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

NEW RELEASE PICKS: Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves, S/T (Free Dirt) The debut of this duo, with de Groot playing clawhammer banjo and Hargreaves bowing the fiddle, coheres into a powerful instrumental statement with numerous vocals turns that dives deep into the old-time style and comes up with something wonderfully fresh. The combined acumen comes from experience, with de Groot a member of Molsky’s Mountain Drifters and her own groups The Goodbye Girls and Oh My Darling, and Hargreaves backing such august names as Gillian Welch and Laurie Lewis, playing on the latter’s Grammy-nominated The Hazel and Alice Sessions, and releasing her own debut Started Out to Ramble at age 14. The freshness of this LP comes in part through their inspired, unusual choice of material.

It’s not an attempt to one-up folks into old-time stuff. For one thing, they dig into “Willie Moore,” a song well-known from The Anthology of American Folk Music (through the version by Dick Burnett and Leonard Rutherford). No, the objective is to lessen the divide between the world that spawned the music we now refer to as old-time and the cultural climate of the present day. They do so by tackling the work of black guitar-fiddle duo Nathan Frazier and Frank Patterson, digging into “Farewell Whiskey” by John Hatcher, “the avant-garde fiddler of 1930s Mississippi,” dishing the trad tune “I Don’t Want to Get Married” (with lyrics by Edna Poplin), and shedding light on sexual assault of women in prison with a reading of Alice Gerrard’s “Beaufort County Jail” that reminds me of Dock Boggs. And more. Top-flight. A

REISSUE/ARCHIVAL PICKS: June Chikuma, Les Archives (Freedom to Spend) This is a “reinvented” and retitled edition of composer Chikuma’s Divertimento LP, which was originally released in 1986 on Toru Hatano’s Picture Label. The transformation largely centers on a total sleeve redesign and an adjustment in first name; in ’86 she went by Atsushi Chikuma. The sequencing of Divertimento is essentially retained, though for the close of side one there is the previously unreleased “Mujo to Ifukoto” from the same sessions. Giving video game ambience a methodical cut-and-paste treatment, the effect is not so much disorienting but rather a precise scramble of psychedelia. Along with another unreleased cut offered on a bonus 45 with the record’s vinyl edition, “Mujo to Ifukoto” is a considerable boon.

Speaking of video games, Chikuma is maybe best-known for her soundtracks to Nintendo’s Bomberman franchise, though she’s also composed for film and TV. The first Bomberman game appeared in ’83, three years prior to what is now Les Archives, but while game sounds are tangible, this record is onto something more, stemming from a one-person show that utilized a KORG SDD-3000 digital delay, drum machines and samplers. This presents a sort of best-of-all-possible-outcomes scenario. While I’ve liked some of the vid game soundtracks I’ve heard, they’ve never really attained repeat listening potential. In branching out, with inspirations including Satie, Mozart, and Paul Hindemith and modes ranging from hurky-jerky dance action to a piece for string-quartet, the likelihood of return listens here is assured. A

Beat Circus, These Wicked Things (Innova) The first release in a decade (and fourth overall) from this Boston-based outfit led by vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and composer Brian Carpenter completes his “Weird American Gothic” trilogy. The record is stuffed with exceptional playing from the eight-piece core band plus a load of worthy guests as they conjure a sunbaked neo-noir vibe, with the story taking place way down south close to the border. That so much of the LP goes down so well hurdles beyond impressive and heads toward miraculous, as Beat Circus embrace the familiar aspects of this style with fervor; it’s like it’s ’92 and I’m watching a VHS rental starring Billy Zane and a suitcase full of bloody money. Those were the days. Featuring cover art and an 18-page graphic novelette by Danijel Zezelj.  B+

The Campfire Flies, Sparks Like Tiny Stars (OverPop) Featuring John and Toni Baumgartner and Ed Seifert of Speed The Plough, Deena Shoshkes and Jon Fried of The Cucumbers, and Matt Davis of The Thousand Pities, The Campfire Flies are effectively a New Jersey supergroup. Everyone brings songs and sings, with harmony an integral component in the overall thrust. If you’re thinking of something in the zone of Hoboken pop, well, that’s not really the deal. The flute and strum of opener “If Your Eyes Are Closed” briefly conjured thoughts of Poi Dog Pondering, but then I read someone else’s suggestion of Buddy Holly meets Fairport Convention and I liked that a hell of a lot better. Overall, this CD reminds me a bit of something Rounder Records might’ve snuck out in the late ’80s. All the pleasantness holds up. A-

The Claim, Boomy Tella (A Turntable Friend) Those who love ’80s Brit indie pop might already be hep to The Claim. However, it’s just as likely that fans of the style lack knowledge of this Medway outfit. If that’s you, then get ready for a treat. Much nearer to The Dentists of the Medway scene than to the work of Billy Childish (though the man did design a cover for The Claim’s 1990 “Birth of a Teenager” 45), Boomy Tella came out in ’88, the band’s second full-length after a debut and follow-up mini-LP, both from ’86. Influenced by the likes of The Jam, influential on early Blur, and contemporaneously similar to The Smiths, this album’s a grower that rises into a minor gem. I’m going to guess that more than 300 people are going to want vinyl copies of this, so if your fancy is struck don’t procrastinate. A-

E.T. Explore Me, Shine (Voodoo Rhythm) From Haarlem, Netherlands, this trio has been at it for 17 years and are just getting around to dishing their first full-length, though they do have prior recordings out, mostly on 7-inch vinyl. This is my introduction to their output. Given what I’ve heard from Voodoo Rhythm (based in neighboring Switzerland), which is admittedly not that much, I’d say the sound fits pretty snuggly into the label’s overall scheme. Emanating from a garage on the weird side of town, E.T. Explore Me stand out a bit through the prominent use of organ. Described as psychedelic punk, they secrete a loose, trashy vibe. Silver Apples also gets mentioned, and I can hear it, but I do wish they’d gone a little deeper in that direction. Still, across 37 minutes this consistently holds interest. B+

Gentleman Jesse & His Men, “Bryan” b/w “Hate To See You Stay” (Wild Honey) Gentlemen Jesse is known for his dedication to power-pop, though he also engaged in punkier activities as a member of the Carbonas. Back in 2012 at this very website I spilled some enthusiasm for his Leaving Atlanta LP, and then began waiting patiently for the follow-up. What I got was bupkis, and after seven years I’ll admit to losing track of the guy. That means this single’s arrival cheered me a whole fucking lot, even though both songs date from the Leaving Atlanta sessions (they’re not on the album). It left me so chuffed I couldn’t resist giving this single a write-up, even though it’s only available at the garage-focused Fuzzville Festival in Spain March 22-24. I imagine some copies will end up in stores, though. A-

The Jasmine Minks, “Step by Step” b/w “Gravity” (A Turntable Friend) The Jasmine Minks were the first band signed to Alan McGee’s Creation label. This was circa 1983, when indie pop was just getting started. The Minks cut a bunch of quality stuff through the ’80s, and while they are well-remembered (five years back, Cherry Red issued the 2CD retrospective Cut Me Deep – The Anthology 1984 – 2014), whenever I’ve played their stuff the feeling has crept into my mind that they should’ve achieved greater success. Well, they’ve been back at it for a good while now, with the lineup almost the same as way back when, and this 45 finds them in solid form. Billed as a double A-side, “Gravity” is an appealing bit of business, though it’s the catchy and chiming yet driving “Step by Step” that’s the winner here. B+

Ewa Justka, “You Are Repeating Yourself Indeed” (Inner Surface) Justka, who is Polish, dishes out a strain of hard techno that’s informed by experimentation, noise, and power electronics, and also builds instruments through her company Optotronics. We’re talking synths, effects, and sequencers. Basically, Justka’s not fucking around. But power electronics? Well, I’m not picking up vibes quite at that level of anti-social extremity (though I haven’t heard her other stuff), and right about now, that’s OK. Also OK is the relentless club-thunder that begins in “Jelly Tits Everywhere” (there was no way I was not going to mention that title) and continues through two versions of the title track. In a sly move, the KRTM remix is sequenced first. I’m going to guess that some clubbers will consider all this a bit much. A- (Out 3/25)

Kinloch Nelson, Partly on Time : Recordings 1968-1970 (Tompkins Square) Guitarist Nelson came to the attention of Tompkins Square through Duck Baker, whose Les Blues Du Richmond : Demos & Outtakes, 1973-1979 was released by the label last year (and was one of my picks for best of 2019). When Duck Baker says he knows a guitarist worth your time, the sensible thing to do is listen. If you don’t know Duck and are hip to Tompkins Square, you might be thinking of a possible American Primitive discovery a la Don Bikoff, but although there are a few spots where it’s apparent that Nelson (and his recording partner here, Carter Redd) were cognizant of Vanguard-era Fahey, this is mostly pretty and contemplative folk stuff, with a consistency that explains why John Phillips’ interest was sparked. A-

Obsidian Sea, Strangers (Ripple) In deepening their roster, this doom-sludge metal-hard rock label’s increasing global reach is impressive. Doing so raises the worthiness of the label’s output and reinforces the style’s perseverance. Ripple’s latest unveiling is this cool album from a trio based in Sofia, Bulgaria. Now, if you’re thinking this geographical searching results in recordings with distinct regional traits, that’s not really the case. Obsidian Sea sing in English and had somebody told me they were from Des Moines, I probably would’ve believed them without hesitation. And I would’ve thought Iowa was flush with doomy atmospheres propelled by sharp songwriting with mild proggy inclinations (nothing too intricate, though) that don’t interfere with the rocking thrust. Lots of good soloing and appealing vox. B+

Leroy Jodie Pierson, Rusty Nail (Omnivore) My experience with Nighthawk Records goes back to my days as a teenage blues nut, but until this CD reissue, I’d not heard this entry in the discography, the debut of the label’s founder, who sings and plays guitar. That’s ‘not heard’ as in didn’t know about, not that I was avoiding it because I was sure it would suck. But had I known, I would’ve likely considered it a dicey proposition, with it being a record by a fellow blues nut released on his own label and all. Listening to this 30th anniversary edition reveals Pierson as a refreshingly non-hacky guitarist and his trio, featuring Russell Horneyer on bass and Geoffrey Sietz on drums and fiddle, tasteful without faltering into the overly reverential. The ten bonus cuts expand the lineup and music’s range quite a bit. B+

Ritual Howls, Rendered Armor (Felte) “Twangy industrial-rock” is the name of this Detroit trio’s game. They have three records out, and while I don’t think I need that much of this sorta sound in my life, here it goes down okay. It’s a decidedly ’80s experience, one that in the wrong hands could plummet into sheer ridiculousness, the kinda thing proffered by pale dudes who’d choose to perform in duster coats as dry ice enhances the spectacle. That’s not Ritual Howls, though. Also, astonishingly, there’s a dancefloor element to the equation that doesn’t foul things up. The PR copy I read seems to be deliberately not mentioning that Paul Bancell’s vocals are, shall we say, similar to someone else’s, but as a reviewer, I feel I’d be remiss in not bringing it up. And so: Peter Murphy. This is not a bad thing. B+

Henry Townsend and Roosevelt Sykes, Blues Piano and Guitar (Omnivore) Part of the reason Leroy Jodie Pierson’s Rusty Nail (reviewed above) is such a pleasant surprise is that its maker cared about the blues (and reggae) as something more than an extension of himself. Pierson made a few records, but he released many more by blues icons in an era when the major companies had all but turned their backs on the form. Some of the recordings he made went unreleased, like this one, which documents a 1973 concert in St. Louis by guitarist Townsend and pianist Sykes, playing solo and for a few tracks, together. Townsend’s in strong form, with his wife Vernell joining him on vocals for a couple of songs, but it’s Sykes who knocks this 30-track 2CD into the essential category. He just might be my favorite blues pianist. A

Volition Immanent, “Photosynthetic” (Mind) Parrish Smith and Mark van de Maat are Volition Immanent; Smith’s the “hardware freak,” armed with drum machines, samplers, effects and synth, and van de Maat is the “former punk activist” who handles the microphone. Following a 7-inch in 2017 and a self-titled debut last year, they bring this two-song clear vinyl 8-inch, and the a-side “Whiteboy” is loaded with the sound that resulted when ’80s industrial dance got augmented with shouty-screamy effects-tinged vocals. If you’re thinking Nitzer Ebb, I did too, but this comes with more aggro. The suggestion of Tommy Wright III and Three 6 Mafia going buckwild with Minor Threat didn’t really play out for me, but so it goes. The title-track flipside is the winner of the two. B+ (Out 3/25)

X, Wild Gift (Fat Possum) Album number two and they’ve slipped hardly at all, though for me the debut has the slight edge and gets the + that’s the mark of the truly indispensable records. Well fuck it, there’s no way this one’s not crucial, with my reasons for the minor lessening of grade highly personal, e.g. I prefer the Dangerhouse single take of “We’re Desperate” to the one that’s here. If you pick up this reissue after getting blown away by Los Angeles, this second run-through of the song will surely suffice, and it’s not like I don’t want both versions of the song in my life. I do. What remains striking is how they followed up an immaculate punk rock full-length (a rarity) with another gemlike LP and without streamlining their approach to the style. This one’s as multifaceted but direct as it was before. A

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