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

Part two 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.

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: Caetano Veloso, S/T (Irene), S/T (A Little More Blue) & Araçá Azul (Lilith) When it comes to Tropicália, vocalist, guitarist, composer, writer, and activist Caetano Veloso is one of the movement’s heavyweights (alongside Os Mutantes, Tom Zé, Gilberto Gil, and Gal Costa). Over the decades, he’s also been quite prolific, but newbies are advised to start early in the discography and work forward as far as personal desire dictates. These three LPs from Lilith, all on clear vinyl, don’t cover all the bases, as his first two and the essential Tropicália ou Panis et Circencis LP (which featured Veloso and all of the abovementioned names) are absent, but for those eager to plunge in, their availability is an irrefutably sweet development.

I’ve noticed a few folks ranking his second eponymous record, that’d be Irene from ’69, somewhat lower than those that surround it, but I disagree rather strongly. Others have rated it as his very best, and I don’t know about that either, though it’s certainly not far from the top. And given that it was made while Veloso was under house arrest (he and Gilberto Gil recorded the vocals and acoustic guitar, while arranger-producer Rogério Duprat integrated everything else separately), the sense of achievement rises. Everything unwinds at a high level, with “Marinheiro Só” (featuring a chorus of children) just one of the highlights. A-

However, his next album, ’71’s also self-titled A Little More Blue, recorded in England in government-imposed exile, registers as slightly greater and is substantially different in execution. Missing are the threads of psychedelia from Irene, replaced with a folky approach and a heavy mood, understandably so, as he was missing his homeland. The album has never hit me as a downer, though. Save for closer “Asa Branca,” the lyrics are all in English, and if not as bold a Tropicália experience, there’re still moments of strangeness, e.g. the wordless vocals in “Maria Bethânia” and “Asa Branca.” A

But if it’s weirdness you’re looking for, then step right up to Araçá Azul, Velsoso’s highly divisive follow-up hot on the heels of his widely popular and quite accessible Transa. Described as his most experimental LP, much of Araçá Azul is as sparse as it is esoteric, but “De Cara/Eu Quero Essa Mulher” is a gnarly rocker (with flashes of Beefheart), and if the whole can take a few spins to really take hold, “Julia/Moreno” is immediately reminiscent of Veloso’s most approachable earlier stuff. A-

Duck Baker, Spinning Song: Duck Baker Plays the Music of Herbie Nichols (Triple Point) Les Blues Du Richmond, Tompkins Square’s archival collection of Baker’s ’70s demos and outtakes, ranked amongst my favorite archival releases of 2018, and now here’s this welcome and first time on vinyl reissue of a superb set from ’96 that was executive produced by NYC saxophonist extraordinaire John Zorn and originally released on CD via Avant (which was essentially the precursor to Zorn’s still-extant Tzadik label). As a showcase for Baker’s ability as an expansive fingerpicker, Spinning Song is one of his best that I’ve heard, and it comes with the added dimension of spotlighting one of the great undersung pianist-composers in the history of jazz.

Herbie Nichols’ most prominent credit probably remains writing “Serenade,” which with lyrics added became a signature tune for Billie Holiday, “Lady Sings the Blues.” He only managed four releases in his lifetime (he died of leukemia in 1963 at age 44), three for Blue Note (collected with additional tracks and alternates in The Complete Blue Note Recordings as a 5LP/ 3CD set from Mosaic and later a 3CD set from Blue Note proper, both OOP but available digitally and to stream) and a final effort for Bethlehem, Love Gloom, Cash, Love (aka Out of the Shadow aka The Bethlehem Years, which is pretty easy to find/ hear), but his output, which is strikingly unique without drifting into the idiosyncratic, has gradually grown in stature posthumously and remains an essential destination for those looking to get serious with jazz.

But as an introduction to Nichols, Spinning Song is not really the place to start, as Baker rearranges and transforms while paying tribute. If you love Baker and don’t know this release, jumping right in is advisable, and ditto for Nichols fans, as the guitarist is stellar and in consistently, typically engaging form throughout (and completely solo), evincing an obvious love of Nichols’ music and truly respecting his achievement through an avoidance of imitation as reverence. Of course, due to the instrument featured he could’ve played things straight without much of a prob, but that’s just not Baker’s style. As Nichols’ tributes go, this sits nicely next to Change of Season, the ’85 Soul Note release from Misha Mengelberg, Steve Lacy, George Lewis, Arjen Gorter, and Han Bennink. A

Flibbertigibbet, Whistling Jig to the Moon (Sommor) After the breakup of the English-Irish outfit Mellow Candle, members Alison Williams and David Williams landed in South Africa, where in Johannesburg they hooked up with Joanna Dudding and Barrie Glenn. The results have been unsurprisingly and fittingly compared to the Williams’ prior endeavor, plus Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, and Spriguns of Tolgus. If you’re familiar with and dig that last name (or are a Mellow Candle fan) then it’s likely you at least know about this record; it came out on CD in the ’90s via Kissing Spell, but this appears to be the first widely available/fully legit wax reissue. Newcomers to the style should at least dip a toe in the abovementioned names as a test of uh, fortitude, as this is an unabashedly flutey and lilting ride. B+

Gnod (R&D), R&D Vol. 3 (Sound of Cobra) With their first physical artifact (the self-released CDR Abstehen Der Ohren) emerging in 2007, the highly prolific Salford, UK-based Gnod has shifted in size and undertaken numerous collabs (including White Hills, Faust, and This Heat’s Charles Hayward) since. The parenthetical here relates to a stripping back of Gnod’s decidedly post-industrial thing to co-founders Paddy Shine and Chris Haslam, though Seba and Bruno OvO were invited to contribute drums and percussion as Stefania OvO lent voice. Ranging from forebodingly droning and atmospheric to intensely rhythmic (think tribal rather than clubby) to full-on noise racket, these four side-long suites provide a powerful soundtrack for railing against a generally fucked state of contemporary global affairs. A-

Hidden Land, Perspectives (Volkoren) Hidden Land are Californian Myles O’Mainnian and Stockholmer Johan Lager, and with additional help they offer indie chamber ambience with brightness and grandness that’s utterly contempo as it leans to the Scandinavian side of the equation. Much of this connects as sweeping existentially achy modern soundtrack stuff, though as this appears to be a long-playing debut, it’s unclear if Hidden Land have actually done any scoring. If not, they probably should. I will say that second cut “Remind Me” felt like an error in sequencing (at least), so bold was its methodic climb in emotionalism. Others more amenable to this type of feelings-gush may find it more to their liking. I definitely preferred the more experimental edge (in a modest sense) that came directly afterward. B

J.D. Hangover, S/T (Hound Gawd!) Punk blues isn’t exactly in short supply, but this debut 6-song mini-LP from Stiv Cantarelli and Roberto Villa (both formerly of Stiv Cantarelli & The Silent Strangers) offers a fairly distinct take on the hybrid that’s aptly described by the label as descended from No Wave. To get a little more specific, J.D. Hangover blend a swampiness reminiscent of The Scientists, incessant drum machine rhythmic simplicity that recalls Suicide, apocalyptic slide guitar suggesting the Gun Club and an overall booze-soaked temperament, to a rewarding result. What’s cool is that the thudding aura of turpitude, if undeniably large, is never overstated; I never get the sense that Cantarelli and Villa are straining to impress me, and so the attitudinal depths on this short slab rise pretty dang high. A-

Jodi, Pop Espontáneo (Out-Sider) Back in 2016 the Spanish Guerssen label, through their Out-Sider imprint, reissued Pops de Vanguardia, the first album from the Paraguayan brother duo of Joern and Dirk Wenger. Originally released in 1971, Pops de Vanguardia delivered a good time, but after a few spins I’m enjoying this collection of recordings rescued from Joern’s basement (circa ’69-’75) even more. Part of the appeal of the debut was the merger of home studio low fidelity and high levels of post-Beatles and Beach Boys ambition, but this hits like a wild and weird corralling of unrealized singles recalling glam rock, library music, off-kilter basement disco-pop, fuzzy garage stomps, various strains of psychedelia, and more. Consider Jodi a Paraguayan antecedent of R. Stevie Moore and Ariel Pink. A-

Little People, Landloper (Future Archive) Little People is the electronic project of Londoner Laurent Clerc, though he spent a year on Portland, OR in the preparation of Landloper, his third full-length and first since We Are But Hunks of Wood in 2012. A lot of what’s here can be pegged as glitchy, but it’s glitchy-poppy and there’re also occasional currents of trip-hop and more substantially a tendency toward the dancy with R&B-ish femme vocals from Rahel Debebe-Dessalegne and Riva Devito. I can’t deny that a handful of ingredients in Clerc’s recipe are outside my typical listening diet, but he combines them in measurements the keep any one flavor from dominating the proceedings. I could’ve used more strings however, as the quartet arrangement in “Skies Turn Blue” is one of the album’s highlights. B+

Minx / Zimmerman, S/T (Espacial Discos) Initially, this reissue (by another subsidiary of the Guerssen label) is a lesson in not getting too excited over the references and namedrops offered in promo sheets; in this case, it was the mentions of homemade cassette recordings and influences ranging from avant-garde music to John Foxx to Eno to Fad Gadget to Devo. But hey, after my ass settled the fuck back down this Dutch synth-wave duo’s short LP proved to be a grower. It’s said they broke up due to friction over the crafting of a suitably pop single, but opener “Song for Alice” is poppy enough for me. The song title “Dreams that Money Can Buy” legitimizes the avant-garde influence. Original copies have changed hands for $100 or more, so if you’re a manic for synth-wave, this is a cost-effective alternative. B+

Praises, In This Year: Ten of Swords (Hand Drawn Dracula) This is the side project of Canadian Jesse Crowe, who along with Josh Korody comprises the duo Beliefs. Not having heard the duo, I can’t draw any comparisons from that act and this, but I can remark with assurance that Praises is a hearty and wholly modern combination of electronics, acoustic instrumentation (prominently, piano), dark atmospherics, ragged abrasion that occasionally flirts with noise, and stressed and bent songwriting with a pop core. I’d go as far as to call a significant portion of this post-Industrial (though non-dance) but with the distinction that it’s difficult to discern how much the genre is a primary (or even a secondary) influence. That’s to Crowe’s credit. This took a little while, but once it grabbed hold it didn’t let go. B+

S. Araw Trio XIII, Activated Clown (NNA Tapes) As the name of this outfit might tip you off, through the input of one Cameron Stallones, this is related to the prolific and psychedelically inclined Sun Araw. Related to but not the same thing; Stallones, who plays Fender Rhodes, Yamaha DX7 and guitar here, is joined by Tomo Jacobson on Ribbon Controller and Yamaha TQ5 and Jon Leland on Vdrum-kit and percussion for two long tracks (side A: 21:08, Side B: 31:13) recorded live in Braga, Portugal and available only via cassette and digital. Had I not been told, I’d have had no idea this was a live document (it came to life as part of a residency at the cultural center GNRation), and while the music can initially feel as loose as Zoogz’s clams, a few listens underscore the trio’s sense of abstract togetherness. A-

Bubbha Thomas & the Lightmen, Country Fried Chicken (Now-Again) Of Now-Again’s prior Lightmen reissues, I’ve soaked up and reviewed for this column Free As You Wanna Be, their debut effort from 1970 that was something of a spiritual jazz-R&B merger. I dug but was not over the moon for the combo. Jumping over two albums to 1975, drummer Thomas is now the leader of the band and the spiritual side has largely disappeared, though jazziness remains in union with dominant funk. The results are a mixed bag, but the up-tempo tracks, of which there are many across this 2LP/ 2CD expansion, have a way of winning me over, in part through lively soloing and assorted aspects that underline this as a regional release. Still, major problems nag, like too much goddamned flute. B-

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