Axis (originally on Marat Records) were both cut at FMP studio in Berlin, where many of the greatest German avant jazz recordings were made. Part of the reinforcement of a rock sensibility comes through the use of vocals, which serve roughly the same function as they did in the Experience. Black Axis finds the band (with fresh drummer Frank Neumeier) tapping into grooves a bit more (some near funky), but also kicking up clouds of pungent cacophony and launching into the stratosphere. A

Dani Bell & The Tarantist, Wide Eyed (The Redwoods Music) I really wasn’t sure what I was getting into here. Well, that’s not exactly true. I did know that vocalist Bell and percussionist Alfred Howard used to perform with prerecorded music while wearing Venetian masks. This brought to mind karaoke at a masquerade party. Which admittedly could be cool but doesn’t really matter as the tapes got nixed for a band; it does appear the masks stuck around. Wide Eyed’s PR describes them as rock, but to my ear the contents are much more appropriately tagged as pop, and although they hail from San Diego, the swirling sitars and fuzz guitar lend this an occasional flavor of the global. Fitting for their name, much of this is quite dancy, though the focus remains on Bell’s vocals. Overall, this one turned out okay.  B+

Sir Richard Bishop & W. David Oliphant/Karkhana With Nadah El Shazly, Carte Blanche (Unrock) A fine split and the latest in Unrock’s Saraswati Series of vinyl pairings; along with Sir Richard and his brother Alan, prior contributors include Bill Orcutt, Ava Mendoza, Eyvind Kang, Tashi Dorji, and a whole lot of Sam Shalabi, who’s here as a member of Karkhana, a heavyweight group dedicated to a Middle Eastern/ Mediterranean deepness. On their three cuts they back Egyptian singer El Shazly, and the weirdly fucked results are as rich as Warbucks. Unrock’s devotion to the post-Sun City Girls activities of the brothers Bishop renders the drone heaviness of Richard’s team-up with Oliphant (whose band Maybe Mental was part of the same ’80s Arizona scene as the Girls) unsurprising but downright splendid. A/ A

Buke and Gase, Scholars (Brassland) If you’re new to the work of Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez, as implied by their name they use handmade instruments, with the Buke a six-string baritone ukulele and the Gase a guitar-bass hybrid. But don’t get the idea that this new dish, their third full-length and first in six years, dives into quaintness. To the contrary, Scholars is quite big sounding, carrying elements familiar to math-rock and prog into an avant-pop zone, and with the emphasis on pop; while the whole is structurally not simple, there is an equal focus on songs that, if not catchy in the traditional sense, certainly register as cognizant of recent chart activity, a circumstance deepened by the often-filtered textures of Dyer’s prominent vocals. Altogether solid, but I’d have preferred less pop in the recipe. B+

Dolphin Midwives, Liminal Garden (Beacon Sound) Harpist and vocalist Sage Fisher is Dolphin Midwives, with this her second album and vinyl debut; 2016’s Orchid Milk was released on cassette in an edition of 100. Fisher’s main axe (she’s effectively a multi-instrumentalist, having played zither and mbira on Orchid Milk) may result in the uninitiated thinking of Joanna Newsom and Mary Lattimore, but Liminal Garden makes considerable inroads toward Dolphin Midwives’ own niche. This is achieved in part through an electronic focus (not really pop, though; think of the output of RVNG Intl., where this record would’ve fit nicely had Fisher not gone with Beacon Sound) and passages where harp disappears from the scheme. But hey, if you dig Newsom and Lattimore, particularly the latter, do jump right in. A-

Julian Lynch, Rat’s Spit (Ya Reach Media / Underwater Peoples) I’m guessing lotsa people know Lynch as the guitarist in Real Estate, but he was a solo trooper before that, probably best known for 2013’s Lines (I’m partial to his prior LPs for Olde English Spelling Bee, however). Now, if you knew nada about any of this, what you get with Rat’s Spit is a definite “student of modern music” solo record scenario, and even though a handful of the stated influences-interests give me little or no pleasure (namely, checking off from the promo text, Tears for Fears, Yes, and Steve Vai), that’s okay, as others do (like Eno, Cocteau Twins, Kate Bush, and George Clinton). Not that these references get asserted in easily recognizable ways, as this set, if about combinations and concepts, doesn’t neglect the songs, which are Lynch’s. A-

Popincourt, “4 Colours – 4 Seasons” (Oya) Those lamenting the contemporary scene’s dearth of ’80s-style Brit-flavoured auteurist pop are in for a revelation if they aren’t already hip to Frenchman Olivier Popincourt; this goes double if Paul Weller and Aztec Camera are amongst their favourites. Jumping in here is as smart a move as any, as this 4-song EP, available on wax and CD, maintains his streak of quality without a hiccup. A thoroughly unstrained thematic undertaking, “Blue Winter” wastes no time in establishing the strength of singing and writing amid a wide instrumental landscape; there’s acoustic strum, a little electric fuzz, organ, and even flute. As the climates change, the drum programming lends cohesiveness and stands out in “Red Summer.” Susanne Shields vocals also add value. A treat. A-

Nkisi, 7 Directions (UIQ) DJ, producer and “sonic activist” Nkisi isn’t a newcomer to the scene, having issued a handful of releases (two of them 12-inch EPs) as well as curating and managing the NON Worldwide label-collective with her friends Angel Ho and Chino Amobi, but this highly assured and focused platter does serve as her full-length debut. Non Worldwide functions in the documentation and promotion of sound artists from Africa and across the diaspora, and Nkisi’s percussion-heavy work here, drawing inspiration from African Cosmology of the Bantu-Kongo, is conceptually unified with that objective, though it’s released on the label of fellow electronic musician Lee Gamble. The results are powerful, enlightening, and if rhythmically incessant, quite varied. I suspect it’s built to last. A-

Slum Summer, Ababo (Jigsaw) Based in San Diego, Slum Summer formed in 2016, the lineup split between Brits (songwriter-vocalist-guitarist-leader Hugh J. Noble, Scottish bassist Grant Stewart) and Americans (guitarist Jen Edwards and drummer DJ Anderson) with their sound indie pop-rock drawing roughly equally from the ’80s and ’90s. The label text mentions Guided by Voices, Pavement, Boyracer, and The Clean (amongst a few others), though it’s to the band’s credit that they’re not carbon-copies or stylistic step-children. On the other hand, Slum Summer do register like the sorta group that would’ve played on the same bills as the names cited, to the point that if I’d been introduced to this as an unreleased recording from 1993, I would’ve believed it without reservation. CD and digital only. B+

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Tides: Music for Yoga and Meditation (Touchtheplants) This dates from 2013, back before Smith became a deservedly big name on the contempo ambient electronic scene, with the composer utilizing her signature Buchla Music Easel on nine pieces commissioned by her mother Sara Dailey Smith (to whom this vinyl reissue of the digital-only release is dedicated) for use while teaching her yoga classes (this edition expands the set’s title in mentioning its design for this practice). If your prior experience with sounds intended for yoga and meditative accompaniment is pretty dang low, hey, I can relate, but if you know Smith you likely anticipate that Tides will be far from any run of the mill physical-mental elevational enhancer. I do feel better when I listen to it. You just might feel the same. A-

Alister Spence featuring Satoko Fujii Orchestra Kobe, Imagine Meeting You Here (Alister Spence Music) Featuring the titular composition in five parts as conceived by Australian pianist-composer-improviser Spence, his piece is performed here by one of the numerous geographically based large bands under the leadership of Fujii; like Spence she’s a triple-threat whose skills are matched by a striking level of prolificacy. Altogether, this CD is an utter delight loaded with inspired writing that ranges from unforced eclecticism (with plenty of improv-based abstract sparks) to the recognizably big-bandlike. While there are many wonderful passages where the band takes it “out,” big portions are also accessibly jazzy, e.g. the horn movements in part four, briefly reminiscent of “Freedom Jazz Dance.” A

Pat Todd & the Rankoutsiders, “Took a Wrong Turn” b/w “It’s Over” (Wild Honey) For a long-ass time Todd was the singer for the Lazy Cowgirls, a band that helped to carry the torch for undiluted pre-HC punk and roll through the ebb and flow of all sorts of trends. Well, Todd’s tangibly rootsier but still punky post-Cowgirls outfit has been at it since ’06 and amassed quite a discography, with the 2LP reissue of debut The Outskirts of Your Heart and ’16’s Blood and Treasure, both on Hound Gawd!, receiving positive reviews in this column. If the Rankoutsiders’ MO is intriguing, and you’d like to get a more concise taste, this 45 is recommended, as it pairs a fine ripper-belter (amping up an acoustic ditty from their second disc) with a swell plunge into a nugget from the lips of Orbison. Quick and svelte. A-

Greg Ward & Rogue Parade, Stomping Off from Greenwood (Greenleaf Music) Upon listening to this debut release, it’s quickly ascertainable that the plaudits given to Chicagoan Ward for his talents on the alto sax are wholly deserving. But there’s a decided…I don’t want to say smoothness, as that might give the wrong impression, so let’s just say a lack of rawness in Ward’s playing; I do wish he’d let loose a little more aggressively, as his compositions are strong and he’s assembled a fine, distinctive lineup of two guitars (Matt Gold and Dave Miller), bass (Matt Ulery), and drums (Quin Kirchner). However, with time spent I kinda feel I’m making a mountain out of…not a molehill, but rather a personal preference in texture and temperament. Suffice it to say this is an impressive CD. Fusion lovers should investigate. B+

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