Graded on a Curve: New in Stores for February 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 February, 2019. Part one is here and part two is here.

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: X, Los Angeles (Fat Possum) The first full-length and one of the cornerstone LPs in LA punk, its music hasn’t aged a bit as it provides a glorious barrage of lessons on how to seamlessly integrate aspects of earlier root forms into the punk equation without weakening or betraying a thing. There are sharp but exquisite harmonies, elements from C&W, even more from rockabilly and early R&R, an expansion of the instrumental landscape to include keyboards, and even a brief plunge into the indigenous LA sound from a generation prior through a wonderful transformation of The Doors’ “Soul Kitchen.” Billy Zoom’s guitar is suitably crunchy, the rhythmic foundation is hefty but lithe, and I can’t think of a better male-female rock vocal duo than John Doe and Exene. This is it. A+

Algebra Mothers, “Strawberry Cheesecake” b/w “Modern Noise” 7” (Third Man) Back in September, I gave a pick of the week and a grade of B+ to A-Moms = Algebra Mothers, Third Man’s archival collection of previously unissued material by these Detroit punks, noting that a repress of this 45, their sole prior released output, was forthcoming. Well, here it is. In September I called this baby superb, but that was based on memory. After getting reacquainted, I stand by that statement, but will confess that it’s not quite the double-sided monster that I recalled. I also said it was arty-wavy, and I really stand by that, and will elaborate that it’s a bit like Devo meets the Voidoids, though don’t go thinking it maximizes that description. Bottom line, this is an affordable way to own a worthwhile punk-era obscurity. A-

Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry, Sing (Smithsonian-Folkways) Guitarist McGhee and harmonica ace Terry (usually credited the other way around) recorded a ton, predominantly because their folk-blues recipe had just the right measurements of authenticity and accessibility. I haven’t heard all their LPs (not even close), but I haven’t heard a flat-out bad one, though obviously some are better than others (a few have struck me as uninspired, understandable given the prolificacy). This, their first for Folkways from ’58 with drummer Gene Moore on board, is one of the best. Cut not long after the duo were co-leading an R&B band that knocked out sides for a variety of labels, traces of this activity can still be heard, with a few tunes bringing Jimmy Reed to mind and “Old Jabo” nearer to Bo Diddley than John Hurt. A-

Dave Van Ronk, Ballads, Blues and a Spiritual (Smithsonian-Folkways) Van Ronk is one of the indispensable figures in the ’60s NYC folk scene, and on his first album from ’59 he bursts forth with a booming, raw voice, fleet fingers and nary a trace of the tentative. Although the man’s rep has endured, his popularity was always limited, partly because he was more of a blues singer and songster than a protest folkie (though a solid lefty all the way). His singing style, gravelly and clearly derived from (some have said downright imitative of) African-American blues singers, was once considered controversial, but it steers far clear of minstrelsy and has held up well, mainly because of conviction; he felt it was the natural (and proper) way to tackle the material (and so, I disagree that he’s mimicking). A-

Buck Gooter, Finer Thorns (Ramp Local) Having released 18 albums in 14 years, Harrisonburg, VA two-piece Buck Gooter are impressively keeping the quality and the energy up as the releases accrue. This level of productivity suggests maybe you’re Robert Pollard, possibly a jazzbo, or dealing some level of abstraction, but Terry Turtle and Billy Brat are deeply invested in song construction, and reliably heavy with the aggro. They continue to remind me of something that might’ve reared up from the late ’80s US noise-rock underground, though not anything specific; their self-categorization as a “primal industrial blues band” places them in a zone with few peers, but in terms of the first genre in that description this is closer to a mail-ordered homemade cassette than an item from the Wax Trax catalog. That’s sweet. A-

Jon Camp, Headwinds and Tailwinds (Self-released) Camp is a fingerstyle guitarist from Washington DC whose 2016 LP Stifled Hair-Trigger served as my intro to his work. I liked that LP, but mildly so, as its progressions into what I described at the time as post-rock, while not without interest, lessened the cumulative effect. Well, his follow-up offers a marked improvement to my ear while retaining elements, per the artist, of psychedelia, country and drone. Instruments in addition to guitar include drums and percussion, keyboards and organ, autoharp, Moog, accordion, glockenspiel and more (often played by Camp), but the two that stand out the most (in addition to the guitar) are pedal steel and cello. Altogether a fine turn of events, with sleeve art by Crystal Hurt and two digital-only bonus tracks. A-

Chest High Fires, Honeymoon (Stoned Ruin) The debut by this married duo came out last fall, but I just got properly acquainted with it over the last few weeks, and as they have a record release party scheduled for this Sunday in NYC at Baby’s All Right, it warrants a belated mention. This is to say the record’s very good; described on their webpage as descended from Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name and the duo of Kristofferson and Coolidge, Jeff Berrall (Caveman, xElefant) and Carrie Ashley Hill cut the album on their honeymoon with a sturdy crew assembled through an open invite to join them in Woodridge, NY. They came up with a blend of Americana, country-rock and indie that’s proving to be a real grower. There’s even some sunshiny vox that brought to mind the Essex Green. Neat! A-

Cochemea, All My Relations (Daptone) Saxophonist Cochemea is a Dap-King who’s played with Amy Winehouse, Budos Band, Antibalas, Beck, David Byrne, Archie Shepp, and The Roots. Given this background, it makes sense that his prior solo LP The Electric Sound of Johnny Arrow is described as being soulful, funky, and Afro-Latin jazzy, but his new one is considerably nearer to a spiritual jazz affair, and not in the way you might expect, as it finds him exploring his Yaqui and Mescalero Apache Indian ancestry (along with Moroccan Gnawa Music, which is the inspiration for the track “Al-Mu’Tasim”). What it shares with a lot of spiritually-minded stuff is a tendency for expansiveness over edge plus a few occasions where he travels into pop-jazz territory. The whole however, is often interesting. B

Half Japanese, Invincible (Fire) That Half Japanese, led as ever by Jad Fair, continues to release albums of high quality this deep into their existence, with long-steady membership and increasing regularity (this is the fourth album in as many years) is remarkable, though it occurs to me that I’ve mentioned this more than once (twice, even). So, let’s change things up. To take a cue from Fire’s writing on this record, Jad Fair has been strikingly consistent in his themes across the decades, and with Invincible he’s in no danger of getting stale. In short, love and monsters are the topics of this true musical auteur, and if some may tire of the repetition, with “Return of the Vampire” sorta a sequel to “Vampire” from Hot (cut by the same band), it all kinda connects with me the way the late westerns of Howard Hawks do. A-

Emilie Khan, Outro (Secret City) Formerly known as Emilie & Ogden with a 2015 album 10 000 released via that moniker, the Montreal harpist is stepping out under her own name with a nine-song collection that at times exudes a lushness that’s a bit like floating on a cloud on a crisp sunny afternoon. If you’re worried about things getting insubstantial, that’s not really a problem, as Khan’s approach is decidedly pop in orientation (self-described as indie pop, though it doesn’t fit the “classic” sense of the term). I’ll confess that her writing, which can span from wispy to buoyant to sassy, and while well-assessed as accomplished, never fully pulls my chain, and the electronic elements add value but only moderately so. Her harp is present and pleasant, but I was wanting more, as in standout closer “Seeking.” B-

King Midas Sound, Solitude (Cosmo Rhythmatic) Back in 2015, this electronic outfit released Editions 1, a collaboration with noted genre cohort Fennesz on Ninja Tune; prior, they issued a pair of full-lengths on Hyperdub. The name of that label is indicative of their earlier sound, which was based in reggae. Here, stripped down to the original duo of Roger Robinson and Kevin Martin, the scenario has shifted into a “meditation on loss,” with the sense of melancholy thick as a $30 steak across the 2LP’s hour-long runtime. Through deep-toned recitations, poet Robinson conjures characters, situations and meditations that when combined with Martin’s bleak and atmospheric settings create environments that are cinematic, and more specifically dystopian at times, but in a thoroughly non-trite way. A-

R. Stevie Moore, Afterlife (Bar/None) Productivity is a recurring theme this week. It’s a quality that’s a major point of emphasis in any decent synopsis of Moore’s long career, as he was one of the original home-recording lo-fi guys, hitting the scene at roughly the same time as Half Japanese (see above). Akin to Jad Fair, he has a talent for writing pop nuggets, but like Jad, it’s an ability that can sometimes take a back set to his rep as an eccentric (unsurprisingly, the two have collaborated). This LP is being promoted as distinct from Moore’s general modus operandi, as it’s the byproduct of a big-studio process that’s spanned 15 years and five states, though the polish has overtaken neither the sizeable personality nor the weirdness (see “What Do I Do with the Rest of My Life?”). These songs are quite sharp overall. A-

TMBOY, Steam (Self-released) TMBOY are the Brooklyn duo of vocalist-songwriter Sarah Aument and producer-vibraphone player Will Shore. On their first full-length and vinyl debut (there’s a digital EP from 2015) they deliver electronic pop that can be accurately tagged as danceable (in a house and techno sorta way) but still effectively song-driven and successful in large part through Aument’s strength and confidence as a singer. They mention that their stuff is “unusually organic” for this sort of electronic undertaking, and I don’t disagree, as the instrumentation is consistently warm and non-formulaic (also, the vibes are largely not recognizable as such), but the real breakthrough comes via Aument’s introspective urgency, which never plummets into a big soppy puddle of emo. A nice surprise. B+

Vandoliers, Forever (Bloodshot) This is third album from this Dallas-Ft. Worth genre-blending six-piece and the first I’ve heard. The songs derive from the raw-throated Joshua Fleming, who also adds guitar to an equation that’s been tagged as roots-based punk rock. The roots come through loud and clear while the punk is situated in loud, distorted, ringing guitars. At times, this can give-off the aroma of cow-punk (fiddle is prominent), but the music here is generally more accomplished than was the norm for that style. There’s also a whole lot of Tex-Mex horns that could easily put you in a Calexico frame of mind, though I’m afraid the Vandoliers aren’t in the same league, mainly because Fleming’s songs too often succumb to heartfelt, hard-bitten tropes, though it’s never in doubt that he means it. B-

Witchers Creed, Awakened from the Tomb… (Ripple) The first sound heard on four-piece Witchers Creed’s full-length debut (after two EPs) is a cowbell, but don’t go thinking of Mountain or Nazareth. This is a different strain of heavy, closer in spirit to Sabbath (indeed, the opening track is titled “Witchers Creed,” which if you’re a Sab fan will tell you something), the NWOBHM (think Witchfinder General) and some early Doomsters. Formed in Katrineholm, Sweden in 2016 after prior outfit Illusion lost a member, Witchers Creed aren’t yet three years out of high school, but their cohesiveness as a unit is impressive, as is their ability to avoid sounding like clones. The songs are solid enough and sound like the cumulative result of youthful energies, which is endearing, and the vocals didn’t annoy me once. Not one time. B+

Nate Wooley, Columbia Icefield (Northern Spy) This CD features Wooley on amplified trumpet, Mary Halvorson on guitar, Susan Alcorn on pedal steel, and Ryan Sawyer on drums and vocals. What they create is directly related to the Pacific-Northwest-bred (but currently Brooklyn-based) Wooley’s reckoning with the titular glacial structure, the largest icefield in the Rocky Mountains, which feeds directly into the Colorado River. Across three pieces, two roughly 20 minutes in length and one just short of 14, there’s a tangible aura of jazz, particularly in Wooley’s playing at the start of “Seven in the Woods,” but also in a more avant-abstract manner through the sweet group tangles that occur in the first track “Lionel Trilling.” Passages of atmospheric beauty are also abundant. A magnificent thing. A

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