Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for February 2019, Part One

Part one of the TVD Record Store Club’s look at the new and reissued releases—and more—presently in stores for February, 2019. 

NEW RELEASE PICK: Xiu Xiu, Girl With a Basket of Fruit (Polyvinyl) It’s been 17 years of existence for Xiu Xiu with no lengthy gaps in activity, as this is the 11th album from the group formed by sole constant member Jamie Stewart, and what’s immediately impressive upon listening is the lack of creative fatigue. More to the point, Girl With a Basket of Fruit is an intense, at times in-your-face record, but unlike a lot of music of this temperament that ends up ringing hallow, Xiu Xiu’s latest (co-produced by member Angela Seo and Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier) is distinguished by its depth. Like a lot of experimental music, the LP’s contents can initially feel messy, but that’s just it; the record just feels messy. Art-rock with an abundance of emotion, of humanity, and maybe the best description that it’s just wonderfully poetic. A

REISSUE/ ARCHIVAL PICKS: Sun Ra, Monorails & Satellites: Works for Solo Piano Vols. 1, 2, 3 (Cosmic Myth) Like Duke Ellington, Sun Ra has often been underrated as a pianist, with the largeness and vividness of the Arkestra’s endurance somewhat obscuring his brilliance as a player, though excursions into smaller groups, duos and solo settings did offer up evidence; it’s just that they could be obscured by the vastness of the overall discography. This 2CD/ 3LP set, fully authorized by the Sun Ra estate, collects two LPs of the man alone at the keyboard, originally issued on Saturn, Vol. 1 from ’68 and the follow-up from the next year, and adds a third album of previously unreleased material. The playing is consistently intense but also compositionally rich, blending beauty moves and thunder throughout. A

Alex Chilton, From Memphis to New Orleans & Songs from Robin Hood Lane (Bar/None) If you’ve already burrowed deep into Chilton’s solo career, From Memphis to New Orleans offers no surprises, corralling material from the man’s ’80s comeback releases Feudalist Tarts, High Priest, the “No Sex” 12-inch, and Black Rain, but it is a solid overview of what the guy sounded like once he reemerged after his surly, boozy, wilderness period. Back in the day this era was regularly bagged on due to its relative togetherness, but I’ve always kinda dug it (as some of it was amongst the first solo Chilton I heard), and for casual fans who don’t need to own every album he ever did, this is a solid single LP overview this portion of Alex’s trajectory. I do miss “Tee Ni Nee Ni Noo/Tip on In,” though. A-

In the early ’90s, Chilton took an unexpected turn toward the interpretation of pop standards with the album Clichés. I was underwhelmed at the time, even as the spare setting, just the man and his guitar, kinda safeguarded against schmaltz. I’ve enjoyed it more with subsequent listens, though never totally fell in love with it, so I consider it a plus that Songs from Robin Hood Lane cherry-picks five tunes from the set and combines them with three Alex-sung cuts from Rough Trade’s ’91 Chet Baker tribute Imagination, credited to Medium Cool, which also featured No Wavers Adele Bertei and James White, but in total inside jazz mode, like they were recording for late ’80s Verve or something. Four unreleased tracks seem to derive from the same session. Something of a curio, but the chutzpah levels are high. B+

Billow Observatory, III: Chroma​/​Contour (Azure Vista) As the title illuminates, this is the third record (and the first I’ve heard) from the duo of Danish producer Jonas Munk and Michigander Jason Kolb. While it’s totally appropriate to assess their thing as electronic in nature, and with an emphasis on ambient drift and minimalist (don’t read that as Minimalist) repetition, this far from encapsulates the approach, in part because the duo occasionally utilize organic instrumentation; that sure sounds like a standard drumkit being played in the opening track “Serriform,” and guitar is even more prevalent, lending a touch of shoegaze to the proceedings. Melody figures into the equation as well, though this aspect isn’t overstated. In some ways this harkens back to the ’80s “cassette underground.” Cool. A-

Cherry Glazerr, Stuffed & Ready (Secretly Canadian) Based in Los Angeles, Cherry Glazerr is a three-piece fronted by vocalist-guitarist songwriter Clementine Creevy, and this is their third album after 2016’s Apocalipstick (LP number two for Secretly Canadian) and ’14’s Haxel Princess (which with a couple of EPs was released by Burger). The flat fact is that Cherry Glazerr’s sound is intrinsically linked to the Alterna-rockin’ ‘90s, but with a few important distinctions, most prominently that they don’t remind me of anybody in particular; Creevy isn’t growly or shouty, she’s an often pretty (and aptly tagged as pop) singer, and not angsty, though the songs have thematic weight. The ’90s connection comes via big roaring guitars and bouts of heaviness. It’s counterbalanced with production sheen, laid on thick. B+

Angel Bat Dawid, The Oracle (International Anthem) Available on cassette, the recording debut of clarinetist, vocalist and composer Angel Bat Dawid is, with one big exception, nothing but Angel Bat Dawid, collecting pieces created via overdubbing through her cell phone; it’s worth noting right off that without knowledge of her recording apparatus I would’ve assumed this was the byproduct of a typical studio environment. Dawid is part of the thriving contempo Chicago jazz scene, but much of what’s here transcends category while inhabiting soulful and spiritual territory. The big exception relates to the instance mentioned above, a 15-minute plunge into duo exchange with drummer Asher Simiso Gamedze that’s worth the price of admission alone, as Dawid is already a master on her instruments. A

Charlie Faye and the Fayettes, The Whole Shebang (Bigger Better More) The sound of this Austin-based girl-group soul-pop trio, consisting of Jewish-American Faye, Asian-American BettySoo, and African-American Akina Adderley (who happens to be Cannonball’s niece), is pleasant enough that you can cue it up in the car on a road trip with your great-grandma (which is fitting, as this appears to be CD-only). It’s also true that a high percentage of this shebang is deeply indebted to the existence of Carole King, but as the selections unwind Faye’s astute music fandom (digging deeper than the usual suspects) gets established. This means the landscape is varied, even dipping into some disco-era pop in “Night People.” Featuring Attractions drummer Pete Thomas and a guest spot from Commander Cody’s Bill Kirchen. B+

Hasuchka, A Different Forest (Sony Classical) Hasuchka is German pianist-composer Volker Bertelmann, known for a body of work wherein he utilizes prepared piano. However, his debut for Sony Classical is described as an album of “pure piano.” This represents a return to classical roots for an artist whose interaction with contemporary non-classical styles, and electronic music in particular, is well-established. A Different Forest is aptly described as an album of solo piano pieces, though there are subtle electronic elements in “Urban Forest” and more prominently in “Skating Through the Woods.” The setting of the title suggests the tranquil, and that atmosphere is certainly delivered, though the record’s not a sedative. There are in fact moments of intensity that avoid the classically grandiose. A-

Dave Harrington Group, Pure Imagination, No Country (Yeggs) Along with Nicolas Jarr, New York-based multi-instrumentalist Harrington was half of Darkside (don’t confuse them with the post-Spacemen 3 outfit The Darkside). But since 2013, Harington, whose main axe is guitar, has focused on his eponymous Group, with the attack multifaceted; there’s out-jazz, psych-rock, and elements of contempo electronic dance music, blended together in a way that is simultaneously rigorous and accessible. To expand, this record seems as likely to please attendees of summer jam-band festivals as it is partisans of avant-Downtown NYC goings-on. I’d also venture that if you’re equally into King Crimson (particularly the ’81-’84-era) and the output of Warp Records this baby will mosey right up your alley. A-

Dr. Timothy Leary, Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out (Real Gone) ’60s consciousness expander and LSD advocate Leary cut a record with the same title in ’66 for ESP Disk, but that one was pure spoken word, and while there’s a whole lot of jawing going on during this ’67 slab, originally issued by Mercury and initially intended as the soundtrack to a documentary that reportedly was never commercially released, there’s just as much music. More, even. Are there sitars? Goddam right there are sitars, the sitar playing is rampant, man. But a few brief moments in the journey rub up against musique concrète and a couple longer passages featuring dialogue exchanges are just loopy enough that I kinda wish they’d uncover and release the movie. “Re-Entry (Nirvana)” is a nice little instrumental arriving late on side two. B+

Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord, Harder on the Outside (Hot Cup) I’m familiar with guitarist Lundbom through the avant-country Merle Haggard cover band Bryan and the Haggards as led by Bryan Murray, who contributes here on balto! saxophone; that’s an alto sax with a baritone mouthpiece and a plastic reed. Playing it, Murray can sometimes sound like Eddie Harris’ pissed-off younger brother, but he more often connects like a descendent of the prime late-’60s firebreathers. But hey, this is Lundbom’s show (with this CD, now nine albums deep), and his versatility spans from a clean jazzy tone to moments reminiscent of John Scofield to distorted crunch. Altoist Justin Wood brings order and lyricism as bassist Moppa Elliot and drummer Dan Monaghan lay down intense and inventive structural foundations. A

Johnny Mathis, I Love My Lady (Real Gone) If you’re a vinyl aficionado of a certain age with a penchant for cheap secondhand wax, you’re surely no stranger to Mathis (especially if you haunt antique malls, goodwill shops and suburban thrift stores), but here’s one you haven’t flipped past, as it’s never been on vinyl before. And, well, it still hasn’t, as this release is CD-only. Outside of a 2017 complete Columbia albums boxset, I Love My Lady has apparently never seen physical release period. Why the hubbub? Well, this pairs Mathis with the Chic production duo of Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards circa 1980, with the session promptly shelved. Although not my thing really, the man’s love-crooning is undiminished, and the production is inventive. That means heads up to fans of late-disco era pop. B

Pale Lips, After Dark (Gods Candy – Spaghetty Town – Alien Snatch! – Waterslide) The second album from Montreal’s Pale Lips, which is guitarist Ilona Szabo, bassist Jamie Radu, drummer Lynn Poulin, and vocalist Jackie Blenkarn, blends power pop, bubblegum, ’50s R&R (think Chuck), flashes of Sonics-style stomp (heard on early highlight “I’m a Witch”), and guitars grouchy enough to stir up the Ramones fan in all of us (as during another standout “The Kids”). As is the norm for this sorta garage-based style, the influences aren’t just undisguised, they’re flaunted, but it’s a big point in their favor that they don’t go overboard with the attitude (which can work, but only in short doses), instead focusing more on writing songs that while surely familiar are inspired enough to steer far clear of retread territory. A-

Franck Vigroux, “Théorème” (DAC) Although he’s collaborated with some avant-garde heavy hitters like guitarist Elliott Sharp and harpist Zeena Parkins, I’m mainly familiar with his work with the late Mika Vainio (of Pan Sonic). If you dig electronic sounds but don’t know Vigroux, the four tracks on this trim but satisfying EP would serve as a fine introduction. Vigroux can kick up quite a racket, but this one is a solid display of the man’s range, from the rhythmically large (though not dancy) “Carré” to the ominous corroded drift of “VX90” (which does get rather nasty) to the more technoid blip, glitch, stutter, and sustained tones (with a hint of Industrial) of “TT” to the unperturbed reverberations, cascades, and repetitions of “Nord.” Hopefully this is just a taste of something longer on the horizon. A-

Andrew Wasylyk, The Paralian (Athens of the North) If you know The Hazey Janes and Idlewild you know Andrew Wasylyk, though in those outfits he goes by Andrew Mitchell. This is his third full-length, and as on its predecessor Themes for Buildings and Spaces from 2017, he foregoes singing here. There is one track with vocals, and in an interesting twist, while I much preferred the instrumental material on his prior record to the songs with voice from 2015 debut Soroky, I consider the vocal track here (“Adrift Below a Constellation”) to be one of the record’s standouts. The Paralian derives from a residency at the arts centre and historic house, Hospitalfield, Arbroath, Scotland with the opportunity to utilize the site’s restored 19th century Erard Grecian harp; parts of the disc remind me of Sufjan Stevens circa Illinois. B+

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